09 December 2010

La Pintada

The climb out of Caldas became terrific. I was not yet recovered from yesterday’s climbing and this climb was as steep and at higher altitude. There was no rain, but it was brutal, cold, wet, lowest-gear climbing in the clouds of the high mountains and it was even steeper as I climbed. I did not have a gear low enough for one part and had to get off and push the bike around a turn, slipping on the gravel as I pushed the bike up the road.

I passed wood cutters at work in their tiny homes built into the countryside. Buses from Caldas to Santa Barbara passed me along with camions and logging trucks. Around steep sharp cutbacks they would pass each other honking their horns to alert oncoming traffic. Because there was no shoulder I did not know where I would end up if something went wrong, but nothing did, and I climbed higher towards the Alto de Minas.

Soaked with sweat and wasted I made the top. I had a coffee there at the Estado de Alto de Minas and I refilled my bottles. It would be a long descent to La Pintada. A military truck pulled up and soldiers in camouflage carrying rifles came out and lined the road. One approached and we spoke of the bike and where I was going and he was very certain that Colombia was a great country. He had been fighting the rebels south of Cali for 5 years now, but it was safe here and everything would be better in the South. Colombia was a country to fight for and I believed him. I put on my wool sweater and shook his hand and I began the descent.

The road wound back and around, always dropping, but never as dangerously steep a descent as the day before and when the sun broke through the clouds it was hot. In the distance I saw the Rio Cauca, the river cutting through the valley ahead, glistening in the sun. I stopped at Santa Barbara and had an empanada and a Coca Cola. The girls there were very kind and asked if I had a novia. It is a question you will hear often from women young and old. It is important to marry and to make a family and to be together. That I am without a novia in America and am traveling alone is a great mystery to them. Johanna offered to trade Spanish lessons for English lessons if I would please stay in the town. But I said goodbye to the girls and started back down.

For most of the afternoon I descended with some small climbs into little pueblos until just 10kms out of La Pintada, the road was stopped with traffic. There had been a mudslide and a tractor and trucks had been brought in to clear it. Some enterprising fellows were using the traffic stop to sell fruits, cold drinks and snacks and I spoke with them. It was fine for me to pass through they believed, only the cars and trucks could not pass. I rode and ahead and was waved through past a bulldozer clearing the road of mud.

I came into La Pintada and crossed a bridge over the Rio Cauca. The town continued on the other side and I stopped a man and asked him about a place to stay-- “no caro"-- something not expensive. He directed me ahead to a restaurant with a hospedaje but first, he asked, did I notice the beauty of the second bridge to the East? I admitted I had not. It is without supports and it is magnificent, he said. I pushed the bike back to the bridge and we both admired the other bridge to the east. There was nothing to support it between the banks of the river. He was right, it was a magnificent bridge. I could see that he was very proud of it.

A young man on a bmx bike stopped as we admired the bridge and he offered to guide me to the hospedaje. I said goodbye to the admirer of the bridge and thanked him and just as I was to leave with the young guide a motorcycle with 2 soldiers stopped. One of them had seen me that morning at the Alto de Minas. Where was I going now? There was another question that I did not quite understand. Did they want me to wait at the hospedaje for them? I was too tired to understand. The mountains had taken a lot from me. I agreed to whatever the soldiers were asking and then followed the young man on the bmx to the hospedaje.

At 6,000 pesos per night it will start to lower my average cost of lodging. And if there are no bed bugs, and I have examined the bed closely, it will be fine. The bed and pillow are almost as hard as the cement floor so I will sleep on my ground pad. There is just a cheap lock for the outside of the door and the inside is secured with a length of rebar. It is a lodging for truckers passing through on Ruta 25 and there is nothing cheaper.

rebar secured door

I secured my gear, hiding things so they would be difficult to find and hard to remove quickly, and took a cold shower. Then I walked through the town and found a restaurant and ordered a beer. There was a couple at the other table and the man greeted me in English. He had owned a Colombian restaurant in Philadelphia for 10 years. We spoke in English and Spanish and his woman kept pouring me shots from their bottle of aguardiente. They were both from Manizales and according to them the feria of Manizales was better than the feria of Cali. It was a great mistake I was making to go to Cali. I should go in January to Manizales. I tried to explain that this is something I hear wherever I go. The inhabitants of each place believe their city and festivals and the beauty of their women to be superior to anywhere else. The woman interjected: the women of Manizales are the most beautiful in Colombia. Yes, I smiled. I am sure they are.

‘Johnny’ recommended the fish soup. It would give me the strength to get to Manizales tomorrow and maybe even Pereira--if I left early enough. He and Esperanza continued to share their aguardiente with me. It was a lot of alcohol to consume after the mountains but I felt alright. They were both good people and I believe I have been convinced that I should stop in Manizales. I have the days for both Manizales and Pereira. Before they left Johnny insisted that he pay my bill. That was only okay if I could buy a final round of aguardientes. We drank together and he left me the name and address of his restaurant in Philadelphia if I should get there (El Bochinche Restaurante, 4940 N 5th Street). I returned to my room and fell asleep around 7pm. I awoke dehydrated from all the aguardiente and went into the restaurant and asked for some water. I awoke once more to a heavy rain.


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