We found Jesus on a mountain, thank the Lord!
Trip Start Jul 07, 2008
270Trip End May 27, 2010
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Where I stayed
Hotel San Carlos
Hotel San Carlos, San Gil, Colombia (30,000 pesos)
Very hot indeed
Bucaramanga – holy shrine (60kms)
Holy shrine – San Gil (50kms)
We set off from Bucaramanga at 6.45 anticipating a hot day, and we weren't disappointed. It turned out to be a real scorcher which unfortunately was to be our undoing and why we ended up having to do the journey in two legs.
The road out of Bucaramanga was busy and apart from the initial downhill run, we climbed for 12 or so kms up to Piedecuesta. It's about 40 kms from Pedecuesta to Pescadera and the only downhill is the last 10 kms, so the theme is definitely up. For some reason we were both suffering quite badly with aching legs, yes, even dave, so we knew it was going to be a long day.
By the time we arrived at Pescadera the landscape had changed completely, it wasn't lush anymore it was mountainous desert. The temperature gauge had sored and we both commented on how hot it was and how the last time we were in that kind of heat was in South East Asia, 2 months ago. So having had a pastella to eat, and bought 2 more plus a couple of mango drinks to take with us we set off on the big climb of the day. Aratoca was the top of the climb, at 1950 metres and 25 kms away, it was going to be a long hot climb.
Eight kilometres into the climb I had what our good friend diane would call an asthmatic episode. I was asthmatic (due to being a smoker, a nasty habit I kicked 16 years ago) and used medication until 13 years ago. Knowing that we were going to be climbing some big hills and the effect that going from one extreme temperature to another can have, I decided to bring a Ventolin inhaler with me and lucky for me I did. I don't think it was the altitude, as we were only at 1500 metres and I'd been over 3000 in the past few days without a problem, but I do think it was the heat. Anyway, a couple of puffs and it was all sorted, although we both realised that continuing to climb in the extreme heat was a bit mad. That's when we realised we were in the hands of Jesus, literally, we were at a shrine on the side of the mountain. Seemed like as good a place as any to spend the rest of the day and the night.
round about dusk we pitched the tent on the very warm stone floor that had been heating up all day, and proceeded to sweat our way through the night. The only disturbances (apart from the constant traffic that is) were a party of Christians who came to sing some hymns and say a few prayers, and the guys who brought us some soup to eat. They had been trying to fix their truck at the side of the road all afternoon, but it was obviously too big a job, so they had rigged up a makeshift tent out of polythene and at some point during the evening had obviously found a restaurant and very kindly brought us something back.
At 5.45 the next morning we continued on our way, up the mountain while it was still cool. Everyone talks about Aratoca being at the top, well it isn't. you reach the turn off for Aratoca which if you want to go into town you take and that is down, but you've still got another 5 kms of climbing before you start the big downhill to San Gil, even then you're not done with the climbing, there are a few ups to do before you finally arrive.
San Gil is a seriously likable place and being here for the Independence day festivities has been fun. The horrendous climb up to the first place in the lonely planet book turned out to be a waste of time, not only did they only have dorms, but they were completely full because of the festivo. However, the lovely young lady on the desk (when she realised we had struggled up with our bicycles) did call the San Carlos to see if they had rooms for us, which we thought was rather sweet.
Internet connections are plentiful and cheap here, although open wifi networks not so available so I do everything offline then find an internet cafe. Today is Sunday and being a good Catholic country things come to a complete standstill after lunch. In Venezuela the whole day was a complete shutdown, so we're lucky to have things going on on Sunday mornings here in Colombia. This is a festival weekend so this morning the bars were full of celebrating Colombians at 10am, whaheyyyyy, my kind of people.
Motorcyclists, and their passengers, have to wear vests (that look remarkably like bulletproof flack jackets I have to say) and helmets with the registration number of their bikes emblazened upon them. Everyone does it so I assume it's a legal requirement.
There's a huge police presence here, the new guy (Uribe) seems to have made it his mission to sort out the security situation in Colombia so we don't feel under threat at all. Everyday we pass at least one police checkpoint, lots of men with Uzzis, searching vehicles and people, who simply smile at us and wave us through! of course WE could be the ones with the Uzzis and machetes, but we never get stopped just like everywhere else in the world, we are considered 'harmless'.
last night rallyraid (or should it have been rallyaid?) pulled into town, lots of people on very dirty motorbikes, 4x4s and quads, raising money for charity. They all looked rather dirty, hungry and glad to be home, we know exactly how that feels. We're having another rest day here tomorrow (these bloody Andes are killing us!) and then we'll head off. depends which way we go but it should only take us a few days to get to Bogota. We've joined something called warmshowers.org, a website dedicated to providing accommodation for cyclists, predominantly by cyclists, and there are a few in Bogota, so we'll try it out.