Thursday, May 14, 2015

Beating the Heat and Food Issues, May 11-14

Mompox-Guamal-El Banco-Tamalameque-Pelaya

The alarm woke us at 5:30 am from a deep sleep in our air-conditioned haven in Mompox.  It was early, but the morning is the only bearable time to bike.  Today, however, we hit snooze, and then again, and again.  Waking up for good around 8, neither of us had the slightest desire to leave.  Instead, we spent the day reading, figuring out gear issues, playing ukulele, and making delicious food.

The next day, we actually got up with the alarm, at 5:15 this time.  When the low temperature for the day is 81 degrees, there's only so much you can do, but the morning turned out to be pleasant.  We even got a nice surprise: we were expecting dirt roads, and over 40 kilometers were paved!
This smooth surface enabled us to go a good distance before noon, so we decided to stop for the rest of the day in the small town of El Banco.  Holing up in our hotel room was pretty unadventurous, but we did take a walk to confront one of our biggest challenges so far in Colombia: the market.  Tam mentioned food in the last post, but here's my take.

Like in Central America, food is widely available here.  The tiny towns, of which we pass through maybe four per day, always have a restaurant and a little store, and the bigger towns, maybe one per day, have numerous larger "supermarkets."  With fresh vegetables, rows of stocked shelves, refrigerators, and more, these markets look appealing at first glance, but after walking around and ending up back at the front with an empty basket, the allure fades.  There are a lot of raw foods and a lot of highly processed foods, but little in between.  Because we've been fortunate enough to have a choice, and because of our knowledge of the profound effect food has on health, we've learned to really appreciate good food.  If it can be avoided, I would rather not eat white bread with 37 ingredients (can we even call that food?), and we can't realistically cook beans, pasta, rice, or flour.  So we've been thinking creatively about what to eat, and we've come up with some solutions:

1) Eat out.  Restaurants are everywhere, and a full plate of rice, beans, cheese, yucca root, fried plantains, eggs, and/or veggies costs the equivalent of $2-3.  None have menus, so we just go in and tell the lady who runs the place what we want.  Sometimes we have to try a few before finding one that can serve something without meat.

2) Make giant salads. Usually canned beans here have some sort of pork added, but we found one store that had a few dusty cans of garbanzo beans on the shelf.  Score!  We've been adding them to mixed veggies, corn, and rice from a local restaurant, and finishing it off with peanut butter (we still have some from Costa Rica!).

3) Sprout lentils. Since we can't cook beans, why not sprout them? Keeping them alive while biking has presented some logistical challenges, but we ate our first somewhat successful batch the other day and we're trying our best to make more.

4) Lower our standards. Crackers with palm oil? Okay, I guess. Canned corn with added sugar? Fine. Jif peanut butter? I'll take three. Pork-rind potato chips flavored with MSG? Never.

5) Build a soda can stove. It hasn't come to this. Yet.

Water has also been a challenge, since our SteriPen is on the fritz and we can't drink the tap water (not even the locals drink it).  Here's the solution:
6 liter bag of water.  In the upper right it says "the perfect size for the whole family."  We go through two per day.

We got on the road again before 6 the next morning, biking fast to make miles before Father Sun began roasting the earth. In spite of some rough dirt sections, we made good time, the Magdalena River to our right, a flat road ahead, and absolute tropical greenery everywhere else.  
The Rio Magdalena from a bridge

Eventually came into view, for the first time, the Andes Mountains!  They're not called that here, but coming north out of Ecuador, the formidable range splits into three, leaving its dizzying heights behind and eventually trailing off into lowland forests and plains. Though we were to spend a few more days in the lowlands and foothills, seeing the Cordillera Oriental looming above, barely visible in the haze, affirmed that we were really here in South America, home of the great Andes!

Soon we joined highway 45 heading south parallel to the peaks, and the day just got better from there.  A massive construction effort had paved the new other side of what will soon be a divided highway, but for now, we had the whole two lanes to ourselves!  
That's right, trucks.  Stay outta my enormous bike lane.

Stopping in the town of Pelaya for an early lunch, we decided, like the day before, to call it a day.  Better to rest, think, and prepare to leave again early re next morning.  And play ukulele, of course.

With our giant bike lane continuing and a thick layer of clouds blocking the sun, the kilometers fell away beneath our wheels. This was the coolest day we had had in awhile; at 10 am, an info sign showed 29 degrees, about 85 Fahrenheit.  The riding itself was as before: farmland, flats giving way to rolling hills, hazy mountains rising on our left.  Again we stopped around noon in a little town and had some time to hang out for the rest of the day.


  1. I LOVE sprouting lentils. Mung beans sprout well too, but I'm not sure they'd have those?
    Adventure on! <3

    1. Danny here. Thanks for the suggestion! The lentil sprouting we've done has only been mildly successful, so I doubt we'll expand to other beans, but we'll keep mung beans in mind.
      I caught up on your blog today, wonderfully thoughtful as always. Especially loved your post on sharing. We have gone through phases as well; good to hear we're not alone!