Saturday, December 13, 2008

i love the biking here

The best investment that I have made in recent years has been my mountain bike. Aside from the obvious exercise, there are added rewards such as beautiful scenery or seeing how many Colombians really live.
We bikers at Bolivar--Scott, Stetson, Tina are the regulars--have our set routes. 'Where're we goin' today?' And the answer is debated for a couple moments...suggestions come out like Toboganes, Topacio, pueblo Pance, Miravalle, Villacarmelo, La Estrellita, Rosario, El Crucero, Pico de Aguila. And then we go.

Some rides I prefer over others. Topacio, for instance, is a state park at the end of a steep one lane road. You ride in and walk your bike into the jungle for a bit to the river rapids and, if you dare, sit down in and let the mountain runoff cool you down. Pueblo Pance is the actual village of Pance, uphill all the way. The road is one lane after the bridge by Voragine, mostly gravel and fist-sized stones and hard packed clay. Plenty of busses, motorbikes, cars, and people still. Some parts are steep enough to warrant concrete strips two feet wide right where the wheel tracks of a car would be. The end reward here is stopping at a little restaurant for some fresh squeezed OJ and an arepa with shredded cheese on top.
Rosario is a newer (new to us) route that takes us through El Crucero in a teardrop shape around the edge of a valley. It's a very good loop with a little tienda at the highest point and some good up and downhill stretches on the way back. Once, Scott, Stetson and I dared to go further up from the tienda to the little hamlet of Otono. I believe we pushed our bikes up during the latter part of the trip, but we made it to the village...6200 feet. The school--our main starting point--is 3600 feet.
La Estrellita is not that exciting. Neither is Miravalle. Miravalle is too crowded with bikers. Too many people riding without helmets, riding too slow, riding with iPods stuck in their ears. La Estrellita ('the little star') ends where the river crosses the road. I can now say that I've been to the other side of the river, which is much more interesting. Scott & I followed a group of hardcore Colombian bikers one morning and saw some fantastic scenery. This was the ride where I vowed I would never go without my camera again. We forded about 6 rivers. We ended at a small tienda and drank Pony maltas. Pony maltas are non-alcoholic malt beverages that are as dark and thick as Guiness and loaded with calories; I only enjoy them after a ride. Scott refers to them as liquid bread.

The best ride is the one where conditions are ideal. If it's been dry for a few days, then it's gotta be the Tobagones ride. Tobagones, which means slides in Spanish, is very technical. It's beautiful red hard clay that's been trampled on by horses, cattle, motorbikes, people, and four-wheelers. It's hard work to the high point, but it's trail riding downhill the rest of the way. Brake and balance.
Here's Stetson on the trail. Great scenery. More cattle than people. Cowpies to dodge. Ruts, dust, mud, and a river that you have to ford at the end. Actually, the river fording is optional; we tell new people that come along that is the only way to get across. Once they make it to the other side we show them the bridge near the trees.

This was from last school year, but the route is the same.

The end at La Estrellita is shown above.

This is the far west end of pueblo Pance. It's a village of perhaps 500 people.

Above is a scene near Miravalle. We would pass over these hills for the ride to La Estrellita as well.Here you can see some homegrown coffee set out to dry. This is near Otono, above Rosario.
Phil takes a break in the river at Topacio. It's cold water. Very cold.

Monday, December 1, 2008

the wild life here

Life here at Casa 09 is different than it was in Multicentro Apt 311. Aside from the regular smog that entered our rooms and the constant noise from the six lane thoroughfare, there are other things here that are different. We hear birds. There's no loud music that carries on until 7 AM. We know the landlords by name, not by bank account number. We have a remote control for the front gate. But a few other things:

Claire & I wander out regularly to check on this guy. He has a shorter, greener friend about two-thirds his size that lives in the same tree.

This is Mr. Whitelegs. He and Mr. Brownlegs fight over our sugar water supply. Occasionally either Mr. B or Mr. W will enter our apartment, scope the place out, and return to the outdoors.

For a while there was a family of cats living in the woodpile under the tree that the iguanas live in. They have since moved on. I will note here though that iguanas do not eat cats; iguanas are herbivores if you can believe that.

We see these birds all over, and this was the first time I could dash in to grab the camera. We only see them in pairs, and never more than 20 feet from each other. When I got closer after this picture, one left and the other followed to an adjacent tree branch.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

My first official post

I realize how exciting a fresh blog post must least it is to me. So here I am, posting for the first time.

My day started at 4:44 AM when Sarah leaned over and asked if I could take Claire. Claire is still not sleeping through the night, but only seems to sleep two hours after the first nightly feeding. I put her on my chest and she squirmed but eventually we both fell back asleep. This worked until 5:46 (the clock is on my side of the bed) when my back got sore. So I put her between us and we all slept soundly until almost 8:00.

Sarah got herself some breakfast, I entertained Claire, and at 9:40 Claire & I were out the door for a stroller ride. Sunday morning in Cali is the most pedestrian and bike friendly time of the week. We found a new route up a slightly less steep hill to school, then came home another way. Claire fell asleep after 20 minutes, but was awake for the final 20. The temperature by this time was up into the 70s.

I've had two cups of coffee only this morning.

Thursday we traveled to Salento, a town about 5 hours away. About 5 hours is relative depending on the bus company, driver, and amount of passing that happens on blind curves or hills. Claire was perfect the whole way there and back.

We stayed at Hosteria Las Nubes (Hotel in the Clouds) again. Three trips to Salento, and we stay at the same place each time. I guess the reason for this is because it's run by a retired couple who fixed the place up a few years back. It's very colorful, and it doesn't attract the kind of clientele that the hostal might. We can go to bed early and sleep in late. Both the retired couple and their frisky dog adored Claire.

Salento is already at 6000 feet (Cali is 3300), so it gets cooler once the sun goes down. We brought layers for Claire. She slept some of the time in her stroller and some of the time in between Sarah & I. Our bed had half a dozen blankets on it, which made turning over difficult. It's almost (almost) shameful that 55 degrees seems chilly to me. Yet in my defense I have been experiencing summer weather since May 2007.

Friday I met up with Scott Carpenter and his girlfriend, Catie (Katy with a C). Scott's new to Bolivar this year, having worked in Guatemala for two years previously. Catie, still working in Guatemala, came to visit and will likely be at Bolivar next year. The three of us went horseback riding in the cloud forests nearby. We saw some magnificent scenery, rode up to 9600 feet, and saw several recent mudslides. We also crossed a river about eight times, except the third time Catie's horse slipped and she fell off into the water. I can't imagine that falling into cold mountain runoff can be pleasant, but Catie got back on and rode wet and cold the rest of the distance. She was extremely fortunate not to get hurt.

The mudslides, from heavy rains in mid-November, closed off some of the roads and trails. In the picture below, a eucalyptus tree fell across the road. Our driver told us it took a full day of guys cutting with chain saws to remove.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A new blog

This is a test post, to be deleted later.