You're here for a good time, not for a long time.

You're here for a good time, not a long time.

August 21, 2011

Long Haulin´

We finally got out of Barranquilla Thursday at noon.  Alex’s lawyer Edwin seemed to be doing his job, but the bureaucracy in that city is apparently among the worst in Colombia.  We lay pretty low the last couple days after my attack.  I didn’t leave the room past 10:00pm once.  Wednesday evening Al and I went to see Super 8 at the theater.  I was heartbroken when the first lines spoken in the film were Spanish; we watched the whole movie without subtitles.  My Spanish improved noticeably during the two weeks in Barranquilla.  I was able to follow the movie pretty well, but a lot of the technical plot development and jokes were lost on me.  It gets hard to listen in Spanish for more than a half hour too.  By the end I was exhausted and pretty confused.  Therefore the movie wasn’t that great, although Alex and I agree it wouldn’t have been that good in English either.  Spielberg fail.

Thursday Edwin showed up with all the signatures and stamps he needed.  He and Alex went to the impound lot and picked up the bike.  Al had to pay Edwin for his services as well as the impound fee.  We immediately got packing for the road as soon as Al came back with his bike.  11:30am we had one final meal at the restaurant downstairs.  The manager was sad to see us go; we had been eating there three meals a day for fourteen days straight.  We said goodbye to the hotel staff too.  They had been mildly sympathetic to me after the gunpoint incident, but I was a little miffed that they never offered any sort of consolation (a beer would have set us square).  We hit the road at noon and had no problem finding our exit since it was the same route that I had taken to Santa Marta. 

It was hot as hell out but we took a good chunk out of the 650 mile trip to Bogota.  We finally stopped for the night in a no-name town after 170 miles of smooth riding.  The only place we could find to stay was a trucker hotel.  It had ample parking, a very drab exterior, but surprisingly clean and comfortable rooms.  We ate the standard Colombian meal across the street and met a longwinded Colombian named Wilson.  He kept telling us about the roads on the way to Bogota and the beautiful views we would encounter.  It was good information, but we were tired and cut him short going to bed early.

Friday had a groggy start and we mounted up around 10:00am.  We took off with aspirations to knock out the majority of the distance remaining.  That dream died twenty miles in when Alex’s bike shut off at 60mph and wouldn’t start up again.    We’ve endured a lot of bad fortune lately; just when we were starting to get some positive momentum going, another breakdown threatened to throw us completely off course again.  After a five minute inspection Al decided he needed to change his spark plugs.  Easier said than done.

To get to our spark plugs the side panels, seat, and gas tank have to be removed.  We’ve done that a thousand times, but after Al’s bike got whacked, his luggage racks crumpled in around the frame and even stabbed through one of the side panels.  The only way to get to the spark plugs was to take the luggage off, and we weren’t sure we’d be able to get it back on.  With no other option, we disassembled the luggage and the racks.  Then we took the bike apart and Al installed his replacement spark plugs.  The bike fired up on first try; wind was back in our sails.  We spent the next twenty minutes putting everything back together and gearing back up; the luggage fit back in place surprisingly well.  Helmets on, earplugs in, we were ready to take off.  Al hopped on his bike and hit the ignition… and we both listened in horror as the bike wouldn’t turn over. 

He sat there for five minutes working the choke and the throttle, but no matter what the bike wouldn’t start.  Devastated, we started taking the whole thing apart again.  Fifteen minutes later we pulled the new plugs out and tested them for spark.  Just like when my stator uplink failed, there was none.  It was a grim sign given our recent luck.  As we were checking all the fuses and connections, a motorcyclist pulled up to see what was wrong.  He didn’t have any new ideas, but he did warn us that we were near guerilla territory and that as gringos we would make easy targets.  I was beginning to hate Colombia.

The motorcyclist did us a favor and called police checkpoint 2km down the road to tell them our situation.  The police acknowledged and said they would keep us in mind (whatever that meant).  The guy recommended that I tow Al’s bike to the police checkpoint and then take it from there.  He wished us luck and went on his way.  Minutes later a flatbed truck rolled by and pulled off on the shoulder ahead of us.  It backed its way right up to where we were.  Fingers crossed it wasn’t guerilla.

The moment the driver stepped out our luck took a dramatic swing in the right direction; it was Wilson from the hotel.  He recognized us on the shoulder and stopped to see if he could help.  Wilson told us he was going our direction and would take the disabled bike to Aguachica, the next city down the road.  Not wanting to hang out on that shoulder any longer, we graciously accepted his offer.  Wilson’s truck was a snub-nose cab with a high bed.  Loading the bike was easier than I expected (it should be given all the practice we’ve had).  Alex and Wilson each took a handlebar grip and lifted the front tire into the bed as I pushed the rear.  Then Alex and I lifted the rear while Wilson kept it upright from up top.  Wilson lashed it all down and were moving again… at about 35mph.

I followed behind Wilson’s truck for sixty miles and he never went above 50mph.  It was painstakingly slow, but the only option we had as well as a tremendous act of good will.  An hour and a half later we arrived in Aguachica and Wilson went straight to an authorized Suzuki mechanic.  As soon as we arrived I went dragged myself to the next door restaurant.  I hadn’t eaten breakfast and I had been out of water for quite a while; it was 2:45pm.  Al’s breakdown caught me off guard and I was running on fumes by the time we arrived.  I ordered the same meal I’ve eaten three times a day for the last fifteen days: carne asada with rice, beans, fried plantains, yucca, and the soup of the day.  It costs about $4 and fuels you up.  I was halfway through the meal when I heard Alex’s muffler blast to life down the street.  Beautiful.

Minutes later Wilson sat down next to me in the restaurant to eat.  He told me that it was just a wire connection that had come loose, probably when we put the gas tank back on.  Go figure; if we hadn’t been spooked about guerillas, we probably would have found it with another five minutes of head scratching.  I asked Wilson about the guerillas, he said there was nothing to worry about in the daytime although nighttime was a different story.  We ate together and watched SpongeBob Square Pants.  Since Wilson knew the area I asked him about the best route to Bogota.  He grabbed my map and marked every city I should hit on the way.  He also warned me about a confusing fork in the road fifty miles south.  He said although the Bogota sign points to the right, we should go left; it was bar none the superior route.  We finished our lunches and then Wilson was ready to go.  Alex tried to pay him, but he would not accept.  He was on a work trip anyway and said the opportunity to help was payment enough.  We twisted his arm and Wilson let Alex pay for his lunch.

The mechanic charged Al $15 for the five minutes of ‘work’ done; consider it a fine for the rookie mistake.  It was 3:30pm and we were back in the saddle.  We flew out of Aguachica trying to make up lost time with the sun already hanging low.  Fifty miles down the road I couldn’t believe my eyes.  There on the shoulder, just before the fork in the road, was Wilson waving us to the left.  For a guy we blew off the night before, he showered us with kindness and wanted nothing in return.  I was beginning to like Colombia.

After the fork, the road started winding into the mountains.  Alex and I rode forty miles further up into the hills until we could barely see the road.  The sun went down behind the mountains around 5:30pm and the whole world got dark way earlier than we expected.  Finally at 6:00pm we pulled into another no-name town and parked at another trucker hotel.  These places are great; they charge $15 for a room and the kitchen is always open.  The guests are all long-haulers and we get along with them well once we mention our trucking days in Alaska.  We ate the standard carne asada meal for dinner and went back to the room fulfilled.  Alex watched some downloaded TV programs while I pulled out my sewing kit and took care of some nagging holes that have been developing in my wardrobe.  I sewed up a tear in the shoulder of my shirt as well as a bunch of holes in three pairs of underwear.  I did quite well; I figured out how to make a knot out of each stitch and it keeps them all super tight and orderly.  It’s probably the most basic sewing method known to mankind, but I taught myself and Mom would be proud. 

This morning, Friday, we awoke at 7:00am and were moving by 8:30.  We covered 150 miles over seven hours of treacherous roads today.  The first stretch was a wet, muddy construction zone.  After that was a long set of winding roads leading high into the mountains.  Every switchback was a test as the semis were constantly crowding the outside lane on their turns.  Passing here is nothing like in the United States.  The cars, busses, and semis are all extremely aggressive and always jockeying for position.  As a motorcyclist, it’s your responsibility to stay out of the way take the opportunities you’re given.  We did well today; no close calls, no tense moments.  The same can’t be said for the truckers, though.  Our first traffic jam was caused by a broken axel on a dump truck.  When I say broken, I mean the truck was leaning on its frame and half the rear axle was lying on the road ten feet behind it.  A couple hours later we passed another semi that had turned over on a small uphill turn.  We had the pleasure of riding through a river of diesel fuel to get past the wreck.

The highlight of the ride was Iguaque National Park (I think that's the name).  Although we never entered the park itself, we rode passed the gates near the top of our ascent.  The views were spectacular and nothing like I expected of Colombia.  We were across from a towering mountain that climbed high into the clouds further than we could see.  Beneath the clouds were a series of ridgelines leading down to a wide river full of sand bars.  Between the ridges were straight-down rock trails where the snowmelt apparently drains every spring.  Iguaque, and my vantage point, sits at the top of the mountain on the other side of the river.  From what I could see during my ride, we were riding through an entire range of mountains like these.  Several times I got a peak over the nearby ridge and all I could see were more cliff bands and ridge patterns.  It was fantastic being so high; zero humidity, a balmy 66F degrees, and Barranquilla long gone.

As we came down from the mountains it began to sprinkle.  Al and I pushed through it for a bit, but the clouds in the distance were forecasting downpour.  We stopped for gas and put our rain gear on.  This was the first time I got to try out my rubber outers.  They fit awesome.  The pant legs have gaiter straps on them to keep them from riding up and the waist comes up to my belly button.  The top has plenty of room in the shoulders for my riding jacket and ends half-way down my thigh.  It is an impermeable fortress, although I look like a plantain.

Our intended destination was Barbosa, just forty miles further.  Al and I set off into the rain just as it started to pick up.  It was a long forty miles.  The rain came so hard at times I could barely see the white line.  We spent forty-five minutes battling it; we had to slow down, turn on our auxiliary lights, and pass semis only when we could see a runway’s distance ahead (which is difficult given the wall of water they kick up behind them).  Finally at 3:30pm we stopped at another trucker hotel just outside of Barbosa.  It was early, but we were tired.  I was thrilled to find myself dry as a bone after the torrent.  We’ve eaten our carne asada, and we might just go down the street and pick up a round of beers for the evening.  Until then, the FIFA Under 20 World Cup Championship is on and it’s live from Bogota… and it’s raining in Bogota.

Tomorrow we should arrive in Bogota midday.  That will give us plenty of time to find a hostel and prepare for Kristi’s arrival.  The trip will change dramatically when Kristi touches down.  Given the condition of Alex’s leg, he will be parking his bike in Bogota for the next month and riding busses all the way to Cusco, Peru with his girlfriend.  In the meantime I’ll ride solo from Bogota to Cali (about 300 miles) to catch up with Charlie and Andy.  It should be a one or two-day trip and with luck I’ll have no problems.  Even if something does come up, I’m confident the solution will present itself as it has countless times on this adventure already.  Also on the horizon is the arrival of Andy’s girlfriend Cass in Quito, Ecuador on September 1st.  I’m not sure the Australians’ plans on her arrival, but hopefully I can at least cross the border into Ecuador with them.  Jill and Ty are currently in Quito as well, so I’ll find company somewhere along the line. 

Long story short, at the end of his bus trip with Kristi, Alex will fly back to Bogota and start a long game of catch up.  By then I will be well into Peru myself.  Best of luck Al.  

1 comment:

  1. Great ride report Tom, you are both doing really well, best wishes nev