Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Colombia : Bucaramanga->Santa Marta->Taganga->Cartagena->Medellín...

It has been ages since I've created a blog post.  Actually an entire country and a half has gone by since I've posted last and currently I find myself preparing to post about experiences that happened back in the beginning of March.  Not only is this difficult to write, it must be difficult to stay interested in as well.

"What the hell have you been doing all this time?"  Would be a suitable and worthy question.  My simple answer is...  I have been ripping day in and day out from the beaches of Ecuador to the heart of the Inca Empire in Cuzco and Ollantaytambo, Peru.  The roads through the interior of the Andes are nothing short of spectacular but challenging day in and day out.    Needless to say, constant riding and very little internet connectivity have left me months behind...  So upon request by my boy Matt Kienzle, in the comments area, I'm going photo heavy and word light, to get us all up to speed.  Sit back enjoy some scenery as we cruise out of Colombia...

So with no further procrastinations... Sam Miller and I find ourselves poised for Santa Marta.  Only 160km's to go after a huge 450km already from Bucaramanga.  We left for this stretch twice.  The first day we got out of town under great chaos and needed to turn back, having both left important items in the hostel in Bucaramanga.  But on day two, we got an early jump out the door and found ourselves in Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast by the golden hours of afternoon.

We pulled into the little coastal town of Santa Marta, searching around for the malecon or boardwalk, so we could have a well deserved cold beer.  We parked our overstuffed bikes right about where the police are standing in the above picture.  I'll be the first to admit what a terrible picture it is, but I was hoping to capture the cops and the truck in the background that reads "ANTIEXPLOSIVOS" on it.  We were quickly ushered out of our parking spots and into a side alley.  

When we finally got our beers and cooled off a bit, we came to find out that the president of Colombia was going to be passing by.  Colombian fighter jets roared by overhead.  And the street was cleared.  We enjoyed a couple of beers waiting for the grand promenade.  After the second beer and still no Commander in Chief, we grew impatient. I called a friend of a friend...  Jeff Campbell, who invited us into the next bay over to the fishing village turning tourist hot-spot of Taganga.

Taganga was quaint and beautiful huddled around its protected bay.  Boats lingered bobbing about.  We made our way through another military checkpoint and into town meet up with Jeff, our unofficial guide to all things Taganga.

The night progressed quickly.  We were introduced to Michel and Christina a Swedish/Colombian couple that have set up residence high on the hill above Taganga.  These two were lovely hosts and soon we'd been fed, had drank and had a swim in the pool watching the sun go down and the lights come on in town.  Taganga had a bouncy Caribbean vibe much like Isla Bastimentos back in Bocas, Panama, but here it was distinctly Colombian.  Fish and fisherman, fruit juice on the boardwalk...  All with a buzz of its own.  We danced long into the night and sometime in the morning made our way back to our tents on Jeff's property.   My brain never stopped its disco beat well into the heat of the next morning.

The next couple of days were a bit rainy.  I welcomed the respite from the humid heat of the day before. We explored around the area with Jeff.   He took us on a nice walk over to Playa Grande, the next bay over from Tanganga.

Playa Grande is mostly devoid of electricity but serves as a wonderful escape from the busy bay of Taganga.  Families and tourists alike come to kick back in the sand and frolic in the water.  The rain had put a bit of a damper on things but neither bay suffered a loss of beauty.

After a couple of days of supreme relaxation and partying with Jeff & Co., we decided to push on to Cartagena.  The riding was less than exciting.  We rode down along the windy coast towards Barranquilla.  Some of the most depressing shanties we'd seen lined a swamped out soccer field along the side of the road between Santa Marta and Barranquilla.  The road was straight and windy and we raced along with the cars bettering 85 mph at times.

We made good time and soon were pulling into the outskirts of the big city of Cartagena.  Colombia's jewel of the Caribbean.   The road was flooded outside of town.  Water rushed up from the underground sewers and Sam and I rode with our feet high hoping the filthy water would stay off our gear as much as possible.  Soon we were riding around the old town.

Cartagena was edgy.  There was the classic colonial part of town that the tourists flocked to and then there was the ritzy Bocagrande neighborhood just a little further onto the peninsula.

Surprising enough our hostel, the cheapest we could find with decent parking options, was located in the heart of flashy Bocagrande, only a block from a well air-conditioned and beautifully staffed McDonald's.  We took our time chilling for a few days in the hustle and bustle of Colombia's version of Miami Beach.

With plenty of forays with other tourists from our hostel down into old town and to eat at the street vendors lined up outside the old fortress.

A couple of days here and I was really ready for the big push to Medellín.  Another big day of ripping pavement from the coast all the way into the mountains.    After a week down here in the heat and humidity, I was looking forward to cooler climates.  My mind was filled with ideas of grandeur and beauty ahead.  The rolling hills were brown but filled with flowering trees with bright yellow blossoms.  We ripped along at high velocity heading for Puerto Valdivia.  The air was still warm and the riding fast.  Sam's moto started making some suspect noises and was spewing a bit of oil out of the crankcase cover.

We pushed on...

We followed the river further and further into the mountains.  The landscape and culture changed rapidly when we got to Puerto Valdivia. 

After crossing the river, we started our non-stop climb high into the mountains surrounding the Medellín Valley.  Sam's bike was coughing and sputtering but so far was still pushing strong.

It was a shocking change to end up here in the milky fog and cold coming over the pass.  But by the time we made it into the city it was sunny and warm again.


We found our way to Casa Kiwi Hostel in the Zona Rosa district of Medellín.  Sam's bike was sounding desperate and kept killing on him in the traffic coming into the city.  We picked our way around a bit before stopping to consult the Lonely Planet for a map.  As soon as we stopped, several people gathered around trying to give us directions.  Downtown skyscrapers towered over our heads and traffic raged down Carrera 48.  We found the general direction and tore off towards the chic zone of El Poblado.  When we were within blocks of our hotel Sam's bike would barely stay running.  I flagged down a motorcycle cop that was waiting at a red light next to us.  I told him what was going on with the bike and where we were trying to find.  He made a call on his radio and said to follow him.  This young motocop was stoked to give us a full lights escort.  We raced behind him as best we could following the flashing blue lights on his Suzuki DR650.

We made it all the way to Casa Kiwi.  When we checked in we were surprised to see Torben Pijpers still there.  Turns out he was still having trouble with his KLR as well and had been holed up in Medellín for a couple weeks already.  The good thing is he knew exactly where to take Sam's bike the next day.

So here is Sam at MR.BIKE Medellín, Colombia.  His KLR650 on the stand next to him.  And Torben's KLR can be seen behind them, both with blown top ends.  Torben's a lasting problem stemming all the way back to Copper Canyon in Mexico and Sam's...  well let's just say Sam rides his KLR like a Ducati and it was just time for a rebuild.

Lots of bikers come through Medellín and stay at Casa Kiwi.  I took advantage of having the company of James and Tanner and did some maintenance on my bike out front as well.  New brake pads all the way around and some fresh grease on the bearings and axels.   Other than Sam, Torben, James and I, three or four other motorcyclists came through while we were there.  One of my favorites was Sunny Unal  You should check out this pro-photographers website about his motorcycle journey. 

The Parque Poblado area was super beautiful.  I spent lots of time walking around and checking out the area.  Lots of nice bars and restaurants lined the streets and the park.  Juan Valdez coffee kept us jacked up, and Hooters just happened to be between the hostel and the coffee shop.  

This moto bar had sweet KTM promo posters decorating its walls.  Couldn't help to feel at home here.  And two blocks up the street, Frederico Henao's Motoshop Medellín KTM provided a great parts resource for me.  Well stocked with a super seductive sales floor filled with high-powered KTM's, Motoshop is a top quality KTM shop.  Frederico offered up the shop to me, but my repairs were minor and easy enough to do on the sidewalk in front of Casa Kiwi.

(Well the colors are right, but that's definitely not a KTM hiding under that Orange & Black cloak.)

James and I got out for a ride to El Peñol while the others' bikes were in the shop.  El Peñol is a gigantic monolithic rock in the middle of an area of valleys filled with reservoir water.  It made for a nice day trip and afforded some awesome views from the top of a million stairs built into the side of this monster.

A couple more nights of partying meeting Peter McNeill and Simon Vaughn kept things interesting but my time had come... and once again it was time to move on or stay forever...

So with a fresh haircut and mustache it was time to break off from Sam Miller and hit the road on my own.  It was super good to ride with Sam.  We covered a lot of distance together. Too bad about all those KLR's in the shop!  Bring on southern Colombia...