First days in Colombia

January 29, 2010

I admit I had a rough start to traveling in Colombia.

I thoroughly enjoyed Central America, and had had the thought just before crossing over “why not just spend the second half of my trip touring back up to the USA–save South America for another trip, and this way I”ll have my way cool Twisted Bike back in the States for riding this summer…”

It was also a big leap intellectually and physically–I mean, in South America is so faaaaaaaaaaaaaaar, and not so easy to turn around and just go home. Plus I confess to a certain excitement AND trepidation as I cross a border and head off into another unknown. (Every country has it’s own accent, customs, driving tempo, foods, people, moods, etc. It takes some adjustment to the new rules of travel every time you cross a border.)

Plus I was (am!) missing Edward.

Compound all this with my well-meaning Latin friends who gave the the thorough primer on all the ways in which I could be drugged, kidnapped, robbed, extorted, and generally be taken advantage of, all the roads to watch out for, all the areas where the guerillas lay waiting to capture gringas like me, well, lets just say I was SPOOKED!

I decided to ride the first few days with Adolfo, and follow his agenda. We left Bogota with no sightseeing whatsoever, and headed straight to Medellin.

As soon as we got out of Bogota, we stopped roadside for lunch.

Pollo (chicken), boiled yucca, fried plantain (maduro) and papas (potatoes).

The road from Bogota to Medellin is a gorgeous one. It is also a heavily trafficked one, and I learned very quickly that driving in Colombia is a whole another experience. I am grateful for the “warm up” I got in central America, because, oh my Gosh, the driving in Colombia is d-a-n-g-e-r-o-u-s. In other countries it was sort-of acknowledged that motorcycles had the right to pass first, being lighter and faster.  n Colombia, it’s every-person-for-himself and you will start passing a car or truck, only to find out that someone is already passing YOU! You have to use all your senses and I have long since stopped wearing earplugs while riding. I find I need all my senses completely on alert. I’m about two weeks behind on the blog, but you’ll see I’ve taken some pretty interesting traffic pics…

Anyway, this country is G-E-O-R-G-E-O-U-S.

Ah, adios chicken buses, hellooooooooo CHIVA!


Adolfo and I stop for gas, and next door is a fruit stand. This friendly fellow with one leg lets me try a fruit called “mangostino”. It’s the shape of a tangerine, color of a beet, with fruit like a pomegranate, that tastes like heaven. I bought a bag full! (Yeah, and after eating a whole bag full had some interesting results the next morning!)

A little further on we asked local policemen where to find the nearest hotel–it was getting  dark, and it was clear we would not make it to Medellin that night. They directed us to the Mar y Mar hotel…which was not actually a hotel at all but rather an “auto hotel”, where they rent rooms by the hour…

So, my first night in an ‘auto hotel’. Sola. Adolfo was right–they are clean, convenient, and remarkably discreet. The best part is there is a private garage for your moto.

You can order food, drinks, and toiletries and they will be delivered into this cubby…you just leave your money in there, and no need for embarassment or discretion. Brilliant! (This is breakfast–but you know me, I had to TALK to the lady through the cubby. Sick of bending through the window, I went outside into the courtyard, then followed her back to see the kitchen, where they explained to me how Arepas are made…

I did not have WiFi here but since I awoke very early I decided to write an article on my first experience in an auto hotel…I’ll post a link to it here and in another entry when it gets published…

Mar y Mar hotel was in La Dorada, which was pretty flat and agricultural.

Well here’s a cool thing about Colombia: their roads are really super and while they are smattered with Piajes, motorcycles do not pay. Instead, there’s a lane to the far tight that is for motos only. The brilliant thing is that they have all sorts of shapes and sizes and lengths…so its a fun obstacle course trying to get your motorcycle through this narrow passage while holding your breath that you don’t slip up and catch a pannier on the concrete barriers on either side of the lane.

Lots of road construction going on…but just like all the other countries so far, legal or not, the custom is for motorcycles skip to the front of the line.

No, he’s not a bad rider, rather we’re getting into the groove of passing on the double yellow. Goddess help me when I return to the states as I’ve picked up a few ‘local’ habits south of the border…


OK, here we stop for a drink and have a bit of fun. By now (day 2 riding in Colombia January 30, 2010 La Dorada to Medellin) we have passed through quite a number of military checks, every time being waved right through because  we look like foreigners I assume. A few times we’ve asked why all t he military and every time the answer is the same: guerilleros (guerillas). Here we ask again, and they just say “it’s always like that here”. REALLY? I find the unemotional answers from several different people interesting.  I am not so sure, given MY background, that I could every really just accept guerillas as a way of life.  But throughout my trip I find just that: people are open to talking about is, the changes the country has gone through with the current President, Uribe, taking a bold stand on the guerillas and essentially beating them back to the borders.  Anyway, I am getting ahead of my story.

Here, TANKS!

Now at this point I am still too new in Colombia to feel free to take open pics of the military (especially since Adolfo is EX-military and is always telling me I shouldn;t be doing things–like taking pics inside the airports and such…) Sneaky pic between the gas pumps…

Sneaky pic from far away…

Sneaky pic from over teh shoulder…

hey it’s kinda fun to have someone to ride with after so much time alone…

Getting bolder with the pics (even though I take it when his back is turned…)

Oofa, a HUGE city! Set in a bowl in between the mountains…

It’s crazy traffic…

At a stoplight this duo wave like mad at me… I signal if I can take their picture and they agree. Happy Kids!

After stopping several times to ask directions, Adolfo just  decides to hire a cab to lead us to his friend’s house. Try trying to keep up with a bike trying to keep up with a taxi! Quite the ride…

We get to Jose and Patricia’s house in a really nice section of Medellin,  and they invite me to stay with them. Patricia has to go to work soon (she’s a nurse) but she’s off tomorrow and we’ll do a city tour together. Chevere (or, “cool” as they say here in Colombia).

Even though they live in a private community with a guard, and an iron fence out front, they still suggest I cover the bike  on their patio. OK. So I pull out the cover for only the second time of my trip.

Adolfo and I order another chicken-in-a-box (not as good as Bogota), eat, and visit a bit.

I need to change some money, and I also need to buy a road map of Colombia, so I ask if tehre is a place I can walk to…after a great deal of strategy, finagling, etc. Patricia arranges for her daughter to come over and take me to the mall (ugh! second one of my trip and I NEVER go to the mall in the US!). They bunde me up with the daughter, give me all sorts of advice about how to get the money without having anyone rob me, and we’re off in a taxi.

I am truly grateful, but all this adds to my un-ease of being in Colombia. Soldiers with tanks, military checks every 20-30 miles, don’t eat anything a stranger gives you, don’t walk around the nice neighborhoods as a gringa by yourself. Oofa.


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