In this episode we tell some of the positive aspects of our shipping experience, visit our first South American song place (Barranquilla) and acknowledge my Grandma’s perpetual awesomeness.
Monday, March 5th
One of the purposes for my long document about the Darien Gap shipping process, was to sequester all of the negativity into one place. In this narrative, I get to tell some of the positive things about the day I got Annie back.
Probably the most positive aspect was the people that I got to meet.
(L to R: Strange Nebraska guy; Irineo and Felipe from Chihuahua, Mexico; Severine from Switzerland; Ezequiel and Julio from Argentina)
They all had such fascinating stories. I don’t have time for them all, but I’d like to share at least a couple:
The guys from Argentina have both been travelling for over a year. They did not start the trip together, but ended up meeting in Canada. Both are on 250cc Hondas. In the United States, I was often asked how I was doing a trip like this on a motorcycle “so small.” (Annie is 670cc) Julio was actually travelling with his girlfriend on the the passenger seat through much of the US. He said he got this question at almost every gas station. I didn’t get a great picture of his bike, this is probably the best:
The other Argentinian, Ezequiel, has already logged over 50,000 miles on his trip. I asked him if he’d had much trouble with the bike and he told me about a wild experience in Arizona.
After a crash, his bike tumbled down what sounded like a cliff. Almost all of the spokes on the wheels were destroyed. He was seven miles from the closest town and he lived “in the forest” for about 10 days until new spokes could be shipped from Mexico. He fixed the wheels himself and proceeded on his journey.
I always enjoy seeing how other riders set up their bikes. Irineo and Felipe from Mexico both have beautiful machines well equipped for the long haul.
They are trying to beat the weather and make it down to the tip of South America.
I forgot how long Severine and Margeaux had been travelling in their VW van, but they have had quite an adventure too. They were super helpful in keeping us all organized during the process. And since they’re Swiss, they both speak like 26 languages. 🙂
Our long wait at the port meant that I had plenty of time to acquire signatures from each of my container-mates.
The long wait also allowed Irineo to capture one of my favorite pictures of the whole trip. I can’t imagine a better way to summarize our experience than this image:
Another fun experience on this day was meeting Capitán, the local parrot. He walked right up to the door and waited for it to open….
…before getting in line at the bank.
Capitán had a real connection with Felipe.
He remained perched on his shoulder for probably close to half an hour. Capitán didn’t seem interested in meeting anyone else.
Although I hated waiting all day, the sunset over the docks was kind of pretty.
My first ride in over two weeks almost felt a little strange. A driver kindly acquainted me with a taste of what to expect on Colombian roads:
Right after this video, the end of my handlebar (which had been damaged in the shipping process) fell off into the street.
A local guy on a scooter must have seen it, stopped in the middle of traffic and then caught up to me at the next light. He handed it over casually, like he does this sort of thing every day. I wish I could have thanked him more profusely.
Driving away from the port, I was a little nervous. I had checked out of my hostel that morning, since I had planned to be in Barranquilla by the evening. Thankfully, my friend, Leebong, was still there. He asked them to hold a bed for me. The bigger issue was finding a spot for Annie, since the hostel didn’t have any parking available.
The owner, Alba, went to the little store across the street and negotiated for me to park in their garage for about $3. This was a huge blessing. I didn’t want to leave Annie in an unsafe spot on our first night back together.
Another huge blessing through this whole process was my Grandma. You know it’s a good post whenever she makes an appearance:
She knew how much the crossing was weighing on me, so she decided to give me a gift of $1,000 to help ease my mind. This woman constantly blows me away with her generosity. Still, the financial gift pales in comparison to the positive influence she has been in my life. If I can live a life even half as profound as hers, I will feel satisfied about my time on this planet.
Tuesday, March 6th
Time to get back to business as usual. I was ready to leave Cartagena, but the cat at the hostel didn’t seem ready for me to go.
My new friend, Katrie, became the first Australian to sign Annie, I believe.
Annie also got some ink from Alba, the owner of the hostel…
…and her son Oscar.
I was almost feeling suffocated by cities. It had been 15 days since I arrived in Panama City. I hadn’t really been in the countryside since then. That’s a long time for a Nebraskan!
The wind was whipping from the north as I made my way to the next song place, Barranquilla.
Colombia soon provided me with a reason to love it unconditionally: Motorcycles are exempt from road tolls. There are lots of toll booths, so this is much appreciated. I had read this fact at some point, but I had forgotten it by the time I reached my first booth. This led to a thouroughly confusing exchange, which culminated with the toll booth operator helping to push me through a little gap in the curb which separates the motorcycle lane. The next one was smoother:
Soon I was in Barranquilla, place 57 of 92 on my list. I hadn’t heard too many good things about this city. Many people visit Cartagena, to the south, and Santa Marta, to the north. Barranquilla sort of seems like the red-headed step-child of Carribbean Colombian cities. A guy from France told me about how aesthetically displeasing this city is. In a modest tone of defense, I suggested that it was just perhaps more of a working class city. “But it doesn’t have to be that ugly,” was his response. 🙂
Other people had told me how welcome they felt there and raved about the Salsa dancing scene. Apparently, people in Barranquilla never really stop dancing.
Barranquilla is the hometown of a couple of famous ladies. The singer, Shakira, hails from there. I’m not sure what the following song is about. Apparently she hooked her ilium to a polygraph at some point.
Another famous native is actress Sofia Vergara, of Modern Family fame.
(Image taken from Wikipedia. Is that legal?)
I got to the city pretty early, so I tried to see some of the sights. The first thing I looked for was the colorful Barranquilla sign. I had been tipped off to its existence by my host, Eric, back in Charleston, SC. It sits on one of the islands of a confusing diamond interchange, so it took me a few detours to get into position. Additionally, the word “Barranquilla” is so long, that I almost needed to take a panorama. 🙂
(picture at top)
I proceeded to south side of town of town. Down here is the huge soccer stadium, as well as the “statue” of Shakira. The statue is pretty disappointing.
However, Shakira’s reaction is absolutely endearing: “One day I can go to the statue with my children and tell them, ‘Hey, this is apparently your mother, but don’t you think I look better in real life?”
A local guy came up to me and we started chatting. I jokingly said that the statue didn’t look very much like Shakira. He actually sort of leaped to its defense, explaining to me the symbolic importance of it. I felt a little embarrassed about making the comment, but it was neat to see his sense of pride for his city.
After this, I proceeded to my hostel, Casa Aluna. I was greeted by my host, Felix, who is actually from Spain. He described himself as being a living embodiment of the popular Salsa song, “En Barranquilla Me Quedo.” (“I am staying in Barranquilla”)
My roommate was a avid kite-surfer named Luke, who was originally from Quebec. He knew where Nebraska was, since he actually watched the August eclipse in Stapleton.
I had a nice calm evening.
Wednesday, March 7th
I had intended to be up early to start seeing some of the sights, but I basically wasted the whole morning. I realized that I had developed a bit of stationary inertia. It would take me a little time to get back into “adventure mode.” In the afternoon I decided to leave Annie parked and walk around town. I ended up going quite a bit further than I planned, but it was a nice excursion.
At first blush, the city seemed pretty nice to me. There were quite a few park areas and it was relatively clean (for a Latin American city, at least). I walked all the way to Paseo Bolivar, the main drag for local commerce. The itinerary for my trip is pretty ambitious, but I’ve thought of a route that might be even more daunting: Visiting every statue of Simon Bolivar in Latin America.
The paseo was buzzing with activity.
The nature of commerce down here always intrigues me. Indeed, you can buy baby wipes, mentos, socks and phone chargers; all without leaving your car.
These clever vendors know which lights are the longest and pedal their goods to the waiting cars.
Outside of one of the major commerce centers, I watched a guy selling colorful birds. He just smiled patiently as he displayed his pets.
Perhaps it goes without saying, that I didn’t see another foreigner the whole time I was walking. I didn’t feel too unsafe, but I did see a guy snorting cocaine sitting on the sidewalk. He didn’t seemed too inclined to share with me.
I also passed a massive motorcycle graveyard.
On the way back, I stopped by to see the Metropolitan Cathedral. This quality publication has been lacking some church pictures recently, hasn’t it. 🙂 It is more of a modern style, completed in the 50s (I think).
There are no columns on the inside, making for a grand hall.
The altar piece sculpture:
The amount of stained glass was mind-boggling.
I had another calm evening in.
Thursday, March 8th
I still felt like I needed an iconic Barranquilla picture, so I was up early to check out a couple of spots. First, I wanted to see how far I could ride out on Bocas de Ceniza.
A narrow strip of land was built along the Magdalena river in order to try to inhibit sediment accumulation. Because this river carries so much sediment, the biggest ships (like the one that carried Annie to South America) usually dock in Cartagena instead. The ship traffic still seemed pretty big to me.
It is an interesting ride along the embankment. There is an old railroad which you can take out to the very end.
I’m not sure whether it was closed for the season, or if I was just too early. The tracks made for some interesting riding.
I eventually got to a spot where the path ended and only the tracks continued. I could have ridden along the railroad ties, but I was unsure whether I would be able to find a place to turn around.
I decided to turn back, rather than continue on foot.
I decided that I wanted a picture with Shakira and Annie together. It was on the other side of town, but I felt that it was worth the drive. I got to see a “trunk brother” on the way (kind of a nice shot of the stadium too).
The area around the statue was not deserted like I had hoped. I had to take Annie a decent distance on the sidewalk. In the US, this usually evokes strong reactions. Down here, I hardly got a second glance.
Before I even got my tripod set up, a couple of guys approached me. They were my new friends Harold and Leo. I invited them to be part of the pictures. In the first one, I’m laughing since Harold was trying feverishly to get his shirt on by the time the camera snapped.
In the second one, I decided that any picture with Shakira should include exposed midriffs. Leo had time to display a Real Madrid (Spanish soccer club) sticker from his wallet.
I soon found myself video chatting with Harold’s girlfriend (I assume) as well as a half dozen or so other people in the area. Annie can draw a crowd pretty quickly. Harold made an instagram post declaring that he was famous. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I’m just a random Nebraskan. 🙂
I was really enjoying chatting with the guys. I had Harold and Leo take care of crossing off Barranquilla from my sign. I always feel honored when people seem excited to do this. 🙂
What fun people!
I returned to my hostel and walked to the local restaurant for a $2.50 meal.
The bone soup seems to be a staple of almost every Colombian meal.
The hostel, Casa Aluna, is decorated with some nice art.
The artist, Christian, put a nice drawing on Annie.
I asked the owner, Felix if he wanted to sign. He actually declined, saying that he preferred to leave space for other people. He did ask if he could sit on the bike, which is a rare request.
With that, my time in Barranquilla came to an end. What a great place to begin my quest in South America. I can’t wait until “quedo” in Barranquilla again.
Keep your hips honest, everybody.
Realtime update: Quite a few things here. First, a little update about my route. Some of my family members are going to be flying down to Peru so we can go to Machu Pichu together. Unfortunately, the shipping fiasco put me far enough behind that I won’t have time to reach them with Annie. As of now, I’m planning to fly from Quito, Ecuador to Cusco, Peru to unite with them during the last week of March. I’m really looking forward to it!
I’m currently in Medillin, probably for another day or two. I’ll also stop by Bogota, Cali and my next song place Padilla. My spirits are pretty good right now. It’s nice to be rolling again. Thanks for rolling with me.