Letting go didn’t hurt nearly as badly as trying to grab ahold again.
Staring at the summit of the Nevado del Ruiz, touching the sky at almost 17,500ft, brings a sense of serene insignificance. The lofty peaks of the Andes, obscured for much of the day, reveal themselves in the early morning hours - like, as a boy, seeing my mother before she put her makeup on for the day. Unveiled, the crest of Nevado will retreat to its throne in the clouds in little more than sixty minutes, and the unenlightened will remain as such, snoring in blissful ignorance.
Sundays are for tipica, y montar a tranquilo. Mazamorra. Chicharron. Bandeja Paisa.
Cycling is my life. It’s not a bad one. In fact, it’s one I’d never dreamed of. Even scraping by on a daily basis, I feel like one of the most fortunate people on earth to be able to share it with anyone who cares to listen.
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.
Welcome to Colombia.
Every place has its ups and downs, and this temporary Latin American home is no different. The terrain mirrors the trajectory of its history (like so many of the oft-exploited and neglected cast-off states shaped by failed Western policy), a permanent roller coaster of excruciating highs and lows, punctuated by the cerebral views from the alto de la montaña and the muggy swaddling of the fondo del rio.
As negotiations in Havana (possibly) decide the fate of its long-running civil war, the people of the Cafetero are ambivalent at best. Instead, their attention is focused on things more immediate. This país, these people, they are the happiest encountered. A refreshing mentality, one driven not by a ravenous hunger for more, but motivated by an innate love of their compatriots. Happy to get by, to exist, to spend as much time with loved ones doing what they enjoy in life, and sharing it with anyone in shouting distance.
This isn’t to say this isn’t a hardworking place - but its people are hardworking because they care about each other, not because they’re trying to get ahead of one another.