Week 26 & 27 here in the Americas would be nothing short of a rollercoaster in more ways than one. The terrain in is this part of the Andean range being somewhat lower in altitude in comparison to the lofty heights attained in Peru and Bolivia. However, long hot days in the saddle battling undulating mountain passes would be equally as challenging as my route north picked me up and dropped me down in huge increments.
Making my way from the border state of Nariño at roughly 3000m above sea level, I dropped down a few notches in altitude as I entered coffee country in the department of Cauca. Home to only some of the world’s finest coffee, Cauca boasts the reputation of being a stronghold for various factions of Colombian rebel groups and guerillas.
Crossing the bridge into Cauca with a stiff warning from the military not to travel at night and to try and cross the department as swiftly as possible, advice I was keen to heed had my path not been hampered by “paro’s” protests by the coffee industry and its labour force. The country of Colombia was on lockdown for a week and the road north was blocked by large trees, broken glass, burning tyres, protesters wielding sticks and trucks backed up as far as the eye could see.
My trajectory through Cauca would not be swift nor would it be easy, I would have to find a way through these blockades in order to stay on top of my rather demanding schedule of 400 carbon free km’s per week. My days spent trying to sweet talk my way through heavily manned blockades and lugging my bike up and over trees and broken glass.
A section that would normally have taken a couple of days consumed most of the week as there were numerous blockades I was not allowed to pass and was forced to camp out there over night before finally wangling my way through. Pointless swimming against the tide I adopted an approach of if you can’t beat them, join them. Singing the tune of the Cafeteros I managed to navigate the protests virtually unscathed coming out the other end with a few broken spokes a bust tent and numerous flat tyres as a result of all the broken glass on the road. In my opinion a small price to pay for a situation that could very easily have gone the other way.
Reaching Cali marked the end of my flurry with the coffee producers of Colombia and by the time I had pushed north of Valle de Cauca the roads had been reopened and things were back to normal. Enjoying a very welcomed 200 km stretch of flatlands, I was once again reminded of the luxury of not having to climb huge mountain passes and just how much ground can be covered in favourable conditions on a bicycle in a day notching big 140 km’s stages on the plateau.
Passing the towns of Periera and Manizales I trekked north in search of Medellin, Colombia’s second largest city with just under 4000 000 people sitting in an Andean valley at 1500m above sea level. I would have to tackle a 41km climb from the village of La Pintada which sits at a humble 500m above sea level, tackling the pass of Minas at 2700m before dropping down into the city of Medellin. A climb that would take the lion’s share of the day, I rolled into Colombia’s second largest city well after dark.
This will be the final blog on South American soil as only 500 km’s remain on the continent as I push north in search of a way over to Panama. The Darien gap standing between me and the next nation on the agenda, the crossing will not be a straight forward one as there is no road connecting Panama and Colombia and a boat or series of boats will have to be used to negate the Darien.
After 27 weeks in the saddle South America is coming to an end, the odometer reads 10896 carbon free km’s with an official CO2 and pollution saving of 1647 kg’s!!! If the humble bike and its ability to traverse huge distances with zero negative effect on the environment has still not impressed you… Well what can I say?
Stay tuned as Central America beckons.