Biking Through a Colombian Desert

To finish our trek along the Caribbean coast, we decided to make our way to Cabo de la Vela for New Year’s Eve. Riohacha was our jumping off point for what we thought would be a day ride through a desert to get to a mostly Colombian tourist destination.

Almost immediately I began to regret doing this ride. The wind was so strong I could barely keep my bike moving. And oh yeah, we left most of our stuff at the hotel in Riohacha so I only had 1 small bag and my backpack with my sleeping pad just in case.

The view was stunning, of course. Blue-green water on our left and a barren expanse to the right. Until the road ended. The pavement literally just stopped and became compacted sand and dirt for as far as we could see. There are no real roads or paths, you just kind of go until you reach the other side. Alrighty then.

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I don’t know how long we were in there, but it was long enough for me to reeeeeeeallly hate my bike. And the desert. The sun and dust made it so uncomfortable I just wanted to sit down and hope someone with a truck would pick me up. The desert and I have a very special relationship in which I chose to express those feelings with a few choice words I yelled (repeatedly) into the wind.

But I did it. We made it through to a small, small town for some much deserved cookies and Gatorade. None of us particularly wanted to keep riding, and it was getting late, but this place had no hotels and we didn’t have our tents. So onward we went, laughing slightly hysterical at our situation…

…On to a rocky, dirt road, still no tree cover and definitely no stops along the way. It was bumpy and with only one narrow smooth, ish groove that the motorcycles would ride. My hands were numb, my eyes were glazing over in exhaustion making it hard to ride straight, Sam got a flat tire as the sun was setting and still we rode.

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And then finally, FINALLY we hit pavement again. It was probably the best feeling Ive had all trip. The guys were a ways a head of me and I mayyyybe made up a song about how much I loved biking on pavement. From then on we rode single file and I had a burst of energy taking the lead. I distinctly remember listening to my musical soundtrack dancing to songs from Fiddler on the Roof and Annie Get your Gun.

The city of manaure had only one hotel. We checked in, bodies covered in sweat and sand and decided food should come before shower. The streets were crowded and as we sat waiting for our pizza no one spoke. We were zombies unable to think or move. I felt like a child almost falling asleep at the table. But we’d done it. The hardest, longest, most exhausting day of riding in my life.

The next day we threw our bikes on a truck and got a ride the rest of the way to Cabo.

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Camping in Colombia

Finally we were about to embark to the much anticipated “inland” of Colombia. Away from the coast and into the mountains. Inland.

The first three days after leaving Riohacha were some of my best riding days; the three of us rode together and kept a good pace together against the headwind (that has nothing to do with camping, I’m just really proud of myself). They were also our first three days of finding our own camping spots.

Night one was not that exciting, except that it was our first stealth camping. I think we were all a bit nervous about finding a spot so we took the first one we found that was flat and away from the road. After about five minutes of settling in, cracking open our beers and playing some music- the bees came. I got stung twice at the same time and almost cried just from sheer exhaustion and frustration. That hurt!

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We built a fire; the wood was scarce and hard to keep burning but it did help keep the bees away. And while maybe the place was sort of an unofficial dump, it worked well enough for one night.

Night two, on the other hand was a dream. We decided that having a river nearby should be a requirement of camping- you know, showers. And man did we find an oasis.

We arrived in El Silencio to find people partying all along the shore and they were giving us beers and shots and taking pictures with us (of course). It was another super hot night, but we met crazy people and became way more excited for future campsites after this amazing find.

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Night 3 brought us to Las Vegas. Colombia, that is. Another rushing river with restaurants and rocks to climb and jump off. After biking in circles trying to find a place to camp, Sam decided to grab a beer and mentioned needing a place to camp which led us to set up our tents in her back yard. We had beers all night, an amazing river and two adorable kids who wanted to be our best friends.

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This puts us in Valledupar. Many more camping stories to come.

The Magic of Minca

Having been on tour for about a week at this point, Team Siempre Perdido made their way to Minca; a small town up the mountains about an hour drive outside Santa Marta for some much desired R&R. We stayed at a hostel called Casa Elemento. An oasis in the mountains. A place to rest tired legs and exhausted bodies.

This hostel is known for its massive hammocks. And by that I meant three different hammocks fit about 12 people each and hang off of the side of the mountain. They have a wooden deck that leads out to one and that’s where we three sat for about three days.

imageIt gave us the best view of the valley, straight to the ocean. Everyday at least once we would be completely engulfed in clouds. The bar had local beers (Happy Toucan and Happy Jaguar. Yum). The bathrooms were what we call “a loo with a view”, which had open walls to enjoy the nature. And our meals were family style with everyone at the hostel mowing down delicious food. And after long days of sitting, we needed our nourishment.

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Loo with a view!

There is a hike you can take to some waterfalls. And to the local brewery. And in general, beautiful hikes anywhere you go.

But we did none of those. And I do not feel bad about it. I loved staying in one place. I loved the view and just spending the days in peace and reflection. I got some solid “girl time” with friends made at the hostel. I even played a little Cards Against Humanity.

Our second day at this hostel we were surprised to see our old friends, The Yucky Boys! Our paths surprisingly crossed again. It was great to let them know how we’d been doing since we spilt- how much lighter out bikes were and where we’d gone.

I was also surprised to run into someone from our hostel in Cartagena. He recognized me as the girl that asked him to turn the light off in the dorm at 11pm when he was trying to read. Four of us were trying to sleep, but he wasn’t happy at me for making him move to a common room. Sorry not sorry. Good to see you again, buddy.

At night I heard what I later learned were howler Monkies one night far off in the distance. We saw crazy cool looking birds. And one morning we had a large swarm of bees rise up in front of us, hover overhead for enough time for us to wonder if we needed to run for it, and then fly away. The sound of that loud buzz haunts me to this day.

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Anyways, those days were beautiful in their simplicity. We were still figuring out so much about bike tour, it was nice to take a break from all that.

 

Colombian Bike Tour Necessities

As we reach 1 month of bike touring, I’ve compiled a list of the things we pretty much always need. Some things were obvious from the start and others we learned along the way. I hope it gives you a little insight as to what we live everyday. In no particular order…

1) Working headphones: because how else do you survive biking into strong headwinds, deserts, marshy peninsulas, and up hills/mountains with out good tunes?

2) Empanadas: because flaky pastry crust filled with meat and veggies are the best fuel for the day

3) Cocacola: because it comes in a glass bottle with a really long straw and is made with real sugar. And it’s ice cold

4) Aguila: because a cheap cold beer is the best way to reward yourself after that ride

5) Festival cookies/ice cream: I don’t know how to explain this one. They are just mind blowing

6) Bike clothes vs Non bike clothes: because you bike in one outfit and wear your other outfit when you’re clean. Or at least slightly less sweaty. Maybe…

7) Baby powder: to help stay dry

8) Hard candies: to help you get up the really big hills

9) Tortillas: and anything we have available to put in them. Peanut butter, jelly, cheese, avocado, lentils with potatoes and little hotdogs and any combination of the above mentioned items

10) Water from a bag: because that’s how fresh water comes down here and you have to rip it open with your teeth and try not to look like an idiot spraying water everywhere, but it’s cold and refreshing so just go with it

11) Dance Parties: at the campfire. On the side of the road. In our hotel room. Basically anywhere will do

A Closer Look at Bike Touring

Being on a bike tour and spending virtually all my time with the same two people is teaching me a lot more about myself than I expected. Bike touring is hard physically, yes, but also emotionally and psychologically.

Im learning that I like to keep things barried deep down, ignored, forgotten, and blissfully unaware of how what I do affects other people. And then when I’m told I’m not perfect it’s like, wait, WHAT?! How could that possibly be!

Turns out that at the ripe old age of 27 I still don’t know what I’m doing. About anything. Dealing with people, dealing with myself, dealing with people dealing with my self. It’s hard. And I give myself a hard time about it which probably makes me even harder to deal with.

I’m lucky to be traveling with two people that are patient, honest, open, and most importantly, caring. We hadn’t known each other for too long before we decided to take this trip together and it only hit how true that was once things started getting hard. And things have been harrrrd.

This whole trip has been a HUGE learning experience. After a long or hard or hot day of riding no one wants to do anything. I especially just feel like collapsing on the ground wherever I happen to end up. I want off my bike asap. But I can’t. We have to find a hotel or set up camp and start cooking and I have to try to not be a cranky child tagging along. We have to work hard all the time to basically fight our natural reactions in that exhausted state so we can work together to get whatever needs to be done, done.

I feel overwhelmed a lot of the time. It’s hard for me to process so much so quickly. Not only am I learning to deal with riding harder than I ever have before and finding that deep down whatever in me that believes I can even do what it is I’m doing, I am learning to have a more open communication about what I need/ want (something that is surprisingly difficult considering how much I like to talk), trying to be aware of my mood affecting others, I’m trying to learn Spanish, stay hydrated, apologize- a lot, save money, plan ahead, have opinions even when it’s too hot to think and of course, have fun. My brain is on overload.

I love Colombia. A lot. And we are already looking back at those moments that were tense and stressful for one- or all- of us and laughing. Ish. We’ve all had our moments. What we are learning is how to handle them within ourselves as well as what to do when it’s someone else. Do they want help? Do they want to be left alone? Do they just need some cookies to feel better?

A few days ago we started off riding as usual. The ride was decently beautiful and all was well. Early on in the day we had two options- go 2k, see the largest lake in South America and camp for the night possibly someplace really awesome, but then ride 110k the next day to get to our destination: Mompóz. Or, we could keep riding towards Mompóz and not camp near a lake.

We chose the lake. And it was not what we expected. We were told the water was not safe to swim in which was a huge let down. We went to the place we were told to camp and Sams bike got infested with red ants. We were hungry. It was a million degrees out. No one could decide what to do. We were biting heads off left and right. Food and cold drinks didn’t help this time. We decided to go find a different place to camp by the lake… Then we were going to leave town… Then we decided to stay.

We stayed. We sat in chairs by the water, still in bike clothes, drinking a beer and not talking to each other. But after we had cooled off a bit we started chatting with some locals and a young kid asked us randomly if we wanted a picture of all 3 of us by the lake. It turned into this mini photo shoot of us being silly having to act like we liked each other for the picture. And they ended up being the best pictures of our trip so far. We look so happy. And it perfectly depicts us at our best. Which at the time, we weren’t.

I’m not sure that that actually has a point, it’s just a moment that gave us perspective. In the time it took us to stand up and take those photos, we were right back to our usual bubbly, teasing selves. And now that horrible day is captured forever in a series of amazing pictures. I guess what I’m trying to say is Bike Terrr is serious business, but it’s also insanely awesome.

 

 

The Tales of Siempre Perdido Part 2

The morning of day 4 Team Siempre Perdido rose early full of determination to ride their biggest day so far. Despite Steves gps leading them on a small and unnecessary scenic tour of Barranquilla and after only slight frustrations the team crossed the bridge out of town.

And then Nürph got a flat tire…

…Which ended up being a great stop at a gas station with AC, a super friendly security guard, and cheese sticks.

The ride really kicked in then, with a slight head wind and unshaded marshlands as far as the eye could see. The Team teamed up and rode single file to help break the wind, but it was still a grueling, long day.

With only about 6 miles to go, they stopped and had the best papas (potatoes) con carne ever and as usual, a Coca-Cola.

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Arriving in cienaga the team found a place to sleep. beers were bought and a magical sunset on the beach finished out the day.

Day 5 of bike terrr began in search of breakfast- and an iguana fight to near death in the middle of the town square. Typical Colombia, amiright?

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The ride to Santa Marta was uneventful. The hostel search ended with the discovery of the Mango Tree. Beautiful, clean, quiet and basically the best hostel ever. At this point, all three team members had come down with a cold so a few days a rest were well received by all. Yummy street food was eaten, lots of naps were taken, and beautiful sunsets were watched.

**the tales of Siempre Perdido, shall henceforth be told in a more normal format. Tips of Bike Terrr, what it’s like biking Colombia, and more coming soon!

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's… awkward

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