Spinning South: Fresno to Yotoco

This week I finally admitted to myself that I have a love-hate relation with steep dirt roads and asphalt roads.

When I am biking or frequently pushing up the hill on a dirt road, I long for smooth straight asphalt. When we finally are on asphalt roads it is often combined with heavy traffic and I long back to the peace and quietness of remote dirt roads. The breath taking reward of a stunning view when reaching the top in solitude.

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This Sunday starts in a different way. During the night Frank was happy with our private bathroom and feels shitty (sic) in the morning. While I feel stronger and could maybe cope with cycling over a 4,000 m pass on asphalt, Frank is dizzy and stays in bed for the rest of the day. I am getting a bit concerned by the loss of weight and fluid and ensure that we drink enough water, still eat and look into possibilities of transport to a bigger city if this does not settle by the evening. I hunt and find Probiotics, as we don’t want to take Imodium.

We have the possibility to take a bus to Manizales at 5:30 in the morning or charter a Jeep. As next day Franks issue is still not solved we opt for a charter as this gives us more freedom. It is one of the Jeeps which is normally used for the more remote public transportation. It is arranged through the bus station and our driver needs to take the breath test for alcohol usage, same as all other bus drivers. They register all our details, where we go and link it to the drivers info.

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Leaving at 6:00 we already arrive in Manizales at 8:30, after a beautiful, fast ride. In our current condition we would never have been able to do these 90 km in one day, especially as this was also going from 1,400 m over a 4,000 m pass. Lush green coffee plantations, steep hills and climbing above the treeline. With Volcano Ruiz looming over us from the other side of the valley. When locals say it is one hour by car we now know this often means a full day by bike. Street Spirit. We arrived at Manizales which is the capital city of one of the smallest Colombian departments and lays in the center of Colombia. Seems that we are already travelling for 6 weeks in Colombia and we are only halfway? This bustling university town is perched on one of the ridges of the Colombian Central Mountain Range (part of the longest continental mountain range, The Andes), views as in San Francisco with the main street running over the ridge, side streets steeply dropping off.

We have us drop off at a supermarket for some breakfast and you know you are in a big city when you see the below products. We head to a hostel close to the main office of Tigo, our SIM provider, that blocked our phone, because we did not register it. Our main aim for today is to solve our phone problem and if needed visit a doctor to do a lab test. All should be possible as half a million people live here. No Phone. When we got the SIM when entering Colombia (at a small shop) they did not mentioned anything about registering your phone. After receiving some SMSes indicating we had to register our phone, we tried but it was a very difficult Spanish multiple choice menu. Checking in a tourist village with the local Tigo shop they said it was not needed, since we would not stay for more than 3 months and now my phone is blocked! Lucky wifi is still working.

Soldiers. People were maybe even poorer in the mountains but life feels better there and they seem to be more positive than people at the poor outskirts of big towns. For the first time we do feel like stopping and definitively not take photos. You feel that people are more desperate, but still friendly. At one moment a white, spotless pickup stops with 3 soldiers inside. They ask where we are going and recommend us to be very careful and watch our stuff. They invite us for a coffee at their compound.

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We first don’t know what to think and say we will drop-by when we see it. They are so friendly to drive very slowly in front of us through this shabby area and wait at intersections to indicate where we need to go (so we don’t need to take out our phone to check directions!). At the entrance of the military base they wait for us and we can leave the bikes at the bottom of the hill, driving with them to the main meeting place and have a coffee. The colonel is a very kind person with a natural authority. Dedicated his life already for more than 20 years to the military, working every day to make Colombia a bit safer.

When I mentioned at one moment that we were already 2 months in Colombia, Frank said what I was thinking: we have seen so many beautiful sites, hiked above 5,000 m, crossed a 4,150 m summit on dirt road, seen different cultural regions. Did so many beautiful steep dirt roads that we wonder if we should cross the Andes again and then having to cross it again over the Trampolina de la Muerte to go to Ecuador. We agreed we would not mind to cover some km faster on a more or less flat road and have some more time in Ecuador to explore some remote areas there.



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