Introduction

1. December 2016.
The need to travel ended definitely 300 years ago. At that time Gulliver in his four epic trips found everything that was still unexplored on Earth: the islands of Liliput and Blefasku with dwarf inhabitants involved in endless wars over hard-boiled eggs, the kingdom of giants Brobdingneg, the chaotic country Balnibarbi with its lofty rulers on the floating island of Laputa and finally, the land of horses Huihnhnm's with their primitive human-like servants Yahoo's. If there is a truth in the saying that the real journey is the one from which you return changed, then the last Gulliver's journey was a hit in the black center. Literally in black, because after his return from a year's stay at honorable Huihnhnms he became pessimistic, he could not accept the coexistence with his English compatriots in which he saw only a poor cosmetic lifting of barbaric Yahoos. If you too suffer from Gulliver's syndrome, maybe from some journey or maybe you caught it at home while observing the world around you, then I have a therapy that will definitely improve your situation: go to South America.
And what is so special about South America? To begin with, the language. Spanish or Portuguese, in particular in the local dialects, are relatively incomprehensible, which will only be to your benefit. Indeed, in contrast to the notorious proverb that „the more languages you know, the more you are worth“, on a journey it is advisable just the opposite: the less you understand, the healthier you will be. If you do not believe it, just think of birdsongs: if you are regularly harassed by a blackbird's song at four in the morning, imagine just how it would be if you understood it and should, morning after morning, listen to one and the same hurdy-gurdy: "I am the biggest and most beautiful bloke far around". To be honest, you listen to this hurdy-gurdy - in explicit or implicit form – from your human interlocutors most of your life.

Philanthropists will also appreciate a different perception of time and space of local residents. These have succeeded - unlike in North America where the indigenous population is artificially maintained in the reserves with the center of the action in McDonalds restaurants - to genetically mix with their conquerors and to maintain a mystical - even if untrue - esoteric feel of ancient Indians. Locals also have a special perception of time that is described by the word "mañana" which could briefly be translated: "what you can do tomorrow, do not try to do today." Those Westerners who are irremediably infected with the virus of success and productivity will not like it, but this only shows their ignorance of the deep philosophical roots of such posture. Namely, South American natives understood, far ahead of Einstein, the relativity of time and consequently the absence of the present moment, so they didn't bother to make a use of it.



Where to go and why?

Your lightweight cyclist in action again.
5. December 2016.
I have been in South America three times; especially in the first trip incredible events occurred one after another: I admired the mystical Machu Picchu, Inca's masterpieces of architecture in Cusco, walked on islands made of reeds on Lake Titicaca, flew over the mysterious animal figures in the Nazca desert, followed condors in the canyon of Colca, spent the night in the Martian-like landscape of salt lake Uyuni, observed fauna on the "Galapagos of the poor" (Ballestas islands in Peru), squeezed through claustrophobic tunnels in the silver mines of Potosi, climbed on my first 6000 m peak Chacaltaya, was lost on a cargo ship in the meanders of the Amazonian tributary Mamoré and returned to La Paz on a military transport aircraft. After returning home I felt like a superman and a few months afterwards I walked a few centimeters above the ground.

Love bike.
This time however, I opted for a cycle journey from Bogotá to Quito. Why these two cities, of which most people have never heard? The reason is somewhat complicated. Lately I started to enthuse over the theory of relativity of space and time. As I comfortably sat one day in my couch in a working-class suburb of the capital of a relatively stable Central European country called Slovenia, watching the calming family TV-show entitled "Good morning", I wondered whether something like "Bogotá" even existed? Accent on the final "a", which sounds so displaced to the ear accustomed to the melodic Slovenian language, did not persuade me. Less so the name of the local airport, "El Dorado", which resembled the fairy tales about tomb raiders. I wondered whether the Airbus that will fly from Frankfurt will ever reach its goal, or will it crash running out of fuel while circling around a point on the planet where Bogotá should be but is in fact a place where nobody lives and where, in general, there's nothing? That's exactly why I chose this destination: because of the adrenalin charge when you board a plane which takes you somewhere on the existence of which you strongly doubt and just hope that Bogotá and its airport will penetrate from the parallel universe into ours early enough so that the landing will be safe.

Events that unwrapped just before the trip, however, were not encouraging.
Metaphysical forces that I secretly track for some time now and am just about their spectacular exposure, were hugely active this time. There has never been so much talk about Colombia. Firstly, they signed a truce to the 50-year civil war, then refused it, got the Nobel Prize for it, then at Medellin, barely 200 km from Bogotá, an aircraft crashed due to lack of fuel (i.e. exactly according to my forecasts), pilots at Lufthansa begun a strike and just before taking off from Frankfurt a fault on the brakes was discovered in our plane. But, metaphysical forces can also be positive: in Lufthansa's magazine they, obviously knowing that I'm currently obsessed with the issue of time, printed the old Indian proverb: "People say that time is passing; and time says that people are passing." Pounding over this saying occupied a significant part of my journey and in the end I developed a mathematical formulation of it that will eventually stand alongside the theory of relativity.

Bogotá

6. December 2016.
Plaza de Bolivar in Bogota.
Bogotá ultimately proved to be true; in terms of population (they claim to have 8 millions) I can say it's 4 times more real than Slovenia. I quickly got used to this new reality, so I now begun to doubt about the existence of Slovenia. I was somewhat forced into it by a communication disaster. I admit, I am the last of the Mohicans on this planet: I don't have a smartphone. I had a device called cell phone, but curiously it did not work. Public telephones exist in Colombia, but international calls are so complicated that even the trained staff can not cope with it. E-mail requests a verification code, which is - of course - sent to your smartphone. As a last resort I envisaged sending letters or postcards with kind regards - but even these do not sell any more, and post offices, where you should buy a post stamp, are as rare as white rhinos. Do I really have no other option than to get a smartphone, take it out of the pocket every free second and stare at it like a person with special needs?


Iglesia del Carmen.
Bogotá is a megapolis at the altitude 2600 m. Although there's a lot of traffic, the city is bravely occupied by cyclists. There are many cycle paths with mobile bicycle repair shops, where you can get help with smaller, essential repairs. Every sunday all roads except major arteries are closed to motor traffic and cyclists reign. Even on tuesday when I was on my way to the south I was accompanied by a number of riders equipped to the latest fashion. Hat down to their dedication when they have to wade through 35 km of metropolitan traffic to come to tranquil roads for a training and then return back to the city chaos.


Mobile bicycle repair.
The descent from the mountainous Bogotá to the lowland lasts just a few hours and soon you find yourself in the heat of the tropical environment. There a sign of a hotel with a swimming pool may tempt you to finish the ride a bit earlier and take a refreshment. At night you awake to the sound of the tropical storm that lasts forever and in the morning the whole hotel complex is under water. Eventually even the roof didn't hold up and I had to find strategic locations in the bed, where there was no dripping.

Bogota to San Agustin

Flood.
10. December 2016.
Downpour has left consequences on the roads. Halfway towards the village of Agua de Dios a river flooded the road. It was an obstacle that only trucks and a couple of bigger cars could cross, it was impassable for motorcycles, and what was the case with cyclists was not known until my arrival. The current across the road was strong and depth somewhere up to the knees. I decided to give it a try. After all, I had crocs, footwear designed especially to ford water. As soon as I got into the flow, I realized that there will be problems. Water was pulling bicycle from my hands and curious observers hinted me to put it on the shoulder. Being ultralightly equipped, it was easily done. I proceeded slowly, gliding my feet across the bottom. When I arrived in the middle of the stream I got a log, branch, pipe or something similar between my legs. I had to cross this obstacle, but the current was so strong that I was afraid that I will drift if I lifted one foot. I stood in the middle unable to move forward or backward. If I fell then, you would not read this travelogue. Fortunately I got a help from two youngsters, for which I was very grateful. Water represented the greatest threat to my life on my travels. Currently, the result of the match „Me - Water“ is impressive 6:0 in my favor, ..., but water needs only one golden goal for the final win.

An accident on the road #45.
Brave heroes ready to die for their country? Or just playing dangerous games for grown-ups?
Road #45 in Colombia.
Otherwise, the situation on the road no. 45 in Colombia is excellent. The road is impeccable, with one meter of paved shoulder intended for cyclists. If there were not speed breakers before and after every village, I'd describe the situation as ideal. Colombians are great cyclists on the global level. Now I can give a few reasons for this fact: good roads and tolerant drivers encourage that people take up cycling; an infinite number of short climbs and descents, which require constant changing of rhythm, heat and rain soaking roads requiring skills at downhill; all this shapes cyclists as versatile masters.
Notorious speed (and bone) breakers.





Something I'd not wish even to my worst enemy.
One proverb says that man learns all his life and then dies stupid. Mathematically, this can be illustrated with the inverted parabola as a function of time, with the extreme (ie. a maximum) of knowledge somewhere in the middle of life. It seems that I have already gone over the extreme. Why?  Because of stupidities, which happened on this trip and which were not appropriate for an experienced rider. Firstly, I fitted lightweight and very narrow pedals with pins, which previously I haven't tried out and which drilled holes in the my shoes just after two days. Therefore I practically never stood on the pedals, as a consequence I was constantly sitting on the seat, and soon I got blisters on the back side. At a gas station a mechanic took the pins off, which was of a little help, but I finally solved the problem when I bought new pedals. New pedals also needed a new pedal spanner. Secondly, I started with old tires which were fine on a previous trip. But each journey is a story in itself, and so already the third day the front tire was damaged and a few days later the rear one too. I replaced both and just in case I bought spare tube and a few patches. Thus, the bicycle in Colombia received considerable aesthetic and functional "lifting" and some additional weight, which could have been avoided with a little preliminary planning.

After the lunch siesta.
Colombia is not exactly known for its high cuisine. Cheap daily lunch is available at the restaurants, with a soup and a main dish consisting of beans, rice, fried bananas, lettuce and one type of meat: chicken, fish, pork or  rather tough beef. The first time I stopped for lunch, I got a great appetizer soup in which, swimming among other ingredients, there were chicken legs. Mmmmmm, what a treat it was! I remembered reading few years ago that a businessman won a prize for entrepreneurial gazelle because he exported large quantities of containers full of chicken legs to China. I laughed at Chinese then, but now, when I tried the soft, juicy chicken legs in warm soup, I had a revelation. I can predict that the next Gazelle will undoubtedly bring this delicacy to the European consumer. It's only a question of time - and of aesthetics. Indeed, today, when the cooking product is more appreciated as a work of art then as a dish, the biggest challenge will be how to aesthetically incorporate chicken legs into the culinary creation a la Cézanne.


Rio Magdalena.
A toilet with a view.
Why travel? This is the eternal question. As for me, my greatest motive is to change the scene, the environment, to interrupt routines. One of the goals is also to get into better physical shape and lose weight. I usually succeed, after four days of cycling I'm already slim as an otter. This time however, I had a lot of problems. On the fourth day, when I came into a love nest, a motel which is hired by the hour, a look at my physical appearance shocked me. The motel room was adequately equipped, i.e. with a double bed and large mirrors all around. So I had the chance to assess my current physical-esthetical state. I was quite disappointed. It was far from Hollywood. If something essential will not change until the end of the trip, I will be forced to implement drastic measures such as diet, fitness, radical healthy life. Or break the mirrors.

Central plaza in one Columban town.
San Agustin is a Colombian heritage of ancient culture of megalithic monuments. Somewhere halfway between Bogotá and Quito it was the perfect location to break the cycling routine and indulge into a bit of culturological content. But it was not meant to be. About eight kilometers from this tourist pearl my rear tire blew out. As usual, I was saved by the duct tape, but it was too late for sightseeing. I can not say that I do not regret this missed opportunity, which will not repeat, however, I finished with collecting tourist points of the type "been there, seen that". Now I deal with a new, much more valuable collection: "haven't been there, didn't see it, but came pretty close." You can have a virtual look at San Agustin with Google Maps.

San Agustin to Ecuador

15. December 2016.
Check point at the top of Mocoa pass.
After the incident at San Agustin I bought a new tire in Pitalito. In the store they guarded it like a treasure locked up in a glass showcase. Although it was a Chinese copy of a Continental's tire it cost me more than what I'd pay at home. From Pitalito to Mocoa there was the first serious pass of the trip, at an altitude of 2250 m. Pass is obviously popular among local cyclists. Early in the morning about 30 of them gathered, with road and mountain bikes, all nicely furnished with fragrant jerseys and clean wheels. Roadies stop in the restaurant 3/4 of the way, others insist to the top of the pass and enjoy a 10 km descent to the other side.
Until now, the configuration of the road in Colombia was like a hysterical biorhythm: up-down, up-down and again up and down. After Mocoa, however, so they've told me, the road is flat more or less right to the border with Ecuador. I am very skeptical how non-cyclists assess the state of the roads, but I have so far had a positive opinion about cyclists. But now, I will unfortunately have to change even this: now I do not believe them either. Methodical doubt is now finally complete.


In a smaller Colombian town.

Vista along #45.
After the town of Mocoa the road continues through the Amazonian lowlands. There I reasonably expected a break from endless hills. But, the devil is in the details. Instead of the Amazonian plane I rode through a landscape dotted with green, half-spherical collins about 30 meters in high. Looking at the shape of these hills, I remembered a Serbian whim, which can be akwardly transleted as: "one hundred people – one hundreds wits, one hundred women – two hundred tits". But, such a kind of entertainment passes quickly. When every hundred or two hundred meters you rise and descend for twenty meters, with gradients up to 10%, and it lasts hours and hours, your cycling dictionary begins to fill with not too kind words. In one such Amazonian "flat" section I recorded 525 meters of ascent in 38 kilometers - and I didn't gain a meter in altitude. In the end, it all resembled more of a skate-park than the road. For your information: the trip Bogotá - Quito is 1,268 km long and has 16,029 meters of ascent.


In Villagarzon.

Scate-park kind of road in Amazonian lowland.
In this section of the Amazon region another annoyance occured, namely the long sections of gravel and road works. If I mentioned earlier the cycling vocabulary filling with inappropriate words, here I was lost for words. Cycling nowdays reached a high degree of differentiation. Cyclists are not separated only by road or mountain bikes, today it is important how wide your tires are, whether you have rim or disc brakes, or are you cyclocrossist or „graveller“. For those enthusiasts who newly discovered the romantic mystery of gravell roads I would recommend about 15 kilometers of stony road between the towns Villagazón and La Hormiga in Colombia - surely they will experience a new kind of reality and will probably cross to the next cycling caste called not "gravellers" but "stoners".

Ecuador


18. December 2016.
Crossing the border between Colombia and Ecuador in the Amazon lowlands between La Hormiga and Lago Agrio is relatively easy. Roads in Ecuador are similarly neat and tidy as in Colombia, but soon your nightmares about speed breakers turn out to be true: in Ecuador they mastered this art to perfection, such an obstacle is placed not only in every village but before and after a driveway to every house.

Lamas in Ecuador.
Ecuador proved to be significantly more expensive than Colombia, prices are about 30% higher. But curiously enough, the villages appear much poorer. How can we interpret these two facts: the country is poorer, but the price of life is higher? If we turn to the answer to our economists, we will certainly get interesting and varied interpretations; probably their advice will not be free. I interpret it by reverse causal - consequence connection. The usual connection: a poor country - low cost of living must be reversed: higher cost of living - less funding for life – poorer the country. It is true however that Ecuador introduced the US dollar as official currency - and thereby put itself in the mercy of Uncle Sam.

Even on the human side I have noticed a few differences between the two countries. While Colombians seemed quite self-sufficient and indifferent, Ecuadorians were showing some signs of neurosis. Ecuador is indeed smaller than its neighbors, but being small is relative; compared to some European countries Ecuador is a true giant. While Colombians asked just polite questions, and even that only occasionally to fill in the embarrassing silence, Ecuadorians seemed seriously interested about how I considered their country. That's a typical question of citizens who are frustrated with smallness or insignificance and who need a foreign tourist to pat them on the shoulder and reassure them with encouraging words, such as "muy, muy bonito". What should I have said? Their dilapidated wooden shacks were worse than those in Colombia, about that I could not lie. However, a difference between "nice" and "ugly" is relative, and so I took the liberty of artistic freedom and forthcoming. It cost me nothing, made them smile and the relief was physically felt in the air.

Rainy day while climbing to Papallacta.
Cycling in the rain. Something worse is conceivable only in the ninth circle of hell. Until the penultimate day I however had much luck. Tropical downpours usually occurred at night. Twice I was caught riding in rain, yet this happened late in the day and the worst hit was for the hotel registration books, on which drops were dripping from my nose while I was filling in various data. But the day of the climb from Beaza to Papallacta was different. Rain began early in the morning and after four hours it still did not improve. For some time I hoped and waited, but patience is not my virtue, so I just reconciled with the situation and at 10:30 I started the climb in the rain. It rained more or less all the time to Papallacta, which is at an altitude of 3150 m, and I was soaking wet and shivering, bordering on hypothermia. If I only remember that the day before I cycled at 39 degrees (C)! In Papallacta I got a room with a hot shower and even with the radiator to dry wet clothes. Thanks God for civilization! The second part of the ascent to the Antisana pass, the highest point of the trip at 4035 m, was luckily in dry, albeit cloudy weather. The road over the pass is incredibly good, like an amazing insert from a parallel universe there was even a double cycle track (made for whom?). I then descended to Quito for 1400 m, mainly on six-lane highways. A cycling colleague helped me to the center of the capital city of Ecuador and inspired me ("!Vamos, vamos!") to make the last few kilometers of the trip in a slightly more intense rhythm.


Toward the 4035 m Antisana pass.

And downhill from the pass.

Quito. My final destination.

Old Quito.

The next day was Sunday. Arriving at my final destination and because of the fact that it was Sunday, I had little desire for further cycling, but when I looked at a multitude of riders on a Sunday in Quito, which like in Bogotá occupied the city's main artery, Avenida Rio Amazonas, that encouraged me to join them and in a tranquil, silent ride I slowly arrived 30 km outside the city to the point "Mitad del Mundo", a place where the line of equator is passing. This - and the journey back to Quito – ultimately ended this pleasant South American adventure, without pretensions to announce any particularly paramount final message.


The line of equator in Mitad del mundo.