21 May 2011


It's a good life here in Cali. In the mornings there are fresh fruits and bread and pastry from the panaderia and fruit stand down the street and then the 5000 peso almuerzo in the afternoons ($2.50 lunch menu). The days are hot but in the night it is cool and it is a short walk down Calle 17 to Avenida Sexta and the bars and salsaterias where there is always someone dancing. Also on Sexta is the famous asadero (grill) El Hornito, which serves the finest arepa de choclo in the city and excellent chorizos and chuzos (chicken, beef, or pork skewers), and I eat there as often as I walk by the place.

salsa class

From the hostel here in Barrio Granada there is a long and steep hike up into the mountains to the Tres Cruces (Three Crosses) and we did it yesterday before the afternoon rains, hiking first under the bamboo-cover and then through dense jungle where the steps ended and we climbed a rocky path exposed by rainwater flowing down from the summit. At the base of the Three Crosses there is a small outdoor weight lifting area with wooden benches and dumbbells and barbells made of metal bars and concrete. We worked out and then drank a juice from one of the snack stands before descending the mountain, hurrying down as storm clouds pushed in towards the city from the east. Cali is a fine city and where I am staying I have what I need. I am developing a good routine here and I plan to stay awhile longer.

05 May 2011

Buenos Aires - Cali

The bike and gear have been in boxes since Salta. Between Salta and Buenos Aires I had not ridden in three weeks and missed very much sleeping in my tent and the silence and solitude of wild camping. It was a very sudden change to city life and while it was nice to eat in restaurants and to watch and to talk to people, I thought often about long, hot days on the bike, camping in a valley between great mountains and cooking pasta on my little stove.

Salta was good because I had a room to myself on the rooftop of the hostel. The hostel at Buenos Aires was more a lodging house filled with students from Bogota, Colombia. They were kids, young and excitable and loud and I slept in a dormitory with 7 of them. There was little privacy but I kept to myself and ate lunch at a different restaurant each day, usually at one of the neighborhood lunch counters that are numerous in Palermo. I knew I had a found a good, cheap spot when there were many elderly people sitting at the tables.

Evidence of the last military coup on the facade of the Ministry of Economics

In the afternoons I exercised in the Parque las Heras which was a 15 minute walk from the hostel. The park was basically a big dog run, with dogs everywhere barking and chasing each other, leashed to trees or being walked in big packs by the hired dog walkers. Buenos Aires is not a city of parks or many historical buildings and other than La Recoleta and the government buildings at the central plaza, I did not go to see things. There are old, tall trees lining many streets, and the buildings are mostly old with fine stonework and it is pleasant to walk through town, but much has been torn down, and the main boulevards widened, so that the city could be built up for more housing and commerce.

The day before I left for Cali I had lunch with Diego who I had met in Lujan in January and he explained that the upkeep of parks and public spaces is something the government has no interest in doing. The government would rather sell the land and thus not need to make expenditures to clean and maintain them.

We also discussed the business he was developing and how when he was ready he would be able to secure a loan at 3 or 4%. I wondered how this was possible given Argentina's high inflation. Banks were currently only making loans of less than $10,000 at 25%. Diego explained it was soon to be an election year and the government was making low interest rate loans and for sizeable amounts to stimulate the economy and get President Kirchner re-elected. Diego knew as well as I that it was disastrous policy and it depressed me to hear how Argentina was again dooming itself economically. The bullet holes that still covered a wall of the Ministry of Economics from the last military coup should have been a reminder.

Stock exchange

The fall had come and it was cold and gray in Buenos Aires and often it rained. The temperature fell to near freezing one day and in the wind and rain I was just warm enough in my wool sweater. The leaves were falling from the trees and as I walked quickly through the streets to stay warm I was thinking about Colombia and how I would soon be there and the summer would begin again for me.

After 10 days I left for Cali. At Ezezia airport I got lucky and wasn’t charged for the excess baggage weight I knew I was carrying. I once again feared the bike being impounded on my stopover in Lima, as I had been told by a touring cyclist the Peruvians sometimes did, but when I arrived in Cali my two boxes were there at the baggage claim. It was 29 degrees and humid and I was excited to be back where it was warm and to know that I would soon be back on the road.

It was past 5pm when I passed customs and too late to assemble the Bike Friday and ride out of the airport and I took a taxi into the city. There was much flooding in the fields of sugar cane along Ruta 25 and big standing pools of water along the roadside and I wondered if there had been mudslides up in the mountains and if the roads were passable. We passed through that dangerous stretch of road just outside the city with potholes and heavy bus, truck and scooter traffic and I was glad to not be riding through it. We passed the clubs at Menga and the Chipichape mall and then into Granada and the nicer part of town and I was dropped off at the Calidad House where I had stayed last December.

It is off-season and the hostel was quiet and mostly empty and I took a privado in the back, showered and then walked down to Avenida Sexta and El Hornito, the outdoor asadero with the grilled choritzos and excellent arepa de choclo. I saw many of the people I remembered and was offered cocaine and girls by the same guys outside the same bars. Things did not much change on the Sexta. I had only known Cali during the big December feria and the avenue seemed a little quiet but it was good to be back and the arepa de choclo was as delicious as before.
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