Colombia, 2: Medellin to Bogotá.

Medellin to Bogotá, via La Ceja, Sonsón, Nariño, Aguas Termales de Espiritu Santo, Florencia, La Dorado.

Into the Cordillera Central. Geographically, Medellin is a sprawling valley trap. You climb to get there, you climb to leave. Better start getting used to the 1000m ascents. Lowest gear spinning gives you plenty of time to appreciate the sky (it’s getting closer!) and work on your Spanish proverb practice. Once in the mountains themselves, settlements become farther apart. Small farms- fincas- dominate the landscape, herding cattle or growing fruits and vegetables. The latter get washed right next to the road, wherever a small stream comes out of the mountainside, then packed into burlap sacks. The farmers are universally friendly, waving or shouting encouragement or inviting you in for aqua de panela, hot sugar cane juice, they claim it’s the secret to the Colombian cyclists’ success. Colombians took 1st and 2nd in the Giro d’Italia this year, did you know? I love this country.

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Mountain town layout puts the square at the foot of the church. To find, just look for the steeples. If there are several hospedajes (cheap guesthouses), the most expensive are at the square, the cheaper ones a few blocks out. If there’s only one, it’s at the square. Rooms include a bed and maybe a private bathroom, price $5-8. In town, faded stone bricks and concrete grounds lead to whitewashed houses, framed by color, separating each from its neighbor. Every town has at least one bakery, flaky pastry prepared perfectly.

image Central square, Sonsón.

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image If you’re lucky, there’s even space to walk past your bike once it’s in the room.

image Apparently you brush your horse’s teeth in town.

image The staple Colombian bandeja. Comes full of your choice of meat, plus rice, beans or lentils, salad, plantains, avocado or arepa or maybe even something else.

image Nariño.

image Florencia.

Past Nariño, here it gets interesting. The asphalt road gets replaced by more or less one long rock garden, 12km descending to the hot springs Espiritu Santo, by which point a warm soaking is a welcome relief from bouncing down to the bottom of the valley. Just rest well, because now you have to climb back out, ~35km to Florencia. The dirt continues past Florencia for a ways, then back to asphalt, but essentially you descend from Florencia down to the plain before climbing up to Bogotá. 500m above sea level is quite warm, above 1500m is cool, Bogotá everyone says is very cold (sometimes true), but going from one temperature range to another in the same day is very common so who knows where you’ll end up.

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image Elevation profile, reference guide: starts at Medellin. Nariño is more or less the highest point, ~km120, unpaved and rocky from there until Florencia (peak at ~km160). Asphalt returns at more or less km180. Ends at Bogotá; all along that last prolonged climb are plenty of fruit stalls and all kinds of sugar cane products to keep up energy levels.

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