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Published: December 7th 2009
All very efficient - as soon as we arrived at Bogota airport we were picked up and taken to the freight terminal where the bike was waiting to be released from customs. It took a few hours to get the paper work sorted but at least we left the airport on the bike that day which means we have the next few days free to explore. The only slightly inefficient bit was that the only way out of the warehouse was down two sets of steps - not that easy on a bike!!
Bogota is a very pleasant city - very modern and clean. I'm not sure what I expected but it wasn't this probably something more chaotic. There is clearly a lot of money here, there is a very smart BMW dealership where the bike got a service and lots of young wealthy bikers (bike are about double the uk price) came to chat with us all and to see a slide show of the trip so far - we are the first motorcycle group to come to Colombia so the dealership were keen to help us and introduce us to the local riders.
The main attraction in
Bogota - the main plaza
a bit like Trafalga Square with all those pigeons
Bogota is the gold museum and there was a hell of a lot of gold in it. Some enormous showy pieces belonging to chiefs etc. but mostly tiny, delicately carved amulets and everyday items like dress pins, rings, snuff boxes. There was an unbelievable amount of detail in these tiny items and the difference in styles between different tribal groups was clearly visible. There are apparently still 48 different tribal groups in Colombia!
From Bogota the local bikers accompanied us to Medellin taking us along all the best twisty, turny, up and down roads. On minute we were up above 2500m then we were plunging down to below 1500m. The mountains were much bigger and pointier than those in Central America but then we are in the Andes. No snow though just lots of thick lush vegetation. We pass lots of checkpoints with very friendly policemen who just wave us through and lots of roadside shrine with rows and rows of headlights lined up round them. The road emerges almost 1000m above Medallin, the descent is via 2 miles of a duel carriageway which appears to be full of cars in a big hurry to get home at the
end of the day and we cant dawdle as we need to keep up with the local boys who know the way to the hotel. Medellin used to be the centre of one of the main drug cartels but now, like Bogota, its a big modern city with a really nice feel to it. It makes you want to wander round and explore. One of the squares is filled with Botero sculptures of chubby people and animals with attitude plus there's an art gallery full of his painting so I got my culture hit. There's another BMW dealership here and there are well over a hundred local bikers who turn out to hear what the group has been up to.
They have a neat system in Colombia - the main restaurant/night-life area in every big city is call Zona Rosa, so finding a decent restaurant is easy, you just hop in a taxi and ask for Zona Rosa then take your pick. And the food is excellent - sitting out dining on the patio people watching you could easily be in a trendy part of London.
We got to sample the other sides of Colombia too staying in
an estancia in Corritos and a converted monestary in Popayan. The ride form Medellin to Corritos was through more stunning mountain scenery but the one thing they lack in Colombia is places to pull off the road and take photos - very frustrating. The estancia was in the middle of no-where surrounded by flat agricultural land. As soon as you went in the gates it was like you had entered a different world; manicured lawns, a traditional low building with enormous verandahs filled with cane and wood planters chairs just right for lazing in with your G&T, and a pool to cool off in. It was very tricky to find through as the sign on the main road had disappeared. However, the Colombians being incredibly helpful had notified the local police who were out in force looking for lost foreigners on bikes and escorting them to the estancia.
Popayan had a more colonial feel to it with narrow cobbled streets and colonial buildings with tiled roofs. In the centre all the buildings are white washed hence its nickname of 'white city'. There's a tiny little colonial bridge over the river built by the Spanish so the priest could get
to the poorer districts where the locals lived. This is the only place we got a glimpse of any indigenous people - there was a small protest in support of abused women in the main square where the locals ladies were wearing outfits comprising bowler type hats, big black skirts and DMs.
To get down to the border with Ecuador it was another 250+ miles through the Andes. The scenery wasn't how you imagine the Andes. We went from tropical jungle with lush vegetation and bananas at the side of the road through pine forests and into a barren dry desert with cacti lining the road (more cacti then we saw in Mexico!!) then into the Welsh Valleys. Right near the border is the little town of Ipiales. On the cliff face at the edge of town the rocks form an image of the Virgin Mary so the have built an enormous cathedral spanning the gorge. It just hangs there in thin air with its white fairy tale towers looking like a scene from the Lord of the Rings and like it should be inhabited by graceful elves.
Yet again we are at the border having only spent
a few days in a county, just enough for a tantalising glimpse and to make you know you want to come back. The people here were so pleased to see us and were keen to make sure we enjoyed their country - they even handed out free sweets when we stopped for coffee.
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