Monday, April 29, 2013

Santa Clara

Rode fairly quickly from Camuaguy to Santa Clara to get to the Mausoleum de Che Guevara before it closed. Of course I didn't think about what day it was...Monday. The monument was open, but the mausoleum and museum, closed. The guard said to return tomorrow at 9:30 AM. There is only one other thing that I know to do here, see the replica of the armored train that Che stopped during the battle of the revolution.

A guy on a bicycle took me to one casa that was supposed to have a good price, I followed him into the center as it started raining.My rear tire is not gripping the road well in the rain, so I was grateful to be following a bicycle. When we arrived at the first casa only to learn it was full. The next place was asking more than I wanted to pay and breakfast was extra. Now waiting for the afternoon rain and lighting to stop before going to see the train, them continue to look for lodging.

My jockey waited semi patiently for the rain to stop, so he could take me to another casa particular. In Cuba international tourists can find lodging in private home that have been authorized by the government. These casas have a sign with a blue anchor. Casa particulars that have a red anchor are for Cubans only. The typical price is 25 CUC, which is very close to $25 USD. The price is negotiable, depending on the time or day and size of the city. Breakfast and dinner may or may not be included. Overnight parking may be free or at 1 CUC ($1 USD) at a garage down the street. Internet access is always extra.

Three times I paid 15 CUC, in smaller towns. Twice the rate was lowered by asking and the third was a "promotion" rate.

When the rain stopped In Santa Clara my jockey led me to a casa that charged 15 CUC, with no breakfast and parking included. That evening I found dinner away from the center of town for 25 National Pesos or $1 USD. Breakfast consisted of fruit bought the night before; several small bananas and a large mango.

Riding around after dinner...

First stop, a monument to Che located on a hill overlooking town. A guy selling "real" Cohebas, said Che planned the attack on Bastatia's military train from this place. The bridge east of Santa Clara was already destroyed and the train was retreating when Che's forces tore up the tracks with a bulldozer.

Between historic sites I stopped for breakfast and coffee. Small egg sandwiches are about 30 cents and shot of expresso are 4 cents when you buy it from a "particular" business. A guy was selling cafe out of this living room for1 National Peso. The exchange rate is 24 National Pesos to the a United States Dollar. If you buy coffee in a tourist restaurant the price is a lot higher.

 Loaded up on caffeine went to see the train wreak memorial.

I bought a crazy second hand shirt for $1.50 USD in a second hand clothes store and rode to see Che's mausoleum. No photography is allowed in the crypt where many of the heroes of the revolution are laid to rest. Each has a likeness carved in the end stone. For some reason Che's portrait was not lite. I assume the likeness is not illuminated to discourage clandestine photographers.

Across the hall from the mausoleum is a small museum dedicated to Che. Again, photography is not allowed there either. A lady was stopped by an attendant for taking pictures with a flash, then I saw her five minutes later taking photos without a flash. I figured it was Ok to take pictures without a flash and took two pictures...before I was told photography was not allowed.Here a photograph of one of Che's pistols.

Having my gotten a huge infusion of Che, I hit the road for Havana...

Monday, April 22, 2013

Santiago de Cuba - Arrival

The Stahlratte entered the port of Santiago de Cuba sometime after sunrise. We motored past the fort that protected the harbor in colonial times and dropped anchor near the marina. The captain went ashore while the rest of the boat had breakfast. Afterwards we tied up to the dock, but could not leave until immigrations and customs officials arrived. Motorcyclists and backpackers prepared their luggage while waiting.

Customs arrived to inspect the boat and brought dogs to check for drugs. They made a thorough search. The officials went through each pocket and item of some of the passengers luggage. One passenger ignored the captain's warming and tried to smuggle five marijuana seeds through Cuba. There was no intention to leave the seeds in Cuba, they were intended for use at home...but the seeds were found and a fine of $200 USD was applied. A single seed was found in another passenger's luggage customs let that person go without a fine. Even the trash from the boat was checked by the dogs.

We started the importation of the motorcycles at marina, in the Customs offices. More paperwork would be required in town at the larger customs offices, and a trip to Transito...

 The ship clears quarantine and we are allowed to off load the motorcycles.

In short order every bike was on the dock and luggage loaded. Next stop Customs in town to finalize the importation. Not so fast. We found the Customs office in town, but were told to return in the morning for reasons I never learned nor did I really care. Finding a money exchange office was top on my lists. While I looking for the money exchange office a few blocks down the street, the rest of the riders rode on...and I was on my own, not for the first time. I rather prefer traveling alone anyway and need to find the international clinic and medical attention for my little finger. Getting the infection treated was a higher priority for me than finding lodging. After visiting a doctor and securing a room for myself and motorcycle, I ran into some of the backpackers and riders later that night. A few riders returned to the familiarity  of the Stalhratte for the night, while others found a casa particular in town.

The next morning we were back at the customs to complete our temporary motorcycle importation. We attracted quite a crowd of curious Cubans while we waited for the paperwork to be completed.

Once we had our temporary importation sticker paid for and stuck to our windshields, we headed to Transito for our licenses plates and license cards.

The licensing process would end up taking three trips to the Transito office, a trip to the international bank for a special stamp and hours for the Transito workers to figure out how to input motorcycle data from no less than three foreign countries into a system that they rarely used if ever. 24 hours later we had completed all the steps and could ride as we chose throughout Cuba.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Colombia to Jamaica

The Stalhratte set sail on April 10, 2013 from Cartagena, Colombia, to Port Antonio, Jamaica with 6 motorcyclist and a compliment of backpackers. After being in South America for 6 months, I was a bit wistful to close this chapter of my journey. When would I return? Would I ever see the amazing people I had met and visit the cool places in South America again? Leaving Colombia would be a big point in the trip. With something like 3/4 of the trip behind me, I started to reminisce about the first days and weeks in Venezuela and how overwhelming the road ahead seemed. During those early days there was a touch of anxiety as I contemplated the many borders ahead, crossing the Amazon, my limited Spanish and non-existent Portuguese. Mostly I ruminated and outright worried about riding alone in northern South America. Many ride the western side of South America, skipping Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana and large sections of Brazil. The travel blogs do not report much about the roads I took on through the Guianas. The biggest point I gathered would be problems getting insurance for French Guiana. I resolved to take the trip one day at a time. Now this was all behind me, and the memories were starting to blur together, some fading away. The days riding, even the days holding still in one place, were so rich with experiences, an avalanche of impressions, sensations, emotions, it is impossible to hold on to all of them. Many will be lost, the best I will hold on tightly.

For the last two night in Colombia I stayed at the Hostel Mamallena. A dorm room, wifi and tourist location all added up to the perfect spot to spent two nights in Cartagena. The last days in Colombia were spent shopping, exchanging USD for EUROs, delivering the motorcycle to the Stalhratte and hanging out with some of the riders that would be on the trip.

The night before setting sail, around 4:00 AM, in the dark of the dorm room I stumbled. As I fell my little finger somehow got caught under my knee and became dislocated. Ouch. As I studied the finger and its odd line, the thought of seeking out a hospital loomed over me. By my rough estimate it would mean finding and taking a taxi to the emergency room with a finger out of joint, waiting for hours to be treated and released, then traveling back to the hostel to packing up and get to the Stalhratte. Or I could just give the finger a firm tug and reset it. My mind processed the above in seconds and the next thing I knew I was grasping the little finger with my left and a good YANK. Surprisingly resetting the finger was not painful. The joint became swollen, bruised and tender for weeks and weeks. [Note: months later the range of motion of  my little finger remains reduced. Another souvenir from the trip.]

I stocked up for the sea voyage and final major leg of the trip with, chocolate, razor blades, motion sickness pills and most importantly the last bottle of Jack Daniels available at the Exito grocery store.

 "The Virgin of the Loading Cranes"

 Six motorcycles wrapped up for the sea voyage ahead.

 Motoring out of Cartagena habour.

 Preparing the main sail.

 Hoisting the main sail.
We would experience strong winds and high waves for the first two days out of Cartagena. This is very typical conditions on the north coast of South America. For those two days we sail at 8 to 10 knots, making good time. After two days, like clockwork, the winds reduced and we sailed at 6 to 8 knots for the balance of the trip to Jamaica. Many of the passengers did not do well in the high seas. Motion sickness pills work wonders. The treatment needs to start before the waves are strong. One passenger could not get out of bed for the first three days and made short appearances on the fourth and fifth day at sea.

Captain Ludwig observing a container ship. During the five day sail we encountered only a few commercial ships. Each sighting is duly recorded in the ships log.

Two fishing lines were always in place while the Stalhratte was under sail. Several mackerel were caught between Colombia and Jamaica. Two slipped off the hook as they were lifted out of the water.

Barracuda, caught between Cuba and Mexico. Delicious.

Now docked in Port Antonio, Jamaica, we could not leave the boat until it was inspected by Jamaican Customs officials and the automatic quarantine lifted. We were permitted to swim! We had spent 5 days at sea. Naturally we could not swim while under sail, so diving into the bay took little encouragement. Errol Flynn Marina, Port Antonio, Portland Parish, Jamaica

It was the end of his shift and one of the Marine Police decided to join us for a swim. To his partner's surprise he handed off his gun and radio, then took the rope and swung into water. Only in Jamaica!

Captain Ludwig preparing documents to bring the Stalhratte into Jamaica and visas for his passengers.
The next morning Jamaican Immigrations arrived and we were stamped into Jamaica!
 Time to celebrate. During the stay we consumed many glassses of pina coladas, mud slides, Red Stripe would be cheerfully lifted. And many plates of jerked chicken and pork were devoured. Welcome to Jamaica mon.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Caribbean Redux

Traveling for seven months to the day and 24,000 miles logged. Today I reached Caribbean in Tolu, Colombia. This is my last South American country. When I crossed the Ecuadorian/Colombian frontier, it occurred to me that this was the last time I would import the motorcycle into a South America country. The milestones are quickly reducing in numbers. Now the Caribbean lays before me. I am almost to Cartagena, where the South American portion of the adventure began. Arriving on the north coast of Colombia has left me a touch wistful.

Now I will look for quiet beach lodging, to rest and regroup before moving on to Cartagena.

Beach Daze

Arrived on the north coast of Columbia, two hours southwest of Catagena. Getting to Cartagena and on he Stahlratte by the night of April 8 was was critical to the next leg of the trip. If I suffered a serious mechanical problem far from Cartagena, then my plans would go into a tail spin. I reached the beach and striking distance to Cartagena on April 5, allowing some down time to work on the bike, do a deep organization of my luggage, catch up on email, write a few blog posts and relax by the sea.
The simple lodging that I found has zero services. No restaurant, pool, Internet access...nada. Last night I walked down the beach to an upscale resort. After a morning of light adjustments and motorcycle cleaning I strolled down the beach to said upscale resort. Upon entering the compound I could help but notice how quiet the place was. Unit after unit that was full of life the night before now were empty. Reaching the "restaurant" hut I learned no prepared food was available. It was 12:00 noon and the kitchen was closed. It took me a minute to figure out what was going on. It wasn't a case of quirky operational hours. It was change over day. Last week's guest had packed up and were headed home. Further down the beach I found lovely, empty, seaside restaurant and lunch. I might come back tonight.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Night Riding and Eating Dog

The day I left Medellin, Columbia, it was in the early afternoon before I reached the city limits. Not a spectacular start. For me this means catching up later in the day and often means riding into the night.

Riding after dark is not recommended, but I do it anyway. There are more reason not to ride after dark, then advantages. Pot holes are harder to see. Cars, trucks and farm machinery without lights are a constant worry. In some places the pedestrians dress in clothes that effectively act as camouflage after sunset. The people in rural Bolivia wear dark clothes and earth tones that are very difficult to see in twilight. There are positive aspects to riding at night. There is much less traffic and the omnipresent back up behind slow moving trucks is greatly reduced. It is easier to pass with confidence when reading the road ahead for oncoming headlights. Most of the farm animals are in their pens and stalls, but frankly not all of them… Last, it is actually easier to see some of the pot holes and dips in the road by headlight. The grim that builds up on the helmet face shield requires end of the day cleaning. If this is neglected, the headlights of oncoming traffic reduces visibility in the lane where you are headed. Sometimes there is a curve or a pothole, hidden in the glare of the oncoming car. Typically I reduce my speed, until a pass an oncoming car. And I keep my overall speed to a reasonable level.

The temptation is to ride just a little longer, just go till the next town. I have worked out that it is better at some point to call it quits and get a room before, one, there aren’t any, two, while the clerk is still awake, three, on time to get sufficient sleep before the property wants you to leave and the maids can clean the room. I have checked in late several times and negotiated a late check out. With weak Spanish the negotiation is strained and it goes against the normal grain and schedule of the hotel. Last, a late check out perpetuates the night riding pattern, which is not a practice to encourage.

I dive into this subject mostly to tell the story of the hotel last night and the difference in the property I found today. Several hours south of Cartagena I had the option of going about 20 miles out of the way to see a town. At 11:00 PM I reached the junction where I could turn and take a detour or continue on the shorter route via the Pan American highway. Undecided on the route and given the hour, it made sense to stop for the night. My operating procedure is to ride the length of  the town (assuming its not too big) and see what hotels are available and get the lay of the town. It is usually cool to stay in the center (Centro) as there is more life, easy access to restaurants and bars, etc. Riding through the town I kept my eyes open for hotels that could store a motorcycle. I found a candidate near the far edge of town and learned the rate, 15,000 pesos (~$7.00.) After moving my luggage up to the room, I wanted to pay for the room. Handing clerk a 20,000 bill, the price went up to include 2,000 for storing the motorcycle. No, no, I said. 15,000 is all I would pay. I have had this game happen before, where the clerk tries to get out of providing free parking. Sometimes the amount is so little that I will pay the parking fee. I did that in Cusco, Peru, because I really liked the hotel and they had been really nice to me. One time I agreed to pay half of the amount and the hotel picked up the other half, conceding that there “might” have been some confusion when checking in (there really wasn’t, but I don’t want someone chasing me down the street for fifty cents…)

Ok, so now I am checked in and settling in for the night. I had tested the bed with my hand, but found out on laying down that the mattress was really bad and box springs were a disaster. I managed to find a comfortable enough spot to sleep on and drifted off to heavy dripping from the shower and the noise of traffic going down the Pan American.

Today I stopped two hours southwest of Cartagena and began looking for lodging. Two places with beach cabanas said they were full, although there were no evidence of of other customers.  Whatever. If they don’ t want my business, then I’ll go elsewhere. There was a language barrier in the simple place I found next. The confusion was so high I started to turn around, then gave it one more try. Ok, they do have a cabana for me. After a quick inspection of the room and learning the rate (20,000 pesos / ~$10.00 USD) I was sold. The staff remained a bit reluctant. It turns out that they needed to clean the room. I am the only guest in the property on a Friday and nearly left because I didn’t  think they wanted to rent a room. While they cleaned the room rode around looking for an Internet café and to pick up provisions. While riding around I stopped at a totally upscale place, just to see what the prices might be. The property had a pool, restaurant and sea view rooms on the second floor. The price, 180,000 pesos / $90.00 USD. Sorry, there price is beyond my budget… 

When I returned to the hotel a new face met me at the locked gate and showed no hospitality skills. Waving to the key hotelier it was communicated that I was indeed a guest and he opened the gate. This guy has no future is sales. I unpacked and took a delicious swim in the Caribbean.  In the end I paid for two nights and might stay a third. The take away is that stopping early allows more time to find the right place. An aggressive schedule isn’t always contusive to an early stop, but it is nice when I can stop early.

Supposedly there was a restaurant within walking  down the beach. There is, but they stop preparing the full menu, well, before I arrived at 7:30 PM. Turns out the only place in walking distance is a family friendly place, with kitchens in each unit. It is an upscale place that I walked into from the beach. Finding the restaurant I tried to order lobster (or maybe shrimp…), no luck, the kitchen is basically closed. What can I get? The menu was turned to the “rapid food” page. What can I get on this page? There was different offerings of “perro.” Using my offline translator, I entered the word and the result was returned, “dog.” Dog? What are they talking about? It took a moment to synthesis the actual meaning. The English description would be HOT dog. Oh! Ok, I have that. In fact, in Latin America the hot dogs are fixed up much better than in the US.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Tannhäuser Gate

Kit Moresby: Tunner, we're not tourists. We're travelers.
Tunner: Oh. What's the difference?
Port Moresby: A tourist is someone who thinks about going home the moment they arrive, Tunner.
Kit Moresby: Whereas a traveler might not come back at all.
"The Sheltering Sky" Paul Bowles
How do you explain to the folks back home the tsunami of events and moments that take place over months on the road?  A traveler is bombarded with sights, sounds, smells, personalities,some fleeting, and experiences layer after layer of sensations that stack up and mix in parts and as a whole. The nervous system changes, becoming less reactive and knee jerk, more stoic and calm. The awe does not escape, it goes directly to the brain stem. 
In the final scene of one of my all time favorite science fiction movies, Blade Runner, the replicant Roy Batty makes speech as he is dying. The monologue is known as the “Tears in the rain.” I think about these lines as I travel and the fantastic and unimaginable experiences the character accumulated.

“I've seen things you people wouldn't believe.  Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”
- Blade Runner (1982)
So much happens on the road, it is impossible to relate it all. Even the big stuff, well, the surface can only be scratched. I will have traveled eight months, met hundreds of people, checked in and out of  dozens and dozens of hotels, eaten in countless restaurants, gazed out over untold visas, swam in waters fresh, salty and gray, smelling flowers all along the way. How do you explain all that to the folks back home?

Museo de Antioquia, Medellin, Colombia

The artist Fernando Botero was born in Medellin and made significant donations of his art to the Museo de Antioquia. In the plaza outside of the museum an extensive collection of his sculptures are installed. 



In side the museum there is a permeate collection of  Fernando Botero paintings and more sculptures are presented.



I was struck by Botero’s paintings for the drug king pin, Pablo Escobar. The paintings use the word “murder.” Later I found out that Escobar was something of a Robin Hood. He built whole neighborhoods and gave them away to poor people. It could be said Escobar was buying popularity with poor people…

DSCN4149 DSCN4168-001

A special exhibit was under way, the “68 70 72 Bienales De Arte Coltejer”, a show of Medellin modern art from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.


I like this sculpture that incorporates light and sound. The clip was accidently captured sideways, but I managed to turn in post production.

Other painting from the show -