The Months Before I got Married
Living in Quito, Traveling to Bogota, Crossing the Darien Gap, Living in Panama City, Bike tour through Panama
A lot has happened between arriving in Quito Ecuador and renting an apartment with my new girlfriend and bicycle partner Bibi and this Nicaragua hotel poolside where I now find myself, just 7 months later.
But then let me spoil it for you. Maybe it is not all so much. Fell in love. Lost a job, got another one doing the same thing only bigger and more exciting. Bicycled around through numerous beautiful landscapes.
Propertyshelf is the first company I first left San Francisco to serve, with no job opening or opportunity presented to me until a month after my arrival.
It is truly amazing what life provides for the risk-takers.
My good friend Michael Wilson, upon hearing news that I was engaged, proclaimed loudly that I´d done it again, I´d won, without playing by the rules.
Mike wins the prize for best response to my wedding announcement.
I am a master of the rules. The key is differentiating between rules and norms.
I am in love with my soul mate. My goal is simple. Travel the world, learn the rythms and energies of this planet and all its diverse cultures. And to share everything with this angel who wants to spend her life with me…
This heavenly being, fallen like the rest of us, who yearns for more experiences, more people, more new places, more heart.
…and then at the end of it all, to be able to retire on a beach or in some mountain cottage home, a truly global mentality settling down into the new global middle class, comfortable in our means, and enjoying each blessed day.
The Peru bike trip was incredible, but when it ended, I remember being ready to get back to Quito to business. The two months were wonderful. No, lifechanging. A common bike saying of mine is that every 100ms (biking up a mountain) are difficult. In the same vein, every tour leg deepens my love of freedom. My awe for what is possible. Both what I can push myself to do, and in terms of the vast diversity of this world.
We quickly found ourselves in cotacachi after the rush home, Johannes in town, Stan by our sides. The party was on, as it always is when I find myself in Johannes´s proximity.
But life settled down. A short sales tour along the coast, and then Bibi and I found a nice place. Beautiful city views out our bedroom and sala. Mountains in the distance. Lights that changed colors and faded from one element to another in the bedroom. A lovely domesticile.
I worked hard, and I had Bibis support, free of any contract. We were still learning to work together, but a reality of my present seems to be, those that are close to me will be drawn to my projects. And that is great for now. But my guard is already up for the days when separation between work and family becomes necessary.
I had some great ideas in Quito, but the reality was that the licensee lost confidence in the contract. His health surely had something to do with it. Bibi and I took a financial hit with this, and I suppose I took an emotional one. It sucked, because what I felt I had earned was taken away from me, but then I learned something else, a deeper business lesson.
If you are not indispensable, you can be released as soon as there is a break from the status quo. We do not have a right to anything which we enjoy at any given moment. Your right is what you can control, and when you are in the control of another, you can expect some instability.
My old man always said,
“You have to make this much money in order to live.
Everything you make after that is just bonus.
If you can be your own boss, well, all the better.”
I also have to give props to Doctor Robbie for part of that.
Quito was stressful, but wonderful as well. Bibi and I learned how to live together. I loved cooking for her (it had been a long while since I´d had a proper kitchen) and I cooked and looked up recipes for everything exceptional I can remember tasting in my life. Lots of calls to mom about the beef stroganoff recipe.
We also were good about utilizing the Quito ciclovia ever week. Rides into the old city, and throughout Parque Carolina. Quito is actually a very bike friendly town.
Still, I left Quito frustrated with the hand delt to me, but grateful that Johannes had my back. I really do have the best boss/partner in the world.
When Mr. Harold walked away from the contract, I lost the visa extension which I´d anticipated having. Suddenly we had to break our lease and start looking for a new destino.
Costa Rica was the first choice, but the Costa Ricans aren´t real great about letting Colombians in. So we set out for Panama who has a more liberal immigration policy. But first we got meet Bibis family with a 2 week stay in Bogota.
Bibi arrived first. I ran down to Cuenca once the new deal had been laid down to promote to real estate agents in what International Living calls the best place in the world to retire on a budget. I really liked Cuenca, and if I find myself there for business reasons for a couple of years, it wouldn´t kill me. Everything is colonial, with cobblestone roads, beautiful churches, with a river running right through the center of town. Strong expat community. Affordable. Right climate.
I darted back up to Quito after night of drinking till sunup, hobbling on the 530 bus strait from the club. I missed my girl, but I was heading in that direction. A night in Quito and then a direct bus to Bogota. I enjoyed the caleñas that were riding next to me on their way home from Chile. More ruthless travelers. Without much, but enough for bus fare back home. I remember reflecting about that. If a bus ticket back home was really all I needed to survive. Of course it is true. As hungry and desperate as I get, home is always home. A bus ticket home, and I survive. For that, I consider myself the most fortunate boy in the world.
I´m incredibly grateful to have a family, though they are usually far from me. Shame to those that burn bridges with their family-- its just unacceptable. It’s the one thing we have to count on in this wide wide world.
I arrived in Bogota around 11:30 at night, and within minutes, Bibi, her brother Frank (Francisco), and his girlfriend were there to greet me. It was a heavy moment, which I had not anticipated on my long bus ride, but suddenly, beers in hand, we were walking together, bike alongside through the bogota bus terminal, with hugs and passionate welcoming chatter, towards the cab. Everything was worked out. A floorspace, view, cheap family price. Exactly what we were looking for.
We ate hotdogs and drank until our eyes were heavy and fell asleep side by side on the same floor. It was such a personal act, one which I can hardly imagine doing if I was in my home. One which I want to aspire towards.
The following days, despite being sick with a brutal cough, were incredible. Most-likely-to-live-forever-memory was without a doubt cooking beef stroganoff for her family with bibi as my assistant only to have her hand me vanilla soy milk powder in place of flour.
I remember laughing uncontrollably over drinks, struggling to understand the philosophical ramblings of her youngest brother, (Danny, youre brilliant – annunciate and speak with confidence!! Make me and everyone else understand your thoughts!!! There are a million idiots in this world that demand our attention ever day. Your voice has value! Drown out them all.) which I so wanted to connect with because he is truly so much like a younger me, lunches and dinners and shopping sessions, gandi steps, icecream, bicycle boxes. I lack the time to recall it all.
In the end, we threw the bicycles in boxes, unpacked them again because the boxes wouldn´t fit through the door, repacked, airport. We landed together in Cartagena – my first stop on my journey across South America, 20 months removed.
The Darien Gap
We arrived at a cheap hostel in Cartagena feeling like ourselves for the first time in months. Bibi and I are at home in hostels. I unpacked the bikes and delt with the flight damage to the bikes. We weren’t perfect, but we could manage. We chatted with Argentines in our room, and went to the hottest Cuban salsa bars south of the island. Chatting. We walked along the city wall in the evening and had drinks overlooking the Caribbean.
Colombia´s Caribbean has incredible sunsets. After a couple of days of heat, snocones, walking, work, pleasure, we hopped on a bus to Turbo. One stop I don’t remember where, bikes on top, we arrived late, superbowl night, and slept well. For the first time in my life, I had no interest in watching the superbowl. No one told me that the power was going to go out and the 49ers were going to make a game out of a 21 pt deficit.
We hopped on a boat to Capurgana, where more travelers passed me beer after beer. We made a bathroom stop, I took a swim and bought a bottle of aguardiente. We shared it throughout the boat and were all quite toasted when we arrived.
We camped that night in a half built house. There were money issues. No ATMs for a long stretch. Don´t let it happen to you and bring sufficient amounts of cash. The next boat took us to the Panamanean side of the border. They search you from head to toe multiple times along this frontier.
We stayed on an island the next night in a tent. A tribe of Kuna Indians shared their perspective on politics with us and then we fell off to sleep. We left early the next morning, arriving 4 hours later at town Carti, got in a 4x4 and headed to Panama City.
Johannes arrived in Panama City, we found an apartment, and we all got down to business again. The Inc put up the money and we were living like kings. But wed taken on some debt when we got robbed in Quito and had to buy new computers, and when I had the opportunity to rent out one of the three bedrooms I took it. It wasn´t the best of fits. Alejandro is a solid dude, but without speaking any Spanish, it was hard for me to move fluidly between conversations. It put me at the center of two very different people who weren´t able to build any relationship together. This photo below was taken at a 4th of July event. Looks like we were having a good time.
I met with a financial group which helped considerably understanding what such parties are all about, and took over project management duties in full. Bibi and I got much better at working together. There was work. And BBQs in the evenings with this incredible view.
My parents were able to visit while we were living in Panama.
We did a jungle boat tour, ate out alot, but most importantly, they got to know Bibi. My sweet mother could not have taken to Bibi any more than she did.
Panama to Boquete (BIKESs)
God Yes. We´re back on bikes again. Repairs completed, upgrades, lights, new handlebar panniers. Bibis new leather seat still lost somewhere in a Chicago mail sorting facility, but no matter.
The ride out of the city was incredibly intense. Late start, opposite direction, but still rush hour. Bibi described her state as catlike, with all the hairs on her back standing on end.
Crazy getting out. Crossed the Canal bridge and the Chinese tower or friendship. After that space. We arrived in Coronado 12 hrs after leaving. 100km on our first day back on the bikes. Perhaps I was over ambitious setting our destination that night. We arrived at a gate and it was already clear in my mind that bibi might leave me if we couldn’t find a hotel that particular night.
We found paradise, and after lamenting the cost and the trickery involved with the reservation at this resort, we saw the room and accepted like babies to the teet. The next day we went to the beach. Coronado is an extremely exclusive area with wonderful beaches. We went swimming for much of the day, laughing about how jealous the rest of the world should be of our happiness.
That night we stopped at a pizza place on the way out of town, and at 5 oclock, 30 or so gringos arrived for happy hour. They were all friends, and immediately friendly with us. We received two offers to stay in the home of a retired couple we met. They treated us extremely well. We shared beers and reflected about American politics and health costs. The wife had cancer and was receiving her treatment in Panama because of the cost. We had spoken with another woman who had suffered a week of bad pneumonia which required her to be hospitalized, but she instead requested that a nurse come to her home and provide the treatments every 6 hours. It cost her 10% of what the treatment had cost her in a U.S. hospital.
The next morning we set out for El Valle de Anton. Despite a long climb, the road was fantastic and the weather cooled down a bit as we climbed. We arrived in a hip town, cyclists everywhere. We met a couple of Canadian hippies traveling out of a van and shared stories together, talked of the best and worst roads along the journey. We didn’t have a chance to visit the hot springs, the orchedium, or the yellow frog exhibits. I worked on financials on my day off the bike and enjoyed walking around town with my girl.
The next day we tried a back route from El Valle to Penenomé. It was the first road I´d encountered that was so steep I couldn´t push my loaded bike alone, and so Bibi pushed from behind as we made our way over this steep pass. Still, it cut about 60kms off the trip and kept us in the cooler mountains a little longer. It was definitely worth the detour to el valle, despite the tough conditions for a short stretch. At the top, there was a cross, where we overlooked the valley. We stopped for pictures and Gatorades. There was a children´s baseball team that stopped by as well. We chatted with them, gave high-fives, and wished them luck in their game. We ate dinner that night at an Argentinean diner. Great empanadas and juices. No internet at the hotel. Bibi and I were experiencing Walter White withdrawl.
On to Santiago the next morning in what was a good 100km day through a very hot stretch of countryside. We met a another bike tourist coming down from Mexico, carrying almost nothing, determined to bike to Peru. He said he was going through an emotionally low stretch, that he would get to Peru, because that was what he set out for, but that he missed his family and friends and the biking everyday was wearing him out. He was a painter and was painting an image of every country he visited. The images we saw from his iphone were the work of an incredible talent, and I asked him why he didn’t stop somewhere touristy when the high season picked up and sell paintings for a few months. A bicycle tour shouldn´t be allowed to become a dreaded routine. I hope he considers it and his trip improves. A traveling partner would have done wonders for him.
We´d also met a Sweedish couple, biking together from Guatemala to Panama City. They were cute, young, adventurers, like us, and it was a pleasure chatting with them on the side of the road. I don´t think I´ve ever met a Sweedish person I didn´t like.
The afternoon was stressful as a bad storm hit us just 7 kms from our destination. We wanted to push on, but we were hit with a thunderbolt so close that it almost knocked me off my bicycle. Bibi let her bike fall to her sides and jumped off of it. The bicycle had a charge in it she screamed. After that we found shelter and waited it out for about an hour.
We stayed at the pyramid hotel in Santiago, which offered good internet, good prices, and a great secure spot to keep the bikes right outside our door. We stayed put a day to catch up on work and to let the bike muscles recoop.
After Santiago, had a long stretch where we really didn’t see any destination when we started the day. Las Lajas was a good two day ride away, but we had our camping gear. Something would turn up. Around 2:30 that afternoon, a rain began to fall, and it did not let up. I waited for Bibi at the front of an unpaved driveway into a small farmers home, and we rushed to get under their roof. The rain got heavier and heavier and before we knew it, the area where we´d sought refuge was now flooded with nearly a foot of standing water. The senora of the house signaled to us to move over to the main roof where it was drier.
Gradually we began to talk. We eventually asked if we could set up our tent, as it was getting late, and we really had nowhere else to go. The boys were fascinated with it, and we played games with them, reenacting days, even a lifetime. They ran to the tent, ran out again. We offered them an imaginary breakfast and sent them off to school. They came home and we offered them an imaginary dinner and then back in the tent. The popped out again and we sent them to work. We repeated this a few times, and each day I made them turn over their imagery wages. After a few rounds, I told them that they didn’t need to work anymore because they had saved up enough money to travel the world. We tried to teach them about geography, and I remember asking them what country they lived in. They didn’t seem to know. Again we asked where we were. “La cruz” (as in a cross in the road). When we mention Costa Rica, their neighbor to the north, it was like it was the first time in their life they´d ever heard of it. I was fascinated with this, and almost determined to show them a map, but they quickly lost interest. Great boys, but I don´t think a life of travel is in their futures!
A nice day of traveling lay ahead of us the next day. We hadn’t eaten anything substantial the night before or for breakfast and when we finally hit a town, we made ourselves comfortable. Bibi took a shower in a faucet alongside the restaurant and I tossed chicken bones to hungry street dogs. When we arrived in Las Lajas, we saw a sign for a Paradise Inn with Wifi. It had the german flag on it, so we went off to search for it.
Bibi crashed immediately upon arrival, and I drank a small liquor drink with a coffee bean which they lit on fire. I had a few more of these and then struck up a conversation with a group of expats. Two good friends and long time business partners were at the center of things, one in his 60s and the other in his 80s. The older one reminded me a lot of Pop. He was lamenting the recent loss of his wife privately to me, as the others chatted on around us. I told him the secret that I´d been keeping from everyone else. I was going to propose to Bibi at the end of our bicycle trip. He looked me up and down, and then asked if I told everyone else. I told him no. It was information for him alone, and he seemed to feel honored that Id shared it with him.
We ate and drank together until I reached a point where I could do no more. A full day on the bikes, a full night of drinks and chatter, and off to bed.
The next day we took a break, and visited the beach in the morning. We just missed the snorkel tour out to the island, but were sold once again on the need to get scuba certified. Perhaps in Bocas del Toro next month. The waves were great for bodysurfing. Bibi played in the mud where the ocean meets the land, covering her own body, and then mine as well. Kid stuff.
The next day we biked to David, though we got slowed down by a few flats. The Panamerican in Panama is full with the wire treading for burst truck tires, and they did an enormous amount of damage to our tubes over his stretch. When we arrived, one of the gentlemen (the younger of the two) from Las Lajas was waiting for us in his truck. “Passed by you guys earlier today,” he said. “Yall want a ride up to Boquete?” It took us offguard. We were planning on staying the night in David and doing the 1000 meter climb the next day. But we said screw it and hopped in the truck. Just like that, the Panama bicycle chapter came to an end.
After a day of catching up with work, we took Sunday off and went for a hike. There was talk of a trail with 3 waterfalls. We stopped first at a little cabin on the entrance to the trail, and thought about bringing our families here one day.
We went on to the first waterfall and I waxed about life being like a waterfall, all being essentially the same, but separated, temporarily, into tiny little drops, thrust off the side of a cliff, only to come together as the same river once again. She saw life as the various little pools in the river, chapter, little sub-environments where we spin around or get caught temporarily against a rock, but ultimately, inevitably, break away from to continue the journey onwards toward the sea.
At the second waterfall we made out. I sang to her and was generally just being a cheesy romantic.
At the third waterfall, we walked out to the edge, I took a knee and asked her to marry me. She laughed, shocked for nearly 30 seconds repeating my name. And she said yes. This pictures were taken shortly thereafter. I feel like the luckiest guy on the planet for the life that I have and the future that lays before me.
So now we have a wedding coming up. January 25th in Villa de Leyva Colombia. The Robleses and the Bergers will get together for 6 days of celebration. The wedding info page is hosted as well on this blog here. Any bicycle tourists traveling through that are passing by Villa de Leyva the area are invited to join in the celebration.
Here´s to more of the same!