Monday, September 29, 2008

Two weeks on the road: Now in Medellin - Sept 29

We´ve made it as far a Medellin, Colombia. We´ve traveled about 1500 miles. Not much for two weeks, but we don´t travel every day and the going is slower. There are no freeways, so we have to slow down for every small town along the way (to say nothing of trucks, busses, burros, and pigs in the road).

This is the former drug capital of Colombia... home of Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel. However, since President Urribe was elected Colombia has become MUCH safer. In fact, I feel very safe. There are police or military on all the roads at frequent intervals. They are very friendly to the good guys, but heavily armed to deal with the bad. All it all, it is very comforting so see so much protection.

The countryside from Cartagena to Medellin was gorgeous. Green mountains, forests, and lots of pasture land. We arrived in Medellin yesterday afternoon and are staying in an area called the Zona Rosa (every city seems to have one), which is a very upscale neighborhood. Lots of restaurants, parks, bars, and shops. David (the South African I am currently traveling with) and I are in a very nice hostal called Tamarindo. Even internet so that I can post this blog!

Unfortunately, David took the wrong route into the hostal and his bike got stuck, literally between a rock and a hard place. Time to shed a bit of weight, David :)

Medellin was also home of the famous artist Botrero, he of the corpulent bodies. There is an entire plaza full of his statues. Ah, more hunks... a person could get a complex (although I hesitate to describe just what it might be)!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Colonial Cartagena

Finally made it to Cartagena, where I would have started had I gone by boat. It is an old, charming colonial city that dates back to 1580. Cartagena was probably the second most important city in Latin America, after Lima. It is a facinating (if a bit touristy and pricey) city.

It´s interesting to see some of the things they choose to celebrate by building museums. The gold museum is to be expected... the various pre-colombian tribes made exquisite gold objects:

However, there is also a Museum of the Inquisition. A tribute to Torquemada and all the good folks that brought you the Rack, the Iron Maiden, and other instruments of torture for a truly successful Auto de Fe! David and John just had to see if they could turn John into a basketball star! (It didn´t work)

Everywhere in Colombia you also see sculptures and paintings by Botrero, Colombia´s most famous artist. Even if you don´t know his name, you have probably seen his pictures of rather ¨rotund¨people. We just couldn´t resist comparing Kay´s ¨nalga¨(look it up in your Spanish dictionary) with a real Botrero.
Tomorrow it´s off to Medellin. Hasta Pronto

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Beginning the Trip - In COLOMBIA

FINALLY, after three years of planning the trip begins.

On Sunday September 15 I arrived in Bogota, Colombia. On Monday I got the bike from the airport and went through customs. All-in-all not a bad experience. The customs at the Bogota airport was one of the most civilized I have dealt with. They even served coffee (free).

The first problem began, however, riding into Bogota. In Colombia motorcyclists are required to wear a vest with the license plate number prominently displayed. You can see it in this picture of David (a South African I am riding with) and me. On our way to get these vests made we were surrounded by eight cops with drawn weapons and patted down. Evidently in the old days assasins would ride around on motorcycles and kill rival drug dealers, so they assume anyone on a motorcycle without proper vest/ID is a killer! A simple explanation (and flashing my old Marin County Sheriff badge) made everything OK and turned them into my new best friends, but it was a bit of an adrenaline rush. I´m not used to being on that side of a pat-down!

Bogota is a great city. Lots of everything, and very well organized. A fantastic public bus system in with separate bus lanes. Overall, I enjoyed it thoroughly.

David and I then left for the north, stopping first in Zapaquirá. Here they have built a cathedral (not a shrine, an entire LARGE cathedral) 100 feet underground in a salt mine. It is facinating, and with incredible acoustics.

Then it was off to Villa de Leiva, a colonial town on the way to Bucaramanga. This is charming, but ultimately not interesting enough to stay long. The one night we were there the big to-do in town was a performance by the local high school band in the plaza. However, the young ladies were very cute.

In the morning we went to the Saturday market and had a great breakfast for $1.25.
Also a lot of interesting faces.

We are currently in Taganga, just past Santa Marta (a town of no particular interest). David and I got a small apartment behind Jimmy´s (an American living there) house. Funky is a kind term. Lack of sleep the first night was caused by my bed falling in (as in the boards just broke... must be time to diet), and the second night by the drunk in the other apartment coming back at 3 am. I´m beginning to see a pattern. Then again, if you want predictable stay at the Holiday Inn. Today I went scuba diving... not fantastic, but it was nice to get in the water again. Saw a bunch of eels, and a HUGE lobster. Unfortunately, I didn´t have a sack with me or he would be tonight´s dinner.

Which reminds me, it´s about that time and I´m hungry. We´re off to Cartagena tomorrow. More soon.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Bike Goes to Bogota... I'm Next !

As of today, my bike is in Bogota, Colombia. After three days of red tape (as only Panamanians can invent) I got all of the paperwork done to export the bike. I chased from one end of town to the other, visited about 212 different government agencies, made a ream of copies, and finally had all the paperwork ready. We took the bike to Copa Air Cargo for shipment, and... nobody wanted the paperwork! Not Copa, not customs, not the janitor, NOBODY! So why did I go through all this? A very good question. Maybe it will make a difference when I return, but I wouldn't bet on it.

But the important thing, in the end, is that the bike got on the plane and is now awaiting me in Bogota. Maggie helped me see it off.

Many people have asked me what I'm going to be riding through South America. In particular, if I'm going on my Harley. The answer is no... the Harley is not the right bike for a trip of this type. It's a great bike, but it's a street bike and doesn't do well with the kind of dirt roads and potholes that make up the South American road system (actually, calling it a "system" is being very kind in many places).

The HD is, however, really good for attracting attention in Asian bars! My first long motorcycle trip was from Singapore to Phuket, Thailand with a couple of other Harley riders. We attracted a lot of attention riding through villages in Malaysia and Thailand, and had a great time. But not the bike for 20k miles of who knows what to the bottom of the world.

The bike that I did choose is a 2006 Kawasaki KLR 650. This is a single cylinder "dual-sport" type of bike. A cross between a street bike and a dirt bike. I chose it for its versatility and the fact that it hasn't really changed in about 20 years. This means that all the weak points are well known and someone has invented an improvement for most of them. It's also a pretty simple bike from a technological standpoint... something that's important when you have to do your own repairs in the middle of nowhere. I've done extensive modifications to the bike, and have ridden it twice through all of central America on shake down cruises. It's as ready as it will ever be.

The only question now is... am I? We'll find out tomorrow. Next stop, Colombia.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

An Idea is born - South to Tierra del Fuego

It all started with a woman. It always does, doesn't it?

It was 2005. I was getting on the Red Ball ferry with my Harley to return to Seattle after visiting my daughter Kim who was staying on Vancouver (BC) Island. And there she was in front of me: Tall, early 20s, not particularly attractive, but not bad. Dressed in a scruffy pair of jeans and a t-shirt. And riding one of the most over-loaded, beat up motorcycles this side of Alaska. I mean, this thing was piled so high with duffle bags, camping equipment, and even a guitar that you could hardly find the seat. More like a donation pile for the Salvation Army floating on two wheels than a motorcycle.

"Where are you headed" I asked.
"Costa Rica", answered my muse.
"Have you done much biking?", I continued
"No, I just bought this thing and took the course to get my licence"
"Do you speak Spanish", I inquired, somewhat incredulously.
"No, but I hope to learn some there"

Well, I've done a lot of riding, both in Asia, Canada, and the US. But this chick took the cake: No experience, no Spanish, just out of college, and heading off for whatever life had to offer. Definitely more balls than brains, but you had to give her credit for just going for it.

And I started to think (always dangerous): If she could do it -- with virtually no preparation or existing skills -- why couldn't I? And why stop at Costa Rica? Why not just keep going to the bottom of the world... Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia? And so an idea was born.

But when to go? Once I got the idea, I started researching everything I could about motorcycle adventure travel. Books and articles by guys (and an occasional gal) who have riden South America, Africa, and around the world. At one point my research brought me to the movie "Diarios de Motocicleta" (Motorcycle Diaries). The film chronicles a motorcycle trip that Che Guevarra (before he became the famous revolutionary) and his friend Alberto Granado made in 1952 from Argentina to Venezuela.

Their goal was to arrive in Venezuela for Alberto's 30th birthday. And again that "thinking" thing took over my brain: If Che and Alberto could do it for Alberto's 30th, why shouldn't I do it for my 60th? I would be twice as experienced, twice as mature, and (let's face it) just plain twice as OLD! But as much as I looked for ways, I realized that no matter what I did I was not going to get any younger. So the time was set: I would leave in 2008 to ride to the bottom of the world.

There was another consideration, of course. After 25 years of marriage (plus another 5 together) I did have to run this idea past Karen. After all, I might be gone 4 to 6 months. But this is the woman who, when I finished my doctorate and asked her where she wanted to move to, replied "anywhere we haven't lived before". So her attitude was "go for it". Did she want to come with me? No, even an occasional sitting on a bike for 8 or 10 hours in the rain didn't appeal to her. Her only condition: "It's fine as long as I can fly down to visit some of these places while you're on the trip". So now we had a few "together" things that we could plan too.

A few things have changed since that initial decision. We left Seattle, moved to Indiana, and then moved to Panama, which eliminated the US/Central America portion. But as part of my preparation and practice for the "big" adventure I've done two trips through Central America in the last year, so I haven't really missed out on that part. And today I sit in our home in Panama City doing the final preparations: A few more parts for the bike, a little more paperwork to make sure things run smoothly for Karen while I'm gone, insurance to arrange, and a myriad of other details.

But the date is fast approaching: September 12, 2008 I fly the bike to Bogota, Colombia. I fly to Bogota on the 14th, and then head south. Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Chile, and Argentina. And when I reach Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world... who knows? I might just decide to keep going!

And to think, it all started with a woman. But then, it always does, doesn't it?