Colombia had occupied my travel dreams for years. I always imagined expatriating to a tropical, over-caffeinated, mountain town, renting a small apartment over the town square where I would read the classics, become fluent in Spanish and spend the weekends gabbing with locals.
I visited Medellín for the first time in May 2016 to do a language exchange and stay with a host family. What I found was a much more modern, progressive city than I expected, complete with craft beers and French bulldogs. But what really captured my attention was the cycling culture.
In January 2017 I returned to Colombia to embed with a local bike touring company in the Antioquia region as a photographer. Before dawn every morning I would head out to the countryside to photograph cyclists on vacation. We would encounter kids biking to school, ranked BMX athletes, local pro teams training, and even Tour de France icon Santiago Botero, who joined us for rides occasionally. The roads were buzzing with cyclists.
Coffee and cycling have a special relationship all over the world, as morning rides culminate at cafés and water bottles get set aside for macchiatos and cappuccinos. Nowhere else in the world do the two cultures of coffee and cycling collide like they do in Colombia. Of the top coffee producing regions in the world – Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia, Indonesia, and Ethiopia – only Colombia produces cyclists that crack the top 100 ranking.
I wanted to document this relationship in a way that was true to my own experience as a traveler. Countless emails later, I enlisted filmmaker Warren Kommers, known in cycling for directing Racing The End and Specialized Adventure Dispatch, to join me in Colombia to direct a short film. Four close friends boxed up their bikes and flew down to join me in Medellín for a five-day bikepacking journey to Valle de Cocora.
As part of a new series called All The Places, CocoraVelo is the story of coffee through the eyes of a cyclist.
Words by Zack Helminiak, co-founder of Nomadix.