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 cafĂ© 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.

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