Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Adv #7 Continued: Finishing in Colombia

I'm here in Cartagena, Colombia!

Back in February, I arrived in Ushuaia, the southernmost point in South America, and here we are in December looking out over the Caribbean Sea. Having ridden South America now from bottom to top with a bunch of zig-zags in between....the continent has certainly left an impression on me.

My departure from Medellin a couple of weeks ago gave me more opportunities to see this fantastic country of Colombia. There is huge potential for tourism here, I am certain I'll be returning soon (in fact, I have some tourism work & plans lined up with a couple of guys I met here.)

The downside to this last portion of my ride though is that not many pictures turned because of the "La Nina" weather system this year and Colombia being pounded by rain every day. The result while riding is that I don't want to take the camera out in the rain, and when the rain finally stops, the lens fogs up so badly my pictures don't even turn out. Really though, the pictures aren't that important to me. These are images that will be in my mind for a long time to come.

I finished the cargo preparations for my motorcycle, and confirmed my flight; tomorrow I’ll be in Miami. Tomorrow I’ll be in the United States??? That feels very strange to say, having not been there for 2 years now.

(Puppers above, chewing on my turn signal while sniffing for cocaine. I have never, ever seen a more "happily employed" character than these drug-sniffing dogs. They are given a tennis ball with a little cocaine in it to help remind them what they're looking for, and I swear, some of that coke must be seeping through onto their tongues. Below: Anti-narcotics officers want to ride the big KTM, too.)

What's running through my head right now.....

Needless to say, I'm very much looking forward to seeing friends and family again. I also wonder if this is going to be "shocking" in any way, returning to my home country after all this time. At the very least, I look forward to blending in a bit better again. Must say, I've had enough of being stared at.

Feels like I've been watching what's going on in the U.S. from the outside, actually catching much of my news from Facebook. Seeing what friends are doing and saying about the issues of the day.

A million little thoughts, some happy and some sad are racing through my mind. For the most part I’m definitely a little choked up just writing this. The past couple of weeks moved very slowly with the ridiculous motorcycle shipping process, so my work on the project has been minimal.

As I walked through Cartagena tonight scouting out my dinner options, I’m thinking a little about “what if I had never lost my job in Atlanta?” Or, “what if I hadn’t bought my motorcycle, and instead just flew to California for my job with Suntrek?” “What if I had never met Peter, and never rode down here to South America?” It’s somewhat silly to even ponder such variables, but in moments like this, it’s unavoidable. “What could or should I have done differently while I was here?” “Instead of just changing my life, could I have done more to help others?” Again, silly to ponder…but….those are the thoughts and impulses that are coming to mind.

One things's for sure though: I wouldn't trade these experiences for anything else in the world.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Adv #7's thirteenth and final country: Colombia

2 Years Ago Today!

December 1st, 2008 is when I crossed the border from Arizona into Mexico, and I haven't been back in the U.S. since. Just a couple of months before that, I had started what I was calling "Adventure #7" at the top of the west coast in Washington State where my plan was just to ride down the coast to the Mexican border and finish Adventure #7. Well, 2 years and 13 countries later....I'm now in my final country on this trip: Colombia. I'd be lying if I said it didn't choke me up a bit the moment I crossed into this country...

Enough with that, and onto this fabulous country that the world does not know enough about.

It needs to be said that, "our impressions of Colombia need to be updated." Absolutely, this was a dangerous country for many of the past 40 or so years. The citizens of Colombia were as afraid of the FARC as anyone else in the world was, and our impressions of Colombia from movies and media were completely justified. But in 2002, they elected Alvaro Uribe as president, and Colombia has been turned around dramatically ever since then. (Uribe is credited with practically removing all guerillas and FARC from the face of the planet.) While there are rumors about small groups still operating high in the mountains, the only semi-monthly news anyone seems to hear these days about the FARC is that "another one of them was eliminated."

I'm sure I'll write more about Colombia sometime, but for now, let's get to the pictures below:

Above, the Sanctuary Las Lajas, just across the border from Ecuador. What a great first impression of beauty upon entering Colombia! Normally I'd say I've seen enough churches and cathedrals in all my travels, but the setting and design of this one is absolutely worth a visit. Below, just more of what the Pan America highway looks like when entering Colombia. BEAUTIFUL!

I made my way to Cali, and had the chance to meet with Mikkel Thomsen, a Danish guy that's been living and managing his motorcycle renting/touring business there for a few years now. He also does quad/ATV tours as well, and as the photos show, some friends of his had a farm-type property that was available for our riding pleasure. Just a little mud out there, as his cousin Thomas steams his way through some water in the photo below.

There was actually quite a group of riders there, as the guy that invited us was hosting a barbeque, too. - Kids riding quads: Is it possible to see an expression like that and not love life? This little ripper was so happy, buzzing around the farm all day, stopping only when her quad did.

On through the beautiful countryside (and I'm not just saying that.....Colombia is BEAUTIFUL!) I made my way through the area of Armenia to a town called Salento, considered to be at the heart of the coffee-country in Colombia.

A few nights in Salento gave me the chance to meet some other great travelers, go on hikes, and of course tour a couple of working coffee plantations in the area. A place called The Plantation House runs a great 2-hour tour every day that's very informative, and walks us through the working parts of what it takes to grow and prepare coffee. Including all the sampling going on, I saw tourists walking and talking their way around Salento MUCH faster than they normally would. Pretty funny to see everyone so jacked up on caffeine.

My 2nd day there, I joined about a dozen other tourists for a Jeep ride up into the Cocora Valley and a half-day hike. Standing on the back of the Jeep with some now-famous girl from Salento, this was a great chance to get into deep into the rainforest atmosphere.

AGAIN, surprised by the amount of responsibility that South America seems to put on the shoulders of the tourists....WOW was this a rigorous hike! A slippery and deeply mudded path hugged the rivers and waterfalls all the way up through the valley, and most of the time all you had to hang onto was this barbed-wired fence for support. Then when getting more into the jungle, there's no way to swim safely across the rushing river, so the National Park Service put out these nicely gapped and unsteady bridges for us to wobble across.

The Cocora Valley hike finishes with the highlight of seeing the Wax Palms, known as the tallest palm trees in the world. In the rolling hillside leading us back down to Salento, this is a fantastic hike that I highly recommend.

I write this now from Medellin, having spent some time here getting to know folks and enjoying the fantastic and fun district called "El Poblado." If you're looking for nightlife...and don't mind seeing the occasional pretty girl.....Medellin is certainly worth a visit.

Off to Cartegena now : )