Doug Ruth's 1996/97 Trip Reports
Date: 31 Dec 1996
To: BMW -GS motorcycles mailing list
Subject: Trip Report - 961231.rpt
No detailed reports
for most of December; that was Doug's self-described "lazy" period
following the theft of his passport, etc.
Sunday December 29
I got a late start from Puerto Boyaca, leaving around noon. Just south of
town, the road south from Barracabermeja met the road coming north and
west from Bogota, and I turned right, crossing the Magdalena River and
headed west towards Medellin.
40 km outside of Medellin I rode into Rionegro, thinking of possibly
staying there one night, but the town didn't grab me and I couldn't find a
hotel with good parking for the bike, so I decided to continue on to
Medellin, even though it was late in the afternoon and I wouldn't have
much daylight left in Medellin to find a hotel.
The road loops into Medellin from the northeast, dropping down out of the
surrounding mountains and offering superb views of the city sprawling
along the valley and surrounding hillsides as you approach. Medellin lies
at an altitude of 4800 feet and is known for it's pleasant year-round
climate (21 C). On the way into town I passed one of those "love hotels"
and stopped to check the price since they often have relatively cheap
prices. But this one wanted an outrageous amount, so I kept going and
found my way to Park Bolivar in the city center where the cheap hotels and
residencias are located and parked along the street to check my guidebook
for the addresses of cheap hotels. It was already getting dark. If a
hotel with parking was nearby, I was just going to get a room there for
the night, and then call Carmenza, the woman I had met in Bogota, later.
A guard at a nearby bank building came over and gave me directions to
several nearby cheap hotels, but said I'd have to park the motorcycle in
one of the nearby parqueados (sp?) which were open and guarded all night.
My guidebook also listed only one hotel with "safe parking nearby". I
decided to try calling Carmenza first, and got ahold of her at the 2nd
number she gave.
The guard helped give her directions to where I was and she said she'd be
right over. She did say that there was no parking where she was at and
suggested I park the bike in a parqueado for the night and tomorrow we'd
move it somewhere else. That didn't exactly thrill me either but it
looked like no mattter where I stayed tonight the bike would be in a
parqueado. I ride the bike to a parqueado a block and a half away which
is just for motorcycles. There are more than 50 motorcycles parked
inside. Mine is by far the largest bike there. I take the gear I need,
lock and cover the bike, and return to where the guard is waiting.
In about 15 minutes Carmenza arrives in a taxi, along with her cousins
Alex and Dianna who are brother and sister. Carmenza now says I can park
my bike in the garage at Dianna's father's house, which is only 8-10
blocks away from Carmenza's mother's house where I will be staying, in the
bario of Manrique on the hillside east of the center of town. So we all
pile into the cab, along with my gear, and drive to the parqueado where I
retrieve my bike after paying a nominal fee. Then I follow them in the
cab to Dianna's father's house, about a 10 minute drive away. After the
taxi has left, I realize that in all the confusion, one of my small bags
got left in the taxi. The chances of getting it back is basically nil,
what with over 30000 private taxis in Medellin, which you just flag down
on the street. Fortunately it is just the bag with my bath and shaving
stuff in it and the only thing of real consequence in it was the
battery-powered beard trimmer.
After parking my bike in the garage, we walk to Carmenza's mother's house.
It is on the 3rd floor of an 8 floor apartment building and has a great
view down the hill towards the city center and across to the barios on the
far hillside. Actually her mother, Lucia, who I was to meet tomorrow,
doesn't stay here too much any more because of leg problems and difficulty
in climbing the stairs. I meet two of Carmenza's brothers Jaimie and
Gabriel, though the latter only briefly, as he appeared to be sleeping off
a hangover. Alex asks if I'm hungry and goes downstairs and buys me a
burger from a street vendor across the street.
Dianna wants to be a flight attendant but needs to learn English better
before she can get a position with an international carrier. She has
studied in college a bit but is very self-consious about it and rarely
will use it.
Carmenza calls a friend and in about an hour Beatrice comes over. She has
lived in several US cities including New York and Los Angeles and speaks
about as much English as I Spanish. Beatrice is a stereotypical Colombian
bombshell, if there is such a thing, very pretty with a great figure,
wearing clothes which are seemingly painted on her. I think she likes to
party a lot and she and Carmenza suggest we go out and "walk the streets"
which apparently is local slang for doing some bar hopping.
About 11:30 Carmenza, Beatrice, Alex and I go out, first walking over to
Beatrice's apartment 10 blocks away where she needs to get something, then
hailing a cab for a ride downtown to Carrerra 70 which is one of the main
drags in Medellin with lots of nightclubs and discos. We go to one where
Beatrice seems to be a regular and get in for free. We hang out there
until it closes at 1am. Beatrice insists on dragging me out on the dance
floor for 2 songs. Fortunately they aren't typical Colombian or Latin
Ammerican tunes and don't require any sophisticated dance steps so I don't
embarrass myself too much.
Back at the apartment at Manrique, I get assigned a bed in one of the 3
bedrooms, Jaimie has the other bed in my room, Gabriel is in the 2nd
beedroom, and Carmenza and Alex in the 3rd. Dianna had left earlier in
Monday December 30
In the morning, Lucia, Carmenza's mother, and Rodrigo, her brother who is
a lawyer, and his son Estephan come over. Later, Carmenza's father stops
by. He and Lucia are now divorced but it still seems to be one big
family. This is a large extended family, and over the next several days I
was to meet more than 20 members, and there are 4-5 houses in various
parts of Medellin. With all the people coming and going in the different
houses, I never was quite able to keep straight the relationships between
everyone. Sleeping arrangements seemed to be fairly fluid in that whose
ever house you ended up at at the end of the day, some kind of sleeping
accomadation would usually be available.
In the afternoon I go shopping at a large mall with Rodrigo, Estephan,
Carmenza, and Dianna. I replace the bath items (soap, shampoo, hair
brush) I lost when my bag got left in the taxi, including buying a new
beard trimmer. It then turns into a grocery shopping trip to restock the
Manrique apartment and I'm wondering to myself how did I end up pushing a
huge cart of groceries in a supermarket in Medellin, Colombia. But it was
interesting to observe the similarities and differences in the products on
the shelves. There were many products that you find on the shelves in the
The most interesting purchase of the day was having yellow underwear
bought for me by Carmenza and Dianna. It's evidently a custom in many
Latin American countries to wear yellow underwear on New Years Eve in
order to bring good luck in the coming year. I don't know anything more
of the history behind (pun not intended) it than that. At any rate many
stores would have large bins full of assorted styles of mens and womens
yellow underwear. Rodrigo, Carmenza, and Diana picked out underwear for
many in their immediate families, more than 8 pairs. Mine were a stylish
pair of bikini briefs with the words "Suerte, La mia no la tuya", which I
think means something like "Good luck, mine, not yours" and a horseshoe
printed on the front.
That evening, Rodrigo, Estephan, Lucia and a friend of hers, Jaimie, Alex,
Carmenza, and I drive up to Parque Nutibera on a hill overlooking
Medellin. On the way we drive along the Rio Medellin which is aglow in
huge, brightly lit Christmas decorations for many blocks as it passes
through the city. Dazzling. At the top of Parque Nutibera there is a
reproduction of an Antioquian village, featuring a particular
architectural style unique to this area of Colombia, including a small
church, one-room schoolhouse, and barbershop among others. There was a
restaurant serving traditional Antioquian food and we had some appetizers
and drinks there. The whole area was also brightly lit with Christmas
lights and elsewhere on the hilltop was a huge ferris-wheel like
structure, except without the seats, also brightly lit. At night it could
be seen from many areas of Medellin. From the hilltop you had a
spectacular view of Medellin sprawled out below.
Back at the Manrique apartment I meet Luis, another of Carmenza's
brothers. If I remember correctly she has 3 sisters and 5 brothers. Luis
likes to talk I think and he tells me about being young and stupid and
going to Mexico with a bag of cocaine in his stomach. A friend of his, on
another trip, died when the bag ruptured. Later, Carmenza tells me he
used to be wild and "no good" but has a girlfriend now who has settled him
down and he is a completely different person now.
Tuesday December 31
Julietta, Carmenza's sister, and her husband Francis, and their two
daughters, Carlitta and Jenifer, arrive from Curacao, an island in the
Dutch Antilles off the coast of Venezuela. It is part of Holland and he
holds a Dutch passport. In school they are required to learn Dutch,
Spanish, English, and a fourth language which is unique to the Dutch
I go with Jaimie on a couple errands he has to run and we stop off at his
mother's house which doubles as her beauty salon (peluqueria). She serves
me coffee and biscuits. His sister, Consuela is visiting from Antioquia,
which is 80km northwest of Medellin. Jaimie actually lives in Antioquia
as well but works in Medellin. This an example of being unclear of the
exact relationship: while Jaimie and Carmenza are brother and sister, and
Jaimie and Consuela are brother and sister as well, Carmenza and Consuela,
from what I could tell, are not directly related. I sort of gave up
trying to keep everything straight in my mind.
>From there we drive over to where my bike is parked, so I can pick up some
of my dirty clothes to wash. I meet Alex and Dianna's father, whose
garage my bike is parked in, and learn that he is going on vacation
tomorrow and the garage will be locked up, so the bike will have to be
moved. Jaimie says we'll move it later today to Faisel's garage. Faisel
is Carmenza's brother-in-law.
Jaimie works in a bronze casting shop and he asks if I'd like to see it.
I say yes, so we stop there on the way back to the Manrique apartment.
The man who owns the shop is there and he and Jaimie show me around the
shop and demonstrate some of the processes used in manufacturing. He
shows me some of the candlesticks, nudes, and other pieces they have cast.
We return to the apartment, pick up Alex, and then return to my bike. My
helmet was with the bike, but I didn't have time to get the rest of my
riding gear together. It was hot enough that I'm not sure I would have
even if I had the time. At any rate, I followed Jaimie and Alex through
Medellin traffic, dressed in lightweight cotton pants and shirt and Tevas.
Don't say I didn't do my part to promote squidliness in Medellin. The
destination was the house of Estella, another of Carmenza's sisters, and
her husband, Faisel, about a half hour south in the wealthy suburb of El
Poblado, supposedly the same area where Pablo Escobar, the now deceased
former kingpin of the Medellin drug cartel lived.
Faisel has Lebonese parents, but was born and raised on Curacao in the
Dutch Antilles. He and Estella live in the top-floor penthouse apartment
of a new 8 storey luxury apartment building. Each floor is one apartment
and the bottom 2 floors are a parking garage for the tennants. The
elevator opens directly into the foyer of each apartment, but only if
enabled by a keyswitch in each apartment and by the guard in the lobby
downstairs. If disabled by either, the elevator won't open at that floor.
If the guard doesn't recognize you he calls up to see if a visitor is
expected. The guard knows Jaimie and Alex so he opens the garage door for
us and I park my bike inside. There is only one other car on this level.
We go up to the 8th floor but only stay a couple of minutes, just long
enough for me to meet Estella and Faisel, and take in the view from the
balcony which surrounds 3 of the 4 sides of the apartment. A great view
north towards downtown, and also of the other pricey houses and apartment
buildings in the area. I thank Faisel for the use of his garage. He says
it's his pleasure to help out.
>From there we drive to the bus terminal to meet Consuela's teenage
daughter (Jaimie's niece) who arrived from Antioquia. Then back to the
In the afternoon Rodrigo, Carmenza's brother who is a lawyer, says he
needs to stop by the Department of Justice downtown, and asks if I'd like
to go along. On the way we stop off at his house where I meet his wife
Gloria. Both say if I need a place to sleep I can stay in their extra
bedroom. He owns the top two floors in the apartment building for which
he paid US$55K. In San Francisco it would probably cost 10 times that
At the Department of Justice they're having their year-end party, and like
almost every other business in Medellin according to Rodrigo, nothing gets
done on December 31. They are deep-frying cubes of beef and small
potatoes in one corner and another table has a generous number of bottles
of assorted alcoholic beverages. I get my first taste of aguardiente, a
popular local alcohol flavored with aniseed. It's served in shots and
chased with either water or some other soft drink. It goes down, like
whiskey, with a burning sensation. Quite good actually.
Music is playing on a tape deck and others occasionally dance. One of the
women in the office asks me to dance and I manage to hold my own for two
songs. An older woman, who I learn is one of the senior members of the
department, and who has been clearly enjoying her alcohol, likes to talk
politics., and when she finds out I'm from the US, gets on a kick about
how the US government doesn't like the Colombian government, but that the
people of each country like each other. It's true basically. We stay
about 2 hours, during which time I'm plied with 4-5 shots of aguardiente.
Good thing for the meat and potatoes, of which I also ate a lot, or I
would have been sloshed.
We swing back by Rodrigo's home, pick up Gloria and Estephan and drive to
the home of Gloria's sister. One of the young guys there is a mechanical
engineer also and we talk techo-geek talk until Mariluz, Rodrigo's niece
who lives next door with her mother, comes over and Rodrigo says he is
taking her over to her sister's house for a bit and do I want to go along.
So we drive over to Mariluz's sisters home, a very nicely furnished
apartment. Both her sister, Marisol, and Marisol's husband are civil
engineers. Marisol has a new 5 day old baby and another child about 4-5
years old. We're fed more food, typical Colombian dishes, and more beer.
We stay for about ann hour before returning to Gloria's sister's house.
but this time go next door to Mariluz's mother's house. I later learn
that Mariluz's mother and her brother next door are not on speaking terms
which is why things are happening at both houses. Mariluz jokingly says
her family is crazy.
Mariluz and I and several other younger relatives who have arrived adjourn
to an upstairs den where music is turned on and several couples dance.
The music is salsa and other types of Latin American music which requires
knowledge of the dance steps, something I definitely don't have. Mariluz
asks if I want to dance and when I say I don't know the steps, she says
she'll show me. Knowing my sad history with dance classes (actually only
country-western) I reluctantly agree. That was a mistake. She shows me
the steps which I barely begin to reproduce, when she throws in body, leg,
and hip movements, which totally overloads my brain and everything falls
apart. Mariluz then says "Watch" and she dances with one of her cousins,
and they make it look so easy and natural. It really is fun to watch a
pair of good dancers, and I wish I could dance like that. Especially here
in Colombia and other Latin American countries where dancing is such a
part of social life.
Mariluz gives me some more "lessons" with another type of music with
slightly simpler steps but it's still futile. She is very good-natured
about the whole thing, but I think somewhat ammused about my sad dancing
As midnight approaches firecrackers go off in the streets, and from the
balcony you can see numerous paper hot air balloons, drifting over the
rooftops. These baloons are 2-4 feet in diameter and an incendiary device
inside heats up the air inside and they float up and aaway until the
device burns itself out. They really are beautiful to watch as they float
overhead with a flickering, glowing illumination. Liability concerns
would kill such balloons here in the US.
At midnight, the large stuffed dolls which I had been seeing along all the
roadsides all over Colombia are blown up. The dolls represent the old
year and blowing them up ushers out the old year and brings in the new.
Many dolls are effigies of famous national or international celebrities.
As we countdown to midnight, we all eat a dozen grapes for good luck.
I'll have to rely on the grapes for my good luck in the coming year, since
I forgot to wear my lucky yellow underwear, though I still have it to wear
next New Years Eve.
As the clock strikes 12 everyone is yelling, hugging and kissing each
other, and exchanging money with each other, another good luck tradition.
About 12:30 Rodrigo, Mariluz and I drive back to Faisel's house where the
celebration was more high key. We arrive and in the process of giving
everyone Happy New Year wishes, get showered with champaign. The floor is
awash in champaign. Out on the deck which surrounds 3 sides of the 8th
floor Faisel and Francis are barbequing beef and potatoes. In addition to
Carmenza, Lucia, Julietta, Consuela, and Estella, all of whom I've already
met, I meet Patricia, who has a 10-day old newborn baby girl, her 4th
daughter. Her husband had been killed by robbers 6 months ago, leaving
her to raise her daughters herself. Patricia had been marrieds to Luis,
Carmenza's brother at one time, but said divorcing him was the best thing
she ever did, and whenever she would talk about Luis, she would make a
cross with two fingers and say "Mal, mal" (bad, bad).
Earlier in the day, while talking with Consuela, I learned she was an
Evangelical Christian and she had invited me to church. I delicately
steered the conversation in another direction without committing one way
or the other. Tonight she was giving blessings of some sort or another
over the barbeque fire, and of course with the amount of alcohol which was
being consumed, her fervor became the source of some jokes by some of the
others who didn't share her religious fervor. This ultimately hurt her
feelings and then she had to be reassured that she wasn't being made fun
of. She really was a very good person and well-liked by everyone, even if
they didn't agree with her Evangelical beliefs.
At about 5:30am things started winding down and I finally sacked out on
the couch in the living room. The sky to the east was already getting