Cycle Touring up in the World in Colombia – Giron to Zapatoca – South America

Giron, Santander, was a very pretty little town with steep cobbled streets and orange tiled rooves
We spent two nights in a hotel just off this piazza in Giron, Santander, having a bit of a rest, more from the constant noise of loud music and the roaring of lorries than from the cycling. Although it is a touristy place it is full of Colombian extended families, from grandma down to the latest tiny offspring, all enjoying each other’s company walking around the plaza, talking and eating. The eating involves massive quantities of very sweet cakes and puddings  (and I can’t blame them as they are delicious).
All the sidewalks were really high, between 1 to 2 feet. We discovered why when it started to rain and torrents ran down the roads
One of the old houses in Giron

After leaving Giron we cycled the biggest ascent that I have ever done in one day, although we have been much higher. It was like cycling down into the Grand Canyon and then up twice the height on the other side, between stunning, massive red cliffs. We were cycling from Giron to Zapatoca in Santander, Colombia and the total climb was 1945 m (6321 feet). Add to that at the start of the climb it was 35°C.

after leaving Giron we went past some very fertile farming land with fields of tomatoes, peppers, pineapples and papayas.
Looking down the 450m descent we had to do before the 1400m ascent to Zapatoca. 6 hours later near the top this had dropped a bit to 28°C. The climb was mainly on nice tarmac, but about 19km before the top, just when my legs were really tired, the surface deteriorated to red sand and rough stone stuck lumpily together with a bit of tarmac.
Having a bit of a breather on the way up.
We dropped down into the canyon and the temperature rose rapidly. We were hoping for cloud as we knew there would be no shade on the way up and we would not make it if the temperature went up to 40°C.
As we contemplated the climb a local driver kindly offered to drive our bags up to the top, but we did not really want to be parted from them just in case. We regretted this an hour later! Looking down at where we had come from. We are only half way up at this point!
When we first left Giron we had to climb 200m on dirt roads leaving us covered in dust from heat toe, including between the teeth.
Zapatoca was lovely. Very mild and very laid back. We were there for 6th January which is a big fiesta day in Colombia, the day of the 3 Kings.
We were woken at 5 a.m. by what sounded like a band marching down the street followed by a volley of fireworks. On investigation we found these men letting  off rockets in the traditional Colombian way. After about twenty rockets they all lept into their trucks and sped off before the police arrived.
We had a lovely surprise a few days ago as we got a phone call at the hotel from Marina, who we had met on our hike to the Lost City before Christmas. She had been following our route on the blog and had worked out which hotel we were staying in, so she dropped in for a chat on the way from the airport to her parents house. We spent the following day in Bucaramanga with Marina and visited her lovely family.
We had problems ordering food in restaurants due to our bad Spanish. Several times we think we have ordered as the waitress has repeated what we said and written it down, then 10 minutes later another waitress is sent over to try again, then insists I go with her to point at the type of raw meat I want them to cook.
All the smoke from the BBQ keeps the file’s away, but I didn’t fancy the meat. The couple behind the smoke are buying milk.
Cooking my eggs and arepas, which were really good. Cycling 20km before breakfast gives you a good appetite. By this point we had got used to there being no menu. I just ordered what I felt like eating. She went to the shop, bought the ingredients and cooked.