Archive for October, 2010

Dropping into Medellín

Posted on October 28, 2010 by 4 Comments

Medellin has got to be one of my favorite cities. I could with absolutely no doubt, happily live here.

That’s kind of what we are doing now, I guess. We’ve been here for a week as of today and aren’t in any hurry to leave. We will soon – we’ve actually planned it – so no danger of getting completely sucked in.

We fall behind on the blog sometimes – we drove through the mountains to get here from Honda a week ago. It was a long, fun day’s drive that ended with a 1000 meter white-knuckled descent into Medellin. Good thing we got the brakes fixed.

To catch up since then, here’s my week’s observations…

Medellin is just a great place. Friendly people, pleasant weather, beautiful setting, fun stuff to do, great food, good museums, fun things for kids, great shopping, easily available U.S. college football on giant TV screens, an abundance of interesting modern architecture, developing hip international scene, great green spaces, a metro system, live music!, sushi!, avocados the size of your head, interesting historical stuff… And, if you live here you get to be a Paisa!

There you go, we’re all caught up.

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Filed Under: Colombia

Hot in Honda

Posted on October 27, 2010 by No Comments

Once the bus was fixed, we were anxious to get back on the road. We passed on waiting around for more bus help from Mario – a decision we may end up regretting.

This country is so much bigger than it looks on a map, and getting between any two towns is a major journey. We stopped half-way between two mountain ranges, in sunny Honda. It was a nice change from the chill in Bogota. There wasn’t much to this town, but it was a holiday weekend and the hotels were full. This is a destination for families from Medellin and Bogota who want some warm sunshine.

We checked out into one of the many ranch-style hotels built around a large swimming pool. The pool was packed with Colombian merry-makers and us, the gringo family.

The scene reminded me of Caddy Day at the pool. There were kids everywhere, balls shooting across the pool, the legs of folks doing underwater handstands… and people making out. PDA is not something the Colombians are afraid of.

Of course, it didn’t take long for Bode to find a group of pals. We spent the entire day at the pool. Night came and nobody noticed.

Honda was meant to be a pit-stop, but it was so different than the tourist trail we’d been on we stayed one more day. It isn’t often that we are in a place so full of kids. And, after our noisy hostel in Bogota (they had a sliding metal front door, which sounded exactly like our bus door slamming and woke us up every time someone entered!), it was nice to be in a place were everyone was exhausted and quiet by 9pm.

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The Best in Bogota

Posted on October 26, 2010 by 3 Comments

I had been in contact with a few folks in Bogota over the past few days because I wasn’t sure about getting my clutch tube cleared. Now that I had a potentially bigger problem, it was time to take them up on their offers to help.

Carlos is in one of the local VW clubs and promised to come over with the best VW mechanic in town. The next afternoon, he showed up with Mario and his brother. They took a quick look at the bus and got to work.

Mario pulled off the calipers and immediately determined that my leak wasn’t from the caliper seals, but from behind the pistons… and that the entire thing was caused by my excessively worn pads. A slightly embarrassing mistake on my part – I should have taken a closer look myself. However, I’d like to place some blame on the 1971 VW engineers – this seems like a bit of a design flaw if the pistons pop out and start leaking fluid when the pads get too low. I’m assuming they’ve figured this out by now.

Mario gave both calipers a thorough inspection to make sure there was no other damage and everything looked good. He was amazed at the thickness of my discs – practically new in his opinion. This brings us to the next problem. I actually had some spare pads in the car I’ve been carrying around since Puerto Vallarta (note: don’t drive from PV to Bogota without changing your brake pads*.) I recall the guy at the PV shop promising me he was giving me the ‘better’ pads. What he must of meant was that he was giving me the over-sized pads that don’t actually fit a standard disc. By my guess, the disc would have to be worn down to just a few millimeters thick for these pads to actually fit.

*before we left on our trip, a professional VW mechanic told me I wouldn’t have to change my pads the entire trip. I’m on my third set. Mario says change ‘em around every 10,000 km.

Mario’s quick solution was to go find a shop and grind them down to the right thickness. An hour goes by and no luck – we’re not in the part of town with ANY mechanical type shops. Businesses here are organized by barrio. He’s sure he has the correct pads and he sends his brother back to his shop to get them… when he returns they go in fine and there’s no leaks.

Time for a test drive around Bogota.

We all hop in and head towards the parts area of 07 de Octubre to pick up some spares and we end up right back at Volkswagen Colombiana – where I was the previous day. No standard sized pads and no shock absorbers here either. Mario says he’s got some of these too, but with the holiday weekend (?)  he can’t get them to me until the following Tuesday (?) The near-term solution is to start drinking.

Mario has a few building around here. A few he rents out to other mechanics and one for himself. We drive to the first shop and see one of his finished products – a cherry vocho that has been perfectly restored. Next, we head to his other shop where some club members and friends are waiting and clearly started the evening without us.

The shop is crammed full of classic VW’s in various stages of restoration. They do everything here by hand – it’s impressive. No power tools. Entire cars stripped and sanded by hand. There are still a few guys still working hard hammering out dents and chipping away at rust spots on a few projects.

As Mario hands me a beer, he tells me he’s promised two customers to finish building their engines by tomorrow. It’s clearly not going to happen – maybe because he came to help me and certainly now because there’s a party in the shop and the booze is flowing. To their credit, many of the mechanics keep working into the night (Añejo in hand.) My limited Spanish seems to improve as the night progresses. At some point we discuss starting an import/export business for restored classic VW’s – so crazy it could work.

Everyone was great and I can’t thank Mario and Carlos enough for coming across town to help me out. It was great to meet so many other nice folks like Victor, Martin, John and others who were so generous and practically rolled out the red carpet for us in Bogota.

Once again, faith in humanity confirmed.

Mario gave both calipers a thorough inspection to make sure there was no other damage and everything looked good. He was amazed at the thickness of my discs – practically new in his opinion. This brings us to the next problem. I actually had some spare pads in the car I’ve been carrying around since Puerto Vallarta (note: don’t drive from PV to Bogota without changing your brake pads.) I recall the guy at the shop promising me he was giving me the ‘better’ pads. What he must of meant was that he was giving me the over-sided pads that don’t actually fit a standard disc. By my guess, your disc would have to be worn down to just a few millimeters thick for these pads to actually fit.

Mario’s quick solution was to go find a shop and grind them down to the right thickness. An hour goes by and no luck – we’re not in the part of town with ANY mechanical type shops. He’s sure he has the correct pads and he sends his brother back to his shop to get them… they go in fine and there’s no leaks. Time for a test drive around Bogota.

We all hop in and head towards the parts area of 07 de Octubre to pick up some spares and we end up right back at Volkswagen Colombiana – where I was the previous day. No standard sized pads and no shock absorbers here either. Mario says he’s got some of these too, but with the holiday weekend (?) and it being Friday (?) he can’t get them to me until the following Tuesday (?) The near-term solution is to start drinking.

Mario has a few building around here. A few he rents out to other mechanics and one for himself. We drive to the first shop and see one of his finished products – a cherry Vocho that has been perfectly restored. Next, we head to his other shop where some club members and friends are waiting and clearly started the evening without us.

The shop is crammed full of classic VWs in various stages of restoration. They do everything here by hand – it’s impressive. No power tools. Entire cars stripped and sanded by hand. There are still a few guys still working hard hammering out dents and chipping away at rust spots on a few projects.

As Mario hands me a beer, he tells me he’s promised customers to finish building two engines by tomorrow. It’s clearly not going to happen – maybe because he came to help me and certainly now because there’s a party in the shop and the booze is flowing. To their credit, many of the mechanics keep working into the night (Anejo in hand.) My limited Spanish seems to improve as the night progresses.

Everyone was great and I can’t thank Mario and Carlos enough for coming across town to help me out. It was great to meet so many other nice folks like Victor, Martin, John and others who were so generous and practically rolled out he red carpet for us in Bogota.

Once again, faith in humanity confirmed.

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Filed Under: Colombia

Busted knuckles and Botero

Posted on October 25, 2010 by 6 Comments

After a few days in Bogota, I finally figured out the best way to go find the VW parts I was looking for. Jump in a taxi and ask the cabbie for help.

The front-desk lady at the hotel warned me against even getting into a cab because it was so dangerous. I would be kidnapped or robbed for sure.

It turns out my cab driver was the nicest guy in the world and we spent 2 hours together driving around town, chatting, and eventually finding everything I needed. Naturally, all the parts were where everyone said they were – barrio 07 de Octubre. The trick was actually finding what I needed within the labyrinth of car parts tiendas.  There were plenty of VW places, but they all kept sending me around the corner until I found Volkswagen Colombiana. They’ve got the goods.

I had spent a few days soaking the clutch cable tube in solvent and trying to ream out the insides. By finally getting a piece of baling wire through a few days back, I convinced myself it wasn’t impossible. After the soaking and manually boring with the cut-up end of the old cable, I finally got through the hardened grease and dirt in the tube. Literally a major break through.

I could finally run the new cable in and fix the thing properly. Ten minutes and I was done – like it was supposed to go the first time. I was quite pleased to remove my jerry-rigged cable and put it in the trash.

While I was down there, I took a look around and was surprised to find both of my front brake calipers soaked in fluid. Crap. I thought the brakes felt a little soft as we were driving into town a few days ago. Time to rebuild the calipers? Clearly we’re not leaving Bogota today… or tomorrow.

I looked around a little more and notice that both of my rear shocks are leaking hydraulic fluid. Not my day. Apparently, I destroy shocks. Frequently.

I claimed my one victory and got cleaned up so we could do something fun today. More museums.

The Botero museum here is quite good. Aside from his own work, he donated his own personal collection that includes Dali, Renoir, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, Chagall, Max Ernst, and more. Of course, the price was right – free.

Next door we went through Bogota’s money museum. It was interesting for Bode, because he could touch everything and he was impressed with the huge old presses and machinery for making coins.

In Colombia, more than anywhere else, we have attracted odd looks from strangers. The most common one is that they walk up to Bode and look into his blue eyes, then go to Angela and stare at her brown eyes (at uncomfortably close range) in confusion. If they make it to me, they solve the mystery, but they still seem overly curious by the whole thing.

Today, this happened a few times and we ended up with a posse of kids following us around wanting to listen to us speak English and take our photos in the museum. We felt a little like part of the display.

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A Day of Police

Posted on October 22, 2010 by 5 Comments

We never really meant to be here. We were going to camp in the mountains north of town and then head west the warm valley below. Instead, we limped into Bogota with a jerry-rigged clutch cable, worrying that it too would snap at any minute.

We found a hostel in town and an inexpensive parqueo to store the bus until all is fixed. Day one involved figuring out where we were and trying to make some connections in Bogota. I’ve spotted several classic vochos here, so I’m pretty confident we can get parts. We’re in La Candaleria, though – the touristy gringo area – and there aren’t car parts for miles and miles.

Each barrio has it’s own specialty – I find out the car parts barrio is 07 de Octubre and I’m told it’s simply too dangerous to go there. Great. Come to think of it, I was told this about the entire country.

Since there is actually stuff to do here, we pass on finding car parts and head out to find some action.

We found it.

It turns out that there were three different protests this day, and they were all converging on the big square right about the time we were having lunch.

It was the usual deal. Folks marching with posters that say the equivalent of  ‘revolution now.’ The communist party shows up and wave their red flags. The whole thing gains momentum when the ‘pros’ start making their presence known  – they are readily spotted and well practiced. Guaranteed coverage on the evening news.

It was starting to feel a bit like a Bay Area protest… the paint guns came out and windows were getting broken. Something of some sort – not a paint ball – shattered the front window in the place we were eating. Time to go.

We were escorted out the back door and found that the adjoining streets were packed with some seriously equipped dudes. Armored vehicles. Dirt-bike brigades. The Colombian police know how to deal with violence in the streets… and know when to stay back and let the college kids blow off steam.

Things settled down as the protest got into the square. For some reason all the anarchy kids disappeared and it was only farmers and their leaders left to chant over the PA in the square.

I have to say that at no point did we ever feel unsafe or that we were in danger. Just one of those things.

We were close to a museum – the national police museum – and figured it was an opportune time to visit.

Interesting enough. They have a whole display of the hunt for Pablo Escobar complete with stuffed dummies, one of his motorcycles, and some weapons. On another floor is… more weapons. All contraband that was deemed interesting enough to display – most of it home-made.

If you want a good day, get drunk.

If you want a good year, get married.

If you want a good life, become a police officer.

-inscription on the wall of the police museum

We learn that what they call “handcuffs” loosely translates to “wife.” We also saw a display of all the police uniforms of the world hand-stitched onto little Ken dolls. An impressive effort, but we’re not really sure where they found the American flag.

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Clutch Time

Posted on October 21, 2010 by 2 Comments

We had a full day’s drive through the mountains before reaching Zipaquira. The scenery continued to amaze us, and the steep ascents and windy roads continued to awe us.  We have seen a lot of mountains on this trip, but they pale in comparison.

We pulled into the Salt Cathedral, billed as one of Colombia’s most famous visitor destinations, and heard a snap. Jason immediately diagnosed it was the clutch cable. Not to worry, he had another.

Bode and I bought tickets and headed to over to enjoy the Cathedral while Jason went to work on Red Beard. This particular cathedral was built in an old salt mine 200 meters down, so it was dark, deep and damp and actually a little creepy. At least for a 5 year old. There are 14 small chapels, each representing a station of the cross, and each impossibly hard to get a photo of. After about 11 of them, Bode announced he’d rather go play on the playground outside. Fair enough.

We checked in with Jason and heard that there was another problem. The clutch cable wouldn’t get through the tube that held it. He continued to work another couple hours while we hit the playgrounds.

Of course he was parked illegally, but he security guards were really nice and had lot’s of questions about our trip. The California plates stick out more than they have anywhere else and the Colombians are pleasantly more gregarious than folks we’ve met anywhere else.

The Salt Cathedral closed, everyone left, but we stayed at the bouncy house until dark. By then, Jason had come up with a temporary solution (route the new cable through various holes in the frame) and we quickly found a hotel nearby.

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Filed Under: Colombia

Vino y Fósiles

Posted on October 20, 2010 by 1 Comment

We’d been anxiously awaiting the wines of South America. We hadn’t expected vineyards in Colombia, however. Vinedo Ain Karim was 15 miles out of town, with beautiful views and an impressive winery. Jason and I bought a glass each and sat outside marveling at the beautiful day. How is the Colombian wine? We were glad we didn’t order a bottle – we need to get much farther south.

Naturally, after wine tasting comes dinosaur skeletons. This kronosaurus was found in this exact location by a farmer tending his land. They built a museum around him, and added some of the millions of fossils from when this area was the sea.

What’s cool about this guy, is that he’s aquatic. All these fossils were (mostly mollusks), and we’re high in the mountains, a good 9 hour drive, over 2 more mountain ranges,  from the nearest sea.

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