Leg 7 Bogota Colombia to Cartagena
We left off with packing our bikes into shipping containers in Panama. We said a fond farewell to Bingo, Ruff and Wilda (our bikes alter egos). It’s always nerve-wracking to leave the bikes behind but especially in a foreign country. We joked about what new bikes we’d get if our bikes didn’t make the journey as we headed back to Guam and our normal lives.
I arrived in Bogota Columbia just ahead of Bob and Dan. Unfortunately, without my luggage. One thing you definitely need after flying from Guam to Colombia is some fresh underwear(it's a really long flight). A quick trip to a nearby shopping center solved my immediate concern. With my clothing situation sorted out and my luggage and Bob arriving the next day, it was time to find out if our bikes had arrived in Bogota. Great news! The bikes are in the customs holding area awaiting release to our possession. Bob arrives in Bogota and we decided to do what we could to take care of our TVIP (Temporary Vehicle Import Permit) while we are waiting for Dan to fly in.
It took Bob and I the entire next day to complete all the customs formalities for all three bikes. All that was lacking was a signature from Dan and he would take care of that the morning after he arrived in country. The next morning, we showed Dan were to go and what to do. He signed his paperwork and just like that our bikes are legally imported to Colombia. A victory that took two days. The next hurdle turned out to be our freight forwarders warehouse didn’t open until after 10 am. 3 guys from Guam decided that means it’s nap time until the warehouse opens.
Boxing Day! Really unboxing day. We always comment on how much it feels like Christmas day when we are reunited with our bikes. Partly because we sometimes forget what we left behind and partly the excitement of starting another adventure together. This return to the bike had the added excitement of some re assembling of the motorcycles.
Once the bikes were back together we made arrangements with our contact Freddy at BMW of Bogota for some much needed bike servicing. Dan and I are running a test on Mitas E07 vs Heidenau K60 tires to see if we will have the same wear and tear and mileage by the end of our South America ride. So far, they are both proving to be excellent tires for us both. The Mitas might be a bit longer wearing and the Heidenaus are a little bit grippier on the road. With no noticeable difference off road. One nod to Mitas is that when I failed to double check the sizes that RevZilla sent me and then carried with me from all the way to Colombia. The distributor in Bogota not only exchanged me tire for tire but he delivered my tire to the BMW shop free of charge. That’s some good customer service and worthy of acknowledgement. Stay tuned to see the final results of our head to head tire(tyre) comparison which should be just before Europe.
With the bikes safely in the shop and being cared for we took a trip to see the famous Zona T area of Bogota. This part of town is vibrant and bustling with activity especially in the evening. Our first night out together in Colombia and as you can imagine we found a tasty brew or two while we took note of the differences in culture from our previous travels. We found the people to be friendly, relaxed and inquisitive. Perhaps we studied the people a bit too long or we had one too many or maybe still jet lagged, maybe all three? At any rate we got a late start on the day and we needed to find our Seguro (insurance) for Colombia. We consulted the internet and locals alike. It is very easy to get one years’ worth of insurance, but we could only get a 90-day vehicle permit and insurance was not cheap in Colombia. We kept looking and luckily, we found month to month insurance and we prepaid for 3 months at a bicycle and car repair center that sold insurance on the second floor. This whole experience would have taken a few hours instead of days if we could only speak Spanish but our No Español total immersion style of travel is more exciting. After our procurement of insurance, a victory beer was in order and we soon learned what BBC meant and none of us thought it meant Bogota Beer Company. After a great meal and some great beer, we did a little route planning and headed back to repack and organize for our first ride in South America.
Leaving the city we encountered an unusual amount of traffic and it was slow going for a while. While we’re navigating the chaos, we begin the conversations about Pablo Escobar and the grip he had and, in some way, still has on the country. We saw some unusual things going down the highway that day too. Soon enough the traffic slipped away, and the surrounding area became lush green rolling hills and beautiful winding roads. The clouds came down to kiss the tops of the mountains and the scenery and cool weather reminded us of parts of Ireland. We thought interesting that none of us expected Colombia to look and feel the way it did. Chalk it up to our lack of planning or our “Winging It” moto but it was a pleasant and welcome surprise.
We are headed to the town of San Gil very near the Amazon Rain Forrest and as one would expect we experienced some heavy rain that slowed our progress. Undeterred if not a little soggy we arrived in San Gil and found a quaint Bed and Breakfast called the Terrazas Hotel. We try not to ride at night for a number of reasons, but we didn’t get in until after 7 and a warm shower and hot food was the next order of business. We met some real characters that we thoroughly enjoyed that evening, Carolina and Yareyi from Bogota Tv. They have a travel show and were out shooting for some new content and having a great time living life to the fullest.
We said our goodbyes to our new friends and headed out on the road. Less than 5 kilometers down the road we came across a hotel made from an old airplane.
We are pilots after all and we had to stop and check this place out, it had a wonderful Indiana Jones vibe to it, and I think each one of us would gladly travel back to spend the night. Onward we travel to Floresta. A tiny town with a really friendly dog and a simple lunch.
Soon after lunch we encountered a couple of friendly guys on an underpowered motorcycle pushing the limits to keep up with us and all smiles, for a while. We came across a deep curve in the road which is very enjoyable on most motorcycles. Unfortunately for me, I was next to these happy fellows as they tried to navigate the turn and forced me off the road. I’m sure Bob and Dan had nearly crapped themselves during the long pause between” Oh crap” and “I’m okay”. In reality it was probably a second or two, but I am sure it seemed like a long time to the guys. The happy fellows that caused my excursion stopped and helped me out of the ditch. We already had the bike upright before Dan and Bob made it back. They sure where happy to see that I was okay. The only damage was to one of the aluminum panniers (metal storage box). Believe me not one of us have anything good to say about the Touratech panniers sold by BMW. More on that later.
Our troubles that day were just beginning. A few miles further towards our destination and Dan’s rear tire went flat. We weighed our options and decided it was a good time to practice fixing a flat on the side of a road with limited space. It took nearly every tool we had and all three of us plus a few choice “magic words” that are not suitable for publication, but we did it and got back on the road.
The crash and the flat tire caused us to once again ride in the night on our way to Auguachica. We were so grateful to www.Cyclopsadventuresports.com for providing us with a partial sponsorship and the super bright light that keeps us safe on the road. As helpful as Google maps has been Auguachica was a rare Google Map failure that had us going around and around trying to get into town. We finally hopped over a median and made it into this very sketchy town. On the outskirts of town some guys on motorcycles chased us down trying to lead us to a hotel for the night. None of us had a good feeling about these characters and we did our best to lose them before we found a place to stay for the night. The Hotel Light Plaza was staffed with some really nice people and I think it was the least expensive place we stayed on the entire trip so far. The night clerk even found someone to bang my pannier back into shape in the morning. We had breakfast in the morning while we waited for my pannier to be repaired and then headed out for the most Northern part of Colombia Santa Marta.
We stayed at a brand-new AC hotel that was beautiful and right by the ocean. This is as close to Venezuela as we would come on our ride around the world and our education about the predicament the people of Venezuela are facing began in earnest. Santa Marta is an interesting mix of high-end tourism, backpackers and Venezuelan immigrants. We took some side trips and checked out the charming old parts of town the first night. The next day on the advice of some friends we made at the hotel we went to Parque National in Magdelena. It was a quiet little beach and we chilled out there for a while and had a tourist priced beer. The storm clouds started to roll in and we decided it was time to take the dirt trail back into town before the dirt turned in to mud. Too late! It started to pour, and we hid under a shed with some locals and swapped beer and cookies and had a few laughs while we tried to communicate with a combination of charades and our badly spoken Spanish while they played cards.
Soon there was a short break in the weather, and we made a run for it. The rain became a deluge as we made our way into town, soaking wet and covered in mud we were happy to be close to home. The water in the road went from a few inches deep to several feet deep in the few minutes it took us to park and unload the bikes. The roads had become rivers and we began to wonder if we were going to be able to ride in a day or a few days. The next day was beautiful and hardly a drop of water remained except in a few low spots and it was time to head to our planned original destination of Cartagena.
There was a really long land bridge that looked really awesome on the map, but it turned out to be miles and miles of mud and tin homes with huge piles of plastic trash everywhere you looked. It was incredibly sad to see and caused us to kind of rush through the area and continue past Barranquilla directly to Cartagena. We settled in to our lodging and ready to explore the city of Cartagena. The unique juxtaposition of old and new is ever-present in this unusual city. All along the beach you would swear you were in Florida. Brand new sparkling skyscrapers all condos and hotels line the beachfront.
While if you go in the opposite direction everything was built in the 40’s, the 1540’s.
The old city is a World Heritage site and takes on two distinct personalities by day and by night. Loaded with stunning architecture and good restaurants and bars. However, I didn’t see anything that reminded me of the movie Romancing the Stone, but it has been a couple of decades since I’ve seen it. Every single block in Cartagena has a different feel about it and it can be a difficult place to get a sense of because of its uniqueness. Another uniqueness to Cartagena and its surrounding area is finding parking.
We were happy to have one of Dan’s good friends Todd Inghram join us while exploring this very unique city. Todd fit right in with this motley crew and was always ready to try anything we thought of doing. For example, “hey Todd we are thinking about going to this mud volcano and getting inside it, want to go?” I think he said "yes" before we finished saying “hey Todd”. We all hope Todd can join us again somewhere along our journey.
When you arrive at the mud volcano it just looks like a big mud hill with some rickety stairs leading up to the top. Once you are at the crater lip you see a giant mud pit with people floating and slithering around. No such thing as personal space exists once you enter because suddenly you are weightless and suspended in this pudding like mud. It is such a weird feeling to float in this stuff and then you feel as well as hear this rumble coming from below and it gets louder and faster as it approaches the surface. Excitement builds, questions form in your mind about what might happen, you feel the vibrations flowing through your body and then…..bloop, a little mud bubble pops nearby. All bark and no bite, it just added to the weirdness of slithering around with a bunch of strangers groping around trying to move in the mud. When you have had enough mud fun you slosh down to the river where some ladies dunk you in the river and scrub mud out of parts of your body you were unaware you had. After the requisite propina (tip) we headed to a shack like tavern and giggled about the weird experience we just had. Some local kids came by and Bob gave them a lesson in Thumb Wrestling. We had so much fun that day and we topped it off with a ride on the beach to a restaurant that made a fantastic grilled fish dinner and we had a remarkable sunset too.
It was time to find a place to store our bikes and Bob and I followed up on a lead about Mega Motors. We met one of the owners Daniel and he showed us around the shop. Daniel was very helpful, and we agreed to keep the bikes with him while we were back on Guam. The next day we said goodbyes to our bikes and headed for home. We reflected on how different Colombia was from Central America and how close they are in distance. The small space between Panama and Colombia known as the Darien Gap must be one of the reasons things evolved so differently but we suspect it’s the incredible diversity in the land itself that makes the people as unique as this beautiful country.