We got a late start, but finally it was time to begin the journey. Before leaving though, the hostel owner came down to ask Leah to pay, Leah said she had clearly already paid. After a 10 minute cyclical argument, we paid .. Again, and we left. We rode for 25 km, 5 in the wrong direction and 25 in the right direction (towards Barranquilla) before stopping at a gas station. The short ride was very difficult for me, in 20 km, somehow I had gotten a sunburn, and I had a absolutely dry mouth.
Some sweet juice was exactly what I needed; all I needed was my money……………….Where’s my WALLET??? Where is my WALLLET? WHERE IS MY WALLLLETTT??? It’s not here, it’s not where it’s supposed to be. I always put it here though. Where is it? Leah says…”your wallet isn’t brown leather is it?”.. Sheepishly, I answered… “Yes”. Leah answered “….it’s in the hammock at the hostel.. I saw it, I had no idea it was yours, I meant to ask you, but I thought no way could it be yours”…. It was… Did I really lose my wallet on the first day of my trip? Leah, as cool as a cucumber, decided for both of us that it was the right thing to do to turn back. I still had my passport and a second bank card, so it wasn’t absolutely necessary, but it was definitely the right decision. So we turned around and biked back into town.
By the time we arrived back in the town I was ready to fall over.. I walked into the hostel where I had left my wallet. The ladies at the front desk had it. I held it triumphantly over my head and laughed. The laughed too. I walked out smiling.
A the next hostel we would stay a hosteler offered my a sip of coke, I don’t usually drink coke, but after some cokesing I decided to take a sip.. Mmmmm GOOD! We decided to stay at the lively hostel, because Leah saw a friend she had met previously on a boat. When I walked into the room, it was filled with 6 girls doing their makeup for a night on the town. I wasn’t sure if it was sorority house, or my hostel room. After blinking twice, and they were still there, I decided it was real life. When I walked into the bathroom, the entire floor was filled with an inch of water; I was sure now that I was at a hostel. I climbed up to my loft; club clothes covered my travel bag, the path to my bed was strewn with clothes. One of the girls tried to get up; I told her “no problemo”, and I walked out. I spent some time outside with an Argentian backpacker named Tatiana; we went through some language lessons, and shared some laughs. It was time for bed, the girls were at the club, so I got in bed to the soothing sound of techno bass from our own hostel reverberating in my ears.
The girls arrived home around 2 am and woke me up by turning all of the lights in the room on, my sleep was an afterthought. I returned the favor in the morning by waking up at 5. Although I tried to be very quiet, the squeaky floor, and tripping on things on the way out woke up one or two.
So, off we went, to Barranquilla… Again.. This time for good. 60 km in we stopped at mud volcano for one of the strangest and most amazing experiences of my life. We climbed a 30 meter staircase, only to climb a slimy slippery 10 meter staircase down into a pit of mud. Jumping into the volcano can only be described as a return to the womb. Weightless, an entirely new set of physics variables to explore. Leah, of course, decided to dive in head first. When she came up, she let out a huge giggle, and then said, “I probably shouldn’t have done that”, as mud dripped from her ears, nose and mouth. When I saw mud in her teeth I thought maybe she was right, but no matter, she looked great and it was such a cool and strange experience. After 10 more minutes of trying leg fluttering, 360 spins, freestyle swimming, and the backstroke, we got out of the mud.
Before leaving I was bathed in a lagoon, by a woman working for tips. She was rough and gruff, sticking her fingers in my ears, running her hands over and over on my entire face, mussing my hair. When she ordered me to get naked so she could properly clean my shorts, I didn’t think twice. After the refreshing bath, I felt like a new man. The lady wanted a tip, and I felt insulted, as I thought we had shared an experience. Apparently it was not as special for her.
That night (3/7/2014) we stayed in Playa Del Veronica. We found a great spot to eat after we found a wonderful family that was willing to keep our bikes. The meal consisted of soup, coconut drink, chicken, rice, and salad. After we ordered, a neighbor saw our bikes and came and asked for a pump. We happily obliged, and we got his tires filled. He didn’t have any brakes, and he wanted them fixed. After working on them for 30 minutes or so, there were just too many broken parts. We both decided it was a lost cause. I went off to eat my cold, but amazingly delicious meal, and he rode off on his bike with incredible speed with one of the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen, “Adios”.
After the meal Leah shared an adorable conversation with the restaurant owner’s daughter. At one point when I was talking to the girl, she turned towards Leah and asked her to translate for me…I need to practice my Spanish obviously. We rode to the house where we would be leaving our bikes for the night, and we set up our tents on the ocean. The view was beautiful in the morning.
We spent an hour or so in the morning have a conversation about our travel route with the family (Lenny, mom, and dad). We said our goodbyes and off we went towards Barranquilla.
Barranquilla is a beautiful city, and is the home of the second largest Carnival in the world, next to Rio Dijenero. Carnival ended on the same day as New Orelans’ Mardi Gras, so we just missed it. After wasting too much time in a city park, it was getting too late to leave town. We needed a place to stay. A man and his friend told us that we could camp in the local park next to the police station. He started walking us in that direction. The inquisitive neighbors were not sure they agreed with this decision so the father and two kids all got in the car and started following us. Conversations were going on everywhere. Between the original men and the neighbors, between myself and the neighbors, between myself and interested bystanders on their porch, between the neighbors and the interested bystanders, and on and on. Finally we decided on La Parque Cultura, where there were police. Along the way I had to stop for some photo ops with the gringo.
Arriving at the park, the police looked as unsure about this whole situation as Leah and I. In the meantime, another man came up to us who had just pulled up on his motorcycle, he seemed to know the police, the neighbors, and the original men; there were 12 locals all involved in finding the visitors a place to camp. The new guy, Janer, seemed to have the best and most self assured option.. “They are staying at my house, my house is right there (pointing down the road), there is a safe place for their bikes, let’s do this”. After more debate, we decided this was best, we followed the man on his motorcycle, and pushed our bike into his back yard into the back yard filled with 3 dogs and surrounded by a 10 foot wall. On one side the wall had glass embeded in the concrete on the top of the wall to deter theives.
Immediately, Janner made us feel at home, offering food, water, juice, the TV, the shower, and everything in his house. Within an hour, his mom was at the house to meet us, to tidy up the house, and to be sure we were okay. I told her that her son was a good man. She said, she knows, he is her son, and this is how she raised him. I later learned that Janer, the son, saw me out of the window waving and smiling at all of the neighbors, so he decided to follow us to see if he could help. Soon neighbors had brought Salchipapas for us (hotdogs, french fries, lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese, all cut up and mixed together in an amazingly tasty treat). We had showers, washed our clothes, and hung them up to dry. I felt amazing with a full stomach, a new home, and a clean body. We talked, laughed, shared photos, took photos, and watched the Titanic together.
The extended family eventually came over to meet us; cousins, aunts, uncles, the whole crew. We had a brief conversation; they invited us over to the grand patio to hang with the fam, which we politely declined because we were tired. The extended family left as the wife came home, who was all smiles and laughs.
Janner and I stayed up too late working on fixing a broken fan using my bike tools and watching two fast and furious movies (please don’t mistake this with Too Fast Too Furious). Of course we were able to share the common information regarding the unfortunate death of Paul Walker. As I type this, I am sitting in a chair next to the bed of the beautiful husband and wife hosts in a little plastic chair. The wife is asleep, and Janer and I are still up, every now and again sharing brief words. For this family, there is nothing strange about this situation. The love, the acceptance, the willingness to give.. It astonishes me to no end. There is so much to learn from these people and this experience. I have no doubt that these situations will continue to find us, as we continue to find them. I am in awe. This kind of story of traveling through South America and finding families willing to give everything to help travelers is commonplace, but the beauty of the experience has had me closing my eyes when I get a moment to myself, taking a deep breath, and smiling.
Riding through the hills, there is hard work on the way up, and happy coasting on the way down. The first day I found myself hating the climbs and loving the downhills. As I got more tired, I also started resenting the downhills, because they were taking away all of the hard work that I had just accomplished. So essentially I was angry at the entire ride, which in my estimation is a sad place to be. This can be a metaphor for life if we are not careful. Life has ups and downs; relish in the experience of it all. When I had this epiphany I decided to change my attitude. Easier said then done.. However, believe it or not, it’s only the 2nd day of riding; I’ve got plenty of time to work on it.
Oh yes, my new favorite fruit is Tomates de Arbol (Tomatoes of the tree); they are an amazingly unique blend of a tomato and a papaya. I have eaten four or so a day since leah introduced me. I have never had so many powerful emotions and life experiences can packed into so little time.
Days feel like weeks.