After having played rollercoaster going up and down in the narrow valleys of Antioquia and Caldas departments, time to get a little higher, to let the trees behind us and feel again the immensity, alone up there in the mountains.
Not only 4 but 6 legs are going for this one week adventure, with Simon joining us from Medellin after having left France for the Colombian sun and womans 2 years ago.
Trip begins sadly with twisting the new bike frame... Strong as steel as they said ... Not this steel obviously. The bicycle stand survived, while the frame where it was attached collapsed (the reed and the oak story).
3 Mosketeers for this adventure
So here we are, 3000 meters down from our goal. It's not gonna be only fun, it's gonna be legendary. All important is to be in the good mindset. Brain has to be programmed to cope with pain and incomfort so that doubts and resign mood don't take a way in.
Two days climb on rough terrain is never a pleasure part, at least on objective standards. Yet, if you let your head up, taking energy in every little piece of nature your eyes meet, then the way is all different. You think about it as a challenge, as a whole thing, the purpose is not to reach point B, but to enjoy every centimeter, be aware of your environment, take time to understand it, and take time to feel your body limits.
And god knows you have time when you cycle an average of 4km/h. You could count every stones in the path if it is even one's passion.
Most of all, it is such a privilege to explore such places, all senses open, feeling part of the surrounding nature. Fast life is far away.
As usual in Colombia, until slope grade is acceptable for human to seed crops and cows to wander (acceptable here is until you stand straight and your nose is touching the terrain, or an angle of 70 degrees, not even kidding so much). This means all land is privately owned and transformed by human, from 1000 meters above sea level in the valley, up to 4000 meters high in the mountains, where potatoes like to grow.
Asking locals to pitch your tent on their land is mandatory. No abandonned houses or without ending flat altiplano to host us. But Colombian s hospitality is not a myth. Doors open usually by themselves, and our efforts get often rewarded by a hot coffee or chocolate.
The countryside is mostly owned by rich landlords living in the cities that hire young people to take care of their land and farm it. These workers live on site, with really little wage compared to the crazy amount of hours they dedicate to production. Holidays does not exist here. Even on the 25th of December in this deeply catholic country, cows need to be milked at 6AM. Cows doesn't believe in Santa Claus ... Meeewww
Back to the track, it's time to step in the Paramo, after having payed an old Lady the right to pass her land. Everything can get to money making here, soon we ll pay for every cubic centimeter of oxygen we'll use, as it is so scarce up here.
Paramo is a unique ecosystem, which can be found on tropical humid highlands, above 3100 meters, just between forests and glacial lands. Endemic vegetation, like the Frailejon, is specific to this biotope. It also offers a huge reserve for fresh water as most of the sources Colombian's main rivers are found in Paramos, with numerous lakes and spongy soils. Global warming is likely to affect this ecoregions in the next years, by the disappearing of the glaciated land above, and progression of forests and cultivated land, due to temperature increase. Human over exploitation also threaten the Paramos. Mostly for the hydric services it provides, these threats could have a direct impact on Colombia's society. Who speaks about collapse ?
At 4000 meters, time to try to enter in the Parque Nacional de Los Nevados, to go to the Laguna Otun, see the famous Frailejon. The track is newly made and looks accesible. Yet, zealous rangers reminf us that access is restricted to vehicles, and that bicycles are ranked as vehicles. It's a clear no, forget discussions.
So we eat and go down down down, with nice small uphill to kill our energy. Sunset over the valley of Pereira is speechless.
And what about finding a spot with overview on the valley to pitch the tent ? This farm there seems nice, the worker just arrived a few weeks ago, away from his home in Valle de Cauca where he obvisouly had some problems... reconversion, he now lives here with children and wife. And he's gonna work for the 25th of December. We hope cows will offer more milk for the occasion!
The landlord offered himself a huge chalet made of glass, with a nice fireplace and leather sofas. Class difference...
Up and down to finally reach Santa Rosa, and it's streets full of chorizos seller. One nice Mario Kart style downhill in between trucks to arrive in Pereira, capital of the coffee region.
We will offer ourselves a nice christmasin Filandia, small colonial village in the center of the coffee region. Swimming pool and beers are ion the menu on the newly opened hostel where we are the first one to sleep on our beds. Luxury!
Refueling batteries with SantaRosa's chorizo
Cocora's valley famous endemic wax palm trees goes along with jeep willy that abound as taxis for the countryside
After a nice christmas burger and tons of family calls for our first christmas out of home and far from our roots, under the sun, next to the swimming pool. We are preparing for global warming, when we ll have see sun and sex at the doors of Paris in December.
Salento is one of Colombia's top tourist destinations, featuring chill hostels, nice colonial colors, international vibe, but also fantastic scenery. Valle de Cocora, a few minutes from the center by jeep is home of numerous wax palms, Colombia's iconic tree. This specie can reach 60 meters high and is endangered, as it's natural habitat (cloud forests between 2000 and 3000 meters above sea level) is hugely destroyed by human activity (extensive pastures). Therefore, most of the population that was actually planted here is the same age and is likely to die soon. Soil would not be good enough for their seed to grow naturally in this valley.
Yet the scenery painted by these majestuous trees is dramatic. Between high summits, eyecatching green pastures, clear blue sky and sometimes a dense cloud adding mystery to the scene. It's simply unique, even though not so natural as explained above.
Cloud forest means clouds, moisture, for a dramatic atmosphere
La Carbonera, on the way down from Salento to Ibague, home of tousands of wax palms
Nevado Tolima (5.215m) remaining ice cap is likely to disappear in tjhe next decades
Salento was having a nice farewell party for his mayor, where aguardiente bottles - the countries popular anis liquor - was freely given to the crowd by the leaving mayor. Nice gift to make people forget something about city management ? Anyway, as any South American party, saturating speakers and bad alcohol were there, throwing up sound and livers until late morning, where dead souls where finishing the bottom of the bottles, in a sad and lonely picture.
We counted our first Colombian tourista making the rest of the plan with companero Simon unsure.
Finally back to the basic 2 persons team, as Simon had to head back to his family care in Medellin, we tied up our stomachs to reach Ibagué. The way down is passing through La Carbonera, one of the biggest Wax Palm tree reserve in the country (and therefore the world). The place is far wilder than Valle de Cocora and offers nice overviews, especially after a curve revealing Nevado Tolima, on the oriental side of Parque Los Nevados.
This gravel road is a nice alternative to the famous "La Linia" pass, linking Armenia to Manizales and further to Bogota. La linia is well known among cyclist to be the second hardes paved pass after the one next to Nevado Ruiz. It is also full of trucks and dangerous to ride, and certainly not as fun as being alone in a wax palm ocean.