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11 Days Through Colombia

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by SS in Vzla., Dec 5, 2008.

  1. SS in Vzla.

    SS in Vzla. Totally Normal? I'm not!

    Joined:
    Dec 31, 2006
    Oddometer:
    1,231
    Location:
    Sugar Land, TX
    DAY 1 -
    Thursday October 30th


    We met at 6:00am in front of my home and got going north-west towards the border.
    It was 4 of us. Guido and Andreas on their XLV-650 Transalps, Francisco on his GS1150 and me on my F.
    As is usually the case when you ride through a familiar (and straight and boring) road, there are not many pictures.
    I did remember to take some at our only longer stop: lunch at "The Embassy"... (La Embajada), so here are some porn food pics.

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    This is typical Venezuelan Plains food: carne en vara (meat on a stick).
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    You order the meat by the pound and whatever you want to go with it... Yuca, salad, beer, etc.
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    After lunch we got on our way. The only other pic we took that day was this one of the river that marks the border between Venezuela and Colombia.
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    We arrived in San Antonio del Tachira (Venezuelan town at the border) around 7:30pm. To give you an idea to how fast (or slow) travelling in our countries is, here are some facts: it's around 830 Kms/ 518 Miles from Caracas to San Antonio, most of the road is straight, only the last 100 Miles or so are mountain roads. It took us 13 and a half hours (with 2 and a half hours total stops between lunch and fuel stops). The last section of road between San Cristobal and San Antonio is a nightmare, tightly packed bumper to bumper cars for several miles and the road is very narrow, so passing the cars is quite difficult. Since sunset comes early here: 6:00pm, this last stretch of road was ridden in the dark. Drivers here don't care too much if they have the high beam on when they have other vehicles coming towards them.

    We rode directly to Venezuelan Immigration (ONIDEX), bought the required stamps for the immigration fee (about $10) and stamped our passports. The immigration official never adhered the aforementioned stamps on our passports, instead she put them in her pocket and probably sold them to the next "customer" but as long as you have the rubber exit stamp on your passport with the appropiate date, you're good to go... As for the "stamp scam"... you just play dumb and go with the flow . Afterwards, we found a hotel with secure parking. San Antonio is not a safe town to stroll around. Too many illegal things going on, so the less time you spend there, the better you are. Dinner was at a restaurant across the street from our hotel

    DAY 2
    Friday October 31st


    Friday morning was a rainy morning. But we where eager to get going so we ate breakfast at the hotel (included in the $20 price for a single room) and jumped on the bikes early.

    San Antonio del Tachira is right at the border, so in less than 10 minutes we where crossing the Simon Bolivar bridge that connects both countries. The white buildings you can see on the right are the Immigration Offices (DAS) on the Colombian side (the Venezuelan ones are "hidden" on some sidestreet in San Antonio)

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    There´s good parking right in front of the immigration office so you can keepan eye on your bike while you stand in line waiting for your passport to be stamped. Nevertheless it´s a good idea to secure anything that might be easily swiped by a passerby.

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    There weren´t too many people today, so we where done in about 30 minutes. If you cross in December-January or Easter Holidays, be prepared for a VERY long line (at least a couple of hours).

    Can you see the pissed off Immigrations Officer? "Hey Señor!!! No photos allowed in here!" Yeah, yeah...
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    Once done with the immigration process, we formally crossed into Colombia and rode about 10 kms / 6 Miles to get to Cucuta, the Colombian city closest to the border. Cucuta is much nicer and safer than San Antonio. Cheaper too, so if you don´t know your way around and find yourself in this area having to spend the night, I advise you to find accomodations in Cucuta instead of San Antonio. You can freely cross the border, even with a vehicle between the two cities without any problem, so even if you are comming from Venezuela and don´t feel like going to the ONIDEX that day, you can still go sleep in Cucuta and go back next morning to stamp your passport. For us Venezuelans is easier to move around in San Antonio than it is in Cucuta (that is: we have excellent GPS maps for Venezuela and not for Colombia), so we chose to stay in San Antonio.

    Our plan for that day was simple: Get ourselves and our bikes properly processed into Colombia by midday and ride 300 kms / 187 Miles to a small town called Barichara. The rest of the guys had done a similar trip two years ago and they knew that the customs process for the bikes would take aprox 2 hours, so we where on time when we arrived at DIAN (Colombian Customs) at 8:30am... but our plans where about to be changed.

    DAS is obvious, right next to the Simon Bolivar Bridge, DIAN on the other hand, you have to look for inside Cucuta. And it is a big city. So in case anyody reading this needs them, here are the GPS Coordinates for

    - ONIDEX (Venezuelan Immigration at San Antonio del Tachira) N 07 48'50.8" W 072 26'39.1"
    - DIAN (Colombian Customs in Cucuta) N 07 55'05.7" W 072 30'6.5"

    BTW, we kind of cheated with our bikes when leaving Venezuela, since from prior experience we knew the Colombians would not request any paperwork from the Venezuelan authorities stating the bikes had properly left the country, so as far as Venezuela is concerned, our bikes never crossed the border and we saved ourselves a lot of paperwork (and time). Since free transit is allowed on neighboring towns at the borders, nobody cares what you do. Having the correct paperwork is up to you, but if you don't get it and get stopped by the authorities once on the road, you will get into trouble... This means I don't have any GPS Coordinates for the Venezuelan Customs though, because we never even went there.

    Once we found it (it took us about 20 minutes) we lucked out since there where no other vehicles in line at this little shack (across the street from the real DIAN building) where this guy with the blue/yellow vest checks your VIN # and hands you a piece of paper with your bike´s information as well as your own.
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    Afterwards, you go down the street to the photocopy shack, you have to photocopy your passport (photo page, exit stamp from Venezuela and entrance stamp from Colombia), your bike´s title and the paper the guy in blue/yellow gave you (they will ask to check your ORIGINAL bike title, the photocopies are for them to keep, but they won´t accept them for proof of ownership and only the person appearing on the title can take the bike over the border)
    All this paperwork must be presented at a window inside the main building.
    The process is fairly simple and should take 1 or 2 hours tops.
    Not this time.... We handed the papers at the window at 9:30am... Almost no other travellers in line... Officials where very polite (as is the case with almost all Colombians) and with that politeness, they told us: "thank you very much sir, now, come back for your Temporary Import Papers in the afternoon, after 2:00pm"...

    No begging or negotiating on our part could change their minds. We where forced to wait. Our plan of reaching Barichara that day was shot. 300 kms in the Colombian mountains meant at least 6 hours non-stop riding. Sunset in the area is around 6-6:30pm.

    So we went to a local Mall where there was a Money Exchange Office, ate something and came back at 2:00. Seeing very little movement on the part of the officials inside the window (they even told us that we could consider to be lucky if we got our papers by 6:00pm), we went outside to talk to the "Blue/Yellow Guy" (which had been quite friendly and helpfull in the morning) and we managed to arrange a "Priority Service" which finally got us our Temporary Import Permits by 3:00pm.

    After the Import Papers are received, you go again out on the street and buy the SOAT (mandatory third party insurance). This insurance is the only document you will be asked for when stopped by the police. They do not care about your drivers licence, passport and sometimes they don´t even ask about your bike´s papers, but the SOAT is always required. And not any insurance will do, only SOAT, so you can´t bypass forking the $20 for a 3 month policy. The rest of the Temporary Imort process is free (aside for the "Priority Service", that is ;-) )

    The SOAT is taken care of in 30 minutes and we where on our way on the great Colombian roads. And although the cloud cieling was pretty low due to the rain, the views started improving fast.
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    #1
  2. SS in Vzla.

    SS in Vzla. Totally Normal? I'm not!

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Sugar Land, TX
    Our plans for Barichara down the drain, we thought we might be able to get to Bucaramanga. One of Colombia´s largest cities and some 150 kms away.

    We where making good progress on the nice roads until we got to a point where there was a huge line of cars parked for several miles.
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    It´s good to be on a bike in Latin America... we just bypassed the line and kept riding, but when we where almost at the landslide that had caused the backed up cars, we just had to stop. The trucks where passing so close to each other (barely touching their rearview mirrors at some points) that there was no room even for the bikes, so we just had to wait for 30 minutes or so.
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    Land slides are common occurances on Colombian roads, so the work crews are never too far away. The M.O they use is to let traffic in one direction for half an hour, then stopping traffic alltogheter in order to work clearing the landslide for half an hour and then open traffic in the other direction for half an hour... Repeat all over as many times as necessary. This means that in a car, if the line is long you could be forced to wait several hours to clear the problem spot. On a bike, OTOH, if you manage to get to the barricade, the work crews will let you pass through the machinery (at your own risk, they won´t stop work for you, as a matter of fact, Andreas was bumped on the side by one of the the big machines while maneuvering in reverse... he managed to stay on two wheels)... This meant that once the incomming traffic was stopped, we where able to cross.

    But now our itinerary had been changed again. In order to get to Bucaramanga we had to cross the Berlin Pass which is at 12.000 feet and almost always engulfed in VERY thick fog and rain, so none of us was very keen on riding the pass at night. Pamplona, the next town would have to do for the night.

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    Pamplona is a medium sized town, which has a big university, so it´s filled with young college types. It still has a small town feel to it. The only hotel in town with secure parking is the Cariongo Hotel, which is supposed to be the "best" in town. At $50 a night (breakfast included) it sure was expensive when compared to the other $10-$30 options available, but the bikes where our priority so Hotel Cariongo it was.
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    For an American Holiday we where very surprised to see that people in Colombia take Halloween VERY seriously, as seriously as any-town-USA, so there was a big party going on in the streets of Pamplona. We decided to take a bath and join the festivities.... Surprise, surprise: the "best" hotel in town only has hot water from 6:00am to 9:30am... :lol: :lol: :lol: At 9.000 feet I was not about to take a cold shower, so that was postponed for next morning. Party it was through the streets of Pamplona.
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    Interesting name for a bar... "ebrio" means "drunk"
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    These food stalls are quite common. If you ever come across one, you just HAVE to try the corn, it is absolutley great! the meat is not bad either, but I didn´t see too many stray dogs on the streets ;-)
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    And after all that partying, when you feel the urge to let all the beer you drank flow free, please don´t do it here or else...
    (Posted on the front entrance of the "best" hotel in town... "Urination in this sector is prohibited under penalty of jail up to 12 hours)
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    And one last picture of Pamplona at night
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    DAY 3
    November 1st 2008


    Some pics of Pamplona the next morning. After the party last night, the streets where a mess, but contrary to normal Latin American behaviour, lots of people where out en masse cleaning the streets by 6:30am...

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    These contraptions are pretty common. They are rented by their owners to carry stuff. Like on the picture. The really interesting thing is to see them with an unladen cart, racing downhill. Can you spot the orange "brake lever"?...no ABS on those things :shock:

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    Leaving Pamplona towards the Berlin Pass and Bucaramanga, we start climbing in altitude and the views start getting better.
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    This is what riding in Colombia is all about. TWISTIES !!!! Great Twisties everywere!!! You will actually use more thread on the sides of your tires than on the center.
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    Lots of old trucks and cars on the road. Most of them are in very good shape even though they have been worked hard all their lives.
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    The Berlin Pass, at 12.000 feet above sea level is almost always engulfed in thick fog and mist/rain...Almost always... Not this time, which actually meant a great ride over the pass.
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    #2
  3. zadok

    zadok Long timer

    Joined:
    Jul 8, 2007
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    Location:
    Western Australia
    After the hassles at the border, the trip looks great. Nice countryside.:lurk
    #3
  4. Kodanja

    Kodanja Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Oct 23, 2005
    Oddometer:
    739
    Location:
    Boise, Idaho
    Great Report and thanks for the informative description of the crossing the border.
    #4
  5. Charles Seguin

    Charles Seguin Noob4Life

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2007
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    Location:
    Tucson
    What a great country eh?
    #5
  6. Ri-Ra

    Ri-Ra Burgeoning

    Joined:
    Mar 23, 2007
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    Location:
    In the wellspring
    Very nice RR... :nod
    #6
  7. Agave

    Agave El Corazón

    Joined:
    Aug 5, 2007
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    Location:
    Portland,OR
    Thanks for sharing the border process in detail. Beautiful photos,great report!:lurk
    #7
  8. gatling

    gatling Long timer

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    2,968
    Magnificent report; thanks!
    #8
  9. pdedse

    pdedse paraelamigosincero

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    Beautiful country!
    #9
  10. SS in Vzla.

    SS in Vzla. Totally Normal? I'm not!

    Joined:
    Dec 31, 2006
    Oddometer:
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    Location:
    Sugar Land, TX
    I see you are enjoying it as we speak :clap

    Just be sure to ask the locals (several of them) if it´s ok to go exploring on small dirt roads. Although few, there are still bad guys in green fatigues out there.

    We actually got turned around by the locals when trying a shortcut on the road to Medellin... the shortcut was between the towns of Riosucio and Jardin, so if you plan to go to Medellin and see the dirt shortcut on the map, DON´T go there :D

    Good luck with your trip. Ride on! :ricky
    #10
  11. C5!

    C5! Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 23, 2007
    Oddometer:
    286
    Location:
    Venezuela & Colombia
    epale Silviu. que suerte de viajar por Colombia, impresionante este país...
    As for the DIAN I had a better experience in Turbo. Arriving at the office it was closed because all the staff was on a course... but after a few minutes one guy came out of the course to attend me, had me sitting at a desk while he filled all the forms and handed me my temporary import prmit. total time about 30 minutes... and the politeness of the Colombians, as you said, "irreprochable".. what about a beer before christmas... claude
    #11
  12. GB

    GB . Administrator Super Moderator Super Supporter

    Joined:
    Aug 16, 2002
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    67,860
    Fantastic ride.. we rarely get this glimpse in Columbia... Thanks for the detailed report and pics :thumb

    :lurk
    #12
  13. Charles Seguin

    Charles Seguin Noob4Life

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Tucson
    We did take a nice little dirt ride to San Agustin, checked into that road pretty thoroughly. We met a local here who had been kidnapped by the FARC twice :huh.
    #13
  14. SS in Vzla.

    SS in Vzla. Totally Normal? I'm not!

    Joined:
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    Absolutely!
    What´s the status on your 800? When will it arrive in-country.
    I´m planning to go to La Gran Sabana and maybe Manaus on the last week of January... maybe we can meet in Sta Elena?
    #14
  15. mike1952

    mike1952 Long timer

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    north of ann arbor michigan
    I have spent time working in Colombia as a geologist for an oil company. It was a very friendly country with beautiful women and scenery. I agree the travel can be slow, even on the Pan American Hwy.
    #15
  16. C5!

    C5! Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 23, 2007
    Oddometer:
    286
    Location:
    Venezuela & Colombia
    I should go to sta elena this month, high season for me... but I am planning shipping my new bike from Miami to Cartagena around mid-Jan and spend a few weeks there, investigating... meanwhile in CCS, still riding the little UM.

    Please go on with the RR
    #16
  17. Tricepilot

    Tricepilot Bailando Con Las Estrellas Super Moderator Super Supporter

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    Fabulous! :thumb

    Like GB said, a special glimpse into a unique and beautiful part of the world.

    Bob :jose
    #17
  18. SS in Vzla.

    SS in Vzla. Totally Normal? I'm not!

    Joined:
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    Location:
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    What happens when you load a truck over it's payload and don't distribute the weight equally on both sides?
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    Great roads...
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    BTW the strange road sign above is not as strange as you might think. On this twisty roads, the big trucks and buses just have to get into the oncoming lane in order to manage to make the tight turns, so rounding a curve and finding yourself within 10 feet of a Peterbuilt occupying half your lane is something you get used to very quickly. Hence the " accidents are common and very possible" road sign.

    The mountain road was great and we where soon arriving in Bucarmanga.
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    You see a lot of smaller 50cc scooters in the cities. They are used for carrying almos anything, like a dishwasher...
    And looking at the cargo rack, it seems it is the bike's normal load and not a spur of the moment thing!
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    After Bucaramanga, which is around 3000-4000 feet above sea level, you start ascending again and get into the Chicamocha Canyon which is awsome. The views are great, the road is smooth and the twisties are just sweet. :ricky

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    At the Chicamocha N.P. you can go whitewater rafting, climb on a cable car that will take you to the other side of the river and do some hiking. We didn't have time for any of those though, so we had a beer, snapped some pictures and had to hop on the bikes to make for the time we lost yesterday at the border
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    The Chicamocha River down below. (The foto is not too good, but it's all I have, you'll have to trust me when I say it does not do the place any justice whatsoever... or better yet, go see for yourselves ;-) :D
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    Typical coffee drying on the side of the road
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    After the Chicamocha Canyon, we descended again to around 500-2000 feet above sea level. Having the ability to add/shed layers easily and fast several times a day will improve your ride comfort tenfold while in Colombia. We where now in the State of Norte de Santander, where the " Hormigas Culonas" are a rare delicacy (The actual translation is: "Big Assed Ants").
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    They taste kind of like pop corn (with a pork rind flavor added), pretty good with a lot of salt and beer.
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    #18
  19. SurfAwave69

    SurfAwave69 Adventurer

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    San Francisco, California
    ^^:puke1
    #19
  20. SS in Vzla.

    SS in Vzla. Totally Normal? I'm not!

    Joined:
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    Location:
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    This photo was taken at the exit of a small town called San Gil. It is frecuented by people that like white water rafting and kayaking. It gets quite crowded on weekends.
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    We finally arrived in Barichara around 2:00pm. This was our "planned" overnight stay for yesterday. If we´d gone for it last night, we wold have arrived very late. Not to mention we would have missed the awsome vistas of the Chicamocha Canyon. I´ve always been against riding at night (or driving if on an overland trip), not so much because of the inherent dangers with night riding, but more because I go places with my bike or truck to see something that´s new to me. At night you can´t see, so what´s the point? I´ve always said that riding at night is like scuba diving without a mask: what´s the point of it if you can´t enjoy (see) your surroundings?

    Barichara is a very small, very old colonial town in the heart of the mountains. You have to take a 30 km deutor from the main road to Bogota in order to get there. It is well worth it.
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    Main street which ends at the Central Plaza, where the old church is
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    Errr... Andreas? Where the hell did you say we are?
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    Steep cobblestone streets
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    We met this guy from Luxemburg. He had just landed in Bogota a couple of days ago and was starting his 6 month trip through South America. I'm sorry I don't remember his name... Are you on the board here? Have a great trip!

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    After Barichara, we hit the road again. It started raining very soon after we left town and didn´t let after next morning when we woke up in Villa de Leyva, another nice colonial town closer to Bogota. Since we had arranged a rendevouz with a Colombian Biker named Ivan who the rest of the guys had met on their last trip two years ago, we had to ride at night to get there... Yeah, I know that´s dangerous, but it was not "normal" night riding, it was raining, so night riding in Latin America while it is raining is OK right ? :lol3
    #20