LOWLANDS OF CENTRAL COLOMBIA
Alas, the final stretch of Colombia, and certainly a memorable one! This section, from Ibagué to Ipiales, the border town in Colombia was about 450 miles and took us about two weeks. The short distance through the mountains over the infamous "Trampolín de la Muerte" or Death's Trampoline road, was the Southern most route in Colombia to cross over the Central Cordillera yet again. That in itself took about 5 days and gained a few thousand feet in altitude before the border. But let's rewind...
After crossing the Central Cordillera the first time through the extraordinary Valle de Cocora, we were happy to have a long descent into Ibague and onward to the lowlands of Central Colombia. Our quiet dirt road continued along the Rio Magdalena, snaking its way through a hot, humid, buggy climate. We were greeted by cows and donkeys at every turn. After a couple of days we reached el Desierto de la Tatacoa.
The sandstone landscape of el Desierto de la Tatacoa, with its weird spires and rich red color reminded us a lot of home (New Mexico). It was a lovely, if a bit hot afternoon. Before long, we were pedaling on to Neiva, and finally ascending into the Central Cordillera one more time.
EL TRAMPOLÍN DE LA MUERTE
One of the most memorable parts of our entire three month stay in Colombia was cycling el Trampolín de la Muerte. It is the only road over the mountains in Southern Colombia connecting the two major cities of Pasto and Mocoa, and despite its steady traffic, it provided constant views of the dense, lush rainforest, as many waterfalls as there were kilometers, and sheer drop offs of more than 2,000 feet. Not a place you want to accidentally slip or bring your tire too close to the road's edge. Luckily, when you're riding a bike, it is much less terrifying than it would be in a bus, so we enjoyed ourselves, though we did have to pull over frequently to allow trucks and buses to pass – the road was too narrow in many places to share the road even with a single vehicle.
Several days later, we reach the top of the last pass. We descended into the glorious Sibundoy Valley, and after several days of riding pretty remote mountains with not much civilization, we observe a major shift in the culture and customs here. It is a beautiful thing to witness when you're traveling at the slow pace of a bicycle. Women wore brightly colored shawls, we start to the see grilled cuy (guinea pig) at local markets and restaurants, and it certainly feels like we are close to the border of Ecuador. After several days cycling in the Sibundoy Valley, we continued climbing up to the Laguna de la Cocha, and finally on to the large city of Pasto, where we both came down with the flu. At that point, Ecuador was only a day's ride away.
THE SIBUNDOY VALLEY, COLOMBIA
UP NEXT: ECUADOR