(my apologies for the lack of photos, connectivity is tough, maybe more later)
This is my first really big solo trip, and while I´ve missed the companionship of traveling partners, recently I´ve had some experiences that highlight the advantages of traveling solo. Hopefully this post can provide a more detailed account of some recent events. In no particular order, a few points:
- The language skills are all up to you- no leaning on friends, you have to say it, you have to hear it. NOLS likes to call it “experiential learning,” I tend to call it frustrating, embarassing, and often hilarious.
- Getting chased off someone else´s land by a guy with a machete. When it´s just you, you are less threatening to the guy with the machete, and there is no one to argue with about the appropriate course of action- you just pack your things as fast as possible and leave. (Yes this happened, but really it´s not a big deal, he was probably just as scared as I was and was somewhat polite once I started to pack up my things and go. I still didn´t appreciate him waving a machete in my face…)
- Pushing the bike. I´ve had some long days in the saddle and especially Thursday and Friday were really hot. I´ve managed to stay mostly not sunburnt but when it´s late and you have to keep going because you cannot camp on a military base, it´s nice not to have someone else to worry about pushing.
Of course having someone to talk to, someone to draft, someone to drink the water first, someone to boost your courage, or negotiate with the guy with the machete are all really nice things to have, I´m just not focusing on that right now. I´ve made good time from Bogota but have still enjoyed taking photos, taking siestas, and trying new food (cycling makes you eat on a very regular basis). Mileage for you touring nerds out there-
Wednesday: 137km, mostly downhill.
Thursday: 95km, all in the desert.
Friday: 35km, in the desert but mostly a rest day.
Saturday: 134km, including a 7km hillclimb, and lots of other hills.
Sunday: 90km, finishing with a 5km hill climb that might be one of the more awful physical things I´ve ever done (but I wanted that hill, and I got it without giving up!).
(many, many hills…)
I mentioned the challenge of getting out and down from Bogota, but the scariest and perhaps hardest stratest was the last 50km in Aipe through the desert on Thursday. It was already scorching hot by 10am when I left the last town- I thought I was ready, but the desert is a very humbling place. Aipe is where I eventually found the ferry to take me across the river to the undeveloped, and more beautiful part of the Tatacoa Desert, but about 5km outside town I bonked hard for the second time that day, and was lucky to have Barry and Carol Smith at the roadside to watch me bonk. The desert had bested me twice that day and it was just a bit scary. I had a couchsurfing contact in the next big city, Neiva, (where I posted last), which made Friday a really nice day.
Again thanks to Perly for showing me a less-coiffed, more authentic Colombian city and while there may not be “much to see”, I really enjoyed seeing how most people live and work. The road the past two days has been much hillier and the riding harder, though I´m grateful for the cooler temps and friendly locals (most of them cheer as I ride by). The topography has started to wear on me (and my bike) already. My freewheel is making a new scratchy clicking noise, and I´m having trouble managing an old left knee injury. That said, I´m taking today completely off to explore the ancient statues here and do a bit of bike maintenance.
My doubts are still rolling with me, but I´m pleased that they haven´t slowed me down. Moments of beauty seem to be more frequent as well, on Saturday I stopped in a beautiful town called Gigante and took my siesta in the square with three local cripples- I bought them ice cream, they share potato chips and we all laughed at the local boys chasing the local girls.
(one legged man pretends to ride a bike)
The hardest part of Colombia will be crossing the Cordierra Central (the local bit of the Andes just to the west) and getting to Pasto. I may be able to post from Mocoa in the next day or two, but don´t be surprised if you don´t see new content until the end of the week- getting to Pasto is going to be an adventure.