I was in front of the door of the central hotel of Ciénaga, when a guy arrives with a red cycling bike, equipped and greets me. He asks me what I was doing there, and in less than a minute of conversation, he offers me his house to stay the nights I want. It was literally this way I met José Franco.
Anisa went up to the hotel reception to check if our reservation was ok and we could get in. I stayed on the main street, super busy with cars, motorcycles, people shouting to sell freshwater, ice cream cars … and there I was, holding Anisa’s bike and trying to control the situation. It was impossible not to be seen and “appreciated” by locals. My whole apparatus radiated curiosity from those who normally follow their usual path. I was everything but the usual.
While talking to José and trying to figure out what kind of person he was, a girl arrives, also on a bicycle and equipped, who presents herself as his wife. Jose, comments that he had invited us to stay at his house, to which she promptly says yes and smiles. On the way back, the curious ones, greet Jose as if he were a very loved person. Everything began to give confidence and when Anisa came down, after canceling the reservation, we followed Jose to his home.
Jose told me that he has been cycling for more than 30 years. It began as a bicycle mechanic and the passion was growing. He was always a person of convictions, he confessed. One day he saved 5.000 pesos with his work to buy running shoes. At the time 5.000 pesos was the salary of one month of his mother. As soon as his mother learned about the shoes and the price, she took him by the ear and led him to where he had bought the shoes, to return them! On the way back, the mother made him run all the way in barefoot “to see how he did not need any sneakers”, he laughs. Later he graduated and he is now a teacher at a school with students with many needs, so everyone knows and respects him for his wisdom and goodness. A wisdom that he offered us in a small bicycle ride that we made to know the city of Ciénaga. That same day, we bought a fish and Jose made a stew with limes and coconut. It was divine!
The next day we were supposed to continue our trip to Barranquilla, but it was Jose’s birthday and we decided to be there to know better the culture and to live a little more with the family. Students, friends, and compadres arrived. A decoration was made in the house and a cake was bought. Grilled fish, brought by one of his fishermen friends, juice and water, and in the end, we sang “happy birthday” to Jose. Always with a lot of talks and jokes. It was a full house day with contagious energy. Everything was the most simple we could imagine.
The house of Jose was rather humble, built by him little by little, where respect and discipline were the great foundations of education. He lives with his daughter of the first relationship, with whom we talk a lot, two adopted kids of the second relationship, the present wife and a maid who helps the family in the kitchen and with the clothes. Almost every day, Jose has the habit of getting up very early and do at least 50km on his bicycle. He created a group of hobbyists for the bicycle and organizes meetings for rides. It was precisely this that he prepared us for our farewell. He organized a group to accompany us to the exit of Ciénaga.
It was 5:10 in the morning when we left the house of Jose in the direction of Barranquilla. We rode with the group for about 25 kilometers and then we said “bye.” I started crying. We started to cry. Both of us were so well received that this moment of being alone again made our eyes thrill. I confess that I had not cried with farewells in years. I was very excited at the beginning when I started to travel in 2012. Then it becomes more and more natural and I ended up realizing that time passes in an instant, it’s not worth making big farewells. Today I keep the idea that one day we can still see ourselves in another place … so “see you soon Jose!”
2 days after this happens, José visited us in Barranquilla. My idea of no “good byes” was confirmed.