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.


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