San Gil to Medellin

I haven't seen a 3D map like this in ages. This one of Colombia in Hostel San Gil brings back fond memories of the one my family had of the U.S.  As a kid, I remember tracing my fingers along the contours of the Continental Divide for hours and hours.

The spine of the Colombian Andes fans out a bit as it extends north from the border town of Ipiales, creating two main valleys. I've zig-zagged across the central spine a few times now.  The time has come for one remaining traverse and one last climb, which will deposit me in Medellin and bring the South American cycling portion of this journey, sadly, to a close.

In San Gil I skip the "adventure" capital of Colombia's bungee jumping and caving trip offerings and instead opt to stroll through the mercado enjoying the ever-changing sights, sounds, and smells.  A far cry from our homogenized grocery stores with perfectly polished apples, the mercados throughout South America are as much social mixing pots as they are places to buy goods. 

Fresh fruits are sourced from stalls an arms length away and quickly blended into healthy juices.  Here, the end of a long line of happy customers.

An easy morning ride outside of San Gil brings me to the white washed and cobbled Spanish colonial town of Barichara - weekend playground for wealthy Colombians and often location for Spanish-language films and telenovelas.  Smaller than Villa de Leyva, the touristy vibe is a bit more bohemian and not quiet as overwhelming. 

Parque Jorge Delgado Sierra is a small park at the top of town and home to 22 stone sculptures, showcasing the town's long history of carvers.  

It's also a good spot to take in sweeping sunset views over the surrounding valley.

A wonderful stretch of dirt swings me east through Zapatoca and San Vicente de Chucuri as I slowly descend down towards the valley floor.

Try as I might, there appears to be no way around an 80 km stretch of Ruta del Sol paralleling the mighty Rio Magdelana, short of riding the railroad tracks. The two-lane highway is a major trucking route and the constant line of eighteen wheelers streaming past make me grateful for every ounce of the crunchy stuff I've be able to ride.

Fast flat riding between Puerto Berrio and Puero Nare bring me past a handful of huge finca's stretching out across the steamy lowlands.  I spend the night just outside of Puerto Nare, where the road spits towards Guatape, trying as best as I can to understand fast-talking Ronaldo tell me about the changes he's seen and experienced throughout his country. His pride runs deep - a consistent thread running through all the wonderful Colombians I've meet.

I emerge out of the quiet back roads to the Sunday sounds of music, clomping horse hoofs, and motorcycles filling the streets of Puerto Garza.

In Guatape I ease past throngs of weekend peeps from Medellin and stake out a nice spot at Hostel Casa Encuentro outside of town overlooking the water and Piedra del Penol beyond. 

The town is full of these moto chivas modeled after the giants usually lumbering around the back roads.

Complete with mini murals.

Late afternoon light.

Heading into the outskirts of Marnilla, local Alirio rides up behind me, invites me to lunch, gives me a tour of town and then invites me up the hill to meet his mom and sister.  Colombian hospitality has never ceased to amaze me on a daily basis. 

After nearly fifteen months on the road, I drop into Medellin weaving in amongst the stream of late afternoon and roll to a stop at the Black Sheep Hostel. Sadly, this time the stop is the last one El Gordo and I will be making together in South America.  It is surreal to say the least and will take some time to settle in.  

I've been asked many times how far it has been. To be honest, I have no idea. For me, the most important thing was simply making the decision to step away from the norm and experience the stunning environments, vibrant cultures, and the people's warmth, kindness and generosity.  Over the last few days, my mind has been replaying one highlight clip after another. Gracias, South America and gracias to all you peeps I shared some rode time with along the way!

Route:

San Gil - Barichara - Galan - Zapatoca - San Vicente de Chucuri - El Cruce - Puerto Berrio - San Rafael - Guatape - Medellin

My GPS route

Notes:

(1) Color de Homiga Hostel in Barichara is resonable priced (22,000 COP) and a wonderfully chill place just off the main square. In hindsight I would have spent a few days off the bike here rather than in San Gil.

(2) The 80 km stretch of Ruta 45 (Ruta del Sol) I did in order to connect San Vicente to Puerto Berrio via El Cruce is pretty dangerous. I've never ridden with as many trucks.  I tried to find an alternate, but nothing seemed to connect other than potentially riding the rail line off to the east.  If I were to do this again I might have gone south from Barichara to Velez and then cut across on Ruta 62 to Cimitarra to what appears to be a series of dirt roads bringing one out well south of El Cruce.     

(3) Hostel Casa Encuentro in Guatape is a splurge (40,000 COP with breakfast and free coffee) but it's a wonderfully chill place away from the crowds while still being a quick walk to town.