One common theme in all of these densely populated Colombian cities is heavy traffic and noxious fumes. The traffic in Cartagena in particular seemed to always be at a standstill within the small historical center of the walled city. The roads are narrow, and sidewalks are insufficient in width for the amount of foot traffic they receive. Within the Centro Histórico, bicycling is absolutely the best mode of transport. I cannot imagine having to navigate a car there (and having to sit in it for countless hours while breathing in those fumes over the course of a week).
Driving in Colombia has been quite an experience. All of the times I’ve ridden in the car with my dad didn’t even come close to preparing me for the style of driving that people are accustomed to here. It makes me wonder where these people learned to drive and leaves me astounded that we haven’t witnessed any serious crashes so far.
From the taxi and bus drivers to the police, the motorcycles and our own personal host in Cartagena, nobody hesitates to cross into oncoming traffic lanes in order to pass other drivers, even when oncoming traffic is imminent. Our host, Miguel, even crossed into the oncoming lane to pass cops and buses. I’ve learned that as long as there is a bit of space in front of the vehicle, the driver will continue to accelerate, probably to avoid another car coming to cut them off. If there isn’t much traffic on a road, it doesn’t matter how twisty and narrow or hilly it is – the drive will be fast. However, in the city, there is never not much traffic. It always smells like diesel and gasoline exhaust, and the fumes are sometimes intolerable. The only vehicle where the seat belts were actually in working order was the tuktuk we took up a long, steep, unpaved road from San Jeronimo up to the Finca where we stayed in the mountains for a few days.
Whenever I’m in a moving vehicle on the road in Colombia, I have to relax and tell myself that these people know what they’re doing. Besides, I have little to no control over the situation, so if I want to get somewhere I have to trust the drivers with my life.
In Cartagena, I had the great fortune to try my hand at driving myself. Miguel was driving us back from the beach after a tiring few hours of kitesurfing. Traffic was moving more slowly than usual, and Miguel suddenly asks me if I know how to drive. I’m sitting in the back seat with Hannah, a German who is also staying at his AirBnB rental, and Dallas is in the passenger seat. Miguel suspects there is a police checkpoint up ahead, which is slowing everything down. He hadn’t had so much to drink that he couldn’t drive, but he didn’t want to risk getting checked by the cops. I was the only one who hadn’t had any beer, so Miguel pulled over so we could all switch positions.
Miguel has a small Kia Picanto that I had never seen before. It’s very cute and perfect for driving in a congested city (not counting the motos and bicycles). I hadn’t driven a manual transmission in a few years, but the car was easy to drive and handled well. Even though there were police up ahead, people didn’t change their driving styles, and cars were sneaking in front of me if I left them enough space. It wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought it would be, but I was happy to hand over the wheel to Miguel again once he deemed us clear of the checkpoint zone.
While we’ve taken a hiatus from writing to our NomadicCycling blog, we have been busy traveling, writing and posting to social media for PeopleForBikes. In case you didn’t follow our blogs for PeopleForBikes, you can find most of them at the following links (there were two that didn’t make the cut to get published):
- May – Seasoned riders learn new tricks
- June – Bike trail development makes better communities
- July – What’s in North Dakota?
- August – A visit to a velodrome
- October – Confessions of a traveling duo
We had the experience of a lifetime traveling around the country in the name of bicycle advocacy, and we feel honored to have been able to work on making a difference in the political climate for cycling in the United States. There were definitely some places that were discouraging, but the majority of people we talked to were supportive of bicycling and wanted to see more bike infrastructure in their cities. While living out of a car for six and a half months was definitely stressful on our relationship, we would do it again in a heartbeat if offered the opportunity.
The best part about our short job was getting to network and meet so many people in the bicycling world. Not only did we get to make some awesome new friends, but we were able to visit old friends and family all over the country that we hadn’t seen in months, or years. We visited over 70 bike shops, mostly on the eastern half of the US, and really felt that we were able to connect with some of them to improve cycling conditions for them locally.
The second best part about the job is that we got new mountain bikes from Giant/Liv, and we got to take them to some of the best trails in each of the states that we drove through! We didn’t get to do quite as much riding as we wanted to, but we did get to go to places that we never would have otherwise. Now that we’ve surrendered our car, we’re not sure we’ll get to use the mountain bikes that much, sadly.
Since our contract ended at the end of October, Dallas and I are taking some time off to relax and make up for all the long days we spent on the road with no down time. I’m trying to focus on the remainder of the cyclocross season, and we’re both hoping to go somewhere warm (South America?) for the winter. In the meantime, Dallas is in Portland and I am in Providence until further notice! Also, follow us on instagram for photos! (I’m too lazy to include any in this post right now)
Even though it may be far from cycling season where you are, it is shopping season! Whether you’re shopping for someone else or for yourself, a rack that allows you to bring your bicycle along when using your secondary mode of transportation can expand the geographic range where you cycle and encourage you to ride more when conditions outside of your immediate vicinity are not ideal. We know not everybody can quit their day job and bike around from city to city, so for those of you who have your own car, here’s a guide to shopping for the perfect bicycle rack: