For the sake of our friends and family living on the West Coast I will try not to mention how hot it is here or the relentless sunshine. Hope it gets warmer there.
From San Vincente de Chucuri we rode for about 3 hours on gravel and then found a paved highway. On the way out of San Vincente de Chucuri Jacklin saw a few cocoa farmers harvesting their crop and stopped to ask if we could try some cocoa. The farmer split open a yellow ripe cocoa pod and we devoured the sweet meat surrounding the beans. It gave us energy for the rest of the morning.
The highway turned out to be flat and for the next couple of days we put in a lot of miles. We did more in 2 days than we did in the previous week. But of course we missed all the opportunities to talk with the locals or the beautiful scenery. We did see quite a few parrots high up in the trees.
The highway followed the river Magdelena and we stopped in the port town of Puerto Berrio for a night. At about dusk thousands of swallows flew into town and settled on every inch of power line strung from pole to pole. By night they had disappeared.
We ended up in Honda which is a town on the important Magdelena river. This was the hottest town that we have encountered so we chose to find a place with a pool to cool off in. We sat by the side of pool for 2 days watching mangoes fall from the sky and parrots flying overhead. The mango trees were loaded and we were lucky not to be plonked by any.
After a refreshing few days were rode to Mariquita which was the last of the flat road. The road from here is arguable the longest climb in the world for cyclists and is popular with Columbians to challenge themselves. The road is 80 KM long and goes up 3200 metres and leads to Altos de Letros which is at 3650 metres above sea level. There are a few short downhill spurts but it is generally an 80 KM climb. We couldn't convince ourselves to do this in one day like the crazy Colombians so we split the ride in 2 days. The first day was hard but managable. We stayed in the the gritty, work like town of Padua where they load and unload trucks of 50 Kg bags of avacados and bananas for export.
Our routine when we roll into a town is to take turns to check out hotels. Padua was my turn and there really was only one hotel stay in. I asked to see the rooms and was given a choice of one with cold water and one with hot water for $1.25 more. My first thought was to take the cheaper room with cold water to save money, but then my survival instincts kicked in. Padua is over 2200 meters asl and quite cool in the evening. I took the one with hot water. I told Jacklin about almost taking the room with cold water and the look she gave me told me I made the right choice and I lived to ride another day.
The next day we tackled the second half of the longest climb and it was much tougher than the previous day. We were happy we did not attempt to do this in one day. We made it to the top where there were a couple of restaurants and we stopped for soup. Along the way numerous cyclists with feather light bikes and their support vehicles passed us and we saw a few of them at the top. One young Colombian cyclist named Manuel rode the whole 80 KM in 3 hrs and 54 min. He was disappointed that he did not break the record of 3 hrs and 30 min. We felt like snails compared to him. We told him that he was crazy and he told us that we were crazier for doing this with our loaded bikes.
From the top of the mountain it was down hill for 29 KM to the outskirts of Manizales. Manizales is in the heart of coffee country and had hills that rival San Francisco. Our legs were extremely tired from our climb earlier in the day and pushing ourselves up more hills in the city was tough going. We took the first hostel we found.
The next day we watched the Manizales Festival Parade which it seems everyone else in the city watched as well. The floats were colourful and the music was certainly Colombian. We spent a couple of days here to rest our legs before moved on to Chinchina where we watched another parade with some of the same floats. My favourite was the Miss Venezuela float. Again it was my turn to find a hotel and I settled on with one where we could hear pigeons above the ceiling tiles. We were waiting for one of them to fall through one of the holes in the tiles. We only stayed one night.
Our rides in this area have been encased with mountain to mountain coffee farms. There doesn't seem to be a a piece of land that does not have the greenery of coffee bushes. Most of Colombian premium coffee is exported and the small coffee shops are left with the poor quality beans. This is starting to change with more and more higher end coffee shops serving premium coffee. I have been able to experience this top quality coffee but still thoroughly enjoy the coffee from the small coffee shops.
Our next town was the colourful Marsella. All of the buildings here compete with each other to have the brightest colours on their doors and windows. Our guest house was a strong contestant with brilliant reds, yellows and greens. We had an entire suite to ourselves with a kitchen and living area on the second floor.
We only left our luxurious suite after 2 nights because it was booked the next night. We rode down to the large city of Pereira so I could buy tickets for the Olympic qualifying soccer matches next week in Armenia. Only 2 teams from South America are eligible to compete at the Olympics.
We'll be riding an up and down loop around this coffee area to get us to Armenia for January 21,