It’s hot, but the only way out is up.
In Iquiera we pass the afternoon under a giant tree in the town square. I drink two gallons of water today. Men mill about and stop to talk. Where did you come from? Where are you going? We’re experts at answering these questions now.
We zip along the Páez River to La Plata. From La Plata, it’s a bit of a gravel grind, sharing the road with buses and motos. We’re all trying to get into the Central Cordillera. My bike slides out from under me in a gravel patch and a brake lever snaps. In the space of a week, I have lost a plastic slider, a zipper and now a brake lever. Things fall apart. This country is rugged.
Turn left to climb on pavement to La Argentina. Coffee plantations cover the hillsides. You don’t need to go to “coffee country” to see this.
Here, the river water is clear, cool and clean. I tell Tyndall to stop. I need to get wet.
Over and over again we’re asked how we like Colombia. We’re told how hard it is for Colombians to visit the US. We learn about organic coffee and the chemicals it takes to grow lulo fruit. We learn about coffee cooperatives. I see signs for fiber optics projects and hydroelectric dams. Natural gas lines run everywhere.
We spend an afternoon in La Argentina, talking with these teenagers.
They are witty and smart. We laugh over fumbled words. We learn that university in Colombia is expensive for most, although they would all like to go. The sun sinks lower in the sky, and we head on, hoping to find a quiet campsite.
Instead, we find Mercedes and Mariana.
We go for a scramble among the coffee plants. It is some of the steepest sidehilling I have ever done. Mariana shows us ancient rocks along the way. I fail to fully understand, but believe the rocks have to do with her ancient, indigenous culture. She nimbly scales the mountainside while we try and keep up, stepping gingerly over trails of red ants.
We’re given a dinner, a shower and a bed for the night. We’re told stories that we can barely understand about guerilla fighters and religion and moto accidents.
In the morning our bags are filled with fruit and we’re fortified with multiple cups of tinto before climbing up into the misty mountains. Dense forest surrounds the top of the pass, giving a glimpse of what used to be before coffee and cows.
Down the other side we fill up on bread and bocodillo. I fill up water bottles. A man wants me to drink a glass straight from the tap, it’s fine he tells me. Not wanting to offend, I drink a small sip and hope for the best. We’ll Steripen the rest down the road.
In Bordones we’re looking for a campsite when Julian invites us in. His sister watches me intently as I prepare our dinner. Not sure the reason for her scrutiny, I keep at what I’m doing and try and make conversation. It falls, dead in the water.
We follow back roads to San Agustin, diligently visiting archeological sites along the way.
After 10 days of travel through rugged country, we find a quiet place to spend a couple days, complete with Pug puppies.
Where we went: Teruel – Iquiera – Tesalia – La Plata – Gallego – La Argentina – Oporapa – Saldoblanco – Bordones – San Jose de Isnos – San Agustin