Monday February 5th

Another easy day. Breakfast at seven. Columbia rises very early and we’re far from the first in our roadside cafe. We’ve been warned that service throughout Columbia will be slow at best. There may well be no urgency to take an order, deliver the food or prepare a bill. Things will happen at their own speed even if they’ve been warned in advance. Having said that, 19 for breakfast is a tall order and the passing time gives us an opportunity to see Viani come to life. It’s already warm enough for short sleeves while the fruit arrives followed by the regulation scrambled eggs. Coffee is universally considered to be the worst ever. In a land famed for coffee it seems to be a rarity to find a decent cup.

I’m told that there are two versions available locally at different prices. ‘Real’ coffee and a second called ‘tinto’ made from the scraps and dust which don’t make the grade. As usual we’ve brought tea making equipment – the reality is that the local voltage is so low that 10 minutes of heating raises the temperature to fairly warm. A great disappointment. 

It has only taken a day to step from a bustling modern world into a rural world here in Vuani where modernity is clearly present – the mobile phone, the internet but so much around definitely sings of the real Columbia working hard to make a living and catch up.

Steep 4 km climb, assemble at the top and another safety briefing to the background chorus of “Fresco! Fresco!’ from the fish man flogging his wares. Roads are the life blood of Columbia. Everything is transported by road, no trains, no river transport and probably few planes so the huge juggernauts compete for space with the most ancient jalopy, overloaded trailers and motorbikes. And cyclists, farmers, cattle, dogs and as there are no pavements in the countryside, pedestrians. And everyone thinks the road is theirs. But the roads get wrecked by the weather so sometimes part of them just aren’t there.

It’s hard to know where to start with the glories of Colombia.  It’s a very simple place in many regards. There is an air of enthusiasm and a positive outlook even though so much looks drab and obviously well outside Western expectations. But stuff seems to work. Many are scurrying around making, collecting and delivering stuff. It might be a horse and a man in a hat, or a scooter, motor bikes with orange crates, packed buses, massive juggernauts or kids on squeaky pushbikes.

There’s another immense 40 km descent through banana and cotton plantations which rarely hide the views. I’ve found it impossible to explain but the view isn’t just of this valley but the next and the next and away into the shimmering banks of mountain ranges beyond. The descent takes us through a town on the banks of the Rio Magdelena,  a broad sweeping river spanned by a hefty steel girder bridge.

The next section was flat and getting seriously hot, probably mid 30s. Tough cycling through open farmland, into the breeze and miles seem to churn out rather than whizz by. I think some of the crops were rice but we definitely  need regular watering just as much as it does. After lunch there’s a stop in a petrol station – exotic or what – just before Amero. 

Amero holds a special place in recent Colombian history for truly tragic reasons. The town was engulfed by mudslides and flooding after a huge eruption and lava flow affected all the local rivers. Something like 20,000 people out of 31,000 lost their lives, some including a young girl, almost live on television as the mud waters rose. Naturally the government’s slow rescue mission is yet to be forgiven.

This is a view from the road as we cycled through.

This next 40 km section was still flat, still very hot but easier probably because of the better road built by a guilty government. Very pleased to arrive in Marequita, where the hotel is atop the obligatory hill. But great views front and back are a fine reward as we can relax by a pool. Got some great shots of two semi tame blue and gold macaws who hang around for the easy food pickings. 

99.3 km today with 682 meters of climbing and another stonking 1649 metres of descending

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