Texas Hill Country
October 12, 2020
A satisfying traditional breakfast and a ride to the airport, both courtesy of the Coronells. When I got there, they wanted Valeria's box wrapped up in a ridiculous amount of cellophane. I refused, but they insisted. My box, packed perfectly well, needed a bunch of plastic on it or it wasn't getting on the plane. For probably $0.20 worth of material and 45 seconds of labor, I paid $17. This was in addition to paying $107 as a checking fee. It cost $50 to get Valeria from Dallas, TX to Deadhorse, AK, and that included four flights. This was a single flight, less than 90 minutes long. I might add that my plane ticket was only $85, and I got to sit in a chair in the air-conditioned cabin, not in the cargo hold. I should’ve bought Valeria an extra seat instead!
Looking around the airport, I noticed a lot of people had their suitcases wrapped up in cellophane. Normal, perfectly good suitcases! Were they all being forced to do it too?
I was surprised when we got a meal on the plane. I was disappointed that neither airport had WiFi.
My host in Medellin was a surprising 60 km from the airport. I decided that rather than reassemble Valeria in the terminal and try to get there before dark, I'd take a taxi. It still took an hour! And I'm glad I did, because I was able to get a first look at the incredible Andes and size them up before I had to ride over them.
Lucky me, my host was a guy who owned a bike shop. When I arrived, he promptly put Valeria on a work stand so it would be easier to get her reassembled, and he even helped me with the tougher parts!
Manuel also runs a thing he calls Casa de Ciclistas, essentially a hostel only open (and free!) to touring cyclists. He often has many there at a time, but I was the only one today. He led me over, on his motorcycle, 3 km away from his shop.
It was a cool setup! Not exactly the Marriott, but everything I needed. Shower, beds, hammocks, a library/book exchange, I was very comfortable there. Manuel went back to work for a while and I hung around and relaxed. Yeah, maybe I could've assembled Valeria at the airport, then just headed into town and spent the money on a hotel instead of a taxi. But I was glad I came here.
It managed to get cold at night! 2,500 meters in elevation will do that to you. For the first time in months, I put on my jacket for a reason other than rain.
As I quickly found out, cycling is popular in Colombia. I must have seen over 200 cyclists just in the morning! Granted, it was Saturday, but still. I hung out with a few in a city square (and one bought me orange juice!).
Later, as I was climbing a 10 km hill, I was joined by a couple teenagers on good mountain bikes. One of them spoke near-fluent English. As it turns out, they're both talented cyclists and frequently compete in large races, including in Europe! They rode with me up the hill, even though it was clear that they could do better. At the top, they turned around.
My reward was 40 km that were mostly downhill, with an turn up every so often. The air noticeably changed by the bottom. I was glad I'd tightened Valeria's brakes the day before.
Multiple cyclists had warned me that after the downhill, it gets miserably hot. I got there right about noon, the hottest part of the day at low latitudes. It was maybe 30 C outside (just under 90 F), and there was shade everywhere. Wasn't bad at all.
For the next few hours, I was in rolling hills as I followed a river upstream. Not bad at all! I thought the Andes would be harder. And I somehow thought they would look different. At times, the landscape reminded me of California, only bigger.
I wound up going a lot farther than I'd planned. Nothing like one last big climb after 160 km!
One notable thing about Latin America: no two toilets are the same. The flush is totally unpredictable. Lots of water, a little, strong or weak flow, swirl or straight drain. Sometimes you need to hold down the handle for a while or there's no follow-through. You just never know what you're gonna get. Variety is the spice of life!
After ending a day with 10 km of climbing, the following day started with...20 km of climbing. Wheeee! There was a decent descent into Pereira, but it wasn’t nearly 20 km. A main thoroughfare in Pereira, a sizeable town, had a couple lanes closed off for cyclists, pedestrians, and inline skating. Man, was it ever being used! Enjoying the hassle-free route through a major city, I went into a zone and cruised.
As I got to the point that I could tell I should be nearly out of the city, I checked my map to see where to go next. I was 6 km across the city in the wrong direction. Dammit! Nothing to do but turn around and go back. There's a good 12 km added on to my day!
On my way back, I was flagged down by a couple who first gave me some lemonade, then wound up inviting me to their house nearby for lunch. Liliana lives in California, but is originally from Colombia and often returns to visit. Maybe the best part of lunch was the raspberry juice. I had two glasses!
With a good lunch in my belly, I set off for the last 40 km of the day. There were signs all over the city for Armenia, where I was trying to go, except at the exit for Armenia. Kind of important, guys!
Leaving Pereira, there was a climb. It lasted 25 km. Good gravy, these hills don't mess around! On my way up, I got a honk and a wave here and there, but one stuck out for some reason. They slowed down next to me and had the window down. In the passenger seat was a middle-aged woman wearing a blue and white shirt, giving a thumbs up. I don't know why I remembered her shirt so well.
Once I got near the summit, I saw a cafe. A couple with a teenage daughter sitting at a table waved me over. At second glance, I saw a blue and white shirt that I recognized. I stopped.
Down here, I always have to stop and think to realize that people are waving me to come. To do so, they keep their palm facing down and flap their fingers, in a way that to me means "Away with you! I bid you good day!" But here, it means "Come on over!"
They invited me to a cup of coffee with them. I'm not a coffee drinker, but this is the world's most famous and renowned coffee region, so I couldn't turn it down. It’d be like going to Napa Valley and refusing a glass of wine. I'm starting to enjoy coffee, even with a less excessive amount of cream and sugar than I normally use.
I continued up the mountain. About 5 km later was a highway rest area, the first I've seen since Texas! Not surprisingly, they had a coffee shop. Surprisingly, they had free WiFi! I stopped.
I just wanted to check my email and see if another WarmShowers host responded (he did!). I was about to leave when a guy got off his motorcycle and walked over.
"Chileno?" he asked. Now with a Texas flag on Valeria, I get that about nine times a day.
Turned out this guy not only spoke perfect English, but was a professional cyclist and personally knew my host for the evening. His girlfriend was also a professional cyclist and had done a race that day.
"You want some coffee? C'mon, let's get some coffee."
He went on to describe how he wanted to do my exact trip, but by motorcycle. He kinda wanted to do it by bicycle, but I somehow missed the reason why not. We sat in the grass and looked at the warm, green mountainous landscape as we drank our coffee.
"This is Colombia," he said. "Mountains, bicycles, and coffee."
He told me there was only 1 km to go uphill, and then it would be downhill all the way to my host, a long enough downhill it would take me an hour. And he was right! After a long easy cruise, I finally arrived at my host. Only 100 km, and it took me until 5:00 PM. Maybe I should stop getting lost. The lunch and coffee ate into it too. But knowing it was a short day, why not enjoy it?
Hernando, my WarmShowers host, owns a restaurant and has a few rooms to let. I got treated to both for free! Beef stew here is a little different, it still has beef, but yucca and corn instead of carrots and potatoes. After dinner, Hernando offered me coffee, and for the third time today, I accepted. I normally don’t drink coffee. Or soda. Or anything with caffeine at all. And I’m a lightweight when it comes to, well, everything. Laying in bed that night, I could feel my heart beating like a hummingbird.
For the next day, Hernando had the idea of riding to Cali together. He claimed he knew a friend in Cali who could give us a place to stay. The next morning, the plan changed a little - Hernando would ride to Cali with me, then take a bus home. But I would still have a place to stay.
There was just one thing: Cali was 180 km away.
Hernando claimed it was all downhill and flat. For one reason or another, I trusted him. Even if we didn't make it, that was the direction I was going anyway. And I didn't have a host for that night, it was worth a shot. Then Hernando told me his friend couldn't host, but his cousin could. Even better!
After a quick breakfast of coffee, sausage, and eggs, we headed out. Two things stood out right away:
1. Hernando was right about the terrain
2. Hernando is fast!
Despite having probably 20-25 years on me, I could barely keep up with Hernando! The only way I managed was by carefully drafting off him, staying within one meter of his back tire. Once we got down to the flat valley floor, we were cruising at 30 km/h. I usually can't maintain that pace on Invictus, and here he was going to do it for 200 km, with light panniers on his bike!
After only two hours, we'd covered enough ground that we both had full confidence we'd make it to Cali. Hernando's prediction was 4:00 PM! He then made a phone call to a friend of his, and we made plans to meet for lunch in a small town on the way.
One thing about some Latin American countries: even the small towns are packed and chaotic. There are no sleepy little towns. The streets are narrow, the traffic is bad, the noise level is unbearable, and there are people everywhere. This is true regardless of the size of the town; big cities merely extend farther. Trying to find Hernando's friend for lunch turned out to be a challenge.
Hernando's friend turned out to be two attractive young ladies, probably about my age. We went to a quiet little restaurant that served excellent cold fruit juice drinks, kind of like smoothies, but many kinds, all slightly different. I can't remember what they're all called, but Hernando and I had about five each.
Our lunch stop, including both the lunch and the navigation, took at least two hours. Hernando decided he couldn't make it to Cali and get back at a decent hour by bus, so he was calling it quits here. He also admitted that his cousin couldn't host. And if either of those surprise you, you've never been to Latin America.
Cali was more or less on the way, but there was a route of equal distance, and also flat, that avoided it. With no host planned for the evening, I went that way, logging about the same amount of miles on the day. The roads got more and more devoid of activity, both in traffic and in density of roadside businesses. Everywhere I looked, I saw sugar cane. It started getting late. I had maybe an hour of daylight left. I was wondering if I should try to pitch my tent in the sugar cane fields when a town came out of nowhere, a sizeable one that didn't register on my map at all. Sure wish I could use Google Maps offline instead of relying on Microsoft...