8/24/19 – 8/30/19
Feeling better. Downhill dirt road out of town. Perfection. Loud bugs and strong smells. Lunch in Alpujarra. Half a dozen women with the usual half dozen questions. Pictures with arms around us and thumbs up. We gave one a card and she left rubbing it between her thumbs, ear to ear smile. Two minutes later a young man appeared saying he heard we had cards. He wanted five for his friends and family. They invited us to go swimming and said we should stay for a party and dancing. I wanted to. I envisioned loud salsa from an old scratchy silver radio with cheap beer under a flickering light bulb strung from a tin roof leaking desert evening storm and everyone stamping around the mud. But we were tight on time for the Galapagos and had to decline their beautiful offer.
My stomach was feeling better, but not perfect. The restaurant bathroom sat at the top of the basement stairs. No door. Just a flimsy plastic curtain that kept blowing up in the breeze.
Baraya. Small town on outskirts of the desert. Police tell us it is safe, but be careful in other areas. Colombian police are different. They smile and they’re just as curious as everyone else. Never acting tough. They don’t wear masks to cover their faces. I trust them and the people seem to as well.
Rocky ride into the desert. Tires deflated a bit too much. I can feel my rim hitting a rock and stop to add air. Soph had had enough of the on again off again rocky terrain from the last few days. I was elated to see the familiar site of red sand, martian mud castles, a world void of life and water, and an undulating dirt road with no spectacular climbs or descents. I didn’t realize that you could feel stir crazy while bike traveling until that night. A bit of anxiousness had built up over the last couple of months of always having to ask to camp on somebody’s land or find a hostel. It had been too long since we’d rode through a place that felt easy to pitch the tent. We found a little spot behind the scrub on the edge of a wash and cooked our rice and vegetables. I set my chair out in the sand and stared at the stars and listened to all the little desert things calling in the night. I thought about wilderness.
The desert made me realize how we’d become destination focused lately. Always looking for the most direct route to get to a city or tourist attraction. Watching the silent heat lightening over the seemingly endless expanse of dust and cactus I thought about how I would redirect our focus to be a bit less focused. In order to reach Ushuaia before the winter, we would likely need to finish in April. That gave us ten months. I decided not to think about that anymore. Maybe we’d have to ride in circles in Bolivia until the spring. Maybe fly back and ride all the parts of Colombia we didn’t have time for. Maybe we make it by April. I didn’t care.
Two more days of smooth rolling hills and stopping at roadside swimming holes and impossibly large two dollar lunches and staying in little hangar shaped brick huts on Andean slopes overlooking amazing man made lakes made to hold potential energy and create electricity and little fishing spots for all the locals as an unintended consequence of it all. Little Colombian boys and girls asking for pictures and American dollars. Tiny bathrooms with toilets situated below leaky showerheads. Motos dragging twelve foot sticks of rebar down the road and sparks shooting out from behind. Still high enough that the night is cool and no need for a tent, just the mattress on the ground and stars above to keep the mind dreaming. Little dots of porch lights miles across the canyon and in the darkness you can’t tell who is a star and who is just and an old Edison bulb.
San Augustin sat at the top of one of those Colombian hills. In any other country it would be a “why the hell would anybody put a town up there?” sort of hill. In Colombia… just a hill. There is a strange number of pizza places and a delicious Israeli breakfast. Expensive glasses of cheap wine.
The main attraction in town was a park filled with dozens of centuries old indigenous statues. During the hour long walk from town we talked about the roads coming up in Peru and the likelihood of being on more dirt. It made Soph nervous so I suggested we retool our setup a bit to shed weight. We would drop our front racks and panniers for oversized bottle cages that we could strap dry bags into. We would also get rid of our shoes as we rarely wore them. We decided to only carry a single spare tube each as two felt overkill. All told we could probably shave four to five pounds per bike, which would be more than noticeable.
Additionally, I decided to consolidate some of my gear. I kept a small plastic tube inside my seat post with some spokes and screws. I tried to take it off, but the salt from the Caribbean had rusted it in place. Based on the experience in Jericó, I knew that there probably would not be any WD40 in town. I took it to a nearby motorcycle shop. Everyone dropped what they were doing and crowded around the new problem in the way that Latin Americans do. One immediately tried to tear the seat off with brute force. Another grabbed some vice grips and a pipe. One suggested a torch. Then a rubber mallet combined with a wooden block. In the end, it was a pipe wrench that did the deed. As far as I can tell there is no word for pipe wrench in Spanish. I was shocked that one even existed in the mountains. A wrench is called a “llave”, which means “key.” I told them I needed “el mas grande llave en todo el pueblo,” and one of them ran off only to return within ten minutes with exactly what I wanted. It left a few teeth marks, but did wonders.
Inside my seat post was a rusty orange sludge. I dried and regreased it before putting it back. I tried to pay them.
“Just tell the United States that Colombians are good people.”
I promised that I would.
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