The witches that rid our family home of evil spirits, and the gold chain I'm going to buy

Riders gather before a makeshift altar for Mass before a stage of the Vuelta A Colombia in the 1960s. (Click on the image to see it bigger)
Photo by Horacio Gil Ochoa

Since I'll be traveling to Colombia today, I thought I should leave all of you with what is (at least to me) a quintessential image of Colombian Cycling: riders gathered for mass before a stage at the Vuelta A Colombia in the 1960s. As I've mentioned before, Catholic tradition and pageantry are inextricably linked to the country's culture at every level. The blend between the two is seamless, and happens in a way that is unlike anything I've seen or experienced in the United States or Europe. Colombian citizens mix Catholic faith with a high level of mysticism, superstition and ritual that were derived from Colombia's native and African populations. As such, vendors outside cathedrals sell magic potions, amulets, herbs and icons, all designed to ward off evil and make luck go your way. Similarly, faithful churchgoers will leave the main cathedral, and head directly to a fortune teller or a high priest in what is basically Santeria, after Sunday services. Those involved in Santeria-like practices will always use Catholic iconography and tradition, and no conflict between the two ideologies is seen by anyone. The end result is a mix that is uniquely Colombian, but also contradictory enough to give the Pope and aneurysm. This blend of beliefs stretches across the Colombian landscape, and cuts effortlessly across its otherwise separate social classes. Cyclists, who are already amazingly superstitious, take these beliefs to unbelievable heights within the context of the sport in Colombia.

From personal experience, I can tell you that most Colombians firmly believe in curses, witches, talismans, fortune tellers, séances, and the like. The house I lived in as a child was visited by at least two witches to ward off evil spirits, due to the fact that my family had a curse put on it. Can you imagine the effect that hearing about being cursed can have on a five year old? The thought that no matter what you do or try to accomplish, you are doomed. It was a thrill having to think about these things, let me tell you.

Unlike most Colombian families, mine didn't really mix Catholic thought or imagery in with these beliefs. Our household's spiritual practices, led by my mother, were largely of the magic potion-kind. We often bathed in concoctions that my mom made on the stove, following strict directions from the latest spiritual healer she had come in contact with. These baths were often followed by rubbing sugar on ourselves, and then (the topper) wearing a beaded string, which itself was covered in green velvet around our waist. I'm not even kidding. We had to wear these things everyday, all day long. Can you imagine my fear while going to school and playing soccer, being afraid that my beaded belt/velvet thing would be seen by one of my classmates if my shirt lifted up? No one in my family (aside from my mom) knew why we were doing all these things, but we just followed along. Like other Colombian households, mine was a matriarchal we followed the leader, even if the leader was asking you to wear what basically amounted to a velvet belly chain.

Sadly, my family was not alone in our crazy beliefs. As proof of this, one only needs to look as far as Regina-11, the self-proclaimed fortune teller and aura-reader who served in Bogota's city council and later as a Colombian Senator. Although Regina-11 (her Wikipedia entry has clearly received plenty of help from her followers) was seen as a joke by most of Bogota's upper class, these same individuals (my mom included) would use the services of fortune tellers like her on an ongoing basis.

So, while I've freed myself from these silly beliefs, I'm also here to tell you that on my list of things to buy during my trip to Bogota, I'll be buying perhaps the most Colombian thing of all, the one thing that will stop all evil spirits (and potentially all sane women) on their tracks: a gold chain, and at least one gold pendant. Yes, I'm trying to find a chain just like the one I wore as a kid. I'm trying to replace the first lucky charm I ever had: the chain that was so made fun when I first moved to the United States. I still remember my first week of school in this country. I remember looking around and thinking "Man, all these guys are so lame, none of them have gold chains, and if they do, they're not wearing them in a very visible manner. Getting girls to like me here is going to be so easy!" Clearly at the time, I didn't know that it wasn't normal for an 11 year old to rock a massive gold chain in the United States, and that it was also my mullet, my Brut cologne and my Freddy Krugger sweatshirt that was keeping all the young women at bay. Nevertheless, I'm now a married man, and I plan on reliving my youth via a new gold chain.

My gold chain will be much, much cooler than both of these.

On to other things
In my last post, I tried my best to understand the reasons why some enjoy cycling. As soon as I posted my conclusions, my friend and field reporter Kyle sent me a link to this article from The Guardian. The article's author gathered actual survey data (not fake survey data, as I did) to figure out the same thing. The answer, according to the Guardian, is the following:

...research reveals that bike sales are being driven by 35- to 45-year-old family men. Where this age group might once have treated themselves to a sports car – in an attempt to hang on to their youth – they now invest in a luxury bike instead.

The report dubs the upsurge in cycle sales among this demographic as "the noughties version of the mid-life crisis".

That's right folks, it's a mid-life crisis...even if you're not in that age group...that's what it is. Deal with it. Argument settled. Lucky for me, I don't have a "luxury bike" I will continue to look down upon all of you from my ivory tower (while wearing a velvet belly chain).

This is a picture of Bogota. If you want to meet me in the next week, just look for me. I'll be staying towards the left-hand side of this picture.

In closing
Since I'm going to Bogota today, I thought I should remind you all that the Vuelta A Colombia is going on right now. In that race, only days ago, Oscar Sevilla was wearing the leader's jersey and was captured "throwing the horns", a salute long co-opted by Rock Racing within the world of cycling. Was Sevilla so brainwashed during his time with the team, that this is now the only way he knows to greet people? Did every cyclist who ever raced for Rock develop a Pavlovian response to cameras that makes them do this dry-heave inducing hand gesture every time a picture is be taken?

Lastly, if you want to watch the race live, you can do it through this link. I watched a couple of stage finishes, and the feed came up from around 2:30 to 3:30pm EST (11:30am to 12:30 PST). If you launch the page above and just leave it up, the live feed will start in the small window on the top right. The broadcast quality is not superb, but for me, it was well worth it. Here's the commercial for this year's race:

In an unrelated note, I was wondering how many of you keep track of content from blogs through Facebook. I ask because I've been considering starting a Facebook account for the blog. Would any of you see any value in such a thing? I admit that I'm pretty clueless about Facebook, since I don't have a personal account on that thing either. As such, I'm not sure if people would use it. All the account would be, I think, would be a feed of the latest posts. The same would go for a possible Twitter account. I'm not big on having to keep up yet another form of communication, so they would merely mirror what goes on here, or at least alert people of it. Let me know your thoughts. Here at Cycling Inquisition, we aim to please.

And that's all for today's post. My next post might be as late as August 23, once I'm back in the United States from my time in the most dangerous country on earth (take that Afghanistan). If I'm able to, I'll try to post before then, but I'll be busy riding at altitude (8600 feet/2640 meters), including riding on the very street where a carbomb went off today. Due to the extreme level of fitness that I will develop during my stay Bogota, I pity the people who will be commuting next to me upon my return, especially that one guy in the Trek hybrid. He. Will. Be. Crushed.