Doug Ruth's 1996/97 Trip Reports
Date: 11 Jan 1997
To: BMW -GS motorcycles mailing list
Subject: Trip Report - 970111.rpt
I got a bit lazy while in Manizales and took a break from daily writing in
my journal. The following entries for January 5 - 11 summarize the
highlights and lowlights of the week.
Sunday January 5
With Patricia as my guide on the back of the Suzuki Intruder, we went and
saw some of the sites around the city of Manizales, including Parque
Bolivar in the city center dominated by a huge Cathedral and a large
statue of Bolivar, and Chipre, a park overlooking the city and offering
good views of the city and surrounding mountains. At both places there
was a lot of activity setting up booths for the festival.
Radio-controlled gliders were being flown from the slopes of the park at
Chipre. In Parque Bolivar a huge bandstand was erected at one side of the
plaza for evening concerts.
Manizales, at an elevation of 7000 feet, is situated on a mountain saddle
and with a main boulevard running along the ridge and streets falling away
to both sides.
Hengell, a local artist who specializes in scenes depecting the pagaentry
of bullfighting, was Fhanoor's first tatoo customer. He got a tatoo of a
dragon on his right upper bicep. Hengell had a display of about 40 of his
works at a downtown hotel, and I later got to see them. He used several
mediums, including pencil and acrylics. Very distinctive, very nice.
When talking with others in Spanish, it's usually the case that I don't
understand every word that is spoken, but I pick up enough to understand
the gist of what is being said. If you stopped the other person everytime
he said something you didn't understand, it would take forever to say
anything. You also get tired of saying "No entiendo," so I get in the
habit of saying "Si" (yes) as the conversation proceeds, hoping that I'll
pick up more clues as the conversation proceeds to understand what is
being said. This can be dangerous.
I was talking with Alonso, Angelica, and Fhanoor about family,
girlfriends, kids, and travel. When I said I had no kids back in the
States, Fhanoor, with a grin, asks me, in Spanish, if I had any children
along the route of my travels. I actually don't remember what I thought
the question was at the time, but I thought I understood what was being
asked, though wasn't 100% sure. I answered "Si" (yes). before completely
understanding the question. This resulted in much laughter and over the
next several days I was constantly asked about "my kids".
That evening Patricia lined up a girlfriend of hers, Beatrice, and
Patricia, Hengell, Beatrice, and I went out for some drinks and dancing to
a disco in Chipre. Beforehand, Patricia asked if I minded going out with
a woman who was taller than I, as Beatrice was about 6'1" and had played
for several years on the Colombian National Basketball Team.
Monday January 6
In the morning there was supposedly a parade of motorcycles through the
streets of the city, and Patricia and I rode around on the Intruder trying
to find it, which we never did.
Later that morning, Patricia and the girls, Gladys and I did watch the
Parade of Coffee Queens go by on their way from the local airport. Every
Latin-American country, Spain, and the US had it's representative. One of
them will be crowned the reigning Coffee Queen for the coming year. Miss
Venezuela, the only bleach-blond of the contestants, seemed to be a crowd
Afterwards we went to the craft/food fair where Alonso had his tatoo
stand, I on the bike taking Maria as a passenger, the others in the car.
Then and subsequent trips it was always somewhat of a battle between the
girls as to who would ride on the back of the Intruder. Over the next
several days each would get several turns as a passenger.
Alonso's stand usually had a crowd out front of people looking at the
posters of tattoos that were hanging up, the numerous tattoo magazines and
catalogs, or to watcch Fhanoor giving a customer a tattoo. Tattoos on
non-private body parts (e.g., arms and calves) were given where people
could watch. There was a curtain behind which tattoos on other, more
private areas were given. Over the week he probably averaged between 1-2
tatoos per day, and the cost for an average size tattoo was S80000
(US$80). Some of the tattoos took up to 3.5 hours to create.
During the day, and subsequent days, as well, I would now and then hop on
the Intruder and ride to check out various sites around the city. I must
say I enjoyed riding the Intruder around the city. Something about the
reclining cruiser seating position, the wider, more pulled-back bars, and
the Harley-like sound of the engine (The idea of Harley tryinng to patent
that sound is ridiculous). It was definitely a loud bike, and while I
have always been, and continue to be, an anti-noise proponent, I must
admit it seemed that people noticed me coming moreso than on my quieter
The Intruder had a wierd, anti-theft, interlock system for starting the
bike. You had to almost simultaneously pull in the clutch lever and hit
the starter button, with the clutch lever only slightly preceeding the
starter button. If not done just right, nothing happened. I had never
seen anything like it. Alonso had tried to describe this to me, but the
first time I went to start the Intruder, he was not around, and for the
life-of-me I could not get the bike started. Somewhat embarrasing as the
guard at Patricia's apartment building looked on. I had to wait till
Alonso showed up later to show me the technique. Even then, whereas
Alonso would get it started on the first attempt every time he
demonstrated it to me, it took 10 minutes of trying before I even got it
started once. It was the damnest thing I had ever seen and I almost began
to question my physical dexterity and competance. At one point, with my
hands on the controls, Alonso put his hands over mine to show the
technique. Actually that didn't work very well either. I finally got to
the point where on a fifth of my attempts it would start, and I decided I
could live with that. I just hoped I didn't have to start it with a line
of honking cars behind me. Even by the end of the week my success ratio
had only risen to about 50%.
Tuesday January 7
In the afternoon, Patricia and the girls, Gladys, and I went to the
bullfights in the large Moorish-style bullring. There are bullfights each
of the seven days of the fair, the first day, Sunday, using young bulls.
Each day there are 3 matadors, each of which fights 2 bulls, for a total
of 6 bulls per day. Today the matadors were Cesar Camacho, Pedrito de
Portugal, and Victor Puerto, the latter being the clear crowd favorite.
The fight is to the death, though I admit it was always the bull who died
in the end, and never the matador. It was my first bullfight, and despite
the blood and violent ending, I must say I enjoyed watching the spectacle
and pagaentry of it. It is very much a part of the Latin machismo culture
A gate in the side of the ring is opened and the bull rushes out into the
middle of the ring. 4-5 men in colorful uniforms with capes (I forget what
they are called) stand around the periphery of the ring, near protective
walls they can duck behind. They take turns waving their capes, getting
the bull to charge then, then ducking behind the walls at the last minute.
They get the bull to charge back and forth across the arena several
Then another guy comes out. He has no cape, but holds two arrow-like
sticks, decorated with colorful ribbons. They have sharp barbs on the one
end so that when stuck into the bull they won't come out. This guy gets
the bull to charge at him, while he simultaneously is running towards the
bull. At the last second he sort of sidesteps and jumps out of the way,
while at the same time plunging the "arrows" (again I forget their name)
into the upper back of the bull as it charges by. If he is successful,
both stick into the bull and remain there. On one occasion, the guy
failed in two attempts to get them to stick, and he got severely booed by
Then the picadors come out, two of them, riding large, heavily armored,
horses, and carrying long spear-like weapons. They ride to opposite sides
of the arena and get the bull to charge at one of them. The armor on the
horse is like a heavy blanket draped over the horse, hanging well down the
sides, with protection for the legs and belly as well. The bull would
generally lower its head to try to get in under the horse, and the
momentum of the bull would frequently move the horse and rider to the
side. While the bull was thus engaged with the horse, the rider would jab
his spear-like pole into the bull, drawing more blood, which by now could
be clearly seen running down the sides of the animal. The crowd,
generally did not like the picadors, and would boo when they rode out into
Finally the matador comes out into the ring as the picadors ride out of
the arena. He would bow and doff his cap to the crowd before engaging the
bull. He carried his large cape and a sword, which initially he would use
to help support the cape used in fighting the bull. Different matadors
had different styles, but all tried to get the bull to charge by them as
close as possible. Sometimes the bull would make one pass then stop
before again charging, other times the bull would immediately pivot after
charging the cape, and charge again and again. The crowd loved that most,
and those sequences provided the "closest calls." Several matadors would
get down on one knee as the bull charged past. As this proceeded the bull
would noticibly tire and it would often take more antaganism by the
matador and his cape to get the bull to charge. Several times after the
bull would charge, the matador would stand directly in front of the bull,
mere feet away. and taunt it. Several times they would completely turn
their back to the bull, only 3-4 feet behind them, to the roar of the
crowd. On one occasion the matador set his cape and sword on the ground
in front of the bull, got down on his knees only feet from the bull and
taunted the bull to charge. The crowd roared its approval.
After tiring the bull out with numerous charges, the matador would prepare
for the kill by unwrapping the sword from his cape. He would point the
sword at the bull and as the bull charged, the matador would also move
forward, and sidestepping the bull, plunge his sword into the upper side
of the bull, targetting the heart. If he was successful, the bull would
stagger a few steps and collapse to the floor of the ring. This "humane"
ending was what the crowd appreciated and wanted to see. On the several
occasions when it took the matador 2 or 3 attempts to bring the bull down,
the crowd would boo.
As soon as the bull collapsed onto the floor of the ring, a man would run
out with a stilletto-type dagger and plunge it into the head of the bull,
finishing him off for good if he wasn't already dead. Then a team of huge
draft horses were led out into the ring, the dead bull hitched up to them,
and drug out of the arena. The matador would then walk around the
periphery of the ring, showered by flowers, hats, and boda bags thrown by
his adoring fans in the crowd. He would pick up the flowers, and throw
the hats and boda bags back into the crowd. While this wasa going on the
grounds crew was out preparing for the next fight.
As I said, I enjoyed it for the colorful pagaentry of the matadors and
picadors, the crowd with ladies and gentlemen decked out in their fine
clothes, carryin flowers to shower down on the matador. The skill it took
to bring down a charging bull with one plunge of the sword. It's not a
sporting event I'd like to go to every weekend, however. It's not quite
the same as "Go 49ers." Can you even imagine this in the States. Jane
Fonda and Dustin Hoffman and all the other extremist animal-rights
activists would have a field-day!
That evening a group of about 12 of us, including Alonso and Angelica and
her mother, Angelica's sister and her husband, Patricia, Gladys, Dianne,
and myself went out for drinks and dancing. The streets downtown were
clogged with traffic, and at more than one police blockade, Patricia
produces a Police identification card, which gets us though the blockade
and avoids some of the worst traffic. Patricia handles the insurance for
the Police Department and her ex-husband currentlyy works in the Police
Department in Cali.
We first went to the Plaza Bolivar which was jammed with people watching
and dancing to the band playing on the huge stage. In short order a
bottle of aguardiente was purchased and made the rounds while we hung out
in the Plaza. About 1am we got back in the cars and drive up to Chipre to
the same disco we had gone to several nights before. About 3am we head
home, but stop along the main drag in Chipre to buy some early morning
snacks of chuzos and choritos from the street vendors who are still out.
The street still has many people out enjoying the nightlife.
We meet three bikers on large Japanese cruiser bikes, who are leaving
tomorrow for Cartagena, on the coast, where there is to be a large Harley
rally over the next several days. Some well-known (though not well-known
enough that I knew of him, but that's not saying much) American actor,
biker-wanna-be was being brought in for the event. and the papers over the
next couple of days gave it fairly heavy coverage.
Wednesday January 8
Today could have had a tragic ending. As it was it was just a scary,
frightening experience, with a very bad outcome.
In the evening, Jose Luis, Alonso's son was over playing with the three
girls. The maid and myself were the only others at home. When those four
kids would get together, the energy level would rise, they would get crazy
fairly quickly, and the noise-level and disorder in the house would rise
dramatically. I had shut myself in the bedroom to get away from the noise
abd to study my guidebook in preparation for leaving in a day or so.
At one point the maid knocks on my door to say the kids had locked
themselves in the other bedroom. When I knocked on that door they opened
it, so I didn't know what the problem was, but the bedroom, Patricia's,
looked like a disaster area, the result of 4 kids with too much adrenelin.
The window is wide open with the curtain blowing outside. If they were
my kids I would have put end to it, but didn't feel it was my place to do
so, especially if the maid who worked there everyday, allowed it to go on.
I just told them to keep it down and went back to my room.
A little while later I hear shouts of "Tatianna, Tatianna", but ignore
them at first. Then I hear crying, shouting, and more cries of "Tatianna,
Tatianna." I walk across to the other bedroom, whose door is open, but is
now empty, with the window still wide open. I hear the shouts coming
through the window and get to the open window just in time to see the
guard picking up the motionless body of Tatianna from the pavement below.
She had somehow fallen out the window to the pavement one and a half
stories below. We would later find out the kids had been playing
tightrope-walker on the windowsill of the open window when she slipped and
I got to the front door just as the guard is carrying Tatianna inside. I
was a bit shocked to see that rather than cradling her in his arms he was
holding her up by her arms, grabbing them around the biceps. He sort of
lowers her to the floor. There is blood coming out of her nose and mouth
and her eyes are sort of rolling around and back. She is not saying
anything. The guard says she was unconscious when he found her. A
frightening sight and experience.
If I had been the one to find her, I probably would have left her there
until the extent of her injuries could be determined by experienced
personnel. At least that's what I would have done in the US. Here in
Colombia where I had no idea whether there was a 911 system, how to call
an ambulance, or even where the nearest hospital was, who knows what I
would have done. As it was, I figured (although I don't remember making a
conscious decision) that any damage by moving her had already been done,
and the best thing was to get her to a hospital as soon as possible.
The 3 other kids were clearly hysterical, and the maid also had no clue
what to do. I gently picked her up in my arms, and carried her back
downstairs to the street, intending to hail a taxi to take us to the
hospital. While not frequent, taxis went by on the street out front
every so often. I didn't know what else to do, Patricia's car and her
chauffer were not home, and I didn't know anyone else in the apartment
building. Just then a Jeep-type vehicle pulls into the parking lot,
almost exactly where Tatianna fell. I rush over and in my lousy Spanish,
say it's an emergency and will he take us to the hospital. I only hope he
knows where it is. He can claerly see the blood all over her face and now
my shirt as well. He says yes, and opens the passenger door for me and I
climb in. He amazingly enough has a flashing-red light which he puts on
his roof, and then, laying on his horn the whole way, drives to the
hospital. This was just about the time the big fireworks display was to
begin (which I had planned to watch), and the main streets were clogged
with traffic. He knew all the back streets to avoid the traffic, and
after what seemed like an eternity, we arrive at the emergency entrance of
the Childrens Hospital.
During the ride, Tatianna had become more lucid, her eyes stopped rolling
around, and she began crying for her mommy. I tryed to reassure her that
everything was going to be OK and that I'd get her mommy for her.
I carried her through the lobby, and just looked at some nurses or nurses
aids standing nearby and said "Ayuda, por favor." They indicated to lay
her on a hospital gurney nearby, and shortly a young doctor comes over. I
try to explain, in Spanish, what happened, that I am just a friend, that
noone else was home at the time. He finally asks if I speak English, and I
then repeat everything in English, which goes a lot better. He spoke
excellant English. He asked if I knew where the mother was, and I said at
the fair and that I'd go get her. I had no idea if the people back at the
apartment would try to contact her.
I went back outside only to be surprised to find that the guy and the jeep
who brought me were gone, so I hailed a taxi and drove the short distance
to the fair, where I found the tattoo booth already closed, so I took the
taxi, who I had told to wait, back to the apartment. There I learned that
the guard had indeed contacted Patricia on her cellular phone, and they
had gone directly to the hospital. The kids swarmed around me, and in
between sobs, asked if Tatianna was going to be OK. Of course I had no
idea, but said I thought so and that she and I had talked on the drive to
About this time someone had called from the hospital asking to bring some
other clothes for her, so Alonso's brother, who had just arrived that
evening and I hadn't even met yet, and I rode back to the hospital on the
Intruder. In the waiting room, everyone was waiting, except Patricia, who
was in with Tatianna.
It turned out Tatianna had a compound fracture of her lower right forearm,
evidently from trying to cushion her landing or protect her head. Most of
her lower teeth were knocked out and will require corrective work. But
other than that and some severe bruises to her nose and face, she will be
OK. A very lucky girl.
Thursday January 9
During the evening, last night, Tatianna's father had arrived from Cali,
by motoccycle I might add, a Radian. Tatianna was released from the
hospital about 3pm, and when her father carried her into the house, and
the 3 kids saw how she looked with the cast on her arm, and her bruised
and black-and-blue face, they began crying again and asking if she was
going to be OK.
That night was guys night out, and Alonso, his brother, Angelica's
brother-in-law, and I went out. It was raining fairly heavily, but Plaza
Bolivar was non-the-less packed with people listening and dancing to the
band playing under the cover of the stage. The group was a dance
orchestra, one of the top bands in Colombia, and a little rain wasn't
going to dampen anyones enthusiasm. Afterwards we went to Discoteca
Babylonia, where Alonso knew the bouncer and we got in for free. It had
three levels and was packed, with people dancing on the bar. The music
was a mix of popular Latin American rock and traditional groups and
American pop and rock music in English. There was a large group of
Spaniards there, decked out in some type of colorful red and black jackets
and pantaloons, which I wouldn't be caught dead in, but were obviously a
hit with the local women who seemed to swarm around the Spaniards.
Friday January 10
- Young boys are referred to as "chino" which literally means chineese.
It's not derogatory or anything, just slang. Gladys and Patricia would
often, when referring to Jose, refer to him as chino.
- There is kind of a wierd dicotomy resulting from the cheap price of
labor. In most aspects, in the States, Patricia would be considered
middle to upper-middle class. Her apartment was nice and very nicely
furnished, but the apartment itself wasn't anything extravagent, and
only had 2 bedrooms. Yet she had two maids during the week and a
chauffer to drive her around.
Saturday January 11
Today is departure day, originally having planned to leave Thursday, but
Tatianna's accident the night before changed that. I'm up by 7:30, but
till the others get up, I have breakfast, and say goodbye, it is after 10.
I ride over to Alonso's to say goodbye to him and Angelica, and Fhanoor
who is staying there. I leave Manizales at 10:45, just over a week after
arriving. Except for Tatianna's near-tragedy, a relaxing and enjoyable
time, and a nice change of pace from the rest of the trip. It's nice
every so often get to a place where you can function out of a home just as
if you lived there.
The road winds thru mountains to Buga where it becomes a good 4-lane for a
while. At Cartago the road heads south through a flat central valley at
an elevation of about 3300 feet. I bypass Cali and then the road begins
to climb out of valley at its southern end. The last 30 miles to Popayan
are ridden in intermittant rain. In Popayan I head to the Hotel Bolivar,
which the guidebook said had safe motorcycle parking.
As I prepared to ride off the street into the courtryard, a jeep stops, a
lady gets out, walks over to me and starts talking. She introduces
herself as Margaret Mercado and she recognized my bike as a BMW
immediately, and said she has a '61 BMW R27 (if I remember correctly). As
she so aptly put it, bikes are a sickness, once you have it you always
have it. She splits her time between here in Popayan, and a house In
Caldera in Northern Chile, and gives me the address and phone numbers
of each and says to be sure to stop there on my way south. She would be
returning to Chile in late February, but said even if she wasn't there I
could have a place to stay. Her brother in Santiago Chile also rides and
she gives me his phone number and says I should call him when passing
through Santiago. She speaks good english and says her mother was (is?)