One-hundred-and-thirty kilometers later I arrived to Ibarra. The night before I stayed in a US $3 hotel in the border town Tulcan, and the night before in a bike mechanic’s spare bedroom in Ipiales, the Colombian side of the border. When I strolled into his shop—a scattered mess of bike parts in his gated front lawn—I asked if I could put my tent down. He agreed. Later that night over coffee the word of God sprung from his mouth—literally, sprung mid-sentence in possessed voices. This, though unexpected, didn’t shock me. I took it surprisingly in stride. His wife and son were at the table, so I rolled with it, trying not laugh during the dramatic pauses in which he flipped through the Bible for a new verse to act out. He was letting me stay in his home, his coffee and bread were on my plate, I didn’t want to be rude, but I just wanted to go to bed.
Since I’m not the first long-distance biker to approach him about staying he thinks the Almighty has sent him lost cyclist souls to save. Not once has he considered that the huge bike shop sign as you enter his town might be the real calling. For over an hour he scavenged the Bible, acted out random passages, his voice’s volume riding the roller coaster of God, up and down, depending on where silence was most effective for dramatic emphasis or whether a long word needed to be broken into simpler syllables. The creativity in which he connected unconnected passages was applaudable, but I was in no mood for preaching. I was tired. He touched on the need to be humble, the need to reject materialism since worshipping things, money and cars, is the same as idolotry. Other words above his pay grade—the same ones used by the foreign Evangelist that founded his church—were dutifully repeated, their meaning as empty as a memorized Our Father recited by schoolchildren.
This materialism he battled with words is already an idea I’ve considered. I too battle daily against society’s opinion that more is better. He was preaching to the choir. This, and the idea that a foreign Evangelism is hypnotizing South America’s most vulnerable and uneducated with religion, is why I get upset when people talk down to others. These preacher-people have no idea who their audience. Mostly they want someone, anyone, to recognize their own self-righteousness. In the end, he was a decent man (and a good mechanic for patched a flat) who was kind to a stranger, but I wouldn’t have accepted his kindness if I knew his ulterior hellfire motive.
Ecuador: it’s amazing that being so close to Colombia can be so different. The obvious differences are roasted guinea pig signs on all the roadside restaurants and the more arid landscape, but more subtle changes are in the air too. Unlike Colombians whose yelled encouragement from passing cars and showed a child-like curiosity toward me as a foreigner, Ecuadorians silently stare, obviously curious but not outgoing enough to start a conversation.
Today I met four other long-distance bicyclists heading north, a Canadian couple and an older Dutch couple. We had a highway pow-wow, my chocolate bars the peace pipe as we discussed road conditions. I traded maps with the Canadians, now Ecuador is in my pocket and Colombia is northbound home. Both couples were coming up from Argentina, which is a feat if you think about it, but I’ve come to realize in the long-distance South American bike community it’s a given you’re either coming or going to the end of the world, as if it were a stroll down the block. I too now find myself downplaying distances. The entire country of Ecuador, for example, despite mountains and very steep hills, seems like a short joy ride compared to what I’ve treaded in Colombia.
Bob and my belongings are safely tucked away in one of the five Ibarra fire stations. When I rode to the main downtown station (after getting directions from a taxi driver who literally drove me to its doorstep), the lieutenant said a stay was impossible since cadets were being trained. Instead, he recruited a fireman to drive me to another station across town in a pick-up. As it turns out, Ecuadorians are just as friendly as Colombians, you just have to engage them. One of the fireman even called ahead to the fire station in Cayambe, a day’s ride south, where I hope to stay tomorrow night.