Sunday February 4th
This is day one proper and the cycling begins. I think we’re still at two and a half thousand metres so the air is thinner for us. Team leader David is rightly keen on safety. Columbia is famed for its cycling pedigree but not necessarily its road network.
A few km out of the hotel in Cajica is our first little test. A 10km hill, reasonably gentle and warm enough to be riding in short sleeves and shorts. Before that, was breakfast. A sad affair in a soulless cavern of a place staffed by one young lad forlornly trying to keep everyone happy. Stale Danish, stale bread, a coffee coloured liquid devoid of taste and fresh scrambled eggs.
Bogota is on a central plateau of the Eastern cordillera of the Andes.We need to cross it, then ascend the Central cordillera before going over the western cordillera whilst heading north towards the Caribbean coast.
It’s Sunday and Columbians on their bikes are out in force. In their hundreds doing a tome trial which may explain the numbers. At the top of the first ten km with a fair bit at 10%, there’s a cabin doing a roaring trade with all those who’ve climbed the climb. Of course there are two climbs – the one we’ve done and the much longer descent we’re about to do. I think we are all pleasantly surprised that the thinner air hasn’t ruined us, just made us a bit slower.
On the descent, wise words of advice soon come into play. Cars and lorries do use ‘our’ side of the road, usually avoiding subsidence; rutted surfaces do try to unseat you, dogs and people are everywhere, traffic calming devices are frequent and brutal. Stay alert is the essential mantra but the rewards are instant.
The countryside and views are vast and sweeping downhill through bustling villages alive with every manner of roadside economic activity, usually accompanied by an enthusiastic salsa soundtrack rapidly render these little road issues and irritations just part of the local spice. A coffee break in Subachoque square again packed with riders of all shapes and sizes. It feels pretty blessed to be hanging around in the warm sun and basically just going out for a bike ride. There is, of course the obigatory oversized church.
Some of the places we pass are quite sobering, not just simple but primitive. We glide by but it’s impossible not to consider the tough existence behind the cheery exterior.
Another small town, Facataviva, for lunch. Columbia feels constantly active. The roads are busy, Sunday football is in full flow, all of the shops are in action and the cafe and bars are doing a fine trade.
One benefit of starting at high altitude is that it’s a long way down. I think about40 km downhill after lunch. What a luxury with only the 10 km of up to 10% as a sting in the tail! Full sun at altitude was seriously hot which a few beers in Viana went some way to cooling.
This was our gentle introductory ride. 63 miles with 4160 feet of climbing and a stonking 7500 feet of descent.
Last night’s hotel may have had no heating but tonight’s version has no windows. Indeed a suitcase width gap around a three-quarters bed and a bathroom little more than a shower base only had a few bricks knocked out for ventilation. That and a single temperature of cold in the tap brought a hint of Columbian reality to the proceedings. Beautiful it truly is with hospitable people but life is surely simple and hard for all of those making a living by the roadside and from ramshackle smallholdings we’ve been passing all day. It seems a reasonable conclusion that the reason the street corners are so busy and the bars and restaurants so numerous is that many live much of their lives outside.
A great day, even from the confines of our windowless cell. For some reason, metric stats as wee: 101 km with 1268 metres of climbing and a remarkable 2283 metres of descent.