Monday, December 20, 2010

“Let me see you move like you come from Colombia….”

Angela writes:

It was sad to say goodbye to our new friends (Beatriz & family, Andre) and to our “old” friends (Naomi & Alberto heading North) in Bogota after such intense days filled with side-splitting laughter and fun. We went to bed laughing in our sleep and believed that even our toes were smiling for these photos. We were however eager to start riding again and to explore the great outdoors of Colombia.

So far Colombia seems like “bike heaven”.  There are so many motorcycles here and not just small 150cc bikes but big, beautiful, powerful bikes. Yesterday we met a cardiologist and his shiny new Yamaha Super Tenere – a hot new 1200cc not yet available in North America. Everyone in Colombia  so far have been wearing helmets (unlike Mexico & Central America) and most seem to wear gear. In the last couple days of riding we have encountered about 10 toll roads but the fees do not apply for motorcyclists and there are convenient little alleyways built up the right hand side of the toll booths to escape any lineup or obligation.  According to law your license plate number needs to appear in stickers on the back of your motorcycle helmet and most people also wear vests with these numbers imprinted on it as well. 

It came as no surprise to us then when on our way out of Bogota we were stopped on the side of the highway by a motorcycle traffic police officer.  He was super nice and pointed out that we did not have our numbers on the back of our helmets.  When Daryll cheerfully explained that we were tourists and didn’t have numbers the officer just smiled, and tilted his head like he had no arguments (especially with us poor-Spanish speaking foreigners) and motioned us on our way. At the next gas station Daryll pulled out our dollar store stickers (which we used previously to “extend” the date on our license plates) and added our license plate numbers to the back of our helmets. It will at least give police one less reason to pull us over.

We had a long, windy, painfully slow but beautiful, full-day ride to Manizales.  There was a great deal of construction on the roads and clean up from recent mud slides. The roads were always climbing or descending huge green mountains and we often got stuck behind semi trailers and dump trucks.  I bustled up my courage several times to pass these mammoth vehicles on yellow solid-line curves, starting while barely moving forward in first gear. Likewise traffic coming in the opposite direction would do the same thing and a couple of times I rounded a corner only to find a bus or semi trailer coming towards me, in my lane, passing another vehicle. Only once did I have to come to a complete stop to give a truck enough space to finish it’s pass and I always focused on finding the bit of pavement to the outside of the truck. “Where you look is where you go” and I did not want to become part of the truck.  Just to ease the potential heart attacks my parents may have while reading this, it wasn’t actually all that dangerous as we were mostly moving in slower speeds 20 – 40 km in these situations and it was all very “controlled”. I think we rode through every type of climate and temperature that day.  Several times throughout the day I had to turn on my heated grips to keep warm in the dense mountain mist and then on the flip side sometimes the sun beat down so hard I had to open every vent in my gear and looked for more layers of clothing to remove.  The mountainous scenery was absolutely spectacular.  The height of the mountains and the depth of the valleys were unbelievable and I often couldn’t see to the bottom - kind of like Avatar in 3D.

Coffee Plantations as far as the eye can see
 During the day we also passed by numerous police check points which we rode through without incident. I attribute our good fortune to the fact that upon approach to these traffic stations, I pretend to be invisible (I recently watched the movie “Men Who Stare At Goats).  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it but my strategy failed upon approaching the city of Manizales where about 8 bored police officers decided to pull us over.  Everyone in Colombia has been so super friendly and interested in us so I was not overly concerned about this stop and when the young man asked me for my papers I directed him to Daryll. He announced to the other officers standing by that “HER HUSBAND has their paperwork” like he was revealing to them the plot of some scandalous drama. Another officer approached me to ask where I was from, where I was going, and asked to try on my sunglasses which he kindly returned to me afterwards, much to my relief.  When they hovered curiously around Daryll asking for paperwork he showed them our bike import documents and our international drivers licenses and since they seemed to simply be looking to us as a source of entertainment, Daryll just brushed them off when they asked for our passports and then we were allowed to continue. 

When we arrived in Manizales Daryll had to stop at a Tour, Travel & Logistics company called Colombia57 so that he could pick up some replacement parts he had had shipped to them and we had to locate their office before they closed for the weekend. This is where we met Simon who graciously offered to let us park our bikes at his condo for the night, reserved us a room at a local hostel and organized a cab to whisk us away for some much needed showers, a solid sleep and some hot food.  For dinner I had the best Hawaiian pizza I have ever consumed (I attribute it to the fresh yummy pineapple here) and for breakfast delicious coffee and a pastry-like, light cheese bagel. When we returned the next morning to pick up our bikes, we took photos of the snow covered mountains that surrounded Simon’s condo in the distance.

On our way out of Manizales we stopped for gas and air and confirmed with the attendant the direction we needed to travel to reach our next destination. When three motorcycle police officers on 2 bikes pulled into the gas station, I tried to act invisible again because I didn’t want any hassle about not wearing proper vests or having unofficial stickers on our helmets.  The gas guy mentioned to the cops that we were heading towards Cali and they came over and offered to show us out of town!  We began to snake our way down the switch-backed highway through the middle of the city, weaving in and out of traffic and whirling through traffic circles. I felt rather lawless and reckless as the posted speed limit was 40 km/hr, we traveled at about 60 km/hr and the officers were at least doing 80 km/hr.  Suddenly I looked in my rear-view mirror and noticed flashing red and blue lights coming from another motorcycle cop behind me, and I frantically pointed to the police bike in the distance in front of me.  I got a “thumbs up” from the officer with the flashing lights behind me and then realized one of the original police bikes had dropped back behind me and wasn’t trying to pull me over but instead created a little speeding parade!  We swerved down the mountains, slowing only for construction detours to the other side of the highway and  gravel patches.  I felt like we were a political convoy riding straight into the middle of the earth as we were traveling down so far.  I thought the officers were going to ride us all the way to Cali and realized why they had offered to take us out of town – because the road leading there was so much fun!  After 25 km they stopped at a gas station and pointed us in the right direction. We thanked them immensely for their lead and their curved highway and they explained that the road to Cali was straight from there on out. I guess that’s why they decided to “get back to work”.  I was so impressed with their kindness.

Once reaching the PanAm highway the officers were right about it being straight to Cali but since the road was pot-hole and animal free the speed limits went all the way up to 100 km/hr. We definitely took advantage and liberated our throttles with some speed since we had been so constrained in our last few countries and clearly in Colombia police did not take issue with speed.

When we arrived in Cali we navigated our way, thanks to Daryll’s GPS, to the infamous biker hostel of Casa Blanca where Daryll was whisked away by cliental of the adjacent motorcycle mechanic shop, and made appointments to change my reaR tire and replace both brake pads on his bike. We decided to chill here for 3 days, catch up on our blog, make some future travel plans and Skype with some dear friends and family. At night we had dinner at the neighbouring motorcycle themed restaurant called Roosters where for the first time in Colombia we were disappointed by the food.  Our order of nachos literally turned out to be a handful of Doritos with melted cheese on top.  The 2 for 1 beer however did make up for this minor disappointment.

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  1. greg writes.... now that is local hospitality!! police escort! I love it. Greg and Jill

  2. There are some really good people in the world.