10/10/2009-Sat- From Sahaguns little hotel to a high mountain pass at the Los Llanos hotel:
This drive was through a lowland area that had been converted by the cattle business to a grassland. We were impressed with the green valleys and mountains as we began to climb into the Andes. The lowlands were still pretty hot and we couldn't wait to get higher. We had lunch that day high on a knife edge town overlooking steep canyons with little farms stuck on the sides somehow...We kept driving higher and higher and finally found a Motel near 9,000ft in a plateau of dairy farms.
10/11/2009-Sunday- From high mountain pass hotel through Medellin to Medellin river ecological park at around 7,000 ft.
We drove up and down the mountains into a river valley ending with the beautiful city of Medellin. This was Sunday and we had heard of the bicycle crazed city but were surprised to find that roads were closed for biking and walking. There were large numbers of people just on a Sunday stroll. This city was well maintained and had quite a modern skyline. The roads weren't too hard to follow. We found out way to a park we read about but they were getting ready for a party and had no space. We found another park further up the road. This road was very narrow and appeared to be a well used one, we eventually found the park and had lunch along a small little stream. Arepas, steak, and veggies. I saw a water tyrannulet while eating my rice.
After lunch we drove up into the park, there were hundreds of people all over picnicking. We crossed the Medillin River, which was to be a problem with Paco the next day. In the meantime we set up camp rolled out the awning and got the chairs out and rested. That is when we became the spectacle of the area, the kids came first and questioned us, and we opened up Paco to show them our little home. A little later we were visited by Moms/Dads, grandpas and more kids looking at Paco and speaking the little English that they had learned in school. What a fun afternoon that was. The Colombian people are such a fresh breath of air, a real asset to the hospitality of this country.
It rained that afternoon making the awning a nice refuge.
10/12/2009-Monday- from the head waters of the Rio Medellin via Manizales to Hosteria Finca de Cafe Chinchina.
The morning was spent again driving down a narrow mountain road into an area Known as the Cafetera, coffee region of Colombia. This was the area that we were to visit a friend that we made in Cartagena.
The travel plans for this day was to drop in elevation from around 7,500 ft to the coffee region which was about 5,000ft. The drive down the Andes was slow and methodical. The road was narrow and we had to pass scores of trucks that were just crawling up and down the steep slopes of the mountains. The steepness was incredible and the road it seems to just hang onto the mountain by the grace of God. Paco at this point was doing just great. We dropped into a very green and agriculturally rich river valley. This was at around 1800 ft so it took on a tropical temperature as well as the jungle look along the river, with birds and huge iguanas along the roadside. At lunch we pulled off and had a terrific lunch, Steak and potatoes and some green veggies, Karla had trout, head and all. We met some people from Medillin vacationing. The had seen our cars and noticed that we were from the California. Well that was a lot of fun telling them our story and sharing it with them.. Of course Ewok, the dog was a huge curiosity to the kids.. They told us that we had to go to Manizlles and stay at the Thermal pools. So that became our next plans. After lunch we began to climb and Paco, died on the road. I pulled the filter, drained the water out of it and that seemed to solve the problem. Another couple of hours and we were in Manizalles looking for the Thermal pools, a Taxi cab driver took us to them. In the middle of this all, Paco died again. I pulled the fuel filter and change it to a new one. That didn't seem to work to well but we were able to follow John and Sharon. John drove up to the Thermal springs and determined that it was too expensive, while I changed the filter.Struggling to keep up we managed to find a beautiful Coffee Finca with a wonderful hotel and nice parking lot. Karla and I were hugely disappointed with more car trouble. It seemed like it was going to be another day or so spent dealing with the gas tank. We were able to be allowed to camp in the Parking lot and John and Sharon got a room for the them and the animals. We still hadn't solved the water getting into the tank problem. Frustrating.
10/13/2009-Tues- At Chinchina draining Paco of water at Hosteria finca de Cafe
We had a wonderful breakfast with areapas and scrambled eggs. The Owner of the hotel, told us that she would have her husband get his mechanic to come up to the Finca and see what he could do. She also told us that in the afternoon we could have a tour of the farm and grand old hacienda.
The owner of the farm showed up at Paco and said that his mechanic was on his way up. By mid afternoon the mechanic and his assistant had removed/and reinstalled the tank, drained out all of the gas and found about 3gallons of water in the tank. Javier, the mechanic checked out all of the fuel system and told me that the car is not an amphibian, I had took a good dousing the day before in the Medellin river crossing it to get to our campsite. It all seemed to be working well and we drove it around and it seemed to have the power back. I paid Javier and was a little concerned that I was smelling gas. He told me that if it persisted to bring it back to his shop tomorrow.
We had a nice walk up to the Bodega, store house, to see the coffee beans being brought in by the workers and weighed. Then the process of preparing the beans began. We were taken through the factory and shown how the cellulose was removed from them and how they were separated by size and dried. She showed us the end products both inferior beans and superior beans.. Interesting..
We then got a tour of the old hacienda. What a grand place two stories with a thatched roofs and huge bamboo poles holding it all up. This family home was over a hundred years old. The current owner and his wife had owned it for about 40 years. The hacienda is only used by the Sons and daughters and their families when they visit Mom and Dad. The Owners live in the upper level of the Hotel above the reception area and restaurant. What a set up. She told us that this hotel was the favorite place for the real Juan Valdez to stay during coffee conventions in Manizalles. I am sure those of us our age have heard of Juan Valdez with his mule carrying coffee that had just been picked from his lovingly tended coffee plants. Had a nice dinner at the Finca's restaurant, went to sleep not quite sure of whether Paco was fixed or not. Smelled gas all night.
10/14/2009-Wed- From Chinchina re fixing gas tank Through Pereira to the mountain town of Salento.
Spent all morning at Javier's shop getting the tanks tubes re secured. While we were there, a small sign shop was near and we asked if they could make a sign for the tire cover. They told us that it would take no more than a half hour. So we designed a sign and they cut it from one sided sticker type plastic. It was quite fun making the sign and having Javier and the two sign makers sign it.
Javier checked the fuel pump functions and it was running OK. He suspected that there was something else wrong with the pump and told me to keep my eye it. We had told John and Sharon to head on to Salento without us and that we would catch up.. We drove from Chinchina to Pereira. Which was up over an 8,000 foot pass and back down to around 4,000ft. So in Pereira, we started to have fuel/Power problems again. I pulled off at a gas station and started to work on changing the fuel pump, I had an extra one, whew. A young man across the street from the station offered to help me work on fixing the situation, he had a small shop that worked on air conditioning systems. He insisted and told me he was not doing this for money just to help... So, in a half hour all was changed and Paco seemed to be doing better. Then about 20 minutes out of town we hit a huge rainstorm. It dumped buckets.. The storm cleared and we finally made it to the small Hostel in Salento that we had planned to meet John and Sharon. They had just left and told the owner that they would probably camp up in the Corcora Valley. We began to have power problems again when backing out of the Hostel's lot to go to a different place to park the night. The owner let us park/camp the night for nothing but a donation to the kids Christmas fund for the city of Salento. The owner of the hostel was a friend of the gal who owned the Black cat in Cartagena. She told us about Salento and asked us to deliver some books to Tim. Tim was an English expat, that had moved to Columbia and started a new life. He had a nice little family and made a good living with the hostel, called the Plantation House. While drinking some coffee and chatting we watched a beautiful Mountain Mot-mot catch flies no more than 6 feet in front of us. Tim offered to find a place the next morning so I could work on the car.
1015/2009-Thurs-spent fixing the gas tank in a work space in Salento then to Camp in Cocora.
Tim walked with me downtown Salento, a quaint little village, and found a perfect place for me to work on dropping the tank. That morning Karla and I dropped the tank, and found another 2 or more gallons of water in the tank. I cleaned the tank and refitted all of the hoses. I finally checked one thing I had been meaning to check, the overflow/expansion tanks. These are situated in the wheel wells and a paint to get to with the gas tank in. When I pulled the first tank, I couldn't believe my eyes... The rubber gasket that held the valve in was totally broken and the top of the tank was open to water from the tire in the wheel well. So I took the tank off and looked inside, filled with dirt and water from yesterdays rainstorm... I pulled the other tank and it had the same problem. With some crazy glue, I seeled both tanks and was satisfied that I had fixed the water problem... I changed the oil and oil filter while I had it on the rack. We got the Gas tank back in and all the hoses secured. A bout the time I was finishing up John and Sharon found us. They told us that the Corcora Valley was beautiful and we decided to go up and spend a couple of nights there.
They went ahead of us and were to find a site to stay. We did some shopping in town and drove out to find them. This little Valley about 10 km from Salento was breath taking, green grass pastures were all around with some primary forest up higher. The main feature of this valley was the tall Palm trees that grew 25 to 50 ft higher than the forest below them. These palms were the National tree of Colombia. We were hailed by an attendant and he told us that John and Sharon were parked in his place. So we drove into this grassy pasture and there we saw our site for the next two nights. John was excited to report some beautiful humming birds he had seen earlier that afternoon. I felt so good that I had found the water problem and now was ready to enjoy this place. As the sun sat that evening the palms with a vermillion sky was a sunset to remember, maybe we would finally be able to enjoy this trip without the fear of being stranded in the middle of our travels. We made plans to get to a place the next day, that we were told of having hundreds of humming birds feeding from bowls of surgar water. We thought horse back riding might be an option.
10/16/2009-Friday- Horse back ride to remember to a small Comedor(food stand/rooms) high in the National park. .
The elevation at camp was about 7500ft. It was cool the evening before and we had to use an extra blanket to stay warm. This was welcomed after being in Cartagena for as long as we were.
Woke with a bit of a chill in the air, after a hot cup of coffee, I went in search for horses. Found a good deal just behind us and they would take care of Ewok, so Sharon could go along with us. After breakfast we were on the trail up to about 9,500 ft to a small little place that was feeding hummingbirds. Well the horse was small and so was the saddle, or it wasn't adjusted correctly. The ride was of course along a very narrow and steep trail. We crossed a cascading creek at least 7 times. I was horrified each time, we at time were up to the belly of the horse to get across. OH,My... this was about a 10 on my fun meter. When we got to the place it was a delight to get off these poor animals, thank the lord for their sure footed.
This little place had some drinks and cookies. The main attraction was the hoards of Hummingbirds that they were feeding. I counted at least 6 different species, including both Sylphs, Sword bill, Collared Inca, Puff legs, and a Coronet. What striking colors. These birds were so tame that you could touch them while they were eating. Cool! We decided to take another less dangerous ride back down, although it wasn't down, we went up another 1000 ft before we came back down on a road. About a half hour from the highest point back down, I decided to get off the horse and walk. The guide apparently thought I was done and left me and took the horse with the others, I walked back to camp about 2 miles.
When I got back to camp Sharon had made friends with the local Army patrol and invited them to dinner. These young men were full of questions and interested in our trip. Of course a tour of Paco was in order and they were impressed with all the camping equipment that it had. I was glad to be off that horse.
10/17/2009-Sat- Birded in the Morning and went fishing in the afternoon.
Woke early and found a great little slope just on the road to the fish hatchery to bird. Luckily, a small feeding flock happened to be passing through and I got an eye full of about 20 or so species. I found a couple of new Tanagers and a beautiful little bunch of warbler's. I hadn't spent much time birding in a while so this was real exciting. I hadn't at that time recorded all the birds I,d seen into my birding program. I had been taking notes on all the birds I had seen each day and where. I think that I was seeing at least one or more new birds a day. This morning was a great excitement, I think I saw at least 10 or more new lifers for me in this beautiful little Corcora Valley.
Later that day John, Karla and I went for a little fishing expedition down the river from the fish hatchery. We were told there were fish the size of your forearm down there, we were primed... I had a fly rod and John was using spinners. My first couple of cast I got hit with something little. That was it for the next two hours. The one great thing about that time was Karla found a pair of Mountain toucans just up from the river. Black billed Mountain toucans a rare find wow.. They were gorgeous birds. They let us watch them for the longest time before they took off down river. Had another great meal that evening and made travel plans for the next day.
10/18/2009-Sun-Drove past Cali to Popayan. Drove to a little village high up out of Popayan called Coconuco.
We started off with a fairly early start to drive quite a distance, over 200 km. The road was good and as we drove through Armenia, we found a propane station and filled up with gas. We drove onto the main highway and made some good time. John and Sharon caught up with us finally in the valley just north of Cali. We then began an ascent up to Popayan, an old Spanish city that was the home for all of the sugar cane barons of the 16th century. When we arrived in town we split from John and Sharon and headed up into the Andes to a small town with hot springs, Coconuco. As we drove from Popayan at around 5500ft to Coconuco at around 8,000ft. Paco started to have problems again, oh no. I thought I fixed this problem. We found the hotel with the thermal springs and asked if we could park in their parking lot for the evening, NO, so we looked for another place a found a little hostel that let us park for the night.
10/19/2009-Mon-Worked on Paco then drove back down hill to Popayan to a garage. Stayed that evening/with dinner of a gracious family.
I pulled the filter and there was no water, so now what was the problem. Was it some how the elevation. I asked a man that dropped by to help if there was a good mechanic in Popayan, he gave me directions. People are so helpful. So after I put things back together we started down to Popayan. We made it and found a mechanic about where we were told. I drove in and this shop looked to be quite modern and well organized. The chief mechanic looked at the car and I told him of how it was responding. He surmised that it was the filter and got a new one, this took about two hours. A new filter was put on and it didn't fix the car dieing after a couple of minutes.. Since there was new computer diagnostic connection for this years Westy we had to go through each of the possible causes for the lack of power. So the mechanics at the shop started the methodically slow process of testing each of the components of the injection system. The fuel pump, the injectors, the fuel pressure gauge, and vacuum leaks. Nothing. This took the rest of the afternoon, including lunch. Karla was developing a real head ache and we were both stressed. We had made plans to meet John and Sharon at a Lake, Concha, just outside of a High Andean town of Pastos. We could see that the car was going to be in the garage for the night so we ask the secretary, who we later found out was the wife of the owner of the whole building, not just the shop, for some suggestions of hotels nearby to stay. She found a place and called. Karla was out in the front llaying down with a splitting head ache and I was under the car trying to find anything that I could that could be the problem. Patricia, wrote us a note with some help from their manager, she invited us to please stay at her home this evening. We were touched and accepted.
The day was getting short and the final test on the fuel pressure gauge was nearly completed. But we were going to have to wait until tomorrow to find out. As the shop closed Patty and Her Husband drove us to their home just a short distance away. What gracious host they were, she had called her youngest daughter to clean up and give up her bedroom. Patty fixed us dinner, steak rice and vegetables , excellent. We talked and told them of our trip and our family at home. The older daughter showed up just before dinner and was full of questions as well. We had internet connections with the eldest system. So I emailed john to let them know that we weren't going to make it to La Concha. Karla went to bed early and I worked on line for a while longer catching up with emails and all.
10/20/2009-Tues-Paco was all day at the garage, waiting for an oxygen sensor. Karla and I went into Popayan old town.
Woke up to a wonderful breakfast of scrambled eggs and arepas and delicious Colombian coffee. The Vidal family should be given a medal. What wonderful people to let us into their home with so much class and grace.
They drove us back to the shop. After he dropped his daughter off at school. When we got there, they had just finished the test for the fuel pressure gauge and it wasn't the problem.. I had been studying the repair manual that we brought along and was looking for anything that would mess with the fuel mixture. For that was what seemed to be the problem. My thought was that it was the on board computer that was not functioning. Well, after crawling all over the underside of the car finding how all the connections were and figuring everything out, I found the Oxygen sensor on the catalytic converter was almost bent off. Damaged. I immediately showed this to the Mechanic and they were pleased to see that this might be the problem. After a couple of test from a couple of sensors that had to be borrowed from another shop, It was determined that this was the problem. Now, where were we going to get an oxygen sensor, for a 1988 car. We spent a good portion of the morning trying to download a picture of the sensor to a supplier in Cali. There were no sensors in Popayan that could be found. Then late in the afternoon after Karla and I went into town for some sight seeing, the idea of cutting off the electrical connections and finding a sensor that would fit then reconnecting it with the connectors already on the one that was broke. When Karla and I returned from out little city walk, and a bank visit, they had taken Paco to somewhere to fit a sensor that they had found. They returned and reconnected the fittings and hooked it up. Too late the shop was closing and we would have to finish up tomorrow. I was thankful for the diligence that these mechanics had for solving the problem. Another night at the Vidals home, a great dinner and good conversation and early to bed.
10/21/2009-Wed-paco was finally fixed, Made payment and said our Goodbyes to all of the wonderful people at shop. Drove to Pastos at almost 10000 ft.. Didn't make it to Laguna del Councha. So continued to drive along the Andes high roads found a water park to camp the night.
After another wonderful breakfast we were at the shop by 8 am. Paco had been fixed and all the test were finally being done as we arrived. It seemed that the problem had been fixed for good. I drove it around town and Paco had some pickup that I wasn't expecting... Wow. So what was happening was that the sensor was not working and it gave the computer wrong info to mix the air and fuel and the car was being flooded with too much gas at high altitudes.. As I look back at each occurrence of the problem high altitude was always in the time frame.. So we said our goodbyes and paid the shop for their time and trouble. Which to say wasn't any where near what I could have paid in the US. It was hard to say goodby to the Vidal family, at about that time a parade happened by with 5-8 bus loads of kids celebrating their school's 50th birthday... After that we took pictures of all and said A Dios, and headed to Pastos. As we drove higher and higher I was getting nervous but Paco kept plugging right along. We decided to miss Laguna Del Concha and found a place along a steep canyon with a park and a river to sleep the night at around 6,000ft. Concha was around 10,000 ft and it made me too nervous to be that high with Paco, even though we were fixed it still made us feel uncomfortable taking him to high. The road to Pastos was incredibly steep and we again seemed to be hanging onto the hillside as we drove up and down and even through a couple of tunnels. Ipialas was only a short distance from where we camped to we planned to cross the board in the Morning.
10/22/2009-Thurs- Visited El Lajas Cathedral just outside of the last Colombian town we were to drive through, Ipiales. At noon left Colombia.
Drove to Ipiales and found the way to El Lajas Cathedral. This was a magnificent building built right on a river. It was supposed to be a place of healing and the walls down to it were covered with plaques of those cured of various ailments by the waters of this place.. So why not, we got wet on my knees, heart, and Karla's head and when we got back up to Paco dampened him with some water as well. Why not, if it is possible why not try it. So far, it seemed to have paid off.
At about noon we crossed over into Ecuador with very little problems. Had we not crossed at the same time as a bus there would have been no line at all. Immigration was quick and customs for the Car was faster. We were off to the next town to buy auto insurance.