Monday, November 05, 2018

Flying to Colombia and My First Week in Bogotá

With Bill, my Lyft driver

My flight from Portland to Burbank was very easy. A friend picked me up from the Burbank airport which made the trip even easier, thanks Mary! After a week with family in Los Angeles it was time to catch my flight to Bogotá, Colombia. I used Lyft for the 1st time to go the airport. In year's past, I've reserved a space on a Super Shuttle share van but the last couple of times, the drivers were annoyed by the trike even though I called and explained and wrote a description of the trike and my luggage in the ride request. It always worked out but I thought I would avoid unpleasantness and use a private car. Interestingly, Lyft doesn't make it easy to request a particular type of car. You can ask for a 4 seater but I needed, more specifically, a SUV type car or a car with a hatchback. A driver would accept my request and the model of car they were driving would be listed under the driver's name. I'm not a car expert and had to cancel many cars until one came up that I knew would have enough space for my folded trike. I called Lyft driver Bill and explained that the back seat would probably need to be put down and asked him if that was OK. Bill was driving a Prius V and he was great about the trike. In fact, he took the above selfie photo and sent it to me.

Myrtle and gear ready for flight
Myrtle in a Toyota Prius

I arrived at the airport early and wheeled Myrtle with my panniers to the Avianca, Colombia's airline, check-in
Checking in with Avianca
counter. It was really good that I arrived early because checking in took a long time. This airline presented me with more obstacles to accepting the trike for a flight than any other airline has. They couldn't understand what the trike was even though I explained that it is a mobility device and I've had it on probably 50 flights. I had to talk to many people. One by one, I answered each person's questions and then they would call someone else. Finally, a supervisor was called. It took a long time for her to arrive. She asked for a picture of the trike unfolded. That was a request I had never heard before. I knew if I showed her a picture of the trike unfolded she would come up with a reason for not accepting it. I didn't have a picture with me on my phone so I told her there wasn't a picture. After that, she couldn't think of another reason not to accept the trike so Myrtle was then taken away by a baggage handler. I've discovered that if I just keep talking, calmly while smiling, eventually the answer will be 'yes'. Every time I show baggage handlers how easy it is to steer the trike by simply lifting the rear wheel, they are so happy.

Baggage Handler rolling Myrtle to the plane
While I was talking to all the people to get Myrtle accepted, I was also going through the check-in process. I did a lot of research before deciding to tour in Colombia. I never saw anything that I needed a flight out of the country before I could check-in. This also happened to me on a flight to New Zealand. What I can't understand is how it is possible to buy a one-way ticket to a country that requires a ticket out. Just like my flight to New Zealand, I bought a refundable ticket online using my phone standing there in front of the check-in agent. Once the agent took my information and I received a confirmation email, I canceled the new flight to get my money back. The ticket agent who finally finished up my paper work and handed me my boarding pass also said everything would have gone smoother if I had requested a wheelchair. Even though I don't need a wheelchair, she suggested I request one for my return flight. Interesting!

Myrtle tipping the scales at 14.8 kg (32.6 lbs) Tire pump, water bladder and side seat bar are under the seat straps.

I always like to get to the airport extra early mostly to get the trike checked in before the agents become frazzled with customer requests. This flight showed me why getting to the airport is a really good idea. Another interesting thing I've noticed is for the last couple of years, I am always given TSA pre-check status. This makes going through security so much easier.

On my flight to Bogotá
Aside from this being an overnight flight and not sleeping, everything went fine. Myrtle was waiting at oversized baggage claim and I picked up my panniers from the carousel.  In Bogotá, I am going to study Spanish for 3 weeks. One of the reasons I picked Colombia to tour is the Spanish is supposed to be easier to understand. Colombians are known for speaking slower and clearer. I figured that would be a real plus to learning the language. While I talked to the school about how long, what level of Spanish I should study at and what I wanted from my language classes - I also made arrangements to stay with a family and asked for a driver to pick me up from the airport. When I came out of security and passed through immigration, Hans was waiting for me holding a sign with my name on it. He was such a nice guy with a big smile and a lot of energy. It was as if he was genuinely excited to drive me. He didn't hesitate when he saw the trike. I had explained to the school that I need a bigger vehicle when being picked up from the airport but you never know how that things get interpreted. Hans drove a huge van that could hold at least 10 people. He carried Myrtle with ease and plopped her on a row of seats - no problem!

Myrtle waiting in oversized baggage in Bogotá

Hans, my driver in Bogotá, and Myrtle in the van

Soon we arrived at my homestay families home near the Universidad Nacional and Simon Bolivar Park. They have a 4 bedroom apartment in a nice neighborhood with a 24-hour doorman. Myrtle was shown her own large locked room off the garage. Maritza and Antonio Luis were very welcoming with big smiles giving me a tour of the apartment and showing me to my room. They have been married for 30 years and are very adorable. I could have asked to include 3 meals with my homestay but I only asked for breakfast. Maritza is an excellent cook and I can't tell you how nice it is to have breakfast prepared for me every morning. She also always makes good strong Colombian coffee which I love.

Video of my flight to Bogotá

The next morning, on Sunday, I went down to the garage to check on Myrtle and put her together after the flight. She handled the flight like the champ she is. The only casualty was a small plastic piece splintered that holds two parts of one of my flags together. This plastic part was totally unusable. I have a feeling this was just bad luck and a coincidence to find after the flight. It is very possible the plastic part was splintered before the flight. I think I can repair this with a few zip ties. After unfolding the trike, removing all the bubble wrap and attaching the side seat mount bar - Myrtle was ready to ride. 

With my Bogotá family - Antonio Luis,  Maritza, Luis jr and Grace

Cycling a main road during Ciclovia

All kinds of bikes on Ciclovia

Every Sunday and on all holidays there is a ride called Ciclovia in Bogotá. Miles of roads are closed to car traffic and made safe for walking, skating and cycling. There are many Ciclovias around the world and, I think, this is the original. I took off from the apartment and joined the Ciclovia route very close by. Maritza had suggested I try to find some zip ties from one of the many bike mechanics on the route. Unfortunately, they didn't carry any zipties. While on the route I had many interactions with people. Recumbents are unheard of here. I didn't see even one. I did see one other trike which was very exciting for both of us. It was a homemade delta type trike that looked really good and the rider was, understandably, very proud of.

Pro Bikes guy who gave me zip ties

There were thousands of cyclists and the route went through el centro. It was extremely busy. There was lots of construction as well as venders lining the route for many blocks making the path extra crowded. I looked at the map to find a bike shop close by and turned off to get some zip ties. The guys at the professional, Pro Bike, were very nice and generously gave me a handful of zip ties. I actually have some zip ties but wanted to have extra. Using duct tape and zip ties, I repaired my flagpole. I expect it will be strong enough to last the whole tour.

Coco vender on Ciclovia

Cooked meat vender in Plaza de las Mariposas
On my way back to the Ciclovia route, I stopped at a big plaza, Plaza de Las Mariposas, to get something to eat. There were lots of people selling food and clothes and many, many other things. There was even a dressed up llama waiting to make money from pictures. I saw a guy selling cut up watermelon and stopped for a snack. I was using my K1 video camera while riding and put it in my side seat bag to eat. While I turned to pay, another man quickly and stealthily opened my handlebar bag and took my camera. Wow, that was fast! I jumped out of the trike to chase the man and I caught him quickly. Unexpectedly, he turned and handed me back my camera. He didn't drop it, he didn't throw it - he handed it to me. Once the camera was safely back in my hands, I yelled at him 'hombre malo, hombre malo!' and hit him over the head a few times. As I was doing this, I suddenly thought - what if this is a diversion and someone is stealing my tricycle right now? Luckily, no one was and Myrtle was exactly where I left her in front of the watermelon man. I had given the watermelon man a good tip and wonder if he didn't chase off people who might have tried to steal my trike.

Niños in a cargo trike

Street art

I made my way back to Ciclovia and then returned to the apartment after my big adventure. Later, recounting the story of being robbed to my house family, I learned that Plaza de Las Mariposas is one of the most dangerous places in Bogotá and they couldn't believe my luck at getting the camera back. They said everyone gets robbed in that plaza. There are teams of robbers that probably saw me as easy pickens. Wow - I had no idea the danger I was in.  Lucky for me all that happened is I have a good story to tell.

My classmates

On Monday, I started Spanish school. Whee Institute is very small with only a few classes. There are 4 others in my class. One student is from Brazil, one from France and 3 are from the United States. I love my teacher Camilo. He is young, smart and has an easy style. He speaks fast but very clearly. For this week, we will be going over conjugating verbs in 2 past tense forms. We played fun games, did various exercises and after 3 hours I was exhausted. Speaking in the past tense is so important. We are always telling stories in the past. It would be amazing if I could get comfortable with these 2 past tense verb forms by the time I leave.

Clowns out on the street
Trying a new fruit

Another reason I am spending 3 weeks in Bogotá is to get used to the 9,000 ft elevation. I've had small headaches and my muscles feel like they aren't getting quite enough oxygen. Every day is easier. The weather in Bogotá is also much warmer than I expected. Everyday the temps have been in the low 70's. Every afternoon, just after I return to the apartment, there is a big rain storm. Apparently, November is known for afternoon rain storms. I have my drone with me and would love to fly. I hope the weather will cooperate while I am here in Bogotá. This is a huge city of 10 million people and there is lots to explore. So far, I'm loving the city, it's people and, for sure, the food here is fantastic.

Halloween with badass maestros at Whee Institute
At Whee, we took a break between classes to have a halloween party

More soon!!

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Thursday, October 25, 2018

Fantastic Summer in Portland and Upcoming Tour to Colombia and Ecuador

Drone flight over Echo Park Lake, Los Angeles
After another fantastic summer in Portland, I'm now turning my attention to the next trike tour. All summer I've been plotting where I should go and if I wanted to make changes to my gear. And, of course, I've made many changes. 

How to Pack Your Trike for an Airline Flight

Originally, I had planned to continue riding through Central America where I last off in Belize going through Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. But there seems to be a lot of political upheaval at the moment and I decided to put that trip off until the situation improves. More than likely, I would have had a great time but going to South America seemed like a choice with less risk. I have also never been to South America.

This Saturday, I'll be flying to Bogota, Colombia. Why Bogota? The simple answer is there is a direct flight from Los Angeles and I really like direct flights especially when traveling with my trike. Bogotá is at 9,000 ft in elevation and I'll need some time to acclimate. I signed up with a Spanish school for 3 weeks where I'll be living with a family. Staying with a family in a foreign country is highly recommended to speed up learning a language. The school found me a room with a private bathroom that is walking distance from the school. I was given a choice to have the family provide meals as well. I asked to have breakfast every morning. Language schools really make travel easy. They take care of everything. They always offer apartments to rent or the chance to stay with a local family. All I had to do was ask and someone will pick me up at the airport. Language schools also offer excursions to explore the area. There will be outings to events, restaurants, museums or nature areas with more opportunity to practice Spanish as well as tours to local towns. I've also heard people travel to learn other things like tango dancing and photography that offer all-inclusive services. It's nice to be around people that you have something in common with whether learning a language or dance or photography.

Riding through the meadow on the Bank/Vernonia trail
I was such a beginner when I studied in Guanajuato last year that I didn't feel comfortable being with a family. When you don't have enough vocabulary and understanding of a language, trying to speak is stressful and quite uncomfortable. I'm sure I would have learned more if I had stayed with a family but I felt like I needed to study on my own first. What was interesting is the school in Mexico put me in private classes almost exclusively. They didn't charge me extra which was nice but I think I would have learned more being with other students. I doubt I'll ever be fluent but I would like to be comfortable speaking Spanish. I think knowing Spanish will make for a much richer travel experience and it could be safer as well. Over the summer, I continued to study on my own using an online course and I think studying in Bogota will be very helpful. I'm also thinking to stop for a couple of weeks in Medellin to study more at another school. Medellin is supposed to be a very beautiful city to explore. I've also heard that Colombian Spanish is easier to understand. The people speak slower and clearer than other countries. This will be very helpful for me.

Rough Route Idea
I've plotted a rough route for my next tour of about 3200 miles over 6 months. Colombia and Ecuador are both extremely mountainous and I am quite nervous about the climbing. The most climbing I have ever done in a day is 3700 ft and I think there will be many mountain passes in Colombia that are more that 5,000 ft. I'll be bring everything for camping because I am such a slow climber. I'm expecting there will be many days I won't make it to a town that has hotels. If there is a hotel that is where you will find me at the end of the day but I'm prepared to camp besides firehouses, churches or ask to camp in someone's yard. So far, I've never felt safe stealth or wild camping. It is something I would like to do and I think it offers the ultimate freedom. When I tour, my only real worry is to find a safe place to spend the night. It sure would be a great feeling to trust I can always find a place to camp and be able to set up a tent anywhere. Maybe, someday, I'll get to the that place of trust as well.

At the moment, my idea is to end in Quito, Ecuador. Depending on how much time I have I may do a bigger loop in Ecuador or even take a trip to the Galapagos Islands. If I feel rushed to do the islands I can save it for my tour next year which I expect will begin in Quito.

So those are my rough plans, we will see how it all turns out. 

Oversized baggage handler taking care of Myrtle before my flight to Los Angeles

Rolling Myrtle to the ticket counter of Alaska Airlines with new Ortlieb yellow panniers on top
Over the summer, as I prepared for this upcoming tour to Colombia, I made some changes to my gear. I bought a new set of Ortlieb panniers which are the same as my last set but in yellow. Ortlieb discontinued this color. I had planned to buy a set when my current set needed replacing. Ortlieb's decision to only carry the black color in this recumbent style pannier meant I had to replace my set earlier than intended. No problem, my friend Dave helped me sell the old pair which off-set the costs nicely. 

Myrtle arriving in style at Tater TOT in Idaho last June

Testing the zoom on my new travel camera - Panasonic Lumix ZS200, view of Mt St. Helen's and Portland

Night View from the house in Portland

Every summer for the last 8 years I have been housesitting in a beautiful house for a friend in Portland who also has a home in France. She spends every winter in Portland and when she returns to France that's when I end my tours and go to Portland. This has been a wonderful arrangement for both of us. I already know I'll be able to return next summer but after that I'm not sure. My friend is in her mid 70's and I expect the day will come when she can no longer make the trip to France and will return to Portland full time. With this in mind, I'm starting to think about what it would mean and what I will do if I don't have the house in Portland to return to for the summer. My 1st reaction is that I would tour with Myrtle full-time. What changes would be required to my gear if I started to tour full-time? This is something that I've been thinking about for awhile and would like to try some day. There aren't many gear changes I need to make for this transition to full-time touring. 

As I was thinking about it, there are really only 3 gear considerations for touring full-time. Where am I going to tour full-time, would I need to plan for winter and summer camping conditions and the 3rd consideration is to decide about cooking.  

Top of Dobson Pass at Tater TOT in Idaho with trikers Christine and Dawn

Primus Stove Initial Observations

Right now, I only tour in the winter which limits my destinations because I don't like being cold. If I could tour in the summer I would spend more time in the US probably starting out across the TransAm bike route. I could also spend time exploring the UK, Europe and Scandinavia as well as countries like Japan and Taiwan during warmer times of the year. Since hotels in the US are so expensive I would probably do more camping and cooking.  In the US, using canisters for cooking is easy. Even Walmart carries them but this isn't true for much of the world. For instance, these handy canisters are not available in Colombia, or anywhere in South America, so I decided to invest in a Primus multi fuel stove. The Primus allows for use with a canister but also all types of gasoline and white gas which is available anywhere in the world.  I also bought a 1.1 liter MSR pot that the stove fits into which can also be used as a pan.

Camping at Big Eddie Country park on the way to the Recumbent Retreat
For me, one of the hardest conditions to prepare for is camping in hot as well as cold weather. Often, along the coast, temperatures can be hot and humid whereas in the mountains, at high elevations, temperatures can be cold. What kind of sleeping bag do you use to be comfortable in both extremes? I decided to go with 2 sleeping bags. I bought a Mountain Hardware 50 degree bag with a hood and another 20 degree Zpacks sleeping bag without a hood. My objective is to be comfortable in temperatures around the freezing mark.  These bags both have stuff sacks and pack very small. If temperatures are even colder I can put the 20 degree bag inside the 50 degree bag for more warmth. I also use a sleeping bag liner, mostly to keep my bag clean, and the liner will also add some warmth. On this trip I'll be riding above 10,000 feet where it could be very cold and at sea level along the Caribbean where conditions will be hot and humid. I will be able to put the bags to the test. 

Gorge in Eastern Oregon
Another thing I have been interested in is improving how I get my water. In the past, I have always bought bottled water. It's convenient and safe but also a lot of plastic waste. After lots of research, I decided to invest in a Grayl water purifier and filter. While I was researching I discovered there are 2 issues with water cleaners. One is purifying for viruses and other is removing particles. There aren't many options for one device that filters particles and purifies for viruses. Many of the options involve more than one bag and hoses which filter from a dirty bag to another clean bag. The Grayl doesn't have any hoses. It is essentially a water bottle with a cartridge that both filters and purifies. It is a fairly lightweight option for having clean drinking water anywhere. There are 2 issues with the Grayl. It only cleans 1/2 liter at a time and each cartridge will only filter 150 liters before needing to be replaced. It's unclear how easy I could buy another cartridge outside the US, so,  for my 6 month trip I'll be bringing an extra cartridge. The cartridge doesn't weigh much but it is 'an extra thing'. I've always bought water and for this trip I'm going to see how convenient it is to use the Grayl. Maybe I'll shrink my carbon footprint just a bit as well.

These gear additions mean I'll be carrying more weight. I think I'll have about 10 lbs more than I had on my tour of Mexico where I only took a sleeping bag and pad. 

With Brandon riding to the Recumbent Retreat

Lighted Bikes Parade at the Recumbent Retreat

Photoshoot at the Recumbent Retreat

Aside from planning for my next tour, I did a lot of rides with friends. I went to Tater Tot in Idaho in June for a week. I did many group rides around Portland including Pedalpalooza bike festival, RecumbentPDX shop rides, OHPV club rides on the Banks/Vernonia and a camping trip out to Big Eddie County Park. The highlight of my summer is riding out to the Recumbent Retreat. This was my 13th year attending. I have always ridden there and feel very fortunate to live close enough to do this fabulous ride. I also had family many friends visit. I had recumbent friends from Ohio stay, friends I know from Mexico, friends and family visit from California and other close friends from Chicago and Montana. It was super fun to see everyone and spend some quality time. I also took a trip to Eastern Oregon to explore as well as a couple of quick visits to Los Angeles.

Pedalpalooza kick-off ride

20,000 cyclists on the Bridge Pedal Ride across 8 bridges in Portland

During this tour, I plan is to update my blog weekly with a written description of my rides and experiences. At the top of each post will be the Garmin maps so you can see where I went with all the stats. I'll also attempt to do 3 short videos with photos, videos and drone footage. 

Sunset Ride at the Recumbent Retreat

A year ago, I started a YouTube Channel to do tutorials, gear reviews, trike specific info and mostly highlight my rides. My friend, Matt Galat, made me a new logo and intro for my videos which has really added a more professional look. Here are a few of the videos. Thanks to everyone for watching and subscribing. It's easy and you can get notifications of new videos when they are release. 

Sticker card with the new logo to give out on my tour

I think this tour is going to be especially beautiful and very fun for drone flying. Colombia is a favorite destination for cycle tourers and I've been looking forward to going for many years.

Thanks for following the continuing adventures of Myrtle the Turtle and I'll see y'all next week in Bogotá.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Tizimin, Vallalodid and Back to Cancun

GPS Info and Map: 

Rio Lagartos lagoon is exceptionally beautiful and I hope to return some day. The lagoon is peaceful with many birds and large flocks of flamingos to enjoy. I stayed at a fabulous hotel with a wonderful view of the water too. Rio Lagartos doesn't have a bank or ATM so, if you come, make sure to bring enough cash. Luckily, there were a few restaurants that take credit cards. The hotel needed cash for my 3 night stay which didn't leave me much left over but, in the end I had enough. I found a French couple that were hiring a boat with a guide and asked if I could join them. This brought the cost down for all of us. 

The road to Tizimin, like much of the Yucatan, is incredibly flat. This is hurricane country and all the trees are short all growing to the same height. My ride was very hot with few places to stop and take a break. Tizimin is a beef town and I rode passed many cattle ranches. In Tizimin, I stayed at the same hotel as the last time. The people are very nice, the room is clean and the wifi is pretty good. I walked to the mercado for tacos. Tacos all over Mexico are different. In Tizimin, tacos are served with roasted potatoes. Yummy!

Sunset at Rio Lagartos

Church in the morning sky

Feeling sadness leaving Tizimin video

The rain felt sooo good
My final ride of this tour was into Valladolid where I settled into a lovely hotel. $40 gets you a beautiful room that would cost $150 in the US with all the amenities. The weather on this tour has been hot since I started but the last couple of weeks have been extra hot. Even though I was sad the tour was coming to a close the heat was getting to be too much to carry on any further.  There was one more point of interest to check off my list and I made plans to visit the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza. There are many tours to choose from but I took the local bus that goes every hour from Vallodolid to Merida. The bus dropped me right in the parking lot of the ruins. There was a section of the parking chocked full of tour buses. This place was crazy busy. The ruins are exceptional and it was easy to see why so many people were visiting.  I also spent a day exploring Vallodolid before taking a bus, with Myrtle, back to Cancun to prepare for my flight home.

Main Temple at Chichen Itza

Jaguar head carving in the pelota courta

Backside of temple

1000 columns

Video of my visit to Chichen Itza on a ridiculously hot day

Colorful mercado

At 20 pesos to the USD, this food is very inexpensive

Smiles at the mercado


Last video of the tour

San Servicio, Valladolid

4 tacos and a watermelon juice for $2, oh baby baby!

Ex-convent San Bernardino
Ex-convent from the air

Cenote across the street from my hotel in Valladolid

Good colors in Valladolid
I stayed at the same hotel on my last night in Mexico as my first. The hotel is directly across the street from the bus station where I easily took a bus to the airport with Myrtle folded and ready for my flight. On my e-ticket, my flight was leaving from terminal 4. The bus dropped me there but I quickly learned that AeroMexico flights depart from terminal 2. I waited for the airport shuttle and got a ride to Terminal 2. My flight is actually a Delta flight and left from terminal 3. Luckily, I arrived to the airport early and had tipped the shuttle guy very well the 1st time. He was excited to see me again and made the 2 shuttle ride stress-free. Delta had no problem with the trike and didn't even charge me extra. I had a uneventful 5-hour flight to Los Angeles where a friend picked me up. 

Another tour has come to an end. I'll be spending my summer in Portland. There are already many rides planned. Pedalpalooza is a month long bike festival every June in Portland and there are hundreds of rides to join in included the world's biggest World Naked Bike Ride. I'll be at TOT in Idaho during that ride, darn! And then I always ride to the Recumbent Retreat every September. This is my 13th year riding there and it is the 20th year of the event.

Alright everyone, thanks for following along! There will be a few updates over the summer as I decide where my next tour will be.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Coastal Roads of the Yucatan Peninsula

GPS info and map:

This is an area of the Yucatan that I've been looking forward to seeing since the beginning of my trip. The great astroid that resulted in killing off the dinosaurs crashed in this area of the Yucatan. The astroid made a huge crater that measured 93 miles in diameter and 12 miles deep. It is known as the Chicxulub crater and I rode through this small beach community. There isn't any place you can go to actually see the astroid or crater. There are many cenotes, natural swimming holes, that are said to be a result of the ancient astroid. The cenotes are deep fresh water and are really beautiful in a natural setting.  

Laguna Rosada video with a drone shot I'm proud of

Rio Lagartos

Long flat roads of the Yucatan

Playing with the drone on the road to Tizimin

In beautiful Rio Lagartos, I went on a wonderful boat tour of the lagoon to see large flocks of flamingos.  Flamingos are skittish birds and we had to keep a good distance in the boat. Our driver showed many local birds and other animals including a crocodile resting in a mangrove. I couldn't believe how close he brought the boat. My camera doesn't have much zoom and I was taking pictures within a foot of the croc!

Croc in the water

Rio Lagartos flamingos

Salt flats

Fishing boats in Rio Lagartos

On the boat in Rio Lagartos lagoon