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life at the casa de ciclista in tumbaco

Santiago and his family in Tumbaco have been providing travelling cyclists with a place to stay at the Tumbaco Casa de Ciclista for the last twenty years. It must take that unique Latino generosity and the corresponding irrepressible urge to offer hospitality to provide an open house to travelling cyclists on one of busiest of long distance cycle routes because I believe that Casa de Ciclistas are a uniquely South American phenomenon. In the early years Santiago says they received about two or three cyclists per year. Now they get something closer to two or three hundred! Whatever the pressures that this hopefully welcome invasion of visitors exerts on the actual residents of the rambling house and garden it is a wonderful place to stay and recharge literal and metaphysical batteries.

There is constant flux and flow. While I am here there is never less than three visitors and as many as eight converge on one occasion. For a cyclist travelling alone, like me, it’s a positive deluge of socialising after a long drought. First I meet Raul and Marta, a Spanish/Polish couple, then Jens, a German cyclist arrives, and, hot on his heels, Axel, another German, followed by Sarah and James, a British couple, who I met and invited to dinner in Santa Catalina, next a French couple on a tandem, followed by an English family of four.

We all tend to our mechanical trouble, compare bikes, baggage and gadgets, and indulge in long and, probably disgusting, conversations about our intestinal parasites. We are probably exactly the same as a hostel full of backpackers.

My bike is full of woe. The rear hub has been pulled to pieces and put back together so many times by so many clueless mechanics (including me) that there are not only missing parts but, more mysteriously, there are extra parts. Where did they come from, I wonder? It seems a hopeless case and, what with needing a new rim and all, I decide that it’s time for a whole new wheel. After canvassing opinion widely, I order parts from afar and settle in to wait for their arrival. In the meantime, I strip the bike and scrub and clean what I can.

The bike devolving into pieces.

These pedals are one of my favourite parts of my bike. In Bogota, lacking tools and an appropriate space, I asked a mechanic to clean and grease them (and the ailing rear hub) but I got the bike back in worse condition than I gave it to him. When I open the pedals up myself it appears that all he has managed to do is lose a few bearings.

It's a simple enough job but it takes time to do properly.

Pedals back together and looking just like a pair of butterflies.

Bike in ever more elemental bits.

Everywhere you turn here there are bikes in in all states of repair and disrepair.

For my friend, TJ. (And the mysterious WSmart).

The Casa de Ciclista is home to two dogs: La Luna, psycho-puppy,...

... and Malola, a senile old black mutt. The dogs operate in shifts ever since Luna, in a hopefully one off psychotic episode, practically killed Malola.

Sarah and James*: it's hard to find them not eating.

*Check out their blog for more fun food (and cycling) adventures.


Bikes, bikes, bikes.

Sarah, pre-coffee.


...with parasites. We all have them and spend inordinate time comparing species and symptoms. Sarah has a spread sheet detailing various beasties and corresponding medications already taken, proving admirable administrative and record keeping capabilities. I, on the other hand, have done the widest reading with a couple of research papers under my reading belt.

The man himself, Santiago, over coffee...

...and in the workshop...

... and bidding a momentarily cycle-less guest 'despidida*'.

Axel has bussed to Tumbaco from the Ecuadorean lowlands in search of a 700cc tyre and inner tubes in Quito. 700cc wheels are something of a liability for the long haul tourer in South America where they are not commonly used by the locals.

Jens, another German, also cycle-less for the moment. He hitched a lift here from Salento in Colombia to meet his sister.

Washington, a keen cyclist, works doing odd jobs for Santiago.

Weighing in. Raul and Marta weigh their bags while James looks on.

I forget now what the grand totals came to but they give Raul and Marta reason to ponder on what is and isn't necessary.

Surrounded by stuff. Raul is still carrying his bear spray as a souveneir of Alaska. As an aspiring minimalist, I persuade him to get rid of it.

Raul, the Spaniard.

And Polish Marta...

...flying her flags.

Loading up.


Crosso: a viable, and far cheaper, alternative to Ortlieb from Poland. They are available online**.


Sunday is the day for a communal Casa de Ciclista ride. I manage to get my bike back into one piece and we all kit up. Sarah here is demonstrating how to point with your lips, Colombian style.

A Sunday bike ride...

... wouldn't be complete without at least on minor mechanical hitch.

The French couple impress us all by tackling steep cobbled roads and some single track on their tandem.


Quito below.

After the ride Caroline whips up...

...some admirably French crepes to celebrate James's birthday as well as the simple need to constantly eat, of course.

Sarah, again, washing.


* despidida = farewell

{ 11 } Comments

  1. Tony | April 23, 2013 at 4:12 am | Permalink

    That looks like a load of fun. Nice to see that touring isn’t always about getting somewhere.

  2. Jim Bangs | April 23, 2013 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    Great pictures! I love the pile of bikes and parts, Somebody like Hugh might be able to cobble together a couple of functional bikes out of that!!
    I really enjoy your posts of your life and travels. Especially for a person who has a very traditional life of going to work and paying bills so my kids can go to college, etc,etc,etc. Not that I would trade with you, but it is so interesting to read about and experience through your blog… Thanks for that!!!

  3. James | April 24, 2013 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    Ah, happy days! Hope your package is well on its way. We´re having fun on the farm plastering walls with donkey shit – surely not a high-risk parasitic activity, right? Sadly not a french crepe in sight out here…un abrazo, J&S

  4. anna | April 24, 2013 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    Hmmm… parasites…. I was doing splendid turds for a few days post-antibiotics but the blasted blastos seem to have rallied and my bowel movements are verging towards the explosive again. I may as well share it with the world.

    The package has arrived… so now I have two wheels to build.

  5. Sarah's Mum | April 24, 2013 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for a different angle on the epic cycle ride and some great pics of our lovely Sarah and James. If you see them again guve them great big hugs from Ma and Pa. Happy cycling to you too

  6. Trailer Park Cyclist | April 24, 2013 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    Man those photos of the dis-assembled frame surrounded by worn parts caused me to have a flashback to the terrible scene in the Wizard of Oz where the Scarecrow is being pulled to pieces…but a couple deep breaths and a bit of scrolling got me down to the usual happy scenes of psycho-touring, I mean cycle-touring and the always eclectic mix of euro-travelers that the South American continent seems to attract so well.

    The tools for rebuilding a wheel (hub) take up about the amount of space of a tube of toothpaste and weigh less. The parts are pretty basic and the hardest part is keeping the operation clean and adjusting the cones.
    Having read a hundred authorities on the subject including St. Sheldon, Master White and everybody else, I have reached this conclusion: (disclaimer: following my advice may lead to imminent death, not that anything so far can be proved. You can check with my parole officer on this, if they can ever find him.)

    Tighten the cone nut (lever side) down with your fingers, holding the drive side cone nut (bike work always sounds like dirty talk) with your other fingers. NOT EVEN TIGHT! Just till things stop moving.

    Here’s the hard part: try as hard as you can, it is almost impossible to put a wrench on the cone nut and then put a wrench on the locknut (all lever side) and then lock everything in place. Anybody who tells you how to do this is lying. Wait…not me; I’m not lying…I don’t think.

    In the course of doing this job I usually take about six efforts before the beer kicks in and I say “good enough!”

    Then the next morning I start over and end up with the same results.

    There is no firm ground here. When I first received my tiagra/mavic rear wheel I followed all the advice including Sheldon’s “let the skewer be the final clinch” tip and honestly, it would be better, in my opinion, to simply admit, as I am doing here, is that it is magic. Science cannot explain it.

    There is, however, recourse. Use your fingers. Trust nothing. Repeated failure (or the appearance of failure) puts you in the company of Galileo, Einstein, Da Vinci, the Wright Brothers, and Me. There is no one right answer or torque specification.

    Expect repeated attempts. It is a maddening process and you will never be certain that you have it right. But, with due diligence, you will be certain of the cleanliness of the work, you will be certain that the proper number of little balls (tee hee) are in the race, and this proper tightening thing ultimately is this: put it all together. Hook everything up. Hold the bike’s ass up and spin the rear wheel until you are sure things have warmed up enough to kinda-sorta warmed up the grease and let things settle in. Drop the ass of the bike (really drop it) so that the spinning wheel skids to a stop. Put as much weight as you can (lean on the seat) and see if you can wobble the rear wheel laterally. Zero movement is the goal, but I am happy (magic) to feel an indefinable looseness. Definable looseness means go again. No movement? I hate that. I want indefinable movement, but then again, I’m crazy. I rode this wheel in question for 3000 miles with barely discernible lateral movement, when I took it apart recently it was fine. Then I became an expert and now I have done a thousand miles with no movement on a wheel that shows a little wear as a result…so if I had to pick I would take least discernible movement.

    It’s exhausting, really. But never again will I trust another with my wheels. We live and die by our wheels, anna, and I want the fate of my cycling in my own hands, I want to determine my own fate.

    Ultimately, the Scarecrow came out just fine. The Wizard or at least his tech people got him put all back together and other than rumors of doping he went on to…what did happen to the Scarecrow? I guess we will never know. But if I remember correctly there was singing going on while the Scarecrow was getting put back together and that just reinforces the magic angle and all I know is that if magic ain’t in it it ain’t worth it…


  7. anna | April 24, 2013 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    I’m all for magical thinking and doing, too, tj.

    Nice to meet you, Sarah’s Mum. Thanks for dropping in.

    And Jim Bangs, too.

    Tony, you are my most regular visitor, I think. Hope all is well with you, Cesc, and family.

  8. Sarah | April 29, 2013 at 4:16 am | Permalink

    Wow, looks like fun but perhaps a little overwhelming after so much time alone out on the road?

  9. HUMBERTO (PEREIRA) | May 12, 2013 at 4:08 am | Permalink

    Un saludo desde pereira a todos lo ruteros, especialmente a Jens y Caroline, los recuerdo mucho. Un abrazo y muchos exitos.

  10. robert stephenson | April 3, 2017 at 2:41 am | Permalink

    i can’t seem to find contact details for santiago or for casa de cicalistas. might you be able to pass them on? i’ll be nearby tomorrow. cheers

  11. anna | April 3, 2017 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Hi Robert, I can’t remember where I got the details from but I no longer have them to hand. If I were you, I’d just do a search. There used to be a list of all the Casa de ciclistas for Latin America online, somewhere. Good luck!

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  1. In Quito | Contours of a Country | June 30, 2014 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    […] whose doors are left open to cicloviajeros by their owners (in this case, the famously generous Santiago and his wife Ana Lucía). Along with a cheap-to-free place to stay, casas offer ciclistas a ready-made community of […]

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