The Friends of Colombia for Social Aid (FOCSA) hopes to cross the £1 million threshold this year. For nearly 40 years, the charity has been raising money to help children in Colombia by donating more than £940,000 in medical equipment to nearly 100 hospitals throughout the nation.
The big ticket items are incubators to give newborns a fighting chance, ventilators, ultrasound equipment, beds and wheelchairs, among other things. But monitoring is a vital aspect of the work, and FOCSA needs trusted volunteers to check on hospitals to ensure the equipment is being put to good use.
That’s where Steve and Anni Gregson come in. The married couple — 73 and 71 years old, respectively — are currently finishing a two-month cycling tour of various hospitals. They have seen 10 so far while biking from Medellin to Bucaramanga, getting overwhelming responses from the elated hospital staffers.
The official the Gregsons met with in the colonial town of Barichara cried tears of joy.
While the high-mountain roads of Colombia would be enough to defeat many people half Steve’s age, he delights in the ride, doing 40 miles per day and never stressing about bus schedules or hotel reservations.
“All you have to do is pedal,” said Steve. “It’s a very relaxed way of traveling.”
Steve and Anni know the nation well. They first came to Colombia in the late 1970s to work on the construction of a large oil refinery in Barrancabermeja.
“We were 40 or 50 engineering families that came from Europe to help extend that refinery,” said Steve. “All of those families — to this day — say it’s the best job they’d ever been on.”
The job ended, but their love of Colombia never has. They returned in 1991 for a bike trip that began in Venezuela, and have now come back more than half a dozen times for similar journeys.
“Twice we’ve been the whole length of the country, from Ipiales to La Guajira,” he said.
Steve’s history with cycling goes back even further. The U.K. native got his first bike when he was 11 years old as a gift from his parents for passing a test. His love affair started the same as any kid on a bicycle finding freedom, but he and his friends took it further — quite literally — by making longer trips around the country and, later on, to Germany and continental Europe.
Racing also became a hobby. But long tours on the open road, in nations from East Asia to Central America, are what he truly adores.
Now, at an age when many are happy to get in a round of golf each week, Steven and Anni are continuing to traverse a country they love via their favorite mode of transportation. “It’s been a lifelong passion — a 60-year passion — for cycling,” said Steve.
Stolen bike disrupts Globe-trotting trek
Rubina Soorty has cycled all over the world — almost. Despite no experience biking long distances, she headed westward from Northampton, England in May 2013. She ferried to France and traversed the Alps, a hurdle that nearly sent her packing back home.
But she struggled on, crossing Europe, then Iran and onto India, Indonesia and Australia. It took two months to complete the outback before a flight to California and then south through Mexico, Central America and into Colombia.
This was among Soorty’s favorite places to ride. She arrived on Christmas Eve last year and was taken with the people of Colombia. For someone who has seen so many natural wonders, human connections are what have made the trip so special.
“Mountains are beautiful, rivers are beautiful, lakes are beautiful,” she said. “But the thing which keeps me going on my journey are the people.”
Even a recent calamity could not shake her glowing impression of Colombians. Days before a scheduled flight back to the England to celebrate her father’s birthday, her bike was stolen.
Soorty was enjoying some final time in Bogotá and locked up her bicycle while climbing Monserrate, the highest point in the capital and a popular tourist destination. When she descended, her precious ride — an army green bike with orange handlebars — was gone.
Though Soorty knows the chances are slim, she hopes to get it back. Perhaps a kind soul will hear about her plight and help her find a sentimental companion that has become more than a material possession.
She will return to Bogotá soon with plans to complete her full-world trip, finishing in the southernmost areas of Argentina. And with a little luck, plus some Colombian hospitality, she might just get to do it on the same bike she started her expedition riding.