08.12.16 Ibague to Popayan, via Cali. Columbia
Yesterday was a good, but very long and busy day. We set off knowing that despite only having 160 miles to ride, the Google Maps time prediction for the journey was 6 hours.
It was raining when we left the hotel, and our trusty Maps.me navigation app kept trying to send us up one way streets the wrong way. We eventually found our way out of town after a good half an hour of trying. Columbia (or maybe all of South America??) don’t believe in signs, so it’s anyone’s guess sometimes, especially when we find ourselves swept along in the traffic again, thinking surely we just went down this road?
Once out of town, I breathed a sigh of relief, before realising that we were straight into the mountain roads. These roads were to take us through Armenia up to La Linea the highest point with an altitude of 3,265 metres (10,700 feet). They were busy in a way that neither of us had ever seen before. Nose to tail trucks everywhere. I have attached a link to a video here for those of you brave enough to have a look! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tajFENoeBDg
We climbed up, up, up and up! Mainly in first gear, overtaking when it was safe, and being swarmed by the tiny motorbikes finding every which way they could to get past. It was certainly entertaining, and absolutely stunning. The crossing of the mountains was a 45 mile drive and took us 3 hours! During this time, we saw a guy on a bungee being towed along by a truck, chicken, cows, goats at the side of the road, and were stopped by policeman twice, both times just wanting to have a look at the bike and sidecar. Thanks for making Paul do those tremendous hill starts guys!
The rest of the day went as smoothly as we could hope, until that is, we entered Cali, our destination city for the night.
We normally try to stay outside of cities, but this has proved a little more difficult so far in Colombia. However, no problem, we have the navigation app that I can read as we go along. It was a good 20 miles from the motorway into the city, and once we arrived, I made a faux pas, telling Paul to turn right too early. That was it, we were into the swarming traffic again, ah, but no matter, we shall turn around, we thought. Oh excellent! This seems a better route now, and it’s only 9 miles more along this straight road, with only 3 turns at the end………….. One and a half hours later, after being swamped by motorcycles, traffic converging from both sides of our road all at once, perhaps 20 sets of traffic lights, shouting, hollering, beeping, tooting, no left turns, oh and a flat battery on my phone, we finally found our B&B for the night.
A very good B&B it was too, Jorge and his family ran it, and could not do enough for us. It was lovely to chat with Jorge before we set off this morning. Jorge confirmed that yesterday was a special holy day (maybe the reason there was SO much traffic yesterday, perhaps) and that today is a national holiday. Breakfast this morning was the most wonderful omelette with an Arepa (a bread made of cooked maize flour), delicious.
Popayan was only a short 2 hour ride away, and very enjoyable it was too. Today we entered the Colombia of my dreams, the one I have only ever seen pictured on bags of fresh coffee before. Any coffee enthusiast would be in their element here, there are coffee plantations everywhere, and sugar cane. Stalls of fresh pineapples and oranges also line the road.
We had made a plan when we reached Popayan to visit a motorcycle shop and have the Rotopax fuel canister bracket repaired. Of course, we had not taken into account that today is a national holiday, so we shall try with that plan again in the morning.
We’re not too sad, as we’re staying in a restored monastery dating from 1570, and should be able to go out and explore tomorrow.