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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    A little later the same morning I made it to the coast. The first town there is Cienaga, which is a small one between Baranquilla and Santa Marta. It is just a little fishing village, really, but a good place for breakfast. The first place that had food had an orange press out front so I stopped there. I am a big fan of fresh pressed orange juice. So I got that along with a long twisted pastry for breakfast.
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    That's a 50,000 peso note on the table. The largest common note. Worth about $17 US.
    #41
  2. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    From Cienaga to Barranquilla is less than an hour's ride. It goes across a 30 mile long sandbar that offers good views of the ocean and some small beaches. There are some very poor looking fishing villages on it as well. I was anxious to get to the next hostel and did not stop for pictures. I was on the same route in the return direction a couple of days later though. That time I got some photos for you guys.

    In Barranquilla I tried my seat of the pants navigation again. The way that works is that I check the map ahead of time. Then I go by memory - or what is left of it. Mistakes, detours and one way streets can screw it up. Like it did here. I got frustrated and pulled over. Rechecked the map. It was really hot, too. And being stopped with the suit on it was unbearable. So it came off. Now riding in shorts and a t-shirt. Switched to the iPhone/ google map/earphone system and found the hostel. This would be my home for 3 nights.

    This hostel was also a top pick from Hostelworld. It was in a very nice area. Very friendly staff. Gigantic lockers under the beds. Excellent showers. The first thing was to get my luggage off the bike. The only non english speaking staff member (Antonio) came out to help carry it. That was already a special start. I do not make reservations ahead (except in Bogota) because I am never sure of my arrival day. It was never a problem.

    Here I was trying to make the connection with Licette, the lady I met in Massachusetts. I called several times from the hostel but she was never home. Maybe still traveling. Another issue was getting the oil changed on my bike. There were 1200 km
    on it now. First service is at 1000. I could not find a KTM dealer there. None listed in my service book and none found on line. There was one but I did not know it.

    That evening we brought the bike inside to the lobby. It looked pretty hard, with two sets of steps, the second set pretty long. But Antonio said "no problema" and he and I muscled it up. Next morning I brought it down by myself.

    Every hostel has their own policy on breakfast. In Bogota it was self serve, cold, and rationed, and included. In Buca in was hot, made to order and included. In Barranquilla it was hot, made to order and cost 10,000 pesos - $3. I went for it. Scrambled eggs with sausage, toast, Mora jam, coffee and a fruit cup. Very good.
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    Next order of business was getting the oil changed. I was ready to settle for any high quality oil of the right viscosity without an oil filter change. So I first went to the local Yamaha dealer. There was a long line and the sevice manager was on the phone for a long time. I have no patience so I left. Next was the Honda dealer. They no speak Ingles, but they tried very hard. We did google translate and the end result was that they recommended another Honda dealer half a mile away.

    The next stop was the second Honda dealer (Honda Dream). They were great ! Still no English, but they would do it, using the right Swiss oil and also do the filter. I had walked there, like I usually do, when scoping out a new area. They said - bring it in before noon. I did that. When they finished they asked if they should wash it too. Sure. Here it is in their wash bay.
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    While I was waiting the shop dog and I got acquainted.
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    And I also met some more BMW riders getting some wheels swapped. One guy was getting a brand new bike and swapping his wheels with a friend, who wanted them.
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    The showoom had a trophy case with a bunch of drag racing trophies. I was jealous. When is road racing and trials going to step up to this level ?
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    #42
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  3. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    Barranquilla was nice. Particularly the hostel. And most particularly the hostess, Salua. The first day I needed to get some laundry done and someone told me that a girl in the hostel does it. So shortly after that I saw a cute girl walking away from me in the hallway. I said "señorita" to her, and she turned around and gave me the biggest smile I ever saw. We spent a lot of time talking after that. She was the same person who made breakfast and did laundry. I had found an interesting vest in the street in Bogota that was very dirty and needed a zipper slider. She cleaned it for me along with my other laundry.
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    I had the zipper repaired later in Bogota. I may hang it on the bike if I have to park illegally. I am told you don't get tickets for parking illegally. Your bike will just be gone when you return.

    The second day in Barranquilla I tried making contact with Licette again but still had no luck. Flirting with Salua was fun. She speaks three languages and spent 13 years in Venezuela. Told me I could visit there but only the place she mentioned. Too dangerous for gringos elsewhere.

    I told my sister back home about Salua. She wrote back with a link to the song "I love it when you call me señorita" . It fit, but Salua is a nice girl. I don't think she would get serious with a vagabond like me.

    Here is a link to the lyrics and a way to hear it:
    https://genius.com/Shawn-mendes-and-camila-cabello-senorita-lyrics
    #43
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  4. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    At this point I had planned to see Cartagena next. It is the biggest draw for tourists in the country. An old, historic and beautiful city on the coast further southwest, about 2 hours ride. But you know me - I avoid tourists, and my time was limited. So I decided to go for the top destination first - Santa Marta. It is the opposite direction, also on the coast. Not really that special by itself, but all around it are the sights I really wanted to see. So the next morning I was off. Here is my bike, ready to go, with Salua standing behind it.
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    #44
  5. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    If you are still with me you are in for a treat. The best is coming right up - Santa Marta and the excursions from there.

    Going Northeast you first go over the bridge to the 30 mile long sandbar. From that bridge you can see the big ships that dock in Barranquilla. Having sailed the Caribbean many years ago, it is always nice to see that kind of scene for me. Going on to sandbar, the road is very straight and smooth. There is still some traffic and trucks, but they are very easy to pass. Sometimes there are big trucks passing other big trucks but you can see ahead a long way. The shoulder there is also really wide and smooth. A couple of times it was possible to pass a passing truck by going onto the opposite lane's shoulder to make your own pass. Sounds crazy, I know. But it was a very easy and safe maneuver.

    There are a couple of small beaches on the sandbar, but a lot of the coast there is rocky breakwater. Here is my first photo of the ocean in Colombia.
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    And here it is again from the beach itself. You can see the breakwater in the distance.
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    The big industry here is fishing. A little further along are the residences of fishermen. Many of them have roadside stands where you can buy fresh fish. Like this:
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    In the background are the Northern Andes mountains. The tallest are almost always in the clouds. You can see the clouds covering the tallest one here. Somewhere I read that these are the tallest mountains in the world, (18,000 ft), measured from base to summit. Most other big mountains start at high elevations already so if you measure them from their base, it would not be as much. This cluster of peaks has two summits that are very close in height. One has never been climbed. The other has only been climbed once - in 2015.

    I worked at Eastern Mountain Sports for a few years and have done some mountain climbing. I think I can do this. Who's with me ?

    There are also several glaciers left in Colombia. At least one is in this area. Ten years ago there were 20 glaciers in Colombia, but now there are only six. All of them are difficult to get to. I did not see any this trip but it is on my list.
    #45
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  6. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    Here are some local bikes on the beach. They are small enough to push uphill through the sand. I did not feel like doing that so I left mine on the road. Also, there is sure to be salt in that sand. Not doing that to my baby.
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    A local fisherman fixing his nets.
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    The neighborhood on the sandbar. You can see here how the road is smooth and wide with a good shoulder.
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    #46
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  7. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    Next stop - Viajero Hostel in Santa Marta. It is part of a chain of about six in various cities in Colombia. The best lodging of the trip. Stayed there for almost a week. It is a brand new facility, only been open for two months. There were still workers there doing finishing touches. The place smelled lightly of curing concrete. Parking was outside behind a locked gate. The reception desk can see the gate and they open it electronically. This place has a swimming pool and a bar on the roof . Also a restaurant on the first floor. They serve breakfast and dinner. The breakfast is buffet style with a hot entree for 8000 pesos. Private rooms get the breakfast included. Here is a typical bunk. They use the under bed locker system here. Your room key is an electronic wrist band that also opens your locker.
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    This is the shower vent. The shower is beautifully tiled and has great hot water. The vent is just a sylized open window. The rooms are air conditioned but only at night. The staff controls them. Some of us thought it was too cold so we got blankets at night.
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    Toilet and sink. Very nice. I found that really cheap hotels in Mexico (and one in Colombia) have no toilet seat. this place is first class.
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    Overview of the bathroom. What more could you want ?
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    And an overview of the room itself. Nice.
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    #47
  8. PaisaMed

    PaisaMed Been here awhile

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    Champe, great write up of Colombia! The country is definitely moto centric. I usually go to Medellin every winter and ride around a bit. I have an expat network that I keep in touch with.
    #48
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  9. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    Thanks Paisa. Too bad it looks like I will miss you this time, since I am planning an early Spring visit to Medellin. Another time.

    Funny thing - half my readers are from Canada. What's with that ? I lived in Edmonton for five years as a child. Learned to speak English there. Maybe you guys are the only ones who can understand me. Eh ?

    Also I see you are a connoisseur of fine scooters. I owned an Aprillia SR50 that I bought in Key West. It is the best and fastest scooter around. Sold it when I trimmed the herd. I was told it was like dating a fat girl. Lots of fun but you don't want to be seen with her.
    #49
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  10. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    The first order of business in a new city is to walk around and see what is near home. This statue of native Indians was near the marina. It is made of fiberglass.
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    On the street there were quite a few street sweepers working . All had the same uniform, bucket, broom, and face mask.
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    This is a watchmaker doing his thing on a street with a lot of other vendors.
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    I like to frequent local restaurants that the locals like. This one was overkill. It had a lot of tables but they were always all full. The food looked really good so I went by there several more times over the next few days. Never did get to eat there though.
    Their lunch ( almuerzos) menu:
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    They were not open for dinner. And I did not understand most of the menu. Sent this photo to my sister and she translated it all. How nice - I only wish I had gotten to eat there.

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    #50
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  11. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    I was told by some hostel patrons that there was no beach in Santa Marta. But the map showed two beaches - one on each side of the marina. So that is the first place I took the bike. Parking was at a premium there though. And there was an "attendant" at every likely spot. I don't know how they decide who will be the attendant, but the deal is you park and pay whatever you feel is right. The guy organizes the parking and helps you if needed. Here there was a good spot, but blocked by the front row. The guy put some rocks next to the curb as a ramp and pointed me to it. I gave him some loose change when I left.
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    This is my own ramp I made when I was ready to leave.
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    I call this a beach
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    An excursion boat. The cranes in the background are the shipping port. There are some really nice white sand beaches in the area, best accessed by boat. That is where a lot of the tourists go. I went to some of them by motorcycle.
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    A cop with the marina in the background
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    A family outing at the beach
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    #51
  12. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    There is a very famous attraction near Santa Marta called "The Lost City". It is a village deep in the jungle and up in the mountains. The story goes that the Indians living here were the last holdouts when the Spanish conquered the area. There was a special effort to wipe them out which killed all the chiefs and most of the Indians. A few did escape by going deeper into the mountains. Decendents of the survivors now live in this "lost city" as well as in some other unknown (to us) places in the area. This tribe also claims the high peaks as sacred ground.

    The lost village is visited now by groups of tourists, with a local guide. It is a 3 day hike each way though. Not easy at all. The trip is also known for lots of mosquitos. They do feed you and there is a pack animal to carry the common supplies.

    At the hostel, I had two German roommates that I went out to dinner with once. One had just returned from the lost city trip and the other was going the next day. Both Germans spoke very good Spanish as well as English, and knew Santa Marta pretty well. So we went to the historic district where the better (more expensive) restaurants are. One of the guys wore some house slippers and I told him that was not too good on these sidewalks. He could stub a toe on an uneven part. He said the it was the only thing he could wear because his feet hurt bad from the hike. And we had to walk slow so he could keep up.

    The historic district is full of street vendors, musicians and street acts. The restaurants are good but expensive so we shopped for one we all liked. We ended up at an Italian place where I ordered lasagna. While eating at an outside table we were approached many times by vendors selling candy and other things. One pair of musicians sang us a nice song and had the word "Aleman" (Germany) and Estados Unidos (United States) in it. We thought that was very imaginative and entertaining so they got some money.

    Another visitor to our table was a boy who spoke a lot of Spanish that I did not understand. But it was kind of obvious that he was begging for money. At the end of his little speech he made a hand to mouth gesture. That I understood. I am a slow eater and still had a lot of lasagna left, so I asked him if he wanted that. He did, and sat down at our fourth seat and devoured it. He did tell us his story too. He is 12 years old by the name of Miguel. His family is from Venezuela and they are having a tough time. They are all there with him but he was alone a the time. This is him at the table.
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    #52
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  13. dano619

    dano619 Long timer Supporter

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    All caught up......thanks for taking us along!!
    #53
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  14. roadcapDen

    roadcapDen Ass, Grass or Gas, no free rides.

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    Another Canuck here enjoying your RR!
    #54
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  15. GRinCR

    GRinCR Oppressed Nomad

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    Location:
    Alajuela, Costa Rica via MN.
    :lurk

    Traded MN winters for Costa Rica more than a decade ago. Colombia likely would have had the same effect had life's path gone in that direction first.

    How's the power on that 390? On paper it looks as good as a DR and is a skinny pig when compared. While it is blasphemous, the ADV version is tempting.

    Cheers for the share and viva Colombia!
    #55
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  16. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    Thank you gentlemen for the great responses. Very encouraging. And the best is still to come !

    I think the power of the 390 Duke is awesome. Any more is overkill. The bike is physically small, which I like, because I am only average size - 5' 8". For you tall guys it may not be so good. On the 10 hour stretches even I need to stretch my legs, so I do that going slow through towns by sticking them out to the side, or out front, or standing. The seat is remarkably comfortable - best stock seat I ever tried. A big improvement over the previous model.

    There is an adventure version of this bike just coming out now. I would have gone for that if it was an option. But this one is really good and I don't know if I would trade at this point. This new "adventure" could go a little further in dirt-worthiness, and I think KTM knows it. The rumor is that there will be an R version later, with more suspension and real dirt wheels, that will take real dirt tires- 21" front and 18" rear spoked wheels. I do like the tubeless wheels that I have now, for the easy puncture repairs though. Not that I have had to do one on this bike .

    The Metzeler tires on the Duke are remarkable. They do dirt work pretty well as long as the mud is not too deep. Of course they are meant for pavement, so they are pretty much unbeatable there. I took mine into a mud environment that deteriorated gradually until I gave up. You will see how far I got in the Minca chapter.

    If I was to carry a passenger on a regular basis I would go for the 690 KTM enduro. 77 hp at about the same weight as the 390. Incredible ! It eats any other 650 class bike alive. And is still easy to get into your hotel room. I have not seen one in Colombia so it may be special order only. Also, expect to pay at least double. I will ask Nicolas ( contact info on page 1) about this next time I talk to him. With any kind of luck I will be needing to carry an extra 150 lbs.
    #56
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  17. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    Still in Santa Marta, at the Northeast corner, is the shipyard. I wanted a closer look, but it is gated and I have no real business there. Right alongside is a dirt access road to the ocean though, and from there I could see coal trucks being unloaded. They do not dump by themselves. Instead, there is a hydraulic lift that tips the whole truck, including the cab, so that the cargo slides out the back. There are two of these lifts, and they work continuously. It takes only a few minutes to unload a truck this way.
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    #57
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  18. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    I have mentioned trials here and you can see from my avatar that I am into that. But this is a very rare sport and even rarer in Colombia. While I was walking the malecon one evening I ran across these guys practicing bicycle trials. I think that must be even harder than moto trials. Let's see if I can upload a video of that.
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    Rats. It did not work. There are error messages about the file being too large (15 seconds ?) and when I tried a shorter one it did not like the "file extension". I have several short clips of these guys jumping the gap behind them here and also doing a 3 foot high concrete obstacle. Notice these are extremely specialized bikes - no seats.

    Onward to other crazy stunts. Here is a gap in the roadway nearby. Try jumping that with your dual sport. It is a missing grate for a drainage culvert. In my month in Colombia I saw one other road obstacle this bad. That was a missing manhole cover in the road in a rough part of Bogota. You cannot afford to snooze while driving here. This hole is more than four feet deep. Usually someone will put a big branch or something in there to warn you , but this was open and unmarked the whole week I was there.
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    #58
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  19. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    Next to the shipyard there is a dirt road leading to the ocean. I was looking for a secluded sand beach that nobody knows about. There was no such thing there but the rocky coastline there is quite pretty. That point in the distance is Tayrona National Park - a nature preserve that does have big white sand beaches. The bay just before that is Taganga - one of the top scuba diving centers that happens to have a lot of hostels as well. Close up photos of that coming up.
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    Straight down to the water was a guy walking back from the point. He came to a spot where he could not walk anymore so he swam across.
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    #59
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  20. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    This is very common local transportation
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    #60
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