February 20, 2015

South America: The End, Colombia

We crossed into Colombia June 29, 2014. With all the negative things I've learned about Colombia over the years I was definitely a little nervous and had no idea what to expect, but what I experienced there was wonderful, beautiful and opened my eyes to a place I didn't even know how to imagine. The next night we camped outside of Mondomo in the yard of a sweet family's house who had a pool we enjoyed and some horses who relentlessly tried to eat our tent in the middle of the night. I was always happy to be back in the heat, but not so happy to be back in the company of the giant, poisonous and terrifying bugs that came with it especially with James' allergy requiring an EPI pen. We had been pretty lucky so far, minus a few scares, but I still had my fingers crossed hoping we would make it home in one piece. 

We headed to the coffee district to spend a few days in the colorful, small town of Salento. We camped at a hostal outside of town and it was so nice to be off the bike for a few days and be on our feet. We visited a local, organic coffee farm and relaxed around town finally enjoying a cup of real coffee instead of instant grounds. 

Traveling through what little parts of Colombia we got to see was very interesting to me. When going through small towns people would often come out of their homes to meet us and ask us questions, and at one point when stopped for a snack a group of sweet kiddos took my camera and snapped a few photos with it. There were frequent military check points with young boys holding huge automatic riffles posted up along the roads which usually felt pretty weird since that's not our norm back home, but they always waved us through or were curious about the bike. Occasionally we would see the remnants of a not-so-distant violent past or would end up in a place that felt obvious we shouldn't stick around too long, but mostly it was a beautiful and unique place that has a lot more to offer than preconceived assumptions. I wish we had more time to explore, but we were rushing to get to Bogota to get the bike ready to be shipped to Miami. 

We made it to Bogota July 5th and spent the first two days trying to get the motorcycle shipped to Miami. The shipping company James had found, like all things in South America, moved at a much slower and unorganized pace than we had hoped for and the whole process was kind of nightmare exasperated by our lack of ability to have complex conversations in Spanish. After two days of getting that sorted out, we crossed our fingers it would find it's way home then spent the rest of the week exploring the city. 

With tears in my eyes I boarded the plane to Miami July 10th. I wasn't quite ready to go home yet. I missed my friends and family, but I felt like things were just beginning for me. I finally felt like my Spanish had improved and I felt like I only scratched the surface of all there is to see in South America. James had been gone for almost a year and was more than ready to go home, but it was sad for me to leave. It opened my eyes up in ways I never expected and I learned more about myself and the world around me than I can even put into words. 

The bike was due to arrive in Miami the day before us, but when we arrived it hadn't even left Bogota yet. We were almost completely out of money and Miami is significantly more expensive than South America so it was a shitty transition. We decided to sleep at the airport with hopes the bike would arrive the next day avoiding the airport police as much as possible since we were on the outside of the security gates, plus we looked like bums literally covered head to toe in shit. We had bought cheap duffle bags to bring our riding and camping gear back, but we weren't expecting to have to lug all that shit around for days in the middle of the summer in Florida. We found a camp ground south of Miami, so we took a train and a city bus and 2 hours later made it to the entrance of the park and walked what felt like forever to get to the actual camp ground and ranger station. We hadn't eaten all day and were now in the middle of suburbs with no food in sight. It was so hot and humid and miserable. Feelings changed when we met the park ranger and he told us awesome stories of being from Bolivia and moving to New York and then riding to Patagonia with his motorcycle gang in the 1970s. He was awesome, so we ordered a pizza and hung out in the air conditioned rec room near the camp ground pool and things were lookin up. We camped there for two nights as we waited for the motorcycle to arrive, then decided to spend our last day renting a car so we could check out the beach and explore the city without carrying our loads of gear around everywhere. We slept in the rental car that night, took a bird bath in a Starbucks bathroom that morning, then headed to the airport first thing the next morning to pick up the bike. Importing the bike was surprisingly easy for us and soon we were on our way across the Everglades dodging massive bugs, alligators, semi trucks, and trying to not melt in heat with all our riding gear. We could only go about 55mph so trying to keep up with traffic on I-10 Gulf Coast Freeway was pretty terrifying especially since it was pouring rain and thunder storming most of the way. Those 3 days riding across the Gulf Coast was the worst, minus the pit stop in New Orleans where we visited a Voodoo Museum and filled our bellies with catfish po-boy's. We made it to Houston on July 16th to my dad's and it was so great to be back home in the arms of family and in fresh clothes. My camera had just about shit the bed and we were financially in a deep hole, but it was completely worth it and I'd do it again in a heart beat. 

After 3 months and 10,000 miles together we made it home. Now we would spend the next month driving through the States with the bike on a trailer to visit friends and family in Texas, Colorado and Ontario, Canada before we headed back home to Portland. 

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