January 11, 2011 GMT
Bogged down Part II

Progress in Colombia continues at a snails pace.

We headed North for San Gil and then Santa Marta, on the Carribean coast, as everyone at our Bogota hostel said it was a good route to take to get to Cartagena.

What no one mentioned was the number of cars, buses and trucks crawling up and down the winding mountain roads to get north. We took 8 hours to do 330kms (210miles), and when we arrived at the hostel in San Gil we discovered the road north was 'temporarily' closed beyond the next major city (Bucaramanga) due to land slides.

We decided to stay in San Gil an extra night to see if would open, which meant we could play in the local waterfalls.

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Over night we saw pictures of the appalling damage to the road we originally wanted to take, and decided to give up the idea of getting to Cartagena, heading south to Medellin instead. We had another morning of heavy traffic over the mountains until we turned west, and it all diminished. At the next toll booth we got the answer, the road to Medellin was also closed. This explained the heavy traffic on the road we had been using, as the city of Bucaramanga, which is on the main route to Venezuela, was cut off from the north and west.

We questioned the police at the toll booth and they told us that it was passable by motorbikes only.

We didn't think the road looked too bad.

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Until we at arrived at this.

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Just as it started to rain.

These people were walking the 3 kms over the mud to get to buses and taxis to continue their trips.

A group of locals gathered round and started to tell us how bad it was and that we should go back, I got people to confirm that the only real route to Medellin was to return to Bogota.

Jean was looking at the steep rutted muddiness of the 1st slope and indicated to me that there was no way she was going to do it. After questioning the locals some more, trying to find out how far it was until passable tarmac again all I could get was "not far" but that I would 'need help'.

There was no way I wanted to spend another 2 days getting back to Bogota mixing it up with the trucks and mad drivers, and after all I could see people going past me on Honda CG125s, albeit being pushed by their pillions.

So, I decided to go for it and ride both bikes across the worst bits.

We employed 4 helpers with a supply of ropes and I set off down the 1st slope, where we had to wait while some new surface was laid down for me.

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Once past the digger, it was up a 45% slope and onto the flat, it had been tiring keeping the bike under control, but not too bad, so I stopped and went back with my new expensive friends to get Jean's bike and repeated the process.

It was only once I had got Jean's bike with mine that I realised I had more of the same to do around the next corner.

I should have known how bad it was going to be when I saw the bridge.

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As I looked around the scene of devastation I could see that a whole section of mountain side had slipped, multiple times, and would probably do so again if the rain became heavier.

Thankfully it went off.

As far as I was concerned we had reached a point of no turning back, so I pressed on, the surface getting worse and the slopes more extreme, all the time dodging people on foot. While I was doing this, Jean was helping push the bikes and stomping around through the thick, sticky mud looking for planks and chunks of tarmac to try to create a passable route through the deep ruts.

After each section I would have to walk back to collect the next bike and I could feel my strength leaving me. Between the heat, the altitude and lack of food ( It was mid afternoon and we had not eaten since 0800).

Without my helpers I would have dropped the bikes many times, as it happens I only dropped mine once. Either the bike would over heat, or I would, and we would have to wait while I recovered, at times I felt physically sick and just wanted to lay down and go to sleep.

Each time I took the second bike through a section, it would be worse, more water, more mud, deeper troughs.

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The final slope with the final bike was a delight to see, it was also the steepest and slippiest as the underlying clay was exposed, and wet.

The road workers were just adding fresh soil as I approached, which at first seemed good, but when I hit it the bike just sank into the loose packed earth, in spite of the efforts of my helpers. Fortunately, at this point, Jean had managed to stagger up the hill again, threw her full weight in with the other four, and I just about got moving again, much to my joy (Jean would like it to be noted that she is now over 2 stone lighter than at the start of the trip!).

I just slumped over the bike until Jean could force some Gatorade down me.

I was soaked in sweat, made worse by the fact I was wearing my wet weather gear, but strangely very happy. I had just taken nearly 3 hours to cover 1 km of mud and clay. Twice. I may not have gone to the Darien Gap, but I had conquered the Bucaramanga Gap.

It was another 40kms before we found a gas station with water to rinse the bikes off, and that is when I realised the smell of burning plastic that I thought was my belly pan touching the engine was in fact a stone jammed in the mud guard pressing against the front tyre, gouging a groove out.

We pressed on and found a hotel before dark, ate whatever was on offer and went to sleep.

We have had our Colombian adventure, we can head to Ecuador now.

Posted by Bruce Porter at January 11, 2011 01:09 AM GMT
 


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