Wednesday, July 29, 2015


Pilon de Azucar. One of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Within an hour of our arrival the only other inhabitants (a guy in a van and a Wayuu couple who sold us two beers... YIPPEEEEE) left.

And then Tom showed up to keep us company as the sun set. Yup, we named him.


The ocean was delightful. The wind made setting up the tent very exciting. And we shared our dinner with Tom, earning ourselves a loyal guard dog for the evening.


Much to Roel's dismay, Tom especially liked his KLiM suit.

Don't worry about the itching when you get into your suit tomorrow, Roel!

Bird's Eye view over the tent at 6am... BEST GUARD DOG EVER.

We spent the next morning playing in the ocean, playing with Tom and chatting with beach visitors and the Wayuu women who showed up to sell their woven wares. A full morning of sheer bliss.

Roel found the tear in my old tube.


This couple came all the way across Colombia to see Pilon de Azucar.

Upon seeing our tent, one Wayuu woman asked:
"You stayed here last night? And nothing happened?"
That struck us as odd.
We were planning to stay for another night until a woman from Riohacha told us it was dangerous there and that the people of the village were good, but people from over the hill were bad and might mean to kidnap or rob us.
We typically don't scare off too easily, but we also like to listen to the locals and warning weighed on our minds:
-Kidnapping seemed a bit unlikely. But robbery, when dozens of people had seen our tent standing there all day and knew we would be the only ones out there that night... Now that was a thought that made us uneasy.
And from there, it was all downhill... if I'm uneasy, I'm not going to sleep. I was disappointed. Annoyed that we live in a world where it can't just be safe to sleep atop a cliff overlooking a beautiful bay. Angry, because I felt like we were giving into a fear-mongering society (the last kidnapping was years ago).

In under 12 hours, Tom became so loyal that he wouldn't even let me go on my trash pick-up/toilet walks alone. Like a gentleman, he always waited several feet away and turned his back so I would have privacy. It was pretty unreal and happened even when Roel was cooking/eating.

Yes, this has been one of the saddest moments of recent memory. Amazing how in 24 hours, Tom became family.

But the decision was made by our anxiety... we packed up and headed back towards town as the sun began to dip in the sky. By following more sandy paths we took a detour to another spot on the Peninsula, famous for sunset watching.

So, it's been a while since I have dropped my bike idiotically. (Crashing is another thing. I'm talking palm-to-helmet dropping. Gas stations. Stop signs. Parking lots. That kind of dropping. Don't pretend that you don't know what I'm talking about.)

Anyway, I may have neglected to mention that I dropped my bike in the sand on the way to Pilon de Azucar, yesterday. Roel has gotten better about remembering photos-before-picking-up. Dang-it/You're welcome.

Just as we rode into the parking lot of this overlook, I looked left to steer left and a large pebble came out of nowhere, attacked my front tire and caused me to drop my bike in front of all of the lovely people who had just arrived to appreciate the sunset. Awesome.
Twice in as many days. Great. And unlike the day before in the sand, this one added some scratches, AND my foot had gotten caught under my peg painfully. Roel, who to his credit rarely gets upset when I drop my bike, admonished me a little harshly for my carelessness. So, bike, body and ego hurt.
Just great.

Instead of enjoying the sunset, we picked up my bike, surveyed the damage and rode back over the trails to town.
While looking for a place to eat/sleep, a drunk driver crashed into the restaurant we were considering giving us perhaps not the greatest impression of this town. Eventually we ended up heading back towards a Kite Surfing outfit. By the time we got there, I was in full-on bad-mood-I-just-want-to-go-to-bed mode.

Nothing good ever happens in this mode.

In order to get through the gate of the school, we had to ride up over a 4inch wide stack of rocks on top of loose sand, over a shiny metal bar then down another loose stack of rocks over loose sand. I whined that I didn't want to do it. Roel said it was nothing. Really on any other day at any other time, it wouldn't have been anything more than just a loose sand challenge. Which, sometimes, I am able to rise above. But in this moment, it was my undoing.

So... this is when I dropped my bike for the third time in two days... in front of all of the kite school owner and all of the kiters we would be eating dinner and sharing the grounds with.

SUPER AWESOME. If I had never known mortification prior to this moment, we were on a first name basis now.

Roel parked the bikes in a dark area of the lot, far enough away from where all of the kiters were hanging out that they couldn't hear my muffled crying but not so far away that I couldn't hear them tell any and everyone who had not been in the immediate vicinity when I dropped my bike about what became a crash of epic proportions through their stories.

I'm not prone to homesickness or self-pity, but during every moment of that crying jag I was consumed by both. And it left me utterly exhausted.

Traveling is beautiful. Getting to wake up and do this every day is a gift. Even on days when I have to learn lessons the hard way, I could not be more grateful for this life I am living.

But it's not always pretty. It's not always comfortable. It's not always nice.

As my favorite Hallmark Card says: If there weren't ripples in the stream, we wouldn't have any rainbows.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Sometimes, Timing is Everything

We rode out of the small fishing village of Camarones before the sun rose and the anxiety and tension that had kept us awake for most of the night eased out of our shoulders. Soon we were eagerly making our way into Riohacha to stock up on supplies before heading into the wilds of the Guajira Peninsula.

The Guajira is largely inhabited by the Wayuu people and we had heard there was little in the way of comforts such as formalized lodging, restaurants or gas stations. SOUNDS GREAT!!! It is also the Northernmost point of South America and holds claim to one of the most beautiful coastlines of the continent.

So, off we went.

By 10am, it was blisteringly hot. As we turned off of the highway and onto what we thought was the direct road to the tip of the peninsula, we hoped the formidable winds in this area would at least serve to cool us down.

No such luck.

But, we did manage to see some pink birds we convinced ourselves were flamingos for all of 10 seconds before Roel went for a closer look, and determined they were spoonbills. Oh well.

And then the road ended. Not like, then the road went from tarmac to dirt.

No, the road just plain ended and tire tracks in the sand seemed to go off in all directions. We waited until someone came by and we asked the direction to Punta Gallinas, and then headed off in that direction following a track that all but disappeared at times.

Just outside of an industrial looking town, we stopped to help a stranded couple. The chain on their motorbike had gotten so loose it had come off of the rear sprocket. It was amazing that it functioned at all given how rusted it was, but Roel helped the guy get the chain back on the sprocket and even oiled it up for him. Just before we went our separate ways, a 4x4 with 4 police pulled up and asked us if everything was OK. Not like, if the couple with bike troubles was OK, but if we were being hassled or robbed. It kind of startled us, but upon our assurance that everything was OK, they took off.

We rode through town, and were followed by dozens of eyes. I was dying to take photos of women in what I would describe as MuMus, hanging out of their mud huts as we rode past, but it didn’t feel appropriate to do so, and so we carried on. We picked our way through several tracks, made a few u-turns and asked several more people for directions, or at least a direction to go. And we eventually made it back onto some tarmac.

We weren’t riding for long when we stopped to help another stranded couple. The guy thought his spark plug was the issue. It was nicely rigged with an odd wiring system, so that assessment made sense, but even after Roel gave the guy a new spark plug, there was no firing. After a few minutes of suggestive arguing, Roel finally opened the guys gas tank (which he swore was not empty), dumped one of our spare liters of fuel in and: VOILA!!

The guy said nothing while his overjoyed wife thanked us jubilantly.

Being stuck on the side of the road in the heat of day was not her cup of tea.

We stopped in the small city of Uribia to get a drink and rest. The heat was getting the best of us and we knew it wasn’t safe to ride any longer given our dehydration.

While relaxing in the shade, Roel noticed a flat tire on a tuk-tuk sitting in front of the shop… so… off he went to help the guy fix his tire and then he blew it up with his pump. We were becoming quite popular in town by the time we headed for the peninsula. We had about 3 hours of daylight left and we were determined to have a swim in the ocean before we crawled into the tent, so we made a run for it.

About 2 miles out of town the good tarmac disintegrated into terrible gravel, corrugations and general nastiness. We continued at about 60-70kph (40mph) to minimize the vibration, until we saw a group on bikes with a flat tire and three bleating goats that had been headed to slaughter.


Of course we were going to help, but it was the full heat of the day. I’ll admit, I groaned internally for a moment before we began working one of our patches onto this guy’s tire.

And then, whatever you want to call it, but let’s go with the hand of fate, in this instance: You could say she slapped me OR gave me a helping hand.
But I'll go with helping hand, given the what the alternative would have been...

A loud hissing had all of us looking around and eventually every set of eyes settled on my front tire which was rapidly going flat.


Roel and I just started laughing. The Wayuu men must have thought we were crazy, but eventually they laughed, too, and then we went back to working on their tire.

What are the odds? Of all the perfectly timed events in my life, this has to be one of the most awe striking. Had all of these little stops, and u-turns and observed and missed photo-ops not taken place, I would have been going 60-70kph (40mph) over a corrugated, nasty road in the middle of nowhere when my front tire suddenly deflated. Who knows what that would have looked like. But I thanked my guardian angels and whatever the “powers-that-be” are, that I didn’t have to find out.

Our patches didn’t work, so the guys eventually just took care of the gash in their tube as they usually do…. make a tourniquet, fill it back up and call it a day. We were at least able to help them out with our pump.

And remarkably, after we pulled my tire off of the Transalp, they all gathered around to help me replace my tube, rather than take off with their goats. While I was working on my tire, Roel got some water out of his Gobi case and brought it to the poor bleating goats who were left hog-tied in the shade.

I walked over to snap a photo because for me it was a really difficult moment that really epitomizes what you are forced to learn while traveling:

We all do things differently. And we may not agree with how these men were treating these animals. But at the end of the day, this is life on the Guajira.

The poor animals stopped bleating as Roel held the pan of water for each of them in succession, and they didn’t begin bleating again. It was like Roel’s act of compassion gave them peace. Or at least that’s what I would like to think. I’m sure they were slaughtered within hours.


We got back on the road and after about another 60 miles of awful gravel and corrugations and several u-turns, we made it to Pilon de Azucar.

My new happy place. And the point on the earth I will site whenever anyone asks whether I would prefer to sleep in a Four Star Hotel or under 4 gazillion stars in a tent.