I was awake by around 6am, but it was still far too cold to be wanting to leave, so I went back to sleep until around 8. I packed my things up and was ready to put them on my bike when I found my rear tyre slowly leaking. Upon closer inspection, an old patch had failed, probably a combination of the cold weather and the large amount of bouncing the day before. I switched to a new tube, only to find that my pump is not in the best of health. The pressure gauge seems to have gone, and, more importantly, it doesn’t really inflate that well.
By the time I’d got everything sorted, it was closer to 9:30, and obviously had started to drizzle. I said my goodbyes to Hairo and set off bouncing up the road. I was riding through clouds, which meant pretty awful visibility, for a while, but then it started clearing up and I got some pretty wonderful views back down the valley and the road I’d come along. A little while later, the road became paved and everything became thoroughly enjoyable.
I was riding at my normal relaxed pace, so even being up around 4000m of elevation I didn’t seem to be short on breath although I had a slight headache. I guess that had as much to do with a night inhaling sulphur as anything else. The road I was on hit a larger road that joins the Manizales – Bogota road and the park. I considered going that way, as it would take me to Letras and what some Colombian websites claim to be the longest climb/descent in the world with a gentle drop of 82km from 3700m to 400m with just a couple of small breaks along the way. However, with the road paved again I decided it was more fun to go through the outskirts of the park, and the hope of seeing the Nevados – a nevado being a snow-capped mountain.
About 4km later I got to a turn off to the visitors centre and lost the pavement again. It was 1km up a bouncy road to the visitors centre, and with it only being allowed to go 3km past that – which would have cost 44,000 pesos ($22) – I kept going the 50km would lead to the town of Murillo. I went over a few rolling hills up to a high point of about 4150m, with some gorgeous views down to my left although the nevados on my right were covered in cloud for the whole ride.
I was only carrying a 500g piece of panela – basically brown sugar in block form – and with the climbing and effort involved I was definitely getting hungry. Right before the road would leave the ridge and start heading down, I saw a house. I stopped and saw a lady with her young son, Sebastian, washing some plates. I asked her if there was anything between there and Murillo as I’d not had breakfast yet. As unbeknownst to me it was closing in on 1pm, she told me that I should be thinking about lunch instead and that she could whip something up if I wanted. After letting her know that I didn’t mind what it was called I was invited in and given a cup of coffee, a bowl of soup and then a plate of rice and eggs.
It ended up being some of the most delicious food I’ve eaten and made me realise that I should open a restaurant. Top restaurants charge obscene amounts for a plate of food that tastes as good as that one and also often it’s meant to be about the whole experience and so can take a few hours. With that in mind, I’ll charge $200-250, make them go on a long bike ride and then feed them beans on toast. With business sense like that, I’ll be rich. My only concern is that as I’ve written it here, someone else might go and run with the idea before I get the chance, if so I’ll just ask for 5%.
While the descent had some beautiful views, there were some moments I was wondering why I wasn’t on the paved road. Those mainly involved when I wasn’t holding on to my brakes and so would obviously go crashing into one of the many rocks as big as my head that would seem to quite frequently cover the road. There was very little chance to get speed up, as any attempt to do so would invariably lead to the feeling of being stood on a water bed made of jelly during an earthquake. I took a video (with the camera vainly attempting to stabilise) on a stretch that was actually quite tame, maybe a 4/10, and if you watch it then consider yourself warned and I won’t accept the blame for any nausea that it may induce.
The last 7km of the road were paved, and even though I was only going at about 50km/h due to the tight, blind curves it was such a rush! I stopped at the bakery at the entrance to town and bought a variety of breads before wolfing them down to the amusement of the nearby children and a couple of men nearby. Those men included a 27 year old called Juan Carlos. We spent a while talking together before I was asked where I’d be sleeping. When I said I was planning on finding a place in town to put my tent, he told me that he had a better option. He called his father, Alfonso, and a minute later I had a room at the Casa Murillo, the Casa de Cultura that exists to exhibit the good things about the town to tourists, as well as serve as a place for people to have meetings.
We dropped my bike off at the casa just before 6pm and then, after ordering dinner at a restaurant for 7pm, Juan Carlos took me on a tour of the town. It’s only got about 2,000 inhabitants, but the tour lasted right until dinner was ready. I was shown all the buildings of the town, local fields of potatoes (the crop for the town and further higher in the Andes too), corn and other vegetables. The cloud cover lifted a little over the peaks, but without a full moon it was difficult to get a good picture. Apparently the best views are in the morning, and I was told to wake up between 4:30 and 5 am. I wasn’t convinced, but who knows.
Bouncing along – with stabilisation on
The road I came up
On the other side
Main square Murillo