- Eleven days-500 miles
- Day 1-Medellin to Pintada
- Day 2-Pintada to Supia
- Day 3-Supia to Anserma
- Day 4-Anserma to La Victoria
- Day 5-La Victoria to Guacari
- Day 6-Guacari to Santander
- Day 7-Santander to Piendamo
- Day 8-Piendamo to Popayan
- Day 9-Popayan to Calavernas
- Day 10-Calavernas to Pasto
- Day 11-Pasto to Ipialis
Colombia in 1984 was famous for only one thing: horrific drug wars.
So why did we decide to bicycle through Colombia? I guess because it was on our route south.
Our plan was to cycle quickly through the country and get to Ecuador.
For the majority of the people we met on the roads and in the towns believed in their country and who they were.
Having said all this, I must also confess that we rarely took out our camera to get photos.
It stayed deeply buried in the confines of our panniers.
Colombia is mountainous.
Colombia is exquisitely beautiful.
The drug wars no longer rule Colombia; tourism is thriving.
Eleven days-500 miles
Our first day in Medellin was no different from our first day in Costa Rica or Panama. We needed to get money and maps.
In 1984, visa cards were relatively new in these countries. We carried one, but we relied on American Express travelers checks, the old standby; they could be cashed in a major city, but not anywhere else.
In some cases, it could take a month to bicycle between locations where we could get money.
We could never find maps. So, we set out in Medellin to see if we could succeed in Colombia. Walking to the library, we came across a street vendor selling maps! We snatched up a good one.
As we continued,the sidewalk narrowed down because of construction. The streets were crowded and walking was elbow to elbow. We were not concerned about theft as we carried nothing conspicuous. I had three dollars pinned into my pocket with no wallet, no bulge, no passport or anything more of value.
A man from behind began pushing through the crowd where the construction blocked the way.
He push me hard, acting like he was in a hurry.
I was separated from Mike by the crowd. Usually, I am a reserved person, not willing to make a scene in public, but after the bikes were stolen, and the attempt to steal the camera, I had become very aggressive.
“Pickpocket!”, I screamed.
I had kept my eye on the man and pointed him out to Mike who heard my scream. The thief wore white pants and shirt and stood well out from the crowd.
“Where?”, Mike responded.
“White pants”, I yelled, pointing in the thief’s direction. He was crossing the street as if nothing had happened.
Mike took off after him. I tried to keep up. The thief, upon seeing Mike bear down on him, ran down the middle of the street. Brakes screeched, horns honked; like a TV cops and robbers, they dodged cars and people in a terrifying chase.
I caught up and, pointing my finger at his face, accused him of stealing my money. His denial only precipitated a tighter neck hold.
The money lay in the street not too far away. A bystander picked it up and brought it to me.
“Bravo”, they said simply mimicking the stranglehold.
We slowly began to realize the depth of what had happened.
In Colombia in 1984, there were millions of starving, battered, crippled, poor people who had no alternative but to steal to live.
The maimed and lame line the sidewalks exposing their putrefied limbs for money. The very poor beg. The moderately poor sell lottery tickets, cigarettes and chicklets…one at a time.
Children sleep in cardboard boxes.
We are constantly aware of anyone touching us, knowing they might be distracting us for nefarious purposes…yet we like Colombia. The division is clear. There are thieves trying to survive; there are druggies who would kill you because they need their fix; there are drug dealers who would kill you to protect their multi-million dollar business,
and there are citizens of Colombia…warm, friendly, happy, and somehow emanating a sincerity we had not yet experienced in our trip.
Day 1-Medellin to Pintada
Twelve miles steep up hill-about 38 miles down hill
There were very few paved roads in Colombia. They were, however in silky smooth condition. That also meant heavy traffic. Cars always gave us a thumbs up. Truck exhaust systems were underneath on the rear right side. We got a heavy blast of black soot every time they passed.
Our starting elevation was about 555 feet. We would ascend to 8500 feet in about 12 miles.
When we got to the spot where he had stopped, we saw the two cold beers he had left by the side of the road for us!
We arrived in Pintada at dusk. Just as the American has said, there was a beautiful campground on the river. Six dollars a night included a 24 hour guard, sturdy fencing with a guard controlled gate, a swimming pool, restaurant and grassy tent sites. Camping vehicles were rare since there were few dumping facilities in the entire country. A young couple who saw us bicycling, followed us into the campground.
“Welcome to Colombia,” they said and pulled out two beers to emphasize their point.
Day 2-Pintada to Supia
40 miles- 5 miles very steep uphill
Breakfast at the campground was an all you can eat buffet. Full service campgrounds are the norm in Colombia. Rice, potatoes, beets, onions, frijoles, tomatoes, eggs and large pieces of delicious meat cost $2.00 each.
Sometime late yesterday, my gearing began to grind in violent protest. We would go nowhere unless we repacked the bearings. But it was Sunday, and we only had a few spare parts with us. Colombia is a cycling country. Though the vast majority rode high speed racing bikes, everyone knew all the local shops. A small group of morning riders led us to a small town repair shop already open for the day.
The shop had no bearings for a mountain bike, but with racing bearings and spacers, he constructed a cartridge and had the wheel spinning in 15 minutes.
It’s hot already. We are on the valley floor sweating profusely, Mostly flat biking following a river going upstream. Beautiful valley, reminds us of Salmon River of Idaho country with palm trees. There are small restaurants, fruit stands, and villages along the way. We stopped frequently to drink. Started uphill again when a car pulled up in front of us and stopped.
Out jumped a man with 2 bananas in his hand “Welcome to Colombia” he said and offered us the fruit.
Day 3-Supia to Anserma
15 miles up steep then 15 up and down
Left town and immediately started uphill. Went 15 miles uphill before getting to the first flat spot. Average 3-5 mph. Beautiful, like riding above the earth. Impossible footpaths going straight up embankments led to precarious cliff hanging houses. People carry heavy sacks of goods up and down these trails.
It’s like riding in British Columbia on the peaks rather than in the valleys.
A little boy was selling bananas along the road. Mike asked how much the bananas were. “$1 for 30”, the boy answered. We weren’t quite prepared to buy thirty but 2 would be nice. They were green however and not ready to eat. We explained we did not want to carry green bananas but we gave him $1 and said we would be back next year to pick them up. He smiled and said, “they will be ready to eat.”
Every house along the road sells something: fruit, bread. Little children stand by the roadside with meat pies baked by their mothers.
I think they pick the fruit for free. Oranges, bananas, a delicious sour fruit called guanabana and other strange things I haven’t identified yet.
Arrived Anserma at 3:00 pm. The town sits on top of the mountain ridge. One main street runs out the ridge. To both sides the hill drops off very steeply, houses and streets are built on the slopes. Looks like you are canoeing down a river and the view ahead is of treetops, like a waterfall. It’s very dramatic.
Friendly town. Neat hotel near the central Plaza. $6 with bath and window. Large lobby with skylights and when you register they give you a free drink to welcome you, towels, soap and a warm blanket for the bed.
Day 4-Anserma to La Victoria
Roadside restaurants are common. We stopped for eggs, rice, frijoles, grilled steak, and soup for $1.50. The owners were fascinated by our enormous appetites.
Got up at 6 am but it was raining off and on with much fog so we waited till 10:00 to make a dash. The downhill is great but disappears too fast. About 5 miles down a truck had skidded across the road and had blocked traffic for 30 to 40 vehicles stacked up on each side.
Instead of waiting in the proper lane on each side, the drivers would go around into the passing lane thereby facing each other off and halting all possible movement. Then they all honked madly. We deftly left them all behind as we fed our skinny bikes through the maze.
Fifteen minutes later we could hear the roar of hot engines behind us. In our South American wisdom, we pulled off the road entirely, dropping into the gutter.
Day 5-La Victoria to Guacari
68 miles level
We are in the Cauca Valley for the second day. There are many fine haciendas. Exhilarating day biking about 15 mph. Good road with nice shoulder. Many fruit stands and vendors on the road.
Excellent fresh juices, pineapple, grapes, oranges, soursop, bananas.
Never know what to expect so we are learning to ask. Food places never seem to have menus so they rattle off what they have so you try to sort it all out and not spend too much. At lunch we ordered beefsteak and potatoes, $1/plate. We got a delicious piece of meat and good fried potatoes $2/each. I had missed hearing the lady say beefsteak and large beefsteak.
Now we know why they don’t have menus!
Lots of other bikers but they don’t seem to like to draft or have you draft.
The Spanish words in Colombia seem to be very different. I have a consistently difficult time understanding here.
The high school kids must all take English but it is impossible to understand them; their accent is so poor.
Stopped for the night in Guarcari, a very different town. Found only one hotel at $2/night. Bottom of the barrel basic and dirty. There was a used piss pot in the windowless concrete wall room. Not sure about restaurant yet; the lady at the hotel wanted to feed us but we were not happy with her cleanliness attempts so we will look in town.
Found a restaurant that seemed, more interesting. It was the people’s house.
You sat down at their dining table and she fed you what she had cooking on the stove.
It is an agricultural town, but the quality of living is much lower than further north. The buildings look like prison walls with occasional holes in them for doorways.
Day 6-Guacari to Santander
65 miles level
Wonderful bakery with fresh whole pineapple for breakfast. Scenery changed, to mostly sugar plantations.
Took route thru Palmira and Puerto Tajedo rather than thru the big city of Cali.
Most the towns in this part of the country are utilitarian and very unattractive.
This time we have a window in our hotel room and a nice garden area to sit in.
The bathrooms are very utilitarian. The entire floor is tiled with a drain in it as the shower is not separated off. Toilet, sink and shower are all squeezed together in the tiny space. A wet seat always greets your bottom as you do your thing.
Occasionally we see toilet seats in the better places but paper is still thrown in the corners.
Day 7-Santander to Piendamo
Bicycled up and down steep hills all the way. Not more than a mile of level the whole way. Had planned to make it further but the hills tired us out fast and there were no more hotels until Popayan.
About 1 hour after arriving it began to rain buckets. The hotel saw us coming. $6 is definitely overpriced. Very small and no window.
Had to sleep in one single bed together and put the bikes on the other bed.
The main street in Piendamo, however, attracted shoppers along a stretch of 30 or more food stands: Empanadas, hamburgers, corn cakes, beef kabobs, pork, potatoes, coffee soda, bread, rolls and lots of weird looking things like stuffed intestines that masquerade our sausages. It was dark when we made our rounds for dinner food. It all tasted good even though we had no idea what it was and couldn’t really see it. The food was cooked on fires built in pots. $1.80 for two. We huddled under scant shelter from the daily evening rain and had a great time eating with the locals. Walked into one store to buy toilet paper; the man behind the counter ran outside to see our bikes.
Wonderful people in this town, They laughed and smiled a lot.
Day 8-Piendamo to Popayan
Finally had a short, easy day. Though there was still continuous up and down, it was easier than yesterday. Popayan was famous for colonial buildings and a hot springs in the mountains. Just a year before, many of the beautiful, old structures were destroyed in a big earthquake. It was sad to see so many fine buildings in ruins.
Took a bus up a very steep, narrow road led to the beautiful hot springs. Popayan is a National Park that has an aura similar to Yellowstone. We spent the afternoon there, although it was very cold and the hot spring water was not warm enough to warrant bathing.
Day 9-Popayan to Calavernas
Road construction and numerous landslides turned this section into an ordeal. There was very heavy traffic through mud and construction all the way. The hills were meant for motors, not cycles! Calavernas was a pit of a town. Hotels were filthy.
Day 10-Calavernas to Pasto
This was another really tough day through endless climbs and descents on roads under construction. For the first time, we arrived after dark.
With no knowledge of the town or where to find lodging, we felt quite vulnerable to possible thievery.
No one paid us any attention.
The Colombians know how to make tempting pastries.
Day 11-Pasto to Ipialis
Another grueling day of cycling through relentless hills. Yet, we are stronger and doing it easier than weeks before.
The scenery is spectacular.
We bicycled Colombia faster than we wanted to.
I must admit, looking back, we had some of our best people experiences in Colombia.
So, we say farewell to this beautiful country with a bad reputation overshadowed by friendly people.
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