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A journey of self discovery: a writer's female-solo cycling trip in Colombia

Updated: Feb 19, 2020

The passion for cycling we feel at is just the reflect of something that flows in the air in Colombia. We decided to show how this enthusiasm is lived by people that ride through these amazing mountains, by sharing their thoughts about their favorite trips in short interviews with our team.

To start this journey, we met with Dunia, who told us about her great female solo cycling trip from Bogota to her hometown, San Gil (Santander), last December.

Total distance: about 217mi / 350km

Journey duration: 5 days

Hidden Journeys: First, tell me about yourself and about your cycling experience: what do you do, how long have you been cycling, how often you go training…

Dunia: I dedicate myself to write, to edit texts, to teach how to write and how to read creatively. I’ve also practiced climbing for six years now, I have always practiced sports, I do mountain races, I love trail running.

Last October I bought my bicycle and started riding it, but at first, I didn’t feel so good… I was afraid, it was different because I used to ride a smaller bicycle in the city, but this one is an MTB bike, it is bigger, it changed my perspective about my body, about myself and about the bike as a means of transport. Now I always ride my bike, even if I must go really far and then come back, I like going anywhere on my bike, I’m not afraid of cars, I’m not afraid of riding at night, I don’t think anything bad is going to happen, so I just go out and I know it is going to be great because I’m on my bike. I feel really good.

I haven’t been cycling for too long, it hasn’t been even a year, but so far, I’ve liked so much that empowering feeling, it has been so motivating. Now I feel it is easy, you just hop on your bike and you don’t need anything else. That was what got me so motivated, to feel it was so easy and that it made me feel so good.

HJ: Besides riding for commuting every day, do you train?

D: Yes! Well, I don’t know if you can call it training, I go to the places that my friends recommend, or I go with my friends, that’s my training. I obviously do Patios, El Vino, but above all I like going to Choachi. It’s my favorite, a hard route but I love the paramo, the silence, the landscape, I love it. So, you could say I do train, at least on weekends I usually go out to ride.

HJ: What has been your favorite cycling trip in Colombia?

D: Well, it’s the only one I’ve done so far! Going to Santander, I am from Santander and its landscapes are so pretty. Actually, what happened was that, I think I have a problem and I can’t calculate distance, I have a really wrong perception of it and that was great because I started searching and I thought – well, it’s not that far, just 350km (217mi) …

HJ: And how long did it take you to arrive?

D: Well, I decided to do a fun trip, I like so much riding, it is so much fun for me and I feel so good about myself that I wasn’t going to plan a trip to feel frustrated. So, I planned it to be fun, to take the time I needed. You can do it in just three days, but I did it in five. I visited friends and family along the way, it was very nice.

Also, some friends gave me lots of support because the most I had ridden was about 20km (12 mi), and the first stop was Raquira, 170km away (105 mi), so I planned it as if it was a trail running race, and thought, well, I can do it in a bicycle. My friends told me like, if you can’t make it you just call us and we’ll pick you up, it’s okay. They gave me the motivation to make it as far as I was able to, and as far as my body was able to. For instance, on the first day my idea was to reach Raquira, but I had to stop in Chiquinquira because I just couldn’t continue, I was so tired, my legs, my back, my arms, my ass, everything felt too tired even if my mind was doing great. I really wanted to keep going but anyway to reach Chiquinquira was phenomenal.

To plan the trip and to do every fragment as I wanted was great because in the end I achieved it. And it was also very fun, for now it is my favorite. Now I want to ride to the Tatacoa desert, which is a lot less in distance… well, just a little bit less…you can see how my distance calculation is wrong. It’s like 80km less (50mi).

HJ: How was it to ride by yourself for so many days?

D: It was great, nothing bad happened to me. The only thing that happened was that my rear derailleur was too tight, so the chain was skipping between gears. That was the only thing, the chain skipped and got into the pedals so I had to stop and fix it. But everything else was fine, people encouraged me from their cars, in the towns… no one knew me and they encouraged me.

It was nice as well to enjoy the landscapes, the feelings you have during the ride, you go thinking a million things but at the same time, you are not. There is a moment you are not thinking about anything, just feeling this weird joy. It is very fun. That route was very fun because you have a lot of climbs and descends, then plain gaps so you pedal, then rest, and pedal, and rest. It’s cool. People were so nice. They even paid for my meals sometimes, usually men, because they were really impressed, for them it didn’t make any sense that I was riding a bike when I could just take the bus. So I think they admired my achievement and they gave me Gatorade or paid for my lunch… I was like, okay, thank you!

HJ: Did you feel safe?

D: Yes, very safe. I took the main road most of the time, but also some secondary roads and nothing weird happened. I mean, besides the animals, like the horses, the cows on the road… even the dogs but none of them tried to bite me or anything.

HJ: Did you find more surprises or more fulfilled expectations in general?

D: I didn’t have any expectation! I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it. Off course I wanted to reach Santander because that was my challenge, it was my objective, and I finally made it. But the big surprise was that it wasn’t only about reaching the goal, but about my own transformation in the process. I feel I was one person when I left my house in Bogota, I still am, but many things inside me changed. Especially the perception I had about travelling on a bike on my own, as a woman, about facing the challenge by myself, without anyone near, guy or girl, that could tell me how to fix things or help me solve a problem.

The surprises were like that, it was a self-knowledge trip that started by wondering if you could really do that or if it was too crazy and irresponsible. I did think it was irresponsible before I started, I had ridden that bike for just two months, I didn’t really train that much. I thought I was strong as I have done trail running races, and I think that is harder than riding a bike, so that was my logic. I climb, I run, I am trained. It was the way I convinced myself I could do it, but still I was also surprised when I finally made it.

I left Bogota as one person, I thought differently and perceived things differently. Above all, I was very afraid. I was so afraid that I did it, I did it because I was too scared of doing it so, I went for it. During the whole time I was thinking why… why are we so afraid? Why as women are we raised afraid of not being capable? Of depending on someone? I don’t mean I don’t like to share with other people, to ride with other people or doing anything else in company, but it is nice to challenge yourself to do something on your own. Because you reaffirm yourself, you get to know yourself to the 100%. You have no excuses, if you get tired and start crying you have no excuse for anyone. Not that I cried… I was on that search for myself, I did it to challenge myself and I decided to do it exactly because I didn’t feel capable.

That was my process, I did reach the goal but the journey was marvelous because I learned a lot about myself and about the people that surround me. I learned how far you can count on people, it was beautiful because my family was very attentive all the time. I actually became the heroine of my family, I don’t think anyone has made what I did so, I also gave them a challenge to fulfill. I didn’t expect any of it, I just wanted to see if I was able to do it. It was a great surprise to give myself those spaces of self-knowledge and empowerment, which is definitely the word that describes it.

HJ: Was it inspiring for your writing process and your decision to be an entrepreneur?

D: Off course, totally. I feel inspired in all aspects of my life. The word is also freedom. You feel lots of love towards yourself but you also feel free, that sensation of not doing anything besides being present in the moment and give yourself a space. How many times have you given yourself a space to be on your own?

It sounds weird but I think it is great to be with yourself and see if you can stand it or not. It is something you need to ask and if you have a good time or a bad time, I don’t know. I feel totally inspired, like I am a different person in the way I think about life. Obviously I am still afraid of many things, but now I think: Yes, I am afraid, but anyway I’m going to take the risk and try it. So, if I want to switch jobs I do it, and if it doesn’t work then I try another one. I feel now I’m not as afraid of taking risks as before, because sometimes even the simplest things make you feel afraid, but not anymore. This trip was a complete revelation to me in that sense, and it helped me recognize abilities, aptitudes, behaviors and mental habits I have and I didn’t realize before. I recommend it to all entrepreneurs, it works great because you recognize abilities you can use for your venture.

HJ: What would you recommend to other cyclists for that trip?

D: Hmm… it is good to train! At least a little bit, although this route is not too hard. Also, do it fun. If you are going to do it, enjoy it.

HJ: How was your packaging like?

D: I had a saddlebag, and, well, I had a bunch of stuff. I even carried gifts for my family. It was very heavy. For the first part, the first 170km (105mi) I was really heavy because I brought extra water in case I didn’t find stores, and fruits, and a lot of apples… I think you just need to carry the minimum, there are plenty of stalls along the way, so you don’t need the extra water (also, it gets warm). Take some snacks, that is important. Just take what you need for the 3 or 4 days of the trip and take some rests.

After the first day the following paths are shorter, 70km (43mi) was what I did or a bit more if you want, and the last one is 170km (105mi) again. One thing I did that was great was to stop every two or three hours and stretch, mainly the shoulders and the back because they get really tense. Especially when you are not so well trained…

HJ: Great, and finally, what should you eat in San Gil?

D: Everything! The typical food is “carne oreada” [salted beef meat left under the sunlight to cook for about 8 hours], with yellow arepa [thick corn tortillas]. But you can also eat “mute santandereano” [thick soup with pork and beef meat, grains and vegetables], “cabro” [goat meat], “pepitoria” [rice with goat blood and entrails – sounds awful, tastes delicious], fruits, everything you eat there is delicious.

HJ: Anything else you can’t miss if you go to San Gil?

D: In San Gil there are a lot of beautiful places to go, especially to do adventure activities like rappel, rafting and speleology. You can go to “La Cueva del indio”, that’s the best experience for speleology, but also “La Cueva de la Vaca” or “La Cueva del Yeso”.

Dunia is a writer, editor and co-founder of Cuatro Ojos Editorial. You can follow her work at:

All pictures were courtesy of Dunia.

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