Sep 13, 2008

Los Andes 19/08/08
We left Aguachica and the lowlands and started climbing. We stopped for breakfast in a small relaxed village and were attacked by zancudos (sandflies).
Since south Mexico, Gal discovered a new enemy, smaller than what we call mosquitoes and deadlier, with bites from hell, which hurt, itch and swell and last for more than a week – the zancudo (in some places the locals swap the names, to confuse Gal). The bite leaves a small red dot (blood), which should be squeezed out, to reduce the misery. Oh, and the bastards exist even in the mountains, above 2,500m!
P.S. – they don’t exist in Asia.
We continued the climb, but were delayed for half an hour by the rain. We found shelter in a tiny finca and were offered coffee.

The climb begins.

A million pork stands on the way.
The clouds arrive, a bit before the pass...

Towards the pass, the clouds which surrounded us during the last hour, disappeared (went down?) and revealed the flat Magdalena valley and the Magdalena river shining, reflecting the setting sun.
We met a road cyclist, another Carlos, who accompanied us slowly to Ocaña. He confirmed that we are in the Andes, the northern stretch of the eastern cordillera. We reached Ocaña after dark and were welcomed by Carlos (from the hitch to Aguachica) and his wife, Oneida. We rested at their house the following day as well.

The Magdalena.

A huge snake!

On our rest day we went down town in search of an ATM that will give us more than 300,000 peso ($170); not an easy task in Colombia! Finally, an ATM had a “400,000” button, which Rami pushed, but gave only 300,000. Rami was pissed off. At the market, we bought a machete (as if we are not carrying enough weight) and after a long search found ginger and Cardamom. We bought pork for dinner, for all of us. Just before serving dinner, all the extensive came to meet the distinguished guest. It’s amazing how many relatives live by. And they all wanted to taste the food – pork in sauce of soy, mustard, honey, ginger & garlic. Hungry Rami stayed hungry. On the previous evening, after the tiny dinner we went out in search of more food, and stuffed ourselves with pizza. People are not aware of how much we eat.

With Carlos and Oneida.

We were caught by a downpour at Abrego, the famous Colombian town of retarded people.

Boared, trying to watch TV... (fast walking, olimpics)

We had a nice, but long climb to Alto del Poso, the highest pass on the way to Cucuta. It was late and near the pass it started to rain. The only house/shelter was on the pass (2-3 houses). We asked to camp there and the old couple invited us to sleep in a room. While slowly defrosting, we were pampered with hot coco and 2 plates with eggs, rice and tasty beans. We made Chai, which everybody liked. Then the wife showed us a picture of 2 cyclists, who slept there 10 years ago, on their way south.

The welcoming faminly at the pass.

We woke up to beautiful scenery and enjoyed a fantastic 2,200m descent. On the way we met Filipe, from Medellin (on his way to Cucuta for business), who insisted we take 20,000 peso, to spoil ourselves. We told him we’ll keep it for beers, when we meet up in Cucuta.

Enjoying the views with the morning coffee.
The kitchen which Rami liked.
Our mosquito net, in the room.

The downhill.

Sorry about the million of pics, but it was a long, beautiful downhill!

We slept that night at La-Esperanza, a small finca, and enjoyed a shower, finally. Also there, as we arrived, we received a plate with rice, platano & avocado. During the whole night in rained like mad. We were happy under the roof :-)

Shrpening our new machete.

The lowlands.
Venezuela gasoline & minutos.

The following day we reached Cucuta, a big city (500,000), on the border with Venezuela. In the evening we met up with Filipe and his friends and had a few drinks. We tasted our first Aguardiente (Anis liquor), the local Sugar cane spirit, and were given a small bottle as a gift.
We went to sleep, excited of the arrival of Eran, tomorrow night!

The border town.
A nice car...

Our 7th wheel – Hernan Gomez 25/08/08
Since Mexico, Gal has been talking with Eran Kot (a good friend from Israel) about visiting us, somewhere in Latin America. It took him a while to finish his master’s degree and 10 days ago he called us to our cellular and told us he has a flight to Bogota on the 22nd and that he is open to suggestions for the next month and a half.
It took us 2 days to come up with the idea of him joining us, on bicycle. We called him and brought up the idea. He spontaneously agreed. The adventure began!
We quickly briefed him of what to bring & what not to bring, knowing he has no experience in cycling camping or traveling in 3rd world countries. The plan was for him to buy simple mountain bikes with a rear rack and connect on it a small bag. He was sent to Ramis’ parents, to the attic, to search through our bicycle stuff for equipment, and to bring supplies from back home.
We reached the conclusion it is best we buy the bikes together, in Cucuta, with the help of our experience. We passed through some bicycle shops, searching for something adequate, and found a second hand pair for $50. It had a thousand ¨Giant¨ stickers on it, in different fonts! Tomorrow morning Eran will try them.
The rest of the day we worked on the computer, updating the blog with the “Honduras” & “Nicaragua” chapters, feeling bad about being 2 months behind :-(

Erans’ bus was supposed to arrive at 20:30. We arrived to the bus terminal, at 20:00, equipped/armed with our machete (Cucuta, like every big & small city in Colombia, is dangerous at night, especially the neighborhood around the bus terminal) and waited and waited and waited…
Every half hour or so, we tried to inquire what’s going on, but, typical to Latin America, people don’t know anything, but still give you an answer (“another half hour”, etc.). Rami tried to rest on the uncomfortable benches, while Gal chitchatted with the coffee vendors.
At 02:00, after 6 hours of waiting (Eran doesn’t speak Spanish and no one speaks English, even at the airport at Bogota) we decided to return. 5 minutes later, in the guesthouse, we saw Eran! He arrived 15 minutes earlier. His bus arrived after 20 hours, instead of 14, due to construction works and maintenance of the road. Nothing new, but the bus companies still insist it’s 14 hours! He was dropped off near the airport.
We toasted with the whisky he brought, talked for a bit and went to sleep, with a long day ahead of us.
At 09:00 the following morning we were at the bicycle shop, Eran trying his ”new” bikes. We put a new cassette with a bigger first gear (for the steep ascents), changed the break pads, put a rack and hoped for the best. We bought a plastic tarp to cover his bag, loaded the gear and Eran set off for a test drive. We were ready to go.

Hernan Gomez and his new Liant (forged Giant) bicycle.
Packing for the first time.
The ¨Liant¨.
Test drive.

We finally cooked the spaghetti Bolognese which was supposed to be last night’s dinner.

Our room.
Ready to go, almost...

Visa Problems – part IV 27/08/08
Before setting off, we first had to extend our visa.
We were told in Previous DAS offices, that we can extend our visa only in the last day of the current visa. For that reason we postponed our visit to the DAS office till this morning.
There was a queue of a million people, but luckily, we went to a different office. The secretary told us that the boss is not in today, come back tomorrow. Our begging finally helped and the long, tiring process began, including taking finger prints of all our fingers.
Gal & Eran watched the bikes, while Rami went to the bank to pay and waited 3 hours in line, with all the people from the other queue of the DAS office. He paid the $80 and back in the DAS office we finally got the 30 days extension.

The queue at the DAS office.

Off we go!
It was 15:30, but we decided to set off anyway. Of the 2 hours we had, we hid 30 minutes from the rain, and in the rest we left the city, while Rami teaches Eran the correct way of using his “zipper” gear. “Don’t worry; we’ll be climbing 3,000m. In the next 3 days you’ll be using only the first gear!”
And, indeed, in the following 2 days we climbed from 300m (Cucuta) to 2,200m (Pamplona). It was a busy road, much busier than the Aguachica – Cucuta road. We easily passed all the road construction work that delayed Erans’ bus.

Our Panniers have failed!!!!! Yossi, heeeeeeelp!!!!

Eran, on his first dounhill.
Gal scared of a small truck.
Traffic jam?

2,000m - next!
Erans´funny tan line.
Spanish moss.

More traffic jams...

And they let them go.

We reached the main square of Pamplona. Rami found a nice hotel, an old building with a small balcony with nice views. We decided to rest there for a day, enjoy the lively town and give Eran knees some rest. We didn’t care about his soring ass.

The main plaza in Pamplona.

Tool of the month:
Ramis´old underpants,
which served us with honor finally thrown.

Tool of the month:
Eran brought us new set of dishes, which Yariv bought in the U.S. and Yossi brought to Israel.

In the next 2 days we climbed above 3,000m, to the nothing-settlement of Berlin, learning about the magnificent world of the spring onion. Erans’ gear made some problems on the way, but after a small struggle, we continued.

leaving Pamplona.
In a fog.

Camping next to a house on the way.

3,000m - next!


Eran, Gal and the trucks.

2 highlanders.

After 4 days of climbing we earned a 2,500m descent. At the pass (3,300m) we got stuck in a fog for over am hour. We finally decided to continue slowly, though the fog and rain. After a while, we reached below the clouds and had a beautiful decent to Bucaramanga.

Getting ready - for what?
More fog.
A glimps of the beautiful downhill.

Down to Bucaramanga.


At Bucaramanga we slept in Luis’s finca. We met Luis on the way and were invited to sleep. It was a classic misunderstanding. We found ourselves cramped in a tiny jeep with all our gear, on our way to the finca (out of town?), preparing for camping, used to camping in fincas. After a tranquil ‘beer stop’ and a 45 minutes ride on a bumpy mountainous dirt road, we reached a beautiful, modern house, on a cliff, overlooking the Bucaramanga valley. We were given the guest house, a separated room, with 2 big beds, a billiard table and the best view, just next to the swimming pool. We were warmly invited to rest another day or 2, but our plans were to continue. If only they spoke better Hebrew, we could have done things differently, more relaxed.
That night Eran was disturbed from the 3rd world social structure he has seen so far, in Colombia. We, on the other hand, were after a month of “si señor” and “a la orden” (to your order).

with Luis and the family.
Blackberries from the finca.

Canyon Chicamocha 04/09/08
We left Bucaramanga, fighting the traffic, and descended to a dry canyon, towards Canyon Chicamocha. The climate and landscape reminded us of the Dead Sea area in Israel – a desert.
We stopped early and camped on a river bank. It rained that night, probably because Rami said earlier that there is no chance of rain!

Leaving Bucaramanga.

The dry canyon.

Camping near the river.

The following day we descended to Rio Chicamocha and the whole day climbed out of the deep canyon, enjoying his views.

Towards Canyon Chicamocha.

Rio Chicamocha.
Testing the camera.

Eran didn’t have the mental energy for sleeping in a finca, so, it was dark when we finally reached the first village, Aratoca (we needed to buy food). The tiny colonial village was away from the road, hid in a valley. We reached the main plaza, with its’ old church (the first that hasn’t been white washed!) and relaxed atmosphere, as if time stopped moving 300 years ago. The only place to sleep was a guesthouse, a beautiful old house, but all the beds were broken, the family apologized, so we opened our tent/mosquito-net and slept on our mattresses. As usual, the locals told us there are no mosquitoes/zancudos, but they lied!
We cooked in their kitchen; Eran was disgusted of how filthy it was, like most kitchens in Colombia. Gal & Rami sort of got used to it.

"Camping" in Aratoca.
Leaving Aratoca.

We left Aratoca. Gals’ knee was very swollen & blue, probably an insect bite. She couldn’t climb the short climb ahead of us, so we hitched. Gal, Eran and the luggage went on a pickup truck While Rami started cycling quickly. Soon, a motorcyclist arrived and offered his help. He pulled Rami up and in 5 minutes we were all at the top.
We thanked Mauricio, the motorcyclist. He invited us to rest at his finca, a few kilometers down the road. We stayed the night there and had a very relaxed time. Mauricio works with Bamboo (and Guadua, its’ bigger brother), and showed us books about the architecture of bamboo – a whole new world!

With Mauricio.
Looking down at Aratoca.
At Mauricios´finca.
Making arepas (corn pancake).
Greasing Gals´pedals.

The Castros - Part I 06/09/08
Colombians have a nice custom of ‘forwarding’ you to their acquaintances. Just like Angela sent us to the beach finca in the Caribbean, Hector Castro (who did his post doc in TAU, at the same lab where Gal did her master degree) connected us to his brother Edgar and Luzeye, his wife, at San Gil. It was on our way, so we gave them a call. In the traditional Colombian hospitality, they took us to their house and gave us a good time. They took us to the beautiful, old colonial villages of Barichara and Guane, taken out of a movie. We ate lamb and drank our first Chicha (an alcoholic drink made from fermented corn in Latin America) – very tasty! They were very easy going and we enjoyed the rest there. If only we had good enough Spanish to understand all their jokes.

At Barichara, with Edgar and Luzeye.

The next few days were of little interest; narrow roads and lots of traffic, manly big, fast trucks. The few incidents worth mentioning were an agronomist, which we camped at his house, probably the one intelligent person in all of Colombia’s campo, who regarded agriculture as science, a house which we slept in, hearing a poor cycle tourist camped outside, on the bumpy loan (while we slept in the vacant house), and our short detour to San Juan de Pare, in search of a guesthouse, where Eran said: “the last foreigners in this village were the conquistadores!”

Hernan Gomez
Twice, in the short time Eran was with us, he was called “Hernan”, by mistake. Just like “Rami” is “Ramiro”, “Eran” became “Hernan”.
Later, while crossing a village, we noticed a huge sign with the name – “Hernan Gomez”, giving Eran his last name.

Rami peeing in the toilets of the bar.

The Israeli connection.
What, me worry?
In a mining village.

Entering Bogota 13/09/08
We left the horrible, congested, narrow road from Chiquinquira and entered the Tunja-Bogota autopista; 3 lanes to each direction + wide smooth shoulders. We were flying the last 25km to Bogota. On the way we saw many cyclists (weekend?). 2 of them, professionals, recommended a good mechanic.
We got stuck in the endless traffic jam, the entrance to the huge city (8 million). After 2 hours of fighting all kinds of vehicles, we reached the amazing “Ciclovia” (a bicycle lane), a cyclists’ heaven in a big city, and followed it all the way till Hector and Miriam Castros’ house. On the way we departed from Eran (his ‘base’ in Bogota was at Eyals’, part of the Tel-Aviv University school of physics community), who had time to think of what to do with his last 3 weeks in Colombia.

Eran: "?מי אמר בוגוטה ולא קיבל"
Everything goes to Bogota.
Also us...
The Ciclovia :-)
Hasta la proxima, Ernan Gomez.