19th till 25th of August 2018.
Memories are fading in and out, mixing between different countries, roads and years. Twisting between time frames and being, waving as a texture creating new memories. Triggered by sounds, smells and heat or cold.I am sometimes getting so confused and I am happy that we have the discipline to try to write a weekly story. I start writing the new weekly blog once the week has finished and often already have to dig deep into my memory. Even if it is just a week ago. By the time the story is finished, photo’s are on the computer, selected and adjusted, all is put together and edited, another week or more has passed. Luckily Frank keeps a written diary which he updates almost every day.
After the most terrible Saturday night with disco going on till 3 in the morning we are ready to go downhill on a beautiful dirt road from Soata. Winding down past trees covered with Old Man’s Beard, seeing the Chicamocha river in the distance and people walking up the hill to Soata for Sunday Mass. Cruising 800 m downhill to cross the Chicamocha river.At the canyon bottom we have a coffee at Oskar’s before climbing up to the summit. We don’t mind climbing those 1200 m as it is on asphalt and there is hardly any traffic. Anyhow there is no off-road possibility. Do you see the village in the distance, at the top of the picture, just below the dip in the mountains? That is Soata.We climb out of a desert like canyon with cacti to an area with more grass, eucalypts and other trees. You wonder why the canyon floor with the fast flowing murky Chicamocha has desert walls while higher up it is more green, similar to the Grand Canyon in the USA.
The road to 2,900 meter is fleece on and off for me, as the sun is hiding and only occasionally peeking out from behind the clouds. Going downhill again we have to put on our jackets as it is too chilly. Pity last stretch to San Mateo is uphill again but we are in Hotel Casa Medina before dark, where we can use the kitchen, happy to make our own pasta!
On Monday we plan to bike to El Cocuy, capital of Colombian Mountaineering. Am I making myself too nervous of a too difficult climb to almost 3,000 meter as I think it will be unpaved? The ohboyaca bikepacking road is supposed to be 70% dirt road, so I worry that this part will be rough, but for today it is more than reasonable with good roads, bit bumpy but no major dirt road ascends.
First view of Sierra Nevada with snow-capped mountains.
Even if today was not too difficult we already decided we would take a rest day in El Cocuy to get used to the height and get stronger for the climb from 2,700 to 4,150 m.
El Cocuy. Green Mansions.
With 5,300 inhabitants it is the starting place for most hikes in the National park. Few years ago they decided to keep the village in white and light green. It will be home for us not for one night as first planned, but for 4 nights.
We decide to not continue after the rest day, but follow my FOMO (fear of missing out) urge. We arrange a hike to the top of one of the glaciers, thanks again @guidiary for the perfect summary, it made choosing which route to hike much easier! The rest day gives us time to arrange transport, guide, entrance and insurance, in order to be ready for the next challenge.
Everybody’s got a mountain to climb.
Leaving at 4:30 on a dirt road we are happy we don’t have to bike, with a car (Renault 9, must be at least 30 years old) which even has to reverse to take some of the hills, we finally arrive at the starting point of our hike.
El Cochuy National Park has been closed for several years due to a conflict with the Ita’ Uwa people who wanted a better protection of their holy mountains. In the past too many people would visit the park, leave garbage, camp everywhere. Now you have to register, pay insurance, entrance fee and hike with a guide.
There are 3 different hikes open of which we choose the Ita’ Uwa Blanco. Jose will be our guide, who has been helping people to discover this beautiful area for over 30 years.
The Sendero (trail) Ritacubas starts behind some cabins and after a short distance through a meadow it starts to go up.
We hike from 3,900 to 5,000 meter. See for the first time the different families of Frailejones. Family of sunflower. This is a kind of tree as it grows 1,5 cm per year, some are taller than we are. They are now protected as their fury leaves absorb water from the clouds and gives it to the earth.
Even if protected, outside of the park as well, they are threatened by agriculture, mostly potatoes. In the past they were used to build houses. The indigenous people only used parts of the plants, like the resin to make candles.
The higher we get the more we feel the lack of oxygen, going slowly, but steadily. We see the glacier with eternal snow, also here retreating due to global warming.
Final part is over a small, slippery ridge for which Frank kindly declines and I scramble further with Jose. At some parts it is very scary and you need to go on all fours, with an extra pull from Jose to reach the top.
From up there you have views of more glaciers and lakes. Going down is faster and we take the time to stop and enjoy the vastness and tranquility. We are just grains of sand in this vastness of space.
After 7,5 hours we are back in the first signs of civilization and get our first coffee of the day, still have to wait 1,5 hour for our transport back to El Cocuy.
Happy to have given in to my FOMO, as this was different from biking in the mountains. We would not have been so close to a glacier and hiked for almost 8 hours without seeing anybody. And we were so lucky, as the other group hiking to Pulpito Del Diablo had to turn back due to bad weather conditions. We only had a drizzle, cold wind and some clouds, for us the perfect hiking conditions. The hidden sun was still so strong that even with 70% protection, my nose got a real sunburn and my lips had blisters on them.
Rest your heavy head.
El Cochuy is located at 2,700 meters which means 4-8 degrees at night and 15 during the day, no heating in houses or hotel. So when we return to El Cocuy we wonder if we should stay one more night (would be the 4th night) in a basic hotel with no kitchen and hardly any proper food to be found in town. Still we decide to stay one more night as we need to give our legs some rest before spinning to 4,100 m. Frank becomes a breakfast expert cooking a warm breaky with the water heater. It was a well deserved rest day as we almost could not walk down the stairs. Need to hike more. We want to try out the local breakfast of soup with eggs, but the only place serving breakfast only has eggs. Challenge in Colombia is to find just black coffee without sugar or brown sugar. We have had places where they said: yes this is black coffee without sugar but it was still sweet as they put panela in it. We have found a great place where they serve only lunch: rice, potatoes, bit of meat, platanos and a bit of salad with soup. Great energy supply!
Sometimes I feel like screaming.
Read for the climb to 4,100 meter, starts straight from the village with a steep climb (+15%) and then the dirt road starts.
I am not feeling so well. Mind, body, soul and heart don’t want to work together. I need to stop frequently and Frank gets really annoyed with me as he sees that reaching the next settlement will be a challenge. He bikes bit up front and waits for me, or waits to give me a head start. We meet a schoolclass that is just walking with their teacher, kids from 6-12 year old, who all welcome us with a sweet handshake and wanting to know everything.
We climb from Swiss like grass land with cows, to eucalypt forest smelling like a sauna and then know we are higher up, when frailejones appear again.
Finally at 16:30 we are at the freezing cold top at 4,141m. Frank is grumpy because of all the stops and realy slow progress, but I don’t know what happened to me, was I to nervous for the climb? Am I conditioning my body to stop so often and should I break the pain level even more? With feeling so nauseous I don’t want to. Crossing the ridge we enter a new world with very steep cliffs and no vegetation. It is cold with a hard wind and bit of rain. We put on a few layers and speed down the hill. For Frank this is like hell as his shoulders are so worn that every bump hurts. Finally we are at the bottom of the valley when dusk is setting in, we still have to climb an other 7 km on a pitch dark road with occasional motor cycles and even fewer cars. A full moon is supporting us along the way, there are small farms everywhere, but we don’t want to ask for a camping as I still don’t feel well and in the small town of Chita there should be a hotel.
Finally we make it to Chita. 47 km in 12 hours, with 1,600 m up and 1,300 m down and a new PR of biking over an altitude of 4,100 m.
But the Google Maps hotel is not where it should be. Luckily local youngster direct us to the right location in front of two small basic hotels. As one of the owners comes out and shows me the possibilities we choose her hotel. Very small but clean. Seems that the hamburger we have in combination with everything of today does not agree with me. My night is spend more in the bathroom than in bed. When the 5 o’clock alarm sounds we decide quite quickly that biking today is not really an option.
I stay most of the day in the 2×3 m room with a tiny but oh so welcome private bathroom. Frank wanders through the small deserted village, at least we have time to post the blog.
In the afternoon I start to feel better and we can even have dinner in a living room restaurant: soup, rice, platanos and yes a small piece of meat.
First day we had to postpone planned biking due to my health. Hope we will be able to cover more km next week.