Colombia: Down to the Heat

It’s a curious thing this overlanding. Who’s to tell you when to move on, where to go next? Time in a country is obviously dictated by visas and permits palaver, but other than that we kind of ‘go with the wind’ or sometimes not. Colombia is a particularly ‘stick-around’ place for us. We’re staying here longer than any other country in South America and the cool central highlands/coffee region is our favourite. Here we’re hanging around doing… ummm… not a lot. Just avoiding ‘the heat’ really.

overlanders steel horse finca

Our reason/excuse for not having blog-posted for ages is that we’ve had rather little to say. It would be a less-than-fascinating overlanding blog to ramble-on with tales of mooching around villages, drinking coffee and generally pottering about with other travellers. So let’s skip lightly over the last few weeks before we sign-off and wish you all a Happy New Year for 2018…

Braking and Cooling Cuthbert

puppy under truck

Someone came along to help

Regular Cuthbert followers last found us arriving back in Medellin to collect our long-awaited order of Iveco spares which kept Marcus busy with routine maintenance work for a couple of weeks. One such task was replacing the brakes. This should have been a day or so work, but not with Cuthbert. Pressing the hub from the wheel bearing proved to be a teeny-tad more tricky than anticipated. Our 4 ton jack/press wasn’t man enough for the task, so we borrowed a 10 ton jack/press from another traveller. Hmmm… no good either. So off we went, carrying the whole 35kg swivel hub to a workshop down-town Medellin where a 100 ton press did the trick! Not wanting to have more than one wheel off Cuthbert at a time, meant that the whole brake change mission took several days to complete. As luck would have it… we’re in no hurry. We rarely are these days.

santa fe suspension bridge

The first suspension bridge in The Americas (allegedly)

What else with Cuthbert? Oh, the air-con in the front cab. This has been a reoccurring ‘thing’ for over a year now, ever since northern Chile where we got a stone-hole in the radiator and a dirty weld repair by a local workshop. Marcus has attempted various ‘bodge-it and scarper’ repairs (the desperately dull details of which we won’t bore you with here) but these have never lasted. Now however, with the arduous heat and humidity of the Caribbean coast and Central America looming, we decided it’s time to do a ‘proper’ fix. Part of our large Iveco goodie-bag was a whole new radiator. Even now, after just two days of driving in the low-land heat, we are eternally grateful to the God of Iveco Deliveries for bringing us ‘the cool’.

Another mission in Medellin was to extend our visas and vehicle permit. The short 90 days that we received on arrival from Ecuador simply won’t cut-it for this amazing country. The relatively simple process got us our personal visa extentions in one day. Getting Cuthbert’s permit took a rather longer 7 days.

Christmas Coffee

sloth warning

But we never saw one!

So now Cuthbert can brake well, we’re cool, and we’re legal in Colombia for another 90 days (hurrah!!) but we still have a strange trepidation about moving on to ‘the heat’. Just north of Medellin the terrain descends to the hot and humid northern plains. Once we drop down there and head north into Central America, we will lose the comfortable, temperate climate of central Colombia that we have so enjoyed. We’re reluctant to sit in the heat for Christmas, so we decide to head some 250km back south to Salento and Filandia in the coffee region for a while. We found a different slow, winding, back-road route to the one we had taken previously and on the way discovered more reasons why we love Colombia so much. Friendly people, great scenery, good food and even better coffee 😊!

Hiking the stunning Cocora Valley with its towering wax-palms was a lovely day; we did a short drone video of that. Ooooh… and check out the short video-clip of dawn at one of our camp-spots outside a friendly hill-top café….. and the pics of the first suspension bridge in the Americas (which is still in operation today for light vehicles). Cool huh?

The decision to head back south to the coffee region turns-out to be a tippety-top idea! Marcus celebrates his big 5-0 birthday in La Serrana, Salento (probably our favourite campsite in the whole of South America) and we had a great Christmas at Steel Horse Finca, Filandia. So many nice people and waaay too many mention by name, but we had some very British G&T sundowners with overlanding bikers Imogen and James (“Chin, chin! What, what?!” 😊); yummy birthday cake with South Koreans JinYoung and SeonA (very cool people and the first South Koreans we have met on the road ever!!); and a fab fun birthday dinner plus Christmas with lovely Americans KP and Taylor.

Fabulous adventurers

It never ceases to amaze us how many truly fabulous, interesting and intrepid travellers there are out there on the road. If you are reading this and have never contemplated such an overlanding adventure yourself, you may consider our trip to require a measure of bravery and derring-do. Ha hah… think again! Believe us… our trip is really not a scratch on some of the other guys out here on the road. There are many long-distance cyclists and motor-cyclists braving face-to-face the elements that we see through Cuthbert’s windscreen, but what about the intrepid Lucana? Or the slightly nutty Ben Coombs?

Lucana is an amazing and fearless lady from Medellin who has travelled all the Americas alone in her vintage Mercedes saloon car. In a few weeks she is heading off to Korea to begin her solo journey from east Asia across Russia to Europe (follow her @lucanymerce).

Crazy-Brit Ben Coombs is driving Kermit, his TVR sports car from the most northerly to the most southerly pub in the world. The TVR is right-hand drive and unfortunately for Ben, the authorities of certain Central American countries say “No Señor” to such odd contraptions. Ben recently spent eight long days and nights sleeping in his tiny car, stuck in no-mans-land between the borders of Nicaragua and Costa Rica waiting for permission to transport his jalopy, on a flat-bed truck, through Costa Rica to Panama. He has many great travel tales to tell and you can follow his antics at Pub2Pub.

Dropping down to 2018

So after a really fun Christmas and seasonal cheer of the highest order, in the most agreeable coffee region, we really can’t put off the ‘big descent’ any longer. Just north of Medellin, we take a deep breath and follow the signs to ‘Costa Atlantico’ down the steep, winding highway amongst a million (maybe two million) slow trucks. The Caribbean coast of Colombia delivers very much as promised: heat over 35C, humidity over 90% and a torrential, torrential rain-storm on our first night down there. Guess we just need to suck-it-up really… life’s gonna be like this for a while now 😊

Anyway… our New Year’s Eve celebrations have a small history for us. Two years ago we celebrated Christmas 2015 near Ushuaia at almost the most southerly tip of South America with fellow overlanders John and Betti (now settled in Portugal) and Swiss travellers Werner and Rosemarie. Our paths have almost crossed several times over the last two years in South America, but we’ve never been quite in the right place at the right time! Now we’re thrilled to finally see Werner and Rosemarie again to celebrate new year 2018 at the opposite end of the continent. How cool is that????

Fab NYE ’18 – with Werner and Rosemarie

So a massive HAPPY NEW YEAR to everyone, we hope it brings whatever fine and dandy things you would wish for yourselves! We’ll leave you with a few random and geeky statistics from our 2017 travels (see below). We’re looking forward to new adventures and moving-on into Central America soon in 2018. Bring on ‘the heat’!!! 😊

Cuthbert’s 2017 Overlanding Stats

We drove:
34,036km (21,149 miles) through…
11 countries (every country except Uruguay and Venezuela, but some were return visits to countries we’d been to in 2016) using…
5,658 litres of diesel (16.6 litres/100km, 6km/litre, 17mpg UK, 14mpg US), 11kg gas/propane, 2 water filters (0.5 micron) and 325 kwh generated by our solar-panel system.

Cuthbert did:
1,825 engine starts
851 hours engine running (556 hrs below 1,000m asl; 112 hrs between 1,000 and 2,000m asl; and 183 hrs over 2,000m asl) and
87,150,000 total engine revolutions

We did:
169 different park-spots, 11 river ferry crossings, 37 museums and 17 National or private parks.

Getting out of a pickle we did 16 winch rescues: 2 to rescue ourselves; 12 for others (10 on Brazil’s BR-319 Amazon mud-road!) and 1 to move a tree fallen across the road.