16th till 22nd of September 2018.
A Hard Road.
The Pan-Americana Highway is the longest network of roads in the world. Leading from North America across Central America and ending in the most southern tip of South America. If the Darien Gap would not be in-between it would give you 30.000+ km of mostly good roads in one stretch. Now mainly used for heavy traffic. You can imagine that we were hesitant to go on the Pan-Americana, especially after all the remote riding. Will it be boring? Too flat? Can it ever be too flat? Too much traffic? We are now on it and there are stretches we would love to avoid, mainly when it is passing through cities, where there is hardly ever a shoulder, but other parts are very quiet with stunning landscapes.
Our second day on the Pan Americana is this Sunday with first leaving Yotoco in full rain gear.
More spray from passing vehicles than from rain. As we are still carrying the saddle we bought as replacement for Frank’s broken saddle and he cannot sit on for a full day, we check all bikers that we pass if they have a good saddle or not. We pass a young guy on a bike and only when we stop we notice his rear tire is flat. Frank can’t resist to fix it, big piece of glass, wondering if the fix will hold. Miguel has tattoos and ear & lip piercings, but is very polite. He is answering all my questions with “si senora/no senora”. Working in a truck wash shop down the road. He is moved when we give him the saddle and we don’t want to accept payment for repairing his tire. As he does not have any luggage and needs to go to work he speeds off and we cannot keep up. It is only after 10 km we finally pass the place where he is working.
Me and my friends.
Sunday is an uneventful day with almost no traffic on an almost flat road arriving at Cali early afternoon. Just before arriving in Cali we meet Austrian Daniel, on the road for more than 2 years. He left his home on his bike and traveled through Europe, Asia, Australia, New-Zealand and crossed to Patagonia. Now eager to get to Medellin to meet a friend. He is biking only asphalt, as his bike can’t stand the beating of gravel roads. But he will return to some of the countries to do back road riding on a suitable bike. Being on the road for such a long time and having seen so many beautiful things also urges him to speed up and see friends instead of making another detour.
Entering Cali, the fastest growing economy in the country with 2.3 mil people seems to be quite relaxed as we enter by the North. We try to find a good, clean place to stay for the next two nights, as tomorrow evening we will meet an old colleague and friend of mine from my old Atrium/Getinge working days, she is visiting her mother who lives here.
Cali is renowned for salsa and great food. We have the best pizza in a real up-scale Italian setting, good music and great wine.
Next day we try to discover the city, but even if it is founded in 1536 by the Spanish conquistador Sebastian de Belalcázar, there are only a few old churches and streets remaining. As you can imagine which such a huge population it is here mainly high-rise and double lane traffic, but also some hidden gems.
We have a great evening with Claudia and her family, sharing food and stories. Time passes too quickly.
Lock and Key.
Next morning does not start good, as we fail to find one of the keys of the bike locks. We think we maybe have lost it in the pizza place and wait until it opens, but they have not found any key. We call a lock smith and have to wait 2 hours before he arrives, in the meantime it is already 13:00. He tries to open it in the old-fashioned way and gives up after 15 minutes, the 8 pin Abus lock can’t be opened! That gives us a secure feeling, but now we need to use the heavy tools from the hotel: a grinder which Frank uses very professionally. Hotel handyman Jonathan is fascinated on how Frank is solving the problem of liberating my bike. My bike was not only locked with the chain to Franks bike, but also to the metal frame of an old jacuzzi bathtub.
The day has almost passed and we decide to stay another night. What a bummer when we discover that the hotel is totally booked and we need to look for an other possibility. I had spotted a great new hostal yesterday in an old building just 2 blocks up the road and they have availability. Seems to not be a hostel but a hotel with new soft beds that now has an interesting promotion that I can’t resist. Nested in the culinary region of Cali we enjoy an other night out.
Did you know that beds in Colombia are very hard? This was the first bed which felt similar to home. Almost a pity to leave the next day. But after all the good Italian and French food during the last days, exploring the city and visiting friends, we are eager to get out of busy, noisy, crowded Cali and move on to the border.
Biking out of the city is more of a nightmare, luckily today is again a flat, hot day to Santander where we stop for the night as we want to cover the remaining 85 km to Popayan the next day. We leave the flat valley plains covered with sugar cane behind us and move up to a cooler climate. In Santander Frank repairs his front tire for the 3rd time . We miss the ruggedness of the Schwalbe Marathon MTB tires, as it seems that the replacement Specialized Fast Track tire is puncturing the inner tube,…grrr.
Ride to Popayan is more challenging and fun with climbing 1000 m. We enjoy staying in a hostel (even if it is with shared facilities) as we can have access to a kitchen and cook two nights our own pasta with lots of vegetables.
Popayan, the white city, still has 250,000+ inhabitants but a well-preserved old city center. In 1985 it was shaken by a fierce earthquake but most buildings are restored. It is now UNESCO heritage for Colombian gastronomy.
The great thing is that they also have a good ophthalmogist who can remove the grit from my eye, which we failed to remove ourselves during the past days.
Following a walking tour with Spanish guides passes us quickly past all the highlights and gives us the possibility to see a rehearsal of modern ballet.
Do you notice anything strange about the one-armed clock tower?
On Saturday we are welcomed by climbing and a beautiful landscape. Only bummer is a very winding road with no shoulder. No real other alternative than a huge detour means just listening to oncoming traffic and making sure to give them enough space.
We stop at a small wooden hut to enjoy freshly squeezed orange juice. Ruben and Carlos are happy we speak Spanish and as long as they speak slowly we can have a decent conversation about this region and Holland. The whole family is living along this stretch of road and when they discover Frank is as old as their mother you see them wondering why he is so crazy to do this biking.
I can not resist to chat with this beautiful lady who is carrying platanos back home. Here they are more open to have their photo taken. Think about having to walk a few kilometers to carry your groceries home.
Cactus dotted around the landscape indicate that we are entering a dryer environment.
The winding road is not a risk only applicable for us, as we see today a car up-side down along the road, which happened a few minutes just before we are passing. Police is already there, when I ask if they need help they say the driver is fine and already standing next to the car.
In the afternoon half of the road is blocked and 3 tow-trucks are trying to pull a truck from the ravine, also here the driver is fine and is looking how they try to recover his vehicle. Only late in the evening we see it passing by in El Bordo (on a recovery vehicle). Here we meet Martino & Lady from Popayan on a weekend trip to the river. What a joy to speak English as they both are fluent in English. Lady is an English teacher for 11-17 year old children. El Bordo is a busy highway town with heavy traffic passing through town.
This week was great for distance and culture. Even with 3 days not biking we still covered the needed average of 40 km per day. It was a great week because we met Claudia but we are also both saturated with busy towns and traffic. We long for the solitude of Ecuador! Still quite some kilometers to cover!