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 Post subject: Re: Picked up a 2004 AWD Astro for Central and South America
PostPosted: Sun Nov 11, 2012 7:39 pm 
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I finally get the smurf thing
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Thanks for keeping the dream alive Wiley. I hope to get down there in the next year to do some surfing. Did you make it to El Salvador? I have a friend who has a surf camp there that I want to check out. Perfect point break. =D>

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 Post subject: Batten Down the Hatches, Im Turning 25!
PostPosted: Fri Dec 07, 2012 10:00 pm 
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Sorry guys, just a direct link today.

Batten Down the Hatches, Im Turning 25!

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 Post subject: Re: Picked up a 2004 AWD Astro for Central and South America
PostPosted: Sat Dec 08, 2012 4:28 am 
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:cheers:

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 Post subject: Re: Picked up a 2004 AWD Astro for Central and South America
PostPosted: Sat Dec 08, 2012 11:29 am 
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Nice update! Thanks.

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 Post subject: Re: Picked up a 2004 AWD Astro for Central and South America
PostPosted: Sun Dec 16, 2012 7:59 pm 
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Might as well go to the site for story and pics, I am staying at Casa Grande beach camp minutes from tyrona, so I have to go all the way to Santa Marta for Internet

Colombia, where are the kidnappings, bombs, and murders

People thought I was nuts when I said I was going to drive through Mexico, and fucking crazy for going to Colombia. Yes its true, back in the day, from the 90's and early 2000's, there was a pretty significant safety problem in Colombia. And yes it is true that there still are areas where safety is a problem. Take Cali for example, it is a relatively safe, fun city, yet just last year in 2011 there were bombings and kidnappings, and recent a bombing in Bogota of May 2012. Now I havent made it down there yet, but as its on my list I wont be skipping it, so I suppose you will get the real low down later, but for what I have seen of Colombia so far, it is just what everyone else who has been here describes it as, amazing. The country is beautiful, and the people are very friendly and love life...I suppose that living through a period of terror will make you appreciate things others take for granted.

Cartagena, Tagonga, and Tyrona National Park:

Finally free from the ship the Independence crew got dropped off in the harbor and we all headed to the aduana, where eventually we were given our stamped passports, no paperwork, no nothing! While most stayed there are the aduana, the two Canadian girls, the Swiss girl, and I went off to find an ATM and get some money, as they had to pay up their tab. Warning, ATMs in Colombia are a bit problematic. We eventually tried four different ATMs, I think I went 2/4, the Swiss girl could only get 150USD worth of Colombian pesos, and the Canadians couldnt get anything. My shipping partners later also head problems getting money, its actually quite a pain here. Most limit you to 150USD, but let you withdraw 3 times, hitting you for 3x the service charges, if they work at all. There is a city bank in Cartagena a few blocks from calle Media Luna where the hostels are, where we later found we could get at least 500USD which worked for me every time, so just ask where that one is and dont bother messing with the others.

I already mentioned we hung out for a bit in Cartagena, walking the streets of the walled city, where every corner reveals another picturesque setting. The city has a great feel to it, but I quickly realized that its pretty small, and can be seen in a day or so. Later I was even convinced to go to the tourist trap mud volcano. As I had read, it was actually fun, a unique experience, has a consistency of yogurt, and tastes disgusting. I decided if I was going to do it I was going all in, dunking my hair and covering my face predator style, which resulted in me going blind for 5 minutes until one of the workers came to my rescue, as well as getting it in my mouth and forcing me to taste the mud continuously through out the experience whether I wanted to or not.

As I had to start the dreaded Colombian half of the shipping process, I unfortunately didnt see the Canadian guys off when they left early after two or so nights, so made sure not to miss everyone elses bon voyage party as the rest of the crew was leaving on the same day, coincidentally the day I was supposed to get my van (of course we didnt get it when planned). This meant partying till 3-3:30 in the morning, and waking up at 6am to head to the port, for a 12 hour day of nonsense. That means at most I had 3 hours of sleep, I cant quite say exactly what time it was that I went to bed, but can assure you I woke up at 6 am, unfortunately I do not recommend doing this. I repeat, I do not recommend doing this....oh my god, what a terrible day. The worst part was I barely did anything all day, the lady wouldn't let me into the port even though I read that both owners of the vehicles could go in. She probably saw that I would be useless, but I would have rather been roughing it doing car stuff than watching the grass grow outside for hours upon hours not knowing what was happening. Eventually we defeated the evil port bastards and got our homes back...never have I been so happy to be living in a van again.

With everyone gone headed south I was a bit lost as to what to do. At the same time I was busy enjoying my AC room so stuck around Cartagena for a week, which is way to long for that place as far as I am concerned, even if 3 of those days were running to and from the port. Cartagena is extremely humid, but its is also a good time, and I made a few group of friends as people passed through in that time, as most people seem to stay for about 2-3 days. One night the new boat crew I mentioned in the previous post, along with two English guys and a German girl and I decided to have a wall party. This is just the crazy and wild party it sounds to be, as we hung out on the wall causally drinking beers (1 giant one, so 3 normal beers, no one was drunk), as you can walk around with beers in Cartagena. As we were winding down the party we were greeted by some cops, who looking for cocaine gave us some of the most throughout frisks of my life...now this is a wall party! Finding nothing they let us go, and at this point it finally happened. I have dreaded it for months figuring Cabo San Lucas would be my downfall, assuming it would be the result of too much alcohol, but no, this would be a sober moment. Walking along the German girl says something to me and I turn a bit to respond, when suddenly my foot falls through a hole in the ground and smashes my shin against a rusty grate. Thinking quickly I catch myself with the giant glass bottle in my hand which could have easily shattered on the rock walkway and sliced open an artery, see I told you I was smart. Luckily neither the leg or bottle broke, but even know, weeks later it still hasnt healed properly, but it could have been much worse.

With that it was time to get out of this city. I made plans to meet the English guys and German girl in Tagonga. Tagonga is a good place to meet other travelers and do some partying, as well as do some cheap scuba certifications, though not necessarily the greatest environment for it, the people I talked to who did it enjoyed the experience. After the great diving in Honduras I was in no mood for some sub par diving. Other than that I dont think Tagonga has much to offer, but we just used it as a stop over before Tyrona national park, as most do. At the hostel I bumped into the Australian from the Independence crew my night there, so we invited him out with us for some food, but that is really all I saw of Tagonga. I stayed at some hostel with San Felipe in the name, it seems to be the backpacker place to be. I first asked if I could sleep in my van and just use their bathrooms and internet, but they said no. I asked if they thought my van would be safe if I left it out front and got the awkward face no answer routine. Sold...I decided the parking spot I had wasnt too bad and would risk it and got a room as I wasnt sure when my friends would show. Turns out its a pretty nice place, the dorm room I had was just a 3 person with our own bathroom. I had 2 blond roommates from somewhere in Europe, but we unfortunately didnt really see each other until the next day at breakfast, and they had already been to Tyrona. Thats too bad, I was ready to ditch the English guys and make room in the van for these girls. BTW two weeks later I am back. It also turns out there is a bathroom here, though probably no shower. I know this as I am back, pretending to be a backpacker staying here, so I can use the internet...little do they know I slept outside last nigh in the van, mauahhaha.

The next day I reluctantly loaded the English guys instead of two hot blondes, and of course the German girl into the van and we made our way to Tyrona. Tyrona is a beautiful, though pricey place. There are several campgrounds, but the popular backpacker one is San Juan del Guia. The entrance fee is 36,000 pesos, (20USD), and then you need to rent hammocks once you get to San Juan for another 20,000 pesos a night (11USD). Now that isnt terrible, but I carried in my own tent thinking I could avoid this fee as I had read conflicting info online, but I was still charged 15,000 pesos a night(8.35USD) for using my own tent so should have saved myself the effort leaving the ten behind and got a hammock. They also wanted to charge me 15,000 pesos (8.35USD) for the vehicle entrance fee, and then a daily parking fee of 7,000 pesos (3.90USD). You can see this starts to get expensive for a camping excursion. Then of course the food is on average 8-12 dollars for pretty bland stuff. To save some cash I parked at a small store out front of the park and paid them 6,000 pesos (3.34USD) a night, which ended up working out fine, and saved me a whooping 56 cents a night! The beaches are beautiful, and there is plenty of hiking through the jungle to be had. To get to San Juan you have to hike about 2 hours. Everyone told us in Tagonga to get an early start, and make sure we were hiking by 3 at the latest, so naturally we started our hike at 3:30 haha. Of course we ran out of light, and finished the last bit by walking through disgusting mud pits in the dark, but we kept our spirits up and the English guy even said it probably added to the experience in a comedic way. I wasnt sure I agreed at the time, but of course looking back he was correct, it was hilarious, and I am sure the norm or plenty of travelers. Everyone left the next day which seems to be pretty standard for the backpackers I met there, as most people grab the boat back to Tagonga from San Juan, rather than hike back out. I stayed and relaxed for 5 additional days getting my moneys worth and enjoying the beaches. One night I even met a couple from San Diego who lived 5 minutes from me, small world. Finally I had enough and got ready to leave early one morning only to find no one was at the exit of San Juan. I waited for 5 minuted intent on paying, but finally said F' it and headed off for my 2 hour return hike, saving myself some money as I only had paid for the 1st night. Yes, thats roughly 30 bucks saved, I am so bad ass!

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 Post subject: The Death of Joselito
PostPosted: Wed Feb 20, 2013 6:02 pm 
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Ooook, it's been awhile, you probably think I am in Ecuador or Peru by now. In the past two months I have managed to drive 5 kilometers or so from Tayrona National Park, or 5-6 hours from my Colombian starting point of Cartagena. The Swiss couple from the crew had mentioned they were going to head north and check out a surf camp last I had talked to them. The Australian confirmed this when I bumped into him in Tagonga. Well I didn't see the surf camp they were at, so back tracked and stopped at a different one I had seen just outside Tayrona, Casa Grande Surf Camp, turns out there basically next to each other.

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Even if I had found the other one they wouldn't have been there anyway as they had moved on, the waves were not very good when they were there, and they are on a quicker pace than I can do. The surf at Casa Grande is ok, but certainly nothing to stick around 2 months for. What is nice from a surfers perspective is that in exchange for mediocre waves, very few people are normally in the water which is one of several reasons I have stayed so long, plus people tell me its cool to say I have surfed Colombia's caribbean coast, though I am not sure why. On the busiest day we had out there had 15 people, which is not a lot, but it felt crowded as there are usually 6 or less in the water at a time. The other reasons for my delay, I needed another vacation from my vacation. It was great to stop moving for a bit, and this allowed me to practice my Spanish daily, meet people from all over Colombia without going anywhere, see what the holiday beach parties were like in Colombia, and witness the death of Joselito.

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Once again I had palm trees, billions of stars, and waves, so I was happy, all for 12,000 pesos a night for camping (7USD). This stop was originally planned as a two night stop, though that steadily changed as I kept saying, "one more week". A lot happened in the 2 months, too much to write about. When I showed up it was literally myself, a family of 4, and the people who worked at Casa Grande, that's it. While I enjoyed having this paradise to myself, I decided that I wanted to stay there a bit longer to experience the xmas and new years holidays when 500 or so people show up to party, even though I was not sure I could handle that. Turns out I could, and having a van with Cali plates equals rock star status at times, which means lots of perks. Not only did people stop by to chat, they would often bring me free beers, free food, one family invited me back to their hotel room with a kitchen and cooked me up a feast, and many nights I was lucky enough to have the employees make fires for me. Yup, being there so long meant I made friends with the surf instructors and other people working there, and they would often stop by at night to hangout, and start a fire for me by the van/tent, while I stood by doing my all important job of supervising from my camping chair. There was a few days were a particular group of people from Bogota came to stay, and of course my van ended up being the command center for the fiestas. Most people avoided us those days due to the level of awesomeness, and after they left everyone commented on how crazy my new friends were, we definitely threw the best 4 day party of the season. Hey, that's how I roll.

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Casa Grande is geared more towards the Colombian vacationers, as opposed to tourists from other countries. There were still a handful of people over the 2 months from other parts of the world which provided a good mix and nice atmosphere, but 90% of the people seemed to be from , Bucaramanga, Medellin or Bogota. As far as the Surf goes it is a beach break, which means the waves are not very good, though they can be fun at times. When it gets too big and just closes out head to Los Naranjos as that can handle the bigger swell and get fun. The current here can be very strong as well, so strong in fact that 3 swimmers had to be rescued on separate occasions during one week were the water was constantly tough to deal with. There are no lifeguards, but the surf instructors would keep an eye out when they were free, and go in with their boards to save them as people would get stuck in the currents and quickly tire, as well as panic. One day I heard calls of distress and saw 7 people staring out at the water somewhat near my van, yup that is a sign of a possible drowning if I know one. I couldn't see anyone, but as a former lifeguard my training must have kicked in as I threw off my shirt, grabbed my board out of the van, and sprinted towards the water in a matter of seconds. Just as I got to the water the guy had finally made it back to the beach while the others watched and did nothing (sometimes a good thing, you don't want to make it worse, but they did NOTHING). I figured he would be a bit embarrassed, so rather than go over to him I turned around and tried to do a slow motion jog back to the van David Hasselhoff style. He later stopped by thanking me for reacting, as he was in serious trouble for a second.

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The next day the waves were a good size but rough. I fell on my board and thanks to my google MD education I determined I had bruised my rib. I couldn't take deep breaths, in fact it was hard to breath at all, so I was constantly panting and in pain. I told my friends I was taking a week off, but the next day the waves were good so out I went. Once I paddled out my Swiss friend said "That was a quick week"...well they always are. Anyway I probably shouldn't have been out there with those conditions. While out there my leash snapped, and I instantly worried that I would either drown or need to be rescued with this rib problem. I looked around but no one had seen what happened, so knowing I was on my own I made my way back to shore. I was fine, but can see how easy it is to panic when the conditions are that rough, as it was sketchy. The next day the conditions were still rough but the waves were huge for Casa Grande. I couldn't get out past them on my first attempt, in fact most of us didn't make it, and many gave up. Not one to give up I went back out, and spent about 45 minutes dodging a few monsters. In the end it was worth it as I got what was dubbed "wave of the month" which is saying something as you really need to have that right place at the right time kind of luck there. For my level of surfing (I still suck) it was a huge, loooong wave, and thanks to the cheering of everyone on the shore, the girl from England was able to find me halfway through it and snap a pretty decent pic considering she wasn't even looking at me. I figure it will be on the cover of Surfer Magazine, I guess (lisaimages.com) it wont be till next issue as I have yet to see it, but I am sure it will be soon.

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Spending all this time here I have gotten a glimpse of the real Colombia, one which I would not have seen as a tourist. There was a guy who had run away from home at the age of 8 due to a rough childhood. Without going into details, he has done various jobs to get by, working on the coffee plantations, working in the labs hidden in the jungles making coke, as well as hiding out in the jungle with a machine gun...I don't think I have to say what he did with that. These were all things he had to do for survival, and made him who he was, though it was a life I couldn't imagine. Luckily the overall situation here has improved greatly, but it is far from over. The area around Tayrona still has its problems, and is considered a zone to use caution. As a tourist I have never felt threatened, in fact I would say the area is very safe for us, a perk of being a foreigner. That said, the locals still have to deal with the problems, and if your not careful you can get yourself into trouble. I have read in the papers, as well as been told several times by different people about the problems here, and how there are still people being killed on a semi regular basis, and how little value life can have to some people. One of the friends I made here was an example of what can go wrong, though I was not there when any of it went down. A guy working at Casa Grande unfortunately got into a fight with the wrong guy one night at a bar. A few days later some guys showed up on motorbikes, armed, looking for him. He wasn't there, and eventually they were persuaded to leave. Arrangements were quickly made for him to leave for another part of Colombia for his safety, and sadly he wont be coming back. I didn't know any of this had occurred, and was shocked when he returned my board I lent him saying he was leaving. We were all sad, he was a great guy, and the waves are not the same without him.

After things settled down a bit again, the surf got good so I stuck around a little longer, suddenly before I knew it nearly 2 months had passed. Ready to go I found yet another reason to stick around, the worlds second largest (and arguably less touristy) Carnival party.

Barranquilla, Carnival

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Joselito Carnival is dead. Even worse than that, I spent 6 days in Barranquilla, home to both Shakira and that hot Latin chick from Modern Family, and didn't hangout with either one of them, though I did hangout with Shakiras brother if that counts for anything...turns out it doesn't. No I didn't set the cruise control and head straight for Brazil, turns out the worlds second largest Carnival party is held in Barranquilla Colombia, just 2 hours from where I had been camped out. I mentioned to one of the instructors here that I was thinking of changing my plans yet again and sticking around for Carnival before heading out. She had some friends who lived in Barranquilla who I had met briefly earlier in the month when they came to Casa Grande. The decision was made before we had even finished talking...we would make a trip to Barranquilla for the celebrations, staying with them which not only meant saving money, but getting to see the Colombian side of Carnival rather than the tourists side.

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Carnival is Colombia's most important celebration of the year, with traditions dating back to the 19th century. During Carnival there are parties all over Barranquilla, I never knew where I was, I just got out of the cab and followed the others. The city is very uninspiring, as well as disorienting, as you don't have any visual landmarks to use. I spoke to my Swiss friends from Casa Grande who also went and said it was a bit tough to know where to go at various times in order to find the better parties. There are parades in the afternoon, and then parties all day and night. The Swiss couple paid around 90USD each for 3 day passes to the parade. They said they had a good time, but after 3 days decided it was enough and headed back to Casa Grande, an option I didn't have.

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I had read several times about the influx of pick pocketers in Barranquilla during Carnival, and it seems to be true to a point. We had a large group of people, but were always meeting up or splitting up, usually not together all at once. There were 2 separate groups of Germans, and both groups were robbed on different days. They were sprayed in the face with the foam you see everywhere in the pics, and as they reacted and put their hands to their faces, the robbers grabbed what was in their pockets, so future party goers be warned. I didn't have any problems, not sure if its due to my awesomeness, or the fact that I look Colombian, and blend in so well.

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During Carnival you can drink in the streets throughout Barenquilla, which means bring your own beer, Aguadiente, Whiskey, Rum, you name it. The first night we jumped in one of my new friends trucks and headed off to buy some Whiskey. After 10 or so minutes I thought to myself, "Strange, we have already passed 3 liquor stores, maybe I misunderstood his Spanish". Well, we were certainly in route for Whiskey, the reason we went out of our way was to buy some illegally imported Whiskey from Venezuela from a local house/illegal store which was 50% cheaper, I like these guys already. In fact, this would not be our only trip to the illegal store while I was in Barranquilla. Of course this made the 3 of us late to meet the others at the parade, so to save time we jumped in the parade for a shortcut. I remember thinking to myself funnily enough this is not the first parade I have crashed, back in high school my friend and I drove our cars into the middle of our local parade cutting it in half, and then driving as slow as possible so that there was a quarter mile or so gap in the parade by the end. This time things didn't go as well, and after 10 or 15 minutes we finally got hassled by the cops.

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Shots are constantly being passed around all day, there is no break. Somehow everyone is in great control considering how drunk everybody must be. I didn't see any fights, everyone was a having a good time, and as soon as music was heard bodies were moving. I don't know how these people never get tired, or excessively drunk. Everyone seemed to have a great time, people were covered in foam and what I assumed was cocaine this being Colombia, turns out it was just some corn powder. The only downside is like other places in Latin America, a lot of people drink and drive. We had a minor accident happen right in front of us as we partied at one bar, where a car hit another, breaking his front wheel off....that's going to delay his party.

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The basic break down for the 6 days we were there was head to a local bar and drink. Then pop over to a parade where the locals were, only paying 3-5USD rather than the 90, though not necessarily seeing the best part of the parade, though possibly having a better time doing it up Colombian style. Then it was back to an overcrowded bar somewhere where we didn't even hangout in the bar, we just hung out on the streets with everyone else drinking. At one point we stopped at a party on the street provided by some guys sound system in his car. Then repeat this process each day, until the end of Carnival.

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Day 3 or 4 was one of my new friends birthday, yeah, like they needed another reason to drink. Her friends had been out all night before, and decided to show up and start the festivities early rather than go home to bed. At 6 am they showed up ready to party with a bottle of rum. I stayed in bed pretending I didnt hear the loud music that was being blasted, but my friend from Casa Grande was not so lucky. I eventually came out at 10 and found them all a bit drunk, with an empty bottle to show for it. Not only that, but some of them had left in order to get another. It was pretty obvious they were drunk as they made a comment on how they were impressed that I could understand them.....though in realty I couldn't haha. It was here that I partied with Shakiras brother or half brother, and the guy didn't even bring her, what the hell...of course I didn't say anything, who wants to be known as Shakiras brother.

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Carnival FINALLY ends with the death of Joselito Carnival. According to Wiki, Joselito is a character who symbolizes the joy of the festivities, who had been resurrected the Saturday of Carnival and dies on the last day, tired and hungover, only to be resurrected again next year. Of course once Carnival was officially over, we headed back to the apartment for more drinking, and then to another local outdoor party/free concert, and then back to the apartment for more...so really, I am not sure the madness ever ended....I was just glad to get out when I did. I loved every minute of Carnival, though on day one had eaten some bad seafood. That made it tough to drink, move, or do anything, which worried my new friends that I wasn't having fun. The last day I wasn't 100% but decided I was feeling pretty good and drank a mix of beers, Whiskey, Rum, and even Aguadiente which I don't even like....I paid for it the next day, but I think it killed off whatever had invaded my body. I hope to go back some day and really experience Carnival for what it is, as it was one of the best parties I have been to, and I loved that I got to experience it from a Colombian perspective.

As usual additional pics here: The death of Joselito

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 Post subject: Re: Picked up a 2004 AWD Astro for Central and South America
PostPosted: Thu Feb 21, 2013 12:53 am 
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Sounds like you are having a blast! Keep the story and pics coming! :supz:

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 Post subject: Re: Picked up a 2004 AWD Astro for Central and South America
PostPosted: Sat Feb 23, 2013 12:37 am 
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That's awesome Wiley! Thanks for the update and pics. Those waves look juicy.

Aloha

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 Post subject: Gettin Flithy with God
PostPosted: Sat May 04, 2013 4:19 pm 
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heres the link, I have ore important things to worry about at the moment haha.

Gettin Filthy With God

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 Post subject: F This Sh!t, Im Going Home
PostPosted: Mon May 13, 2013 12:07 am 
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To hell with those other guys, praise Sir Issac Newton, gravity is great! After what felt like 40 days in the desert, ok maybe it was only 5, I was finally able to get the wheel off the van, find some brake fluid, clamp off the bad caliper, and gravity bleed the brakes, yes that little bit took 5 days. Everything is slow down here, and there was lots of running around, not to mention I couldnt get the other wheels off to even check the other brakes for their condition even though I used 1.5 cans of PB Blaster on them and had a breaker bar. A special thanks to the guy at Discount Tire for really getting those lugs on good and tight...I really appreciate it! Once it was finally time to go, I tested everything on the smaller hills I had already come down, and it was garbage, but I couldnt stay up on that hill any longer, I was near my limit. I hoped there would be no cows in the road today as every other day they would inevitably be there blocking the motos from coming up the hill, but lucked out.....today was just a different broken down car midway down the hill, blocking my lane. Luckily no one was coming in the oncoming lane and I made it down, followed by slowly limping my way to Neiva, a reasonably sized city an hour away if I had working brakes, so obviously it took me a bit longer. On a related note I had emailed the Chevy US site requesting part numbers for rotors, calipers, and a master cylinder, mentioning that I was trapped in a desert in Colombia. As I had already talked to the Neiva Chevy I knew finding the parts would be difficult as they had no idea what to do with an Astro. I have yet to hear back from them. F-Chevy

I made it to Neiva but by then it was night and the chevy dealer was closed so continued on looking for somewhere safe looking to sleep, when my brakes went again. As luck would have it I ended up at a 24 hr tire mechanics shop, better than nothing....or so I thought. Since I couldnt get the other wheels off I had him tackle the other lug nuts, and figured since it was so damn hot and I was desperate with time running out on my visa I would pay him to put on the spare set of brake pads I had so I could limp my way to Ecuador for repairs. He ended up causing more harm than good, and when I wasnt looking let my Master Cylinder bleed dry. What the hell, your just supposed to be putting the new pads on, why would you even take the calipers off?? Great, he just undid everything I had done in the desert. Much time was spent tracking down new rotors, as mine were shot. After running around Neiva we found a guy who knew of a shop in Bogota that sold only American parts, I had asked to get the address but forgot when all was said and done, I figured it would be a great resource for others in case of trouble...sorry guys. The old pads only had 15K on them, not that many miles for a set of pads, even with a loaded van. These things were in terrible shape, and had took the rotors with them. Since I had to remove the calipers to put on the rotors, and since my good buddy had already let a bunch of air into the system, I decided to take the calipers apart and clean them while I was at it. These things were also in terrible shape, and what I suspect was the route of the problem. With a lot of effort I managed to get all but one of the pins free, and regreased them. I also took out the pistons to give them a cleaning, they were usable but also not great, so gonna need four calipers when I get a chance as well. Turns out sitting for 4 months by a salty sea is a recipe for disaster when it comes to move parts, especially important ones. Tough lesson learned, wont be making that mistake again.

I also wasted a bunch of time running around between the DIAN trying to get an extension on my vehicle importation. They couldnt help me, it was too small a city, but they did call to Bogota and told me I needed to go there with a certificate from Chevy. Cool no problem, I only have 2 weeks left. Oh by the way, you need to do it by the 15th, not the 19th....ah hell, now I have even less time than I thought. I go to Chevy but they wont give me a certificate, something about legal stuff, since the van isnt there for them to see. Yeah I know that, thats the whole problem...if I could drive it I would swing by so you could look and give me the Cert, but that would be pretty dangerous with no brakes. Come on, where did the Chevy Cowboy go, I am sure he has my back. I then asked if they could at least give me a written note in Spanish to explain why the wouldnt help me so I could take that to the DIAN, they said sure, come back tomorrow. I went back the next day, this time bringing the mechanic and one of the shot rotors. That did nothing for me, and they told me to come back the next day. Day 3 they were busy but told me to come by later, so I left them my Colombian number and asked them to text me...I am still waiting for that text. Fool me 3 times.....nevermind. I finally stopped going back as they clearly had no intention of helping me. F-Chevy.

To go off on another side rant, while I like my van, I have grown to hate Chevy. You have to be a god damned mechanic to own one of these pieces of crap. I am constantly playing catchup, rather than preventative maintenance on this van. Add the terrible customer service I have received and I will now be boycotting Chevy and all affiliates, and recommend you do as well. Heres a quick review of my problems off the top of my head, I know there are others.

Per recommendation I changed the coolant fluid from Dexcool to the green stuff, as the Dexcool has ended up a bad decision by Chevy and causes rust in the systems. I slid through a stop sign in Panama City, luckily avoiding hitting anyone, so removed the ABS fuse which means I dont have ABS brakes. Many people have had this problem, yet Chevy never did a recall or extended their warranty, they simply ignored this issue that clearly puts lives at risk. I have doors that wouldnt open, as well as a rear hatch that wont shut (I cable lock it though its obvious it wont shut, yeah that wont attack thieves). My rear view mirror fell of, though that was probably due to all the Jesus bling. Ok back to traveling.

When things go bad you are forced to look at the bright side, otherwise your just gonna bring yourself down. Neiva doesnt have much going on, and I had no intention of stopping there. There are little if any tourists as everyone either goes to the Tatacoa desert, or the nearby San Augustine ruins. Even if I had stopped there it wouldnt have been the same experience. I never would have met the people I did by being broken down at the shop. Every day all throughout the day and into the night the same group of 20 or so guys would stop by and see how things were going for the gringo, and provide their expertise on what I should do, all different opinions of course. At times it was annoying, I was constantly interrupted from working on the van, and explaining the same things over and over to them. If I chose to go back to work they simply stayed and watched looking over my shoulder. When I had decided I needed to do it myself so I knew things were done properly I still had the mechanic, his 16 year old son, and his 7 year old daughter sitting there watch me. The day I bled my brakes the mechanic was literally in the wheel well, in my way, watching the air bubbles come out of the bleeder valve. How on earth could that possibly be interesting? Several times I had 4-5 people at once trying to work on my van. I am sure it was clear I was loosing patience, and several times told everyone to just stop, that I was doing it myself. But in the end they were great people, who showed genuine concern for me. As no one spoke any English it was also great for my Spanish. I got to know them and their city, and while its hot as hell and I would rather not go back for that reason, I will be making a point to return there everytime I am in Colombia to stop by and say hello. The mechanic had constantly invited me back to his home though I declined, sleeping in the van at the shop. Once I was finally up and running I finally took him up on his offer and followed him to the barrios. His family was amazing and we had one of those nights you read about on these blogs. I figure I now consider them my Colombian family, so not all was wasted on this misfortune.

After about 5 days of living at the 24 mechanics shop and running all over Neiva, I finally got out of there too, but at this point I had had it. I had already been contemplating what I should do, and had posted up some questions to the guys on Expo the previous month about options to leave the van in South America and return home for a bit of.......work. Oh I feel nauseous. I have mentioned previously that some issues with the IRS left me with 1/3 less of my planned budget for this trip. Turns out that probably isnt fully resolved, as this years tax return has been under review for 3 months now. After 4 calls to the IRS its clear I cant do anything about it from Colombia as no one will tell me anything other than keep checkin in, even though I told them if I am getting notices sent home I wouldnt see them, which means more fines racking up to look forward to. I had been counting on the return towards the original budget as well, so now I am at only having 50% my planned budget for the trip. Add the fact that my 1st post about the trip on Expo had me naively estimate 6 months to Argentina with the possibility of a 12 month round trip, and once again I have another recipe for disaster. I think I am about month 14 into the trip, so either I haul ass down to the end just to say I did it, or I go back and try to regroup, returning to South America a bit later, to do it right. The repair costs didnt help, so the decision has been made. I am headed north to look for work, but its not as bad as the title to this post sounds. I had a great trip over the past 14 months and dont regret a single thing. I met amazing people and saw amazing things. The blog will be going quite for awhile, but once the tires hit SA dirt again you'll be hearing for me. For now, stay awesome, I am.





Pics can be seen here: F This Sh!t, im Going Home

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 Post subject: Re: Picked up a 2004 AWD Astro for Central and South America
PostPosted: Mon May 13, 2013 7:25 am 
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Thanks so much for taking the time to share your trip with us. It made me feel a bit like I was there with you. Good work hanging in there as long as you did! :partyman:


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 Post subject: Re: Picked up a 2004 AWD Astro for Central and South America
PostPosted: Tue Dec 15, 2015 4:09 am 
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Took a 3 week vacation to northern Thailand for some 2-wheel adventure, it's given me that itch. Rented a Honda CRF250 and drove all over the north, posted up on the blog, now I want to fix the van.

A Tale of Highs and Low(sides): My 3 Week Motorcycle Adventure in Northern Thailand

Ok, so this isn't overland in a van, but it is overland travel I just ditched two of the wheels, but for some reason I still get traffic on this website so may as well keep spreading the travel bug. I turned off the notifications since it’s not the van, but if you’re lucky enough to have found this page get ready for more of my awesomeness, and check out my 3 week motorcycle adventure in northern Thailand.

Thailand

Yup, it's been a long time since my last "vacation", so booked a flight to Thailand with no plans other than renting a motorcycle and taking off on what many would argue to be some of the best ridding in the world. Was still trying to figure out if I should see Bangkok 1st or head straight to Chiang Mai when the Universe decided for me, as I broke a toe walking out of the bathroom the day before leaving. Ok, walking sucks anyway, Chiang Mai it is.

After hours and hours of flying I found myself in the future, where is that sports almanac anyway? Since it was about 1:30am local time by the time I cleared customs I tried unsuccessfully to sleep a few hours in the airport and then booked a ticket to Chiang Mai that would leave at 8am in the morning. Arriving in Chiang Mai I got in a taxi at the airport which had pre-determined prices so at least you know you are not getting too ripped off. I think it was 5 USD, though with the "red cars" which are the red pickup truck/taxis I only paid 1.50 USD going back to the airport, and it was empty/just me, so technically you are getting ripped off. From the airport, I went straight to the motorcycle shops which line the city wall, I was ready to ride. Traded some cash and my passport (gulp) for a Honda CRF 250 (gag) from the 2nd shop as the 1st didn’t have any available for two weeks. Prices are set, demand is high so you probably can't negotiate too much, two weeks was 650 bhat a day I think, which was 18USD a day for the 250. Saw lots of scooters for rent everywhere, and the bigger bikes are gaining popularity at certain shops as well, so you don't need to do anything ahead of time. That said I talked to a girl who was stuck with a 125 cause she couldn't find a 250 so the demand is probably high, probably tough to find from so many idiots crashing them. Anyway, I was never even asked if I knew how to ride let alone have a license, though the fact that I brought my own gear was probably a dead give away. I did get an international driving permit before hand which I recommend having on hand just in case though I have zero faith they will ever be useful when need, but I was never asked for anything the whole trip. Occasionally I was turned back at borders, though even then I was out there, and am still not sure if it was the Myanmar border, or entrance to the opium fields, but documentation was never an issue/questioned.

Chiang Mai is Thailands second largest city, and is therefore a bit chaotic. Not bad but I wouldn't want to jump into riding with little experience here, though as you often read on these sites many do just that judging from the bandaged travelers everywhere. Naturally everyone assumes I fall into that catalog limping around with the toe taped up. Wrong bitches my moto skills are too good, it's the walking that gets me. I'm so under prepared for this trip, the places I saved on google maps were unavailable on my iPhone since I didn't know my password so I have no list of sites I want to see. On top of that I was in a rush so didn't get any maps in Chiang Mai even though I know the GT-Rider maps are great. I Also read you may now need to register your phone for a SIM card, all crap I dont want to deal with....so no internet either, nothing. Just started heading for the mountains looking for the famous Mai Hong Son loop. Who knows how to get there, or what I'm missing, I just want out of this city as I can see the mountains calling me. Naturally I started wrong and found myself on Rt 1004 but with no destination didn't care. Found a few dead ends, a wat (Buddhist temple) or two, and then back to Chiang Mai looking for the 107 and eventually the 1095 to Pai, a town any northern Thai backpacker knows well….sigh.

The road to Pai, which sounds delicious, will be nice in a few months but is under construction now, a lot of wet clay and loose dirt. Its a great place to explore, organize treks, etc. just not what I want in the next three weeks since I can get away, and the clock's ticking. I stopped for the night outside Pai as I got a late start with my “detours”, probably better I didn’t stay there as the town is full of burnt out farangs (foreigners) anyway. The next morning I continued on towards Mai Hong Son, a town within a province of the same name, part of a 600 km journey with approximately 1,864 curves, all back to back with switchback after switchback through the most mountainous province in all of Thailand. Yeah that is not a typo, nor an exaggeration, 1,864. I spent the 1st half if the day in pouring rain, not exactly my preference on this technical mountain road, but the views are amazing, and the road is in great shape after the clay roads in Pai. A few hours later and things turned around, I had beautiful blue skies, so I decided to go even faster to air dry myself, which worked as well as I had deduced. As soon as I dried off the skies turned black and it was back to being cold and miserable, with some added lightening this time. Hmm, I will keep going, I think it’s safe to ride in lightning but have no idea, but its a long way back, I am not really sure where I am, or how far back MHS is. My plan was to take the side road I had read about to Mai aw which had no sign, 16 km outside MHS. What the lonely planet article didn't say was 16 km NORTH of MHS, so I missed that one. Idiots, if you describe a loop going north to south and say 16km AFTER MHS everyone is going to assume the southern end, fix your damn site. I know I set the bar high here on 2guys1truck but come on.

So, they were not lying about that road, switch backs and sharp curve one after another for hours. It was fun, but personally too technical in the rain as the turns are sharp, and between driving on the left side plus the oncoming cars driving in my left lane as well meant I couldn’t take lines I normally would, as if I am an expert rider or something. Its also very tough to take pictures with no shoulders and thick forest/jungle, but it was still an awesome ride. Plus if I stop all those slow bitches I passed will catch back up to me, and we cant have that, so pic taking was at a minimum. After hours of this I'm cold and wet unsure where I will sleep. I'm not seeing hotels or hostels where I am, but there's a lot going on with the riding plus I can't read Thai, so push on, it was a decent sized town/village, I probably could have stopped in hindsight, but up the mountain I go. Rain starts up again so I slow a bit, but this road has started to open up slightly with rolling curves rather than the hairpins I tackled all day. Much more enjoyable, but I still need to be cautious as I have off road tires rather than street tires so am sacrificing performance. I've been at it for hours, plus still adjusting after all the flying so mental fatigue is setting in, so you know, don’t be bitch, just take it easy.

I go by a truck of local tribesmen working construction and give them a nod as I pass by. 3 switchbacks later (ok the fun wasn't completely over) and I come up to one of the straightest sections all day. Suddenly all I hear is scalping metal, in a flash I low side and am sliding behind my bike as it and I cross the road into the oncoming lane, I told you bitches my moto skills were too good to... um never mind.


continued, more pics, etc thanks.
A Tale of Highs and Low(sides): My 3 Week Motorcycle Adventure in Northern Thailand

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