Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Day 85 - Bogata - Panama airport, cargo terminal

 Distance travelled (by bike): 9730

An early flight leaving bogata, that meant been at the airport at 5am. Having been out the night before, i wasn't in the best of moods. After a heated debate with the check in woman i managed to convince her that a motorbike helmet was not dangerous and does classify as handheld luggage. I was luck enough to be singled out to have a full body scan, having seen the screens it leaves nothing to the imagination, i felt like i should have struck a pose for the four guards watching the screens, instead i did as i was told and was rolled through the scanned on a conveyer belt. 
Arriving at Panama i jumped in a taxi to the cargo terminal. It was now 9am. It was very hot and very humid, bike gear was not the best clothing to be wearing. After locating the office, queuing for what seemed an eternity, when i was only 45 minutes  i was given a wedge of papers with instructions to get them stamped by customs, police and some random office i couldn't translate. This would have been easy, but i had no idea where they were. Once located it was more queues. eventually with the papers stamped i returned to the cargo office. 
Time now 11.30am, and i'm sweating from places i didn't know you could sweat - nice! Another wait to get issued a ticket to pick up the bike…after 2 hours the bike appeared on a metal pallet surrounded by other boxes. Time now 1.30pm. As the cargo people unloaded the boxes it became evident that there was damage to the bike, the numberplate was snapped off and the metal rack that holds the panniers was twisted. I was livid. The manager was called, luckily he spoke english. In his office (which was air conditioned thank god) he told me nothing like this has ever happened before, i need to wait while they take photos and call bogata to see what happened. 
After another 2 hours (now 3.30pm) i was told that the shipping company would relace the numberplate and pay for the rack to be repaired, if it could be. With this news i drove out the cargo department, with one stop before i could get on my way. The customs office, i needed to register the motorbike as an imported vehicle. In every other country this has been quite painless, not so today! The person processing the motorbike was new, and took ages, so long that a storm came and went. Eventually i emerged into what was left of the hot sweaty day ,time now 5.00pm. 
The drivers in Panama city are the worst so far on this adventure, steadily making progess weaving through traffic i made it to the hostel as the sun started to set. Exhausted i collapsed.

an illustration of how the bike should have been transported (same company) one bike per pallet

how the bike was transported, bike plus boxes on pallet

one of the huge amount of decorated buses 

trying to capture the amount of rain while waiting at customs

looking across the roof tops of panama

Monday, March 28, 2011

Day 84 - Bogata

Distance travelled (by bike): 9700

Today was all about getting the motorbike shipped. Arriving at the shipping agents offices, i was told the process would take 4 hours, but knowing from previous experience, i had written off the day. The paperwork took some time, but it really didn't help that my spanish is still poor. Roberto, the agent was excellent and helped with everything. By 1pm, most of the paperwork was done and the bike was safely in the warehouse, after driven it up a make do ramp.
I don't know if i look particularly dodgy, or the anti narcotics police were very bored as they decided they wanted to search the motorbike and all the panniers etc. With 4 police and 2 dogs i emptied the panniers, then every item inside the panniers. At one point i was putting my tent up. After the police got bored or decided they had better things to do they left me, with the papers stamped to repack the bike. 
Papers signed and bike packed i had to pay (cash), that hurt…but the bike is now being shipped to panama at 4am tomorrow.
After most of the day spent in the airport i went for a look around Bogata (historic part) and ended up having dinner with another biker who had done the bike shipping form Panama to Bogata two days ago. 

one of the enormous doors in the historic centre

tiny church

the ramp into the shipping bay 

parked up ready to be shipped

caramelised ants (they don't taste as bad as you think they should)

Day 83 - Medallion - Bogata (via Zipaquira)

Distance travelled (by bike): 9685

Setting of at dawn to get the miles chewed up early, sounded easy, but soon reality hit. The roads are incredibly twisty, in many parts the trucks can't pass each other so you end up with a huge traffic jam. This and the road works meant for slow driving.
Sav - sorry, i got to Pablo Escobar's ranch, i was shut! - i didn't even think about it been sunday when i set off, so reluctantly turned around and carried on.
After hours of driving through the stunning mountains i arrived at Zipaquira, home to the salt cathedral and one of the oldest human settlements in South America.
The cathedral is built 200 metres underground  within the tunnels of a salt mine. Although called a cathedral, it was pointed out that with no bishop, it's just a big church.
There are 14 chapels (representing the stations of the cross), these are not small. Walking down from the entrance you walk passed all the chapels then descending more steps you enter the main nave, this i was told could accommodate 8,000 people, i think that it was an exaggeration. The cathedral is amazing, one of the modern man made wonders of the world!
Leaving later than i thought, i entered Bogata in the dark, when i pulled over and asked the police directions to the hostel i'd been recommended, they told me i shouldn't , under any circumstance, be driving in the dark. So, amazingly, again, the police escorted/led me through Bogata to the hostel gate. 

one of the bridges i crossed on the back roads to zipaquira

looking over one of the valleys


salt cathedral - the main nave

salt cathedral - the main nave

salt cathedral - a small chapel off the nave

looking towards the stairs into the nave

one of the carving in the stations of the cross

number of stations of cross

entrance to the cathedral 

the decent into the main nave

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Day 78/79/80/81/82 - Medellin

Distance travelled (by bike): 9150

Days spent waiting to hear the good or bad news from the BMW dealer, i figured that the more i'm physically in the dealers and calling them the more information i will have and the faster the results, but it seems that this approach doesn't work. We are on south American time, it will be done when its done! - this still didn't stop me pacing inside the dealers. I  ended you helping an american biker called vince change his fuel pump and in return got all the gps maps for central america…hopefully i will be able to use them on the bike and not on a bus. 
Suddenly the bar became a mecca for overland travellers, a guy called John from alabama turned up on his motorbike, followed by mike and sandra on their bikes, then two argentinians in a 4x4. regular get together!
On friday  i was fearing the worst i got a call from the garage saying that they have straightened the forks, and have spoken to a client who has the same model motorbike, and he is willing to sell me (slightly inflated prices and in US$) some of the parts from his bike so i can get moving. If this was ok the bike would be ready the next afternoon.The bike would still needs to go to the dealer in Panama to get the other parts replaced, those parts are in stock or on order, and they will be expecting me on the 1st April! . I agreed, went to the bank and paid the man his money…let work commence! although the fix has been expensive, and more still needed in Panama, if i had to replace the forks, braces, etc. it would have been a small fortune, i was quoted,  approx. $5000 US, not including labour! and i would have to wait 3 weeks for the parts.
After what seems like weeks i picked up the bike today, it was even clean! time to pack up and move on...at last. Next stop Bogota, then Panama where hopefully all the problems will be sorted! 

the ruta 40 BMW garage

botanical park

botanical park

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Day 77 - Medellin

Distance travelled (by bike): 9135

Another day, another BMW dealer. On seeing i had no front suspension and the angle of the handlebars (along with the other damage) the mechanics laughed, asking how far i had ridden like that, when i told them they stopped laughing and told me that i was stupid, but they understood that i needed to get to Medellin and that was the only option. After waiting most of the day i was told that my front forks were bent, but they would try and fix them, a 40% chance it would work. If it didn't it would take 4-6 weeks to get the parts! So now i have to wait with fingers crossed, and make plans for the worst, case scenario.
I met a lot of people in the pub, 4 other bike travellers, (all staying in the pub), all from the states. They were/are trying to get me to join them if they go through russia, china and down to australia. Then we met a guy who was held hostage by the FARC rebels for four years, in isolation. He was a doctor, whilst been held hostage he was given a baby Coatimundi to look after, he still has the Coatimundi as a pet and said that it was the only thing that kept him sane though the ordeal. 

looking into medellin


one of the many statues of large women

Monday, March 21, 2011

Day 76 - Cali - Medellin

Distance travelled (by bike): 9120

Setting of at 5am to beat the heat, rain and traffic, heading north. A long way to Medellin, but the scenery was amazing. The route took me through the main coffee producing region of columbia, i stopped at the national coffee park for breakfast and a sample of the goods.
Back on the bike i was 200km from Medellin when, going around a corner i caught the side stand on the road, resulting in both the bike and I sliding along the road for about 25 metres. Luckily there was no on coming traffic. Some local bikers helped me up and helped to lift the bike out of the drain it slid into. (Lee, i apologise, all the time you spent getting the auxiliary lights to work has been wasted, one of them is now crushed somewhere on the road). The panniers were worn through and now have holes in them, the handlebars are no longer straight and i hope i'm wrong, but the front forks look and feel a bit twisted, resulting in no front suspension! i have a jacket which is now patched up with duck tape. Regardless i drove on, had to get to Medellin, not nice driving.
Approaching the city i got pulled over by the police, after checking my papers they asked me if i wanted to follow them through Medellin to an area with hostels, i jumped at the chance. When the police pulled off i was immediately i was flagged over by a biker, Albert. Albert is scotlish, but owns an irish bar in Medellin, which also has rooms in the back. Accommodation sorted. He also knew a mechanic who could look at the bike the next day, bonus. 

parked in front of the hostel in Cali

looking down the valley over the coffee plantations


one of the new holes in the panniers

parked in the pub!

some of the damage to my jacket, now patched with duck tape

Day 73/74/75 - Cali

Day 73

Having stopped for the day i decided to wash the motorbike, when was driving tho the petrol station i got stopped by the police, more for a chat than anything else, but they asked to see my documents, which i produced. Unfortunately i had not purchased the mandatory columbian insurance, so i was driving illegally. Fortunately the police decided not to fine me and showed my where to purchase the documents. On arriving i filled out the paperwork, only to be told the system was down, come back tomorrow. 
It was then that my clutch cable decide to snap. Arriving back at the hostel the owner, mike (also a biker) helped me to trawl through the local suppliers to try and find a replacement - non found.
Whist planning my next move Mike and i decided to grab a beer and sit on the hostel patio facing the street, all calm…than a motorbike drove passed, the passages suddenly produces a machine gun and shoots three people at the bar next to us and drives off. It happen so quickly it took about a minute to register what we'd seen, another 5 to native the holes in the umbrella above us and the holes in the signs behind. The police turned up in force, but told us it was a mafia, drug related killing and they would never catch anyone. The remainder of the night we were told to stay in the hostel. no problem.

Day 74

Got my insurance, you can only buy 3 months, had to be done but hugely expensive…
When i returned to the hostel Mike told be he had called BMW Bogata and they had the clutch cables in stock and could ship them at the beginning of the week, would take 2-3 business days to arrive. On hearing this i decided, maybe a little hastily that the best/easiest and quickest way to fix the bike would be for me to fly to Bogata, so decision made, flights booked, taxi ordered off i went to Bogata. Arriving i got taxi to BMW picked up the parts then on to a hostel for the night.

Day 75

Bogata airport is been refurbished, big problems, big delays…the plane back to Cali arrived late morning. From the rain in Bogata i was greeted with more rain and 33 degree heat. With some help i managed to replace the cable. By this point it was to late to set off…tomorrow.

one of the bullet holes in the sign behind me