Friday, February 18, 2011

Beautiful Colombia

We left Quito and rode to Otavalo. Enroute we crossed the equator, but had chosen a route that did not take us past the monument. This is the 3rd time we have crossed the equator this trip; twice in the Galapagos. In Otavalo it was market day! We spent an hour or two walking around the market and had an early dinner. It was an early night as we were heading to the Colombian border the next day.
The next day we made it to the Ecuador Colombian border by noon; it was raining. When turned the corner we saw the Welsh couple, Nia and Gareth, whom we had met in San Pedro de Atacama. It took about an hour to get the paperwork done for the bikes in Colombia. Since it was Sunday we were unable to get seguros or insurance for the motorbike in Colombia, as all the SOAT offices were closed in Ipiales.
Nia and Gareth told us about Las Lajas, a church near to Ipiales that was built on a bridge in the 1500’s, so we went to see it. It was quite beautiful and in such a unique spot.
Las Lajas
We decided to stay the night and scope out SOAT offices to head to in the morning. We stayed at Nubes Verdes, which was two blocks away from the SOAT office which was quite handy the next morning. The office didn’t open until after 9 am, but the lady spoke English and knew exactly what to do.
Near Pasto
We left Ipiales at 11 am and the scenery was beautiful, stunning mountains covered with lush green trees with eye dropping valleys and huge waterfalls. We saw lots of flowers and butterflies. It was about 24C and we didn't have any rain. We rode into Popayan, the white city, at 5:30 and found Hotel Colonial with bike parking in the courtyard. The owner even had a ramp to get the bikes in. We went out for Italian for Valentine’s Day. We completely forgot it was Valentine’s Day until just before dinner; Friends was on TV and it was a Valentine’s Day rerun.

In the morning, we walked around Popayan and saw unique bridges and churches. After sightseeing, we rode to Cali. Enroute we saw a cyclist with dog sleeping on his shoulders. The temperature in Cali was very hot. It was 30C. In Cali we checked into the Iguana hostel and met up with Nia and Gareth for dinner, which were staying at Casablanca. After dinner we said goodbye to our Welsh friends.


The next morning we were up early and left Cali. There were a few traffic jams, so with the help of the gps, we managed to skirt around them. The Panamerican Highway heading north was completely blocked by Semi Trailers, as the truckers were on strike for higher wages, the price of diesel and government corruption, so we followed the local motorcycles and went around the blockade and had to head into oncoming traffic.  We managed to get around them and the roads were pretty good with hardly any traffic.

Truck road block in the north of Cali
It took us about 8 hours to get to Medellin. There was evidence of landslides from all the rain they have had recently; in some areas, half of the road had slid down 10-15 feet! One of the rivers we passed was flowing extremely fast and high. We also heard grasshoppers buzzing as we rode and trees full of egrets and nests.
The traffic in Medellin was pretty busy; unfortunately we arrived around 5 pm. The road signs weren’t very helpful and we ended having to turn around several times, using the off ramps, which was very confusing. We stayed at Casa Kiwi, a very popular backpacker’s place. There was parking in the garage for the bike. There was a bar with music which made it loud at night but the rooms are very modern and clean. We also got a discount as we were motorcyclists and the owner, Paul from the USA came to Colombia on his KLR 650 motorcycle and never left! We checked our email the next morning as we were hoping to hear from Grif’s mate, Russ whom lives in Medellin.
Unfortunately, Grif made a mistake, and takes full blame (its an age thing!) for getting the names of the cities mixed up. Russ actually lives in Manizales, about a 4 hour ride back south! So, after getting some breakfast, we headed south, retracing about 100 km of the route we had done the day before. Much to our surprise the road conditions had changed and we saw quite a few landslides and were stopped for 15 minutes while a dump truck was being filled with mud by a Bobcat, which had blocked the road.
Dump truck blocking the road
Once we passed La Merced, we were in new territory. The lush green trees covered the road like a tunnel and there were a lot of very tall bamboo trees. We also saw coffee bushes covered with white blossoms. The landscape in Colombia is absolutely beautiful, the nicest we have seen thus far.
We were stopped by the police about 30 km outside of Manizales; a routine check for insurance and documents. Thank goodness we bought SOAT (insurance). The policeman was very friendly, as they are known to be here in Colombia.
We found our way to Charly’s bar and Russ met up with us there. Russ lives very close, so we parked up the bike outside the bar and ate popcorn and drank lots of beer and rum and shots! Charly the bar owner was in the Colombian Army and had been badly wounded in a confrontation with FARC, It was a late evening as we reminisced about Drago days and learnt about Russ’s travel company – Colombia 57, which he is a co-owner of with two other mates.
The next morning we headed on a tour of Hacienda Venecia, a coffee plantation. We arrived in our jeep, and the first person we saw was Nia; the Welsh couple that we had travelled with! Nia and Gareth were staying in the hostel there. On the tour, we learnt about the process of making coffee, from the plant to our cups; growing, washing, drying and had as much coffee as we could drink! It was a lovely place, in a tranquil setting and had a swimming pool.
Coffee plants
Washed and now drying coffee beans

We stayed with Russ the next night and made him a nice home cooked supper, washed down with some wine and had an earlier night as we were heading to Bogota the next morning.

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