I had a relaxing day off in Manizales going to the park with Miles and his aunt Olga. We spent the morning there, and it was like a British autumn – overcast, chilly and windy with leaves on the floor. Miles apparently really likes that kind of weather, and when I told him it was like the UK he told me he wants to visit. It’s amazing how often people listen to my description of British weather and tell me that it sounds much better than their own weather where there’s more than 20 minutes of sun a year. He even liked the afternoon when there were torrential downpours.

When I got up, I was happy to see barely a cloud in the sky, and set off to the National Parks office just in time for it to open. The rangers there told me that I couldn’t take the route I had been hoping to because of volcanic activity. The main volcano, Nevado del Ruiz, had erupted 5 months earlier and, for the previous two years, the park has been on yellow alert which apparently means that the summits, and all areas above 4100m of elevation, are off-limits. They had no idea how long it would be like that for, but suspected a good few months at least.

Having had my plans scuppered, I decided to head up the main road to Bogotá instead, or at least until I saw a turn off towards some hot springs. The road would take me up towards the entrance to the national park and with the clear sky I was looking forward to the ride up with minimal traffic. I stopped at a place for a cheap yet delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs, rice, arepa and cheese for only $2. With prices like that, there’s minimal good reason to carry a stove if you’re going to be near civilisation.

I started the climb towards the hot springs, and, having gone about 8km, got to where the road became unpaved. Eduardo, a salesman from Bogotá was there, and we started talking. Before I knew it, more than an hour had passed and some rain clouds were looming overhead. Just before I set off, I met a cyclist who had just come down and told me that about an hour up the road was another hot spring and hotel, el Hotel Termales del Ruiz. I figured I’d get there before it got too wet, but about 20 minutes later the rain started and then shortly after it started bucketing it down. That wasn’t a problem for a while, but then the narrow road started with good parts of it becoming a stream. The streams got wider and in some areas it became pretty much impossible to ride.

The first 90 minutes or so were quite lovely, even with the rain and lack of views, as I made my way up, but then it started to become cold and a bit later bitterly chilly. After another hour I saw the first building and signs about some hot springs nearby. I figured I’d stop there and warm up, but it turned out they weren’t open. A lady and her two young children came wandering over, and told me that the hotel that I was looking for was about two kilometres further up the road and that I’d be able to warm up there.

Even though the cyclist had told me it’d take about an hour, it ended up taking just over three hours to get to the abandoned looking hotel. One door was open, and the caretaker, Hairo, had fallen asleep watching Wheel of Fortune. I went into the main building, which had nothing inside it, and started trying to warm up. I dried off, got changed and was thinking of heading out when I heard a dog barking and then Hairo turned up. I asked him where the next place along the road was he told me it was Manizales, until I let him know I’d come from there. He then told me that in that case I should stay there for the night and that I might like to get in the swimming pool which is filled from the nearby hot springs. I quickly took off my dry clothes and spent the next 45 minutes sat in the pool feeling myself get back to a normal temperature.

I tried making conversation a few times with Hairo, but he’s not the most talkative. I guess that’s to be expected of the caretaker of a closed down hotel. That’s not to criticise him, he showed me great hospitality giving me a hot drink, showing me the best place to put my tent – not in the hotel as I’d thought but by the pool as the tiled area was warmed by the thermal waters underneath, and feeding me some stew. By the time I got in my tent, which I’d set up a few hours earlier, it was quite toasty inside and, other than the smell of sulphur, it was a great place to sleep soundly.

Chasing cows

Road conditions

Rambling in the cold – foggy lens

Going for a swim