Medellin is really something, it has a feeling of advancement yet it’s simple in construction. Pablo Escobar, one of the biggest and most famous drug lords ruled this city and the drug trade for some time. The development of infrastructure is impressive yet the level of poverty is evident all over the city. There is a feeling of security that cannot be denied but lurking beneath the veil is the squalid tailings of the drug world and each night the general rule is to be in your home.
They say that the rebel groups recruit in the universities because the students at this age are looking to make a difference, are struggling to find their place and this often means they are ‘against the man’ or at least at odds with their parents; prime territory for spreading your ideologies. This brings up an interesting point though, about the rebels, why do they still exist in such a functional place and where might they be?
First off Colombians number in the range of 46 million with a land mass of about 1/10 the size of Canada. Not so bad you say considering the size of Canada, but the thing is that most people live in a third of the country. This has to do with many things but one of them is security. Ask your Colombian friends who live abroad, they will probably tell you they have property that they can’t get to because of the dangers. The rebels have effectively been swept under the rug or pushed into the other 2/3 of the country but that doesn’t keep them there. Recently we stayed in the beautiful city of Popayan, prior to our arrival the FARC ( Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) detonated a car bomb in the city. This is a terrorist act, same as the extortion, the murder and raiding towns, kidnappings and all the other stuff they are engaged in.
So how do these groups get to the young intelligent university students you might ask? Well, they appeal to their needs to rebel, to take risks and have fun; they sell them drugs. That’s also how they finance themselves, you don’t have to be a genius to figure that one out, the same thing goes on in Afghanistan. Pot and opium in one country, pot and cocaine in another, you pick. You can guess what kind of revolutionary business is going on here I don’t think I need to spell it out. Oh ya, shame on the rest of us whose demand creates the supply.
Getting past all that and feeling pretty safe means that we had a good time in Medellin. We got to spend time with our biker buddy Diego and hung out with Kai and Annette who we met in Cartagena. We traded some language lessons with Kai and Annette so now we know how to get around Germany! Können sie mir helfen? We toured the city by foot, metro and Metro cable (gondola), visited some of the Library parks (very impressive) and a beautiful and massive aquarium where you can see species of the Amazon including huge piranhas and killer frogs.
We stayed at the Hostal Medellin, run by Claudia, this place was perfect for us. Though hostel life is a bit noisy and smelly at times the folks here were entertaining and there was no shortage of fun conversation in almost any language. The hostel itself has hosted many motorbikes over the years with some notoriety. We cooked often and shared some of the feasts and made a few new friends. We were waiting for a few different things in Medellin, primarily a new touch screen for the GPS which never arrived. One of the highlights was going to town to get extra bearings for the wheels, we found some wicked prices on the parts and Kai (German mechanics teacher) showed me how to remove and install the new ones. I was totally impressed!
We were able to visit two companies in the city, both involved motorcycles and both interviews were awesome. This also put us in touch with the infamous Carlos Mesa, previously of Moto Angel. This guy is known as the go to guy for motorcycle repairs in Colombia. Though Carlos doesn’t work there anymore he can still be found and we were lucky enough to find him.
After 17 days touring around Medellin and surrounding cities, like Santa Fe, we departed. Kai and Annette were leaving the same morning about an hour before us and we said our goodbyes, secretly expecting to catch up to them for another short ride. As luck would have it, we were about to leave when our commonwealth brother Leslie pointed out that there was a lot of oil on Deya’s front forks. I took a look and sure enough her right front fork was shot. That meant two more nights at the Hostal Medellin, not a heart breaker.
The BMW shop in Medellin is called Ruta 40 and is easily the best shop we’ve been to since our departure. We got the BMW travellers treatment; they started immediately and estimated 1.5 hours. We didn’t even get to leave the shop, instead they bought us lunch (Bandeja Paisa) and we got to see the work shop, ask questions and inspect the damage to the fork seal. All in, this was a great experience and made us remember why we bought BMWs. Good work to the entire staff and management of Ruta 40 in Medellin.
Out of the shop the same day the only deficiency was now in my mind, I kept looking at my own shocks with scepticism. However, this would pass with some reassurance from Carlos. Finally, maps and stickers acquired, things fixed and good weather we were able to leave.
Our plan would take us to Salento where we intended to stay but the route was plugged with smoking trucks and twisty roads. This makes for a slow choking go of it and the day dragged on. As we tore through the mountains the scenery was spectacular and we stopped randomly at a roadside stand for a coffee. The family that ran the stand was awesome and chatted enthusiastically with us. Eventually the son of the folks convinced everybody that we should stay the night. This became a highlight for us, the family was outstanding and really typified what Colombians are like. They set the bar pretty high in terms of friendliness, sharing and good conversation. It would have been easy to stay days longer but we needed to go, wanted to go. We thought that we would stop by again on the route back, I hope we can.
At Salento we stayed in the hostel La Floresta, we had heard that our buddies on the Duck had come by so we got our stuff unloaded and started to ask around town for the Germans. Well, there are a lot of Germans around but none with ‘The Duck’. We checked out a natural reserve, Valle Cocora, in the mountains and cruised the town a bit. Salento has a nice pace and is the start of the Coffee Region. This region is beautiful and would be the equivalent to a wine region anywhere else with beautiful plantations and homes.
The next stop was the dirtier town of Tulua, the rooms are cheap enough and we came and went. We would have stayed in the Coffee National Park but once you have seen one plantation it becomes a matter of how much money you want to spend. We are not cheap but we like to eat so we decide to skip the tourist joint and continue South towards our final Colombian destination, Popayan.
Popayan, the city I mentioned earlier with the car bomb is quite beautiful. It’s also a little expensive but has a great feel and easy to walk around. Our time here would be short, again our goal was to get into Ecuador. The route to the border was simple although the road was on and off as far a quality goes. At the end of the day it is hard for me to talk about our ride because for all the good things that we find in Colombia, I am completely exhausted by the retarded drivers. I can only hope it’s not so sever in Ecuador. I would like to rant again about the drivers but it is pointless, I’m not bitter just disappointed that I can’t deliver a spectacular report on traveling Colombia by bike.
The border was a piece of cake, no helpers because they get hammered by the law but a lot of money changers smoking pot. The Colombian border at Puente Internacional de Rumichaca was organized and professional even though there seemed to be a bit of chaos, it felt safe enough. Across into Ecuador, as we would soon find out, things are different.