The Little Towns Along the Way

Aracataca – Home of Gabriel García Márquez (3/14/2014)

All day we searched for the town of the famous author, Gabriel García Márquez who wrote 100 years of Solitude. We asked all along the way, and we were unable to find the town we were looking for. We ended up making it to Aracataca this night. After talking to a few people in the city square, Leah left and met a lady in a market. The lady let Leah know that she had a place we could camp in her hostel for $5. Some nights, it’s just easier to pay for a campsite, so we happily did. As we pulled out of the town square I realized my gloves were gone within 25 meters of where I knew I last had them. I went back to look for them, but I had no luck. One of the most valuable lessons I have learned on this trip is to not get too attached to things. You suck it up, say your goodbyes if you need to, and look for a replacement if you need one and when you can.

We learned a bit after we settled into our hostel that Aracataca was actually the home Gabriel García Márquez, and his home and museum were only a few houses down.. Perfect. Leah went to check it out while I relaxed at the hostel. Leah had just finished reading 100 Years of Solitude a few days earlier and was very excited to see the museum. The museum was closed, but no worries, Leah was able to trade the museum guard a croissant for a brief look around. The rules of order are a bit different in Colombia than they are in the states. Personally, I like Colombia’s way of doing things.

In the morning we were asked to be in a photo for the hostel owner. One photo turned into a photoshoot. We were asked to pose in different positions; standing up, on the ground, etc. etc.. People love taking pictures of us. Sometimes with our consent and often without it.

Bosconia – At home with the firefighters (3/13/2014)

After a long off-road trip (described in the route post), we arrived in Bosconia via the outskirts of town. The edge of Bosconia was filled with make shift soccer fields and laughing children, but it was also in absolute poverty. Trash was piled up nearly everywhere as far as the eye could see. After finding our way to the center of town, I found out that both of my tires were losing air quickly; I used my pump to fill them temporarily. We had a quick meal and set off to find the fire station where we hoped we could sleep.

Immediately the commandante came out to meet us when we arrived. He greeted us with open arms and a huge smile and welcomed us in immediately showing us around the firehouse; pointing out places we could sleep, clean up, etc. Some kids from town followed us to the fire house. I started working on my bike, and immediately they started helping. Within 10 minutes there were about 15 watchers/helpers. Crowds of people always gather to listen to the strange new people speak their language strangely. We laughed and had both of my tires patched up within 30 minutes.

While putting my tools back in my bag, I was crouched down over my bags and I distinctly felt the world shaking beneath me. People in the firehouse left the building, but having never experienced and earth quake before I wasn’t able to put two and two together, so I continued packing my bag. It wasn’t until later that someone told me that I had experienced an earth quake. I tried to have a discussion about the Richter Scale with one of the kids from town to get an estimate of how strong this earthquake was. The conversation wasn’t successful.

In total there were 7 fire fighters and 11 fire fighters in training that worked at the firehouse. Inderson and Javier took an immediate interest in us, and took all opportunities to ask us questions and to help us with what we needed. Eventually they invited us for beers. I got my first buzz of the trip in front of a GIANT set of speakers blasting popular Colombian jams. Not only is my Spanish bad, but my ears aren’t great either, this made for limited and confusing conversation, so we laughed and drank more.

I slept wonderfully in the fire house, awoken a couple of times to the sound of the truck siren when it left and returned to the building. In the morning we took a stroll around town to look for more bike patches, with no luck. It was cleared that I drank a bit too much the night before. I bought bread and coke for the firehouse, and we said our long good byes.

Bosconia

La Loma – A Pool and a Cockfight (3/15/2014)

After a late start, Leah and I were both exhausted early in the day from the unforgiving sun. We passed by a pool in a town called La Loma and couldn’t help but ask if we could take a dip. The first pool said no, but we were given directions to another pool; they welcomed us. They allowed us to camp for free, but there was a service fee of $2.50 to swim in the pool. Fine with us. We spent the afternoon floating in the pool taking in and interacting intermittently with the drunk locals. One guy kept jumping into the pool with all of his clothes on including his shoes; then he would get out of the pool and dance a mean salsa with his friends, throw up a time or two, then jump back in the pool… All in good fun.

That night we went into the town for an amazing dinner. It was here that we met a monkey and an adorable little puppy.

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On the way home we stopped by the cockfight. We were exhausted, but a friend we had met earlier in the day, one of the big dog cock fighters in the town, egged us on to come check it out. I bought two liters of orange Fanta before getting to the cockfight. I had it wrapped in a bag, and I drank it like it was a 40 oz in order to fit in with the rest of the guys.

Oddly enough the atmosphere was extremely family friendly. Kids ran around, women talked, and the men were hard at work trying to match up their chicken with another chicken of similar size and ability.

This is a long process of back and forth rambling and theatrics. The animals must be weighed, “measured up”, introduced, and even brought in the ring to see how they react to one another. After more back and forth, eventually the two men settle on a fight or one person decides they are at a disadvantage and backs out. Through it all kids and adults follow the men and their chickens around from place to place as each of these comparisons are hammered out. I can only assume that these people are their entourage of sorts as there will be side arguments between the followers over the fairness of the fight.

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This is the preparation area; it’s not a great picture, but I wasn’t sure if it was rude or not for me to be taking pictures. There were 100 or more cocks roosting on an interwoven series of poles above our heads. Cocks from many of the nearby cities were here to fight.

After some time, the fighting portion of the night was set to begin. People streamed into the cage paying $5.00 for the top seats and $2.50 for the seats behind those. Not wanting to pay, Leah and I stood outside of the cage watching. One of respected fighters in the town (it was obvious he commanded much attention from fellow fighters and townsfolk), saw us standing outside of the cage, pointed at us, and told the man at the gate to let the gringos in. [It never ceases to amaze me the interest and respect that people give to us for absolutely no reason at all except that we have white skin. My privileged standing in the world is magnified and highlighted again and again and Colombia. I am thankful for the freedoms that it gives to me, but I am also aware that not everyone else experiences the world though this lens.]

LaLoma cockfight ring
The energy began to pick up in the ring, as we made our way to our upgraded view of the action. Around the ring, people were making bets, taking shots of Aguardiente, and having plenty of laughs. Once the people were seated, the two men with their two chickens entered the ring; two assistants entered with each man. Just before the match each man attached two sharpened pieces of curved metal to their cocks rear legs. These sharpened piece of metal are the deadly weapons that deal the damage to the other cock. These weapons are used to replace the original natural spikes that once existed in the same location. The natural spikes are removed near birth to ensure the cocks don’t kill each other as they grow up.

The final hurdle before the fight begins is for each fighter to check out the attached metal spikes on their opponent’s chicken to be sure they are in accordance with the correct size and shape of cock fighting standards. There seemed to be a big hold up here as they measured and remeasured, and yelled and yelled some more. Other fighters came into the ring to help sort out the issue. After 5 minutes or so and several occasions where I was sure the fight would be called off, all non-essential parties calmly walked away and the fight was ready to begin. I guess they sorted things out.

Left in the ring were the two men, an overweight simply dressed cowboy and a slicked back hair smaller man, each holding their angry cock, and a referee; the crowd silent. The referee stood with a huge hour glass. He flipped it over, dropped his hand, the men each dropped their cock into the ring, stepped out, and the fight was underway. The crowd screamed. The cocks measured each other up, pecked a bit, and strutted and stomped around. The primary method of attack is for the two to stand directly in front of each other, to jump at the same time flapping their wings, and to kick at the other’s face with their back legs. This jump kicking happened twenty to thirty times with oohhs and ahhs from the crowd.. each mini attack lasted less than a second.

Finally one of the jumping kicks resulted in an WooooOOOOOWWoAHHH!!Oyeeeeee! from the crowd. To me it looked identical to all of the other jump kicks, but the result was a stunned cock who wobbled backwards for a few seconds. After the cock got his bearings, he again returned to bump chests with the other cock. The slick haired man had a smug smile on his face. The jump kicks continued with the crowd a bit more excited at this point; another uproar from the crowd was let loose, with the same cock as last time stumbling back. Once again, the cock got his bearings and returned for more.

The next uproar from the crowd resulted in previously losing cock getting in a good strike. The fat cowboy let out a scream; there was still a chance. The other cock had been hurt badly and stumbled backwards, the fat cowboy’s cock advanced. After a few seconds both cocks were jumping in the air and kicking again, but the crowd was now in a frenzy and smelled blood. A few more simultaneous jump kicks occurred and the crowd roared, the slick haired man looked very worried.. his chicken faced away from the other cock while the other advanced. The confused cock turned around again to face his enemy, two more jump kicks and the final blow was landed. Once again, looking no different to me than any of the other blows, but this time the fat cowboy threw his hands in the air, while the slick haired man’s cock fell to the ground. The crowd cheered. Both sets of fighters entered the ring. The slick haired man picked up his cock to ensure it was dead; it was, while the fat cowboy held his cock proudly. He shared a warm embrace with his companions, and they left the ring. Quite a fight, quite an experience.

In hindsight I wish I would have gotten more pictures of the fighting, but I was into the experience as it was happening. The Fanta had made my stomach very unhappy; a forty goes down much more easily than 2 liters of Fanta and the accompanying cups of sugar. We were tired and felt that we had witnessed the spectacle. We decided to leave after the first fight, and didn’t get to see our friend’s match. I hope he understood.

I’ve never been much for bloodsports. I love animals, but my evaluation of cockfighting was different than I expected. I did not feel judgmental or disgusted by what I witnessed. Here are some brief defenses of my perspective. Naturally, if cocks are left together, they kill each other to establish dominance. You will never see two adult cocks together on a farm. Cockfighting is essentially allowing animals do what they naturally do; nature is brutal. In America millions of chickens are killed a day to feed the masses. These chickens are injected with hormones, never allowed to breathe fresh air or leave a tiny cage, and then slaughtered. I would argue the cocks in the ring lived a much better life. The family environment was inviting, you couldn’t actually see any of the carnage, and men were making money to live off of and support their family.

At the end of the day, the way I feel about cockfighting is not relevant to the way I view the experience of going to a cockfight. Cockfighting is a way of life and a way to make money for the fighters. I will never understand the history or experiences that got them there, and I don’t feel it’s my place to impose my cultural morals.

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We left our little slice of paradise to hit the open road again.

El Burro – The town built for truckers (3/16/2014)

Our least exciting camping spot to date was at a gasoline station in El Burro. Entire towns along our current route have been devoted to selling gasoline to truckers. El Burro had some other things going on as well, but it was definitely a town that survived on the trucker’s money.

Aguachica (3/17 – 3/18/2014)

On the way into Aguachica we had a large and hot climb. During the climb Jason took an interest in us, and spent an hour slowly escorting us in with his motorcycle. Lacking any oxygen flow it was difficult to talk and chat at the same time, but I did what I could.

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Once again Jorge and his wonderful family were able to hook us up with a place to sleep. Jorge’s Aunt Jasmine has a beautiful home with an attached office; we were given a beautiful room with an air conditioner! This was useful for the never ending 90 degree heat. For over a week now I have sweat through the days and attempted to cool off during the nights.

Jasmine’s husband Gustavo drove us around town zipping between motorcycles and pedestrians jamming Colombian music all the way. We needed an assortment of odds and ends (bike mirrors, a new cassette, shoes, and an electric razor) and Gustavo happily took us all over the town with a huge smile on his face.

The plan was to stay one night, but when we woke up at 10, it was clear we weren’t going anywhere. We asked Jasmine if we could stay another night, she smiled and said of course, so we enjoyed another restful day.

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Bucamaranga (3/20/2014)

Jorge’s wonderful family once again took us in Bucamaranga (this is becoming a theme); this time it was Aunt Marta. We arrived, and a huge plate of food was set on the table for us within 10 minutes. Her beautiful apartment was in stark contrast to our dirty bikes and smelly clothes.

After a meal and meeting family and friends, Jasmine’s son came to the house to pick us up. We slept at Gustavo’s house. Gustavo was hilarious and amazingly accommodating. Our biggest success of the night while working on his English was getting him to pronounce crack correctly; he would just say crap over and over again. Finally we got it. He left at 10 to party all night, and only came home just before we set off early in the morn.

Bucaramanga


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