rfay's blog

Politics and Security in Colombia

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STOP - Military checkpoint. We come to these every 10 miles or so. Normally they don't even have the trucks stop
STOP - Military checkpoint. We come to these every 10 miles or so. Normally they don't even have the trucks stop (View on flickr)

You´ve all heard of Colombia and the tremendous security/drug/paramilitary/guerrilla problems they´ve had over the years. Some of you told us not to go here because of what you had heard. We decided to go, however, because of what we heard from the cyclists who had actually passed through: it´s a calm country, beautiful, with incredibly friendly people. And that´s what we´re finding too. We haven´t had any problem, but we do read the paper and we do see the results of the strain they´ve had over the years.

Basically, Colombia got buried under the corruption of drugs and the challenge of a revolutionary insurgency for decades. They seem to be digging their way out over the last ten years or so, and the current president, Alvaro Uribe, is immensely popular for the progress he´s made. The guerrilla group, the FARC, is still there and still holds some very important hostages, some that it's had for more than 8 years. But it seems to be declining in power and influence. You might wonder from reading the paper that their primary reason to keep holding those hostages is that it's their last grasp on power. The FARC seems to be still quite dependent on the drug trade for its financing.

During the guerrilla years, private security forces were created by the big landowners, and developed into what's called "paramilitary forces" here. Essentially, they became private armies in their own right.  read more here... lee mas aquí... »

Info on Sailing from Panama to Cartagena, Colombia, and other options

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The Stahlratte, the boat we sailed to Cartagena
The Stahlratte, the boat we sailed to Cartagena (View on flickr)

There is no road from Panama to Colombia, so many cyclists choose to find sea transportation, probably out of a purist desire to avoid an airplane. It is nice to have the continuity of traveling on the earth, although not necessarily cheaper or better.


It does turn out that while there are not regularly scheduled services to Cartagena, you can probably get there just fine. Trying to get there for free on a yacht from Colon is probably possible, but won't work for most people. However, there are a number of boats that make the trip, charging US$275 to $350, and there are hostels that arrange the connections. So if you really want to sail, you can probably do it.


Caveats: The trip is rough, and most people are seasick. Some boats do not provide food, so you need to provide your own. Some boats are disreputable or poorly run and you might get a scare or something worse. Some boats charge extra for the immigration paperwork in Colombia. Know what your payment covers.


In Panama City, the hostel that seems to do all the arranging is Zuly´s.

In Cartagena, the hostel doing the arranging is Casa Viena.

   read more here... lee mas aquí... »

Central America Maps and GPS Maps and other resources for the Bicycle Tourist

It's not easy to get good, detailed maps of Central America, and you need them if you're going off the main routes.

Edit 16 Jan 2011: The Central America GPS Maps Project is now online. Also, you may be interested in downloadable GPS maps from the Open Street Maps Project.

Note that this site has complete maps from the GPS track of our trip. You can see all of them under "Route Maps" in the menu. The Central America route maps and info are here.

For maps, we used the following:

  • Guatemala: The Rough Guide Map of Guatemala and Belize. (Make sure to get the current edition.) It was generally accurate and indestructible. ITMB also has a Guatemala map which is widely available, but all of their maps are hopelessly inaccurate. Be very careful with any map, but with an ITMB map you have to always be suspicious.
  • Honduras and Nicaragua: We had to use the widely available ITMB maps, as nothing else was available.
  • Costa Rica and Panama: There is an excellent Rough Guides map to Costa Rica and Panama in one map.

On the boat to Cartagena, Colombia

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The Stahlratte
Tomorrow we take a 4-wheel-drive to Carti on the Caribbean coast, load our bikes and gear aboard, and spend 5 days on the Stahlratte sailing through the San Blas Islands and on to Cartagena, Colombia. We're excited about the trip, and anxious about the next phase of the trip... South America! Will the climbs kill us? Will we be kidnapped by terrorists (probably not)? Do we have another year of travel and another 10,000 miles in us? Stay tuned...

Panama City

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view of Panama City with many highrises and even more cranes. Looks like Miami.
view of Panama City with many highrises and even more cranes. Looks like Miami. (View on flickr)

Fish market
Fish market (View on flickr)

Panama City is certainly the most cosmopolitan place we've been in Central America, possibly in all of Latin America so far. Of course we've skipped a couple of the capital cities, like Guatemala City. But parts of the city are just full of skyscrapers and cranes, and there are gringos all over the place, and slick brochures about all the fancy condos you can buy in those high-rises. It really looks like Miami, and when you think about it, Panama City is probably giving Miami a run for its money. Miami used to be the big central point for rich Latin Americans to visit, with good shopping and comfort and luxury. But Panama City is so much more central, and has everything including the shopping, and is probably safer.... I'd say you should probably invest in Panama if you're the investing type.

Panama in general and Panama City specifically are also far more diverse than any place we've yet been in Latin America - approaching Panama City we saw several mosques. In my hotel there have been a number of traditional rabbis. And there is a vast array of skin colors, from Caribbean blacks to blonde gringos. And the Chinese seem to have the mini-super business sewed up throughout the country, and the cheap restaurant business in part of it.

But of course the rich fancy condos and diversity aren't the only story. This is a big city. There are beggars and some very poor people. You'll see the young men coming through on their rapid check of the street garbage containers checking for aluminum cans. But the sad thing is that there will be one guy coming right after another one... So there aren't enough cans to go around.  read more here... lee mas aquí... »

What I've been up to: Working for Agua para la Vida

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The internet cafe where I spend all my time
The internet cafe where I spend all my time (View on flickr)

Inside the internet cafe where I spend all my time
Inside the internet cafe where I spend all my time (View on flickr)

Well, Nancy will fly back tomorrow from California (where her dad is quite healthy, gracias a Diós, and we'll get on a boat to Colombia.

What have I been doing for these three weeks? In some ways, nothing. Every morning I get up at the rather boring (and too expensive at $22/night) hotel where I've been staying, walk to a little Chinese restaurant where I have coffee and read the newspaper, and then I go sit down at the internet cafe for the entire day working on the new website of Agua para la Vida, the wonderful organization we visited in Nicaragua that builds rural drinking water systems. It has been a strange little interlude in a fairly uninteresting place, lonely of course without Nancy here (both as a friend and as our primary friend-maker!)

Anyway, Agua para la Vida now has a new Drupal-based website, with database-oriented features that allow a map of the sites they have built, reporting capabilities for donations, and the like. I could have been volunteering for them in Nicaragua for these three weeks and it would have been more enjoyable and social in many ways, but on the other hand the technology would have been a real challenge. Here I have decent, cheap places to work (there's even a 24-hour internet cafe) and good speed and quality.

But I'll be really glad to see Nancy tomorrow and continue on our way!

Saludos de Panamá

Sloth and baby
Un peresozo y su bebé en
Costa Rica
Saludamos desde la ciudad de Panamá a todos nuestros amigos!

Ya alcanzamos mas o menos la mitad del viaje. Hemos viajado en bici casi 16,000 kilómetros desde el inicio del viaje en Inuvik, Canada el 9 de Junio de 2006.

Llegamos en la capital de Panamá hace dos semanas y ya estamos descansando antes de continuar en America del Sur. O sea, Randy está descansandose. Nancy regresó por avión al estado de California, en los Estados Unidos, apra ayudar a su papá, quién ha estado enfermo (y que ya está mejorando). Ella está ayudando con toda su cuida ya que ha regressado a la casa del hermano de Nancy.

Nancy regresa en los principios de Abril y intentamos ir por bote a Cartagena, Colmbia, para empezar la parte de Suramérica. Originalmente no habíamos planeado visitar a Colombia por razón de la supesta inseguridad, pero hemos oido de muchos viajeros y otros fuentes que la situación ha mejorado bastate y que el país es maravilloso para visitantes. Claro vamos a tener cuidado.

Immigration Paperwork

Well, today I had my first taste of official paperwork and such. To date, passing all those borders, we haven't had any issues or problems at all. None of those horror stories you hear about crossing borders in Central America. No bribes, no corruption, no paperwork. We had to wait an hour for the border official to come back from lunch in Panama. Not too bad.

But in Panama they (seem to) only give you 30 days in the country. It's marked very clearly on our paperwork. So since I'll be here a tad more than 30 days (with Nancy home helping her dad) I went down to the immigration office today to do the deed. I figured it would take a little time.

First I waited in a long line to get a number and they took my passport number and told me I had to go across the street and get copies of my passport, the entry stamp, and the tourist card, along with 2 photos of myself.

I went and got the copies and the pictures from the very busy little stand across the street.

Then I went back and looked at the "next serving" sign, seeing that it would be a couple of hours at least before mine came up. So I started asking around what I needed to do. They told me that I couldn't apply for the extension until I did the registration, and that I'd have to get and fill out forms for both registration and the extension. So I went and stood in the line for the copier, which is where you get the forms.

Then I went back across the street to buy a pen, and filled out the forms.

Then I went back in and started asking everybody who looked competent what I should do.  read more here... lee mas aquí... »

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