|Some times you just need to look at things for a different angle.
|This was the only time I could bring myself to stop during the epic downhill.
I was right. At the bottom of the mountain, I crossed over the mighty chocolate river and began what I like to call "The Mother of All Climbs". I'm sure you can guess how it got its name. From the moment I crossed over the river and began heading towards the sun, the climb did it's best to break me. I was positioned inside of an enormous canyon. Better yet it scorching hot. There was not a bit of shade to be found. There was no breeze. And there were only a few places to pull off and take a break. The few pull offs were lined with little cacti that acted as a Colombiam minefield for my bike. The traffic was particularly heavy too. If I didn't have so much pride I wouldn't have made it. I felt like that guy from Greek mythology.
|The switchbacks finally started. I was very thankful for that.
|This canyon may not be as big as the Grand Canyon, but it definitely has it beat in the color department.
|Even the sky was beautiful.
|The prickly sentinels of the canyon.
It was not all doom and gloom though. The canyon was epic. I was mesmerized by its sheer size and variation. On my way up three bike riders in the typical spandex getup, rode along with me for about an hour. Only one could speak a little English, so he took the lead and we tried our best the use eachother's language. Eventually they got tired of my slow pace and pushed ahead. It was still nice talking with someone to distract me from the task at hand. About an hour later I noticed on of those very same riders holding his bike on the back of a motorcycle. He apparently couldn't handle it.
|It was extremely vast.
|This could have been the coolest water park I've ever seen!
|Too bad it wasn't opened yet, it was still under construction.
I don't know if it was the look in my eyes, the posture of my body, or just the fact that this climb was a goliath, but I got more thumbs up, waves, double honks, and cheering than I've ever gotten before. Everyone passer-by wanted to cheer on the Gringo. It really helped a lot. The people in this part of the country seem to be friendlier and more talkative. At three consecutive stops, three different people did random acts of kindness. At the first stop a man bought me a Gatorade and bought me a bag of chips. At the second stop, a lady bought me another Gatorade and a cookie, and at the third stop, a waitress came running over to me with a cup of freshly squeezed passion fruit juice. If you ever see someone that looks like they could use a pick-me-up, do what you can! They will really appreciate it, I can attest to that.
|That is extremely economical.
|Maybe my perception it off, but this looks more Asian to me.
|The Spanish moss can be found thriving in a few places here.
At long long last I finally reached the summit. It was mentally and certainly physically exhausting. I glanced down at my phone and checked the time. It had been, not 1 hour, not 2 hours, but 5 hours! Five consecutive hours of pedaling, without a single downhill. In those five hours, I think 4 and a half were spent in the lowest possible gear on my bike. All good things must come to an end, all tough things must come to an end too. I completed the climb!
The next day as I was chugging along I passed a young cyclist as I cruised down a hill. He gave me a thumbs up and I didn't think much of it. Well an hour or so later the same guy came up from behind and asked the usual questions that a Latino asks a Gringo on a bike. "Donde vienes?" & "Donde vas?". Where are you from? & Where are you going? He was 18 year old Juan Pablo. He was amazed by my bike tours and said he wishes to do the same one day. He also said his number one dream is to live and work in Australia, so we had a lot to talk about. He said he stopped to ride with me to encourage me to keep going. He said "I didn't want you to stop and take a taxi or hitchhike." We rode together for the next three hours until we arrived in his hometown Barbosa. I was glad that I could keep up with him despite the fact that I had 100 pounds of gear, and he had only two water bottles.
|I felt bad, but this was the only pic of Juan Pablo that I got.
|Different canyon, still an epic sight.
|This canyon was more my style.
When we arrived he was excited to introduce me to his mom. She had a little café in town so we stopped there for dinner. She made some killer empanadas and a great fruit smoothie. For desert Juan left the café. He didn't say where he was going. He came back in with a decent sized object that was wrapped up in a large banana leaf. My curiosity was piqued. What was inside the leaf? He was also holding a brick of a reddish pink substance. He handed the two items to his mom. She sliced the brick and unveiled the mystery item. It was a big block of cheese. It was packaged in the banana leaf. She proceded to cut the cheese and stack it right on top of the brick. It turns out the pink brick was called bocadillo. It was made from guava and sugar. Nothing else, only those two ingredients. Juan said it is a very traditional food of their area. A slab of bocadillo topped with a slab of cheese. It was actually really good for how simple it was. Bocadillo is really sweet, and the cheese balanced it out. He gave me the remaining bocadillo and said "When you are going up a big hill eat this, it will give you lots of energy."
|When I arrived in San Gil after a massive downhill.
|This could be on the Streets of San Francisco.
|Cheese on bordillo.
It was almost nightfall. Juan said that regretfully his family was already having visitors and they couldn't accommodate any more people. I decided to leave town. I made it just out of town and was faced with another large hill. I know, whine, whine, big hills, tough climbs. Well this time it's not a complaint. So I'm pedaling up this hill with about 15 minutes of daylight left. I was keeping my eyes peeled for a bridge to hide under, or a farm to climb into for the night. What I found was even better. As I was pedaling along, a man whistled at me. I turned and noticed that they had a big project going on. A group of four or five guys were cementing the floor to what would likely be a barn, or maybe a house. The rest of the neighborhood came to watch. When I looked his way, he tilted a large bowl he was holding. It looked like it was made from a gord. He motioned for me to come have a drink. Now how could I turn that down?
He walked over to me and handed off the bowl. It was a murky brown color and it looked like broth from a beef stew. There were little particles flooting around in it. I took a large gulp. Maybe it was because I'm bike touring and everything is delicious, but it wasn't half bad. It was really strong, but not bad. I slurped down the entire bowl. The head honcho Fabio motioned for one of the ladies to get me another bowl. She grabbed a bigger gord and poured me a second bowl. I didn't want to be rude so I helped myself to the second serving. I got halfway through the second one when he made a comment that I didn't catch, everyone burst out laughing. He looked at me and said "This will make you loco! You will fall asleep." He said it was their own special drink. It was whiskey and panela that had fermented together for the past five days. That certainly explained the strong taste. Panela is made from sugar cane. I'm not sure how exactly, but it appeared to be in between molasses and white sugar. It was in brick form, similar to the bocadillo I mentioned. I've had a bunch of crazy tasting drinks that range from sweet, to super sweet, to sour, to spicy. That is my excuse for not realising that it was an alcoholic beverage.
|The bowl was completely full, this is after I chugged more than half.
|The welcoming party. Note the large gord container.
He said that it was not safe to ride anymore and asked if I wanted to set up my tent at his house. Perfect! Now it didn't have to scramble to find a spot. I've got an official camping spot! All their kids were there and they surrounded me. For the next half hour they fired off about a thousand questions. Six or seven of them questioned me so intently it was like nothing else in the world was going on. The dads got a serious kick out of my bike too. Two of them asked if they could take it for a test ride. The one wasn't quite tall enough to get on. He jumped for it, but couldn't get on, everyone burst out laughing. After the sun went down they closed the concrete operation and busted out the beer. They said they were throwing a party in my honor.
Beer could possibly be the most disgusting beverage ever invented. I absolutely cannot stand it. I felt it would be rude to not partake so I forced down a beer. After they all had a few drinks they had become just like the little kids. They began firing off a thousand questions. Most of which required many gestures to get me to understand. They were having me repeat phrases to certain people. I was probably cussing people out, and bringing dishonor to their family, but I didn't have the slightest clue what I was saying. Every time I would repeat something they all went wild. It was the least I could do to pay them back.
|My home for the night.
It was a great day, and great night. Meeting people like I mentioned and sharing good times with them is what the trip is all about.
I got out of the mountains and into the plains. I saw the first pine and eucalyptus trees, felt cold for the first time in Colombia, and saw my breath. I've been hit with a dose of nostalgia. I'm now on the outskirts of Bogotá. I will arrive in the capital tomorrow, then it's onward to Ecuador!
|Tunja seemed like a very nice mountain town.
|First chilly night and brisk morning.
|As I prepare to bath in the small waterfall.