Riding, traffic, churches, role models

Dear friends and family,

I thought I would get back to riding and give up the thoughts about staying put and just writing- for now.

Once again I was sharing the road  with trucks, busses and motorcycles.

Most of the time there was a shoulder to stay over on.

I wasn’t expecting much after the tiny and secluded mountain towns. My next stop of San Gil, was reputed to be ugly, but is known as the “adventure capital” of the country. From here tourists go hang gliding, river rafting, bungee jumping, and zip lining. I wasn’t interested in any of that, just passing through. Besides, I’m much too chicken for adrenaline activities, I’d rather have semi trucks  pass my left elbow by three feet all day.

Coming in towards my hotel, I found I was in the middle of the motorcycle repair zone, with cycles lined up all around, a few mechanics working and lots of guys watching while drinking beer in the middle of the day. Seemed like maybe I didn’t pick the best neighborhood, but only 500 feet on the other side of my hotel was the brand new mall, complete with food courts and all the high end stores the same as in the US. What a mix.

Walking down the street, just exploring what kinds of little businesses are here, I happened into a tiny store selling bicycling jerseys. Sure that they wouldn’t have anything for a gigante (giant) I strolled in and asked. The proprietress smiled and pulled out blue sized 2XX jersey. I was a little shocked so I said what I really wanted was one that not only fit me, but had “Colombia” spelled out on it. So, she dug a little deeper and came out with a very beautiful version, not only properly labeled and sized, but had modern vents for breathing built in the material. 

Since I was a little shocked to find this and so needed to think about it. I asked if she was open the next day and found she would close from 12-3, but otherwise open. So, the next day about 1130 I showed up to a sealed up entrance with no one around. Twelve was probably an approximate, so I wasn’t too surprised, but now I really wanted the shirt. 

I wandered around a couple of blocks away when a woman came up to me asking about a “camiso”.  It took a minute for me to compute that she meant” shirt”. Then I realized that  she was the store owner from yesterday. I said “si”, so we walked together to the store, opened it up, got “my” shirt, and made a sale. Then we talked about my trip and Colombia for a half hour. I tell this story for two reasons:

First, to show how much a giant gringo sticks out here and 

Second, to demonstrate something about the culture and doing business here. 

You cannot visit Colombia without appreciating the Spanish history and influence of the Catholic religion. Each village, no matter the size, has a church at its center, opposite the park. Each church is different and all have been beautiful. They are always open for a visit and a respite from the heat and noise of the city outside. 

In Socorro, I happened across the beginning of a Mass. About 50 people were in attendance. The sound system was wired in and again it was a beautiful sound. I was sitting in the back, which was still under construction with scaffolding along the sides. I could read signs posted about the re-construction as I listened to Mass. Seems like this church might not be the safest place to be. When they were building it, it fell down halfway through, killing eleven construction workers. In the last ten years, they were worried again about it falling down so committed lots of funds and labor to shoring it up, in addition to rerouting all trucks and cars from adjoining streets to keep vibrations down, AND limiting the amount of people allowed in at one time. I was hoping I wasn’t the one person too many to cause these massive stone blocks to bury me. One thin mint?

A few of the churches were 250-350 years old. This one started in 1873 and finished in 1946. It was amazing looking in its construction, but I wonder if maybe they should have paid attention to some of the earlier construction methods. 

There is something about the massive church, the costumes and the  ceremony that is attractive. Chalices, wine, unleavened bread hosts, and even the separation from the congregation. I can see why this system has worked for so many years and for some people and places, even today. I’m not one to judge, or at least try not to be. 

I noticed only one “altar boy”, a man who looked about fifty. Sure took me back…

I was the chosen one in the Catholic school and church  since I was the only eighth grader heading to the seminary and the priesthood.  I got to be the head altar boy. An altar boy since sixth grade, I now had seniority as well. What a cool gig: I got to wear a special outfit, be out in front of everybody participating in the ceremony, and be a part of a system that rewarded you with the hierarchy of cooler outfits. A priest had a better costume than an altar boy, and up the system to bishop and cardinal they got more colorful and fancier, until the peak-the pope, who I thought I had a chance of becoming. No cooler hats were worn by anybody any time! My parents even (teasingly?) called me the first Polish pope, feeding my dream.

We altar boys had our own version of teen antics, drinking the left over wine from the cruets and side bets about giggling. Who could get the other to giggle during a mass for a wedding would  get the tip money from the family. This was serious stuff because there was always an altar boy tip in the package to pay off the priest for marrying the couple. I’m hoping that the wedding participants were too focused on the wedding to notice the boys’ game. My lip almost bled from biting it to stifle that giggle. Loved that new baseball mitt I bought.

I would like to add here, in case you were wondering, that I never experienced any abuse or attempts as either an altar boy or seminarian. Nuff said about that. 

After a couple of years as a high school seminarian ( and reaching puberty- a late bloomer), I switched from wanting to be the pope to wanting to emulate Hugh Hefner and his playboy mansion ( there’s a past post about how that worked out).

A boy and his role models.

Sending love,


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7 thoughts on “Riding, traffic, churches, role models”

  1. Nice shirt. Amazing they had one to fit you.
    Kinda scary about the church falling down.
    And I never became a nun. Ah youthful ideas!

  2. I really love following these, Charley. Saw a quote yesterday morning in a biking book I bought Simon for XMas that made me think of your trip (especially yesterday’s entry):

    “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.”
    ~Ernest Hemingway

  3. Love your pictures and stories of the colorful, unique little towns. I absolutely love seeing what you discover when going at the pace of cycling! Your youthful stories are so fun – Aaron and I never tire hearing them over the years! 🥰

  4. Cool shirt! Great travel descriptions, photos and memories.

    p.s. I bought a bike shirt at an airport shop in Bhutan. I always feel sheepish wearing it, since I did NO bicycling in Bhutan. But that’s probably why I’m still alive to wear it!

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