Quito to Cuenca: A year on the road

On the first sight of a snow capped mountain, on the way to Quito, I stopped for a picture and my optical nerves also stimulated that part of my brain cells which contain memories of past mountaineering. My days in Quito were going to be busy planning an expedition.

some cultural festival

Some cultural festival

Quito

Quito

with the 5th graders at Colegio Menor, Quito

With the 5th graders at Colegio Menor, Quito

First thing first. In Quito, Keith, whom I knew through a Facebook group, a maths and science teacher at Colegio Menor helped me to organise a talk at his school. Tim, the lower school principal and I planned three sessions over few email exchanges. The level of planning and organising was a good sign of what was to come. After the session, I felt the 5th graders were very aspirational, respectful and avid learners. Those intrigued young minds bombarded me with questions from left and right and before I knew my time was up with them – I missed being in a classroom. This was an amazing bunch, so young, but high in spirits. I also had an opportunity to observe a 4th graders lesson where they were doing mock presentations for a forthcoming event. The constructive criticisms by the rest of the class for each group made me want to stay with them for longer but every lesson was only 45 minutes long! I was also given a tour of the school when I saw the exceptional art work and music work by their students, professional and outstanding indeed. Overall, I felt Colegio Menor is one of those schools where every teacher would wish to submit their CV.

This one was sweet

This one was sweet

At 4800m, dogs dont feel the altitude?

At 4800m, dogs don’t feel the altitude?

Cotopaxi 5897metres: The tour agencies in Quito sell a two day package to climb this mountain for 240 USD a nice marketing strategy to attract every adrenalin junky. First day is a drive up to 4500 metres and a 45 minutes walk up to the refugio at 4800metres and the very evening around 10pm leave for the summit. From my past experience, I was not comfortable with this plan. For a mountain of this size I felt two days was too quick. I found another agency whom offered a 4 day trip. I signed up for this just over a telephone call since the group was leaving the next morning. This agency took their clients on the south face of the mountain.

The first day we walked from 3200metres to the refugio at 4000metres. It was a nice 3 hours walk when a dog from the village followed us all the way up. The next day was acclimatisation walk to 4800 metres and back to the refugio. The dog was happily running around with us the whole time once again. The weather was not great though, cloudy and rain for most part. The third day we left at 2pm and reached the high camp at 4800 metres which was just a few metres away from the glacier around 5pm. It was one of those awful walks, rain the whole time and with no views, just plodding along to the destination. I had to hire the gear including a backpack. On arrival at the high camp which was nothing but a shelter, that too a leaky one, my clothes and my boots were totally soaked. With no spare clothes or shoes the chances of leaving for the summit looked low. Sometimes desperation takes over the logical side of human brain. I was hoping for my shoes and clothes to dry out over the next few hours. How silly. When the time arrived, 10pm, everything was still wet, I had to call off my summit attempt with great pain. The rain had not stopped either and we had to spend the night there. In a sleeping bag designed for beach weather my cold feet kept me awake the whole night. The morning came eventually, the wet socks from previous day was crispy from the water that froze and I had ice on the gloves. Besides the gear weather was another factor. The tail end of the rainy season perhaps was not the best to climb a mountain. We never saw the top of Cotopaxi the whole four days. I felt a great disappointment for not being able to summit but some valuable lessons were learnt.

With the grade 9 pupils at The American School of Quito

With the grade 9 pupils at The American School at Quito

This was the best view of Cotopaxi I had

This was the best view of Cotopaxi I had

Some volcano near Riobambo

Some volcano near Riobamba

The American School at Quito invited me for a talk which I happily obliged even though I had left Quito. It was a three hour bus ride to Quito from Riobamba and it was worth it. I spoke to grade 10 and grade 9 pupils there. From what I have heard during my talks previously at several schools the aim/dream of young people vary from wanting to become a doctor, engineer, architect, scientist, footballer, to travel the world, or even win a Nobel price. But one of the grade 9 pupil in this school said something that got me very excited. His dream was to play football in the Moon. I felt ideas such as these are important if humanity is to continue its progress. I hope his dream becomes reality in my lifetime!

Between Quito and Cuenca I reached 3500 metres altitude three times, although the altitude never dropped below 2000metres. This entire section was just up and down, up and down the whole time and with this comes the rewarding views of deep valleys, cliffs and sheer drops. The road from Quito to Riobamba was a busy 3 lane highway for the most part. On the first day of my ride from Quito I was pleased to get a brief view of Cotopaxi in between the gaps through the clouds.

Quinoa plant

Quinoa plants

On the other side of Alausi

On the other side of Alausi

Alausi

Alausi

In Riobamba I stayed with another brilliant Warmshowers hosts, Borja and Nathalie. It was one of those places where I become part of the family within few minutes of my arrival. I was quite spoilt by Natalie’s parents, they even packed some snacks for my trip – my mother would be pleased to hear this.

After Riobamba the road passed through lot of fields where they grew quinoa. I have seen these grains but this was the first time I saw the actual plant that produces them. There were so many colours within the same plant and it made me wonder about the science behind this. There were agriculture fields on the mountains as far high up the mountains as they could be. The colourful clothing and hats of those who were working in the fields rivalled the top hats of the aristocrats of the shires of southern England.

The fog that descends in the afternoons

The fog that descends in the afternoons

view of Chunchi from the other side

View of Chunchi from the other side of the valley

Riobamba to Cuenca was a four day ride and the pattern was same each day, clear skies in the morning and heavy fog in the afternoon. This section was another classical Andes mountain range that most cyclists would not want to miss. Alausi was my first stop after Riobamba. This town was surrounded by grand mountains on all sides. There was a long drop to get into this town and consequently a steep climb back up to leave this valley. After the 7 Km’s steep climb to the top of the valley, the other side was equally stunning. The road went down again and climbed back up on the other side of the another valley. However, the fog reached the other side of the valley before I got there. The visibility was poor (see the video) but I had to continue and I reach the town Chunchi eventually.

view of Canar from the top

View of Canar from the top

The next morning the clear skies revealed what I missed coming into Chunchi the previous day. This town was perched on top of a cliff with a big drop on the side. The first 20 Km’s leaving Chunchi was a good climb which I managed well – having good views helps. As I was getting closer to El Tambo I was shrouded by the fog once again and this time it was quite heavy. As my body produces more heat due to the work out the fog condensed all over and my shoes got wet a good heat transfer experiment. As long as I don’t stop pedalling cold feet was not a major issue. Once again, I missed seeing the surrounding mountains near El Tambo. I just had to wait until the next morning. In El Tambo I stayed at the Bomberos (fire station) whom were very popular among touring cyclists. The sun was out in full form the next morning. The 17 Km’s climb from El Tambo to an altitude of 3550 metres felt lot better in the sun. What followed was a well deserved long downhill and some riding on flat roads to Cuenca.

I like dogs when they don’t bark at me like the one that followed us in Cotopaxi for two days. In the past, many cyclists complained about the menacing dogs between Riobamba and Cuenca. I can guarantee this is still the case. I had dogs rushing from the mountain side to get a bite off my calves. It’s certainly was not pleasant to see those canine teeth so close to my heel. I tried shouting at them. They backed off for a second and returned with vengeance. I wish they could understand the grimace on my face. I can’t hide my hatred for my barking dogs anymore.

It has been a year since I left London i.e 1st June 2014 and I have pedalled approximately 14,750 Km’s so far through 11 different countries. I find it hard to describe my experiences in a few lines. To keep it short life on the road has been fantastic, exceeding my expectations by several fold.

The route (466 Km’s) : Quito – Latacunga (96) – Mocha (69) – Riobamba (36) – Alausi (95)  – Chunchi (38) – El Tambo (60) – Cuenca (72)

Cali, Colombia to Quito, Ecuador: Crossing that imaginary line

Rolling hills became rolling mountains. The steep lines up and down in the elevation profile for this section describes the challenge involved; needless to mention the rewards of downhill riding and the awesome views. After all no pain no gain.

Towards Popayan

Towards Popayan

Popayan town centre

Popayan town centre

image

Near El Bordo

During my short stay at Cali I visited Universidad ICESI for a motivational talk. Carlos whom I met through my friend Maria was an excellent host. He introduced me to several of his staff members and I also had the pleasure of cooking a big curry for some of his friends which gave an excellent opportunity to learn about the history, politics and education system in Colombia. My sincere thanks to Carlos who was also in regular touch with me via phone for the following few days after I left Cali since this part of Colombia was a bit desolate and in the past had some safety issues. My experience of this section was different though: numerous ascents and descents, hot weather and things were getting cheaper. Even the sections that look flat on the elevation profile had numerous short climbs and I must admit it was quite tough on my calves. I will let the pictures describe the landscape.

Cali to Pasto elevation profile

Cali to Pasto elevation profile

Pasto to ipiales elevation profile

Pasto to Ipiales elevation profile

Colombia-Ecuador border to Quito elevation profile

Colombia-Ecuador border to Quito elevation profile

After Cali the next biggest town was Popayan, dubbed as white city, was two days ride away. From Cali, after an exhausting ride in the hot sun, punctuated with trailer wheel puncture issues I arrived in a town called Pescador which did not have any hotels. I camped in the front yard of one of the locals which unfortunately was next to a discotheque. For a little village that does not even have a hotel, the party scene was unusual considering it was A Sunday night. The loud music went on until 4 am. Fortunately the next day was a just a short ride to one of the touristic towns in Colombia, Popayan. As the nick name implies the buildings in the historical town centre were all painted white which, I learnt, it’s in fact a legal requirement by the local government.

One of the several rivers that were crossed

One of the several rivers that were crossed

The descent from Popayan

The descent from Popayan

Sun set at El Tablon

Sun set at El Tablon

Popayan to Pasto was a four day ride with very little traffic. Early start is one way to tackle the heat. Also 6 am start meant I arrived around mid-day at my destination and had plenty of time to explore. Pasto was at 2500 metres altitude, 45 kms of climbing startingat 800 metres. There was a small hurdle in between; another 1600 metres mountain to climb over.

The first day ride from Popayan to El Bordo had some rolling hills in the beginning but more downhill towards the end. The second day, El Bordo to El Tablon was a long day as expected especially the last 10 kilometres ascent in the hot sun. Fellow cyclists should note that this section is quite desolate and it’s probably better to stock up on supplies (water, food). El Tablon was just a truck stop village, nothing much there but the hotel where I stayed was just 500 metres before the village and it was located at a stunning spot. The views from this place was spectacular and the hotel costs just 5 USD. I wish I could have stayed here for another day. In Europe, accommodation in a spot like this would make a big dent in the wallet.

On the third day from El Tablon there was a 5 Kms ascent to the top at 1600 metres followed by a 13 Kms descent which no cyclist would want to miss. The view that opens up on the top exposes the long downhill. The road seem to just cling to the side of the mountain and the view of this road that leads up to a short tunnel had to be caught on a camera. Have fun while it lasts because the mountain will claw back all the descent. From the lowest point at 800 metres its 45 Kms of climb to Pasto. Not all of this could be done in one day so I stopped in a place called Club de Policia, in the town Chachagui. Cyclists wanting to stop here should ask around for this place since it had no signs. Again, for a 5USD this place was a good bargain and it included a swimming pool.

The descent after El tablon with the tunnel at the end

The descent after El Tablon with the tunnel at the end

Volcan Galeras near Pasto

Volcan Galeras near Pasto

Farming at some difficult terrain

Farming at some difficult terrain

Chachagui to Pasto was only 29 Kms but it ascends from 1900 to 2900 metres altitude before descending to Pasto. There was an active volcano called Volcan Galeras that could be seen before entering Pasto. I hope the houses that were built below this volcano were lava proof!

Pasto to Ipiales, the border town was 86 Kms away. After leaving Pasto, there was a non-stop 13 kilometres ascent to an altitude of 3200metres followed by an unforgettable 27 kms downhill to the small town called El Pedregal at 1700metres altitude. Almost most of the altitude that was lost had to be regained since Ipiales was at 2950 metres – some hard work ahead. There was a spectacular waterfalls, cascada Humeadora, around 15 kms from El Pedregal. This was not a tourist spot so no buses or cars stopped here. The water drops from a neck breaking high altitude and into three sections, top middle and bottom. It was hard to capture this on one single shot so I took a short video posted here. I needed some recovery time after all the climbing a rest day in Ipiales was inevitable. It ended up a bit more than a rest day, lots of walking to visit one of the most famous churches in Colombia built in a canyon. The architecture of this place was mind blowing.

I had two deadlines to meet, one of them was self-imposed though. The first one was to leave Colombia by 4th of May and the second one was to reach Quito in Ecuador by 6th May to watch the UK election results live on the 7th of May. I realised the silly mistake that I had made when I arrived at the border. The immigration office included both the day of arrival and exit for their calculation but I didn’t. According to them May 4th was the 91st day since I entered Cartagena in Colombia on a 90 days visa. Even though I arrived at 7am on the 91st day the immigration officer refused to stamp me out because his computer said I had overstayed my visa. He passed me to his higher office who made me wait 4 hours before pardoning me for my mistake who asked me twice to pay a fine of 150 USD which I thought was a bit steep considering I had not overstayed my visa by more than a few hours. Thanks to internet, I read during the waiting period that the officer has some discretion to waive this fees. My patience and persistence paid off.

The church at las Lejas, Ipiales

The church at las Lejas, Ipiales

Entering a new country

Entering a new country

Cascada

Cascada Humeadora

I crossed into Ecuador around mid-day. I only had three days to get to Quito which was only 250 Kms away although the theme of ups and downs continued. I had to climb up to 3000 metres twice in these three days. Having lost lot of time in the immigration office, the first day was a short ride to San Gabriel and the second day was 110 Kms and 96 Kms on the last day; some tough riding on the mountains. For the second night in Ecuador I stopped in an interesting town called Otavalo, a pretty historical town with lots of colonial architecture and stone paved streets.

I crossed that imaginary line called Equator somewhere before Quito and I am now officially in the southern hemisphere. Perhaps I underestimated the intensity of sun close to the equator. I should not have used a sleeveless top. However while watching the election results on the 7th of May, I felt the sun burn, the aches and pains endured over the last few days were justified.

The route, Cali to Quito – total 742 Km’s (distances in Km’s and the total ascent involved each day in brackets in metres): Cali – Pescador 98 (1400m) – Popayan 51 (1100m) – El Bordo 83 (1800m) – El Tablon 98 (2100m) – Chachagui 40 (2200m) – Pasto 29 (1500m) – Ipiales 86 (2700m) – San Gabriel 50 (945m) – Otavalo 110 (2070m) – Quito 97 (2280m)

 

 

 

 

 

Bogota to Cali: In search of a good coffee

There were plenty of reasons to take a break from cycling in Bogota and the five weeks was well spent visiting local sites, schools for talks and riding in the Ciclovia every Sunday. About 121 Kms of the roads were closed on the Sunday mornings in Bogota for people to ride, skate, roller blade, run and do all sorts of acrobatics on the road. It was great to see lots of people out on the road and business was brisk too: fresh fruit juice stalls, local food, bike mechanics, second hand book sellers and just about any thing people can sell; a good opportunity for independent and small businesses. Also, I visited the fantastic gold museum and the church on the top of the Cerro de Monsserate in Bogota.

image

The kindness that shocked me

The kindness that shocked me

At the gold museum in Bogota

At the gold museum in Bogota

Train to Cerro de Monserrate

Train to Cerro de Monserrate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the school’s I visited, Colegio IED Miguel Antonio Caro, Bogota, asked me to visit again to talk to more students in their school and I happily obliged. Although, the subject of my talk was the same, I found it interesting in spite of repeating it several times since it was always pupil led in the form of Q and A. Pupils surprise me with some difficult questions for example, “what is the one thing that is most important in your life; do you believe in God”. Something remarkable happened at the end of one of the sessions. A boy approximately 11 years old came up to me and gave some money. I was shocked and did not know whether to accept or reject. I spoke to him for few minutes and decided to accept it in the end. I believe he was very touched by my story. Although this sort of kindness from strangers had happened in the past I was absolutely shocked this time especially considering his age and poor neighbourhood where the school was located. I was beyond words and almost had tears in my eyes and all I could do was to capture the moment in a photograph. My time in Bogota was well spent, getting my bicycle serviced and restoring my energy. I ate homemade curry almost everyday and that too with basmati rice – I was happy.

I felt the itch to get back on my back within few weeks and when the day arrived, I had severe flu the night before so I had to delay my departure by about a week. Meanwhile I was looking forward to one of the climbs called La Linea which was the near perfect equilateral triangle you see in the route profile photo here. This climb is well known among road cyclists in colombia, the second toughest in the country. Climbing to an altitude of 3280 metres the last few 10 kms were greater than 10% gradient.

Bogota to Cali route profile

Bogota to Cali route profile

Ciclovia in Bogota

Ciclovia in Bogota

Much needed space on the road during the downhill ride

Dual carriageway: Much needed space on the road during the downhill ride

The road from Bogota to Girardot had a lovely shoulder lane which makes the downhill ride (about 2700 to 300 metres) more fun and the fantastic lush green mountains was a feast for the eyes. I did this stretch of 140 Kms over two days. The ascent that followed, to the top of La Linea had to be tackled over three days. From Girardot to Ibague was a gentle climb, approximately 700 metres altitude gain. In Ibague my Warmshowers host Logan met me in a panaderia and we stayed at his sister’s place. Logan was preparing for a bike ride around South America which he plans to start in June this year. He was excited to receive me and he had all the same questions that I had before my start. Having been in same situation before i started this trip, I could feel his excitement. As a training exercise he wanted to ride with me to Armenia and back, basically the triangle part of the route profile from both sides as if it was not challenging enough to do it from just one side. From Ibague we rode together to Cajamarca about 32 Kms away gaining an altitude of 700 metres with some big undulations. The town of Cajamarca was just a small patch of flat land flanked by big mountains. Every street in Cajamarca led to a mountain. Logan and I stayed at his parents place in Cajamarca and the day to tackle La Linea arrived with rain. Logan’s mom did not wanted us to leave, she was sweet but we knew weather can’t stop us. A distance of 24 Kms to the top was done with lots of huffing and puffing; One of the toughest climbs I have done so far. The rain kept us cooler the whole way. As if by magic, once on the top of the climb, all the suffering was forgotten in an instant. At the end of the downhill on the other side we split. Logan went to Aremenia to stay with his friend while I went to Calarca to stay with my next Warmshowers host. After such a tough day Logan was going to climb the mountain the next day from the other side to be back at Cajamarca; respect!

Downhill ride from Bogota

Downhill ride from Bogota

Cajamarca

Cajamarca

Climbing La Linea in the rain

Climbing La Linea in the rain

View from the top of La Linea

View from the top of La Linea

Logan on top of La Linea

Logan on top of La Linea

Calarca and Armenia from the top

Calarca and Armenia from the top

From Calarca it was almost flat until Cali. From Calarca to Buga was about 112 Kms. Buga to Cali saw me ride at 25 kmph and I was pleased to be on my road bike for some brilliant countryside riding. The climax was not good though. Just about a km away from the hostel where I was going to stay in Cali I had a puncture on my trailer wheel. I was not happy to discover the big nail in my trailer wheel and about 6 holes in the tube. With no more patches left, I had to push my bike for the last kilometre.

Coffee. Armenia in Colombia is part of the coffee region and this was a good reason to visit this place. I enjoyed colombian coffee in London for several years. I was expecting to enjoy good coffee here in its homeland. But logical reasons does not work always perhaps. After having been in Colombia for two months, 7 out of 10 times my coffee experience was below satisfactory and coffee connoisseurs know bad coffee is worse than no coffee. I tried coffee in all sorts of places. The local coffee called tinto was prepared using a local made machine which looked the same everywhere. However, the quality of the coffee that comes out was not consistent, dilute and sometimes cold. Coffee con leche was even worse. Nevertheless I kept trying at every possible opportunity; perhaps I am addicted to coffee. I figured out how to request for a good coffee (in Spanish) in the last few days, although people frown upon my request often and will oblige hesitantly. Perhaps good coffee is produced but not made here in Colombia!

My time in Colombia is coming to an end. I have just over 10 days before my 90 days visa runs out and also I wish to move on to Ecuador too. I have another 3000 metres mountain to climb over. With the clock ticking this climb is promising to be interesting.

The route (468 Kms): Bogota – Fusagasuga (68) – Girardot (80) – Ibague (54) – Cajamara (32) – Calarca (51) – Buga (112) – Cali (71)

 

 

 

Colombia: Shifting from Central Andes to Eastern Andes

The Colombian Andes has three branches. Medellin is in the Central Andes and Bogota is in the Eastern Andes. There were several mountains to descend and ascend to shift from one range to another which makes it all the more interesting: shifting gear is a lot smoother. From Medellin I had to descend to the plains, where Rio Claro was situated and then climb back up to Bogota city which was at an altitude of 2700 metres.

Medellin from the top

Medellin from the top

Some downhill after Medellin

Some downhill after Medellin

After spending 10 days in Medellin visiting some schools and universities for motivational talks, apart from typical tourist sites, leaving Medellin felt a bit difficult on several counts: the pleasant weather, green neighbourhood with lovely parks and walkways and the lovely people who stayed at the hostel. To top this, the first 10 kilometres of the road leaving medellin was extremely steep, climbing to an altitude of 2600 metres from 1600 metres. It was a well known training route for the local cyclists with each kilometre signposted like some of the climbs in the alps. Even after an hour of cycling I had barely left Medellin, just 5 Km’s away and the whole time I could see the city below. For all the hard work I expected to be a lot further. After about 2.5 hours I managed to get to the top from where it was mostly downhill. I descended on the other side of the mountain to a much lower altitude. I knew Rio Claro was at the bottom of the mountains. So I expected the second day to be a downhill ride all the way. However, I had two big climbs, the first one about 8 Km’s long and the second one 13 Km’s. Perhaps, the mind has some capacity to prepare itself for challenges if it knows what is involved. It felt lot harder to tackle unexpected climbs. It might be arduous and painstakingly slow nevertheless the sense of achievement at the top of the climbs and the views makes up for any ‘little physical pain’.

Rio claro

Rio Claro

The canyon carved by Rio Claro

The canyon carved by Rio Claro

The natural canyon of the Rio Claro formed over millions of years was protected as a nature reserve and moreover in the hands of a private owner, all the profits were reinvested to grow the reserve from 50 hectares initially to 650 hectares currently. There were plenty of things to do such as rafting, caving, rock climbing and canopy tour, although doing nothing in this paradise was also a good option. The opportunity to jump into the river every time it felt hot was a luxury that I did not miss. I camped next to the river and spent 3 nights here. The rafting tour I went along with some other tourists and Colombians was well worth the money. We all jumped into the water several times. I trusted my life jacket more than my swimming skills and enjoyed it to the fullest. I highly recommend visiting Rio Claro.

From Rio Claro to Honda was about 126 Km’s and road was flat as a pan cake. It felt good to be able to ride at 25 kmph consistently for few hours. The local Sunday riders I met on the road bought me some drinks and showed me the way to Honda. Every hotel in Honda advertised its’ swimming pool. The temperature here was 35 plus degree C and it remains the same most of the year apparently. The Hondano Mirador bar which had a swimming pool let me camp in their property. It was too hot inside the tent with the fly sheet on, so I removed it half way through the night to get some fresh air. It was all good until it started to rain heavily at 5 am. That was the end of my night. I had to quickly pack my stuff and tent and leave at 6 am.There were three mountains to climb to reach Bogota. Based on the past experiences I decided to do one mountain a day.

Some plains towards Honda

Some plains towards Honda

The first climb went well, 16 Km’s climb and 16 Km’s descent to the town of Guaduas. I decided to check-in to a hotel to dry all my stuff. Since I arrived a lot earlier, before mid-day, I had a lot of time to wander around the town centre. Guaduas had a nice traditional town centre, a square, stone paved roads and a cathedral in its centre. I had a good pizza (after a long time) and some italian coffee in the town centre, the whole time looking at the giant mountain which stood tall and proud on top of this village. It was exciting to be able to see some of the hairpin bends that awaits me in the mountains.

Climbs again

Climbing in the rain

Carlos with his mother

Carlos with his mother

At I.E.R.D. San Bernard Colegio

At I.E.R.D. San Bernardo Colegio

Spot the climb ahead

Spot the climb ahead

The second climb was not too far but steep enough to make it hard. It was about 10 kilometres followed by a descent to the town of Villeta. The third climb was the worst of all, it was too high (700 metres to 2700 metres over 30 Km’s) and too long to be able to do it in one day, so I continued after Villeta. About 15 Km’s into the climb I stopped at a small road side restaurant for food. Carlos and his mother were happy for me to camp at their property. It was a beautiful site to camp. They both were interested in some indian food. It was a pleasure to cook some chicken curry for them. Carlos was very respectful and was keen for me to visit his school. I accepted his request and went to his school the next day. The school was in the mountains in a beautiful spot. The teachers quickly arranged a computer and projector for a presentation. Speaking in English was not an option since there was no body to translate.What the worst than can happen? I took the courage to speak in Spanish, of course broken spanish with some help. The students helped me with my language at times, and it was a good laugh. They were very respectful and seemed very innocent. I enjoyed visiting this school. Carlos was absolutely thrilled.

When it rains it rains hard here

When it rains it rains hard here

Camping at the restaurant of Carlos and his family

Camping at the restaurant of Carlos and his family

When the rain stops it's fabulous

When the rain stops it’s fabulous

I left the school around 1030 am and continued the third climb. Perhaps the school visit made the day for me. I was only excited to see the climbs ahead of me every time the road opened up. After reaching the top it was amazingly flat all the way to Bogota for about 70 kilometres. Riding into the city centre was not too hard, just some typical challenges of a big city; busy traffic, pot holes, broken bicycle lanes, some impatient and irate drivers.

My warmshowers host, Sebastian Corrales met me in a petrol station and took me to his place. He also helped me to find a place to rent for few weeks where I am at the time of this writing. The plan is to get my bicycle serviced and also visit few schools here in Bogota over the next few weeks.

The route ( total 452 Km’s): Medellin – La Pinella (92) – Rio Claro (65) – Honda (126) – Guaduas (35) – Santa Ines (52) – Facatativa (35) – Bogota (47).

Continental Shift: The Beginning of the Andes

The marshy land mass that connects North America and South America called Darian Gap does not have a road, so I took a ferry from the port of Colon in Panama to Cartagena in Colombia. The ferry ride was 17 hours plus 8 hours of immigration and check-in bureaucracy; the rough sea made my stomach turn. In spite of the not so great ferry ride, I was highly excited to land in South America with my bicycle.

Cartagena

Cartagena

Some typical streets in the Centro area of Caragena

Some typical streets in the Centro area of Cartagena

Tropical colours?

Tropical colours?

The Centro area in Cartagena was enclosed by a high rise stone wall. Its colonial architecture and small narrow streets paved with cobble stones was interesting. After a total of 675 Km’s over nine continuous days of cycling I am now in Medellin (at the time of writing), the second largest city in Colombia (route map here).

On my first day, all my excitement to pedal in South America was soon quelled by the nightmare traffic. In addition, there were plenty of motorbikes some of whom are called mototaxis since they function like taxis; they were licensed to carry passengers for a small fee and these guys were a menace when they are on their bikes. However, they were very friendly when they were not riding. When I was on the road most Colombians including pedestrians, cyclists and motorbike riders were curious about my trailer-bike setup and wanted to know where I am from etc. Once outside the city limits of Cartagena, the road was quieter and much more pleasant.

The signs couldn't be any more clearer

The signs couldn’t be any more clearer

The bridge at Valvidia where the ascent begins

The bridge at Valvidia where the ascent begins

For the first five days the road was mostly flat and there were only slight undulations if any. I only cycled 70 or 80 Km’s per day because it was too hot to ride in the afternoons. The large number of fresh fruit juice stalls on the road was a welcoming relief and moreover these were served ice cold. I enjoyed the water melon juice the most, fruits in their native lands are the best I think.

They were intrigued by the camping equipment I had

They were intrigued by the camping equipment I had

On the second day I stayed with a local family who lived next to the gas station. They made a living by washing the trucks and cars. They seemed happy to work any time of the day. The trucks would pull up all through the night but he got out of his bed without complaining. The roof of the house was made of palm leaves and the floor was cement. The house was just a single room and the front ‘open area-living space’, where I slept. This setup reminded me of my younger days. I was very humbled by their friendless.

River Cauca

River Cauca

Water falls on the side of the road were in plenty

Water falls on the side of the road were in plenty

The land scape was not particularly interesting, it was mostly dry until I reached the town of Caucasia from where I cycled next to the river Cauca for two days. Water being the basis of life, made a huge difference. From Caucasia onwards it was lush green with plenty of trees and shade.

In Caucasia I camped out in a restaurant where I met Julian and his brothers. Julian had just finished high school and was waiting for his University studies.  He wanted to know my opinion on some geoengineering technologies to tackle climate change that he had heard of which led to a bit of scientific discussion with him and his brother. I was very impressed by his motivation and the amount of research he had done to learn. His aunt wanted to try some Indian food; I was only too happy to make a chicken curry for them in their restaurant.

On the fourth day one of my rear wheel spokes snapped and the wheel got buckled, I had to undo my brakes in order to be able to wheel it for 7 Km’s to the next town Planeta Rica where the local bike shop fixed it. I was dreading greater damage to my rim which would not be easy to replace here, but luckily it was all fine.

As soon as I crossed the river Cauca in the town of Valvidia, I was on the Andes mountains. From the route profile I expected it to be hard but it was more than that. The next 35 Km’s from the town of Valvidia took me from a elevation of 50 metres to 1990 metres. At the end of every corner the road opened up another vista with another climb. The ascent was non stop for 35 Km’s and at a speed of 6 kilometres per hour I was pedalling hard for almost 6 hours. Andes mountains tested me on the very first day, I saluted and called it a day after 35 Km’s.

More views

More views

These cows were lot more beefier than their compatriots at lower altitude

These cows were lot more beefier than their compatriots at lower altitude

The mountain was still there the next day and after another 10 Km’s climb I reached 2450 metres altitude from where the road descended for 10 kilometres to the town of Yarumal. From Yarumal the road ascended again to 2770 metres over the next 15 Km’s. After about 70 Km’s for the day, I reached the town of Santa Rosa de Osos and stopped for the day. From Santa Rosa de Osos the city of Medellin was 80 Km’s and at lower altitude too. There road was up and down initially but the views were stunning. As soon as I crossed the town of Don Matias, at the top of the pass, was an excellent view point with superb vista. At the bottom of the drop in the valley was the town of Barbosa. Paragliders take advantage of this stunning location. I stopped for a well deserved coffee at the cafe which had a lovely ledge overlooking this valley; the pumping music at the cafe added to my excitement. The next 15 Km’s was all downhill but the narrow roads and the heavy truck traffic called for extra caution. I stopped at two different places along the downhill ride to cool off since the constant use of brakes heated up the wheels.

One of the main objectives of this trip is to cycle in some of the Andes mountains. During the three days in the mountains I heard myself saying several times ‘this is what I am here for’. To live the dream is very satisfying; it was only appropriate to take lots of pictures.As soon as I descended, a three lane highway opened up and led me to the city of Medellin.

Some descent finally

Some descent finally

Coffee stop

Coffee stop

The view from the cliff

The view from the cliff

Paragliding

Paragliding

The route (Km’s): Cartagena – San Cayetano (70) – Ovejas (80) – Sincelejo (40) -Pueblo Nuevo (102)- Caucasia (87) – El Quince (85) – somewhere in the mountain (55) – Santa Rosa de Osos (70) – Medellin (85)

The end of Central America: Costa Rica and Panama

Camping in front of the restaurant near San Ramon

Camping in front of the restaurant near San Ramon

Colourful leaves

Colourful leaves

The Varela family who looked after me in their restaurant

The Varela family who looked after me in their restaurant

From Lago Ometepe in Nicaragua, Costa Rica can be reached by an over night ferry to San Carlos and a short boat ride across the river San Juan to Los Chile in Costa Rica. This turned out to be a fun experience, I particularly liked the San Juan river, seemed like a good one to go a canoe.

Heading straight to the mountains from San Jose

Heading straight to the mountains from San Jose

Camping in the hotel front yard in the mountains

Camping in the hotel front yard in the mountains

View from 3300 metres on top of Cerro de la muerte

View from 3300 metres on top of Cerro de la muerte

As soon as I crossed the border things were quite different. Costa Rica was lush green, good roads and better quality of food. I had a welcome rain in Costa Rica within 30 minutes of crossing, but luckily I had a Warmshowers host where I cleaned the dirt off my bike. There was a 1200 metres high mountain to be crossed to reach San Jose. The fog on the top of the mountain was heavy and visibility was poor so I decided to camp out in front of a restaurant for the night. The Varela family who ran the restaurant made me coffee and breakfast in the morning and in spite of working from early in the morning to late in the evening they all seem to be happy.

San Jose was just another big city in Central America, I did not find anything particularly interesting. After San Jose I had a choice to stay on the mountains for few more days or take the coastal route. I chose the mountain route even though I had to climb 3370 metres (Cerro de la Muerte). This indeed turned out to be a good choice. The mountain road did not have much traffic and the scenery was awesome. It was about 80 Km’s climb to the top which I did it over two days. On the first day, I climbed up to 2500 metres and camped in a hotel yard; they were happy for me to camp since I ate dinner at their restaurant. The weather was cooler and the mountains reminded me of swiss Alps. The second day I reached the top around 11 am and then it was the much anticipated 45 Km’s non-stop downhill ride from 3370 metres to about 600 metres, one full hour of gravity-assisted-no-pedal riding at almost 50 kilometre per hour speed most of the way, it is quite hard to describe this experience in few words. After reaching San Isidro de General I had a 400 metres climb back up before descending again to sea level over another 15 kilometres.

Perhaps it was too much downhill riding for a single day; I had a close call. In one of the sharp corners, I was too far out and could not get back to my lane quickly and there was a truck in front of me in the opposite lane, both of us were beyond breaking point and collision was imminent. I let the bike go across the road and crashed in the bushes. This picture is quite vivid in my mind, I don’t think I will ever forget this. Amazingly, there was not much damage, my bike handle bar got twisted and I had few scratches on my legs nothing more. I was dreading some greater damage to my bike. I managed to cycle another 10 Km’s after the incident to reach Playa Dominical where I stayed in a church.

Costa Rica- Panama border

Costa Rica- Panama border

I rode for two more days along the coast of Costa Rica before crossing into Panama. I enjoyed Costa Rica for its dense vegetation, rivers, warm weather, good quality food and happy people. The only downside was the cost, it was expensive compared to its neighbours. Costa Rica felt like the Switzerland of Central America. Costa Ricans are quite proud of their coffee, quite rightfully I think.

Camping in a picnic spot next to the river in Sajalices, Panama

Camping in a picnic spot next to the river in Sajalices, Panama

Crossing the Panama Canal

Crossing the Panama Canal

Costa Rica-Panama border crossing was straight forward but the queue was long; it took be about 75 minutes. After border crossing, I stayed with a lovely expat couple Joe and Kristine in the city of David in Panama who lived just 2 minutes from a river. This was a brilliant place to cool off considering the 30 degree C heat during daytime. I took a day off here to rest. Several cyclists and my Warmshowers hosts warned me about the highway construction work in Panama between David and Santiago. So I decided to skip about 200 Km’s and arrived in Santiago de Verahaus by a bus. From here it was three days riding to Panama City, the capital of Panama. Riding on the bridge across tho Panama Canal was exciting, the heavy traffic only adds to the excitement. I am now south of the canal and I plan to traverse 70 kilometres to the city of Colon on the Caribbean side where I will catch the ferry to Colombia. My journey in Central America will end soon, but there is something exciting to look forward to: South America!

The route (Total 850 Km’s riding): Lago Ometepe – San Carlos (boat) – Los Chile (boat)- Santa Rosa (52) – San Ramon (75) – San Jose (76) – Cerro Alto (65) – Playa Dominical (120) – Rio Clara (120) – David (90) – Santiago (200 by bus)- Penonome (102) – Sajalices (82)-Panama City (65)

Sun set at Playa Dominical, Costa Rica

Sun set at Playa Dominical, Costa Rica

Route profile: Los Chile to Panama City

Route profile: Los Chile to Panama City

Moreno from Nicaragua

The sun rise party at the Atami resort on top of the cliff overlooking the sea was indeed a perfect spot in terms of both partying and to watch the sun rise on the New Year’s day. Eugene, I and his friends felt 20 USD for a party that included unlimited drinks and breakfast in the morning was a brilliant deal. We all made use of it and stayed up until the sun rise and slept after having breakfast!

Sun rise with Eugene on 1st January

Sun rise with Eugene on 1st January

El Salvador - Honduras border

El Salvador – Honduras border

My excuse to chill and stay in the resort ran out since Christmas and New Year comes only once in a year. I left on the 2nd of January. The next 600 Km’s (route map updated) was done over 6 days cycling with a day stop over each at Leon, Managua and Granada. Eugene was not cycling anymore but backpacking around with his friend Charlou. After 5 days, I met them again in the hostel in Leon, Nicaragua. It was a bit strange to see him again as a backpacker.

After La Libertad in El Salvador, I cycled for two days each in El Salvador, Honduras and then finally Nicaragua. These are all not too big countries and also the roads I took were mostly flat, nothing exciting in terms of scenery. It was too hot to enjoy cycling so I was merely pedalling to get through. In terms of facilities and services Honduras was not great, it seemed very undeveloped. There were plenty of tourists in Nicaragua, especially in Leon and Granada, both of which were well known for its colonial architecture.

The happy folks at the Specialized bike shop in  Managua, Nicaragua

The happy folks at the Specialized bike shop in Managua, Nicaragua

Safety is generally a concern in this region, however with sensible precautions and care cycling through this region was not a major issue. There were armed guards in front of banks and supermarkets and most of the little shops had iron bars through which commerce took place. In addition most shops were closed after dark and very few people were on the streets after the sun set. All these indicate security concerns although during the day life seem normal. In a small village called Villa 15 in Nicaragua, the hospedaje was full, so I went to the police station to ask for a place to camp. The officer asked me to cycle another 35 km’s to the next big town to find a hotel and warned me that I will be robbed if I stayed anywhere else. There is something to be said when a police officer warns of danger.

Honduras- Nicaragua border

Honduras- Nicaragua border

I crossed three borders over four days (El Salvador-Honduras-Nicaragua). Luckily, bicycle tourists don’t have the same bureaucratic nightmare as someone who is on a motorised vehicle. There were no information in English and mostly chaos at the borders. The border officers don’t seem to like their job, the clients (tourists) don’t like them either, a fatal combination if it were to be a business.

The gringo calling restarted in Honduras and continued into Nicaragua. At the Honduras-Nicaraguan border, a group of fruit selling girls called me ‘hey moreno’. I was stopping there for the border formalities anyway, so I decided to challenge them. I said to them I wouldn’t call anyone ‘hey gordito’ (fatty) so there was no need to refer to my skin colour. The exchange went on for a few minutes. I hope they understood what I meant. Later, elsewhere, I learnt from some locals that referring by skin colour is quite normal in this region. I was more annoyed by their attitude than the name calling perse. Besides, I had to point to them that their same skin colour was not much different to mine.

Martinez family who hosted me in Santa  Rosa de Lima, El Salvador

Martinez family who hosted me in Santa Rosa de Lima, El Salvador

Lake Managua

Lake Managua

At Santa Rosa de Lima (close to El Salvador-Honduras border) I stopped at a small bicycle shop which was in the front yard of a house to ask for a hotel or camping spot. Martinez family were very kind and offered me a place to sleep immediately. On top of this they made dinner for me and wouldn’t let me leave without breakfast with them. I spoke with Walter who was studying engineering and was able to talk to me in English. When I informed him about Warmshowers he was very excited and signed up immediately to host cyclists in future. In fact he had a couple stayed at this place, just two days after I left. The support of the families like Martinez make this trip more adventurous and fun.

Nicaragua is a land of lakes and volcanoes. I passed by lake Managua and currently in a small island called Ometepe in Lake Nicaragua. There are two volcanoes in this island and I hope to climb one of them. I will stay here for two more days before I cross in to Costa Rica.

Christmas with the Canadians (French speaking)

From Antigua, Eugene and Sam left a day earlier to El Salvador. I spent an extra day in Antigua mostly wandering around. The next day was a good start; losing an altitude of 1500 metres over 30 kilometres was not hard. Although, a wrong turn at the end of this costed me a 22 Km’s detour. As I lost altitude, the temperature soared. However, riding under the tree canopy provided a lovely respite from the sun. Once on the coast, the road was mostly flat to Guazacapan a 115 Km’s ride for the day.

image

Riding under the tree canopy

traffic at the Guatemala-El Salvador border

Traffic at the Guatemala-El Salvador border

The next day, 20th December, I crossed into El Salvador. There was a long queue of trucks, approximately 6 Km’s that were waiting for the customs at the border. However, foot passengers, cyclists and smaller vehicles did not have much of a problem. I probably spent less than two minutes at each counter, both Gautemalan and El Salvador immigration offices. A total of 97 Km’s for the day but it was mostly flat; a pleasant ride.

Atami Resort, El Salvador

Atami Resort, El Salvador

The third day was about 75 Km’s to the resort where Eugene’s family were waiting for me. On the road, I was joined by two more French cyclists whom we have met before. We were 11 of us in total including Eugene’s friends, family and the cyclists, at the holiday accommodation. This cottage was in a lovely place, near La Libertad, El Salvador, including a swimming pool and plenty of trees and a big open area and on top of this it was less than 5 minutes walk to the beach; luxury does not come any better.

We were 9 of us with lots of energy. The team spirit pulled me into playing games that I have never played before; football and rugby. I even tried bodyboardong in the sea.

Eugene and I had been planning curry for christmas for sometime and have requested his parents to bring some spices including the ones that Jeyatha had sent for us.

Fun at the pool

Fun at the pool

Curry for Christmas under the hot sun for the Canadians; no, the climate change has not gotten that far, not yet perhaps. The house smelled like Pondicherry during its colonial times, although the French treated everyone equal this time!

With the help of the team, I prepared a big curry for Christmas eve. The quantities of ingredients we used is a hint to the amount of curry prepared and consumed: 25 onions, 15 tomatoes, 6 garlic bulbs, 20 eggs. In addition, Eugene’s parents brought 10 kgs of basmati rice from Canada, of which almost 6 Kgs was consumed over three meals. The Christmas eve was spent eating and playing cards until midnight, followed by several board games that were carefully designed to consume fluids which generally makes one laugh and dehydrate. Be a Roman when you are in Rome, I took the full plunge since I was not going to resume cycling for a few days.

Christmas feast

Christmas feast

Christmas eve dinner

Christmas eve dinner

Cyclists on their way out

Cyclists on their way out

I had festive times on the road in the past during my previous travels, but this one was exceptional. Momsie and Popsie (Eugene’s parents) were young at heart and we had lots in common from, science to philosophy and life in general. I don’t think this was a chance meeting, perhaps the subconscious has its own ways to bring like minded together. We all ate, played, laughed and relaxed as one big family. It was a happy christmas, a very happy christmas indeed.

I decided to stay here until the new year while the three other cyclists left after christmas; sadly Eugene’s cycling trip ends here, but I am sure he will be on his bike again at some other time. He had travelled much further than he anticipated in this trip. Well done Eugene I will miss your company though…

Many thanks to the Gendron-de Vette family, I had an amazing time. I now have lots of friends in Quebec without having been there.

Buenos dias from Guatemala

For this section of my ride, Eugene and I were joined by Sam who is also from Quebec, Canada. This section, 475 Km’s, from San Cristobal de las Casas to Antigua, Guatemala was like the mountain stages of Tour de France; tons of ascents and descents.

From San Cristobal de Las Casas, we left to Comitan; there was a 700 climb and then mostly downhill. At Comitan we stayed with Julia whom we knew through Roberto from Tuxtla. The next day we left to the border town called Ciudad Chautemoc. This was a fairly easy downhill ride except for the 7 Km’s roadworks sections which was worse than a dirt road. Eugene had pumped up his tyres a bit too much since the air was free at the gas station. Half-way through the rough section his back wheel tyre exploded as if he was hit by a drone. We camped at the park right in front of the Mexican immigration office. The talk of the town was the three cyclist camping and using some fancy stoves to cook a meal in the park. We had lots of spectators who would not leave. There was nothing else going on in this town, so we had to put up with this.

San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico to Antigua, Guatemala

San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico to Antigua, Guatemala

If its free, he will take too much - sometimes it's not good mate.

If its free, he will take too much – sometimes it’s not good mate.

The Mexican immigration office was just a building on the side of the road, no barriers or gates, people were just driving up and down; only tourists seem to stop here. The Guatemala immigration office was 3 km from the Mexican immigration office on the top of a steep hill. I never understood the 3 Km’s gap between the immigration offices though. The Guatemalan immigration office was right at the end of a busy market area and no body bothers to check the people crossing this area. However as genuine tourists, we had to be diligent. We got our passports stamped with no questions, almost open border I guess. This day was mostly climbing, through beautiful mountains. The Guatemalan highlands scenery was spectacular, lush green, neck-breaking tall mountains. The road was right next to a river for most of the day. It was like cycling the Alps in France except for the vegetation. We arrived in Huehuetenango, at 445 pm; a long day since we started at 7am. We were quite knackered so we checked into the hotel that the Italian couple suggested.

camping in a park at the border town in Mexico.

camping in a park at the border town in Mexico.

Lago Atitlan

Lago Atitlan

The road from Huehuetenango to San Cristobal Totonicapan was much harder than what we expected. Some of the climbs were so steep that I had to keep pedalling to stay upright. I was glad that I pedalled the whole way, the altitude at the highest point was about 2800metres. We stayed with a Warmshowers host in San Cristobal Totonicapan and I took two days off to recover.

Guatemalan highlands

Guatemalan highlands

 

 

 

 

SanCristobal Totonicapan to Panjachel, near Lago Atitlan was only 70kms away but we had to climb 700 metres first thing in the morning reaching the highest point overall in my ride so far at 3100 metres. This day I felt was quite tough and I thought it could not get worse. Actually, it could and it did. We spent a rest day in Lago Atitlan, which was surrounded by high mountains. It was like riding down a cliff to get to this lake and the ride back up was through some steep climbs, some of them 20% grade. For the first time in my ride, I had to push my bike up some of these climbs and at one point Eugene had to help me to push my bike. Also, the road surface was really bad and full of potholes too. It was frustrating to break so hard on the downhill section so much so that the rims of my wheels got heated up. One of the bridges on this road got washed away sometime ago and we had to cross the river by foot – first river crossing in my trip. It took 5 hours to cycle the first 35 Km’s from Lago Atitlan and was almost 1800 metres ascent. We arrived in Antigua much later than we expected. This town was filled with several hostels and is well catered for tourists. Antigua, Guatemala is famous for the colonial architecture, I have seen several towns like this in the last two months though the roads in the centre were different. Here the roads were just some rocks put together. The modern day automobile ride on these roads is so bumpy; even the horses during the colonial times would have found it hard to pull their carts through here. Is there a way to preserve the colonial architecture for modern day usage?

Some more Guatemalan mountains

Some more Guatemalan mountains

Active volcano spewing out

Active volcano spewing out

zone of steep climbs - after Lago Atitlan

zone of steep climbs – after Lago Atitlan

Within 20Km’s of crossing into Guatemala, the name calling started, ‘hola gringos’, which I have read from others blogs, is quite common in Central America. I was surprised that I was also called ‘gringo’ even when though I was miles away from the two Canadians. However the best mark goes to the two boys who could think differently to call me ‘hola negro’. On the subject of name calling, when I was cycling into Comitan, I heard someone running behind me shouting ‘hey buffalo’. It was the Italian-Canadian couple whom I met in oaxaca. They couldn’t remember my name; I was glad to be called buffalo, better than gringos indeed. They were travelling in a scooter, Vespa, that was made in India. An Italian riding a scooter in central america, which was made in India – this might sound dodgy. They seem to enjoy traveling just like me. They have travelled well, almost 35000 kms around the world with that little vehicle.

Sam crossing the river

Sam crossing the river .

Puncture free ride

I stayed for two more days in Oaxaca city to wait for Eugene’s arrival, whom I cycled with previously in Baja California two months ago. I felt home at Zoe’s place(my Warmshowers host in Oaxaca) so it was not difficult to spend more time in Oaxaca. From Oaxaca City we cycled approximately 525 Km’s to reach San Cristobal de Las Casas in the state of Chipas. It was a delight to ride with no punctures for the whole 7 days, although my seat post rack which was holding my trunk bag, cracked at its neck and broke into two pieces. Luckily, I found a car mechanic who was able to weld the pieces and it seems to hold together so far.

Mountains of Oaxaca

Mountains of Oaxaca

elevation profile: Oaxaca to San Cristobal

Elevation profile: Oaxaca to San Cristobal

Mescal production

Mescal production – a local alcoholic beverage

The route (Km’s) : Oaxaca city – San Pedro Topolopan (79) – El Coyul (76) – Tehuantepec (95) – Santa Domingo Zanatepec (18 Km’s cycling + 77 Km’s bus) – Cintalapa (103) – Tuxtla Guiterrez (75) – San Cristobal (75). In Topolopan and El Coyul we stayed at The Presidenia (Municipal office) building and in Tehuantepec and Cintalapa we stayed at the local churches. Rest of the places we stayed with Warmshowers hosts.

Canon del sumidero

Canon del sumidero

Accommodation at El Coyul

Accommodation at El Coyul

accommodation at San Pedro Topolopan

Accommodation at San Pedro Topolopan

 

Oaxaca and Chiapas are known for its mountains and the presence of strong indigenous population. Some of the big climbs and drops seen in the elevation profile for the route between Oaxaca and San Cristobal de Las Casas masks the smaller climbs but my legs does not fail to notice any small climbs. Some days the total ascent were more than 1500 metres and especially the elevation profile graph for the climb from Tuxtla to San Cristobal (400 metres to 2200 metres) is spectacular on paper. A total of 45 km’s of relentless climb which we managed to tackle over a 5 hours period.

Some more mountains of Oaxaca

Some more mountains of Oaxaca

Elevation profile Tuxtla to San Cristobal

Elevation profile Tuxtla to San Cristobal

We were warned about the strong winds near La Ventosa. But we could not resist taking on this challenge. We managed to cycle for about 18 kms, but the wind kept pushing us out of the road, it was coming from 90 degrees angle. It was impossible to ride, so we had to catch a ride to the nearby town Juchitan from where we took to a bus to Santa Domingo Zanatepec. Perhaps the plethora of wind turbines in this area says something. Motor vehicles with trailers are not allowed in this road due to the danger of them getting over turned by heavy wind.

In Tuxtla, we met Roberto through my school contacts Paola and Margarita. Roberto was happy to host us in his Casa Ciclista which was going to be officially open in two weeks time. He was very pleased to have some cyclists in advance. The main attraction in Tuxtla was the Canon del Sumidero, the canyon with its 800 metres walls was majestic. After leaving Tuxtla we cycled to San Cristobal where Roberto’s friend Konny met us and offered four days hotel accommodation el gratis (free). We were delighted by this irresistible offer.

Wind turbines at La Ventosa

Wind turbines at La Ventosa

image

Mountains of Chiapas

My interview for Azteca Chiapas TV

My interview for Azteca Chiapas TV

Eugene at the school in San Juan Cancuc

Eugene at the school in San Juan Cancuc

In Tuxtla, Paola and Edrei had organised a talk at the public library where I was interviewed by three different television channels. It was a pleasant surprised to be greeted by some strangers in San Cristobal who had seen my interview.

In San Cristobal de Las Casas, Eugene and I went to two different schools where we spoke about our bicycle trip to the high school students. In San Juan Cancuc, we spoke at the school, Escuela Secundaria Tecnica No. 77 San Juan Cancuc, where Paola taught English. This school was mainly attended by native students whose first language is Tseltal. Paola translated my speech for them. This school was about 90 minutes drive from the city, nested in the mountains. It was an excellent drive with stunning views. The roads were so windy that I threw-up on both my way up and return journey, perhaps I should have cycled instead of taking a car.

Marissaz organised the second school, where she taught English, called Sentimientos de la Nacion, in the city of San Cristobal de Las Casas an evening school for students of age group 12 to 15 who work during day-time. The students here were very excited to see us. We spent almost four hours in the school, even though our talk only lasted 90 minutes. The news of our visit spread and most of the students in the school wanted to talk to us. It was a great pleasure to answer their questions.

We both were extremely pleased by the reception we had in both the schools.

At the school Sentimientos de la Nacion in San Cristobal

At the school Sentimientos de la Nacion in San Cristobal

I wish to thank Paola, Edrei, Margarita, Roberto, Marissaz, Tuxtla en Bici, Insolente San Cristobal de Las Casas and Konny for the kindness they showed us over the last few days here in Chiapas. These were some of the best days in my trip.

My seat-post rack

The seat post rack that couldn’t take the weight of my trunk bag anymore