Riding for the border
Date: 18th June – 24th June 2012
Where: Popayan – Rosas – Higuerones – Tablon – Pasto – Pedregal – Ipiales
Distance: 3301 to 3527 miles
After the morning exploration of Popayan we set off on the Pan American through what we knew to be a dangerous area of drugs and FARC activity. Blind ignorance and faith in the new governments anti-FARC agenda gave us hope of a peaceful ride through scenery we’d heard to be fantastic. In theory Geoff’s predictions were for a gentle descent from 1800m to around 600m, but the reality was one or two more than sizeable hills which slowed us down to the extent that we only did about 30miles to a scenic restaurant just out of the town of Rosas with a spectacular view over the mountains of the area.
The next day we completed the huge descent, but on reaching the canyon floor discovered 30km of nothingness, which resulted in a 74mile day and arrival at night-fall. Alarm bells rung about gun-toting rebels jumping out of every ravine, but we only met friendly folk. The television news that night however changed our perspective when we discovered one of the bridges we’d crossed the previous day out of Popayan had been blown up by the FARC. On a positive note, this meant fewer lorries trying to run us off the road!
One of our longest days on the bike was followed by one of the shortest: climbing back up 1 Snwdn to just outside of Tablon, barely 15miles! The short day was followed by our most intensive day climbing yet. Reaching Chachagui in good time we decided to push on for Pasto where another Motorutero de Colombia was waiting for us. Descending 1 Snwdn and climbing 2 in a day proved a satisfying end to a country full of hills. We’ve reached the Andes and our legs are ready!
Our host in Pasto was Alvaro and his family. That night he took two tired cyclists up to a view of the City in his sister’s posh new car which still had that new car smell. It was weird being back in a car, and extremely comfortable! We slept well that night and spent the next day replenishing our bodies with triple lunches whilst multiple DVDs of photos were being burned. That afternoon Alvaro gave us a tour of his City with more churches than you could shake a stick at. Sarah cooked her Youvarlakia (Greek meatball soup) again that evening and neighbours and relatives popped up from everywhere into a really nice experience culminating in the downing of shots of the local ouzo-type liquor (Aguardiente) to shouts of ‘Fondo’ (bottom) from all. Alvaro and his family took very good care of us, his mum Estela was a great cook and made some delicious fresh fruit juices to accompany every meal. We were given lots of space to get our stuff done yet had plenty of time to chat and discuss Pasto and the regions culture with the extended family. We would have liked to stay longer but that’s always the case. Thank you Alvaro, Estela and family for a memorable stay!
A late start for packing and goodbyes was compensated by another mad rush through a City following Alvaro and relatives through a route which avoided all the roadworks. That day we climbed up to our highest point yet of 3100m to a heavenly panaderia. The ensuing downhill to Pedregal was fantastic fun, but caused Geoff to almost black out from the turns and speed, rarely dropping below 30mph and hitting a top speed of 43mph (before realising and applying the brakes!). As we crossed the river at the base of the downhill we looked down into a dizzying canyon. It soon became apparent that we’re in canyon country now with steep-sided ravines all over the place.
A down is inevitably followed by an up, and so it was that the following day we slogged on up to Ipiales. As the day became harder, things became easier as we were snuck up on by two other cycle tourers who’d teamed up. German Dominik (very wise) and Australian Dan (very cheerful) had met in Panama and been cycling together for a while. It was refreshing to cycle with other tourers for the first time this trip and we persuaded each other we had enough time to visit the famous church at Las Lajas. This gothic church is built deep in a canyon and rather than being the traditional shape it appeared to have at least three crypts. Arriving in Ipiales as the evening sun illuminated the squares Geoff took much glee in answering the ‘where are you from?’ questions with ‘England, Germany and Australia!’, much to the confuddlement of the locals.
An evening search for cuy (guinea pig) proved fruitless, settling instead for a cheap comida corrriente (It turns out both Dan and Dominic had bigger appetites than Geoff!), followed by some beers and billiards in the bar opposite. With our new friends we’re off to Ecuador tomorrow and will attempt the dirt again. This time going to some 3700m in the El Angel biological reserve. Ecuador has got its work cut out to be better than Colombia!