An overlander's account of South and Central America by motorbike - the trusty Suzuki DR650. Within are great travel tips and hints (2011).

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Courteous Colombia - Ipiales to Medellin (1-9 May 2011)

Colombia...the country where if you mention it to someone they say "man are you crazy, you're gonna get killed there". Colombia, it turns out, was one of the safest countries I've been through with a massive police and military presence everywhere. It also has some beautiful countryside and fantastic people. More than 10 years ago it was a less safe country but now its fantastic. Don't miss out on it because of what someone says that hasn't been there. Colombia was ROCKIN!

1 May 2011 (271 km) - Laguna la Cocha (Camp)
So that was it.  Today Calvin and I woke up feeling seedy after a night out in Otavalo.  We headed off towards the border.  I didn't make it out of Ecuador without dropping the bike one more time though!  We'd pulled up to the front of the line at a roadworks stop.  I reached into my pocket to grab a lolly to give to the lollipop guy (fittingly).  I dropped it!  No worries I thought.  I'd picked stuff up off the ground many times before without dropping the bike!  I'd already turned the bike off, so I leant over the RHS to pick up the lollie.  As I did, my shoulder touched the ignition button, and as the bike was in gear, and the key still on the bike jumped and jumped and jumped!  All Calvin could see was me hoppin forward half off the bike not having any idea what was going on.  Was Nessie suddenly possessed I'm sure he thought!  I stacked it right in front of the lollipop guy.  Scrambled out from underneath Nessie and handed him the lollie.  Shitballs!!!  Eventually we made it to the border at Ipiales and eventually crossed over with no worry, and in a decent time too.  While we were there we met a couple of Argentinians travelling on Harley's.  We ducked off to get lunch a few hundred metres away and I found myself being asked to take a photo with some girls and my bike!  WHAT BIKE!  Turns out one of the Harley's was across the road!  I told them it wasn't mine, but it didn't matter!  Rock on...I now drive a Harley!

So, we entered Colombia.  Calvin.  1 KLR650.  Rossy.  1 Nessie DR650.  1 guinea pig in box.  We drove down some roads in aims of getting to Mocoa but being way too late to achieve it.  Somehow we missed the massive church at the border.  Not sure how!!  There were armed military walking along the roads in Colombia, all of them giving a thumbs up as we rode by.  At one stage we pulled up to take a photo of a massive waterfall and a guy pulled up behind a car and told us he taught english.  Eventually he recommended we camp at Laguna la Cocha which is where we decided to head.  After heading through some beautiful Colombian hills we arrived at a pass overlooking the lake where we pulled over to take some pics...and pump up a guys front tyre on his car...and its 8 passengers!  We found camp at the end of a village at Laguna la Cocha.  We ducked into town for a look as it was beautiful!  A small quiet village set amidst a canal with floating canoe dinghys and private bridges crossing to little houses.  We spent an hour or more playing soccer and volleyball in the streets with some kids.  Some other kids were hammering brandname beer bottle caps into flat coins to send back to the factory.  When they sent enough they would receive a free plastic table and cheer set!  Slept like a baby after this with our guinea pig playing in its little area inside Calvin's tent.

 These guys at the border were transporting all sorts of goods.  Most cars were JAM-packed full of biccies.

The waterfall we stopped to take a photo of when the english teacher stopped to have a yarn.

The village at Laguna la Cocha by night.


2 May 2011 (281 km) - San Agustin (Camp)
After packing up camp we headed off for the dirt road, mountain pass to Mocoa.  We knew it was dirt and was gonna take some time but wow...this road was shot!  The biggest problem was the large sharp rocks jutting out at tyre-piercing angles!  The road was about 120km or so and took us a few hours to get over, chasing slow trucks, crossing creeks, passing waterfalls and soaking in the cloud and mist.  We stopped in Mocoa to grab a bight and just as we were leaving the storms hit!  Welcome to the north hemisphere in wet season lads!  We finally made it to San Augustin and found a campsite 1.5 km out of town toward the archeological site, which is what we were here for.  I rocked up to the campsite and had a chat with the bloke of the first things I asked was 'do you have a fireplace by chance'.  Did he EVER have one.  He baked his on bread and not only did he have a fireplace or 3, but dry wood as well!  So, unfortunately for the Otavalan guinea pig, it was the end of days.  I butchered him up and took the fur off so as to eat the skin as well.  We roasted him over the fire with some honey, soy, garlic and spring onions.  An absolute delight!!  Next time its gonna be a goat.

The local police ride...DR650s!  Thats a sign.  The worlds most tested police need the worlds most proven bike ;)

 Stuck behind trucks on the slow road from the Laguna to Mocoa.  A beautiful ride.

 Our guinea pig before he passed away.

And as he was presented...

3 May 2011 (287 km) - Villaviaje (Hostel)
After cooking some brekky we checked out the sweet archeological site down the road.  It was full of 3-8 ft stone statues in gardens everywhere from pre-Colombian times.  We returned to town and grabbed a bite to eat and tucked in to the bitumen just as the rains set in.  At one stage Calvin was ahead of me and I was being waved over buy a guy next to a car.  All sorts of thoughts flew through my mind from the Colombian stories I´d heard.  So I checked in with SPOT and asked what he wanted...turns out he was 20m before the top of the hill and needed a push to get the car started again!  We got him going no worries and he was off.  I eventually caught Calvin and we headed off to Desierto de Tatacoa; not really a desert, but some open earth thats been washed into fantastic shapes by the rain.  There was also an observatory here, but it was a touch misty today...pissing rain!  We headed back and heard it was possible to cross the river in boats instead of doubling back 40km.  The previous rain had risen the river and the canoes were way to small anyway!  I asked just for shts n giggles and the canoe guy was pretty much like "hellllllll no!".  We ducked back into town and managed to find a nice hostel with a pool for cheap and grabbed some tea in a local restaurant.  Fantastic end to a soggy day.
 One of the many statues at the San Agustin.

 A nice break to check out the mirador.

 Desierto de Tatacoa.  Wet as a plumbers crack.

I asked if we could climb the bell tower to check out the village square in Villaviaje.  No worries!

4 May 2011 (532 km) - Near Versalles (House)
We left Villavieje early and headed back to Neiva then on towards Espinal, Ibague, Armenia, Pereira and towards Medellin.  It was a farely uneventful day with a busy Ibague connecting road.  We made it to Santa Barbara where we heard there were hotels but there were none with parking!  So we grabbed some food as darkness set in and eventually set off in search of a bed!  We found a campsite but I made the call that it wasn´t safe or pleasant enough!  Eventually we pulled into a town on the highway and asked where a hotel was.  They said down the road and as we were about to take off a guy said...wellllll!  Turns out we got to stay at a house that he was probably housesitting for 5 bucks a night...all to ourselves!  Or maybe it was a hostel in the making?
One of the churches just before Medellin.

 Snapped this pic just before this guy drove by me...on the wrong side of the road!

 He was actually being towed backwards...but I´ve seen this hundreds of times I thought I´d post it.

Riverside village.

The house we stayed at for the night.

5-6 May 2011 (40 km) - Medellin (Casa Kiwi)
After falling 30km short of Medellin the night before we poked into the city early in the morning the next day.  Stupidly I didn´t write down the address of the hostel I was planning on staying at (a fellow motorbikers hostel setup).  We asked for directions and ended up following a guy through the city for quite some time (with Calvin´s chain falling off once in the meantime!) and eventually made it to Casa Kiwi.  My GPS power inlet had shat itself again so I put it in to get fixed...AGAIN!  I ducked into downtown for a walk after a big lunch and then decided to drink 1 L of bagged yoghurt on my walk home...making my run down quiet tracks just in case I had to spew.  YEP, it was that bad all of a sudden!  We went to town nearby for a couple of drinks and I saw my first "Hooters" bar.  I felt sleazy enough being there, but to add to it, there was a sleazy old guy at the bar chattin up the ladies.  At one stage he disappeared, only to return with a folder of photos of other women at bars and asking the workers at Hooters if their boobs were like those in the photos.  I had a word to him saying it wasn´t appropriate to which he responded that he´d been in Panama for 7 years and Colombia for 7 years...but seems he hadn´t bothered learning a touch of spanish.  SPIT.  Thats all on that one.  The next day was just another quiet day in the city running my to-do-list errands...mostly bike parts and repairs etc.
 Another church in Medellin.

 And another old colonial building.

 Pablo Escobar´s grave and site where he was shot on the roofs by police as he tried to escape.

7-8 May 2011 (80 km) - San Antonio Prado (Mario´s house)
The next morning Calvin (with a new chain, sprockets and oil) and I took off to check out Pablo Escobar´s grave and death site on our motos.  Pablo was one of the biggest outlaws of the day, trafficking cocaine like few other.  He was also known as a bit of a "Robin Hood", buying entire neighbourhoods and schools for the poor...but also killing hundreds of different authorities and others in his time.  After this I checked on my GPS which wasn´t ready to go til Monday so we finally caught up with Mario (a HUBB community member) and stayed with him for a couple of nights in a suburb on the edge of Medellin.  He took us to the local biking hangout where we had a few drinks, as well as the local restaurant above the city, a mates house for a birthday party and a local discoteca!  The next day (Happy Mothers Day mum!!!) we went for a bit of a ride through the forest in the hills and ended up in a little lodge where we had a beer and checked out the salmon farm before returning.  We split up from Mario and returned to his house via the bikers hangout...they shouted us free burgers for lunch!  A great group of people all round and big thanks to Mario and his family!  Mario had been helping 3 bikers whose bikers dropped into the pond (the Caribbean) in the journey from Panama to Colombia by boat.  The entire bikes had to be stripped down and cleaned.  A HUGE task.  Turns out one of the KLRs got going, only to get his bike stolen in a parking lot in Cusco, Peru.
The view from one of the pubs near Mario´s.  Medellin below.


 Breakfast at Mario´s.  Mario, his mother and his grand-niece.

 The view from above the lodge.  And the lodge.

 Grandfather´s whiskers near Mario´s.  There ya go mum n dad!

A catalyst for the asado (BBQ).  Dad does this at home with the air compressor...this one is for him!

9 May 2011 (247 km) - Near Taraza (Camp)
After doing some minor welding in town (which Mario wouldn´t let me pay for) we picked up the GPS and headed out from Medellin around 1400h, in the direction of Cartagena.  I paid $20 to get my GPS fixed and within an hour of leaving the city it was playing up.  The next day it was dead again.  I was keen to camp and as we pushed the borders of night I started asking a few farmers if we could camp.  Eventually some dairy farmers let us, not only camp, but throw our mattresses down in a room they had free!  With a fan too!
Colombia, and many other South American countries have a free lane for motorbikes at the tolls! Here´s Calvin navigating one.  Watch ya panniers though!

 Hitchin a ride...

 Nice restaurant beside the road.

Part 2 of Colombia soon...

1 comment:

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