Archive for the ‘Colombia’ Category

The Rising Oceans

Friday, March 16th, 2007

   I am sitting in an internet cafe in Punta Arenas, Chile, right now, doing web searches to figure out just how big of a problem sea level rise will be. The sea level has already risen over the past century, although only about one inch. As more glacial ice melts, what will it do from here on?

Monterey Bay and Research Station
Malibu, CA
La Paz Shoreline

   The most likely result is not that bad – maybe a foot and a half this century. This could be very bad for many places I have visited – especially along the Caribbean coast—and also make storms much worse, not to mention erode some nice beaches. But I might not call it a disaster.

Mazatlan Coast
Beach at Placencia
Coast at Omoa
Panama City
The San Blas Islands

   The problem, though, is that it takes a long time for ice sheets to melt, and we don’t really know how long that is. In the ‘long run,’ which could be centuries or millennium, with a likely 3 degree C warming, the ocean could rise 80 feet. We don’t know if it is centuries or millennium, because computer models for ice sheets are very inaccurate. If it is centuries, as some argue, the oceans could rise much faster than we would like – maybe a foot a decade. And, again, we don’t know, but, well, do we want to find out?

Cartagena sits barely above sea level
Santa Fe Coastline

   As I have said before, I am in Punta Arenas right now. Punta Arenas sits on the shore of the Straight of Magellan on the southern tip of South America, and is just one of the many cities on the coast that I have visited. Throughout this entry I have interspersed photos of the coastlines I have visited on this trip – take a look at them and envision what a 1 foot, 10 foot, or 80 foot sea level rise would look like.

Puerto Natales
Puerto Natales Shore
Punta Arenas Shoreline

Two weeks up the Amazon River

Wednesday, September 6th, 2006
River boats at the dock in Manaus
Everyone sleeps here

   From the city of Manaus, I biked to the river port, where I found a boat headed upriver towards Peru. A space to put a hammock and food for six days of travel cost $100. I purchased a ticket, a hammock, and then made friends with a Colombian-Spanish couple who had a cabin on the boat and would guard my valuables while I slept in my hammock.

Up the Amazon/Solimoes river - it is a big river

   The river here is enormous – in Manaus, 1,000 miles upstream from the Amazon’s mouth, the river is already by far the world’s largest river (over 150,000 cubic meters of water per second), and over 300 feet deep. Manaus is a large city of 3 million people, yet the other side of the river is almost unpopulated.

   My boat followed the largest of the Amazon tributaries (sometimes called the Solimoes, sometimes called the Amazon), upstream towards Peru (see map). To maintain sanity while on the boat, I woke up every day at sunrise and ran laps on the deck (see video, center– I had company). This was followed by a shower, reading until lunch, lunch, more reading, a nap until dinner, dinner, and then talking with other people on the boat until bedtime. It was a demanding schedule.

Fredrico, Kaise, and I did laps in the morning to keep our sanity
Children on board

   The boat did make a few stops in small towns along the way, unloading goods and picking up passengers. Most of the riverside, however, was unpopulated.

Our boat, the Manoel Monteiro II
At a stop near the Peruvian border
The last night on the boat, near Tabatinga and the Peruvian/Colombian/Brazilian border

   Arriving upstream, Peru, Colombia, and Brazil’s borders all meet, and in the course of a day, I visited all three before boarding another boat, this time a high speed cruiser (shown left below) to take a one day trip to Iquitos (map). Iquitos, with half a million inhabitants, is the world’s largest inland city with no roads to it – you can get there only by boat or plane. In the late 1800s, the town experienced a brief boom from rubber production, which produced a number of now-historic buildings in the town’s center.

Note the bicycle on top of the boat - took this boat from the border to Iquitos
Family I stayed with the first night in Iquitos
I stayed at Loreta's house for the next two days

   I intended to go to the fire station to ask if I could stay there, but never made it, as two families offered me a place to stay first. Unable to choose between them, I resolved the problem by staying three days, giving me enough time to also visit two schools and appear in the local paper. I also received a tour of the town from three high school students, and also visited an AIDS clinic (perhaps one of the saddest parts of this trip) with a group working for the Catholic Church.

Colegio Fernando Lores Fenazoa
Colegio San Agustine, Iquitos
Jose, Lander, and Fran are my guides around Iquitos

   From Iquitos, I took a two and a half day trip upriver to Yurimaguas. The trip–food included–cost less than 30 dollars, and only after paying did I realize that I had paid for first class hammock space – second class, in the floor below, cost 15 dollars.

My boat to Yurimaguas - the Eduardo I

   I have now arrived in Yurimaguas, a small city in the jungle, thus ending my two weeks of boat travel on the world’s largest river system. From here there are a series of small dirt roads that I will be able to follow southwest and into the Peruvian Andes.

Travel Update – Colombia, Venezuela, and Brazil

Thursday, August 24th, 2006

Welcome to update 4 from Ride for Climate!

    Since last update, I have biked across Colombia, Venezuela, and northern Brazil, traversing the Andes, the Amazon, and crossing the equator. I crossed the ‘half-way’ point of this trip in Venezuela, and the trip odometer has passed 9,000 miles. Ride for Climate continues to reach a wide audience, and since last update, I have visited schools and appeared in newspapers and television in almost every major city I have visited. I write you now from the banks of the Amazon River (map).

Campsite in la Gran Sabana
Rain is good for some things
Chicamochoca River Canyon and Cactus

   Below are entries from the past three months.


  • 5/28 Elections in Colombia
  • 6/5 To Medellin and into the Andes
  • 6/12 Medellin to Bogota – lots of rain
  • 6/19 Bicycles in Bogota
  • 6/19 Mountaintops and Climate Change
  • 6/26 Bogota to Bucaramanga
  • 7/5 Bucaramanga to Venezuela

  • 7/12 Is Oil Good for Venezuela?
  • 7/12 Cars and Politics in Caracas
  • 7/18 Floods and Climate Change
  • 7/26 Biking with Tom Hunt
  • 7/27 Coral reefs in Venezuela

  • 8/15 Into the Amazon and learning Portuguese
  • 8/22 The future of the Amazon?

    A bombero celebrates his birthday in Medellin, Colombia
    Bicycle commuters in Bogota, Colombia
    A bike is faster than an ambulance in Caracas, Venezuela
    Truck full of kids yelling ‘gringo! gringo!’
    Entering an indigenous reserve in the Amazon


    Cartagena sits barely above sea level

       Due to rising sea levels, many of the coastal areas I visited, and especially the historic city of Cartagena in Colombia, are at risk. The water source for Bogota, Colombia’s capital, is also at risk (see journal entry), as the ecosystem that supplies the water sits at the mountain tops and may not survive global warming. This would also undoubtedly cause extinctions. In my journals, I also wrote about floods in Caracas as well as potential droughts in the Amazon – there is a chance that global warming will cause the Amazon to dry out. I also wrote about the coral reefs that I visited off the coast of Venezuela – these too are at risk.

    The Paramo - a strange grassland at the mountaintops
    A healthy reef
    Nice forest - look at the diversity of trees!

       One topic I have not discussed in my journals, but hope to do so, is the possible spread of tropical diseases. In Colombia and Venezuela, the majority of the population lives in the mountains, where it is too cold for many tropical diseases such as malaria or dengue. As the climate warms, more of these centers may be exposed to such diseases.

       I am currently working with people in the U.S. to plan the next phase of Ride for Climate – a loop around the United States to promote solutions to global warming. I will be sending you all an email shortly about this project and asking for your help, so stay tuned!

        Over the next few months I will be stopping in the following cities: Iquitos, Yurimaguas, Huaraz, Lima, Cusco, and La Paz, as well as potentially other locations. If you know of people along the way that would be interested in hosting a ride for climate presentation (or simply help with a place to stay), let me know.

       I am currently taking a boat up the Amazon River from Manaus into Peru. From Peru, I will bike across the Andes, and then follow the mountain range south crossing Peru and Bolivia before crossing into Argentina and Chile, at which point I will send out another update.

       Thank you again to everyone who has helped with this journey, and feel free to send me an email! Best,


    Miles by country:
    Colombia: 1,123
    Venezuela: 1,188
    Brazil: 651

    Bucaramanga to the Venezuela border

    Wednesday, July 5th, 2006
    If you are in Bucaramanga, be sure to eat at Mimi Chocolate
    A great place to stay in Bucaramanga!

       Fearing that I was getting sick, I stayed two and a half days in Bucaramanga with a family that had found me on the internet. The mother is opening up a restaurant soon, and had to test the various dishes, for which I volunteered. If you make it to Bucaramanga, I highly recommend the restaurant Mimi Chocolate.

       Feeling healthier, I followed the road out of Bucaramanga over the Andes, climbing to 10,000 feet and above the clouds. In the town of Berlin, at 10,500 feet, I became sick, and spent the next four days in bed, resting, and blowing my nose.

    What a great bike
    Cow in Clouds
    High grasslands, near Berlin Colombia
    I spent four days like this

       While in town, I met a number of police officers. Berlin, a town based on onion farming, has 800 residents, yet 60 police officers, all of whom carry hand grenades and M16 rifles. According to a few locals, the guerilla drove the police out of town 20 years ago, and town has been lawless since. The 60 police officers, who were sent about a month ago, seem to have fixed that problem. The road is the main road to Venezuela, and the police are also there to search cars for contraband and drugs.

    Police checkpoint in Berlin
    Family, Dinner, Police Officer, M16 Rifle
    Nightly soccer game in Berlin

       When I entered Colombia, I wrote that president Uribe is incredibly popular because of the increase in security. Since then, I’ve talked to a number of people, notably middle class people in the cities, who oppose the president’s policies. They complain that all the investment goes into the army, and that funding for hospitals and education have been cut even as taxes have increased. ‘The root of the problem is poverty, and the army will not solve that.’ I am not sure what to believe, as although 60 police officers seems excessive, I can now travel in the country, and before president Uribe’s investment in the army and police, I am not sure I could have.

       (Note on U.S. relations with Colombia: The government receives lots of aid from the United States, largely for the military. Uribe and president Bush share similar conservative values, and subsequently U.S. aid for Colombia has increased under the Bush Administration. This makes Bush popular for some people I talked to, while others complain that the U.S. orders Colombians what to do, and carry out very destructive campaigns to destroy cocoa crops, which are the source of cocaine. More here. )

    Descending towards Pamaplona
    A good time in Pamplona

       Feeling better, I continued over the mountains to the city of Pamplona, which was celebrating its yearly independence festival. I stayed with a family and danced in the central plaza with the locals. Continuing on, I descended into my final city of Colombia, Cucuta, where I spent a day and was interviewed by three television stations before continuing on into Venezuela.

    Road to Cucuta
    New friends in Cucuta
    Morning News in Cucuta

    Bogota to Bucaramanga

    Monday, June 26th, 2006
    El Tiempo - Colombia's national newspaper
    Bruce guided me out of Bogota

       After a week in Bogota, I departed the city, leaving behind what almost seems routine at this point – a group of new friends, a newspaper appearance, and a city that I hope to return to someday. I was escorted out of town by Bruce, an American who helped me out while in Bogota.

       Heading northwest towards Venezuela (map), I first stopped in the colonial town of Zipaquira, where the locals have converted a salt mine into an underground cathedral. Continuing on, I was told by everyone that this stretch of road was safe, and I proceeded to camp in the countryside next to families.

    Main square Zipaquira
    Salt mine turned into undergound cathedral, Zipaquira

       My first night I camped next to Marco’s family’s house. Marcos cuts clay out of the roadside next to his house, then forms the clay into bricks, and then cooks the bricks with coal to harden them. The majority of Colombia’s buildings are made out of bricks, and apparently this is where they come from. I helped cut some clay (video center), but I think I was more a source of entertainment than assistance.

    Marcos cutting mud to make bricks
    I help make some bricks
    Marcos' family (I camped behind this house)

       Camping next to families in the countryside, I am inevitably asked about money and about what life is like in the U.S. I try to explain that there is a difference between standard of living and quality of life, and that while you make more money in the U.S., things are also more expensive (just say what rent in Palo Alto is). But, while most families I see seem to have good family and community lives, the health care is poor and they have nowhere near the options that I or my friends have – minimum wage her is $200 a month. (More thoughts on this in my first comment on this post.)

       Heading north, I camped next to the houses of a few more families, and followed long scenic valleys and canyons up and down until reaching the city of Bucaramanga, another of Colombia’s major cities.

    campsite and cow
    I camped next to the house of Eduardo, Victor, and Arsenio
    Chicamochoca River Canyon
    Chicamochoca River Canyon and Cactus