My journey, on Instagram, part 2: Medellin to the border of Colombia & Ecuador.
Today was my first real day back on the bike after five days in Medellin. I brought my bike to the shop that was owned by the family that runs the Casa De Ciclista in San Antonio de Prado outside Medellin, but I struggled to get moving after. It was around noon when I finally left town and began the slow climb out of the Medellin valley. When I finally reached the top I was rewarded views like this that constantly distracted me from the windy 40km descent. I stopped short of my goal in La Pintada to watch Colombia play Peru in World Cup qualifying. I hope to make it to Manizales tomorrow but it's 115 km mostly uphill so we'll see.
The ride up to Manizales seemed to get steeper the more tired I got. I reached to the bottom of the climb to the city after a solid 90K, but decided to keep going because there was still a few hours of daylight left. Afterall, why not start a 20K, 1,000m hill climb eight hours into the day? As I struggled slowly upwards, i was treated to the first amazing sunset of the trip, which kept getting better as I went. It gave me wings when I was wilting, but it was still a massive effort to get into town.
Today my trusty OpenStreetMaps app sent me up what looked like a nice country road paralleling the main highway. My plan was to make a day trip up to Nevado del Ruiz national park from Manizales. Unfortunately, I didn't do my usual due diligence on the road. It started off great, then turned to double track, then single track, then the most punishing hike-a-bike I've ever encountered. The picture in no way does it justice. By this point I knew that if I turned around I wouldn't make my goal so I kept going up and up and up. By the time I hit the highway it was too late to visit the park, so I just bombed down the paved road to some hot springs. At least the views at the top were nice.
The bike takes a rest after a 1,700m climb to over 4,000m into Parque Nevado del Ruiz. At about this point a tour group passed by and handed me a bag of much needed snacks. The next few hours of riding through the park was incredible, with the clouds moving on and off the mountains. I didn't get to see the big, 5,000m volcanoes, but I did get glimpses of snow.
Thursday started off as a highlight of the trip. After a long climb out of Salento, I crested the pass and entered a remote valley filled with fields of wax palm trees. The trees only grow in certain parts of the Andes and can be up to 60 metres tall. Here, they were in abundance, standing majestically on steep farm slopes. As I enjoyed the long descent down to Toche, things went sideways when the pannier carrying my camping gear bounced off my bike and I somehow didn't notice for several kilometres. It was picked up by a tour guide who I'd spoken to while in Salento and I had told him about my plans. Thankfully, I got it back, but not until after a long return trip back to Salento. I ended the day camping next to some hot springs, counting my blessings and wondering how many lives I have left.
I've been touring through Colombia for five weeks now and I'm only a few hours by bus south of where I started. Ibague isn't far from Bogota, unless you get there by making a circuitous, 1,500 kilometre loop through the mountains. Tonight I plan to hit fast forward by taking a bus to San Augustin down south, skipping five days of riding and setting myself up to ride the Trampolin de la Muerte, which is supposed to be one of the most spectacular roads in a country full of them. This photo was taken yesterday as the skies cleared following a rainy night and morning on the back road between Salento and Ibague.
Colombia has an incredible cycling culture. People ride bikes everywhere and every time I approach a city I'll be surrounded by groups out for a ride, who will inevitably cheer me on. One of the best things they have going is Ciclovia, when major cities will shut down main streets in Sundays for cyclists. It started in Bogota in the 70s and has spread across the country. I couldn't imagine this happening in a major Canadian city, but it would be amazing if it did.
I met another bike tourer in San Augustin the other day. William, from Bogota, is biking to southern Brazil, heading in the same general direction as me. He left the hostel in San Augustin yesterday before I even woke up but despite a 2.5 hour had start, I caught up to him on the way into San Juan De Villalobos, my destination for the night. We found a cheap place to sleep, grabbed dinner and headed out together the next morning. I found it odd sharing the road with someone, being so used to the solitary lifestyle. I also realized why I caught up with him – we travel at different paces and his photo stops were much longer than mine. We didn't ride together long but we exchanged contacts and I'm sure I'll see him again along the way. Meanwhile, my laptop won't charge and I'm unable to transfer more than one photo from my camera to my phone at a time, so I won't be updating my blog until something gets fixed (or I get a new laptop), which probably won't be until I get to Quito in about two weeks.
The plan today was to go for a walk to some waterfalls in the morning then ride my bike in the afternoon. But the waterfalls were more beautiful than expected as they tumbled through the jungle one after another culminating in a 75 metre plummet called Fin del Mundo, where the river disappeared into the jungle below. There was swim holes, cliffs you could jump off and a little lunch spot. Morning turned to afternoon and now I'm lying in a hammock back at the hostel. If you're traveling in this part of Colombia, the hike is a must do.
Well, El Trampolin de la Muerte didn't defeat me, but the rain made it take a little longer than planned. After a first soaking yesterday morning, I made it to a restaurant near the top of the first 1,500m climb just as the skies opened up again. I waited for it to stop but as darkness approached it showed no sign of letting up so I asked if I could sleep there. Unfortunately their usual spot for bike tourers was taken up by a litter of puppies so instead they let me sleep in the shed. It wasn't the ideal accommodation but it was dry and free and I actually slept pretty well. If it's the worst place I sleep on this trip, I'll take it.
Well, it took six weeks and a day, but I finally reached Ecuador. The last few days in Colombia were cold and rainy and rather dull as I pounded out the kilometres on the Pan-American to the border. I stopped for lunch in Ipiales, a few kilometres from the border, and waited for it to stop raining. When it wouldn't, I went for it anyway and had a very easy crossing. Then, as I climbed the bill to Tulcan in Ecuador, the rain stopped. Coincidence? I just paid the most I have for a hotel room all trip, a whole $12 USD, but it was worth it for a true hot shower. Tomorrow I start on the Trans Ecuador Mountain Bike Route, dirt road edition. Google it if you want to see what I'm getting myself into.