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La Palmita

I awake before dawn in the sweaty Cartegena air and lay still in Pantelisa’s cockpit watching the sky slowly brighten behind the lights on the dockside cranes.

I feel relaxed but there are still jobs to do on the boat. I help Rolf troubleshoot the sticking sail sliders with a workout on the winch, hauling and dropping the mainsail a few times, while the sun turns up the heat in the marina.

It’s still uncertain as to when to move Michaels boat from St Kitts to Colombia so I pack my rucksack and walk into the Old Town with the intention of catching up on some writing and making my way to San Gil via the bus terminal while I have the time.

I pass Papa’s barbers and go for a haircut in an old 1950s barbers chair. It felt like a film set and I got a good old-fashioned trim including ears and nostrils for under £3.

Espiritu Santu is a cafeteria in the heart of the old town. It’s a wide and deep hall reminiscent of a school refectory although it is waiter service. Fillet of fish with fries and coconut rice with a salad and two juices for £5.50. Not as cheap as outside the city but still a great deal. The hall is busy and reverberates with boisterous latino chatter, too much for concentrating on writing so I browse the internet on my phone instead.

It was hard to get a handle on where the bus terminal was as the results are scattered all over google and the map of Colombia. Approaching a taxi on the rank outside the city walls, I accept the price and hop in, confident I will make the bus on time. There is one bus a day to SanGil from Cartegena and I arrive at the terminal an hour before the 17.30 departure.

The Expreso Brasilia bus is modern with the most comfortable chairs that recline well back. National Express in the UK could learn a lot here. The air conditioning was set for maximum cooling which is not so bad sitting with the sun coming through the window but with the onset of nightfall, arctic conditions ensued. Outside the city, the fun started, horn blaring and trucks being overtaken in the dark along highway 90. It reminded me of the journey along the Sinai from Sharm el Sheik to Cairo. I turn my focus to updating my blog until my battery dips into the red at 5%.

At Barranquilla, I had the driver retrieve my bag so I could get my jacket but I had nothing for covering my legs and feet. I glanced across the aisle at the guy in lumberjack jacket and balaclava nestled under his blanket. He had local knowledge, I can’t expect conditions to improve. I discover a socket outlet between the pair of seats and power up my laptop; bonus. I can get a lot of work done here as I expect the journey to be over 12 hours and the computer gives a little warmth for my legs. At 2am I get tired and curl up to stay as warm as I can and grab a couple of hours sleep. With a blanket, it would have been perfect but the cold kept me from decent rest.

At daybreak, we follow the valley looking at the rapids in the river below and start scaling the mountains, overtaking heavy trucks lugging their burden up the gradients. The roads are smooth, the view spectacular and the bends sharp with long drops the other side of the concrete barriers. I’m all typed out on the blog and instead enjoy the view of the sun bathed vista the other side of the window, legs curled under, sitting on my feet.

I think of how to ask the driver how far San Gil is and remember I have data for checking maps.me. This town is not San Gil. It’s Bucaramanga 60km north. We’ve been driving for over 15 hours and we have at least another hour and a half to go.

The bus pulls into the San Gil terminal dead on 10am. I’m hungry and thirsty since I brought no food and my body relied on my excesses at Espiritu Santu. There are food booths at the terminal and I ask for a vegetarian pastry “Tiene sin carne?” “Con pollo?” Chicken, as close to vegetarian as I could get, except it had some sort of chorizo in it as well. Vegetarian seems to be an alien concept in local circles in Colombia. I was hungry though and it refuelled me for the half hour walk to the centre of San Gil.

“The adventure capital of Colombia,” Lonely Planet tells me as I walk by industrial units and garages along the main road, aromatic with spent engine oil. The sun was burning away the bus induced chill and I dispensed with my jacket as I crossed the bridge into the city centre. Google maps paints a street grid on my screen. Is this plaza the city centre? Gringo Mike’s restaurant is across the square. Likely, being a gringo, he should speak English and would know and I head across the square.

I hear a call “Hey Paul!” Mike, Malissa and Bryan from the Minca retreat approach from across the square. They had just arrived in town from Finca Palmita and were on their way to the market so I tag along. This is indeed the city centre. After a refreshing natural smoothy in the market, we share a taxi back to La Palmita. Miguel and Luis were at their new property working and Mike gives me a tour of the place and I’m shown my bunk on the first floor of the Maloka.

At the foot of the garden is the river, cool enough to be refreshing but warm enough to bath in. It has none of that fertilizer smell that runs off the land into British rivers. I strip off to cleanse myself in the pure cool water and stay well below the surface while a whitewater raft drifts by full of whooping adventure seekers. I wait until they are flushed away before shaking off the water, getting dressed and settling in at La Palmita.

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