The Intro

A small and relatively young man decided that he wanted to go on a multi-day bike ride the year he turned 40. His taller and relatively young friend reluctantly decided to come along. 22 days. 800 kilometers. One stubborn relatively young man and another relatively young man with bad knees, bad elbows and a bad shoulder. Follow our journey here, and make a bet on how far we get before this mission impossible is aborted.

The journey is scheduled to start on 3 February 2017. Unless we have too much to drink the night before.

until then, we reminisce a bit:

 

The Packing

The pack list for this trip should be pretty simple. So I'm sure I've forgotten something.

The climate is tropical and most probably dry this time of the year. Yet I don't know if I will resist the urge to bring a light wool sweater. Having previously lived in Colombia, I know it can be a bit chilly at night.

We are skipping camping, and that makes the packing list considerably shorter.  It have been nice to camp, but with all the climbing we will have to do, it's a relief not having to carry a tent, mattress, sleeping bag and cooking equipment.

 

This is what will go on the bike.

The packing list composes the following:

4 T-shirts for biking
2 T-shirts for dancing
2 shorts (one for swimming)
2 pairs of short tights
Sandals
5 pairs of socks
4 pairs of boxer shorts
1 rain jacket
1 wool sweater
1 pair of sneakers (for dancing)
1 pair of jeans (for dancing)
1 camera
2 spare camera batteries
1 pair of sunglasses
1 bag with assorted toiletries (including deodorant for dancing)
1 USB cable
1 beanie
1 helmet
1 pair of bike shoes
2 spare tubes
1 flat tire repair kit
1 neck gaiter
1 tennis ball
1 golf ball
1 notebook
1 pen
1 mini tripod
1 ND filter
1 water bottle
1 water bladder
1 small dry bag
2 pairs of spare brake pads
1 powerful headlight (a life lesson has tought me to bring one)
1 ebook reader
Sunblock
1 towel

In case we will get to explore some sports we have never tried on the way. Maybe?

Passport and credit card will be added to the list, along with some spare bike parts. Test packing shows I still have room to spare. So what else do I bring?

 

 

Everything must fit in these bags.

The Plan

Colombia, baby!

We went through about a third of the world’s country before making a decision. Tempting destinations such as Spain, Italy and North America were disqualified because of the February climate. In the end, Colombia was the preferred option.

Colombia is a horrible place. Don’t go there and stop reading now.

Colombia is located in the red box. Map from worldmapsonline.com

Of course the former statement a blatant lie. Colombia is one of the loveliest places that I know, but if that secret gets out there, I worry it will be flooded with the worst kind of tourists and it will lose some of its charm. Colombians are generous and hospitable. The climate is great. The landscape is fascinating. The atmosphere is awesome. Yet nothing is perfect, and the music can be a torture. I’m of course talking about vallenato, which consists of a middle-aged man screaming (not singing, but screaming) out his pain over some lost love. I have poised myself to endure many many songs of vallenato during the trip, simply because it seems unavoidable.

In addition, Colombians put coriander on most of their food. That is at least the case in the highlands, and also where we are riding, if I recall correctly. You can't really use this against Colombian cuisine anymore, though, since this (bad) habit is becoming more common in Norway, too. I won’t say anything else about Colombian food, because on the issue of national cuisine, Colombians are easily offended. The food is excellent on the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, and we won’t swing by.

This is our route. Almost 900 kilometers round trip. Map from Strava.

This is our route. Almost 900 kilometers round trip. Map from Strava.

We are going to the coffee lands. From Bogotá we will head south and then west, descending and climbing the Andes mountains four times for a total of almost 900 kilometers. The total elevation gain is 20,000 meters. This may not make a lot of sense for many readers, but I can assure you it’s a lot. So we have to head out with an easy load and easy mind. And call a cab if necessary.

Down and up and down and up and down and up until you're dizzy and tired. From Strava.

The Bike

Celia, please don’t let me down in February.

I acquired a steel frame about a nine months ago. I got it cheap from a friend, and it was going to replace my commuter just because I wanted a change. Additionally, I wanted the feel of a smooth steel ride.

The Salsa Vaya frame was equipped with some parts lying around and some new parts. A Salsa bike was born, and was of course given an appropriate name (Celia after salsa singer Celia Cruz).

Since July 2016, Celia has carried me safely to and from the office and has been the weapon of choice when bikepacking (or biketouring or whatever fashionable terms are used these days).

Celia isn’t exactly lightweight. I’m stripping her of fenders and rack for this trip, hoping I won’t regret it. It’s supposed to be dry season in Colombia in February, but it’s also supposed to be skiing season in Oslo, so who knows what the climate will throw at us.

I can’t blame the bike if the trip is a failure, unless we’re talking about severe mechanical failure. The odds are greater the mechanic, who also happens to be the rider, fails.

Celia, a sturdy steel frame built with reliable parts.

The Final Touch

Lars has made another attempt at fixing me.

The shoulder is my main concern for this trip. The muscle knot won’t go away easily, and I worry I will be be locked in a position looking slightly upwards towards the right as if I’m scouting possible falling pianos permanently.

The friendly giant has just finished another session on my back and shoulders.

Enter Lars. Lars has given me some awfully tough love for the past month. Five session with shoulder rubbing and thumbs stuck deep in my back muscles. Lars thinks I will be fine. I have invited him to the trip as the mission physiotherapist/masseuse. He was very interested until he realized that he has bills to pay and that the post as mission physiotherapist/masseuse wouldn’t even include a stipend for food.

After five sessions I feel slightly better and I’m left to take care of myself as best I know. The golf and tennis balls will hopefully help a bit (no, they were never intended for golfing and playing tennis), and I will find space for an elastic band to do exercise in spare moments.

Some other items have made it to my pack list as well, after Omar stressed we will pass 4,000 meters above sea level and it may be cold.

In the meantime, on the other side of the Atlantic, Omar has had a different approach to packing than my systematic list. Take note that we are going to the coffee lands in the country that arguably produces the best coffee in the world, and Omar is packing instant coffee from Starbucks. Oh, the irony.

Take-off is hours away.

I can just assume Omar has a system that works for him.

The Arrival

This may be our dumbest idea ever," I say to Omar.

The welcome committee, with beer and all. 

The welcome committee, with beer and all. 

I have finally found him between taxi drivers and relatives waiting for their beloved ones to arrive from their European adventures, whether they have learned German, basked in the snow for the first time in their lives or captured photos of Big Ben and the Eiffel tower as so many many before them.

"And we have done some stupid stuff," I continue.

"Well hello to you, too." Omar has his sheepish look. The one that says that he agrees, but he still thinks that even stupid ideas are worth exploring.

It's day 1. Or 0, depending on how you count. 20.000 elevation meters lie ahead of us. It's still time for us to change our mind, book a plane to the Caribbean coast and spend a month under the sun.

Granadilla, the first of many. 

Granadilla, the first of many. 

The Traffic

As if we didn't have to do enough biking already: Today is car-free day in Bogotá. 

The mountains of Bogotá.  

The mountains of Bogotá.  

Distance: Bogotá criss-cross 24 kilometers 

Biking in Bogotá. I had forgotten how nerve-wrecking it can be. The city is full of good intentions, planning for bike lanes and closing parts of streets off for bikers every Sunday and holiday. There is 450 kilometers of dedicated bike lanes in Bogotá. You have some catching up to do,Oslo! However, the lack of traffic culture makes biking in Bogotá an urban extreme sport.

No-car day in Bogotá.  

No-car day in Bogotá.  

Today was no-car day, which is observed a couple of times a year since 2000. Taxis and buses are exempt, so it's still considerable traffic. And the drivers don't yield to no one.

The pedestrians don't behave much better. They walk carefree in the middle of the bike lanes as if they thought they had just received an injection of invulnerability.

One of the bike traps. At least this one was marked. Sort of. 

One of the bike traps. At least this one was marked. Sort of. 

Lack of maintenance makes up the final element of a triple-threat combo. There are pitholes, cracks and open manholes that you must look out for while breaking for taxis and zigzagging between pedestrians. Today I had several bad flashbacks to when I biked to work while working here.

We won't be doing a lot of downtown biking during this trip. Highway traffic is a different kind of animal altogether. The roads are curvy and drivers impatient. Buses have horns and blinking lights in order to alert traffic when they overtake in curves. On the bright side most trucks are so old and heavily loaded that they never gain any real speed. The buses are the real threat.

But that's starting tomorrow. Today we finally ended up on the pub. And after four beers zigzagging home was a blizz.

Getting our tails ready.

Getting our tails ready.

The bikes are ready. 

The bikes are ready. 

Bike lane in Bogotá.  

Bike lane in Bogotá.  

A message to us on a bench: A long journey

A message to us on a bench: A long journey

Urban biking.  

Urban biking.  

Omar is changing from official to mission shoes. 

Omar is changing from official to mission shoes. 

In Bogotá, you have to beware of full suspension bikes. 

In Bogotá, you have to beware of full suspension bikes. 

Local biker defending herself against taxis with a whistle. 

Local biker defending herself against taxis with a whistle. 

Calming our nerves after doing extreme sports. 

Calming our nerves after doing extreme sports. 

Bogotá from the air. 

Bogotá from the air. 

The Scandal

 Some places are best enjoyed through photos.

Beautiful but poisonous.  

Beautiful but poisonous.  

Bogotá - San Antonio del Tequendama 63 kilometers

The Salto del Tequendama is not the highest waterfall in Colombia, but may be the most beautiful. Beauty, however, is a fragile thing, and in the case of the Salto, it's poisonous, too.

The white stuff on Bogotá river is foam.  

The white stuff on Bogotá river is foam.  

We are smelling the Salto long before we see it. Or rather, it's not the waterfall that smells, but the Bogotá river. On our first day of biking we managed to get out of Bogotá without accidents,  and now we endure the stench of rotten fruit, an old toilet and a dysfunctional sewage system all in one. The river is covered in foam and life forms, if any, have probably mutated.

The culprits for this hideous environmental scandal are the leather factories upstream. Come to think of it, rephrasing is necessary: The culprits are politicians that let the factories continue to spew its filth into the river.

The valley in which the Bogotá river runs, is one of the most beautiful in the vicinity of the capital. Yet few people come here. A hotel offering waterfall view closed many years ago. Its guests couldn't stand the stench. 

 

 

The abandoned hotel is now a weekend museum.  

The abandoned hotel is now a weekend museum.  

Heading out.  

Heading out.  

On the highway.  

On the highway.  

Our destination day 1. 

Our destination day 1. 

The Descent

I'm too exhausted to reflect on the climb that two days downhill entails.

upload.jpg

San Antonio del Tequendama - Girardot 84 kilometers

Yesterday morning any extra pedaling made our pulse run wild. That's what the air at 2,600 meters above sea level does to you.

Going down.  

Going down.  

In two days we have hade some hillarious decents, and we ended today fighting the tropical sun at 300 meters above the sea. Our journey is planned to end back in Bogotá. I don't understand how we will make it. We are too tired to think about it, but right now it feels like a viable option to just settle down here forever.

We've been biking through some beautiful landscape today, out of the heavy traffic. But we are dead tired, mostly from the heat, I hope.

Status/thoughts:

My shoes will be a (bigger) problem at some point. 

I have to get better at drinking and eating while on the bike. But I'm never hungry!

 

Snackstop

Snackstop

Road view. 

Road view. 

Down and more down. 

Down and more down. 

The Companion

Meet Omar. Loyal companion. Trusted friend. Brother from another mother. And another father, just to make it absolutely clear.

Omar fending off the pollution when leaving Bogotá.  

Omar fending off the pollution when leaving Bogotá.  

Girardot - Ibagué 67 kilometers

Omar is a small man with a big heart. Generous, patient and smart. 

Omar stretching.  

Omar stretching.  

We have by now been on numerous adventures together, and departures are always a frustrating issue. He has so many gadgets to pack. And then he must stretch a bit. Then he must fill his water bottle. Oh, and then he forgot to turn on some app on his phone. Of course he is wearing gloves that are not compatible with a touch screen. So off with the gloves. Off with the bacpack. Look for the phone. App on. Backpack on. Gloves on. Sip of water. Maybe some stretching again. And we are ready.

I think I've grown used to it now. For this trip I hope to take advantage of another of his abilities, the never give up attitude.

Omar has a very rigid exercise regime. For maybe one month each year, he goes all in at the gym. Weights are supplemented with swimming and biking. And then for the remaining 11 months, he enjoys good food and tasty beer. He has been between jobs since December, so for this trip he has been particularly rigorous. First he spent three weeks in Colombia dining and drinking. In January he went to the gym in average four hours a day. I don't know what he does there all that time, but I'm not sure this intense approach will have reaped any great benefits.

Omar and his bike La Cachaca. 

Omar and his bike La Cachaca. 

Omar will get through this month on a bike not because of stamina, technique or attention to weight on his bike, but because of stubbornness. 

That is also an advantage for me. He hauls me uphill when I'm tired. Such as today. 67 kilometers going up, and always Omar's reliable back wheel to focus on when necessary. Asking him how he is, he says "I'm exhausted", yet he keeps on going. And when I release him and do the towing, he follows whichever the speed.

Great guy. Great company.

Omar mending his body. 

Omar mending his body. 

Status/thoughts

Today was brutally unforgiving. 67 kilometers with an ever so small upwards angle, only interrupted by two kilometers of steep climbing. The excruciating heat didn't help at all. We made a stop at a pool. 

For a day and a half we've been following the main road. Luckily there's a shoulder, because no one even tries to maintain a distance. It's rather the opposite: It seems like many try to pass you as close as possible. 

For two days we've been under the sun. Omar is darker than normal, while I haven't tanned at all! What does the sunblock contain?! 

 

 

Energy drink. 

Energy drink. 

On the road. 

On the road. 

Today's good news . We thought it would be 72 kilometers today. Turned out to be a bit less.

Today's good news . We thought it would be 72 kilometers today. Turned out to be a bit less.

A couple we met on the road. They were doing 450 kilometers on their motorbike on this Sunday.  

A couple we met on the road. They were doing 450 kilometers on their motorbike on this Sunday.  

The Whisky

It's break day, so I'll write about a treat.

Ibagué 0 kilometers

On this trip, we're tasting Aberfeldy 12 years. 

On this trip, we're tasting Aberfeldy 12 years. 

Omar and I only go on trips without whisky if we by accident leave it on the kitchen bench. Even on this trip, where we try to keep weight down because of the climbing, we have found space for a bottle of single malt. It's important to find space for a luxury item.

The advantage of liquid as a luxury item as opposed to say your favourite doll or a thick wool blanket, is that liquid disappears. For each glass, the load gets lighter. Following this logic, the bottle should preferably be emptied the first night. However, Omar and I have turned into more cultivated drinkers during the years. Hence the single malt and only one nightcap.

 

So here I am lying again. The truth? Come evening, we're so tired the last thing on our mind is whisky. Cultivated, did anyone really believe that?

Status/thoughts

It has been an eventful day which started with an earthquake. I learned that you can never really be prepared for these things, as I was sitting on the toilet getting ready for the day ahead. It would have been embarrassing if I had to crawl out of the rubble with the pants around my ankles, but the house stayed put. The earthquake measured 5.7 on the Richter scale, and the epicenter was about 200 kilometers away.

It took a couple of hours, but we finally found a masseuse. She worried about my shoulder, which made me worry. Then she gave me a name for some muscle relaxers. Ride on!

 

We will eventually have to pass these mountains. 

We will eventually have to pass these mountains. 

Hopefully new fancy pants will sort my problems with sore bum. 

Hopefully new fancy pants will sort my problems with sore bum. 

The friendly guys at Specialized Concept Store in Ibagué.  

The friendly guys at Specialized Concept Store in Ibagué.  

Break day was also beauty day. Haircut for both. 

Break day was also beauty day. Haircut for both. 

Alba helped us relieve some sore muscles. 

Alba helped us relieve some sore muscles. 

The Pain

Is this the beginning of the end?

Omar is trying to fix my neck at a truck stop. 

Omar is trying to fix my neck at a truck stop. 

Ibagué - Cajamarca 47 kilometers, elevation gain 1,500 meters

The day started with shoulder exercise and stretching before breakfast and departure. Today's segment was short but steep, and we considered it the first real climb on this journey. While stretching, I felt a strain in my neck. It didn't feel right, but we packed up and headed out.

After about an hour on the bike I could hardly turn my head to the right. I could hardly bend it upwards and I could certainly not bend it to the left.

Today's climb. From Strava.  

Today's climb. From Strava.  

I knew my neck and shoulder could be the Achilles heel on this trip and potentially ruin the trip for both Omar and me. Despite this problem, we decided to start. We also thought the climbing would be gruelling. It turns out it hasn't been as difficult as we feared. You just grind down, maintain low speed on a low gear and focus on turning the pedals on round at the time. The fact that we deal so well with the climbing makes it even more bitter that the muscle spasm is acting up in such a way. And we're still only five days into the journey.

Up, up, up! 

Up, up, up! 

Omar is small next to the trucks. 

Omar is small next to the trucks. 

We've thouroughly enjoyed the trip, despite having spent today on transportation roads. Trucks dominate these roads, handled by faceless drivers who probably wouldn't care to keep distance if it was their own mother on the bike ahead of them. It's peaceful and beautiful when there are no trucks around, but then one of those noisy and smelly beasts crawl up on you and ruin the ambient while scaring you half to death in the process. To Omar's despair, all trucks also mean no local cuisine. He has turned this journey into his personal "eat myself through Colombia" tour.

I refuse to give up yet, but we will work on a contingency plan. Ride on?

 

We came from way down there. 

We came from way down there. 

We spent two nights at the López in Ibagué. Thanks for the superb attention, Clementina, Junior and Floriberto!

We spent two nights at the López in Ibagué. Thanks for the superb attention, Clementina, Junior and Floriberto!

The Line

It's never pretty to see a grown man do everything he can to avoid crying.

We made it to the top, 3,280 meters above sea level.  

We made it to the top, 3,280 meters above sea level.  

Cajamarca - Armenia 52 kilometers, elevation gain 1,683 meters

Today's elevation chart. From Strava.  

Today's elevation chart. From Strava.  

The Line is an infamous stretch of road crossing the central mountain range of the Andes. I have passed it twice by car. Back then I was told it was very steep, very long and very dangerous. After passing it, I didn't see what the fuzz was about.

Now I do. The Line is horrible. It wants to kill you, and if it doesn't succeed, it makes you want to kill yourself. It's very steep, seems very long and feels extremely dangerous. And it drains you for energy.

I rarely shed tears. And I certainly avoid it in a country where I stick out to begin with. So upon reaching the top of the line, head throbbing because of the height, I squeezed my eyes and mouth together and looked at the view. Omar did the same. He nearly had a mental breakdown five kilometers from the top.

The climb was brutal , and the heat made it worse.

The climb was brutal , and the heat made it worse.

Rolling down on the other side was a breeze, swirling between the trucks that passed us on the way up.

Speaking of trucks, I realized why I won't get a tan. I constantly carry two protective layers. First sunblock and then a second layer that consists of dust and exhaust particles.

There will be more brutal climbs on this trip, but not as intense as The Line. And surely I must be in better shape in a week's time.

Status/thoughts

For aestethics, we took photos when there were no trucks around. 

For aestethics, we took photos when there were no trucks around. 

I don't want this trip to be all about my shoulder, but it's silly to ignore the pain. Status today is that it's a bit better, but it still hurts quite badly. Omar gave me a deep-tissue masage yesterday, and he'll give it a go again tomorrow. I have problems turning to the right, which is a bit of an issue in roundabouts.

I think I'm coming down with something. I didn't sleep well, I've been a bit off the whole day and I'm cold despite warm weather. If it's so, I've just set a world record passing The Line sick.

Beautiful view during the horrible climb.  

Beautiful view during the horrible climb.  

The Name

Armenia is a country in the South Caucasus. Wait, what?

Armenia.  

Armenia.  

Armenia 0 kilometers, Armenia - Quimbaya 31 kilometers 

Our house in Armenia.  

Our house in Armenia.  

We had to take an involuntary rest day after having climbed and then descended one of the Andes mountain ranges. Not because of fatigue, but because of illness. So I spent the day on a couch in  Armenia. The city, not the country. Armenia is the biggest city of the Colombian coffee lands, located at the heart of the region with 300,000 inhabitants. Temperature ranges from 18 to 28 degrees Celsius, and its green and lush. And there is actually a connection to Armenia, the country.

The city was originally to be named Villa Holguín after the then president. However, words came to the village of a massacre of Armenians. To commemorate the massacred people, the founders of the city decided to name it Armenia. Two massacres of the Armenians took place around the time of the city being founded, in 1894-1897 and the genocidein 1915, both committed by the Ottomans. Sources vary on which incident led the village in Colombia to change its name. 

True story, and something similar would probably not happen today.

Status

Riding through the coffee lands. 

Riding through the coffee lands. 

We will spend the next couple of days village hopping in the coffee lands. First stop Quimbaya, a short ride which a disease-ridden body could endure. We chose dirt tracks for a while, and it was a sweet interruption from the noisy traffic.

Omar continues his culinary quest through Colombia. Here he is looking for caima, a fruit.  

Omar continues his culinary quest through Colombia. Here he is looking for caima, a fruit.  

It was nice to have a day without traffic. 

It was nice to have a day without traffic. 

Cows are much nicer than dogs. Here are Flor, Fiesta and Rita. 

Cows are much nicer than dogs. Here are Flor, Fiesta and Rita. 

Public transport in the coffee lands.  

Public transport in the coffee lands.  

The Detour

It's funny - no, it's tragic - how much difference a barking dog can make.

Waiting for a truck to end our misery. 

Waiting for a truck to end our misery. 

Quimbaya - Salento 51 kilometers. Elevation gain 1,344 meters

There was a bit of climbing to be done today, too. From Strava.  

There was a bit of climbing to be done today, too. From Strava.  

Just like some of the world's best literature is written by people being depressed or under the influence of drugs, I apparently do my best writing while in agony and suffering from physical exhaustion. So here it goes:

Today has been hell. No, that's not good enough. Let me try again:

Today has been hell on two wheels. I'm getting there. This is my best writing:

Today was hell on two wheels, and then it started to rain.

What a beautiful start to the day! 

What a beautiful start to the day! 

It all started so well. We had planned a quiet scenic route, free from traffic and surrounded by green foliage and humming birds. Then we met one of those hellhounds and it quite literally barked us down the wrong road.

Guadua is a kind of bamboo. It grows extremely fast and is used in construction. Just don't touch it without gloves!  

Guadua is a kind of bamboo. It grows extremely fast and is used in construction. Just don't touch it without gloves!  

I don't get what's wrong with some of the dogs here. It's not all, mind you, but the messed up ones let cars, trucks, motorbikes and pedestrians pass without as much as a whimper only to go completely crazy when a bike comes along. They start barking and run after the bike, ready to drag the poor sucker to the ground, kill him, eat him dry and bury the bones in the backyard.

It's as if a cyclist once went around Colombia dragging a poor dog after him on a short leash without ever stopping, slowly torturing her to death. And now her descendants have sworn to avenge her into eternity.

The hellhound went after us full speed and forced us to go right where we should have gone left. We didn't really realize our mistake, but then we didn't really mind either, blinded by the peaceful surroundings and green canopy.

Then we hit the main road. In no mood for traffic, we hurried to find a less traveled road only to realize it was so little traveled it wasn't much to find on the way. Omar got tired because he hadn't eaten since breakfast. I, on the other hand, haven't had appetite for days, my meals consisting of liquid similar to energy drinks, only pharmacy approved. So we entered a gloomy state, dizzy due to lack of energy. Or at least I did, and Omar joined me in sympathy.

My preferred food the last couple of days.  

My preferred food the last couple of days.  

Somehow, we did manage to reach our destination. The detour was 10 kilometers, a distance easy to overcome any other day. Unless it would be climbing The Line, of course.

Nobody wants to be the one that slows down the company. The weak link. The party pooper. Nevertheless, I have to be honest with myself and admit that today shouldn't have been this hard and that I need to rest until I'm not sick anymore. I don't want to delay our schedule, but it's either that or never arrive.

Hadn't it been for the barking dog, we wouldn't be so drained of energy. Hadn't it been for the barking dog, we wouldn't have to fight a torrent of rain while climbing to our destination. And that's why a cow is much nicer than a dog.

Taking a close look at the local wildlife.  

Taking a close look at the local wildlife.  

Caima. If you ever get your hands at one. Don't. Let. Go. 

Caima. If you ever get your hands at one. Don't. Let. Go. 

The caima contains a sweet gel. It's not commercially available, which is a shame. 

The caima contains a sweet gel. It's not commercially available, which is a shame. 

Where's Omar?  

Where's Omar?  

Where's Stian? 

Where's Stian? 

The Catch-up

No, we're not dead.

Salento 0 kilometers

Salento - Santa Rosa de Cabal 57 kilometers, elevation gain 1,233 meters

Santa Rosa de Cabal - San Vicente 14 kilometers, elevation gain 672 meters

Salento.  

Salento.  

It takes more than an uncooperative stomach to stop us. We spent one sick day in Salento, trying to revert the stomach to normal and getting enough food, drink and rest to get the energy levels back up. Salento, named after either an Italian region or a Greek village (sources disagree, for a change), is one of the most picturesque villages in Colombia.

Ready to leave Salento. 

Ready to leave Salento. 

When the main road between Bogotá and Cali was diverted, Salento went into hybernation and didn't wake up until all the other villages in the region were streamlined and nobody could tell one from the other. The colonial architecture is now one of its main attributes, attracting a diverse crowd, from liposucked señoras from nearby cities to internationals attending the International Magical Hippie Tour.

They're funny, those hippies, trying so hard to stand out yet conclusively part of another flock of sheep, the only difference being the colour of the flock.

But I digress.

Salento is a great starting point for hikes and other activities, and it's good to see the success of the village. It's even the cleanest village I've seen in Colombia. There are other colonial-style villages in the area if you want to avoid the crowds.

We have now reached what will be our sanctuary for a couple of days. To get here has been a mixture of horror and pleasure.

We were thouroughly warned, but there was no way around.  

We were thouroughly warned, but there was no way around.  

Leaving Salento was easy enough. Crossing the city of Pereira didn't create any drama. Passing the mountain separating Pereira and Santa Rosa was the event that would make the day interesting. Or horrific. Or horrible. Any word containing something similar to horror.

You can't let traffic scare you when you ride a bike. Fear will cloud your judgement, it may make you waver INTO traffic and it will most certainly make you lose sight of the white line on the side of the road. The white line is your best friend when riding on the highway. It's not a very good friend, but as a cyclist on the highway, it's your best friend.

She is an even better friend when there is no road shoulder, as turns out to be the case when exiting Pereira. A six kilometer climb with brand spanking new lanes for cars and no space for bikes. So once again, we hugged the line and hoped the cars would spare us some centimeters.

It's incredible how a bit of nerves can be converted to a lot of motivation. Omar shot up the hill in 20 minutes. I was up in 27. Remember I was still recuperating from illness, which is why I needed the extra time. That's the only official explanation and if Omar claims anything else, he is spreading fake news.

Beautiful scenery, tough tracks.  

Beautiful scenery, tough tracks.  

It's funny how the last moments of a day in the saddle defines the impression of that day. When arrriving in Salento, we had endured a downpour while climbing for 30 minutes. So we questioned the whole journey and started looking for real estate in Salento. After having hugged the white line with such gusto, we entered a serene road surrounded by green hills and not a car in sight. This experience would define that day, as I laid in the hammock reflecting.

And the following day, to get to our sanctuary, we had our toughest climb yet. However, having spent the entire afternoon in complete relaxation, the day hasn't been that bad after all.

Juice with a sex pill on offer in Pereira.  

Juice with a sex pill on offer in Pereira.  

The biggest machetes in the world are in Santa Rosa.  

The biggest machetes in the world are in Santa Rosa.  

Eating granadillas.  

Eating granadillas.  

Relaxing.  

Relaxing.  

The Therapy

We are raisins. Angry raisins.

San Vicente 0 kilometers

We've spent a big chunk of time here. 

We've spent a big chunk of time here. 

Sanctuary verdict: Ambience, five stars. Service, two stars. 

We have spent most of the past 36 hours submerged in water. We have spent most of the time on dry land frustrated by mediocre service. So, therapy for the body, but we may need anger management for the soul.

It is, however, difficult to be angry for long. In this valley, easy to reach by car and so bloody exhausting to access by bike, thermal waters fill rustic pools, the warm water washing away all worries. Well, all worries but one.

We have decided to make a detour, which will make this trip even more memorable, one way or the other.  We are at the foot of Los Nevados National Park, known for its snow-capped volcanos and spectacular scenery. We haven't packed for climbing a national park. We don't have the clothes to endure potentially cold weather. But it's so tempting to go! So we pack some snacks and cross our fingers for reasonably good weather and we go.

Mum, please send wool clothes if you haven't heard from us in five days. Omar's mum, please send sunblock. Oh, and both mums, please send more whisky.

We're out of whisky!  

We're out of whisky!  

Making plans for passing the mountain, advised by locals. 

Making plans for passing the mountain, advised by locals. 

We will manouver by this map for the coming days.  

We will manouver by this map for the coming days.  

The Ladies

We crave beauty

San Vicente - Potosí, Los Nevados National Park 33 kilometers, elevation gain 2,014 meters

Potosí, Los Nevados National Park - Villa María 44 kilometers, elevation gain 992 meters

The Ruiz mountain in the background is home to an active volcano. The cloud on top of the mountain is smoke coming out of the volcano Arenas. A part of Los Nevados National Park has been closed for six years due to volcanic activity. 

The Ruiz mountain in the background is home to an active volcano. The cloud on top of the mountain is smoke coming out of the volcano Arenas. A part of Los Nevados National Park has been closed for six years due to volcanic activity. 

They are impossible to understand. They are beautiful. They are capricious. They have lovely curves. They frustrate you. They are magnificent.

I'm of course talking about mountains. We were so drawn to them that we endured another couple of cruel days, this time riding on dirt roads. Well, a bit of walking, too, to be honest. It was brutal and cold.

Our climb to get to Los Nevados National Park. From Strava.  

Our climb to get to Los Nevados National Park. From Strava.  

We weren't really helped by the locals. Our handmade map was okay for directions, but way off for distances. 22 kilometers turned out to be 30. Not so much on a smooth, slightly downhill trail. But eight kilometers uphill, into the unknown, with some very wet-looking clouds above, that's not good for morale.

Not that people on the way made it any easier for us. Here are some of the pointers we've had since last time we were connected:

"It's about 25 kilometers to get there." They were wrong by eight kilometers.

"You're going there?! That's so sonofab****h far away!" I can't really make a better translation. He turned out to be right, though.

"You're about one hour away." He was off by two hours.

"It's a half hour walk." More like an hour by bike!

"It's all downhill, and then a short climb to get there." On which planet, mister, is a two-hour climb and almost thousand meters elevation a small climb?!

We have been up and down to Los Nevados National Park. We endured one of our coldest nights ever. We knew we didn't have sufficient clothing, but we didn't know we would have to consider spooning to get through the night. Finally it didn't come to such extreme measures. We were almost suffocated instead by the weight of six blankets each on top of us.

So was it worth it? Eighty kilometers off road, enduring ice cold weather for a short flirt with this beautiful but moody mistress called Nevados? Definitely. Just look at the photos. 

The Otún lagoon. Oh,  the tranquility! 

The Otún lagoon. Oh,  the tranquility! 

Some interesting flora in Los Nevados National Park. It felt like artificial grass. 

Some interesting flora in Los Nevados National Park. It felt like artificial grass. 

Espeletia. These are important for the ecosystem, but fragile. Only found above 2,800 meters in Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador.

Espeletia. These are important for the ecosystem, but fragile. Only found above 2,800 meters in Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador.

Omar as ready as he can be for sleeping at 3,900 meters above sea level.  

Omar as ready as he can be for sleeping at 3,900 meters above sea level.  

Fog made riding conditions wet and incredibly cold.

Fog made riding conditions wet and incredibly cold.

The Politics

Freedom is relative, I guess.

So much space, so little activity. 

So much space, so little activity. 

Manizales 0 kilometers

We're having a much needed rest before the final push on Bogotá. The legs are aching, but the mind is processing impressions from previous days.

We rode almost 80 kilometers on our mountain adventures. Our only constant companion and a reminder that we were not really welcome was a neverending snake made up of barbed wire or electric cord. Or both.

Colombia has been ridden by civil war for more than 50 years. I'm not sure if people even remember if the barbed wire was set up as a result of the war or if the barbed wire resulted in war.

It's certain, however, that the barbed wire is designed to keep people out and not cattle in. Only a handful of cattle are scattered around the landscape, while most of the green hills are lying there desperate to serve a purpose.

The only purpose they serve today, is a reminder of the greedy and selfishness of megalomaniac land grabbers that accommodated themselves while most own nothing. The foundation for the guerrillas in Colombia was to protest the constant land grabbing by the resourceful and the unfair distribution of land. The current peace process must address the issue of land. It's embarrassing that so much land lies without any use and not creating any employment. Or it could all be converted to natural reserves, as one bill proposes to protect ecosystems in the high mountains. 

We found some space to eat in a ditch. 

We found some space to eat in a ditch. 

Colombians could also start a process of trust by tearing down the barbed wire. As a bonus, we could have had lunch on a nice green hill instead of on the dirt road. We couldn't pass the electric fence. It was indeed electric.

Status

Enough climbing. We took the excellent cable car from Villa María to Manizales.  

Enough climbing. We took the excellent cable car from Villa María to Manizales.  

We spent the day off in Manizales, a city which surprised us with its relatively bike-friendly atmosphere, warm climate and clean streets.

Our legs are completely shattered after intense activities the past days. My legs feel like one big muscular spasm, and the climbing has just begun.

The strain in my shoulder has given way to the normal pain. I guess no news is good news.

The Distance

I think we're starting to get a hang of this.

Manizales - Honda 135 kilometers

Great riding towards Honda. 

Great riding towards Honda. 

We left Manizales - our city of choice on this trip - with nervous stomachs. We both thought the queasy feeling came from the task ahead of us, climbing back over the Andes mountain central range. We feared our return route would be more demanding than when crossing it via The Line.

It turned out Omar's stomach was not nervous for mental reasons, but for bacterial ones. 17 kilometers into a surprisingly inspiring climb, we had to take the first of many breaks.

We spent 11 hours on the road, and it was the best day of the journey so far. We were surrounded by beautiful landscape for 120 kilometers. It was probably nice for the last 15, too, but it was dark and we decided against stopping to feel the scenery. We climbed to 3,700 meters above sea level.

The ride from Manizales to Honda contained everything this trip is supposed to be about, disease apart. Being out in the sun on less traveled roads enjoying the landscape and talking to people while not arrriving completely pale and crawling into bed.

I really do better writing in a state of agony. It's a good thing my shoulder is acting up again.

We had to cross all of these. 

We had to cross all of these. 

A vulture. A sign of things to come? 

A vulture. A sign of things to come? 

Omar was very bad for a while, but he recuperated enough to make it.  

Omar was very bad for a while, but he recuperated enough to make it.  

Great scenery.  

Great scenery.  

Greater scenery.  

Greater scenery.