Colombia

[VIDEO] The New World Ride – Episode 1 & 2

Wow, I’m not doing very well with updating the blog these days! Fear not, for life has still been an incredible adventure and I have lots to share to get caught up to date. For starters, I was back in India on another business trip and had an opportunity to rent a Royal Enfield Bullet 350 for a weekend of touring southern India (photos still to come).

Also, this past January I partnered with Motolombia and took 8 riders down to Colombia for an 8 day motorcycle tour through the heart of the country. Along with me was filmmaker Andreas Munksgaard and together he and I filmed the entire journey. It was one hell of a ride complete with smooth and twisty mountain roads, bumpy and dusty trails, cows covering the road, military checkpoints, coffee plantations, private mansions, exotic fruits, colonial villages, crazy chicken buses and best of all… delicious deep fried arepas!

We set out have an incredible ride through a very controversial country. With this film we hope to show the world how wonderful of a place  Colombia really is. The past decade has brought many changes and the people of Colombia are once again proud of their beautiful country. It’s important to remind ourselves not to get caught up in the fear that is portrayed in mass media…

After the ride it was time to fly back to the US (to get back to my day job) and spend countless hours in front of the computer editing the footage into a documentary. The film is cut into 8 episodes (one for each day of the ride). After months of hard work I’m excited to announce that the first 2 episodes are now live!

Episode 1 is available here.

Episode 2 is available here.

Stay up to date with the latest happenings of The New World Ride episodes by following along on our Facebook page. I must give a BIG thanks to everyone that’s been involved in the project!!! To all the riders (Mike, James, Dave, Brandon, Walt, Al, Sacha), Ken Freund (our rider-journalist from RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring and Travel magazine), Mike Thomsen (owner of Motolombia, Colombia’s premier motorcycle tour and rental company), filmmaker Andreas Munksgaard (who is a wizard of final cut pro), GiantLoop motorcycle saddle bags, Kawasaki of Colombia, Mashtech motorcycle accessories, Luis Puerto (support truck driver), and all the friendly people we met along the way.

THANK YOU!

Stay tuned as the final 6 episodes will be released over the next few months. Until then, here are a few photos from the trip. Enjoy.

Most of the video gear laid on on the kitchen table the day before the flight to Colombia.

Jay and Mike in the Colombian Backcountry.

The tallest palm trees in the world (oddly enough, in the high mountains of Colombia).

Riders at the top of the 4000 meter Cerro Guali mountain pass (we started the day at 100 meters).

Jay and Walt (hidden) posing for a photo at a Colombian military checkpoint.

Mike at a fruit stand in the central square of a small Colombian town.

Me and Juan Valdez. Haha…

Jay LOVES arepas!

Back in Medellin after completing the trip. Having a drink at Al’s real imitation Irish pub.

Lastly, as a brief update of all the other goodness that has been going on over the past few months… In June I said goodbye to everyone at my day job in NH. Amber and I packed up all of our belongings, threw them into storage and hopped on a plane headed for Europe (maybe you’ve heard of it). We spent 3 weeks motorcycling all around Western Europe before jumping on another plane destined for South America. We attended her sister’s wedding in Ecuador, grabbed a motorcycle from Freedom Bike Rental and set off exploring the Andes mountains and the beautiful beaches along the equator. After 2 weeks in the southern hemisphere we jumped on another plane set for California. I’ve been recruited for an exciting opportunity in the tech industry and so we’ve moved out to the Bay Area (Cupertino – an hour south of San Francisco). I’m really excited to begin exploring all that sunny California has to offer. In the coming weeks, I’ll put together a recap of this past summer’s adventure. Until then… Ride and Explore!

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Join me in Colombia!

Back in August I shared with you the first two pilot episodes for the upcoming New World Ride - a Colombian motorcycle documentary. Mike and I filmed these episodes back in June as we were preparing for the future film tour. If you haven’t checked out the final two episodes already, do so now. There is a lot of adventure in these two – Avalanches, grave tunnels, Colombian kids, riding single track down the edge of a mountain, nearly crashing while passing trucks, Bike Week with a local biker club, delicious fresh fruit, and a tour of a working colombian coffee finca.

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Mike and I are getting really excited for this journey. We received lots of interest and spots have been filling up fast. We have only two more spots available. Contact me if you’d like to ditch the snow this winter and ride through paradise! Our tour begins on January 15th and runs for 8 days. Spots on the tour are going for $3,500 which covers nearly everything except plane tickets.

I’ll be posting lots more photos and video clips from our tour in January so stay tuned for more adventure!

Oh ya, I found myself in India on a business trip just last week too and decided that I need a 3-wheel tuk tuk taxi! It would be great to ride around Manchester…

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The New World Ride – Colombia Motorcycle Documentary

2 months ago I started a new full time job. The new gig has no shortage of engaging challenges and I’m really excited to make a solid dent my student loans debt. After I accepted the offer, the count down to “normal life” began and so with 3 days notice, I hopped on a plane and flew to South America. I visited with my friend Mike from Motolombia. I met Mike in early 2010 when I was passing through Colombia. He also owns the superb Casa Blanca Hostel in Cali where he’s housed more than 1,000 motorcyclists over the past three years! Originally from Denmark, Mike’s been traveling the world on two wheels and four since he was a child. Several years ago he settled in Colombia, married, and started a family and business.

Mike and I kept in touch since I passed through and he was really excited about the Motorcycle Mexico film I put together to get riders educated and inspired to ride in Latin America. Now, we have teamed up to create The New World Ride – A Colombian Motorcycle Travel Documentary. In January 2012 I’ll be headed to back to Colombia to film the ride.

We’re looking to give 6 lucky riders the adventure of a lifetime. To learn more and to join us on tour, check out www.TheNewWorldRide.com. In addition to riding on tour, we also have non-riding spots available in Mike’s SUV as well as opportunities to pre-order the DVD and T-shirts.

A few months ago, Mike and I toured Colombia to research routes. In doing so, we filmed 4 pilot episodes to show you just a little of what to expect in Colombia. Two episodes are now live and the remaining two will be posted in a few weeks.

Episode 1 link: http://youtu.be/XL_eN21pTDA

Episode 2 link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_uMHs7B6rk

Here are a few photos from the recent Colombia ride when we filmed the pilot episodes:

Tour Guide, Mike, ripping it up at a local’s motocross track in southern, Colombia.

The local kids put us to shame when they jumped their Chinese 125s!

A spectacular afternoon of riding at the local “backyard style” motocross track.

Popayan – The White City

Wire bridge with wooden planks…

Drunk locals in Silvia, an indigenous village in the mountains, offered us lots of free whiskey at 10 in the morning.

Muddy road far off the beaten path in Colombia.

Friendly construction worker.

Local kids at the top of a natural pyramid in Tierradentro.

Mike crossing a river in Colombia’s coffee region.

Colombia is a beautiful country with a tainted reputation. Did you know, in Colombia the locals said I was crazy for going to Mexico. Yet, in Mexico the locals told me I was crazy for going to Colombia… However, in New Hampshire they tell me I am crazy for going to Massachusetts – I don’t know what to believe anymore… The truth is, Colombia has spectacular on and off road riding, friendly and interesting people, delicious food and amazing scenery.

I’m really excited about this project. If you or someone you know would like to join us on tour, sign up at www.TheNewWorldRide.com. Even if you can’t get away, you can still join the adventure and support the project by pre-ordering the DVD and T-shirts. Go ahead and share the videos with your Facebook friends, Google+ circles, and Twitter followers. Mike and I really appreciate your support!

Hasta la proxima!

Categories: Colombia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Colombia – The Final Touches

After Cali we continued south to Popayan. A nice white washed city that’s not overrun by tourists. Charles gets a hair cut and the lady then asks me how I’d like mine cut. No thanks, I said, I’m already beautiful. She laughed.

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Leaving Popayan Charles and I ride out on a dirt road towards San Augustin. It was raining and cold but fun.

Charles continues and I decide to turn back and head south more directly. I want to make it to Quito, Ecuador before the weekend in order to get some bike maintenance done. On the way back I’m stopped at a military checkpoint. The kids soldiers just wanted to chat about the trip. Automatic rifles – for my protection!

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The road towards the border is spectacular. The mountains are beautiful and the roads are windy and well kept. A quick stop for lunch on the roadside and I’m back on the bike.

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By mid afternoon I arrive at my destination, Santuario de Las Lajas, only about 5 minutes from the Ecuadorian border. This spectacular church spans a deep canyon.

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Prayer tablets.

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Walking down to the Church I ran into Marty who I met in Cali. He’s easy to spot with his giant New Freedomstan sticker on the front and flag on the back.

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The church at night.

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Chilling with the llamas.

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Every country I enter I have to learn a new language. True, they all speak Spanish but the Spanish is very different from country to country. For example, in Colombia people say “A la orden” (At your service)  at the beginning and end of all business transactions instead of saying “buenos dias” (good morning) or “con gusto” (with pleasure). In Spanish a double-l “ll” is pronounced as a “y” sound. However, in Colombia the double-l is pronounced as a “j” instead. Another new word is “clarro” (sure) which is used to show someone that you understand or agree with what they are saying.

A few more things I haven’t yet mentioned about Colombia. There are lots of toll roads but there is a special lane at the far right where motorcycles can pass for free. This is far more convenient than running all the other tolls through Central America. Colombia’s past has also seen lots of motorcycle violence such as robberies and drive by shootings. Because of this all motorcyclists are required to wear a vest with their license plate number on it. The number must also be on the back of the helmet. And in the city it’s illegal for 2 men to ride on one motorcycle because of the fear of drive by shootings. However, one man and one women is acceptable as well is 2 women.

All in all I spent about 3 weeks in Colombia. Before the trip I was warned that Colombia would be very dangerous. Never did I fear for my safety and all the people I met were extremely friendly. Colombia has some of the most spectacular landscape I’ve seen yet and the country has so much to offer. I’ve really enjoyed traveling through Colombia and I hope to make it back someday to explore even more.

For now though, it’s on to Ecuador! Stay tuned…

Categories: Colombia | 6 Comments

Colombia – Medellin and Cali

Colombia has two mountain ranges that run most of it’s length. We descended from the mountains in Bogota and into the valley. It was hot, sweaty, and with little wind. Soon enough though we started climbing up the other mountain chain and made our way to Medellin. It was a full days ride and let’s not forget about the dog that ran into the street. Ya, this kind of thing happens all the time but this was the first time it made contact… A small cocker spaniel mutt  raced across the street and before Charles could even react he ran over it with both tires. THUD THUD and the dog rolled but quickly got up and scurried/limped off the street. I was right behind Charles and saw it all unfold in a split second. We kept on. Unfortunately there was nothing we could do. If we stopped we could be scammed by some local for $$$ for running over his dog (if it really was even his). Well he should have had it on a leash… It was terrible, yes, but we had to move on. So dog killer Charles and I pressed on towards Medellin.

The road into Medellin had beautiful pavement with fun winding switchbacks. Once considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world, Medellin is now spectacular. The orange/brown color of the building roofs and the clean streets were quite a sight. Casa Kiwi hostel is our home in the city and was founded by a New Zealand guy who road south from Alaska and fell in love with Colombia. They have a garage for the motorcycles and even a discount too!

Here at Casa Kiwi we met another biker Carl from Denmark who started his journey in Buenos Aires then down to Ushuaia and is making his way up to the USA. We exchanged some tips on roads/borders/sights as well as stories. The three of us also rode the bikes about an hour outside the city to check out the 200 meter tall monolith of El Penol. The road took us out to the middle of nowhere until we saw this giant right in front of us.

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After slugging up the 600+ stairs we arrived a the summit with a spectacular view of the countryside! (Click on the picture for a larger version).

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Beautiful calm finger lakes and deserted forested islands went on for as far as the eye could see. There were three 20 year old Colombia girls at the top. The started talking to us and turns out that they hitchhiked here from their home. They asked where we were going and if they could ride with us back to the main road where we would then part ways. We agreed but it was lunch time so we decided to get some food in the nearest town first. Even though they giggled constantly it was still a fun conversation to speak only in Spanish with some locals. When the check came (or rather we asked for it – because the restaurants will let you sit for hours without bringing the check) us three guys paid our portion and the girls just sat there… 10 minutes goes by and nothing… Carl and I nominate Charles to ask the awkward question. They don’t have any money… Ya, we could pay for them but just the fact that they assumed we would pay and that we’re already doing them a big favor by giving them a list we think it’s only fair if they each pay the $3 for their meals.

Charles continues the awkward conversation and asks how they stop giggling. Again, we could pay but it’s the principal and now it’s actually kind of fun watching the situation unfold. So after about 45 minutes of calling on the phone, discussing options, yada yada yada, they tell us they can get money from a bank in the next town. OK, we load up and ride there. Another 20 minutes passes and it’s quite confusing as to what the problem is with getting money. Eventually they do and decide they don’t want a ride any more. No problem! We’re anxious to fly down the twisty roads and get back to Medellin! What a fun awkward experience though. You can’t buy that from a travel guide!

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Back in Medellin I read an article in the local paper about two Americans who live in Medellin and working on a photography project called Lighten Up And Shoot. I see that our photography styles are very similar and I drop them an email. They swing by later and we chat the night away over a few beers. Good times and good company.

The next morning we leave Medellin. Ya, so soon. We barely saw any of the city but we had a great time. I could certainly come back here for a week, month, or year… But we need to continue south so we’re up at the crack of down and leaving for Cali.

Cali is significantly lower than Bogota and Medellin. We’re sweating as we roll up to the Casa Blanca Hotel. The owner, Mike, is a motorcycle legend. He road his bike from the USA to Argentina and then back up when he fell in love with a Colombiana, married, had a child, and opened up a hostel and motorcycle/ATV tour company Motolombia. Mike is super friendly and spends all day helping us find tires, getting work done at the mechanic, and sharing travel stories. He’s had more than 200 motorcyclists come by since he opened up the hostel in late 2008. If you’re riding through Colombia, you must stop here!

Thanks to Santiago for all the mechanical help, last minute, on a Saturday, at a very fair price!

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Also at his shop was a $20,000 BMW 1200 GS. I tried to get him to trade straight up. No luck, so I had to steal it!

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We’ve decided to get a set of knobby tires for later down the road (or lack there of) in Bolivia. We hear the roads are treacherous and don’t want to ride there on street tires. Mike brought us to a few shops but we didn’t find quite what we were looking for. Then the manager at one shop gave Charles a front and rear tire that he had used previously for a rally race. He gave me a front (because he didn’t have my size rear). The tires still have good tread left on them and they are hard to beat for the price – FREE! I still need to pick up a rear tire – I’ll try in Ecuador. We’ll hold onto these tires and put them on somewhere in Peru.

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Visitors don’t come to Cali to see churches… They come here for the salsatecas! Cali is the salsa capital of Colombia and when in Rome… At the hostel we met up with Marty (from that country north of the USA – New Freedomstan?) who just bought a KLR with the help from Mike. He’s going to be riding through South America. We also met Simon at the hostel and the 4 of us went out for a night on the town to experience Cali’s salsa culture. The night before, Marty had met a Colombiana , Paola, and we met up her and her friend Diana. Another great conversation that took place only in Spanish. My Spanish is still poor but I really enjoying talking. These girls were super cool and man could they dance… I’m pretty much rhythmically challenged. I asked Diana when she started dancing salsa. She said she started when she was in her Momma’s belly. I believe it. The girls taught us some salsa moves (which we performed terribly but with great enjoyment). We had a blast and danced until 5 in the morning.

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While walking past a clothing store downtown, Marty saw a manikin that looked like me. We all laughed. Here’s this manikin with a bald head and a big beard. We ask a cleaning guy outside if we can go in and take a picture with it. Immediately he understands why and starts cracking up. The same with the lady inside the store. Well here I am with my buddy. It just goes to show you how truly good looking I am and how the Colombians define fashion and beauty. I am a sponsored athlete-model after all…

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Plenty more to come. Stay tuned!

Categories: Colombia | 4 Comments

Colombia – Bogota

Nature was calling me that afternoon. Luckily for me this gas station had a public toilet. Hey, beggars can’t be choosers.

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The road climbed and climbed as we made our way to Bogota. We’re in the mountains of Colombia now. The roads wind through the mountains and the motorcycling becomes fun.  One one pass we’re over 11,000 feet from sea level and the carbureted bikes are lacking power.

Charles is a significantly better rider than myself. He flies through the twisties with ease. I’m getting smoother as he teaches me some riding technique but there’s still no way I can keep up with him. While I stress and focus to make this turn in control at speed, Charles rides leisurely one handed and takes a photo of me. (Ben is being modest.  He has greatly improved in only the few thousand miles we have ridden together, but he’s still just too intimidated by the overwhelming 34 hp of the KLR:) –Charles) (And dragging the center stand in every corner, and bottoming out the suspension).

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You see, Charles comes from a background of racing sport bikes and doing things like this at 170 mph.

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I on the other hand have a motorcycle background more like this.

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Nevertheless we have fun flowing through the switchbacks. We routinely pass trucks on the left and on the right. The trucks often go into the opposite lane when making turns and this can be scary when we’re going fast through a corner and find a truck in our lane. Here’s a grim reminder of what can happen on these roads. Never let your guard down…

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The beautiful scenery continues as we make our way to the city.

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Traffic.

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Unfortunately, there’s no picture for this next one… I hit a bird today! Not just any little swallow. This was a bulky hawk of sorts. It came swooping down into the road in front of me, changed course, and nailed my left mirror and my left shoulder. This sucker was heavy and he clung onto me. What, did he think I was lunch!?!? Taken by surprise, I batted him away and he got stuck in my pannier before he finally fell out. Poor guy probably ended his life. Man was that crazy… Charles could hardly believe it as he was riding only a few meters behind me. (Completely unconcerned for Ben’s well-being I almost crash while trying to take a picture of the hawks talons in Ben’s jacket and control my laughter.  Who kills a hawk with a motorcycle? –Charles)

We arrived at the Bogota city limits and after getting lost and stuck in bumper to bumper traffic for the next 2 hours we finally managed to find a hotel in La Candelaria section.

The next morning was Sunday and all the museums were free to the public. Perfect, we walked the city hitting up the Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) and the Museo Nacional. The Gold Museum was magnificent with plaques in both Spanish and English. A very well put together exhibit with some amazing pieces.

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We also took the funicular up to Cerro de Monseratte – the church atop the mountain overlooking Bogota. The views were spectacular.

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The church is filled with plaques of prayers and thanks.

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Walking by the Plaza del Toros (Bullfighting ring) there were a group of students protesting for animal rights and a group of police in riot gear to keep order.

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Charles dragging knee in the video arcade.

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Charles just finished law school and plans to be a prosecutor in the Colorado upon returning home. He’s studied the legal system of other nations and was interested in seeing the court in Colombia. With our poor Spanish we managed to find the court and sit in on a session. Charles tells me it was quite different from the USA system.  In 1985 guerrillas took over the government building and killed all 9 of the supreme court justices. This country has beautiful landscape and truly kind people but it’s not so distant past was very harsh.

(For my legally privy friends I think we saw an appellate argument on a criminal case in their Supreme Constitutional Court. Unlike the engaged justices and judges in the US appeals system these Juez’s seemed willing to rest their judgments on the briefs alone.  There were 9 seats but no more than 5 in the court at any one time.  They would rotate in as they pleased, drink coffee or espresso served by the court waitress, and then wander out again when they became bored or forgot where they were.  One attorney had to endure over an hour of questioning from the chief justice during his argument.    -Charles)

My favorite piece of Bogota was the Botero Museum. Botero was a Colombian artist in the 20th century who was made famous for his paintings and sculptures of “Gordos” (fat people). I know you Tinas and Fatty Patty will enjoy these next photos.

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Fatball.

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The museum also hosted some works from Pablo Picaso.

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On our last day in Bogota, we rode up to Zipaquira to see the famous Salt Cathedral. The mountain is an active salt mine and has been used since pre-Colombian times. The $8 ticket comes with an English tour. The tour focused mostly on the dozen religious monuments built inside including "the tallest underground cross in the world.” Interesting title… It got me thinking, maybe I can set a world record for something obscure. Underwater pogo-stick jumping record, most blinks in 2 minutes, most smuggled budgies north of the Arctic Circle. Any other ideas?

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Nevertheless the Salt Cathedral was quite an engineering marvel. The massive auditoriums built well underneath the earth’s surface were quite spectacular. And the 3D movie at the end was quite entertaining if not very 1990.

We also learned that the Colombian race track, Tocancipa, was just 20 minutes down the road from the Salt Cathedral. A short driver later we arrived at the track to find the US Marshals doing driver training with the Colombian military. They let us go for a lap around the track. Charles races on tracks like this at home but this was my first time. Very cool!

Categories: Colombia | 7 Comments

Colombia – South America here we come!

We unloaded from the cargo boat and officially set foot in Turbo, Colombia – the start of the road. The “port” was little more than a small wooden dock at the back end of a local neighborhood.

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I crossed my fingers with hopes that my bike would start… Oh please god… VROOOMMMMM!!!! Yes! I put my bike in gear and gave it throttle. It stalled and wouldn’t restart… ARGGGGHH!!!!! Not again! Charles left to go find a hotel and a pick up truck to tow me. Night set in and there I was, alone, in a poor Colombian neighborhood surrounded by a hundred locals asking me questions I didn’t understand, and touching every part of me and the bike while asking for money. I asked lots of questions to divert their attention from me and my gear. About 30 minute later Charles showed up and we get the local kids to push my bike through the back roads to the hotel which was only about a half mile away.

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We unwind for the night and are up early the next morning to work on the bike. The parking lot owner calls over a mechanic and he quickly diagnoses the problem – a clogged fuel line. After about 2 hours work we have the bike put back together and purring like a… burro? Turbo isn’t much a tourist place but the people that helped me out were extremely nice. Thanks so much!

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We quickly pack up and head north. Not more than 30 minutes out of Turbo we’re off the gringo trail blazing down dirt roads through banana plantations. The landscape is already so different from Panama and it’s beautiful. There’s not much day light as we continue north so we pull off in Sincelejo for the night at a little hospedaje for $4.50 USD per person. There’s a big festival in town and so we go to check it out. As we walk through the big crowds this man starts pouncing at Charles’ feet. What the??? He’s quickly surrounded by people and then the man gets up holding some cheap watch like he found what he was looking for. It doesn’t sit well with me and I tell Charles to check for his belongings. Yup, they stole his camera. It all happened so fast without much time to react. Fortunately, most of his pictures were backed up on the computer and it was a 10 year old camera with a broken battery that he wanted to replace anyways. It’s too bad to have something like this happen so quickly into the country but we try to keep our spirits up.

In the morning it’s off to Cartagena. There’s ridiculous traffic as we make it to the outskirts of the city and we find ourselves riding on the sidewalks, cutting through buses, and jumping medians to get through. Fun :) The colonial city is beautiful. It’s surrounded by a wall built hundreds of years ago by the Spanish.

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Charles manning the artillery.

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We’ve been looking for new books and came across a used book market in the city. I found this book. Interesting. I saw my home town on the map and showed it to the saleswomen.

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On the backside of the city is an enormous old fort named Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas. Truly an amazing structure with an amazing tunnel system that was a blast to explore.

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We’re under attack!

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A few pull-ups. Need to work off that daily ice cream…

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Next stop, the Volcan el Totumo, mud volcano. This was a great tourist trap and well worth the $2 admission. This giant mound of dirt is like a natural hot spring. But instead of fresh water, it’s filled with luke warm mud.

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Tourists are herded up the mound and take the plunge into the mud. As you step into the mud you half sink and half float. It’s a very strange feeling.

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Charles and I post mud bath.

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Ya, that mud goes EVERYWHERE.

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After the mud dip we stroll down to the lake where women bath us to remove all the mud. With our skin freshly exfoliated we continue on until we reach the small beach town of Taganga. It’s set in a beautiful valley with a calm cove.

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The fishing boats.

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We haven’t been keeping up much with the news at home but tonight we have a strong internet connection and we live stream President Obama’s State of the Union speech. MURICA! (Democrats! –Charles)

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Now the real fun begins. Charles persuades me to break my cheap frugal spending habits and convinces me to go SCUBA diving. He has about 60 dives under his belt but this is my first time. I sign up for a mini-course where I learn the basics. I’m a little nervous at first but I calm down and am surprised at how natural it feels and how beautiful the environment really is. The instructor said I picked it up very quickly so we basically went out for 2 fun dives. WOW! What an experience. It feels like I’m flying through the sea. We see lots of sea life including eels, lion fish, a turtle, and all kinds of vegetation and coral. Every once in a while I look up and realize I’m 40 feet below the water’s surface. Amazing.

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And just when you think things can’t possible get any more awkward…

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In between dives we had lunch on the beach and helped the local fisherman pull in a catch of tuna. Also caught in the net were trumpet and puffer fish.

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The eagle ray is protected but these fisherman didn’t have any problems with killing this one for its meat. There’s little policing to stop these poachers.

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OK time to get back to work. The next day is a 400+ mile ride from Taganga to Barichara. Ride, ride, ride, eat, ride, ride, ride. That’s pretty much how the day went. It was exhausting but there wasn’t much to see in between so we made good progress and called it quits in the stunning colonial town of Barichara. By coincidence we ran into some other motorcyclists doing a 2 week tour of Colombia. Pedro has ridden all around Central and South America and knows every in and out of Colombia. He gave us some great road advice too.

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Back on the road the next morning and we stop for lunch in another beautiful colonial town, Villa de Leyva. Instead of showing another picture of another beautiful colonial town, I’ll throw in this one of Charles preparing to eat lunch. The food here in Colombia has been exceptional. The typical dishes are much tastier than Central America and the portion sizes are much larger. mmmmm food.

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A typical al muerzo (fixed menu lunch) of steak, beans, soup, grilled banana, rice with noodles, and a type of potato salad, all for $2.50!

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More fun to come. Stay tuned!

Categories: Colombia | 6 Comments

Mutiny on the Bounty – Crossing the Darien Gap

By Charles

Panama is separated from Colombia by a frustratingly short piece of the most impassable jungle in the world called the Darien Gap.  For 60ish miles there are no roads, no towns, not even a goat path.  The only living things are a few interspersed native Indians, dead Colombian rebels and enough Dengue Fever, Malaria, and fetid swamp to have killed several ambitious travelers that have tried to cross in on foot and canoe.  Panama has refused to develop this area for fear that the Columbian civil war and drug trade would filter north. 

We chose the sailing option from the ones Ben outlined in a previous post for several reasons including the cost, the chance to stay several nights in the UNESCO recognized San Blas Islands, and the romanticism of sailing through the night to another continent. 

As Ben said previously, a boat had two openings at the very last minute which left us little time to tour Panama, but we’d gladly trade that for more time in Colombia.  On our second day in Panama we made a beeline from Panama City to the tiny town of Puerto Lindo where our boat is docked.  After touring the Panama Canal we ride from the Pacific to the Atlantic in under an hour!  We pull into town and are greeted at the Hostel Wunderbar and told to head to the beach to load our bikes.

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(antes y despues Miraflores Locks, Panama Canal, built 1913)

The boat is Capitan Herve Guitar’s Metacomet and costs $725 each for 5 days, $375 for the body and $350 for the bike.  Apparently, the bikes eat almost as much as a person!?!  The Hostel Wunderbar’s website lists many of the regular boats and claims this one is a “sailing motorboat.”  The language promises afternoons of snorkeling and nights of “freshly caught fish” dinners in the beautiful San Blas Islands.  Wow, paying upfront for a chartered sailboat you’ve never seen for a week touring pristine islands!  What could possible go wrong?

The loading procedure of bike to launcha and bike to boat has to be seen to be believed.  After a few tense moments and some blood, sweat, and tears KLR and KTM are safely on board.  Now begins the real adventure…

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Yes, you ride your bike in the launcha, don’t slip!

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(They just use the halyard to yank it aboard, El Burro’s moment of truth between launcha and boat)

Rather than detail the trip and list the innumerable points necessary to paint a complete picture of this fiasco I will jump straight to the punch line.  We been had!  Ben and I were conned so well, so thoroughly, and so blatantly into participating in this boondoggle it is amazing in hindsight we did not heed the numerous warning signs.  Let’s recount the major problems.

The Capitan: Herve Guitar. We first met this Alice Cooper look alike at dinner the night before leaving.  In spite of his ratfink like appearance his demeanor exuded assurance and normalcy.  C’mon he’s a “Capitan” after all, right?  He was short on details initially, but we assumed that all will be answered in the morning and that our fellow passengers who had been in Puerto Lindo for several days had more information than we did.  In reality this waste of a human soul turns out to be incredibly bipolar, however neither personality reveals a single redeeming quality. 

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On the second day, after one of his several daily joints, he confides to one passenger that he just quit doing cocaine after 15 years of addiction.  We also find out that the moniker “Capitan” requires no actual training to attain in this swindlers paradise.  French douchebag becomes a more aptly earned title as the trip continues, but one not nearly descriptive enough alone. 

On the 2nd day we go through the process of securing everything, stowing all the threadbare bedding below, and pull the anchor only to be told within a minute to reverse all the steps as the douchebag had just changed his mind and decided to stay put for another day.  During one drug and alcohol induced stupor on the 4th evening he demanded we be ready to leave at 2am to sail into the night.  He was so high he must have envisioned our boat floating over the giant reefs that surrounded our anchorage on all sides because the boat had no running or spot lights to aid navigation. 

Near the end of the trip I brought a mattress covered in mold spores to him after his insistence all the bedding was clean.  His response was to threaten to put me, my bike, and my passport on the next deserted island.  One of the other riders reminded him that there were 17 of us and only 1 of him.  Shabby and unsafe conditions are the sign of a poorly run business, but threatening your customers directly is crazy.

While working as a prosecutor I dealt with criminals almost every day, many of whom were skillful and honed professional liars, but this asshole has raised the art of lying to an entirely new evolutionary plane beyond reach of these mere part time pretenders.  Simply put, when his lips were moving he was lying, no matter the context, the question, or the importance.  After lying to yourself as a addict for so many years it must become second nature.  Ben and I and the other passengers were constantly deceived about the most basic details including when we would arrive, where we were going each day, how long we would be motoring, was there sufficient food or water, how many people would be on board, the prices of every last dollar of cost, and the availability of the launcha in Sapzurro.  EVERYTHING!  Even worse, none of the lies were consistent.  Prices, schedules, and other decisions often changed several times per day.  Apparently utter confusion and misinformation is the best method to prevent a mutiny.

Our naiveté was fueled by the constant assurance we received from the two hostels we contacted and the numerous captains we talked to before departing.  During the trip we also met several of this French expat’s friends, and this profession seems to attract the most dysfunctional, anti-social, criminal elements of society that cannot find refuge in even the most squalidly hole in their own countries.  Almost every person we encountered from Puerto Lindo to Sapzurro attempted to swindle, cheat, or extort money from us.  These decrepit, worthless humans were in sharp contrast to the generous and helpful populations Ben and I had encountered in every country from Mexico to Panama.

The Boat:  For the exorbitant price we shelled out we were delivered far less than promised by the Hostel websites.  Due to lies from that asshole “capitan” We end up spending about $150 more for each rider than he originally quotes us for the all inclusive price. 

Our boat was a converted fishing trawler with masts stuck on for no apparent reason.  We did not spend a single minute actually sailing.  Instead we motored under the power of a 1944 tank engine at a blazing 8mph at full cruise.  Living on this floating wreck for a week cannot be truly understood by merely reading about the numerous disgusting and unsafe elements.  The sum of this experience is far worse than I can relate. 

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(Ben and I felt sorry for other boats when we would anchor nearby.  Here you are in your expensive yacht or schooner enjoying the peacefulness of the islands and this rusting wreck pulls up with 17 loud, cranky people on board. What would you think?)

First, the lack of safety was apparent in every corner.  The only lifeboat on board was 5 years expired, and only had room for 1/4 of the people on board. The pressurized gas line for the propane cooking stove was a water hose attached with a hose clamp. The only working light was zip tied to the non working light it was supposed to replace.  The mainsail was trimmed simply by looping a line over the boom and tying it onto the railing.  Had something happened the boat contained no ELT, no working radio, and only one small working fire extinguisher for the entire boat.  Ben asked about life preservers and was quickly rebuffed.  I’ve raced motorcycles over 170mph inches from other riders and not been as concerned for my safety as on this wreck.

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(the wiring mess that was the helm, and the lifeboat that says it needs service by the expiration of May, 2004!)

Second, the sanitary conditions on board were appalling.  The boat contained no black water tank, so every time someone pump flushed the toilet it exited the side of the boat.  This was especially pleasing when someone was swimming next to the boat or gathering sea water for dishwashing.  There was no shower, no soap for washing hands after going to the bathroom, and no hot water or bleach for dishwashing.  The two bathrooms were separated from the bunks by only a slat screen, and with no actual water to flush the toilets the boat quickly stank heavily of stale urine below deck.  The sleeping conditions were equally disgusting, so dirty that Ben and I did not want to soil our protective travel sheets by exposing them to the filth we were forced to sleep on.  The permanently wet mattresses and blankets were covered in mold and had clearly never been washed.  I have gutted homes in ceiling high mold and mud in post Katrina New Orleans and not been as disgusted as sleeping on this boat.  Night time presented two options, sweat in the unvented urine sauna below decks, or sleep on deck and be forced to make friends with the breeding mold spores.  We always chose the deck.

Third, the crew, or lack of one:  The facade of a professional journey was kept intact just long enough to sucker all of us out of reach of the port and under the “Captain’s” control.  We departed with a cook and a first mate, and despite the cook making sandwiches for lunch in the crotch of his dirty shorts using his oil and dirt stained hands the first day went fairly well.  However, on the second day reality set in as both the cook and first mate left the boat, choosing to be literally marooned on an island rather than suffer another four days under the “Capitan’s” drug induced dictatorial control.  After a few more days I would have gladly shared their fate.

Fourth, food and water:  The captain, in his infinite wisdom, assumed we could all get by on his cigarette, joint, wine, and 4hrs sleep regimen.  He provided only 20 gallons of water for 17 people for 5 days, and the boat had no clean water tank or desalination equipment.  The fruit ran out after 2 days, the meat spoiled after 3 without sufficient ice, half the vegetables went bad after the douchebag allowed them to swill in salt water on deck for days, but at the end of the trip we did have several pounds of butter left.  Clearly he felt doing the shopping in the same drug induced hazed he sailed in was the best method.

The Cost: Had this trip been priced around $400 for a person and a bike I might not have written such a description of our asshole captain. With all the backpackers, riders, and bikes on board the douchebag raked in $8,475 for 5 days work.  For only 170 miles of motoring he could not have spent in excess of $300 on gas in Panama.  We were told by the crew, before they jumped ship, that he only spent $800 on food and water and only after the crew balked at his proposed budget of $500.  The bikes required $45 to load in Puerto Lindo, but the riders were stuck paying the unloading fees in Sapzurro (despite the Capitan’s initial promise this would be included).  The douchebag was clearly not reinvesting any of his profit into his floating trash heap, so he was simply swindling thousands in profit by deceiving his customers.  With no expectation of return customers or two way travel what does he have to lose?  Also, all the riders and backpackers had to arrange to get another boat from Sapzurro to Turbo, Columbia since there are no roads or airports out of the former.  Despite the captain promising at one time to pay half of the fast launcha required to get to Turbo it ends up costing $85 more from each rider, or an exorbitant $8 per kilometer!  Further, rather than being a fast launcha it ends up being a slow 14hr cargo boat ride.

The People: The sheer number of bodies on board exacerbated every other inadequacy.  When we first looked at the boat I surveyed the available beds and concluded that it would be comfortable for 8-10 people.  When we showed up to board 18 other bodies lined up with Ben and I.  The douchebag captain claimed there were 17 beds, but this only added up correctly if every inch of space on deck was filled with hammocks and mattresses, and every twin bunk below was shared by two guys.  When it rained those on deck were given no place to go.

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(Overcrowding!  Imagine 5 days of this intimacy with no where to find relief)

However, the passengers on board were the only shining light at the end of the tunnel.  They were interesting, kind, humorous, and we all found common bonds in complaining about the trip.

There were the three Australians who dressed up as pirates in floaties and tried to board other ships in the harbor, there was Tyler who, in his desperation for money, ate a giant fish’s raw eyeball on a $9 bet, and there were the 4 retired guys also riding their way through South America who provided sarcastic commiserating humor and support the entire way.  These riders thankfully brought $100 worth of bottled water on board that was the only liquid we had to drink after quickly exhausting the douchebag’s meager 20 gal supply.  They also selflessly took over the cooking duties once the crew left and did a great deal with very little to work with.  Without all the amazingly agreeable passengers on board I would have organized a mutiny and keelhauled that douchebag long before we reached port, and many others contemplated the same idea.  I will post links to the entries on other passenger/riders blogs as they come.

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(Patience wearing thin on hour 10 of the 7th day of our 5 day boat trip)

This is intended to be a cautionary tale to any future travelers who google this post.  We have heard many stories of boats like the Stahlrat that actually provide an enjoyable experience for their passengers and are captained by experienced and honest people, but we did not encounter any semblance of this on our “sailboat vacation.”  Check every detail of the boat before you depart, run a criminal background and maritime license check on the captain, and make sure you see the boat before you pay anything

Thankfully we finally made it to Sapzerro and Turbo.  Onward to Colombia!

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Categories: Colombia, Darien Gap, Panama | 18 Comments

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