September 11, Bogotá, Colombia
Watching CNN today I saw the two bright lights from the still empty holes at "ground zero" and I remember a Penn and Teller episode from 2 or 3 years ago where they reviewed various plans for potential new buildings at the site. Their conclusion was that the buildings should be replaced as they were and I couldn't agree more. Their idea was that it shows the world and especially the terrorists that everything here is "business as usual". Rebuilding those lower Manhattan World Trade Center Buildings in the same way, with some appropriate modifications of course, I think is something they should have agreed on years ago. That's all I've got to say 'bout that.
Yesterday was a predictable pain in the butt that starting by getting the moto out of the "special" moto parking place. I tried messing with the brakes but I'm pretty sure I only ended up getting air in the system - I thought it would at least ease the tension in the brakes but it clearly didn't. I spent most of the day getting "help" from the front desk folks at the hotel, which served as a reminder that if you want to get something done, just head that way yourself and start moving. It's a long annoying story of miscommunications of several issues throughout the day. They ended up insisting that there are no tires in Colombia that would fit my moto and there was no way to put my moto on a plane and fly it anywhere, especially the USA. I took a cab to the shop that sold larger motos and they had the exact size back tire for my bike, and I passed 3 other shops on the way that also would likely have had that size.
Getting a truck to bring my moto to the shop was one of the many other challenging issues; the front desk "helpers" volunteered to call a truck for me. I told them to call the motorcycle shop and have them recommend a truck that would be appropriate for my moto. They decided that they knew a better solution and just called someone they knew who had a truck. That truck would have worked only if I cut the moto in half. I called the shop that had my tire and arranged for a truck to pick me up at 7:00 this morning and that worked well. By 10:30 I was riding away with a new back tire and new back brakes. The mechanic said the brake pads that were on my moto were the wrong type and showed me why, it's difficult to explain but the pads were too big so when they wore down the top of the pads, above the disk, were touching and preventing normal pressure. He's probably right but those wrong brakes worked from Guatemala City to here, around 16,000 miles.
More on bad drivers. It really appears that folks here drive like it's just a big video game, where if something really bad happens you can just insert another quarter and start over! Riding a moto causes you to look at every car around you and assume that they're going to make the worst move possible, with regards to your safety. In Colombia that notion turns out to be correct more often than any of the other 14 countries I've seen on this trip. On the way to the shop this morning, in the truck with my motorcycle on the back, I saw three accidents, one between a taxi and a moto that looked pretty bad. Last night outside my hotel window I heard another accident. This afternoon I got to wander around a bit and take some photo's of Bogotá and saw a film crew doing a commercial that involved a set-up car accident. They really didn't need to waste the time setting anything up, just load the cameras and stand around for a few minutes and there'll be a live example!
While I was in Mexico I commented that the taxi drivers seem crazy to outsiders but they are actually very skilled drivers, I still think that. The taxi drivers and many other drivers in Colombia appear to mimic the Mexicans, only here they do so without skill or consequential thinking. Even as a pedestrian it's clear to see how unfocused these drivers are, watching them run into curb's, or each other, or simply stop in the middle of a one way road and back up even with people behind them, or myriad other examples.
I realize that all this sounds like complaining but I'm still very glad I made the decision to ride through Colombia and look forward to seeing the north part of this country, where I'll be heading toward tomorrow. The people are great. The "stare factor" is pretty high; they're always pretty surprised to see someone who looks like me walking down the street.
But when I'm on the motorcycle I feel like some sort of "Good Will Ambassador" on a mission to improve relations between the average Colombian and gringo travelers. Everybody asks tons of questions if they have the chance. At intersections, in parking lots, wherever I stop it usually takes a while to get back on my motorcycle because people always stop to ask questions and while I'm answering their questions other people stop and listen and by the time I finally say I've gotta go there's often a small group of 5-10 curious Colombians around me. It's a good feeling to talk with these folks and they're glad to see someone traveling through their country. It all echo's what I've heard from other bikers; that the most dangerous part of traveling through Colombia is that when you stop and ask for directions the people won't stop talking to you. Friendly danger is cool.