Thursday, March 28, 2013

Adios Bogota

The hotel that we stayed in Bogota was near the airport, and I think that many clients were there because of the easy access to early morning flights.  The window of my room opened onto the open doorway area, so I benefitted from late night and early morning conversations.   This morning was no different, and at 4:00 am I was awakened by someone leaving the hotel.  I thought that it was too early to leave myself, so I just stewed for an hour or so...

I finally got up and out of Hotel Aerocondor a little after 6:00 am.  It was tough saying goodbye to Bruce and Anne, but I know that I will see them again up in Canada,and possibly they will be at the HU meeting in Nakusp in August, too.

I had plotted a route out of Bogota which would take me around the northern end of the city, and into the mountains on a couple of secondary roads.  For once, Garmin worked according to plan, and I was clear of city traffic within an hour.   I stopped to chat to a group of Colombians who were out on a day ride. One guy had a sparkling new (2009) F800GS,  and another was riding a brand new 1200 GS, so these guys had to be young lawyers.... We had a good chat, and they mentioned a couple of rides for me to undertake as I headed north to Cartegena.

I wandered north for about 2 hours, until  I hit Duitama.  Acutally, I overshot Duitama by about 20 kilometers until a pack of 6 cops got me turned around.  I was trying to find the "short-cut" to San Gill, where I had stayed before, with Uli and others.  The cops showed me where the road was, but warned me that it was very dangerous.  I finally found the connection, and it said that it was only 125 kilometers to San Gil via this route.

The pavement soon ran out as I climbed into the Sierra, heading in a north westerly direction.  The road was extremely rocky and had been worn down to hard pan rock, with lots of marbles and sharp rocks.   I ran into a couple of people along the way, and double-checked that this was in fact the road to San Gill.  They assured me that it was, but sort of shook their heads, and I suspect they were thinking something like "crazy gringo" or more likely: " dumbass gringo", but Blondy was biting into the challenge, and I was glad to be away from Bogota traffic, so why not?

Within two hours, I had reached the height of land, and I could see that there was going to be a long ride of over 100 kilomters through some very interesting mountain ranges as I made a slow descent into what I figured was the western side of the Sierras.  There had been rain lower down, and I learned that I needed to anticipate where the road would muddy up, usually in the lee of a corner, and I had to give Blondy more power than I was comfortable with, in order to get through some of the red mud holes.

I don't think that I have ever ridden for so long under such dramatic conditions of mud and rock without ending up crying like a girl..I managed to keep Blondy going, and to find the lines which kept me upright, although there were a few hairy moments when the front end would jump about, or the rear would slide a bit too much for comfort.

I had ridden for about 3 hours without stopping, and I was figuring that I should be seeing some form of civilization as I was beginning to watch the fuel guage, and it was beginning to feel like an incredibly long 100 km. run.

  I came around a corner, and there was an old Toyota Land cruiser parked off to the side of the road, and two guys and a girl doing some sort of fast track kung fu or martial arts practice to music coming from somewhere.  They didn't stop as I passed, and I didn't stop because my old brain couldn't adjust to the picture I was seeing.  Further on, there was a guy coming out of a plastic shelter that he had constructed beside what I was calling a road.  Fully bearded, he acknowledged me, and waited to see how I was going to negotiate the biggest bloody mudhole I have ever seen, which was just up from his "tent".   I stopped the bike and walked the mud, trying to determine a line which would get Blondy and I through without mishap.  This mud is the ugly red kind which may be good for pottery but hell on bikes and slippery as anything.  I got back on Blondy and through luck more than skill managed to get her through, without looking back at the weirdness I had just encounterd.

Further on, came across the main commune, which I had decided that the group of people must be.  I was seeing kids, old trucks, and lots of plastic "houses."  There was a super-large dome which appeared to serve as a common meeting house. There were some buildings that reminded me of the sixties, and it was pretty clear that this group of folks were out there for a reason.  I waved at the girls and the kids, and everybody seemed pleasant and amiable to the mud soaked moto travelling through their turf.

As quickly as the people and their houses had appeared, the road swallowed them up, and I was back to fighting rocks and mud as I descended further into the western valley.  Now, I was dealing with cows, goats, and the odd horse who were using the road to travel on.  I think I killed a baby chicken, or maybe it was a baby turkey, but I didn't stop to check, and there weren't any feathers on  my boots,so maybe he did zag when I zigged...

I had to stop and use my last liter of fuel to fill up Blondy, as she was sputtering and threatening to die.  I managed to hit a gas station on the outskirts of Charala, and after wandering around that little town looking for the out, I managed to get back on track for San Gil.

I came into San Gil from the north, and immediately began recognizing the town from my visit there in December.  There was a couple of bridges across a wide river, and Uli and I had toured the local park and taken some photos.  As well, this was the town with the hugely steep inclines, where we had wandered around trying to find a place to stay, as well as some flat area to keep our bikes upright.  Thankfully, I had picked up a name of a hotel from ADV rider, and after some preliminary issues, found Hotel Abril and good parking for Blondy.  It looks like I am boxed in by the other guests, so I won't be getting out of here at 6:00 in the morning, but that is okay too.   I regret that that me camera batteris were not charged properly, as I would have liked to have taken some pics of the "short-cut" to San Gil, as well as the weird group of folks who are living up there in the hills....

A Cartegena...

March 26 Esperanza, Colombia

Uli and I had stayed in San Gil a few months ago, so I remembered the very steep streets which characterize this city, which is set at the bottom of a river valley. The river provides folks with some rafting experiences.

I left the hotel, and set Mr. Garmin for a nearby town, Barranchu, which is supposedly a colonial town. Naturally, Mr. Garmin took me overland, almost straight up and over the hills through what was probably the original road 30 years ago. While I had not planned on it, the dirt was an added bonus, although I see that I have one shock leaking again, and Blondy groans to get up on her legs in the morning as a result of a leaking front shock.

When I arrived in Barranchu, a fellow moto fiend came over and introduced himself. We had a good chat about riding in Colombia, as he and his wife were on a week holiday and were doing a tour of northern Colombia. They were from Medelin, and they had hosted a felllow Canuck at their home not so long ago. He was from Nova Scotia, and his name was Len Macdonald. I will see if he is on ADV when I have internet.

I had passed a number of stone carvers as I was travelling towards Barranchu, so as I returned to get back on the highway north, I stopped to chat up these guys and see what they were up to. A tough job, with lots of rock dust everywhere, and not very much in terms of protection. Their pieces were intriguing considering they had minimal tools.

San Gill is set in a valley, as these photos show.

Well into the afternoon, after a great ride down the side of Canon Chucamunga, I began to thinking that perhaps I had missed a turn. 

These pics don't do the canon justice...

 When  you are below the paragliders, you know you have  a long way to go...

 After some time of second guessing myself, I came around a corner and recognized a small restaurant where Uli and I had stopped to eat and drink so many months ago. I believe that it is much hotter now, and I think even greener, if that is possible. After being reassureed that I was on the correct highway towards the coast, I decided on an earlier finish today. I was very hot, and there was no sense in ruining a good ride by being overtired. One of the signals for me is that when I start getting pissed off at dumb drivers, I know it is time to start thinking about calling it a day. I had successfully navigated through Buccamunga in short order, and when the traffic started to piss me off, and I was starting to pass longer lines of trucks and muleos, I knew it was time to find a room. I passed a couple of good looking camping spots which were situated on the river, and I was seriously thinking about a swim when I came upon the little town of Esperanza.

 What would Esperanza be without a church??

 A billiard hall called Liverpool...get it?

 Many communities have these large outdoor courts..
 I had snacks with this guy...

I found a small hotel beside the hiway, with good parking for Blondy. I immedialtely had a cold shower, as this was the only option, and changed into my Colombian soccer shirt. Today is a full moon, and there is a soccer game tonite. I am sure that I will fit right in with the locals..

Wednesday March 27

A couple of good shots of cafe tinto and I was on the road again this morning by 7:00 AM. Within two hours, I had seen two serious accidents, which were a bit unnerving.

Some woman drove herself and her husband and baby right into the front end of a fuel truck. Needless to say, the fuel truck won. I spent the rest of the morning debating whether it was her fault, or her dead husbands' for allowing her to drive a truck which clearly did not have the power she thought it had to safely pass. The point is moot: one family gone.
The second accident involved a moto. All that was left were the crowds, the cops, and one bent bike, along with a certain amount of blood all over the pavement. Maybe because this is Semana Santa people are more eager to donate their bodies, or perhaps they are just plain bloody stupid when it comes to holiday 11:30 I was started to swear at the idiots, and that was my signal that I needed to make it an early day.

I am down on the lowlands now, and it is very humid and close to 35 degrees, so it is understandable that I am heating up earlier in the day than usual. I found a good hotel in Plato, and although the wi-fi is unbearably slow, I think that I will be able to plan my approach to Cartegena. There is a beautiful full moon again tonite, so perhaps that goes to explain today's carnage....

Plato, Colombia..

 Time for a shave...

Tomorrow, Cartegena  revisited...