I passed a big (cycle) road race on the way out of Cali- there was a big escape in progress, which the police seemed to be enjoying. There were as many police motorcycles escorting the lead group as there were surrounding hundred or so other riders in the peloton. Blue lights, sirens, and much beeping of horns at the empty road in front of them. The race was on one side of the dual carriageway, heading into town, though for some reason traffic on both sides had been diverted. These things seem to apply flexibly to two-wheeled travellers however, so I had an all but empty road for a good distance.

Almost 400km from Cali .. San Juan de Pasto, at 2500m and only 80km from the border with Ecuador. Pasto has a very different feel to the towns further north. The road here is good, but there is definitely a certain sense of remoteness.The panaderias do not disappoint though; baked goods are important.

Pasto is about 2000m higher than Cali – but there is well over 6000m of climbing between here and there .. which was hard work. The road undulates and winds endlessly around the steep mountain folds for much of the distance- the past few days have been some of the most rugged countryside yet. As ever, there are a number of settlements that aren’t marked on the map (though OSM has lots if detail that google doesn’t) – noticeably less frequent though as I moved south were the fruit sellers/drinks stands that have been such a feature so far. There is less ground suitable for cultivation, and definitely fewer people. I’m not sure what Ecuador will be like, but I think I will have to start carrying more water. There is a reasonable amount of vegetation here, but clearly not much water. I got properly wet in the rain a couple of times in the first 200km out of Cali, but since then the landscape has changed noticeably- what rain there has been was very light.

Twice I stayed in towns that weren’t marked on my map- one night I ended up talking to two gold prospectors. (Apparently there is lots of it to be found- certainly there are a number of places in Pasto offering to buy it.) One thought I was probably a good match for his daughter (she looked a bit skeptical) – though they both thought I was quite likely to depart in the morning, never to return; a fair assumption.

I had all but run out of water two days before arriving in Pasto- I stopped at a house with a small shop to ask if there was anywhere to stay. (The steep hillsides and dense, scrubby vegetation afforded few places to camp, the only suitable ground being next to the river, easily 100m below) It turned out to be a hospedaje .. of sorts. The room was tiny and airless, so I set up my hammock on the porch, and slept under the stars, about 10 feet away from the trucks rumbling down the PanAm highway. I was not alone- the man of the house also slept on the porch, agreeing that the cooler air was preferable.

The last stretch up to Pasto was punishing- I ran out of time and energy not far out of town, so slept frustratingly close by. About 5km outside the town there is a tunnel a little more than a mile long; motorcycles (and presumably bicycles) are forbidden. As soon as I even noticed this, a guy with a pickup stopped and offered to drive me through- it seemed impolite to refuse. He didn’t stop on the other side, and kindly drove me down the hill into town. Just as well, perhaps, as my rear brake pads were worn down to the metal, and front ones were not much better. It took over an hour to locate a bike shop that had pads (‘Pastillas’) for disc brakes.

Ipiales is the next destination- it isn’t that far away.. but I suspect it won’t be particularly easy. The road climbs up again to 3200m early on .. I have a growing suspicion that much of Ecuador will be like this. If nothing else, I feel slightly more justified in wearing a tshirt with a picture of mountains and stars on it.

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