Tag Archives: backpacking

The Maiden Voyage

I spent Christmas Eve at the Pakistan Embassy and Christmas day alone but happy in my guesthouse back in Delhi.  I had something for dinner that didn’t have curry in it…that was as close to home as I was going to feel.  I had just gotten back from a great adventure.  Here is a peek of what I have been up to in the last 5 weeks:

Click on mp to be open it in Google Maps.

Click on mp to be open it in Google Maps.

I found Bala, my motorcycle

We completed our maiden voyage, 1250 miles (2000 kilometers) in about three and a half weeks through the Himalayan foothills

For hundreds of miles I drove on roads like this:

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And this:

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It was amazing

I spent Diwali, one of the biggest Hindu holidays, with my friends at their family’s home in Delhi.  I almost blew my finger off with a firecracker

In my journal I came across a message written in handwriting other than my own that said “Check out Bedřich Smetana” So I did.  Turns out he was an 18th century Czech composer.  I instantly fell in love with his music.  That journal has been with me in 3 continents and 10 countries.  I can’t for the life of me remember who wrote that.

With the help of my mechanic(al engineer) Rahul, I put a new head cylinder and piston in Bala.  It was the beginning of my lessons in motorcycle mechanics

Looking across a valley from the foothills of the mountains I watched this sunset:

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Three hours later this was the new view from the same place:

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I learned to ride a motorcycle with the brake on the opposite side from what I’m used to AND with the gears in reverse order AND on the opposite side they normally are, I did this at the same time as I had to get used to driving on the left side of the road…And I did ALL of this while driving in crazy New Delhi traffic.  I survived

I learned the proper way to make Indian chai tea

Carmen, getting a lesson in making chapati

Carmen, getting a lesson in making chapati

I acquired a travel partner, Carmen, who joined me and Bala for 500 miles, I will be lucky to find more like her along the way.  Never complained, lots of smiles, top-notch navigator, and with a healthy appetite for life, rice and dahl

I was invited to a traditional wedding in a tiny mountain village of a few hundred people.  The bride and groom sat decked-out in colorful traditional clothes in two throne-like chairs without cracking a smile while everyone in the village took their picture standing behind them.  Carmen and I were treated as the guests of honor and took almost as many pictures with the locals as the bride and groom

Bala got two flat tires within an hour

Flat tire #2 in less than an hour

Flat tire #2 in less than an hour

I created a fundraising campaign for charities, people who contribute get a postcard from me from somewhere in my travels.  PLEASE consider donating or at least share the link on your Facebook page.  It only takes one minute.  Here is the link: http://www.crowdrise.com/thescenicroutetospain

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I met a couple Pradeep and Rubina, who started a Christian school in a small village on top of a mountain overlooking snowcapped Himalayan peaks and a beautiful lake.  They became dear friends and spent several days showering me and Carmen with hospitality

Two days and 200 kilometers after leaving Pradeep I met his cousin who happens to be a mechanic and helped me fix a problem with Bala

One week and 500 kilometers after meeting Pradeep’s cousin, I stayed with his mother at her home near the Pakistan border.  I discovered where Pradeep learned to be so kind and hospitable

One day and 1oo kilometers after meeting Pradeep’s mom, I had breakfast with his sister Jyoti, a nurse at a Christian hospital

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I saw a bunch of Indian military guys with ridiculous mustaches and outfits parade around in an absurd spectacle cheered on by thousands of flag waving people at the Pakistan border…the same thing was going on the other side of the border.  This happens EVERY SINGLE DAY

I drove across the sacred Ganges river in Rishikesh

I spent a few days climbing in the Himalayas…only made it up to about 4,300 meters (14,100 feet)…just a taste of what I’ll see in Nepal

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I watched for days women as young as 16 and as old as 70, walking into the forest at 9am every morning.  8 hours later they would return with HUGE bundles of foliage that they would carry for 2 miles (3.5 k) to their village.  The foliage was to feed the cows.  One day we brought them some water and cookies.  I picked up one of their bundles to see how much it weighed…at least 75 pounds (35 kilos)!  On the other hand, the men of the villages seem to spend a lot of time chewing tobacco and basking in the sun

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In the last weeks on the road I dodged cows, chickens, dogs, goats, pigs, horses, monkeys (LOTS of monkeys), squirrels, sheep, donkeys, cats, and thousands of potholes the size of craters.

I met a couple at the Pakistan border who are driving a Ford Escort from Australia to London

I met a couple who showed up at the Syrian Refugee Camp in Jordan and spent 3 weeks conducting music workshops for the refugees

I spent 4 days helping to build furniture for a school at Nirvan Commun in a tiny village of about 50 families on top of a mountain.  This was the view we woke up to:

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I found myself in a mechanics workshop 5 times in 3.5 weeks on the road

I met a guy named Dinesh on the side of the road.  He invited me to his village of 400 people in the mountains to have breakfast with his family

I discovered that Indian mechanics can amaze you with their knowledge and efficiency…then, several minutes later, the same mechanic can amazing you again…with baffling displays of negligence smothered in a heavy dose of confidence and assurance.

At Pradeep’s school, we took a group of 60 school children, divided them into 4 groups and taught them how to sing row Row Row Your Boat in “round” style

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I learned to hate driving on the “highways” and vowed to only take small roads whenever feasible

I swallowed so much exhaust that my breath would probably fail an emissions test

I spent a week hanging out in Dharamsala, a peaceful town in the Himalayan foothills and the home of the Dalai Lama.  It is full of Tibetan refugees.  It was like taking a vacation from India

I visited The Golden Temple, basically like Mecca for Sikhs.  A holy site and pilgrimage destination for Sikhs all over India and the world.

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I will ring in the new year while gliding through the Indian night with Bala on a 46 hour train ride to the far South of India where I will be making my way to Sri Lanka and the next sea of adventures.

This is all just half of the stories…CLICK HERE to see more pictures from the last weeks along with the comments I left with them setting the scene.  To read more about the plan to drive Bala all the way from India to Spain, click here: Delhi to Barcelona, the Scenic Route

Happy New Years to everyone!

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Holy Semana Santa!!!

(This Post Covers April 20th- May 2nd)

Note for new subscribers (and reminder to others) Whenever you get an email update of a new post its better to click on the blue link above in your email that is the name of the post, for instance in this post where it says “Holy Semana Santa!!!”.  That will take you to the actual website where it is better to view the post than from in your email inbox.  

So my last post left me in Manizales, sitting in the rain and trying to make a plan for the approaching Semana Santa religious holiday.

Two days before the beginning of Semana Santa I still had no plans.  There were a few places I would have liked to go but the mudslides from all the recent rains had closed several highways and eliminated a lot of my options.  So I just decided to take a tour of “Small Town Colombia” and to spend half of Semana Santa in a small town called Quimbaya and the other half in an even smaller town called Filandia.  Neither are in any guidbooks and I had not met any travelers who had been to either town, so it was to be a nice off-the-beaten-path adventure.

Church on the plaza in Filandia

I’ll keep the narrative short but I will say that I made a good choice.  It was so nice to be in some small local towns, not a hostel or a gringo in site, but plently of friendly locals. Both towns had some nice charm but Filandia, the smaller of the two (population 7,000) was my favorite.  In both towns the locals gathered in happy hourds around the central plaza as if it were the Kaaba at Mecca.  The sun came out for the first time in weeks and I spent almost all my time sitting in the plazas, lazily content in people watching.  With the holiday from work, the coming together of families, and the recently emerged sun, there was lots of good energy in the air and it felt nice to spent time observing the whole ordeal.

On the plaza in Filandia

This was the view from a lookout point that was a 10 minute walk form the main plaza in Filandia

The church on the plaza in Quimbaya

The plazas were always full of vendors selling food and ice cream, sometimes there would be music, and always lots of kids running around playing.  Once or twice a day a mass would take place at the church on the central plaza and preceding and/or proceeding the mass there was always a “Procesión”, a procession that always started and/or ended at the church.  A mass of people would, somewhat solemnly, walk through the streets of the town following statues of Jesus, Mary Magdalen, The Virgin Mary, and other biblical characters as they were led down narrow streets accompanied by high school marching bands and church officials.

Street procession in Filandia

Jesus being led out of the church to make his 3rd appearance in a procession that day.

Photos couldn’t really capture the essence of the processions that were such a big part of the Semana Santa celebrations so I threw together a quick little video of what they were like.  Click below to check it out:

 

After Semana Santa I headed back to Bogota where I planned to regroup with my friend Silvia and head to Santender, another region of Colombia.  The bus ride was supposed to be 7 hours but do to mechanical problems (we had to change busses twice) it took 11 hours.  Status quo?  So I hung out in Bogota for a week, made a plan and took off to Santender where adventures in fossils, colonial towns, edible ants, and “international” nature walks awaited me.  Coming soon.

To see more photos (some have descriptions that will explain the story behind them) from Semana Santa click here:  More Photos From Semana Santa.


Coco Hits the Newstands, Semana Santa Pergatory

This Post Covers April 12th- April 19th

Click below to listen to a very classic Colombian song, it’s from a genre of music called Cumbia that began in Colombia and is now popular all over Latin America.  This song is called La Pollera Colora recorded by Pedro Selcedo y Su Orquestra in 1963

So if I didn’t mention it before, my good friend Jr. who I stayed with in Sao Paulo and who helped me buy Coco is a journalist.  A month or so after I hit the road with Coco, Jr. landed a job writing for the Folha de Sao Paulo which is largest newspaper in Brazil (Bravo Jr.!) which must make it one of the biggest newspapers in all of Latin America.  Well a couple of weeks ago his editor asked him to come up with a story for the Saturday paper, something light and fun for people to read on Saturday morning.  He told him about his gringo friend who bought a VW bus and drove it across the whole country and proposed a story about it, his editor liked the idea, checked out my blog, got even more excited, and by the end of the day he had decided to give Jr. an entire page of the Saturday paper for the story!  So I went to work answering a slew of interview questions for Jr, and his editor and well…it didn’t run in the Saturday paper but it did run in the Sunday paper!  The Adventures of  Coco made big news all across the entire country of Brazil!  Hits on my blog went through the roof!  So below is the article as it ran in the paper. Hope you all have been practicing your Portuguese.

Ok, back to Colombia and picking up where I left off in my previous post. During my adventurous bus ride back to Cali from San Cipriano (if you havent seen the video I made about the adventure you can view it here: The Scenic Route Through San Cirpiano.)  I had plenty of time to think about the quickly approaching “Semana Santa”, a holy holiday that would begin in less than a week.  For the Colombians, Semana Santa is kind of the equivalent of the American Thanksgiving holiday, but instead of gathering to give thanks for….what exactly are we Americans giving thanks for on Thanksgiving?  Indians?  Food?    Anyways, like thanksgiving, Semana Santa in Latin America is a reason for people to travel from all over the country to spend a long weekend with family.  Just replace the turkey and stuffing with religious processions.  Statues of Christ and the Virgin Mary being paraded through streets and plazas, the smell of incense mingling with an instrumental version of Simon and Garfunkels “The Sound of Silence” being played by a middle school marching band (Yea, I never quite figured out how that became the official anthem of Semana Santa but I heard it being played and practiced in 3 different cities) .

Everyone travels to be with their families.  For backpackers, especially ones that don’t plan ahead like me, Semana Santa is a big pain in the ass.  It was the topic of discussion in all the hostels two weeks leading up to it “What are you doing for Semana Santa?”.  “I have no idea”, I would reply.  The smart ones would reply “Well, you better figure it out soon…we booked a hostel in Popayan 2 months ago”.  Very impressive.  I did not.  The thing with Semana Santa is that if you planned ahead and booked a hostel in one of the cities that is known for its Semana Santa processions it can be a very rich and interesting cultural experience.  But since everyone travels that week the busses fill up and/or bus prices skyrocket.  So if you didn’t book a hostel in a cool “Semana Santa City”, you’re only options is to pick some other random town or city to hunker down in – wait out the storm.  That being  the option I was facing, I sat there on my overturned plastic bucket behind the passenger seat of the bus and contemplated my plans.

I decided to first head to Buga.  A place that would make every other backpacker or local for that matter ask “Why are you going to Buga?”.  I was going because A.) No-one else goes there. B.) I needed a quite place to catch up on photo-editing and blogging.  And C.) Because it is known as a bit of a Catholic Mecca in Colombia.  It is a SUPER religious town with a huge cathedral that people literally make pilgrimages to visit.  I figured it would get me into the Semana Santa spirit.  So I returned to Cali, woke up the next morning and headed to Buga.

The Cathedral in Buga

"Miraculous Store"

I actually enjoyed Buga. It’s a nice little city,the cathedral is indeed impressive and there are dozens of other small churches scattered around the center of town.  One of the funniest things was the 40 or so (literally) shops lining the streets near the  Cathedral peddling any religious merchandise you can imagine but specializing in the kitsch variety.  Want a figurine doll of Saint Barthalameu  “Claro señor! Would you like the small one, or the large one? Porcelain or wood?  With or without holy water?”.  Isnt there a story in the bible about Jesus loosing his temper with the people selling things in front of the temple?

So I killed a couple days in Buga wandering around and catching up with online chores. With 5 days until Semana Santa, my planning had only taken me as far as my next destination, Manizales.  I figured from there I would make a plan for Semana Santa and spend some days doing what people do around there, hiking around the Parque Nacional de Los Nevados, or visiting coffee plantations.  Instead I found myself trapped in my hostel for 4 days while the wettest winter in the history of Colombia (*literally*) was unfolding beyond the windows of the hostel.  Landslides and flooding killed 300 people in two months.

The day before the Semana Santa holiday was to begin I made a spilt second decision, I had to get out of Manizales before I drowned in torrential rains and my own boredom.  I jumped on a bus and headed to…Quimbaya?

A very holy update coming soon.

Where, What, When, How Much, How Long, & Personal Recommendations

  • Bus from Cali to Buga- 3 hours, 7,500 COP
  • Hostel in Buga- Called *Buga Hostel* $17,000 COP, An American andGerman guy just opened this first and only hostel in Buga…was really nice,they have artesian beer and good pizza.  You can walk there from the bus station, it’s about 8 blocks.
  • Bus from Buga to Manizales- 17,500 COP
  • Hostel in Manizales- Mountain House Hostel, 18,000 COP.  Nice place, I’d reccomend.