I was born with two scoops less than the average man

Neiva to Mocoa

In the interest of getting the blog back on track someday I’ll be brief. These are photos with captions from the section between Neiva and the town of Mocoa in Colombia also passing through San Augustín (a popular tourist stop off for some ruins). The route (another from Cass Gilbert) took us away from the main roads and into a sting of little towns that one might never see in a smash and grab Colombian experience. Kudos to Heidi for gritting out some tough bits right at the start of her cycling trip!


Grouchy looking bird.


The pretty and gothic style church in Yaguará.




An interesting geologic spine


Heidi cruising along contentedly.


This little guy was fluffed up and outrageously red.


A local economic prospect drying in the sun, no importa if the rain starts spitting.


Heidi looking sceptically at me from my perched advantage.


Heading around the edge of the spine


Like a lot of Colombia, looking lush and a few blooming trees added a bit of flair to the numerous shades of green.


Heidi tearing up the dirt road.


Another economic prospect before it goes through processing and ends up in chocolate bars.


Heidi’s super cheap, but excellent, front rack comes equipped with a spring loaded gear grabber. It’s handy for lots of things, from watermelons and honey dews to this dirty rag (El Shukito).


Another church seen from the side of the road as it wraps around leaving La Plata.


Some plants out to dry and later off to market to be bought and used as natural scrubbers, principally for a dirty backside in the shower.


The seemingly antiquated wooden machine that is used to squeeze juice our of freshly cut sugar cane yielding a sweet drink, in these parts called Guarapo.


The goods are in the cup and mixed with fresh limon juice. Guarapo is really tasty and I feel like we discovered the drink a bit late in the game.


Passing on a motorbike after work this guy offered to give us some oranges. Further down on the road we received a huge bag of oranges and an offer to stay at his house in La Argentina. Dragging ourselves into the town after dark was a potentially unpleasant experienced tempered by the hospitality of him and his family.


The friendly, girl heavy, family.


“Pa’que es?” (What’s it for?) was repeated over and over while this big eyed young girl touched or pointed out various bits of our gear.



Heidi hanging with the girls while they eat some apples we had brought.


The area, abundant with productive land, also grows Pitahaya, a strange tropical fruit difficult to for me to describe but really delicious.


A local woman offers to give Heidi a shove on an extra steep stretch.


The earth speckled with heavily ripe Guayaba. You certainly wouldn’t starve through these parts. With Guayaba Colombians made a hardened sort of jelly (Bocadillo) that they cut in pieces and wrap in leaves. I loved unwrapping a chunk and tossing the “wrapper” on the side of the road.


Rain threatening as we push on, trees lining the country lane.


One more brightly colored bird sighted along the way.


The canopy of a large tree that I liked the look of.


The sun falling with the light beginning to change color, making things progressively more dynamic and beautiful.


Diminishing light gets cut into pieces by passing clouds and highlights a big grassy plain that I had passed earlier but was shrinking as I climbed away.


Heidi and I playing on the teeter-toter in the yard of a wooden shack we called home for the night.


In addition to movement up and down it spun around on its fulcrum. Heidi powerless to do anything (short legs)!


Clouds creep in over the hills as dusk falls.


The various levels and types of cloud showing off on the horizon.


Nothing beats fresh papaya in the morning.


Nor the view off into the valley where we been the previous day.


The shack.


On a descent we passed by some windswept grazing land that was perfect for a number of beautiful spiders along the fence line.



A dog taking a nap.


Climbing out of the valley towards Pitalito on decent pavement.


In Guacacallo hanging around the square waiting for people to head home so we could camp somebody had called somebody and gotten the keys for a community market building. Heidi’s pulling out bedding gear.


Little coffee plants carefully nursed from sprouts on upwards to a size acceptable for planting.


We ran into an Argentinian called Federico a few km outside of San Augustín and rode together for a second.


A horse parked on the street in San Augustín.


Empanadas we discovered at a bakery.


Fighting cocks tethered at a distance from one another.


A side of the road fruit stand sporting principly granadilla and its purple cousin whose name I don’t remember.


I passed a cycle tourist further down who appeared to be waiting for someone, the someone was this fellow who had flatted and was trying to fill a leaky tire. I had an excess of tires from the downhill Heidi nightmare and helped to get him on his way. They had entertained in the street enough in a city to buy some bikes.


Some other fellows rucked up during the flat-fix also heading the other way.


Up further on the pass between Pitalito and Mocoa, it gets really wet and jungly.


San Juan de Villalobos is basically just a handful of businesses and homes scattered along the roadside.


Power lines and wispy clouds over forest.


Looking down the valley we were descending.




Heidi rolling by some clouds.


A parrot in a tree next to a roadside eatery where we snacked some empandas and tintico (little coffee).


The area still has a lot of military presence. I think I looked up an incident in which several soldiers were killed in San Juan de Villalobos just the year before by the FARC.


An exciting Toucan sighting.


A race or organized ride striking out into the climb while we cruise down.


The hostel with camping in Mocoa also has a gang of semi-tame monkeys that come around for food.







And the rare photo of yours truly giving one a bit of banana.

Bogotá to Neiva

It’s been ages…. I’ve missed yall… (I don’t think anyone even reads this thing). I’ll once again try to be better. I’m going to continue telling about the trip from Bogotá down although I’ve recently crossed the Argentinian border. Someday I’ll catch up to the present I swear.

Coming back from the salsa-spectaculo in Cali we had trouble remembering how much time we had spent in Bogotá. It begin to dawn on us that we’d better get moving as I have a permanent fear of the dreaded “rainy season” and perhaps between my being a “couchy” and Heidi’s nerves derived from starting a long bicycle trip we had been in Bogotá a touch too long.

One day out of Bogotá and Heidi received her first flat. Fixing it we set off anticipating the long downhill that awaited, Bogotá sitting way up high at ~2,600 meters and Neiva down low in the central valley at 442 meters. On the way down a dog jumped out at Heidi and she experienced a semi-explosive flat, resulting in some swerving, her deflating back tire skating and a big fall. Luckily she rolled away with only bruising and nothing permanent! Heading on once more she experienced 4 more flats, the tire sliding contrary to the rim and the tire valve cutting at it’s base against the valve-hole in the rim. I had never experienced any tire failure similar and it became very exasperating towards the end of the day and the end of our tire supply (my having repaired a couple, special tactics included). We ended up walking into the next small town and catching a ride to the next bigger one in search of a mechanic.

We got more tubes and I started marking the tire in relation to the rim to monitor its travel and the problem continued. Finally we made a trip back to Bogotá, thinking that the only thing it could be was the rim. Nobody having ever heard of the problem we were having, we left the city with a new wheel (we had originally considered building her a new set of wheels in any case for the trip). A few more flats and a broken spoke later (how much can go wrong in so short of time? I had traveled thousands of kilometers trouble free) had me out of tricks (swapping tires around from my bike to hers etc) and I went on my bike to change the spoke (my spokes are  different length and we neglected to bring extras for Heidi). Some time-trial cyclists in the plaza took me to a good mechanic and he did wonders on the wheel but didn’t know anything about our problem either. In the end he prescribed more pressure in the tires and pumped the tire up to a suitable level with a floor pump. Crossed fingers and we were off once more.

And it worked.

Not sure why, having my tires pumped in the same manner for a long time, hers didn’t work the same. We’re now sure to keep them pumped up especially in steep down-hill sections and have been flat free for a long time.
We went relatively without trouble from then on into the heat of the desert and were able to enjoy the beauty of the valley and the the trip arriving to Neiva.


Heidi flattens out her first hill with an intimidating level of traffic for company.


Seems like shes coping pretty well.


Lots of fixing flats that day. Wishing for a coke?


Off for a spoke repair to the nearest town.


Heidi with her new wheel having reached Patagonia?


After the most ridiculous tire on wheel sliding action, a series of explosive flats, a dramatic fall and a trip back to Bogotá for a new wheel, she christens it with a bit of our favorite boxed wine and a lot of hope that the problem is solved.


Workers wading through a lush crop.


The lower valleys of Colombia make a happy home for lots of birds.


More valley floor.


Heidi eating lunch with a little friend wanting a bit of sandwich (he actually stole a bit right from my hand after the photo was taking and my guard let down).


A lovely side-road takes us away from the main drag and towards a river crossing.


A man with a boat makes the trip back and forth most of the day earning a bit each time. It’s easier to cross here than take the long way around from a bridge much nearer to Neiva.


The bikes loaded up and the man pushing off the bank with a long pole, all the while chatting with a local.


A bit from the crossing we cross another little bit on a rickety board-walk.


We’re spit out on a quiet back-road, except for a bit of construction. The men were quick to shout encouragement for Heidi as she went through the soft stuff.


The better surface we received after with the shade of some tunneling trees.


Another good looking crop growing alongside the road.


The foliage begins to thin out as we wind into desert “La Tatacoa”.


Heidi Villatoro riding a bicycle.


Riding past some cactus.


Great desert scenery.


Heidi enjoying a quick breather.


Broken shrine leaves the saintly figure looking like a creepy futuristic robot.


From the top.


I like cactus quite a bit.


We had read about one place along the stretch to Villavieja that sold drinks and were excited in the heat to partake in a break and cold refreshment.


La sonrisa de gallina. Now a classic.


Hiking that bike up a really steep bit.


And the victory.


Stopping to take a photo of the perched bird I lucked out as another came in ready for a fight.


And they’re both off.


A really big cactus-hydra.


The last bit was paved from Villavieja to Neiva and was bordered by tall dry grass. Finally we were on the road minus the troubles.


-Off on a bicycle trip again.

-Beautiful desert scenery.

– Tire solutions (after tire problems).


-Nightmare bike troubles resulting in: a semi-permanent equipment distrust for me and a more permanent fear of dogs for Heidi.

-Lots of heat after the coolness of Bogotá.


For those of you that don’t know (pretty much everyone… I’m sort of secretive about it) I’m a bit salsa obsessed. Looking forward into the route planning future in Bogotá it seemed like we wouldn’t be passing through Cali, The Salsa Capitol Of The World. With my urging we decided to remedy the situation by hoping on a bus to spend a week taking some classes covering the fast step-work of their particular style of salsa.

For those not acquainted with the various styles of salsa there are a bunch plus or minus a few depending on how you’d like to think: LA (On1), New York (On2), Puerto Rico (Power On2), Cuban, and Caleño (from Cali). The differences can be small, subtle or large depending on the two you’re comparing. If a city has a salsa culture it’s often a mix of influences depending on a multitude of factors (Founding Fathers, later outside influence etc) and the people of that place are often unaware that other styles exist (which is Good and Fine). I learned salsa in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala (in classes where in fact Heidi and I met) and there they dance LA On1 with some stolen movements from a more traditional Cuban style (At least in the school where I was taught. Each school will put out students dancing in subtly distinct ways… ex: maybe a teacher likes dips and so the alumni of the school know a lot of dips while in a different school they teach flashy hand games). Really the subtlety can reach great values ending at the focus of an individual dancer.

In the end I felt that I had learned quite a lot in our short time in Cali. The experience turned out to be a bit of a salsa overdose between the classes and practicing the moves in between (with me taking it a bit seriously, as a cheapskate wanting to get my money’s worth out of the classes (poor Heidi who likes to enjoy things like a normal person)). The ride out and back were, in addition, my first rather long bus rides traveling in Latin America, giving me a taste of the travelers normal mode of existence hopping from place to place. I rather prefer pedaling my bicycle.


Heidi getting real with some religious iconography.


A swing-set looking west towards the pacific, Cali sits in a valley within the western mountain range that stretches from north of Medillín on down, the Colombia’s share of the Andes.


A good stretch before class.




And poor quality stills of yours truly stolen from an impromptu video.


I think I had just bumbled everything.


Wrap her up.


My wrap.


Toe taps.




-Visiting The World Capitol of Salsa and seeing them do their thing.

-Getting to learn quite a few steps, at least seeing the principles in slow motion.

-Deciding to do the classes. I’m a tight-wad and although supporting some salsa teachers and learning are things I definitely support I get caught up in the cyclist on the road mentality.


-Perhaps too much salsa? I had to take a break after the trip.

-Not doing a whole lot of other activities (not sure there are lots of options but…).


Arriving in Bogotá we were lucky to have some friends of Heidi whom she had met on previous travels put us up. It was great not having to worry about finding a place or having to pay. Thusly we had a laid-back time (perhaps too laid-back as time would tell) checking out all our new gear, spending time together, wandering around sprawling Bogotá, and getting everything in order. We even got to break in the tent, camping in an empty luxurious house in the hills outside of the city (under a chandelier).

The bike fix was frustrating and ended up costing more than I had thought. The Phil Wood bottom bracket is special enough that there aren’t really easy fixes for it. In place of sending the piece back to Phil I opted to change out my cranks as well and went for one of the newer Shimano hollow crank systems, in the same whack giving me a a smaller granny gear for the upcoming climbs in the Andes.


Reunited. After about three months of my cycling through Central America and northern Colombia we meet up again in Bogotá!


Found a beer that doesn’t follow the mold of clear and generally tasteless.


Heidi expertly helps me measure out where I should punch the holes when lacing my brooks saddle that had gone a bit floppy.


And me taking the punch to the fine and generally sacred leather of my saddle.


Its terrifying when all the things inside my bags are out on display. Wiser cyclists travel lighter I’m told. Here I am attempting to add some organizational cardboard to my handlebar bag.


Bogotá knows not only how to encourage a bit of exercise with their ciclovias (blocking off large portions of city streets to cars allowing only the passage of people powered transport), but how to take advantage of them. They show up in droves even when the weather is grey (quite a frequent occurrence).


Heidi out taking advantage of the same, proving to me that yes, she actually does know how to ride a bicycle!


Quick snap.


Bogotá has more graffiti than I’ve ever seen in one city, both sanctioned and otherwise.


I think they sold spas or pool supplies in this building.


Driveway to the garage.


A political piece saying something like “mining is misery”.


Older faces pass the more recent wall art.


We even manage to catch a bit of the gay-pride parade. Some resemblance to the queen of salsa, Celia Cruz. Azúcar!


Heidi giving the bike it’s first ride with bags. Different but the same right?


A big thanks to Carlos and Diego for putting us up!


– Reunion with Heidi!

– A place to stay with our very own room with a bit of floor.

– Getting all the bike and gear stuff sorted.

-In all the excitement my stomach straightened out a bit.


– Getting all the bike and gear stuff sorted (isn’t it about the bits where you don’t have to think about the gear?).

San Gil to Bogotá

I stayed in San Gil a number of days trying to straighten out my gut flora. On the descent to San Gil I wasn’t feeling so hot and so I tried a different round of drugs that seemed to help. I even caved in to trying some of the mysterious pro-biotic supplements ( They work or no? Depends on who you ask). Saying goodbye I headed out of town early one morning.

Climbing awaited me immediately. I had vacillated between routes thinking of taking more, verbatim, from Cass Gilbert but decided on a slightly different and longer route initially to arrive in the same high corridor that leads to Bogotá, uniting with Cass’s route a few days on.


I don’t feel good at writing something cohesive right now so I’ll cheat and summarize by day:

Day 1: Lots of climbing after I encountered an enthusiastic school teacher who waved frantically then had the whole school pupil population flooding out the entrance to gawk at the gringo with his bicycle. They gave me a liquado (shake) and I was off. During the descent my head started to hurt and I drug my feverish self into Onzaga.

Day 2: Although my head was hurting a bit I pushed on for a short day to La Capilla, a tiny town at the edge of the long cultivation corridor north of Bogotá.

Day 3: I had arranged to make a stay with a Warmshowers host in Duitama. Ambitiously I thought that I could make it to Duitama in a couple of days and so, arriving in the middle of the third day, made it another shorter day making my first “minutos” call (in Colombia they sell cell-phone minutes on the street. I had to abandon the phone to the help of a friendly woman who worked out the meeting details. Spanish through a phone is hard (I also have a natural dislike of phones)).

Day 4: Started the day with an accompaniment of cyclists leaving Duitama, we arrived at the top of a climb outside of Sotaquira just as the sky opened for a soaking. Taking refuge in a locals house we passed the worst of it with a couple of beers. Later I received the soaking we missed earlier on the ride down to the turn-off for the colonial Villa de Leyva. Another minutos call and I connected with my Warmshowers host who gave me a run-down of the city.

Day 5: The day began with a tour of Duvan Alejandro’s family’s finca where they grow some large and delicious tomatoes. I tried some sort of blood sausage and Arequipe (carmel sauce) for the first time on the way. Duvan kept on after lunch to make himself a loop back to Villa de Leyva and left me with the principle portion of a bag of Guayabas we had picked earlier and a couple of tomatoes at my next climb’s turnoff. Entering the dusty portion around Gauchetá that accompanies some coal mining operations I pitched the night in the next town hoping I had passed the most disagreeable part of this leg of cycling.

Day 6: Passing through some really pretty farm land I made my way through some small pueblos to Zipiquirá. A noise that I had attributed to a dirty chain manifested on my arrival to Zipiquirá to be a broken bottom bracket. I had hurried the whole day to make it to see the salt cathedral they have there and was bothered by several urgent trips to the bathroom (my friends still at my side… oh wait, in-side) and an unexpected high price of entry (naively taking information in old guidebooks to heart) only to have broken really good quality bottom bracket…. It was a strong combination (they even made me dismount to walk the hill up to the salt cathedral). The cathedral was sort of pretty but I had been thinking that it was much older. The cathedral as it is now has been around for 18 years, the original cathedral being deemed unstable and unseen. I was a bit disappointed.

Day 7: I boldly set out thinking I’d play it real soft and ride my broken part in gently, only to turn around thinking it better to check at a bike shop, only to turn around with more resolve and limp towards Bogotá (the Phil Wood BB is unlikely to find replacement parts or a service center with the special tool they need to take out and press in new bearing cartridges and so it seemed likely to need a replacement, Bogotá being a better bet). Finding a chain-ring/sprocket combination that reduced accidental shifting and noise I made it to the edge of the city before finally calling it lost (doubts and confidence back and forth about the wisdom of pushing on and not just getting a ride in from Zipiquirá). At a gas station I cornered a truck who dropped me and my steed off close to where Heidi and I arranged to stay.


The ride was principally inspired again following Cass Gilbert’s example with a mix-up at the beginning. It passed through some really high cultivated territory and enabled me to connect with some great Warmshowers hosts while I experienced a mix of health states. I’d have to get the bike sorted out before starting again but I had made it to sprawling/thin Bogotá and would meet with Heidi the very next day!


A pretty truck on the preliminary climb out of San Gil.


Valley cruising.


The gaggle of school children that had rushed out the door on the insistence and excitement of their schoolteacher. Who is on view here?


A close up of the same gaggle with the teacher visible. Some children are visibly nonplussed while others have curiosity. Surely some are glad of the excuse to pause their intriguing studies.


A bit of the road on the long climb to the top. This section must’ve’d (yes you understand) problems in the past and had been redone.


The foggy top, robbing me of my surely spectacular victory views. A nice pause to eat some junk food.


A rocky descent on the other side en route to San Joaquín during which I begin to feel pretty terrible.


Some more of the descent.


Glad to have pushed on the following day I encountered on and off rain climbing once again.


Another junk food break (not so many options in the shops in towns that barely exist) and some rays of sun. (Me enjoying the jacket again after so long).


After all the climbing I emerged to meet the high cultivated hills in the eastern mountain range which further south contains the sprawl of Bogotá.


Bags of potatoes in front of a road-side shack. Papas are pretty popular.


The view from my hotel-room window in La Capilla before the clouds rolled in.


Looking back to the hills over which I came the day before (entering from left to right). A patchwork of cultivation.


A similar and redundant view.


Cooking meat in this manner is quite popular and is called a llanera. I have a strong feeling that the meat comes out slightly undercooked at times. According to my recently poor state (and perhaps a slight lack of confidence/courage) I was filled with reluctance to take a bite of the sample they gave me, but survived. With so much fat my stomach gave a turn and I attempted to politely refuse eating the rest. They eventually split the remainder among themselves.


My hosts in Duitama, the brother of a Warmshowers host that is currently residing elsewhere.


Duitama is a hotspot for cycling. Upon leaving the next morning I was accompanied by a crew of local cyclists meaning to do part of the ride with me. Here is the face of one just before he peeled off to spectate a local mountain bike race we had passed earlier.


The other remaining two on the dirt section out of Sotaquira. The fellow on the right is riding a spaghetti tired road racing bicycle. It would have been a slow descent upon turning back.


Rain hit as we crested the summit of the climb and we took shelter in a local house’s porch. Quick call back to tell somebody it might be a touch longer (they hadn’t really planned on doing the climb).



A healthy snack. The sheltering house also happened to sell beers and so while we waited out the rain we down a couple and I ran out to grab a bag of doritos I had bought in a big-supermarket fever.




The woman of the house sits peeling potatoes.


A cute wide eyed girl hanging out with grandma (assuming).


Some locals taking a walk in a rolly section at the top. A few are rocking the popular poncho of the campesinos in this part of the Colombia. Shortly after this photo the rain began again and I got the first real soaking in a long time for my descent to Arcabuco, the easy going entrance to Villa de Leyva.


Grandmother Warmshowers co-host with Duvan Alejandro in Villa de Leyva.


The particularly large principle plaza of Villa de Leyva.


Duvan Alejandro casually standing in the large plaza. Having just come back from a cycling trip himself I was lucky to catch him in his hometown.


La Burra, Duvan’s kick around town bike in front of some prettily kept housing.


La Burra, note the gourd water canteen to match the cycles classic styling.


Duvan accompanied me on the way out of town and we stopped by his family’s finca where they grow these large and tasty tomatoes.




A woman drop spinning yarn out of her sheep’s wool. Perhaps sheep in right hand side was the contributor? I first learned about drop spinning from a college teacher of biology who did it as a hobby and felt that it helped her to understand the coiling and super-coiling that occurs in DNA to pack massive amounts of information into tiny spaces.


Particularly large Colombian flag in the shape of a building in Ráquira.


Ráquira is well known as an artisan town where they principally make things out of clay. The climb out of town took me past many of the workshop/homes where they make, dry, and fire the goods.


A closer look.


Near the top of the climb I encountered a large number of sheep grazing. Many of their ponchos are made from the yarn from the hair of these sheep. It makes me wonder why the expensive wool products that have recently stormed the outdoor soft-goods market use fabrics made of wool from sheep that only hail from New Zealand.


A shot off the side of my downhill into Guachetá.


An attractive spine of geography that also happens to house (in or nearby?) a large amount of coal.


Pristine and idyllic farming lifestyles alongside part of the coal extraction chain (note stunned campesino with wheel barrow in bottom left, the coal repository towards the top).


My campsite in Lenguazaque with local grazers in the overcast morning.


Another output of the area in raw milk that they leave out in collared jugs which are collected by a raw milk truck, ending in some sort of processing facility. This might be one of the said producers… These cows have particularly long hair which I’m sure comes in handy for keeping warm in the higher altitudes.


Rarely enough can one see the road so clearly draped across the landscape.


My ride looking down a steep pitch (roads never look steep in photos).


Near the beginning of a series of underground chambers in the salt cathedral in Zipiquirá.


What the inside of a salt mine might more normally look like. They’ve yet to trick out this section with lights and religious iconography.


Someone’s interpretation of a more famous work.


Stairway to lower chambers.


One of the smaller spaces of worship.


An illuminated cross cut-out.



-Getting well enough to hit the road again instead of feeling feeble.

-A preferable set of back and side roads avoiding crazy truck routes.

-Getting to Bogotá to meet Heidi.


-Still feeling poorly.

-Broken bottom bracket.

-A bit of disappointment and frustration.

Bucaramanga to San Gil

Finally feeling well enough to attempt to travel I set off towards a long anticipated route popularized by Cass Gilbert. Sarah and James originally turned me on to his blog somewhere in Mexico. The route has a huge deal of aesthetic appeal, the road inscribing zig-zags across the steep sides of land bordering a river, as well as providing a route with very little traffic and beautiful Colombian pueblos along the way, the most known and celebrated being Barichara.

A climb of this magnitude after being sick in Bucaramanga a week was difficult indeed and wiped me out. In Bucaramanga after my early-parasitic-forecast-warning-system kicked in, my last night camping before reaching Bucaramanga,  I spent several days with a dizzying fever and a large degree of fatigue in addition to those beloved bathroom trips I so cherish (the giant pizza and beers for celebration dinner on arrival did not help). At the dawn of a new week I sent a test and came back with some sort of a yeast or fungal infection. Then ensued my frustrations at paying for a hostel in a city while not being able to do much to enjoy it. Another factor influencing my frustration, in combination some ambitious route options, was my dwindling time-frame to get myself to Bogotá to meet Heidi.

The bit out to Zapatoca is forgivingly paved for the descent and big climb on which, taking my lunch, some flies and wasps eventually ran me out of my shaded spot, biting/stinging, me waving my arms like a crazy person before hastily readying my bike and rushing off. After Zapatoca the road descends to La Fuente and was very rocky and jarring. Passing through Galán and crossing the river a second time I rode up to Barichara. On the ride up I experienced some rough stomach action that hailed another the beginning of another round of sickness for a day stay in the tranquil Barichara and for my stay with Lukas, a cycle touring friend I had met much earlier on my trip in La Paz, Baja, Mexico. Lukas, having taken a cargo ship back to Europe and spending a time traveling in the states, is living in San Gil working as a mountain bike adventure tour guide. Having stayed more or less in contact over the lapsed time (I would’ve been with Lukas in a hostel in La Paz in January of 2012), he offered to put me up if I was passing through.


Leaving San Gil one encounters this lovely country-side.


One of the black birds with enormous beaks. These are quite common and the conspicuous shnoz always puts me in mind of Darwin and his comparison of finches on the Galapagos islands.


A first glance at my afternoon work. A faint line tracing “z”s across steep hillside. It rather makes one take a sharp breath.


Across the river and beginning the climb provides great views down the tributary on its way to meet the prime flow of Colombia, the Magdalena, which I had already met on the Mompós section.


A piece of the road winding up.


A peculiarly parked car.


A more complete view of the main show, this time looking back on the part descending to the river. This spectacular incline set had been floating around in my mind, with the hash-tag Colombia, since reading about and seeing it much earlier in the trip from Cass Gilbert, always a sure bet for a good blog and route ideas (While Out Riding). The draw being that occurrences in which roads inscribe lines on the earth in such a manner are rare enough.


Taken from a plateau looking over another plateau, a shot of Bucaramanga from a distance.


The lovely mesa with cooler air, beautiful cloud formations and tranquil grazing horses.


Zapatoca draping itself over one of the slight hills.


The main plaza church.


Some cattle are my companions on the road leaving Zapatoca.


A pretty bit leading down to La Fuente.


La Fuente itself. The whole place isn’t much bigger than the boundaries of this photograph.


A discussion or salutations on the steps of the church.


Further along outside La Fuente my poor experience with flies and wasps on the climb to Zapatoca was replaced with the tumbling flight of butterflies.


Sipping nectar.




The entrance to Galán.


Recently resurfaced road; a welcome break from the rocky descent.


Getting some altitude again on the original side of the river where I started but further along on the way up to Barichara.


The valley with a sliver of the river visible.


A look down the first street upon arrival in Barichara, possibly the most well preserved and perfect seeming town.


The areas ochre dust reaches up the walls which are often painted to a certain height with paint of a similar color. In my opinion this feature is one of the biggest factors in the town’s beauty.


The town has a high degree of homogeneity: almost all the walls are white-washed, the ochre dust fade-out at the base of the walls, the roofs consist of a traditional sort of curved, stone shingle. Unlike places like Mompós, which have a well preserved colonial zone outside of whose boundaries newer and cheaper building materials and styles prevail, Barichara is almost totally built in the aforementioned manner (Surely there are laws. HOAs and other such entities in the US champion homogeneity as well but of a different, and I feel inferior, style).


The vehicle.


A, surely, painstakingly maintained truck to go along with the buildings.


A street leading up to the main square and church.


The church face.


The individual houses typically maintain a color scheme of their own.


Taking a look down a street from the high side of town; Barichara is built on a hill.


A hill on the edge of a sort of plateau. The road arriving cuts across the edge and wraps back into town.


Another street looking down the hill.


A creeping vine decorates a house, framing the window.


I would imagine that the population contains a much higher percentage of older people.


Another regular sort of vehicle for the area, well kept but perhaps more functional and utilized than the green truck.


Man entering his abode.


A look at the back of the principle church.


The side with birds circling.


Another working vehicle.


Pigeon hanging out in church detail.


Another of the bike against a picturesque wall.


Bird on the short climb out of town on the way to San Gil.


A look at one of the local crops, tobacco, growing in the foreground and drying in the background.



-A quiet back-road route including idyllic pueblos and a striking climb. A far cry from the stretch of road arriving to Bucaramanga.

-Feeling well enough to start of from my week stay in Bucaramanga.

-Beautiful and tranquil Barichara.

-Singing a bit of Joe Arroyo’s Rebellion with a random guy in the plaza.


-Starting to feel poorly again.

-The wasps/flies interrupting my lunch break.

-Having been offered several places to stay by passing motorcycles (adding to the magic of the change of climate on the plateau of Zapatoca), being stood-up and waiting in the park a long time (tempered by many chats with nice people).




My meeting Heidi in Bogotá and my wanting to do some of the routes Cass Gil has made popular dictated my route from Cartagena across the widely spread drainage basin whose low point culminates in the mighty river Magdalena, flowing towards the sea to the north of Colombia. Across this large area one encounters the eastern mountain range running south, which contains Bogotá.

In the midst of this watery area in which the river takes liberties making it’s sinuous path lies the historically important town of Mompós (Simón Bolívar recruited soldiers for his victory, was once important for travel of goods along the river before the extended road infrastructure and shifting of the river). Touted as lost in time by travel authorities, Mompós sits isolated, surrounded by various waterways (nat geo claims an island… I’m not sure how that works technically) making it difficult to reach. I came in from the west and crossed by an old school ferry. The isolated bit itself is laid-back enough with comparatively little traffic. Spending a rest day in town I wandered off to find replacement flip-flops and encountered a very average sort of town a few blocks apart from the carefully maintained colonial center. Apart from the heat (sweating v’s into my shirt taking a walk) Mompós is pretty and colonial (like so many). This section represented a sort of obligatory race to the hills which in my mind were a retreat from the heat I’ve experienced since descending from the high places in Guatemala (wasn’t I carrying a jacket somewhere in my bags?). Conveniently enough for the cyclist looking towards the Bucaramanga the route cuts through the watery area and the corner of a larger thoroughfare being an excellent option (escaping traffic and taking a more direct route, a seldom found combination).

After Mompós I headed out to the main road and encountered a whole lot of truck traffic. Those unpleasant days were requisite for reaching the hills and a myriad of smaller roads one can take all the way to 30km outside of Bogotá. Along the road I was able to encounter quite a lot of hospitality that made it a touch more worthwhile.


The big flat, hot, open plain, gently sloping down over the average heading towards Magangué. In Central America somehow I lost a sense of largeness, In Colombia I found it again, straining to see across this huge basin to the Cordillera Occidental where I was to meet once again with lots of climbing and the cooler weather given with gaining altitude (6.4 Degrees C per 1000m, the average environmental lapse rate stripped of the complexities of the real world).


Had some chats and sipped tinto (tiny coffees with a ton of sugar) waiting for the ferry to unload. This ferry is much more straightforward than the modern ones.


Mompós is alternately, spelled Mompox (historically/officially Sante Cruz de Mompox). The city was a thriving port in it’s prime being strategically located along the large Magdelena until the traffic shifted due to river dynamics.


Classic doorway and modern poverty.


A well kept street in the historic center typifying architecture of the past.


An old building across from an old church.


With it’s wingspan.


Architectural detail of a building.


Interesting artwork in the arches.


Another less innocent piece on the other side. (They’ve grown up?)


Looking the other way from said arches.




One of the many churches in Mompós, this one just down the way from the hostal Casa Amarilla.


Same church from the roof of the hostel.


I had met this fellow a few days before on the ferry and here we have another meeting along the road. He came over with a huge truck of bananas and goes about in a much smaller vehicle to sell them along the way.


Ready for the road.


My gift bag.


And he’s off to deliver more.


A large bird of prey from a distance on my side road route to El Banco.


Going for a swim and eating at the same time.


Some flicker along the way.


A bit of the road I had to myself save the passing motorcycle.


In place of the little river crossing I had imagined when getting directions from a random guy on the road, I tossed my bike on top of a high capacity speed boat.


I was happy enough this big guy didn’t run and instead posed for me.



What I presume are ant hills.


Bird and ant hills.


The fellow that set me up with a backyard camp. He lived a long time ago in the US and was keen to practice his English, the rest of the crew bestowing him with the new name “My Friend” for him always starting his phrases with it.


My Friend and some of the many people in and out of their busy house. The women tried to persuade me to stay and take a Costeña for my wife.


Almost got him! Take off.


Fruit and meat just short of Bucaramanga.


-Hospitality: fruit, water, chats, yards to camp in, arepas (a super thick tortilla sometimes stuffed) and meat, showers, river dip, sweetened the cycling.

-Finally arriving and traveling in a country I’d looked forward to for so long.

-Arriving in the foothills with the promise of chilly nights not too far off.


-Traffic after hitting the main-road.

-Quite warm.

-The rumble in my gut my last night camping before Bucaramanga that in hindsight signaled the return of unbalanced gut flora.


I stayed a bit longer in Cartagena than perhaps I would’ve planned on. The close quarters on the boat provided prime territory for the spread of the common cold and I was one of the lucky winners. But I’d made it to Colombia! And I was expecting around every corner for people to be dancing salsa in the street. My unreal expectations were not fulfilled. Partly because I’m too much of a stooge to stay up late enough for the real salsa action to start (arriving on Monday does nothing to help). Of course people aren’t dancing in the street when it’s so hot out. Salsa music does however emanate from doorways and windows; salsa is listened to by the average person.

I found the people to be quite warm and curious as I went about my little daily tasks. Cartagena is certainly a tourist destination with a whole set of people making their livings off visitors. The very pretty colonial interior (inside the walls) contrasted slightly with where I was staying in Getsemaní, a living neighborhood. You can get anything you like in Cartagena. I walked passed a woman at night and she hissed to get my attention and showed how well she could suck on a random object she had. I also met a coke dealer who used to sell next to the Salvation Army in downtown Denver CO after he offered to show me where the girls were at (on the benches waiting of course) and then proceeded through the list of goods on offer before he realized I didn’t want anything and we chatted normally (they’re all very kind about it, small world). On the whole Cartagena is beautiful with it’s restored colonial bits and it’s run down lived in bits as well. The people were friendly on a level I’d not experienced since Mexico.


This man was almost always at his sewing station when I walked by on my home street. To me one of the more cherished bits of Latin America is their thriftiness. Coming from a largely throw-away culture in the US (yes it’s shifting) to see people mending old clothes and things of that nature is refreshing. You can even find a vendor on the street selling unpaired used shoes.


Ubiquitous pigeon on pretty balcony.


Within the walls of Cartagena they work hard to keep everything fresh, clean, and colonial (the prices go accordingly).


Lots of churches.


Clock face of the same.


Man in rapture feeding pigeons?


Always time to sit and read the paper.


Struck up a conversation with this sweets seller when I stopped on the street looking curiously into the famous “Donde Fidel” salsa club.


Not sure what the purpose is but these strung empty cans caught my eye.


The benches after the clock tower gate to the old walled town. The same on which the prostitutes sat at night when I met the drug dealer who worked in Denver.


Some iconic sculptures with skateboarders hanging out working their flat-ground game.


The sewing man packing it in for the night. I was always eager to have my next glimpse.


Kids playing football in front of a church in Getsemaní. Out of the picture there are benches in a semi-circle that fill with friends, couples, and families at night, street vendors on hand for a snack or beer.


Getsemaní sports some great graffiti.


Getsemaní graffiti.


Getsemaní grafitti.


Run down entrance.


Getsemaní grafitti.


Local man leaving local shop.


Kids playing ball in the street. Street activity sees a sharp spike towards dusk and into the night when it starts to cool off.

Some of my more interesting and favorite experiences in the bigger cities are when I go on a mission for something. Sometimes I’m looking for an ingredient for my kitchen setup (of course item size/weight and integrity of the oat are high on my list). Sometimes it’s a pair of underwear to replace some that mysteriously disappeared. I see more of a place that way and I end up talking to more people. Some times I don’t know I’m on a mission.

Having forced myself to stay up late on a Wednesday to attempt to at least see some dancing, I was sitting at Donde Fidel’s and one of the patrons had a pair of claves (the musical instrument that plays the backbone in salsa) that he would from time to time play (at his table with his friends!). I thought, what kind of a person brings claves to a salsa spot to occasionally play the clave (they like salsa in Colombia…)? It got me thinking that I should have something to play rhythms on (thought placed in back of head for further/later development).

The next day upon forcing myself to walk around the neighborhood to look for good photos (I get lazy on city layovers) I spotted a broken broom handle on the sidewalk. I kept walking and thought, hmmm, maybe if there’s a wood-shop they could cut it down for me and I could have some really cheap claves. On the next block I beheld a wood-shop. Trying to explain what I wanted proved difficult as I wanted to be sure they’d cut it before I went back to pick up the handle (what a strange gringo…). Went back for the handle and the guy cut it up for me and I tried it out. It was okay and I was pretty excited but now knowing what I was looking for the guy insisted these were terrible and that I needed something made of better wood and rummaging through a pile found something. He told me he could sell the piece of wood and some other guy could turn and cut it. So we went for a walk and set up the deal with the other guy in his cave-like crowded work-shop. So I’ve now got a pair of handmade rare tropical hardwood claves for which I paid a mere $4.44 (another example of resourcefulness in Latin America).


Scene after making my way into the back of the shop where the lathe was. Guy rocking table legs all day long.


Guy showing me how to appropriately use the claves he made for me.


Guy back at his work on the table legs as I leave.


And the finished product!

Sailing the Darien Gap and Cartagena

For cyclists traveling from Alaska to Argentina all the roads converge in Panama and there are just a few options to cross the Darien Gap, a wild lawless gap in the continuity of the highway system connecting the Americas. Braver souls have crossed on foot but it is strongly discouraged (check The more common ways are around, on either the Pacific or Atlantic side, or over in a flying contraption. The Pacific route tends to yield more interesting results because of it’s patchwork nature and it’s being less traveled but can take quite a lot of time and is potentially dangerous (see a really excellent blog that Logan turned me onto). Another downside to the aforementioned choice is that you end up in Buenaventura way down on the Pacific coast while the Atlantic side commonly puts you back on ground at Cartagena, allowing you to experience quite a lot more of Colombia . The Atlantic side can also take quite a lot of time using the patchwork method of speed-boats and cargo boats. Being as I have a time frame in which to get to Bogota to meet up with Heidi, I choose the route of paying a sailboat on the Atlantic side lots of money to cook me food and navigate while I live the dream.

In La Paz Mexico I got lucky and was able to find a free ride across to Mazatlán by working as crew with a guy who was alone and needed help on his boat. My experience crossing from Panama to Colombia couldn’t have been more different. Apparently chances exist to find deals various factors make this difficult. The boats also leave from around 5 separate places and this makes it hard for a cyclist (especially when a few of the spots are not just down the road, but are separate enough to have to leave Panama in two different directions) trying to show up at a dock. The general sailboat cartel they’ve got running charges ~$550 pp. The boat I sailed on is supposed to house 16 guests but rode a bit lower in the water with 21 (two with motorcycles and 1, yours truly, with a bicycle. Do a little math; they do the trip every week, bicycles cost $50 and motorcycles ~$500). Having thought and expected with my previous boating experiences to have a large amount of down time with few distractions, I was certainly met with something else altogether.

Another interesting bit was getting to the dock. I insisted on being able to cycle to where the pick up the other people arriving by “jeep”. There’s not a lot of information on the road to Cartí. It doesn’t appear on some maps or on Google Earth. Asking around people immediately talk of the hills and do hand motions to signify that it will be a lot of up and down. I left two days before I needed to be there just to be sure. The road out of Panama City to the turn-off doesn’t warrant any talk. The ~40km stretch from the turn-off really was a roller coaster of challenging grades and one of the most interesting and fun roads in my recent history.


The opening pitch of the road to Cartí which confronts one immediately after the turn-off. Compared to the road from Panama City to the turn-off it’s a slap in the face.


Large spider in the act of eating some prime morsel it caught. Going to zip up my tent with extra care….


More of the curvature of the road. Would’ve loved for it all to be like this but on the bigger ups and downs they’ve taken out the pavement on the lowest part, presumably to keep people from turning the road into a racetrack.


Really steep road. I had to resort to a zigzagging method that brought the grade down to something I could manage. Even then it was a struggle at points.


The owner at an eatery along the road (you see there is something along the road to Cartí!) who let me camp in the parking area. Here he appears as a mean mug but is actually a really nice and curious guy (Mexican photo face syndrome).


Off in the distance you can see the Gulf of San Blas. This is on the other side of the continental divide.


Looking down the divide. Much different than one would see the divide in Colorado.


Bearded and glistening like a supermodel, but dirty.


Really elegant looking reptile out to sun himself at the dock where I camped waiting for the rest of the boat guests and our ride to the boat. There are quite a lot of really wild areas in Panama.


Motoring out past the completely settled Kuna islands of San Blas. Settled so much that they build out from the beach. Can’t really imagine growing up in a place like this.


A crab bought from a local Kuna man for our dinner. I would like crab a lot more if it weren’t so much work. Still very tasty.


One of the islands (uninhabited I think) and brooding clouds.


A large fish being cut up by the cook after the owner/captain shot him with a spear gun on one of the reefs we visited.


The fish had a leathery and thick skin.


The island again.


The cockpit where 21 people would try and cram in at mealtimes.


Client supervision of anchor handling. Slept in the trampoline one night.


Dawn of the last night on board when we’re at anchor outside Cartagena. Arrived late in the night.


More sleepers in the cockpit. I slept to the left of the guy in the lower part of the photo.


A couple of tug boats in the harbor outside of Cartagena and a bit of skyline. We’d arrived.


-Snorkeling on various reefs off the San Blas islands. If I pretend I kind of feel like I’m flying. I also, for the first time, tried diving down and had a blast.

-A moderately assured arrival date to Colombia. Another strength of the sailboats.

-The road to Cartí, very little traffic and seeing a bit wilder Panama.

-Going to South America!


-So many people on the boat (nice folk but…)

-The captain/owner was a sexist jerk.

-Really bad sun-burn (yes, my fault)

-Having to pay a load of money.


From Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica Logan and I made our way down to the Osa Peninsula. It is a comparatively wild part of the world and a biodiversity hotspot. Before we had thought of trying to make out the perimeter of the peninsula on bike but the chance got dimmer the further we looked into it. Stopping for lunch at the turnoff we pondered exploring just the one side but decided against it and pushed on towards the border of Panama. Unfortunately choices have to be made. I’d like to go back to Costa Rica one day if I ever have a lot of money that needs spending.

The next day we hit the border and prepared ourselves mentally for one of the supposed low points on the panamerican route, panama being an isthmus and forcing us to ride principally on the busy, hot, flat, fast, relatively dull panamericana highway. Over-all I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Panama. We were able to camp a bit on some beaches and the price break starting at the border was an immediate release. The side trip off to Soná was quite pretty and gave us a few day break from the monotony. Panama City feels enormous in it’s filth and character. A visit to the Panama Canal was in order and after that I set my sights on finding a boat to cross for the next big frontier in my head, Colombia and South America. At this juncture Logan and I had to say our goodbyes as he was heading back to the states. Check out his blog: (see a bit of me recently and other cool stuff he’s done as well as what he’ll be up to in the future).

The mysterious spheres of an ancient culture. I figured I had seen one before but we made it to where they keep the motherload, this being the largest. They're scattered around a public park.

The mysterious spheres of an ancient culture. I figured I had seen one before but we made it to where they keep the mother lode, this being the largest. They’re scattered around a public park.


Logan and I got to the edge of David and before we could navigate to some housing it began to rain. We hid out under a gas station roof for a bit and thinking it was raining light enough to continue started off. It then poured and the addition of what seemed a million shabby drivers in taxis drove us under the roof again.



Girl on he roadside selling Guaba. 2 or 1 for 25 cents depending on size.


Logan forging ahead on the original bridge. Out of sight to the right they’re building a wider one.


Picturesque grazing


They prize their livestock in Panama. We cycled past many cattle auctioning houses on the way. I just want to know where that shoulder hump came from.


Painted taverns with a good dose of character.


Our first encounter with Hojaldres (puff pastry) for breakfast. Less than healthy but very tasty.


Corn dough for making empanadas and a special thick and small fried tortilla that I can’t remember the name of. Love the kitchen implement.


Dough balls ready for shaping.


We experienced a refreshing morning of fog on the last little bit into Soná.


Sun starting to cut through.


After buying the green bandana and using it well in Costa Rica to help me keep my sweat off the handlebars (hand to hand passing required), I scored a second in a happy shade of yellow in one of the many Chinese run shops along the road. Adding color and grip to my trial of the butterfly/trekking handlebars I got from Virginia.


I could feel the gravity of Panama City as we got closer. Added into the mix were a string of flats: one here for Logan and two for me (the same day of arrival to the city).


Draped over my handlebars sweating under the shade of a bridge and wondering whether it was too early to stop at a shop for a coke, a man took the decision out of my hands by offering it through his car window. How magical.


Sunrise at our beach camp.


I ran into a few biologically interesting bananas…. one peel, two bananas. In evidence is the general difficulty a bicycle tourer has in trying to transport the fruit. It’s something I’ve not come up with a solution for.


Graffiti on a shut up warehouse.


One of our first sights in Panama City.


Pigeons roosting among the signs on a commercial walking street.


The edge of the prettier parts of Casco Viejo.


Always a church.


Kids hanging out on a balcony


More good graffiti on the edge of an urban football pitch. Almost abandoned while we were there a woman setting up to sell food says the place fills up and they play football all afternoon.


The newer developed Panama’s skyline.


Fish market man selling his wares.


Cocktails and ceviche are popular. Left is shrimp ceviche and right is lobster cocktail.


The large gates of the locks at Miraflores showing the elevation difference between the chambers. Originally a French endeavor marred with many deaths the US took over the construction. Conveniently the people of the isthmus had a revolution (hmmm…) and broke off of Colombia what is now the country of Panama. Further away from where the camera is pointed they are in the process of building wider locks to accommodate and upgrade (projected finish in 2014). On a side note Nicaragua and some Chinese interests are trying to revive the idea of  building a canal over there.


An unbelievably large cruise ship happened to be passing while Logan and I were visiting the locks.


The people of the lock observation deck looking out at the spectacle.


And the spectacle looking back. (both spectacles)


A slightly dejected Logan with his things packed for the US.


-The decision to ditch the Osa Peninsula plans.

-The price break crossing the border from Costa Rica.

-Magical delivery of Coca-Cola.

-Chinese run shops.

-Respite from the Pan-American dipping down to Soná.

-Panama City: Big-feel dirty city with character.

-Really excellent in-the-street marching band practice in Panama City.

-Sad departure of Logan.

-Boat plans and the promise of Colombia.