Sunday, February 23, 2014

1 month cycling through Colombia

     I set out from Bogota on January 19th, 2014 on my new bike, having no idea what I was getting into...and excited as hell about it!

     I first went soaring down the Eastern Andes from Bogota (Santa Fe de Bogota) into the Magdalena River Valley, then north along the valley & up the Central Andes to Medellin; then south around Manizales, through Pereira in the Central Andes and back down into the Magdalena River climb back up the mountains again.

     After 1250 km (800 miles) on the road, a highest peak reached of 3,250 m (10,663 ft) and a month full of very interesting & hospitable Colombians, I find myself back in the Central Andes, camping in La Finca Maco in San Agustin (a little southeast of Popayan - see map above).  The first day here I woke up to my body aching & head hurting, the first I've felt sick since Guatemala, about a year ago.  I man-handled my way up the mountain to get here, and the next day barely had the energy to walk to the bathroom.  Crazy how the body works.

The road into San Agustin (absolutely beautiful):

     I met fellow cyclist, Leah Manning, in la casa de ciclistas in Medellin, whom I rode with from there to Corcora Valley (approx 250k/155 miles.  She is a rockstar and has ridden all the way from Los Angeles., California, 9000km!  I learned a lot from her over the 4-5 days of riding together - keep on rockin, Leah.

She brought up a very good question one day.  If you're home and a complete stranger (a Colombian guy, for example) comes to your door and asks (in broken English) to camp on your property for the night - what do you say/do?  I know a lot of people back in the U.S. who would probably say no.  Here in Colombia, they don't even think twice about it.  They smile and say, "of course".  They then offer you coffee or water or fresh cow's milk or whatever they have.  Sometimes they even call their friend in the next town to host you the next night.  Unbelievable.  If I called my friends back in the U.S. to host a complete stranger for the night, I would most likely get the reply "Who is this person?"  Or - "I'm kind of busy - tonight's not really a good night".  I still haven't figured out what everyone in the U.S. is "busy" doing.  Hahaha.

     This hospitality is unparalleled anywhere else I have been in the world.  From the 2 1/2 months I have spent in Colombia, I am enamored with the people.  It's a culture of wonderful people who are easy-going, laid-back, quick to laugh, social, friendly, hardworking, musical and all-around happy-go-lucky.  They want to know how your experience in their country has been and how they can make it better.

     Unfortunately there still remains this worldly misconception that Colombia is dangerous and you will be harmed or kidnapped if you travel here.  Sure, there were problems more akin to this in the 80s & 90s during the Pablo Escobar days but they were not targeted at random tourists.

     The Colombia I have experienced is one of the most incredible countries on the planet and should be at the top of everyone's travel list.

To the people of Colombia: Gracias, gracias, gracias por todo!!!

From Caro in Bogota whom I stayed with for several weeks to the ladies here at the hostal in San Agustin who prepared me water with lime and baking soda to ease my stomach pain.  Thank you everyone.

I wish I had photos of everyone that has had a positive impact on my traveling here, every person that has let me camp on their property, the hospitable bike mechanics, generous police and everyone that welcomed me with a smile.  Here are just some of the Colombians who have made my travels unforgettable.

Caro in Bogota:

Lili in Bogota:

Julio in La Honda:

Juio's Friend in La Honda:

Francisco in La Dorada (he's actually Nicaraguan!):

Manuel & Martha in San Antonio Prado, Medellin:

Alex & family in San Antonio Prado, Medelln:

Luis, Edith, Isa, Maria, Sofia in San Antonio Prado, Medellin:

Dicson in San Antonio Prado, Medellin:

Jesica in Boquia:

Julian in Neiva:

Julian's friends - Cesar, Patty, Fernando & All.  BBQ for Patty's birthday!

Emilio in Tatacoa & El Dorado:

Esteban & Las Solteras outside of Tatacoa:

Mauricio & his 2 rugby players in Neiva:

Who knows what the next month will bring.  I should be crossing the border into Ecuador in the about 2 weeks or so.  In the meantime, I'll be riding "El Trampolin de la Muerte" in about 4 days, from Mocoa to Sibundoy.  It looks fun:

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