What?! Another new country already!? It’s true, we are already out of Ecuador and into Colombia. So far it has been HOT, almost savannah-esque, and full of motorcycles. We have both had nearly catastrophic mechanical failures (more on that later), and we are currently taking a second, unexpected rest day while our bikes get patched up. Now, a little bit about our exit from Ecuador, and then more on our first days in Colombia. We’ve got more details on our end of trip plans queued up at the end of the post too.
First, leaving Quito. We had been dreading our exit from the big city, but we were hit with an incredible stroke of luck: a national holiday. There was almost zero traffic as we made our way out of this metropolis! It was fantastic. That day we conquered still more Andean climbs and reached the market town of Otavalo.
Our cyclist friend Jorge (who we met first in La Paz and later in Cusco) has been in Otavalo for two weeks recovering from an injury, so we were excited to meet up with him again. We also decided to take a rest day here, and to spend it doing absolutely nothing. It was glorious! We only left the hostel to visit the market and buy stamps. It was an exercise in supreme rest.
The first almost catastrophic mechanical occurred after leaving Otavalo. Everything was going great – we got out of town (and met Godzilla en route), and had a huge descent into a hot valley. About 30 miles into the day’s ride I felt that my rear brake was catching on something. I couldn’t find anything stuck on my wheel, so we rode to the next gas station and stopped for lunch. After lunch I could feel that something was wrong with my wheel. As I rode a little irregularity was noticeable all the way up through my seat. We stopped again, and saw the source: a crack in the rim of the wheel.
This was really bad news. A cracked rim can very quickly become a broken rim, causing the tire to fly off the wheel and the rider (me) to crash. We were very far from the nearest bicycle shop, and completely unable to fix the rim on our own. I suppose we should have seen this coming (rims get worn out from braking, and we’ve been braking a LOT on these mountains), but we really wanted everything to just hold out until the trip was over. We had to make the hard decision to get a ride. It was our first ride since Patagonia, more than 6,000 miles ago.
Luckily, we were about 100 meters from a toll booth where all the speeding traffic has to slow down and stop to pay. We got permission from the workers there to approach each pickup truck as it passed, and soon we were crammed into the back seat with two other folks, en route to the Ecuador-Colombian border 60 miles distant. Colombians are much more avid cyclists than Ecuadorians, so we expected to find better (and cheaper!) shops on their side of the border.
Our border crossing was straight-forward, except we felt a bit rushed by the visibly expanding crack in my rim. The border agent required that we leave the bikes outside with the sketchy money changers. I explained to one of them about my cracked rim and he explained (mansplained, if you know that term) that it happened because I needed to change my brake pads. Thanks buddy – only done that about 5 times in the last year!
We rode the few miles to downtown Ipiales in Colombia and quickly found a row of bicycle shops. The fourth one we entered had the parts and the mechanic to make the repair, and it was with a great sigh of relief that we left the bike in their care for the afternoon. We got a nice hotel, went out for a massive pizza dinner, and celebrated our arrival to Colombia.
From Ipiales to Popayan we had planned for four days of riding. We ended up doing it in only three, since the small towns we passed through were somewhat unappealing and shockingly hot. That’s not to say the riding was bad, as it was actually very beautiful as we descended out of the mountains and all the way down to 2,000′ (600 meters) elevation. Once at the bottom, though, it was hot and humid all day and all night. The heat forced us to be on the road at dawn to avoid the worst of it.
We were also surprised to find that almost everyone living in this area is of African descent. Folks were friendly when we talked to them, but seemed very hesitant to engage. They also looked at us like we were absolutely crazy. We later learned that almost no tourists come through here because the US state department has some pretty strong travel warnings out about this area. We were fine though, and even got lots of smiles and waves after we shouted out ‘Buenos dias!’ to everyone we passed.
We reached the city of Popayan a day ahead of schedule and had a lovely rest day eating food and resting (again). This morning we left town excited to be heading to the coffee zone of Colombia, but we were thwarted about 6 miles down the road. Jason started to feel that same catching sensation from his rear wheel. Yup – another rim cracked! We knew what to do this time. We turned right back around, returned to town, and found a bike shop. This time we are leaving the bikes there overnight to get ALL the rims replaced. We don’t want this to happen again! It is a bit of a treat though, to take an extra rest day.
We are in the fancy room at a nice hostel, and have a whole sitting area on the third floor to ourselves. What luxury!
So finally, more on our somewhat big news (that many of you may already know): Colombia will be our last country. It is with great excitement and sadness that we near the end of this adventure that seems (to us) to have lasted most of forever. We both will be starting work in State College in October, and we have decided to skip over Central America. Instead, we will fly to Spain to spend a couple weeks with my Spanish family. All the cyclists we’ve met on the road have said that they didn’t much enjoy their time in Central America, at least not compared to South America. It was also very expensive and difficult to get from Colombia to Panama, and much cheaper to go back to the US. We found that to be unbelievable. Going to Spain before starting work will be a great transition, and a good chance for us to really wrap our heads around staying in one place for more than a couple nights.
We have already secured housing in State College (visitor’s welcome!), and of course there are also some pretty cute little service dog puppies that need puppy raisers!