Biking days: 8
Gifts received: 2 cups of tinto (Columbian coffee), 1 giant Colombian biscuit, 6 bags of water, 5 ice lollies (2 coconut, 2 chocolate, 1 raspberry), countless shots of aguadiente, 4 beers, 1 Jehovah’s witness pamphlet in Spanish, 2 empanadas (similar to mini Cornish pasties), 2 cups of avena (sugary oat-based drink), 2 mandarines, 1 litre of delicious unidentified tropical juice, 1 bowl of soup, 1 bunch of bananas, 2 cups of salpichon (more delicious fruit drink), 2 zapotes (strange brown shelled fruit with orange flesh tasting like a mix of apricot and pumpkin), 2 baseball caps complete with Bucaramanga cycling club inscription, 4 more bags of water, and finally, 1 brand new pair of cycling shorts and 1 bottle of the best bike lubrication in the world, courtesy of Jorge and Welcome Bucaramanga bike shop!
As you can from this list, we’ve found Columbians to be a generous bunch. Charlotte was going to write this post (surprise surprise), and was going to comment on the inscription on the t-shirt of out host in Cartagena – it read ‘Columbia: Brazos Abiertos’ (Open Arms). Quite fitting really; most people we’ve spoken to have been either exceedingly cheerful, talkative, funny or warm, or all four, with the exception of one hotel owner in El Playon who took unhelpfulness to levels I didn’t realise until then existed, but who was otherwise harmless. And one guy in countless people is hardly worthy of a mention.
Anyway, how was the ride? Here are some choice photos to sum up the highlights:
Fixing a puncture in the town square of a small town gathers an audience. The guy in the middle kept up a conversation with us the whole time in a very loud voice so everyone could hear, and then showed us the way back onto the highway
After arriving in a small town with no sign of a hostal or hotel, a guy on a bike took us out to his dad's place to camp. These experiences always turn out to be so much better than staying in hotels: we had his dog as a guard, a bucket of water to wash in, loads of glowworms, and this guy's amazing company for the evening
We had to take this ferry over the river Magdalena. I wish I'd got a photo of it when it was full - it was so low in the water. We got invited to someone's house to eat river turtle on the ride over! We didn't find him again, and anyway we were a bit unsure about the offer!
In typical Latino style the ferry took ages to load, and we were left frying in the sun for that plus the 45min crossing. Here's Charlotte's stylish period drama look trying to cover up from the brutal rays
And this is my look - dirty pants stuffed into cap, and evening wear shirt dug out of pannier to protect arms - stylish or what?
The wealth gap between the cities and some parts of the campo in Columbia is huge. This row of cement houses with metal roofs baking in the sun were a world away from the colonial grandeur of Cartagena
Charlotte making new friends. This girl would not stop giggling.
The little guy bottom right was counting plastic spoons much to the amusement of the others
It was a pleasure riding on these quiet roads - these guys and the odd motocycle were all we saw for miles
We arrived in Mompos to a carnival going on. We bought a bottle of aguadiente with some locals, who then tried to teach us to dance
This is the square where all the partying had gone on the night before. Mompos was full of old colonial architecture - this church had a unique octagonal tower with a balcony running around it - the only one of its kind in Columbia!
Not doing much in Mompos - the place had a seriously slow speed of life. Not surprise considering the heat - we walked round the streets hugging the sides of buildings in order to stay in the shade and ducking into cool churches for respite from the heat!
One of the squares in Mompos was so full of life in the evenings with people eating and drinking from all the street vendors, or playing cards and chatting. It was like a giant communal living room. We spent every one of our nights there. Unfortunately this photo doesn't do it justice at all.
Leaving Mompos and crossing the Rio Magdalena
We acquired some new friends on the bridge...
...who accompanied us into the next town
When some friends of ours had passed this way a few months back, the road was a total mud bath from flooding, and they'd had to take boats over the worst of it. This was the only boat we had to take, a little raft pulled over the water with a rope...
....and in place of mud, we had rocks and dust and beautifully quite roads
The next morning leaving El Banco. The flooding here had subsided too, so we set off over the bridge, having been told the road should be fine for the bikes. You can see from the photo how much water there is in this part of Columbia.
What a quality road surface! We spent the first couple of hours hopping on and off the bikes - walking the worse stretches...
Back on the highway, a few days later we made a late afternoon stop near El Playon to buy fruit. This kind gentlemen gave us bananas and fruit punch to help us make the last few miles
After a day of climbing, a happy downhill arrival into the village of El Playon
Our 8th and final day's ride up to Bucaramanga took us along this section of washed out road choked with trucks. With all the pollution, traffic and clouds of dust it was like some kind of apocalyptic nightmare! Apparently the road got washed out in December 2010, and after 8 months nothing has been done to fix it. It was a very depressing and uncomfortable few miles of riding.
Luckily we bumped into this group of cyclists that cheered us up! They were heading the other way - to the coast and flagged us down to chat. They took loads of photos - in fact I think we had our photo taken with each cyclist individually, and gave us a cap each with their club insignia!
The hilarious, and delicious zapote - the way you peel it resembles a dafodil
Bucaramanga is at almost 1,000m above sea level and there was a particularly busy climb right up into the centre. Truck after truck came flying past us with guys on bikes hanging off the back - catching a ride up the hill. On our fully loaded bikes we didn't have the nerve to give it a go!
Welcome Bucaramanga bike shop where Jorge and his team gave our bikes some TLC. We spent ages chatting to Jorge and he gave us lots of great tips for the onward journey. A thoroughly generous chap, he also gave us some free lube, and a pair of cycling shorts to Charlotte (after 11months on the road she has finally decided that padded shorts might be a good idea! It was probably the posterior bruising received after bouncing down washboard dirt tracks that finally persuaded her!)