Yamaha Journey Vol.24
This is the personal account of Norio Takada, who has toured South America 11 times on a Yamaha NEWSMATE T90N, with his wife in tandem.
South America: Savoring the dreamland to my heart's content
#01 : blending into the sunny life of the locals
Back in the '50s, when Norio Takada was in his twenties, it was literally just a far-off dream to travel to South America. 40 years later, the now fully grown man still with his youthful enthusiasm intact finally jumped headfirst into his fantasy and traveled across the continent, not just once, but 11 times. With his wife riding tandem, the accumulated mileage of their tours totaled 110,211km, a distance equivalent of travelling twice around the globe. What was it that fascinated this man about South America to that extent?
The city of Medellín is located in the Aburrá Valley, a natural basin. This is a residential area that stretches across a gently sloping hilly area.
Situated in the mountains, Salento is a small town lined with colorful houses, with a population slightly less than 8000.
The La Ermita church with its beautiful spire. It serves as the heart of Cali.
Santiago de Cali, Valle del Cauca.
On the beach, rum and dancing to cumbia feels more natural than swimming.
The land of Andes teaches the joy of motorcycling.
Travelling across South America would be a one-year marathon and it would be impossible to be without my motorbike for such a long time. This is why I decided to cross the continent on my bike rather than doing it by car. Looking back on the Colombia leg, I can recall so much of the magnificent landscape I rode through. The route from Medellín to Caucasia, in particular, was such bliss that I could just ride up and down it endlessly. A hilly district at 1500 - 2300 meters above sea level, although situated near the equator line, it has a mild spring like warmth throughout the year. The mountain surface is covered in plantation fields, representing this everlasting vernal season. Riding through the fold of the hills against a light breeze rolling off of the Andes engulfing my whole body, I really felt that this South American tour was truly now happening.
Coming off the mountain path in to a town, the next thing that caught my eye was a sea of cattleya orchids, the national flower of Colombia. Dazzling giant petals of cattleya were swaying in wind, hanging out from vases on the eaves of all the houses. It was such a magnificent sight that I felt nothing could top it.
Whether riding through mountainous areas or urban ones, I never went over 250 - 300km a day. Riding for a day to a certain place, then enjoying sight-seeing for three days was our typical pace. Following this pattern allowed us to continue the long journey without worrying about physical stress. My wife, riding tandem behind me, and I made a rule not to push it too hard.
Falling in love with a little village where time passes so slowly.
"You should visit Salento if you are headed to Colombia," recommended an American tourist who was staying with us at a hostel in Ecuador. Tucked away in the foot of the Andes mountains, Salento is like an island village floating on an ocean of trees. We rode through an unpaved winding road off the national highway. A wide space suddenly opened up and the sight of beautiful colonial architecture came into view. Along the street were elderly men in their traditional native outfits, just lounging about. A laid-back mood permeated every corner of the village, untouched from the sprawling grasp of urbanization.
Since becoming infatuated with Salento, we have returned every time we have visited Colombia. We go for walks, drink with the villagers that we befriended, and simply blend into everyday life. One time we set up our base in the village and went on a trek into a primeval palm tree forest. The spindly palm trees as far as the eye could see was such a beguiling sight we felt like we'd strayed into wonderland. In a valley near the village, there's a hot spring. Heated groundwater bubbles up from cracks in rocks. When diluted with stream water, you can create a natural open-air bath. When you think about the view from hot springs in Japan, for some reason you get an impression of a stark, monochrome view of nature. Here, however, in the land of everlasting spring, you are surrounded by lush fields. Bathing alone in such a splendid panoramic setting is a luxury which gives another reason to keep coming back to Salento.
The real home of salsa music.
Cali, where we stopped over on our way to Salent, is another unforgettable city. It's one of Colombia's hottest spots for salsa. For an avid listener of South American music like me, it's absolutely sacred. It goes without saying the locals in Cali are music enthusiasts: tango, cumbia and of course salsa is performed in various venues across the city. All the bands here are marvelous instrumentalists with a natural vibrant energy.
As far as I can see, that energy seems like a perfect representation of the city's hustle and bustle. Cali is growing right now. Development projects are underway thick and fast in its outskirts, while historic architecture like the Ermita Church remain intact in the center. The old and the new coexist in a perfect balance, exuding an uncanny charm you can't experience elsewhere.
Arepa, cheese and coffee - breakfast like the locals.
If we travel to a certain place, we always want to try the local cuisine. This is also one of our passions. From all our memories of Colombia, one particular breakfast we shared with the local people in one of the city's squares stands out as a good one. My favorite Colombian food was arepa, a type of pastry made of corn flour. What I liked best was taking a big bite of a freshly-baked arepa with creamy melted cheese on top of it. When in Colombia, drinking coffee is a must. It always tasted amazing. Taking a deep breath of crisp air that morning, I remember asking my wife where we should head to that day sitting at the table with that simple yet excellent breakfast.
Another great thing to eat was fresh-water fish, like trout, which we often saw in the waters of mountainous areas. A great deal of these fish lived in the streams in the Andes, and when they were roasted, they tasted fantastic. It was served with deep-fried banana slices. Japanese people may be surprised at the thought of trout and banana being served together, but actually it was a perfect match. Another time, in a coastal town we visited, we were served a gorgeous meal of fresh saltwater fish. I had a whole fish, deep-fried and crispy, with a plethora of spices and few quick squeezes of lemon juice. The unique flavors made me smack my lips. Colombians, incidentally, love to use lemons liberally.
Go where the wind blows - a real charm of motorcycle touring
There are countless charms Colombia has to offer, and its people always come first. We found the Columbians we met were open-minded and friendly. For example, when I asked someone sitting next to us at a diner what they recommended to try, they immediately instigated a friendly conversation. After they had finished their meal, they left with a quick “see you!”. Their easygoing manner helped me once. I started panicking after realizing I had lost my hotel ticket. "Don't worry about it," said the clerk, letting me to stay the night without the necessary document. Sticking to the rules isn't the be all and end all.
Our traveling style in each trip became more and more relaxed. I was more focused on the riding per se before, but now that has changed. With no detailed plans, we just play it by ear. If we like a city on the way, we stop and relax there for a bit. We then start riding again when we feel like it. This is our new way of touring that we discovered from the journeys through Colombia and other South American countries.
Norio Takada / Kazuko
Born in 1938 in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka.
Despite a longing he gained through a love of latin music in his twenties, Norio never had a chance to travel across South America. That was until 2000, when he retired and rode a motorbike with his wife Kazuko, in tandem, from Los Angeles to Sao Paulo, a 582-day 42,000km epic voyage. By 2017, they had made 11 South American journeys, totaling 1,894 days and 110,211km.