18 December 2010

Armenia 2

In Armenia my appetite returned. I had dropped a belt notch during the days I had difficulty eating and now I wandered through the city eating and drinking and replenishing my body. Every few hours I stopped and sat and ate somewhere and it felt very good to be eating again. My body demanded sweets and I drank jugos naturales, ate bread and sweet things from the panaderias, bars of dark chocolate and coffee with many packets of sugar. I ate lunch and dinner and I bought snacks from the supermercado in between.

Much of Armenia had been leveled by an earthquake in the 1980s and the city had been rebuilt with more open spaces and parks and a long, wide pedestrian shopping avenue where cars were prohibited. It was the opposite of Pereira, which was all narrow streets and sidewalks packed with people and no green areas and a big, heavily trafficked avenue that cut through that city. Armenia was an altogether more pleasant city because of its design and I was glad I had left Pereira for it.

But it rained often and big thunder storms came down from high in the mountains. Each night the rains came in after sunset and the streets emptied. I didn’t go far from my hotel in the rain and had a hamburger at a restaurant across the street where the owner told me Colombia was a doomed country. The violence continued and the people lived in poverty despite what anyone said. That Colombia was different now was a marketing ploy to boost tourism revenue. I said I thought the situation had improved from a few years before. Yes, there was less violence, but the elite in government would not let it end because they would lose the huge anti-drug payments the US government was making to them. This money never found its way to the average Colombian and was mostly taken by those in power. Corruption was holding the country back and this would never change.

Fernando was his name and he dreamed of going to America. He had an advanced degree in marketing and had had a job in advertising for a Colombian beer maker. But the years of violence had damaged the economy and he had lost his job. Now he sold hamburgers and owned one pair of jeans with holes in them. He couldn’t even get a visa to visit America, but it remained a dream for him. He wanted only to escape Colombia. He liked the American attitude toward hard work and risk-taking and he did not understand why I would want to leave America to come here. Fernando made a good hamburger for someone who had never been to America and I hoped business would pick up at his restaurant and that maybe somehow he would get to America.

Going through my gear that night I discovered I had lost 2 pairs of socks. I supposed I had misplaced them at the hostel in Pereira, or maybe they had come loose from where I tucked them under the bungee cords on the back rack to dry while I rode. It was too bad because they were special socks that wicked moisture well and kept my feet warm even when they were wet.

The next morning I found a little shop with low-cut athletic socks near the main walking area and bought 3 pairs for 5,000 pesos. I walked through the city and took some pictures of the angular, modern-looking church at the Plaza Bolivar. I assumed it was built after the earthquake. I sat at an outdoor café and had a tinto and croissant and watched the families and couples and old men walk through the plaza.

Looking down the carreras from the plaza were the mountains, green and high and cloud covered. They were the mountains I had come down from into the city. I liked Armenia and it was a pleasant city to stay a few days, but I was looking forward to the road to Cali. The map indicated over 200km of riding ahead and it would be downhill from Armenia and then flat through the valley.


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