September 23, San Gil, Colombia
My second night at the Bella Isla resort here in San Gil. San Gil is definitely a place I would consider buying real estate as an investment because I think that more of the gringo world will be traveling to places like this in Colombia to see the sights and meet the people. It's an out-doorsy place with hiking, mountain biking, caving, rivers with good rapids, an agreeable climate and easy going locals that make it even more enjoyable and relaxed. I find that when I've made generalizations about people, or have stereotyped those in a particular country throughout this journey, something usually proves me wrong, but my stereotype for friendly Colombians remains strong.
As I've traveled throughout the previous 14 countries I've generally responded to people as they approach me; folks in some countries or areas approach me more than others. The "cards" that show my website and a brief description of the trip are a good "friendliness gauge"; I usually only give one to somebody if they approach me and start asking about my trip. Back in Mexico I gave out quite a few, but mostly to people who have been to the USA, or older guys who wanted to take a motorcycle trip like mine and had specific questions about it, or someone that wanted to practice their English. In Central America it varied between countries but even though I could tell people were curious they usually didn't approach me. In Chile I hardly gave out any cards, the Chileans just weren't interested in a gringo on a moto. In Argentina I handed over my card quite a bit more, but even more often to the more friendly Peruvians, then a little less in Ecuador.
The friendliness gauge for Colombia is completely off the chart as I'm approached all day long and would never have enough cards to pass out for all those conversations. Throughout this whole trip I could tell when folks nearby are talking about me, probably wondering where I'm from or about the motorcycle or whatever, but they usually didn't approach me. In Colombia if someone is curious they just walk up and start asking questions, it doesn't matter if they're kids, adults, men, women, old or young. And if there's anyone else around they usually come over to hear what's up. When I'm on the road they pull up next to me in their cars or motorcycles while I'm stopped at an intersection and ask questions; sometimes other motorcycles and mopeds just pull up next to me while I'm riding down the road and start asking questions. I've been "pulled over" by cops and military checkpoints more in Colombia than any other country but they all just wanted to ask questions about the motorcycle and my trip and welcome me to their country. I've got several pictures of military guys sitting on my motorcycle.
Many of the questions here are similar to other countries, just far more frequent. They want to know where I'm from, how much the motorcycle is worth, how long I've been on the road, whether I'm traveling alone, if I've had any mechanical problems, accidents, or troubles with cops or robbers, or robber-cops, and how much I paid for the motorcycle (yeah, the last one's redundant but they ask the same question in many different ways!). But in Colombia there's always the extra discussion about my being in Colombia. I tell them that it wasn't part of my initial plans because I thought it was too dangerous with the cocaine cartels and kidnappings and the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolicionarias de Colombia) controlling everything. But then I tell them that during my trip I've talked to dozens of others traveling on motorcycles like me and they all told me it's safe, and here I am clearly feeling safe. Some are quick to credit the president, Alvaro Uribe, while others seem to distance themselves from the president and shrug their shoulders when I've asked whether he is responsible for the improved security situation in Colombia, but they all agree that traveling in Colombia has become much safer for Colombian Nationals and tourists alike since Uribe took office in 2002.
Today I toured the area around San Gil and spent tons of time talking to about 50 different people so I didn't get to see too much but that was fine because the people were much more fun and interesting than looking for another picturesque waterfall. At one park area I had a three year old kid sit on the bike to take his picture. Before he got on the bike he had a regular cute, curious kid smile but as soon as his mother set him on the bike he got this little bad-ass-biker kid grin on his face and I'm pretty sure I've not seen anything cuter in the last year on the road! Then there were a bunch of others that wanted to sit on the bike so for the next 20-30 minutes more kids and other folks sat on the bike and took each others pictures. Good stuff.
Tomorrow I'll head toward Bogotá and start working on getting the motorcycle and me on an airplane to somewhere on the west coast of the United States, most likely Los Angeles...