COLOMBIA, 15th-18th June 2019
We had been hoping to awake and see more clouds in the sky, but once again there was bright sunshine. We consequently remained in our air-conditioned hotel room in Plato throughout the morning and even debated staying another night, until Dea discovered that there should be another hotel in Cordoba, 35 kilometres along our route, and we decided to make a dash for it.
Our fears were mostly unfounded, for there was a bit of a breeze and the sun didn’t feel as hot as the previous days. We started by crossing over the still-incredibly-wide Magdalena River on a long bridge, and then heading south on the western bank to Zambrano. This little village had a typically nice atmosphere and we enjoyed ice creams from a shop, where I ended up also buying a new T-shirt and shorts.
Beyond Zambrano the road was paved but there was almost no traffic, and it made for some lovely cycling. The lush green landscape looked a little more untamed here. We’d been seeing quite a lot of small wildlife along the way in Colombia so far, including a variety of birds and butterflies, and millipedes that ran across the road, but on this road it was another road-crossing creature that caught our eye. It was a walking stick, according to Dea, otherwise known as a stick insect, the biggest I’d ever seen. We watched it for a while as it did its best to blend into the undergrowth and then we left it to its sticky ways.
As we neared our destination three road cyclists came past and one slowed to chat with us. He asked where we were going and we told him Cordoba, and he told us to go straight ahead. Then he wanted to know where else we were going, and Dea told him Buenos Aires. This threw him a bit, for it seemed like he very much wanted to give us directions to there too, but he gave up the idea after a few moments of stuttering confusion, and rode off wishing us good luck.
We reached Cordoba and cycled the streets looking for a hotel. There were fewer men about on the streets than usual, and loud television sets playing everywhere with people glued to them. We would later find out this was because Colombia were playing Argentina in the opening fixture of South America’s football tournament, Copa America (And after I’d promised Dea the football season was over for a couple of months!) As a result we had to ask a little old lady if she knew where we could find a hotel. Bizarrely she pointed at the building that was right next to us, which happened to be all boarded up and surely not occupied. It certainly wasn’t a hotel. Still, she walked us around the side and pointed at a door with a boarded up window. “I think this lady is crazy,” I said, “maybe this place was a hotel 20 years ago.” “I don’t want to sleep in there,” Dea agreed.
So we tried asking a group of people that were sitting outside a house across the street if they knew of an actual hotel, and to our surprise they too all pointed at the boarded up building. Well, they couldn’t all be wrong, so we went back and at that moment a woman came out from behind the door, and said that it was indeed a hotel. We thought it couldn’t hurt to take a look, and she showed us into another small building across the street, in which were some surprisingly nice rooms. Okay, there was no door on the toilet, but there was air-conditioning, and we were sold.
We sat and cooked our dinner on a little veranda/step out the front. It was so nice, for we were doing like the Colombians, sitting in the street and watching the world go by. The world in this case was a lone hungry dog, everyone else was watching the football, but even so, it was nice.
The next day we left unusually early, for we wanted to get to Since, a bigger town that was 70 kilometres away, and had hotels. It was neither easy nor comfortable to camp with the heat and the mosquitoes, and the fact that air-conditioned hotels were available relatively cheaply meant we now planned to stay in them as much as possible until we got higher up.
The tarmac disappeared again but it was still great cycling on quiet roads through the Colombian countryside. We only saw one car for most of the day. It was struggling to make progress on the bumpy road, but the driver got out and flagged us to a stop. He was an old man who could speak a few words of English, and after asking about our journey and giving us water he invited us in to see his farm.
We were still hoping to make it to Since, but after thinking about it for a moment we decided that we really had to make time for things like this. We followed the car in through a gate and up a steep track across a field. This field had many cows in it, I know because for some reason they began to follow me, some might even say chase me, up the hill. Luckily they were harmless, and we arrived at the farmhouse to be greeted by a whole family of people. As I understood it, the finca, as these farms are known, belonged to Gerrard, the man who’d invited us, but this family looked after it for him.
We were invited to sit in a nice shaded area and relax. We chatted with Gerrard and found out that there were a total of some 200 heads of cattle on the finca. We’d been seeing cows everywhere all through Colombia, so such numbers were no surprise. We were soon offered lunch, and were brought out a plate of boiled yucca and potatoes, with a homemade cream, and fried eggs laid by the nearby chickens. It was a really nice gesture by these kind people, very much appreciated.
Just as I was getting comfortable and enjoying relaxing Gerrard suggested we get moving again, hopefully because he remembered me saying we were keen to make it to Since before the end of the day, rather than just because he wanted to get rid of us.
It was now very hot, and when we arrived in the town of Buenavista an hour or so later and sat and had an ice cream there was a noticeable lack of enthusiasm for continuing to ride the 25 kilometres that still separated us from Since. We asked the store owner if there was a hotel here in this town, and when he said that there was, all hopes of making it to Since were gone.
We got a good rest in this air-conditioned hotel, and then left around midday the next day. We were only planning to ride the 25 kilometres to Since, and for me it was an enjoyable, pleasant ride. I was feeling much stronger and healthier these days, absolutely loving cycle touring again. Dea, however, found things a little tougher in the extreme heat that was still haunting us. The rainy season appeared to have come to an end, and our only hopes of cooling down now were to get to the mountains, or, in the short term, to another air-conditioned hotel room.
Along the way we took a long break in a village named Granada, where we sat and ate in a park and watched the people. Like everywhere we’d been in Colombia there was a nice atmosphere and aside from the heat this was proving to be a fantastic country.
Upon our arrival in Since, full name San Luis de Since, we made our way to the central plaza. It was a busy one, with lots of people sitting about, some kids kicking a football around, a few little stalls selling things. At one of these we procured some delicious banana milkshakes, freshly made for 50 pence, and relaxed for a bit before heading to, yes, you’ve guessed it, another air-conditioned hotel room.
The following morning, this morning actually, we faced another day of bright sunshine. The next stretch was a little more remote, the next hotel 110 kilometres away. We couldn’t quite bring ourselves to leave. This air-conditioned hotel room really is rather pleasant though.