QuickPeek: Gorgeous views. Gravel road. Dusty. Tough climbs. Incredible generosity!

The camp site we had was perfect, I woke up to a really sweet sunrise and we packed up and were ready to leave at 7 AM. The yogurt shop wasn’t open yet and I was hoping to squeeze in some before the ride, no luck there. We rode for a couple of k’s and stopped for b’fast at a small joint. They ended up overcharging us and by the time we got back on the road it was nearly 8:30.

Immediately after the b’fast place at San Vicente, the road turned into gravel and stayed so for the next 5 k’s. It was super dusty track and the occasional vehicle would pass us by at high speed and blow dust all over. Bummer. However, this section was not too steep. The next bit was on a really pretty concrete road and the villages had ended and gave way to some stunning views of the Purace National park. The place was choke full of primary rain forest and the views were incredible. We rode steadily uphill for the next 15 k’s to get to a small military post called El Marmol.

We made a brief stop for coffee and cookies, but it was still too early for lunch and we decided to skip eating. Big mistake. We had been told that there was a nearly 45 km section with no services. I had looked at the maps and had figured the section to be gentle (3-4%) uphills and we’d make it in the next 3 hrs. Ah well, it was not to be.

Soon after Marmol, the route turned into gravel and was almost always an 8% climb or a downhill bit. We had to climb nearly 900m more and my estimate of 3 hrs was blown out of the park and we made our way at an excruciating 5k per hour. The gravel road made things much harder. But on the positive side, we had cloud cover all of the way (which got chilly as we got to the summit) and the views were absolutely gorgeous.

I was surprised to find palm trees at nearly 3000m and stopped often to get in some views and pictures. Krista was on a walk-bike routine which was helping her to avoid too much stress on her bionic knees and I’d wait up for her to regroup before heading on again. The last couple of 100m was gruelling and, as usual, we were greeted with a false summit leading to a bridge over a gorge before climbing again. Once at the top, the road turned to rolling hills and it was a bit of a workout to get going.

The route had been pretty interesting… On one hand, the entire route was on a ridge, which gave access to views all around. On the other, the road was dug in and the views were obscured by tall trees most of the time. The gravel road was well packed, but the rolling hills and the good climbs were a workout indeed. I personally think this route is highly recommendable to any tourer in the region, but with a bit of food supply to get thro the 45k section.

Krista was pretty smashed after we crested the summit. We looked at the routes and it seemed that our nearest option to stop was 15 km away. We were hungry and the light was starting to run out too. The issue with this section was also that the jungle was super dense and steep all along and there was no chance to camp anyplace. Hmmm. So I decided to put my head down and see if I could get to a viable campground before dark. Some passing car stopped and offered us cookies and water. It was a pretty sweet gesture! Colombians come thro for us!!

As I was riding along, a truck stopped behind me and there was Krista and she had found a incredible fellow, Fabian, to give her a ride. He stopped for me and I popped my bike on the truck and we rode further on the rolling gravel into some stunning plateau with beautiful views of Volcan Purace. I reckon’d we’d have taken a couple more hours to get down here and we’re glad for Fabian’s help. He even treated us to some dinner, what a sweet chap.

As we were eating dinner, Krista mentioned that, one of our friends from Bogota was going to be in the town of Cali and had invited us over. My thought was that it was out of the way and we’d have to reject his offer. But Fabian was headed to Cali and he gladly offered to take us the additional 150 km to town!! Awesomeness! We chatted all along the way and when we got to one of the suburbs of Cali, he was unable to find a hotel that he thought was nice, so instead, he drove us to his farm where his family was having a NY gathering.

The family welcomed us without batting an eyelid. One of the amazing things about Latin America is that when someone sees a stranger in their house, they wish them well and carry on with their chores. Like we are part of the family. Sweet. We ended up sleeping in one of Fabian’s guest rooms and even got a good shower to clean off the dust and grit.

I guess I’d have wanted to ride down on the stunning plateau in the day time and I missed some gorgeous views. But you know there is a lot more of Andes to come. One thing to be happy about is that we made an Andean crossing and also that we managed to get to Cali to meet up with a friend. So NY’s going to be fun and that’s worth riding uphills on gravel for!!

Track Notes

Route: San Vicente to Summit towards Popayan
Distance: 43 Km
Road: 5 k gravel after San Vicente. 35 K gravel after El Marmol. Dusty, but cool.
Traffic: Light. However, cars and buses drive by super fast and I'd take the road and force them to slow down.
Services: Minimal. 45 km of no services after El Marmol. After that, a few villages show up once in a while.
Expenses: SG$ 4.80
Comments: A highly recommended route. Better to camp at Marmol or at least have food here and carry enough stock for the road.