Saturday, March 10, 2007

100% Colombian- Last stop for South America

Let´s hear it for Colombia!

Despite expecting a long and tedious border crossing, we got there about 8.45am and had somehow crossed into Colombia just 50 mins later. They did have an incredibly camp looking border guard checking the contents of car boots etc so maybe that had something to do with it. No matter, we are in!

So hands up then class, what do we know about Colombia? Well, by all accounts, the 80s/90s, were quite an interesting time to be in Medellin when the drug gang warfare had escalated to the point that ´Sicarios´, basically teenagers, could be hired for as little as $30 to settle old scores resulting in the city being given the dubious honour of being the murder capital of the world. However since some of the major drug gang leaders have been bumped off, the city has transformed itself though not a lot of tourists know that yet.

Also there are still issues with the FARC and the ELN although they are mostly kept at bay by the Colombian army around the border with Venezuela and the Darien Gap although we were also told the bit between the border with Ecuador and Cali were also a bit dodgy. Furthermore we have been told only to ride during the day and never at night and not to stray off the main roads too much. Oh and motorcyclists are supposed to were some sort of waistcoat thing with the bikes numberplate on the back. I also new that we would have to ride through Colombia fairly quickly as we had a date with a sailboat leaving from Cartagena to Panama around mid March. Today was the 2nd of March so best get our skates on.

With this in mind, we took our first tentative steps into our last country in South America. My first thoughts were that the condiditon of the roads were bloody good and there always seems to be a team of fluorescent boilersuit-clad folk clearing out the roadside gutters and trimming the verges. And there were an awful lot of blokes standing around by the roadside with machine guns but these thankfully turned out to be the Colombian army and police checkpoints. We have been stopped quite a few times but mostly just to check our papers are in order (thankfully they were) and to ask where we are going/from etc.

After a couple of nights stopping off in Popayan and Pereira, we made it to Medellin and quickly found Casa Kiwi but only thanks to the GPS waypoint on their website. They have secure bike parking and give a 20% discount to bikers. The hostal is located in the El Poblado district of Medellin which is really quite nice, full of good bars, restaurants, loads of designer furniture shops and most importantly, lots of bike shops. Oh and before I forget, the Thai place (sorry can´t remember the name) nearby does 2-for-1 for food and even better, 3-for-1 cocktails before 7pm.
Casa Kiwi, Medellin

So after plundering the nearby bike shops for a new jacket for michelle (and oggling a new black and shiny Ninja 1400 at the Kwaker shop for me!), I had to get to Ruta 40, the BMW dealer ( which is located more centrally in town for some new tires as yet again, I need some new rubber. I had emailed Juan David Agudelo at Ruta 40 previously so they were expecting me and had the tires ready, a spanking new pair of Conti TKC 80s, sweet! What I wasn´t expecting was their incredible hospitality and generosity. David speaks very good english so spared no time in showing us around their shop and workshop and providing the best Colombian coffee we´ve tasted. The shop´s Manager, Mauricio has been from Argentina to Alaska on his BMW R1150GS and the walls of the shop are decorated with fantastic photos of his adventure and he is only too keen to help fellow bike travellers.

I only needed the front tire changed and would be carrying the new rear until my current MT60 wears out however the guys didn´t charge me to change the tire. I also needed a replacement rear tail light lens (as mine fell off in Ecuador and shattered). They first mentioned they could get me one for about $50 however shortly after, it transpired that Mauricio had a spare one lying around at home and would bring it in the following day and give it to me for nothing. Unbelievable! Leaving the shop later that day with handfuls of stickers for the bikes, free t-shirts, a rear tire round my neck and a new one on the front, posing for photos with David and Mauricio and being offered more assistance and information I could possibly ever need, I left Ruta 40 with a huge grin- thanks a million guys! Compared to any other BMW bike shop I´ve ever been to, this one has to be the best (though the one in Glasgow is actually pretty good too). I´d heard about the Colombians being really friendly and at Ruta 40 and at the Suzuki shop (where we got Michelle`s jacket), we were repeatedly offered tours of the local area and given a tonne of good information by fellow bikers.

David and Mauricio at Ruta 40, Medellin

During our brief stay in Medellin we also took a ride on their new cable car and on the metro system. Their must be a lot of money being pumped in to Colombia as there are just so many new developments around. Obviously a country on the up by the looks of things. We just didn´t have the time to see all that had been suggested however taking the advice of the Suzuki dealer, we took a trip to Rio Claro, about 3hours to the east of Medellin along a great road with amazing scenery. There, you can go rafting and kyaking etc in the beautiful canyon river but we just opted to wander and swim. Our accommodation was a little bit better than our previous jungle trip and the first floor room was open on two sides, so that night we got to watch the incredible lightening storm, all from our bed.

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