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Archive for the ‘Colombia’ Category

Day 70 – Landslide (Tulcan, Ecuador)

12 Dec

It was grey and early morning.  After a quick breakfast, we went to pick up the motorbikes from the parking lot a couple of blocks away.  A sleepy guy opened the gate, but he had no change, so we rode back to the hotel to break a bill.  A group of locals gathered around us on the street and took some photos in a drizzling rain. 

We relied on our GPS’ pirated maps to get us out of the city to the Pan-American highway.  It was rainy, cold, cloudy and foggy day; we rode very slowly and carefully for about a couple of hours.  At one point, another BMW GS1200 with Colombian license plates passed us; we quickly lost him out of site.  We stopped for a short break at gas station to drink some hot tea from our Thermoses and clean the headlights and rear lights of the motorbikes.  Suddenly, the same BMW motorcyclist appeared from behind a curve and stopped by.  His name was Alejandro and he was heading to Pasto.  We gave him our card and rode together for some time through intermittent rain. 

The road went through beautiful mountains and we stopped for lunch at a small restaurant perched on a hill.  The meat tasted like rubber, but we nearly choked for a totally different reason.  As we were eating, a large piece of land started sliding down the side of a nearby mountain, right before our eyes.  We heard a rumbling sound and few seconds later, the road that we had just passed was under a pile of dirt and rocks.  A long line of busses and trucks started building up in both directions; the road was impassable.  We could not believe how close we were to a disaster or a major delay. 

We continued south after the lunch at reached the border at around 3 pm.  We heard different opinions about the Colombian-Ecuadorian border, but an hour later we could say with confidence that this was the easiest border so far.  Migration officer stamped our passports and we received temporary vehicle importation permits in the customs in no time.  There were no insurance requirements or any other obscure paperwork, everything was clear and efficient.  What a nice surprise!

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We stood happy with all our papers ready, when a few currency changers approached us in the parking lot.  We only had a small amount of Colombian Pesos and wanted to exchange them into US dollars, the official currency in Ecuador.  “40 USD”, whispered one changer, quickly running his fingers through the calculator.  To double check, Vadim took their calculator and punched in the numbers; it showed “40”.  Fourty dollars was the number, but the mental math did not make sense.  We took out our IPhones and reran the numbers; our calculators showed “60”.  Then it dawned on us; these suckers were using a fake calculator and tried to cheat us out!  We grabbed 60 dollars and rode off, Vadim shouting well-deserved threats and obscenities at the changers. 

The border town of Tulcan was just few kilometers away.  It was not a big town, but we circled for half an hour around the city center until found our hotel.  The check in was very long and the hotel staff was completely incompetent; they were not even able to give us password to the hotel’s Wi-Fi network.  At least, our bikes were parked safely and we had beds for the night. 

It was very cold both in inside the hotel and outside, as we were more than 10,000 feet (3,000 m) above the sea level.  We went to a Colombian-Chinese restaurant across the main square and had an inexpensive dinner.  The food was good, but the service was strange; the waiter was bringing out dishes in a random order.  While we were eating, a number of cars passed by beeping loudly, with people shouting loudly out of the windows.  It was some kind of festival or event, but we never figured out what was it all about.  We went back to the hotel, bought few things at a small supermarket and went to sleep after an exhausting day. 

Routes taken: 25 (Panamerican Hghy)

Miles ridden: 213 miles (343 km)

Highest peak: 10500 ft/3200 m

 
 

Day 69 – Resting Day (Popayan, Colombia)

11 Dec

Vadim started the day with a long walk in the old part of the city and brought back some nice pictures.

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The White City – Popayan

Gintaras spent all morning with his laptop doing god knows what, and only ventured out around noon.  It was dark and cool inside the hotel, but so nice and sunny outside.  Every building in the center of the city was painted white and the people were hiding in the shadows from the bright sun.

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Streets of Popayan

We had lunch at La Vina, a nice parrillada with excellent food and many local people humming inside.  Our menu choices were slightly unusual: fried fish, beef tongue, and kumis – a nice yoghurt drink with a hint of cinnamon.  We went back to the hotel after the lunch and only went out again in the evening, to the same restaurant, but this time only a couple of people were sitting at a table.  We had a light meal – some salad and fried fish – and then strolled to the central square, where an orchestra and a chorus were playing some classical music by a local composer.  Not impressed by the performance, we left, picked our laundry around the corner, and went back to the hotel.  Our wet riding gear that we spread out all around the room the night before was still noticeably wet…

Routes taken: None

Miles ridden: None

 
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Day 68 – Going in Circles (Popayan, Colombia)

10 Dec

The sound of rain woke us up in the morning, but by the time we got up and finished the breakfast, it turned into a drizzle and then stopped.  We had to take all side cases off the motorbikes to get out of the garage, since another car was blocking the exit.  By 9:30 am we were on the road out of Salento and half an hour later reached the main highway to Armenia.  The road was dry and the weather got warmer as we descended down into a valley.

A couple of hours later we made a quick stop by the road to buy some water and then continued flying fast until Palmira, where we decided to refuel and have lunch at a local bakery.  A man with a son approached us and started a conversation about the trip; we took some pictures together and he gave us directions to Popayan.  The directions and road signs were easy to follow, so we could safely ignore our GPS that persistently tried to direct us through Cali, a big city that we wanted to get around.

Three hours later we reached the outskirts of Popayan and continued following the signs to the center of the city.  It started drizzling as we slowly moved forward down the main street, stopping at a dozen of street lights, but then it started raining really hard.  We asked for directions to our hotel and soon reached the building, but decided to ride around the block and park right at the entrance.  This was a big mistake… as we spent another hour in drenching rain, going in circles on one-way streets.  To make the matters worse, the center of the city was closed to traffic due to some festival this weekend.  The cobblestone streets turned into little rivers and Vadim slipped and dropped his bike once on a steep slope.  We got separated from each other in traffic, but finally found the way to the hotel.  Vadim went straight through the main plaza, on a sidewalk, scaring off all pedestrians.  Gintaras found a local guy on a moped, who guided him through the street market out of old town (he almost turned over a couple of street stalls with fruits, while trying to squeeze between cars through the traffic) and then back to the hotel.

Room Window at Los Balcones Hotel

Vadim reached the destination first and then spent another half an hour haggling with parking guards at a place a block away from the hotel, who finally agreed to move few scooters around and make some room for our motorbikes.  Cold and wet, we were happy to be in a nice old hotel, in a big suite for honeymooners with two bedrooms and a small kitchenette.  The only inconvenience was that we had to wait for warm water in the shower for another hour and a half.  We spread out our wet gear all over the place, hoping it would dry out over the next couple of days.

The rain stopped in the evening and we went out to a nearby Italian restaurant on a cobblestone street surrounded by white buildings.  The food was good: hot tea with milk, chicken and mushroom soups, lasagna; only cannelloni with three cheeses was a little bit unusual.  A group of strange-looking Americans were sitting at a table next to us, and we were wondering what they were doing here, in Popayan.

We went for a short walk after the dinner.  Every building in the center of the town was painted white; it was truly a white city.  The central park was shining in lights of all colors, ready for the upcoming Christmas.  A lot of people were strolling around; it was a very pleasant evening.  We walked for about an hour and then went back to the hotel, stopping on the way at a local supermarket for some water, fruits and chocolate.

Routes taken: 29, 40, 25

Miles ridden: 213 miles (343 km)

 
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Day 67 – Wax Palms (Salento, Colombia)

09 Dec

After a small but tasty breakfast, Vadim was picked up by a local farmer Omar, who owned 20,000 hectares (50,000 acres) of land in the nearby Los Nevados National Park, in the Andes.  Omar inherited the land from his father and knew the area very well; he spoke good English and thus was an excellent guide.  Omar’s old 4×4 Chevy SUV with a manual transmission took them up a muddy road in the mountains.  The view was breathtaking but it got cold very quickly, as they reached the farm at around 3,500 meters (11,500 feet) above the sea level.  The farm was literally above the clouds.  Omar had a lovely house where a hired farm administrator lived in with his family.

View of the Andes from Omar’s Farm

The family had prepared some nice fruit snacks and fresh coffee, and after the breakfast, Omar and Vadim headed further up to the Los Nevados National Park, on the other side of the mountain.  It took them about an hour to get there, over the peak of 4,200 meters (14,000 feet) at the highest point.  It was a lot warmer on the other side of the mountain as it was getting more sun.  The scenery was nothing Vadim has ever seen…mountains, green grass, trees, and hundreds of wax palms – the national tree of Colombia.  An interesting fact, on average, a wax palm reaches the height of 70 meters (over 200 feet) and the tree is now protected by the Colombian environmental laws.

Forest of  Wax Palms in the Los Nevados National Park

Vadim and Omar descended down to take some pictures, where there were many cows grazing the beautiful green grass.  These cows were originally imported from Normandy, France and had adapted well to the local environmental conditions: long fur for cold weather and the ability to navigate mountainous terrain.  It was an amazing experience to see the pristine and well preserved nature.  There were no tourists or cars during the whole trip.  In the afternoon, Omar took Vadim back to his farm house, where they had a nice lunch of potato soup and pork steak with rice and French fries.

Close-Up Picture of a Wax Palm

Gintaras spent the entire morning working on the website and then went out for lunch to a restaurant next to the central square.  The food was excellent: local farmed trout, local black coffee and chocolate cake.  He took a leisurely stroll back after the meal, exploring the picturesque streets of the town, snapping pictures and observing the local people.

Main Street in Salento

A rain started in the afternoon, soon after Vadim came back from the farm.  The town became completely deserted; all stores closed their doors and there was not a living soul in the streets.  We asked the lady in the hotel to help us make hotel reservation in Popayan and then went to the garage to troubleshoot the malfunctioning communication system on our bikes.  We probably spent an hour swapping helmets, radios, cables, and electronic units, trying to pinpoint the problem that was causing static noise in Vadim’s headphones.  As we were about to give up, the problem miraculously disappeared.

We went out to a dinner after the rain had stopped, but there were still very few people in the streets.  We sat down in an empty restaurant on the central square, next to the police station and had some Chilean red vine, trout, chicken, patacones, grape and passion fruit mousse for desert, and, of course, black coffee.  We went to the local cancha de tejo to throw some rocks at gunpowder, but the place was closed.  The whole town looked dead.  It got chilly and we returned back to the hotel.

Routes taken: None

Miles ridden: None

 
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Day 66 – To the Mountains (Salento, Colombia)

08 Dec

We started from Medellin quite late, around 10:30 am, and got lost right away, since the main road in El Poblado was closed due to some amateur cycling competition.  Vadim briefly tried to join the competition on his motorbike, but was immediately turned back by the police.  Then Gintaras’ GPS led us a couple of blocks against the traffic and we got briefly separated, but eventually found each other and the road that headed south, towards the Pan-American highway.

Our communication system stopped working and we resorted to the universal hand signals to express our intentions, confusion and anger.  We stopped at a gas station to fill up the tanks and ask for further directions.  The highway was just a couple of blocks away and we found it rather easily.  Few miles later, however, we took a wrong turn (again!) and continued to the central square of a small beautiful town, where we asked for directions in fluent Spanish and got back on track few minutes later.

The road was nice, despite some intermittent drizzling rain.  Vadim stopped a few times to take pictures of beautiful mountains and the ferocious Rio Cauca.  We stopped for lunch by the road, next to the river, few miles past Bocas and had some nice churrasco, prepared on firewood.  A couple of policemen arrived on a nice Suzuki motorbike and sat down for lunch at a table behind us.

Beautiful Landscape South of Medellin

Muddy and Ferocious Rio Cauca

We passed a couple of toll booths – “peajes” – on the highway, but none of them required any payments for motorbikes.  We simply followed through the special lane on the right hand side and zoomed on.  We love Colombia – the most motorcycle-friendly country in the world!

We decided, for the last time, to rely on our GPS’s to guide us through a city; this time it was Pereira.  The directions were confusing, but we miraculously got through the town to the road towards Armenia.  Shortly afterwards, we noticed a sign towards Salento – a small, but beautiful resort town in the mountains – our destination for today.  We followed a couple of scooters down the narrow and winding road, while enjoying beautiful vistas.  Our hotel – Posada del Café – was located on a picturesque street full of artesania shops.  We were greeted by an English-speaking lady who showed us a small room and let us park the bikes in a garage.  The hotel looked very homey, with a nice garden in the middle and full of little knickknacks on the walls.

We took a quick cold shower and then went out for a dinner at La Laurita – a nice restaurant few blocks away from the hotel with traditional Colombian interior and painted leatherback chairs.  We ate and drank too much (it’s becoming a recurring theme): Club Colombia beer, white vine, patacones with cheese, chicharron, smoked trout and fried trout with shrimps (local specialties), coffee and some cake.  After the dinner, we dragged our bellies a couple of rounds around the main plaza and then returned back to the hotel, where Vadim booked a tour to a nearby hacienda for tomorrow.  The mountain air was very refreshing, but it was noticeably cooler than in Medellin.  We wrapped ourselves up in all the blankets that we could find in the room and fell asleep.

Routes taken: 25, 29

Miles ridden: 154 miles (248 km)

 
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