Welcome To South America: Colombia

Hello South America. Happy Birthday, too.


The little over an hour flight to Bogota was quick, easy and extremely scenic from my window seat as we flew over the Darien Gap and pristine islands with crescent shaped white sandy beaches.

I blast through immigration and customs at the airport and in less than an hour I’m at the Girag office just outside of the airport working on getting my bike cleared through customs. I mention the word “moto” and the girl behind the glass pulls a paper and says “Allan Karl”? This makes my day.

For the next hour or two I walk around the vicinity of the airport, fill out paperwork at the DIAN (Columbian customs authority) and arrange to have a customs inspector visit the Girag shipping doc to “inspect” my motorcycle and process the appropriate paperwork so I can get on my bike and ride. About 30 minutes later the inspector shows up and together we compare VIN numbers and in 15 more minutes he signs the paperwork and I’m off.

Sort of.

I’ve got to get the motorcycle out of the loading dock. The loading dock is set up for trucks that back in and load or unload. They won’t let me drive the motorcycle through the rear of the building for security reasons. No problem. They tell me I can take it out of the warehouse through the lobby. This lobby is quite tiny but I manage to squeeze the bike through the double doors with my Jesse bags in tact. Then the Girag representative opens the two glass doors leading into the lobby from outside. Except that there are two sets of stairs. for a total of about 15 stairs going down including a landing area and a few more stairs to the parking lot.

I fire up Doc and ride it down the stairs and officially onto the ground of South America! I thought I’d hear applause and screaming when I finally hit the pavement. What I did hear was my heart racing and the excitement building in my brain. Now I’m in Colombia.

Colombia, South America and the adventurer’s dream all sounded good. But remember? I hadn’t planned on visiting Colombia. That means I had done no research and had no idea what I would do next. I had no map. No guide book. Nothing. Just me, my motorcycle and my desire to ride and see this country that everyone is so afraid to visit — let alone ride a motorcycle solo.

My next adventure was to find a road map. The Girag rep directed me to the airport but suggested I leave my bike and things with him. I visit two bookstores, the information desk, rental car agencies and the Colombian Tourist Office at the airport and nobody has a road map. This two hour excursion frustrated me. As I trudged back to the Girag office, sweating and tired I sensed that I burned most of my birthday dealing with customs and looking for a road map. No I needed to get to a hotel before dark. After all, I was in Colombia.

The Girag people had made a reservation for me at a hotel just 5 miles down the road. Sounded easy enough. But when the road split into two, one going over a bridge and the other under I soon found myself in the wrong lane and moving down a four lane highway with three medians. I needed to get back to that bridge. But there was no way over the medians. I rode on. And on. Now it was dark and I was heading into Bogota. Slightly freaking but maintaining my cool, I asked directions at stop light. I couldn’t understand the taxi driver so I offered to pay him if I could just follow him to the hotel. He pulls out a paper and pen and scribbles his cell phone number down and hands it to me. I guess I didn’t get my point across. As the thick, diesel choking traffic crawls to another stop, I ask another cap driver. A young boy on a motorcycle pulls up behind and overhears the conversation. We chat and he agrees to lead the way. We do some median hopping, slight off-roading and next thing we are turned around heading toward the hotel. Twenty minutes later we are at the hotel. And to be sure, there was no way I would have found this hotel even if I hadn’t taken the wrong road.

A birthday dinner at the hotel was a bit of a splurge. But I deserve it.

That night I send an S.O.S. message to community forums on the Horizons Unlimited (HU) website requesting tips on a route out of Bogota that would take me through scenic and interesting destinations in Colombia. I knew I wouldn’t have the time to visit Cartagena or Santa Marta. So my direction was southwest toward the Ecuadorian border. By choosing to visit Colombia I had to split the time I originally allocated for Ecuador between both countries.

The response from HU was amazing. Within a few hours I had offers to visit and be guided in Cali, Medillen and Bogota. As luck would have it Mauricio worked just a mile off the road to Manizales, a destination I had set for my first night outside Bogota. The plan would be to stop and visit briefly with Mauricio and then continue on to Manizales. Mauricio drew a map, scanned it and sent it to me via email so getting out of Bogota and finding the “finca” he worked at would be easy.

Capital Hotel Bogata

The next morning everyone from the bellhops, to the hotel manager, tour operators and taxi drivers hover around me as I pack up my motorcycle. I ask for directions toward the main road that would take me toward Manizales and Mauricio’s work. Seconds later the taxi driver retrieves a Colombian road map, courtesy of the Colombian Tourist Agency, and hands it to me. Good god. Yesterday I spent two hours looking for something like this . Grinning and ready, I took of.