December 6, 2011
Almost missing in Colombia
Last week we started the bike after it had been sat in heavy rain for a couple of days and the motorbike did not sound good. It would not tick over, it sounded very rough and it struggled to make it from one side of Cartagena to the other.
I found water in the spark plug chamber and inside the lip of the petrol cap but after having a look at the plugs, speaking to a few motorcycle dudes, changing the oil, revving, riding, we were still in the same situation. The bike was spluttering and it was not going to take us anywhere reliably.
We were tinkering with the bike in the car park of the apartments we were staying in with some friends (very nice friends!) when a Colombian chap took an interest in what we were doing and he just seemed super keen to help. He said he had a mechanic friend, he could take us there. So, Ivanka and I looked at each other, thought it was the best shot we had and agreed to meet Alfredo at midday. It was a great idea – but, Ivanka and I have been side-by-side for 7 months and we never do missions separately and Alfredo doesn’t have a car of his own.
At midday my new amigo Alfredo (on the back of the bike and wearing Ivanka’s helmet) was kindly directing him and me on a mission across Cartagena in order to get the bike back to its best.
The journey itself was the usual kind of stuff on latin american roads; buses, motorbikes, traffic from bumper to bumper and I suppose I was expecting to get there within 10 minutes or so. 20 minutes later we were heading more inner city and I started to think: “Shit! Where is he taking me?” I got all sorts of ideas in my head – let me tell you! Is he taking me somewhere so he can do over the ‘gringo’? How will I get in touch with Ivanka to let her know about my progress? But then you remind yourself that Alfredo seemed like a nice bloke. Didn’t he?
The journey took us about 30 minutes in total and Alfredo said: “if you don’t like the mechanic just let me know”. We pulled down several back streets and eventually arrived in a neighborhood where there was a line of several bikes at the side of the kerb with a bunch of guys hanging out.
We got off the bike, Alfredo said hello to his friends and I thought: “shit, this clearly isn’t a proper mechanic – what am I supposed to do?”. The mechanic and I conversed in my basic Spanish and we agreed that he would look at the bike in about 45 minutes, once it had cooled down. In the meantime word must have got out that there was an English ‘gringo’ with a big bike and I must have met 10-15 kids who couldn’t help but come and have a look! Alfredo reminded me to watch my wallet and my belongings over and over again while I tried to keep the crowds entertained with my tales of places I have been and English football – all delivered in my excellent gringo Spanish!
Much later, the mechanic returned, he checked the spark plugs, took my engine case apart and then adjusted one of my throttle bodies and the bike seemed to be back just as it should be. It cost me $30 for his time and I had to let him have a go on the bike. Alfredo had come up with the goods, the mechanic had done the business and I was ready to go.
While we had been waiting there was a discussion about fitting my bike with fog lights and Alfredo said that there was a shop around the corner that could help. I thought to myself that I had only been gone a couple of hours so what was the harm? And anyway, I needed a new bulb for my headlight…
Alfredo called the doorman of the apartment block, left a message for Ivanka, and off we went.
To cut a long story short, I ended up going to 2 or 3 shops with Alfredo. We then went to 2 welders who needed to help with fitting a bracket and we had to go to an electrician so he could fit the lights. The whole process took us to 6.30 and we met so many nice people! One guy made us a Colombia sticker and everyone wanted a photo with me and the bike.
That was it. What a day! My bike was fixed, I had a new set of spotlights and I had a really really great day with Alfredo. Turns out he had had a BMW motorbike himself for a number of years which was part of the reason he was so keen to help. All in all we had spent 8 hours together by the time we got home and we had set up a friendship; I had invited him to visit in the UK and we had agreed to go out for some beers in Cartagena.
The journey home was more eventful than the whole day! It was dark, it was rush hour; there were cars, motorbikes and buses all over the place but that is just how it is and we made it back together safely.
When we met Ivanka on our return it was clear that she had been worried. Properly worried. She got the update call at 4pm and by 8pm she had been fighting all the paranoid possibilities for the best part of 5 hours. As she said, she had been trying very hard to except everything for what it was, a nice person being helpful, but it can be hard not to think of the alternatives because, even by latin american standards it had taken “an awfully long time”.
This story really highlights the kindness that you experience on a trip like this – all the crap you hear about Mexicans and Colombians is definitely there for a reason but the majority of people you meet out there are great people with really big hearts.
When was the last time you helped a stranger?
Thanks Alfredo for a special day around Cartagena and I look forward to our beer!