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Saturday, March 8, 2014

Welcome to Chapter 4 | South America...

So, I left off a week ago just as we were about to board the Stahlratte for a five day sail to Cartagena, Colombia.  The lot of us woke up early and headed out for Carti Pier around 6:30am.  It was Johnny Alabama, Sheldon/Ewa (Ride For Smiles), and me.  Just as we reached the turn off for the pier, the rest of the moto group who were coming from the city arrived as well.  There were two local bikes, Jeffrey (Ride For Peace), Scott/Susan, and Bentley (Bentley's Big Adventure - the happy dog on the back of Scott's bike).  We all enjoyed the ride up and over the twisty and beautiful road to the pier.  We found Ludwig (the captain) and the Stahlratte waiting patiently for us when we arrived.  It really was a magical moment as I'd been waiting to take the trip aboard the ship for years.  Before we knew it, they asked us to park the bikes on the dock and remove all the bags.  Then next thing I knew, they were hiking my bike up via wench up and over the side of the boat.  It was a tense feeling watching my baby dangling from a small rope as it made it's way safely on deck.  

Shortly after loading the bikes, we motor sailed for approx three hours to a beautiful small island in San Blas (one of 360+) and made anchor for two nights.  There was drinking, laughing, music, rope swinging/back flipping into the water, an amazing BBQ on the beach w/ massive amounts of rum punch, and beautiful views for 360 degrees.  San Blas is paradise and I would recommend a visit there if at all possible.  Shortly after boarding the boat I realized there were 14 others on the boat taking the sail w/out motorcycles.  I immediately noticed and targeted in on Janina (Nina), a beautiful German girl, and we struck up a conversation.  Fast forward a couple hours later and we found ourselves swimming together, searching for shells on the island, and enjoying the BBQ together.  After knowing each other for only several hours it felt like we had been close for years... it just clicked.  The combination of her, great friends, wind in the sails, dolphin sightings, and everything else made for an epic journey to Cartagena.  If you find yourself in need of transport (with or without motorbike) to/from Colombia I would HIGHLY recommend using Ludwig and the Stahlratte's services.  Zero complaints from me and it will go down as one of the most memorable five days of my life.  Easily...  

We made it to Cartagena early in the morning three days ago and several of us made our way to Amber Hostel.  I've been fortunate enough to have spent time in San Blas and Cartagena before, so I was able to show Nina around.  We walked the streets of the old town, had amazing meals, enjoyed each other's company, and were even able to take the bike out of town to explore a couple of private beaches headed towards Baranquilla on 90A.  We were also able to spend more time with Johnny Alabama, Sheldon/Ewa, Jeffrey, and Susan/Scott.  Cartagena really is a special place.  Upon arrival, everyone takes notice of the sweltering heat, which really is brutal.  However, once acclimated the romance of the town really begins to show.  The architecture, flowers, people, tranquil vibe, and parks/plazas are all spectacular.  You can also find quite a party in the evening if you are searching for it.  The city has everything a visitor can ask for, but at a price.  When I first came here in 2004 I don't recall it being as expensive.  Now it's mad pricey.  Nina and I had two paletas (popsicles) today and the tab was $10!  Of course you can get out of old town and into the heart of the city and find cheap eats and entertainment if needed.  

I had a LOT of time to think and reflect on the boat.  I realized again how lucky I am to be taking a trip like this.  Of course I knew it already, but it is very easy to forget.  Especially when you are traveling with people like Jeffrey (Ride For Peace), who has been on the road for eight years, and visited over 90 countries.  It's easy to get jealous and think, "man, I wish I could do that!".  The thought/feeling was further solidified when we got to Cartagena and I saw the discrepancy between wealthy tourists and locals eking out a living selling handicrafts, arepas, fruit, etc.  I feel so incredibly blessed to be able to have this experience.  I've made a pact with myself to never forget that, however long it lasts.  The first night we were in town a group headed to Cafe Del Mar, which is a beautiful bar nestled on top of the fortified wall of the old town.  Almost exactly ten years ago my ex took me there.  It was an amazing feeling sitting there with Nina, a fantastic group of new friends, the wind, and a realization that I'm happier now than I've ever been...  ten years later.  I thought life was good then, but it truly is now.  Funny thing is, I was staying at a proper five star boutique hotel, and eating lobster then.  Now I'm staying in a dingy (not that bad) hostel, and eating street meat!  I feel like I'm definitely collecting experiences and memories now, not things.  Which in my opinion is much better.  

I'd be lying though if I said it was 100% positive emotions at present.  Nina just hopped in a cab to jump a bus to Bogota where she is working for a month.  We only knew each other for five days, but I really, really enjoyed my time with her.  Normally I have an issue sitting around doing nothing.  I mean, I can relax and read from time to time, or sit in a theater for a film, but doing absolutely nothing sometimes bothers me... a lot.  I'm not sure if it's my personality, anxiety, or what.  Regardless, I found myself incredibly relaxed when I was with her.  We could sit in a park and talk for hours or walk around aimlessly, and it felt great.  I'm looking forward to getting to Bogota sometime soon so we can continue our laziness together.  Maybe I'm a bit smitten, but I miss her already.  :)  

So that brings me to my plans.  Tomorrow I'll wake up relatively early for a spot check of the bike (adjust/lube chain, check pressures, possibly change air filter, etc).  Then I'll head northeast through Baranquilla to Santa Marta.  I plan to spend a couple of nights there, and then possibly camp on a beach in Parque Tayrona for a bit.  From there I'll make the trek south down to Medellin with a couple of nights somewhere in the middle (if anyone has recommendations feel free to send them along).  After visiting friends in Medellin for several nights, I'll head south to Bogota to explore and figure 'things' out.  After that, the plan is to head down to Ipiales for Santuario de las Lajas, then into Ecuador.  Then there really is no plan, aside from meeting my buddy Sam in Lima on May 12th.  Having no plan is new for me. Mexico was planned thoroughly, Central America somewhat, but South America is entirely open...  and it feels great that way!  I'm thinking maybe I'll find a nice beach in Ecuador and volunteer some time or find work at a bar or hostel.  I'd like to set up shop somewhere and 'live' for a bit.  Possibly a month, we'll see.  

I guess that's that for now...  Sheldon met a guy from England today who has been traveling north through south america via Yamaha Tenere for 1 1/2 years.  We're going to meet up with him to swap stories and get some advice/recommendations on routing.  

I've said it once and I'll say it again, if you are on the fence about a trip like this, F'ing DO IT!  You will not regret it.  Someday never comes...

I'll be sure to post soon and often.  For now I'll leave you with a $hitload of photos from the past week.  

Chat soon...  ~ D

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