Riding in Colombia began with a stiff but short climb to Ipiales, the main town just across the border from Ecuador. We had an afternoon off there, doing grocery shopping and route research, and the following morning we set off North to Popayan. We were pleasantly surprised by the much cheaper supermarket prices compared to Ecuador.
|Riding the back roads past Pupiales|
We turned off the main road out of Ipiales in order to avoid the Pana, instead heading for the hills of Pupiales, Gualmatan, and Iles before an incredibly fun descent back to the Pana. As always, the riding is more fun off the Pana but we had a big climb ahead of us so decided to stick to the Pana where the climb would be gentlest. In the late afternoon we briefly considered setting up camp at a school, before deciding it wasn't quite as hidden away as we'd like, and we set off the 5 more kilometers to Tangua, where we were able to camp next to the roadside restaurant / gas station complex. It was especially nice of them to let us camp for free even though there was a hospedaje there – but we fancied a night in the tent (even if it did turn out to be a rainy one).
|Iles' church in the main plaza was a nice sight|
|The 1000 m of descent towards the Pana afforded incredible views of the mountains|
|Surprisingly low traffic on the Pana on our way to Tangua|
|Camped by the gas stations|
The next morning the climb began again in earnest to Pasto. It took a few hours, during which time we spotted some cycle-tourist-shaped dots in the distance. Upon cresting the summit we found Irene and Alle from Holland talking to a construction worker about their route. They started in Buenos Aires five months ago and are headed North through Central America, so for the moment we are on the same route.
|And we were four on the descent to Pasto (picture courtesy of Alle)|
|Four gringos on bikes in Pasto's main square are sure to attract a lot of attention|
|Some long tunnels are to be found on the road 25|
|Alle, Lucy and Irene making progress on one of the numerous long and steady climbs|
We stopped in Remolinos for lunch and to fill up on water, which was lucky because it turned out there was literally not anything for the stretch between there and Mojarras. We managed to buy water from some women at selling at one of the obras (roadworks) where we had to wait for a few minutes – the prices exemplified exactly why they call it highway robbery! The plus side was that there was very little traffic, shocklingly little for being the Pana.
|A local cyclist joined in for a few km|
|Down at 600 m, in the middle of the day, it was baking hot and there were not many shades|
After hearing from other cyclists how safe Colombia is we were surprised that several locals warned us to stay on the Pana and not to cycle into the evenings. It turns out that there are heightened security measures in the run-up to the elections on March 9 and that the section between Remolinos and Mojarras is considered a hot spot because it is so empty. At any rate we followed the local advice and had no problems at all.
We arrived in Mojarras at around 4pm but there was no hospedaje, although there is one under construction. Though some locals offered that we could camp in their football field, we decided to carry on to the next town. Just before El Estrecho we came upon a hotel campestre at the roadside. For COP15000 (USD $7.50) we got a small, hot room with a fan and a cold shower, and beautiful views across the river valley.
|View from the hotel campestre near El Estrecho|
|Just chilling out (picture courtesy of Irene)|
We had a nice talk with the owner of the hotel who told us about the history of the area and how much things have improved in recent years. He said he believes FARC will sign the peace treaty with the Colombian government this year, and how much safer they all have felt recently – although of course not wanting to be complacent.
We attempted to beat the heat the following
morning with a 7am start time, but it didn't work. It was already hot
and only got worse as we headed along the valley floor. Fortunately
it was finally relatively flat so we were able to keep up a bit of
speed which helped create a breeze. As we were resting on the side of
the road we were passed by Ben, a French cyclist headed south for a
few months. After chatting with him for a little bit we were on our
way again and shortly into the town of Piedrasentada where we had
|Rolling hills after El Estrecho|
|Still plenty of construction on the 25. The upside is that it forces the taffic to bunch up leading to long stretches with no traffic at all!|
|El Bordo, on the way to Popayan, had a very noticeable and friendly (at least to us) army presence|
|Ben, heading South to Ipiales, Ecuador and Peru|
The climb up to Rosas began in earnest after lunch. Our maps and Alle's Garmin had a significant difference of opinion over how high the climb would take us, with the maps saying close to 2500m and the Garmin saying 1700m. We hoped the Garmin would be right. (It was!). Riding the steep sections at the start of the climb in the 2pm heat was not a smart decision and I started to feel concerned about my levels of hydration and heat. We told Irene and Alle to carry on and that I would try to catch a pickup truck to Rosas. But a few minutes' rest, followed by a short cycle up to a roadside shop with cold drinks, and a longer rest, and I was ready to try again. The climb improved significantly and the later hour meant there was a bit more shade on the road. We kept at it and eventually rolled in to Rosas just before 5, about 45 minutes after Alle and Irene.
After a good night's sleep we started our short
day's ride to Popayan. A 300m descent and a 300m climb saw us back
where we started, altitude wise, and then it was just a few hours of
rolling hills away. We stopped in Timbio for some delicious jugos
naturales (fresh fruit juices) and some not-so-delicious
hamburguesas. Soon we were rolling in to Popayan where we found
discounted rooms in a hotel near the main plaza and settled in for a
|Fruits for sale on the roadside... very tempting|
- Ipiales to Pasto: heading North from Ipiales you soon find yourself in the countryside, on to the town of Pupiales. From there on, the road was very quiet and running roughly parallel to the Pana. The profile was very rolling all the way, but beautiful. Past the town of Iles, there's a long descent, half of which was paved, the rest towards the Pana was unpaved but perfectly rideable, yet not at high speed. The views from here were fantastic, and at times I felt I was flying. The Pana near Tangua has a wide shoulder for most of the way, and the traffic was surprisingly light for us, used to the South East of England standards. From Tangua to Pasto is always uphill, but on a gentle gradient, then a fast downhill into Pasto.
- Pasto to Popayan: despite our will to stick to secondary and dirt roads, we ended up following the advice from all the locals who suggested we stay on the Pana (the road 25) until Pasto. It is mostly quiet or very quiet except around bigger towns. Of note is that the section from Remolinos to Mojarras is totally empty, very hot and with rolling hills, so bring plenty of water and try to cross it in a day unless you intend to wild camp along the way.