Photo by Lee Vilinsky.
When I was growing up I was told “Go west, young man” and that ended up shaping my life, so far. It still holds true here in Argentina and Chile; a week of going south in Argentina is enough of dusty desert riding and so the bike gets pointed west back towards Chile. There’s a thin road on the maps leading up into the Andes, promising another low traffic dirt pass: Paso Pichachen.
First say goodbye to Lee, traditional cyclist farewell involves two rounds of bakery-bought cake, dulce de leche permeated sweetness. Lee continues south, bound to a tighter deadline for wrapping up his tour. The end of my trip is coming, but there’s still a bit of time left.
Set off solo again, probably for the last time on this journey. A meet-up with Paul is scheduled when he finishes riding in northern Chile and Argentina. But for now it’s just Ace and me on the road, a return to mental contemplation accompanied by legs pumping up and down, over and over. It’s far enough south that the sun comes up early and sets late, and these are the best days to let thoughts swirl however they may.
There was a brief stint of riding in northern Chile. Then there was a jump ahead to go spend the holidays with a friend from home and her family. It’s been a while on the road, and the end looms near. Being able to spend time welcomed and treated as part of a family, incredible. Thank you.
We have alternative extended families in other cyclists, effectively. The cyclist network connects more or less all of us now. So many of us are looking at calendars and it’s been 1 year, 2 years, maybe more that we’ve been on the road. Slowly we meet each other, slowly word gets passed around of who else is nearby or rode through in the past few months. Slowly the network grows. By the time we get to central Chile and Argentina, we all know each other one way or another.
Equator crossing achieved, few days south of the Ecuador-Colombian border. It’s hard to miss, going south along the Panamerican highway just look for the giant orange pole sticking out of the ground. Since entering Ecuador, rode out on the first stretch of non-highway routes south to Tumbaco and the Casa de Ciclistas at Santiago’s house, just outside of Quito. One night of food poisoning en route, and the rest of the last week has been resting, recovering, cleaning everything.
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.
Off the boat at Turbo and rolling. No waiting around, this is the start of South America, continent #2, chapter 3. The Andes are calling mountain promise, but first a few more days biking across banana tree flatlands. Then up over the first cordillera branch to Medellin and the Casa de Ciclistas there. Meet 7 other traveling cyclists resting there. 4 of us leave together, but the other 3 headed straight for Ecuador, me to Bogotá. More on that next. Here the first set of photos from this fantastic country.