Here is is for your viewing entertainment. Part 1 of our Alaska to Argentina Bike Journey. This begins in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska and ends at our halfway(ish) of Costa Rica. Please comment, email us, share us, let us know what you think! We hope to get feedback for Part 2...(click link below or copy and paste into browser)
I was cycling along, minding my own business, thrilled to be heading out of Medellin on a Sunday where the city closed down two lanes of an entire highway for over 20 miles for cyclists, runners, rollerbladers, etc. when all of a sudden, I see out of the corner of my eye at the last second something large fly straight at me and landed smack down on my tongue. I spastic-ally grabbed at it and realized it was a giant beetle with hooks on its feet clinging to my tongue and by the time I ripped it off and threw it aside, my tongue had been coated with some sticky, foul tasting gunk and my tongue slowly began to numb. Oh crap.
We stayed only a couple days to rest in Medellin, spending an entire day on the blog and then a day sightseeing at the Botero Museum, downtown and the trendy Bolivariana area for beers at a newly opened micro brewery (felt like being at home). Getting the chance to go to see some of these art museums in the home countries of these artists like Botero here in Colombia and Freda Kahlo in Mexico has been a very special experience for us. It just isn't the same to only see art in textbooks at school. Heading out of Medellin on a Sunday, we had a great time with thousands of other cyclists riding on a two-lane highway closed on Sundays only to cyclists for almost the entire length of the city. Apparently I ride with my mouth gaping wide open, because a giant beetle flew straight onto my tongue and left a foul tasting stuff that numbed my tongue. Luckily it wore off after a few hours, and I was probably just drooling on myself and talking with a speech impediment for a while. Big huge thanks to Pedro, Diana, Daniel, and Manuel Gomez (our Warmshowers hosts) for having us and showing us around your great town!
The climb out of Medellin was a slow easy climb of only 3,810 ft (an easy climb for Colombian standards) and when we reached the summit, we rolled in front of a restaurant to get a snack and were given a standing ovation by a few cycling groups out for their Sunday ride. It was amazing! And they all wanted to get pics on our bikes, try their hand at lifting the bikes (Ville's bike is so heavy most people can't lift it), and the staff threw down two giant plates of food for us. Only when we went to pay did we realize one of the cycling groups had already paid for our meals and left. Colombians! What a great bunch! Thank you so much Bicicletas Ramon Hoyos & Servibike!!
We knew we had a thrilling decent in front of us, but as a giant storm approached, we opted to get a room in Santa Barbara for the night and watched as an insane rain/thunderstorm blew through and washed rivers down the streets. Our room even had a giant naked pic of Kim Kardashian over our bed, what a treat. In the morning we had a nice breakfast, (in Colombia it has been usually eggs, rice, beans, plantains, and meat with a steaming cup of hot cocoa or coffee) and had a wild decent all the way down to a giant river where the road then slowly climbed along the river and thick, green hills and non-stop road construction. The plans for road widening were already underway, but the recent storm had also brought a bunch of debris into the road and we had to stop about every mile the entire day to wait to pass large sections of road construction. Although, we had lots of road workers to chat with, and were given some water by one guy.
We made it as far as El Rodeo for the night, got a cheap $6 room in a trucker motel on the river, and headed out early with the plan to make it to Chinchina where we would stay at a Warmshowers apartment. The day was yet another insane day of climbing back into the clouds, and by the time we cranked uphill into town, it was pouring rain and we were both beat. The climbs in Colombia have been steep and long, and it has not helped that since my sickness in Bend and taking time off, we have felt in a rush to get miles in to be able to finish in Argentina in decent weather so we have been pushing hard to crank out miles. We met a sweet group of boys on the street corner when asking for directions and Ville said three of them were trying to distract him while the one boy was hitting on me (they were like 10 years old mind you). Yep, I still got it!
We decided on a day off in Chinchina only for a day to rest the legs and do the much needed research for our travel route through Peru (mountains vs coast), and when leaving the coffee shop, Stephan, the owner, insisted we pick a meal off his menu he wanted to make us for dinner for free. Man, the love we have received here in Colombia is incredibly humbling. After a day of rest and trying to pick back up our spirits, we had a pretty beautiful day of riding the "road of coffee" surrounded by coffee plantations and made it all the way into Contente (a fork in the road with a restaurant and sex motel) where we got a room for the night, complete with mirrors on all the walls and even murals of photographers aiming their lenses at us like celebrities. "Only the best for my wife," Ville likes to remind me every time we get these super classy joints. Lucky me.
The next day's stretch was a very pleasant downhill through a very plush neighborhood into the wide open fields of sugar plantains stretching for as far as the eye could see. We were passed many times a day by giant semi trucks pulling 5+ trailers loaded full of sugar cane. The drivers here in Colombia have been incredibly nice for the most part and always smiling or waving so at least if the steep climbs get you down, the people bring you up. But on the flats, we rolled through some easy miles and made it early to our Warmshowers host, Jonathan's, home just south of Buga. A Colombian who has done a decent amount of bike touring in South America, he was a great resource for info and had a beautiful home he said they rent for $500 a year! WHAT?!?! In Bend, you might be able to rent a cardboard box under the Colombia Street Bridge for $500 a month.
At a lunch stop the previous day we had met a super nice couple, Jorge and Laura, who were motorcycle touring and headed home to Cali and invited us to stay if we wanted to make the trip into the city, but hearing the horror stories of bad traffic, we opted to bypass the city and continued south to Santander de Quilichao on flat open stretches of road through "bad neighborhoods" which we just made the assumption meant that they were towns made up of lots of black people so they were bad. So this happens not just in America, but Colombia too huh? All we encountered were tons of smiles from people who obviously have less than most. We also had a nice guy, Juan Carlos, pull over and give us water, chat a bit about the ride, and pull over a second time to give us bananas and mandarins. Colombians.
In Santander de Quilichao we had a delicious dinner of chicken soup, complete with chicken feet, neck, liver and heart, followed by fried half a chicken and rice. If I weren't on a bike trip biking all day, I would be the size of a bean bag chair from all the crazy food we eat. The next day we had a long day, lots of scenery but more climbing out of the flat land and into the hills to reach Popayan very late in the day, exhausted, yet again. Even though it was again a Sunday, the traffic became intense as we neared town and knowing that Sunday is a HUGE drinking day in all Latin American countries, it is unnerving to be on the road late. Just before town we passed a huge fairground where it must have been a motocross convention or gathering of some kind with lots of crowds and then just past it, as the traffic became insane, we rolled past a huge car accident where a car had turned in front of a motorcyclist and giant crowd of people were gathered to help. The guy appeared to hopefully be ok, and having a crowd already there to help, we passed and continued to town. We found a cheap hotel right off the highway and crashed for the night.
With another early start, (we sadly didn't realize Popayan was a city worth seeing until later down the road) we made headway south with an elevation chart for the day that was so far off base it was hysterical. We imagined a day of oscillating hills that involved a large downhill and flats but instead we found ourselves climbing straight up for 5 miles, white knuckled descent for 5 miles, lowest gear climb for 5 and found the first hotel in El Bordo after a 60 mile day, to crash. Although challenging terrain, it makes for some spectacular scenery, slow moving sparse amounts of traffic, friendly small villages, and rarely seeing tourists. While passing through a tiny town at the top of a pass, we passed a small group of kids on their way to school who decided to run with us for about a mile and asked a million questions about where we were going, our names, where we were from, our bikes, they were such kind-heart-ed curious kids it was heart warming. At the bottom of one hill we stopped to try an "Energy Juice" from these kind local ladies complete with fresh squeezed oranges, quail eggs, and mystery fuel. They even gave us a bunch of oranges to carry up the climb.
From El Bordo, after Ville had to change a flat tire, we were surprised to meet another cycle-touring group from France, 3 adults and 2 kids, who were biking some of Mexico, Guatemala, and Colombia. We chatted a bit in the morning and headed down the road where we had a really pleasant long, winding descent into another "dangerous area" of, again, towns of black people who were unbelievably kind, chatty, waving and cheering us on as we passed. The day was amazing, slowly rolling hills ever dropping, dropping, dropping until we found ourselves in desert surrounded by flowering cactus and temps reaching over 110 degrees by noon! And then we hit more tire troubles with Ville's front tire.
After sitting on the side of the road, twice, in the baking sun trying to dig shards of metal from the tire, Ville was able to pump it and hobble into Cumbitara where there was a tire shop where we ate lunch and worked on the tire for a couple hours in the heat before Ville finally found a giant metal shard lodged inside the tire. For those who haven't toured, or not long enough to wear down some tires, these metal shards are a nightmare. They are from old car and semi truck tires exploded on the road and the interior radial of the tire is left in tiny (the size of a needle about 1/4" in length) fragments undetected by the cyclists eye on the road. They lodge into our tires, put tiny holes in our tubes, and they can only be fixed with time sitting on the side of the road, usually with no shoulder and speeding traffic whizzing by, with pliers digging out these lovely metal pieces and patching the tube. A total joy.
We powered up past Cumbitara a ways, found a room for the night in a room the temp of your oven, and had an early start to an insanely long climb up, down, and up, up, up to Pasto where we reached it in the rain and checked into Koala Inn, highly recommended by other cyclists. Absolutely stunning views on the way up to Pasto and even past a town, Chachagui, with tons of giant homes with pools and gated communities. We are taking a couple days to rest, blog-up, change cassettes and chains (so it's been 5,000 miles since the last change) before we have about a 5-day climb over the border of Colombia into Ecuador where our next stop is Quito and visiting a friend, Freddy, whom we met while backpacking in Myanmar. Although very challenging for the mind and spirit, Colombia has been a great place to bike because of the diverse scenery and unbelievable outpouring of generosity of the Colombian people. Will be sad to leave, but excited to begin yet another country. Until next time ya'll, keep on keepin' on...
As the Tour de France rages on in Europe, and Rigoberto Uran from Columbia won in Stage 9, Chambéry, after a fierce battle in three Hors-Category climbs, these two sweaty cyclists climbed up and out of the heat 7,723 ft in one grueling day of 45 miles to realize just why the Colombians are so damn good at climbing hills on bikes.
As Ville and I exited the plane on our layover in Bogota, Colombia, we were thrilled with the reprieve of chilled refreshing air at 8,675 ft. and excited to be greeted by smiling, friendly, fashionable Colombians and even t-shirts with bicycles on them in gift shops. Rumors must be true, we were already liking Colombia and were still in the airport. But we caught another plane to Cartagena on the northern coast of Colombia because we wanted to bike as much of north to south of the Americas as possible, and once we stepped out of the plane in Cartagena we were depressed when we were swallowed by the heat once again.
We tooled the bikes back together in the baggage claim of the airport, and after frantically patching 2 of my tires in the airport, trying to get to our hotel before dark, we made it to the gate of the place being rushed inside by the caretakers telling us we shouldn't be in the neighborhood after dark. That's promising. The next day we ventured to the Old Town area of Cartagena (having sailed here in 2010, we had seen some of the city then) and it was so unbelievably hot we had to hunker down in a coffee shop with A/C to cool down. We did wander the streets to see the various murals painted on buildings and in ally-ways and enjoy the endearing Colonial architecture before making it back to our "hood" to get out of the sun.
The next morning, we were back to an early 5 am start out of town, and my rear tire had another flat before we got started and another flat a mile down the road. Struggling to patch a tire as the sweat is pouring into your eyes and some street kid is trying to riffle through Ville's frame bag almost put us both over the edge. Luckily, after pulling out at least 8 metal shards from my rear tire, it held until we got to the outskirts of town and a bike shop to buy more tubes and for Ville to get a new chain. The ride for the next four days was sweltering, fairly flat riding (aside from opting for a hilly inland route because it was more scenic and beautiful) and had a total of 7 flat tires to patch, a new record! Beginning to think that Avianca Airlines also bent my rear rim, we put on my new rear tire and that seemed to do the trick. Goodbye old Schwalbe tire, thanks for the miles.
Luckily, Colombia is beautiful, the people are out-of-this-world friendly and the food is giant heaping cyclist portions of soup, followed by a giant main dish of rice, beans, eggs, fried banana, sometimes french fries and a slab of beef. I imagine being a vegetarian here would be a bit challenging, but there are worse places to be vegetarian or vegan for sure. And after riding into Sincelejo, we passed heaps of cyclists out for their weekend ride and stopped at a cafe for cyclists to eat our breakfast and enjoy fitting in for a change. The wide array of wildlife and animals we have passed so far has been crazy; a giant dead python and alligator on the road, a giant pig jumped out of the bushes and almost ran smack into us, bazillions of different kinds of spiders, armadillos, sloth signs (didn't get to see any they were moving too fast), Macaws, numerous bright colored birds, water buffalo down in the marsh area close to the coast and even an iridescent giant blue butterfly that stopped both of us in our tracks it was so psychedelic.
The roads so far have been a mixed bag, no bike lane to giant bike paths through towns, but since there is an array of cyclists, motorbikes, cars, box trucks and semis, they all seem to cohesively work together on the road and no one seems in too much of a hurry. We have had numerous motorcyclists pull up alongside us and chat about where we are going, and even the police have checked in on us to make sure we were doing o.k. There has been the ever hair raising passing of oncoming traffic here that makes me catch my breathe as we are hurtling down-hill at a car coming full speed at us in the oncoming lane to miss us by a foot or so and wave with a thumbs-up. Oh Colombians, you silly bunch.
By day five out of Cartagena, we met up with the giant Cauce River and followed it's meandering uphill flow along small houses and businesses that were strung out along the roadside and built up into the hilly, thick vegetation along the banks. We passed numerous waterfalls and pipes shooting water into the air and stopped a handful of times to cool off in the refreshing spray. As we watched a big wooden boat one morning eating breakfast carry 20-30 people across the river, one of the local dudes told us they were heading to work up the hill on the coca farms. Now we know where to score the good drugs. Ironically, Ville had thrown his back out that morning trying to carry his heavy bike down the stairs from the Hotel and was doped up on heavy painkillers, so when we saw the butterfly cross our path an hour later, he thought he was hallucinating. Good times.
On our sixth day south, we had the climb of all climbs, 7,723 feet of elevation gain in 45 miles. When we started out the day, we were both very optimistic that we would get through it no problem and hopefully by mid-afternoon. Oh how wrong we were. We started out at 5:30 a.m. and did not get to Yarumal, a mile after reaching the summit until 5:30 p.m. and in a downpour of cold rain. And the climb had numerous stretches of lowest gear stand-out-of-seat climbing sections where even the truckers gave us thumbs up and cheered. Not planning for it to be so brutal, we had not taken snacks (Snickers bars melted and were a no-go through all of Central America and so far Colombia) and we ate like champs at a restaurant in Yarumel and passed out before our heads hit the pillow all swaddled in blankets (we had actually left out hotel with air-con that morning and finished our day freezing under loads of wool blankets).
The next morning we slept in a bit to rest and had a rough day of oscillating hills, although extremely beautiful littered with farms and dairy cows, our legs were spent from the previous day and by the time we got to our Warmshowers host's house in Rio Grande only 46 miles for the day, we were both spent. Dr. Lenin and his friend Willie were amazing! Dr. Lenin's home sat on a hillside with all kinds of animals roaming the gardens and every flower you can imagine hanging from baskets or flowing from pots around the house. They insisted we stay many days to relax, but we were on a mission to get to Medellin (in hindsight we would have stayed longer if we hadn't planned and written a Warmshower host in Medellin who was expecting us). There was a small climb in the morning and then the descent-of-all-descents to reap the rewards of all our hard work. It was a wild ride down! (check out the video below)
After the rush of an insane downhill, flying by semis on the left and getting the occasional bug pelting, the road connected with a busy highway that led us first through Bello and then in through the giant metropolis of Medellin. The highway was hair-raising and we both were stressed to the max when the shoulder disappeared and the traffic was zooming inches from us at high speeds. We rode by a guy in a wheelchair on that same insane thoroughfare and when we stopped and he asked for a ride home, Ville had him grab onto the back of his bike and the guy directed traffic around them as we chugged up the hill. He stayed with us a while and then thanked Ville as he let go and headed up a side road home. (Check out the video below)
We made it close to our Warmshowers host's home and had an ice cream to celebrate getting to Medellin and await our host. Unfortunately we had mistakenly wrote the wrong date on our email and they expected us a week later, but welcomed us in and were the kindest family of fellow travelers. Manuel, the younger son, welcomed us in and even made us dinner before his older brother Daniel, mom Diana and father Pedro came home. You guys are amazing and thanks a million for your hospitality! After being so good at filtering water, we somehow managed to both get stomach sick, and I even have a rash to go along with it, but are making the best of fixing bikes and catching up on this blog while resting. With a quick recovery (fingers crossed), our next stop will be Cali in about 5 days or so and thanks so much everyone for following our journey, commenting, writing us, supporting us, loving us, and helping to make this wild bike adventure happen. Until next time, keep on keepin' on!
In hindsight, it just might have been easier to illegally push bikes with a machete and mandatory guide to get through the mountainous and dangerous Darien Gap, try and illegally border cross with no border crossing into Columbia dodging military and police and continue until we somehow connected with a road on the Columbian side, instead of boxing bikes and flying north east to Cartagena, Columbia.
Ville and my handful of rest days in Santiago, Panama spent with old friend from Bend, Devin, and new friends, Kacie, Maria, and Yoxara, were awesome. Devin works in Panama for an NGO, Bridges to Prosperity (check out the article I wrote about his work HERE) and we were able to head out on the job with him to check out the great work he and his crew are doing building footbridges for communities cut off from the outside world when rivers flood. One of the nights we were there, Maria and Yoxara, both from Venezuela, cooked us all some Venezuelan food, arepas, and even got us cupcakes to celebrate our One Year on the Bike Ride! Thanks so much all of you for a great time.
When it was time to keep on, we rode an easy 35 mile day to stay in Aguadulce with a Peace Corp. girl, Vanessa. We were able to meet a fellow teaching friend of Vanessa's as well as a couple students and appreciated very much a shower and to crash inside and away from mosquitoes. Thanks again Vanessa for hosting us, come see us in Oregon. The following day we had no plan as to how far we would make it, but had a decently flat ride to San Carlos, where the skies opened up and it began pouring like it had never poured before and we made it into town and found a Bomberos (Fire Station) that allowed us to pitch our tent under cover for the night. Completely drenched, we rung out our clothes and quietly celebrated our 4 year wedding anniversary together reflecting on what a wild ride this last four years of marriage has been like!! Thanks for keeping things interesting Ville. :)
The next morning, the rains had subsided, and when we asked for a good place to get breakfast we were directed to a hamburger and hot dog stand at the corner. Not quite what we were looking for for breakfast, so we decided to push on and found a bakery complete with tons of fried food and white bread. Needing to get on the road, we downed a handful of croissants and fried meat pockets and headed down the road. As we started into our big climb for the day, the fried food was wreaking havoc with our stomachs and we rolled into La Chorrera packed with afternoon traffic and made our way out to David, another Peace Corp. volunteer's house. David got a bit held up in traffic himself and so we sat on, what we thought was David's porch, for 5 hours waiting for him and watched a giant lightning storm pass overhead. Luckily when David made it home, we were on the right porch and appreciated very much another shower and bed to crash in. Thanks David for the hospitality.
Having only 25ish miles into Panama City, we started early and hit an unbelievable amount of bumper-to-bumper traffic almost the entire way into the city. And it was even Saturday! As we crossed the infamous Bridge of the Americas, the bridge over the Panama Canal, Ville and I were yelling and cheering the entire way across we were so thrilled to be at this milestone, heading into Panama City and the end of North and Central America! We did it! And timing was perfect with it being Saturday we ran into the Saturday Cycling Group who close off a lane of a major road on the way into the city. Now we felt like royalty cruising on into the city skyline like bad asses on heavy steeds. We were pumped to be able to ride the Cinta Costera, walking/biking trail along the water front. Until it ended, and we were forced into the worst city riding we have been in yet trying to get to a bike shop, Latin Bikes. After confirming they had set aside 2 bike boxes, we had to backtrack almost 4 miles back to our super classy Hotel Latino.
We had stayed at Hotel Latino seven years prior after crewing on sailboats and remembered it being decent with a pool. Apparently the years had been unkind to Hotel Latino, and although it still had the pool, the neighborhood was a bit rough around the edges and the patrons were young partiers in the city for the weekend or ladies of the night with their "friends". We did get the chance to meet up with a Couchsurfing dude, Leonardo, who treated us to tasty pints at Buenas Pintas and took us to a place with traditional Panamanian food for dinner. In the morning, we met up again for breakfast for some more fried street food where we realized that fried everything (not exaggerating, EVERYTHING) is how the Panamanians do food. After, we checked out some of the city, rode the single line metro, and met up with an old friend, Juan Diego, whom we had met seven years prior in the San Blas Islands and had spent time with him and has family in Panama City. Juan Diego was now grown up, married and with his wife, Claudia, and little girl, Alejandra.
They picked us up and drove us around the islands outside the city and into the Old Town part of the city with cobble stone streets and beautiful architecture. A stark contrast to the giant skyscrapers, banks, and malls of the rest of the city. After, we ate at Crepes and Waffles (YUM) and Juan Diego helped us out big time working through our issue of how to get a cab big enough the next day to get our giant bike boxes and ourselves out to the airport. He was kind enough to offer to pick us up the next day from the bike shop after we would box the bikes there. So most of the entire next day was spent in the front of Latin Bikes (they had no room inside there shop with air conditioning), breaking down bikes and packing them into 2 bike boxes. Having had to do this for our flight to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska at the start of the ride, we had a better idea what we had to do, but these boxes were much smaller and we had to take apart a lot more of the bikes than before and had far less packing material this time. Juan Diego, as promised, picked us up even at rush hour and we drove out to the airport around 6 pm to wait out our flight for 5 am the next day. Thanks a million Juan Diego for saving our butts with the ride and taking the time to see us with your family!
We met a super nice American couple we chatted with for a while in the airport before making a fort out of our boxes and gear under a stairwell and tried to catch some zzzz's. When we went to check our bikes in for the flight, we were informed that even though Ville had done a bunch of research into an airline that allowed our bike boxes for free up to the certain weight we so carefully packed them to, they discontinued that sweet idea in April and now charged $107 USDollars EACH to get our bikes on the plane. DAMN YOU AVIANCA AIRLINES! We reminded ourselves of all the great things that always come our way, and sometimes you just can't win it all.
First flight got us to Bogota, Columbia where we had an 8 hour layover and plenty of time to sleep on chairs, the floor, people watch and stuff ourselves with tasty Columbian coffee and cheap desserts. Bogota Airport was far classier than Panama, and we both reflected on how ecstatic we were to be finally done with hot and rainy Central America and our least favorite country, Panama. Aside from our awesome American, Brazilian, Colombian, Venezuelan and Leonardo the one great Panamanian friend, Panama was deforested, roads were shit, traffic was horrible, most people were unfriendly, food was our least favorite (fried) and Panama City was the most dangerous, deadly city we had to ride through. Colombian people were smiling, talkative, kind, the food was tasty, shops had t-shirts with BICYCLES on them, and this was all just in the airport! Man were we glad to be in Columbia.
Our last flight was delayed, but we made it before dark and after some eyelash batting and compliment throwing, the security guard lady let us assemble the bikes in the corner of the air-conditioned baggage claim. The assembly went fairly quickly, but we discovered a fair amount of bangs and bruises from the stellar crew at Avianca Airlines and were really stressing when we had my rear tire deflate twice as we were frantically trying to get to our hotel by dark. We rolled into a totally sketchy neighborhood, where a really kind man informed us we should NOT be here at dark and helped us find our hotel. The hotel turned out to be very mediocre, but was a roof over our head with a handful of locked gates and doors, and a bed to sleep. Anxious to get out and see the sights tomorrow (still hoping to find a new water bladder hose, guess they aren't as easy to find as we thought and being that I use it all day every day, I need one) and then head out south and back on the road the day after. Thanks all for reading, Happy 4th of July and until next time, keep on keepin' on ya'll...
K.G. & Ville
On a cruise ship, heading north up the west coast to Los Angeles.
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!” - Hunter S. Thompson
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