2 Wheel Chronicle - To Infinity and Beyond

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Cousteau, Apr 14, 2013.

  1. NitroRoo

    NitroRoo Been here awhile

    Nov 5, 2007
    Charlotte, NC
    Good job talking your way out of the ticket :clap

    Not sure if I should feel sorry for you for having to work so much from the road or if I should think it's really cool that you can :D
  2. Cousteau

    Cousteau ...seeking adventure

    Sep 22, 2012
    Guatemala City / Washington, DC
    Glad you are enjoying the ride JM. Your feedback and knowing there are others out there reading is really motivating to keep up the report. It's tough after a day of riding and exploring to sit down and write your thoughts down. I'm a little behind, but there are some epic chapters coming up, so stay tuned.
  3. Cousteau

    Cousteau ...seeking adventure

    Sep 22, 2012
    Guatemala City / Washington, DC
    NitroRoo, well, as soon as the cop pulled up beside me, I knew he had reeled me in, so I figured I had nothing to lose by talking it out a bit with him... worked out in the end.

    Regarding work, I have my own business which is really the only reason I am able to do this trip. Then again, I have a business, so I also have to run it, so some days are work days, but it is sooooo worth it. Good to have you along for the ride.
  4. Cousteau

    Cousteau ...seeking adventure

    Sep 22, 2012
    Guatemala City / Washington, DC
    Glad you are enjoying the trip. I LOVE Colombia. I've been coming here for work for many years, but always to the main cities. This time I want to see a different side of things and I know it won't disappoint. I can't wait to go down to Cali. It's a part of the country I've always wanted to see.

    I had meant to go into greater detail of why the Triumph up top, but the Ride Report got ahead of me and I never had a chance to go back and explain, so thanks for asking the question. I chose the Triumph for a couple of reasons instead of a BMW or the Ducati. Both those bikes are fantastic machines and I have nothing against them. BWM is the standard of excellence and all RTW trips, from the rudimentary to the extreme, have been done on a BMW. That in part is what made me look at alternatives. There is also a certain stigma that surrounds BWM and BMW riders. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about.

    Triumph, in my mind's eye, is the comeback kid. It is a brand and a concept that is among the oldest in the world in terms of motorcycles, but had an turn in fortune a few decades ago. The new company that is rebuilding the brand has worked tirelessly in doing so and found some fantastic engineers, taken the best from the adventure, and applied their own "spark" and taken their machines to the next level.

    Why the Tiger 800XC specifically, and why 800 versus the 1200? Well, I had owned V-twin bikes in the past and for long trips those small vibrations this specific design of engine creates starts to wear on your. I remember it getting so bad sometimes that my hands would get numb and it would take me a few minutes to get the feeling back. The three cylinder engine, it also obviously vibrates, but it's smoother and thus far I haven't gotten that feeling, even on days I've riden 10+ hours. Also, the power is quite smooth and even, 2 gear is super tall, so it's great off road, and for the roads in Latin America, you just don't need 1200cc, this 800 is plenty of power, even with a fully loaded bike.

    Hope that answers your questions. If you have any tips of things to see around Cali and the Eje Cafetero, please let me know.
  5. Cousteau

    Cousteau ...seeking adventure

    Sep 22, 2012
    Guatemala City / Washington, DC
    Today I arrived in Panama City. I had already been impressed and seen the immediate contrast between the type and quality of the infrastructure in buildings and highways versus what you see in the other Central American countries. This was even more evident when you roll into Panama City and cross the Bridge of the Americas and get my first view of the Canal. I so wanted to stop and take a picture, but I simply took in the amazing view.

    After this you just weave in and out on an amazing motorway and then, as the Waze lady tells me to take my next exit, I roll toward the center of the city where I see at least three major roadway construction projects underway. I later learned that the current president has some 18 projects running simultaneously in order to complete them before the end of his tenure next year. That is in addition to completing the new phase of the Panama Canal, but I'll fill you in on this in a bit.

    After I arrived and settled in, I was off to play tourist so I walked around the center of the city for a few minutes and spotted some cool restore/maintained old government buildings.

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    Then I hoped in a cab and headed the Panama Miraflores Lock.

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    The first thing that hit me was what an amazing feat of engineering this was. More incredible still, is that if it is 2013 and I'm in amazement, what would a person being in my same spot 100 years ago thought when it was first*inaugurated. Likely the single most impressive use of human ingenuity of its time. Aside from the simple scale of the thing, what you learn as you hear the guide explain how the locks function almost entirely without power. More than one million liters of water are moved between the locks in a matter of minutes and gravity is used to achieve this. Two motors of 25 horse power each is all it takes to move those massive gates open once the water levels match.

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    Watching those massive boats cross is nothing short of extraordinary, and next year once the new stage of the canals open up next year will allow container ships with upwards of 12,000 containers to go through the Canal. As the lady doing the explaining mentioned to me "Do you have any idea how many flat panel TVs that is?" That kind of puts things into perspective.

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    I was fortunate to hit the Canal on school day, so I had a bunch of munchkins all around me for about an hour.

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    Fortunately, I was able to escape the heat and the nonstop chatter into the cool airconditioned of the theater to view a short film on the history of the Canal.

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    Just a quick history for all those not wanting to go into Wikipedia. There were actually several attempts at building the canal as far back as when the Spaniards first arrived in Panama. Probably the best effort in accomplishing this was at the end of the 19th Century when the French worked on building the canal for twenty years, but finally gave up because of the difficulty of the task of the time, not least were the climate and the constant sickness that at that time, often led to death.

    In what would be a masterful*maneuver*in global politics at the time, in 1903 the US blocked Colombian troops' arrival into Panama by sea with a blockade, just as rebels were rising up in Panama to claim independence from Colombia. The US immediately recognized the independence of Panama to be followed by the signing a couple of days later of the**<a title="Hay–Bunau-Varilla Treaty" href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hay%E2%80%93Bunau-Varilla_Treaty">Hay–Bunau-Varilla Treaty</a>*giving the US control over the Panama Canal region. This *would later be reinterpreted several times over the years. It then took the US 10 years to complete the project, but this time not building a sea level route, but rather a canal that uses a system of locks to raise and lower ships across the mountainous region of the isthmus.

    After playing tourist for the afternoon, my friend Lila swung by to pick me up at the locks and took me on a quick driving tour of downtown Panama City.

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    This is where you really can tell that "you are not in Kansas anymore Toto." Panama is definitely a step above any of the other countries in the region. I was really reminded of Miami in some ways.

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    I met my brother-in-law for a beer as he was in the City for training. It was a good coincidence to meet up with him and catch up a bit.

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    One thing that I was surprised to hear Lila mention - she and her husband have been living in Panama the last four years - is that the quality of service in Panama tends to be poor. It is the country with one of the lowest rates of unemployment and continuously needs to bring skilled labor from abroad. Because it is so easy to find a job, people don't really care to give a high quality service (obvious gross generalization here) because they can go out and in a few days, they land their next job.

    I got to see this first hand as that evening when I went out with Juan Manuel, Lila and their two daughters out to dinner, it took nearly 20 minutes to get the bill. The food was excellent however.

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    Overall impression of Panama City - It is a major metropolis of Latinamerica, heavily influenced by the US, but with a bit of latin flare.

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  6. Cousteau

    Cousteau ...seeking adventure

    Sep 22, 2012
    Guatemala City / Washington, DC
    In Medellin today. Going to one of the largest motorcycle fairs in Latinamerica called "Dos Ruedas". Should be incredible!

    Will be posting about the crossing into Colombia later today. It was definitely one of the key moments of the trip thus far.
  7. Cousteau

    Cousteau ...seeking adventure

    Sep 22, 2012
    Guatemala City / Washington, DC
    This was going to be a big day. Today I needed to arrive in Carti and load the bike on the boat. Majo from the Independence had sent instructions on how to get out to the port of Carti to load the bikes, there were more that just me, by 3pm. Before heading out of the city, I needed to go pick up my Heidenau tires that I had shipped from Guatemala.

    Heidenau is one of the sponsors I was able to contact and were great about getting me some tires for the trip. These will be a great once I start riding in some of the National Parks and the dirt roads of Peru and Bolivia. I had gotten the call from Copa Cargo the day before as I was driving into the City. As the call came in on my Sena headset, I pulled off to the shoulder to take the call. The lady said the tires would be at their airport cargo terminal, exactly where I went.

    For those who have not been to Panama, let me warn you that as of January of this year, the toll roads can no longer be paid for with cash, only with their prepaid card. So, much to my chagrin, I got up to the toll where it clearly had posted $1.50 for motorcycle. I hand the lady a $10 and she hands me back a this card.

    "And my change??"

    "No, but you have $3.50 left on your card"

    "What???, I only want to pay the $1.50 toll, please give me my change back"

    "You need the card"

    "I don't want the damn card" - I'm beginning to fume and now have a long line behind me.

    The lady at the toll booth could of cared less. You could tell I was amusing as this smirk came to her face. I was obviously not the first frustrated tourist, clearly being used to this reaction. The plume raised and she waived me through. I bolted out of there with a huff.

    So, you have been warned. Be wary that YOU WILL GET JACKED at the toll booth in Panama.

    And of to the airport I went, took the exit ramp and then headed to the left where the cargo terminal arrow pointed. The road was under construction and it was a very long way around the entire property of the airport. I made my way through the traffic only to run into a blockade on the backside of the airport as there was a national nurses strike, so no getting through. A police officer gave me scant directions to hear around back to basically circumvent the nurses. I ended up getting lost, going into this shanty town of little winding roads that weaved up and down hills and little rain run-off channels mixed in with odor au sewer. Finally, I caught up with a taxi and asked him how I got back out towards the Cargo Terminal. He was headed that way so he had me follow him. I don't think I would have ever made it out of that maze with a little help, so thank you Mr. Taxi Man.

    Back onto the main road and away from the threat of the disgruntled nurses, I made my way to the Copa Cargo terminal. Got up to the right office, gave them my code and voila... "Sorry Sir, your tires are not here, they were sent to the Oeste Business Park" - and you guessed it, that was back in the city. *"CRAP" - ok, so off I go. Finally, after about another 40 minutes I have my tires, strap them up to the top of my topbox and start programming Waze to show me the way to Carti. But wait, Waze has no idea where this place is. So I ask Google Maps, nope, nada. Ask Apple Maps, nada again. Ok, I know its towards Darien, so I punch that in and off I go.

    Towards the edge of the suburbs I stopped to fill my tank and asked about Carti. The station attendent had no idea what I was talking about, but a Taxi Driver across the pumps overheard the conversation and chimed in, letting me know that about 20 minutes after passing Chepo, the next major town after Panama City, I would see the turn to the left marked for Carti. With those vague instructions, I was off.

    Just as the taxi driver mentioned, sure enough, shortly after the turnoff for Chepo, there was the turnoff for Carti, but just to be sure, under the shade of a tall tree where a couple of soilders hiding from the heat, so I stopped to verify directions. "Its the only road, just go strait and you'll get there."

    This has to be the single funnest road I have ever been on. The road has been built on top of the terrain as is, laying asphalt on what must have been a horse trail at one point.

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    There were some incredibly steep runs going down into a revean and the up to the hill top, then back again. In some spots, the bottoms had been washed out, so the black stuff quickly turned into gravel, sand, large rocks, so you had to be careful to slow before you hit the bottom, as you didn't want to be breaking going one of those dubious sections.

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    Now, an important side note about the Kuna Yala region and the Kuna people. This is likely the largest*indigenous*population in Panama and they have a significant amount of autonomy over their land and how it's governed.

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    It was therefore surprising to be stopped at one point during the roller coaster ride by the "Kuna Authorities" and asked to pay a "right of passage" for myself and the bike. "No pay, no pass." I think all said it was about $8 for the bike and me. Paid it and was on my way.

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    A few miles ahead, I was stopped again at a military checkpoint and asked for my papers and passport. First time in Panama. A few minutes later I rolled into the port of Carti, I say this quite*facetiously, as all there was is a small shack, a fence, and a single dock. I did however see a couple of bikes under the overhang roof. SWEET!

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    As I got off the bike and walked I would meet for the first time the three others who would be my cabin-mates and fellow bikers for the next few days. Erik, Zack, and Erin.

    Erik was the first to introduce himself. He's traveling alone on a 400cc off-road Suzuki with nobbies. He's a terrific guy, very practical, super helpful, and an avid outdoorsman. Not only has that been the industry he's worked in for most of his career, but he loves being outdoors and doing all manner of long distance hiking,*mountaineering, camping etc. Having left from Tennessee, he's barely seen any asphalt until he got into Panama. He's got a huge gas tank on his bike, which allows him to simply go out into the wilderness and just get lost for a week at a time.

    The other two, Erin and Zach, were traveling down from California on Kawas KLRs. They were both laid back, easy going, and just good people. They've been traveling for about a six months, heading south to Argentina. They I found putting away a couple good size plates of chicken and rice just as I arrived. After the roller coaster ride I wasn't really all that hungry, so I just sucked on my camelback and worked on keeping hydrated.

    While they were finishing up eating, I walked around and started asking about how we got our bikes out to the Independence. You could see out near the island off the coast, maybe about two kms away. A young man at the counter of the shack said he would make the arrangements. About 15 minutes later we were told we were ready to go and we were instructed to head to the dock. From what I had seen in my research, they usually load bikes off the dock into mid-size boats (lanchas) that are often used to transport goods out to the islands and boats.

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    As I pulled up towards the dock and start to point my wheels in the direction of the dock - mind you this is the only one there - I am waved off and told to move ahead down this dirt path further up the beach. I then see at the edge of the water a small dug-out, with two Kuna dudes pulling it up on shore. They then pull the motor off the back and lay it out on the beach. This basically looks like a bike canoe.

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    "So how do they pretend to get the bikes into the lancha?," I ask myself. At least my bike is quite heavy and it would take quite a few folks to awkwardly carry it through the muck on the edge of the water to get it into the boat. Then as if out of the blue, they start finding old wood pallets and piling them up, making a makeshift ramp, up into the boat.

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    "That might work" I think to myself, but those pallets don't look like they can carry much weight and that's a pretty steep drop into the boat. They find a few more pallets and put them into the boat.

    Erick, having the lightest bike decides to be the ginny pig and simply starts up his bike and rides right into the boat. But as he goes up, you could see the pallets seriously bend, and his bike weights about half of what mine weighs. I start by pulling all my gear off the bike, including all the*panniers*and top case to make it as light as possible. Then we evaluate and we basically have two choices, ride it up, like Erick did, or walk it up. I decided that it's better to just walk it up and Zack volunteers to push from the back to get some speed and stead the bike. I'll walk it on its side and handle the break once we get it into the boat.


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    Once on the boat, I actually put down the kickstand and went to grab my gear and load it into the back of the boat while the Kuna Lancha Captain reattached the motor to the backend of the boat.

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    It was then time to get back on the bike and ride the waves out to the Independence. The ride out on this little dug-out boat together with Erick was a bit otherworldly.

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    I really never saw myself on my bike riding in a lancha out to sea, holding her now steadfast, straddling the bike and balancing through the waves with my feet propt on each edge of the boat. The cool salty spray coming up was cooling and after a few minutes it was simply a delight after a hot day of riding.

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    At the boat, were were*greeted by the Captain Michel who quickly asked what we were doing on that little boat. Apparently, we had all four taken a wrong turn somewhere and there was a larger boat waiting for us, also, at half the price. This little ride cost us each $30. I think we had just been taken by a little Kuna ride.

    We quickly started to tie up ropes to the bike's frame as the hook from the wench was lowered. Erick's bike was upfront, so it went first. Mine followed.

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    There really isn't a way to describe this particular experience, as you see your bike lifted high above your head hoping the winch and ropes hold and that your bike doesn't take a spill into the drink. We were in some deep water and that would likely be the last you'd see of it if it went in.

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    After our bikes were loaded, the lancha headed back to pick Zach and Erin. They arrived about 30 minutes later. We then dropped our gear in the galley, grabbed a few essentials and we were off with Germain to the Kuna Island, to spend the night at Germains Hostel.
  8. Cousteau

    Cousteau ...seeking adventure

    Sep 22, 2012
    Guatemala City / Washington, DC


    So we left off getting the bikes to the boat. That evening Captain Michel had already made arrangements for us to stay at the only hostel, and I dare say the only*accommodations, no the tiny island of Cartí. If you can't find it on a map, don't worry, I couldn't either, but trust me, it's there. This is one of the major Kuna communities of the San Blas Islandas and it is densely populated. There is one main path down the center of the island and then small alleys that run perpendicular to the main drag.


    By the time Germain, our host, came out in his shinny new dingy with his son, it was late in the afternoon and the light was waning, so we all just grabbed the bare essentials from our load of gear and got into the dingy.

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    You could tell that space was at a premium as soon as you got onto the island as the toilets were right next to the dock... literally flying toilets above the water - I guess these would be more of sea latrine.

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    We then walked back about 100 feet from the water through some small paths and into one of the few two story buildings on the island. The hostel was upstairs while Germain and his extended family stayed downstairs in a large assortment of hammocks. The island has power in the evenings provided by a communal diesel generator and it's lights out at 11pm. So it was interesting to hear TV's blaring everywhere until the witch hour arrived.

    Erin, Zach, Erik and I then went out*scavenging*for food. There weren't a lot of choices, basically the one restaurant off of one of the paths from "Main Street." We walked and we all had the fish - figuring it would have to be the freshest dish available. It came out quickly accompanied by rice,*lentils, and cabbage salad. This was my first meal of the day as I had been running from early morning on adrenaline trying to get out to the boat, so it was a fantastic meal.

    We then all went to buy a big jug of bottled water and headed back to the hostel. Then slowly, we all started retreating to our quarters to sleep - mind you that these are only cubicle-like divisions made from thin bamboo poles intertwined, so really, it was basically a big dormitory. Erick crashed in one of the hammocks in the main entry.

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-a-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn1/941372_505475822834991_689866459_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    It was a bit early, but we were all pretty much whipped from a long day. I conked out at about 9:30, but right before lights out, I need to go test out the facilities. I grabbed the flashlight as instructed and made my way down the spiral staircase. As I hit the landing, several of the family members that were sprawled out on the hammocks just pointed to the doorway. That's when I made my way towards the "Sheizehouse" to relieve some of the pressure in my bladder. Nothing quite like a late night pee through a bolted down toilet seat into the drink.

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-d-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash3/65623_505475406168366_1765868694_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    The next morning was market day as a large cruise ship was anchored near the island. All the ladies were out in the full regalia with all their needlework on display. We went for a quick walk in daylight to capture a few pictures and then we were once again off to the Independence.

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-f-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn2/179440_505474692835104_897899554_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-h-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash3/944833_505474742835099_1189859546_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-b-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn1/935708_505474726168434_178483768_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-g-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash4/390687_505474759501764_2006524169_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-a-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn1/934607_505475392835034_1440578364_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    We were just waiting on some folks to arrive from Panama City, 16 in all, and then we would be off to the first set of islands.

    For the next three days would be spent island hoping, going from one piece of paradise to the next. I have pictures here of course, but they really don't do the place justice. If you picture in your mind the single most amazing tropical paradise - every detail... the palm trees, the color of the water, the breeze coming off of the surf, the reefs. Picture it. Hold on to that image. Have it crystal clear in your mind's eye. Ok, now double it and you have an approximation of what the San Blas Islands are like.

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-a-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash3/940912_505477566168150_226388003_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-d-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-snc6/270961_505477529501487_1223290925_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-f-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash4/270814_505477819501458_720951681_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    I really have *very hard time understanding how Panama does not promote turism more. Sure, Panama City is amazing and the Canal is nothing short of amazing, but the San Blas Islands are just out of this world.

    We spent the next few days swimming, snorkeling, going out to the islands, laying out in the sun, and eating some amazing meals. We had a really terrific group onboard with people from all walks of life. That made the trip all the more special, because everyone got along.

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-g-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-frc1/485596_505477572834816_160869040_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    I'll leave you with some of the pictures and the fun we had while sailing through the islands.

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-d-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-snc6/216308_505477806168126_1795077274_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-a-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash3/944352_505477839501456_956487989_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

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    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-d-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-snc6/262575_505481489501091_575161882_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-f-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash3/65676_505481719501068_1318961653_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-d-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn1/21241_505481736167733_852419399_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-c-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-frc1/197733_505481872834386_1727491272_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    The Happy Crew!

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-f-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash3/944508_505481482834425_1766143643_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />



  9. Cousteau

    Cousteau ...seeking adventure

    Sep 22, 2012
    Guatemala City / Washington, DC
    After breakfast, before everyone started to go out snorkeling the Captain called us all up on deck to tell us our schedule for the day.

    We would all have to be back onboard by 5pm as the boat would then go to the bay and the crew would prepare the vessel for the crossing. An early dinner was served while the crew took down the blue tarps that had provided much of the shade on the deck. The motorcycles were then rechecked, the tie-downs adjusted, and carefully covered with tarps to protect them from the splash of salt water spray.

    In the earlier meeting the Captain had warned us that the open waters can be rough and that the crossing would be between 22 to 30 hours, depending on the weather and sea conditions. Many started with their Dramamine regimen while others gnawed on raw ginger.

    I've always considered myself of a pretty strong constitution and as we eased out of the bay, thirty minutes later the Captain declared we were in open waters. It was definitely choppier than we had experienced the last few days. We had a strong headwind of 25 knots going against the current, so it was looking like a longer cross. The waves were short and rhythmical, with some of the swells splashing spray up on deck. Several of the passengers had made their way to the front upper deck where they had spent several of the previous nights sleeping. I hung out right behind them on at the main deck enjoying the cool breeze.

    Interestingly, no one wanted to go below deck as they feared the movement combined with the lack of fresh air would do them in. Looking out towards the horizon did help a bit.

    It was three hours after our departure when I started to get an uneasy feeling in the upper part of my stomach. I took a few deep breaths, which temporarily helped. I knew there was nothing to be ashamed of if I lost my cookies as the Captain had given special instructions on where and how to vomit - particularly to avoid throwing up against the wind as it would simply throw it right up back in your face. Nothing like that visual to motivate you to try and keep it down. I was also worried that if I threw up and got everything out, I would have another 27 hours of dry heaves to look forward to.

    I then started counting the intervals between the waves, thinking that there may be some kind of a pattern and in knowing this, that would somehow calm the growing uneasy feeling.

    Then Daz, the Aussie on the boat, came out and said what I think most of us were thinking “I'd rather get this over sooner rather than later.”

    With that, I got up from my chair and steadied myself through the upper deck and onto the steep ladder to the galley. The Captain had said they would leave the door open to the exterior corridor, but as I turned left, it was clamped shut. By sheer instinct now, I headed down past the galley, then the kitchen and down the narrow steps to the lower level where our cabin was. I was not alone as people were quickly disappearing into their respective cabins and toilets. Ours, because it was the bikers cabin and had a lot of gear, had a padlock on it, so I reached up to a shelf for the key in a panic and on a first sweep my hand didn't feel it. I went further back and reached up again, this time finding the edge of the small plastic keychain.

    The swaying of the boat in the lower levels only intensified the urge to upchuck. A burp filled with stomach acid came up and I knew I only had a few seconds left. I quickly fumbled with the key and lock to get it opened.

    Finally through the door, the sliding door to my right to the toilet was stuck. I pulled at it with one hard yank and with the same single motion reached to open the lid as the first projectile flew out of my mouth.

    As the final of the three expulsions of half digested pasta went down with the flush, I wondered how I was going to make it through the next near 30 hours. The seas were supposed to get rougher still.

    After rinsing out my mouth and looking at a pale specter in the mirror, I eased my way up to the upper deck. There I found one of the bed rolls left out for us. I untied it, laid it out, and tossed it near the rear tire of my bike. I plopped myself down and heard the Captain lean back from his chair and say “you picked a good spot, David” to which I remember mumbling something back. I then laid down. After a few minutes the cool salty spray coming over the edge relaxed me and washed the seasickness away. I would lay there for the next 9 hours.

    The next day would be one of laying still, sleeping, and just waiting for time to pass. I was no longer seasick, but the boat kept on rocking as we were still facing headwinds and short waves. Thankfully the Captain decided to head towards a chain of islands near Cartagena, cutting down the time in open seas although it added another four hours before we set anchor at port. I didn't feel like eating either breakfast or lunch, but by dinner, I was ready for some food. They served a very tasty and appropriate*lentil*soup. I ate gingerly and thankfully everything stayed down.

    We arrived somewhere around 10pm to Cartagena and went back to my cabin to sleep. We would be getting up the next morning shortly after 6am to start unloading the bikes before the port got busy. Tomorrow it will be time to import bikes and find a place to stay. Looking forward to being on firm ground, although I would not trade this experience.
  10. Cousteau

    Cousteau ...seeking adventure

    Sep 22, 2012
    Guatemala City / Washington, DC
    We started to unload the bikes shortly after 6am.

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-g-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-frc1/486730_507014839347756_150216620_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-h-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-snc6/247682_507014882681085_1702336957_n.jpg" width="960" height="306" />

    We needed to start early as the small taxi boats that transfer people across the bay do not seem to care about a no wake zones and if they see you loading something off of your boat, they gun the motor and get as close as they can to get the largest wave possible. This little game was not at all amusing when you're loading your bike.

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-b-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash4/180284_507014952681078_1456259575_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    This time,instead of using a dugout boat, we used the dingy with a large bouey to lean the bike at about a 45 degree angle. Lowering the bikes and watching them across the water was starting to seem like second nature. Once all four were on the shore, we then had to move all our gear on a couple of trips back and forth - the dingy was certainly near capacity, though Captain Michel assured us that this was nothing out of the ordinary.

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-h-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash3/933918_507015002681073_369001675_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-f-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash4/198824_507015016014405_1594918696_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    We then all left together and headed to the DIAN where we were to meet our "fixer", quick technical stop at a local grocery store for water, a gatorade, and to hit the ATM. The DIAN is the Colombian customs and tax agency where we needed to register our bikes. Supposedly our "fixer" had been waiting for us and had all the paperwork done, so he just greeted us, handed us some photocopies of our registrations and passports and was off to see more important clients. We then ended up waiting around for almost three hours while the *DIAN agent, Juan Carlos, was "away from his desk" - doing what, we had no idea. It got to the point that Zach actually went to sit at his desk to be sure he didn't get away in case he showed his face. Finally, around 1pm he showed and we walked over to the bikes, checked the VIN numbers, signed some papers and we were off to the hostel.

    As I've been traveling, I've been staying mainly at various gracious hosts homes or in cheap hotels along the way. I had really not stayed in a hostel in many years, ever since I backpacked around Europe. Man, was this an eye opener. Drinking games started around 4:30 in the afternoon and went on into the week hours. Fortunately this also meant that the same folks were not up until mid-to late morning by which time I was out and about.

    The next day I thought to play tourist so I set off with Zach to check out the town and see the sights. Erick tagged along as far as the fortress, but then headed back to the hostel.

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-d-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-snc6/184562_507019802680593_753595325_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    Cartagena has always been the key port for Colombia and many of the countries in South America, starting with getting gold and products from South America back to Spain during the colonial era and it continues to be Colombia's most important port. To ensure trade, during the colonial era, Cartagena was massively fortified with an*impenetrable*fortress - Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas - and also a walled city that protected it from both pirate and naval*attacks. From the time the fort was built in was able to sustain many attacks including some by the English and French navies. Touring the castle fortress and some of the walled city along with seeing up close some of the massive cannons still conserved, one could easily picture a large flotilla off the shore tacking into position to pummel the city.

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-c-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-snc6/252472_507019862680587_1488340511_n.jpg" width="720" height="960" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-e-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-snc6/248249_507019942680579_1365416782_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-f-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash4/295372_507019976013909_1092212502_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

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    Fortunately today, the city is well conserved, with many ongoing restoration projects, at least inside the walled city, that provides a fantastic glimpse into centuries past. The building architecture, old plazas and parks paved with warned cobblestones just absorbs and takes you in. The other great thing about Cartagena is the easy and laid back feeling.

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-g-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash3/942003_507025272680046_1641202718_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" /><img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-a-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash4/401838_507025249346715_313215547_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    This translates into every aspect of life and business as nothing needs to be done fast, maybe because of the intense heat. Case in point our friend Juan Carlos at the DIAN offices mentioned above.

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-e-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-snc6/264435_507020226013884_1126431400_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    As you turn many corners in the city, you can hear the*rhythmical*sounds of the ballenato accentuated with the lively*accordion*and lyrics that reflect the chillaxed life of these hot tropical climates. That easy going feeling permeates into every aspect of the city and its people.

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-g-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-snc6/260272_507020232680550_1310182342_n.jpg" width="960" height="254" />

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    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-e-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn1/934144_507020512680522_1302840808_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-h-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-snc6/252487_507025226013384_322881997_n.jpg" width="960" height="671" />

    That evening, as I was checking my emails, I noticed I received a message back from Fritz "Pork and Corn" and ADVRider. I'd been following his travels for quite some time, including his preparations for the trip. He too was traveling on a Triumph Tiger 800XC, but coming from Santiago Chile upwards towards Cartagena. He was wrapping up a 5 month that started in early January and he had just rolled into Cartagena. I was planning on heading out the next morning, so I decided to go for a quick walk to find him at the hostel he where he was staying within the walled city.

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-c-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash3/946467_507020186013888_289777266_n.jpg" width="960" height="795" />

    Sure enough, the walk paid off and I found him sitting in front of his room, typing away at his blog. We chatted for about a half hour about his journey. You could tell that he was worn out from traveling and was happy to be wrapping up his trip. The most difficult thing he found during his adventure was the isolated feeling he had during much of the journey. It wasn't until the latter part of the trip where he had started staying a hostels and forcing himself to meet people and have more interactions.

    Travel can certainly have its isolating effect. I've been very fortunate to have friends throughout the region and even have people go way out of their way to help me meet others as I've traveled. I have had periods where I've been alone, but I can't say that I've ever felt lonely. This may happen down the line, and certainly as I continue further south, the further I get, the fewer folks I know. Then again, that's all part of the adventure and what I was after to experience in the first place. I think getting out of ones shell, and we all have one, can seem impossible, but if you force yourself and open up even a little bit, you can really meet some fantastic people - and in the end, it is those interactions that will form the greatest memories that you will have always.
  11. Cousteau

    Cousteau ...seeking adventure

    Sep 22, 2012
    Guatemala City / Washington, DC
    I headed out of Cartagena today. I packed up last night, so I just took a quick shower, put on my gear and headed around the block to get my bike out of the parking garage. Not surprisingly, although I had asked they wash the bike, not a shocker, the bike had not been touched. That would need to be handled immediately as salt water would keep eating away at the bike.

    Rode the bike back, loaded the gear and said my goodbyes to the crew from the Independence who were up at that early hour. Got on the bike, set Waze for Monteria and off I went. Today Waze took me through some of the more colorful neighborhoods of Cartagena out towards the highway. Went through a large fish and vegetable market that although only shortly past 7am, it was already*bustling with people. Then as I approached the highway I stopped to top off the tank with gas and asked if there was anyone who could wash the bike. The attendent said there was and walked off for a minute. Shortly then, a barefoot guy with a couple of old t-shirts as rags walked up to me and asked that I move the bike and set her on the center stand.

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    I pulled all my gear off while he filled an old paint bucket with water. Then a second lad showed up and they started going at it, swinging the bucket to spray the bike, rubbing, scrubbing and getting it all shined up. Paid the boys 4,000 pesos, about US$2 for their troubles and was on my way.

    Waze has been a great tool to have while on the trip. I had done a great deal of research before heading out, and everyone talks about Garmin, but at over $700, I decided not to get it. I'm glad I didn't. Waze with the multiple search engine options is rarely not able to find where you need to go, and as you drive into big cities, it really is amazing. I particularly like Waze on my iphone linked up with the SENA bluetooth headset. I even downloaded a charming British lady as Waze's voice - not needing to look down to the GPS, but rather being told when on in what direction to turn. But I digress.

    One thing that I love of Colombia is that it is the only country I know where motorcycles do not pay on toll roads - and in Colombia, nearly all highways that interconnect the major cities are paid. Today I traveled through the department of Cordoba. This is primarily flat land near sea level that is extremely fertile and primarily known as cattle and livestock country. It is incredibly green with some very cool rolling hills. I had not been on the bike in nearly a week, so today I really enjoyed the ride.

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    Today I also hit another importantly milestone of the trip, hitting 3,000kms taveled in little over two weeks of roadtime.

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    The temperatures continued to climb, nearing 38C, so I stopped for a cool tall glass of maracuya - if you haven't had it, I strongly recommend it.

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-f-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash3/943774_507031812679392_581009853_n.jpg" width="720" height="960" />


    Monteria, where I was headed, is the capital city of the department of Cordoba, where I really had no idea of what to expect. I simply chose it as a mid-point to stop at on my way to Medellin. I would be staying the night and then head out early tomorrow to Medellin. As I rolled into the city, I really didn't have any plans on where to stay, but as I did in David, I pulled a taxi driver over, asked if he knew of a inexpensive and clean hotel and in no time I was following him through roundabouts and stop lights into the center of town. We pulled up at Hotel Media Naranja right in the middle of the commercial sector.

    If there is one thing that cities and towns in Latin America have is that the tend to have near the city center commercial areas that are dingy, dirty, smelly, and filled to the brim with all sorts of rundown shops, stands, and all sorts of sketchy elements hanging out. These are places that do not inspire confidence, although it unlikely that anything will happen to you. Knock on wood.

    After dropping my gear off in the lobby, I went back out in search of a place to park my bike. I drove around several blocks, asking for a parking lot (parqueadero in Colombia), but nothing. I finally went up about five blocks and found a place , walked back to the hotel in some scorching heat and headed strait for a shower. This would need to be followed by food in short order.

    The night before I had done a quick search of Monteria and Wikipedia had some of the highlights of the place. Beside having a difficult time in the mid 16th Century in receiving a charter to found the town from the regional capital of Cartagena de Indias, Monteria doesn't have too many attractions, though the one that was repeatedly mentioned is the riverside park knows as "La Ronda." This pedestrian and bicycle park is outstanding and completely out of context. I walked out of my hotel, then turned left towards the river down a narrow street of pestilence only to come out on the other end to a large avenue with a large band of green on the opposite side.

    Today was a Monday, and like many Monday's in Colombia, this was a holiday - the move many of the national and local holidays to Mondays to allow for three day weekends. This has promoted internal national turism, bringing much needed economic development to many depressed regions of the country. So, on this particular holiday, the park was filled with families walking around with the kids, couples riding bicycles down the bicycle trails, boat rides down the river and some folks just passing time sitting at a cafe huddled under some trees.

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-c-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn1/945170_507031952679378_1910362977_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-d-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash3/935229_507031849346055_993412378_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-h-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-snc6/197688_507031992679374_40569120_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    As I started walking and enjoying all the greenery, I lifted my sights up towards the canopy and I could not believe what I saw - a monkey.

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-g-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-snc6/408436_507031879346052_1460707503_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    Yes, there I was a block away from the market and all its*putrid*smells and I'm looking at monkeys playing up in the trees in this park. I continued to walk down the*promenade people watching, sitting at some benches for a few minutes along the way as the late afternoon turned to dusk. I really never expected to find this little charming pocket of greenery in what initially was looking as just one more dingy city center. This was truly unexpected.

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-e-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash4/247756_507031969346043_2138339603_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-a-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash3/944481_507031932679380_373583670_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

  12. Cousteau

    Cousteau ...seeking adventure

    Sep 22, 2012
    Guatemala City / Washington, DC
    In Cali right now, but going to be catching up fast next few days on the report. Enjoy Medellin, I sure did!

    For those of you who have not taveled to Medellin, you absolutely should. Getting into Medellin gives you some spectacular views. The geography is fantastically broken with deep ravines, cliffs that drop off three thousands feet at nearly 90 degrees, and water falls that gush out of the mountain and disappear into the mist below. The land is incredibly fertile and farmers with the most ingenious techniques plow the land at a gradient in small plots or using step farming. This patchwork of plots with all sorts of crops makes up an amazing quilt of colors and textures as you twist back and forth up and down the steep edges of the mountains. For a motorcycle rider, this has been hands down the most spectacular rides I've taken thus far.

    Medellin is a city that sits snuggled between two high peaks. As the city has grown, construction and housing has started to inch up from the base of the valley towards the cliffs that surround it. The people, known as "Paisas", are incredibly warm, inviting, charming, and known for being industrious and phenomenal talkers and sellers.

    One of the first things that struck me is how much they go out of their way to help tourists. I stopped at a light to ask a pedestrian for directions, and as the person was starting to point and explain the route, a person in a car pulled over next to me, stopping traffic, rolled down their window, and had me follow them to where I needed to go. That I have simply not seen anywhere else - a busy person taking the time to go out of their way to help a traveler.

    I've been to Medellin before, but only for short day or two business trips, usually with a very full agenda. I hadn't had the chance to play tourist and see much of the city. As I got into Medellin that afternoon, I headed towards Casa Kiwi, one of the hostels that was listed back in Cartagena on a poster. Several other travelers had made mention of it and it sounded quite nice. It is also near one of the main hot spots of the city called Parque Lleras (pronounced Yeras). I parked, walked up to the front desk only to find out that there was no room at the inn. Like many hostels, they don't take reservations because often times the people don't actually show up and they only take payment with cash, so there is no way to make a reservation off of a credit card. Fortunately, there was another hostel a few doors down called Tamarindo - this would be my home for the next few days.

    The next morning I got a hold of Mauricio, a friend who is the commercial director at one of the largest garment factories in Medellin. We met up for lunch at my absolute favorite hamburger restaurant ANYWHERE. I don't have any particular preference for hamburgers in general, though from time to time I do get a craving. However, the Todoterreno from EL CORRAL is hands down the absolute best burger I have ever had. Anytime I'm in Colombia, I never miss a chance to have one. A traveled to Colombia last year for business with a friend and colleague who was doing some market research to introduce a makeup and hair treatment line of products and took him to El Corral. *He immediately became a bigger fan than I am. In the span of five days we were in Bogota, he devised three trips to the place to devour this amazing burger. Here is a picture of the culprit.

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-d-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash3/944268_509876765728230_1070285334_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    That afternoon I needed to get some work done. Yes, I am actually needing to work as I travel, and for this stint in Medellin it was going to require a couple intense days. Notwithstanding, I did have plans to do some touristy things.

    As luck would have it, Medellin was hosting one of the largest motorcycle fairs in South America that week and there was no way I was going to miss it. They had more than 600 exhibitors on all kinds of accessories, bikes, equipment, and gear - wall to wall motorcycle-related stuff. Feria de las 2 Ruedas - as in 2 Wheel... well, I couldn't very well miss that, could I?

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-c-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash3/575570_509860512396522_1940369213_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    My friend Mauricio dropped me off at the conference center entrance as he had other family obligations for that day. The fair takes up the entire space of the convention center with all sorts and sizes of displays. Here is a small showing of what was exhibited.

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-e-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash3/923214_509860299063210_484321518_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-h-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash3/575773_509860292396544_718786304_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-b-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn2/969828_509860212396552_586504398_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-c-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn2/969263_509860335729873_816947227_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-a-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn1/935823_509860369063203_1789036804_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-g-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash3/947147_509860405729866_1210059846_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-d-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-snc6/253213_509860645729842_160073444_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    I of course had to take at least one picture with a couple of the models as otherwise people would say that I wasn't really there and that I got the pictures from the Internet. Fortunately a kind passerby was kind enough to snap this picture.

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-a-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn2/971554_509860569063183_213043322_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    The next day, Sunday, I decided to go for a walk and see the town. As I was walking out of the hostel, I met Gabriel and his girlfriend Diana who were traveling for the weekend from Quito. They came to do some shopping. Apparently, it is markedly less expensive to do shopping in Medellin, even with the whopping 16% VAT, than it is in Ecuador. The were headed out for a walk and to have some breakfast.

    On this Sunday, as they do in other main cities in Colombia, they close down one of the main roads and set it up as a road for riding bikes, walking and running. The idea being that people have an open space to do exercise and get out a bit.

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-h-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn2/972230_509860689063171_371979721_n.jpg" width="800" height="600" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-d-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash4/482563_509860829063157_738402656_n.jpg" width="720" height="960" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-g-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-frc3/972094_509860812396492_289590485_n.jpg" width="640" height="480" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-f-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn2/971866_509860825729824_1004264543_n.jpg" width="720" height="960" />

    We went for a bite to eat at the Oviedo shopping center and then walked up to Santa Fe to check things out. As we went on to the second story in this very large mall, I kept hearing the familiar sounds of church music, which I found odd at a shopping center.

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-a-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn2/970234_509860765729830_152171750_n.jpg" width="720" height="960" />

    As we swung the next corner the sound became louder and as I looked down I notice a priest standing at the front of the long*corridor*at an alter holding mass. Wow! This was something I had not seen before - mass in a mall. If Mohamed won't go to the mountain... well, you know the rest. All said, I think it is a very progressive and innovative idea and something that at least in Colombia is bring the church closer to the people. Might be an interesting practice to replicate elsewhere.

    The following day I had booked a spot on the Pablo Escobar tour. I had read a number of *books and TV shows about the drug trafficking trade as well as viewed some documentaries. Now I had a chance to view a little piece of history myself. What I didn't know until they picked me up is that this particular tour, there are several in Medellin, is managed and sponsored by Roberto Escobar, Pablo's brother. It was not until recently, 2008, that he completed his jail sentence and after his release he setup this tour to fund an NGO he now runs that does medical research.

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-d-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn1/603652_509858455730061_1857120245_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    The tour first takes you to the building where Pablo lived with is family. This building was bombed by the Cali Cartel in an assassination attempt on Pablo's life. For those who don't know much about Pablo Escobar, it is a subject you ought to learn a little something about, not just for general knowledge, but also because it relates to one of the more challenging periods in Colombia's recent history. Drug*traffickers*were integrated into society's every fabric - business, charity, sports, and politics.

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-c-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash4/310109_509858492396724_597594140_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    The drug trade was so profitable that at one point, in order to negotiate that all charges against him be dropped, Pablo Escobar offered to pay Colombia's foreign debt. It takes some serious wealth for an individual to have the capacity to pay a country's entire foreign debt. Prior to this Pablo also held public office, being a congressman for the Department of Antioquia, where Medellin is.

    Drug traffickers, and specifically Pablo, came from relatively poor families and always remembered their roots. He provided food, housing, and low cost medication for some of the more marginalized communities in Medellin. In contrast. he's also responsible for tens of thousands of deaths, bombing, and for creating a general culture of violence. At least in Medellin there are those who love him and those who hate him. Regardless what side you come down on, there is no running away from the damage he did to the country, a price that is still being paid out in spades today.

    The end of the tour takes you to Roberto's house, one of the few properties that was not seized by the government as it was in Pablo's mother's name.

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-a-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-frc1/482427_509858509063389_205170008_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    Here is the car that was used in the early days to transport processed cocaine from Ecuador to Colombia for re-export, before Pablo had the money to build his own labs.

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-f-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-frc3/970095_509858569063383_1606805773_n.jpg" width="720" height="960" />

    This is a religious image important to Pablo's mother and to him - said to have protected him throughout his life.

    Some of the hiding places within the house... furniture walls, and maybe there are some undiscovered.

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-b-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash3/942106_509858619063378_2131127828_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-h-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn2/971682_509858649063375_227536450_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    The dinning room where Pablo celebrated his last birthday with his family.

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-f-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn2/970692_509858762396697_1020289459_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    Getting to meet and ask questions of Roberto along with get your picture with him.

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-g-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash4/484587_509858665730040_1843778464_n.jpg" width="720" height="960" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-a-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-frc3/960173_509858682396705_1932778761_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    Unfortunately, he can hardly see ever since he opened a letter bomb he received six weeks after Pablo died.



  13. CourtRand

    CourtRand Been here awhile

    Jul 14, 2009
    Quito, Ecuador
    Great ride report and great choice in bike there. We just got a Triumph Tiger 800XC as well for our rental shop and tours here in Ecuador. I think it is one of the best bikes ever made.

    Hope to see you when you get to Quito - let us know if you need anything for your bike or any support...

  14. Cousteau

    Cousteau ...seeking adventure

    Sep 22, 2012
    Guatemala City / Washington, DC
    Hi Courtrand,

    I'm in Otavalo right now. Heading to Quito tomorrow. I'll swing by to say hi in the next few days. Glad to hear the Tiger is meeting your expectations. It's been an amazing bike to ride.
  15. Cousteau

    Cousteau ...seeking adventure

    Sep 22, 2012
    Guatemala City / Washington, DC
    One of the great things about this trip is the little travel routine one falls into. I leave things packed in the evening, with just my clothes for the next day out, and then I head out early. I tend to stop then about mid-morning for a hearty breakfast. This is a typical breakfast while on the road - scrambled eggs, calentado, arepa, and cheese. Calentado es similar to gallo-pinto which you'll typically have in Nicaragua and Costa Rica, but it's made with large brown beans instead of black beans along with rice.

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-c-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn1/945513_512777405438166_616587616_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    While doing research for the trip I kept on finding references to Guatape and its huge monolith, so it was definitely a place to check out.

    We all have ideas in our mind of what to expect when we travel and even more so if we've seen pictures of the place, but Guatape was beyond what I had seen on the web. The first thing that struck me, as I followed the trusty Waze instructions, was that after taking a off shoot road off of the main road to Bogota, was an instruction to take this little paver road that crept up the hillside. As I heard the British lady in my helmet say “keep right” I went up this hill lined with pine trees to my right.

    What I saw next was something entirely unexpected. All the little Spanish-colonial houses had these colorful blocked exterior wainscot or wainscoting (any architect reader please chime in with the correct terms) depicting everyday scenes. These are in a mild relief, giving depth to the scenes. As I rode on, I started going down these narrow cobblestone streets. It really seemed like something out of a fairy tale. I later learned that this was a tradition in Guatape as it is known as the City of the Zocalos - that is what these wainscoting are called in Spanish.

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-h-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash4/431996_512777788771461_1846827212_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-a-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash3/942986_512777448771495_805011021_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-d-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash4/248167_512777535438153_325316382_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-g-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash4/432142_512777685438138_1158220098_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-h-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash3/580335_512777618771478_1172452647_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-a-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash3/942012_512777708771469_404526457_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-d-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-frc3/972350_512777912104782_262585173_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-g-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-frc1/384637_512777458771494_978833368_n.jpg" width="720" height="960" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-b-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-frc3/988263_512777865438120_136553835_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-f-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash3/941730_512777938771446_752938682_n.jpg" width="640" height="480" />

    That afternoon it rained, so I just worked on the ride report and walked around enjoying the town square. I ducked in at a corner bakery for a hot chocolate near the town square and Mariposa kept me company waiting for the rain to stop.

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-e-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash4/480194_512778155438091_1175901767_n.jpg" width="720" height="960" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-f-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn2/969005_512777478771492_587233389_n.jpg" width="720" height="960" />

    The next morning the sun was out and it was time to hit the monolith. This monster rock was first scaled in the mid-1950's, but what really makes this place spectacular is that the flooding of nearby valley which created these amazing views. Because Colombia was entering the rainy season, they had let a great deal of the water out of the dam and the water level was lower than usual. Some didn't like this, but I thought the contrast of the layer of red clay made for more spectacular scenes. Getting to top of the monolith took upwards of 680 steps, so slow and steady was the recipe.

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-c-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash3/945398_512778125438094_1226048564_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-a-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash3/942389_512779898771250_1700105314_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-c-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash4/391654_512779648771275_644733339_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-g-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn1/935363_512779905437916_61560008_n.jpg" width="720" height="960" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-d-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash4/480121_512779805437926_589128955_n.jpg" width="720" height="960" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-d-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn2/969512_512778282104745_2043387317_n.jpg" width="800" height="600" />

    But when you get to the top, this is what you see.

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-f-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash3/944336_512778222104751_1185748992_n.jpg" width="960" height="242" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-g-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash4/294697_512778305438076_436527577_n.jpg" width="960" height="316" />

    So worth it!

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-a-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-frc3/971708_512778345438072_343560112_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-c-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash4/480192_512778412104732_1859328574_n.jpg" width="640" height="480" />

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-e-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash4/378053_512779525437954_656916070_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    After I got down from the rock, I rode down the access road only to be stopped by a police officer letting me know that the road to Guatape would be closed for the next three hours as there was a bicycle race that was doing a circuit that afternoon. I was not in the mood to just sit there and wait, so I asked if there was another route. The officer pointed back up towards the monolith and said to take the fork to the right - that it was about a 20 minute ride around the back way - off I went.

    The road turned into dirt quickly and started weaving through small farms with crops and herds of farm animals at every turn. The views were fantastic, but I needed to concentrate as there was a good amount of mud and rocky patches. After about 20 minutes, I saw a sign for Guatape to the right, and so I took it. I kept going, now going on about 40 minutes when I finally ran into a man with a pickup truck. I asked him how much farther to Guatape. That's when he said that the turn was about 30 minutes back and that I might as well go on another 20 or so minutes to the asphalt road near the town of Granda.

    The one takeaway I have from this experience is that when people look at you on the BIG bike, they automatically cut the amount of time in half, thinking you are some kind of speed demon or that the bike somehow flies. I made it to Granda in another 30 minutes. All said, it was nearly 2 hour journey through that back road. On the plus side, it required a good deal of technical riding and it was good to get some more experience riding off-road. Down side, I still had another hour plus to ride back to Guatape and I was pretty tired from the ride, so I just took it easy and made it back in time for the road to be opened. The irony of the “shortcut” was not lost on me.

    But I got to see the other side of the monolith.

    <img class="alignnone" alt="" src="https://fbcdn-sphotos-d-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn1/936976_512780008771239_64970682_n.jpg" width="960" height="720" />

    The next day I took off early for Honda, the mid-point town between Medellin and Bogota. My good friend Jorge has his family weekend retreat house there, also known as a casa finca. He had suggested I stay there to rest before making my way into Bogota. Who am I to say no?

    On the way there I stopped for the mandatory photo at what little is left of Pablo Escobar's landmark finca - the Hacienda Napoles with its airplane atop of the arch.

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    Jorge's house was amazing and just what the doctor ordered. Tolima, the department where Honda is located is known for being quite warm, but with some spectacular views. The geography is quite different from what I had seen before as it is not the flat savanna of Cordoba, nor the very broken mountains of Antioquia. This was flat land with these mountains that just come out of nowhere, so you get these massive cliffs that rise out of plain flat land.

    I was received at Jorge's house by the care-takers, a lovely couple who just bent backwards to make sure I felt at home. First order of business was to peel off my riding gear and get my swimming trunks on. While I did that a fresh mango off of the tree was prepared for me, along with an ice cold glass of lemonade, also from the fruit trees on the property. I absolutely loved that.

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    Next, the swim. I jumped in the pool and let the cool water work its magic and dissolve the tension in my body from that day's miles. Simply amazing.

    The next morning I was off to Bogota.
  16. Cousteau

    Cousteau ...seeking adventure

    Sep 22, 2012
    Guatemala City / Washington, DC
    I have traveled to Bogotá on many occasions for business, and it is one of my favorite cities - vibrant, engaging, sophisticated, and quite cosmopolitan. This time, even though I would need to take care of some work tasks, I was looking forward to have a more low key and everyday experience.

    I had initially only planned to stay three days, but because Colombia, in order to promote internal/national tourism, put in place a law several years ago that moves nearly all holidays to Monday, allowing for long 3-day weekends. My timing had me arriving the Friday evening before the long weekend, so I ended up staying until Wednesday morning of the next week.

    A good friend of mine would be putting me up, so that would give me a chance to meet some of her social circle and see a different perspective of the city.

    The first order of business upon my arrival was to take care of one the more important parts of the time in Bogota - attack a Todo Terreno burger from El Corral.

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    This is hands down my favorite burger. El Corral is a national chain in Colombia, and although it is considered “fast food” they make your burger to order. Colombia also has this very cool concept of “Gourmet” versions of some of their traditionally fast food restaurants, with a more upscale setup and a more widely varied menu. This concept has been so popular, that even McDonalds had to adapt and setup one of these “Gourmet” versions of their restaurant.

    One of the great places to visit and just people watch while enjoying a coffee, or in my case, a Todo Terreno, is the Parque de la 93 - located, as you might expect, on 93rd street. Bogotá is setup as a grid with numbered Calles and Carreras, so getting around and finding addresses is quite easy.

    While I was eating, I tried to get a hold of my lawyer, as there were some amendments to the business, but as luck would have it, she was likely already in “long weekend mode” and was not able to get a hold of her until the following Tuesday. That evening I would arrive at my friend's Talia's place to meet her and her friend Andres for lively conversation and share a pizza before crashing after a long day or riding.

    The next day, it was time to play tourist, so I headed to the nearby town of Zipaquira to visit the Salt Cathedral. This is an amazing undertaking, carving out a massive Cathedral out of a salt mine inside the mountain. This is only one of two in the world. The other one is in the Czech Republic.

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    When you first arrive you are taken into the mountain through the main entrance through a gradual slope towards a long passageway where the stations of the cross on either side. Each station is setup as a small chapel with individual design aspects.

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    One themes that continues throughout is that each cross is deeper, showing the Christ's increased pain as you move through the Passion.

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    After you complete the stations you arrive at the Cathedral's two chapels and the main nave - 16 meters tall x 8 wide x 200 deep. Impressive!

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    The visual effect of the cross above the altar is incredible. It is actually carved out of the back wall in a negative space, but the way it is lit it appears to float in front of the wall. The side columns are massive, also carved out of the mine's salt rock. To the left of the nave is one of the baptism chapel where a large salt waterfall was created through running a small runoff that has allowed the above rock to dissolve and the salt reconstitutes itself once the water evaporates.

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    A vehicle access is available on the far right-hand side of the main entrance, where the bride lucky enough to marry inside this underground cathedral arrives. There are also a number of shops, a theater that explains the history of the salt deposits formation. Another new and pretty spectacular feature of the cathedral is a scenic wall that is being slowly carved in various stages of nature and some of the native peoples of the region who first started cultivating the salt from the rock as one of the currencies used at the time.

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    This here is a polished dome about 10 meters in diameter in a central chamber before you walk down to the cathedral's nave.

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    The Process

    This cathedral touted as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World is definitely a site to check out while in Bogota!

    Sunday was a day for chillaxing. I went for a long walk around the city, enjoying the quite tranquility. Sunday's are slow days in the city where one of the main thoroughfares is converted into a pedestrian, runner, and cyclist avenue that crosses nearly the entire city. I enjoyed looking at the varied architecture, from smaller Swiss-German cottages to large steel and glass high-rises.

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    The old process of extracting salt from the mine was to drop in ore into large concrete lined wells, fill them with water, and the bottom was lined with wood beams that would let the salt water filter through.

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    The water would then be*siphoned*into a processing pool to begin to evaporate the water and complete the extraction process.

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    The center square is also quite beautiful.

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    That evening I met some friends at the Irish Pub in the Zona T for an evening of discussion on international finance, comparative development policies, and today's political situation in Colombia.

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    It was quite stimulating, especially with some great Belgian beers keeping the conversation company.

    I had been reading a great book titled “Out of Captivity” that tells the story of three US Contractors that were captured by the FARC after their surveillance plane crashes in the Colombian mountains. They were finally released after five years in captivity. It is an amazing story and certainly gave me some interesting insight to share during our conversation that evening.

    The next day Talia and Andres took me out to eat fritanga, a wide assortment of typical dishes, to a place in the outskirts the city. Similar to a buffet, you walk through a number of stations and pick and chose what you want, but the portion sizes are huge, even when you plan to share. It's all placed inside a single flatten basket lined with deli paper.

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    The food was amazing and plentiful. I particularly like the spice of the meat. Tender, juicy, flavorful.

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    The next day I dropped the bike off at the Triumph dealership for its scheduled service and the rest of my time was dedicated to work. I met my colleague Camilo to review the portfolio of potential ERP clients in Colombia. That rolled into the meeting with the lawyer to look over the company's charter, and I closed the day with meeting Marla, a new hire who brings a great deal of accounting and finance experience into the ERP business unit. It has been very interesting to have these work interludes while on travel. The next one I'll have will not be until Popayan in a few weeks where we will have the project launch event with a local pharmacy chain.

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    As a side note, the Triumph dealership in Bogota is fantastic. Its the regional training center for Latin America. All mechanics travel to Bogota for training and certification on Triumph motorcycles. That speaks volumes on the quality and preparations of the staff. And the service is top notch. Rodrigo Sanchez, the business manager, was very welcoming and genuinely interested in my travels and wanted to be sure that the bike would continue to perform in top form. If you are on a Triumph, even if you're not in need of service you should stop by and say hello. Great people!
  17. Cousteau

    Cousteau ...seeking adventure

    Sep 22, 2012
    Guatemala City / Washington, DC
    I think it's important to share not only my ride reports, but also some of the introspective thinking that's coming from this type of experience. As you might imagine, one has a lot of time to think and reflect while riding… loads of “helmet time.”

    These interludes will pop in no particular order and may or may not have to do with something about the trip, but simply small reflective capsules on life.

    So, lets get things started…

    On Traveling Alone

    That is one of the questions I'm most asked… “are you traveling alone?” Depending who I'm speaking with, the answer may vary for safety's sake, but most of the time my response is “yes.”

    I've received all kinds of accolades depending on where I am including “que huevudo”, “sos in berraco”, “bacano”, “que macho”, but for me it's become an intricate part of the adventure.

    When the idea for this motorcycle adventure first started, a friend of mine was going to join me, but a few months into the planning process he pulled out. At first I was quite saddened and even thought of postponing and try to find someone else to travel with me, but all my research pointed to disastrous experiences in building “makeshift” riding teams, especially for as long and likely difficult as this trip would be. Also, I don't belong to a community of bikers from where I could find someone to join me. That turned my thinking to canceling the trip all together. That however is just not who I am.

    I really don't care for “parlanchines” (talkers) that go on and on about what plans they have, what they are going to do, and in the end it's all hot air. If I say I'm going to do something, I try my darnest to follow through with it.

    So I pushed forward with my planning and onto the road.

    What's been my experience??

    It was one of best decisions I've ever made. Sure you run at a higher risk by being alone. If something happens while on the road, particularly in a remote location, you are left to fend for yourself. Also security-wise you make for an easier and juicier target.

    I have found the time by myself to be incredibly rewarding. The time for introspection has really made me appreciate all that I have in my life and what's important. Life on the road keeps things very simple. In the Maslow hierarchy of needs you have the basics covered on most days, but even those are pretty simple - food, shelter, human interaction, etc translate into simple meals at markets, roadside shacks or what you picked up at a store, shelter for me are hostels or little very basic hotels, and human interactions are conversations with gas station attendants, waitresses, or other travelers you run into along the way. You have loads of time for self realization.

    I've also come to realize how little material things you need, and that it is the relationships and the experiences you have that are the most valuable. Obviously you need to be able to cover the first few levels of Maslow's pyramid in order to get there.

    While on your own, people really go out of their way to be helpful when you travel by yourself, possibly because you pose less of a threat and they can empathize with being alone. They will often offer a helping hand, show you around, share a meal, and even a place to stay.

    Complete strangers will quickly become friends and particularly the motorcycle community has really gone out of their way to show me around and even include me in family or social activities. Like I said above, although I've ridden a bike for many years, I have never been part of a motorcycle community, and they have come out with open arms and received a traveler in stellar fashion.

    Thanks to each of you for being such a special part of this great adventure.

    If you are wondering if you should go on your own adventure on your own, don't give it another thought. Get on your bike and go!
  18. Cousteau

    Cousteau ...seeking adventure

    Sep 22, 2012
    Guatemala City / Washington, DC
    So, overall I cannot recommend Armenia, the city in Colombia, as a tourism destination. The city center is dilapidated, dirty, and with few redeeming qualities.

    This could of course be influenced by me arriving through afternoon traffic, park the bike at a makeshift parking lot at the town square only to get hit with a torrential downpour the second I take my first step onto the sidewalk.

    I rushed to the corner and quickly ducked into a small cafeteria, shaking off the water from my windbreaker as I looked for a place to sit. There was a small table with two chairs near the serving bar. I took a seat and ask the lady behind the counter for one of the bread rolls behind the glass and a coffee - a "tinto".

    While I was waiting for my order, the place got crowded as people were getting out of the rain. The next thing I knew, I was sitting among a cross-section of Armenia's society.

    Next to me a couple of fellows from the phone company grabbed the table, but the third chair didn't stay empty for long. A tall very thin lady rushed in, grabbed the chair and started going off on a rampage about how the government was entirely corrupt and in bed with the FARC. "They are all terrorists!" It was all part of ploy to mis-use “our taxes” - although I doubt she had paid her fair share in quite some time. Her volume was quite loud, loud enough to be heard over the downpour, she kept going on about how Santos, the current president, and Alvaro Uribe, the previous president are in cahoots together and making money had over fist. If you know anything about Colombian history and politics you'd know that this lady was completely off her rocker.

    Then as if on a cue while the crazy emaciated lady took a breath from her rant, a dark, dirty, and quite smelly man who I could only assume was homeless walks in and right behind him is a small heard of dogs - I counted five in all. He grabbed a table and in almost perfect synchronicity the dogs plopped down beside him. The chap had not even gotten comfortable in his chair before the proprietor lady came up to him and asked "what he was going to order, otherwise you have to leave." And just as quickly as he came in, he and his cadre of mutts were out the door and back into the rain.

    At the far corner near the entryway was an old gentleman, probably in his late 70´s. I noticed he was there when I walked in. He was slightly hunched over, tending to his cup of coffee. Then, out of the rain two ladies came in and sat at his table, as if they knew the man they started chatting him up. As they removed their coats you could immediately tell that they were no ordinary ladies… but rather, ladies of the night.

    The first, was in full regalia and ready for business. A short purple leather-like mini-dress and with so much make-up you could see Cover Girls stock shoot up. The second young lady, although you could tell she was also in the business, had been sidelined for quite some time. She was wearing short shorts, a tight t-shirt, but her hair was a mess, no make-up, and her hand was in a cast. I guess she must have been on worker's comp.

    As they sat there and were talking to the older gentleman, I came to realize how long it had in fact been since the second girl had worked. I noticed that she had a dolphin tattoo on her calf, but the odd thing was that the entire back of the dolphin had a shadow that simply looked out of place. On closer inspection, I realized that the tattoo didn't have a shadow at all, but rather the dolphin had a harry back.

    So, while I sat back and sipped my coffee, this is how I spent my afternoon in Armenia waiting for the rain to pass… watching life happen before me.
  19. Cousteau

    Cousteau ...seeking adventure

    Sep 22, 2012
    Guatemala City / Washington, DC
    Built on two sides of a steep ridge, Manizales is one of the major urban centers of the Eje Cafetero. Similar in many ways to its big brother Medellin, it's people are warm, extremely helpful, and rightfully proud of their city.

    It has however, it's own set of distinct characteristics that set it apart. Manizales, a budding metropolis, still conserves many of the traits is a small town. People are open, welcoming, and dying to show you the best their city has to offer. That, at least, is what I experienced.

    I rode up from Armenia stopping by in Salento.

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    Down in the valley runs a river that feeds the nearby trout farms.

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    That's where I treated myself to a delicious double cilantro trout accompanied by a canelazo, a traditional cinnamon and fruit hot beverage - oftentimes spiked with liquor - to warm the bones.

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    The ride down a narrow and twisty road into the valley, following the stream, was through thick fog, so I was more than ready for the Canelazo.

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    After lunch, I punched into my phone the hostel where I would be staying in Manizales and Waze took care of the rest. A few hours later, after riding in contestant drizzle, I arrived into something very unexpected. The city is constructed on, what would seem, the side of a cliff. The streets are on extreme incline, some surpassing 45 degrees. I noticed this as this was the first time I actually felt the ABS in the brakes as I squeezed the lever and pushed on the peddle and I came to a complete stop through a bit of break-sputter. I'm sure other riders can relate, but that was new to me - an odd sensation for sure. But even on wet asphalt and some of the steepest streets I've ever seen, I did not skid once - so two hurrahs for ABS.

    Lassio Hostal would be my home for the next few days. I lucked out as not only did they have room for me in a very posh and upscale room compared to what I had been used to in other hostels, but also a full garage to store the bike and my gear!!

    Hardwood floors, down comforter with duvet, and included breakfast of fresh fruit plate and eggs to order. I think the international hostel standard of lumpy bed, lukewarm coffee, hard roll, margarine and diluted fruit jam has not arrived in Manizales yet… lets keep it that way. The staff were also terrific, pointing out the points of interest as well as being genuinely interested in my travels. I think I must have been the first motorcyclist to stop by.

    My good friend Jorge from Bogota, you may recall his Casa Finca in Honda on my way into Bogota… well, he has a call center in Manizales and had suggested I get a hold of Hanns, his operations manager, when I arrived, and so I did.

    We met that evening in an Irish pub on the main drag, Avenida Santander. This street IS the happening place in Manizales. All the “places to see and be seen” are there, and once the night falls, the Paisas come out to play. By the time we made it out of the pub around 11ish, the place was hopping with packed restaurants, bars, and clubs with music coming from everywhere. Also, the cruising started, in both cars and on bikes, from little 80cc scooters to larger 650 racing bikes.

    After my great breakfast the next morning, it was time to try to go up to see the Nevado del Ruiz, one of the few volcanos in Colombia that has snow year round. I had second thoughts about heading up as the rain had not let up since the day before, but the staff at the hostel insisted that the weather pattern up at that altitude could be completely different.

    Well, I started my way up there, going through some spectacular spiraling roadway as I headed out of the city and then I started to climb, and climb, and climb. I could feel my ears pop every few minutes. I had been told that the ride up there could be close to an hour and a half to two hours, so I figured the whole trip would be close to five to six hours depending of photo opps. Well, then I started to hit the road construction. All the rain had caused of few washouts and in some spots the road was closed 45 minutes each way…

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    I hit one of those… grrrrr

    So, I only ended up having to wait about 30 minutes, but I made darn sure I made my way up to the front of the line, was not about to be hanging back with all the trucks. About 30 minutes later I hit the turnoff to the little road that takes you up to the National Park of the Nevado del Ruiz. This was a little one lane paved road that twisted up the mountain. Mind you all this time it still rained, the fog got thicker, and every second on that little road the temperature dropped.

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    I pulled off to the side at one of the natural lagoons that have formed up there, this one is called, Laguna Negra, and I pulled out my cold weather clothes, thicker gloves, long sleeve shirt, fleece jacket, neck gaiter (pescuezo),

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    and closed off all the vents in jacket and pants. Ok, back on the bike and lets climb some more. I rode up for another 25 minutes and finally, after I could no longer take the cold and I was going no faster than 25km/hr because my visibility was about 3 mts I decided to hang it up and head back. Alas, the Nevado was not to be.

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    Fortunately, on the way back my timing was great and I hit the 45 minute wait just as they were opening up traffic heading down to Manizales.

    That afternoon I went to the movies and had one of the famous Todo Terreno hamburgers from El Corral, figuring that this would likely be my last Todo Terreno before leaving Colombia.

    The next day I played tourist with Hanns, staring with a tour of the Call Center. These were world-class installations with hundred of operators running accounts in at least three countries in Latinamerica. I can see Jorge has been busy these last few years - IMPRESSIVE!

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    We then headed out on the bikes to see the sites of Manizales. It was an amazing day, starting with going up to the overlook to where you could see the entire city.

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    We then drove around to a few other sites on the hilltop including having a classic snack composed of yogurt, fruit, caramel, and dulce de leche - not exactly light, but very refreshing and delicious.

    Meet Hanns everyone...


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    We also hit Founders Park, a historical site dedicated to the founders of the city with some great sculpture.

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    I even got interviews by some students doing a project for the tourism institute of Manizales.

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    Next, we went downtown to the tower of the Polish architectural-style cathedral in Manizales main square.

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    This is the only one of its kind in South America. This Gothic style church really does make you feel like you are stepping out of Colombia and into Cracow.

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    It even had it's ominous-looking bird perched on of the the towers.

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    This is the same type of bird that I almost crashed into when heading to Guatape. They are called Gallinazo and eat all kinds of dead vermin.

    From there we walked a few blocks through some of the historical district of the city

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    up to one of the public transport wonders - their own modern cable car system - perfect of this geography.

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    I don't think I'd been in a cable car in at least 10 years… a very cool experience.

    Then it was time to head back to the hostel, pack up the bike and gear as we were headed to Hanns family's weekend retreat in Santagueda. We met up in front of the call center and started weaving through town towards where we would pick up Hanns girlfriend Diana. I would only be staying the night, but they were looking forward to making a weekend out of it.

    Nightfall hit us, but the rest of the route was through some great twisty roads, all lit with street lighting. I had not seen anything like that before in Colombia. Later I learned that this was the new highway to Pereira, one of the other main cities of the Eje Cafetero.

    We arrived in Santagueda, picked up some dinner, and headed to the apartment. It was located in the private condominium complete with two pools, soccer pitch, volleyball and tennis courts and all sorts of outdoor activities. That evening we talked a bit, showed them some pictures of my trip and told some tales, had some good food, listened to music and called it a night… it had been a long day.

    The next morning I got up early, took a dip in the pool, packed up, said my thanks and my goodbyes and headed south to my next stop, Cali!!!

    I want to give a very special thanks to Hanns. He really went out of his way to make my stay in Manizales pretty spectacular. He's a very charming, kind, and warm-hearted fellow who really put his best foot forward to show a complete stranger who would later become his friend, the best Manizales has to offer. I for one, loved the city and what it has to offer. I can certainly see why Jorge has total confidence in him. I will definitely be back!
  20. Cousteau

    Cousteau ...seeking adventure

    Sep 22, 2012
    Guatemala City / Washington, DC
    It has been several weeks since I was in a place that is flat and wide. Not since I left the savanna of Cordoba as I headed to Medellin had a seen such large expanses with a horizon that goes on forever.

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    I had left the Eje Cafetero early in the day and decided not to stop over in Pereira, so I made it to Cali by mid afternoon. I had left the cold and rainy mountainous region and was loving the warm afternoon sun hitting my back as I cruised into Cali.

    Although Manizales is a proper city, it still had a small town feel. Cali immediately hit me as a mature metropolis filled with loads of history and certainly the hustle and bustle of a city. The first thing that I noticed was… yes, you guessed it, traffic - and this was a Sunday afternoon. As I got further into the city, I pulled over into a gas station and punched in the name of the hostel where I would be staying, Hostal Ruta Sur, in the San Antonio district. This is the old colonial part of the city.

    Some of the buildings are run down, but you can quickly tell this part of town is seeing a renaissance with lots of renovation and conservation going on. Some of the buildings are absolutely spectacular - and I was just about to be one of the lucky ones to be able to stay in one of these completely restored beauties.

    The hostel didn't have a sign in front, only the street number, so I went around the block a second time to be sure I was in the right address. It's happened to me in the past that some of the streets, believe it or not, have more than one building/house with the same number. On the second go-around I stopped, pulled my essential gear off the bike and rang the door bell.

    A young lass opened the door and as I inquired about a room, Claudia, the proprietor came out to greet me. She said that it would be fine to bring in the bike, but that for that night, she only had beds in the dorm room. “that's fine with me”.

    I took the side cases off, as it was a narrow passage into the courtyard. I popped the curve, negotiated the narrow double leaf door and parked the bike next to the hammock, yes, hammock. As I pulled the rest of my gear from the bike and stowed my hard-cases out of the way, I was handed a cold amber bottle with a refreshing frothy beverage in it. “You looked like you needed this” - I was immediately sold on this place! The rest of my stay at Ruta Sur was filled with great conversation, superb tips and information of the city and amazing service. If you are traveling to Cali, this is the place to stay.

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    After getting settled in, grabbing a much needed shower, I headed out to explore. Claudia had recommended walking up a few blocks to San Antonio Park where I would find a number of restaurants and bistros. Also, starting around 8 o'clock, the “Cuentistas” would start telling their tales. This is an amazing tradition in Cali, where Thursday through Sunday, story tellers and comedians of sorts entertain in an open air amphitheater at the top of the park working basically for tips. It did not disappoint.

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    Since I had to refuel the food tank, I got there after the cuentistas had started, so I had to stand in the back. I stayed for nearly an hour laughing and laughing. As I headed out, right next to the cuentista was a small stretch of concrete on a hillside next to the Church of San Antonio where kids would rent Coca-Cola bottle crates and ride them down the hill. They were having an absolute ball.

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    The next day it was time to drop off the bike at the Triumph dealer to get the tires swapped out. Here come the Heidenau Scouts.. Yippeeee! These are some badass tires that will take me the rest of the trip and give me the grip I need to do some of the off-road stuff I want to do in Peru and Bolivia. I had shipped them ahead from Monteria so I wouldn't have to keep carrying them. Smart move if I do say so myself, as it was only $10 to do so.

    I typed the address in trusty Waze and off I went… or so I thought. The address was for 6 Avenida, so Waze, sure enough, takes me to 6 Avenida. After about three times around the same block looking for the dealer with no luck, I stopped at a newsstand and asked if I was on the 6 Avenida. The attendant affirmed that I was, but also was kind enough to inform me that there was a 6 Avenida, a 6B Avenida and a 6A Avenida. After those handy instructions, I quickly made my way to the Triumph Dealership.

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    Quick Spanish lesson… in Spanish, the way you would write out 1st, 2nd, 3rd and so forth is by adding an “A” after the number… so it's 1a, 2a, 3a… 6a… so sure enough, the address was 6a Avenida. So, after getting a few more instructions, I got to 6a A Avenida and sure enough, there was the Triumph dealership and Andres ready to meet me.