Climb to the Stars, Drop to the Sweltering Desert. Repeat. Medellin to Pasto, Colombia
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...
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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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