19 December 2010

Tuluá

Outside of Armenia the descending began. It was a long winding descent southwest on Ruta 40 through the hills broken with short climbs, but I did not drop into my lowest chain ring. The road dropped through pasture land and over another crest of hills it fell to follow the Rio La Vieja, then over the river and back into the rolling country. The sun was out and it was hot.


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I stopped at a roadside stand for almuerzo before the town of La Paila. The restaurant was a little wooden shack and the meal was cooked behind you over a wood fire. The lunch menu was a meat soup, fried eggs and plantains over rice and beans with a salad. The meal came with a glass of freshly squeezed lemonade which the ladies refilled for me. I had only had an apple and a cup of coffee for breakfast and I was hungry. I didn’t like how the boys of the little town were eyeing my bicycle and I watched them while I ate.

After lunch the road descended gently and at La Uribe Ruta 40 joined Ruta 25, which I had ridden from Medellin to Pereira. Ruta 25 was 2 lanes going south with a wide shoulder and it was good and fast and flat. The route passed through a long valley of pasture land and corn fields with a great range of mountains to the west and to the east the smaller foothills. The skies were dark with storms to the south and it was cloudy now and sometimes there was a sprinkle of rain. I felt good and was crushing it in my large chain ring towards Tuluá. I wanted to beat the storms to the city.

I was riding hard and passed a cyclist. A few kilometers later I turned and saw he had gone with me and was hugging my rear wheel, being carried along behind me. I shifted up and decided see what kind of fitness he had. My training had come in the mountains and on these flats I knew I was strong enough to turn a big gear hard and for a long time. I was crushing it now and was getting dizzy from the effort and when I turned back a few kilometers later he was gone. I had ridden him off my back wheel. It has always given me great joy when touring to crush the racers on my fully loaded touring bike and it is the hard riding carrying your load up into the mountains that makes this possible.


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Dark and raining lightly I pulled into the outskirts of Tuluá and stopped to ask the way to the center of town. I had just finished speaking to a guy about directions when a dread-locked guy approached me saying another cyclist had just passed through. A second dread-locked guy ran up with a tiny glass of water and offered it to me. Then two others with dread-locks appeared. It turned out the dread-locked hippies were French and they were coming from Bolivia. We spoke in French for a bit but just as suddenly as they had run up they excused themselves and ran off. I wasn’t sure what it had been about at all but I wanted to find lodging before the big storms hit. The rain was beginning to come down harder.

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I rode through the poor, industrial area outside the city and then crossed over a small bridge into the main plaza and stopped at the first hotel I saw. They charged 90,000 a night--too expensive for me and they were unwilling to negotiate a lower price. A block north I found the Hotel Los Cristales wanted 50,000 a night but I talked them down to 30,000.

I got the bike up to my room and unloaded my gear and cleaned up and then I went out and walked through the town. The streets were narrow and busy with people shopping in the little shops and at the sidewalk stands. I had a mango jugo natural and I looked for a place to eat dinner that offered something other than fried meat but I found nothing. I picked up some pastries from a panaderia and went back to my room. It was Sunday night and things were shutting down in the town and I had another 100km of riding tomorrow.

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