September 21, Bucaramanga, Colombia
"Back in Bucaramanga"; it sounds like the sequel to a bad movie but Bucaramanga is really fun to say out loud and it sounds like some sort of encouraging cheer so I thought what the hell, I might as well start my quest for document replacement here; plus, it's a very lively Colombian city that lives up to its vibrant name. Today was a long day but the goal was achieved. I had tons of wildly varying advice from my Colombia connections so I didn't know where to start but here in Colombia if you mention that you have a problem, or need help with something, you'll likely get lots of help.
My help was Jimmy Florez who works for the owner of the hotel, and yeah, it's pronounced pretty much like we gringo's say it ["Jimmy", not hotel]. His friend works at the "Officina de Circulacion y Transito", which was one of the many recommendations so it seemed like a good place to start, so we jumped in his truck shortly before 9:00am. It ended up being the wrong office but they directed us to the SAN, or Seguridad Administario Nacional, the local version of a homeland security office, but we were wrong again; no surprise because I was pretty sure that those guys haven't given me papers at any borders.
NIAC, or "National Impuestos y Aduanna's Commision", or something like that, was where the homeland security folks told us to go and I liked that because "Aduanna" is Spanish for "Customs" and those are the people who have given me that little piece of paper at ever border I've crossed since Texas. We spent some time on the 6th floor of NIAC only to realize that they were the permanent Aduanna's office; the people you'd see if you're moving into the country and need to claim your vehicles and other property for residency. 4th office was a charm at the temporary NIAC office on the 3rd floor, where Sr. Gilberto Martinez sprang into action and immediately sent an email and left a voicemail for the folks at the border with Ecuador, where I entered Colombia, and since it was right before lunch we had to wait 'till 3:00 to find out if it worked; it did, and I got a faxed copy of that precious little piece of paper I need to help minimize travel hassles, and all is well.
I'm actually not that worried about hassles here in Colombia but I'd rather not be surprised by a bad day at a checkpoint when it's something I can avoid. Yesterday I was stopped on the way here by the military (when I didn't have my paper, of course) but I wasn't that worried because it was immediately apparent by the way they were smiling and pointing at the moto and talking to each other as I approached that they only wanted to get a closer look at the moto and talk with the rider; they didn't ask for papers but I tried to make sure of that with my "happy to be here" conversation, which is not hard to pull off because I really am happy to be here. It was another enjoyable conversation but just to make sure it wouldn't extend to other things I didn't pull very far off the road and I left my helmet on, two things that help to expedite a random traffic stop.
After 3:00 Jimmy had some items to pick up and deliver to a resort on top of one of the nearby mountains and asked if I'd like to come along to take pictures for my website, so that was the rest of my day. The resort was almost empty but it was a very attractive Spanish Colonial looking place in front of a lake with everything from wave-runners to soccer and basketball courts and a waterskiing ramp. It fills up every weekend as a retreat for Bucaramangans. He dropped me off at my hotel around 8:00 but on the way to the hotel we stopped at his place and I got to meet his wife and 4 month old little girl, which was definitely the best picture of the day.
Tomorrow I'll head back to San Gil to get a closer look at what it has to offer. Folks here recommend seeing it and gave and some other recommendations of things to see there. I had the chance to catch up on another page of pictures from Northern Peru: