Though I've been on the road only eleven weeks it sometimes feels like a year already. Weird.
Due to some circumstances beyond my control, I've been in large, hot, humid cities far too long. Nine days in Panama City, Cartagena for six and then coastal cities such as Santa Marta and Riohacha, then Bogota by accident thanks to Garmin, but I finally broke free and landed in Villa de Leyva in the rain, a small colonial town, beautiful, tranquil and clean. The region was a dairy area, with lots of milk cows and horsemen, tending to fields of green rolling hills.
I found a good hostel run by a couple who'd driven a Tuk-Tuk to Ushuaia. It felt great to shed the last few weeks of heat and city slime, for the first time breaking out my fleece for the cool nights.
There was so much to do in the area that I resisted the drive to try and see it. My body was telling me to slow down and rest and when the tension released, I couldn't do much anyway.
The rain broke in the morning and I found myself in a paradise. White colonial buildings with green trim, blue skies and flowers, and tranquility. The massive square beneath the eyes of the mountain was a good place to hang out and breathe deeply.
The pretty streets called my name in whispers and I followed, catching moments and people randomly, resisting the urge to turn the image collection into a job.
There are many homes with the base exterior covered in these fossils
As the day ran down, the black afternoon clouds rolled in washing the nearby hills and tossing random rain drops on my face.
That evening I enjoyed the fruits of hostel stays, having dinner with a couple of travelers, Saskia from Holland who is doing documentaries of eco conscious farms and people, the other, Jeannine from Switzerland who was backpacking through Colombia. Back at the hostel we sat with other travelers from Spain, Uruguay, Norway and others. It's fun being amidst the energy and discussions of travel from so many perspectives.
I enjoyed the town so much I booked another night, but my room was not available. The owners made calls and arrangements for me in an adjacent house, but at the last minute, informed me that the woman who owned the building had a room on the second floor I could have. It was a relief to only have to move upstairs.
As I got settled, the older lady came in the room to make sure all was okay. I only understood from her face what she was saying, and I walked with her to the front staircase. As I passed old photos along the hallway of family members, I pointed and she was happy I cared. She showed me pictures of herself when she was young, pictures of her son and then a very old, yellowed, black and white photo of her mother and father. I asked, poorly, how many years ago it was taken but she thought I was asking when they passed. She told me years, thirty and forty, and looked at it quietly, then turned and drew a line with her withered finger down her cheek from her eye, indicating tears. I was touched at her loneliness.
I thanked her for allowing me to stay in her place, and as I turned to leave she extended her hand to shake mine. I'm not sure why, but I bent over and kissed the back of her hand to honor her. There was tear in her eye, and she stepped forward and hugged me for a long time. I got a tear as well and it felt as if electricity went through me. A special moment in life.
As I've learned and so demonstrated by moments in my trip to Alaska and other places, it's the times when lives touch that I never forget. Mountains come and go, beautiful roads and sights, excitement and difficulty in travels roll by and dissipate into haze, but the people of heart never do.
When I returned that afternoon to the hostel, I was quite surprised to see the white waterboxer of Benjamin from France parked adjacent to my GS. I went inside but he was out wandering and we connected later that evening. Our communication was limited but it was a nice surprise. We both left the next morning, he south and me back North in a big loop towards Guatape and Medellin.
Daniel and the ADVTuk
Daniel, the hostel manager was a wealth of information and suggested the main road northest, but warned me of the bad sections. He was correct, being the worst "paved" road I've yet ridden. It was raining and foggy up high, at times zero visibility for miles. I can't tell you how bad the potholes and entire missing sections of blacktop there was. The entire mountain had bad movement and section after section was missing. Long stretches of no pavement where you thought you'd gone off the main road and were lost on some tiny rutted muddy road. Mud and landslides, large and small were everywhere, and it honestly seemed as if the road had been bombed. It took more than four hours to travel 67 miles if that helps the visual. It was a day of pitholes, the granddaddy of potholes.
Climbing into the mountains
The highway to hell...
By 3 pm the rain stopped and after squeezing through the last muddy road diversions, I finally reached a valley with a concrete road and sunshine. The twisties were fast and fun, hauling butt and dragging toes to make up time. After averaging 15 mph for hours in puddles and potholes it was great. I took a short break about 4 pm in a small town, to the smile and wink of the girl running the tienda, no doubt hoping for a ticket out, downing a Coke for some energy for the last hour to Puerto Berrio to find a hotel for the night. Beside me sat a rowdy group of local guys, fueled by beer and eyeing the chica.
My gift for locating hotels with glamorous views was working well, however the hotel was nice and the staff attentive, all for $15 US. The bike had to sleep on the sidewalk in the rough port town located on the massive Magdalena river, but I covered it and squeezed it next to the hotel lobby window.
I was quite hungry after having only breakfast and made my way to a corner restaurant with open covered seating. I ordered fish and was rewarded with a huge slab of fried dorado and trimmings. It began to rain as I ate, the mist and overspray intensifying the moment as I savored the best fish I've had on the trip.
Returning to the room, I found the only English channel on tv, CNN, which did nothing but remind me of the stupidity of the homeland and shortly switched it off. I used to like CNN. It had been yet another long day and I struggled to stay awake until Mr. Sandman kicked in the door and beat me cold with a sandbag.