2nd of September till 8th of September.
Fresh mountain air.
It has its benefits when you can leave before the first heat of the day, even if you have to set your alarm at 4:30 to be ready by first sunrays. We enjoy the fresh mountain air before setting off.
While the rain was pouring down during the night we were happy with shelter at the swim resort of Sao Pablo de Borbur, not to mention being able to quickly pack all our dry gear. We leave early because I had in mind to do 80 km, including a lot of climbing.
Over soaking wet grassland we start biking down to the village to stock up on bread. They even open the bakery for us and close it again after we have what we need. People are heading to the church for the first mass.
When we bike up the hill we see Santiago working on this industrial drawing project for school, he is making a scale model of the place he passes every day walking down the hill, guess what it is?
Heavy cloud, no rain.
It is a beautiful uphill ride through the clouds over a paved road with max of 12% incline (only in the U turns). We only advance at a snail’s pace, but enjoy the ride in the cool freshness of morning.
At 9:00 the sun starts burning through the clouds and we cycle above the clouds. At one of the steeper sections we discuss what the best plan for today would be. Stop in Otanche at 27 km or continue. Locals already said to us that after Otanche the road is on and off in a reasonable or bad condition and we see on MapOut that the 55km also has some good climbs in it. In mutual agreement we opt for a deserved relaxed Sunday afternoon.
As we now have more time we stop for a coffee in the tiny village (150 people) of Santa Barbara, part of the village wants to know what we are up-to and explains that this is the region of emerald mining and that they also find lots of quartz. I can’t resist to buy a small one. A piece of quartz. Biking further uphill we see for the first time the immense, tall wax palms.
In Otanche we choose for hotel El Trebol, because it has a swimming pool, but we don’t use it, as it is filled with kids and has loud music. Just lunch in one of the small restaurants, a short stroll, doing laundry and working on the photo book for our nephew Conrad fill the rest of the day.
For the first time no wifi and no phone service, so no possibilities to chat or check Instagram. Strange how addicted I am, good to have a day of no service. Frank is searching for a few beers and disappears for a long time, the moment I wonder where he is he appears again. some guys next door’s invited him to have a few beers on the street. Fun!
Today we leave above the clouds and it is straight away much warmer, especially biking out of the city over a rough cobblestone road does not predict anything good. Much to our surprise this changes into the best road we have had in ages.
Wings of speed.
With only a few motorcycles for traffic during the first 10 km, it allows us to speed down the hill with in some parts at speeds of over 55 km per hour. This is much better than expected and each kilometer we cover in such pace on such good road is welcome. After 10 km we discover why there is no heavy traffic. Men are working here to convert the small gravel road to the spotless asphalt road we just flew down. Have to say it is more fun to bike on gravel even if it significantly slows us down. This is an even poorer area than before, less cultivation, steeper slopes, 90% wooden, single room houses, built next to the road. The slopes are often so steep they need to be built on stilts at the back side of the house. Only a few have painted their house.
We stop once in a while to talk with people and say how beautiful it is here, that Holland does not have any mountains and that we speak a different language. You see and feel that this is appreciated by the people as they follow-up with questions from their side.
As it is not a highway ascend, it is often very steep especially after crossing a river, even hairpins can be very challenging and in the afternoon we both are so tired we have to push the bikes up slopes of 15% to +20%. Frank totally looks spent.
This is one of the most beautiful rides until now in Latin America, only a spares jeep (which is used as taxi) or motor cycle, only the grinding of your wheels on gravel roads, your own huffing and puffing and wind in your hair, together with spectacular views make it a very special day.
When we arrive in the tiny settlement of Puerto Romero we find the place that rents rooms for 3 Euro per night. It is a converted shed with corrugated roof, where we can watch lightning through a plastic part of the roof and hear the downpour during the night.
We have a roof over our heads and running water. Lucky we can wash off the dust before going to bed.
This night Frank is happy we have our own toilet in our room. This is the most basic, accommodation we slept in during this trip. We love to stay in places like this, walk through the village, buy supplies in the two tiny shops, have rice with meat in the only restaurant (two tables).
The post war dream.
You don’t get closer to real rural life than this. Maybe when you would ask to stay for free at somebody place you get a bit closer but the basic hotels you stay in in these remote areas of Colombia are often extra rooms built where the family is also living. Not build for tourists, but for workers. We more and more understand we are travelling through a region where until 2 years ago FARC was in control and tourism did not exist. We understand more and more why people are surprised to see foreigners on a bike and why they ask all the time how we find their country and what we think about the people. The honest answer is always; great, in every way!
Work around here is mainly in road construction, gas/petroleum and agriculture.
Frank wants to leave even if he does not feel too well, as today should be easier and indeed after 30 km slowly rolling, wet, dirt roads we meet asphalt.
Bird life is suddenly booming, we see ara, toucan, green parrot, caracara. We see signs saying we are in a regional park. At one moment two people on a motorbike pass us, but return to have a chat and give us some guayaba fruit. So sweet (the people not the fruit).
Once we reach the T junction with Ruta 45 we enter a different world. So busy, so many trucks. At speed bumps people sell coffee and fruit.
For the first time in 3 days we can use WIFI, seems that the transmission tower from the mountain region we passed through is out of service. Good to be able to call home and say we are safe and sound. First thing the waitress says when she hears that we biked through the mountain: you did? That area is way too dangerous, lots of bandits there. Hm, haven’t encountered any, just friendly people.
World gone wild.
Through this small village traffic is terrible with no space for us but with truck drivers who are patient and don’t do any crazy stuff. 8 km down the road conditions change in a perfect 2×2 highway with a nice shoulder. Even if it is more traffic, flying over the asphalt is great. If we want to have a secured shelter we need to take the hotel possibility at 64 km, 10x as expensive as yesterday but new and clean, working wifi and cold shower.
It is as if entering in a new world now we are biking along the highway. Roadside hotels, most of them quite new. Water at 4x the price you pay in the little villages, luckily people are friendly as everywhere else.
Riding on the highway you see a lot of dead butterflies. I am trying to keep a few in a book but before putting them in there they first stay a while in my camera bag to see if they recover. If they do we find a spot with a lot of flowers a bit away from traffic.
I do grocery shopping while Frank sits in his nothing box, not feeling the best, so a good night sleep should help. He makes a great pasta salad while I work on the blog.
Ask me how I feel.
This Wednesday is one of the more boring days, flat, straight highway but making miles in a very reasonable time, even if we both still have problems with our bowls. Only memorable fact is that I take the lead even if we have a headwind and even in the uphill parts to shield frank from wind. He feels weaker and his saddle is not as it was, creating for the first time real saddle pain. For the second day I discover how it is if you need to wait for somebody. We cross the Magdalena river again, which is less wide here, but still impressive with fast streaming muddy water.
The fun part of biking is that you can almost stop anywhere and our Spanish is improving. So we stop to see what the ropes sold along the road are. Seems to be lassoes made from cowhide, twisted or braided. Beautiful work made by a kind soul. Frank even starts to make jokes in Spanish, when they ask me if he also speaks Spanish he says he does but that women always talk more than men.
While I check a few hotels in Honda, Frank waits outside with the bikes and is approached by a local who asks where Frank lives in Colombia, because he think’s he is local, yesterday he had people asking him the way for the 3rd time, hilarious. Honda was already founded in 1539 and I wanted to stay in the old city center, but am happy with staying below and walking up the steep hill and having the best steak in a long time. Hoping it will give some new strength and together with the vitamins and big breakfast will keep us going. The “golden age” of the city was between 1850 and 1910 when the Magdalena river constituted the only means of transportation between the Caribbean coast and the inland city of Bogotá. The city was the main river port of the country and all the imported goods and articles arrived in Bogotá through the port of Honda. The old market is still in use!
No oatmeal in the morning but a real Colombian breakfast, this together with the perfect steak of yesterday should give us again energy.
Thursday is a very short day, Frank bought a new saddle in Honda but is not happy about it and we both don’t feel 100%. As Mariquita is the only big city for the next week we want to try to find a better saddle for Frank. We find one at the Specialized shop. They also give our bikes a throughout cleaning while we do some shopping.
When it is my bike’s turn and I enter the closed washroom something very irritating is effecting not only my breath but also Julio’s, who is cleaning the bikes. What is this? During puzzling about it at night, the pieces fall together: breath irritation when high power cleaning, right leg which gets a red irritated spot when it is very warm and at low elevation (but only while cycling). I check the bear spray which has been secured to steering head of my frame already for 15 months and yes: the bottle has a leak and is almost empty.
Problem of the leg solved! Seems as it had been bumping so much to my frame a hole was the result. Do check you canister at a regular base! Happy that the red leg is solved! Next day we decide to move again even if we don’t feel 100%. Frank even worse than me. Not too steep but with switchbacks which are 9-12% so each time taking you out of your rhythm.
Find Frank in this photo. Again in mutual agreement we call it a day at Fresno even if it was only a meager 26 km and only just after noon, but we do feel that we can’t climb to the next city today. We both have an afternoon nap, which never happens and a really early night.
Saturday starts again at 5:00 in the morning but I don’t feel well. Dizzy and emotional which even a big breakfast doesn’t solve. Pouring rain on top and I decide I don’t want to bike today and crawl back into bed. Frank feels fine and works on the week 64 blog.
Only benefit is that we can post the blog already on Saturday. Sweet little, busy town with our room in front of the bus station.
This week the most amazing remote biking was alternated with boring stretches but a constant were the friendly, curious, welcoming people. Will we both be better next week?
PS. the sign of last week meant that you need to dim head lights.