I’ve been sitting here all day trying to think of what I can say to sum up my trip as it comes to an end. I still have a million more posts to write about our adventures; time just flew by. And yet here I am without words. All of the places and people and views and moments are flashing through my mind on a continuous reel forcing me to relive my time in Colombia.
The moment after we jumped in the ocean on our first days’ ride where everyone was drying off in the sun daydreaming about what was to come.
The moment of arriving at our new camp site and all having rituals of setting up tents, jumping in the river, playing music and eating cookies.
The moment of reconnecting after a fantastic downhill where despite whatever else happened on the ride, in that moment we were beyond happy.
The moment of hearing a really good song and we’d all start singing.
The moment of hearing a really, really good song and we’d all start dancing no matter where we were.
The moment(s) of funny situations occurring from not understanding Spanish.
The moment of trying to act cool, but really we all wanted more dessert.
The moment of feeling anger and exhaustion and self-doubt and deciding to push through it for myself, and for my friends.
The moment of sitting around a campfire playing cards like this is just totally normal everyday life.
The moment of getting to the top of a climb or hike and feeling so tired and so awe-inspired at the same time.
The moment of realization that I’d rather be camping with these two people than in a hostel.
The moment of sunsets and sunrises.
The moment of realizing this is something I can, and want to do.
The moment of finally letting go.
The moment of knowing things about the people your with in a way that’s indescribable and then learning from it.
The moment of making friends with dogs more often than humans and not feeling bad about it (…duh it’s an adorable puppy why wouldnt we be happy).
The moment after moment after moment of feeling like all of this is too good to be true and there’s no way this is actually happening.
These moments and feelings are what I already miss fiercely about my first bicycle tour. I cannot express enough how extreme everything felt in every moment; the good and the bad.
I’d like to thank the academy, my travel companions, everyone I met along the way and most importantly, Colombia for this amazing trip. My heart is full and my head is light as I head off to my next adventure.
..and curiosity. It’s huge! Granted, we are three sweaty gringos pulling into tiny towns on heavily loaded bikes asking were there is a good place to camp.
Of course they want to ask about our trip. A few of them try to practice their English. And MANY of them want pictures with us. Specifically, the girls want a pictures with the tall, white, blonde guy.
I once had 2 young girls at a stop recently ask to take pictures with me- the mom invited me into their house to do a little photo shoot. Made me feel special.
But so far the greatest moment was for all of us combined. A group of kids on the side of the road were yelling at me and while usually I wouldn’t stop, something made me think they wanted something innocent.
This 16 year old girl started speaking to me in very broken English; she asked were I was from, what my name was and then to write it down. She had her English notebook for school so I wrote “I am Caitlin” for her to see.
She then asked if I liked coffee, to which I enthusiastically replied “yes”. I was quickly invited in for a drink and was being introduced to her grandmother, uncle, and many siblings who had all been crowding around me this whole time. Sam and Casey rode up then and were invited in as well. We sat and drank our coffee and explained our travels while she explained about learning English in school.
And then many group photos were taken. It was a special moment, the whole family was intrigued and welcoming. It was one of those times were we just looked at each other like, is this really happening right now? This family invited random people off the road to just come hang out. It lasted all of 15 minutes, but it was a beautiful moment. I will never forget the light In this girls’ eyes as she spoke to us in English and hosted us in her home.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It 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.
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.
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.
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.
If someone had asked me a year ago what I would be doing now- I think I’d have said something like “I don’t know, maybe moving to Portland?” or “I don’t know, maybe going to travel Australia?” or “umm, I don’t know…” **awkwardly changes subject**
What I wouldn’t have said was “Bicycle touring around Colombia with 2 people I just met a few months ago who, like me, have never done anything like this before”.
But hey, life is full of surprises! In less than 2 days I will be off to South America to explore Colombia, Ecuador and Peru by bike for 3 months. Things I’m feeling right now: excited, nervous, ready, unprepared, pumped up, freaking out, scared, and SO HAPPY.
Since I have the “I Want To Go Everywhere” version of wanderlust, South America was of course included in my To-Do List. But seeing it by bike? Not even on my radar. Not until my friend essentially told me that’s what we were going to do and I surprisingly agreed.
After 2 months of planning and researching and purchasing, I have my bike (a Surly Long Haul Trucker) all supped up with racks and panniers, loads of new gear including SheBeest cycle shorts (the best most comfortable shorts ever), and for the first time ever bike shoes with clip pedals. And yes, I did fall once while clipped in. And yes, it was near a busy intersection where plenty of people got to watch. #winning
It was difficult for me at first to fully commit to doing a bike tour. I am used to traveling by bus/train/plane and living out of a backpack ready to move and adventure at a moments notice. Adding a bike to the mix complicates things. What if I want to go on a trekking tour for example, where do I leave my bike? I don’t want to miss out on the experiences I am used to having…
…On the flip side, there is a whole new world opened up to me by traveling by bike. All of those little villages and towns my train zooms past are now available to explore at my leisure. All of the beautiful nature I miss by being in a plane? Now I will be right in the thick of it! And all of the locals I’ll get to meet by camping out in farms, or fire stations or having to ask for directions..they will surely add to my positive experience!
And that’s basically as far as my thought process has taken me. There’s only so much reading other people’s blogs and looking at maps can do until I am actually down there. The plan is to stop someplace after a while to find a farm or school or hostel to work in, partly as a cultural experience and partly as a rest for our bums.
So cheers to new adventures!
**wish us luck!