Truck life has resumed, only on a new continent! After a good eventless five days on a large shipping vessel, our truck arrived in Cartagena, Colombia safe and sound, where we stored it for two months while we visited the States. Refreshed and with stores of new good times spent with family and friends at home, we are happy to be back in our little home. We first spent a fun weekend exploring the very hot city of Cartagena before picking up our truck from storage. Cartagena struck us as a city of interesting contrasts. It is at once a Miami-style beach city of high-rises, an interesting historical and colonial location – the first Colombian city to become independent from Spain – and a large bustling modern day port. We were relieved when, after a sweaty repacking of the truck and long couple days of driving, we began climbing into the Andes and left the brutal heat behind us.
Because we stored our truck in Colombia, we did not have very much time left on our visa to explore the country this time around. However, we did spend a week at Lago Calima, a huge reservoir in the mountains northwest of the city of Cali. Lago Calima is a popular kite surfing spot, and we met local kiters from Cali and Medellin as well as the small areas near the lake. The Andes mountain range splits into three chains just North of the Ecuador border with Colombia. Lago Calima is located in the western-most chain, where thermal winds stream in over the reservoir from the Pacific coast most days of the year. The lake is beautiful and mostly uncrowded for kiting, with green mountains circling it and scenic fog often rolling in. We enjoyed our week there, and also managed to get some maintenance projects on the truck done as well as acquire a new moto, this time legally registered in Colombia so we can bring it around the continent with us. We also got to explore the Rio Bravo nature preserve along the river flowing out of Lago Calima’s dam; an impressively beautiful, nearly untouched cloud forest jungle.
The drive south on the Panamerican highway to the Ecuador border was slow but beautiful. The road curves up and around the Andes, alongside steep mountains and river canyons, as the Andes join in one big chain of mountains. The border is located at over 9,000 ft elevation, and it was our first experience with a very slow land border crossing. The influx of Venezuelan refugees to Colombia – and Ecuador and onwards – was startling and sad to witness. Many families were walking along the highway to the border, waiting in long lines to be processed, and spending cold nights up there. Some aid and shelter was provided by Unicef and the Red Cross. Many have also stayed in Colombia, and it was interesting to talk to both Colombians and Venezuelans about the situation and hear their stories.
Mitch and I visited Colombia a few years ago, and this time we were struck just the same by how friendly the people are. From waves and thumbs up on the street, help from random strangers, and friendly welcomes at the various places we camped, we never lacked for smiling local faces. Almost everyone would strike up conversation, ask us questions about our journey, and wish us luck with our travels. We are excited for new explorations in Ecuador, but the Colombian culture is most definitely a special one!