view photos that belong to this set here
13th -17th February – Medellin
How lucky am I? That people want to come and visit me all the way from England to share the adventure! Laura and Tom were coming for a holiday, and back in October I didn’t know exactly where I would be at this point, so that fact that I just needed to get on an overnight bus seemed as though I hadn’t over shot too far.
We spent some lovely days in Medellin and it was amazing to see some familiar faces who knew me before. It was fun taking in all the tourist sites I hadn’t managed on my first time, and of course making the most of the most excellent rum de Medellin. They had also been so good to bring a load of things from home – my newly repaired laptop and a whole load of winter and wet weather clothes my mum had packed up for me, and some jars of peanut butter I should add. I managed to off load some stuff with them too, slowly discarding regular clothes like jeans for things that are going to be more useful for me as the weather becomes more extreme.
Respect for backpackers
Heading back to Pasto I gained a whole new respect for backpackers. Buses are not easy, you don’t sleep, but you are so tired and therefore spend the whole time in some semi comatose state, feeling a bit grubby not really knowing what is what. You have to pass all the amazing scenery, not being able to stop and take it in, you cant stop for food when you want, AND, when you arrive somewhere you then need to work out how to get to where it is you need to go. Riding a bike is simple, and no where near as exhausting, you are in charge of it all.
18th – 19th February – Pasto
Back in Pasto a day to repack and sort everything out and spend time with Carlos our very sweet host.
20th February – Pasto to San Juan
This was our first time back on the Pan American Highway for nearly a month, an equal amount of up and down hill made it a good day on the road, rocky mountains had been cut away to make the road, it was stunning and dramatic but we there was so much traffic and we weren’t used to it. We stopped to eat late afternoon but by the time we were ready to get going again we decided it might be more sensible to stop at that village. This close to the equator it doesn’t get dark til around 6:30 so we had 2 hours to get to Ipiales, we could have made it but it was a bit of a risk as all up hill, and I was suddenly feeling exhausted.
Asking outside the church we spoke to a man sat outside, he said that we were welcome to stay in his outhouse, he had hosted other cyclists before. He got a mattress out, and some covers and offered us the shower, and we were happy. They had some ornament in their home with English writing on, so I spent a bit of the night translating the page to them, it was good homework for me. They gave us bread and hot chocolate before we said goodbye to our last night in Colombia.
21st February – San Juan to Tulcan
The following morning we woke up to fruit salad, hot chocolate, bread and juice, and plenty of smiles. The lady insisted on packing us off with a 1kg of panela, unrefined sugar cane that Colombians swear is full of vitamins. Great, another kg of weight, exactly what I needed. So a few more hours before we made it to Ipiales. I was feeling miserable, I had a pretty bad cold which was making me feel so heavy. We took a little detour to Lajas, the sight of some catholic pilgrimage, it made for pretty impressive church built between 2 sides of a valley. We negotiated getting in to the museum for free by telling them we had cycled there, here was some interesting art and info about the indigenous cultures too.
The site became a pilgrimage as the story goes a deaf blind girl went into a cave there and came out speaking. Anyway, I got into the spirit of things and bought some candles to light, the paternal side of my family is catholic, I think my Nan would have been proud of me. But alas I had some bad luck there, I was feeling so rotten and poorly that I stupidly got my last remaining Colombian money out of my wallet and left it on a table by mistake, about $50, or nearly 1 weeks living, such a bummer, but what can one do, it wasn’t until Ecuador that I realised that the money had gone.
Around 10km more we got to the border, there was no queue to leave Colombia, we understood why, we didn’t want to leave either. So, stress free stamping out of Colombia and in to Ecuador, then 10km of up hill to Tulcan. I was feeling pretty ill by this point but I didn’t want to waste money on accommodation so we went to the bomberos (fire station). The sub commandante was lovely, we set up camp in the gym and we had HOT showers, so amazing it made me feel so much better. They let us use their kitchen and we shared food with them and chatted before bed.
22nd February – Tulcan to ?
We slept long and well and did not want to get up, we had offers from the bomberos to stay an extra night and go to a disco with them, tempting as it sounded we wanted to keep going. Our previous days excitement of crossing the border and successful first night in Ecuador slipped into nostalgic thoughts of Colombia as the day progressed. The Pan Am highway was dull, it was grey and a bit cold, rain a constant threat. We stopped at a bakery for hot chocolate to cheer ourselves up, before the landscape became more dramatic and we ended the day with a 40km down hill. Checked in to the bomberos again, we slept in their games room, and that was that.
23rd February – ? to Otavalo
24th February – Otavalo to Tabacundo
25th February – Laguna Mojanda to Tabacundo
The landscape surrounding the bomberos was pretty dramatic dry rocky mountains and cactus, it was so dry my lips were bleeding. Reaching Ibarra we stopped at a supermarket for lunch in the middle of some shopping complex, pretty depressing. The PanAm highway then turned into a triple lane carriage way that would continue up until Quito, it rained all afternoon, I can’t exactly say we were having fun. Arriving in Otavalo we knew nothing about the place, but it was actually a pretty popular tourist destination due to it’s proximity to lots of mountains, big markets and strong indigenous culture. The bomberos made us promise we would only stay one night, I think people often want to stay longer, I can imagine lots of hippy Argentinian cyclists wanting to stay and sell artisania here. Street food and markets in Ecuador are good, almost back to Mexican standards, plenty for us to get excited about. Oh course most things involve deep frying, corn and some sort of corn drink, different food same ingredients. Whilst eating that evening we got chatting to a family who ended up inviting us to come and stay with them in a town 30km away and then go visit a series of lakes nearby. That night we googled pictures of the lakes and decided we really wanted to go, so the following morning after a breakfast feast in the Otavalo food market we headed to Tabacundo, the family fed us and the dad who worked for the local council who managed the lake drove us up the mountain on an unpaved road in a 4×4 to stay in some cabins by the lake.
We were at 4000m at the lake, the highest I have been in my life I think. It was pretty amazing that there were a collection of cabins with 24hr security guards and people could stay for free. There were 2 lads from Quito also staying there, so that night we made a campfire. It was 0c but we managed to keep warm. We spent the following day at the lake before riding down the hill and back to stay with the family. They were such lovely people who really wanted to look after us and feed us. We played Pictionary and I must say I was pretty proud of myself for managing that in Spanish!
The following morning the grandmother we come and watch her milk her cows in the field near their home, she was well into her 70s and still really active. They gave us the unpasteurised milk for breakfast, so rich and fatty but a great way to start the day. Oh, and in Ecuador the bread is amazing, people offer us cheese bread rolls for breakfast lunch and supper.
After leaving Tabacundo we got back onto the mainroad, the main excitement for the day was crossing the equatorial line, pretty epic event. We rolled in to Tumbaco after continuing to get road fumes pumped into our souls on the Pan Am Highway. Here we were staying at the Casa de Ciclistas run by Santiago and his family.
26th February – 12th March Tumbaco, Quito
I had loads of stuff I needed to do – write blogs, clean my bike, clean my stove and various other repairs, which would take several days. I was also given an amazing opportunity to do some paid work that I could do on my computer, and taking a couple of days. We arrived the same day as Matt from London. He had cycled around the world from London to Sydney before arriving in Ushuaia and travelling north, check out Matt’s blog here. We exchanged tips and contacts that we had, it got me really excited for all of the countries ahead, and I think I got him pumped for what lay ahead in Colombia, and of course it was lovely to spend time with a fellow countryman.
Hitting the museums hard
Quito is known to be one of the most splendid colonial cities in South America and for it’s great museums, so we wanted to check those out too. I loved the gallery Casa Capilla de Hombre, work by the artist Guayasamin, and I wondered why I’d never heard of him before. We checked out pre-Colombian artefacts in Casa de Cultura and Casa del Alabado; (to quote Mark from Peep show, I’m a bit of a pasto, I love history). Both museums had amazing collections of work, well displayed and very similar to the Anthropological museum in Mexico City which I lost my mind over. Quito is in a valley at 2800m, and we took a cable car to the top of a mountain which gave breathtaking views of the city and the valleys below. We were over 4000m high and the ecosystem totally different, it reminded me of British moorland, only with alpacas, it made me think of Wuthering Heights, a very good place to day dream.
We’ve spent about a week longer than we wanted to here, being patient waiting for some work to get done on our bikes, I am itching to get back on my bike. We hated our time on the Pan American highway so have made exciting plans for the rest of Ecuador, ‘the volcano route’ and then heading off to the amazon route, or what Ecudorians called ‘el orriente’ before crossing the border into Peru. In Peru we plan on taking the mountain routes, we had considered the coast but Matt had convinced us otherwise. So here I am, dreaming of the road, hopefully tomorrow we will be back on it where we belong.
- Tierra Sagrada
- Cotopaxi – riding and climbing