La ‘Zona Roja’ and San Augstin

After having passed the long weekend in Bogota and collected the results from my appointment on Tuesday I left the big smoke the next morning really early….just as the other Hostel members had gotten home from their party bus night out. I kind a missed out on the night life of Bogota, and will have to come back another time to Colombia…for the dancing. Instead I had explored the medical sector of Bogota and had an MRI done on my left shoulder which was quite sore after a fall when two trucks ‘gigantes’ had pushed me off the road…. actually I left the road by choice…. and went for the ditch, a slippery slope, which was still the saver option. The results show a full tear of part of the supraspinatus muscle. However, the specialist, recommended that I continue my bike trip and get it fixed once back home.

On way out of of Bogota (2640m) I followed a ciclovia along the calle 26 nearly all the way to the airport and than I had to change over to calle 13 and share it with a million trucks and progress slowed right down. After another 20km and after breathing a fair share of exhaust fumes the traffic started to disperse and my road headed up a hill close to 3000m pass. I was looking forward to the massive descent back to the low hundreds, but once over the pass it started raining heavily and the fog was dense. I had to go real slow and started to get cold and wet. After about 1000m decent I stopped for a warm drink….wondering why one bothers with cycle touring: it’s either raining, or there is a headwind, or there is too many trucks, the dogs are chasing you, etc… I asked a nice couple what they were eating and ordered the same, hot chocolate + arepa con queso (un campesino). We had a quick chat and than I settled on my table and got changed into dry clothes. They left  shortly after and had paid for my desayuno campesino. Asi es la Colombia (that’s Colombia), the people are incredible generous and open hearted, quite a contrast with the poor and violent reputation the country has. Something like that would never happen in Europe, but yet had happened a few times to me here already. These moments of human sharing made up for the rain and misery of today.

The rain had stopped and I got to enjoy the rest of the downhill, some uphill, ordered some tripe soup for lunch by mistake (I hate tripe), had another nice Colombiano come up to my table to chat and wish me all the best.  After 150km and 10h in the saddle I finally arrived in Girardot (315m), a hot place and noisy. The hotter the climate the more noisy the place. The rule seems to be the louder one can advertise what they sell the more chances they have…and everyone is selling something! I found a place with a swimming pool which was quite a treat. The next morning I wanted to make my way south to the Tatacoa desert, but got warned that south from Girardot starts the ‘zona roja’ and there would be a threat of guerrilla. I wasn’t too sorry to have to take the bus all the way to San Augustin, as I wasn’t too keen on cycling in the heat anyway. I arrived after dark and the whole town was struck by a blackout….it was quite challenging to find the Hotel Finca el Maco, and a strange, slightly unnerving feeling arriving in the dark. But it all turned out well, it was a nice place to stay and the next day I visited the Parque Arqueologico de San Augustin a UNESCO world heritage center, together with a nice german/colombian couple. I not only had a culturally interesting day, but I also learned lots of spanish… what a great day! Thanks Theresa and Diego:) The next day there was another bus ride through ‘zona roja’ country on a bad road (120km took 6 hours) in the rain to Popayan. . The town is well known for its beautiful colonial architecture,  was destroyed by an earthquake in 1983, but has been well restored. In 2005, Popayán was declared by the UNESCO as the first city of gastronomy because of its variety and meaning to the intangible patrimony of Colombian culture. I had the best food there yet.

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