Colombia….Back On The Map!
Before we started this trip I had read and been told that Colombia was ‘Back on the Map’ in terms of tourism….it’s true and you can see why – what a beautiful country, full of super friendly people 🙂
Our first few days in Colombia were spent in Cartagena – for me that meant recovering from a few days being ill on the Stahlratte (I have decided that sailing really isn’t for me!!). It took a few days for the sensation of being on a boat whilst lying in bed to disappear.
We also met up with our fellow sailors for final meal together on dry land before all heading our separate ways. We met some great people and enjoyed exchanging stories of our trips.
Dan also had some free time to ‘tweak’ a few things on the Transalp….I’m not sure what the other guests at the hotel thought about having 4 bikes parked around the pool, especially when everyone was carrying out maintenance too.
A slight lack of concentration by Dan, who was chatting away whilst tightening a bolt, led to him shearing the bolt off. It was the clamp which holds the front axle in place. Unfortunately he continued to tighten the other 3 bolts but the uneven pressure caused another one to pop off….uh oh! A bit of research online and it seemed that Honda had discontinued these.
With the bike now unrideable, Dan caught a Moto taxi into town to a local bike shop recommended by the hotel. Amazingly, they had the exact parts we needed…..panic over!!!
We did make a rather odd purchase of an old shoe whilst in Cartagena too (just the one, bought from some strange man selling them on the side of the road) – we needed a thick piece of rubber to stop our center stand banging under the bike – it seemed like a good idea at the time, but it didn’t do the trick so Dan had to pop to a DIY shop for something more suitable 🙂
This did mean that we ended up staying a bit longer in Cartagena than the other bikers as we hadn’t yet ventured around the old city to see the sights.
Cartagena is an old walled colonial town, the supposed setting off the film ‘Romancing The Stone’. Although it turns out none of it was even filmed in Colombia – so walking around looking for familiar ‘sights’ from the movie wasn’t possible. Here’s a few snaps of the old city though…..it is a pretty cool place.
When we finally left Cartagena, we headed north towards the old fishing village of Taganga. We drove through the town of Barranquilla, which was a pretty unpleasant experience. It was super hot, the roads were crazy busy and the town was dirty and not a place most people would want to be – anyway, it turns out this was in fact the hometown of Shakira – I bet she never comes back here now though!!
Taganga was a nice place to spend a few days (especially because Dan wanted to watch the final F1 race of the season so we had to check-in for a couple of nights), although the heat and humidity was almost too much and a/c was a must.
They did sell some odd gifts here…..
Next up we started heading south towards the start of the Andes. We had an overnight stay in the town of Aguachicha at a really friendly hotel. They couldn’t do enough for us and then in the morning the husband and wife very excitedly handed us a gift – a porcelain Colombian mini truck. They looked so happy about giving it to us that we couldn’t say no – even though it’s way too big for us to carry with us – we don’t really have space for things like this. So we’re going to have to post this one home I think 🙂
Horse and cart is still very much used over here – you often see them riding along through towns alongside brand new cars – it’s like they’ve moved on with the times….but also stayed in the past…I like it.
After Aguachicha we headed into the mountains to the town of San Gil. The scenery in Colombia is amazing, it changes so much throughout the day as you ride along.
The roads can be a bit scary though, lots of big slow moving trucks and crazy overtaking locals.
One of the good things in Colombia is that motorcycles don’t have to pay the tolls on the roads – they have a little motorcycle lane along the side so we can just nip down through and be on our way. The first time we did this I was sure I had read that this was correct, but it wasn’t signposted as a motorcycle lane and I wasn’t 100% sure, so I was looking back after we went through to check we weren’t being chased by any officials for not stopping to pay, thankfully I was correct and we’re not now on the run.
Next up we headed to the picturesque town of Villa de Leyva, a really quaint little town. We also caught back up with Mike, Uli and David who were on the Stahlratte with us. Mike helped to guide us to their hotel when we arrived in the main square looking lost.
And, just for a change, Dan had the Transalp in bits again when we arrived – nothing serious, we had just developed a squeak and needed to make sure everything was all nicely greased. This is becoming quite a regular thing though, the bike seems to require lots of attention – I guess that’s what happens when you ride a 25 year old bike.
The following day, Uli and David headed off early as they both needed to go to Bogota to see their bike dealerships. We rode with Mike to Zipaquira to check out the underground Salt Cathedral.
They even had an LED display in the entrance tunnel to the salt mines which was displaying the flags from around the world – so we stopped for a while to wait for the Union Jack.
We stayed at a hotel near the center of Zipaquira, which was also being used by a school as a base on their school trip. The children and teachers were all excited the following morning when they saw the bikes in the car park and we spent half an hour chatting with them – us practicing our Spanish and they were practicing their English.
We planned to ride that morning to Salento, which would be around 380km’s – a long day but not impossible – we’ve ridden further before. Uli and David were also headed that way, so hopefully we would all reunite.
There were quite a few patches of roadworks which held us up a little bit and we did get lost a few times early in the day as we tried to navigate some minor roads to avoid the need to ride through Bogota.
We stopped in the town of Honda for gas, a quick drink and of course, a photo of our Honda in Honda 🙂
As the day went on, the roads got more windy, the altitude got higher, the clouds thicker and lower (we were riding through them at times with zero visibility), the weather got colder and the rain started. With still well over 100km’s to go and our average speed getting slower, it was time to reassess. At another long wait where the road was temporarily closed, we got the guide book out and decided to just head to the city of Menizales which was closer.
By the time we reached the city we were soaked and freezing cold. Mike had had a puncture, which thankfully he was able to re-inflate and keep riding – changing a tube on the side of that road in that weather would not of been fun. We had picked a hostel out of the Lonely Planet and after getting a bit lost around the one way system, we finally arrived. The hostel had no parking, but they decided that as they were not opening their restaurant up for a couple more days, we could just park up in there.
A quick check of the email when we arrived and we discovered that Uli and David had also re-thought their plans before they headed off that morning and were heading our way. They had heard that 4 of the other bikers from the Stahlratte were staying at a hostel in the city as one of them had broken down – it turned out their hostel was right across the road from ours….so within a couple of hours, 8 of the bikes from the boat were all back together, even though it seemed none of us had planned on staying in Menizales intentionally….. 🙂
After a catch up over drinks that evening and then breakfast with some of the others the next day, we hit the road with Mike to head onto our previously planned destination of Salento. Uli and David would follow on later in the day – Uli needed to go get an X-ray first due to a slight mishap on some rough road – all is well though, no broken bones and no serious damage to his bike!!
We met up in a hotel in town and headed out for dinner…..
And then shot some pool in town whilst some of the locals played dominoes and cards in the corner – this small town has a really great feel to it, in fact, this country has a really great feel to it 🙂
We all had a bit of a laugh when a lady walked around the bar giving all of the guys free condoms. We were all looking intently trying to figure out what she had in the box as we wouldn’t want to miss out on a free gift – so they made sure they got one too!!
….perhaps something they should try in some other countries!
It’s definitely time for a rest day off the bike….we’re now relaxing and planning our onward journey. Not too sure how I feel about the prospect of being in the Andes for the next few months though – I’m missing the hot weather and not enjoying feeling cold – it might be time to buy some thermals 🙂