I haven’t talked much about the nuts& bolts of bike touring, what lessons I’ve learned so far, or what weird crazy things have happened outside of the very tourist-like posts I’ve written so far… so here goes-
Lessons from the road:
1) The most important piece of kit I have is this:
I’ve purified river water many, many times using this UV light and I’ve not been sick once so far-
2) The second most important purchase… Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires- I’ve been riding for 2 months so far without a single puncture- unbelievable.
3)The experiences I’ve had with local hosts are eye-opening, and crucial to understanding what makes the Colombian people tick. It’s THEIR country, their customs & culture. I’ve been using both CouchSurfing & Warmshowers to connect with people.
4) Fatty soups are a cyclists’ best friend- and in Colombia they’re specialists, Caldo de Costilla keeps me going!
One crazy thing that’s happened:
I camped by the side of the road two weeks ago here on the coast between Santa Marta and Barranquilla, in a small grove next to the beach-completed isolated, with a black-sanded beach all to myself.
I setup my tent and things to dry and jumped into the Caribbean to cool off. I settled into a deep sleep under a magnificent blanket of stars- all was well… except that the next morning when I stepped out of my tent there was no stiff breeze to keep the mosquitos and other biting insects at bay the way there was last night…
I was swarmed the moment the tents’ zipper opened, only in my underwear, wildly fanning my arms as bugs of all kinds bit me, crawled into my underwear, and even into my nostrils, ears, and eyelids. I cursed and cried out, frantically running to the sea and jumping in to escape. The current was strong and pulled me out further than I’d expected within a minute- soon I couldn’t feel the bottom. and was trying to swim back to shore- after ten minutes of swimming parallel to shore, and drinking more water than I ever have before, I heaved myself out and laid on the beach gasping for a few minutes-
After I collected myself and caught my breath, I still had the bug swarm to deal with while packing up my gear. I figured if I could quickly get on a pair of pants and long sleeve shirt I could reduce the amount I’d be bitten while packing up the rest of my things- I ran back to camp and as I approached my tent the bugs started to swarm- I quickly got on pants and a full sleeve shirt, but the two minutes or so that it took left me covered in bites on my torso, limbs, face, even my bottom lip- I was cursing a storm and pleading for them to stop in vein-
I pushed the bike and all my hastily packed gear frantically the sand path, fanning my face with my hands and struggling to keep the bike upright with one hand and the bugs away with the other. I made to the road and saw two local fisherman walking towards me. I was breathing heavily and felt like my body might have been in a slight shock from an allergic reaction. They asked me what happened in Spanish and I explained to them what had happened. The locals call the bugs “chici ticos”, they’re mosquito-like and super fast, biting anywhere at will. They looked over my exposed face, hands, and head and saw bites everywhere, exclaiming “Dios mio..”- they held my bike up while I changed into my bike shorts and a t-shirt and I inspected my badly bitten legs, arms, and torso. Even my bottom lip was swollen-
I thanked them for their help and pedaled away, slowly getting to speed as my body struggled to get itself in gear. After a few hours the swelling started to fade, and after a few beers and a cold shower that night things were looking up again 🙂
Aside from the bug attack, roadside camping was fantastic- the Caribbean is a truly unique area, and the Colombian side of it left me hesitant to head south for the mountains again- but then again, it’s too cold in the mountains for mosquitos!