• Ramblings from Northern Colombia

    Posted by Loren on February 27, 2011

    After an unplanned 4 day sabbatical in Cartagena, with customs and insurance papers in hand, we swung a leg over the bikes, and pointed them north to Santa Marta. Well that was the plan, anyway. We promptly turned the wrong direction and ended up in a part of town that won’t be making the Lonely Planet anytime this decade. A quick confer with a taxi turned him into our pilot vehicle, and off we rode, putting Cartagena and our customs drama behind us. The road rolled under our tires, wind blow through our helmets, and jackets sweltered us, further confirming we are bike riders, not sailors.

    Our route took us 300km north of Cartagena, sticking to the flatness and dryness of the coast. One section was a 50km long, thin strip of land with the Caribbean on one side a bay on the other, and us riding down the middle getting rocked around by the wind. Near the end of the stretch we started passing a line of cars and generally feeling a bit happy with ourselves for choosing motorbikes over a vehicle of the four wheel variety. Swinging through the no-pay motorbike lane at the toll booth (Thanks Colombia!) we were waved to stop, which we obliged at the sight of riot police wagons, notably absent of their occupants. In the distance, we could see a line of black, which with a quick look to the empty riot police wagon, deduced what was going on. The government travel websites advise to avoid civil unrest, and this appeared to be such an occasion. Time for a cola and a chat to the locals.

    The next hour was passed with every conceivable question about the bikes, cock fighting show and tell, the odd bang from tear gas being lobbed from the riot police to the unknown enemy, ambulances retracting from the front line and ensuring that the riot was staying well down the road and away from our bikes. Just when we were starting to consider how we could turn our bikes into amphibious machines, a riot van circa 1986, with water cannon, roo clearer and turret, stopped nearby, dislodging it’s Terminator crew of merry men. The police were obviously getting as bored of the “civil unrest” as we were. A couple trips to the front line delivering drums of tear gas and they were ready. Five minutes later we were on our bikes riding through the fresh remains of broken bricks and pepper spray lingering in the air, causing coughing and tearing, just as it was intended, although most likely not for motorbike riders from Australia. I have been wanting to test my pepper spray, now no longer required! The two wheeled transport came into it’s own again as we skirted passed miles and miles of traffic, scared the locals, and got thumbs up from machine gun wielding militants. “Forget about the riot, check out that motorbike!” The night was completed with arriving in Santa Marta and the smiling faces of Elizabeth and Sherrie, riding our bikes through the front entrance of our hotel, and roast salmon for dinner. Our first day back on the saddle, and entertainment for all.

    The problem with having good company is it makes it hard to leave, but Liz and Sherrie eventually pulled themselves away :) We were on a mission to find the infamous Colombian landscape, so headed north in search. The short of it, we didn’t find it. We did find a 100km stretch of national park that was very memorably, but the jury is still out if the rest of the ride was worth it. A quick look at Google Earth would have quickly shown we were travelling through the flatlands, but we decided not to look at that until after.

    Sundown found us near the Venezuelan border, the only positive being fuel was cheap. It made the bikes ping, but it was cheap. We had wanted to camp for the night, so wound the bikes up to get as far from the border as we could. Venezuela is not known to be the model citizen on adherence to the law. The last of the suns glow was long gone, our GPS was showing a road that didn’t exist, so Murray pulled over to ask the men in camouflage standing next to the tank and sand banked anti-aircraft missiles, exactly where we were, and where it was safe to camp. Turns out they weren’t much help on the first question, and the answer to the second was in the compound with them. Meanwhile, while I was pulled over waiting for Muz, I promptly received the 5th degree from an unhappy 20 year old carrying a frown and a machine gun that I wouldn’t wanted to be receive rounds from. After verifying that I wasn’t a terrorist by showing all the power cables, wires and fuel in my pannier, we hunted down a campsite. The immediate vicinity of the army compound came up negative, but we did find a sandy spot under a bridge nearby. For 20 seconds. The bikes hadn’t even rolled to a stop before flashlights were being shone and we were being yelled at. Security guards descended and so began our night. Our selection of campsites was certainly not going ahead, and it would be preferred if we stayed in a hotel somewhere. It was agreed that an armour clad motorbike rider when lead us to a hotel. 50 meters down the track we came to a military checkpoint where the previous decision was nullified, and higher ups were conferred. What to do with these two mad Australian’s on big motorbikes, wanting to camp? Who camps? 4 security guards and 7 armed military personnel finally decided that we would follow a security vehicle to a nearby town and the safety of a hotel. This entire process spanned over an hour with most of that time being eaten up by the authorities debating amongst themselves. We appreciate their concern for our safety, but are starting to wonder if it is all in their head. A night in a powerless, mosquito ridden, hot, humid, small room and we were wishing we had have battled with the boogie man.

    Leaving the plains behind, we hit our first curve in hundreds of km’s, pumped arms in appreciation, wound out the bikes, and accelerated through the corners. Nearing our destination of Bucaramanga we started to see signs of landslides and flooding. It is now time to describe “Harley Riding”. In Mexico we saw a guy on a Harley that road up the center line, pulling back in only to avoid oncoming traffic. Whenever we need to scoot up a line, we now call it “Harley Riding”. After 45 minutes of textbook Harley Riding, Murray passed through what must have been our 100th police check for the day, none of which we were stopped at. The officer decided that he would flag me over, but I decided I didn’t want to stop, partly due to the fact our radio batteries were dead and Muz wouldn’t know where I was, and partly due to the fact my bike was bigger than the policeman’s. Bad decision with the traffic situation. Within 2 minutes he had caught up and within another 15 seconds he had us pulled over. The steam was coming out of his ears as he approached Murray (he thought he was the one that ran the block), and increased tenfold when his bike fell off it’s side-stand and his helmet bounced along the road, and we snickered between ourselves. All our documentation was in order, and his telling of what the offence was were met with looks of amused feigned confusion. Murray’s very animated demonstration in the middle of the road in answer to his query of how police pull someone over in Australia would have been the highlight of the headcam reel if it wasn’t so dark. Another two armed officers joined the first, and attention turned from our disregard to authority, to our bikes and the girls of Colombia. Humors lightened, back slapping began, and we ended up taking photos, high fiving and beeping horns on departure. We made their night, and were happy to be down 30 minutes but no lighter in the pocket. Norman directed us to a good feed and ice cream. Bring on the mountains of Colombia, as we have had about enough of the police and army!

9 Comments | Leave a Reply

  1. Donna on February 27, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    Wow… with all your experience, you’ll be able to get a job with the NSW Police when you get home. You talk about the Colombian women… the Colombian men aren’t looking so bad in that bottom photo, either!

    • Loren on February 27, 2011 at 10:46 pm

      oh, Murray isn’t Colombian

      • Donna on February 28, 2011 at 9:07 am

        “This is going to be a joke…”

  2. claude on March 1, 2011 at 5:03 am

    Hi. nice trip but sorry to contradict you on these 2 points:
    Venezuelan gasoline is actually better than colombian, no ethanol !! you have 2 grades 91 and 95.
    As for things to see in the Northeast of Colombia, I understand you didn’t actually ride in the Guajira, you can ride hundreds and hundreds of km in the desert, sand dunes, incredible beaches, most interesting Indian culture (wayúu), no paved rods there, a gravel road, then some tracks, then only compass or the help of an Indian guide… real adventure

    • Loren on March 3, 2011 at 4:18 pm

      Claude, thanks for the info, you are right, we didn’t give Guarjira a run. I have updated the text so we don’t completely write off where we haven’t been. As far as the fuel goes, we filled up with fuel three times in the north of Colombia, and it made the bikes loose power and knock. Can’t say if it was Venezuelan fuel or not, as we bought it in Colombia. The reason we commented is these two Canadians have the same bikes as us and had a 37 day layup in Lima while they waited for their engines to be rebuilt, and it all started with engine knocking. http://nomi-beto-adventures.blogspot.com/2011/02/day-0km-recap-of-activities.html

    • Murray on March 3, 2011 at 4:57 pm

      Hi Claude, thanks for your feedback. Yes, a friend mentioned that Venezuelan fuel is good quality even though it is cheap as chips. No tax I suppose and I presume they bring it over the border into Colombia. We can only listen to our bikes and they didn’t like the gasoline that we used in the north east. One could only assume that old mate at the fuel station was an honest john when he sold us 91 grade. Shame we missed Guajira, sounds great!

  3. Carson on March 2, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    I liked your photos… my favorite ones were when you were on the boat with your motorbikes.

    • Loren on March 3, 2011 at 11:28 am

      Did you like the one where it looked like my bike was about to sink the Zodiac? Scary times!

      • Anthony McNab on March 16, 2011 at 5:18 pm

        Yes that would be my fave as well Lozza. I particularly like your body language of a very stiff upright seating position trying not to move one millimetre in case it caused a capsize. It would have been a toss up – do I hold the camera up out of the water or the bike. Of course any true biker knows the answer to that one……..:)