Written April 2, 2016
When you pull up the map on your iPhone, a blue circle on the map shows your location. Depending on how good a signal you’ve got, the blue bubble might be large or small, and this suggests how accurate the location shown is. Lately I’ve been feeling the same way about home. You see, a change has been going on inside of me that I hadn’t fully realized was happening. What do I think of as home now? It’s a question that I can’t answer anymore. Where am I now? That blue bubble that shows where I am - well, for now at least, that’s home.
I know we own a house in Oregon, and I’d still like to go back there when we’re finished with this trip, but is it home anymore? Having been on the road for eight months, I’ve become very detached from all the things that I used to think of and relate to as “home” – the house, the job, my friends and co-workers, the town we lived in, the ocean and forests. All of those were a part of me, and helped shape me into who I was, and helped form my identity. Those are gone now; they no longer define me. All I have now is myself, and whatever few people and places are inside the blue bubble right now. That’s where I am. That’s who I am. That’s home now.
I do miss things. I miss being on the beach and out in the woods mushrooming or hunting. I miss riding the bike on all the logging roads and way out in eastern Oregon. I miss seeing friends, but in a new way, a way that has me wishing beyond all words that I could pull them across the thousands of miles separating us. I wish I could show them how wonderful the people are out here, and how amazingly different the world becomes with every hundred miles we put behind us. I wish I could give them what I see, what I smell, what I taste, and hear, and feel.
Riding northward from Barichara, Colombia, we came down out of the Andes and into the coastal flatlands, and as we did so, the land dried out and it became very hot and humid. In the port city of Santa Marta we stayed at an Airbnb apartment for 3 days, and learned that El Nino has had a drastic effect on the area, with water shortages causing the water to be intentionally cut off from the building we were staying in for the majority of the day. It hasn’t rained in northern Colombia for months. It’s otherwise a bustling seaport town, where coal is loaded onto ships bound for ports worldwide. A dirty fuel, yes, but it’s helping to build this country. The docks have great, huge conveyers in tubes running out onto them, and there are loads of rail lines converging there.
We took a ride east from Santa Marta one day, and found the Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona to be too crowded for our tastes, so continued east until we saw a sign pointing toward the beach down a dirt road. We followed the road and found a place where people were camped near the mouth of a river. They were packing up and leaving, but told us we could stay and swim, it was safe and the crocodiles were all small, none of the big ones like up north along the Yucatan. “Only as long as your arm.” Oh, well that’s fine I guess, so we swam 50 yards across the river that paralleled the beach, and enjoyed a dip in the Caribbean. Sometimes it’s better not to think too hard about things.
We left Santa Marta yesterday and rode to Cartagena, a very big city, with a rich history and a lot of money. There are mega-yachts in the basin 200-300 feet long. And yet on the road from Santa Marta, we saw poverty as bad as anywhere yet on this trip, with what couldn’t even be called shacks of sticks, mud, and tarps set up in an area where the main existence was had by scraping out shallow pools of water, and letting it dry to harvest the salt. This was in an area where the road crossed the mouth of a large bay on a salt spit. The wind blew, and it was hot and humid. Only low scrub grew in the salty ground, which was mostly bare or covered in garbage. Houses, if they could be called that, were often just sticks in the ground, holding up scraps of tarp, arranged in rows. This is the only area I can remember where there were not even any roadside vendors selling fruit or anything. The low point was the small black dog we saw, running away with a big cactus leaf stuck in it’s side by the thorns. The humidity and overcast causes everything to take on a shade of grey, and gives the world a haze. It makes you want to stop and clean your helmet shield, but that doesn’t do it in this case. We pushed through the other big port city of Barranquilla, and after that it was nothing but trucks and busses all the way to Cartagena. There are two roads out of Barranquilla, and I think we chose the wrong one. We took the inland road. Next time, it’s the coast.
We arrived in Cartagena and worked our way through a traffic maze to get to our hotel down in the Bocagrande area, near the tip of land that wraps around the port area. The beach was about 30 yards from our hotel, and the main Avenida with everything on it runs right out front. No sooner did I get my helmet off than I hear “Buenos!” in a British accent behind me. I met Brian this way, and he introduced himself as the owner of the hotel. He mentioned that he’d had some other folks from Oregon on motorbikes, and they’d had a dog with them! Of course, it was Scott and Susan, our friends who did this trip a couple of years ago with their dog Bentley, and they had stayed here when they came through. (Thanks for the hotel tip, Susan!)
We enjoyed walking around in the old walled city, fortified after Drake came through and robbed the city of its riches in 1585. Closing the gate after the horse has gone, as Brian opined. There are terrific shops and restaurants here, and we enjoyed the day with helado de mora y café (blackberry and coffee ice cream) before a lunch of crepes with stroganoff. How we suffer at times. Castillo San Felipe lies on the hill above the harbor, and it also was built mostly after Drake came. It’s a massive fortification with eight batteries of guns, able to shell the harbor and the ocean offshore to protect the city. We walked to the top via ramps and tunnels through the fortress, all built of stone with incredibly thick walls. The guns face out through slots, and each battery has the slots arranged like a fan, covering a focused area with fire. Though it fell to a French force in the Raid of Cartagena in 1697, the British were repulsed in the 1741 Battle of Cartagena.
Three days in a city of that size was plenty, and so we turned our bikes southward, planning three days to get to Medellin. As our second day of riding unfolded, we transitioned into a more fertile farming area. Hills began to rise around us, and after two days of hot, dry riding, we came alongside the big Rio Cauca as it flowed out of the Andes and into a broad, lush green valley. Before long, the hills around us steepened, and we rode up a narrow valley. Soon we crossed the river on a high bridge and began to climb up a side canyon out of the lowlands. Within 15 minutes we were 1,000 meters higher, and climbing rapidly out of the heat. We made it to Yarumal for the night at 2,265 meters (7,430’) just as the rain was setting in. We stayed at a little trucker’s hotel right on the main road, so it was kind of loud for a while, but it had a little restaurant with simple yet really great food. The people were wonderful; we got to know a few truckers as they came through and heard many “hello” honks from others as they zoomed by. The room cost us 30,000 Colombian pesos, or about $9 US, one of our cheapest rooms yet. Okay, so we had to inflate our camp pads if the bed was a little hard, but then we were super comfy! You know you’re back up in the mountains when there is hot water in the shower and blankets on the bed again. We’d not had a hot shower in three weeks, and hadn’t cared, either.
The mountains revived us today while riding into the Medellin area. We only topped out at about 2,850 meters (9,350’) today, but it was twisty roads all the way, and we had lots of fun with great pavement. There were tons of trucks to deal with, but they are easily passed and will often wave us by, as they can see up the road better. Busses are a little crazier, as they have a schedule to keep, and it’s amazing how fast they can push those things. Why so many trucks, you might wonder? Well, it’s because there is no multi-lane interstate system here, so the trucks share the same two-lane roads connecting cities as everyone else does. Just think about how it would be if I-84 were not there. All the trucks running up and down the Columbia Gorge would be on whatever two-lane road ran to where they were going. The same thing for I-90 over the Cascades from Seattle to eastern Washington. You’d be behind trucks on all the roads, because there would no longer be one best route for them to take.
Thinking again about “home,” I guess home is inside of me now. The only external thing I have now to help me identify myself is that I am a traveler. And the one constant in traveling is that everything is changing around me. Everything is in flux, and the names all change whenever I move (except Jay’s of course). Because of this constant erasing and redrawing of the present, I’ve never had so few worries about what others think of me. As the traveler, only I can know my circumstances and the things influencing my actions. Other’s opinions don’t necessarily matter, but I’ll bet there are folks who think I’ve done some mighty strange things at times.
What will it be like when I settle into one place again? I hope I won’t start caring about the opinions of others again. I was much too concerned about that before. Life is better when you worry about the important things. And there aren’t very many of those now, are there?