Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hello Andes, Goodbye Colombia: Cali – Ipiales (16th -27th June '11)

Cali is the Colombian capital of Salsa, and plastic surgery – an interesting combination which led to some eye-opening people watching in the city. Jules and I spent about four days in the 2nd largest city of Colombia, and during this time we were very happy to be able to stay at Hernan Miller's Casa de Ciclista in the south of the city. The very friendly and knowledgeable Hernan and his family; his mum Sixta and his brother Arturo, have opened up their house and garden for touring-cyclists to come and stay. Jules and I camped in the back yard, amongst the chooks and under the shady fruit trees. Our stay here was just what we needed, some nice downtime to work on the bikes and relax amongst the lovely family and another cyclist, Rob from England.
In Cali we also managed to meet up again with the Cycle for Water guys, and we were treated to a great night out, having dinner with Joost, Mickel and Siskia, and Joost's parents, Huib and Marijke who were over for a visit. Happy Birthday Huib!! The next night we met up with Jason, who had caught up with us again, for an interesting meal of Chinese (without plates) with some other motorcyclists. We had a little Aussie time, which we hadn't had for a while, as two of the motorcyclists, Jeanette and Linden, were from Geraldton... not too far from our home town!
We tore ourselves away from Cali, its enhanced features and the friendliness of the Yule family in order to climb some mountains. We were seriously heading into the Andes now... supposedly we had kinda hit them already, but the mountains that we had come through were really only the foothills compared to the kind of heights we were heading towards. We have been in awe of the Andes for a while now. Especially as whenever we had talked to people about riding in South America they always said, in hushed tones, and with deference in their voice - “ahh into The Andes. Weelllll”. Except for one guy, who just laughed and laughed when we told him the direction we were going.
The first two days of riding after Cali, up to Popoyan, we climbed, and it wasn't too hard.. though we still needed a day off to recover after! We spent our rest day checking out the old colonial town of Popoyan, known for all its whitewashed buildings, and catching up with Jason again (we haven't quite worked out who's stalking who yet). However, the next day we were ready to move on up, up into the mountains. We were all prepared for climbing, the cold and high altitudes; however, after our first day out of Popoyan we dropped all the way back down to a hot, dry river valley, and spent a sweaty day cycling at low altitude.
However, after this little interlude we were back to climbing and heading deep into the mountains. The ride up to Pasto and then onto Ipiales and the border of Educador was so beautiful that most of the time that we were slowly slogging up the winding Panamerican Highway, we were too busy looking around to worry about the fact that we were only travelling at around 7km/hour.
 In granny-gear we slowly wound our way up the steep sides of the valleys until we were up in the stunted vegetation of the high country, looking at the steep drop-offs down to the rivers far below us, and the ranges of mountains stretching out all around us. We also had some fantastic downhills where we put on all our clothes against the wind-chill, then zoomed down, overtaking trucks and clinging onto our brakes with frozen fingers.
And so we arrived at the bordertown of Ipiales, where we visited the Santuario de Las Lajas, a church built out over a canyon, and tried to mentally prepare ourselves to leave Colombia. We will miss Colombia, its plentiful delicious empenadas, kumis (yoghurty type goodness), fruits, arepas, fresh cheese, aguapanela (a sugary hot drink) and smoothies – the food heaven of hungry cyclists. But even more so we are going to miss all the amazing, generous, open-hearted, friendly Colombians that we have met.
On our last full day in Colombia all our favourite things came together – we met a friendly Colombian cyclist in a side-of-the road food stop, we had a chat and then he shouted us to our coffee, aguapanela and fried arepas with fresh cheese. When he had left Jules and I got to chatting about how much we were going to miss Colombia – and Jules, the big toughie, actually got a bit teary. I wasn't sure if she was thinking of all the lovely people that we have met over our travels here, or whether she was getting emotional over all the fried goodness and great coffee that we would be leaving, but either way leaving Colombia was going to be difficult. However, with the amazing vistas that we we have been cycling through on our last few days we knew Ecuador was going to hold some stunning scenery and we were excited for the next part of our trip. Plus, I think we will make a big effort to get back to Colombia one day, to visit everyone!

Notes for Other Cycle Tourists
  • Hernan Miller and his wonderful family have a Casa de Ciclista in the south of the city:
  • We followed the Panam from Cali to Ipiales, fairly good condition most of the way, with a shoulder most of the way. A bit of traffic and fumes around the cities tho'
  • Delicious Kumis for sale in the valley after the drop-off from Popoyan!
  • We had planned to go from Popoyan to Pasto via the backroad through San Agustin but a couple of things happened that meant we stuck to the Panamerican. However, we were actually glad we did as we loved the Panam through this section – beautiful and we met lots of great people! Info on the San Agustin route is available on the Pan-am Riders Google Groups

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