Driving and cycling tend to occupy separate spheres of the time/space continuum in my mind, but in Caldas, they’re starting to meld. I was invited to a party at a finca (a country house) on Christmas Eve by some ever-hospitable Colombianos, who proceeded to treat the two lonely gringos like their own familia. I came away from the experience with two thoughts unaffected by the aguardiente and copious volumes of deep-fried deliciousness:
One, Utah Mormons (my upbringing, though no longer) and Colombian Catholics are not terribly different, save I might wager those that swing towards the Vatican vs. Salt Lake City know how to have a touch more fun. Remarkably strong family ties transcend culture, ethnicity, theology, and income. People are people, and tradition is tradition. It’s a comforting fact.
Two, and back to my original thoughts on driving; it’s impossible to get anywhere quickly in a vehicle in Caldas. As we rolled down the La Cabana climb to the finca in the two-door Landcruiser packed with seven adults, Christian and I were both cognizant that we could reach our destination twice as fast on a bicycle. In the US, distances become skewed by the vast interstate highway system, covering hundreds of kilometers in the space of a few short hours. It makes “huge” rides seem far less expeditionary and a bit more pedestrian. In Caldas, riding a mere 70km from home is considered a very long distance, even to those who own automobiles - many people I’ve met don’t know the pueblitas I ride to inside their own department. The social changes as one crosses from one cell of habitation to another 15km away are considerably vast, far more so than in the interconnected sprawl I call my home. It’s astonishing.
And on a total non-sequitur: Rare moments when the ubiquitous green box mode is the best mode - or maybe the algorithms that make the little Canon estimate sunny-16 solo are getting that good. In any case, I’d kill for a rest week with a motorcycle and my old Pentax 6x7 right about now. Or even a 5D with a 50mm, if I’m not being picky.
A whirlwind tour of Colombian vice, thanks to new friends. An evening express fueled by $6 Red Bulls and the national beverage. Stops at the local house of ill-repute, an after-hours dance club drunkenly swaggering to the driving beat of the national bump & grind, a poorly-stocked after-after-hours speakeasy staffed by a man who sleeps in his shed-housed establishment, La Policia Nacional shuffling our ragtag band of aguardiente-wielding miscreants down the avenue like curling players sweeping the ice with assault rifles, sidewalk liberation of a compatriot bereft of his cell-phone by an enterprising candyman, with the line’s terminus at its origin, vistas of the rising sun shared with the fellow detritus of the evening.
Four hours of slumber, and cobbled together is a short cockpit ditty, inspired by a day half-consumed by the brutality of an evening prior.
Risaralda sits 2,500ft above the valley below on a narrow ridge of earth, perilously looming in the viewfinder of anyone plodding the switchbacks to its setting on the escarpment. To the casual observer, this is a rather diametric location for the largest puebla within 15km - but it seems common within the Coffee Triangle of Colombia. The city of Manizales, home to roughly 500,000 denizens (and your author), occupies a series of peaks at 7,000ft of elevation. The resulting topography is nothing short of sheer brutality. “Flat” does not exist - for that, one can ride the velodrome. There are two choices in Caldas: Up, or down. And then up.
A woman may not make an honest man, but a 20km Hors Categorie climb home every day will.