Recently in Columbia Category

The day started early for us – we were up around 7am – we had packed our stuff last night so that we were ready to head out. Thinking positive and hoping for the best.

IMG_0781We met Michelle for breakfast and laid out our plan of attack. Dan had some email threads with Mike at Motolumbia.com – Mike called his contacts at Copa Cargo in Cali Columbia who confirmed somethings for us – and gave some other information that was contrary to what we had heard locally. The info we had heard locally however was also contrarary to what we had heard locally…

First off – let’s start out by saying that going into today we were about 150% confused and frustrated. It’s  really hard to adequately describe the amount of hassles and obfuscation we have gone thru trying to get these bikes shipped out. Our first choice was to ship the bikes to Quito, Ecuador for various reasons – but that has turned out to be all but impossible. While some of the shipping brokers say they will take the bikes to Quito – for $2000 EACH bike – what is really transpiring is that the bike goes first to Bogota and is unloaded – then if and when they figure out a flight from Bogota to Quito – then the bike gets shipped to Quito. We saw a couple threads on the Internet from people who have done this shipping and they all complained about it taking a week or more to ship the bike and then several days to get the bike out of Quito customs.

So … we made the decision to go to Columbia – with our first choice being into Cali. Why Cali? – because we had friendly help in Cali (Mike at Motolumbia) and because Cali is a full days ride closer to the border of Ecuador.

When we got started with Michelle – we started calling Copa Cargo in Panama – Copa is known to fly cargo from Panama to Cali and Bogota but when we were out at the air cargo terminal they indicated that the flights cancelled “indefinitely”. Well, Mike in Cali had called a friend of his (Gustavo) at Copa Cargo in Cali, Columbia and Gustavo indicated that there were flights going on Wednesday and Friday. When Michelle talked to the folks at Copa Cargo in Panama, they continued to tell us that there were no flights until maybe next week. We called Copa Cargo in Panama several times and each time tried to talk to a different person – which only resulted in us getting a different answer each time – yes we are flying to Cali and Bogota, no we are not flying to Columbia indefinitely, the flights will resume next week, or call us back tomorrow morning when the boss (El Jeffe) will be in… jeeze… after 7 or 8 calls we decided that maybe the Copa guys really were out for Carnaval and it was hopeless….

So we started working on a couple of brokers… Girag and ServiCarga. Servi was very helpful and had quotations for going to Bogota – $900 for the bikes, $75 more for hazardous cargo permit, $15 for this, $40 for that, etc… etc… probably about $1100 each bike – she wasn’t sure if the bike would go today, tomorrow, or next century – just leave it here and we will take care of it…. yea, right.

We then called Mike at Motolumbia in Cali – what a great guy – he said give him 15 minutes and he would call Gustavo at Copa and confirm a few things… so we busied ourselves with yet more calls to yet more people who continued to tell us yet more reasons why it can’t be done… and after 15 minutes we called Mike back. Ok – Gustavo is happy to talk to us and he can do the paperwork from Cali and we can just drop the bikes at Copa – give him a call around 2pm…. wow… did we just get confirmation that the bikes were going to be heading out???? to Cali? – maybe…

At this point it was about noon – we’d been at the phone calls for 4 hours now – and I decided we should work on Girag a bit more because we had a quote from them and they have a decent reputation but we didn’t know all the details…. so we called them up one more time –

This time we got ahold of a gal named Luz Lopez – what a information machine!!! – she had all the answers and details – bish bash bosh, she just cranked it out – if you get the bikes out here today they will leave for Bogota tonight, the cost will be $900 each bike including all the permits etc…, she said the customs guys at the airport would stamp the bills of ladings, it can only be paid in CASH (Confirming what our buddy back home (Carlos) had said) blah blah blah… so we had a confirmed (as much as can be confirmed anyway) way of getting them to Bogota. Do you want to talk to the guy in charge? or the woman that knows whats going and really runs the joint.

IMG_0789We took off for the bank and lunch. The first bank we hit (Citi) would not do a cash advance on Visa or Debit cards – ok, next bank. We hit the HSBC – yes, we do cash advances but only for $1000 per card. Ok – drag out a couple cards to get $2000 and then hit the cash machine for another $500 and we figured we had enough cash to get things done.

While at lunch we called Gustova back in Cali to see what the story was from Copa in Cali….

Let me interrupt this little story to see if you’re as confused as we were… because by this time of the day we had made maybe 45 or 50 phone calls – talked to people in 3 countries – gotten just about every conflicting story you could imagine – been told that nobody is working today (even though it isn’t Carnaval anymore) – and John was literally to the point where he said “I can’t follow who is saying what they can do, what they can’t do, or what they might or might not do. Please just tell me where to drop the bikes and cash off.” 

Anyway – we got ahold of Gustova at Copa … in Cali – he had done some checking on flights and so forth – yes, they can ship the bikes from Panama to Cali – but they wouldn’t go until next Wednesday – a week away… so, any savings we would realize by shipping direct with Copa instead of a broker would be eaten up by us hanging out in hotels waiting and we would waste a week not moving… it made the decision easy for us to go with Girag and get things moving.

We made yet another call to Girag – talking to Luz with all the answers – yes, we can get them on the plane today if you get here by 3:30…. well, we cranked it up and got out there by around 3pm….

Dan got to work on the paperwork while John dug thru the bags – repacking things and getting stuff organized and ready to transport the bikes. About an hour of paperwork and a big wedge of cash and everything was ready to roll … except the bikes weren’t on a pallet and were just sitting there in the shade…waiting.

IMG_0805The Girag guys brought a big flat aluminum sheet out – we rolled the bikes on there and got things positioned for them. Then they began to tie they down with scraps of webbing and straps. And it looked like they had never tied a motorcycle down before – we watched for maybe 1/2 hour and then they sort of asked us what we thought –

<They're way

we went to test the tie downs and showed them the bikes would easily tip over. Great, maybe we shouldn’t watch this… but then we just starting untying and retying the bikes and got them tied down in such a way that they “maybe’ would do ok… what we wouldn’t have given for some proper tie down straps …

 

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<Our way

When we finished the tie down it was about 5:15 and we were worried that we wouldn’t make it to customs in time – rush over to customs and we got the proper stamps on the bills of lading and all that stuff –

Since the bikes were heading out tonight we decided to try to catch a flight to Bogota this evening and had Michelle/taxi drop us at the airport. We settled up with Michelle and said our thanks/goodbyes and headed in to buy a ticket to Bogota…. after searching for WiFi and researching tickets we eventually decided to just go to the Copa counter and buy a ticket… John’s wife Lynn had mentioned that we will probably need to buy a round trip ticket because Columbia Immigration would require proof of onward journey and she was right about that – the Copa guys made it clear that it would be hard to convince the immigration guys in Bogota that we were flying one way and riding out etc… So, the difference between one way and round trip was only about $20 a ticket – so we just paid the price — about $368 per ticket…

It was a decent flight to Bogota, we hit the ground, cleared immigration, cleared customs, grabbed a taxi and ended up in a decent (but overpriced) hotel – and we sit here now at a little after 1am typing this blog in –we’re hoping our bikes had a nice flight, got a little glass of oil or fuel and had a little bag of bolts and nuts. More importantly are actually here, in one piece and we can get them out of Girag and through customs in some reasonable time period…..

All toll, an expensive day – about $1800 to ship the bikes, $735 for flights, and another $150 in taxis, meals, copies, translator, misc fees, etc…OUCH! but we are in South America and onto the second leg of the journey.

Cheers…

 

Hey Everyone – sorry we’ve fallen a little behind in the blog entries -We have stayed at a few places that had no internet or the internet was not working well enough – but here is our entry for 3 days ago and we should catch up in the next couple of days. Including the story of spending a few hours in a Columbian Policia station… as well as Dan’s turn signal breaking when it met concrete…

We rose somewhat early in our slightly overpriced hotel in Bogota – around 6:45am – considering we went to bed around 1:30 and we were both dragging anchor. Quick breakfast and we jumped in a taxi to head back out to the airport and try to find the bikes, decipher the customs puzzle and get meat on the seat out of Bogota.

We found the Girag facility quickly – which was amazing in itself. We walked in the door and there was a lady security guard who was frisking everyone – unfortunately she didn’t frisk us for some reason . We quickly found the “man” we needed to chat with – “El Jefe” Marlio Collazos. He spoke pretty decent English and he told us our bikes arrived last night but we had some paperwork to take care of at customs (DIAN in Columbia).

Marlio pumped out some copies and filled out some paperwork for us and packed us off to walk across to the DIAN offices about 1/4 mile away. We walked over there and stood in line for a while, got some forms to fill out, stood in line a while longer, and learned a little bit about the way Columbians stand in line. Basically, they don’t stand in line – if you leave more space than the thickness of a credit card between you and the next person, you are more or less leaving a spot for someone to jump into. And if you don’t somehow completely block the window area for the person you’re trying to deal with at customs, you are inviting someone to push in and ask questions or request a pen, a form, or just tell a joke. We quickly set up elbow to elbow, watched our flanks and wedged our way in.

P1000691Anyway – the customs lady was super nice, very helpful and got us all setup with paperwork and then she said she needed to inspect the bikes. No problem – we should walk to Girag and she will meet us there. We walked back over and talked to Marlio… he said we should go have a look at the bikes because “maybe they need some repairs and we could get to work on them” – oh, boy… He took us back there and the bikes were sitting in a little private area off the pallet and ready to ride – and no damage at all!

We waited maybe 10 minutes and the customs lady shows up with another customs guy – look at the VIN and the plate numbers – sign the papers and sign the bikes and we are ready to roll…. maybe 1.5 hours of customs stuff… not bad.

 

P1000692After customs complete we were allowed into the bikes – and we had to re-jenga everything and dig out our riding gear. Marlio checked on us a couple times and we gave him a bottle of Johnny Walker Whiskey we bought at the duty free – he joked about how our boots stunk and we exchanged the proper word for that in English/Spanish – but then maybe he wasn’t joking about the smell because they aren’t all that pleasant at this point… after half hour of repacking and getting suited up – we were ready to head out. We got some directions for how to avoid getting lost in Bogota and then we had to navigate some doors and stairs to get out of the Girage facility.

The ramp wasn’t too bad but there was another drop after this ramp that we didn’t take a shot of – it was a bit tricky – but we cleaned it and were ready to roll into Columbia – total time from arriving to riding out was about 2.5 hours. Thanks a ton Marlio!!!!!!

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We left the airport following our GPS (with NO maps of Bogota in it) and no paper maps of Bogota – and we were ok for maybe the first 5 miles. After missing a turn (we thought anyway) we decided to take a surface street and try to double back and pick up the highway to Cali. Big mistake… we were quickly sucked into a maze of one way streets, single lane streets, walking pathways and just general mayham.. Between the Altitude and the busses belching so much black smoke we were both getting headaches and nauseous. And to top it all off – It was lunch hour and the streets were absolutely crammed with people walking, eating, smoking, talking, and getting on/off busses. So – the traffic was virtually at a standstill and we were in our riding gear and it was hot – 85 probably and we were basting and wondering where we went wrong and blaming each other…

We could see where we “thought” we wanted to go on the GPS – maybe only a few blocks away – but we simply couldn’t get there – it was incredibly frustrating. Just when we would get to move the bikes a block or two and be able to see a “busy” street where we could maybe move a little faster - we would arrive to find that it was a one way – and ALWAYS it was the wrong way! Finally we got onto a street we knew would cross the road we wanted to take and as we rode along we quickly figured out there was absolutely no way to turn left… all the time we were being attacked by taxi cabs that clearly feel they should be able to push motos around like the busses push the taxi’s around. So who do we get to push around? Mopeds, zillions of them!!

This went on for 2 and half hours! – and we hadn’t really moved much at all – we finally worked our way to the outskirts of Bogota and spotted the actual road we were looking for – and the traffic was really moving quickly on it!!! – but, we couldn’t figure out how to get on the damn thing … we rode around in some circle patterns and finally figured out how to get on there… stopped for gas and after filling up we were on the road to Cali.

Working our way out of the suburbs of Bogota took quite some time – the little burbs just blurred from one to the other and the traffic was challenging. We eventually got on the real highway and started cruising pretty well – riding thru some nice scenery of lush hills and resort type towns. We ran out of time just short of Girardot and grabbed a nice hotel that was right on a nice little river and had a pool. Had a couple of beers and took a dip in the pool.

Long and challenging day but we are in Columbia and rolling – So far we feel safe enough, but there is an edge to the place and we both have or shields up.

Cheers!

 

P1000693We got up early so we could get moving. Then Dan said his phone charger was not working so we started working on it. After taking it apart we found that the wires had broken inside the connector that attaches to the phone. We busted out the tools and set about fixing it. We have a pretty good set of tools and an electrical kit that includes a 12volt soldering iron that hooks up to the bike. After about an hour Dan stated, “this thing will work for the rest of the trip”. We packed up the tools and got ready to roll.

 

IMG_0827After fixing the cell fone charger – we had a bit of an audience watching us – we put all our gear on and started to roll out. Well… we were parked up by the front desk and had to maneuver a little bit to get out and as Dan goes to pull out of the reception area he is turning and his bike stalls – dead – he puts his foot down and his foot lands on sand/gravel that is on top of the tile/cement (damn it, where are the sweeping/cleaning crew when you need them?) – anyway – he quickly realizes the bike is going down and probably best to not fight it so he lets it go down. It lands on it’s right side and rolls up onto the right side bag and crushes the front turn signal… Dan is actually off the bike when it is rolling and is talking on the intercom to John telling him that it’s going down etc… he stands there for a bit and then as other people are moving to the bike he goes over and stands it up – straddles it, starts it up, and rides off… The altitude was probably 8,500 feet or something like that and the bikes run very poorly when they are first started or cold – of course a “discussion” ensued between Dan and John because Dan didn’t wait long enough to allow John to take a picture etc… but the basic fact of the matter is that the bike was down and the turn signal is broken… bummer, but finally the pressure is off – the score is even and we’ve both dropped the bikes.

P1000721As we headed up and over a 10,000 foot pass the scenery was just amazing. It’s really too bad Columbia is so screwed up politically as it’s easily the most beautiful area we have rode through so far. I mean this place is unbelievable, with vista after vista for seemingly forever. We were talking on the mic and said. “Once we get out of Columbia, I’ll be really glad we rode through it”. Traffic was pretty heavy up and over the pass, With many switch backs, buses and trucks to keep us on our game. You either have to “work” the traffic or crawl up the hill with the trucks/buses. We choose to work the traffic. The bikes were weezing once we passed 8,000 feet, but we kept spanking them to get them to get around the traffic. After we got to the top we had our first stop with the “Law” in Columbia. These guys were regular military. Big guns and all. They were wondering where our orange vests were. In Columbia motorcyclists are required to wear orange vests with their license plate number on the back. Well, we read as tourists you didn’t need them (and our buddy at Girag – Marlio told us we didn’t need them!). We debated whether to get them to blend in or just skip ‘em. After a short delay and them checking our papers, John saying “touristo” over and over when the cop pointed at his vest and then asking where were ours…. we were released.

IMG_0841We  ripped down the other side of the pass and started towards Sevilla. This started out as a good two lane road through a bunch of coffee plantations. It went right along a ridge top with vistas on both sides. The road quickly turn bad however with pot holes everywhere and we began wondering if we made the right choice of roads… After about 30 miles we were stopped again, this time by some regular cops in white uniforms. They checked our documents, they were super nice. Shook our hands and sent us on our way. We made the last 15 or so miles into Seville. Right as we rolled into town these two cops come running across the street flailing their arms for us to stop. We produced all of our documents and he spent what seemed 20 minutes conferring on the radio with his “commander”.

He then informed us that we needed to follow him to the police station to “meet” his commander. John didn’t understand what he was saying and Dan played dumb – making him work harder to explain it over and over. Dan was hoping he would just get bored and tired of repeating himself … but it didn’t work and we had to follow them to the police station. On the way we chatted about just bolting – after all it was him and his buddy on a 250 dirt bike. We could easily out run them. Where would we go?  I guess we’ll go see what they want.

We weave thru a fairly nice town and come into the town square where the police station is located – we pull in and S-L-O-W-L-Y we stop the bikes, pull them in, back them into place, take off our helmets, take off our gloves, lock things up, take off the tank bags and we stand there waiting while our two “buddies” are inside conferring with “El Jefe” (The boss!)… we don’t have a lot of daylight left to reach Cali and we’re both wondering what the f*ck is going on here…

So they wave us over to the office and direct us in and basically tell us to sit. At this point I “John” am getting pretty nervous. We are sitting in a scumy one room office. We walked past about 10 heavily armed cops outside and in the entry way. We meet a few guys who are all “friendly” in a cop-ish sort of way – Then El Jefe starts asking us questions and I do not understand anything. Dan is trying to figure out what he is saying – answering some of the questions and El Jefe seems to be satisfied - somewhat. About this time I look down and my leg is shaking. I had know Idea it was shaking till I looked at it.  

El Jefe brings in a couple more guys – and I (Dan) am now thinking – “oh, the good cop/bad cop routine” – and I think well, I will just act stupid and speak no spanish… oh, shit, one of the guys speaks some English… he starts asking us questions while another guy is banging stuff into a computer. The usual questions like: name, address, where are you going, where are you staying etc… then they get a little personal – like: are you married? – what are your parents name? how come you both have the same last name? what is your wife’s name? why don’t you have kids? how much money are you carrying? where can we put some cocaine on your bikes? and how much cocaine can you carry for us??? –

After they have typed in every scrap of info you can think of, the dude says he wants to take our picture. He shoves a piece of  paper in front of me (John) and says “please sign, it’s permission for us to take your picture.” I look at it and of course its all in Spanish. I said “No I will not sign it, I do not know what it says..” He repeats that it’s permission to take my photo. I repeat “no I will not sign it..You have permission to take my photo, but I will not sign anything”. At this same time I notice they are setting up a fingerprinting kit… I look at Dan and he is shaking his head “no”. About this time I am wondering where this is REALLY going. The dude says we are strangers in his town and that is why we are being checked out. “its for our own safety”. Dan reads the document – or at least tries to – and he tells the guy “No Firma – we are not signing anything” – He is surprised and goes to get “El Jefe” – who tells him (basically) – “we don’t need their picture – let them go” – but then Starsky (or  was it Hutch??? or maybe Beretta??) keeps the pressure on us and keeps asking more questions – and Dan says “what is the problem here?” – Starsky says there is no problem, you are just strangers in our town… well… shit, if this is how you treat strangers, no wonder nobody comes here !!!!

Starsky then asked us if we needed an “escort” to Cali – Dan asked him if we needed one??? – he said “No, it’s safe” – and Dan said – “why would we need an escort then?” – well, Starsky didn’t seem to appreciate the humor here – and after a few dozen more questions they decided it was time to cut us loose…But first they needed to inspect our motorcycles.  “what?! – is that all you got for us???” – On the way outside we noticed that one of the dweeby lackey dudes was using a digital camera to take pictures of our passports – … I guess they “really” needed our pictures… When we got out to our bikes they were surrounded by half the damn town. After checking most of our bags we were given an “escort” out of town.  The escort stopped at the edge of town and pointed down the road and said, “how do you feel?” Dan said fine! But we were saying on the intercom how we felt like kicking him in the balls….

We headed out out of town checking the clock to see if we could still make it to Cali before dark. The chatter on the intercom was about how the dude called his buddies to ambush us in the mountains outside of town….. but the road they put us on was a very nice 2 lane road with NO trucks that went along the ridge of an incredible valley and the scenery was spectacular with a number of very nice homes and ranchos along the way.

We made it to Cali without further incident and checked into the Casblanca Hostel. We both agreed it was time for a drink… we hit the showers and headed out to find dinner and some booze…

Cheers!

We spent the night in Cali at the Casa Blanca Hostel – we were hoping to meet up with Mike who owns the hostel and www.motolumbia.com but he was on a trip up to Cartagena to retrieve one of his rental bikes. Mike helped us with our logistics problems trying to get to South America from Panama.

John-mmWe got a relatively early start after a great breakfast and managed to get lost in Cali trying to find the main road out of town. We got a firsthand view of the city market as we slowly made our way thru the chaos and mayhem of the market. After maybe 45 minutes of weaving and circling back/forth we found the main road and started moving at a good pace.

The first 100 miles of the road were through mostly flatlands and meadows – with small farming type community towns – not really that remarkable. Then the road began to climb up into the mountains – and climb and climb – we were quickly at 9,000 foot elevations and routinely going up into 10,000 foot. The scenery was truly breathtaking and by far the most spectacular of the trip so far.

This goofy looking M&M truck was fun to follow behind – strange to see when you’re coming up the road but pretty well done!

Here are some shots off the incredibly rugged terrain …IMG_0914

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We rolled into Popayan at pretty close to dark time frame – we had maybe half an hour to find a hotel and it wasn’t easy. The town was pretty good sized and we  both wanted a hotel that was close to the main road so we could bolt for the border early in the morning. We rode up and down the main road and considered staying at a “Motel” – even stopped to ask for a room at one but they had no rooms with 2 beds… In case you’re wondering – a “Motel” in Latin America is a sex hotel – you rent it by the hour usually and they have garages usually to hide the cars of the people staying there. Every decent sized town has 2 or 3 of these on the main roads just outside of town…

We ended up heading down into town a bit and found a great hotel with indoor garage storage. Grabbed a cab downtown to get something to eat and while we were walking  around the main square John felt the urge to gamble a bit – we stepped into a casino and he tried his hand at the computerized roulette – well, when he as finished he had won 42,000… pesos… which was a little under $20 US – still, enough to almost pay for the hotel.

Heading out of Columbia tomorrow morning – the border is about 125KM away and we should be there relatively early.

Cheers!

 

IMG_0923We rose kind of early – hit the fuel station to gas up and got on the road to the border. Popayun was at about 9,000 foot elevation and we were both huffing and puffing while walking up and down the stairs in the hotel. Leaving Popayun the road began a climb even higher into the mountains. On our way out of Popayun we spotted these guys hitching a ride up a hill by grabbing a truck… the truck driver didn’t appear to have any idea these guys were back there. 

 

 

 

 

The bikes have done surprisingly well with the altitude – other than when they are first started in the morning. When we first start them they sputter and die easily – sometimes at inconvenient times but after they are warmed up they run fine but at the higher altitudes they have a distinct lack of power.

P1000735We weaved  our way to the border of Ecuador and arrived there fairly early – like 10:30ish. Exiting Columbia was a piece of cake and somewhat obvious. Hit the customs shack (DIAN), he looked at the bikes for about 2 seconds and took the paperwork – then off to the immigration building – stamp the passport and we’re off to nomans land between Columbia and Ecuador.

 

 

 

 

Welcome-2-ecuadorEntering Ecuador was more of a puzzle – stand in line in the immigration office only to find out that I was in the wrong line – so go stand in another line for a bit and that guy told me I needed a form from another guy…get that form, fill it out and back in line – stamp the passport and done. Then need to figure out the bikes – found a building that had a sign on it for temporary vehicle permits – talk to that guy and he sends me to some other guy – once we got to the right guy he pumped the paperwork out quickly and with just a couple questions – total cost: $0 – amazing.

 While watching the bikes and waiting for Dan to get stamped, This guy comes up and we start kinda start chatting about our trip, me in my worst spanish and him in his worst english. As he gets ready to leave he sticks out his hand and says “I’m so glad you come to seen my country” we liked Ecuador already!

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We rode another couple hundred kilometers into Ecuador – through some fantastic scenery – steep and deep canyons with lush green foliage and rivers running in the bottoms of the canyons. Three things were readily apparent in Ecuador: the roads were AWESOME, there was actual road signs, and the drivers were somewhat well behaved. Compared to Columbia anyway – the drivers actually seemed like they believed there were rules/laws that needed to be followed as opposed to abused for their benefit. The road surfaces were smooth, painted lines, and very wide. The signs were amazing – almost as good as in the states and we managed to navigate our way without getting lost in every little town that we went through. Also we both agreed that the “edge” we felt in Columbia was gone and we cruised carefree in the wind again….

Ecuador-scenery

Got to the hotel around 3ish – we were again at 9,000 feet elevation and both of us were pretty shagged out from the altitude. Headaches and a bit of queasy stomach feeling so we took a nap, then caught up on some email stuffs and then tried to get some food… which turned out to be a challenge… the hotel we were staying at had a restaurant that closed at 7 – and we missed that… so we took a cab downtown and found a forgettable chicken type of place … but most things were closed for some reason – maybe Sunday night or something?

Heading to the coast in the morning –

Cheers.