We then flew North to San Salvador and onto Bogota. Flying in I was amazed how green and mountainous Colombia is. And there are greenhouses that stretch on for miles and miles.
Our first stop was to our shipper, Air Cargo Pack, to hopefully pick up the bikes. We were happy to arrive and see our bikes front and center and a third bike, who we found out belongs to our new friend Enrique, from New York. He’s been on the road for 10 months, riding solo.
We can’t say enough about our treatment by the team at Air Cargo Pack. A big thanks to their amazing team! They were phenomenal and took care of every little detail. They sent someone with us that handled all the Customs paperwork, which took a little over 4 hours. And even tracked down insurance for us. It was clear from the board in the office that this wasn’t their first time. They’ve handled over 1000 bikes since they’ve opened. We were happy to see quite a few Alaska stickers on the wall in their office from previous riders.
Part of the team that made our transition into Colombia a real pleasure and by far the best border crossing we’ve had.
After all the paper work was complete the bikes were loaded, one at a time into a bull riding cage. Well, at least that is what it looked and felt like to us. The cage was then lowered off the loading dock and onto the ground.
Like us, Enrique was quite happy to have his bike back. So far we love Colombia and Tracy and I are both buzzing with excitement to be in South America.
On our way out of Bogota we couldn’t help but notice an exponential amount of police, everywhere! It seemed like about half of the police were women, even those standing on street corners directing traffic. Many patrolling on motorcycle.
All the police are outfitted in the same colors as Tracy’s helmet, so we haven’t been stopped yet. They must think we are part of the crew.
After several hours of amazing roads and manageable traffic, one mountain pass was extremely congested with car and truck traffic. It made for interesting and fun riding.
Although this truck was being towed, from my perspective it looked like Tracy was riding into head on traffic!
MotoTaxi with a full load on the road in Colombia
We started the day off with a huge traffic jam on a narrow two lane road in the mountains of Colombia. But, being on motorcycles, it’s allowed to pass on the left, or right and go to the front of the line. When we got there we saw this! Turns out a small car and the white semi-collided and fuel was spilled all over the roadway. The car was totaled and no indication if anyone was hurt. The minute we arrived, they let us go through, so we saved a bunch of time being stuck behind a lot of backed up traffic.
We had to stop at Hacienda Napoles, which was legendary Pablo Escobar’s estate. He was killed in 1993 but the people around Medellin still see him as a Robin Hood type hero for all he did for the poor people of the area. He built many schools, hospitals, churches, and sports facilities. In it’s heyday, Napoles was a sprawling 7 square mile compound that not only was the headquarters for his cocaine smuggling operations to the US, but he also had a Spanish Colonial house, private runway, complete zoo with animals from around the world, dinosaur replicas, a go cart track, bull fighting ring, car and motorcycle collections, and the list goes on and on. Though he had houses in Medellin and Miami, he spent considerable time here. Sometimes with his family, but often entertaining clients, business people, and beautiful women from around the world. Today the estate is more freak show Jurassic themed African amusement park, complete with a hotel, water park, wild animals, dinosaur sculptures, and a lot of tourists. There is small museum and some remnants leftover from the heyday of his estate, but largely the Escobar aspects are downplayed. In one area near the museum they have one of his helicopters, painted in zebra stripes to go along with the theme of the park.
In the museum is a rare photograph of Pablo in front of the White House. He was hated by the Colombian and US Government. The statistics are staggering. During the height of his operations as head of the Medellin drug cartel he was bringing in more than $70 million a day!! it was estimated that he was smuggling 15 tons of cocaine into the US everyday. He utilized 15 planes, six helicopters, and two submarines in his operations. He was spending $1000 a week on rubber bands used to organize the stacks of cash, that were stored in warehouses. Every year the Cartel wrote off a 10% loss because of rats nibbling on the bills they could reach.
Few things remain after the estate went into disrepair and mostly abandoned after Escobar was killed. There are only a few things that remain….the helicopter landing pad and runway(just behind) are still intact..
The museum is packed full of images of the destruction and deaths that Escobar was responsible for. He had a very simple policy called Plato or Plamo. Translated it literally means, Silver or Lead. Accept money or face death. There are no firm statistics for how many people Escobar is responsible for killing, but it is estimated between 3,000 and 60,000. This picture was of a building he bombed out in Bogota. He was responsible for the deaths of three Colombian Presidents, not to mention hundreds of police, Judges, politicians, and civilians.
The front entrance features the Piper PA18 Super Cub that Escobar used on his first cocaine smuggling operation to the US. Tactfully painted to match the theme of the park.
With temperatures in the 90s, we decided to ride west across the country and much to our surprise we were treated with one of the best roads we’ve been on. Little traffic, good pavement, epic views, and twisty curves which are perfect for motorcycles. The views across Colombia were astounding to say the least.
Much to our surprise the road continued to climb and climb. We topped out at 12,000' and the temperature had dropped to 48F, which felt great. I even turned on my heated grips for a short while..
Eventually we ended up in the clouds and the road traversed along the top of the mountains for quite a few miles before a long descent into Manizales.
Halfway down the pass we were stopped at a routine police checkpoint. It turned out they only stopped motorcycles to check paper work at this checkpoint. The boys were all business. When our papers all checked out, then they had questions. Where were we from? Where were we headed? How long have we been on the road? and on and on. They were excited to say the least and loved our bikes. It was one of those amazing and unexpected interactions. They stood in the middle of the road talking and laughing with us, oblivious to all the traffic zipping past them just inches away. With three of them in the middle of the road I asked if I could take their picture. They’d have none of it. They wanted the picture with us and the bikes in it! A fourth policeman stood in the middle of the road and took the picture.
Manizales wasn’t quite what we expected and was a bit sketchy, so we decided to continue on to Pereira and find a place to stay. Part way there a V-Strom went zipping by, honked and waved. The little girl on the back was smiling and waving furiously as they went by. We caught up to them and eventually stopped at a roadside restaurant and had dinner with them. Diego and his daughter Isabel were a real treat to meet. All smiles and very excited to meet us. In broken and sometimes good English and Spanish we found out that Diego has ridden his bike to Machu Picchu, where we’re headed before long. He’s a policemen in Pereira and loves to ride. His daughter, who’s 8 and in the third grade loves to ride more! She was happy to practice her English on us and she spoke it very clearly and quite well. We tried to keep up through heavy traffic and followed them into town and Diego led us to a good hotel and didn’t leave until we were all checked in and knew we would be okay. Our new friends in Pereira are the best! We won’t ever forget these two.
We would be amiss if we didn’t do something involved with coffee while in Colombia. So we found the best place around for that, called Parquet Del Cafe. Which is a Juan Valdez brand amusement park and coffee farm. Colombians seem to have their marketing figured out. Most people come to this park for the variety of rides and attractions built into the hillsides and valleys of a large coffee plantation. Tracy and I came to see the coffee museum and the process of growing coffee and see the plantation. Tracy being a coffee drinker was quite enthused. Me, not being a coffee drinker, found it unenthusiastically interesting. Roller coasters in coffee fields was a site to behold.
I wish I could remember more to type here, but suffice to say, they grow coffee, dry it, roast it, and ship it all over the world. They have a lot of sacks of raw coffee beans that look like this. Tracy said it was a very good cup of coffee.
After a bit of riding in torrential rain we ended up in Popayan for the night and just as we unloaded the bikes the sky became really intense.
For quite a few days now we’ve been passing a lot of military checkpoints. Usually there are four to six young guys with guns on the side of the road, giving us the thumbs up. At first we figured they just thought our bikes were cool. Then we figured out they were giving everyone the thumbs up. We reasoned it meant all was good and to keep traveling on, so we did.
The site of guns doesn’t even phase us anymore. We’ve seen a lot of military and guns in Colombia, but all non-threatening and certainly less than what we experienced in Central America.
Everyday is an adventure by sheer curiosity of what we might see along the roadway and as we pass through small towns. Colombia has a strong motorcycle culture so we fit right in. Today was filled with a lot of kids on bikes with their parents, and no helmets. Though that is not the norm.
These guys seem to have the best seat in the house.
All queued up at a construction stop. Motorcycles always go right to the front of the line. And frequently there lots of bikes together.
We didn’t know what to expect in Colombia, but we have been pleasantly surprised. The riding here is amazing to say the least. The views are spellbinding and endless. The roadways are in great shape and mountain passes are a motorcyclists dream.
We are consistently amazed how steep and green the terrain is here and how much of it is utilized for coffee and a variety of fruits and vegetables.
At the end of the day we rolled into a town called Pasto. Our last stop before we head into Ecuador. We were pleasantly surprised to come out of the mountains and see this!
We went straight to the center of town and found a place to stay. EVERYONE is super curious and friendly in this town. We met some great pe
ople and even a guy who lives in Chicago but runs a shoe store here. Since it was Sunday afternoon there was a lot going on and we strolled around town and took in the sites. Mostly we people watched and there was plenty of that to be had.
The sidewalks were crowded because the street vendors were utilizing all the real estate they could.
Zapatos on the sidewalk.
Although a fairly modern city, there were some hints of days gone by.
Families and friends were all out enjoying the sunny weather.
We had unprecedented treatment at our hotel in Pasto, Colombia. Everyone at the Hotel Don Saul went out of their way to make us feel welcome and taken care of. By the time we left, we had made several new friends. Even the bellman was on our side. So far the only place we’ve stayed that had a bellman. He left no detail undone and saw us off first thing in the morning.
On our way towards the border, we had to stop to see a cathedral we’d heard about called Las Lajas. From the curvy road into the valley we spotted it. It’s built into an impossible gap in the steep valley.
On the walk down and into the canyon where the cathedral is, there are memorial plaques lining the wall of the hillside. There are literally thousands of them.
We saw quite a few elderly making there way in a sort of pilgrimage to the cathedral. There is a long history of this church dating all the way back to 1754.
From top to bottom the church is 300 feet tall. Over the course of hundreds of years it has been rebuilt three times and always funded by locals in the community. The current day church took 30 years to build and was constructed between 1916-1949. It’s quite a place to say the least.