(April 17 – written by Nancy)
We had a relatively short and easy day today, to get us to a town close to where our first climbing into the Andes begins. We were still on the road by 6:30 to try to take advantage of some of the cooler morning air though, which means we get to our destination almost too early on these shorter days. Today we tried to take it slow and take several breaks so we wouldn’t get to Taraza too early to even check into a hotel.
The ride continued yesterday’s route along Highway 25, the main arterial from Cartagena to Medellin. There seemed to be more truck traffic than yesterday, though funnily enough there is no other road coming into this main road so I am not sure why there was more today than yesterday. It was all fine though, as the trucks gave us lots of room and a few friendly honks. We again saw lots of cyclists out riding, mostly coming from the opposite direction so I expect this road may be part of the daily training ride. Lots of mountain bikes but also some high end road bikes with guys fully kitted out. They all waved and hooted at us, which makes the road and the country feel quite friendly.
We followed the Cauca River upriver all day. The river itself is quite brown and muddy – it was flowing very fast and actually seemed pretty high, even though the real rainy season has not yet started. There were quite a few little villages (or really just collections of shacks) on the river’s bank. We could see little buildings that appeared to be outhouses that were right on the edge, and I am sure were draining right into the river. There were also several places where people (women of course, not men) were washing clothes in drainage ditches where the water was flowing down into the river. I expect the river is not very clean – I don’t think I’d go swimming it, let’s put it that way!
While the river might not be too clean, the whole area we were riding through was very green and lush. It looks like mostly farmland, but kind of a jungley farmland, if such a thing exists. We saw lots of cattle, some water buffalo, and horses. We watched one cow kneel down (I guess cows kneel?) and stick her head through a barbwire fence to get to mangoes that had fallen from a tree – the cows had picked the area clean on their side of the fence. She couldn’t really reach anymore without laying on the barbwire so I stopped to throw a few mangoes from the roadside to her side. No thank you moos from her, but she did start to eat the mangoes so that was my good animal deed for the day!
There were some great vistas, with huge trees out in rolling fields. Of course that meant lots of stops for Dave to take pictures, which was ok today as we only had a short day. He finally got a picture of a tree we have been seeing for several days with bright orange bushy flowers. The hummingbirds seem to love it, you just have to wait a few minutes near the tree to see the hummingbirds arrive to have a feed.
We stopped twice for cold drinks and some food in small little roadside spots – there weren’t really ‘towns’ per say, but just folks selling things on the side of the road and some little open air restaurants. Funnily enough, in both spots we had some conversations with guys who worked at llanteras, which are basically small tire repair shops. We didn’t understand all of what was said but we muddled through and it was fun to interact with the locals.
And, we got to try some more buñuelos at the second stop – those are the fried dough balls that are ubiquitous here. These were the best we have had – still warm and tasty, and the lady running the shop was funny and helped us with our Spanish. Dave wanted to take a picture of her – she laughed and said no at first but finally relented and said yes if she could stand near the table so her pyjama bottoms didn’t show up in the picture.
We got to Taraza about 11 or so and pulled off the main highway into the village area to check out places to stay. We saw a nice central park area with a ‘cafe’ in the middle so decided to first have something to drink to let some more time pass before we went hotel shopping. Around noon we started to see kids walking about, clearly school had gotten out for the day. We had one girl come and stand near us, and we started to ask her a few questions, which she shyly answered. Then a few more little girls came over and wanted to talk to us – they were a bit more bold and we talked with them for several minutes, a bit of back and forth to try to understand each other but we were doing okay when we realised there were now several more kids, and then several more and we were surrounded by kids trying to talk to us.
It’s hard enough trying to speak Spanish to someone but multiply that by 20 times with kids all asking us questions at the same time! Wow, what a challenge for our language skills (or lack thereof). It was lots of fun though, and the kids were very interested in our trip, where we were from, and our maps. Eventually we had to go check into the hotel, which was across the street from the park so we said goodbye to the kids. Our hotel, the Hotel Metropolis, is okay, relatively clean (don’t look too close) and we can actually get CNN on the TV – all for about $20 so we can’t complain too much.
We are going to try out a little restaurant down the block for dinner and then it will probably be an early night so we can be rested for our climb tomorrow. Into the Andes it is!