It was around 7am by the time I stirred and, thankfully, Nevado del Ruiz was still visible. Juan Carlos had said he’d come over to see me, so while I was waiting I worked on editing my photos and writing the blog entries so I’d have them ready to post the next time I had internet. By the time he arrived at 9 I was almost up to date, showing just how much time it takes to get this thing done. I think I might start with less rambly posts.
There were two university students who had also stayed the night before at Casa Murillo. Alfonso took the three of us on a walk to the nearby waterfall, being up at 3000m there was no swimming allowed as I’d been warned of hypothermia. It was a pretty walk, and made me think how if I’d done the same thing as part of an organised tour in Costa Rica I’d probably have had to pay $20-30.
Before leaving town, I had to try the Colombian mountain town speciality that everyone had been telling me about the night before – brandy con leche. Even though it was only just after 11, we went to the local bar, where the owner was playing billiards and locals were sipping coffees and ordered our 4 drinks. It’s a coffee cup filled with frothy heated milk, the kind you’d find on a cappuccino, and served with a shot of brandy. The brandy is then poured in and either brown sugar, or honey is added. It’s meant to warm you up on a cold day in the mountains, and definitely works for that, as well as when it’s sunny and relatively warm out.
The ride from Murillo to my destination of Cambao would take me from 3000m of elevation down to 250m, by the banks of the Magdalena for my 4th time. There were long stretches of roads curving away, clinging to the side of the mountain, with the odd climb back up. The large number of blind curves and potholes meant it wasn’t as effortless as letting the bike fly, but it was definitely less effort than the climb up to the Nevados! The town of Líbano had some festivities on the go, with dancing on a stage in the main square and a parade of the local kids marching and playing instruments.
By the time I was back under 1000m, it was getting noticeably warm, and back close to sea level it was toasty. I crossed the Magdalena and stopped on it’s banks in Cambao. First thing I did was go to the police station to find a place to stay. The officer suggested I could leave my bike there and camp in the main square. Being a quiet town, it would have worked, but he noticed my lack of excitement. I said that I’d go and get something to eat and come back after, to which he let me know that he’d put some more thought into a different place. He did, as when I got back around 7:30 I was shown to a room next to the main entrance and told I could stay there. I was given a large fan, and left on my own. I wasn’t that sleepy, so started watching TV that I’d downloaded a good while back.
Around 11pm, I was still awake when the commander and another officer appeared in my room. The bulb in the room wasn’t working, so I had the enjoyable experience of having the officer shining a torch in my face during the conversation. It was the normal questions, but such a strange way of being asked them. By the time it got to 12:30, I still wasn’t tired, but stopped watching TV (which normally puts me to sleep quickly) and laid there for a good while before eventually dozing off.
By the time 6:30 rolled around, I was wide awake and out the door within 15 minutes to start the climb up to Bogotá which is at about 2500m. Being at 250m, that meant a good amount of climbing. The morning was overcast, so I made my way up to 1650m for lunch without either much excitement or feeling of being hot. The road has minimal traffic, which made it a quite relaxing climb. There were fruit stands along the way, and I stopped at one where I was almost immediately given a couple of bananas and a couple of oranges. While eating them, I was given 3 more bananas, and then offered more but had to turn them down as I’m sure there’s a limit to how many I should eat. Hairo, the old chain-smoking owner of the stand refused my offer to pay, and so we went with the Colombian fist bump, popular with people of all ages.
After lunch, I gave up a good amount of the elevation I had gained, dropping down to a valley at about 1100m, before having to gain it all back, and then some more with about 3 hours of climbing back to 2200m and the town of Albán. I went to the police, who I guess don’t deal with too many cyclists, and was asked to come back in a while as they worked something out. I went to the main square, where preparations were underway for the fair and while sat there a policeman came up to with a man, Hernando, who would let me stay with him.
Hernando lived in an abandoned building close to downtown and showed me upstairs to a room. There was no electricity, but there was a roof and so I had a place to put up my tent. We gave the room a good sweeping and Hernando offered me a few of the cardboard boxes he collects and sells to act as insulation, but I didn’t want to risk damaging them, especially considering I had plenty to keep warm as it was. He lent me a candle and so I put my tent up using its light and got everything organised.
In the evening I hung out in the main park to watch the first of 4 days of festivities for the fair. It started with a performance by the local orchestra, filled with young children, and then everyone stood to attention not only for the national anthem, but also that of the department and finally the municipality. This was followed by news, headlined by the fact that a new rubbish compactor would be delivered in a few days and to make sure not to litter as it’s important to give tourists a good impression of the town. This was followed by the main event, the start of the contest to become beauty queen.
Before the candidates were presented, the rules were read out – taking about 15 minutes. The 8 15-year-old girls were then introduced, as well as the winner from the previous year. They each introduced themselves to much applause before being given keys to their areas of the municipality. A quick strut up and down the stage, to yet more rapturous applause, was followed by parading around in front of the crowd. The night was finished by the reading of the schedule for the events, which included things like local farmers showing off their cows, a parade of cars, concerts and a swimsuit contest for the hopeful beauty queens. An introduction to Colombian county fairs.
Oscar, my host in Bogotá, wouldn’t be free until 7pm, so with about only 60km to go I was in no rush. I headed to the bakery to get some breakfast and start reading 1493, a book about life in the Americas after Columbus and the global influence that his arrival in the Americas had. While there, a family from Bogotá turned up and after eating started asking me questions about my bike and my trip. When I told them I generally eat bread, they seemed rather concerned about my wellbeing and asked the waitress to bring me a breakfast that they paid for before heading off on their road trip.
I left Albán to finish the climb, about another hour to get me up to 2700m, and then it was a short downhill to the town of Facatativa aka Faca. I stopped by the main plaza and, on not recognising the flag flying by the cathedral, asked an older man what it was. That simple question lead to 30 minutes of being surrounded by a group, mainly of men, who were all intrigued about my trip and were arguing with each other about the weight of my bicycle in terms of bags of potatoes.
I spent the afternoon watching the rest of Spiral in a bakery before leaving for the final 50km to Bogotá. When I was about 40km away, one of the men from Faca town square caught up with me on his bicycle. I didn’t catch his name, but it sounded like Jimmy, and we rode together the whole way to Bogotá. He was out on a training ride and had lots more questions about the trip as he said I’d inspired him to want to do one, but being married it might be a little harder. He was a member of the Colombian army for 7 years, but lost the lower part of his left leg after standing on a mine. He was riding with a prosthetic limb and so reminded me of Chris as he seemed to have accepted his situation and wasn’t letting it get in the way of his love for the bike. He didn’t live that close to the part of the city that I’d be going to, but was happy to show me the best way to get there using the bike infrastructure that there is and so avoiding congestion on the busiest roads.
Now I’m in Bogotá and planning to take a bit of time off to recharge. My host, Oscar, is a really warm and friendly guy so it makes it easy to hang about! I’ll explain a bit more about where the trip goes from here in my next post, as well as sharing some photos from my time in the capital.
At the waterfall
Beauty contest 1
Beauty contest 2
Beauty contest 3
Crossing the Magdalena