Crazy Colombian Roads, Tire Problems
September 2, later, Popayan, Colombia
My doggie bitch-slap accident in Ecuador was nothing more than good training for Colombia; it's made me much more aware of anything and everything on and around the road that can potentially ruin my day. Before making the decision to travel through Colombia I did quite a bit of research, mainly other travel websites and lots of conversations with other travelers. All the references I've seen and heard about Colombia being safe, using common sense gringo travel rules of course, almost always follow up with a warning about being careful on the roads. Colombian drivers are crazier than any I've seen in South America, and probably Central America as well, which is saying a lot because the Central American drivers have worked hard to maintain the craziest drivers reputation [while South America is somewhat tame by comparison, except for Colombia].
But it's not just the drivers, it's everything. At one point I was leaning hard around a sharp right turn on a very curvy road and all of a sudden there's some kid on a very large horse coming at me, directly in my path, and I swerved just enough to miss the horse and kid, but not enough to have a head-on collision with the oncoming traffic; that's one of the many close calls that happened just today. Kids, cars, horses, dogs, motorcycles, goats, pigs and anything else that moves, are all very constant hazards on the highway in Colombia, and there's no worse nightmare than hitting a kid, or even a larger person I guess, but there's something particularly bothersome about the notion of hitting a kid. I know the Colombian highway scenario seems more extreme because of my doggie bitch-slap training in Ecuador. Objectively I can say there were more living road obstacles in Honduras and Nicaragua than here in Colombia, I'm just far more aware of them now.
And back to the drivers, they really are nuts! I assume that around every blind corner that there will be some oncoming traffic in my lane and that assumption saved my ass several times today. Motorcycle drivers are nuts as well; I followed a large truck for about 4 miles while a small motorcycle in front of him was doing everything possible to keep the truck from passing him! The truck was sometimes inches away from the motorcycle's back tire but the rider just kept pulling more in the middle of the road every time the truck tried to pass. It was like he was dealing with some sort of small-penis-passing complex like I described September 22 of last year (WOW! I've been on the road for a whole year!!).
After I arrived in my hotel I heard the unmistakable sound of an accident just outside my second floor room. I looked out the window and there were a couple of folks helping out this older, portly looking guy who had been riding his motorcycle through the intersection and had been hit on the left back side of his motorcycle by an older woman who had run the stop sign. The front bumper must have caught a foot peg or something because it was completely stripped from the small grey sedan and laying close to the red Honda motorcycle. The old guy could walk but he was almost completely hunched over and there was blood on his face and the back of his head (no helmet). I don't know if he was hunched over because of an injury or if he simply didn't want to get his shirt bloody. That whole stop sign training has been ingrained in me since Central America and I never assume that the other traffic will actually stop at them so sometimes it takes me longer than it should to get through certain parts of cities as I creep up to each blind intersection, regardless of whether or not I have the right of way.
Between Pasto and Popayan the quality of the highway ranged from good to really bad but the scenery was always great, ranging from large, high rolling tropical mountains to steep rocky canyons. Between here and the border I've passed somewhere between 20-30 military and police checkpoints and they always just wave me on and give me the thumbs up. I'm pretty sure I'll need a new tire and will probably get one in Bogotá in a few days. It could have easily lasted through the rest of the trip if the roads were good but that won't be the case. Today's roads chewed up the tire pretty bad. Meanwhile I'll check out this town tomorrow and if it gets too late I'll stay here again. Popayan really is a beautiful colonial city and there's much to see here.
September 3, Popayan, Colombia
I was right about my back tire being abused by the road. I went to check on the bike in the morning and the back tire was completely flat. I had planned to stay another day here to check out the area and see some nearby ruins [some sort of cave burial ground and statues carved out of rock in the side of a hill] but instead I spent most of the day getting the tire fixed. The folks in the parking garage, 2 blocks west of the centro, were very helpful in working with me to provide a clean spot, in the otherwise dusty and dirty parking area, for me to remove the back wheel. And instead of giving me directions to the part of town where the tire fixing folks would be they simply went with me and made sure I found the right place. There was some sort of blade, only about 1/8 an inch wide but almost 2 inches long, that was stuck in my tire. It was very old, rusted and corroded and looked like it had been in the gravel for years before I was lucky enough to "pick it up".
The night before I had done the daily tire kick to gauge the pressure and noticed that it was slightly lower than it had been since I'd gotten it fixed in Lima (after "Beto" back in Chile messed everything up). I thought I'd be dealing with a slow leak but I guess I wasn't so lucky. I'll get a new tire in Cali or Bogotá and just hope that the patch holds for now... Tomorrow I'll head to Cali or Armenia, if the tire has any air in it. It's a long story about the big dumb guy and his assistant at the tire shop, but it was like watching two retarded monkeys trying to do surgery for the first time. I would say there's about a 22% chance that the tire will have any air at all in the morning...
September 4, Popayan, Colombia
Still here. The 78% chance of another flat rang true because the surgery that the retarded monkey tire guys performed on my tire and rim did more harm than good, no surprise there. The tire issues took up the first part of the day and then it started raining so I really didn't feel like packing up and moving north, and even though I'm pretty sure the tire is fine I'd rather wait overnight to make sure that things worked out instead of risking being stuck in one of those small Colombian towns that some folks have warned me about.
The people at the Plazuela Hotel where I'm staying were very helpful in finding me a good tire guy and drove me around and waited with me for the new tire guy to fix things up. They even took me by the retarded monkey place so that I could yell at the guy. We were both yelling at each other and not understanding very much of what the other was saying; it would have been funny to watch. After he "fixed" my tire the day before I made him promise that he'd fix the tire for free if it didn't work but today I needed to tell him that I would never let him touch my tire and rim again even if he paid me and I don't know how he ever gets business and some other choice words.
The new tire guy was good and it seemed like he'd changed these types of tires 100 times. [By comparison the retarded monkeys were almost funny to watch. Actually it really would have been funny if it wasn't my tire and rim that they were messing with - they were both pulling and pushing in different ways, trying to get the tire off the rim, and were essentially working against each other and kept trying new things and I kept on jumping in to stop the action when it looked like they were really going to do harm].
Back to new tire guy. I learned some things from him - if the patch that had been put on the day before had held overnight, it would have given out as soon as the tire got hot, probably within 10-20 miles of town, very very bad. The tire was leaking from the sides, which I predicted because of the way they had wrenched against the rim and didn't clean or lubricate the area where the "bead" holds, so the edge of the rim was basically just dirty and a little dented in one spot so it couldn't hold air. "Vulkanizacion" I think is the word for the method that new tire guy used. It's basically a large rubber patch, with the appropriate glue, and an iron looking device that bonds the patch to the tire forever. I don't know much about tires but I'm learning.
Popayan is a nice colonial town to stay for a night, or maybe two, but three is downright boring. Yesterday and today I used up too much of my day so there wasn't enough time left to go see the nearby ruins and every time I ask someone about things in town that are good to photograph they keep pointing me to the churches. Actually that happens everywhere in South America. Pretty much every time I pull into town and find a hotel I ask them what things in or around town are good for photographing and they almost always direct me to their cathedrals and other historical old colonial Spanish churches; that explains all the church pictures.
Tonight I'm 98% sure that the tire will still have air in it tomorrow and I'll move north with my fingers crossed that it will hold for the two-three day trip to Bogotá. All this spare time has given me the chance to catch up a little more on pictures but I'm still two countries behind. This is Lima to Trujillo, Peru, kind of...