A Month on a Bike in Colombia - 2019

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Champe, Nov 24, 2019.

  1. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    For the last few years I have been thinking of moving someplace warmer than New Hampshire, where I live now. Also, I have been working pretty hard most of my life and would like to retire before I get too old to enjoy it. So I went to Mexico a couple of times and also to Costa Rica, to see if I liked it that far south. One of the trips to Mexico was by motorcycle - a BMW R1100GS with Jesse bags. I really liked the freedom that a bike provides. Go anywhere you like whenever you like. And I also liked the Latin culture - friendly, fun-loving and a little hot blooded. Only thing was I spoke almost no Spanish.

    So I have been studying Spanish little by little and trying to decide where to go next. I have been hearing about Colombia being much safer now that they killed Pablo and made a deal with FARC. My entreprenurial friends say that is the place to go now. Also, I had some dental problems that I knew would be much more reasonable to solve there.

    I have been reading here about people shipping bikes to Colombia and back home at great expense. Seemed to me a better idea to buy one there and sell it when done. There would be no issue with leaving it there as long as you like and you can sell it anytime ( can't do either with a US plated bike). The bikes there are generally very small - so one that is common there would not be expensive.

    So I bought me a Honda CRF250L here in NH to try out, and get some luggage fitted. It was actually pretty nice as a do-all machine, but I missed the power that big bikes have. Seemed to me that passing ability on the open road was lacking. So I moved my sights up to a KTM390 Duke and started shopping on Mercado Libre, sort of a Craigslist for the Latin countries. That bike is one of the biggest seen in Colombia, but still about the same weight as a 250 Honda. I wanted light weight to maneuver into hotel rooms and lobbys , as well as something that can be serviced locally. KTMs sold there are built in India and assembled in Brazil so they are relatively cheap. I say relatively because they are very expensive by Colombian standards and about $1000 more than what they go for in the US. (Mine was $6400).

    I will jump ahead briefly and show you a photo of it :
    DSCN4386.JPG

    This report will run roughly chronologically. It will probably take me a couple of weeks. I will be going back in a few months ( I survived ). But I would appreciate any comments, tips, suggestions, or offers of help along the way.
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  2. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    How a gringo buys a bike in Colombia

    You will hear that a foreigner cannot buy a bike there. Or that you need a Colombian issued id. The hostel owner was a bike rider and told me that. It was wrong. What you do need is a small paper called a RUNT. You get that from their government transportation department. You need to show them your passport, pay about $15, have your picture taken, give them a fingerprint, allow them to photograph you and sign the slip. Took me about 20 minutes in Bogota. I did it alone, and got there by public transportation. You walk out with a reciept that your dealer needs to sell the bike to you.

    I found my dream bike on Mercado Libre but it was not so easy to seal the deal. The sales people spoke no English and I did not know enough Spanish. So I used google translate on my iPhone to start. They caught on to that and found a similar app on their computer. So we did the deal. The $6400 US price included all paperwork, freight, delivery, taxes, the plates, and insurance for a year. They promised delivery in five days. I got the plate numbers a little early and had my helmet marked accordingly (required in Colombia). Turned out that the general manager spoke perfect English and offered his help a little late. He did think I did it the hard way and offered his help going forward. In case anyone is following my footsteps, he is Nicolas Martinez at CentoMotos, Calle 79B #29-10, Bogota Colombia, phone 057 317 660 9848. Email centromotosgerente@gmail.com. You can use my name as a reference -- Charles Hampe. Nicolas will be happy to help future English speakers having issues with Spanish. That phone number will probably also work with WhatsApp at no charge.

    Most bikes in Colombia are Chinese in the 100 to 200cc range. A step up are the Indian made Bajaj. Those are often up to 250 cc. The KTM is made in their factory, since they now own 49% of KTM. Japanese Hondas and Yamahas are also around, but they are premium bikes there. KTM is the top of the line. And the 390 is the top of the top. Mine draws a crowd when I park it. I have learned to answer, in Spanish, a lot of questions - who makes it, how big is it, how much does it cost, where are you from, where did you buy it.

    Where I most appreciate the Duke's qualities is on the mountain roads, which cover half of the country. There you will find slow moving trucks with lines of cars behind. Those cars will pass the truck eventually, but you dont want to wait for them either. A fast bike can pass in shorter distances, safely. Opportunities on mountain roads are fewer than on straight open roads due to the many switchbacks. So you need the right tool for the job. The KTM is much lighter than the popular (in the US) DR650 and has almost the same horsepower. It is an absolute rocket. And when stopped, it is the Colombian equivalent of a Ferrari.

    You really need to get past those trucks. Once done, there is always a lot of clear road that you can enjoy the switchbacks on.
    Motorcycle heaven. I should mention an important rule of the road in Colombia. Double yellow lines are just a suggestion. Everyone crosses them often, including the police. I have followed them a few times too. The rule is that you can over-rule the double yellow line as long as it's done safely. If a local does it in an unsafe manner he will get a ticket. If a gringo does it in an unsafe manner, he will get spoken to. I am not the most daring driver there, being far from home, so I have not been spoken to.
    #2
  3. Quindio

    Quindio Adventurer Supporter

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    Welcome to Colombia and yes it's awesome for riding a motorcycle. Nice moto the KTM and I'm sure it's fun on the twisty roads. Motorcycles over 250cc pay super high tax's so that's why you don't see a lot of them on the road. But you'll see me because i payed the tax:D

    I'm back to Colombia December 17th. Feel free to contact me for anything as i'm happy to help.
    #3
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  4. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    Thanks Quindio. This report is about making connections. Some for me ... and some for the readers. How long will you be in Finlandia ? My next trip is in April but I may not be able to wait that long.

    Colombian Geography:

    For those following along, this report starts in Bogota, the capital, located roughly in the middle of the country, in the mountains. 6000 ft elevation. Colombians think it's cold there - year round daytime temperature is around 65 F. Ha ha. I'm from NH and usually just wore a light shirt. Colombians wear jackets.

    There are a lot of great places to see and I knew from the outset I could not cover them all in a month. Mountains and oceans are my favorite places, so I was starting in the mountains already. Cali, Medellin, the coffee region,and the death road are all still on the list, but this trip took me North to the Caribbean coast. There you find 18,000 foot mountains near the ocean.

    From Bogota you follow the Andes mountain range North. The first big city is Bucaramanga - just a stopover for me. Next up was Barranquilla, a city on the Caribbean coast with not much tourism ... but other attractions. The next destination was Santa Marta, which is a bit further North along the coast and is a popular base for exploring the area. I spent most of my time making day trips from a brand new hostel there.

    How to pay for the trip :

    Medical and dental tourism are big there. I needed some implants and crowns and was able to save enough to buy two motorcycles. Just need one though. Round trip airfare from NH was $371. Round trip bus to the airport another $15.
    One implant including a zirconia crown at the best dentist in Bogota was $1200. Would be $3300 in NH. $7000 in Massachusetts. $10,000 in New York. Treatment there was first class plus. Better technology than back home. Nicer people. Lots of extras not charged for. For example, a two hour consultation starts with a discussion with the head dentist. You then sit in the chair where they first do aroma therapy. Then they put a small camera in your mouth and project the image on a flat screen tv. There are two dentists in the room by then, along with a translator. Both dentists speak English but they want the translator for technical details. They go over every tooth that needs attention, pointing out details like cracks in crowns. The bill for the consultation was $40 US.

    The office is located in a nice area of Bogota in a six story granite and glass medical center. I stayed in a hostel a block away for $10 per night. They had me picked up at the airport in a private car (no charge). Then sent a young girl over to the hostel the morning of my first appointment to walk me over. After surgery they gave me antibiotics and pain killers in my hand - no need to go to a pharmacy. Next day they sent a basket of (soft) foods to the hostel for me. There's more... lots more. But this is a ride report - not a medical report. PM me for details. The dentist is : Dentica by Cristina Suaza. email info@dentica.com.co .
    phone 57 317 317 0981. website at www.dentica.com.co . One of the translators is Norbi - Cristinas sister. Even better, send her a nessage on WhatsApp at 57 301 355 3416. She makes all the initial arrangements. Mention my name if you call on them.

    Now that I have a bike in Bogota, it stays inside in a commercial garage. Cost is $20/month. Includes 24 hour access with a round the clock guard. It is half a block from the hostel. During the day when I am there I just park out front. I do have a nice Xena disk brake lock/alarm but it has not gone off. Security is a popular subject in Colombia, and especially Bogota - I will probably discuss that also. No cause for concern if you follow some basic precautions.
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  5. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    Some photos of Bogota during the first week:

    Typical meal near the hostel 13,000 pesos - about $4. soup, salad, tropical juice, broiled fish , rice, yucca (like potato), dessert
    DSCN4347.JPG



    and a meal in a small 5 table restaurant, hole in the wall , local patrons 7000 pesos - about $2. no english spoken here. Bean soup. fried pork, deep fried pork skin, fried plantain, salad, rice , avocado - juice with free refill
    DSCN4368.JPG
    #5
  6. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    Having limited Spanish ability, I like to use a little trick in restaurants that I learned in Costa Rica. You just order "comida tipica" which means "typical food" in Spanish. The $2 meal above was ordered that way. You will be asked what meat you would like so you would only need to know the Spanish words for beef, pork, chicken and fish. The typical meal is soup, salad, rice, a drink, and your meat of choice.

    For fast food the street vendors are very popular and good. I like the empanadas, a meat filled pastry. Cost is usually about 2500 pesos - 80 cents. For breakfast, arepas are popular. They look like a thick pancake. Made with corn meal and filled with egg or cheese. Here is a street menu:
    DSCN4328.JPG

    Prices are in colombian pesos - there are 3200 pesos to the dollar. There are arepas being made in the background. Gaseosa is a soft drink. I never order those since fresh tropical fruit juices are an alternative. Comida tipica came with a coke once, but I had it swiched for fruit juice.

    Here is a little street stand that only sells fresh squeezed orange juice - 2000 pesos...65 cents. The guy squeezes your juice with that hand press on top of the cart - right in front of you. He has his back turned at the moment while he is buying an umbrella from the next vendor. It was rainy season - so there is generally about a one hour shower every afternoon.
    DSCN4361.JPG
    #6
  7. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    Here is the outside of the hostel I was at in Bogota. The little restaurant next door is a favorite of the police. The hostel is called "Hostel 82". It was the least luxurious of the 4 I stayed at, being an older building. But it was close to the dental office and the staff was really nice. The place was sold during the week I was there and the new owner is even nicer, if that is possible. I had a bunk at the window of the top floor so I could street watch from my bed.
    DSCN4340.JPG

    This is what the police ride

    DSCN4321.JPG
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  8. Quindio

    Quindio Adventurer Supporter

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    I will be there around 4 months and these last few weeks of waiting are going so slow.
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  9. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    Bike prep and farkles - none.
    Since the bike was bought in Bogota, and I wasn't really 100% sure what it would be, I brought no accessories other than a tank bag and a tail bag. I copied an idea from Ed Bach (flyingdutchman177) on his trip to India with a similar bike and Viaterra soft luggage. The tank bag converts to a backpack and works very well. The map pocket is too small - but that's the case with almost all tank bags. The tail bag (Eagle Claw) is designed for use without a rack and is quite well designed and rugged. A cheap Walmart duffel bag is strapped to the top of the tail bag for overflow. That was vital on the North coast when it was too hot to wear my Klim adventure suit.
    DSCN4404.JPG

    I did not provide for camping. Hostels and hotels run about $10 a night so I went with those. Hostels are fun for meeting other travelers and were a great base for exploring. Hotels were great for long road trips where you want to make the most of daylight hours. I always ran late, stopping in darkness. Actual night driving is not recommended. First of all, you don't see anything, and second, you have less time to react to road conditions. Navigation was by paper map, google maps and maps.me on an ipad air. In cities I would use google maps on my iPhone connected to earhones in my helmet. That worked fine. But next time I will have a Garmin on the handlebar and some built in speakers in the helmet as well.

    Tourist sites are not really my interest, but I hate to miss anything. So in Bogota I went to the Museo de Oro, the gold museum. Here are a couple of the larger artifacts from the pre-spanish days.

    DSCN4333.JPG
    DSCN4335.JPG

    The indians were big on honoring women and made a lot of artifacts symbolizing life, birth, and motherhood. I appreciated that but was hugely turned off by a religious exhibit that featured tools of torture. Apparently they would hang a live human sacrifice above the religious leader and make him bleed to death. The blood would run onto the priest, giving him all the powers and spirit of the victim. The tools were often gold so that was part of the museum.

    Modern religion in Colombia is heavily Catholic. I also went to the "Salt Church" in Zipaquira, about an hour North of Bogota. It is carved out of an abandoned salt mine deep in a mountain. I thought it was boring, except for some side exhibits that featured emerald mining. Here is an example:
    DSCN4383.JPG
    #9
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  10. BSUCardinalfan

    BSUCardinalfan Been here awhile

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    Very cool. I travel to Bogota and Cali occasionally for work. Love the place. Can't wait to read more!
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  11. Tricepilot

    Tricepilot Bailando Con Las Estrellas Super Moderator Super Supporter

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    I'll be following along. I flew from Texas to Bogotá earlier this year and rode around on a rented GS. Loved every mile and every person I met.
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  12. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    Thanks BSUCardinalfan and Tricepilot. Please throw in some of your experiences when you have a chance.

    In Zipaquira I had some non-tourist experiences that were way better than the salt church. One was when I was looking at a statue at the town square and getting my bearings. I heard some beautiful singing in the distance. Very spirited and melodic and lots of voices. So I walked in that direction. It was a small meeting hall being used as a church, with the big front doors wide open. I stood outside getting my camera ready. A guy in the back row stood up and offered me his seat. It was typical Colombian generosity that I would experience many more times. Unfortunately the singing was over by the time I was ready to film it. I asked if they would sing again - they would - but it took too long so I left.

    When I was leaving the salt church later, there was a guy on a BMW R1200GS leaving too. Only very wealthy people there can afford one of those. Cost is over $30,000. I struck up a conversation with him and he told me he did the Bogota to Barranquilla (the coast) run in 15 hours. Leaving at 4 AM and arriving at 7 PM. Wow. He must have been hauling ass. I did it later. Took me 19 hours each time. Spread over 3 days the first time (mountain route) and 2 days coming back (valley route).
    My whole trip I was only passed twice by motorcycles on the open road. One was another BMW1200GS heading North. The other was a DR650 heading South. The Suzuki was carrying a passenger and I thought I would catch him in traffic, but he pulled away even faster when we got into the stop and go. I never reached top speed on my bike due to road conditions. But it just goes to show - it's not what you ride - it's how you ride it.
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  13. fprintf

    fprintf Been here awhile

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    What an excellent story! Can't wait to read more.
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  14. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    Thank you for the encouragement . The ride will start soon, but first I am covering some scenes in Bogota, where i was for the first week waiting for the bike delivery and getting my dental work done.

    Here is a mariachi band near the hostel
    DSCN4322.JPG

    A motorcycle delivery service using a converted bicycle.
    DSCN4358.JPG

    There are a lot of people doing this kind of work. At the hostel there was a Venezuelan refugee who is looking to upgrade his lifestyle by doing this. He just wants a bicycle but can't afford it yet. He is working three hours a day in a restaurant making 15,000 pesos. That's about $1.50 an hour. His name is Pedro. It will take him a while. He is also a very good singer and composer. He showed me some musical scores he wrote on his computer - lines for about 7 different instruments. He had the computer play it too - sounded very good.

    How about some cheap t shirts ? 15,000 pesos for three. About $1.50 each
    DSCN4316.JPG
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  15. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    More food. I love to eat. I had to stay with softer food this week, so fish was it. The empenadas are really good but I could not bite into one yet. This is fish with a cream sauce. All these restaurant meals are around $4. Plantains done this way are also fantastic.
    DSCN4323.JPG

    This is what arroz con pollo looks like. I didn't know. It is rice with chicken. The chicken is shredded and mixed into the rice. Very good, and wicked cheap. DSCN4403.JPG


    And here is a chinese bike with a funny name. I speak German so it is funnier for me. "Starker" means "stronger" in German. I don't think it applies well to these.
    DSCN4355.JPG
    #15
  16. Cal

    Cal Long timer

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    Did you get an implant the same day?
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  17. BSUCardinalfan

    BSUCardinalfan Been here awhile

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    I'm sure you know more than I do by now!

    Couple things I've picked up - UBER is pretty reliable in Bogota. I use Uber for 90% of my local transportation. did you go to Monseratte while you were there? Pretty cool place on a clear day if you get lucky enough to have one. Lots of food vendors up there too!

    I'm usually on an expense report so I stay at a really nice marriott and go out to eat every night so it would be a lot different if I was spending my own money. Having said that, the Bogota Beer Company (BBC) is really good and one of my favorite places to hang out.

    I spend a lot of time at Juan Valdez coffee shops too, but a lot of that is just people watching. Because there are some very good looking women in Bogota.:evil
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  18. MacNoob

    MacNoob piney fresh

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    :lurk
    #18
  19. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    Check plus on the women of Colombia. Very pretty and usually friendly too.

    I was on the fence about Monseratte before I got the bike. It is a church at the top of a hill near Candelaria, the big tourist area in Bogota. You can take a cable car or climb the 1500 steps. Lonely planet says to go on Sunday when the crowds are there. I was in the area on a Sunday - but it also happens that all the museums are free on the last Sunday of the month, so I went to Museo de Oro - the gold museum. Maybe next time.

    An alternate excursion, for those with a bike, is to go up the mountain (much higher than Monseratte) East of town, and go over the pass to La Calera, a small town on the other side. My hostel owner suggested that, and it fit my style very well. I was freaked out at the start when I saw dozens of soldiers on the side of the road with machine guns (Israeli guns based on the AK47). It was also my first time stuck behind a line of cars with a truck in front. I waited until some motorcyles passed me and then followed. Once over the pass I encountered more groups of soldiers with weapons. This time they were organized, along a 100 yard length. One at the beginning and one at the end, with a big cluster in the middle. These guys were watching traffic. The first one gave me a salute. The last one gave me a thumbs up. This was a scene that I went through a few times on the trip.

    I asked Juan, one of my dentists about them later. He said there was no issue with FARC or any other kind of trouble. They were there for preventative reasons. The military is active all over the country. I got a good photo of one soldier with his machine gun at the beach in Palomino - will post it later.

    I encountered another very cool scene on that ride. There was a broken down semi tractor trailer truck going back down into Bogota. His front wheel was off and there was a police motorcycle parked behind him. There were a couple of people working on the problem of putting a new wheel on. Who do you suppose was running the lug wrench ? Yup - the cop.

    Here is a photo of Bogota from the road to La Calera.
    DSCN4400.JPG

    Along this road was also the first dirt road I was tempted to take. It leads to a small village and is only a few kilometers. Pretty smooth too - perfect for my street bike. I did dirt roads whenever possible - to the full capability of the Duke. But this one will have to wait until next time also.
    DSCN4398.JPG
    #19
  20. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    I arrived in Bogota on a Tuesday evening. The consultation was the following morning. 3 implants were done on Friday - all in one session. Those implants need to settle for 6 months before they get their zirconia crowns. One of the issues was a missing front tooth. I have a temporary crown on that in the meantime. It seems pretty strong but I am not supposed to bite things with it yet.

    There was a difficult extraction too. To heal that they packed the hole with membrane made with my own blood. Never heard of that before. No stitches required and no pain afterward. Also, they used a hand held x ray gun once. Never saw one of those before either. Also, after the surgery on Friday, they did aroma therapy, laser healing treatment, and a face massage. And all three of those things every day after that for a week.
    #20