My Uber Ride To Ibagué
The barking dogs of the entire neighborhood wake me up "gently", I check the time: 5.15 am. I slowly crawl out of my sleeping bag and try to carefully open the tent door, so that there is not condensation flood inside the tent. And then the morning routine starts: pack all the things and split up between the four bags, so they weight about the same (Tool-bag, snack and hightech bag, kitchen/bathroom bag and closet bag), tent in bag, breakfast, brush teeth, put everything on the bike and off I go.
I leave Salento after two nights. On the first day I really didn't like the city, tourists everywhere and people trying to sell tours, dinners, souvenirs or coffee (I hate coffee) on every corner.
Even though I felt like leaving after just one night, I decided to stay for two, to check out the famous Cocora valley.
So the next day, at 7 am, I was at the Jeeps that drop people of at the starting point of a four hour hike. I had hoped to meet other people, because I was dieing to talk to someone. After days on the bike, nights alone in my tent or at "ghost-hostels", I really needed some social interaction. Unfortunately early bird Lisa was in a Jeep, with locals, who all got off along the way.
So I started the hike by myself. After two hours of non-stop uphill, I started wondering, why this valley-hike would go uphill, to 3.000 m above sea level... And why is this couple carrying a huge backpack? I stopped them and asked, if this was still the loop. They said, that they are on a three day hike, so I turned around, to get back on the right track. Luckily it wasn't only me, who had missed the turning point. I bumped into Zach and Jake from Canada and Australia and shorty afterwards Dewan and Jenny from Sweden joined the "group of the lost people"
Even though the hike took seven, not four hours, I really enjoyed being around people, likeminded people. People you have deep conversation with, before even asking their names.
Mentally lifted by the social interaction I leave Salento. Today's route will be tough. 48 km of nonstop uphill, from 1.700 to over 3.200 meters above sea level, but I am in such a good mood, that it doesn't even bother me, that I am working my way to the top, doing 4-5 KM per hour. Hours and hours of uphill, huge trucks and busses pass me, fearlessly overtaking each other on the winding mountain road. It's like they are having a race in sloth-motion, with a bit of life risk.
At one point the road gets so wide, that I - at the end of the food chain - either have to take the curves on the very inside or outside, so I am either having the steepest climb or the longest way around.
Around five kilometers away from the top, I am suffering through one of the steep climb-curves, which I am trying to hit as fast, as I can, so I don't end up under the wheels of some truck. Suddenly a huge lorry is parked on the side of the road. "Is he waiting for me?", I ask myself and stop, exhausted from all the uphill. The driver walks towards me. "Are you very tired?"
"Ahhh, it's okay, and it's only five more kilometers to the top!", I say, trying not to gasp for air.
He looks at me, with a look I have seen from so many people I have met on my travels. It's this fatherly look of "I am going to take care of you!"
"Well, you know, the descent is so narrow and dangerous... Actually the whole road leading towards Ibagué is so narrow... And you see, what kind of vehicles are on this road.", he says, while three trucks and four busses pass us.
My gutts instantly tell me, that this guy with a sweet face and white hair is one of the good guys. Five minutes later my bike is packed behind the driver's cabin and I am sitting on the passenger's seat, which feels like 10 meters above the street, next to my guardian angle, called Uber. We make jokes about the fact that I am taking an Uber to Ibagué and I know, that Uber is kind of person. We laugh and make jokes and sing to a fun mix of ABBA, Rolling Stones and Bob Marley. Once I see, how little room there is between the truck and the side of the road, I am really happy, that I am not on the bike.
A few houts later I am in Ibagué, Uber drives me as close as he can. I hug him goodbye. He clearly is my favorite memory of my trip so far. While I am cycling towards the hostel, I really don't feel the vibe of the city and since the hostel turns out to be dirty and empty, I decide to leave the next morning. I am trying to accomplish a 215 KM ride to Neiva, to celebrate my birthday in a hostel, with people, the next day.
The route is the complete opposite of the one from the day before. Flat as a pancake. Within the first 3,5 hours I drive 100 KM and I am confident, that I will make it.
But then the 40° heat and constant sunshine hit me around mid-day. Every 30 minutes I stop, to get more water, I keep on drinking and drinking, but still feel thirsty, at the same time I don't have to use the bathroom once.
After 175 KM I have to surrender. Exhausted I fall asleep. the next morning only the amount of messages on my phone give me a bit of that "birthday-feeling". I hit the road at six a.m. and a few hours later I arrive in Neiva.
From all corners of the globe I receive the nicest, kindest birthday wishes, but inside it still doesn't feel like it's my birthday. But then I make peace with this kind of birthday and ask myself, what I need and what I want to do. Suddenly I receive an email from SOS chidren's villages, about the status of my fundraiser. 1.050€ in donations. The day before it was 600€. Goosebumps all over my body, tears in my eyes and a squeeky "awww" leaves my mouth, while my heart fills with joy.
I pamper myself with a delicious dinner at the only vegan restaurant in Neiva. They even have cake, so I get a piece to take away and enjoy it at the "ghost-hostel", all by myself, in absolute peace. Happily and satisfied I fall asleep.