Written by Evan
After a long journey to back to Colorado, we spent a very quick week seeing many friends in both Denver and Fort Collins, and took numerous trips to stores to get our bikes and gear all in order, we finally made it to Colombia with our bikes! A HUGE thanks to Marcia and Rick (Michelle’s aunt and uncle) for letting stay at their place for the week, wonderful hospitality, good food, and letting us use their cars.
Although our motorcycle trip ended in Guatemala, we decided to head straight to Colombia for a variety of reasons – most importantly because we did not want to deal with the expense and hassle of figuring our way around the Darien Gap from Panama to Colombia after the logistical headache and expense of the motorcycle breakdown.
We arrived late Christmas night in Cartagena, but not with our bikes. They were still somewhere in the Bogota airport – we put in a lost baggage ticket with the airline, then were on our way to our hostel, hoping our bikes packed with all of our gear and clothes would show up before long. Right as we were headed to bed, the hostel doorbell rang, and our bikes arrived. We were very lucky; 1. The nighttime ride back to the hostel from the airport would have been dangerous to say the least, given the neighborhood we were in, and 2. Putting the bikes together in the airport would be time consuming, very sweaty, and frustrating after a long two days of traveling! A quick taxi ride was much easier!
As the trip had been on a bit of a rough patch, the roughness continued on our second day in Colombia as we were searching for a bike shop. A Google search yielded a nice looking shop on the other side of town – turns out the shop was not there, and took us through some rough neighborhoods. We eventually found a shop, got Michelle’s damaged brake cable housing fixed (nixed in air transit), and were on our way. The way back into downtown was on an extremely busy three lane road – it was classic Latin America – endless motorcycles and buses, crazy and exciting. We were feeling the pain of not being on our motos, as bikes are not fun in these situations. Anyways – I took out Michelle’s phone for a quick photo, and before I knew it, her phone was ripped out of my hand by a passing motorcyclist. Well, welcome to Colombia! (So, FYI: Michelle no longer has access to her old phone number). To top it off, on our ride back to the hostel, through the rough neighborhood, a nasty guy on a moto started blowing Michelle kisses – she brushed him off, and he just laughed. Needless to say we were less than impressed with Cartagena – the downtown is old and historic, but the rest of the city is gritty, dirty, and hot! While I should not have taken the phone out, it was crazy how quick it happened – it was out for seconds. The passing motorist reached across my body with his throttle hand and grabbed Michelle’s phone out of my right hand. Is this the norm, or just really bad luck – pulled it out at the wrong place at wrong time? We were feeling quite down and not psyched to get on the open road. On the motorcycle you have so much more power, on bicycle you are much more exposed to the surroundings. This is an appeal though, but we have been very careful now with placement of our phones on our bikes.
The next morning we finally got underway. The route out of the city took us through the same road that the phone was stolen on – the road was equally crazy, with two out of place bike tourers among a sea of motos zigzagging through buses and taxis. At one point, a moto pulled up, but this time had a mountain bike tire in hand, and asked if it was ours. It was – we are carrying 2 tires each to put on our bike when we get to Ecuador. It was extremely nice and probably quite hard to bring us the tire that fell off. He would’ve seen us, a tire on the ground, stopped in traffic then caught up and gave it to us. This is just the start of the friendliness and hospitality of the Colombian people. This brightened our mood a lot, and reminded us that the vast majority of people are good, and that the open road is indeed a great place to be!
We took the first day very easy with a short ride to Playa Blanca for a nights stay in a basic cabana on the beach. We had an early start the next couple of days as we eased into riding and dealt with the crazy heat and humidity. We took a day off in Tolu over New Year’s weekend, and spent the night in the hotel restaurant with some Medellin locals, who invited us to their New Year’s dinner, complete with Aguadiente (Colombian liquor) and Sangria.
The next few days were spent riding towards the mountains as fast as possible (sometimes on some of the best bike paths I have ever been on) – we couldn’t get out of the heat fast enough! We finally arrived in the foothills of the Andes Mountains, and started a full day ascent from near sea level to over 8000 feet. The climb was STEEP and initially extremely hot and humid. Midway through the heat subsided and we entered into the clouds – a bit of rain, lots of fog, low visibility, big trucks, and lots of encouragement from cars and motos brought us to the top of the pass just before dark, and we ended with a quick 1000 foot descent into the friendly small city of Yarumal. We quickly found a hotel, and went out to get a fantastic meal for $2.50 – complete with soup, beans, rice, meat, and juice. We planned on taking an easy day off – which turned into three, as I came down with my second bout of food poising this trip – complete with fever, diarrhea, and complete lack of energy. Days were spent recovering for me and going to the local panaderia underneath our hotel for numerous loafs of the best pan de queso (cheese bread) we have ever had. This area of Colombia has many dairy farms, so good cheese is everywhere.
Eventually we were back on the road, and arrived 2 days later in Medellin, former city of Pablo Escobar. While the city used to be one of the most dangerous in the world, today it is thriving with tourism and business, all most likely helped by the fantastic scenery and weather. On the ride into Medellin, we were passed by many road cyclists, many curious to where we were from and where we are going. Cars and trucks in Colombia are very tolerant of cyclists, and Medellin is the epitome of a city friendly to cyclists. The bikes frequently take a whole lane to themselves, and cars and trucks are very patient and courteous to riders. The USA could use a lesson from Colombia on how to treat cyclists!
After Medellin we headed up a steep 3000+ foot climb, followed by a truck choked descent of 5000 feet. On descents we are pretty aggressive – and are always faster than trucks, leading to some exciting passing maneuvers. The next day was a bit of a bust – we were planning to ride a 5000 ascent up a pass followed by an equal descent, but Michelle took a spill on the wet morning road before the climb. After about 1000 feet of slow hot climbing, Michelle’s head and knee were really bothering her from the crash, so we found a hotel (vastly overpriced, but not in the mood to shop around) and called it a day. We finished up the climb the next day, and enjoyed a fast traffic free descent into the hot lowlands of the Valle del Cauca region of Colombia, where we made quick work of the 175 miles of flat riding, until hitting the hills again for an undulating and steep ride to the old colonial city of Popayan, also known as “the white city” due to its white colonial architecture through the historic downtown area. We took a few off days to take care of chores and relax at our quiet hostel.
The day after leaving Popayan, the skies opened with ferocity. Hard rain all night and into the following day, left rivers flooded and us very wet. As quickly as the rain began, dry blue skies brought us into Pasto – it was the worst and best weather of the trip within 24 hours. One more day of climbing brought us to Ipiales, on the Colombia – Ecuador border.
Colombia has been interesting, as it is a very diverse country – the culture has changed so much as we moved through the coast, mountains, and valleys – from the Afro-Colombian coastal areas, to the bucolic dairy lands that dot the Andean hillsides, and to the modern cities of Medellin, Popayan, and Pasto. We enjoyed the endless climbs through the Andes on (mostly) very smooth clean pavement and, of course, the wild descents. Although we miss the vibrant markets and tasty tacos in Mexico and the incredible avocados in Guatemala, we really l0ved being able to count on roadside fresh juices (no sugar added!), the hearty menu of the day dinners, and all the tasty cheese breads. But, most importantly we could not get over the amazing cycling culture! Aside from soccer, cycling is their other major sport, and it is quite obvious how welcome cyclists are in every community and on every road.
We are enjoying being on the bicycles – the interaction with locals is much higher than our days on the moto. We can’t blast through towns fast on a bicycle and we are forced to stay in random locations because we simply cannot go any further. These are all good things as we get to see a place and country for what it truly is, and not just the perspective that the major cities/tourist destinations give.
We did not take an adventurous route through Colombia – but instead used the Pan American Highway to get back into cycling shape after many months off our bicycles – and to prepare our legs and lungs for the more challenging future dirt routes through the Andes Mountains. None the less, we have really enjoyed Colombia and highly recommend it to any bicycle tourer looking for challenging climbs, good roads, excellent bakeries, and a thriving bicycle culture. For info on our bike set up, you can check out our ABOUT section.
Also in the ABOUT section, we added the link to the last time our SPOT GPS recorded our location. We try to check in with our GPS tracker at least once every couple days for anyone interested in our whereabouts between blog posts.
- 980 Miles
- 74,000 Feet Climbing
- 19 Days of Riding
- 9 Non Riding Days