From Colombian Lowlands To Andean Toes

Our tent is now pitched at the Colombian Highlands Hostel in the colonial town of Villa de Leyva at around 2200m (7200ft) above sea level. It is around 18 degrees Celsius and we are both wearing jumpers. You could compare it to a cool spring day in the UK, especially now that it has started to rain.

However, the Colombian lowlands are another story … or perhaps you could say, another country. The ride from Mompox to Bucaramanga was diabolically sweltering, hotter the Oaxacan coast of Mexico. Still, it was not short of adventure and it only made us appreciate the cool climate of highlands a whole lot more. When we finally completed the blistering 1400 meter climb up to Zapatoca, we remembered why we will prefer to stay high in the mountains.

Since escaping the blazing inferno of Bolívar, we have finally started tickling the toes of the Andes. We’ve dusted off our merino jumpers, trousers and rain jackets and even started using our sleeping bags again. In the absence of our daily steam bath, we have halved both our daily water intake and weekly laundry.

We’ve been reminded of the extent to which climate and terrain has a profound impact our level of enjoyment. Getting back into the mountains has recalibrated our general enthusiasm and reminded us why we love bicycle touring.

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The roads around Mompox always need attention due to the frequent flooding.

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A local showed us a ‘shortcut’ through the riverside settlement of Guamal.

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A surrealistically steep bridge across the Magdalena connects Mompox to El Banco.

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Some women were cooking a roadside sopita and had massive PA system blaring to let the locals know it was ready…

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… we couldn’t resist sampling their efforts, but our eardrums paid the price. The niños didn’t seem to notice the high decibel levels.

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We defrosted with some air-con in El Banco before crossing old Maggy once again on our way back to the speeding inferno (Carretera 45).

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When the water level rises around here, it’s often necessary to do some intermittent canoe hopping to get around.

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However, we were passing through during a dry spell, which meant a lot of dust. Our ciclisto bandito method was effective, but it’s no wonder we spent some time at the military checkpoint.

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Cycling in the lowlands of Colombia is diabolically hot, but sometimes we find a little shade which makes all the difference.

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We came across two iguanas mating. The female was startled and ran in front of Lars’ wheel. He accidentally ran over her tail, but after inspection she seemed fit to resume her previous activities.

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We stopped for a few cold refrescos and began chatting with these locals. Whilst we were distracted, a cheeky cow was eating a bag of pastries which was hanging off Lars’ bike.

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Colombia has some absolutely massive avocados, but we’ve found that bigger is not always better; the smaller varieties pack a lot more flavour.

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Staying hydrated in the lowlands is a constant battle. We scored a massive watermelon and shared it with some niños who had just escaped class.


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Although Bucaramanga wasn’t really to our taste, we did enjoy this quirky Christmas light expo made from old plastic bottles.

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We would take the quiet colonial streets of neighbouring Girón over the bustle of Buca any day.

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From Girón, we set off towards Zapatoca…

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… but first we had to cross the raging Sogamoso river in blistering heat at around 300m.

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Can you spot me coasting into the inferno?

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We fueled up at the bridge before starting the 1400m climb.

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Like many before, Lars mounted the magic yellow Renault 4 which seems to have fallen from the sky many years ago.

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A little over halfway up the climb, we get a view of the intestinal trail below us.

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Completing a big climb in the heat requires lots of water. We stopped at this school to microfilter another 6 litres.

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