Imagine a cat hissing and screaming while in a fight for it’s life, multiply that by 100 cats at the same time in a giant brawl and have that sound reverberate in a dark cave made out of marble walls. That is what we heard as we dropped into the marble caves of Rio Claro in the tropical rain forest of Colombia. We couldn’t see these loud birds but they obviously didn’t like our intrusion into their den of darkness and showed their displeasure by hissing and screaming at us.
We heard wings flapping overhead and they seemed bigger than bats, later we learned they were. Much bigger. That is the sound of the Guacharo or Oil Bird. It is a bat-like bird that lives in caves and goes out at night for food navigation using a sonar technique that involves a clicking sound. They have a wingspan of up to 37 inches. That’s a big bird to be flying above us in the small cave. Good thing we had helmets on.
I tried but couldn’t get a good picture so here is one I found online.
And the following from Wikipedia, click HERE to go to the page.
The oilbird (Steatornis caripensis), locally known as the guácharo, is a bird species found in the northern areas of South America including the island of Trinidad. Nesting in colonies in caves, oilbirds are nocturnal feeders on the fruits of the oil palm and tropical laurels. They are the only nocturnal flying fruit-eating birds in the world (the kakapo is flightless). They forage at night, with specially adapted eyesight. However they navigate by echolocation in the same way as bats, and are one of the few kinds of birds known to do so. They produce a high-pitched clicking sound of around 2 kHz that is audible to humans.
In addition to clicks used for echolocation oilbirds also produce a variety of harsh screams while in their caves. Entering a cave with a light especially provokes these raucous calls; they also may be heard as the birds prepare to emerge from a cave at dusk.
The caverns of Rio Claro was a highlight of the trip so far so I’m going to jump right into it and explain how we got there and other adventures later.
Deby read somewhere about the Rio Claro Reserva Natural and the fact that they had a network of caverns carved out of Marble. What do you think? If we were within 1000 miles we were going there, so on May day 2017 we were in line getting fitted with life jackets and helmets for a cavern tour.
It was hot – probably in the 90’s and we were climbing with helmets and life jackets on! Here is Deby on the “trail”.
After about an hour of climbing we stopped for a safety briefing and instructions on what to expect in the cavern. It was all in Spanish… blah, blah, blah. I think he said stick together and don’t bump our heads. I didn’t catch the part about swimming, wading in waist deep water and numerous slides and jumps into pitch black pools of water that would be over our heads. Here we are descending into the cave.
Starts out ok….
Beautiful carved marble walls, totally dark except for our flashlights and the flash on my camera. Don’t be fooled, it was dark.
The walls start closing in…. but what walls they were. Deby was almost hyperventilating and so was I except it was because I’m just a little claustrophobic.
Amazing rocks everywhere.
Ok, this is Journey to the Center of the Earth stuff, I loved that book as a kid and now I was going there…
Here is one of the many places you just slide down on a chute like a water slide.
Scary but look at this.
Ever see someone so happy? Check out those walls.
Here we go into another black hole, just jump and hold onto your flashlight.
This is it from the other side, we just slid over the cliff.
Then wade through more of the cave with waist deep water. Does Deby mind???
Someone offered to take a picture of both of us. Nice.
After about another hour we came to the end of the cave. The cave is probably 10 feet above a river and we had to take turns climbing down on a rope ladder. Since we were near the opening there were nesting oilbirds flying above our heads and screaming at us. Being last in line meant we had full exposure to their screeching and flapping wings. Here is Deby on the final drop from the inside.
It looked like this from the other side of the river.
With all the rain we then had to cross a really fast running river. Fortunately, they had a rope for us to hang onto or we would have been swept downstream.
This was some serious stuff….
But yes, we made it and are here to tell the tale.
So, if we are ever again within 1000 miles of the Rio Claro Reserve we’ll be back.
But wait, last time I left off we were busy “Glamping” at the hostel La Serrana in Salento. What happened since then you may ask?
On Tuesday April 25th we decided it was time to move on. I was feeling better and decided some fresh air on the bike would be great. We had an easy day riding 158 miles to the city of Medellin where we stopped to visit Nicholas at his house just south of town. You may remember Nicholas from this picture.
(Sorry I just had to post this picture again) Nicholas was the person instrumental to getting us through some of the worst flooding. In retrospect he mostly just said “follow me” and we did. Anyhow, it was great to catch up with him and meet some of his family and Deby loved the beautiful gardens and rock collections. Thanks Nicholas!
After some time Nicholas rode with us into Medellin where we ended up at the Black Sheep Hostel, a place recommended to us by our friend Dave Coe. We are not usually Hostel people but we managed a private room with bathroom and actual HOT water. It was great. The hostel was full of people from all over the world, mostly the backpacker types but that was just fine even though it made me feel a little old. The Black Sheep would be hour home for a few days while we had the oil changed and other maintenance on the bikes.
During our three days in Medellin we mostly worked on shuttling the bikes between the BMW and Honda shops and coordinating the repairs. For the record, Deby’s BMW needed nothing but a change of oil and filters. The Honda needed both fork seals replaced yet again, second time on this trip. The chains and tires are holding up so we left them alone.
One of the really fun things we did was a walking tour of the city through Real City Tours Medellin http://www.realcitytours.com/ The city has close to two dozen of these sculptures placed around the downtown. They are a study of mis-proportions and you can guess by looking at them.
The artist is Fernando Botero and you can read the very interesting history of these sculptures HERE. Click on any of the pictures to see more. Deby took these pictures and I like looking at the people interacting with the statues. What is the woman in this picture looking at? Obviously another example of mis-proportion.
Really an impressive city, here are just a few more pictures.
We took the metro to a tram that ran up the side of one of the mountains that surround the city.
The city is placed in this nook of mountains, very impressive.
As always, some of the old and some of the new. In general Medellin is a clean and orderly city.
Saturday April 29th, 2017
Time to move on. We decided to make it a short day and only ride the 57 miles to a small town of Guatape and visit El Peñón de Guatapé or The Rock of Guatape. Click HERE to read about it on Wikipedia but it’s just this really big rock so, of course, we had to stop and see what that was all about.
Ok, evidently from the top is “The best view in the world”.
All you have to do is walk up 740 stairs to see it, and they are numbered with painted on yellow numbers. Yes, those are the stairs. We were glad we checked into a hotel first and got rid of our riding boots and gear.
At the top it’s marked, the 740th step, we made it…. whew.
But, the best view in the world? Ok, pretty good but best? Still, we liked it.
Here is one picture of the stairs, you walk up one set of stairs and down another that interweaves up the cliff, interesting.
The next day, Sunday April 30th, 2017 we had another easy day, 84 miles to Rio Claro. We checked into our “cabana” which was actually a room in a building built into the steep side of a canyon of marble. Here is a picture of the building from their web site.
And here was our “room”. No walls just a railing with curtains but since were on the top floor and surrounding us was nothing but nature they were never closed.
Looking down on the river.
At night it was actually loud with jungle sounds, animals, birds, bugs and the roaring river. Wow, a couple of really great nights sleep.
We were sitting at a table just to the left on this picture when Deby looked in the tree next to us and saw this.
That is a snake with a salamander in it’s mouth.
We were there early enough on Sunday that we managed to get the last two slots on a river rafting excursion. Being the weekend the place was busy and we went in a group of about 6 boats packed with people. Almost immediately the water fights started and it was less of a nature trip over the class one rapids and more about soaking the nearby boats. Still, it was immense fun and we had a blast.
Monday night we were finishing dinner in the restaurant when the rain started, this time with a vengeance. We ran down the path to our “room” and got inside just as the first rumble of thunder started, then the really serious rain, then bright flashes of lightning. Suddenly we were in a really serious tropical storm and was extremely loud on the tin roof. The wind picked up and started blowing rain into the bed through the mosquito netting, We just grabbed a blanked and settled in for the night. The storm with thunder and lightning kept up until almost three AM, it was serious. We loved every minute of it.
Well, all good thing must come to an end so on Tuesday 5-2-17 we said our goodbye to Rio Claro after having breakfast with the owner and founder of the reserve 50 years ago. He was full of amazing stories including a few harrowing tales of when the region was run by the cartels.
We rode the 164 miles to Bogota in just about 4 hours on great winding roads through the mountains. The daily rain held off until we arrived which was really nice.
For a change of pace we checked into the Marriott Hotel near the airport. Ahhhh, walls, windows, soft pillows, air conditioning, HOT WATER! The simple things.
Wednesday May 3, 2017
Time to move north. There is no road between Colombia and Panama for many reasons, some political and some due to the natural barrier of the Darien Gap. At any rate, we elected to fly our motorcycles from Bogota to Panama City and here is where that journey starts. Get bike A up to loading dock B.
Ahh, easy. Drive onto metal crate thing and a forklift can just lift it up.
Repeat with motorcycle number two.
Wrap motorcycles with cellophane wrap.
Add sticker to indicate which way is up… seriously, they thought they needed this!
Ok, it looks easy but we showed up at 9:00 AM and left at nearly 6:00 PM. We shuttled around with paperwork, waited for inspections and who knows what else. The motorcycles must have been sniffed by dogs 5 times, our luggage scanned with x-rays and the contents gone through one piece at a time. Yes, it took all day but the bikes are scheduled to leave at 7:00 the following morning and will be ready to be picked up only a few hours after that. Much easier than the process getting them in a crate and shipped from the US to Argentina which took almost a month.
The last I saw the bikes they were being rolled down a long hallway where we were told they would be rolled onto metal pallets and strapped down, a process I would rather supervise but we weren’t allowed to. We didn’t need to remove our windscreens or disconnect the batteries, just have “low” fuel and fold down the mirrors. We strapped our boots and helmets to the bikes and that was it. We even left the panniers on. Wow, easy.
Big kudos to Cargorider http://www.cargorider.com.co/ and Veronica for all their help with the bikes. They made the process very easy meeting us in the morning and having someone with us every step of the way to get through the process. Thanks!
So, tomorrow we fly to Panama and leave Colombia and South America behind. Once again we feel like we didn’t spend enough time in Colombia. The rainy season is going on now and it is wetter than normal which is keeping us from exploring some of the back roads we wanted to check out. We didn’t get to Cartagena or anywhere very far north. A good excuse for a return trip.
We’ve been in South America for 5 months, wow. Again, only scratching the surface but we had some really great times, explored some incredible areas and met some of the most fantastic people. Hopefully we’ll be back…..
Thanks for following. The next post will be from the next phase of the journey – Centeral America.
Donn and Deby