NYE

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In transit from Bucaramanga to the Caribbean coast (550km), I was in the small town of Curumani for NYE.  Unsure where to go or what to do as I entered, I spotted a hospedaje (motel of sorts) where loud music was playing, and a large family were dancing and spraying each other with a hose.  As I sIowed down and honked my horn at them, they shouted and waved me over.  Soon I was drenched and dancing, and managed to keep my phone dry whilst filming this little clip…

Aguila after Aguila, the afternoon quickly disappeared into a haze of chicha (bootleg country booze), and roasted chicken plates that seemed to magically appear whenever I needed a boost-  I ran around all night shooting roman candles and cheering at the fireworks being shot off from random nearby rooftops…

 

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Chicamocha Canyon

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I’d been told by a few people that a bike tour wouldn’t be complete without visiting Chicamocha Canyon; the problem was I was 8 hours or more away with the sun setting on my left, and not much in the way of camp-able land in sight.  I luckily came upon a small town/truckstop, where a tow-truck driver asked about my bike as I rode by.  I u-turned and pulled up to his window; after a few bumbled sentences, Alex switched to his fluent English and offered me a ride to the National Park’s entrance, alongside his mother and father.   They were headed back to their family farm, which was in the next valley past the canyon I’d be camping out in.  The twists, turns, lack of shoulder, and blind spots were more than enough to convince me that I’d been saved from a tortuous ride.  I arrived to the entrance of the park after close, but Alex talked to park police and I was able to camp out for the night next their barracks-

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I awoke at dawn to explore the canyon below, and munched on leftovers from dinner to this morning vista.  I spent the day hiking & jumping into the river, listening to the relaxing burble of nature playing its’ song as I kicked back against a perfectly shaped rock-

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The next morning I woke up early, and took off with my gopro mounted, got some beautiful shots tearing down the switchbacks in the morning light- edited video coming soon!

Puente Nacional

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Through the mountains I go! My time in Puente Nacional was a great respite from the tumultuous climbs before it.  I arrived in town down a little dirt road speckled with stones, and across a river I was sure I’d be jumping into shortly.

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I posted up at a gas station and tried to reach my host, but his phone was out of commission- no bueno.  The gas station was next to a motorcycle/dirtbike garage, and a few interested mechanics came out to take a look.  A few minutes later a cab pulled up with a family of five, and soon the kids were climbing on top for some photos.  The cab driver asked me what I was doing in town, and I told him I had a friend in town- Mario Martinez.

Cab Driver: “Mario? Mi hermano!”

He gave his brother a call and soon Mario popped out from a side street on his mountain bike to show me to the house.  The town and house reminded me of small town India, complete with cement floors painted red, and necessary mid day cold showers to keep from sweating to death-

When it did cool down, our first stop was to the town futbol court, where a basketball court doubled as a pitch for some 5 on 5.  Tonight was the local cops vs. municipal workers.  The action was fierce, but I was more interested in the arepas and empanadas cart- I was so famished from riding that my local tour of the town became a food tour!

arepas and empanadas

My next day was meant only to be a hike around the local hills and the river, but ended up through a piece of history.  Sadly my phone died, but I’ll paint a picture:

As we approached what appeared to be an old hotel, I saw a quick flash streak across the main foyer.  Two kids chased each other into a large hall, will midday light streaking through the high windows.  I entered an old country club, built some 50 years ago.

Flat white walls with green trim, and a well-kept marble floor which I would soon find out is perfect for a midday slide- Mario and I both saw the 2 old ping-pong tables with no one else in sight, and went toe to toe for the next hour.  Then…

Mario: “Want to go bowling?”

Me: “Indeed.”

On the opposite side of the building was an old-time bowling alley, which the 2 young kids we saw earlier running around attend to.  It was something like this:

old timey bowling

As I clumsily made my way from frame to frame, little dude would sit on top of the platform above the pins, jumping down after the pins settled to rack everything up again.  My old, white, and seriously wide bowling shoes squeaked and creaked as I bowled an 78-  While having a post-game juice, I sat on the massive window ledge to watch the mighty Antigua river push west.

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Ubate

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My next 50 km were to Ubate, a town where I had no host and no idea what’d I do- Thankfully they were relatively flat and pleasant, and somehow devoid of of the large vehicles I’m becoming accustomed to.  I cranked up some Buena Vista Social Club and cranked along, occasionally stopping to pet a calf, stretch, and eat a banana. The road workers were most ecstatic at the sight, and shouted the Colombian word I love to hear most; “chevre!”

Rolling into Ubate, a few kids on BMX bikes hanging out at a local playground saw me trucking by and dashed into action, soon I had a rolling escort of five into the town square.  Ten minutes later I posted up next to a fruit stand in the plaza and chatted up the vendor; she happily gave me two oranges for a pic on the tallbike.  Someone ran off to tell the local bike shop owner I was here, and soon Senor Javier Calderon arrived on a beautiful vintage forest green city bike.  By this time a small crowd had gathered, and Javier took me for a jugo de mora (aka Andean Blackberry) while trusted friends looked at and over my bike and belongings.  My Spanish is still in beta stage, by I was able to communicate about my journey, and that I was staying the night in town.  Javier insisted that I could keep my bike safe and sound in his shop for the night and get a room at a good rate at the hotel next door.  I got a room with TV, wifi, hot water, and a firm bed (thank goodness) for 15000 pesos, something like 8$.

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I came back down to the shop to find Javier had pulled out his own freakbike, and I happily putted around while people took photos on top of my bike.

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me and javier ubate

Hilarious middle aged men in groups of 3-4 took turns hoisting each other onto the bike, wildly flailing as they shouted to their friends below “Animo!” (I think “hold on!”)

I spent the night hanging out at the local chicken rotissiere, throwing back a Poker (local cerveza) and watching the finals of Colombian league futbol match.

Zipaquirá

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I rolled down the driveway of my host’s place in Bogotá, and gently merged into fading city traffic.  It felt different this time, I felt like the tour was truly starting-

As I merged onto the autopista (expressway) the thunderous clouds of diesel dissipated and floated by me.  The shoulder width started out comfortable and wide, and eventually slims out, leaving me following the magic white line north.  Buses and trucks give me a wide berth, and the obligatory air horn.  The air is musty and hot with exhaust, and leaves me wishing for the cool, crisp Maryland air I remember while mountain biking in the fall.  But enough of the daydream! Back to reality… I was headed 50km north to Zipaquirá, where I’d found a host and was anxious to check out The Salt Cathedral.  A salt mine turned underground Catholic church, I got a respite from the heat and some interesting photos-

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In the grand hall, I was compelled to sit down in one of the vast rows of pews and relax.  The faint echo of water dripping seemed to somehow soothe my mind of all the stress from my first day on a highway, roaring buses and jolting air horns keeping me on edge.

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Almost like being able to reach out and touch the blue moon…

I also went on “The Miner’s Tour”, which was complete with hardhat equipped with torch, and a section in complete darkness; to simulate what the workers had to go through.  Guided only by placing one’s hands on the shoulders of the person in front of them, a group of 20 of us shuffled along a tunnel hunch-backed for ten minutes- complete with fake demolition explosion sounds via massive loudspeaker!

My local host Carlos and his family were celebrating the days leading up to Christmas, and it wouldn’t have been complete without my impromptu ukulele play along 🙂 I’m constantly awed of how hospitable families are to this crazy journey of mine; the family truly took me in during a holiday and was genuinely interested in how the tallbike works.

Thanks Zipaquirá!

 

 

Bogotà

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I breathed signs of relief when I saw my baby creep out onto oversize baggage carousel; followed by a super-anxious cocker spaniel itching to take a piss.  With no noticeable damage, I heaved it onto a cart.  The beautiful and bemused attendant took a glance and undoubtedly asked “¿Qué es eso?”

She told me I could setup right there in baggage claim; so to work I went…

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Many a confused traveler and airport employee came by to take a look, and I did my best to explain that I’m riding this contraption through Colombia, and hopefully a few more countries of South America.  After a few hours of building, going through customs (I’m quite sure customs officials of Bogotà have never laughed so hard), I was mounting a 100lb beast on the same exit lane as all the cars and buses, merging onto the expressway in a light rain with fading sunlight I was scared; but after a few twists and turns, and asking about 5 people for directions, I finally made to my host’s apartment, about 15 miles away.

The next morning I supposed to meet a friend to do a bike tour of the city, and the office was in Candelaria; (the neighborhood I was staying in).  I stepped out of the apartment and started coasting downhill, when I saw a group of tourists on bikes in the middle of street.  I figured it was them, and started riding with them, the tour guide telling me I could pay a bit later.  Turns out there’s 5 or so of these groups near to where I was staying, and I’d just joined some random group!  Nevertheless it was fun, and I got to hangout at a coffee roasting factory and have the best cappuccino ever-

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Went climbing the next day in countryside, and got obliterated by mosquitos; but it worth it-

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This guy followed us from the train station after I threw him the bones from my amazing caldo de castilla

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Caldos and Sopas (both soups, but different) -it was explained to me that Caldos have more a watery broth, while Sopas are a bit thicker and sometimes have veg mashed into the broth)

And there’s the famous Sopa de Bogota, Ajiaco-

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I had this thrice at another host’s place (Juan)- His family was unbelievably welcoming, and I had a hard time pulling myself away from all the comfort to get out into wilderness He did capture a few much needed shots of me on the move; so this is what my rig really looks like!

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Now I’m on the road for the next 8-9 days to Bucaramanga; farewell Bogotà!

Getting to Colombia

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It would seem easy enough, wouldn’t it? Bought a one-way ticket to Bogota, actually found a bike box big enough to fit my frame (thanks Amtrak), packaged it well, contacted JetBlue a month before departure to double-check that my behemoth of a check-in bag (giant bike box) would be ok… and they told me via emails that it would be.  Things were looking up, until they crashed down on me, raining disappointment and frustration so bad I actually put my head down on the JetBlue check-in counter and started moaning.

So what happened?  Well, it started like this:

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I cautiously made my way to the JetBlue check-in counter, “ahem-ing” my way through the packed Thanksgiving weekend crowds, smiling at people bewildered by a box so big it had to be 8-point turned just to get into the building-

JetBlue lady: “Where are you headed today?”

Me: “Flying to Bogota to start a bike tour!”

JetBlue lady: “Oh?”

Me: “I’m really excited”

JetBlue lady: (Sourly looks at the giant box a few feet away) “You can’t take it in that box.”

Me: “I know it looks too big, but I emailed your Customer Service team a month ago and told them the exact dimensions and weight. They told me not to worry about the size, but to keep it under 99lbs to avoid excess baggage fees.” (Showing her the email on my phone)

JetBlue lady: (looking at email) “Well, this policy is true for domestic flights, but not for international.  Colombia has decided that cardboard boxes will not be allowed as baggage, and we don’t know why.  We’ve put this information on our website.  Also, we have another problem; you only have a one-way ticket.  We can’t let you on the plane with a one-way, it’s not allowed.  You’d have to buy a return, and repackage the bike to be allowed on.”

Me: “But I’m traveling by land from country to country on my bicycle, I’m not sure when I’m coming back home, or from where.  When I bought the ticket online I never saw any warnings when I chose a one-way ticket.  Also, I can try to repackage the bike, but do you guys have any pallet wrap and foam wrap?”

JetBlue lady: “Looks like you bought your ticket through Orbitz- if you had bought it directly from us there would have been a warning.  Unfortunately we don’t have any packing supplies.”

Me: “Ok… so how would I repackage the bike? Obviously I don’t have those materials with me…”

JetBlue lady: “You could take a taxi to Staples.”

At this point, I felt doomed. I was being herded into obstacles that could not be conquered.  I put my head down on the counter and just let out “UUUUGGGHGHGHGHGGGGHH WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME?”

JetBlue lady: “I’ll be right back.” (Heels clicking as she walks away)

I thought I had lost my 500$ flight to Colombia, and would have to rebook another ticket, and buy a return I wasn’t going to use.  This were not looking good. On top of it all, I had just moved out of my house, so I wasn’t really sure where I could go with all my junk.

JetBlue lady: “Ok sir. Sir?”

Me: (I lift my head up and look dejected)

JetBlue lady: “We’re going to book you on same flight, a week from now.  We’ll only charge you the 34$ processing fee.  You can repackage the bike in that time and figure out your return ticket.  Is that ok?”

Me: (Perking up) “Yes. YES. Thank you!”And so it went.  I called my roommate Alexis back to pick me up, and was told it’d be okay to crash at home for another week.  Another roommate was going out of town, so I could use his room until my next flight.  I was battered, but not out-After an exhaustive amount of correspondence to JetBlue, I was told foam wrap and pallet wrap would be suitable packing material instead of the cardboard box.  I was also told that I could book a refundable return ticket, then cancel it once I got to Colombia.After a trip to Home Depot, lots of help from my friend Adrian, and many more hugs goodbye; I gave it another go-

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And this time; I made it! Now the adventure really begins.