Return to Colombia

 Colombia  Comments Off on Return to Colombia
May 312011

Its been over a year since I had been in Colombia and I was looking forward to returning and seeing friends that I made last year.  I crossed back into Colombia from Venezuela at the San Antonio/Cúcuta border.  At DIAN (Colombian customs) I ran into a group of Venezuelan guys headed to Bucaramanga for a big South American moto rally.




After acquiring my bike permit I pushed on in pouring rain to Pamplona, then again in pouring rain the next day across the 12,000 foot Berlin Pass and onto Medellin where I had been over a year before.  I pulled into Alberts place, which is now an Irish Pub and  I met up  with John.  John is a total character and one of the funniest guys I have ever met.  Here he is getting ready to take off on the road once again on the Mad Max F650 GS.




Silviu fron Caracas also stopped by on a brand spanking new KTM 990R.  He was in Bogota for work and borrowed his buddy’s new KTM to come visit us in Medellin.  You know if your buddy will let you ride his new 990, he is a good buddy.



After hanging out at Alberts in Medellin for a while, I made my way to Bogota to visit some folks whom I had met last year.  When I got to Bogota, it rained, hard, all day, everyday.




My friend Agueda, whom I met last year in Bogota.  It was really great to see her again, such a wonderful woman.  I wound up staying at her place in Bogota and got to spend quite a bit of time with her.  As a result, my Spanish improved rapidly.  At her house, no one speaks a word of English.  It’s Spanish, 24/7, and just what I needed.




Of course, it rained some more……





Despite all the rain, Bogota is an interesting city and as usual, I enjoyed my time there.





Lots of great street art too.




These guys are of course world famous.









My city tour guides, Agueda’s son Schneider on the right and his buddy Daniel on the left.  Really funny guys, a joke a minute.  They were supposed to be doing some kind of research in the library for a university class, but they decided to skip class and walk around the city with me and drink expensive coffee.  Of course Schneider was quick to tell me, “dont tell my Mom that we hung out in the city all day, because I was supposed to be at class.”



Political cartoons are pretty common around Bogota.



When the rain stopped for all of  3 hours a week, I took a little ride up to Calera, a nice tranquilo little pueblo just outside and above Bogota.  Colombia is filled with mellow little pueblos like this.




The view from above Bogota.




For Semana Santa, (Easter Week) Agueda and I got on the bike and rode all over Colombia.  It of course rained, almost all day, everyday.  Multiple roads were closed because of numerous landslides.




Hurry up and wait…..



And wait some more…..




Another picturesque little town which I have forgotten the name of.







The plaza in Villa de Leyva.










We then arrived at the Desierto Tatacoa.




Its pretty cool to see the cacti and the semi arid climate here in the middle of Colombia.







I dont know if I would call it a proper desert, since it sees quite a bit of rain.  But it does have cactus and is much drier than the surrounding areas.







Then we headed back into the landslides south toward San Augustin.  A view like this was pretty common during all the rains.  Thankfully we encountered only small slides on this day and no big road closers.  However, during Semana Santa, 18 major routes were completely closed in Colombia due to landslides and there was significant flooding around the major river systems.  The whole country was pretty much a mess and tens of thousands of people were displaced from their homes.




Yet another picturesque little pueblo which I have also forgotten the name of.




San Augustin itself is super touristy.  It has some ruins which we opted to skip since it was going to cost 30 bucks to go see them.   Instead, we decided to just ride around the San Augustin area and take in the views.  It was a good call.  After Mexico, Guatemala and Peru last year, I was kind of “ruined out” anyway.  This is about a touristy as I like to get.










The scenery in Colombia never fails to impress.




We stayed at a nearby finca that had a few winged pets flying around.








Never fails to impress.  Did I already say that?  I love riding in Colombia.  This is the view on the way up from Ibague to the southern end of Parque de los Nevados.







Agueda is diggin the ride through the mountains on dirt roads.  She even refers to my bike as “tu esposa” or, “your wife.”  How funny.




From here we wanted to go on the north side of the park and go see the 15,000 foot snow capped volcanoes since Agueda had never seen snow before.  So we went from Ibague to Armenia, Pereira, Manizales to get to the north end of the park.  Another cool little hotel we stayed at in a small pueblo along the way, not far outside of Pereira.




The next day we arrived at Manizales only to discover that the main road that goes to the park was blocked just outside of town.  The police at the road block said there were 3 large landslides and they might be cleared within a week.  Bummer.  Undeterred, I asked the cop if there was an alternate route.  He said that there was, and added that it was open, but impassable even for 4X4’s and I would never make it on the bike, and to even try it would be “muy bravo.” Perfect.  Thats just to the kind of stuff I love to do.  I talked it over with Agueda, and she was game to try to too.  Agueda has no riding gear, no rain gear, but she doesn’t care, she wants to check it out.  She tells me “Vamos Vicente!” Muy brava, that girl!  She never complains about anything.

So we find the start of the alternate route, and we see that it’s a good road.  I am a little disappointed to tell you the truth.  That cop didn’t have a clue what he was talking about.




Finally, after a few miles, it starts to get fun and I’m much happier about it.  Flat footing the 990, ha!




I guess that cop wasn’t lying after all.  It actually is a little challenging, even for 4X4’s.



But the mighty KTM can handle it, even with street tires, no problema.  Actually in this kind of slop, it doesn’t matter what kind of tires you have, they all get packed with mud.  There was one spot where the rear wheel was just spinning.  I got too slow, so I had to push a little.



But I finally got it sorted.  There were around half a dozen sections like this I reckon.  Good fun!



The rest of the road was really, really fun.  More mud pits, but a nice sustained rutted up rocky and muddy two track most of the way, with big water filled holes, perfect stuff.  I taught Agueda to stand up and hold onto my waist through this stuff explaining to her how to balance on the passenger pegs and let the bike move beneath her.  She caught on quickly and actually said she was having a blast, hooting and hollering through the rough sections.  It was a really fun ride, even 2 up.  I highly recommend this over the paved highway from Manizales, but you might want to do it when its dry.

We started climbing and finally got to the entrance of the Parque de los Nevados.  Its raining, its foggy, its cold.  Agueda is soaking wet and shivering.  I’m soaked as well, but warm from all the work riding up the two track.



We arrive at the park entrance and the people there are shocked to see us.  They said that they have not seen any tourists for over a week, all of Semana Santa.  However, it’s  at the park entrance that we learn that motos are not allowed in the park.  Huh?  That’s a stupid rule, this is Colombia!  Bummer.  But the guy tells us, no problem, you can hire a car for a few bucks and you must hire a guide.  Ok, lets do it.  Then another guy chimes in and says that none of the drivers are working because there are no tourists because of all the landslides and all the cars are out of gas.  Well that’s just great.  Still, they will not let us go in with the moto.  Defeated, we leave the park, pretty bummed out about the whole thing.



So, in the fog and fading light, we decide to head for the nearest small town a couple of hours away, Murillo.  Its an incredibly scenic ride, except for the fog, and the road headed down is quite good compared to the one we took from Manizales, but not nearly as fun.







But the scenery is impressive as we descend from almost 14,000 feet.



However, for a brief minute before the oncoming dusk, the rain stopped, the fog lifted, and the clouds parted for mere seconds to reveal this.  That’s right, snow capped peaks in Colombia.  How cool is that?  Agueda was stoked as this was the first time she had ever seen snow.





Just after dark, wee got down to Murillo, a very small pueblo, and checked into the only hotel in town.  There was a huge end of Semana Santa fiesta going on and the whole town was drinking and partying in the streets.  When we rode through the festivities on the main street, people looked at us like we just stepped off of a spaceship.  We had a great time that night at the town fiesta drinking a few well deserved beers and eating meat.

The next day we headed back to Bogota and I prepared to ship the bike off to Panama.  My second visit to Colombia was every bit as fun as the first.  I said it before over a year ago and I still believe it, Colombia is motorcycle heaven.

With a heavy heart, I prepared to leave my friend Agueda and the country that I have come to love.   I bid them both a fond farewell and began the process of shipping my bike and myself around the Darien gap into Panama to begin the long journey back home.