Leaving Aquitania we had a nice ride through rolling farmland around Lake Tota and onto Iza which is known for hotsprings and impressive variety of desserts - we enjoyed both. Then uphill to Mongui and a hike up to the Paramos. Beautiful ecosystem found above 3400m and near the equator. To start the trek people usually walk the 3km to the trailhead. When Juan found out we had bikes he suggested we ride it. We thought "3km, sure, no problem". What he did not tell us was the 19% grade uphill and he just about killed us before we started hiking. Lots of beautiful flowers, big bumblebees, and old frailejones - they grow 1cm a year.
Mongui is also famous for family run soccer ball factories that produce the majority of balls in Colombia. We left town on a sunday morning and they were preparing for a farmers festival and cooking the most meat we have ever seen.
Nice smooth downhill from Mongui and then up to Topaga where our GPS map was going to take us down a steep trail out of town. There, we bumped into a group of mountain bikers who were celebrating having made it up that trail and said it really wasn´t safe for us to ride down with loaded bikes. They invited us for beer and barbeque so we ended spending the day with them. Diego and Jerome switched bikes and I´d say Jerome got the much better deal with Diego´s light as a feather bike. Turns out there were 3 mtn bike teams from Sogamoso getting together so there were about 50 cyclists and a whole lot of beer. After a couple hours of eating and drinking we headed back to Sogamoso and spent the rest of the afternoon at a pub with some of the ´bad boys & girls´ of the Bronx team. Thanks for a fantastic day!
From Sogamoso we headed north again and the next couple of days were through smallish coal and iron mining towns on our way to El Cocuy which is the base for hiking some of the Sierra Nevada of the Andes. Along the way we caught our first glimpses of snow covered peaks and glaciers that we hiked to in the following days. We took a rest day and lucked out there was a big cattle sale and show in town. Jerome got bored and went off to find icecream and empanadas. I watched for a while and had fun placing the cows. Clearly a good beef cow is the same in Colombia as in Canada because we both picked the same ones as winners. Turns out the judge is heading to Edmonton to visit friends.
To get to accomodation at the base of the hike people usually hop on a milk truck or hire a vehicle but we decided to bike the 25kms up to help acclimatize. Along the way a sweet dog greeted us with such enthusiasm we had to stop to pet her. Then she followed us about 4km to the hacienda we were sleeping at. She hung out and followed us the next day for a 10hr hike up to the glacier. Had a beautiful, sunny morning to hike up through a picturesque valley filled with frailejones, then onto rocky terrain and the Laguna grande (glacier lake) and lunch at the glacier at about 4800m. The glaciers here are predicted to disappear within the next 10 - 25yrs.
Weather was great until some hail and rain the last couple of hours. Our calves and quads are still feeling it but that little dog didn´t seem fazed at all. The next morning she followed us back up the road and showed us her home and we met her family who told us her name is Chida. They had a good laugh that she´d gone up the mountain with us. I´m sure this wasn´t the first time as the guides and people we stayed with all seemed to recognize her. What a life!
We are heading to lower altitudes and warmer weather again and planning whether to head north, or south from here. Ciao for now.