08 December 2010


It was raining hard when I awoke. I did not know before coming that this is the rainy season in Colombia. It has rained more than average this year and many have died in mudslides in the mountains. Where I was going 35 people had died a week ago.

I ate breakfast at the hotel and then put on my rain suit and booties. I had some idea where I was going though without a good map I could not be sure. I needed to cross a range of mountains to get into the next valley and pick up Ruta 25 (Pan American Highway) south back up into more mountains. I had been told of one steep climb with a dangerous descent that would take me into Envigado. The ascent would be steep and take me from 1400m to over 2000m.

It was cool, low-60s, and the rain came down hard for the first hour of riding before letting up. The mountains were cloud covered and I climbed up into them. Along the road were tables and chairs and benches made by the wood workers that lived here. I dropped gears as I climbed. Suddenly my pedal popped out of crank arm and shot across the road causing me to almost lose the bike. A man who had been jogging stopped to see what had happened. He was an architect and spoke good English and he held the bike as I tried to determine whether I had stripped the threading on the crank arm. Past half way the pedal did not thread into the crank. I thought the worst and did not want to force it. In an attempt to rethread it I turned the pedal in from the backside of the crank. This realigned the threads just enough so that the crank turned in snugly. I was back on the road.

Higher up in the mountains I was grinding it out in my lowest gear when the rains started again and I stopped to put on my rain gear. A man walked out from behind a gate and greeted me. Did I have a map? I did, but not a good one. Wait, he said, he would come back with a map. He returned with a friend who was insistent that I needed a special drink with sugar and that I could have it hot or cold in my water bottle. Hot would be fine. I had ridden through most of the energy from breakfast and the idea of sugar excited me. The other man returned with the Gui de Rutas por Colombia and we discussed how I was going to Cali and how I could get there. It was the map book I had been looking to purchase before coming to Colombia but had been unable to find. The other man returned with my bottle containing a brown liquid that tasted like a sweet hot tea. He was right, it was what I had needed. His friend then gave me the map book. He was adamant that I take it. These were wonderful gentlemen and I thanked them and started back up the mountain.

Guia de Rutas

I made the peak and I started down. Instead of using cutbacks and winding the road down the mountain to soften the grade, the road went mostly straight down. Numerous signs indicated the danger and the two lane road had been separated to avoid head-on collisions. My ears popped from the extreme drop in elevation, and descending fast on the wet road, sometimes hardly seeing in front of me through the clouds, I descended towards Envigado.

Descent into Envigado

It was a long descent and I took it as slow as I could, hard braking all the way down, my arms aching from holding such a steep descending position, I came down through the last clouds into the valley and saw the cities of Envigado and Itagui beyond it and the mountains above them on the other side. It was sunny and hot as I coasted into the city center. A policeman on a scooter explained to me that Ruta 25 was just ahead.

Envigado and Itagui

I was gutted from the cold, rainy ascent and now riding along Ruta 25 on a narrow shoulder in the heat and sucking the exhaust of autobuses and camions further exhausted me. I needed something to eat and rode a long time before I saw a restaurant. I had a Bandeja Paisa there, as I had the night before though this one was not as good. I sat drinking water and resting until I felt I could go on. The bike and panniers were filthy from the rain, the chain noisy, and I spent some time cleaning the drive train before getting back on the road.

Guia de Rutas

It was flat for awhile in the valley but then the road began to climb. I passed through little towns on the winding Ruta 25 that had begun as an auto route but was now a small road through the countryside. Trucks and autobuses continued past me. Exhausted I planned to find a cheap hotel near Caldas for the night. I had read of cheap hotels called Hotel La Bomba, which were lodgings attached to gas stations, usually on the outskirts of a town. But I did not see any signs for them and the gas stations I stopped at had no lodging. I rode further and asked about a hospedaje, another kind of cheap hotel, but there were none.

I rode into Caldas and asked around and found what was supposed to be a cheap hotel near the main square. But I would have to go up a narrow staircase from the street to get to the reception desk. I could not leave my bike behind and felt a reaction against lifting my fully loaded bike up a staircase I did not see an end to. Eventually I found another hotel called Hotel Caldas Plaza for 35,000 a night. I was too tired to look further. I had made a 600m or more climb and then made a second of 800m, both starting around 1400m altitude. There would be more serious climbing tomorrow and I needed to rest.

Caldas was busy with families and people walking and meeting around the town square which had been decorated for Christmas. I sat at an outdoor café and drank a beer and watched the mothers walk their daughters arm and arm around the plaza. Two horses specially trained to stomp were marched through the plaza by their riders. One beer was enough and I ate at a little restaurant just off the plaza. I had been hoping to get something that was not fried but everything I have asked about on menus appears to be fried in some way. I had a pechugo apanada which was a lightly fried chicken and admired the drawings of horses humping each other that hung on the walls.

At the hotel I checked my map. The Guia de Rutas indicated more difficult climbing out of Caldas to 2750m at the Alto de Minas, and then a long descent of 48 kms that will take me down to La Pintada, at 600m above sea level. The elevations would start back up gradually from there following the Cauca River. There was one last big climb before a big descent ahead.


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