Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sugar Cain and Abel Builders

October 2nd to 7th

We finally leave Esperanza's hospitality and her fridge full of goodies behind in San Gil and head towards Bogota. Tunja is the next major city on route and capital of Boyaca province; 115 miles distant. 115 miles uphill!

We begin along the Fonce river, tracing it's path as it meanders serenely upwards towards Socorro - a town constrained on all sides by steep green peaks draped with whispy clouds....

There after the road gets a bit more serious about going up and the trail has been brutishly hacked from the living rock ...

Later it carves a swath through the trees....

Either way we ride in shadow and the air is damp and heavy clinging wetly to the mountainsides as we look back into the Fonce valley with the river now way below us. It grows noticeably colder....

We overnight in Oida where the locals are overwhelmed by (probably) the first gringos to stop in town....

Next day dawns bright and clear and the trees are radiant in bloom....

With Sue not feeling well and the road still climbing we fall well short of planned destination Barbosa and are forced to stop at a roadside 'Hospedaje' (hotel). We meet Alexandro who proudly shows us his lake where he breeds Trout and Mojarra (a perch like bony fish) for his restaurant. He also prepares his own 'Oreada' a piece of steak marinaded in 'Panela' (brown sugar made from sugar cane) and hung up to age for a few days. It's just delicious barbecued with chorizo sausages!

Just try not to worry too much about any fancy notions of hygiene standards....

The sugar cane for the Panela is harvested locally and we see hundreds of men out working the fields hacking cane with machetes and loading it on to donkeys for the trip to the boiling plants we also see dotted along the road. Once the cane is boiled and reduced, you are left with hard dense blocks of brown unrefined sugar-cane....

Alexandro built one side of his hospedaje using a unique design constructed from bamboo. A team of builders is currently working on phase two and Alexandro is justifiably proud of his expanding empire. He's also impressed by our trip and so, cuts us a fantastic deal - $13 (half price) for the room. With Sue out of action he really helps us out as we stay two nights.

High ceilinged to combat the heat of the day, light an airy to make the most of the exposed bamboo - It's a beautiful place. Cold at night mind and the number of blankets on our bed is growing with each day's climb....

On a day of not moving we get to know the building crew who are endlessly fascinated by the kit we are carrying. The stove is always the star of the show as we brew up outside our room, but our waterproof panniers and pans that stack inside each other also brings 'Aaaahhhs' of appreciation. I feel like a conjurer revealing increasingly mystical objects from a top hat. They are a great bunch of guys and gal, who delay us leaving by a good couple of hours....

We get delayed even further after a tough 6 mile climb when I discover I still have the room key and have to go back. I meet Alexandro 200m from his place just setting off in his car to track me down. If only I hadn't noticed, he would have caught up with us on the road and I wouldn't have to tackle the climb a second time. Ho hum. It was worth it though as he was just so grateful I was on my way back.

Taxis in Barbosa. I know not why???

After Barbosa, the climbing starts in earnest as we turn through 90 degrees and head directly into the Cordillera Oriental. At the apex of yet another uphill struggle we get a glimpse of where the road heads next. That canyon over there and I can see four or five hundred metres of hard won altitude disappearing in the next few miles....

It like riding into a giant rock maw as the road angles down and the rock walls rear up around us to close out the sky. It's an incredible ride past a number of rushing waterfalls....

Then we are in the waterfall as the thin line of sky bursts and spears us with a million icy darts of rain. I cannot remember being cold like this since Canada. It feels like we are bombarded by icicles.

Finally the sky grows as the rock walls suddenly shrink back. Within the space of half a mile we pass out of the canyon and find ourselves on a flat plane. It is like emerging from a tunnel!

Looking back at the mouth of the pipe....

We reach Arcabuco cold and wet with our breath clearly visible as steam on the air. The hotelier asks me to write my name as they always struggle to translate 'Sweeney'. I drip all over her book and struggle to hold a pen in a frozen claw. We're at around 2600m (8700ft) now and altitude has an incredible effect on temperature, especially in the wet! What I would give for a hot shower now.

This is our (laughably, so called) 'Hot' shower....

Low powered electric heads that make more noise than heat. You have to choose between enough lukewarm water to actually get you wet, or a slightly warmer dribble that would take about a week to wash off soap. They are common in South America and depending on how badly wired they are determines how much of a shock you get if you touch them. Some you can actually feel the charge in the air within a few inches as they earth themselves through your wet skin. Makes for an interesting game of 'chicken' - they are a joy to use!

I actually sleep indoors with a hat on and the next morning the pleasure of slipping into cold wet cycle shorts awaits.

We don our sodden gear and head out into the sun. It rained all night and the sky is empty. Truly, I have never seen air so clear. You can see for miles and in stark contrast to yesterday, it's warm in the sun and we dry out and warm up in no time.

The vast green land is dotted with private mining operations, some for building materials, some for emeralds....

The hills are full of them apparently and you will be approached in towns by shifty characters offering them to you wrapped up in paper envelopes. Very cheap apparently, but as I can't tell an emerald from a green gob-stopper - we haven't bought too many yet.

The climb finally tops out at around 3200m (10,600ft) and we drop in to a vast saucer shape depression where the air suddenly warms a degree or two.

It reminds me of Poland with it's rich pasture amongst pine covered slopes leading up to imposing peaks. We climb over the edge of the other side of the saucer and get our first glimpse of Boyaca province's capital; Tunja.

It a 400m roller coaster straight down to the city. We are hoping Tunja will be good to us. It's a growing realisation that our two month visa for Colombia is rapidly running out and Ecuador is still a long, long way away. We need to talk nicely to some officials and hopefully get permission to stay a little bit longer....


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