UNKNOWN ROADS – COLOMBIA #2
Words and Photos by Matthew Clark - Stirl and Rae Photo
We woke on day 2 to the sound of rain on the tin roof of our cabin, the sound almost willing us back to bed. As inviting as this was, it was not going to stop us from venturing into the mountains once more. The memories of yesterday’s riding still sat fresh and the notion it was just the start made the decision to spring out of bed quite an easy one.
Today we started up ‘La Cuchilla’, a stunning piece of road 24km in length that peaked at 3365 metres in elevation. The rain eased, and by the time we had climbed a third of the way the sun had burnt through the clouds and opened up layered views of never-ending mountains, begging to be ridden. The view resembled something you would see in Hawaii: lush, tropical mountains almost volcanic in appearance.
"Weary legs brought no complaints – we’d experienced routes that few people had ever ridden"
Though each day’s rides on paper were not long in distance, the elevation and climbing wore out even the most seasoned of riders and the sight of a cold beer and our accommodations were always well received.
Day 3 would be a unique one, our first venture onto the many gravel back roads this area of Colombia has to offer. It would take us from La Cuchilla to Pantano where we again rose well above the 3000 metre mark on several occasions. We wanted to discover places many wouldn’t drive to, let alone cycle through, and the reward would be untouched areas few other than locals ever saw. We rode a mix of well maintained gravel roads; with some cobblestone and big chunky, loose rocks keeping things interesting. The small towns we passed through were all very much self-sufficient; the residents would only ever make the trek into civilization if their health were at stake. We were often greeted by the curious locals, going about their daily routine until surprised by our group of riders buzzing past.
Our local friends, playing the role of encouraging guides on these routes would often suggest, “the climb was only for another km” or “we are nearly at the top”. But this invariably meant that the average pace of under 10km/h would continue on for some time - the grind was real.
After each ride ended we spent the later hours of the day gorging on local foods. Arepas, empanadas, ajiaco, aborrajados and Almojábana were all on the menu as well as the local beer Poker. At nights we sat in tiny beer halls, using milk crates as stools as we discussed the day’s adventures, or simply listening as Spanish buzzed around our ears.
Our last big day of riding was again a memorable one, from Manta to Gacheta with a top out of elevation of 2743 metres. For the majority of our time we rode on gravel, very rarely seeing a car or even a person, just the frailejón that rose above us on either side continuing to stand guard.
During our time on the day’s route we passed Lake Guativita. Legend has it that treasure lay at the bottom of the lake’s floor. The rumour was strong enough at one point in time for the government to drain the water in search of that treasure, but nothing was ever found.
We ended our time eating local fare and sipping cervezas as church bells sang in the nearby plaza. Sundown was a time for locals to socialize after work and most of the town could be found in this plaza at the centre of town. The mix of riding and culture was the ultimate combination and really got us thinking of how many of these adventures are out there to experience.
After finally completing our chosen routes we made our way back to Bogota. Weary legs brought no complaints – we’d experienced routes that few people had ever ridden, and our thoughts were about how to get back to ride more of these Colombian roads.