Sunday February 11th

Medellin to Santa Rosa de Oras 86km with 2300 metres of climbing.

Medellin felt pretty frantic throughout yesterday, just a great concentration of humanity out enjoying themselves on a Saturday. Our hotel was in a fairly modern and well heeled area so very much a tourist hotspot and one for the well to do kids in town.

Sunday starts with rain! A shock to the system but dries by the time we set off. Like Bogota, Medellin has certain areas closed to cars on Sunday. So the first three km of the day are a gentle roll downhill avoiding joggers, roller bladers and dog walkers – some of it was the packed lanes we’d done by taxi yesterday. The rule of thumb here is that if a road is two lanes wide then four cars fit easily with ample space fo motorbikes. After that it’s back to Medellin’s furious traffic. Not so bad on a Sunday but still a bit hairy at times. The escape from town is inevitably uphill after 13km or so – usual bonkers but polite road users accompany us uphill. Another 15 km or so – it’s quite a dramatic city to look down at, especially with the mountains beyond.

En route we pass the site of another claim to Medellin’s fame. It’s a hang gliding epicentre, world championships etc where people can step out into space and fly. At one point we naively think there’s a local car boot sale but once we see the watch towers and razor wire it’s clear that this is Medellin jail, right next to a military barracks.  My knowledge of Medellin is limited to Pablo Escobar (still said to be known as ‘you know who’) and the infamous drug cartels. The understanding is that it not the modern city but the surrounding favelas which are still said to be rife with this activity. This may be the case but in the city centre we’d seen the heavily armed police presence was very evident and we saw groups being stopped and searched whilst nearby others were exchanging small parcels. Anyway,  I don’t know if you know who was held here but clearly many others still are. Didn’t feel comfortable taking a snapshot so kept moving. 

It’s a fascination to me how this city has just spread out from the centre, like blood vessels following every ravine and waterway up the mountain and eventually it fizzles out. The rain returns, firstly drizzle, then a mist then persistent rain so that I can’t see more than 50 feet. The temperature drops and it’s suddenly very cold, especially in a short sleeved cycle vest and shorts. By lunch we’ve climbed 1300 metres, over 4000 feet, on top of starting at nearly 5000 feet (I think) so approaching nearly two miles above sea level seems like a good excuse to be out of breath.

Lunch is the usual miserable fare but the weather and spirits pick up. We’re on a bit of a ridge crossing this central part of the Andes but were into another Columbian world. Mile after mile of cattle ranches, but they are more like English farms. The stench of cow manure heated by warm sunlight follows the road. Yet another great but different countryside.  Fairly British in many respects with rolling pastures, one differece being the enormous scale. In warming, bright sunshine it’s a lovely afternoon. What can still be described as lumpy as we complete up today’s ration of hills.

A lovely day with about 7500 feet of climbing. Still cold at this altitude. Farm houses are small, single storeyed but still dressed in bright colours and creative gardens.

San Rosa may possess one of the world’s ugliest churches, a true monster in a country full of outsized places of worships.

In my view the more traditional church on the market square is of greater appeal, but the Catholic Church really doesn’t pay me much attention. 

The Imperial Grand hotel has presumably taken it’s name from a job lot of monogrammed towels bought on eBay. It is neither. The rooms are tiny (double bed with space to walk around) and heat free. We have a real window with a view over the internal courtyard. Others have a painting of a window, framed by a real set of curtains.  Whilst it’s easy to mock I do try to remember that very few Colombians can travel and afford to stay in such a place. Later, after yet another lame meal of fried eggs garnished with chips  (the third time today but enough carping) we take a walk to the village square where a drunk literally falls at our feet so we truly must count our blessings.

The de Oras part of the town’s name means ‘of the bears’ but we see none until passing the statues on a roundabout when we leave town. I can’t tell if they are a faithful rendition of the spectacled bears which roam locally. Still, the logs on the restaurant fire were good and the rum warmed the sprits and the bed was warm and comfy so what is there to moan about?


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