Finally I was ready to leave the safe haven of the “Casa de Ciclistas” in Tumbaco, and pedal to my final country: Colombia!
But first it was time to get sick again, the third time on this trip that I’ve had serious problems with my stomach. It happened in a bad time, when I was crossing the beautiful “Parque Nacional El Ángel”, with a unique “Páramo” ecosystem and a palm-like plant that only exists there.
My old friend antibiotics helped me to get up on the saddle after (only!) four days of feeling sorry for myself, and I was happy to leave the ugly border city of Ipiales.
I was told that the region between Pasto and Popayán was inhabited by para-military groups, but that it was now safe to travel there. Another cyclist advised me not to show my camera too much though, because of the risk of being taken for a spy. With that in mind, I entered the region a little bit more attentive than usual. I regained my courage when I saw that the state military had many checkpoints on the way. It is a very beautiful area, with deep valleys to cross and great mountains to climb (A pity that I can’t show it).
From Popayán I made it to Cali in one day. I now realized that I was in very good shape, and it felt like I could continue cycling forever! But before I did just that, I stayed a couple of days in Cali, the capitol of salsa dancing, and made some (and was sometimes forced to make) fair attempts to learn this very sensual way of moving. It’s in the blood, I figured, and gave it up quite quickly…
Colombia was going to be the country of record breaking, with everything from the hottest day (42 degrees centigrade!) to the most mangoes consumed in one day (after ten I stopped counting). The record I’m most proud of though is the distance record, when I in one day made it from Cali to Armenia, a distance of 186 km! It wasn’t flat either, the route meant a climb of about 500 meters in altitude. The good shape I was in meant that I also made a long term distance record, with more than 2000 km in less than a month.
I had now ended up in the coffee region of Colombia, a hilly place with an altitude of around 2000 m.a.s.l. It is here the finest coffee in the world is produced (according to experts :)), and it’s actually possible to try it (obviously, you may think, but in Ecuador, which is also a big producer of coffee, it’s almost impossible to buy good coffee. There are two reasons for this; almost everything is exported, because we in the rich world pay a lot more, and the other reason is that there isn’t the same coffee culture as in for example Europe. They are surely connected; it’s hard to make a habit of drinking coffee if you don’t have access to it).
The coffee region was for me the highlight of Colombia, at least with respect to the amazing scenery. But it was hard cycling, because the Colombians had decided to build the steepest roads in the whole of South America. It was going up and down, up and down, up and… Well, it’s so much harder to mentally cope with that kind of cycling, rather than just going up a long hill up to a pass and then get the rewarding long-lasting downhill. Besides the steep, short hills, the road conditions were very good in all of Colombia (at least the main road), with wide roads and good shoulders.
The traffic was also better here, and I felt that the drivers had more respect for me as a cyclist, giving me more space and slowing down when passing. Exceptions existed, as can be seen here!
I guess the respectful driving is due to the fact that cycling is a huge sport in Colombia. When I was there the famous race Giro d’Italia was going on, and not only did a Colombian win but they also came on second place! This passion for cycling also meant a lot of thumbs up when I passed, which I highly appreciated! It can sometimes be tiring to get all that attention, with people staring, shouting, whistling, cheering, cars honking, dogs barking and chasing, so just a thumb is a nice and subtle way to show admiration.
Although it was sometimes hard with all the attention, I truly enjoyed the good-hearted people of Colombia. They are so friendly and open, that even if I was used to meeting these kinds of people, I got surprised of how nice they were here! The first encounter with this was when I asked what it costed for a room in a hotel. “Hm, it’s a bit to much for me”, I said when they told me the price. “Ok then, I will lower the price”. This behavior continued; I was invited to stay in people’s houses, eat their food, many motorcyclists joined my pace for a chat, and I felt genuinely welcome everywhere I went! It’s so ironic, that the “real” (experienced) picture of Colombia is so far from what most people have about this country. A lot has happened with the security lately, and all tourists that “dare” to visit say that Colombia is such a beautiful and hospitable country. The country’s new slogan speaks for it self: “The only risk is that you might want to stay!”
I arrived to Medellín, and quickly escaped the city to seek shelter from the busy streets in a small village outside, where another “Casa de Ciclistas” was situated. A really nice place in the middle of the mountains far away from the stress in the big city.
It took me seven days to cycle the hot and humid road from Medellín to Santa Marta on the caribbean coast. My trip was over, after seven months and twenty days, 11 622 km of cycling and about 1000 km of hitchhiking/bus.
I met a guy from Brazil, who asked why I didn’t continue all the way to Alaska (which is a “classic” among touring cyclists). I answered that I didn’t have the time nor the money for that. “The time is always there, and there’s always a way to earn the money”, he answered. He forced me to say that the reason was that I didn’t want to continue, which didn’t feel right. I thought about it afterwards, and came to the conclusion that if I would do everything that I wanted, one lifetime wouldn’t be enough. But I liked his way of seeing things, and I guess that this attitude is a reflection of my whole trip. To do what you want, whenever you want.
I am so happy that I had the courage to go through with this journey, and wish that everyone could have the possibility to experience something like this. Even though an eight months long cycle trip isn’t on many people’s agenda, I wish that everyone could fulfill their dreams or wants in life. “Isn’t it dangerous to go cycling in South America?”. “No, it’s more dangerous NOT to!”. What I mean is, that if you unwillingly get stuck in the routines and patterns of your everyday life, and if you have the sense that you are just watching while the world around you is in charge of your choices, you could end up, like me before this trip, feeling depressed and with low self esteem. Go and seek your own adventure, and challenge yourself and the people around you. No one expects anything from you, but yourself, but the most dangerous thing is to let your fears take control of your life.
As one of my big inspirer to this trips, Rob Lilwall, puts it: “Life is not a performance, not an obligation, nor a dress-rehearsal. Life is an adventure. If you want to live and exciting and meaningful life, you need to treat the life as an adventure”. What he also says, and what I’ve truly learnt on this trip, is: You don’t need to make it on your own! I’ve met countless people that have helped me along the way, most of the time even if I didn’t ask for it. People want to help, and I dare to say that almost everyone in the world is nicer than you think. Seek help if you need it, and offer help if someone needs it. There is hope for humanity after all 🙂
Thank you all for following my stories, and I hope that you all can find and go through with your own adventures some day. It’s never too late, which Marcel, a 65-year old french cyclist, is a living proof of; he is currently on a three year tour around the world!
Gracias a la vida, que me ha dado tanto!