Jericó to Filandia

Since my last post I’ve taken a circuitous route from Jericó via Jardín, Rio Sucio, Filadelfia, Manizales, Haciendas Venecia and Guayabal and Pereira to Filandia.

I’m glad I followed local advice to take the long route from Jericó to Jardín instead of attempting the unpaved mountain roads, even though this meant descending from 1,900m to 900m only to climb back up to 1,750m!

I enjoyed Jardín slightly less than Jericó though the surrounding scenery is astounding. Partly because it’s more touristy and some folks had a slightly jaded vibe about them, and partly cos I was wiped out for 24 hours by some kind of bug. To my delight, the hostel kitten spent two nights cuddled up with me in my tent.

Luckily my strength returned for the memorable 50km slog up and over Ventanas (2,900m) to Rio Sucio on a dirt road. Amazingly a bus makes this journey a couple of times every day and there are a few folks living and farming along the route, though I sensed (judging by an abandoned school and no less than four football pitches) that there used to be more.

At the top I asked at the only - rather rudimentary - restaurant if I could camp nearby and was invited to pitch my tent inside the family’s hallway on account of the cold. I asked if they see many cyclists and was surprised when they said no. Perhaps most folk don’t stray that far from the main north-south highway. At dusk I watched a young man and his little brother or cousin playing football on a flat bit of the deserted road and chatted a bit with him before retiring to my tent to allow the family to get on with their evening routines. In the morning as well as paying for my supper and breakfast I gave the sister who’d fed me a bit extra for their hospitality. She later sent me a rather nice video of the area via WhatsApp!

Sadly I did not see the endangered yellow-eared parrot but I did have a hummingbird closely investigate my bright orange helmet as I was photographing a sign for a hummingbird viewing point! What a sound they make! I also photographed a cute female masked trogon, which according to my new app is ‘not common’.

The descent from the family’s restaurant (2,900m) to the Rio Cauca (800m) took most of the day and was memorable indeed, on account of the poor condition of the road, my equally woeful brakes and - from Rio Sucio - the eye-popping scenery. The climb up to Filadelfia was unexpectedly enjoyable, on a good road with light, supportive traffic. On arriving in Filadelfia at around 5pm I was thrilled to find I could see all the way back to Rio Sucio and the mountains behind it, still partially veiled in cloud. As I climbed it occurred to me that Colombia is now on my ‘A-list’ of countries I definitely expect to return to and which I urge everyone to visit. I particularly appreciate the way people are friendly and helpful without being overly interested in me. I don’t cope very well with incessant attention.

That said, everybody I meet (of any origin) asks me where I’m ‘from’ and all Colombians ask if I’m alone. While the former is unimaginative and irritating the latter I find downright rude not to mention idiotic. In fact, I’m so irritated by these questions I’m going to create a bilingual FAQs page on my blog with suggestions for more consensual conversation-openers.

Maybe I used up my seratonin approaching Filadelfia, because I felt quite grumpy the next day as I approached Manizales. I managed to put my mood to one side when a teenage boy asked if he could ask me a question (hurrah!) and when his equally polite and rather camp friend decided to accompany me for several uphill kilometres on his BMX. He wants to study tourism and offered me various suggestions for the area including a fermented milk drink called kumis. When we passed a shop selling kumis I invited him to join me for one before he rolled back downhill to his village.

Truth be told, one reason for my mood was that I’d arranged a date, and I invariably have a why-oh-why phase just prior to any date (not least at the prospect of having to do it in baby Spanish). In the end, and as usual, I did not regret the date, which spanned three days and whose memorable elements involved a cable car, a bunk bed and a very regretable misunderstanding - I’m not inclined to share more here! I asked F (who is 30 and an artist) if she could remember more violent times. She said `nothing really happened in Manizales´ and expressed the view that the city is a bit indifferent as a result.

In addition to a haircut and the memorable date I also took my bike to a shop (Star Bikes) recommended by Stuart, where they replaced my worn front brake pads and cable and adjusted both sets of brakes such that I’m not in such pain going downhill.

From Manizales (2,100m) I rolled downhill on a smooth, empty dual-carriageway to the coffee farm Hacienda Venecia. There I camped for two peaceful nights at the on-site hostel and participated in a morning tour. After Venecia I rode just 15km to Hacienda Guayabal where I participated in an afternoon tour and stayed the night indoors. I’ve compared the two farms in a separate post, since I don’t suppose many people visit both.

Next I spent one night in quite a large city, Pereira, which was missable but for the free beer I gladly accepted for arriving at Kolibri hostel on a bike - a first!

From Pereira I hoped to reach Filandia on backroads, but after pushing my bike steeply uphill for the first few kms (an incredulous young man asked me in perfect English ‘what are you doing pedalling up here?’ - generous of him as I most certainly was not pedalling) I abandoned this idea and stuck to the new highway, which has a good shoulder.

I decided to do Filandia instead of Salento after Stuart described the latter as Disney-like. Filandia itself is a bit Disney, but at least most of the trippers are Colombian. It’s Friday lunchtime and I can already feel the small town filling up with weekenders. Tonight I may join some of them at hipster Helena Adentro, where the other night I had aubergine and goats cheese on baguette served on a wooden board plus a local ‘artisan’ beer served in a jar. Could have been Hackney.

I’m going to miss the famous Valle de Cocora but one can’t do everything. Of the cute pueblos I’ve visited so far, Jericó felt the most real. My leaky room overlooking the square was wonderful.

I’ve been sleeping loads (mostly in hostels cos they’re so cheap and I really like being clean) but am still feeling noticeably grumpy, on and off. Need to sit with that and try to work out what’s behind it. Incessant, non-consensual noise definitely has something to do with it. Caroline is currently en route to Medellín; I can’t wait to see her in Popayán on Christmas Eve! Til then I’ve got 200km downhill/flat to ride to Colombia’s third city, Cali, and a bus ride to avoid a dodgy stretch after that. Hmm, this hasn´t been a particularly interesting post, sorry about that.