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Published: December 9th 2010
My ride to Colombia.
The 107 year old Stahlratte.
Welcome to South America!
I trust you are keeping well & depending on which corner of the world you happen to be in, enjoying the snow or the sunshine. If like me you're in Colombia, I hope you like a whole load of rain.
It is so gorgeously green & lush here possibly something to do with it raining 22 out of the 24 hours in the day but regardless, it's a contender for the most beautiful country I've ridden through since I left New York. Southern Alaska was stunning but as that's a state & not a country Colombia could sneakily snatch first place.
It goes from jungle to prairies to rolling countryside & reminds me of England one moment & New Zealand the next. The start of the Andean mountain range makes for an impressive backdrop & those mountains will be my constant companion for the next 7000 miles or so as I ride along, over & around them.
The vast majority of people (but not all, as I'll explain later) are ridiculously friendly & really warm & welcoming. My one complaint is despite rainy season ending on December 1st, no one has yet flicked
the 'off' switch meaning I'm getting soaked on a regular basis & my god can it rain. I've seen more rain in the last seven days then I've seen in the last 5 months.
Stubbornly I refuse to put on my waterproofs as usually it's too late. Within minutes of the rain starting I'm soaked through & so I've been making an effort to keep my waterproofs nice & dry & safely packed away whilst I ride through a monsoon.
The plan if that's what you want to call it, is as ever to head due south but as Colombia is the same size as France, Spain & Portugal put together it may take a while. Patrick & I are still sharing the miles but we'll be splitting & meeting up over & over as we head south which means I'll have to be more careful where I put things as Patrick is continually picking up stuff that drops off my bike as I'm riding along, from sunnies to gloves.
Damon, a Kiwi who was on the same sailing to Colombia has joined us & we met back up with Andy the lad we rode Central America
with. So at the moment we're riding as a four, which I'm sure you all realise by now means??? My mum can worry less. Congrats to those of you who guessed correctly.
Like all of Central America barring Costa Rica who don't have one, the army are out in force especially in the rural mountain areas & around bridges. Unlike Central America & Mexico the army here have the appearance of men with things to do. I haven't had the courage to ask exactly what but they certainly look a lot busier & more battle hardened then their counterparts further north.
So, I managed to get myself & the bike on to a 107 year old sail boat in Panama for the four day sailing to Colombia. The first 2 days were spent drinking rum & smoking cigars whilst sailing around the San Blas Islands & the following two days were spent either sleeping or trying & at times failing, not to throw up. I am not built for a life on the ocean waves.
Time spent sailing around the Med was a distant memory but memories of the ferry crossings to Ireland as a child were
Yet another new method of arrival.
Colombia. With Rolly, the man monster.
much more prominent as I tried to hold on to my lunch. Still, I survived & as the bike & I are in South America it's all good. The boat was good if a little precarious, see pictures of my motorbike suspended by a rope above the ocean & you'll see what I mean but we arrived in Cartagena, Colombia on the morning of the fourth day to grey clouds & heavy rain which is more or less how it's remained since.
Clearing Colombian Customs took a mere 8 hours spent shivering in an air conditioned office after getting soaked to the skin but as you may know from my last entry, such are the joys of motorcycling through the Americas.
Cartagena is a very, very beautiful city so was an excellent introduction to Colombia, despite the torrential tropical rain (don't worry Catherine it will be all sunshine & blue skies by the time you arrive I'm sure!) and after a couple of days we rode up along the Carribean Coast past a city called Santa Marta & on to a little beach town called Taganga.
We booked into a family run hostel for £5 a night
Damon with deep gash to lip but didn't want stitches.
which was perfect for our needs but oddly on the first night we shared our dorm room with a Colombian single mum & her two kids who had to put up with our very sodden & smelly biker gear. When she left our next room mate was another young Colombian single mum. I was beginning to think with our grasp of Spanish we'd accidently booked into a women's refuge but it was definitely a hostel, I checked. It was certainly different to the hostel norm, but different in a good way as they were always good company.
I'm a little sick of rice, beans & chicken the staple diet of Central America & luckily despite being very small & undeveloped Taganga had more then one decent place to buy a chocolate brownie & ice cream after a lush steak meal so I was happy. So much so that by day two in town I was up to 4 chocolate brownies & ice cream & by day 3 six. Comfort eating, I needed something to do whilst sheltering out of the rain. A lean to shack attached to the side of a house served sumptuous breakfasts & proudly had a
& it wasn't because of the morphine. A pain threshold so much higher then mine.
review from the Guardian travel supplement stuck to the wall.
Patrick, Damon & I did venture out for a night into Santa Marta which went well right up until some idiot who appeared to have taken a sizeable amount of Colombia's biggest export, hit the nearest Gringo he could find who happened to be Damon. Naturally things went downhill from there.
Elaine (& Kenny Rogers) would have wisely said to turn the other cheek & in hindsight I could have handled it differently, but in the heat of the moment we didn't. Isn't hindsight a wonderful thing?
So the mother of all brawls ensued with men coming at us with bottles whilst others rummaged through bins looking for ammo. Patrick took a bottle to the face, Damon got his lip split nice & deep & I think I've broken a bone or two in my foot. In short it was insane, but considering the amount of men against three of us I reckon we did real good. I did say traveling isn't always sunshine & smiles.
None of us are the fighting type & would much rather walk away but unfortunately we were surrounded so had
to brawl our way out & brawl we did. Despite taking the full force of a glass bottle square in the face Patrick fought fight like a Cage Fighter & at one point I saw him trying to drown a bloke in a puddle.
I injured myself whilst adhering to the 'if he's down, make sure he stays down' mantra & whilst we were each dealing with one, there was always another waiting to take his place. My abiding memory apart from watching a man nearly drown in half an inch of water, is fighting one man whilst watching another behind him going through the trash can looking for yet another bottle. Perhaps they need to work harder on exporting the drugs & less so on consuming them.
Sorry mum, Elaine (& Kenny Rodgers) next time I'll make much more of an effort to turn the other cheek. I will point out again, neither Damon, Patrick or I are the fighting type.
When we got to look at Patrick's face we agreed a trip to the hospital was in order as he wasn't up for letting Damon & I try & patch him up with a needle
& some dental floss as suggested. Not sure how many stitches he got (I did take pictures as one shared policy of motorcycle travel is if you crash you take a picture and we crashed hard & so pictures were required) as I was too squeamish to look but he got approximately 10 & he took them without complaint. Luckily he won't lose any of those good looks he's famous the world over for. We realise a couple of inches either way & he could have easily lost an eye.
Damon's lip is healing nicely despite being cut wide open & my foot will be fine as long as I don't use my left leg. Riding a motorbike you change gear with your left foot so the bike is usually in third gear regardless of speed. I'm actually using my heal instead of my foot which works a treat, most of the time.
All in all, considering the chaos, the amount of opponents & the weapons involved we did good, but I suppose I would say that as you need to factor in that Damon & Patrick got injured, I technically injured myself.
Our last evening in
Taganga was spent hobbling about & complaining about various aches & pains in my case & more importantly catching up with a friend from home. Andrea is from Bogota but has been living & working in London whilst studying for a Masters. She's a very smart cookie as she already has a degree in electronics of some sort (I'm too slow to understand in which particular field & to her credit she has tried to explain more then once) to add to the Masters & has also spent time designing & installing electrical systems to monitor the seismic activity of volcanoes & such. We have quite a lot in common as when I was 13 I once made a fuse tester at school.
So she's obviously highly intelligent & therefore in good company when she joined Andy, Damon, Patrick & I for a coke & a chocolate brownie with ice cream. Perhaps we should have met for dinner with wine & discussed world affairs as I realise the above sounds a lot like an 11th birthday party, but I'm afraid that's how I roll. Chocolate brownies & ice cream it was.
It was so, so good to see
Taganga, Colombia. Throbbing foot on left.
a face from home & Andrea only laughed a little at our injuries & kindly helped us with our Spanish. She pointed out that when I order a cocoa cola it sounds like I want cocaine & not a coke, which may explain why I'd been getting so many odd looks. Asking for a 'co-ka' in Colombia isn't the same as it was in Central America. We also got to meet some of the family so thanks to Andrea, Melissa & Emily for taking the time to say hello.
Annoyingly I forgot to take a picture for this blog. Annoying at the time, but the very next day I lost my camera so not taking a picture was over taken in the annoying stakes by not being able to take any pictures. I cleverly left it on the seat as I rolled on down the road & it rolled off. Unfortunately Patrick wasn't behind me.
Right so back to the traveling. The intention is to push south towards Ecuador but Colombia & its neighbours are experiencing record floods & so roads no longer exist & those that haven't been washed away or flooded are subject to landslides which
means progress will be slow. One bridge was down on the way here but we rode across what remained whilst all other traffic had to take the diversion as they have yet to see the joys of motorcycle travel.
Colombia loves the motorbike, toll roads are free & we get our very own, very narrow lane at the pay booths. Slightly too narrow at times for a bike with panniers but despite sending the odd cone flying I'm happy as I must have spent hundreds of dollars on tolls since starting this trip. Also motorcycles can ride through roadworks & don't have to queue. If you don't feel like dodging heavy machinery & choose to wait you're allowed to the front.
The lack of maps situation is still much as it was, I don't have any. However, an Australian called Tim was kind enough to give me updates for my Sat Nav for South America & so I'm back on the donut trail. Yipee!!! Oh, & it can find cities too. Sometimes.
So now I'm staying at an Irish hostel which as Patrick says is basically beds around a bar in a city called Medellin. Mr Fitzgerald
Not what you expected?
is very proud to have his motorbike on Irish plates sitting in the car park. Last night we entered the pub quiz & despite questions like which element does W represent on the periodic table (tungsten) & what is the international bird of happiness (bluebird) we came first & won $47000. Seriously! Sadly it was in Colombian currency so equates to about £16 between four of us but a win is a win.
This morning I handed the bike over to BMW for a service & a little TLC as I've heard good things about the workshop here. The last time BMW got there hands on it cost over $1000 & broke down 200 miles later with another bill of $420 before it was back on the road, so fingers crossed. I'll also invest in a new camera which added to the $740 for the boat here & the bike service means I'll soon be 'turning tricks' for my next tank of gas.
Take care & if you get the chance inbetween all the Christmas shopping chaos drop me a line to say hello as it'll be a good opportunity for me to tell you what I want
It's huge & costs about £2.
& where to send it.
Lots of love!!!
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