After a couple of weeks of moderate efforts at sightseeing in Bogota and a few bike repairs, it was time to head on. This time I was able to share the road with Javier, my warmshowers.com host. As with all cities some areas are best avoided but fortunately I was able to switch off and follow Javier’s back wheel mindlessly as we took short cuts through the back streets. We weaved in and out of streets dense with people and traffic heading in random directions for two or three hours and it was somewhat of a relief once we surfaced on the other side in the suburbial town of Soacha.
Initiially, Javier was to join me for two or three days but the temptation to continue was too great; we ended up cycling together for over two weeks as far as Gigante in Huila before he headed back. Our adventure took us down various twists and turns as we followed the back roads into the hot foothills of the Cordillera Oriental. Although our route was possibly three or four times longer than the main highway and infinitely more climbing, it was great cycle touring zig zagging our way through stunning Colombian countryside.
We passed infinite coffee plantations, were forced to dance and drink beer all day at a random 50th birthday party in Lozania, took four boat crossings, suffered the evening attacks of the dreaded jejenes (perhaps less abundant when the climate is drier), Javier suffered two puncture blowouts on steep fast descents, we enjoyed the mountain climbs and the deserts of Tatacoa where I saw the rings of Saturn in an obvservatory, and were welcomed into many farms where we’d pitch our (separate) tents.
With the recent return in FARC guerilla activity in Colombia (such as the recent and bewildering environmental damage caused by the oil pipeline attacks in Putumayo, near the border of Ecuador) and complications to the peace agreements, there was initial concern as to whether taking to the back roads was a good idea. I’m now writing having now cycled most of the country and my belief is that, as always, the traffic on the main roads are by far the most dangerous thing to a cyclist. I had mixed advice from locals some believing that since I was a foreigner I was at higher risk of attack. Then others would say that I’d be of absolutely no interest since I’m not a political figure (yet) and don’t work for an engineering company (for example).
Starting out with what may be potentially be regarded as honourable intentions many years ago I’m told that FARC activity gradually morphed into more delinquent type behaviour and their initial purpose has now been lost (this is just what I’ve been told). However, I understand they now mainly fund their activities through drug trafficking so kidnapping tourists is not on their list. But it’s hard to say what the risks really are with no hard facts easy to hand. Wanting to be prudent yet at the same time experience the enjoyment of back country touring, the sensible thing was to ask the current situations in each town and avoid notorious areas. There are definitely large areas that are totally fine (ten or fifteen years back this wouldn’t have been the case) and there were only two routes which we diverted ourselves from. Although painful decisions at the time, the alternatives we took were great riding anyway.
I’ve split the videos into two and will post the second in a following post, here is the first:
After getting to Soacha, we headed to La Mesa but turned off before Santandercito towards La Victoria (I think it was called) after descending from the canyon with the impressive waterfall. We then passed through San Gabriel before taking the mountain road up and over and then back down to Nilo. After that we headed through Carmen de Apicalá, camped at a Balneario just before Cunday, then headed through Cunday and onto Valencia. At Valencia there is the option to stay high and head up to Tres Esquinas and Villa Esperenza staying on the east side of Lake Prado. We chose instead to head to Lozania which results in a compulsory and rarely taken lake/river crossing although the high route would probably be interesting too. After Lozania we arranged for someone to row us across two stretches of water (a lake and then a river) before cycling some up single track that eventually turns into a forest 4×4 trail. Then we turned left onto the road to Purficación and climbed up to witness spectacular views of the extensive planes of Rio Magdalena. From the Cordillera Oriental, we could see the Cordillera Central in the distance. To be continued…