Luís Simões, travel sketcher around the world
“We would love to receive both of you in our humble house”
This sentence was the beginning of meeting two strangers who became our family in Cienaga – Colombia.
The Day Before
The day started in silent mode. We packed our stuff and left Bahia Concha, even though in our deep inside we wanted to stay longer. The fresh morning rushed us to leave as soon as possible to catch the morning breeze. We still have in our memory how hilly and loose gravel Tayrona Park’s road. It made us unconfident from the beginning and the fact that we knew how unprepared we were, our fear came true. The first 2 km was hard. We had to push our bicycle before the road became slightly flat that we could pedal again. The rain from last night made the road even muddier.
Our challenges in riding didn’t stop right there. When we passed Santa Marta, our stupid GPS sent us through what we felt was a bad neighborhood with a deadly steep road. It was hardcore! Even though Luis asked me not to stop, but I couldn’t. We both couldn’t. At some point, both of us stopped. After the hard morning with 26 degrees on the inclination, we just able to push our bicycles.
We had so many challenges on that day. We wanted to go without plans and stay whenever we felt tired. But once we got tired it was too late. Traveling with bicycles and all these panniers in places could be dangerous for us. It was just not a good idea. With the low energy left, we searched the place we booked earlier but apparently, our address was wrong!
Luís asked a local to call the number but we found that the room wasn’t available. The search continued…
We dehydrated for the last hour that made us sluggish. Suddenly, there were a couple of dogs barking at us and running after our bicycles! I’m scared like hell! A dog is a creature that I never comfortable with. I can even say that they are scary. With all circumstances we were having at that time, I felt like crying and questioning, “why the hell I’m doing in here?!?.”
Anyway, after all the hard work, we found a place with a reasonable price. We felt grateful to have a good bed with clean blankets, fresh shower, and air condition! All of that felt like a little piece of heaven for us. From this experience, we learned that we should plan well before we go.
We slept early on that night to prepare another round of cycling to Cienaga – Colombia on the next day. And surprisingly, that trip turns out to be one of the unforgettable experiences in our bicycle touring in this country.
Cienaga – Colombia
The sound of the alarm shocked us! 4.30 am. It was time to wake up. We tried to start the day early and make it our habit since Colombia has harsh weather after 9 am. The heat and the high humidity aren’t the best elements for a pleasant ride. But every time the alarm goes on, it was hard to get out of the bed.
Again, we do what we are getting pros on. We packed our stuff and left the hotel, heading to Cienaga – Colombia. That day was our first time meeting so many cyclists on the road. Seeing them cycling so fast, motivated us to pushed our bicycles harder, and eventually be like them! We took a shortcut to Ciénaga and left the main paved road to a dirt road.
On this small road, we noticed that both of us prefer dirt roads than asphalt. And this one was quiet and green. Away from cars that didn’t respect that much the cyclists when there’s no shoulder road. They horn us like they were the kings of the road!
I went up to the hotel reception to check if our reservation was ok and we could get in. Luís stayed on the main street, super busy with cars, motorcycles, people shouting to sell freshwater, ice cream cars … and there he was, holding my bike and trying to control the situation. It was impossible not to be seen and “appreciated” by locals. The whole apparatus radiated curiosity from those who normally follow their usual path. He was everything but the usual.
Suddenly, a guy with a red road bike greets Luís and said,
“We would love to receive both of you in our humble house”Jose Franco
The man is Jose Franco. 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. José comments that he had invited us to stay at his house, to which she promptly says yes and smiles. Everything began to give confidence.
Luís told me what has been happening. After short discussion, we agreed to stay with José Franco’s family. Staying with locals is usually interesting. After canceling the reservation, we followed José to his home.
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. Jose told me that he has been cycling for more than 30 years. He began as a bicycle mechanic and the passion has been growing. He was always a person of convictions, he confessed.
One day, he saved COP 5.000 with his work to buy running shoes. Back then COP 5.000 was a monthly salary of his mother. As soon as his mother learned about the price of the shoes, she got furious. She dragged him by the ear and led him to where he bought the shoes to return them! On the way back, the mother made him walk home barefoot. “See how he did not need any sneakers,” José’s mother said. Later he graduated and he is now a teacher at a school with students who came from humble families. So, everyone knows and respects him for his wisdom and goodness.
Later on that day, he offered us on a small bicycle ride to know more about the city of Cienaga – Colombia. We explored around and met lovely people – if we weren’t with José, we wouldn’t do it our own. Yet, it seems that Jose Franco could read our minds and try to change our perspective into good memories. Before we went home, we bought a fish and made a stew of it. It was divine!
The next day we were supposed to continue our trip to Barranquilla, but it was José’s birthday and the family asked us to stay longer. Why not?! Tell me what is the best way to know the culture better?!
The decoration was set and a cake was bought. Students, friends, and compadres arrived. Grilled fish – brought by one of his fishermen friends, juice, and water, and in the end, we sang a happy birthday song to José. Everything was the most simple we could imagine. Yet, it was a full day with contagious energy – a lot of talks and jokes. See a sketch that Luís did here.
The next day, Jose Franco created a group of cyclists and organize meetings for rides for our farewell. He organized a group to accompany us to the exit Cienaga – Colombia.
See You, Jose Franco!
It was 5:10 in the morning when we left the house of José in the direction of Barranquilla. We rode with the group for about 25 kilometers and then we said goodbye.
Once we left alone, we started to cry. Both of us were so well received that this moment of being alone again made our eyes thrill. Luís was confessing that he hasn’t cried over farewells in years. He was very excited when he started to travel in 2012. Then it becomes more and more natural, and he ended up realizing that time passes. In an instant, it’s not worth making big farewells. Today we keep the idea that one day we can still see ourselves in another place. So,
“See you, Jose Franco!”