55km to Subia
55km to Melgar
70km to Gualanday
30km to Ibagué
33km to Cajamarca
44km to Armenia
63km to La Paila
103km to Palmira
28km to Cali
481km in South America so far
21,989km in total so far
It’s great to be back on the road again but it’s also been quite a tough start in Colombia.
Leaving vía the South of Bogotá on the ‘Autosur’ was horrible, with 3 lanes full of traffic, mostly trucks and buses, and the so-called bike lanes were rubbish.
It was raining and windy, and just very unpleasant. We were on and off the pavement, stopping and starting constantly. It took 3 hours just to get out of Bogota. The worst part was that Paola was trying to navigate through very scary traffic with awful aggressive drivers, and trying to learn to balance her bike and get her feet in and out of the pedals at the same time. When she stopped the weight of the panniers made the bike difficult to balance and she fell over 3 times. Her legs were scratched and bruised and my suggestion that she should lean to stop falling brought tears of frustration.
Thankfully, it eventually got better. As we passed Soacha, the traffc suddenly cleared, and we found ourselves flying along a wide road on a long descent. However day 1 had taken too long already. As darkness fell, we stopped in a small place called Subia at a hotel called “hotel azul”. At 30,000 pesos (about £10), this was fine. Although I did have a little drama when I slipped on the tiles in the shower. I hit the ground very hard, bruising my back , elbow, and cutting my feet. Paola and I had survived day 1. But only just.
Day 2 was mostly flat or downhill but we were warned that Girardot was not a safe or particularly nice place. So we stopped at a camping site in Melgar. At 24,000 pesos, this seemed a bit expensive, even with the pool. We were both not yet fully fit, and at lower altitude it was a very hot sweaty day, so we were just happy to have a lie down! That night there was a party by the pool and we were plied with aguadiente (Colombian ouzo) but we were too tired to join in the dancing.
Day 3 involved our first hills and some were very steep. The sun was scorching and I was destroyed by these climbs. We started to receive beeps of encouragement from passing cars, but with no decent place to take a pause, it was a huge effort to drag myself to the top of each hill and I stopped for salpicon (a juice full of chunks of fruit) from a nice lady who had a little stall by the road. I was pleased that although she was pedaling hard, Paola’s electric motor was helping her up the hills, and a lot faster than me. After about 60km we were both completely spent. When we reached a town which was just a few stalls by the road, we also realized we had no money. Fortunately we managed to make a ‘transaction’ at a local garage which meant we could get some cash. We found a ‘hospedaje’ (hotel) by the road which was very basic but at 15,000 pesos, it was also very cheap!
Day 4 was all uphill to Ibagué. Getting into the city wasn’t nice as we were again fighting through the traffic, but seeing a face we knew in Ibagué was great. Our friend Boris (who we had gone to karaoke with in Bogota) also worked in Ibagué sometimes so we were lucky that he was there and he had invited us to stay at his apartment. The city is built on the side of the Andes, so everything is up or down a slope.
We rested for a day in Ibagué and an extra day because Paola had a bad tummy.
We tried to get out of Ibagué and back on the main road, and found it quite difficult. By a market area we asked the police who kindly offered us an escort out of town because that ‘barrio’ (area) was a bit dodgy.
We went down a hill that was so steep and then climbed another until the police got us back to the main road. Paola had another little fall on the way when she stopped. And then we were on our way to Cajamarca. At one stop people talked to us about what we were doing and a guy gave us free toothbrushes! As we climbed the slopes, we saw a lot of cars going past with mountain bikes, and many of these guys beeped and shouted “Agale” (go!). The route became very steep and we stopped regularly to rest and drink. We were also eating little ‘bocadillos’, a very sugary sweet made of guayaba and arequipe. Paola was faster up the hills because of her electric motor, but when the battery died after 28km, we got off and started walking. Almost immediately, a 4×4 carrying mountain bikes to a race stopped and offered us a lift. I said I would finish the last few km to Cajamarca but it would be great if they could take my bags! As it turned out, we had actually reached the last big climb and the rest of the way was mostly downhill!
Cajamarca was a small town with not many hotels. The one we found (hotel “IN”) was 30,000 pesos and a bit expensive considering the terrible service… “Could we have another towel please”? “There’s one in the room already”, “yes but there are two of us” (oh for crying out loud)…
Day 6 La Linea
We knew this day would be hard and we had to fight for every inch. After Cajamarca to the peak of this part of the Andes, you climb from 1500m to 3000m in 20km. It is very steep, and a very slow climb. Usually at around 5kph. And we kept stopping for drinks. Again, using the full power of the electric motor, Pao’s battery ran out before the top. Luckily we were again helped by a passing vehicle, this time a kind family, and I did 7km alone but without bags (so much easier!) to finish. Closer to the top, the temperature dropped sharply as I entered the clouds. I remembered somebody telling me that the cyclists struggle with this climb in the vuelta (tour) de Colombia. I could see why. It was a beast. At the top was a small cafe where Paola was waiting with the bags. The descent was fast but very beautiful as we could finally enjoy some of the scenery and revel in the fact that we had crossed the Andes and completed our first big challenge.
We went through the centre of Armenia but it was quite ugly and not really worth it. We were now on route 25, also known as the pan-American highway. It was all downhill or flat but a late start meant we only reached the small town of La Paila.
This was a big day. Flat and easy, and it was the first time that Paola had done over 100km! We stayed in the Thama Hotel at Palmira, very close to Cali. 85,000 pesos was expensive but we had a very big room with aircon. And we deserved a nice room for a change!
A short cycle to Cali in the morning was quite nice until we arrived in the city. Another busy, ugly concrete mess. I must admit I hated it when I arrived. But we have been very lucky to be able to stay with the family of a a friend in a beautiful apartment, and we are making the most of staying in the salsa capital of Colombia. We have had private classes at SondeLuz. And they are excellent. Their address is Cra 28, #6 – 118. (Tell the taxi driver carrera 28 con sexta).
Our last class is today so we will be back on the road tomorrow! We are heading South towards Popayan.
Thanks for reading!