FINALLY, OUR TWO MAN COMPANIONSHIP BECAME A THREE MAN FELLOWSHIP. THE SOUTHERN HALF OF COLOMBIA HAD ITS FAIR SHARE OF CLOSE CALLS ALONG SOME OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL STRETCHES OF HIGHWAY SINCE WE STARTED THE TRIP.
TUESDAY JULY 16TH – DAY 41 —> MONDAY JULY 22ND – DAY 47 – MEDELLIN, COLOMBIA
Finally, our new travel companion (mac daddy robertson) arrived tuesday evening at the airport. For weeks before, Mac had been emailing the owner of a Kawasaki KLR 650 (same bike both Chase and I have) who had agreed to sell the bike to Mac when he arrived. Mac let the dude know when he was coming to town and the guy responded saying that would be just fine. But when Mac arrived all communication stopped..
Frustrated. Annoyed. Angry.
He finally emails back after a day saying he left the country and that he’d be back 5 days later to sell Mac the bike. When we tried emailing for clarification, responses were super sporadic and vague. The uncertainty of whether we’d find a motorcycle for Mac was a constant downer on our moods.
In the meantime, we watched our roommates snort cocaine, rode the subway through the city, rode a gondola to the mountains, went horseback riding, and celebrated with the entire city after they beat Bogota in the annual rivalry soccer game. Aside from a few other minor turisty activities we just did some maintenance on our motorcycles, ate delicious food, watched movies, played pool and played more pool.
Emails continued sporadic and vague which gave us just enough hope to wait until Monday.
Monday morning arrived and still no word. Luckily, the worthless Diego (the flaky motorcycle seller), left us the name of a friend and his phone number that was also selling an adventure bike. When Monday afternoon arrived, we called Diego’s friend, Juan Diego. Juan Diego responded immediately and we ended up meeting with him later that night. The motorcycle fit our needs perfectly and we agreed to meet the next morning to seal the deal. We all agreed to leave the next day whether we had a bike for Mac or not. Enough waiting. We went to bed still uneasy about the bike situation.
TUESDAY JULY 23RD – DAY 48 – MEDELLIN, COLOMBIA – SALENTO, COLOMBIA
TUESDAY. TERRIFIC TUESDAY. Everything went according to plan. We bought the bike. We got insurance for Mac. We lubed our chains. Changed Mac’s oil. AND LEFT MEDELLIN!
I love Medellin but we were all embarrassingly giddy leaving the city. The road was incredible as usual. Leaving the city it was a steady curvy mountain road. First we climbed. Then we dropped down to a hot and sweaty valley.
During the first 45 minutes of our ride, Mac had his first close call. During a turn on the highway he swung out so wide that his handlebar knocked the side of a bus in the adjacent lane. I caught the action in my rear view mirror and thought he was a goner. We pulled over so Chase and I could describe every crazy driving situation we’d seen during the trip so Mac could know what to expect from there on out.
Getting back on the road a little slower this time we passed several towns that were lined with policemen with riot shields standing on the side of the highway and then up again to Colombia’s aptly named coffee-producing agricultural zone, the “coffee triangle.”
At some point while traveling through the large city of Pereira I had my closest near-death experience of the trip. The city mainly consisted of one way streets and highways and at one point we merged onto another two lane highway that I assumed was one-way. No lanes and no signs to say otherwise. There was a bus stopping on the right hand lane so I sped around its left side to come face to face with a large transport van. It was the first time I felt like my life was completely in the hands of a stranger. The van immediately swerved and skidded sideways to my left opening just enough room for me to swerve between him and the stopped bus.
I couldn’t sleep that night thinking about it. It’s a mistake I won’t repeat.
We finished the day making a detour out to a small town called Salento. Some dude on another adventure bike told us to stop there for the night. It was well worth it. Chill colonial vibes, cheap hotels, cheap food and within close proximity to a national park.
WEDNESDAY JULY 24TH – DAY 49 – SALENTO, COLOMBIA – POPAYAN, COLOMBIA
At the recommendation of some locals we woke up and went straight to the Cocora Valley. A beautiful valley famous for the Colombian national tree, the wax palm.
After arriving at a dead end, we backtracked through the valley and got back on the panamerican highway and headed once more towards the south. The road dipped down to a lower elevation and then for the majority of the day we drove through hot farmland and then through the dumpy city of Cali, Colombia. Later in the day we headed back up into the mountains and found a place to stay in the colonial downtown of Popayan, Colombia.
Just as we arrived, Chase’s tire got a flat (the first in more than 6,000 miles). It was quickly taken care of at a local tire shop for $2.50 and we went to bed.
THURSDAY JULY 25TH – DAY 50 – POPAYAN, COLOMBIA – IPIALES, COLOMBIA
Waking up in Popayan, our day’s journey was a surprise to all of us. The day was full of the most interesting climate changes we have experienced yet. Starting off in a very temperate mountain city we slowly descended down into a desert valley. Cactus. Heat. Dirt. No color. I felt like I was in Northern Mexico all over again. The guy Mac bought his motorcycle from gave us one strong word of advice… After Popayan, DON’T STOP UNTIL YOU GET TO THE BORDER. Well we had to break that rule when Chase got another flat tire. We found the culprit. A fatty nail lodged in the tire, the same nail that popped the last inner tube. While it was getting repaired, Mac and I headed to a nearby restaurant to throw back some cokes. When we sat down there was a group of 4 Colombian military dudes already seated so we started up some friendly banter.
Apparently we stopped in the most dangerous region in Colombia. For those of you unaware, Colombia is in a constant civil war over the control of the mountains in southern Colombia. The FARC is the most well known guerrilla group but the Colombian military is constantly fighting against several groups. They all sell cocaine to other countries in exchange for weapons and ammunition. Apparently the Russians are the ones giving them the majority of the weapons. The army guys said conflict was a constant; in that area more than any other. When I asked them when was the last time they fired their weapons, they thought for a second then responded “9 days ago.” You never would have guessed a place that appeared so mellow would have so much conflict.
I wished our new Colombian army friends good luck in the fight and got back on the road. After a couple hours of desert we started to climb once more through a canyon I’m going to refer to as the Grand Canyon of Colombia. Around every crest the view got more and more absurd. Leaving the canyon, the road turned up the mountain. We climbed to about 10,000 feet, at which point it began to mist, and then drizzle and then rain. We passed through the city of Pasto at the base of a volcano and got our rain gear on but it wasn’t completely adequate (We’re still fine-tuning our rain-preparedness outfits). Wet and freezing, we arrived in Ipiales (9,500 feet), the border town with Ecuador. Chase was purple so he got the first and only hot shower.
The next morning we’d be entering Ecuador if everything went according to plan.