Day 53 – Cali to Inza Colombia

The day started off badly, but in the end, was one of my favorites.

Dachary woke up in a grump from last night, and our “personal communications” weren’t particularly spectacular, especially after we spent a lot of time debugging the latest version of the iPad magazine app (still broken). And figuring out where exactly we were going at Tierradentro because Dachary discovered there were multiple sites and we wanted to be sure we were going to the right place.

It turns out there are multiple sites but they’re all relatively close and connected by trails, although you probably won’t be able to hit them all in a day.

Anyway, we go down to the bikes, pack them up, and once they open the garage door, I ride up the 45 degree ramp… which we kind-of had to approach form the side. No biggie, just had to be careful to not hit the pedestrians as you come flying out the top. Dachary came next, but didn’t quite get the throttle / clutch balance right, and fearing she’d stall it if she let out the clutch too much ended up giving it lots of revs that didn’t go anywhere except over.. on top of her, and the wall.

I heard it over the headset but couldn’t see anything “are you ok?” “No. Help!” I threw down the kickstand and came running, but by the time I’d gotten there three men were lifting her bike off of her. I helped roll it down the ramp (in gear because i was on the wrong side) then, because Dachary was standing and brushing herself off, had one hold it while I hopped on and ran it up and out.

She whacked her left arm on something, put a small hole in her left glove “Yay glove!” I said, because it’s much better than a small hole in her left hand. The plastic corner of her pannier that was slightly pulled away and fixed with stickers was now being held in primarily by the adhesive we put on the neoprene liners. Her left mirror broke off. And, her poor wind deflector thing popped off the windshield and broke into three pieces. We’ll try JB welding that but i don’t have much hope.

More stickers please...

She walked to the top, deflector pieces and mirror in hand, and set about fixing things. Opening the pannier and pulling out one of the two spare mirror screw/mount things we’d brought since it’s a horrible design and pretty much everyone who takes our bike on an overland trip ends up breaking one or two mirrors off. I helped with that and she set about re-stickering the pannier.

Mostly, I tried to stay out of the way and let her work because she probably had about a quart of adrenaline pumping through her, was probably mentally frazzled already, and setting about a nice simple task like that was probably the best thing she could do.

We set out, found our selves inexplicably on the easiest road to the only real road out of town where we dodged busses, horse drawn carts (in the fast lane), motos, and mini trucks that struggled to do thirty without any load until eventually we were free of Cali.

Neither of us have a high opinion of it. Dachary’s is probably colored by the ass-hole calling her fat, but I didn’t really see much of it that gave me a great vibe or made me want to hang out longer. Bogota though…. Bogota gave us both a great vibe.

Unexpected soup

Anyway… we headed south and decided that while adventure riders take the dirt road all the way there we wouldn’t make it today if we did because of our late start, so instead we took what tierradentrao.info said was the “recommended” way and should be paved 90% of the way. We figured we could take the dirt road back when we left since I really wanted to do it.

Now, either the author of tierradentro.info has never been there, or I totally misremembered because I would swear that it said that it was paved all the way to Inza when in fact, it’s paved to just past Totoró which is about 25 of the 93 kilometers here. After that it’s almost entirely dirt. [Update now that we have net: I totally misremembered, but they were optimistic too]

It is also the most extraordinarily beautiful road we’ve ever ridden on. There are still some parts I’m kicking myself for not pulling over and taking pictures of; parts where I was saying “what is this?! I’ve never seen anything like this in my life!” And parts that looked like a cinematographer’s idea of a beautiful mountain town. And it just kept going. Sometimes it was good packed dirt. Sometimes it was a few inches of slippery sand with horse tracks down the side. Sometimes it was covered with gravel, sometimes with big rocks. Sometimes six inches of deep brown soil freshly moved by the giant earthmovers we had to squeeze past.

The road from Totoró to Inza

The road from Totoró to Inza

The road from Totoró to Inza

The road from Totoró to Inza

At one point we got stuck behind a truck and despite the daring passing attempts of yesterday Dachary wasn’t up for attempting to pass this on loose, rocky dirt, through the cloud of dust it was kicking up…. So I chilled behind it, figuring that sooner or later the slow speed would drive her nuts and convince her to go. And, it did… so we did.

A little moto with two locals wearing old-school ponchos passed us and we spent the rest of the ride either behind it or ahead of it.

And it was brilliant. All of it. We are covered in dirt. Not long after the sand I looked down at my right boot and it was solid orange. I wish I’d pulled over and grabbed a shot because the wind and vibrations of the riding afterwards soon removed that beautiful layer.

We seem to have gotten a bit dusty

We seem to have gotten a bit dusty

We seem to have gotten a bit dusty

Horse waits patiently

Pit Stop

The writing was on the wall though…. too slow, with too far to go. It wasn’t just going slower for Dachary. It was also that the road was just too damn twisty and bumpy. Maybe ten kilometers from the end and Dachary had a near death experience with a Dump truck almost as wide as the road that came barreling down on her, and after that pretty much just wanted to get off the bike.

The road from Totoró to Inza

The road from Totoró to Inza

The road from Totoró to Inza

The road from Totoró to Inza

We came into the edge of Inza just as full dark hit and with it a gas station. We pulled in, because you always use more gas than you expect on dirt, and filled up. The guys there told us that yes, there was a hotel in town, and gave us the name. So we headed out, but dachary stalled her bike as she was turning after the pumps, and down it went. I was already starting on the road and said I’d turn around…but in an attempt to get to her quicker I stared my turn too soon and got caught between uneven mounded ground and a parked bus… and went down too.

The guys at the pump had gotten her up already and came running to the sounds of my engine revving and the bike going *thunk*… ON MY ANKLE… AGAIN.

I can not tell you how thankful I am for the malleous protectors in my boots. Without them there’s no way I’d be able to walk.

So yeah, we went down, and with the help of locals, got right back up…. around the corner and down a hill into town “I hope we don’t have to go back up that” we came to the main square and a bunch of parked trucks and motos. I pulled up to the motos and asked where the hotel was since I suspected I was probably looking at it but not seeing it.

Turns out I was. I just had to go into the hardware store and talk to the woman behind the counter. So I did, and she showed me a room, which was small, but surprisingly clean, although lacking a toilet seat. I asked about “agua calliente” and she said no, with a smile, and we ended up kind-of giggling over the idea. The shower, whilst clean, has no curtain, and the water comes out a PVC pipe that extends from the wall. But hey 16,000 pesos (about $8 US) and clean. We are happy.

But, she said she had a place to park the bikes… Unfortunately, Colombians have no concept of big bikes either, and she showed be this circuitous path up over a dirt pile over a step to a doorway, around a 90 degree corner, another one, through some construction, up a tiled step and into an office. I shit you not. We’ve got to get video in the morning.

We’d unloaded them, so we had a chance but of course, they didn’t fit without moving a few bags and, once getting it half-way through the door dragging the front end over. There was no way I or Dachary would be able to do it, but the moto guys from the square ran over and happily applied their muscles to the task, and voilla… bikes are in. Well, I said fuck it to the office because backing them out of there would have been a pain in the ass (if they even fit) and the extra locked door simply wasn’t worth it.

I have no idea how I’ll get them out in the morning.

Everything's covered in dirt.

Everything's covered in dirt.

Bikes unloaded, and locked away, we set out for food and found what Dachary calls a “guild hall”. Lots of sections, each with a cook making something. I settled on the one with the best smell and a woman who just seemed more alive than anyone else there. She showed me what was in the pots, and then I just told her to give us a medium portion of whatever she recommended.

It ended up being lentil soup… ish kind of think like a side of beans, with a pile of rice, a slice of fried plantain, and two small pieces of thin grilled beef. It was delicious. Dachary didn’t much like the carne, and commented that it tasted similar to beef jerky, which it did, and also got stuck in my teeth like beef jerky. But both of us agreed that the lentils were extraordinary.

Back in the room, and it stank, already, from our boots. Mine were particularly bad, but Dachary’s were pretty bad too. She requested that the boots be moved farther from the bed somehow, and I remembered that the “window” was really just some wrought iron designs with a curtain over it, and stuck my boots out the window. A few minutes later, Dachary did the same with hers, so at least the stinkiest bits of our boots are pointing out an open window. It still smells in our room, somehow.

I also decided to wash the nasty socks in my boots. And they were nasty. Just running water in the sink, without any soap or scrubbing, the water turned brown. It took several passes with water and Dr. Brommer’s to get them some semblance of clean. After two rinses and the first goo-ing with Dr. Brommer’s, I couldn’t see the tub stopper that was only a centimeter and a half below the surface of the water. It was that nasty. Dachary did a couple of pairs of hers that she’s been wearing yesterday and today (when they got rained into and became quite stinky) and had a similar experience. So dirty.

(Dachary’s note: Kay wants me to add something here about my thoughts about the dirt road we traveled. It should come as no surprise to anyone – least of all me – that I have very little experience with dirt and my first “real” dirt totally freaked me out. The hard-packed stuff wasn’t bad. But the loose stuff – particularly the sand we rode through, but also the deep, loose, freshly-tilled dirt – made me completely uncomfortable. WAY outside of my comfort zone. I felt like I had zero control on the loose stuff, and I was mostly focused on trying not to do anything suddenly that could upset the bike.

While the loose stuff was freaking me out a bit, though, it was the near-death experience I had with the dump truck that pushed me over the edge and made me decide that riding dirt was not for me. We were going around a corner, and Kay was ahead of me, and said “dump truck coming – get over to the right!” I couldn’t see it yet but I started pulling over to the right anyway. And then suddenly the wide truck was on top of me, and wasn’t hugging the left – it was right in the middle of what was probably a 1.5 lane dirt road at that point. I pulled as far over to the right as I could, but the right side of the road was banked up at that point, and I couldn’t go very far.

I decided that the safest thing to do would be to just stop and let the dump truck find its way around me, but stopping suddenly tends to lead to me falling over (I haven’t gotten the hang of how to discharge the forward momentum yet, and the bike usually leans over violently to one side or the other and it’s a crap-shoot as to whether I can keep it upright) so I was just having visions of me stopping and not being able to keep the bike up, and falling to the left (the direction the road was banked) and under the dump-truck’s wheels. And that mofo wasn’t going slow, either.

It was over in just a couple of seconds but my system had gotten super-charged with adrenaline and I was trembling and totally freaked out and overwhelmed by an emotional overload. I seriously thought that dump truck was going to kill me. This was the first time I’ve ever felt really endangered since riding a motorcycle (even the times that I’ve crashed have all been relatively minor – I might think “Oh crap” or “that’s gonna leave a mark” but I never think “Oh, god, I’m going to die.”) so it was a lot for me to process. Resuming our trek around loose corners, bumpety, rocky dirt and the encroaching darkness, all I wanted to do was get off the bike and sit quietly somewhere and wait for the sensations to fade. But I couldn’t, because dark was encroaching, and even more than not riding this road, I didn’t want to be riding this road in the dark.

But it left a lasting impression. Our route planning in subsequent days has been, in part, to avoid “scary dirt.” I’m writing this note as we sit in Mocoa, Columbia, a few days after this encounter, and I’m debating between a “Death Road” that consists of dirt and mud over a mountain vs. a relatively flat, easy dirt road with the potential threat of Colombian guerrillas kidnapping and holding us for ransom. Personally, I’m leaning toward the guerillas. Which shows you how much this road and the encounter with the dump truck has freaked me out, and how much de-programming we’re going to have to do before we get much further south, as the roads just keep degrading.)

About Kay

An old-school geek, addicted to travel, with a love of programming, writing, Esperanto, and starting businesses. -- @masukomi on Twitter.

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