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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Road Trips | Choachi, Ubaque, Fomeque...

Wowza, amazing rides the past few days!!!  That said, this isn't really a blog update so much as a couple of short ride reports...  

Yesterday I woke up early to meet Scott, Susan, and Bentley (BentleysBigAdventure) at the Catedral de Sal.  The Salt Cathedral is an underground Roman Catholic church built within the tunnels of a salt mine 200 meters underground in a Halite mountain near the town of Zipaquirá, in Cundinamarca, Colombia.  It was a chilly ride out of Bogota, but nice winding roads blended with exhilarating traffic woke me up fast and allowed me to enjoy the ride.

It took about an hour to reach my destination.  I paid my 4k COP to park the bike and walked up to purchase a ticket (23k COP).  When you enter the mine you walk down a Tron-like neon lit tunnel.  From there you walk past 10'ish alcoves with different cross sculptures that have prayer alters scattered about.  Further into the mine is the main cathedral area, which is really, really, incredibly impressive.  It is absolutely MASSIVE and a true feat of engineering/architecture.  It is beautiful and awe inspiring.  I skipped out on my tour group and meandered through the tunnels alone.  At one point I sat on a pew and stared at the cross in the main cathedral for almost an hour.  It was mesmerizing, and I can only imagine a pretty special place to practice your worship/religion.  It allowed me to think and I felt a sense of peace, so I stayed much longer than expected.  

After enjoying the cathedral for some time, Susan, Scott, Bentley, and I headed to lunch in the small town below.  After stuffing our faces with copious amounts of carne we set off for Bogota.  We rode together essentially the entire way, but somehow got split up in the traffic madness of the big city.  I rode over to their hotel area, but couldn't seem to find them.  As I was waiting to see if they would show, a local guy walked up.  I thought he would ask the typical questions, "how expensive?  how big is the motor?  how fast does it go?".  However, he started speaking to me in perfect English.  All he said was, "that's a nice ride.  I ride motos too.  I have to run to meet a friend, but you must ride out of the city to Choachi.  The road is amazing!".  As quick as he walked up, he was gone.  Since I had nothing planned, I decided to heed his advice.  I searched for Choachi in my GPS and found it easily.  The road up and out of the city isn't the best, but once you get on the main road leading to Choachi, it is unreal!  I rode all the way to Choachi with a HUGE smile pasted on my face.  As I twisted and winded up to 11k feet, the scenery was stunning.  I literally almost rode off the road several times because I couldn't take my eyes off the mesmerizing countryside.  

Once you clear 11,100 feet, you start to head downhill into Choachi.  Just before the town there is a turnoff for Cascada la Chorrera.  I took the left and blasted the dirt road for around 4 or 5 miles.  I couldn't seem to find the route to the waterfall, but could see and hear it thundering in the distance.  It was getting late, so I turned back and made my way into town.  Choachi is a small colonial puebla with a typical plaza surrounding a beautiful church.  I had a Coke and a bag of platano crisps and watched some kids kicking a soccer ball for a bit.  There were zero other gringos around, which was a nice change from other places that I've been recently.  Not that it's a bad thing to be around other tourists, but I felt like I escaped the beaten path when I arrived there.  After finishing my snack I needed to get back quickly as the sun was starting to settle behind the mountains.  I flipped the lid on my helmet, kicked the bike into gear, wheelied out of town, and flew back to Bogota.  The road is amazing and it is very easy to treat it like a race course of sorts.  I really enjoyed the (very) brisk ride home.  

When I got back to the hotel I met up with Nina, Scott, Susan, and Jeffrey (RideForPeace) for dinner.  I told them about the ride and showed them the pictures and Scott and Jeffrey were keen to do it today.  I enjoyed it so much I was happy to play tour guide for them and ride it all over again.  We left out today around 11am and rode all day.  We rode the same route towards Choachi, but ended up finding the waterfall.  Near the waterfall we ended up meeting a nice old man who had a random tienda near the entrance.  He was 75 and has lived in the area for 45 years.  He insisted that we sit with him and sample all of the typical foods that he and his wife prepare and sell.  We filled out bellies with queso fresco, some sort of strawberry sugary fruit treat, his wife's amazing fresh yogurt, and several other specialties.  He didn't seem to want any money, and enjoyed our laughs and company.  We ended up tipping him pretty heavily and he was full of smiles.  After exploring the area and falls for a bit we pointed our bikes towards Choachi for a late lunch.  After stuffing our faces with carne (yet again) we decided to ride towards Ubaque and Fomeque.  The goal was to make our way into Parque Nacional Chingaza for a loop north and then west back into Bogota.  We got pretty far, but the road turned into gnarly dirt and didn't let up.  We realized that it was getting late and there was no way we would complete the loop before sundown, so we turned around and headed back the way we came.  Another day, another time for Chingaza... 

I just made it home a little while ago and figured I'd throw up this report before Nina gets here.  We have dinner date plans tonight.  However, she just arrived so I better get moving.  For now, enjoy several more pics from the past few days...  

First few from the Salt Cathedral...  

Second bunch from the ride into/around Choachi...  

Catch everyone soon...  

~ D

PS...  Don't have time to proof this one, so sorry for any errors.  

Monday, March 24, 2014


So, I've been in Bogota four nights now and have to say that it's growing on me.  I had been here before, but only briefly, and didn't get a chance to really check out the city.  Nina treated me to a nice hotel the first couple of nights near the Flores Metro stop (nice little part of town w/ flower shops scattered about - hence the name of the Metro station).  The third night we stayed at Tip Top Hostel, which is decent.  They have a couple of properties and there is parking for the bike, but there is something wrong with everything here.  There is hot water, but it is too hot (never thought I'd say that on this trip!).  Like scalding hot, and you can't reduce the temp.  There are curtains on the window, but when I went to close them the bar fell off the wall.  There is a towel rack, but that fell as well when I put a towel on it.  The location is good (La Candelaria) and there is parking for the bike, so I can't really complain in the end as free/secure parking is a biyatch to come by in Bogota.  

Nina is working here for a couple of months, so during the days I have time to explore on my own and take care of necessary chores and errands.  The other day, following a recommendation from a fellow ADVrider, I dropped in Bikes Adventure to take care of some bike schtuff.  Immediately I met Mauricio (the owner) and his crew.  They are all nice blokes and are very knowledgeable around motos.  Mauro had his Super Tenere parked just outside the shop, so I knew I was in the right place.  We chatted for awhile and I decided quickly to give him my business.  We slapped on new Heidenau K60's, swapped out the rear wheel bearings, changed the rear brake pads, and gave the bike a much needed wash.  Mauro even had his buddies at the wash print off some die cut stickers with my blog address for the bike. 
While in the shop, Mauro introduced me to several of his friends.  First I met Jean Paul, who runs Top 1 motor oil in Colombia.  We had some great conversations and he and Mauro are trying to talk me into racing a Yamaha R6 for Top 1 in Expert Supersport class in the FEDEMOTO Colombian race series.  If that comes to fruition the trip will be on hold, but I'll be racing a motorcycle again, and in a foreign land, which is amazing!  More to come soon...  I also met Camilo, who runs Mastech for all of Colombia.  Mastech is the Colombian designed/produced version of Touratech.  They have a very large catalog of high quality parts for all ADV needs.  The cost seems to be a bit lower than the competition too, which should make it a very appealing option.  Long story short, if you find yourself in Bogota and need ANY type of service, parts, and/or accessories for your bike, Bikes Adventure is your one stop shop.  I HIGHLY recommend dropping in to see Mauro and the gang. 

The night before last Camilo had a girlfriend in town from Medellin, so he invited Nina and me out for a night on the town.  We stopped in for "a drink" at a nice underground salsa club and ended up staying for quite awhile (uhhhh... like ALL night).  After XX (don't remember the actual number) bottles of Aguardiente and several Club Colombia cervezas later, we were all a bit wrecked and causing a right raucous.  Okay really it was just me and Camilo, but to be fair, the girls did polish off their share of Guaro (Aguardiente).  We had agreed that day to meet Mauro at 9am at the shop the next day for a ride to Villa de Leyva, which is a beautiful small Colombian colonial town about 100 miles north.  Normally I'm the one complaining about 'Latin American time', but due to the Guaro I was the reason Nina and I were an hour late.  Doh!!!  

After shaking the fog, Nina and I did finally meet up with the gang for the ride to Villa.  Mauro brought along his daughter, and Camilo had his girlfriend from Medellin along for the ride.  The guys are so incredibly nice.  Not only did they agree to ride with us, but it became a tour of the Colombian countryside as well.  Mauro was sure to stop and show us several landmarks along the way (i.e. Battle of Boyaca site, etc).  When we arrived in Villa they escorted us to our hotel to unload the bags prior to a nice lunch in the main plaza.  The ride was beautiful, and the city was even more so.  I didn't know what to expect, but the city is breathtaking.  Whitewashed buildings all over, a cool breeze in the air, a laid back vibe, and beautiful lush green mountain vistas in the background create a very special and romantic place.  Nina and I grabbed a nice campsite at Colombian Highlands Renacer Hostel, which was a very cool spot.  There were several couples there overlanding in kitted Toyota Land Cruisers, and we even met up with Susan and Scott (Bentley's Big Adventure).  Nina and I really enjoyed our time in the city and campsite together, and I would love to go back sometime in the future.  We even talked about it being a great place to live at some point.  It really is that special.  

This morning we woke up fairly early and, after a nice breakfast, decided to explore a bit more of the town.  We stumbled upon several incredible cafes and restaurants and had lunch.  It started to look like rain was moving in, so we decided to pack it up and get back on the road.  Nina is really enjoying riding on the bike, but I figured a wet 60 degree ride might change her perception a bit.  The beginning of the ride was incredible.  The roads just outside of Villa de Leyva wind up and down through lush green Colombian countryside.  The miles were clicking away until we got close to Boyaca (which is where Bolivar's final battle with the Spanish was). 

At that point the cars were at a standstill due to holiday traffic.  I got the bright idea to bypass everyone on the right side (like everyone else does here, and I've done countless times).  Well, due to the holiday there were a $hit ton of police out.  I crested a hill on the right side (over the white line) and was immediately staring down a cop.  He motioned me over, so I pulled over straight away.  If you recall, I made the awesome decision to NOT buy SOAT, which turns out was a mistake.  At first I told Nina to stay quiet and I would play the dumb gringo.  I gave them all my paperwork, but my heart sank when homeboy said, "uhhh, y seguro?".  I pulled out my State Farm insurance card with expiration of 11/2014 and told him, "seguro no necesito en Colombia" and that my insurance was "functionar en todo el mundo".  Surprisingly he said, "oh really?" and went to hand my card back to me.  Then he thought twice about that and called his buddy over.  

Copper numero dos wasn't quite as gullible and/or friendly.  He immediately started hounding me that it was illegal to drive without Colombian SOAT, and that they needed to impound the bike.  He said I would need to take a bus with Nina to Bogota, pay a 600,000 COP fine, then get back out to East Bumblefukk to get the bike back.  "Oh sweet shit sticks" I thought.  At this point Nina took over.  She started going at it with this guy back and forth in perfect Spanish.  They just ignored me from that point on and were having a pretty heated conversation.  I saw her go from mad, to sad, to perplexed, to happy, all in 20 minutes.  She really pulled out all the stops, and before I knew it officer numero dos was handing my stuff back and telling us to be safe on the ride back.  I couldn't freaking believe it!  If Nina hadn't have been there this blog post would be MUCH different.  Thanks babe!!!  Long story short, I'll be tracking down SOAT tomorrow, and hope that my stupidity will help others out in the future.  If you can't track down a beautiful German girl to get you out of trouble, BUY SOAT, or risk losing your ride!!!  

Anyway, after $hitting my drawers and getting off with a pat on the back, we finally made it back to the city earlier today.  We are back at Tip Top Hostel, but moving to Casa32 tomorrow for four nights (and yeah, I'll be buying insurance as well).  They have nice cheap private rooms and private/secure parking for the bike, so it should be nice.  I'm not sure what the plan is after that.  I need to get moving at some point, but we're really enjoying each other's company, so it may be tough.  Not to mention the opportunity to race, which may present itself.  Only time will tell.  I think I may check out the salt cathedral tomorrow or the next day as well, and am open to suggestions on things to do/see in the city during the days.  In addition, there is a nice park close to Casa32, so I'll probably start up my exercise regimen again.  I've been a slack ass, which absolutely DOES NOT work when eating like a fat arse in Colombia.  :( 

I guess that's it for now...  However, I'll leave you with a few more pics.  

The first few are from a street art tour of the city that I did the other day.  Even if you aren't a graffiti fan, I would highly recommend taking the tour.  It is free (tip not included), and is a great way to see and experience otherwise overlooked parts of Bogota.  It is run by a nice Australian guy named Christian (artist tag - Crisp).  If interested, hit me up for details.

The next few are from the lovely ride to Villa...  

And finally, a funny one.  This morning they were filming a music video for a popular pop artist named Juan Carlos at the hotel in Villa.  The director was chatting with me about the bike and trip, and then asked if I would be in the video.  So, here I am with a beautiful Colombian actress from Medellin trying to look "muy romantic".  Keep an eye out for my music video debut soon!  :)  

Ok, more to come very soon...  Hasta pronto, 

~ D

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Bucaramanga, San Gil, & Barichara...

After an uneventful evening in Bucaramanga (another relatively large city w/ slightly less appeal than some others - IMO), I pointed the bike south towards San Gil.  The ride was beautiful, scenic, and allowed me to get in a fair amount of mountainous riding w/ plenty of cooler temps and twisty goodness.  San Gil is a small town nestled on the Chicamocha Canyon.  The canyon itself reaches 2,000 meters in depth at some points (compared to the Grand Canyon in the US, which only reaches a measly 1,800 meters at its deepest point), which creates a plethora of opportunity for trekking, climbing, rafting etc.  Thus why San Gil has been dubbed the adventure capital of Colombia.  

When I reached San Gil I explored a bit, but was enjoying the ride so much that I decided to make a last minute change and keep going about 20km up from the city to Barichara, and I am extremely glad that I did.  Barichara is a very small village also in Santander department.  It is widely known and accepted as one of the best preserved and most beautiful colonial villages in Colombia.  It really is a special place.  There is a tranquil vibe and way of life there.  Everyone goes about their business and life at a seemingly slower pace.  There is an obvious family friendly and communal vibe, and everyone has a smile on their face.  I stayed at Tinto Hostel, which was amazing for $11USD per night w/ perfect secure parking for the bike inside the gate.  After spending a couple of hours exploring and strolling through the town, I ended up in a hammock back at Tinto for the next six hours reading a book from start to finish.  I haven't done that in...  ever.  A testament to the relaxation Barichara creates/provides.  

The book I read, Everything That Remains (by Joshua Fields Millburn - The Minimalists), was gifted to me through Kindle by a friend Nina in Dallas.  Thanks Nina, I owe ya one!  Everything That Remains is not a how-to-book, but a why-to-book.  A touching, surprising story of what happened when Millburn decided to let go of everything and begin living more deliberately.  I related VERY much to his experiences and learned a metric $hit ton while reading.  The book is equal parts uplifting, deeply personal, insightful, and exciting (when you think that you too can make similar positive changes).  The memoir is peppered with helpful, and often hilarious, interruptions by Ryan Nicodemus, Millburn's best friend of twenty years.  

I would highly, highly recommend the book to anyone.  It is chock full of poignant quotable passages.  Here is one that moved me deeply.  It refers to why some don't make changes in their lives even if they want to or it's obviously necessary.  Whether it be from external consumerist driven mindsets and expectations, fear, etc...  ~  "It's that ingrained fear we all have, a natural instinct. We tend to be afraid of bucking the status quo. But when you do take that first jump, it actually becomes terrifying to do 'normal' things, because you realize what a risk it is to give up your entire life just to be normal."  ~  I feel very fortunate that I've taken the first step referenced (I think).  I sold and gave away the majority of my possessions and have taken off on a motorcycle.  Something that I've always wanted to do, something I'm very, very proud of myself for achieving.  However, the farther along on the adventure I get, the more scared I get at the thought of returning to my 'normal' life.  It doesn't even seem possible at this point.  Now I just need to figure out what the F I want to be when I grow up.  Something most everyone is challenged with me thinks...  

Anyway, after waking up refreshed in Barichara I hopped the bike for the long and winding 200+ mile journey south to Bogota.  The ride was absolutely beautiful.  Filled with lush green mountainous vistas in all directions, small inviting towns, and delicious roadside churrascarias (steakhouses).  The past few days riding has really reminded me how much I enjoy being solo on the bike.  It gives me a lot of time to focus and think.  Not to mention I simply enjoy flipping the lid closed, cueing up the perfect song, and riding.  The roads the past few days have been incredible and I'm stoked to get back on the bike soon to experience more.  Before I do that however, I have some errands and chores to take care of here in the 'big city'.  Speaking of big city, the drastic night-and-day contrast between slow paced Barichara and the surrounding country roads, and fast paced, insane, dense, stressful roads of Bogota is crazy!  Nina booked a nice hotel for us here and I finally made it and settled in around 3pm.  Since then I've been checking things off 'the list'.  Laundry...  check.  $hitty haircut number four...  check.  New charger for iPhone...  check.  Etc, etc, etc.  

Shortly after finishing this and flipping the lid closed on the laptop, I'll be grabbing the bike and driving it over to Bikes Adventure, which is a shop recommended by fellow ADVriders.  I'm going to source new tires there and will probably repack the rear wheel bearings while the bike is apart.  I'll also most likely perform some typical service while there as well (i.e. fluid changes, brake pads, etc).  I've heard great things about the shop and owner, and apparently I can (hopefully) use some space to complete some of the work myself to save cost.  Most importantly however, I need tires.  The Heidenau K60's have held up fantastically well.  I LOVE them.  They handle well in all conditions.  I've slapped well over 8k miles on them and would trust another 3k (at least).  However, I'd rather spoon on new rubber while I'm here as I have some challenging terrain coming up in Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia.  Better to grab it now while it's a sure thing.  I'll be sure to post up a review of Bikes Adventure after my experience there.   

I think that's all for now...  I need to run a few more errands today.  Nina is working here in Bogota, so it's best to knock these things out while she is in the office.  Speaking of Nina, when I saw her yesterday she was more stunning that I remember.  We both mentioned that we were nervous about our reunion, but we hit it off like there was zero gap between meetings.  We enjoyed a nice dinner and conversation last night and I'm really looking forward to spending more time with her here in Bogota.  Only time will tell where things will go, but I'm enjoying everything immensely at present.  

I hope everyone reading this back home is doing great.  Now that I'm back online with decent interwebs I'll do my best to get caught up with friends and family.  

Chat soon...  

~ D

Monday, March 17, 2014

Santa Marta, Tayrona, & Costeno Beach...

So after spending several days in Cartagena, I made my way northeast up Santa Marta.  The coastal ride on HWY 90 was beautiful and inspiring.  Shortly after leaving Cartagena the natural beauty of Colombia started to present itself.  There are literally hundreds of beaches all the way up the Caribbean coast with many more palms than people.  Santa Marta itself leaves a bit to be desired in my opinion.  Some of the streets in the older sections of town are nice, but the remainder is an unattractive maze of strip malls, roads that are in a constant state of disrepair, and beaches that are fairly uninviting.  Most utilize Santa Marta as a stopping off point during travels elsewhere.  

I originally planned to spend a couple of nights in Santa Marta at Dreamer Hostel, which is just a bit outside of town.  When I arrived, Jeffrey (RideForPeace) was there working on his bike.  I had just split with him, Sheldon (RideForSmiles), and the boys in Cartagena and we didn't plan to meet, so it was a pleasant surprise.  With a name like 'Dreamer', one would think the hostel would be a nice place to relax and catch up on rest.  Unfortunately (or fortunately for some) that was NOT the case.  Don't get me wrong, the parties at the hostel were fun, but the several nights I was there wore me the F out.  Not to mention the side trips we would make to Taganga to sample some local Latin nightlife.  Somewhere along the way I met a new Vietnamese/Canadian friend named Vylan.  She and I got along well during our stay at Dreamer and eventually decided to make our grand escape further up the coast to Costeno Beach Surf Camp.  

Costeno is heaven…  The beach that it sits on just east of Parque Tayrona doesn't even have a name (Costeno is just the name of the hotel/surf camp).  That said, my attempts stopping in small towns along the way asking "donde esta Playa Costeno?" were all failures.  I ended up blowing by the sign and riding up the coast for about 45mins farther than I should, but with absolutely no complaints.  The road leading to Tayrona and then winding up the coast is stunning.  At some points you have lush jungle covered mountains on your right, deserted white sand beaches with emerald water on your left, and snow covered glaciers in the background.  It really was spectacular.  After realizing that I had gone too far, I backtracked and eventually found the marked turnoff that I missed earlier.  

The place was opened three years ago by a cool Canadian cat named Brian.  He searched for property for some time and eventually came across this place.  What started out as a surf camp with several boards and a tent has since blossomed and become more popular, and for good reason.  The first two nights Vylan and I shared a beach hut, which was amazing.  My bed was about 20 steps away from the ocean, which made sleeping quite easy.  After the first two nights I ended up moving into a hammock in a covered area to save a bit of money, which was quite nice as well.  This place is really special…  the sounds of the surf, wildlife chirping and chatting away, beautiful views all around, and general pleasantness makes lazing around from hammock to hammock all day very, very easy.  I've been to countless beaches/coasts during my travels and costeno, along with the surrounding area, is definitely one of my favorites of all time.  I can't remember seeing an area with as much undeveloped pristine beach area.  You can walk for miles in any direction and not see another soul.  Unreal.  

At night Costeno lights up.  Actually let me correct that, every OTHER night Costeno lights up.  The first day we arrived everyone was lazily lounging around drinking a ton of water.  I commented to someone how relaxed everyone seemed and everyone quickly told me that was because there was a massive party the night before on the beach.  Sure enough that night was relatively quiet, but the following night was another big party on the beach.  That pattern continued during my stay.  There were around 30 - 40 people there at any given time and everyone seemed to have a very similar outlook and personality.  That made for fantastic evenings filled with great music, conversation, dancing, fires on the beach, general rowdiness, and loads (LOAAADS) of rum. 

So with a slightly heavy heart, I left Costeno today.  Not too heavy however…  Nina, my dear German girlfriend from the boat, is working in Bogota for a month so I'm going to meet her there for a few days to spend some time exploring the city.  Today I made the 360+ mile highway trek from Costeno to Bucaramanga.  That meant backtracking on HWY 90 for a bit, then taking HWY 45 south all the way down, which was winding and beautiful the majority of the route.  The closer you get to Bucaramanga, the elevation starts to increase and the temps drop slightly.  I'll spend a brief night here and then want to see San Gil.  After exploring San Gil and the surrounding winding paved/dirt roads, I'll make my way down to Bogota.  San Gil is supposedly the adventure sports capital of Colombia, and an epically stunning location.  I'm looking forward to riding all around the area en route to the big city.  I'm also really looking forward to getting to Bogota to spend more time with Nina.  Even with the severe lack of internet here on the coast, she and I have been keeping in contact.  

On a random motorcycle side note, I failed to source SOAT (insurance) in Cartagena.  I thought I would just get it at my convenience.  Yesterday I took a day trip back into Santa Marta and drove around for what seemed like hours, popping in place after place, and found that they would only sell one year.  I'm not sure if it's that I'm cheap, or dumb (maybe a combo of both), but I refuse to spend the $300 USD for a year of insurance when I'm only in Colombia for a month or so.  So, for those thinking of doing a similar trip, I'll be the guinea pig and will let everyone know how it goes.  I've heard mixed stories of people with and without it.  Some good, some bad.  I do have a State Farm insurance card from back home that shows an expiration of Nov 2014, so if I get asked I will just claim that it's valid worldwide.  Hopefully a bit of Spanish, combined with a blend of friendliness and gringo stupidity, and I'll be ok.  Cross your fingers…  

That's it for now.  I need to get caught up on e-mail, finances, and other chores after being off the grid for a week.  For those who've asked, I'm happy, healthy, and very content at present.  Looking forward to slipping the helmet back on tomorrow morning to continue the adventure.  

Ciao for now, 

~ D