Our ride to Curumani was our first time experiencing mountains! We entered hotel Portal del Camino and put our things into our room. I spoke with the guy there and we went over our route. The owner knew the whole route and named every city we would be going into for the next 1,900 miles! He warned us of one town that was about 1,500 miles away: Puerto Tejada, and said that we should avoid it at all costs because there are bad people there, and we would most likely be robbed… or worse. Further, he told us that the Pan American Highway does not go into the town, rather, it passes by the side of it. The evening there was nice, the sun was setting and the dusty town had an orange glow to it! We sipped down our chicken soup, had some rice and chicken and called it a day.
The following morning we headed towards the town of Pailitas, for lunch and we got a gigantic Jugo! A jugo is a fruit mixed in with milk and ice… it is delicious and filling. We then got some soup that ended up having chicken shoes in it (chicken feet!!). Soup here in Colombia, is kind of like a cracker jack box, you never know what is inside!!! After nibbling on some feet, we made our way to the town of Pelaya for the evening.
Our destination on this day was the town of Aguachica. As we traveled there, two people in a van stopped ahead of us on the side of the road, near the town of La Mata. It was a German couple, Vinny and Heidi, and they were traveling from Alaska to Argentina! They asked us if we wanted a soda with some ice, and like dogs begging for an itch behind the ear, we obliged!! There are very few things in this world as satisfying as an ice cold carbonated soda after a long time cycling in the scorching sun!
Onward towards Aguachica, we start climbing some more and the terrain is beginning to become steep, so much so, that all the truck drivers were giving us a thumbs up with their faces pressed against the windows!!
On a following climb, Candice started to change gears, but the chain came off in transition. She then fell on her seat, possibly fracturing her coccyx! I was ahead of her and I saw her hovering over her handlebars and it looked like she was laughing, when in actuality, she was crying. I signaled with my hand to head on up to me to see what she was laughing about, but she didn’t budge. After awhile, when I figured that nothing can be so funny, for so long, I then went to her and found that she was in pain. After a few moments, she was able to push on.
That evening we cashed into a hotel room and called it a day. Candice woke up the next morning throwing up, so we rested another day to see if we needed to go to a doctor. The ole hound felt better the following day but we kept a post it note for a reminder to see if she felt better or not.
Getting to our next destination, San Martin, was difficult. The road wasn’t very good and there was a lot of backed up traffic. So in order to make it to our next hotel, we had to ride on the side of the road, which contained grass, rocks and the occasional log. When we arrived in San Martin, we called it quits for a day. We sat in some nice hammocks that were in a courtyard and had a great dinner from the restaurant next door.
An interesting side note about getting a room and finding out what is in it:
First finding a: Hotel, Hostal, Pension, Hospedaje???
It is very interesting when we ask people for a place to stay for an evening. We would first ask them if there was a Hotel within the area (Hay esta un Hotel acerca de aqui?), they would then give us a questionable look. I would then change the word to Hostal (Hay esta un Hostal acerca de aqui?), then on to Pension and then Hospedaje. Still, there was a questionable look. We would then shift to, “Is there a room to sleep in near here? (Hay un habitation acerca de aqui?). Then they would say, “ahhhh un hotel!! Si,” then they would point in a certain direction.
If you are lucky to find a room:
One thing we noticed throughout this leg of the journey is this: usually when we would get a room, there would always be ‘some’ prize awaiting us. For instance, there would not be a toilet seat, there would be a spicket for the shower or a bucket to fill from the bathroom sink, the shower would be cold (which was almost always the case), the fan, if there was one, would be squealing like a pig on a chopping block, the toilet would need to be filled with water before it would flush, the room would sound like a horse race with all of the creepy crawlies, the pillows, if there were two, would feel like cement blocks. Now take all of these and mix and match them. The room would have, or not have, at least one or two of the above, sometimes more, but it always makes for an interesting evening and forces you out into town to meet the wonderful people of Northern Colombia!
On our next ride would take us up even higher into the mountains. As we started climbing this endless mountain, we saw little kids on bikes hitching a ride in the back of large cargo trucks. They would actually hold on to the bumper of the truck, and it would tow them to the top of the mountain and they would come sailing down at break neck speeds! They ended up cycling with us and told us we didn’t have to much to go, for this peak actually! We took some pictures with those little buggers, had a great conversation for a spell and cycled a bit further to where the top was. It was time to say goodbye to our cycling buddies! As they sailed down one peak, we sailed down the other. Our day was far from over.
It is very gratifying when we climb a mountain. But that feeling quickly erases when you reach the top, only to find out that you will be descending most of that elevation only to climb it again! This would easily take us another three hours of nonstop climbing!
Trying not to sweat in the mountains? Good luck!
This second climb was so difficult that Candice started throwing up on the side of the road. I made two pieces of bungee cord and tied one piece to the back of my bike and the other to the front of hers. I then connected a piece of paracord between these bungees and started to pull her up the hill as she stabilized the bike.
As we trudged on, we saw a gaggle of tourists on their BMW Adventure Motorcycles! As they passed us, they gave us a thumbs up in excitement for seeing us on bicycles!! We made it to the top of the climb shortly after that and then it was downhill from there. “Damn those BMW tourists,” I retorted! “Just a flick of the wrist is all it took for them to go sailing up this mountain!!” The BMW Adventure just so happens to by my favorite motorcycle! To see those metal panniers and BMW outfits with a tire sticking out the back is beyond gnarly!!
Here we were, sweating up a storm in the hot sun, candice projectile vomiting like a scene from the Exorcist, and using our own power to pedal our weight plus another 50 pounds (give or take) to get us up these mountain tops!
Because of the non-stop climbing, Candice threw her cookies on the side of the road and still finished the day! What a champ!!
But the day was coming to a close. The scenery was absolutely amazing. The ridged mountain tops just stood there in the setting sun, forcing the viewer to contemplate God’s hand in all of this!
The feeling of accomplishing these climbs put a lot of confidence in our ability and we were grateful that we chose bicycles for our journey, if only for the fact that it literally keeps us at a pace that forces us to interact with people more often, which alone was worth the journey! That means more knowledge about the people in Colombia, Spanish would be used constantly and for a longer duration, the scenery would be engraved in our minds and memories, and plenty of time to take pictures. I know that if we were on motorcycles, we would not have half of the pictures that we have taken up to this point!
There was a little hotel upon our descent into La Esperanza. As I pulled into the restaurant/hotel, I saw a little kid approach us. His name was Johann. I asked him if he knew about Johann Sebastian Bach, but there was no grin! I should have known better! I saw the trap and fell in head first! I asked him if there are any rooms available and he answered yes, giving us a price of 15,000 pesos, which turned out to be about $7.50.
We entered our little room and I took out our little Dragonfly Wisperlite MSR stove, in order to cook Candice and I some rice, then it was off to order some soup to mix the rice in with it.
As I cooked the rice, Johann and I chatted about our trip and his life in Colombia. The language barrier is still there but I can start making out more words in sentences, thereby making more educated guesses about questions or comments.
Johann, being between the ages of 8 and 12, seemed to be very business like. Keep in mind, we were on the side of a mountain, so when I asked him if he played soccer, he said no with a smile on his face. As the rice was cooking the mother of Johann came out and was astonished with our little stove. “Where did you get that?,” “Can you cook anything on that stove?” She was so excited. After we spoke, Candice and I had dinner and we had no problems falling asleep.
The next day we headed to Norte de Santander. We cycled for a bit and then got a snack at a nifty stand/restaurant on the side of the road. One guy, that was a taxi driver asked where we were headed. We said the next big city that we were headed towards was Bucaramanga. He told us that we had four more climbs like the two we just had, then we would be in Bucaramanga.
We climbed two more peaks then we stayed at the top, where there was a hostel, owned by a great man named: Gustavo! A group of people were sitting in their chairs and saw us climbing. We asked them about a hotel and Gustavo just happened to be the owner of the hotel/restaurant there. We didn’t understand much of what he said! But his patience was that of a Saint, as he repeatedly tried to get us to understand what he was saying! There was something about him that seemed fatherly, and I sensed that he had a joy about us being there and experiencing his country.
Gustavo! Colombia´s Finest Gentleman!
The restaurant there has been one of my favorite spots in all of Colombia! The ahi, a side of spicy sauce, was delicious. It was made up of finely chopped tomatoes, onion, peppers and had the perfect amount of spice to it! I have yet to see its match! Other ahi’s are entirely different, some are orange or green pastes, but my favorite are the chopped up peppers, tomatoes and onions, with an added secret spice. The restaurant had empanadas, salads, fruits, whole cooked potatoes with a type of gravy on them! We gorged on this food as our knees ached from all of the climbing!!
Just when we though we were going to fall on the bed and pass out, we decided to punish ourselves further by going out for a walk! I heard a church singing ‘chant’ (one of my favorites) and we walked towards it. A lady on the outside saw us and we ended up talking for about three hours! It was actually a great time! She and her family were Catholic and she went through an untold amount of photos she took of the churches in Bogota and Bucaramanga, they were beautiful. As usual, in just a few hours we managed to make a great friendship with a family that was very kind to us!
We headed back to the room, but before we called it quits for the evening, I figured that I would make one more food assault at Gustavo’s restaurant, thereby knighting myself, “The Revolting Pig of Northern Santander”!!
With full gullets, we slept soundly that evening. We woke up and bought out the fruit stand and said our goodbyes to our friend Gustavo!