A bike trip means 24/7 togetherness ... which is not a bad thing, but it does limit the conversations. Willie and I experience the same roads, eat the same foods, and spot the blue-headed parrots together. I mention this observation to Willie and he notes that only one of us is experiencing a slowly erupting boil-size pimple on our backside. That's too much togetherness, but we are easy companions. At the possibility of conversations with others that go beyond the exchange in Spanish of "where did you come from", "where are you going", and "how long did it take you" we get very excited. These handful of questions are asked again and again. Every once in awhile though, someone comes into our lives and enriches our travel, stimulates our conversations and broadens our perspective.
In Thailand, our visas needed renewing so we took a day-trip to Burma simply so we could renew our Thai visa and stay longer. What we got in addition to the visa was Bruce and Andrea. We met them at the bus station and we've enjoyed their friendship and been inspired by their brand of adventure ever since. When I received an email from a friend of Bruce's brother who encouraged us to contact his father living in Colombia, it felt like a long-shot but I gave it a chance. Through the miracles of email, blackberries, and cell phones, we were able to correspond with Joaquin, a Colombian native living in Chicago, and his father Oscar, now living outside of Medellin after living in the states for many years-- all because we struck up a conversation on a bus in Thailand. As luck, or the travel gods, would have it, the route we had chosen to pick our way through the small mountain towns of Colombia, took us to the beautiful, little pueblo of Retiro. With one quick call, Oscar and Mary Ann made a date to meet us for coffee and they would lead us to their home a few kilometers outside of the village. Before even meeting us they invited us to stay as long as we like.
These kind of offers don't come every day, and they rarely come in the "real world" living at home, but there's some magic on the bicycle trail. Its hard to imagine inviting perfect strangers to come into our homes and stay a night ... or a week, but that's just what Oscar and Mary Ann did. A luxurious queen-size bed with crisp linens, waited for us. First we had to pass inspection by Mimi and Carmen, their two lovely dogs who inspect everyone who passes the rocky, dirt road a kilometer or two off the pavement. Mimi and Carmen became friends almost as fast as Oscar and Mary Ann, so the welcome party was complete.
Coming up the back roads to Retiro from our one day on the Pan-American highway, we passed many beautifully crafted homes, but nothing prepared us for the paradise that Oscar and Mary Ann created when they moved to Colombia in 2001. Oscar's brother-inlaw designed for them a simple, but perfect floor plan for their comfortable home filled with art and books and passion for life. Large plate-glass windows looked out on Eden rich with orchids and oranges, amaryllis and avocados. Completely surrounded by a rich and varied garden, we were like kids in a candy shop excitedly discovering new flavors. Blue birds, hummingbirds, long-tailed green birds all visited the fruit-peel feeder. The surrounding hillsides a tapestry of greens.
We spent three glorious days in the company of our hosts and relished every moment of our time together. Oscar is a writer and poet at heart and we are stirred by his stories, and observations of life's great and tragic moments. Mary Ann shares her passion for politics along with her own stories of family and childhood growing up in Oklahoma. That they found each other in Dallas seems almost as much a long-shot as us finding them in Colombia. But maybe kindred spirits travel intersecting routes. From Bruce to Mark to Joaquin to Oscar, the four degrees of separation were bridged. And we are the richer for it.
A note of thanks to Mr. Extreme who stops extremely often to take photos along our way.