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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

8 comments to Yo soy una machine

  • Doug and Jan

    Great dispatches, Kat! Willie, the donut crew wants to know if you’ve come across any plain cakes yet… – Doug

  • Heidi

    Soy una machine indeed!! You ROCK Kat! I’m so proud of you, you are way tougher than I could ever be! We LOVE your blog, and look forward to continued updates. Travel safe, xoxo Heidi

  • Kirk

    What wonderful descriptions of your time in Columbia. ‘Soy una Machine’ is perfecto…..How else are you going to get there? I recall dissapointment about false peaks in Pelopenesis and the Alps.As we know, they control! Kat and Willie, thanks for being the team you are. Locally, commuting here is windy, and of course wind along the waterrfront in your face both directions. Changed bikes and riding the roadbike is a dream, ‘una machine’ that is better than me. Love your adventures!!!

  • Andrea

    Kat, this is just wonderful writing. I am so there with you. I will try to push you up a few hills in my dreams. And you can take a downhill with me on your pannier, screaming into your ear, “Somos unos machines!” I can hardly wait for the next dispatch. Keep enjoying everything, you two. Love to the burro.BR/Andrea

  • Terry

    KatWillie, have enjoyed reading your adventures so far. Thanks Kat, for the great read that you have been providing to us along the way. As your brother I want to say that your writing has been fantastic,you make us feel as though we are right there with you both. Look forward to the future posts!

  • chris

    Salutaciones a la maquina y el burro! Kat, si tu eres una maqiina , es una maquina con un corazon que late (b-boom,b-boom) con la fuerza de un volcan. Y el burro, pues, el tiene un corazon grande tambien,no? Como se dice? Hecho de oro! Sigue, sigue, y no pares! Todos los corazones aqui laten con suyos. BR/BR/B-boom,B-boom. Cristobal

  • Kit

    oh, mY, GOOdness, graCIous! Sitting in my living room with my morning grace of hot tea and corn bread and I’m sweating here just reading your trials UPWARD and upWARD! My guess is that this is not the vacation for those of us who are acrophobic, eh? There is a reason I live close to sea level.BR/But, I, too, am SO proud of you for all that pedaling. The rewards we all get is to read your experiences and relive, vicariously, your wonderful encounters with land and people! Thanks for doing this!!!BR/It actually is sunny this week in Seattle. You remember, the sun breaks we are given to keep going ’til summer. The tips of the bulbs are showing and the snowdrops are blooming.BR/xox-Kit

  • eLiz

    Lovely Amazing Delightful **BR/Joyful Warm Exhaustion ** Beautiful Inspiration ** Thank You 😉

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