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heading north

Suddenly, in pursuit of my loop the loop Venezuela – Brazil – Colombia again route plan I find myself tangled up in bureaucracy with my passport in the hands of the Brazilian Consulate for three weeks! Fifteen days, the Consulate staff explain to me, means fifteen working days. Fascinating though Bogota is, I do not want to spend three weeks here and, anyway, the end of my 90 stay in Colombia is starting to loom. So, I decide to start heading towards Cucuta, where I hope to cross the border into Venezuela, and sort picking up my passport and – hopefully – the visa later.

Ever since I first saw this blog post, from Sarah and James, fellow cyclists that I happened to meet while still ensconced in Santa Catalina, I have wanted to make a side trip to visit the El Cocuy National Park in Colombia’s north and attempt the six day high altitude mountain trek, so…. It might all just work out perfectly…

I leave Bogota on a cycle path that heads north beyond the city limits.

A welcome sunrise after a particularly unsuccessful night's camping which had me up well before dawn trying to put miles between me and a strangely blighted and hostile valley just off the main highway. I have a theory about the distance from a major highway and its inversely proportional relationship to the friendliness and helpfulness of an area's inhabitants that I could expound upon here - but I won't.

I’m feeling a little pushed for time but I still prefer to avoid the highway where I can (see above) even when the alternative in Colombia’s eastern corridilla means steep and rugged gravel tracks. I skirt a reservoir just outside Bogota and then enter a system of roads were a wrong turn can quickly lose you hundreds and hundreds of metres in altitude in just a handful of kilometres. But overall the going is fairly uneventful.

My first ‘destination’ is Villa de Leyva.

Villa de Leyva is one of Colombia's hyped tourist locations that sees large quantities of both national and international tourists. Quaint cobbled streets, well-preserved colonial architecture (the town is a national monument and development strictly controlled) and picturesque locals are a surefire tourism winner. And, it has to be said, the place is charming. Villa de Leyva's vast central plaza is reputed to be South America's largest.

The elegant church is austerely simple...

...and paired with modern perks like free wi-fi, in the all that timeless cobbled space, everyone is content.

The Saturday market is bursting with colourful local produce...

...of one sort...

...or another.

...

Local fashion is all about the poncho and the hat...

....and, wool, the raw material...

...makes its appearance at market, too.

Back in the square...

... many Colombianas choose to tackle the paving stones in vertiginous heels. This woman just about broke an ankle seconds before I took this photo but she stalked onwards, undeterred.

Ah, silence. Not very Colombian, is it?

I spend a night in the very nice Hostel Renacer on the morthern outskirts of town before hitting the road again and starting to really gain some altitude.

Clouds...

and mountain roads.

Sunny days and chilly nights. This is dairy country. Milk cans are everywhere.

It seems that everyone has a small herd of cows - and I mean small, maybe only one, two or three cows - and produces a couple of can of milk which gets transported one way or another - horse and cart, mule, wheelbarrow, whatever - to the road network where a big shiny stainless steel truck comes by to collect it. I watched this process one dawn while waiting by the road for the sun to rise far enough above the horizon for me to cycle safely away: the truck is equipped with a suction hose which very efficiently slurps up the milk from the various receptacles.

The road winds on and contains everything:...

...God and politics,...

... a road side snack.

A tiny house perched on a hill-top...

... and another, at the bottom of a hill, menaced by a landslide.

Radio and phone towers always signify a summit...

... and a field of frailejones means I'm getting high. I love these plants, they seem endowed with distinctive personalities, not human personalities but nonetheless very personable personalities. These are just pups, barely out of the ground, but flowering profusely.

A furry budding.

...

And other flowers abound... I don't like favourites and superlatives but if I was prone to them I might start throwing a few around in describing this paramo landscape.

Road. Mountains. Clouds. It goes on and on.

With an eye to the calender I choose the highway out of Duitama over a very tempting set of trochas but it proves a pleasant enough ride with little traffic. There's a stiff climb and then a long long long descent. This road side shrine gained my attention with a battered truck cabin, police incident number in spray paint still visible, perched on a rock a hundred metres or so from the main shrine.

The plaque reads: Virgin on the rocks, adorned with lamps, the traveller asks you to bless his footsteps and illuminate his path, so that his way is swift and safe.

A shrine to illumination.

...

I am so intrigued by the symbolic power of the lights I forget all about Mary and don't manage to capture a single photo of her.

Car plate numbers scratched into the paintwork presumably endow a protective effect on the vehicle. More symbolic, magical thinking.

Doesn't seem to work for everyone, though. This sad, but admirably creative and aesthetically pleasing, memorial shrine was another couple of hundred metres down the road.

{ 1 } Comments

  1. Sarah | March 17, 2013 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    Looks like the side trip was well worthwhile even if you didn’t get to do your full loop

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