Bucaramanga to San Gil

by lwsaville

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).