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Month: November 2016

Off to Popayán

Off to Popayán

I had given my motorcycle battery to a little shop close to our hotel the night before so he could charge it for me. During the last couple of days it had slowly lost its charge and I was worried it’d end up not starting pretty soon. Anyway, he told me to pick it up at seven this morning so I got up, had a little walk through town and went to his shop exactly at time. Half hour later he showed up, gave me the battery and told me something very fast. We’d had the same problem yesterday. He’d speak real fast and say words I don’t know, I’d tell him to slow down and he’d say something else real fast. The solution for me was to suggest what to do and he could say yes or no. So at this point I asked if the battery was OK. He said yes so I assumed all was well. I paid and asked if I could take a photo of his little shop and he was very happy to let me.

The bike shop
The bike shop

I went back to the bike by the hotel to connect the battery and realized that all the connections were very corroded. I cleaned it up and realized that probably was what the mechanic spoke about. Better late than never… I cleaned the connectors with steel wool and got it all back together and it all seemed to work! Good stuff. Hopefully that’s what made the battery loose charge in the first place. Future will tell.
We had breakfast and made ready for takeoff. Today we aimed to reach Popayán, the white city. It’s also a good trip south and a place to stay on the way to the Ecuadorian border.
The road was long, warm, mostly flat and boring but fairly fast. Half the stretch was on four lane highway which ended around Cali. We then got back into the mountains with lots of heavy traffic and an endless overtaking frenzy. The roads turn and twist and goes up and down and the endless caravans of trucks do 15kmh up hill and 100kmh down hill while cars and small motorcycles squeeze past them in impossible ways.
We reached Popayán around four in the middle of rush hour and spent around one hour to get to the old center where the hostels we had checked out were located.

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Popayán traffic, not very exciting…

After checking in and parking the bikes in a nearby bike garage we walked through the white painted center, found some food at a vegetarian eatery, found a desert in a cafetería and returned to our room, fairly exhausted.

Valle De Cocora!!

Valle De Cocora!!

I woke up excited to hike the Valle de Cocora and was even more excited because my leg felt much better! We ate a quick scrambled egg breakfast from our hostel and while Linus readied the bikes, I went and got some provisions for lunch.

The ride to the Valle was on a very small but paved road. It’s always fun to ride free of the weight of all our gear. The road wound it’s way past coffee farms, happy cows, and over small rivers. I can’t get over how green it is here! I know I’ve already said it, but again: I had no idea Colombia was so beautiful!! In about five miles we were parking our bikes at the trail head.

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There were two options for the hike, a short walk straight to the Valle with all the really tall trees, or a big counterclockwise loop that was supposed to take around five hours and end up at the Valle. We chose the long route and took off down a small muddy track (it rains everyday here). The trail worked its way through rolling farmland and then into a pretty big canyon. By this point we had entered the cloud forest and there was a steady drizzle of rain. I’m pretty sure it’s almost always raining, or at least very wet, in cloud forests. The canyon had quickly become more narrow and the path followed a pretty good sized and swift river. As we hiked up the canyon we encountered quite a few river crossings over rickety (and slippery) wood and cable bridges.

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The trail eventually climbed up and away from the river. There was a sign to a hummingbird nature preserve that we could take detour towards for an extra 40 minutes of hiking and a couple dollars each. We decided to continue up the mountain along the loop. It got pretty steep! I do feel a bit out of shape these days… After a while we came to some signs and what looked like three different options. The problem was that none of them looked like where we needed to go. One went down the back way to the hummingbirds, another went straight up towards a place that was way further than we could go in one day, and the other little trail didn’t have a sign. What to do? Our little map was no good, and the info I had read online made it sound like there was only one way to go apart from the cut off to the birds… While Linus looked at his phone map I decided to jog up the little trail to see where it went. It was really small and I was about to turn around when I heard voices. I decided to wait for them and see where they had been, and guess who emerged from the trees? Mona and Dan, some friends from the boat!! And they were very lost as well.

We traded stories and came up with a plan together. Apparently they had been hiking two hours out of their way! We probably would have done the same if we hadn’t run into them. The problem with the trail is that the signs (and lack thereof) are very unclear. Everything I read told us that we would split to the left at the turn to the hummingbird sanctuary. We decided to head back down past the bird place. On the way down I asked some Norwegian guys if they had found the right way. They said we had to go back down to the last time we crossed the river, go back over and a little further back and there would be a sign pointing us to “la mantaña”. We were wondering how we missed this before. Here’s how:

Not the most informative of signs... "mantaña" is scratched in at the top..
Not the most informative of signs… “mantaña” is scratched in at the top, and the arrow points away from where we were meant to go…

Once back on track, we hiked up a REALLY steep track and finally came to a beautiful viewpoint of the famed Valle de Cocora. It was pretty spectacular! So much green and the trees were ridiculously tall! Apparently the wax palm almost became extinct from being used to build houses and being cut down on Palm Sunday! To save the trees, the government made the reserve in 1985 and made it part of Los Nevados National Park.

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We followed a dirt road down and into the Valle, which curiously has cows grazing in it. I guess they keep the landscape under control? There were some great views and plenty of photo ops. It was pretty wild to see the contrast of the cows against the rest of the scenery!

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Once back at the bottom we agreed to meet Mona and Dan in a little while for famous coffee and sweets back in town. We figured we had earned it with all of the extra hiking we did. Back at the hostel, I decided to take advantage of the beautifully hot water with another shower while Linus tried to find a place to charge the battery on his bike. It’s been getting more and more sluggish lately…

Coffee with Mona and Dan was really nice. The coffees were strong and the cakes delicious! Niki met up with us too, apparently she had made a similar mistake on the hike, but was smart and turned around much sooner than the rest of us. I guess we did it backwards, but after coffee and sweets we headed to a place for dinner that apparently had really good curry. And it did! It was nice to enjoy something other than the typical food and it was even nicer to enjoy it with friends.

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After dinner we said our goodbyes (again), who knows when we will cross paths again. This time, though, it seems that we really are going in opposite directions for a while. There is a pretty good chance that we will be in Patagonia at the same times. Who knows, maybe we’ll get lost again and find the wild cards in the back country!

Riding with new friends to Salento

Riding with new friends to Salento

Another morning, this time in Manizales. And a pretty special morning, as we are getting picked up at 8 by our new friend Christian to go change oil in the bikes.
One thing that has been apparent in this trip is the fact that almost every time we don’t have anything planned something really unexpected and cool happens.
So anyway, we packed up and we’re ready to go as Christian showed up on his one year old Kawasaki klr650. We took of through the winding streets of Manizales for about fifteen minutes before turning into an oil changing garage for cars. We bought some oil and a worker offered to change it for us there. So we backed the bikes up against the wall and changed oil while cars zoomed in and out to get their oil changed in front of us.

Oil change
Oil change

When we were done I decided to ask if anyone knew where to buy a charger for the motorcycle battery, as my battery has seemed to be getting weaker and weaker the last week or so. Christian said he knew a shop so off we went. The shop was only a block away on a steep narrow street. We parked on the sidewalk and asked in the shop for a charger. Unfortunately there was non to be found, and the only place they could think of was in a neighboring city, so I decided to skip it for now.
Christian now told us that he and his Klr companion Maurizio would love to join us to Salento, and of course we were more than happy to have them.
As we took of from the shop we had to start uphill from the sidewalk. I could only sit on my bike and watch Lise do her sixth bike lay down on this trip as she killed her engine while trying to get started. I asked if she was OK and she said yes, but before I could get of my bike the guys from the shop had already gotten the bike up and Lise was ready to get going again. I checked the bike and nothing was damaged so after thanking the guys we took off again.
We now drove out of Manizales on a beautiful road up on a ridge with amazing view of the city and surrounding mountains. A few miles outside the city we met up with Maurizio and took of towards Salento.

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Towards Salento

About two hours of green mountains and yes, winding roads, later we arrived in the little mountain town of Salento. We looked around for a hostel for a bit and settled on a small place with only around eight rooms run by a sweet old lady. She didn’t have a garage but assured us that it was safe to park beside the road outside.
We then walked up to the main street and to a viewpoint at the edge of town where you could see the surrounding coffee fields and the Valle de Cocora, a nature reserve that we will hike tomorrow.

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After this we went for lunch at the central Square and coffee at a local coffee house. We were really impressed with the old coffee machines they used. The place we were at had a hundred and thirty years old espresso machine from Italy!! (See cover pic). All the while we were trading stories and experiences in broken Spanish and English. Maurizio speaks pretty good English and after a while both me and Lise got warmed up on Spanish. Both Maurizio and Christian works at farms owned by their families, Maurizio on a coffee farm and Christian on a cattle farm. They met because Maurizio bought his motorcycle from Christian as he bought a newer one. They then hooked up and have been riding together for a year or so. Maurizio dreams of taking his motorcycle down south to Argentina too, but is still a little nervous about doing it. We had a great time talking to them about motorcycles, preparations and modifications, and life in Colombia. It was with sad hearts we later said goodbye, as they had to return to Manizales in the afternoon. But we exchanged emails and promised to keep in touch.

Parting ways
Parting ways

Lise and I then walked around town for a while before eating an evening snack and returning to our room for the evening.
It turnes out Lise hurt her leg when the bike fell, and she’s got a big old bruise and a bump on her left leg that hurts pretty bad. Hopefully it will feel better tomorrow for the hike…

Jardin to Solento, no, Manizales

Jardin to Solento, no, Manizales

Okay, I think it’s time for a travel update. Today is day 64 and we have totaled 6,325 miles!

Last night Linus and I decided we would be flexible with departure plans this morning and see how my foot felt. I actually banged it up pretty good. I am definitely my grandpa Grout’s girl and grace is not one of my fortes! I woke up a bit confused as our hotel room quite dark and Linus was gone. As I came to, I figured he had gone exploring up the mountain side to where the cable car drops people off for a view of the town. I got ready and was about to head out to find some coffe when I got a message from him saying that he was on the mountain top. Apparently the mountain top had wifi.. I made my way to where the cable car takes off from to meet him at the top. I was happy about this because we tried to take the cable car last night, but they were just closing. I was the first passenger of the day. Also, my foot was feeling better!

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On the way to the cable car

At the top, we enjoyed a cup of coffee and a beautiful morning view of Jardin waking up. We discussed plans for the day and decided that we would head back down the mountain, find breakfast and try to head out of town by 11.

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We took the cable car back down the mountain and at the bottom linus had to run further down the mountain side to check an interesting looking bridge. I waited patiently for him, trying to be smart and preserve my foot for some hiking in a few days.

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Where’s Linus?

We found a cheap breakfast of eggs, arepas, and coffee. We had heard so much about how cheap and good the coffee in Jardin is, but so far both cups this morning were not that great. We decided to head to the square after breakfast to find some fresh juice and stronger coffee. The central square is lined with cafes on all four sides, so we figured maybe this is where the good coffee was. And we were right! We got two strong cups for less than a dollar!

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Oh, and we also figured out that tinto means black SWEET coffee… With the coffee we each had a glass of delicious fresh fruit juice blended con leche. I had mora which, I believe, is huckleberry. Not sure what Linus’ was. It sure didn’t taste fruity, though. More like cinnamon…

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We headed back to our hotel to load up the bikes and head out. Since it looked like rain, we opted to take the slightly longer but paved route towards the coffee region town of Solento. Well, I suggested this idea, and Linus sweetly accepted. It was fun to do the road in reverse, I enjoyed the scenery and curves of the road a lot more since it was more familiar this time around. We ran into rain a few times, but nothing too heavy. The road was still interesting and followed rivers up and down through canyons most of the way.

We stopped for some lunch around 3:45 at a roadside restaurant. The plates of food we have been getting are so big! They usually bring a hearty soup and then a plate with meat, beans, rice, potato, plantain, salad, and sometimes a fried egg too! All for $3-4! So, I’ve decided to start asking if we can get the plate without meat which is a lot more manageable. Today they brought a soup with a huge chunk of white fish in it, it was so good!

Over lunch we decided to roll on to a town about an hour short of Solento as it was starting to get late. Not too far after we got back on the road we hit a few construction stops and ended up stopped next to a nice Colombian guy on BMW bike. I asked him about the town we were headed to and he said it was fine, but that Manizales was much nicer and only 18 km out of the way. What the hell, we said, and decided to go for it.

Manizales is a pretty good sized city way up on top of a big mountain. The climb up to it was really pretty, but the road was two lanes each way and pretty insane, so we couldn’t really enjoy the views too much. Once in the city things got a bit more crazy and we really had no idea where to look for a place to stay. So we tried to muddle our way through to the center and start from there. On the way we spotted two others riding KLRs, and of course we all waved at each other. Their bikes had Colombian plates but I assumed they were tourists who had flown in and rented. One of them rode behind us for a while as we got more confused about where to go. We soon pulled over to come up with a new plan and the KLR guy pulled up behind us, he was clearly curious. Turns out he is a native of Colombia and lives in Manizales and he and his buddy just love KLRs! This turned out to be very lucky for us. We asked if they could suggest a place to stay and before we knew it we were following them through the city to a neighborhood that ended up having a few hostels to choose from. We NEVER would have found them without stopping to find internet first. What nice guys!  And to make things even better, when Linus asked about a good place to change oil, the older guy insisted that we come to his house tomorrow to change it! Linus can’t remember the guys names, but we’ll catch them tomorrow. They are going to meet us at our hostel at 8am to show us the way. Yay for moto friends!!

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Through Medellín to Jardín

Through Medellín to Jardín

We woke up prepared our bike for departure, had hostel breakfast and took off towards Jardín, a small mountain town in the northern border of the coffee region. But first we had to do a little loop north an pass through the city of Medellín, as the road network makes it difficult for a more direct route.
The road to Medellín was wide and fast and soon we were descending a ridge overlooking the huge sprawling city of Medellín.

Medellín
Medellín

Soon we were in the middle of big city traffic on highways with four to six lanes and trying to stay in the right lanes for the 25 km or so long city.
Once out of the city the road got smaller again and we returned to drive on winding roads surrounded by green hills.

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About an hour before sunset we arrived to Jardín and searched our way to a little hotel called Hotel Diana, a cheap and clean place we’ve been recommended. We got a room and parked the bikes in the corridor entrance to the hotel, changed and went out to find some food as usual.
The central square in Jardín is really a hopping place on a Saturday evening. People are sitting and drinking beer or local coffee in one of the numerous outside servings spread out on the square. Most venues are not restaurants but cafés that only serves baked wares and drinks, something we’ve seen more and more of as we’ve been moving south in Colombia.
There are also loads of horses in Jardín. At first we didn’t think too much of it but as the sun set there were suddenly more and more horses hanging out around the square, ridden or accompanied by cowboys or girls. A bit into the evening there were at least fifty horses riding up and down the streets around the square, all showing off their skills with their horses and almost all off them doing a trot where the horse stomps really fast without moving much forward, and sometimes the real skilled riders make them move sideways. A very impressive thing to see, albeit a little noisy when fifty horses do it at once. It kind of felt like being in a western movie where cowboys tries to impress each other and then parks their horses in rows to have a beer break.

Horses horses and horses
Horses horses and horses

Anyway, we walked around a bit but Lises foot was hurting a bit so we decided not to push it today. But we found a cable car going up to a view point on the hills, and made a plan to get up there tomorrow for some good photos.

One more day in Guatapé

One more day in Guatapé

So last night was fun. Not. A bunch of people in our hostel decided to party until 4am. Not fun for people (the rest of the place) that wanted to sleep. We rolled out of bed around 8:30 and found that it was pouring down rain. I liked it here in Guatape so much that I convinced Linus we should stay a third night so we could go paddle boardinghouse on the lake and enjoy the peaceful hostel… Then it turned into party hostel and a rainy day with no paddle boarding! No big deal, though.

After breakfast we used the built in downtime to start sorting out the bigger logistics of our budget and getting ourselves and the motos home. We also chiseled our plans out to get ourselves through the rest of Colombia, Ecuador and into Peru in time to meet Maggie and Jackson in northern Peru December 13.

For lunch we finished our bread and peanut butter and then walked into the town center for some fresh juice.

On the way into town
On the way into town
On the waterfront
On the waterfront

After our little snack we wandered around looking in little shops for souvenirs or anything small and special to remind us of Guatapé. I found some earings and a few other things that were nice. I have been avoiding buying too much so far on the trip but as we move further south, I’m going to keep an eye out for authentic things!

We found my mom!
We found my mom!

Here is another phenomenon I’ve been meaning to mention: the way Central and South Americans sell produce. I first noticed it in Costa Rica, a man driving a car or truck around speaking really quickly into big mega phone and loud speaker. At first I thought I was some political propaganda fest or protestor or something. Nope, just yelling really loud and fast about all their fruit and veggies and how much they cost. I think many things are sold this way. Yesterday we encountered an old Nissan full of grapes for sale. Talk about entertaining!

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I spent the rest of the afternoon reading about Ecuador, doing yoga, chatting with mom and mag, and writing old style in my journal. Now that we are finally caught up in blog land we have more freedom with our down time. I really need to get back to the spanish study!!

For dinner we tried a place that had been closed the first night we were here. It had a big grill in front and tons of fresh fish to choose from. I had grilled trout with garlic and plantains and potatoes. Linus had rice, eggs, and beans, avacado and plantain. It was super tasty and the place was packed with locals. A sure sign it’s good!

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We accidentally tripped and fell into an ice cream shop after dinner. I hate when that happens! Linus got the most deliciously rummy rum raisin ice cream ever! We listened to some street musicians in the colorful square for a bit and then Linus’ bladder sent us walking back to the hostel at a quick pace. Quick enough that I managed to stumble a bit on a cobble stone with my right foot which immediately sent my left foot into a bigger hole. It’s still prettt sore after ice and ibuprofen. Hopefully it will calm down by tomorrow as we have a half day of driving to get to the town of Jardin. And hopefully we won’t be forced to confront the partiers tonight!

Guatapé rocks!

Guatapé rocks!

Today I let Lise sleep in. I went up and had a lovely gas heated shower and went to use the WiFi until she woke up. Then we had breakfast and ran into four more of our old boat crew, who just happened to be staying in the same hostel in the same little town! Who would have guessed Colombia was so small. After chit-chatting away for a bit we decided to join up with Nicki, the Brittish girl, and go for a walk to the giant boulder outside of town called Peñón de Guatapé. This is a gigantic rock that people around beleived to be an asteroid. Apparently the town of Guatapé and the town of Peñón some time ago had a dispute about to whom the asteroid belonged. Eventually the Guatapians decided to settle the matter by writing “Guatapé” on the rock with huge letters. The Peñónians discovered what was going on and got real upset. So they gathered a mob and managed to stop the Guatapians when they had only written the “G” and half a “U”. Maybe not the most mature behavior from any side but fact remains and the one and a half letters are still very visible from one side of the rock.
Nowadays there is a very interesting looking stair up on top of the rock and up there you can find a few restaurants and a tower with a viewpoint. So that’s were we decided to walk.
The walk was about 45 min long and started with a thick gray overcast. As we got closer we were amazed by the sheer size of the rock, it is enormous!!

Walking to the rock
Walking to the rock

Once we arrived at the base the sun had come out, which means we should have brought sunscreen. Nothing to do about that now. The stairs up the rock is jammed in a crevice and it looks pretty special.

The stairs up the rock
The stairs up the rock

We got a ticket and walked the 750 steps up to the top, had an ice cream (Lise had a beer) and watched the views of the surrounding hills, houses and the sprawling lake. The only slightly disturbing thing being that an antenna colony somewhere up there decided to swarm this day, and we constantly had to brush flying ants off our clothes and hair.

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After about one hour we returned down and walked the 45 minutes back to the town. Guatapé is a really neat little town and it has been called the world’s most colorful city. Many buildings are painted in bright colors with pictures down by the ground. Many times these pictures describe the trade of the family, or the family symbol. We walked through narrow streets and small squares with many small boutiques and cafeterias. We went for lunch at an excellent vegetarian restaurant before returning to the hostel for a rest, blog, and some Internet procrastination.

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When we were done it was dinner time and we went for a simple dinner before once again returning to the hostel to park the bikes and return to our room for a Thanksgiving Skype session with our Utah folks! Unfortunately Thanksgiving is also celebrated by American tourists and we had a party going on in our hostel until around 4 in the morning making it hard to sleep for everyone else…

From jungle to mountains

From jungle to mountains

We woke up to the beautiful sound of the rushing waters of rio claro right outside our open air room. I felt like I was in some fairy tail sleeping in a four post bed with a dramatic mosquito net draped around us. And I slept so well after yesterday’s very long day of riding!

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We wandered down for breakfast and learned some new Spanish. Instead of café negro for black coffee they say café tinte. There are so many differences in the language here versus Central America. It’s so fascinating. While discussing what to do with our day over breakfast we met a nice guy from Seattle. He has made the trip to Columbia to birdwatch. He is a young guy that is really passionate about birds and traveling and it was really fun to chat with him. He had a lot of good tips on finding cheap flights back to the U.S., which are proving difficult to find. Maybe we’ll just stay down here with Voldemort becoming president and all…

We decided to hike up the canyon further into the nature preserve and check out the swimming in the river. It’s difficult to explain the vastness of the scenery in this canyon. It is so dense with trees and plants and the walls are so tall. It’s hard to see the scale of it in photos!

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The river was a beautiful color of greenish blue and quite swift in places. You could hold on to a rope to get to the other side where there was a waterfall coming out of a cave. So cool! It’s crazy, Linus and I keep saying how all these amazing places we have experienced so far in Colombia are so intense that it’s hard to take it all in completely. Linus put said it perfectly: “I just want to eat it with a spoon!” It’s so overwhelming!

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After the swim and some more wandering through nature, we ate some lunch and decided to move on down the road to the town of Guatepe. It was pretty sweaty and hot loading up the bikes. Oh, and we met this nice older Columbian couple that were on a BMW motorcycle. The man was so cute, full of questions and stories. I only got a fraction of what he was saying, I think Linus got a little more. Most of the tourists at the preserve were Colombians, which we thought seemed really positive that locals are doing well enough that they are happy and vacationing. Not something we saw a lot of in Central America. It really seems apparent that Colombia is doing much better these days.

Back on the road it started out hot and humid (we were around 1200 feet) but we quickly climbed high enough that we had to stop and layer up. This country is dramatic! The road was super intense too. Very up and down with big curves and little ones and the views were crazy! Big canyons and mountains covered in jungle and two hours later we are seeing pine trees!! The drivers are intense too.. Super fast, lots of crazy passing going on and tons of little motorbikes whizzing around too. It takes a LOT of focus to drive here!!

We turned onto a smaller road with about 20 miles to go to Guatape. It was a tiny winding road passing through little villages and farmland. The livestock in this country are so healthy and beautiful. As the tiny road went up and down and around I was amazed at the amount of traffic funneling down the it. Huge buses and trucks with little bikes and cars. You would never see that much traffic on a road this size in the U.S. Another cool thing we have seen in Colombia are all the cyclists! Jackson would be in heaven. I even saw two preteen boys all decked out in spandex and fancy sunglasses on road bikes! They were racing each other and having a great time.

Once in Guatape we didn’t really know where to look for hostels, so we found a restaurant with wifi and did some quick research. We ran into quite a snag when it came time to pay. They said they could take a card but cash was better, we were low on cash and needed to stock up anyway, so Linus ran down the street to an arm, but the machine wouldn’t give him money. When I tried my card the same thing happened, so the waiter said we could use our card but we had to walk down the block to their other restaurant. Thinking it was just the ATM, we gave him linus’ debit card and when he ran it, it was rejected as was mine! Okay, on to the credit card. No go. Crap! Linus said he could use a Swedish card he had for emergencies, but he couldn’t find it! Luckily, he managed to scrape up just the amount we owed in cash, but then we were clean out! Problem solving to be done tonight!

View from our room in Guatape
View from our room in Guatape

Back at the hostel we ran into our friend Niki from the boat ride! It was nice to see her again. She had just come down from the north coast where she had hiked the hidden city. She kindly offered to loan us some cash for dinner if needed. On our way to dinner we had our hostel run the debit cards again to see if they worked. No go. We had her try my credit card and it did work! Yay! A step in the right direction! On the way to the town center we found another ATM and gave it another go with my card and it worked! Thank goodness! Hopefully it was just a temporary thing with internet here. I guess we’ll find out later!

It was nice catching up with Niki over dinner. We traded recent travel stories and gave her tips on where to stay and what to do when she heads up to San Gil. She is going to Rio for Christmas! Slightly jealous!

Church at Guatape'a central square
Church at Guatape’a central square

Back at the hostel I enjoyed an incredibly beautiful HOT shower. I haven’t really minded the cold showers as I knew there would be a lot of them on this adventure. And by a lot, I mean all of them except maybe two since we left the U.S. When it is hot and humid you really don’t mind so much, but tonight it was really nice to feel some warmth.

Tomorrow we will explore Guatape and see what all the fuss is about with this pretty little town!

Cutting through Colombian wilderness

Cutting through Colombian wilderness

Morning view of Barbosa
Morning view of Barbosa

We woke up early and went downstairs to have some breakfast in a bakery next to the hotel. Then we packed up and took off towards Chiquinquirá, where we got on road 60 that would eventually lead us to highway 45 and then to our goal for today: Reserva natural de Río claro.
The road to Chiquinquirá was well maintained and beautiful, with high mountains and smells of flowers and eucalyptus trees. We also saw plenty of cyclist groups speeding up and down the hills.

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Once a little past Chiquinquirá we turned on to road 60, a smaller paved road that led us up a small hillside and through a small mountain pass. On the other side it suddenly opened up. Here the mountain just dropped off and we were looking down at clouds far below. There was also a little Catholic shrine here and we stopped and enjoyed the scenery for a bit. The compass on my phone showed that we were at 3100 meters above sea.
After this the road started working its way down the valley towards the clouds through green pastures and past well kept beautiful looking farms. The pavement turned to gravel a few times but in all the road was good. We then started climbing the mountains on the other side of the valley and soon we were in the jungle again. The views shifted to one’s of steaming jungle covered mountain ranges and cliffs stretching in all directions. A little after noon we reached Otanche, a small but fairly well equipped town in the middle of the jungle with a bank, gas station and a main square surrounded by small shops. Here we stopped for some brought lunch and bought some fresh juice from a juice stand. While I was chatting with a local about the bike I was offered to buy emeralds by another man who joined the conversation. He gave me a piece to look at and it was a raw piece of what I believe was emerald, about 5mm big. He wanted $3 for it. I didn’t have much cash and said thanks but no thank you.

Otanche main square
Otanche main square

After lunch I ran over a dog… It was hanging out with some older kids by the road and suddenly rushed out on front of my bike and I rolled right over it. It kept screaming and the kids picked it up, checked it, let it walk a bit and told me it was OK. That’s a first time for me hitting an animal on a bike, and I guess the good thing to experience was that with a bike like this with off road suspension I could barely feel it. Hopefully it won’t happen again though.
OK so the road turned into gravel as soon as we left Otanche, and this time for good. For the first couple of miles the dirt road was good and even, but soon we ran into patches where the road narrowed and you could see it had been washed out by the rain season.

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A small stream to cross

 

We crossed some small streams and trudged on through the jungle mountains. At one point we reached a bigger stream crossing where I crossed and walked back to guide Lise, if she wanted to try. She was almost ready to give it a shot when a big construction truck came up from behind. So I got her bike across too, while she got a ride from the friendly guys, hanging on the side of the truck. They waved us off and we got going up the road again.

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The road now got pretty bumpy and very steep at times, but mostly dry and stable so we pushed on up and down canyons, across bridges, water and patches of pretty stable mud. At places we passed simple houses with families sitting in the shade, or laying down having a siesta.
At one point we saw a snake that was more than two meters long laying on the road. Luckily it was dead and there were vultures feasting on it, but none the less it reminded us that we were in a real jungle with all the creatures and potential dangers that comes with it.

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1020440-01Around 3:30 we got to a village again and the road turned a little better. After another half hour we finally, dirt and dust smeared and pretty darn tired, found ourself back on paved road.

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Before long we were back to overtaking semitrucks again, but we moved quickly and after less than an hour we rolled up in front of the Reserve Natural de Rio Claro. They have an eco-hotel inside the park and we got a room including three meals, dinner, breakfast and lunch at the park restaurant. We rode in, parked and re-packed things we needed into bags as the rooms were a ten minutes walk from the parking lot.

Room with a view
Room with a view

After a very well deserved and necessary shower and clean up, we had dust and dirt mustaches all over our faces, we had dinner and then went straight back to our room for a good night’s rest.

Leaving San Gil

Leaving San Gil

Woke up and packed our bags and panniers. Had some breakfast that we bought yesterday night. Then we caught the owner of the hostel to ask advice about our intended route, things to see along the way etc. As far as we had seen, most interesting things were at least one to two hours out of our way and included hours of hiking. We felt the need to get some miles down the way, but we were up for doing something maybe for an afternoon or so on our way down to highway 60. He suggested us to go to Oiba where you can exit highway 45a and take a short hike to a river full of circular holes in its rock bottom called Las Gachas. He also told us about one of Pablo Escobar’s ranches that we would pass on our way to Guatapé. Apparently it is a totally bizarre place where he was breading hippos, building a jurassic park and many other weird things. Anyways the Las Gachas sounded like a perfect little detour and so we packed our bikes and after a quick photo with the owner we took off.

Macondo hostel's owner: Shaun, a great guy!
Macondo hostel’s owner: Shaun, a great guy!

The road to Oiba was well kept, prettynand short. Once there we asked where to find these Gatchas and were directed down a road that led out of town. We came to a road work and I asked one of the workers for directions, and he told me we needed to go to Guadeloupe, a little town about forty minutes down this little road. But on bikes like ours he was betting we could be there in fifteen. In any case off we went. The road was pretty and paved most of the time, and about half hour later we rolled into Guadeloupe, a little cute town with the standard central square and church.

Parked in Guadalupe
Parked in Guadalupe

Here we had lunch and met an Israeli backpacker. He warmly recommended the river and said it was really close by. We eventually found it on our map and started packing up. And then we got into a discussion about if we had time to do this, as we were already a bit into the afternoon. After a while we didn’t really know what we wanted at all and we took off just saying we would pass by the entry road and see what we felt. Once there we in a moment of confusion decided not to go and continued back without really checking out what we came for. It was a strange moment and in a later discussion we decided to try not doing that again.

Las Gachas that we didn't visit
Las Gachas that we didn’t visit

Anyway, we went back on the little road to Oiba and turned south once again. Towards sunset we arrived in the town of Barbosa. After asking about cheap and clean hotels at a gas stop we were directed down the main street to a little clean looking hotel. Two ladies at the desk checked us in to a double room and let us park our bikes in their locked garage. All for a total of $10 for the night. We then went to have a huge dinner with soup, half a chicken, rice, pasta, plantains and yucka. Way more than we could eat and all for $3. Suddenly we felt we were outside of the tourist streak and it felt good!
After dinner we went back to the hotel to rest for the adventures of tomorrow.