Cycling above the Clouds

Riding the Andes by Bicycle

The Medellín Ciclovía

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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

On Sunday mornings from 7am – 2pm, the city of Medellín closes about 60km of main roads to traffic. They reduce the multi-carriageway road, which runs the length of the city, to half the number of lanes for traffic, and the rest is for cyclists, runners, skaters, (dog) walkers, and people basically getting out and being active. They also close the lanes of some roads that run right up into the mountainsides for the more serious road cyclists out there. I don’t know for sure what the participation rate is, but I’d imagine it could easily be over 15% of the population. It’s a really fantastic initiative – originally started in Bogotá and now held in many cities round the world – which encourages healthier and more sociable lifestyles. I’m sure it also helps that Colombia is cycling-crazy!

The ciclovía starts right at the beginning of the main road that runs the length of Medellín, and runs all the way to the other end of the city.

All kinds of people participate at all levels of fitness. There are cyclists, runners, and plenty of people walking their dogs. Also all age ranges, families, teenagers. It really does involve everyone.

Stalls selling fresh fruit and juices line the route and people are just generally very cheery

And there are plenty of mechanics around, fixing bikes by the side of the road. (There are also volunteers ready to help with route information and first aid)

‘Paisas’ (people from Medellín) are extremely friendly and I was peppered with questions and people asking to ride with me as I made my way along the route. I had a lovely chat with the customers at the stall of this lady, who was selling refreshing freshly squeezed orange juice.

I hopped off the ciclovía at this old bridge (now pedestrianised) which enabled me to cross to the other side of the main road, ready to ride up a big hill to my hotel.

Here are a couple of very short videos I took of the ciclovía to give you a flavour. The second one has the classic two questions I got asked sooooo many times along the route: ‘Where have you come from?’ ‘Where are you going?’ (The third one being ‘Solita???!!!’ meaning ‘All alone???!!!’ accompanied by an incredulous look on their face).

The ciclovía was such a superb introduction to Medellín and its Paisas!

I checked into a very fancy hotel where I’d be staying with the Sara(h)s when we all came back to Medellín together. It was such a treat to have a comfy bed and a quiet night’s sleep without any rumbling trucks nearby! It also meant I could leave my bike and bags there safely locked up whilst I hopped over to Bogotá for a couple of days to meet up with the ladies.

My room was on the 13th floor and had an amazing view over Medellín!

Frutti Tutti!

I wanted to save doing quite a few things in Medellín for when the others arrived, so the next morning I decided to do a short ‘exotic fruits’ tour of the Plaza Minorista fruit market in the north of the city. I thought it would come in handy to help me identify all the fruit juices I could drink in the small towns and villages I cycled through.

Plaza Minorista is a fascinating place. It’s a huge undercover market and apparently there are over 2,500 vendors selling fresh fruit and other produce there. Fresh fruit literally spills into the aisles. Despite the huge numbers of vendors, it actually appeared to me as fairly quiet for a South America food market. I soon learnt why…

The market itself has a checkered history as not all that long ago, it was controlled by the Medellín drug cartels, and our guide told us that it wasn’t unheard of for out-of-favour individuals to be assassinated in shoot-outs in the market. Many Paisas still view the market as a dangerous place and will travel a long way to go to the Majorista market in the south of the city instead. The market is now safe (so long as you keep an eye on your belongings – as with pretty much every market like this the world over). Apparently our presence as tourists was actually helping revival of the market as locals seeing us there would think that if it’s safe enough for gringos, it’s safe enough for them to return too (tho I was never entirely sure if this was partly our guide using a bit of poetic license).

But the main reason for this tour was to taste the huge range of exotic fruits that grow in Colombia (many of which don’t have a translation as they don’t grow anywhere else – Colombia is the most bio-diverse country in the world!).

We tasted at least 16 fruits (and that’s without going anywhere near those you can easily find elsewhere such as apples, pears, bananas, pineapple, peaches and the like):

Colombia has a HUGE range of exotic fruits on offer

Here are some of my favourites and not-so-favourites!

Cherimoya – my number 1 favourite fruit. Also known as the ‘custard apple’. It has a fleshy white inside that tastes to me like eating a creamy cake (creme patissiere to be precise). I could eat it all day. Would be amazing in ice cream. Mmmmmm

Mangostino – mangosteen. Sweet and juicy, it tastes a bit like a smooth peach. It’s the most expensive fruit in the market.

Mamoncillo – you pinch this small fruit between your fingers to ‘pop’ the inside out of the harder skin, and then suck the flesh off the stone inside. It’s a bit like sucking on a sherbet sweet with a very slightly tart edge. Kind of like a cross between a sweet lychee and a sour lime.

Lulo – loved by Colombians, this fruit looks and feels a bit like a small orange-yellow-green tomato. The flavour is citrusy, sometimes described as a combination of rhubarb and lime. Colombians love to have it as a fruit juice, as it’s a bit tart to eat.

Borojó – this was a weird one! The fruit is matured in clingfilm until it starts to ferment (and smells pretty bad). The inside is then removed and whipped up into a milk-based juice which tastes surprisingly nice (a bit like figs and chocolate) given the way it smells.

Algarroba (‘West Indian Locust’) – to pick the most ripe you have to pick the smelliest, and it really does smell foul. You also have to give it the pod a shake to check the fruit is loose inside. Once selected, break it open with a hammer. The inside has a powdery texture and tasted to me like a caramel flavour nougat. Quite a surprise after the revolting smell!

Chontaduro (‘Peach Palm’). I didn’t like this at all, but the Colombians do, especially in the city of Cali, where they’re for sale all over the place in the streets. This fruit is cooked and cooled and then pealed and eaten ‘sweet and sour’ accompanied with salt and syrup. To me it tasted like a strong potato and stuck to my teeth. I couldn’t understand the appeal!

The stall vendors in the market were also a highlight, each specialising in their own particular fruits. This lovely lovely man Arturo kept giving us extra fruits to taste after our guide had finished his talk. I tried some fresh tamarind for the first time – Colombians make it into a tasty jam. It had a texture like a ripe date and a refreshing sweet and sour flavour.

The rest of my time in Medellín I spent getting chores out of the way before joining up with the ladies. This mostly entailed running around bike shop after bike shop trying to find a spare tyre to start carrying with me as the rubber on mine has finally starting to crack in a few places. I’m not overly concerned, but bike shops are few and far between in Ecuador and I don’t fancy getting stranded at high altitude on a dirt track half way round a volcano with a blown-out tyre. Unsurprisingly I couldn’t find any Schwalbe Marathon touring tyres out here, and Medellín will be my best chance at finding anything suitable for the rest of my trip, so I’ve made do with a cheapo Chinese mountain bike tyre that cost me all of a fiver. It will do for an emergency backup although I’m not thrilled about having to add the extra weight to my already heavy load.

I also made a trip to the supermarket to stock up on nuts and other dry snacks. The malls are very North-American in style here, and it always amazes me how HUGE they are! The great thing is they sell almond milk here, which I can carry on my bike with me in the sun for a good few days without it going off. Great to be able to have with muesli and banana for my breakfasts.

One of the gigantic ‘Exito’ supermarkets in Medellín – quite a shock to the system!

Early the following morning I locked up my bike and bags in the hotel and took a taxi up to Medellín airport for my flight to Bogotá. It was a long winding road that went far up into the mountains. Needless to say, we were in good company, as we passed many Colombian cyclists, getting their crazy hill training in before work and the heat of the day kicked in.

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