Amazon to Columbia
June 15, 2005 to August 9, 2005
June 15, 2005
Breakfast and another short chat with Willem, the loser of a boat. He seems too relaxed to be in such a terrible situation? They really do put out a nice buffet. Fresh fruit, ham and eggs, sweet rolls and coffee. We're going to miss this place.
I'm chained to the computer and toilet today. Yes the Pepto Bismol isn't working and my eyes are burning. Cat set off to find eye drops and food for lunch. Peter is packing, readying for his bus trip south.
Peter came up and we bid him well wishes and good luck. It'll be strange no longer being a trio. He has been a great travel friend. Very relaxed and open minded. We're going to miss him. So, the typical hugs, hand shakes and he was gone. Cat mailed the CDs with photos of our Amazon Adventure.
After our in room picnic we went out in search of Maps of North Brazil and the Guiana's. There just aren't any. Evandro had one of northern South America that would be great to have but he and the map are motoring toward southern Brazil and back to testing eyes.
A trip to the US Consulate proved fruitless. Christine, the Deputy there had no idea where to find maps or info and referred us to the web-site for safety info. That's probably a policy to avoid liability? She was friendly and interested in our journey but seemed pre-occupied. As it turns out, she gave us great advice, she told us of Paratur, the National Tourist Bureau in Brazil. In fact she recommended that we meet Sandra, the Secretary to the President there.
Christine did tell us that there is an Internet Shop downstairs. We looked and the best we could do was a Computer School, Ya Zigi. The guys there were kind but told us that the machines were for Student use, only. They tried to decide on another Internet Shop in the area but came up with nothing then invited us in and onto their machine. They were very excited about our web-site. Several students clicked in and surfed around the world with us. Nick suggested that his Cousin Manages the Ya Zigi School in Macapa. He gave us his e-mail address and we sent him a note looking for information. What nice guys!
Another afternoon of relaxing, a movie and of course more journal typing for me.
A walk down the block to the Hilton Hotel for their buffet dinner. The food was very good, the price was very high.
We both dozed off while watching TV.
June 16, 2005
Packed and ready to FLY
Timothy Buck, our elder Grandson Graduated from Middle School Today
Strange, it seems like yesterday that we looked through the window at the hospital and met a sleeping little bundle. And, imagine, he was only 10 when we mounted up and cycled away from home, now he's headed for High School. Pictures we've received recently show him to be taller than his Mom and a very handsome young man, indeed! We're all really proud of him.
To Ride or Fly?
After breakfast we walked to the Paratur Info Office. Sandra, who's Secretary to the President, took tie to meet us and help make decisions. She led us down to the tour office then called a colleague in Macapa. She'd been fairly sure that we'd be okay until that conversion. The first negative was road condition and weather. More than 70% of the road is dirt which in the current rainy season will be mud. Then there's what they called a "Land Issue" with local Native Americans which has them upset and doing some violent actions as a reaction. AS if that weren't enough, she also told us that the upcoming Holidays bring tourists which also results in more "Bad Boys" along the road lurking and looking for victims. Okay, we have a decision; we'll fly to Cayenne, French Guyane. The only other option, fly to the little town at the border, was discounted when we found that the dirt road continues most of the way to the Capital City.
Continuing her hospitable way, Sandra explained which bus would get us to the Airport. We thanked her profusely and went out to wait for the bus. We stood for a while then Sandra appeared and pointed to a spot around the corner where we could get a bus. She really is a kind and caring person!
Malba, Ferdinando and Air Caribe
We missed a passing bus as we walked to the stop then waited for an hour. Finally on board then it was more than an hour ride to the Airport. Once there we fell into a group of folks that really wanted to help. Malba is the Manager, Ferdinando runs the counter. He ticketed us then we told him about our bikes and overweight problems. He smiled and said, "Let's talk to the Boss." Malba gave us extra weight at no cost. These guys are the greatest.
Bob's Burgers for lunch. This place was our favorite in Ipanema and the chicken sandwich is just as tasty, here. The bus trip back to town was another hour grind.
I dove back into the journal pages, Cat hit the Post Office. She found a guy that spoke English and wanted to help. He wants very badly to travel but feels that he can't afford it. Cat urged him to continue to dream and plan as he posted the packages.
The place we chose from the pages of Lonely Planet had no white wine and a limited menu. So, we headed down the street to Cia Paulista, the same Pizza place where we dined with Peter, our first night I town. Past and fresh veggies, mmmm good.
Larry King had Evangelist, Billy Graham guesting. Hard to stay awake.
June 17, 2005
Belem, Brazil to Cayenne, French Guyane
A leisurely breakfast and morning. Repacking and preparing for the next big step of this adventure. Ferdinando arranged for a van to pick us up at noon.
Runnin' On Empty
The guys that Ferdinando arranged for us pulled up, 10 minutes late. Pretty shaky looking group of 3 guys and vehicle. We got things loaded then sat in the front seat. There are no other seats so the others crouched in the rear. We were just minutes away fro the Airport when the VW started to sputter. They pulled to the shoulder, opened the engine cover and started puttering. Finally the driver sent the other two for gasoline. They returned with a couple of gallons in a plastic bag. No funnel, they improvised with a leaf. These guys are runnin' on empty in more ways than one. We'd just decided to flag another car when the old VW sputtered to life. We were in front of the Terminal in minutes. They hated to shut the engine off but had to. Bags to the Porters then we paid the driver and watched as the other 2 pushed and pushed down the road, trying to get her started, again.
Guyane For Us, Home For Them
Ferdinando was there, waiting for us. He weighed the bikes and bags then calculated us 50 kilos over. (over 100 pounds) He rolled his eyes, winked, accepted the bags and sent us on to Immigration. We passed through and into the waiting area only to find that the plane was running 1 ½ hours late. As we sat we observed a family nearby. Gary and Sandy with their 3 kids, Mishaela, Joshua and MacKenzie. They were speaking English so we jumped in. Missionaries, they've been here for 14 years running a school and haven't been home for 5 years. This is their first trip back home in 5 years. They'll stop over for a couple of days rest in Martinique. Really nice people. The kids are so excited, Joshua was just a baby when the arrived here. They get to spend a year at home, in Kansas.
The plane is a sleek but small craft. It flies fast but the ride is bumpy. Slightly sweaty palms for both of us.
The Airport at Cayenne is great. No touts trying to help us or sell something to us. We got 2 luggage carts, caught the bags then waited for them to bring the bikes around. After a bit of wrangling with drivers we got a guy with a van to take us. The others wanted us to take the next cab in line but we knew that we needed the van. He was a happy driver to be called into service ahead of schedule. He was our first encounter with the prices of French Guyane. (They pronounce it Goo Yawn) He charged 40 Euros, with our countries "Strong Dollar" policy, that's $50 US. The recommended Hotel Amazonian was fully booked. So, the driver slipped us around to Hotel Central. They had a room but we didn't have enough Euros to pay the taxi. He drove Cat to an ATM and back. The Hotel accepts Visa, their rate is 50 Euros. I got the bags to our so-so room while Cat got cash. It was just at sunset by the time we got in and had a glass of wine.
The friendly French speaking African American Desk Clerk directed us to a restaurant, La Taverna, just down the street. Very good food as one would expect in France. This is a French Colony. Duck for Cat and Steak for Moi.
Cat was in heaven, baffled at first but then escaping Portuguese and slipping back into French.
No TV, so right to bed.
June 18, 2005
A Hotel Change, La Central to Amazona
Though our room is okay, we want more. Cat has read of a Café for coffee and bread down the main street. Amazona is a Best Western Hotel. We walked in prepared to flash Malba's business card and tell them that she was sure they'd have a room for us when the clerk said, "Yes, we have rooms". They probably had a room last night but the night clerk was busy checking a group in. Cat checked, the room is much better and already made up. They even gave her the key without getting any info on us.
The breakfast place, Café Crème, is so French. A glass of juice, flaky croissants and thick, rich, frothy Café au Lait. We sat on the side walk. Had to scoot in ward as the rain began. It really poured. The feeling is tropical but French. We've heard estimates of 70% African American but the population and Service are typically French slow. We even enjoyed that.
The rain dwindled to a drizzle. Cat went searching for a Laundry, I headed back to get the bags and bikes ready to move. We'd locked the bikes to a stairwell down but the bags filled the elevator. It's tiny and moves at snails pace. I had then down and out on the sidewalk by the time Cat arrived, she struck out on both laundry and a tourist office. . Now, another problem, no taxi's. We sat and waited for almost an hour before we finally flagged a guy down. He made 2 trips and charged a heavy price for the service. This is France and nothing is cheap.
Cat found bread and a tin of tuna with the help of what she called a "semi homeless" guy. He led her to a little store and bakery. She realized later that it's in the neighborhood they call Chicago the place they recommend we should never be found in. Tight fisted Cat even bought a tin of tune for him as a token of thanks.
So, lunch, a baguette and tuna. Pretty darned good but then anything on a real French baguette is good. The left over steak and duck added greatly to the feast.
Playing Journal Catch-up
Giving in to Antibiotics
An afternoon of journal pages for me and repacking for the road for Cat. Oh yes, the Guff Guff still has me sticking close to the toilet. This is day 1 of a 10 day course of Cipro. Hate to take the stuff but when you gotta go, and go, and go, you gotta do Cipro.
Our planned dinner down was thwarted, they're closed today? Closed on Saturday? They recommended a place just a short walk away. Turned out to be quite nice once we got past the prices. Pizza, good pizza.
Yes, we have TV here. Not only TV but satellite TV with CNN. So it was Larry King then SLEEP.
Sunday, June 19, 2005
Drizzle, again, a walk in wet, to breakfast at Café Crème, again. Geez, it's closed. So, down the street to a place with food and computers. We'll eat and check e-mail at a place around the block. Hey, it's closed too? Awe, the worst, breakfast at the Hotel. Just an okay buffet but a big time price tag, 18 Euros.
For me, more journal pages catch up. Cat went on a hunt fro an Internet Shop. This town, the Capital City, is completely closed, total shut down. Cat was beside herself, she spent the day lounging and watching TV. Flipping from CNN to movies and back, going stir crazy. Lunch, leftovers.
Took a walk around town and down to the beach at 5:00 then back to the same restaurant we enjoyed, last night. The ladies there are quite nice. The manager is a gal who speaks only French. Cat worked at it then another, a gal working on new menus, got into the conversation, she spoke English.
Fish and Steak, delicious.
Larry King had his kids on the show for Fathers Day. He's in his 70s, the kids range from 50 down to 5 years old. 20 years doing 40,000 interviews and that ain't all!
June 20, 2005
Bikes to Shop
Visas for Suriname
Up early and off to Café Crème, we love that place. In our usual sidewalk seats and having coffee at 8:00 PM.
Got the bikes running and rode to the laundry then on to the bike shop. Well, the Hotel sent us down main street to the building that used to house the Bike Shop. They've moved out of the center. It's been more than 2 months since we cycled. That and riding without bags, pretty shaky.
So, back toward the Hotel then down 3 blocks to the Suriname Consulate to get Visas. Another Euro shock, they charge 50 for each Visa. Simple process, fill out a one page form, hand over your Passports and 100 Euros then come back later today. As we paid another guy came to pick up his passport with his fresh Visa inside. We noted that he had a US Passport. He came out as we were unlocking our bikes. Cat said hello to him then we got into a good conversation. He's from New York but has lived in lots of places. University in Kansas then off, into the world. He studied in France then went looking for a job, teaching English to French speaking people. That's how he ended up here. We gave him our card and Hotel telephone, he said he'd call. We suggested lunch tomorrow if his schedule will allow. He'll call, he's winding up the school year, giving final exams.
The shop is about 5 Ks from Central. A beautiful new building, 2 stories of bikes, motorcycles and parts. None of the people there speak English. We finally got the point across that we wanted to have the bikes tuned, the brake pads replaced and the chins oiled. They wanted us to wait then suggested that we come back this afternoon. We walked across the street and waited for a bus or taxi. No luck so back and we had the guys call for a cab. They have great looking BMWs and Mercedes Taxis that operate at greatly exaggerated prices. The ride back cost 7 Euros. By the way, this Euro Zone is killing us. Each Euro costs us $1.30. That means this little ride is costing almost $10.00.
The driver dropped us at a store where they say we'll find maps. No such luck we've had no luck. There is a Tourist office but it's all the way back at the Airport. The lady here says that we won't find any maps of this country, Suriname or Guyana. Onward, we walked back to the Suriname Consulate and retrieved our freshly Visaed Passports.
This town closes down, 1:00 PM to 4:00. So, we relaxed and watched a Tennis match at Wimbledon
We've finished the Lima to Galapagos and want to send it to Wally. Took the CD to 2 different Internet Shops but neither have CD capabilities. So, we packed up the computer and headed for the Computer Repair Shop called @DS Technologies. The guys there, Dominique and Francois know the Sony Vaio. Dominique, the young one looked at the machine then quickly showed us how to copy to the CD. Simple when you know what you're doing. Cat went to pick pour laundry while I learned. Then, they let me plug into their Internet Server and send the text to Wally. When we finished Francois calmly said, 30 Euros. I was slightly taken aback. He smiled so I offered 20. Then he said, "No Charge". I thought about it for about 2 seconds then handed him 20 Euros. He said, "Not necessary", I said, "Worth it, College costs money and now I know how to use our computer". He smiled that big smile, again.
Dinner, another quandary. We walked to a decent looking restaurant down the street and took a look at the menu. They had no white wine, so we asked if we could get our bottle. They talked among themselves then offered a bottle of red or rose. We insisted that we only enjoy white. They shook their heads then gave us the final decision, "No". We walked out.
Back to the Hotel, into the restaurant only to find that they too have no white wine. And, they too refused to allow us our own bottle. In fact they were almost nasty about it. Cat was getting upset when we came up with an idea. W chose food from the menu and asked if they would serve it to us in the room. The waitress gave us a dirty look, as though we'd cheated the system but agreed to do room service.
Jeremy called, we made a date to have lunch, tomorrow. The only English language channel is CNN. We've seen the same news at least 5 times as we ate our fairly good food and savored our White. Cat was so happy to see Larry King.
June 21, 2005
First Day of Summer in the North, Winter in the South
Preacher Killen was convicted of man slaughter today, for three murders that occurred 41 years ago. Remember the film Mississippi Burning? This hideous event took place in Philadelphia, Mississippi. I met a guy from there while cycling through Meridian, MS. back in 1988. I was sure then and still am, that he was involved. So, finally a conviction of 1 of the many who were responsible for the killing of 3 Civil Rights Workers. Killen is 80 years old and has enjoyed his life. Better late than never, however, whoever heard of manslaughter for 3 cold blooded murders? (Pinochet fainted today, he will never be convicted for his terribly bloody reign over Chile.)
Don't Let The Rain Come Down
The rain poured, much of the night. It eased and the sun threatened to peak through as we walked to Café Crème. It is so easy to love this French lifestyle. We did supplement our juice, croissants and coffee with a couple of bananas. Awe just to sit on the sidewalk, watch the world go by and dream about Paris in Springtime.
Rambara, the Manager of Maintenance here at Hotel Amazona, volunteered to help us get the broken Pannier Rack fixed. He and I loaded Cat's bike into a truck and hauled them to Alan, the Welder. He's a character, he personally did the weld then told Rambara that he had done a very good job to make sure we make it back to California. Rambara's family came from India, 4 generations ago. He's from Guyana and speaks great, very British sounding, English. When I asked the cost for welding he and Alan laughed then he told me, "Alan says to ride fast and be safe, he doesn't want any money"!
While I was watching welding Cat and Elsa, the Front Desk Manager at Amazona called around and reserved a room at a place called Hotel Atlantis in Kourou. She has been more than helpful, another friendly French person.
I spent an hour trying to patch the holes that the "Dirty Rat" chewed in my rear pannier. The patches in place, I set pieces of tile on them to keep the pressure on and left them in the garage. The holes are so large it may be tough to get them sealed. We did take water in the last rain and we'll see plenty of rainy days ahead. One of my front panniers has a small hole, caused when the Robbers tried to drag the bike away. It's small, easy to patch and should be fine.
Jeremy called earlier and true to his promise, he was at our door at 1:00 PM. We walked to a place he's familiar with on a little side street. We had Bami (fried noodles) and Nasi (fried rice) with chicken. Very tasty! Great to learn a little about local food and learning more about Jeremy. A very self confident young guy. He came here as an employee of the Government. The woman that runs the school where he was hired to teach really gave him a hard time. In fact she refused to accept him as an employee even though he had a contract. He went to work, anyway. Even though she refuse to pay. It took 3 months before he was finally on the payroll. He stuck it out and won. However it wasn't without discomfort. A woman who heard him complaining at the Government Office offered a place to stay. She felt that they were treating him poorly. Jeremy says that living with them was difficult, they're idea of housekeeping and his differ. Don't take this the wrong way, he's extremely thankful that they adopted him. When he finally received back pay he paid them for his room and board.
Jeremy was off to an appointment. We walked to the Internet Shop and checked e-mails then back to @DS Tech to send pictures to Wally. We have some that we took with Pablo when we were Kayaking and some that Tony and Erika, the couple on honeymoon that were along with us when we snorkeled have e-mailed to us. They are pretty good and we hope Wally can place a couple of them. (Thanks Tony and Erika!)
I also wanted a picture of Francois and Dominique. Pics sent, I set the camera but Dominique sat down facing away from me and refused. He's too shy. Francois and I stood, smiled and posed. What a nice guy. We thought they were originally from Laos or Thailand but were surprised to learn they emigrated from Malaysia. No charge this time and they had both visited our web site and loved it.
We were settling in with a glass of wine when Jeremy called. He invited us to his place for a local dinner. We enjoy him and his local knowledge so much that we has to say yes. He picked us up then we wound through small streets lined with small homes to a place where people stand in line to buy "heavy bananas and chicken". They even threw in some other unidentifiable meat and roots.
Jeremy lives in a suburb of Cayenne, about 10 Ks out. The roadway is dark. He stopped at a beach and we walked to the sand. The moon shone brightly on the water. Crabs scurried around our feet. It's obvious that Jeremy loves this place and is thinking of how he will miss it. Yes, he will be leaving now that his school year contract has fulfilled.
His home is a studio. Typical bachelor pad, slightly askew. The food, even the unidentifiable portions, was great. More talk then more rain, as we ate. Jeremy's parents are coming to see this place he's become so fond of. The reason he had to get a Suriname Visa, they'll arrive there. We may even see him and meet them when he drives over to get them. He has his car for sale but wants to have it while they're here. What a nice young, 23 year old guy! His next challenge? He's planning on living in Sweden next, partly because they allow free education to any foreigner living there to study language, culture and customs. As we were leaving he introduced us to a Tarantula that he says hangs around. He talks of it like a pet.
What a wonderful evening, well, night. It was 11:30 PM when he finally dropped us off.
June 22, 2003
Cayenne to Kourou
WorldRiders2 are finally Back on Bikes!
The bags were packed, we dressed in our cycling cloths and headed for breakfast. It felt strange, we haven't worn these cloths or clunky shoes in almost 2 months. Passersby must have felt the same, they stared as we clacked by in our strange shoes and clothing. Our final day on the sidewalk at Café Crème. We'll miss this place. The coffee is strong and tasty, the croissants very French.
With the new bags thanks to Ortlieb, we're pretty colorful. Geez, we've forgotten how it feels to ride in traffic. It was 9:00 AM when we got out the door and into it. First stop, Alan's Welding Shop. I wanted Cat to meet him and we want a picture of him. He was happy to see us and happy to pose. His firm handshake reconfirmed his feelings of admiration for our efforts.
Onward, to the traffic circle, around in traffic and out onto the Highway. Strange yes, but not foreign. We easily slipped into our cycling groove. Unfortunately, we ran out of shoulder and felt cars coming too close. Tight, yes but the road surface is good.
Hungry and hot, we pulled into a farm looking for shade. The cattle had shade but there was little for us. We sat in a strip of it on grass and leaned against the covered corral fence. The floppy eared brahmas paid us little mind. Cat is over heated and red in the face. We brought a baguette, ham and cheese along. They filled us as we cooled slightly in our little batch of shade.
A Snake From the Grass
Of interest, lots of dead snakes on the road. By the way that's the only snake that Cat feels comfortable around, a dead one. She fears that they are now lying in wait, in the grass, hoping to make a meal of her. Even my assurances that they can't swallow us and they're only protecting themselves, doesn't faze her, she's steadfast in her feelings of dislike and fear. The first that caught our eye was a big, beautiful shiny green, stretched out in the sun and shimmering. It must have been 5 feet (2 ¼ meters) long? We were on a down hill run or I would have a picture for you here. We did stop to shoot a bright red with black stripes. Even though I assured Cat that it was deader than dead she wouldn't get close.
At 2:30 we rolled into Kourou. First stop, a Service Station for popsicles. Sitting on the curb in shade, we shared one then I got another. Cooled slightly we continued only to learn that we still had 3 Ks to go. Hotel Atlantis was a Mercure but is no longer. Cat felt that the rooms there pretty plain, they have no English language TV and the price of 85 Euros steep. So off we went down the road to the new Mercure. Here we didn't get past the front desk The sign said, weekend special, 160 Euros. That we cold do but, WRONG! It's 160 Euros per day? Wow, the desk clerk conferred with the manager then offered us a deal, 110 Euros, not including breakfast.
Californians in Kourou
We knew that we had to ride on but hated to go back to the other place. A couple of guys standing nearby spoke up, suggesting other places, in English. Another wow, both Ted and John are from Palo Alto in northern California. They're here for a launch. Yes, this is the commercial Rocket Capital of the world. We were joined by three others as I shot a picture. They too were Californians but weren't quite as open and friendly as Ted and John. (Ted is the shaved head next to Cat and John the light blue t-shirt and big mustache.)
Our chatter was like a family reunion then they told us of two other Hotels that we might like, better. Sort of sorry to leave all these Californians behind but, budget called and we rode toward town. This place is as spread out as Los Angeles. Not as big but wide for the size of it. There seems to be clusters of commercial places in scattered residential areas.
A FOHI Rocket Scientist
Seeking a nice bottle of white we stopped at the Match Super Marche. Oh dear, closed until 4:30. We chose to go across the street to McDonalds for a soft drink. As we sipped we heard more familiar English spoken at the next table. Not surprisingly, Gilbert and Daniel are also from California and here for a launch. Also no big surprise, they're from California, too. They're with Boeing Aerospace. Gilbert told us that the company is in El Segundo. When I told him that I lived in Redondo Beach when I was a kid he said, "I don't live there, I live in Fontana, do you know where that is"?
"Do I know where that is, I graduated from Fontana High School".
Gilbert was astounded then I was amazed. "I graduated from FOHI, too"!
Geez, a Rocket Scientist from FOHI? I graduated, just barely, from FOHI in 1957. Gilbert is class of ‘78' and his wife is class of ‘80'. More strange coincidence, our daughter Lori graduated from FOHI, class of ‘80'. Do Lori and Gilbert's wife, Sandra know each other? That one will have to wait to be answered later.
Another interesting tidbit from Gilbert, he said that they're here because their Long Beach Launch was cancelled? Long Beach California? Well they call it Long Beach but the launch actually is shot from south of the Hawaiian Islands, a sea launch. Interesting too, they use Russian Rockets there.
During my days at FOHI I dreamed of Rocket Flight, in fact I told Gilbert and Daniel of my experiments.
Rockets in Fontana 50 Years Ago
There was an old Munitions Military Base north of Fontana back then. My brother Jerry and I and a couple other friends found an open bunker there and a big tube of black gun powder. The place had been converted and a Fireworks Company was using it for storage. Along with the powder we found aluminum flare casings. The top portions were about 10 inches long. The bottoms 2 inches, with a small detonator cap. We took dozens of each and got into the Rocket Launching Business. A couple of boards nailed together in a V shape became our launch pad. We would fill one of the flare casings with power then remove the detonator cap and gently pound that onto the full casing. Launching was simple, put a match head in the hole where the detonator had been, light it and run. We had some very good flights, up to 275 meters (600 feet), until our luck ran out. Our final launch had an ignition problem. The first match head fell through the hole. Another set and fired but as we lit it too fell into the hole. We were just venturing back toward the pad when KABOOM. Our aluminum vehicle had blown to bits. Once we were sure we were okay we started grabbing our things and preparing to evacuate. Sirens were wailing and neighbors came running. We were caught. The concussion broke windows all over the neighborhood. When the Police and Fire Department arrived they were less than happy. We were forced to confess then taken to the tribunal of Mom and Dad. They're tough, they told the Police that we would have all broken windows replaced and in Mom's words, "Never, ever pull a stunt like that, again".
Finding Hotel Des Roche wasn't easy. This town spreads like a bad weed. It's at roads end, where the Rive Le Kourou meets the Ocean Atlantique. The hotel is okay but the price was shocking. Almost as much as the Mercure. Just as we were ready to mount up and ride all the way back to the Atlantis the woman mentioned their sister Hotel, across the street. It's a bargain rate, for here, 64 Euros. We pushed across and were greeted by a host of French National Police. They must stay here when pulling guard duty in Guyane?
The room is simple, the carpet dirty and worn but, we do have AC, TV and a hot water shower. We took the deal. The sign says "No Biciclette" in the stark and faded lobby area. With complete disregard we pushed them in, into the elevator then down the hallway to the room. Cat was showering as I set up the computer and watched today's news. The friendly desk clerk said, "So, you take the room"? Geez, we forgot to go back, register and pay. Funny, they require that we pay in advance. I convinced her that we'd come before dinner.
The only English language programming on TV is ESPN. So we began a 2 day sports marathon. Not just sports but unique sports like Badminton, Kickboxing and our true favorite, a Woman's Billiards Tournament. I set up the computer then showered. We relaxed, typed and watched an exciting Billiards Match.
Dusk as we walked to the other Hotel for dinner. This has to be the safest Hotel in town. There are at least 2 dozen Police and Military guys hanging around the doorway. First stop, pay the lady. The Hotel Restaurant up stairs and down the long corridor. Tough to find the first time and a long walk but the view of the pool and Atlantique made up for it.
Fresh fish from the sea. Slow service, good food.
June 23, 2005
A Visit to C. S. G. (Centre Spatial Guyanais)
Other than having to compete with a swarm of tiny ants for the fresh fruit, the breakfast is quite good, typically for here, it's expensive, too. Early start because we've arranged for a Taxi at 7:30 AM. Amazing, this town has no transit system? The lady at the desk told us that the Taxi would cost about 9 or 10 Euros. The driver laughed when we argued, he was firm but friendly, 15 Euros, 15 kilometers. We have to be at the Space Center by 8:00 AM for the tour. Interesting, when the Hotel called to book us they already had our names? Jeremy, bless his heart.
Our driver was right, it's a long way out of town. We arrived just after 8:00 due to the rush hour traffic. Lots of people gong to work. This place is the main employer in Kourou. The tour is free, our guide, Gregory Bernard told us that it is all in French except the Video we'll see. He has enough English that he can answer questions. He led our group of 30 into a large control room. There are dozens of TV monitors on the wall but only a couple of guys watching. Gilbert had told us that his satellite was to have been heaven bound in just a few days. It is combined with another from a smaller company. The other guys got their machine into the Rocket and slipped the switch but there was no life. They worked for several hours then had to scratch the launch. The John, Ted and the other guys will move up and launch first but not until about July 7. Maybe that explains the lack of action?
We donned head sets and heard the story, the orientation, in English. Gregory also gave us a booklet with much of the same info, in English. The Commercial Space Center has been operational since 1980 NS has orbited more than 250 satellites. In fact they boast that 2/3rds of the world's satellites began their service life here, in Kourou.
Gregory then herded us onto a very comfortable bus for a tour of the launch areas. There are no ships on the pads, perhaps due to the cancellation of Gilbert and Daniel's flight? We did see the enormity of the Spaceport and launch sites where Ariane 4s used to lift off. Even a visit to the Ariane 5 pad where Gilbert's payload will eventually lift off in a cloud of smoke and roar of thunder.
Back inside a facility near the launch pads, Gregory Bernard explained details and answered questions then we bussed back to the Gift Center and Museum. When we asked about a bus back to town Gregory Bernard shook his head sympathetically then spoke to the crowd. A woman and young boy approached and said, "We give you ride but after visit museum. We'd decided not to spend the time or money to see the displays of satellites and rockets so we sipped a cold drink and waited.
The woman, Sarah and son, Gauthier tried to talk but words in English didn't come easy. She told us that her husband, Didier would be at home and speaks English. He wasn't at home when we arrived. We'd asked Sarah to drop us at the Internet Shop. She didn't know where to find one so, invited us to use their computer at home. We met the other 2 kids, Florian and Jessica then Sarah led us to the computer in their bedroom We were in the midst of reading messages when Didier came in. As gracious as the rest of his family, he explained that he's stationed here with Special Forces. It's a 2 year tour and they've been here for a year. He's considering retiring next year. Although he seems pretty young to retire he told us that he has a special case as he served in the Foreign Legion in lots of HOT SPOTS in Africa, most of which we skipped.
After finishing our e-mail check we joined the family on the patio. They are as close as the picture here portrays. When we suggested calling a taxi he refused. Our plan is to check on tickets for the trip to Devil's Island then get back to Hotel Des Roche. Didier insisted on driving us to the Port. The office was closed but a guy told him that all w have to do is show up tomorrow. He did learn that it's an all day trip, leaving at 8:00 AM returning at 6:00 PM. No food or water, you must bring supplies along. It began to sound like less than fun to us. Didier dropped us at the door of the Hotel. He confessed that it has been several years since he spoke English. Although his skills were increasing with every sentence it was still difficult to communicate. We did understand his warm, friendly goodbye and invitation to visit them in France. A fine family, wonderful people.
Lunch at the Hotel Restaurant, we split a Steak and fries. This place is unbelievably expensive. Later we walked, in the scorching sun, to a little market, they call them Asian stores here. Water and wine as well as a moment of intense chess between a French speaking guy and English speaker with an Asian guy who, like us, was enjoying the fray.
Back at our room, we dried the sweat and relaxed.
Dinner, a 5 Euro taxi ride to a pretty good Pizza then 5 Euro back. This place is really expensive.
June 24 2005
Rest in Kourou
We both awoke tired. Maybe the tour of the walk in mid day sun had zapped us? Or could it be that we are fatigued from the ride here? Either way, we lay back on the pillows and decided to stay and extra day.
Starting earlier, we walked toward the center asking as we went, for an Internet connection. Lots of attempts to help in French but to no avail. Then, a young boy told us to follow. We did and he delivered us to a Community Center. The girls at the door asked if we had a card? Like a Library Card we assumed? We handed them our WR2 card, they hemmed and hawed for a couple of minutes then invited us in. The best news, there is no charge for using the computer. In fact we were so happy that we took 2, one checked messages while the other entered new friends on our list. They finally shewed us out at 1:00, as they were closing for lunch.
A cheeseburger stop broke up the long hot walk back.
Our afternoon was spent on the journal and French TV with occasional kickboxing or Billiard tournaments. We'd tried to reach Gilbert several times, hoping to invite him to dinner. I wanted to talk with him. He finally called, their launch has been moved up so they're working night and day. He apologized and we made a pact to stay in touch.
Dinner at the hotel, steak that was much better than lunch but equally as expensive.
June 25, 2005
Kourou to Sinnamary
Breakfast then check out and go by 8:30 AM. Well, they have a strange system here. You have to pay for your room in advance, each day. Then, as you exit the dining room, you pay for your meal at the front desk. They take no chances on anyone skipping out.
Back through the now familiar streets, past the other 2 hotels and onto the highway. Now, we wished that we'd paid the difference and stayed at the Mercure. English language TV and lots of Californians to talk with. Awe but they, like Gilbert, may have been working night and day readying for launch.
The road is generally flat, some little rolls but rideable. Traffic is moderate but courteous. The road surface is excellent, we made great time. The scenery is jungle and there are lots of Cat's favorites, snakes, that didn't make the crossing.
Hotel Le Fleuve is about 3 kilometers from town. We'd hoped that it would be after Sinnamary since we have a big stretch tomorrow. It's before town and completely isolated. We arrived at 12:30.
Hot and sweaty, we got the bikes into the room with some resistance from the girl at the desk In fact I had one up and was loading the other in the elevator when the manager came up and suggested leaving them down. I told him that it was too late, he didn't quite get it but shrugged as I rolled into the elevator.
Once again, no English language TV. In fact only 2 channels of French. We suited up, showered at the edge then jumped into the pool. It's shallow but refreshing. There's a waterfall that was nice to sit under and really cool down.
A sandwich for lunch, a relaxing journal afternoon then dinner down. There is a Birthday party going on. Grandma, her children and grandkids enjoying an evening together. The Manager's wife and son are seated, the little guy is hyper and on a tricycle. Proud Dad told us that he's only 2, he's big and boisterous for a kid that age. He rides the trike through the tables, crashing into chairs. Mom and Dad seem to ignore his antics.
When the party got into full swing we were treated to music and fun. The birthday family members each did some sort of entertainment. There are 3 girls, well, women, who are really talented. One plays piano, the others sing and dance. I missed a great rendition of Cabaret when the battery on the camera died. A quick run to the room and I did get some of the other acts but none were as professional as the one missed. Darn it.
The nice gal at the front desk made reservations at L'Auberge in Mana for tomorrow night. It's more than 100 Ks and we feared getting there only to find, no room in the INN.
Sunday, June 26, 2005
Sinnamary to Mana
Breakfast then out the door by 8:30 AM. Good news, it's much cooler today. We clicked off 30 Ks, into Iracoubo in short time. 8 au Huit (8 to 8 in French) is a franchise group of small grocery stores. We pulled in and while Cat shopped I talked with Simeon and Georges-Alain. Simeon actually got the conversation rolling. He's from Benin but has lived in Ghana, Africa where they speak English Really a nice guy, here teaching school. Georges-Alain is a local but his Father is from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He was surprised that we've been to Coutonou, the Capital of Benin, on bikes. We laughed as we talked about the Motorcycle taxis that spew noise, smoke and stir up the dust.
Our decision was to roll onward rather than eat early. Time passed as we pedaled but there was really no place comfortable to stop. Pulled up at a covered place where a guy sells little bits of produce. He told us that we could sit in the shade here but that there's a place just a way up the road where the woman caters to tourists. Found the road he described just as it started to rain. Another moment of indecision as the rain drops on the dirt raised little puffs of dust. No, it may be mud by the time we finish our sandwiches.
Onward then stopped at a side road and began to get sandwiches out when the deluge hit. We hustled onward in thick, pouring rain. Another little stand looked deserted so we huddled under the rickety tin roof. Tough to find places where the leaks didn't get in the food or on us. Cat stood at first then I finally convinced her that sitting in sand wasn't all that bad. Slow eating and watching the rain burned up a half hour.
The rain cooled things, we still have 43 Ks to go. The road is rolling but close to flat. Actually nice and refreshing. We rode over a big bridge and down to the outskirts of Mana at 4:30 PM. Turning the corner we realized that the Ville is 3 or 4 more Ks off the highway.
Then a real dilemma, as we asked and struggling with French the Postmaster, Phillipe leaned out the second story window of his Post Office and spoke to us in English. The bad news, or worst news, L' Auberge is another 32 Ks from here. More terrible news, the Hotel here in town is closed. The friendly Postmaster suggested asking the Sisters at the nearby Convent for a room. He said that they often allow people to stay.
A sign on the gate warned not to ring the bell until after 5:00, the prayer hour. We stood for about 3 minutes and watched the watch tick then on the hour, we rang the bell. A spindly legged African American Nun came out with more bad news, no rooms.
She suggested that a restaurant, Buffalo Bill's has a room that they rent. Following her directions we wound through the little streets and up to a party in progress. Several people were sitting in a circle, drinking beers and talking. Nobody paid much attention to us. A guy on the fringe told Cat that they do have a room then asked the Owner Yannick, who told us that he couldn't let us stay? We never did understand why? His wife is one of the seated, holding their 8 day old baby.
A young African American girl was sort of the life of the party. She laughs and dances around the group. A guy, the Chef at Buffalo we think, did a little dance with her that turned into a sort of sex act. Oh, not actually, they were fully clothed but her bumps and grinds were extremely suggestive. I have no excuse for not taking pictures of the show? Maybe I was in too much awe?
A couple of guys, Remi and Fred, standing and drinking beers asked if we wanted one. Of course we couldn't refuse. They're from Agriculture Pilots, you know, crop dusters, from Switzerland. They speak French but understood our quandary. Then Fred who does speak a little English told us not to worry, "You will sleep in my Bosses house".
So we sipped and waited then learned that the Boss he was talking about Remi, when he told us to follow him. His flat is just around the corner and as Fred had said, "It's nice". An air conditioner was pumping comfort into the large, sparsely furnished living room. Our room is actually Remi's daughter's room. She's in Paris right now. There's also an AC in her room. And, a guest bath with hot and cold water. Our host gave us a tour then excused himself. He got the point across that they work long hard hours every day and this is their time to relax. When we told him that we wanted to buy his dinner he said, "No ees necessary".
After a needed shower we returned and people watched until the restaurant opened at 7:00 PM. Delicious steaks, fries and salad for us. Fred and Remi came in and sat nearby with another Pilot, Daniel. When we asked for our check we quietly had Yannick charge us for Remi and Fred's dinners, too. What a nice, to open his heart and door to strangers. Fred says that Remi hitchhiked around Europe and North Africa 20 years ago and lots of people helped him. He said that this is just a little pay beck. A big pay back from a great guy. We headed back to his apartment and bed at 9:00 PM. A long day.
June 27, 2005
Mana to St. Laurent du Maroni
Remi started rattling around at 6:00 AM. I got up and talked with him as he chugged down a carton of juice. He says the will fly 10 hours, then as he left he asked me to put the key, that's on a Camel Hair rope from his Africa Days, ahead of the sock in his dress oxfords sitting in a row with he and his daughters other shoes. The living room is decorated with posters of Aero Poste, the French Airline that flew the mail from Europe to Africa then across to South America. I tried to tell him of our experience at Tan Tan Beach in Morocco. He mentioned the old name for Tan Tan but I'm not sure that he understood the story of the flying club we met there that traces the route annually. What a good guy. He did tell me to watch for him. He will fly near the highway we take to St. Laurent in a yellow bi-plane. I kick myself now, for not having taken his pic with the posters.
Another 8 au Huit and mediocre breakfast of coffee and croissants sitting in the sun out front. Our legs are tired and sore and cramping. We'd planned on a day off and trip to the beach in hopes of seeing the Giant Leatherback Sea Turtles. There's no transportation from here to the beach, 32 Ks away. It was already hot as we pedaled away at 8:00 AM.
About 10 Ks out we watched Remi take off, leave across the fields then come winging back for more insecticide. He's told us that they are spraying rice. He disappeared behind some trees then came up suddenly and flew fast just above the ground, back toward us in about 10 minutes. The pictures don't do justice but we didn't want to leave the highway and struggle through the dirt to get closer.
A fast flat ride and we were at the St. Laurent Tourist Office just after noon. The girl, Auralee, was really helpful. She found room for us at Hotel La Teniaire, a building that
used to house the offices of the famous Penitentiary that house famous and infamous for more than 100 years.
The Ville is quite picturesque, the Hotel nice. Our room is quite nice, we even got the bikes inside. There's a patio, too but its too hot now and probably a great place to meet mosquitoes later today. I jumped into the swimming pool to cool. Cat showered. After my dip and shower we walked to Restaurant Chez Titi, suggested by both Auralee and Malenda, our hostess at the Hotel. Too bad neither of them knew that it's closed on Mondays. So the sandwich we'd hoped for became Fried Rice and Lemon Chicken at a Chinese place. There are lots of Chinese restaurants here. Pretty good food, after all, and next door to the Internet Shop.
After an hour on the machines we walked back in the HOT SUN and relaxed in front of our cool AC.
Dinner at another place suggested by both of the gals, Tropical Gardens. The place is filled with French tourists. The food was quite good and we got into a broken conversation with the couple next to us. She's a Policewoman, on the Border Patrol. Our questions about Suriname were either lost in translation or she just didn't know anything. She did give us her telephone number and asked us to call tomorrow. She will talk with a guy on the Suriname side?
Pizza and Pasta, the perfect cycling food.
No English language TV, an hour of channel surfing and French watching then lights out at 9:00 PM.
June 28, 2005
A Rest in St, Laurent
Earl The Pearl, Cat's Dad is 86 years young, today.
Breakfast at a cost of 7 Euro each but it is to our taste. Plenty of fresh bananas, papaya and juice. Good croissants and thick, rich coffee.
A Visit to Le Camp de la Transportation
The Prison of Dreyfus and Papillion
As we passed a Pharmacy on the way to Le Camp we decided to buy some Cipro to replace that used in purging my diarrhea. Yes, I finally had to give in and cure the curse. Hate taking antibiotics but that's way ahead of constant Guff Guff. Benito, one of the Pharmacists has a unique look so I got a photo. Chiara and Claude talked with Cat and got the Cipro. Claude says that they usually need a prescription for both Cipro and Nexium. She would work around that but she couldn't do a thing about the high prices. We decided to wait on the drugs but that lead to a discussion about Suriname. Cat has been a little nervous about crossing and both the gals told her not to worry. They often go to shop and think it's safe.
At the Tourist Office we bought tickets to Le Camp then scurried off to take the tour. Lost at first, we explored and asked. Most of the old buildings are used for community events. There are Little Theater and music groups rehearsing. A guy shouted for us to come to him. Claude is our guide. The French name doesn't fit his very AmerIndian looks. He is Caribe, a tribe that flourished all along the sea, here. Though he said that the only speaks French, his English got better and better as we walked ant talked.
This place was home, at least for a while, to all prisoners sent here from France. It was the place where Prisoners were separated and shipped to outer lying Prisons like Devils Island. The weather is very hot, we could only imagine being stuck here, having to live here in terrible conditions, for years. Maybe for the remainder of your life. Some sleep rooms are just concrete pads with steel bars to shackle people's feet to. There are also small cells for individuals. One of those was Papillion, who was accused of murder but managed to escape. Yes, the same guy the movie was all about. Claude knows his stuff and kept us interested. His stories of the Guillotine are spell binding. Stuff like how the other prisoners were required to watch. How the Priest would hold the still living head up high and pronounce the poor guy as having paid his debt to his country as his eyes dulled and glazed over. What a way to go.
After the tour we heard music and followed our ears to one of the buildings. There, a guy, Carlos, with dreadlocks to his waist, was arranging instruments, preparing for a practice session. What a nice guy, he told of living in Suriname for his first 2 years then his family moved to Holland. He was raised there but felt compelled to return to his roots. He plays guitar with the group. Why French Guyane? He thinks there are more opportunities here but needs to learn French before he can find work. Lucky guy, he has Dutch EU Citizenship thus he can live here because this is part of France. He'll have to get a Visa to get back into Suriname. We really enjoyed talking with him. Even convinced him to do "You Must Be Crazy" in Sranan Tongo.
Must be Crazy" Sirinaams Tongo
Pizza for lunch at Chez Titi, a lazy afternoon under the AC then dinner, again, at Chez Titi. Great steak and veggies.
Jeremy to the Rescue!
As we prepared for bed and talked about cycling into Suriname, I had an idea. Since Jeremy is coming to Parimaribo to meet his parents, why not ask him to carry the heaviest of our things? Oh yes, and the most expensive of them, too, to avoid loss if we run into more highway robbers. We called and he was excited about helping. He'll start driving here at 3:00 AM day after tomorrow and meet us for breakfast.
June 29, 2005
Taxi Confrontation, Journal, Internet and Chez Titi
Our hopes to travel to the land of Giant Sea Turtles was thwarted, there's just no transportation other than Taxi which would cost way over budget. And it may only be a trip to a beach. Most of the big gals come ashore and lay eggs at high tide during the night. So, a leisurely breakfast as we watched the rain pour down on the pool.
For me, a day of pictures and journal words. Cat rearranged the things in our bags, that which we'll carry and that which Jeremy will transport. Then we did a team thing getting them into our lovely matched plastic luggage.
Going slightly stir crazy, Cat headed out for an Internet session. The rain was still pouring so she asked Malenda at the front desk about a Taxi. She said that it would cost 1 Euro so Cat had her call. The guy arrived, Cat dashed into the downpour and to the taxi door. When she asked the guy quoted 3 Euro. Cat was taken aback, she tried to tell him that the Hotel had told her 1. He was adamant, she resisted pointing out that it is only 3 blocks. He only quoted his price, "3 Euro". She closed the door, came in and told me what had happened then donned her poncho and started walking.
I was pecking away when Malenda called asking what was wrong with the Taxi? I told her the story and she said, "Well that's his price". I tried to tell her that it was a communication problem. She quoting 1 Euro and the driver 3. She didn't get it and told me that the driver was angry. I apologized but accepted no blame.
I need a break, so off to the Internet Shop. As we walked a Taxi Van drove past, Cat said, "That's the Taxi Driver that tried to charge me 3 Euros". He came to a sudden stop, hopped out and confronted us. "Why do you treat me like a dog? Why do you slam the door in my face"? He's a big guy and won't listen or maybe doesn't understand that this is a mis-understanding. Malenda had suggested that the ride to Internet would cost 1 Euro. When he wanted to charge 3 Cat felt that he was cheating her. I tried to negotiate, Cat tired of the game and went inside. Obviously not getting through, I said, "If you believe that my wife insulted you, then I apologize". He accepted, jumped into his van, gunned the engine and roared away.
Internet and lunch food for picnic in the room. We started to sit outside on our patio but slipped back inside when we spotted mosquitoes.
Cat ventured out again, the rain has dwindled to a drizzle. She has a list of needed things. Me, more typing. She returned with the goods, we filled the bags and panniers then threw them on the bikes. We're ready to roll.
A short discussion then back to Chez Titi for dinner. We love the place, atmosphere and food.
Early to bed, we also love the sheets, pillow cases and firm mattress. At times we forget how much difference a good bed makes when needing a good nights sleep.
June 30, 2005
St. Laurent, French Guyane to Moengo, Suriname
Up and at em' early. Jeremy was just a few minutes late for our 7:00 AM meeting. He was followed by a motorcycle, his friend Jacques. We shared coffee, breakfast and stories. Jacques is teaching here in St. Laurent. He's originally from Poland but his family made their way to France when he was 6 years old. He also studied later in Holland and England. A very bright and friendly guy.
Jacques said his goodbyes and rode away. We made a plan, put the bags in Jeremy's car and have him follow us to the boat dock then park at his friends place and come back. He's leaving the car here because he isn't insured in Suriname.
Must be Crazy" Taki Taki
Must be Crazy" Creole & French
As we were checking out we talked Malenda into doing "You Must be Crazy" in both Taki Taki and Creola. Her husband, Jean Francois, even joined in with a French version in the background. We have enjoyed our stay and part of the joy is this family. Yes, they live in quarters just off the front desk. They're raising 2 kids and running their business.
We pedaled hard and Jeremy followed. He thought we'd be able to get a private boat but the Immigration Guards required that we ride the Ferry. So, it will be too long a walk to get to his parking place and back by boat time. I saw a guy in a van, talking with other locals. The sign on the van suggested that it was for hire. I asked if he could quickly follow then bring Jeremy back. For a couple of Euro he could.
The Ferry is small but they really packed the trucks and cars on. There was a group of guys in new cars, probably ferrying them in fleet to Suriname. A young guy watching us started conversation with Jeremy. Moustafa is from Marseille, France currently living in Paramaribo. He helped us get the bags off the Ferry after the cross river trip. Interesting, the Captain headed up stream first then let the current carry us down past the dock and around then he applied the power and slipped us ashore.
On shore and an easy passage through the Immigration and Customs checks. Moustafa continued to help carry the bags. It was farther than we thought to the area where Taxis wait like vultures. Once there it was almost embarrassing, the way they pushed and the way Jeremy and Moustafa resisted until they found the right ride. We helped get the bags inside then bid them adieu and cycled down the street. Albina, the border town is a typical border town. Plenty of money changers, taxi drivers and shady looking characters. We decided to get out of town and on the road. The driver of Jeremy's taxi van told us to go down then turn left and hit the main highway. Slightly incorrect, we had to double back. Our hope of seeing Jeremy and Moustafa pass faded, they must have gone around the correct way and left ahead of us.
Setting off, we were into the unknown. The road is a canyon of green. This is as much Rain Forest as any we saw on the Amazon. The road surface is bumpy and there are some little ups and downs. Our initial fear of traffic faded as the cars and trucks pulled past, gave us wide berth and honked or waved. It's good to be noticed and appreciated.
An aggregate stripe wonders down the road. Sure that it was the work of some poor quality pipeline or utility workers, we were surprised later to find that it was part of the Civil War or rebellion that plagued Suriname in the mid 1980s. The commander is said to have used a ditch digger to disrupt the road surface and slow the advance of the Suriname Army.
Making good time, we were close to Moengo when we stopped for a soft drink at Ian Store. Ian and his wife Merela reminded me of earlier years in my life. I owned a small store in Boron, California when I was in my mid to late 20s. They too are a young couple, working long hours and eking out a living. It's hard work and nobody knows that better than I. It was fun talking with them. Ian told us that we were actually already in Moengo but the town, bank, restaurant and market were about 2 Ks further along.
Rolling along the main street we found ourselves in huge throngs of students. They were boisterous and happy to be out of school. One stepped into our pathway, let me slip past then made a kissing sound and leaned toward Cat. She thought he was going to spit on her so just swerved and rode past. I started to slow but she urged me not to go back or make a big deal of it. The students all laughed.
We found the bank where Cat changed Euros for Surinamese Gilders. A hold over from the old Dutch Days. Funny, the Dutch traded a place called New Amsterdam for this little piece of isolated jungle. You know, the same piece of Real Estate that the Dutch bought from American Indians for $24.00 worth of beads and trinkets. Yes, Manhattan Island and New York City. Probably seemed like a good deal at the time.
Next stop, a place called Motel 1,2,3,4. It's operated by the Bauxite mine. The mine is now owned by an Australian Company but was Alcoa for many years. The Guard in the little gate house had us wait while he called to see if they had a room. A guy that spoke good English came up and told us of working for Alcoa for more than 20 years. He's a safety engineer in charge of checking fire extinguishing equipment. Nice fellow. Bad news form the Gate Guard. All rooms are taken. More than disappointed, we were nervous, where will we sleep? The Guard pointed to a plain looking place across the fields.
The exterior of Moenga Mijnwerkersbond is old and run down. They did have a room, not great but better than trying to find a place to safely camp. The gal that checked us in suggested that there is a little Restaurant down the street. Although the room is simple, so is the price. At $16.50 we are saving some of the money we've spent in French Guyane where our rooms ranged between $65 to $85 US.
We may not have found the restaurant our lady had mentioned but we did wonder into the yard of a house with a sign for "Roti". Thinking of Rotisserie Chicken, we rushed to the window. This Roti is a food of India, chapatti, bread like a tortilla with curried meat and vegetables. The woman didn't seem interested in having us come inside so we got our sack of goods and headed back to our lair. We do have a table, a left over from the 50s, green hard surface with chrome trim and legs. It did a good job of holding the leaning bikes and allowing us seats to eat Roti.
A little time to relax, so we just lay back and even dozed a bit. The heat takes it out of you.
The nearby store told us that the only restaurants nearby were Japanese and Chinese. She volunteered that she likes the Chinese, the food is sweeter. She volunteered that she will go to Holland next month. We were surprised and told her that was great, we'd cycled there. Then she volunteered that she was going for eye surgery. A growth that she's had removed here, twice, keeps coming back. She held her eyelid up and let us look then burst into tears and told us that she's lost a baby recently, too. Wow, a very uplifting conversation just before dinner.
Memories of Africa in This Blend
We sought the Japanese place but it was either closed or she gave us bad info in her emotional state. There was a place down the street so we walked only to find that it's just another store. Back to what the unlucky lady had called Chinese. The Father, Son and Daughter in Law definitely looked Chinese. This reminds us, the population here according to Lonely Planet, is a wild mix. 35% are East Indian, a blend of Muslim and Hindu. 32% are Afro-Surinamese (Creoles) 15% are Indonesian and about 10% are Maroons, the descendents of escaped slaves. Most of these inhabit the interior where they rebuilt their lives based upon memories of Africa. There are a few Europeans but too few to make the count.
The Chinese Restaurant is more a liquor store then restaurant. They have most of it caged off with the merchandise behind the cage. They hand a cigarette and shot of whiskey or a beer through a gap in the bars. They do have 3 tables with chairs outside the cage. We saw the menu on a piece of cardboard and chose Chow Mein. It's pretty much the same noodles and rice we have had in Bami and Nasi. Lots of comings and goings as the locals began enjoying the spirits of the evening.
The Lock Down!
We'd almost finished our food and the bottle of wine we'd brought along when all hell began to break loose. Lots of noise from up the sidewalk then a guy ran in and said something that set what must be an often used plan into action. They rolled the steel door on the side down. Then pulled the door of bars shut on the front and bolted it with a huge padlock. They quickly move a table near the door with the bottle to dispense shots and a pile of cigarettes. They also put 4 cans in a row with coins to make change. This must happen often, they were ready and seemed happy. It did increase business as the wild ones outside smoked and drank to bolster courage.
We were on the inside looking out as the action spilled down the shopping center toward us. We may never know what the problem was but in the only other mining town I have experience with it would probably have been over a woman. Several tough looking guys stood just outside, glancing at us occasionally between buying cigs and shots. When we finished our food Kwan, the son, had us move behind a wall, out of visual range.
When things began to calm we asked about leaving and the Father motioned for us to stay where we were. Later as most of the crowd drifted away we tried to ask if there was a Taxi. We can see the Motel but it's across a dark field and we were afraid to walk. Then, Kwan indicated that he'd walk with us. As we started out the Lock Down Door, he checked his pocket. We thought he had a gun? When we indicated gun he laughed and pulled out his cell phone. Funny, he laughed, we didn't but for some strange reason we felt safe. Maybe we figured that these guys wouldn't mess with their supply of courage.
With the door locked and bolted, we lay back and relaxed. This is going to be an interesting part of our adventure.
July 1, 2005
Moengo to Paramaribo
Up early, no problem. We're ready to flee this scene. Pushed out the door then next door to the store. They had juice and a sort of sweet bread roll. We sat on a bench out front and used the juice to wash the slightly stale bread down. A couple of cars drove up, left the motors running and dashed into the store. They left a mix of Gospel and Heavy Rock music ringing in the morning air. The Religious guys car was pristine, the Rockers a piece of junk.
It was already hot. Kwan was already out washing the evidence of last night's profitable party off his sidewalk. Rode across for pictures and Cat posed inside the "Lock Down" door. Kwan & his Father posed, after a little convincing. Cat asked, fortunately, about going straight out to the Highway. I was sure we had to backtrack, that could have cost us at least 5 Ks on what's already going to be a long ride.
The road is flat for the most part but the surface isn't. Bumps and humps are the way of the day. About 2 hours out we stopped at a little house where the lady sells soft drinks. The entire family was sitting in the shade of an arbor, eating cereal. We took a seat next to a shy teenaged girl and had just started sippin' when a car speeding past slammed on the brakes. Jeremy had seen us out of the corner of his eye. They pulled in and we met his Mom and Dad, Paula and Hugh. We bought them and the driver soft drinks then stood and chatted. They are quite nice people. They're spending a week seeing and experiencing the places Jeremy has been living this past 10 months. Really nice people, no wonder Jeremy is such a nice young guy. Amazing, they'll be back in New York before we get to Venezuela.
The Taxi Driver told us that he thought Paramaribo was about 55 Ks further along. Pressing along, we had to take shelter for half an hour when the rain poured buckets. Stuck under the eaves of a deserted building, we watched the locals and a few travelers come and go from a nice little restaurant. For us, it was a ham and cheese sandwich.
Drizzle to mist, the trees and grass smell great after the rain. This is a rain forest, no doubt. For us it was just pedal and go. The canyon of green enveloped us as we rolled along. Then, like a giant sentinel, the bridge. It's imposing, almost like a barrier. The Paramaribo River is all that stands between us, good food and a clean bed. We really had to pedal hard but made it, up and over. The picture from the top is underwhelming. You had to be there to experience the feelings of accomplishment and enjoy the sweeping view.
Headlong Into Keti Koti
A fast ride down then a swing to the right and we were soon in city streets. Lost a bit, we checked the map and decided it was a straight shot. Rounding the corner into the heart of town, we found ourselves in a slow moving stream of humanity. People, Maroons, those whose relatives came here as slaves, are celebrating Keti Koti, the day of the broken chains. Yes, this is Abolition Day or Emancipation Day. Just 3 days ahead of our own Independence Day in the good ol' USA, this event way overshadows our throwing out the Tea, then the Brits. This is a real celebration of Independence. Funny, it brought thoughts of the same day in the USA . There was the Emancipation Proclamation, the bloody days of Civil War but no celebration of Abolition? We don't have a holiday celebrating such a huge event?
Intimidating at first, but the further we pushed into the fray the more comfortable we became. Families dressed to the hilt. Colors of Africa, bright dresses and hats. 3 different bands cranking out traditional blues to Reggae on stages along the street. This is a party, and they have a real reason to celebrate.
Jeremy has made a reservation for us at a Guest house but it's quite a distance out of the center. Cat's seen an ad in one of the brochures we picked up about a "Suites Hotel". A couple of Police Officers knew the place, even walked with us to the corner then pointed. Zeelandia Suites looks great from the street. An outdoor restaurant under a natural arbor full of tables of happy people. We felt sure it would be beyond our budget. Surprise, the gal at the desk fiddled with her calculator for quite a while then quoted the price in Suriname Guilders, including the weekend special. So, how much is that in US Dollars? Surprise, she rattled a little more on her machine then said, "Thirty Eight dollars". WE confirmed, $38 a day"? She shook her head affirmatively. Cat ran up and looked, came back excited and said, "Deal"!
We took all the bags off and lashed the bikes to a pipe in a covered storage area, inside a security fence. The room is on second floor so it was a lot of carrying. Well, the room is actually 2 rooms, a real suite. The bedroom has a big screen TV with CNN and balcony overlooking the active restaurant. Breakfast is included, too. At this price we may just stay here forever?
The shower felt especially good, we've accumulated lots of sweat and dirt today. We calculate 135 Kilometers in 9 hours of cycling. Thank goodness the road was mostly flat.
Another advantage, they take our Visa Card. Short on cash, this is another good deal. We ate under the trees along with the throng. Our choice from the somewhat limited menu was smoked pork chops and fries. Great tasting small portions, I ordered another dish. Thought I was getting a Kabob but as I ordered Cat asked for chicken instead of meat. It was not on a stick but it was chicken in a sweet batter. The waitress tried to explain, all we got was that it's a Jewish food from the old days?
We'd just settled in to an evening of CNN News when all heck broke loose. A Brass Band cam marching down the street and into the restaurant. We watched from the balcony then through our cloths back on and went down to get into the midst of a real Independence Day celebration. The band reacts to a whistle from the leader. The sway and step back and forth as one. A line of girls set the pace with fancy foot work. As tired as we were we couldn't help moving with them. The joy of the crowd is overwhelming.
Very little TV, then lights out and the sound of happiness lulled us into sound sleep.
July 2, 2005
Walk and Shop, 3 Guy Confrontation
Our included breakfast is okay. Fresh juice, eggs and ham, toast and coffee. After, we walked to Fort Zeelandia and "Onafhankelijksplein", Independence Square and the Presidential Palace. Walked by the Palmentuer (Palm Tree Park). The streets are virtually deserted today.
First things first, we grabbed a Taxi and went to the Guest House Jeremy had booked for us. Not to move there, to pick up our bags. Ravi, the Manager was friendly and gracious. He did try to get us to move back but we explained that it is way too far from town and the services we need. The driver waited patiently as Ravi explained the place and insisted that we take a look at a room. Frankly, we're so happy where we are that we'd never move out.
Back to our Suite, we learned that we have a dedicated line for Internet access. So, I got us plugged in and we checked with the family and friends. Then, I put the books that cost so much to buy and ship, not including the mental anguish DHL dished out to us, to good use. Yes, the study materials are connected to an Internet Site. The courses require open book exams. I have reviewed the material so opened the Site and set about renewing my Real Estate Brokerage License. This process devoured much of my afternoon.
Cat walked a bit then returned and we set off looking for a Grocery Store. The walk took us through the neighborhood of old wooden homes. As we walked a guy sitting in the shade yelled to us then got up and started across the street. He was offering help but looked like he might want to take rather than give. A truck slowed and the driver yelled at him. They had a short exchange of words then the driver stopped near us. The scraggly looking guy turned and slinked back to his shady seat.
Onward, we found the Market but found it to bee too crowded, almost an invitation to pickpockets. Cat caught a guy sort of following and watching us. The smaller shop across the street has wine so we got out of the fray and bought a bottle of Chilean wine and 3 bottles of Mineral water there. Hands full of bags, we set out in drizzling rain. About a block along, we found 3 guys including the one who had been shadowing us, sitting under a tree. As we approached they got up and started toward us. Nervous, Cat began to drift toward the street. I called out and asked her to come with me, into an open Computer Shop. We stood, asked about buying CDs and kept our eyes on the window and the 3 young guys hanging around out front under the awing. Finally, fearing that they were just waiting us out, we had the shop owner call a Taxi. Better safe than sorry!
The boys watched as we loaded into the Taxi. Maybe they were just seeking shelter from the drizzle? However, we felt like they were un-counting chicks that they had counted before the plan was fully hatched? We smiled and waved past the boys, at new friends, Jetty and Stephan, in the shop, through the slow slapping windshield wipers.
Back to the computer, a few new e-mails and a little more work on the License renewal. We're sort of forced to eat at the Hotel Restaurant. Oh, we like the place but might also like a little variety but, they charge the meals to our room. We've been hesitant to get a lot of cash as Suriname is so small that we won't be here too long. So, dinner down, again. Cat tried a local dish, I went with the old faithful, chicken.
A little TV then sleep. .
Sunday, July 3, 2005
Seeing Local Sights
After a leisurely breakfast out under the trees we went walking. The sign said "Free Tours" of the old fort on Sundays. The walk is warm but pleasant if we stay in the shade. At the gate to the Fort a nice older fellow held his hands out, one with tickets the other wanting money. Well, we have little money so we reminded him of the sign about free tours on Sunday. He smiled then said, "Cost of tour is free, fee to enter isn't".
Okay, we thanked him and moved on. We're not very good Museum tourists anyway. So, we just walked, shot photos and enjoyed a day in Paramaribo.
After lunch downstairs we were introduced to Marten, a local who speaks great English and he should. He was a Fulbright Scholar and earned a PHD at Cornell University in New York. He and his wife spent 4 years in the States during his education. He ended the conversation with an invitation to visit his family.
The young guy at the Travel Desk, Andy Chino, is handsome and interested in our trip. He did some work on finding Hotels and restaurants along the route between here and Guyana. He told us a sad story that may have something to do current paranoia back home. He has just turned 26 and his Father offered to take him traveling, anywhere he would like to go. He chose the good ol' US of A but found the going too tough when it came to getting a Visa. Suriname doesn't require that we have to apply or pay for a Visa. On the other hand, we of the US have a very strict process and Visa requirement. His Father found it no problem other than the $100 filing fee, to get his Visa. Andy on the other hand handed in $100 and a fully filed out form then was told the next day that he wasn't eligible. Even though he is traveling with his Father, he's in a profile that is always turned down. Young without wife, property or lots of money in the bank. Even knowing that he's being married later this year, he still couldn't make the cut. His profile has nothing to do with Terrorism, our Government fears that he'll stay in the US and take a job. Oh, even though they know right away that he doesn't fit, they never, ever refund the $100 fee. Andy makes $10.00 US per day, his $100 is a great loss.
Most of the afternoon was spent in room. Cat watched a movie while I completed my License renewal courses.
Dinner down, again.
CNN news, Larry King and Aaron Brown.
July 4, 2005
Completing Continuing Education
As Cat showered I got up and running on the computer. The California Real Estate Academy has certified course completions. So, I walked through the process of renewing "On Line". The DRE (Department of Real Estate) has a website with walkthrough instructions. Type in the course numbers, put the renewal fee on a credit card and Voila, my Brokers License is instantly up and running, again.
Marten sent an e-mail inviting us to stop by his home tonight. I called and confirmed. He told us that he'll be attending a big 4th of July party at the US Ambassador, Marsha Barnes' home this afternoon. That set off a frenzy, we would like to be invited. Using our Internet connection we learned the telephone number for the Embassy. It's a holiday so probably no answer but worth a try. The message told us to leave our telephone number and the Duty Officer would be in touch with us. In just a short time a young guy called. He confirmed that there is a party but it's a formal affair for local dignitaries.
Visit with Ambassador Karshanjee
The quandary, whether it's safe to cycle in Guyana? Andy has suggested that we talk with the Ambassador of Guyana and plotted the directions to his office on our little map. A taxi road in the rain and we were standing inside Ambassador Karshanjee's office building. When we asked to see him the receptionist gave us one of those up and down, over all looks. She said, "He usually won't see anyone in short pants", then went up the stairs to argue our case. She came back smiling and said, "Follow me".
Ambassador Karshanjee apologized that he was short of time due to an luncheon appointment. He was sort of amazed when we asked if he was going to the US Ambassador's Independence Day Party.
He took almost an hour listening to our story and struggling with ideas to help us cycle through his country. His first idea was to cycle only early in the morning and ride fast. When we told him that it takes up to 8 hours to travel between places to stay he decided that wasn't feasible. His next idea was a Police Escort. He made a couple of calls but knowing that it means having a person or persons with us for 5 or 6 days, he found it difficult to convince his fellow countrymen. Then, he got quite serious and said, "I think you should take Bobby's Bus"!
Not just a suggestion, he urged us to take the bus to Georgetown. Even gave us a business card from the bus company. Sort of sorry, we were glad that he was honest and had leveled with us. He had to run, we too went to lunch. Not at the Ambassador's but at Popeye's Chicken and Biscuits. The largest chicken breast sandwiches we've ever seen. Cat could only eat half of hers. Juicy and delicious.
A Gal That Knows What She Wants!
Back to Zeelandia Suites and a little rest then off via Taxi to Marten's. They live in a nice home, quite a way out of the main part of town. Marten met us at the gate. He, his wife Usha and their 18 year old son, Jair were gracious hosts. She put out a little hors d'overes and we chatted. Jair is in school and directing his efforts toward becoming a Minister. They must belong to a fairly liberal church as all three joined us in a couple of glasses of wine.
They're a combination couple, he's from Holland, she is Hindustani. Her family is Hindu, his protestant. She told us the story of their meeting in school and how she kept the relationship form her parents until she and Marten had decided to marry. When she told them her Father was ready to disown her and forbade her seeing Marten. She was only 19 but spunky and determined. Suriname law requires that the parents of a woman must sign for her to marry. In those days it was until age 30, however they had provision that a woman could go in and ask for judicial relief.
Then next morning she went to the Court House, looked the clerks over and chose a Hindustani, one she was sure would know her brother. Of course the news spread like wildfire. When she arrived back home her family had gathered. The Father was still upset and asked her not to go to the court. She knew that he would be embarrassed if she went to court for permission. He then reluctantly gave his agreement and reluctantly met Marten. Now of course, they all adore him.
Marten found his books of maps and helped lay out a route, even though we told him that we would probably not cycle. He knows people and places, he's published books on Clubs and Organizations that are helpful when doing fundraising or Politics. He had to keep an eye on his watch as he had a meeting at 8:00 PM. He has joined a new Political Party and has been appointed Chairman. Usha insisted on driving us back to the Zeelandia.
Late dinner, the smoked pork chops for dinner downstairs then a little TV. WE did get a call in to Bobby's Bus, yes we will not cycle in Guyana. We now have reservations to go across next Wednesday. Bobby told us that we'd have to pay for an extra seat to handle the bikes and bags.
July 5 2005
Visiting the US Embassy
Breakfast then off to the US Embassy. Just a short stop to register, something we always try to do in each country. The gal there was very friendly, even invited us to the Staff 4th of July party this weekend. We told her we'd be there if we weren't already booked to leave town. She took a look at our Passports and decided that we should have some new pages added. They're almost completely filled. The last time we had pages added the Embassy required that we leave them and pick them up the next day. She told us that she would have them done in 10 minutes if we could wait. We waited. She also urged us not to cycle in Guyana and agreed that we'd done the right thing taking Bobby's Bus. In fact, employees here are not allowed to travel to Guyana.
We asked the Taxi driver, a Hindustani, to take us past the Muslim Mosque on the way back to the Hotel. Strange, he was sort of strange about it then offered to take us past his Temple. We agreed but didn't know how far from town his place of worship was located. A long drive in which he agreed that he wasn't very religious but didn't really trust Muslims? In fact, Usha had told us last night that they tend to like George Bush because he is being tough on Muslims. She and most we have talked with all say that the color and cultural are friends and get along well.
Lunch in the room and a packing frenzy. Internet and journal for me, a movie for Cat.
Peace Corp Friends, Andrew, Kortney and Steve
Our last dinner, we decided to go to a nearby place, Mambo, that Usha recommended. The food was great but greater still, the company. A young couple and friend seated nearby were speaking English. We struck up a conversation and really enjoyed talking with them. All three, Steve and the couple, Andy and Kortney are Peace Corp volunteers. They're celebrating because Andy and Kortney are heading home, tomorrow. They've served 2 years living in a small village and helping get little things done that make life for the people there better. Steve and his wife signed on, she had to leave last week, her Mom died. He still has 6 months to serve. What fantastic people, to take time from their lives just to help. No ulterior motives, just unconditional care and love for people.
Janice, our friend at the Front Desk called, our new wheels have arrived. Yes, LandRider has provided a new set of double wall wheels. They should carry us all the way back to California.
Our early to bed plans ran into a good movie. It was after midnight when we finally hit the TV switch.
July 6, 2005
Paramaribo to Georgetown
Bobby's Bus to Georgetown
Bobby's Bus leaves at 4:30 AM. Our wake up call at 3:30 left us feeling like we hadn't slept at all. Of course, it was hurry up and wait. After struggling with the bags and bikes we sat and waited until 5:30 when the big red bus finally pulled into the parking area. Then, a short battle with Bobby. After he surveyed our bikes and bags he insisted that we would have to pay for 6 seats. We argued, showed him the card of our friend Ambassador Karshanjee, almost started taking things back off when he finally gave a little. We had to pay for 4 seats, double the original deal. This new deal will take every cent we have.
The bus was never completely full but close. We rode along as they went door to door down some pretty rough streets to pick up fellow passengers. Some of the characters looked pretty questionable. Most of the roadside scenery was comparable to that we've already seen. I did want pictures of some of the homes along the water. They look a lot like some of the beach homes back home. The road in villages is full of people of the same several shades and types that inhabit Suriname. Truthfully, we feared taking the camera out!
Down to The Last Dollar!
The road would have been great to cycle, that is until the 37 Ks Marten had warned us about. The road is narrow, only two ruts at times. We lurched in our seats as Bobby navigated the ruts and bumps. It was easy to calculate, this 37 Ks would nave taken most of a day to cycle. Especially when you factor in dodging cars, trucks and Bobby's bus.
The Guyana border is a quick check out on the Suriname side then a line, wait and walk through. The Immigration watched as I drug the bikes and bags near their station. Cat took a place near the end of the line and we waited. Bobby assured us that he would get us across. It was then that we learned that a different Bobby would drive a different bus into Georgetown. When we finally cleared customs Bobby I had a couple of guys with a truck throw our bikes and bags on top their load. Oh, almost forgot, they have an departure tax, another surprise. So, we had to dig out our last US Dollars, all 20 of them, to pay the fee.
Next, a river boat ride. The bus and all vehicles have to enter from the starboard side then make a quick turn to park. A lot of back and forth for long buses and trucks. The river that separates these two small countries is wide, fast running and muddy. The Captain had to go down stream slightly then steam hard back up. A tough landing, they moved back and forth 20 times trying to get tied up. Then the strange gangway wouldn't drop. They had to pull on the cable then stand on the ramp, jumping up and down. Then another back and forth ballet of buses and trucks sidling to the ramp.
We pooled our remaining Gelders in hopes of getting a soft drink or sandwich at one of the many stops. No luck but a very nice guy seated ahead of us offered to buy. Appreciative, we thanked him but decided to tough it out. He didn't look like he could afford to drop too much on a couple of foreigners.
The good news, this Bobby Bus dropped us right at the door of Hotel Tower. They were even gentle as they handed the bags through the window and carried the bikes down the aisle and handed then to me.
The Hotel is old and run down. Well, good news, we'll soon be out of here. Starving, lunch poolside. The pool is in the courtyard and is wall to wall. We're outside and it's hot. We sat under a fan and enjoyed sandwiches. The waiter told us how to find a Super Market then urged us not to walk alone on the streets, here. In fact, the market is closed until tomorrow, all shops are closed. They all close at 4:00 PM? Bad news, there are no ATMs here, no way for us to get cash other than with our Visa Card, at ScotiaBank.
Dinner? There is a Meridian Hotel here with the only good restaurant in town. We took the Taxi there, sat poolside in a beautiful setting. The food, steak for me and Coq de Van for the Cat and wine, our Hotel Tower doesn't serve wine?
Our Taxi driver on the trip back warned us of streets and neighborhoods where they will cut, shoot or kill you for what's in your pocket.
Larry and Aaron. The dark horse, London, was awarded the 2012 Olympics.
July 7, 2005
Quiet and Wet Day in Georgetown
Lee-Ann Books us to Trinidad
They call it 7/7, like we call it 9/11
Today, as the excitement of the Olympics lingered in London a rash of Bombings hit the underground and a double decker bus there, during morning rush hour. The TV reports are starting to guess that 32 people have been killed. Speculating that it was a carefully planned, probably Al Qaeda attacks.
Woke up, turned on the TV and heard the terrible news. Another attack in what is supposed to be a time when this sort of activity is on the run? Most clear thinking folks seem to agree that the War in Iraq has increased terrorism rather than slowing it. So, why are we there and how much longer will we stay? Do we actually believe that we can beat a whole region, an entire belief system into submission?
Breakfast, just fruit and toast. The woman at the desk says that the only place we can get money here is Scotiabank. There are no Cash Machines and no one takes credit cards. Sort of like our days in Mauritania.
Stopped at 2 other banks before finally making the long walk to Scotia. And, everyone everywhere we stop warns us about robbers. It began to rain, we had to dash to make it inside the bank. A long line waited and water dripped in from the ceiling. Standing in line we kept an eye out for possible bad guys waiting to rob the place. By the time we got to the window and go cash it was pouring rain outside. We stood inside and waited but it wouldn't let up. A mad dash to a store across the street had us wading in 6 inches of water running curb to curb. They had an umbrella, cost $1.50.
Huddled under our new bumbershoot we scurried across to the BWIA office to check on flights out of this Hell Hole. It was take a number and wait. Our turn and the gal referred us to a Travel Agency. Another dash in the downpour, through flooded streets.
Li Ann helped us, there are no direct flights to Venezuela so we ticketed for Trinidad. She even tried to get us a vacation package but they require booking 3 days in advance. Cat said, "No way were staying here for another 3 days" So, we bought the regular fair on the first flight our, tomorrow. Li Ann also found a Taxi van to take us to the airport. As she worked she told of being robbed at gun point just 2 weeks ago. Also, she told of watching a robber run past their door being chased by police. The chase was half hearted, she thinks that most Police are afraid of the Bad Guys.
Cautiously walked to a Supermarket. Had a sandwich at a little cafeteria there then bought wine and water.
An afternoon or typing for me and TV for Cat. We had no reason to leave the room. Dinner down overlooking the pool. There are lots of swimmers. Even a water slide. They seemed to be having a great time. Safe, wet and cool. Jerk Pork for Cat, a Steak for me.
Larry and Aaron then sleep.
July 8, 2005
Georgetown, Guyane to Port of Spain, Trinidad
A $550 Trip to Country #47
The Queen's Baton
Arjin, the driver we met yesterday was already there when we went for breakfast. He waited while we wolfed down our fruit and bread with watery coffee. We had the bags ready to go so were soon loaded and rolling to the airport. Arjin is a talkative guy and likes to point out sights. We were surprised by development of small houses. He told us that they are for athletes coming for Soccer's World Cup in 2006. The huge stadium looks almost complete. We're hoping that the event will inspire government to clean up the streets and straighten out the bad elements.
At the Airport by 8:00 AM, we got into line then spent more than an hour waiting to get checked in. Our cost for excess baggage came to $156. No negotiating, that was the deal.
As we moved through the x-ray machine the guys in front of us had to open a strange looking case. They're here, carrying the "Queen's Baton" between member states of the British Commonwealth. I snapped a picture of the torch. We've heard of the coming event in Australia on TV but have no real idea what it encompasses.
The Queen's Baton Escort Team Security Officer is Peter, from England. He filled us in on the games. They're similar to the Olympics. In fact one of the guys, John from Bermuda, is President of the Bermuda Olympic Association. Shannon is from Melbourne where the games will be held in March, next year. Gerry, the 4th member is the official photographer. They're off to Barbados, they've already ran the torch around Trinidad and Tobago.
Yesterday's newspaper was full of stories of robbery and assaults. Thumbing through the newspaper we came across an article about a cyclist being robbed. Seems that 2 guys approached and threatened them with a "Chopper"? to us a Chopper is a stripped down motorcycle. We asked a lady sitting nearby, she chuckled and said, "Meat cleaver".
After a smooth 55 minute flight we collected the bags and bikes then went directly to the Tourist Office. This place isn't the paradise we'd hoped for. They let us know that the best beaches are on Tobago. There are no resorts here and most Hotels are fully booked. There are room at the Hilton but they start at $200 per night. Another couple began talking with the girls and found a place, sort of outside town, for $75. We tagged on and got a room there, too. This is turning out to be an expensive little hop.
There's a line and sign, the Carts stop here. We wanted to grab a little food on the other end of the building but they wouldn't let us take the two carts there? I asked if they'd arrest us if we did? The Security Woman chuckled then said, "Guess we'll just have to see, won't we"? Cat didn't want to rock the boat so she went for fast food while I stood the guard. KFC sandwiches while sitting on the floor then, as the Porters swarmed around like vultures we carried our bags and the bikes past them, in little short trips.
We did snag a good bottle of wine at the Duty Free shop for a good price.
Albert, Our Wonderful Driver
A guy at a stand allots taxis. The young guy said that he had a Van coming in right now. Then he spoke on the radio again and told us that the Van had just taken a passenger but would return shortly. Albert reduced the price to $30 for the ride when we promised to have him take us back when we leave. What a nice guy. He had taken a passenger on a short run that other Cabbies were passing. He has a beautiful Toyota van. We got the bikes and bags in then he turned on a little TV on the dash board to entertain with music videos as he drove.
The Guest House, Alicia's House, is pretty basic. We're in a large, bland room down stairs. The good news, the AC makes it feel like it could snow and the TV has almost every channel. Strange, they made us pay in advance. Getting the bags and bikes up, into the house then through and down the rear stairs was a real workout.
Dinner and we really didn't want to go searching for food and most restaurants in the guide book say that dress is "Elegant, Casual". Cat went to the desk and asked about Pizza delivery. The clerk immediately said, "You gotta get Mario Pizza". The people here have that wonderful Clip English sound in their voices. He helped call and they promised to deliver in ½ hour.
It was almost like being at home. A really great Pizza and a variety of TV shows. A good movie then Larry and Aaron.
July 9, 2005
Breakfast isn't included and isn't cheap but is, pretty good. They have a list of items to chose from for varying prices. We chose French Toast. Not as tasty as that of Casa Andina in Peru but pretty good. (Funny how little things like this mean so much!)
The rain is off and on, we carried our cheapy umbrella and walked into town. Found a Laundromat and made a date to bring our things in Monday, They're closed on Sunday. Thanks to the guide book given us at the Tourist Office we found AreoPost, the airline that flies to Venezuela. It's closed on Saturday and Sunday.
Flight booked Monday, Can't go until Tuesday
Our thinking has been that we could find a Ferry that would take us to Venezuela. It's less than 50 miles, 80 Ks, to Venezuela from here. In fact, you can see the mainland on clear days. Sort of like the way we could see Africa from Gibraltar. In fact we feel a little edgy, as we did then because of all the stories we're hearing. At the Internet Café we found a guy that was willing to call and check on Ferries. He was sure that there was one leaving daily. Hopes faded as he called one place after another. There was a feeling that we could go by boat to Isla Margarita then Ferry to Barcelona, Venezuela? Wrong, there is no way to go by water!
Walking and asking we found a Travel Agency that was open. The gal checked then confirmed, all seats to Caracas are booked Monday. We will fly on Tuesday. She made a reservation and we made a promise to return on Monday. She also informed us that we may have to buy round trip tickets to satisfy Venezuelan Immigration that we will be leaving the country.
Another chicken sandwich for lunch. Then found a watch shop, where he replaced my battery. The Travel Agent had mentioned a Super Market, we walked and tried to follow our map then gave up and took a Taxi. The driver quoted a price that included waiting for us then delivering us back to Hotel Alicia. Things like this are less expensive than in French Guyane but it felt worth it. It's hot and sticky out there.
More journalizing for me. Then Chinese food in. Good in taste, light in quantity.
A movie, then sleep.
Sunday, July 10, 2005
Holed up in Rain, Doing Journal
Another good breakfast, too bad it's not included/ I went back to the computer keys with 8 more days to type. Cat went walking in the rain. She found a little store and picked up supplies for lunch. We ate in.
Journal, journal, journal for me, TV, flicking from channel to channel for The Cat.
Late in the afternoon I finished the journal pages. Halleluiah! We went for a short walk during a break in the rain, to celebrate.
Still the rain, and, most restaurants are closed today. So, we had burgers and fries from the kitchen, here. Ate in the room as we watched a movie.
July 11, 2005
A BOMB in Port of Spain
After breakfast Cat took the walk to Le Poste and sent our box of accumulations home. As for me, I did more keyboard time placing pictures. Upon return she called the Venezuelan Consulate in an attempt to find a way to go with only a one-way ticket. They worked through the language and finally suggested that she must go to the US Embassy.
So, I pulled the plug on the computer and we walked. First to the Laundromat then, around to the Embassy. It was so hot, and as we walked a van honked then pulled up. It was Alberto. He offered us a ride even though it's only a few more blocks. We accepted and enjoyed the flow of cool from his AC. He delivered us right to the door where they offer Citizen's Services. They were closing for lunch but allowed us to slip in, anyway. A young guy, Min, from the Bay Area in CA talked with us. He will call the Venezuelan Consulate this afternoon, they're closed for siesta now. He asked us to call or stop back at 3:00 PM.
More KFC chicken sandwich then off to AeroPostal. We were just going to check on the two-way requirement, overweight charges and departure tax. When the girl there checked to confirm that we had reservations she told us that they had been cancelled? Cancelled? How could that have happened? She felt sure that since we hadn't confirmed so they just cancelled. The agent, Karen, wasn't too helpful at first then became interested and really went to bat for us. She found that there are now no seats available tomorrow? Next, none until next Friday. Geez, we almost went through the roof. She was very reassuring. She felt that we would get on tomorrows flight. Then as we talked she confirmed one of us. That left us with one on board and one on wait list? Now our best new friend, Karen, really took the bull by the horns. They close at 4:00 PM. She asked us to come back then.
The Internet Shop we've been going to is just down the street. We were working on messages when KABOOM! The sirens began to shriek, car horns honking and people running past the door. An excited woman came through the door and shouted that there had been a bomb, just 1 ½ blocks down the street. We still had 30 minutes before our return to AreoPostal so we just kept working. Cat was really nervous as the sirens and running people thickened. We decided to go back early.
Karen had us reserved, we had just filled out the forms and given her a credit card when a guy who claimed to be with the Ministry of Security burst through the door and told them to close, now. We were only half ticketed. Karen was told to cut off the computer, they were closing. She took a stand, "Not until I finish this second ticket". The manager locked the door. Up until this point we'd felt guilty about not going back to the Travel Agent. Now we were grateful, she became our savior. If she hadn't ticketed we would have lost our seat and had to stay another 3 days. Thank you, Karen.
Nervous Cat insisted on taking a Taxi back. It was eerie outside, the streets were emptying. We tried calling Albert, his wife confirmed what we'd already heard, all Cell Phones are out of service. This made Cat even more nervous. With tickets I hand we set off walking in the quiet streets. What if the Laundry had to close, too? Could we get by without our cloths? We have to leave for the Airport by 6:00 AM. All these problems, as we rounded the corner we sighed with relief. They were open, the Ministry of Security hadn't been here, yet.
At the corner, traffic was standstill. We were wary, walking and wondering if the Bombers might be among us. The crowd of walkers thickened due to the lack of Taxi's. The traffic couldn't be thicker. Some cars were jumping the curb and driving across the lawn of the park. It was pure pandemonium. We were extremely happy to get out of the honking horns and angry drivers. The walk up the street to Alicia was actually pleasant.
The TV had pictures of the bombing. A woman laying on the sidewalk bleeding so much that it's hard to see how she is still living. They report that 14 have been injured, she is the most serious, they have amputated her leg. One other is in critical condition. Seem that some one planed 2 grenades in a trash can, nest to the woman selling trinkets in a little street stand. After the disaster in London, they are speculating that it may be a "Copy Cat" event. Who would do something like this in this tiny, friendly little Island? Well, they do have the same sort of mixed ethnic and religious culture here as in the Guyana's Maybe there is come Islamic connection here in paradise?
Min from the Embassy called, he had no luck with the Venezuelan Embassy but they did suggest he provide a letter of recommendation. Surprisingly, he wrote one and faxed it. An intro to the Venezuelan Immigration to "extend courtesies".
Hungry for Mario's Pizza, we were really disappointed when they told us that they had no drivers due to the bombing? So, it was chicken burgers from our little in house restaurant and wine, of course.
July 12, 2005
3 Years, 3 Months on the Road
Trinidad to Caracas
A toss and turn night. Several wakeups starting at 3:00 AM. Dreams of bombs and missing our plane plagued us. A watch the clock half hour then up at 5:00. Though we had asked him to be here at 5:30, Albert was already here. I carried bikes and bags as Cat finished packing. Albert was worried that the airport would be difficult to get to due to the BOMB. His report as we drove had the count at none dead, they did amputate the woman's leg and the other critical injury was improving.
Albert skirted the City Center and was right about the Airport. They had the lane closest to the International Terminal closed. Traffic was backed up to the highway. We crept along, along with lots of other nervous travelers. Still quite a distance from the Terminal, we were happy to see Skycaps coming toward us. I flagged one, we loaded him up, bid our friend Albert a fond farewell and hustled along behind our guys, to the Terminal.
The line ran back and forth with anxious passengers. The bad news, they're all on our flight. Cat took a place and inched her way forward while I moved the bags and bikes close to the ticket counter. At last, our turn. The guys at the counter worked with us. The overweight charge was supposed to be over $100 US. We didn't have that much money.
We had 100 T. T. Dollars and by digging to the bottom of our wallets, we came up with a $10 bill from each. The guy, who reminded us of our pal Raul back home. He listened to our sad story then said, "We'll make due with this".
By the time we got through with all the check-in hassle it was time to get to the gate. We got through Immigration, paid the Departure Fee that our Raul like friend had left us then walked right on board the flight. As we began to settle in a gal across the aisle noticed a backpack sitting on the seat in front of us. She began to ask who it belonged to. I decided that the Cabin Crew should take it away. They too were a little nervous about handling it but took it away. The plane is packed, not an empty seat. We thought the doors had been closed when a guy, sort of perfect profile guy entered. He came to the seat, looked for his bag then complained to the Crew. The mystery has been solved.
Thank goodness, they had food in front of us, shortly after takeoff. As we ate I watched the guy ahead write in a leather bound book. He was writing from right to left, Arabic style. Okay, we're straining not to be judgmental about a stereotype but we are a little nervous right now. The flight, take off and landing was very smooth. Passing through Immigration was a smooth event, too.
The Airport at Caracas really isn't at Caracas. In fact, it's on the coast and the Taxi costs $30. We failed to get cash at the first machine but did hit on the second. Good thing, the guy driving the Explorer told us that his cost would be $40 due to our load. So, our first Gringo price.
Cat had visited the Tourist Office and booked us at the 3 star Tampa Hotel near the center of town. It's just okay but only $40 per night. Not bad for a Capital City. They even allowed and helped us carry the bikes to the room.
We had a sandwich at a café on a pedestrian street then walked the neighborhood. Found a CitiBank and got the max amount allowed, 200 Bolivares, only about $56 US. Luckily it allowed us to take max on both Cat's and my card. The afternoon was spent relaxing, catching up on the news, yes we do have CNN. Tough to keep our eyes open, due to the early rising.
Dinner down, an Italian Restaurant. Good food, nice guy running the place.
A little Larry and Aaron then sleep.
July 13, 2005
Frustration at the US Embassy
Breakfast down is an expensive affair, good but expensive. First stop, the Tourist Office. We took the Underground train to the Twin Towers stop and walked up the dimly lit stairway and into bright sunlight and high rises. The Tourist Office is supposed to be on the 30th floor here. The Security women stopped us and tried to tell us something. Henry, a guy coming to work, stepped in and helped. The office has been moved. Nobody seemed to know where then the Security gal made it clear, "Antiqua Embassia Estados Unidos". The old US Embassy. Henry confirmed then they all studied our map and we marked the spot.
Another decision, we'll go to the Embassy now, get there before they close for lunch. These Taxi Drivers can spot a Gringo a mile away. The first two demanded a lot. We continued to shop then found a nice car and driver. The new US Embassy is well out of town, further than we'd thought. Winding up steep hills we arrived at 11:10 AM. We hated to see our driver go but didn't know how long we'd be. He had driven away when the guy at the gate told us that the Consulate closed at 11:00.
We asked him to call and let them know that a couple of Citizens wanted help. He called then came back and said, "They're closed now, come back tomorrow". Talk about frustration. We missed their closing time by 10 minutes and they won't see us. Not as friendly as our friend, Min. No arguing or cajoling would change the guard's position. We told him it was ridiculous, the Taxi fare, our best deal, is more than $7.00, US. He just works there, in fact he's a local working for a contract company.
Another Taxi hassle, a guy with a little boy in his car pulled up and quoted a huge price. As we waved him off a couple, Caroline and Luis walked up and asked how to find the Consulate. Sorry to tell them the sad news, really sad for them because they've driven from Maracay, some 60 miles. Caroline is from Boston, her husband has a refrigerated cases business in Maracay. We didn't get that one figured out but they invited us to stop by and offered to help us and also gave directions on our map.
The Taxi made another sweep around as we talked and offered a better price, we offered the same amount we'd paid to get here, he declined again. Caroline and Luis had just finished telling us of the highway out of town when he swung back and agreed.
As he wound back down the steep hills it began to rain. Not just a drizzle, it pelted down. Maybe the fringe of Hurricane Emily that's currently headed toward Caribbean Islands? We found a nearby Deli, bought ham and cheese and picnicked in the room.
Our friend at the front desk, Victoria from Grenada, speaks English, of course. She helped us find the location of a Book Store but couldn't find the Tourist Office.
Dinner down, again then CNN, Larry and Aaron..
July 14, 2005
New Friends in Caracas
Carolina and Gerard
In her scurrying around yesterday Cat discovered a nearby place for breakfast. It's a Panaderia, a bakery with coffee. We bought a carton of OJ and slurped it down as we waited for the coffee. Mmmm, croissants and thick, rich coffee con leche.
Another 2 stop Metro ride. By the way, the system is modern, fast and cheap. With a little help from nice people on the street, we finally found the office. They have extensive security here, too. We had to show our Passports then fill out a form for the guard. Once he was satisfied he pointed to the elevators and sent us to floor 5.
Mpeg 051 Metro
No, You Can't Cycle Out of Caracas
Yes, this is the former US Embassy. One thing we note is lots of marble walls and too much Air Conditioning. It's cold as winter in the hallways. Another young guy, dressed in suit and tie pointed us toward a doorway. The room is full of desks and people on phones. Not what we expected but the girl, Karin, spoke English and was soon putting materials and ideas on the table. She explained that they've just moved in and aren't settled. Gerardo joined her and began to explain the best, perhaps the only route from here to Maracaibo. He's really into our journey and speaks great English. As he worked with maps he began to worry about how we'd get out of Caracas.
Mpeg 050 Freedom
As Gerardo outlined the old highway he began to worry. There are small Barrios along the route that have bad reputations and he feared that due to the hills we'd be riding through them, slowly. Cat didn't need to hear that! His next idea was for us to cycle on the Autopista. Another gal, Audrey, joined in at that point and suggested that they might get the Policia National to follow us and insure safety. Cat liked that idea. Unfortunately the Guarda National didn't. At first they agreed to follow us to the top of the hill then told Gerardo that we'd have to apply for a permit which would take about 3 weeks to get?
With that idea out, we began to explore buses. The first City along the route is Maracay. There is a bus but they won't take bicycles, we'd have to ship them separately. We hated that idea. Then Gerardo called a friend to ask if he would take us to the top of the hill. He wasn't at home. It was now 12:00 Noon and the office was closing for lunch. They asked it we could come back at 3:00? Of course we can, they're really interested in us and very helpful.
Lunch, Pizza across the street at Papa John's. Funny I think that's the same place in Oxnard that Terry and I used to go for lunch to talk business and music back when. Strange that the long arm of the franchise would reach out this far!
Good Pizza and a confirmation of the location of the Book Store where they sell English language travel books then another ride on the Metro. This time the system was pretty full of lunch time rush. They seemed to hide the place. After walking and asking we finally got the point that it is downstairs. And, they don't have road maps of Venezuela of Colombia but we did score an English language Lonely Planet of Central America.
The Metro was even more jammed full on the short ride back to Gerardo, Karin and Audrey.
Hitchin' A Ride Out of Caracas
Gerardo's friend wasn't able to take us in his pickup. The only other bus was fully booked until late next week. We were beginning to feel like we were stuck in Caracas when Gerardo mentioned that he and Audrey both live in Maracay and he rides back and forth with her to work, everyday. Jokingly, I said, "We'll just ride with you". He laughed, Audrey didn't, she said, "I like the idea".
When I asked how big the car is she suggested that we take a look at it. Out in the parking lot, we took one look and told Gerardo that it would never work, we have too many things. He laughed and said, "We just moved Audrey here from Isla Margarita and all her things fit inside". Back in the office, Audrey suggested that they could take the bikes and bags with them tonight. Then, they're staying in town on Saturday Night, some kind of event. So, we cold ride to Maracay with them on Saturday morning.
Watch Your Wallet
It's now 4:00 PM and they will leave at 5:00. They say that the Metro will be much faster than taking a Taxi. We're still pretty sure that things won't fit but it's worth the effort. Now, we're on the run. We know the way now so it's easy to get to the platform but we weren't prepared for the crowd. There was no way that we'd get the first train. The people were lined up 5 deep, waiting. When the train pulled in it was already jammed to the hilt. The second train arrived in 15 minutes. It too was like a can of sardines. We were in the front and pressed in. I was almost left outside when the doors began closing.
The train usually sets even with the platform, with this load it's down almost 6 inches. I stumbled and the result propelled me inside as the door closed. Cat looked around at the crowd and whispered, "Watch your wallet". I almost laughed and said, "Nobody could get a hand in, there's no room".
It was 4:30 by the time we got to the Hotel. We considered calling then, faced with the lack of other possibilities we began a packing fury. The bikes were ready to go, bags zipped, we called for a bellman and asked the front desk to call a large Taxi. With bags and bikes ready to go, one of those huge 70s muscle cars pulled up and started backing into the Hotel drive. He had a tough time and had to pull forward twice. Then when he got out he looked at our things and changed the price for the shot trip upward almost $5.00. I was so furious that I pulled the bike I had just put into the trunk out and shouted for him to leave. He was dumb founded, I was P. O-ed!
So, the bellman grabbed another large muscle car, he backed in perfectly and agreed to the original price. We jammed in and were off, into the heaviest traffic we've seen in years. Gridlock at its worst. Sure that they'd given up on us we even talked about just going back but the thought of them waiting and us not showing kept us moving slowly forward.
5:30 PM, we pulled up in front of the New Tourism Office and there they were, across the street. They'd already been locked out of the parking lot, yet they waited. The next challenge, getting the three big bags and both bikes in, was handled expertly by Gerardo. We couldn't really believe it, we had them all in and the rear hatch actually closed and locked. They needed to get going, in this traffic the 100 Ks are a 2 hour drive. So, there go our bikes and most of our things. Boy, we go on gut feeling and this is one feels pretty good.
We chose not to risk the Metro again so grabbed a Taxi and spent the next hour going 5 Ks. Walking would have been faster. The driver was really inventive, he went up and
clustered around a gold course.
Dinner in our new favorite place, downstairs, again.
A little CNN News, Larry and Aaron and sleep. A long, hurried and worried day but well worth it, we hope.
July 15, 2005
Asking about a City Tour Gerardo and Audrey suggested Alberto. We picked up one of the stack of City Tour brochures in the Lobby and there he was, again. So, Cat called and he told her he's available today but the cost is $50 US per person then dropped to $40 as they talked. She did the, "Let me talk with my husband" routine and hung up. We talked then decided that it was too expensive and called him back. He listened then asked how much we could pay. Cat suggested $40 total and he agreed. Every deal is a deal, right.
He pulled up in a classic 1984 imitation wood paneled Jeep Wagoneer. He's a great character. He attended school in England, married an English girl and has kids living there, now. His job as Head Purser with a Venezuelan Airline took him all over the world and away from his family. He returned here, married a local (Even though he and English wife are still married he says it's legal as he was not married to her, here.) He speaks great English and we were friends almost instantly.
Alberto took us shopping for a Camp Stove but failed when the only one was priced at almost $200 US and they would only take US Dollars. A stop at the Correo to mail package home then off on a Photo tour of the City.
The pics speak for themselves. One of our favorite stops was the Castle we'd seen coming back down from the US Embassy. A truly great story and Alberto was involved in it. When the City resurfaced the street they broke the old material up and were going to haul it away. Alberto and others put together a program to make work and keep young people out of trouble. He worked every weekend for 5 years, Barbequing lunches as the kids moved stones. Originally they were just getting them into stacks. The wealthy Lebanese guy with a house above became interested and the project evolved into a castle. He hired architects and contractors to oversee the work and the kids donated their labor. The only thing the land owner requested was that they name the project Monte Libano in memory of his original country. It's a memorial to tolerance built by kids of every ethnic and religious background. There is a symbol with a Cross, Star of David and Islamic Crescent at the center. Four stones are etched with the words, Love, Peace, Liberty and Equality. What a great story.
We spent 4 hours with Alberto including a side trip to an Artist's town, Hatillo, that reminded us of Montecito, California. Back at the Hotel, I hit the computer and journalized while Cat rounded up groceries for an in-room picnic.
Cat spent much of the afternoon across the street at the Internet Café. I joined her later and we cleaned up lots of messages. Dinner down and the Manager, Giuseppe, was extremely friendly. Our second character of the day. He's Italian but like so many in the US, he's never been there.
We both dozed off during Larry King.
July 16, 2005
Autopista in an Auto
Packed and ready to go we had a hurried breakfast downstairs. Giuseppe came in as we ate, he works long hours. Audrey and Gerardo pulled up just after 9:00 AM. We got all the bags in the hatchback and were off, up the hill and over to Maracay. The Autopista would have been a fairly easy ride. Oh there was a real big climb but then, a huge down. Saturday morning traffic was thin compared to that of weekdays. We couldn't see what might have been dangerous but then this isn't the old highway.
Caroline had made a reservation at Hotel Italo. Gerardo drove there first and we dropped the bags off. Next, they wanted us to meet Lucho, at his bike shop. Lucho's Dad gave us a tour. He started the shop in a little store front and they lived upstairs. He's proud and rightfully so. They are involved in a Children's Day event tomorrow and want us to cycle with the kids. Of course we thought it was a great idea but it definitely put the pressure on to get the bikes together and running.
We dropped Cat at the Hotel then I rode with Gerardo and Audrey to his parent's home. Oh, they have admitted what we thought from the first time we met them, they are a couple. In fact they're getting married on December 17, this year. They've even made a down payment on a Condominium that is just being constructed. They live in the home where Gerardo grew up. I met his Mother, Grandmother and 2 of his Sisters. A nice house, a really nice family. No wonder he's such a nice guy!
He and I loaded the bikes and bags, I cheek kissed all the ladies including Audrey and we hauled them to the Hotel. I spent much of the afternoon putting them together in a delivery driveway out back. It was warm but shaded. Cat organized the room and our bags. She took a break and got fast food. We sat near the bikes, on the curb and wolfed down chicken sandwiches.
Once together we stored the bikes behind the front desk. Then a shower and glass of wine, while we waited for Gerardo and Audrey. We have invited them to dinner. When they arrived Audrey suggested that the attached Italian Restaurant was as good as any in town. What a wonderful evening we spent, talking and laughing. Just enjoying each others company. They really are a sweet couple. We have promised that though we met by chance we will stay in touch on purpose. Great fun and great pizza.
Sunday, July 17, 2005
Dia de Los Ninos
Breakfast isn't included but they serve a nice menu and it's inexpensive. Today is a National Holiday, Dia de los Ninos. Just as important as our Mothers and Fathers Days back home. Two years ago they started the 3 Km bike ride as a Children's Day event. Wanting to be impressive we packed the bags on and were ready to go at 8:00 AM when Lucho and family pulled up. He and their son are cycling, his wife, Rocio is in their LandCruiser. As we cycled out of the driveway with them my chain broke. Incredible, 2/3s of the way around the world and never a broken chain? So, we hurriedly loaded the bike into their Toyota and I rode with Rocio. At the event site we pulled up near a VW Van with the Bicycle Shop emblazoned on the side. The young guy there quickly took the chain off and fixed it. Back on, I started to ride and it hung up, again. Then I saw the problem, the derailleur was put back together wrong. Wheel back off, we changed it but that didn't solve the problem. I couldn't pedal so we couldn't ride the ride. What a disappointment for us and Lucho.
There are 3 categories of kids riding today. Teens, Preteens and little guys. They ride in 3 different colored shirts and start, big ones in yellow first then middle sized in blue and finally the little ones in red. We were treated like Rock Stars as we waited for the start. Lots of cyclists came and introduced themselves. Even one, Flavio, with only one leg.
A couple there, Pedro and Maritza, latched onto us. Lucho asked them to stick with us and show is around. Music blared from huge speakers on the stage. Balloons and banners added to the festivities. Kids were lined up getting their faces painted. Pedro had to leave at 11:30. We asked if they'd lead us back to the Hotel. I wanted to stay but we were like fish out of water without the bikes. I had to push with one leg rather than pedal.
Bikes stowed, we walked to the Mall for lunch. The place was jammed with families celebrating the Day. Looking over all the options we chose Burger King. The Internet Café is small but the machines fast. We found a little info on Colombia, some good some a little scary.
A mountaineering store had the same little camp stove taken in the robbery but at the same $200 the one in Caracas cost. Passing on that, we did find cargo pants and a shirt for Cat. She now has dress-up cloths.
Dinner down, again. The place was packed with families ending their day of celebration. The pasta was as good as the pizza.
July 18, 2005
The Birthday Boys
Twp men we admire have a birthday today.
Nelson Mandela is 87 and John Glenn 84
Bike Fixing Day
Lucho came rolling up at 8:00 AM and hauled both bikes away. We took a taxi later and spent much of the day supervising the work. They replaced the chains and did complete checkups. A great guy, Riccardo, helped translate some of the technical things for us. A couple of guys came in and struck up a conversation in English. We spent 4 hours watching and helping. The problem with my shifter was the same thing that happened to Cat's in Africa. If you remember, it pulled loose, the threads in the alloy frame stripped out. That's why I jammed the chain. Knowing the cure, Julio and I cycled to a Ferrateria (hardware store) for a bolt. He rode Cat's bike back. His saddle really made me appreciate our Revlas. He spent a half hour grinding the head of the bolt down so that it clears the chain.
An All American, Venezuelan Baseball Player
On the ride back we passed the outdoor Aircraft Museum. A Guard invited us in but we decided to just shoot a few pics from the fence. Onward to McDonalds for a sandwich. A young family came in and the Dad said hello in English. He told us that he Played Minor League Baseball for 11 years in the States. Really a nice guy but he apologized for his lack of English. He was on a team with all Latinos and they rarely spoke English. We apologized for our lack of Espanol. By the way, Baseball rivals Soccer in popularity here in Venezuela.
An afternoon of packing for Cat and typing for me. Dinner, pizza and steak in the Restaurant down. Completely void of customers save us, this evening.
July 19, 2005
Maracay to Valencia
Paranoia, Ours and a Whole Countries
Finally, on the road again, as Willy Nelson has said. It's been more than 2 weeks since we last turned a pedal. Anxiety mixed with a little fear is running high this morning. Everyone that we've met here in Venezuela has been wonderful to us. Yet, every one of them has told stories of robberies and kidnappings. They have all warned us of Piratas del Caminos. (Pirates of the Highway) They all talk of car jackings and murders yet none have been involved or even no anyone who has. It seems that the whole country is Paranoid which adds to our current nervous state.
The streets are narrow and confusing. Lost we began asking at a stop sign. Mervin, a guy driving by pulled over and walked back to us. He has traveled to the US and lucky for us, speaks pretty good English. After conversation he tried to explain directions then said, "Follow me" and jumped back into his LandRover and slowly led us through back streets and narrow lanes to the Highway 1 West, the main road to Valencia.
The Autopista looked tough to ride. It crosses a bridge that has no shoulder. We decided to ride the old road. It's narrow and busy and soon we were lost. A strong looking cyclist sped by then slowed out of curiosity. We don't know his name, we tried to talk but he didn't seem to understand. He did lead us through a small village and back out onto the old road. We think he was saying that he's a Bicycle Messenger?
Though the road is fairly flat the area is mountainous. As if to add to the anguish of tight traffic off our left elbows, it began to rain. We pulled over, under the awning of a store and waited it out.
Then, as we resumed the ride through puddles and mud Cat yelped then fell into one. She had dropped the front wheel off a ridge of pavement and down she went. A little skinned and shook up, she jumped up as a car pulled to a stop to her. The passenger, a guy, opened the door, stepped out and helped her right the bike. He didn't even wait long enough for us to get his name, just waved and they drove away. Another example of kindness on the part of Venezuela.
Found a McDonalds and settled our nerves while feeding our faces.
Sex Hotels, Dangerous Neighborhood
Onward, we soon found Valencia or at least we thought we had. Asking, several told us that there are lots of Hotels nearby. There is a large Amusement Park o our left then both sides of the busy road became lined with garish looking Hotels. Lots of Middle Eastern looking fences and towers. We chose one and were surprised to find a black glass office with a box that slides out to accept your Credit Card. An Armed Guard with a wicked looking shotgun told us that there are other places further down the road. So, we rode then pulled into another. Same treatment, a voice from behind black glass told us the price for 3 hours, half day and full day. Tired, we were tempted to just take a full day deal but asked about a restaurant. "Yes", said the mystery voice, "Room Service only". We rode on again.
Back toward the Autopista that we've been shadowing all afternoon. Getting onto it was a project. We had to push through a blocked street and across a drainage ditch. Once out on the shoulder, near the fast flowing traffic, Cat began to experience bike problems. Her rear derailleur has come apart and one of the gears is missing. The chain is sliding over the shifter pulley. We tried to ride on but it was becoming more and more difficult.
A Venezuelan Savior, Eduardo
As we cycled slowly an SUV pulled up behind and began to pace us using his flashing lights to keep traffic at bay. When we pulled up to try to find a cure other than replacing the shifter and the driver, Eduardo, jumped out and suggested putting Cat's bike inside his car. She didn't like the idea but we had little choice. After taking the bags off and throwing them in I pulled the front wheel and we lifted the bike in, carefully so not to get grease on his carpet or fresh laundry.
Then I led, riding as fast as I could for the final 10 Ks. Eduardo took us to a very nice Hotel that we'd never have found. Then he negotiated a very nice price, too. What a great guy. He's a cyclist, races and does Triathlons. This is the fastest pace I've ridden since we began riding more than 3 years ago. I hated to hold him up so really pressed. Yes, I was as tired as I look in the picture with him.
We invited him to dine with us but he had to go. He lives in Maracay, of course he knows Lucho, we're beginning to think everyone in Venezuela does? His business card lists him as Director of Celulas Madre. We're not sure what they do, something about stem cell research.
They allowed the bikes in their clean and spacious room. We had a view of suburban Valencia. Tired and both stiff and sore, Cat from her fall and me from the race with Eduardo. The hot shower was beyond pleasing. Dinner down, a catching up on English language news in the room and then, sleep.
July 20, 2005
Valencia to Urama
A Right Turn Into the Wrong Direction
After a very good breakfast we brought the bikes down then got very specific directions from the guy at the front desk. Following them we finally found the Autopista and took a right. Sailing along for at least a kilometer until we saw a sign advising that we were heading back toward Maracay? So, down through a muddy field and back along the auxiliary road. At the crossroads we asked direction to Maracaibo and two different guys pointed up the on ramp. So, off we went even though Cat was convinced that we were headed the wrong way.
Another 5 Ks and some guys pulled up in an old clunker of a car. They looked like bad guys but simply asked where we were going. We told them Maracaibo and again asked, again they pointed in the direction we were going.
Onward then on an overpass we both felt uneasy about our direction so rode through another field and down onto another Autopista. A cyclist, Freddy, came along and agreed that we needed to go straight ahead.
Out of Our Way, Into Harms Way
Most of these Autopistas are toll roads. When we reached the Peajes (Pay booths) we asked again and the guys inside the little glass windows both pointed in the direction we're headed. After a slight climb we began to drop. Slightly at first then faster and faster. A Police Car began pacing us as we flew along the bumpy shoulder. He stuck with us for several kilometers. When we pulled up he got out and came to us. Of course we thought he was going to warn us about riding on the Autopista. He spat lots of words that we didn't get then grabbed my wrist. I was sure he was trying to say that he could arrest us then he made a motion like cutting his throat. Yikes, he's warning us of Piratas del Camino! We pointed to our map and asked where we were. Double Yikes, we have been heading north
as Cat thought and are almost to the ocean. He pointed to the town, Moron, and gestured the wrist grab and throat cut again. Great, we're not only going miles out of our way but we're headed into harms way, too.
Armed And Friendly?
Well, there's no turning back now and no use crying over spilt sweat. Moron is a coastal oil town. Cycling through town was a nervous venture. We wish the Police had continued to shadow us. A car pulled up with two seedy looking guys aboard. The passenger sort of snarled something. He had his hands down in his lap? Did he have a gun? Well, maybe imaginations were running wild. Both he and the driver asked where we were from. When we shouted "California" they both smiled, gave us a thumbs up and drove away.
Hungry, we began searching for a café. A tiny place displayed Religious sayings on the front walls. If you can't trust Holy Folks who can you trust? We pulled the bikes up on the sidewalk and sat in the shade. A slight breeze stirred the thick hot air. The chicken and fries were greasy the soft drinks not quite cold enough.
A truckload of horses has broken down across the street. The poor animals are trapped, standing in the hot sun. We felt s sorry for them as we did for ourselves. We have come at least 50 Ks out of the way. And, we've come into some bad territory.
Onward along the coast past Oil Refineries and Electricity Generating Plants. We passed through a wide spot called Urama, and asked the driver of a bus pulled in there about the Hotels ahead. Pretty sure they understood, the young helper suggested that it's about 8 Ks to a place. (It would turn out later that he was talking about another Peaje Station.)
We moved on into a head wind then raindrops. As they thickened to a downpour we found a restaurant and pulled in for shelter. The waiter was a joker, laughing and chattering with the customers. The news he gave us was no laughing matter. There is no Hotel or any other place to stop or stay for another 30 kilometers. We had blended lemonade and considered our options. Another 30 Ks was out of the question. Our happy friend suggested that we backtrack to Urama and stay there. We took his advice.
Urama, A Dangerous Place
Urama is little more than a truck stop service station with small café and rooms above. The next rain squall was threatening as a crowd of locals and drivers gathered round us. Their news was as threatening as the weather. One made it clear that we weren't safe here. When we questioned him he back away a little and said that we'd be safe in a room. We took the bikes in through the lock down wrought iron gate and into a large unused room that used to be the pool hall our waiter down the road had mentioned. Necessary bags only, up the stairs then I lashed the bikes to a post in the middle of the floor.
Was the news of the danger more paranoia? Hard to say but we didn't want to test it. We lay back and relaxed as the rain poured down on the tin roof. At 6:00 PM we went down and over to the Café next door. It was full of beer drinking truck drivers. They all watched us with curiosity. The nice gal only had one bottle of white wine and it's a semi sweet. Any old wine in a storm, we took it. The food was no better than the wine and both were expensive for what they were. The waitress was a spunky gem, fun to watch as she chided the burly drivers.
Back in the room by 7:30 PM, we lay back and turned the lights out. Voices echoed down the barren hallway. We stacked the bikes against the door in anticipation of slowing any dangerous night visitors. It was tough to get to sleep. Every voice and foot step seemed to be a bad guy headed to our door.
July 21, 2005
Urama to Guama
4 Kilometers With Officer Edwin
I finally gave up to the noises and dozed. Cat remained in a sleepless state of nervous vigilance most of the night. It was easy to get up and out early. Breakfast with Ms. Spunky and a slew of truck drivers. Again, the warnings of highway robbers. We now know that it's 8 Ks to the Peaje and Autopista. The road is narrow but the trucks and buses are courteous. They even slow to almost a stop when faced with oncoming traffic.
Once past the toll booths we found a very good shoulder and rode fast and furious making a getaway from Urama. We pulled off and had soft drinks twice. One of the stops was just in the shade of a bridge. Cars and trucks driving by seemed full of good people who waved and shouted encouragements.
Dark clouds gathered then made good their wet threat. It was a long slow uphill battle most of the afternoon. Without food and sleep Cat began to fade. We were ground down to pushing on hills that we'd normally ride. The pouring rain did cool things a bit. Unsure of the distance remaining between us and Guama, our goal for today, Cat saw a Police Truck and flagged him. Officer Edwin made a U turn and came to our rescue. We loaded the bikes then got inside, out of the rain.
It was only about 1 kilometer to the top of the hill and a 4 K run down to the Guama. The Hotel is on the old road, the one they all warn us not to ride. Of course inside Officer Edwin's truck we felt safe and dry. When he pulled up in front of the Hotel we unloaded under the watchful eye of 3 armed guards. This sent a mixed message to us. Was it so bad here that they needed all this heavy armament?
Hotel Complejo de Touristico is packed, they're having a children's sports festival in town. We were lucky they had a room. There were groups of kids, young teenaged boys and girls, here from Aruba, The Dominican Republic and Cuba. International Athletic Games of the Caribbean.
Lunch surrounded by athletic kids was a noisy, happy affair. One of the guys at the next table asked where we're from, in English. Anthony is the organizer from Aruba. After a little explanation of the Games, he began spreading the same stories of piratas, kidnappers and robbers that the locals dwell on. This didn't have a good affect on Cat.
The room is plain but we and the bikes fit in nicely. A little unpacking then we lay back on the bed. Unbelievable, we both slept soundly until 7:00 PM. Awoke to pouring rain, lightening and thunder.
Dinner was another happy but noisy affair. Steak was a bit chewy but better than last night. Pasta was okay. The rain continued into the evening hours. It's Spanish only TV so early to bed. Amazing, even after a 2 hour nap we both fell right to sleep.
July 22, 2005
Making a Plan in Guama
I woke up with a desire to take a day off. Cat is fearful of riding and we need to make a plan. Breakfast is an expensive affair here. As we ate Anthony and his friend, William came in. William lives here and is assigned to Anthony as his driver. They're headed into town, Anthony has a TV interview to do. Our plan to find a ride to Barquisimeto took shape in the hands of Anthony and William. They will try to help us after the interview. As we chit chatted William told us that it's about 9 Ks back to town. They offered us a ride in, we accepted. They dropped us at the Internet Shop. We cleaned up a few messages then went across the street to a local Café for lunch. I ordered the Menu of the Day, very good for only 6 Bolivares. (Less than $2:00) Cat saw something wrapped in corn stalks that looked like tamales and ordered. Turned out to be just soft, gooey cornmeal. She said it was like the Fufu we ate in Africa. I took her word for it.
We walked to the Athletic Complex, it's huge. Track and field as well as several Gymnasiums and Swimming Pools. Anthony's TV interview was to be at the Press Table. He was long gone by the time we got there. We walked around watching the kids in action then went looking for a taxi. Knowing that it's 9 Ks, we expected a big fee. When we asked the driver to take us to the SuperMarche first, wait then to the Hotel he didn't quibble, 12 Bolivares. A bargain in our book at less than $4.00.
Cat rested, Anthony had returned and wanted me to come back to town with them. He is arranging for a 4WD to take him to a nearby canyon and was thinking that we might ride along then he'd drop us in Barquisimeto on the way back. I questioned whether there was room for all of us, the bags and bikes.
Back in town, we stopped at stadium where William went negotiating for Anthony. There are several 4WDs and he's working on a good price. We all agreed that the vehicle would be too small for us, all. So, William went looking for his Brother-in-Law who has a car. Anthony got a call on his Cell phone, the kids from Aruba are in danger of not being allowed to compete. The judges want to see their Passports and the guy that has them isn't here. I sat and watched kids run the hurdles, a 3 K race and girls compete in the Pole Vault.
William did line up the car then found that it's broken. "Don't worry, they'll get it running if it takes all night, $40 is a lot of money to them", he said.
So, Cat who has been almost petrified about cycling here is now an almost happy gal. She says that she'll believe the big car when she sees it.
Pasta with veggies for dinner, pretty good.
July 23, 2005
80 Ks in a ‘77' Chevy
Another pretty good, pretty expensive breakfast then we carried the bikes and bags out. Cat stood the guard while I drug them along, a few feet at a time. Eduardo, William's brother-in-law, was there exactly at 9:00 AM. His 77 Chevy station wagon is big. He took the rear seat out and we put several bags in the seat well. The bikes went in next then the remaining bags. There was plenty of room for Cat in the back and I sat up front with Eduardo.
Though there was a little off and on rain we both agreed, this road is rideable. We began to wish that we'd taken the chance and cycled. It is a little up and down but the wide shoulder makes cycling easy. There was never a tie when we saw anything threatening. Cat was being apologetic. We both agreed, our decision was based on the best facts available and, what's done is done.
Barquisimeto is a big City. Eduardo drove us to the Militario Hotel. It's near the Guarda National and he felt it would be safe. It looked run down and is in an out of the way location. We insisted that he take us to the Center, maybe let us check the price of the Hilton. He was so sure that it would be too expensive that he drove to another place he knew of, Hotel Principe. (Hotel Prince)
Cat went in and checked the room. The place is just okay looking but, they do have CNN and satellite TV, AC and breakfast is included in the $40 rate. A bargain once we learned that the Hilton rate is over $150. We were home for a couple of days.
After getting the bikes and bags to the room we set off on a quest for a Laundry and Internet. Lunch, great sandwiches at a nearby Panaderia. The Laundry has a Chinese name but the gal, Victoria, is all Venezuelan. She speaks great English. Her brother and sister live in San Francisco. She is the baby of the family so has to stay and help Mom and Dad run the business. When she priced our wash at 20 Bolivares Cat said, "That's a lot of money". Victoria retorted, "$8:00 isn't a lot of money for you", then laughed. For the two big bags of filthy sweaty cloths, she was right. .
Dinner downstairs in the Italian Restaurant. Cat had looked at their wine, they only had 1 bottle of white and it was not a good one. She asked if we could bring our own and the waiter said it would be "Bien, muy bien".
We went in, sat down, he opened the wine and served. The fish was sort of fried and not very good. When the bill came they had added 20 Bs for corkage. I was pretty upset, they should have told us. We might have paid but to wait until the bill was completely unfair. I insisted on seeing the Manager. He came tableside and listened as I ranted. We weren't sure that he understood. He apologized and disappeared. The waiter then handed the check to me and I signed, still complaining. He said that he was sorry but there was nothing he could do.
We'd just turned the TV on when he knocked on the door. Apparently the Manager had re-thought. He had the original bill which he gave me, and another without the corkage fee. I thanked him verbally and with a generous tip. Almost as much as their corkage fee.
Sunday, July 24, 2005
Shopping for Security
Lance Wins, Again, #7
After breakfast we enlisted the help of Veronica, the friendly young clerk on the front desk. She suggested getting a Taxi and going to the Policia Post on the Highway out of town. A good idea, so we asked her to help us find and get the point across to a driver. Our plan, first talk with the Police then go to a shopping center Veronica recommended. The driver seemed to understand, we were off. Then, when he turned into the shopping center we knew he'd missed the mark, somehow.
In our best Spanglish we made it clear that we wanted to go to the Police Highway post first then be dropped here. Off we went but the neighborhood soon began to look familiar. Geez, he has taken us to The Guarda National, the same place that Eduardo had first recommended for a Hotel. Now, the driver says that the highway Post is too far and they aren't working on Sunday. A friend of his came out but obviously knew nothing of the safety of condition of the highway. Completely disappointed, we had him drop us back at the Shopping Center.
California Pretzels in Barquisimeto?
As Veronica had said, it was huge. We had chicken hot dogs in the food court. They even have an Auntie Anne's Pretzel Stand. Never heard of them you say? Well, Cat's brother and sister-in-law, Jeff and Mikee, own a franchise in California. A stint in an Internet Café that was as cold as a meat locker. Then shopping in the SuperMarche was another frigid experience.
Not wanting to confront the Manager again with our own wine, we did an end run. We ordered pasta in the room. So, no corkage and a relaxing dinner at home.
A TV movie and some News then sleep.
July 25, 2005
Coughing, Choking, Trying to Heal
After breakfast we tried to make another run to the Police Check Point. Again, Veronica explained what we wanted to a different taxi driver. Jose, a guy with his family who was checking out, jumped into the conversation. He speaks good English and got the point across to the driver. As he introduced his wife and little son he called them "The Religious Family", Jose, (Joseph) Mary and Jesus.
We want to see the route out of town and meet the Police. Off we went, Cat making notes of every turn and landmark along the way. He took us to National Highway 1 then out to a bridge and well known Obelisk. At that point he told us that it's too far to the Policia and turned to go back. Well, we've seen enough to feel okay about the road out of town and we'll just ride to the Post ourselves. We're getting more confident.
Back at the Hotel, we had lunch then Internet. Cat continued with messages, I went to the journal pages. It's cool and raining today.
Dinner in the room again. Though there is little ambiance we really liked the freedom and relaxed feeling. And, no corkage adds to the joy.
Lost Girl and Lost Sheep in Aruba
Larry King had Natalie's family, the girl missing in Aruba, on his show. They are now offering a Million Dollar reward for her safe return or $100,000 for information as to her whereabouts. When we asked Anthony about her he felt that the boys accused of accosting her had somehow, accidentally killed her and then in their fear of the law, dumped her into the sea. He told us of raising sheep in his younger days. He couldn't eat them after raising them. When one got old and died he took it to a cliff and threw it in the ocean. He too was fearful that it would wash back up and he's be found out and punished. It didn't come back. In fact, he sent 2 more out to sea before he finally got out of the pet sheep business.
There are often warnings about leaving money or valuables in the room. Usually there is an offer to keep them at the front desk or they have a safe in the room. This warning is the most severe yet. Obviously they've had problems and at least one was the loss of a computer or computers.
We loaded the bags and put them on the bikes. Our compromise, we cycle to Maracaibo then take a bus across into Colombia.
July 26, 2005
Space Shuttle Discovery Lifts Off
Pat & Cat Lift Off, Too
Barquisimeto to Carora
We watched the Space Shuttle Discovery lift off as we finished loading the bikes. They had to be nervous, the mission has been scrubbed due to weather a couple of times. Cat too is nervous. She was so tense that she had trouble sleeping. I feel okay, we have had e-mails from cycling friends as well as Gerardo and Audrey suggesting that this road will be safe for us.
Breakfast early then loaded bikes to the lobby. A picture with our Bellman Buddy, Jose then we were out and into the morning rush hour by 8:00 AM. Drivers were cautious and friendly. We easily made our way to the Highway. Then onward, past the obelisk and Barquisimeto Cemetario. It's the worst kept Cemetery we've seen on our trip?
Lot's of GOOD GUYS
The weather is fairly cool and clear. The landscape is desert, dry semi-barren desert. What a change in just a few kilometers. At 10:00 we pulled into a little strip center and had soft drinks. As we sipped a guy, Alexis, came up, unlocked and opened his shop next door. He was curious and questioned us, "Donde Viven"? Where do you live? "Donde va"? Where are you going"? He was really intrigued. As we got up to leave he called us over. He had a baseball cap he gave us as a gift. What a wonderful gesture. Our nervous tension about cycling this road is slowly fading.
We stopped a 4WD Police Car and asked the guys in side to call down stream and ask their Police pals to keep an eye on us. The saluted and got right on the radio. From that point we began getting siren wails, honks and thumbs up from passing Police Cars. The other trucks and cars joined in, we were really feeling good. Then a car passed and pulled over ahead. Three guys got out and were fiddling with something. Okay, this could be the bad guys we've been preparing for. Our only defense is the same old plan, head to the middle of the road, lay the bikes down and stand, hoping that passing cars and trucks will stop. Hoping that it will thwart the thieves.
Another soft drink at a truck stop. Several nice people tried to help us with distances and places to stop. Everyone seemed to have a different idea. I loved the display of guitars and booze so had to have this picture.
Further down the road we pulled up hungry. The sign says Cachapas. Having no idea what they are, we stood and watched as others ordered and ate the pancake looking things they were serving. Seated inside a little fenced and screened area we had our first taste of Cachapas. I ordered one plate and we shared. Pretty good, we're hungry.
Armando, Carlos and Pavel
Venezuelan Surfers 3
As we closed in, I saw a cell phone in one guy's hands and a little camera in the other. I had Cat on the outside as we rolled past. They all shouted as they took our pictures. I pulled up, Cat went on a few feet. Armando is a surfer, Carlos works with a Sports Magazine and Pavel is a professional photographer. They spoke some English and were crazy about our journey. They traced the map on my back as Cat explained. Pavel shot lots of pictures. Then Carlos got a shirt from the car and gave it to me. So, here we are fearing the worst and virtually unprepared for the BEST?
Another stop for soft drinks at a service station and another picture. This is a classic 1950 Chevy Pickup. More nice people trying to be helpful. Onward, we're tiring fast. Though it's been relatively flat we're getting out there in distance.
Off the Highway and into Carora, we stopped at a little building with Tourist Office signs. The women there were all trying to be helpful but none knew much about tourism. The place has been converted to a children's center. One nice gal took us outside, onto the street and pointed to what she said was a hotel. Yes, it was Hotel Katuca, Veronica has made a reservation for us. A simple place, she says that her uncle is the owner. Good thing she had called, they are fully booked. Some kind of meeting?
Cold showers but CNN on TV. A very nice meal in the restaurant, they even had a good bottle of wine.
July 27, 2005
Carora to El Venado
64 Kilometers on Bici
50 Ks with Auxilio De Lara, Highway Angels, Carlos and Eugenio
Woke up to a flat tire. Damn we hate flat tires. Another tube stem failure. So, before breakfast I had to make the change. We're putting the tough tubes and old Kevlar Belted tires back on as the others go flat. Decided to save the new tires for spares.
Breakfast was included and very good. We really fueled up then pushed out. The Guard with fat muzzled shot gun in hand posed for a picture then we were off. A quick stop at the Service Station to top off air pressure then we followed signs toward the new highway. The ride was extremely bumpy, we began to question whether we'd made a wrong turn. Then, a confusing set of bridges. We called out to some people across the wide street, they pointed straight ahead. Though fearful that they misunderstood, se forged forward and voila, we hit the highway.
No one in Carora seemed to know how far it is to El Venado. We cycled to the Peaje (Toll Booths) and asked again. No one there knew, either? At a Service Station we found a bite of food and some disappointing information. Though none of the people eating or the staff there knew exactly how far we had to go, there consensus seemed to be more than 50 Ks.
El Auxilio de Lara, a Free Service
We went on for several Ks to the next Peaje. There, a truck with Auxilio De Lara written on the side looked like highway assistance. We asked, they are. Cat was fearful that we might not make Venado by dark. The guys, Carlos and Eugenio were great, they helped us get the bikes into the pickup bed then we sat down, between them.
A short way down the road they stopped and let another guy hop in the back with us. He rode along to the next service station. They pulled up where all other cars and trucks were holding, waiting for smoke to clear from a brush fire along the highway. Cat asked our driver and he said that this is just normal for this time of year. The farmers burn the weeds, this time they got too close to the road.
Back up and running, we were in very steep ups and down, mountains. Our friendly Auxilio crew pulled up at a stalled pickup. The guy there was pulling the broken belt from his alternator off the pulleys. The guys went to work with him, pulled the alternator and found that it was frozen up. They took it and the belt along with a handful of money from the guy and we drove on. A stop at another Service Station, we got soft drinks and offered to pay for the guy's coffee. They laughed, the owner gives them coffee. The Station didn't have the Alternator so we rode onward.
I will admit here, I was against taking the ride. Now I'll also admit that we couldn't have made it and there were no places to stop or stay, along the way. Thank goodness for the guys of the Auxilio and thanks to Cat, for insisting.
Throwing the Bull By the Tail
At the Service Station stop I used the men's room. A pretty smelly affair but there was a poster on the wall advertising a Rodeo. The picture of a Vacero throwing a bull down by the tail reminded me of a TV show we'd seen. The cowboys ride hard beside the Bulls then grab them by the tail, twist it and whip them off their feet. Pretty brutal on the bull but not as bad as a Bull Fight with a sword in the neck. I ran back, got the camera and ventured back into the stench for a picture.
Veronica, our friend in Barquisimeto, had suggested Hotel Mejor, here in El Venado. The guys pulled up in front of Hotel Las Vegas. When we questioned it they made clear this is the only Hotel, here. Not much nicer than the place in Urama, and the entire place sort of reminded us of Urama on a larger scale. Lots of trucks and buses wheeling in and out. Lots of people running from car to truck to bus trying to sell a little food or trinket.
By the way, the Auxilio guys wouldn't take any money. The ride was a gift from the State of Lara. The service is paid for by the State and they don't charge anything for their help.
We had to push and pull the bikes up a steep stairway, the rooms are all on the second floor. The owner did open the doorway wider for us. We pushed the bikes into the room and took invigorating, cold showers. We started the AC and it did pull the temperature down, some.
Our first thought was to find food and eat in the room. Pretty dismal as the room is dark and dank. Venturing out, we walked the little Shopping Center, looked at a very nice meat and deli shop. The guy at the cash register was friendly and spoke English. He told us that the Hotel we've been told to look for tomorrow doesn't exist. Or if it does, he's never heard of it, nice guy. He did mention a place right along the highway. Once downstairs we lightened up a bit, found that they did have a decent restaurant and so-so bottle of wine. The waitress had her daughters there, at a table drawing pictures. Obviously no baby sitter or Day Care Center. They were cute and she was proud. Her service was great and the food was good. She almost refused out tip but finally accepted when we told her it was for ellas ninas, her girls.
We were in bed by 8:30 PM.
July 28, 2005
El Venado to Cabimas
Coffee, pastries and yogurt in a little shop adjacent to the Hotel Restaurant which is closed. I walked down the street and bought bananas to enhance the fare.
Down the stairs is always easier than up but this down was so steep that it felt hazardous. We were out the door and onto the road early. The hills of yesterday flattened, the dry desert began to take on a semi arid. That soon gave way to trees that lined the road and offered shade much of the time. We stopped at noon and ate Cat's last night leftover chicken.
There are a few Service Stations with little cafes along the way but it was too hot to eat. We did stop several times for soft drinks. At one place, another of those great looking meat and deli shops we drank then a guy came over and sat down. He was acting s though we should know him when it donned on us, it was the guy at the similar meat shop in El Venado. Monserrat owns both. I told him of my early days in the Meat Business. He was impressed that I knew about cuts of meat. I told him that it's a very difficult business, he agreed. We took his photo behind the meat counter.
Hoping for Lemonade Slushes, we pulled down into a restaurant. They had none, we had another soft drink. Tiring, we asked if there's a Hotel or Motel nearby. They gave us directions and we set off. Before we reached their recommendation a sign for Hotel Buena Vista in Cabimas caught our eye. It advises, 1K down the road. We rode it but the distance was a farce. Finally after at least 5 bumpy Ks and several asks, we found the place. The Village was pretty basic but the Hotel is fairly modern and clean. We were a sweaty, dusty mess.
The shower was a high point of our day. Then we went out and walked, looking for wine. By the time we found the Liquor Store we were soaked again. They only had Vino Tinto, we agonized then bought. Our first impression of the town was softening. Kids were playing games along the sidewalks, young guys ran back and forth in a spirited game of soccer and most people smiled and said, "Hola".
Dinner is a fixed menu, chicken or beef. We chose one of each. Not bad, really, and it fit our budget. Even the Red Wine went well with the food.
The gal at the desk confirmed what we've been hearing, no bikes on the 8 kilometer bridge. When we asked how we could get across she called a Taxi Driver. He has a Jeep Wagoneer and will take us, bikes and bags, into Maracaibo for $20, US. We set an appointment for 8:30 AM.
July 29, 2005
Ernesto's ‘84' Wrangler
Over the Bridge, into Maracaibo
Bags packed and on board, we headed to breakfast at 8:00 AM. There in the lobby was Ernesto, our not so friendly driver. He was seated, tapping his cowboy boot on the marble floor. I went to him and said, "You're early, we haven't eaten breakfast, yet". He acted irritated, I said, "We set the appointment for 8:30 and it's just 8:00"? He sort of yelped back, "8:00 to 8:30"! Sorry but we must eat. He wasn't happy.
So, we wolfed down our included breakfast then I wrestled the loaded bikes, one at a time, down the elevator. Ernesto didn't offer to help, he just sat. As I struggled with the door he came and held it. Then, on the sidewalk, as we took off bags and prepared bikes to go up on the rack he said, "Too much bags, too heavy, price $30 US".
I was so PO-ed that I shouted, "Gringo price, eh"? He was taken aback a bit but stuck to his guns. I was ready to pull the things out of his back seat when Cat calmed things down. We need to go, if we stay we will have to hire him or somebody. He knows everybody here and will probably tell them all about how we shouted at him. Okay, grudgingly I told him that we would pay $30. He then began to help, lift bags and even the bikes up to the rack.
Ernesto Throws The Bull By the Tail
Once the price thing was settled Ernesto began to tell us stories of the area. The bridge is too narrow and dangerous to ride bike over. Also, they don't allow pedestrians because it had become a favorite place for jumping suicides. We had wanted to see the lake shore but as he wheeled and I suggested that he said it would take almost an our longer and cost more.
He has a poster for a Rodeo being held this weekend. When I asked if he rides horses he got excited and told us that he is a contestant. I asked and he confirmed, he throws the Bulls down by their tail. Maybe similar to Bull Dogging in the states, you chase, grab the tail then twist and jerk. The event is timed. He's pretty proud of his heritage and horses. He had pictures in a little album.
The bridge is not a high arch but flat. They are working on it and traffic was slow. Down the long curving ramp, we directed Ernesto to a Hotel from our LP Guide Book. It took almost an hour winding through traffic to find the place. He and Cat waited while I went inside. Surprise, the place is fully booked. The ladies there were very kind and helpful. They called every Hotel nearby but found them all booked, too. Finally I asked about a Hilton or other large place and they suggested Hotel Lago.
I almost hated to go out and tell Ernesto. He took it well, knew where the Hotel is and drove another half hour to get there. They had quoted the price on the telephone, way above our budget but, I was out of options. It's a 5 star, we saw it and the lake shore form the distance. A looming white building against the dark blue water. Driving in, we caught the full name, Hotel Lago Intercontinental.
As we unloaded the bikes and bags I tried to think of ways to tell Ernesto that this place is way over our budget. He didn't seem upset then as I started to pay he took my arm and said, "$20 is enough"! I was dumbfounded. I dug out $25 and handed it over. He turns out to be a very nice guy, after all.
Fate Has A Way, Of Righting Things
Our room isn't that great for the price. The Hotel is going through renovation and we're in one of the old faded rooms. There is a Travel Agency here, in the Hotel. WE went down to check on buses to Cartagena. Remember the deal, we cycle to Maracaibo then bus rather than ride across the border to Colombia.
No Budget Bus, A Big Bill Flight
The gal there was friendly and helpful. They don't book buses but she called. The Bus Company told her that they aren't running but gave her 2 other Companies to try. She called and let it ring and ring. No luck so she got the address of one from the book and suggested that we take a Taxi to get tickets. What a disappointment. The Taxi Driver was almost rude. We got there and he asked, the place was closed for lunch until 1:00 PM. I was tempted to let him go but we're in a run down neighborhood and there are plenty of shady looking guys hanging around. So, we climbed back in and he drove to the main Bus Station.
At the curb he pointed to the Terminal then asked if we wanted him to wait. I took delight in telling him "No"! Hope turned to despair s we waited in a short line. Every one ahead of us was leaving without tickets. The clerk was nice but we were tangled in the usual language difficulty. He called a guy over and explained, the guy told us in halting English, "He has no tickets available until August 11". His buses that depart every other day are fully booked for almost 2 weeks. We asked about the bus line we'd just come from and they got the point across, "It is closed, not working anymore". No wonder this one, this one and only one, is fully booked so far in advance.
An air conditioned taxi back at a rate that didn't even require bargaining. Back to our Travel Agent. She checked flights. No available seats to Barquisimeto's daily flight for more than a week. Barquisimeto is on the northern coast of Colombia. It is the nearest City to where we would have crossed the Border via bus. There is a new flight to Cartagena that has seats on Sunday, just 2 days from now. Talk about blowing budget, the flight cost is more than 10 times that of the bus. We booked it, imagine sitting here at this exorbitant Hotel prices. Then the next hurdle, The Colombian Airline won't accept International credit cards, for us it's cash only.
David, Maria and Daniel, Best Friends in Maracaibo
We explained that our Cards are regulated and we can only get about $50 each on them. She carried on, undaunted. We'll get the Hotel to advance to you. Somehow, the Manager, Daniel and his co-workers, David and Maria were able to work out an arrangement. Seems that they use the Agency for travel, too and owe them some money. They do trade offs. They worked it out. Got us enough to pay for the tickets, the over
weight fees and departure tax. What wonderful people. Part of their enthusiasm to assist came as we told them of our journey. The couldn't believe that we've come so far on our bikes. They'd seen us roll them in and wondered. So, we have the tickets and money then, as if that wasn't enough, Daniel leaned over the counter and said, "We reduced your room rate, too".
So, the high priced Hotel is now somewhat less than high priced and, how would we have ever accomplished this without them? Another example of the good in people overcoming all difficulties. Remember my theory, "Some good comes from all things"?
(This is terrible to admit but we never asked for or got our Travel Agent's name.)
All this took place by wine time, 6:00 PM. Cat went to the Pizza Restaurant in the Hotel and ordered. We sipped our own bottle of wine and enjoyed terrific Pizza and a Movie. Life doesn't get much better than this. Less expensive maybe but not better!
July 30, 2005
Preparing to Lift Off to Colombia
Breakfast here in Eden (Hotel Lago) runs $18.00 per person. We walked next door to see if anything was open at the huge shopping center. One little stand was selling coffee and muffins. We filled up and happily paid the $5.00.
Cat set off on a quest for travel bags, you know those plaid plastic things that we transport our bike bags in. I went down, got the bikes then made a spectacle of myself preparing them for flight. Passersby would stop, talk or try to, then move on. I love playing to the crowd. And, I'm getting pretty good at breaking the bikes down for boats, buses and flights.
Cat did get the bags after a $12 Taxi ride. She also found food for a picnic. We sat in the room, ate and counted our blessings. The rest of the afternoon was restful. They are preparing for a huge event on the lakeshore out back. Something about Star Wars Comedy? We took a walk out of curiosity and found that they're having 3 events tonight. A wedding, a High School Prom and the Concert. This is a huge place. We walked along the shore and could see why they don't swim here. The lake is polluted with the overflow of oil product caused by 30 years of pumping. This is Venezuela's oil reserve, right here in Lake Maracaibo.
Going Wireless, Another First
Another first, David had mentioned that they have Internet in the Business Center but it costs $10 US per hour. However, they offer wireless service in the lobby at no cost? What the heck is wireless connection? We have heard of it but know noting of it. I have seen something of it on the screen of our new computer. David said that if our computer is prepared it should be simple. We brought it down, took a seat, turned it on and the rest was automatic. It recognized the wireless connection, directed us to log in and Voila, we were on the Net. Another guest, Tad, here on business with his Printing Company from Chicago, took a seat nearby and sort if coached us. He's a newly wed and anxious to get back to his new bride. His job here is to trouble shoot equipment they installed here last month. Nice young guy.
Cat went to order Pizza again but was stopped by armed guards. Due to all the events in progress or beginning, the Pizza Restaurant is closed tonight. Back up, we used the Room Service menu to order steak. It was a wonderful ending to a whirlwind day filled with accomplishments.
Sunday, July 31, 2005
Maracaibo, Venezuela to Cartagena, Colombia
Our first attempt at breakfast in the Hotel ended at the high priced menu. Since we have time we decided to go back to the Shopping Center. The door was open and nothing more. Te little place we enjoyed and all others were closed. Back to the Hotel and a Continental Breakfast. Fruit, juice, rolls and coffee, all for $18.00. Half the price of the buffet and still way too high.
Our arranged driver was there, on time at 10:00 AM. An old car and an even older driver. He insisted on trying to get the bikes in the trunk first. I objected and we rearranged, a few of the bags under then the bikes. The leftovers were stacked around Cat, in the back seat. The route to the Airport is fractured by construction. It took more than half and hour to wind our way through the narrow streets.
Thought we were late but we ended up having to wait for the counter to wait. This route to Cartagena has only been in service for 3 weeks. Once open they worked hard to accommodate us. The Manager even reduced the overweight charge a little. Another took Cat to a merchant who would change money. He did get the guy to exchange $20 US for 35 Colombian Bolivares.
The plane is only a 37 passenger turbo prop. It was a bumpy 2 hour ride arriving just one hour later on the new clock. Yes, we've been thrust back an hour on the global clock. During the ride we struggled to get our sandwiches and glass of wine down.
A friendly ATM provided more cash and a nice lady worked to find a Hotel. Driving in we could see the City. The old walled portion is so European looking, the high rises along the beach so urbane. The street across from the beach is lined with high rises, the sand is cluttered with bodies, working on a tan. They sit in the sun until scorched then slip under a yellow tent to cool down. Really a strange and wonderful site. .
The Cartagena Plaza Hotel was probably a great place in its day. That day had come and gone, it's dark, old and rundown. We dined down. The other guests are here on all-inclusive plans that include dinner. A sort of segregation, we were the only ones seated in our area. Lonely and the food was only okay at best.
A movie, Larry King and sleep.
August 1, 2005
Met Lila, Campagnola fixed wheel, Lefty helped translate.
Up and out for a walk at 7:00 AM. Down the walkway adjacent to the beach then back through the streets. The place reminds us of Ipanema, oh it needs lots of upgrading and a good scrubbing but somewhere under the shell there's a pearl.
After our included breakfast, a real lineup with the others, we went to the Travel Agency next door. Our list of questions fell on listening ears. Lila became our personal trip planner. She is more than a great agent, she's a great person. She and Ledy, the gal seated next to her, own the place. Lila lived in New York City and speaks great English. She had the answer to questions ranging from finding a boat to Panama to a shop that sells CDs. Even the right place to take the bike wheel for service and a nearby Laundry.
First stop had to be the Lavanderia. Most of our meager possession of clothing are dirty, wet and smelly. The place is just around the corner and across from a great supermarket. Wine and water, our staples then back to the Hotel to pick up the bike wheel and a Taxi.
The new wheel has been giving me problems. The spokes don't work well with the plastic drive ring for the shifter. As I pedal the freewheel tightens down and draws it into the large gear. The Taxi knew the neighborhood that Lila had suggested but didn't know a shop. We drove into a street lined with shops large and small. He dropped us in front of one. There was a guy there, Jairo is a senior cyclist who'd been a champion in his day. Funny, his nickname is Izquierdo, lefty. He tried to figure a way to help us at the large shop then led us down the walk to a little doorway shop. There his friend Campagnola (another nickname we're sure) took over. Well, when I suggested shaving the plastic wheel down he plugged his grinder, spewed gravely Spanish and pushed me toward it, obviously he thought little of the idea. As I ground away on the plastic he picked up the freewheel and turned it over and over in his greasy hands.
Campy and Lefty were right, grinding the pulley did little. When we tightened it back together it still snugged up to the large gear. Then Campy took the inner ring from another freewheel and tried to fit it inside the freewheel.. When it wouldn't he took to the grinding wheel and worked it to the right size. When he put the wheel back together he challenged me to tighten it. I stressed and strained, by gosh, he's fixed it.
After spending more than an hour with us he asked only the equivalent of $5.00. I had a 10 dollar bill that fit nicely in his palm. I wrapped his greasy fingers around it and shook his hand. He seemed more than pleased. Sometimes I think of these moments as my contribution to local economy. I love to give, hope he enjoyed receiving.
Next stop, the Yacht Harbor. The place is similar to most of the harbors back home. Boats docked, a small restaurant and a bar. Sailors form the world around sitting, spinning tales of the sea. We asked for help but the guy in the Managers Office didn't speak English. He did get the point across that "John the Manager" was out for the day.
Hailing a Taxi, we went back to our Boca Grande neighborhood and spent much of the afternoon at the Internet.
Dinner was a quest. Lila had suggested an Italian place. When we entered and found that we were the only diners we wondered. Then, the waiter almost argued with us about white vs. red wine. Turned out that he didn't have any white. Snobs, we walked. There is a little place we've seen down the street. We found another cash machine and supplemented our supply as we walked. Restarante Italiano is everything the other should have been. A large selection of both red and white wines and a great menu. Oso Bucco for both, delicious!
CNN news and Larry. Our coughs aren't getting better, thick mucus and sore throats. We're sure that our friend Anthony from Aruba gave us the bug. He coughed and choked a lot in Guama then sent an e-mail telling us that he had to go to the Doctor to get rid of it when he got back home.
August 2, 2005
Lila at Turinco, John, Dockmaster at Club Nautico and
Jeff at Casa La Fe
Slow arising this morning. These coughs are taking a toll. Hard to sleep, my hacking wakes Cat and hers keeps me awake, too. We decided to wait, see if they get better, if not se a Doctor in Panama. Back to Lila, she called the Yacht Club to make sure that John was in today. He was and will wait for us. Also, she listened to our desire to get at least a token ride here in Colombia and began making reservations. We want to start in Santa Marta as originally planned had we entered Colombia on a bus. Bad news, there is a big Conference in Santa Marta and all rooms are booked. Lila didn't let that stop her. She knows of a place just 9 kilometers north of Santa Marta, called and booked a room. Then, she got a place for us in Baranquilla, the City about half way between here and Santa Marta. Last but not least, she called a company that runs cars back and forth. They are more expensive than a bus but provide door to door service.
Another thing that we want is to stay in the "Old City" when we get back into town. She found a brochure on Casa La Fe, a B&B there that she recommends. She only has one so wrote the name and location for us to give the Taxi driver.
Taxi back to the Club Nautico, John was there, sitting talking with an old salt. We moved in, and were soon in the conversation. He's living aboard, sailed down from Canada single handed. John told us of a larger commercial boat leaving in a week then outlined other possibilities. As we talked a very British couple, a couple of seniors, came up and he introduced us. They're going to the Islands off Panama and after chatting for a bit they invited us to join them. Really nice people but their boat is so small and our load of bags and bikes so big. Also, we don't want to drop off in Colon. Everyone including John recommends against even going there. A rough border/port town.
John also kind of put a damper on our dream when he suggested that boats going east to west usually have to go up to the lake then lay over. If we were lucky enough to find a boat headed through from here it would be a 3 day journey. The boat dream is fading.
Taxi to the Ciudad Antigua, he wound his way through the old stone gate and through the narrow streets to the door of Casa La Fe. It's across from Plaza Fernandez de Madrid in a row of refurbished buildings. The perfect place to stay and experience old Cartagena.
The beautiful wood doors hide a real work of love and art. When we buzzed a guy, Jeff, peeped out the little door then opened wide for us. He and wife Carmen bought the place and have completely rebuilt it. Wondrous use of tiles, stone and colors. We loved it. Yes, he reserved a room for us when we return, for Saturday and Sunday. He suggested French and Italian restaurants, both nearby. We couldn't find the French but wanted pasta, anyway. Good food, nice guy and the feeling of the Old City permeates the place.
Lila, like the wizard that she is, has the car booked and all Hotels confirmed.
There is a Mexican Restaurant nearby that has caught our eye each time we passed. The food was okay at best. Probably would have been better with a margarita but we stuck with wine.
More CNN News then more light, hacking and coughing sleep.
August 3, 2005
A Drive to Taganga
The breakfast is quite and experience here at "The Plaza". A typical buffet line with some untypical foods. We've tried some but most are deep fried. They do have a small selection of fruits that we supplemented with bananas.
The young Bellman was proud to help us, he loves cycling. We were down and waiting when Ernesto pulled in. He put the bikes on the rack and bags inside. It was tight but only across town. With the two big bags off at the door of Casa La Fe, we settled back and watched the road fly by. We'll see it again, more slowly and painfully in a couple of days. Lila had told us that the highest hill would be the bridge. Wrong, like so many that drive, she didn't know just how hilly it actually is. And, most of the ride will be off the coast rather than along it as we'd hoped.
Guerillas or Games?
As we by-passed Baranquilla traffic stopped, hopelessly backed up and no one seemed to know why. We were dwarfed by the huge trucks as Ernesto tried to weave his way through them. Finally boxed in, we had to wait like the rest. Suddenly a stream of 8 Motorcycle Police each with a passenger carrying an automatic rifle came roaring past. Now we were sure that we'd been caught up in a Farc activity. Though this area is the safest in Colombia, none is immune to the Guerillas. Then, just as our imaginations were running wild a guy bearing a torch came running by. He was being escorted by those same 8 armed Motorcycle Police and followed by an entourage of buses and cars. They have a Colombian Olympic Games and he's the Torch Bearer for this leg.
There was a long uphill pull then a steep down, into Santa Marta then through town and another steep up and down to Taganga. We were there by 2:00 PM.
Taganga is a wonderfully quaint fishing village. We got our things inside Hotel Azul Bahia then set off in search of food. We passed on several then chose one for no apparent reason other than tired of the search. Fish of course, what else in a fishing village? The girl must have lost something in the translation? She had told us that the Corbina was fillet? It was boney as heck with heads on. Once past the head and bones, it was delicious. We had to move our plastic chairs through the sand to a spot under thatched roof when the rain started to pelt down.
There is an Internet Connection but it's down, in fact the whole town is down. The power went out during one of the lightening strikes. A dozen Cafes, about that many Dive Shops, and the obligatory booths of Tourist junk make up the 2 block long dirt main street. We did meet a couple, Sarah and Chris from Australia. They're traveling for a year on the same type of Round the World ticket that Peter was on. A quick dip in the Pacific then a pose while Sarah took our picture. Very refreshing.
We sat in chairs near the beach in front of the hotel then took a dip in the Caribbean. It was cool and refreshing. The locals played a tough game of sand soccer for our enjoyment.
Dinner at the Hotel. A wonderful sea salmon with fresh veggies. Later we watched as the locals all worked to pull a huge net inform the bay. The joint venture didn't pay off too well. One fair sized fish, lots of little throw backs. The kids had a great time pulling.
The power has remained off all day. The saving grace, the Hotel has a generator. About 9:00 PM the rest of the village lit up and the satellite TV signal came back to life. It was local TV only so,. Early to bed.
August 4, 2005
Taganga to Baranquilla
Breakfast on the beach was tranquil, peaceful and a fitting start to a tough day. The tough started at the front desk. Cat stopped to pay while I got the bikes down the stairs. They were having problems with the Credit Card. Maybe related to the power outage? Their problem cost us the early start we'd hoped for. It was 8:30 AM by the time they got it straightened out and we began the tough ride up and out of Taganga.
The view made the pull a little less challenging. As you can see, very picturesque. It was already hot, we were sweating profusely as we shot the pictures. The downhill run was tough, too, due to the bumps and potholes. Getting through Santa Marta was easier than we thought it would be. Well, we did watch for landmarks as we wound through the streets with Ernesto, yesterday.
Then, another even bigger hill, up and out of Santa Marta. We had to push this one. Traffic kept us hugging the rough shoulder. Once over the hump it was little ups and downs then flat. We stopped several times for soft drinks then at Café Emanuel with religious sayings on the wall and a simple menu. Chicken and chips. The little kids of the neighborhood walked back and forth checking out the strange Gringos. Still 56 Ks to go.
The road disintegrated as we neared Baranquilla. Truck traffic thickened and it was hotter than hot. A stop for another soft drink that led to directions from a couple, Luis and Helena. He even drew us a map, too bad we didn't follow it.
The sign said "Centro Ciudad", concerned, we asked and the guy there said that we should go right. Cat agreed, she and the sign drew us to the right which turns out to be a wrong turn. The traffic and smog thickened and the crowd looked more and more ominous to us. Thinking it was just our paranoia, we pedaled on until a young guy rode up next to us and started trying to talk. He was getting English words out like dangerous men, peligroso hombres. He was getting the point across when several Motorcycle Police pulled up. He yelled out and one came to us. They talked then the Moto Man asked where we were going. When we told him Hotel Dann Carlton he said, "Better follow".
Boy, it was a long ride through thick traffic on bumpy streets. Thank goodness for the "Long, strong arm of the Law". At 45th Street with 45 to go he pulled up and let us know that we'd be safe from here to the Hotel. We rode, up hill and another kilometer or so then Cat pulled up and put her foot down. She was right, this is dangerous, not the people, the traffic. I stepped out into the flow in front of a yellow cab. He pulled over and we de-bagged and put the bikes on the roof rack. We'd come 125 Ks, a really big, hot, sweaty day.
Alberto, the driver, was curious. Then, when he got the point that we were riding the World, he became family. He pulled around to the side of Dann Carlton and down, into the underground parking even as the Security Guards tried to wave us off. In fact he drove right up to the elevators and helped lift the bikes down and load the bags onto the Bellman's cart.
Hotel Dann Carlton is the Anti-Reality of the streets of north Baranquilla. Marble floors up to the ceiling and a room that feels like a palace. Not just a room but a mini suite. What a wonderful end to a tough, hot 10 hour day.
Almost too tired to eat, we tried to order Pizza from room service. Somehow they couldn't change the ingredients? Reminded us of the guy in Manaus that showed us the box it came in. so, we had Cheeseburgers and a bottle of wine.
A first, an after dinner shower then a little of CNN. Woke up at midnight, the TV was wide awake. Took Cat's glasses off, turned it off then we both coughed ourselves back to sleep.
August 5, 2005
R & R in Baranquilla
Never felt worse, never, in such a nice place. It was an easy decision, calling off today's ride. A call to Jeff and he confirmed that he has a spot for us Sunday and Monday. The breakfast, included of course, is superb. A fantastic buffet and eggs cooked to order. Oh, another bonus, the Internet Connection is included, too.
The biggest spiff is the huge Buena Ventura Shopping Center just across the street. Not that we do that much shopping but it puts wine and water close at hand.
A picnic in our suite. A stupid movie, more CNN than we can absorb. What a way to spend a day of rest. Larry King had Art Linkletter on, he's now 94 but talks, sounds and looks like he's just hit his prime.
Another coughing and gagging night.
August 6, 2005
Baranquilla to Cartagena
75 Kilometers (45 Ks in Freddy's Truck
Freddy and Carlos
Down for our second wonderful breakfast by 7:00 AM then on the road by 8:30. It was an agonizing, slow process finding our way back out to the Carretera. (Highway) Then it was lots of ups and downs and heat. We began stopping at every place where they sold soft drinks. Neither of us are feeling well. Both coughing and spitting. At 75 Ks out we pulled up at a roadside restaurant. They serve great tasting barbequed meat. The smoke from the cooker was so thick that we had to move back. Reseated, the Chef, Miguel, came to the table and told us that he rides from Baranquilla to work, every day. He was so excited that he ran out and brought his bike, a nice looking racer, in for us to see.
When Kelly brought the food we asked about the two trucks sitting out front. She confirmed that the 2 guys seated at the next table were the drivers. Neither of us felt like continuing. Between the heat, the sore throats and cough, we were ready to throw in the towel.
When the Goin' Gets Tough, The Tough Take a Truck!
Freddy and Carlos are from Bogotá. They own their trucks. We asked and they were happy to let us get on board. Happiness often comes from strange truck bed fellows. With t he bags still tied on, we strapped the bikes to the truck and we were off. Freddy is really a wonderful guy. He speaks good English and loves to talk. We learned that he owns this truck and Carlos, his best friend, owns the other. They aren't partners but really look out for each other. Obvious when we got too far ahead of Carlos. Freddy couldn't see him in the mirror so slowed and called. They had a 10 minute conversation as Freddy filled him in on our Round the World Adventure.
He's a family man, two kids and a wife he speaks of like he's talking about an angel. He and Carlos freelance through a Freight Brokerage Company. They're headed for the Company's office in Cartagena. They just delivered Elevators to a construction site. They hope to get a load back to Bogotá but he says, "You never know." Their life is as strange as ours. Here today and gone tomorrow.
They dropped us off near the old stone gate. Strange, just a short time ago we were just 2 hurting Gringos, now we feel like family. Freddy urged us to change our plans and come to Bogotá. He said that his wife is a great cook. Of course we invited them to California. Told him we'd give then rides to anywhere they want to go. They can stay at our house too but his wife can cook there, too. He laughed but they may just show up, we hope so.
Into the Ciudad Antigua and to the door of Casa La Fe by 3:00 PM. Jeff was impressed with our strength and speed until we confessed about riding with Freddy and Carlos.
A cooling shower then around the corner to Internet. As we walked we heard music that sounded like Zydeco. I stepped into the restaurant and asked the name of the CD. "Cross Overs", had to have a copy. We sent messages to family and answered friends. They've been pretty worried about us cycling in Colombia.
Dinner at Pizza Luna, a balcony seat overlooking Plaza San Diego. Reminded us of a day in Buenos Aires except it's warm here. The Plaza is full of Artisans selling their work. Locals walk through and bargain. Rally a beautiful place. Several musicians singing and strumming.
We have Fox News in lieu of CNN. Boy what a difference! A very right wing slant to stories told by reporters that seem juvenile?
Sleep, safe and restful sleep. (Sominex?) No we didn't need drugs!
Sunday, August 7, 2005
Luis and Alejandra
Architect and Golfer, he studied in Atlanta, she in Boston.
Breakfast is good, not like Dann Carlton but good. As we ate a couple sat down and introduced themselves. Luis and Alejandra are from Baranquilla. When we told them about our grand entry they expressed concern that we had cycled through those northern neighborhoods. Baranquilla is a Port Town, like Long Beach, California. There are streets where anyone can walk, anytime and streets where you should never walk. And, they're not that far apart.
When Cat told them about the guy at Dann Carlton who asked about Guerilla's in Santa Marta. They smiled then said, "Maybe not in Santa Marta but then, you never know". Those guys show up with guns, rob or kidnap then take off the camouflage uniforms and become a guy driving a truck or cutting grass along the road. You just never know. That didn't make Cat feel a whole lot better about our Santa Marta experience. Then they really put the icing on the cake when Luis told us that his family owns a vacation home in the mountains above Santa Marta but haven't been there for more than 5 years. He says that the government believes that they have total control there but his family doesn't want to test it.
Our morning was spent just walking the streets and soaking up this wonderful place. Again, the pictures should speak for themselves. Balconies overflowing with vines, colorful buildings, narrow streets and Plazas full of music. Hot music on a very hot day.
After a picnic in room I spent my time on the computer working pictures and journal pages. We watched a movie about how the Producer for CNN stayed in Baghdad and continued to broadcast while the bombs fell, putting CNN on the News Network map. Pretty entertaining, since we seem to spend a lot of time watching CNN. By the way, Fox News and Bill O'Rielly really send us spinning toward CNN. They talk about CNN like it's ultra-left.
Back to Plaza San Diego for dinner. This time we sat on the street, enjoyed the music and action at eye level. The food, Argentinean beef, baked potatoes and veggies was great, the price a little over budget. As we finished a guy sat up a rope and did an act, running back and forth, up and down on the rope in dangerous looking moves yet only 5 feet above the ground. The crowd loved him. .
August 8, 2005
Last Day in Cartagena
Space Shuttle Discovery landing waved off.
The world or at least the US has been sitting on pins and needles, waiting for the Space Shuttle landing. After the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster then the pictures of damage and a space walk to repair Discovery, there is great anxiety for the lives of the Astronauts. It was a weather call, rain at Kennedy Space Port in Florida. They're taking no chances. However, NASA says that they land tomorrow, rain or shine, one place or another. The first choice is Florida but they're also prepared to bring her down at Edwards AFB near Brother Bob's home in Lancaster, CA. There is a 3rd option, one we've never heard of, White Sands AFB, White Sands, New Mexico. So, another day of sitting on the edge of our seats. We relate to these guys and gals, we know all too well the hazards of orbit. We're still up in the air about our own re-entry!
Dr. Bryan from Cayman and Peter from Bahamas
New friends at breakfast. We saw them briefly yesterday but today we talked. Bryan is a Medical Doctor. Originally from Canada he's now living in Grand Cayman Islands. He's here to speak at several Medical Conventions, here in Cartagena then another tomorrow in an inland city. Peter lives in the Bahamas and flew in to spend a few days here while Bryan speaks and hobnobs. Nice guys.
Lila called to check on our arrival and get us onto a flight to Panama. Yes, after exhausting all options it flight, not my favorite but, the boats are to iffy and we need to keep moving. She gave us directions to the Copa Airlines Office to buy tickets. She wants to be there to make sure they're clear about the excess baggage charge and whether there is a Tourist Visa needed. She has also arranged for a Hotel in Panama City. Well, near Panama City at a place called "The Causeway".
Another learning experience, we've read that the legal tender in Panama is the US Dollar. The Hotel confirmed that and requires that we pay with the same. Lila said she would help us. We walked the beautiful streets once again. We brought the camera along but really had to exercise self control. There are so many wonderful things to photograph.
Arriving before Lila, we began a conversation with the gal at the desk. She found our reservation and confirmed the price but felt sure that we'd have to pay for a Visa. Our guide book doesn't mention one but it is 2 years old. They did take our credit card and we left with tickets.
We've grown quite fond of Lila. She is a real class act. Her husband, an Investment Banker was elected to the Senate. Cat asked how she liked it when he was in politics. It was easy, she didn't. Their whole family had to have bodyguards. Even bodyguards to take the kids to school. A very dangerous business, politics here in Colombia. She was glad when his term was finished.
She has things to do now, we'll meet her at her office this afternoon to finalize the Hotel payment. She drove on, I went back to pounding away at these journal pages and Cat shopped for a picnic lunch.
At 2:00 PM we took a taxi to the Lavanderia, dropped off our stinky, sweaty cycling clothing then walked to Lila's office. After a very complex explanation about changing Pesos to Dollars she suggested that we just go get Pesos and she would take care of changing them. A quick walk around the corner in blazing sun to the Cash Machine and we were back in her office, covered with sweat in just 15 minutes.
Like is one thing, trust another. Our trust for this woman, who was a stranger just a few days ago, is that of a long time business partner. We counted out over 4,000 Pesos and handed them to her. She will take them to the exchanger when the office opens at 3:00 then drive back across town to deliver them. I was tempted to ask her to pick up our laundry when she comes to us but Cat forbade it. Friendship can only be stretched so far.
Back to the keyboard for me. Cat went on a quest for a replacement plastic travel bag. The sorry ones we bought in Maracaibo are coming apart at the seams. She had no luck.
Dinner, we wondered the streets looking for two different places we've read about but gave in to hunger and went back to Restaurante Da Danne, the Italian place where we lunched when we came to inspect Casa La Fe. Really terrific Oso Bucco.
Lila pulled through, the Hotel Voucher and a note awaited us at Jeff's desk. She also picked up the brochures from all the Hotels we stayed in on our little north coast bike tour. Also one of our pictures taken at the Abra La Raya with a note of appreciation. We really have enjoyed meeting and working with her. She is so good that we may try to recruit her to work in California Real Estate when we get back home. (Only joking Lila)
On A Sad Note
Long time CBS Newscaster Peter Jennings died today. He was only 67 but the cigarettes got him, Lung Cancer. He was, in our opinion, one of the fairest News Men and had been reporting with CBS for 30 years. Another surprise, Peter was a Canadian. He had only recently taken on US Citizenship.
August 9, 2005
Discovery Re-Enters, Pat & Cat Lift Off
We flicked the TV on at 6:30 AM and were witness to the re-entry and landing of Space Shuttle Discovery. She roared across the California skies at 7:00 our time leaving a sonic boom that had to shake our family and old neighbors in Ventura County out of bed at 5:00 AM, there time. Funny how we can get caught up in these kind of events. For us, today is a lift off! Up, out of Colombia, off the South American Continent that we flew to 1 year and 2 months ago today, exactly. What an experience, for them and for us. We have enjoyed being in every Country here except for Paraguay. We looked at her across the river, decide to go there later and never did. Well, good reason to return, right? Our greatest disappointment is that we haven't learned more Spanish. Ah well, we still have 6 months or so to cram.
More News, From Mauritania
A coup in Mauritania has unseated President Sidhamed. Remember, he was running almost uncontested during our time in this North African Country? He's been in uncontested power for more than 30 years. The country is poor and the people have suffered. Time for a change? He says not. He's fled to Europe but vows to return. Let's hope that a real leader of rises to the occasion. There are several nice people we me there who deserve a better life.
3 Hours to Kill, Let's Go See Fort San Felipe
I had the bikes broken down and ready to fly in record time. Cat packed bags, we jointly jammed everything into 3 of the plastics, doubling the bad ones. We are ready to go and will now spend the spare time touring the famous Fort Castillo de San Felipe. It's a high point, visible from most of Cartagena.
A Taxi to the Fort then a walk to the top, topless. Well, without a hat in the hot sun. We mention it because the walkway is lined with sellers of hats of every description. Another case of a person with a good idea that has expanded from profitable to ridiculous. They are quite aggressive, walk next to you, close to you and hate to take no for an answer. Well, a bare headed Gringo really stands out in this crowd.
Walking up, avoiding the Sombrero Sellers, we came across a nice young girl, also a tourist. When we said hello she answered in English. Onward, we went to the top, took dozens of panoramic photos then started down, into the bowels of San Felipe. It's like the catacombs, hallways some dark as pitch. At one entrance the girl, Francina asked if she could join us. She was worried about going into the darkened tunnels. The 3 of us ventured on in together. It is scary, and very dark. The picture of the girls, using the flash, doesn't do the darkness justice.
What a neat girl she is. Colombian, she's been studying at the University of Illinois for 4 years. She will receive her PHD in Meteorology next year. Not just Meteorology as in weather reporting or predicting, her specialty is in finding the source of rain and snow. Geez, Meteorological Anthropology? Important as the earth warms and climates change. She may be the one or one of the team of those who someday learn how to control evaporation and precipitation. She's bright enough!
Funny, she and her boy friend are here because he's speaking at a Banking Convention. She already knew of us because they were staying at Casa La Fe when we went to see the place. Jeff, the owner was so enthused about our trip that he told our story to them Since they confirmed that the Bank is paying they've switched to Hotel Santa Teresa, a very upscale place. She invited us back to take a look at the place.
Nice but a bit pretentious for our taste, not to mention our budget. The 3 of us sat, talked and had a sandwich on the roof top, near the pool. The picture of the guy reading a magazine says it all, don't you think? We invited Francina to our place in California, she may just stop by.
Back to La Fe, we had the young guy call for a Taxi with a roof rack to handle the bikes. When the car came it was sans rack. The driver wanted to try to jam everything in, we hated the idea. We just had the bike wheel fixed from the last time they were jammed into somewhere. The young guy who works at the La Fe ran off down the street and was soon back with a bright yellow model with rack. We gently lifted the bikes then got the bags in and said our goodbyes.
The drive wasn't all that long, the Airport is close to the Old City. We were there in plenty of time until we saw the length of the lines trying to get checked in. Talk about security! They had armed guards with dope sniffing dogs, everywhere. We had to open every bag, well in the first big bag, then the guy got tired of it and waved them through. The bikes were a different story. They looked into every open tube and lifted them in all directions, shaking them to see if there was a rattle. Even had a dog take a sniff.
had them wrapped in a lovely purple saran then we sent them and the bags off
down the baggage carousel. As we started toward the gate a Security Guard ran to
us and grabbed our umbrella. They wouldn't let us take in on board. He took it
and got the point across that they would return it in Panama.
After a 2 ½ hour struggle we finally walked down the tunnel and onto the plane. Goodbye South America, Goodbye Colombia. Our lift off was exactly on time, 4:00 PM.
Reflections of People, Places and Languages
Brazil, French Guyane, Suriname, Guyana, Trinidad, Venezuela and Colombia are now under our wheels, and history. From Portuguese to French to Dutch to English, even Clyp English in Trinidad then back to Spanish.
People who played a big part in these journal pages, Sandra in Brazil, Remi the Crop Duster with a bed for us, Albert the driver in Trinidad, Gerardo & Audrey who got our bikes and bags into their little car, Eduardo who rescued us, Anthony from Aruba whose help was invaluable and Lila who made things work for us in Colombia. To all of you and all the other wonderful people on the above pages, we give our thanks and offer undying friendship.
If you like numbers, these are our current:
1,104 Kilometers cycled in this chapter of our journal.
Total Kilometers Cycled 28,967
Miles Cycled 19,636
Stay Tuned, We're Headed into Central America and Homeward Bound!