by Nia Thomas
Colombia. A country that everyone has an opinion about.
Every cyclist heading South had told us stories of a beautiful country and generous happy people, we were excited to arrive! We usually take recommendations with a pinch of salt so as not to be disapointed with reality. With Colombia there was no need.
It’s true that in all four of the countries that we’ve biked in in South America (Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia), the locals have been amazing people, helping us with directions, places to stay, food or even just a simple smile.
So it was no suprise when the people of Colimbia turned out to be amazing too. What did suprise us though was just how amazing they have been!
Here’s a sample so far:
The Alcalde in Tangua
We rolled across the border into Colombia on the 3rd Dec and after getting all our stamps we started pedaling. A new country, a new challange and some strange new accents. All day we biked through a gorge, twisting our way down, before, as always, we started twisting our way back up. By the time we reached Tangua it was getting late. The sun hung low in the sky and it was time to find somewhere to spend our first night in Colombia.
We asked at a small shop for advice. They gave us two free bottles of cool refreshing water while we talked. We asked about a hostel, they phoned around their friends trying to find us a free spot instead. Eventually we said goodbye and headed into town to find the illusive hostel…it was closed. We went to try and find the ‘casa de cultura’…we couldn’t. Just as the dark was setting in and we were loosing hope, a man arrived on a motorbike (he must have been riding around the town looking for the two gringas with bikes!). His name was Alfonso and he took us to the local government buildings (or Alcalde) to meet Oscar, who told us we could camp in the sports hall. Not only that, but also he would then buy us dinner, and in the morning breakfast too! What an amazing first night and introduction to Colombian hospitality.
Carlos in Pasto
We met Carlos in the middle of some gruling 2500m climbs in Peru. He was cycling South, we were cycling North. He told us we must stay with him when we reached Colombia, so we did. Carlos classically said ‘mi casa es tu casa’ and welcomed us with a giant smile and about 50 balloons!
After we showered, washed our clothes and drank fresh orange juice, Carlos showed us all the sights around Pasto. The numerous christmas lights, the volcano towering over the city, pretty rural villages and an island nature reserve in a giant lake!
We got to try all of the new exciting food too. New empanadas, arepas, cakes, delicious hot chocolate and much more.
All in all it was a great introduction into what Colombia has to offer, amazing scenery and delicious food.
Carolina and Joanna
Sometimes despite biking in the country side there are no good campspots, so we ask locals if we can camp in their garden. It was such an occasion that lead to us meeting Carolina and Joanna, a grandma and grandaughter living on the road between Mocoa and Pitalito. They welcomed us into their house, let us play with their puppy and when we asked where we could put our tent told us we could use Joanna´s bed instead.
We cooked dinner on their stove, with Joanna playing the role of head chef. We showed them (and the group of soldier stationed nearby) our photos and route. We gave away our Spanish copy of The Lorax, that we’d been carrying for 7 months to a great new home, and found a man who could use Sara’s dictionary to improve his English. We played games with Joanna late into the night.
In the morning we collected guava’s from the garden, and made juice (jugo) – delicious! The soldier’s brought us Arepa’s and eggs and hot chocolate AND Carolina cooked us rice and plantains. Full and smiling we packed up our bikes and prepared to move on, but not without one last group photo.
We see a suprising amount of cyclists on the road, most heading South as we are heading North, but sometimes we bump into them again. We first met Virgile in the Casa de Ciclistas in La Paz, Bolivia; then again in the Casa de Ciclistas near Quito, Ecuador; so when we bumped into him on the road in Colombia we decided to bike together.
When biking uphill any excuse to stop for a break is welcomed. So when I heard a shout from a house I looked over to investigate. This was a familiar face! I pulled off the road and we were invited to lunch at the lady that Virgile was talking to’s house. Perfect timing as well, as the rain came thundering down.
This is the first time that we’ve met a cyclist going the same way as us at the same time, and the perfect chance for us to add another biker to our team. And so for the last 10 days the three of us have been flying along the roads of Colombia, visiting the archeological sites in San Augustin, the desert North of Neiva and everything inbetween.
Bomberos and Defensa Civil
For the last 3 months (after a great tip from some Australia bikers) we have been staying at firestations when we are in the city - a long time tradition between firemen and bike tourists. The firestations give us a space to camp and often have a shower we can use, plus plenty of people to talk to! As in Ecuador, the firestations of Colombia have been very welcoming and we are currently staying with our 3rd set of Colombian firemen in Girardot.
It’s not just the firemen that have been helping us out in Colombia, the Defensa Civil (a community organisation that helps people both day to day and during natural disasters) came to our rescue in Gigante when we were stuck for a place to put our tents.
We’ve been biking two weeks in Colombia and have received so much great hospitality (even more than we’ve written about here!). We can’t wait to see what is to come. Gracias a Colombia!!