The beginning: My plans to organize NYE in Cartagena with my friends fell apart and I thought will go to Colombia anyway. Then I thought, while I was there, why fly? or why use public transport? and not bike instead. I had never biked since high school and had never used a geared bike before. Perfect challenge, Boom let me make this happen!
The bamboo bicycle? As I was looking for bikes, I stumbled upon Kate in the Royal Geographical Society who had built her own Bamboo Bicycle and was planning to bike across South America. Initially I planned to make the Bamboo Bicycle in Cali, Colombia but then they did not have the skills to help me out and hence I had to seek urgent help from James from the Bamboo Bicycle Club in London. James was fantastic and in 5 days, I had made by bike and I was “ready”. Everything was last minute. Serana was her name ?
That was all, I had no plans, I had not even checked out my route, the terrain and left myself to solve everything when I faced them. Somehow I managed to download the Colombia free map for my Garmin & offline music from Spotify before I left London.
The plan (soon thrown to bin): I was naive and I thought I will bike from the south of Colombia (Pasto) to the north of Colombia (Cartagena) via Cali, Medillin ! This is all I knew. I had one month and I knew that my goal was not to ride every mile, but also take time out to enjoy the country and if needed hitchhike. I forgot that I was traveling around Christmas which is the busiest time of the year and every road & bus were overbooked.
The start: I flew into Bogota, excited about my ride till the moment my friend & his girlfriend introduced me to the “terrain” feature of Google Maps and my route was literally on the mountains; all the time, every mile! I was told that the big hills I saw in Bogota were nothing, nothing compared to the ones in my route. I was determined anyway and obviously there were no bus tickets left and I had to fly into to Pasto which was the start of my ride. On the taxi ride from Pasto airport to my warmshowers host Dorys, I was thinking, ‘Shit, there are mountains everywhere and I am not going to make it’.
Pasto: Once I was at Dorys’s place, I met a lot of other bikers. One had been robbed off his passport by teenagers and the others told me about a few bus robberies in my route to Cali from Pasto, specially near El Bordo area around the holiday season. There was even an incident to rob my bike in Pasto and after debating with myself about my dangerous route and a proposed new longer route called ‘trampoline of death’, I decided, let me take a bus to Cali. Everyone in the bus was carrying everything (sacks of stuff) and somehow I managed to fit my bike into the bus. Oh yeah, Pasto is where I went to get my bike checked in a local shop and they realized that my front and rear brake controls were the other way around. Well, I had never biked before, so it did not matter ? We had to even change the derailleur here.
The journey: So revised ride start was from Cali. There was no plan to be in Cali for that long but I was stuck avoiding ‘partying drivers in a rush at Christmas eve’ and I found myself attending Salsa classes instead. Colombia was ruining my plans!
I started biking from Cali on Christmas day with thin traffic. Day one was hard with my ass on fire on the saddle. I guess I had to do my time on the saddle before it was calmer. On my way a few kids tried to rob me but there was too much traffic in the highway to get to me quickly and I could cycle away. By now, I was sun burnt like hell and looked more Colombian than the locals and I stayed in hostels, wild camped, gas stations; ate amazing street food; and in the last day I biked 40km uphill to ‘Alto de Minas’. Took me 8.5 hrs to reach 2460m Max elevation on a professional biking route(which I did not know before). Wild camping the night before did not help. I was abused my the local mosquitoes and had very less sleep; but I think the Aguapanela I was drinking kept me going.
I loved the downhill ride after the climb and I was doing 70kmph I guess and reached Medellin. I was having too much fun and I was running out of time and I had to take a bus to Cartagena from Medellin to catch up with the beautiful Country. I did around 70kms a day which was not bad.
The end: It was the last 100 km ride to Playa El Blanca from Cartagena old town. It took me 7 hrs and this was the first night I was biking, was not safe at all! I was reminded by Kari (the receptionist in the roadside restaurant) not to linger around after 6pm since the road gets really dangerous at dark. So I left the beach at 4pm, happy to have taken at least one picture of Serena in the beach ? Oh yeah, I never listened to my offline music in Spotify, guess why ? ;-), neither did I use my Garmin GPS maps.
All in all Fantastic Country, Fantastic People ! Do visit Colombia!