Walden World

The wacky and wonderful tales of Beth's and Catherine's global adventures. And all things Walden too.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Manizales and Odds and Sods About Colombia

This morning we took the terrifying bus ride from Manizales to nearby perreira. Manizales is a gorgeous city in the Andes coffee zone. They even have an areal  cable car system that takes you from one mountain city side to another. It's built for commuter use so it's funny to watch people working while their little capsule traverses the city sky.

Manizales does have one problem in that while it has an airport, it's a city of 500,000 after all, the planes rarely fly out and most of the time the airport is closed.

This is because of the thick fogs which will cover the town at times as well as the incredible thunderstorms the mountain city gets.

Each night in Millan the gourmet district as it is called (comprised of 5 restaurants I kid you not) you can watch magnificent sunsets as well as astonishing lightning shows over nearby ranges simultaneously.

Driving out today we again passed countless bike riders training for international competition. One thing I had never heard about colombia is that professional cyclists from the world over come here to train for the Tour de France, Olympics etc...

They are all over the highways here and in fact on some major roads there are even dedicated lanes for them.

I guess that the thinner atmosphere coupled with mountainous terrain makes for excellent training grounds.

Leaving Manizales a number of things came to mind. Foremost the clear number of prosperous middle class people in Colombia, unlike most of the Latin American countries we have been to.  Something we didn't expect given the bad rap colombia has.

I am also surprised at the number of car washes colombia has. For every 3 city blocks there is a car wash.

But Colombians love their transport, from the countless motorcycle drivers blasting through the cities, small towns and highways, interestingly at least half of them women, to the homicidal food delivery cyclists working an uber app, everyone is always in movement.

Speaking of movement back to the terrifying bus trip.

Why bus drivers in Latin America drive like maniacs I will never understand.

Yes there were sheer cliff drops down mountainsides thousands of feet, but this time we were on the mountain side lane so in order to go flying off the road to our death we had two other lanes of traffic to fly over. This gave me some confidence.

In Colombia the speed limits down the twisting mountain ascents and descents are strictly marked as to maximum speed.

Bad hairpin turns are marked with 30 to 40 km signs which are supposed to be strictly enforced.  Every 10 km there is a traffic police stop even in middle of nowhere.

Nevertheless crazed bus drivers appear to have been given some carte Blanche exclusion from the rules.

See the sign reading 30 or 40 km maximum and watch as our driver accelerates in to the turn to go 80 km.

They relish accelerating into those turns making me suspect that every Colombian bus driver was required to watchthe film "Bullit" starring Steve Mcqueen as an entry requirement.

The reason you know the speed is because the speedometer of the bus is posted at the front for everyone to see in case you want to text 767  (posted in every bus or taxi) should you want to comment on their driving.

The twists turns and then the drivers glee at the maximum 60 km sign which gives him license to gear it up to 100 km is a thing to behold.

Remember all along the highways are small restaurants, happy dogs and pedestrians with no shoulder for a safety margin at all. Let's not mention the stopped trucks that just appear on the other side of a blind curve or the disregard for the "no passing" signs ubiquitous through the country and staunchly ignored.

I said today to C colombia is the only country where I have been ecstatic to see a speed bump or the backside of a huge transport truck slowly lumbering  up a sharply elevating highway.

Medellin is 180 km from manizales and four days ago it took our little death bus to traverse this span, far longer than the usual 4 - 5 hours.

It took us 7 due to construction. And yes, even behind diesel spewing transports lumbering painfully up the ascents, the Tour de France guys, weRe biking right behind.

But the scenery? Breathtaking. Mountains, coffee plants for hundreds of miles shiNing in the morning sun. Flowers abundant and Vistas unforgettable.

Then more motorcycles whipping down the mountains passing men in spandex in groups of 10, each sporting advertising, pumping their bicycle legs ferociously to make it up the next hill.


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