Medellin to Roldanillo is another great ride… the scenery is only degrees of different… still bucolic, tropical and green. I had to go over some steep passes to get out of town. I realize I have made a small error in judgment..
Let me start by saying one thing… Each and every step of this trip, I have researched. The maintenance, the countries, the borders, the Darien, hotels, money, politics, fuel, repairs, et al..
Here’s the rub. It’ almost impossible to know the truth of ANY of it. No matter who you are, you will have a different view.. you will have researched different things, had different experience, and by the time the next traveler arrives, (even a day or two later) policies, fees, locations and times can be changed. Nothing is concrete in this funny world. Including bike maintenance. Not I (nor anyone else) has all the time to research everything.
EVERYONE wants to give you advice… no matter how little actual experience they might have. Even people with a great deal of time behind the wheel want to throw in some “extras”. In defense of my helpers, I’ve gotten a good deal of excellent advice… but I’ve had to be VERY selective. One of my last things to find out about is the bike chain… I heard I needed to oil it after every ride…. I heard I need to wax, not oil it. I heard to just keep it clean… I heard, I heard, I heard. I did nothing. Until now. (I hear you cringing)
I conducted a complete inspection on the bike. The chain is stiff. I hear that is bad. I really don’t know who or what to trust, because every one wants me to trust THEM. So, this is what I did.
I went to the car wash and sprayed the shit out of the chain. I let it dry. I put clean motor oil on it. I rode.
I stopped at the top of a pass just outside of Medellin. I inspected the chain. Still stiff. I cleaned and re-oiled the chain. Two guys stop to talk to me… they are both delightful locals… one is “training” to do the ride I’m on.. He’s sweaty after running up and down the mountain in preparation… I laugh at him a little… he’s a good sport though. The other is actually on a moto and did a big ride like mine.. he offers his help. I like him right away.. he seems “right.”
Anyhow, I’m still faced with the chain issue. 50% of people say its fine, 50% of people say to switch it. It’s an even debate. I’ll have it professionally cleaned and oiled in Roldo. And see what they say there.
I ride for another hour to the very top of a mountain… which is closed. Except to motorcycles who are squeezing through a tiny little hole the jacknifed trailer has made. A bossy policia tells me I have to turn around. I pretend not to understand and look confused. There is NO other route for me to go around… unless I’d like to take a half a day to do it. He plays charades with me… and gets progressively more frustrated with my dumbness.
Half a dozen local guys come to my rescue…. “can you take off your luggage?”
I remove the oversized bags.. and I have to back up. The wing and my backpack are not balanced now that the bags are off. I wobble backwards for ten meters…. then, boom! I’m down. There is fuel spilling out of my tank… I’ve worn all my gear today, so I bounce right up. The local guys are picking up my bike before I can get out from under it… I smell like fuel.
I’m back on in an instant and they’re pushing me and the bike through the narrow slot. The bike doesn’t fit. I have to lean the mirror UNDER the tractor trailer bed, the other mirror is alternately scraping the side of a panel truck to the right.. and we finally squeeze through!!!
The Colombians are cheering!! “Colombia.. Number one!!” they shout. “Colombia!! Number one!… YEAH!!” I shout! They all want pictures with me…. In the mele, I forget to take my own.
They help me put my luggage back on and off I go. Ten minutes later, I’m still shaken a little and want to stop for a late breakfast. I notice a busy restaurant and park the bike. It is an open structure made of concrete and palapa.. The stove is a large, central fogon. The “fogon” is a wood fire inside a brick enclosure topped with stone that they make all their food on… the hotter parts for boiling/cooking/frying.. the cooler for keeping things warm. There’s no less than a dozen steaming steel cauldrons and pans.
The seating is in a horse shoe around the flat topped kitchen… it is cozy and warm. The locals are friendly and want to know where I’m going.. etc.. one guy spent a year in New York valet parking cars.. It’s a great rest and recharge. I get scrambled eggs, chorizo sausage, black coffee and an arepa with butter. My neighbor had a big bowl of chocolate… something. Every one’s meal looked delicious. I wish I was staying near here for a while.
Seemed like I passed through some bigger towns. They always have approximately the same feel… colorful, concrete, bananas, motorcycle shops, little open restaurants.. busy, a little smoggy. Lots of motorcycles.. I couldn’t decide exactly my route. I went south ’till Pereria, then I cut west into Cartago. South to La Victoria, West to La Union then South again into Roldanillo.
It felt like coming home. My previous trip’s memories are still bright and warm… they may be coloring the way I see Roldo now. Riding in, I see one paraglider in the sky.. I see him carving a big arc over the city… he’s landing in the stadium I think.
I have to stop and get my chain done. The oil I put on it wasnt making much of a difference. I’m hoping the bike guy has something better.
The mechanics always come right out of the shop… they drop everything they are working on to help. They aren’t always the best, but they are always chatty and friendly and won’t make you wait.
My guy sprays some magic on the chain and I race off to the stadium to see who landed.
It’s a guy I met in Colorado last year! He’s walking home and he knows the place where I’m staying. Bob has been here flying since Christmas.. more than two months. He says it’s been unseasonably rainy and the conditions are quite different than they’ve been in the past.
Bob Walks me over to my friends place… who’s renting a house full time here and has been generous in lettting me use a hammock to camp in for a few days. He’s a superstar pilot. He just competed in the X-Alps and is looking forward to the X-Pyrenees. He trains every day and looks in amazing shape.
I’m half sure there won’t be any flying in the morning, but you never know what the weather will do.
At the top, there are about fifteen or twenty pilots waiting already. A lot of French guys… and two I met in Costa Rica on my last trip! They travel every year together. A few people launch, but it doesn’t look good. Everyone goes right to the ground. One of the pilots finds a weak thermal for a minute though, and my hopes get a little boost.
It’s getting late and I haven’t brought anything to eat, so I decide to launch. I fly directly out front and find a little lifting air… then a little more. In no time, I’m at cloudbase!! I’ve caught a fantastic cycle and it looks like I can get a cross country flight. These are my favorite. I love the challenge of going from place to place it the air. Almost two hours later, I’m on the ground with a huge grin packing up my wing. It has been a glorious flying day!!!
The next day is a wash. Literally. The rain coming down is a deluge that is soaking everything… the roads, the trash, most of all, the flying. I had hoped for one more flight, but I only had this last day to spare. Tomorrow I have to get on the road.
The food is exactly the same as I remembered it… except for the stuffed arepa. I generally don’t like the arepas here.. they’re a little dry and bland. But THIS one is not. They make it on an open grill… an extra-thick, buttery corn flour disk is sliced in half, and stuffed with yuca, chicharron, chicken and sausage.. and cheese. There might be something else in there.. avacado? That and a beer for $4.50. Banner!!
Mostly, I go to the market and buy fruit… or right out on the street.. guanabana, grapes, mangoes… the mangoes here are like eating sunshine… They have a bright flavor I can never find in the US markets.
For dinner, sometimes chicken with beans and rice… If I can get those sweet black bananas.. they call them maduros. Oy. They are good… and an ice cream cone.
Again, I have to pack too quickly and leave another one of my cherished destinations.. Roldanillo, even with its rainy days, has found its way deep into my heart.. the warmth of the people, the great launches and it’s slow pace… I’ll keep coming back here forever.
It’s a huge, super busy city. The historic inner city is mostly painted white with terra cotta roofs. The streets are cobbled, but not maintained. They are deeply rutted, and potholed but the thick, jostling traffic doesn’t seem to mind.
The only thing that isn’t letting out smoke is the occasional horsecart… it seems like every car, bus and motorcycle is belching some kind of smog. The traffic is so thick, it is like driving in a river… you have to carefully predict when you need to eddy in to your stop… and pay attention to the streams. Most of the streets are one ways.
I stop at a few hotels before I find one that has decent parking for the bike. There is one I missed. It’s name is Hotel San Jeronimo. If you are here with your large bike and want a safe and easy in and out, This is the spot. It’s expensive, but if you want to stay right in the City Center, park easily and walk right out into the action, this the sweet spot.
Parking took me almost 45 minutes. I hung my helmet on my mirror… and then turned the handlebars. My helmet whacks onto the ground. CRACK! The visor pops off. It is not fixable unless I want to glue the thing back into place.. Dammit.
I go in to book my room but in the space of that time, a cab had parked nearly blocking the entrance. It looked like I could maybe get in sideways, so, up on the sidewalk with the front tire… but the new rear kept skidding.. I’m on a 45 degree angle to the sidewalk and every time I goose the engine, the tire skids a little to the left… closer to the cab. Finally, I give up until the driver comes back. Ten minutes. Half a dozen people stop to help, but I’m so close to the cab, I’m worried that the smallest mistake will dent him.
He hops in, drives forward… and hits me. On the rear rack. I go halfway down, but catch the bike and pull it back up… while he reverses. I’m pissed, but there’s nothing I can do.. I roll backward into the street and pop over the sidewalk. In I go, to the skinny lobby. I have to wiggle the handle bars to squeeze it throught the door frame. Not for the first time, I’m glad this is a light bike…. well, lighter than my GS1200. .. and glad he didn’t hit that.
I park right next to Reception, get my room, wash some of the street stress off and go out for a look-see. I’m given the name of a chicken place three blocks down.
They’re friendy and helpful… I eat my delicious chicken asado, rice and lentils and walk till I’m lost for the next couple hours. The city is as busy as it can be.. every shop is open and bright… the sidewalks are full of people.. it seems fairly homogenous… I know there are a lot of tourists here, but I can’t pick them out. Not like in Medellin, Cartegena, or Panajachel.. Leon, Grenada… Here, I don’t see any of the giveaway, light travel clothing. No bad hats, Chacos or Birkenstocks. No big backpacks…
I only hear Spanish as I am swept along in the crowd.
I return to the hotel still early, but exhausted tired, I fall dead asleep.
At dawn I pack. I want to be out before the traffic starts.