Los Nevados:Villa de Leyva to Manizales

As it happened, our stay in Villa de Leyva turned into an unexpected 5 days of washing clothes, drinking coffee and going around town trying hard to avoid not to sprain an ankle on the quaint cobbled streets. It’s a bit touristy for my taste but only during weekends when throngs of tourists from Bogota brandishing their selfie sticks come to unwind and destress from city life. Come weekdays, the town yields a small town vibe complete with friendly locals. 

Anyhow, we want to make quick work of the distance between Villa De Leyva and Libano, the base of the actual Los Nevados climb. That’s the shortest route I could possibly come out with minimal riding along the main highway. There’s a challenging paved climb option, Alto de Letras, that parallels our route. It’s one of the fabled long climbs, 80 kilometers, in Colombian cycling circuit. Maybe next time. Balancing the scale between moving southward, avoiding the carretera principal, riding as much dirt and beating the 3 months we’re only allowed to stay in the country are all part of the challenge.

We set our sights on Libano, the start of the climb to Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados. Between Villa de Leyva and Libano lies some 450 kilometer stretch of pavement. The hot weather seems tough to overcome especially in hilly Colombia. So slow and steady it is. Some parts are mind numbing or just plain boring but that’s the reality of bike touring. I found a dirt route that skirts away from the paved roads but once I checked and see the low elevation, I decided away from it. The thought of hot weather and dirt road don’t seem too appealing to me.

I’ve read a few accounts of dirt road fun in Lo Nevados National park . I’m curious how it stack up on our Boyaca route. Armed with fresh-smelling clothes(a treat to us), we left one of the most visited cities of Colombia and resumed dancing in our pedals.

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Quiet and full suspension bike friendly road
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Even the shade doesn’t do much to help with the heat
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So the only option is to stop in the middle of the day and catch up on the latest House of Cards episodes
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The lowest point of the ride, 300 ft.
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That night, we came knocking on one of the haciendas along the way. The farm gate was open so we walked our bikes to the fluorescent-lit house 200meters away not sure if we’ll be greeted by a smile or a buckshot. Luckily, we were received with the quintessential Colombian hospitality and a plateful of patacón. Here’s the family next morning, Edison and Alejandra ready to drop-off Sofia to school. Not shown is Alejandro who left for school at 6 o’snooze in the morning.

Under an hour after we left their house, we made a detour to the Armero ruins. My map shows a ruinas, perhaps a Pre-Columbian one pretty close from the hacienda and I thought we’d explore it. We found out after talking to Edilson that it’s actually a town buried from the avalanche/lahar 30 years ago. The eruption of Nevada del Ruiz melted the volcano’s glacier and brought mud down to low lying areas. Unfortunately, Armero is one of those town, the entire population nearly wiped out.

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Commemorating the children lost in the tragedy. We should not forget. Pope Francis went to Armero during his last visit to Colombia
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Where once house stood, cross erects

It’s one weird, eery ghost town. A big billboard on the left of the highway shows a picture of the town before and after the tragedy. The before photos was of a small vibrant community, full of life typical of small-town Colombia. The post-tragedy image, I kinda block it out from my memory. Just so sad.

We rode around the once former small town and proceeded to Libano.

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Another half day ride and we’re in Eje Cafetero. Coffee farms left and right.
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We stayed in Libano hoping the rain to stop as we approach Los Nevados
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Two days in but no luck. I’m bored with this view from our bedroom window
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When sky opened up just a bit we took off
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I’m obsessed with milk. Although I learned humans don’t have the flora in our guts to digest and absorb all the nutrients from cow’s milk

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Scene from Murillo. Faux Stetson hats and poncho.
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Shadows getting longer. Sign of time to look for a campsite.

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Pasture lands and mountain scenery

 

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We found a nice camp just close to this and thought well why not. As soon as we stopped and searched for a flat spot, dark clouds arrive.
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Resuming the wet ride the next day. At least the tracks were lined with pretty colors. Both white and…
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Yellow
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And colorful character too. Juan Ruiz bookends his sentence with a smile for emphasis. Pretty contagious on a gray day.
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On we go back up. One of the flat section.
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Real rain. And the freezing digits at 3,800 meters.
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We took shelter in this abandoned house briefly but resumed eventually to keep ourselves warm.

 

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Still smiling. Made a brief stop for a wardrobe change after we realized we can’t just grit our teeth and tough this one out. We dug into our bags and said hello to our seldom used rain pants and neoprene gloves
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Mountain peeking from the clouds
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This is what I truly love about the paramo, seeing the unique flora.
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Mountains all over
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Once the coast cleared.

 

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Off we ride down on some sweet dirt track all 25km of it, numb fingers still thawing from the freezing rain
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Arriving in Manizales in need of a hot shower.

Here’s our route: Villa de Leyva – Zipaquira – Chiquinquira – Caldas – Simijaca – Susa – Guatancuy – Tausa – La Ruidosa – Zipaquira – Pacho – Supata – La Campina – Nocaima – Villeta – Guaduas – Chaguani – Cambao – Armero – Libano – Murillo – Los Nevados – Manizales 

If you’re a more visual hombre, you can view the GPS track here.

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