Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Cheesy Finish

October 15th to 18th

After backtracking to Villa de Leyba, we might as well change our route further and take in another couple of traditional Colombian towns, Chiquinquira and Zipaquira. We hit the dirt and head across country....

We knew it was coming after the drop out of Tunja and we endure some steep climbs to regain that lost altitude. We stop at a roadside shop to take on some water and watch a local pushing his bike around the hairpin we just rode up. Seeing us, he stops to chat and I am again questioning my command of Spanish as within about two minutes of us meeting he seems to be selling me a Finca. He's willing to move out and live with his brother if we only hand over what he explains is a very reasonable sum. He genuinely looks confused that we won't immediately drop the tour and follow him home to check what we are buying. In a final attempt to seal the deal he throws in a sweetener by assuring us in a conspirational whisper that coal has just been discovered on his land. Hmmm tempting....

Anyway if we do change our minds and decide to become miners some time in the future, we still have his phone number. We buy him a beer and leave him in his quest to find a passing traveller looking to make their fortune with the black stuff.

The climb continues on roads varying from billiard table smooth, to pot-holed patchworks of previous repairs....

As ever in South American countries there are various shrines to our lady dotted alongside the road. Fastidiously painted and maintained, many are curiously decorated with headlights taken from cars and motorbikes....

It's not just us feeling the cold at these altitudes. A tethered donkey peers out from under his shaggy fringe and shares our snack of fruit. Dressed in his warm coat, he looks like a cross between a horse, a llama and a grizzly bear with enormous oversized ears.

Finally we finish the climb as the road levels and snakes through mixed woodlands....

Before the land opens out again in clearings used for pasture. Colombia's dairy industry is immense and has been the main use for land stretching all the way back to Cartegena where we first arrived....

One bemused looking cow scowls at the getaway bike used to whisk her milk away.

Smallholders, often with just a handful of cows collect and store their milk in traditional milk churns for pick up by collection wagons from large processing plants. They have daily rounds to each farm and measure each collection using a dipstick, before settling up the account in cash. Generous rainfall creates rich pasture and each beast can deliver around 50 litres (12 gallons) a day!

Round the corner and back to civilisation....

Chiquinquira is famous for it's beautiful central plaza and impressive basilica....

Even more incredible is the interior....

The riding from Chiquinquira is fabulous. Gently rolling greenery, reminiscent of Shropshire in England or the Welsh valleys. The weather feels distinctly British as well - cool, grey skies threatening imminent rain that fails to arrive. Perfect conditions.

Colombia is cycle crazy and it being a weekend, we share the road with countless racing bikes. It's obviously a serious business and in stark contrast to these guys who just couldn't be friendlier when they're off the bikes, when they ride, they simply ignore you. The game is to get them to wave and catch it on camera.....

Not this time....

Laguna de Fuquene looks like it has been drained. Despite steady rain, this seasonal body of water takes months to fill again after the dry season. Now is the peak of the rainy season and it will continue to rain here until January. Then the water can slowly seep through the land and eventually percolate into the lake lifting the boats once more. Ironically it will be much fuller in the dry season....

Alms for the poor? Funny how the alms never reach the hands of the poor living in the heavenly shadow of the magnificent Gothic church in Ubate....

Ubate is the self-proclaimed dairy capital of Colombia and we stop in a local 'tienda' to buy some milk. It's a Sunday and the place is in the midst of a buying frenzy; nothing it seems stands between a Colombian and his fine cheese at the weekend. The queue at the counter is five deep and it's a real scrum to get to the front. Before we can utter a word, a huge block sample is thrust in our direction by the proprietor who is manically trying to keep up with demand.

It's more door-wedge than cheese-wedge and practically a meal in itself! Others are diving in and indulging themselves, so; 'When in Colombia....' as the mis-quoted saying goes. The cheese is OK, but the 'Dulce de Leche' - a sweet creamy, caramel concoction is absolutely amazing and we take the cheese and a large pot of that as well. They don't sell milk by the way....

We're pretty restrained as others are lugging great cheese wheels and bucket sized pots of Dulce de Leche away with arm loads of bread and cakes. For each person leaving there are two more waiting outside.

We're a bit bemused and left wondering - did we miss something? Do these people know something we don't? Should we be hoarding cheese as well before the great shortage?


I really like Sundays!
This is a truck scene on a Sunday.
Seeing huge 24 wheelers four and five abreast is not unusual in Colombia...
I just prefer to see it when they are parked up rather than heading straight towards me round a blind bend....

Five miles to a hot shower in Zipaquira, quiet roads, perfect weather, two wheels and a wheel of cheese. Doesn't get much better than that. Especially with a view like this....


Whitney said...

Nothing beats a decent wedge of cheese! Could have been worse:

Do you fight over which of you is Wallace and Gromit? ;-)

Columbia seems amazingly and surprisingly beautiful. Glad the blog is cranking along again!

Love to you both,

Anonymous said...

That last shot could be Switzerland! Especially with a wheel of cheese!
Angus T

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