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May, June, July in Colombia

albano, Quito (Ecuador), July 1999

The first village after the Panamanian border is Capurganá, where I catch the scheduled boat to Turbo, a busy city with lots of strange persons hanging around. I need a stamp from the Migration Office, where the reception is exceedingly friendly. Actually, all the few hundered kilometers up to Medellín, I meet friendly people. They invite me for drinks and they give me food for my way.

After one day of flat road, the landscape is getting somewhat hilly. Some guerilla-groups are said to hide in the woods of this region. Their presence is only indirectly showing through increased military presence an burnt houses along the way. The road itself is generally in good condition, but lots of landslides left thousands of tons of rock and earth on it. In one place, a few hundered meters of missing road have to be bypassed on a long and steep detour.

On Sunday, May 30, there is another long uphill to be overwhelmed before I reach Medellín. It is a big, clean city and seems to be rich with its metro and its shining fa?des in the centre. I contact a family, I have met underway. They take me with them on their aftenoon tour, we visit some members of their family and I see the city from a different point of view. I also visit them twice at their home. Two more special events in Medellín: First, the shock I endure, when my hotel room is tydied up once I return. This simple hotel is too luxurious. Another surprise are the sexual advances of a young man, whom I help with his English homework. I turn them down.

Friday, June 4. Leaving the city for Bogotá, there is more uphill. At a toll station, I am surrounded by curious street-vendors. The next evening, I have difficulties to find a spot for my tent in the forest alongside the road, and I end up on the porch of an abandoned hut at dusk. The pitch-dark rooms behind half-opened doors and the bats flying around make the place even less pleasant.

After a flat and again hot stretch along the Magdalena river, I ascend, in several stages, to the capital on an elevation of about two and a half thousand meters. In the mean time, again, I collect some addresses. On Wednesday, when I arrive, I visit two twin-sisters working in their parents' store. They invite me to stay in the bigger one of their appartments, where one of them lives with their familiy and which is big enough to confuse the visitor in the beginning. No question, that it comes with a permanent internet access through fibre-optic cable.

On Thursday, I go jogging with father, doughter and dog and clean up my stuff. On Friday, I leave for a weekend-trip with the other sister and her son by car. First, we drive back the same way I have come and I can oserve the Colombian, maybe Latin American way of driving from inside. There are mainly two problems: slow trucks and winding roads. There are practically no straight parts. So, also blind curves are used for passing. If on-coming traffic appears, the passing vehicle simply flashes its headlamp.

After staying in a farmhouse of the family overnight, our driver reliably brings us to Manizales, where we want to see the bicycle-races belonging to the panamerican championship. Today, there is downhill with a spectacular finish, a steep slope past the neatly threaded flags of the participating countries and a jump at its end. Some of the cyclists choose the slower and less dangerous way, and others show spectacular crashes. One driver has to run to and fro to convey the scattered parts of his bike over the finishing-line.

After the race, we take two cyclists in tow for an uphill, they could hardly master with their specialized equipment. Sunday is fully dedicated to the cross-country race. Today, light rainfall turns the soil into mud an the participants can hardly be identified, except for the speaker's indications an the hyms at the final ceremony. We take the same way back to Bogotá, where I go on staying with my host familiy for two more days. Finally, I undertake an outing to the unspectacular city-centre with heavy traffic and some shafts without lids.

On Thursday, June 17, I am back on the road. That day, I just manage to cross the city towards the south. The next day, hovever, the downslope back to the Magdalena, makes the number of ridden kilometers rocket up dramatically. Moreover, I am accompanied by two other cyclists on their long way to work. Upriver comes Neiva, where I suffer from a feeling of faintness, which lasts during the next day, after a night with ants penetrating my tent, that beat all the previous size records. A torn shifting cable on the same day, finally makes me opt for a day of rest in a pension in Gigante.

Now, the landscape is getting more mountainous, culminating in a tremendous ascent just before the village of San Agustín. Before I climb even higher to the guest-house I want to stay in, I see the beginning of the children's parade being part of the festivities during these day. But the place is more renowned for its archeological sites, especially for the archelogical park consisting of grpups of partly several-thousand-year-old stone figures and a ceremonial fountain at a creek with a bulky roofing for its protection. The nearly complete lack of foreign visitors is an indication for the damage that Colombian tourism suffers fromr civil war.

To reach Ecuador, I have to cross the mountain range to the west. The nearest way leads over Popayán, but there are still some hundred kilometers of bad gravel road to be overwhelmed, qualified not suitable for cycling by my guidebook. I leave on June 27, and not much later, the bearing of my right pedal starts to jam. There is a kind of workshop in the next village and they even have a wrench more or less fitting the corresponding nut. With a long tube and the help of about five persons, we finally succeed in dataching the part and putting on my spear pedal.

The road is indeed bad, an it takes me nearly three days to reach Popayán with its old town consisting of low colonial-style buildings. There, I am also considered as an expert in German philosophy by some local anthropologists. Soon, I am leaving for Quito in Ecuador, where I have to arrive by the 20th of July. Between here and the last big city in Colombia, Pasto, the road leads through a low and barren valley, notorious for robberies. And they don't let me pass without organizing one for me.

When I am preparing to leave after a night in tent below a bridge, two young men suddenly jump out of the nearby shrubs. One of them points me with a shotgun an tells me to hit the floor, while the other one starts rummaging my belongings. All in alll, their behaviour is rather irresolute, so I remain standing and, fractions of a second later, I grasp the one with the gun around his neck. Before I can let him go, his accomplice rams his knife into my back, and they disappear even faster than they have arrived. They even leave some ammunition behind. I arrange a makeshift bandage for my wound and also leave the scene as soon as possible.

After some kilometers riding on my bike, I am lucky and meet a doctor travelling by car with his family, who makes me a better dressing and takes me to the hospital in Pasto, to suture the stab. I may even stay with my saver for two nights, and the day after the incident, I state with satisfaction, that I can keep myself on the bike. On Monday, July 5, I leave and one day later I reach the border after going astray twice in Ipiales. I wonder why there is so little traffic at the checkpoint.

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© 8-16-1999 albano & team