Did that really all happen today?
Sometimes we have one of those days where it’s hard to believe that so much went on. It happened to us a few days ago, when we experienced intense heat, generosity of locals, played a football match and cycled uphill through a river of rainwater.
We left our hotel in El Estrecho about 7am and ate breakfast in a small café in the village. It felt as if we were in the Caribbean, most of the locals being of African descent and there was a friendly, relaxed vibe. Plus, it was already really hot.
Our ride started with a gently winding road upwards through the valley, after which we came to a steep climb up to the town of El Bordo. Our shirts were drenched in sweat and we edged our bikes under the shade of the trees as much as we could without slipping into the ditch.
Concentrating hard on the climb, I was listening to a Desert Island Disc podcast, the perfect distraction on an ascent. Rounding a sharp bend a truck slowly overtook me, and I did a double-take when I realised Paddy was holding on to the back with a cheeky grin. He’d left no room for me to hold on too, and I watched in disbelief and with jealously as he disappeared from sight. I spent the next fifteen minutes cursing him under my breath until I saw him resting on the side of the road. He’d not gone to the top for fear of being in trouble – a sensible move.
We continued together, slowly edging our way forward with the support of passing trucks and cars who tooted encouragement. One motorcyclist even turned back to give us some oranges.
El Bordo was the largest town we had seen in several days, so we stopped for a cold Coca-Cola and huge slice of cake whilst chatting to locals who were interested in where we were heading. They were all preparing for the Black and White festival which started a few days later, and there were vendors all around town selling cans of squirty foam, which we had been sprayed with back in Pasto.
Today though was more about water than foam. After El Bordo we slowly dropped down to the valley floor and sat sweltering in the heat, despondent at the thought of a 17km, 750m high climb. It was too hot to move, but we had little choice but to continue.
I cooled down quickly though thanks to the local kids. Coming up to the toll booth about ten children drenched me with buckets of water from the side of the road. Paddy escaped as they weren’t able to refill fast enough to get him. At first it felt refreshing, but as we climbed it got cooler and I wasn’t drying.
Unfortunately, there were more water throwers to pass on the climb, and as we were going slow uphill there was no way to outrun them. I adopted a pleading approach which seemed to work and they turned their attention to Paddy instead. He deserved it though, as he had managed to catch on to the back of another truck. The driver, realising he was hanging there, encouraged the kids to get him as he drove past. By the time I caught up he was soaked from head to toe.
We weren’t the only targets of the water throwers. They were hitting any passing vehicle, which was quite frightening to see. Motorcycles were skidding across the road trying to avoid the water and buckets were being thrown into the open windows of cars and trucks.
As we made our way uphill it got mercifully cooler, good for cycling, but Paddy wasn’t drying out. Then it started to drizzle. We took cover under a tree, but a few minutes later it became clear that wasn’t going to be sufficient and we rushed under a roofed football pitch where we hid out the rain for an hour or so.
For me it was a welcome break, but Paddy joined in a kids’ five-a-side football match where he scored a couple but let in more. The boys thought he was hilarious, towering above them all. They knew most of the English football teams, although not Everton, but in fact their favourite team was Barcelona. They quizzed us about our trip and laughed at my terrible Spanish.
We could have stayed longer, but the rain had eased off and we needed to move on as it was getting late. Ten minutes after we set off the sky became black and the rain came down heavier than before. Suddenly the road became a river that we were cycling up, bringing with it stones and pieces of wood. The drainage channels along the side of the road were overflowing and the sound of the water coursing down the hillside-rivers and waterfalls was thunderous.
Most of the traffic had disappeared and likewise we took cover under the porch of a house. There was instantaneous thunder and lightning overhead and we feared being caught up in a landslide or flash flood. We took a calculated risk though, that it was better to cycle on whilst the road was quiet of traffic and before night fell. Cycling through the water wasn’t fun but it was possible and we figured that landslides would occur later, when the rain had time to loosen the earth.
We made it to a hotel, just north of Rosas, as all light disappeared. It was an immense relief to be out of the storm. The hotel owner fortunately welcomed us, dripping, without fuss, although his son did seem to find us rather amusing. A freezing cold shower didn’t help warm us up much but it was nice to be clean and in warm clothes.
Eating our pasta and tomato sauce dinner we looked back on the day with utter disbelief. How could so much have happened in one day? How could we have started off so hot and ended so cold? Only on a bike could we have such experiences, meeting locals and getting caught up in extreme weather. This is one of those days that we will always remember. It’s good though to write it down so that we can remember that yes, it did all happen in one day.