27 June 2012


Parchís board with the crests of the four principle futbol clubs of Colombia

Spanish Rules:

1. Single die is used.

2. A roll of 6 is considered 'doubles' and is awarded an additional roll. This applies even if a player's pawns are not yet all entered onto the board. When all a player's pawns are on the board a rolled '6' is 'doubles' but instead of moving 6 spaces the pawn is moved 7 (thus, being six spaces ahead of another player with all his pawns on the board is actually a safe position to be in as 6s can no longer be rolled, only 7s). If three consecutive 6's are rolled the last pawn to be moved is sent home (not the furthest pawn on the board).

3. A player's entry space is also a safe space for other player's pawns. Only when there are two other pawns on a player's entry space is a pawn captured when a 5 is rolled and the pawn enters. If, for example, there is a green and red pawn on blue's entry space and blue rolls a 5 to enter, it is the last pawn to arrive on the blue's entry space that is captured. A blockade on blue's entry space by two red pawns, for example, does not block blue from entering. A roll of 5 would capture one of the red pawns, leaving the other red pawn to share the space with the blue pawn.

4. When a player is moving his final pawn up the safe area to his 'Home' a roll of the die that does not get him Home is still used. For example, if a pawn is 3 spaces from Home and a 5 is rolled the pawn would move the three available spaces, then touch Home as a fourth space, and then move back a space to the final space before the Home. Rolling repeated 'doubles' with a single pawn on the board on his Home ladder can in some cases push a pawn back out from the player's safe area and onto the playing board.

26 June 2012


The left knee pain began early. I put my head down and turned the pedals and I knew I had to stop riding at Popayan. At least for awhile the touring would be over. I took many breaks but they did little to lessen the dagger turning inside my knee with every pedal stroke. I rode into Popayan basically on my right leg. There were beds at the hostel in the center of the white-washed old city at the Parque de Caldas and I unloaded my bags and sullenly took them up the stairs to the second floor hostel. Where was I coming from on the bike? Where was a going? Everyone had a question. I didn't really want to talk about it. Having until the 6th of July to exit Colombia there would be time to figure things out.


25 June 2012

Before Popayan

I was on the road by 6:30 and my knees felt good. It was 10 km from the hospedaje across the fields of sugar cane to Santander de Quilichao. A bypass route for Popayan allowed me to go around the pueblo through an industrial area. I did not see any of the dangers I had been warned about and the area was clean and did not look impoverished. I took two coffees at a roadside stand and looked up the road as it went up into the mountains. There were higher mountains behind them. The climbing was to begin.

There was a long climb that wound its way up from the river valley and from there the road rose and fell, but always climbing. My left knee began to hurt sharply. By adjusting me foot positioning on the pedal I was able to minimize the pain, but it concerned me. Popayan was another 75 km through the mountains.

The sun was now up and it was hot and sweat poured off me as I ascended in my lowest gear, trying not to put too much pressure on my knees. There were short descents, with not enough time to rest, before the climb back up. I took breaks during each of the ascents and though my left knee throbbed my cardio was good and I otherwise felt alright. 45 km from Popayan I stopped for lunch and began to wonder if I might find a hostal or hospedaje before I reached the city. If there wasn’t anything I promised myself a day of rest in Popayan. I needed rest for my legs to rebuild and strengthen.

Just as I was preparing to leave the lunch parador the sky went dark and the rains began. It poured down rain and along the road the motorcyclists were stopping to quickly put on their rain gear. I dug out my full rain suit, with jacket, pants and booties and got back onto the road in the downpour.

There was a long descent and then a very long climb but I concentrated on my form and my knee felt better. Then I saw a large complex with a gas station, restaurant and hostal, and though I was feeling better, I decided to stop and at least inquire what the price would be to stay the night.

The man at the desk told me it was 12,000 pesos. The place was newly built and clean and I took the room. Tomorrow I could make Popayan. Being 30 km away I would not be able to reward myself with a rest day as putting up such low mileage in the mountains would not get me to the frontier before my visa expired. But perhaps by traveling only 40-50 km in these mountains I could build my strength back up without destroying me knees. So I hoped. Past Popayan there were ascents that would take me still higher.

La Guajira

[some impressions from a trip made in April 2012]

We stayed at the home of her mother in the pueblo of Villanueva on a dry, sun-baked plain between two ranges of mountains. On the plain the trees grew low and wide and cattle, moving slowly in the heat, grazed in the dry grasses. Mototaxistas pulled their passengers in two-wheeled chariots through the dusty streets of the pueblo and it was very hot in the sun and we did not go out of the house until evening. Then, in the evening, we walked through the streets lined with cinderblock homes, greeting neighbors and friends, and had sweet pan de queso and jugos naturales under the great trees of the plaza.

The following day it rained and the sky went black and there was thunder and lightning and the streets of Villanueva ran with muddy water. When the storm passed it was bright again but cool and the people celebrated the rain and sat in chairs outside their homes as the sun went down and they were still there after dark. Her brother drove us through the pueblo and pointed out the discotheque and the pavilion where vallenato was performed and we made plans for Sunday, when he was not working in the coal mine, that we would drink together for the entire day, first beer than whisky. Aguardiente is too expensive here and whisky is preferred, he said. Yes, by god, then we will drink that then.

In the morning a mototaxista delivered her blind grandfather and I sat with him on the porch and he told me of the rivers. His eyes watered as he told me of the great Magdalena which ran throughout the country and I remembered to him that I had bathed in it once outside of Buga in the Cauca Valley. The Magdalena was a fine river, he said, but there were finer ones even. The white cat rubbed against my leg as he spoke to me. Then I excused myself from the cat and the blind man and had a breakfast of yuca arepas and sweet coffee.

That afternoon it was very hot and we sat in the shade of the mango tree and drank chilled whisky. Every ten minutes her brother or cousin or uncle or father would stand and pour out the shot for each of us and replace the bottle in a small metal pail filled with ice. Vallenato played loudly from the corner bar and the domino players smacked at the table and argued. It was very hot and after the first bottle the women pulled down green mangos from the branches of the tree and returned with the fruit sliced and salted for us to eat.


All the men had names that began with ‘Rafael.’ It was a family tradition. There was Rafael-Andres, Rafael-Gregorio, Rafael-Miguel, Rafael-Francisco and two other Rafaels that I did not remember. They all worked in the coal mine, working twelve hour shifts day or night four days each week. On their days off the Rafaels drank whisky together. Her father, who was Rafael-Gregorio, was president of the miner’s syndicate. He motioned for my attention and drew up his shirt to reveal a pistol tucked in his waistband.

Los Guajiros son gente de la palabra. We are people of the word,” he said proudly.

Three other Rafaels lifted their shirts to reveal pistols. It is necessary, explained her father. There had been one attempt against his life and a cousin had been assassinated three years ago. It was some business related to his position as head of the syndicate.

“The assassin is not known,” said the one called Rafael-Andres.

“But we will know him one day,” said the one called Rafael-Miguel and patted his revolver.

“Yes, we will. Por Dios, we will,” said the one called Rafael-Francisco.

A mototaxista pulled up and a cousin I had been told about joined us under the mango tree. He was called Leandro and, true to what I was told, his head was abnormally large. At birth there had been water inside the cranium that had swollen his head and stunted the growth of his brain. Leandro was now physically a man but had the mental ability of a small boy. He spoke with his jaw clenched and he was not allowed to drink the whisky, but he was good natured and even as the others made jokes on him he grinned happily.

We drank whisky under the mango tree all through the afternoon and into the night. When we said goodbye the vallenato had stopped playing at the corner bar and the domino players had gone home. We drank four bottles of whisky and we were all well drunk and happy and we promised to do it again.

It was dark and very early when we left for the sea. We drove through Valledupar in darkness and passed the coal mine and as the sky lightened the mountains appeared as a high black silhouette against it. With the sun came the heat of the day and the road continued through the valley, through dusty pastureland and then following along a river it was green and lush and there were rice patties. We left the river and climbed a low pass and descending into the next valley the road was broken and pot-holed and her brother swerved and braked and it was very rough driving.

Passing us were convoys of pickup trucks with plastic barrels stacked high on their wagons. Her brother said they were smugglers bringing gasoline into Colombia from Venezuela. They had made their drop and were rushing back for the frontier.

The road forked and turned to dirt and broken asphalt and we entered a pueblo of rundown cinderblock homes. Along the dirt road men were selling the smuggled gasoline from plastic barrels. We stopped opposite an abandoned service station and her brother got out to negotiate the price with a young man. Up the road a team of men were breaking apart the asphalt with a jackhammer. The jack-hammering was very loud and the air was very dusty and the whole pueblo smelled strongly of gasoline.

It was late morning when we made the coast at Riohacha. The beaches at the north of the city were empty and said to be polluted and the sea broke in a long gray line along the sand. There were some Arhuaco men selling artisanales on the boardwalk and we stopped and got out to look at the mochilas and jewelry.

The Arhuaco were short and long-haired and dressed in white tunics and pants and wore a white conical hat called the tutusoma.* They did not speak much Spanish other than the prices and chewed at the coca leaves they held in their cheeks. Each man held a long-necked gourd called a poporo and as they watched us each dipped a black rod into his gourd, covering the end in a white powder which they then put into their mouths. Then they gently rubbed their rods, wet with saliva and powder, along the neck of the gourds.** The youngest of the Arhuaco tried hard to interest us in his mochilas but he wanted too much for the hand knit bags and we did not buy anything.

We left Riohacha and drove east across a long and arid plain. It was noon now and very bright and goats wandered through the sandy scrub and across the road. To the left, through the heat-light, you could just make out the blue of the Caribbean Sea. We drove another thirty kilometers and turned off onto a one-track dirt road that led back to a Wayuu settlement along the sea. There were five of the Wayuu homes called caserios and a boy ran out and directed us to park before a thatch-roofed hutch along the beach.

It was very hot and we sat down at a wooden table in the shade of the hutch and ordered beer from the Wayuu boy. The water was emerald green and clear and the white sand was bright in the sun. There were fishing skiffs tied off in the deeper water. We were the only ones at the beach. The boy returned with the bottled beer and we asked about lunch and if he had fish but he did not know Spanish well enough to understand. We were hungry but the beer was cold and it tasted delicious in the heat.
* The tutusoma is meant to symbolize the snowcapped mountain peaks of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta which the Arhuaco consider holy and have pledged to protect. The Arhuaco believe these mountains to be the heart of the world and that the well-being of the world depends upon them. By protecting these mountains the Arhuaco protect the world.

** The white substance inside the poporo is a powdered lime made of burnt sea shells from the Caribbean coast. The coca leaf when chewed with powdered lime becomes a mild narcotic. Only Arhuaco men are allowed to use the poporo and its ritual is intended to symbolize a woman: “The hole in the top is penetrated by the poporo stick. The powder of burned sea-shells inside is the essence of fertility, and for a boy to grow to manhood he must learn to feed on that. That, and the coca leaves, harvested only by women, will make him fit to father children and tend the land -- to develop a relationship with a woman in the flesh, and with the Mother Earth. The poporo is the mark of civilization. Eating from it reminds a man of what he is, and keeps him in harmony with the Great Mother. The ring of calc which builds up around the rim is saliva (the fresh water of the body) mixed with shell-dust (the seed of Serankua, dua, the seed of all life). Created during contemplation, by thoughtfully licking the stick and rubbing it on the neck of the gourd, this calc is also described as a book: ‘We write our thoughts in it.’” (The Heart of the World, Alan Ereira, 1990).

24 June 2012

Santander de Quilichao

I awoke early. My knees ached but I was able to bend them. I bought some pan de queso (roll with some cheese in it) at the corner panaderia and drank some coffee and realized that in fact I felt pretty good. A good warm-up and I would probably feel just fine on the road. Still, my plan was not to go too far. The way I once rode I could make Popayan today at 140km away, but at what cost? I reminded myself that I have until July 6th before my Colombian visa expires. There is no hurry. I figured I could ride 50 km to Santander de Quilichao and make a short day of it.

I rode out of the hostel at 10pm, later than I had planned. However, a Caleno who worked at the hostel said it was probably a good idea as the last of Saturday night’s drunks are driving home early Sunday morning and the roads can be dangerous.

It was a long ride south through the city on Calle 5 and I passed the Plaza de Toros and a few places I had been to during the Feria de Cali. The traffic was not too heavy and then outside the city I was back riding through fields of sugar cane between the ranges of mountains. It is harvest season now and teams of men were in the fields cutting with machetes and trucks passed pulling multiple containers filled with sugar cane. The road dropped gently through the river valley and it was easy and fast riding, and I felt good in the saddle.

While taking a break under a tree a cyclist stopped and we talked and he warned me that Santander de Quilichao was not a safe place. There were hospedajes and hotels in the town, but robberies were frequent. You hear this kind of talk often in Colombia, with people warning you about the town you’re going to and then in that town everyone surprised you had not had trouble in the town you just came from. But this cyclist was clearly a knowledgeable and I took his warning seriously and thanked him for his advise.

The road continued through the lush, green country, the sun out now and hot but little traffic on the road other than the trucks transporting sugar cane. Before Santander de Quilichao I came upon a truck stop restaurant with attached hospedaje and I stopped and ordered a baked tilapia dressed with onions and tomatoes, sweet plantains, salad, and papas fritas for lunch.

England was playing Italy on the TV and I finished eating and had a tinto and asked how much further it was to Santander de Quilichao. The waitress said it was 10 minutes by bus and then she warned me about it being dangerous. I imagined riding into some dump of a town and having trouble finding a place to stay while being watched by a bunch of street kids. I had ridden into those towns before and didn't like being sized up by an entire town and everyone knowing where I was staying.

It was then that I decided to just stay at the truck stop hospedaje. It was clean and safe and I could get up early, pass through Santander before all the dangerous people were awake, and make Popayan in the afternoon. I took a room for 15,000 pesos and called it a day. I watched the second half of the match, overtime, and the penalty shootout from my room. The Italians, much as I dislike their style of play, were the superior team.

23 June 2012

Back to Cali

I had done no road work before getting back into the saddle. Before leaving Buga for Bogota in March I had replaced the drive train and brakes and cleaned the bike and gear and there the machine sat, ready to ride, in the dormitory of the Buga Hostel.

I knew it was flat through the Valle Cauca to Cali. I had ridden that way twice before. I figured I would round into shape on the road. A few days before my departure I began to study the elevations and terrain as the Pan American Highway left the valley and south to Ecuador. There was very difficult climbing ahead and sooner than I expected. I would have only three days at most on the flats of the river valley before going up into the Andes. I was going to be tested and I knew there would be pain ahead as punishment for my neglecting to train.

I set out from Buga knowing two days wasn’t enough to get into shape for climbs up to 4000 meters and I was curious just what sort of legs I would have on the 90 km to Cali. I discovered I didn’t have much. I compounded my fatigue by stupidly passing up a comedor that I should have stopped at for lunch. I was forced to ride across 40 km of sugar cane fields until the next roadside restaurant. I bonked hard and only had a single banana for energy but I made it through and at Palmira I ordered the lunch menu and then collapsed at the table. France was playing Spain in the Euro but I hardly had the energy to watch it or even to eat. I rested at the restaurant for two hours.

I took a different route into Cali thinking anything had to be better than the traffic-heavy, potholed, and polluted--taxis and scooters weaving in and around you--way I had taken into Cali in 2010. But this new route was worse. I first had a long, indirect ride on tired legs through more sugar cane fields taking me around the city to the east, and then the road in was just as polluted and trafficked and bad as the other and indeed worse, because I was entering the city far from Barrio Granada on the western edge. I had a long ride back east through some poor neighborhoods and heavy traffic to the centro and then over the river.

I made the hostal in Granada just as the sun was going down behind the mountains. My knees ached and I had trouble getting up the stairs to my room. I showered, ate some pasta at an Italian restaurant I knew on Avenida Sexta, and went to bed. I wondered if my knees would bend in the morning and the thought of the mountains began to really scare me.

19 June 2012

The Ninja of Buga

Miguel, Protector of Buga
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