Wednesday, 24 September 2014


By Sanne

After crossing the Colombian border we went to see a church we had been told about that is built in between the rocks in a narrow gorge - Las Lajas Sanctuary. It was pretty impressive and while we were walking around we discovered that Colombians are very much like Brazilians and Indians – they love to take photos! I think we had photos taken with almost every single person there and children were placed on our motorbikes as well. Everyone were really friendly though and it gave us a good first impression of Colombians. Because it was late in the day we decided to spend our first night in Colombia in the border town of Ipiales. It was a fairly dull city and quite cold and miserable as we were still up in the mountains. We found a cheap place to stay with parking for the bikes and then had the meal of kings: chips for dinner as we couldn’t find metholated spirits anywhere for cooking with.

The next day we rode to Popayan on a spectacular bit of road that took us from the cold and wet mountains through dry and hot desert scape for thereafter ending up in Popayan which was still very hot. We arrived in Popayan in rush hour traffic and the small colonial streets were clogged with cars. This wasn’t helped by the fact that Colombian streets have no names, only numbers and there is no order in the numbers so it’s really hard to find the address you’re looking for. In Popayan there was an abundance of machinegun toting military in the streets but we found out that was because the president was in town. We met a local policeman there who had a son who collected foreign coins. We had a few coins from different countries so we contributed to his collection and he brought us breakfast the next morning. He made us slightly paranoid as he constantly jumped up and looked out the window to check on his bike. He told us to be very careful in Colombia when it came to our bikes, especially in the bigger cities like Cali and Medellin. We stayed in Popayan two nights and left for Cali. On the way there we passed many military check points but they mostly waved us through except once when they stopped us and wanted to see our papers for the bikes, then proceeded to look inside my helmet lifting up the inner liner and cushions to look for what I assume to be drugs. Of course they didn't find anything and we were on our way. A funny observation was that at most of these checkpoints the soldiers are giving thumbs-up to every vehicle who passes. Apparently it means that it's all safe to pass.

Cali is a big city with just as indecipherable street numbering. After a couple of wrong turns and having a group of black guys do an impromptu dance performance for us at a traffic light we managed to find Hostel Casa Blanca which used to be a biker’s hostel but it has just been sold so is now in a new location and no longer has secure parking. We could park our bikes outside though which we usually don’t do because of safety, but we couldn’t be bothered to look for somewhere else so we did it. Here we met a French couple on a BMW and an American on a shitty little Chinese bike. In Cali we tried unsuccessfully to find a roadmap of Colombia but we did have success finding SOAT, the required motorcycle insurance. Apparently if you don’t have it and get stopped by the police they can confiscate your bike. We quickly discovered that Colombia is expensive. Long gone are the low prices of Bolivia and Peru. We have landed in a western world prices country. That really sucks for us as our bank account is starting to get dangerously low. So we have to seriously watch our money here where accommodation and food is that much more expensive. Thankfully beer is still pretty cheap - phew!

Another observation we have made in Colombia: the Spanish they speak here is like a different language altogether. By now I consider my Spanish to be fairly good (although still far, far from fluent!) and in previous countries I haven't had many problems making myself understood and having conversations with the locals, but here... I feel like I'm back to square one. They speak super fast and the words come out all muffled up, what's more is, they don't understand a word of what I am saying's really quite bizarre! Apart from the language difficulties it must be said that the reputation the Colombians have as friendly and warm is absolutely true. Many will go out of their way to help us if we need anything or are looking for something. 

We stayed in Cali two nights, big cities just don't agree with us, and I think Mark feared being forced along to a salsateca (salsa club) so we left town to ride to the Zona Cafetera - coffee country. As neither Mark nor I are coffee drinkers we stuck to admiring the coffee plantations that spread out on either side of the road while riding towards Salento, a small town in the Valle de Cocora, a green valley with tall palm trees and coffee plantations all around. Here we camped at a hostel just outside town and went for a bit of a dirt ride the following day, which was nice until my battery decided to die and my bike wouldn't start anymore. We bump started it and kept on riding but as the track narrowed in and became increasingly steeper and more difficult and my bike kept stalling it just made for a really difficult ride and so we turned around to ride back to our camp. On the way there my bike stalled numerous times for unknown reasons and we had to push it up hills to bump start it again and again and in the high humidity it was hard work.

In Salento we were joined by Rick and Rahul, both Americans, Rick living and working for a motorcycle tour company in Cali and Rahul was the guy with the shitty Chinese bike (which actually later turned out to be shitty American bike) we'd met in Cali. He decided he wanted to ride with us for a bit and so after a few days in Salento we set off for Pereira, a nearby larger city to look for a new battery for my bike. Pereira was a particularly rough-looking city and the area where the motorbike stores were located was as rough as it gets. While waiting for a new battery to be sourced, we had time to observe the people around us and many of them seemed to favour the past-time of glue-sniffing, quite openly as well. I saw junkie prostitutes being pulled along by their pimps and a variety of other dodgy characters. Hence why we didn't leave our bikes and stuff unattended for one second. We were in luck and left with a new battery in my bike and the three of us left Pereira, quite happy to see the back of this place.

We ventured onto a beautiful windy road, again through coffee country riding east towards Honda. Well, we never made it that far. Because of the battery stop in Pereira it had been quite a late start to the day and combined with the very windy road, we didn't manage to get many kilometres under our belt and so found ourselves riding in the dark. We therefore decided to stop in the town of Fresno, another not so nice looking place, and found ourselves a cheap hotel. It was while looking around for a hotel that my bike aka 'Christine' decided to stop and not start again. This is just when a couple of dodgy looking characters are walking towards me and there is me, stranded on a dark street with a bike that doesn't want to start. Christine and I remained unharmed but I had to walk her to a hotel not having a clue as to what the problem was as the bike had been running fine all day after the battery change. The next morning Mark had a fiddle around but could not find the problem. Adding to the confusion was that at one point it did decide to start! Then trying once more: nothing. Again another bump start was required and we were on our way again. When we hit a traffic diversion later in the day (caused from a horrible incident where a woman had been standing on the back of a moving truck and fallen off and been decapitated) and rode over a bridge with the traffic crawling, my bike once again stalled and there was I stuck on a bridge in 40 degree heat with hundreds of trucks behind me! This was starting to become really frustrating and when I failed to bump start the bike rolling off the bridge (the only "hill" for miles) Mark lost his sh*t and we had an argument so stupid that resulted in us not speaking to each other for the rest of the day! Oh the drama of it all :) Then Mark's clutch cable snapped later on. Great day!

Our destination that day was the man-made dam of Guatape, 2 hours east of Medellin. But again, a combination of bump-starting, windy roads and lots of trucks meant that we only made it to El Penol which is just 12 km from Guatape anyway, but we were all exhausted and it was late so we bunked down in a hotel here for the night. The next morning Mark tried putting a new stator coil into my bike and...voila! It fired up straight away! We rode to Guatape, climbed the 740 stairs to the giant rock that is El Penol and admired the view from the top all over the dam which has created a stunning archipelago landscape for miles and miles. Mark and I both agreed that we could see ourselves live here on a little island in the dam. 

Riding with Rahul was fun however at times a bit nerve wrecking! As he just learnt to ride his bike a month or so ago in Ecuador he is still quite new to riding and so still has a lot to learn about safe riding. Mark and I do our best in teaching him not to overtake on blind corners etc and there have been quite a few spills and close calls with other vehicles. However he is a very willing learner and I think he will only improve with time. But he needs to get himself a proper bike as the one he has now is not so great to put it mildly. 

We spent a relaxing few days in and around Guatape and nearby San Rafael where we camped for very cheap. It poured down with rain every afternoon and night which seems to be the pattern around these parts. After this we felt we had recharged our batteries enough to hit the big city of Medellin.

Bienvenidos a Colombia!

Las Lajas Sanctuary

From afar

Llama dressed to impress

The landscape from Ipiales to Popayan was dry, sun-scorched and very hot!


Lots of police presence

Odd street-art

Kids smoking pot right next to military and nobody seems to care...

The nice policeman who brought us breakfast

Mark playing up his alter-ego as a hairdresser, Rahul not seeming too relaxed about that

In front of Casa Blanca, Cali

Our trusty lunch-food-friend: Bandeja Paisa - it's very yummy!

Coffee and banana plants in the Zona Cafetera

Sweet little kid we met on a motorbike - he was riding up and down the road collecting wood

A friendly young boy we met when my bike battery died

The colourful houses of Salento

Valle de Cocora

Crazy dog we met in Salento - had an obsession with water

Didn't even know dogs bent that way

Riding with Rahul and his beast of a bike


El Penol

And the crazy stairs climbing it

The pretty cobblestone streets of Guatape town

Odd hotel-sign featuring a slutty stewardess, a jumping fish and a helicopter carrying a truck...?

Colourful Tuk-tuk

 "Don't go straight ahead here" Mark giving Rahul some riding instruction

Rahul and his unique riding pants

Camping outside Guatape

Siesta time!

1 comment:

  1. Hey guys, I wanted to thank you both for a wonderful week! It was so much fun riding with you both and great to make new friends.

    You are both some of the kindest most generous and hilarious people I've met and I consider my self very lucky to call you friends. Sanne your comments about my bike are kind... Shitty is a compliment.. Lol.

    Mark thank you for your patience and hours you spent helping me. The amount you both have taught me about riding, relationships, and quirks in this thing we call life can't be quantified (big word) so that's my very long Thank You!
    Muchos Gracias! and Namaste!
    Ride safe Y'all ( I had to get some country in there)
    And because of you both I'll be riding a lot safer also.
    Take care!
    PS if I don't see you again in Colombia look me up in California, and I'll get you some free accommodations near SF.

    Happy Trails!!