Thursday, May 27, 2010

Out of Cuenca- into Colombia

The last couple of days in Cuenca included going fishing at a trout farm up in Cajas. They have this rather large pond completely stocked to the brim with fish. The rule is such that you can't throw anything back so that meant that we caught a lot of very small trout.
[Fran with his massive catch] It goes like this:
you put your stick with a fishing line, hook, and some sort of dough into the water.
you watch as fish swarm around the hook.
after about 15 seconds from lowering the hook into the water, you tug a bit and you have a fish.
then you have to take the hook out of the fish's mouth and put fishy in the blue basket (at first, I didn't like this part).
Repeat 13 times
Pay 7 dollars for your fish
Clean said fish (in our case, Fran cleaned all the fish)

We also went to an amazing little BBQ place. They only serve one thing. In fact, we didn't even order. We waited for a bit for a free table and once we were seated they just brought out some BBQ chicken skewers sitting on top of french fries. Yummm.
[heating up the coals with a blow dryer] Restaurants that only make one thing often do it very well. It seems to me that if I were to open a restaurant, I would only want to serve one thing per night. Why not?

[check out the graphics on this sign for fruit shakes] So we arrived in Colombia this afternoon after taking a plane to Quito and then a 5.5 hour long bus ride up to the border. We are in the small town of Ipiales staying in a nice little hotel. It feels good to be back in the land of good coffee and friendly people. However, I don't think there is a vegetable to found anywhere in Colombia.
Tomorrow we take a 7 hour bus ride up to Popayan but if the bus is anything like the bus we took last time in Colombia, it will be a nice bus. The plan is to call Henry and then we will stay at his place. If weather permits this weekend, we will probably climb Purace, a 15 000 foot active volcano just outside of Popayan. I am excited to get out and see how I do at elevation. I have been running quite a bit  at 8000 feet so hopefully my oxygen carrying capacity is somewhat up there.

They are having big presidential elections this Sunday which should be interesting. There is potential for a left/ center candidate from the green party to win out over the conservative pro-military guy. It feels like being in the states right before the Obama election. You can sense the excitement. This NY times article explains it. Personally, I can see the merits of both candidates. Colombia has made major progress towards security in the last 8 years thanks in major part to the current conservative guy. However, there has been a major ass whooping which, for sure, has violated many human rights of villagers. The Green party guy has also done a lot for security in Bogota as the mayor but in a much kindler, gentler way. I can't begin to understand the complicated politics in this country nor am I allowed to have an opinion but I suppose if I had to vote, I would choose the Green party guy. One can't vote based on fear. You have to look at what the candidate stands for and make a decision on who best represents your values. 
But don't worry, we will steer very clear of any political demonstrations or events and just go fishing instead.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Fun stuff in Cuenca

This past week we have been up to some fun stuff:
About 20 minutes out of town is a national park called Cajas. It is up around 12 000 feet elevation which makes hiking/ running a bit difficult but we managed to walk around up there for about 6 hours.
It actually looks like there might be some decent alpine climbing up there as the rock is solid granitic gneiss that does form some cracks. However, without climbing gear we had to chase Alpacas around. Not too bad.
We went to an Argentinian dance show. There was ballet, folk dancing, and tango. I thought the dancers were around 18-25 years old, but Megan thought they were much younger. It wasn't super professional but it was fun to see. These guys worked their asses off to put this show together.
On Saturday we adopted a kid. Look at this little Tiger. What a great one. Oh wait. We just borrowed him for a few minutes from Megan's super good friend from college, Kathleen. This is Sam and for me it has been very interesting hanging out with a 5 month old on an almost daily basis. This is maybe the third time in my life that I have held a kid and it isn't quite as hard as I thought it would be. They squirm a bit and sometimes poo, but when they aren't hungry they can be pretty fun.
As many know, I am terrified of kids but since there may be one in our future (not anytime real soon) I have to get used to the idea. Being around a kid has been both good and bad for me. Good: I am now more familiar with what it takes to rear a baby which makes it easier to accept. Bad: It is a full on commitment. 24 hours a day. Yikes! When will there be time for motorcycle riding?
Then, after a walk around the city with Kathleen and Sam, we went out to a delicious meal and then not quite wanting to go home we walked around the city a bit more. As we passed by the football (soccer) stadium we noticed that there was a game going on. We bought 6 dollar general admission tickets and watched Cuenca play Manta.
We arrived at the end of the first half and this being Cuenca, there was no score board to figure out what was going on. Not knowing the word for "score," and after the first five minutes feeling too shy to ask what the score was (shouldn't we have just known?) we had to use sociological techniques to realize what was going on. We figured out that Cuenca wasn't winning, but they had control of the ball almost the entire time, so they probably weren't losing either. The game ended with no goals witnessed by us so we figured it had to be a draw. Sure enough, after we got home, we learned it was 0-0. I probably shouldn't have been such a chicken and just asked someone, but I was feeling shy of the yellow zone and didn't go there. Bad tourist.
We only have a few days left here until we are reunited with the bikes for the weekend. The plan is to climb a Volcano with Henry, the guy who will be looking after our bikes. I'm pretty excited about that. I have been running every day here so hopefully I won't be sucking too much wind up at 13 000 feet on the mountain.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Water goes down the toilet the other way

The plan was such: Go to Cuenca, Hang out with Megan's friend Kathleen, Find an apartment, Take spanish classes, Let megan heal. And that is pretty much how it has gone.
Cuenca is a city of 300,000 people situated amongst rushing rivers at 8000 feet elevation. There are lovely churches, cobbled roads, aggressive taxi drivers, and lots of green spaces. We wake from our 6th floor apartment every morning to either the sounds of church bells (they start at 7 am) playing lovely rhythms or to rockets (they also start at 7 am) with very loud firecrackers attached. I'm still not sure why people fire off rockets at 6 am and why they are always in pairs but apparently monday at 7 am is good time for fireworks. Why not?
So we are learning Spanish at a good clip in order to forget it again when we go back to the States on June 2nd. Hopefully we can find a place to speak a little Spanish this summer. We do, however, have return tickets to Colombia on January 3rd which is apparently in the middle of a big holiday for them. Lots of water splashing and rejoicing.

Life in Cuenca

[view from out apartment] So what is life like in Cuenca? Well… generally speaking, We get up around 7:00, make some coffee, read a little news on the internet and do our Spanish homework. Then we go to class at 10:30. For the sake of our marriange, we have separate classes in the morning. For two hours, we are crammed full of grammar rules and new words that we would quickly forget if it weren't for the two hours of conversation class that we take together in the afternoon. During the lunch break, we head out to the market and I eat from the entire roasted pig that is so mouth wateringly displayed. Yumm. (Megan doesn't enjoy the pig so much).
After the afternoon classes, I might put on my running shoes and head out for a nice run along the river. At first, going for a run at 8000 feet proved difficult, but my heart is warming up a bit and I can run 10k in a little under an hour. Maybe my lack of any upper body muscle mass helps me to run, but I doubt it since beer is so cheap here and I have countered the muscles with a little panzita. Never fear, one of the things I really look forward to when we return to Seattle is hitting the Vertical World climbing gym with ferocity in order to get back into shape for the summer climbing season.
I digress… For dinner we cook up a lovely meal in our 1980's Miami Beach decorated apartment and then maybe go out for a stroll through the town to let the food settle in. The markets here have amazing produce, meats, and the pastas are locally made and quite yummy.

View Untitled in a larger map
This past weekend, we took a 3 hour bus ride south to √Ďamarin, a little Indigenous community that our fried Kathleen has connections to. We stayed in a very small guest house, had meals cooked for us by the family that runs it, went for a long hike through the countryside, were treated to a little dance performance by the local kids, and ate Cuy.
Cuy is a very nutritious, delicious tasting, and easy to grow meat. We, of course, know it as our beloved Guinea Pig, but here they are merely livestock. It tasted a lot like rabbit but maybe a bit smoother. My first impression was that it was very oily, but when I ask around about Cuy, they say it is very low in Cholesterol and has only the good kind of fat... whatever that is. Anyway. It was good.
Incidentally, I usually feel very uncomfortable doing ethnic things like watching dance performances that are put on for us because we are tourists. It goes into the category of "culture as a zoo" where one watches cultures as if one were at a zoo rather than just participate in culture. The latter takes a bit more time and can put one deep into the yellow zone. However, when half the town came by the little guest house/ community center to watch the performance I felt a bit better. These kids were doing this because they have been practicing and wanted to show off what they knew rather than dancing for the tourists because it is what the we requested (we didn't request it). It was even requested by Jose, the proprietor of the guest house (it is owned by the community) and the first University trained indigenous doctor in the region, that we could make a donation to the dancers so that they could buy more uniforms and necessities for dancing.
It was refreshing to see an indigenous community that is thriving in modern times but not at the sacrifice of their culture and family. They live in a fantastic area in small family units, grow their own food and share responsibilities as a community. And... the men all wear Man-pris which if anyone knows me, knows I like to wear capris.
This coming weekend, we plan to go up to Cajas which is a national park up at 12,000 feet. I will try to do a long trail run up there, but the elevation may get the best of me.

About the Bikes

[Megan with her good friend Kathleen and her new baby: Samuel] Since this is a motorcycle blog and not a travel blog I should probably write a bit about the bikes. I MISS THEM A LOT. Every time I walk by a tire store or a bike parts store I feel like part of me is missing. I used to always register the last parts store that I saw just in case we would have to go back and visit. Now it doesn't matter.
I miss the freedom that having the bikes gives us. It is hard to get out of town without them.
I miss the celebrity status that bikes sometimes bestow upon us. The bikes are always a great conversation starter with random people and I enjoy that.
I miss riding. It is just so stinking fun. I still feel a rush of excitement every time I sit on Irmtraube and start her up.
This doesn't mean that I'm not grateful for what we do have, which is a healthy Megan and a great experience in Cuenca. Things could be a lot worse. It feels so very un-zenful of me to have attachments to things like the bikes and I try to reposition my thoughts towards what I do have rather than what I don't have, but sometimes...
In 10 days or so, we will be temporarily reunited with the ladies. Megan still can't ride, but perhaps I can go out for a little tour of the area. I will need to find someone to ride with because I don't feel comfortable riding the back roads of Colombia without a Colombian nearby. No need to end the trip with a kidnapping (Mom, that one is for you).

About Megan's Health

This post certainly wouldn't be complete without a little update about Megan's condition. Her hip and knee bruises have all but healed up.
She can now write with her right hand without pain and besides the bruise that is slowly making its way down her chest it might be hard to tell that she even had an accident. We will keep her in the figure eight brace for a full 6 weeks (it has been 3) and keep the movement down to a minimum but when we went and got xrays and chatted with a doctor (for 50 dollars) about it all, he said that it's doing fine.
This x-ray shows where her bones are now.
Thank you everyone for your concern and your comments after the accident. It really means a lot to us to hear from you all and know that you are concerned.


This video shows why I titled this post as such. Go look at your toilet and see the difference. Pretty cool, huh?

Walking home with Pero the Plant which we bought off a little guy on the street for 50 cents.

Megan in the garden of the Modern Art Museum.

I got up early one Sunday and walked around the town before the fireworks and taxis got crazy.

Getting some meat from the meat guy.

Our favorite grain- Quinoa- grows like crazy here.

Lambs are incredibly cute.

Monday, May 03, 2010

The day the moto trip ended

It always starts the same way: "The day was like any other." We woke up in Cali knowing that we would have to drive through some rain, but still wanting to put on 300-400 km towards the Ecuadorian border. We took the usual snapshots of the hostel we were staying in (the Iguana Hostel in Cali is very motorcycle friendly), battled traffic getting out of town and were soon on the Pan American heading south. The trucks and traffic thinned as we approached the end of the mega Cauca river valley and the start of 300 km if windy mountain roads. But with the mountains came rain so we stopped to put on our GORE-TEX gear, made our luggage waterproof and drove into the rain.
An hour or so later, we passed the city of Popayan. Megan asked if we should stop and check out the town and I said that we shouldn't. We needed to put on some miles and although Popayan has a reputation as a nice colonial town, I just wasn't interested in a quick drive by of a city. We pushed south and in Timbio we stopped for a quick snack at a bakery.
Why am I boring you with all the details of the morning? Well it seems appropriate because this would be the last time this year that we would go through this "routine" of motorcycle travel. About 10 minutes out of Timbio everything changed.
It was starting to rain a little harder so we slowed down a bit on the twisties but none-the-less we had to pass trucks so we would accelerate around them. I was out in front feeling a bit like the road was slippery and megan was hanging behind driving cautiously.
When we ride together and I am out front, I periodically scan my mirrors to see where Megan is. Especially when it comes time to pass a truck. This time I looked back, but didn't see Megan anywhere. No big deal, this happens a lot because she might stop to take a photo or perhaps got stuck behind some traffic or whatever. I slowed down to wait for her to catch up. No Megan. I pulled off to wait for her. After about 30 seconds, no Megan. What I did notice was the lack of traffic coming from where I had just been. This wasn't good.
With quite a bit of fear, I turned around and headed back. I thought to myself, "If she is taking a picture, I am going to be so mad." Still no traffic coming. Oh shit! I started to drive a bit faster and started yelling "Fuck, Fuck, Fuck" quite loud and even wailing some. Finally I saw a truck coming my way and the driver stuck his hand out the window to indicate that I was needed behind him. "Shit!" My mind started heading towards worst case scenarios but it also wanted to believe that she was just taking a picture.
I rounded a corner, scanning as best I could for her green jacket when I spotted her sitting in a chair in front of a little farmhouse with people all around her. The bike was on its kickstand, but there were a few parts sitting on the ground next to it. I pulled up, got off the bike with some relief because she was merely sitting in a chair rather than splayed out on the concrete. Her helmet was off and she was fully conscious and alert although a bit frazzled. She was holding her right shoulder but otherwise looked ok. I don't really remember much about what happened then, but she did ask if she had any internal bleeding and if that was going to be a problem. I didn't know, but the fact that she was awake was a good thing and that we really just needed to get her to a hospital as soon as possible. There was a car sitting there and the family stated that there was a hospital back in Popayan, about 30 minutes back. I envisioned putting Megan on the back of my bike, but that seemed out of the question and besides she was already being led to the family's car to be taken to town.
The quick plan that we put together was this. I would put away her bike in the house. I would get some clothes out of her boxes and catch up with the car. I wheeled the bike into the living room, went though her stuff trying to figure out what she might need, got all my stuff together, and with a deep breath I took off.
Then about 2km down the road I realized that I had forgotten the passports. I turned back around to head back to the house. After arriving, I rummaged through our stuff, didn't find them, tore apart my bike, didn't find them and then stopped and thought. Oh yeah! I had given them to Megan to take with her.
It is funny how in these moments, one goes on auto pilot. You just react instead of acting and this can cause problems. I become efficient at some things and inefficient at others (like memory). I suppose this is why training is so important, because you have to trust your instincts and just go with what happens. Don't try to think it through too much. I suppose I was a bit relaxed because after seeing Megan, I knew she was ok (more or less), that she wasn't going to die, and that it somehow would all work out.
So now I was way behind the car and needed to catch up. However, it was raining and from my first aid training, I remembered that the first rule of first aid is to not create another victim. I slowed down, but then became worried that I would never really be able to find Megan. I didn't really know what the car looked like, I hoped that there was only one hospital in town. I started coming up with different plans to get in touch with her. As I was nearing Popayan, I even pulled over to talk with a car that seemed to be flagging me down. I think he just wanted money for gas, but imagine his surprise when this wide eyed white guy pulls up on a motorcycle asking in broken spanish if he had seen my wife and what had happened to her. After figuring out that he knew nothing about my wife, and that he wanted nothing to do with the crazy American, I took off again towards town.
Eventually, I spotted an ambulance and a car parked next it. The people were waving me down so this must be where I needed to be. I stopped, looked into the car and saw Megan lying in the ambulance. I even took this picture because after seeing her I relaxed quite a bit. We still didn't know what was wrong, but her entire right side was in a lot of pain including her hip.
So I followed the Bomberos ambulance (Bomberos is the fire department) to the hospital. I parked my bike in a parking lot, tipped the attendant quite a bit of money to look after it and went into the hospital.
The Hospital

[waiting for xrays] This is where the exciting part of the story ends, and the boring part starts. Although she was in a lot of pain, Megan was for the most part ok. After an initial examination by who we dubbed "the masochist" she was placed in a wheel chair and we waited. And we waited. After 2 hours, we got into another ambulance with a bunch of other people to go get some x-rays. This was a bit frustrating because people didn't really understand how much pain Megan was in and kept trying to lift her into the ambulance. That wasn't going to happen. Finally there was an understanding that perhaps she should be laying down on the stretcher rather than sitting up. Anyway, we made it to the xray room, waited around some more and finally got pictures taken. It was at this point that we realized that she had never been immobilized for her spine or checked out to see if it was damaged. I did my spinal checks from my training as a Wilderness First Responder 10 years ago and she seemed to pass, but we requested x rays of her cervical area just in case.
At this point in the story, things got cool. As we were wheeling Megan back to the ambulance on the stretcher, a white guy and a Colombian guy speaking perfect English asked if Megan was Karen. We said "no" but then the white guy asked if we were from Seattle. This stopped me dead in my tracks (while Megan continued to be wheeled out the door). After a short conversation, it became known that these two were from the Fire Department, that Bill was in Popayan doing a training and that he had heard that there was a woman from Seattle who the Bomberos had worked with. I got a card and a "if there is anything I can do to help, you let me know." I then ran out to the ambulance to find a very scared Megan wondering where the hell I had been.
We returned to the hospital where we had first been admitted, moved Megan into a wheel chair and waited some more. At this point, it was around 7:30 (we had been in the hospital since 2 or 3) and we were told that we were waiting for a specialist to read the xrays and to figure out what to do. There was a shift change at 9, and at 9:30 we were told the specialist wasn't going to be able to see us (or so we thought- everything was in Spanish). Then at 9 when we were hemming and hawing about what to do the specialist saw us. He looked at the x-rays, determined that there was nothing wrong with her hip, but that her clavicle was fractured. There wasn't much he could do about it except prescribe one of those figure 8 things but that we wouldn't be able to get one that night. And that was it.
I wheeled Megan out, with the plan of getting a taxi to take her to a hostel and I would follow the taxi on my bike.
The Bomberos
As we left the ward and went to the place where we pay, there was a posse of Bomberos waiting for us. They said something magical to the desk because we didn't pay a penny. They put Megan into their ambulance and told me to follow them to the fire station where we would work everything out.
After arriving at the station, they said that we would go out that night to get Megan's motorcycle because it wasn't parked in the safest of places (apparently there is still some action in these parts). So at 11:30 we piled into a firetruck (not megan… she was taken to a nearby hotel), woke up the family and I drove the bike back with a firetruck, lights on, right behind me. We left the bikes at the station, I walked to the hotel and after a really long day we laid down and went to sleep.
What really happened
As far as we can piece together from the accident, Megan was riding in the rain. In Colombia, they paint these enormous yellow and white stripes on the road to mark a school zone. Megan hit one of these painted sections, slid a bit, and when she hit the pavement on the other side, her bike high sided. This is when the bike flips back after regaining traction. She wasn't going that fast, but things just came together to cause this to happen. She hit the pavement (still holding on to the bike- the worst thing is to go free of the bike) and her and Gigi (the name of her bike) tumbled once before sliding off the road onto the front door of a family. Fortunately, the woman of this family is a nurse and immediately helped Megan out. This is the same family that then drove Megan to Popayan and called the Bomberos along the way. This is also the same family that I came back and woke up at midnight to get the bike.
I think what really saved megan was the fact the boxes on the back (the right one crushed a bit) kept the bike off of Megan. There is remarkabley little damage to the bike. The front fender broke off (it is only plastic) and the mirror snapped off, but beyond some grinding down for the road, the bike seems fine. Her Arai helmet worked incredibly well. You can see where it hit the pavement, but her head is perfectly fine. The GORE-TEX gear ground up a bit on the pavement, but not actually that much. The materials that Arcteryx uses are incredibly strong given the bashing and sliding that occurred. The riding gear and gloves seemed to do what they are supposed to do. She has no skin abrasions, and the fact that her hip isn't broken probably has a lot to do with the shock absorption of the pants.
I don't really know what to say as far as lessons learned, but the main one is: be really fucking careful in the rain. Anything can cause a slip and consequently a high side. Perhaps the secondary lesson is to befriend the fire department. Fire fighters the world over are an amazing group of people.

The New Plan

The next morning, we finally went out and ate some food (the first time in 24 hours), then walked over to the fire station to look into a new plan. We were greeted like heros. Every person in the station (there are 35 employees and 105 volunteers) came up and asked how we were. The second in command (Henry) had already thought out a plan for us and was getting ready to initiate it. Henry and I would drive the bikes up to his house where they would be safe. In 20 days time, he was going north to Bogota and would take Megan's bike (Gigi) up to Manizales, about 400 km north. We would follow on Irmtraube. The goal was to get the bikes to our friends house, Jairo and Diana (see previous post), where we could leave them for 6 months before returning to Colombia next January to continue the trip. During that 20 day window, we would go down to Cuenca, Ecuador to visit Megan's super good college friend.
Henry is this amazing individual. He works what seems to be all hours at the fire department and at the hospital. He has a wife and an extremely adorable 11 year old girl who now are our extended family in Popayan. A term he uses a lot, and which we have heard many times in Colombia is, our house is your house. We have since gone out for meals with them, hung out at their house and made to feel very much at home. During one such visit, the idea came up to just leave our bikes in the little space behind his house where they would be safe and sound for the next 6 months. This way we wouldn't have transport them back and when we come back in January we would already be near the Ecuadorian border rather than way back up north by Medellin.
So that is the new plan. We are going to Ecuador for 2-3 weeks. The bikes will live at his house (or at the mechanics since Henry is taking them to the mechanic for a little work). We will come back near the end of May, hang out in Popayan for a while longer and then fly home early June to start working a little early.
Henry even has a cousin who works at DIAN (the office for importing vehicles and such) who will extend Gigi and Irmtraube's papers until January.
How lucky are we.

I just want to reiterate again how amazing the Popayan Bomberos have been. We have hung out there quite a bit and every time made to feel extremely comfortable. We chit chat for hours with the various people there, they go out of their way to make us feel good, and then they are off on a call. Pretty amazing.

So that is it. Although this is a tragedy for us, Megan is pretty stinking lucky that she has only broken her right collarbone. But because of this, we have met amazing people and improved our spanish leaps and bounds.
[on the way to Ecuador] As a wise friend once told me, when stuff like this happens, you just have to take the new path and go after it with gusto. Sure it sucks that we can't ride the ladies anymore, but now we will have new adventures. Besides, the ladies will be there next year when we get back.

a little video of following the ambulance

I found this little video I made of me following the ambulance to the hospital. Nothing much, but it give an idea.