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Sun Mar 16 2014: Bicycle Diaries

We fall into the typical pattern of waking up early and doing all our sightseeing and activities before the afternoon rains arrive. We find ourselves staring at the calendar impatiently. There's got to be an end to this eternal rainy season.

Iglesia San Francisco (Chruch of Saint Francisco)

We decide to tour on two wheels of a different kind!

Neda found out that our hostel rents out bicycles! So we leave our motorcycles parked for a few days and explore the city via pedal power! Although I'm not one to needlessly expend calories (they are a precious commodity!), I think this exercise really helped burn off the excess energy that Neda had.

Sometimes certain things remind me of home...

I spent a while studying the details of the toy bike. Other than our friends and family, I don't miss many things from back home, but my old sportbike is high on the list. When we find a place to settle down, Neda wants a dog. I want a Ducati 999R Xerox Edition.

Indigenous woman selling fruits outside a restaurant

I find the features of the indigenous people so fascinating. It's like a living history lesson of the migration of human beings from Africa. This woman retains many of the same Mongoloid features from when her ancestors left Asia to cross the Bering Straight and down through the Americas.

"Como se Llama?"

Bicycle hooligans outside of church

Popayan is one of Colombia's most preserved colonial cities

Much of the town was rebuilt after a huge earthquake in 1983, which really brought home the point that not many buildings and edifices can stand the test of time and Mother Nature, and that given enough time, all the original cobblestones, bricks and other materials will have been replaced such that almost nothing of the original still stands. In fact, all these buildings were painted white only after the earthquake - they weren't even that colour 30 years ago!

Beautiful colonial architecture. But what did it look like 500 years ago?

Park break outside our hostel

The next day, Neda finds more interesting stuff to do on two-wheels. For a small fee, a truck can haul our bicycles up the mountain to the next town over. Purace is well known for it's natural hot springs and pools. After a soak, hop on your bicycles and enjoy the 30km ride back to Popayan, which is almost all downhill. "Downhill?", I repeat? "SOLD!"

The early morning truck ride takes us up through the twisty mountain roads outside of Popayan. I stare out the window, imagining rushing downhill on the bikes , which were tucked away in the back of the truck. Then a few times, the truck dipped as it drove downhill in sections. My mental abacus was clicking away overtime: "We're driving downhill now, so on the way back, I'm going to have to pedal... UPHILL?!? WHAT THE....?!?!

Every kilometer the truck descended, my sense of dread increased. I was counting off the potential uphill mileage... :(

Outside the town of Coconuco near the hot springs

The truck let us off just outside the hot springs and we parked our bikes, breathed in the rotten-egg smell of sulfur and jumped in the very hot pools, tinged light green from all the minerals in the water. No sooner had we gotten in, the sky opened up and poured cold rain on us. It wasn't even noon yet! Stick to a schedule, Mother Nature!

Agua Hirviendes Hot Springs in the pouring rain!

Locals are unfazed by the downpour. I don't think I'll ever get used a place where it rains everyday for 6 months straight!

Well, we had nowhere else to be, so we might as well stay in the water. Thankfully, the rains didn't last too long. In the meantime, we (I think me) were quite a curiosity. People would glance over surreptitiously as I waded by in the pools. There were a group of girls that followed us as we went from pool to pool trying to find a comfortable temperature. Neda decided to break the ice and approached them, and then there were a million questions: "Where are you from?". "Where are you going?", "How long are you traveling?"...

It's tough being a celebrity.

These girls were very curious about us

They were selling bottles of this yellow sulfury goop at poolside. They advertised that it was good for all sorts of skin ailments like acne. It smelled pretty vile, so we just took pictures.

This pool was a more comfortable temperature

We waited for the rains to clear. Remarkably, the sun came out as well too, which signaled a good time for us to leave. Back on the bikes! We've done this so many times on motorcycles, it felt weird throwing a leg over a bicycle.

Dual sporting away from the hot springs

I can imagine traveling on a bicycle, watching the scenery move past you at such a languorous pace. Your heart pumping, muscles working hard, the only fuel you burn is whatever you last ate, and time dilates in such a way that the horizon only looks attainable at the end of the day.

I don't like it.

Taking one of many breathers on the "mostly downhill" ride back

Stopping to admire the waterfall? No. Out of breath. Have to stop.

As expected, the downhill sections were exhilarating! Like a chicken, I had to apply the brakes often to stop from achieving terminal velocity - emphasis on Terminal... However, the uphill sections were grueling. I must not be doing this bicycling thing right, because even in the highest gear - the one where despite pedaling like a maniac, you can still only measure your uphill progress in centimeters per hour - I found it was much easier just getting off the bike and walking it uphill.

Neda waits for me at the top of each hill and then we speed downhill together again

Along the way, we pass a small village and some women eating some yummy looking popsicles. We asked where they got them and they pointed further on down the road. When we got to where they indicated, we looked around for some kind of convenience store but didn't find anything. And then this little old lady popped out of a nearby house:

5 cents each!

Two-wheeling around Popayan!

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