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July 18, 2011
The Route Less Travelled
Deya and I make an effort to go to these markets for a couple of reasons: first you get local goods and second they are cheap so it helps us stick to our budget. That means we have visited a lot of markets throughout the Americas and this single market beats them all. The produce is laid out with pride, the meat shop clean, separate from the rest without much smell, the food vendors produce a quality restaurant level food for pennies and the whole place is spotless. Needless to say, impressed!
Near San Gil there is a well known but not highly touristic town called Barichara. This town is quiet, artistic, old and beautiful. Set atop the ridge of a massive valley it’s a place I could spend time, they roll up the side walk around dinner time and you would not find a bar or pub playing loud music in the evening. Likely you might find classical music and some wine in a café or gallery around the town. That’s my preferred speed.
We set off at 6:30 am heading along route 62, a secondary road that would take us to meet our buddy Diego in Puerto Berrio, who would be waiting at a military check point by noon that day. The route would be about 150 kilometres and we were told about 4 hours. Once we met with Diego we would have another 200 kilometres to travel to get to Medellin.
We started off with no maps, loose directions and a GPS with no map and slightly broken. Needless to say we spent the better part of an hour going in the wrong direction. It was a rough but enjoyable warm up for what we were about to find but certainly not a mistake that we needed that day as time would become precious.
When we finally doubled back and found the right route it was very pleasant. The road was good and the 4 hours estimate seemed overstated though I expected the road to worsen and it did. The route took us through several small villages and military checkpoints. We made a special stop to talk to some young soldiers. Many of the police and soldiers look very young but this is reassuring as they play a very important role in their country’s development. The road stayed in good conditions until we came across a heavy equipment hauler that was stuck in a collapsed road. The bikes had no problem with the obstacle but the truck was going to be there a while for sure.
It didn’t seem to matter about the rough road; Deya and I were eating it up. At one point during a stop I complimented Deya on her riding, it wasn’t just fast but very smooth. I told her she was riding like a hungry lion, she responded that she was picking her lines and going for it. It made the riding awesome and fun. I cautioned her not to get over confident though she was doing everything right. It was not long after that things turned ugly.
The road was wet but not difficult and the heat was severe. I was feeling queasy and my stomach had knots. Despite this we were still making good time and riding like a well disciplined team. Then Deya hit a very unassuming and slippery spot, going down hard on the left side. She was standing on the pegs and manoeuvred expertly shifting her weight to the left behind the sliding tire but as the front tire went down on what looked like a flat spot but was actually sloped, the back tire followed. The panniers twisted dramatically and the bike swung around leaving Deya half standing beside the bike. Though muddy and dirty the ground was quite hard, it left Deya with only sore wrists from the twisting fall and impact.
We picked up the pieces and bent the pannier back into shape enough to carry on with very little damage to the equipment despite the speed and impact of the fall. Good stuff! As we carried on Deya’s pace reasonably slowed until we got to a small but active town. Since we started the day without anything to eat we decided to stop for lunch. The lunch was about $3 dollars and came with coffee, croissant, a plate of BBQ’d meat with potatoes, yuca, seasoned rice and a bowl of chicken parts soup, far more than we needed. Of course as we ate there was a crowd gathering around the bikes and plenty of people asking questions. This was not a common route for bikers like us.
Back on the road Deya’s mental block was fully engaged and my physical block was getting worse. She was slowing right down and I felt like puking. As we rode I remember thinking what Deya said about the food giving her gas, I too felt like I was flatulent and the stress of standing and riding through the somewhat rugged road meant that I wasn’t too shy to release the demons if they should arise.
As I rounded a somewhat washed out corner the need to eliminate a little methane was strong and in the heat, with a bit of nausea and frustration at Deya’s now weak riding I didn’t resist much. Mistake! I’m not ashamed, it’s not the first time and won’t be the last but what is difficult about shitting your pants is the realization that a diaper would be better than your shorts and riding pants. The now uncomfortable feeling that is not going to go away for several more hours coupled with other obstacles meant misery. I stopped to tell Deya and puzzle about the problem, it was funny and we had a laugh though I wasn’t feeling well and the difficulty of the situation had not changed. A good ride now seemed, well, the shits.
I was able to stop and clean up a bit in the bush at the side of the road but as you can imagine the damage was done. Deya was now in full retreat due to her accident. As we approached hills and mud Deya would freeze and I would have to ride my bike through the obstacles then walk back to get Deya’s bike and ride it through as well. As you can imagine, I was upset, I was with full armour, boots and helmet at 35 degrees Celsius heat, walking up and down hills and getting on and off bikes. This would go on for an hour or so but this was not the most painful part.
As I’m dripping with sweat I began projectile puking, now imagine this, as old ladies on 125cc bikes with bald tires and packing three children, all without safety equipment slosh through the mud puddles with ease, I’m walking back to ride Deya’s bike through the same apparently impossible mud puddle. I was pissed and while I resented her for it, I disagree with it and think it was pathetic; I would do it again and again until I was dead if I had too.
While I sat pouting and partially defeated I remembered that Deya is a real trooper for even getting to that point and I love her to bits so I’m okay with a little suffering but I won’t hide the fact that it was a hard go, emotionally.
The madness was near an end and Deya started to paddle through the puddles making my life way better. Finally we stopped near a river where water was pouring from a natural stream. I headed for the river to wash my clothes and personals while Deya dunked her head in the fall. It made all the difference, the coolness of the water and the now cleaner wet clothes eased the heat and gave us a better, happier outlook.
We made it out of the dirt and back onto asphalt getting gas and chatting with some folks in a small village. Since eight o’clock in the morning people had been drinking and we could expect all these people to be driving as well at some point. The road from there was uneventful until we reached our destination and Diego. By the time we got to Diego we would have been riding for 8 hours. Far greater than the suggested 4 hours the locals, who never travel the route estimated. Having only covered 150 kilometres we still had another 200 to go.
The route to Medellin was easy, though the traffic was still insane. At one point, in the dark, the traffic very heavy, cars were passing on double yellows with many not having headlights. For all the effort to gain a minute or two on their commute there was an accident. It would stop us for about 45 minutes, it would stop a truck, a car and kill two motorcyclists for their impatience. Passing the tragedy I felt only sadness for the poor decision to drive like a retard without any safety equipment. We were told this is very common here, I have no doubts.
Thanks to Diego for bringing us into Hostel Medellin safety, it was an easy route, a good place for motorbikes and reasonably priced. Diego is one of the non retarded drivers in Colombia and we were glad to ride with him. We will spend the next week or two checking out Medellin, one of the more advanced cities in South America.