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Arriving in Colombia

Finally, a blog about our travels! (Those of you who've been sending us hints that it was time - we heard you!)

We landed at the Medellin airport a little before noon on June 15, only to find out that our bicycles had not made it there with us, but by 5:00pm that day, we were reunited with our bikes, which arrived in fine condition. In the meantime, we had the pleasure of watching one of the first matches of the World Cup at our hotel’s open air restaurant along with a lively group of locals, Which included a number of police officers, who were clearly regulars during their breaks.


The next day we officially embarked on our journey by assembling our bikes, loading them up, and riding the 35 km (22 miles) from the airport to central Medellin - sounds easy, right? The interesting part was that this included a climb of about 600m (2,000’), starting at elevation 2153 m (7,000’) and a descent into Medellin of almost 1,200 m (4,000’), all on a two-lane highway which is the main road to/from the airport for the world’s 3rd densest city.


Our warm welcome

By far, our biggest and most lasting impression of Colombia will be the enthusiastic welcome we have received from Colombianos of all quarters when we ride up on loaded bicycles. It has been amazing and humbling. They are curious about our bikes, and seem genuinely pleased to see us travelling through their country under our own power.

 

We cannot overstate how much positive reinforcement we have received while riding in Colombia. Our odd appearance catches peoples’ eyes, and we have been amazed at how many casual onlookers, pedestrians, bicycle and motorcycle riders, and people in passing cars have given us some sort of instantaneous positive sign, usually a huge smile and a thumbs up, often coupled with a friendly honk. Even a number of the buses and large trucks who have to wait to pass us have expressed support. We are particularly struck by how rapid and uninhibited their reactions are - they see what we're doing and express instantaneous, enthusiastic support. We’ve loved it, and it’s helped us up the steep hills and past the unregulated diesel exhaust of the traffic we are part of. 


We’ve had multiple cyclists and drivers slow down to talk with us, then pass us and pull out ahead to get us to stop for a photo with them and answer more questions about our bikes and our journey. We’ve also been photographed by numerous smartphones being held out the passenger window of passing cars.

Q. Are these really bikes? Where is the motor?

A: Yes, and we are the motor. Woww.
Q. Where are you coming from, where are you from and where are you going?
A: That mornings town, the USA, the next town/city and then Ecuador and Peru. REALLY!?!
Q. How do you like Colombia?
A: Amazed by our gracious welcome by all Colombianos! Bueno! Bienvenidos!


Kindness of strangers

In addition to the constant reinforcement we are getting while riding, there have been wonderful instances of the kindness and generosity of strangers. In our first three weeks here we were invited into the homes of three different families. 

Camilo (curator of TresPrimitivos), whom we met at the top of the pass on our first day, introduced us to Medellin's Tuesday evening Ciclovía, and then invited us to join him and his wife to stay overnight at his parents home, which was perfectly placed on our route away from the city.


Omar, who driving by, saw our perplexed faces the morning of a tropical rainstorm, and offered, in an instant, to take us, our bikes and all of our gear the rest of the way to Manizales. He then invited us to join him, his wife, Paula, her son, Duwian, and his girlfriend, Karen, in a trip that evening to eat fresh corn arepas at their favorite restaurant and soak in some local thermal baths. Later that week they invited us into their home for lunch, where they took our bikes and gear into storage before they then drove them to Salento for us, enabling us to do a 3-day trek in the Andean highlands. We met them in Salento and shared another dinner before saying our goodbyes.

Enrique, and his children Felipe and Sarita, who met us on the street on their way to go swimming, and turned around to let us into their home where we showered and cleaned up while they swam. We then all went out for burgers and milkshakes (kids choice!)

We also had two bike mechanics break from what they were doing to help us adjust something on our bikes, both times successfully, and both times for no charge!


Riding in Colombia (so far)

When we conceived this trip, and started planning for it, we knew from our past trips that we loved riding in the mountains. Some of our reasons include: the amazing and ever-changing vistas, great connections with people made while slowly progressing upward, and the real sense of accomplishment you feel at the top of each pass. But we also knew that with these benefits come real challenges, and on all of these accounts, Colombia has not left us wanting. 

The Andes are really big mountains, and Colombia is blessed with three separate ranges of the Andes. And while big, they are deceiving, as even when we are riding at elevations above 2,500m (8,200’), we are riding through various versions of tropical forests. We have had days with really big climbs (where our speed in 1st gear is constant at about 4km/hr {2.5 mph}), others with really big descents, and most days we have both. We have "only" needed to push our bikes 5 or 6 times (including during the first 5 km heading out of Medellin, where a woman helped Kacia push her bike up an exceptionally steep two-block stretch), which feels pretty good given the terrain we've covered thus far. 

 

We've already spent one day off pavement on very rough roads, and found the bikes to be amazingly stable, comfortable and mobile in rough conditions.


While riding these mountains, we have, once again felt the generosity and respect of the Colombianos. All of the vehicles that have passed us, without exception, have waited when they needed to, and always given us enough room as they pass, which includes the obligatory thumbs up and honk. We have never felt pushed to the edge of, or off of the road, nor have we sensed any “road rage” from drivers who've had to wait for us (unlike the many drivers who quickly get impatient with us back home.) We think one reason for this is that Colombia, like so many developing countries, still has all forms of mobility present on its roads, including pedestrians, bicycles, and even horses, cows, and a few animal-drawn wagons. Having these things moving slowly on the right side of the road helps elicit constant alertness and caution from drivers - we are just two more slow things.

On the mountain roads, we've been warned to watch out for a zoological bounty of animals that may cross in front of us. We haven't actually seen any of these animals while riding, but we're still hoping… 

 

We are only three weeks into the trip, and we've already ridden in sun, fog, drizzle, wind and  rain, and combinations thereof, but in general, we've had great weather, with temperatures ranging from 15 - 30 degrees C (59 - 82 degrees F) with just two days above 30 C. It’s summer here, but more importantly its the “dry” season, and we're finding the weather quite nice for riding.


Watching the World Cup

Our first impressions would not be complete without mention of watching the World Cup in this fútbol-loving country. We actually planned to arrive in Colombia in time for all of their games, and we enjoyed every one of them. We watched the games in local establishments which ranged from a bar (the British-born proprietor in Medellin didn't know they couldn't pour alcohol before 10 am - he found out from the police after he gave shots to all after the first goal!), to restaurants, one of which was packed by over 100 construction workers who were given the time off to watch the game - many had their jerseys on under their overalls and many had the team's colors painted on their cheeks, and finally in a 6-story shopping mall, with every balcony filled. As far as we can tell, Colombia effectively stopped, as a country, for each of their games. Even though Colombia lost to England in the knockout round, they showed well, their country is proud, and we have a host of fond memories.


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Comments: 16
  • #1

    Luis Huertas (Friday, 13 July 2018 09:35)

    Colombia, land of climber cyclist. The Tour de France is on and several Colombian riders are being featured and one (Nairo Quintana) is expected to compete for the Yellow Jersey!! Colombians really understand the cycling culture. :)

  • #2

    Lizzie (Friday, 13 July 2018 10:21)

    This post makes me so happy! The spontaneous invitations into people's homes is remarkable. Though when I reflect on it, completely in line with our experiences being oddballs in other countries.

    We are taking June on her first overnight "cycle touring" trip next weekend. We will report back on the keen observations of a 2.5 year old. Keep up the posts -- this was such a delight to read!

  • #3

    Judy Goehler (Friday, 13 July 2018 11:40)

    It is with such great joy and a tear in my eye, reading your tales of adventure. I love the photos, esp of the animal crossing signs :-)
    So happy for you!!

  • #4

    Dave-O (Friday, 13 July 2018 12:04)

    All that Timbers cheering came in handy - and now that I know there are burgers and milkshakes in Colombia, I expect I will be hanging with Felipe and Sarita.

  • #5

    Dave-O (Friday, 13 July 2018 12:05)

    And with all that signage, still no Tank Crossing?

  • #6

    Yolanda Pitre (Friday, 13 July 2018 13:48)

    I am overjoyed about the warmth you have received from the Colombians. Especially keen on all the animal signs (squirrels? - funny). You both look great. Loved your updates, 'till next time!

  • #7

    Bonnie Bruce (Friday, 13 July 2018 15:28)

    Ah it is such a special treat to be welcomed into a local's home! Love reading about all your travels. Have Fun and Be Safe.

  • #8

    Markus Stoffel (Friday, 13 July 2018 20:29)

    Hi guys,
    Interesting coincidence about the World Cup. I was traveling in Central America, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia in 1982 (no internet then �). We were following almost the entire World Cup in Ecuador at the time. My German friend was sad when his team lost to Italy in the final. Enjoy your journey!

  • #9

    David Lehrer (Saturday, 14 July 2018 10:12)

    What a great trip, I look forward to seeing your next post!

  • #10

    Dave E (Saturday, 14 July 2018 15:57)

    Totally envious! A colleague and I did a workshop at EAN University in Bogota last fall for 10 days on sustainable development. We had very similar experiences. The Colombian people were graciously hospitable and amazingly entrepreneurial in pursuing sustainability. We rode in the Ciclovia on Sunday with thousands of residents and it was a hoot. We were welcomed wherever we went. Sending warm wishes for the remainder of your South American adventure.

  • #11

    Robin K (Saturday, 14 July 2018 19:46)

    OMG the little soccer urinal!! The mountain pictures were incredible. I'm so proud of you guys and looking forward to the next installment.

  • #12

    Julia DeBroux (Sunday, 15 July 2018 16:53)

    Thanks for sharing your fabulous adventures. Can’t wait til the next installment.

  • #13

    Cullen Bromwell, and Ru (Monday, 16 July 2018 19:28)

    Congratulations Yifu and Yimu I can see your'e having a great time in Columbia. I can't wait to see you!
    I can't believe that you you traveled almost a marathon up hill in one day.

  • #14

    Stewart bromwell (Monday, 16 July 2018 19:45)

    Good job, when you come back home how many miles do think you have rode?

  • #15

    Johel (Sunday, 22 July 2018 09:06)

    Nos encanta, saber que han avanzado bastante y disfrutado de nuestro país.

  • #16

    Teresa (Saturday, 28 July 2018 15:16)

    Can't wait to see that first pic of an anteater licking up ants!