Monthly Archives: July 2015

Day 13/164: Manizoles to Libano – 88 k

1,036 km down: 12,605 km to go (climbing 2,000 meters)

I set off in the morning with no idea of whether or not I suffer from altitude sickness. It turns out I certainly do. As I didn’t know if I did or not, I had not taken any medication. Coming out of camp it was straight up a hill – slippery gravel and rock, and on average 8% gradient but it seemed a lot more as it was so slippery. Plus we were at over 2,000 meters to start, and I have lived my whole life at sea level.

Profile for today's ride

Profile for today’s ride (Credit Sue’s blog)

After only about a kilometre, I started getting breathless and had to get off and walk. By the time the other truck (not the lunch truck, which heads off before the riders each morning, the other truck stays to pack up camp) caught up with me I had only managed to make 7 kilometres in over one and a half hours.


Leaving Manizoles, faced with a brutal climb up up up  (Photo and caption credit: TDA Facebook page)

The grey dog from camp had followed me for a while, then when I tried to shoo it home it ran on ahead. I figured it would go to a certain point and then return back home. Tim, who I was walking with for a while, thought 6 kilometres, I guessed 5, we were both very wrong.

When the tour trucks go by they toot. If you are ok you give the thumbs up, if not the thumbs down. I gave the thumbs down meaning I wanted a lift. There was another 8 kilometres of this slippery rocky road, and then another 25 kilometres to climb.

This truck carries most of the gear and does not have as much space for riders as the lunch truck. There were already three riders in the truck, plus six tour staff, and the back half was piled with gear. They managed to fit me in.

The truck getting ful

The truck getting full! (Photo credit: Sue’s blog)

I was wheezy when I got in the truck and went to get my inhaler out of my first aid kit, but it was not there! I must have taken it out for some reason at Medellin! I never not have my inhaler with me! Luckily the wheezing stopped ok.

It was really slow going, as the truck was slipping and sliding, plus there were over hanging bushes that had to be cleared as the truck is high with the bikes on top.

Another kilometre up the road Sue gave the thumbs down (end of her EFI), then another couple of kilometres another rider Fred gave the thumbs down. At this stage it was getting too much to take in the truck.

No room in the bus!

No room in the bus! (Photo credit: Sue’s blog)

We stopped at a restaurant / hotel at 15 kilometres and Henry (TDA owner) went in and spoke to the owner, who agreed to take 3 riders 5 kilometres up the road. He would not take any money. He took us up to what I thought was the summit and dropped us off.

The hotel picke

The hotel pick up (Photo credit: Sue’s blog)

It was really cold so I put on all the cold weather gear I had and set off. The first 5 minutes was downhill, which was rocky and steep and hard to get down and stay on my bike, as I don’t have a mountain bike and lack confidence.

Then it started going up again – now we were over 4,000 meters above sea level. I was suffering really badly from altitude sickness at this point. It took me nearly 2 hours to walk from where I was dropped off to the lunch truck, which was about 3 kilometres. I managed to walk about 50 steps, then had to count to 50, then walk another 50 steps, and so on and on and on. I also had to have an occasional rest. The lunch truck was like a mirage, I could see it in the distance at least an hour before I got to it.

At one rest stop, two of the riders were sitting with the grey dog from the camp – it had walked about 40 kilometres at this stage. I was worried about how it would get home, but they told me it was actually a stray and the camp owners had shooed it away. No wonder it craved attention, but at least where it was it was surviving ok, not sure what will happen now. I turned my attention back to breathing and walking.

Luckily I have altitude sickness pills so will take them next time we are climbing up to 4,000 meters (you have to take them the day before, so there was no point taking one at this stage).

I finally got to the lunch truck, and was starting to feel pretty stuffed. I decided that even though the rest of the day was downhill I was too cold, and too stuffed. Plus it was slippery and rocky. There were a couple of riders in the lunch truck who had decided not to ride today at all.

The lunch truck took ages to make its way downhill. There were some bits were the road had fallen away that were quite scary. One of the riders Jessica put her helmet on, if we had gone over the side it would not have helped. Luis the driver is an excellent driver with many years of driving trucks and got us down safely.

When we went through the town it was like a Wild West town with one main street, guys with hats (not quite sombreros), lots of horses and dogs, and there people standing in most doorways  watching everything go past.


Seen on the ride downhill (Photo credit: Sue’s blog)

About 10 kilometres out of town we passed the grey dog again! She had walked over 70 kilometres!  I was really torn, I wanted us to stop and pick her up but it would not have been in her best interests as we can’t take her across the border. I was very sad thinking of the poor dog, following along thinking it had found some humans to look after it. I only hope that it finds a safe home this side of the mountain, and I hope her paws aren’t shredded and she gets something to eat. Right, I have to stop talking about it, it makes me too sad.

I got to camp and had the usual riders meeting, dinner, set up my tent etc. As I was locking up the bike I noticed another flat tyre!  And again the back tyre! Decided I was too tired to do anything about it, and it could wait till the morning.

Categories: Columbia, South American Epic | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Day 12/164: La Pintada to Manizoles – 132k

948 km down: 12,693 km to go (climbing 2,800 meters)

When I took down my tent in the morning, I found my wallet, which had somehow managed to get underneath it. Even though I had had it after I put my tent up, it must have slipped out of my pocket when I bent down.

I set off at the usual time of about 6:30am. It was nice and cool to start with. The road was pretty good for the first 80 kilometres, there were some ups but quite a lot of steady downhill.

There were lots of local stalls selling fruit and drinks plus small shops. Every kilometre or so on the route there are a few plastic chairs, a cooler with drinks and a collection of sweet bars.

The vegetation is amazing, so green and flourishing. There are banana trees growing and enormous bamboo trees.

Columbian Scenery (Photo and caption credit: Sue's Blog)

Columbian Scenery (Photo and caption credit: Sue’s blog)

Interesting trees (Photo and caption credit from Sue's Blog)

Interesting trees (Photo and caption credit from Sue’s blog)

After about 50 kilometres I was feeling a bit uncomfortable on the saddle, and no matter how I moved I could not get comfortable. I decided to stop at lunch as I did not want to cause any problems that would see me off riding. Jody, one of the medics, said a number of the riders were also having problems due to the wet and hot riding conditions. I have been ‘double shorting’ since about day two, may have to go to three pairs.insec

As I was not going to ride any more that day, I started to wash some dishes to help out, but there was a very sharp knife up the wrong way and I sliced my finger. As I was standing there applying pressure to stop the bleeding, a bee randomly came up and stung me! Then when I went to take the panniers off my bike I noticed I had a flat tyre! The back tyre of course!

So I went to camp in the lunch truck. I was really pleased that I had.  I had climbed 900 meters prior to lunch and I would not have been able to climb the remaining 1,900 metres. When I got to camp yay! A hot shower! What a novelty. Some cold showers are colder than others I am discovering.

One of the riders Phil (from Christchurch in New Zealand) has been having problems with his bike and can’t use the bottom two gears! Crickey I would not do any riding at all if I could not use the bottom two gears! Phil is still really fast and despite his gearing problem was the first rider to camp today. There are about five of the men who compete against each other to be first.

Phil was sitting by the gate and while we were chatting he told me he was waiting for a taxi to take him down to the town, where hopefully he could get parts for his bike. I asked him if he could get a cat eye for me if there was one there and I would pay half of his taxi.  When he arrived back he had a cat eye for me but sadly no parts for him.

It started to get late and a number of riders had not arrived yet, one of the trucks had gone back looking for them. Dinner is usually at 6pm but it was after 7 by the time we got to eat. The truck came back with a few of the riders but there were still four missing! By this time it was dark, then one arrived with no lights, another one with lights, and then at nearly 8pm the final two arrived. A number of riders are wanting to achieve every part of the ride, which is known as “Every f*cking inch” (EFI). The riders become obsessed with maintaining this, so they don’t want to be picked up.

I fixed my tyre with help from another rider. It turned out the two inner tubes I had in my panniers are the wrong size! As my rims are the same size I did not realize that because my tyres are bigger I also needed to have bigger inner tubes! Luckily I managed to borrow one.

At the camp was a St Bernard, a small black dog that had the body of a Labrador and the legs of a corgie, plus there was a small grey wiry haired dog – about the size of Australian sheep dog (Blue heeler) – this dog was very affectionate and seemed to be really craving attention.

Once again it started to rain during the night.

Categories: Columbia, South American Epic | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Day 11/164: Medellin to La Pintada – 82k

816 km down: 12,825 km to go

Back to riding today after a rest day. The first 17 kilometres from the hotel was a convoy. We were in rush hour traffic on the motorway, it was insane. I kept imagining what the police at home would do seeing a large group of foreigners riding along the motorway in the rush hour.

Convoying through rush hour (Photo and caption credit: Sue's Blog)

Convoying through rush hour (Photo and caption credit: Sue’s Blog)

Every now and then a motorbike got in the middle of the convoy and then wanted to turn suddenly which added to the chaos. One of the other riders, having seen me hesitate, told me that when we had to change lanes not to hesitate because the drivers then did not know what you were doing.

The aim of the convoy, apart from leaving the city safely, is to have the slowest riders up the front. This may be the aim but human nature being what it is I am one of the last at the back within a couple of kilometres. I am not that fond of convoys due to the pressure of not keeping other riders waiting.

Convoy in Medellin (Photo and caption credit: Sue's Blog)

Convoy in Medellin (Photo and caption credit: Sue’s Blog)

After the convoy there was a 21 kilometre uphill climb. After the rest by days my legs were in pretty good shape and I only had to stop a few times before the top.

View from Sue's bike as she cycles up the hill (Photo credit: Sue's Blog)

View from Sue’s bike as she cycles up the hill (Photo credit: Sue’s Blog)

I had bought a new battery for my speedometer in Medellin as the mechanic thought that would get it sorted but unfortunately this was not the case. It is disconcerting not knowing how far you have come and also hard to follow the directions.

I saw two of the riders at the summit of the climb and as I am not exactly speedy, I expected they would overtake me within a few kilometres. After I had been riding for about an hour and a half and they still hadn’t, I was pretty sure I had somehow managed to make a wrong turn. I was also pretty sure after another hour that I had missed the lunch truck.

There was a really long downhill with some steep ups. There were a few dogs that rushed out at me which is always a bit nerve wracking, as you never know if they are aggressive or not . I found out later they had had a great day rushing out at a number of the other riders. Shirley, one of the riders, was hit a few days ago whilst riding.

Through a village on the ride (Photo and caption credit: Sue's Blog)

Through a village on the ride (Photo and caption credit: Sue’s Blog)

I was tired and hungry and started pushing my bike up the hills. A motor bike with two local chaps came past and asked me something in Spanish, but I had to say “No Spanio”. They then speed off and arrived back about 10 minutes later with a mango and oranges for me to eat. I must have looked as tired and dispirited as I felt.  I said mucho gracious a few times and they speed off smiling and waving.

In much better spirits I pedalled off again. Five kilometres later – yay there was the lunch truck! Yay I wasn’t lost! Yay also to the news that it was only three more kilometres to camp! And double yay it was all downhill!

Green Colmbia (Photo and caption credit: Sue's Blog)

Green Colombia (Photo and caption credit: Sue’s Blog)

Once I got to camp, I put up my tent and I headed over to the bike clinic. The mechanic played around with my speedometer for a while but decided it was beyond fixing. One of the other riders offered to sell me their spare cats eye (a type of speedometer) for US$150, but the attachment that kept it on the bike had been cut so it would not fit around my handlebars and needed two cable ties to hold it in place. I decided that I did not want to pay the price that it cost new for something that did not fit my bike. So I will probably have no speedometer until Bogota, in another five days.

Waiting for my bike to be worked on (Photo credit: Sue's Blog)

Waiting for my bike to be worked on (Photo credit: Sue’s Blog)

At this stage I realized I had lost my wallet, so I spent the next hour retracing my steps to no avail. Luckily it only had cash, not any credit cards.

I went to bed at the usual time of about 7:15pm and as I was going to sleep I heard the rain starting again. As we had come back down in altitude it was again sticky and hot.

Stunning Columbia (Photo and caption credit: Sue's Blog)

Stunning Columbia (Photo and caption credit: Sue’s Blog)

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Day 10/164: Rest Day in Medellin

Even though we could sleep in I was awake at 5am. It rained heavily again during the night. The hotel is built around a small courtyard, when it rains you can hear it pouring down through the floors.


The inner courtyard of the hotel (Photo credit: Sue’s blog)

We had been told that the hotel had organized to get our washing done at special rates but we had to bring it down at 9 pm. When we bought it down the people at reception knew nothing about it and wanted to do it at usual hotel rates which would have cost approximately $100 NZ, so now we have to get it sorted today on a public holiday. It’s national Independence Day today in Colombia. Lesson learnt from this is that unless something can be done right away, don’t count on it.

I went down to breakfast, had cereal and fruit, and strawberry juice – that was a first! Interesting but not a convert.

Last night we went out to eat, I forgot the name of the place but it was Colombian food. I ordered a dish that came with a spicy vegetable soup, beans, rice, a potato cake (which was like a bread cover with potato inside), dried beef (it was like beef dust) and pork crackling, set off with a fried egg and quarter of an avocado (which is three times the size of NZ ones), cooked plantain (which is in the banana family), and a banana. It was interesting but way too much. There were 6 of us and we shared a jug of sangria. The bill was 35 pesos, which is approximately $16 NZ.

Today we had to meet in the lobby at 10am to go to a bike shop. It had been organized in advance for us to stay open today. A number of the riders needed to get various parts. One rider Eric could not get the parts he needed and ended up having to get another bike to be able to continue.

I needed new cleat clips for my new biking shoes, a magnet for my speedo, drink bottle (I bought a spare also), some bike lube and more chamois cream. I also bought a tube which is something you can wear as a hat or as a scarf around your neck or over the bottom half of your face. I figure this will be useful as we go further south. Nothing worse than having a frozen nose.


The bike store that opened specially for us (Photo credit: Sue’s blog)

Ended up doing the washing by hand in the bath. I hung it up on the roof, and no sooner had I done this than it started to rain again. Hopefully the sun will come out again soon.

Trying to dry stuff ip on the roof ((Photo credit: Sue's blog)

Trying to dry stuff up on the roof (Photo credit: Sue’s blog)

Medellin is the second biggest city in Colombia. It is located in the Aburra Valley, in the Andes Mountains. Situated 1,500 meters above sea level it is cooler than some other parts of Colombia.

As it is close to the equator it has pretty the same temperature all year round – an average of 22 degrees. The climate is tropical rainforest, so lots of rain and sun. Not great to keep a tent dry but excellent for growing.

The population in the city is 2.44 million, and with the surrounding areas it comes to 3.5 million. I have not seen any stray dogs in the inner city, but have seen some homeless people on the ride in.

The poor people live up high in the hills and there are a number of chair lifts operating so they can get to and from work. Whilst Medellin is considered a safe city it is not considered safe to wander around in the poorest areas.

We spent the rest of the day getting sorted for the next 6 days riding, before the next rest day in Bogota. My clothing is 95% dry. We went out to a nice Italian restaurant for dinner, I had half of a very nice bottle of Cab Sav from Chile – only my second wine on this trip – Colombia does not produce any wine, and some excellent ribs.

(Photo credit: Sue's blog)

View from the roof (Photo credit: Sue’s blog)

Categories: Columbia, South American Epic | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

General Update – 21 July 2015

Some general comments and info I have not put in previous blog updates:

I like my new tent much better than the last one. It’s a MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2. There are 3 other riders with a Hubba Hubba tent also. The tent has a feeling of spaciousness because it has a pole that goes across the top diagonally, as well as the length – this makes it seem bigger than it is. In the last tent it felt like the walls were closing in on me. The one issue is putting it down in the wet, it is really hard to get the poles to unfold. I will have to come up with a solution before it gets frosty as well.

Offers of help
I have had a number of helpful locals stop and offer to give me and my bike a lift as I am struggling up yet another hill, including a couple of large trucks who have just stopped going uphill – blocking traffic while they converse. The people are really interested in having a discussion, which so far is limited on my part to:
Hello – halo (don’t pronounce the h)
Buenos Dias – good morning
Buenos noches – goodnight
Gracias – thank you
Muchas gracias – very much appreciated
I como esta – how are you
Aqua – water
And of course “No Spaino” – no speak Spanish
So it’s pretty limited but a lot more than when I got here!

Most of the local people have no idea where New Zealand is, and a couple of times after trying to explain, I apologize but I have to admit to this: I have said I am from Australia. Sorry but I would rather be considered an Aussie than being from America!!

The daily life when not on a rest day
Alarm at 5am, pack up everything into the daily bag, organize water and snacks, sunscreen etc for the day onto the bike.
Riders update at 5:45 with anything new for the day or changes to the route.
Breakfast at 6am – cereal, bread, fruit sometimes boiled eggs, sometimes porridge , tea and coffee.
Apply sunscreen, bug screen and on the road by 7am.

The lunch truck is generally half to two-thirds of the way to the next campsite.

I generally have one or two stops to refill water (am drinking about 7 litres each morning and afternoon) – and then consequently stops to pee. Plus reapply sunscreen at least once.

Lunch truck has sandwiches – generally only white bread by the time I get there, with meat, cheese, fruit, water. I stay clear of the meat as has been out for a while by the time I get there. Watermelon is delicious when you arrive hot and thirsty. I fill my water bottles and reapply bug and sunscreen.

The idea is to limit the lunch stop to less than 10 minutes and not sit down – otherwise your legs start to seize up and then it’s 20 minutes riding before they warm up again.

I stop once or twice as in the morning for water, sunscreen etc, and of course it goes without saying: stop and look at interesting sights.

Then into camp which is anywhere between 2pm and dark (6:30pm).

If there are showers then I’ll have a shower, otherwise it’s wet wipes and reapplying bug spray.

After that I sort out my gear, clean my clothes if possible, check over my bike, put up the tent, and get ready for the next day.

On a good day I have an hour or so to drink tea and rest. Other days I spend with the bike mechanic sorting out the day’s bike issues.

We have another rider’s meeting at 5:45pm to discuss the next day and any issues from that day. We all take down the directions for the next day’s route, and also take a photo of it with our phone as a back up.

Dinner is at 6pm. Then the plan is to have either Spanish lessons, or a basic bike workshop, but with the extended days and issues we have had so far on the trip, these have not happened, apart from one Spanish lesson.

We have been having really long and challenging days but the days for the tour staff have been much longer. They are still sorting out the trucks and cleaning up well into the night and are up at the same time or before us in the morning.

Generally I am in my tent attempting to sleep by 7:30 pm. Then the next day it starts again.

The other riders

I still don’t know everyone’s names, by best count there are 30 people doing the whole ride, plus a number of section riders.

Most of the riders have done at least one TDA tour before so had some understanding of what to expect.

There are five woman planning on do the whole ride:

  • Sue – a retired vet, age 59 from England, who has already done the South African ride: Cairo to Cape Town this year.
  • Annegrete – age 59 from Denmark, who has done the tran Oceania and one other ride. She is currently planning to finish about Santiago but may change her mind)
  • Jacquline – who is from South Africa but spends half the year in Sweden, and has done a couple of previous rides.
  • Johanna (Jo) – from Melbourne, I am pretty sure this is her first TDA ride but she has done other riding tours.
  • And of course me.

Team New Zealand

The New Zealand team

The New Zealand riders

From left: Phil is from Christchurch, he has done one previous ride – the South Africa ride, and Peter is from Palmerston North, he has done one previous ride – the trans Europa (not the same year as me).

On this ride there is a race component, and Phil will often win – if he doesn’t win, he is still in the first 3. He is missing the bottom two gears (where I have spent most of this ride) and still manages to win.

Today there was a speed trial from Camp 27 kilometres over a 2,000 meter climb and Team NZ was well represented with 1st place going to Phil and 3rd to Peter. Sadly the woman’s team of one is not of the same standard.

Made it to Medellin!

Made it to Medellin! From left – Jo, Sue, and Kaye (Photo credit: Sue’s Facebook page)

Categories: Information, South American Epic | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Day 9/164: Via Lactea to Medellin – 48km

734 km down: 12,907 km to go

It was cold enough again to sleep in a sleeping bag. We camped at approximately 2,500 metres. Just as I was about asleep last night the security lights came on right over our tents, thankfully after about an hour they went off. Not sure if someone complained or whether they were on a timer.

Today we had 25 kilometres riding then were meeting as a group to ride in convoy into Medellín. There were 8 riders that did not ride today, which includes 4 who left the camp by taxi yesterday to get another night in Medellín.

When we left the camp, it was straight up a hill so I walked up to the top and rode from there. I only had to get off once more for the ride. I missed a flag at 12.6 kilometres, so rode an extra 4 kilometres which more than made up for it.

Luckily it was mostly rolling hills, nothing like yesterday. Of course the one other time I had to get off was in front of a bunch of locals.

Half of the first section of the ride was downhill, we dropped nearly 1,000 meters in 12 kilometres. It is Sunday today so I passed a few riders coming up it. I had to stop a couple of times to let the rims cool down. There were 3 local boys who came screaming past me at great speed. One of the other riders said he saw one come off but jump back on, and another nearly collect a bus. I came around one corner and they were sitting at the side of the road, looked like they were repairing a bike.


All downhill to Medellin (Photo credit: Sue’s Facebook page)

Got to the bottom where we were meeting for the convoy. A local lady was selling the most wonderful hot chocolate. I shared my lunch with an adolescent dog with a limp, who looked hungrier than me. Actually he got all of it.

There were 3 riders from Medellín who came to lead the convoy in. It was especially chosen to arrive on a Sunday as on Sundays half of the city’ motorways and highways are shut during the day for cyclists. There are wardens every few kilometres and at intersections, plus policia dotted around.


Convoy into Medellin (Photo credit: Sue’s Facebook page)

The convoy took about an hour. One of the riders on the way in commented we could go back up the hill the next day and do a time trial. My look of horror must have been the same as if he had suggested that I cut off my arm. I managed to stutter out that I needed to rest my legs!

Riding into í

Riding into Medellin (Photo credit: Sue’s Facebook page)

The hotel rooms are quite large, with good air-conditioning, plus hot running water, a shower and a bath.

Today was spent sorting out gear, washing, emails and stocking up on supplies:
Large plastic bags
Bug spray
Snack food

buying up large

Buying supplies (Photo credit: Sue’s Facebook page)

Shopping at the local store (Photo credit: Sue's blog)

Shopping at the local store (Photo credit: Sue’s blog)

A number of the riders have commented there doesn’t seem to be that many bugs. That’s because they are all lurking around me for the moment they find a spot of skin without bug spray!

After going to bed at about 7:30 for the past five nights I have been wide awake tonight, but now am off to bed.

Tomorrow I have to go to the bike shop to get some stuff such as another magnet that will hopefully make my speedo go, and clips for my new shoes as the old ones are unlikely to last another day.

Sue's chocolate stash for the next 6 days (finally - a photo Kaye took!)

Sue’s chocolate stash for the next 6 days (Editor’s note: finally – a photo Kaye took!)

Categories: Columbia, South American Epic | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Day 8/164: Ventanas to San Pedrigo – 120k

686 km down: 12,955 km to go

It poured all night and it was especially heavily when we were pulling the tents down. The swampy paddock is now a quagmire reserve. My shoes are soaked, my tent was soaked and will drip through to everything in my bag – better planning in this department is required next time.

Riders meeting, sheltering from the rain (Photo credit: Sue's Facebook page)

Riders meeting, sheltering from the rain (Photo credit: Sue’s Facebook page)

I go over to breakfast to find out the plan for the day. It is very misty and raining, my calves are swollen, and when faced with another 2,000 meter climb before lunch I decide reluctantly that despite being a very determined person, my body actually is not capable. So for the first time ever I ride in the lunch truck to the lunch stop.

It was pouring with rain still, and misty, so the driver needed to have the window open to stop the windscreen misting up. I was freezing, and thinking how ironic that just last Saturday I was bemoaning the dreadful heat. I thought of my water proof socks and my icebreaker t-shirt both in my daily bag that I could have put on!  I ended up getting a shower cap out of my first aid kit (I keep it for putting on my bike seat in the wet) and putting it on my head to try and keep the warmth in. I also put leg warmers on, then gritted my teeth and endured.

When I got to the lunch stop I discovered we weren’t allowed to ride off until the other truck was on its way to camp so I milled around for a couple of hours slowly warming up. Finally about 10am I was able to go.

Off I went, happily having being told that the rest of the day was rolling hills. Rolling hills they were not!!! More like a succession of climbing the Makara ride over and over and over again. Well, actually it turned out it was mostly riding down the hills (which were about 3 kilometres down) and then making it about 200 meters of the 3 kilometres up before my legs turned to jelly, and I had to walk the rest of the way up.

Let’s just say the day seemed endless. I realized that I was dehydrated, and then also short of food as – not surprisingly – I had not wanted lunch before 10am, so I stopped for about 20 minutes to eat and drink. I would like to say it helped, but it didn’t.

There were some great views – one of a beautiful reservoir, which unfortunately I was too stuffed to take a photo of. Hopefully Sue did.

She did

Photo of the countryside – taken by Sue


Photo of the countryside – taken by Sue

By the time I got to camp I had been passed by a number of riders who had done the whole day!  A number commented that the afternoon was actually worse than the morning as the gradient was steeper. That, and the fact that there were 3 riders who did not even attempt the day, and another two who also rode in the lunch truck, made me feel a bit better.

When I finally got to the camp, would you believe it was up a steep muddy gravel road! It went on for ever but I finally got to the top. The temperature was about 36 degrees. When I got to camp I was quite light headed, so I drank 3 large cups of water and had some peanuts. It was about 3pm so I took the opportunity to dry the soaking wet tent, and the rest of the stuff in my bag that ranged from damp to soaking. Luckily everything that could have been wrecked by water was safely snap lock bagged.

I have been asked a couple of questions about the tour:

There are approximately 35 riders riding the whole way. We ride either individually or in pairs, or a small group. There is a tour member who rides “sweep” behind the last rider (unless of course you are lost)

Dinner consists of basic food such as

  • Spaghetti Bolognese
  • Pork curry with rice
  • Spicy sausages with beans and mashed plantain (apparently it can taste nice but not this time)
  • Chicken coleslaw and mashed potatoes
  • Steak, vegetable soup, and rice

Tomorrow is the last ride before a rest day, I am planning to ride.

Editor’s note: I’m not sure if Kaye sent this email before she had properly finished writing it (which has happened more than once) because the last sentence ends mid-sentence (which isn’t uncommon) and she makes no mention of the fact they stayed at a COW THEMED FUN PARK. I have asked her, but she is out of internet range, so I will add photos/info of said cow themed fun park if she sends them through. Watch this space! For now, here is one I stole from Sue’s blog:

Apparently you go up into the cow and then come out as MILK (Photo credit: Sue's Facebook page)

Editor’s Caption: Apparently you go up into the cow and then come out as MILK from the UDDERS. I love it!
(Photo credit: Sue’s Facebook page)

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Day 7/164: Caucasia to Ventanas – 138k

568 km down: 13,073 km to go

Christiano told us at breakfast that the plan was to continue to Medelin. So off to Ventanas take two.

It had rained quite heavily during the night so I had to pack away a damp tent. I must buy some water proof bags on the next rest day to store it in.

So off (again!) for 102 kilometres of rolling hills, then 36 kilometres to climb 2,000 meters. Not sure I will do it all, as my legs are still very tired from the 12 hour ride on “mud day”.

We had been asked to ride in at least pairs due to the rebel and military activity. I started off with Sue, but was holding her back so then teamed up Nelson who was having a slow day.

There were military and policia everywhere, and all trucks were being searched. About every two kilometres there was a solider with a rifle standing at both sides of the road.

We got to about 90 kilometres and came to where the sewer pipe under the road was blown up, it had done quite a lot of damage. They must have had a large workforce to get it reopened overnight. It was just before a bridge. If they had blown the bridge this would have caused much longer delays to the traffic as it would not have been able to be fixed overnight, it would have been at least another whole day. The general feeling is that it was a statement by the rebels to be noticed, but not cause total chaos.

There were three tanks parked at the side of the road – first time I have ever seen tanks in actual use!

Lunch stop with a tank (Photo credit: Sue's blog)

Lunch stop with a tank (Photo credit: Sue’s blog)

As you go along the road the locals have washing drying along the paddock fences, as well as the front of their houses. Even at the most modest of the houses the paths are swept and there are flowers out the front. Not all the houses have water, and we saw a number of woman walking along the road with water.

Washing hung out to dry

Washing hung out to dry (Photo credit: Sue’s blog)

The temp got up to 32 degrees, so we stopped for more water a few times. There are still endless dogs, cats, chickens and livestock. I am a bit wary of dogs standing at the side of the road in case they rush out, but we came round a corner and there was a cute little puppy trying to break into a rubbish bag. Well, he must have thought I was interested in it, as he rushed out at me very ferociously. I was half nervous and half laughing.

The locals were still mostly smiling and waving out at us but as we got to closer to where the explosion had taken place we were greeted with total silence. Must have been really scary for them, and no doubt they are worried by the really heavy military presence.


A typical sort of home in this part of Columbia (Photo and caption credit: Sue’s Facebook page)


And next door a ‘richer’ house (Photo credit: Sue’s Facebook page)

Along the road there are hoses with water coming down from the mountain, and they have holes in them with water spurting into the sky. This is where the locals wash the passing trucks and cars for a fee. Turns out they also wash foreigners on a bike unasked and for free, but with delightful smiles whilst doing it.

Hundreds of water pipes spraying water out (photo credit: Sue's Facebook page)

Hundreds of water pipes spraying water out (Photo credit: Sue’s Facebook page)

I went through a couple of towns where there were lots of locals on horseback. I saw a couple of horses along the road carrying two milk urns one on each side. I have seen a number of cows being milked by hand.

I got to the lunch stop in good time so I decided to have a go at the hill. The gradient was not that steep, only 6 to 7%, but my legs were very tired and there were trucks constantly going up and down.

I saw two local boys latch onto the back of a truck to ride up the hill – very dangerous, but not as dangerous as the family going up sitting on top of the trucks with their toes tucked under rope!

The traffic is totally crazy, they pass on blind corners with double yellow lines. How the road is not littered with wrecks I don’t know. There were also two trucks broken down, and a couple just stopped where they had nipped across the road totally blocking the traffic, leading to even more crazy passing.

After 5 kilometres I decided enough for the day, what with tired legs, scary traffic, and I had a big sting/ bite on my legs so I decided to sit it out and wait for the lunch truck. Just after the lunch truck picked me up, it got foggy and you could barely see where we were going, so I was pleased I had called it a day. It took over an hour to go the remaining 33 kilometres to camp.

The mist descends (Photo credit: Sue's blog)

The mist descends (Photo credit: Sue’s blog)

When I got to camp the choices of where to put up the tent were a soggy paddock or tarmac by the side of the road. I chose the swampy soggy paddock.

Just after I got the tent up it started to rain. All 35 riders were cramped under an awning for the rider’s meeting and dinner. Even though the temp was 17 degrees it felt chilly. I had dinner and went straight to bed. I had a choice of an open shower with a main road passing, or wet wipes – I chose the wet wipes.

Cramped under the awning watching the rain (Photo credit: Sue's blog)

Cramped under the awning watching the rain (Photo credit: Sue’s blog)

We were not sure what the plan was for the next day as we had lost a day and had to be in Medelin in two more days riding. The rain started to pelt down just as I got into my still damp tent, but it was cool enough to tuck up into my sleeping bag.

We were about 2 kilometres from a military base and they had advised they were going to be doing a practice exercise that night, so not to be alarmed if we heard gunshots etc. We did check they knew where all our tents were. As it was I heard nothing, but the sound of the trucks going past would have drowned most things out.

The place that we camped was where the owner had put in toilets especially. He and his family were very hospitable and were bringing out small cups of coffee to the riders as they arrived.

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Day 6/164: Caucasia to Ventanas – 138k (or maybe not!)

After a wash and an oil I hoped the bike would work better. I decided that I would keep riding with my old shoes and tape them at lunch time when they had dried a bit, to give my new shoes a few more days to break in.

My panniers are now tied on with cable ties and my speedo has lost its magnet. However it was basically a straight road today, so rolling hills until 102 kilometres, and then 36 kilometres with a 2,000 meter climb.

I set off with my legs feeling a bit weary from the day before, but once I got going it was ok. I got to about 35 kilometres and a bunch of riders came back and said we had to go back to the town 9 kilometres away, as there was a skirmish between the military and the rebels up the road and no one could go through.

We went back to the town and waited at a roadside truck stop cafe for an update. It turned out the rebels had blown up a sewer line under the main road. This is the main road from Cartagena to Medelin. There is no railway, so this caused chaos with trucks backed up for miles.

Trucks backed up (Photo credit: Sue's Facebook page)

Trucks backed up (Photo credit: Sue’s Facebook page)

We were not sure how long the road would take to open, plus Christisano and Henry (the company owner) had been advised not to go through the smaller roads as we could run into rebel groups. So it was back to the previous night’s camp in Caucasia.  At the place we were going to stay tonight, the guy had built 4 toilets especially for us!

We will get an update at the rider’s meeting tonight about the plan for tomorrow – whether we are riding or bussing to the next stage. At one point there was talk of riding back to Cartagena and flying to Medelin.

Henry and Christiano are very confident that we are in no danger as the issue is between FARC (the rebels) and the military. There has just recently been a break down in the peace talks and the feeling is this was the rebels telling the government you had better get back to the table. Even so, Henry has recommended we stay together in a group. Henry and Christano will reassess the situation tomorrow morning and make a final decision then.

Tonight we had a whole bunch of locals show up with a floral float and the priest and a lot of villagers on motor bikes. They blessed the hotel and sung some songs. I think they were doing this at all the hotels.

Tonight one of the tour leaders started Spanish lesions for the riders. I went along for 30 minutes, after which my general level of tiredness caught up with me and I went to bed.

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Day 5: San Marcos to Caucasia – 122km

428 km down: 13,213 km to go

I set off from the hotel at 6:30am thinking “122 kilometres with 65 kilometres off road, how bad could it be?”.

Well. It had rained constantly overnight and the dirt road was actually a dirt bath. The first 3 to 4 kilometres were ok, but then it was followed by a section where the mud was so thick and wet you could not ride and you could not push your bike either. Every time you tried, you got 10 meters and then had to spend 5 minutes pulling mud out of the front and back tyres and chain of the bike.

The mud road

The mud road

A couple of times along the track the locals helped us out and hosed down our bikes. There was about 3 kilometres where the only option was to carry your bike. My bike is 18 kilos, plus the panniers that kept trying to fall off at every opportunity, though they were also hooked around my bike chain and locked so I couldn’t actually lose them. I would get about 30 meters carrying the bike and have to stop then go another 30 meters and so on. Thankfully the temperature was kinder than previous days, it was only 26 degrees.

A local hosing down my bike

A local hosing down the bikes (Photo credit: Sue’s Facebook page)

The locals all waved and smiled at us as we went past, and were probably thinking “Stupid foreigners, why the heck don’t they use the main road!”.

After a while there were bits you could ride but I still had to keep jumping off whenever it got to a muddy bit, sometimes 20 meters, sometimes 50, then we got to some stretches where you could ride 200 to 300 meters. I fell off a number of times and was caked in mud, mainly by thinking the mud was harder than it was and over balancing when my bike slipped. I soon learnt not to try and steer when this happened.

Ironic, I thought I bought my bike here for it to carry me, not the other way round! After a stretch of a few kilometres where it started to get better I was feeling hopeful, then I saw riders carrying their bikes over a 500 metre stretch that was a quagmire. Luckily after this it improved again.

The quagmire

Carrying your bike was the only way to go (Photo credit: Sue’s Facebook page)


Stopped for a quick drink – yes, I am as exhausted as I look (Photo credit: Sue’s Facebook page)

We had to go 35 kilometres and then catch a canoe to the other side for 2000 pesos, which is about 1 New Zealand Dollar. When we got there, there were heaps of locals collected to watch the entertainment, and the local children were fundraising by washing our bikes for 2000 pesos each. They were most enthusiastic and you had to stop them from rushing off with the panniers still attached.


The kids washing the bikes (Photo credit: Sue’s Facebook page)


Locals on the river bank watching us


Canoe loading in progress (Photo credit: Sue’s Facebook page)

Then across on the canoe – which was more of a long boat – to the other side, about 50 meters. Once we got to the other side it was narrow, windy, muddy and at times steep. I decided to walk as I had fallen off enough for the day, and because of this I lost contact with the other two riders who I had come across in the canoe with.

Thankfully it started getting a bit easier and less narrow, however then I came to another river and another canoe, and this was not in my notes! I started to get that sick feeling that I was lost. I pointed down the river rather than across and the two ferryman shook their heads and pointed to the canoe. I was still dubious, so they decided for me by pulling my bike on board.

Sitting on the canoe I could feel my bottom lip start to tremble and then tears slide out of my eyes as I was really worried that I was going the wrong way. “Stop being a baby”, I told myself “I’m sure the locals know what they’re doing”.

Over the other side I biked about 5 kilometres feeling a bit worried, and then came to a house where the road curved. There was Christiano, the tour leader, who had to come to the first point that there was vehicle access, as he knew that we would be worried that there was a second canoe crossing. I was so pleased to see him I burst into tears and hugged him.

Off again, more dirt roads, another 35 kilometres to go, thankfully only had to get off on average every 500 metres. My cleats and clips were so clogged with mud that I could not clip them in, and it got very wearying trying to balance my shoes on top. I tried washing them a few times in puddles without much success.

I seemed to ride forever and just when I thought “Ok I have missed a turn”, I came to a more built up area (5 to 6 houses) and then thankfully hard tarmac and there was the lunch truck! I could not believe it was 3:50pm! 9 hours for 65 kilometres and still 55 to go.

I had a quick lunch, once again the local children washed the bike for 2000 pesos. My bike was clucking and clacking and I could not get into the biggest gear. I managed to get another 35 kilometres but it gets dark at 6ish, and I did not have my light or reflector as I had no reason to think it would be needed that morning.

After 35 kilometres I made the call that I wouldn’t get another 20 kilometres before it got dark. By this time I was on a main highway with lots of trucks, and motorbikes zooming along on the shoulder.

I decided to stop at the toll booth where it is well lit – and there are Policia – to wait for the truck to pick me up. I asked the policia man if I could sit there, he seemed agreeable although after I had been there for about 45 minutes in the dark he tried to ask me what I was up to – in Spanish. After no success there was a huddle of the policia and then about 10 minutes later another man arrived and sat down next to me and asked if I spoke English. I told him what was happening, he spoke to the Policia and all was fine. I was pleased I had bought my bug cream in my pannier, as I was there for another 30 minutes.

It was 8pm by the time we got to camp. A number of riders only got to lunch and one of the riders Asha had lost his rear derailer, and was up for ages repairing his bike.

It was a tired lot putting up tents in the dark (my headlight batteries ran out of course!), sorting our bikes and getting the mud off (2 showers for all the riders – but thankfully there were showers at all!).

Sue had broken 7 spokes on her bike and another rider and I had wrecked our riding shoes (both of us had old shoes). I have been wearing my new riding shoes as walking shoes on rest days to try and break them in so I don’t get my feet covered with blisters. The clips are inserted into the sole, and then you put a cover over the sole.

When I got onto the truck I had both panniers and my bike chain lock, but I haven’t seen my bike chain lock since. Last time I was on the truck I had got on with 2 water bottles now I only have one. I am carrying water in my panniers, and will buy a new chain and lock when I see a bike store.

This one photo pretty much sums up the day. This isn't posed - it's where Sue fell off her bike Photo credit: Sue's Facebook page

This one photo pretty much sums up the day. This isn’t posed – it’s where Sue and her bike landed when she fell off.
Photo credit: Sue’s Facebook page

Categories: Columbia, South American Epic | Tags: , , , , , , | 8 Comments