Hitchhiking from Medellin to Cali
On the Road in South America July 2015
Hitchhiking in Colombia is quite the thrill as you would imagine. But by God the place is really huge and waiting times can be long. Hitchhiking from Medellin to Cali took me two days for example.
I was in Medellin at around 7am by the bus terminal with the plan of getting south as soon as possible towards Cali.
I approached a young Colombian guy and asked for directions to the nearest metro and he blabbers some incoherent stuff. Then he took a long puff from the huge joint I hadn´t noticed he was carrying.
“You want some my friend?”
I offered him what was left of the weed I had, it had been a gift from a guy from Cork (thanks Eamon) I meet in Minca. He rolled a massive joint, fat as a ducks arse with no tobacco at all. Great I thought sarcastically. I´m going to be baked in time for the sun to rise up.
We smoked the weed then he gave me some deodrant, all the time complaining about the many police in El Centro. He took off again after saying something about needing to get to work. I hope he wasn’t like a bus driver or anything like that, the guy was heavy stoned.
In the center I had completely forgotten about my plans to hitchhike South and instead sat on a bench staring at the sky. It was probably around half 8 in the morning. Next thing a police officer approached me with a big cunt of a sniffer dog. He had a good smell of my backpack. Thank god I had just smoked off the last of my weed, and that I was wearing sun-glasses too.
I proceeded to sit at a cafe, read my book (For Whom the Bell Tolls), charge my phone and admire Medellin. Its obvious why Pablo Escobar based his empire here. The place is beautiful, nestled in between the mountains just grand and cosy.
Around 12 I was back with reality again and caught the metro to the furthest station south (Medellin is well organised and the only city in Colombia with a metro).
Hitchwiki says to jump out at Itagui, but I say don’t. There has been two additional stations built south of Itagui since that article was last updated I think.
I got out at the last stop La Estrella. I followed my compass south, crossed the canal (which flows to the north) and got directions to the Autopista (10 mins walking). The road forks here and if you go straight you will take the autobus route to Caldas, veer to the left and back over the canal towards Cali and Caldas directo. Climb the hill about 2km and you will meet three petrol stations in a row. Heres your best chance of gettting the fuck out of Medellin.
I tried some truckers but none were speaking Spanish I could understand or heading towards Cali. I guess most of the lond distance drivers would of already left by 8am. It was now nearly 2pm. I didn’t see many Cali registration plates, just Bogota, Medellin and some where called Cota I never heard of.
Some of the petrol stations in Colombia have free wifi by the way. I emphasis the some.
A four letter word like Cali is ideal for signage I supposed and grabbed some cardboard then stood by the Autopista. Some locals stopped for the chats, and blessed themselves when I said I was using Autostop, great I`m very optimistic now.
Getting out of big cities is always a pain, maybe after an hour and a half Alexandria pulled over. I didn’t believe my luck, a single lady wants to pick me up? That never happens. I didn’t believe it until she waved at me to come over. Perfecto.
We flew down the Autopista to somewhere near Jardin. She owns a hostel in Jardin teaches yoga and like so many girls in Colombia, is really pretty. She left me off by the river Cauca, I chatted with the locals a little then continued towards Cali. I had to get east to La Pintada and on towards the Pan American Highway for Cali.
An older guy in a security uniform on a motorbike stopped to collect me. If hitchhiking Colombia it is important to pack light with one bag so you can hitchhike motorbikes. After about 30km he pulled in to start working for the night but insisted I eat with him. He pulled a big plate of rice, chicken and cheese from his office and a glass of milk. Brilliant! I had planned on setting up camp by the river and cooking some rice I had, but this was much better. Dining like a king.
I bid my friend farewell, he definitely seemed overly concerned about me, insisting I take water and more food for the road, Gracias, Gracias.
I began walking again and didn’t catch another ride before dark so I picked up a nice dry stick and hopped over a fence, beating the long grass away to warn snakes of the Gringos arrival. I could see their holes in the ground as I carefully stepped down to the river and flung my hammock up.
I woke at sun-rise, gathered some water from the river to filter for the day and took off. I was back on the road before 7am and promptly got collected by another motorbike and by fuck did he drive like she were stolen.
He left me off at Pintada and I began walking south again, after about 3km I came across some speed bumps and decided to hitch there. The mountains climbed up to my right so there was absolutely nowhere for miles that a car could pull in. Speed bumps were my best bet of catching a ride.
Some local kid came to chat with me, people always stare at the blonde haired guy, its usually kids who will come and ask question though. I noticed people say Donde Vivenes here (where the v sounds like a b) rather than donder eres as in the North when asking where I’m from. Spanish is confusing enough, I don’t need Colombians going and changing words around from town to town too.
A trucker soon stopped for me, he used to live in the US 15 years ago driving trucks but had forgotten English and had six kids. Muy Catholica I told him (very Catholic) and he seemed pleased with my input. He was bound for Manizales so I jumped out somewhere before there at a Peaje, these are pay tolls on the roads. Excellent for hitchhiking just after the cars are forced to slow down.
I stood for a half hour with my Cali sign, more cars for Cota passed. I can’t understand how I’ve never heard of a place with so many cars driving to it.
One truck came past with two guy riding on the back of it in between the cab and the cargo. They shouted incoherent stuff at me and had haircuts like gypsies curled up at the back. They must of literally jumped that truck while it was moving, absolute lunatics.
An old couple who had been eating in a nearby resteraunt called me over in Spanish.
They looked absolutely shocked, probably wouldn’t of been that surprised if I told them I was from Mars.
They took me to near Santa Rosa, driving through beautiful countryside on the way. Coffee, tomato and bananna farms rose up the steep hills which dropped again as suddenly as they rose. I definetly felt some positive feeling emotions as I gazed out the window of the old Renault Clio. Colombia sure is beautiful.
“There is coffee in Ireland?”
“No, just potatoes.”
The lady gave me some lovely baked bread too. While driving through one small village she whistled at a store and the guy brought her a 2 liter bottle of Coke for free which she passed to me.
I was back hitchhiking again under the midday sun with 2 litres of coke I really didnt need. Colombia’s an odd place really.
- They drink Coke and beer in the midday sun when I’m throwing back litres of water to avoid dehydration.
- The rivers flow the wrong way all the time.
- When you take a shit you are supposed to put your dirty bog-roll in the rubbish bin and not flush it.
- If you can’t salsa then your weird.
I stood there hitchhiking and some kids approached, you can always tell when kids are little shit-heads with high opinions of themselves. Its made a lot easier when they all have Cristiano Ronaldo haircuts.
“Gringo, where from?”
“No, your foriegn”
“Im from Cartagena, Colombia” (I tried to speak super fast and put on an accent)
Haha they were getting pissed off, now.
“Argentinian, Italian, French, American?”
“You smoke weed?”
Going behind a shed to smoke weed with a bunch of 14 year olds was not on my to-do list for the day. I did give them my 2 litres of coke though for their party and walked on.
Next I caught a van to Periera, a huge place altogether but luckily I was dropped on the south side near the Autopista and I began hitching again.
Next came my only drunk driver of the day.
“Hello I speak English because I worked in Chicago many years before. Can you hold my beer if I see police, also I have very much Marajuana.”
I turned down the free beer and weed though, I didn`t need to get high or dehydrated on the road now when I was finally making great progress for the first time in South America. He dropped me off by some guys selling pineapples and drove off.
In twenty minutes I was back on the road with Santiago a young fellow who had studied English in the US. Santiago is a cool name I think, sounds like a guy who paints naked women for a living or something like that. He drove me another hour or so and we had the chats about the Cocaine business in Colombia.
My next lift came promptly too, a super cute girl with lovely spanish. I agreed with everything she said wheter I understood or not, she was so dam pretty.
She left me at a Peaje, lots of cars for Cota. Seriously Where the Fuck is Cota?
I caught a trucker fairly quickly. He honked his horn at all other trucks and prostitutes and then at vehicles that weren’t trucks and women who clearly weren’t prostitutes too. I really think the guy had actually no honking standards at all to be honest.
He didn’t go to Cali but instead stopped just outside it in a town called Palmira. It was dark now so hitchhiking had become next to impossible and the area was too sketchy for me to camp.
I was approached by a local kid, around 15 years old. He spoke some English.
“Why are you here?”
“An adventure and to learn Spanish”
“Why, you are from Europe?”
“Then why come here. you have the opportunities in Europe”
Then he just kind of walked on looking upset. I know this isn’t a very long or meaningful conversation but it has stuck with me.
I later wondered why he spoke that much English, even a basic conversation is far more than most people can speak in Colombia. I wondered too about the long term affects of Colonialism on countries in South America? If it had different affects to the countries colonized in other parts of the world (like Ireland)? Is it easier for me to hitchhike and cross army checkpoints because I’m a white European than for a local? Do some people despise Europe a bit? I concluded these questions would be answered with further travel.
A bus worker said I could go to the Cali bus terminal for 6 Mil Pesos, I offered him 2 Mil Pesos ($0.90) and took the lift because the bus had wifi. I googled myself a hostel and walked from the bus terminal in about an hour.
I’m now writing this at the hostel, which has a swimming pool, breakfast, snooker table and computers all for 12 Mil Pesos ($5.00) and I can put my hammock up outside. Sleeping inside here is too warm I think. I`ll get cleaned up and head for Ecuador tomorrow.
Feels good to write again for this blog, I know its been a while but I promise to keep you updated more.