Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The House of Dreams & Scorpions

It was a cold night in Barichara. but the sun is shinning and we are out early to explore the town. Every single street is lined with perfectly maintained white houses. The smell of fresh bread is coming from a bakery. Kids in school uniforms are everywhere. The men that are sweeping the streets are smiling as they wish us a good day. We walk from one sight to the next and truly enjoy spending our morning here.

Colombian Army Bikes... they had gathered in the main square for some sort of propaganda show.

At a little cafe, overlooking a canyon, we have a coffee and take in the view while vultures circle above.

We both want to spend another day here getting to know the town and its people. But we really have to move on. There is so much to see and we only have a few months to make it to Tierra del Fuego.

In the afternoon we set off for Villa de Leyva. We decide to make some distance by sticking to the main road. In Moniquira however, we opt for a shortcut that is supposed to take us right into Villa de Leyva as it's getting dark. Just as complete darkness fell, the road suddenly turned into a bad dirt road filled with pot holes. Great! The whole not riding at night plan was out the door again. There was nowhere to pull off and camp so we just kept going.

Our sighs of relief are audible as as we ride into town. The relief only lasts a minute, though. The streets of old town Villa de Leyva are composed off massive cobble stones and after the nightly ride on the dirt Azure is done with it. We come to a stop on the main square. It's the biggest square in South America and it is beautifully lit up. Azure has come to a stop in a spot where she cannot put down her side stand due to the cobblestones and grumpily resigns herself to admiring the square from the seat of her bike. She just wants food and a place to camp. I scoot off to take a few photos. And then Fonzy shows up...

Villa de Leyva's Massive Plaza

In no time Fonzy and Azure are chatting away, realizing they had met before at a Horizons Unlimited meeting, and a smile comes back to her face. Fonzy is a photographer and he is doing a tour with Motolombia, a tour company based out of Cali. We have a lot of friends in common and before we know it we are in the square for an hour. We exchange contact information and head off our separate ways.

Azure, although smiling, has still not forgotten about the cobblestones and B lines it out of the old center. Once we hit tarmac she stops and waits for me. An old man comes over and asks if he can help. "Well, we are looking for something to eat and a place to camp". No problemo! Camping is just down the road across from the fire station and you can have dinner here. In no time his wife reopens her restaurant for us and for a few dollars we
have a delicious meal.

The center by day

The next day we plan to get out of town. We are still in love with Barichara and therefore not enjoying this bigger and more touristy city as much. But we do want to visit Casa Terracotta before getting on the road. We have a hard time finding it, even after running into the Motolombia tour group and Fonzy who point us in the right direction. We finally turn onto a dirt road that leads to the casa.

The red house looks like something out of a dream. Azure goes inside while I stay with the bike. We had a little bit of an argument about timing earlier and I make sure to let her know that we need to get out of here soon because we need to make some miles towards Bogota today. She runs inside while I sit and marvel at the house and its surroundings. Dark clouds are rolling in over the mountains. It stresses me out even more. The dark skies and the setting sun, lighting up the terracotta make for a picture perfect moment when a man with a white beard comes over for a chat.

"Where are you from?" "How long have you been traveling for?"

The map on the Zarges case does its job again aiding my broken Spanish in explaining our journey.

"What do you think about the house?"

"It is an amazing piece of art", I tell him.

"Where are you guys going now?"

"We are going to have to find a place to camp".

"Why don't you guys camp right here?" "

Yeah that would be great" I laugh. "No for real. I am the architect and I invite you to camp here. Or stay in the house. Whichever you prefer."

"No way!" Shocked, I struggle to find words.

"Let me show you around", he says.The inside is even more incredible than the outside. When we get to the master bedroom he says; "you can sleep in here" Now I have to pinch myself. I can't believe we are being invited into this masterpiece. The tour ends on the roof where there are countless places to hang out and relax.

When I get back to Azure and tell her we are going to stay in the house tonight she is beside herself with excitement. We talk to Octavio Mendoza for a while and get to understand the thought behind his design. The gardens are very interesting too, complete with herbs and edible flowers. We talk about life and the beautiful world we live in and he leaves us with "We just need more love!"

Apropos words that did a great deal to sooth the lingering tension from our earlier spat.


We make ourselves comfortable in our new house and are in awe of all the little details. Since we are still in town we decide to meet up with Fonzy for a beer. It would have been great to have it on our roof but we don't feel right inviting people over. We go back to old town and Fonzy shows us some hidden little gems. We have a great evening and luckily get some more appreciation for this town.
Fonzie showed us a few of the hot spots in town.
Back at the house we find a little friend in the bedroom. Ok, this could get interesting. We take no risk and set up the inner tent on the bed. This is part of why we chose this tent. It is very nice to be able to build a safe zone anywhere.
It's a beautiful night, nonetheless, and we marvel at where we're laying our heads down to sleep, yet again.



Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Back on the Road in Colombia

A few doors around the courtyard of the hotel opened when we fired up the bikes. Our Maicao family saw us out as we rode through the lobby. The boy that sold us coffee in the morning waved as we rode by. Same thing when we passed the police station. What a great town, what great people. We turned left and from here we'd be heading south for many miles to come. We had already ridden through here before so we had our minds set on making some distance. The landscape was completely different from how it was back in April. Where it had been barren and dusty, it now was green and lively. We didn't even get stopped once by the many police and army check points in this supposedly dangerous region of Colombia. Just thumbs up and smiles!
[​IMG] Our local Starbucks barista makes hotel calls for us.

As we rode over a hill we saw a guy pushing his motorcycle up the next hill. I tried to get him running but ended up towing him to the next big town. Communication with the guy on the 200cc bike was difficult and he did not seem to understand what he had to do on his part to bring this scenario to a good end. I found a mechanic in the town and signaled and then pulled over. The guy was back there hanging out and relaxing and failed to brake. The rope started to drag and wound itself around his axle. With a big crash he came to stop in front of the mechanic. We felt terrible and learned a lesson about making sure someone understands how to be towed if we're ever going to do this again. Luckily he was ok and we got back on the road.

We made it to La Jagua that night and found a lovely hotel a block away from the main road. The local kids were mesmerized by the bikes and all over them. We had found a little gem of a hotel. It looked like new, was clean and our hosts were so nice. The following morning they saddled up a horse for me to ride. It was a show horse and rode a bit different from the one I had ridden in Venezuela. I was glad I happened to be wearing my Moto Skiveez as I was bouncing all over the place. When we were offered to stay another night for free we decided that it would be good to relax a bit after running around for weeks.

[​IMG] The Ultimate Moto-Skiveez product testing!
[​IMG] Relaxation in the form of cleaning the carburetor. The bike had not been running nicely. Removing old petrol deposits from the jets solved the problem.
Azure spent the day working on the next movie. Soon!!!

The ride to Bucaramanga went fast. That was until we hit traffic crawling up the mountain, into town. We shopped around for a battery without any luck and were about to get out of town when Max pulled over. He had ridden all over South America and he insisted on showing us the road to the Cañon Chica Mocha. We got stuck in traffic again and it was getting dark. It was completely dark when Max dropped us off at the edge of the canyon. He talked with the family that lived there and ran the cable car and told us we could camp on their veranda. Great!

[​IMG] Morning maintenance. In Bucharamanga we discovered Azure's left indicator wasn't working. It turned out that the bulb had rusted to the fitting... Nothing some TLC won't fix!
[​IMG] Good morning Cañon Chica Mocha.
[​IMG] Looks like a fun day ahead!
We woke up to a stunning sunrise over the canyon. What a great start of the trip! We could see the road ahead winding up the other side of the valley. We were in for a good one. Half an hour later we were riding the twisties. In the third one we found another broken down bike. The chain of Jhon's bike had come off and had gotten stuck between the sprocket and the frame. It took an hour of sweating to get it straightened out. We followed him out of the canyon to make sure he was ok and had lunch with him in San Gil. He thanked us a million times and said he would have his friends waiting for us in Bogota...

[​IMG] The chain was stuck between the frame and the sprocket. I cut a hole in the plastic cover (did not have the right tool), untangled it, put it back on the sprockets and gave it some much needed chain oil and Jhon was good to go again!
[​IMG] Jhon, happy with his hole in his sprocket guard.
San Gil is known for its Hormigas Colonas. They deep fry them and it is supposed to be a delicacy.


We rode to the colonial town of Barichara. This beautifully conserved white town was exactly what we needed. Clean air, nice people, good food and plenty to do.

[​IMG] The streets of Barichara.
[​IMG] The most colorful and beautiful graveyard we have ever seen. Celebrating life after death.
We are finally back on the road and loving life in Colombia!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

My First Ride in the Back of a Police Car

The next day we were all over the place again. In the morning I went about MacGyvering Azure's "maintenance free" battery. We had charged it for an hour but it would not hold it's charge. With a knife I pried it open and found a dry battery. I filled it with demineralized water and gave it another try. It worked! At least we were good for now and could get on the road.
[​IMG] Putting some new life in this battery.
A little later than planned we got to the DIAN office to collect our 90 day permits. We were hoping for a quick run this time but it turned out the i's still had to be dotted. After a few hours things finally seemed to come together and all we had to do was sign the permits. The guy who was responsible for this was in the back of the building and we had not met before. After introductions he started off in... English!!! NO WAY! All this time there was someone here who spoke English! We smiled at each other and figured it would not hurt to try to get an explanation for the last week. He could not give us an answer (because he said he also didn't understand why it was such a big problem) so we left it at that and were just grateful for new 90 day permisos.

[​IMG] The long awaited paperwork almost signed and ready!
[​IMG] Maicao goes all out for Christmas!

We felt more and more at home in Maicao and eventually it seemed everyone knew who we were in this small city. People started greeting us and asking about our bikes (which we had yet to ride into the city). Little jokes were made and we began really enjoying our stay. But there was still a lot to be done. I set out to find a battery for Azure as I was not completely happy with the revived battery. I knew I was probably not going to find one but hey, why not try.

[​IMG] Before I knew it I was racing through town checking every battery place there was. Lucky me that the guy owned a bike and not a donkey trailer combination...

Azure went to the only place in town to get our SOAT, the compulsory Colombian third party insurance. This was supposed to be easy. "We are not able to sell SOAT's for foreign vehicles". WHAT? Another roadblock... We asked around and the nearest place to get our SOAT was Baranquilla, 6 hours by bus in the direction of Cartagena. Wondering if it would pose a problem with the police, we stopped at the police station to ask what they thought we should do. Convinced that we could buy SOAT here, a nice officer drove us back to the SOAT place only to find out we could not. Oh well... Let's get the bikes and GO! We'll see what happens. I was already practicing my "no haab-lo es-pan-yol" and "no comprendo" in my worst Dutch accent just in case we would get pulled over.

[​IMG] The officer having a look at our old SOATs
We went back to Chachi to get our bikes. It was sad to say goodbye. I also had to leave my old Zarges Case. Chachi promised to keep it for me for whenever we would come back to collect the memory of 6 years around the world. So sweet of her. Then the moment had arrived. We rode out the gate and we were back in Colombia! With Legal papers but without a SOAT. The army guys on the bridge gave us a thumbs up. Pfew. In the distance we could see the fluorescent yellow of the police checkpoint. Here we go... The hand went up... Damn. We pulled over. The police man came our way. As he came closer we could see a big smile on his face. He extended his hand and gave us a firm shake. It was an officer we had met in town! We were greeted by all of them and they wished us the best of luck for our journey. WOW!

[​IMG] Saying goodbye to my Zarges Case and all the memories on it.
[​IMG] Leaving Chachi. Aside from the border situation, this is a great and safe place to store bikes for a longer period of time.
[​IMG] Back in town these guys helped me to make some final adjustments to the frame for the new Zarges Case. I love it when people love their jobs!

That evening Raul checked how we were doing. We told him about the SOAT and he said he would try to help. OK. On Wednesday morning Azure was instructed to go back to the same SOAT office. Raul had made some calls and Azure returned with insurance for both bikes. Although it took us forever and we certainly were irritated at some point we are thankful for all the help we got and the experience that came with it. It was an extraordinary situation that the people in Maicao don't have to deal with on a daily basis. It just took them some time to figure things out and get us back on the road. And back on the road we were!

[​IMG] Bike paperwork sorted and both bikes ready to hit the road. Time to make use of the Black Dog farkle :1drink

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Best "Regalito" (little gift)

The making of sugar cane juice.

We headed to Chachi's home first thing on Saturday morning to get to work on the bikes.

We've left the bikes for 4 months before (while returning to Australia for work), but never for this long. And of course, they were a little angry about it.

Neither of them would start.

Roel got his workouts in for the next month by trying to push start both bikes multiple times.

So instead of actually repairing Roel's bike, we spent the entire first day trying to get the bikes started. Raul was at the border, because there was supposed to be some sort of cargo passage between borders. He was kind, and asked to see some paperwork Roel had left on his bike.
Chachi was lovely and welcoming to us. As was her entire family. Her brother was a little annoying and refused to speak to me, but really enjoyed asking Roel if he wanted a drink, only to coerce Roel into buying it for him.

On Sunday morning, we bought jumper cables and returned to the bikes. Funny enough, Raul was there again... as were the other higher-ranking officials. They were all VERY nice to us. Raul asked me to come to his office with him to link his laptop to his phone's wifi. I did, and he was overjoyed when I showed him how to do it himself.

No big deal.

As I went to leave his office and return to Roel, he said

"I have a regalito for you... 90 days..."

And just like "that" it was all good. I nearly wept.

Raul asked about the bikes and offered to bring his truck over to jump start them.

After a long summers nap, both bikes reluctantly roared back to life and there were high-5s and sighs of relief all around.

Amazing to hear these bikes come back to life :clap

Roel immediately went to work installing his new windscreen, Rigid Industries lights and Zarges top case.

Sweet new windscreen (thanks Clock Watcher!) and Rigid Industries lights... The Twin is coming back to life!

His bike happily re-started an hour later, but the Transalp wasn't having any of it. Roel determined that it was likely my battery was dry after being stored in the desert for 6 months. The next morning, although it was a holiday, we found a motorcycle shop open for business and they charged my battery for me. But within a few hours, it was flat, again. We needed to return to Chachi's for more work on Roel's bike, so we asked the maid at our hotel about finding demineralized water for us... she promised it would be no problem, and off we went.

Just a note on the border closing situation, because to the outside world, this is a political situation. But the real-life implications for the people living in this region are devastating.

What a closed border looks like.

Before we left for the US, Chachi had asked me to bring her back a variety of things (sunscreen, makeup, etc. - yes, I thought it was a little odd) and when I had called to confirm she wanted me to spend about $150 in makeup for her, she cancelled her "order" saying that since the border had closed there was no work and hence they had no money. This was echoed by everyone we encountered in the International Zone. While the border closing was proving to be to a challenge for us, it was wreaking havoc on the lives of people whose livelihoods depend on border traffic and the exchange of goods between these countries. In the Guajira, there was no water and very little food. Chachi not being able to buy makeup is, of course, trivial. What's not trivial, is children starving to death. Chachi's newly hired maid had come to Chachi for work because her son had recently starved to death in the Guajira.
While at our hotel, we also met a group of Venezuelan business men who had crossed the border to buy electronics in Colombia to bring back to Venezuela. They described how dire the situation in Venezuela was, also... finding basic products like baby formula, toilet paper and tampons was nearly impossible. Business were folding left and right.

I was able to interview Chachi and her maid for the project I'm doing... Their stories made it hard to keep it together.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

L O S T. In Translation.

We arrived in Maicao late and checked-in to our favorite hotel across from the bus station. Little did we know, this would become our home for the next week.

The next morning, Roberto (our DIAN contact) picked us up at our hotel and brought us to lunch. We showed him the memorandum from Cartagena's DIAN office, but he maintained his concerns that our situation was wildly complicated, and after determining that "arranging different" paperwork would not solve the issue he brought us to DIAN headquarters in Maicao.

At this point, I really began to kick myself for not studying more Spanish or at least watching the Spanish channels while we were in FL. I was having AMAZING difficulty understanding Roberto's Spanish. And therefore understanding why on earth we were in such deep doo doo. 

This is a theme that continued for the next few days. At Roberto's office, we were introduced to one high-ranking official after another, our case eventually making it all the way up to the guy who was so highly ranked he didn't even wear a uniform. 

Still we had no clue why our situation was such a problem. All we could understand them saying was exactly the facts of our situation:

1. We had exported the bikes from Colombia and stored them in the International Zone.
2. We had done this 5 & 6 months ago.
3. Then Maduro closed the Venezuelan border. 

We waived the memorandum from Cartagena around like the worthless piece of paper it was, and at the second mention of it being "impossible" to re-import our bikes and the statement "Your situation is so complicated, it breaks my head" I considered for the first time in our travels, calling on a friend to interpret for us.

We were at a complete and total loss. 

The office closed at 5:30pm and Roberto invited us to join he and his wife to watch the soccer game between Colombia and Chile. Of course, we were eager to join in and think about something other than our border issues for a while. It ended up being a great match and a fantastically fun night of dancing and Club Colombians (beers) with Roberto, his lovely wife and a few of the other DIAN officials.

[​IMG] Enjoying a distraction from our predicament. [​IMG] Pretty girls giving away free soccer jerseys... what's not to smile about?? :rofl

We returned to the DIAN office the next day, and sat and waited while the officials were discussing our case. We were now very popular. Apparently white guys who don Colombian jerseys and white girls who dance are OK by these folks. 
Roberto mentioned we needed to draft some sort of appeal stating what had happened and what we wanted. We waited, and waited. The high-ranking official we had met the day before, Raul, had gone to inspect our bikes. Roberto told us all would be well and that as soon as he returned, we would be ready to go. 

[​IMG] Drafting an appeal for the freedom of our bikes in Spanish... I'll call that being thrown back in, in the deep end! 
He returned 6 hours later at 5:00pm. Our new friends at the DIAN office were behaving oddly, and we eventually found out that Monday was a holiday so if Raul didn't return with enough time to handle our situation, we would be SOL for the next 3 days. Raul returned and all but waived us off and went to his desk without another word. 

Our anxiety and tension levels were building. Were our bikes OK? We hadn't seen them in 5 months. What on earth was going on?! And what if we got stuck here for 3 more days without answers. 

Raul called us over a few minutes later and irately began to ask us for the information that could be found on the papers in front of him. We complied and before he even finished with Roel's document he slammed his palm on his desk and turned to us:

"You cannot have the normal permiso. Because of your situation, we must make a special permiso for you."

I'm thinking "yea, yea, we know - the memorandum we gave you the other day clearly states that!" But what he said next made my jaw drop open.

"You cannot have 90 days. I can only give you 5 days to get from Paraguachon to Ipiales, Ecuador. That is all. And you need to understand this, because you need to stamp your bikes out of the country at Ipiales within 5 days." 

At this point, he called over a gentleman who was supposedly going to interpret for us. He had one of those awful little phone apps and tried to relay what was going on through that. The only mollifying aspect of our interaction with him was that he also said "I don't understand what the problem is? The bikes were in the international zone. Why can't they have the normal permiso? They didn't do anything wrong... nothing is wrong with their bikes."

Raul became even more agitated and dismissed him at this point.

At which point negotiations began. (Fine, realistically, it was more like borderline hysterical pleading and begging on my part.)

1. Roel needed at least 3-4 days working on his bike in order to repair/replace everything that was damaged in the accident in Venezuela. 

He said, OK, then you go ahead on your own and he can enter the country when he is ready. 

2. I emphatically stated I would not travel without him. (This received a blank stare.) So I pointed out that if I fall on my motorcycle somewhere, I am not strong enough to pick it up. (I so hate playing the pitiful female card.)

His response to this was that I should put my bike on a truck from there to Ipiales. 

3. I had to firmly explain that we do not have money for that kind of thing. 

And he finally capitulated to some extent and proposed that we could have the 3-day weekend to work on Roel's bike and then we could go there on Tuesday morning, pick up our paperwork, then have the 5 days beginning from then to ride to Ipiales. 

Roughly 1800 kilometers through the Colombian Sierras in what would amount to about 44 hours of daylight. Nice. 

I was ready to head outside, hop in a cab and cry all the way back to the hotel, but Raul insisted upon driving us back to our hotel. But first, we had to stop at the house of his friend. 

We wound up meeting the whole family and Raul eventually rounded everyone up into his big 4x4 and took us out for empanadas. It was a nice way to end what had otherwise been a nightmare of a day.
[​IMG] Family dinner. [​IMG] This one's for my Mom.