One of the great things about this trip is the little travel routine one falls into. I leave things packed in the evening, with just my clothes for the next day out, and then I head out early. I tend to stop then about mid-morning for a hearty breakfast. This is a typical breakfast while on the road - scrambled eggs, calentado, arepa, and cheese. Calentado es similar to gallo-pinto which you'll typically have in Nicaragua and Costa Rica, but it's made with large brown beans instead of black beans along with rice.
While doing research for the trip I kept on finding references to Guatape and its huge monolith, so it was definitely a place to check out.
We all have ideas in our mind of what to expect when we travel and even more so if we've seen pictures of the place, but Guatape was beyond what I had seen on the web. The first thing that struck me, as I followed the trusty Waze instructions, was that after taking a off shoot road off of the main road to Bogota, was an instruction to take this little paver road that crept up the hillside. As I heard the British lady in my helmet say “keep right” I went up this hill lined with pine trees to my right.
What I saw next was something entirely unexpected. All the little Spanish-colonial houses had these colorful blocked exterior wainscot or wainscoting (any architect reader please chime in with the correct terms) depicting everyday scenes. These are in a mild relief, giving depth to the scenes. As I rode on, I started going down these narrow cobblestone streets. It really seemed like something out of a fairy tale. I later learned that this was a tradition in Guatape as it is known as the City of the Zocalos - that is what these wainscoting are called in Spanish.
That afternoon it rained, so I just worked on the ride report and walked around enjoying the town square. I ducked in at a corner bakery for a hot chocolate near the town square and Mariposa kept me company waiting for the rain to stop.
The next morning the sun was out and it was time to hit the monolith. This monster rock was first scaled in the mid-1950's, but what really makes this place spectacular is that the flooding of nearby valley which created these amazing views. Because Colombia was entering the rainy season, they had let a great deal of the water out of the dam and the water level was lower than usual. Some didn't like this, but I thought the contrast of the layer of red clay made for more spectacular scenes. Getting to top of the monolith took upwards of 680 steps, so slow and steady was the recipe.
But when you get to the top, this is what you see.
So worth it!
After I got down from the rock, I rode down the access road only to be stopped by a police officer letting me know that the road to Guatape would be closed for the next three hours as there was a bicycle race that was doing a circuit that afternoon. I was not in the mood to just sit there and wait, so I asked if there was another route. The officer pointed back up towards the monolith and said to take the fork to the right - that it was about a 20 minute ride around the back way - off I went.
The road turned into dirt quickly and started weaving through small farms with crops and herds of farm animals at every turn. The views were fantastic, but I needed to concentrate as there was a good amount of mud and rocky patches. After about 20 minutes, I saw a sign for Guatape to the right, and so I took it. I kept going, now going on about 40 minutes when I finally ran into a man with a pickup truck. I asked him how much farther to Guatape. That's when he said that the turn was about 30 minutes back and that I might as well go on another 20 or so minutes to the asphalt road near the town of Granda.
The one takeaway I have from this experience is that when people look at you on the BIG bike, they automatically cut the amount of time in half, thinking you are some kind of speed demon or that the bike somehow flies. I made it to Granda in another 30 minutes. All said, it was nearly 2 hour journey through that back road. On the plus side, it required a good deal of technical riding and it was good to get some more experience riding off-road. Down side, I still had another hour plus to ride back to Guatape and I was pretty tired from the ride, so I just took it easy and made it back in time for the road to be opened. The irony of the “shortcut” was not lost on me.
But I got to see the other side of the monolith.
The next day I took off early for Honda, the mid-point town between Medellin and Bogota. My good friend Jorge has his family weekend retreat house there, also known as a casa finca. He had suggested I stay there to rest before making my way into Bogota. Who am I to say no?
On the way there I stopped for the mandatory photo at what little is left of Pablo Escobar's landmark finca - the Hacienda Napoles with its airplane atop of the arch.
Jorge's house was amazing and just what the doctor ordered. Tolima, the department where Honda is located is known for being quite warm, but with some spectacular views. The geography is quite different from what I had seen before as it is not the flat savanna of Cordoba, nor the very broken mountains of Antioquia. This was flat land with these mountains that just come out of nowhere, so you get these massive cliffs that rise out of plain flat land.
I was received at Jorge's house by the care-takers, a lovely couple who just bent backwards to make sure I felt at home. First order of business was to peel off my riding gear and get my swimming trunks on. While I did that a fresh mango off of the tree was prepared for me, along with an ice cold glass of lemonade, also from the fruit trees on the property. I absolutely loved that.
Next, the swim. I jumped in the pool and let the cool water work its magic and dissolve the tension in my body from that day's miles. Simply amazing.
The next morning I was off to Bogota.