(April 19 – written by Nancy)
It rained overnight in Valdivia, not so hard that it woke us, but hard enough that the roads in the square were wet when we got up at 5:30. When we got up, the sky was heavy but it was not raining. After a marathon weight lifting session – err, make that hauling our gear down two very steep sets of stairs – we managed to get on the road about 7AM. Valdivia is at about 3,800 feet in elevation and it is much cooler up here. Cool is relative though – I was still wearing my sleeveless bicycle jersey, knowing that we would be climbing most of the day.
Valdivia is high up, but our destination of Yaramul is at 7431ft so today was another day of climbing in the Andes. After a very short ride back down from town to the highway we started going up, and up. Those heavy skies turned into light rain a little after we started but it didn’t last long enough to be a bother. Almost from the start of the climb, we could see what we thought was the top of the first climb –seemingly miles above us. The scenery was great – views of miles and miles of steep green hills in every direction. The climb was pretty unrelenting, no real flat spots but thankfully the gradient was not too bad. The first climb turned out to be about 17k and took us several (sweaty) hours.
Traffic came in waves – lots of big trucks going each direction but we could hear them coming and were quick to pull off the road if a truck was coming in the other direction. Unfortunately the shoulder wasn’t great so when we had to take evasive action it required us to pull over into the rocks and weeds to get out of the way. I sure wouldn’t want to drive that road in a large truck. The trucks coming down the hill were going quite slow on the wet road.
There was one really steep pitch in the middle of the first climb, where we had to stop and let quite a few trucks go ahead so that we could have a clear run at it. And wow was it steep – 17% for a decent section. Looking at it from below while we were waiting for the trucks to clear I thought I’d probably have to get off and push but it’s funny what adrenaline does for you! We made it up and over the worst part and then just had to deal with another longer section of around 9-10%.
After the first climb of about 18k we had a rolling section of about 6k. It felt very nice not to have to push the pedals so hard for a bit, though I could swear I even had to pedal when we should have been going downhill. Those long steep climbs do funny things to your sense of perspective. When I complained about it the second time Dave told me he was pedalling too so quit complaining. We stopped in this section for a quick break at a little tienda for a cold drink, a hot coffee and a couple of pan de queso to fortify ourselves for the next big climb.
Along the road today we also started to see several spots where men were cutting into the rock side walls and piling up various pieces of the rock along the side of the road. We stopped to take a couple of pictures and one of the guys told us the rock is used for flooring and that they just sell it off the side of the road where they stack it. It looked like very hard work and it’s hard to see how they would sell much of it as there wasn’t really any place for cars or trucks to pull over to load up the rock. We weren’t sure what type of rock it was – it was very layered so maybe some kind of slate, but it was in all various shapes, sizes and thickness so seems like it would be hard to use on floors. Just imagine random people digging rock (and creating safety issues) in the USA or Australia.
The final climb up into Yaramul was another good climb of about 13k or so. The gradient was a bit easier for most of it and we had a decent shoulder, which was good as there were lots of trucks passing us at that point. Then, finally, we got a nice downhill section to take us to the entrance to the town. By now the sun was out but the heat was nothing like what it was a few days ago down in the flatlands.
We headed up into the town of Yaramul (up again, as it sits on a ridgeline above the highway) and worked our way to the central park area where we knew there were several hotels. We spotted a nice restaurant and had a great lunch. Dave then took on the hotel search while I watched the bikes and had a cup of coffee. We ended up at the Hotel Amajari just a couple of doors down from the restaurant where we had lunch. It’s a decent hotel and a big plus, we could just roll our bikes into the room, which is really a really nice change after the last several days of lugging things up and down multiple flights of stairs. It’s got some quirks – the sink is in the shower and it’s somewhat humid in our room – but we have hot water in the shower (yeah – first one in Colombia!) and it’s certainly better than the last couple of nights! Actually, it is much cooler up here and we both had to pull out our long pants after many, many months.
We are taking a day off here tomorrow, to relax and recover – I admit my legs are feeling the climbing of the last two days (3800 feet and 5000 feet). This is a pretty busy little regional town but we only had a brief look today so we’ll check it out more tomorrow. From here we are two days ride to Medellin where we will take several days off to explore the big city.