Let’s explore the incredible desert, paramo, alpine and rainforest environments of Colombia. While we’re at it, we’ll cycle up the highest road in the country; a lofty 4700m/15400ft! But shh… in order to access the active volcano areas, we’ll be breaking a few rules.
Please note: These are social media updates rather than gallery captions, so my apologies if the captions are a little abstract.
May 10, 2019: Welcome to the Tatacoa Desert!
This little arid zone seems quite unlikely when you consider the proximity of the Amazon and surrounding mountain forests. The winter months bring a bit of rain, which erodes the clay surfaces into very impressive 15-metre (45ft) tall red gullies, which are extraordinary fun to ride through. 🏜
May 12, 2019: The desert was very hot and dry and reminded me a lot of Australia.
I followed the marked trail through all the canyons hoping to find a rattlesnake, which the desert is named after. Alas, the only other things with a heartbeat were the leering vultures, who were hoping the heat would knock me off my feet. 🙄
May 16, 2019: Imagine cycling at 3200 metres (10,500ft) and being confronted by thousands of palm trees – this is NOT where you’d expect them! 🏝
Quindio Wax Palms can grow to 60m/200ft tall and are only found in the mountains of Colombia and northern Peru. A thick white wax covers their trunks which was once used to create candles, but these days the palms are legally protected as they are the national tree of Colombia! 🌴
May 17, 2019: I’m camping on private property 90% of the time currently. I wish there were more options, but it’s practically impossible in Colombia! It’s often hard to ask for permission too as the land isn’t always connected to a house.
My technique has been to arrive an hour before dark, wait to see if someone approaches and then ask for permission. If no-one arrives I set up my tent in the dark and start packing up at first light.
This hasn’t caused any problems so far, in fact, the farmers I see in the morning often tell me to drop by their house and pick up some fruit and water! 🍇🍈🍉
May 18, 2019: I was cycling along, way up in the mountains, and as I passed a series of rocks… one of them moved! Confused, I made a u-turn and discovered it wasn’t a rock, it was a crab. WTF! 🦀
The elevation was 3000m/10000ft and I was well above the clouds. There were no lakes or rivers in any direction and the road was barely trafficked, yet here I was with a decent-sized crab dancing around my feet. Any guesses how it got here? Do crabs go on holidays?!? 🧳🗺🤔
May 19, 2019: Colombia is great for cyclists! There’s always a big service lane to cycle in on the highways. In the cities, there are dedicated bike paths everywhere (like this one). And all the food is full of sugar so you never run out of calories or tooth cavities!
Does anyone know a good dentist??? 😂🍬🍫
May 24, 2019: After experiencing what water tastes like in most parts of the world, it’s safe to say that good water is a LUXURY.
As a water connoisseur, it often pains me to have to filter yellow and brown-tinged water out of small creeks. If that wasn’t bad enough, the town water tastes like metal half the time, or it’s chock full of chlorine, or it’s simply not drinkable. Ahhh… travelling by bike makes you appreciate finding that icy cold, mountain freshwater source so damn much!
BONUS QUESTION: Would you take good beer and bad water, or good water and bad beer!? You can’t have both. (Feel free to substitute beer with wine 🍷
June 1, 2019: Colombia’s Forbidden Road is also its best road. I’m not usually a rule-breaker, but can you really blame me when these landscapes are on offer!? 🤘🏼
June 2, 2019: To get to this location I had to wake up at 130AM, push my bike through the mud for 1.5 hours, sneak past some sleeping national park guards, cycle up a soggy sandy road to 4500m/14700ft, jump a tall “do not enter” gate and rush past two more already awake guards… all before sunrise!
But after that, I had Colombia’s Forbidden Road all to myself for the next 24 hours. 💥
June 3, 2019: The fog lifted and the euphoria kicked in. Perhaps I felt this rush because I was not meant to be here, but the more likely explanation is that I was immersed in one of the world’s most awe-inspiring landscapes.
June 4, 2019: This is probably the most epic photo I’ve ever taken! ICE ❄️ SNOW 🌬 FOG 🌫, essentially the perfect movie set for dragons! Bet you didn’t imagine Colombia looked like this.
If you had a million dollars, would you spend your life doing anything differently? I ask myself questions like this all the time to make sure I’m living with purpose, and spending as much time as possible doing the things important to me: adventures, learning, nature immersion, cycling and understanding people & cultures.
After recently thinking about the question above for a whole day, I can say with certainty that I’d change NOTHING! Ok, maybe some fancy hotels, regular massages at day spas and new threads delivered quarterly. 💅
I’d also pay my friends to ride with me so they can quit their jobs and come on endless adventures. 😅
June 7, 2019: You might think the most satisfying thing about bike travel is cresting a mountain pass, finishing a technical route or ticking off another country. Those are all great, but here’s something I find even more satisfying: eating through my food supplies! Five days of food weighs a tonne; I love eating well AND getting a speedier bike in the process. 😅
June 2, 2019: It’s hard to imagine a more friendly or colourful place than Colombia! Everybody here wants to help you have the best time.
I walked into Dantori La Bicicleteria to get my first brake bleed in 18 months. I was instantly befriended while my bike was getting maintained, then they wouldn’t let me pay, then I was invited out for pizza and craft beer all afternoon! 🤙🏼
I could get used to this red carpet service, but can’t afford to get inebriated every day or I’ll never make it to Panama! 😅
June 13, 2019: Who builds 740 stairs up the side of a 200-metre tall granite rock? The Colombians! 🇨🇴
June 14, 2019: BIG NEWS: I’m visiting Europe briefly at the end of this month! I’m also running slide/movie/q&a nights in Amsterdam on June 28 (for 35 people) and Antwerpen on July 4 (for 70 people).
If you’d like to say hello, or ask a question, or pick my brain about destinations, or the drive efficiency of Rohloff hubs (or any other obscure bike-nerdery), hit the link in my bio and attend!
I don’t normally get to meet people who read CyclingAbout, watch my films or like my Instagram posts… so this is particularly exciting for meeee. 🍻
June 15, 2019: I don’t start looking for a place to camp until the sun is setting. This is so I can use the veil of darkness to help me camp undetected. Not only is this technique best for my safety (I don’t want random people approaching), it also means I won’t get asked to leave.
Half the time I’m camped in a ditch, the other half I end up in dreamy locations like this!! 😍
June 17, 2019: In the horns. Hunting KOMs! I love that my bike goes down the gnarliest off-road trails but then will also happily fly along at 25kph/15mph all day. 🤙🏼
June 18, 2019: When you are freakin’ psyched by LIFE! I rode 260km/160mi this day because I wanted to squeeze the most out of my day. That might sound rough to you, but I loved almost every moment. 🔥
June 19, 2019: For 450 days I’ve worn the same shirt… EVERY DAY, in the most testing conditions!!
The Patagonia SOL Patrol II is the most legit travel shirt in existence. It’s soft on the skin, lightweight, fast-drying, well-ventilated, wrinkle-free, abrasion and UV resistant. It has tonnes of pockets, a pop-up collar and is bluesign certified (meets enviro standards).
I wish Patagonia sponsored me to talk about this product because I’d have no qualms telling EVERYONE to buy it. Sooo… anyone got a Patagonia contact!? 👀
June 21, 2019: If you’re cycling on a dirt road and it abruptly switches to cobbles – WATCH OUT.
In Colombia, that means the road gradient will exceed 20% shortly! The Colombians surface the road with course cobbles so their cars can still conquer them in the wet. Quite smart.
Oh, and I’m NOT smiling about how steep this is – that’s just my pain face. 😅
June 22, 2019: Let’s talk about SAFETY.
I’ve met thousands of people at times when I’ve been incredibly vulnerable (travelling with a bicycle, camping etc). The most important thing I’ve ever learned from these experiences is that I should always trust my INTUITION.
Evolution has made us very good at detecting danger and shady people, in fact, your mind has done the risk calculations before you realise, which manifests as fear. We have a great ability to predict human behaviour, so I’ll always skip past a dodgy-feeling town or be rude/cold to somebody I don’t trust instinctively. I probably won’t see them again anyway. I’m certain this has prevented me from ever being robbed.
Consider this – animals never override their intuitions, but for some reason humans do. The thing is that intuition is often right because it’s based on your every life experience AND it always has your best interests at heart (survival).
If I was to be more specific, I think ‘shifty eyes’ are the most telling aspect. I’m also somewhat sceptical of people who are trying to charm/control me. And people who act unpredictably while drunk, or on weird drugs – I have little time for them.
Sorry, not trying to scare you, but just reminding you to keep your wits about you, and to ALWAYS trust yourself. And shoutouts to the ladies who know this stuff way better than me. The world is by and large a very safe place, and by understanding this stuff it will be even safer for you. 😘😘
June 25, 2019: Out of sight, out of mind.
I had forgotten how it made me feel. With eyes straining to see outside, shrieks and grunts and a piercing smell, I can sense what is coming: it’s a truck brimming with live animals. The crazy thing is that when plastic sheets are draped around the sides of the truck, I feel so much more at ease. These animals are obviously suffering in a way we wouldn’t want our pets to suffer, and are then killed when they’re still babies.
Getting bombarded by endless trucks towing live animals actually made me cut meat/milk/cheese/eggs from my diet six years ago. It was such a hard decision at the time because I knew I would be exploring the world’s harshest environments on my bicycle. I was initially anxious but quickly adapted to what to eat and how to get it. I recognise it requires discipline and sacrifice to do what I do, but simply reducing your meat, dairy, egg consumption results in less suffering, which is a better outcome!
Start by trying some veg recipes online, pick a falafel wrap over a kebab, order a vegetarian pizza, try a nice filter coffee without milk. There’s a bit of a learning curve, so it’s cool to take it slow – I started out by limiting my meat intake to a couple of meals per week.
Also, there are HUGE benefits to the environment (less land clearing and pollution) and your health if you eat your veggies – potato chips don’t count! Let me know if you’re thinking of eating more plants, maybe I can help. 🥰
June 26, 2019: South America is now FINISHED. 💪🏼
Took me 19 months, but look… I’m at the Caribbean Sea! Before this trip, I thought the Himalayas were the ultimate mountain range, but the Andes are my new fav because they offer so much more environmental diversity (thanks to the north-south orientation which brings huge climate variation).
The coldest temperatures I experienced were -20c/-4f in Bolivia and the hottest +45c/113f in Argentina (soaking wet shirt dries in minutes). I’ve cycled the highest roads in six different countries (all 5000m/16400ft+), including Bolivia where I went up the highest road in the world (5800m/19000ft+). 🏔
And of course, I’ve cycled everything in between: jungles, deserts, salt flats, mangroves, paramos, beaches and high alpine areas. Next up: a quick detour to Europe, then Panama. 🇵🇦
Thanks so much for following along! I enjoy organising my thoughts and ideas into bite-sized pieces to share. It also keeps my weird brain a little less tangled when I get to dump my ramblings on you. 😂🤗🥰