23rd till 30th of September 2018.
Bad to the bone.
Bike packing around the world seems to give you a special shield. People are friendly, police waves you through. Border passing is most of the time a piece of cake, as you spend more time telling people what you have done and what you are up to than really being checked. At none of the 9 overland border crossing until now our luggage has been checked.
Some clever narc-guys discovered the positive attitude towards bikers and how easily they pass from one country to another and have now used it to traffic drugs. Recently they caught two cyclist with each 18 kg of marihuana, biking from Colombia to Chili. How they hid it and how it was discovered: find out more.
This Sunday we first chat in English with Martino and Lady who will spend a day at the river side close by, while we continue South. It is weird to speak English for the first time in almost two months ! She must be a very good English teacher!
When we stop in Patia to try out the real kumis there is a strange quiet atmosphere. While we are savoring the second cup of kumis, which is a bit like thick buttermilk, an ambulance stops and a big crowed gathers around to look inside. Quiet, mournful, one lady cries. Seems that just an hour ago a deadly motor accident had happened. It is crazy how people drive here, motorcyclists overtake on the inside and pass trucks and us very close. Signs even forbid motorcyclists to zig-zag, but they all still do so. Strange start of the Sunday.
We weave further between brown and green mountain sides, dotted with yellow-flowered trees, Tacebuia Chrysantha. Bright color in a dry landscape. This has been the hottest stretch in a long time. Even if we follow the Pan Americana you can’t really say it is a highway, as curves are tight and it is only a two lane road.
Just before Remonilo we see Stefano struggling up-hill, on his way North in a wheelchair. Seems he traveled South and returned from Chili. Travel is paid with what he collects on his route. He is now 57 and got paralyzed in a bus accident when he was mid 30.
We stop in Remonilo as I have seen on Google Maps that there is one hotel with a swimming pool and I would not mind a dip. Even if they advertise at the road side with a picture of a sparsely dressed lady, it does not look like a love hotel. Having ground floor rooms and a clean swimming pool, we accept the Sunday afternoon music and noise, as we know people will leave at sunset.
Anybody wondering why we included Renault 4 pictures in last few posts?
David B. noticed and we revealed the reason to him, but do you know or like to know? Here you still see hundreds of them and they are all 30 years old or more.
If we have one thing to “moan” about in Colombia it is that there is not much variation in the food on offer. You can choose delicious deep-fried empanadas etc or you get soup for breakfast with eggs (any style), lunch and dinner are the same: soup with meat, rice, fried banana (plantano), yucca and sometimes beans or salad (depending on the region). Spice it up with gorgeous spicy home-made salsa, but most of the time salsa from the supermarket. Still you can find it in any small village for a price you can’t cook for yourself, so we should not complain, but it remains bland.
When we want to leave the next day Frank is not happy as his front tire is flat again. He gets a headache from the Specialized tire, as it looks like tiny metal bits from the outer tire are puncturing the inner tube.
Today we are welcomed by fierce headwind, which can be very strong when the road carves its way through the hills and you have to bike through an open tunnel. Dry, desolated, almost no vegetation. It is so steep the road even need to pass to real tunnels, which are not our favorite stretches. We need to be visible, so put on our reflector belts, bike hard and we pass them without any problems.
We are happy we did not take the off-road version of this route, as this is already spectacular and tough enough.
During the past 3 days we were passed 3 times by Vincent, a bike-packer from Chili on his way South, who only said hello and even did not stop long enough for a selfie, is he hiding something too or just a loner?
We are both totally spent after only 57 km but with 2,200+ m incline, the fierce headwind and really hot day, we decide to call it a day.
We check a few possibilities which would be ok to just sleep but as we probably want to do a rest-day tomorrow we crave for something better. We find it next to Aeropuerto Antonio Nariño. Hidden behind a ghost hotel new cabañas have been built with hot water and new beds! As there is really nothing else to do than rest we welcome reading, working on the blog and chilling out. And yes it is next to an airport but only two planes land and leave per day.
Leaving after a day of rest with a challenging climb, meeting two bike packers who are juggling and mono-cycling bikers when they need money whilst travelling north. One of our hero’s is local Franco, 80 years and still biking this stretch 2-3 times per week to keep fit!
First thing to do in Pasto is to buy a new tire to replace the Specialized. Frank chooses a Continental Mountain King hopes this will work better. Tires used so far in descending order of quality: 1. Schwalbe Marathon plus MTB, the most puncture resistant and a good hybrid on and off road. 2. Continental mountain King, not much mileage yet but feels ok. 3. Maxxis (forgot the type), poor puncture resistance. 4. Specialized Fast Track, although sold as hybrid for on and off-road, weak threading inside that breaks and punctures the tube. 5. Vee Rubber, very poor fit, could not get it on the rim properly without wobbling.
We check the casa de cyclistas, but this is only a very small camping ground where most space is already taken. As what remains is not flat and it looks like it will be raining we aim for a hostel like a real hostel should be. Meeting possibilities, kitchen and a shared, great balcony. We meet Caroline, Flemish, travelling the Americas on her own. So great to be able to chat in our mother tongue and hear her adventures! Brave lady!
Super big supermarket close-by with everything you long for provides steak with baked potatoes and lots of vegetables for dinner! Frank needs to add some meat to his bones.
Halloween is approaching and Christmas decorations are also already available.
Meet me halfway.
We discover that Zoë and Oliver, who are travelling the world on their 25-year-old Giant bikes and whom we follow on www.weleaf.nl and @weleaf have also arrived in Pasto. We decide to stay an extra night so we can spend some time with them.
And how great it is to meet a Belgian/Dutch couple travelling on bikes! To share stories, listen to challenges, recognize frustrations and see the drive and passion! Sharing pie at 10:30 in the morning feels like home!
It is with pain in our hearts we say goodbye. What a lovely time we had and I notice that I keep on having conversations in my mind with Zoe even if she is travelling North!
Biking out of Pasto is no challenge, only climbing a bit and having the benefit of periods of no traffic, as road works are ongoing to double the lanes. It seems to be already ongoing for 5 years. We wonder how they will manage to widen the road on such steep hills, with sheer drop offs at one side and steep mountain walls on the other side. For the first time we see tractors on sale, except for a few stretches in the valley, all agricultural labor we have seen was done by hand.
We decide to stop in San Juan, very friendly clean place and keep the last stretch to the border for Saturday.
We are rewarded with an amazing back country ride as our last day biking in Colombia. Friendly, curious people, great chats, amazing views and some challenging climbs.
Two months and 2500 km of cycling in Colombia are topped off with a visit to the most spectacularly situated church of Las Lajas!
The current church was built between 1916 and 1949, with donations from local churchgoers. It rises 100 metres (330 ft) high from the bottom of the canyon and is connected to the opposite side of the canyon by a 50 metres (160 ft) tall bridge.
Ipiales is our last town, last night of this week and last night of 64 days of cycling in Colombia. What a beautiful, colorful, friendly, open, curious country. 100% recommended! At one moment it felt long, now it feels too short, being 30 times bigger than the Netherlands we could spend months more and still not having seen everything. What we have not yet tried but will also be able to do more south is ….
Will Ecuador be different?