The weather ventures from chilly mist to stunning heat and can change with each bend in the road. Somewhere in the middle, it's just right. We know that once we leave these beautiful mountains, we are sure to hit heat and humidity beyond any stretch of comfort. So we linger.
Most days begin with a steep downhill to a river drainage and then back up another side of a mountain. It's during these climbs, particurly the rough ones with broken rocks for a road, that my thoughts turn towards our dear friend Susie. She had a great spirit of adventure, and I don't think she ever met a climb she didn't like. So when the going gets tough, I first think of Susie and her motto ... "If you don't like where you are, pedal." That was Susie. She had energy to match Mr. Extreme and she pedaled fast and furious in her short life-time.
But I'm Miss Moderate and had to wonder what my motto would be. I'm such a creature of comfort. When the rains start, I'm more inclined to stop for another cup of coffee. After lunch, a nap sounds pretty good. So as we aim our bicycles towards the next metropolis of Medellin, these exquisite mountain pueblos, with town squares in front of churches built 200-400 years ago, I am captured by the charm and quiet life of the village. I want to stay, and quite often we do find a beautifully restored hotel with rich wood floors, a soft bed, wooden windows that open to balconies overlooking main street. We're living a life of luxery beyond expectations. Over the last week of pleasant surprises, I found my motto for the moment: "If you like where you are, linger".
We lingered extra long one morning in Salamina, hoping to get another yummy egg dish whipped and steamed to perfection by the espresso machine. We had it the day before and declared it the most inventive and tasty breakfast so far. But alas, for reasons we'll never know, the shop wouldn't open and we opted for an egg on a tasteless arapa, or corn cake with all the flavor sucked out of it. The day ride began with blue skies and another lovely downhill to the river. We turned upwards and pedaled in the late morning heat. By our roadside lunch, clouds we were moving fast with dark clouds threatening. Ah, the downside of the linger! A few more kilometers and the heavens opened just as we ducked under a tin-roofed bus shelter with a comfy bamboo bench. Not a bad place to wait out the rain. Willie and I snooze a little, I loose a few too many hands of gin, and the rain still shows no sign of stopping. Our road is a muddy river amongst the jutting rocks, and the chill has set in. Even Mr. Extreme is reluctant to press on, he's caught my hesitation to get soaked to the bone.
Fortunately, we had come upon a panela "factory" earlier in the day when the sun was out and watched with intense fascination as sugar cane was pressed, the juice boiled in a huge vat, then reduced in smaller and smaller vats, until it was eventually scooped onto wide, flat bins for cooling. Young men with strong backs swish and swoosh the thickening lava just until the point it will hold a shape. With deft and leathered hands, they scoop just enough of the still hot sugar to fill a mold. Young boys then imprint the cooling sugar with the stamp of the factory. Nothing's wasted. All movements are choreographed to perfection. Amused by our interest in their art, a "stamp" boy offers us a large round of this rich, aromatic treat of unrefined sugar.
So as we linger awhile in our roadside shelter surrounded by cane, we decide it's a fine time to pull out the stove and cook up some hot chocolate -- Colombian-style. This is a true treat in this country, and available in nearly every cafe so far. We had purchased our own bar of chocolate for some campsite to come, but still needed the sugar. The bar itself is intense like a baker's chocolate, but when melted into water and combined with our gift of the distinctively aromatic panela, it's a bit of heaven on earth, and certainly hearty enough to warm us through and give us courage.
As we clean up, the rain becomes mist and we set out, hoping against hope to make it to Pacora and a hotel for the night. Mud-splattered and wet we reach beyond our strength and press on as darkness approaches. A sharp rock penetrates Willie's rear tire, but we're fighting against time now, so he opts to pump and go ... pump and go. Passing up an offer to stay at a roadside rum shack, our hearts are set on reaching the comfort of town and hopes of a dry, clean bed. Darkness descends just as we burst into town passed a tree filled with a hundred white egrets. Main street blasts music from every snack shop, bar and cell phone tienda. We made it! It's Saturday night and the town feels like the Wild West with Honky Tonks blairing.
Cold, dirty and victorious, we rinsed in the hot shower and tumbled into bed once again. I'll linger in the warm fleece blankets just a little bit longer...