Mac Daddy Robertson put together this video that includes most of the highlights from the trip from Colombia to Peru.
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.
LET ME JUST SAY. I LOVE COLOMBIA! THE SCENERY, THE VIBE, THE PEOPLE, THE PEOPLE, THE PEOPLE. FOR THE FIRST TIME ON THE TRIP, CHASE AND I SLOWED THINGS DOWN A BIT AS WE WAITED FOR MAC (CHASE´S BROTHER AND ONE OF MY BEST FRIENDS) TO FLY INTO MEDELLIN AND JOIN US FOR THE REST OF THE JOURNEY.
SUNDAY JULY 7TH – DAY 32 – SOMEWHERE IN THE CARIBBEAN – CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA
After arriving at the docks, Chase and I went straight to the beautiful colonial center of Cartagena where all the hostels are located. We found a cheap one with a nice courtyard, a pool and clean sheets and called it a day. The rest of the day was devoted to relaxing in the pool and emotionally and physically cleansing ourselves from our sea voyage.
MONDAY JULY 8TH – DAY 33 – CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA
Arriving in a foreign country by sailboat, with a motorcycle, carries with it some customs procedures. Our whole day was practically consumed in getting our passports (with our immigration stamps) back from the captain and then going to the local customs office to get vehicle permits and then the obligatory vehicle insurance.
Lucky for us, somewhere along the line we found two aussies who were doing the same journey on motorcycles. We joined forces for the day and tackled all of the customs hoops together. It was pretty funny swapping stories of our travels. The aussies have found a way to throw out the F-bomb after every other word in a surprisingly charming way. I´ve decided I need to make some more aussie friends when I come home.
TUESDAY JULY 9TH – DAY 34 – CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA
More relaxing, resting, chillin. Attempted to clean our rusted chains the best we could. Hung out with some british gals for a good part of the day and enjoyed eating the different foods of Colombia.
WEDNESDAY JULY 10TH – DAY 35 – CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA – CAUCASIA, COLOMBIA
At this point it had been about a week since we had a full day´s ride and we were both STOKED to see what Colombia had in store for us. 3 days in Cartagena was enough time in one place and we thought we´d wait for Mac in Medellin where we planned on meeting up.
Medellin is famous for a couple reasons, firstly because it was where Pablo Escobar lived during the golden age of cocaine and secondly, because the women here are supposedely the most beautiful in the whole world. You´ve got my attention. The residents don´t like talking about the Pablo Escobar thing but they love to talk about the beauty of the women and their metro system.
But first, getting out of Cartagena was nuts. No other country we´ve been to has so many motorcycles zipping around. They have no respect for space and at one point a motorcyclist behind Chase started nudging his saddlebags to the side in order to move ahead 10 feet at a stop light. After leaving the city, it was a mellow ride through colombian ranches and small towns. We arrived at Caucasia, ate some carne asada and found a hotel for $5 each.
THURSDAY JULY 11TH – DAY 36 – CAUCASIA, COLOMBIA – MEDELLIN, COLOMBIA
Our day started out just like any other here in Latin America… But three seconds after starting my motorcycle, IT DIED. It had rained all night long and I suspected water had gotten somewhere it shouldn´t have. We tried bump starting it and it ran for about 4 seconds before it died again and then wouldn´t start. These are the moments you hope don´t happen while you are in the middle of nowhere. Lucky for us, while trying to push start the bike a car mechanic from a nearby shop invited us to bring the bike into his shop and out of the sun so we could make our necessary repairs. The friendliness and hospitality of the Colombian people is right there with the Mexicans.
The guys in the shop all crowded around trying to guess what the problem was. They were all genuinely interested in helping us out. After the mechanics helped me rule out bad gasoline/water in the carburetor, I had no choice other than to take the carburetor apart piece by piece. After disassembling everything and putting it back together the bike barely managed to start but wouldn´t stay running long. It could have been any number of weird electronical problems from the rain the night before but it seemed to be carb related. Again, I took the carburetor apart and found the vent hose had somehow gotten fried shut so the carburetor was trying to equalize the gas levels by sucking air from the fuel line. I clipped the fried part of the vent hose off, reassembled everything and she started up like nothing had ever happened. 5 hours of frustration and fear of being in Caucasia the rest of my life waiting for electronic pieces ended with a quick snip of the scissors. The guys in the shop were all glad to see we solved the problem and they made us promise to stop by next time we travel through Caucasia. Deal.
Leaving Caucasia around 2 pm we got on the road to Medellin, Colombia. From here the road left the countryside and traveled along a muddy river bigger than the Colorado. After an hour following the river we crossed and started heading up a windy mountain pass. It was BEAUTIFUL! We went from 500 feet above sea level in the morning to above 8000 feet in the afternoon. By nightfall we started the descent into the valley where Medellin is and around 8:30pm we arrived in the city. The lights from the tall buildings at night were incredible.
While we were in Cartagena we had arranged for a place to stay a couple nights through couchsurfing.com. A great guy and motorcycle lover from the city, named Juan, offered to host us. We met him near his home and he then guided us back to his 15 story apartment building on the mountain. Again. The view was incredible.
FRIDAY JULY 12TH – DAY 37 – MEDELLIN, COLOMBIA
We woke up the next morning, did our laundry for the first time in a long time and looked through Juan´s Colombian travel books. He was a great resource and had something to say about every motorcycle detour we could possibly make while in Colombia. The three of us ended up going on a nice loop up the southern mountains above Medellin and back down around the other side. Later, we went to our friend Hugo´s house to go swimming with him and his kids. Hugo was the only Colombian aside from the Captain on the “Island Fever.” Hugo, a hostel owner in Panama, is another perfect example of a friendly and hospitable Colombian. He offered to take us down to the Kawasaki dealership the next day to get our rusted chains all sorted out.
SATURDAY JULY 13TH – DAY 38 – MEDELLIN, COLOMBIA
We met Hugo once again at his house at 9am and then followed him around as he asked neighbors for a motorcycle and a helmet to borrow. haha an hour later we were en route to the Kawasaki dealership. It was heaven. Everything we needed and more. We got bought a chain and had another that we already had put on free of charge and bought some new motorcycle oil. We found a hostel to stay at that night and then met up with Juan again, who took us to a friend´s motorcycle shop so we´d have a place to change our oil and throw out the old stuff. After getting back to our new hostel, we showered and got ready for what Hugo promised would be an incredible night on the town. Around 10pm Hugo showed up with his cousin, Luisa and his ex-wife. Paola (argentina), Jan and Evit (slovakia) from our sailing adventure also showed up and we walked a few blocks to the party district. We ended up salsa-bar hopping til about 2am. Me and Chase were both pooped. Paisas (the nickname for people from Medellin) usually go til dawn. At 2am the streets looked like they were still getting busier. I´d never seen anything like it. It was just a normal saturday but it looked like spring break in some party town. Getting back to the hostel we went straight to bed.
SUNDAY JULY 14TH – DAY 39 – MEDELLIN, COLOMBIA
Early that morning we woke up for church. About a mile away from our hostel. We came back to our hostel and met up with Paola, our Argentine friend from the sailing adventure, for a day trip to La Piedra del Peñol. A big fatty rock that is “a must see” while in Medellin. Again, we cruised through the mountains above Medellin and then into the Colombian countryside where all the rich folks have their summer homes. The rock was big. It was black. And we climbed it. We ended up dropping Paola off in a town near the rock and headed back to Medellin.
We came back just as it was getting dark and snaked our way through heavy traffic. That night Medellin was playing Bogota in an annual soccer rivalry game. Everyone was wearing green and going nuts. We watched part of the game but it ended up being 0-0…
MONDAY JULY 15TH – DAY 40 – MEDELLIN, COLOMBIA
I just received word that Mac will arrive tomorrow night at 7:04 pm here in Medellin International Airport. At which point, our South American party tour can really get started!
IT IS A LITTLE KNOWN FACT THAT THERE ARE NO ROADS FROM PANAMA TO COLOMBIA. IN SOUTHERN PANAMA THE PANAMERICAN HIGHWAY ENDS AT THE DARIEN GAP—150 MILES OF DENSE RAINFOREST, SWAMPS, INDIGENOUS TRIBES, DRUG SMUGGLERS AND GUERRILLA REBELS. THE PANAMERICAN HIGHWAY PICKS BACK UP AGAIN IN SOUTH AMERICA BUT GETTING THERE ON A MOTORCYCLE PROVED INTERESTING.
WEDNESDAY JULY 3RD – DAY 28 – PANAMA CITY, PANAMA – COLON, PANAMA – 24 DE DICIEMBRE, PANAMA
After spending a couple days in the heart of Panama City waiting for a new sprocket and researching our next move we decided to head to Colon, Panama to find a boat captain to take us to Colombia. The journey from the Pacific city of Panama City to Colon on the caribbean side was a quick 45 minutes from one ocean to the other. Arriving in Colon we realized we didn’t want to stay in Colon. Dirty slums in a dirty port city. The whole place felt like it was rotting. We spent several hours asking around trying to find out where the small boat captains leave from Panama to Colombia. Every time we’d get to a dock they’d turn us around and tell us we were in the wrong spot. Our plan to find a crappy supply boat to Colombia wasn’t working out well.
After several hours of frustration I called a captain of a “beautiful sailing yacht,” that according to a local hostel was leaving that day or the next day from a nearby port. Normally these fancy sailing expeditions cost $500/person plus another $400 for the bike. When I called up the captain I told him we could be anywhere he wanted within the day but our budget was $1200 total between the two of us. He was super hesitant but he accepted and gave us explicit directions on what we were to do the next 12 hours in order to get to his boat.
It was about 4pm when I made the phone call and that day we needed to arrive in a suburb of Panama City a couple hours away. We backtracked towards Panama City and headed south towards the Darien Gap. Our soon-to-be boat captain had told us to look for a hotel in a city called “24 de diciembre.” Just as we were approaching the city and about to ask somebody for some info, an older guy in his 50s pulls up next to me during a stoplight on a little motorscooter. Our conversation went something like this…
Old dude- “where you guys going?”
Me- “we’re looking for the 24th of december, we need a hotel”
Old dude- “oh ya, you just arrived, this is it. Do you want to come stay with me?”
The light turns green, he kicks his bike into first and makes a charging left hand turn through traffic. Here we go!
We quickly arrived at his house which looked like an old hotel that at some point became a house. When we pulled up, his wife and adopted daughter were there to greet us. The mysterious motoscooter driver introduced himself as Israel Gonzalez. He sat us down in his kitchen, shared Panamanian civil war stories, fed us, put sweet 80s music videos on TV for us watch, and gave us an old musty mattress to sleep on. He is one of the most interesting people I’ve met… he’s a hotel chef/police negotiator/surveillance camera technician/Hare Krishna lover/war veteran/photographer. But I was mainly interested in hearing about the Panamanian civil war. He had photos, war memorabilia, and a very sharp memory. We went to bed after drinking some banana smoothies and watching old 80s music videos from a broken TV.
THURSDAY JULY 4TH (INDEPENDENCE DAY) – DAY 29 – 24 DE DICIEMBRE, PANAMA – SAN BLAS ISLANDS, PANAMA
The next morning we woke up at 5:45 am so we could arrive at the docks in time for our boat. Even at 5:45 am Israel was ready for us. He fed us breakfast, then all in one moment he turned on some loud mariachi music, lit some ear-splitting fireworks and started shouting “Happy Independence Day!!!!” My most memorable 4th of July yet.
We said goodbye, thanked our gracious hosts and got on the road to Carti, Panama. After a true rollercoasteresque road through the Panamanian rainforest we arrived at some dumpy docks in Carti, Panama. From there we had to load our motorcycles onto a small motorboat and ride 30 minutes straddling our babies until we could load them onto the bigger sailboat that would take us the 250 miles to Cartagena, Colombia. When we arrived at our smaller-than-advertised sailboat (named the “Island Fever”)we discovered the Captain wasn’t on board. So, we went to the nearest island to find him, picked him up and then returned to the sailboat where we watched in horror as our motorcycles were winched slowly over the Atlantic Ocean from the small motorboat to the sailboat. An hour-and-a-half after we left Carti, both bikes were onboard the Island Fever. At this point the scummy motorboat “captain” says $150 for the trouble… It was a complete scam. We ended up settling for $120. We later heard from other motorcycle travelers they were charged $30 for the same service.
The rest of the day was devoted to sailing about leisurely through the BEAUTIFUl San Blas Islands. We ended up anchoring near a small island and went snorkeling in the warm, 100+ feet visibility caribbean water. Our shipmates included 4 Argentines, 2 Frenchmen, 2 Colombians, 1 Panamanian, and 2 slovaks. Our captain, a Colombian named Jorge, in my opinion was just a pirate with a charismatic and friendly disposition. Honesty and transparency weren’t really part of his “code” though as we later discovered.
We all soon realized the boat was way too small for the 13 people we had on board. And there wasn’t enough food either. During the course of the trip we all got pretty comfortable sharing waterbottles, beds, germs, and any personal privacy. The First night, however, we were all excited and optimistic about the voyage. That changed the next day…
FRIDAY JULY 5TH – DAY 30 – SAN BLAS ISLANDS, PANAMA – SOMEWHERE IN THE CARIBBEAN
Leaving the absolute “screensaver paradise” of the San Blas Islands we passed through the protecting reefs and entered into the open sea. 10 minutes later I had to lie down. I always thought sea sickness was for ninnys. I guess it’s for me and Chase…and everyone else on board too. The waves were a solid 7-8 feet high and the boat didn’t really do a good job of cutting through it.
For just about all of the day I had to lie on my back in order to feel somewhat normal. haha It wasn’t the sailing adventure I hoped for.
SATURDAY JULY 6TH – DAY 31 – SOMEWHERE IN THE CARIBBEAN – SOMEWHERE ELSE IN THE CARIBBEAN
Day 2 at sea. Nothing in sight. no land. no other boats. just us and the ocean.
At some point in the afternoon we both started feeling better and were able to eat comfortably as long as we stared directly at the horizon. The day’s highlight included seeing some whales and going for a swim in water so blue it seemed to glow. Meanwhile, our arrival date for that afternoon came and went. According to the captain; bad wind, bad current, bad waves.
Towards sunset I thought I had tackled seasickness but the wind started blowing and the waves started getting bigger. I had to throw myself on the back bed again as winds got up to 60 mph and waves reached 15 feet. The boat literally got airborne every time we went over a wave. At one point a wave crashed right over the whole boat and reached all the way to the rear hatch getting the 4 of us on the back bed wet. haha under any other conditions I would have LOVED the thrill of being in heavy seas. But sea sickness takes the fun away. That, and food running out halfway through the day.
SUNDAY JULY 7TH – DAY 32 – SOMEWHERE ELSE IN THE CARIBBEAN – CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA
As morning arrived we woke up to the first land we’d seen in more than 48 hours. We arrived in Cartagena, Colombia around 8 am and everyone sprinted to get off the boat. Next it was the motorcycles’ turn. According to our beloved captain, who had told me originally over the phone that the onload and offload fees were 30-40 bucks, it was illegal to unload the motorcycles onto the dock. So that was going to be $100 to the dock workers. It was all a load of BS, he was way too friendly with the dock guys. Before I knew it, a huge group of dudes grabbed our bikes and loaded them onto the docks. No more price negotiation.
I suspect the outrageous onload and offload fees with his buddies were his way of trying to charge us more than $600 each (which he constantly reminded me was an incredible deal!) I also blame him for stealing my $13.50 rain jacket!
On a happier note. We met a couple australian dudes that paid $1050 total to cross from Panama to Colombia. At least we didn’t come out that bad…
Back on land, Chase and I suddenly had sea legs and everything felt like it was moving. We ate the first thing we could get our hands on, examined our now completely rusted chains and set off to find a place to stay while we waited on our immigration papers. Not before we took a moment to gloat in the fact that we had ACTUALLY arrived in South America with two working motorcycles!