The cycling in the countryside around Medellin was some of the most picturesque we can remember. Quiet lanes took us freewheeling down sunshine-covered coffee mountains, and alleys of sugar cane flanked us as we crawled up the other side of the valleys.
We had even more shouted encouragements and gifts of food than normal, possibly benefitting from the reflected glory of Nairo Quintana, the young Colombian cyclist who had just come second in the Tour de France. Despite finding ourselves with only £1.50 in cash, we sailed through the next eight days without a cash machine almost without noticing. We also had a slightly absurd request for ALL of our remaining water from a woman overtaking us on a motorbike, who complained she was thirsty while finishing off a jumbo pack of Doritos. She instructed us to ask at the upcoming houses for a re-fill, just five minutes up the hill by motorbike… or thirty thirsty sweaty minutes on a bicycle…
Our friends Andrew and Nelly, sharing their cooking prowess (encouraged by the threat of a headlock from Rebs)
People embark on cycle tours for a number of different reasons. For us, cycling has been a great excuse to eat more. Until that is, we encountered boiled tripe, when we had to use all our creativity to sneak it back onto the communal serving plate. We felt lost in the world: what are we if not rampant food-consumers?
Guillermo and Miguel, our Argentinian friends of karaoke fame in Huila, popped up again to help us out with a night of gnocchi making (and eating). Guillermo has made gnocchi on the 29th of every month of his adult life in homage to its origins. Made from potatoes and wheat-flour, it is one of the cheapest and most filling meals around, traditionally made just before payday when money was tight. We were introduced to this Italian tradition in Pereira, in the centre of the Zona Cafetera, Colombia’s coffee growing heartland.
Cali, capital of Valle province, is also the self-declared world capital of salsa…our hip-wiggling moment had arrived. Watch out Colombia! No, really, watch out. Our first foray into the world of salsa started in a local club in a small town just outside Cali, it ended when Sol, determined to impress, made an even bigger fool of himself than anticipated, when an enthusiastic pelvic thrust backfired and he clattered backwards into a thankfully empty chair. The pelvic thrust is not a salsa move. Continue reading
Disembodied voice from the woods: ‘Oye! Colombia es lo máximo!’
RebSolomon: ‘Si, Colombia es lo máximo!’
Disembodied voice from the woods: ‘Les gusta chocolate?’
Like a five-year old being offered a lolly by a stranger, we threw down our bikes and ran towards the offer of hot chocolate. Under a barbed wire fence, through the first line of trees, round a corner and we walked into breakfast with a military guerrilla tracking unit. The twenty soldiers forced us to have photos taken with their guns, finding it hysterical that we were scared of firing them by mistake, and to have a second breakfast and tankard of hot chocolate. Our only moment of slight awkwardness was when we noticed the soldiers talking secretively into their radio, and then asking Rebs if by any chance she was the Dutch woman known to be fighting with the Colombian guerillas. Unwittingly, the military had revealed their Plan A for catching guerillas: asking passers-by on the off chance they’ll own up. Continue reading
Our time in Cauca was spent cycling through what is locally known as the ‘boot’ of the province. It is an isolated section, sandwiched between states which the Cauca people feel culturally closer to. Their situation creates a separatist, and at times resentful, mindset – many people live without post or internet and so have to travel twenty hours to the regional capital every time they need to deal with a government body for school enrollment, a driving license or a tax query.
Combine this with a large ethnic minority and you find communities with a tendency towards territorial independence. Obviously, the indigenous groups predate the Spanish, and so do their laws and traditions. Although legally independent – not answerable to Colombian law – these groups remain a marginalised minority within Colombia. For many of them, it’s a logical and just next step to declare their region an autonomous indigenous territory where this would no longer be the case. One of the many people who spoke to us about this was a female taita (shaman and indigenous elder), Maria, who we stayed with. She initially seemed a bit hesitant with us. We sat down with a cup of English Breakfast tea (cultural invasion in practice) to find out why. Continue reading
Putumayo is renowned within Colombia as one of the few states where guerillas still have a strong presence. Warned countless times by people in the neighbouring big city not to go, we cycled to the limit of the so-called ‘safe zone’, had a look around, ‘Nope, no guerrillas here!’… so kept on cycling.
Our 32 day illegal stay in Ecuador had not gone unnoticed: we were stuck between countries, having signed a form we didn’t understand and been told to come back in an hour. As we waited, we met a family from Herefordshire, taking two years to cycle from Mexico to Argentina with their ten and twelve year old sons. They made us rethink what it means to settle down; an inspiration for our future family trip with Nico and Isabela.
It was a happy anticlimax when we were eventually waved through the border. Colombia is magic. Back in the country after our four month jaunt in Ecuador, Day One (take two) shows why… Continue reading
Every culture has its own accepted truths, and being exposed to so many different versions while here, we are frequently reminded that truth is subjective. Things that in our culture are unthinkable, in others are not only thinkable, but very much thought.
There are many overlaps, but some things don’t translate:
– Eating an entire roast chicken (in fact, all your meals) with only a spoon
– Using fat / thin / black / white as descriptions, or terms of endearment, without being though of as fattist or racist
– Viewing the ‘Western’ cultural and developmental model as an option and not the option
We initially didn’t plan to visit the coast, but with an increasingly cavalier attitude to our (rapidly expiring…ok, we admit it, expired) visa, and keen for some warmer climes and smaller climbs, we headed to the beach for a change of pace.
On the descent, Sol found his inner cow – you can lead him up a mountain, but you can’t lead him down – as within minutes, he found himself sprawled on the floor rather than sitting in his saddle. Continue reading
Two figures appear through the mist and rain, nothing visible but their eyes: everything hidden behind layers of hi-vis jackets, fluorescent yellow helmet covers, plastics bags over hands and feet. A bizarre vision, but a normal day in the life of RebSolomon over the past two weeks. The rain (aided by its partner in crime, cold wind) has knocked us about. After cycling two weeks through the Oriente, we looked about, and the tropics had gone. We had turned a corner at the top of a mountain, and without the opportunity for the emotional goodbye we had wanted, the rainforest had fallen away, replaced by big, peaceful lakes set in barren scrubland, craggy peaks at the edges of the view…for about five minutes, before the clouds swallowed us again. How can two sides of the same mountain be so different? Continue reading