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.