Part 28. SanCristobal
Monday, 27 April, 2009
The weather held, and I got to San Cristobal late in the morning.
San Cristobal was a large city, so I promptly got lost. The GPS was helpful only in showing which direction I was going. I did my typical thing of riding around the city, finding the central area, then navigating from there. I got a fairly good sense of what was where, so I stopped to drink some water before looking for a hotel. San Cristobal has lots of small plazas and parks, which was very nice. I saw nothing in San Cristobal that looked bad or seemed abandoned.
It was early enough that I could have gone to the border, but this was my last chance to find tires and I wanted to hit the border in the morning rather than the afternoon, so I could get someplace in Colombia before it got late.
I got to a Suzuki shop at noon. They had lots of tires on display, but after I finally got someone to help me, we found that they had nothing in my size. I tried to ask for directions to another shop, but I couldn't understand anything they said. Then they shooed me out the door and closed for siesta.
Okay, nothing was going to be open for the next couple hours. Time to find a hotel.
I got on a main street and found the Hotel Dinastia, which looked expensive. When I parked the bike at the curb and started to walk to the hotel, a cab driver said something to me. I told him that I didn't understand, and he replied, "Oh, hey, Bro. Watch you bike, Bro. You get robbed, Bro."
He was stuck in traffic, so we had a moment to talk amidst all the honking. He had worked in The Bronx (cab driver?) for several years before returning to Venezuela. He didn't like his homeland and hoped to return to the U.S. someday.
I asked him for directions to a tire store, and he pointed straight ahead and assured me that there were many shops. Traffic cleared and he was gone with a wave.
The hotel price was decent (about US$35) and they had a secure garage, so I settled in. The view from my window:
I wrote for a couple hours to kill time and relax, then I rode away to shop for tires.
I found a small moto shop that didn't have tires, but they might know where I should go. The guy made a couple of calls and gave me directions that I couldn't understand. Then another customer offered to lead me and I accepted.
By the way, this Unico 250cc Raptor was priced at BsF/10,900. Less than US$2,000.
This Keeway had the look of a big bike, but was only 150cc. The fins on the motor for air cooling were oversized, giving it a beefier look. Didn't see a price tag n it.
The helpful customer led me to a tire shop, but they didn't have what I needed. He then led me here:
The shop was busy, busy. People constantly arriving, pushing up to the service counter and calling for the attention of the few employees who were working there. My helper made sure they had the tires I needed before leaving. Nice guy.
I ended up with a Pirelli Scorpion MT90 rear tire (nice), and a Rinaldi R34 for the front.
Okay, I had never heard of a Rinaldi tire, but it looked good. The price for both tires was BsF/620, which was about US$/111. Not bad.
While I waited for the tires, I noticed an oil leak on the left side of my motor that I hadn't seen until then. The instructions for the 680cc upgrade had called for some sealant between the cylinder and the crankcase here, but Baia hadn't known that. It was a small leak, and certainly didn't account for the noticeable oil loss I was experiencing. Probably still burning oil. I had no idea what Baia had done with the piston rings, so they might be out of alignment or something. I wished again that I had been able to help or watch him work.
I strapped the tires on the bike and motored away. I could have mounted the tires myself at the hotel (where my tools were), but I had no means of inflating them. If needed, I could have mounted the tires, then walked or hired a taxi to take me to get them inflated. First, however, I went looking for someone else to mount the tires.
Short story: After lots of hassles and misdirection, I finally found a small shop in a dead-end street a block away from where I had bought the tires. The mechanic agreed to change the tires and stopped what he was working on. He and I got both wheels off the bike, which was balanced on the centerstand with things piled under the back of the bike to keep it from tilting backwards. He had another guy take the two wheels and the new tires to another shop nearby. The guy had to make three trips on his scooter to get them all there.
While I waited, other customers asked about my bike. I passed out a few of my business cards, and those were a big hit. Too big, actually, since I almost ran out of them. I had a few more stashed someplace, but that pretty much wiped me out. The guys all wanted a photo with me, so we took several. This was one of them. The guy next to me in the gray t-shirt was the one who worked on my bike.
Gotta put more sunblock on my nose, I see.
The guys conducted the usual interrogation, then kept trying to ask me some new question that I didn't understand. It had something to do with the chain or the sprockets or the speed of the bike, but every answer I tried on them didn't satisfy. One of them (with the red hat, above) started with wild gestures that he must have thought would help clarify the question, but I couldn't tell if he was acting out a fist fight, baling hay, or making pasta. They finally gave up the question.
When the wheels returned with new shoes, we got those mounted. The mechanic insisted on doing the work, so I had to really impose myself a couple times to make sure things went on right. The speedometer hub, for instance, can be mounted incorrectly very easily. He started to split the chain when mounting the rear wheel, but I got him to hold off on that. Instead, he suddenly loosened up the left side chain adjuster to get the chain over the rear sprocket. That wasn't necessary, and it messed up my chain's alignment setting. He really wanted to do a good job, but I didn't want to make the mistake I had made by letting Baia work on it alone. I wanted it done the way I wanted it done. Simple as that.
I started to re-do the chain alignment, but there was another customer who needed to get his bike out of the shop, and my fat KLR was blocking the way. So, I got the bike out of the shop and test-rode it around a bit. I paid for the work (BsF/80, about US$14). Less than US$130 for two new tires and mounting. Nice.
The mechanic went back to what he had been doing before I interrupted him. He was using a Dremel-type tool to enlarge the openings in the valve head of a 500cc motor that he was rebuilding. Crude, but maybe it didn't need to be precise work.
Once back at the hotel, I re-did the chain alignment. The mechanic had lost the rubber cap that I kept on the end of the adjuster bolt, so that was another minor annoyance. (The rubber cap protects the exposed threads and helps guard against losing a nut that might accidentally come loose.)
The hotel's garage attendant watched me work. He was young--maybe twenty--and watched every move intently. I added the last of the old bottle of oil, so I had one more liter. That would easily get me to Bogota, and maybe back to Colorado.
I took a shower and gave myself a haircut that didn't quite look right when I saw it later in a mirror. I blame the barber.
The hotel had a restaurant and I was in the mood for pasta again. The waiter recommended the meat sauce (which was more meat than sauce) and it was pretty good. The beers were good. Five bucks total.
I decided to stay another night in San Cristobal before crossing into Colombia. I still needed to find a new air pump, so that was my next mission. I didn't want to have to fix a flat in the mountains of Colombia with no way to inflate the tire.
That meant that I didn't have to get up early tomorrow. Yay!
Tuesday, 28 April, 2009
Not only did I sleep late, I slept all morning. I then did some photo management and a little writing. The hotel room door suddenly opened and the maid walked in with an armload of towels. Hello. She was shocked to see me (sitting on the bed in my underwear with a computer on my lap) and she apologized before leaving. It seemed odd that she hadn't knocked first. Good thing I wasn't naked.
It was noon when I went down to the restaurant for breakfast/lunch. I was hungry, so I started with a very large bowl of excellent French onion soup. Then I took my chances with a steak and chorizo sausage. The steak was very hard to chew, and the sausage had an odd, artificial red color and a very plain flavor (not real chorizo at all). Neither was very good. Fortunately, I had chosen the salad over the french fries, because the salad was very good. The meal was cheap, so it was okay.
While eating, I saw a news broadcast on the TV. Did they just report that Bin Laden was dead? And the swine flu epidemic in Mexico was killing a lot of people.
The hotel also ran a cyber cafe that opened into the lobby. I got my laptop hooked up to their Internet cable and started uploading photos and a report update. It was a very slow connection, so it took a very long time. I think that many of these Internet connections are fed through a satellite dish, because the connection was interrupted many times. It took five hours to get everything uploaded and to complete a few emails and forums messages. Cost me a couple bucks.
When I was done with that, I took the bike out in the early evening to look for a pump. I saw a bicycle shop so I stopped there first. All they had were some CO2 cartridge inflators and some hand pumps. I bought a hand pump just in case. Back into the street.
As I rode away to look for motorcycle shops, a guy on a red BMW 650F zoomed up next to me and started yelling to me. When we were stopped in traffic, he asked where I was from and where I was going. We conducted quite the conversation as we fought along, side-by-side, in the heavy traffic. He asked if I was traveling alone, and when I said yes, he insisted that I follow him to his motorcycle club to meet other riders.
I was a bit wary as I followed his zany course through the crush of cars.
It wasn't likely at all that this was a set-up of some kind, but it doesn't hurt to be alert to the possibilities. But, no worries--he stayed on major streets and pulled into the parking lot of a business where other bikes were parked.
I finally got to meet Edgar in a meaningful way once we had our bikes parked. Edgar introduced me to Julio Bolivar, who had an office in the building. Julio might be a local moto club president. Julio owns a large resort hotel somewhere near here.
Several other men stopped in while we talked, and I was introduced to them all. Most of the men were no longer young, but one of them was there with his nephew, who was riding a new KTM 450 EXC.
Me, the uncle, Julio, the nephew, the bike, Edgar. The dog had gotten a good ear-scratching from me, so I was his new best friend.
Julio showed me some photos on his computer. They were from a trip that he and his wife had taken in a car down through southern Argentina. They had gone to Rio Gallegos, but not all the way to Ushuaia.
I was shown a large poster for the coming rider rally that would start here in a couple days. It was the largest bike rally in Venezuela ever. The mountain roads in this region were part of the attraction for the rider rally. They all wanted me to stay for the rally, and laughed at me when I told them that I had to get home. A few more days, that's all, they insisted.
I was then pressed to ride with them to some other place to meet more riders. I got a photo of Julio on his new 1200GS as he rode past me in the parking lot. I thought that it was a rare bike around here, but I later found that I was wrong. There were LOTS of these R1200GS bikes in San Cristobal.
The ride to the meeting place was madness.
It was all I could do to keep up with them, and I thought that maybe they were testing me or showing off. I'm not really sure how I stayed with them. Edgar's 650F didn't have any tail light or brake light, so I almost rear-ended him when he suddenly stopped in the street to let some kids cross the road in front of him.
Surely the zig-zag course could have been managed in a more direct route. We were all over the place. Left turn, left turn, left turn, right turn, right turn, right turn. Didn't that put us back where we started? Were they lost? I sure was. My GPS was no help, but it would get me back to my hotel when the time came. (I had saved the hotel's location on the Zumo yesterday.)
We arrived at a busy coffee and bakery/sandwich restaurant, the Pan Cristal. Lots of people were there, and Edgar and Julio knew them all. I got to meet and do the handshake-shoulder slap over and over. More and more riders arrived, and I saw that they were calling others on their cell phones and talking about the American gringo on a Kawasaki.
None of the riders I met at the coffee shop were kids. Most were middle-aged, some were older. One was a doctor in a business suit. I got to explain my bike again and again, and tell them that the tool tube wasn't a bomb and wasn't used to transport drugs.
When they asked me what my profession was, I told them. Everyone turned and pointed at one of the other men, who turned out to be a recently-retired high-ranking police official with some central federal agency. My camera was stashed on the bike, so no photos.
I got pressured over and over by everyone to stay for the rally. A few more days! That's all!
"No, no," I lamented. "I must go tomorrow."
When things slowed down, I asked Edgar if he knew where I could get an air pump for my bike. He said he knew a place, and he would take me there the next day. We made a plan for him to meet me (in his car) in the morning at 08:00. After that, he said something about going someplace else, but we couldn't get our languages to cooperate.
It was about 21:00 when I said good-night and rode back to the hotel. I parked the bike in the hotel garage and smeared some ShoeGoo on the now-exposed LED voltage meter. The garage attendant watched intently the whole time. He asked me what the bike cost, and when I told him, he whistled. He didn't think it was expensive; he (and everyone else) assumed that it would have cost more.
I got him to sit on the bike for a photo, and he was all excited.
There was a Chinese restaurant next door, so I went there for chicken and shrimp chop suey. Beer, of course. Five bucks.
A big, rugged-looking guy in a red training suit shuffled into the restaurant and quietly put a paper on each customer's table. Then he stood in the back of the restaurant for a while. It was a color printout with the guy's photo on it. I don't remember his name, but he is apparently a local boxing champion (he certainly looked it) who was going to Puerto Rico to fight in some international games. The purpose of the flyer was to ask for donations so that he could afford the trip, and it said something about required mediations that he didn't have. I put a BsF/10 bill on the flyer. When he came back around to collect his flyers, he thanked me warmly for the donation. As he left, I saw that his title was embroidered on the back of his jacket, and it did say something about being a champion. He looked a little too old to be competing at a high level, but what the heck.
(By the way, I have learned that Bs/ was the designation for Bolivars of an older value, and BsF/ or Bs.F/ was the designation for the newer Bolivars. This explained why some small coins are worth 100 Bolivars when they are obviously meant to now be worth a tenth of a new Bolivar. At some point, they had changed the value of the Bolivar, so that 1,000 old Bolivars was now worth one new Bolivar. Also, all the paper money is worth the new value, so a five Bolivar bill is worth more than an old 500 Bolivar coin. When I had changed my Brazilian Reais to Bolivars, the money changer had actually offered me 2500 Bolivars for each Real. What I got was bills of the new value, so I hadn't understood at first why some money was a thousand times off what it should have been worth.)
I called Laurie to check in, and I told her that I might get stuck doing something tomorrow after Edgar took me to get an air pump. We agreed that it would be worthwhile for me to stay for the first day of the rally, just to see what it looked like. If it was interesting, I might stay another day, but I wasn't really keen on staying through the whole thing. But, who knows? Maybe it would be great.
Back in my room, I started writing, but at about 22:00, the phone rang and it was some guy who called me by name but spoke no English. I heard a lot of other men talking and laughing in the background. Sounded like a bar. The caller might have been Edgar, because he said something about 08:00 in the morning. I couldn't get whatever else he was trying to tell me, but I heard him mention the rally. He found someone else who spoke a little English and handed the phone to him.
The man who spoke next told me that they had gotten the local TV station interested in interviewing me the next day. Yeah, I had heard that before. I confirmed that I would be waiting at the hotel at 08:00, so that satisfied them.
I wrote until about 23:00 before quitting for the night.
Wednesday, 29 April, 2009
After a shower and a shave (and a bit more trimming on my really bad haircut), I ate a gingerbread roll and started to do a bit more writing but I was called by the woman at the reception desk to come down and see her. She was really cute, so why not? Unfortunately, all she wanted was my credit card. I told her that I wanted to stay until Friday, and she had me pay for the four nights.
I waited in front of the hotel, and Edgar pulled up in his big Ford pickup truck right on time. I hopped in and away we went. Our language problems weren't much of an issue, since it was mostly small talk. He pointed out a lot of things to me as we drove along, but it was mostly routine stuff. San Cristobal is a city of about two million people. Lots of local, regional, and nation-wide buses, but no trains come into the mountains here.
The stores were still closed at that hour, so Edgar took me to his shop. He owns a uniform business, and does a lot of embroidering on shirts, hats, and other items. This is Edgar in his U.S. Marines t-shirt. He wears a lot of military clothing.
Edgar gave me a t-shirt from the local motorcycle club, and he wanted me to wear it for whatever we were doing today so I put it on. He also gave me a KTM baseball cap that his shop had made.
We went back to the Pan Cristal, and I met some of the same men there again. It was a large and popular place. They were hosting or promoting The Vagina Monologues sometime soon, so don't worry about that poster. It wasn't on the menu.
The coffee was good, but it came in small cups. I asked for a large coffee with milk, but it would have been considered a tiny serving in the States. The fresh-squeezed, pulpy orange juice was very good.
The local TV news and newspapers were all about the swine flu problem in Mexico. It had spread to the U.S., and there some reported cases in Venezuela.
Also in the paper was an article with a photo of the doctor I had met there last night. As best I could tell, it was about his having uncovered some corruption and scandal with the lottery. Just then--Lo and behold--in walks that very same doctor. Many of the coffee shop patrons went over to congratulate him. His name was Gustavo Azocar. He recognized me and came over to say good morning. I pointed to the newspaper and gave him a thumbs-up gesture which he laughed at. Maybe not such a common gesture in Venezuela. I hope it didn't mean anything obscene here.
Edgar pointed out many of the pretty women walking by, and he coached me on how to flirt with them. I'm always cautious when someone wants me to say something that I don't understand (I didn't want to get slapped or arrested), but, "Hola, mamacita!" was pretty safe.
Edgar had been to Miami once, and he told me about how the U.S. Immigration officers in the airport there had given him a terrible time. They grilled him for quite a while and searched his bags. He still seemed a little steamed over it.
Edgar called someone who showed up soon after in this truck. The truck had a sign for the coming motorcycle show. Apparently there's going to be a sexy show, too. Who knew?
The guy who showed up was Wilber Hernandez, and he was the manager of the motorcycle event. He confirmed that the local TV station wanted to interview me, they would provide an interpreter, and that they would take care of everything. I didn't know what "everything" was that needed to be taken care of, but I agreed to do it. Wilber gave me two posters for the bike rally, made some phone calls, gulped a tiny coffee, then sped away in his truck. Busy, busy.
Edgar and I then went pump shopping. We drove to several shops, but none had electric 12-volt air pumps. He was also looking for a battery charger and a throttle cable for his bike. As we drove around, he continued to point and local sights and tell me a bunch of stuff about it that I didn't understand. There was a giant painted mural on a concrete retaining wall alongside the roadway that seemed to be important to Edgar. It was a collection of scenes from around the city, and he tried to tell me about the artist, but I didn't get any of it.
Edgar asked me if I knew about Che Guevara's motorcycle ride all around every country in South America, and I just nodded and said yes. There was no way I wanted to get into a discussion on the local lore about Che's ride. I certainly wasn't going to correct Edgar's version of the story.
We finally found an auto-parts store that had two pumps that would be perfect. One cost a bit more, but it looked more durable. With my new pump, I was all set. We went to a few more places and finally found the things that Edgar needed. He knew the owner of each shop we stopped in, and I got to meet them as well. He introduced me to everyone as his "American amigo del Estados Unidos." I saw a lot of back offices and storerooms this way.
Somewhere along the way, I managed to find another pair of light riding gloves exactly like the ones that I had mostly been using. The old ones were pretty ragged (and sewn up in many places), but I kept them just in case. I'm such a packrat.
Edgar needed to run more errands, so we went to a bank where he cashed a check. While we waited in the lobby, he showed me some photos on his cell phone. Some were pornographic (he already knows me well), some were just funny. He also had several photos that were very negative about Hugo Chavez. He and Julio had asked me what I thought of Obama and Chavez the previous evening, but I mostly avoided that conversation. Now, Edgar showed me a doctored photo of Chavez as Obama's dog on a leash. Another fake photo showed Chavez masturbating Obama. There was no mistaking the opinion that Edgar had of Chavez.
Personally, I liked the pictures of nekkid wimmens better.
(Many of the patrons of Pan Cristal had told me that Hugo Chavez was worse than the swine flu. They were very open about their dislike for him.)
Edgar drove out to the edge of the city and went into someone's house for a while. I stayed in his truck and read an English edition of Cycle World that he had picked up for me somewhere. When he came back out, Edgar gave me a black bandana as a gift. I wondered if I could get him to embroider my ride logo on it? It would probably be asking too much, so I didn't bother.
The bandana, the t-shirt, the hat, the magazine, the posters for the bike rally... more stuff. It was quite a haul, and I would have to haul it all back home.
As we rode back into the city, Edgar pointed at a bunch of tiny shacks in the forest next to the road. He said something about the bad people there and about the land being seized for these bad people. He blamed Chavez, but I'm not sure what the actual story was.
I was dropped off at my hotel, and Edgar said he would come meet me at 14:00, then we would take out bikes to... I don't know. Some other place. As usual, I was a willing participant, but I had no idea what was going on.
I had a couple hours to myself, but I spent much of that time waiting for a sandwich in the hotel's snack bar.
The guy making the sandwich cut the bread, disappeared for about twenty minutes, then came back with a couple other guys with hand carts who were delivering something. He smeared mustard on the bread, then was gone somewhere else for about ten minutes. When he returned, I gave him my best "What the hell are you doing about my sandwich!" expression, and he threw up his hands and apologized. He managed to almost complete the sandwich before the cute gal at the reception desk needed him for something. In the end, it was not a very special sandwich.
I wrote a little, and I was sitting on the bed in my underwear with the computer on my lap when the door opened and a cleaning woman walked in. Hello. She was surprised to find me there, and when I told her that I was staying two more days, she waved and left. Too bad she was an older cleaning woman. But then, all the cleaning women looked older . Rats.
I put some more ShoeGoo on the voltage LED and was ready to ride at 14:00. My bike's odometer was at 43,741.5 miles at the time, just in case you were curious.
Edgar didn't arrive until forty minutes later, so I got entertained by the not-quite-demolition derby on the street. Almost all motorcycle and scooter riders were wearing plastic toy helmets instead of real helmets. Some had bicycle helmets.
Edgar showed me where he was having a problem with his new throttle cable and I was sure that he was sorry he was late. We rode like maniacs to another part of the city. There was a large arena next to a larger arena, and then there was a big flat field where scaffolding was being erected. This was where the motorcycle event was being held, starting the next day. Almost nothing was ready. The stage was only half there, lots of barricades were laying in piles, booths were being assembled, and men were installing more overhead lights. I think that this should have all been done days ago.
Some ramps for jumping had just been made.
This was the view from here. Too bad it was a bleary day.
We hung out while people gathered around to look at my bike. Most were just curious, but some wanted to ask a lot of questions. No one spoke English, so I wasn't able to explain much. My Spanish was getting a little better, but small repetitive conversations don't add much to the vocabulary.
Another guy arrived and came directly to me. He introduced himself as Melo and said that he represented various riding clubs around Venezuela. He had scores of pins and badges on his vest. He wrote his organization's email address in my notebook after I have him one of my few remaining business cards, then he said something about the TV interview. Something about tomorrow, something about something else... I kept nodding and waiting for enlightenment, but none came. Edgar tried to explain more, but that didn't help. Other men standing around took turns telling me the same thing, but I got none of it.
Melo finally laughed and explained something to Edgar, then he left. Edgar later told me to be ready to ride from my hotel in the morning at 07:00. Okay, that was simple. I got that.
Then he said something about many riders coming to the hotel. Or coming from the hotel. Or staying at many hotels. Then something about something that he was doing tonight.
Fark. I let it all go and kept the part that I understood. I would be ready to ride from the hotel at 07:00.
We watched the workers continue setting things up. A fire truck was using its hose to wash-down a large asphalt section where some of the riding demonstrations were probably going to be held. One moto acrobat arrived and spent about an hour practicing on a couple KTM bikes and a quad. He had one guy then another join him on the quad while he did some balancing tricks.
I had seen one of these Honda Varadero bikes in Argentina. I would see many more of them during the event. They aren't imported to the States.
Yamaha Diversion 900. Nope, not that one, either.
One of a stunt-rider's Katooms. This was a 530 EXC, the other was s 425-someting.
Edgar had to go back to work, so we said goodbye there after I assured him that I could find my hotel with no problem. I didn't stay much longer, partly because the longer I stayed the more people kept asking for my cards. Partly, too, because it got pretty boring.
Getting to the hotel was easy with the GPS. Not killing several drivers along the way was more difficult.
I wrote until I was all caught up again, then went out for food. I wanted someplace different, so I passed by the Chinese restaurant and went into a pizza shop. The pizza shop only had hamburgers (!?), so I continued walking. There were several small food huts, but I wasn't in the mood. In a bakery, I got some chicken empanadas that were in a flaky crust, some cherry Danishes for the morning, and some peach juice.
I found a dark, quiet street that had some illuminated signs, so I went that way. There were a few small hotels, some dingy-looking bars, some apartments. It was away from the main street, so it was nice to get away from the traffic noise. Back at the hotel, I met some people that I had seen at the event site. I wasn't in the mood for more chit-chat, so I just waved and went up to my room.
I started writing but the phone rang. It was Edgar asking where I was. Where I was? Well, I was in my room where he had just called me. He told me to come to the Pan Cristal right away. I really didn't want to go out again, so I told him that I didn't know how to get to the panaderia. He told me to hire a taxi if necessary. Ugh.
Okay, I assured him that I was on my way. I grabbed a cab and asked the driver if he knew the Pan Cristal. He knew of two Pan Cristals, so we went to see which was which. The first was the wrong one, but we got to the right one soon after. The cab ride was less than two dollars.
Edgar was surprised that I hadn't come on my bike, and that's when I realized that I should have hired the taxi to lead me while I followed on my bike. Stupid me.
Edgar took me inside the nightclub (Casa Bar) above the bakery, but there wasn't much going on there. He seemed to be looking for someone, and he said something about many girls. (Edgar pronounced the word as "grills," so it was always funny to me.)
After a while, we went back outside and he told me to wait while he went to get his truck. After he had ridden off, I chatted with the doorman from the nightclub for a while. With him was another guy I had met several times already, but again I never knew his name. They were both young, friendly guys. Edgar had introduced me to the doorman earlier. They wanted to ask me about the United States, but we couldn't manage it very well.
The doorman, the other guy.
I amused myself by trying to interpret the signs at the nightclub's entrance. One was, "Prohibida La Admision A Este Local Con Gorra, Franela O Zapatos Deportivos." I knew what most of it said and meant, but I asked the doorman what "gorra" and "franela" meant. He made some gestures but I didn't get it. Just then, a customer walked out of the nightclub and the doorman stopped him to point out his clothing. "Gorra" was the man's baseball cap, "franela" was the t-shirt, and I already knew that "zapatos deportivos" were the athletic shoes. The doorman then realized that the customer was wearing all three things that the sign indicated were prohibited for entry. It was another funny moment.
Edgar arrived with his truck and had me jump in. We went to a Subway sandwich shop. The security guard there had a short shotgun in a hip holster.
I wasn't hungry, since I had eaten the chicken empanadas, but I had a small sandwich while he had a salad. He told me that he couldn't eat bread because he had a bad pancreas (or maybe he had had his pancreas removed). Did that mean he couldn't have pasta or potatoes as well? Yup. Also, no beer (!), no baked goods, no starches of any kind.
A young couple were at the table next to us on the outside patio, and the man spoke excellent English. He helped Edgar translate a few things for me, then he tried to help us be able to dial each other's cell phones. We never could get his phone to dial mine, but I was finally able to call him.
While we were putzing with the phones, Laurie called, so we talked for a while. There was something at home that would need my attention before long, so I had a moderate time pressure now. Not a tight one, just one that required me to not linger. I'd stay for the bike event, then get to Bogota and back to the States without unnecessary delay.
Edgar got a sandwich to take with him, and we got back in his truck. I thought we might go back to the nightclub (where there were going to be many pretty grills), but instead he took me to his home. He lived in a gated townhouse community, and his big truck was a tight fit on the narrow streets.
After he put his very large dog (or small bear) away someplace safe (he didn't want me to bite it, I think... or maybe it was the other way around), he took me in to meet his son, Carlos. The sandwich had been for Carlos who joined us after he ate it. Carlos was fourteen years old and was a very nice kid. He played on a school soccer team that had recently played in Spain in a championship tournament.
Edgar gave me a couple bottles of beer while we hung out there for a while watching soccer on the TV. Were we waiting for someone? I didn't know where his wife was, but I didn't get the impression that she lived there. Before we left, Edgar partially uncovered and showed me his other bike, a very large Suzuki VL1000.
We drove back to the event site where the gate guards let him enter with his truck. The workers were still erecting the stage and other vendors had arrived to set up their booths and huts. We walked around meeting people. Edgar knew everyone. They knew him as "Nacho," and he told me that it was his nickname. Edgar introduced me to a woman at a large tent site. She owned a local radio station and she was very interested in my story (not for the radio station--but just because she was curious). She had her twenty-something son try to interview me, but that didn't work. Much more effective was the assistance of a very pretty blond gal named Jenifer. Like the bartender at the Hell's Angels club in Manaus, Jenifer had learned English by studying the lyrics of songs from the States.
Hugo was one of the people there. He introduced me to his girlfriend, but didn't tell me her name.
Edgar (Nacho), Jenifer, Hugo (with a strange, serious expression), his girlfriend. Jenifer did not like that Hugo put arm around her.
We all moved to some chairs under a canopy. Other people joined us.
The radio station owner, her son, Edgar, Jenifer, Hugo, his girlfriend.
A small crowd sat around as Jenifer fielded their questions and gave them my answers. It didn't take long for the interrogation to get quite personal, but it was all very friendly. How did I like Venezuela? Wasn't the Gran Sabana beautiful? How did I like the girls in Venezuela? They were good for sex, right? Since I was traveling alone, did I have to masturbate much? Was I looking for a girlfriend while I was here?
It was a beautiful country.
Yes, it was.
They were very pretty.
I wouldn't know.
Pass. (Lots of laughter, lots of gestures.)
Um... no, not really. It was very tempting, though. (Lots more laughter.)
After this last question, the radio station owner made a very direct point of telling me that she was now divorced and was free! free! free! She jumped up and thrust her arms into the air as she yelled this. I got the impression that she liked being single again.
Hugo had a pistol stuck in his waistband. I had noticed it right away, but no one seemed care about it. He asked me a few questions about my travels and if I had encountered any troubles along the way. This was a less-interesting turn to the conversation, so many of the audience wandered away. Hugo had given me his business card when he saw me write his name in my notebook. He is the president of Transnacional Motor's c.a., but I didn't know what kind of business that was.
I learned that Hugo was also a state police officer, but I didn't understand what his duties were. It sounded like he did some investigations, although he mentioned some intelligence duties.
I showed him my retired police I.D. and he shook my hand again and passed the card around. Hugo then put his arms around both women and told me that these were his two girlfriends (as if he were staking a claim and he wanted me to know). As he laughed, Jenifer wagged her finger in the air and told me that Hugo was full of shit. The other gal just smiled. She seemed used to Hugo's behavior.
Another guy walked up with his date. I don't remember what he looked like because she was striking. She was striking in several ways. She was maybe 6' 3" tall, supermodel-tight body, supermodel-tight bodysuit, massive concrete breasts, and either her face had been Botoxed beyond the ability to show any expression at all or it had taken all the plastic surgery that it was going to take. She sat in silence while her date chatted a while. She stared straight ahead without looking at anyone. Maybe she was a rent-a-date. When the guy left, she stood up and took his arm. Away they went. Maybe she was a Stepford rent-a-date.
When we finally left the event site, it was late. Edgar drove me around the area showing me the five or six arenas and stadiums. Then I thought we were going back to my hotel, but Edgar took a road out to the suburbs. He laughed and told me "many pretty grills" when I asked where we were going.
Great. More grills.
Edgar turned up a gravel road and we came out in a large parking lot. The mystery was solved. The large building had neon signs that were anatomically correct. The brothel in the Porky's movies was tame by comparison. This was the only whore house in San Cristobal, Edgar said. All the best grills were here, he assured me.
No camera now, folks.
It was nothing like the club in Manaus. This was all business. A bit ragged, a bit dingy, a bit morbid. The large bar area was not a social area--it served only as a pre-fuck place to choose your woman. The music was typically over-loud, the lights were dim in the corners (for good reason), and several large-screen TVs were showing constant porn videos. Most of the videos were edited in short clips that got very annoying after about thirty seconds. No one was watching them, and men sat at table either alone or in large groups.
The women there could not compare to the women in Manaus. These were all veterans, and of the few dozen that were on the floor, I found only three of them attractive--and one of them was iffy. They all had dead eyes. I think Edgar had told me that a woman here cost BsF/150, so that's about US$27--more than twice the price for a MUCH better selection of women in Manus.
There was no cover charge, but we had to be customers so we had a couple beers. I was surprised that Edgar had a beer. I hope his pancreas (if he still has one) will be okay. He kept prompting me to make a choice, but my choice would have been to leave. After a while, a petite, pot-bellied gal came around to all the tables and asked a fee from everyone. She was going to be the stripper, and she had to pre-collect her tips.
When she got on the small stage, all the men crowded around, so I went over to see. The stage was round, maybe eight feet across, with a stripper pole in the center. The stripper had some moves, I'll give her that, but she wasn't attractive to me at all. She gave the guys a good look at what they had come to see, but her face was blank. No touching allowed.
Back at our table, Edgar seemed to really want me to choose a woman, and I had to get fairly direct with him. No.
He called a woman over to our table and I almost got angry with him, but then I quickly saw that she was for him. He had chosen well, though. She was one of the few I thought was pretty. She sat and flirted with me for a while after Edgar told her about me. She kept touching my leg with her foot and making "let's go" gestures with her head. No, no, thanks. Not tempting at all.
She laughed at Edgar's jokes, but each laugh was exactly 2.5 seconds long, had the same number of "ha ha" syllables, and ended abruptly. Well rehearsed but not well delivered. Eventually, Edgar gave up trying to get me to choose another woman. He had made his choice.
So... yadda, yadda, yadda...
Anyway, twenty minutes later, Edgar came back to the table to get me and we left the place. Thank goodness.
When he dropped me off, I confirmed that I would wait for him outside the hotel sometime after 07:00 the next morning, and he agreed.
That would make for a short night, and it had been a long day, so I went straight to bed.
Thursday, 30 April, 2009
Edgar arrived a little late (had to drop Carlos off at school) and we motored to the TV station. We went to the main station, but that wasn't where we were supposed to be, so we zoomed across some neighborhoods on a shortcut to another location.
We made it in time--a bit early, actually--so we had to wait a while before the morning show's host arrived. He introduced himself to me as Frank, but I heard others call him Don Franco a few times. His English was very good, and he told me where to sit in the small studio. Frank asked me a few questions, asked me my name again, and I gave him one of my business cards. He and Edgar chatted casually as Frank's son got the lights set and the camera ready.
Wilmer and Melo arrived and joined us in the studio exactly at 08:00 and Frank told them (in English by mistake, I think) to "Sit, sit! Hurry!)
They sat and moved their microphones closer and Frank suddenly looked across the table and said, "Buenos Dias!" Just like that, we were live on the air.
Melo, me, Frank, Wilmer. (Edgar had my camera and had gotten Wilmer's attention.) Melo's vest weighed about ten pounds--he belonged to lots of bike clubs.
Frank went though some routine bits first, then opened two Styrofoam containers of food that he had brought with him. They were fast-food pork meals that I had assumed were for snacking on off camera, but it turned out that they had another purpose. The swine flu problem in Mexico had impacted pork suppliers all over the country as customers were avoiding pork products. Frank gave his viewers a brief education on how the swine flu was transmitted, then he ate some of the pork to show that it was safe to eat. Frank pretended to offer some of the meat to each of us at the table, then took it back suddenly for himself with a laugh.
During a quick commercial break, Frank asked me if I understood that the pork was safe, and I assured him that as long as it was fully cooked, it should be fine. He agreed and we were suddenly back on air. Short commercial. He passed out forks to each of us, and I had a bite of the pork. It was dry by this time, but it tasted pretty good.
Frank took some phone calls and talked with viewers, and he answered (on camera) a few text messages that rang in on his cell phone. It was very casual and it was easy to be relaxed.
Frank introduced each of us to the viewers, had me speak briefly (in English that he translated), then he talked about me and my trip. But, really, I was only there as a prop--the others were there to talk about the moto event that was beginning that day.
Since Wilmer was the event director and Melo was the main organizer, they were interviewed a bit, then were allowed to each talk about the event without interruption for several minutes each. Frank asked me a couple questions about my impressions of Venezuela, but he didn't bother interpreting all my answers. He asked me if I had had any bad crashes along the way, but I didn't even get a chance to answer (thank goodness) before telling his viewers about a bad crash he had been in years ago. Wilmer then showed a bag of goodies (shoulder bag, thigh bag, t-shirts, hat, a couple of DVDs or CDs) that attendees would get with their entry fee.
Before the show was over, Frank told his viewers the name of my website. Oh, crap--that might not be a good thing. I didn't want my web server to get overloaded. I decided that it probably wouldn't be a problem, since not many of his viewers were likely to go look at my website.
Frank was a funny, high-energy guy, and I liked him a lot. You can't see someone's character in a still photo. He had worn one of his riding shirts for that day's broadcast.
The show lasted an hour, and when it was over, it was over just as suddenly as it had started. Frank said, "Ciao!" and stood up to unclip his lapel microphone. His son was already shutting down the equipment. Okay, then.
Outside, Edgar showed Frank my bike, and Frank thought that it was very rugged but too big for him.
I used to have a Brazil Riders decal on my faring (in that dirty blank spot) but it had started to peel off soon after Alex had given it to me in Belem. I still have it, and I hope to get it re-applied better when I get home.
My bike looked like it was leaning over a bit more than usual, but I decided it was just the uneven surface of the parking lot.
Edgar and I then rode to Pan Cristal and hung out for a while with the other regular customers. They were used to me by that time. That day's paper had an article about the moto event, and had Wilmer's and Melo's photos in it.
Edgar brought a red rose petal to me and said that another guy in the restaurant wanted me to have it. I didn't get it, but other guys laughed. It turned out to be a gay joke. Had my refusal at the whore house last night raised yet another concern about my sexual preference? Edgar had obviously told everyone that I hadn't taken a woman. I do like how casual they are about sex, but it still jars me now and then.
Edgar told me that I was going to be featured in some way at the bike event this evening, and that was news to me. I was likely going to be the only rider there from the USA, and maybe the only one from another continent. Most of those attending were going to be from Venezuela and from Colombia (since it was near the border).
Edgar had to go to work, so I went back to the hotel and wrote a while. I had agreed to be at the event site at noon, so I had a couple hours.
I hadn't marked the event site on my GPS, but I was able to follow some of the recorded tracks and find it with no problem. I waited at the main service gate, and someone there recognized me. They asked if I wanted to come in, but I told them that I would wait with my bike outside.
I stood in the median for a while, watching riders arriving and circling the block. One large group had matching t-shirts and rode mostly Valkyries and Gold Wings.
Since I was on the raised median, lots of people stopped next to me to ask questions. After a while of telling them, "No habla Espanol," I finally had to move back to the sidewalk.
After a while, someone else saw me and insisted that I come in. I moved the bike inside the gate and went walking around. The security crew were all very young, armed with side-handle batons that were made of very light wood. I asked to see one, and I showed them a few techniques with it. They had obviously never been trained with these batons, because even basic jabs were new to them.
The security supervisor in the orange t-shirt is the one who insisted that I bring my bike into the event site.
The main entrance gate for attendees was in another location, and bikes were slowly filtering in. The group of riders all set up in one spot, but they were later told to move to another area. They were blocking everyone else.
Most of the men in this group had attractive female companions.
Yowza. I later learned that breast augmentation and liposuction were very common in Venezuela.
The security people were letting in a few bikes at a time, then after the riders had registered and paid, they were allowed to take their bikes in to the event. This was a major choke point later in the evening as riders arrived in a heavy stream. This was also the exit point, so things got to a standstill over and over. There should have been another exit.
Food vendors had set up, as had more booths selling merchandise.
There was some police presence around the event, but mostly it was event staff and a private security company that did everything.
Melo was the main announcer for most of the event, but Wilmer appeared on stage many times to talk to the crowd.
I saw a lot of photos for sale and I asked where they were taken. The woman told me that they were taken last night at the CasaBar, where a pre-event party had been held. There had been strippers. I missed the party because Edgar had decided to take me to the whorehouse. Phooey.
I was asked by Melo to move my bike near the entrance where it would be more visible. This was because of the TV show. The first hour of greeting people and having photos taken was interesting, but the next couple hours were more and more monotonous.
I finally walked away from the bike to find some peace. Here's some riders from the Gold Wing and Valkyrie club again.
When I returned to my bike, there were two of the security guards there. These two:
The one on the left became very friendly for the next three days--which was okay. She spoke no English, but we really didn't have to talk about anything. She was the only one on the private security team that carried a medical kit.
I asked them about their batons and showed them some basic moves as I had done with the other guys earlier.
More and more people wanted to see the bike, to sit on it, to have their photo taken on it. It was too tall for many, but most seemed to like sitting on the dirtiest bike at the event. I was admonished many times for not keeping the bike clean. I told them that it was dirt from seventeen countries and I wasn't going to wash it off. That satisfied most of them.
Time for a sno-cone. Shaved ice, some kind of syrupy cream, various flavorings and other additives. It was different, but it was good.
This gal was one of the two official event photographers. She and the other guy took photos of all the riders as they entered the event, and took photos around the site. They were selling these photos later, of course. I got her to sit on my bike, took her photo, then took her photo with her camera. Her camera was better than mine. I tried to swap cameras with her, but that was only funny for a few seconds. She had to get back to work.
This was the photo she took of me.
My personal security guard brought others from her team over to see my bike. The big guy looked just like that for the whole three days.
Some of the security guards kept asking to see my wristband (and the tag that goes on the bike), and when I told them I didn't have one, they thought that I had snuck in. None of the event officials were around, so I had no one to speak for me. In the end, I paid the entry fee and got the wristband and bike tag that I needed. That also got me a goodie pack (shoulder bag, thigh bag, man's t-shirt, woman's halter top, baseball cap, two CDs). More stuff.
There were finally some Kawasakis at the event, and they were almost all Ninjas. The guy on the right (below) hung out with me for quite a while. He really liked the KLR, although it was too tall for him.
He showed me his bike. A 70-something BMW R90. All original parts.
Lots of V-Stroms. This guy had bad taste in sunglasses, but good taste in passengers.
Many bikes had these small dreamcatchers attached to them--usually on the handlebars. I asked someone about them and was told that they were for good luck. Like the North American native people, they believed that the dreamcatchers would collect all the evil that came your way. They were only good luck if they were given to you by someone else. Riders in the U.S. do something similar with small brass bells.
Later in the day, I found a dreamcatcher tucked in my tankbag, so I think the guy I had asked about them had done me the favor of the gift.
Bike porn interlude:
This guy has his goodie-bag over his shoulder.
These were nearly all street bikes. Dual-sport bikes were rare.
Edgar and Carlos showed up. Carlos had to take his turn on the bike.
Lots of guys wanted their kids to sit on the bike. I have dozens of photos like this next one, but they mostly used their own cameras.
More and more bikes were arriving, and it was getting crowded near the entry area. I had to move my bike a little to make way for someone else. When I pivoted the bike on the sidestand, it snapped and I almost dropped the bike. A couple guys helped me stabilized the bike and get it on the centerstand. I had thought that the sidestand was bent more than usual yesterday.
Edgar had me take off the stub of the sidestand and he said he had a friend who would weld it back up. I asked him to have his friend make it one centimeter longer. Away Edgar went.
I walked around some more, got something to eat, met more people who recognized me from the TV broadcast, then returned to the bike. No one will sit on another person's bike without permission (naturally), so they were waiting for me to return. More photos.
Edgar came back with the sidestand and I bolted it back on. I left the bike on the centerstand, since it was more stable that way. When I tried to pay Edgar for the welding, he waved me away. I insisted, and he told me that Wilmer had already paid for the repair. I thanked Wilmer when I saw him later, and he told me that I was his guest, so no problem.
One of the guys looking at the bike took me over to his booth. He sells Air-Soft guns (similar to PaintBall, but the ammo is small, hard plastic balls rather than large paint-filled balls). This was a popular sport around here.
When I had walked around the last time, I had a hot dog. That's an understatement. This monster weenie was a complete meal, with all the stuff he piled on it. He's only about half-done in this next photo. It was impossible to eat in a normal way, so a lot of the toppings got dropped on the ground.
Some local talent arrived. Probably spokes-models for one of the booths.
This group of talent was stationed near the entrance, so I got to see them a lot. They had just finished rubbing lotion on each other's breasts, but I couldn't get my camera out in time to catch that action. The gal in the hat was my favorite. Heck, she was everyone's favorite. She giggled whenever I tried to talk to her. When she wasn't posing with people, she danced a little in front of their tent. More photos of her later.
It was still early, but the place was starting to fill up. Most bikes didn't show up until sundown.
There was a bike-wash area set up at the site, and I was repeatedly encouraged to take my bike there and have the guys clean it. One guy offered to pay for the cleaning, but I had to laugh and insist that I was taking all that dirt home with me as a souvenir.
Frank showed up. He was well-known from his television show and from being an active local rider.
I saw a rider come in to the site with a vest that had "Eagle Riders - Florida" on the back. His bike was easy to find later, since he had the only ape-hanger handlebars at the event. I thought that maybe he was another rider from the U.S., but he was a local guy. His father had either been to Florida or maybe lived there now, and that's how he got the vest. I don't know where he got the bear claw necklace.
Along one side of the site, there was a track where people were doing wheelies and tire burn-outs. Most people were gathered there.
When it got dark, Wilmer took the stage and interrupted the loud DJ-controlled music. He made a bunch of announcements, then called my name over the loudspeaker. Huh? Who, me?
I was told to ride my bike for everyone to see, so I rode up and down the corridor then parked near the stage as Wilmer directed me to do. More photos and more of telling the same story about my trip.
Wilmer waved at me and gestured for me to come join him.
When I came on stage, I took a photo of Wilmer as he waited for me.
He introduced me to the very small crowd that had come to the stage area. Most of the people weren't interested in whatever he was talking about. He had me speak briefly, and he translated. I just said that I was happy to be there, thanks for having me, etc.
I went back to my bike. It was well-protected by the prettiest security guard there. I joked with her that I had to go to Colombia soon, and she should come with me. She looked at me for a couple seconds, then said, "Vamos," in a serious tone. Would she really go with me? (The next day, another security guard told me that she would go with me if I actually asked her to. Oops.)
Melo was constantly making rounds of the event site, and he introduced me to two riders from Portugal. So I wasn't the only person there from another continent. I didn't see their bikes.
When one of the riders from the group that I had met at the Pan Cristal saw me, he literally dragged me to where their club had gathered. To a man, they all drove new BMW R1200GS bikes. Well, Edgar was the exception (in so many ways...).
These men were all well-off, and it showed. When they pressed some Scotch into my hand, it was very nice Scotch. None of them drank beer.
They gave me a pin from their moto club, and one of the guys pinned it to my t-shirt (the club t-shirt that Edgar had given me).
These guys adopted me for a while. I hadn't met them before.
Jose (on the right, above) knows there are many riders here from Colombia, and he tried to take me to meet some of them, but we couldn't find who he was looking for. I was considering riding to Bogota with others, partly for group security but mostly so they could help me at the border. I had been told by another rider (Chuck, who I had met in Ushuaia and Buenos Aires) that this was a difficult border to cross.
More photos of the club. Cigars and Scotch.
The guys all told me that there would be strippers at the event the next day, so that was the time to stay late. (I think that either they had been wrong about when the strippers were appearing, or that I misunderstood their use of "mañana," which means both "morning" and "tomorrow." More on that unfortunate miscommunication later.)
There were several lanes like this at the event site.
This guy had a cow skull on his bike. There were a few others that did, too.
Okay, here's an awkward moment, now. I was walking along minding my own business, when a large pair of breasts wrapped themselves around my arm. "Martin, you here!" the pretty gal yelled. "Happy see you again!" I grinned and said "Hi!" and she dragged me over to see her bike. She was the only woman sport bike rider in Venezuela, she said. I told her to get on her bike for a photo and she pounced on it.
I had no idea who she was.
If I had met her, I had forgotten completely. It's possible we had met in passing at the Pan Cristal or some other place, but I certainly would have remembered any lasting contact with her. She was a ball of happy energy, bouncing on her feet, and grabbing my arm like we were old friends.
Not a clue. I didn't dare ask her name, since she clearly behaved as if we were buddies. If you read this, mystery woman, I'm sorry I didn't remember you. Really sorry.
Anyway, she called another woman over and introduced her as a cousin. She snatched my camera away from me and gave it to someone else for a photo. That's the cousin on the left.
When sufficient alcohol had been consumed, a group formed in front of the stage for some line dancing. They took turns leading, changing the routine like an aerobics workout. Some of them were up to the exercise, but some definitely were not.
I ran into my favorite security guard again, and she patted my arm as we passed each other. I think she was my girlfriend now.
At my bike, this next kid was hugging his arms around himself and biting his lip, all excited to see me coming. He talked really loud and fast and waved his arms all over the place. I think he was autistic, but maybe he was just high on sugar and motorcycle fumes. When I told him he could sit on the bike, he screamed and ran around the bike twice looking for the best place to climb up. I don't think he had ever sat on a motorcycle before. He wrote his name in my notebook, so meet Victor.
This event was specifically for large-capacity bikes, so the street outside the event was crowded with riders on small bikes and scooters. They had been denied entry. Bummer. I think that the general public were denied entrance that first night, and only those who rode were allowed in. For the next two days, spectators were admitted.
Melo and Wilmer announced on stage that 1,200 motorcycles had now arrived. That was the largest turnout ever in Venezuela.
I spotted Edgar again. He was easy to find in a crowd, so his brown digital-style camouflage clothing was not working very well. He was also wearing a U.S. Air Force bandana on his head. I asked him later about his preference for USA military clothing, and he said that he just really liked it. Like Alex in Belem, it was fashionable to him.
Edgar and Carlos led me around a while, introduced me to far too many people to remember, but I was pretty much burned out with the whole thing. Since I hadn't taken a siesta, I was pooping out before anyone else was.
I managed to work my way back to my bike, then I made an unceremonious early departure. Back at the hotel, I saw several motorcycles in the parking garage. I think that most hotels in the city that had parking for motorcycles were full to capacity.
Friday, 1 May, 2009
I was awakened by gunshots. I hate when that happens.
No, it was fireworks. Very loud. Looked like a lot of people on the street.
I took a shower, then did some more writing. I didn't have an Internet connection in the room, or I would have handled some email as well.
A different maid walked in, unannounced as before. This time, I WAS naked, but at least I had the computer on my lap again. I told her hello, and she immediately babbled an apology and fled the room. She wasn't my type anyway. I think they were used to people being out of the rooms in the late mornings.
From my window, I could see a large parade of people in the street, so I hustled out to see what the heck was going on. I had known that this was a holiday of sorts, but I had hadn't expected such a large celebration.
There were at least a thousand people going down the street. I walked behind for a while, then popped into a bakery for breakfast. The young guy behind the counter spoke pretty good English, and he said he wanted to practice with me so I stayed and talked with him a while longer. He had lived in Las Vegas for five years. He laughed and said, "Sin City!" very loudly with his hands up in the air. I take it that he had had a good time there.
The parade circled around the inner city, but I did the short-cut to its finishing place, a plaza I had walked to a couple nights earlier. There was some kind of political campaign event taking place there, but I couldn't tell if it was part of the parade or a separate thing.
It was drizzling very lightly. It was also pretty cool out, not that anyone seemed to mind.
Every now and then, these Two Stooges would light off a hand cannon. About half the time, they would come close to blowing each other's head off, and half the time something would go wrong with their explosive charge. I took this shot just and Stooge number two re-lit a short fuse that had fizzled out too soon. The remaining fuse went *pffft!* and the charge went off way too soon. The Stooge barely got his head out of the way.
Lots of bikes in San Cristobal.
I didn't want to spend all day at the moto event site, so I stayed in the hotel and did a lot of writing. At 15:00, I was ready for more schmoozing with the crowd.
I parked the bike near the entrance again and just left it there. I wasn't in the mood for more posing just yet.
There was a tattoo tent set up at the site. This gal was getting some follow-up work done on her butterfly. She saw me take the photo and grinned at me. Another gal was looking at nipple rings, and she prudently turned away from the on-lookers to show her nipple to the guy who would do the piercing. He nodded and said something to her that seemed to be an affirmative answer to whatever her question was.
One of the sport bike stunt riders was doing circle burns in the crowd. He came within inches of hitting the spectators several times, but the people never moved away. This guy's back tire was running on exposed steel cords down the center. That tire didn't last through the day.
Does the phrase, "getting your money's worth," mean anything here?
This gal (below, right) was some kind of celebrity model. She was selling posters, coffee mugs, and various other items with her scantily-clad image on them. I caught her in a very rare moment of not being surrounded by admirers. She was usually posing for photos and signing autographs.
Some people asked where I had been earlier in the day. There had been a group ride from the event site that went into the mountains for a few hours. I hadn't even known about it. There would be another group ride the next day, and I resolved to be there for that one.
These guys bought me beer for about an hour. Whenever someone did this, I felt compelled to hang out with them as long as my beer lasted. They liked the attention that I brought to them, so they kept a beer in my hand for quite a while.
There was one Valkyrie Rune there, and several people took turns riding it. Good friends of the owner, I'm sure. This guy got this girl from the crowd to ride with him.
I saw more women riders, but still not very many overall.
Several people with varying English skills tried to talk with me, but it usually ended up with me understanding their Spanish better.
It got very crowded again after dark. The stunt lane was almost too narrow to do anything safely, so the security team had to continuously push people back so the bikes could zoom by without hitting anyone.
Wilmer and Melo took the stage and made a long announcement about something that seemed serious. Then there was a minute of silence followed by a minute of racing the bike motors. I'd seen this ritual before, and it wasn't taken lightly. I later learned that a rider had been killed the previous day and this was recognition for him. Apparently, the rider had been racing around the streets outside the event site and had crashed into a car, killing himself. Still, they acknowledged the loss of a fellow rider.
On each night, an artist with an air brush painted a different model on stage. There were several large projector screens around the event site, so everyone could see. On two nights, there were belly dancers on stage.
Yesterday, I had been promised that tonight there would be strippers on stage. I was determined to stay late and see that, but I was going to be disappointed.
Most people who insisted on getting my website's address (so they could see my photos) also got their photos included in this report. Hi, guys.
When the night grew late, I asked about the strippers. I had missed them, they told me. They were last night.
What? I had been told that they were tonight. No, they were at the end of the event last night (which was actually early this morning). Fudge. Another bitter language problem. Apparently they had been looking for me. Edgar told me that they had wanted me on the stage with the strippers, but since I wasn't there, he had taken my place. Lucky him.
Edgar then took me around and introduced me to some women. He pointed out a couple of them who had told him that they wanted to have sex with me. I hadn't even met them yet! I am just that intoxicating. (Really, I know that it is just the slightly exotic factor of my being from the States and having been on television, so I didn't take it seriously.)
We sat down for a long time in a group and just talked. A few of the guys spoke a tiny amount of English, and that was enough. My Spanish was getting a little better. They made a lot of gay jokes, which I had noticed before. Edgar told me that all the men in the group were gay. They laughed and told me that only Edgar was gay. One of the women told me that all the men liked to make gay jokes, but she wanted me to know that they were only joking. I told her that I did understand that.
Edgar noticed my wristband and asked me about it. I told him that I had paid the entrance fee to keep the security people from constantly stopping me. He immediately got serious and nearly outraged. I told him that it was okay, that I was happy to pay the fee, but he refused to hear another word from me. He called Wilmer on his cell phone and then told me that it would be taken care of. Okay, whatever. It was about US$45, and I wouldn't mind having it back.
I looked at the display of photos on display from the previous day. There was proof that Edgar had sat in my place for one stripper to do her thing all over him. Didn't look like she got totally naked. Kids in the audience and all that.
That would have been me if I had stayed late last night. Er, I mean this morning. Fark.
I stayed until the very end of this night's activities, watching some rock bands perform and hoping for more strippers. No more strippers. One of the bands was pretty good and most of their songs were in English. The crowd knew all the songs and sang along. Melo spent a lot of time on stage, and the guy can dance. He had some nifty moves. The last band was a rock-n-rap group that was mostly interesting because of the two totally hot female dancers they used on stage. Va-va-voom!
There was a large fireworks display near the end, and that signaled for my retreat. It was about 02:30 when I got back to the hotel.
Saturday, 2 May, 2009
I got to the event site early, since I didn't know what time things were happening. I was quickly intercepted by Raul Zimmermann, a free-lance photo journalist who lives in Venezuela but mostly writes for Moto Report, an Argentinean magazine.
Raul asked me for an interview, which he said he would submit to Moto Report. He couldn't promise that it would be published, but I told him that it didn't matter to me either way. I was happy to be a cooperative representative of riders from the USA, and if the article got him a few bucks, that was okay, too.
We sat under a tent for the interview, and he had another guy take notes while we talked. After the basic questions, he asked me what country I had liked best, which was worst, had I had any bad crashes, what were the most interesting areas. That kind of stuff. It was so loud that the questions and answers had to be shouted, and that tended to simplify things, reducing my answers to fewer words than should have been used.
Wilmer came riding up on a large quad, and he zeroed in on me. He interrupted the interview to take me back to the registration desk and get me a refund on the entrance fee that I had paid. I was a special guest, he insisted. I would not be allowed to pay. We hugged it out like real men before he zoomed off to settle some other crisis. I returned to Raul.
When the interview was over, we just chatted a while. We swapped email addresses, and he said that he would like to read more about my trip.
More people asked me why my bike was dirty. Why didn't I wash it? I told people again and again that the dirt was a souvenir, but my excuse for not washing the bike was wearing thin--even for me. Honestly, I don't give a hoot what the bike looked like. If it looked like it had been ridden and crashed all over South America, that was because it had been ridden and crashed all over South America.
The day's group ride took a while to get organized. Maybe four or five hundred bikes participated.
First, we did a caravan around San Cristobal, zig-zagging back and forth on major streets.
We then rode to a cathedral, where there was a high school band and then there was a Catholic ceremony of blessing the riders. It came as a shock to me when the priest mentioned me by name, and asked God to watch over me. Melo and Wilmer stood next to the priest during the benediction.
As we rode on, the priest threw holy water on each rider. He had a lot of holy water, which he needed. I got a face-full as I went by. The priest might have been trying to exorcise the dirt demons from my bike. Seriously, it was all quite sincere and unexpected.
As we started to leave the city, two taxis crashed together on the other side of the divided road. I think they were both watching the bikes instead of where they were going.
Into the mountains, then. Easy roads, but patchy and rough in spots. I did the whole ride standing up because I liked the wind. I also liked riding the bike when it wasn't loaded so heavy. Plus, in a group of riders who have no rules about lane position, I liked being able to see ahead better and having the bike more maneuverable. There were only a couple other endure-style bikes in the group, and I noticed that after a while some of those riders started riding standing up. They would sometimes ride next to me and give me a thumb's up.
We rode to another small city and stopped to watch the local civic band play for us in the plaza for a while.
Onward. After more mountain roads, we ended up in San Pedro, our final destination.
A little impromptu limbo.
We stopped here for a few hours, so this was a late lunch.
There were several restaurants and snack shops around the plaza, so finding food was no problem. I had a bowl of soup, and Raul found me sitting alone so he joined me. He told me that the president of the oldest motorcycle club in Venezuela wanted to interview me as well, so he would help set that up later.
I was introduced to Melo's mother. She was very friendly, but she got whisked away by other people, so I didn't get to spend much time with her.
Many riders left on their own, but most stayed for the group ride back. We took a different route part of the way, but ended up on the same mountain highway for the remaining ride back to San Cristobal.
There might have been a bike crash in the group ride back to the city. I saw a lot of congestion ahead, and saw some bikes stopped on the highway. I rode onto the grassy shoulder of the road to pass those who had stopped, and I found the grassy shoulder of the road was also a soft, muddy grassy shoulder. My back tire went sideways, and I barely kept the bike from going down the steep embankment. Without the new tires, I would have off the road and down in a big ditch. I couldn't get the heavy KLR back onto the pavement, so other riders got off their bikes and helped push me onto pavement. Very nice of them. None of them expressed any attitude other than total helpfulness.
All together, it had been about a six hour outing.
Raul found me at the event site again, then he introduced me to the moto club president. I didn't really get to meet they guy or write down his name, because all the speakers at the site were cranked up so loud that we had to yell in each other's ear to be heard. That killed the interview, but Raul told me that he would email his notes to the other guy later.
Raul wanted some photos of me riding, then decided that he need a little video as well. This was where I should have said no, because it was far too crowded to do any of that here. But, I was trying to give him what he needed, so I slowly rode back and forth in the crowd for him to take video. Both times that I approached where he had positioned himself, people walked out in front of me suddenly as I turned and I had stop in the turn. Stopping suddenly in a turn is not something that a bike does well, and certainly not something that a high, heavy, loaded KLR does well. Both times, I tipped the bike over in front of a hundred people.
Both times, people rushed to help me get the bike up, and afterwards I told Raul that I wasn't going to do any more riding for him there. He agreed, and I parked my bike in its usual place for more pictures and chat.
Since the bike was near where my favorite model was working, she and I tried to talk a few more times. She asked me something a few times, but I never could understand her. One of the models took my camera and snapped a photo of us with another gal who was just walking by.
I invited the model to sit on my bike and she laughed. It was so big!
I finally got her to mount up and strike her usual pose. When I gestured for her to open her shirt a little more, she did. Hubba hubba.
There was another nearly-naked woman getting painted on stage, so that drew a crowd. The band that played afterwards was okay but not great. Some characters showed up in costumes. The guy playing Robin portrayed the character as totally gay, complete with a sparkly purse. He was sucking a weenie as they rode around the site.
And I learned that Superman has a drinking problem.
Back with my usual moto club gang, I had my first sustained meeting with some really nice guys. In the center of the next photo (next to me) is Chawkis (he preferred that I call him Chuck). I had seen him and his buddies a few times in the last two days, and had watched them smoking a water pipe. I knew they weren't smoking drugs, and the sweet tobacco smell from the pipe was very intense.
Chuck had excellent English, and I learned that he had lived in Boston for some years. His son was born there, and they are both U.S. citizens. Chuck left his home in Lebanon when he was a teenager, and of all the places he had lived, he liked it here in San Cristobal the best. He might return to the States at some point, but for the time being he was happy here.
Chuck's friends and some family arrived and Chuck set up his water pipe. I had never smoked, but when he asked me to join them I agreed. I knew that it was as much a social ritual as it was a smoke. Plus, I was actually interested in the experience of the cloyingly sweet smell of the tobacco, which was dripping with a honey-like nectar that came from roses.
They were all drinking Scotch, so I joined them in that as well.
Chuck explained the whole water pipe ritual to me as he prepared it. I learned that the carbon sticks (used to heat the tobacco) are made from olive seeds, and they burn very hot, very slow, and virtually smoke free.
I watched the others to understand the etiquette of the handling of the pipe stem. Chuck passed it to me and I drew a small amount of smoke from it. I had expected it to be like a cigarette, but it was nothing of the kind. My father had made me smoke a cigarette once when I was very young, and that had been an effective tactic to keep me from smoking. I had gotten very ill, as I recall. This smoke was cool (from the water), smooth, and very aromatic. I could taste the smoke on my tongue. It was not a bad experience.
I eventually drew some of the smoke into my lungs, but I had to overcome a lifetime of not smoking to manage that. Again, I expected it to burn, but it didn't. I felt no ill effects in my lungs at all. After a while, I felt a slight light-headedness from the rich tobacco, but I had expected that. It went away.
As we passed the pipestem around (heating it briefly over the hot carbon sticks between users), Chuck told me more about his family, and he introduced me to his wife, Rasha. Photo of her later. Very pretty.
I started to take another photo of the group, but then I pretended that my camera was being drawn off to one side, and I took this photo instead:
Everyone laughed loudly, and it was very funny. The above breasts belonged to the wife of one of the other guys, and Chuck told me that she had just had them "done," so they were new.
I then took the photo that I had started to take of their group. The guy kneeling on the right (below) is a 4-time quad racing champion.
Chuck then had the woman with the new tits show me her new ass, which had also recently been "done." She thought it was funny, too.
The Scotch was flowing. No other drinks allowed with this group. Edgar can drink Scotch, and drink Scotch he does!
Back near my bike, I saw that my favorite model was getting a lap dance from Melo. His dance moves were working on her.
The guy in the next photo had been around my bike a lot in the last couple days, and I had some photos of him already. He wanted me to meet this gal that he brought over, but I didn't know if she was his wife, his girlfriend, his daughter... or was she for me? No idea. She was very flirty.
When the evening grew late, Chuck told me that I was welcome to come stay at his house, but I had already paid for the hotel for another night. My stay in San Cristobal kept extending. He invited me to have breakfast at his home in the morning, but I told him that I would probably be sleeping very late the next day.
Edgar jammed a cell phone into my hand and said that it was Joanna, one of the women who had wanted to have sex with me. I just turned the phone off and handed it back to him. I liked Edgar, but he was a little too persistent sometimes. He definitely got the message that time. No harm done, and the jokes and fun continued.
Edgar told all the men and women in the group about having taken me to the whore house, and how he had tried to get the woman to seduce me. They all laughed, and one of the women asked me why I hadn't gone with the woman. Geez, was I back in Brazil? Once again, I found their open attitudes attractive, but it still took me by surprise at times.
Melo came by and gave me a certificate of appreciation for my having helped promote the event. He had a small stack of these. I'll have to add my own name later.
Chuck and Edgar insisted that when I return to San Cristobal (when, not if), I was welcome to stay in their homes. Very open, friendly people.
Some hot chick wanted a ride around the event site on my bike, and since most people were gone by then, I gave her a ride. Around the event site, that is. Another gal wanted a ride, but I pretended not to understand her and I waved goodbye to everyone and rode away.
Sunday, 3 May, 2009
I had agreed to meet others at Pan Cristal at 10:00, so I checked out of the hotel and loaded up the bike early. My plan was to say a few more goodbyes and head for Colombia.
That's not what happened.
Chuck arrived with Rasha and their son, Wael (which means "leader" in Lebanese). Wael was two, and was a handful. Chuck was teaching Wael to speak English as much as possible. Rasha was from Colombia, from Lebanese parents. Photos don't do her justice. She was very beautiful.
More of the regular crew showed up, and I met a few more new people. In the photo below, the guy with the mustache and beard is Juan, and he owns the Pan Cristal. Actually, he and a partner own both Pan Cristal restaurants. Juan gave me some advice on crossing the border into Colombia, and Chuck has done this many times as well. I was no longer trying to find someone to ride there with me.
Also in the photo above is Jacob (sitting, with the striped shirt). Jacob owns the security company that is handling the moto event. His security company (Jacob's Security) was the biggest one in the city, according to him. I was about to get to know him better.
Outside was Edgar's SV1000.
The group ceremoniously handed me a copy of the day's newspaper, Los Andes, and there was an article about me in it. Raul's article probably wasn't going to appear in Moto Report, so he had submitted it to the newspaper syndicate. The photo that went with it was taken during the group ride, right before my bike and I got a holy water shower.
Being featured in the newspaper heightened my recognition factor, but it was probably the motorcycle that the average citizen recognized more than they recognized me. I got a lot of waves on the streets. Trotamundo = Globetrotter. Yeah, that's one of several errors in the article that resulted from not being able to have a detailed interview with Raul.
I later found out that this same article had been picked up elsewhere and appeared in La Nacion, a larger newspaper.
I looked at the Internet translation that had been posted on ADVRider.com, and it is pretty funny.
A couple of riders in the group made phone calls, looking for anyone riding to Colombia today. There were unsuccessful, but I was okay with going it alone again.
When the group split up, I was asked to go to the event site a little later and say farewell. I had intended to ride to the site to find a few individuals to say goodbye to, but I hadn't planned on doing anything more. Jacob asked me to follow him somewhere, so I did. We went to the edge of town and into a security-patrolled upper-class neighborhood. It was a large, walled community. All the houses were huge.
This was his home. I didn't take any photos on the inside, of course.
The house was immaculate and very well decorated. It might have been a show home originally, or maybe it was just built to look like one. Everything was the finest quality. There was a semi-open back courtyard that had a TV viewing area and a nice grill and bar. Very nice.
Jacob knew I was a retired police sergeant, so we talked about that for a while. He had been a policeman somewhere for 12 years. He showed me some weapons, and gave me a pin from his company. Then we just sat and watched TV for a while. Just as Edgar had done at his home. Was it a kind of tradition to just sit and do nothing for a while when you bring a guest over?
After an hour or so of small talk, we got ready to go. First, we had a snack of some kind of cheesecake that had been made from a gourd-like fruit that I didn't recognize. It was very tasty.
When we went outside, I started to get on the bike, but he said we were taking his truck. Okay.
Jacob drove me to the event site, then drove around checking on all of his guards. There's my security guard girlfriend, but she hadn't seen me in the truck yet. After I put the camera down, she recognized me and grinned.
Today wasn't an official event day, but there were still some things going on. The weather didn't look too promising, and most of the attendees had probably gone home already.
Jacob took me to Antonio, who I had met a few times already without knowing his name. It turns out that Antonio is the other owner of the Pan Cristal restaurants. He had another home in Colombia, and he will be going there this afternoon. I might ride with him. That's his wife, Faddy, with him.
Jacob had to run some errands, and I got the sense that I had been set up to be stuck at the event site without my bike. That was one way to ensure that I was there for any closing ceremonies.
I walked around, but there was nothing new or interesting to see. I was also looking for Melo and Wilmer, but I didn't find them. When I was hungry, I had another over-topped hot dog. The guy who operated the hot dog stand (in the red shirt, below) recognized me. He and his friend tried like hell to talk with me, but it was no use. He gave me a wristband that was for his favorite soccer team. Go, Tachira!
I gave them some of the cartoonish cards that I still had with me. I had made these different cards to give out to kids, so they just had my name and the website on them.
When I saw Jacob again, I asked him to take me to my bike. He said he was sorry for being delayed and drove me back to his house. After I had ridden back to the event site, I looked again for Melo and Wilmer. Wilmer found me first and asked me to stay a little longer. There was going to be a closing ceremony of some kind, but given the number of people still there, it wouldn't be much. I agreed.
Several riders and drivers in cars and trucks were doing stunts and burning doughnuts, so that was the only thing left to watch. One rider deliberately burned his rear tire until it failed and blew out. It had been down to the cords like the other one that blew out, so this was just a way of killing it to some applause.
When I moved my bike to where some other riders were parked, I got recognized by more people who wanted their photos taken with me. I grinned and endured that for a short while.
The weather came fast and furious. Rain suddenly pounded the site, and the winds got stronger and stronger until the tents we were under started lifting off the ground. Dozens of people went "EEK!" and ran away to safer shelter, but two of the security guards and I grabbed the legs of the outer-most tent and held it down. We stayed like that, soaking wet and cold, for about half an hour.
When things calmed down a bit, I took a photo.
These bare-chested brutes were the two who helped hold the tent down. My security guard girlfriend liked these guys, too.
Before I left them, the security girlfriend asked me for something that she could remember me by. I suggested a baby, and that was very funny for those who got the joke. She laughed and said no, no, no.
When the rain fizzled to a drizzle an hour later, people started milling around again. The owner of the shaved-ice stand wanted a photo with me and his son.
After I put the son on my bike for a photo, other people wanted their kids on my bike. That took a while to get through. The son gave me his bracelet as a gift. (You can see it on his wrist in the photo above.) This was another small gesture that made a big impact on me. I wish that I had brought more things to give people on this trip.
Two guys on bikes asked me if I wanted to join them for coffee someplace off the event site. I said I would, and we rode to the exit. Wilmer intercepted me again and told me that they had something for me, and that I had to wait. Not long, he said. Sigh.
I followed Wilmer to the stage and went to park behind it, but some policemen standing nearby moved and caused me to alter my turn too late. Bip. Over the fully-loaded bike went again. That's maybe the thirtieth tip over on the trip. Only a few people watching this time. Embarrassing!
The policemen wanted their photos taken with me (even after the tip over), because they had seen in the newspaper article that I was a retired American police sergeant. Wilmer called me to the stage and gave me an event pin and another of the certificates that Melo had already given me. It was just as well, since the drizzle ruined that one.
I was now done with all obligations. I called Chuck and asked if it was possible to stay at his home that night. The rainstorm had been bad, and it wasn't likely now that I would even get to the border town of San Antonio before dark. Chuck was happy to have me as his guest, and since he lived nearby, he came in his truck to lead me to his home.
Chuck owns the two condos on the upper floor of a three-story building. Since this was near the sports complex area, he really liked being here. Aside from the traffic on a game day, it was a great neighborhood. His home was very nice, and it was an honor to be welcomed there.
By the way, everyone I talked to in San Cristobal thought that their neighborhoods were the safest in the city. That said a lot about the city as a whole.
I met other members of Chuck's extended family. The other condo unit helps when he has family there to visit.
This is Wassim (on the left), Chucks brother.
They made up a guest room for me and I took a shower. They did all my laundry and I was soon in a very relaxed state on their balcony, talking with them as it started raining harder again.
We talked about the difference between the U.S. and San Cristobal, and Chuck again asserted that this was the best place he had ever been.
I joined them for another water pipe later did some work on the Internet. Their Wi-Fi signal was fast, so that was nice.
When everyone else went to bed, I stayed up a little longer, trying to get the report caught up. But I was too far behind. It would have to wait.
Monday, 4 May, 2009
When I got up at 08:30, breakfast followed. Haven't had pancakes in a long time.
Chuck called someone he knew and learned that there was a new Venezuelan customs office right next to the Immigration office, so everything could be done in one place now--at the border instead of some of it needing to be done in the nearby town.
After sincere goodbyes, I left and headed through the city in search of a convex mirror to replace the one that had fallen off my right mirror yesterday. Any convex mirror would do, I would glue it on if necessary. I would call a couple people then to try and meet with them to say goodbye.
As I was cruising through the city, a truck with a moto event logo on it swerved in front of me and honked. An arm came out the window and waved me to pull over. Then Frank's head came out the window. Okay, let's pull over.
As I came to a stop, Edgar also pulled up in another truck. They greeted me and asked if I was leaving now. I said that I was, but I was looking for a replacement mirror. Edgar said he would take me to a parts shop that he knows of. I took a photo of them. That's Frank's daughter with him.
Edgar ended up taking me to the same place where I had bought my tires. No luck with a mirror, though. Frank pulled up on his motorcycle, so I assume that he had dropped the truck off someplace nearby. They thought of another place for a mirror, so I followed Frank while Edgar followed me. We pulled over at a roadside parts seller. The guy had exactly what I was looking for; a 3" round convex mirror. I bought one and Frank bought me another as a spare.
I stuck the adhesive mirror on where the other had fallen off, then we all made our last goodbyes (I thought). Great guys.
I rode out of town and headed for the border of Colombia.
<< Link to PREVIOUS report: Manaus... again >>
<< Link to NEXT report: Colombia Again >>
Part 28 - San Cristobal
[ ERRANT-RONIN HOME ]
[ Prudhoe Bay to Ushuaia Home Page ]
[ Ride Reports Home Page ]