Happy New Year!

I hope this message finds you all well! I’m spending New Years with friends and relatives of some family friends in Rionegro just outside of Medellin, Colombia. I wish you all the best and Happy New Year!!!

-Lenny

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Day 129 – Medellin, CO

Day 129 – Medellin, CO      12/28/10      Mileage: 0

Business opportunity in Medellin…laundromat! I asked a dozen people if they knew of one and the closest I got was a dry cleaner…and they said it would take 3 days! I walked probably 20 square blocks figuring surely there must be one in the heart of a bustling city…but…nope, I didn’t see one! I finally gave up and knocked on the door of a hostel and the owner was kind enough to do my laundry for $5…and would have it back to me the next day. Anyway, next up was lunch at 12:30 with Santiago who is the cousin of a friend of my parents and gracious enough to meet me and show me around! He picked me up at the Shamrock and took me to the heart of the downtown for lunch where his family owns a restaurant. It turns out he has a passion for travel also and took a year off for an around the world backpacking trip. He lived abroad in France and Venezuela for a while as well and speaks very good english.

After lunch…which I was treated to…he showed me some of the sights downtown.

 

We also took the elevated metro which was a great way to see the city.

Santiago is very proud of his city and it shows in the way he talks about it. I told him when I first hatched the plan for this trip, I was debating whether to skip Colombia because of the prevailing perception in the US, but the more I read the more I looked forward to visiting. He said that Medellin and Colombia in general has made an amazing turnaround from the legacy of the drug wars and violence. I know he is right because I’ve seen it for myself. I feel safer and more at ease here…in the small towns and cities…than I did in Mexico or other countries in Central America, maybe even Costa Rica. He also told me of a project that the Medellin government undertook to build a library in the roughest part of the city, high on a hill. They had to go in with swarms of armed police at first, and now it is a popular place to come, even for tourist like me. We took a “public transit gondola” to get there, which itself helped to turn the area around.

The black building is the library built in what used to be the roughest part of town.

These projects are a testament to the good that government can do to improve people’s lives when they have the people’s best interest in mind, and not their own or that of the special interests. So I said adios to Santiago and took the metro back to the Shamrock. I spent some time getting some posts up on the blog, and then parked myself in a nearby cafe in the Zona Rosa to write more and take in the scene before calling it a night.

Day 128 – Santuario, CO to Medellin, CO

Day 128 – Santuario, CO to Medellin, CO     12/27/10      Mileage: 89

It was going to be a short ride to Medellin, so I was in no rush to get out the door. Plus, it was raining…another excuse to linger a bit longer. Around 10 the weather cleared and I hit the road.

I read about a nice scenic overlook called El Penal…a 20 kilometer detour off of the road to Medellin. Since I had plenty of time today, I decided to go check it out.

El Penol is a big rock outcropping with stairs going up a crack in one side to the top where the view is spectacular.

It turned out to be a pretty unique place and the view from the top was amazing…well worth the $4 and 460 something stairs!

The view from the top…

It reminded me of the lakes region of the Adirondacks. After lingering a while at the top, I headed back down and went to the nearby town of Guatape for a lakeside lunch.

Stomach stuffed with food and eyeballs filled to the rim with scenery, I retreated back to the main road and on to Medellin.

Coming into town off of the mountain pass were some great views of Medellin.

The northern part of Medellin.

In town I fought my way though the city traffic but lane splitting is practically a sport down here, so on a bike you can still weave your way through.

In this picture you can see that the rider has his license plate number on the back of his helmet and the vest he is wearing. The reason for this is that back in the day when there was much violence in Colombia, the prefered assassination vehicle was the motorcycle. They would ride with 2…one for driving and the other to do the shooting….and the motorcycle could make an easy getaway weaving through the city traffic. To combat this, the government required all riders to wear there license plate number on a reflective vest and on the back of their helmet. I’m not sure if this is still strictly enforced, as some riders no longer wear them.

I found my way to the Shamrock Irish Pub pretty easily and was greeted by Leiday(XXXXXsp) and a DR350 out front.

Albert the owner and fellow motorcyclist who is originally from Scotland was home visiting relatives for the holidays, so I would not get to meet him this time around…too bad.

I heard about his place through the AdvRider website…an Irish pub in the heart of Medellin, friendly to motorcyclist, near many motorcycle dealers, secure parking and a room for rent adorned with motorcycle artwork…sounds like a no brainer to me! Leiday(XXXX) showed me my room and afterwards I pulled the KLR inside behind Al’s 950 Adventure.

Once settled I took the obligatory walk around the neighborhood and all I can say is Colombia continues to wow me…great climate, cosmopolitan cities, beaches, great roads, free tolls for motorcycles and tons of great looking women! Sounds like paradise to me….and it would be if they had snow for skiing! Oh well, 9 out of 10 ain’t bad… 😉

Day 127 – Puerto Boyaca, CO – Santuario, CO

Day 127 – Puerto Boyaca, CO – Santuario, CO     12/26/10     Mileage: 95

After a nice breakfast in the hotel restaurant, I hit the road towards Medellin.

 The road started out fairly flat but soon turned into the mountains. The sun was shining, the truck traffic was light, the KLR was firing on all, well, one cylinder and there were more twists in the road than bowl of linguine. That’s a pretty great morning by any measure! 

Here’s another reason to like Colombia….motorcycles don’t have to pay tolls! The narrow lane between the two yellow curbs on the right is the FREE motorcycle lane!

My good fortune continued when I turned off the road for lunch in the little mountain town of Santuario.

Wow was this a great little town! I parked the bike on the main square and me in a sidewalk cafe overlooking it. It was Sunday afternoon and everyone was out and about.

On a side note, I was told that the Colombian women were gorgeous. Trust me gents, as someone who worked for years in NYC for a women’s luxury fashion company, it is absolutely true! This town seems to be particularly blessed, maybe there’s something in the water…I don’t know. But, regardless of that, or admittedly because of it, I decided to stay the night if I found cheap digs…which I did. After stashing the bike and my gear, I walked around town and they have a thin slice of heaven here for sure.

Mmmm…meat and motorcycles…   They go together like peanut butter and jelly…

And the police ride dual-sports…

Many of the older gents wear fedora hats with ponchos over their shoulders.

The town feels totally safe and there are people everywhere walking, shopping, relaxing or doing what I was doing…just taking it all in.

That night I had a light dinner from the street vendors in the main square and a few drinks around town. Tomorrow I will (finally) ride on to Medellin!

Parting Shot: Even the horses like it better in town…

Day 126 – Bogota, CO to Puerto Boyaca, CO

Day 126 – Bogotá, CO to Puerto Boyaca, CO      12/25/10      Mileage: 140

I met Brian for breakfast at the hotel and he and Andy hit the road shortly after heading south for Cali. It was nice to catch up with Brian again, and I probably will catch him again at some point.

Brian and Andy getting ready to head out…

I was heading northwest towards Medellin, but the wifi at the hotel was quite good so I made use of it to get another blog post up before hitting the road. Just after packing the bike it started to rain…crap. Oh well, such is life and hopefully it will clear up shortly so I can enjoy the twisty mountain roads between here and Medellin.

The rain did eventually let up and then stopped altogether…sweet! Now I can not only enjoy the twisty roads but also the views which were great!

Entering one of many military checkpoints along the road. Personally I’m glad they’re there. All the soldiers here carry really big guns! Here’s a close-up below…

It was still tough to make time as there were many slow moving trucks and few opportunities to pass.

 I had one close call passing a truck…let’s just say if I were driving car it would have been a head-on with the truck coming the other way, but on the bike I was able to squirt by between the two trucks. My butt puckered up so tight I’ll be farting bits of my seat for a week. The upside to having a close call is it brings you back to reality, reminds you of your mortality and for me it refocuses my eye on the prize…to get to the tip of South America (and back home in one piece)!  I wish I had the helmet cam on movie mode…it would have been a hell of a movie!

Soon it became apparent that I was not going to make it all the way to Medellin before nightfall, so at 4 in the afternoon I pulled off the road at a $10 hotel that was quite nice for the money. I had dinner at a little roadside stand…2 epanadas, yogurt, and 2 beers.

Tomorrow it’s back on the road to Medellin…

Day 125 – Bogota, CO

Day 125 – Bogotá, CO      12/24/10      Mileage: local miles

This morning Brian and I met for breakfast and it was good to see a familiar face. He has had a bad cold for 2 weeks and had some trouble with Girag. Apparently it took 4-5 days for the bike to get from Panama to Bogotá. I hope my KLR is here in Bogotá as I’ve sent 2 emails to Girag for an update and have not heard back. Well, only one way to find out, so after breakfast a hopped a cab to the international air cargo terminal to hopefully spring my bike from the slammer. Once I found the Girag office, I was pleased to find out the bike was indeed here in Bogata…awesome!

So with my and a new stack of paperwork, I was off to Colombia customs to import the KLR.

This is the Colombian aduana building at the airport freight terminal

The paperwork only required one visit to a pair of nice ladies who took care of the whole import permit for me.

I thanked them for their refreshing efficiency and went back to Girag with my freshly minted import permit.

Inside the Girag warehouse

The bike looked to be in one piece…great…now if only I didn’t leave the damn key back at the hotel. Crap! Looks like another hour taxi tour of the city…which I’ll call a $25 spanish lesson also as I got to practice with Jose, my round-trip cabby.

This white building behind the wall is the US Embassy here in Bogotá….

So now I’ve got the key and back at Girag I sprang the bike from the warehouse and I’m off and riding in Bogotá!

To get out of the warehouse, they put a ramp down from the loading dock.

Back at the hotel I stashed the bike in their secure lot, dumped my gear and went out to explore the city and get a lite bite. It’s late afternoon on Christmas Eve day and I’m surprised to see everything is still open…but it allows me to get a good feel for the city instead of being all closed up. I stopped for a beer and some tapas, but aside from that I walked around for almost 5 hours seeing the sights.

 

This guy had a funny street game going…you place your bet on which bowl the guinea pig will run and hide under…a sort of guinea pig roulette!

Back at the hotel I met up with Brian and Andy who is another rider originally from the UK but living in NYC. He road down from NYC and was also heading for Argentina. Undeterred by the fact that it was Christmas Eve, we wandered out to see if by chance there was a restaurant that was still open.

Well, as you might have guessed, there wasn’t….so we ended up getting some Italian takeout (calzone for me) and a few beers and went back to Andy’s hostel for Christmas dinner.

Ordering dinner from our “street pizzaria”…

From L to R: Andy, me and Brian

While certainly not traditional, it was still good fun.

Day 124 – Cartagena, CO to Bogota, CO

Day 124 – Cartagena, CO to Bogotá, CO 12/23/10 Mileage: Riding 0 / 1 airline flight

No alpine start for me today as I was still feeling the effects of those caipirinhas. That’s it, I’m not drinking anymore…..or at least not before lunch. 😉 Armed with my camera I spent the next 3 hours on a photo safari around old town Cartagena. It was like the proverbial shooting fish in a barrel as Cartagena is very picturesque. The old town and its Spanish colonial architecture is contained within the walls of a fort perched right on the Caribbean Sea…pretty idyllic. History is everywhere you look and you can feel it’s depth as you stroll along the tight colonial era streets. Here are the pics…

I stopped into this stand that makes great fruit juices and smoothies…

Fresh fruit is available everywhere on the street from these carts…

I toured the Naval Museum which was nice and only $3.50

On the way back to the hotel, I swung through the local market which is always interesting!

After a nice lunch I went back to the hotel to collect my bags and head for the airport for my flight to Bogotá. The airport had free wifi and seats with with power outlets which was nice for a change…I think all airports should do that! The flight was short and uneventful and once on the ground I hopped a taxi to the Dann Colonial Hotel which is where Brian has been staying the last few days. I dropped my bags and wandered out for a quick bite and then called it an early night.

Late night street pizza in Bogotá