(121) Serenity in Salento
After an incredible start to Columbia I was now off to Cali which in the 70’s was one of the most dangerous cities in the world but now little of that remains and I had only heard goo things about the city. It was time to head north and find out. Then on to the coffee region in central Columbia where I have been told is one of the most beautiful places in Columbia.
Saturday 5th Sept
With the room being so hot it took a while to sleep and a little longer to drag myself out of bed the next morning. Being around 90 miles to Cali I planned on it taking a day and a bit to reach the city but starting early would give me a better chance if the roads were good to make it in a day. Although I had only been in the town for half a day it had felt like a rest and I was ready to go.
It was easy navigating out of the town and was soon on the Pan American highway. Knowing how listening to music had helped me pace myself I put on some tunes and started to push away at the peddles. The difference in the scenery was incredible as I lost so much of the feeling of being in the wilds. I was on a busy highway and knew it. Drivers were kind and every army checkpoint I was waved at and also allowed to take photos of their cool trucks which would have been fun to drive.
As each hour when past I could see I was averaging around 12-13mph allowing me to stop for a short break to grab a drink and an icecream. The road was good with no pot holes and the odd down hill over a river passing yet another military check point and up the other side. By the time it was 1.30 I had covered 50 miles and was feeling strong. I stopped to eat dinner which I needed but not wanting to stop to long I got back on the road and got my head down.
This was a wooden sugarcane press with an old Columbian bus ready to pull out
After another hour I was passed by a huge sugarcane truck that was going at 20 mph and so with the road being flat and it now blocking the slight headwind I sat behind it ticking away the miles.
Although my view was now the back of a trailer I didn’t mind as I was well within reach of Cali for the day and was so pleased I was making such good progress. After an hour the truck slowed and I was back on my own and in the wind but at least I had the views back.
The view over the cane fields towards the mountains
Always good to see a Massey Ferguson hard at work
Still averaging 15mph I pushed on towards Cali which I knew was a big city. I reached the outskirts by 3pm and. Started to make my way to the centre. The traffic was still moving ok but looking at where I needed to be it was going to take a while. Although I seemed to be on a main highway I seemed to be in a rough area of town with rubbish piled up on the streets and the sweet smell of rotting fruit. I stopped at some traffic lights which I always tried to avoid in bad areas but with the volume of traffic I had no choice. I was told by a guy I need to get out of the area as it was dangerous. I knew he meant it and I could feel it. I changed direction crossing a river and on to a busier highway which seemed to get better. A guy stopped on the verge holding out a huge cup of fruit salad for me. He had a kind face so I pulled over. It was incredible and so kind of him.
It was still really cold and unbelievably tasty
I stood for the next few minutes eating the most incredible fruit salad I have ever tasted. Feeling refreshed I set off again and was now getting close to the hostel. Knowing I was arriving in Cali in the next couple days I looked up hostels and picked one that looked nice. With it set in my phone I followed the roads until I arrived. The place was nice and checked into a dorm. I had covered 88 miles in eight and a half hours including stops and riding through the city. Having made it in one day was great and gave me a chance to see the centre tomorrow. For now though it was time to relax have a pizza and a cold beer.
Being Sunday I knew a few places would be closed but I wanted to have a look around the town to see the sights. I was joined by a guy from the south of Germany and we hit the streets to see what there was in the centre. We first came to a beautiful church which seemed like it had picked up from some magical land and dropped in the middle of some horrible tower blocks and an highway intersection.
It looked so odd where it was situated
As always it was stunning inside
We didn’t see much else of interest in the city so headed back
We wondered on and after a bit of looking we found one of the many squares but were disappointed. We looked around at each square but all looked really shabby with little in the way of old buildings or beauty. After looking around a while longer and the temperature getting almost unbearable we cut our loses and headed back to the hostel.
I had been told Cali was an amazing city but wasn’t told it was because of it’s night life and not it’s sites. Keen to head north I sorted my things out for the rest of the afternoon and relaxed. my next stop was Armenia and the coffee plantations. I had been told it was one of the prettiest places in Columbia and keen to take a look. With it being a long way to Armenia I wasn’t sure where I would stop but getting food early and having an early night would only help.
Monday 7th Sept
Having relaxed the night before and then having a couple beers meant I wasn’t up as early as I wanted. It did however give me the chance to see few guests that had been great company and by the time I was ready to leave it had already gone 9.30am.
What did help was I was north of the centre making my ride out of the city shorter. At first I stayed of the Pan American highway before turning off still heading north on a parallel road which was quieter, nicer and just as fast. The road undulated slightly with the odd climb but I felt good and strong. It was hot and humid making me sweat constantly making my eyes sting.
The fields looked so green
As I neared a town the road turned from Tarmac to concrete which was fine up to the point where one slab of concrete had dropped creating a two inch step running parallel with the highway. Running on the groves my wheel failed to bridge the cap pulling me off balance forcing me towards the centre of the highway and putting me on the floor. As I dropped I looked behind to see if there was traffic and luckily it was just my pride that was dented along with a sore wrist.
Oh Buga i’m in Buga
I got up and rode on but my left hand felt uncomfortable which ever position I put it in. Reaching the town of Buga by 1pm was good and I loved the name thinking its probably where people end up after taking the wrong road. I soon found a place to eat and tucked in to the usual Almorso. I was so thirsty I just kept drinking and knew that I needed it. I set off again with the scenery not really changing other then the mountains were slowly coming together making the road undulate a little more. I was keeping up a good average but having started late meant I had to keep an average of 17mph for the next four hours. I knew this wasn’t possible because I still had to climb but with the road being so good I managed to keep close to the mark. Stopping for a drink lowered my average but I was gasping. I still felt strong and wanted to get to town. Not because I had to but because I wanted to cover over 100 miles in a day. As the road turned more East the climbs started.
Getting a little respite from the heat riding under these trees
They weren’t big but enough to slow me to a crawl and lower my average. I knew if I wanted to reach the town it would be well after dark. With 10 miles to go the road climbed more often and finally was one long climb up to the city. It took a while to make my way through heading to a hostel I had found on the Internet. With a point to aim for and now out of water I stopped at a cafe where I drank a medium bottle of water, a fizzy drink, a home made lemon drink and and icecream. I couldn’t believe how thirsty I was again but judging how soaked my shirt was with the constant drops coming off my face it was good to drink. After riding through the city for about an hour I reached the hostel and checked in. It took ages for the lady to fill in the forms and all I wanted was a shower and eat. I was exhausted but felt good to had ridden 114 miles and climbed 1,622 metres. It had been a good day and one for my hundred miler bank.
Tuesday 8th Sept
Feeling shattered from a long day then having two cokes before bed wasn’t the best thing to do. As soon as I turned the lights off there they were ‘Mosquitos’. Well one at first which I very quickly squashed then silence before the next. If this wasn’t bad enough every time I moved I built up static giving me an electric shock every time I touched the metal bed. By the time I had killed the fifth and final one and created enough static to power had of South America it was gone three in the morning and I felt like I had been in a torture chamber for ten hours. Unsurprisingly I woke exhausted but luckily I had 15 miles to Salento, all be it mostly up hill but should be a short day followed by a rest day. Wanting to get out and on the road as soon as possible I wheeled my bike out and started to climb. Not having had any breakfast I was hungry and if I was going to make the town I had to eat. I stopped at a tiny local cafe and had the usual beef and rice with beans which tasted amazing. I was joined by a tiny kitten that sat on my lap quite content as I finished. When I came to pay I realised I had spent more over the last few days then I thought and was running really low. I left the cafe and with a small town near the top I headed in to find a cash point. When I arrived I came to a quiet town square that felt really lovely. I got some money out and sat eating an amazing cup of fruit salad. Knowing I had a day off tomorrow and although a climb ahead of me I felt tired but relaxed.
I left the town and climbed out for another mile or so until the turn off where I had a nice view of the town and a descent to the river. After 3 miles I reached the river seeing lovely hostels and places to camp. Deciding to check out the town first I climbed the 3 mile long hill up to and into the village. The centre looked nice but I was hot and needed a shower so much. I headed back to one of the first hostels I saw on the edge of town and found it quiet and very relaxing. I checked in adjusted my front wheel and brakes then had a shower. I lay on my bed and feel in to a deep sleep. After what must have been a couple hours I forced myself to get up before I wasted the whole day and headed into town.
The streets were so colourful
I arrived back in the centre and the more I looked the more beautiful it became. It was so peaceful even though it was quite busy but what stood out the most was the colours of all the buildings. This was the sort of town I loved, with shops selling pretty much everything and yet there was nothing tacky. With a trip planned to the coffee plantations I was happy, relaxed and just needed to find food and with unlimited choice of restaurants and supermarkets I was happy. I felt at home and even the fire station had an English fire engine which he told me was a brilliant piece of equipment.
If only they knew what the new ones can do
Wednesday 9th Sept
I woke from a deep sleep around 7am knowing there was a jeep leaving at 7.30am or 9.30am. It took me a few minutes to come round but I decided to go for the early one. I got up quickly grabbed what I needed and headed for the square picking up a few snacks on the way. With 3 minutes to spare I was on a jeep and heading for the hills. After half an hour of climbing up through the plantations the jeep reached the end of the road and we all disembarked on the 5 hour walk. The track followed the river up stream and soon the eight people from the jeep were either ahead or behind.
Thinking of home
The path reminded me of a route I used to run back home and felt great. As I took pictures I noticed my battery was low on my camera and kicked myself for not remembering to change it.
With a few dodgy bridges to cross and two hours of walking I soon reached the hummingbird sanctuary that was up a long narrow track.
Not really knowing what to expect I reached the gate to see hummingbirds everywhere and in every colour. I must have sat for an hour in wonder at what incredible creatures they were. Their colours were incredible and so varied and I had no idea there were so many of them.
These were just stunning to watch
Realising I had to get back I set off back down the track and took the route up the mountain through the trees. After climbing for half an hour I reached a house on the hill where the track levelled and headed back to the village. The view down the valley was amazing and seeing the tall palms climbing 60 metres to the head was incredible.
A few of the huge 60 metre high palms looking more like an alien invasion
I walked back with a couple from the states before heading off down over a steep hill in amongst the tall palms. It had been such a nice morning and was looking forward to a relaxing afternoon in the town. After a short wait for a jeep it was then a half an hour trip back where I was dropped off at my hostel to get rid of my stuff.
The rest of the day was spent eating ice cream, having a couple beers and speaking to Andy and Emma getting the chance to see their little baby. It was so great to see them and chat. It had been an amazing day finished with the best bbq ribs I’ve had in South America. I was enjoying Columbia so much and was looking forward to getting back on the road tomorrow.
Thursday 10th Sept
After a slow start mainly because the shutters were closed making it hard to know what time it was along with the nice french couple in the bunk below deciding in their drunk state that they were being quite enough to have sex while I was trying to sleep didn’t help. Luckily enough after a couple minutes all was quiet and I did sleep. It was a cloudy day when I set off and so dropped out of the village and up the climb the other side hoping to have breakfast a little later as it was already 10.30 by the time I had left. Once out of the valley I turned north along the highway and through the many coffee plantations. With the mist moving through the valley the scenery was amazing.
Looking back at Salento perched on the hillside
I stopped at 1pm to have lunch then once full I continued on towards Manizales. After around an hour of riding I was stopped by a guy who was interested in what I was doing. He was so nice and when I gave him a card he then gave me some money to donate to shelter box which was incredible. It turned out Carlos was a peace keeper on the Sinii peninsula in Egypt and so knew how important the work Sheltor Box is.
Riding past the many coffee plantations
One of the many coffee bushes loaded with coffee beans
One of the many beautiful flowers that line the road
Saying goodbye I set off again, taking a slight detour to ride through the town of Santa Maria to have a look. With its thermal baths I was almost tempted to stop but with about 25 miles still to go I stopped for an ice-cream before setting off again out of town and back on the highway. I was waved down again by another nice guy who also wanted to know what I was doing but also told me the road was good for the next 15 mies and then would climb the last ten. He gave me his details if I got stuck and set off again. After another hour and a bit I reached the turn off and sure enough the road climbed up to a pass with a helter-skelter stile road that went around in a huge circle to gain height.
This road was incredible how it went in one massive circle
Once over what I thought was a pass the road continued way above me and around another hill far off in the distance. The rain started to fall which I didn’t mind because it cooled me but it wasn’t so great for the cars. passing two accidents on the descending carriageway was proof the road was slippery and was glad I wasn’t on the other side when it happened.
Dropping down into a very wet Manazalis
I reached the town around 5pm and rode down through the centre before looking up hostels in the city. With one coming up that looked nice I navigated my way through the one way streets and soon arrived at a lovely family run hostel where I felt totally relaxed. being shown to a massive room just for me it was perfect and just what I needed. Although I could have done without another day off having climbed up here and hearing it was a nice town I decided to book for two nights and headed out for tea. Having a few jobs that needing to be done on my bike this was my perfect chance to get them done before heading north once again.
Friday 11th Sept
Hearing the rain on the roof I was even more pleased that I wasn’t cycling and had the chance to look around the city. I did how ever need to keep going but once I reached Meddalin there wouldn’t be much until I reached the Caribbean coast where I could make up a little time. Not really wanting to head out straightaway I had breakfast and went through my kit, sorting out a few things and fixing a few things. It felt great to potter and with the size of my room it was easy.
I had seen a few churches of this stile but however beautiful they were they always looked a little out of place
I headed out around midday and looked at a few church’s when I found out I could climb to the top of the city’s cathedral. With tickets brought for 2pm I wondered around the sights before arriving back at the cathedral. At first I was the only one on the tour but was then joined by a Dutch girl.
Manizales Cathedral was rebuilt and finished in 1939
We were slowly taken around the building before making our way up above the main hall out onto the roof along the ridge and up the Central tower. Being 105 metres high to the balcony it was quite incredible to look down to the ground and out over the mountains. Seeing as the last cathedral collapsed in an earthquake it felt a bit nerve racking but I was so pleased I had climbed up.
Once the tour was over I had a coffee with the Dutch girl then headed out to see the views on the edge of town. At first cloud obscured the view but with the sun at work it soon cleared showing the valley way below and the road I had ridden up.
Looking out over the deep valley below as the clouds started to clear
I thought his sculpture was really cool
It was beautiful and so peaceful and I felt pleased I had made the effort to climb up. With a long day planned for tomorrow I headed back to fix the last couple bits on my bike and cook tea. It was good to get back early and rest. As I sat eating my dinner everyone else was glued to their phones and the room was silent. I didn’t mind but wandered if this was the future in travelling meeting other mute tourists which in all honesty I have slowly become.
Being in Columbia for about two weeks and seen all that I had was incredible. The beautiful towns, stunning churches, unbelievably beautiful nature and the kind people were above and beyond anything I had hoped for. All of this and I was just under halfway through the country. If that was all I would see I would leave the country happy and yet I still had so much ahead. Having had the time to enjoy the nature and relax in Salento was amazing, I couldn’t wait to see what lay north and there was only one way to find out and that was to get going.
Thanks for reading xx