Gringo Motorcycle Diaries: Manizales to Armenia

December 27, 2013

By: Paul Seymour, Director of Client Services

colombia 3After 3 pleasant days in Manizales, it was time to boogie on down the road.  This time to nearby Armenia, which is still in the coffee area, and still in Paisalandia.  It was a nice roll down from the high hilltop city to the lower altitude, where it was noticeably warmer, although not hot.  Manizales, at 7,000 feet, is almost chilly at night, and cooler than Medellìn (5,000 feet), but not as cool (cold at night) as Bogotà which is at 8,000 feet or so.  A very nice aspect of life in the tropical Andes is the ability to choose your optimal year-round temperature based on altitude.  Note that mountain tops, such as Manizales, tend to have their own micro climate, which include a bit more rain than lower areas.

First thing I noticed after getting out of Antioquia was the great roads.  As I’ve noted, the Pan Am highway in Antioquia is shamefully still a 2-lane affair.  Amazing since Antioquia is one of the richest provinces in Colombia, and considering the high rate of taxes on the gasoline, which costs $4.50-$5 per gallon, and the high tolls as well.  Although I just pass by for free on the moto, cars are shelling out about $5 bucks a pop at the frequent toll booths, and trucks/busses even more.  So the new, 4-lane roads here in Risaralda and Quindìo provinces are like a dream.  It’s Saturday morning, and there’s nary a car in sight on the twisting, glass-smooth roads, and the old cruiser was given a workout.  FANTASTIC!!!  As a Colombian bike, the speedo/odometer was long ago disconnected with 37k KM’s on it, so I don’t know how fast I’m going, but at 6,000 rpm in top gear, it feels like I’m picking them up and putting them down at a fairly decent clip.  The added bonus of not worrying about some jackboots setting up speed traps in order to tax me, via harassment, leads to some pure, simple pleasure of a moment out of the past for an ex-Gringo.

Here, although I’m still in coffee territory,  it’s less mountainous.  The area looks reasonably well off, and I stop for a break in Pereira.   Pereira is known by those in Medallo as a city of free love.  At least relative to Medellin, which is saying something, actually.  Like in Manizales, it also has an unusual statue of Bolivar, this time naked, lean, and riding a horse.  How would liberator George look in the eyes of such an artist, I wonder?

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My photo didn’t turn out very good, but this one did, so let’s borrow it.

The people were again very pleasant.  Getting the bike up on its central, 2-peg stand, with the weight of the boxes, is tough as a 1-man show, but almost always some guy nearby will run over and give me a hand, and here it took about 5 seconds for someone to scurry over, in front of the main square.

The place didn’t impress overall, though.  Gnarly traffic jam coming into town, and a bit dirtier than usual.  Add to that the fact that the guy tried to overcharge me at the nearby tienda.   Not cool, so I moved on down the road, after the blood had returned to my rear end.  Armenia was a hop-skip-and jump away.  Same great roads, with the same great ride.  I made no advance plans for a place to stay, so headed straight for the main square to contemplate my shelter for the short term.  Here again, the traffic is heavy, as I crawl towards town, and I get hit by a taxi while making my way through.  He just ran right into the right rear side box, almost as though on purpose.  Although we were barely moving, once the weight of the bike and luggage get moving in one direction, it’s not easy to stop.  I almost went down, but managed to keep it upright.  The immediate string of profanity, shouted over my left shoulder at the idiot shrugging in the taxi, and in perfectly pronounced English, might make some of you blush.  A guy standing on the sidewalk, who saw the whole thing, says, also in English, “take it easy, take it easy”, and it somehow works.  No harm, (other than a little yellow paint on the box, which actually looks really cool) no foul.

I find a parking lot near the main square, which is devoid of an artistic Bolivar statue, and find a little taverna on the corner.  It’s not only looking good in old wood, but also has got a great breeze blowing through.  So I unfold my laptop, get an after arrival cold one, and start hunting the internet for a good hostel.   There’s basically only 1 choice in this smallish city, so I walk out front to find a girl selling “minutos”, which is very common all around Colombia.  Someone just buys a monthly unlimited cell phone plan for a fixed fee, and then sells calls by the minute for about 8 cents, on average.  I call the place and ask if there’s a private room available, and she replies with great hesitation, “um, yes but we’re having a big party in the cafè downstairs, and nobody would be getting any sleep tonight”.  I verified, “you mean till dawn”?  She said, “yep”.  Well, I’d been quite laid back in Manizales, it was Saturday, and I was up for the challenge, so I let ‘er know that, in that case,  I’d be right over.

It was another ex-house in an upper middle class neighborhood which has been turned into a hostel, and was very home-like.  I found out that it was a birthday party for one of the owners, which were 2 local sisters of 25 and 28, but obviously watched closely by Mom.  I’m thinking old-money, landed-rich, with nothing else to do in this small city. 

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I find out that the party has a 20’s theme, Chicago style, and of course, I’m not sporting the proper attire.  I consider painting a scar on my face, and getting a white hat and a black shirt, but dismiss that idea.  The people show up looking great.  It reminded me of a big social event back in the 70’s in Ocala, Florida.  All the big families are represented, and on their best behavior. 

I asked this chick if she would mind me taking a photo, and she did not.

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She then offered to strip down and show some skin and asked if I minded waiting a second.  Being a sporting guy, I did not.

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Here is a girl from, ironically, Columbia, SC, along with a couple other of the hostel employees from Armenia.  By the way, Colombia was named for the Italian explorer, Cristoforo Colombo.  It’s poor form to try and translate proper nouns.  The girl on the right is a 45 year-old cancer survivor (????)

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The South Carolina girl is a 25-year-old, recent college grad, who couldn’t find, work and is bumming around Colombia working at hostels for room and board.  Something I’ve been seeing a lot of, and will talk more about.

A good live band was on hand playing a lot of Frank Sinatra, amongst other things.  I’m not sure if they knew that ol’ Blue Eyes wasn’t quite from the 20’s, but I guess they just knew he was from way back, and it would suffice.  It was a great night, and I managed to defy the odds, and somehow pass out before the sun came up.

Speaking of Ol’ Blue Eyes, that’s one of the little things I noticed about Armenia.  I was walking around, going to the grocery store, etc, and hearing real American/European music rather than the vallenatos and rancheros that I started to love to hate back in Medellin.  Does that indicate a more progressive attitude?  I don’t know, but it sure doesn’t indicate a lack of open-mindedness, and is definitely a good sign, I think.

The girl on the right also made a special call to her brother-in-law to have him come over on Monday, possibly the 12th 3-day weekend of the year, to help me out.  The bike had some nagging electrical problems, and I wanted to continue my piece-by-piece restoration of it, and needed a recommendation for a good mechanic.  He personally ran me over to the moto mechanical souk, and took me to a couple of places to make sure that I had a guy who both knew what he was doing, and also one that wouldn’t rip me off.  I gladly gave him $5 for this favor, which was more than enough ‘round these parts.

I sat and watched the guy do various work for about 3 hours under the direct supervision of the smart-assed owner, who was taking the piss out of everybody, and getting some good laughs with it.  After having a bike before, and learning how to take apart, and put back together, my race car back in Florida, it was obvious to me that these guys knew what they were doing, and did me some favors.  Again the fateful question finally had to arise—“how much”.  Again, the delayed, thoughtful reply was $16.  Muchas gracias, amigo.

I didn’t do much in Armenia.  There’s a well-known amusement and cultural park outside of town, but I didn’t really feel like it. The small town of Sorrento is a hot tourist joint, and I tried to go one day, but the low, black clouds in that direction dissuaded me, and I turned back around.

Instead, I did a little grocery shopping, and some cooking, and hanging around the house and downstairs cafè, chatting with the employees and other guests.  In my neighborhood studies I noted that the staff at the supermarket were extremely friendly to the gringo, while at the same time, the fellow patrons lacked basic manners.  Like leaving their shopping cart in the aisle behind them for me to kick out of the way (with a similar lack of manners).  I also noted at one nice little cafè that not only was the food of high quality, and cheaper than MDE or BOG, but the waitress shocked me by returning and asking if everything was ok.  My mouth dropped.   That was a Colombian first for me.  Quite often in MDE I have to chase one down in order to pay the bill, or get something else, after the initial order is dropped off.  Another surprise was the bakery that sold only high quality bread.  I don’t think there’d be enough people in MDE, outside of the Swiss and German expats, who would be willing to pay the higher prices for quality bread.  Since I didn’t see any expats whatsoever here, I have to assume that the locals here are willing to do so.

Winding up, I’m continually reminding you guys that the opinions of a once, relatively high-flying corporate executive, who’s walked away from a $million+ in earnings over the past decade, in order to be a Colombian citizen-backpacking bum, might not coincide with your particular ideas about the optimal lifestyle.  Again, with that frame of reference in mind, I’d say that Armenia might be a good place for those who want an extremely slow-paced lifestyle, in a culture that wreaks of mutual respect for fellow citizens, for 2-4 few months out of the year.  It boasts a year-round temperature of about 22C (72F) like MDE, but is much cleaner, more economical, and much more laid back.

On to Cali.

If you’d like to start living 3 times better, with real freedom, and for half the cost, the first step is to move your assets out of the US or EU before it’s too late, and you can no longer afford to live in the rapidly developing “third world”.  Feel free to contact me anytime at [email protected] to discuss asset protection, or living and investing overseas.

Living well is the best revenge

Hasta la próxima muchachos, y mucha suerte.

Paul, as of 1996, is an escaped former Big 4 CPA (financial statement auditor), and Corporate Controller/CFO who found a natural home in the offshore industry with Bobby Casey and the gang at GWP.   Contact him at [email protected] to learn more about the realities of economical offshore asset protection. 

An offshore company and bank account can be established for as little as $1,797, including my advice and assistance throughout both processes, and in both privacy-respecting jurisdictions, apostilles required to  open bank accounts, and courier charges to send original documents to you.  There’s never any need to visit the jurisdictions personally, although they’re very nice places, and I recommend a visit.  With our established agency agreements, we can do everything via e-mail.  We maintain long-term relationships with our clients, and remain available for consultation on an ongoing basis.

5 thoughts on “Gringo Motorcycle Diaries: Manizales to Armenia”

  1. It’s “reeks of mutual respect” actually. Sorry, I’m a chronic proof reader…;)

    I really dig your diary so far. I would love to be able to do the same type of exploration in both Columbia and Brazil. Maybe some day..;)

    1. I caught that when I was reading it published as well. Shit. I actually won the 7th grade spelling bee, too.

      I’m on my way through Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, and will enetually hit Brazil as well. Stay tuned, and have fun-


  2. Pingback: Gringo Motorcycle Diaries: Manizales to Armenia | Alternative Risk Investment News Trends on Gold, Money, Currency Markets and Financial Freedom

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