Arrived in Colombia Nov.12. Good flight from Panama, no delays, in fact we arrived at the Bogota airport a few minutes ahead of schedule. Only problem we encountered was going through security in Panama City. Lindsay had forgotten to take his pocket knife out of his pack, so the agent confiscated it. We wanted to go back to luggage drop off and check it through with a small bag we were carrying, but there was no negotiating, the knife was gone.
Outside the terminal building we hailed a taxi van, loaded all our gear and started our drive into downtown Bogota. It was amazing, four lanes of bumper to bumper traffic as far as the eye could see, hundreds of motorcyclists weaving throughout the lanes and great Spanish music playing in our van. Talk about vibrant. Forty five minutes later we pulled up in front of our hotel feeling very upbeat about being in Colombia.
Next day the main item still on the agenda was the bikes which were scheduled to arrive in the morning. At breakfast Tom says he has received an email from Veronica (the shipper) to say there is a slight delay, can we pick the bikes up in the evening or tomorrow morning. We opt for the evening. The sooner the better. Then yet another email, more delays, it would have to be Friday morning.
During our time in Panama City, Tom and Lindsay were able to locate BMW and KTM bike dealers in Bogota. In fact there are 21 KTM dealers listed. The plan was to pick up the bikes on the Friday morning and ride directly to each dealer. Meanwhile, on Thursday they visited the distributor for Heidenau tires and each bought a new rear tire. The dealer recommended which KTM dealer Lindsay should go to.
On Friday, armed with tires they took a taxi to the airport cargo area and after two hours of paper work and waiting around the bikes appeared. They were in perfect condition and as they strapped their tires across the back of the bike they had a large audience of shippers and general workers taking photos.
Bogota is a city of 8 million and the traffic is insane. A gps is a must but you keep running across one way streets or detours that are not noted by the gps so a fair bit of time is wasted getting to your destination. Lindsay reached the dealer at about 1:00 pm and Santiago, one of the co-owners, could not have been more helpful. Santiago led Lindsay through the maze to the repair shop about twenty minutes away. Within minutes the bike was on a lift and being stripped down. Santiago said it would be ready by 11:00 am the next day with various items having to be attended to, including a new radiator and the rear tire mounted. Meanwhile Tom also had success getting a new rear seal fitted at the BMW dealer.
Colombia is the motorcycle capital of South America and it is evident everywhere. On every street bikes outnumber cars, and bikes such as ours command a lot of attention – bikers know their bikes. Surprisingly KTM is a far more recognized brand than BMW.
Meanwhile Marian spent the better part of the day getting the map of Colombia loaded onto the gps. First not enough memory on the Zumo to accommodate another map, then the upload stopped half way through and the transfer of information was literally taking hours. Picked up a cable for the computer to connect directly to the cable port, after much wasted time realized the port was not working. Had the hotel technician fix the problem. Once again try the download, still not working. Contact Garmin. They send a check list of possible issues. Finally after eliminating most possibilities changed the browser from Google to Explorer…..map downloaded in an hour. Colombia now navigable.
Riding in Colombia is similar to Central America and Mexico, passing on the right and left, lane splitting, shoulder riding and ambulance chasing!!!! In Mexico we realized that at any stop, be it a traffic light or detour, bikes would make their way to the front of the line. We got pretty good at lane splitting and shoulder riding, but always at very low speeds. We found a new definition of ‘ambulance chaser’ in Colombia. At a single lane detour we found all the bikes lined up at the front waiting for the signal to proceed when an ambulance going in our direction passed us. All the waiting bikes took off in the ambulance’s wake, even though traffic coming the other way still had the right of way, but of course the ambulance had priority and the bikes were in its draft! We learned quickly and followed suit as the attached video shows. We followed this way through a number of construction areas before arriving at the open highway where the faster bikes passed the ambulance and the slower ones fell behind. We waited until it slowed down and waved us by, his emergency lights and siren still going.
Bogota was still very much an organizational stop, but we loved the city, the food and the people. Even enjoyed a Starbucks!!! Tracy and Marian did a bit of a walk around the historic section while the guys were maintaining the bikes.
Saturday, Novmber 15, time to leave Bogota for Honda. Lindsay picked the KTM up from the shop around 11:00 and was back at the hotel by noon. By the time we had the bikes packed and ready to go the skies opened and we were in a torrential downpour. We dawned our raingear, hopped on the bikes and set off. What a ride, we wish we had pictures to share, but the rain prevented it. Roads were flooded, traffic was backed up for miles, chaos ruled the streets and we navigated our way through in the company of hundreds of local riders. It was crazy. The bottom line, it took us almost three hours to go 27 km before exiting the traffic. I think the truckers and automobile drivers must still be there!!!
After clearing the traffic, our ride to Honda was beautiful. Lots of curves, beautiful scenery and a good riding temperature. Got into Honda around 7pm. The bikes roared up to the Posada La Trampas, our hotel, to find a gathering of formally dressed people mingling outside of the hotel. They seemed as surprised at the sight of us as we were at the sight of them. It turned out there was a wedding reception at the hotel, which was going to be a bit disconcerting in the early morning hours. But at arrival the hotel was a beautiful old classic, all stone and wood. The man at reception spoke no English and our Spanish was not going so well. As we were exchanging words and hand signals Angela appeared. A young Columbian woman from Bogota who was the manager and spoke English flawlessly. Once we were settled into our rooms she organized dinner and drinks by the pool for us and shared a wealth of information regarding Honda. When we went up to the pool area for dinner there was one other couple there, and as unlikely as it would seem, it was the Spanish BMW manager that Tom had dealt with in Bogota, small world.
After a great dinner of mixed fried rice and cold beer we called it a night. As I alluded to earlier, the wedding reception was still going full force, and our room was right above all the celebrating. Finally at 2:30 am all went still and we were able to sleep. Morning arrived early and off we went to walk the village, visiting the historic bridge across the Magdalena River where an enterprising citizen had constructed a wooden bridge and charged a toll to all the locals for crossing. There is no longer a toll.
Left Honda for Salento around noon. It was our first taste of the Andes and we were dazzled. The ride was beyond beautiful, reaching elevations of 12,155 ft with the slopes manicured with coffee plantations and haciendas perched on ridges overlooking farms.
Time to gas up and no premium but we topped up giving a blended rating. The station we stopped at turned out to be a real cultural treat. The guys at the pumps were so excited to see the bikes. After filling up they all gathered around so we could take pictures. As we were doing that the police pulled in and in a reserved way let us take pictures with them.
While we were stopped a large truck went by us and hanging onto the back were two boys on a bicycle getting a free ride. It reminded Lindsay of “taxi-bottining” with his friends in his youth, hanging onto the rear bumpers of cars when the streets in Arvida were icy.
The road to Salento took longer than anticipated and left us doing some night riding, something we try not to do as we are unfamiliar with the roads and cities and it makes navigation a bit more challenging. In this case the final stretch of road into Salento was very narrow, windy and lit up with a steady stream of headlights heading home from a long weekend, and the way drivers drive in Colombia you really need to take care on blind corners. In this case we had the misfortune of being forced off the road as one impatient driver was passing another coming around a corner . Luckily we were a bit before the corner and ended up on a very ragged shoulder, but a shoulder none the less, and Lindsay managed to keep us stable.
We finally arrived at the Central Square in Salento with the objective of finding a hotel, as we didn’t have one booked. What welcomed us was a square jam packed with people enjoying the last of their long weekend. When we pulled up and stopped we were immediately surrounded by curios and interested people. There were questions, photographs, offerings of help to find accommodation in a town that was completely booked up and exchanges of bike stickers, hats and emails. It was amazing and a bit overwhelming. We managed to escape the crowds and start on our search for accommodation. After about half an hour of going in circles checking out various hotels we ended up at the only room left in town at El Mirador Del Cocora….Tom, Tracy, Lindsay and Marian bunking together, a first for everything. We did luck out though with it’s location, views and great breakfast.
Next morning a quick walked to see the vistas then off to Lago Calima. We struggled with the choice of going to Cali or Lago Calima as Lindsay had received an invitation to visit a bike shop in Cali from the guys he connected with in the square last night. Final decision, Lago Calima.
Another great ride, this time through the Lakes District. En route a restaurant with about thirty bikes parked out front caught our attention. We pulled in and visited with the riders. They were a touring group from Cali and highly recommended the Calima destination as well as recommending the Comfandi Resort area. Turned out to be a great little resort about three quarters of the way around the lake. Very inexpensive, meals all inclusive and very quiet as it was off season. We had a great night.
Next morning we enjoyed breakfast outside on the patio under a warm sun, then walked down to the lake before repacking and starting our ride to Popayan, “the white city”. We arrived in Popayan in rain after a sunny day of riding over and through the ridges, valleys and mountains of the Andes. We did not have a hotel reservation in Popayan so had to do some searching when we got there. During the search the heavens turned on the taps. We found accommodation outside of the main historic area at the San Martin hotel, but they only had room for us for one night. This allowed us to dry out and book somewhere closer to the historic area the next morning. We found a beautiful restored monastery, the Hotel Dann. We checked in and then spent the day enjoying the historical buildings and square.
November 20th we were on our way to Pasto in preparation for the border crossing into Ecuador. On the ride to Pasto we encountered a great deal of road construction but this is where our ‘ambulance chasing’ took place, which guided us through the delays in record time.
The construction ended and we arrived onto roads that were unparalleled in beauty.
We arrived in Pasco as rain was settling in. Lindsay and Tom went in search of gas because when we rode into town we noticed the stations had long lineups. It turned out that the town regularly runs out of gas at the end of every third week of the month, leaving a gap in service, so getting gas was imperative as we were crossing into Ecuador in the morning. Lindsay and Tom got caught in the evening rain, but came home with tanks full of regular gas. Good to go.
Up early bracing for another border crossing. Loaded up the bikes and off to the border crossing at Ipiales. It was amazing….it was a civilized crossing, calm, organized, no fixers, no money passing hands, clean, organized a real change from our Central American experiences. The process still took a couple of hours due to bike paperwork, but it was very laid back.
During the process we met a German couple that had been travelling for five years in a refurbished firetruck that now resembled an armoured vehicle.
So farewell Colombia and thank you for such a spectacular and warm welcome during our visit. It was such a breath of fresh air to travel here. People were friendly and seemed incredibly happy with easy smiles and infectious laughter. The scenery was beyond beautiful and the food was delicious. Travelling here gave a feeling of having run the gauntlet when coming through Central America, the contrasts were so great. And now we move on to our next adventure, Ecuador.