Week 16 - The Road to Los Nevados National Park
Updated: Feb 23
After an awesome time in El Cocuy, and me starting to feel better, we headed South and all I can say is that we had some of the best riding of the trip, despite accidentally taking a trip through Bogota that took almost two hours! Our destination was in the region of Los Nevados National Park in the coffee region, and the town we headed to was Murillo. It had been on our list of places to visit for quite a while. It was going to be Kelvin's birthday and also our South African friends Michnus and Elsebie were there, so we were looking forward to a good weekend!
Sogamoso, Armero and El Libano
We left El Cocuy to go South and the route out of El Cocuy took us up and up to a total of about 4115m, the highest altitude we have been at so far and we could definitely feel it. Despite the headache, we saw some amazing views of the snow capped mountains in El Cocuy National Park. The road was all dirt road with spectacular scenery, and some wierd plants (Paramo) growing by the hundreds. On the route further South we passed multiple coal mines with most workers we saw walking around coated in a thick layer of black powder. Poor lungs!
It was an awesome day riding, in fact it was in the top two days of riding of the whole trip so far.
We stayed at a hotel (SD Hotel) at a BioMax petrol station in Sogamoso. Many of Colombia's fuel stations have hotels, and they can be quite a convenient and cheap option, although this one was a little pricier than the average ones I thought at 60000 COP (approx. £15). After a really long but wonderful ride we were both tired and hungry, but the manageress at the hotel happily ordered us a takeaway Hawaiian pizza, much to our delight. Also, the bed was amazing with the best pillows, duvet and linen we had enjoyed for a long time, so after a hot shower we snuggled up and went to sleep.
One of the main reason's for returning to this area on the Eastern side of Bogota was to see some tunnels that had been recommended to us by Rory during our stay in Bogota. Kelvin particularly likes tunnels so it had been on our to-do list. We headed further South from Sogamoso in order to get near to the tunnel area by the end of the day. Unfortunately, Kelvin's back brake went on a corner, so he overshot it hugely. Luckily nothing was coming the other way so he didn't get squashed. We took it very steadily for the rest of the day. We had decided to try and take the back roads, however it turned out to be very slow because Kelvin had to be so cautious as he's quite reliant on the back brake off-road, especially with all of the weight, so we headed for the tarmac and we covered quite a lot of ground by the evening. We stayed at a hotel called 'Gran Central Hotel' that we happened to see in Guateque, the last big-ish town before the tunnels. We also found an Asado chicken place, so we were sorted.
On having a closer look at the bike the next day we discovered that the issue with Kelvin's brake was the rear brake hose. We left the hotel and headed East in the direction of the tunnels, which we soon reached. They were large tunnels between about 150m and 500m, carved through the rock of the hill-side, and quite good to ride through, except when Kelvin purposefully made his bike back-fire and the sound resonated very loudly throughout the tunnel, making me jump. We saw some of the lake, but after four or five tunnels we turned around and headed back West in the direction of our next destination: Los Nevados National Park. We chose to travel on Tarmac roads due to the brake issue, however they were spectacular (apart from going through Bogota), taking us on endless winding roads up into the mountains and then back down into a huge valley, however it was getting dark by the time we reached the valley floor, and after about an hour of riding in pitch black we managed to find a truckers hotel called 'El Rey del Camino' (The King of Trucks I think) for 22000 COP (£6), an absolute bargain! It wasn't a great nights sleep as being down in the valley it was much hotter and other people coming in and out at all hours was quite noisy, but we had needed to stop, and we didn't have a huge ride the next day.
The next day we got to a town called El Libano. We stopped at the first motorbike shop to ask for a brake hose, which they didn't have, however we got some nuts, bolts, a new brake light for Kelvin and a back up flashy strip light. They pointed us in the direction of another shop that they thought may have a brake hose so we headed off to find it. There we bumped into a guy called Mario, who we found out was a mathematics professor. He was in the shop, and asked the guys if they had a brake line we could buy. Sadly they didn't. After that, Mario escorted us both to another five motorbike shops, and at the last one we managed to find a braided rear brake hose! It wasn't a perfect fit but it was functional and meant Kelvin had use of his back brake again.
After our brake line success, Mario took us to his house for lunch with his wife and two kids. They gave us chicken and patacones (squashed and fried plantain), which was lovely and better than KFC. They served us and told us to eat, then we discovered they had ordered more for themselves as they had given us their share! Mario then took us to a fruit shop around the corner, together with his two daughters and tow of the neighbours kids, and we all tried several fruits. When we tried the Maracuya (passion fruit) he asked his daughter to get a spoon and sugar from his house. He cut off the top of the fruit, sprinkled in some sugar and gave it to us with a spoon. It was lush.
He then took us to an antiques guy, who brought out a whole load of old-school irons, one dated back in 1936, which was cool. We then thanked them all and got back on our bikes.
Murillo and Los Nevados National Park
We headed West to Murillo to meet with Michnus and Elsebie again. Murillo was just outside Los Nevados National Park, and a lovely little town with a total of one hotel / hostel. It's nice staying in the non-touristy areas. We found the place with the guidance of a local kid who was hanging out by the tourist office.
We were greeted by our friends and then headed off for a brandy con leche; hot frothy milk with a shot of brandy added. We had a good catch up about all our travels over several of these Brandy con leches each, and a whole bottle of neat rum between us. We also had some awesome food at a local restaurant; the pork was immense as were the freshly cut and fried chips. Mmm mmm! We got some biscuits for the dogs that kept hanging around us and some water for a puppy that looked unwell, and seemed to be in dire need of some fluids. It was a good night.
The Sunday was Kelvin's birthday! Kelvin was given a bottle of Brandy and a carton of milk by Elsebie and Michnus to make his own Brandy con leche. Awesome! We walked around town, took lots of pictures, drank coffee and bought some marshmallows, rum, whisky and nibbles. We then headed down to the local waterfall for a picnic, followed by Kelvin and Michnus going for a skinny dip in the very cold pool below the waterfall...Elsebie and I had the sense to stay on the side! Walking back up the big hill to the town was a bit of a mission due to the altitude, but we made it, and headed for some more Brandy con leche’s! It was another good day.
Murillo has been great with lots of authentic Colombian places and fantastic people. It's not often visited by tourists, however if you are in the region it's well worth a look.
After the weekend we left Murillo and had an absolutely amazing ride...it was one of the top three days of the trip. In fact in the last two to three weeks, we had had three of the best riding days ever! We were so glad we had stayed in Colombia longer. That day we had awesome views and covered 40km on gravel and rock roads towards Los Nevados National Park. It took us a few hours to complete the 40Km as we stopped for loads of photos. Excellent! I also did a lot of standing on my pegs while riding to test my new bar raisers and get used to being stood and controlling the bike, changing gears, braking etc., downhill and on corners. We got to an informal camp spot called 'El Sifon' at 4000m altitude...and we felt it!
We all set up camp then took our bikes to the nearby hot springs led by the chap who owned the property we camped at. It was best thermal
ever, no kidding! It wasn't man made but a natural thermal spring/river and it was only us there. It was idyllic, even with the strong sulphur smell. The chap directed us further down the river where the water was the perfect temperature, as further up it was far too hot.
Later on they made us a camp fire, gave us 'tinto' (sweet black coffee), we toasted marshmallows, made pasta, and drank rum. Excellent! Sadly the sleep was really bad due to the altitude, but it was still a great camp spot.
Much to my disappointment it rained the next day which meant we couldn't see the snow-capped peak of El Ruiz, the huge volcano inside the national park. We packed up our camp once the rain finally stopped at 11am-ish. A guy on another bike, who we'd actually met in Murillo a couple of days earlier, tagged along with us for half the day after we left El Sifon. We took loads of photos again and stopped for lunch at a thermal springs hotel, however it wasn't a patch on what we'd had the day before. After that, we headed to Filandia for the third time in the last four months! We just can't keep away!!! It was a great ride, and despite most of the trip from South Manizales being tarmac, it was full of beautiful, sweeping bends and quite a joy to ride.
Bienvenidos a Steel Horse Filandia!