I had the pleasure of José and his uncle joining me on the ride out of Duitama up and over the first climb of the day to the town of Belen, where we stopped for a second breakfast and coffees. After they left, I had a couple of hour climb up to another barren páramo – moor – landscape and at times it just made me think of being in Yorkshire. It’s strange the way we make that link between a place we are and a place we hold dear. The quietness of the road with light rolling hills made it a pleasure to ride through, and the rain, that had at times been threatening, held off. I would bomb down the hills, and in doing so went back and forth past a motorbike carrying a man, his wife and daughter. We switched the lead 5 times before stopping to chat. He worked as a farmer nearby and was telling me about his life. He received about $10 a day, but all his food and alcohol was paid for, so he could save. It was a difficult life, and he seemed to have a cold, so I gave him the two oranges I was carrying. One for him and one for his daughter, his wife was away trying to find some type of medicinal plant. We parted ways and before long I was leaving the moor and descending back towards warmer altitudes.
My destination, the town of Capitanejo, is located at the bottom of the valley and I had an exciting descent to get there. As well as more water falling than you’d find in an above average sized lake, drenching me to the bone – including through my supposedly waterproof socks, there were large sections of the road that were in varying states of unpavedness. Obviously the worst of these, were on the final 15km descent into Captinaje when the sun had gone down meaning I got to hurtle down unpaved roads with giant rocks in the dark – making me laugh a good few times at the sheer ridiculousness of it all. I have a headlight, but it’s kinda piddly, and so was happy when a motorcyclist accompanied me for the last couple of kilometres, illuminating the way.
I ended up at the police station and ater explaining my story was welcomed in and greeted by a mountain of questions from a bunch of mainly quite young officers which meant we could joke around. A couple of the officers seemed impressed with my ability to hold my own in the very British type of banter that followed. The commander asked me with doubt in his voice if I liked junk food, and when I said I did, he invited me back to his nearby house for pizza and to meet his wife who we spent the next few hours chatting the night away with before I headed back to my tent to rest.
Leaving Capitanjeo I followed the river for a while before a fairly warm climb out of the valley up to Málaga where I ended up resting for a couple of hours to get my temperature back down and my energy back up having barely breakfasted. From there it was rollingly flat and another climb up to the town of El Cerrito where I’d stay for the night. I made it to the central plaza and, after eating some of the deliciously greasy food that Colombia has so much of, met a few policemen walking around. I asked them about camping, and they said that of coure I could stay with them, but before that was the much more important matter of Colombia v Uruguay, they only needed a draw to qualify for Brazil 2014 and played like it which meant it was no surprise when they lost to two late goals.
The policemen, in slightly deflated spirits, invited me back to the station and gave me dinner of a bowl of soup and some bread while we chatted away. I learnt that the officers there were on a 6 hour shift, meaning they’d work from 1pm – 7pm, sleep until 1am, work until 7am, sleep until 1am and repeat forever more. They had next to no free time and as police officers are sent wherever the superiors in Bogotá say most of them lived a long way from home meaning they lived in the station and only really left to go on patrol. They were eligible for 5 days leave every once in a while, but it sounded difficult to apply for. It seemed like a very full time job, and those I was speaking to, aged between 19 and 23 all said they’d joined because they didn’t want to study any more. Being up at just under 2500m it was chilly and raining outside, so instead of camping I was invited to put my sleeping pad in a corner of the station – a much easier option.
From El Cerrito it was a long climb up to my final Colombian páramo at just under 4000m. Being up at elevation meant I could wait a little to leave, with no need to get out to beat the heat, and so had a relaxed breakfast of soup followed by scrambled eggs. The climb started out quite steep heading up above to some pretty views as I went from hairpin to hairpin. When it became less steep, I started enjoying the climb briefly, until the paving stopped and the rest of the 30km climb, which took just over 5 hours in total, became quite bouncy. Mixed in with frequent drizzle it was much less enjoyable than the climb of a couple of days earlier, although at the very top the páramo was still very pretty.
I got about 10km of bouncy descent, enough so that my rear drybag that holds my tent fell off, before the pavement began and I stopped shortly after in the town of Presidente for a well earned, although overpriced, lunch. While there the heavens opened again and my bike got soaked. I got my waterproofs on and bombed down the hill, expecting to be just rolling the whole way down to Cúcuta.
By the time I was down near 2000m with 35km to go it was fairly obvious I’d be climbing again back out of the valley I was in and I looked at my GPS to see the profile. I was met by the same error that I’d gotten several months earlier when I’d had to get my Garmin replaced. Without a Jamie coming down to visit me, and without any Garmin service centres in South America, I was incredibly frustrated if it was going to fully fail on me again. Basically the problem is that the USB port on the GPS had water enter, I called Garmin the next day about it, and even though it’s waterproof when you’re going downhill at high speed it excceeds the water pressure it’s rated to. His suggestion was to put it in a ziploc bag when it starts raining, a frustrating solution. The problem is compounded by the fact that although the Garmin accepts a microSD card, and the old model had the feature, the 62s does not let you save tracks to the SD card in any way. If that were possible, I’d have a way of getting the data off the device, but no, that’s no longer an option for no reason known to either me or the Garmin support guy I spoke to. Thankfully the next day the error message went away as the unit dried out. I’m going to have to be more careful about it in the future. Anyway, enough GPS rambling.
The road hugged the side of the valley with a very steep drop to the river below. I followed it along and for the second night in three got the fun of riding in the dark. I’ve barely used my dynohub since I got it, but a light for that would definitely ease the night riding problems. The descent into Pamplona was even less enjoyable than a normal nighttime descent because of the added fog and a nicely paved with randomd drops that nearly made me lose my bike on a couple of occasions. At least if it’s all bumpy you kinda get used to it and go that bit slower.
When I got into Pamplona I called Carlos, a Couchsurfer, and he came to meet me to show me the way back to his house. A wonderful place, with a decidedly hot shower. We hung out for the evening, and he even invited David, a teacher from Wales sent by the British Council, to come hang out. A much needed rest, that lasted all the next day too, at the end of a long day.
From Pamplona to the border town of Cúcuta was a delightfully easy day, dropping quite gently from 2500m down to 500m over 70km with only a slight climb. The only real challenge came in the increased heat that you find down near sea level that close to the equator as Cúcuta is definitely hot and humid. I was staying just south in a place called Los Patios with my Couchsurfing host Julián who was also hosting an Argentinian couple who had spent more than a year travelling by bus and thumb around South America and had formidable memories meaning they spent the evening recollecting exact details of so many people they’d met. I remember the people I meet, but I’m pretty atrocious at names, whereas they could give full accounts with the names of all 10 people in the room at the time and their life stories. It was a delight to meet the three of them, and I had another rest day to get myself ready to cross to Venezuela.
Looking around the paramo
Atop the second paramo
In the paramo