December, 12 2011
I had a dream that I found a place to ship some of my gear back that is not really necessary. This is something I had been thinking about so I can reduce my bicycle weight, this amount of weight in the US is no problem but these long climbs in Colombia are very difficult. In the US a 60 mile day is very easy and I've gone as much as 135 miles with a loaded bicycle. When I cycle 50 miles here it feels like I went well over 100 miles.
I woke up very tired and quickly realized my plan for a very early start was not going to happen. I thought I would get up at 5am and be on the road by 6am for a long day of cycling the steep road and through the pass. Instead I decided to listen to my dream and find a way to mail some stuff back home. I do not need as many clothes, two shirts will be fine as long I as I keep one washed everyday, as well as just one pair of long pants, and one pair of shorts. Anything that was not really necessary I decided to ship back and I thought I could get rid of at least 1/3rd of my weight.
At the front hotel desk I did my best google translate to ask what I was wanting to do, she is very pleasant and accommodating. I am so glad that the series of events led me to this hotel. She left the desk and made a gesture that she will be back. She returned a few minutes later accompanied by a man who could speak some English. The man was her son Felipe, he was very kind and said he will meet me back here in two hours to help me get my stuff shipped.
When I met Felipe he had a box for my stuff, I stuffed it with what I wanted to get shipped and we walked to their version of a post office. He spoke to them for me and instructed me how to fill out the forms. I also needed to show my passport and get fingerprinted due to the amount of security. It will also go through the narcotics division prior to being shipped.
After getting that taken care of, I felt a sense of relief knowing that my bicycle weight will be a little lighter. I am only wondering now why I didn't get rid of my tent, sleeping bag, camp stove and other camping gear. They do not have campgrounds and there is no where to camp out in the country. The cost of a campground in the US can vary from $5 to $20 per night, here in Colombia a hotel will range from $5 to $15 per night. The very large meals I eat cost anywhere from $2 to $5. This is Colombia though and things may change in the other countries, I thought it would be wise to keep my camping gear in case it is needed.
We walked over to a restaurant for lunch and the whole time we walked, Felipe waved and greeted many people who were genuinely pleased to see him. It seemed as though everyone in this town knew him, he stopped and talked to lots of his friends with their enthusiastic conversations. The amount of time it takes to walk 3 blocks in Colombia is about 10 times longer than anywhere else I have known. People love to stop and talk, there is never a rush for anything. The most important thing according to Felipe is friends and conversation. He said "everything is slow here", there is more time to enjoy life, he said Spain was very busy which his description sounded much like the US as far as "busyness". I just find it amazing that things like taking a walk over to the utility office and spending time inside may take a large part of the afternoon but just going through the process and having conversations is what it is all about. Even the amount of time inside the office engaging in conversations and no one gets upset about how long things might take because taking a long time for everything is normal. People tend to be fully engaged in this moment, not thinking much about a future event. They seem happier for it too.
When we made it to the restaurant I was told that this place serves the best coffee that Colombia has to offer. Colombia is known for having the best coffee in the world, the state of Huila is known for the best coffee in Colombia and the Pitalito/Timana area is known for the best coffee in Huila. So it looks like it does not get any better than this. We sat down at one of the outside tables with a large sun umbrella where another man was sitting that was a friend of Felipe's. He was there having a cup of coffee which appears to be tradition here, people stop to have a small "dinto" coffee, dinto meaning black, no milk. I was served a very generous lunch which is a normal size lunch for Colombia. The cups are typically very small because the coffee is not only very good, but very strong with lots of flavor.
Felipe stated the road I plan on cycling up until 4 years ago was full of guerillas and the pass has a lot of thieves, he too is encouraging me to take a bus. I really do not want to buy into fear and if I go through any rough areas, I have always gotten up very early and got through the specific place in the early morning. That is what I did in some spots in the US because what I have found is that the "bad" people are normally out late afternoon through the night. In this case even if I leave very early, I will not reach the pass until the afternoon, it is a long steep climb and a long road to Mocoa by bicycle. So even though I had been looking forward to cycling the remote areas, I want to only take measured risks. Life is a risk but also are there messages around me that I need to listen to. I usually think that if I hear something three times then it is a message for me. I have now heard it at least six times. So tomorrow morning I will be looking for a bus that will take me as well as my bicycle and gear.
I had to give my ego a check because it would sound good to say that I cycled "the road of death". As I mentioned before I have decided this journey is not about some great physical feat of endurance and cycling all of it, it is about the people and cultures as well as my own inner journey.
After lunch Felipe thought it would be a good idea for me to get a hidden waist belt that goes under my shirt to store my passport and credit card. We walked into about 6 different stores looking for one and each time the people inside knew Felipe personally and would engage in conversation. We did eventually find one and I bought it.
It turns out that Felipe is well known because of his politics and run for office. Many things are difficult to get translated properly but I understood he is a sociologist with a degree in political science from Barcelona Spain.
At one point we were walking by a place and Felipe again stopped to talk to a friend. This friend is a journalist and had a tape recorder and camera with him. He wanted to interview me with the tape recorder for his radio show, so I obliged. It was fun to try to get the questions to me through translation and then my responses being translated back. I was told the audio will be posted on the website later tonight so I could go to the website and listen to it. The problem is that I forgot to get the website address.
There are so many conversations and words exchanged in a day it is very difficult to capture it all for my journal. Another thing we discussed was the openness of everyone. Strangers tend listen in on conversations and very happy to add to the discussion. It is well accepted and people enjoy that, it is as if everyone is one big family and no secrets. I keep getting the sense that for a large majority of Colombians they live through their soul, it just comes through with their enthusiasm for passionate conversations, the music, dancing etc... This is my personal experience and I know there are others around who are the "bad" people, the thieves I hear about but in general this is the tradition of their culture.
A couple of things about Colombia is most people have really nice thick black hair and really good teeth. They also like to wear jeans, the style that is always worn would be considered designer jeans in the US but these custom designer looking jeans are the norm with many different types of fancy stitching on the pockets of men and women. Levi jeans are not seen here, I heard that original Levis are very expensive but the fake Levi's are cheap.
Late in the evening we went to go have a bit of dinner and then to one of the pubs. There are many around offering lots of musical choices. The one we went into was called "Ruta 66" Spanish for Route 66. This place played a lot of rock that was popular in the United States. Most of the people here do not understand the words but they like the sound of the music and the voices is what I'm told. It was fun to listen to and watch a variety of rock music videos on the large screen, The Doors, The Beatles, AC/DC Hells Bells was played, Bon Jovi, and many more that I do not remember.
I had one beer that is the classic traditional beer for Colombia, I have seen "Poker" beer absolutely everywhere and I have not seen any other brand of beer.
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