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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Colombian Crashes, Death Defying Roads, and Flash Floods!!!

Sunday, 6 April...  

After a couple of nice evenings in Popayán, I decided to leave as planned for Mocoa two days ago. I slept longer than expected, which was nice, but gave me a bit of a late start. Due to the long distance and terrain that I expected to cover, I had wanted to leave early. I thought I'd have a nice, brisk ride from Popa down to Pasto. From there, I expected it to be smooth tarmac all the way to San Francisco (just east of Sibundoy), which it was, for the most part. From San Fran, I thought there were two routes to Mocoa. I was very wrong about that part, which I'll discuss in a bit. Before I get too far, let me recap what was to be my first (and hopefully last) high speed, and very dangerous crash of the trip... 

Everything was running smoothly after leaving Popa. Per usual, it took a bit of time to navigate my way out of the city, but after hopping on the main road south I was making good time. An hour or so into the ride, the road had several construction stops (obra en la via). These have become commonplace during my travels in Colombia, and they are a huge f'ing pain in the arse. It's basically where there is one lane to pass, so they post workers on either side to stop traffic in turns. I've waited anywhere from <1min - 2hrs at these. Unfortunately, due to the stops I was even farther behind schedule for the day.  

I was about an hour outside of Popa and just setting off after a construction stop. I kicked the bike into gear, and waved to the construction worker. As I was getting back up to speed through the turns I came up behind a six wheel truck. The road was very twisty and tight, so I couldn't get around him as quickly as I'd wanted. As we were approaching a sweeping left, I was looking ahead to see if I could get around. Before I knew it, the truck hit a bump and a huge jug of black aceite (oil) flew out of the back and exploded directly in front of me. It was like I had been Spyhunter'ed by the bastard! Even though the racing background kicked in and everything slowed to a crawl, there was little time to react. I knew the only thing to do was to look farther through the turn, hold my line, keep the throttle open, and hope for the best. Unfortunately, the best didn't happen. As soon as my front wheel hit the oil, it washed and then gradually tucked. It was a typical low side, and I was gently on the ground and sliding before I knew it.  

It's funny, crashing is an art... a skill that one can get better at. I remember thinking as the front was pushing, "hmmm, I rarely crash on the left side, this should be interesting" (apparently I'm the Zoolander of crashing). Then as I hit the ground, I looked ahead and pointed the then sliding bike towards the apex of the turn before throwing it up the road. I pulled my arms in, allowed the rest of my body to go limp, and gracefully slid like a baseball player into second base (if second base was a metal guardrail about 75ft away!). As I came to a stop, I patted the ground to make sure I was in fact stopped, something you learn to do after race crashes. I wiggled fingers and toes, patted my body down, and quickly jumped up to survey the damage.  

Now this is where it gets quite funny. As I was getting up and pulling the helmet off, I knew I had gotten away very, very lucky, so found myself laughing. There was a small tienda just on the outside of the turn, and about 15 people came running up. As they approached, I saw their expressions gradually go from total panic, to less concerned as I was standing at that point, to total confusion because I was laughing and giving them a thumbs up. One older woman almost had a heart attack and was screaming "ay Dios mio!" over and over. After realizing that I was fine, we all shifted our attention to her, and had to sit her down and feed her water until she calmed down. Apparently when there is a moto crash in Colombia, the results, and reaction from the rider is much different usually (due to a lack of proper safety equipment I'm assuming).  

After getting the bike up and out of the way, I checked over it and all of my gear for damage. The bars were bent slightly, but a quick jerk to the right fixed that issue. My left (Wolfman Expedition) pannier/bag was a bit scuffed and now has a small hole in the bottom, which I'm sure a bit of stitching and/or duct tape will fix. My Held gloves 'held' up quite well after a 45mph slide, but both have very minor breaks in the stitching (not a big enough deal to worry about - for now). The jacket did just fine, but my Klim pants have some rash and three small holes around the left hip area, which again is something that can be stitched up quite easily. All in all, I got very, very, incredibly lucky. First off, it was a left hand turn, which didn't put me sliding directly into oncoming traffic. Second, there was enough room for the slide to run its course, without danger of obstacles and/or cliffs, which there were plenty of just before and after this particular left.  

After helping to clean up the oil spill, and chatting with everyone for a bit, I slid the helmet back on and headed on my way. At this point I was well behind schedule and knew that I would be hard pressed to make Mocoa. I decided I would stop in Pasto for the night, then make my way onward the next morning, which I did (note, there is nothing in Pasto worth stopping for unless you need a place to rest your head for a night - IMO). Yesterday morning I woke up refreshed and excited for the ride, which was surprising due to the mishap the day prior. Since I had the whole day to ride to Mocoa, I decided that I would take the rough route to the south, as opposed to what I thought would be the smooth hwy route to the north. Turns out, Google Maps is a bit overzealous and has mapped a road that doesn't exist yet. SR10 is a construction project that is currently underway, but won't be complete and/or rideable for another year or so.  

The 'rough' route to the south after San Francisco is just that... ROUGH! However, the ride is amazing and proves that it really is much more about the journey itself than the destination. Known as the Devil's Trampoline (aka adios mi vida - goodbye my life), the narrow dirt road is perched precariously on the side of steep mountainsides for the most part. The majority of the pass is one lane (at best), which makes it difficult to pass, and downright scary when truckers come barreling towards you. Add in a torrential downpour, and you have the makings of my thrilling six hour ride to Mocoa! The first half was fairly uneventful, stunning vistas aside, as I made my way to the radio towers at the top. The second half was a full on, balls out thrill ride all the way down to Mocoa. The rain started to dump, which bloated the rivers and waterfalls, and made the road all but impassable. There was water falling, shooting, and spraying on me from all directions. I think the videos here and here will do a better job of showing the road/ride than I ever could, so I'll leave it at that. However, I will say that the road is a must for any ADVrider. Disregard any comments about security issues in the area. There is heavy police and national military presence the entire route, and Mocoa is filled with smiling and friendly faces.  

Upon arriving in Mocoa, I made my way to Hostel Casa del Rio, where I decided to camp for a couple of nights (7k COP - $3.50 USD). The hostel is nice, clean, and filled with great people. There is a beautiful garden out back with adequate safe parking for the bike, along with a lovely stream running through. Out front Rio Mocoa, a beautiful and popular swimming spot for locals, flows loudly as it winds its way through rock beds. There are a handful of waterfalls nearby, which is a big draw. However, it turns out the main draw for tourists coming to Mocoa is to sample the local medicine called Ayahuasca. Here is the Wikipedia definition... 

"Ayahuasca, is a psychedelic brew of various plant infusions prepared with the Banisteriopsis caapi vine.  It is either mixed with the leaves of dimethyltryptamine (DMT) containing species of shrubs from the genus Psychotria or with the leaves of the Justicia pectoralis plant which does not contain DMT.  The brew, first described academically in the early 50's by a Harvard ethnobotanist, who found it employed for divinatory and healing purposes by the native peoples of Amazonian Peru, is known by a number of different names."  

Long story short, for $40k COP you can have a shaman prepare some medicine for you, and after throwing up your guts into a beautiful 'vomcano', trip your balls off for around 6 - 8 hours... Ayahuasca is used largely as a religious sacrament, but has caught on amongst the backpacking crowd over the years. The psychedelic effects include visual and auditory stimulation, the mixing of sensory modalities, and psychological introspection that may lead to great elation, fear, or illumination. Known as 'the purge', the intense vomiting (and occasional diarrhea) before 'the trip' can clear the body of worms and other tropical parasites. Bonus! I won't say whether I did or didn't partake, as this is a family blog.

Tomorrow I plan to wake up very early to make the trip back up and out of Mocoa, via the Devil's Trampoline. I'm equal parts happy/excited, and pissed that I get to (have to) do the road again. I'll make my way back to Pasto, and then south to Ipiales for a night before crossing into Ecuador. Ever since seeing a picture as a child in an encyclopedia, I've always wanted to see Santuario de las Lajas in person, so it will be a nice point in the journey. I've also heard you can sleep in the monastery above the church, so that's where I'll try to sleep for the night. The internet is spotty here in Mocoa, so this might not make it's way online until Ipiales. Then again, I can't imagine that a monastery has the quickest interwebs connection, so it might even be a few days into Ecuador.  

Regardless, that's it for now. Hope everyone is well back home...  

Much love, 

~ D

PS... While in Mocoa, I ran into a nice couple named Yves and Francois riding an old Honda XR. Apparently, this is Yves sixth trip. He leaves the bike in cities/countries along the way, and then continues the trip when he can get back out of France for several months. You can check his/their website here. They are great, and I've invited them to Colorado for some riding if I end up back there. In return, they've graciously invited me into their beautiful mountain home if/when I find my way to France. I love the people you meet on motorbikes along the way! One of my favorite parts of the adventure thus far...  

Monday, 7 April 

So… I definitely find it necessary to add to this post after the last 24 hours. After writing last night, I nestled into the tent for an early night. Not sure why, I had a lazy day that consisted of some light bike maintenance, lunch in an open air grill nestled on the bank of Rio Mocoa, and falling asleep while reading in a hammock. It rained off and on all day, but as I was zipping up around 9pm it really started to pour. I was happy about it as I enjoy sleeping to the sounds of rain. However, this was rain that I’m not used to. It was coming down in sheets, and the drops were massive and heavy. It was relentless with no signs of letting up. The sound was amazing and I finally dozed off sometime just past 10pm.  

Boom! Around midnight I woke up to what I thought was a freight train directly outside the tent. It startled me and I was really confused. It was still raining incredibly hard and it only took a minute for me to put it together. That ’tranquil stream’ mentioned in the post above, well the rain had caused a flash flood and it had turned into a full blown raging river. Keep in mind, I had set up about 10ft from the edge. Not only that, but Rio Mocoa, which sits just on the other side of the property, was roaring in the distance. In just my underwear, I grabbed my headlamp and some flip flops, and unzipped the tent. I was absolutely terrified by what I saw and heard. The stream, which normally flows about 1 - 2ft deep, was only a few inches from breaching the lip of the small canyon that it runs through, which I’d guesstimate at 12 - 15ft deep!  

I walked over to a covered area about 20 feet away, which also sits at the edge, and was in shock. I don’t know if shock is even the right word. The sound was deafening and one of the scariest things I’ve ever heard. Couple that with the pouring rain and pitch black, and it’s safe to say I was petrified. I walked closer still, and became even more concerned. Did I mention the sound? I can’t describe it, but it was probably the meanest, darkest, most alarming thing I’ve heard. Even still, I could hear Rio Mocoa behind me, which sounded like the ocean during a storm. Seriously, it was wild. I was too scared to even walk over to see Mocoa. Normally it runs approx 3 - 7ft deep, and 20 - 30ft in width. By the sound of it, I’d say it had doubled in size (at least).  

I stood there for what seemed like an hour, not sure what to do. I started to think to myself, “surely this happens frequently here”, and “certainly they wouldn’t tell me to camp here if it was dangerous”. Well, my thoughts were wrong, and fears confirmed when people came walking out to greet me (still wearing only underwear, flip flops, and a headlamp). They took one look at the river and became very alarmed. In a panic, they told me that I "must move all of my stuff to higher ground". I didn’t waste any time. I went back to the tent, threw some shorts on, and started the process of uncovering and moving the motorcycle, and transporting my belongings and the tent. After I moved everything I was a whopping 20ft from the edge of the river, as opposed to 10ft. 

After battening down the hatches on the moto and tent both, I zipped myself inside. The rain had lessened slightly, but the sound of the river(s) continued to scare the living $hit out of me! Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep. I was up and out of the tent pretty much every 20mins checking the water level, which seemed to start decreasing around 2:30AM. This morning the alarm blasted off at 5:45AM and I flipped it off. Because of my terrifying and wet night, I was in no mood to get up and at em’. However, I needed to ride that damn Devil’s Trampoline route yet again to make my way back to Pasto, and then south to Ipiales. A route I guesstimated would take around seven hours. After hitting snooze three or four times I finally pulled myself from the (non) comforts of my soggy sleeping bag. After two cups of coffee, I started to think about the night before. I realized that it is the first time that I’ve been really, truly scared during the trip. I felt incredibly helpless and vulnerable, and sensed the real strength of nature. Call me a pansy, but it really shook me.  

After surveying the damage from the night before from both rivers (there was a lot), and a third cup of coffee, I was off and on my way. I rode quickly out of Mocoa and unfortunately promised myself to never return. If so, I’ll certainly sleep well enough away from any of the numerous rivers. After riding the Devil’s Trampoline a couple days prior in a rainstorm, I was concerned that the waterfalls, and river crossings would be even more bloated and deep due to the rain. To my surprise, the road was actually much better today. The sun was out for the most part, which gave me an opportunity to light up the back wheel and make good time up the first half of the ride. The second half of the route was an entirely different story. There were three major landslides from the rains last night, all of which blocked the entire road. Luckily, the crews are accustomed to this and were up at the ass crack of dawn with their tractors and plows to clear a path. I was stopped at all three however. The first for approx 15mins, the second for an hour, and the third for around 45mins. Because of that, I was behind schedule. Imagine that… it seems being behind schedule has started to be a theme of my trip unfortunately. 

Don’t get me wrong, even with all that drama (rain, landslides, etc), the Devil’s Trampoline is still one of the most incredible routes I’ve ever had the pleasure of riding. The views are stunning, the bottomless drops keep the adrenaline pumping, and the dirt is varied and fun. Not to mention the countless crisp and refreshing water crossings! After ripping it up for a second time, I finally made it to Pasto at 3:20pm. I stopped for a brief pit stop (think Formula 1 fast) to take a leak, hydrate, and to throw on some driving indie rock to keep me going all the way to Ipiales. Turns out I didn’t need much to stay awake as the scenery gets more and more stunning the closer you get. The Andes start to uncover their size, and provide amazing views in all directions. Before I knew it, I was in Ipiales. Then just as quick, I stopped the bike and was staring at something I’ve wanted to see in person ever since randomly opening an encyclopedia to a photo of it at a young age, Santuario de las Lajas.  

Without thinking, I rode straight through a gate and all the way down to the church itself (not sure if I was supposed to do that, as I was the ONLY vehicle). I let out a huge sigh of relief as all the stress from the past few days escaped and fell into the valley below. After staring in awe at the church for some time, I made my way to the monastery just up the hill to see if I could sleep there. Sure enough, a nice priest invited me in, allowed me to park the bike in one of the conference rooms, showed me to a small/basic private room w/ bath ($7 USD), and then offered me some hot tea. And that’s where I’m writing this update from.  

Tomorrow I plan to wake up relatively early for the border crossing into Ecuador and then make my way to either Ibarra or Quito (probably Ibarra). I’m getting much more comfortable without having a plan. In my old life, I had to plan every single detail of every single thing. Even when I started on this trip, I refused to leave a city without having a hostel, hotel, or CouchSurf request booked. Then I would make sure I had the exact address mapped perfectly in my GPS, so I didn’t need to worry at all… about anything. Lately I’ve started to enjoy the opposite. I’m getting a kick out of not having to be anywhere at any given time. I’m starting to enjoy the thrill of having to seek out shelter. And I’m proud of myself for being more calm and able to go with the flow.  

So that's that for now... Sorry for the longwinded post this round, but I felt like I had a lot to write about. Hope to chat with some of you soon, 

~ D

Devil's Trampoline Part I from David Mobley on Vimeo.
The Devil's Trampoline - Part II from David Mobley on Vimeo.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting blog. David, you write nearly as good as you Ride!