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Photo by Ellen Delis, Lagunas Ojos del Campo, Antofalla, Catamarca

I haven't been everywhere...
but it's on my list!


Photo by Ellen Delis,
Lagunas Ojos del Campo,
Antofalla, Catamarca



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  #226  
Old 7 Feb 2014
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Having worked in the photo retail market a few years ago, unless you get a waterproof case for the camera, it will leak. The waterproof cases are designed to stand the water pressure at depth, the point and shoot water proof cameras are not. Most if not all the so called water proof cameras ( if you read the fine print ) are only good for about 6 feet or so. Anything deeper than that and the water pressure overcomes the seals.

Underwater photograph is its own animal and requires specialized equipment.
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  #227  
Old 7 Feb 2014
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It's with great reluctance that I'm leaving the Caribbean coast of Colombia. The weather was perfect - hot, no humidity and no mosquitoes. I have a fear that where we're going may not be as nice a place to relax as where we're coming from.

With our bikes heavily-laden with all our worldly possessions once again piled on top (and the sides, and the back), we left the beaches of Taganga in our mirrors. The plan is to head further south into the Cordillera Oriental, otherwise known as the East Andes mountain range of Colombia.


On the road again! Neda is a happy traveler.


Terrain turns mountainous, weather gets cooler and wetter

As if to confirm my dread of leaving, we encounter early afternoon showers - something that we had escaped on the northern coast. It reminded us that rainy season was not over in this part of the world. I miss Taganga already...


Bikes are relaxing in Aguachica

We took a very leisurely ride south, stopping overnight in the small towns of Aguachica and Bucaramanga on the way. After a month in Taganga, we wanted to ease back into riding again.


Neda is relaxing as well


And then back on the road again!


We're deep in the mountainous Cordillera range and the roads get super-twisty. Me gusta!

Neda planned an amazing route that turned twisty as we got closer to Bucaramanga. We were now deep in the heart of the mountains of the eastern Andes. It was a great way to get back into riding again, and as long as we got our riding done before the early afternoon, the weather held up perfectly!


Smooth pavement and twists and turns that don't end! We can't stop grinning under our helmets

One of the things we wanted to see along this route was the Parque Nacional del Chicamocha. It's located at the steep canyon carved by the Chicamocha River, 6500 feet from peak to valley. The government has built a cablecar that travels over the canyon, as well as a huge tourist attraction complex that offers rides, concession stands and adventure sports like kayaking, mountain climbing, etc.


We get to Chicamocha Park and we are the only vehicles in the parking lot...

So we arrived here on a Monday, which turns out to be the only day of the week that it's closed. Fahhhhh....! We had a mini-huddle: do we want to go on further to the next town, stay the night and then backtrack to take the cablecar the day after? We're not really going to raft, or kayak or mountain climb, so it's only the view that we'd be coming back for.


Chicamocha Canyon

After walking around the area and seeing where the cablecar went to, we decided we didn't have to revisit the park again. All the amusement park stuff was closed, but we hopped the fence and walked around anyway. There was a huge Christmas tree that we spent some time fooling around with the camera:


We're having a ball!


Viewpoint from the Chicamocha amusement park. Shortly after this picture was taken, a security guard kicked us out for hopping the fence...


Some of the Chicamocha activities were still open


Because everything was closed, we became the new attraction

We don't feel too bad about mistiming our visit. This family also showed up and was similarly disappointed. They were very curious about us and wanted to know everything about our trip. I got the sense they were more interested in me, but because I can't communicate very well, they had to talk to Neda, "Where is he from?", "Does he understand any Spanish?", "Why is his bike bigger than yours when he is shorter...?"

There was a little boy that couldn't stop staring at me!


Everyone wanted a picture of us!
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Last edited by lightcycle; 7 Feb 2014 at 05:01.
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  #228  
Old 7 Feb 2014
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Great blog. Great pictures. Thanks for sharing.
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  #229  
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"Why is his bike bigger than yours when he is shorter...?"

Kids always ask the best questions!
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  #230  
Old 10 Feb 2014
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Just 50 kms south of the Chicamocha Park is the town of San Gil where we've booked a casa for a few nights. It's advertised as the adventure capital of Colombia because of all the natural structures - rivers for kayaking, caves for exploring, and lots of trails for hiking.


Catedral de la Santa Cruz is the most famous structure in San Gil. It's even on the back of the bus in this picture!


Ridley Scott commissioned this statue in the main square to commemorate his movie, Alien


Neda does some grocery shopping in the marketplace


This is the neighbourhood where our cozy casa was located

San Gil is a nice town, but nothing too special about it. Most people use it as a base to go on to do other activities in the area. We're here primarily for the hiking. Actually, Neda is here primarily for the hiking. I'm here because I followed her motorcycle...


Pretty town of Barichara

We took a bus 45 minutes out of town to Barichara, which is called "the most beautiful town in Colombia". Funny how every town or city has to have some kind of distinction around here, but in this case, it is definitely the most prettiest town we've visited in the country so far.


Church of the Inmaculada Concepcion, Barichara


Smooth cobblestone streets and a tranquil approach to life</center>


Churches are made of stone, but the rest of the houses are traditional whitewashed walls made of bahareque (compressed mud)


Hangin' out by a door, waiting for it to open


Walking around the picturesque town


The Camino Real between Barichara and Guane is a very popular trail for hikers

The Camino Real trail is a 9-km hike that typically takes a couple of hours, and follows a rough stone path originally laid down by the indigenous Guane people, and then later used by the early Spanish colonizers. Unfortunately, very few of the Guane people are around as the conquistadors wiped the civilization out.


Spectacular views along the Camino Real


Normally, I'm the one that has a short attention span, but Neda: "oh look, a bird..."


We encountered a small shrine along the way. It's kind of pretty and creepy at the same time...


Camera is surgically implanted in my hands


Trail ends in the small village of Guane

Guane is a tiny pueblito, the same kind of architecture as Barichara but on a smaller scale. There was a mass organized for the day. Later in the afternoon, a priest gave out a sermon while we sat in the shade people-watching and enjoying being in tranquil surroundings on such a nice sunny day.


Stage being set up in front of the Santa Lucia church in Guane


"The first rule of Fight Club is..."


A marching band helped further the day's festivities


Flagbearer (Flagbear?)


The town square in Guane was filled with vendors selling local crafts


Hanging out with the locals


Plenty of people had their eyes turned to the sermon at the church

We had planned on riding out of town shortly after returning to San Gil, but I developed a pretty bad flu. There was a pregnant woman who was in the room next to ours in the casa. She was there on vacation, but was bedridden because of a condition with her uterus. On occasion she would leave the room to walk around a bit and we would nod at each other in the hallway, two infirmed patients in the Casa Medico.

When my symptoms persisted for four days, Neda got a bit worried and insisted that we call in a doctor, especially after what happened to Simon in Santa Marta. Despite my stereotypical male-aversion to medical care, I relented, and the local doctor was dispatched to our casa to determine whether I had the Dengue...
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  #231  
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Sorry to hear you're not feeling well, that sucks. You need some
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  #232  
Old 11 Feb 2014
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Quote:
Originally Posted by L84toff View Post
Sorry to hear you're not feeling well, that sucks. You need some
Thanks. We tried the local Aguardiente last night...

If you drink enough in one sitting, it's strong enough to kill any bugs that might be in you! If you survive the night yourself!
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  #233  
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We've both been getting sick a lot lately, we seem to be taking turns one after another. It's quite annoying, but thankfully now that's we're past the Darien Gap, our schedule has freed up enough to slot in the occasionally illness with little to no advance warning... Bring it on, Disease and Pestilence! (just kidding, please don't...)

The doctor came by and cleared me of The Dengue, so we all breathed a sigh of relief. However, it would be a whole week in bed before I was ready to leave San Gil.


Negotiating the twisty highway south out of San Gil

Our plan is to head westwards, but the main highway goes north a bit before turning west at Bucaramanga - exactly where we came from, so we had an idea to journey on another highway south, and then take a smaller road northwest. Looks to be the same mileage, but it should give us some different sights, especially when we get off the highway.


At Barbosa, we get off the main highway and take a gravel road northwest


We pass by some very small villages and heads turn as they watch a couple of monstrosities on two wheels trundle by


Sometimes the small road turns into a narrow dirt path, made a bit slick by the earlier rains


Jungle-aya!

We both love riding off-this-beaten path. It really felt like you were riding through the heart of the Colombian jungle, like any moment you would need to get off the bike and hack away at the overgrowth with your (BMW Motorrad) Machete to cut a trail in order for you to ride your bike further!


Girls wanna talk about bikes? Neda is ecstatic!

We stopped for a water break in a larger town and these two girls approached Neda and started asking about her bike. Normally guys of all ages, from little boys to old men, are the ones interested in the motorcycles, so these two girls were quite out-of-the-ordinary! Neda was so happy to talk bikes with them!


Back on the main highway heading westbound

We stopped for the evening in Puerto Berrio. It's a very small town, but seems to have spent most of it's annual budget for Christmas lights!


Christmas lights strung up in Puerto Berrio


An evening out under the stars


Neon Nativity


Watching an evening wedding ceremony from outside the church


Christmas lights as far as the eyes can see

Puerto Berrio is so small that there really isn't a hotel. We asked around and we were directed to a place about 3kms outside of town. It was a Love Hotel!!! Our first experience with Love Hotels outside of San Salvador was not a pleasant experience, so we were a bit hesitant about staying the night here. But after checking out the room, we were surprised when it was actually a nice place. The first room we saw was the deluxe suite and it had a stripper pole in the middle! But the room we booked was a normal motel-like room - no stripper pole, no mirrors on the ceiling...


Even the skankiest Love Hotels have private garages - so the neighbourhood won't know who's LoveHotel-ing

Throughout the evening, we heard lots of partying in the other rooms. With so multi-generational families living under a single roof in Latin America, the Love Hotel becomes a very popular place to get away from the relatives.

We continued traveling westwards early the next morning.


Stopped for breakfast in this small town that pretty much consisted of this diner and a few other buildings


Our bikes got a lot of attention while we ate inside


Riding through some very peaceful countryside scenery


Good to be out riding!
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  #234  
Old 14 Feb 2014
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We're in search for somewhere to call home for a while. Although there's a certain romanticism around the nomadic lifestyle, we're finding we're now craving a balance of stability and routine - somewhere where we can stock the fridge without having to label our food, use all the pots and pans in the kitchen and not have to clean up immediately, walk around in our underwear... No wait, I do that last one everywhere I stay anyway...


Passing one of the small towns heading westwards from Puerto Berrio to Medellin


Riding into the big city!

This is the bustling metropolis of Medellin - the second-largest city in Colombia. The Spanish language in this country is a bit different than what we're used to - the double "ll" in Medellin is pronounced like a "J" instead of a "Y". So we teach our family and friends back home how to pronounce Medellin by telling them that it rhymes with Neda-Gene.

A city with a name like NedaGene, how can we not stay here for a while?


Hostel Casa Kiwi: "Just throw your motorcycle over there behind those plants..."

We booked into a hostel for a few days to get our bearings in Medellin. The plan is to search around for an apartment, which should greatly reduce the cost of our accommodations.


Crashing a Christmas Party. What's ADV.com anyway...?

Just a few days into our stay, we were spotted on the road by Marc, another ADVRider who was traveling southwards as well. We were invited to a Christmas dinner at the Shamrock Pub, just a couple of blocks away from the hostel that we were staying at.


Birds of a feather feasting together, while Valentino cooks up some mean ribs

We spent the evening hanging out with the latest group of motorcycle travelers who just got off the Stahlratte. The sailboat has dropped off two sets of bikers and backpackers in the time that we've been here! We feel like we're the welcome wagon to Colombia, and we'll soon be waving goodbye to these travelers as they make their way onwards.

We travel slow. Oh well...


Hey we got a kitchen! And an apartment came with it as well! Neda is super-stoked!

The search for an apartment was quite painless. We got a referral from the Casa that we were staying in in San Gil the week before. When we dropped in to take a look at it, we fell in love with the place immediately. Located on the second floor of high-rise condominium, it's got a walk-out balcony where we can sit down and eat or read a book. It's in a very nice part of town called El Poblado. There's a grocery store right across the street and the subway is a 5 minute walk away.


World-famous NedaBurgers make a return, with home fries and a side of sauteed mushrooms. Fancy!


I got a Man-Cave! Well... a Man-Corner...


We can catch a bit of sun out here on our balcony

The weather in Medellin is very temperate, even though we're fairly close to the equator. Because we're 5000 feet above sea level up in the mountains of Colombia, the average is about 22C all year round, it can get to 30C in the hottest part of the day and then down to 15C overnight. Because of its unchanging climate, Medellin has often been referred to as "La Ciudad de la Eterna Primavera" (The City of Eternal Spring).

In other words, the perfect place to settle down for a bit.

By contrast, Toronto is suffering from the worst ice storm it's had in several decades. Over half-a-million homes were without power in the dead of winter. When we tried Skyping with my folks for Christmas, we found out that they had to relocate to a friend's house because their house was without heat or electricity.

Although we feel bad for our family and friends, I kinda feel a bit smug sitting down here in the City of Eternal Spring... hehehe....


So we get this idea that we'll ride everywhere in Medellin.
That idea dies a quick death when we get stuck in the city's horrible traffic...



...so these are our new wheels!

Medellin is very much a large, modern city. With a population of about 2 million, it's about the same size as Toronto. All the amenities are available here, and within walking distance there are plenty of huge malls, one dedicated to just electronics! I'm in heaven!


Every once in a while, we take a day-trip downtown, about 5 subway stops away


Vera Cruz Church. Behind the scenes: Neda ran into the courtyard
flapping her arms to scare up these birds... Locals not amused...



Sunlight on the Vera Cruz Church


Found some time to get our shaggy-dos trimmed. Shamefully, it's been months overdue...


What the heck are these things?

We were fascinated by the Parque de Las Luces (Park of Lights) downtown. It's as if a convention of giant Jedis just threw their lightsabers into the ground and went off to have lunch somewhere. We stuck around all afternoon and into the evening to watch them light up:


I sense a disturbance in the Force... or at least a disturbance in the city's electrical grid


Lightsaber Park is quite a sight at night


Popular place to hang out


The Parque de Las Luces was right next to this very avant-garde-looking building


Things are looking up for Neda


Buildings nicely lit up downtown


Can't get enough of the lightsabers


Christmas lights decorate the streets of Medellin


Streetside vendors take up valuable lane space downtown


Peldar Bridge, just a few blocks away from our apartment, all lit up for the Christmas season

Oh yeah, our second Christmas on the road... Kinda cool...!
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  #235  
Old 17 Feb 2014
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Medellin is located in the Aburra Valley. The city creeps up both eastern and western slopes like an urban kudzu, eclipsing the mountainside underneath, threatening to crawl up even beyond the horizon. From any point in the heart of the city, you can see the terracotta-roofed urban sprawl curving upwards as if you were inside a Dyson Sphere.


Because we are in a valley, there is a permanent haze as the mountains trap smog and pollution...


...Despite that, we still love staying in our new adopted city!


One thing Neda didn't like was this tiny pueblito...

To relieve Neda of her planning duties, I did a bit of research and found a tourist attraction not too far from our apartment called Pueblito Paisa (Paisa is the name that people from Medellin call themselves). It's a little replica turn-of-the-century villa built on top of a hill called Cerro Nutibarra, which I keep referring to as Nutbar Hill.

Neda wasn't impressed, saying it reminded her of Epcot Center: "Why would you visit the France Pavilion when you've already been to the real country?" But isn't the most popular pavilion at Epcot Center the USA Pavilion...? In your face, Neda!

The view of the city from up here was nice though...


Cat hangs out in the fake church inside Pueblita Falsa. I think they actually do hold services here.


Street painting in Parque Lleras


Dropped into the Medellin KTM dealership

KTM has quite a lot of 200cc-400cc motorcycles on the showroom floor. It makes sense as there's no need for 115hp with the traffic and road conditions here, plus being small, light and agile means being able to lane split and filter through the constant jams and gridlock. Riding a motorcycle down here means saving an hour each day in commute time to work and back.


Limited Edition is KTM-Speak for Pay More For Decals


Beautiful city, horrible traffic!


Apparently I took this picture not during Rush Hour. You can still see pavement...

I was really missing playing music for a long time now, but I didn't want to spend a lot of money buying an instrument that I knew I would just have to leave behind. So one day, while browsing the music stores, I found a cheap $40 guitar to bang away on! It doesn't stay in tune for very long though...


...And now I'd like to play an ancient Chinese folk song called Too Ning...

We're two weeks into our month-long lease on our Medellin apartment and we are loving it! Life is muy tranquil. Neda peruses the grocery store daily coming up with dishes for us to try now that we have a kitchen. Even though this is supposed to be down-time for us, compared to me, she is a whirling dervish. All throughout this trip she has been preparing and giving weekly English lessons to her niece in Italy over Skype. Now she is able to devote more time and energy towards it.

I am able to devote more time and energy into doing nothing.


We're really enjoying having home-cooked meals again. Easy on the budget and the waistline!


Neda has been trying out new recipes. This is her No-Cream Mushroom Soup and Soft-Cheese and Spinach Crepes

I think back to my reservations about leaving the tiny haven of Taganga and now it all seems so silly. Everything is much better here: the weather, having our own place, having more stuff to see in the city. Neda did her research very well. To her credit, not once does she say "Told ya so".

I totally would have...


Checkered cathedral of Plaza Botero behind the "Plump Fellow in Hat"

Gigantic bronze sculptures of chubby men, women and horses are littered all over the Plaza Botero, which is named after the artist who sculpted them, Fernando Botero. We were first exposed to his Rubenesque figures when we first arrived on Colombia's shores so long ago in Cartagena. That was almost 9 months ago! We haven't traveled very far since then...

On the weekends, the plaza gets super-busy - tons of tourists posing in front of the sculptures, and kids climbing all over them. In the middle of the day the bronze gets very hot, so not so many kids climbing then...


Hey kiddies, you can ride the pretty horsey if you don't mind a bit of seared flesh...


Back streets and the alleyways of Medellin


North American Indians? In Colombia? Last time we saw this was back in Winnipeg
However, they weren't playing Peruvian flutes back then... LOL!



In NedaGene, even the malls are cool-looking


Open air shopping experience


I'm next!


Antique train sits as a monument in what used to be the old railway station in the heart of downtown Medellin

The railway system, constructed in the 1870s, used to be an important transportation network in Antioquia, hauling gold from the mines and then later coffee to all parts of the department. The trains stopped running by the 1960s, having been overtaken by the new highways being built and truckers hauling cargo faster, cheaper and further than the rail.

As we rode through the mountains of Antioquia to get to Medellin, we would often see remnants of the rail system - no tracks, but huge circular holes in the mountain face just large enough for a train to run through.


A rainbow of variety in the streetside snacks

One nice thing about having a (temporary) permanent address is that we can get stuff shipped to us now. We took the opportunity to get some motorcycle stuff mailed to us that we couldn't find locally. Surprisingly, you can't find Heidenau tires at all in Medellin. When we asked the BMW dealer in town, his response was, "Our riders like to go fast", so nothing but street tires sold here. Our Tourance fronts were getting worn down, so we had to get a couple of K60 fronts shipped from Bogota.


I installed a mini wading pool in the back, just like those El Caminos with their beds lined with garbage bags!
Helps with the MonkeyButt at the end of a long riding day...


I had to get one of my heated handgrips fixed, so we headed down to the dealership to get our fronts replaced as well. I've seen some other adventure riders roam all over the world with an extra set of tires strapped to the back. After having just ridden 2kms from the apartment to the dealership with these tires behind me, I don't know how anyone could do it for thousands of miles, month after month. They're freakin' heavy!


Cool tank decal! "Adventure" is BMW-Speak for "Let's make your off-road bike heavier and less suitable for... Adventure..."


Neda's bike is next in line for a frontirectomy
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We can't seem to leave Medellin.

So much so that we're bumping up against several deadlines: our month-long lease on the apartment has come up, our three-month tourist permit is expiring and so is our vehicle insurance. I can't believe we've been in Colombia for three months!


Government buildings downtown where we visited the Aduana offices

It took us a few days to visit all the different offices which were scattered all over the city: DAS (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad) to renew our tourist visa, Aduana for our vehicle permits and Sura, which was the only company that would insure imported vehicles. The upshot is that we're legal in Colombia till the end of April! Actually, we only purchased insurance on a month-to-month basis, because surely we're not going to still be here in April!?!

But then again this is us, so you never know...


Diana and Neda at AcroYoga

Early in our stay in Medellin, Neda had an irritating (to her) experience at the Exito, the grocery store that we live beside. At the meat counter, she asked for some cold cuts in Spanish. The guy behind the counter replied back in English. IN ENGLISH!!! Neda returned home furious! You see, all over Latin America she's been very proud of the fact that everyone congratulates her on how good her Spanish accent and grammar is. They always ask if she is a native speaker. Until now...

"DAMNYOU, MeatCounterGuy!"

So to fix this, she logs onto Couchsurfing, a web site that's primarily used for finding accommodations for travelers in new cities, but it can also be used to meet local people who are willing to show you around. On there, she finds Diana, who is willing to meet up and converse with Neda in her native Medellin tongue in exchange for some English practice.

The two become fast friends and when Diana finds out that Neda is a Yoga fan, they meet up on the weekends as well to practice AcroYoga in the park.


Warning: Do not try this at home. Yoga professional at work.

Neda has been trying to drag me out to AcroYoga for weeks now. I've never had any interest in Yoga before and AcroYoga sounded way too circusy for me. But one weekend, I relented...


I was right. This AcroYoga stuff was totally sideshow...


I was not enjoying myself. Not. One. Bit.

So the whole point of AcroYoga is to combine Acrobatics with static Yoga poses. I quickly learned why they practiced in the park because if you're a novice, the poses involve a lot of falling down, hopefully on a soft surface like grass. If you get a face full of dirt, then you're doing a variant called AgroYoga.

Hint: if you see participants practicing on hard surfaces or on top of a really high platform, it means that they're really good and they're showing off.


More advanced stuff... kinda hot too...


A different kind of showing-off

We've made some friends in Medellin and created a semblance of a life with some routine, so when our lease on the apartment came up, we knew we wanted to extend our stay, but for how long was up for debate. In a strange turn of events, it was Neda who wanted to stay longer, perhaps to renew the lease for another month. I didn't want to leave immediately, but a month seemed too long. So we compromised and we're set to depart Medellin in two weeks time.

Before our trip, I never would have thought we'd stay put in one place for over 6 weeks! It's been really awesome here, but I'm starting to get itchy wheels syndrome!


Medellin Transit involves trains, gondolas, blimps, hovercrafts, submarines...

One morning, we headed out on the Medellin transit system, which is called Metro, up into the mountains. The trains transfer to a cable-car that takes commuters up to the residences and buildings that carpet the mountainside. These gondolas are actually a necessity, as they make the barrios up here accessible to public transit, since buses have great difficulty traversing the narrow streets that wind through these steep hills. There are currently three different MetroCable lines that go up into the mountains.


Catching the "L" MetroCable line at the Santo Domingo station

We're taking the "L" line, which travels deep into Arvi Park, a nature preserve set up by the Medellin government at the peak of the eastern mountain range. The introduction of the Metro Cable has made it very accessible to locals and tourists alike, and the park boasts lots of hiking trails, flora and fauna.


Surprisingly, this is *not* part of the Metro system...

At Arvi Park, the government has set up a free bicycle rental. How nice! So we fill out some forms and now we're roaming the park on two wheels again!

It was here that we experienced our first run-in with the law. Although Neda is pro-helmet when it comes to motorcycling, this belief stops when it comes to bicycles... As part of the rental agreement that we signed, it stipulated that we would wear our helmet at all times. So when Neda coasted to a halt at one of the bicycle rental stations sans helmet, the official on duty pulled her aside and confiscated her bicycle. It was then that we were introduced to a new Spanish word: "Multa" which means fine.

We were going to get fined for a free service?!? That's a great way to make money for the city...

We surreptitiously walked away from the bicycle station and talked to a tour guide who was leading a group up to the viewpoint where you could see the whole of Medellin from up top. The bicycle official seemed to forget about us, so we thought we'd avoided the "multa"...


Hey, it's the Medellin Epcot Centre on Nutbar Hill! We're a lot higher up now...

After a 15-minute hike, we got to the viewpoint and while it was true you could see the entire city, it was less than impressive because a thick cloud of smog and pollution blocked our view. I had to do a bit of Photoshopping in the picture above so you could actually make out any detail.

We made some friends with some local guys who were also on the tour, they were asking a million questions about our trip and our motorcycles. When we got back to the bicycle station, we decided to pay our "multa" and ride the bikes back to the MetroCable. The official wagged his finger at us: the "multa" wasn't monetary - it was "Bicycle Rental Privileges Revoked for Five Days!" LOL!

We walked sheepishly back to the MetroCable station and caught up to the locals who we had met earlier. When we told them about our "multa" they laughed at us and made fun of us the whole walk back. Good times!


Our tour buddies, Lenin, Julian and Frank at Arvi Park
On the walk back, they taught us Colombian swear words and we taught them English ones!


These guys were hilarious. While we were on the long cable car ride back, we tried to help them pick up these very pretty Japanese tourists. No joy for them, but it was funny as hell!


Back at ground zero

We heard something amusing from an American who was also traveling south on the Stahlratte with us. He swore that every Latin American was made from the same company but they just slapped a different label and shipped their weak-tasting to all the countries in Central and South America. Anyone who's sampled every weak, thin-tasting from Mexico all the way down south has to laugh, because it's so true!

However in Taganga, we were introduced to an amazing brew called Apostol. We especially like their darker s, they reminded us of the English ales that we just can't seem to find anywhere down here. So when Neda found out they offered a tour of their brewery here in Medellin, we totally jumped at the chance to get some yummy -tasting in our last days in the city!


Yeah yeah, enough of the history of the company, when do we start drinking?!?


Different s have to be poured at different angles to bring out the taste.
Yeah yeah, when do we start drinking?!?


The tour was actually quite interesting. The reason why ales are not that common in Latin America is that the grains required to make the darker, fuller-tasting brews require four seasons to harvest. We did not know that. Apostol imports all the grains and the ingredients from Germany, and their brewing equipment is German-made as well.

Even our tour guide's name is Hans. Hans Rodriguez-Gonzalez...


Pretty, pretty colours

Speaking of equipment, I was entranced by the deep copper colours of these tanks, so as the tour went on, I stayed behind taking a million pictures. I think the security guard that stayed with me got a bit weirded out because I was acting very Smeagol-ly towards the pretty, precious kettles.


My Precious...

Anyway, enough of all this non-motorcycle stuff... our time in Medellin is winding down. Wheels up, next blog entry!
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I'm walking on eggshells today.

Ever since we entered Mexico and Latin America over a year ago, Neda's done the bulk of the work organizing, communicating and leading the ride. I think she needed the break in Medellin a lot more than I did. So today, as we are packing our lives back into 120L of panniers and topcases, I'm acutely aware that this departure is my idea. We're leaving earlier than she wants because *I* want to travel.

So I try to do everything to make sure this day goes as smoothly as possible for Neda. I tell her that I'll organize everything and take the lead for the next little while.

Things don't go as planned.


This *was* the plan for today...

In our parking lot, with all our bags all strapped down and ready to leave, I thumb the starter: <click> <click> <click>

Nothing... My battery is dead.

The bike has only been sitting idle for maybe a week, this shouldn't happen. It's a brand new battery - I just picked it up in Guatemala in September. I suspect there's something wrong with the electricals, perhaps a short somewhere in all the gadgets I've got hooked up to the battery under my seat. Ruefully, I unpack the bike, lift the seat and stare at the spaghetti wiring around the terminals.

I don't have time to diagnose this. I just need a jump-start.

While I'm tearing apart the bike, I ask Neda to ask around the building to see if anyone has jumper cables. To my surprise, she returns half-an-hour later, telling me that 1) nobody in the building has cables, 2) the super said there was a car rental place beside us, so she went over and asked, no luck, 3) the car rental guys says there was a bike shop 2 blocks down the street so she went over and asked, 4) the bike shop guys said they had a cable, but they didn't want to sell or lend it to us, can we push the bike over?

Neda is visibly upset. The stress-free day I promised is slowly cracking like the eggshells I'm walking on...


Neda: "He told me this would be a stress-free day, so now I'm the one running around trying to jump start his battery..."
Mechanic: "What a dope."


We pushed my half-laden bike through traffic to the bike shop, got a boost and we started off on our journey. However, my confidence in the electricals is shaken and I don't feel safe leaving the big city without jumper cables. I didn't have them in El Salvador with my EWS problems, and now with this, I really felt I needed the safety net.

Neda disagreed. We were burning daylight and she was anxious to get out of the city.


Neda: "I told him we have to leave now so he decides he wants to look for motorcycle-specific jumper cables..."
Storekeeper: "What a dope."


There are a million automotive stores in Medellin. They all sell jumper cables, but only the really heavy-duty kind: 20-gauge, 400A clamps, 50-feet-long cables, 20lbs heavy. The kind you use to jump-start a Panzer tank with...

Because her Spanish is better, I ask Neda to ask around to see if there are lighter gauge motorcycle-specific cables.

She grumbled something dark and venomous and set out around the block. Another 45 minutes later she returns and tells me that she's visited 20 different stores and none of them sell lighter gauge cables. Do I want to buy the f*&^%ing tank cables or not?

I've screwed up her day. I know it. So we buy the Panzer tank cables.

My motorcycle's suspension sags under the additional weight. Kinda like my morale...


Change-up from the big city - our hostel in Guatape

The town of Guatape is only 85kms east of Medellin, but it takes us over an hour to just get past the city limits because of the terrible traffic. The entire way I keep the communicator open, ready to receive my wife's rage and wrath. All I get is the cold crackle of Silent Treatment as we negotiate our way past buses, filtering between stopped cars in gridlock, and dodging pedestrians dashing out in front of us.

Only until we're riding the uncongested and curvy roads leading out of Medellin does normal conversation resume. I know my wife well and all it takes is leaning into a few twisty roads to lighten her mood. Perhaps this day is salvageable after all and I won't wind up hanging from the rafters tonight with a 20-gauge noose wrapped around my neck...


Our motorcycles get a nice view for the evening

We've found a great little hostel just 5 minutes walk outside the lake-side town of Guatape. The actual lake is a man-made reservoir for a huge hydro-electric dam, and the mountains of Antioquia rise up all around us. It's a very tranquil setting and it makes up for our hectic ride out of Medellin.


Nice view for us as well too


Mickey & Luna, the owners of the hostel. After the day we've had, they're giving me some really good ideas

The weather up here in the mountains is markedly colder than the big city. At night, we shiver under heavy blankets and listen to the heavy rains fall outside. We're told it rains nightly here. Now that we're on the move again, we have to get used to brand new precipitation patterns and plan accordingly.

The late morning sun slowly burns off the chill and dampness of the previous night and we walk down the hill into the town of Guatape to do a little bit of exploring. I'm sensing Neda is in a better mood given the nice weather and peaceful surroundings. *This* is what I had planned for us, not the nightmare rush out of town yesterday.


Walking through the Crayola-coloured streets of Guatape



Although there are a few foreigners wandering the streets, it seems that the majority of tourists are from Medellin. Because of its proximity to the big city, Guatape is a popular weekend getaway for Paisas.


What is this towel for?

All over Latin America we've seen older men with a towel draped over one shoulder. We have not been able to figure out what its purpose is. Is it functional or just fashionable? Maybe the next time we see this, we'll ask.


Cobblestone chat on horseback


World Cup Dreams in Technicolour


What I love is that almost all the buildings in town have taken up the Crayola-theme


Even the tuk-tuks get in on the action


No towel, can't ask.


Returning from the grocery store with some dinner supplies for a night in at the hostel


Our favorite Colombian to toast our getting back on the road


In the distance, a huge rock rises from the ground. We'll explore tomorrow!
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Today, we're going to investigate that huge rock in the distance. The owners of our hostel say it's only a couple of kms away if we ride through Guatape. Or... we could take a 10km dirt road that travels all the way around the valley, cutting through lush farmland and the scenic coniferous forest... So we opt to take the Long Way R[rest of comment deleted pending either trademark lawsuit or gross misuse by the motorcycle travel community]




Very pretty-looking farms along the way


As we make our way around the bend, La Piedra looms up ahead

La Piedra del Penol y Guatape (The Stone of Penol and Guatape) is this lone monolithic rock that rises 220m (650ft) from the ground. It's a landmark that can be seen from miles away in all directions because it's the only object of that size and shape in the area. This has led to speculation and legends from locals that La Piedra is a huge meteorite that fell to earth. The scientist in me looks at how intact the rock is as well as the lack of a surrounding crater, and I've come to the conclusion that it is indeed a meteorite... especially when I can tell friends and family back home about the time we climbed a huge rock from outer space that landed in the middle of Colombia...


Cue the 5-note theme from Close Encounters

In our hikes around the area, we've seen La Piedra from all angles. Behind this view, there's a giant "GI" painted on the back. Strangely enough, I don't have a picture of the "GI". (Edit: Neda says, "But you take pictures of EVERYTHING!”) The "GI" was a remnant of the time the town of Guatape tried to paint its name on the side of La Piedra and but were stopped half-way through the "U" when the neighbouring town, El Penol, claimed that La Piedra belonged to their town.

You'd think they'd have washed it off by now... but then again, you'd lose a pretty funny story!


There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold...


About half-way up, they've put a Virgin Mary up here so people can pray for strength...
to make it up the rest of the way...



Along the way, you can catch both your breath and a nice view at the same time


There are 659 steps on the way up La Piedra. They are labeled in increments of 25,
should you want to keep track of your progress or measure just how out of shape you are...


When I was a kid I used to listen to radio programs late at night in my bed under the covers while my parents thought I was sleeping. I used to listen to shows like "The Shadow" and a Twilight Zone-like program, can't recall the name. On one of the shows, the hero was climbing up a spiral staircase in a tall, dark tower. He was claustrophobic, so to calm his anxiety he counted the number of stairs till he reached the top. As he made his way down, he counted the stairs again and was horrified when the number exceeded the count on the way up...

I think I've told this story before, but everytime I climb stairs, I always think of that radio program. Those numbers written on La Piedra's stairs made it even more vivid! I also have a Buried Alive Like a Mummy story, but that'll have to wait for another more appropriate blog entry...


"Ok, let's see what all the fuss was about..."


Oooh, nice. I like how La Piedra casts such a huge shadow over the land

If you look closely at all the little islands, you'll see that the greenery doesn't reach all the way to the shoreline. We found out that the artificial lake around Guatape and La Piedra has been lowered by about 7m (21 feet) recently because of the hydro-electric dam. This has exposed the brown soil previously underwater, and it looks quite picturesque when viewed from this high, but up close it's not really that pretty.

I am very impressed by how large this reservoir is, it reaches as far as the eye can see in most directions!


Front row seats to the best show in town


The Andean Condor is the national animal of Colombia

We recently saw a three-dimensional version of the Colombian coat-of-arms and wondered why they chose a vulture to sit on top of their crested shield. We later learned that it was actually a condor, but for the longest time we thought it was a turkey vulture and we snickered. Kinda absurd, like having a beaver as your national animal...

Edit: I just found out condors are vultures. Back to making fun of their national animal again! HAH-HAH!


The stairs on the way down were haphazard and made no sense at all.
They reminded me of an Escher drawing...
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We're on the move again.

It's only been a few days since we left Medellin and after 6 motionless weeks, we've anticipated that it might be difficult to click into the cadence of travel.


The mountain roads of Antioquia - a sinuous distraction


Bye bye kitchen - back to road-side stops for meals

I've done really well with my diet during our rest periods in Colombia. I've eaten very healthy thanks to Neda's cooking and lost a whole bunch of weight. I kinda dread having meals on the road again because I have no willpower. Those greasy, carby dishes just seem to glow and pop-out from all the road-side diner menus: "Con papas francesas?" "Por supuesto, Senor!" (Google translation)


Construction on the bridge across the Rio Magdalena has traffic backed up for kms

We're descending quite rapidly from the lofty heights of Medellin and the temperature begins to soar into the low 30s. A traffic jam builds up because of construction on a bridge up ahead and our motorcycles follow the path of least resistance, flowing out of the lane and onto the centreline, our panniers brushing up against oncoming trucks. One 18-wheeler stops short of pushing Neda completely over as it attempts to squeeze by her invading bike...

After this, we take to the opposite sidewalk. It's much safer knocking down pedestrians than it is being knocked over by a truck. At least there, we have the Right-of-Weight!


Bustin' out! Hundreds of bikes let loose before the cars and trucks over the Rio Magdalena


Asking for directions to a hotel in Honda

We're stopping in the town of Honda for the evening. The town is bisected by a river and is known as the city of bridges because there are at least four vehicle-bridges and a couple of pedestrian walkways over the river. We get a bit lost because half of these bridges are under construction making navigation through the one-way streets a nightmare.


Even when standing still, Neda's bike still wants to lean

The next day we do a short walking tour of Honda in the morning before we leave. It's not a very large town and since it's a weekday, all the streets are deserted while everyone's at work.


At least the mornings are a bit cooler and pleasant to walk around in


Surprisingly not a lot of Honda vehicles in the town of Honda...


Patriotic Alleyway Art


The only place that was bustling in Honda was the marketplace where we stocked up on supplies for the road


On-The-Road Selfie! I forgot to do Duck Lips...

For the last few days, we've been debating whether to ride into Bogota or not. I didn't really care whether we go or not, there's nothing there that I am interested in seeing, plus I've heard the traffic is brutal! The city's population is a densely-packed 8 million people - 4 times larger than Medellin, and we weren't too happy about that traffic.

However Neda heard that the old city was very pretty, so as always, on a last minute decision just as we are leaving Honda, we decided to dive headfirst into MegaBogopolitan traffic.


Just wanted to Shoei you what we had for lunch


Change-up in chain maintenance

Neda is changing up her chain maintenance routine. She finds it tough to lube the chain at the end of the riding day, since we're both tired and just want to either eat or relax. So she's started to do her chain maintenance either during lunchtime while we're waiting for food or at our fueling stops. It's working out too well, I can't hear her chain rattling when she's riding now and have to check my mirrors to make sure she's still behind me...

The weather is changing once again. As we climb from Honda's relatively low elevation of 750 feet all the way to Bogota at 8600 feet, the temperature goes from scorching to chilly in just a few short hours. Neda tells me we're at 15C, almost a 20 degree difference! The air is misty because we are now riding into the clouds clinging to the mountains around Bogota.

As if it wasn't cold enough, it starts to rain cats and dogs on us. It takes us an hour to traverse the heavily congested 25kms from the outer ring of Bogota's residential suburbs, through the very modern downtown city core, all the way to the historical centre of La Candelaria, where Neda wants to stay. The moment we arrive, the rain stops. Of course.


We heard Bogota was a dangerous place. So while Neda looks for a hostel, I guard the bikes against... um, curious schoolchildren...


Hiding out from the cold afternoon showers in Bogota in our new hostel


RideDOT.com Trivia: Neda has read nearly 50 books on this trip. It's her favorite downtime activity


After lights-out, the girl in the upper bunk to the left of Neda started sleep-talking up a storm.
I wished I spoke Swedish, it sounded very important...


When we stay at hostels, we usually get a private room because it's more economical for two people. However, the private rooms were all booked up so we had to sleep in Gen Pop. Because we were the last to check in, we were left the worst beds in the dorm - upper bunk.

In a kind of reverse-H.G.-Wells, UpperBunkers are basically the Morlocks of the dorm, treated with disdain by the Eloi who live beneath. You end up disturbing everyone while gracelessly trying to get into bed, you shake the whole bunk when you toss and turn and heaven forbid you need to get down to go the washroom in the middle of the night! And all the while, everyone is tut-tutting away in the dark with over-exaggerated annoyance...

I'll see you for breakfast tomorrow, my tasty little Elois...
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Really enjoying your report! Thanks much for making the effort!
Can you tell me a bit about what tablet/lab top you're carrying? Comments?

How do you re-fill Data and/or local SIM cards for phone and online use? ... or is it all Wifi? What are costs for local SIM cards or Data? (I'm an Apple user and not very computer literate... obviously!) Do some travelers just buy a local cell phone? Ta for any tips!

Chains!
I'm a chain nut and have spent way too much time and energy fiddling with them. Good to see Neda keeping up on chain maintenance! Daily cleaning/oiling will save lots of heartache down the road.

In wet weather chains can suffer ... and many so called "chain lubes" quickly wash off. I like cheap & cheerful solution: 90 wt. gear oil. commonly available everywhere, cheap. 90 wt. stays on well in rain. Wipe down daily to clean off crud, sand, grit ... then re-oil.

Also, if you have spare front sprockets, highly recommend changing your front sprockets EARLY. Like at around 8 to 10K miles. (12 to 15K kms) This will extend chain life by about 25%. Use quality, OEM sprockets if you can.

BMW are famous for using crap chains on their bikes. LOTS of documented chain failures on GS800 and GS650 forums. If you can, when you replace a chain, try to get a DID VX (or VM) X ring chain. Good for 20,000 miles + (over 30K kms+). (unlikely to find in Latin America)

Meantime, take care of chains-sprockets. A worn front sprocket (it won't look worn to you because you don't know what you're looking at!) will EAT UP your chain prematurely. Front sprocket is first to wear and once worn, its hard on your chain.
Good luck, safe travels!
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