Part Thirty Six – Leaving Colombia

It is with a heavy heart that I now bid a fond adios to Colombia. I’ve tarried here far longer than originally planned, but somehow even before arriving suspected that this place would be as beguiling as it has turned out. Oh, there are of course the lovely ladies, and the women folk are also something very special indeed. Throw in a good smattering of charming colonial cities, lush pretty countryside and people who are helpful, friendly, relaxed and engaging then you really couldn’t wish for much more in a country. Not to mention the good cycling road shoulder, serious cyclists out on the roads and traffic that is, in the main, courteous. However, as I leave, I am still left with some serious questions:

Why is it that no cheap Colombian hotels have shower-heads?

Why is it that people put pineapple (and in Pasto, even marmalade!!) on pizzas?

Why don’t more people appreciate my salsa?

Why is it that in the local music videos the farm boy crooners strut their beer guts while local scrubbers wave their voluminous posteriors about the place and this is considered good?

Why does no one here appreciate that never has a banana been improved by frying it?

Caution – Footballers on road
Central Popayan

Popayan is a cracker of a little city with a huge collection of white-painted colonial buildings around the city centre. It is a modern sophisticated place (being a hardcore cycling adventurer I know sophistication when I see it). As such it sports a large number of museums and galleries and the local people seem to have perfected the art of looking at truly average art works and pretending to see something of value in them where no such value exists – a skill I have never really mastered.

Popayan Doorway
High Road on the way to Pasto
Cycling Fuel of Colombia – note banana
Lovely oily potato soup
Orange drink stalls like this one are a god-send half way up a big hill

South of Popayan

I’ll miss this place very much as I head south into the high Andes. I just bought a map of South America and I am usually a great lover of maps. This one, however, has me a little perturbed in that the road south is still very long indeed and a lot of it runs through the centre of the brown and white that denotes huge elevations. This is a double-edged sword in a way; the Andes of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Chile are both daunting and enticing at the same time. I do enjoy a good climb in a masochistic sort of a way – it’s just that it looks on this map like they go on forever! Over 4,000 meters in places it is as high as the Tibetan plateau and unlike a plateau the rises and dips appear unceasing up to Bolivia where the salt plains might be a respite.

I must add to this post (again, in the near-constant pursuit of self-glorification) that your most humble correspondent has now become the pin-up boy for custom made bicycle manufacturing. Yes, out go the scantily clad, shock absorber fondling busty scrubbers in barely visible swim suits  and in comes your T-shirt clad correspondent sitting on his arse next to his bike! I balked (this time) at the idea of a series of nudes, but what the hell – if the coming Andes steel-up the buns sufficiently I might reconsider, I just hope that the good folk at Co-Motion Cycles will be able to handle the influx of orders!

It also appears that cycling fame is short lived in this day and age. The spike in hits on my site that sent me into such excitement has come crashing back down to earth, my ego along with it. Might just have to write another article for the newspaper. Regardless, it is for you my loyal clickers that I toil away week in week out bringing you these rare insights into the world of bicycle touring and the human condition.

Part Thirty Five – Southern Colombia

Statue in the old centre of Bogota

15th May (Medellin – La Pintada (75km)

16th May (La Pintada – Truck Stop) (98km)

17th May (Truck Stop – Zarzal) (111km)

18th May (Zarzal – Cali) (131km)

Finally managed to extricate myself from the comforts of Medellin after two weeks of redefining what it is to dance the salsa. Am now back on the road heading south with a renewed vigor and an expanded girth. It’s amazing just how much condition you can lose with just a couple of weeks of excessive coffee, beer and pizza eating (conceivably age related? surely no). This and a bit of a cold made the nasty little climb out of town all the more difficult but then there was a flat run south to Cali over the following three days.

The Colombians continue to be a friendly bunch along the road. A guy on a motorbike pulling in alongside to offer up mangoes seems less odd than it did a few weeks ago. Medellin has a well deserved reputation for the friendliness of its people and the time that I spent mooching around the Parque Liares certainly reconfirmed this. I was also able to do a little side trip over to the thriving national capital, Bogota to visit Nick and Julianna for a couple of days and check the place out.

Colombia continues to be a treat to ride with a wide shoulder and lovely people and views along the way. Cali is a rough and ready city throbbing with salsa rhythms and a grimy understated charm. Its a great pit stop for a couple of days before heading into the mountains to the south. Am busily trying to lighten the load even more before spending whole days chugging up hillsides. The Schwalbe marathons are now fitted replacing the chinese jobbies that are now happily discarded

There is about 500km to the border with Ecuador and then a couple of day’s ride to the capital Quito, the next pit stop on the road south. The mountain roads that await in Ecuador and Peru will trace a path along the spine of the Andes that will I think be the toughest riding of the entire trip. The road in Ecuador will roll between 2,000km  and 3,000 metres in elevation while it gets all the better in Peru which will be between 3,000 and 4,000 metres. Should be interesting. On-on.

Top of the hill south of Medellin
When too much green is barely enough – the mountains of Colombia
Bogota Street Scene


Buff3y & Dali. Think this one is called, ‘Woman with bread stick on head’
Buff3y with a Miro in Medellin


Rock Falls aplenty along the road south of Medellin
A large number of birds

Fame At Last!

Well well!  Having previously joked about this blog being “the fastest growing bicycling blog on the web” (when in reality only my mum and a couple of people mistakenly looking for vampire slayers were logging in), I might now have to reassess.

With the publication of a little article on the trip in some of the Australian media (link above), buff3ysbicyclingblog has just gone completely viral! If people are actually going to look at this blog I might have to sharpen up my act a bit, i.e. get serious and take some of the less than polite language and commentary out of the postings. Or not.

To celebrate my belated (but, of course, much deserved) elevation to the realm of bicycle-touring and international media super-stardom, I’ve finished off a little video clip. Given that I’m now in Colombia, I gave it a bit of the Latin rhythm treatment. See link below.

Production: Bob ‘Buff3y’ Stanley

Camera: Bob ‘Buff3y’ Stanley

Editing: Bob ‘Buff3y’ Stanley

Gripping: Bob ‘Buff3y’ Stanley

Bicycle riding: Bob ‘Buff3y’ Stanley

Music: Fruko & Sus Tesos playing ‘El Caminante‘ from Historio Musical de Fruko 1 [L@tina Music]

Part Thirty Four – Medellin Salsamatic

I have received a number of notes expressing concern over the lack of postings in the last couple of weeks so this posting is to put your collective minds at rest. Please be assured that I am still alive and in Colombia having spent some time in Medellin.

Far from spending all of his time loafing around the many bars of Parque Lleras in the central restaurant / bar district throwing down endless shots of the local absinthe variant and beer chasers,  [well, in truth doing a good bit of that]…your correspondent has also been working on his salsa moves. Now, it’s not easy for your average gringo to overcome a propensity to hop around the dance floor like some highly strung robot and slip into the Colombian salsa groove. This makes it all the more amazing that Buff3y was able to leap from the bicycle and onto the dance floor and in the process miraculously and instantaneously adopt the sensuous moves and sexily gyrating hips of a ‘Paisa‘ (a local of Medellin).

I was tempted not to post the footage of our dance class as it might raise the expectations of any prospective students to Baila-Latina to unreasonably high levels given that the salsa moves are so obviously groovy in the extreme. Yet Yamile seems somehow able to teach even the most incompetent tourist how to give it up on the dance floor.

Can’t remember the name of this maneuver but please don’t try this at home without strict supervision
With my infinitely patient Dance Instructor Yamile

Part Thirty Three – Northern Colombia

20th April (Cartagena – Maria de Baja) (75km)

21st April (Maria de Baja – San Onofre) (43km)

22nd April (San Orofre – Sincelejo) (60km)

23rd April (Sincelejo – Planeta Rica) (118km)

24th April (Planeta Rica – Caucasia) (67km)

Freshly squeezed orange juice reward at the top of the 2,200 metre climb

The road south of Cartagena is the beginning of the ride through South America. Its quite a thrill to be heading south on the final chunk of land for this trip, even though its not really a piddling chunk given that it will take a good few months to get all the way to the bottom. The ride towards Medellin is a pleasant flat run for the first 470km and then a big climb over 2,780 metres before the plunge into the valley to Medellin. The road is very good with a nice wide shoulder, not much traffic and people along the road side who are very friendly indeed. The little towns along the road provide all of the freshly squeezed orange juice and food (rice, beans and  beaten/tenderised to death steaks) that a touring cyclist could ask for. At Causacia I join the quickly flowing Rio Causa which I follow up-stream for a day before crossing at Valdivia for the huge mountain climb between here and Medellin. Caucasia is a pleasant town for the night with a bit of a rough edge from the mineral prospecting from the river silt so there is a definite army presence in town and a profusion of ore traders and pawn shops. The roadside scenery is lush and beautiful with rolling fields of cattle in what look like neat affluent country estates. As the road rises into the mountain range the scenery is lovely without being stunning but the towns become more and more beautiful as they cling onto the hillsides (especially Yarumal). The Colombians are laid back and engaging along the side of the road with little of the nauseating “hey Gringo!'” etc of most of Central America. People are very forgiving of my terrible Spanish and they persevere even when its pretty clear that I have little or no idea what is being said – i.e. most of the time.

Underestimating the strength of river flow erosion in Caucasia
Steep streets of Yarumal at 2,200 metres cling to the hillside
Passing time in Yarumal
New Florida?
Grandiose Hotel name - Hotel Universal

25th April (Caucasia – Valdivia) (106km)

26th April (Valdivia –  Varumal) (56km)

27th April (Varumal)

28th April (Varumal – Medellin) (125km)

A ride of 56km between Valdivia and Varumal doesn’t look like much of a riding day but this doesn’t tell the whole story as it also involved 2.2km elevation in pure climbing. This was quite an introduction to the big hills of South America. At 6 or 7km an hour the ride took all day, basically putting the bike in ‘granny gear’ and settling in to grind the mountain out.

Beyond Yarumal the road rises again to 2,780 metres before plunging through a long series of switch-back turns down through some absolutely gob-smackingly beautiful scenery to then follow the long valley into Medellin. Cooked all of the remaining brake pads on the way down so was just hanging on for the bottom of the hill at the end of the descent. About 15km out of Medellin the Gates belt drive (‘chain’) snapped but luckily I had a spare so managed to make it into the Zona Rosa district albeit in the dark and pouring rain through the last hour of the ride. The video is from the top of the hill. Although the role of the bouzouki in Colombian music is not something of which I was previously aware (its not too clear in the audio above the bloody ubiquitous accordion), I will research the introduction of this instrument into Colombia to confirm]. [*”Shut that bloody bouzouki up!” – Python]

Medellin is base camp for a week or so while I take in the nightlife around Zona Rosa and perfect the salsa and the Spanish skills. Just two blocks away from the square around which Zona Rosa pulsates (till 4am) I came across a lovely ‘Specialized‘ bike shop (the first serious top-end bike shop I’ve happened across on this trip for a long long time) sporting even more lovely good quality tires and a mechanic to give the bike a check up. The bike is therefore now enjoying some serious love and attention here in Medellin. After all that the bike and I have endured together thus far on the road south, it would seem remiss of me not to follow suit.

Hilltop town north of Medellin
Great Garden Feature
Lush countryside of Colombia
Kids hamming it up at the top of the hill (2,200 metres)

Part Thirty Two – Cartagena Colombia

Have now arrived in Colombia by sea from Panama and have decided to spend a week in Cartagena to rest and prepare for the coming road south. This city gets a post in its own right not only because it is a pit stop prior to taking on the rest of South America but it is also highly recommended for any to come here and sample the picture postcard streets of this beautiful city.

Am not whiling away the days merely taking photos of leafy balconies (along with the army of other clicking tourists here), but have signed up for some Spanish language and salsa classes (thankfully not simultaneously). After just two lessons I appear to have become the King of Salsa and can also freely converse in upward of 17 Spanish words. Much to my chagrin, due to the similarity in pronunciation of the Spanish word for ‘years’, phonetically ‘anyos’ and the English ‘anus’, I have come to the belated and embarrassing realisation that I have been proudly announcing to all and sundry along the cycling route that should I make it to the south of Chile that it will take me “one and a half bottom holes”.

The Meeting of the Americas has been in town bringing with it convoys of heads of state, road blocks and a clearing out of garbage bins and street carts. One bonus, however, has been the form of the security provided by Colombia that has included undoubtedly the most sexy instruments of state oppression of the unruly masses imaginable, personified by the unrelentingly cute Karinita and her riot police squady friends.

My little hotel in the old city has a coffee shop across the square and a pastry shop downstairs. Its going to be very difficult to drag myself away from this city but drag I must as all points south of this continent await.

Horse at Night

Picture selling Cartagena
House facades Cartagena

Historico Central Cartagena
Buff3y doing his bit for police /citizen relations
Karinita and Buff3y
Sexiest riot cops in the world
Church in Cartagena
Getsemani Cartagena
Watching Soccer Cartagena
Graffiti Getsemani - Resist Gentrification!
Graffiti Getsemani
Getsemani Cartagena
Graffiti in Getsemani
Cartagena Parrots
Door Knocker Cartagena

Part Thirty One – Sailing from Panama to Colombia

Bike strapped to catamaran

San Blas Islands lady
Kids on San Blas islands

The good ship ‘Fritz The Cat’ (a 15 metre sailing catamaran) provided the transport between the Panamanian port of Portobelo and Cartagena in Colombia. The trip was five days of sailing, the three of which were cruising through the idyllic San Blas Islands. After that it was a case of setting the course at 78 degrees east-nor-east and heading across the corner of The Caribbean for two days to the northern coast of Colombia. It was a lovely relaxing five days off the bike which is strapped to the deck collecting rust for the duration. I managed to make it to Cartagena without losing a lunch so happy with that. OK, the boat was a bit rough and ready and some of the peripheral equipment (eg. sails and motors) had a few performance issues along the way but the vessel is as tough as nails and everything was held together somehow by Fritz and his hard-working First-mate Jose. Photos of boat trip attached.

I’m now actually north of Panama but on the South American continent and will resume the ride south through Colombia and South America in about a week after a week or so sucking up the beauty of Cartagena (X number of photos of leafy wooden balconies and windows to follow).

Waves over the trampoline on cat
Colombian girl on Cat
The crew sleeping in the Saloon of 'Fritz The Cat'

San Blas Islands
Captain Buff3y takes control
Captain Fritz coming aboard
Snoozing post lunch - Pots of beany stuff were delicious
Modeling on Cat