Coffee country

Since my last post I’ve travelled through the last of ‘coffee country’, and continued to have an incredible time in this cyclist’s paradise.

I had another couple of days slogging up the hills with my original chainwheel. With some of the ascents being up to 20% in parts, with averages often being over 5%, many of the climbs were done in short bursts. It was tough, but the sense of achievement at the top, and exhilaration when going down the other side, is indescribable. And the views continue to be breathtaking.

As I was leaving one of the villages I had stayed in, it became apparent that there was some sort of parade due to take place. It made sense to stay and watch, and I was told it was to commemorate the 1819 Battle of Boyacá, apparently a vital battle to the formation of independent South America. As a result, it’s a day where the military and police are celebrated (at least in that village, anyhow). Whilst I was waiting, these kids were getting really excited, and being taught to sing out something along the lines of ‘thank you for keeping our country safe’.

I was pleased to be given a flag by one of the kids, and it duly adorned the bike for the rest of the day

The parade was impressive. The town was small, but it was a real sense of occasion, with military, police, and search and rescue all doing their thing, along with kids bands, the local Lions Club, and various other groups. I’ve been surprised by the visibility of the Lions, with signs at the entrances to many of the towns.

Large or small, life always appears to centre around the local square. Recurring features are people playing chess (and attracting crowds), children being pushed around in little cars (what a job, pushing these all day), or simply reading the paper and watching the world go by (one of my favourite pastimes back home too).

A couple of days later, I was happy to reach Manizales (after another gruelling climb), keeping my fingers crossed that my replacement chainring would find its way to the DHL office there. To be honest, I enjoyed having the two day break from the hills too. It was with great relief that I picked up my package sent so promptly by Thorn, gladly paying the customs duties to DHL.

I found a bike shop around the corner from DHL, and, once again, was blown away by Colombian hospitality and friendship amongst cyclists. I asked the shop whether they’d mind if I did the work outside the shop, so that I could call on their help if necessary with shortening the chain (the only thing I might need additional tools for). It was made clear to me that there was no question of working outside the shop, and that I was to use their workshop and tools. What followed was a joyous couple of hours of camaraderie with the owner, Andres, and his staff.

To much amusement the customer with the smallest bike came in whilst I was there, so a pic had to be taken of customers with smallest and biggest bikes together!

After refusal to accept any payment, I was eventually able to take Andres and his team out to lunch – but it took some persuasion. And of course people had to have a try on the bike, which continues to be the subject of interest and delight to bikers here, along with the occasional police officer.

I’m also sure that my bike has learned how to flirt now. This woman was desperate to have her photo taken with the Nomad (and that’s her mum looking on in the background)…

With the new chainring fitted, I had a day to relax and enjoy Manizales. Like most of the places I’ve visited so far, it was clearly founded there due to a commanding view of the surrounding countryside. The best view was from the top of the cathedral, reached after a good number of stairs. One way to stretch the legs I guess.

As the evening came, a local vantage point quickly filled up with people there to see the sunset.

Now either Columbia has an insane number of parades and cycling events, or I am just exceptionally lucky at being in the right place at the right time. The morning of leaving my hotel, there was a cycle race about to start outside the door.

The new chainring has made an incredible difference. On the really gruelling hills I still stop regularly, but cycle much further between stops, and with far less effort. That said, there are still some sections now and then where there’s no choice but to get off and push, usually due to the combination of rocky paths with gradient. Yes, it hurts.

And then there are the times where I regret my phrase, when asking whether paths are passable, of ‘if a horse can use the path, then it’s fine for my bike’.

That said, it just adds to the adventure. This pic was taken by the soldier (the only person I encountered for about 10kms) who helped me carry my bags over the river before moving the bike across. I think it added interest to an otherwise boring day for him.

The next few days were spent cycling through the heart of ‘coffee country’. I was lucky enough to stay at a beautiful farm in Salento, away from the frenzy of the local tourist hotspot. This place was a piece of paradise, with great accommodation, wonderful staff, and delicious breakfast on the patio.

The accommodation also served as a great place from which to explore the Cocora valley, a famous beauty spot, where you see the crazy juxtaposition of palm trees and mountains.

As I walked the circuit, I was convinced this horse was posing for the picture. I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had held out a hoof and demanded some money for the shot!

I was also able to do the obligatory coffee farm tour. It was genuinely interesting, with the opportunity to see the whole process from planting to roasting. It was also fascinating to see the diversity of plants and trees that surround the farm.

I’ve been asked by many people whether I get lonely travelling on my own, and so far the answer is a resounding ‘no’. It’s incredible how many encounters you have on the road. Again, all only possible because of the patience of my Spanish teachers in Medellin. And then there are the many sights you see as you make your journey, in little coffee shops, in the places you stay, or the delight of finding less-travelled roads. Nope, there’s certainly been no boredom or loneliness so far.

I met Stephen whilst having coffee in a small town. Note the diy panniers – in some ways superior to my Ortliebs. They are super light, great capacity, and completely waterproof.

Another incredible encounter was in a small town a few days ago. I stopped at a café for a light bite to eat and a drink for lunch, and got into a long chat with Pedro, the cycling enthusiast owner, and his friend Alex. Of course the bike was tried out, but when it came to pay, again my money was refused. Not only that, but Alex disappeared for a few minutes, and reappeared with a gift of a cycling jersey of the local club. I am literally left speechless by people’s generosity here.

It was on this day that I firmly decided that this is definitely a ‘journey is the destination’ type of trip. I have no interest in ‘doing the miles’ and would rather do fewer miles and enjoy beautiful roads and continue to have friendly interactions with people, stopping whenever I fancy. To cement this, when I finished that day I had a message from another cyclist, Nick, who’s been doing more or less the same route as me for the last few days. He had wanted to get a high mileage day in, and went for the direct route going along the very busy main roads. Unfortunately he got robbed of his phone for his trouble, going through a particularly poor area. Thankfully it was just a snatch by two guys on a moped, just the kind of thing that is plaguing London (or at least was when I left). Nick’s misfortune gave me advance warning of the problematic area, so I was happy to take a bus through this part, and was grateful to have the couplings that allow me to split my bike into two parts, as otherwise it wouldn’t have fitted onboard.

I watched from the bus window as we drove through the dodgy area (even before it, the drop in prosperity was palpable, and it did burst my bubble a little about the paradise that I’ve seen so far). I decided to continue by bus for another 1 ½ hours to the city of Popayan, in the mountains in the South. Whilst safe, this part of the route would have been along the main road, so I would have been breathing in diesel fumes as I went. No thanks. Also, you regularly encounter these beasts. Whilst they try to give you room, it’s unnerving, particularly when the tail at the back end starts waving.

Popayan is a beautiful ex-colonial town, now a city but with a beautifully preserved centre.

As I was going back to my hotel last night, I walked through the square, to see another mass of cyclists. Turns out they were having a ‘critical mass’ ride here for the first time. I literally ran back to my hotel to get the bike, and enjoyed a great atmosphere as I rode around the city with a couple of hundred others. It felt like I was flying on the bike, not having 25kgs of luggage with me.

Then to top it all, my friend Bob from Medellin came up to greet me. He’d travelled all the way from Medellin to take part in the ride. As coincidences go, it was pretty remarkable, and it was great to see him.

For those who’ve made it to the end, thanks for bearing with me! I’ll try not to do such crazy long posts in future, but can’t promise I’ll manage that.

Warm wishes and love to all,

Stuart

 

53 thoughts on “Coffee country

  1. such uplifting blogs Stuart, keep them coming I love reading them! I’ve noticed Colombia featuring in more travel articles recently (only standard tourist stuff) but probably I’m just noticing it because of your trip, either way hopefully any increase in tourism will be a positive and well managed one for the lovely people you’re meeting.

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    1. Cheers Damon – good to know they’re getting read! I actually really enjoy writing too – it’s a nice way to process experiences, and also preserves them for me without having to carry around the extra weight I’d need with diaries! I think Colombia is going to get a bit crazy with increased tourism in the next few years, which will no doubt bring a few problems with it if not carefully managed, as you suspect. The next year will be pretty crucial for them too, to see which direction they take with the peace agreement now that they have a new president. Many are worried that he will cause a return to a violence cycle, but I really hope that doesn’t happen. It would be a crying shame.

      Hope you’re staying safe (assuming you’re still in hot and dusty places). Warmest wishes, Stuart

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  2. Love the story about the help from the bicycle shop. It’s a welcome that’s worth millions. Hope you are living it and getting some rest. Fee. X

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    1. Hi Fi, glad you’re enjoying. It was a great shop, and a lovely few hours spent with them. I think they’d have been happy if I’d have just hung around drinking their coffee for the whole day – remarkable hospitality. I am indeed getting a bit of rest – have a few days off here in Popayan. Sadly, I also need to do my German tax return. Ho hum, bump back to the real world for a while! Hope that you’re doing ok over there, and send much love, S x

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    1. Hi there, and glad you’re enjoying. Having had a look at your blog, you didn’t exactly have gentle riding either! It is indeed incredible here, and difficult to describe adequately really. You could always stick your bike on a plane and come back – it’s still a little way to Ecuador 😉 Best, Stuart

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    1. Honest guv, I had nothing to do with it 😉 I’d actually sat down for a quiet bite to eat, but ended up having quite an intense discussion with her mother who’d asked whether I believed in God. 5 weeks Spanish classes didn’t really prepare me for that one! Hope you two are well and coping in the heat. I can imagine B is beginning to get really funny! Lots of love, S x

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  3. Fabulous post – I love all the stories and you’re giving me itchy feet!!! Looking forward to the next instalment, Stuart. Much love from London xx

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    1. Thank you lovely. Well I seem to remember that you have a couple of places on the list to visit still….. 😉 But you have some pretty projects to be getting on with, and look forward to hearing of more progress in the next months. So pleased to hear that the house is coming together. Much love back to you both, Stuart x (and it may be a long way away, but look forward to our next theatre visit together!).

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    1. Thanks Trace. Yep, it’s even better than I had imagined. And as you know, I’d imagined it was going to be a LOT of fun 😉 Hope you and Mr D are doing well, and planning your next travels too? Lots of love from here, S x

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    1. Cheers Colin. Yep, it’s everything I’d imagined and more. Only worry is that I might have started with the best country first. I cannot describe just how cycling crazy they are here – you’d love it! Hope all well your end, and you’re managing to keep all those regional balls juggled. Best wishes (and to the heads when you next see them please), Stuart

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  4. Hey Stu Just starting my three-week hols in Freiburg to continue my basic German practice. I can read more than I did a year ago, but can’t yet speak fluently. I’m going to take my time to do so -many years – as you say, it’s the journey, not the destination.

    My next posting starts next month – I leave Geneva for a seven month posting to Auckland to set up two new embassies in Samoa and Tonga. If your travels take you to the area, feel free to look me up.

    V

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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    1. Hi Vinay, great to hear from you. Freiburg is a beautiful place – not sure about the local accent though. Think that’s a bit like going to Newcastle to learn English?! Huge respect to you with the German; it’s tricky even when you’re brought up with the language as I was. Spanish, by comparison, is super easy (and I’m struggling even with that at times).

      Sadly it’s unlikely I’ll be heading that way in the near future – sounds like a great posting though! Look forward to hearing about it at some stage in the future.

      Take care of yourself my friend,

      Stuart

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  5. OMG. Don’t stop the long posts. It’s another world so interesting.

    The lorry is just to much. That’s lorry my driving…🤪🤪
    Your pictures are wonderful.
    Stay safe,
    All our love The Pavitts xxx

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    1. Thanks Karen – that’s good to hear. Yep, the lorry convoys (don’t know how else to describe) are insane. They do try to watch out for you, but it’s definitely another reason to avoid the main roads. Having done the whole South Asian thing, I must confess I find the driving here pretty civilised….

      Great to see pics of you and Charles with the cars. Can’t imagine how long it took to get him back down to earth though?

      Lots of love to you both, S x

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  6. Hi Stuart,

    habe mich riesig über Deinen Blogeintrag und die tollen Fotos gefreut. Was für Kontraste. Die Landschaft ist unglaublich schön und die Menschen lachen viel. Die Aufnahmen vom Militär haben mich allerdings schlucken lassen.

    Fahrrad scheint Deine Bestimmung zu sein. In jeder Hinsicht. Ich stelle immer wieder fest, dass die Farbwahl eine ausgezeichnete war. Egal ob in der freien Natur und mit welchem Fahrer. Sogar auseinander genommen im Bus – ein echter Hingucker.

    Und ja, ‘watching the world go by’ … das kann ich mir bei Dir richtig gut vorstellen 🙂

    Liebe Grüße
    Petra

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    1. Hi Petra! Das ist schön zu hören – danke Dir. Mach Dir keine Sorgen über die Militäraufnahmen, es war einfach eine kleine Machtdemo – nicht so verkehrt in einem Land mit solch einer schwierigen Geschichte. Die Atmosphäre war wirklich schön, und es war nietlich zu sehen wie die Kinder sich bedankt haben.

      Mit der Farbe hatte ich ja nur zwei Optionen, Gelb oder Schwarz. Bin auch froh, dass ich die gelbe Version genommen habe. Sie gewinnt hier viele Freunde (ja, sie ist weiblich, obwohl sie mit der Chica geflirtet hat!).

      Schicke dir ganz liebe Grüße von hier, und freu mich schon auf zukünftige ‘zusammen watching the world go by’ Momente in Berlin!

      Stuart
      x

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  7. Uncle Stuart those views are so amazing I can’t describe it. Also, that truck is a monster ! Back here in London the biggest thing you will find is a rubbish truck. Is it just me or is there soldiers everywhere you go. The parade and the one that took your photo. Can’t wait to see your next post.
    From
    Joseph

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    1. Hi there Joseph. Funnily enough, I can’t describe the views either. Very glad I’ve got my camera with me, otherwise no-one would believe me! As for that truck, imagine a Lego version! Maybe we should try to build one when I get back? 😉 There are a lot of soldiers here, because they’ve had a lot of problems in the recent past. They’re all very friendly though, and always give you a wave when you ride past them. Lots of love to you, hope you’re having a fabulous holiday and looking forward to ‘big’ school – not long now… Stuart x

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    1. Hi Teresa. There’s no denying it – I’m having a bloomin’ brilliant time! Given that I was able to convince you to take up cycling, maybe it’s just a matter of time before you’re planning your first tour? 😉 Hope all well in London, and you’re still out there snapping away – haven’t had any pics for a while! Lots of love to you and the family, S x

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  8. Stuart, hi

    Like everyone else, really enjoying the blog. And the photos. You have a great eye.

    Glad to hear you are ‘mitigating risks effectively’ and taking the bus when need be.

    Looking forward to the next instalment.

    Take care,

    Nick

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    1. Thanks Nick; so glad you’re enjoying. Colombia and the Colombians are very photogenic, so they make it easy. Yep, dynamic risk assessments are the order of the day, and I shall try to resist becoming blasé about things. Hope you’re all well over there, and stilll looking forward to lazy brunches next summer in Berlin! Hugs to you all, Stuart

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  9. Hi Stuart, the blog is great, insightful and real. Does look like hard going at times, you must be permanently aching! But I’m sure every piece of effort is worth it, not least in the scenery which you capture so well in the pics. Stay Safe mate.

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    1. Cheers Ronnie. To be honest with you, it’s incredible how quickly the body gets used to it. It is indeed hard going at times, but aches are minimal. And when it gets tough, I just think about the bits to come in Argentina and Chile where there’ll be a great glass of wine waiting at the end of each day! Hope all still going well in your new work environment, and warmest to you and Deborah, Stuart

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  10. Hi Stuart. It is really good to know you are having such great journey while travelling in our country Colombia. You can’t imagine how much I value your willingness to see, feel, enjoy and then share tons of positive experiences this country has to offer. I’m glad to know your 5 weeks at the Spanish school were worth your time. Take good care and keep enjoying your travel.
    All my best wishes.

    Sergio

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    1. Hola mi profesor! It’s a huge pleasure to share my experiences. As you will have read, many of my friends are seeing what ‘real Columbia’ is about. And as for the school being worth my time, I have interactions with people many times a day which are only able to take place because of what you all taught me. You are very patient people! Muchas gracias Sergio, y espero todo va bien en Medellin. Mejores deseos, Stuart

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    1. Danke Paul! Ja, die Kombination von diesen unglaublichen Landschaften mit den tollen Menschen ist wirklich einmalig. Ich kann Kolumbien nur empfehlen! Ich hoffe die Feier bei dir war dieses Wochenende auch wieder einmalig! Liebe Grüße, Stuart

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  11. Hi Stuart, love reading your blog, you make it come alive. Off to France to see Susan and TC on Wednesday not quite as adventurous.!!! Stay stafe.

    Jan x

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    1. Hey Jan, really glad you’re enjoying. Maybe when I get back it’ll have to be Valleys and Vineyards revisited?! And those of us who know about Sue and Trevor’s place in France might say it’s more adventurous, no? Keep applying that sun cream please…. 😉 Lotsalove, Stuart

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  12. Morning Chap!!!
    Another brilliant and awe inspiring blog. I doubt that you could have planned your trip any better!! There is definable a book deal to be had I am sure. The Columbian Tourism Board would want to publish it!! The stars have definitely aligned for you, but then again I am a firm believer that you make your own luck. Really looking forward to your next blog mate. 👍🏻👍🏻

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    1. Cheers Buddy! Indeed, so far it’s all worked out really well. Be interesting to see what Ecuador has in store, as I’m edging closer to the border now. Not sure about the book, but I really enjoy writing the blog for several reasons – it’s great for processing my thoughts on the experiences; it’s good to know that friends are following and able to keep up; it’ll serve as a reminder for me in years to come; and, yes, it’s great to be able to ‘do my bit’ to show people what Colombia is really all about! Now if only you could get Denise to agree, I’m sure Thorn would get you a Nomad prepared in no time at all so that you can come along too 😉 Seriously though, you could look at a company like ‘Red Spokes’, who do short tours in Colombia. Their tours look really good, and because they’re supported, you don’t need to carry luggage and can use a normal bike. Best wishes to you both, Stuart

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  13. Hi Stuart
    I find both the blog and the photos breathtaking, and it is good to see so many other followers joining in. I envy you the chance to enjoy travel so much, but I have never had the stamina to tackle the hills you have. Ditchling Beacon on the ‘London to Brighton’ ride looks very tame, and anyway I last tackled that over 20 years ago. History now!.
    Keep up with the blog.
    Roy

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    1. Hi Roy, great to hear from you of course. I’m lucky to have many friends who are joining my travels vicariously through the blog – and it’s always good to know that people are enjoying it. Funnily enough, I often think of ditchling when I’m climbing hills here. Luckily enough, the gearing (now I’ve adjusted it) allows me to simply take it bit by bit. Ditchling may be only 1.45 kms long, but it’s an average of 9%. By contrast, one of the toughest climbs I’ve had so far was an average of ‘only’ 6.67% – but it went on for just over 20kms! There’s worse to come in Ecuador…. 😉 I remember your cycling passion from all those years ago – in those days only committed cyclists commuted into London! Hope all is well with you, Gillian, and the rest of the clan. Warmest wishes from here, Stuart

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    1. Hi Callum. Pleased that you’re following, and of course glad you’re enjoying. I am indeed having a great time – can’t describe how much I’m loving this opportunity. Hope that all is well back in London with you. Best, Stuart

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    1. Hehe, escapism from Belmarsh – like it 😉 Glad you’re enjoying it – certainly a far cry from my previous life, as you know. Hope all good in your world and you’re winning (I’ve been following recent news with interest). Best, Stuart

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    1. Thanks Judi. It was indeed beautiful there – along with so many places over here. Ecuador is proving to be great too, although it’s early days yet. Hope that all is good in SW1, and sending you, Fred and the fabulous Hugo lots of love, Stuart x

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