Date: Date:Thu, 23 Jul 1998 15:39:47
From: Claude Marthaler <>

Subject: Colombia: Mountains of Kindness

Dear Redfishes !
Armenia, Colombia, km 74592

Some counries are like people : condemned to held an eternal bad reputation. Among them, Bangladesh, the country of the absolute human and natural calamities : extreme poverty, surpopulation, corruption, tornadoes, floods.

Iran, the country of fanatic islamics, beast of international terrorism. Colombia¨: The country of unsecurity and violence. Bad news has always been the basic food of the media-- nothing new under the sun. In this caffeine-fast visual world, flooded with IMAGES, it is good to thread slowly the planet on two wheels.

A bike odyssey is at first a tactile jouney to the REAL. Colombia has been a surprise. On the "Alto de Ventanas", the very first pass of the Andes (the longest mountain range of the world), the Yak broke its freewheel.

A true freewheel, indeed. I couldn't pedal any further, but instead was to meet very talkative, interested and warm people : the Colombians. For the first time since Mexico, I was no more a "Gringo", but a recognized cyclist carrying stories from the outside world.

In fact, Colombia is literally a "no man's land" in terms of tourism. The only ones so far have been transcontinental cyclists coming from Alaska or from Tierra del Fuego. Entering Armenia, a town situated in the coffee plantations hearthland, the people of "Cyclomundo", a local bike shop (whose logo is a cyclist on top of the planet) took us immediately inside. Then, naturally, Armenia has been a chain reaction of links between people to help us.

Colombia produces the best cyclists of Latin America and among the best world circuit "climbers", but Pedro was apart, from another category : the freewheelers. We met Pedro, 78, who in 197O pedalled 24OOO kilometers around the world in three years.

He opened his tresor : a huge album of pictures, stamps, postcards and newspaper articles. His life has been work. Pedro had quit his hometown Armenia with no educational background and no money, as the country was falling apart in a deep economic crisis. To finance his trip, he pedalled three times fity hours uninterrupted on his bike, in the cities of Baranquilla, in Panama and in Venezuela. (the Guiness book of world records mentions Navas, also a Colombian, for his hundred hours riding !).

Despite his three gear bike and the bad roads of that time, he said that travelling by bike now was certainly far more difficult, because people were less helpfull... As we ring our bells to say "hasta luego !", he couldn´t avoid to add : "Would I be ten years younger, I would come with you !..."

For us travellers, the country of drugsmugglers, kidnappings, guerrillas, paramilitary, and eternal successions of corrupt governments has been something else. As if we just started to climb the Andes, we felt in filigram, another inner range : the mountain of kindness.

The YAK_ and Ruedas (

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