Cycling above the Clouds

Riding the Andes by Bicycle


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Heading up, up and up

Me and Snarky Puppy, loaded up and ready to set off again from Medellín

After a fantastic week with Team Sara(h) it was finally time to hit the road again. I was setting off early to avoid the midday heat given the 35km climb I had ahead. Sara-Ann, Sarah G and Sarah R had all got up early to wave me off (and thanks to them, I have this rare pic of me with my bike).

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The light and dark sides of Medellín

The next day we arrived together to Medellín, with plenty more exploring to do.

Medellín, Pablo Escobar and the Drug Cartels

For our first morning we had a tour to visit some of the old locations previously used by Pablo Escobar and the Medellín cartel. It is no secret that the drug cartels were the cause of extreme violence in Colombia during the 1980s and early 1990s, with Escobar being a significant component of making Medellín the cocaine capital of the world. Medellín and Bogotá had some of the highest homicide rates on the plane. According to a statement by Colombia’s Defence Minister, in 1993 Bogotá had a rate of murders per 100,000 residents – now significantly reduced, to 15.8 in 2016. Colombia has just experienced it’s lowest murder rate since 1974 when the drugs wars first began.

The violence finally began to abate from 1993 onwards, following the death of Escobar (things have also continued to improve with the more recent peace agreement between the Colombian government and FARC). Medellín is now a far safer place. Many Paisa’s (people of Medellín) today are sick of hearing Escobar’s name and are fed up of the city’s identity being tied to a murderous criminal. There is optimism in the air and people want to move on.

But I’m afraid given it’s such an extreme history (brought even further into the popular mainstream by the Netflix series Narcos – which Paisas are also very critical of), not least given how one man apparently managed to wrap (bribe/blackmail) an entire country’s government round his little finger, that curiosity got the better of us. So we went to see a few of the remaining sites in the city that marked the rise and fall of the Medellín cartel:

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The Medellín Ciclovía

I was getting increasingly excited as I neared Medellín as in just a couple of days I’d be meeting up with our wonderful Team Sara(h) in Bogotá (see next post!). I am so extremely appreciative of the time and effort friends and family have put in so that we’ve been able to meet up along this journey:). It really gives me something to look forward to this time around, that added bit of motivation to keep pedalling up these Colombian hills.

I had an internal flight from Medellín to join the ladies in Bogotá coming up, but for now I still had a couple of days on my own. And arriving into Medellín definitely proved itself one of my Colombian highlights so far!

The Medellín Ciclovía

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Returning to the Andes

I began my climb back up into the Andes mountains the following morning. I’d need to reach an altitude of 2800m but that would require 3500m of climbing in total. I’d split the climb into a couple of days to give my legs some rest on the way.

The ascent began here, saying farewell to the Rio Cauca at Puerto Valdivia

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Colombia: first impressions from the hot and humid road

For the next week or so I ride across the flat planes of the Caribbean coast of Colombia. I get used to getting up before 6am to set off early before the heat of the day hits. By 11am it is 35C degrees, and by the time I reach a town called Sincelejo a few days in from the coast, I see the thermometer hit 45C. This place is not for the feint hearted!

Somehow I thought the landscape would be bare, but it isn’t at all – it’s lush and green and there are many small farms along the way, with cows with big floppy ears. Presumably the ears help them get rid of the flies and create a small breeze in the heat. They are often accompanied by little white birds eating the leftovers they spill I think.

I am gradually adjusting to being in a new country with a very distinct culture from those I’ve come from further south. Here life is lived outside. I pass little children running about in their birthday suits sometimes staring or pointing or (best!) waving hello, and old people sitting out on their porches, in a rocking chair in the shade, watching the world go by. Others are working, and many of the men walk along carrying machetes for their work in the fields.

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