Feb. 7 – Bogota, CO to Armenia

2009 February 12
by joe

A day of close calls…

We were awakened by a call from the front desk, asking us to move our bikes so another guest could get their car out of the garage.    By the time I got down to the garage in the hotel basement, the car in question had already maneuvered itself out.  We found a tiny hole-in-the-wall place to try breakfast, and it was very strange indeed.  Food here is cheap, but we have not had anything very good yet.

As we started to leave town, we passed a corner where a homeless-looking madman started throwing empty bottles onto the ground, and them made a charge into the street, as if to grab Levi off his bike.  He was screaming some unintelligible stuff, and acting very crazy.  We just managed to escape his clutches.  Had a very hard time finding the autopista sur;  the street layout in Bogota is simple incomprehensible.  We wandered up and down one-way and dead-end streets, often taking sidewalk shortcuts,  jumping curbs,  and going the wrong way on one-way streets out of frustration and desperation.  Finally we go onto the main road, and fought the crazy traffic for miles south until we left the city congestion behind.  Very poor signage, thoughtless and reckless drivers, road construction, massive traffic, horse-drawn carts on the highways, bad roads, lots of close calls;  we had it all.

At one point when the traffic slowed to a crawl, two young men ran over behind a truck next to us, jumped up onto the rear of it, and managed to wiggle their way under the tarp covering and into the truck cargo area.  They were clearly thieves looking to steal what they could from the truck’s cargo.

Stopped at at gas station when we were not sure we were on the correct road, and I discovered that one of my footpeg mounts was loose.  More bolt tightening!  Finally out into the country, we are surrounded by some beautiful scenery – Columbia is a country of mountains, and they are spectacular.  Words just fail to do justice to the magnificence to the scenery.

I have a very close call when some young motorcyclist comes shooting out of a gas station from the right, behind Levi and in front of me.  We were traveling at 60 mph. He entered the road without even looking to see if anything was coming.    I managed to swerve and miss a direct broadside collision, but only by inches!

One nice thing that Columbia does for its motorcyclists, is excuse them from all road tolls.  There are many toll stops, but every one has a special bypass lane for ‘motos’, and they get a free pass!  We enjoyed that.  Columbia has many military checkpoints and traffic stops, as well.  They selectively pull over vehicles and check them, sometimes searching them.  We were not stopped once.

Much of the day was spent negotiating terrible mountain roads.  Narrow and steep, often with little or no shoulder.  At one point, Levi was within inches of being knocked over when a truck came WAY over the center-line (there was no centerline, really) on a curve and narrowly missed his rear pannier with his front bumper.  We expected to reach Armenia, a fair sized town, well  before dark,  but about 20 miles short of the town, when were in really bad mountains, Levi discovered that his rear brakes had failed completely!  So we had to do the last stretch going really slow, and then it started to rain, and then it got dark, and then we found ourselves, again, in fog and cloud forest, where visibility dropped to almost zero.  We crawled our way down the last of the mountains, and stopped at the first hotel sign we saw,  grateful to have survived this day.  We parked our bikes for the night in a mud-hole behind the hotel, chained them together, and hoped for the best.  We went across the street for a quick dinner, and got overcharged for mediocre food, and hassled by strangers, some well dressed,  asking us for money.

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  1. 2009 February 12
    Gabe permalink

    Funny, you guys got a bit of a different impression of Bogota than I did when I was there. Ok, the drivers are nuts in much of the city, though not on the Autopista Tunja going North out of the city. I noticed signs everywhere that said “Alto Riesgo de Accidente en 500m” or something like that – it seemed like they were obsessed with traffic safety. And I didn’t notice that many bikes (not that I was looking) – just a ton of CNG cabs. Anyways, I’m glad you got to see Colombia after all…