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Kat Marriner : February 27th, 2008

Four Degrees of Separation

A bike trip means 24/7 togetherness … which is not a bad thing, but it does limit the conversations. Willie and I experience the same roads, eat the same foods, and spot the blue-a href=””img id=”BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5172174163788715378″ style=”FLOAT: left; MARGIN: 0px 10px 10px 0px; CURSOR: hand” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ //aheaded parrots together. I mention this observation to Willie and he notes that only one of us is experiencing a slowly erupting boil-size pimple on our backside. That’s too much togetherness, but we are easy companions. At the possibility of conversations with others that go beyond the exchange in Spanish of “where did you come from”, “where are you going”, and “how long did it take you” we get very excited. These handful of questions are asked again and again. Every once in awhile though, someone comes into our lives and enriches our travel, stimulates our conversations and broadens our /br /In Thailand, our visas needed renewing so we took a day-trip to Burma simply so we could renew our Thai visa and stay longer. What we got in addition to the visa was Bruce and Andrea. We met them at the bus station and we’ve enjoyed their friendship and been inspired by their brand of adventure ever since. When I received an email from a friend of Bruce’s brother who encouraged us to contact his father living in Colombia, it felt like a long-shot but I gave it a chance. Through the miracles of email, blackberries, and cell phones, we were able to correspond with Joaquin, a Colombian native living in Chicago, and his father Oscar, now living outside of Medellin after living in the states for many years– all because we struck up a conversation on a bus in Thailand. a href=””img id=”BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5172174601875379602″ style=”FLOAT: left; MARGIN: 0px 10px 10px 0px; CURSOR: hand” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ //aAs luck, or the travel gods, would have it, the route we had chosen to pick our way through the small mountain towns of Colombia, took us to the beautiful, little pueblo of Retiro. With one quick call, Oscar and Mary Ann made a date to meet us for coffee and they would lead us to their home a few kilometers outside of the village. Before even meeting us they invited us to stay as long as we /br /These kind of offers don’t come every day, and they rarely come in the “real world” living at home, but there’s some magic on the bicycle trail. Its hard to imagine inviting perfect strangers to come into our homes and stay a night … or a week, but that’s just what Oscar and Mary Ann did. A luxurious queen-size bed with crisp linens, waited for us. First we had to pass inspection by Mimi and Carmen, their two lovely dogs who inspect everyone who passes the rocky, dirt road a kilometer or two off the pavement. Mimi and Carmen became friends almost as fast as Oscar and Mary Ann, so the welcome party was /br /Coming up the back roads to Retiro from our one day on the Pan-American highway, we passed a href=””img id=”BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5172175731451778466″ style=”FLOAT: left; MARGIN: 0px 10px 10px 0px; CURSOR: hand” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ //amany beautifully crafted homes, but nothing prepared us for the paradise that Oscar and Mary Ann created when they moved to Colombia in 2001. Oscar’s brother-inlaw designed for them a simple, but perfect floor plan for their comfortable home filled with art and books and passion for life. Large plate-glass windows looked out on Eden rich with orchids and oranges, amaryllis and avocados. Completely surrounded by a rich and varied garden, we were like kids in a candy shop excitedly discovering new flavors. Blue birds, hummingbirds, long-tailed green birds all visited the fruit-peel feeder. The surrounding hillsides a tapestry of /br /We spent three glorious days in the company of our hosts and relished every moment of our a href=””img id=”BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5172174404306883970″ style=”FLOAT: left; MARGIN: 0px 10px 10px 0px; CURSOR: hand” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ //atime together. Oscar is a writer and poet at heart and we are stirred by his stories, and observations of life’s great and tragic moments. Mary Ann shares her passion for politics along with her own stories of family and childhood growing up in Oklahoma. That they found each other in Dallas seems almost as much a long-shot as us finding them in Colombia. But maybe kindred spirits travel intersecting routes. From Bruce to Mark to Joaquin to Oscar, the four degrees of separation were bridged. And we are the richer for /br /======br /A note of thanks to Mr. Extreme who stops extremely often to take photos along our way.

Kat Marriner : February 18th, 2008


Our hearts are in the mountains, and no wonder when just around every corner lies the possibility of a surprise.a href=””img id=”BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5168483880643351858″ style=”margin: 0px 10px 10px 0px; float: left;” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ //a Every once of grit and pound of grind is rewarded with vistas of green valleys or soaring peaks. The roads are lined with hibiscus blooms in every color from pale peach to flaming red, only to be out-done by the birds, stunning in their florescent orange and red plummage. Willie and I pick our way slowly from village to village, and in these far-off reaches, we are continuely greeted with great interest and respect. These mountain people know the roads we travel, and each encounter garners a “muy guapa(o)” and nod of /divdivdivdivdivdivdivbr /divThe weather ventures from chilly mist to stunning heat and can change with each bend in the road. Somewhere in the middle, it’s just right. We know that once we leave these beautiful mountains, we are sure to hit heat and humidity beyond any stretch of comfort. So we linger./divbr /div/divdivMost days begin with a steep downhill to a river drainage and then back up another side of a mountain. It’s during these climbs, particurly the rough ones with broken rocks for a road, that my thoughts turn towards our dear friend Susie. She had a great spirit of adventure, and I don’t think she ever met a climb she didn’t like. So when the going gets tough, I first think of Susie and her motto … “If you don’t like where you are, pedal.” That was Susie. She had energy to match Mr. Extreme and she pedaled fast and furious in her short //divdivBut I’m Miss Moderate and had to wonder what my motto would be. I’m such a creature of comfort. When the rains start, I’m more inclined to stop for another cup of coffee. After lunch, a nap sounds pretty good. So as we aim our bicycles towards the next metropolis of Medellin, these exquisite mountain pueblos, with town squares in front of churches built 200-400 years ago, I am captured by the charm and quiet life of the village. I want to stay, and quite often we do find a beautifully restored hotel with rich wood floors, a soft bed, wooden windows that open to balconies overlooking main street. a href=””img id=”BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5168482781131724034″ style=”margin: 0px 10px 10px 0px; float: left;” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ //aWe’re living a life of luxery beyond expectations. Over the last week of pleasant surprises, I found my motto for the moment: “If you like where you are, linger”. /divbr /divWe lingered extra long one morning in Salamina, hoping to get another yummy egg dish whipped and steamed to perfection by the espresso machine. We had it the day before and declared it the most inventive and tasty breakfast so far. But alas, for reasons we’ll never know, the shop wouldn’t open and we opted for an egg on a tasteless arapa, or corn cake with all the flavor sucked out of it. The day ride began with blue skies and another lovely downhill to the river. We turned upwards and pedaled in the late morning heat. By our roadside lunch, clouds we were moving fast with dark clouds threatening. Ah, the downside of the linger! A few more kilometers and the heavens opened just as we ducked under a tin-roofed bus shelter with a comfy bamboo bench. Not a bad place to wait out the rain. Willie and I snooze a little, I loose a few too many hands of gin, and the rain still shows no sign of stopping. Our road is a muddy river amongst the jutting rocks, and the chill has set in. Even Mr. Extreme is reluctant to press on, he’s caught my hesitation to get soaked to the //divbr /divFortunately, we had come upon a panela “factory”a href=””img id=”BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5168483197743551762″ style=”margin: 0px 10px 10px 0px; float: left;” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ //a earlier in the day when the sun was out and watched with intense fascination as sugar cane was pressed, the juice boiled in a huge vat, then reduced in smaller and smaller vats, until it was eventually scooped onto wide, flat bins for cooling. Young men with strong backs swish and swoosh the thickening lava just until the point it will hold a shape. With deft and leathered hands, they scoop just enough of the still hot sugar to fill a mold. Young boys then imprint the cooling sugar with the stamp of the factory. Nothing’s wasted. All movements are choreographed to perfection. Amused by our interest in their art, a “stamp” boy offers us a large round of this rich, aromatic treat of unrefined sugar. a href=””img id=”BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5168488325934503250″ style=”margin: 0px 10px 10px 0px; float: left;” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ //a/divbr /divSo as we linger awhile in our roadside shelter surrounded by cane, we decide it’s a fine time to pull out the stove and cook up some hot chocolate — Colombian-style. This is a true treat in this country, and available in nearly every cafe so far. We had purchased our own bar of chocolate for some campsite to come, but still needed the sugar. The bar itself is intense like a baker’s chocolate, but when melted into water and combined with our gift of the distinctively aromatic panela, it’s a bit of heaven on earth, and certainly hearty enough to warm us through and give us //divdivAs we clean up, the rain becomes mist and we set out, hoping against hope to make it to Pacora and a hotel for the night. Mud-splattered and wet we reach beyond our strength and press on as darkness approaches. A sharp rock penetrates Willie’s rear tire, but we’re fighting against time now, so he opts to pump and go … pump and go. Passing up an offer to stay at a roadside rum shack, our hearts are set on reaching the comfort of town and hopes of a dry, clean bed. Darkness descends just as we burst into town passed a tree filled with a hundred white egrets. Main street blasts music from every snack shop, bar and cell phone tienda. We made it! It’s Saturday night and the town feels like the Wild West with Honky Tonks //divdivCold, dirty and victorious, we rinsed in the hot shower and tumbled into bed once again. I’ll linger in the warm fleece blankets just a little bit longer…/div/div/div/div/div/div/div/div

Kat Marriner : February 12th, 2008

Yo soy una machine

divWhat a difference a week makes. The way did indeed become clear thanks to many friendly guides along the way. Leaving Bogota was nothing short of a miraculous experience. We had heard about the “miracle of Bogota”, but nothing in life has prepared us for the extreme thrill of riding down major big city avenues completely free of cars, buses, taxis and swarming with bicyclists, pedestrians and even the occasional roller-blader. It was awe-inspiring to be part of the 1.5 million people who take back the streets EVERY Sunday in Bogota. a href=””img id=”BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5166216099256357938″ style=”margin: 0px 10px 10px 0px; float: left;” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ //abr /br /Our guides Cristian and Ana escorted us out of the city and after sharing a croissant and coffee, headed back to Bogota and we lept to our adventure. All the anxiety and anticipation melted away as we cruised, literally downhill for the rest of the /br /Morning found us enjoying coffee at a street-side cafe in a small town well off the main highway. Naturally, we took Mr. Peñalosa´s advice and opted for the small red lines on the map … and the occasional smaller gray line … and the imposing dotted red and white line which means no pavement. We were on our way! Ba href=””img id=”BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5166216399904068674″ style=”margin: 0px 10px 10px 0px; float: left;” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ //aut before we could embark, Hector-clad in cycling tights, flashy jacket and helmet-welcomed us to Colombia and immediately turned his bike in our direction and cycled the whole day with us to his brother´s village, San Juan de Rioseco–precisely our plan for the /br /A grand ride winding down the mountainside through small villages, all with children and elders, young men carrying flags, women walking side-by-side, others walking alone, some walking in groups by the hundreds — ALL walking for Peace. Their white shirts, white flags, peace signs, flashing smiles gave me great hope for the world and this country. One young woman stopped to impress upon me that they marched for peace for the whole world — they march in solidarity. I have to think that our presence in some small way indicates the growing peace in their country. Several people have asked what Americans know or think about Colombia, and I tell them I think a change towards peace has /br /While going downhill all day seems like a good thing, every once in awhile you have to go up. When the way down is work just to hold the brakes, it inspires a bit of, oh, apprehension when I know I have to come back up. That was the road to San Juan–a picture perfect village nestled 2.5km down in a valley off the road. The thought of that little distance kept me awake at night. Morning came early and a light bite of cheese and coffee and the 3 of us ascended out of the valley of the shadow of my death. Willie stopped just out of town to give us a Hammer Gel pack gifted to us from Cristian. And pack a punch it did. We stood and pedaled and with barely a stop broached the top onto the main road where I passed Willie wearing the biggest smile and declaring, “Soy una machine!” I am a machine and that moment, all the parts and pistons were /br /Hector returned home up the mountain as we continued to descend to the wide river valley below that separates the two main mountain ranges of running through Colombia. The flatlands were dusty and dry and by mid-day the temp hovered around 95F. Fortunately, the road was often covered by dense foliage for shade, but that shade also the brought piercing ring of insects whose tremendous sound bore like a drill-bit into our ears. a href=””img id=”BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5166217976157066370″ style=”margin: 0px 10px 10px 0px; float: left;” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ //aMr Extreme stopped to record the psycho-inducing noise while I merely tried to out run it. Only by dosing our shirts in an aqua-duct did we make it to the convergence of roads and truck stop in the shade and cool drinks in /br /At this point, another cyclist took interest and after looking at our maps assured us the back-roads we were considering were doable if “the force was with us”. That´s all Willie needed to know, and we were /br /The by-way to Manizalas was a little traveled road that climbed into the next mountain range parallel to the main highway. There were mixed warnings and encouragement, but mostly it was disbelief that we would … or maybe could do it. It was a grind is an understatement, but soy una machine! And fortunately I have a burro for a companion. Climbing gave us relief from the heat, so we went up until the pavement stopped, and we went up some more. We have all the time in the world, we remind ourselves, so the going is slow and stop often to gasp at how incredibly beautiful it is. We climb through rugged hillsides dappled a href=””img id=”BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5166218538797782162″ style=”margin: 0px 10px 10px 0px; float: left;” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ //awith coffee and sugar cane. We climb to where cows graze and cowboys greet us as we stop for water. For all the fear and warnings to stick to the main roads, this is where life happens. We encounter enough smiles, thumbs up and friendly inquiries that not for a moment do we hesitate to leave our bikes and all belongings outside a farmers house and follow him down the dirt track to where the coffee was being harvested and his cows were resting peacefully. Moncho would stop and just let us look out across his land and we understood his pride in his country. He was a very poor farmer but rich, rich /br /We hiked back to the road and Moncho´s house to find his mother and sister had prepared a feast for us. Aye! We ate ourselves silly on grilled meat and rice and beans, perfectly fried potatoes, fresh milk, blackberry juice and I´m sure there´s some food I can´t remember. So much that I wanted nothing more than to lay down and take a nap the rest of the afternoon. Sensing that, Moncho and his sister prepared beds for us! We did decline since it was still only mid-day and a good day to keep /br /a href=””img id=”BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5166218886690133154″ style=”margin: 0px 10px 10px 0px; float: left;” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ //aThe kindness of Colombia was already staggering, (as staggering as the two river drainages and over 5000 ft of climbing that day) and then we came to the friendliest little village of them all, Herveo. A welcoming committee greeted us within about 5 minutes of our arrival — after the police had stopped us to take down our information. Clearly other police had let them know we were on our way. This road, as even locals would tell us, had not been safe for very long. It was in the red zone for guerilla activity and we were often warned to stay on the road and not travel at night. Of course, THAT is information we listen /br /img id=”BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5166224319823762642″ style=”margin: 0px auto 10px; display: block; text-align: center;” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ /The welcome committee was headed by our new, dear friend Jaidev–the town´s Cultural Director, the local English teacher, and the town historian–a charming white-heard man of 83 years. The crowd gathered and Willie and I answered questions, showed pictures of home, told of where we had traveled, and felt completely welcomed by these people. The next day would be our 11th wedding anniversary, and upon entering the only hotel and finding the shower had hot water, we knew we would be staying a second night. Some towns just feel right, and this one had that vibe in spades. We toured the school, the library, the map rooms and told them of our travels around the world. We shared endless cups of coffee and pastries with the baker at the pandaria, practiced my Spanish on some cowboys and school girls. We woke at down and trekked to the high cross on the hill in hopes of spotting the white-capped peak that crowned the mountain range. We granted an interview on the local ABC radio Herveo program so anyone who hadn´t seen us already, certainly heard about the two gringos who came to their village. It was hard to leave…br /br /a href=””img id=”BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5166219535230194882″ style=”margin: 0px 10px 10px 0px; float: left;” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ //aDonning freshly cleaned clothes and with the chief of police in escort on a motorcycle, we continued the journey towards Manizalas. We had climbed for three solid days to get to Herveo, and as it turned out, that was just a warm up for what was to come. The police left us at the intersection of the highway since that is the only road that crosses the high mountain pass. We bought our escorts a greasy lunch of chorizo and fried banana and went our separate /We tend to shun main roads bombing with truck traffic, busses and more. But this road was fairly quite, had a shoulder in places and we gazed out at something that looked more like the Heidi tending the cows in the Alps than tropical Colombia. Most major highways keep the grades at a reasonable level for trucks to travel, and my mental picture was more like crossing Snoqualmie Pass outside of Seattle, thinking slow but steady would do /br /Yo soy una machine chant going through my brain, we will our legs to move, but some how things weren´t working out that way. By every 500 meters I needed to stop and breath… and ah, breathe! That´s what wrong. We have climbed past 8,000 feet and air was thin and muscles cried for /br /We went as far as our aching muscles would take us and didn´t make it over that pass that night. We spotted a rare house and gave it our last, ditch effort to make it to the house and beg a place to set up our tent. With a nod of her unsure head, we were let in the gate and shown down the road to a sloping patch of grass for our tent. Tumbling over ourselves in tiredness we poured into the tent to sleep before we could even think of dinner. Waking long enough to see the town of Herveo deep in the foothills below twinkling at dusk, we comforted ourselves with a dinner of hot water and peanut butter on a molasses cookie. It was /br /By daybreak the peaks were clear and the valley covered in clouds. By the time we packed up camp, the clouds had moved up the mountain and we departed our campsite in foggy, damp haze. Up we go. Up we go, and no longer am I a machine but a simpering lost soul on the side of the road. It may be only by Willie´s shear will that he patiently encouraged me to continue. A false summit took any last piece of pride I had and filled me with complete doubt that I could make it to the top. But again, what is the alternative? Eat a peanut, drink some water, pedal, walk, rest, repeat. My burro is just as tired, but he has more mental stamina than I will ever have. At long last, the top is in site– all 10,000 feet of it. We know this because Colombians have a way of building their towns on the highest part of the road. Drunk with exhaustion and now with hunger, we stumble into a restaurant at Alto de Letras and refuel. Warmed by two steaming bowls of hot chocolate, and a heaping plate of eggs and rice and meat with gravy, all is right with the world once /a href=””/abr /It is here that Willie tells me what the men from Herveo told him two nights prior. The Colombian sport cyclists say that the road to Manizalas is not made for machines, but for animals. They are absolutely right, and I am thankful I travel with a /br /My wish was for a down hill glide for the next 30km into the city. My wish was granted by a graceful decent out of the cloud forest and back to civilization and internet /br /a href=””img id=”BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5166219230287516850″ style=”margin: 0px 10px 10px 0px; float: left;” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ //aThanks to all of you who travel in spirit with us. Some moments I call on you to give me strength enough to continue, and you always come through./div

Kat Marriner : February 2nd, 2008

Finding Our Way

The journey starts with a single pedal-stroke, but getting to “push off” appears to require a whole lot of maps. We left home with two full-size Colombia maps and a general idea of where we wanted to go. Once in Bogota, we start asking questions and quickly find help from a young man working at our hotel who, as luck has it, is a mountain bike racer and has pedaled all over this country. He jumps to our rescue and provides a moto-ruta guide complete with elevation charts. Holy cow! The way we intended to start might break our camels back (or Willie´s legs … or my spirit) with it´s extreme grades over the mountains. I feel panic rise and Willie considers getting a cog with a larger ring. Christian recommends it, which doesn´t bode well when the mountain bike racer who rides a titaneum tricked-out bike with NO PANNIERS suggests we are going to be in pain. Serious fret /br /span style=”color:#ff9900;”a href=””img id=”BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5162592748928131714″ style=”FLOAT: left; MARGIN: 0px 10px 10px 0px; CURSOR: hand” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ //aA test ride on the bike paths of Bogota./spanbr /br /Next help comes from a meeting with non-other than the former mayor of Bogota and world-renowned bicycle advocate, Enrique Pañelosa. Señor Peñalosa and Juan Camila, head of the bike network development inBogota, spend nearly an hour with us and a whole lot of head shaking happens. They mark our map and suggest many options. None can say just how steep the roads are, but do say that small roads are safe and the large roads have heavy traffic. This is the opposite information from some other sources, but we take it all in. They do strongly encourage us to get better maps and send us off to the Institute Agustin Codazi — better known as the geographic office of Colombia — where after 2 and a half hours of lines, hand-wringing decisions and more lines, we select five new maps to carry with us. This is in addition to the driving route guide gifted to us by our new cyclist /br /All these maps, optional routes, partial unknowns, shaking heads, and phone numbers in case we need help, only stir the pot. How do we know if we can actually pedal these mountains? Will my knees hold up? We can´t be sure if these roads are paved. We don´t know if the traffic will be relentless and /br /Sleep is a restless muse toying with our dreams–heads spinning with options and no real plan. Our wise and well-traveled friend Zeb likes his beauty sleep, and he offers a zebism to ease our troubled /br /”The way will become the clear when you are on the way.”br /br /To a lesser degree, we didn´t know how we would navigate Bogota. Would it be safe to walk around? Could we trust the taxi drivers? And within these 5 short days, Bogota makes sense. We can find our way around to meet our friend Tom, see museums, get yellow fever shots, buy cycling gloves. All things we didn´t know when we got off the /br /Tomorrow morning, with bicycle escorts Cristian and his wife Ana, we get on our way. They will take us through the concrete maze and send us off in a direction at the edge of town. At this point, we´re ready for any direction just so we can move beyond questions and discover /img id=”BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5162589647961743970″ style=”DISPLAY: block; MARGIN: 0px auto 10px; CURSOR: hand; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”” border=”0″ /