A Month on a Bike in Colombia - 2019

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

  1. Cal

    Cal Long timer

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    In 1999 I hiked up to the church with my friends driver, he carried a side arm as my friend was the VP for Trans Canada pipeline in Colombia and at that point in time kidnapping was prevalent.
  2. roadcapDen

    roadcapDen Ass, Grass or Gas, no free rides.

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    Just noticed that Duolingo also teaches Klingon, haha...
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  3. -Z-

    -Z- Adventurer

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    Nice RR, enjoyed reading and pictures!

    i've been there last year backpacking, such a unique country and wonderful peoples!
    I really liked Medellin and Minca, great times in the jungle.

    Good to know that it is quite easy to buy a bike, I was looking at a few dealershop while in Medellin and yeah the CRF 250 seems to be more expensive than back in Europe.. I think it might be still better to ship a bike from Europe for a trip above 3 months
  4. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    That CRF250 will be hard to beat around Minca, especially with some knobbies on it. You will have to let us know if you make the loop to Cienaga. Around town in Medellin, or any other city, will be great on a 250 also.

    But I don't want to be you going between Medellin and Minca. Especially not a mountain route, where you need to pass the trucks quickly. Epico40 (Ricardo) , who runs a motorcycle touring business out of Cali, and a previous contributor here, advised me to not go smaller than 650cc. Of course, he is thinking of passing in the mountains.

    I tried out a few 650s - BMW and Kawasaki - and see his point. But for me, those are very tall and heavy bikes. The Duke is much lighter and smaller with almost the same horsepower. And quite soon there will be a couple of adventure versions available.

    When are you going next ? Maybe I'll see you there !
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  5. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    El Dorado - "the Golden One"

    About 50 km North of Bogota is Laguna de Guatavita, a crater lake that was a sacred Indian place, known for the chief that would cover himself in gold dust and go for a swim. This is the basis of the legend of "El Dorado". Worshipers would also throw gold and silver artifacts into the water as part of the ceremony. Of course the Spanish conquistadors got wind of this and pillaged the place. Since then the lake has been drained twice, at great expense, resulting in a big financial loss each time. Now it is illegal to even swim there.

    But you can still visit. 2016 price for admission was 18,000 COP ($6) for gringos, and 11,000 for residents. I wonder if I can get by with my Colombian motorcycle registration ? Either way, if they still have a reasonable charge, they will get my money.
    There is also a hot spring nearby, so we will see if time permits a little dip.

    [​IMG]
  6. WileyRTW

    WileyRTW Wiley

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    I agree with all of this, but if you are not a big guy a 250 is fine. I bought one of the chinese 250s in Medellin and drove it to Santa Marta and back....while it was gasping for air a few times, it did fantastic overall, so if you don't need speed (I wasn't really slow, just average riding) you can def ignore the 650 minimum. Of course, South of Medellin gets better so maybe I would have regretted a 250 down there, as you said 650 is nice up in the mountains. So basically I am contradicting myself and have nothing to say. Great trip, I miss Colombia....the food, not so much.
  7. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    Hot Tamales

    When I left Bogota, I headed North to the next bigger city - Bucaramanga. Mainly, I was trying to make some good mileage in the right direction and try out another hostel. I had researched hostels on Hostelworld and found a highly rated one there. It was in a very nice neighborhood. Maybe too nice. There were designer clothing shops and fancy restaurants all around. They had a garage door that opened up to a very nice living room where I parked my bike. I tried to not bring any dirt in with me and parked at the back. Turns out they had a guest with a small car later - that went into the living room too. It was dark already when I arrived, and I had not eaten all day. So I went for a walk to find a cheap restaurant. No luck. They were all expensive. Even tried the supermarket deli. Nothing appealed. On the walk-around I had passed an old lady with some weird street food but was not comfortable asking about it . But later I was a bit more desperate and went for it. She had these long round packages wrapped in corn husks tied with a string. A bunch of them in a hot box. There were a few locals sitting on folding chairs near her, eating, no tables - food looked and smelled good.

    I have heard the term - tamale - before, but never seen one. I just learned what they were after I got home. They are basically a corn dough wrapper with meat, vegetables, and potato inside. That is wrapped with a corn husk and steamed. The lady pulled up a chair for me, and handed me some utensils and I went to town. Tasted great and was very filling. The corn dough wrapper was very thick, so I left a lot of that for last. Good thing, because I could not finish it.

    Here is a photo of one that I pulled off the internet.

    [​IMG]
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  8. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    Good story Wiley - tell us more. When were you there ? What did you pay for the Chinese 250 ? How did you sell it and for how much ?

    I will guess you paid less for it than Z will pay to ship his bike forth and back from Europe. And then went home with whatever you could sell it for. Good work.

    You sound like even more of a minimalist than me. I was inspired by John Downs, who wrote a few ride reports about riding in South America on a Japanese 250. But he was very extreme, in my opinion. I would like to know more about how you rolled. Do any camping ?

    Edit : Checked out your website. very interesting. Need to read more of it. Did not see the answers to my questions above yet. Great yet humble writing style - love it. Living on the beach at Casa Grande - awesome. Right between Tayrona and Palomino - I went right by there. My favorite photo of my Duke was made nearby. Also wish you well getting the tank filled. We need you to carry on.
  9. WileyRTW

    WileyRTW Wiley

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    You fool, I ramble, and when Colombia is involved, I can really ramble.

    I originally made it to Colombia in 2013, via my Astro van having driven from San Diego. I lived there for 8 months, mostly in the north. I often slept right in the van, but for 6 of those months I was parked 20 feet from the ocean and slept in a hammock, or sometimes my tent just outside my van. Thank you for exploring/taking pics from up there, it brought back a lot of memories and many skip the area. That said, damn you bastard....I literally have kiteboard equipment packed and am ready to head to Asia, but no ticket yet. Now I am thinking of scraping that and getting my ass back to Colombia.

    Overlanding Colombia gave me the opportunity to really get a feel for the country, no different than what you are experiencing on the bike, we all are lucky to be able to travel by these means, plus found myself in amazing situations like this:
    [​IMG]

    The van trip was awesome, so after 3 or so years I flew to Medellin and bought the 250 I mentioned. I had no problems with the bike, but they are known to be crappy Chinese bikes. I do not remember what I paid but it was around what it would have cost to rent for the month so while not cheap, I didn't mind buying instead...1500 comes to mind but I have no idea. I bought new so the dealership would do most of the work for me. I did have to get a blood test, I probably didn't know what type I was I believe that was why I had one done. The dealership took me around the block to get the paperwork I needed, overall I think it took 2-3 days, and one of those was waiting for the blood work to come back if I recall.

    I gifted it to a friend in Colombia when I left, so I did not make a profit. The process itself was easy, sadly I do not think I made a trip report, at least I cannot find the info now. As I was only there 1 month and had planned to gift the bike I did not see if selling would be an easy option or not.

    I do not recall where I was in Colombia, but during that trip (2015ish) the news was peppered with news from the South were police had been ambushed and killed, and there was video of the police machine guns being carried through town. This was when the ceasefire was being put into effect, and not everyone was on board. I think things are even better today than they were back then. I have almost spent a year there total, and only once did I have any issues, which I explain below.

    Here is the trusty steed on the coast, just 45 min outside Santa Marta.
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    Colombia is extremely safe, but I always tell the following stories, as you need to know what your getting into. In 2013 while I stayed at a beach camp 45 min outside Santa Marta, my friends and I were relaxing by the fire. They told me 2 people from Spain were kidnapped in Santa Marta the previous day, and that I should be careful, as I was going to Santa Marta once a week or every other week for the past several weeks/months. I remember telling them thanks, but if guys with guns tell me to go somewhere there is nothing I can do.

    That was the last I heard of it. As we know Colombia is famous for kidnappings, and the people do not like it, it is a very dark subject. No one really talked about it where we were. I later looked it up and the couple had been held in the Guajira desert for about a month...eventually the military went in and killed everyone, rescuing the Spanish couple. Now that was 2013 so things are better, and they might have had a relative who was a high ranking judge, so not your typical tourist, but Colombia has it's share of issues even now.

    Around the same time, 2 Germans who were Overlanding Colombia, which is exactly what I was doing, were also kidnapped. They were near the Venezualan border, and thought to be spies, even though they were in their 60s or 70s. They were eventually released as well. I don't know of any kidnappings since then, but I also don't follow kidnappings obviously.

    Finally, while sleeping in my van in some small town in the middle of nowhere, I was awoken at 4am to 3 men trying to break into the rear of my van. Now I wont lie 3 Colombian men trying to break in at 4 am in scary, but these guys most likely saw the Cali plates and thought hey had an easy score not knowing I was inside the vehicle. This was the 3rd break in attempt of the trip though so I was as used to it as one can be. I jumped in the drivers seat, ripped down my window shape, started the van, and drove off all in 1 fluid motion more or less. I then drove off into the night, out into the countryside at 4am, which was probably incredibly stupid, but with adrenaline and the town being so small I just kept going lol.

    All that said, the most dangerous place for tourists is Carnival...Barrenquilla isn't the safest city to begin with, so filling it with tourists is obviously going to create an issue. I was with Colombians the whole week so went around with a sort of immunity and had no issues. There were a group of Europeans who were friends of my friends friend, so we would hangout a few hours in the day and my Colombian friends and I would go do our own thing. Sure enough, the Europeans on their own were robbed, and there were countless other gringos constantly warning me during the week as I walked around, saying they had been robbed, so you need to stay vigilant. What happens is they spray your face with foam, and when you react and reach up to your face their friends grab what they can from your pockets. I saw it happen twice, it is quick and often people didn't even know they were robbed at 1st. There's the Colombian saying..."No dar papaya (don't give papaya)", which basically means don't let yourself get robbed/taken advantage of, and should be the official slogan for Colombian Carnival.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    And post up your pics on this Colombia pic thread, it needs revival every few months, and you have some great ones:

    Share your pictures of Colombia


    .
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  10. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    La Guajira - the Northern desert

    Another spot I missed. A couple of guys from the Santa Marta hostel bought used BMWs in Colombia and were headed there. I had some trouble understanding what the attraction was, but partly because we only spoke for around 10 minutes. Since then I have looked closer and found a few things. One is the town of Camarones, the start point for a wildlife refuge that is protecting pink flamingos. I did not know that these are real. Back home they are plastic lawn ornaments. So my research showed that the town is quite poor and not very attractive - so not to expect much there. But the beachside restaurants, while poor looking, serve very good seafood. I may even try the ceviche - does not sound very appealing - but I might be surprised. Ceviche is raw seafood, cured with natural acid like lime juice. Several ride reports have raved about it, particularly from Chile and Peru. I am not a fan of raw fish but will try anything. Camaron is "shrimp" in english, and they are caught fresh in this area. Not surprising given the name of the town is "Camarones". Apparently this shrimp ceviche is served cold.

    There are sail/row boats that take you out into the lagoons to see the flamingos. Cost 10,000 to 20,000 depending on how many in the boat and your negotiating skill. Tripadvisor, as usual, recommends a licensed guide. I don't prefer government "help" though and would try to avoid that. I am a nature lover, but not a government lover.

    [​IMG]
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  11. borderlinebob

    borderlinebob Been here awhile

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    Gmax
    I’m not one to comment on folks grammar but geez man. Be more careful.

    Read this back to yourself and it DOES say “they removed the passengers and set them on fire!!!!”

    Was explained/ corrected in someone else’s post shortly after so the sick feeling in my gut was brief.
    Thanks for all your other input to this amazing RR.
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  12. liv2day

    liv2day Life is about how you handle Plan B Supporter

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    I'm with you @Champe, too many people tripping over each other to see something isn't my idea of a good time. That said, the waterfall you mention sounds fantastic - something special about the power of nature flowing over a cliff.

    I missed the last couple updates you had on the report, going to remedy that now. Out of curiosity, are you simply using Google to find different places to explore in country, or did you find a different resource?

    Dig the update man.
  13. liv2day

    liv2day Life is about how you handle Plan B Supporter

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    :lol3 :lol3

    Appreciate the perspective you brought to the ride report, and the additional insight. I know this is @Champe's report and don't want to overstept, but reading the different folks commenting on traveling on Columbia has really set the hook for me - I truly want to go check it out. Need to continue working on my Spanish.

    Great thread folks :thumb
  14. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    I use a lot of different resources to find places to visit. First hand recommendations are my favorite. Some of those come from threads like this one.

    Someone here suggested Mt Monserrate, the church ovelooking Bogota. I already knew about it but tried to find a way to ride my bike there. I looked at maps, but the ones I checked first did not have enough detail. I tried it several times and finally found a trace of a road by zooming in to the max using google maps. Then followed that back to Bogota (going the wrong direction at first). That road went close to the town of Choachí. So then I went to Wikipedia to see if there was anything interesting there. That's when I first saw that it is the site of the highest waterfall in Colombia.

    The Camarones idea ( pink flamingos and shrimp) came from WileyRTW - post above. I was trying to find his campsite on the map. I was surprised he had found a spot closer to Tayrona Park than Palomino, where I was. And I remember the BMW guys I met heading in that direction but going all the way to the Guatavita desert. I had to see what's there. You know what I found. I had also read an account on an ADV ride report about someone who went to the northern tip of Colombia. He said it was a wasteland, but I knew there had to be more.

    I am thinking of giving that area a try. Earlier I was stymied by a normal range fuel tank and the requirement to burn Extra grade. But I have some solutions for that. I have ordered two 10 liter fuel bladders. And I am no longer convinced that Extra grade is needed. There is still no info about Colombia regarding this, but there is a lot of info about India. Over there they run regular. And I see some RTW guys on KTMs carry extra injectors and not need them. I think I will just get an extra fuel filter.

    Another source of ideas is looking at the routes that the commercial motorcycle tours take. Those routes are published on their websites. Of course, they omit details, but you can just fill in your own once you get there. Those tours are at least motorcycle oriented. Usually they use high end hotels to make sure there are no complaints. Personally, I just need a place to sleep and shower. And I can not afford to spend as much on a tour as what my bike cost. On the other hand, maybe providing support to such a group would be a fun trip. I have already suggested that to one tour operator - Epico40 tours out of Cali (epicomotoadv.com) - and I got invited over for coffee.
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  15. Davidprej

    Davidprej Davidprej Supporter

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    I'm just at the armchair stage of planning at this time, but hope to join you actual travelers in a couple of years. I too get some great info on this site regarding places to see, eat and stay. I mark them all on Google maps, at least the ones I can find. Sometimes I don't quite have enough info to drop a pin. So, if you guys doing the real traveling can give enough info for us armchair riders to locate the place, it would be much appreciated. Now, I appreciate everyone taking the time to post, so if this comes across as a demand for more work on your part, that's not at all my intention. Just a friendly suggestion (and not directed at you Champe).

    Keep the stories coming and I'll meet you on the road when I can (damn day job!).
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  16. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    Stuff to see next time.

    Andean Condor. This is the largest flying bird in the world, with an average wingspan of around nine feet. And they live in Colombia, along with some other South American countries. I am not a birdwatcher but their mantra is not to expect any particular sighting on any particular trip. But there is a way to increase the chances dramatically. There is a group of three that are being fed in Purace National Park. They are wearing tracking devices so their arrival at the feeding station can be somewhat predicted. Purace is a good way South of Cali, and not far from the death road, also known as the "trampoline of death". Another must see.

    And a glacier. There are about six of them left in Colombia. And all of them are melting - what a surprise. So far I have only read about two of them that you can walk with sight of - but not touch. Still looking. I don't really have to touch one. I have plenty of ice and snow right here in New Hampshire. And I have skied a glacier in Montana. But they say the glaciers in Colombia will be gone in a few years, so it's now or never. Also, I think mountains above tree line are spectacular, so I expect the area around them to be really nice.
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  17. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    Hunting for a good mountain.

    I like mountains. Near me is Mt. Washington, the highest mountain in the Northeast. It is well above tree line and has tremendous views from the top. It has a weather station that has recorded the highest speed winds on earth. The coolest thing is you can drive your motorcycle to the summit. There is even an annual auto race.

    This area is known as the "White Mountains" and I have hiked and skiied in them a lot. There ougta be something as impressive in Colombia. After all, by the numbers, Colombias mountains are three times as tall.

    So I was looking around on the maps in the "coffee triangle" and cycled through looking at the maps.me version. It had some white spots that looked like high elevations to the Northeast of that zone. Took down the names of the peaks and looked them up. The tallest one was Nevado del Ruiz. So I started looking for roads that went up or at least close. And I even found an off-road/ATV jeep guide service.

    But then I learned a little more. Ruiz is the second tallest (17,500 ft) of about 12 active volcanoes in Colombia. It erupted in 1985, killing 22,000 people. It is now under strict observation. and it is a little in excess of my expectations. Heres what this bad boy looks like now.

    nevade de ruiz

    There are three more high peaks with glaciers on top. Their names all start with Nevado, meaning snow-covered. I will be checking out a few of these.
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  18. WileyRTW

    WileyRTW Wiley

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    Did you go or are you scouting, the area around nevade de ruiz is AMAZING. If you asking, do it, I drove all over that area without having any idea where I was. I was stuck in traffic, and jumped off the highway just to get free....it led to a fantastic couple of days.
  19. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    Just scouting for now. Very close to Ruiz are two more snow capped volcanos. Nevado de Santa Isabel and Nevado de Tolima. Santa Isabel is closest to Salento, the best known tourist town in the coffee region. There are some organized hikes from there. The whole area looks worthwhile - if just for views. At least one, Tolima, is climbable.. They are all over 17,000 feet and may be dangerous.

    Cheap living.

    Doing more scouting by computer. Found the cheapest hostels ever - in Cali, no less. Yesterday there was one advertising $2 a night on Hostelworld (Tikay). I wanted to highlight that for this report, but it is gone today. I put in a 3 day stay in January and got over 30 choices. Tikay is up to $5. There were over 30 hostels listed. 5 of them were $5 a night and 6 were $6 a night. The two most expensive ones were $13 a night.

    One of my issues is deciding whether to camp. In the US it is a no-brainer. But with these low prices it makes a lot less sense. I was happy paying around $10 for a hostel on my first trip. And actually I expect that to be the case next time too. But I was pleasantly surprised by prices in Cali, where I still plan to go.
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  20. Champe

    Champe Been here awhile

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    More mountain climbing.

    I may have mentioned - I like mountains. And now I started to research the options in Colombia. So I described the first really interesting one, Riuz, above. There is a lot more to say about that area, but my next question was - if Ruiz is the second highest active volcano with a glacier summit, what is the tallest ?

    That would be Nevado del Huila, 5750 meters tall (18,860 ft). That's big. It is about 50 Km SE of Cali, and can be climbed. Last erupted 2008. And you can climb it. For $10,500 you can get a guide from Colombia Adventure Guides

    :https://www.explore-share.com/trip/...in-colombia-nevado-de-huila-3-days-from-cali/

    They rate the difficulty as "intermediate". Takes 3 days. You can make up a larger party and split the cost of the guide. Who's in ?

    Screen Shot 2019-12-26 at 1.31.44 PM.png
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