Argentina and…

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Our Argentinian border crossing set us back a day and the border town itself was not the most pleasant place to spend some time so the next morning we were happy to hit the road and leave it behind. It was getting noticeably colder as we headed further south still at high altitude, after roughly four hours we began descending towards the town of Jujuy where we spent the night. Our original plan was to continue south to Salta but as we had been held back by illness and a long border crossing we decided to skip Salta and continue to ride east towards Brazil where we planned to visit Iguazu Falls and spend some time in southern Brazil where the weather should be far more comfortable than the Andes. Soon after leaving Jujuy we returned to a normal altitude of roughly 400m it was a fantastic feeling to breathe oxygen rich air again. It took us several days to cross Argentina from west to east. It reminded me of crossing Canada because in the west you have the Andes like the Rockies in Canada then you cross flat lands just like Saskatchewan and Manitoba after that rolling hills with a lot of greenery similar to Ontario although Ontario had many more small lakes. The cities we stopped at were becoming more and more westernised, brand named shops, fast food big names and the majority of people looked middle class driving relatively new cars. It was a far cry from Peru and Bolivia. We rode through Resistencia and Posadas before turning north towards Iguazu. We spent one night on the Argentinian side of Iguazu and crossed over to the Brazilian side the next day as apparently that is where the better view can be experienced. The Brazilian side of Iguazu looked even more like any other generic western city. We visited a bird sanctuary just before the waterfall which was well worth it even if we had already seen most of the different species while on the road in the wild. To visit Iguazu you have to jump through the tourist hoops, park your car in the carpark, go buy an entrance ticket and then take a bus to the lookout point. The views were spectacular it made Niagra Falls seem like a water feature found in a large mall. I definitely recommend visiting Iguazu if you ever get the chance.

 

That evening after visiting Iguazu our trip took an unexpected turn. We were discussing what we would do in Brazil over the next six weeks and we realised that neither of us were very enthusiastic about six more weeks on the road. Actually ever since we arrived in Argentina a sense of accomplishment begun to sink in as Argentina had always been our final goal since the beginning. Crossing Peru and Bolivia had taken it out of us and we found ourselves in the right mood to end the trip. I rang home that night as it was my birthday and spoke to my parents. During the conversation I learned that they would be going to Portugal on holiday in a few days for two weeks. When I hung up Franziska and I discussed it and decided to spontaneously change plans. We would skip southern Brazil and instead ride straight to Buenos Aires where we would attempt to ship the bike to Spain and then ride from Spain to Portugal and surprise my parents by just rolling up the driveway unannounced. Once there we would take it easy and recuperate a little. After all, I had to start trying to gain back some of the 8kg I had lost in South America.

The next morning was Monday, I called the shipping agent in Buenos Aires and they said it would be no problem to ship the bike on short notice. We set off for the border to cross back into Argentina, which unfortunately took a long time as the Argentinians we searching every vehicle crossing over. Because of this delay we didn’t make it as far as we wanted on Monday and had to put in a long day on Tuesday instead. In total on Tuesday we rode 950km, our longest distance covered in one day since the trip began. On Wednesday morning we only had to ride from the outskirts of Buenos Aires to the city centre to check in with the shipping agent dakarmotos.com, although it was a short distance it took us several hours due to traffic. We made arrangements at Dakar Motos to bring the bike to the airport cargo terminal the next day and pack it onto a pallet. We checked into a hostel downtown ate steak and slept like babies that night. The next morning (Thursday) we arrived at the airport cargo terminal and were waived in the right direction by all of the security staff and airport workers who saw us. I supposed that we were not the first lost looking bikers to have arrived there to ship their bike. Before long we were inside the right building and I was asked to ride the bike up onto a pallet. I had to disconnect the battery, remove the mirrors, let some air out of the tyres, and take off the windscreen. The boxes remained on the bike filled with riding gear, tools and spares, in addition we were able to pack our helmets into a dry bad with some other bits and pieces and lay it on the pallet next to the bike. The staff then started securing the bike to the pallet and wrapping it in plastic. Just before it was wrapped in plastic it was taken off to be inspected by customs. All they did was check the VIN number they weren’t bothered about looking on the boxes. By midday the whole process was over and we left to return to the city. The next step would be to pay for the shipping the next day at the company’s office downtown. That evening we booked our flight to Madrid from Buenos Aires, 600USD each with Boliviana Airlines leaving on Saturday afternoon. On Friday morning we went to the shipping company’s office to find out the final cost that would have to be paid. It came to roughly 1,800USD over all but we would be paying in pasos and that meant we could get the blue dollar rate if we changed dollars for pasos on Florida Street (the main tourist area in Buenos Aires). I had been aware of the blue dollar rate for most of the trip so I had accumulated about 1500USD in cash that I was carrying around in the side boxes since Ecuador. The normal exchange rate is something like 8-9 pasos for a dollar but if you change physical dollars on Florida Street with the exchange touts you get 12 pasos to the dollar. It was easy to find somewhere to exchange them, as you walk down Florida Street people are mumbling cambio cambio cambio in tourist’s direction all of the time. We just selected one that had good English and he brought us to a little office off the main street where we exchanged the dollars for pasos at the blue rate. In the end the shipping only actually cost around 1350USD because of the blue rate. Which is a very good price considering it was air freight and would be delivered immediately. Just under a year ago I had paid 1,200Euro to ship the bike from Germany to Canada by sea and that took two weeks! Something to also consider is that last July 1,200Euro was roughly 1,650USD so no matter what way you look at it we got a good deal for shipping back to Europe. Our contact at the shipping company gave us a bank account number and all we had to do was walk next door to the bank and lodge the payment. We went back to the shipping company showed them the receipt and we received the air waybill with which we could track the shipment online. The bike left for Madrid on a direct flight that night. We relaxed in Buenos Aires for the rest of Friday and celebrated the end of our trip in the Americas with a dinner. The final count was 38,000km traveled since leaving Halifax on the 5th of August last year. On Saturday we took a cab to the airport and started our 17 hour trip to Madrid via Santa Cruz in Bolivia.

We arrived in Madrid on Sunday afternoon and went to collect the bike on Monday morning. The cargo handling agent Swissport was very helpful but Spanish customs was a bit of a pain. Even though my bike is European registered they wanted to see a print out of my insurance policy from Germany. I had a credit card sized card with my details and insurance policy number on it but it wasn’t good enough for them they wanted to see the full policy. In the end my insurance company had to email a copy of the insurance policy to the lady at Spanish customs. Once that was done the rest was easy, they stamped the required paperwork and Swissport delivered the bike to us in the carpark at their warehouse. It took about an hour to unpack it and get it road worthy, by two o’clock we were on the road. At this time seven days ago we were in Brazil at the border crossing to Argentina now we were in Spain heading for Portugal. We stopped at KTM in Madrid to pick up a new air filter, oil filter, fuel filter and rear sprocket as I planned to do some much needed maintenance on the bike once we arrived at my parents place. It was too far to reach southern Portugal on Monday so we stayed one night in Trujillo in a hotel called Hotel Peru. Kind of funny because two months ago we were in Trujillo in Peru. On Tuesday we set off early and rode to the Algarve region of Portugal via Seville in Spain. At around two in the afternoon we arrived at my parents place, they heard the bike but didn’t think much of it so we were able to walk all the way to the rear and straight into the kitchen where they were sitting. Well needless to say, they got quite a shock.

We have been here now for a week and are thoroughly enjoying ourselves, we are especially enjoying the food. No more chicken and rice!! The plan for the moment is to stay here for another week or so then start making our way back to Germany through Spain and France hopefully arriving in Hamburg around the 26th of July. We also intend to make one or two more blog posts on the way but for now we’re having a break.

 

Colombia Two

Colombia Part One here

Today we visited the Las Lajas Sanctuary near the town of Ipiales which is situated right on the border with Ecuador. The sanctuary is impressive to see more so for its location than anything else. The story goes that an apparition of the Virgin Mary appeared in the cliff faceto some people when they were sheltering from a thunder storm about 300 years ago. The area was worshiped as a shrine for years until the sanctuary was finally erected over the space of about 30 years ending in 1949 or there abouts, so although it looks old it’s not really old at all but still impressive and worth the visit as it’s so close to Ipiales and most people travelling south go through Ipiales anyway to cross into Ecuador.

After Bogota we headed west towards the region known for coffee growing. The GPS said six hours but we have learned not to trust it so we were prepared to stay somewhere along the way if going was slow. As it turned out it was an extremely scenic drive through valleys and over mountain passes the road frequently reached 3000m and… the GPS ended up being right for once. We arrived in Armenia and searched for accommodation, we never book accommodation beforehand we have learned to begin searching after we arrive at our destination and always find something reasonable definitely more reasonable than the prices online. But this time it was taking longer, everything seemed to be full or oddly overpriced. It then dawned on us that Semana Santa was just beginning. Semana Santa is the long Easter weekend and a big holiday in Colombia. We were now competing with the whole population of Colombia which had mobilised to get away from the big cities to spend the long weekend with family. Eventually with some help from locals we found a cheap place with a car park for the bike. Our crash course in Semana Santa started the next day when we noticed a lot of shops were not opening or had limited hours plus the streets seemed to have 50% less people on them than usual. Our plan was to visit Salento next which is a small town in the mountains about 20 minutes from Armenia so we packed up and set off. We reached Salento pretty quickly but were disappointed to find out that it was completely swamped by long weekend travelers attending Salento’s Easter weekend festival which is one of the biggest events of the year in Salento as we found out. We were unable to find accommodation, the only offer came from a local woman offering a corner in her house to sleep for 70,000 Colombian Paseos a night, aside from the screaming children running laps around her we declined mainly due to the price. Up to now we have always found a pretty decent hotel room for 30,000 Paseos so she was chancing her arm a bit. We elected to ride out of town and stay somewhere else for a couple of days until the Easter madness had calmed down and then return to Salento. The town is a dead end there is one main road leading in and the same one must be used to leave. It winds down around some steep hills and when we were riding down it there was a good 5km of traffic standing still on the road trying to get up to Salento for the festival.

We rode north and onwards to Pereira and Manizales, one night in Pereira and two in Manizales. In Pereira we witnessed some of the Easter processions through the streets where people carried statues of Jesus and other Biblical characters. They were accompanied by a military band which played Simon and Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence over and over again.

In Manizales we stayed at a small hotel situated on the side of a mountain with great views over the valley below. Franziska couldn’t believe her luck with the amount of different types of birds that frequently stopped by. When Sunday finally arrived we made our way back to Salento where things had died down a lot. We cruised into town and found accommodation immediately, most of the stalls and attractions were still up for the festival so we got to see some of it after all. The main reason for visiting Salento was to take a day trip into the Cocora Valley national park a huge picturesque natural area high in the mountains only 10 minutes from Salento. The next day we hooked up with the Belgians Matthijis and Gerlinde again and hiked for 10 kilometres through the park. It was tough because of the altitude but worth it. We were already at 2000m at the beginning of the trail which raised up to 2800m by the end so we felt the strain on the lungs at times. Great scenery and well worth it, we spent another couple of days in Salento then made our way south towards Cali which we had always heard is a cool place so we were looking forward to it.

There is a huge military presence on the roads in Colombia, every 50km or so and in some areas much more frequently we would ride past a unit of armed soldiers standing on each side of the road facing the traffic. When you ride by they give you a thumbs up and I usually do it back. I’ve learned that this is a campaign running in the country to show the people that the military are friendly and on their side. Now and then you see posters on walls with a picture of a soldier giving the thumbs up and in Spanish is written something along the lines of “show your support”. A couple of days ago I saw another giant poster of a scene with soldiers in uniform helping a woman deliver a baby but I didn’t catch the text of that one. Anyway the reason the military came to mind was because as we headed south we saw more and more of them. I found it interesting today when we were riding up to the Las Layas Sanctuary we stopped at a red light and next to us was a military barracks which had a giant poster of mug shots of the FARC and ELN commanders still at large with some of the mug shots crossed out with a red line and the word captured beneath them. Back in San Gil when I was talking to the two policemen I took the opportunity to ask them if it is safe to drive everywhere, they told me it is now and not to worry that the only dangerous areas are far off in the mountains to the east and south east. They also recommended that we don’t drive on mountain passes late at night which we never planned to do anyway.

Back to Cali, even though it has an elevation of 1000m it was scorching hot the day we arrived. We had a little trouble finding a hostel at first, we checked a few but they didn’t have suitable parking. We were all sitting on the curb thinking (the Belgians were there too) when a guy walked up to us and asked us if we needed a hostel. It transpired that he was out promoting a new hostel handing out flyers at the bus station but the Police stopped him from doing it, put him in the back of their car and drove him away from the bus station. Lucky for us they dropped him off at the end of the road where we were sitting so he walked right by us. He led us to this brand new hostel which isn’t even online yet with its own car park and brand new modern facilities. We began to explore Cali the next day and tried to find out why people think it is so cool. Eventually we found out, it boils down to alcohol and salsa dancing. Cali considers itself the salsa capital of Colombia so you can either take lessons, watch a salsa show or just go to a salsa bar and enjoy the atmosphere. So if you don’t like dancing or going out drinking the coolness of Cali may go over your head.

Our next stop was Popayan, which presently surprised us, it is much smaller than Cali and has a definitive centre around a square. It is also a university town with most of the buildings in the old town painted white and looking colonial. On our second day there we were interviewed by two students as we exited the tourist information centre. They are studying tourism and wanted to ask us some questions about our visit to Popayan. It was in Spanish so it moved along in a jerky fashion until they came to the question why did we choose to visit Popayan? For some reason I’m not sure why, I blurted out PARTY! and made a drinking a beer motion with my arm over and over again while smiling at them. Of course we were not there to PARTY we just dropped in by chance but I think I just thought at that moment that they are sure to understand the word party and then all of a sudden I had over done it. The two students looked a little disappointed I think they were hoping for an answer relating to the culture of Popayan. Without the appropriate Spanish skills to undo my mistake I walked away from that interview feeling pretty guilty.

After a few days in Popayan we rode into the mountains to visit a native village which also had some hot springs. We had a hilarious experience at the hot springs but I’ll use my better judgement and not go into detail about it here. I’ll keep that one for the pub some time.

Onwards towards Ecuador we passed through Pasto where we stayed one night and now we’re in Ipiales. Colombia has been a great experience, I liked the scenery, the small towns and the people’s openness the most and I liked the smog the least. Although everyone seems to have a mobile phone and modern shopping malls selling stylish clothes are everywhere nobody seems to have done anything in regards to emissions standards. There are a lot of old vehicles on the road blurting out black smoke as they accelerate and you don’t want to get stuck behind one on a curvy mountain roan where you don’t have a chance to pass for a while. Any day we have made a journey at the end of the day when I wash and put a towel up to my face to dry it the white towel turns black from the exhaust particles which collected on me. Aside from that everyone should visit Colombia its so diverse. We actually clocked up 2500km since arriving in Cartagena, that’s like riding from Guatemala City through El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama to Panama City. Colombia is deceptively large.

Tomorrow, Ecuador.

On the road

On the road again

Colombia One

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The sea was quite choppy during the ferry crossing from Panama to Cartagena which led to most of the passengers feeling sea sick. Luckily we were not too badly affected although when standing in the queue for immigration after disembarking I felt the floor moving and I started to sway side to side I turned around and asked the others if they felt that? They all looked at each other and said felt what? I realised it was sort of a vertigo feeling I must have picked up from the crossing, I just concentrated and hoped that it wouldn’t happen again while I was walking over to the immigration officer to get my passport stamped if it did happen he wouldd probably think I was drunk or something.

Colombian Immigration and customs are so organized and pleasant compared to the Central American borders. For the importing of the bike we only needed ONE photocopy of each document and if you didn’t have it they said don’t worry we’ll make one for you. They took the documents away and returned about an hour later with everything finished we just had to wait for our name to be called so that we could go back to the ferry and collect the bike. Before long we were riding through the streets of Cartagena looking for accommodation with a small convoy of other travelers who we met on the ferry following behind us. At first we headed for the old town area but we soon realised that because of its tightly packed colonial architecture with narrow streets we wouldn’t be able to find a suitable place to stay where the bike could also be parked safely so we turned around and rode out of the old town taking shelter in an underground car park connected to a small mall. Here we waited for the rush hour traffic to calm down and get something to eat. Our first big surprise in Colombia came in the supermarket of that mall, we ate a pretty good meal for around 2.50EURO we all agreed that we could get used to this. With our appetites satisfied and rush hour over we set off again in our convoy eventually finding a nice hotel a little out from the centre for 10EURO a night for two people. It was nice to sleep in a normal bed again and to have the ferry experience behind us.

The next couple of days were spent exploring Cartagena with Matthijis and Gerlinde from Belgium who were part of the group that went to the same hotel as us. Cartagena follows the same rules as any other city in Latin America which receives a lot of tourism, it has an area where all of the tourists head to which in Cartagena  is called Getsemani and the Old Town. Then there is the rest of the city where tourists don’t go, from an outsider’s perspective these areas didn’t appear too different from other large cities we had passed through on the way through Central America. The one noticeable difference was the lack of U.S. brands in advertisements and in shops. Other than that you still had streets with five different shops in a row selling motor oil, five different shops in a row selling shoes, five different shops in a row selling umbrellas and then three bakeries beside each other. Ever since entering Mexico I’ve noticed this phenomenon of not seeing a single bakery, shoe shop, car parts shop etc. for miles only to come across four or five of them in a row next to each other I don’t know why it happens.

As we are tourists we headed straight for Getsemani and the Old Town, I might add that Cartagena was very hot the sort of hot where people are crossing the street to walk in the shade cast by buildings and leaving the path on the other side of the street in the sun completely empty. After an hour or two of exploring we came across a long queue of people disappearing into what looked like an old theatre. We spontaneously took the decision to join the end of it and walked into the theatre without problem. As soon as we were inside an usher closed the front doors and said no more that’s all. We found ourselves in a nice air-conditioned building watching a screening of a Peruvian movie. It turns out it was film festival week and all the people in the queue had been waiting for hours outside for this screening. Lucky we came across it just as they were all entering, it was great to escape the heat for the next two hours but to be honest the film was quite depressing.

After Cartagena we rode along the coast eastwards towards Santa Marta, on the road another nice surprise met us at the first toll plaza we arrived at. My first impression when I saw the toll plaza was damn I didn’t know they had toll roads here but then a motorbike passed us and the passenger who was holding his helmet in his hand instead of wearing it (another Latin American practice I don’t understand) waived at me with his other hand and motioned me to follow them so I did. All the way over to the right of the toll plaza is a lane marked Motos where motorbikes can pass through for free… Nice. Our Belgian friends were following in a car so they had to pay unfortunately. We made a stop in Barranquilla (incidentally Shakira’s home town) for lunch and then continued. Before reaching Santa Marta the road crosses a long sandbar and towards the end of the sandbar is a very make shift looking town called Pueblo Viejo. In the miles leading up to Pueblo Viejo the road is flanked on both sides by shanty town style dwellings where people were living in very basic conditions directly beside the road in an area which looked prone to flooding. Because the road was arrow straight I was able to observe a lot, both sides of the road were teeming with people. Kids were playing games having fun and smiling, adults were smiling too while talking to each other or performing some everyday tasks. When they noticed us the kids would stop their game pick up the football and wave and smile at us while adults would look over and give a thumbs up. I felt humbled when I saw that these people were happy for us even though most of them would probably never be able to do a trip like ours in their lifetime. Us passing by them on that expensive bike on a mission to explore places we haven’t been before would be like someone in their personal spacecraft on their way to Mars passing by rush hour commuters stuck in traffic on the way home from work in a major western city. We both felt very lucky to have the chance to be doing what we’re doing. An hour later we arrived in Santa Marta and checked into a hostel.

Santa Marta is a smaller version of Cartagena so we opted to ride into the hills overlooking Santa Marta to a very small town called Minca. There we stayed at a guest house run by a German man who moved to Colombia 25 years ago. We spent the next three days catching up on the blog post for Panama and avoiding the cicadas. What’s a cicada? Well I think it’s the world’s rudest insect, they are about the size of an adult’s thumb they have wings and spend days in the trees but get active at night. By active I mean they attempt to fly around, however even though they have wings they don’t seem to be able to use them properly to control where they’re going. After the sun set we felt like we were in a pinball machine trying to avoid rogue cicadas because when one hits you in the face you don’t want it to happen again. The other thing they are good at is making noise, when they land their rear seems to expand then a screeching noise starts which can reach 120db it’s loud enough to make you put your fingers in your ears. All of the guests would be sitting around the table talking and having a beer when a cicada would suddenly plonk down in the middle of the table like a bomb and start letting it rip causing us all to reel back. But that’s not all, they pee on you too. On the day we arrived I thought I felt rain and I looked up, sure enough another drop landed right in my mouth. I turned to a guy who was walking past and said did you feel rain? To which he said “oh no that is just the insects peeing on you” and then he walked off as if that’s just normal. Apparently they spend their days in the trees feeding on tree sap and then peeing at will on humans. I’m sure the one that landed it in my mouth got some high fives from his cicada friends. Cicadas the world’s rudest insect.

Along with blog writing and cicada avoiding we also contemplated what our next move would be after Minca. We considered Venezuela but opted out due to the heat. We had been riding in 35+ weather for roughly six weeks at that point and in full riding gear with helmet it can get very exhausting. Going to Venezuela would have meant continued hot weather whereas riding inland would bring us into a slightly cooler climate. We planned to ride to Bogota via San Gil and set off the next day.

We took it easy getting to San Gil and stopped twice, once in Bosconia and the second night in Aguachica. Both of these places are just normal Colombian towns, not a tourist or backpacker to be seen so we got a few looks from the locals. In Bosconia we sat down at a street vendor’s stall and started to play a dice game that Matthijis and Gerlinde had with them. Before long a crowd of men had gathered around us to watch the game it was an interesting experience. Everyone was genuinely just looking and intrigued but the spectators were very close to us trying to get a good look over our shoulders. When it was over the crowd just dispersed. We have spent around four weeks in Colombia so far and there hasn’t been one single time where we have felt unsafe in any way. Colombians are extremely friendly and fiercely proud of their country they want it to have a good image to the outside world.

Colombia has a diverse climate and thanks to it we were re-introduced to rain on our way to San Gil. I really enjoyed being wet and not being hot anymore while riding. Colombia also has a diverse landscape and from being in a Caribbean environment a few days previous we were now in mountains and riding twisty roads overlooking deep valleys climbing slowly in altitude until we would reach Bogota which sits at 2600m. San Gil was a pleasant change, it is a town dubbed as Colombia’s adventure sport capital. The main events on offer are mountain biking, para-sailing and white water rafting. We expected San Gil to be flooded with backpackers but in the four days we spent there we only saw about ten in total. It was just a normal Colombian mountain town where we enjoyed hanging out at the main square On one of the days we were there two police men walked over to us and struck up a conversation. It started slow because my Spanish isn’t that great and neither was their English but the conversation ended up lasting an hour and a half. How? Google Translate. After a couple of minutes struggling we all pulled out our phones and we were able to bring things to the next level. They started asking questions about what we thought of Colombia and that moved onto a lesson in Colombian history. Before long we were talking about Vladamir Putin and current world affairs. I would type into my phone in English and show them the translation, they would read it and nod their heads then type an answer in Spanish which I could read in English and visa versa. When they received a call on the radio to go somewhere else we had spoken for over an hour through the translation app and by that time we were also Facebook friends.

We took a bus ride up to the colonial town of Barichara during one of our days in San Gil. Barichara like many other colonial style towns in Colombia is protected as a national heritage site. While there we opted to walk the Camino Real which is a 5km trek between Barichara and the town of Guane. Guane is known for its local specialty of fried ants, apparently it’s supposed to be like eating popcorn but luckily they were out of stock when we got there.

We just can’t get enough of the food at reasonable prices here in Colombia. Another thing we can’t get over and keep getting caught out by are misleading menus in restaurants. One evening in San Gil I ordered the baby beef, it was written on the menu as “baby beef” in English although the rest of the menu was in Spanish, when I got it I couldn’t believe my eyes it was a huge slab of meat. I couldn’t even finish it or later stop talking about what good value it was to get such a large piece of beef for that price. The next day we went back to the same restaurant and I eagerly called over the waitress to ask what type of meet the other dishes were hoping for more beef. She pointed to each item and said what type of meat it was. Pork, pork, pork, chicken, chicken, goat, goat, pork, chicken. Goat? She pointed to the “baby beef” and said goat! I felt so tricked. Why would you call a goat dish baby beef? Anyway as I said this kind of thing keeps happening, yesterday I ordered a filet minion steak, when I began to eat it I thought this id really fatty then I started finding cocktail sticks throughout it. The cook had taken some random piece of meat and fashioned it into a steak shape holding it all together with cocktail sticks. Once you scraped the sauce off it looked like a meaty piece of swiss roll. Desserts are safe though..right? In Villa de Leyva we ordered an ice cream sundae. It looked great until we reached the middle layer of grated white chocolate. Only problem was it wasn’t chocolate it was grated white cheese! Cheese and ice cream just don’t mix. I wonder what they were thinking, we’re out of chocolate! Don’t worry just use cheese instead they won’t notice.

We rode to Bogota after San Gil but stayed a couple of nights in Villa de Leyva in between. Villa de Leyva is another one of those colonial protected heritage towns popular as a weekend destination for the Bogota wealthy. Its claim to fame is for having one of the largest central town squares in South America.

On the way to Bogota we had another new “first”, we were stopped by the police for the first time on the trip. We managed to ride 25,000km without ever having a police encounter until now. To be perfectly fair it was a routine check where they were stopping every second car and checking the insurance documentation but a police stop none the less. The police man was friendly, after I showed him the insurance he asked questions about the trip and after a couple of minute talking he gave us a fist bump and we were back on the road. Soon after the police stop we needed to get some fuel so I pulled in at the next petrol station I saw. As we approached the pump I realised too late that there was petrol all over the ground at the pump. Someone had obviously spilled it and nobody had noticed yet. It was too late by the time I saw it and the bike went down. We hopped off in a routine manner and I looked over at the attendant. She went white with guilt and embarrassment. While she was throwing sand on the spill she kept apologising and saying please don’t think badly of Colombia because of this, we told her not to worry these things happen. I really didn’t mind, the bike is built like a tank and it can take drops on the ground no problem at all. I tried my luck and asked for a discount but it wasn’t happening so we left.

 

We arrived in Bogota at around three in the afternoon, the traffic was bedlam. Within an hour I counted 4 different crashes, none serious just minor ones but they caused chaos. The GPS didn’t really work that well in Bogota it kept instructing me to make turns where it just wasn’t possible which made things a bit stressful. When driving in a city like Bogota you have to let go of the rules and just go with the flow. Once you’re in the flow everybody makes an effort to avoid each other and it seems drivers only pay attention to what’s on front of them and disregard what’s behind them, that way it’s everybody’s responsibility to not hit the vehicle on front of them even if it does perform a strange maneuver. Horn beeping is constant, it means hey I’m coming through. It is common for motorbikes and taxis to beep once to let the car before them know they are about to overtake. After an hour riding around Bogota we finally made it to the KTM dealership where I hoped to change the oil, last time was in New Mexico in November.

Back when we were in San Francisco we met a guy named Mateo, he told us when we’re in Bogota to contact his dad Gonzalo who is into motorbikes and likes to tour as well. I contacted Gonzalo and he put me in touch with Sebastian who is the co-owner of the newest KTM dealership in Bogota. We met Sebastian at the shop when we arrived, soon after that his brother Andres arrived who spoke good English and he started to give us some tips about Bogota. Sebastian said I could use their workshop the next day to change the oil and if there was anything else just to let him know. We also met Nicolas a customer who has the same type ok bike as me. He led us through the Bogota rush hour to a hostel where we stayed for the next four or five days. The next day I went back to KTM and changed the oil with the technician Hernan. I thought about changing the fuel filter as well but decided to wait until the end of the trip instead. The guys were all a great help if any KTM owners are traveling through Bogota in the future this is the place to stop for advice and maintenance.

Bogota was a mix of hot and cold, one minute it would be scorching hot then the next it would be overcast with black clouds and torrential rain would pour down. It rained about twice a day when we were there. We did all of the usual stuff that the guide books tell you to do all of which the gold museum was pretty impressive. After the gold museum we wandered south and when we were down around Calle 5 a man in a shop came out and told us we should turn around and not to go down that direction any further. I guess Bogota like Dublin too has its bad areas. We waited on a couple of days in order to meet Greg who caught up with us in Bogota, the three of us went out for dinner one night and we set off west the next day while he waited in Bogota to meet his girlfriend who was flying in from the States.

Colombia part two coming very soon..

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