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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Colombia II

Hi All. Way too long since my last post. I'm in Popayán now and finally found the time and inspiration to write a 2nd post of my time here in beautiful Colombia. Bikes running fine. Did a hellish unpaved road between San Augustín and Popayán, lost a engine mount bolt, noticed my chain guide is worn out and some other things. Need to go back to Cali for that. More about that later.
I pick up my tour the Colombia from where i ended my last post, Bucaramanga. The highlights:

From Bucaramanga to San Gil is a real treat following the Chicamocha canyon. Winding roads, gorgeous views. Does it ever get boring? NOO! (Although i can live without the air polution on the road...)

San Gil is a lovely regional town, pretty much (still) left alone by foreign tourists.  The central park is always lively. On sundays there's a big market where farmers sell their produce.

Besides the regional function it's also the outdoor sport center of this region of Colombia, Santander. Hiking, Rafting etc. It's all there.

I stayed a few days at hostel Casa Monkara, definitely recommended. Cheap, basic, tranquillo.

Personal highlight: café-restaurant Con-verso owner Nora and her team. Smart independend person. Spend quite a few ours playing "Boggle" to learn spanish words which i would translate in english. Excellent learning method!

Barichara, just outside San Gil, is a beautiful well maintained colonial village. A Jewel. Quiet during weekdays, in the weekend flooded with local tourists.

Probably the most photogenic village so far!!

It's a road trip, thus another obligatory bike-on-road pic. Y'all want to know how it looks like on the road, sierto?
Somewhere between San Gil and Villa de Leiva. Could be Alaska, but it's a cow overthere, not a bear.

Villa de Leiva. Another gorgeous place. Yes, seems to be packed with those. Can you just image doing a 3 week holiday tour on a simple bike around this country?  (I want to do a bit of marketng research. There's no motorcycle touring companies here... so.....)

Cobblestone roads, great colonial architecture. Supposedly the biggest Plaza in South America. It's huge indeed. And empty. Except during weekends, there's plenty rich Colombians who like to go away from the city for the weekend, so there's a good tourist infrastructure to accomodate them.

What the... !?!

A genuine German Dorfkneipe on the plaza.
Clueless about how this ended up here. Funny.

One of the many pitoreske streets.

Hostal pet. About 30x20cm. One day i start making pictures of the hostalowners instead of their pets...

My stay at hostal El Solar was nice and relaxed. And the owner, Martha is abosolutely adorable. Recommended.

Daytrip in the mountains around Villa de Leiva. A friend of Marthe took us out in his truck. This place is build and owned by a french guy living here for years. He's (almost) self supporting. The house is build from wood, stones and clay etc. found on his land. He's got a great garden with flowers, veggies and homegrown herbs. All very eco-friendly.

He needs money too, so a few months back he got electricity and started buiding a guesthouse. Nice for a retreat: 45min dirtroad to Villa Leiva. No busses here!

View from one of the trails surrouding Villa de Leiva.
Next time i'll take my bike out for this trip.
Excellent all-road daytrip!!

Leaving San Gil. Pleasant easy ride to Zipaquira.

Zipaquira has one major tourist attraction: a saltmine-converted-to cathedral. Excellent light art. Touristy. Special.

Leaving Zipaquira i saw a pretty colonial center from the corner of my eye. Too bad i didn't check it out. Oh well, next time...

Bogota. Crowded Capital of Colombia. Can anyone tell me why i went there? Oh yeah, needed a new rim. The only nice place is Candelaria. The rest... I didn't like it. Too big, everything too far away from everything else. Cold and rainy most of the time. Didn't do too much exploring the city. Maybe i should give it a 2nd change. Bogota is the capital, and the cultural center of Colombia. Candelaria, the most interesting area, has plenty of great colonial buildings. The modern art museus had a fantastic international photo exposition. Also recommended is the Botero museum.

A tipical candelarian view.  Here in Bogota i found, or rather, the local KTM dealer found me a new rear rim. Cool.

First plan was to moun t it here, but after a few days of bogota i had enough of it, and i went to Medellin.

All main brands are present here. Based on what i know now,  i think i can say that Medellin and Cali seem the better choice for serious bike maintenance.

The ride from Bogota via Honda to Medellin is absolute fantastic. Winding roads up and down the mountains, with a flat part around Honda. I think it's possible to do it in one day, but it will be a very long one. I took it easy and stopped for a night in Cocorna, somewhere on hwy. 60.

Plenty of great scenic views. Dangerous, it distracts from the winding roads, blind corners and trucks overtaking trucks in those blind corners.

One does strange things to maintain a good average speed, like overtaking in corners (but only when you can see through the next one too!!). My Spanish is not yet on a level that i could explain that to the police, i noticed. Passing a truck cornering a mountain i saw with my left eyeball and a police van, while my right eyeball scanned the road ahead overtaking a tuck Oops..   And indeed, 2 kms further a policeguy waived me in on a parking place. Damn!

In a official book i saw all traffic fines. Overtaking a vehicle in a corner is REALLY $500.000!!! Holy Mother of God!! Thats about eur.175!!  Enough to charm the hell out of those guys. And after the "No senor, yo no soy gringo, soy holandais!!, si, si cerca de Aleman, si claro, muy lejos!" , some explenation about my awesome trip and coke (as in cola) and coockies, they were friendly enough to let me go with a serious warning about trucks being dangerous. Like i didn't noticed that already between, uhm mexico and here?? Tell me about dangerous traffic! Anyway, got away with it. Did i mention i liked Colombia?

Medellin is another big city, difference with Bogota is that the climate is better! Which affects the people. They seem a bit more open and friendly here. The surrounding area of the City is very nice and you can make cool daytrips in the mountains (paved and unpaved). The main reason to go to Bogota as a bike traveler is to do maintenance.

Stripped TTR at Suzuki Super Servicio. Remarkeable how all bolts and nuts came off without breaking etc.

Carbonated piston. Lots of burnt oil i guess. One of the exhaust valvestem seals leaked heavily. One valve was dented, dents on piston surface too, so i guess some sand came through the filter or so. Cilinder was scratched, and rings leaked a bit, but not excessive. Decided to replace all.  Afterall, still have a long way to go . Replaced my clutchplates, were 75% gone. This first major mechanical repair, mainly preventive, rim included the whole operation costed me $2.000.000 pesos, close to eur. 700,-.  Not bad for rim, cutchplates, gaskets, piston, -rings and pin, cilinder bore, valve, manifold, gaskets, oil, filter, breakpads, sparkplug and labour. One intake manifold was about to fall apart, and even this was available from stock! Like everything else: All in stock at the yamaha dealer around the corner. Really unexpected suprise. One good reason to take this bike: The engine is the same as older XT600 and XT500 etc. , and a lot of engine parts are available and exchangeable. Probably the same for XTZ660 bikes. Although, KTM, BMW etc. seem widly available here. Cool thing: the Police rided around Suzuki DR650's and related Freewind. That makes this bike the bike of choice i guess. Travel North and Central America, overhaul everything whats needed in Colombia and leave for the rest of SA. Next time....

My canadian friend Lee brought me to Suzuki Super Servicio. He needed his F650GS Dakar serviced. Here with Carlos, suposedly the best mechanic in South America. Works and knows about every brand. Great shop, clean, profesional. They really like biketravellers and do all whats needed to get them back on the road asap.

All work cost me a bit more than a week, june is a month with a dia del fiesta every week, and businesses are closed.

Me, Lee, Sandra and Alejandro (taking the picture) on a daytrip to
Piedra del Penol, in a mountain/lake area 2hrs outside Medellin.

On the background, Piedra del Penol. This is a massive tourist area for Colombians. From Medellin it's a two hour winding road though mountains and hills to Guatapé.

Other view in this area.

Eventually the road ends at a village Guatapé at a lake. And on weekends Colombians want to have a good time too! Crowded.

I had a good time in medellin, working on my bike, daytrips to surrounding areas with Lee and friends.

My glasses are really scratched after more than a year on the road.

 Here an attempt to find proper replacement. Too bad they didn't fit with my helmet. But if they were....

After all repairs on the bike and a few daytrips to see if the new piston holds up, i went to Jericho and Gardin. Accoording to a lot of people definetly worth a visit... And it was.

The road from Medellin to Jericho and from there to Jardin is mandatory for every motorcyclist visiting Colombia. Besides that, Jericho is a peaceful rural town kind of touristy in the weekends.

Gardin is bigger, more touristy, and especially in the weekends, crowded. Nice, laid back.

Leaving Jericho 9 am. Didn't take pictures of the village, but believe me, Jericho is nice.

Leaving Gardín. Same for Gardin, no pics of the village, but gorgeous!

You noticed that there's not a single stretch of stright road in this area?

From Gardin to Manizales is an easy day. Manizales is not worth
visiting. Although. After on night in an hostel in the city i left to
find buena vista social club.

A very basic hostel in the hills just outside Manizales. Relaxed people. Cool to chill out for a couple of days. It's not a real
hostel, more like visiting friends. The surrounding area is beautiful.

Owners of buena vista social club. Cool people, openminded, interested in art, poetry, travelers. Recommended if you want to not be in just another hostel. You have to like hippies though ;-)

So there is a straight road! Boring, hot, ride from Manizales to Cali crossing the Cauca Valley. Not much going on here.

Cauca Valley, is it Sugarcane? Or rice? Don't know.

So from Manizales i went to Cali, stayed a few days there at Hostal Casa Blanca  with Mikkel, Danish owner and motorcycle traveller.

Cool place. Cali is nice for a few days, but i always feel that big cities drain energy from me so i returned back north to go to Salento, a tranquillo village close to Armenia.

More about wonderful Colombia in my next posts!

All pictures of Colombia can be seen here