End of the Road

End of the Road

Outside of Colombia people look puzzled if you talk about ‘La Linea’. However if you mention these two words to any Colombian a knowing look forms on their face. If you then explain you plan to cycle this road on a heavily laden bicycle, their eyes begin to bulge. The reason for this is simple; on a 30 mile stretch of road you need to climb more than 3,000 meters. On average that’s a gradient of 10% (for every 10 meters cycled you gain 1 meter in elevation).

It took 4 hours to cover the first 25 miles. After that the gradient increased so the next 14 miles took a further 4 hours.  The wind was icy on top of the pass so I layered up before hurtling down the other, even steeper side of the mountain. I rolled up to Nando’s house, my generous Warm Showers host, about an hour after dark and was pleased to enjoy my first hot shower in a month and a good night’s rest.

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Nando & Elisabeth

A few days later I reached Boquia, set in the lush green surroundings of Colombia’s coffee triangle. This region produces some of the world’s best coffee and although hot and humid during the day, at 2,000 meters above sea level the nights are gloriously cool. I arrived at La Rosa de los Viento eco-lodge unannounced but after one look at my bike Margarita welcomed me in. Her home, made almost entirely from re-cycled material was like a cross between a bric-a-brac shop and a Lego set. Built in a forest she planted with her own hands the bushes have started to encroach and it has now taken on the feel of a tree house.

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La Rosa de los Vientos

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Margarita and me

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Bric-a-brac house

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Exploring the local town of Salento I found the Sunday market in full swing:

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Salento plaza

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Sunday market

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I also made a visit to the Cocora Valley, home to the world’s largest palm trees. They grow up to 60 meters tall, roughly the height of a 20 story building:

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Cocora Valley

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Home to the world’s largest palm trees

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My friend Cherry told me my visit to Colombia wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t meet Anibal; a pediatrician with an affinity for England having lived there for two years. Anibal is a generous, intelligent and funny guy and I had a great couple of days with him and his girlfriend, Estephania. They spoiled me the night I arrived, showing me around town and then treating me to a slap up dinner and a night on the town. The following day we went to Anibal’s finca (farm). Perched on the lip of a mountain in the hills above Chinchina it’s graced with stunning views.

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Anibal, Estephania and me

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Sunset at Anibal’s finca

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Manizales

Medellin is Colombia’s second city. Once the world’s most dangerous urban area, famed for cocaine cartels and death squads. That was little over twenty years ago. During those dark days when residents lived in the shadow of Pablo Escobar, just stepping out of your front door was a huge risk because people were regularly gunned down in broad daylight. Things have changed though. Dramatically. Medellin is now a bustling metropolis, it has managed to reinvent itself as a tech hub and a center for innovation and science. Although Medellin is probably the most striking example, these changes are reflective of the transformation the entire country has undergone in the last two decades.

I stayed for a couple of days with the exuberant Manuel and Marta who run a Casa de Cyclistas in San Antonio de Prado just outside Medellin:

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Manuel and Marta’s Casa de Cyclista’s

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I believe in Colombia

After more than a year traversing the Andes, one final mountain separated me from Cartagena. Over two days I climbed 5,000 meters which then earned me a huge descent. Having left the mountains behind the final 300 miles at sea level were brutally hot. Midday temperatures rose to 40°C and with 90% humidity it made cycling very difficult. When it got too much I would take refuge from the sun and gulp down freshly squeezed juices that tasted like a small piece of heaven.

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Getting close

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A little piece of heaven

One afternoon my bike broke down and after an hour trying to fix it I gave up. I managed to flag down a passing jeep, the driver strapped my bike and bags to the roof and I squeezed inside with the other twelve passengers, lucky number thirteen. I got off at the next town but it was Easter Sunday and the bike shop was closed. Frustrated by the day’s events I began looking for somewhere to stay but my search proved fruitless. Eventually, as my last resort, I found myself at the police station hoping they would take me in.

After more than two years on the road I have learnt that when looking for a free place to camp the key is to find someone who takes an interest in helping you. So I knew I was onto a winner when officer Edwin Hoyos immediately came up to me and started chatting. After half an hour he had permission to let me to sleep inside the police station and kindly arranged for me to use the showers. In the morning he took me to the bike shop and helped me get my bike fixed and then bought me freshly made lemonade. It never ceases to amaze me that whenever I really needed some help (even if only a psychological boost) it always appears from somewhere. I set off again rejuvenated.

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Edwin and me

Having spent many months focused on reaching Cartagena it was surreal to actually do so. Climbing over a hill I finally saw the city that I had dreamed of for so long. I stood there just taking it all in, grinning like a fool. Slowly I made my way across the city but it’s so flat I didn’t see the ocean until I got to the beach. The last time I saw the Atlantic was on Tierra del Fuego some 8,000 miles south, where I began my journey in South America. I sat for a long time on the old city walls watching the ocean and re-living all that had happened since.

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Cartagena’s old city walls

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Second sight of the Atlantic in South America

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Cartagena old town

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Lovely knockers

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Palenquera – fruit basket ladies in Cartagena

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Interesting line-up

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End of the Road

End of the Road

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