Report to Colombia

In Colombia I was happy to meet Stefan whom I know from back home. He is accompanying me until Northern Peru.

First we rode along the Caribbean coast which is an area of contrasts: We hit rich touristy places and within short distance we saw poor slums in the suburbs. Barranquilla and Ciénega are two of the shocking examples. I had never seen such poor conditions and people living in trash as we observed in Barranquilla. When we crossed a distance of about 3km we were warned several times to leave this area quickly because we would be robbed riding through these slums. Unfortunately the main road crosses this area so two men in a car decided to accompany us for our security. During these miles I was more than shocked as we saw people literally eating trash, and the streets were full of littering.

The first evening when we were looking for a place to camp we found a military check point in a small village. When we asked the local people why the military was here we were told that two guys had been killed three days ago. I was not shocked anymore too much as I had crossed countries like Mexico or El Salvador where hundreds of people got killed every day. In the end we were allowed to camp at the military base in a farm which turned out to be very special for both groups: We felt safe and enjoyed the adventure and the soldiers were very interested in us.
Here for the first time we realised that we as tourists were something special for the Colombian people. For decades the country has been too insecure and hardly visited by tourists. Now every tourist is something special and a kind of door to the world to find out something about the habits abroad. The soldiers asked many questions.
It finally turned out that we had to answer the same questions plenty of times all over the country since everybody was interested in the same things. This became tiring but the people were always very kind and polite. This was also the reason why I gave my bike to a Colombian citizen who wanted to test it, unfortunately he fell and the stearing broke.

We had a lot of nice experiences with the local people. Many times we were welcomed in a friendly way at fire fighter stations who hosted us and even cared kindly for which we are very thankful.

Another time we were invited to ride a day with the cycling club of Bucaramanga and in Bogotà we met several people that helped us so friendly and opened their doors to host us .We were just amazed of the Colombian people.

Once the curiosity of the people was a little too much: We entered the little town Tuluà in the Valle del Cauca on a Saturday and first rode into the centre. There suddenly one, two, three,… people gathered around us asking all kinds of questions which we first answered. But the crowd attracted even more people so that there were in the end about 15 people around us asking back and forth. But it was funny we did not have to answer anymore. The people themselves answered each other and corrected funnily when someone said anything wrong. In the end it became just too much for us. So we left.

Finally I remember an incident at the pass road La Línea where I looked pretty tired climbing in the evening so that a young boy felt pity and ran towards me and pushed my bike from the back. This was touching, I will never forget that.
The many nice encounters make me remember Colombia very positively.

Only two incidents left a bad aftertaste: Once still outside Bucaramanga we were invited to stay in a house for free. The woman of the house organised this for us and we were very happy that evening. But the next day two guys followed us by motorbike to press money from us as they had probably heard that two “gringos” had slept in their house and did not agree that this was for free. To get rid of them we gave them the amount they wanted.

At the end of the same day when we entered Bucaramanga by a steep road that led through the poorest area we were even followed by two young guys. It was obvious that they were running after us and following us up the hill for about 800m to snatch something away from us. What should we do? We climbed slowly and stayed quiet, praying, as I did not want to use my bear spray against people. Finally they stopped when they saw a security person watching the situation and we could escape.

Concerning natural events the year 2011 is an unlucky choice to cross the country as El Niño is active and is destroying many roads. As cyclists we had to ride often by rain and many disc break got ruined as the sandy water had the same effect like abrasive paper.
But at least in 2011 Colombia is much safer than it was ten years ago. It would not have been possible to ride through at that time. Today Colombia’s main roads are said to be safe. We can confirm this. Even in the wild Southern area between Popayan and Pasto, one of the most beautiful areas of the country, where the FARC is said to be still present, we felt totally safe and enjoyed the ride.
In addition I would say it is a good time to visit this country as the price for a meal in a restaurant is even cheaper than to buy the food in a super market and cook it by your own.  

We observed many trucks driving with crooked axes. When we saw the many wholes in the roads we found the explanation for it. Also the combustion of the trucks is so bad that we were riding often in a black smoke cloud. Sometimes coming along main roads with a lot of heavy traffic we were black all over our arms in the end of such days.

The three stories with Stefan, the newcomer which he agreed to be published:
To me it was clear that as a cyclist you have to avoid the toll station sensor so that you don't appear in the system and are not asked to pay the fee. Obviously this was not clear for Stefan and he rode through the sensor which provoked the employees to yell after us. But Stefan left without paying as he was not aware what was going on. It really made me laugh.

The second story I am still smiling about is the following: While I was knocking the dogs with my stick Stefan knocked out two dogs by spraying them with the bear spray. They were knocked out immediately and did not even bark anymore. Well perhaps the local people were lacking a protecting dog for some days.

Finally, in Girardot Stefan entered an internet Cafe. When he left he asked for the price and got the response “quiniento” as he was not yet very familiar with Spanish this meant for him “niento” which is close to nothing. So he said thank you and walked out. In reality it cost 500 pesos which is a tiny amount of money but still some money. This time I felt more embarrassed and I can laugh only now when the situation is over.

All over Latin America the people are amazed seeing my recumbent bike. They yell, they laugh, they take pictures with their cell phones plenty of times during one day. Many times I am asked the same thing, here are the questions: How much does this bike cost? - Is this to pedal with your hands? – Can you change it to a normal bike? – Where is the motor? – Do you not get tired on this? - Can this still be called a bike? – Are you a cripple? – Have you ever fallen asleep on the bike? Well, sometimes I can only laugh about their inventive talent. :-)