20 December 2010


I awoke hungry. Crackers and water for dinner after 120kms the day before was not enough food and I had a second metric century ahead to make Cali. I packed and left the hotel and bought a couple pastries and ate them in the plaza at Tuluá. I would drink some coffee later on the road.

Not wanting to ride back through that depressing, dirty industrial stretch I had ridden to get into the center of town, I stopped an older couple and asked how to get back to Ruta 25. They told me to follow the street along the river but first they had some questions. Sure, whatever you want to ask me. The man said he worked for a newspaper and gave me its name. I did not know of it. The woman asked if I had had any problems in Colombia. I had not. She looked skyward. Many thanks be to God, she said.

The man was called Eugenio and he asked if he could take my picture. Certainly. I gave Eugenio a serious, pre-ride pose. He showed it to me on his camera. I had the look of a man who would easily ride a 100kms every day. It was a good picture and he would send it to me by email. Then the woman warned of an inundacion near Buga. The storms had been terrible and parts of the city had flooded and I should go around Buga. I told her I would and thanked them both for the directions and the woman again looked skyward and wished for me God’s continuing protection on the road.

The street passed along the river through a quiet residential part of the city. A man yelled out from his door asking if I was going to Cali? I was and we smiled and gave each other a thumbs up. The street soon merged into Ruta 25 and I was back heading south in morning traffic.

It was cloudy and cool and my legs were heavy until they warmed up. I saw a sign indicating I was 92km from Cali. Then 15 minutes later a sign said 105km to Cali. The stone km markers on the roadside were sometimes repeated and sometimes counted up rather than down. Even my map gave different mileages depending upon which page of the route to Cali you looked at. Whatever the mileage was it was at least a 100kms and I was certain it was flat.

When I was warmed up I started to really crush it. I was feeling vigorous and the sugar from the pastries had flooded my body and I shifted up and was turning a big gear hard. It was flat, fast cycling through the farmland of the Valle Cauca with a range of mountains on either side of the valley. I passed through fields of sugar cane and corn and then I passed through Buga and I saw no sign of flooding. When I drank through my water I stopped in Guacarí for a café con leche and to refill my bottles. The coffee tasted good to me and I had a second one. I talked to the ladies there about my bike and where I was going and they felt that Cali was impossibly far for today and it was not until I left that I think I had convinced them that a bicycle could be ridden such distances.

I had planned to eat lunch in Palmira, about 20kms from Cali, but to get to Palmira I would have had to exit off Ruta 25 and ride some distance to the town. But I could not see Palmira from the road. It was like that on this stretch of Ruta 25, the road did not pass into the towns indicated on the map and there were no roadside stands other than the one at Guacarí. I was feeling hungry but I wanted to eat along the route and I continued riding and hoped a restaurant would appear.

Cauca River

But no restaurants appeared and I crossed over the Rio Cauca and hit the outskirts of Cali hungry and fatigued. The sun disappeared behind a dark cloud and I was in a rainstorm in heavy traffic on a narrow, badly paved road towards the centro, taxis and motorbikes buzzing past, and autobuses stopping suddenly in front of me, deep pot holes in the road in places. I put on my bright yellow rain jacket as much to make myself more visible as to stay dry. For 50 blocks it was tight, dangerous city biking in heavy rain and I was very cautious not to have my panniers clipped by a passing car or motorbike. To crash out here might also include being run over by a car or motorbike.

The Calidad House Hostel was not difficult to find and I pushed my bike up a steep hill and knocked on the door. Despite my reservation they did not seem to be expecting me, though the private room was ready. None of the ladies there had heard of the Esperanza I had wired money to a month before. I insisted there was an Esperanza and then I gave up. I was too tired to argue this further and figured I could work it out later and got my gear into my room and cleaned up. I was delirious from hunger and covered in sweat and grim from the ride through the city.

After I had cleaned up I checked on my computer and it was then I realized I was at the wrong hostel. Where I was supposed to have been was a hostel in the southern part of the city and according to an Israeli girl staying at the hostel it was less centrally located than this one. From the Calidad House you can walk to most places, including the popular Avenida Sexta, but from the other hostel buses or taxis would be needed. I decided to eat the 30,000 COP deposit I had made on the other room and stay at the Calidad House.

I went out to dinner with the Israeli girl and had a churrasco with potatoes and salad. She was from Tel Aviv and she told me that Bolivia was a great place, followed by Ecuador and that she had also liked Argentina. She did not much like Colombia. She had seen less natural beauty here than in those other countries. She was also disappointed in the Cali salsa style. She danced salsa and had come here for the salsa and what was danced in Cali was not really salsa at all. If it were not for tough US visa requirements for Israelis she would go to New York or Miami or Puerto Rico, where the salsa was great.

I told her of the mountains and the natural beauty that I had ridden through and that was unavailable if you were taking night time buses across countries between major cities. I had seen great beauty in Colombia and I had suffered very much to see it. Then the girl began to shake. I don’t know what happened with her but she was shaking and I was chewing my steak and continuing to talk to her but all her shaking was distracting me. Maybe it was the coffee she was drinking. The sudden caffeine had done something to her. We were sitting at an outside table but it certainly was not cold. But then the shaking stopped and she was calm again. She was a nice girl but the shaking had disturbed me.

We walked back to the hostel and I took a nap in my privado. When I awoke I was hungry again and went out along Avenida Sexta, the main street of bars and clubs and restaurants. It was Monday and still early and the street was quiet and I stopped at an asado restaurant and sat outside. I ordered 2 orders of chorizos, chicken and pig, and a beer. Inside the restaurant a red bucket on a rope dropped up and down through a hole in the ceiling. Inside the bucket were chorizos and other meats for the grill. The chorizos came as 4 thick sausages on sticks and they were delicious. I finished them quickly and was still a little hungry but my legs ached and felt like jelly and I walked back to the hostel, drank some water, and fell asleep. I had ridden 250km in two days.


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