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June 25th, 2006

After a much needed break in Ecuador, if you could call getting blown over in a storm on a leaky boat and being robbed a break. We decided to push our luck a bit further and ride the length of Colombia. Which has turned out to be a beauty of an adventure. As we set out across the border of Ecuador into Colombia we had our wits about us, as the southern region has the highest concentration of guerilla activity, kidnappings, bus shootings etc, according to the guide books and people we talked to. As we rode onto El Pasto, the first town we would stay in in Colombia we saw a green tent with a white cross on the side. Inside were first aiders standing there not doing much. My instant reaction was with all the cyclists we had seen there must be a race on. Awesome. I hoped we would see the peloton ride past! Later that day after we arrived in our empty hostel and read a sign about an Italian cycle tourist who had recently vanished from the area, we talked to our hostel owner about the friendly first aiders. Turns out we were in a level 2 volcano alert zone. Bugger! hadn’t considered that one. The Galeras Volcano, which stands 4,270 metres high has erupted 4 times, the last time in 2005. Each time more powerful and has been on a level 2 alert since the 28th of April which is the longest time in history a volcano has been on this high level alert without erupting. Which meant it should go any day if it wasn’t going now. Suddenly the large signs we had passed that said “Region de gegelogical enstablimente” made more sense.

Large areas of the region were being evacuated with little response from the locals who didn’t want to risk losing their land, cattle and houses to other people. The medics on the road were giving out free information packs to locals who refused to leave. There are 10,000 people in direct line of a lava flow and 400,000 likely to be effected depending on the severity of the blast.

So unsurprisingly we didn’t take a day off in El Pasto but got up at 5:30am the next morning and rode 180km climbing 2,000m altitude and well out of the risk zone. We saw military in trees and at entry and exit points of tunnels and bridges on the way, but we were more concerned about getting clear of that smoking Mountain that looked as if it was following us down the road puffing with smoke and occasional lava.

Back into the swing of touring cycling though coffee country was like heaven. Coffee as far as the eye could see with the occasional fruit stall selling fresh “every tropical fruit imaginable”. Then following coffee scented valleys and rivers we arrived in Medellin, a beauty of a city half way up the country and to our delight a Kiwi owned and run hostel called “The Black Sheep” full of Kiwis and Aussies. They were and are, apart from a Danish couple, the only other tourists we have seen in Colombia and made for a good break from riding. Though as we all know meeting up with Kiwis and Aussies while travelling is not always great for recovery.

Off again on the bikes and Ange wasn’t feeling the best. I suggested that her dancing on the table the night before may be playing a part though it has never effected her riding before. She then got a rash and after consulting the guide book and a prescription from a doctor we realised it was Dengue fever. So riding next to a river which was also in the malaria risk zone (which I didn’t want to catch for a second time) and having Angela with Dengue in 35 degree heat with nowhere to stop but high risk guerilla attack zones where traffic by law was not allowed after 6:00pm, we decided to plod on. Ange being hard as nails did not complain and in 3 days started to feel better.

Then as fast as we entered Colombia we arrived at the Caribbean coast. Amazing. We stopped and I just stared, after 14,282km we are at the other end of South America. Now while looking out over the Caribbean sea filled with a sense of pride and a faint sadness at the possibility of the tour drawing to an end. I remember looking south over the Southern ocean 8 months ago basically shitting myself and wondering if Ange would last more than the first month before telling me to bugger off and flying back to the UK.

We did get into Cartagena just in time to try and catch the rugby in Buenos Aires. In my desperate enthusiasim to try and find a bar that had ESPN+ I ran into a rather dark and dingy bar and consulted the barman not registering the 40 locals fixated to a bull fight on the only TV in the room who also had mounds of empty beer bottles on there tables. The barman gave me the remote and I hastily flicked through the channels. After a deep roar grew from the crowd I turned around, felt weak at the knees and tried to explain that NZ were playing Argentina in Rugby. They did not take to this warmly and suggested I put it back on the bull fight mainly by sign language. I swiftly adhered and ran briskly back to the hostel.

A couple of days off riding now as we await the arrival of the mighty Dave and Emma two friends and both Glasto crew members. So celebrating my 30th in Colombia with 4 glastos we thought a good bottle of wine and a game of cards will certainly go down a treat.

Interesting reading on the Galeras Volcanoe