I wasn’t certain what it was about riding through the humid valley of the Rio Magdalena in southern Colombia or the rain that had finally absorbed some of the heat (similarly brutal to the heat that just swept through California) and soaked through 30 miles worth of our cycling, but all at once, the Jewish song “Hava Nagila” came roaring out of my chest as I sang as many of the lyrics as I could remember. When I later looked on the net to learn the true, rather than half garbled lyrics – although there were surely no countryside Colombians who would have known I was replacing much of the Hebrew with Esperanto – I learned that the translation is “Let’s rejoice. Let’s rejoice and be happy.” which expressed quite well how I felt about that moment on the road. And about our cycling adventure all together. Following Hava Nagila came another tune belted out along the road – who knows Ricky Martin’s “La Bomba”? That’s right.
However educated we attempted to be about cycling through Colombia – the improving political situation and the steady dismantling of the violence of the guerrilla organization, the FARC, the condition of the road, following blogs of other touring cyclists – it was still very difficult to imagine how the hourly and daily pattern of our biking lives would continue following our flight to Bogota. How would the shoulders of the road be? How would we be received? Would we feel safe – or safe enough? Would the road signage list the distance to the next towns? Would there be signage at all? As it turns out, although we have only been on the road for four days and are a mere 220 miles south of our starting point of Bogota, the riding has been amazing. The shoulders are not only generous, but we regularly pass government employees who are assigned to sweep them. The carry with them a long pole, one end a broom, the other a shovel. Although they may think we are odd for doing so, we thank them as we pass. There are military check points every 15 miles or so whose baby-faced guards give us thumbs up as we ride on. There is plentiful food (offered to us at twice the price as the locals, but still quite cheap,we can both be fed a full dinner plus drinks for $4), lush shade,and 500ml bags of purified water for 50 cents at most stores. We have learned to ask a few people for directions before heading a desired way since it seems that Colombians have the strong tendency of sounding very confident when giving us directions that end up being entirely wrong. This reminds me of US Americans, now that I think about it.
Manna is an anomaly. Riding mostly behind him, I am entertained watching people look at him pass, and then look up towards his distant head as they stare in amazement at his height. They laugh, they do double-takes, they smile or look away shyly when he greets them, and, more than anything, he gets the thumbs up. We guess this means something akin to “cool” or “right on” or “woah, dude you’re tall” but we aren’t certain.
I am also somewhat of an anomaly, but of course not because of my stature. It became clear what it was when the bathroom attendant at a rest stop pointed me in the direction of the men’s restroom. I asked her if the women’s were closed and she said “no”. I told her “pero soy una mujer” and she lowered her head apologizing quietly, completely embarrassed. I have not yet seen a woman under 60 who has anything close to short hair, and certainly none who walk around wearing cargo pants. I told Manna I should start wearing barrettes in my half-inch long hair and he said I’d be better off drawing on a dark mustache. These differences don’t matter, really, they are just the observations of a traveler who has just entered a new country.
We haven’t camped yet in Colombia. There has been no need as the hotels/hostels/ hospedajes are very comfortable, secure and roomy enough for our gear and bicycles. The only difference between what you would find here and in the US is that, instead of two knobs, the showers here have just one, and it says “I am the knob to turn on cold water that will come out of the pipe above your head and make you freeze even though it is hot and humid outside and there is nothing you can do to change this so if you want to wash off the grime and goo of the road you must now suffer under this ice-cube water.”
Lastly, the danger we most expected has proven true. The dogs! They are not guarded behind fences and to them we are not unusually tall people or short-haired women, but rather, something riding by steadily and slowly enough to bark at and chase after with a vengeance. I’ve used my Dog Dazer quite a few times. This is a “handheld ultrasonic aid to dog deterrence” and I must say I love the way it stops a dog in its tracks, causes him to cock his head to the side in confusion and then return to his lazily reclined position. Out of curiosity, I’ve tried the Dazer on cows, horses, goats, Manna, and it does not cause the same stupefied reaction. I dread the day that we cross paths with an angry, deaf mutt.
We expect to be in Colombia for at least another week before entering Ecuador. Since we’ve been on the road, the borders between Colombia, Ecuador and Peru have closed and then re-opened due to an attempted coup in Ecuador and we have heard from the news as well as Ecuadorian cyclists, that all is back to normal. We know that the roads will not remain in such impeccable shape throughout but we have been told that the truck and car drivers will continue to give us as much space as well as short warning honks throughout South America. See, Oregon truck drivers, it is possible!