Turbo to Medellin

To enter the port of Turbo, we paddled through the maze of mangrove forests, a twisted conglomeration of roots and branches rising out of the water. Shanty houses edged up against the water and began to turn on their lanterns as night poured in.

Merchant ships that run products up the coast to-from the Panama Canal squeezed into the narrow channel that was lined with houses on one side and the streets of Turbo on the other. Smells of diesel fuel, sewage, and fish saturated the heavy tropical air as we paddled through the filthy water looking for a ship known as the ¨Nuevo Jerusalem¨. Arrangements had been made to carry our kayaks back to Capurgana, a beach town and tourist resort further up the coast.

In Capurgana, Juan David let us “kombuchar� in front of his vacation home. Drinking a bit of rum “en caja� (from a box) later that night, we told him about our plan to paddle until we could sell the kayaks, and that we imagined the most likely place would be Cartagena. Many calls were made, and eventually he agreed to buy them, putting us back on our bikes in Turbo.

Our frames had begun to show serious signs of rust very early on our trip, and the aluminum nipples on my rims started to disintegrate. Reviving them in Turbo was ideal.

We were repeatedly assured that “Turbo es no mas,� a joke that seemed to help Colombia cope with the city that they seemed to resent being a part of their country. Yet, our reaction, possibly tainted by too much time at sea was that it was a culturally vibrant and colorful port town. Certainly not a pleasant tourist destination, but a very interesting pocket of the world nonetheless.

A sudden and violent thundershower forced us to drag everything under an awning in front of a shop that closed up to keep the rain from coming in. Instantly, a tremendous pile of gear had accumulated against the shop´s wall, everything we carried down from Panama, some all the way from Alaska.

We were fortunate to find a hotel with owners kind enough to let us drag all our bike parts and equipment into one of the rooms. To fit everything we had to get another room so we could rebuild our bikes, which we did for most of the day. If we weren´t working on bikes, we were eating.

Our time at sea , kayaking through the Kuna Yala had given us what I would consider an unhealthy appreciation for various canned meat products. There was a certain brand of “jamonada� called Black Label that we became particularly fond of, and then it vanished, leaving us with the inferior brands. In Turbo, we relished all the foods that didn´t exist while in Kuna Yala. Empanadas, fried with meat and potatoes, fried bread and cheese, fresh fruits and vegetables all became immediately available and eating occupied a good amount of our time.

JJ and Sean came back to the hotel and relayed a story to me. They had passed by the fishmarket and saw a salted fish slip off her stand into the sewage water below. She climbed over a railing and slowly made her way down to the fish. Out of curiosity, they stood around to see what she planned to do with it. She reached into the putrid water and grabbed the fish by its tail with her forefingers and clambered back up to her stand, wiped the fish against her apron and placed it back on the pile of fish.

Incidentally, after our third or so day in Turbo, we had gotten just about all the bikes put back together and were making preparations to leave. I woke up in our hotel room to the sound of J scratching frantically. I looked over at him and his hands were elevated and still. They were red and swollen, appearing deformed like old fashioned baseball gloves. I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and saw that J´s eyes were swollen shut. He was in such bad shape I found myself avoiding eye contact with him. I offered to get him some food and some anti-allergy medicine.

Benadryl got rid of his itching, but the allergic reaction still progressed, and he started to develop hives on his arms and stomach. He slept the whole day away, hoping he would wake up from the nightmare. After two unsuccessful days of self-treatment, we talked him into going to the hospital where he was given an IV and treated with “fuerte� (strong) drugs.

Everybody asked him if he had eaten anything strange, and collectively we couldn´t come up with anything out of the ordinary. We even considered medieval possibilities, that maybe the sewage drainoff outside below our window was producing fumes that he was allergic to. After his treatment at the hospital he came back healthy as ever, and we could practically watch the hives disappear. By the end of the night they were reduced to tiny spots and eventually vanished.

The next morning the swelling had returned and a good 80% of his body was covered in hives. It was turning into a really ugly scene. He returned to the hospital and was there for a good 7 hours undergoing multiple treatments.

The hospital sent him away with about 6 vials of the drug and some new syringes and absolutely no clue what caused such a powerful reaction. Sean was designated to give him his twice daily injections as we hit the road.

Our first day of riding took us through cane fields and flatlands. The sun was shining, and we were glad to have begun riding as the sun came up. This would be the only day we´d ride without rain for the next month in Colombia.

Some cyclists at a small “tienda� invited us over for some “tinto� (tiny cup of coffee) and asked us about our trip. As we were getting back on our bikes, a motorcycle pulled up with the owner of the hotel on back.

With a great big smile he asked Sean, “¿Necesitas tu pasporte?� (You need your passport?)

Apparently, Sean had left it in one of the rooms as we packed up in the early morning hours.

Further down the road we passed multiple military checkpoints, maybe one every four kilometers. One of the “puestos de control militar� (military checkpoints) even stopped us to get our fingerprints and attempted to acquire a detailed itinerary from us. We did our best to entertain the idea of having a “plan� but they eventually realized how futile it was going to be, and released us. Fortunately, they called ahead to the next checkpoints and cleared the way for us.

Though we could pedal through the military checkpoints, they still had their eye on us. A few times I´d see a young soldier pop his head up from the thick roadside jungle. We even started to make bets amongst us, to see who could spot the most soldiers spying on us.

An entourage of tanks stopped when they saw us pedaling by. All the soldiers cheered us on as we passed by, asking us where we came from and where we were headed. They wanted to make sure we felt safe in their country.

Around the third day of riding we began to start climbing. There would be two large passes before we dropped into Medellin. The first climb took us up into the mountains, and tiny “derrumbes� (landslides) scarred the roads forcing traffic into one increasingly smaller lane.

Little did we know, landslides would define our experience in Colombia.


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