After our rich experience in Cali, we biked toward the suburb Palmira, where we were warmly welcomed by the neighborhood in which Jorge and Stella had planted a small but thriving Hemanos Menonitas church. We treasure the Sundays when our route allows us to attend worship services, as it renews our sense of belonging in the Body. Highlights include the Sunday morning songs (gradually becoming more familiar), a hefty and energetic sermon about fear of the Lord, and the proceeding lunch of sancocho de leña provided by our warm hosts Irma and Fredy. Upon leaving Palmira with full bellies and good spirits, we began cruising northward in the sugarcane flats of the famous Valle del Cauca.
Rejection awaited us when we pulled off for the night in Tuluá. We asked for an available floor and were denied sequentially by the firefighters, two police stations, a Catholic and a Protestant church, and a nunnery. Finally, waiting to talk to a different priest, we stopped for mangoes and bananas at a small store. The owners’ family was sitting around talking, and they warmly invited us behind the storefront for a Colombian supper of arepas, sausage, cornbread and hot chocolate. Our experience in the city redeemed by such hospitality, we were able to stay the night in an open space at a Catholic mission for the elderly and disabled.
This example in Tuluá is not atypical for Colombia. Almost every time we stop for breaks or meals, we get into a conversation with friendly Colombians about our trip, often with an offer of contact information to keep in touch. These conversations even happen on the bike with local cyclists we pass or get passed by (there are some very serious road racers here). Sometimes when our stomachs are empty or we are trying to reach a destination, answering the same questions about our trip can be tiring. But we try to make the most of it and have greatly appreciated the amiable culture here in Colombia.
In the zona cafetera (coffee-growing region) around Pereira, we were able to stay with pastors involved in peace work. We warmed up to Martha Gómez and her husband Germán right from the moment they handed us cups of coffee and invited us to talk. They were curious about Mennonite identity as we have seen it in different groups along our way, and we were able to learn about how their church has chosen to respond to the neoliberal TLC trade agreement and subsequent protests. A small but active church, Pereira Mennonite has started a bakery program to help those without employment in the community, and is now hosting an Indonesian Mennonite Central Committee YAMEN worker, Stephanie. What a privilege to get to know members from all parts of the Mennonite global community! In the smaller town of Supía, we stayed with Martha’s sister Olga Beatriz and her husband Fredy, community leaders in a Union Missionary church and in the school in which they taught. They had experience working with the peace and social justice organization JustaPaz, and also talked about their sister-church relationship with East Goshen Mennonite Church. These kinds of connections can help support churches that speak out for peace in sometimes dangerous situations, but also can be challenging when not many church leaders on the US side speak Spanish.
The ride to Medellín passed through the heart of mango-growing country in the peak of the season. Trucks were piled so high with the tropical fruit and trees bent so low that plenty fell discarded on the sides of the highway. In tribute to our Goshen dumpster-diving roots, we picked up 2 oranges, 2 lemons, 4 bananas and 10 mangos for the day. In combination with the brown cane sugar (panela) that we mixed into our water bottles, we were well energized.
Diana, a Mennonite peace worker, has hosted us here in Medellín. The city boasts drinkable water, the only Metro line in Colombia which zips citizens around town, and a system of beautiful parks coupled with public libraries. Paisas, as the locals are known, are ardently proud of their city and surrounding department, Antioquia. We had the chance to go all around the city with Edwin, a camp friend and coworker of our Goshen College chum Phil Scott. We visited a barefoot park, walked through the centro market, and still don’t exactly know what Edwin said to get us in for free to see the Francisco Botero artwork at the Museo de Antioquia.
Tomorrow we head out from the mountains to the coast and the historic city of Cartagena.