The Highway to Medellin

posted in: Colombia | 4

One thing about Team DeCorso is that ALWAYS at the most dramatic moment possible, at the pinnacle of the worst part of whatever we are doing, SOMETHING will go wrong.  And the drive to Medellín was no different. The drive to Medellín from the coast is a little less than 400 miles.  It is supposed to take 12 hours.  The roads are very good.  Better than the Richardson, more like a narrow Parks Highway without passing lanes. It is so slow because every five miles or so there is a small town which

Small town on the Pan American Highway

requires driving over two gigantic speed bumps at each end of the town where you literally have to come to a complete stop and then slowly get back up to 60km and then slow back down for the next town.  We are not in a hurry so the slow pace is good for us.  We were also worried about driving Expedition Vehicle – would it be too slow? too big? too long?  We can now definitively say that we are not by any stretch the slowest, biggest, or longest vehicle on the road. We left Arjona around noon and drove (slightly uphill) the next

Big city on the Pan American Highway

day until about 4pm when we camped (I mean overnight parked – here camping means tents and fires) in a big field on the edge of a town. The field had a small market and a restaurant at the town end.  We tossed a frisbee for a few hours for the dogs and went to sleep early. The next day, we left by 8am.  This part of the drive was the start of the Andes.  The highway is two lanes and we continued to ascend.  The scenery was beautiful.  Photos do not capture how beautiful it is here. We ascended for 7 hours.  More or less straight up and variety of grades, generally around 10% but as steep as 15%.  Steeper than we have ever seen in the US.  We kept thinking we had reached the top but we still have not reached the top here in Santa Rosa de Osos.  Houses are built right on the side of the road, on stilts over the cliff below and landslides have caused piles of rocks in the road making it one lane in some places.  And on this road are gigantic vehicles: first class buses,  car carrier trucks, cement trucks, container trucks, trucks filled with cows, a semi truck filled with scrap metal as well as motorcycles and donkeys and children. The van was close to overheating (we had this happen in Death Valley).  Jack ran out and poured some water on the radiator.  We continued to drive because we could not really stop.  There are no shoulders.  Or parking lots.  Or anything really. The road got steeper and steeper and we entered the clouds and visibility reduced to about 10 feet and we came to a place where the road had washed out and it was one lane and very steep, like a grade of 17% for 200 ft, and buses and trucks going in both directions were queued up to shoot the gap.    We are stopped on a steep hill on the side of a cliff with trucks and buses all around us waiting for our turn and when it came – the van would not move.  Like it would not drive forward.  We had to back down the steep hill to a more or less flat spot (around buses and trucks and children) and then Mark had to figure out what was wrong.  It was a tense 10 minutes. What was wrong?  We needed more transmission fluid.  Mark fixed it and we headed on our way.  We had to stop once more to let the van cool down a bit but the road was flat and wider and there was a great view.

Mark checks the transmission fluid

When the van would not move, we made new friends.