The perilously beautiful road out of Bogotá

2009 February 12
tags: ,
by Levi

Not far from where the sprawling city of Bogotá tapered off, we reached the end of the valley it sits in, and were again deep in the mountains. Our bikes ran rough at the high altitude, especially given the often extremely steep grades. It was my first time in the Andes, and to put it mildly, they’re unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Words, like the pictures we seldom get an opportunity to take, fall horribly short of describing the grandeur and beauty of some of the scenery we pass, and the Colombian Andes were absolutely no exception. The mountains, and the views of them afforded us by the insane roads we were on, are absolutely awe inspiring, and by that I mean I was literally in awe of them.

Just one of many giant, cloud-covered Colombian mountains

Just one of many giant, cloud-covered Colombian mountains

We underwent massive changes in altitude from mile to mile, constantly climbing up and crawling down through extremely steep and tightly winding roads. At one point, when we stopped to take a break, snap a couple photos, and chuck some boulders down the mountain like little kids, our thermometer read 110 degrees F. About 15 minutes and a lot of climbing later, the thermometer read 55. How do you dress for that?

After a full day of just spectacular scenery, we’d decided to push for our original destination, Armenia, despite knowing we’d be coming in after nightfall. High up in the mountains, we once again entered dense fog, and finally, substantive rain. About half an hour before the sun winked out, while coming up to a downhill turn, I hit my brakes to avoid running into the back of a truck my dad had recently passed only to find myself hardly slowing. I hauled on the front brake and slammed my foot down on the rear, and managed to slow, but it was something was definitely up. Coming cautiously to the next corner, I tested my brakes, and found the rear to be completely useless: there was no resistance in the peddle, and nothing happened no matter how hard I pushed.

Unsure as to what exactly was going on, I worried that if there was a break in the brake line, I may eventually run completely run out of brake fluid, and end up with no brakes at all. Given we were on a massive descent at the time, that would be… bad. I wanted to get my Dad’s attention as quickly as possible, in hopes of having his help diagnosing the problem. Unfortunately, at the same time, he was in a hurry trying to get us to Armenia before it got dangerously dark, and so he was flying around slow moving trucks and cars, something I couldn’t really do with no rear brakes! I carefully picked my way through traffic behind him, flashing my brights, waving my hands, and honking my horn at him, to no avail. Eventually, I got behind a slow truck and stayed there, knowing if I didn’t show up in his rearview for awhile, he’d stop. I came up on him on the side of the road waiting, and I waved my hands for him to stay put. I explained what was going on, and we took a look at the bike. It had plenty of brake fluid and no apparant leaks. Instead, the rear brake pads were completely gone, or at least as far as was necessary for them to fail.

From there, I took the lead,  and began our slow perilous journey down the final stretch of mountains. Night fell, and the roads were slick, steep, and curvy… exactly the kinds of roads that really really suck when you only have a front break on a heavy motorcycle. I had to keep the bike in 1st or 2nd gear, and cross my fingers that nothing jumped in front of me. I finally figured out why I’d had so much trouble seeing in the cloud forest when I was also in the lead at night in the fog, as it happened again this night: my Dad’s headlight had been bent upwards after his collision with the cow, and now shined directly into my rearview mirrors, obliterating my night vision. With no way to tell him, and my strongest desire being to get to a hotel and off the bike, I gave up on trying to tell him, and we eventually found our way to a truck stop right off the highway in Armenia. Our hotel was less than $9, and furnished accordingly.

We relaxed with a mediocre dinner, once again served without us getting much of a say in what we got, but getting a “free” taste of pretty good soup. We were obviously overcharged for the meal itself, so I guess that balanced things out. When we went out again in search of a bar or something, a guy started following us around speaking some highly accented Spanish I could hardly understand, and didn’t have any desire to try to follow. When we gave up on finding anything interesting and went to a restaurant across the street with outdoor seating so we could smoke a couple cigars, he tried to sit down with us, and only when the owner of the restaurant came over and made threatening gestures at him did he leave us alone. While sitting there drinking a couple beers, two more people came up to us and begged, including a guy who looked about 21 dressed in fancy jeans and a nice shirt. As we were leaving, the original guy came back to bother us again and even went so far as to try to follow us into our hotel; I had to stand in front of the door and tell him to leave!

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