Colombian Hospitality – this one’s a long one

Getting off the sailboat and stepping onto a new continent was quite the exciting moment. We hustled off the harbor taxi from our sailboat and went to work unwrapping the industrial “saran wrap” we had used to protect our bikes from the salt water. The city of Cartagena swarmed around us with a new nation of people as the entirety of South America lay before us.

Fruit Ladies

We spent a few days in Cartagena hanging with our sailing crew and relaxing from our (not so) strenuous boat ride. The impressive old colonial architecture and fast paced energy of the city gave us an excellent introduction to Colombian culture. We spent much of our time exploring the narrow alleys, creative street art, and wide selection of new types of street food. Eventually we got tired of getting searched by the police every other hour and getting offered drugs every other minute so we packed up the bikes and got on the road to start the next big leg of the journey.

Old fort to new city

Streets of Cartegena

One of the many plazas

Just your friendly neighborhood hat salesman

Look-a-likes?

The hour that we decided to leave Cartagena turned out quite a bit more interesting than we had expected. Just as we left the grocery store with our supplies, a fierce wind blew in with huge heavy rain drops on its tail. The city unraveled to instant chaos. Suddenly the street was full of floating fruit and flaming pieces of cardboard were flying by. Citizens sprinted from building-doorway to traffic-jammed bus, and the streets filled with flood water. We wove our way through the cars toward the highway, and ended up riding knee deep in water through a few intersections. After capturing some novelty photos, we escaped the city and made our way over the hill to the next town.

Cartegena - not known for their drainage

The day we left Cartagena was exciting for more reasons than just the weather; it was also the day of a big world cup qualifier futbol game between Colombia and Peru. Colombia was the home team, and the game was in the city of Barranquilla, just up the coast from Cartagena. We decided to watch the game from a local restaurant TV rather than make the big investment to go to the live game, and it wasn’t a poor decision. We found a great little cafeteria stocked with fans and enjoyed watching Colombia take the match 2-0. We were just about to get back on the road to go find a place to sleep when a parade of motorcycles came ripping around the corner, Colombian flags flapping and horns held down. It took about ten minutes for the hundreds of people to drive by, cheering and laughing and driving way too fast. We were stoked to be able to celebrate such an exciting cultural event with the locals.

Just a few of the many Colombian fans.

The next day we found another unique cultural event to celebrate. We arrived in San Onofre on El Dia de San Onofre, and the whole town was partying. We enjoyed dancing and playing music with the locals, and losing money at the carnival games in the plaza. The timing was ideal for our unique cultural experience; it’s not often that we find holidays specific to the place that we end up in.

Kanaan got to jam with his drum.

The following days were what the locals would call “tranquillo”. We soaked up the green beauty of the Northern Colombia countryside, appreciating the smooth rolling hills and admiring the cows. We were surprised to see that there are much less fire stations in this country than we got used to in Central America. Without our go-to move for camp sites, we had to develop new techniques. We found that since Colombian people are so incredibly generous with hospitality, the best way to find a place to sleep was just to ride to the center of town in the evening and wait for someone to show us the way.

Colombians are so generous the police give foreigners solths

On Max’s birthday we awoke in the church at Planeta Rica and made the rounds at the plaza for our June 15 central park breakfast buffet. Our goal for the day was the town of Caucasia, an easy ride away with good potential for some good eats and drinks and maybe even a movie theater. We got two surprises for the birthday party. One was a Dutch bicycle tourist named Adriaan, who had spent the past couple days trying to catch up to us, found us at a roadside snack break, and told us that he would be joining our crew for the journey. The second surprise found us as we were searching for a place to stay in Caucasia, his name was Enrique, and he invited us to his house for a 23rd birthday celebration.

Enrique and his wife Helena welcomed us into their home for food, sleep, and a night full of good conversation and good laughs. They seemed pleased to have some young energy in their home and hear stories of our travels. We were equally entertained by their lives. As we were preparing to bike to the city of Medellin 300km away, 1500 meters higher; Enrique was preparing for a 10-day walk to that city (a few days later we truly understood the magnitude of this feat, certainly much more impressive than riding a bicycle). At the beginning of the night Enrique told us in his broken English that he had “a good sense of humor”. As the night deepened we learned his sense of humor and that his English wasn’t quite so broken. Somehow, the writing of books came up and Enrique brought out a few publications of his that recount the history and current state of the area. When we asked who was going to read these Enrique replied nobody, they were only to make a record. And then we picked up another work of his authorship, something in a little different vein: a compilation of racy love poems. The following hours filled the house with giggles and our vocabulary with some new, select words. This was surely a birthday that Max won’t be able to forget.

Thanks for the birthday Enrique and Helena

The following morning Enrique and Helena treated us to a massive breakfast that kept us well fueled for another day of riding. We landed in Taraza as the day was becoming evening and made our way to the town plaza. Again we encountered unfathomable hospitality; it was almost ridiculous how much our new friend Arielmira Romero wanted to help us. In the process of securing a beautiful campsite for us at the local arts and culture center overlooking the river, Arielmira sprinted from place to place asking the police, building managers, and council members if it was alright for us to stay there. He was so excited that he spoke about 15 words per second and we had a tough time understanding what exactly was going on. But by the time the sun was dropping behind the hills and reflecting orange and pink on the surface of the wide churning river, we were setting up our tents under a metal roof and getting ready for a good rest. Our hyper friend ran around collecting firewood and setting up a kitchen area for us complete with log benches and brick pot holders. The next morning he returned to ensure that we would get crushed ice in our water bottles and then escorted us to the panaderia and fruteria for our morning groceries. (As a side note this may be where Kanaan got the sickness you will later read about. Additionally we later learned that in Taraza a kilo of cocaine cost USD$1200. An explanation for our friend’s behavior?)

Por Favor Arielmira, despacio, despacio

We continued on to begin the mountains of Colombia, a special day for us that we had been anxiously anticipating for a long time. Climbing out of the beautiful town of Puerto Valdivia, we soon found incredible vistas and a rapidly refreshing climate. It felt incredible to finally be up at elevation after so many months of coastal heat. A friendly family with a home on the ridgeline allowed us to camp in their back yard with the cows and we enjoyed our first cool night in the mountains after meeting some of the local kids. The stoke was high, elevated by the altitude.

Pretty river at the bottom of a three day climb

Military want their photos too

Great models

The following day was the “muy duro” (very hard) day that we had been warned about for the past week when we explained our route to people. The climbing was steep and sustained as we worked our way higher and higher into the Andes. We reached the base of the clouds and kept going, catching peeks of incredible peaks every so often. We stopped for a lunch break after a friendly driver dropped off a giant guanabana and some mangos for us, and within minutes we were bombarded by a gang of mountain children. The excited kids crowded around us, each asking questions over the others and amazed at our answers no matter what we said. We had a lot of fun laughing with them and giving them rides on our bikes, with 4 or 5 kids per bicycle.

¡Vamos a Argentina!

Not quite a campground

That night we found a unique campsite under a semi-truck trailer that protected us from the mountain rains. The next morning we landed in Yarumal and spent some time hanging out in the city. We continued on to Llanos for the night and found an excellent resting place at the police station. The police in Antioquia (a Colombian department, i.e. state) are much friendlier than those we encountered in the north. They followed suit with the great hospitality of Colombians and treated us like kings. One officer named Jorge printed and laminated maps for us, and in the morning Officer Luis and his kids treated us to a deluxe breakfast to get us on the road. As we were eating Adriaan announced that our laid back pace was not working with his style of cycling and decided to take off for a quicker solo mission south. We shed a few tears for his departure and bid him ado.

Thanks Luis, Jorge, Officiers and family

Llanos was in the plains at the top of the hills, and had a nice cool wind going that inspired us to wear our jackets and hats for the first time in a while. We were sorry to be leaving the fresh altitude, but also excited to convert the potential energy that we had been building over the past couple days. The descent toward Medellin was among the finest rides of the trip. Smooth and fast, we let gravity pull us into the valley for at least thirty minutes without stopping. We couldn’t help but associate long lost feelings of shredding a powder day after riding those roads. By the time we recuperated from the adrenaline we realized that we were still a bit too far out of town from Medellin, so we spent the night in the median of the highway with plans to ride into the city the next day.

Down to Medellin

We woke up to a hot solstice sun rising up over the valley and immediately missed the cool air of the mountains behind us. Our goal for the day was to reach a “Casa de Ciclistas”, on the other side of town that we had contacted a few days before. It wasn’t far away so we planned to arrive with plenty of daylight to spare. However, about ten minutes into the ride a pick-up truck pulled over and the driver, Jugo, invited us over to his “finca” to swim in the pool and eat lunch. With the heat of the day already wearing us down, we couldn’t turn down the offer. We arrived to an elaborately decorated mansion that looked like the setting for a rap music video and were immediately wondering how we got there. The place was a party pad for people to rent for weddings and birthdays and things like that. Deluxe with dance rooms and lounge areas, it was quite the contrast from our campsite by the highway of the night before. We spent a few hours swimming, eating chicken, drinking juice, relaxing, and having our laundry done for us – just another day of Colombian hospitality. Finally we pried ourselves away from the lounge chairs and back into the heat to find the Casa de Ciclistas.

The home of our host turned out to be much further than we expected, at the end of a nine kilometer uphill. Kanaan was complaining like a little girl about exhaustion with a pounding head and neck ache, slowing us down enough to delay arrival to the town of San Antonio de Prado beyond sunset. We were relieved to find our hosts Manuel and Marta still working at their bike shop when we arrived, and they directed us up the road to their house. A pleasant surprise awaited us at the house, two South Africans on a bike trip toward Argentina, and two Canadians headed home after nine years riding around the world. It was great to connect with like minded travelers and exchange stories.

The sickness that had been bothering Kanaan continued to progress, and after a day of rest he went to the clinic to learn that he had Dengue Fever. After a few hours of IV fluids he was set free, with advice to stay hydrated and get more rest. Apparently there is no real medication for Dengue; you just have to wait it out. So we ended up spending a week in total at the Casa de Ciclistas, regaining health and tuning our bicycles. We also spent some time working on a natural building construction project, adding an extra room to the Casa de Ciclistas using horse manure for the walls. It was a great opportunity to give back a bit to the graciousness of Manuel and Marta, who are constantly opening their home to random bicycle travelers. Work projects around the house, group dinners, and slideshows of travels with our new friends brought us all together, bonding us with a sense of temporary family.

La Familia

The Canadians, Peter and Shala (Check out there BLOG), were commissioned by Manuel to build a two-person tricycle modeled after the one that they toured Africa with, and we were happy to help a bit with that project as well. We also joined Peter and Shala on the critical mass bike ride through Medellin, with thousands of people pedaling through the city. By the end of our week at the Casa de Ciclistas, our bodies were healthy, bikes were running smooth, and we had shared some awesome experiences with our new friends. Luckily the timing worked out and we were able to leave with a crew of six. The South Africans, Dave and Mark, joined our crew for the trip south.

9-year old Canadian tricyclists

Kanaan testing her out!

We descended for the heights of San Antonio de Prado with our group of six well-rested cyclists. Happy to be back on the road, we greeted the citizens of Medellin con gusto. Stopping in Caldas to decide our next move, a kind fellow invited us over to the corner store for coca cola and cake. It was the first of many incredible displays of hospitality that we found in Caldas. Electing to stay in town for the night, we made our way to the fire station to ask for a place to camp. Daniel and Alex of the bomberos took us to the local community center where we were put up in the basement for the night, and then escorted us to a restaurant for dinner.

Thanks for the drinks at the corner

The following day was July 1st, Chris’ birthday. He decided that we should try to get up into the mountains for the celebration so we hit the road after getting breakfast and bread. But we didn’t make it far. About half of a kilometer out of town Chris’ pedal gave out and it was quickly apparent that we would have to go back into town to get it fixed. It was his special day so the rest of us couldn’t give him too much grief for sending us back in the opposite direction.

We spent the rest of the daylight hours searching for parts and tools to fix the problem. It turned out to be quite the task, as most of the town was shut down to celebrate the first day of July. It wasn’t a holiday, but July 20th is Independence Day, so might as well take a day off work for Chris’ birthday right? Finally we found a great bike repair shop run by a guy named Gustavo, who fashioned a new pedal system for Chris. In good Caldas fashion we were awarded food and drinks for our efforts. Colombian style.

This picture doesn't fit here... but there were many cows in Colombia

We then made our way back to the community center to ask if we could stay another night. Part way through a game of cards, Alex, a local cyclist who had been helping us search for open bike shops, arrived with a bag full of cranks and tools. He wanted to see if he could fix Chris’ bike by replacing the whole crank system with an old one he had brought. And of course, since he wanted to help us with a favor, he brought food and drinks for us. Colombian style.

After about an hour of working on the bike it was determined that the repaired pedal was better than the replacement system, but we enjoyed our time with Alex nonetheless. We spent the remainder of the birthnight wandering around town sampling cervezas, and had a sufficiently wild time. One highlight was meeting a Canadian/Floridan/Colombian gringo with a beard of similar length to our 13-monthers and a poncho. He blessed our journey and we wished him luck with his new Colombian wife.

The next day started with belly aches and some bellyaching but we made the push up the mountain and melted away all our pains with incredible views and a seemingly endless downhill that inspired a few of us to claim the best day of biking ever. The stoke was flowing when we landed in La Pintada to stay in the gymnasium for the night.

The following day we rode along the beautiful Cauca River until we encountered a huge family having a fiesta at a tributary creek. They invited us to join them for sancocho stew and swim in the creek with them. We had a hilarious time taking nonstop photos with them and getting plenty of refills in our bowls. It was awesome to be part of such an intimate party that was just for the sake of fun. We finally pulled ourselves away to continue on, and our South African friend Dave presented the idea that we take the adventure route into the mountains rather than the more direct main highway route. A close 3-2-1 vote solidified the plan, and we took a right for the altitude.

Playing in the Creek with the Colombians

The road up made us immediately congratulate ourselves on a good decision, as we were instantly rewarded with amazing views. The town of Supia was an excellent base camp before we started the big day of climbing, and we scored a perfect flat grassy campsite next to the river among the horses and cows. It was cool to be off the main highway and among the beautiful mountain folk. The next morning during breakfast we were asked by the local TV station (right across the street) if we would do an interview with them. It was July 4th, so the Americans in the group exercised their freedom of speech to have a fun session making jokes with the reporter. We were rewarded with locally made sugar candies as payment for their headline story.

Dave and a Horse

Ain't Colombia pretty

The climb up into the mountains of Rio Sucio was breath-taking. Curving switchbacks led us on a gradual ride upwards into the small mountain pueblos. Around each major curve, another vista was exposed. Maybe the best view of the day was a “Devils Thumb”-esque feature, a grand face of rock leaning outwards like a hitchhiker longing for a ride. After taking a bunch of pictures, we began the awesome rolling ridgeline descent through several towns as the sun set over the green mountain tops. We eventually pulled into the small pueblo of Anserma for the night and met a new amigo, William. William immediately recognized that we were travelers looking for a camping area for the night, and wasted no time finding us a space. He spoke fluent English, and was excited to practice with us as he claims to have become rusty after moving back home to Colombia. He set us up in an indoor soccer stadium, where we were captivated by an intense flashing thunderstorm. As it was the 4th of July, we made our way to the “Americano” where we gorged ourselves with hot dogs and hamburgers like any true Americans would. Our vegetarian South African buddies could only laugh at us.

Buena Vista

The following day, we continued to descend, all the way down to the floor of the valley and an endless sea of sugar cane plantations. A long flat ensued, and it was nice to pedal fast for a change from the past days of ascending. A short up-hill was followed by super fast downhill into the city of Cartago. We stayed with the Bomberos that night, a friendly and hospitable group, they entertained us and gave us a great space to set-up camp for the night. The following morning we did a short interview with a local film crew and were given the gift of light (pump battery flashlights) from the commandente as he wished us luck for the rest of our travels.

Endless Sugar Cane

Bus Stop Shade for Lunch

Moving fast on the flats

A day of long flat riding, drafting against the wind with our group of 6, we traversed along the valley towards the awaiting mountains. As the sun came down, we decided to look for a place to stay in a small pueblo just off of the main highway. We were greeted by a group in orange jump suits, the civil defense of Andalucia, and they turned out to be more than helpful. After guiding us to a great restaurant, Yolanda insisted that we come and stay at her home for the evening. We ended up staying for two nights, getting to know the whole family and enjoying ourselves immensely.

Victor, Yolanda’s husband, is an indigenous healer who grows, harvests, and creates medicinal products from local plants.  He had a wealth of knowledge, and we enjoyed asking questions about the flora that is so different from what we find back home. Victor invited us to participate in a ceremony with a plant called ya-he, so we spent a morning drinking a brew that he had prepared and relaxing while he said prayers and played music. He gave us the option of an additional part of the ceremony, getting whacked all over the body with a thorny “hortiga” bush, a process that gives medicinal benefits of relieving joint tension and enhancing blood circulation. Kanaan, Andrew, and Dave tried it out, and although it was incredibly painful, it seemed to energize their bodies. They joined the youth sector of the civil defense corps, led by a lively woman named Nancy, to the local river where they had a blast swimming and playing games with the crew. Everyone then returned to the house for a feast of sancocho stew. As the food was cooking we all got new hairdos, with braided beards and some creative maneuvers up top. It was too much fun. The next morning we were treated to a big breakfast and then escorted out of town in a parade of orange. The civil defense corps took over the streets on motos and we pedaled our way to the highway, hooting and hollering our way through town. It was hard to say goodbye to our family of the past few days. We can’t say enough good things about Andalucia and our new friends there.

Kanaan gets done-up

Just a little escort out of town...

Cooling off in the waters of Andalucia

One last photo in Andalucia

We didn’t even make it to our next destination before running into another huge gift of hospitality. Just outside of the city of Palmira Alexander Garcia and Junior pulled up to us and invited us to stay the night at his bike shop in the middle of town. Junior, one of the shop team riders, escorted us with his moto to Palmira Bike Central and they set us up with a great camping area and brought us food and drinks. Every fifteen minutes someone would come back and ask us what more they could give us. The team made us spaghetti dinner and we had a great time relaxing with them. The next morning we had a bike maintenance session and got everything running smooth. Everyone replaced their chains and Kanaan and Chris got new crank set ups. It was awesome to have access to all the tools and parts and especially the help from the mechanics. We definitely appreciated the support of Alex and his crew!

Hanging at the Bike Shop with new friends

From Palmira Bike Central we went a few kilometers down the road to an eco-village called Nashira that we had heard about. Started and maintained by displaced impoverished women from the local region, the community is a success story of empowerment and sustainability. It now supports over 50 different families that live in the village. We got a full tour of the property and an invite to spend the night in the community center. Unfortunately they didn’t have any projects for us to help out with, so we decided to continue on the next day after dancing and playing with some of the local kids. Breakfast at a restaurant called Alaska put us on our feet for the day, and we quickly skirted around the large city of Cali.

The climb out of the Valle del Cauca started with steep rolling hills that lifted and dropped us into every river along the way as we traversed the Southern Colombia mountain range. Just as we were about to stop for the day we spotted two cyclists coming from the opposite direction. “Are those bike tourers? No, just some commuters carrying a bunch of crap. Wait, no they are touring!”

Dino and Diego rolled up with some of the most ghetto touring setups we’ve seen. A friend with a bike company sponsored them so they had solid looking machines. But their panniers were made of buckets and towers of old gear erupted from milk crates sitting upon their racks. It looked like a real adventure. Dino is on his way back to school in Michigan after an exchange program in Ecuador, and Diego joined him for the bike ride as part of his voyage around South America from his home in Argentina. All eight of us found a campsite behind a restaurant to spend the night together and swap info on what was behind us.

Not sure how they keep the stuff on the bike!

Hanging with Dino and Diego

Our group of eight split ways the next morning as two went north and six went south. We landed in Popayan and called it a day to let some sicknesses heal. Finding a place to stay in the city proved to be pretty difficult; we ended up searching into the night. We retreated to the central plaza, where Alvarez found us and brought us to his brother Carlos’ house. The night was spent playing with Carlos’ baby pitbull, Patan, and making trips to the grocery store down the street.

A Rest Spot with a View

The climbs continued and we started getting into real legitimate mountains. Spines of green ridgelines separated by vertical faces stacked up upon themselves as we wove through the contours. After a couple days of longs ups and downs we descended into a wide valley and entered a different climate. The flats were a nice break on the legs, but the heat was not the most welcome change. After a country full of water and greenery it was quite the surprise to be back in desert conditions. We happily stopped for a swimming break in the river and explored some awesome caves with a local named Daniel. His father Doño treated us to a block of homemade cheese and we went on our merry way refreshed and buzzing from the fun discoveries.

If only it snowed in Colombia, Can you imagine the skiing?

The combination of long hills and the dry heat was quite enduring as we began our ascent back up to elevation. However the surrounding environment gave some incredible views with the powerful churning brown rivers and vertically chiseled canyon walls. Interestingly the valley had an inverse tree line affect, with the lower elevations dry and brown and the higher parts lush and green and productive. On our ascent toward Pasto we spent a night at El Tablon, where we had a fun basketball game with the locals, got free showers at a hotel, and were given a room at the school to sleep in. The air felt particularly fresh and we were happy to be back in the mountains again.

From El Tablon we could see the road cutting up the mountain side, hanging over the valley below. What we couldn’t see was fifteen kilometers ahead. As we rounded the corner of what appeared to be the top we could help but yelp at the downhill we saw. We could see the road arcing around a huge intervening valley for nearly 10 km and then drop into a tunnel and back into the original valley – now just much lower. As the road bottomed-out we began to climb again surrounded by immense rock walls. Up and up we went finally plateauing at the town of Chacagui.

Up to Pasto

Not even ten minutes in town and we were approached by Angel who, after speaking with us, was set on finding us a place for the night. Him and his wife, Josefina, brought us to their friend Franco. Franco and his grandson Filipe welcomed us to stay for dinner and the night. Although over 70, Franco is still an avid biker and he was able to give us many tips for the road ahead, which sounded to be a bit of a climb.

Thanks for the great night!

The next morning we set out biking in sunshine; shirtless and hot. As we began ascending we entered the clouds, a breeze picked up and it started to rain. Suddenly it felt like a fall day in Juneau. As the rain continued, stops were made to put on shirts and jackets. The climb wasn’t as strenuous as we had heard and we made the top near 2500 meters. As we waited for everyone to catch-up it started to get cold, really cold and we couldn’t have been giddier. It had been many months since we felt cold like this and we loved it.

The descent into the city of Pasto was a cold one, Chris in fact blew by the group waiting at the bottom of the hill because his hands were too cold to use the brakes. But now we had dropped a few hundred meters into Pasto and were out of the wind so it felt comparatively balmy. As we set off to find our South African friend Mark, who had gotten a parasite and so hitchhiked ahead to a clinic, we passed a cinema and decided to see what was playing. As Kanaan turned up the entrance ramp his handlebars snapped! We all couldn’t help but laugh in disbelief and inspect his now two-part handlebars. The aluminum of his handlebars had corroded to such an extent that the metal turned to powder; we later concluded that Kanaan’s sweat had caused this corrosion and eaten through the metal. We all were just happy that the handlebars didn’t snap 10 minutes earlier when Kanaan was going 35mph downhill.

Something doesnt look right here?

We eventually made it to the bomberos in Pasto where our friend Mark had been holed up for the past days recovering from his parasite. The bomberos graciously invited the rest of the gang to stay. Kanaan promptly went on a mission to find new handlebars while Max and Chris checked their own level of corrosion. Max had a little superficial corrosion while Chris’ handlebars had a considerable amount; nothing near what Kanaan had but enough to be concerning. By the end of Colombia Kanaan had almost rebuilt his entire bicycle.

After speaking with a few different bike mechanics and researching on the internet we found that although not common, handlebar corrosion from sweat isn’t unheard of. There didn’t seem to be any precise remedy so after cleaning up the corrosion (Chris ended up replacing his handlebars) we wrapped them in electrical tape to provide a moisture barrier before wrapping them in bar tape. Hopefully this will prevent corrosion. If anyone has had this problem before, drop us a line if you found any workable solutions!

The great thing about Pasto was the cold. We were now wearing pants, jackets, shoes, socks, and hats – it was great. And the cold lasted. After another huge downhill (that went from us being incredibly cold wearing two jackets at the top to sweating at the base) we started climbing again through another breathtaking river valley. Before entering the country, we didn’t know what to expect of Colombia but every day we rode the scenery and natural beauty was continuously spectacular. After another great ride into the evening we stopped in the little town of San Juan where Arturo immediately offered us a place to stay at the community center. We were up in the mountains and any heat from the day quickly dissipated and it got cold again that night. So cold in fact that Chris decided he needed to buy a poncho ASAP.

The next town was Ipiales, the last town in Colombia. For weeks we were warned that this was a steep 45 km sustained climb, but San Juan was only 17 km from Ipiales and we really hadn’t climbed much at all. So we figured that this next section was going to be steep. Well it wasn’t. And after preparing for an arduous day we arrived in Ipiales after less than two hours of pedaling at about 10 am. After 10 months we are accustomed to getting not-so-correct directions but in this case we had heard this information from other cyclists including two other touring cyclists who had just come down this hill not one week prior. But we weren’t too bummed at riding a mellower hill.

With only 7 km to Ecuador and nothing better to do we decided to enter a new country. But first we made one last stop in the town of Las Lajas at their renowned church. Quite the spectacle, this massive church spans a river gorge. It was built in such a precarious position to center an image of Mary that was seen in the rock of the valley wall. As we entered the chapel the original image of Mary in rock wasn’t so clear to us since they have since decided to touch up the image by painting in some details.

Las Lajas

This church is a large tourist attraction but quickly after we entered the church the image of Mary lost its draw and we became the tourist attraction. By now we are very accustom to people requesting to pose with us for pictures, but this was something completely different that we walked into…and we couldn’t walk out. We probably posed with over 50 people and got hundreds of photos before we could make our way out of the building, where we were once again ambushed. Finally we walked far from the church and escaped.

Gringos more exciting than the Church?

There is no way we will ever know the exact number, but we would guess there are thousands if not tens of thousands of pictures of bearded Alaskans floating around Latin America. Maybe one day we can do a Facebook search and get an exact number.

The last few kilometers to the border were an easy cruising downhill. This was one of the more convenient border crossing and after few questions and no fees we were in country number eleven.

The first thing Max and Kanaan had to do in this new country was push-ups. They had bet Chris that he couldn’t bike everyday in Colombia in flip-flops – well he did. At least no one asked for our pictures while we were doing push-ups.

HELLO ECUADOR,  MUCHAS GRACIAS COLOMBIA!!!!!!

May photo of the month

Aside

The May photo of the month goes out to KXLL and the K3 radio stations, our public radio organization that was instrumental in helping raise funds for the journey.

Andrew on the job as a linehandler on the S/V RUNNING FREE, the vessel that we worked on through the Panama Canal. Thanks KXLL for the support!