it was another heavy cobbled climb out of otavalo to the lagunas. but after finding a rythem, it’s ¨not too bad¨, which was the only reply i could master when a motorcyclist stopped and mentioned that ¨this looks brutal¨. i still felt i needed to climb higher to get a better view once i reached the big lagoon, and started the ascent of the fuya fuya on foot. by then, i felt the climb in my legs as well as the altitude over 4000 meters, making progress rather slow. but everytime i looked around, i felt this walk was too good to be cut short.
there is an area to camp directly at the waterside, but it is very close to the road and the wind wasn’t that inviting either. so i circled around the lagoon to its southern end, where i found a good spot, at least a little sheltered from the wind and with excellent views in the morning.
the change of the light was beautiful as the sun made its way over the mountain ridge on the eastern shore.
the road continued around the small laguna negra and with a short but heavy climb afterwards, which saw me pushing my bicycle for the first time since guatemala. it was with a smile that i was cycling some part of it, while a four-wheel drive needed some assistance to continue. a last push and around another bend, the snow-capped peak of cayambe came into view.
after a long descent i hit asphalt again at tabacundo and started the last fifty kilometers to quito.
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stocking up on supplies in tulcan, i was ready to hit the rather lonely road through the ecological reserve el angel. well described by other touring cyclists, the turn-off from the busy main road was easy to find and after some passing trucks on the first kilometers, the traffic stopped altogether in the second half of the day and i did not see a single person. instead, i saw frailejónes en masse. this time with a camera again, after i was travelling through similar regions in colombia without one.
a closer look at the blossoms and furry leaves of the plants.
it was getting foggy again and also really cold towards the evening. as, for other reasons, but like on the road from mocoa, it was hard to find a camping spot. but in the afternoon the old refuge was reached, were two and a half men were busy restoring the building. there used to be a room for travellers, now i had to do with a windowless corner of the house and was preparing for the coldest night i had on this trip so far. i woke up during the night, probably because i was cold, and as the fog was gone, i could enjoy a look at the starry sky as well as the lights from villages far down below. which gave me some sort of connection with the outside world again, which i deemed had vanished beyond that seeminly everlasting mist of the paramo. the next morning all that had changed back to this clouded world and i was happy to leave early and start the descent. on the way down, i met alex from austria. a cyclist on his way in the opposite direction coming from the very south of the continent at ushuaya. the dirt road had given way to cobble stone, which is not my favourite surface to ride on. once i reached the town el angel, i was back on paved roads, and luckily so, as i really enjoyed the downhill part through mira ending at the choca river and its green side valleys.
some stretches of the pan-american had to be overcome and i didn’t stop until i reached otavalo with the last light of the day.
the rincon del viajero hostal has a campground a bit outside of town, which is a good place to stay. especially for people on their way to the laguna de mojanda, as it is along the road leading there.
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starting into a rainy morning, the asphalt soon gave way to rocky gravel and though not very steep, the climb left little time to catch one’s breath.
the road is still considered dangerous and was named “el trampolín de la muerte”. but this was before these crash barriers were in place. the weather was getting better around midday and allowed for some views of the valley,
as well as part of the road that leads up to the mirador.
coffee and some arepas were on the menu, which helped to get through that last little climb from the mirador over the first pass. the owner who prepared these refreshments recommended a place for the night not far downhill from the pass, as it was difficult to find a camping spot besides a road that offers only sheer rock walls on one side and an abyss on the other. like in other places in colombia, the people are friendly, curious and eager to learn about the equipment or going for a test ride on a loaded touring bike.
since they were out on vegetarian fare, i cooked my own meal and once more the stove was the center of attention for a while. the next morning continued with a downhill before another dirt road climb and descent brought me into the valley of sibundoy, with more paved road and civilaziation than i had expected to find along this route. i trundled along from village to village and somehow missed to find me a place to stay and soon was in the middle of another heavy climb, first on pavement, then again on gravel and the night slowly rolled in. the best spot to camp i could find was a swampy field, but it fulfilled its purpose and the next morning saw my legs decorated with a little more mud than usual. towards the top, the pavement reappeared for a last time and i could get a view of the road, that seemed like a river winding its way down into the valley. after that, the paramo took over with its unique vegetation and typical misty weather before i was spit out on the other side to better conditions at the lugana la cocha. from there the last climb started before reaching pasto after two and a half days of cycling. the next day was suprisingly hilly as well until i reached ipiales, where i spent a nice night at the hotel belmont and had just a small distance ahead of me to get to the border with ecuador. waiting in the line to get my passport stamped i met chris, who was into his last two weeks of cycling together with carolina from medellin.
during the last days towards the border i almost felt reluctant to leave colombia. but by then i had luckily received a lot of recommendations for ecuador from friends and other travellers, which made the goodbye easier.
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after arriving in mocoa, i just cycled the little distance out of town to the casa del rio hostel, which seemed like a nice spot for a rest day. but instead of resting, i set out with jesse from canada, who was staying in the same dormitory. goal for the day was the ‘fin del mundo’ waterfall. we started walking along the road, but soon got a ride with one of the ‘colectivos’ to the beginning of the trek. later while returning, we found out that we managed to stay on the ‘right’ path for only twenty steps before we went off towards some other trail up the hill. once there, the forest was gone, no waterfalls were to be seen and we had to admit we were thoroughly lost. luckily there was a house nearby and we could ask for directions.
the only living soul up there was a sturdy woman, which we could win over as a guide to another waterfall, the ‘ojo de dios’, after being convinced that we were nowhere near the ‘fin del mundo’. it was an adventures path leading back to the stream, which we rather slid than walked down, as it was steep as a ladder. once back at the water, we waved goodbye to our guide and made our way to the eye of god.
not too difficult to see why it was given that name, the waterfall, after an initial step, roars through a hole in the rockwall. we had a quick swim and then continued downstream in a last attempt to reach the goal we had, when we set out in the morning. our guide had warned us that there was no path, and not being that impressed by our sense of direction, once we showed up at her doorstep, we would certainly get lost again. so we followed the stream as our new guide instead of some path. we had to cross the stream several times and not always could we find some stones or a fallen tree that we could use as a bridge. our shoes slowly filled with water and we had several spiderwebs and parts of plants in our face and dangling from our hair when we finally reached a path. the one we would have come along if we wouldn’t have erred earlier. and after passing other pools and waterfalls we finally reached the cliff, from which the ‘fin del mundo’ waterfall roars down over seventy meters.
here with jesse sitting on the edge.
taking the long way probably helped to appreciate it even more and there were no regrets. taking another colectivo back towards the guesthouse, we were soon busy putting together a good dinner combining what food we had. before breakfast the next morning, we watched the monkeys in the garden getting their share of bananas and still managing to look rather grim.
jesse set out that day to some retreat and myself entered the road to pasto.
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the excitement was dimmed by increasing traffic after reaching the main road at chiquinquira and, getting closer to bogota, i began to doubt i chose a route far enough from the capital, as it felt as if i was passing through the industrial outskirts. but after half a day of sharing the road with lorries and cycling past boring concrete blocks, the downhill part made up for that, leaving trucks and most of the traffic behind. after a small stint on the panamericana, i took the turn-off to pueblo nuevo, from where a rail trail leads towards villavieja at the entrance of the desierto de tatacoa. here at one of the bridges and tunnels.
i underestimated the distance and ended up cycling through the night over rocky dirt road, which was rather annoying at first, but once i got used to it, i enjoyed cycling underneath the star sprinkled sky until i reached villavieja. after some shopping, i cycled into the desert and camped just off the road. while searching for a camp spot, green eyes lit up in the dark and once the light of the head lamp pointed in that direction, it revealed spiders and i saw severeal scorpions scuttle away, besides one, which found its way into my panniers during the night.
a short ride in the morning brought me to the end of the paved road, which terminates at the observatorio and the first view point over the part of the desert called el cuzco.
the vegetation played along in prickly desert style,
until i reached the grey coloured version at los hoyos.
there was supposed to be a swimming pool nearby. but as it was just too much fun to explore, i lost my way until, after managing to make a big loop through the area, i heard the noise of the engine, which is pumping the water towards the pool, and followed the waterpipes. there was no one else around and though the pool was less than half filled, it was a perfect break at the far end of the road into the desert.
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arriving in the center, i soon got off the bicycle to push it through the cobblestoned streets. these were redone only sixty years ago to recreate the paving during colonial times, before the town was declared a national monument. many overlanders travelling through colombia stay at the hostal renacer, which offers camping and a nice atmosphere to relax. it is a bit outside the village up the hill and offers good views over the valley in which villa de leyva is located. i pitched my tent and enjoyed having a kitchen at my disposal for once, which makes things considerably easier. the next day, i first met fernando from argentina, then iker from the basque country and then victoire from france, and the four of us spent a good while together exploring the surroundings and having a good time in the evenings.
fernando and iker rented bicycles and we went for a ride to the paso del angel. the description of a walkway in between two canyons sounded really inviting. it was a nice ride out of town, slightly climbing towards santa sofia. shortly after that village, the road dropped steeply and we were already wondering if the views would be that much better from the bottom of the valley. well, we never found out. the axle of iker´s bicycle broke and the frame was bent. nothing we could fix on the road. we decided that the ride was wonderful as it was and we wouldn´t have to reach the walkway to call it a good day. so we walked back to santa sofia, where the two were taking the bus, and as there was hardly enough space for their bicycles, i set out on my own on the way back.
here´s the great crew on one of the evenings.
just behind the guesthouse starts a trek up the hill to some viewpoints. it is only a little hike about half an hour, but the views over the valley were already good.
…and once more with the four of us.
on the last night together, we decided to make use of the wood fired oven of the guesthouse, an opportunity too good to pass. it took about three hours to heat up that stubborn oven and sometime we lost all hope to get the pizza done that night. but with patience, playing music together,
and sufficient wine to pass the time, we finally got there that it was time to put the pizza in the oven.
by that time it had already melted with the carton we put it on, and it was anything but an easy task to maintain some sort of a pizza like shape while shifting it from the carton into the oven. despite its wrinkled appearance, it was the best pizza i had in years and also one of the best evenings in colombia.
after a rather short night´s sleep, i went to the bus terminal to say goodbye. it would have been a really sad day, but luckily it was also the day that felipe arrived in villa de leyva and i was meeting him an hour later at the central plaza. with him was his mother and his father, so spanish went on to be the language of choice. the little plastic bag he put on the table didn´t do justice to the importance of its contents. the shift-lever and a camera, so this place here will get some more photos, though the time without camera wasn´t bad and thanks to other people, i could still get some photos uploaded.
the next day we went to the house of felipe´s mother and had a look around the garden. find of the day was the lulo fruit. i don´t know how many new fruit i tasted for the first time while travelling, but it is good to see that there seems to be plenty more to discover.
i followed the world cup in brasil while travelling, though i watched mostly only the second half of a game, when i stopped for a break. on a sunday here in villa de leyva, i took the time to watch the final together with felipe and a dozen other colombians in a small café in town.
after a week, it was finally time to move on. with a wonderful week behind me, i set out excited by what was to come.
Tags: food · music · people
stopping in mompos for a rest day, i soon moved on as the heat was too much, even for just relaxing in the shade. i followed the rio magdalena for a while, before i took a turn off to ocaña and the start of the andes. it was a heavy and rocky climb to the lovely little town of el carmen. after i pushed the bicycle up the steep streets, cozy old houses with terraces in between, which offered great views over the valley, were the reward. on the look-out for a place to sleep i was directed to the tienda of chepe.
the room turned out to be rather a house with a courtyard and one of the mentioned terraces just in front of the door. i stayed an extra day, just content to be in the mountains, away from the big streets and the heat of the lowlands. i also made a promise to two chicos with guitars, whom i met the previous day when i entered the pueblo. i had played a couple of songs and one of them then wanted me to teach him one of these. so we met the next morning and got to work.
here´s the goodbye the next morning with chepe and his family…
who made me feel so welcome.
after ocaña i made a side trip to playa de belen, where a unique geological site can be visited. sometime after the turn-off, a car stopped next to me and i was invited by willy and his family to stay over at their finca.
first i visited ¨los estoraques¨, a place which reminded me on cappadocia in turkey. still partly privat owned, the park offers no tours through the entire area, at least not by any official guide. but i met rene, a local guy who knows the area very well and would like to work there, once the dispute is settled between the government and land owners. he offered me a tour and, as he was interested in study options abroad, i guess we both learned something that afternoon. later at the finca, food was served the minute i arrived. we then took a walk through the surrounding hills before i pitched my tent in the garden. the next morning started with an extensive breakfast and a photoshoot.
here with darlington who works at an environmental organisation and we spent quite some time talking about his work and related topics.
it is every time amazing what can happen, once you leave the busy streets and head to the inner country, with its small villages and wonderful people. it just takes longer to make progress concerning kilometers. but these meetings and experiences are just too good to compromise.
there was no day without a substantial climb or downhill part. from el tarra at the bottom of a valley i first had to climb half of the day and was a little annoyed at my otherwise fine map, as the distance shown was off by fifty kilometers. luckily fifty kilometers of almost uninterrupted downhill to sardinata. from then on my way lead mostly on dirt roads up and down the mountains. in salazar i met nacho as i was just about to enter a hospedaje, and he invited me to stay at his house. the following day we went to some waterfalls, hidden between stony cliffs, and spent a good while on his balcony in the evening, enjoying good food and music blasting from the stereo. after cucutilla another climb brought me back to the main road close to pamplona, where i watched the soccer game of columbia and brasil.
the climbing continued towards presidente, but then my break lever broke and despite some attemps to fix it, it wouldn´t work anymore. i had received news that a friend of mine would visit his family in colombia from europe and so i sent him an e-mail, asking him to bring that part over for me. the next day i set out with two gears left, as i could only shift between the two chainrings in the front. it wasn´t half as bad as i imagined and i could continue to enjoy this wonderful part of the country and only changed my plans slightly. after some more climbing i reached the páramo, a very unique landscape between tree line and snow line, typical for the northern andes region. one flower, the frailejón, is dominating in this region and it looks just a little different from any place i visited so far. over 3500 meters in altitude, for the first time i was aware i had to buy some gloves and warmer cloth to cycle. i postponed that after dropping 2000 meters into the cañon de chicamocha, where things were considerable hotter. on the photos on wikipedia, you can see how the road winds its way up and down the mountain sides. it took me an afternoon and the next morning to climb from the bottom of the canyon to the pass. but with such a scenery, it is easy to forget about a little hardship. a night´s stay in belen and a downhill to duitama ends this adventure. from then on, it was mostly flat and the roads rather busy towards villa de leyva, where i will have some rest days, as i only had four in the last month. i will meet felipe, the friend i was visiting in paris after the last trip coming from new zealand, and get that shift-lever on the bicycle fixed.
Tags: locations · music · people
it started to rain once we entered the bay of cartagena. it was refreshing and we felt like true sailors holding on to the ropes while facing the wind and the rain. one of the first things i did, once we reached land, was to get rid of the effect the saltwater had on the bicycle. after cycling into town and checking in at the tortuga hostel, i went for a walk around the old town with a girl from buenos aires. the historic center with its restored colonial houses and balconies make for a nice setting, as is the old city wall especially during sunset. i stayed four days to get a feel for the new country, its food, its currency, the heat and the idea of starting a new chapter in a new continent. meeting again with paul the next day called for a round of drinks. i still had a bottle of flor de caña rum with me that survived the crossing, and we met at paul´s hostel with paola from mexico and anna from cali to see to it that i don´t have to lug that thing around any longer. next door was an ice factory which helped to keep the drinks cooled and we spent a lovely evening without being troubled by seasickness or fatigue by a long day´s ride. cartagena is one of these places you can lose track of time and easily wile away several weeks. but the andes were waiting and so we set out, at least the first two days riding together as we had different plans for the following weeks. on the second day we watched the first match of the equipo de colombia against greece.
no sooner was the game over than thousands of people took to their motos and a convoy in the predominant colour yellow was rushing by.
this was going on for far too long for it to wait to end and so we continued. soon we were encircled in that same convoy as it returned to town, dodging flags and counter the occasional hit on the handlebars. once we arrived in the town of el carmen de bolivar our ways parted another time as paul wanted to get to medellin and make some progress south, while i was tempted by a route through norte de santander and boyaca.
since the camera is gone, there is still a lack of photos on the blog. but sometimes i can put the photos from other people here, like this time from paul. you can follow his journey on his well written blog and look at some stunning photos from his trip from the very north of alaska here.
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we met with the captain, fabian, the day before our departure and several things were discussed like safety at sea and how toilets on sailing ships work. we met the next day in the evening and brought our bags over to the ship before dinner. the bicycle was tied to the railings and was dangling rather adventurously over the water. but carmelo, the ayudante and cook on the ship, tied it with a thick rope on frame and wheels and my mind was put at ease. it took a little longer to get out of the harbour and we could get some sleep while still in calm waters. the rocking and rolling started early the next morning and i wasn´t feeling too well when i got up and skipped breakfast and was just nibbling on some dry toast. throughout the day i felt tired and spent most of the time lying around until we reached the first of the san blas islands. little dots of sand with only some palm trees and huts on them, they make for a beautiful stop-over to cartagena. surrounded by coral reefs, half of its beauty lies under water which we thoroughly explored. here’s a shot of the group.
snorkeling made half of the day´s activity, which stayed interesting, as we maneuvered each day to another island where wrecks of an old freighter and also of a sailing ship, that was set against the reef by a drunk captain, were lying just meters below the surface. the last day in san blas was spent on an island with only a bar and a soccer field on it. after dinner we set sail for cartagena. there was nothing much happening during the fifty hours of the crossing. one highlight was when ayudante carmelo caught this fish.
like in australia, i broke with being a vegetarian as there was plenty of fish to eat. but had no trouble returning to it, once i set foot on colombian soil.
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it was quiet a hilly introduction to panama and i was camping somewhere on top of these hills between changuinola and almirante before taking a boat towards bocas del toro on the island of colon the next day. there were dark clouds over the island and once we arrived, it had started to rain heavily. i put on the raingear for a short distance to a hostal that offered camping and spent three days mostly lying in the hammock and reading. the hostel had a nice wooden tower with view of the ocean and a nice breeze coming through that was missing five meters below. refreshed i continued over the hills between the caribbean side and pacific coast through the reserva forestal de fortuna. the downhill after a night spent camping in the hills was fantastic and i was in such a good mood that i took a wrong turn and was just to lazy to stop and ask for directions as i slowly made my way towards boquete, which is rather the opposite direction that i wanted to take. but the road was inviting and sometimes you just want to get lost. just before nightfall a guy in car stopped and offered a place to crash at his finca. once he toured europe on a bike himself before he was sent to panama with a job and settled there. growing up in germany, he still knew a little german, and so we communicated in a mix of german and english mostly, with the odd spanish word thrown in. i was thinking about a patch of gras to pitch my tent, but in the end found myself in a guesthouse with a swimming pool in front which was just heavenly after a long day in the saddle.
retracing my steps the next morning, i soon found myself on the panamericana. there are hardly alternatives towards panama city if one wants to make progress. for the most part it was rather dull but as i still wasn´t sure how i wanted to get to south america, this gave me some time to think this over. spending a rest day at santa clara beach my camera was stolen. just returning from the internet café, i forgot to put it in my tent and left it outside. to make things worse, i had just put my sd cards with all the fotos in the camera bag before i left the café. a thing i did for the first time during this trip. bad timing. i met an argentinan couple who stayed with some fishermen next door, and we had a delicious dinner made in the kitchen shack directly at the beach. i had already encountered the marañon fruit in guatemala which consists of two parts. the cashew apple and the nut. as we met again for breakfast the kitchen was shrouded as the two were roasting cashew nuts they had collected the day before. one has just to get rid of the charred shell and is presented with this most delicious nut.
i did not cycle into panama city and just took the amador causeway after the bridge of the americas to enjoy a view from afar. this causeway was erected in between islands with the construction waste of the panama canal. there are a couple of las vegas style hotels which are closed and slowly falling apart and today the causeway is mainly used by cyclist to go for a spin close to the city. stopping for a coffee, i had a great view over the skyline. cycling back, i left the city to my right and followed more or less the panama canal railway towards the san pedro locks and was watching a freighter making its way slowly through them. the road continued to the national park soberania where i found shelter from heavy rain at the park entrance. the weather wasn´t inviting to explore the area although the scenery looked amazing. at least i got a glimpse of the park on a wonderful road through the densest rainforest i have seen so far. plants seemed to be growing out of each other, the trees were ladden with other plants and there was hardly any sun reaching the floor, which seemed to be a neverdrying mix of fertile earth, decaying wood and leafs. i reached portobelo the next day for lunch before making my way to puerto lindo, from where the boat would be laeving to cartagena in colombia. by then i had decided to go with a sailing ship through the san blas islands. which is a bit more expensive, but with food included, no charge for the bicycle and some days in this carribean islands seemed to be a good way to get to south america. in puerto lindo i visited sandra and bert whom i had met at the spanish school in xela and who are now proud owners of the bambu guesthouse. it was a warm welcome and later they invited me to stay in one of the rooms. the terrace and bar have a beautiful view over the bay and their garden bordering the forest made for welcome visitors such as tucans, hummingbirds and different types of monkeys.
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