Categories
food music people

Villa de Leyva

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.

group renacer

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.

vista

…and once more with the four of us.

vista y grupo

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…

musica 2

and sufficient wine to pass the time, we finally got there that it was time to put the pizza in the oven.

pizza

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.

 

Categories
locations music people

Norte de Santander

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.

chepe and me
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…

chepe familia y yo

who made me feel so welcome.

kids and me

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.

bike y finca

Here with Darlington who works at an environmental organisation and we spent quite some time talking about his work and related topics.

darlington y yo

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 shift 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 dominant 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 del 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.

Categories
people travel

Cartagena y copa del mundo

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 while 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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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 countering 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.

Categories
food locations people travel

San Blas Islands

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.Ssurrounded by coral reefs, half of its beauty lies under water which we thoroughly explored. Here’s a shot of the group.

sailingkoala1

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.

sailingkoala2

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.