The Big Big Trip Journal! If you want to make the man (or woman) upstairs laugh, just tell him your plans!

Day 845 Thursday, January 06, 2022 San Luis to La Virginia, 60 km Total KM 15740
Min meters 929, Max Meters 996,
Total Climb 216 Total Descent 221
Min Temp 25 Max Temp 34 Ave Temp 29

Heading back into my old stomping ground

Ah! A night in the tent! I slept like the proverbial drunken baby. I awoke with the sun but decided to roll over and sleep some more. It was about 7:30 when I finally got up and out, the temperature rising.
I made a breakfast of coffee and oatmeal with bananas and just enjoyed the calmness of my location.

In no rush and half thinking about taking a day off I chatted to the Venezuelans as I dried out the footprint of my tent - it had rained pretty hard during the night - I heard none of it!

Somebody once told me that I was very pleasant and meant it as an insult. When I say my day was very pleasant I mean this ..... Very pleasant.
At nearly 11am I was finally ready to hit the road. That's when the temperatures really start to peak around here. Not a feck was given - it was a very pleasant morning with very interesting conversations.

What followed for the rest of the day was the kind of touring I felt that I haven't done in a while - simply moseying from place to place. Osmand told me I had about 55km to cover and on these relatively flat roads that can be covered pretty quickly and easily. And if I found something interesting along the way? I could just stop there too.

Views weren't particularly interesting but there were lots of trees to compensate.
The road wasn't great - in fact at times it was downright lethal with subsidence and potholes hidden in shade - but I was in no rush. The scenery wasn't great either, at least in comparison to what I have been seeing but it was very pleasant. Truth be told there were lots of trees blocking views but they were interesting trees, full of soul and character and no doubt with lots of tales to tell.
If I say it was incredibly pleasant I mean exactly that. I might get bored with day after day of "incredibly pleasant" but every now and then they're a good day to throw in the mix.

This is sugar cane country and that sign is warning that those multi-trailer trucks can be emerging from fields or side roads. There's always a man or two with cones, signs and flags to stop traffic and let these mammoths in and out.
My first town was Toro before I'd even warmed up. A bit off the road and with a Plaza at the wrong end of the long town it meant I got to see pretty much everything. I stopped for coffee and an empanada it being quite a while since I'd eaten breakfast.

Back on the pleasant road I turned off to San Francisco. I nearly didn't as it looked small but I doubled back and discovered a very long, well spread out village where just about everyone greeted me. Very pleasant.

Taking the turn to San Francisco, or as the sign says, the "nickname" version San Pacho. In Spain it would be Paco. In other parts of the Spanish world it could be Pancho.
There was quite a gap before I pulled into a farm/cafe/restaurant for a coffee and snack. Very pleasant.

Leaving San Francisco. Stunning! I was so glad I took the turn off. Like a city it seemed to have clusters of houses as suburbs. It's off the main road, not a touristy place at all, the kind of place I stick out like the proverbial painful thumb but I got nothing but smiles and waves as I bumbled around.
Then it was the last 20 odd kms to La Virginia, a bit of a slog to be honest in the humidity but very pleasant for all that. I could have turned right and hit Cartago but I've been there already. Armenia is just up the road. I won't be going there again! On a figary I'm heading to a place called Jardín (Garden) in a few days. It's reputedly one of the most beautiful towns in the coffee region that got dropped from my list when I couldn't take the road I wanted to take north of Manizales (landslides). What I know now that I didn't know then is that it's a tad inaccessible. Adventure beckons just to get there! Not to mention getting out again!

Palm trees? I can't quite say but I didn't care what they were called it was very pleasant riding past them
I'm thoroughly enjoying these days on the (relative) flat, the easy cycling, the regular towns and villages. Why? I'm not sure. There's an easyness, a comfort to it. No pressure. That'll change tomorrow when I start climbing again! But for now it's just about perfect.

Not the most interesting landscape, especially with the grey skies but very pleasant for me
I arrived in the chaotic La Virginia, skipped my usual coffee and grabbed a lemonade instead. Looking at the angry sky I made my way to a likely cheap Hospedaje but it was closed. A friendly neighbour pointed me around the corner where I found a receptionist completely besotted by my travels and a cheap room. As we were talking rain of biblical proportions started falling. My luck is still in!^_^

Very pleasant hills

An ominous looking sky. Mr Mountain biker managed to completely ignore me - no mean feat as I was waving and greeting him ^_^

Today's río, the Río Cauca again. It looks calm and peaceful but it's actually moving at a fair old pace and carrying a lot of debris


Chat? Yes Please!
Day 845 Thursday, January 06, 2022 San Luis to La Virginia, 60 km Total KM 15740
Min meters 929, Max Meters 996,
Total Climb 216 Total Descent 221
Min Temp 25 Max Temp 34 Ave Temp 29

Heading back into my old stomping ground

The towns along the way

Ehm...... Toro!

The green, pleasant but very quiet Plaza in Toro. It's a very long, linear town and the Plaza is located at the opposite end to the big road. The real activity was located around the market. It is very unusual not to be able to get a coffee and snack around a Plaza.

Toro Street Art. Clearly Carnaval is a big thing here.

El Toro in Toro!

For a very small village, San Francisco had a couple of levels


The church in San Francisco

The rather functional church in La Virginia

Street Art La Virginia

Much more interesting street art in La Virginia (taken the next morning)

La Virginia had three signs (that I found). Here's two - the third was in the rain.

Chat? Yes Please!
Day 846 Friday, January 07, 2022 La Virginia to Roadside Mirador*, 27 km Total KM 15767
Min meters 973, Max Meters 1798,
Total Climb 1180 Total Descent 364
Min Temp 20 Max Temp 26 Ave Temp 22

Soaked in sweat, bathed in beauty, dipped in adventure and spritzed with luck

La Virginia got no justice. I stayed put while the downpour dominated then ventured out in the lighter rain. I needed a coffee and got my fix at an empty stall in the Plaza. It had an awning that I could sit under. With no-one out to watch I wrote up my notes. Then I ducked across to a food court and had some bland Mexican for dinner. A sad thought buzzed me as I ate; This is my future - underwhelming Mexican food.

Not ready to go back to my room yet I ducked up to a bakery for a piece of cake and another coffee from some friendly girls. That coffee was one too much. I couldn't sleep!

As a result this morning was a bit slow. But at least it was dry!
My knee has been giving me a bit of gyp the last couple of days. Not painful, just uncomfortable like it needs to crack. On the bike it's fine, standing straight or walking just feels a bit odd.

Local advertising
Today was a climbing day with options. The obvious option was to hop back on the main road, zip along for 30km then climb probably in the comfort of a shoulder.
The less obvious option was to take a backroad and climb immediately. 600 meters straight up. Then lots of ups and downs. Much fewer services. But it looked like once I was up I'd be staying up and I'd be travelling along a ridge with views on both sides. In coffee country.
A bit of a no brainer really.

Due to the absence of guardrails on these small roads I take advantage of the concrete constructions that allow runoff water to flow under the road. There is always a small wall to protect the drain and since they come in pairs (one on each side of the road) one is for Roccado, the other for me.
Tim, back in San Luis, had put the idea in my head. He'd recommended it for motorbikes. Osmand frightened me with its climbing info. But I'm in no rush.

I'm sure some of you are getting fed up reading about special days but this was another one. And a special night.

This was the climb - small road, light traffic, lots of bends, lots of vegetation and some long, steep gradients
The specialness started early. A shop I'd been hoping to use to top up on fluids was actually non existent so I started climbing low on water. About 15km to the next source. Yesterday 15km was nothing. Today it was 600 meters up.

Even though Gizmo was reading 21 C I was sweating as soon as I started climbing. Humidity. After about 20 minutes I was soaking. Not a good sign when low on water. Then a pickup pulled up, the driver asking where I was from. Did I need some water? He told me three times that it was clean and filled my bottle with delicious, cold water.

The road delivers.

A shrine...... In my old rugby colours!
He was confused when I told him my ultimate destination, Ríosucio, pointing downhill and telling me the main road would be easier. Pointing where I was going he used his hand as an aeroplane taking off to suggest what was ahead of me. Then he shook his head, changed his angles and his palm became a rocket reaching for the stars! When I told him where I was going after Ríosucio - an adventurous road shall we say - my choice today didn't seem quite so mad. ^_^

As I got higher I hit the clouds. Clouds! Yaaaaay!
With gradients regularly into double figures it was slow going but height came quickly. With height came the views. With the views came the loon face.

There are few things more satisfying than cycling up and looking down on clouds snagging on mountains. I love it!

The banana tree often is an indication of the presence of coffee. It's really interesting. Coffee needs a certain altitude to grow. For a long time there's nothing, then I round a bend and coffee is everywhere. For me it is increcibly uplifting and a wonderful reward for hard, sweaty work.

To be continued.......

Chat? Yes Please!

Edited to add this photo which belongs in the next post

Big Jesus is looking down on me!

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Day 846 Friday, January 07, 2022 La Virginia to Roadside Mirador*, 27 km Total KM 15767
Min meters 973, Max Meters 1798,
Total Climb 1180 Total Descent 364
Min Temp 20 Max Temp 26 Ave Temp 22

Soaked in sweat, bathed in beauty, dipped in adventure and spritzed with luck. Part Two.

I peaked after 600 meters of climbing and sure enough I was on a ridge. I had either views to one side or the other and sometimes both. One side seemed to be bathed in mist - but that side swapped as the wind worked to always give me something to look at. It's something that is still amazing to me - how cloud and mist can steal and return views in such a lazy, nonchalent manner.

What a reward!
The first town, Belalcazar, was about 15km in, after about 10km of climbing. Unlike recent days there was no question of stopping or not - I needed to stop. An open restaurant with amazing views gave me breakfast and I continued on past a giant Jesus statue to the town, proper. I pulled in to what I thought was the Plaza (it wasn't) and whatever was in the air just seeped into me. It was an incredibly comfortable feeling. A man broke off from a group for a chat. This is what happens in small town Colombia. There was never going to be an offer of cocaine here.

The camera went a bit wonky..... But I like the result
He directed me to where I could buy a coffee, telling me not to worry about the bike and continued to chat with me. He was clearly perturbed by my insistence on using the small road but seemed to relax when I told him how much I was enjoying myself.
Then two, but soon to be five, ten year olds on bikes came over to talk to the big cyclist. Communication was hard - kids can talk fast and the pitch can be hard to hear (I'm getting old!!). One was bemused by the idea that the whole world didn't speak Spanish.

Then I saw them. I nearly missed them so inocous were they. Paintings, frameless, hanging from lamp poles. No doubt done by locals with artist ages from 6 to 63.
These things really get me. It's encouraging art and expression, it's local, it's simple, it's proud and it's just so heartwarming.

The town is amazingly steep, built along the ridge. Fabulous views in both directions with death defying streets running down. I spied a hotel - I'd not been expecting one - and gave serious thought to staying. The coffee ladies had been fun, my personal guide, the kids, and so many smiling people were strong lures to stay. But I had a plan. An outside chance. A mirador, or viewing platform where I may be able to camp.

I'm introducing a new road into the bike touring lexicon......
Ladies and gentlemen, I offer up The Coffee Road!
I stopped at the actual Plaza - more paintings and more smiles then I pushed up out of town (it was that steep) and came to a cemetery. It's been building for a while so I parked up the bike outside and went for a wander.
What a place for a final resting place. The views were just stunning. Now I had a real debate with myself about staying. In the end the chance of a night in the tent won out.

I found myself asking myself just why these towns speak to me so much as I laboured up and away. Is it the town itself or my own state of mind? Probably somewhere in the middle.

I may well have had a lower average speed along here than on the climb!^_^
My climbing wasn't over. In fact, from the giant Jesus statue one edge of the town to the far side of town added 200 meters to my tally. The road disimproved drastically with subsidence, potholes and all the usual hazards so the descents were taken carefully. There was a whole lot of up and down. But the views? Just magical. I probably seems that I'm over using that word but magical, to me, suggests mystery and unexplained happenings. Mysterious mist and cloud was hiding and revealing scenes of stunning beauty in a way that I can't explain. Hence magical.

Roccado back in coffee country

I enjoyed the last few days with the easy cycling and the town visits but this was a different kind of touring. Soaked and dripping I was literally immersed in the environment. Cold was never too far away either. Stopped at the side of the road, soaking wet it didn't take long for the ever present wind to cool me right down.
I was working very, very hard and asking myself just why I do these things. I really don't know but I came to the conclusion that I have the body of a middle aged man, the mind of a 17 year old and the heart of a feckless tiger!

I was taking my time, greeting the workers walking along the road and always getting a response. Traffic was incredibly respectful and often motivational too - lots and lots of toots and waves. Stopped at the side of the road people would holler "where are you from?". It was wonderful. I'm thinking not many touring cyclists come this way (and I can understand the physical reasons not to) but it really is a wonderful cycling and touring experience.
That GCN Colombian backpacking video that I referenced in the Chat thread recently came to mind. They both commented that their road, if in Europe, would be famous and thronged with cyclists but that in Colombia it was just one of many, many "normal" roads. Such was mine today.

Little coffee fincas (farms) dotted all around. Most coffee production in Colombia is by small farmers - the big corporations never got to take it over
San Jose was the next town after my proposed camping spot. Small, I had no information about any accommodation and I realised that Osmand was pretty accurate with its climbing info so going further, if necessary, was going to be slow and hard. Approaching where the Mirador should be I saw no typical signs for it and started to feel a bit of disappointment. However, there on a bend was a sign and a tricky road going steeply uphill. I could see something up the hill but no detail. The road was so bad and so steep that I parked up and walked up. I left the bike visible from the road, invisible to me as I ascended without a care in the world - this is small town Colombia. A guy strimming told me the place was open so I continued on.

The opposite side of the ridge to the previous photo.
The views? I don't have the words. I was made most welcome and shown where I could camp. About €2!
I went back down to pick up the bike and laboured up. It was really, really tough. Some teenagers who had parked their motorbikes gave me a push! A Friday evening and a group of teenage lads gathering in an out of the way place would make me nervous at home - but this is small town Colombia.

What a camping spot!!! (Taken the next morning)
Normally a Mirador like this has a restaurant but all that was here were snacks like crisps and cookies. Not even any coffee. No problem - I made my own as I got the tent set up. I shared it with the very pleasant young man running the show. They do paragliding from up here! There are toilets (with paper) and showers (although the stalls are full of chairs). And the views? No words.

My view from my camping spot
I thought that would be the end of the day but it's not. I cooked up some pasta as night fell and not one but two valleys came to night life in front of me. I've never seen Dallas from a DC9 at night (a Joe Ely reference) but I've seen two Colombian valleys standing on a ridge. I'd walk from one side to the other, a distance of about 5 meters, and soak up the alternating views.

At first just a few twinkling lights scattered about. Then the towns start to take shape, one here, one way down there - along the road that I could have taken . A big town way up there. As darkness falls they become more vivid, more defined, more separate. Then the homestead lights start to come on. One here. One there. Soon the whole valley is twinkling, some high, some low and the separateness of the towns melts away, defeated by tiny, glowing, pinpricks of light. The whole valley, it seems, is decorated with fairy lights.
On the other side, in a different valley, Manizales (I think) away in the far corner dominates, its light tinged with orange growing stronger until it is reflecting a fake orange sunset on the low clouds. A wider valley with fewer and smaller towns it's a picture of the power of the big town to gobble up the life of the smaller ones.

NIghtime looking eastish. I believe (most likely wrong knowing me😊) that that's Manizales lighting up the sky

I don't travel light and I sweat (and frequently swear^_^) climbing but an evening like this is why I carry what I do. I could camp. I could feed myself. I could make coffee and share it. I could be comfortable. I could relax.

To be continued.....

Chat? Yes Please!
Day 846 Friday, January 07, 2022 La Virginia to Roadside Mirador*, 27 km Total KM 15767
Min meters 973, Max Meters 1798,
Total Climb 1180 Total Descent 364
Min Temp 20 Max Temp 26 Ave Temp 22

Soaked in sweat, bathed in beauty, dipped in adventure and spritzed with luck. The Art.

Indulge me please. The art in Belalcazar deserves a post all to itself.











Chat? Yes Please!
Day 846 Friday, January 07, 2022 La Virginia to Roadside Mirador*, 27 km Total KM 15767
Min meters 973, Max Meters 1798,
Total Climb 1180 Total Descent 364
Min Temp 20 Max Temp 26 Ave Temp 22

Soaked in sweat, bathed in beauty, dipped in adventure and spritzed with luck. The towns along the way.

Monumento Cristo Ray

Parked up in Belalcazar. No worries to leave Roccado and wander off


The first bit of art to catch my eye entitled "Elvis". For any Elvis fans reading this

Streets are narrow and feckin' steep in these mountainy, ridgetop towns. (Belalcazar)

The particularly ugly church in Belalcazar


Too small to appear on a map a collection of bright houses

A simple country church in another place too small to merit a mention on a map

Chat? Yes Please!
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Day 847 Saturday, January 08, 2022 Roadside Mirador* to Anserma 30 km Total KM 15797
Min meters 1552, Max Meters 1827,
Total Climb 600 Total Descent 574
Min Temp 23 Max Temp 35 Ave Temp 28

*For @netman
Google: 5.0708703, -75.7994457
Osmand:5.07115° N, 75.79995° W

Every morning should start like this

Dawn was covered in cloud. I peeked out of the tent and was a bit disappointed.

Then I got up. For the next hour or so I tried to understand my disappointment - and failed. I couldn't figure out why I was disappointed. Mother Nature with her sun, her clouds and her mist put on a show for me that will live long in the memory.

Looking east. At first there was almost no cloud cover, just a few snagged in the mountains then slowly the valley was covered
The eastern valley, with Manizales away off in the top corner, was brightest and clearest. Below me clouds were trapped in valleys, unmoving in the wind while above them other clouds flittered across the sky relishing in their freedom.
From nowhere, it seemed, thick, heavy cloud started to fill the valley and where I could see slopes and hilltops and fields soon all became covered in a grey, dirty wool.

On the western side the sun shone snd as it rose daylight lit up the valley. A beautiful sight.
On the western side the opposite was happening. The sun was landing on peaks and changing them from darkest, dullest navy to vital green. The light sputtered, waxing and waning as if in a battle with shyness to push through the cloud then became more confident, strode cockily through the cloud and spread its warmth.
The vivid green peaks leaked downwards, the sun bringing life, colour and warmth to the valley, eventually to the valley floor itself. Fields emerged from the gloom, thick hedges defining their boundaries. Up higher, the distant mountains looming over the smaller, greener ones were darker, less distinct but bisected by incredibly straight lines of white cloud.
A different world.

Blue skies and sun. Bliss.
Sitting with my coffee I could turn my head to the east to grey and dull or to the west to sun and vitality.

What a start to the day!

One of my better decisions
To make things even better three dogs out for their morning ramble came over to say hello. One, very friendly, created a racket with his wagging tail slapping off the tent but was well behaved enough to stop his exploration inside when I said "No". It's great to see that I'm having no bad reaction to the dog bite.

Looking east the sun is higher but the cloud isn't shifting

If I'd taken the main road I'd be down there.

My friendly morning companion. I've just told him not to go into the tent and he obediently turns around

I made two pots of coffee. I was in no rush to leave

Heading down to the road. Look at that cloud!

To be continued......

Chat? Yes Please!


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Day 847 Saturday, January 08, 2022 Roadside Mirador* to Anserma 30 km Total KM 15797
Min meters 1552, Max Meters 1827,
Total Climb 600 Total Descent 574
Min Temp 23 Max Temp 35 Ave Temp 28

*For @netman
Google: 5.0708703, -75.7994457
Osmand:5.07115° N, 75.79995° W

Every morning should start like this Part Two

San José was the first village when I set off, barely having clocked up any mileage. Small, steep, busy and rural it was with narrow streets. I had a pleasant breakfast in about the only place not serving alcohol and playing lovesick ballads at a high volume and set off again. It struck me as a productive place with little time for the social niceties. That's not meant as a criticism, I felt just as comfortable here as most other places just that there were few reasons to linger.

Entering San José. Coffee is growing right to the edge of the little town
Onwards I went. Risaralda would be the next town but there was a whole world of beauty between here and there. The worst of the climbing was over for now, I'd be rolling up and down along the ridge, at least until later when I'd finish with a climb. Today the sun was out in full force and coated everything in a beautiful light. Views seemed to extend forever.

A gap between two houses along the way
Since I ascended back into the coffee country I've been feeling a tad emotional, verging a little on overwhelmed. The ride today gave me a chance to tease the emotions out.
This part of the trip is a gift to myself. I chose this area, I chose this route. It's not distance, nor meters nor destination that count but enjoyment. How cool is it that on the other side of the world, in a huge country that I don't really know I can pick an area and head for it and not be disappointed. It's both comfortably familiar yet incredibly exotic. This is my choice, for me, and I'm loving it!
It's a bit strange. I'm heading in the opposite direction that I wanted to go, I'm coming to the end of this Big, Big Trip yet the dark cloud that I've been expecting to descend any day now is nowhere on the horizon.

What a view
Risaralda was another agricultural town, just over 100 years old. Busy and chaotic on a Saturday, the jeeps being loaded up with sacks of seed and fertiliser. Bars were busy and lots of music filled the streets. Finding a place to park the bike was tricky. I had a coffee but could find nowhere to grab a bite to eat. Like San José earlier there was nothing unpleasant about the place, just little to keep me here.

I think the main road way down there goes to Manizales. I did look to see if the little road ran down to join it (it didn't). I was seriously considering taking it!
These towns tend to chaotically busy but friendly. Pushing is the best way to get through. Partly because of the steepness, partly the traffic, especially the motorbikes but really to see everything and everyone. Some of the town rubs off in me in this manner. In these friendly places that's no bad thing.

Blessed! I'm feckin' blessed!
I rolled out of town and spied just what I was looking for. On the side of the road a woman was selling empanadas, coffee and cold drinks from her house.
I was made most welcome and had a lovely chat with the lady of the house and her only customer, an older man.
Displaying the characteristics of an Irish Mammy she enquired with concern about my wellbeing and the dangers of the road. Then enquiries about a wife and children, parents and so on. Having explained that I hadn't lived in Ireland for 25 years and that I wasn't really sure where home actually was anymore she started the exploration of the attractiveness of the concept of settling down in Colombia with a local señorita. At another time in another place such a conversation might seem invasive but at that time in that place it was very pleasant and enjoyable.
All through my snack, drink and conversation I was glancing across the road to a coffee nursery and baby plants of coffee. A lovely sight!

This is the best shot I could manage to try to illustrate the ridge I was riding along and the valleys on both sides. This is a great road!

Bamboo trees exploding out of the ground

It was along here that I figured out why I was feeling so emotional

No words

There are lots of great adventure roads in these mountains.

To be continued......

Chat? Yes Please!
Day 847 Saturday, January 08, 2022 Roadside Mirador* to Anserma 30 km Total KM 15797
Min meters 1552, Max Meters 1827,
Total Climb 600 Total Descent 574
Min Temp 23 Max Temp 35 Ave Temp 28

*For @netman
Google: 5.0708703, -75.7994457
Osmand:5.07115° N, 75.79995° W

Every morning should start like this Part Three

I just loved this stretch with the banana trees lining the road. Bright, blue skies, blazing sun, epic views and a sheer drop!
I set off again and soon discovered why so many had expressed reservations about taking this route since the road surface disappeared! Uh oh! I'd done nothing in preparation other than look at the elevation profile. Oh well, I wasn't in any rush!
The truth of the matter was that the surface came and went with no apparent logic that I could determine. A bit of adventure stacked on top of a whole lot of beauty.
It did get me thinking though, that with a less forgiving bike I'd really need to do detailed planning. Very detailed!

When the road goes to pot
The landscape was just stunning adorned with golden sunshine for my benefit. Dogs were out today too, mostly harmless barkers. At one stage on a no - surface section two biggish mutts leapt out at me from a little house. One clearly thought this was fun, the other I was a little less sure of but in any case they were little threat as they were busy (play) fighting with each other to see who would get to me first!
I started talking to them as is my way. A big, black man sitting on his porch thought this was hilarious as I told the dogs I was far from home and they weren't making me feel welcome. He hollered at the dogs and the dubious one responded while Mr. Playful danced around me. The big guy saluted me, still laughing and myself laughing saluted him back.

The depth and variety of vegetation was just so impressive and on such a quiet road I could relax and soak it all up
I should write someday about the motorbikes here. Today's story started when I was playing tag with three young lads on two bikes. A motorbike pulled up and the chap on one bike became the pillion passenger on the motorbike, held out his hands to be grasped by a cyclist each and off they flew up the hill! To me that's amazing and not a little daredevilsh/foolish depending on my mood but kids here literally are on motorbikes from the baby stage.

Baby bananas!
I had a wonderfully long, gentle descent before hitting bottom and starting a steep climb up to the town of Anserma where I'd call it a day. I'm not a fan of climbs at the end of the day and to add insult to injury the climb was steepest at the top.

No words
Anserma didn't make the greatest of first impressions as it seemed incredibly quiet. I pushed and heaved up to a pretty sterile Plaza and saw no place for coffee. Or anything. I rested up, pushed upwards and came across a hotel that Booking had said was cheapest. Modern, above a shopping mall I think I scored my best deal yet - hot shower, modern room and breakfast for a very cheap price.

Dropping lower the vegetation changed
I showered and took a wander. As I rose through the town it got busier and livelier. These ridge towns are incredibly steep, normally with one block running along the ridge, two streets on either side and then lots of frankly terrifying streets running steeply down and perpendicular to that main block. This tends to make the towns long and when building stops on the ridgesides the planting begins. One reason that Anserma seemed so quiet on arrival is that the main road unusually avoids the town centre running parallel to one side with almost another town spread alongside it.

What. A. Road.

I had some rice for dinner, some coffee and utilised the good wifi to post here.

No words

I could ride this road for ever.......

The colours!

Chat? Yes Please!
Day 847 Saturday, January 08, 2022 Roadside Mirador* to Anserma 30 km Total KM 15797
Min meters 1552, Max Meters 1827,
Total Climb 600 Total Descent 574
Min Temp 23 Max Temp 35 Ave Temp 28

Every morning should start like this

The Towns along the way

The different church in San José

Roadside art outside a small settlement

My coffee stop in Risaralda. These towns are high and fall steeply

The church in Risaralda (and a great bike!)

The only example of street art in Risaralda

Leaving Risaralda

Coming in to Anserma. Any excuse to stop ^_^

I found it very quiet and sterile. The real activity was further up the town near the market

Jeeps are everywhere for public transport

I think this one might illustrate the steep streets (and the epic views)

Chat? Yes Please!
Day 848 Sunday, January 09, 2022 Anserma to Ríosucio 36 km Total KM 15832
Min meters 1776, Max Meters 2188,
Total Climb 684 Total Descent 665
Min Temp 19 Max Temp 35 Ave Temp 23

Cascades are better than waterfalls

I just wasn't feeling it this morning. Close to Anserma yesterday I had rejoined the big road (25) and would be on it now until Riosucio. After yesterday that felt a bit ....... bleh. I'm becoming a very selfish bike tourist - I don't want to share the roads!:blush:
Breakfast had been good but served with hot chocolate, not coffee, so I stopped on the edge of town for a tinto. Setting off the sun was blasting but I was missing something. Going uphill didn't help. Lots of recreational cyclists didn't much help either - to them I'm something to be ignored or gazed at curiously. A salute, a wave, a greeting is rare. To be fair a whistle is more common - something I'm still struggling to acclimatise to.
A lot of the recreational cycling around here is on MTBs and most display little evidence of actually going off road. Mind you, the variable quality of the road surface and the steep climbs would encourage me to buy the same.

Setting off and this was my view and I was feeling meh! I'm a terrible bike tourist^_^
As I rose the sun faded as mist and cloud started swirling. A blessing, I believed, since the temperature started to drop too. I pulled in at the side of the road, sat down and relaxed. I wrote up my notes from yesterday and only when I felt more in the mood did I set off again.

Some days this would be a great biking road. Today it was a place to pull up and get my head together.
Immediately, things seemed better. The gradient didn't seem as steep. The sun started to come out again and views opened up. The advantage of travelling solo - I can stop and get my head together.

Getting my head together was a smart move!

I had a slight dilemma a little later as I approached the small village of San Clemente as I'd also be passing reasonably close to a bigger town, Guacita. The dilemma was would I stop at both? Only a few kms apart it seemed a bit indulgent but there'd be no other town or village until my destination. Coming up to the turn off for Guacita I pulled in and had a look at Osmand. Over 200 meters down meaning a 200 meter plus climb over a little over 2km to get back on the road. Dilemma solved^_^

Guatica. 209 meters to climb back out of the valley. I passed.

In the end San Clemente was charming, quiet, calm, and very friendly.
They must not get many tourists because everyone stared at me from tiny kids to old folks but they were quick to smile and wave. I did a lap of the Plaza and hit the only bakery for a coffee and some bread with cheese. I had a lovely, soft, comfy stool looking over the Plaza so had another coffee. Then Mass broke so I had to have another coffee and a doughnut as I watched the town empty out of the church.

Weather anxiety is a waste of energy in these parts. Keep the rainjacket very handy for quick deployment is all I can do

Whole families walking slowly together the pace dictated by the oldest or the smallest. One family who came for a coffee had a little boy, maybe 5 or 6 decked out in slacks, shirt, a woolen waistcoat and a dickie bow! His sister was just as smartly dressed in a bright dress. Clearly dressed for Sunday.
A few horses were scattered around waiting for their riders too. One down the road from me turned out to be untied - just waiting patiently.

I'm trying to show how quickly a view can appear or disappear according to the whims of the clouds.

It's quite possible that San Clemente could be crazy busy on any other day but today, a Sunday, I felt privileged to get to be a part of it for a little while. And it is right to say "a part of it". People spoke to me, included me. Were interested in me.

Greens and blues everywhere. Will I ever get bored of these? I've been amazed since México.

I set off again up a big hill but then I had a long, gentle descent. The road disimproved significantly, one patch of subsidence giving me a bad fright so my appetite for adventure was being sated. I took my time. I stopped often. At one stop just standing, looking, a little movement in a bush caught my eye. A teeny tiny humming bird buzzing around. So small so delicate. Yesterday I had spotted an amazing, luminous green caterpillar, humungous by my usual standards, just completing his crossing of the road. More evidence that I'm in a different part of the world.

That's my road!!

La Cascada is the Spanish for waterfall. Cascade. To me, that suggests a gentleness, a delicacy maybe even a hint of artistry moreso than waterfall. Today there were many cascadas, few waterfalls. What do I mean?
The tinkling of running water was very common but the sight of the water was rare. It was the solo violinist, off stage, adding to the scene without being part of the scene. When I did spy it, invariably it was little more than a musical trickle. There was no rushing, no gushing, no violence, just peace and calm. No wonder I'm so feckin' slow - it's the soundtrack slowing me down^_^

Very pleasant cycling and the neat fence posts are back!

I'm not sure if you can see them but this was taken to capture the random "white trees" scattered around. I can't explain it but I love 'em.

To be continued......

Chat? Yes Please!
Day 848 Sunday, January 09, 2022 Anserma to Ríosucio 36 km Total KM 15832
Min meters 1776, Max Meters 2188,
Total Climb 684 Total Descent 665
Min Temp 19 Max Temp 35 Ave Temp 23

Cascades are better than waterfalls Part Two

Una cascada providing a calm soundtrack to my day.
I'd one more longish climb of maybe 200 meters then downhill all the way to Ríosucio.

Coffee is disappearing

A surprise restaurant with an amazing view at the summit called me in. At first I was happy to gaze on a peculiar mountain but then I spied horses in a field opposite. Of different colours, one, a white one, seemed frisky and kept bugging another until he got a chase. Then another. And another. Soon they were all playing around until they finally went back to grazing. That was my cue to move on.

With height comes Pine trees

Somewhere on that last climb I'd changed direction and there was a subtle change in the environment. The coffee pretty much disappeared being replaced by fruit and, higher up, pine trees. Similar to the other day when the coffee suddenly appeared, today it just as quickly disappeared. But now the air was filled with different scents drifting in the wind. And birds. Lots of chattering and singing birds.

Completely different vegetation
A lot of the descent was in the shade and it was surprisingly cool. Whenever I hit the sun it was glorious. At times the sun can be overpowering around here but at that time today it was a welcome warmth.
I got to see Riosucio below me - it's always a great feeling to be sweeping down to my destination - much better than yesterday when I was sweating up!

Impressive if a little forbidding

I headed for the Plaza, pleasantly full of life on a bright Sunday. A man immediately approached me looking for a tool but I couldn't understand what for. It was for his son's bike - the stabilisers were loose and needed tightening. Easy! I dug through my stuff and got the job done. Clearly a brand spanking new bike (bought for growth it was too big for the poor lad) the stabilisers were necessary. Now secure he had a better chance of being able to use the bike. It wasn't hard to imagine the frustration of the little lad nor the despair of Papa both of them having taken the bike to the Plaza only to be unable to ride it. It's very nice to be able to help, to give something back to this wonderful country.

From the roadside Mirador. Everyone looks at the unusual mountain but loonface was captivated by the horses (if you can see them)

I scouted around for a cheap place to stay being outright refused in one place and finding another up a tough flight of stairs. An ice cold mountain water shower and I set out to explore. Five minutes later the rain started!

In fairness, the horses weren't the only attraction

An early night tonight. There's a big day tomorrow!

Looking down on Ríosucio and anticipating sweeping down for a coffee. Such moments are to be treasured and remembered for the days when I have to struggle up!

Taking a break from the sweeping. Surprisingly cool in the shade the sunny patches were heavenly

Chat? Yes Please!
Day 848 Sunday, January 09, 2022 Ríosucio

With all our souls we ask heaven;
That another sun shine on us, may freedom radiate.
That all who suffer satisfy their longing. May justice and equality shine everywhere




The Plaza and the push cars are back!!! Such simple, old school fun. And in the background a small carousel strangely with cars flying through the air. The kids gave no sign of being confused. It was fun!

The deceptively large church

The church and Plaza, bathed in sunshine and filled with Sunday noise and life

A bird house for pigeons. An appalling idea that I loved for some strange reason

The back end of the church. Baby's got back!😀

These exteriors are becoming more common and the steep streets are everpresent

A second, newer church on a secondary, smaller Plaza

A stand had been set up and these images were being projected onto the church. Muted modern music was being played but in the rain only the projectionists, a handful of bystanders and a bike tourist got to see it.

Chat? Yes Please!
Day 849 Monday, January 10, 2022 Ríosucio to Jardín 51 km Total KM 15883
Min meters 1789, Max Meters 2902,
Total Climb 1406 Total Descent 1414
Min Temp 11 Max Temp 22 Ave Temp 14

The road to Hell

My little hotel was directly opposite the very large church which led to the most unusual morning alarm of this adventure so far - hymns being sung at about 5am! Devotion starts early in these parts! And is vocal. Pretty harmonious too.
It amused me. In a previous life such a disturbance would have annoyed me - now it's just a part of my explorations and learnings. And I didn't even have to get out of bed!^_^

Early morning RíoSucio. Cool, damp and gloomy
I was just about to get up when the heavens opened. Oh well, I snuggled back down. Snuggle is the verb. At lower altitudes the nights are very warm, up here they cool down and the thick blankets folded on the bed come in handy.
I got up about 6:30 and toddled out to explore. No rain but a whole load of heavy, visibility limiting mist. I grabbed a coffee and sat in the wet, dull, gloomy Plaza, so different from yesterday's arrival, practically the only person present. I'd seen very little of Ríosucio with the rain last night and I was seeing very little of it now with the mist. My road would be uphill through a big green blob on Osmand (green blobs are always interesting) and I couldn't imagine visibility conditions being much better up there. I thought about taking a day off and exploring this town. Besides, I was feeling tired and I knew I'd a tough day ahead.
I took out my barely used weather apps for assistance.
They all told me one thing - this was normal. I'd be looking at the same picture tomorrow. I went back to the hotel and packed up.

At least it's mysterious where I'm off to. Little did I know it at the time but that was my last chance to sit down for a long time!

I stopped for breakfast, no wandering dog this morning but a very brazen pigeon wandering around inside the bakery, then rolled out of town stopping to top up my water. Once on the backroad I could expect no services until I arrived.

The first 5km were on "normal road", generally upwards and then it quite literally disappeared, replaced with mud, rocks, stones, gravel, potholes and water. The only information I had on this road was from motorised iOverlander folks, one driver commenting that it was exhausting to drive on! I was about to find out what it was like on a bike!

I just love how they put old tyres to use here. A welcome blast of creativity and colour
Looking now, Osmand describes it as "gravel" but the reality is that it was everything at various times, everything, that is, except surfaced.

It could be very, very hard as if cycling on solid, mountain rock worn smooth (and slippy), or mushily soft when going through mud. It could be clay with the tips of solid rock peeping through or it could be loose rocks scattered over any of the previous surfaces mentioned. Little ríos ran down the road, across the road and bigger ones beside the road. Several times there was a hump in the way of one of these rivers so the water accumulated in front of it, forming a miniature lake so that when the water level exceeded the hump it flowed over and continued on its way. Perhaps it was tiredness or a lack of a "wider", bigger view but I found these fascinating. Observers would have seen a cyclist paused, astride their bike with an amused expression on their face watching muddy puddles fill.
Whatever the surface it was never flat. Generally it climbed but every now and then it descended, changing the challenges if not my velocity. Without a doubt this was the most difficult and technical off road riding I've done - and I was on a road!^_^ I'd rate it as more difficult than the Trampoline and without the views to compensate.

Views had disappeared with the surface, or to be correct, the potential for views. The road was narrow and usually lined with trees, bushes or rock and mud. When things did open up the mist killed any chance of seeing further.

I was looking at my speed and calculating progress. Very slow. I had no reason to believe I'd make much faster progress when I finally started the descent after about 30km and started to contemplate the idea of trying to handle the descent in the dark. Based on this side that wouldn't be my best idea ever!^_^

An interesting tree. I'll take motivation wherever I can. Not a great photo because of rain and cold, stiff fingers

Then the rain started. It was before 11am and would stay falling almost the rest of the day.
Unfortunately, that means that there are far fewer photos than normal and my notes that I tried to take are gobbledegook. I took shelter from the first deluge under a tree but after twenty minutes pushed on. It varied from light to heavy and everything in between. On parts of the road it made little difference but on others it added the qualities of an icerink to the adventure.

Today's río was babbling happily to me. There was little happy babbling back
Traffic, as can be imagined, was very light, mainly motorbikes and not fast. I was amazed to watch one of the large chicken buses bouncing along, the traditional "bus" mounted on the chassis of a truck with higher clearance. I couldn't imagine how uncomfortable it must be to travel on this road in that - and I'm pretty sure all the passengers who stared wondrously at me thought the same of me standing in the pouring rain as I let this behemoth past.

One detail I recall vividly was the number of crosses along the roadside, far more than I've seen in a while. Given that there were very few sheer drops, that the road was bounded by vegetation or rock, that landslides were relatively rare and of much less power than elsewhere I concluded that poor driving must have been a primary cause. Watching how even the jeeps carefully negotiated the deep dips in the road I could see easily how a misjudgement of speed could flip a vehicle over with no effort.
After passing one particular rough spot I was able to follow the vivid and distinct rainbow river left by a vehicle suddenly leaking oil.
These patches are common on the roads here in the wet (and put the fear of God in me) but they are normally patches reflecting the drip, drip, drip of a leak. This was a constant trail, stronger in the slower zones but easily followable.

Starting the last climb I was struggling badly. Then I looked back and saw these Palm Trees. The gain for my pain.
There was a whole lot of pushing. With long gaps between traffic (and it virtually disappeared later in the afternoon) I was aware that a crash here could be very uncomfortable. Also, that if I went off one of the drops no-one would know. The gradients could be into double figures for short spans and were energy sapping. I've found that I notice climbing less when off road, distracted by staying upright. That wasn't the case today!
On one short but brutal climb I was stuck at the summit. Pushing, my feet lost grip in the runny mud and it took all my effort to press down on the bike and keep it in place. Any attempt to push the bike resulted in an opposite force on my feet sending them sliding. I'm still not sure how I managed it but inch by inch we made it safely to the top. A motorcyclist stopped, hopped off and offered to help me. I thought that was unbelievably kind, if unnecessary, as I was now at the top and just trying to catch my breath. He was travelling the opposite direction and surprisingly to me had no idea how far away Ríosucio was!

There weren't many open views
After about 1pm I came to a little roadside shed filled with a load of bricks (a note identified the owner - Marco) and pulled in to eat. Peanut butter on bread. Not the greatest meal, but not bad. At least I was out of the rain.

A little later I started a descent, but not the final one. I dropped a couple of hundred meters and was pleased to note that I could break double figures in speed. That would be important in getting off the road before darkness fell.

I was very tired starting the last climb. Physically, I was hitting my limit and my neck and back ached terribly, a combination of being tense on the bike trying to control it and a fixed position staring dead ahead. Also, there had been nowhere, and I mean nowhere to sit since the surface disappeared. A break was taken straddling the bike. There were very few places to lean the bike that didn't involve pulling it out of a gully or mud afterwards and nowhere to sit if there was. I enjoy my sitting time - it's as much psychological as physical. And as for a restorative cup of coffee?^_^^_^

The final summit is just around that bend!

I had climbed 1000 meters to hit the first peak, dropped a couple of hundred and I'd go on to climb another 400 ish on the last climb.
It wasn't pretty.
No, it was pretty, very pretty at times - the experience wasn't pretty.
I couldn't take my eyes off the road because anytime I did I nearly came off. If I stopped to look around starting off again was very tough. My energy reserves were gone and I was running on empty. With rain going from drizzle to steady my body temperature fluctuated - steady when I was moving but rapidly cooling down if I stopped. I really wanted to sit down but there was nowhere.
I needed to go on but I also needed to stop. An unresolvable conflict.
All the things I enjoy about this kind of road - the solitude, being able to stop where I like, enjoying the views, especially the "far from home" vegetation, the adventure and challenge of tackling the rough road - seemed to be denied me or conspiring against me. My spirits were pretty low.

To be continued.......

Chat? Yes Please!
Day 849 Monday, January 10, 2022 Ríosucio to Jardín 51 km Total KM 15883
Min meters 1789, Max Meters 2902,
Total Climb 1406 Total Descent 1414
Min Temp 11 Max Temp 22 Ave Temp 14

The road to Hell Part Two

I was keeping an eye out for likely places to pitch the tent, but not surprisingly there were few options. By now I never expected to make it to Jardín since there was no way I'd be descending on this road in the dark. I'm feckless not totally stupid^_^

The condition of the road for my descent was inversely proportional to my joy in seeing it^_^
There was nothing for it but to take out the phone and play "No Nukes"! And it worked to a degree. Out of breath (I'm climbing at an elevation approaching 3000 meters) I hummed rather than sang. I laughed when Bruce talked about being nearly 30 and being "too old"! (I last saw him in concert in Germany a few years ago and he played almost 4 hours!)
I pedalled and ground and pushed, sometimes ploughed and struggled and slipped ever upwards. A couple of false summits almost killed me psychologically and physically.

The summit when it finally came wasn't epic, it didn't gift me a panoramic view of blue skies and golden sun it was just a hump on a muddy rocky road. My camera tells me that it was at 16:49 giving me maybe 60 minutes of daylight to cover the last 20km. If I was lucky. In the mountains light can be tricky. The only consolation was that the rain had finally stopped.

It was slow, tough, a tad dangerous but fantastic. How I wished I wasn't so tired or under time pressure. Had I seen a likely camping spot I'd have given serious consideration to staying and giving the road its due respect tomorrow
Conscious of the fact that I was very tired I descended very carefully. I donned an extra layer for the cold - I could feel myself cooling down rapidly. I was disappointed because the vegetation all around seemed to become even more dense and interesting but I had no time to stop and appreciate it. I was aware of a real sense of loss - that I'd expended all this effort and was now going as fast as I could through the rewards and not really able to even look at it properly.

A cascada celebrating with me. Bruce was now off and I had birds and water to accompany me.

Then I rounded a bend to an open horizon and my first view of Jardín, 17km away by road. What a sight!
I'd be less than human if I wasn't distracted and it would have been unnatural on that road if I hadn't fallen off as a result of that distraction. For an exhausted aul' fella, I managed to spring off and landed on my feet. With Roccado on the ground I could at least now take a photo or two!

I was missing great views and there's a sheer drop there - not even any magic tape to warn me
Maybe it was the sight of my destination (although still disturbingly far away), or the blue sky and sun after so long in the gloom but I think it was my surprisingly agile leap from calamity that lifted my spirits. The flesh was weak but not defeated and the mind was confident. I continued on down.

My heart cracked a little to have to rush through here
One advantage of travelling as well packed as I do on these roads is that the bike has lots of padding for the fall!^_^

Boom! The world opened up! Jardín is down there!

I was travelling through a bird sanctuary and was aware of a lot of different bird voices as well as catching glimpses of bright colours flittering in the trees. Another shame to be rushing through. The open view had disappeared again and my front light was on. I continued descending hoping against hope that the surface would reappear. It had disappeared 5km after Ríosucio, equality suggested it should restart 5km from Jardín, no?

The Boom knocked me off the bike!
It actually came back about 8km from Jardin and then disappeared again around a bend sending me down a drop onto rock and mud and nearly killing me in the process. I was more careful after that. It came and went, sometimes in patches, sometimes in whole parts. It seemed like some malicious JCB driver had just dug up sections that offended them. There was always a drop from surface to non-surface and a corresponding step back up again. In fading light with a bright front light casting shadows it added an extra layer of interest.

A sinking sun can be tricky
Finally, with 5km to go the surface returned permanently, with only the odd pothole to contend with. I have to hand it to the Colombians - when they talk of equality through road building they really mean it! Ríosucio and Jardín have the same length of surfaced road!
I flew! I had one objective, and only one - coffee!

I took this to demonstrate the ginormous leaves beside the road. They look totally insignificant now on my phone
I arrived at the Plaza full of joy and anticipation, took in the Plaza, filled with life and basked in the feeling of achievement and sense of relief.
Then I saw the European style terraces on the wide paths, the same in the Plaza itself, noticed the horribly gaudy lights on the church, the horses, not tied up waiting for their bosses in the bars but for tourists and my spirits plummeted. I found a coffee place and nearly fell over at the price for a coffee. A dog started barking at me and would not stop.
I looked around me at the bars pumping out music and had a realisation.

I'm in touristy hell!!

After one of the most difficult days on the bike I arrived in Touristy Hell

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