Thursday, January 31, 2008

Colombia Part III

So part III of Colombia is going to start off on a bit of a tangent.  One of the more interesting games I’ve been playing along the way is the juxtaposition of my soundtrack.  And by my soundtrack I’m referring to the ipod set to shuffle for days on end.   It has provided quite a few interesting situations.  Ben and I rolling into Belize City listening to Public Enemy and De La Soul.  The hours I spent trying to find a tiny border crossing into Panama only to end up talking to a very elderly local as Prince provides the ambiance. I’m not talking the ‘acceptable’ Prince either.  I’m talking about Prince and the New Power Generation ‘7.’  One of the more embarrassing is when I was listening to my high school dance playlist only to come across a military check point while Depeche Mode’s “Somebody” played in the background.   My personal favorite is driving into the rainforest with Rodolfo in Costa Rica to the wonderful serenade of a 30min ‘Mr. Completely.’ The list goes on but the most surprising took place in Cartagena.   After Frank and I moved some stuff into his new place we set out for dinner at a restaurant called Patacon.  I was riding in the back when Frank turned up the stereo.  On his mp3 cd. Nine Inch Nails. Now how that came to be I’m not 100% sure but Nine In Nails in the back seat of a Prado in Cartagena Colombia was something I would never have expected.


So speaking of Patacon I learned a few things about eating while in Colombia.  One, and this has been one of the more popular photos in my gallery if the number of emails I have received are any indication, is that no matter how good the idea is, 30 years of tactile conditioning cannot be overcome.  The idea of giving patrons glove to keep their fingers clean while eating the delicious grilled chicken is a good one and apparently I was the only one uncomfortable with it. The gloves over my fingers triggered responses in my head that what I was touching was dirty and not for consumption. Gloves mean rebuilding an axle or painting my rims. Working in the yard. Building a campfire. Gloves are there to protect your hands. Why am I protecting my hands from something I’m putting into my body?  Yep that Pavlov guy was a pretty smart cat. Two is that plantains are used in EVERYTHING in Colombia.  A patacon is just one of them. A mush of plantain deep fried to a thing crisp. Then you eat it with such items as carne asada, pico de gallo, pollo braso and various other condiments.  It’s excellent. Lastly I need to confess my addiction. I stumbled across a restaurant in Panama that they also have in Colombia that has become my Mr. Brownstone.  Crepes and Waffles. (sweet I just discovered they have a location in Lima) Yeah doesn’t sound like a place you’d find a gringo trembling from withdrawals and waiting for his fix. But it is. First time I went there it was while waiting for a movie. I saw the word ‘waffle’ and I had to have one.  It had been a long time since I had a Belgian waffle and fresh berries and ice cream made it the perfect pre-movie meal. On my second visit I was introduced to the “Babydoll.”  The Babydoll is a devine creation.  A baseball sized scoop of icy vanilla bean ice cream wrapped in a well crafted crepe.  This base was covered with 4 lengthwise slices of banana, whip cream, chocolate and caramel syrup.  Add a coke and it is the perfect meal. All for less than $4 no less. So all the weight I lost eating rice, beans, and chicken came right back during my 14 days of Panama and Colombia. Those lbs were added during a state of pure bliss. The Babydoll.  So music and food. That is a perfect topic after the header of “Colombia Part III” right? How about we see if I can make it to 1000 words tonight.


After my stay in Cartagena came to an end it was time to head south again and Medellin was the destination.  Not only is it the namesake of a fictional movie starring Vince from Entourage but it was also the cocaine capital of the world only a decade ago. Yep that was my destination. The city is nestled in a narrow canyon and has the nickname “city of eternal spring” because of its climate.   I was looking forward to a day or two there. Then I arrived.  It was late due to an accident in the mountains on the way there. I rolled to the hotel recommended by Lonely Planet and the only one with a parking garage. As I’ve struggled with my whole trip, Ruby was too tall for the garage.  Once again the hospitality of the Colombianos was revealed. I think. 


The kid at the garage called 3 hotels looking for one with parking I could use and an available room. After finding one nearby I asked for directions. Instead of drawing a map he located the night manager who hopped in my car with me and guided me through the prostitute, transvestite and junkie filled one way streets of downtown Medellin at 11 at night. We found the hotel and I offered to give him a ride back now that I knew the location. He declined and I offered to pay for his taxi. He declined again, said “welcome to Colombia and have a good trip” in Spanish and walked out the door. Inside the hotel I found a very nice receptionist and that was the end of the ‘nice’ of the hotel.  I snaked my way through the crowded lobby of drunken Parcheesi players and smoking teenagers and up to my room. After opening the door I instantly knew I had a very rough night ahead of me. I would be sleeping on top of the bed, fully clothed and no chance in hell I was getting in that cold water only shower.  I found a fairly clean blanket in the closet wrapped myself in it and slept a rough 3 or 4 hours during the night. Morning dawned smoggy and filthy.  But I guess that will be part IV.


Riobamba (lots of pics today)

Riobamba Ecuador is nothing more than pass through town on the Panamericana. A clean town of 125k people nestled in a valley surrounded by volcanoes (or so I’ve been told it’s pretty much been raining since I got here and I haven’t seen a thing) has turned out to be an excellent stop along my way to Ushuaia. After my wheeling trip in Bogota. I guess I haven’t got that far yet. Well after the trip I noticed some fluid coming out of the breather hose on the front axle. Looked like a mix of diff fluid, grease and water. I decided the next chance I got I’d get the fluid drained and the knuckles repacked. I’m pretty sure I have blown inner axle seal but in the short term this would work until I have a chance to tear into it.

As you would expect I skipped a few towns and kept thinking I’d do it in the next town. Then the next town. As I was descending hill after hill after hill a vibration in my breaking began to get worse. As I rolled into Riobamba on Monday the plan was to get gas, grab some food and head south for a few hours then find a place to hotel. I stumbled across a Toyota dealership. I pulled into the parking lot and tracked down the service manager. I told him what I needed done. Which was a challenge since I don’t know ANY Spanish words to describe a vehicle. I did manage to schedule an appointment and got permission to watch/help the tech to make sure the issues weren’t lost in translation.

I found a hotel and checked in. As I was walking back to my car to pull into the secure parking lot there was a local taking pics of my Cruiser with his camera phone. To make a long story short he is the president of the Riobamba 4x4 club and invited me to go wheeling while I was here. I agreed, got a phone number and had a crappy dinner in the hotel restaurant.

Morning came and off to the dealership I went. We got the truck up on the lift and the vibration ended up being a bad tie rod end. Thanks to my boy Eric V. I had 2 spares and we swapped them out. The service was great, the price was right and off I went.

Yesterday morning I woke up and got ready to hit the road with the Ernan and the Riobamba 4x4 club. Which being a weds I was shocked. Well the club ended up being one truck and two people. We set off into the hills toward Volcan Chimborazo. The wheeling was mellow, muddy and muddy. Black thick gloppy volcanic mud but not hard. We passed an Incan Ruin and a natural spring where I filled up my nalgenes and continued climbing. Eventually we entered the clouds. Surprise surprise more rain on my truck. We stumbled across a wild version of a alpaca. Ernan told me the name but my attempt to spell it would be beyond embarrassing. So how about feral alpaca? Just look at the pic.

We finally reached the high point of the road. 15,900 feet. I got out and walked to about 17k. Oh and I finally found my first snow for the North American winter. We came back down, my breaking vibration was gone and I bought lunch, said goodbye and came back to the hotel. I called a few friends on Skype and went out for a walk and dinner. Pizza was the choice and it was damn good. One of the best meals I’ve had on the trip. Yep pizza was that good. And per instruction from guide book I did NOT use my hands in order to not offend.

My 3 days in Riobamba is a town I would have passed right through but the hospitality of locals, the scenery, the lack of sunshine, oh wait that is a bad thing, and a great pizza made it a great stop.

Time for lunch then back on the road toward Peru. Okay a few more stops but Peru by the weekend. Unless another town reaches up and grabs me like Riobamba has.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

a teaser

How adorable is this old woman? All 4 foot 2 of her.  I went four wheeling today with guys I met on the street in Riobamba, Ecuador. Drove to almost 16k feet then walked to 17k. I’m far more acclimated than I was a few days ago.  Too bad it’s been raining the whole time. Pics are only so so.  However it’s 1:30 am so you’ll get the full story later tomorrow.


OK Unit Number: 0-7341800

SPOT. somewhere in ecuador. ideally on a dusty road circling some volcano
Unit Number: 0-7341800
Latitude: -1.4752
Longitude: -78.8459
Nearest Town from unit Location: Unknown
Distance to the nearest town: Unknown
Time in GMT the message was sent: 01/30/2008 17:12:43,-78.8459&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1

Monday, January 28, 2008

Colombia Part II

After lunch Frank, or Francisco as his mother calls him, asked me if there was any way I could help him move. After a lunch of steak and mushrooms how could I possibly say no. Frank had just moved to Cartagena from Bogota and was crashing with his folks until his place was ready. So Frank, his wife Andrea and I loaded up the truck with clothes, tv, dishes etc with the mattress strapped to the roofrack. I was sweating like a dog, the humidity and heat had my shirt soaked but it felt extremely normal. I could use the fancy right-click thesaurus that Microsoft offers, or even dig out my dictionary but the fact is ‘normal’ is the right word. Helping a friend move, piling stuff into a Cruiser is a pretty common practice back home in Utah and this felt no different. We stopped by the store to confirm delivery of new appliances and then hauled all the stuff up 18 flights of stairs. Oh wait that’s not right, there was an elevator. It just felt like I was clmbing that many stairs. Have I mentioned Cartagena was hot?

Next few days I hung out with Frank and Andrea. I wandered the old city, dined at outdoor cafes, attempted to haggle with the many vendors of fine Colombian goods and tacky tourist crap. I think I scored the former. Probably got hoodwinked and ended up with the latter. One of the highlights of Cartagena is the old Spanish fort. (pics in the gallery)I’m sure there is real name like Bastion or something like that but it’s 12:30 at night cut me some slack. It was built to protect their stashed gold from plundering pirates. It was the only fortress the Spanish built in the ‘new world’ that was never occupied or destroyed and still stands today very well preserved. I know this might strike some as odd but I think I enjoy it as much as the ruins at Tikal or Chitzen Itza. Perhaps it was the ability to wander freely amongst the ruins, or the passageways plunging into the depths of the stronghold, but it was an amazing structure and a great experience.

Another of the old Spanish buildings remaining in the town was the, crap I’m forgetting the name and my book is in the car. Ummm, Palace of Inquisition? That sounds right. They had rebuilt many of the torture devices used on heretics and criminals. (again I think I posted pics in my gallery.) They were neat to see but the thing that impressed me the most was that the altar still remained where the most egregious offenders were decapitated. Thought provoking to say the least. All of this in a tranquil courtyard with hanging garden.

Above the Palace of Inquisition was a museum dedicated to the history of Cartagena. Not just the Spanish history but the indigenous history as well. I’m not much of a museum guy but it was truly fascinating. One of the more intriguing exhibits detailed the construction of the wall surrounding the city and the various techniques used. Yep boring to read about, so I’m sorry. But it lead to a long hot walk around the entire wall looking for signs of the engineering detailed. One afternoon I got an email stating the my truck had arrived and it was time to go pick it up. This seems like another good time to break. My eyes are burning and if I quit now you have the detailed account of 14 hours, over two days, to get my truck out of port, and the following night spent in an hourly rate motel, home to prostitutes and transvestites to look forward to.

the damage

Do the pics need words?  She’s still a cute truck, parked ever so politely under the nearby waterfall  right? And one of my hotel.




Sunday, January 27, 2008

so it finally happened

IT actually represents two things.

My inevitable confrontation with a Latin American bus driver finally occurred. They have been a thorn in my side since I crossed over to mainland Mexico. Yes I’m aware I’m the outsider but it goes beyond that. They have no consideration for anyone else on the road including each other. They adhere to no laws or common sense. They’ll stop anywhere to pick up a passenger. Sometimes they’ll be blocking 4 lanes of a city street. Stopped. No hurry. No reason to go anywhere. When they want in they push you out of the way. When the decide to stop everyone has to as well. This isn’t just the urban buses. This happens everywhere. Running cars off the road on the winding mountain roads so that they can pass at less than a mph difference between the one they’re overtaking. Every country, every city, every town has these buses and there is some sense of order but it is still frustrating as hell to try and drive without the IPDE process in full effect. It’s fatiguing. Saturday morning I was heading through downtown Quito on my way to the old city. A bus pulled off the curb (I’m in the left of 2 lanes) and I honk my horn to let him know I was there as per custom. I changed my focus to the 8 buses and 47 taxis in front of me that were my next challenge when I’m struck by the front left corner of the bus in the middle of my front passenger door.

Yep Ruby Claire is no longer the bad ass truck she used to be. Red paint has scarred the beloved and adored 1B2 (Toyota paint code for Antique Pearl Sage, limited to the 40th Anniversary Land Cruiser), half of my rear fender flare is lying broken along the side of Avenida Guayaquil. I’ll take some pics tomorrow now that I’ve accepted the fact. But the fun didn’t end with the collision as I’m sure you can imagine.

It took a minute to find a place for us to both pull over then the bedlam ensued. The driver climbed out and started telling me it was my fault. His little shouter boy that recruits passengers is yelling something at me that was totally incoherent. When the driver realized I knew what he was saying he began to berate me even worse. I told him to ‘f himself’ and to call the cops. I knew it wasn’t my fault so I was fine bringing in the cops. That freaked him out a bit. Then the passengers started piling out. Some to get on a different selfishly driven bus, some to add their opinions to the situation. I was a bit unnerved and the 250 yards of cars honking their horns behind us didn’t help. I told the driver to call the police and we would move to a better place to park. He was still contending it was my fault and was pointing to some damage on his bus that would have been impossible for my truck to cause. I kept saying call the police and let’s go up the street to a better place to park. He finally relented and off we went. As we climbed the hill it dawned on me that it might not be best for me to get the cops involved. I’m the gringo in the expensive looking vehicle. He’s the local working man that speaks the language. So when the bus took a right I kept going straight and got the hell out of dodge. Insurance in Ecuador is not mandatory so I don’t have any and my truck can be fixed when I get home. I figured it was in my best interests to let the situation be. I suffered the worst of it anyway. I’m attaching a pic of the jackass driver (well his bus at least, 2107) for reference.

The day got much better from that point on. Obviously. How could it not? Over the course of next 8 hours I would go for a nice long walk along the lunar landscape of Volcan Cotopaxi and find a gorgeous campsite. It was rainy and relatively cold but the hike was very enjoyable and a nice diversion from driving. I then not only walked but drove higher than any point in the continental US. Drove to about 14,800 feet. Walked to about 15,200 then the nausea and burning lungs forced me down. Pretty cool experience to be driving that high, lost in a cloud with zero visibility.

Then IT happened for the second time that day. This it was 11 countries and 10 weeks in the making. As I stood on a windy ridge taking pics of the sunset, which included a cloud in the shape of an Imperial Star Destroyer, it finally hit me and I uttered out loud to myself, “Ecuador, I’m in f&@#ing Ecuador.” Yep the reality finally set in that I am a LONG way from home. Yes it did take that long. I have no idea why but last night the reality hit home. And to be honest with you, I couldn’t be happier about it. I attached a pic of me shortly after the epiphany. As a matter of fact I do always look that serious. I hate self portraits.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

OK Unit Number: 0-7341800

SPOT. somewhere in ecuador. ideally on a dusty road circling some volcano
Unit Number: 0-7341800
Latitude: -0.6572
Longitude: -78.4387
Nearest Town from unit Location: Unknown
Distance to the nearest town: Unknown
Time in GMT the message was sent: 01/26/2008 21:15:35,-78.4387&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1

Friday, January 25, 2008

spot explanation

I have a had a few inquiries about the SPOT device so I thought I would elaborate a bit more on how it works. It is a simple satellite beacon.  The message you see in the email are static and I can only change them via the internet. That is why sometimes a message will say I may be on a boat even though I’m in Ecuador.   Which would mean I haven’t had a chance to change it.  Unfortunately their site is not one I can access from my phone which is where I do most of my internet work. 


What you will notices is that the GPS Coordinates and accompanying Google Maps link are from the location where I send the signal. Sometimes I send them to let those close to me know that I’m okay. Sometimes I sent them to gloat that I’m on some remote stretch of beach. Sometimes they may be completely confusing like a random road in the middle of Colombia. These are really just for me to have for future reference like when I crossed 15k on the odometer.   The last one today I think is pretty self explanatory but just in case you need help I’m including  2 pics in this post.



OK Unit Number: 0-7341800

SPOT. my guess is Colombia or maybe on a boat on the way there. not quite sure when i'll use this again.
Unit Number: 0-7341800
Latitude: 0.0
Longitude: -78.1747
Nearest Town from unit Location: Unknown
Distance to the nearest town: Unknown
Time in GMT the message was sent: 01/25/2008 18:15:35,-78.1747&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Colombia Part I


Time to pull up a comfy chair, a nice cup of hot chocolate and sit by the warm fire. (for those buried under the mountains of snow piling up in Utah) For everyone else I recommend at least a nice quiet area where you can tire your eyes by reading this nice long post.  And yes this is only Part I.   I was unsure on using roman numerals but I picked up a bootleg of all 6 Star Wars DVD here as a souvenir and now I’m inspired.


Colombia Part I however is beginning in Panama. I’m not sure how that is possible but I’m confident by the time I’m at the end of this post it will make sense. Or maybe not, I don’t really outline these things and sometime by the end I’ve forgotten where I started and heaven forbid I would actually proof read.


I entered Panama on New Year’s Eve.  After a very long ordeal with shipping and finally putting Ruby Claire into the container (which I will eventually recount once I get over the frustration of the process) I found myself in the Panama City airport with 6 hours to kill before my 9:20pm flight on January 11th.  I was flying to Cartagena on a small Colombian Airline called Aires. Their ticket counter didn’t open until 7 and all the shops/restaurants were behind the security checkpoint.  That meant 4 hours of sitting on the floor of the airport passing the time. I read a lot. I emailed. I called a few people via Skype but most of all I was left to ponder the late night flight into a country whose reputation was not one of security. It saved me $60 to fly late and to be fair I had read on numerous websites that the Colombia’s lingering reputation from the late 80s/early 90s was unfounded and the country was one of great hospitality and natural beauty.  But this is still the same country of cocaine and murdered soccer players.


I got my ticket, entered security and after a dinner of crispy M&Ms (the restaurant was packed with an hour wait) I sat down at the gate and put on the headphones. Luckily I spent the last year before my trip getting very used to airports and downtime.  Time came to board and things just got weird. Instead of gate 20, we were gate 20A.  Which meant walking down some stairs and climbing on a bus.  Me and 25 Colombianos.  I found a seat next to a woman with 3 bags and settled in for the unknown.  The unknown turned out to be a nice long drive (like 8mins) out onto the tarmac, past all the other planes and out into the darkness. Eventually we came out of the dark and pulled up to a dual prop plane.  I thought it was humorous and a bit sketchy. Apparently I wasn’t the only one. All the other people on the bus were cracking jokes and laughing about it too.


We boarded the plane and out came the rum.  And it wasn’t just one person.  Two guys had bottles and they were passing out shots to everyone.  The attendant passed out the sandwiches and muffins for the short flight and the lights went out.  I settled into an episode of The Office on the ipod.  After arriving in Cartagena I found a spotless airport, pleasant customs and immigration officials and hot humid air.  I had booked my hotel while in Panama so I had to track down a taxi.  It was then that I found what would be the first of many examples of a very friendly nation of people.  I had no Colombian Pesos for a taxi and the airport was officially closed as ours was the last flight of the night.  They actually brought our luggage all the way to customs for us.  I tracked down a security guard and explained the situation.  He opened up the airport, literally unlocked the front doors, I didn’t know airports closed, and walked the 200 yards or so with me to the atm to get cash. I went outside hopped in cab and headed for the city.


As we approached the city my expectations were greatly exceeded. I knew the old city was inside an old Spanish fort but I had no idea it was so well preserved. The wall was 20 feet high and 40 feet thick. Even the tiny Peugeot cab felt massive on the tiny colonial streets.  My hotel turned out to be immaculately maintained if not in a loud section of the city.  I was unsure what the next morning would bring but my first hour in Colombia was very indicative of the next two weeks. 


I woke late the next morning to a bustling city street and intense heat. Oppressive heat. Blinding heat.  Yep it was hot.  I was too late for the free breakfast but I still wandered up to the roof to snap some photos of the city then out for a walk to check it out.  I was meeting a total stranger/internet friend from for lunch and had a few hours to kill. I visited a few of the shops, grabbed some juice, sweat, wondered in amazement at the centuries old city and the fact that I was in South America. Oh and I was sweating a little bit. I got an email on my phone as I was walking around from my friends Erin and Kevin whom Ben and I had met in Guatemala. They had just arrived in Cartagena also (they sent their bikes by plane to Bogotá a few days earlier and had circled north to the coast.) so I stopped by their hotel to say hi.   I had to meet up with Frank so I said goodbye and hoofed it back to the hotel to change into a dry shirt before lunch.


Frank and his wife Andrea picked me up in 90 Series Land Cruiser also known as a Prado. The first Prado I would ever drive just a few days later. He informed me that despite my misgivings and social awkwardness he said his Mom would not let him take me to lunch anywhere but her house. I relented in that I had no choice and figured my bad Spanish would mask the shyness and discomfort about having strangers invite me into their home. This isn’t an American/Colombian thing either. This is my inability to behave properly in civil society.  Socially retarded as I like to say. And don’t call me socially challenged because that description is not accurate. I am not challenged. My social skills were, at some point in my life, limited, retarded.  I’m not offended by the phrase. Accuracy is a far loftier ideal than spineless political correctness. Okay mini-rant aside…


We headed south out of the old city into Bocagrande to Frank’s parents’ apartment. A sparkling clean high rise with magnificent views and a cooling ocean breeze. Frank, Andrea and I shared a meal of soup, rice, steak, and mushrooms.  A damn tasty introduction to Cartagena. Already the food was better than Central America. Something that would hold true throughout Colombia.  I chatted with Frank’s dad Christopher on the balcony for a while. A truly amazing man that I would have loved to talked to for hours.  He went to the states with a 5th grade education and graduated from the University of Chicago with an MBA 6 years later. Yep doing his GED and undergrad work at the same time. Not sure how he pulled that off. He’d lived all over the US and had just recently returned to Colombia for ‘retirement.’  I don’t think building a hotel and 100 apartments on the beach is what most retirees do during their golden years.  After lunch is when the truly great experience in Cartagena began.  But for now I need to go to bed. I slept like crap last night and it was a long day. There will be some Ecuador posts interspersed through the Colombia write up over the next week or so. Why would I make it simple for you to read? But I hope you’ll all find it entertaining


Wednesday, January 23, 2008


and one more from the same day. this is what happens when your tires are too wide for your rims and you blow 2 beads on one trail. extreme measures to get 4 usable tires back on the car.


a video sent to me by my boy Jairo. Me trying to learn how to drive in the Colombian mud

OK Unit Number: 0-7341800

yes not the most exciting area in Colombia but I surpassed 15k on the odometer about that time. (the signal doesn't instantly send)

SPOT. my guess is Colombia or maybe on a boat on the way there. not quite sure when i'll use this again.
Unit Number: 0-7341800
Latitude: 3.9398
Longitude: -76.2806
Nearest Town from unit Location: Chambimbal, Colombia
Distance to the nearest town: 1 km(s)
Time in GMT the message was sent: 01/23/2008 18:11:54,-76.2806&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

well hello there...

well hello there, it’s been a long, long time. How ya doing? how am I doin? Well I guess I’m doing fine. Well it seems like it’s been so long but it was only yesterday. Ain’t it funny, how time slips away.

A few quick items tonight.

I went wheeling with some Colombianos Sunday. It was a blast and I’ll do an official write up of the day’s events in the next few days. However even though the trail wasn’t mind blowing difficult or scenic the circumstances were truly special so perhaps I might be submitting it to a publication. So hold tight. However pics are here if you want them. And a few firsts happened on the trail for me. First time with Nissan Patrols and first time I got to see the reseating of a bead with fire trick work.

I also added pics to my main gallery from Panama and Colombia. Link is to your right. Or if you get this via email go here.

Lastly here is your chance to be a part of Expedition Americas. Any of you who know me are fully aware of my fetish for stickers. So a sticker was a must and before I left I had some made up. Thanks to Adam for the beautiful artwork and Kaleb for getting the stickers made. I brought about 30 with me to give to fellow Overlanders or friends I have met along the way (hey Rodolfo) but I left some at home with my friend Darren to sell. As of January 22, 2008 12:42am MST there are 49 stickers left and one can be yours for the measly sum of $10 which includes postage. It will help me recoup the cost of the stickers and if I sell them all I’ll be able to afford another 1400 miles or so of gasoline. I am including a pic of the sticker on my truck as well as the wonderful adornment of stickers before I left. Below are instructions from Darren that I stole from the forum at about the stickers. Big thanks to D for facilitating this.


So this is long overdue (sorry dmc) but I was given the honor of being Dave's official Expedition Americas sticker/support manager.

I have a limited amount of Expedition Americas Logo Stickers (around 65 at this writing). The stickers are professional quality, die cut, measuring approx. 6 inches tall x 5 inches wide. The price of the sticker is based on the production cost and includes a little extra to buy Dave some petrol, help pay for $$$hipping his truck, a taco or two, a bribe to cross a border, etc.

The stickers are $10 each, minimum. Feel free to pay more for them if you would like to support Dave beyond that. It will be greatly appreciated.

Sticker payment and support funds can be PayPal'd to I will promptly mail the stickers out to you.

Dave also has a cafepress site with logowear.

And don't forget to sign up for Dave's Expedition Americas blog so that you can follow his journey and adventure.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

where have i been?

Well I’m not really sure where I’ve been. Virtually speaking.  I am now in Bogota and will probably do a write up on the entire shipping process along with a photo update in the next day or so.  I’m going to save my Colombia adventures until I leave the country because I don’t want to jinx them.  So far it has been one amazing experience and tomorrow I’m going four-wheeling with a local club here in Bogota so it can really only get better.   I plan to get to Ecuador Thurs or Friday next week.   For now you’ll just have to deal with SPOT updates and a few posts about document management and shipping. 


However, if you want to see where I have been in the virtual world, and see a little bit of the neurosis that afflicts  a large number of my friends you can find your way over to my Rig Of The Week thread on IH8MUD.  That is where the majority of my very little online time has been spent this past week.  It is a very detailed write up of the lovely Ruby Claire.  I highly recommend it.  Why? Well it helps me feel less guilty about not posting more to my blog over the last week and well because it is in my choppy, disjointed prose you’re bound to find it entertaining.  Oh and my friend Travis Jeremy Farnes pointed out after attending  TLCA event in Moab, UT a few years back,  the Land Cruiser world could be easily made into a mockumentary like Waiting for Guffman or Best in Show. We have our own language. There are petty arguments over vehicle preferences and supposed superiority.  There are costal biases and cliquish infighting.  Basically a world few outsiders would ever understand but could spend hours making fun of.  


Or you may just find some insight into how, 12k miles away from Utah, in a world completely foreign to my own,  I am welcomed into the home of complete strangers solely based upon ownership of a low volume production Japanese SUV.



Wednesday, January 16, 2008

OK Unit Number: 0-7341800

SPOT. my guess is Colombia or maybe on a boat on the way there. not quite sure when i'll use this again.
Unit Number: 0-7341800
Latitude: 10.4059
Longitude: -75.5304
Nearest Town from unit Location: Quinta, Colombia
Distance to the nearest town: 1 km(s)
Time in GMT the message was sent: 01/16/2008 16:54:53,-75.5304&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1

Sunday, January 13, 2008

indiana, indiana, let it go...

I was going to make this a very long post that would essentially engage the two major factions of my readers but I decided I’ll write two individual posts and bore/enthrall each group individually. Aren’t’ you excited? Just think, you could be part of the small minority who doesn’t fall into either faction and you can be bored by BOTH posts. Worst of all, however, I should have been writing these posts while idling away in Panama City, instead of doing it here in Cartagena where my grey matter has reached its limit trying to process the deluge of sensory input. Wow, I sure can talk a lot of crap when I want to. Or when my mind is tired. I even think I know what deluge means. Anyway, Cartagena, Colombia is the crown jewel of the Expedition Americas experience thus far. This place is amazing. But you’ll have to wait anxiously until another day so I can organize my thoughts about my time here. The Land Cruiser obsession will weigh heavily on that day as well. That is boring/enthralling post #2. Tonight’s post, however, has been brewing since I entered Canada 14,000 miles or so ago and finally came to a head sitting in the shipping office last week in Colon, Panama. After working in a certain arena for awhile, and coming to find that you actually believe the crap you’re talking about, it can be hard to let things go. Like Indiana Jones stretching for the Holy Grail (which is far more believable than the dan brown, davinci, ron howard, tom hanks version, I mean come on, Harrison Ford and Sean Connery rode off into the sunset!) once you become fixated on a certain subject you find it impossible to let it go. No matter how hard you try, it is still there. And in my case it is document management. YEP, THAT’S RIGHT THE WONDERFUL AND AMAZING WORLD OF DOCUMENT MANAGEMENT.

So now that I’ve lost everyone but my former HP cohorts I’ll continue my diatribe. In case anyone else has made it this far I will give a brief introduction. Prior to leaving on my trip I worked as a trainer/technical consultant in the VAR channel for HP. I spent the majority of my insanely busy work week (inside joke for my former bosses) teaching classes about or helping customers understand their document needs. From digitizing, to archiving, to eliminating the need for, it was what my world consisted of. So how in the hell does that affect my once in a lifetime dream trip? Borders, Immigration, Customs, Aduanas, Migracion, Fronteras, Policia, Militaria etc. etc. ad naseum. As just one example the Guatemala/Honduras Border contained one room, about 20x30 ft, for their paperwork. I assume someone there knew how the room was organized. What I saw was stacks of paper 6 feet high lining two of the walls. Not boxes of papers, not file cabinets, not even those fancy folders CPAs use that can hold 4 reams of paper. I am talking paper stacked, one sheet on top of another, 6 feet high. Some were carbon duplicates some were stapled. Most were just single sheets just waiting to fall over. And guess what? That was one of the quicker more organized crossings I’ve had. Regardless of Ben’s charm and Ginny’s infatuation it was still organized. It also made my skin crawl. Allow me to digress into the world of shipping your truck out of Panama to illustrate my bafflement (I thought I made that word up but MS Word didn’t autocorrect it. Hmmm how about baffleization?) at the complete lack of organization and inefficiency in the process.

When entering Panama by car you have to get your personal visa and a stamp for your vehicle. You also have to sign a document stating you will not sell the vehicle while in Panama (or if that is your plan you need to declare it upon entering.) Then you need to go to customs to get the vehicle inspected and the document stamped and signed. When leaving Panama by car they just cancel the stamp at the border and on you go. However, when you leave the country by plane, sans vehiculo, you need to have a whole series of documents. The process goes a little something like this, hit it.

You find a shipping agent who gives you your shipping manifest. You take that document, along with your passport, title and all the docs you received when coming into the country with you to an unsigned, non-descript blue building where the police will inspect your vehicle to verify the VIN on the body and motor. They’ll take a copy of all the aforementioned docs and give you a permission slip. Then you cross a busy 6 lane road to another blue building, this one with a sign, to visit the Secretaria de Policia (or some title I am forgetting right now)and use the first permission slip to get a second permission slip and then destroy the first permission slip. At this point you’re into the process about 4 hours including time finding the first blue building nestled under the overpass. After getting a badge to enter the compound you go into an office and fill out a document. Then you sit down and wait for this document you just filled out by hand to be typed, yes typed, onto a 3 part form by one of the nice women working in the office. If you’re lucky you’re one of the first people in line. I was 5th in the stack of papers. Right now you’re all thinking what’s the big deal, you’re 5th? 2 hours and 15 mins to type up 5 forms. Why? I have no clue. Conversations, mistakes, questions, phone calls, flirting, more phone calls, lunch. The amount of data on each form is less than the first two sentences in this post. I’m not making that up either. VIN, Passport number, import number, shipping manifest. That is IT. Two hours! Then the form goes back into the secret room where someone signs this document that basically states when you get to customs/immigration you can get your passport stamped without having a vehicle because it is being shipped out of the country instead of driven. Then you head off to customs, once you find this building in the mass of other unsigned former US military buildings, the process only takes about 20 mins. If you’re lucky (more on that later) I was lucky. The grandmotherly customs agent smiled the whole time and wished me luck on my trip and almost forgot to cancel the vehicle stamp in my passport. Then back to the shipping agent, show her all the forms, they give you more forms for the port in Colon (2 hours away) and make more copies of your title, passport etc and you finally get home 9 hours after your day started where you go to sleep to wake up at sunrise to drive to the port for 6 more hours of stamps, copies, customs, more stamps and then finally inspection one last time. And I was lucky. I met 3 Brazilians returning home from Boston for a 3 month vacation who were on their 5TH!!!! day of playing this paper work game. The Feral Green guys ( who began this process with me (and assisted me with their stellar language skills) required 2 days for their process. The worst part is I couldn’t let the former work experience go. I think I found 473 ways the process could be improved with a simple 3 hours conversation with them. Watching a girl slip a piece of well used carbon paper between two identical forms was truly painful. If I would have known enough Spanish to handle the delicate “do you want me to type those forms up for you so we can get out of here in 6 mins instead of a 135mins’ conversation this post would never happen. At this point I have to say without Evelyn and Roberto at the Barwil shipping agency I would still be wandering around Panama City with a stack of papers in my hand and a sign that read ‘will work for an epiphany of how the hell to get my paperwork done so I can leave Panama.’ That would be one huge piece of cardboard though. I’d have to condense the language just a bit.

I am aware of the cultural differences and the lack of urgency in the Latin world. I’m not asking for Toyota-like efficiency or a completely digitized process. I just think they could save a few trees and a few hundred thousand MGs of ibuprofen if they would just streamline their process. Or put a damn copy machine at the border and not make me wander into bordertown, and risk life and limb in the freezone, to get two copies made of my passport. Hold on there kids. I know what you’re thinking. “dave, you’re an idiot. Just go make copies of your passport now instead of watching the Australian Open on ESPN.’ Well I have dozens of copies of my passport. However, each border requires a copy of the page with their stamp. I’m not making that up. That is really the process. You go into customs and give them copies of your title and registration. They stamp your passport. Then you have to go find a copy machine to make a copy of the stamp to give back to them. You would think the gov’t would want to make money on the copies. They charge 10cents a piece after all for a 1 cent copy. But no, aside from the Ferry terminal in Baja I have had to make copies at some roadside shack at every crossing I’ve been to. It truly is ridiculous. Ridiculous according to my hp indoctrinated document management mindset. I need Sean Connery to take me by the hand (as I dangle over the smoke filled bottomless pit) and speak to me with his wise, prudent, omniscient and reassuring voice, ‘hey dumbass, let it go. you’re on the trip of a lifetime. Don’t worry about it.’ Or something to that effect.


And yes Mr. Carmack this post was pretty much entirely for your entertainment. I hope you use this story during your next Selling HP Solutions course.

Friday, January 11, 2008

It finally happened

I have officially lost my mind. I am sitting on some tiny airstrip aboard adual prop plane on my way to Colombia. It is pitch black outside and I sincerely doubt my backpack will arrive unmolested in Cartagena. And yet I feel totally safe and comfortable with the situation. Yep I have lost my mind.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

OK Unit Number: 0-7341800

SPOT. my guess is Colombia or maybe on a boat on the way there. not quite sure when i'll use this again.
Unit Number: 0-7341800
Latitude: 9.3669
Longitude: -79.8787
Nearest Town from unit Location: Unknown
Distance to the nearest town: Unknown
Time in GMT the message was sent: 01/10/2008 16:36:34,-79.8787&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1

Sunday, January 6, 2008

two months?

Nope it’s not possible. I realize the Romans threw together a structure, loosely based upon the rotation of the earth and its accompanying orbit around the sun. I guess since I live in the western world I’m obliged to accept that reality. But there is no way my mind and heart can accept the fact that I have been on the road for ONLY two months. It feels like a lifetime has gone by since then. Maybe even two lifetimes. I’ll have to check with Shirley McClaine and ask her how it feels to live two lifetimes. I’d like to say I’m spending this day on some remote beach, working on the tan, and reflecting upon my good fortune. If you want to pretend that I am go for it. I could use the positive energy. The truth is I’m sick as a dog with a head full of mucous and a body full of aches. I’ve been lying in bed at the amazing and wonderful Hotel Montreal in Panama City, Panama. Okay amazing and wonderful might be just a tad bit complimentary. How about ‘the safe and passibly clean Hotel Montreal.’ Yep that feels a bit more accurate. But it is safe and it is clean and it has been my home for 5 days now. The first 3 I spent with my fellow overlanders Erin, Kevin (whom ben and I met at the Belize/Guat border and I have kept in touch with along the way) Mike, Kori and Hartt. 3 different groups, all from Canada, riding to Ushuaia. We were sharing in the frustration of trying to get to Colombia. Those 5 arrived in Colombia over the weekend and I have spent the last two days sick in bed. Fortunately there is a grand total of 3 English tv channels on the TV here. So after watching a 5 episode marathon of the teenybopper melodrama One Tree Hill I was able to catch back to back episodes of Little People, Big World and finally I am watching some good ole’ NFL football with Spanish speaking commentators. Oh and I managed to squeeze in a 4 hour nap.

I feel like I should digress into a bit of a geography lesson to explain the dilemma the six of us wrestled with earlier this week. A quick glance at the map (or for some you may recall your hours spent staring at a Risk game board) reveals the Western Hemisphere to contain one continuous land mass. As we all know the only thing preventing this reality is the Panama Canal. However I’ve learn that not everyone is aware that it isn’t possible (it may be possible but is essentially a death wish) to drive the length of this landmass. My pounding head and snot filled nose are killing my enthusiasm to type so go ahead and read this real quick. Thus each of the 6 of us who found ourselves at the Hotel Montreal were fighting through the morass of logistics necessary to get around the gap. Riding motorcycles they had multiple options including sailboats, airplanes and cargo ships. All of which included many hours of legwork. My option is one. Cargo ship. After dozens of emails sent (and exactly zero replies) and hours of online research I finally found a name. So with that name I placed a phone call and on weds this week my truck goes into a shipping container and onto a ship bound for Cartagena, Colombia. I anticipated doing some exploring and sightseeing here in Panama but except for spending New Years Eve on the summit of the highest point in Panama (11,410feet), where I managed to run into four kids from my former home of Juneau, AK, my time here has been spent either in bed or in front of a computer screen trying to get out of here. Tomorrow I get to prep my truck for shipping and some more sleep and then South America awaits.