Colombia

Casa de Ciclistas

Those of you that pay attention to my scarce postings on facebook have probably noticed that I managed to reach Ecuador. Not only that, I actually managed to reach the southern hemisphere. For the rest of you that did not know that – Now you do!
Colombian part of the travel continued in the same style as I was mentioning in my previous post. Seemingly endless and at times meaningless climbs that were followed by descends which, due to all the breaking they required, gave me soring knuckles on my hands. Once I actually managed to break so hard that the front brake pads heated the rim so much I got a puncture. Given the fact that this happened on a downhill going almost 30 kph, the end result was fairly predictable. First a bit of dancing on the road, trying to catch my balance, and to top it off examining the texture of the asphalt from way too close. When we eventually stopped, Lou and I were kings of the road, literally since we occupied all of it.

This however was not the only opportunity I got in Colombia to practice my skills of replacing (and repairing) the tube. All in all in Colombia I did it almost 10 times which for me is a lot.
Cannot really claim that I have learned much new stuff. Not that I have already known everything there is to know about it, it’s just that I do not really poses a talent for this kind of things. But be it as may, this is also an integral part of traveling by bicycle, same as oatmeal breakfast or the ability to eat and almost endless amount of food and after half an hour you could do with a snack. Or the daily search for a place to pitch your tent, an activity where imagination is your best companion. But when you are wandering with a bicycle through Latin America this last activity has a specific – Casas de Ciclistas.

Casas de Ciclistas are locations spread out throughout Latin America from Mexico and Guatemala all the way to Argentina and Chile. It apparently all started in 1985 in Trujillo, Peru where a local man, Lucho opened the doors of his home and invited in all the wandering cyclists that roam the roads and trails of South America. From then this kind of hospitality, so typical of the region, is spreading all over the continent and beyond. This kind of houses aren’t exactly in every town which makes them even more appealing and welcoming where they are.
My experiences with these cyclists safe heavens are currently limited to two locations, San Antonio de Prado (close to Medellin, Colombia) where Manuel and Martha make sure cyclists have a roof over their head and Tumbaco (near to Quito, Ecuador) where it has been 25 years since Santiago, Ana Lucia and their whole family started to offer to all the passing cyclists a place to rest and recuperate in the inviting environment of their home.
After my first experience in San Antonio where I came more out of curiosity to see what a Casa de Ciclistas is all about and where instead of the planned 2 days I spent 10, I have adjusted my plas so that I will also stop in Tumbaco. Just that this time around I did not set up any timeframe to my stay. So now I’m here more than 2 weeks without being able to precisely define where did all this time go.
Surely my laziness contributes a great deal to my prolonged stay, after all it doesn’t take it much to convince myself to stay one more day (several days in a row). But there is also another factor that I cannot simply overlook. And that is that while staying here a special, friendly and relaxed relationship develops with family hosting me as well as other cyclists that call this hose their current home. And it is this relaxed atmosphere that leads to the fact that we laugh a lot.
It may happen when I suggest to Santiago, who is dealing with a rat that has settled in the old house, to use one of the proven methods that have been captured in depth in the documentaries about Tom & Jerry (this is a short compilation of more powerful ones).
But there are also other temporary residents of this address that contribute to the laughter. For example, there was an elderly French cyclists that has during my stay also stopped here. Somehow the conversation lead to his one might say almost genetic proneness to accidents and comic situations. One evening he was telling a story how he, several years ago, almost destroyed peace talks between some armed groups in Chad. His method included him trying to be helpful and change a gas cartridge on a camping stove. This on its own is not really funny, but let me shed some more light on to it. This was happening in an old house in the centre of a village where, just the night before, they managed to come to an agreement about the cease fire with both negotiating groups being still in the village while he was replacing the cartridge in the kitchen. While doing that he manage to perforate the cartridge next to an open flame. What followed was a small detonation, he survived. But when he showed himself at the kitchen door (this is how I have pictured teh scene), a little burnt and all black, he was greeted by a group of armed men that thought there was a bomb attack.
Once you hear this and similar stories, laughter is guaranteed.
And this is also why I’m being “held” on these locations.

But truth be told, I should not try to diminish my laziness. One proof of it is that this post took me 3 days to write (not counting the days just thinking of writing it) and the end result is not really a masterpiece, isn’t it!
The only effective recipe for laziness I know is to kick myself in the ass and move. So tomorrow I’ll be back on the road – Or will I?!

With a Smile on my face, until next time!
Simon

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Coffee, coffee!

Let me first address the obvious. It has been a while since my last post and all I can say to that is – I’m lazy!

The last time I checked in was from Casa de Ciclistas in Medellin. A place where I intended to stay for 2 nights but left over a week late. It’s just the kind of place where you just really enjoy the atmosphere which somehow drags you in. Together with other cyclists who currently call this house their home you are sharing moments, ideas, meals and time. There you can also find travel companions. And so I left the house in a company of a Uruguayan couple, Mauge and Seba. Together we have then went on discovering the incredible popularity of cycling in this country.
Nowhere on Earth have I seen so many recreational cyclists on the roads as here in Colombia. Cycling here seems to be almost as popular as football. We were overtaken by at least 5-10 cyclists on daily basis.

The route took us south towards the area known as Eje Cafetero or the region where the most Colombian coffee is produced. The best is obviously exported so what is left is not exactly the best one you ever had but at the same time it’s not exactly bad. Though it is better if you have an option to prepare your own. At least in my case there are two reasons for it. The first one being that they make coffee with “agua panela”. Agua panela is water that has pieces of hardened sugar cane juice dissolved in it. This obviously adds some particular flavour to the coffee. The flavour itself is not that disturbing, but it does have a side effect. A coffee prepared in this manner could sometimes be more accurately addressed as liquid caramel. Too sweet for my taste.
But one could get accustomed to this. For me a more disturbing fact is that they are skimp on coffee itself. It is not rare that, due to the meagre amount of coffee in the drink itself, you can see the bottom of the coup. It’s more like a coffee-flavoured tea. And this is something that I cannot get used to that easily.
But to get back on the track. The more we were getting into the interior the more it was becoming obvious to me why Colombian cyclists are renown to be such a good climbers. After leaving the coastal plains a flat road in Colombia becomes almost as rare as a unicorn. It is all more like a constant rollercoaster with endless ups and downs. And as if the topography of Colombia in itself would not be enough we ventured into a region where coffee is grown. Come to think of it, I cannot really remember if I had ever seen a photo of a coffee plantation that was not taken on a steep slope. And so we sweated into climbs and tortured our brakes on descends.

But the efforts were worth the struggle. Yes we did voyage through a beautiful landscape, but after cycling more than half the way around the World (including my first wandering in the East I made more than 25,000 km – Earth’s circumference on Equator is 40,075.16 km) the landscapes normally do not capture my attention that much. What still keeps on surprises and inspires me again and again are the people that I meet. Their willingness, so natural and so human, to help a fellow human.
So whenever we have asked for a place to pitch our tent we got it. Sometimes even more. On one occasion an elderly men Oliveiro just outside of La Pintada offered us a place adjacent to his house. It was some kind of a studio that was not really used and it became a very nice home for one night for three cyclists.
Or on another occasion when in Chinchina we were all exhausted and tired sitting next to our bicycles in a park. Just before we stopped by the fire station but were declined a shelter since they had bad experiences with cyclists before. They directed us to the nearby park. There we sat down thinking about not really appealing option to camp there. We were instantly surrounded by about 10 kids (not sure about the number. There were actually more of them but they constantly rotated between who was next to us and who was distracted by something else) aged 5 to 15. To my luck there were Mauge and Seba next to me. They are waaay better in Spanish than me. Something that is very useful in moments where there are curious children’s questions flying your way from all directions. Somehow through the questions, comments and facial expressions of the kids and some adult passer-byers we managed to sense that the park seems not to be the safest option around. And then out of the blue comes Marlon, a boy short of 10 years old who came to tell us that we can leave our bicycles and stuff in the house of his mother Sandra. And we can also go and take a shower there. This gave us some sense of security (no, no the shower but the option that we can leave our equipment someplace safe). And later when we all had our shower and basically were just waiting to get late so that there would be less of a crowd around and that our setting up of tents would not draw too much of an unwanted attention, Marlon appears again. He tells Muage that his mother would like to talk to her again. So Seba and I stay holding the fortress while Muage goes to talk to Sandra. Meanwhile Felipe, a talkative teenager offers to fill our water bottles.
Upon return Mauge has difficulties holding back a smile across her face. “Sandra says the do not really have a lot of space but if it is OK for us, we can sleep on the living room floor. We just have to wait until 10:30 p.m. when she puts away her street vending foot cart.” Not only are we OK with sleeping on the floor, we enjoy it. And we also buy dinner from her.

Yes and there are many more stories like this. They seem to be more and more like an everyday occurrence. And it is experiences like these that keep on confirming my faith in Human.
I know, some of you will say that in my faith in human kindness I’m naïve. That I can let myself give into this naivety only when travelling that the real (?) world back home is different. That in the everyday individualism and more and more consumer society where I have to have it all there simply is no room for this kind of naivety. That this kind of selfless kindness to a stranger (fellow human) just stands in your way in your perpetual struggle to have more. And that the fear of others (foreigners) that can only take away not only this more that we strive for, but also what we already have (which cannot really be worth that much since we “need” more) is a completely acceptable and in some way the only acceptable way to deal with the modern World. One could also say that is the only human way to go.

Well, it’s not!
It’s not the right way and should not be acceptable. Since it is not our natural response to a fellow human. It’s a response that is being on every step more and more successfully instilled in us by the capital and the consumer society.
And it’s because of that that I’m even more grateful to all the Oliveiros, Felipes, Marlons, Sandras, Davids, Lupes, Jaimes, Hugos, Mauricios, Julietas, Alejandros, Hectors, Walters, Isas, Alfredos, Rebens, Wilmas, Oscars, Maris, Miguels, Droyses, Paolas and all the other unknown (the name list represents just a few that I have met on the route from Medellin to Pasto) that you are here! That you are a part of my Journey! That you are maintaining your (and with it so also my) humanity!

With a Smile on my face, until next time!
Simon

Coffee

Coffee

Coffeeland

Coffeeland

Cofee Plantation

Cofee Plantation

Climbing Out Of A Canyon

Climbing Out Of A Canyon

There Are No Shortcuts

After four days of turning the pedals in the heat of the lowlands I have made it to a decision point. Which route to take? Before me were the foothills of the Andes. Mountains that offered so much needed freshness in a form of more bearable temperatures. But first I have to earn it! The hills needed to be climbed.
I was faced with two options. The main road, more direct with good tarmac but also with a very serious climb. In less than 40 kilometres you ascend from just over 100 meters above sea level to more than 2.200 metres. Just the thought of the climb was tough enough.
There is also another route. A side road that is a bit longer but the climb is gentler. It does not even pass the 2.000 metres mark and it stretches over 80 kilometres. A distance almost twice as long as the one on the main road.
Since I’m not what you would call an enthusiast for climbing, the decision was obvious. The side road was far more tempting. Despite the additional kilometres I’m make it to Medellin about a day earlier than if I was to take the main road. A kind of a shortcut one might say.
On the first day a nice tarmac road takes me to the beginning of the climb. I spend the night in a tent set up under a roof on a farm. In the local norm of daily showers an additional roof over my head is always welcomed. And that night it rained.
The next day after about 10 kilometres the road conditions changed dramatically. Good tarmac was replaced by rough gravel/rocky road. A mix of rough rocks, mud, puddles and an occasional stream crossing the road. My progress slows down, a lot. Most of the time it is completely irrelevant whether the road goes up, down or it’s flat. Uphills are slow and require effort, a lot of effort. Downhills are hard since I have to break all the time. I cannot afford to be too fast. I never know when I will while breaking at a too high speed slid, lose my balance and find myself face first in a puddle whit a bit of luck only badly scratched. Flat areas are a story all to themselves. Given the road surface I have to be maximally concentrated and in search of the most optimal route. The kind that will not drain too much of my energy (I will need it more for the inevitable climb that lays ahead) and will get me through shaken as little as possible. My average seed drops to 5 km/h.
Gravel/rocky road takes me two days to make the 80 kilometres and the “shortcut” all of a sudden ceases to be what I expected to be when I was just thinking about it. Reality is normally different from our thoughts and expectations. As if I was getting some sort of a message. A gentler climate and the ascend into the mountains has its price, its tax. And this has to be “paid” regardless of the route you take. As it is in Life, every experience has its price and the payment of it is a necessary part of the experience itself. It’s a part that gives value to the experience. It enriches it!

Currently I’m enjoying the fruits of my labour in a sanctuary for a weary cyclist. In Casa de Ciclistas Medellin. For the first time since I left Guatemala I had to unpack my jacket and my sleeping bag.

With a Smile on my face, until next time!
Simon

On The Value Of A Shower

For the first 10 days I have tasted Colombia gradually, somewhat restrained. I was very fortunate that through couchsurfing I got in contact with some warm and hospitable people. This way I had had my first taste of true Colombian coffee in Barranquilla accompanied by Daniel, Lili and Wilburto in Puerto Colombia made sure I got acquainted with local food while Cielo, Marta and Salomon enabled me to get a proper rest in Cartagena.
Based on the first impressions I would say Colombians are happy people that like to laugh. Sure they do have their own problems but they seem to disappear with the first sounds of salsa. Every small shop, not to mention bars, of any importance has at least one, evidently oversized loudspeaker from which rhythms of salsa come screaming normally in the afternoon hours. And it is not rare to see a couple or two outside on the terrace dancing to this sounds.

After ten days of heat and humidity of the coastal plains (35°C mixed with humidity give a feeling of 45°C) it was time for me to head inland. Somewhere in front of me lay hills and with them a promise of more bearable temperatures. But the initial few days will still be marked by the heat. It is going to be tough!
On the first day I managed 85 km before reaching a roadside restaurant whose owner, Jhon kindly allowed me to set up my camp somewhere behind it. Anywhere will do.
I looked around for a while before settling for a decent location on a patch of dirt which is a kind of mixture between clay and fin sand. It is the flattest area and I seem to be the least in the way.
Once I start to set up my tent it starts to rain. This rain feels so refreshing!
It only rains for about 20 minutes. Not really heavy but enough to make everything wet. And my decent piece of dirt becomes very decent mud.

I was furious with myself. As if it was for the first time in my life that I was picking up a location for setting up my tent. The next morning I did however confirmed to myself that there really wasn’t any other better option available around here, but this did really help in the given moment.
Besides turning everything around to mud the short-lived rain also contributed to an incredible rise in humidity in the air after it stopped raining. Inside the tent it was like sauna. Just entering and I was covered in sweat. Even my glasses got all misty.
The night was humid. No, outside it was not raining anymore but sweaty as I was I managed to thoroughly soak the silk liner I use as a sheet. It was just short of needed to be drained. All the clothes from yesterday that were wet partially by my sweat, partially by the rain, were as wet in the morning as they were when I left them last night. And outside there was still mud that I have, in surprisingly low quantity, managed to get on quite a few of my stuff.
I wasn’t feeling very olympic (for those of you that have no idea what I mean by this, here’s a link. For the other, you can still click on it) when Jhon came around.

“Did you get a good night’s sleep?”
“So, so!”
“Mosquitos?”
“No.” (and surprisingly they were not biting during the night, nevertheless they were way more successful in the evening and also early morning)
“Have you had a shower?”
“Yes, in the evening!”
But wait, I can have one now as well. Given the fact that this restaurant has a toilet with a shower water is no problem. And why wouldn’t I take another shower?!
I grab my towel, soap and straight for the cold shower. I turn the handle and from the pipe in the wall comes water. Cold, pleasant, refreshing. I’m enjoying it!
All that anger and negativity with which I have started the day and came here to the shower, is slowly disappearing as if it was being, with the help of this refreshing water, slowly rinsed off.
From the shower I come smiling, ready for another day of Dreams.
Coffee that Jhon offered to me was great.

Interesting how a “small thing” like a cold shower can change your day.

With a Smile on my face, until next time!
Simon