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Soaring peaks free of rebels

Aug 06--Once the province of Marxist guerrillas, the mountains outside Bogota remain a secret from tourists.

6 de agosto de 2009

GACHETA, Colombia — The highway that cut across a cloud-shrouded Andean Mountain peak was nearly empty — except for me and my bikemates.

A few years ago, the lack of vehicles on a Colombian roadway could spell trouble. It was a warning sign that around the next bend Marxist guerrillas might be stopping cars and kidnapping drivers for ransom.

Back then, roadside abductions were so common that many Colombians refused to travel overland. The rebels even had a catchy name for their crime — “miracle fishing” — a reference to the disciples who, on Christ’s instruction, cast their nets into the Sea of Galilee and took home a colossal catch.

But a few kilometers later we ran into the first of several Colombian Army checkpoints. Though startled to encounter a posse of gringo cyclists, the soldiers shook our hands and guaranteed us a trouble-free ride.

The zone had been pacified. The lack of traffic, it turned out, was largely due to the fact that tourists had yet to discover this exotic patch of Colombia located just 30 miles from Bogota.

It was the same throughout the trip, which took us through the gorgeous mountain states of Cundinamarca and Boyaca in the middle of the country. During a week of cycling, we didn’t spot a single American and encountered only a handful of foreign or Colombian tourists.
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