Cycling in Colombia

Colombia: away from the PanAmericana

by Bicycle Junkies
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We would not be the bicycle junkies if we would not look for a road ‘away from the highway’. We quickly leave the busy and smelly PanAmericana behind us and soon we found ourselves on the Trampolina de la Muerte, in other words: narrow, unpaved, deep canyons and steep. Just the way we like it.

In one, tough day we ride from Ipiales to Pasto; almost 90 kilometers and many, may altimeters. Despite the attractive landscape, the loads of traffic on the PanAm is too much for us. Trucks, minivans, motorcycles and cars taking over at deadly moments, glass on the shoulder and the smell of tocix exhaust is no fun. By the end of the day we are exhausted, haven’t taken any pictures and our throats are hurting. We need to get the hell out of here! We both love to see more than just the quick way to Alaska, sure, it takes more time, but it’s not about the destination!

Cycling in Colombia

Trampolina de la Muerte

After studying the map, we find a nice B-road that will take us to Medellin. After that it’s the PanAmericana that rules, so we might take a bus to Cartagena. Why? Because it sucks to cycle on a busy highway. 😉

Trampolina de la Muerte
We find ourselves on the Trampolina de la Muerte; a narrow and unpaved track that will lead us from the mountains to the jungle. It’s hot, drops of sweat are running down my face into my eyes. Our shirts are completely soaked and the little midgies just love the smell of hard work.
Colombia, our 8th country on this long distance adventure. Another country, different habits, a different feel. Just different. The only thing that remains the same throughout South America is the terrible driving skills! But, lucky for us, there’s little traffic on this track and the ones that do pass are friendly, give us a thumbs up or an enthusiastic wave.
Colombia is also the first country where we regularly have to pass military checkpoints, but these young soldiers with their huge guns are very friendly and chatty. Apparently they keep the roads free from guerillas, paramilitary groups, FARC… We do feel safe here, but it somehow feels a bit weird. I don’t know if the people are really afraid and if that’s based on real events. But I guess, living in fear for such a long time, will take a long time to disappear…

Cycling in Colombia

Christian and his father let us stay with them

It’s a rollercoaster ride. When we stop at a roadside restaurant for a coke, the heavens open up: huge drops are falling down from the sky and they are with many! In no time the road turns into a mud pool, rocks are slippery and visibility no more than 50 meters. Christian, the 14 year old son of the restaurant owner, chats with us, while we wait for the rain to stop. He’s very curious and asks us about our trip, our bicycles and about studying in The Netherlands. He has a dream. Christian wants to study medicines at Harvard someday! I tell him to hold on to his dreams and work hard for it, it’s a good dream. Rain doesn’t stop and his mother invites us to stay. “Much safer” she says. “Better stay here, they’ll shoot you in the dark!” We doubt that will ever happen, but decide not to try and prove her wrong. The state of the road is more than enough reason for us not to continue.

Cycling in Colombia

Christian brings us to this little shed next to the restaurant. A geen piece of plastic serves as a door. Inside are two dogs and a cat, lying on a thin and dirty matrass. He quickly kicks them out into the rain. On the rocky floor are pieces of carton and spiders, roaches and beetles are crawling in every corner. Just fine! We have a roof over our head, it’s dry inside, and a restaurant around the corner with hot and sweet coffee. For dinner we have chicken soup. So what else do we need? But for my own piece of mind we put up the inner tent, no creepy crawlers for me tonight!

From San Agustin to Popayan
After Mocoa we cycle to the pre-Inca statues near San Agustin. We visit the archeological park and are amazed by the many statues and graves. The latter look a lot like the Dutch ‘Hunebedden’. In a couple of hours we wander through the park; it’s an amazing site and definately worth a visit.

Cycling in Colombia

San Agustin statue

Another climb lies ahead of us; up into the Paramo to Popayan. It’s a 135 kilometer ride and we climb from 1300 meters to a pass at 3200 meters on a mostly unpaved road. The Paramo is a unique ecosystem only to be found in this part of the world. 60% of the 5000 different plant species are unique to the Paramo. It’s cold and moist up here and a huge difference from the heat a couple of hunderd meters lower.
We cycle this route in two days and the first night we ask a restaurant owner if we can camp in his yard. No problem! Actually, he insists. Because, so he whispers, “if you continue, you enter the ‘zona roja’!” Confused I stare at him. What does he mean with ‘zona roja’? As in ‘red light district’? (you never know, I mean, if you gotto go, you gotto go!). “No, ‘guerillas’..” he says. Really? “Si, guerillas..” Oww… Tanja and her friends are walking around!

Cycling in Colombia

Paramo


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2 comments

Irene Engelbertink August 24, 2017 - 10:22

Dag fietsjunkies! Graag wat advies over het volgende. We zijn van plan om in augustus volg jaar te fietsen van Cali, Colombia tot Manizales. Nu lees ik over veel vrachtverkeer en andere ongemakken op een drukke weg. De vraag is dus specifiek over deze route. Wat zijn jullie ervaringen? We fietsen op een tandem en hebben enige fietservaring in Cuba en Australie. We houden (althans ik haha) van vlak fietsen… Zou deze route te doen zijn of raden jullie een andere route aan. Alvast bedankt. Groeten, Irene

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Bicycle Junkies August 24, 2017 - 10:46

Hoi Irene, wij hebben dat stuk tussen Cali en Manizales niet gefietst. Wij zijn na Popayan doorgestoken richting het Oosten en Neiva om vervolgens weer bij Girardot terug te steken naar Manizales. Dat laatste stuk was heel druk met vrachtverkeer en zou ik niet aanraden.
Ik zou proberen een B-weg te vinden, want het lijkt mij niet leuk om op zo’n drukke weg te fietsen. Tsja, vlak fietsen in dit soort landen zit er vaak niet in en vind ik dan weer heel saai. 😉 Maar ik denk meer dat de drukte op deze weg het minst leuke is, zelf zou ik er ook niet voor kiezen om over de snelweg te gaan. Tenzij het echt niet anders kan. Dus, als ik jullie was, zou ik op zoek gaan naar een rustigere b-weg. Succes!

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