Northern Colombia: Sun, Sea and Vomit

I crossed back into Colombia from Venezuela  in the northern part of the country. My plan was to cycle the north coast to Cartagena then catch a boat to Panama. More about that later.

After a long day riding I pulled into a small town 10 km from the Colombia border. I was told there were accommodations there. Once again I was misled. I stopped in front of a group of guys and asked. No hotels, motels, nothing. They were very nice and offered to drive me to the border where I could ride to a larger town on the Colombia side that would have a hotel. They said the road to the border was dangerous and I could be attacked. I accepted their offer.

They were a lot of fun. Boisterous and telling jokes, whistling and flirting at women as we passed and stopping three times for beer, it took about 90 minutes to drive those 10 km. They also taught me a few new cuss words in Spanish and Guajira, the local indigenous language.

Here we are near the border.

They ended up charging me three times what the ride should have cost, but they were so entertaining I didn’t mind.

I continued on nice roads through the resort towns of Riohacha and Santa Marta. Here are a few beach shots from those towns.

Here is a view of the north coast on one mercifully cloudy day and a view of the mountains towards the interior of the country.

Finally, a bike path!

Coal on its way somewhere.

The ugly part

I was in Santa Marta and just finished a nice meal of shrimp fried rice, salad, and juice. I was strolling around the town and sat at a park bench to rest when I started feeling queasy. I decided I better return to my hotel to lie down. My stomach was really feeling bad and within a block I puked all over the sidewalk. Yuck. A women snickered as she passed and said, “maybe you’re pregnant”. Another group of people said it was probably the shrimp and that I should see a doctor. I hobbled back to my room feeling awful for the rest of the evening.

What to eat and what not to eat is a constant issue when traveling. I avoid buying stuff from street vendors because they tend to be less sanitary. But the two times I have been sick on my trip was after eating in restaurants, so who knows? I try to avoid salads and dairy products and stick to things that have been fried or cooked. I’ve never worked in a restaurant but I have been told some pretty disgusting things go on in the kitchen. Anyone with personal experience have any anecdotes?

The next day I felt better so I rode hard. This part of the country is very hot and humid but with a nice Caribbean breeze it did not seem that bad. But when I pulled into Barranquilla I felt a little wierd, like I had been baking in an oven for six hours. That evening I developed severe chills and fever. I felt like I was burning up. My skin was hot, I had a pounding headache and a sore throat. I eventually passed out but woke up several times during the night drenched in sweat. It was awful. I almost went to a hospital.

I ended up staying a couple days in Barranquilla recovering from that experience. But as I write this I am feeling better and hope to be back on the road tomorrow, headed for my last stop in South America, Cartagena de Indias.

7 thoughts on “Northern Colombia: Sun, Sea and Vomit

  1. Debbie Black January 9, 2008 / 8:35 am

    Hi Kev –

    Your getting sick experience sounds pretty brutal! Your symptoms sound very similar to those experienced by my friend, Peggy, when we traveled through India years ago. She recovered, but got deathly sick again months later after we’d returned to the states. Only then did she learn that she had dysentary and it had remained in her system. You might want to get checked out!

    Did you enjoy the holidays South American style?

    I do have a couple of disgusting restaurant kitchen anecdotes to share with you. In high school I worked at “Mr. Steak,” a fabulous restaurant in Lake City, WA that specialized in overprocessed bland food for senior citizens. The cooks were a bunch of teenage “stoners” (remember that word?!), who regularly got their kicks spitting in the soup and throwing frozen food on the floor when they “cleaned” the freezer. One day while standing on the deep fryer to wipe down the hood, an especially intellingent cook slipped and french fried his foot. His first words, heard throughout the restaurant as his skin sizzled, were “get the weed out of my sock!”

    Nice beach shots with this post! But it’s sad to see so much litter in such a beautiful place.

    Good luck as you move on to Central America!



  2. Nicole January 10, 2008 / 3:01 am

    Sometimes being a human garbage disposal isn’t a good thing. You might want to add seafood to your list of foods to avoid. Especially if you can’t verify its freshness. Furthermore, cooked or fried doesn’t necessarily equal safe or fresh. Putrid food that is batter dipped and fried in a vat of rancid, polluted grease is like putting a mask on a really ugly woman. Eventually the mask comes off, revealing a truth so horrific that it makes you puke. My advice…when it’s time for breakfast, lunch, or dinner and you come across a food vendor or restaurant with no customers, keep stepping. Moreover, order what the locals order. Finally, if you ride 150 miles, passing pig or chicken farms but not once do you pass a cattle ranch, you might want to avoid eating beef. Also, stay away from ground meats and sausage if you don’t know its origin.

  3. Kevin Koski January 11, 2008 / 1:40 am

    Great story Deb. I have heard reports of people contracting parasites while traveling. Nasty worms and stuff like that. I don´t think it is that bad yet. The real test will be Africa.

    I love the sock story. The stoners in my school were called burn outs I think. (Not sure, maybe I was one of them haha). Did they continue using the foot oil? At least your intelligent chef knew his priorities. Better to have lost a foot to hot oil than to lose a bit of weed!

  4. jojo January 13, 2008 / 8:26 pm

    Kevie babe,
    Finally getting on and use to blogging!!! I’ve only been meaning to since you started your trip. So, today, I started your trip and I am in October but wanted to jump ahead and say Hi (my Dad thought you probably would not go back to previous dates, but I did make a few comments anyway). Your’e lookin’ good!! How incredible. I think of you everyday and hope you are safe. As I said in my first comment back in August, there is a lite snow falling here in the U.P. and it’s about 25degrees. I am in about 45 min. going to go cross country skiing with a work buddy. It’s not that I particularly like skiing, I do it so I won’t go insane. Kidding.
    I think I’d rather be where you are.
    I wondered back how you could even eat the soup, all of it, minus the chicken feet without getting sick.
    I know when I worked at the Harbor Haus I jammed my hand in the pickled whitefish jar in the walk-in cooler more than once in between orders for a quick snack…
    Any pasties on your travels???
    Love ya,

  5. Kevin Koski January 14, 2008 / 4:44 pm

    HI Jo,

    Great to hear from you. Hope all is well. I did see all your comments. They will go in my book. I email you every now and again but I never get anything back. I probably have an old address.

    Yes it is nice here, even too hot. But when I watch the news about freezing temps and snow up there I guess on the whole I´d rather be in Cartagena.

    No pasties as such but lots of empanadas, sort of a pasty wannabe

  6. DAD January 16, 2008 / 10:54 pm


  7. Mike February 6, 2008 / 5:41 pm

    Hey Kev,

    It’s good to see you’re still alive and kicking buddy! I have to admit that I smiled when reading about your experience with the shrimp. It reminded me of our many experiences with the food in EG especially the day our stomachs seemed to be carrying on a conversation as we worked at our desks! If I recall correctly, we both ended up at the hospital that day. Haha!

    Be safe & have fun Kev!!!

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