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up, up, up

By the time my washing is dry, the blog updated and route information gathered two nights have gone by in Santa Rosa de Cabal.

The first step, in leaving town, is fueling up...

...I go the whole hog: eggs, cheese, strange half-sweet cheesy corn bread and a corn arepa.

One the outskirts of town is a modern church. "Dios bendiga este"... the missing word, diligently scrubbed out, is "...negocio" - the message, in English, 'God bless this... business.' Catholicism is strong in Colombia but, nonetheless, there is discernible criticism. (I may be wrong presuming that this church is Catholic, of course. Evangelicalism is rife, too.)

Heading up...

...and up...

...and up...

..., a little down and then more up.

The other predominant theme is rain.

Humming bird food - they like red best. From time to time I attempt the tricky task of photographing these rapidly whirring organic flying machines but normally I miss them.

...

...

After a day and half of climbing, in the rain, I reach the edge of the park.

It occurs to me somewhere towards the end of this period of time that I am freezing. I haven’t actually been cold since I was in the north of Mexico. There were a couple of chilly moments in Guatemala but for most of the last three years I have been living in a tank top and shorts. Now seems like the appropriate moment to change that. I pull up and dig down to the bottom of my panniers where my woollen bottom layers have sat unused for a long, long time. I can barely get them on my hands are so uselessly numb. After about 10 minutes, I stop shaking.

All layered up, I reach an intersection and I am contemplating its possibilities when a motorbike approaches. The rider stops and pulls up the hood of his rain coat to reveal the official national park badge on his hat.

“Which way did you come?” he asks.

I pause to consider what might be the right answer. The road I have just ascended is prominently signed as private property and passage is prohibited. The other road is, I assume, the one that is rumoured to be closed.

He repeats his question. I laugh and shrug.

“What’s the best answer?”

He laughs, too, and asks me where I’m from, all the usual questions. But he doesn’t let it drop.

“Which road did you arrive here on?”

I indicate the way I came and he relaxes. I ask about the other road.

“It’s forbidden. It’s closed. It’s dangerous.”

“OK. OK. But I can go to the Laguna and Santa Isabel?”

“Yes, but not with the bike. It is forbidden. You must walk. It is too late to go there today. Where will you stay?”

“I have camping gear. And a senor I met down the road said I could camp at the finca by the park gates.”

“OK. It’s that way. Tomorrow you will meet my colleague in the park.”

The man answers some more of my questions about the park and then, after wishing me luck and a safe journey, he goes on his way, riding the forbidden road.

The bottom road is the one I climbed, the top road leads to the Laguna and the forbidden road lies directly behind me.

I am feeling inordinately weary so the sight of these building in the distance is very welcome. The building on the left is the (unattended) ranger's station and the smaller building, on the right, the finca where I hope to find shelter for the night.

Almost 4000 metres - no wonder, I'm cold and weary. Santa Rosa sits at 1700 metres. Gaining altitude by cycling or walking, since they are slow, is preferable to motorised transport so the body has time to acclimatise. However, the hills I've been climbing might not have felt nearly so tough at lower altitudes.

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