Sunday, December 30, 2012

Great Views and Horrible Roads...

Day 76 (December 30, 2012)
Cali, Colombia to Pasto, Colombia
Day's Ride: 253 Miles

Before leaving Casa Blanca this morning I had to get a shot for the wall of fame:

And then it was off to breakfast where I had an interesting character serenade me and try and sell me sun glasses.

Breakfast was quite good; beans and rice with an egg on top and a cup of coffee. Simple, filling, and tasty. Can't ask for more.

The road out of Cali was nice, smooth two lane highway that passed through countless sugarcane fields.

The army was out in force today; I must have passed at least 10 checkpoints, including this one:

They're always so cheerful.....

There was lots of pretty scenery today. I had to stop and go off road to get a picture of the bike in all of these trees.

Around 11:00 AM I rolled into Popayan. It was incredibly beautiful and I wished that I would have stayed here instead of Cali. The central part of town is all white washed well preserved colonial buildings. The town was founded in 1537 and became the residence of many wealthy Spaniards who moved up from the sugarcane fields near Cali.

I rode to the central plaza and then found a restaurant for lunch.

Popayan looked incredible and the climate was far more mild than Cali. If I were doing this over again, I would have skipped Cali and come straight here. Or maybe I would have stopped and picked up a Motolombia sticker and then headed straight here...

Just outside of Popayan I started coming across groups of people standing along side the road asking for money; each group of people had a large human efigies close at hand. Daniel and Juan David from Medellin had told me that people collect money then use it to buy fireworks and gunpowder which they stuff into these effigies. Then they blow them up. Now that sounds like my kind of charity! I had some coins I needed to get ride of, so I pulled over.

This family was super stoked that I stopped by; the dad was having his wife and kids pose with me while he snapped pictures. It took me a minute, but I was finally able to convince them to stand near their dummy so that I could get a shot of them too. And even then he was snapping pictures of me. I'm starting to get too popular down here.

Just after I made my donation to the explosives fund, the road started turning to crap and the scenery started to improve drastically.

Seeing all of this beautiful terrain really took it out of me and I was forced to stop for a redbull and some bags of water.

The bagged water is significantly cheaper than bottled and is a great way to fill up your camelbak.

After the pitstop I got back on the road and was blown away by how amazing the scenery was getting. I think there was some sort of inverse relationship occurring between road quality and scenery. As the view started getting more pretty, the road started getting really ugly.

I came around a corner and saw a cloud bank pouring over a ridge line right in front of me. It was breathtaking.

I pulled a little further off the road and actually got off my bike to take a picture (gasp!) of these clouds coming down the mountain.

It was almost like they were snowcapped. I wish I was a better photographer. These pictures don't do it justice.

The road started climbing and soon I was overlooking some terrific valleys:

Man, what great riding! The road was absolute garbage, but the views totally redeemed it!

I arrived in Pasto and got a room at the Koala Inn. 28,000 Pesos for a private room with bathroom. Wifi, hot water, and free pancake breakfast. Great deal. Unfortunately, the only secure parking is a block away.

After checking in and dropping off my bags, I headed out into town to fill up my gas tank so that I wouldn't have to do it in the morning. Much to my chagrin, I found that most of the gas stations in town were out of gas and the few that were open had lines of cars stretching for blocks waiting to fill up.

Looking at the picture below, the line of cars on the left are all waiting to fill up at the gas station up the street. The gas station is just below the bright neon sign above the red bus in the middle of the road.

I was a little frustrated, but I settled down to wait my turn. Then I saw a bunch of bikes zip up to the front of the line so I went up to see what was going on.

Apparently motorcycles have cutting privileges in gas shortages too! It pays to ride in Colombia!

Tomorrow I'm heading for Ecuador. The border is only 60 miles away and I'm interested to see if they bring up my traffic ticket or not. I'm trying to make it to the town of Cayambe and an old Monastery turned hotel on the equator for a New Years Eve party with a bunch of advriders.


Day 75
Santa Rosa, Colombia to Cali, Colombia
Day's Ride: 149 Miles

After a refreshing night's sleep, I awoke and walked over to the nearby restaurant and had breakfast: juevos revueltos, un poco de pan, una arepa, y cafe negro.

Got on the road around 8:30 PM and started riding. I'll admit I was only using one eye to watch the road; the other was scanning for the fuzz. Luckily today was all double and even triple lane highway, solid pavement, no potholes, and only a minimal amount of untethered livestock on the shoulders.

The road was so amazing, so smooth, and so damn boring that I started falling asleep. Eventually I pulled over for a pitstop.

After re-energizing with copious amounts of sugar and caffeine I was good to go. Everytime I've passed soldiers on the road down here, they always give me a thumbs up. I'm not quite sure what that means; at first I thought they really liked my bike, but then I saw them do it cars as well, so who knows?

As I was spacing along down the highway, I passed some soldiers who gave me the old thumbs up, so I pulled over to see what the deal was. We ended up chatting a little bit and I convinced them to take some pictures with me.

....and I totally forgot to ask them what the deal was with the thumbs up. Maybe tomorrow.

The road kept on being amazing and incredibly boring. Before I realized it I was in Cali. I still haven't loaded any maps on my GPS, so I spent a few minutes playing hot and cold on the streets with the little waypoint marker for the Hostel. Eventually I found it.....

Casa Blanca Hostel. It's run by Mike, the guy that owns Motolombia. Motolombia rents bikes (KLR's, BMW's, etc.) and operates tours. Mike has been running the business since he stopped in Colombia five years ago at the end of a South America ride. He's married a Colombiana and is living the dream. He told me that they've had over 2,000 overlanders stop by the Hostel in the past five years. They've got a wall of fame above the staircase with pictures of some of the people that have stopped by.

I also met Adam, an Australian who bought a bike down south and was riding North until he got into a little accident in Colombia. He doesn't really remember what happened and he's not quite sure where his bike is, but he's staying at Casa Blanca recuperating until he can get things figured out. He has two broken arms and some crushed digits; just had surgery two days ago and seems to be in good spirirts...

After checking in at the Hostel I walked over to the parking lot where I had stashed my bike and convinced them to let me change my oil in the gravel.

I found some JASO rated Mobil 10W-40 Synthetic this time...

The old XRL is still drinking a little oil everyday. I added about 800ml in the last 2,000 mile stretch. I've started telling people that when I pull over at the gas station it's to fill up the oil and check the gas.

Tomorrow I'm going to blast for the border. I've been told that there is a big New Year's gathering of advriders at an old monastery turned hotel just across the border in Ecuador.


Day 74
Medellin, Colombia to Santa Rosa, Colombia
Day's Ride: 137 Miles

Well, I finally managed to leave Medellin. It was hard, but I forced myself to pack up and get out. Before I left I had to have Al sign the tank:

And then I had to get a picture with him and Zach, his manager, and James, one of the Motolobia guys, in front of the Shamrock.

Al, if you're reading this, thanks for the great stay! The Shamrock rules! By the way, you need to start a wall of fame with pictures from all of the overlanders that stop at your bar.

As I was leaving, Byron and Isabel rolled up and took over my room. It was good to see them again. I have a feeling I'll be meeting them again at least one more time.

Getting on the road south again felt good. It was hot out, but my new pressure suit thingamig was working great. After passing quite a bit of stalled traffic coming out of the city, I began to reflect that the double yellow line running down the middle of most roads does not mean "don't pass" but is actually a tiny passing lane for motos.

The ride out of Medellin heading south towards Cali is fantastic. Their is a fairly large climb and then an even larger drop down into a long river valley. Part of the road follows a ridge line down into the lowlands.

Stopped for lunch at a roadside restaurant after I finally got to the floor of the valley and ordered "Choripapas", which I figured would be sausage and potatoes, but ended up being french fries and potatoes. Close enough.

After lunch I was blasting south when I saw a couple of riders stopped by the road on a VSTROM 650. I pulled over and said hi and asked for directions. They were taking a break from their riding gear as it was incredibly hot and humid. Once again I was thankful that I had purchased the pressure suit.

After leaving the VSTROM riders, I was coming around a corner when I ran right into a Colombian Speed Trap! Ay Carumba! The cops immediately jumped out into the road and motioned me to pull over. As soon as I had my helmet off, one of the cops came up and started asking for my papers and telling me that I had just been caught violating the speed limit. Blast!

I tried the stupid gringo trick and acted like I had no idea what he was saying; however, he was extremely persistent, so I eventually gave him my fake driver's license, and copies of my passport, importation papers, and insurance. He took everything over to his jefe and they started writing me up. I waltzed over and took a look at their operation. They had a perfect location, just at the bottom of a long sweeping curve where the speed limit dropped from 80 KPH to 50 KPH in the span of a few meters. You can see the curve in the background as one of the coppers scrutinizes my xeroxes:

I was a little pissed, but there wasn't much that I could do. It's not like I've actually been paying attention to speed limits. I don't usually ride much over 60 MPH anyways so it seemed like there was no need. This was also the first time I had seen Colombians using a speed gun. It was pretty legit though. They showed me the laser and replayed the video of me coming around the corner with my speed (88 KPH) pasted across the image.

Well, they got me fair and square. I waited for the discussion of money to begin; however, the jefe took my documents and started writing me a ticket. Well I'll be. I don't have to bribe anyone.

I was still playing stupid so I couldn't really ask him where to pay. Next time I'm just going to try giving them the sad Gringo look. About the same time they gave me my ticket and told me to go away, another motorcyclists on a R1200GS got pulled over. I asked the rider if he spoke English. He did. He then told me he recognized me from yesterday; apparently he had been eating lunch in the restaurant that I stopped at with Juan David, Daniel, and Rafa. Small world. I asked him what I should do.

"Don't pay it. Just get the hell out of Colombia. They aren't advanced enough to have it in the system by the time you cross into Ecuador."

Okay then. I'm not sure if that's the best advice, but I don't really know what else to do. I guess I'll try and figure it out tomorrow.

I hopped back on and continued riding until I reached Santa Rosa. I continued out of town until I reached the Hot Springs, or "Termales" as they are called. Al told me about this place and said it was a must see. There is a huge waterfall at the back of the complex, probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 feet.

My pictures don't do it justice.

Getting into the nice Hot Springs costs 40,000 pesos (about $20). I probably wouldn't have paid that much, but a good soak sounded like a good idea and the restaurant had wifi. Since my Cabana down the road does not have internet, I decided I might as well take a dip and post on the old ride report. So here you go!

That's all for today. If there are any Colombianos reading this that want to give me advice on that ticket, I'd appreciate it. I've got to go, the lady in the lobby of the hotel that I'm pirating this wifi from is starting to give me dirty looks.....

XR Mayhem!

Day 73
Medellin, Colombia
Day's Ride: 137 Miles

I woke up this morning and changed my mind. I was going to leave Medellin. I packed up all of my gear, locked up the Pelican cases and began loading my stuff. That's when I realized that I still needed a ratchet strap. I walked over to Moto Shop to talk to Federico about finding one. He hooked me up right quick. That's when I decided that I needed to call Juan David from the XR club and tell him that I wouldn't be making it to the meeting that night.

When I told him the bad news, he told me to wait for him at the shop as he was already on his way over to see me. So I stuck around. He showed up a few minutes later and begged me to stay. He even gave me a Colombian flag balaclava and promised me stickers and free food if I came to the meeting! How could I resist?

That settled it. One more day. I said goodbye to Federico and he laughed at me and told me he would see me tomorrow. Yeah, probably.

Juan David asked if I wanted to go ride the "Vuelta a Oriente" and grab some lunch before the meeting. He promised to take me somewhere authentic. Why not? Juan David called up his buddy Daniel and we all jumped on the bikes and headed for the countryside. Juan David is on a smoking XR650R and Daniel is on a surprisingly fast XR250 (the real Japanese version, not the XR250 Tornado).

We went to a resteraunt near to where Albert and I had dropped off the Brits a few days before. I had Juan David and Daniel order for me to ensure that I got something that was really "typico".

I can't remember what it was called, but it was delicious! Beans and ham with a side of rice, shredded beef, avocado, and few things that I didn't really recognize.

As we were eating, another XR rider showed up. His name was Rafa and he was riding an XR650L like me.

After we finished, I tried to pay for my meal, but my new friends wouldn't hear of it. They told me that it would be paid for by the club. Well all right, I like where this is going!

After lunch we went out and snapped a few pics of the bikes.

And then it was time to ride!

Rafa got us off to a nice start by pulling some huge wheelies:

Which pretty much set the tone for the rest of the ride. We struck off on the "Vuelta a Oriente", a stunning windy path through the countryside east of Medellin. The road was pristine, the weather perfect, and the riders all equally crazy.

We rode the rest of the afternoon and even stopped for a little desert in a small town. I had some Tres Leches cake. We finished up the ride and I headed back to the Shamrock to get ready for the night.  At around 7:30 PM, Juan David showed up on his XR650R and led me to the gathering.

"Honda XR Antiochia" is a group of Paisas (Paisas: Colombians from the north western part of Colombia) that all own and ride Japanese made XR's. This is an important distinction as there are tons of Honda XR's in South America that are made in Brazil and are of substandard quality. The good XR's are all made in Japan and imported to Colombia. Earlier in the day I had asked how much a bike like mine would cost in Colombia. They replied that it would be around $8,000 - $9,000 used because of import fees! Considering that I bought my bike (2008 XR650L with 1,400 miles) for $3,800, that's a hefty markup!

I guess that goes to show why the imported XR's are so cherished. The XR Antiochia club consists of over 60 bikes; last night there were about 20 in attendance. They claim that they are the largest group of XR riders in Latin America and Europe. I'll admit, this is the largest gathering of big bikes (over 250cc) that I've seen since I left on the trip!

You'll have to forgive the substandard photography, my camera doesn't do too well after dark. All told, there were 6 XR650L's, 1 XR650R, a number or XR600R's, a few XR400's, and a single XR250. It was incredible! A few of the bikes had been converted into Super Motard variations. One guy had gone full black with acerbis plastic.

As soon as I hoped off my bike it was absolute mayhem! I had Colombianos swarming all over me and the XRL asking me questions and looking at the bike. I was quickly introduced to the leader of the pack, Andres, who presented me with the official club baseball hat, t-shirt, shoulder bag, and sticker! These guys were super generous!

We spent the next twenty minutes or so going around and talking about the bikes. I asked how they had found me at the Shamrock and they told me that one of their members had been surfing the internet and had come across my blog. After seeing that I was in Medellin and that I had visited Federico at Moto Shop, Juan David had gone and asked Federico where I was and then tracked me down at the Shamrock. What a crazy story! Apparently I'm a celebrity now.

After receiving so many gifts, I decided to return the generosity by handing out mustache stickers and having a tank signing party. Here's Juan David and Andres:

I eventually had the whole club sign my tank. A few minutes after handing out the mustaches, I started seeing them appear on bikes:

After the exchange of gifts we got a group shot......

......and it was time to ride! Almost all of the bikes present had aftermarket pipes and the roar of 20 thumpers soon filled the gas station parking lot where we were congregated. As soon as we pulled out into the road, all hell broke loose. There were guys riding over the medians, through lawns, and pulling wheelies with their girlfriends riding pillion. If you've ever done a group ride with a bunch of crazy guys on Jap bikes, through a Latin American city, at night, you'll know what I mean.

We busted out of Medellin and headed towards a town called Santa Fe in search of a roadside BBQ joint. We ended up blasting through this huge tunnel, must have been almost three miles long. I nearly suffocated on all of the fumes and lost my hearing due to the noise of twenty bikes.

We arrived at the BBQ place and I was introduced to some delicious Colombian beef and lemonade.

From what I understood, the beef was actually veal. For only 15,000 pesos a plate, it was quite a deal.

After dinner we all mounted up and rode back to town.

Had to make a brief stop at the toll gate before the tunnel and wait for the traffic to pass since the tunnel traffic is one way and switches directions every 15 minutes or so.

After we exited the tunnel, I waved goodbye to the majority of my new friends and Juan David led me back to the Shamrock. We made a brief stop to check out the Christmas Lights along the river.

And then it was back to the bar. We pulled up around midnight and I said my goodbyes to Juan David. What a great guy! Super generous and an awesome rider. I had a great time last night. The best thing about this trip so far has been meeting cool people and last night was the biggest meeting of cool people I have had so far. Me encanta Colombia!