Short Stories
Entry No. 43 January 20, 2005

Ummmmm.... Mom, Dad, I'm In Colombia

As Susie and I wrapped up our press interviews and headed back to our temporary home, we talked about our next destination. Ever since Baja, I had been hearing some great things about Colombia and the biking there. The seed was planted. I would mull over this for three months. In Panamá, the news proved to be the same. Colombia is great, cyclists rave about it, and it still is dangerous but not nearly as much as before. After much discussion and asking around, we decided to take a bite out of life and fly into Cali, Valle de Cauca, Colombia and bike into Ecuador that way. We figured we were cutting our risk by 1,088 kilometers by not starting in Cartagena, which was a consideration at one point. We figured we could get a taste of Colombia and send out a big message that it's not so dangerous here. As a matter of fact, you need to come and
check it out.

Few people told us it was a bad idea. Alright, well, maybe a handful. Nevertheless, many of those same people told us that the terrain was flat from Cali to Popayan. It most certainly was not. It it only got steeper going towards Pasto. We thought we were getting some training in Panamá for Ecuador but that was nothing compared to this. So here we are, in Pasto, Nariño, Colombia, high in the Andes, really high. The weather changed in a snap, or as fast as a snap can snap when you are traveling at 3 miles an hour for 6 hours. The day before yesterday, I couldn't sleep with the covers on it was so hot, and today, I have three layers on including my rain jacket. It has been crazy but amazingly beautiful.

I took a hint from a muchacho that was hanging on the back of of a truck sputtering up one of the hills. I thought I would give it a try in the case that my knees gave out on a hill in Ecuador and I "kneeded" a lift. So, when the next slow one came along, I biked up to his speed. The trucker noticed what I was doing and slowed. Susie and I grabbed on to the back of his semi with two huge tanks filled with some inflammable liquid. It was a very relaxing and soothing experience. Neither of us lasted long and we let go when he slowed to change gears. I figured I could do it if I ever really needed to, but most likely I would not be trying that again.

Some of the hills have been quite tough. I thought if this was just a taste of Ecuador, I was in trouble. From El Tablón to Pasto, beautiful scenery and peanut butter kept me sane after 6 hours of only uphill. As we worked upward to 2,551 meters, I could barely grunt out an "adios" to the onlookers or few that looked up from their work. One man stopped ahead to take a few photos which made me smile and work harder. He also contributed 20,000 Colombian pesos which made me smile some more. That was a free hotel room in Pasto.

The people of Colombia are so different from what I have experienced in Central America. The piropos ceased when we arrived in Cali. It was amazing. I loved it, for we weren't treated like meat. Maybe they could just be in disbelief that a blondie American and curvy Canadian were biking around southern Colombia. I decided though, that the reason we were treated normally, like people and not an object, is because the people here are actually getting their work done. They are busy. They don't have time for small talk. Even the construction workers ignored us. To get an "adios", we had to initiate the greeting. Stuff gets done here; roads are fixed, people are selling goods, weeds are chopped, veggies are harvested, peanuts are laid to dry, cabinets are built, baskets are weaved, cheese is made, clothes are washed, streets are swept, sweets are molded, firewood is cut, and rice is cooked. No one is sitting back waiting for two muchachas to bike by so they can whistle at them. I love it.

The women here are awesome too. They have a say in things and they say it. Girls are riding motorcycles (not scooters) with their boyfriends on the back. And they are not Harley Davidson tuff-girls with tattoos and feathered mullets. As I bike by and pump my arm at them, I hope they get the same feeling I get when drivers give Susie and I the thumbs up. It never ceases to make me feel great, making me push myself further and harder.

On one hand, I wanted to do this, as I mentioned, to be one of the many people who are breaking down the notion of guerrilla warfare dangers in Colombia. Don't get me wrong, they are still here and kicking around, but the situation is much different from the 80s when Colombia got the bad rep. It has stuck although Colombia as a country has improved dramatically in this realm.

On the other hand, I look around and see this beauty and want to keep it a secret. This country's culture, tradition, and people are in tact. That is to say, they are not Americanized and I want to keep it that way. I have seen much of Central America and the influence that the United States has had on their love-hate relationship with many of the Central American countries and Mexico, and it is not good. The Fat Boys of America can't wait to get their chubby little digits and fat wallets invested in Burger Kings and McDonalds on every corner. I say, keep out of Colombia, American Industry.

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