April 22nd, 2012 - Colombia
I had no idea what to expect from Colombia but I certainly didn’t expect to instantly fall in love with a country that has been unable to shake its infamous reputation for cocaine and kidnapping. Whether or not Colombia was ever completely overrun by gringo kidnapping drug lords I don’t know but in its current state Colombia welcomed us in with loving open arms. The simple gesture of a smile and a “Good afternoon” greeting will guarantee an even greater response. The food here is a fresh, delicious change from Central America and if you shop around a cheap meal is easy find, generally costing around 80 cents per person. If delicious food and great people aren’t reason enough to love this country, the riding here is spectacular. The mountains of Colombia provide beautiful backdrops with stunning views for both on and off road riders. Also, Colombia now holds one of my favourite rides to date. Some of you may be thinking it’s just my positive perception that could make me say such wonderful things about a country that has permanently been given a bad reputation but Colombia truly is a fantastic place to be. To put it in perspective I thought we would only be in Colombia for 10 days, however we are now on day 40 and find ourselves only 15 minutes from the border of Venezuela but not wanting to leave.(Since writing this we stayed even longer… HaHa 45 days in Colombia!)
It all started in Cartagena, a well preserved colonial city situated on the oceanfront in Northern Colombia. We arrived early on a Saturday morning but with customs closed we had to wait until Monday before we could get our motorcycles. This worked out great giving us time to explore the city and hang out with some fellow travellers from our recent boat crossing. In my experience port cities can be a little rough and sleazy but Cartagena holds its composure very well. The historic district is clean and well maintained while the rest of city appears well developed with a respectable level of modern professionalism. We found plenty of motorcycle shops in Cartagena making it a great place to pick up parts and tires at reasonable prices. We managed to find a battery and rear tire for Erin’s bike while our new friends Karin and Dave picked up some tires for their bikes, all of which were cheaper or comparable to prices in the United States. Karin and Dave had shipped their motorcycles from their home country of Holland to Canada where they started their 9 month long journey to Peru. Sharing our passion for motorcycle travel, our sense of humour and our love for beer, it only seemed right that we team up and explore Colombia together.
After a few days of riding in the hot, dry and relatively flat countryside of Northern Colombia we all agreed that it was time to head into the mountains. Heading South past the city of Bucaramanga the road began to snake and the temperature began to cool as we wound our way into a perfect day’s ride. About midday we pulled over at a roadside restaurant to ask another group of bikers for directions and to our surprise we discover that the route we had planned was much longer than anticipated which would force us to ride well into the night. Our new roadside friends suggested we reroute to San Gil, a town approximately 2 hours away where they were heading to a motorcycle rally. It didn’t take much to convince us and we were quick to jump back in the saddle raced off down the road together. We quickly got a lesson in Colombian riding as we pushed hard to try and keep up with our new friends. In Colombia motorcycles basically do whatever they want. What North American’s consider to be incredibly dangerous and/or reckless driving is just common practise to Colombians. After flying through the sharp mountain curves and passing every car and truck in sight, it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable yet exhausting days I’ve ever had on a motorcycle.
We spent the weekend enjoying the festivities of the motorcycle rally and getting to know our new friends who had taken us in like family. It’s amazing for people to be able to spend so much time together conversing and having fun without fully being able to speak the same first language. Using only our limited amount of basic Spanish we managed to share our lives with people and learn about life in Colombia. Throughout the rally we were treated like celebrities constantly sharing our stories with curiously excited people and partaking in a ridiculous amount of photo shoots. I guess 4 tall gringos with 4 big dirty bikes in a sea of Colombians just appear to scream “Come take photos!” There’s nothing about that weekend that I would change, it was perfect and the friends we made are more than just travelling acquaintances. As we left San Gil we were overwhelmed by numerous genuine invitations from our new friends to come and stay with them in their homes. I knew we would be seeing them again soon.
We spent a few days exploring the beautiful Sierra Nevada del Cocuy Mountains and riding through just about every type of weather including some painfully large hail. Unfortunately for the first time on our travels I was sick and spent our down time curled up in bed while Erin, Karen and Dave got to hike the picturesque countryside. As we made our way towards Bogota, Colombia’s capital city, I continued to recover despite some cold days riding in the rain. Bogota is a huge city with a population of approximately 8 million people and if you were to include the surrounding metropolitan areas of the ever expanding city that number quickly jumps to 15 million people. I think it goes without saying that getting around the city sucks… luckily 9 times out of 10 when asking for directions anywhere in Colombia you will receive an escort to your destination. We set up base at a Hostel in the Candelaria district, the historic area of the city, and explored some of the museums, markets and architecture of the area. I’m not a city boy so it takes a pretty special city to impress me and I can easily say that Bogota did not impress me. Something about waking up in the morning and walking out into streets reeking of urine just doesn’t do it for me. Also if you add in constant, erratic traffic and honking Bogota city is a place I could do without. Sadly, with our plans to travel through Brazil, Erin and I had to stick around Bogota for a few more days to visit the Brazilian Embassy and fill out paperwork. It was then that the time came to part ways and say goodbye to Karin and Dave as they continued their own journey to Peru. We wish them fun and safe travels and are glad to have been part of their lives and look forward to seeing them again one day.
After a few days battling the Embassy’s ridiculous business hours and gathering up all the paperwork required we handed in our passports with hopes that they would be returned to us with Brazilian Visa’s. After an hour and a half of traffic we were finally free of Bogota but found ourselves feeling somewhat lost without our riding companions. For weeks we had been riding as a collective and now on our own again we had to figure out where to go…
More to come from Colombia