Randonnée To The Land Of Sugarcane
Cycling has a very unique ability: it can take a group of strangers and make them friends after a while. A week has passed since our first trip of the year, a randonnée from Bogotá to Cali was the perfect way to start the year. A peloton of 14 cyclists from all around the world gathered to ride in a very special course. New Zealanders, Australians, British, Swiss, Americans, Luxembourgers and Dutch traveled to Colombia to experience the country from a bike. For a week, these guys and gals rode through mountains, hills and flatlands to reach the land in which sugarcane crops flood every piece of land.
We started with a ride in which they got to know part of Bogotá’s high altitude plateau. During 80 km, the cyclists had the opportunity to experience riding at more than 2,600 meters above sea level, pedaling through crops of strawberries, flowers, and several cattle farms.
After the easy introduction, we started leaving Colombia’s eastern cordillera and went riding straight to Magdalena’s River Valley. As soon as we started to reach this dale, one of the most stunning sceneries was visible. The big water serpent that goes all the way to the Caribbean appeared in front of us. For some kilometers we were able to see this spectacular view. I’m sure that a lot of us had the same feeling looking at the vastness of the River and the power the Valley sends. Later that day, one of the few flat parts of the week was awaiting for us between Cambao and Honda, and the temperature punished us with 44°C. A hard day in the saddle, but some cold beers at Honda were a well-deserved reward.
And suddenly, almost without any warning, one of the most feared –and desired– days arrived: the climb to the mythical Alto de Letras. The paved snake that climbs 80 kilometers all the way to 3,679 meters above sea level was the main course of the day. For hours, the 14 cyclists were able to go deep into their own thoughts, as we pedaled with patience to the end of the climb, at the páramo. That night, at the dinner table, the perspective of these cyclists limits had changed. Now they knew they could always go further and challenge their own boundaries, it was just a matter of persistence.
After having a nice rest at some hot springs near Manizales, we rode bound for the coffee axis: the region in which one of the world’s finest coffee is grown. The fourth riding day brought with it one of the highlights of the week: we got to ride with a real-life pro cyclist! Diana Peñuela is one of Colombia’s greatest female cyclists ever, and she currently rides for Italian team Alé-Cipollini. Having her riding with us was an honour. She took us through the most amazing roads you can ride at the coffee region, and she spent some time speaking to all the cyclists. Who doesn’t want to hear some insights about the life of a professional cyclist, and all the incidents at that level of racing?
Spending a couple of days in this rolling terrain is something that really leaves recollections worth remembering. All the day in the middle of coffee crops, and stopping at local cafés is a real touristic experience. Add spending some nights at a cycling-specialized boutique hotel, and you get quite a memoir. This gives you a real Colombian taste, and I’m sure the group can attest to it.
During the final day, we went all the way to Valle del Cauca. During the ride we ate the country’s most delicious pineapples, and climbed Alto de Sevilla. And just as we started descending from the town, we reached a pretty valley in which we rode in the middle of grasslands. And as the song goes ‘Si huele a caña, tabaco y brea, usted está en Cali, ¡ay mire vea!’ (If you can smell sugarcane, tobacco and tar, you are in Cali!). Suddenly, the sugarcane crops started appearing and the cyclists got the feeling that they had achieved quite a big goal. An incredible accomplishment that was celebrated with cold beers, names drawn on the tarmac, and a crowded finish line full of cheering. They rode through Colombia, got to know the country and left with special remembrances. And the most important thing: what started as a group of 14 strangers ended as a pack of 14 friends who felt they knew each other for a long time.