June 30, 2010 GMT
Colombia’s Rolling Hills

June 2010 Update Colombia

It was quite a relief to reach Colombia as some months earlier in Argentina we had arranged a rendezvous with Carol’s sister Rosemary and her husband Mark. Many laughed at our projected time frame due to our slow travel pace and detours believing we would need to park the bike and fly to Cartagena to achieve the rendezvous. Rose and Mark planned to spend about 10 days with us in Cartagena and the surrounding area. Fortunately our current pace had us well on schedule to the point we could detour away from the direct route to visit two bicycle travelers met in Paraguay the previous year.

A cloudy day greeted us with the news that the road from Popayan to San Augustin which is often closed for maintenance was quite passable despite recent rain. The pavement ended shortly after Coconuco and road works caused brief delays as we steadily climbed into the lush green hills. Surface conditions deteriorated becoming a little boggy/slippery but nothing too difficult, however as the road wound its way further into the mountains road maintenance crews cleaned out the earthen drains on the edge tossing the black, muddy, slurry onto the road. Now that was fun!!! As we closed in on San Augustin a reminder of the pending elections became apparent with unusually high military presence at some of the road junctions. All were quite friendly, no document checking, just a passing wave to send us on our way.

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Road to San Augustin

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Rain on road to San Augustin

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Repairs on road to San Augustin

Finding our German friends Igel and Paola, (www.grenzenlos.ath.cx) see also www.horizonsunlimited.com/tstories/duval/cat_paraguay.php) was a little more difficult. Suffice to say the road to their property was steep and slippery after recent rain. The conditions causing a tumble in the mud (lost traction) however it was nothing too severe and after a quick clean up we immediately adjourned to a friend’s house for a BBQ and socializing

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Muddy section in mountains

Igel and Paola’s property is listed with the ‘Couch Surfing’ and ‘Warm Showers’(Casa de Cicilistas) communities and they currently had a Belgium/French couple Joel and Jacinta (bicycle riders) camped there, so we being a little ‘older’, were offered the luxurious cabana for lodgings. When we met Igel and Paola in Paraguay they were riding two bicycles with Igel’s towing a light trailer. This was the mobile home for their small fox terrier named ‘Rambo’ who was probably one of the most travelled dogs of South America. Quite impressive really as most of this was done on foot. Their canine family had grown to include one of Rambo’s offspring, ‘Caramba’ and a young docile Rottweiler, ‘Cusquena’.

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Muddy climb to Igel and Paolo’s casa

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Igel (German) in English is “hedgehog”

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99 steps to the houses

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Bike was left at the bottom

We spent two weeks enjoying the expat lifestyle, joining in local festivals, sightseeing the famous stone heads, eating great food and generally having a good time.

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Computer slaves

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The rain had us doing a lot of this

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Our Cabana

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Main building, kitchen bathroom and mezzanine

A bit of friendly rivalry occurred when Australia played Germany in the World Cup, and combined with the other local Europeans, we were seriously outnumbered. Their numbers also increased when another German couple (Oliver and Sabine) arrived on the scene in their F350 camper; however Sabine and Paola generously became temporary Aussies for the day to help our flagging morale.

Local girls love getting their photo taken

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Excellent fish

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Excellent steak

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Social eating at its best

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Always eating, favorite pastime of bicycle riders

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Igel and family

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A moment of sunshine, Rambo, Caramba and Cusquena

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Stone heads at Parque Arqueologica

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Stone head at Parque Arqueologica

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Tomb at Parque Arqueologica

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Sacred bathing holes Parque Arqueologica

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Series of tombs Parque Arqueologica

Added to our relaxed schedule, was a Colombian television station doing an expose on our hosts and their open house life style. For several hours Caracol Television filmed an extensive documentary in drizzling rain as Igel and Paola spoke of their travel and adventures. The dogs especially Rambo, followed instructions to the letter providing everyone some relief in the awkward conditions.

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The two stars Rambo and Caramba

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Making a documentary is hard work

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Joel and Jacinta bicycle riding travelers

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Full dress rehearsal in the rain

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It’s raining and they are still smiling

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Bamboo markers for every traveler resting here

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Tree planting ceremony

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Rambo found the whole thing tiring

A small excerpt from the program can be seen at


And another video on the famous… Rambo!!!


The property is also a small coffee plantation which allowed us to enjoy the luxury of a fresh Colombian brew every day. Just below the housing cluster a pond fed by a natural spring nurtured a local fish called Mojarra. Catching, cooking and eating these pan sized beauties were just part of the superb life style we shared. Each traveler also gets to plant a tree on the plantation. Our hope is to return one day to see how they have grown and of course to sample more coffee.

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Fresh fish ‘Mojarra’

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The fishermen, Joel and Igel

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Oliver and Sabine’s F350 camper

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Sabine and Oliver join us for dinner

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Breakfast is set

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Local festival with plenty of horses

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.. and plenty of mobile music

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Australia played Germany in the World Cup

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Paolo defected and supported Australia

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Germany still won…you can tell

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So it was back to the festival and horses

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and more horses

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and horse drawn carts

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Soldiers kept a close watch

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Busy riders

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Crowds arrived by bus

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Looks like the Queen of the show

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Happy cowboy

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Carol even had a go

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Jacinta appeared at home in the saddle

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Joel did well for his first horse ride

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Tree planting before we leave

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A goodbye from a No. 89 butterfly!!

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Departure track had dried

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and the down-hill exit was fine

The array of humming birds feeding on the abundant tropical flowers in this idyllic mountain hideaway made it additionally difficult to leave however the windy road called and our departure was eased with a break in the weather. Predominantly blue skies escorted us to Neiva and the twisty ribbon of pavement carving its way through the green farms and forest made the distance seem far less. Our preferred hotel surprised us with an above average price but the owner became more compliant as Carol turned away towards the bike.

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Some fine weather riding

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Wet white lines telling us to slow down on bends

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Rain and mist was challenging

Bogota the following day greeted us with showers and arriving in a major city is definitely not a good plan on a week day. Absolutely horrendous traffic. The early part of the ride was uneventful but heading into the mountains the rain met us as we sweltered in our rain suits. Slippery white lines painted on the road warning of impending corners caused interesting moments in the wet. The gap between the lines diminished towards the apex… an unwanted hindrance with the already difficult conditions. Suitable accommodation was difficult to find. Most were full or did not have parking. We thought this odd as we had a few options to consider but eventually received directions to an unmarked hostal. We paid for a small room however the bike was parked at another ‘full’ hostal around 100 metres away. Claims by establishments that suitable motorcycle parking was available often failed to accommodate the larger overlander’s vehicles.

There is much to see in Bogota but first we headed to the Olympus camera store to see if our drowned ‘waterproof’ camera can be revived. The camera was only 5 months old and sucked in half the Pacific snorkeling on the Galapagos. The 12 MP Olympus WP was not a good camera plus we had heard several horror tales of this model drowning in the very conditions for which it was designed. The repair efforts were in vain so after emailing Olympus we shipped the camera back to the USA. A few weeks later we received notice from Olympus that the camera was not repairable and a replacement (new and better model) was on its way. Great news.

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Gold artifact at the Museo del Oro Bogota

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Fine gold work at Museo del Oro Bogota

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More gold at Museo del Oro Bogota

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More gold finery at Museo del Oro Bogota

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Fine gold art at Museo del Oro Bogota

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Gold chest plate Museo del Oro Bogota

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More gold Museo del Oro Bogota

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Siamese figurines not in gold Museo del Oro

Next it was onto the famous Gold Museum of Bogota, ‘Museo Del Oro’, and what an exhibition. Six floors of artifacts took hours to see. Walking the city we felt quite safe and the perfect Colombian coffee plus pizza from a local restaurant topped the day. Sights the following day included Museo Arqueologico in the Casa Del Marques de San Jorge, Congress Building, a couple of palaces, Capital National Justice Building, Cathedral Primada and Plaza de Bolivar. A fine day had many people out and about.

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Narrow streets of Bogota

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Gently does it, joggers on Llama in main Plaza Bogota

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Pigeons in the Plaza, Bogota

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Advertising imagination

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WOW No traffic .. Calm before the storm heading to Medellin

Another sunny day (Saturday) greeted our ride to Medellin. A difficult extraction for the bike at our cramped, stepped parking at the ‘full’ hostal. The one way streets foiled our smooth exit of Bogota and to aggravate us further remonstrations from a motorcycle policeman in extreme traffic conditions saying we needed a fluro vest and a bike number on the passengers back caused a bit of anguish. After aggressively demanding we pull to the curb he had a change of heart and rode off just as we had maneuvered to the road’s edge through four lanes of traffic. This law applied to local riders only and not to travelers.

Still in our ‘wets’ we reached Honda, a drop of some 2500 mts to 300 mts. Cold drinks plus a quick snack revived us… we continued... with the ‘duck clothes’ packed away again, hoping the rain would keep its distance. All this greenery has a price… rain!!! Turning west the traffic lessened as the road pushed through the rain forest after Doradal. Climbing steadily we experienced an increase in Police and Army presence. A document check with one group was quite funny as a recruit used his English to question us to the mirth of his mates. He made a couple of errors…but still a much better effort than our poor Spanish. Descending out of the rain forest to a four lane highway increased the traffic volume and speed and once again we were stopped by the police for a papers check. Our apprehender lost interest when he heard the limits of our Spanish and sent us on our way.

On the outskirts of Medellin the traffic ground to a standstill. Two things cause this in Colombia… an accident or football… this time it was an accident. A city bus had rolled onto its roof and its rear wheels had been ripped off. Although the accident occurred on the other side of the road effectively blocking it, the ‘lookers’on our side had all but stopped. Passing this obstacle, the traffic took off sweeping us along at a great pace almost taking us straight to Hostal Medellin. Glad Carol was alert as I would have continued with the traffic flow. My navigator’s skill will always be appreciated and never underestimated. Who needs a GPS?

We headed into some busy days in this amazing Colombian metropolis, transformed from a place run by murderous drug lords and gangs to a thriving, clean city.

During the previous months through various means we had been in contact with Givi Italy concerning the replacement of our damaged pannier lids. They had arranged for replacements to be collected from their Colombian importer in Medellin who also happened to be the local Yamaha dealer. We had already received an email from the importer stating the items had arrived and to call on their retail outlet to arrange collection.

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Nice brochures but we were looking for Pannier lids

Our contact with the shop however failed to locate the items and it turned into a marathon effort. We spent a week chasing the parcels and ended up getting two large envelopes containing six Givi retailer catalogues instead of our pannier lids. Our time was not totally wasted however and our experience with Ruta 40 the BMW dealer was an excellent one. We had heard good reports of Mauricio and his band of workers and even though they had moved to new premises the friendly open door policy to overland travelers still applied. Carlos, good friend of Mauricio from the motorcycle tyre shop next door spoke English and helped us out with the language barriers.

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Looks worse than it really was….greasing steering head bearings

The bike received some well needed attention here including a new oil switch, cleaned and greased steering head bearings, new brake pads, changed fork oil and cleaned air-filter. Ruta 40 had all the parts in stock.

We also met up with Jan and Dianne, a Dutch rider and his Colombian lady friend. Jan was enjoying a slow tour of South America on his 1945 WLA Harley. Impressive tales of where this bike had been and its reliability. Our 29 year old BMW was a positive ‘newby’ compared to the WLA.

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Jan, Dianne and Carol

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WLA still banging along

By Friday we had given up getting the pannier lids believing something had been lost in the translation at the shop. Our contacts at Givi however, were adamant they were there (somewhere) and to persevere but we were running out of time to get to Cartagena. After receiving tips from Mauricio and Carlos on the best roads to Cartagena we departed planning to return to Medellin some weeks later.

Exiting Medellin we swept past the Yamaha Storage shed on the outskirts of town wondering if our pannier lids were inside. We rode into the mountains following our instructions, well aware the road was closed the day before because of landslides. Trucks delayed by the road closure clogged the climb up into the scenic forest broken only by clearings for dairy farms. We took chances and passed when we could. Despite climbing into the mountains the heat and humidity remained. After Santa Rosa de Osos the sky darkened and we enjoyed a couple of cooling showers as the road climbed and descended several times. Eventually the sun appeared after Valdivia as we cruised down to cross a muddy river at Puerto Valdivia. The road hugged the fast flowing water with a reasonably tree canopy breaking the hot sun but there was no escaping the humidity. At El Jardin we stopped for a cold drink discussing whether we should call it and look for a hotel but we pushed on finally stopping at Caucasia. The cold shower at Hotel Genesis brought us back to life but soon realized we were not drinking enough in the heat.

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Road out of Medellin with plenty of trucks

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and more trucks

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Muddy river from the rain

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Water buffalo a long way from home

We hoped to reach Cartagena today and the morning ride to Planeta Rica was cool as the road wound through the lush hills passing Sahagun, Chimu and Sincelejo. The pace was quick but the road again deteriorated to potholes filled with muddy water, the continuous rain obviously taking its toll.

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More thatched roofs along the highway

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and more indigenous housing

After San Onofre the threatening dark sky dropped is contents, light at first then much heavier but by the time we had rejoined the main highway via Turbaco it had stopped. The traffic increased to an obscene level, jostling for space, we grind slowly towards Cartagena with our feet firmly planted on the road. Walking pace is not fun. The traffic is packed so tight it is impossible to split the vehicles. Eventually the road lanes multiply and the volume is spread out. Road signs mean nothing as we are swept along with the ever quickening pace. Two policemen on a motorbike gave us brief directions at traffic lights and we tagged along as best we could trying to keep pace as they carved up the traffic waiting at each intersection to point us in the right direction. Nice stuff and we really appreciated this. We were heading for the Old Town to the pre-booked Hotel San Roque. Crossing the last bridge into the old town our police guides peeled off in a different direction then the black heavens once again dumped a massive deluge soaking us in seconds. We rode up and down the narrow streets looking for Calle Media Luna as the unguttered rooves swamped the crisscrossed alleyways turning them into 25 cm rivers of rain water and sewage. Carol dismounted asking for directions on a waterlogged map with the doorman of a very flash Hotel.

There at last….reception was unfazed at our damp presentation and ushered us to our room. Bike parking was in a covered walkway linking incomplete renovations to the existing building. Our constant dripping on their pristine floor was greeted with a mop as we carried our luggage up the narrow stairways in stifling heat and humidity. We needed to wash everything the road water had touched…we could smell it in our boots. I mustn’t have cleaned enough though as two days later I had several serious appointments with the porcelain seat in our bathroom. In hind sight our entry into Cartagena should have been delayed a day to the Sunday…This is a huge city and is something we normally do….. Saturday was just over the top with traffic.

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Old fort in Cartagena

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Rose and Mark enjoying the sights in Cartagena

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Colours abound, food sellers in Cartagena

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Cartagena at night

Carol collected her sister Rosemary and husband Mark from the airport as I recovered. Sightseeing was the order of the next few days. There was a small kitchen at the Hotel where we enjoyed homemade breakfasts which assisted in my recovery and Carol entertained her family playing guide in this very historic and colorful city.

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Simon Bolivar instrumental in gaining independence from Spain

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Ships in the harbor

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Restored buildings in the old town

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Restoration is everywhere

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Rose and Carol with a fruit vendor

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History portrayed in statues

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Magnificent colours and architecture

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Many blocks of this type of history

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A popular resting piece of art

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Walking for hours through the narrow streets

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Much better without the cars

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Complimented with green shrubs

With my recovery almost complete we planned the next few days ahead.

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