Our red-eye flights took us from San Diego, CA to Ft. Lauderdale, FL to Bogota, Colombia. Here we were greeted, unexpectedly, by the mother, sister and niece of my former co-worker & Einstein Spanish teacher, Olga Velandia. Manna stood with our cardboard bike and pannier boxes (all of which had been searched, and upon arrival my saddle hung perilously out from the torn box) and waited for me to change currency. All the while, a strange woman waved at him excitedly from outside and attempted to communicate with him via the airport guards who ran back and forth like determined messengers. Manna, understanding nothing and expecting no one to pick us up, continued to shake his head in bewilderment. It wasn’t until I returned and recognized Olga’s face in her mothers and we were able to read the sign that read ” Bienvenidos Moami Hurlieh” that we realized that Olga had organized our pick up.
We were prepared to build our bikes in front of the airport under the watch of the police and then ride to a fellow cyclists house, but instead we were taken like royalty to the Velandia house, given Colombian coffee, served lunch, thick, delicious juices while surrounded by some 12 of the 90 members of their family. Olga is one of 11 children, most of whom have more children than I could fit in a classroom. Manna and I, both only children, could not keep track of who belonged to whom and were amazed by the growing number of people entering the condominium.What a treat to arrive dreary and be welcomed into such a grand family. We were in bed by 7:30pm and slept for 13 hours.
Today, our first full day in the city, we spent two hours building the bikes in the guarded parking area of their condo basement. When we returned to the 10th floor of their home, we intended on going out for a ride (every Sunday, Bogota closes half of the lanes of many major streets through town and opens them to cyclists, pedestrians and holds many free fitness classes) but the family insisted that we sit down for lunch. Then the rains came and by the time we headed out into town and our wheels touched South America for the first time, it was already 4pm.
What we learned on our first ride in the new continent:
– Bogota is filled with bike paths
– The ramps that lead from the bike paths to the intersecting streets are steep enough for a slinky.
– When cycling at 8,500 feet above sea level, even small, mild-grade hills bring on heavy breathing.
– Street signs are entirely optional.
– It was seriously put to the test, and my new raincoat works.
– Manna speaks enough Spanish to understand the police when he passes by and they say “!Mira esta bicicleta gigante!”
– There are double rainbows in Bogota. What does it mean??
When we returned to the Velandia home we were welcomed by freshly made empanadas and salsa. They, like the rest of you at home, tell us we need to gain weight before continuing to ride. I have done so successfully, although Manna cannot seem to put meat on his 6’5″ frame.
After giving ourselves another couple of days to acclimatize to the altitude, we will head west towards Cali and then south along the Panamerican Highway to Ecuador.
So, what shouldn’t we miss while we’re still in the capital?