After hanging out in Bogotá for a few days it was finally time to leave Colombia's largest city. I got up bright and early with Desireth and her mom, as they were leaving for the day. The ride through Bogotá was one to remember. Through all the morning traffic jams, meat markets, and psychotic bus drivers I made it out of the city. I was blessed with a few monstrous downhills soon after leaving the city. They were nice a drawn out. I passed a couple of ice cream joints specializing in coconut ice cream. That was my primary fuel source for the day. After the downhills I made it into the stifling plains. I was blessed again. I had a steady tailwind boosting me from behind. After a long hard day of cycling I called it a day and checked the map to see how far I had gone. 130 miles! Or 210 kms if you're from one of those weird countries. I couldn't believe I had pedaled that far. I had set my personal record for longest distance biked in one day. Previously it was 125 miles, set going down Lolo pass in Idaho. It's amazing what a few days of fattening up can do for your energy stores.
The next day as I was pedaling my way through a tiny town, I kept my eyes open for an appealing place to eat breakfast, and stock up on some water. Nothing caught my eye as I passed through. I realized I had already passed the central hub Natagaima so my odds of finding a place were not good. There were two guys trying to pedal day-old bread and none of the restaurants appeared to be open for it was Sunday. I decided to just pedal on to the next town. Just before exiting town, I heard a yell, it was honestly the very last house in town. "Good morning!!!!! How are you?!?!?!" This man screamed at the top of his lungs in English. I looked over and there was a group of guys getting plastered at 8 in the morning. There was a nearly empty bottle of liquor and beer bottles strewn about. One guy had a rough night and was passed out on the ground laying in the dirt. This bloke John yelling was so excited to see me I had to turn the bike around. He rushed over to me and began jumping up and down. "How are you?!?!? So nice to meet you!!! You're from the USA, I love Americans!!! Come have a drink with us!!!" I said only one as they poured me a shot. Alonzo was the man doling out shots. This guy was a little less over the top, but still just as swept away by by my presence. He got right up in my face and began spurting out a slew of questions. The other guys looked at me and mentioned that he was crazy. One guy looked to his mates and said I looked like Christ. John told me to wait for him to return, he was going to get breakfast for me. The other five or six guys were just sitting around chilling out. They weren't nearly as infatuated as these two.
|John in the front left and Alonzo front right. The boys are back in town.|
Then the pieces all came together. Alonzo asked if I wanted to smoke any weed. After I denied that, it was quickly followed up with, "Do you want cocaine?" Now I understood why these two guys were so intense. And also why the other dudes were just chilling out. When John returned he brought me an arepa, a bowl of soup, and a mango smoothie to start off the day. Through the blaring music they were playing, John tried to piece my story together, and Alonzo was quite the persistent chap. He asked me about ten times during my morning meal if I wanted and marijuana or coke. John just kept going on about "You make me so happy Daniel!!! You make my whole family happy!! You are my best brother!!!" I couldn't help but get a few videos of these two guys losing there minds over my visit. Although the visit was definitely one for the books, I decided it was time to move along before they started to come down. John gave me two of the tightest bear hugs I've ever received from any mortal. As I rolled away he ran into the road screaming "Danny, Danny, Danny, Wooooo!" He knelt down in the middle of the road and yelled "I love you Danny!!!!" Alonzo followed me around the corner just to ask me one more time if I wanted any of his special offerings. Just in case I would accept when nobody was looking.
|You can see John grasping hard in this picture and this wasn't even the hug.|
That was one of the crazier run-ins with the locals, but still a very positive experience. They were all happy to see me and they treated me to breakfast. After everything I heard about Colombia and drugs, making it a whole month before being offered cocaine wasn't too bad.
|Head straight to the mountain.|
|It may be hard to see in this pic, but this dude was cutting this grass with only a weed wacker. And I thought I had it bad with lawn maintanece chores.|
|Wouldn't want to be under there when she decides to go.|
|I think this is a rice field.|
About an hour later as I drifted through another no name town, a group of three guys started cheering for me. "Hey Gringo! Here, here!" Since the last meeting was so eventful I had to turn around to see what was up. They offered up a beer and had a bunch of questions. I have already spoken about how much I hate beer, but that was what they were offering, and I didn't want to be a bad guest. So I agreed to one beer as we chatted. They had a slew of questions that I did my best to answer. Colombians love asking how much my different items cost. After our chat they hooked me up with some water and I was on my way.
|Group number two.|
|Still down in the valley.|
|Now that can't be natural, or healthy.|
This was like deja vu. As I strolled through a third town a few hours later a lady yelled out to me "How are you?" I turned the ship around and they got all excited. The three of them told me to have a seat. They offered me a beer, but I had taken all the beer I felt like putting up with, so I respectfully turned her down. I must have been looking pretty good! I hadn't even fixed my hair or washed my face in the past few days and I was still getting offers for free alcohol. They were just trying to get the Gringo drunk. After I turned her down she didn't miss a beat. She said "Chicha?" I had heard legends about chicha and how it's a must try in Colombia. It's a local drink that the indeginas Colombians brew themselves. I think it's from fermented corn. They said it will give me lots of strength for pedaling. They explained that they made it from "palmas". Not sure exactly what that meant, but I was here to learn about the culture after all. Why not! This stuff super was thick! She ledaled me a cup of this special witches brew. I had high expectations after drinking guarapo with the other group of Colombians. One taste and I cringed, but tried not to insult her. It was somewhere between terrible and horrid. It tasted like someone made a gravy out of leftover hot dog juice and mixed it with a pineapple. Not my cup of tea.
|This was the third crew.|
|This is the mythical chicha. Give it a try if you ever come to Colombia!|
She recovered well when she served me a tamale wrapped up in a plantain leaf. This was good. Rice, potatoes, beef, and chicken all rolled up in one ball. Before I left the older lady had to show off her little girl. Not sure if it was her granddaughter, but she said "She is a Gringo just like you! She is my regalo to you." A "Regalo" in Spanish is a "Gift". She said that she would give me the little girl. She was dead serious. This was quite strange. I wasn't really sure how to respond to that. I just smiled and let her know that I didn't need the little girl.
|Homemade tomale. This was the woman offering up the littlest girl. The girl is the younger of the two in the group photo. She was like 5.|
|Enjoying my tomale, and struggling through the chicha.|
This scenario was more bizarre than usual, but I don't think I've had a conversation with a local group without someone trying to play the matchmaker. Guy, girl, old man. One of the first questions I'm usually asked is: Do you have a girlfriend? Followed up with: Why? Then it is followed up with them trying to set me up with an aunt, a daughter, a sister, or in this case a granddaughter. I just found it rather funny. I like Sundays here. The people are all chill and happy, some a little too happy.
|Another sweet forest spot.|
|This man was giving me a history lesson....at least I think.|
|They just fry the whole fish here. You better be good at picking out the bones.|
The next day after pedaling partway up into the Andes I was stopped at my first military checkpoint. I've ridden through about 50 or so, but this was the first time they actually stopped me. A few of the guys thought my trip was awesome, but one dude looked suspicious about my blue tarp that houses my tent and sleeping bag. He must have thought I was running cocaine on the back of my bike. He gave the tarp the patdown, but I passed the test and he didn't make me unload everything. They sent me on my way.
|I had to climb a tree for this shot. You better like it|
|Just before the rains came.|
About an hour later it started to rain. I didn't have much sunlight left anyway so I just found a spot on the side of the road and pitched the tent. I wasn't hidden in the slightest, but the road wasn't busy, and the only people around were farmers. I crawled into my tent and hung out. About 30 minutes later I heard a honk from outside the door. I hoped it was just a curious motorist that could be ignored with the silent treatment. Nope, they honked again. I figured it was the farmer asking what I was up to. But no, I unzipped the tent and peeked out. To my utter surprise there were six men with full military garb and battle helmets. They were all fullu armed with automatic rifles. How's that for a view.
|Much needed morning bath.|
|The mountains disappear into the clouds.|
|Too many stunning views. I had like 200 pics from this week.|
|They're all so different too.|
|Gotta love that Spanish moss. Reminds me of Georgia.|
|More green mountains.|
The next morning I was back to the uphill grind. It was nothing like the last mammoth climb. This time I was on a peaceful road with only a few cars every hour. The road was mostly unfinished and very rough going. Large rocks and potholes littered the road. I'm glad I was going up through it because it was far too rough to properly enjoy a good downhill. I would have broken a few spokes or the frame of the bike. What I found surprising was that I would be pedaling for two hours on a remote dirt road and all the sudden a few thousand feet up in the mountains I'd pedal into a little indeginas village. This happened 4 or 5 times on the accent. They were really life savers because they offered me a place to stop and restock on supplies. True, I could have stocked up with a few days worth of supplies back in town, but that makes pedaling up the mountains much harder. Making many stops along the way is definitely my preferred method.
|Two story mountain home, made from bamboo and|
|The mountain kids ride to school in style.|
|Looking down into the valley.|
Once I got up high enough to beat the heat, I found myself in a place of true serenity. It was so peaceful. No cars, panoramic views, a few odd farmers off in the distance, and my bicycle. I had to take a break just laying down in the grass to let it all sink in. I was so far up in the mountains that I wasn't fearful of contaminated water so I drank spring water straight from the source and filled up my bottles. I also took a quick bath in the stream. There were numerous landslides and banks that had collapsed on my route. That made the ride a bit more treacherous, but also more interesting.
|These guys weren't even fenced in.|
|A landslide as occured.|
|Dangerous, landslides en route, process with caution. Apparently Colombia, our definitions of highway are very different.|
|First stream I drank from.|
|Second refill station.|
As night fell, I stopped at this tiny indeginas hut for dinner. They had fresh trout caught up in the mountains for sale. The two little girls that lived there would hide behind stuff and try to sneak peaks at me. They were mesmerized. After I ate, I used my Gringo charm to see if I could camp on their land for the night. They happily accepted and cleared a spot for me near their car. I made a few indeginas friends high up in the Andes.
|Fresh mountain trout.|
|It got a wee bit nippy out.|
The next morning everyone was gone, but the one little girl waiting to get picked up for school. I didn't even het a chance to thank them. I left hoping to make it over the mountain and into Popoyan. That would prove to be harder than it sounded. I still had some huge climbs between myself and Popoyan. I also got stuck in about a one hour construction delay. I thought those only existed in Ohio. Just after getting past the construction the heavens opened up. I began getting dunked on by rain. It wasn't too bad, but it was amplified by the cold alpine air. After about a half hour in these sub par conditions I stumbled upon a little mountain restaurant.
|Mountain restaurant. Note the fish and steak smoking above the wood stove.|
It was the perfect shelter from the rain and cold. They wipped up a hearty two course mountain meal with some fried fish. There were a few motorcyclists that were equally afraid to ride in the brisk rainy conditions. They started chatting with me, and before I knew it I had an invitation to stay the night in this mountain restaurant. The owner Lucia ran the restaurant with the help of her son Gerardo and daughter Natalie. It was a true sanctuary from the elements. They kept me well fed and showed me what it's like to live close to the mountain summit.
|Close up of the drying meats.|
Gerardo showed off his machete prowess as he made garden stakes out of little trees. Later in the night I got invited to go on a wild chicken chase with them. In the middle of the frigid mountain night, they decided they needed to pay their neighbor a visit. He happened to live a mile up the mountain. So we hiked up to his mountain house that stood beside a muddy cliff. They woke the poor man up and said they needed one of his chickens. He grabbed them one and they explained they didn't have money for him right then. He didn't seem phased in the slightest.
|Last fish picture I promise.|
The little mountain refuge may seem ragged or run down, but it was actually really cool. They had all they needed to live off the land. A few chickens, two geese, dogs to keep the birds in line. A little backyard stocked with fruits and vegetable crops. A mountain spring that rain to their house 24/7. They even had a mill that powered electricity for the full house. Not too shabby.
|My bed for the night.|
|I'll trade you two brick for a hay.|
In the morning I left for Popoyán. My bags were stocked with the free food they had given me for the road. It was a nice downhill ride to Popoyán. I'll stay the night here with my friend Mandieta from Valledupar, then head towards Ecuador.