Archive for May, 2006

Cartagena and the Colombian Presidential Elections

Sunday, May 28th, 2006

   When I arrived in Cartagena, I talked to a few local contacts about how to bike Colombia safely. All recommended that it would be safest to travel after the presidential elections, which were to be held that Sunday. I found a 5 dollar hotel, and spent a few days in town.

   Cartagena is one of the oldest European cities in South America, founded in the 1530s. The historic downtown is surrounded by city walls to keep out Caribbean pirates (the city was sacked numerous times), and the streets are barely wide enough for two horse carriages. The city sits barely above sea level, and, like the islands of the Kuna Indians, I wondered what the future of the city will be when the ocean level rises.

Cartagena's historic downtown
A fortress to keep out pirates during the 16th and 17th centuries
Cartagena sits barely above sea level

   On election day, I walked around the downtown and watched Colombians cast their ballots. The ballots were simple – a single piece of paper with pictures of each candidate. Mark an X over your candidate, fold the paper, and put it in a box (ballot shown in the middle below). I talked to some of the election officials, who let me take pictures of the process.

Colombians line up to vote
Ballot for the presidential elections - simply mark an X over the picture of the canidate you want
How to vote in Colombia

   I found that people were willing to say who they voted for, and I conducted an informal exit poll. Of the 20 or so people that I talked to, about 5 didn’t vote, 10 voted for the current president, Alvaro Uribe, 4 voted for Carlos Garivia, and 1 for Horacio Serpa (because ‘all of the candidates are corrupt, and he is the least corrupt’).

   The news that night confirmed my exit poll – Uribe won over 60% of the vote. Presidents are not usually allowed to run for two terms, but Uribe had the constitution changed so that he could run again. His popularity is due to an increase in security – according to every Colombian I talk to, the country is far safer now than five years ago. The army has increased in size by over 30%, and all major roads are heavily patrolled. A school master that I talked to remarked that ‘a few years ago, my friends would fly to Bogota instead of drive – now they drive across the country.’ My first night out of Cartagena, I stayed on a farm with a man who had been kidnapped and held ransom for three days in 2000. He said ‘thanks to god’ after saying that Uribe won, and then he told me that it would be safe for me to bike the main roads in Colombia.

   The armed conflict here in Colombia is a complicated issue – if you have time, here is an article with more information. I have included as the first comment on this post what I have gained about the war from talking to people – if you have thoughts, feel free to add them.

A sail from Panama to Colombia

Saturday, May 27th, 2006

   As there are no roads between Panama and Colombia, I spent a few days in the city of Colon looking for a boat to Colombia. Colon is a city where foreigners are regularly held at gun point in the daytime, and I left the marina only to give presentations at a local school as well as the rotary club.

I spent 4 days at the yacht club in Colon, looking for a boat to Colombia
International Caribbean School, in Colon
I talked at the Rotary Club in Colon

   I found that yachts, for the same price as a plane ticket, take backpacking travelers between Colombia and Panama. (You can potentially get a free ride on a freighter, but only if you are willing to spent lots of time in Colon). I found a 65 foot yacht, the Golden Eagle (probably the best boat making this run), headed towards Colombia. As I was staying in the marina (sleeping on different boats), I spent some time before departure helping sand the Golden Eagle’s floors. In exchange, the captain told me I could be first mate, which meant I got to get on the boat a day early and sand the floors.

Sunrise from the deck of the Golden Eagle

   We were soon joined by 12 other young travelers from Australia, England, the Netherlands, Canada, South Africa, Singapore, and the U.S. For the first time this trip, I was surrounded by other travelers. We sailed first to the San Blas Islands, where we anchored between two small islands. The local Kuna Indians, who inhabit the islands, canoed up to our boats to sell us locally made clothing. All the islands sit less then a half meter above sea level, and we guessed how many years it would be before they were under water.

The Crew
Arriving to Paradise
The Golden Eagle anchored off the San Blas Islands
Kuna Indians on the San Blas Islands
Kuna Indians arrive to sell us things
Andy and Lara relax on the deck of the Golden Eagle
Cartagena, Colombia
Everyone is feeling a bit seasick

   After two more days of sailing across the Caribbean, we arrived in Cartagena, Colombia, the first stop in South America.

Travel Summary – Central America

Friday, May 26th, 2006

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Hello from South America!

   Since the last update, I have biked the length of Central America, visiting all 7 countries (see map of my route) and adding 2,400 miles to the trip. This trip continues to exceed my expectations, and I have visited schools and appeared in the national media of almost every country I have biked through. I am now in Colombia, where I arrived from Panama only a few days ago.

In La Prensa - Panama's national newspaper
Camping on the beach, near Las Lajas
Escuela El Progreso, Los Arroyos, La Union


  • 3/12 Mayan ruins and climate change
  • 3/17 Dennis Murphree joins me for Belize
  • 3/21 Learning to SCUBA and the fate of coral reefs
  • 3/26 Dennis Murphree speaks
  • 3/31 Honduran countryside
  • 4/7 A week through El Salvador
  • 4/15 Should I bike Colombia?
  • 4/15 Media coverage for rideforclimate
  • 4/16 Honduras, Nicaragua, and swimming with the locals
  • 4/18 Hurricanes and climate change
  • 4/29 Pops joins me from Nicaragua to Costa Rica
  • 4/30 Biodiversity and climate change
  • 5/8 Costa Rica to Panama City
  • 5/14 Deforestation in Central America
  • 5/15 A sailboat through the Panama Canal
  • BEST VIDEOS FROM CENTRAL AMERICA (click on the links below to watch)
    Scuba diving in Belize
    Kids dancing at pool in Nicaragua (large file – watch only if you have a high speed connection)
    My father joins me and rides a silly looking bicycle
    Dogs chasing me in Costa Rica
    Riding through the Panama Canal

       Central America is a region highly vulnerable to climate change. Rising sea levels and stronger storms could cause hardship, especially for the poor (of which there are a lot in Central America). Climate models for the region show warmer temperatures as well as perhaps less precipitation, both of which will be bad for agriculture. Many species as well may be threatened by a warmer climate. Finally, the coral reefs that line the coasts are greatly threatened by a warmer earth.

    Monte Verde Cloud Forest
    Building a house out of adobe (mud blocks)
    Coral Reef in Belize

        Environmental Defense has a new website to help you reduce your carbon emissions: On this site you can calculate how much carbon dioxide you put into the atmosphere, and learn how to reduce these emissions.

       I have created a paypal link so that you can give money on my site to the Union of Concerned Scientists and Environmental Defense. Many people have also offered to help with my travel expenses, and there is now also a link for this. These are on my take action page.

       Did you really think I would stop biking? I have decided I need to take rideforclimate to the U.S. Here are the tentative plans.

       In Colombia, I am biking through Cartagena, Medellin, and Bogota. I’ll then head towards Venezuela, following the northern coast before turning south into Brazil. I will arrive in Manaus, which sits on the Amazon River, where I will likely send my next update. If you know of organizations, schools, or researchers to visit on this route, let me know!

       I am now in Cartagena, Colombia, on the northern coast of South America. If all goes to plan, in 10 or 11 months I will be at southern tip of the continent, in Ushuia, Argentina.


    Total Miles Biked: 6321

    Flats by country in Central America:

    four flats in one day

    Belize: 0
    Honduras: 4
    El Salvador: 1
    Nicaragua: 0
    Costa Rica: 1
    Panama: 10 (ugh)

    A Ride for the Climate is sponsored by:
    Mike’s Bikes of Palo Alto
    Clif Bar
    Hobson Seats

    Leave a Comment!

    Yes, I am going to bike Colombia

    Friday, May 19th, 2006

       I have decided to bike Colombia, or at least the stretch from Cartagena to Bogota. If you know of schools along this route that would be interested in a presentation, let me know!

    Through the Panama Canal

    Monday, May 15th, 2006
    In La Prensa - Panama's national newspaper
    Panama City

        I spent a week in Panama City, where I stayed with a friend of a friend, visited three schools (Balboa Academy, Academia Interamericana, and Instituto Atenea), and somehow found myself on the front page of the national newspaper (see article online).

    Balboa Academy Middle School
    Raise your hand if you own a bicycle - Instituto Atenea
    Academia Interamericana de Panama, Panama City

       Panama City sits next to the Pacific opening of the Panama Canal, a 50 mile waterway that connects the Pacific to the Atlantic. A large portion of global trade travels this canal, and many of the goods you have, especially if you live on the east coast of the U.S., were likely shipped through this canal. The canal, built by the United States in the first decade of the 1900s (history of the canal), consists of a number of tubs, called locks, that raise and lower boats to a large reservoir in the center of the country (see a map of the canal).

    Ship Captain Ray, takes the command to begin the transit
    The yachts at the Canal's beginning

       Small sailing boats are required to have four line handlers to help with the transit. Yacht owners can hire professional Panamanians for $50, or they can take me for free.

       After some time at the marina, I found a sailor interested in my line handling services – Ray on a sailboat named Velera. As the small boat was raised or lowered in the lock, it was my job to adjust lines to keep the boat centered in the lock and not banging into the walls. This is harder than it sounds.

       I may never again be so close to so many huge moving ships. I have created an album of photos from this transit, and even have a few movies of the locks – the devices that raise and lower the boats – in action. Thanks again to Ray, for letting me on his boat for this transit.

    Entering the lock behind a large boat
    Closing of the gates
    The ship is rising
    The Haul starts to motor out of the full lock
    Driving through the Guillard Cut
    Steering through the Panama Canal
    Haul America and smaller boat
    Ship in Panama Canal
    Ship in Panama Canal
    Panama Canal Locks
    Don't Crash!

       We arrived in the Atlantic side of the canal, where I was dropped off at the local marina. As there are no roads between Panama and Colombia, I instantly began looking for boats to take me to Colombia.