I'm trying to temper my enthusiasm to share literally everything amazing I've encountered in the past few weeks. There's a lot of preconceived notions that go on with my present locale, and I found it easier to just hide my head in the sand instead of attempt to dispel rumors. I'm breaking the ice with an epic photo and word dump.
Long story short, I'm spending my winter training in Colombia. November to February. Or March. I'm not really sure yet. A teammate from this past season, Cesar Grajales, convinced myself and another gringo DomProAm (Christian Parrett, look for his name next year) that spending our winter in his hometown of Manizales, Colombia would be amazing (liberal perusing of Klaus' brilliant Cycling Inquisition blog didn't hurt). I won't lie, I had my doubts. Adventure is something that I normally crave, but the piles of negative news the media tends to push about this part of the world can be daunting. There are travel advisories from multiple governments that essentially state "Whitey goes to Colombia, piles of cocaine on every street corner, kidnapping at every turn, DEATH DEATH DEATH". I was a little intimidated, but lured by the prospect of high-altitude climbing in the winter, new culture, new culinary adventure, new people, and Spanish fluency.
I'm glad I listened. It's phenomenal. Almost a month in, and I could write a novella on everything that blows me away about this place. Today, I decided to pen a short blog post on my favorite part thus far.
Anyway, enjoy some photos and a terrible GoPro video I shot yesterday. I'll periodically update with more words and images. This place is truly riding paradise - nothing is flat. Manizales is literally built upon a few 7000ft mountain peaks. We can ride to 13,000ft, or down to 2,000. Nearly every day involves a 20-30km HC climb to get home. The longest climb in the world is situated a mere 35km from our front door. The drivers, while completely and totally insane, are also incredibly skilled and kind to cyclists. I've worked as a messenger in large western American cities, and have never felt safer on the road. Aside from the road riding, the MTB (DH, specifically) is supposed to be world-class. We randomly met DH pro Marcelo Gutierrez out on the road up to Letras (aforementioned longest climb in the world) our third or fourth day here. He took tenth at Worlds this year. You know...NBD. There's a fairly big urban DH race here in January we'll get to attend, and we watched the qualifiers this afternoon.Welcome to Colombia.
Every place has its ups and downs, and this temporary Latin American home is no different. The terrain mirrors the trajectory of its history (like so many of the oft-exploited and neglected cast-off states shaped by failed Western policy), a permanent roller coaster of excruciating highs and lows, punctuated by the cerebral views from the alto de la montaña and the muggy swaddling of the fondo del rio.
As negotiations in Havana (possibly) decide the fate of its long-running civil war, the people of the Cafe Tero are ambivalent at best. Instead, their attention is focused on things more immediate. This país, these people, they are the happiest encountered. A refreshing mentality, one driven not by a ravenous hunger for more, but motivated by an innate love of their compatriots. Happy to get by, to exist, to spend as much time with loved ones doing what they enjoy in life, and sharing it with anyone in shouting distance.
This isn’t to say this isn’t a hardworking place - but its people are hardworking because they care about each other, not because they’re trying to get ahead of one another.