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Old 05-13-2013, 07:17 PM   #31
Cousteau OP
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Monteria - an unexpected surprise

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.



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.







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



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.



 

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.







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.



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.





 
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Old 05-19-2013, 09:07 PM   #32
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Medellin - Pablo, Bikes & Babes

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.



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?



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.















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.



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.









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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.





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



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





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

 

 

 
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Old 05-26-2013, 03:42 PM   #33
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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...

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Old 05-26-2013, 08:54 PM   #34
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CourtRand View Post
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...

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.
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Old 05-27-2013, 04:12 PM   #35
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Guatape, Honda and into Bogota

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.



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.





















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.





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.













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





So worth it!







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.



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.



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.



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.
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Old 06-08-2013, 09:38 AM   #36
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Bogota, a capital city and the Salt Cathedral

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.



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.



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.



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



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!



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.



 



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.



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



 



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.



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.







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



The center square is also quite beautiful.



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.



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.





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



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.



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!
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Old 06-15-2013, 05:59 AM   #37
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Reflexions from the Road

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!
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Old 06-18-2013, 08:06 PM   #38
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A rainy afternoon hiding out in a cafe - Armenia, Colombia

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.
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Old 06-21-2013, 06:26 PM   #39
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Manizales… a new take on the San Francisco of South America

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.





 



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



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.



 



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.



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…



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.



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),



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.



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!





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.











 

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...

 



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







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



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





 



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.













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



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





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





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!
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Old 07-05-2013, 12:07 PM   #40
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Heading into “El Valle” - Cali

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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.
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Old 07-06-2013, 07:37 AM   #41
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Great stuff! Thanks for all the history and information in your RR. Keep it coming!
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Old 07-06-2013, 07:50 AM   #42
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Great ride report

Really a nicely done RR and I love the looks of that nifty bike! Thanks for taking the time.......


Gary "Oldone"

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Old 07-07-2013, 01:10 PM   #43
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Thanks for the feedback!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tex76 View Post
Great stuff! Thanks for all the history and information in your RR. Keep it coming!
It's not easy traveling, keeping your notes, pictures and writing. I'm actually in Santa Cruz, Bolivia right now and as you can tell, a little behind on the ride report, but I have a few days here while the bike gets serviced, so you should see a few more of these posted in the next few days.

Thanks so much for your feedback. Although I see the stat numbers moving up in terms of number of reads, knowing someone takes a minute or two and appreciates the effort you take into writing up the reports really makes the effort that much more worth it.

Thanks again and so glad you are enjoying the adventure. Cheers!
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Old 07-07-2013, 01:11 PM   #44
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Thanks!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Oldone View Post
Really a nicely done RR and I love the looks of that nifty bike! Thanks for taking the time.......


Gary "Oldone"

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Grampa’s National Monument Ride
Gary,

As I mentioned above, I really appreciate the feedback. Glad you are along for the ride and enjoying the report. More to come soon.
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Old 07-14-2013, 11:49 AM   #45
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Cali - Part Deux

Today it was time to get the bike dropped for service and have its new Heidenau Scouts put on. I had shipped these a few weeks ago from Monteria for $11 rather than dragging them all over Colombia with me. If you're riding in a big country like Colombia, if you can ship heavy bulky things you won't need for a while ahead, go for it. Andres from Cali Triumph Dealer was great and had no problem with me shipping the tires on ahead.

When I got to the shop I was greeted by Sory Con, the owner and operator of Asturias, one of the oldest motorcycle shops in Cali. It was first started by Sory's father over fifty (50) years ago and now she and her husband Jorge run the shop. They are Andres' parents. Immediately I'm hit by how homie and inviting the atmosphere is, and mind you, this is a repair shop.



Alain, a French import and constant fixture at Asturias is immediately interested in my travels and my route. He's traveled all over South America and within minutes together with Jorge, we have maps spread out over my top box and I'm being given great pearls of wisdom as to some amazing routes, contacts of people I should meet while en route, and just an overall amazing infusion of positive energy and encouragement.





These are some real adventurers and incredibly passionate not only about motorcycles, but about the entire process of travel and the experiences you have while on two wheels - a real motorcycle family.

After dropping the bike off at Asturias, I headed off to explore Cali as the bike would not be ready until late afternoon. I would also be getting some notes and write-ups offered up from our morning chat. How 'bout 'em apples? SWEEEET!

I walked down to Casa Blanca, the “motorcycle hostel” as I had now heard from four people I needed to meet Mike, the Danish owner, who also runs Motolombia (http://www.motolombia.com/), an adventure motorcycle rental shop right in front of the hostel. Mike turned out to be a really cool guy who is now basically a caleño, married to Diana. They started the hostel a about five years ago and from there he spun out a motorcycle rental business which is his real passion. Now he guides all kinds of adventure tours throughout Colombia. You can ride your own bike or rent one of his. He was really interested in the Tiger 800XC, as he's has a few BMW F800 which he wasn't too happy about due to performance, durability, and the support from the dealer. All I could say is that I was very happy with mine and that I had had no problems with it, and great support from the dealers I'd met. Maybe he'll add a few Tiger's to his inventory.

I then headed out to play tourist and see a bit of the city. I was interested in some of the history of the city and had been told of a new promenade where a major traffic artery used to run. This had now been converted into an express tunnel that runs about five kilometers through the center of the city, and above, right next to the Cali River, is a beautiful open modern promenade with loads of green park space on the opposite side of the river - simply beautiful.







All this ends at the Ermita Church, a great example of gothic style architecture.





After my walk through the promenade I went to grab a bite to eat, and then went to “Nuestra Señora de la Merced” where Cali was first founded in 1536. Mind you this is less than 50 years after the discovery of the new world and we are already seeing places like Calí seeing their first settlers. Though the architecture is simple early Spanish Colonial, it is remarkable how well conserved this first building of Cali is.



This complex continues to be an active catholic church quite coveted for weddings and special events, but over the centuries has served as a monastery, military garrison, and most recently in 1975 it became a national monument and now holds, among other things, an archeological museum. The complex has gone through a number of restorations, but in the museum there are still a few elements of the first or second build outs.



These magnificent mosaic tiles that take you up to the second story are from the early 1600.

In the interior courtyards you'll typically find citrus fruit trees growing, often lime, oranges or mandarin. There is a secondary courtyard of an annex that still functions as a nunnery and sure enough, in the center courtyard there are loads of fruit trees.



In the late afternoon I picked up the bike at, got all my intelligence from Alain and Sory and headed back to the hostel to pack, as I would be on my way towards Popayan. Thank you Sory, Jorge, Andres and Alain for all your help while in Cali. You really made me feel at home.
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