Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Into the Cordillera Central, June 14th-16th

Neiva-Palermo-La Plata

We weren't planning to take a rest day, but it was so hard to leave Erika and Camilo that we spent the day cooking and reading instead of riding.

June 15th
Happy birthday, Dad!
It takes a little while to get going in the morning; somehow our small amount of stuff has expanded everywhere. Too soon it is time to say goodbye to our amazing hosts. We were so lucky to have the opportunity to spend some time with Erika and Camilo. We can't thank you guys enough!

Heading out of town there is more traffic than we expected on our small road, but there are a lot of cyclists out and the cars seem accustomed to it. All are very respectful of us. Once we pass the first town of Palermo, the traffic dies down to almost nothing and our road winds up and through the mountains. It's a beautiful and peaceful ride.

We stop in a small town to enjoy some cheese and our homemade bread for lunch, then continue on. It's hot, but in many places trees form an archway over the road, and the shade keeps us cool. The road turns from paved to gravel, but the surface is still relatively smooth and we make good progress. I like that the dirt is streaked with so many colors: gold, blue, black, orange, red... we must be in a mineral rich area.

When it gets late and we're tired of climbing (we've been going up most of the afternoon) we ask to set up camp in a farmer's field. The family happily grants is permission and we find a spot far from the road and barking dogs.

June 16th
We're both feeling a bit under the weather this morning so we end up getting another late start. Luckily we don't have too far to go today. Our road becomes paved again just outside of our first town. As we climb a giant hill, we watch kids playing outside on a big yard outside of the school. It's 9:30 on a Tuesday. Later, around 11:00, we see kids at another school all playing outside. School here gets out around 12:00. Clearly rural education in Colombia needs a lot of help.

Outside of town our road turns to dirt once more. Happily, the surface is good quality and the mountains are beautiful, mostly untouched by farmers. Their streaked cliffs and overhanging vegetation remind me of an ice cream volcano cake that I made once for my birthday. We climb up and up and finally reach the top of the pass. Woohoo!

It's hard to see from the picture, but this is a car driving by with the guy in the passenger's seat holding his horse by a rope through the window. Farming meets 21st century. 

On the way down it's not too long before we hit pavement. But wait, it's still under construction. In particular a bridge is under construction and the road goes through a rather wide river. There is a small and rather unstable looking plank set up as a pedestrian crossing. Danny tries to ride across and immediately his shoes are soaked as his bike sinks into the riverbed. I just take off my shoes and walk across.
Yep- that's our road. Check out the "pedestrian crossing" on the left side.

For lunch we enjoy huge plates of eggs and rice. After some relaxing in the cool restaurant, we get back on the road for our last 25 km. Thankfully our road is again well shaded by trees and is beautifully paved.

When we reach the town of La Plata we enter into a chaos of motorcycles and other traffic who seem to have little regard for the traffic lights. After a bit of confusion, we find the centro and meet up with Juan Carlos, a friend of Erika and Camilo who has agreed to have us for the night. Juan Carlos, we soon learn, is a real revolutionary. His parents started a recycling program in this city and he now works on that program along with other environmental education initiatives. When we ask him what he does in his free time he says simply, "politics." He explains to us, in simple terms, that he's trying to improve conditions for the poor in Colombia. The house is plastered with pictures of Che Guevara and radical rap music bumps from the stereo. We spend a relaxing and interesting evening with Juan and his friends Isabel and Vanessa.

Other notes of interest:
New record number of people riding on one normal sized motorcycle: 6 
Strangest motorcycle passengers seen yet: two women and a pooping goat.

Route Notes
- Neiva to La Plata via Palermo: some traffic until Palermo then hardly any until the merge with highway 24. Paved except for about 30 km of very smooth dirt/gravel from Teruel to Pacarni

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