Cycling above the Clouds

Riding the Andes by Bicycle


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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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Colombiiiaaaa!

And so after a sad farewell to Argentina and Chile – countries I’ve become incredibly fond of having now spent so many months enveloped in their majestic landscapes – I set foot off the plane into the hot and humid Caribbean coastal region of Colombia. It’s 9.30pm and still about 27C. First things first – they don’t provide trolleys in the airport, so somehow I have to figure out how to manhandle my bike box and heavy luggage bag out to the taxis. Luckily one of the just two airport porters (with his own trolley which he seemingly owns) sees me floundering, deserts another couple, and helps me out for a small fee. He is friendly and chatty and completely bemused as to why I have a bicycle with me.

Next task – find a taxi big enough to fit the bike box in. That takes a little longer. Eventually, bike, bags and me are all stuffed into a car and on the way to my hotel in Cartagena. Result! I’m checked in within an hour of landing. I guzzle some water, jump in the shower, lather myself in mozzie repellant, whack up the aircon and collapse into bed.

Cartagena

With a number of inlets and ports, Cartagena is a very strategically located city. Many battles have been fought over this city, giving it a ripe and tumultuous history.

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Happy reunions in Buenos Aires

The next stage of my ride would be Colombia-Ecuador-Peru (my ride is split in two to take advantage of the seasons and to make sure that I’d be in Patagonia in summer time). To fly to Cartagena, I had the choice to fly via Santiago de Chile or Buenos Aires. That decision was a no-brainier as Buenos Aires would also give me the chance to catch up with Pipa & Connie and Fred:).

The National Congress building in central Buenos Aires

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Heading to Tierra del Fuego

I had one last day before leaving Punta Arenas so after doing my usual chores to stock up on supplies I made a short walk to the cemetery, which had some very impressive memorials. There was a lovely extract from a poem by Pablo Neruda on a memorial for people who were killed under Pinochet’s dictatorship.

The cemetery in Puerto Arenas – noticeable are the many British names on the headstones, inherited from the original military settlers at ‘Sandy Point’.

Extract from “Siempre” – from what I can understand it means something like the following (if anyone can provide a more eloquent translation please comment below!!): “…and nothing will extinguish the moment you fell, even though thousands of voices cross this silence. The rain will soak the cobbles in the square but will not put out your names of fire.”

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