12/13/2013 02:54 EST | Updated 02/09/2014 05:59 EST

Miracles and Salsa: Buga and Cali, Colombia

"I've got to work tonight, and I don't think my mum will be comfortable with strangers in the house." This was one of the first things Pipo, the couchsurfing host who had accepted our couch request in Buga, told us shortly after Tom and I arrived at his house.

"I've got to work tonight, and I don't think my mum will be comfortable with strangers in the house."

This was one of the first things Pipo, the couchsurfing host who had accepted our couch request in Buga, told us shortly after Tom and I arrived at his house.

As I have said before, I love couchsurfing. I love meeting new people, seeing how they live, and learning about new cultures. However sometimes it just doesn't work out. Tom and I arrived in Buga, which we had only gone to because we had a couch there, to find that our "host" hadn't asked his mum if we could stay.

On the way to Buga from Salento, Tom and I switched bikes. It was interesting riding Suzi, Tom's Suzuki DR650. There are many small differences in configuration, Tom's rear shock actually absorbs shocks, unlike mine, and Tom travels light. He has probably only about a quarter of the weight on his bike compared to mine (especially while I have Phil's duffle bag as well as my own), meaning Tom has faster acceleration and easier cornering. However other than that, a motorbike is a motorbike, kick it into gear and twist the throttle.

Cricket, Suzi and I, in front of a giant Colombian cow.

Riding his bike did make me wonder if having soft luggage, rather than my aluminium boxes, would have been a better choice, however weeks later when he crashed on the way to Cusco, his soft luggage was shredded, whilst my Dirt Baggs have stood up over 16 months of drops, and I've only taken them to a welder once.

Once we arrived at Pipo's house in Buga, after dropping the bombshell that his mother wasn't aware of our existence, Pipo was very nice. He walked us through town giving us a tour of the main sights. He couldn't get in touch with his mum, and so Tom and I insisted on finding a hotel where we could park the bikes instead. We really didn't want to deal with an angry mother!

We saw the town's main attraction, a statue of a black Jesus in the main cathedral (complete with people climbing the steps up to it on their knees), which reportedly performs miracles, and visited the hostel where Pipo works the night shift (no motorbike parking unfortunately, but very good micro brewed beers, and nice food). Pipo told us the story of the black Jesus and other interesting tidbits about the town.

Near the cathedral a young girl came running up to us and gave Pipo a hug. His niece I asked? No - his daughter. It seems every Latin American over the age of 20 has a child, even when you are least expecting it!

We found a nearby hotel that would let us park our bikes inside, and wasn't too expensive, then returned with our bikes and parked them in the lobby beside the fish pond.

Tom with the bikes in the lobby

Just pull them in there beside the tables and sofas...

The whole time riding through Colombia, I felt like a minor celebrity. There are millions of motorbikes in Colombia, probably a side effect of gasoline being so expensive. At every traffic light motorcyclists would admire my bike, and ask me where I was from, where I was going etc. Whenever I was stopped and standing beside the bike, people would ask to take pictures with me and the bike, and want to talk. I gave out a lot of stickers in Colombia.

In the hotel was no different, with all the other guests admiring the giant bikes parked in the middle of the hotel.

The next day Tom and I parted ways. He was going to make a beeline for Ecuador to meet the others to go to the Galapagos, while I was staying around waiting for the kids (Phil and Kelly) to catch up.

I rode into Cali, and met up with Carlos, a guy I had been in touch with through one of the many excellent KLR groups on Facebook. He took me to his home, which is built on top of his ice cream cart depot. Cricket fit right in.

Oil change with the ice cream carts

Trying out a different set of wheels. Decided to stick with Cricket.

He introduced me to his wife, Lady Jane, and his two children. They were very welcoming, gave me milk and cake, and soon invited me to stay the night with them too.

Carlos and Lady Jane (Note Carlos' sprocket necklace)

I changed Cricket's oil in amongst the ice cream carts, while Carlos made me a giant ice cream Sundae. I couldn't even finish half of it!


Making my sundae

I was welcomed as part of the family, met both grandmothers, and a great-grandmother. All of whom invited me to come stay with them. I was incredibly touched by how welcome I was made to feel.

Carlos' KLR

Lady Jane is a jeweller and has recently designed some KLR related jewelery, which I think is really special. I've asked her to make me a bracelet, and if you're interested, I can put you in touch.

One of Lady Jane's KLR bracelets

This man made the BEST empanadas in Cali


My visit with Carlos and his family was all too short, the next day they flew to Bogota for the tournament. I debated heading further South but eventually decided to I head into town to find a hostel. The first two hostels I went to either didn't have room, or didn't have parking for the bike. I was frustrated, but a little googling and a phone call later led me around the corner to the "El Viajero" hostel with a secure courtyard to park Cricket in, along with free yoga and salsa lessons and breakfast included.


Cricket parked in the hostel courtyard

I was the first guest in the girls dorm at El Viajero


The pool at the hostel

It was here that I met Erin, a cool American girl who has moved to Colombia. She was down in Cali visiting a friend of hers who she learnt to dance salsa with in the states. She was planning to head back home to Pereria but after we got talking I convinced her that we should go out dancing that evening instead. She called her Colombian boyfriend and explained that she wouldn't be home that day, and we were on. Cali is reputed to be the salsa capital of the world.

Me and my awesome new friend Erin

I had the most amazing day in Cali with my new friend. I love meeting people who I instantly fall in love with. Erin and I did the free salsa class at the hostel, went for lunch, I helped her with her wordpress site where she blogs about life in Colombia, and then we went out and explored the neighbourhood, shared pizza, ate cake and generally fooled around.

A Cali street

I fit right in with the fish in the coffee shop

That evening we went out with her friend Joe, and Kirsten, another American girl we met at the hostel. Joe had his work cut out, being the only guy, but he performed admirably, dancing to nearly every song. He and Erin danced beautifully, and he was extremely patient with me. He taught me a lot of moves!

Joe, Kirsten, Erin and me

Joe and I tearing up the dancefloor

What a smile!

Salsa professional

Erin and Joe show us how it's done

On the way home we found a globe to play with.

Superman Joe and Superwoman Erin

We've got the whole world in our hands.

The next day we all ate breakfast together before scattering in all directions. Erin was heading home, and I was heading South.