Oct 27, 2008

A warm welcome 10/10/08
The bus dropped us at the outskirts of Calarca, in the morning. We took a taxi to the shop, where our bikes and luggage were stored. Gustavo, the owner, an ex-competitive cyclist, greeted us with coffee and a smile. Obviously, our stuff were exactly as we left them.
We found a simple hotel and took a quick cold shower (in Colombia there is no hot shower!). We returned to the shop (Gonzalo arrived) with Ramis’ bikes – they needed some treatment, which we’ve postponed too long. Gonzalo said he knows the best mechanic. While in the shop, we met Andres, one of the gang. He immediately invited us to stay at his finca, just out of town. We happily accepted (a house has more character than ‘another’ hotel); we even got a refund for the hotel room – 50%.

We threw our stuff at Andress’ beautiful finca and took off with Gonzalo (and Ramis’ bike) to his house. His wife, Pilar, was nagging him on the phone about lunch. We were late because of us and the Colombian paste. Lunch was tasty. We enjoyed the company and were amazed by Gonzalos wide knowledge in history, of Latin America, Asia and more. He loves reading and gave Gal a gift – “One Hundred Years of Solitude” (Gabriel García Márquez), her first book in Spanish. Gal was thinking about buying it since we entered Colombia, but Rami managed to postpone it every time with a different excuse (“The book is too heavy”, “You haven’t yet touched your Hebrew book”, “We have lots of work on the blog, first”). This time Gal insisted – it’s a gift! And it’s in soft cover!
Gonzalo took us to Mario (MarioBikeBlue@hotmail.com), the best mechanic in Colombia. It wasn’t a shop, nothing to buy, only a workshop. We learned to appreciate that concept.
We lowered Ramis’ rack. We postponed it for months, due to the ‘eaten’ screws. This probably tore the pannier (if anyone needs advice about Bob-Pannier combination, contact us). He was the first to recognize the noise in Ramis’ crank – water in the screws and easily saved us from this monotonic ‘music’. He also replaced Ramis’ Bob sealed bearings, knowing where to send Gonzalo to get them. He refused to accept money for his work, just smiled, like Colombians do.
Gonzalo took us to his 2 fincas, through 45 minutes of muddy roads, in banana/coffee/orange land; beautiful location, but not so convenient for jumping to the shop.

Gonzalo - gracies para su tiempo y ayuda.

Mario, the best mechanic in Colombia.
On the way back from the finca, waiting for a truck to load.
With Gonzalo.
"Cien años de soledad"

Gonzalo dropped us and the huge bag of fruits at Andress’ finca. While organizing our luggage for traveling (everything was in a big mess), Andres arrived. It was the right opportunity to finally open the Tequila bottle, which we bought for the Galapagos trip and never opened.
On our first encounter, earlier at the shop, there was a click: the love for traveling. Andres travels a lot on motorcycle (he has a motorcycle parked in Armenia, in the Caucasus, waiting for him to finish his Asia travels). We spent an hour going over maps ans photos of Peru, writing down recommendations. Later he gave us his bed and went to sleep at his girlfriend – another perfect host!

Andres – esperamos a encontrar en la via o en Israel.

Andres in the finca.
New panniers (Yossi - thanks, again).
Ready to go.

And... we´re back! 11/10/08
We had a lazy morning and left at 10:40. due to the coffee fiesta (maybe?) there were no trucks for 3 days – cyclists heaven! Our plan was to pass the Buena Ventura junction (the main port on the pacific), and leave most of the truck behind us, during these 3 days. It was an easy ride, sunny (after yesterdays’ storm) and the scenery was pleasant: coffee and platano plantations, and green hills. Every now and then a big bunch of bamboo/Guadua jumped above.

Coffee and platanos.

It was late afternoon. We stopped to check a hotel. Across the street a small open bar played loud Salsa music. We immediately recognized Ramis´favorite Salsa song: “Jala- Jala” by Richie Ray. Rami lightly wiggled his ass, like the locals do (he wish!) and we drove a bit further, dancing sillily on the bikes, to check the other hotel.
Later, we went out, to ‘tear’ the town. Our hotel owner told us there will be dancing (it was the weekend + fiesta). We were skeptic, in this 100 people village. The bar was still playing salsa and the open dance floor was full with people, drinking and dancing. We sat and drank beer in this perfect weather; hot dry with a light breeze. We enjoyed watching the dancing – finally Salsa! The skinny guys with elegant hats, the fat women wiggling their behinds and the 14 year old girls flirting with the 30-40 year old drunks. A happy atmosphere. The bar invited us for another beer and we went to sleep happy.
This is a good time to mention that we barely “go out” on this trip. Usually we camp in the ‘campo’ and fall asleep at 22:00, tiered from the long day and preparing for tomorrows early start.

Climbing a bridge.

Dangerous Colombia – Part II 13/10/08
We decided to avoid Cali; we heard of a cycle tourist who was robbed while leaving the big city. There were more reasons to avoid the big city, but...
We bypassed Cali through a new highway from the east. It was very cloudy and it rained (poured) a bit, wiser to sleep in a cheep hotel.
The next ‘dot’ on our map was Puerto Tejada. In the restaurant we just left we were told there are robberies at the entrance... 4 km before town a scooter came next to us. James, a local farmer, approached to us in English (he lived in the US a few years). He told us of the EXTREMELY DANGEROUS neighborhood at the northern entrance to town, 2 km ahead of us. He suggested to escort us. He was very patient with our speed and we chit-chatted, till we reached a junction: left, bypassing the town, and straight ahead to the ‘hood’.
At the junction there were 2 private security guards, guarding the fields (so no one will still the sugar canes?). after a short debate (bypass the town and enter from the south?) they offered to escort us to town.
So, we crossed the neighborhood, fearless, James on his scooter, on one side, the 2 guards, on a motorcycle, pistol drawn, on the other side, feeling like Ronald Reagan crossing Harlem in the early 80’s. Hundreds of bored people, sitting outside their ram shack houses, waiting for an opportunity to rob 2 cyclists.

With James and the Guards.

More Salsa
We made it to town, found a hotel and searched for an open shop (the fiesta...). we bought the usual vegetables for our nutritious soup and were charged 3-4 times what we usually pay. It was strange, in Colombia, people don't overcharge, not even extrangeros (foreigners). We tried calculating a few more times, but the old man reached a different amount every time, higher than expected for these cheep vegetables. Rami watched him use the crappy calculator, with the broken “+” button, adding 1,300 to 1,100, reaching 13,001,100 (about $4,000) for tomatoes and potatoes, not finding it strange!
We went out for a beer in the evening, hoping for some action on the last day of the fiesta. The few white people in town hid in their holes. We went to a small pub, filled with people, drinking and dancing Salsa. The Salsa atmosphere was fun and it was an interesting experience being the only white people around.

Leaving Puerto Tejada.
Banana break.
Pineapple break.

Riots 14/10/08
To our surprise, the road was still empty, even though the fiesta was over. We met 2 local road cyclists, who told us that the road south is closed, due to riots of a local indigenous group. Even a local police station in a nearby town didn't have a clue.
After 3 days of very flat cycling (!!!) we started climbing and quickly reached a police blockade. We met Gustavo, a Brazilian motorcyclists, who was waiting, a bit lost. We all continued 10 km to Mondomo, a nothing village which climaxed due to these current events. The road was closed just at the exit south of the village, and there were many trucks and cars waiting... beer prices were sky high!
The 3 of us slept in an awful hotel, the only place in town. Camping would have been much better.
All night there were rumors about the road, a dirt road (goat path) going around and more.
The next morning, around 10:00, the road opened. We quickly packed and left, before the road closes again; we've done all the village had to offer!
Just as we passed the blockade we saw an empty truck and hitched it, across the ‘dangerous’ area, more than 14 km! We saw many police forces and lots of rocks and other stuff on the road. There was talk of over 5,000 people rioting all night.
We decided to continue with the truck till Popayan, a bit further, avoiding the millions of trucks, which were stuck for many days.

Trucks waiting...

On the truck to Popayan.

Gals’ headset 15/10/08
We entered Popayan and met Omar, a cyclist, who helped us getting around. He took us to a bicycle shop, to fix Gals’ headset, which one of its’ O-rings was peeking out of it. We recalled that the mechanic in Bogotá was not too sure of how to close it. Quite quickly we understood that the mechanic here was clueless, so we took pictures of the parts, found a nearby internet cafe, called Chris of The Roaring Mouse, our bicycle guru, who referred us to the manual, in the company’s website (why didn’t we think of that by ourselves?). We printed the manual and returned to our bicycles, and easily reassembled the headset. It was already damaged, but it is good enough for now.

Gals' head-set.

Happy anniversary 16/10/08

It was out second anniversary. Rami didn’t like Popayan and was in a bad mood, upset, so there is nothing much to tell...

Nice mountains.

From Popayan, heading south, everything changed. The mountains grew bigger, the country less populated and more indigenous and the traffic disappeared. Cycling was fun. Except for the fantastic diverse scenery there is not much to tell. Climbing and descending 1,000m again and again, in good roads, tranquil nights with locals and our first encounter with a cycle tourists, heading north from Patagonia.

A nice night in a finca with a lonely old man (papas).

On the way to Pasto.

Motorcyclists on the way.

Camping on a roof?!? The best viewpoint.

Many rivers to cross...

Company! On Gals' helmet (for more than half an hour).

Fixing our bikes, the chicken helps...

First cyclist going north!

Small town on the way. We forgot our clean under wares drying. Rami hitched back to get them.

On the way to Ipiales.

The sierra, will escort us for a long time...

Ipiales – for the last time 25/10/08
After being twice in Ipiales, on our way to Ecuador and back, it felt comfortable arriving with the bikes. Our ‘usual’ hotel had a party, so w had the unexpected hassle of searching for an hotel.
On the following day we visited Las Lajas, the famous sanctuary. The road was closed due to a scooter race in town.

Las Lajas.

Cuy! (press for a picture of this cute animal alive...)
Scooter rally.

Spectators, eating cuy.

Goodbye Colombia 27/10/08
The ride to the border was an easy 4 km descent. We were excited, leaving the country after 2.5 months. Since Mexico we haven’t been such a long time in one country.
We left with ambiguous feelings. And now while writing these lines, 2 months later (in particular in Peru, where people are so unfriendly), meeting cyclists on there way north, giving recommendations, we are even more confused.
Colombia is very populated near the main roads and the small secondary roads are unsafe (guerilla). Except for the Caribbean and the far south, there was heavy traffic, mainly trucks; not dangerous for cycling, just not fun.
The Colombian campasino (peasant) is very simple... very, very simple. He eats simple food all his life, doesn’t even want to taste different food (oriental food we cooked), doesn’t know anything beyond his 20km radius. And doesn’t have any estimate of time and distance (“1 more kilometer”... becomes 20km, “30 minutes with bicycles, 20 minutes with car”... and we are drawn, again, to this pointless argument).
And everybody loves to talk with us about religion (“from tierra santa (the holy land), and you don’t believe in Jesus?).
In Colombia the gap between poor and rich was more intense than in other countries, so much that you can’t stay apathetic.

But, one thing overcomes all these negative aspects – the people!
They are warm, friendly and happy, more than one can expect. They will do everything they can to help you and make you feel at home.
We left Colombia with many phone numbers of friends we earned on the way, something new for us. If there is one important thing we learned, is the colture of hospitality. Colombia showed us that we still have a lot to learn. It is true, Colombia is still dangerous, with lots of crime, but from our experience – 99% of the people are extremely nice and good.

At the border.