Posted on February 4, 2015
Nearly nine months have passed since Alex and I rode through the gates of Ushuaia realizing our goal of riding from San Francisco to the end of the world. When we got back people wanted to know what our favorite country was or the best experience of the trip and what I found was that it was hard to put this trip into the mini sound-bites people wanted to hear. Yes I have a favorite country from the trip, I have places I would like to go back and places I don’t ever want to go back, but they are all a part of one massive undertaking Alex and I completed.
Another thing that I think people want to hear is that you had a life altering spiritual experience that has moved the clouds of doubt from your life and everything is clear now. Unfortunately, for me, that was not the case. I’m not saying that this trip hasn’t changed me, it most certainly has, but in small ways I see in my every day life.
On the adventure to getting our bikes back from the shipping container (story to follow) a fellow biker and I found ourselves on the long road to LA talking about our trips and the experiences. One comment that he had was that he could remember every day of his trip distinctly for one reason or another, but since being back the weeks blended together and he could hardly remember what happened last week let alone a couple weeks ago. I find the same occurrence in my own life. I can run through almost every day of the trip in my head, but often forget what I did last week. It’s because during “Autopista End” every day was a new experience or a new place. I need that in my life now because at the end of it all, I won’t remember any given weekend I spent watching Netflix but I will remember crashing in Cusco.
The other thing I learned was that I needed to stop procrastinating with the goals in my life and need to take steps, even little ones, every day in achieving what I want. I don’t want to wake up twenty years from now saying that the best thing I did in my life was the Autopista End trip. I need something more than that.
Alex and I have talked about the phenomenon of the “Bucket List” in recent years and how you will overhear people saying, quite literally on a daily basis, “oh I am putting that on my bucket list”. I don’t have a bucket list anymore, if there is something I really want to do, I am going to find a way of doing it, of taking some step toward accomplishing it. It doesn’t mean it will happen this month or this year even, but if I keep taking steps toward it I will eventually succeed or realize it wasn’t what I really wanted. I would rather die in the process of achieving a goal than with a list of a bunch of dreams I never even attempted to realize.
This trip has changed me in ways I can’t really put into words and there are still some days where I think it was all a dream, that Alex and I are still planning this crazy idea we had so many months ago.
I would like to thank everyone that followed our blog, left us comments or helped us along the way. I would like to thank my Mom, for teaching me that “I can do anything, it may take me longer, but I will get there” and my Dad for keeping my imagination alive and young. But most all I want to thank Alex Washburn for without which this trip wouldn’t have happened. She is an amazing person that I have been fortunate enough to share my life with.
Posted on January 30, 2014
After Bogota it was like Willie Nelson said “on the road again”, the miles just keep coming and we are going with them. From Bogota we were headed for Tatacoa (the desert we thought we were going to with the KLR riders), but ended up passing on through (a longer story of how we got lost and would have had to cross a river on a dingy is involved, but we wont go there) and kept on the road. It went Bogota, Espinal, La Plata, Popayan, Pasto, 500+ miles of riding to get to the border and into Ecuador.
The only glitch was in looking at Google maps and not realizing that even if a road is listed as a highway it might just in fact be a dirt, rock, pothole road that stretches on for 75 miles. That was the day of riding when we went from La Plata to Popayan, at the beginning of which Alex famously said:
“I think it will be all paved today.”
The scenery of Colombia has been just amazing, but it is hard to focus on when your going ten miles an hour and getting bounced all over the place. Imagine riding on a road that is going through middle earth (J.R.R. Token’s Middle Earth), the scenery is amazing, but I don’t think those hobbits put a lot of effort into smooth roads for their wagons. The next day was an exhilarating ride through the Andes to Pasto, at some points literally riding on the side of mountains and dodging trucks trying to get to a warm bed and a hot meal (because a warm shower is a little to much to hope for).
The next morning it was up early and off to the border, with a stop on the way at Las Lajas, where there is a cathedral built into the side of a mountain over a river. I had seen pictures before we got there, however the site impresses regardless the way few sites really do compared to photos.
As we pulled up to the parking lot, I saw another KLR with a trailer and the driver approached me before I even made it into a slot. The pilot is a Norwegian named Jørgen who is planning to ride to the tip of South America by the end of the year. He bought the KLR in Colombia, it had been in the country way beyond the allowed time and so he was heading to the border as well, with a plan to just drive across and then walk back and get a stamp before heading to Ecuador (the plan worked by the way).
After this is was time for lunch (cuy, which is a large guinea pig) and then off to another border crossing and our 11th country of the trip!
We made it to a little town called Otavalo, which was rumored to have a massive market on Saturdays. As we cruised into town it was apparent the rumors were true, as almost every street in the centro had stalls selling everything from bracelets and textiles, to food and spices. We high-tailed it to a hostel and then headed out to the markets to see what we could find.
The market covers most of the downtown, with the main square having many stalls that are stationary and then tons of tarps thrown up to create many nomad stalls. We spent the majority of the day watching all the gringos shopping and haggling with the vendors. While the market does cover a tremendous amount of space, most of the wears start to blur together without a tremendous amount of variety if you aren’t interested in textiles of some sort.
In the evening we met up with Jørgen who had made it to Otavalo and ended up having a meal of delicious street food: tamales, empanads, meat kebabs, and a hot strawberry drink to help fight off the chill at such a high altitude. A couple hours of good conversation with a fellow traveler before it was time to hit the sack for another riding day.The morning came and we rode at of Otavalo, headed to the middle of the earth (literally). There is a monument just north of Quito (elevation 9,350 ft) that marks Latitude 0, the exact center of the world, where you can stand in the northern and southern hemispheres simultaneously. The monument itself isn’t really impressive, and they have tried to do a good job of adding other attractions to keep peoples interests, but I wasn’t too worried about recouping the stiff $3.00 entrance fee.
What really struck Alex and I was that we had ridden from California to the center of the world. It marked a milestone in the trip and we were happy that we had done it together (without killing each other…yet). There are still miles to go and adventures to be had, but for the rest of the day we basked in accomplishment, now officially in the southern hemisphere.
Posted on January 23, 2014
Riding into Bogota, the capital of Columbia, was nothing like I expected. A few days earlier we had cruised into Bucaramanga, which you enter via mountain roads that give a view of the entire city as you crest them. This is what I expected when coming into Bogota, a city of 6.73 million people, but as Alex and I entered the city the limits, the city only slowly grew up around us.
In what reminded us of LA, and to a lesser extent Sacramento, Bogota is expansive, a main city built years ago that was expanded in the following decades. LA is 503 square miles, and Bogota is 613, which should give you an idea of how far it stretches. In a normal city the streets from north to south and east to west will be labeled Calle and Carrera, think street and avenue, and wont normally go past twenty or thirty. At the beginning of where Alex and I started we were at Calle 222, and we needed to get to Calle 9.
Bogota brings together quaint neighborhoods, dirty trash heaps, museums, universities, street vendors, and churches in a way few other capital cities we have visited do. In La Candelaria, where our hostel was located (side-note: Musicology Hostel is one of the best hostels we have stayed at on this trip. The staff are friendly, the vibe is chill, and you can park a motorcycle in the entrance!) is the historic old town, full of churches and museums. It has a smaller town feel, until you ascend the church on Monserrate and get a full view of the city and how far it reaches.
While there could be many associations with Bogota, the City of Museums should be one. Within a six block radius of our hostel, there were at least five museums, and probably more that I am not aware of. There is the Military Museum, the Botero Museum, but the most prominent would be the Gold museum, which show cases gold workings from all over Colombia and easily has over 6,000 pieces on display. It can get a little overwhelming by the end and there are three sold floors of exhibits to peruse, though I was told Pablo Escobar’s gold Harley Davidson would be there and was slightly disappointed when I didn’t see it.
Bogota is located in a high plateau situated in the Andes mountain range, which means that it was a bit on the cold side even though it is middle of summer in South America. What helped to take the chill off was a local dish to the region, hot chocolate with cheese and bread with butter. We were a bit confused on how to eat the dish and ended up just dipping the cheese in the hot chocolate and nibbling on it only to find out later that you’re supposed to mix the cheese in and let it melt a little while you eat the bread and then drink the chocolate with the melted cheese inside of it.
As Alex mentioned in her previous post, there is a plethora of street food in Bogota, and many restaurants serving up traditional favorites such as Ajiaco (Colombian chicken soup) and tamals (think Mexican Tamales, but cooked in plantain leaves and considerably bigger with a softer form of masa). We weren’t left wanting once again for restaurants, but it is still hard to find good places among all the mediocrity, however asking locals and police officers never fails to produce results.
Bogota is so expansive you couldn’t ever explore all of it, from the historic downtown, to the more modern financial district (that has a building that at night would put Las Vegas to shame), to the outskirts with its apartments and neighborhoods. Alex and I enjoyed our time in Bogota, and thought it was the city that most surprised us thus far on the trip. Sure it is big and loud, like most capital cities, but there are treasures to be had if you put in the time to find them — and have a really great hostel to stay at!
Posted on January 17, 2014
A.T.T.C.C. is A Tale of Two Colonial Cities. Colombia has two well known towns that are colonial to the bone, both well preserved since their founding and now a days keeping up appearances for tourists. The older of the two is Villa de Leyva founded in 1572 and the baby brother is Barichara founded in 1705. Both are promoted by Lonely Planet and as they are within driving distance (and on our way to Bogota) we decided to do a back to back comparison.
Barichara is located in the hills above San Gil, sitting atop a plateau that overlooks a dry valley below with a river running through. The landscape between San Gil and Barichara is pastoral bliss and once your in the town, it reminds one of the hills in Tuscany (our what I imagine they are like). The streets are cobblestone, but they have been cemented together, and though most likely slick when wet, it makes driving around on a motorcycle pleasant.
There is the sense that this isn’t just a tourist trap, but a real town nestled in the Colombian countryside. There are not an overwhelming amount of restaurants or knickknack shops, though there are more than enough cafes for some reason (this also is the case in Villa de Leyva). However, you see tons of locals on the streets, or sitting on stoups at night enjoying the country living.
Villa de Leyva
On a dusty road off of Highway-62, between San Gil and Bogota, in a high valley lies Villa de Leyva. The valley, unlike the aird environment of Barichara, is lush and the ride reminded Alex of the hills in Switzerland. The whole town revolves around the Plaza Mayor, which is one of the largest in the Americas and does feel impressive when you stand in the middle.
White washed walls prevail throughout the town, and like Barichara, the architecture is consistent throughout. Villa de Leyva does have a feeling of being more developed, many cafes and trinket shops along with jewelry stores and clothing shops line the inner streets and near the outskirts there are shops where locals would do their shopping.
The streets are cobblestone too, however laid in the traditional style, which makes driving a motorcycle on them…interesting. Upon entering town, Alex and I ended up going down a one way, the wrong way, and were told by cops to turned around. This is easier said than done on cobblestone, and an elderly gentleman came running up and helped pull us both backwards so we could turn around.
The town is about twice as big as Barichara, but there aren’t any more restaurants as one might expect. As in most smaller towns, stores tend to close early, and that might leave you without many options for dinner if you don’t plan ahead.
Lush, cobbley, and far from the bright lights of Bogota, it is a great escape from the larger cities, though the high altitude may have you reaching for a jacket instead of the sunscreen.
Both towns have hits and misses, Alex prefers Villa de Layva and I was more partial to Barichara. The best advice would be to hit up one or the other that fits best into your itinerary and then know that you got most of the experience of the other.
Posted on January 14, 2014
Our first full day in Colombia (and our FOUR YEAR anniversary!) was spent running all over Cartagena trying to legally enter the country with our motorcycles. Six o’clock came early, and Alex rolled over in her bed and gave her cheeriest “Good Morning Jesse!”, as he we sleeping in the bunk underneath me. He didn’t loose a step and replied back with his patented “Hey Buddy!”, as we all got up and got ready to get the bikes off the boat.A twenty minute walk landed us back on the Cartagena docks just as Captain Ludwig and crew were pulling off in their dingy. All safely back on board the Stahlratte, we loaded panniers and collected our gear, getting ready for the “floating dock” that was going to carry us to land. A little waiting around, and then all the sudden bikes were flying through the air and we were all magically on a piece of floating metal, one tip over and Alex would have been in the ocean as Ken’s massive GS1200 was right next to her.
All disasters avoided, we got the bikes on land, and Nico realized he had forgotten his keys back at the hostel. No big deal, Ken borrowed a rope from the crew, tied it around the GS1200 and off we went to Aduana (customs), no passports, no insurances, not legally in the country, just seven bikes, one being towed.
To condense the next seven hours, the fixer that the boat hired to help us through costumes was late, so we went back and forth from the hostel and didn’t get to leave Aduana until 12:30 (supposedly when lunch was happening), this confirmed to Alex and I that we can do the boarders just fine on our own. A quick stop back at the docks to get the rest of our panniers and gear and then off to buy insurance. It was a full day of bureaucracy (and here we thought it was going to be easy).
Finally done with our list of chores, we headed back to the hostel through the gritty grueling Cartagena traffic. Ken and Diana ride two up on a GS1200, and with all the gear they are as big as some of the taxis we have seen. A taxi kept trying to edge into Ken’s lane and and Ken finally showed him what he thought about that by landing his size 13 boot into the cabs door. Jesse and I looked on thinking that we might have a brawl on our hands in the middle of the street, our ragtag ‘biker gang’ versus the taxis of Cartagena. Luckily it didn’t come to that and we all got back to the hostel without harm, no worse for the wear.
Our last day in Cartagena we all went on a walking tour of the city, before Jesse and I split off to do some motorcycle supply shopping. The rest of the day was filled with bike maintenance, chain cleaning, and laughs, with a little bitter sweet realization that we would be parting ways soon. A fellow traveler had shown the group a picture of a BLT earlier in the day, and Alex spearheaded our last meal together. We had a BLT party, real comfort food for a group of weary road warriors.
The next day saw bags packed, bikes loaded, and handshakes all around. We all had to get out of Cartagena, so five bikes, minus Nico, rode through the packed streets desperately trying to escape the city before the heat got out of control and the traffic started. Accomplishing neither of these goals, we finally got out one very long hour later.
After escaping the city limits of Cartagena we stopped at a roadside restaurant for one last meal together before the 5 remaining bikes split into two.
Ken, Diana, and Taylor were off to Medellín, but Jesse mentioned he was up for taking the alternate route with us to Bucaramanga (an Instagram follower mentioned that the roads around Bucaramanga have some of the best scenery in Colombia, but more on that later) and we soon split off, Jesse leading the way as he has GPS.
Two long days of riding followed, as our trio headed to Bucaramanga. The landscape was unimpressive compared to what we have ridden through in the past, and some close calls with gas (literally drove through a town where all the gas is sold by people from gallon jugs) were the mainstays of the riding. The one noteworthy part of the ride was that Alex and I have now earned our truck passing badges, as we passed at least a hundred trucks on our way to the city.
Jesse commented, in between drags off his cigarette, that:
“You know when you think about it — a lot of what we are doing is legitimately dangerous”
To us it is just another day on the road.
We finally made it to Bucaramanga just as the last rays of light crested the mountains and found a safe place for the bikes and ourselves. Exhausted from days ride, we grabbed a quick bite and then headed to bed (Alex and I without showers- oh our poor dorm mates). The next day Alex and I were headed for San Gil and Jesse was rolling out to a hostel owned by some friends he met in Medellín. We shook hands with our final travel companion and watched him take off on his DR650.In a lot of ways this has been a trip of goodbyes just as much as of beginnings. We have had to say goodbye to family, friends, places, hostels, always on road to new beginnings. I know it is cheesy, but I don’t care, there is a lyric from the song ‘Closing Time’ by Semisonic “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end” and I thought about that when Alex and I hit the road, AutopistaEnd once again.
Not knowing what to expect heading to San Gil, and only knowing it by suggestion, we headed into a deep valley. Expecting to see trees and foliage we were shocked when the landscape turned arid, spotted with cactus that reminded us of Mexico.
Then we were suddenly in the middle of what I can only describe as the Grand Canyon of Colombia. We climbed and climbed, zigzagging through the canyon, trying to avoid the trucks as we took in the picturesque scenery. Alex and I both agree that it ended up being one of the top five rides of the trip thus far, so we are very thankful for the suggestion that came from our instagram follower!
Now in San Gil, recharging the batteries and getting ready for more adventures and friends to come.
To everyone we have meet along the way, we are richer for it.