Sunday, 23 July 2017

Cycling from San Agustin to Pasto

One thing has definitely occured to me the past week of cycling. The main issue hasn't really been meeting up with the couple from Switzerland. It has been actually keeping up with them! From San Agustin down to Pitalito and later San Juan de Villalobos it wasn't too bad as there weren't many continuous climbs. It was pretty flat all the way and any ascents were generally just for 10-15mins. In fact, we covered about 65km on both days. When you consider that our bikes weigh around 50 kilograms, and we're on 26"wheels, it really isn't too bad! I also got some pointers on how the Ibera rack could be fixed in a more optimum position, where the load was mounted directly above the rear axle, which really made a difference in the stability of the bike! While in Pitalito, we stayed in a farm which belonged to a friend of the policeman, Miller, who worked in Villavieja. Turns out Miller also lived in Pitalito and was off work and so we met up for lunch at his house before going to the farm.

All 3 bikes!
Re-attaching the Ibera Rack
Even from Pitalito to San Juan del Villalobos, before the last 30km, I was almost left behind by the Swiss coupe as there was just nonstop climbing and I tried initially to grab a lift from a camioneta to meet them at San Juan de Villalobos. Unfortunately, none of the drivers seem willing to stop and pick up anyone. I ended up walking the bike about 4km to the top of the mountain. Fortunately the rest of the way was downhill and I made pretty good time, one of the benefits of having a bike that's pretty much the same weight as myself, reaching San Juan de Villalobos at 615pm. While buying groceries at small shop, we were also invited to have tinto (coffee) the following morning before we set off.
Really friendly people in the town of San Juan de Villalobos
Looks like the oil industry is still going in Colombia!
Trout farm on the way to Mocoa
At the end of every descent there is always a climb. Always nice to take a break midway!
Sometimes you got to get out of the way of bulls unless you want to get gored!
We were really lucky after reaching Mocoa too! Originally, on the map application MapsMe, we saw that there were 4 possible camping sites. But after going to the first one, we realised that it wasn't actually possible to camp there. Maybe many years ago someone had been able to but the security guards at the first site, ITP, were not going to let us camp. We were going to look for a hospedaje however, MAtin asked a local cyclist if he knew any location where we could camp and he brought us to William, a Couchsurfing host and english teacher, who gladly let us stay the night and use the shower too!
Beer is like liquid energy!

Pasta tonight.

When balance is crap, you always end up with chain grease. not just on the right leg but also on the left!
After Mocoa was were it really got tough. We were on the road know as Trampolin de la Muerte (One of the most dangerous roads in the world). Our host in Mocoa said it was probably suicidal too. This was a 3 day journey and on the 2nd day, I only covered 18km over the 8 hours of cycling. Crazy right... I have clocked over 50km/hr on downhills and even on earlier days, I generally averaged above 15km/h so I was really surprised when I checked my bike computer and found out my mileage for the day. I think if the Swiss couple were not with me, they might have been able to cover it in a day instead of the two we took. I had been told previously that it was more tiring to push the bike than to cycle on it, and this was really apparent on the Trampolin de la Muerte. An all gravel road and only ascending, with my street tires, sometimes I couldn't even push the bike along! Even peddling on the smallest inclines was a chore for me and I was on the lowest possible gear the entire time. We ended up staying the night at El Mirador. The police officer in charge of the station there was really friendly and arranged for us to sleep in an abandoned building which was a boon. None of us really wanted to set up a tent in the rain!
Run in with a chicken. Many feathers not pictured -.-"
Asked a store keeper what the rest of the road was like and he said it was good. Right.........
Spent the night in the school compound in the town of La Tebaida.
Used my filter as what came out of the tap was still yellowish even after a few minutes of flow.
Foggy on almost all of the past cycling days. At least no rain yet.
Gravel roads, rain and climbing mountains! Life doesn't get better!

Small break in the rain and an opportunity to see a smudge of blue sky.
Home for the night in El Mirador.
One of many water crossings.
On the third day, we made a push for Sibundoy. This was also another 2 climbs with a large descent in between before reaching San Francisco and then a short leg to Sibundoy. I cheated though, after the first climb and a hellish descent in the rain, I checked the map and realised that the 2nd climb was was almost 15km long and also a large climb and so I made the decision to take a camioneta from the restaurant "Los Cristales" where we had taken shelter from the rain when it got heavier straight to Sibundoy. Coincidentally there was a Colombian cyclist in the same camioneta which I managed to board. Even in a camioneta, it was still a 1.5hr ride before Sibundoy. I ended up spending most of the afternoon trying to locate the warm shower host we were planning to stay with though. And I think it was the right decision as Martin and Sabine only reached Sibundoy at 8pm. I reckon if I had tried to carry on, I would have only made it after 11pm if I was lucky.
Fellow cyclist from Colombia

5 day old brakes. Done in by the wet weather.
Anyway we ended up staying two nights at the house of our WarmShowers host, using the time to recuperate for the road to Pasto, which also entailed more climbing. I guess when you're already in the Andes, it's to be expected! Sibundoy was a really tranquil town though. It's also here that we did what most bicycle tourist do on rest days. Absolutely nothing aside from eating and sleeping! I had 5 meals on the full day we had! 2 breakfasts which ended up being 5 arepas, popcorn, 2 agua panelas and a tinto, tea of cakes and strawberries and cream, a set lunch of trout, rice and salad and a light dinner of rice and potatoes in peanut sauce.

Fooling around in the cultural park

They do have some cool carvings

Tranquil beauty
It was a bit sad to leave Sibundoy and the amazing Aguillon Chindoy family we stayed in but we had to make our way onwards. Before Pasto, we'd planned to make a stop at Laguna de la Cocha. Even though it was only about 30km and on paved roads, I guess my legs were still not used to the cycling lifestye and after about 5km of climbing, I lagged behind.. At least I wasn't too far behind. I reached the agreed meeting site about 25mins later. But i'm pretty sure that they had a lot of stops for photos and snacks whereas I stopped often as my legs just could not keep peddling. The place really was amazing, just that for some reason weather was not with us and shortly after we had set up our tents, it started raining and continued to do so until Pasto. We scrapped our original plan to visit the island in the lake as well as with the rain it probably would not have been worth it.
Much needed break as we climb up to 3km above sea level

View of the lake while descending

More than 500g of pasta because we are hungry

View from hotel Jardin del lago

Viewpoint just before reaching the top and descending to Pasto

Cuy (guinea pig)

Carrera 40 in Pasto is where all the restaurants serving Cuy can be found.
Mileage so far up to Pasto.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Onebear cycles now too! First 150km on the bike!

For those who haven't realised yet, I've bought myself a bicycle in Cali, Colombia about a week ago and intend to use it to get to Ushuaia in Argentina. Got hit by the cycling fever in Colombia and decided to join in too! Considering I've never done anything more than the occasional night cycling, this will be quite the challenge! Touring bicycles and associated accessories are pretty much non existent and so I ended up buying a really old Trek mountain bike to use instead of the Surly Disc Trucker I originally wanted. Having zero experience, I really wanted to catch up with a Swiss couple, Martin and Sabine, whom I'd met a fortnight earlier in Bogota who were also doing a bicycle tour along the PanAmerica down to Ushuaia. By the time I had bought my bicycle and had it all set up (at least I believed at that time the parts would last me until Quito, Ecuador), they were already a week and a half ahead if I had tried to catch up by cycling!! As such I decided to cut the distance by taking a bus to Neiva which was 500km away and easily a week of cycling to get to Tatacoa Desert which they were at the last time i managed to contact them. I have to say Colombians are really friendly and pro-cycling too! While making my maiden journey on my overloaded bike to the bus terminal, a cyclist chatted with me and then decided to show me the best way to get to the terminal. Definitely a boon considering that my bicycle when fully loaded with my belongings weighs about 50kg with over 30kg of that on the back wheel which makes my bike really really imbalanced!
All ready to roll out of Cali!

Andre, the friendly cyclist from Cali, Colombia.
After getting of the bus and getting my gear set up at the Neiva bus terminal it was all systems green to get to Tatacoa Desert. Being a Sunday, there was also a lot less cars for my maiden journey on the bicycle! Just a short 48km which really is easier said then done. I ended up only reaching the entrance to Tatacoa after 4.5hours including a lunch break.
1hr 20mins is only if you're driving.
Of course Murphy's Law would have to be present on my very first journey on my bike and I had a leak in my rear wheel tube before I even got onto the road between Villaveija and Tatacoa. Being a Sunday, the bike shop was closed and having made the assumption my bike would not fall apart til i was in Ecuador where parts were supposedly cheaper, I didn't actually have any spares. Fortunately, a police officer was on hand to help me out. Turns out he was an avid biker as well and had met the Swiss couple I was trying to catch, they had left three days before I arrived! He gave me a lot of help in getting the bike usable including using the patch from his own spare kit when the one I bought didn't work.

Miller Correa helping me check where the leak was.
Anyway after I got it sorted, I picked up my bags from Hotel Dunas, where the friendly owners had offered me a drink and a banana and also topped up my water bottles, and carried on to the actual desert. For those who are planning to cycle just be warned though, there is a lot more climbing than descending... But it is all worth it for the amazing views

There are 2 trails which you can walk along. El Cusco which is near the observatory and Los Hoyos which is 9km further along. I was totally beat after making it to Tatacoa plus walking around Sendero del Cusco and after realising that it was cloudy that first night, and that there was no water pressure in the showers, I just went straight to sleep. Got up early the next morning and cycled to Los Hoyos as I really wanted to beat the sun and chill in the shade in the afternoon. The views were likewise amazing. But as I noticed that it was still cloudy, I decided that there was no point staying a second night as originally planned since it would likely remain cloudy at night and there would be no view of the stars. So in the afternoon, I decided to head back to Neiva to catch a bus to San Agustin, which I knew the Swiss couple were heading to, and try and get the bare minimum spares for my bicycle too.
I ended up changing both tires as well as the front and rear shifters in addition to the tube and patches which I'd originally wanted. Being the cheapskate I was I asked the owner if he had reconditioned derailleurs. Something I'll never ever do again as it lasted me a grand total of 5km before dying in a different part of Colombia.
Servicing on day 2 of my bike trip

Dead derailleur on day 3 morning. 

Getting a brand new derailleur this time.
Currently I'm still in San Agustin so I haven't really had a chance to work out if the new setup is good but I'll find out tomorrow when I head from San Agustin to Pitalito!
Stay tuned for more adventures!