Day 56 – San Andrés Colombia to Taqui Colombia

So yesterday Dachary decided we should check the oil. A sensible thing. She suggested her bike felt a little rougher. Then again, we had been riding over dirt for the past couple days so everything was rougher… Anyway, we check and there’s nothing. We ran the bikes for like thirty seconds and still nothing. We kinda freaked.

It was decided that I should ride back to Inza (about half an hour each way) to procure oil because Dachary is fucking sunburnt on her arms, chest and back and the idea of riding an extra hour with a jacket over burnt skin is not within her definition of “happy”. Because I’m returning to the hotel, I leave my panniers and dry sack and ride with just the tank bag – the bike is light and unencumbered.

I go. I have a blast. Without the need to hold back for Dachary I’m flying down the road passing little motos left and right. This bike was made for this shit and it shows. Sure a 125cc dirt bike would handle it better, but the 650 is a joy to ride and when you get tired of standing up the Air Hawk adds an extra bit of shock absorption for your ass.

I get to the gas station we saw coming into Inza and sure enough, there’s oil. Every gas station since the mexican border has had oil within sight of, or directly next to, the pumps. This one one no exception, although while there were about 12 choices of 2 Stroke oil there was only one choice for 4 Stroke. I throw the bike on the center stand, double check the sight-glass before adding oil and….WTF?! It’s full. Like to the top, full.

This is why I don’t check my oil. The bike never fucking looses oil, at all… ever. I check my oil and my own idiocy bites me in the ass. But, I decide that as we’re heading into some parts where gas stations may be few and far between carrying a spare quart won’t be a bad idea. I can throw it in my mini gas container as soon as I convince the Gas residue to finish evaporating. Also, I didn’t want it to be a totally worthless trip.

I ride back, and along the way there’s a skinny spot in the road and an oncoming truck. I pull over and wait. The truck drops off one kid and passes. I’m standing there with my left leg planted and give it some gas… a bit too much gas. The rear tire spins up, and whirrs the rear end of the bike around me and out from under me.

I’m chuckling inwards at my own idiocy.

I pick up the bike (surprisingly easy without the panniers) while seven kids who appeared out of thin air are walking towards me. I motion them to go by before the go. No…. no they were coming to see if I needed help. I think the oldest was probably nine. I do a 2 point turn to get the bike facing back up the hill, hop on…. and let it lean too far over. I drop it again and do that ridiculous one legged hop away from it.

Now I am laughing out loud.

I smile at the kids, walk back to the bike, and now they’ve swarmed it. They’re going to help. “oh gods.” I think, “this is going to be a clusterfuck. They’ve no clue how much this weighs…” “Ok. on tres…. ” I say, and they all start counting. “Uno. Dos. Tres.” We all lift; me on the handlebars and them on the seat and the back. And those kids? Badass little MoFo’s. They did way more than half of the lifting.

I thanked them all, and they waited for me to take off in case I dropped it yet again. I’m happy to report I didn’t.

Back at the hotel we lube Dachary up with some Burn Gell (Did I mention we have a really nice first aid kit with us?) load up the bikes and…. wait a minute…. Where’s my taillight?!

The whole fucking assembly is gone.

Shit. Ok. I can go back to Inza and see if it’s laying along the road, although with the sheer volume of motos around here there’s a pretty serious chance that someone has already stopped and grabbed it. I can’t blame them either. I would too if I lived around here.

Dachary however, is freaking out about the road ahead. She’s scared of more dirt. She’s scared of not making it to the town she’s decided will be our destination for the day because there’s dirt between here and there and going back to Inza will add another hour. It’d add more if she came but with her sunburn she’s definitely not up for extra riding. We can’t stay in the hotel because we don’t have enough cash to pay for another night, and it’s going to be like 11 before we get out of here if I go to Inza.

I’m voting for running back to Inza because I’m pretty sure BMW would charge a minimum of $150 for a LED taillight assembly and I’m still annoyed by the price of that damn fan. Dachary’s just kind of freaking. I offer the option of just dealing until we get to Quito where we can swing by BMW and grab a replacement (hopefully). That doesn’t seem to help. There’s stress, communication failure, etc.

I go to Inza. I don’t bother unloading the bike because it’s a pain in the ass and after all the stressing I’m really not feeling like adding any more frustration to my morning. I’m a bit more careful this time because picking it up would be harder. I make it all the way to the gas station and no light. I ponder stopping at the moto workshop there and having them bolt in some random light but Dachary has decided to check out and is waiting at the hotel and probably still stressing. So I hurry back as quick as I can to minimize her wait.

I don’t drop it once.

Until I get to the hotel’s gravel driveway and decide to slowly and carefully go around the loop instead of having to do a tight turn. Six inches of gravel and… *flump*. I just kind of stare at it.

I reach down, turn it off, and we lift it.

This is not a good morning.

I ride it around and park in front of Dachary’s. She goes off to pee in the common bathroom before we leave and while she’s walking back the hotel guy hops on her bike. Normally this would annoy the shit out of us. We’re not fans of random people touching our bikes. But for some reason it doesn’t this time, and it’s great to see him realize just how heavy this is when he lifts it off the kickstand.

He gets off and makes big muscle arms and I explain to him that they’re nearly 300 kilos (i’m guessing) with the panniers. That’s probably more than they actually are but…

Anyway, we take off. Down random roads, which, because we’re in Colombia, are unquestionably gorgeous. Unfortunately, I’m just not in the mood to appreciate them. I’m kind of in a funk because of Dachary stressing before, and because I know she’s afraid of the roads we’re on and physically hurting which makes me upset that there’s nothing I can do to improve the situation. Also, my Camelback, the tire, my drysack, the gas container and the bike lock are conspiring to piss me off. Every time i stand up on bumpy dirt the tire slides forward. It’s crooked on the bag. The lock decides to sneak out under the tire and dangle down by my foot, and eventually to the ground (Dachary is giving me the play-by-play as I look for somewhere where I won’t be pancaked by an oncoming truck if I pull over).

I fix the lock, but for the next hour or so the gas can and the tire keep being annoyances and my Camebak is going to the wrong side and rubbing against my neck. My mood is not improved by these.

We ride on. It’s still beautiful. I’m aware enough to recognize the beauty even if I’m not enjoying it, and take some pics.

IMG_5810

IMG_5815

Along the way there’s an unexpected T junction with no signage. I ask the folks at the restaurant at the intersection if La Plata is in the direction I’m pointing and five adults stare at us blankly. Fortunately there was a kid about 8 years old whose brain was engaged and he said yes, and made the hand motion in the direction we thought…

We followed his instructions. He turned out to be right. Along the way, in an attempt to avoid being squished between dump truck and rock wall Dachary attempted to stop too fast and the bike tilted over against the rock wall. At least it wasn’t the truck.

She hollers, and I come back, she extracts herself and we lift it. Of course, a moto shows up and watches to make sure we don’t need help. I totally forgot to take a pic. We really need to go on another grand adventure with a cameraman, because there’s simply too many important things that we’d love to have pics of that we don’t think of taking pics of because we’re too concerned with helping each other instead of photographing their distress. Damn prioritization!

Eventually the promised pavement is discovered. Then it disappears. Then it comes back. Then it disappears, etc…. Eventually it stays for a while and we make it to La Plata. We go a little ways into the city and I ask some passing pregnant woman where a Cajero Automatico is. “Just around the corner to the left.” she says, and it is.

We get back on the bikes since we’re parked in a no parking / taxi zone and decide we’ll find some place to eat on the far edge of town, but the logical direction turns out to not be the correct direction and since we’re headed back into the town square we figure we’ll just get something here if we can find somewhere with parking in front of it.

We do, and it looks like a normal little restaurant but we think it was actually some chain thing. My chicken burger patty is lame but they somehow made it taste decent. Dachary’s was “disgusting” and “The worst food I’ve had in Colombia.” Needing the protein she ate it anyway. While we sat there a man with an eye patch under very dark sunglasses came in, sat down diagonally behind us, ordered a single soda and proceeded to give us the heebie-jeebies staring, we think, in our direction.

But then the famous Colombian afternoon rain comes, and as we’re finishing the last fries it is finishing up. We get up to leave, and I forget that I opened my tank bag at the table. EVERYTHING, including my camera, falls out. Eye patch man sucks nonexistent soda through his straw (he’d already finished it) and stares at us while I pick it up.

We get the fuck outta there, but I notice the direction we think we should head doesn’t jive with the GPS. Now, it’s maps aren’t spectacular but the listed town centers are generally quite accurately placed. I notice a road up a hill in the distance that appears to be going the right way, and we attempt to find it. We get close, ask at a corner, and a tiny moto at the corner is all “Follow me!” so we do for a couple blocks and then he pulls over and makes hand gestures for the next couple corners we need to take. We thank him, and go.

We twist, turn, improvise, and ask and eventually get going in the right direction… except it’s the wrong direction… According to the GPS it’s much closer to another road that’ll get us there, but in more time. We say fuck it and continue on. Then the road totally turns the other way and ends up being the right one. Then the pavement disappears.

Then, there’s a pice of tape across the road and a construction worker telling us to pull over and that it’ll be forty minutes. I accept it as part of life in Latin America, turn off the engine, and start futzing with my bike, replacing batteries in the SPOT tracker (thus the gap in the day’s route) and generally improving things. Dachary starts stressing about not making it to the goal town by nightfall. I don’t really care where we make it. I figure there’ll be somewhere to stay at whatever town we do make it to before nightfall.

IMG_5819

Thankfully, the truck/bus full of people behind us, including an old lady, all get out and start chatting. Half way through one of them says something to the others expressing her frustration about how we aren’t even trying (with the spanish) and generally being annoyed that we have come to her country without first learning her language. We think we’re doing pretty well thank you very much. There’s a lot of “no entiendo” of course, but we get by, and we managed to communicate the gas mileage, where we’d come from, where we’re going, how big the bikes are, avoided answering how much they cost before eventually giving in. Asking about the road conditions ahead, learning that there’s pavement not far on, etc.

Side note: everyone in colombia thinks our bikes cost $10,000 US. I assure them they’re much much cheaper than that since mine is eight years old and i’m the third owner (we think).

Eventually the tape is dropped and on we go. Then the rain that threatened us while we sat catches up, and we put on our rain liners. Not ten minutes later and it’s gone. We start drenching in sweat, go through a little town, and …. the pavement disappears and stays gone. Dachary feels mislead by the map. I don’t mind the dirt, and soon we go through a dry river crossing. I joke that it’s our first river crossing, and Dachary comments that she doesn’t mind “this kind” but then we encounter our first real river crossing, but it’s only like four inches deep so I just line myself up and go for it, making a surprisingly large bow wave and, unsurprisingly, wibbling a little.

IMG_5821

With the stress of the morning, and the sunburn (which is on its way to becoming second degree), and the maps betrayal, and the extra dirt, and seeing me wibble, she asks me to do it. I say ok, but she has to promise to take a picture of the little bamboo bridge. She’s too stressed and hurting.

So I take it across, then go get a pic of the bridge. I wish I had a pic of one of us going through the water, but here’s some of the locals daring the raging river themselves.

IMG_5825

IMG_5827

IMG_5829

The horse walks past Dachary’s bike and begins to absolutely freak out when it sees mine. Rearing back, twisting, trying to get away…. Dachary and I are both half convinced that it’s going to kick my bike over. I am torn between thinking it would be an awesome story if it did and fearing the horse might hurt itself. Of course, as I’m not a professional photographer I stand there, jaw open, gaping at the unfolding chaos, with camera sitting unused in my hand. I think that’s the difference between true professional photographers and amateurs. A professional’s first reaction is to take pictures, and contemplate later… But, the rider convinces the horse to calm down somewhat and continue on up the road.

Soon we make it into Taqui and, with dusk approaching decide to hunt down a hotel. Turns out to be somewhat tricky, some guy keeps interpreting hotel and hospidaje as hospital. I keep correcting him, but he keeps overriding those around him who get it, until one of them speaks up enough and says “yeah right down there”. We go, it’s cheap, it has a bathroom with a toilet seat, and a pvc pipe shower almost directly over both, we’re in no position to complain. They’ll put the bikes in their house downstairs too. Sweet. Both of our moods improved dramatically once we had the bikes ensconced, had a place to stay for the night and could just relax. This was a Good Thing.

Instant crowd. Just add adventure motos

We take off the panniers since they’ll never fit through the front door, wheel them in, and then look down the street. Wait… that’s a motorcycle mechanic RIGHT THERE. We go over, explain our problem, “no no, not just a lightbulb… here come with me.” he does. He examines the bikes (in the house downstairs). “What make? Oh BMW? No we don’t have that.” “No est importante. Yamaha, Kawasaki. whatever…” “but we don’t have anything similar” “No bonito est no problemo.” We go back to the shop, then I ask if it’d be better to just brink the bike over. It was, so I did, and a gaggle of children and teens gather around to watch the proceedings. They find something about the right size and the more senior mechanic proceeds to short the bike and blow a fuze. This is after repeatedly explaining to them that no, there is no way to shut off the lights. No really. They don’t turn off.

Mototaller right next to the Hospidaje

Junior mechanic hops on a scooter to ride off and find a fuze. We’re not going to mention we have spares unless they can’t find one since they’re the ones who blew it. Long story short, the bodge was completed, names were exchanged, stickers were stuck, and we were charged 8,000 pesos (about $4 US). Dachary saw a price tag on the light housing that was over 8,000 so we think they were just happy that we were so happy, provided and entertaining distraction, and wanted to know their names so we can put them on the net.

(Dachary’s note: Kay wants me to expand upon the happenings in the shop, so here goes…

Kay keeps wandering off for various things (to grab something from the room, to grab food, etc.) and I decide that at least one of us should stay with the bike, so I hang out at the shop with the bike while they’re working on it. Pretty quickly, they find an assembly that will fit in the hole left by the BMW taillight assembly. It’ll need a little convincing to fit properly and the hardware doesn’t line up, but they can make it work.

So they strip the BMW connectors from the wires, and start connecting the wires from the bike to the wires from the light, trying to figure out which wire was supposed to go to which. They get the taillight to light up, but nothing happens when you hit the brake. So they start switching the wires around, and grounding the wires against the bike’s frame, which is how they blow the fuze. Whoops.

After the new fuse comes back, they find the right combination of wires and start looking at ways to connect the hardware. One guy finds some stiff rubber tubing and cuts a couple of short pieces off, and it looks like they’re going to use it as spacers to hold the assembly and the screws into the bike. He cuts and measures and tries it and then cuts some more until he gets the spacers fairly even and has the hardware lined up and screwed in. And viola! New taillight.

During the time there, the little kids kept asking me stuff, some of which I could answer and some of which my Spanish was too insufficient. Then the woman who I assume is the wife of the guy who runs the shop asks me something – the same thing they asked us at the road construction earlier and I didn’t understand then, either. Something that involved a hand gesture in front of the face. Something about the helmet visor, maybe? No idea.

I try to convey that I understand one of the words, but I don’t understand the other word they’re using – and a kid steps in and tries to translate. Apparently he’s been telling all of them that he speaks English, and he says something in English that sounds like “Stop.” Except it makes no sense in context. I tell him I don’t understand, and they all start laughing at him. Apparently he doesn’t speak English as well as he’s been bragging. He tries to explain that he doesn’t speak “Gringo English,” but they’ve seen through his attempts to impress them. Everyone is smiling and amused except the kid, although he’s taking it with good cheer.

I explain to them at one point about the trip – where we’ve been and where we’re going. And while we’re in there, some military stuff comes on the tv (it’s playing the news) and one of the kids nearby gestures to get my attention and points at the TV. I watch and see that there’s some military stuff going on and apparently there was a bombing somewhere that they’re reacting to? The kid says “In Bogota.” “In Bogota?” I ask. I try to convey that I was just there four or five days ago, but I don’t have any sense for how to convey time – we don’t know the words for now, or a few days ago, or last week. All we can say is tomorrow or “in x days”. But I seem to have conveyed it properly as all of our eyes go wide at the thought that I was just there and just missed some bombing/military stuff.

In the end, they charge us less than the part cost for the part itself and for affixing it to the bike. They take some pictures and video of us, and we take some pictures and video of them. They seem flattered and happy that we asked for their names for our website. (Although the junior mechanic got all bashful at first, and when I was persistent, he eventually wrote down the names of everyone there. And then the people went around introducing themselves from the paper. And because we said we wanted to write their names down, here are their names! If you need a nice bodge, this is who you want…

IMG_2113

(Diego’s giving the thumb’s up, and Consuelo’s the grey haired lady on the right)

Almacen Motolimpico (is the name of the shop)
Diego Armando Gasca – Diego is the “junior mechanic” who helped us and did most of the running around
Maria Consuelo Gasca (A younger girl who was hanging around – maybe a daughter of the owner?)
Olimpo Gasca – Perhaps the owner? I forget and I feel so bad for forgetting who was whom!
Consuelo Mendez – she was the woman I thought was the wife of the owner, and she was very sweet
Alex Gasca – Perhaps the other mechanic? Or maybe one of the kids belonging to the family

They also wrote “Thank you much” in English on the bottom of the list of names, and I confirmed that was how you say “Muchas gracias” in English, and it was totally sweet and awesome. We were all richer for our encounter, I think.

Kay ran to the room and brought back some stickers for them, and our cards – and when he handed over the stickers and cards to the owners/mechanic, the kids all start reaching for them, too. Kay obligingly hands out our cards, even though I try to point out “It’s in English!” and it’s nothing they’d care about – they all want one or they’d feel left out. One kid realizes it doesn’t help and hands it back to Kay, miming that he should put it back into the container where we carry our cards. They give Kay some stickers for his bike, including a rosary which seems to be a prerequisite for any Colombian vehicle and a “100% Colombian” sticker (Diego chose it), and they proudly help him stick them on. It was really cool and awesome.)

End Dachary’s note—

While this was happening I tracked down a restaurant which turned out to be right beside us but we couldn’t see it, and procured us some tasty dinner, which I haven’t been able to finish for no particular reason.

In the end it was $4 for the light (and stickers) $12 for the room and $5 for the food.

Now we’re going to relax and watch Top Gear… I think.

Side note: my bike’s a 2003 and doesn’t come with a rear flashing LED light like the new ones, but the previous owner had added it. While flashing is definitely as safety feature I’m very happy with my $4 bodge, especially when compared to the scary price the “real” part would cost. Bike Bandit claims about $100 US for the OEM with a standard bulb, but both of ours had an LED array that would flash when you first hit the brakes. Im not sure how much those go for.

About Kay

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *