March 3, 2009 Buenos Aires, Argentina
Life in Argentina is good! The exchange rate makes it cheap, the summer season makes it warm with long days and they've got some of the best "parillas" (restaurants with big grills) in the world. This vacation is a little different than most; I usually run around like an ADD child with my camera, photographing everything I can and looking for the next big adventure. Maybe it's because I already captured most of Buenos Aires and Puerto Madryn during my motorcycle trip but this vacation has been a low-key time of reading, wandering, meeting people and remembering things from my previous and much longer visit.
I spent three days in Puerto Madryn, two of those days I was trying to get pictures of killer whales riding a wave onto the beach to snatch seals for meals - it's one of mother natures more brutal realities that occurs only two places in the world: The Valdez Peninsula (just outside of Puerto Madryn) and somewhere on the west coast of India. On the days I visited the peninsula there were no killer whales; they tend to feed in that spectacular way at the north end of The Valdes Peninsula but only on days where there is little wind and if that little wind is coming from the south or east. The days I visited the peninsula were wrecked by strong winds from the north, darn. I took many pictures of seals and other critters - haven't decided if I'll add them to this website or not...
While in Puerto Madryn I ran into Susana and Omar, a Colombian couple that is taking a year to travel around the world. They are completing the South America part of the tour by motorcycle, then leaving their moto in Buenos Aires and seeing the rest of the world by other methods, then returning to Buenos Aires in about a year to pick up their BMW and return to Colombia. They confirmed once again that Colombians are some of the coolest people in the world and I was very glad to meet them. Check out their blogspot, it's in Spanish but even if you don't speak a word of Spanish you only need to glance through their pictures to see that these two really know how to enjoy seeing the world. [http://www.susayomarporelmundo2009.blogspot.com/]
I have two friends named Eduardo in BA and I was able to see one of them, he's a manager at Copa Airlines. He helps me understand the funny political and social nuances here in Argentina. The other Eduardo is off chasing UFO's with his wife. I'm still trying to figure out if it's some kind of joke or not but that's his story and so far he's sticking with it; I don't know if I know him too well or not well enough but I could see this UFO thing being real or a real joke, I'm just not sure.
I'm here in Buenos Aires updating this website simply because I drug my computer down here with me so that I could update this website. That's about it for now - tomorrow night I start the long journey back to the mystical and enchanting land of Tacoma, WA.
November 2008, Tacoma, WA
In May I took a job with a Bio-Pharmaceutical firm, marketing a novel diabetes therapy. Between my return in October '07 and May '08 I got an apartment, a couch, a grill and a TV and basically did little more than grill stuff, watch TV and catch up with friends and other things I'd missed during my 14 months on the road.
It's been great getting back to work and I've surprised myself on how quickly and easily I jumped into the swing of things. A little structure and responsibility have suited me well after having been an unemployed vagabond for the better part of two years.
SO - I'm now restructuring and adding some organizational clarity to the content of this website, then I can start asking folks to glance through it and pick out some of their favorite pictures and stories - I'll use the feedback to help determine what to add to the book. I've still gotta figure out that little project about fitting my GPS coordinates with Google Earth in an interactive DVD format...
March 5, Portland, OR
Pictures from Colombia...
October 29, Portland, OR
I'm back! I flew from Colombia to Los Angeles October 5th, rode to Newport Oregon for a little R&R and now I'm looking for an apartment in the Seattle/Portland area. I've got several pages of pictures to catch up on from Peru, Ecuador and especially Colombia. I haven't logged onto my website since my computer crashed 5 weeks ago in Colombia so I'm giving it a shot with my new computer today...
Below is the last of what I had to say in Colombia but wasn't able to add it to the website because my computer crashed when I went to download my comments about the friendly Colombians...
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...
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:
September 20, Aguachica, Colombia
[today and yesterday published now] [maybe...]
My 96% plan of sleeping like a baby didn't work as well as planned. I wasn't worried about the local cops trying to pursue my missing paper issue but started thinking more about what could happen down the road if some checkpoint stops me in the middle of nowhere and decides to check for papers, then decides to keep my bike 'till I can produce them... That's just one of the many scenario's I thought of as I slept on and off through the night. There's no email here so I'll go down the street and check find out if my H.U. friends have responded yet.
I'll likely be heading back south today, to Bucaramanga, and then on toward Bogotá where I'll be more likely to find the necessary resources, and maybe even the actual document at one of the hotels where I've stayed. Part of this decision has to do with the fact that it's REALLY HOT here, and it'll only get hotter as I approach the Caribbean, which is about 250 miles north of here. I'll use this as an excuse to visit Colombia again sometime to see what I've missed.
September 19, Aguachica, Colombia
Today may be the luckiest day of the trip but I'm not sure. Not because of a close call on the highway, although a day without a close call on the highway in Colombia is a day in bed. The trip through the valley to Aguachica was hot and very humid, probably 90+ degrees, and it was the kind of heat that is humid enough to make you feel even hotter when you travel faster through those billions of particles of hot water in the air which negate the usual cooling-evaporative effect of wind. As I arrived in Aguachica I rode around town and realized it wasn't really a place that I wanted to stay but I didn't have a choice because it was too late to reach another destination in daylight. I was looking for a hotel room and was motioned to pull over by a cop; it was the first time in Colombia for an actual official traffic stop.
The cop asked for my motorcycle papers. In every one of the countries I've visited it is standard operating procedure for the Customs office at the border to give you a piece of paper with info about your vehicle. When you leave that country you give that same Customs document back to the Customs office at the border you are leaving from and all is well. It shows them that you're leaving the country with the same vehicle that you entered with, thereby ensuring them that you're not selling any vehicles in their country. I always keep this piece of paper with my passport and have never lost one, until today. So when the cop asked for my papers I started thumbing through my passport and realized that it was gone [oh crap!!].
On the inside I panicked; I've heard horror stories of motorcycle confiscation and long expensive procedures to retrieve motorcycles when the owner had lost their customs papers. I don't remember which countries those stories were from but they were almost certainly somewhere in Central America, where they are particularly watchful of such an offense because it spells "opportunity for cash bribery" to cops and border officials who discover such an opportunity. On the outside I just kept calm and was saying hi and shaking hands with some of the military guys that were also there, as well as another cop or two. Then I just handed him my passport like it was what he asked for [remember; answer the questions you wish they'd asked you, hand them the document you wish they'd asked for, and be really nice].
I was thinking as fast as I could and came up with what a brilliant solution regarding what to do about my missing document: absolutely nothing, or maybe you could call it 'status quo'. I just kept on shaking hands and asking what things are good to photograph here in Aguachica and talking about places I've seen in Colombia and that I'm on my way to Cartagena and asking if they'd seen Cartagena and if they have any recommendations of other places I should see, and that I'm writing a book about Colombia, and somewhere in the middle of all my happy-gringo blathering the cop just handed my passport back to me and said "todo bien" [which is Spanish for "really really really lucky gringo"].
So tonight I'm in Hotel D' Leon, one of the cops recommended it. That leaves me feeling slightly vulnerable, as the cop could decide to find out why I didn't have my customs paper, but I think there's about a 4% chance of that because he really didn't seem like he wanted to do any of the extra work of pursuing a gringo and there was never any kind of a hint of bribery or anything like that, so all he has to gain by pursuing the issue is extra paper work. So there's a 96% chance that I'll sleep like a baby tonight and figure out what to do about the papers after I get advice from some of the local Horizons Unlimited folks that I just emailed about my little issue...
September 18, Bucaramanga, Colombia
Bucaramanga is Spanish for "another large city in Colombia with crazy drivers and busses with bad exhaust". I may not have translated it exactly but that's the general idea. I got a late start today. The old colonial style hotel I stayed in last night, in Giron, let me pull my motorcycle waaay into the back of their inside courtyard, maybe so I would feel that it would be more safe. I got up this morning and wandered the streets a bit to take some photo's and when I returned to the hotel around 12:00 to pack up and leave the courtyard was filled with tables of people having lunch.
I needed to leave shortly after noon to make it to Aguachica, the next main stop before getting to the Caribbean coast, but I would have needed to clear a pathway through half the courtyard of these nice old folks eating lunch. They were from places allover Colombia and were touring the local sites with some sort of retirement tour group. The hotel folks were offering to get to work moving people and tables to clear a pathway but instead of clearing the room I sat down and had lunch with them; a much better option. It was around 3:00 by the time the room had mostly cleared out, so I made Bucaramanga my goal for the day. So here I am, 7 miles north of yesterday in a more modern hotel in this beautiful country.
This mornings decision to take my time in Giron was good because there were many people in the courtyard who wanted to ask about my trip and my motorcycle and that's always fun; especially with a room full of older folks who have seen their country through many violent and destructive periods, which I look forward to learning more about in the future. They were very happy to see a gringo traveling safely through their country and I was more than happy to meet them.
September 17, Giron, Colombia
Another short trip by miles, only about 70, but the steep, curvy roads between San Gil and here were challenging and slow with a fair amount of very large, slow moving traffic and enough crazy erratic traffic to keep me cautious. The scenery was amazing so I also spent lots of time stopping for pictures. Before leaving San Gil I wandered around a bit more and talked to some folks and learned that San Gil is actually a significant adventure tourism hub, with white water rafting, mountain biking, hiking, camping, trout fishing and other outdoor fun.
Giron is a small town that is described as being the historical centro of Bucaramanga even though it's about 7 miles south of Bucaramanga. It's a small, colonial style town with cobblestone streets, just like many of the towns I've seen in Colombia, and like parts of the larger cities as well. It was a quiet place to spend the night and take a few pictures.
September 16, San Gil, Colombia
Another night in Tunja. Yesterday I spent the afternoon taking a little trip to Villa de Leyva, another Spanish colonial town with all white buildings, cobblestone streets and the same red clay roof's in all directions. By the time I returned to Tunja it was a little late to continue north, and it was raining as well, so I stayed in the same $20.00 hotel that had everything (parking, internet, etc.). I'm finding that the hotels in Colombia, outside the major cities, are inexpensive, clean and hospitable.
Today I traveled about 130 miles north to San Gil. I was aiming for Bucaramanga but at 4:00 it was looking like I wouldn't make it that far and I had arrived at this interesting little city of about 30k people. The ride took me through some winding valleys and mostly good roads but it was slower than I thought it would be.
As usual I parked the moto and grabbed the camera. San Gil is at around 3,500 feet above sea level which means lots more oxygen than the 9,000 plus feet I've been at for the last couple of days, and is planted firmly between two mountains. I walked up a steep hill on the north side and ran into a group of kids playing soccer in the street. They immediately stopped their game and ran over to talk to me. They had fun kid questions, like "are you an ultimate fighter?" (they'd never seen a gringo in person, but they'd seen gringo's on some ultimate fighting show so I guess I fit the bill) and all sorts of how do you say this or that in English.
Tomorrow I'll head further north, maybe Bucaramanga or maybe further...
September 14, Tunja, Colombia
[The last couple of days are published now]
I spent another night in the relaxing town of Zipaquira because I went to see the Minas de Nimocon, just north of there and by the time I finished it was raining and a little too late in the afternoon to head to Tunja. The folks at the hotel told me it would only be 90 minutes to get there but I always double their estimates and 3 hours would have put me in Tunja after dark. It took a little over 4 hours with a little over an hour of mess-around time.
On the way here I stopped for lunch at a restaurant on the side of the road and the military checkpoint guys motioned for me to bring my bike over there so they could see it, which was kind of funny because when I saw them and the restaurant next to their check-point, I thought it would be a good opportunity to get some pictures with the military guys and have lunch. Fernando and Freddie had many questions and wanted to make sure I would tell others about how safe Colombia is now, so here I am again saying that everything about Colombia so far seems safe and welcoming [except the crazy drivers!] especially with the police and military officials. They made me feel even more worthy of the "Good Will Ambassador" position I've assigned myself to; if only I could figure out where to pick up my paycheck... They were glad to know that their pictures would be on the website, but I couldn't tell them how soon and explained that I'm way behind on pictures because of technical difficulties.
The ride here was on and off rainy and a little cold, but not too bad. The large green rolling hills had tons of dairy and other live-stalk farms. At one point I was looking off to the right and saw this "old yeller" looking dog just sniffing around the ground, with sheep nearby, black and white cows behind them and a red barn off to the left, and brick house just to the right and I remember thinking that the whole scene seemed much more like Norman Rockwell than Juan Valdez. I would have stopped to take a picture but it would've changed before I could have turned around. There's much about the central highlands of Colombia that reminds me of the farms in the Coastal Mountain Range of the Pacific Northwest.
Tunja is higher than I thought it would be, at around 9,300 feet above sea level. It's a relatively large city with a good mix of modernization and old Spanish colonial style buildings. I arrived and found a hotel with just enough daylight left to take a few pictures and as usual the recommendations from the hotel people and others were the several old nearby churches. In one of the churches I ran into Carlos, a cop that wanted to practice his English, which was pretty good, and before long there were three others around me asking about my trip; another couple of cards given out and more good conversation with Colombians.
At the beginning of my trip I had more than 600 "business cards" printed out and decided that I would only give them out when people started asking about my trip and they would help explain what's up. The cards act as sort of a local "friendliness gauge"; the more I give out the more people have been asking questions about my trip. I should have kept closer track of which countries where I handed more of them out but I'll sit down later with my journal and guess. I can pretty much guarantee that Colombia will rank #1 in that little bit of non-scientific-guess-working gauge of friendliness, and much of that has been cops and military guys, and many others wherever I stop.
I finally finished a little more Peru pictures;
September 12, Zipaquira, Colombia
Zippy is a small city about 35 miles north of Bogotá, so I obviously didn't make it very far out of Bogotá but I was happy to make it out of that video game roadway mad-house in one piece so I did't really care how far I got! Plus Zippy (I've only been here 5 hours and I've already given it a nic-name) is a decent place to spend the night.
The main attraction is the famous underground rock salt mine with the "Salt Cathedral", open since 1995. It replaced the original that was opened in 1954 but deterioration made it unsafe so it's closed now. The new one is literally a cathedral within the salt mine tunnels; the 14 stations of the cross are large rooms spread out over about a half mile of tunnel, then there are many other parts spread through another half mile of tunnels, sometimes opening up into very large rooms, like the main church area, the dome and other parts that are all separated by large open tunnels with subtle lighting that made photographing them difficult. There's a more modern church section that you can rent for US $150.00 an hour for weddings or other appropriate events. I took many pictures that I had to expose for more than 30 seconds. I spent over two hours in and around the park, which is part of the reason I decided to stay here instead of heading further north. I won't be able to publish this tonight because I don't want to run allover town looking for a possible internet connection!
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.
September 9, Bogotá, Colombia
Yesterdays ride to Melgar, halfway between Armenia and Bogotá, was my hottest riding day in South America. To oversimplify the topography of Colombia, there are two large mountain ranges that are shaped like a "V", with Armenia on the middle of the west line, Bogotá in the middle of the east line, and Melgar is in the valley between the two ranges. It was already warm in Armenia and as I approached the valley it was hot enough that I had to remove my leather jacket, which is something I'm a bit more reluctant to do these days. Melgar is basically just a weekend vacation spot for people from Bogotá, Cali and Armenia to thaw out. All the hotels have swimming pools and the town is mainly just trinket shops, mango trees, other touristy things with a strong family theme and a nature reserve park with crocodiles nearby. It wasn't on my map or in my guidebook but the folks in Armenia recommended it as a good stop while heading east between there and Bogotá.
My back brakes have been tight and not working very well since I got my tire patched in Popayan, I'm sure it has something to do with the way I removed and replaced the back tire several times during my three day stay there. As I was looking for a hotel room here in Bogotá the brakes began to bind and grip the brake disc and by the time I found a hotel it was getting difficult to move the bike. To make matters worse, the parking guy directed me to the "special" moto parking, which is down a narrow, dark, downhill facing hallway, which will make it very difficult to work on the bike or move it out in the morning. Project for tomorrow; find a new back tire and learn about flying my moto to the USA and try to figure out the back brake issue. I have a feeling the tire project will take most of the day...
My first impressions of Bogotá are that it is similar in size, shape and altitude to Quito, but a little more dirty with worse roads and drivers. I was entering town and the driver of a small station wagon in the left lane fell asleep and hit the large curb/divider thing in the middle of the avenue, bounced off and woke up. I was about 20 feet behind him so I had enough time to slow down as he hit the brakes after his harsh awakening and as I passed his stopped car I saw him rubbing his eyes and looking a bit confused. Sunday afternoon is always the easiest and best day to arrive in a large city so I'll look forward to see what other days look like on the roads here. So far I like Quito over Bogotá...
September 7, Armenia, Colombia
Palmira was boring but friendly. One of the many references I've used to determine whether or not to travel to Colombia specified that the highway between Cali (which is 30 miles west of Palmira) and the border of Ecuador is an area where you need to be extra careful not to stray from the highway, not a problem for me. It's the area I mentioned below that had a much greater concentration of military patrols than the highway between Palmira and Armenia. It's sort of funny that some of my advice is from folks who's "handle" on the Horizons Unlimited website are things like "Monkeybutt" and "Quastdog" but they really do know their stuff [plus they're not my only sources!]. But all my focus on being safe almost made me forget something important about Colombia; one of the greatest and most significantly impactful television commercial icons of all time, Juan Valdez.
Everybody remembers the old, gentle, wise looking man amongst the coffee plants, his mule loaded up with burlap sacks full of coffee beans, the man who made us feel like every single one of those magical beans was so very carefully selected and hand picked by him before being packaged and sent to our store. So today I paid tribute to Juan by visiting the Parqueo National de Cafe. Juan wasn't there but I got a T-shirt with his name on it. The park is very large and has rollercoaster's, museums, restaurants, bamboo forests, lakes, rivers, gondola's that take you up and down the well groomed hills, and tropical flowers and coffee plants all around. It was cool. It was strongly recommended by my Pasto connection, Camilo, and one of the reasons that I decided to stay in Armenia for a second night. It was worth the trip.
I'm a day away from Bogotá but I may do the trip in two days because I would arrive too late tomorrow to find an open motorcycle shop (for a new back tire) and they'll be closed on Sunday, so why rush it. It just depends on whether or not I find an interesting place between here and Bogotá. I also need to find details about shipping my motorcycle back to the USA; everybody I've gotten advice from knows about shipping back to Panama or Miami, but has no information about shipping to the west coast of the USA so I'll be starting to try and figure out that little trick before heading up to Cartagena, then hopefully when I return to Bogotá the process will go a little easier.
I don't want to ride through through Central America again unless I have a specific reason or purpose and I can't think of one good enough to make the trip. I'm glad I've done it but I just don't want to repeat it right now. Mexico and Guatemala were fine, and I'll be exploring shipping options there as well because it might be a much better deal, but the rest of Central America was just too bothersome when it comes to crossing borders and wondering which cop is going to try to get my money. Ultimately I didn't really have many cop problems in Central America but it's well known that it's still a big issue so I was probably a bit lucky, other than the 'two bad cops on a dark dirt road' incident in Belize that still makes me F*&%*#g mad as hell!
September 5, Palmira, Colombia
The tire had air so I came to Palmira, an easy ride and only about 100 miles north of Popayan. The military on the side of the road were much more frequent in this part of the highway than that south of Popayan. In one area about 20-30 miles north of Popayan there was about a 5 mile stretch were there was a couple of military guys about every 200-300 yards. They sometimes search busses and cars but always just wave me on. I'm finding it comforting to have the strong military presence on the highway. It's a bit lower here, around 2,500 feet above sea level, and definitely feels more hot and tropical. Hot and tropical climates always have the effect of making people sing and dance more and ask more questions about my trip and motorcycle. Tomorrow I'll look around here a little more and maybe head further north to Armenia.
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...
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 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 2, Pasto, Colombia
Colombia is good, computer is bad but still limping along. I will be riding to Popayan or Palmira today, depending on the traffic. I stayed an extra day to work on some more pictures but I'm still 2 countries behind! This page of pictures includes those from Pisco:
August 31, Pasto, Colombia
[last 2 days downloaded now]
I woke up this morning in San Gabriel to the sound of hard rain. It's always tough to get started in the morning when it's raining and it seems that just a little more sleep will help the weather out, but not today. I left around 11:00 and was at the border by noon, where I had lunch and spent about two hours crossing the border. Nothing unusual, just bad timing with border officials eating lunch right when I arrived so I had to wait for them to return. The road from the border to Pasto is a wonderful winding road through a deep river valley which descends to around 5,000 feet above sea level, from the 10,000 or so at the border, then climbs back up to around 9,300 feet to Pasto.
One of the Colombia contacts I made through the Horizons Unlimited "Community" website met me here. He and his girlfriend took me out to dinner and gave me some pretty good ideas about what to see in Colombia. I'll try to download this now...
August 30, San Gabriel, Ecuador
Still in Ecuador. Yesterday morning, before heading to Colombia, I headed back into Quito from Patricio's house to take care of a couple of things that should have only taken a few minutes. By noon I realized it was too late to make it to Colombia so I stayed in Quito another night. I thought it would be a good opportunity to take some more night pictures of the amazing buildings in the Historical District, but it rained all evening. I did a little more work on the website photo's but the computers duration is getting even shorter, shutting off if I use it for more than 20 minutes or so.
Everyone I talked to said it would take 2 1/2 to 3 hours to make it to the border of Colombia, but I think people are usually assuming that since my motorcycle is bigger than most they've seen that I'll be traveling at 100mph the whole way, but I generally go about as fast as the cars and other traffic, therefore it usually takes twice as long as people tell me it will. 5 hours after leaving Quito I made it here to San Gabriel, about 40 minutes before the border town of Tulcan. Border towns are usually a bit sketchy so I stayed here instead, although I found the town a bit odd and unfriendly. It's one of those towns that probably sees very few tourists. Sometimes the folks in those small unvisited towns are very friendly and excited to see an outsider, other times they just sort of stare; San Gabriel's folks were the latter. Plus it was cold and rainy so that didn't help much. I won't be able to publish this because I found that it took 15 minutes just to open my email at the only internet cafe in town so I'll not waste the time trying to use their web connection.
Tomorrow I'll head to Colombia, hopefully it won't rain...
August 28, Quito, Ecuador
Still healing but getting much better. I've got a couple more things to see here in Quito, and some moto maintenance and some more research to make sure that Colombia is as safe as what I've been hearing. So far it sounds like if I don't try to compete with the drug cartels, or try to bring them down, or support some politician that they don't like, or run for president or otherwise engage in non-gringo photo/travel/website building activities and stay on the main road during the day, all should be well. I find it funny that some of the more informed travelers I met on my trip were actually flying over El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, into Colombia because their research showed that those three in Central America were far more dangerous for the random traveler than Colombia. I look forward to finding out for myself.