…but hopefully with at least slightly more personality. 🙂 In this post, we finish up in Medellin, visit the spectacular El Peñol de Guatape, find a riding partner and just miss seeing a peacock explosion.
Monday, March 12th
I had two main goals for my time in Medellin: Get my oil changed and get vaccinated for yellow fever. I decided to focus on myself first and went looking for a place to get my shot.
I asked one of the people at the hostel and they recommended starting at the red cross building. They didn’t offer the vaccination there, but a lady was super helpful and made a couple of phone calls on my behalf. She sent me on my way with the address for a clinic in hand.
Riding in the downtown in the middle of the day was a real nightmare. I stopped a couple times, was helped by locals and eventually found the place for the vaccinations. They told me that they were basically done giving the shot for the day, but to come back very early in the morning.
Leebong had now checked into the same hostel as me and we went for lunch. As the waitress was giving us our options, I really only understood one word: Tilapia. That sounded like a safe bet. Perhaps I should have asked for it “sin la cabeza.” (without the head)
Tuesday, March 13th
I spent the day working on getting an oil change for Annie. Normally this is not something to worry about, but it caused me some consternation. First of all, my model is pretty rare in Latin America. 95% of bikes are 200cc or less.
Secondly, I had never taken Annie to a mechanic before. I have taken in wheels to have tires changed, but in our 53k miles together, I’ve never left her in a stranger’s hands. I should probably admit, this is more a factor of her reliability than of my competency as a mechanic. 🙂
I began at a shop that was well reviewed. It turned out to be Yamaha dealer. They strongly recommended that I take the bike to a Honda dealer rather than a random shop. I navigated through a confusing maze of three different Honda dealers before finally finding the one that could do the oil change.
Annie was a big hit. I think the majority of the mechanics stopped what they were doing to come look at her. This guy appeared to be giving a lecture about my trip:
After putting her on a figurative pedestal, they put her on a literal one.
It was nice that she was in the first bay, so I could sit by the window and pretend like I was not watching their every move. 🙂
I was a little surprised by the price: $57. The oil (of which Annie takes almost 4 quarts) was about $10/quart. But it was full synthetic and wet clutch safe, so I can’t complain. They had the filter in stock too.
Furthermore, to this point I had spent less than $10 on mechanical expenses during this chapter (just brake pads and a few bolts after my crash). Central America is notoriously tough on vehicles, so I’ve had ridiculously good fortune thus far. Annie continues to personify her “tough chick” namesake.
All told, it was a fairly pleasant experience for my first time at a shop. I had another fun connection at the shop, meeting a guy named Carlos.
He walked around with me for awhile and helped me try to find some bolts that I was needing. We exchanged info and agreed to meet up later.
That night, I got to meet Leebong at a Korean restaurant that was close to our hostel. Everyone knows that Colombia is where you go for the best Korean food.
It was a great meal and I even got to hear him speak in his native language for once.
Wednesday, March 14th
I was up at around 5:30am since I wanted to be in line early to get my yellow fever vaccine. I had stopped in a couple of days prior, but was told that an early arrival was necessary, at least if you want to get it for free. I had been bounced around to a bunch of different offices, so here is the actual location:
…and the entrance:
I parked in the same lot that I used previously and was almost greeted like I was a regular. Annie is pretty unforgettable. I walked around the corner to find a long line. It wasn’t even 6:30am yet. After about an hour of waiting, we were brought inside and lined up. One of the staff members gave a very long, passionate speech about the process. He was facing away from me, talking very rapidly and using lots of medical terminology. I probably only understood about 10% of what he said.
At the conclusion of his speech, both the people ahead and behind me in line checked with me to make sure I knew what was going on. Apparently, I had that classic “confused gringo” look all over my face. They stopped the staff person and inquired about what I would need. This was so nice of them.
Normally a plane ticket is required, but I would just need my passport and one copy of it. I was given a number and told to return at 10am. I was almost in disbelief that they weren’t going to make me wait there all morning. Where am I!? This is not how Latin America works!
I used the time to get a great $2.50 breakfast…
…and see some of the sights around town.
(Note: I will always photograph flying buttresses.)
I walked around Plaza Boltero which has all of these misshapen sculptures.
Apparently they are aesthetically pleasing to some people.
Just a reminder to not do steroids.
I returned to the office and got the shot which was almost completely painless. Bring it on, mosquitoes!
I stopped by where Annie was parked and talked with the staff there some more. The lot would appear full, but more cars and motorcycles would enter. They would move some vehicles around and eventually make more space. It was kind of fun to watch them in action. We had some really nice chats.
I walked to a museum called “The House of Memories,” which focused on some of the darker days of Medellin’s history. In the early 90s, Time magazine called it “the most dangerous city in the world.” At one point, the Medellin cartel, led by Pablo Escobar, supplied 80% of the cocaine in the United States. A perfect storm of cartel wars, paramilitary organizations, corrupt politicians and booming population growth devastated the city.
That is not the Medellin that I saw. This place has grown and changed rapidly in the last decade. The people have taken this city back and thoroughly transformed it. There are still some neighborhoods that are struggling, but this city is a shining example of how a seemingly hopeless situation can be transformed.
That night, I had to say goodbye to Leebong. He was going to be staying longer in Medellin to get the windshield of his car fixed. Knowing that I had an early morning, I actually missed an opportunity to go salsa dancing with him. I think I already regret it. 😦
Thursday, March 15th
Beware the ides of March!….sounds like a good day to get back on the road. 🙂
(this is just the approximate route, the actual path was even more undulating)
I loaded up and left the comfy garage at my hostel.
My new friend Carlos (whom I had met at the mechanic) had agreed to go look at a rock. Sounds fun, right? 🙂 Luckily, this was not just any rock. This was El Peñol de Guatape, a true geological wonder.
We agreed to meet at a gas station at the north side of town. Google maps was confused about what side of the divided highway it was on. Thankfully, a nice gentleman toting a sack of onions on the back of his Pulsar (little, cheap motorcycle) set me straight. I became a minor celebrity at the gas station during my short wait for Carlos.
Carlos rides a Honda CB160.
I just love this bike, maybe because a CB160 was my first bike (though mine was a 1966…your first bike should always be older than you). I really wish they sold these kinds of bikes in the US. This is what every rider should start on. Instead, most people usually choose something that is either too heavy for their strength or too fast for their judgement.
Our leisurely ride started with some driving, cold rain. Carlos was just wearing a long sleeved shirt, so I was able to share my rain jacket with him. He asked if I might have room for his backpack in my luggage. I just laughed and opened the lid of my portal to Dimension X (this may be the way I refer to my trunk henceforth).
Once the rains cleared, we had a nice, curvy ride.
About ten miles away, the rock came into view. Even though I had seen plenty of pictures of it, I was still impressed. Absolutely imposing.
This is from closer up:
We paid the parking fee ($2) and parked near the foot of the behemoth.
The fee to climb to the top was about $6. How can you say no to this?
About half way up, my trunk was still visible. 🙂
It was not just the rock that was so impressive. The surrounding countryside was indescribably gorgeous: Abundant lakes, diving slopes, forests, crops.
Each 25th step is painted with its number.
I think it was 650-ish to the top. Summit!
(thanks for the pic, Carlos)
It was so nice to have my new friend along. I have to admit, Carlos spoke a type of Spanish that was really hard for me to understand. It still surprises me how much my comprehension varies person-to-person. Still, he was super patient with me and threw in a few English words here and there.
He had only been here once, when he was young, so I think he was glad to get an excuse to visit it again. Carlos works in computer technology and has a real desire to travel. I hope we are able to travel together for a longer time in the future.
View from the urinal:
The stairway down was a different set of stairs.
Don’t you just expect to see David Bowie walking along at some abstract angle?
The first guy to reach the top:
(not Carlos…the other guy)
We took the bikes over to another little overlook.
Carlos captured my look when I’m explaining my trip:
One of my favorite things about Carlos was that he kind of scolded me for the general uncleanliness of my bike. Not just the aesthetic parts, put things like the radiator and the reflectors. He did it out of love. 🙂
We rode a short distance and grabbed a great lunch.
We rode together for a bit longer before splitting up at Rionegro. I truly hope our paths cross again!
Next, I made a mistake. I didn’t really have a place picked out for the night, nor my route to get there. I should have taken some time to plan while I had a good data signal. Instead I pushed on along what appeared to be the shortest route.
Apparently, I also think that a slinky is shorter than a twisty tie. The map doesn’t always tell the full story.
The pavement ended at Retiro, leaving me with a rocky, bumpy, winding path.
It was obviously a low maintenance road, but I can’t complain. I’ve seen worse.
This is probably about as adventurous as I will get with river crossings:
As much as Annie and I both got beaten up on this road (she lost a luggage bolt), I can’t really say that I regret it. I got to see some amazing scenery that most tourists don’t have a chance to take in.
I was really thankful when blacktop returned. It was a perfectly curvy road running high above the valley below.
With cell signal back, it looked like I could reach La Pintada. I figured there would be some lodging options there. At the edge of town, I saw a peacock carelessly running down the middle of the road. He almost got hit by a couple of trucks, so I did my best to scare him off of the road.
…although seeing a peacock getting hit by a truck could be a true explosion of color.
I felt uneasy right away in La Pintada. The sun was setting and most of the hotels were right on the main drag. I felt that the looks I was getting were beyond curiosity. I went to the edge of town and investigated a couple of options. By the time I got to the second, darkness had fully fallen. I decided I would have to take what they had to offer, regardless of price.
The lady at the desk told me that their cheapest room was 50,000 pesos ($18). Being that it was more of a resort, I asked about camping. The lady said that was allowed as long as I had my own tent. She questioningly said 20,000, directing her response to the owner who was on the other side of the room. He told me that the price would be 30,000 ($11).
Perhaps my skin color played a role, but this was a gambit on his part. He could tell that I was considering the room. Surely I would not refuse it for the paltry disparity of $7, right? Future hotel owners would be wise not to underestimate my cheapness. 🙂
I set up my maroon cocoon and had a delightful night of rest in the fresh air.
Pictures from next morning:
I was even visited by some friendly goats in the morning. I like goats almost as much as I dislike monkeys. They just seem like such an efficient animal.
Alright! I’m over my word quota! These days were just great. Not rocky in the least. 🙂
Keep imposing, everybody.
Realtime update: It’s almost time to bid adios to Colombia. I’m leaving Cali tomorrow morning, headed towards a place called Las Lajas which is near the Ecuador border.
Today I experienced possibly the most trepidation that I’ve felt on the whole trip. In the end, though, it was an amazing experience. Sorry to tease, but I’m eager to write about it. 🙂