Sep 24, 2008

The Castros – part II 13/09/08
After more than 20km of traffic jams and an amazing ciclovia, we arrived to the house of Miriam and Hector Castro.
After a long time on the road, we longed for a feeling of home, and staying with the Castro's was exactly what we needed! Just the way Edgar & Luzeye welcomed us, Miriam & Hector treated us like family.
We arrived on Saturday afternoon, so they had the whole weekend too spend with us. After getting settled, they took us to stroll in La Candelaria, the historic center of Bogota. The old quarter was filled with young people, a lively student atmosphere, with street shows, bars playing music and an occasional beggar, or 2, or more...
We stopped for Chicha, but the one we drank with Edgar, at Guane, was better ;-) We returned home for a tasty meal, fish & steamed vegetables (Miriam is a fantastic cook!). Tired & satisfied, we fell asleep, knowing there’s a long day tomorrow.

Sundays schedule was ready; we didn’t need to think of anything, just enjoy what Miriam & Hector planned for us. We went up to Monserrat, taking the funicular up, a steep 600m cliff. Gal was terrified, sweating. As we were climbing, Hector reminded Gal, whispering: “Swiss made”! Gal refused to take the Funicular down, nor the cable-car, so us 2 walked sown the 1,000,000 steps (with many other sweating pilgrims & tourists) – a tough walk for those only pedaling! Later, we had lunch in a nice restaurant, in a beautiful setting, n the mountains north-east of the city, followed by merengue with strawberry & whipped cream. We reached just in time for the last tour of the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira; very impressive – mine-wise, very religious - Catholic-wise!
The next 2 days we 'wasted' Hectors time on doctors & clinics. He refused to send us on our own! Living many years in different countries, he probably knows how much it helps when there's a 'local' around. Gal was worried about a pain in her breast (left one), for some time. Hector escorted us through a long Chase after an Ultrasound examination (which showed that everything was fine), waiting over 2 hours in traffic-jams. We wouldn't have managed the day without his help!
We spent an afternoon with Eran, again, in La Candelaria. This time it lacked the magic of the weekend. And our luck, the Botero museum we wanted to visit was closed. Our last day in Bogota was spent on the bicycles. We took them to the recommended shop and had them totally dismantled, cleaned and rebuilt, almost properly. They did quite a good job, cleaning the filthy components (lots of rain & mud), but installed Gal's headset incorrectly, doing some damage, which will be discovered later. For that reason we're not recommending that shop!

At Monserrat.

After lunch, with Miriam & Hector.
At the dentist.
Waiting in line for the doctor.
Main plaza, old quarter in Bogota.
Cleaning the bikes.

Leaving Bogota 18/09/08
Except for the time spent with Miriam & Hector, Bogota was all business for us. The doctors and the bikes consumed all our time and energy and we returned ‘home’ so late that we didn’t have time for Internet or calling back home, god forbid updating the blog.
But we couldn’t linger at all, we had a deadline. We were supposed to meet Ramis’ parents in Guayaquil, Ecuador on September 28, and fly to the Galapagos islands on the following day. We had to catch a bus (or a few) to the Colombia-Ecuador border (20 hours?), a bus to Quito (5 hours) and then a bus to Guayaquil (10 hours), and take into consideration Gals’ bus-sickness and our need to go to the toilets.
We needed to find a place to store our bicycles and gear. Bogota was too early. Our best options were 2 members of warm showers; in Armenia and in Cali. Cali seemed too far away; even reaching Armenia would be tight.
It was time to leave Bogota!

We were glad to hear that Eran decided to continue with us; we were amazed he didn’t eat enough ‘shit’ from us (or bananas!). He was developing into Ramis’ protégé, not making any mistake twice, but making quite a lot of first-time mistakes. It started with cutting the tomatoes on the Teflon pan, a scar that will escort us for the rest of our trip and continued with leaning on our fragile tent, which barely holds the mosquitoes (he denied it, but “big brothers” were watching). On his first days with us, he was only allowed to dry the dishes (not even wash them, yet!) and peal the vegetables (he was a natural...), and yet, we were all the time watching...
But, we admired him for surviving a very intimate and difficult voyage with 2 fanatic lunatics, who know every weakness of their gear and can build camp blindfolded in 20 minutes, but still manage to argue about everything! Even about these lines!
Hernan Gomez, “the next generation”, came this time prepared, bringing a small towel (after us giving him a tough time for his huge, fluffy towel, threatening to cut it to 2) and leaving behind his shirt and pants which weight a ton and takes for ever to dry.

Eran picked us up at 07:30, received Ramis’ old cycling gloves (Rami had new ones waiting for him at Bogota, thanks to a visit of Hector in Israel) and was ‘knighted’ in a respected ceremony, with our machete.
Leaving Bogota was quick and easy compared to the entrance.

Ready to leave.

Zancudos, attacking Eran.

We sent Eran to buy bread for breakfast for the first time... let’s hope he won't fuck-up!
He came back with a big bread, wrapped (hmmm...)
We went down the street to the view point, at La-Mesa for breakfast, but instead of the deep valley we only saw clouds, so thick we barely saw a meter away.
The bread turned out to be coconut bread – terrible! But, it wasn’t Erans’ fault; it’s the Colombian bread. For some reason, their bread is terrible; every second shop is a bakery, but still, the bread is terrible. Trust us, we tried them all.
We descended quickly to the low and hot Magdalena valley which separates the Eastern and Western Cordilleras, too quickly...
Eran crashed into the cliff! When we reached him, we saw his image on the cliff and him, searching for his glasses; an old lady was helping him, offering an alcoholic drink.
He took the turn a bit too fast (Rami enjoyed speeding the downhills with him and his crappy “Liant”) and was smeared on the cliff. His helmet was cracked. It was Ramis’ old helmet, and it was small on him, but a helmet big enough for his size doesn’t exist. On his first hour of cycling, Rami ripped off the rear leash, to help it fit, but still, it squeezed his brain, leaving a funny red mark. Eran was wise enough to keep using it.
After resting a bit, we were off again. Eran straitened his glasses and we slowly descended, Eran with a broken rear brake handle. His “Liant” survived, so far.
We reached a tiny village, with awful bread and only bananas (which Eran hated, but learned to appreciate).
We passed through prosperous farmlands with wealth fincas. In a tiny village we bought vegetables for our famous soup. In the Colombian tradition, they gave us more than we bought. But, Gal had a craving for fried green platanos (better than French fries). After all, we descended to a platano kingdom. We searched and asked in every shop, but, why sell them when everybody has them growing in their back yard!
We finally saw a pick up truck, filled with platanos, selling a branch to a family. We asked to buy a few; not a few branches, but only 4-5 platanos. They gave us more, as a gift. After they left, the family gave us more, more than we could carry; again, typical Colombia.

knighting Hernan Gomez.
After the crash.
Bananas... Yummy...

For some reason, since Eran joined us, we had bad luck in finding ‘camp spots’, which led to cycling in the dark (nothing to do with Eran, maybe the region).
Again, this evening, it was getting dark and finding a comfortable place to sleep was not so easy. We were too close to Giradot, so everything was built up, but yet, too far from the town to arrive before dark (and then search for a hotel….). We finally found a house, which let us open our tent there.
Later that evening we finally got our first Salsa lesson.

Salsa night!

More mosquitoes...

Crossing the Cordillera Central 20/09/08
At Giradot Eran bought new brake handles. The accident was far behind us except for his soaring ass.
We crossed again the Magdalena and started the notorious climb to "La Liña", again, a 3,000m climb. As usual, there were many trucks.
The next day, we learned "the hard way" that trucks are not allowed to drive on Sunday; the road was quiet, making the day a pleasant one. It is amazing how the traffic affects the cycling ambiance!We cycled almost till sunset, taking advantage of the tranquil road. We found a cute little finca, beautifully located, surrounded by coffee & platano plantations. The owner & workers were very friendly. The 2 huge dogs were less friendly.
The following morning it rained till 11:00. We waited…
We had a deadline and rain wasn’t in our schedule! We were talking again about hitching, to reduce the stress. Earlier we called Gonzalo, from Warm Showers in Armenia, and he calmed us; storing the luggage will not be a problem.
We finally set out towards the pass. The trucks were back. The scenery was nothing special.The next morning we reached the pass and descended to Calarca, near Armenia.

Vicente Fernandez?
The Central Cordillera.

Buen provecho!
With cyclists at Ibague.

More bananas, Eran likes the green ones !?!
No trucks today!

Our amazing MSR after cleaning.

Bananas & coffee.
A tractor fell.

A beautiful 'retro' espresso machine, a shame the dont know how to use it!!!

La liña.

The usual fog.

Zona cafetera.

Farewells 23/09/08
Gonzalo waited for us at the entrance to Calarca and took us to a shop of a friend, where the bikes will be stored. Eran left his beloved “Liant” bicycle, to be donated. We quickly went through our stuff, gathering what we’ll take to Ecuador.
Gonzalo took us to Armenia, where we spent the night. We went out for a drink with him and his wife, Pilar.
We spent the next day with Eran, wasting our time. At 23:00, we departed at the bus terminal, him going to Bogota and us to Cali, and south towards Ecuador.

Gonzalo and his amazing pickup truck.

We enjoyed Erans’ visit a lot. It’s been a long time on the road, only the 2 of us, so company has become a necessity for us. Add to that his sense of humor and sarcasm, the package he brought us from Israel (and the Whiskey) made him a good companion.
We admire him for his spontaneous decision to join us. Having no experience (or any clue) in cycling, camping nor traveling in 3rd world (developing) countries and not knowing the language, but still joining us, cycling the ‘campo’ of Colombia is something that few people would do.
Most important – we are glad that you came. It was a good opportunity to catch up, after not seeing you for 2 years and you leaving again for 3 years. Hasta la proxima…

Hasta la proxima, Hernan Gomez and his 'Liant'.

Cycle tourism for dummies

If there's a single word that will best describe the circumstances that led to this journey, as well as the experience itself, it would probably be ignorance. Cycle touring is not a hobby, nor is it a vacation activity. I didn't know that.
Lucky me! Because have I known that, I would have thought twice before jumping head on into a month and a half of it, completely ill-equipped and ignorant of what was to come. Lucky me, because as much as I was unaware of the difficulties I'll face, so where Gal and Rami unaware of the patience needed to inaugurate a novice biker. From basic riding technique to the weight of the towel (and keeping Rami from halving it was not a trivial task, I tell you), I had to be taught every thing. Biking is a very serious business!
But once one gets into it, having your rear already adapted to the hard seat (again, a task to reckon with!), well, it compares to nothing. In both sight seeing, but more importantly people and culture seeing in a third world country. Combining the leisurely pace that guarantees interaction with both the nature and the natives, with the speed that allows you to see a country as big as Colombia. Far from the touristic, museum like, regions, hell, sometimes far from civilization itself, we met with true Colombia. A country that can at times drive you into the arms of socialism, and at times makes you wish It was a bit more American (E-N-G-L-I-S-H people! That's a legitimate language!). A country where most countrymen will be kind and generous, even when they themselves have nothing, yet a country in which you have a fair chance of getting robed. I'll let Gal and Rami take you through the sights themselves, as they'll do a better job.
I'll only conclude with this – sometimes you need only to start doing something to actually accomplish it. And hey, it sure was an incredible experience! Even if the next time won't be as easy as this to prepare to (I now know what it REALLY takes), and even if I'll have to improve the luck I bring with (read it in the blog) it sure is something I'll both recommend, and, who knows? Might come back to do another round myself. If not here in Latin America then on the next "OurBicycleTrip" tour…

Hernan (Eran) Gomez

Have fun!