Wax Palms in the Colombian Andes

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So I set this website up in 2013 with the good intention of starting a blog. Six years later and I’m finally coming through. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to share a bit more about the process and inspiration behind my illustrations. Also my partner Joe and I have just begun a six month bike packing trip around South America and I’m hoping to create a series of illustrations which take inspiration from this.

We are currently in Salento, Colombia and have just finished the 5 day ride here from Ibague. Before you think I’m some turbo cyclist, I should probably give you a bit of background info. I can’t run for more than 10 minutes straight, I’m not particularly fit or good at cycling up hills and I’ve only been bike packing once before. You might say that 2 days of experience in the Peak District is a fairly big step away from 6 months of cycling in the Andes!

Anyway, I wanted to see this part of the world and I wanted a challenge. Or really, I just want to be like the people who do these sorts of things – strong body and mind, endurance and will power. All words I wouldn’t use to describe myself! And I’m aware these qualities don’t just come to you by chance, you have to work quite hard to get them… So I’m going for it.

The first day was a baptism of fire. We went the wrong way and ended up pushing our bikes over the top of the mountain, instead of taking the nice road that goes around the side. And when I say pushing it was both of us pushing one bike up at a time as it was so ridiculously steep. It took a whole day to scramble up the rocks, but luckily we had a bag full of snacks as well as the energy and enthusiasm that comes with it being the first day of the ride. Unfortunately my bag was not full for very long and I began to question why anyone would willingly choose to put themselves through anything like this.

When we arrived at the top we encountered more problems as the road we needed to take was closed off with barbed wire and a sign saying something along the lines of  ‘No Trespassing’ in Spanish. It was going to get dark soon and there was nowhere obvious to camp. Option A was to jump over the barbed wire fence and hill bomb down a 30% gradient in the dark. Option B was to attempt to ask the people who lived there if we could sleep in their garden. We went for option B which was a wise move. The ground was perfectly flat and the views were amazing as the sun was just setting – we lucked out big time! It was almost worth the pain!

The next morning the good news was that the road we needed to take wasn’t closed any more. The bad news was that there wasn’t much road, just rocks, and it was too steep to ride down without dying. I walked/fell off my bike for most of it whilst planning my escape route. I was having major doubts that I would make it to Salento on this bike!

Not too long after we joined the road we were supposed to be on. Bliss. Yes it was uphill but it was ridable and seemed a lot easier in comparison to the previous day. The rest of the journey was along this long and winding dirt road up and around the mountains with stunning views pretty much the whole way. It was amazing.

It wasn’t easy though. All in all it was a total of 3730 vertical meters of climbing with a max altitude of 3400m. I’ve not done much hill riding before and I quickly discovered that, like a lot of things, the main challenge was a mental one. At certain points I would find myself looking up and thinking there was no chance of me getting up there. I knew my body would get stronger just by pedalling but I would have to sort my brain out myself. I tried to stop looking towards the top and wishing I was there so much. Generally when it was hard I would just focus on the ground passing slowly underneath me and focussing on each breath. It actually really helped and sort of turned into a meditation.

We were slow though. And there were some very un-zen moments on my part. But as we slowly hit each milestone, it was hugely rewarding to look down at the winding roads and seeing how far we’d travelled.

The third day was when we caught our first glimpse of Colombia’s national tree, the Wax Palm, which can grow up to 60m tall! They are native to the mountainous forests of the Colombian Andes and Northern Peru and were the main reason we came to this part of the country. Seeing them towering above us in the rolling valley was amazing and made all the hard work worth it!

The illustration at the top was inspired by that valley – super steep hills, winding roads and towering wax palms being some of the most memorable bits of the journey.

Also I have to give a shout out to all the friendly and hospitable Colombian people who let us sleep in their gardens and gave us water. Everyone has been super kind and generous so far, and I would massively recommend a trip to this beautiful country.

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  • Alex Mac (MrAl)
    August 29, 2019 at 10:31 am 

    Sounds epic. Great read, I could really picture it all 🙂 Keep writing and take lots of photos! x

  • Rachel Taylor
    August 29, 2019 at 8:36 pm 

    Go on Louise, mind over matter!! It’s an incredible trip and that illustration captures the landscape beautifully, keep them coming! X

  • Marcus
    December 22, 2019 at 4:26 am 

    Concern for the environment and the communities in which we operate is embedded in the way we do business. Our commitment to responsible practices and in-depth market knowledge has brought us among the market leaders in many of the areas in which we operate.

  • tracy
    July 5, 2020 at 9:19 pm 

    Bit late to the show myself – although still not six years late – but just found your blogs. A great read and impressive illustrations, very atmospheric. How do we order the prints?

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