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  #1  
Old 1 Jun 2008
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My experiences of Colombia

I started a 14-month round-the world tour in Perth, Australia in January and have so far ridden through New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador on my Suzuki V-Strom 650.

I was travelling north from Carmen de Bolivar, Colombia on Highway 25 at around 1530 on 26 June, on my way to Cartagena, where I planned to find a boat to take me and my bike to Panama. It was daylight on a clear, dry day, with overcast skies. The road surface was dry and my headlights were illuminated.

On a long, straight section of road the were two trucks travelling in the same direction ahead of me, but at a slower speed. There was no oncoming traffic, so I checked my mirrors, indicated and started to overtake the nearest (rearmost) truck. My speed at this time was approximated 70 km/h. When I was about a half of the way past the truck, it moved sharply to the left, without indicating. I braked, but his truck continued to the left and I was pushed off the road and into a ditch.

I fell from my motorbike. The truck continued without stopping.

I lay on the road for about 10 seconds before getting up. Two passing motorists arrived on the scene and lifted the bike up. I took off my helmet, which was badly scrapped, and my rucksack before the adrenaline wore off I I felt intense pain in my shoulder and had to lie down. The local police and an ambulance arrived within a few minutes.

Luckily, a group of about six V-Strom riders from Barranquilla, who had passed me earlier in the day, arrived and gave assistance. They passed me their details, and that of a good Suzuki dealer in Barranquilla.

I was taken to the hospital in Carmen de Bolivar, where a young, English speaking police officer was waiting to help me. I contacted my medical insurance company in Europe and gave them details of what had happened.

An x-ray was taken of my shoulder, but there was no doctor available to assess my case and I was given some pain-killers and asked to return the following morning at 0800. The police found me a hotel and ensured that all was well before leaving me for the night. The hospital had not treated or checked my other injuries and I had to ask for some hot water at the hotel so that I could clean up a large abrasion on my shoulder.

I was picked up the following morning by the police and returned to the hospital. The doctor was still not present and I was told that he had decided to treat the more serious cases first.

I received various phone calls, from the local mayor, the head of police and other concerned people. All of them told me that I should not hesitate to contact them should I need anything.

The V-Strom riders had contacted the British Embassy and started to make arrangements for me and my motorcycle to be transferred to Barranquilla. At about 1400 I finally saw the doctor, who told me that surgery was necessary and that he could do it for free, however, the police strongly advised me against this as the hospital was not well equipped.

I had lunch with my police friends and completed the official accident report. The V-Strom riders arrived and took me, along with my bike to Barranquilla. The bike was placed in secure storage and two doctors from the Reina Catalina clinic, who were friends of the riders met me at a hotel and assessed my injuries. They made arrangements for a steel plate to be made for my shoulder and for me to have surgery the following evening. I paid a deposit towards the cost of the treatment.

The following day I was looked after by a friend of the local riders. I drew more money from the ATM before going into the clinic at 1630 on 28 June. The surgery was performed that evening and all went well. I spent a total of two nights in the private room in order to recover and received painkillers and antibiotics via IV drip. I completed an accident report for my insurance company and it was faxed back to them.

I left the hospital on the afternoon of 30 June and returned to the hotel where I had previously stayed. I had been given pain-killers and antibiotics and told that I must wear a sling for the following 15 days; shorter than the usual 6 weeks for a 'simple' fracture.

My helmet had done a superb job and I had no injuries other than to my shoulder. It was testament to the importance of buying good protective gear, and wearing it properly.

As I was able to walk, I visited the Suzuki dealer where my bike was being repaired. The damage was mainly cosmetic and their mechanic was doing a fantastic job of restoring my bike.

After the accident, I had initially decided to end my trip due to the realisation that I could have very easily died in the accident, and return the motorcycle to Australia (it was travelling under a 'Carnet de Passage' and must be returned to Australia for legal reasons). With my arm out of action for only 15 days, and the bike looking much better again, I decided that I would instead continue my journey north and ride to Los Angeles, where I would arrange for the bike to be shipped back to Australia.

I had originally planned to ride around the world, via Europe and Africa after I had finished in the Americas. The shock of the accident, and realised how things would have been if it had occurred somewhere else, like Africa, made me decide that I didn't want to take the risk of continuing on my original route.

I realise that Colombia is not without its problems and HU does not recommend travelling through it for security reasons. I listened to the tips of the many Community members here who kindly replied to my enquiry before I arrived and I only travelled on major highways during daylight hours. I appreciate that there has been an incident in which a rider was kidnapped and do not suggest for a moment that what happened to him was a result of his behaviour. I can only comment on my personal experiences.

I had previously visited various parts of Colombia in 1999, when I was working here for two months. Since then, Colombia has elected a new president who has stuck to his promise to tackle the issues which blighted this beautiful land. I see that Colombia in now a totally changed country; changed for the better. I find the people to be very friendly and hospitable, with many people genuinely interested in my journey and ensuring that I enjoy my stay here. Even before my accident, I found people very keen to help me out and received friendly advice and was invited to join them for meals, at their expense. I would strongly advise any sceptical over-lander to put their natural fears to one side and visit and enjoy this friendly country. Everybody here, from the military to the police to the locals in the smallest villages, is trying to change Colombia for the better – please help them out by joining in with their positive efforts to change attitudes and make this place even better.

Thank-you Colombia!

Paul

PS – For your bike's mechanical needs, I can personally recommend the services of Extreme Motor, Cali (extrememotorcali@hotmail.com) and Suzuki Super Store, Barranquilla (+57 313 661 5990).
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  #2  
Old 1 Jun 2008
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Nasty one you there mate!

But you made it well out of it and you will remember it for the rest of your life so that is good.

Why do you worry about going on? Now you know that you shouldent trust the trucks and that overtaking has to well prepared. I am not saying that it is your fault, but next time you will know what to do in order to to stay 2 wheels up.

Take it easy and one day at a time, bad luck is what it is: Bad luck.

Good to hear that you had positive experiences in Colombia. I also felt very safe there and only met nice people who were villing to go out of their way to help me.

Remember that a half sleeping/bastard truckdriver can "happen" anywhere! You might get hit by one in Oz and be instantly killed!

You only regret what you dont do...
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  #3  
Old 3 Jun 2008
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Good you are OK. If you come through Mex City we will be happy to put you up and listen to your adventures. I'm also interested in seeing how well a Strom can survive an accident as I have one! Send me a PM if you are interested.
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  #4  
Old 3 Jun 2008
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Hi Paul

Sorry to hear about your accident. At least you are ok, it could certainly have been much worse. Sometimes in life we get curved balls out of nowhere - they are part of life. Don't give up your dream just because of one truck driver's stupidity. Taking risks is part of life, you just need to manage those risks as best you can (crossing the street is a risk). Follow your dreams, don't give up on your trip.

I hope you keep going and set out to achieve all you wanted to when you started.

Cheers

Peter
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  #5  
Old 3 Jun 2008
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But are you sure the world isn`t flat?

I remember listening to Ted Simons present a slideshow about his 2nd RTW 30yrs later, and he said that funnily it was usually when he crashed big enough to hurt himself for some weeks or when his bike had major issues, is when he had the best experiences of the journey. Because then you spend some time in one place that you never intended, with people who, by human nature, will extend the hospitality/assistance beyond the normal for someone who really needs it. Being the legend that he is, it made me even less worried about having a big crash, and almost intrigued to see what would happen! So i`m glad to hear you have talked up Colombia, and in enough detail that few could see differently.

Although of course we can`t trust everything we hear. What they didn`t teach me in school was in this world (IMO): Zambians have the most energy for life; Sudanese the most hospitable people; Syria the least likely country to be harmed or something stolen (yes i`ve been to Switzerland); Montenegro still has large virgin wilderness (similiar to what i assume Europe was once like); Ukraine to have the most beautiful woman; Mongolians/indigenous Russians most likely to physically attack you (when drunk); Chinese people/philosphy is more powerful than a religion or government, and so China becoming a super power could actually be good; Colombia has the warmest people and possibly the best country the Americas; Brazilian woman the fastest to take you home; and more recently, Bolivian coca growers are simply poor farmers like in most of the world…

Wouldn`t it be good to come back to me in a few years time to say what you agreed with, and what you found different? And if anything, at least you know you`ll have one of the biggest smiles in blighty…
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  #6  
Old 3 Jun 2008
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my experience in Colombia

HI,
I am sorry to read about your accident and how it happened . This is my first posting at hubb.
I am a Brazillian and I started my ride from Sao Paulo in Brazil and now I am in Mexico. I loved Colombia which I crossed on the bike and would also like to share my experience.
While riding from Pasto to Popayan I had a motorbike (an Indian Pulsar 180 cc widely sold there) crossed my lane. Neither the driver nor the passenger were using any protection , and neither helmets. He tried to divert from a bad patch on his lane and he crossed mine . I ran over his front front wheel and as a result I fell to the ground ,my motorbike having had the bottom part of the engine wrecked.
to make a long story short, both were policemen from a nearby village . The police road was called upon, it took a long while until they let us go without even asking my documentation, mainly because the other bike´s driver insisted on not having the incident recorded because that would mean trouble for him . I had the motorbike uploaded on a truck a headed to Popayan. I had my ankle x rayed at Popayan and thanks God was alright . The motorbike had the engine body wielded .

I really enjoyed Colombia, but the roads are not their forte. However I must say I felt secure even though I read what is writen above. It is a bit of coincidence to read about Carmen del Bolivar (small village close 100 km to Cartagena) because that is where I had my tyre flat and had to spend one night over. This one had the potential to be a tragedy because I hit a pothole and crossed to the other side of the road.

Thanks for sharing your story, wish you all the luck .
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  #7  
Old 3 Jun 2008
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Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Santa Marta, Colombia, South America
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If only...

Paul,

If only you had come to Bogota for that pint of bitter instead of heading straight for Cartagena.

Nah, you can´t live life that way!

I am really sorry to hear about this. I just arrived in Santa Marta and after a long trip in Colombia, I always give thanks for my safe arrival. The irony is that people fear kidnapping or crime much more than the real enemy of bad almost criminal driving habits here. Close to Bucaramanga, I was about 10 vehicles behind an 18-wheeler that careered off the road and capsized. As I filtered past they were trying to free the occupants. A little earlier and chances are I would have been overtaking.

I am glad the Colombian people won over your heart against all odds.

Sorry... and a speedy recovery.
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