5th till 11th of August 2018.
Lazy Sunday Afternoon.
In the beautiful UNESCO town of Mompox, located at the Magdalena riverside, we enjoy a lazy Sunday with a real cappuccino and steak with fries.
Colombia has great meat and meat culture; amazing fruits but still needs to discover vegetables.
We further discover the city, get a free celebration drink in one of the small streets, see boys practice bull fighting with bulls on wheels and how they can avoid being hurt by a bull in the real game.
Meet with Enedis and Ana Maria and admire their home away from home. Meet Camille and Jay who are also looking into going on a bike tour (especially Camille).
Enjoying the peace and quietness of an empty city. Where are the people? We check out the possibilities to do a small boat trip but kindly decline as it looks way too touristic and one day no movement besides your own walking is also good for body and soul.
After this great rest day we say goodbye to our great host, Belgian Nico.
We are ready for the next stretch. It alternates between sand and asphalt, cities getting more busy the closer we get to the main road.
During the past days we enjoy discovering the possible wild life by road signs, we see monkeys and iguanas but some of the others are roadkill or hidden from our view.
Super flat road through the wetlands of the Magdalena river.
Fixing a hole.
We decide to stop in El Banco, a bustling river town, people are living a real life with fishing and conducting business. Trying to find a ground floor hotel I already wander through most of downtown. Routine is now that Frank stays with the bikes and I check out different possibilities. We choose for the one next to the river, very basic but with a small shared balcony.
We are happy a vendor with a kind of pita bread passes by so we don’t have to search for food. Heat is killing and I am already in bed by 8:30. Lucky we have airco as it is 35-40 degrees during the day, night time temperatures around 30. So no issue the shower only has “cold” water.
Hot hot hot.
At 8:30 it is already 32 and by lunch time it is 37 in the shade. Humidity is around 90%. Fortunately the road is 100% flat. As we are getting close to the main road we decide to try one of the white roads but when we pass through the first village Jose stops us and really advises us to go back to the main road and take the highway. Seems that this white road has had some history of robberies and even he would not take it but only take the HWY. What is wise? We don’t want to push our luck and after been stocked up with guyaba fruits we turn around. Strange, sour fruits. Good for a vitamin C boost. Jose owns 40 hectares of farmland.
Turning onto HWY 45A, the road to Pelaya, we are met by container trucks. I have not missed the noise or wind and hope to get rid of them soon. After checking out some hotels we decide to stay in Santosy, run by a family with 5 kids of which the 17 year old son cleans our bikes (for a small fee).
He is building his own bike and we help him a bit to clean some of the parts he will be using.
We are now entering a different region, rolling hills, 4 lane high way with good shoulder. Not always bypassing cities, where it changes to 2 lanes and all those container trucks pass through the small towns. We meet Yago Pablo Minervino, Argentinan biker on a round trip through South America. Great soul, pity we only can chat basic Spanish but we do share road tips and we get nice gift. Photo of one of his paintings. Thanks again!
When we take a small break at one of the SOS stops along the road, for more distance from traffic, a young couple (Adriana and her partner from Ibague) in an old VW van stop to see if we need anything. Next break we will not stop at a SOS sign, so not to confuse people, but it did bring us a nice encounter 😊. On the road again a small truck stops in front of us and the driver gets out with two small bottles of water.
Unbelievable how sweet people are! And then all the cheering and waving to keep us going. Even when we stop at a gas station a Colombian family stops to hear the full story. Fun to be in Colombia!
We bypass Aqua Chica as it is still too early and aim for San Martin. Frank miscalculates the distance and is spent when we still have to bike an other +10 km uphill when he thinks we should have reached the town already. When we arrive in town the first 3 hotels we check are FULL. Petroleum has been discovered in the region and housing/hotel accommodation is booming but can’t keep up with the demand. We are lucky to still find a space. Small bed and shower but with a big bucket filled with water, water supply stops after ½ a shower and you need to use the water out of the bucket.
Boring next day as it is a long, busy, straight road, going up and down. As I don’t want to climb much in the afternoon heat we decide to only cycle 39km and stop in San Alberto!
Also here the first hotel is full but the owner arranges for us to stay in a quite new apartment with a gas stove and fridge for only 20 euro. Of course we use the possibility to cook and make it even a bit romantic. Our favorite pasta with bell pepper and artisan BBQ chorizo. Lucky we have our camping cooking equipment.
Every day is a winding road.
The road is no longer 4 lanes but 2, without separation in the middle or a real shoulder and winds as a serpentine up and down hill through the mountains. Even truck drivers don’t mind the double yellow line and over-take without seeing what is coming around the next corner.
So it comes as no surprise that a bit later we arrive at an accident scene. 2 trucks and 1 car are involved and lots of people take advantage of the spilled corn for a free month of food, while the police just watches and only does some traffic control.
I indicate to them that if there are people hurt I can help and have a look at the two truck drivers. They are still on their phone, so seem to be ok. Clean one of the head wounds and let him sit down. Bandage the hand of the other driver. Stay with them until the ambulance finally arrives.
What a chaos as it is a very small road and only one by one some traffic can pass. But on all downsides there is an upside. There is less upcoming traffic once we continue. It is really warm and really uphill with several stretches of 8-10%.
Is it because we have had a rest day I get again nauseous with dizzy spells. We have to stop often, take a rest and eat something. My bike also does not feel right as is it wobbly. When we are resting at the roadside a small truck stops to offer us a lift to the top but of course we kindly decline. We can do this. Bit later we are welcomed with a tropical shower.
First stretch going down the bike feels even worse but we cant discover anything wrong.
Speeding downhill and at a flat stretch I want to say something is really wrong, when my tire explodes. Totally flat in a split second. Frank replaces the inner tube under supervision of the local youth as it happened in the middle of a small settlement. Frank can’t find a reason for the flat but discovers after having busted the new tire that there is a longitudinal slit in my outer tire.
Now what? We try to repair it with duck tape but ideas are not working and even with lining the outer tire with tape we see that the bulge is still there and it won’t be strong enough to hold for the next 10 km to the next sleeping place. We chat with the locals and they open the hardware store for us to see if they have a 29 inch. But only smaller sizes. We try to take the bus to the next town but all 3 different kind of buses refuse to take us, and there is no empty truck passing to arrange a lift. We could camp next to the road in the village but no toilet available and does not feel OK so as it is almost 18:00 and sun is setting we decide to bike back 2 km as there is also a small hotel. Joleite and her husband welcome us and still have a room available, we even can have dinner as they have a roadside restaurant. Everybody is interested in the bikes and Frank let the oldest son try his bike.
They also check if there is a tire available but don’t find it. Only possibility is Bucaramanga for which Joleite arranges transport at 7:00 am next day. No WIFI or GSM connectivity so we can’t check tire availability/location or hotel possibility. On Mapout we see that there is one region in town with lots of hotels and after a scary ride we are dropped off in that area.
First breakfast, Frank staying with the bikes while I charge the phone with local calling possibilities (until now only data). While I check out lodging possibilities, Frank starts to call around for tire availability. We decide to stay in the best hotel around the corner which has a tiny balcony. Find a new tire at the beautiful, well organized Specialized shop down town.
Frank ops for Specialized Control Fast Track as the owner really recommend this for the travelling we do. We even first find new ukulele strings at Hector Cruz, a manufacturer of string instruments, where we admire the production, 5000 instruments leave this shop annually. They provide work to 10 people and it seems that Bucaramanga is not only the petroleum capital but also the area where most string instruments of Colombia are produced.
Hope the sound of our ukulele will now be better, and yes this is the white bag I carry on top of the rack pack.
Rest of the day is change of tires. Schwalbe from front to back, new tires in the front (Frank also changes his back tire as it starts to show signs of wear after 9.000 km). Pity we could not find Schwalbe as they do feel stronger than the Specialized. Final bit of Saturday Frank corrects the blog of week 60. Week 61 is completed and we are ready for week 62 with back roads up to 3.000 meters. Find out if we reach the summit!