We begin our rushed trip through Central America to make our boarding for South America.
5 January, 2011
Almost everyone on board had some degree of sea sickness during the last two days of open ocean sailing, only Bill, Fritz and Alan seemed fully immune. And there was a high degree of euphoria as land was sighted at 4pm, but an issue with the autopilot at 2am had meant that we had drifted downwind slightly. This resulted in a painful 4 hour trip into a headwind with land so tantalizing close. We finally anchored in Cartagena, Colombia at 11pm and had an unexpected customs inspection from an officer that wasn't wearing any name tags (dodgy). A monitored inspection of the boat and even more dodgy passport switching ate through another hour and we finally got the go ahead to head ashore. Well, we didn't get the offer to stay on board.
So after not eating for over 10 hours, 12 of us were dumped ashore without passports nor local cash (Fritz gave us $5000 pesos for a taxi - $2.50USD), we set off to find a hotel. After trying for over an hour and asking at over 20 hotels and hostels, we finally found a room at 2am. We dumped our gear and headed out for some street food. Having only US dollars, we got ripped off by the street vendors, but being so late and hungry, we didn't care.
6 January, 2011
We got to Fritz the Cat early and unloaded the bikes. While most of the bikes were unloaded by hand, I didn't trust the helpers and rode ours off. If only the importation went as smoothly. The agent was a complete tosser and we had to send him home to get the mistakes corrected on the papers.
8 January, 2011
Cartagena is a cocaine smuggling port. It used to be one of the most violent cities in Colombia. Now, police are everywhere and I'd have to say we feel safer than most of Central America. It really is the most gorgeous city you have ever seen with old colonial centre behind the fort with narrow streets where people spill out of the homes too at night, balconies with Bougainvilleas, lots of paint colours, courtyards of plants and flowers, and then a super well developed high rise waterfront and so many yachts it's crazy (all that coke money has to be spent somewhere, right?) We managed to find an Aussie café with vegemite (Chris was craving it for about a month). We have the bikes safely off the boat and thru customs (long story, but we had to use a compulsory agent who basically ignored us when there was a mistake in the paperwork, but we managed to get it fixed ourselves in 20 min) Our babies are clean (second full wash in a month), and it feels good to be on the road again.
9 January, 2011
Al had a mechanical problem today… his bike just stopped. A young guy on a bike came along and showed us a technique for pushing a bike with your foot. Very successful. Turns out he was police, so when we reached the police checkpoint they stopped the next mechanic driving past (whose wife happened to be an English teacher) and hey presto, the bike was fixed, we had extra attention at the local hotel, secure parking (at the police checkpoint of course) and then went for beers, chorizo, cornmeal patties stuffed with chicken and deep fried, and yucca (traditional foods and really yummy). We love the Colombian police!
14 January, 2011
We are having Christmas at the moment in Medellin… we decided to spend money put aside for Galapagos on the bikes. Chris's bike service was pretty cheap (the biggest service and it cost only $120), and some new tyres ($140 for both). No problems but Al's bike was a different story. Just as has happened with every mechanic, they decide the chain is way too loose, and try to fix it (the guys here aren’t used to dealing with heavily loaded bikes and always over tighten the chain). They cut the chain to remove a link, only they didn't have the parts to put it back together, so we had to get a new chain - $160 extra.
We are going to be hitting cold, hot, lots of off-road with few cars, and big distances between good mechanics so we are stocking up on goodies… for Chris, new rainproof and cold weather pants with lots of armour in them, new vest with extra hard body armour, and a new helmet visor. For Al, new pants, and a new seat (his butt is sore after 1hr and we are in for loooong days), and for both of us, a GPS so we know what altitude, how to find our way back, and where we are. All very exciting, combined with trip planning for Peru and Bolivia, it feels like we are starting the trip again.
17 January, 2011
Nice little bike track here in Salento, pity the riders now look something like the Stig from Top Gear, not exactly the look we had planned…
19 January, 2011
Today was a fun day in Parque Nacional Natural Puracé… 3200+m and not a bite of altitude sickness, new pants kept us nice and warm, Al's new seat is indeed comfortable, and the scenery and gravel road amazing! The GPS on the other hand is less than helpful in the city.
We like Popayan… but all the buildings are white, which gets confusing. Al dropped Chris in the plaza thinking he would be 5 minutes away (all he had to do was find a park)… but it took him 15min, and in the interim Chris tried (unsuccessfully) to walk back to the Hotel, managing to get herself very lost in the process. However, about 40 min later, all was placated thanks to coffee and chocolate cake… thank goodness for the return of pan dulce and good coffee - Mexico, you have a rival chomping at your heels. However, we also discovered that while Southern Colombia does mean empanadas, pan dulce and coffee, that's as far as it goes. Trust us, don't go to the Mexican restaurant and you'll enjoy yourself here.
20 January, 2011
It was another overcast day as we left the white city of Popayan. The road to Popayan started out as a nice two lane highway, and slowly deteriorated into a single lane gravel road. The fun factor increased as the road deteriorated. It was a bit difficult passing the trucks on the single lanes, but eventually we got around all of them.
22 January, 2011
San Augustin has this strange army of miniature statutes that were used to guard the entrances of the grave sites of the local people many years again. These now make up what is one of Colombia's main archaeological sites.
23 January, 2011
After a really nice tarmac ride from San Augustin to Mocoa, we headed west towards Pasto. This is an absolutely beautiful area of Colombia, rain forests in the clouds and a great road to match.
There was 85 km of dirt that constantly wound its way up into the clouds. The fog was thick in places, and we really couldn't judge how far we were climbing, the road just went on and on. Things were slowed by the fact that it was a single lane road for most of it, and going over the edge would have resulted in either serious injury or death as the 50 or so crosses attested to.
Nearing the top Al's bike spat the dummy and the rear suspension value blew. We limped to the nearest town and went to the first moto shop to confirm what we already knew, the suspension was stuffed. We definitely were not on the tourist track, and within minutes we were mobbed by locals wanting photos with us. It would have been fun except for the growing dread of what this new issue would cost us... On tarmac, there were less bumps and less issues so we made our way to the next town and stayed in an extremely cheap hotel. Again we were mobbed by the locals, but this time we made good use of the attention and got the kids to unload our bikes.
This is a recent video of a couple of riders doing Route 10 between Mocoa and San Francisco. If anything, the road seems to have been improved slightly!
25 January, 2011
We spent two days / three nights in Pasto, sourcing parts for Alan's bike.
The town definitely has an edge to it, but we felt safe and finally arranged parts to be sent from the USA to Quito, Ecuador. We'll be limping down slowly tomorrow.