Saturday, February 26, 2011

'Never leave your Wingman'

 We have had a great time here in Santa Marta this week, but  the motorcycle trip has come to its end for Lisa today. She has just left the hotel in a taxi bound for the airport and a long night travelling, with a connecting flight to Bogota, a lengthy wait followed by a flight home to Canada.

After 17347 km of riding 2up through 6 South American countries for 3 months its strange for me to be on my own, you get into the routine with 2 people, loading everything onto the bike without having to discuss about where things go, me sorting out the mechanical side of things while Lisa being very organised would get the admin side of things done much much quicker than me biffing around on the netbook trying to find stuff and emailing ahead for reservaions. She has been great, she suffered through torrential rain, hail, snow,  freezng cold temperatures at nearly 5000 metres and the worst wind we have ever seen or ridden in, 45 C heat and clinging on as I ride over the endless speed bumps, pot holed  roads, the bike fishtailing wildly on sandy tracks and swerving to miss barking dogs and other animals, taxis, crazy bus drivers and the sometimes very bad drivers down here.....she must be as mad as me!!!

Riding the bike 2up has been a challenge for me, Ive ridden quite a lot before this trip, but very little has been with a passenger on the back, let alone with a fully loaded bike and over some fairly difficult gravel/rock/sand/ muddy  pistes/tracks on which  some solo riders have taken a fall on. Now going back to riding a bike solo is going to be easier and Im sure my riding has improved. Riding with any passenger is a big responsibility - let alone your wife, and I am glad that I got Lisa to the end of the her motorcycle trip in one piece with only one low speed tumble when it was windy in Patagonia, which looking back on it was more funny than painful.

Our plan was to fly Sammy back from Bogota to Canada and we have been sending emails trying to sort this out for the last month - including spending several nights in Bogota organizing a crate for the bike and transport for it to the airport which was all in place....however we heard from the shipping agent yesterday, saying  that his contact in Colombia was being unreliable and he could not offer us any shipping services (sea or air) currently....Streuth!

So Grif is currently gong to try and sea freight Sammy from Colombia to the USA and meet up with Lisa's Dad and his partner. Stan is heading South to do a bike trip in the Southern USA with Karen, so if things work out they will meet up somehere and Grif & Sammy will get a ride in a truck and trailer back into Canada, where it is currently -20 C and snowing......Bleh!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Colombian Caribbean

We left Tunja and rode to Bucaramanga. It was a 7 hour ride of twists and turns, ups and downs. We rode through San Gil, popular for rock climbing, rafting and advenure sports and  past Canyon del Chicamocha, which has a cable car going up to the top of the mountain with a theme park perched on the top, straight after this were tight switchbacks that dropped from the top of the mountain sharply down to the valley bottom which gave Sammy's brakes a good workout.


Got into Bucaramanga in the late afternoon, and a kind local biker, Jonathan  helped us find our hotel. There was a lot of one ways and no left turns allowed, so it was quite a challenge in the rush hour traffic. We could feel the heat as the elevation dropped to 1000 m. It was 25C.

The next day, was a very long day. We estimated that it was a 10 hour ride to Santa Marta. We were on the road by 7:30 am, and could already feel the heat. As we dropped further in elevation down to 100m within the first hour the thermometer climbed steadily to 45C! and stayed there nearly all day - rather toasty!

It proved to be one of the longest riding days of the trip, it took 2 and a half  hours to do the first 95 kms - slow going with traffic and tight back to back bends, road works from some large landslides - some over 2 km's down valleys and a bridge had been replaced with a single lane temporary 'Bailey bridge' causing traffic line ups of several km's on each side - thank heavens for being on Sammy as we were able to ride up the outside or inside of the line ups and jump to the front - there has to be some perks to make up for not having air conditioning, comfy seats, a stereo or cup holders....

After 545 kms and 9 hours of being cooked we probably didn't look or smell too good as we walked into the rather posh Tamaca Beach Resort Hotel just South of Santa Marta, to see if we could blag a deal on a room for a few days. After some work we were in, as suspected the pretty Colombian reception clerk avoided touching Grifs sweaty BMW jacket and wrist as she put the hotel wrist band on him like he had the plague!!!

Our resort
After a  free Rum cocktail and a dip in the swimmng pool with a beautiful sunset, things were looking (and smelling) rosier, a rather nice supper followed and after unpacking the bike and covering the entire hotel  room with our gear and the nice prospect of not having to go anywhere the next day, apart from to the pool/bar  it was time for some sleep.

Sunset dip

Monday, February 21, 2011

Crate Date

We left Manizales the next morning and headed to Bogota. The road was full of twists and turns, the ride was very slow going. As we headed up and down valleys the traffic came to a stand still. There were long line ups of trucks, several kilometres long, due to road repairs. Since we were on a motorcycle, we did our best to go around all the traffic. Seven hours later and 300 km we were in Bogota. We headed for the BMW dealership to look for a crate for the motorcycle. Our contact, had gone home; we missed him by thiry minutes. It being Saturday, we were faced with the decision whether to stay in Bogota until Monday as the dealership would be closed Sunday.

Enroute to Bogota
We went out for a quick bite after checking into a hotel in the Candelaria area. The next day was spent lounging around and switching hotels due to noise. We found a cheap pizza place for dinner, then washed it down with a complimentary beer from our new hotel, Casa Platypus.

Monday morning we rode around Bogota, it was 27C at 11 am. We stopped at a couple of Suzuki stores to see if they had any crates, but they did not. We went back to BMW and were in luck. We parked the bike in clients only, underground parking; quite special! They had several crates and were getting in more shipments of bikes while we were there. They also said they would crate the bike for us as well.

In the afternoon we headed north to Tunja. The temperature became cooler as we headed into the rural countryside. We stopped at Puente de Boyaca; where  in 1819 Simon Bolivars army defeated the Spanish which led to Colombia's independence. It was late afternoon when we got to Tunja, so we decided to stay and did some sightseeing. Bolivars first military command was based from Tunja and you can definitely see the historic links in the main Plaza, with another statue of him on horseback. It is a lively bustling town with very friendly people.

Bolivar monument with angels
We went out for chicken and chips, our new favorite meal! Suprisingly, we didn't get utensils, but received plastic gloves to rip the chicken apart!
No utensils!
It was quite chilly in the evening when the sun went down. We were at an elevation of 2820 metres.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Beautiful Colombia

We left Quito and rode to Otavalo. Enroute we crossed the equator, but had chosen a route that did not take us past the monument. This is the 3rd time we have crossed the equator this trip; twice in the Galapagos. In Otavalo it was market day! We spent an hour or two walking around the market and had an early dinner. It was an early night as we were heading to the Colombian border the next day.
The next day we made it to the Ecuador Colombian border by noon; it was raining. When turned the corner we saw the Welsh couple, Nia and Gareth, whom we had met in San Pedro de Atacama. It took about an hour to get the paperwork done for the bikes in Colombia. Since it was Sunday we were unable to get seguros or insurance for the motorbike in Colombia, as all the SOAT offices were closed in Ipiales.
Nia and Gareth told us about Las Lajas, a church near to Ipiales that was built on a bridge in the 1500’s, so we went to see it. It was quite beautiful and in such a unique spot.
Las Lajas
We decided to stay the night and scope out SOAT offices to head to in the morning. We stayed at Nubes Verdes, which was two blocks away from the SOAT office which was quite handy the next morning. The office didn’t open until after 9 am, but the lady spoke English and knew exactly what to do.
Near Pasto
We left Ipiales at 11 am and the scenery was beautiful, stunning mountains covered with lush green trees with eye dropping valleys and huge waterfalls. We saw lots of flowers and butterflies. It was about 24C and we didn't have any rain. We rode into Popayan, the white city, at 5:30 and found Hotel Colonial with bike parking in the courtyard. The owner even had a ramp to get the bikes in. We went out for Italian for Valentine’s Day. We completely forgot it was Valentine’s Day until just before dinner; Friends was on TV and it was a Valentine’s Day rerun.

In the morning, we walked around Popayan and saw unique bridges and churches. After sightseeing, we rode to Cali. Enroute we saw a cyclist with dog sleeping on his shoulders. The temperature in Cali was very hot. It was 30C. In Cali we checked into the Iguana hostel and met up with Nia and Gareth for dinner, which were staying at Casablanca. After dinner we said goodbye to our Welsh friends.


The next morning we were up early and left Cali. There were a few traffic jams, so with the help of the gps, we managed to skirt around them. The Panamerican Highway heading north was completely blocked by Semi Trailers, as the truckers were on strike for higher wages, the price of diesel and government corruption, so we followed the local motorcycles and went around the blockade and had to head into oncoming traffic.  We managed to get around them and the roads were pretty good with hardly any traffic.

Truck road block in the north of Cali
It took us about 8 hours to get to Medellin. There was evidence of landslides from all the rain they have had recently; in some areas, half of the road had slid down 10-15 feet! One of the rivers we passed was flowing extremely fast and high. We also heard grasshoppers buzzing as we rode and trees full of egrets and nests.
The traffic in Medellin was pretty busy; unfortunately we arrived around 5 pm. The road signs weren’t very helpful and we ended having to turn around several times, using the off ramps, which was very confusing. We stayed at Casa Kiwi, a very popular backpacker’s place. There was parking in the garage for the bike. There was a bar with music which made it loud at night but the rooms are very modern and clean. We also got a discount as we were motorcyclists and the owner, Paul from the USA came to Colombia on his KLR 650 motorcycle and never left! We checked our email the next morning as we were hoping to hear from Grif’s mate, Russ whom lives in Medellin.
Unfortunately, Grif made a mistake, and takes full blame (its an age thing!) for getting the names of the cities mixed up. Russ actually lives in Manizales, about a 4 hour ride back south! So, after getting some breakfast, we headed south, retracing about 100 km of the route we had done the day before. Much to our surprise the road conditions had changed and we saw quite a few landslides and were stopped for 15 minutes while a dump truck was being filled with mud by a Bobcat, which had blocked the road.
Dump truck blocking the road
Once we passed La Merced, we were in new territory. The lush green trees covered the road like a tunnel and there were a lot of very tall bamboo trees. We also saw coffee bushes covered with white blossoms. The landscape in Colombia is absolutely beautiful, the nicest we have seen thus far.
We were stopped by the police about 30 km outside of Manizales; a routine check for insurance and documents. Thank goodness we bought SOAT (insurance). The policeman was very friendly, as they are known to be here in Colombia.
We found our way to Charly’s bar and Russ met up with us there. Russ lives very close, so we parked up the bike outside the bar and ate popcorn and drank lots of beer and rum and shots! Charly the bar owner was in the Colombian Army and had been badly wounded in a confrontation with FARC, It was a late evening as we reminisced about Drago days and learnt about Russ’s travel company – Colombia 57, which he is a co-owner of with two other mates.
The next morning we headed on a tour of Hacienda Venecia, a coffee plantation. We arrived in our jeep, and the first person we saw was Nia; the Welsh couple that we had travelled with! Nia and Gareth were staying in the hostel there. On the tour, we learnt about the process of making coffee, from the plant to our cups; growing, washing, drying and had as much coffee as we could drink! It was a lovely place, in a tranquil setting and had a swimming pool.
Coffee plants
Washed and now drying coffee beans

We stayed with Russ the next night and made him a nice home cooked supper, washed down with some wine and had an earlier night as we were heading to Bogota the next morning.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

On the Road Again

We left Guayaquil in the morning. It was pouring rain so we both were hoping we were headed towards better weather. We met up with a tour agent at the airport and she helped with checking us in and getting our boarding passes. To our surprise we were booked into first class!! The biggest seats we've ever had.

The eight days went by fast. We had a great group of 16 people, including Brits, Americans, one German and one Canadian -me, a great guide and crew and great chef. The weather was mixed, with rain, overcast and sun. We appreciated the overcast days as the sun was very hot. On average it was 26C, rain or cloud. Thank goodness we had 80 factor waterproof sunscreen! We were fed three times a day, 3 course meals, and snacks in between. Way too much food but it was fabulous! The motorbike's suspension will have to put up with a few extra pounds!

We visited 5 different islands, did some hikes, dingy rides, shopping and lots of snorkelling. Swam with sea turtles, sea lions, penguins, sharks, rays and may different tropical fish. On land we saw so much wild life, and both of us have a greater appreciation for birds. We know so much now thanks to our twitchers! Lisa was sea sick one evening, could it of been the beer? Grif had no problem! Our days were on a tight schedule, daily activities started at 6 or 6:30 am and ended at 8 pm, but there was still time to relax in between activities. We got so close to the wildlife, absolutely amazing. We were both very sad to leave the Galapagos, it is such a magical and unique place. Lisa can't wait to go back again! We will miss our new friends and wish all of them safe travels.
Carpenter bee
Us with the giant tortoises

We got back to Guayaquil and sorted out laundry. The next morning it was raining, but we packed up and rode to Banos. Along the route to Riobamba we were stopped by a loud speaker... the police pulled us over! Once again, we denied knowing and did not speak any Spanish. They tried to tell us that our papers for the motorbike were invalid, but we pointed out to them the date of entry and valid for one month. Then they tried to tell us we were going to fast, and got the ticket book out. We kept asking them to speak English, but they couldn't. Eventually, they knew that they were getting nothing and left... "they had another call".

We reached an altitude of 3800 m through the pass to Banos. The route was rainy with muddy sections in the highway. Visibility at times was quite low due to the thick, low lying rain clouds. Banos is a lovely little town, with huge waterfalls and thermal pools. We went out for our favourite meal... you guessed it, pizza and beer! I found a lovely 'capucha' in one of the shops. This was our first day without taking any photos. Unfortunately, our point and shoot Pentax camera, which we would normally use in the rain, isn't working anymore...

The next morning, we decided to head to Quito. The clouds were not lifting, so we were unable to get a clear view of Tungurahua volcano. The Panamerican highway to Quito is nicknamed "Avenue of Volcanos". One well known volcano along the route is Cotopaxi. Unfortunately, there were rain clouds the whole way, and an absolute down pour when we reached Quito. It was around 16C; Lisa had her heated jacket on the past two days.

We booked into Hotel Real Audencia, spending more than we normally would, but we have underground parking and we were soaking wet! We were very happy to get out of the rain. The rain stopped by the time we headed out for dinner; we decided to eat cheap and picked up some "pan au chocolate" for snacks the next day.