Greetings from Cali, Colombia from the three traveling amigos, newly reunited after 4 months of saddle separation.
The Quito departure was a whirlwind of logistics—making an inventory of gear, planning routes, farewells with those compañeros of the city and farm, and saying goodbye to Levi’s mother, who had visited for 2 weeks in mid-October. Michael and Abe left two days before Levi, who stayed in Quito to wrap up his internship and catch up on packing. Then Levi hopped a bus to the northern Ecuadorian city of Ibarra, where he met with Abe and Michael in the shade of a park beside the Panamerican highway, snacking on some granola bars Levi had made. There were grins all around as we looked north to the next chapter in this trip.
Michael and Abe’s first night outside Quito was spent with the Chávez family in the friendly, artesanal town of Otavalo. José and María are parents of Goshen students Dennis and Mauricio and owners of a comida típica restaurant serving up fritada and hot bowls of chicken soup. José and María met us in traditional otavaleño clothing: María in a white dress with embroidered flowers and a gold necklace, José greeting patrons in white pants, white sandals and a black fedora over his long hair. Over bowls of the best caldo de gallina we’ve had, topped with fried corn, we talked about the advantages and challenges of studying abroad. José studied sociology in the US and wanted his kids to have the same opportunity, but also wanted them to have a strong sense of their Ecuadorian identity. We know Dennis the best, and now see the parallels between his identity in Goshen and the culture of Otavalo.
During our first night reunited with Levi, we were stopped by the oncoming darkness in a little mountain town called Carlisamá. On our way into the town, we struck up a conversation with some women carrying firewood back to their home. After mentioning that we were looking for a floor and a roof where we could lay out our sleeping bags for the night, they happily invited us to stay in the parlor of their home. We enjoyed a meal of potatoes and cheese sauce, a bonfire in the street, and conversation with both the family and curious villagers who happened to stop by. This experience was a reminder of the unique opportunity of bike touring to visit with people that most foreigners never meet.
After a hassle-free border crossing into Colombia, we were greeted by enthusiastic cyclists and arepa restaurants in the town of Ipiales. A 45-km bajada was soon to follow, and we passed by natural waterfalls, stunning cliffs, and fruit stands selling panela, sweet brown sugarcane toffee, packaged in banana leaves as we dropped into the valley. That night the bomberos, or firefighters, of Pasto willingly took us in and seemed genuinely sad that we were only staying one night. For travelers with a budget, staying with firefighters seems to be a popular option. After filling out a few forms, the fire stations offer a kitchen, shower, and floor to sleep on for no charge.
When our previous host fell through in Cali, we scrambled to search for other potential contacts. After some emailing, we got a hold of Goshen senior Micah Miller-Eshleman over Skype. Micah had lived in Cali for four years while his parents worked for MCC. It was crazy to hear the voices of other students such as Tall John Miller, Martin Hofkamp, and Audrey Thill coming from the Good Library at Goshen College. Within about 30 minutes, Micah had a host lined up, complete with names, addresses, telephone numbers, directions, and things we just had to do in Cali. Although we don’t plan to repeat such frantic planning, it was a comforting reminder of how we are blessed by people connections and the power of technology.
We arrived in Cali and went straight to the Micah-recommended Colombian bakery named Peter (Piter) Pan, a must for any visiting Mennonite gringo. With stomachs full of yuca bread, we headed to the Baptist Seminary campus to tour the office of EduPaz, the Mennonite peace organization funded by MCC. A woman named Tere met us at the door, an energetic theater professor who chatted with us for the rest of the day. Tere’s role involves making nonviolence videos for schools and educating future peace workers at EduPaz.
Here in Cali we are staying with Jorge and Estela Morales, two pastors at a Mennonite Brethren church in Palmira. Tonight we hope to go out with Tere for some world-famous Cali salsa dancing before continuing north tomorrow.
Abe, Levi and Michael (a juntos)