With batteries literally and metaphorically recharged, I packed up the bike and got on the road south from Medellin. Just like when I arrived into Medellin, the super-highway quickly whittled down to a twisty, narrow two lane road winding up out of the valley and back into the central highlands.
After a week of indolence in the city it was great to be back on the bike, breathing in the country air and taking in the sights and sounds. As I’d come to expect, it was slow going with all the truck traffic, but the scenery was as spectacular as ever. The road snaked along the mountain range just below cloud level. This made for very comfortable temperatures with occasional rain showers that were light and brief enough to be refreshing after the heat in the valleys. In short this was perfect terrain and climate for biking.
And just to keep me on my toes, there was the odd accident. Mid afternoon a jeep screeched past me and less than a mile later I rounded a bend to see this:
The driver was standing by the wreck, looking dazed and confused. He kept repeating “I don’t know what happened!”. I could take a wild guess though: it looked like he took the curve too tightly, which put the inside wheel in the steep culvert (done right, this is known as “ditchhooking” in rallying circles) and caused the jeep to flip over. No serious injuries though, just some scrapes, bruises and a wounded ego. They carted him off in an ambulance, just to be on the safe side.
This was a big coffee growing region, with small farmsteads and villages perched on the hillsides.
There was some small time gold prospecting going on too. At a Café stop down in a valley, I noticed the guy at the table next to me had set up scales and was conducting a brisk trade with machete wielding types who streamed in and out, carefully opening small packages at the table.
Curiosity got the better of me so I spoke to one of the prospectors. He told me that Si, there’s gold in them thar montañas, but business was bad right now as it wasn’t the rainy season so the rivers and streams were low, hence less silt was stirred up making it tougher to get the gold.
Most of the prospecting here was small time operations of one or two guys with pans. No pumps or dredging here. He said that the day’s haul was worth about $80. Considering that the minimum wage in Colombia is about $800 a month this is a very respectable sum. In season, and on a good day a prospector can pan up to $200 a day which is a small fortune here. Some days they found very little, but still it’s a not a bad way to earn some scratch. Of course, given the instability of the region, this profession is not without its dangers.
All this talk was giving me gold fever. Maybe I should have stopped a few days to try my hand at panning, but from my conversation with the gruff prospectors I got the impression that random tourists weren’t welcome up in the hills. I was better off continuing south towards the Ecuador border. Who knows what other treasure I’ll come across along the way.