Wednesday, January 27, 2016

That time Azure ruined our ONLY map of Colombia... Or more simply "LOST in Colombia"

Traffic out of town is horrific. We get stuck for a while in a jam of smog producing old trucks. Not a good start but before long we are on our way South. We get passed by a V-Strom. They wave and then rapidly disappear. Luis advised us to take the small road to Fredonia and then to La Pintada. Lots of curves and no traffic sounded like a very good plan. Just before the turn off the other bike is waiting for us. We pull over and have a quick chat. Uriel and Anna are from the coffee triangle in Colombia and have been around South America themselves. We get invited to stay with them whenever we pass through their city. 

Uriel and Anna on their V-Strom

The road to Fredonia is beautiful and winding and exactly what we needed after busy city traffic. The clean air flows through our nostrils again. What a blessing to be riding again. We have lunch in a small restaurant and have a hard time resisting the looks of some 4 legged friends as we eat our local meals.
Sucker found!
Good things come to those who wait...

In La Pintada we fill up gas and ask for directions. We backtrack a little bit and then find the road to Valparaiso. It goes up into the mountains and is stunning to ride but it's not the road I was expecting to be on. 


It should be straight and following a river. I look at the map again and see that I have made a mistake. The dot for Valparaiso is not on the main road. Note to self: Always get good maps. A copied version is not going to do much good. Especially when your girlfriend hangs her dripping wet laundry over it. :( 

 We keep going on the same road that gets smaller and smaller. We spent quite some time in Medellin and Azure's Mom has just told us that she found a good last minute ticket to meet us in Ecuador, so we have to make good on some miles. This is not the way to do it but it's a great ride. 


We ride through Caramanta, a colorful town with a typical Colombian square. The people are surprised to see two big bikes riding by. We ask directions again. The people seem hesitant to answer when we ask for direction, and everyone checks their watches and looks at the setting sun, but eventually, they all point us in the same direction. 

We ride out of town on a downhill road and then come to a full stop. A rough dirt road continues down the mountain. That was not in the plan for the day! We look at each other. Well, we are not riding back all the way... I let go of the brakes and the bike starts rolling onto the sharp rocks that comprise the road. 
We have NO idea where we are.
It's slow going and we get a feeling that we should not really be here. There is no road on my map and MapsMe shows us to be riding in the middle of nowhere. The landscape is becoming more and more interesting and soon the steep hills on the side of the road are covered in small coffee and banana plantations. 


An hour later the road becomes more lively. There are people and animals everywhere and the road turns to concrete again. We ride into Supia just before dark and find a cheap hotel to spend the night.
Never thought we'd actually be happy to see traffic...
...or be stuck behind a truck!

After a cup of local coffee early in the morning we set off for our next destination, not sure what or where it is going to be. We enjoy the paved road til we get to La Merced. Then we turn to a curvy dirt road again. It is beautiful and the vistas are unreal. Black vultures circle above our heads as if they are in a vortex. In the distance, the town of Salamina is beginning to take shape with a majestic church towering above all the other buildings on the top of the mountain. We try to get lunch but no one seems to want to serve us. Upon asking there seems to be only one waitress. There are 5 women hanging out in the kitchen but ok... Frustrated we eat a granola bar and get back on the bikes.


We race down to Manizales and stop at a gas station to fill up the bikes and our tummies. People flock around the bikes and a smile returns on my face. A couple on a Triumph stop when they see us and invite us to stay at their hospedaje. 

The hospitality and warmth we've experienced in Colombia is truly incredible.
Manizales is a beautiful town and we wish we had the time to stay and hang out with the locals but a quick ride through will have to do for now. We have our minds set on Salento where the 60 meter/180 feet high palm trees in the Valle Del Cocora are waiting. The Coffee Highway takes us there fast and just after dark we set up camp.  
Azure's new favorite highway.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Medellin and Rio Miel

As I walk into the hotel lobby to get some more coffee I find Luis sitting there waiting for us. Not only is Luis the rep for SENA in South America, he IS EnMoto and hence knows everyone one might need to know in Medellin for anything motorcycle related. He is ready to get the Twins problem solved. After many jump start attempts we get the Africa Twin to run. Azure gets a ride with Luis and we make it to Moto Test. We discuss the symptoms and the mechanic promises me that he will work it out. I look at Luis and he tells me this is the best man for the job. I don't like having anyone else work on my bike but this seems to be the only way. We watch the bike go up in an elevator to the workshop and we are told to come back in the afternoon. 

After lunch Luis gets a phone call. He hands me the phone. It's the mechanic. He does not really know how to start. It makes me nervous. "I ran a couple of tests and nothing worked" he says. "Soooo then I checked the battery connection...", "the bolt was loose". NO WAY!!!! I checked that! That can't be it! "Yes, that was it", he replied. I can not believe it. I feel so stupid! Then I remember I just checked by hand. Damn. All that work on that bridge for something I have seen so many times before and is a 1 minute fix. Luis tries to make me feel better. "At least the problem is fixed and we don't have to worry about that anymore". We go back to the shop and have a chat with the mechanic. I still feel bad. The mechanic starts and stops the bike a couple of times to show me that the problem is fixed. He seems to like the noise of the Twin as he makes sure to rev the engine to the top as he does this. I notice my seat is missing. "It will be back tomorrow" he says, "then you can ride your bike, again." Luis winks. Right... We leave the bike and go back to the hotel. Now this is out of the way there are many other things that require attention. Making movies, writing blogs, finding new tires, indicators and so on. Oh, and Luis is determined that we will experience ALL of the culinary highlights of Medellin. 

The next morning we are all set go get my bike, but I can't leave the hotel room. A stomach bug that I've been battling since Bogota has finally won and I spend my time equally between the bed and toilet. Not fun.
By the afternoon, I pull it together enough to hop on Azure's bike and we head to Mototest. Not only are we not charged anything for the testing, it came with a brand new seat including Honda logo. A gift from our host who could not stand the looks of the sheep skin and the ripped seat underneath. The Colombians do not cease to surprise me with their kindness and generosity. While we're there, Alfonse (of MotoInsider who we re-met in Villa de Leyva) shows up. His tour around Colombia is wrapping up and he happens to be staying a few blocks away from Mototest. 

We spend the next couple of days getting to know Luis's friends, the city and it's cuisine. Time flies by and before we know it it's weekend and we get invited by Luis to go and relax at Rio Miel. Although we just came from that way we are happy to join him and some of his friends for a weekend in the jungle. We go by car to give the bikes some rest. In no time Azure is car-sick in the back on all the twisty roads. What is such a joy on a bike is just hell in a car. 
With Luis and his lovely girlfriend, Saritah.
The scenery on the way to Rio Miel
Our breakfast spot on the way to Rio Miel. Luis knows his food.
Hours later we end up at Rio Miel. A long boat takes us down the river and we end up in paradise. A bamboo structure overlooking a crystal clear river will be our house for the night days. It was just what we needed. Hang out in the river and talk bikes and bike travel for the weekend. Thanks Luis!

Our 'new' home...
Back in Medellin it is time to wrap up and hit the road again. I find a set of Metzeler Tourances for a reasonable price. I have been wanting to try these tires for ever. We tie them to the bikes and Luis, who has become a very good friend, guides us out of town with directions to some of the best roads in Colombia. It has been another example of amazing Colombian hospitality in what used to be Pablo Escobar's home town. It is time that the world educates itself and starts looking differently at Colombia. It is one of the most beautiful countries to travel in and the people will blow you away. Not with guns but with a warm welcome that comes straight from their hearts.
Getting some great route advice from Luis

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Breakdown in Pablo Escobar's (former) Backyard

We are on our way to Guatape. It is freaking hot but the road is in great condition and winds its way through the rain forest. We stop to buy water and a liter of oil. After re-hydrating ourselves and the bikes we jump on again, eager to get some air flowing through our jackets. Trrrrrrrt, Trrrrrrrrrrrt. NOOOOO! The Twin wont start. Damn, what could it be. We are stopped on a steep incline so I turn the bike around and let it run down the road. I release the clutch and vroooom. The engine runs but it does not sound good. On a long curved bridge I come to a stop. I call Azure over the SENA headset and I start working my way to the battery.

I quickly check the battery connections with my finger. No problem there. I go through all the options in my head. The starter relay, the battery, the regulator... We try to start the bike with the starter cables we are still bringing along since our battery issues in Maicao. Nope! I take off the side panels and look at the relay. It has been in bad shape for a long time so I start checking it. It does what it should at first but than it stops doing anything. I have a spare and change them out. In the meantime I am overheating on the bridge and the noise of the trucks, coming up and down the mountain, and the roaring river below me is making me crazy. Azure is directing the trucks around us but a few come frighteningly close.
A dump truck driver stops to check in on us. He insists on calling a tow truck as it is not safe to be here. Great! We seem to have broken down in Pablo Escobar's former backyard and his "spirit" is still around. I am about to throw the relay over the railing but take a deep breath and look at our situation. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance comes to my mind. Let's find a better place to work. I push my bike off the bridge onto a sandy patch in the shade of a tree. Much better. I start focusing on the regulator. I had a similar situation back in Australia so this must be it!

Cables, cables, cables... :hmmmmm

Road side tinkering.

The friendly dump truck driver returns and is surprised the tow truck has not yet arrived. I am determined to ride the Twin the rest of the way to Medellin, so I put away my manual and change out the reg with my spare... the trucker and his friend observing every move I make. They are waiting to make sure we are ok. Such nice people here! My eye falls on Azure's arm. She is dotted with red bumps. I look down on my own. WOW! There are tiny little flies floating all around us. The little buggers made us look like we caught some kind of disease. Gotta love working on a bike in nature.

Colombian sand flies are sneaky little bastards!

After 5 hours of thinking and working we try the starter cables again. YES! The bike roars back into action. Although it is still not sounding the way it should I pack up my stuff, thank the guys and we get on the road. It is getting dark and we need to get away from here.

Thanks for helping out and making sure we were safe!

The ride is beautiful but with the bike not being a 100% I am not enjoying it. Every pothole and bump in the road make  the engine play up. It has to be a wire problem or a connection. It is really getting dark now and I turn on my lights. The bike almost dies on me. I quickly turn them off and the engine roars again. I ride close to Azure for a while to use her lights but it gets too dark and dangerous. I try the Rigid Industry lights... They seem to be working just fine where as my headlights seem to use to much electricity.  I can't get my head around it but as long as we are moving towards Medellin I am happy.

We pass a police checkpoint. They are pulling everyone over without headlights. A lot of people here use bicycle lights to be visible after dark. I guess it is better than nothing but it's not OK with the coppers. A big thank you to Kurt and Martha from Black Dog Cycle Works for My Rigids! You saved the day and kept me from being fined.

Slowly but surely we are getting closer to the city. We wonder why all this happened. There has got to be a reason. We are not going to Guatape anymore. I need to get this sorted out in Medellin. Maybe it was about that. Maybe we were not supposed to visit the lake... There was a lot of military and police presence, so perhaps it was a little too dangerous to be there and the Twin was "re-directing" our route in a safer direction. The road curves to the left and we look out over an ocean of light below us in the valley. Medellin, you are beautiful by night! Azure found a hotel with safe parking on iOverlander, which is an app overlanders use to designate hotels, mechanics and restaurants that are good for people like us. According to the descriptions of other travelers, we know this hotel will have secure parking (#1 priority), is clean (tied with #1) and cheap (also ties with #1). In this instance, it's such a relief not to have to stop and ask around at different hotels. We roll into the garage and put the bikes to sleep. It was a long and exhausting day. Before we go to sleep we send our friend Luis, the representative of SENA in South America, a message asking for help. I hope we can get this problem sorted here and still enjoy what is supposed to be the best city in Colombia.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Going for a Different Kind of Ride in Bogota

Since we helped Jhon out in Canyon Chicamocha, Azure (who has WhatsApp, a popular messaging service here in South America and much of the world) has been getting more and more messages from people asking where we are. Who are these guys? Why do they want to know? We are expecting some of the worst traffic riding into Bogota after hearing all the horror stories. It all flows nicely until we ride under the sign "Bienvenidos a Bogota". Smoking buses go left and right as if there is no other traffic. This is unreal! We try to split lanes to keep going but with the panniers on the bikes it is just too dangerous. And then there are two guys with bikes on the side of the street waving their arms at us and motioning us to pull over...
Varg and Edwin welcome us to their city. They are friends of Jhon and they had been waiting for us to ride into town. This Colombian hospitality is becoming unreal! Edwin asks us where we want to go. They insist on guiding us through their city as it seems impossible if you don't know the city. We have some errands to run and gratefully take them up on their offer. Edwin leads and Varg keeps traffic away from us. This is amazing!

[​IMG] Girl power!
We go for empanadas with our new friends and it is here that our escort gets bigger and bigger. A mom and her daughter join the group and we are invited to a stunt show somewhere in town. OK... We decide to just go with it. The daughter (who Azure falls in love with in a matter of minutes) insists on riding with Azure or me. I move back the Zarges case and we are on our way.

[​IMG] Our escort for the night.
We turn right and find ourselves in a quiet industrial area of town. It is well lit and in the distance we can see a lot of people and... a lot of bikes. We are welcomed by Arturo Piolin, Colombia's number 1 stunt rider. It seems like all the stunting has just come to an end but a simple request from Varg for a little stunt gets things moving again. There are wheelies to the left and right of us and it becomes an insane show. And then it seems a stoppie competition has begun... One after an other until Azure is kindly being ushered forward with the words: "you are next"!

[​IMG] Arturo Piolin has a new fan!
To my surprise Azure agrees to get on the back of Piolin's bike in no time. Even my "your mom is gonna kill me" (yes I really worried about that!) does not change her mind. And there she goes wheelying away. It gets my heart pumping and I am not even on the back of the bike! One minute later they come to full stop on the front wheel only centimeters away from me. Pfew!!! A sigh of relief. But it is short lived as Piolin insists on a second round. "Mas rapido" he exclaims as he rides off on his back wheel!

The lights are coming closer rapidly. Standing in the crowd it looks like he is going to ram everyone in his way and go straight through the wall behind us. It feels like they are only meters away when he shifts up to 5th gear and gives it some more gas. The front brakes engage and Azure rises up behind Piolin. They ride on the front wheel for a bit and then just stand still like a statue. WOW! What an art! What a skilled guy! I am glad to have Azure back alive and walk toward her for a hug. The look in her face as she comes closer, is of no good. It is a naughty, devilish look, like Reece Witherspoon's devilish look in Cruel Intentions. "You're next", she says. Oh no! I'm not doing that. I'm way too heavy to be on the back of a bike riding on it's front wheel only. But as you may know, Azure can be quite persuasive and before I know it I am holding on for life as the back wheel comes off the ground. Wow what a thrill! It feels like we are for sure going to fall over forward but Arturo miraculously holds it together with my 180 Lbs behind him.

As I am recovering the show continues. A wheely without hands on the handlebar, picking up a coin from the ground while wheelying around it. Unreal stuff! But the biggest stunt of the evening was Arturo trying to get my big loaded Africa Twin off the side stand. It took him a few tries and then everyone had to do it. It reminded me of my first day of my journey 6.5 years ago. I could hardly ride my bike and dropped it when making a U turn. I guess I got used to it. Then Edwin says we have to go to meet more friends. We say our goodbyes and ride away not sure what is waiting for us now.

[​IMG] A new stunt for everyone at StuntHouse: Lifting a loaded Africa Twin!:gdog
[​IMG] Azure changing her Transalp for a CBR600 stunt monster for a second.
We end up at a small party of the Escorpions biker group. We are welcomed as if we are one of them and have a great evening talking travels and bikes. Azure and I are tired after a very eventful day of riding and they clear out the living room and make a bed for us to sleep. What a day...