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villa maria

I arrive in Villa Maria sodden, freezing, filthy.

I am exiting a hotel that is so dire even I won’t consider staying there. The rooms are raw brick windowless stalls that fit a bed and nothing more. No room to unpack. Everything is wet. There is no place to hang clothes, tent, sleeping bag, to dry. I struggle to wrestle the bike and panniers out the front door and back onto the street. The staff assisted my entrance to view the room but since I have declined to become a customer they do nothing to facilitate my exit.

A man approaches.

“Where do you come from?”

My patience is short. I’m cold, tired, hungry, wet. It’s getting dark.

“I can’t talk now!” ”

“Do you need somewhere to stay?”

I look up at him.

“I have travelled, too. With backpacks, to Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil – with my wife and children. My wife speaks English. Would you like to stay with us for the night?”

He gestures across the street. A woman is standing in the door of a shop. She smiles, waves. I nod. Together we push the bike across the road and into the shop, a brightly lit space, starkly empty but for a few tall vases of flowers and a bubbling tank of gold fish. A pool of muddy water gathers on the floor around me and my bike.

Breakfast at the family dining table. Maurico has lived in the house all his life. His father was from one of the old families of Villa Maria. Maurico claims the dining table was sold to the family by Pablo Escobar. He tells me that before his rise to power as a drug lord Escobar was a furniture salesman in Villa Maria but I am unable to verify the truth of this tale.*


The house is one of the old houses of Villa Maria. The family's fortunes were built on market gardening; flowers, vegetables and other cash crops. Maurico's father was a bohemian famous for his parties. He would disappear for months at a time. He died when Mauricio was still young. The land surrounding the house was gradually sold off by Mauricio's nine older brothers as the township of Villa Maria grew up around it.


A sunny day facilitates drying out every last item of gear that I have. My panniers no longer seem to be particularly waterproof. Water gets in but it doesn't get out again - a sad state of affairs. I take advantage of my unplanned rest day to do some ever necessary bike maintenance by giving the bike a good clean and installing a new chain and brake pads.

On my second evening with Maurico and Natalie we are invited to visit some of their friends – two brothers – at a finca about half an hour from Villa Maria. We set off, three up, on Mauricio’s motor bike. There are only two helmets and the passenger sandwiched in the middle goes without. As a guest, I am given the choice of whether I would prefer to sit precariously at the rear with a helmet or sit wedged in by supposedly protective human flesh, with my skull exposed. I take the helmet, which doesn’t fasten, and balance it on my head.

The bike strains under our combined weight up dizzying gradients to the top of Villa Maria’s hill and then we bounce down the other side on a muddy rutted track into rural darkness. I cling onto the bike with one hand. I use the other hand to hold the helmet on my head.

At the finca, we start the evening outside by a bonfire but later go inside to eat a dessert made from pumpkin boiled up with raw cane sugar and served with milk and bread.

On the way home I ride pillion with another of Mauricio’s friends. This motor cycle doesn’t boast headlights so Maurico rides close behind us to illuminate the potholed track. Light reflects blindingly off the mirrors while the perilous drops to the side of the road remain veiled in darkness. I can’t see a thing so I close my eyes and enjoy the ride.

The larger, older and more conservative, township of Manizales sprawls over the hilltops across the river.

Mountains and rain. The current theme.

* Wikipedia and the internet at large has clear limits in this kind of research. Perhaps a more accurate rendition of the story is that Pablo Escobar’s family came from Manizales and had a furniture business. But I don’t know.

{ 1 } Comments

  1. mauro | March 2, 2013 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    super el paisaje entre Murillo y Manizales, esa ruta tambien la hago varias veces al año en bicicleta hasta un corregimieto llamado Palomar, en Anzoategui- Tolima que bordea el parque nacional natural los nevados. .

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