Doug Ruth's 1996/97 Trip Reports
Date: 18 Jan 1997
To: BMW -GS motorcycles mailing list
Subject: Trip Report - 970118.rpt
Thursday January 16
In the morning we walk back out to the blockade and are given breakfast
gratis by the campesinos. We then wait around the plaza until about 11am
when the Padre and Aleman show up. After "disobeying" his directives
twice, I'm a bit apprehensive as to what his reaction will be. He's
walking around carrying his little briefcase, going into the town telecom
office, presumably to make some phone calls. He sees me sitting outside
the store and says he will see me shortly. He still didn't know that I
had 4 Colombian friends who spoke both English and Spanish.
A little while later he approaches and motions for me to follow him out
under the tree in the center of the plaza, where there will be noone else
around to hear us talk. We sit down on a bench and as the day before, he
starts out very cordially, saying he saw in my passport that I was born in
Holland and asking if my parents were Dutch. Some more chit-chat follows,
and then as the day before, the conversation becomes more confrontational.
He first says it is very suspicious that my passport is only valid for one
year. I explain, as I did yesterday, that my original passport had been
stolen in Costa Rica, and replacement passports issued abroad are
generally only valid for one year. He asks if I was dealing with the
ambassador or staff and says its very suspicious, that they could simply
call back to the States to verify things. Then he wants to know if I have
been in contact with the Embassy here in Colombia. He says what I did
yesterday was very dangerous, to first not wait here in Valencia, and then
later not to follow him back to Inza. He says the locals hate North
Americans and that travelling along those roads things could happen. At
this point I interrupt him and say with all due respect, it has been my
experience that the locals do not hate North Americans, that on the
contrary, everyone I have met has been very friendly and outgoing. That
while it may be true (it is) that our two governments are having their
disagreements right now, the people can differentiate between the
government and the people.
At one point Leila approaches, and Aleman is initially very hostile
towards her, telling her to leave, until he learns she is Colombian, from
Bogota, and a student, at which point his tone changed completely. He
still would not allow her to remain however.
Aleman then says that the committee met yesterday and voted 8-0 against
allowing me to pass. He than said I could be stuck here for weeks without
being able to leave. That there were guerrillas in the area, who
sometimes came into town, and that sometimes the electricity went off at
night, and that when that happened, nobody was responsible for my safety.
It was a clear threat if I ever heard one and I was boiling inside, and I
started to get up to leave. He then says, wait, he has a suggestion, that
it is only a suggestion, that he can't tell me what to do. But if I make
a donation of my motorcycle and my camera to the Padre, not to himself,
Aleman, but to the Padre for use in his work, then he could arrange my
passage through the blockade, and he would take me on to La Plata where I
could get transportation back to the States.
I was now fuming inside, but simply got up, said "Muchas gracias, Senior",
and walked away. I walked over to the edge of the plaza where my friends
were waiting along with some of the local townspeople and campesinos.
Aleman had walked back to his jeep, where the Padre was waiting, and drove
away towards the blockade. I told them what Aleman had told me, and as
soon as the locals heard this, they were clearly outraged. They walked
over to another group of local men, and within minutes a mob of about 15
people formed and we headed towards the blockade. There they relayed to
the leaders there what had transpired, and a larger mob forms and
confronts the Padre and Aleman who are in their Jeep getting ready to be
let past the blockade.
Of course Aleman accuses me of lying or misunderstanding what he told me,
and the Padre denied any involvement with respect to the requested
"donation." As soon as they could, Aleman and the Padre, drove off. They
clearly did not want to stick around. There were numerous small groups of
campesinos talking about what to do, and it soon became clear that they
fortunately believed my version of the story. Whether that was because of
my Colombian friends who could provide a good translation, I don't know.
We had got to know many of the townpeople and campesinos over the past
day, and that helped too I'm sure. At any rate I was quickly assurred by
the campesinos that I was not going to have to give up my camera or
motorcycle. As if I was even considering it.
The leaders at this blockade I think would have liked to just let me pass
through. However there were co-leaders at the other blockade who had to
be consulted. So it is decided that Gerardo, Andres, myself, and two
leaders, a man and a woman, at this blockade will drive to the other
blockade, talk to the leaders there and try to acquire permission for me
and hopefully Gerardo and the others in the Mitsubishi to pass.
It's about an hour and a half drive back to Inza, and of course we get a
flat tire on the way. They only have a small hydraulic jack which
requires several iterations of jacking the car up, propping rocks under
it, and then jacking it up some more. Back at the other blockade on the
other side of Inza, we park some distance away and are told to wait, while
the two leaders walk to the blockade.
One, two, two and a half hours go by. Gerardo and Andres are chewing coca
leaves. I'm munching on panela. At one point we decide to drive a bit
closer, one more curve up the road, only to be told to turn around and
return to where we had been parked. Eventually the two campesinos return,
accompanied by two others, who it turns out we will be dropping off at
their homes on the way back. They also have the slip of paper, about
4x5", on which is written "Los gringos que pasen no hacer exigencias ni
recibir prevendos delos antes mencionados. Atentamente, Pedro Pinzon".
It basically said the gringos can pass without requirements or having to
pay anything. Gerardo and Andres got a laugh about being lumped in with
Ronnie and me as gringos.
On the way back, we turn off the main road onto another road which winds
and climbs way up into the mountains. It turns out this is the road where
the accident which precipitated the blockade occurred, and they point out
the site as we pass. It is now marked by a small cross. Along the way we
drop off 3 of our passengers as we pass their homes along the road. We
continue on, climbing up and up, until we can see the small village of
Pedregal in the distance.
Only the male campesino who came with us from Valencia is still with us.
His home, too, is up here, and we park along the road, then climb a
slippery, muddy trail a hundred yards up the hillside to his home.
Chickens and pigs are tethered in the front yard. The home itself has
about 3 rooms, all with dirt floor. His wife, who has extremely
disfigured hands, offers us each a cup of coffee. While we drink it he
brings out a small jar containing some crystals he found in the local
river. He is clearly quite proud of them. Several are quite beautiful,
with numerous facets, and a light blue-green color. He also shows us an
ancient Inca grinding stone for grinding maize, and a small rock, which
when viewed from one angle resembles the sole of a left foot, and when
viewed from another angle resembles the sole of a right foot. The wife
then produces a hand-drawn and colored geneology of their immediate
family. They are very proud of all these items.
Back in the jeep we continue up towards Pedregal when we run out of gas.
Andres and the campesino walk the half mile to Pedregal and shortly return
with two liter bottles of gas. We then continue on to Pedregal where we
buy more gas, and also pick up 2 more passengers for the trip back down
the mountain. Along the way we drop them off, but pick up two more and a
sack of potatoes for the ride back to Valencia. At one point one person
was riding on the back bumper, holding onto the spare tire back there. We
get back to Valencia after dark. During the day the villagers have
erected a gate across the entrance to town, and the road has a board with
nails across it. I never did find out who they were guarding against.
Once again we walk to the mess-tent at the blockade for dinner. Dinner is
already over, but it isn't long before they stoke up the fires and have 3
dinners ready for us.
After dinner, the villagers invite us to the newly erected gate at the
village entrance, where a radio and some chairs have been assembled and a
makeshift party is in progress. We bring several bottles of aguardiente,
which get passed around and is appreciated by the villagers. The
villagers know I have a camera and say I should take a photo of everyone.
I jokingly ask if it is OK to take a photo, and they laugh, and assure me
it is fine. So I get my camera and take several photos in front of the
gate. Then someone suggests we take a group photo in front of the church
next door, so we all troup over there for several more photos.
We sleep at the same house as last night. I can feel the effects of not
having eaten enough today along with consuming too much aguardiente.
Friday January 17
In the morning we leave Valencia, the paper serving as our ticket out. We
stop at the blockade for numerous photos of the crowd, the blockade, the
Mitsubishi, the bike, and several campesinos sitting on the bike. Then we
are through and on our way.
I have no idea what Senior Aleman was up to. He clearly had some agenda
of his own, and it wasn't neccesarily the interests of the campesinos. In
the end he lost all credibility with the campesinos and that was
gratifying so see. I sometimes wonder how things would have turned out,
if I hadn't had my friends from Bogota there. It's hard to say. It was
clear the campesinos were good people and had nothing against me
personally or as an American. I think I would have gotten through, though
it might have taken a little longer. I guess I'll never know.
I decide to ride with them for a ways, even they are travelling slower
than I would otherwise. We stop in La Plata for lunch and to fix the flat
tire on the Mitsubishi. We also buy some of the delicious white cheese
which is available throughout the country. Wherever I stop a crowd
gathers around the bike, nothing new for me, but Gerardo and the others in
the Mitsubishi find it amusing, and ask if I get tired of it. Not really,
it's a good conversation opener, though it means my stops take longer than
they would otherwise, but I'm used to that by now.
We pass through several more small towns, stopping to look at several
plazas and churches, then finally hit pavement near Garzon. Shortly
thereafter, the lure of the twisties became too great and I pass the
Mitsubishi, wave goodbye and take off. They're also heading to San
Agustin for the night and we have a tentative meeting place picked out.
In San Agustin I get a room at Hostal Mi Terruno. I can't find Arturo's
Pizza, our designated meeting spot, until after the designated time, so
fail to hook up with Gerardo or the others.
Saturday January 18
At mid-morning I begin walking to the Archeological Park, where there are
large carved stone figures of men, animals, and gods, dating from around
3300 BC. Along the way a man driving a two-wheel horse-drawn cart stops
and asks if I want a ride. Since it is uphill and quite warm, I accept.
The park itself has a small museum, some stone figures artificially placed
along a small path through a small woods (Bosque), and more stone figures
as they were found in their natural settings. The stone statues are very
At the Fuente de Lavapatas, a stream runs through carved channels in the
rocks. It was some kind of ceremonial site for this culture, and is quite
beautiful. Some of the channels are circular, zig-zag, and enter and
leave small pools, as the stream flows down the gently sloping hillside.
Above the Fuente is a large hill, the Cerro de Lavapatas, from the top of
which are good views of San Agustin in the distance and the surrounding
mountains. While at the top I talk with a man and two women who then want
a photo of me with the two women. I also meet a couple from Nieva,
between here and Bogota, who rode here on a 125cc motorcycle. We walk
through the rest of the Park together, back to the Museum.
On the way down the hill from the Cerro de Lavapatas, who should I run
into but Shaul, whom I last saw some 3 months ago in Poptun, Guatemala.
Between then and now I had met several travellers who had crossed paths
with him. His friend, Lior, had returned to Israel, and he had sold his
motorcycle and was now travelling by public transportation. He actually
was renting a house for the past month here in San Agustin. He gave me
rough directions to his house and said I should stop by.
In the museum I ran into Ronnie, and we finished looking through the
museum and the statues in the Bosque de las Estatuas together. Just as we
finished outside, it began to pour down rain, and we hitched a ride back
to town in a jeep. Back in town we ran into the others. Yesterday when
they arrived in town, they met a local woman who invited them to stay at
her finca (ranch or farm) just outside of town near the top of a large
hill. She was from Bogota, but had bought the finca several years ago and
was in the process of moving there permanently along with her two
daughters. Her husband, from whom she was seperated was also there. They
invited me up to the ranch, so we drove paetway up in the jeep, parking it
at another finca partway up, then walked the rest of the way. The road to
the top was extremely steep, extremely rocky, and extremely muddy. I
would not attempt that road, in that condition, on my G/S. The house
itself was fairly simple with several rooms with rough wood floors, a
large porch out front with several couches and a hammock looking out over
the valley below. Toilets were outside across the front lawn.
They invited me to stay for dinner or even for the night, but I didn't
want to lug my things up there, and it was getting dark, and I didn't want
to walk down that muddy hill in the dark, so we agreed to meet at Pizza
Arturo at 10am tomorrow, and I said goodbye and left.