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Old 05-11-2013, 09:53 PM   #30
Cousteau OP
...seeking adventure
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Joined: Sep 2012
Location: Guatemala City / Washington, DC
Oddometer: 61
Cartagena and Ballenato

We started to unload the bikes shortly after 6am.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.
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