Sunday, October 28, 2018

Lush Valleys

While I was in Popoyán I had just finished uploading the blog and began looking for a place to eat lunch. I rode around a bit, but nothing really caught my eye. Just then the rains started. Now that little bakery I had ridden past twice already, began looking like a mighty fine place to stop. I made it just in time as the rain switched over from an April shower to a monsoon. I had a dry place to hide from the rain for a while. I ordered up a ham sandwich/croissant type thing and began feasting. The strange thing about this particular food was that it had ham and cheese on it, but also a very popular spread in Colombia called arepique. It is a thin spread that tastes like caramel. It is on literally everything. I thought the food in the US was sweet, the food here is diabetes worthy. Everything is filled with sugar. I have trouble finding bread that isn't riddled with some sort of confectionry. They also make the sweetest cups of coffee I've ever had.

A look out into the valley shortly before sunset.

This is the arepique spread. This variety has coconut pieces in it too.

Anyway I digress. So as I'm sitting there eating my baked item when a young man approaches me. He had a notebook and pencil in his hand. He nervously explained that he was studying English down the street and he wanted to know if I would help him with his homework. This was Hector. The thought of being able to speak English for a while sounded appealing, so I happily agreed to help him. The homework he needed assistance on was of classic sayings we have in English. A few of the ones he asked for help on were: "I've got an axe to grind.", "He's got a chip on his shoulder.", "A rolling stone gathers no moss.", and "He's a chip off the old block." For a non-native speaker with very basic English, I thought these were kinda tough for homework. I did my best to explain each one to him. As a reward I got a free cup of coffee, and a few more baked specialties. He and his friend decided to hang out with me while the storm lingered on.

Hector and his friend.

The tables soon turned. My friend Mandieta that I met a few weeks back by Valledupar, currently lives in Popayán. He was the guy who introduced me to Tomas. Well he's a good guy and all, but communicating with him can be a nightmare. He uses a long of Spanish slang, and frequently has typos in his messages which renders Google translate near useless. I always have trouble understanding is. This is where Hector came in. I utilized his Spanish expertise to help me make plans with Mandieta.

One of the many cathedrals I've seen here in Colombia.

After waiting out the storm, Mandieta arrived and we left for his place. It was already dark out so the 5 mile ride to his home through the bustling streets of Popoyán was a ride to remember. We arrived at his place on the outskirts of town. It was far different from a house in America, but quite common here. It was made of cinder blocks, no insulation or drywall. It was smaller than my bedroom back home, plus he had two other roomates. The three of them had foam pieces laid out on the floor that they slept on. The three that lived there were great hosts and really happy upbeat guys. This was a real eye opener as to how little we really need. It was a lot of fun staying the night with them.

My bed for the night at Mandieta's place. It's got a bit more spring in it than my sleeping bag.

This was a neat little shrine constructed along the highway. I've passed a bunch, but never taken a photo of one.

From the moment I was served this soup I knew something was afoot.

The next morning I set off, knowing that I had less than a week left in Colombia. Riding out of Popoyán I had quite a few generous downhills. It's kinda funny how quickly the surroundings change here. You can got from Alpine climate surrounded by pine and guava trees, and within a half hour of downhills you are suddenly in a jungle filled with bananas, mangoes, and watermelon. I cruised into a toasty valley that had far more mangoes than they knew what to do with. Everywhere I turned there was another mango tree. They were feeding mangoes to their cows and chickens. I'm sure they didn't mind.

A tall papaya tree stocked with fruit.

Another look into one of the lush valleys.

Watermelon, get your watermelon.

Some tribal art.

The valley was heavily populated. It wasn't filled with the typical European Colombians, nor indeginas. This was really the first part of Colombia I've seen that was almost entirely comprised of African-Colombians. The sun was setting fast and I still needed a place to stay for the night. The people all seemed very friendly so I figured I'd hedge my bets on just asking a farmer to camp on his land rather than try to sneak in somewhere. A group of a few women and their children smiled and waved as I rode past. The kids yelled some things too. Thus looked like the perfect group. I asked if I could camp on their property. The said to ask the muchacho and pointed at two men a little ways down the road.

Victor and his son.

Not sure exactly what the dump truck was for. Two guys were picking specific rocks and tossing them in.

Hopefully the big bad wolf doesn't visit house #2.

I road down to the men and asked to stay the night. Victor was happy to have me. He pointed to a vacant pavilion and said I could set up shop there. We talked for about an hour as the sun set. He was a mechanic/dairy farmer. After our chat it hit me. I was finally able to hold a decent conversation in Spanish. He didn't know a word of English and we had a good talk. He did speak slowly knowing that I wasn't a professional, but I guess that's how long it takes. Five and a half weeks being thrown to the wolves and you'll either sink or swim. I finally started to swim.

My nightly sanctuary.

That bad boy off in the distance is a giant active volcano.

Colombia has been a very green country.

The next morning I woke up and found victor behind the pavilion milking his cows. He asked his son to get me some tinto. In Colombia that's very weak, but very sweet coffee. When he brought it to me he asked if I wanted it with milk. I said not to worry about thinking he was going to run inside to get milk. He just picked up the bucket of freshly retrieved milk and poured it into my cup. How's that for straight from the source? I watched as he meticulasly milked each cow. First he lasso-ed the mommy cow he wanted to milk. Next he tied her up to the milking tree in the middle of the pen. Once she was good and secirehe tied her back legs together probably so she couldn't kick him. Now the mom was ready, but he needed her to start providing milk. That's where the calf came in. He brought the calf over and let the calf get in a suckle or two. Once she started producing he tied the calf up just far enough away that he couldn't get a drink. Then it was on! He began double fisting the cow as she shot super soaker powered milk lasers into his bucket. I couldn't believe how much milk one cow could produce so quickly. Within minutes his bucket was full. After he got what he needed he untied both and the calf finally got his reward. It was really very interesting to watch. I had never seen how it was done.

Victor tying up one of the females to the milking tree.

The chicks and their mom feasting on a fallen mango.

He brought the bucket over to me. There was about five or six inches of froth on top of the milk. He took my empty cup and scooped up an overflowing mug of this bubble bath beverage. He handed it back to me and told me to try it. I've been dying for some real milk here in Colombia so I gave it a try. It tasted like whipped cream just without the sugar. It was actually pretty good. He gave me a few more mangoes and I set off hoping to cut down on the distance to Pasto.

Victor doing his daily milking.

The ride to Pasto would prove to be a very tough, but very rewarding ride. It was a very long uphill ride almost two full days, but it wasn't nearly ask tough as that climb a few weeks ago. It was much more gradual. The views of the valley were insane though. I was up in the clouds and looked out to the side to see one of the most stunning views I've ever seen. Words can't describe to feeling I got knowing that I pedaled all the way up here to earn this view. Just one of the many things to remind me why I love riding around the world.

The valley was extremely vast.

The cliff was very near the road. One wrong move and it'd be curtains.

Colombian landscapes never cease to amaze me.

Up into the clouds.

I'll be in Ecuador before I know it. Ipiales is the last city before I complete Colombia!

The stairway to heaven.

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