I’m now tucked away in the mountainous folds of Colombia’s beautiful Santander province, in the town of San Gil – more on the incredible dirt road riding potential around here later.
In the meantime: after my muddy toils to reach Mompos, this short post records the watery escapades to leave it…
Our posse of six bicycle tourers finally flee the beguiling clutches of Casa Amarilla. Leaving Mompos involved a stint of pavement riding, culminating in this bizarre, Evel Kneivel style bridge over the swirling Magdalena River.
Then an outburst of rain had us slipping and sliding along muddy, tacky trails. Conditions weren't in the same league as those on my barefoot push through El Salado, but they were bad enough to undo all my industrious bicycle and clothes-cleaning efforts from just the day before...
Motley motorbikes and ancient jeeps form the main mode of transport in these watery, muddy parts. The sight of half a dozen mud-splattered tourers passing through town turned many a head.
Three Brits, two Dutch and a Belgian. And all their accompanying paraphernalia.
Dutch boys Joost and Michael, have ridden down from Alaska.
As has Russell, from Bath, UK. We have a mutual friend in common: Robin Mather, the fine framebuilder.
Belgian Siska has ridden down from Los Angeles on her Koga Miyata.
The Magdalena River. Heavy rain had flooded her banks, requiring a medley of boat rides to link the dirt tracks that would lead us out of this watery region.
Michael's flags, from the countries crossed so far, lent our overloaded canoe something of a nomadic, vagabond vibe.
Along with motorbike-riding locals, we were punted across the shorter crossings. Prices ranged from 50c to a couple of dollars, depending on distance, precariousness and bargaining abilities.
We went two by two. This skinny canoe crossing was particularly dicey - at one point, Joost and I nearly flipped right in. We mulled over the consequences...
No problems for local riders.
A watery, surreal, inundated world.
Complete villages and ranches were flooded. We punted our way through animal pens, opening and closing gates as we went.
Cattle was being moved to higher ground, the only real traffic on the road.
Michael takes a gamble across one of the many stream crossings.
This one a little deeper than expected...
After a long day of muddy riding and a succession of hop scotch boat journeys, we made it to El Banco, weaving our way through the chaos to general astonishment.
There we loaded up our bikes for the final river ride, wich would lead to an intact road linking us with the main Santa Marta-Bucamaranga highway.
Underwater El Banco. A scruffier version of Venice...
The year's heavy rain and the resulting widespread flooding is being blamed on El Nino and climate changes. Somewhat appropriately, Joost and Michael are riding to Argentina to promote awareness of water issues across the continent.
They're riding Calfees, which bike nuts will know for their incredible frames built from natural bamboo.
The tubes are mitered together.
Then bound by hemp.
Nifty. A bamboo spoke.
Colombians are insatiably curious about visitors to their country. Everyone wants to know where you are from, and where you are headed. These three teenagers drive alongside me for a while, then pulled over to buy us a big bottle of Coke.
From the juntion, it was a hot, hilly three day ride to Bucaramanga, battling a never-ending stream of diesel-belching trucks. Landslides have closed off the main thoroughfare to Bogota, so this narrow mountain road was three times as busy as normal. The change from our backcountry adventures felt sudden and stark, and not entirely welcome...
Fancy a little carbon with your breakfast?