January 05, 2005

Colombia: Back wheel blues

Germán and Tania who helped us so much in Cali
On the 10th of December we set off early from Popayan to beat the midday heat. We had spent a well deserved day off resting and exploring the historic centre of the "white city", which is the capital of the Cauca department in southern Colombia.

But we had not cycled more than 5 kilometres that on a small hill our pedals started to turn freely without any resulting forward movement. I quickly guessed that the problem was related to a small mesurment error in the hub of the back wheel.
*here comes the technical section so if you don't care for that stuff read ahead one paragraph.

The freehub was screwed in to far and caused the casette to lock against the hub. So in Pasto I had a small 8mm wide spacer made by a machinist. However the problem was that by putting in this spacer the amount of threads holding the freehub was reduced.

The stripped hub and freehub

When we took the hub apart my fears were confirmed. the Freehub has stripped the threads in the hub. We then turned around and walked back to Popayan to look for a temporary replacement wheel. Unfortunately none was found. So we hopped on a bus to Cali 135km away to try our luck in a bigger city.

We were very lucky when just one block before arriving at our hostel in Cali, a man introduced himself as Germán and was very interested in our bicycles. He had seen us cross the street and had run out to meet us. He owned a bike store 1/2 block away and offered to help us find a solution. But we would have to wait until monday because everything would be closed on Sunday. He knew a welder and bike mechanic who should be able to help us. Sunday, everything was closed in Cali and this city of 2 million people felt like a ghost town.

the wooden raindeer bicycle

Monday morning with Germán we went out to a small shop in the bicicle shop district (there are at least 20 bike shops on the calle octava).
José can do almost anything. he likes to be known as "el minuto"... but to us he was definately McGuiver. He was working on a crazy wooden raindeer bicycle when we were there. He can also build aluminum frames and paints them very well. If anybody could help us it was him... after two minutes of describing the problem he had devised a solution of making a ring with threads on both sides. One for the casette mount and the other for the re-threaded hub. We then took a scary ride through Cali's "skid row" to get to the machinist who would do the work. "El minuto" told us that a parked car can be completely dismantled in less than one hour here.
the wooden raindeer bicycle
The we went back to our "safe" side of town and waited for the results... one day, two days.... and finally late in the evening we had the fixed hub.
Unfortunately in the process the spoke nipples had been wrecked. We had another day of frustrating searching to try and find this replacement. After being in Cali five days we gave up and took another bus to Medellin where we bought a new wheel. We were running out of time to meet my mother in Cartagena on the 21st of December.

Posted by gwendal at 09:40 AM | Comments (0)

December 13, 2004

Colombia: Juan Valdez is still king in Colombia

While the mosquitoes delighted themselves on our sweaty salted ankles, we savoured a tray of rice, refried beans, chorizo, chicharron de chancho (fried pig skin), fried plantains, arepas (bland white corn cakes), ground beef, a fried egg and a slice of avocado(to round out the proteins), otherwise known as "Bandejas Paisa" with Alvaro Pael, an entrepreneur from the capital of Bogota.

We had stopped for a breather after inaugurating Armel Castellan, Gwendal's brother, to our bicycle adventure with a 10km, 500m climb overlooking the active Galera Volcano out of San Juan de Pasto when we met Alvaro. He invited us to have lunch with him 10km (downhill) along the road.
Alvaro was making his way from Pasto, where he was tending to the final construction of his newest cafe, "Volcafe" that serves coffee brewed with "Oma" coffee beans and was just taking a drive through the Nariño province and enjoying the intense green peaks and valleys that take over the landscape of this region. Our equally intense lunch, had us beached for the afternoon discussing coffee and politics with Alvaro for the afternoon.

On politics, Alvaro mimicked the sentiment that many other Southern Colombians have expressed, that the country progressing under the current President, Alvaro Uribe's, leadership. Since his presidency, the roads throughout the country are now supposedly safe to travel. There is a strong and very noticeable military presence where we travelled. The guerrilla groups that have troubled this country for over 40 years are at the negotiation table with the government hashing out peace treaties. Currently many AUC para-military groups have disarmed in exchange for amnesties (Some drug dealers are currently trying to re-invent themselves as para-military commanders to take advantage of this situation. But they are fooling no one). For the first time in Colombia's history, the constitution regarding the re-electon of a president for a second term, (another 4 years), has changed, this is clearly to give Uribe the opportunity to continue what he has been doing, which according to the southerners we have talked to, is making progress and advances in the security of the country.

On coffee, Alvaro explains that coffee is a national sweetheart. "Tinto" they call it here, black with sugar. Alvaro does however reveal to us that Juan Valdez coffee beans are, without a doubt, the best coffee beans in Colombia. We are told not to miss visiting Armenia, in the heart coffee growing region of the country.

To be honest, we only had vague ideas of what to expect of Colombia. We had heard that Colombia was in a state of civil turmoil and very dangerous to travel through (Canadians have frequently been kidnapped in the past) and on the other hand we had also heard that Colombia and it's people were one of the most beautiful and friendly countries in the world to visit. We were not surprisingly very anxious, aprehensive and curious in the same breath to cycle through this mysterious nation.

After 3 hours of digesting we broke lunch and headed to Alvaro's sister-in-law's home to see if she wouldn't mind a few canadian cyclists camped out in her yard. As we were ready to go, a swiss cycletourist stopped at the restaurant. Reto, who had cycled from Cartegena joined us for our evening adventure. It turns out that Alvaro's sister-in-law was not home so, after about 6 rounds of beer, at the insistence of Alvaro, the four of us spent the night at one of the many small weekend resort/motel listening to an Christian Rock Retreat until well past midnight.

We swapped the ever important cycletouring information with Reto and were told that he had not encountered any problems on the road from Cartegena and that we had a few very steep hills ahead of us. The women of Cali are indeed very beautiful and the food was pretty much more of the same.

For the next four days we climbed up and down 4 very steep hills snapping over 500 pictures on our digital camera (a record) and finally made our way to Popayan, "The White City". We spent a few days resting up at the Capital Hotel, a historical complex that is said to have housed black slaves during the era that Simon de Bolivar liberated the country. Senora Maria del Carmen adopted a few Canadian nephews and showed us around town lighting fireworks at the central plaza. She told us that Christmas here is a celebration throughout all of December. All school children, who are not is high-end-private-schools, have the whole month off to spend with their families. Somehow, in a place where there is no snow, fake snow covered garlands and knick-knacks are inescapable.

With two days of rest we were back on the road when just 1km out of Popayan our back hub gave out and were forced to take a heartbreaking bus (almost all downhill) to Cali (a bigger city) to try and fix our ailing wheel. So, now we're in Cali crossing our fingers waiting for a machinist to work his magic and hoping we can leave for Armenia on our bikes and not the bus.

All we want for Christmas is to be back on our bike and maybe some Juan Valdez.

Posted by tania at 12:54 PM | Comments (0)