And so it begins...

Discussion in 'Epic Rides' started by Malindi, May 2, 2012.

  1. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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    July 31, 2012 - The ride to the border was mostly fast on good roads, and once there, we wasted no time and enlisted the assistance of a "helper" to speed us through the process.

    The dire warnings of previous travelers, documented painstakingly on Drive Nacho Drive and Life Remotely, two websites run by travelers who were a few months ahead of us, proved invaluable. Mistakes on documentation, insurance forms and vehicle permits are rife and even after a few rounds of corrections, mine were still incorrect. I was assured at the border that the manual corrections, extra stamps and signatures would suffice.

    Hours later we rolled into pitch-black Panama City, a place so developed we felt teleported back to cities the likes of San Francisco. The hostel where our fellow container dwellers resided was full, so we ended up in Hotel Latino. To say this place is a caricature of Central American life would be an understatement. We lugged our bags to our hotel rooms, dodging curious looks from bespectacled business people and prostitutes alike. Later we ran into a "shaman" who was staying in our hotel, wandering around bare feet but assuring us he was "enlightened" as well as able to program an Android device. Since he was Swiss, we presumed he was expelled from his home country with good reason.

    The next day at 8:00 AM, we met Amy (Tea's daughter) and the other drivers and cars and rode in convoy to the police inspection, our first frustrating stop in the hurry up and wait game that was to be our lot the next few days.

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    Not only the riff-raff needs to have the correct VIN numbers on their various permits, even the the elite don't escape. Note the pre-Euro Italian license plate.

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    Of course the various stamps and corrections were rejected on my paperwork and together with Amy, I went off to customs to get things straightened out. What would be a simple five minute affair in any other country turned into an hour and half ordeal, despite Amy's excellent management of insolent and lazy officials to get things done. A guy waiting next to us was told his paperwork would take two days to process. He just remained seated, infusing guilt into the woman who brusquely rejected him, only to receive his paperwork a few minutes later. We later heard from our Argentinean container mates that even by South American standards, the Panamanian process was horribly inefficient.

    The next day we were to meet at the "Super 99 Mercado", apparently the only one in town. We found three of them online the night before and of course the four parties didn't end up in the same spot at the agreed upon time. This was in Colon, the port from which we were sailing, described as "dangerous" by a native of Johannesburg. In the end, we found one another and we set off to customs with Luis, our handler in Colon.

    We spent a few hours waiting here and there.

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    Finally, the drivers of the four vehicles were allowed into the port to load the cargo. But where was our container?

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    Success at last. After three days of running around to police checks, clearance to leave the country, customs checks and rechecks, we had a full container.

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    We grouped together behind the container and counted cash to hand over to Luis. Nobody ever mentioned first world concepts like "cargo insurance", "dangerous goods inspection" or the like and after seeing the container closed and sealed we bid farewell to our babies.
  2. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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    August 3, 2012 - After three days in which we barely had time to eat, we focused on the simple delights in life, like sleeping in and eating breakfast. After that, we headed into the old town called "casco historico".

    The old Panama City clings to its rich history through countless grandiose buildings in various states of disrepair.

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    The old town is in full reconstruction mode in every nook and cranny. Below is a good idea of a "before" and "after" picture when it's all done.

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    The place very much feels like it could turn into the next Havana, with parts of the city wonderfully restored while other areas miss out on much needed repairs.

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    Some places, like this concert hall, have been meticulously maintained throughout the decades.

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    Graffiti is everywhere.

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    The new city, seen from "casco historico".

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    As always, there are more pictures in this slideshow. Tomorrow we'll head for the Panama Canal.
  3. England-Kev

    England-Kev Long timer

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    Fantastic stuff, I am hooked.
    I might try to meet up with you in France or Belgium, to buy you both a beer or two:freaky Ride safe, have fun.

    K
  4. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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    August 4, 2012 - The ultimate tourist trap in Panama is the Panama Canal. It's really not all that wide and at any given point there are far larger ships hanging around the harbor in Vancouver. We were expecting towering ships of unimaginable size.

    We saw one "panamax" vessel, boats built specifically for the canal to shuttle containers back and forth to be loaded onto ships too large for the canal. I suppose if you don't live near a harbor it's worth a visit.

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    We were expecting the canal to be busy, with ships lined up on both ends trying to get through, but when we arrived, we were told we needed to wait about four hours prior to the next arrival. We bailed on the canal and went to Albrook Mall. One of the things I wanted to do was buy a wifi USB stick as my laptop range was limited.

    Upon our return, the place was packed and two ships were arriving.

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    It had started raining and we bailed failure soon afterwards, beating the crowds to the waiting taxis.

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  5. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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    August 12, 2012 - A large majority of people in the world spend their time waiting. It's often not clear for what. Maybe for harvest season, maybe for their life to improve. Waiting was the start of our South American adventures.

    Our entry into South America went smoothly enough. Aside from the fact I was questioned about a bottle of contact lens solution - do you have beer in there? - and the merciless confiscation of Jan's rusted nail clipper at customs, we swiftly swapped continents in a short one hour flight that was probably one of the most expensive I've ever flown for the distance covered. That was the easy part. A fabulous little hotel in the shanty towns of the old city of Cartagena was the other highlight of day one.

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    Coincidentally, the welder who fixed my broken side stand, a result of the container shipment, is the shirtless guy standing in the doorway of the picture below. The building behind him is the workshop.

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    In the evening, we connected with our container mates and the next morning, bright and early, we headed to the port, hoping to clear the bikes out that day. I can lament for hours at the incompetence, bureaucracy and administrative stupidity that would give any African country a run for its money, or I can just stick to the statistics to give you a sanitized version of what we went through.

    Elapsed time to get out bikes out of the port: two days. Taxi rides taken: eight to ten. Hours waited in various air-conditioned offices: about fifteen. Hours waited outside: about five. Photocopies made: about fifty in three or four different locations. Hours worn a hard hat: about five. Signatures and fingerprints taken: countless. People allowed into the port to actually empty the container of bikes and cars: one, yours truly. The fact it only took two days was solely because we had two Argentineans with us who carried out all the negotiations and did so in a very professional manner. We were mere wallflowers in the whole process.

    Needles to say, we will never do it this way again. For those considering something similar, drop me a line and I can fill you in on some of the details.

    The next few days we did absolutely nothing, aside from wander through town. Cartagena is a beautiful old town, very safe and very expensive in places.

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    I walked through town and shot a handful of pictures.

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    It's always fun to shoot alongside a professional photo shoot, I'm sure much to the chagrin of the photographer.

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    I hopped into the gold museum as well. Aside from the fact that the items on display were very interesting, they were mounted in such a way it was a pleasure to take some pictures without a distracting background. The lighting was superb.

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    Cartagena also seems to house a fair number of graffiti artists. At one point I found an entire street covered in graffiti.

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    After a few lazy days we are heading into the mountains. Mainly to do some hiking but also to escape the heat and humidity.
  6. slide

    slide A nation in despair

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    Odd. I've read some accounts of this passage and nobody I can remember said they had nearly as many problems or hassles as you guys had. I wonder if they failed to mention it or if things have changed recently.
  7. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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    You may want to read up on two blogs:

    - drive nacho drive
    - life remotely

    They had the same issues we had. It's not uncommon
  8. slide

    slide A nation in despair

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    Nacho drive?

    "My transmission failed in Monterrey so I replaced it with a Nacho Drive. Cheesy, but it works."
  9. chelo5sur

    chelo5sur Been here awhile

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    Nice pictures.
    Thanks for sharing with us.
  10. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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    You're welcome
  11. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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  12. slide

    slide A nation in despair

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    Interesting. The Nacho folks seem on permanent vacation & enjoying it too.
  13. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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    August 16, 2012 - On the way to El Cocuy, we made a few stops. The first one was in Curumani, a wide spot on the road infested with small hotels and even more places to eat. It was a truck stop town with some charm.

    The next day we did minor motorcycle maintenance in Curumani as the trip odometer crept towards the 20,000 km mark. In the afternoon, we rode to Bucaramanga. Finally we gained some altitude and the temperature dropped. There were few things of note on the ride, maybe the fact I raced with a police motorcycle around trucks, double yellow lines be damned. They were riding two up and the pillion passenger grinned and gave me a thumbs up as he clutched his AR15 assault rifle and held on for dear life.

    When we arrived in Bucaramanga, we casually informed at the police station as to hotels in the area. This resulted in a call to the tourist police and a two-up motorcycle escort to suitable accommodation, with the cops getting us a better than posted rate. Initially the hotel staff were a little shaken by the whole affair but warmed up to us when it became apparent we were mere tourists and not corrupt officials who needed a place to stay.

    The next day we arrived, after some of the best riding since Chiapas in Mexico and Guatemala, in a small place called Barichara. It turns out that Barichara is probably one of those towns you will never forget. We felt we'd walked into a fairytale.

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    The town looks like it is nearly totally restored like it was originally built. We couldn't figure out why the place wasn't overrun with tourists like Antigua is in Guatemala. I guess we have to thank the FARC in part. The outside world also still views Colombia in terms of cocaine and Pablo Escobar. Reality is quite different and Medellin is now a must-see place on the Colombian travel calendar.

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    It turns out that Barichara is mainly visited by people from Bogota and Bucaramanga on weekends.

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    At some point in our walk around town, Baroque music wafted through the streets and we stumbled upon a practicing American/Colombian ensemble. A few concerts were planned, one of which we attending. The church's acoustics were amazing. Unlike my last attendance at the Vancouver symphony where someone clad in a noisy North Face jacket managed to ruin all the quiet passages of a performance by St. Martin-in-the-fields a few years ago, people here seem to be more attentive and appreciative. The performers are Ensemble La Rocinante and Coral Lux Aeterna.

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    Numerous streets in town are broken up to replace the sewer system. Stone masons are everywhere and debating the correct location of new stone slabs. It's a carefully orchestrated process and nothing is left to chance. The whole town has a museum-like quality and consistency of appearance that is simply amazing. A neon sign here surely attracts a death sentence.

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    A little further away from the town centre, the housing style is clearly a little different, but very much along the same lines.

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    On one of the afternoons when we were out for a stroll, we ran into Gringo Mike, an American who runs a restaurant/hotel in San Gil, a small town near here. He told us this hamlet was one of the most amazing places in Colombia. We can believe it.

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    There are a lot more pictures in the slideshow for Barichara.
  14. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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    August 18, 2012 - Things don't always work out as planned. Our next stop was Villa de Leyva, playground of the Bogota up and coming crowd, silicone central, and with a palpable electric ambiance. Alas, it was not to be.

    A quick excursion around town netted a few hotels in the +$180 range and not much else. Admittedly, it was a Colombian long weekend and the crowds were on a mission to have fun. We had to admit defeat and scurried on to Tunja. It wasn't the liveliest city in the world and a bit drab, reminiscent of the old Eastern Europe prior to German unification. Our hotel was definitely "old glory", but for a night it served its purpose.

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    Even our bikes found a place inside. Jan's made it all the way into the restaurant.

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    The next day we pressed on and ended up in Soata. We were once reminded why this country is motorcycle heaven. Twisties, vistas and smooth tarmac.

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    Soata is a town neither too large nor too small. Without a real purpose, it sits somewhere. The place lacked inspiration, reflected in the woman who ran the hotel we stayed at. She seemed pained to have to deal with yet another customer.

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    We debated what would be worse, live in a town without a soul where the path from birth to death is paved with the stones of predictability or live in squalor in Cartagena, with a chance to move up. The answer was unclear.

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  15. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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    August 20, 2012 - From Soata we headed towards El Cocuy, our jumping off point for a few hikes in the national park. The road leaving Soata was stellar for the first 24 kilometers, with not a single section of straight road to be seen. We were flipping back and forth through the turns like giddy children. This is what riding in Colombia is all about.

    Need I say more?

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    El Cocuy used to be FARC-central, but in the last few years, the FARC has been driven back far enough to declare the area safe.

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    This was the first thing I saw when I got here, goats being loaded onto a bus.

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    We sported a similar grin earlier in the day when we were flipping through the twisties.

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    These guys were bemused by us taking their picture.

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    We also wandered around the local cemetery, quite an interesting one too.

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    After an afternoon of rest and a long chat with a local mountain guide, we'd picked a few potential hiking options. Given some of the feedback from other riding buddies, we decided to stop off at Hacienda La Esperanza, halfway between El Cocuy and Guican when you follow the dirt road. We're glad we did. The place was really something.

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    While the bike took a little rest, we donned our hiking gear and made for even higher ground.

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    Our goal for the day was Laguna Grande de la Sierra, with an intermediate pass at around 4,000 meters. La Esperanza was at 3,600 meters. A few hours into our hike, the weather turned nasty quickly and we decided to capitulate.

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    A few more inquiries later it was clear the weather was too unpredictable at this time of year to do any serious hiking. Our grand plans for a five day circuit tour were shelved after some navel gazing. Later in the evening I got to enjoy my first ever bout of altitude sickness and slept for twelve or so hours straight.
  16. slide

    slide A nation in despair

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    4,000 m or anything above 3,600 m is serious business for a flat lander such as yourself. We used to have flat landers express distress in Denver which is about 1,500 m. Of course, that was usually after they'd had a few drinks, too.
  17. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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    Oh I've been over 6K too, but then I was smarter and took a few days in stages to acclimatize :muutt
  18. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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    August 31, 2012 - From El Cocuy, we headed back towards Tunja and ended up in the same hotel we stayed at earlier. The next day, we went to a place called Guatavita.

    Guatavita is a small place close to Bogotá. Despite it being a tourist town for local Colombians, we saw relatively few hotels and ended up in a fairly modest "hospedaje" for the night.

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    The tower in the background of the picture above is the centre of town. You can walk across town in half an hour. We had an incredibly good chicken meal, dining al fresco, and later wandered back into town. On the way, we came across a small window from which home made cake was sold by an English woman who had lived in the town on her own for the last eight years. She'd been in Colombia for over forty years and was still lamenting the loss of a lover thirty five years ago. A wonderful eccentric, she had a nice house with a rooms dedicated to singing, painting and playing guitar.

    The next day we pushed on to Medellin, via Bogotá. On the way, we got lost a few times as the GPS tracks turned from solid road into goat tracks. Eventually we made it to Bogotá, being overtaken on the highway at one point by at least ten or so M- series BMWs with their engines wound out and screaming like tortured pigs, flying by at blistering speed.

    In Medellin, we ended at Casa Kiwi, a hostel in the middle of upscale Medellin called Poblado. We're going to hang here for a while and relax. Our pace of travel had decreased drastically. In May, we filled up the bikes eighteen times, ten times in June, eight times in July and four times in August.

    Medellin is an interesting place. There are no spectacular highlights, but rather a collection of smaller things to see.

    This is the view from the top of the cable cart, part of the metro system, where a very modern library was built in a poorer neighborhood.

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    The downtown core can be seen in the distance.

    A visit to Museo de Antioquia was probably the most interesting visit so far in Medellin, although it is filled with Fernando Botero's art, mainly portraying corpulent people.

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    The life and death of Pablo Escobar is widely "celebrated" in Medellin as well, with tours dedicated to his influence in the city.

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    Medellin has a fair bit of public art as well.

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    Despite the statues and paintings, real life on the streets of Medellin is far more enjoyable. The city is filled with well proportioned females, a large percentage of them admittedly aided by modern medicine, although no field test were conducted.

    The museum of modern art is something to give a miss when in Medellin.

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    In the time that we arrived, a few more bikers have flocked in. The count now stands at five, with an Englishman, American and Australian on motorcycle adventures of some kind or other residing at Casa Kiwi. Medellin is the city of "eternal spring", with year round temperatures hovering between 22 and 28 degrees centigrade and no humidity to speak of. It's comfortable here but at some point we will have to move on.

    I've also started pursuing photography a bit more aggressively and am applying to a few stock photo agencies.
  19. Mike_drz

    Mike_drz Banned

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    even buda need to lose some of its weight it seems :D I know I know it's just arts :lol3



    _______________________
    no wonder I fall into ditch everywhere :rofl these days :evil
  20. Oldone

    Oldone One day at a time!

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    It's so amazing how many places that these ride reports take us. I've seen more photos and have read more interesting things here then anywhere else. Thanks much for taking the time for the rest of us. It's for sure that I'll never have the chance to do anything like this in real life so reading here is the next best thing.

    Gary "Oldone" :gerg

    Grampa’s Lake Superior Ride

    Grampa’s National Monument Ride