07 December 2010

Near Rio Negro

We dropped through the cumulus clouds and there were the mountains, lush and green on either side, and we were flying through a valley and I did not see any flat land anywhere. Even the farmland between the mountains was rolling. We landed and passed through customs and after picking up my bags I was approached by a female soldier who asked what was in the bike box. “Equipos para acampar,” I said. In Chicago I had not been asked about the size of the box or its contents. She smiled and let me pass. I was in Colombia.

I found a corner outside of customs where I opened up the box and suitcase and spread my gear out and got to work. I was hungry and dehydrated but this was good as it meant I would not need to leave my gear and go to the bathroom. A crowd of nuns gathered to watch me. The nuns were dressed entirely in white and pointed and whispered to each other about what I was doing. Some pretty girls stopped and stared until I looked up at them and they moved on. The nuns left. Some soldiers stood and watched for awhile. Another group of nuns stopped to watch. I had become a spectacle. Then a young man named Manuel asked me about the bike and where I was going. A friend of his listened in approvingly. A few other guys stopped to ask questions and by the time the bike was together it was nearly 6pm. The sun was going down but the bike was together.

I had hoped to ride west and stay in Envigado or Itagui where I could pick up Ruta 25, the Pan American Highway, but that was at least 30kms and it supposedly included a big climb. It would be stupid to try in the dark and on an empty stomach. The young guy who I had given my suitcase  directed me to the Hostal Santiago de Arma a few miles north of the airport, near Rio Negro. At the hotel I repacked my panniers and walked across the street to a restaurant. 

The restaurant was empty except for an old man in back. He said something to me and then called me to his table and asked me to eat with him. He was staying at the same hotel and had seen my bike and he insisted that he pay for my dinner. He was 85 and Argentine and had just come to Colombia from New York. He was on his way to Salta to see his family. We talked of travel and life and New York and how the American doctors had repaired his heart and also cured him of the prostate cancer. He knew Patagonia well and it was a mysterious and special place. His nephew was a lawyer at Ushuaia. After dinner we had espressos mixed with aguardiente. It was the only way to drink espresso, he said. He laughed, it was the only way to drink aguardiente too. He was a very fine man and I was happy to have met him.

1 comments:

Kurt Dahlstrand said...

Sounds like a warm welcome to a foreign place.

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