The best part of traveling alone was that I had no one to consult about changing my plans. While Jake was trying to negotiate an online bike purchase (after I gave him all the advice I could give from my own recent purchase), I was setting my new KLR up with a pair of tank panniers (think saddle bags for the gas tank). Using two feet of Velcro, four feet of parachute cord, and some duct tape, I ended up with something that could work for the time being, but would need further refinement at some point. Owen and Hannah, a pair of Aussies, showed up as I was getting this together. Just short of a year on the road, on a KLR 650, they were a good source of information and a few nuggets of wisdom. For both remaining nights Owen and I talked into the morning about riding, the world, and riding the world.
The seller for Jake’s prospective ride, like mine, was out of the country. Unlike the previous owner of my KLR, his had second thoughts and backed out at the last minute. This, however, allowed us to see the near riot of a weekend in Cali, including the open-topped DJ-equiped party bus that circled the clubs all night, while the passengers danced and yelled ‘woo hoo! a lot.
By Monday morning I could delay no more; I had places to go and a bike to meet. I set out for Popayan, a little colonial town about a hundred miles south of Cali. I had reservations there and lots of time. I plugged in my head phones, shook Owen’s hand, had Diane take my picture, swung a leg over the new bike and fired her up.
The feeling of starting a new long trip is so unique that I hesitate to attempt a description. I encourage everyone to try it once, at least. As I straddled my new wheels, the future seemed bright. Joy, pain, and new experiences awaited. I hit shuffle on my MP3 player and whacked the throttle as Buck Cherry’s “Lit Up” kicked on in my ears. With no hands on the bike, I stood on the pegs and did a little victory dance. Then I headed north.
I continued north for about five miles before a guy at a gas station turned me around. Then I headed south, but the road turned west. I was enjoying the view so much I didn’t ask for confirmation on my directions for fifteen kilometers. Then I headed back to Cali. I was a ship boxing my compass. I finally got pointed south on the Ruta 25. Just to be sure, I confirmed this every couple of stop lights, and once with another bike while in motion. Having loud pipes doesn’t mean you can’t ask for directions at 30mph.
The first part was flat, boring and probably good for me. I had lunch at a roadside stand where the appetizer was chicken soup. I know this because I recognized the foot in it. Then the road began to climb with beautiful sweeping turns up into the mountains. Sixty kilometers from Popayan the checkpoints began and I was stopped exactly twice.
I was stopped the first time by the Policia National, who wanted to know where I was going, how big my engine was, and if I was having a good time. After that stop, the checkpoints were manned by the professional Army of Colombia. Their lowest ranking soldiers of this army were not called privates; they were called professionals. The alert, hard-eyed soldiers at the checkpoints waved me through as I raised the flip face on my helmet. It appeared that they were not terribly interested in lone motorcycles.
The second time I was pulled over was by a man in an inflatable soldier costume (like you see mascots wear), two clowns, a mime and a Frisbee dog. As part of chasing down the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC), the National Liberation Army of Columbia (ELN), and narcotics traffickers, they also do little benefits for the people in the areas in which they operate. They were handing out fliers (“if you see bad guys call this number anonymously”), entertaining the kids, and being good guys. They mugged for photos, accused me of being Adam Savage, and introduced me to the girl next to me in the photo. She laughed at all of us after the photo was taken and walked away. Feeling pretty good, I finished a great day of riding at the Hostel Trail in Popayan.