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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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  #241  
Old 2 Mar 2014
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Thanks for the advice on chains!

Quote:
Originally Posted by mollydog View Post
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!
When we first started out, we were pretty fanatical about always staying connected. We have two iPhones. Since we have a Skype-to-landline subscription ($7/month), we never get a phone plan, just data.

We used our existing SIM chips across Canada. In the US, we bought AT&T chips for our iPhones (the chip was free, and it was $25 for 1G back then, prob alot cheaper now). When we crossed into Mexico, we paid $12 for a TelCel chip, $40 for 5GB), then Guatemala we used Tigo ($25 for 3GB). All of these plans lasted one month, then the data expired.

The mobile business is way larger and more competitive in Latin America than it is in North America. There are multiple stores on almost every street corner in the cities where you can pick up a SIM chip. Recharging can be done with a credit card over the Internet, or you can purchase fill-up cards at any convenience store and punch in the code via SMS from your phone directly.

However, we soon found that almost every place we went to had wi-fi, so we stopped buying the chips. We've been SIMless for almost a year now, and we don't really miss it.

As for computers, we use ASUS Eee PC Netbooks. I have a 1025CE and Neda has an older 1005HA. Netbooks are kind of going the way of the dodo because users like larger screens and more computing power, so the market is selling more Ultrabooks. But they are larger and more expensive, two things that are not compatible with motorcycle travel.

Our Netbooks costs $300 all in. If they were to get lost or stolen or crushed in an accident, it would suck but it wouldn't be a financial hardship to replace it. I am fairly religious about backing up all our data and pictures on two external terabyte hard drives, as well as syncing it between our two laptops. The data is the most important part of our trip.

Never really got into tablets because I do so much typing, photo and video editing, plus we need a lot of local storage for the movies, TV shows and books that we download.

Other travelers do everything with a single device like an iPad. It'll take pictures, you can blog on it, watch movies, read books, etc. but I wouldn't be happy because it wouldn't do it as well as a DSLR, laptop, Kindle, etc.

It's all personal preference based on what your wants and needs are, as well as your budget and what you are physically able to carry on your motorcycle...

Hope this helps!
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  #242  
Old 3 Mar 2014
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Thanks so much for the detailed info on comms. Copied it into my comms page to help get me up to speed. (Soy medio caballo, la otra mitad es Burro)
Most times its travelers asking for help ... not fans who follow your report!
You're so lucky to have a native speaker in Neda. I see so many Gringos struggling ... stumbling ... and offending (unintentionally).
Have a safe ride!

"Es mejor viajar solo que con malas compañías"
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  #243  
Old 7 Mar 2014
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Getting out of our warm bunk beds to the chill of the Bogota morning was very difficult. We spent the morning talking to the other backpackers in the hostel over breakfast while waiting for the weather to warm up to do some sightseeing.


NedaTV: All Neda, All the time. Security cam on our hostel.


Across the street from our hostel

We had heard a lot about Bogota, mainly warnings about how bad the crime is in the city. The traffic certainly lived up to its reputation, so we had certain expectations about the rest. Bogota surprised us. It was not the dirty, slummy place we had envisioned, but instead was quite modern - at least the touristy places that we went to, within walkng distance of our hostel.


La Candelaria


Morning ruminations

Our hostel is located in the heart of La Candelaria, the city's historic centre. It was very pretty with its charming colonial architecture. We walked by the Military Museum of Bogota and peered over the fence into the courtyard at some tanks and airplanes. A guard in a military uniform saw us taking pictures over the fence and strode over to us. We thought we were in trouble but instead he invited us into the museum, telling us it was free to the public.

Free is good. Not getting arrested is even better!


Close-up of the inscription on one of the old wartime cannons


The detail on one of the miniature ships was astounding


More cannons. Not phallic at all...


Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception

The Metropolitan Cathedral also called the Primada Catedral, dominates the city plaza. It's been rebuilt several times since the 1500s due to earthquakes and the odd revolution. Nowadays, the only mobs that overrun the square are flocks of pigeons that greedily peck at the corn that vendors sell to tourists so they can get a picture with the birds.


I think this little guy wants his money back...


A different kind of mob hangs out in the city plaza, also waiting for tourist dollars


Walking the city streets



Further past the Catedral we walk into a more modern Bogota. Older buildings give way to storefronts and office buildings. Rolos, which is what the people from Bogota call themselves, stride purposefully through a pedestrian-only street. They've got the eyes-forward attitude that we're so familiar with from all our time living in a large city.


In addition to a pedestrian street, there's also a bicycle-only lane


There are some beggars on the street, but not as many as we have seen in other cities. This was a rare sight above.


I think this is called a Cherimoya, also called a custard apple in other countries


"We'll take four!" The custard apple has a very sweet creamy inside and tastes like... custard. Also very messy to eat.


Other side of the sign says, "The End of the World is Near! When?"

The guy above is selling cell-phone time. For 150 pesos (about 8 cents) a minute, you can use one of his cellphones to call another cellphone. This is a particular Colombian peculiarity that you see in every town and city, because of the fact that the landlines and cellphone networks in Colombia are not connected. You can't call a landline from a cellphone and vice versa. So strange. So people without cellphones just "rent" one for a couple of minutes to call their buddy to let them know they'll be running late.


Historic and Modern Bogota architecture meet in the city streets


Jazzy buskers entertain passerbys

La Candelaria was nice, but we're both getting a bit fatigued of sightseeing in large cities, especially after spending so much time in Medellin. I know there are many other things to see in Bogota, but we're craving a change of scenery.
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  #244  
Old 10 Mar 2014
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Zipaquira is about an hour's ride north of Bogota. It's a tiny town whose primary claim to fame is being close to a cathedral made of salt. Actually, it's a cathedral that's built inside of a defunct salt mine, and the hostel owner in Bogota warned us that it was a cheesy tourist trap. Since we're all about el queso, we decided to fight the big city traffic and make our way up there.


The entrance to the salt mine

The salt deposits in the area have been mined by indigenous people since the 5th century, all the way to pre-hispanic cultures and then to the Spanish in later times. In the 1930s, miners carved a small sanctuary where they could say their daily prayers for protection before starting work. This small altar would later be expanded as part of a huge construction project in 1995, creating a gigantic "Salt Cathedral" inside the mine itself, showcasing the country's prowess in modern architecture.


The Disco-fication of Salt

Everything inside the mine is illuminated with multi-coloured lights. They've really put a lot of effort into making salt look sexy! All it did was make me hella thirsty for grape soda...


We put on some Minion hardhats and explored the darkness of the salt mine

Inside, you can opt to take a guided tour of the salt mine itself. We were led through the darkness of some of the existing tunnels and learned how workers used tools like pickaxes, explosives and railway carts to extract and transport salt out of the mines.


Cool striations and banding on the walls of the mine. Needs a mirror ball hanging from the ceiling...


Neda hard at work mining salt deposits while we all sang, "Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it's off to work we go" with a funky back beat


At the end of the tour, we all got paid in salt - just like the old miners did.
Since Neda did all the work, she got a huge chunk of rock salt. Because I just stood around and took pictures, this was my pay...


We walked around the tunnels leading up to the main hall of the Cathedral. When I say tunnels, they are actually huge hallways, perhaps 5m (16ft) tall and wide enough for two tractor trailers to drive past each other! The scale of the place was enormous!


This piece of art is carved right out of the rock and features intricately cut leaves

Every 50 meters or so there would be a tableau called a "Station of the Cross" abstractly representing a scene out of Jesus Christ's life (ie. Crucifixion, Ressurection, Meeting the Apostles, etc). Central to these tableaus would be a giant cross cut out of the rock salt and lit up with colourful lights. There are 14 "Stations of the Crosses" within the tunnels of the Salt Cathedral. These are just a few of them:


Praying at the S-altar...


Crucifix rises up out of the rock


One of the smaller "chapels" in the Cathedral


We walk past the main hall and it's now purple in colour


Just to give you an idea of scale, those are people gathered at the foot of the salt fountain in the distance...


The main hall of the Cathedral is stunning in its sheer immensity!
Guy in a hardhat at the bottom of the picture for scale.


Walking around all the large tableaus was quite remarkable. It seemed like the oversized tunnels stretched for a couple of kms inside the mountain that it was carved into. However, it was only when entering the main cathedral hall that we were bowled over by how large the inside of this place was. In the picture above, this section is 75m (246ft) long and 25m (82ft) high! The cross in the background is 16m (52ft) in height.

The whole cathedral is large enough to hold over 8,000 people. On Sundays, up to 3,000 people visit the Cathedral, despite the fact that it has no bishop and it's not officially recognized by the Catholic Church.


Balcony from where you can view the main hall from above

Like most of the crosses in the tableaus, it's actually not a solid piece of rock but a cutout to show the wall behind it, which is illuminated a different colour. Like one of them octopus illusions...


I'm positive this is what these kneeling blocks were made for...


Cross cut out of a curved wall


We walked past the main hall again and noticed it had changed colours! Groovy!

As we left the Salt Cathedral, we both remarked how it was one of the coolest things we've seen in Colombia. Especially since it seems that all we've been doing is hanging out in cities and towns lately... So glad we didn't heed the Bogota hostel owner's warnings about this place. I could see how it could be seen as cheesy to a local, but they did a really good job glamming up the whole experience.


Doing the Disco Rainsuit Dance

Spending all that time underground is like being inside a casino. You're completely cut off from what's happening outside with regards to time and weather, etc. We walked outside to see the late afternoon clouds working up to its daily showers. We rode for awhile out of Zipaquira before the inevitable rains forced us to do our side-of-the-road boogie besides our bikes.

We're probably not going to get very far this evening...
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  #245  
Old 10 Mar 2014
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News Flash! Neda attacked by rare, black S. American Condor!
(looks like some sort of Devil Bird! ... not a rain suit! )
Safe Travels!
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  #246  
Old 13 Mar 2014
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mollydog View Post
News Flash! Neda attacked by rare, black S. American Condor!
(looks like some sort of Devil Bird! ... not a rain suit! )
Safe Travels!
LOL! Thanks!
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  #247  
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As predicted, we didn't make it very far outside of Bogota's city limits last night before being stopped by the darkness and the rain. We stayed for the evening in a cheap motel right on the main highway in a small suburb called Mosquera. The plan today is to try to head further west within the country.

If it looks like we're backtracking a bit, it's because we're totally backtracking a bit...


We've been squeezing our bikes into plenty of tight spaces lately...


Last night: Wet tires on slick tile = high pucker factor

We're kind of getting sick of the cold and the rain. It seems like the waterworks has been following us ever since last autumn in Guatemala. The rough idea we had in our heads was that because we were moving so slowly, the rainy season would actually overtake us. It would seem that this plan backfired spectacularly, as the rain has actually kept the same pace as us. So in fact, we've been traveling in a perpetual rainy season for the last 6 months... fml...


As we were preparing to leave in the morning, Juan and his dad stop by on their bicycles and pepper us with questions

All over Colombia everyone has been asking to take pictures of us and our bikes. It's a bit unusual because there are lots of larger bikes like ours all around the big cities. I think what draws their interest are the overloaded luggage hanging off our bikes... and the only Asian person within 100 square miles is piloting one of the motorcycles... Latin Americans are very curious about me. I feel like I'm 25% Celebrity and 75% Alien...

Juan's dad told us that he wants to do the same trip that we're doing with his son on bicycles one day. Cool!


Heading westwards towards the Coffee Triangle

The Coffee Triangle is an area in Colombia where cars, motorcycles and trucks mysteriously vanish. Oh, and they also grow a lot of coffee plants in this area as well.

Since we're descending from the heights of Bogota, the weather starts off cool in the morning but quickly heats up as we dip into the lush valley. Between cities, most of the major roads in Colombia are only two-lane highways which means that there is a lot of aggressive passing when cars and motorcycles get stuck behind slow-moving trucks. We're told that most traffic accidents in Colombia occur because of bad passes resulting in head-on collisions or vehicles rolling over in the ditch, especially in the mountain roads on blind corners.

This is where we got into a bit of trouble: Neda was leading for the day and we were following a truck that was crawling up-hill. As we hit a small straightaway, she pulled out to pass the truck over a double-yellow and I followed her... right in plain sight of a traffic cop who was standing on the side of the road.

He pointed at us angrily and motioned for us to pull over.

Uh oh.


This is not the cop, because I was too scared shitless to take any pictures of the actual incident.
But it gives you an idea of what it looked like...


This is our first ever run-in with the law since our trip started (if you don't count Neda's no-helmet transgression with the bicycle police in Medellin). We're very wary of crooked cops in Latin America trying to shake down tourists, so we've discussed various strategies on how to deal with the situation if we're ever stopped.

I've heard that a popular strategy is the "No Fumar Espanol" defense (translated: "I don't smoke Spanish"). Basically, you mangle and butcher the Spanish language so badly that the police officer gives up trying to communicate with you and lets you off in a fit of exasperation. We both agree beforehand that this is what we'll do because, quite simply, it's not far from the truth in my case.

So we pull off right beside the police officer and over the communicator I hear Neda speak, "Buenas tardes, senor. Hay algun problema?"

DAFUQ?!?!

Because I don't understand Spanish, I'll give you my point of view of how the conversation went:

Quote:
Neda: "espanolespanolespanol"

Cop pulls out a book, turns to a page and points out a section to Neda

Cop: "espanolespanol MULTA"
(oh no, I know what that word means... we learnt it in Medellin when our bicycles got impounded for five days)

Cop looks stern. Neda looks worried

Neda: (pleadingly) "espanolespanolespanol"

Cop laughs, but not in a nice way.

Cop: "espanolespanol"

Cop then looks at me disapprovingly. Then Neda looks at me disapprovingly. What the hell is going on?

Cop: "espanolespanolespanolespanolespanolespanol"

Neda: "Gracias, senor!"

(did we just get off?)

Neda taps on her communicator: "Okay let's go..."
A few minutes later we're on the road and I ask Neda, "What the hell just happened back there?!?"

She replied, "Okay, so he said the fine for crossing a double yellow is that our motorcycles would be impounded for five days".
(Five days? Is every punishment five days long in Colombia?)

"He said that we would have to turn back towards Mosquera and wait till Monday to plead our case with the judge. Then I asked him is there any other solution to this problem?"
(Did my wife just offer a bribe to a police officer?)

"Then he scoffed at me"
(Great, we get stopped by the most honest policeman in Latin America...)

"He went on about how this was a really serious offense. But then for some reason he seemed to think that you were leading and then told me to explain to you what a bad thing you did and what a mistake it was to follow you."
(What?!? I wasn't leading! I was following Neda! Did my wife just throw me under the bus?!?)

"So I just nodded my head and agreed with him."
(My wife totally threw me under the bus.)

"It seemed to work, he let us go..."

I listened to Neda's entire explanation in stunned silence. Forget "No Fumar Espanol". Next time we get stopped, we're "Throwing Gene Under The Bus!"


Looking for a place to stay in Armenia

We tiptoed through the rest of the ride, camping out behind slow-moving trucks, inhaling diesel fumes until the next broken yellow line appeared to our left. The day stretched out incredibly long this way. We were hoping to make it to the pretty touristy town of Salento, but the daylight escaped us and we were forced to stop for the evening in Armenia.


Our hotel let us park our bikes in the spa! They slept better than we did!

Armenia wasn't even on our radar as a place to visit, but the next morning we walked around the small city to see what it was all about. It was surprisingly nice.


Medium size city, medium size traffic


There seems to be an artsy vibe around town


I do as instructed


#PopsicleEverywhereDontCare


Studies have shown that Omega 3 fatty acids from fish is beneficial for the heart
...which is totally what the artist was trying to convey. I'm sure of it...



Hangin' out, playin' tunes.


As if on cue, the afternoon brings rain...

Do you remember the kid in Charlie Brown, called PigPen? He had a perpetual cloud of dust hanging around him wherever he went. I feel exactly like that, as if we've got a perpetual rain cloud lingering over our motorcycles.




Our bikes reluctantly leave the spa

Okay, but seriously, enough with the cities, we're off to spend some time in the countryside!
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  #248  
Old 17 Mar 2014
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The Zipaquira Salt Mine Cathedral is incredible, that's going on my South American Bucket list.
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We've been spending a lot of time in big cities lately and while it's nice having all the amenities nearby (shops for food, motorcycle parts, government offices for getting our paperwork done, etc), the downside is that there is always the constant background noise of trucks, the honking of traffic, car alarms, etc. Plus, we're getting a bit tired of sightseeing as well, so we're heading out to the countryside to escape from the big city din.


Ah, the tranquil countryside!

Salento was the destination we were headed towards before we were forced to stop for the night in Armenia. It's only about an hour away, but the narrow, twisty road through the lush scenery is better enjoyed during the daytime.


Neda takes time to make a feline friend


Happy canines roam the streets

Neda really wants a dog.

We've been talking more and more about it lately. She's used to own a dog while growing up in Croatia and she said it was her best friend. So it seems that if and when we settle down, the first thing we're going to do is not find a place to live, nor find a job... we're going to get a dog.

Priorities, you know...?


Like all touristy towns on the Gringo Trail, the buildings are painted bright colours

Salento attracts a lot of tourists, local and foreign. It's recently been added as an attraction to the Gringo Trail, which like Antigua, Granada, etc., has become one of the popular places for foreigners to get a taste of Latin America outside of the beachside resorts. However, being a Gringo Trail town greatly changes the atmosphere: souvenir shops abound, pricey restaurants at every street corner and all the buildings are painted in colours that I'm sure they didn't have back in colonial times.

It's the Heisenberg-GringoTrail Uncertainty Principle...


Big guy straining at the leash!

The stairs in the background are part of the Alta de la Cruz, 250 steps that lead up to a nice viewpoint of the town and the surrounding valley. (Just another GringoTrail example: these stairs weren't painted until just a couple of years ago, I checked online!) At various points along the stairs there are tiny vestibules containing crucifixes - 14 of them, called "Stations of the Cross" - exactly like the Salt Cathedral in Zipiquira. Except these were tiny and not made of salt...

We didn't get half-way up the stairs when the skies darkened quickly and the winds picked up. So we hurried back down and ran back to the shelter of our hostel just as the first massive drops of rain started hammering down on the roof. We watched the torrential rain mercilessly pounding away at the streets and anyone unlucky enough to be caught outside.

The daily afternoon rains are forcing me to become a morning person, which is quite an unnatural act for me, since I don't normally get to sleep till around 2-3AM. No me gusta...


Hanging out with more GringoPaint

I'm only half-joking about all the touristy touches in town. Salento was a huge step up from the big cities we've been staying in, full of character and such a peaceful place to stay. And Neda loves poking around all the souvenir shops, playing with the curios and trying on the multi-coloured fabrics that the locals wear. We're certainly not snooty and above acting like tourists because quite frankly, we are.

It's just nice to be the *ONLY* tourists, and not part of a load of Gringos that a tourbus vomited out onto these painted streets. LOL! So hypocritical!


Walking the pretty streets of Salento

We're not actually here to see Salento, tranquil as it is. Neda organized a hike (ugh.) of the Cocora Valley a few kms outside of town. It's part of the Los Nevados National Park and is a popular place for hikes and horseback rides.

I just can't seem to remember the name Cocora, I keep calling it Carcosa. You know, the place where black stars hang in the heavens, and strange moons circle through the skies. Now where did I put my pallid mask...?


Early morning hike to beat the afternoon rains


All over the area you can see tall palm trees!

The Los Nevados National Natural Park is designated a sanctuary to an endangered species. What are they trying to protect? It's these tall wax palm trees, which are Colombia's national symbol. And what are the threats to these magnificent, yet meek and mild trees? Palm Sunday. Seriously. Every Palm Sunday, people cut down the branches of thousands of these trees for their religious ceremonies. So the government has set up a palm sanctuary here, not just for the trees, but also for the plenitude of wildlife who depend on the palms for shelter and sustenance - parrots, butterflies and hummingbirds.


As if to prove my point: Does not need palm trees and *not* an endangered species...


Enjoying a Palm Sundae


What a nice break from the city. All I needed was a golf cart... 4WD of course...


Muddy from the previous day's rain, so the hostel lent us some rubber booties


Great for not getting dirty, but not so good for hiking. Many blisters later...


Lot of bridges over streams in the interior of Cocora Valley


Resting the dogs


As we climb up the hill overlooking the valley, we encounter mist. The palm trees look otherworldly!


Quit horsin' around, Neda! Lot of four-legged animals in this blog entry...


Some of these palm trees grow as tall as 60m (200feet)! These are the tallest palm trees in the world


Down at the valley floor. A little bit of scale.


Neda says, "Great hike!" Gene replies, "Ok. Bedtime."


tldr; Here's a video instead

Note: YouTube has banned Shakira from Germany. If you can't see the video above, I'm working on it!

I hope there are no Spanish speakers watching this video, because the music has nothing to do with riding or hiking or dark stars over Carcosa. It's just because Shakira is crazy hot and she's on the cover of every magazine and on every TV station here in Colombia. And her hips are telling the truth...


No loud diesel engines, no cars honking in traffic, no alarms, just peace and quiet. Buenas Noches.
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Old 24 Mar 2014
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No, the map isn't wrong. We're headed north again... And back to the city as well. We're less than 200 kms away from Medellin. Perhaps we can get our old apartment back again?


Rolling through the streets of Manizales

We're not really here to see the city, it's just a sleepover stop so we can visit some of the coffee farms in the area. But we did make it out for a walk in the centre of town and we were surprised that just like Armenia, the city was very vibrant. So this is just a quick update to show you a little bit of Manizales:


Main street is designated pedestrian-only. We rode down it. Oops...


This was the church right beside our hostel: La Iglesia La Inmaculada Concepcion. Beautiful wood detailing!


At first we couldn't understand how this guy was floating.
But after careful inspection, we figured it out: Magic.



Blogging. Old School.


The Cathedral of Manizales. At 113 meters, it's the third tallest in Latin America


Pretty stained glass windows


"I'm Batman."


Something about candles in churches makes me feel like I'm back in Medieval Times.


Staring out into the main plaza from the Cathedral. The statues, I mean.


All dressed up for her christening


Young explorer


Very bizarre statue, it's a guy with a condor head and wings for arms. And then his face is mounted below.
It's meant to symbolize man's inability to create art that can be understood by anyone.



Home-cooked spaghetti in our hostel! My favorite meal!


Of course it rains all evening. Of course...

Tomorrow: Coffee! We'll need the caffeine because it'll be an early start to beat the afternoon showers. And then after that we're going to fly us and the bikes to the Sahara Desert. So bloody sick of all this rain.
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The Coffee Triangle consists of three departments: Caldas (where Manizales is located), Quindio (where Armenia is) and Risaralda (see map above). We've ridden through all the departments in the last few days, taking in our surroundings of steep hills lined with regular dots of coffee plants. Today we're going to visit one of the bigger fincas (farms) in the region to learn about what makes Colombian coffee the best in the world.


On our way to the coffee farm!

Hacienda Valencia is one of the largest coffee farms in the area and we heard they offer a great tour of their operations. It's only 20 minutes away from Manizales, so we hop on our bikes real early to try to get to their farm on time for their tour. Unfortunately due to a GPS problem, we get lost trying to find our way out of the city. Neda was leading and she was cursing up a storm as we backtracked from a very long dead-end road. What should have been an easy 20-minute ride turned out to be a 40-minute rush.

We got to the farm 15 minutes late for the start time. Neda was very upset. However a guide from the farm approached our bikes and told us the tour started an hour later than we thought. We were 45 minutes early! Neda's mood visibly improved and I was happy. Because happy wife = happy life!


Not 5 minutes into arriving, we were handed these espressos

I have to preface this blog entry by saying that neither Neda or I are coffee drinkers, me especially. Besides the odd sip, I've had maybe two whole cups of coffee in my life and one of them was an Ice Frappucino... However, I am a Diet Coke addict, so I wasn't really overly worried about my caffeine intake for today. Bring it on, Hacienda Valencia!


The first sip of the day - perfect for calming down Neda's frayed nerves from this morning's frantic ride!

We were led to an outdoor "classroom" where we were given a brief history of coffee farming in Colombia. The espresso I tried was a bit sour. I'm not sure what to compare it to, never having had an espresso... I didn't like it too much, but our guide says that some people prefer the tart taste. Okay, I'll try a second cup to see if it grows on me. Free coffee throughout the tour! And I'm a sucker for free stuff.

Our guide gave a very comprehensive explanation of why Colombian coffee was the best in the world, but for some reason, all I could focus on was how my right knee was tapping out a frenetic message in morse code against the underneath of the tabletop. Strange. Dot-Dash-Dash-Dot-Dot... I wish I knew morse code.

From what little I got from the presentation, the Coffee Triangle in Colombia is special because it receives two rainy seasons every year, as the annual migration of the clouds follow a close pattern in the region. Apparently this makes for perennially fresh coffee. But when I hear two rainy seasons, the biker in me just gets mad. We rode all the way to an area with two rainy seasons?! On motorcycles?! WTF? I drown my sorrows with another free espresso.

Just thinking about Two Rainy Seasons is making my head pound and my heart race. TWO RAINY SEASONS! I think I might even be feeling a bit nauseous...!


Walking around the coffee farm

After the presentation, we get to tour the farm itself. It's not that warm outside, but all this walking around seems to make me sweat alot, especially my palms. Weird.

We got to hear about the lives of the migrant farm hands who work on the farm. They follow the harvest season as it moves across different areas. Colombian coffee is famous around the world because of the manual process these workers provide to sort out different quality of the beans that they pick.


One coffee bean ripe for picking


I seemed to be more interested in these plants that curled up when you touched them! Neat!

The tour was very informative, but there was a lot of information being given to us. It kinda made my head spin, like physically, my brain was dizzy from information overload. I think I needed to sit down to process all this knowledge transfer. Yes, sitting down seems like a good idea right now.


Oh look, peacocks! So... what was I saying...?


And lilypads too!

At the end of the tour, we were led to the main building where we saw our lunch being prepared. It felt good to rest up a bit and I was able to take some pictures of more than birds and lilypads (why was that so interesting 15 minutes ago?!?)


Hacienda Valencia is also a villa where you can stay. It's super nice, but super expensive too.


Kitchen reflection


Pollo

Lunch was good. Digesting food and information made me feel a lot better. I walked over to the espresso machine for more free java but Neda stopped me, "I think you've had enough".

"What are you talking about? I've had like 5 cups and the stuff hasn't even affected me one bit!"


Mexican Jumping Gene

On our tour of the processing facility, we asked where they shipped Hacienda Valencia coffee beans to. Our guide replied, "All over the world!" Since we've been accused of traveling too slowly by motorcycle, I thought we could ship ourselves to our next destination by coffee bean bag instead. We're going to use a courier company called "Federal Espresso"...


Just a little dip in the pool before heading back to the daily Grind

Great day! Great tour! Not a coffee convert though. Just didn't provide the same kick as my Diet Coke habit.

Oh look, a bird!
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I've been experiencing a bit of a problem on my GS:


Wanna see a magic trick?

Note: As of the time of writing this entry, I've gotten the problem resolved. If you're having the same symptoms, email or PM me, I can point you to a thread that has a few solutions you can try out.

And this is one of the shorter wait times for the electronics to come online after I turn the key on! It happens consistently first thing in the morning and the delay lasts anywhere from 10 seconds to just under a minute. It has me a bit worried, especially after the EWS stranded me in El Salvador.

I did a quick check online, there were some others with almost the same symptoms, but no resolutions. Although the bike always starts up 100% of the time, I felt like I needed to get this attended to for my own piece of mind. We weren't planning on spending a lot of time in Cali, but since it was on our way, we stopped into the BMW dealership to see what they could do. They told us to leave my bike with them and they would run some tests on it.


Our large displacement motorcycles are among the fastest bikes in Latin America.
They'll pass anything on the road... except for a BMW Service Center...


Cali BMW is the latest in a long line of BMW Service Centers that we've visited in Latin America. Looking back, I don't think we've passed one without stopping in. I feel like I should have a booklet with stamps that I collect from all the LA dealerships. And then as a reward when I collect all the stamps... they'll give me a new booklet for the journey back up again.

FML.


Walking around downtown Cali

Cali is about 260 kms south of Manizales, much of the ride was spent on the highway. We're descending a bit from the hills of the coffee region, from about 2100m (7000 feet) to 1000m (3300 feet), and the temperature rises to what you'd expect of Colombia and being this far south. We're very surprised that it's still rainy here, which makes Cali very hot and humid. The guy running our hostel says it's unusually wet right now, and it may be related to the Polar Vortex that has had most of North America buried under snow.

It's a big city, third in size behind Bogota and Medellin. I'm not sure we're ready to spend time in a large city again, but we've got to get my bike attended to before we go any further, so we decide to make the best of it.


This guy looks as impressed with the big city traffic as we were

We made our way down to the historic centre of the city by bus, expecting some touristy old colonial buildings painted in pastel colours. However, what we found was was a very run-down, dirty downtown. Maybe it was the area we were in, but of the three major Colombian cities, Cali was definitely not the nicest. I make fun of GringoTrail towns all the time, but Cali was really depressing in the other direction.

I think what we were also feeling was a fatigue of sightseeing. How many churches, buildings and city streets could we see before it all started to melt into each other? We desperately needed a change of scenery. Much as we always value our "take our time, smell the roses" approach, perhaps this is a sign that were ready to leave Colombia.


Homeless problem is a bit more pronounced in Cali than Medellin or Bogota


Cool looking necklace!


Neda trying out Guarapo - a mix of freshly pressed sugar cane and lime. Very tasty!


Christo Rey in the background

We had big plans on hiking up the mountain to see the 26 meter-high statue of Christ that overlooks Cali. However the skies were threatening rain again and by this time we were so bummed out about how dirty and grimy the downtown was that we just hopped on the bus back to our hostel. Being in the city is really getting us down.


Running errands in Cali

Although sightseeing turned out to be a bit of a bust for us, we took advantage of Cali's extensive infrastructure and amenities by getting some paperwork done. It's getting really close to the end of the month and our insurance is running out. We're not sure how long the service will take to fix my ignition, so just to play it safe we venture out again on Neda's bike to buy another month of insurance. I remember last month when I wrote, "Surely we won't STILL be in Colombia in April". Hmmm...


Breakfast is included at our hostel. Not a big fan of arepas, so I end up playing with my food.
I used to do the most epic mash potato structures when I was... um, last week...



Everyone labels their food in hostels. So we're relaxing in the evening with a Neda Modelo...

We don't go out too much into the city after that. The rest of the 20-somethings in our hostel think that we're very strange for staying inside as they go out exploring Cali during the day and flirt and dance and try to pick the locals during the evenings.

Well actually, we do leave the hostel for food. There's a fish market in Cali not too far from our hostel, so we hopped on Neda's bike, rode over and tried some cazuela, which is a bubbling broth of coconut milk full of different kinds of seafood. It was delicious!


Haven't been posting any local food pictures, so here's a video instead!

When we first arrived in Latin America, we really enjoyed all the variety of tacos and the spices of Mexico. However, after many months of traveling further south, the variations of corn breads, beans, rice and meat have become a bit monotonous, so we find ourselves craving more international foods. The seafood broth was a good changeup, but what we wouldn't do for a large platter of unagi sushi and softshell crab roll!


Outside, Neda's bike waits patiently for us to finish our broth. The restaurant owner
covers it with some cardboard so the seat doesn't get too hot from the sun. How nice!



Prepped and ready to perform major surgery on this poor pollo

Okay, I do like that there is a lot of fried chicken in Latin America. However, I've noticed my clothes seem to shrink after eating too much of it, so this is a rare treat. I also love how all over Colombia they give you plastic gloves so you don't get your hands all greasy when you order fried chicken. Neda wants me to steal more gloves so she can use them to lube her chain. I offer to save her some chicken grease as well...

Her eyes narrow and she replies dryly, "Just the gloves will be fine."

Come on! It'd be great lube for such a poultry sum! We can call it KFC: Kentucky Fried Chain! It's Finger Linkin' Good!


Speaking of final drive, ever wondered what the inside of a shaft drive looks like? Don't worry, not mine...

The service centre was taking a long time trying to fix my ignition issue. Neda called them a few times during the week and all she got was, "Mañana" (tomorrow). We're told that this is a very typical Latin American response. So she said we should just go down there and show our faces to inject a little urgency into the situation.

When we arrived, the bike was in exactly the same condition as we had left it. Nothing was done to it. Neda had a few words with the service advisor and before we left Surprise, Surprise, the tech was busy taking apart my bike. Neda is becoming quite savvy in the ways of Latin America.

The next day, we got a phone call. The tech ran a bunch of tests on the computer, which reported no faults even though the problem could be replicated. They hooked up a new battery and still the problem persisted. They told us that they couldn't isolate what was causing the startup delay, but according to the diagnostics, the bike was perfectly fine. So a whole week waiting around in Cali and nothing to show for it? Not impressed...

We picked up my bike that afternoon and made plans to put Cali behind us, with my ignition issue still very much on my mind. I just hope that this isn't a case of, "We'll know what the problem is once it completely breaks"...


A bit of advertising in exchange for a picture of the two of us...

Wow, whiny blog entry... Better days ahead!
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Last edited by lightcycle; 27 Mar 2014 at 20:43.
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Every morning before we head out to our next destination, we check our day's route on Google Maps. Then we corroborate it on our GPSs. We have two of them loaded with two different map providers, so we can cross-check our routes with each other when they don't match up. You'd think with all these checks and balances, we'd have very little problems with navigation. That is, if we'd bother to do any of the above...


Following our GPSs east

We've gotten very complacent with our GPSs. Cali south-east to La Plata seemed pretty straightfoward. A quick glance at Google Maps confirmed 180 kms on secondary roads. Okay, 180 kms, we can leave a bit later in the day then. Heading out of Cali was a bit hectic, but we soon shed the heat and the traffic and were out on the main highway heading south and all seemed well.

The main road eastwards starts at Popayan. Unfortunately, one of our GPS had calculated a "short-cut" before we hit Popayan and the other GPS didn't even have any roads east of the city! If we had bothered to check our route beforehand we would have noticed all these discrepancies...


Nice shortcut! Enjoying the twists and turns in the road.

The road started out great! Colombian roads have really surprised us after the very mixed bag in Central America. As a secondary road, the pavement was smooth and twisty and as far as my GPS was showing, the path wound its way around the hills like this all the way to La Plata. Sweet!


GPS doesn't actually show you what the road conditions look like...

As we rode further east, the pavement got a bit patchier. Nothing too alarming, or anything to indicate that we should turn back and seek another way. It also started raining a bit. We've discovered that our Heidenau K60 tires don't do really well on wet pavement, as Neda has had her rear tire step out a few times under acceleration. So our pace slows down to a cautious gallop.

Past the town of Totoro, the pavement disappears. It becomes a gravel road that's soaked by the constant rain coming down on our helmets. We do a little conference call in our helmets: Do we turn back? We're over 20 kms into this road, GPS is saying another 80 kms... Decisions, decisions. It's only wet gravel, so we decide to forge ahead.

Next come the potholes. Little ones at first, then they grow larger - large enough to swallow the bottom thirds of our wheels. You know when the road is so bumpy, your tits start to hurt? And I don't even have tits! We slow down even further to a crawl, picking a good line to avoid the holes in the road. We pass through areas of construction where the road is either being built or repaired. By now the rain is pelting down full bore and the potholes are becoming tiny lakes. At this point, we've ridden too far into the road to turn back. Surely there can't be anything worse ahead...


It got worse.

We must be at a fairly high elevation as the fog has become so thick we can't see 50m ahead of us. The rain has turned the road to muck and while we were riding through a fairly large construction site, RIVERS of dirty mud run sideways across what used to be the road. I watch Neda negotiate this "river crossing" and wait till she's safely on the other side to proceed. On my turn, the mud has pushed my line into a deep pothole and when I come out the other side, my front wheel hits the far edge wrong and gets deflected sideways. I lose all momentum and the bike is leaning precariously to the left, so I put a foot down to dab myself back up so I can throttle out. But all my foot touches is air.

With no momentum and the bike falling Oh. SO... SLOWLY.... past the point of no saving, all I can do is resign myself to watching the mud on my left get closer and closer. It seems to take a lifetime. I have all the time in the world to hop off the bike as it *sploooshes* down, drenching me in wet mud even though I try to distance myself from the timbered Bavarian lumber.

I tap on my communicator, "Um..."

Neda replies, "Really?! Seriously!?!?"


Drenched.

Thankfully, a construction guy has seen my clownish attempt at the mud river crossing and he comes over to help pick up my bike, so I call off Neda's assistance over the radio. With a mumbled "Gracias", I thank the guy as he shook his head and wondered what the hell we were both doing out here...

I called out to him and asked him how much further the mud went on for. He replied, "5 kms".

Quick calculation in my head: we can't be crawling more than 10 km/h so maybe another half-hour of this? Doable? I guess. Enjoyable? Ah... no.


Further on down the road, I come across this...

So, a couple of things about this particular off: 1) Neda is pissed. But not because the bike is down, but over the communicator I hear, "But I just washed it!!!!" She's angry because her bike is dirty. Yep. 2) She tells me that she didn't go down because of the mud, but because there was a fly on her nose and when she went to swat it off, she didn't notice the rock next to her on the right side of the picture. So while she was dealing with the fly, her right pannier hit the rock and knocked her bike around and then down.


"*$#%^&*!!! I JUST WASHED IT!!!!!"


If my bike could talk, it would be saying to Neda's bike, "LOL, you fell too..."

Now I know my Spanish is bad, but when I asked the construction guy how much further the mud went, there's absolutely no mistaking "cinco kilometres" with "quince kilometres"... But the mud did indeed stretch on for more than 5 kms. An additional 10 more, in fact. When our tires did finally hit wet gravel instead of thick, goopey mud, we stopped to survey the aftermath...


Damn you, you dirty GPS!


Might need another bath..


...and a new rear mud deflector...

Part of the reason why we stopped was that I heard a weird dragging sound underneath my seat. Thankfully we were going so slow, because when we pulled over, I found my rear mud flap had dislodged from all the mud that was collecting between it and the rear wheel, and it had ripped right off and found a new home right below the subframe.

I did some research later on and found out that this is common problem with the R1200GS and mud, and many people just go flapless. It's a good thing Neda leads most of the time, or I'd be constantly roosting her with all this bad weather we've been riding through.

It's kind of funny now that we've ridden through stretches of slippery mud, we're flying over the wet, potholed gravel roads, like it's nothing. Even my tits feel good. It's taken us over twice as long as we thought we'd needed for the day, but if the road stayed like this, we might make it to La Plata before sunset.


Or maybe not... Another obstacle.

This truck was towing a construction vehicle around a tight hairpin. The trailer was too long and couldn't make it around the turn without
touching the concrete guardrail. And by touching it, I mean absolutely destroying it! Pieces of the guardrail were falling into the valley below. And the funniest thing was the guy on the right was pouring motor oil on the guardrail to help lubricate the trailer's progress. Check out the picture above: a sledgehammer is going to help more than any lubricant will!

It took about 45 minutes for the truck to get far enough so our bikes could squeeze past him. As we rode by him, we noticed there was another turn just as tight right after this bend, but we didn't stick around to see how well he negotiated the next one! Too scared that guy would hit us up for our motor oil... LOiL!


Another break to check out the awesome scenery!


A bit of company on the road


Kawaii!

We pulled into La Plata just as the sun was going down for the evening. It wasn't long before we found a cheap but nice hotel right downtown and while we were busy unloading the bikes and checking in, Andrea the receptionist really wanted to get a picture with me. Not too sure why. I was covered head to toe in mud, stinking of sweat, rain and exhaust... I'm guessing they don't see a lot of Asian people in La Plata. So when she put up the bunny ears for the photo, I followed her lead - I'm not really that kind of Asian, but I tried to do my best Kawaii imitation for her. Forgot to wink though...


Another tldr video... Special thanks to Spyhunter.
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I realize I'm sitting here in perfectly clean clothes starring at a perfectly clean motorcycle in the garage but that looks like a lot of fun to me!

I've been trying to decide what to do about the GPS thing for our trip, but after reading that entry I think I'm just going to stop worrying about it and grab (any) one. It's going to be wrong anyway.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by L84toff View Post
I've been trying to decide what to do about the GPS thing for our trip, but after reading that entry I think I'm just going to stop worrying about it and grab (any) one. It's going to be wrong anyway.
LOL! Yes!

Get one that has the bells and whistles you like. There are some good free maps to download that you can use on just about any GPS.
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