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Published: October 8th 2009
Just a reminder that the accompanying pictures can be found at my Flickr site.
Well, getting my bike shipped with the group didn´t quite work out as planned; it actually worked out better without them. By the time I got to talk to the group leaders, they had finished their shipping paperwork and didn´t want to do me as well. Couldn´t blame them. The first thing the next morning, I went to the cargo terminals at the Tocuman airport, and talked to Girag directly about shipping my bike. Within an hour, I had left their office by cab with my bike to be shipped to Bogota the first thing the next morning. In fact, it went on the same flight as the other bikes. I took the cab back to the airport passenger terminal and bought my ticket to Bogota for the next morning, then went back to the hostel to kill the rest of the day and night. The large group spent the rest of the day at Girag getting through their paperwork and preparations, I saved hours by doing it myself.
The flight to Bogota was a little over an hour from Panama, and I went straight to the freight terminal to reunite with Motosan. A bit of running around and paper-work at customs to get my bike into the country, then Girag released Motosan to me. This put me out in the parking lot in front of Girag´s (and all the other freight company) offices. I had a wonderful time chatting with inquisitive people as I put Motosan back together. Finally I asked someone for directions downtown to find a hotel that had been recommended by another bike traveller.
Bogota is a city of about 8 million people. I don´t like big cities, particulary strange ones while riding my motorcycle. But, the directions I had received turned out to be easy, and in short order I had found the hotel. By the time I had found the hotel, checked in, carried in my bags, and parked the bike a block away in a secure parking lot, it was getting dark and time for supper. I asked the lady at the hotel desk for the directions to a restaurant where I could get some traditional Columbian food. The directions she gave me did not take me the restaurant she recommended, but I passed literally dozens of restaurants. None of them looked particulary appealing. I wanted a sit-down meal with table service, and everything I saw was pretty much some kind of fast food cafeteria (perhaps this was in fact the traditional food). I picked some random place and had a random meal, nothing to distinguish itself. I guess this is why you don´t see many Columbian food restaurants elsewhere in the world.
I spent the next day looking about town, the morning up a cable-car to a lookout. The most interesting thing about this trip was meeting a maintenance man at the top who was setting up some decorations for an upcoming festival of some kind. He turned out to be a walking encyclopedia about the history of the area where the lookout was. It was a church site that went back hundreds of years. He pointed out bits of rock walls and things that were part of the orginal church, and the buildings that were built as part of the original viewpoints. The first passenger transportation to the top was a funicular which is still in operation (it was closed for maintenance the day I was there). As I wandered around the top, I kept bumping into the same guy; he´d always stop what he was doing, and tell me something else.
I had circled a number of things to see in the afternoon around town. Simon Bolivar is widely revered in South America as the father of independence from Spain. Bolivia, for example, was named after him. He lived for a while, and I believe died, in Bogota. I toured his home and gardens. My white beard is paying off once in a while, I got in free as a senior. The town square was surrounded by some buildings and museums I was interested in, but I never got close. On my way there I ran into a demonstration, thousands of people marching and carrying signs, complaining about the lack of jobs. I stopped a young guy on the street and asked what it was all about. He told me, then started explaining the virtues of communism to me and how everyone would have jobs if only. The protesters were heading to the town square, and so were lots of police in riot gear. I wondered if there were communist-anarchist-types about waiting to provoke the crowds. So, I went the other way, walked some streets avoiding the protesters, and eventually found my way back to the hotel. I don´t think the rally ended in a riot of any kind, but thought it would be prudent of me to give it a wide berth.
As I was leaving Bogota the next morning, I saw a lonely cop on the side of the road so I stopped and talked to him. I told him where I was going and asked him to recommend the best scenic route to get there, and he came through in spades. He told me to head south from Bogota through Giradot to Espinal, then turn right up to Ibague and Quindio. This took me up a valley system with twisty roads, small towns, coffee plantations all over the hills and some fantastic views (and smells of roasted coffee). I climbed up to over 10,000 feet then descended on the other side. I was interested to see all the donkeys about, they still are the best method to get the coffee beans down off of the steep slopes. I watched sacks of beans being offloaded from donkeys onto trucks at the roadside. I overnighted in a town called Armenia, about 250,000 people and it wasn´t even on my map. Columbia has about 44 million people, and given the size of the country, it is evident that it is heavily populated. I didn´t see many places without signs of inhabitation. The road from Armenia joins up with the Panamerican highway after about 50 kms, and from there it is mostly 4-lane divided most of the way to Popayan, I really made up some time. The highway is the main corridor from Medellin to Cali, both very large cities of several million residents. Through most of Central and South America I averaged about 50 kilometers an hour over the course of a day of traveling. For this stretch, I got it up to over 80. South of Popayan, I saw some canyon country that rivals or betters the Copper Canyon in Mexico. I overnighted the last night before Ibarra just north of Pasto in a resort area known as Arizona. There was more beautiful scenery south of Pasto, and I climbed very high getting to the border town of Ipiales, to over 11,000 feet. It was actually cold, I stopped to put on another jacket. The guy that did the importation of Motosan into Ecuador had little patience when I asked him to repeat something. He´d bury his head in his hands, sigh, and shake his head. It was an academy performance I would have paid for, I did my best to stop from laughing.
After about 16,000 kms on this trip so far, I had my first police shakedown the day I arrived in Ecuador. So, I somehow just forgot how to speak Spanish. They told me I had crossed the center line, which was a grave infraction, and I could go to jail (I had just been passed by a bus that just about ran me off the road, how was it that I crossed the centre line?). I played dumb tourist. Eventually they told me to follow them to the police station (I made them work to get that far). A few kilometers down the road they stopped and asked me to pay them the “fine” to forget the whole thing. One cop showed me $5 from his pocket as an example. I again played dumb, what´s a multa (fine)? and told them I wanted to go to their office to take care of it (in my best spanglish). I suspected that they wouldn´t want to continue the shakedown in the presence of others. It worked; they gave me my license back and told me to drive safely!
It was Sunday, October 4 when I arrived in Ibarra, and I knew the gliding club would be in operation so I headed straight for the airport. The club glider passed overhead on final approach for landing as I was waiting at a light, for what turned out to be the last flight for the day. I reunited with the gang and helped them put the glider away. They helped me get settled into my hotel, then we all went out for supper. It turned out that a couple from Germany were visiting, the woman was a glider instructor there. The club flew on Monday and Tuesday to accomodate them, which gave me an opportunity to fly as well. I did a couple of practice flights on Monday to reaquaint myself with the winch launch, and Tuesday I had a great flight, thermalling up to over 13,000 feet (4000 metres) and did some ridge flying on the side of the volcano Imbabura before being called down so others could fly!
I´m staying in Ibarra until October 19 when I will head to San Vicente on the coast to visit my friend John Brock for a week or so. This will give me a good chance to get some backlog taken care of here; some motorcycle maintenance, some laundry, and some planning for the next stages of my trip into Peru, Chile, and Argentina. Motosan´s Ecuador import permit is good until November 3, when I will have to be into Peru. I´ll try to get another blog entry up around the end of October or early November to summarize my time in Ecuador.
Best regards to all from John and Motosan.
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