Thursday, June 03, 2010

Election Day in Colombia

[Almuerzo with the family] We didn't end up climbing Purace as planned but I bet you can't guess the reason why. I wasn't because we didn't have time. We did. It wasn't because the weather was bad. It was fine. It wasn't because there was snow on top. There wasn't. It was because Sunday was the colombian presidential elections.
This was pretty much the equivalent of McCain vs Obama. There was a liberal candidate offering hope for a new Colombia versus a conservative candidate offering to keep Colombia on the same track that it has been on for years. But this isn't exactly why we didn't climb the mountain.
[Sofia, the Gonzales' niece and part time daughter] As it turns out, elections are a bit precarious in the countryside of Colombia. I asked if the FARC had a candidate running in this election and they sort of did, but the revolutionaries would really rather not have anyone vote in the election at all. And to accomplish this they send people out on the small roads (the main roads are completely safe) to try to intimidate locals and keep them from going to polling places.
[Mariana- one amazing 11 year old] On Saturday, Enilce (the woman who we were staying with) went out to a pueblita for one of her student's first communion. When she came back she told us that she was stopped by a FARC guerilla. Nothing at all happened to her but when I asked her what would have happened If we had been there she told us that it wouldn't have been as easy for us.
This doesn't mean that Colombia is dangerous. It just means, that like anywhere in the world (United States included), you just have to be careful at times. There is no way we would have even been allowed to go on that road. We would have been flagged down many times and told not to go there by the 99.9% of the population that are the most amiable people we have ever met.
It just means that on election weekend we needed to keep to the populated places and more relevantly that we couldn't go climbing.
Never fear, we had a great weekend hanging out with possibly the world's most gracious family. They gave us their beds to sleep in (we tried to sleep on the floor), they made us food, they took us out to lunch (which is the big meal of the day), they are allowing our bikes to take up most of their back porch, and they even drove us the two hours into Cali to get our paperwork done for the bikes and to drop us off at a hotel.
[backyard BBQ- the ladies are covered up behind us] As an aside about the bikes. The paperwork for our bikes is currently set to expire on June 16. This means the bikes technically become the property of Colombia after that date if they are still in the country after this date (which they will be). Henry went and had a police report made and got all the paperwork together to show that Megan had an accident and that it would be impossible for her to take her bike out of the country. He called the customs office (DIAN) in Cali and asked if they were able to extend the paperwork until January 2011 and they said they could. So we all drove to Cali (Henry insisted on taking us there and talking with the customs people... like I said: the world's nicest family) and went to the DIAN office. We found the right bureaucrat to talk to and after a long conversation, we were flat out denied any form of extension on the bikes. Henry asked for solutions and we were pretty much told that there weren't any beyond Megan and I leaving the country with the bikes and returning to extend the paperwork (impossible).
[at DIAN] What does this mean? It means that in January we will need to drive the bikes relatively quickly to the Ecuador border (It is about 400 km) without getting stopped by any police (impossible) or at least without being asked for our paperwork (not impossible). If we are stopped, we will have to ask if there are any "solutions" that can be created "right here and now."
At the border, we will have to hide our bikes, go to customs office pretending that we don't actually have motorcycles, get our passports stamped, then drive across the bridge into Ecuador. It all sounds rather exciting to me. Of course, I'd rather do it by the book and we certainly did try, but this should add an air of thrill to the ride.

[cats in Cali] So that's it. We are now back in Seattle and ready to take a vacation from our trip. It feels a bit naughty really. Like we are doing this trip down south which feels exciting and adventurous but that we are in the US for 6 months taking a break from it. We can buy any and all motorcycle parts that we need. We can communicate with strangers without being misunderstood. We can drink tap water. We can have friends for longer that a few days. All great things. I think I would be bummed if I knew we were in the States for good, but since it is only a short time, it actually feels kind nice.

[a picture of Rhonda from two years ago] My next adventure is to fix up Megan's 1974 Honda CB 200 "Rhonda" and use that to get around. I am looking forward to diving into Rhonda and learning how to work on her. I just have to figure out how to rebuild a carburetor. Any advice?