09 December 2011

Bogota Bulletproof

Today in Bogota the sun was out and it was blue and warm, the mountains visible high behind the city and I walked up the calle from the hotel. I took a tinto at a café and then continued through Chapinero past the little shops and restaurants and street vendors, and along the route of the Transmilenio, until I reached Miguel Caballero’s bulletproof clothing store on Calle 71, no 15-28. The door is kept locked and an attendant in a black bulletproof vest opened it for me. Inside the clean, bright shop two women at the counter asked what I needed and I explained I was interested in both motorcycle clothing and bulletproof garments.

A small woman guided me to the motorcycle section where I tried on a number of jackets of a durable synthetic material. These jackets were implanted with hard protection on the elbows, shoulders and back. There were various colors other than black and some fit more snugly than others against my body. She showed me to the mirror and we both marveled at how well the jackets looked on me. All were quite affordable at prices around 300,000 COP.

Then we went into the bulletproof section and I tried on the jackets there. There were many wonderfully designed jackets and pants as well as boots and other protective wear and I wondered if this tiny woman who was assisting me had upon acceptance of employment with Miguel Caballero, donned a bulletproof jacket and allowed herself to be shot in the chest with a handgun. I had read that a condition of employment, including that of his lawyers, was a personal trial of the bulletproof qualities of the garments.

I helped the little woman hang the last jacket up on the rack and I thanked her and explained I would most certainly be returning to the shop. I thought the clothing, all from the design of Miguel Caballero himself, was both expertly made and fashionable. She smiled graciously and told me she would be at my orders upon my return.

17 October 2011


New tour begins December 2011

07 June 2011

Rutz - Film

I met two Portuguese filmmakers in Mendoza, Argentina. They were making a film on travelers in South America. I make an appearance at 1:57 in the trailer.

The film can be seen here: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/rutzdoc

Bike maintenance in Mendoza, photo taken by the filmmakers

06 June 2011

Lago Calima

Andreas and I moved from the hostel into the house of Claudia. We each took rooms for a much cheaper rate than a privado at the hostel. After a few days I was feeling much recovered from my sickness and decided to test my fitness in the mountains.

From Buga I rode up into the mountains towards Buenaventura on a 50 kilometer climb to Lago Calima. The road was very steep in places and it was mid-day and sunny and very hot. There were fine views looking back down into the Cauca River valley and then a climb through forest and then up near the clouds the climb began to level out and I could see down below the lake stretching out between the ranges.

The wind was blowing hard there in the mountains and Lake Calima is known as an excellent kite surfing destination because of the strong, unending winds. Riding past a string of roadside stands I followed a sign for the lake and  turned off, the road dropping sharply, and quickly descended towards the lake. I ate an almuerzo on the balcony of a restaurant looking over the water. Then I turned back up the road to ascend what I just descended.

After this climb and another minor one, the return to Buga would be all downhill and I was looking forward to it. There were storms in the east near the city and the sky was black. I was riding with only my two small panniers and had of course neglected to bring my rain gear. I bombed the descent, gunning it hard, hoping to beat the storms, passing scooters and cars on the way down back into the river valley. Big drops of rain were falling as I rode the last 10 km towards Buga, crossing Ruta 25, lifting my bike over the metal dividers in the highway, and then riding up into the city to the central basilica I reached the house. I had beaten the rain. It was an out and back of over 100 km and I felt very good.

04 June 2011


I rode to Buga. It was time to leave Cali. Andreas the Austrian, who I met in Cali, reported that Buga was wonderful. The city was clean and safe and small, and there was an American-German run hostel that made excellent bread and pizzas and brewed its own beer. There was a young Colombian ninja who operated a training center and gym in the city center and Andreas was training with him. There were two supermarkets that you could easily walk to and Buga was very beautiful because of the many churches. It was a city of miracles, the primary one being the appearance of an image of Christ on a shirt a woman was washing in the river.   

I had intended to leave soon after Andreas told me about the wonders of Buga, but I was stricken with an intestinal ailment. It began with vomiting and terrific diarrhea. Then for three days I ate nothing, drank only water, suffered from gas and bloating and made frequent trips to the bathroom.

I left a few days after I gained control of my intestines though I was still very weak. Buga was 75 kilometers north on a flat stretch of Ruta 25 I had ridden quickly and easily last December, but it felt to me one of the more difficult rides I had done. If there had been any climbing at all I would not have been able to ride it. I stopped in Palmira for lunch, and then made three more stops to rest and hydrate. I was still very dehydrated from my illness. My knees and legs hurt and I arrived in Buga gutted.

I carried my loaded bike up the stairs of Buga Hostel and met Andreas. We were the only two staying at the hostel and it was good to see him again. The young American chef at the hostel served us the fine pizzas and we drank the good home-brewed beer. Andreas told me of a girl he had met who had two rooms she was looking to let out on a weekly basis. Tomorrow we would go to look at them. Tomorrow I would take a look around the town. I slept very well that night.

21 May 2011


It's a good life here in Cali. In the mornings there are fresh fruits and bread and pastry from the panaderia and fruit stand down the street and then the 5000 peso almuerzo in the afternoons ($2.50 lunch menu). The days are hot but in the night it is cool and it is a short walk down Calle 17 to Avenida Sexta and the bars and salsaterias where there is always someone dancing. Also on Sexta is the famous asadero (grill) El Hornito, which serves the finest arepa de choclo in the city and excellent chorizos and chuzos (chicken, beef, or pork skewers), and I eat there as often as I walk by the place.

salsa class

From the hostel here in Barrio Granada there is a long and steep hike up into the mountains to the Tres Cruces (Three Crosses) and we did it yesterday before the afternoon rains, hiking first under the bamboo-cover and then through dense jungle where the steps ended and we climbed a rocky path exposed by rainwater flowing down from the summit. At the base of the Three Crosses there is a small outdoor weight lifting area with wooden benches and dumbbells and barbells made of metal bars and concrete. We worked out and then drank a juice from one of the snack stands before descending the mountain, hurrying down as storm clouds pushed in towards the city from the east. Cali is a fine city and where I am staying I have what I need. I am developing a good routine here and I plan to stay awhile longer.

05 May 2011

Buenos Aires - Cali

The bike and gear have been in boxes since Salta. Between Salta and Buenos Aires I had not ridden in three weeks and missed very much sleeping in my tent and the silence and solitude of wild camping. It was a very sudden change to city life and while it was nice to eat in restaurants and to watch and to talk to people, I thought often about long, hot days on the bike, camping in a valley between great mountains and cooking pasta on my little stove.

Salta was good because I had a room to myself on the rooftop of the hostel. The hostel at Buenos Aires was more a lodging house filled with students from Bogota, Colombia. They were kids, young and excitable and loud and I slept in a dormitory with 7 of them. There was little privacy but I kept to myself and ate lunch at a different restaurant each day, usually at one of the neighborhood lunch counters that are numerous in Palermo. I knew I had a found a good, cheap spot when there were many elderly people sitting at the tables.

Evidence of the last military coup on the facade of the Ministry of Economics

In the afternoons I exercised in the Parque las Heras which was a 15 minute walk from the hostel. The park was basically a big dog run, with dogs everywhere barking and chasing each other, leashed to trees or being walked in big packs by the hired dog walkers. Buenos Aires is not a city of parks or many historical buildings and other than La Recoleta and the government buildings at the central plaza, I did not go to see things. There are old, tall trees lining many streets, and the buildings are mostly old with fine stonework and it is pleasant to walk through town, but much has been torn down, and the main boulevards widened, so that the city could be built up for more housing and commerce.

The day before I left for Cali I had lunch with Diego who I had met in Lujan in January and he explained that the upkeep of parks and public spaces is something the government has no interest in doing. The government would rather sell the land and thus not need to make expenditures to clean and maintain them.

We also discussed the business he was developing and how when he was ready he would be able to secure a loan at 3 or 4%. I wondered how this was possible given Argentina's high inflation. Banks were currently only making loans of less than $10,000 at 25%. Diego explained it was soon to be an election year and the government was making low interest rate loans and for sizeable amounts to stimulate the economy and get President Kirchner re-elected. Diego knew as well as I that it was disastrous policy and it depressed me to hear how Argentina was again dooming itself economically. The bullet holes that still covered a wall of the Ministry of Economics from the last military coup should have been a reminder.

Stock exchange

The fall had come and it was cold and gray in Buenos Aires and often it rained. The temperature fell to near freezing one day and in the wind and rain I was just warm enough in my wool sweater. The leaves were falling from the trees and as I walked quickly through the streets to stay warm I was thinking about Colombia and how I would soon be there and the summer would begin again for me.

After 10 days I left for Cali. At Ezezia airport I got lucky and wasn’t charged for the excess baggage weight I knew I was carrying. I once again feared the bike being impounded on my stopover in Lima, as I had been told by a touring cyclist the Peruvians sometimes did, but when I arrived in Cali my two boxes were there at the baggage claim. It was 29 degrees and humid and I was excited to be back where it was warm and to know that I would soon be back on the road.

It was past 5pm when I passed customs and too late to assemble the Bike Friday and ride out of the airport and I took a taxi into the city. There was much flooding in the fields of sugar cane along Ruta 25 and big standing pools of water along the roadside and I wondered if there had been mudslides up in the mountains and if the roads were passable. We passed through that dangerous stretch of road just outside the city with potholes and heavy bus, truck and scooter traffic and I was glad to not be riding through it. We passed the clubs at Menga and the Chipichape mall and then into Granada and the nicer part of town and I was dropped off at the Calidad House where I had stayed last December.

It is off-season and the hostel was quiet and mostly empty and I took a privado in the back, showered and then walked down to Avenida Sexta and El Hornito, the outdoor asadero with the grilled choritzos and excellent arepa de choclo. I saw many of the people I remembered and was offered cocaine and girls by the same guys outside the same bars. Things did not much change on the Sexta. I had only known Cali during the big December feria and the avenue seemed a little quiet but it was good to be back and the arepa de choclo was as delicious as before.

28 April 2011

Buenos Aires - La Recoleta

Today I visited the cemetery where the famous American pop star and actress Madonna is buried. I did not know her real name is Eva Duarte.


18 April 2011

Salta 3

I abandoned my plan to take the train from Tucuman to Buenos Aires. There seemed no way to purchase a ticket online and it was impossible to purchase one by phone or even to inquire about the availability of tickets. Tickets were supposed to be purchased 2 weeks prior to travel at the ticket office in Tucuman. There was also a report that prices had been raised by 80%. Even more worrisome was the possibility I would have to pay a significant excess baggage fee to get the 2 boxes containing my bike and gear to Buenos Aires. To answer these questions and get a ticket I would have to go to the ticket office in Tucuman. As much as I wanted to travel by train across the Pampas it was too difficult and I decided to travel to Buenos Aires by bus from Salta.

I walked to each of Salta’s bike shops inquiring about boxes. Only one shop had them and a man working there offered to sell me a box for 20 pesos. I told him he was joking. He said he was serious. I offered 10 pesos, not even intending to pay that. He refused and I left the shop.

Walking back through the Plaza 9 de Julio someone called out my name. Sitting at one of the outdoor café tables was Jason, an English cyclist I had met in Tierra del Fuego at La Union Panaderia at Tolhuin. I sat down and joined him for a drink. He had just arrived by bus from Buenos Aires. After a few weeks touring Uruguay he had tried to ride cross the Pampas but abandoned due to there being no shoulder on the road, heavy truck traffic, and a lack of places to wild camp. There was nothing to the countryside but flat farmland. It had been my original plan to cross the Pampas from Mendoza and I was glad I hadn't tried it.

Jason had just built up his bike and back at his hostel and, if it was still there, he had a bike box. We talked roads and places we had been since we had last seen each other and I told him about the good riding south of Salta through the Valle de Lerma and the Quebrada de Las Conchas.

We finished our beers and walked back to his hostel and the box was still there. Jason was anxious to get back on the road and my description of the good riding south of the city had excited him. He planned to leave tomorrow on a loop that would take him south to Cafayate and then back north on Ruta 40 towards Bolivia. He planned to cross into Bolivia and continue north and he would contact me in a some months when he made Colombia. If I was still in shape we could do some riding together there.

14 April 2011

Salta 2

 Hostel rooftop

 Rooftop view

 My room on rooftop

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