Tales from the Saddle

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by klous-1, Nov 29, 2010.

  1. JGBrown

    JGBrown Been here awhile

    Sep 15, 2010
    Vancouver, Canada
    I've enjoyed your trip report since long before the campsite in Antigua. I'm still jealous of your ability to find the coolest places to camp. You made a convert out of me, I've got a 250 almost ready to go for when I can escape Canada again.

    Your writing has improved so much since the start. This has always been a good read, but lately you're hitting the level where I can't help but visualize what you saw and I feel like I'm right there.

    Your photography looks like it's also maturing too, the photos with your new camera are really something.:clap

    Hope you and the new bike are well.
  2. GuateRider

    GuateRider Long timer

    Jan 2, 2008
    Antigua , Guatemala
    Great writing and pics,even if you call my glasses gay looking :D
    Suerte mi amigo
  3. klous-1

    klous-1 Man on a bike

    Dec 12, 2009
    Muchas bladdy Gracias chum! No, en serio, gracias, tengo mucho agredezco. (No puedo hechizo esta nunca)

    Pero....No esta tu gafas, esta tu.

    Espero que todo esta bien con tu preparacions? Sabes cuando sale?

    Now please correct my Spanish...if you can even understand it....I try really.

    Hope all is well, let me know if you want any help with anything....
  4. klous-1

    klous-1 Man on a bike

    Dec 12, 2009
    Thanks Jeremey, that's really, really nice of you to say so! Ahhh, the good old days in Antigua! So long ago!
    A 250! IS it writen about anywhere on here, would love to read about it! Any ideas when you will leave, and where to?

    My bike is doing ok, it is very sensitive to altitude mind you (me included actually!) and have been struggling to keep up with "Jedimaster" on his DR650...I've always loved his bike and am thinking that soon I'll be getting one! Well, I need some money first! Maybe the 400 though!

    He's also trying to persuade me to go down the SLR route....did you get one yet, or still working with the Sigma? Also, is there a website for the photographer you met in Antigua, I'd be interested to see his pics.

    Thanks for reading, and especially for the comment!
  5. klous-1

    klous-1 Man on a bike

    Dec 12, 2009
    Just typing u the Darien Gap crossing too, so watch this space....or one slightly below it....
  6. klous-1

    klous-1 Man on a bike

    Dec 12, 2009
    'Well, at least it has a crane,' says Olivier, sighing a slight amount of relief as we get our first glimpse of 'La Victoria,' the boat of largely rotten planks painted green and white that will take us one step closer to Colombia, as far as the town of Jaque. Satt deep amidst the jungles of Darien, Jaque is still in Panama but close enough to smell the drug smuggling FARC of Colombia.

    'I'll be happier when the bikes are on, we're on and we're on our way.' I reply, anxiously viewing the huge mound of cargo still sitting on the dock waiting to be loaded.
    'They can't be putting all that on,' says Oli, ever the optimist, 'it must be for another boat.' Though I can sense even Olivier's doubt.
    'Maybe,' I say, calculating space, as a man adds steel rods to the mound and to my equation of; bricks, cement, fridges, washing machines, wood, galvanise, rice, beer, fizzy drinks, steel girders and the ubiquitous can't-go-anywhere-without-one....chicken...alive.

    And let's not forget the two motorbikes.

    We sit there atop of pallets of cement, eating bananas as the 9pm departure time comes and goes, darkness falls, Panama City lights up, and on the dock the bikes, the fridges, the washing machines and the TVs stand still...waiting, waiting. But, feeling they have space to spare the men start bringing twenty 200litre drums of petrol to the edge of the dock, the loading of which allows us to see first-hand the man-powered winch/crane, that will load the bikes, in action.

    'Action; exciting or notable activity.' OED

    With the boat floating - surprisingly - several feet below the level of the dock, the crane isn't actually tall enough to lift the barrels from the ground to then lower them. Therefore the method of loading is somewhat unorthodox. First, each drum is strapped at its waist..... second, it is hooked to the winch a few feet lower and finally, each drum is given a firm shove off the dock. The forth step comes soon, and with violent intensity, as the slack is taken up by the winch, then the barrel swings abruptly around over the other side of the boat - the jib controlled only by a rope held by a inattentive worker - and finally lowered hastily before the barrel should pop from strangulation by the ever-tightening strap at its waist.

    Silence seems to fall over Panama City as Oli and me simultaneously picture not a drum of petrol, but our beloved bikes being shoved off the dock in similar fashion. We look at each other in shocked disbelief, shaking our heads.

    'Well, we've paid now,' says Oli with lightheartedness, 'so we're fucked.'

    And we laugh........albeit weakly.

    We'd looked at every option we could think of to get to Colombia; Pacific Ocean sailing yachts, other cargo boats, light aircraft and, as well, motorboats from another small port 300km south, La Palma; though we were turned back by police on our way there...leaving us only one option: La Victoria. We thought we struck a good price at $125 each...but I wonder now if that were so.

    Back on the dock, bored, Oli's goes for a walk, passing men bringing crates of 'Pony Malt' drink and a bare-chested worker comes over to me, I'd noticed him earlier, he looked hard, trouble, and maybe drunk. He speaks to me in short grunts, like an ape, maybe assuming my Spanish nonexistent, 'Boat full. Grunt. Bike on. Grunt. You pay.' he says.
    'Don't think so. I think it's okay. The bike's don't take much space, no problem. And, I've paid the boss already.'
    'Plata!' he says slappping his upturned palm. I shake my head, shrug my shoulders and ignore him, he'll load them eventually, and so I return to my thoughts, worrying about the enxt stage in the journey from Jaque, when Oli returns with the boss and with his help, soon the bikes are lined up for loading.

    'You gotta push 'em,' says the boss, 'this isn't America!'

    But this turn of events riles the bare-chested barrel-bellied bully, undermined by the boss, he's not happy with him and looks to stamp his authority with an iron fist and foul mouth, shouting at the boss, and then the security guard, who's come to see what the commotion is, and a tennis match of abuse ensues, escalating all the while.

    'You perro!' says the bully, (you dog!) the ultimate debasement it seems, and the security guards socks the bully on his chin, sending him stumbling backwards, on to MY panniers.

    So I kicked him in the nuts.

    Not really.

    The bully puts on his dirty shirt, that hangs over his pot-belly and leaves, shouting abuse all the while. And now, with the troublemaker gone, the bikes are tied to the winch hook and with it hang my hopes and dreams....and fears. I take photos - to preoccupy my mind perhaps - while Oli just stares, imaging the worst I feel, for his hefty BMW. Rodney (my bike) is tilted sideways horizontally in an effort to get the winch hook lower, and therefore closer to the end of the jib, and then, just like the petrol barrels, is shoved off the dock. I watch then, helpless, as the bike swings out over the swelling sea, wondering if the Guatemalan welder did a good job of the rack that is acting as hook point, then the bike is lowered down on to the deck amongst the bedlam of boxes and bags, placed at forty-five degrees, where it shall remain for the entire journey, leaking fuel, to be used as a bed, a seat and a walkway by the various other passengers.

    Oli is told to jump aboard, I throw down the luggage and I climb down to step aboard the boat as it swings in and away from the dock. No sooner am I aboard and we are away. Oli stares, pensive, in shock or like he has just realised he may have left his toothbrush on the dock. We look at each other, like looking in the mirror, 'Well, at least we got on!' I say. Two hours late mind you.

    We watch the lights of Panama City fading away as we fall asleep amongst the knot of anchor ropes at the front of the boat, though when I wake some time later I notice the very same lights on the opposite side of the boat....we're going back: towards Panama, a sister ship broken down apparently and and we don't get under way again until 1am.

    I wriggle there amongst the tangle of ropes, hoping to slot my body in, into comfort and out of the stiff breeze, to get the best sleep i can, though failing. I wake early in the morning anticipating; the boat's breakfast and - with my limbs feeling small and frail with cold and discomfort - the morning sun. However, a horizontal brushstroke of grey blocks out the sun, and the meager breakfast of two small hotdog rolls and two slices of processed cheese does little to satisfy our hunger. When the sun rises above the grey it burns with unrelinquishing intensity and we sit amongst the ropes grilling, thinking of food, lunch and hunger whilst watching whales, dolphins, turtles and small flying fish that flap their 'fings' with desperation, darting left and right in their frantic short-lived search for freedom perhaps?

    Lunch is served and we make our way over the jumble of unprotected boxes, bags, polystyrene cool boxes, crouching low then beneath the cabin and over girders, past fuel drums, past the screaming engine and the thirty or so passengers crammed into every nook inside, out of the sun, to the kitchen; a portaloo sized affair, and collect a small plate of rice with a chicken bone.

    Crammed against one another, in a corner I eat whilst the man behind yells at me to, 'eat faster!' so he can have my plate. I gobble down the meager serving before returning to our place on the ropes, to the sun and to my book.

    We should have been in Jaque by 3pm but at 6pm we are discharging a craze of chicken-like passengers at nearby Puerto Pina, frantically turning this way and that, shocked to have arrived it seems,screaming in sad, pathetic desperation 'mi maletta!'....(my suitcase)! We receive another plate of rice and chicken bone for dinner, and sleep here on the boat near Puerto Pina as the nighttime dew starts to form huge beads on every surface. I wrap my self up in a tarp and try to sleep.

    Early next day the Victoria is on the move again, despite still holding numerous boxes emblazoned with 'Puerto Pina - FRAGIL'. We arrive near Jaque, again no land port, and the remaining crazy chickens run about in exhausted stupor looking for bags, or like me and Oli, looking dazed and confused.

    'WAIT!' is all the captain is willing to tell us as, so we do.

    Once everyone is discharged another 'lancha' (outboard motor-boat) arrives, bright red and powered by two 75hp Yamaha outboard motors, the bikes and bags are loaded and the pilot, a huge bear like man, guns the two motors whilst a second man points the way through the large wave break and on through to the estuary where we park up on a shallow beach....wondering how we might get the bikes out.

    'Where are you going?' asks the bear.
    'Jurado....or Bahia Solano.' I say, 'doesn't matter, just south.'
    'I can take you, I'm the only one with a lancha big enough.' he replies.
    'How much?'
    'Police first, then we talk.' he says with a greedy grin.
    'What's your name?' I ask so we can find him. His name was Walter and we came to dislike him very much.

    We sign in with the police, Walter talks to one of the police officers, then follows us as we walk into the small village.
    'Entonces.' (literally: 'then') he says as we stop at a tiny shop. He says it not so much as a question, the intonation is all wrong, more like a statement, Oli takes over now, his Spanish better than mine and Walter comes up with his first price, he aims high...very high, $1000. We laugh, and he tells us of a Chilean man who paid $1000 - a story corroborated by others, but true or not we don't know. Oli replies with $400 for the two of us to Bahia Solano, four or five hours away in Colombia, though this price is met with equal derision and a stalemate ensues that ends with us having to remove our bikes from the lancha, pay $15 for his bringing us to shore - he wanted $25 to start - and look for other options.

    The only other option is a lancha is owned by a man named Cameron. I find him later and find he is not the most approachable person ever....

    'OCCUPADO! OCCUPADO!' he yells when I ask in my most polite manners for a second of his time. Cameron, I was to learn, always spoke in this way, like a gorilla named Mr.T poked with a pretty big stick, and so is therefore not the easiest person to understand, even Oli struggled later.

    As I couldn't understand him, I've guessed and filled in his spaces....
    'WHAT YOU WANT FOOL?' is perhaps what he said....
    'Perdon signor?' I say, feeling myself shrink.
    'You damn gringos are all the same!'
    'Sorry signor.....look, I can speak quite a bit of Spanish, but you'll have to speak a little slower. I'm not a gringo either.'
    'You're a smart arse though I can see that, I suppose you're motorbike is frikn ginormous is it like every other gringo?'

    I look on bemused, having not actually understood anything, his friend sitting nearby gutting fish repeats what Cameron has been trying to get me to understand....
    'How much do you want to pay?' says the man.
    'Ohhhhhh! Right. $125 each.' I say getting straight to it.'
    'HA!' says Cameron, with a derogatory smirk, before adding, 'We'll speak later. We go Monday.'

    In the morning Walter comes to our camp spot, at a house on the rivers edge. He twists his big hairy hand from palm down, to up, to back down again....which means 'entonces' again, yet now without having to lower himself to speak with us. As Oli is still asleep I can at least play hard to get with Walter, so as not appearing desperate for a ride.
    'Entonces what?' I say.
    'We go?'
    'Depends how much.'
    'Then no.'
    'How much you want to pay.'
    'Look, it's your boat, you say. Give us a good honest price and we pay and go.'

    He steps away, Oli wakes up and starts talking to him, but in the end only the stalemate is seemingly agreed, leaving us hoping that Cameron will be fair and offer a reasonable price. Without delay we go to find him.

    It's 8:30am when we find Cameron who walks over from his table camouflaged by 20-odd empty bottles of beer and several empty bottles of rum, and gives each of us a beer. He shouts something and with Oli taking the roll of group speaker, I watch Oli pull an equally blank face as I had the day before. Cameron shouts again. Louder, more impatient, drinking to be done.

    'I think he's asking us how much we want to pay.' I say to Oli in English.
    'Ohhhh! $250,' says Oli.
    '$300,' replies Cameron.
    And, feeling argumentative perhaps, chip in with '$200!'
    'Ah,' says Cameron pulling a face of disgust as if his footy team just missed an open goal.

    Oli goes to one side to talk...'Look, we're not like some people, we can't pay any old price. And, he's English, he's tight, he wants to pay $200. I'm French, I don't mind paying a little more, I think I can convince him to pay $250, but no more.' It works - surprisingly - and the price agreed, however, Cameron wants a deposit....

    'Beer money more like' says Oli.
    'Is this wise?' I say, 'I mean, will he even remember us in the morning.....or even this afternoon! let alone the price....and our deposit?'
    'It's this or Walter.'

    So we pay, all the while fairly sure we are breaking one of the golden rules of travel.

    Other passengers wanting to get to Colombia, watching on, become edgy knowing that now we've paid a deposit, and too that we can't all of us fit in Cameron's lancha....who will go, who will be left behind to wait another lancha, or perhaps be forced to pay the greedy Walter?

    The following day is departure day, but it seems, as always, we won't leave on time but instead two hours later as some bags, still in La Victoria are needed and these will be unloaded today...though these facts seem to have materialised - like many other rumours - from nowhere like fog on a mountain. Then it seems that we won't leave today but tomorrow at 7am, which I find hard to believe as it will be low tide....the fog thickens.

    When I wake the following day, to go and buy our breakfast rations of bread, I find the tide is in fact high and everyone is waiting anxiously at the dock.

    'Get up! I think we're going!' I shout at Oli's corpse inside his tent...'Oli!....Oli! Oh, crap....Cameron's moving the lancha round! We're going!'
    Oli wakes, somewhat and starts sleep-packing, whilst I rush down to take my packed things over to the dock hoping to insure our place. Cameron, in his 'Darien' emblazoned red T-shirt, his round face beneath his white reebok cap,and carrying a small shoulder bag of sack-like material like most men with anything worth carrying blurts something, like he has a mouth full of toothpaste.


    I race back to Oli, 'We're going, now, go put your bike in the boat!' I shout.

    Poor Oli, still mostly asleep, stumbles off, thinking, wondering what his body is up to without his brain's authority. His body remembers he needs shoes so comes back to get them. I shout, unfairly, 'GOOOO! I'M NOT MISSING THIS BOAT!'

    The bikes are loaded with cunning use of planks, mental stress, and many helpful hands, followed by our bags, our passport received from the police and, after a lengthy wait, we leave, whilst seven unfortunates are left behind.

    Cameron looks anxiously ahead as we approach the ocean break and we take a hefty couple of hits on our way out, Cameron struggling to lift the outboard motor out of the water, then releases the pin to drop it back in quickly and guns it and we are on our way after three days in the lovely Jaque, a town of largely relocated Colombians escaping the FARC controlled jungles.

    Two hours later, after passing vast expanses of seemingly wild untouched jungles Cameron slides the boat on to Jurado's beach, Colombia! We unload the bikes as the waves lap up around our ankles and kness, and the military-like police wait on the dry sand holding automatic rifles to greet us. We chat with them, the police, very friendly and set up camp again near the station.



    [​IMG]I preferred the peaceful Jaque, it's lack of a real centre, tranquil, small shops dotted about, no traffic to speak of - save the lanchas - people carving dugout canoes from huge lengths of tree trunk or shaping oars with a knife from a sagging hammock, but Oli prefers here, Jurado; there are shops, people and more going on....motorbikes and scooters too.....and there's a lot of attention as well, too much attention, especially for Oli and his BMW which is pulling huge crowds.

    Though now in Colombia there are no road connections from this odd border town, but luckily a cargo boat bound for Buenaventura is arriving later the same day, and this will take us back to civilisation, the road that will lead us south all the way to Argentina. When the cargo boat arrives we go to see it and meet the captain, Oscar....who looks more like a mix of Onslow - of Keeping Up Appearances TV fame - and Captain Pugwash, wearing only a vest and underpants. He drives a very hard bargain, one I think is too expensive, but with little choice, we settle on a price of $160 each - though admittedly this is for 5 days, including food and, luckily it's lunch time so we eat here and save a bit of money!

    Four days later I sit hovering over the toilet of the "Renasur del Pacifico," Oscar's boat, now full with it's heavy cargo of long red timbers from the rainforests. With its burden, the boat lists heavily from side to side, and toilet water washes over my feet as I squeeze desperately trying to rid my body of the 12 bowls of rice I've eaten in four days, breakfast, lunch, dinner....futile.

    'Have you had a shit yet?' I ask Oli on the deck.
    'Have you seen those toilets!?' he replies.
    'Yeah....I just...'
    'I'm not going in there.' he says disgustedly.
    '...I've just been...the water was washing all over my feet.'
    'Ughh!....Did you poo?'
    'Managed a nubb.'
    'Flippin rice.'
    'Flippin rice.'

    We stand watching the mast light swing back and forth in the dark, glad at least to finally be on the move after several days stuck deep up-river in the jungles collecting wood, where 'sancudos', tiny biting bugs, and mosquitoes were rife and there not a breath of wind.

    I watch the bio-luminescence in the wake of the boat before heading down to the dormitory where 25 pairs of wrinkly workers feet poke out from the tiny slots that are our beds and 25 pairs of beady white eyes watch another shoot-em-up movie on the TV. 'I want more death!' shouts one as I slip past into our room to slot myself into my bunk to read and sleep, content with my choice to come along the Pacific.

    The next day we make it to Buenaventura, greeted by wooden houses standing on stilts in the low tide mud. The bikes are unloaded easily, thanks to a proper crane and I thank Oscar the friendly captain. All that is left now is the lengthy process of immigration and customs, and catching up on sleep, the workers starting as early as 3am, dropping the large planks of timber in to the hold of the boat, the fumes of the diesel powered crane too much to bare, starving us of air and sleep.


    'We have chicken with sauce, chicken, bbq chicken, bbq beef, pork, bone soup....'
    'Beef for me....please.' I say.
    'OK.' says the waitress.
    'And No rice!' I add, perhaps a bit sharply.
    'No rice?' asks the waitress.
    'Yeah, no rice....just bread please!'
    'Me too...!' says Oli. The waitress laughs at our story and jots down our order, 'sin arroz'. It's good to be in Colombia!

    We did it Oli! Thanks for the good times and good luck on your journey south....and, keep camping.
  7. mrt10x

    mrt10x Dumba$s Jarhead

    Aug 27, 2008
    Woodland Park, CO
    Outstanding RR... I read it from beginning to end... I laugh when I think of some of the RR's for people riding the exact same area and moving from hotel to hotel along the Pan American Hwy.. and what a completely different experience they had. I am jealous of your adventurous spirit and attitude.
  8. klous-1

    klous-1 Man on a bike

    Dec 12, 2009
    Great! You read it all!! Crazy! But great!

    I know what you mean about the RRs of hotrels and PanAmmers, I've met one or two and whilst I don't really understand why you'd do that I have to say that whilst my way is great....it's only great in my opinion and other peoples way of travel is up to them! If they are having a great time then that's all that's important.

    What is odd to me is how populasr those RRs are. "Another 1200GS blitzes the world".....???

    Don't judge Nicholas!

    Alas....if everyone did it my way the little dirt roads would be busy....and i'd ride asphlat all day!!
  9. LS650

    LS650 Adventurer

    Mar 10, 2009
    Victoria, BC
    Hey, it beats sitting at home, watching reruns on TV.
  10. klous-1

    klous-1 Man on a bike

    Dec 12, 2009
    Indeed, but what I was getting at is populairty of these reports to ones of a more unique and perhaps adventurous report. Essentially, making me elitest....I know my way is not the "right" way, I just wonder why there are more people reading about a Harley riding around Texas than people finding their own genuine and unique adventures....perhaps simply as a 1200GS is more popular, as are Harleys(!) and perhaps a one or three month trip is more realistic - and so more accesable for a lot of people. Essentially this is a non-argument, as I can understand both my original point, and indeed the want to read these reports....I loved Long Way Round for example.....!!!

    The point of all this really is that what Im saying is is that my blog is best, so read it...alas....if you have reached this far then perhaps I'm preaching to the wrong crowd.
  11. ping

    ping Been here awhile

    Mar 9, 2008
    What size engine do you have on your new bike?
    Life is short..Its good you have a interesting adventure..do be careful
  12. richsuz

    richsuz Adventurer

    Apr 14, 2009
    125cc...If he is still riding that HONDA he bought here in Guatemala. :evil:evil
  13. GuateRider

    GuateRider Long timer

    Jan 2, 2008
    Antigua , Guatemala

    Nicolas , sounds like you are running low on bisquits :1drink get some more and get in a better mood :D

    Still enjoying your blog and "your" way of travelling

    un abrazo
  14. klous-1

    klous-1 Man on a bike

    Dec 12, 2009
    Yeah thanks Julio! Perhaps it's all the rain....!! :D I've ALWAYS got biscuits! Though I have just been duped at the panaderia with stale semana santa bread!

    I'm in a good mood....but I think about this stuff often....I'm always thinking about what I might be doing wrong, following my instincts sometimes and questioning if this is right or not, should I go here, or there...and if I go there is it only because I'm scared to go here....? And so on and so on....when I look at other stories I think, maybe that is better....how did I miss that...or, will I get to the end and look back and think "that was dumb, why didn't you go to toursit-site-X?"

    I hope not, I might have to start all over....

    I'll drop you a mail Julio....

    And yes, it is indeed a 125cc though in future I'll be stepping up, if only a little...fuel injection is a must I have learnt too!
  15. GuateRider

    GuateRider Long timer

    Jan 2, 2008
    Antigua , Guatemala

    He noblest lives and noblest dies , who makes and keeps his self-made laws. R.F. Burton
  16. rednax

    rednax Been here awhile

    Dec 27, 2007
    Gothenburg Sweden

    Fantastic rr fascinating pics and great writeup!!!! Eagerly waiting for more!!:lurk
  17. klous-1

    klous-1 Man on a bike

    Dec 12, 2009
    GREAT! Makes me happy to hear this! Thanks! I am just writing up the Colombia blog and hope to have it up tomorrow, though already the pics are available on the website and on the facebook fanpage if you want to peak....
  18. klous-1

    klous-1 Man on a bike

    Dec 12, 2009
    Very excellent! Not as good as "No love, no love no sympathy" mind you!!! :D

    Thanks Julio!
  19. klous-1

    klous-1 Man on a bike

    Dec 12, 2009
    Like a cordoned crowd, the jungle seems to hang over and stretch out across the muddy road as if it is tantilisingly off limits, waiting to snatch me up the moment I step from it. Lost. In its multitude of shadows and greens; light green, dark green, mysterious green, 'peligro' green....impenetrable green. Though it's hard to tell which there is more of, green, or the dark, dark black which one feels certain you can see something amongst it.

    Grasping a complete single orchid in his fist, the man in his homemade shirt points the way. His shirt is square like a piece of pink paper and gives the impression that the man is only two-dimensional. His other, claw like, hand points me deeper into the jungle. I shake his claw, knotted and rough like knobbly tree branch and I wonder if soon he himself will turn into a tree to join the jungle.

    As I go, circumnavigating the dark towering "selva", at every cleft the jungle bleeds water; cascading down out of the shadows 10, 20 or 50m, flowing across the road, over rocks, between giant boulders and chunks of what was once mountain.

    <hr class="more">

    At the top of the pass the valley ahead is visibly hidden by a pallid sheet of grey; rain. At once it is upon me and I am wrapped it's heavy dampness without even chance of squirming into my waterproofs. It's everywhere now, the rain, and I question from where it came. The peaceful waterfalls become terrified torrents, escaping the grip of the jungle as quickly as I descend and do the same. In an hour, the rain stops, the grey sheet vanishes like an apparition.

    "¿Tinto?" asks the man hunched beneath his heavy woollen poncho.
    "¿Perdon?" says I.
    "Tinto, tinto....cafe!"
    "Ooooh, yes please!" and a lengthy conversation ensues in the small mountain village, huddled over the cold wooden counter drinking small dark coffee sweetened with "panela"; a brick of sugar cane extract, which gives the coffee a distinct taste more like treacle or honey. (One can even drink "agua panela" so, quite obviously, water with panela). The shop belongs to an old man, who studies me with a fixed gaze from the other side of the counter, on which rest his large weathered hands.

    "So you're a tourist?"
    "Yeah! I've been travelling for three and a half years....working, too. Petrol isn't free!"
    "So, what are you doing here?"

    It was the first of many such suspicious conversations, and a wary glare I'd have to get used to. Suspicions I can only assume built on years of internal distrust, guerilla groups such as the FARC and ELN, and too of prospecting western businesses looking for gold, or the next exploitive cash crop, to leave a vacuous hole in where once beat the jungle's steady rhythm of life.

    Mountainous - always mountainous - swathes of coffee and bananas guide the way to one city after another on my way to the Valle de Cocora, where Quindio wax palm trees rise up out of the grassy valley, like the Indian rope trick, topped by a fluffy frayed end reaching up for the misty cloud.

    "Where are you going?" asks the man, wearing his helmet tilted back high on his head, so that the helmet's chin guard is resting on his forehead.

    "Argentina!!" I reply incredulously - riding as we are through frantic city streets - dodging the swarm of 125's overtaking from all sides and the rapidly decelerating bus ahead. The buses: there being no bus stops passengers walk out of the office and merely wave a finger down to the ground, then up a bit and down again, and the bus will stop. It's amazing the buses get anywhere.

    "Are you on a world tour or something?"
    "Yeah!" I say as I pull away from the lights, amidst the growing wave of bikes; carrying huge boxes, dogs, a family, a bicycle and one guy I note a computer desk with built in book case. Two youths on bicycles are being towed by a truck and a precariously thin length of pink string and I'm overtaken then, on the way down by a man on a skateboard squeezing between motorbikes, themselves between rows of cars. Out of the city, Manizales, the third of the day after Armenia and Pereria, rising up and up to the underbelly of a dark, dark thundercloud residing over the volcanoes of snowcapped Nevados del Ruiz, at 5300m. A blinding branch of lightening and it's deafening roll of thunder are enough to warn me to set up camp, which I do hastily and slip into my cosy sleeping bag to cook and await the morning.

    With fortunate grace, it dawns fine; a palpably thick and deep blue sky and papaya pink sun. The icy tent cools my hands as I pack it away eagerly in anticipation, knowing the clear weather will not last. I coax Rodney to life and make my way gingerly upto 4080m, the engine spluttering and coughing.

    The entrance to the park marks the glorious end to the asphalt and the beginning of the potholed belt that runs around the volcanoes midriff to the town of Murillo.

    The perfect bright white of the snow capped peak is stained by the tobacco yellow of the smoking crater, overshadows the trail, upon which are only Rodney and myself. I couldn't understand why it was devoid of traffic but was little inclined to wonder, perhaps - for the Catholics - it was the towering jagged edges of black, cream, mustard, red and white rock that could only conjure up images of one being in the depths of "infierno." If this be the case, then send me down! for it was one of the most spectacular stretches I've ever ridden.


    Ever changing, each corner offering another offering of colour, grandeur another sulphorous cascade leaping off and down into the flat lava plain far below, itself littered with "frailejones" the stout plant topped by a bloom of green velveteen rabbit ears! Then up, of course, the snow and ice which feeds the small deep blue pools. Majestic. Or "divino!" as a girl told me at the petrol station when asked "how is it?" on my way up.

    I sit and eat breakfast as I reach the far end of the trail and watch the late morning cloud gather and envelop the volcano to shroud in mystery for the day. And despite the frosty reception in Murillo, I headed back to camp to beneath the volcano.


    Dawn at camp. A woman approaches on a motorcycle, she stops, we chat, the usual questions and small talk, until she procedes on to the unusual,
    "Quieres amor?"
    "Como?" I say (what!)
    "Amorrrrrrr.....tu quieres?"
    "En mi casa, amorrrrr. Tu no entiendas?"
    "Si...si....entiendo (I understand)....but I just don't understand....do you understand?"
    "Look, my house is over there, you go there, half an hour."

    As you can appreciate I'm sure, this struck me as a bit odd. I'm no fool. What's the game? I had a few ideas, but this game was one way, was only one road and this passed her house on the way to Old Kent road, or was it Mayfair, on the way to the prize....$200, or amorrrrrr. I stopped, I had no choice. Her family is there and we chat all together, all the time I have one eye on her and her two on me. Some thing's not quite right, the hands, the writs.....

    SHE WAS A MAN!!! A transvestite prostitute man at that working in Germany! Por lo menos, I worked it out! She was also a hair stylist - in the time she wasn't conning contrived men - and as such gave me a free - though fairly gay - haircut.

    "Do you like it?"
    I pulled a face, I couldn't help it.
    "It is too short?"
    "Not really....it's just....too gay." Luckily she (he?) didn't understand and I quickly corrected myself with a big fat lie (read; I was polite - I hate that). "It's great!"

    I also got a free lunch, and a great one, "sancocho" soup, chicken, rice and plantains, and vegetables in mash (name unknown) cooked by her appreciably more normal mother.

    Post hence, I scarpered with a wide-open throttle.

    [​IMG]I was on my way to Antioquia, Colombia's Antigua, through the cloud forests that reside some way above the town "Jardin", where I was lucky to enjoy a free guided hike. A beautiful walk through trees and vines encrusted with the green frost that is moss, as if fossilising before your eyes. Quietly we go, tip-toeing along in the hope of spotting birds, as the forest falls apart around us in damp decay. Humming birds thrum like fairies about our heads - unbeleivable - as we stop to chat and I spot a little fella in the undergrowth...my guide, Terry (he wasn't really called Terry), was wetting his pants at the small dark brown robin.

    "All the gringos want to see this!!"
    "I fuckin don't....."
    ".....I want to see toucan! TOUCAN!!!"
    "Look at it!"
    "....or a parrot!"

    But it wasn't to be, I heard the toucans and the parrots, but couldn't spot them - apparently very difficult - but a really fantastic walk along a great trail with some great company and obviously a very keen birder.

    "A German has been trying to see this for 25 years!"
    "I bet he's seen a few Toucans then." I say.

    Jardin is a bit disappointingly large and the road disappointingly asphlat despite my map telling me it is, "Barely navigable. 4x4 and death-wish necessary." Camping as such was tricky to find, though the coffee farmers were happy to oblige, provided, it seemed, they could watch as they chain smoked $1 packets of cigarettes, whilst marvelling at the stove, the inflatable - with my pillow pump - bed and especially, Lord knows why..... the tent poles. Always the tent poles.

    After extricating the bike from a tricky camp beneath a Lulo tree, dropping the bike (see pic left of location, the bike fell right!) on a narrow and steep cow path, screaming all the while in a "is that a hernia?" type manner, as my feet slip from the grass's grasp, I reach Urrau, a bustling town straight from the wild west. The trail from here became feinter and was intent on getting me lost amongst more coffee and bananas and constant glaring from people who seemed unresponsive to any greeting, wave, toot or nod.

    I arrived at what seemed to be a steep cliff of red dirt, not unlike a supercross ramp and I wondered if I was expected to jump whatever lurked beyond. I step off the bike to investigate, greeting a group of comotosed glaring men sat beneath a short wooden bus shelter.

    In anticipation I slowly walk the short bank, and peer over. The road has gone, some way below gobbled up by a huge landslide, 50 or 75m down, leaving a wide treeless red scab of powdery red. One wonders at the force of water, can be likened only to dynamite as it looks here more like the mountain exploded out and disappeared. Having been like this for nine months, the foot traffic passing along the landslide of those people desperate for supplies has created a narrow path flattened into the dirt, punctuated by channels in the dirt that are crossed by bamboo bridges.

    I walk the trails length, a steep, twisty, narrow, shoulder-width affair, that would resemble trying to ride on the upper edge of a dangerous funnel.

    Only soft.
    Not horizontal.
    And ginormous.

    <table class="tr-caption-container" style="margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto; text-align: center;" align="center" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0"><tbody> <tr><td style="text-align: center;">[​IMG]
    </td></tr> <tr><td class="tr-caption" style="text-align: center;">Looks easy.....t'was not.
    </td></tr> </tbody></table>"Can you cross this?" I ask a bystander.
    "NO WAY!" he says as fear fills his face, "Talk to him." he adds with returning calm, gesturing to a man on the other side..

    I go over to the man, in smart dress I notice in an area where you probably shouldn't have, i.e. not be able to have, smart threads.

    "Can you cross this?" I ask him. He looks to the bike.
    "It's heavy?"
    "Yeah, but I can remove the bags."

    At that, he starts removing bags and I tell him that a) if anyone's crossing it, it's me and b) I need to think about this first, a lot.

    I walk the trail again, feet thumping in heavy time with my pounding heart as I go steeply down, over the bamboo bridges - which are ready to slot a wheel into - and then, stretching calf muscles as I go steeply up the other side and listen to the sound of falling dirt fade into the precipice below.

    "It's bloody steep isn't it." I say.
    "Is very dangerous."
    "No, no....noooo, Don't say that." I say with half a smile, "only positive things please."

    I look around the growing group of glaring faces for some inspiration, comfort, warmth, a sign, encouragement. Alas, nothing. So I walk to the bottom of the trail to think alone without the weight of eyes upon me.

    "That's three times now." the smart dressed man says.
    "Yeah, yeah, I know." I say, "it's just there's nothing quite like this in my country!" Then add joking,"Has anyone ever fallen?"

    His face remains expressionless, until he states matter-of-factly, "five."
    "You what?"
    "FIVE!! What bikes as well?"

    He slices his finger across his throat before adding, still with the face of a placid giraffe, "is very dangerous."

    So, I start taking the bags off, feeling the weight of each one fill my heart, whilst my stomach remains weightless, floating up to stick in my dry throat, contemplating what I'd do if my bike ended up amongst the remains of the road far below. Walk I suppose.

    All eyes on me now, I start the bike and ease up the bank of red dirt, half expecting the click-click-click of a rising roller-coaster, but receiving only Rodney's tired tick-tick-tick, cresting the bank and accelerating down the other side towards the first bamboo bridge.

    Don't snag the bars, don't lock the breaks, keep it tight for the bridge so you can keep straight....don't look down.

    Straight and easy in the lower middle reaches, time to breathe. Time to look down into the eye of the funnel below, far far below, glaring at me with menace like the men at my back.

    Second bridge.
    Bars waver.
    Oh shit.

    Watch the cliff!

    Then, the bit I've been fearing, narrower, loose - the edge falling away - twisty and steep. Very steep. So steep I fear that Rodney won't be able to climb it. At the very least, I know, I'll have to gun it if he's to make it at all. To stall would mean certainly falling, maybe I could save myself, but the bike's a gonner.

    I twist the throttle.

    It bogs.

    Oh shit.


    Don't flood.


    A surge.

    A rising note, a rising bike, front wheel light and high, elbow brushes the wall, and up and up and out.


    On the other side I chat nervously, in long endless sentences of elation to the 'glares' on the other side.

    Other bikes show up then, some cross nonchalantly, others pay the smart dressed man to cross for them. I get invited to have a beer, to celebrate our survivals, perhaps.

    "You speak verrrrry good Spanish!"
    "Yes, it's very gooooood!"
    "You understand eveerrrrrything we say!"
    "That's because all you keep saying is how good my Spanish is!" I say.
    "Noooo!" they all say in unison, sloshing beer over the dirt floor of the bar.
    "....and how big my 'cojones' are for travelling solo."

    But as we talk, word spreads of "ladrones," bad men, thieves, and I am informed that this is not really safe territory, "guerilla". I scarper, leaving the second beer, probably causing some offence.

    Near Antioquia runs the brown muddy swathe of the Rio Cauca, Colombia's gutter it seems, where I set up my tent. Then I see three shadows moving amongst the rivers detritus of rock, wood and bamboo. Two are policia, who come and give me the usual questions though have little idea of how to actually deal with the situation, or how to read a passport. I point out too, that I did in fact get permission, from the third guy who stands in the trio and I wonder if it was him who in fact called the police?

    "All right." they say, "No problem. It's just, there's a lot of bad people around here and we have to be very careful. Good night."
    "Hey, hang on...." I say, with a fork of fear running through me, "bad people....does that mean I'm not safe here then?"
    "Oh no, quite safe. Nothing to worry about." and they pat me on the shoulder reassuringly whilst I contemplate the contradiction and they walk back into the detritus. I get into the tent and zip up tight-tight, and get deep-deep into the sleeping bag and try to distinguish animal footsteps from human and sounds of the gurgling river, awaiting the machete that will slice through the tent walls.

    Thankfully, it doesn't come and in the morning I'm even treated to a free breakfast in the farm and given free panela and a huge block of cheese. Top stuff, and no glaring.

    A quick trip around Antioquia and the surrounding "pueblos blancas" and Lago Peñol, on my way to meet Adam (www.shortwayround.co.uk who I met originally in Mexico), stopping off at the aptly named finca called "Mongolia", thanks to the permission of the fabulously sombreroed Willem.

    It's a beautiful camp amongst the smooth hills and humps of pale fluffy grass, where the horses and cattle graze freely and far to the est rise the eastern corderilla, up which I must ride in the morning to meet Adam.



    I meet him next day in falling rain after a long days ride, and Adam despite a year passing wears the same t-shirt and same jeans, though a few wrinkles around his eyes....perhaps from endless days of smiling at the helm of his DR650. Soon enough, the tea is flowing and I forget about my cold wet clothes entirely in a frantic catch up.

    <-- Adam!!

    Riding along, we seem to drop into El Cocuy National Park, despite its black jagged peaks rising up, ahead, to 5330m. Gona are the bananas and coffee, the selva, the pine forests, the potatoes...well, there are potatoes, instead Bola-hatted women work the fields, children search for cows grazing amongst the piled rocks and boulders - cleared to allow grass growth - and ponchoed weathered men seem only to amble about the roads with a horse in tow, whilst Adam and I talk over a lengthy breakfast looking up to the bright white glaciers high above.


    "In 30 years all of it will be gone." says Marco our host as we sit sipping piping hot potato, onion and cilantro soup, in La Esperanza farm lodge, before embarking on the 20km hike up to Laguan Grande de la Sierra.

    Red markers signify how far, or little, we have travelled and also with each one more metres in altitude gained. I breathe fast, and walk slow, occasionally squeezing in an emergency gasp as if coming up from below water, on our way to 4500m. The anvil in my head pounds with the sharp blows of a hammer, though I must push on....unfortunately it's a cloudy day and whilst it's clear that El Cocuy is a magical place, today is not the best day, and back at the farm I go straight to bed, nil by mouth, with the exception of two pills which Adam feeds to my stupour-ous self.


    Time - like he - is short for Adam, his bike due on a plane in Bogota. And after 12hours of rejuvinating sleep in La Esperanza after the hike, that's where we head, though along some spectacular mountainous roads, and at one point through a half buried town beneath a landslide (oddly we took no pictures!).


    I don't like cities and tell Adam as much over a lunch "papa rellenos, " "empenadas," and "buñelos". (potatoes stuffed with meat and rice, fried pasty-like do-dahs, and deep fried cheese bread balls.), but I grew to like the city, despite wondering if it's merely a place for the rich get richer and the poor to merely scrape around in the gutters, or to come begging and, here unlike anywhere else I've seen and been, there is a stark difference; they beg for food, not money. With desperation.

    <table class="tr-caption-container" style="margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto; text-align: center;" align="center" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0"><tbody> <tr><td style="text-align: center;">[​IMG]
    </td></tr> <tr><td class="tr-caption" style="text-align: center;">Buñelos (bunwellos)
    </td></tr> </tbody></table>

    However, as I've said I grew to like Bogota, and it's busy streets full of life and vendors of all things imaginable. Popular too as a recreational activity it seems is graffiti and the street art, which it is perhaps more aptly called, is fantastic....and at least gives something more positive to focus on!

    I leave Adam behind after several days together in the city, heading back north, with aims of cloud free hikes in El Cocuy and trip into indigenous territories. Little did I know that things were take several severe turns for the worse.

    Cont. Soon...in Part 2.
  20. klous-1

    klous-1 Man on a bike

    Dec 12, 2009