(May 2 – written by Dave)
Making hay, as in “making hay while the sun shines” – that became our theme today as sunshine and blue skies returned in the afternoon. We had two possible choices for stops and a third that seemed too far. Well, we made it to the third option. We had a good day.
It didn’t start so perfect. We had to leave the hostel around 6:15 because the only sealed road out of town was very narrow and it was being repaved. They start work at 7:00, or 7:30 or 8:00, depending on who you spoke with. We needed about an hour to complete the full 8k back to the highway as 5k of it was up a very steep hill. No worries you say – we like to ride early.
Showers were forecast overnight and about 2AM it started raining. Nothing like a metal roof to make sure that you are aware that it is raining. I slept fitfully until the 4:38AM alarm – we couldn’t decide on 4:30 or 4:45 (Senior editor’s note – hmm, guess who was pushing for the later time), so I set it for 4:38. It seemed way to early when it went off and it was still raining. Neither of us wanted to get up but we had to – missing the road cut off would mean we might as well stay another day. We managed to get on the road by 6AM – we passed the construction guys only just warming up their trucks.
It mostly stopped raining by the time we started so we had to stop throughout the morning and remove rain pants, booties and rain coats. The 5k climb was not too bad – they always seem harder when you are riding back out a road you rode in – as we did a few days ago. Once at the top of the climb we had a good 25k of nearly all downhill to reach the town of Armenia.
My route through Armenia was pretty dicey (Senior Editor’s note – oops, missed a turn and wasn’t interested in stopping to check the map… hmm, typical male behaviour anyone?). We saw a good number of homeless people and some “night worker” women. We didn’t linger. It was a bit of a relief to reach Highway 40 leaving town where we stopped for morning tea. Highway 40 is also being worked on, like it seems most highways in Colombia are. We had one 3-4k section of gravel and muck to ride through. The overnight rains made a right mess of our bikes, legs and front panniers. Seems we are in a weather pattern that requires daily cleaning of mud off the bikes.
We stopped again about 30k further for a snack and were passed by a long train of sugarcane harvesting equipment. We didn’t give it much thought, finished our drinks and got back on the bikes. Not long after on a downhill, we caught up with the convoy. The tail car had a “lollipop guy” leaning out the window and waving folks past. We could have passed on the downhill but figured we just get caught again on the next uphill, so we waited.
We did this on two more little downhills and then decided that we should just go for it. We passed the whole convoy just about as we came upon another hill. The convoy was breaking the wind for us and it was really hard riding now. We didn’t want them to pass us back again. We rode as hard as you can ride loaded touring bikes up the little rise just beating the lead car to the top. From here we put the bikes in a big gear and really pushed the next little downhill. This went on for about 10k, with us adding a little more distance with every hill. We were thrilled to reach the junction of Highway 40 and Highway 25, the main north-south road – if the convoy followed us here, it would have two lanes to pass us. We were pretty winded and ready to back off the pace – but it was fun!
Out on Highway 25, we had a new distraction – a fellow rider. As we passed a small set of shops, a road rider hopped out onto the highway just behind us. He soon caught us but rather than just zipping past, he chose to ride with us and chat. His name was Carlos Alberto. He didn’t speak any English but we still had lots to talk about – mostly understanding each other. We needed another food and water break so Carlos rode with us to a nice restaurant and bid us farewell – he already had 200k under his belt and had another 100+ to get him back to Cali. Thanks for the ride Carlos.
Between riding with Carlos and the cane equipment, we made some really fast time and started toying with pushing onto our third possible stopping point. The highway was smooth and fast so it was a pretty easy call. We only stopped one more time at one of those all-in-one highway service stops. I went into the shop to use the gents and grabbed some extra paper to wash off the bikes. On my return, I found Nancy doing just that already. You know what they (no, wait, that’s me) say, “you got time to lean, you got time to clean”. We managed to get a good deal of the morning’s mud off and at least get the bikes “hotel ready”.
We pulled into Buga about 2:30, which is not too bad considering we almost ridden 90 miles. We road straight to the Buga Hostal which also happens to be The Holy Water Brewing Company – a brew pub. Later Nancy looked at Wikipedia and discovered that this pub/hostal is billed as the only such combination in South America. Well, I’m glad that we stopped. They have a nice IPA on tap and good pizza. We almost didn’t stay here as our room is just off the bar and they are open until midnight. The lovely gals working here told us that Wednesday night will not be that busy and it “should be” quiet. We’ll see how that plays out as the evening hours pass…
We wandered town a little. Buga is famous for a church called the ever modest “Basilica of the Lord of the Miracles”. From reading, the basilica is a popular site of pilgrimage, receiving something close to 3 million pilgrims annually. The site had some form of church on it since 1577 but the current building was only started in 1900. It is very impressive on the inside, somewhat odd on the outside. The exterior is smooth stucco painted to look like red bricks. From a distance, it looks like brick. Up close the penny drops and you can’t help but smile.
We hoped to make it to Cali in two days from Salento but were worried about the distance. Worries wasted – today’s big day means that we have a breezy 65k left to ride tomorrow. This should all be no problem at all, if our IPA consumption is moderated – and the crowd doesn’t get overly rowdy. Fingers crossed.