(April 28 – written by Dave)
It rained overnight but we only had grey skies in the morning. We are riding here at the start of the rainy season and I guess we aren’t going to luck out in beating the seasonal rains. We could have gotten here sooner had we not spent two months in Baja studying Spanish but then we’d we starving everyday without the ability to order food, much less get a room.
Dinner last night at the highway hotel turned out to be very tasty, that is if you like meat. They pull hunks of meat off their spickets near the fire to give you a sample – which makes it nearly impossible to not order it for dinner – warm and crispy, thinly sliced carne – yum. Our cubicle at the hotel was mostly quiet except around 1AM when a couple guys showed up and forgot that others might be sleeping. At least they, and everyone else, left the bikes alone out in the hallway.
We departed about 7AM hoping that we wouldn’t have too much more road construction. These hopes were dashed almost as soon as we pulled back onto the highway. We had about 15k of additional construction today. Adding to the fun, we rode through the first couple sections with water from the overnight rains really mucking things up. Later in the day we rode in some heavy rains and were not too happy, except that the mud on our tires was finally cleaned up. So there was some small benefit to getting wet late in the day.
The longest construction section was about 4 kilometers long. We arrived at the control with a pretty small group of motorbikes and cars. We rode to the front and found that they had actually blocked the full road off – no motorbikes were going to sneak through here. Much to our surprise, the flagger saw us on bikes and waved us to come through. Several of the motorbike guys complained that they should go as well but we just said gracias and moved through.
The next 4k we had a couple places where we had to look out for dump trucks being loaded but in general, we had our own private highway. Even with a few muddy spots, we were pretty happy. We pulled into the rest area at the end to find that they were blocking cars in both directions. And the back-up here was massive. The cars behind us were still waiting also. Wow, we were lucky to have the nice control guy manning that last point.
We had a snack and cafe (tinto) here and watched the cars from our side be let through. We had time for the snack and a comfort break, and start riding before any traffic came from the way we’d come. Make that double lucky, not just lucky.
From here it was mostly uphill but there was no more construction. We decided to by-pass the town of Chinchina on a new road that skips town. At this point we were on the Autopista del Cafe – the coffee highway. We started seeing more and more coffee plants on the hills. We expected to enter the coffee region tomorrow but clearly it comes down into these parts as well.
We stopped for another break at a major highway cafe stopping point. There were several busses there when we arrived and several more stopped while we were there. We managed to get our drinks order in between the busses. We had about 16k to ride from here and just as we left, it started to rain. We didn’t bother putting and rain gear on as it was warm and didn’t seem like it would last long. Well, it didn’t but it was pretty hard for a spell. As noted above, this cleaned our bikes but it also left us soaked. Only the first 10k of the climb were hard – after that it levelled out – and thankfully the rain died down.
We arrived in town and found a couple bike shops where we could buy new spare tires. Neither tire we found is high quality but both are better than having to stick our thumbs out for lack of a spare if something happens before we reach Quito, Ecuador (where Nancy’s sisters are coming down to visit and re-supply our tires).
We found our target hotel and it seemed fine (Hotel Los Cristales). The people working here are very nice, even washing our dirty bike clothes for us for no charge – we would never have gotten them dry had we washed them in the sink as there is no fan or a/c in the room (it’s cool up here so you don’t need either). Though, a fan might help air out our room – nothing like 2 wet bikes, 10 wet bike bags and 2 pairs of very wet shoes to make a room be a little bit humid and pungent! After showers we headed for the hotel cafe where they give you a free coffee on arrival. From there we were off to a chorizo cafe – or a cafe where they serve chorizo. Santa Rosa de Cabal is famous for chorizo so that’s what we had.
The cafe is right on the main square so we hung around and people watched for a while. There is a nice church on the square that has an impressive wood interior (looks nice but doesn’t really photograph that well). It was sort of trying to rain but there were still a lot folks out in the square. We found a panaderia and picked up some bread for lunches tomorrow and a grocery store for dinner supplies. Using the fruit knowledge we picked up in Medellin, we are having a “fruits of Colombia” salad for dinner – I don’t think we need any more meat today!
Tomorrow we have about the same distance to ride as we did today. We climbed a fair bit today and have some good climbing again tomorrow. We are expecting more green rolling hills covered with coffee plants as we are heading for Salento, one of the famous coffee towns of the Colombian Andes. We’ll take at least a day off there – we are planning on going on a coffee tour of some kind. And to have some good coffee of course.