Archive for January, 2009
It’s been another sort of busy day at the WT-office. Still waiting for some bike spareparts to show up here in Medellín, so why not take advantage of the fast wifi and put together some visuals from Ecuador where I spent just 13 days and clicked around 1.000 mountaineous km…
Photo Album from Ecuador (75 photos)
As usual, I recommend watching the photos as a full-screen slideshow (just follow the link, and click the 4-arrow logo in the lower right hand corner – and click the photo once for a text pop-up))…
o km etc.
Medellín is a great city on all accounts and it warrants several days of non-stop sightseeing and urban exploring. The super modern and effective Metrocable has been a major feat for the city’s transportation system, and it has made it possible for thousands of people living in the poorer suburbs clung to the hillsides to connect with the city and thus take part of the possibilities of the downtown hustle and bustle.
For me it’s like a great run at the local amusement park, and at only 1.500 pesos (0.60 USD), the standard metro fare, it’s a real bargain.
Back at the Black Sheep Hostal I spend some hours doing some WT maintenance (such as a new photo album from Ecuador – did you see the semi-latest album from Peru as well?) in front of the big screen showing live tennis from Melbourne.
The absolute highlight of the day is the news that my good old friend from university days etc., Rune, is coming to see and travel with me in Costa Rica for some 3 weeks from the 1st of March. Now isn’t that gorgeous?
It’s a fairly encouraging thought knowing that I’ve only got one larger climb (up to around 2.700 m from Medellín’s 1.500 m) to do just north of Medellín – and then it’s all (well, that’s what the locals tell me, but years of “listening” to what locals have to say about the terrain of the roads ahead have taught me to be a little sceptical) down to the tropical lowlands and the Atlantic coast…
It will be a final farewell to the Andes mountain range that’s been a faithful and at times tough follower since I left Santiago, Chile more than 5½ months ago.
Relaxation, reading, a little work-out in a tiny park nearby, the writing of my fortnightly column for the Danish paper MetroXpress, mental and physical preparation for leaving Medellín (am still waiting for my bike parts to arrive at the local bike shop) takes up most of my day…
0 km etc.
It’s another full-on day in Medellín with hardly 2 minutes of proper rest from early morning till late evening. Evenly split between updating this site, sightseeing and visiting a bike shop that unfortunately didn’t have the required spare parts (Shimano HG93 quality chain being the most vital thing) for my bike (the staff tried to fob me off with some mediocre quality chain not knowing that I accept only the best for my Dutch lady), and thus I have to “wait” until Wednesday. Quotation marks coz I won’t really have any problems filling out the time here in Medellín.
Band of the Day: Kings of Leon
As always: cursor on the photos will make a little text box pop up.
The finish of another sweet day in Medellín was this view over the southern suburbs…
Medellín – Colombia, 25JAN2009.
I’ve always been partial to the statistical material, and to call my interest for the world of stats fetichism is just another way of putting it. That’s part of the reason why the first weeks of 2009 have been tremendously interesting…
It was a special day for me to quietly celebrate Day # 1.000 on this solo bike expedition the other day. Even for me, it’s hard to grasp; 1.000 consecutive days on the road – now that’s roughly a 140 charter holidays non-stop – if you (like me) should find it hard to put it in the right perspective!
In terms of distance cycled, my inner statistician has also had reasons to wag the tail. Since I left Denmark on April 10, 2006, I’ve taken a photo each time I reach another 1.000 km in an attempt to try and catch the different moments on the road. Crossing 40.000 km in central Ecuador obviously made my mouth foam proudly (figuratively speaking, that is).
Just north of Ecuador’s capital Quito (that I skipped this time in the name of progress) I crossed the Equator from the south, and thus, I’m now back on the northern hemisphere after almost 1½ years of exploration on the southern.
On a similar note and speaking of the Equator: that chubby latitude around the centre of our Planet Earth is officially 40.075 km in diameter, and passing that point has made it even more appropriate to call myself a round-the-world cyclist.
All this might seem insignificant and self-celebratory, but when you decide to cycle around the world on what is already the longest bicycle expedition in Denmark’s history and in front of you have a snake of asphalt (that’s how my bike look at it, anyway!) that might turn out to be around 60.000 km long, then it becomes mentally crucial to split up the immense challenge in more edible bits, to knock a few milestones in the ground along the way, and celebrate the small conquests of the enterprise once you pass them.
These self-invented milestones are an important part of the motivating carrot for me, coz they arm me, in a very concrete way, partly with the knowledge that the goal (Denmark, in case you didn’t know) is getting closer, and partly with the confidence that I can do this.
So milestones – be they fictive or real – are important markers that speak the language of progress, the language of development (mental and otherwise). It’s often like that in life, isn’t it?
With lots of thoughts and love,
Nicolai (from Medellín in Colombia, WT-country #30)
And do keep coming back! WT has now had more than 1.000.000 hits (the stats freak said) and your support still means more to me than my words can explain…
0 km etc.
As the photos of today will tell, it’s no surprise that I spent all day touring many of Medellín’s sights and sounds.
The impressive and state-of-the-art Metro system, Parque Berrío with many of Fernando Botero’s famous and chubby sculptures, Museo de Antióquia (which surprisedly was free of charge thanks to the local mayor who pays for all museum entries until mid-Feb. Muchas gracias!), Iglesia Ermita de la Veracruz (not worthy of a photo), Parque San Antonio (ditto), Parque de Bolívar (with the brick Catedral Metropolitana) and lots of city life made up most of my daylight hours today.
Medellín is a modern, bustling, up-and-go city with a proud and easy-going population of about 2.5 mio. people. As any big city the contrast between the have’s and the have-not’s is great and I see many sad existences lying around, ragged and obviously homeless between the fashionable high-heels primadonnas with stuffed boobs and eyebrows plucked and altered out of all recognition (all of which I find a trifle disturbing).
It’s a great, great day. For me there’s hardly any better way of approaching and getting aquainted with a new city, than simply just walk around, following your instincts and marching to your own drums. The Medellín feel-good factor ranks high on the list of great cities on the WT-journey.
Just a very short update to those (unnecessarily) worried minds out there who may be wondering where I’m at and how things are going.
Things are very fine here in Colombia. People are unbelievably friendly and kind to me wherever I go. The military presence is strong and at no point have I felt scared or afraid regarding the safety situation in this beautiful country still badly damaged by the image problem in the eyes of the outside world. If only I could change all that…
Have just checked into a hostal (Black Sheep; yes it’s run by Kiwis) in a residential area in the nice(r) suburb El Poblado, with wifi ad nauseum which means that you can expect WT-updates in the very near future. Will stay here until I get tired of it, and then continue on the last Colombian leg (650 km) that will take me directly north to Cartagena and the Caribbean Coast.
Meanwhile, have a look at the BIKELITE bicycle blog (below) that might tell a familiar story…
La Pintada -> Medellín (hostal)
Distance (km) : 78
Time on bike : 3h 42m
Brutto time: 09.40 – 14.30
Avg : 21.1 km/h
Total (km) : 41.264
Altitude: 1.500 m
Difficulty: 2½ of 5
Distance-wise the day is perfectly manageable at just some 75 km to Medellín. But from the morning’s 400 m the road climbs up to a mountain pass at around 2.600 m and then drops down to 1.500 m in Medellín. A few hundred vertical metres up the road I manage to grab on to the back of a slow and heavily loaded truck that lets me truck surf all the way to the top. It’s faster than normal pedalling, and that makes up for the fact that my left arm got remarkably longer during the surf to the top.
Nothing like a bit of pain slash pleasure.
I arrive in Medellín early afternoon, dirty and hungry. In the 1980s the metropolis was ruthlessly controlled by Pablo Escobar, the world famous narko baron that was gunned down in a final shoot-out in 1993. On a more peaceful note, the city is also home to the internationally acclaimed painter and sculptor, Fernando Botero
In El Poblado, a sort of wealthy southern suburb I check into the Kiwi-run Black Sheep Hostal that gets rave-reviews on the web. 7.50 USD ensures me a bunk bed in the house, unlimited wifi, kitchen facilities, lots of spaces to relax, int’l travellers, and a central yet quiet location in a residential area just a 10 min. walk from La Zona Rosa (the bar and entertainment area) and a 8 min. walk from the super-efficient and modern metro – undoubtedly the engineering masterpiece and proudness of the city.
Pereira -> La Pintada (hotel)
Distance (km) : 135
Time on bike : 5h 29m
Brutto time: 09.30 – 16.30
Avg : 24.5 km/h
Total (km) : 41.186
Altitude: 400 m
Difficulty: 3 of 5
Today’s hot, tropical cycling sees me reuniting with the Río Cauca, one of Colombia’s 3 mayor rivers (the other one’s being the Magdalena and Orinoco Rivers). At some point on a little downhill, a truck rides up beside me and out of the window a smiling lady hands me a sachet of water. Despite doing a good 40 km/h I manage to get hold of the water and send smiles and hand kisses in return for the kind gift. That’s what I call Tour de France road service. More of that, please.
Having a break from the soaring temperatures and a massivde lunch in Irrá, a little road side village next to the Rio Cauca.
It’s another superfast day thanks partly to a difference of about 1.200 metres between start and finish altitudes (in my favor), and partly to a strong and focused Zülle in the saddle. There are lots of – mainly minor – climbs today, most of which I swallow up standing in the pedals with lots of momentum from the preceding minor downhill.
All afternoon the Cauca River grows fatter and prouder as many tributaries and waterfalls empty themselves in the muddy waters of the fastflowing river. It’s nice without being outright spectacular.
At the busy and loud La Pintada village I check into the clean and cable-TV equipped (think live tennis from Australian Open) Hotel Fonda (12.000 pesos = 5.50 USD) right next to the local reggaeton disco that keeps blaring all night for no apparent reason as the place is totally empty.
I do my usual night time rituals (eating, e-mailing, cruising) before I crash in front of the blue tennis courts on my little TV-set in my room, volume on max. to try and drown the annoying reggaeton across the street…
Uli, Marcela, Martiza, and cousin Paula take me out of the city today (my last in Cali), to a famous – and deservedly so – picnic + let’s-get-some-fresh-air spot just west of the metropole.
Rio Pance runs up into the mountains west of Cali and the area is laid out as a national park. Some 10 km up the river we reach the massive Chorrera del Índio waterfall.
We have the place all to ourselves, go “diving” under the fall, and just have a thoroughly good time.
It’s hard not to feel just a little like a true jungle boy. Very impressive forces of Nature!
Ants keep marching…Do these fellas ever sleep?
We’ve all worked up a healthy appetite after the hours at the fall, and lunch is waiting us at Mai and Marce’s uncle’s mansion, beautifully prepared by the kitchen maid in the house. I always welcome this kind of luxury in my otherwise pretty Spartan nomadic bicycle life.
Last night + last supper in my Cali “home” where I’ve felt nicely wrapped up in a very hospitable social web thanks to Ulises, Marcela, and Maritza. I feel very happy having met these guys, and – to bring balance on the lever – Marcela tells me that they’ve been honoured having me staying and that I’ve been like an exciting window to the world to them.
Nice words, warm hearts.
Acknowledging the fact that I can’t and don’t want to carry superfluity on my bike, Ulises has made a 2D-painting of my and my bike (incl. the Danish flag that I’m so proud of! ) on his lappie, and gives it to me as a goodbye present (it’s on the frontpage of WT, if you haven’t seen it). It’s the best souvenir for ages.
Nice acts, warm hearts.
Tonight a local girl – an a real beauty if you ask me – suddenly comes up to me from behind while I was standing looking at some of the fine architecture here in Popayán. The girl asks me if I’m looking for something (at this point, I should’ve been fast and clear-thinking, but made my first error instead). I’m taken by surprise and plainly answers her that no, I’m fine and that I’m just enjoying the beautiful city.
The girl doesn’t leave after this rather dull answer, but cracks a gorgeous smile that leaves me even more bashful (not taking advantage of the obvious opening in the conversation is my second error). Another flirting look comes my way, but I still don’t know what to do or say, so eventually she turns around and slowly walks away. Could have killed myself for letting go of such a princess. Anyway, the night-lit colonial buildings show me another (less human, though) kind of beauty in Popayán. It’ll have to suffice for now.
Spend most of the day online with my laptop at the hostal. For the first time in almost 3 years I watch Danish television live. Seeing an old uni-mate debate with the Danish minister of education (on DR’s program Deadline) is an almost surreal experience. Long live wireless!
I’ve been eating müsli with cold milk ad libitum since I got to Popayán and found the first real supermarket (Exito) since I don’t know. I suddenly realize how much I’ve been missing that stable food of mine.
On WT Expedition Day #171, on September 27th 2006, I changed my front tyre (after 8.900 km since departure) in what could easily be on of the prettiest spots on Earth for doing just that, changing tyres. I was in southern Kyrgyzstan near Sary Tash on my way to Kashgar in the Xinjiang Province, Western China.
Little did I know, that it would be another 818 days until I had to do that again.
On Day 999, after 30.807 km on the same Schwalbe Marathon XR tyre, I decided to call it a day and give the hard-working tyre a final and well-deserved rest. I had just 2 regular thing-through-the-tyre flats on that front tyre in 2 years and 3 months.
There a general consensus among long-distance cyclists that the German company Schwalbe makes the best and most durable tyres in the world which my 30K+ km just bear witness to.
Thus, I’m very glad and honoured that Schwalbe has offered me a new set of their brand new 2009 model Marathon Extreme to take for a (hopefully long and puncture-free) test drive around the world (and thanks to my friend Ragge for bringing them over to me in Peru).
This is how it looks on my Koga, and I’m quite excited to see how it performs.
In return for the tyres – and a big thank you to Product Manager at Schwalbe, Carsten Zahn – I just need to make a little stat report and deliver the tyres back to the company for further inspection.
It feels like a nice thing to add the tag Schwalbe Test Driver to my status. The cyclists out there would know what I’m talking about…
God Bless and long live my new Marathon Extreme!
Nicolai (Popayán, Colombia)
One of the surprising joys of entering a new country for me, is to try and get acquainted with the local cuisine. I never (in pre-WT-times) really paid much attention to this culinary part of travelling, but things have changed (said the permanently hungry cyclist).
Apart from update-writing on this site, I’ve basically done nothing to write home about. Been hanging out at the great and laid-back Hostel Trail all day (raining anyway, so what better idea than catching up on the world and letting the world catch up on you), eating müsli with cold milk, chatting with fellow travellers.
The rain stopped just a few hours ago, so I ventured out to have a sample of the local south Colombian cuisine. The ubiquitous arepa was first up in a hole-in-the-wall local fast food eatery (comida rápida). A filling and delicious little thing for just over 0.50 USD.
On a dimly-lit backstreet of downtown Popayán I found this lady selling chicken tamales wrapped up in a corn husk from a plastic bucket. 0.70 USD a piece and I was set for the night. Great stuff, that comida colombiana…
Like everything else, really, that I’ve been in contact with here in Colombia – the people, the mountainscapes, the prices, the optimism. The list goes on.
The major problem with Colombia, as I see it (after just a few days in the country, but after listening to a lot of second or third-hand stories about the dangers of the country), is the huge image problem that decades of internal conflicts, drug wars, and foreign kidnappings have left behind. All the front-page rage that spread around the world in the 1980s and early 1990s documenting how crazily dangerous and out-of-hand the security situation in Colombia was.
Whenever (if ever) I see or feel something that just waguely justifies the preconceived mental horror picture that many of us have of the Republic of Colombia, I’ll let you know…
And BTW, I’ll work my way backwards this time in order to fully update the diary…Keep coming back, will you?
Timbío -> Popayán (hostel)
Distance (km) : 15
Time on bike : 0h 32m
Brutto time: 10.00 – 10.35
Avg : 27.5 km/h
Total (km) : 40.676
Altitude: 1.750 m
Difficulty: ½ of 5
Another marathon night! 12 hours of straight and sound sleep in my little 3.50 USD prison cell room just 20 m from the thundering Panamerican Hwy. God bless my earplugs.
Fictive conversation with myself today:
Someone: So, Nicolai, what did you do in southern Colombia?
Me: Well, I slept and I rode my bike, occasionally interrupted by food and drink intake on the 2nd floor, and subsequently about the equivalent output on the 1st floor.
Someone: Sounds kind of trivial, doesn’t it. Are you enjoying yourself?
Me: Every single minute of it…
At the local bakery/cafeteria in Timbío I instantly feel my inner gear box switch to Fugitive Mode as a guy starts striking up a conversation with me, all smiling and enthusiastic. Most of the other guests in the bakery keep staring at me. But I’m not in the mood for chit-chatting at this pre-coffee and pre-brekkie (or at any other, truth be told) time of the day. I get my stuff from the counter, sit down next to my bike parked outside, and try to look as busy as possible, reading my diary, looking at maps, sipping my coffee.
Today’s ride to Popayán’s an easy one. Even before the sweat, my usual companion, is to be found on my forehead, Popayán’s there. 10.35 AM. I check in at the web-recommended Hostal Trail, where a bunk bed, kitchen facilities, free wifi (a feat I’m going to make huge use of), central location, int’l travellers, and a lovely staff and great atmosphere sets me back 15.000 Colombian pesos, about 7 USD.
Popayán is a beautiful, colonial city (ca. 250.000 inhab.) at 1.560 m.a.s. It’s called The White City due to the colour of most houses in the colonial centre. My first walk around town leaves me with the impression the “I’m going to stay here right until the attraction of the road gets greater than the attraction of the city”. Well, it’s normally like that.
Besides the attraction of the city, the attraction of the contrast between being (or feeling like) a semi-savage, dirty, centre-of-attention, sort of homeless, pedal-pushing vagabond and being a clean, clean-shaven (it doesn’t take a lot, admittedly), more-anonymous citizen with a room for the night, is a great one, and the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde transformation never stops fascinating me.
Ipiales -> Cano (hotel)
Distance (km) : 116
Time on bike : 4h 36m
Brutto time: 08.50 – 15.30
Avg : 25.1 km/h
Total (km) : 40.459
Altitude: 1.600 m
Difficulty: 2 of 5
I’ve picked 200 of my best, most memorable, or otherwise visuals from my 2 months in Peru…
Have a look at the album right here!
Just recently I heard about the Global Peace Index. Being a pacifist of sorts this index immediately caught my attention while fooling around the web the other day…
The Global Peace Index (GPI) is an attempt to measure the relative position of nations’ and regions’ peacefulness.
Have a look at the list of countries here…
A few comments:
Isn’t it funny how all the textbook citizens of the Scandinavian countries all do so well in these surveys…
It does make sense to me that New Zealand are up there amongst the top, but what are the Aussies doing down at #27?
…and don´t worry too much about Colombia’s position way down the list. This is all just based on statistical material – I’m gonna prove that all this talk about Colombia being such a dangerous country is yesterday’s news and that the country doesn’t deserve all the bad media hype…
Anyway, I love global indexes like this…
– The Peaceful Dane –
You might have noticed that recently I started putting an extra line in the Stats of the Cycling Day (I like stats). A little comment is in order here. The Difficulty Level (abb. Diff.) is an over-all and highly subjective judgment of the toughness and difficulty of the cycling day.
The most obvious parameters (for the cyclist) such as distance, uphills, wind conditions are the main parts of the judgment, but factors like weather conditions (temperature, precipitation etc.), luggage weight (it roughly changes according to the general climate I´m cycling in), my personal well-being and mood of the day (often affected by amount of sleep and food in stomach) are also part of it.
The index goes from 1 to 5, 1 being an easy day, 5 being a really hard one (or perceived as such, ie.).
Riobamba -> Ambato (hotel)
Distance (km) : 59
Time on bike : 3h 31m
Brutto time: 09.00 – 14.00
Avg : 16.6 km/h
Total (km) : 39.946
Altitude: 2.577 m
Difficulty: 2½ of 5
There are eucalyptus friends, pine trees and other aromatic seductions on today’s stage to Ambato.
The first 2½ hours are hard climbing up to a ridge (ca. 3.300 m) that constitutes the provincial border between the Chimba and Turungua Provinces. Then it’s time for a reward. From the top it’s almost all down to Ambato some 25 km down the valley.
The weather is overcast, gloves, rain gear and woolen cap’s on, and my bike odometer informs that the temperature is around 15C but it makes for a nice cycling weather nonetheless. Impressive views of the mountains all around me.
“God, this is so easy”, I say to myself when I’ve found Hotel Nürnberg smack in the centre of Ambato, first try and at just 7 USD for a clean, cable-TV room with private hot shower and the usual little touches like towel, miniture soap and poo paper. Staff’s friendly. I feel like i heaven.
My guidebook was wrong (again, dare we) in stating that: Ambato’s biggest drawback is its choice of hotels. There are a couple of exceptions, but overall it’s a dismal, overpriced lot, and comfort rarely seems to correlate with price.
Ambato is a surprisingly nice acquaintance. The provincial capital city has a population of around 160.000 inhab., but this Sunday afternoon the street are almost empty. Everything’s closed apart from numerous mobile ice-cream vendors that all seem to make pretty good money today, coz all there is to do, so it seems, is to sit in one of the many shady parks and kick back with your kids and an ice-cream.
The (relative) silence, the green parks, the colonial buildings and churches, the Rio Ambato that cuts through the city (and the generous sunshine) all make Ambato an instant favourite Ecuadorian city of mine. Doesn’t take a lot, does it?
Sitting here in an internet cafe in Alausi (2.350 mas), a Central Ecuadorian village, on the second day of the new year, it fills me with joy and proudness to look at the WT “day count”. It now takes 4 digits to keep track of my worldly escapades.
Since I’m actually 5 hours behind GMT and 6 hours behind my fellow countrymen in Denmark (it’s 8PM here + the WT day count is on GMT or DK time), I’m still not done with day #999, but waking up tomorrow morning in my hotel bed will most likely feel like some birthday celebration for me. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 1.000 days since I parted Denmark and left (almost) everything behind.
For a “statistically inclined” person (yes, it’s called fetishism) like me, hitting a thousand days on the road non-stop is quite a special moment. However, I can assure whoever(myself, most of all) that this will be the first and only WT-millenium the world will ever see. 2010 (and probably the first half of the year) continues to be my YOA (Year of Arrival) in Denmark.
Wish me a happy millennium!
…I don’t believe in millenarianism, BTW.