Thursday, February 11, 2016

Return of the Cartagena

I got back from Ciudad Perdida and learned that while he had originally promised Friday, the motorcycle wouldn't actually be ready until Wednesday. So upon returning I stayed in Santa Marta two nights, and then decided to head up to Taganga for a few days to kill time before going back to Cartagena to get the bike on Wednesday - I'd already spent seven nights in Cartagena, I really didn't need to be back there before the bike was ready to spend more time there.

Taganga was a fun little town, but I found myself with little energy for doing anything. I couldn't quite put my finger on why, but every time I planned to do something, I'd wake up the next morning and decide that I really didn't want to do it. Everyone in the area was talking about how Tayrona Park was an amazing place to go, but the first day I was in Taganga I didn't feel like going, and the second day it was too windy and the boat wasn't running. I didn't feel like catching a bus over and back, so unfortunately I didn't make it over to the park.

Relaxing in Taganga was good though. I got ceviche, spent some time on the beach, and spent time in the hostel trying to update the blog (the internet was working less than 50% of the time) and reading a book - I finished a re-read of the Golden Compass trilogy in just over two days.

Taganga sits on a beautiful bay.
It was a bit crowded at the beach though.
The hostel had a pool and a pretty cool upstairs area with some swings and couches that you could watch the sunset from.
And the sunsets were pretty good over the bay.

Enjoying a beer downstairs.
I did, in classic form, spend most of one evening over at a different hostel, since Clement and the crew from Argentina/Pays Basque had gotten back from the Lost City and were in Taganga as well. I spent some time at their pool during the day and then they cooked an amazing dinner - unfortunately I'd already eaten and wasn't very hungry, but the bite I tasted was delicious.

Family dinner.
Soccer game going on one of the nights just outside the hostel.
After I decided not to go to Tayrona, I figured I'd head back to Cartagena Tuesday night, so that I could pick up the bike early Wednesday and be on my way. I sent an email to Javier at the shop to ask when they opened so I could come get it, and when I arrived in Cartagena I had a message from him: the bike will be ready at 6pm.

At that point, I'm clearly not going anywhere that day, so I might as well pick it up Thursday morning and not have to worry about parking it at the hostel overnight. So I booked two nights at Amber hostel where I'd been staying previously in Cartagena, and made plans for my extra day. I hadn't made it out to the "mud volcano" that I'd heard about last time I was in Cartagena, so this time I decided to make a trip out there.

After a short bus ride in the morning, we arrived at the volcano and changed into our swimsuits - or rather, for me, I changed into the cheap $2 pair of underwear I'd bought back in Colon, Panama, because I heard that whatever you wore would be ruined. Luckily we had gotten there early so the line wasn't too long when we headed up the hill.

The volcano. The story is that it used to be active, and then a priest put some holy water in it and now it's just muddy.

Down inside the pit.
After a short wait, we handed our cameras to a guy at the top (an extra 2000 pesos for him to take pictures, and I was bummed that I couldn't take the GoPro down in), and climbed down the ladder.

Last time being clean for a little while.
As soon as you get down, a guy down in there helps you lay back in the mud - you float so easily it's ridiculous, and they lay you on your back and then push you around to one of the "masseuses" down in there like you're a boat being shifted around to make room in some locks. Then you get a quick five minute massage (an extra 2000 pesos again), and some time to float around in the mud.

You can see me getting pushed over to my masseuse here if you look carefully.
It was interesting being in the mud - some of it was warm, some of it was cold, and the currents mingled strangely. The deeper you went, the warmer it was for the most part, but you really couldn't go very deep - pushing down under the mud was almost impossible with the buoyancy.

Finally, after relaxing a bit and getting more mud in my mouth than I really wanted, I climbed back out to go get washed off. The washing station is... interesting. A bunch of old ladies with buckets of water that they refill from the lake, and they wash you by hand. Very, uh, thoroughly. It's a bit awkward at first, but they clearly have no embarrassment at what they're doing, and you really do need to get scrubbed down pretty well to get all of the sticky mud off. Of course, it also costs an extra 2000 pesos, though I have no idea how you'd get clean if you didn't do it there.

All mudded up. The clean spot is because there's a guy whose only job is to wipe mud off people as they climb up the ladder. Certainly an interesting career.

The mud starting to dry.

The washing stations.
After getting all cleaned up (and getting hounded by the workers for our 2000 pesos), we got in the van and headed about halfway back, and then stopped at a little restaurant on the beach for a late lunch. Some of the people decided to go in the water, but I was hungry and just waiting for food - until they told us it would be 40 minutes for our food. Latin American time at its best. So I changed into my swimsuit and headed into the waves for about five minutes, at which point they said our food had arrived. I guess I'll eat soaking wet then.

We ate, and waited around a bit for our van to come back - they'd headed back to Cartagena to pick up some others for a different tour - and then made our way back into town. During the van ride I spent quite a bit of time talking with a woman from Brazil and getting some recommendations on places to check out while I'm there. We talked in French mostly, since her Spanish and English weren't that good and my Portuguese is non-existent. Once again, French to the rescue.

In the evening I met up with Paul and Christine for a night of balconies. We started out getting some pretty good gin and tonics on a balcony overlooking Plazuela de San Diego, and after wandering back over towards the Getsemane neighborhood, got some good Italian pizza on a balcony overlooking the main street there.

Gin and tonics.

Pizza! There's actually a decent number of good Italian pizza places in this neighborhood.
The next morning I ended up sleeping in a bit later than I meant to, but finally headed over to the shop around 9:00, two hours after they said they'd be open. When I walked in, I saw my bike for the first time in two weeks... clearly not ready. Parts on the ground, wires not hooked up, new tires not put on. I saw Javier back in the office. "The bike isn't ready?" I said.

"Almost." he said. C'mon, this is not almost ready. Once again, it looked like I was going to be making trips back and forth to the motorcycle shop, because it wasn't going to be done in the next half hour. I asked about one of the pieces that wasn't there - "we're painting it." I'd told them I didn't care about looks, I didn't need cosmetic stuff. Why are you painting it, I asked? Don't worry, it's not a big deal, he said.

So back to the hostel I went. When I emailed later in the day, I gave him a list of things to make sure were ready, and he emailed back and told me everything would be ready this afternoon. Again, there's no point in me picking up the bike in the evening when I'm not going to ride any more that day, so I said I'd stop by in the morning and told him to make sure it would be ready this time.

So, after another night in Cartagena, I went to the shop in the morning - this time taking a taxi at 7am, because for some reason I hadn't been able to find a single moto taxi on the road at that hour - and this time the bike looked like it was ready. However, I spent the next hour finding things they hadn't fixed and getting them fixed. My brake light was burned out (it hadn't been when I dropped it off), the battery in the bike wasn't mine (mine is a special type that's better and costs more, and they'd given me the bike back without swapping it back in), and they hadn't swapped out the bent clutch lever like I'd asked them to.

On top of all that, I realized after I left that while he'd charged me for a new ignition cylinder and frame to mount the instruments, they'd instead fixed the old ones - which is fine, if that had been what he charged me for. They also "fixed" the kickstand by welding it, but I'd find out five days later that they'd done a shitty job and it was going to fail again. Oh, and the temperature gauge didn't work at all, and the speedometer is still clearly not 100% accurate.

But I was just glad to have it back, so I ended not complaining about much - even the $50 they charged me for paint that I specifically told them I didn't want. I went to get on the bike and get going.

"Are you riding today?" Javier asked.

Yeah, of course, I said.

He wagged his finger at me. "You can't. Today is dia sin moto."

Over the next few minutes I was informed that every 2nd and 4th Friday of the month is a day without motorcycles, which explains why I couldn't find a moto taxi in the morning. "No motorcycles allowed on the streets at all," he said. I decided I didn't care, and I was going to ride anyway and play the dumb American card if anyone asked. Plus, I don't ride like the motos there - I don't usually lanesplit much, I just stay in line like I'm a car, so it's no different having me on the road on my bike than in a car. But really, it would have been nice if he'd, you know, mentioned that to me the day before, instead of just springing it on me when I came in.

One last errand to do, and then I could (finally) get out of Cartagena - insurance. Every vehicle in Colombia needs SOAT, the official insurance. So I googled an insurance place and rode over there. Sorry, we can't do it, go to this other building on the other side of the historic district. Well the historic district is full of traffic-packed one way streets and closed down pedestrian walkways, so it took me almost half an hour to make my way close to there instead of the 10 minutes it would have taken to walk. 

But as I got close, there were two policemen on the side of the road who pulled me over. They asked to see my documentation, and I said it was in my backpack and I could get it out if they really needed me to, and they said I could just go ahead, but that I really shouldn't be on the road today. I played dumb and asked why not, and they explained dia sin moto to me while I pretended to be surprised, and then told them that as soon as I had my SOAT I was going out of town. They told me that it was best to go down the road to the transit office to get the insurance, so I headed that way. Upon arriving there, I was told to go to the gas station down the street to get it, and the attendant there told me they can't do motorcycles, only cars, and I needed to go back to the original building I was heading to before the police re-directed me.

Adding in the traffic that I was dealing with too, and it took me two and a half hours to get my insurance. But finally, all my paperwork in hand, I was free - free from Cartagena, and free to go wherever I wanted on the bike.

So I plotted a course, and took off.

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