After a sleepy, rainy birthday, it was time to hit the mountains of Colombia. We had planned to ride north to Cali, would take a couple of days there to rest up, then we'd do the final push to Medellin to meet my and Eli's dad.
The first day out of Ipiales started with a long 30-40 km decent towards Pasto - on the way out of Ipiales, I ran into the first of a series of national police. They came complete with a mascot and smiles, and despite their intimidating outfits, they were more than happy for a photo op (photo 1). We'd continue past a number of national police checkpoints throughout Colombia - and we were waved through with friendly thumbs ups for all but one stop where I was quickly searched and sent on my way. The rest of the day continued quietly to an end destination of Chachagui.
The next morning, while eating breakfast at a roadside restaurant, I would meet Graciela, and her husband and three children. The took an interest in my bike - wondering about the weird internal hub and what I was carrying, etc. It was a quick interaction, but very genuine, and little did I know... it wouldn't be the only time I'd see Graciela and her family, only the first of three separate meetings :) After breakfast, I continued on through the mountains (photos 2-4) and eventually arrived in the dark to the town of El Bordo. I'd end up in another hotel that felt slightly pre-established as a place couples went for private time... or where prostitution might have been part of the equation. On a bit of tangent, our time in Ecuador and Colombia in particular had us start thinking about prostitution (legal in both countries) and whether it was something that we believed should or should not be legalized. While we all agreed that we do not believe in a society that necessitates women to resort to sex work to survive, we also agreed that legalization of sex work, accompanied by regulations, testing, etc. may be more responsible than outlawing... if the work is legal, women, arguably may have better resources for support from health providers, law enforcement, etc. Maybe prostitution should be legalized, but being a pimp or selling others' sex labor should not be legal? It's obviously a very complex issue, but the legalization of prostitution in Ecuador and Colombia did make us question whether woman in the U.S. who are engaged (by choice or economic necessity) in sex work have the level of support that may be found here... where women have testing, could go to police if necessary, etc. It's a tricky issue, but something to think about. Back to arriving in El Bordo - that night I took myself out for pizza and ordered a large. When the waitress questioned my order, I assured her that if I couldn't finish it, I'd take it to go. Photo 5 shows just before finishing... only to be met with chuckles from the restaurant staff :)
The next day would be a bit of a slog to Popayan, but the final destination was a beautiful little city with an amazing park. After dinner, ice cream, and a walk, it was time for an early sleep.
The next morning, I'd set off by a bit after 7:00 AM for Cali - pushing hard over the up and down hills to Santanda de Quilichao. Not far out of Popayan, I'd see a car pull up beside me, saying 'Cameron!!!' - low and behold it was Graciela and her family, who I'd met hundreds of kilometers away. They were from Medellin and had been on a family vacation. It turned out that we had the same route and when they recognized me, they had to stop and offer me some apples :) Small world indeed. During our conversation at the roadside, I explained that my dad and my friend's dad would be joining us to ride from Medellin to Cartagena. I asked whether they thought it might be possible for us to meet again with our fathers... knowing that that exchange with a real family from Colombia would be a memorable one. They, of course, excitedly said 'yes, let us know what works for you!' More on our meeting outside Medellin with the dads in the next post... A bit further down the road, I'd meet Maria and her stalled out scooter. We chatted for a minute at the bottom of one of the hills before agreeing to tie some parachute cord between my bike and her scooter. She'd push the scooter, I'd tow, and we'd make it most of the way up the hill to a little restaurant where she could hang out and wait for a ride. After using my phone to call a friend, I took off, but it was a fun 15 minutes :) (photo 6) From Santanda de Quilichao, it was a straight shot to Cali and I pedaled along at 20 kmph the whole way.
Over the next couple of days, we explored Cali and re-celebrated my birthday properly :) Photos 7-16 are from Cali and show: a boy and his cotton candy grin, the cat garden (a park full of cat statues decorated by different artists), the view to the western mountains at sunset, the well known Cali zoo, local dancing, and my birthday and 2 liters of birthday IPA.
After leaving Cali, we headed north towards Medellin, making it all the way to Andalucia the first day, without much trouble. The riding was the flattest we'd seen... maybe over the entire trip? The main things of note that day were the sunset and accompanying rainstorm (photo 18) and the pictures in our hotel rooms that night that reminded us of the fall in New England that was to come :) (photo 19).
Over the next couple of days we'd ride up and over our last Colombian mountains before reaching Medellin, passing coffee plantations and river valleys along the way (photo 20 and video 21). We'd also get a first hand view of kids grabbing onto the back of semi trailers as they were leaving town to climb a long mountain pass. After watching these kids on bmx bikes fly by us on the backs of trucks, Eli and I couldn't quell our curiosity any longer and at least had to try it. Eli grabbed on for longer than I was willing to try, but after trying it out, you could see why the kids did it... with such heavy loads, the trucks weren't going very fast up the hills and couldn't make any sudden changes in speed. Also, while in this section of riding we happened to receive an email from a guy in Boston who had read our article in Vermont Sports. He had ridden his bike south down the west coast of the Americas, had gone through Colombia and had seen the same truck riding practice when on his trip. When I emailed him back and asked whether he had tried the truck riding, he said: "I did the trip with my girlfriend at the time, and she didn’t want anything to do that truck action, so I also only tried it for very short distances. But we met a guy that was going in the same direction so we biked with him for a few months, he took full advantage of that. One time he waited at the top of a climb for a few hours for us." Though not on this trip, I've sometimes wondered whether cycle touring Colombia could be done with the intention of getting truck pulls up the hills along the way :) Maybe on the next adventure. Regardless, here's a youtube video of the method: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55zZQFjLTIE
After one last long climb (pedaling), we descended to Medellin - an amazing city. We'd gotten a nice airbnb in preparation for my and Eli's dad arriving. That night we were walking in the city and looked down on the highway to discover the ciclovia (photo 22) - the highway had been shut down for cyclists and rollerbladers for the evening. We then found out that the ciclovia was set up every Tuesday and Thursday night and from early morning to early afternoon on Sundays. We were scheduled to ride out of Medellin with our dads that Sunday and looked forward to pedaling the cyclovia with the dads :)
That's all for now.