[Bicycle Diaries] Chapter I: The first month on the road

I'm now having a much needed rest in the small town of Garzón, and I have so much to write about after one month on the road that I don't even know how to start it...

My Macbook decided to stop working when I was in San Gil, so I´m now in a small Internet cafe near the hotel where I´m staying here, trying to organize my thoughts and share them here with you...

I bought my Ortlieb panniers in Bangkok, Thailand, before flying to Cartagena, and I got my custom made bike in Bogota, just one day before starting my trip.

I bought my Ortlieb panniers in Bangkok, Thailand, before flying to Cartagena, and I got my custom made bike in Bogota, just one day before starting my trip.

I must already say I´m sorry I´ve taken so long to post something, but I needed some time to process everything I have been experiencing, seeing, feeling, and the struggle on the road has also been making me quite tired, so I have been just resting, reading and writing a few thoughts on my diary when I am not riding my bicycle.

My bicycle journey through South America started a month ago, when José Baez (a Colombian friend I made in Cape Town, South Africa, back in 2009) and I left Bogotá to go to the charming beautiful Villa de Leyva, where we would spend the Holy Week at his parents house.

We took two and half days to get there, and everything went really well. We camped on both nights, and we arrived at Villa around lunchtime on the third day. We were received by his kind mother Magda, who prepared us this delicious lunch to welcome us.

We found the perfect spot for our wild camping. We had great views of the Respresa de Sisga and it was quite an amazing place to spend our first night out.

We found the perfect spot for our wild camping. We had great views of the Respresa de Sisga and it was quite an amazing place to spend our first night out.

The view from inside my tent the next morning, after a cold, wet night...

The view from inside my tent the next morning, after a cold, wet night...

Crossing this beautiful, old railway bridge on our way to Samaca town, a few kilometers away from Villa de Leyva.

Crossing this beautiful, old railway bridge on our way to Samaca town, a few kilometers away from Villa de Leyva.

A quick stop to appreciate the amazing views of the Colombian countryside...

A quick stop to appreciate the amazing views of the Colombian countryside...

I had a great time there with José, his girlfriend Camila and his parents, and I want to express here my gratitude here for the way they hosted me. José, my friend, thank you so much!

The huge main square in the gorgeous Villa de Leyva.

The huge main square in the gorgeous Villa de Leyva.

I had some issues with my bike on my way to San Gil and had to push it for quite a while before finding a cheap room at a gas station. 

I had some issues with my bike on my way to San Gil and had to push it for quite a while before finding a cheap room at a gas station. 

So after a couple of days there, I left alone and started my way to San Gil, known as the adventure capital of Colombia. I had booked a paragliding flight there, but unfortunately it had to be cancelled due to bad weather conditions.

After two days there, I left to Barichara, an amazing little town that made me think of the great novels by Gabriel Garcia Marquez...

Then I rode back to San Gil, and from there to Bucaramanga.

I spent two days there, and then I took a bus to Medellín - I was not excited to ride that route, and it was never on my original plans anyway. I arrived in Medellin around 7am, spend the day there, and the next day I already left to Manizales.

Barichara, one of my favorite places here in Colombia.

Barichara, one of my favorite places here in Colombia.

The impressive Chicamocha canyon, on the way from San Gil to Bucaramanga.

The impressive Chicamocha canyon, on the way from San Gil to Bucaramanga.

To be honest, I did not like Medellin straight away, and the traffic there for me on a bicycle seemed very agreesive and unsafe, so I was happy to leave. I prefer small, quiet towns anyway :)

The ride to Manizales took me two days. On the first one, I had a huge, seemingly endless climb to Alto de Minas, which took me a couple of hours to complete, but then I had a pleasant ride on the top of the mountains, and finally started to go down to La Pintada, where I spent the night at a nice hotel with awesome views of the valley.

Beautiful views from the miradouro at the hotel I found outside La Pintada.

Beautiful views from the miradouro at the hotel I found outside La Pintada.

The second day was quite hard. I did 104km, and the last 25km were just this enormous ascent to Manizales. I spent 13 hours on the bike this day, and I arrived in Manizales around 9pm. I was so tired...physically and mentally exhausted, but happy for having arrived safely.

During my way up to Manizales.

During my way up to Manizales.

I was looking for the hostel I had found on Google, when Leonardo, a friendly local and fellow biker came to me and offered help. He walked with me to the hostel and helped me to go up the stairs with my bike. Thank you so much, Leonardo!

Finally at the hostel Kaleidoscopio (which I highly recommend), I took a long, cold, much deserved cold shower, and then was offered a cold beer by Raimon, a fellow bike tourer who has crossed Europe, Asia, North and Central America, and is now on his way south to Argentina.

We talked a bit about our journeys and plans before I fell asleep...

Manizales at dusk.

Manizales at dusk.

After two or three days in Manizales, and feeling rested and strong again, I left to Salento, which took me the whole day. It was a beautiful but challening route. The last 10 or 15km were a big climb...but eventually I managed to get there, and rode directly to the hostel where Raimon was staying.

I set up my tent, had a cold shower, had a huge 1$ burger, and then had the pleasure to meet Dang and Dean, a Filipino couple living in Canada who is cycling all the way from Alaska

The next day was for some sight seeing, some rest...Dang, DeanRaimon and I talked about our journeys, shared experiences, and we decided to cycle together from Salento to Ibague, through a tough dirt road through the mountains.

An elderly lady cleaning her house in Salento.

An elderly lady cleaning her house in Salento.

It was a very hard ride for me, and I was always behind them lol But they are all super cool so every now and then they would wait for me :)

Although hard, the ride was beautiful, and the scenery just wonderful. We arrived in Toche, about 50km from Salento and halfway to Ibague, around 4pm. We showered, organized our stuff, had a good dinner and then slept early to be ready for the last 50km the next day - which was also difficult. We arrived in Ibague only around 7pm.

Dean going through the mist during our 20km climb on the way to Toche.

Dean going through the mist during our 20km climb on the way to Toche.

Then we were helped by a local, also a biker, who followed us on his motorbike (he told us that it was a bit unsafe around there for us at that time) and helped us to find a decent, cheap hotel.

We spent a three days there to recover, and then Dang, Dean and I left to Tatacoa Desert. Raimon had decided to stay a few days more in Ibague, and told us he would meet us at the desert.

The road to Tatacoa was pretty much flat, and we were able to do 125km on the first day, before arriving in Natagaima to spend the night. We would do the last 60km on the following day.

I reached 1,000km during our way to Villavieja!

I reached 1,000km during our way to Villavieja!

The first 25km went smoothly, but the remaining ones were hard. We took this dirt road from Pueblo Nuevo to Villavieja (the getaway to the desert), and it was quite a rocky, bumpy, challening road, with lots of ups and downs, and the temperature rising above 50C degrees!

We arrived in there around lunchtime, had some rest at the main square, and then cycled about 7km to get to the desert, where we also found a camping area.

I absolutely loved Tatacoa and its dramatic beauty!

Admiring the incredible beauty of the Tatacoa desert.

Admiring the incredible beauty of the Tatacoa desert.

We spent two nights there, before leaving to Neiva, located 40km away. There we found a cheap hotel to stay, I got new tires and we took it easy for the rest of the day...

The next day we rode almost 90km to Gigante, pend the night there, and on the following day we cycled to Garzon, where we are now...I am feeling very tired and I need some days to rest!

A short pause to rest before arriving in Garzon.

A short pause to rest before arriving in Garzon.

From here we gonna go to San Agustin, and then to Mocoa, Pasto and Ipiales, before reaching Ecuador, probably in two weeks or so.

Making it very short, that is pretty much what my first month on the road was like...I could certainly write way more about it, but again, I am still processing everything I have been living...but I will share some thoughts and ideas with you soon, on another post, which I am going to try to write and post in two weeks.

For now, I can say that this bicycle trip is the best thing I have ever done, and it is already changing me in ways beyond my comprehension now...

I thank you again for your support, and I promise I will do my best to be blogging here more often...

Right now, it is time to rest and prepare for the final tough days of my bicycle adventure in this amazing country called Colombia!

Hasta luego, amigos!

Bernardo Salce


Find here some other pictures from my adventure so far. They are all straight out of the camera JPEG files...and to follow my journey more closely, and learn about the story behind each of the pictures below, check out my Instagram, I have been posting something there almost everyday...cheers!