Guatape is a wonderful little village with such a nice feel – it’s easy to spend a few days just to take it all in and if you’re thinking of visiting Colombia it’s definitely worth putting on your list!!
Skirting the city of Medellin is a mission in the heat and the smog is really thick – but Paul manages to find a magnificent scenic drive over a mountain and through a reserve – so eventually we get clear of the Saturday traffic and the fumes! It is a hard day’s riding but we encounter mountain roads with views of the farms and dense jungle, riding along river valley’s and then up again in to “coffee” country.
Our next stop is Salento – a charming and very popular traditional coffee town nestled in the foothills of the Andes.
We head down to the Valle de Cocora – a lovely early morning ride on a beautiful winding road which runs along a rocky river through a lush, green valley.
The main attraction here are the wax palms – which grow exclusively in this high-altitude valley and are the tallest species of palm in the world (up to 60m high). Colombia has made them the “national tree” and tourists and locals flock to the valley to see them.
The weekends are huge for Salento and the “tourists” are predominantly locals – packing in to the main street which is flanked by interesting artisan shops, galleries, bars, cafes and restaurants – with the residents looking down on it all from their little balconies.
After Salento we come into the Cauca River valley where it starts to flatten out and becomes sugar cane plantations – and the small towns are suddenly populated by “black” people. Cane has been grown in this area since the 16th century using African slaves because they were able to withstand the harsh working conditions – with much of the crop still harvested the old-fasioned manual way.
We have a look around the centre of Popayan city – where all the buildings in the historical area are “white” with black trims.
The road south becomes high mountains again – which look so tactile – like a soft green velvet has been placed over all the creases and folds! We are used to the traffic now and boldly “pass” trucks and slower vehicles – enjoying the special “free” lanes for motos at the toll gates – and waving to the military who are lining a lot of the roads giving a “thumbs-up” to all motorists!
We swing past the city of Pasto on a magnificent by-pass road and the view suddenly changes to farming lots – all bordered with trees like a patchwork quilt.
Then Colombia gives us her going-away present – the unique church at Ipiales – which was built on the bridge spanning the river gorge around one hundred years ago to commemorate the appearance of the Virgin!
We head for the border and say farewell to Colombia…
We enter Ecuador at altitude and the air is fresh and clean – food is very cheap and the topiary trees at the Tulcan Cemetery attract our attention!
The road south is breathtaking – with the appearance of the Cayambe Volcano coming in and out of our view like a “guardian” – as we sweep through the stunning, rural landscape.
And there it is – the GPS is reading 00 00′ 00″ – BikesnBeers has reached the Southern Hemisphere!!
We are already at an altitude of just under 3,000m when we take Highway 30 from Latacunga and it takes us up again to 4,000m – a highly rateable road with a magic surface and awesome twisties for 150 kilometres! Most of the people here farm the mountain slopes and valleys, herding sheep and llamas and growing their crops on the patchwork of steep, windswept fields.
When you’re in Colombia you have to try arepa – they serve them with everything (like Central America does with tortillas)! I’m not a huge fan – they are made with maize, are somewhat bland and tend to go very hard about three minutes after they come off the heat! But if you seek out a street vendor cooking ones that have the magic soft, white cheese in them – you are in for a wonderful treat! They serve it on a little disposable plate with a plastic fork and the cheese oozes everywhere – all for around fifty cents!
On Two Wheels
We meet Patrice on our first day on the road in Ecuador – a Frenchman, living in Colombia – heading for Peru to meet a mate and ride to Ushuaia at the bottom of the continent! His set-up is very “fine-tuned” after many overland trips.
Tip of the Day
If you’re coming to Salento in Colombia, it’s a good idea to wear clothes that just “blend in” with the surroundings…
Story of the Week
We cross in to Ecuador on the 27th January – it’s a bit more money than our normal budget but we’ve decided to treat ourselves for our 37th wedding anniversary – a cruise around the Galapagos Islands…
You can read more about our boat here.