I learned that the physical act of riding my bicycle was only the beginning. It was hard, yes, but I was preparing for that. I knew I’d be slow and tired and then beyond tired…physically.
What I didn’t realize was how exhausted I would become mentally. And emotionally. Spending all day then all night camping with the same 2 people can really start to dig in. We got at each others throats, and usually not because they actually did anything bad or wrong. Usually it was each of us dealing with our own bodies pain and exhaustion and our patience was just worn out.
I became good at apologizing. And accepting apologies. We all learned how to talk through what we were going through in an open, supportive way. We learned we were %100 on a Character Building Tour. And I learned and grew SO much I can hardly believe it was only 3 months.
I learned how to get over my pride. Sometimes…
I didn’t know Spanish and was afraid of messing up…I was not a serious biker before this and was embarrassed at my lack of strength and know-how…I didn’t like being told I have qualities that are less than acceptable, and then having to apologize for acting out…but all of those things were overcome and worked through. I learned to laugh it off.
I learned that I still suck at packing. We all waaaay over packed.
I learned that I can do way more than I think I can.
And most importantly I learned that the occasional impromptu dance party can make the worst of days infinitely beautiful again.
I’d say that 90% of the people I told I was going to Colombia, or that I went to Colombia responded with some version of “But it’s so dangerous!”.
(the other 10% were other bicyclists who were like – “Woah! Have fun and good luck with the Andes”)
I have met many people, including other Colombians who have had dangerous experiences in Colombia. But I want to be very clear that this is a country of beauty, and I don’t just mean the nature (which is surreal, by the way). What I’m referring to now are the people. Just as with any other place I’ve traveled, its the people I’ve met and the friends I made that create my favorite experiences.
For example, the couple the flagged me down on the side of the road and offered me coffee. We chatted about how beautiful the country is and how much we all loved Colombia- how inspiring to meet someone so passionate about his country!
Or the guy who saw me struggling up our first mountain and drove back to bring me a gatorade saying ‘mucho respecto’ and driving away before I could properly thank him. I stood stunned, almost cried, and then promptly chugged half the bottle.
Or the guy in a small mountain town who saw us ride in and offered to buy us a drink and snack from a bakery- which of course we said yes and got our favorite cookies- just because he was so impressed with what we were doing.
And the girl who stopped me to practice her English, introduced me to her whole family, and offered delicious coffee without pausing to hesitate.
And the man who saw us late at night with our bikes eating dinner, asked if we needed someplace to stay, then led us to his house and let 6 of us camp outside and stay up celebration our first night of tour with his whole family just inside.
And the guy who drove a potato truck and gave us a ride further up the mountain (to be fair Casey and Sam did help him load some of the potato bags- I was too far behind and arrived just intake to load our bikes. bummer).
And one of my favorite times was getting stopped by a pick up truck
on a rocky mountain road. He asked if I wanted a ride (apparently I just looked like a wreck)and I said yes please. I soon learned the driver was the mayor of the town we had just left. The MAYOR. We picked up Sam and Casey and learned that the car behind were other city leaders as well and they were all headed to the same meeting in the next town. We got out to
snap this photo, and then they bought us all coca-colas and some chorizo and we never saw them again!
And of course, there were our couch surfing hosts from Bogota. They were gracious, and friendly, and welcoming, and fantastic cooks and made us feel like family immediately.
And of course, there were plenty of people who wanted pictures with us. Young girls would shyly ask to take a picture with me, groups of people would gather around to welcome us and get photographic proof 3 gringos on bikes passed through their town. It was silly and weird and kind of awkward but beautiful and special all the same.
Colombia has some dangerous places, of course. But it is so, so much more than that- it’s caribbean coast line, it’s the tranquil, endless Andes, it’s massive cities and tiny villages, it’s people who are rich with gratitude, passion, curiosity and kindness.
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.
It feels like a dream.
I can’t believe it happened.
I can’t believe the two people who I spent nearly every minute of everyday together for three months are got on planes the other day and I don’t know when I’ll see them again.
The trip was a whirlwind. Everything happened “about a week ago” and yet an eternity has passed. It’s a typical way for travelers to feel, I know that. But this trip was not just about seeing cool places. This trip was a game changer.
It changed forever the way I want to explore. It changed the way I view challenges. The way I handle things that seem scary. And most importantly, it changed the way I view myself.
I learned my worst habits are the words I use to describe myself and what I can and cannot do. I focus on the negative and create a vocabulary full of phrases like “I can’t” and “I’m not ____enough”. Strong enough. Fast enough. Smart enough. Good enough.
And I learned saying these things enough times is enough to piss off the people who do believe I am enough. This trip put me in a bad place mentally (at first) because I told myself repeatedly I couldn’t do it. Everyday I’d struggle and think, I should just quit. And all the while my travel companions were pissed that I was pissed. They were pissed because I was bringing down the mood, and mostly they were pissed because they believed I could do it.
And then there was the hill two weeks in that made me %100 sure that it was going to be my last day riding. And then immediately after that was the most beautiful, wonderful, perfect ride through one of my favorite parts of Colombia and suddenly everything changed. Suddenly I was fully enjoying myself and wanting more of what I had just experienced. I wasn’t totally cured, but it made a huge difference in my thought process for riding every day.
That’s something you don’t learn sitting at home on your tush or in a therapy session. This tour became my therapy; and every step of the way was something to be learned. I was learning about myself, about my friends, about Colombians, about biking about nature, about everything!
...all of that post was written a few days after arriving back in the states. It’s now almost a month later. I’m not sure what my point was there (as happens a lot with me), but take what you can from it. I watched a TedTalks on my flight and there was something he said that really stuck out to me: he said that confidence compounds. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything more true in my life. Surround yourself with the type of people you want to be like and learn from them. I did that this winter. And all I accomplished allows me to continue to compound my confidence, which I had little of beforehand.
Life is still happening and moving forward, though I wish I could be forever suspended in my Colombian Bike Tour. Now comes the fun part of figuring out how to put what I’ve learned into practice. Wish me luck!
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.