Goodbye Venezuela... Welcome to Colombia

My visa was expiring feb 15. I wanted to spend the weekend in Merida and leave monday. On Sunday - day before Valentine day, my dear lovely bike decided to give me grief. She didn't start... Not sure at all of the problem, I tried all my mechanic tricks but still no luck. I had no idea what the problem could be. Maybe another valve? It had no compression to start. Being Sunday, I couldn't do much but leave it until tomorrow.
Monday - I spent all day looking for a mechanic who could come check it out. After a few visits to several shops, one guy could help but not until tomorrow tuesday. My temporary bike permit was expiring tuesday! So I was getting nervous as I knew in these countries, tuesday might mean friday....
Finally the mechanic came, tuesday like he said he would. He also couldn't diagnose the problem. So off we went to get another guy to help him bring my bike to the shop. In Latin America, mechanics know all the best tricks in the book. They left with my bike, one riding another bike while pushing my bike on neutral with his foot on the passenger foot peg! Off they went, hoping it wasn't going to someone's home instead of the shop!
Now I only needed to be patient and wait.....
The next day, my friend Maigualida started making phone calls to the aduana to find out what happens if my bike leaves the country late. - Venezuela is the only country in South America that gives you a nice big full page stamp - MOTO - so I was nervous they were very strict with temporary imports and a high fee could be applied on my exit. No luck with any of my calls, all they said was ... " Suerte" good luck! great...
After a visit to my mechanic, he diagnose the problem being my alternator brushes needed to be changed. Something to expect I guess after 80 000 km on the engine.
I gave him a few bucks to get the parts needed, " manana listo " he says. Perfect! couple days late will be fine at the border.
Manana ... still no bike! Now I was getting very nervous, time on my permit was clicking and so was my visa. Another visit to the mechanic, " Mucho proplema " he tells me! great, what now. My entire electrical system was a mess from riding in cold, hot, rain, sand, salt... wires were eaten away. So all electrical needed to be replaced. It was now friday, still no bike. And with the weekend coming up, I know it was going to go until next week. I asked him how much all would cost me, he threw me a higher then expected number. With Zero money left in my pocket,.. for the second time in Venezuela! Thanks to the wonderful banking system where no ATM machines are available for gingos. I really didn't know how I was going to pay. Trying to figure money transfers online caused more headaches and complications. There is just no easy way to get money sent to this country.
A bus ride to Cucuta Colombia to get money was out of question... 2 day mission and maybe they wouldn't let me back in because of my visa.
Now back to Monday, still no bike.... I was loosing patience with my mechanic. Every time I went to see him, nothing seemed to be done. One week later, wednesday - my bike was finally ready, all good like new. But still had no money. My friends Roxana and Maigualida had to run several times to the bank, they were able to help me out lending me cash. I went back to see my mechanic to pay him and finally get my bike...
The next day, I was on my way out towards Colombian border.

Little electrical problem in Merida.

I left Merida under a nice sunny sky. Felling relieved to be back on the road with a working bike. An hour later, heavy rain, I was soaked! Luckily it didn't last long. I needed to ride 250 km to San Cristobal. The nearest border town to Colombia were I had a friend to stay with for the night. 5 hours later, I finally arrived in San Cristobal.
I quickly found my friends house. But when I got there, he wasn't home. I waited 1/2 then he arrived with a couple other friends. Next thing you know, a full case of beer was out of the trunk. "Welcome to San Cristobal my friend!" says Gabriel, handing me a cold one. He introduces me to his buddies Jose and Rafael. After a warm shower to clean the dirt of my face, more beers were drank.
" Vamos " says Gabriel, " let's show you around San Cristobal " Off we went to drink a few more beers to another pub. Tired from my long ride and empty stomach, I was feeling a little tipsy. Hoping the night was coming to an end soon so I can go sleep.... " Vamos!!! " To another bar... shit!
So off we go. Arriving at the bar, the doorman didn't want to let me in cause i was wearing flip flops! I couldn't believe bars like this existed in Venezuela.... Gabriel did the talking, and I was in.
Next thing you know, the waiter comes over with 500 year old Bottle of Rum. - Oh boy!
More friends showed up... so did another bottle of Rum.
" Vamos!!! " oh no! I tell myself... another bar, so off we go to one of his friends bar. Gabriel hands me another beer. I was now past my bed time and wasted. I sat down drinking my beer while trying to keep straight eye watching couples swing away in Salsa groove. I only wished I knew how to swing like that! When all of a sudden, this cute little girl comes over to ask me for a Salsa dance.
Trying not to fall over or step over her feet, she soon realized I couldn't dance Salsa Shit! So I got ditched.... I went back to my seat trying not to pass out.
I don't really remember the numbers of drinks that night. But I sure remember finding myself wrapped around the toilet bowl Puking my sandwich diner. Again a few more times out the car window on our way home.
Then I remembered making more ham and cheese sandwiches with Gabriel at 4:30 am. So long for wanting to go to bed early for an early start to the Colombian border - 2 hours way.
At 10 am, Rafael woke me up asking if I wanted another beer! I was ready to throw up in his face. hangover of hell. I couldn't even make it to the shower. I looked outside the window, it's pouring rain!
Fawk! Tomorrow is the weekend.. I need to cross the border today! But I can barely stand straight. My head was pounding, but I got myself in the shower. "Cerveza???" Rafael says. No way! just the word cerveza made me feel sick! We went for lunch and by now, I was slowly recovering. Gabriel and Rafael were insisting that I stay for the weekend, " We take you to more good bars! " they told me. I had to escape, plus I was nervous about my visa issues. The rain stopped so there was my chance to go... I packed up my bags. Waved good bye to my buddies. Still with taste of Rum in my mouth, I was on my way along the zig zag road to Cucuta Colombia.

Saying goodbye to my crazy friends in San Cristobal.

San Cristobal, Venezuela. Nothing much but a drinking city!

Welcome to Colombia!!!!!!!!

I didn't know what to expected at the border, but like all borders, heavy traffic filled the streets. I prepared myself to show a photos of my bike in pieces at the shop and receipt from the mechanic incase I would get in trouble. I went to get my passport exit stamp. Paid the guy my exit fees of 76 bolivar. mmmm easy! he never noticed my nice - MOTO - stamp in my passport! So I jumped back on my bike and drove off to Colombia without exiting my bike out of Venezuela! All the stress of being worried about a big fine or late exiting my bike was nothing but a piece of cake. If I want to come back to Venezuela, well I already have my papers.

More crazy mountain roads, you can see why in rainy season the roads are quite dangerous from landslide.

back into the green mountains outside Cucuta.

The town of Pamplona nested in the green valley, North Santander.

Beautiful green farm land.

No problem.. we'll get that tree out of the way sometimes today...

One thing Colombia has ... beautiful and scenic roads!

A friendly farmer welcoming me to Colombia.

Scenic but cold part of the road at nearly 3800 meters

Finally the sun is back.

And now back in deep dense fog, wet and cold.

More crazy mountain roads

A major land slide right next to the house.

The last 20 km before Bucaramanga, very scenic above 3000 meters with views of the city.

The city of Bucaramanga.

High altitude alpine mission - Merida.

It was time to get out and stretch the legs. I met Ben, another traveler who showed up one night at our Couch Surfing host. We decided to take my bike and ride up in Parque National Sierra La Culata north of Merida. Hoping to bag a peak, we set off to hike to the summit of Pan de Azucar at 4640 meters. Normally hikers will go for a 2 day tour to get there. We went for the one day mission.
Our friend Maigualida told us to get going early, but the usual morning coffee made it a late start. We finally got going at 9am and started hiking just after 9:30. Merida is nested just above 1600 meters and the peaks surrounding the city reach up to 5007 meters (pico Bolivar) and many above the 4500 mark.
We reached the end of the Valley at 3000 meters were we started to hike. The air already felt thin and quickly gained altitude above 3500 m until we reached a valley surrounded by high peaks over 4000m and weird looking plants, frailejones (espeletia).
As we hiked farther into the valley, we could see our objective (what we thought was!) Pico Pan Azucar. A moon like mountain covered by sand. We didn't really know the exact way to climb it. All we really new, is it was covered with sand! So when we saw the first sandy looking peak, we decided to head for it's summit. Not on a hiking trail, but cow path! We started to climb steeply gaining altitude fast, we were now above 4000 meters and could feel our lungs pumping for air. Ben came from Colombia, he had been in higher elevation for a while but not in hiking shape, myself, I was in hiking shape, but I was at sea level for the past year on the road, so we both felt it! We made the mistake of not filling our water bottles from the river, thinking we could find a stream higher. We also had nothing but half a loaf of bread. I don't really know why??? but we didn't bring food! Dum Idea...
As the air got thinner, also did our stomach from the lack of food and water. We kept climbing until we reached a point were we were sure our summit was near. The clouds got thicker so was our saliva! When finally a window opened. We could see the summit being nowhere near but 2 mountains behind! We rested for a while and finished our last sips of water. We dreamed of a cold coca cola, cold beers, chocolate...everything we didn't have. We looked up at Pan Azucar far behind the valley and called it quits. Too late to keep going, too cloudy anyways. We started to make our why back down to reach the river so we can refuel our dehydrated bodies. Relieved from our thirst, we started to make our way back to the valley. Our legs were dead from the steep descent and lack of food. Now thick fog covered the valley, it started to get much colder. We finally arrived at my bike beat. We had been going 8 hours on half a loaf of bread.
As we rolled back down towards Merida in thick fog, our bodies were frozen. We kept talking about what to cook, Pasta?? Rice?? something big, a big warm meal...
When we got back to the house. We were drained, Ben was red as a lobster from the high altitude sun, I was frozen from riding the bike back down. A loaf of bread was sitting on the counter, too tired to cook anything, we filled up our stomach with more bread and past out for the night.
Next time!!! we won't forget about the chocolate Ben!

Benjamin hiking up above 3000 meters.

Looking down the valley and La Culata. Merida is down left at the very bottom.

The end of the road at La Culata.

Up we go, now at 3500 meters, air is thinner, our objective is the very far peak straight above the trail.

Scenery along the way and the frailejones (espeletia) weird plants.

Our only fuel source was this beautiful clear river.

Campers in the valley at the 1st Refugio.

Far above 4000 meters with the clouds coming quick from the valley below.

Other peaks waiting to be climbed.

Looking far down at the trail, we climbed over 1000 meters in less then 2 hours.

Thick clouds coming in fast.

The clouds rolled in so we called it quits at about 4500 meters.

Our objective peak hiding far behind to the right.

Mountain roads of the Andes

With Global warming in effect, snow is disappearing fast on Pico Bolivar 5007 meter - Venezuela's highest mountain.

View of Merida.

The Andes offer some of the most beautiful remote mountain roads... beats highway traffic!

Flying like a bird over Merida Venezuela - Paragliding.

Since I arrived in Merida, I've been spending most of my time working on images and stories - catching up to the internet world. Merida is a fairly good size city surrounded by the high Andes mountains. One of the main attraction was the longest - 13.2 km - teleferico ride. It is the highest in the world at an altitude of 4,765 meters. But unfortunately it has been shut down since 2008 for renovations.
Other attractions are, walking around the busy streets and eating ice cream at the *Guiness Book of World Records* shop for having the most ice cream flavors! They now have over 1,000 such as Calamari, Ham and Cheese, Beans, the traditional flavors and some with a twist of alcohol like beer flavor. - I sticked to the classic chocolate flavor! No thanks.. I'll pass on the fish flavors!
Merida is a true paradise for outdoor enthusiasm like myself. From mountain biking, hiking, rafting or climbing high peaks like Pico Bolivar at 5007 meters - the highest in Venezuela.
I got the opportunity to see the area from a birds eye view, paragliding.
Thanks to my friend Robert, a fellow Swiss traveller on a two week vacation here in Venezuela.
We met at our friends house Maigualida while couch surfing. He wanted to try paragliding but didn't want to go alone so he paid my share to join him for a flight. I don't know how to pay him back for his generosity, I guess a few professional photos will do the trick...

Thanks Robert! And thanks to Fanny tours & Adventures for an amazing flight!

The pilots getting ready.

Relax Robert! everything is going to be fine!!!

Goodbye Robert! Enjoy....

Looking up the valley towards Merida.

It turned out to be another great day in the office...