Friday, December 31, 2010

Day 108 (579km): Into Ecuador

The only issue with our fook hotel was that there were mosquitoes overnight. It was crazy. We both spent part of the night swatting mosquitoes away and then woke up with bites all over us.

It was another early morning because we had some distance to cover. The road started out as being nothing special, it could have been a section of the trans-Canada in Manitoba. We did see one interesting thing. What we assume was a sugar cane train was driving on the highway, and it was a truly scary sight to see. It was probably 6 container boxes filled with sugar cane attached together driven by a semi truck. It looked like a caterpillar driving on the road because it was oscillating like crazy.

After Popayan we started to get back into the mountains. All the way to the border we saw the most spectacular scenery of all that we've seen in Colombia. We were driving right through the mountains. The mountains were green and there were deep valleys. At times the road was carved right out of the edge of the mountain. Very dramatic. 
And this was just the start of it

There were a few tiny sections of road that were being fixed up from landslides. They were rough and muddy. They were perfectly fine but what was difficult was traversing them at the slow speeds that cars and trucks do since we were in a vehicle line-up. Oh boy, momentum is your friend on a two-wheeled machine and cars and trucks do not carry any. We both made it through without mishaps though.
This wasn't the worst of it

My OH SHIT moment of the day came while we were going through a tunnel. There was a slight bend at the beginning of the tunnel and when we came around it we found a semi passing another semi... IN THE TUNNEL! I almost lost it. The semi quickly moved over and there was just enough room for us to get by, a car wouldn't have been so lucky. Driver's are so f*cking stupid here it's shocking and frustrating. People just really need to think through what they are doing and how it affects other people. Too much to ask for in Latin America?

All in all, if I for a moment forget about all the Colombian drivers trying to kill me, it was an amazing day of riding. The roads were more or less good (there were some bad sections) and the scenery was epic. It was getting late but we had no more Colombian pesos so we decided to push on and get to Ecuador (which uses USD).
The dramatic roadways

We arrived at the border at 4:15pm. It started to rain, but stopped by the time we left at 5:30pm. The border was extremely straight forward (especially the Colombia side). When we were getting the bikes sorted out the Aduana official had been trying to download some porn. When Alberto came in he moved over to the official desk and was helping us. At some point the video had finished downloading so there was porn background noises happening while we were getting our paper work sorted out. On the bright side he was extremely speedy because he wanted to get us out of there. We were just trying really hard not to laugh. 
It was easy to get in

At the border Alberto was talking to a gentleman from Ibarra. He told us it was 90min away by car but based on how fast we had passed him (I guess we went past him back in Colombia somewhere), he figured we could do it in less time. He gave us directions to a hotel and off we went. There were some hotels in the town at the border, but we didn't really want to stay right at the border. We continued on but there we no roadside hotels. We pushed on to Ibarra but we had not reached it and it was completely dark. We were driving in the dark for a while until we found a nice looking roadside hotel. We decided to stay there, a little pricey, but it had a restaurant and swimming pool. Plus it was dark and dangerous to be driving.

Final Thoughts: Colombia

Coming to South America has been a revelation and has re-sparked my interest in this trip (which was fading due to the monotony of Central America).

Arriving in Bogota was like a breath of fresh air, literally because it was quite a bit cooler than Panama City. The first grocery store we went to was amazing. I was so happy to find nice things; things I had missed from Canada. Also street addresses are used in Colombia. That's just one more tiny little thing that makes your life easier. The road ways are very good and the scenery is amazing. It is a great place to ride.

Some of the nuances of riding in Colombia include painted School zones on road. This is quite effective because they are very visible but all that paint is VERY slippery in the rain. I had an oh shit moment sliding around a corner on the painted school zone. Why are they always in corners? For bikes, there are no tolls to pay at the toll booths. This is great not only because it saves you money (we went through quite a few and at a few dollars a piece it could seriously add up) but because you don't have the hassle of stopping and paying. It was always a good opportunity to get ahead of some slow moving traffic. Another reason why Colombia is such a great place for motorcyclists is that there are literally TONS of hotels if you travel the main routes. We saw so many (and stayed in) gas station hotels and fook hotels. There are so many options you don't need to worry about being caught out. Another amazing revelation was the return of the road shoulder. For so long we have been driving on roads without shoulders. I was happy to have a shoulder back to pull over when needed, and in some cases, to pass slow moving traffic.

Motorcycle culture is much bigger here in Colombia than in other countries we've been too. It was fun walking into the BMW dealer in Medellin, I felt like a little kid at Christmas. Looking at all the goodies, deciding which ones to buy. People wear full gear and we've seen more big bikes than in other places. It's such an amazing country to ride, it's no surprise that there is a strong motorcycling culture. But for me the deal breaker is the truly atrocious driving. It's not just a few people (which you find in every country) it is a collective culture of truly terrible driving. For me, I'm in no hurry to come back and ride Colombia because it's just not worth putting my life in that much danger.

It was an expensive country, especially the gas. We went through many military checkpoints, but were never stopped. It was fun, the military guys would give the thumbs up, maybe the government tells them to do this? I had read some mixed reports about Colombia and police, and I was a little worried about getting hassled for not buying insurance. We were only stopped by the police twice. Once because the police officer wanted to tell us the road was closed and to give us directions and the second time was on our last day in Colombia. The police officer only asked where we were going and then told us to have a nice day.

Alberto: It is very surprising that people who can be so friendly can be such bad drivers. Colombian driver's have been the worst drivers so far; no respect for motorcycle drivers on the road despite the fact it has been the country with the most bikes.

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