Thursday, 30 October 2014

Goodbye Colombia and South America

By Mark

While working on my bike a local guy came to check out what I was up to and when I told him I needed to find a truck to get to San Gil he appointed himself to this job. Straight away he was jumping up on trucks as they passed by. I should explain that we were parked right beside a road toll so all vehicles were at crawling speed as they passed. Most drivers were not interested but some were so keen that they were willing to even lift the bikes up high and put them in the back of the semi trailers full of gravel. After looking there was no way I was going to do that, I also had no idea how we could even get it in. Then came along a car carrier with more then enough space for my baby. After a bit of negotiating on the price it didn't look like it was going to happen and the driver pulled away. Next thing he stopped and realised it was easy money so agreed to the price. In no time the bike was on the truck, I paid my self appointed helper a small tip for getting me the truck and in no time I was sitting up in the cab of the truck while Sanne was in front of us riding her bike.

San Gil was only 60 km's away but it was a twisty narrow mountain road all the way with a high volume of traffic headed there for the long weekend. The truck crawled its way up and up the mountain taking over and hour to travel just 30 km's, from the top it was mainly down hill into the town of San Gil but that also took another hour. Sanne was waiting on the outskirts of town for us. She had had enough time to find a hotel for us and also a place to take the bike for further inspection. We unloaded the bike, said farewell to the driver and I was on my bike rolling down the last 1km into town. After checking into the hotel we were straight off to the mechanic. After telling him about the problem we started pulling the bike apart. We took the head off and straight away noticed the problem. Two valves were jammed shut by a foreign piece of metal, WTF? After closer inspection we found that it had come from the carb, the vacuum release plate had given up and snapped into three pieces, one of the pieces had jammed shut two of the valves while the larger piece was still in contact in the carb. Now to inspect the real damage to the head. Luckily enough there was no further damage. The main problem was that we were unable to get any spare parts for the DRZ400 in Colombia. Bugger!

We only had to ride another 250 or so kilometres to Bogota before shipping the bikes to Miami so I suggested to the mechanic that we should try to make something to get us there. In Miami I knew we would be able to get whatever we needed to get it running properly. It was late in the afternoon and were told to come back the following day. The following morning the mechanic had come up with a reasonable looking homemade plate. After fiddling around we got the bike running, not great but it was running. The bike was horrendous to ride at low speed and there was always the risk that the home made plate could give up but we were going to go for it. First things first we had to pay for the work. Not having enough cash we were off to the bank. This is where things went wrong. Each and every ATM I tried using would not dispense any cash to me, everybody else had no problems just me. Great. I went back to the hotel and checked internet banking, My transactions were showing up on my statements that I had recieved the money but I had nothing to show for it. Over and over this happened. Six times in total. I could not even call the bank because of the time difference.

So with a heavy head I walked back to the bike store to tell them what was happening and that I could not pay them. They did not really care so the bike was staying with them until the bill had been paid. Finally in the afternoon I could call the bank. On their system it was showing no faults. No fraud problems no credit problems, nada. So where does one go from here? Firstly, dispute all supposed transactions which was one very slow process. Next, how do I now get money? The hardest thing to deal with was that we had money, but could not access it. Our other bank cards had just expired one month earlier and we had no place to get them sent to. I was a victim of credit card fraud a couple of months earlier too, so I could not use that either. My only choice was to go through Visa and request an emergency payment. This was fairly easy and straight forward. The problem was getting the money. It was a long weekend so the banks that were affiliated with Western Union were closed so that left us with trying to find a small Western Union office. We found this difficult as they were not even called Western Union but Effy! When asked if we could get money it was a straight 'No' and they would send us onto the next office where we were told the same. Surely there has to be a place we can get money?!
Yes, at the Western Union office. So we actually manage to get directions to the office, closed for refurbishment and so the day continued on like this. We then had to go and explain this to the mechanics again, they didn't really care less. No money, no bike. We then had to tell the managers at the hotel we could not pay for our room and they were totally fine telling us it would be OK and even asked us if we needed any money to get by for food etc. Just pay us when you get the money, it was not a big problem to them. It wasn't like we were going anywhere. They were very friendly and helpful thankfully.

So we ended up back at the first EFFY office where we begun earlier in the day and asked about receiving money but asked the question differently and they said Yes, god damn things can be difficult. There was another problem however, the computer system was down, it had been all day. They said come back and try tomorrow. What a headache, I wonder why I like to drink sometimes. So we planned to leave the next day for Bogota not expecting to get any money after all the problems that day but we were hoping for the best. Surprisingly we got our money. What a test in one's patience. So with cash in hand and a place to stay in Bogota with couch surfers we hit the road. I was so worried the entire ride that my bike was not going to make it, gently applying the throttle and trying to keep it at one constant speed, not an easy feat with everybody heading back to Bogota after the long weekend, on top of that the road was still in the mountains and twisted and turned for the next 250 to 300 km's. The entire ride the bike just didn't feel right, at speed was the only time the bike felt it could make it.

Finally after a downpour along the way we were on the outskirts of the city with every other person from Bogota (roughly 7 million people). I kept calm and managed to navigate our way to Juan's apartment, our couch surfing host who was so kind to leave his keys at the front reception for us to let ourselves in until he came home the following day. Our first 2 days in Bogota was made up of cleaning the bikes and preparing them for flying to Miami. The cleaning part took a long time, then organising what we needed to keep with us and what we needed to send with the bikes. The next day we were off to see our agent, Lynn Cargo, before heading to the airport. This was all very straightforward as we had been in regular contact with our agent and she made it all very easy. So off to the airport we went. Like all shipping, we had to have our patience about us as we would be in for quite a bit of waiting around.

First thing we had to do was drain the fuel from our bikes, or should I say really just mine; since I have a clear tank the agent that came with us said all fuel must come out, well I could leave no more than 1 litre because of my transparent tank while Sanne's bike went under the radar because she has a black tank. Draining fuel by the door to the warehouse caught the eye of a passing security guard. Just what we needed, the security guard was not impressed and called the top dog to come and have a word. This just had to happen as we were about to load the bikes into the warehouse for storage, final weight check and measurement for charging. The guards wanted our particulars but we refused and told them we were just doing what we were instructed to do by our agent. Some how we got around it and they lost interest and moved on after about an hour. The head guy in the warehouse was an arse and our bikes were promptly whisked away from us before we even had a chance to load our bike gear into our panniers, this then caused a problem for him. I tell you, things were all too difficult for this guy. As the day dragged on we finally had access to the bikes and then had another hour plus wait until the police arrived to check our bikes and contents.

We have shipped a few times now, crossed many border crossings but the Colombian police have by far been the most thorough when checking over our bikes. Every single item was inspected, nothing was left and if I had anything wrapped in a bag it had to come out so all the previous day's work of neatly packing the bikes was undone. The policeman, since he did not have a sniffer dog took on this role himself opening many items and having a good whiff of the contents, it was ridiculous. I had had enough by this point and the officals including my agent were not too impressed when I threw all the belongings from one bag all over the ground. I was told by my agent to keep calm "tranquilo, tranquilo" and that it would be all over soon. After all this we were finally free to go, we then had to head back to our agents office to pay.

With all the shipping out of the way we were free to explore Bogota. Our hosts Juan and Gina were a great couple who we enjoyed having dinner together with and going out for drinks and even to the cinema (where we saw the most boring movie known to man). Gina was our self appointed tour guide one afternoon who showed us around the colourful suburb of La Candeleria. Gina knows her home city well and told us many interesting facts about Bogota. We even visited the local police museum to find out more about the notorious ex drug boss Pablo Escobar. Gina also introduced us to a few local treats and so forth before heading home to Juan's apartment. Juan was such a great guy to sit and talk with and we talked of our plans for our last days in Colombia and invited us to stay until we flew out for the US a few days later. Our time in Bogota went quickly and we never really got to get a good feel for the city but we had a good experience here and it was nice to get a bit of cold weather again after the heat of the coast and knowing we were headed for more warm weather in Miami..

I don't even know where to start to wrap our experience in South America. The experience we had with Juan and Gina was just one of many great couples we had the pleasure to meet while in South America over the past 14 months. It was with a heavy heart that we had to leave South America and trying to recall everything we had done, what we had seen and the friendships we had made was all too much to take in. South America was everything and more than we had expected. It has it all, from the vast spaces of Patagonia to the forests, the stunning beauty of the Andes, the Caribbean coast of Colombia, the Amazon jungle, the cultural rich countries of Bolivia and Peru. I could go on and on. The thing that makes it so great of course is the people, the daily interaction we had with the local people who were always willing to help us if we were lost, needing a place to sleep or just genuinly interested in what we were doing. For that more than anything we will miss. To all our new friends we have made, to the strangers in the street who greeted us with a smile, thank you from the bottom of our hearts for everything, we miss you all but we hope to see many of you in the not so distant future, we may be gone for now but you will never be forgotten.

Loading my poor baby

Safe and sound and ready to hit the road for San Gil

The vacuum release plate that my engine ate and caused it to stop

Waiting patiently for my bike to be put back together

Draining the fuel before shipping the bike

All my fuel that caused the problem with the security

Our bikes ready for flying, well almost

La Candaleria, Bogota

Our host/guide Gina and myself

I am so going to miss the cheap street food and drinks of South America

A Harley Davidson that Pablo Escobar gave to his cousin (now the property of Colombian police) you cannot see it but there are gold inlays over the engine casing and petrol tank

Pablo Escobars jacket, a little strange thing to have in a museum as it is nothing noteworthy, there was also a bloody tile from the roof where he was shot plus the phone he had used to make a phone call to his son on his birthday, which lead him to being caught

A very common sight in Colombia - police with machine guns everywhere

A weird Colombian treat, Chocolate Santa Fereno, you actually dump the cheese into the hot chocolate...

Having dinner with Juan and Gina

Fire water (literally) Aguardiente