First lesson: When going on a 100 mile bike ride through the Andes, having gears helps.
The weekend of the 16th of August, I biked with a friend from Bogotá to Villa de Leyva. It was a pretty last-minute decision, but I bike daily so getting physically prepared wasn’t so much of a concern. Still, I had never gone on a ride that long and wasn’t really sure what to expect. I probably should have done a little more investigation on the topography of the region, though. One hundred miles on a flat surface is one thing, but through one of the largest mountain ranges is another. On Friday, the day before the trip, I had my bike fixed up so I would have not one but THREE gears. Well, two of the gears allowed for such little force that one could pedal and pedal and go nowhere, so I ended up using only the hardest gear for the first quarter or so of the trip. Then I realized that the other two gears had stopped working anyways, so they weren’t even an option. Oh well.
On Saturday morning, I woke up at 4 AM and left the house at 4:45 to meet Oscar at his house. Well, I don’t usually go to his part of town and got mixed up on the highway and ended up way out of the way. Okay, so I wasn’t off to the best start. When I got to Oscar’s house, though, he wasn’t exactly twiddling his thumbs waiting on me. We planned to leave from his house at 5 AM and didn’t leave until around 7:30, exiting Bogotá at around 8/8:15. We each had a piece of steak, rice and coffee for breakfast at his house for breakfast.
The day before, we had dropped off some things with a friend of his who was also going to Villa de Leyva, but by car: a blanket, some extra clothes and some extra food. Oscar had three racks on his bike for water bottles—something I definitely need—and a rack on the back, to which he strapped my camera, a tire inflator and various other things. He also had another saddle bag on the bike for tools and carried a 2-person tent in a bag on his back. I had no racks or anything, so I tried to keep it light in my backpack: two water bottles, some food, gloves and a hat, a raincoat and various other essentials.
We ended up making quite a few stops, once every hour to two, to drink or eat something or take a bathroom break or take photos.
The landscapes were amazing. They were also quite complicated without gears so walking our bikes up major hills definitely slowed us down.
We were in good spirits, but as we got higher up in the mountains and as it got later, it got colder. The halfway point is a town called Choconta. We didn’t get there until about 3 in the afternoon. Gulp. From about four in the afternoon on, it started rained on and off, and that slowed us down a bit, too.
At around 6:30/7 it got dark and cold and very rainy. Biking in the rain isn’t so bad until you get wet and cold. We stopped at a rest stop and tried to talk to all the other people at the stop in pick-up trucks or trucks to give us a ride, with no avail.
El Puente Boyacá, the Boyocá Bridge, was not far from there, and the police usually stop the cars/trucks and check them. Stowing extra passengers in the back is cause for a ticket. So, with little other choice, we rode another 25 miles in the rain (well, rode and walked our bikes) and at 10 at night, we decided to call it a day. We were about 25 miles away from Villa de Leyva and based on the past 25-50 miles or so, it was most likely not going to be a flat ride. We found a hotel near Ventaquemada that cost 22.000 COP ($11 USD) for the both of us and crashed. It was definitely nice to sleep in a bed and not in Oscar’s tent—we didn’t have blankets or anything and all our clothes were wet—though stayed at a hotel that had no warm water and was so cold you could see your breath while INSIDE the room.
The next morning we took it easy, relaxed for a while and then had breakfast at the restaurant next to the hotel. This consisted of: hot chocolate with a big hunk of cheese to put in it to melt, a roll, about three scrambled eggs over white rice and Caldo de Costilla, a traditional Colombian broth with potatoes and a big hunk of fatty meat on a rib. So… you know… a small breakfast. All of it cost $3 USD.
The small restaurant was playing the news, showing updates from a Colombian bike race going on. We felt inspired.
We left at around 12:30 in the afternoon, which is late, but we felt we had earned it. It was a foggy and rainy day, but we weren’t too sore and the landscape was beautiful, so it wasn’t so bad.
Oscar fixes his dreads while we while up a very steep hill….
We took a quick rest in Samacá, bought some food because we knew it would be cheaper there, and got to Villa de Leyva at about 4 in the afternoon on Sunday. It was much later than we had planned, but a kite festival was going on Villa de Leyva when we arrived and the cobble-stone streets were filled with people. Oscar met up with the girl who had our things, but she left right after that, so we didn’t have the big group we were expecting to arrive to. Regardless, we were just happy to have made it.
We ate sausage and almonds and bread and drank some wine his friend left while we sat on a stoop in the plaza and watched people flying kites until late in the night. We hung out with some other people who were playing music and when I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore, we set up the tent about 10 blocks up from the plaza in an empty lot of grass and trees. I passed out instantly.
The next day we spent relaxing, walking around the town, snacking, and lying in the sun.
At 6 PM we returned to the city in a charter bus, which cost each of us 25.000 COP ($12.50 USD) plus an extra 5.000 pesos for storing the bikes.
The bus ride was long and filled with babies crying, bright lights and Colombian pueblo music; not too conducive for relaxing. We even had to make a pit stop along the way because one of the passengers got sick. On the bright side, it was an opportunity to get some 40 cent arepas and 25 cent coffee. We got in to the city at 11 at night.
Since being back, I’ve met a lot more cyclists who have great stories to tell of biking to other parts of Colombia, like Ibague, La Vega, Santa Marta (a week-long ride) and one guy who went as far as Argentina! He did the trip in about a year, making stops along the way. I think it’s going to be a while before I try something so bold as that, but accomplishing a trip like this definitely gave me confidence for achieving other sorts of goals. Oh, and bragging rights. It definitely gave me bragging rights!