I had been in Santa Elena nearly a week. It’s a small region in the mountains of Medellin. Crowded with Hippies, Ayahuasca, Esotericists and Dreamcatchers. I liked it. Wooden houses everywhere, a lot of forest and everybody was surfing on the waves between the relaxed touch of nature and hardcore spiritualism. My plan was to take a rest before my last stage of cycling along the coast. It pretty much worked out that way. To bad I ended up on the opposite side of Medellin. That doesn’t sound so bad, but Medellin lies inside a valley surrounded by mountains with 1000 to 2000 meter ascents. To me it meant down the whole way and up again to go down again. Like on your favourite rollercoaster, but you gotta push it by yourself. Luckily the city has a cable car and metro from one side to the other and I was able to arrange to be taken through the city with bike and packs by that one.
My bike collapses
I exited the city at the place I wanted and still had to pedal uphill for some time. There was a 10km tunnel I was approaching with the bike. Everybody was telling me that I couldn’t go through there but still I was riding on. I had my bike repaired (again) in Medellin. The rear rack had been welded and was finally sturdy and stable. Problem solved in my eyes. When I was one km from the tunnel entrance, climbing on the road and thinking about how passing the mountain through the tunnel must feel like when uddenly I heard a metallically sound. Was it the bike? Everything was looking good. I drove on. 15 meters after that my rear rack was askew after a screw had decided to loosen and quit. I had to weld it for 1,50€ and the mechanic didn’t even manage to tighten the screw right. Fucking shit. So I removed a screw from my selfmade packs to fix the rack temporarily. But for sure I would need a proper repair. That was about to happen in the next village. Before that I had a very steep descent to finish. And long, steep descents mean a lot of adrenaline for me, when Iḿ threatened, that my bike will collapse at any moment.
And I wasn’t through this unpassable tunnel yet. Next obstacle. When coming closer a security was already nervously running towards the road who thought I must have missed the “cycling prohibited” sign. No possible passage here. So I had to switch back to hitchhiking, with a truck. Worked well. I also survived the descent. More or less. My improvised bike packs had been fastened on the rack with hangers (Model Double-Hanger). Two hangers for each box. One had already broken and the second side I lost on this descent. Me, again, improvising. A string will do it. The motorcycle workshop fixed the lost screw for free. Well equipped to continue. The broken packing box was to be dealt with later. Is there anything working on this bike? I couldn’t care less, had to move on.
Sweltering heat, I had again arrived in the jungle. Antiquia, provincial capital. As I exited the town I considered buying something to drink. I was thirsty. But to much on edge to stop. I decided to continue first and get something to drink on one of the many shops alongside the road. There were so many shops in the past everywhere, should not be a problem.
Dying of thirst
The problem was I had no proper map. The one I carried had no elevation lines. Otherwhise I would have figured that in front of me was one of the worst ascents of my whole route waiting for me. I climbed up the mountain for some time. It was hot, and strangely there was nothing here. Plain nothing. Usually each mountain had some shops or something, but here – nothing. At some point I was done driving and continued by pushing my bike. I was quite fast like that to be honest. I am not the specialist for ascents, especially with this shitty bike and 20kg of stuff on my rear end.
Even pushing started to be quite exhausting after some time and I had to stop for a break. All over with sweat, completely overheated in the middle of the dead-zone. Where the hell is that beverage kiosk?!? I felt like cold ice tea and started fantasizing about all the awesome, cold drinks I could have. But that didn’t help and I had to continue to push. My mouth was getting dry, my spit failed to materialize. My head had to be purple by now. Since about two hours pushing and even after the next curve no sign of civilisation of consumerism. Everywhere next to the road I was seeing empty cups and bottles. Carelessly thrown out and I really considered stopping and sipping the rest of one of those bottles. That was the level of my thirst. Had I only bought something in the city. Going back was no option. Not two times that same road. I rather die of thirst.
At some point I passed a door with a Moto-Taxi in front of it. Behind it a path led into nowhere. I couldn’t recognise anything, no house, no doorbell. But the moto-taxi was open. I saw my chance, checked the cabin and there I saw it: A transparent plastic bottle. Not sure whats inside. Opening, checking the smell… chloride … well, water smells like chloride in Colombia, that could be it. A first sip, yes, it was water. Lukewarm water. I drank 4/5th of the bottle and put it back. My salvation. I was so glad and greedy drinking that I swallowed up and had t spit some water out again, while coughing. At least some water. It improved my overall situation. After that my suffering continued, the mountain seemed without end.
Darkness was approaching and I decided to stop a car to get out of that area. Didn’t take long and I had my pick up. Funny, here in Colombia hitchhiking with a bike seemed to be easier than without. We continued for another 10 km uphill, I was so happy not to be walking there on that continuing ascent but to be inside that car. He dropped me in the next village. Lightening covered the sky and a thunderstorm approached. I got me some bottles to drink, yeah lots of bottles with different, cold delicious liquids and then I checked in at the next hotel. Camping with that weather was not amusing and after being crushed by that day so much I was longing for some calmness.
Dear Colombia, you don’t only break me, but my bike as well
The next day started with light ascents on the high plains until I reached another descent two hours later. The broken bike pack had been provisionally fixed at the hotel. They didn’t even have a screwdriver so I had to tighten the screws by hand. It was quite ok since I was using locknuts. Pity that the condition of the road was getting worse. Gravel track. That was all I needed. I was more slow going down then going up because I had to be extremely careful not to drop into road holes or kill my rims on the sharp stones. I heard that 2 people from Chile were cycling the same path one day behind me. Maybe we will meet.
At some point going downhill as the road was better again a truck passed me and again I heard that strange, metallic sound. Was it me? Soon I realized: Yes, it was me. Of course. The second hanger of the already damaged box had left the team. Again improvising. I carried that sailing rope and with that I tied the box to the bike on both sides. A little unstable but good for now. I had no idea on how to really fix that. I finally went until Turbo like that. Looked like shit but was sturdy. Like running a marathon with a broken leg and only one shoe, but still making it through the finishing line.
It was 4 pm and I stopped to enjoy a malt drink. It was all over Colombia, called “Malta”. Some kind of malt beer. Lot’s of sugar, good energy. The high mountains were behind me and I was riding along a river for quite some time now. Short chit-chat in the next village on how to continue? Will it will stay flat? Nah, nah, only small hills, but pretty much a flat road. 40km to the next village. One of the younger ones tried to articulate that it would rise a little in between and then down to the village. Steep rising? No, no, the granny at the shop assured me. Plano, plano ‘till the next village. No problem with the bike. So I was calm since steep ascents were the last thing that I wanted to fight that day. I started bikng biking.
Marco Pantani Memorial Event
And so they dismissed me towards the steepest ascent that you will find between Medellin and Turbo. 2200 meters I had to climb, straight over a mountain pass as I was about to figure out. Not only the last day climbing was still aching in my bones but it was getting late and I was tired. Luckily not knowing what was in front of me. That’s always better. So I rolled, the road left the riverbed and the altitude slowly rising.
Actually this was the moment when I really learned how to climb steep roads with the bike. The strategy is very simple. Reduce speed a little in between, to take rest while climbing, but always stay in the seat. 15-20km I was pedaling, without a break, straight through. I entered the clouds at some point and it started to rain. It was moist. On the pass the road was winding on the same level for some kilometers before the long descent started. It was marvellous to stand on the highest point. I knew it would nly go down from here. And I made it without pushing half of the way! Beast mode! I was proud of myself.
Those exertions were rewarded with a hotel, at half the price of the one the day before. About 5 €. The nights in the hotels were terrible. Somehow, the South American hotels are frequented 24/7 by people what I conceive as very exhausting. Chatter all the time, doorbell amidst the night, people enter and exit and the TVs of my neighbours are constantly on maximum volume. TVs became my number one enemy. Shows only shit and is always noisy. But there was an internet connection. Where I checked the upcoming route and figured that the following day would have two terrible high mountains waiting for me. I had been nowhere near through the Cordillera, as i hoped to be after those two days of suffering.
What rainforest feels like
But then relieve! Ha! The website that I had used was flawed. The next day was hilly but the last mountain I had definitely crested the day before. My constantly present companion would from now on be the rain. And it’s not called rainforest for nothing. It was no real rain but constant drizzle. Relentless drizzle. From that day on I was constantly wet. Not wet enough for the moisture to go through my backpack but enough to evaporate steam during the water breaks. Still it was a rather relaxed day with an early evening approaching at the end as I was about to enter a thunderstorm that was in front of me.
I decided to eat out at a fancy restaurant and pitch my tent. I was happy to find a wooden structure with roof. The whole night was full of thunderstorm and rain and the shelter very much appreciated. On the next day there were only 100km left to Turbo. Mostly flat. No ascents. Wonderful. I really enjoyed cycling there. Although it was raining all the time. The first 40 km I had covered in about 2 hours. Breakfast. Destiny put me in a restaurant where the Tour de France was streamed on TV, the final 40km steep ascent. They were twice as fast as I had been and they cycled through the Pyrenees, full of super-steep ascents and dangerous downhill roads. When the winner was clear I saddled my bike again. Here I come world! Touring through Colombia.
The last kilometers to Turbo had the potential to make up for a lot that had happened on that tour. But no, of course not. About 25km before the city several huge construction works had decided to hang around on the road and together with the rain it created a lot of mud. A feast of mud. And trucks rushing past me throwing mud in all directions. My bike and I received a covering of mud. Mud madness. Thank you Colombia. Always up for some pleasure. I also really enjoyed cicyling with you!
But still I had made it. What came later you might already know. Cleaning the bike, selling the bike. Trading my Colombia Bike Outfit for a boat ride. Going towards Panama. Cycling is definitely off my “ToDo”-List. And next time I will use a more stable bike, better equipment and easier gears. I would cycle relaxed alongside a river instead fighting through the colombian mountain ranges. It was donkey work but epic! Been there, done that. Checkmark. Get up from the puddle of mud and continue.