(Please note pictures can now all be viewed full screen just by clicking on them)
Given that I’ve started getting messages asking whether I’m ok, thought I’d better do my first post from being on the road.
An easy way to get started is with some stats for the first 8 days:
- Number of days cycled – 6
- Number of kilometres cycled – 253
- Total metres climbed – 7887
- Total metres descended – 7788
- Max altitude reached – 2883 metres
- Number of meals given to me by random strangers – 4 (one breakfast, one lunch, one dinner, plus a bunch of bananas). And that’s not counting the numerous places I’ve stopped and had my water bottles refilled.
- Numbers of offers of accomodation – 2
- Number of friendly encounters on the road – countless
It’s been an incredible start, and everything I had hoped for (and something I hadn’t but more about that later). I set off last Sunday from Medellin, saying goodbye to my friend Omar, and hitting the road.
It was great to leave Medellin on a Sunday, as the main motorway South is closed for a long section every Sunday for cyclists. I shared the road with many many cyclists, most of them wondering what the crazy foreigner was up to with all that luggage..
Being Sunday, there were loads of cyclists on other roads too, and I began to get used to calls of encouragement from them and motorcyclists as I trudged up the hills. It wasn’t long before I was in a different world entirely.
Having tried and failed to get decent maps in Medellin, navigation has been by using a combination of Google Maps and an app called Maps.me. It’s worked fairly well most of time, although in South America Google hasn’t yet configured maps to show which routes are passable by bike, and the gradient indications are often hopelessly wrong. Streetview certainly helps in avoiding the roads that will have lots of traffic.
Within a few days I was in the most incredible countryside. Again, I was expecting Colombia to be beautiful, but had no idea it was going to be this spectacular.
Of course there has to be a down side to such views, and that’s having to cycle up them to get there! The downside I’ve mentioned is that, whilst I can get up the climbs, I’ve found my gearing is not optimal for me. When matched with the quantity of luggage I’m carrying (25kgs) on a bike weighing 17 kgs (a £1000 race bike generally weighs less than 10 kgs), I can only manage ascents that sometimes average 10% over several kilometres in short stints of a few hundred metres at a time.
I had previously test ridden with luggage, but underestimated just what a constant climb of 25kms can do to you! A quick look through cyclist’s posts on the internet showed that my gearing was way higher than most other tourers on my kind of bike. Thankfully the good people at Thorn Cycles were fantastic in their service and there is a new front chainring waiting for me when I reach the next town tomorrow. That should make things an awful lot easier. Apart from that (which was my fault entirely) the bike hasn’t missed a beat. It’s been incredible and I love riding it.
I’ve also been stopped on more than one occasion by other cyclists wanting to know about it, and sometimes even giving it a go themselves. Again, big credit to my Spanish school for getting me to the stage where I can have these conversations (and where I can speak to DHL in Colombia in Spanish about import duties for cycle parts!).
The people of Colombia have also lived up to their reputation. I’ve been welcomed into people’s houses and given food, been offered contacts to stay with around the country, and generally been embarrassed by the generosity I’ve been shown.
I’ve not taken anyone up on the accomodation offers as I’ve been staying in little hotels in small towns that I’ve pre-booked the night before. Some of the towns are beautiful old colonial towns, nestled in the hills. Each one has a main square, usually teeming with life, and sometimes with magnificent churches (the two below are in towns with populations of under 15 000). The towns are built into or on top of hills, so the streets can also be terrifyingly steep! As I left the town of Jardin they were holding a children’s cycle race. I had to smile at the kids who still had a lot of growing room on their jazzy racing bikes.
The hotels also occasionally have a distinctly religious feel to them.
When I’m on tarmac roads, the encounters are friendly too. Motorcyclists and car drivers will often beep their horns in encouragement, or simply give you a thumbs up. And the older buses, whilst they may make you gag with their fumes as they climb the hill, do bring a smile to my face, reminding me very much of South Asian ‘jangly trucks’.
So all in all, I’m having an absolute blast. Things are looking good for my travels, particularly once I’ve got my new front chainring!
Best wishes to all, and thanks for joining me on the ride.