Manizales, Caldas, Colombia.
Why do we travel?
I see great variety in the apparent methods and motivations of my fellow tourists/travelers/journeyers. Along one spectrum lays the variation in activity: from timeless sprawls on white sand beaches to daily packed itineraries of tours, museums, parks and must-have-and-photograph experiences. In other words, how busy do people choose to be while traveling? Along yet another range lies the intention underlying the journey, be it R&R from a stressful home life, broadening one’s horizons via a new land and/or culture, volunteering for communities-in-need, or existential searches of various kinds manifesting fresh starts to new lives. Regardless of the reasons for leaving “home”, we are all out here for our own reasons. Be in financial, relational, communal, career, and/or other, all travel comes at a cost.Each of us has stepped out of our “normal” routines for some length of time making some sort of sacrifice in order to do it.
So given the challenges incurrent in manifesting a journey and our reasons for taking it, how do our intentions fuel our day to day choices? What compels us to take a few extra hours/days/weeks/months in certain places, not in others? What draws us in? How do we determine, with some level of efficiency/efficacy, whether a place is worth exploring a bit longer? And how much longer?? And when is the right time to push on???
I often ask (and endlessly re-ask) myself, “Why am I out here and what am I looking for?” Never mind the constant, “Is this worth the sacrifice of missing my community?” Having written many times about the sacrifices I have and continue to make for this journey, I’ll not repeat myself. But the first question, “What am I looking for?” is particularly ripe these days. The answer to this question changes, both over the spectrum of this journey and over shorter periods. After many weeks of virtually continuous movement here in Colombia, I’ve been developing some curiosity about being in one place… for how long I have no idea. To be transparent, the prospect of actually stopping enough, and “being” in a place long enough to build some roots, scares me. I am approaching 2 years of this life of journeying, and there are still so many questions about life that I’ve not yet explored, even with all this “free” time.
I’ve come to realize that in my form of travel, truly free time is not as common as I’d expected. Between morning activities of cooking and packing up, between 8-12 daily hours of riding and foraging for meals, then nightly searches for safe sleeping spots and cooking — I’m not left with a lot of energy for internal practices of writing, meditating, and processing. So what to do about this?? I really love riding all day to exhaustion. I love camping outside when possible. Am I to start cutting my ride days short by a few hours? Somehow this prospect scares me. Perhaps I’m to stop for longer periods in bigger towns and cities in order to have more time for internal work there?
I decided to start experimenting with this in my next city stop: Manizales. I’d just come out of nearly 2 weeks of glorious mountain travel and was ready to be around some people. I’d set up in a hostel in Manizales and open myself to opportunities to stay longer, should they arise. If not, I’d push on and repeat this process in the next viable location. How long should I wait for opportunities to arise? How will I know which ones to engage? I didn’t know, just hoped it would become clear in process.
Arriving into Manizales via a rough and wet dirt track out of Parque Nacional Los Nevados, I was covered in mud. My bike had clearly taken on some new creaks and grinding noises, so the first stop would be a bike shop for repairs and lodging info.
I found the strip with all the bike shops and began to vibe out mechanics. There was the big fancy Specialized concept store, followed by those of Giant, Scott, and Cannondale. In between two of these enormous stores, I saw a small metal door smattered with every bike brand sticker imaginable. Taking a chance, I rang the bell. No answer. Rang it again. No answer.
After a third ring, I began to turn around when the door was opened by an older, portly man who introduced himself as Bisoño (Bis-ónyo). He invited me in through the dark, dirty hallway, down some cement steps and into his shop. I’d clearly found my spot — No sales floor. Just a big messy shop an unimaginable array of tools. As it turns out, a large portion of the tools were actually developed or adapted by Bisoño himself over the years when those available weren’t sufficient. I later found that he’s quite a legend in Manizales, really in Colombia as a whole. Mechanic to some of the top international competitive cyclists, including his son Marcelo Guitirez, one of the top downhill mountain bikers in the world right now.
After letting me clean all the mud and grime off, Bisoño’s top mechanic got to work on my bearings and wheels while I picked his brain about the mountain biking scene in Manizales.
As is common in Colombia, people mostly ride at night and on the weekends. I took the first opportunity I could to meet up with a local group. Within 20 minutes, the small circle of 5 expanded to a posse of nearly 30 mountain bikers. We slowly rolled along the busy city streets onto the steep highway dropping out of downtown. A quick turnoff and we were silently panting up a 1200’ climb, a long train of lights slowly meandering up a grassy hillside. Hop over a fence here, squeeze through a gate there, and we found a few small sections of technical single track before zooming back to town on a paved road. A quick goodbye and everyone went their separate ways home.
I spent the next day riding around the city to get some electronics repaired and look for the odd replacement part. Came across the main cathedral of the city, surrounded by buses and tourism. Pretty, but not my scene.
By chance, a clerk at one of the big concept bike stores told me of a large group ride that would be happening the following day on Saturday. Always excited to familiarize myself with local biking communities, I pried myself out of bed for the 7am meet up. Really surprised and pleased to see a good mix of male and female riders here (typically the proportions tend to be at least 90% men in Latin America), all of whom were quite strong!
Fun and steep technical downhill on a rutted mule track, dropping us back to the main city park.
Mountain biking of all kinds is quite big in Manizales. The people’s park had a variety of enduro trails weaving through the forest as well as a large BMX track! I of course had to give it a try. Way harder than it looked, especially on my enormous bike.
As is the custom in all places, we rolled to the nearest juice/coffee spot and hung out for a while. It’s always inspiring to me how quickly bikers, especially mountain bikers, are willing to connect and invite me into their lives. On this ride, my closest connection was with an Argentinian man named Luciano. We geeked out over bike gear for a bit, but quickly got into more profound conversation about careers and the value of free time. Without hesitation, he invited me to a barbecue at his home the next day.
I guess I’ll stay another night!
Luciano(R), his wife and daughter, and close family friend, visiting from Argentina.
I made mojitos and other fancy tropical drinks while another friend of theirs regaled us with his traditional Argentinian meat cooker. Yeah, evidently everyone but me was an Argentinian transplant. (Sorry vegetarians and vegans, avert your eyes for the next photo…)
You take a 50 gallon tank, cut a vent into the top and bottom, and line the edges with your meat products. Place your seasoning and veggies in the center and throw the cover back on. 45 minutes later you have perfect, juicy cuts ready to eat!
We drank good wine, ate wonderful food, and I got lectured on Argentina’s political and sports history. I did not feel like a random invitee to a family event. I felt like a member of their family. Instantly. It was beautiful.
With all these wonderful experiences within the span of only a few days, one might assume this was enough stimulation to convince me to stay a while longer…
But something was missing.
I considered what of my experiences were compelling enough to stay: Good mountain biking and bike scene. Very easy access to enormous and gorgeous wilderness (PNN Los Nevados). Cool but comfortable weather (albeit a bit rainy). So what’s the problem? Well, it all seemed really comfortable but there was no deeper purpose surfacing from my time. I could dig in and rent an apartment for a month, start a bodywork practice here, and maybe it would be really fun, but what’s so different about doing this here than in Seattle? Yes, it’s a different country, but still a similar size and vibe of city. I realized that just being fun is not enough to really draw me in. I didn’t know what more I sought, but I knew a little more about it by process of elimination.
And so it was time to hit the road again. I packed up from my Hostel Kumanday, thanked the warm owners for their hospitality, and rolled towards the next dirt road South of town…