0057: Miscellaneous Tales from Colombia

0057: Miscellaneous Tales from Colombia

The roads here are excellent. Smooth, fast and wide. Except the drivers are not. Fortunately a wide shoulder separates the drivers from the cyclists. Though drivers are generally respectful of cyclists.


Arepas are the popular tortilla of Colombia. And unfortunately they are not quite as tasty as their Mexican siblings. They are made from a similar corn dough but formed much thicker. Then baked on a hot plate till toasted outside and cakelike inside. I think, because they are thicker they tend to steam cook rather than toast so the flavour of bland nixtamalized corn remains rather than caramelising the sugars and improving the flavour.

At least they could fill them with meats or cheese, like the Salvadorean Pupusas? On their own, they are quite boring.


"I'm a cyclist too!" A Chap on a motorbike stopped me and Max on a steep uphill on the way into Manizales. The major road was very busy and this guy just wanted to have a chat about our adventures. Well if you were a cyclist, my friend, you would know never to stop a struggling cyclist on a steep hill, but to wait at the top. Which was not too far ahead. This isn't a criticism of one person, but it seems to be the favoured method of many Colombians to stop me on a hill to chat to ask for photos. Still, This guy gave us his phone number and offered to host us. Had he been a little further away from todays destination, we might have taken him up on it tomorrow?


"Matthewwwww, Nooooo!!!" As soon as I heard that I realised I made a stupid stupid, stupid mistake! Devora was riding alongside me and I heard a buzz from her bike. Being as ever, the bicycle mechanic. I tried to adjust her gears while she was riding. Naturally she lost control and fell off the bike behind me. What an idiot I am ?! Fortunately the road was quiet though she fell hard on her behind. In tears at the roadside. I apologised profusely.Honestly I don't know what I was thinking. But regretted it as soon as I started. A group of local boys on a bike ride stopped to help. And I felt more stupid with an audience. Dev recovered after a few minutes but even typing this my feelings of guilt come back to haunt me.


Like Costa Rica, there is a strong cycling culture here in Colombia too. A large percentage of the population rides high quality road or mountain bikes. Yet, apart from in Medellín, I have hardly seen any quality bike shops.

There are plenty of the basic/budget vendors. Most towns will have 2 or 3, but we need to find a good store. Max had a run in with a truck. The driver pulled out in front of him. Max bounced off the side of the truck and in the process grazed his leg and snapped his right side shifter mechanism. The truck driver stopped briefly then drove away from the scene.
Fortunately Max wasn't hurt, but had to ride single speed for the final 50 kilometres into Cali.


Colombians, hands down win the prize for generosity. So far, I have received, food, water, soft drinks, and quite a lot of money! Simply handed out by passing strangers.
I have received gifts from many people along my journey.

In El Salvador I received 1 dollar "for water", In Alaska, a can of vegetable drink from a street preacher and in Guatemala a truck driver gave me some strawberry flavoured soft drink. Not forgetting, Jake in Georgia paying for my hotel room and dinner!
A Police man in Costa Rica bought me some sugar cane juice and I am sure there are a few that I have forgotten for the moment. But not in deed.
However, since setting off from Medellín just a few days ago, the people of Colombia have donated so much more than all other countries I have travelled through in total. Amazing!


One thing that cannot translate on a personal journey such as this, are the smells you encounter frequently as you travel.
Engine fumes, are of course the most common.
Badly adjusted or worn out engines on cars, trucks and the ubiquitous pop-pop motor bikes spew unburned fuel into the atmosphere and into my lungs. I wonder about the long term health implications sometimes.
The smell of an open sewer, a polluted river. Some poor unfortunate road kill and bags of discarded rotting kitchen waste. All mixed with the tropical sun make for a heady mix of nasal sensations while pedalling along the road side.
But apart from the fumes, these all happen infrequently, and pass quickly as I move along my journey.

The burning of a sugar cane field fills the air with Caramel.
Always a good thing! Sweet, delicious and tempting.
But the sinister blackened fields with their waiting canes give nothing.
Coffee plantations roasting their own special blend. Hot and powerful scents drift on the breeze.
Sometimes it smells of fine mellow spices. dried berries or burning plastic. The range of odours is uniquely coffee.
Blooming Jasmine, disturbed tomato leaves and fields of maize being harvested.
Strong peppery scents blow in my direction. Or a sweaty horse.

A million mangos fallen on the roadside and crushed by countless wheels.
Other fruits I cannot name smell like sweet vinegar or fresh apples.
A truck passes, full of freshly dug carrots. Cut grass smells the same all over the world and ploughed fields still smell of damp earth.
Now I am hungry. The next restaurant hosts me with a Limeade and Hierbabuena. Freshly made, thick with crushed ice and just the refreshing break I need on another hot day.


The dynamic of travelling with another person (or persons) is something I am not sure I like.
Don't get me wrong, it is nice to have company, someone to talk to and to travel with but you lose your independence and some freedoms.
There is also the additional security of another pair of eyes. A support or backup in case of danger. It helps.

But I am used to travelling at my own pace on a route that I choose with no consultation or permission from others.
Having cycled for many years alone, on this journey, and various stages, I have met up with many cyclists and we have travelled together for a few hours, days or weeks even. I am currently cycling with Max and Devora. A couple who met in Guadalajara and want to cycle to Patagonia together.

Devora was recently diagnosed with Lupus though, so is struggling and that unfortunately may affect their journey.


Here is a video I made for some English language students in Madrid.
At a school a friend of mine teaches in. They have been following my adventures and blog. The sound cuts out because of wind noise. I've never made a video like this before, so if you would like to see more. Add your questions in the disqus comments box below.


Thick, sweet scented resinous smoke drifts on the breeze.
Darkness apart from the dim sodium street light.
A juggler in a dirty Che Guevara T-shirt slips with one of his clubs and bends to pick it up. Girls twirl hula hoops and a fire blower almost burns his lips.

A stepped concrete park in Cali's Artisanal San Antonio district is filled with the hippy twenty and thirty somethings of the city.
Sitting on the steps, drinking cheap beer and most are smoking Marijuana.
The music blaring, raps of revolution and rising up against authority. The intent soon forgotten again in the soporific red eyed haze.
A guy turns to me half asleep and drugged. "Do you understand what they are saying?"
I nod, but I see a very different picture to him. "It's what is happening on the streets in Latin America" He said with enthusiasm. "Revolution!"

A few smile at the lyrics, light up their joints again, lean back beer in hand and relax, enjoying the circus acts below.
A quiet revolution? All I see is passive 'warriors' with paint brushes and half used cigarette lighters.
A Rasta man walks round selling overpriced drinks and chocolate brownies.
Viva Capitalism!
Doctor Ernesto would be proud.

So a few days rest in Cali and then back into the mountains to Popayán, Pasto then Ecuador.

Matthew Hopkins image
Post by Matthew Hopkins

An avid cycle tourer and Bicycle Mechanic, I also enjoy cycling, cooking, camping, cinema, computers, internet and tech.

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