Cycling above the Clouds

Riding the Andes by Bicycle

Changing Landscapes

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Following the previous short day, I planned to ride a longer 120km to a town called Buga. Most of the first half of the day would be downhill, so I was still expecting that it would be a fairly easy ride. What I hadn’t anticipated was just how much the landscape and would change – visible most significantly in the varying fruit and veg growing at the side of the road.

I started off in the familiar territory of the coffee and avocado plantations, with their little button trees dotting the hillsides.

As I descended and the temperature warmed, these soon morphed into banana and plantain trees, casting long shadows with their fingery leaves

Then as I descended further, I encountered a patch of trees with curtains of moss dangling eerily into the road

Finally the mountains abated and the landscape became increasingly gentle, with sheep and cows making a re-appearance. This landscape started to remind me of my first fortnight in the northern lowlands of Colombia again.

I find riding on the flat very quickly becomes monotonous, and after a while it makes me feel uncomfortable due to being in a relatively static position on the bike for long periods of time. I don’t tend to get lost in particularly deep thoughts whilst riding (I think about the basics like food and shelter mostly), so my tactic is more just to keep pedalling on until I break out from the monotony to reach somewhere more interesting.

Finally, I entered a small town where I hunted out a good spot for lunch. The roadside was lined with stands selling what looked like home made nougat and some kind of caramel in wooden pots. Lots of people were pulling up in their cars and gesticulating from their windows what they wanted to buy, without even stepping out. I thought I should try some, but for now I just wanted something savoury for lunch.

A traditional but very tasty lunch with homemade soup and aguapanela (sugar cane and lime drink) by the roadside

I was given some of this local ‘stuff’ – which seemed something like quince jelly wrapped in a leaf to keep it fresh – as a complementary dessert. I had a quick taste but it was too sugary for me!

Buga – the city of pilgrimage

After more cycling along the flat I reached the town of Buga where I’d stay for the night. I spent a while riding around the town before I found a reasonably priced and really nicely renovated old colonial-style house to stay. It’s always a good feeling once I know where I’ll rest my head for the night, chuck all my bags in the room, freshen up with a quick shower and give a quick handwash to my cycling gear whilst I’m at it, to make sure it will all dry overnight.

One thing I also love about Colombia is that hosts always just naturally assume that you’ll want to keep the bicycle inside, and often just tell you to take it inside the room. I never assume it’s ok to take the bike in the room without asking first, but I always appreciate knowing it’s tucked up safe and sound at night with me:). Probably also helps that I keep it reasonably clean so it doesn’t look like I’ll be traipsing dirt everywhere.

Buga itself is one of the oldest cities in Colombia, founded in 1555. It was home to many of the first wealthy Spanish settlers and today is one of the main centres of the Catholic Church in the country. It’s famous for its Basilica del Señor de los Milagros (Lord of the Miracles – have a read about it on Wikipedia and you’ll find a very long list of special ‘events’ that allegedly happened here…), which receives over 3 million pilgrims every year. It’s clear that the town has plenty of money, presumably from the church and all the donations it receives, and many of the central colonial buildings have been very carefully restored.

Basilica del Señor de los Milagros, Buga

The list of times of the 9 (!) daily masses by the front door – gives you an idea of the crowds this church caters to!

As I walked inside the church, I saw a female pilgrim, dressed in white, crawling the length of the church on her knees whilst reciting from a prayer book. I assume this is common practice amongst the pilgrims who come here.

I tend to find extremely religious places slightly disturbing so was happy to be out and back on the road the following morning. Now I was just riding the rest of my way along the Cauca Valley (having reconnected with the Rio Cauca that I’d followed for so long back in the north of Colombia) as I got closer to Cali. The valley opened out into a huge, wide, hot flat plain full of nothing but sugar cane. It was nice to see some blue skies again though!

Sugar cane plants EVERYWHERE!

Transport still being done the old fashioned way

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