Colombia 1: To Cali and a family visit

After another smooth border crossing, I was now in my eight South American country! I was given 90 days, but was probably going to need more. Everyone that I had met, talked about this country with sparkles in their eyes!

finding a place to sleep is never difficult. Here in a school


On my way to Mocoa, where I was planning to stay a couple of days to check out the waterfalls, I finally reached the 20.000 km mark!

Same day, I was surprised when I suddenly saw a huge traffic jam. Turned out a truck had missed one of the sharp turns and landed on its side. People had been waiting for three hours. Even I with the bike couldn’t pass. But shortly after they dragged it to the side. (No one got hurt.)

I then spent four days close to Mocoa, hiking to the waterfalls and meeting more soulmates of the road.

As in Ecuador, it kept raining nearly every day. The river was WILD! My phone also broke when in the pocket of my rain jacket, but it’s now working again after drying for a week in rice.


A classic sugar-hit break in Colombia: sugarcane juice. The engine is actually the same that I used to drive my canoe with!

When approaching a family while looking for a place to spend the night, the conversation went like this:

“Sir, I’m sorry to bother you. I’m Walter from Belgium and travelling by bicycle. I’m looking for a place to put my tent for the night. I’m a bit tired, don’t want to cycle in the night and would like to have someone’s permission to camp here somewhere safely.”

“No, you can’t camp here. There is no flat ground (true). You shall sleep in our house.

This hospitality is just so nice. In fact, people are so nice here, that it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll be taken care of every night. In my whole trip in South America, I’ve been rejected just five times, of which three on the same night.


View outside the family’s house.

The road from Mocoa towards Pitalito was pretty hilly, but the little traffic made it enjoyable! And what a spectacle if the sun does finally break through and plays with the mountains and its clouds!

Colombia is also the country where people started inviting me again themselves. I mean, people let me camp in every country I passed, but to be invited is still something different.

Close to San Agustin for example. Upon a small chat with this family selling fruit next to the road, I was invited to spend the night there. Their coffee drying shack made for the biggest bed I ever slept in! (The whole floor is soft)

I then headed West, towards Popayan, which meant climbing to 3000m. Close to the highest point, there was another military checkpoint. I had already crossed multiple in just a week of cycling in Colombia, making for living proof of its violent history.

There’s no hassle though: foreigners never get checked. But I stopped anyway to ask advice about the dirt stretch up ahead. This then led to a 20 min chat with some 10 military guys, some of them trying to ride my bike! All very funny. Good vibes only!

After the military checkpoint, I started the 37km stretch of dirt road across the Puracé national park.

It was rainy and the road kept going up and up. The average of the day had dropped to 8 km/h, gaining some 1800m over the day.

I tried to get through, but had 22km left to reach the asfalt/village when night fell. With no camping space available, I had to camp right next to the road.

It never stopped drizzling and with my bad tent that meant that things got wet. I was told there was plenty of water along the road, which was true, but it wasn’t particularly clean. And my stove obviously didn’t work again, meaning instant noodles instead of quinoa (really have to stop using dirty ’84’ gasoline, its soot blocks where the petrol is supposed to come out).

The bridge turned out to be the favorite stopping place for all trucks. I didn’t get much sleep.

Getting in wet shoes and cycling clothes obviously isn’t a joy, but once on the road you forget about it.

So a bit of a rough start in the morning, something which changed dramatically when flying down 2000m towards Popayan! Woohoo!

first sight of the Paramo vegetation. Purace national park


huge downhill to Popayan

Feeling feverish, I treated myself to a dorm bed in a hostal in the nice, colonial style centre.

There was no time to loose though. My mom was due to arrive in Cali in a couple of days.

Not far out of Popayan, while in a downhill, a parked car shouted me over. I wasn’t sure. I mean, his pick-up was definitly big enough to put my bike in, and I was in Colombia! It’s supposed to be dangerous here! haha. Also I couldn’t really figure out why he called me.

Anyway, I went back and the driver asked me for a big favor: turned out his wheel axed had snapped and his hand brake wasn’t working well. So he was basically waiting for someone crazy enough to stop, listen and find a big log or rock to put behind the wheels so he could lift his foot of the brake! I jumped a fence and came back with a log. The man sighed from relief, having been stuck for nearly an hour! He then switched to front wheel drive, drove up the hill and came to give me 5.000 pesos Colombianos (2USD). Funny story! And I had earned some beer money!

On a more serious note: I think that traveling and recieving so much help and hospitality on the road changes your perspective of the world. You realize the world is a good place. You feel grateful and humble. And then when there’s an opportunity to give back, you don’t hesitate too much, because moments in life to help one another are scarce.

Just a bit later, I finally met another fellow cyclist. I enjoyed talking to Felipe from Chile that much, that riding time quickly vanished. We happened to meet just in front of Alesandros house, who turned out to be a legend: Italian ex-military living in Colombia for 17 years.

I had only cycled 35 km that day, but preferred to hear their stories over making progress. We both ended up spending the night at Alesandros place, going into a nearby town together to grab pizza and beers.

Next day, with a last 100km push, I made it to the city anyway.

Again, I realized that cycling in Colombia is fun! It’s a cyclist country. Sometimes other cyclists join you for a while to show the way and to share whatever food is stuffed away in their jacket pouches. Others cheer you on, fruit vendors give some extra for free, cars honk to show their appreciation,… It all puts a big smile on my face!

Cali. View from the hostel’s terrace


some more photos here!


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