Tranquillo, Why? Asking for help

Dear friends and family,

Lots more riding in the heat. As soon as I think I’ve become accustomed to it, I am presented with a big hill and struggle again.

I like the little towns along my way. Outside of one, I spotted a “resort hotel”. The sign said so, so who was I to argue. It even included “ restaurante” on the sign, so since I was tired and hot, pulled over.

I could see a pool surrounded by tables and chairs. There was no sign of an office, so I walked around and asked the three people meandering around if there was a room available. Often, and this was my clue here, people carrying what we call “butt bags” are the ones collecting money and in charge.

One young man said they indeed had rooms for a rate of just over $20 USD, which I was sure was a gringo price, but I was so tired, they had a restaurant and pool, and really, twenty dollars?

Up the steep stairs I carried my bike and bags, put safely inside and asked for the key. I was told that they didn’t have keys here since everything here was tranquilo. Shit, I wasn’t about to repack and ride anymore so I just sat down and cried.

Just kidding, just needed to have a game plan for safety.

Luckily, I could see the door of my room from the restaurant. Restaurant is being generous. There was a wood fired stove next to a frig and sink outside under a palm fronded roof. One woman ran this place. First you talk to her about what you want, what she has, and what she’s willing to cook for you. No more pointing to a menu item and getting off easy anymore. Then negotiate the price. 

I’m never sure of what I’m getting due to my poor Spanish, but so far so good. 

Oh, did I mention that there was one table with four chairs in case there was more than me who showed up?

Turned out, she was a great cook and the prices were right. 

I’m also learning that soup at every meal is like the national food. It’s always been good and filled with meat, potatoes, vegetable, sometimes rice, and lots of bones. I think Colombia got the jump on the bone broth trend.

By the time I showered and had my food, the pool was filled. Filled. With local kids who paid a fee to use it. I gave up any thoughts of dodging cannonballs and went for my siesta. Resort living at its best.

I read a book last summer called THE COMFORT CRISIS, which basically states how good it is for our quality of life and brains to get out of our comfort zone.  ( thanks Abbie for the recommendation)

Here’s some ways I’m outside my comfort zone:

  1. Don’t speak the language enough
  2. No guidebook or prescribed route to follow. I’m figuring it out as I go.
  3. Different foods
  4. Non-potable water from taps- need to remember for tooth brushing etc
  5. Responsible for my own health, maintenance and safety
  6. I’m not used to this kind of heat. Really hot.
  7. Almost no other bike packers, is there a reason I should know?

I and not complaining. As Mick, my friend rowing around the world,  wrote in front of him “I chose to be here”

That doesn’t mean I’m not enjoying it immensely. What do they call this now? Type two fun?

At lunch, a young man around age twenty asked if he could sit with me and chat.

Since there were three seats left at my table, I invited him in.

He really wanted to meet me and talk. Someday he’d like to go visit the US, but never met anyone from there. I was his first.

He also wanted to know what I thought about Colombia, what I was doing here, where I was riding, etc.

Then he asked “Why” 

I had to think for a minute before telling him that I wanted to see his beautiful country, meet people like him, and then share my experiences with friends and family because not that many Americans know much about Colombia. When I travel slowly, like on my bike, I get to slow down to have these discussions.

Then, thinking I misunderstood his question, using Google translate, out of the blue, he wanted to know what Canadians eat? Maybe because I mentioned Alaska in my summers, not sure, but it sure threw me.

I thought about trying to explain poutine but thought it might sound too weird, so I said that they ate meat, potatoes and vegetables. I could say all those in Spanish.

Poutine is a dish of french fries and cheese curds topped with a brown gravy. It emerged in Quebec, in the late 1950s in the Centre-du-Québec region, though its exact origins are uncertain and there are several competing claims regarding its invention. For many years, it was used by some to mock Quebec society. Wikipedia

Afterwards, when alone, I spent some time with my why’s:

  1. I do want to see this beautiful country and meet the people
  2. I want to share with others not here what I find in Colombia: safety, people, etc, via my blog


  1. I want to see if I can do it
  2. I want to figure out more about myself
  3. I want to learn to embrace discomfort

I think I have figured out something that’s puzzled a lot of people for a long time: Charley’s quick weight loss treatment. I estimate I’ve lost over fifteen pounds so far. All it seems to take us riding over four hours per day in the hot (90 degrees F) sun for a couple of weeks! You can eat all you want and still lose. It won’t be just water weight, it will be fat. And you could end up with more lean muscle mass when you are done, added benefit.

So, how do I market this to make my millions? I’ll have to figure out a way to sell the “ discomfort”.

My life has gotten very simple. 

My schedule now:

0430 up and breathing and some exercise

0500 study philosophy and journal writing

0530 pack to ride ( suntan lotion, butt butter, water and electrolytes)

0545 start riding

1000 ish find a hotel for the night ( sometimes have to wait till they clean a room)

1030 shower and look for food

1045 eat, if food available

11 ish siesta 

1200 work on blog writing

1330 lunch in restaurant ( if available)

1430 read and write

1700 exercise/stretch/core

1800 study Spanish 

1900 dinner- if avail, if not eat peanut butter or snacks

2030 sleep time

I’ve cruised on a boat in several developing countries before. Here’s what is different when on a bicycle versus a sailboat:

  • More exposed to people when  on a bike
  • If no food available, can’t just whip something up in the galley
  • Sleep in hotels- no locks, stuff might not work. So far electricity has been suspended at least once in every hotel but one.
  • You carry very little on a bike, so have to wash some clothes every day.
  • In cruising, in almost every port you meet other cruisers to share stories and plans.  I’ve only met one other bikepacking cyclist on my whole first month. Hugo is French, studying for his PhD in Bogota and was on a two week tour on his semester break.  He was a source of valuable information as he was coming from the area I’m heading and helped me plan what will probably be my next month. Thanks Hugo!

I am staying at a hotel outside of the little town of Aguachica. I picked this place because of good reviews and because it said on the web that they had a restaurant attached, to make life easier. What I didn’t read ( because they didn’t say so)  is that the restaurant is only open for breakfast. The front desk woman explained after I checked in that for other meals you call for delivery.

So, at one PM, now quite hungry, I went to the front desk and asked for help. Read to the end and then applaud me for this.

Would they ( front desk worker and housekeeper) help me order lunch for delivery? 

They assured me they would and started calling local restaurants. Fifteen minutes into the process the power of the hotel shut down. These women were using WiFi calling so they were offline for the twenty minutes that we waited for the power to come back on. Once it did, they called again and in just short of an hour connected with a restaurant and ordered me the “ plate of the day” for delivery. They said I could wait in my room.

After an hour of waiting I returned to the front desk and again asked for help. She called the restaurant back and was told that they had no one to deliver food so changed their mind. Now, I was two hours into the process and my stomach was growling. But, I am so privileged compared to a lot of people I’m seeing daily, and recognizing that I probably wouldn’t really suffer, just be slightly uncomfortable.

More calls and another restaurant answered their phone and promised delivery. In only another hour, the food was delivered to my room. Cost was $7 including delivery, was hot when it arrived, and was enough food for both my late lunch and dinner. So, in hindsight, saved me buying dinner!

Later, I thanked both of my helpers. It reminded me of asking for help another time:

I took up the sport of rowing, or technically sculling, at the advanced age of 55. Port Townsend has a few experts who gave me some quick lessons, so I bought a boat and rowed for the entire summer. Turns out that my size is close to perfect for rowing. In fact, the current ( at the time) gold medal Olympian was my exact size.  You might guess after reading several earlier blogs that I didn’t really think that more training and experience was necessary for me ( like it should be for everyone else in the world) so full of hubris, I entered my first race on a lake near Bellingham Washington.

Getting to the race, launching the boat, not hitting any other racers, and finishing before everyone went home ( I wasn’t really that bad) seemed to me to be a huge success.

Normally when I rowed, I left the Velcro foot straps slightly loose so I could wriggle my feet out of them. At the start of this race I tightened the brand new Velcro straps tight, thinking it would give me an advantage of less wasted effort (slippage) and make me faster.

At the end of the race the other racers, a combination of single and double scullers, kayakers, and surfski racers all congregated together to remove the boats from the water. It was weedy, about three feet deep at this end of the lake. Understand that in a sculling boat, the boat is about 24 feet long and the sculls (oars) stick out almost nine feet, so take up a lot of space. With all the other boats converging, I pulled in my oars, giving up the only real stability that a skinny boat has. I wanted to disturb the other competitors as little as possible because I was new and didn’t want to be obnoxious. As soon as I pulled in my oars and attempted to yank a leg out of the Velcro, I managed to turn my boat and self upside down. The Velcro are designed to pull open if you go flying out of the boat with force, but not so much in a slow motion dunking.

So now my feet were attached to the underside of the boat and my head was under water. In the midst of lots of other people and craft focused on talking about their race efforts and getting out of the water.

I held my breath and pushed off the muddy bottom, enough to swing my head above the water, gain a breath and return upside down. It seemed dumb to drown in the middle of all these people on my first race, THAT struck me as really embarrassing ( I didn’t have the time to ask myself if embarrassment registered to dead people)  so I again pushed off the bottom to get my head to air and whispered, “ Can  someone help me?”. 

Well, with everyone else’s focus on their chatter and boat removal, no one paid my whisper any attention. Down off the bottom I pushed another time (I’m hoping in my memory that it was only one more time) before I yelled, loudly this time “Help” and had a nearby boater release my footstraps and save me from drowning. I was terribly embarrassed, but in the end chose embarrassment over drowning. At least finally!

Liz put a notice on our frig that said something like “Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength” . I think it was originally put there as a lesson for Aaron, who was in high school at the time. 

Sometimes I wished I learned that while in high school. I’m hoping I’ve learned it by now.

Sending love, 


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17 thoughts on “Tranquillo, Why? Asking for help”

  1. Carlos –

    We’re with you in spirit! Your inquisitive, kind, and self-deprecating personality makes you the ideal guest in these small towns – and this comes out in your writing. My favorite photo so far is the horse cart – delivering dinner! 😀

    So much learning comes from those wise refrigerator notes!



  2. What a fun adventure! Nothing better than a long tour for weight loss. I’m down to my high school weight after Baja.

  3. I can see you in my mind dipping in and out of the water at the end of the race. I guess your friend has had you reassess your reason for doing this trip. Not necessarily making lots of miles, but challenging yourself in a different way. I love reading about it, but glad I’m not doing it. Something I might have done in my youth. Enjoy! Love, Lynna

  4. Hi Charlie, I am glad you have survived the inclement weather and the roads up there so far, I hope you keep learning and discovering the many positive things in my country. You will surely find much better weather(not as hot as the one you have experienced) and definitely you will continue meeting nice & helpful people on you way. Enjoy your trip, one day in the near future I will try one like yours (by bike or in an RV home) to get to know and learn as much as we can in far countries).
    Looking forward to seeing you safe and sound soon.

    Best regards
    Ivan & family

  5. Found Aguachica on the map. Dang, Charley, you are one adventurous dude. Thanks for sharing your adventure with us! Ride safe!

  6. Enjoy the warm temperature. We’re up here in Alaska getting ready to shrimp and the temp this morning is 5 degrees. A low for us, as we usually hover above freezing to about 40 degrees. I chose to be here and am enjoying the camaraderie, good food, and hard work. With any luck maybe I will lose a few pounds.

  7. I got a little behind but am enjoying the vicarious adventure. You certainly have been taking discomfort to the next level! It makes me ponder my own lack of discomfort. Taking a path less traveled in other arenas but it’s a slowly developing one and still in English so not the most entertaining. Im going to read in as you current adventure certainly is entertaining. Thanks for sharing and be well!

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