Colombia’s Northern Heat

Well, a week on and we have cycled hundreds more miles. We have sweat, a lot. From the moment we get on the bikes in the morning our clothing soaks through. The pungent smell we have made warns locals of our presence downwind long before they can see us. Despite the constant washing of clothing and ourselves at night in the showers of hotels we are being forced to take it to the next level and buy washing powder. My heart is torn by the 30cent I just spent on it. I wish i could tell you its all beaches and beer and smiling faces but reality is reality. Sweat mixed with grease mixed with rain and dirt.

We have cycled some of the areas they advise not to go, and although there is a very large military presence with regular checkpoints every few miles, we have been told by locals and the soldiers it’s because we are so close to Venezuela’s border, and it’s safe here. At one point we sat on a concrete block under the shade of a tree and a few seconds later a couple of soldiers came out the brush to say Hi and see what we were doing. After they walked back in we realized watching us in the trees, camo’d up was an entire squad. They were all rather curious. Certainly every local we have spotted has waved, tooted a horn or said ‘good day’. Sometimes it’s a bit much, one horn of encouragement can be nice. But every single motorcycle, car and truck honking and waving becomes a little repetitive, like a builder jack hammering concrete on the only day you get off. With a hint of ground hog day, as it happens every day, again, and again. I wonder how Bill Murray would like this ride.

Being from Britain I despise the heat and can’t say it was my favourite bicycle tour, but with hotels with A/C starting at 8 dollar a night, the nice one we are in right now costing 10 per night, I can’t say its been all too bad, more like a nice tune up for the actual tour which starts the day after tomorrow.

It’s been a lot of rice, plantains and a serve of meat for breakfast, second breakfast, lunch and dinner. Each morning I have worked on my caffeine addiction, starting the day right with a bottle of Vive Cien, the local energy drink. I feel like with a little work the whole day could be powered by it. Stuff of the future.

The road leaving Uribia (the north) started off nice for one hundred or so miles, deteriorated rapidly when hitting a main trucking route, then built to a nice single lane highway with a reasonable 4 foot hard shoulder to cycle on. The truck drivers are rather considerate of cyclists, possibly because most Colombians have started life on a bike and know what its like to be so small and vulnerable. They give a wide berth to the dismay of oncoming cars who are nearly forced off the road. The buses on the other hand are the devils spawn. The give a loud honk from a distance to warn you they are coming and do not slow for anyone, it was scary last year driving some of the passes here and seeing the same buses overtaking going down a narrow pass road on a blind bend. We also witnessed a head on crash with one last year. This was on my mind most the time.

This though resulted in a change of road choice, there is a really cool Canyon called Chicamocha we planned on cycling, a vertical 5000ft similar to the grand canyon but smaller. Cools views but with a dangerous narrow road during, before and after lasting around 100 miles. Something we could do without really. Instead, we have cycled further south on the main route (boring, humid, sweaty, and noisy with wagons) and have pulled off on to a much quieter road that goes all the way straight to 9000ft. We are currently at 600ft, and the base of the climb after 20 miles of what could be described as a perfect touring road. Climbing this will drop us straight into beautiful views, intermittent lightning, and cooler days where we can start camping properly. While hotels have been nice, it feels like we spend the time either cycling or between four walls, quite a disconnect from the enviroment around us.

I learned this week the difference between enchilada and ensalada (anybody surprised its taken me this long), after ordering what I thought would be a nice filling meal what came was a light chicken salad. Mainly salad. This was soon rectified when we left the restaurant, rounded a corner to the main square and found it came alive after nightfall with really tasty, really cheap food. They always say don’t go out at night, but when in Rome….   Basically go to eat when the locals eat, say 7ish and there is good food. Go before and its slim pickings of the expensive kind.

The last few days have been half shaded with clouds rolling over which is a nice break from the sun and puts off heat stroke and exhaustion for a few more hours. There have even been a couple of very short, but very heavy downpours in which we struggle to see more than a dozen yards, only to cycle out of it and find sunshine baking us again. When we clear the top of the mountain we expect the living cost to be about 15 dollar a day for both of us. Right now with hotels its around $25. We also expect much nicer coffee. Thats all for now.

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