August 26, 2006 GMT
¿Que tal Colombia?

The second most frequently asked question by Colombians (after 'Where are you from?') is 'How do you find Colombia?'. Colombians are very proud of thier country and conscious of the publicity foreginers receive about thier home.


'¡Aye, muy lindo!' (Very beautiful), we reply as they smile and chat amoungst themselves.

On occasion after Piggy is put away and we are wandering the streets of a small town we overhear funny little conversations.
Old Man 1: 'Who are they?'
Old Man 2: 'Oh I don't know, they arrived a few days ago on a motorcycle?'
Old Man 1: 'Oh'

We ponder... 'How do they know?'

Early morning in the country side

We left Honda and journeyed through the long valley passing Armero and Ibagué, before steadily climbing to an altitude of approximately 3,500 metres over the high Quindiro Pass to La Leña, then almost instantly descending to a fertile valley and Armenia.

Quindiro Pass - Colombia

It was a quiet relaxed Sunday. Julie does her hotel search, while Grant immediately becomes surrounded by, yet another, curious crowd. A few minutes pass and Grant began to realise that most of the crowd were not so curious after all, with many of them seeing the opportunity to make a little money by showing us to a hotel, whether it was what we were looking for seemed to be an after thought!

After trying to converse with many people, all haggling for our attention at once, we called a taxi over and organised him to take us to a suitable hotel, which he did. Our relaxed Sunday had all but dissappeared and we were almost immediately dissapointed with Armenia, until we met a lovely couple from Cali at our hotel and shared coffee and conversation to finish the day pleasantly.

Coffee! Coffee! Coffee!

Zona Cafeteria is exactly that, the Coffe Zone. Litterally, every available inch of land is devoted to the growing and production of the delicious bean.... Jules was in heaven.

The town of Salento, in the heart of the zone, is a popular weekend getaway for Colombians searching for all number of coffee flavoured treats and enormous plates of locally caught trout.

Coffee toffee - Salento

We arrived on a Monday, hoping to have avoided the crowds, only to find that it was a national holiday and the place was absolutely buzzing. Fortunately we met some fellow motorcyclists (without thier bikes) who were vacating a room at one of the hotels - we were lucky! The proprietor allowed us to park Piggy in the courtyard garden, although it was a tight fit, getting her up the steps and through the front door.

Climbing the 250 steps of the lomo (hill) at the end of Calle 6 and passing the 14 stations of the cross Grant helped an elderly gentleman launch his rainbow kite in the strong breezes, a favorite past-time for locals, tourists, young and old.

250 Steps, 14 Stations of the Cross - Salento

Near the aguas termales of Santa Rosa del Cabal we decided on an evening of camping in the country side, our first since Guatemala. It was not as enjoyable as we anticipated. In the middle of the night a small, stinky, flea bitten puppy decided to use our tent as a trampoline until he was 'dog-tired' and the cosy vestible of our tent seemed a nice place to fall asleep.

Country Road - Aguas Termales, Santa Rosa

Santa Rosa is firmly established on the local Colombian tourist trail. A small colonial city, bustling and vibrant, the main plaza is iced with a grand gothic cathederal. Horse and carts race through the narrow streets, battling with trucks, buses, scooters and the quintessential Colombian Renault.

While camping we met Marta and her German friend Carlos, shared a few drinks and were invited to Martas house at Andalucia. Visiting Martas friendly family proved to be an entertaining and enjoyable event culminating in a fabulous ride through the country in a horse and cart to pick manderines and guavas.

Picking fruit

Nanna fell in love with Grant as his curly blonde hair, blue eyes and fair skin reminded her of her late husband. Marta was a gracious and generous host while Rosalina kindly found space for us in her home to bed down for the night and Oscar allowed us to put Piggy away safely in his shed.

Piggy safely tucked away for the evening

Some-how-or-rather Grant was talked into taking all the little children (about 10 in total) for a joy ride around town on Piggy, the biggest moto they had ever seen. Squeals of delight and fright could be heard as Grant revved the engine and took off down the street to Parque Central.

Grant with Michelle and Raquelle

We met up with Randy, a fellow V-Strom owner (650 V-Strom) and, to Grants delight, a hang-glider pilot, outside of Cali and were escorted through the heavy traffic to his home for the evening, promising to return to Cali in a few days we visited Popoyan (approximatley 130km south) a beautifuly restored colonial town close to Volcàn Puracè.

Teatro Municipal - Popoyan

Heading out on the road towards Nieva and San Augustine, as far as the town of Coconuco, we became a little aprehensive with the isolation, lack of other traffic and no military presence along this route. Many locals at Coconuco had suggested the road further east towards Nieva could be dangerous due to guerilla and narco traffic occupation, we chose to return to Popoyan dissapointed as we were looking foward to seeing the archeological site at San Augustine.

On the way to Volcán Puracé

Returning to Cali we performed some much needed maintenance on Piggy including washing and inspecting the chain and sprockets, replacing the fluids in the clutch and rear brake.

At Randy's suggestion we chose to ride the 500km's from Cali to Ipiales and the border of Ecuador together.

Grant and Randy

From Pasto the mountains become part of the Andes chain climbing higher in altitude as the road twists and turns on itself, snaking its way to Ipiales.

The change in scenery was spectacular and surprising from the green fields of sugar and coffee to the dry and dusty landscapes of the higher altitudes. The two bikes wound their way through mountain tunnels, alongside deep ravines and over many kilometres of rough road works. On several occasions we were signaled by road workers to continue through only to find half way along the narrow detour a truck bearing down apon us from the opposite direction. All in a days ride!

The beautiful gothic Sanctuary of the Virgen of Las Lajas situated over the Rio Guáitara, near Ipiales, is said to have produced almost as many miracles as Lourdes in France. Once a year a great pilgrimage to the sanctuary occurs from both Colombia and Ecuador.

Ipiales, the city of three volcanoes. We only saw two! However, the morning view was both spectacular and exciting as the full moon sat above the cone of Volcán Cumbal, while plumes of white smoke vented from the crater of Volcán Chile.

Volcàn Cumbal - Ipiales, Colombia - photo courtesy of Randy

Volcàn Chile - Ipiales, Colombia - photo courtesy of Randy


So, for five weeks and perhaps 4,000 kms we travelled in Colombia.

Is Colombia a safe country to travel? Well, we had no problems! Yet we know there is still a very real risk to the traveller, if not, why then are the main roads so extensively patrolled by the military?

The present Government has, and is continuing to make very real progress in securing many of the 'hot spots' of Colombia and this action is felt in the people, who after all, have the greatest to gain.

For the most part we only travelled the Pan-American and other main toll roads (free for motorcycles!). When we did wander, it was only after extensive discussion with millitary police and many of the locals. Often we were warned of a section of road where stopping was considered unwise or of a certain town that was known as a safe haven for many of the less desirable citizens of Colombia. In every case we heeded to these warnings.

In the end, the decision to travel in Colombia was, for us, entirely personal.

Colombias famous Chiva

Posted by Grant Guerin at August 26, 2006 03:27 PM GMT

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