San Gil to Bogotá

by lwsaville

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.