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April 22nd, 2012 | Colombia

Calling Colombia…!!

Leaving Quito early on a Sunday morning, meant that we had little of the traffic that the city is renowned for, to contend with…!!

After an hour on the road, I realised that we would make the border well before lunchtime...!!

We all refueled just a short distance from Ramiro’s house, and I advised my friends that “this tank will take me all the way to Pasto”, which was only 360 km up the drag”…

Fabio gave me a thin smile and said, “We will see…!!”

We rode through a long section where the new road was being paved to the International Airport, avoiding the snarl-ups and diversions that usually go with road closures, by completing ignoring the road workers protests to stop in the face of incoming traffic…!! We just ducked on and off the road as and when an oncoming truck or bus made it clear that we might well need medical assistance if we continued on the path we were following…!!

The Rumichaca border post with Colombia was about 250 km to the north of Quito, and passed through a series of mountain ranges where the occasional bit of drizzle would affect us, but not be enough to hinder our smooth progress…

Just north of Quito, we were meant to stop at the monument that marks the Equator, and I dearly wanted to take what would probably be the last photo of the Big Fella and I crossing this milestone… But it was not to be… Despite having marked it on my GPS, we missed the road that led there, while Fabio was leading us, and going like the clappers…

He took the wrong turn where the road forks, and rejoins itself dozens of km away, and we were forced to ride after him…. By the time we had caught up, we were already a minute and a half (by degrees) into the Northern Hemisphere, and nowhere near the monument.. I was a bit peeved at this, and hung back a while to get over the case of mutters that threatened to spoil my day…!!

This was the 6th time I had ridden across the equator since starting out in 2010, and I have flown over it on three other occasions…

As we neared the border, the scenery reminded me of farms in Europe, with paddocks all neatly fenced and the bright green of a European summer...

Once we cleared the first big mountain range around the Equator, the weather improved and we made very good time to Ibarra, where we stopped for a cup of coffee…

Fabio and Tom refueled again while I watched…

“Ronnie…!! Come filla your bike…!!” said Fabio, “You are doing nothing, so why not…??”

“Yes I am…!! I’m drinking my coffee and wondering why you two have a fixation with petrol pumps…!! I’m beginning to worry about you…!! Is it the fumes you like so much…??” I replied…

“Mierde…!!” then “jabba-jabba-jabba” in Italian to Tom, which I think meant, “Stubborn bastard”, but I can’t be sure…!!

Shortly afterwards we reached the border, and had the same bloody problem exiting Ecuador, as we had entering it…!! The computers at the Immigration offices were down as a result of a power outage, and we were forced to wait an hour before they came on again…!!

Customs inspection on the Ecuador side of the border....

Then it was into Colombia, where services were apparently free...!! According to MY Spanish, anyway...!!

Waiting for our Colombian registration papers to be printed...Border posts should be called "Waiting Posts"...!!

We had received much advice on Colombia, ranging from “it’s downright dangerous in some places”, to “It’s the best country you are going to ride in, in all of South America”…!!

We were to find that the latter held far more truth than the former…!!

Before leaving the border post, Tom cornered as many people as he could to ask about the “Lazarones” and “Delinquentes” which he feared would be waiting in ambush for us…

Fabio and I had become accustomed to this line of questioning by now and took the piss out of him whenever we could…

“Tom, here’s a guy you haven’t asked about the thieves and bandits yet…!!”

Or as soon as we stopped for fuel or something to eat, “Tommaso, go see if it is safe for us to stop here…!!”

Tom always ignored us and asked his favourite question anyway… I wonder if he asked the flight attendants before he boarded the Colombian Airline to Miami…??

After another long border crossing, we finally made it into the little border town of Ipiales in Colombia…

While Fabio and Tom were not half as bad as Willie, they refused to miss a meal time, while I can go without eating for long periods of time… My companions, not…!!

Tom especially has an appetite that sometimes scared us…!! Noy only does he eat quicker than I do, which is saying something, but he would often order another dish while Fabio and I were halfway through our first…!!

Against regulations, we parked our bikes in the main square of the village... Being foreigners, we are "exempt" from local rules, you see....!!

While we waited for our food to be dished up, we shared a plate of Maize and meat... A variety of meat that I did not want to know the origins of... It might have been pork...then again, it might not have been...!!

We trooped into a local eatery and ordered whatever was on the stove…

The meal they were serving that day had already been cooked, and sat in large metal dishes, waiting to be served… Bread cakes were fried on an open flat dish, a few millimetres deep in oil…

Fabio’s stomach later rebelled…!!

Out on the square, our bikes were surrounded by dozens of locals, all eager to get photos of themselves posing in front of them…

While Tom and Fabio went into the supermarket next door to buy insurance, I spent a merry time politely asking people not to touch or try to sit on the bikes…!!

They were all very friendly and genuinely interested in us and our machines…

“They lika yours better, Ronnie, because it looka like a Christmas Tree…!!” said Fabio with a grin…

Like all meals, Tom prepares to attack his with the usual gusto, while Fabio isn't quite sure what to make of the meal we had ordered...!!

Then an old man pushed his way through the crowd and came to stand up very close to me… He spoke to me earnestly in Spanish for a full minute, to which all I could do was grin and nod, saying “Si Senhor…!!” half a dozen times…

He then went off and returned a minute later, carrying an ice cream, which he handed to me and then patted me on the back a few times, still muttering away quietly in Spanish…!!

A tasty welcome to Colombia from an old man who seemed to be issuing warning to me of some kind... I think he was talking about the Italians I was traveling with...!! "Be careful...!!" he seemed to be saying, "They look like petrol-sniffers...!!"

This narrow waterfall cascades down the mountainside, just before the entrance to the church in Ipiales...

I was touched by his kindness and generosity, and later when he saw Fabio and Tom approaching, he went off to buy them an ice-cream cone too…!! The crowd clapped in appreciation as he walked away with a little wave to all of us…

This will give you a better idea of what this famous church that we had especially stopped to see, looks like....

I then decided to REALLY give the crowd something to cheer about, by fishing my Colombian flag sticker out of my pannier and making a big show of putting it on next to that of Ecuador…

A hush fell over the crowd as I pretended to concentrate fiercely to ensure that it was on straight…

Then I stood up, raised my arms aloft and shouted “COLOMBIA”, as loud as I could… A huge cheer went up, and if I had not stopped them, I would still be needing physiotherapy for a damaged back and shoulders….!!

I then made a lap of honour around the square, standing up on the pegs and waving to the crowd, while Fabio and Tom looked on in amusement…!!

We left the town centre to a loud round of applause and rode down into the valley where the famous church of Santuario de Las Lajas stands…

It is a beautiful basilica, built on one side of a deep canyon, with a bridge that joins it to the other side… We did not go all the way down to the front of the church, as by the time we had walked down the steep winding path to the  level adjacent to the basilica, we were too hot and tired to contemplate the much longer walk it would have taken to get back to where we had parked the bikes…

This is as far down as we were willing to go....!! People were melting in the heat...!! Especially three bikers in their full riding gear...!!

The countryside outside Ipiales was breathtaking to ride through....!! The roads wound around the edges of the mountains...

Back in our saddles, we began the climb up to Pasto, just under 100 km to the north… We had been told that this section would take us two hours at least, and was extremely dangerous because it twisted through deep valleys and climbed even steeper mountains…

We had arranged to meet our Colombian host at 5.00 pm on the outskirts of the city, and we left Ipiales at 4.10 pm… If the advice was to believed, we were going to be very late…!!

An exhilarating ride that we took at a very good clip, taking turns to lead each other through the mountains...

We rode into Pasto and met up with our host at 5.00 pm on the dot…!! It had been one of the quickest rides over this sort of terrain that I had made in a long time… This despite the heavy traffic that lined the route…!! We took a few too many chances, but it all made for a ride to remember…!!

Following Dario and his girlfriend into Pasto...

I thought we were going to be meeting with somebody called Alvarro, but somehow we had got our wires crossed, and Ramiro had arranged for another biker named Dario to meet us…!! We followed him to his house, and at first I thought there must be some mistake when he told us the bikes would all be parked INSIDE the house…!!

Don't ask how we managed to get two big BMW's into this small room, but we did...!!!!

Getting myself extricated was more difficult than getting the bikes in...!!

Then Tom’s KTM was man-handled up a few steps and through the front door of the house, together with Dario’s two other bikes, and positioned in the sitting room and passage respectively…!!

After meeting Dario’s parents and having a quick shower, we sat down around the kitchen table, to a home-cooked meal of chicken and rice… It was still hard to believe that all this was taking place barely an hour after meeting complete strangers…!! Wonderful people…!!

Dario and his family make us feel at home with a great supper and interesting conversation....!!

Later we went out to find an ATM, and Dario very kindly gave me a sim card that he was no longer in need of, because foreigners cannot get a local sim card without a Colombian identity card apparently…!!

"On my next big trip, I'm going to use one of these...!!" Tom considers a change in transportation...

Back at home, we set about some serious socialising… Dario’s parents joined us for drinks and we discussed the roads through Colombia… He was most put out that we were spending just one night with them, and wanted us to stay longer… They clearly enjoyed our company as much as we enjoyed theirs, and were willing to extend their hospitality to afford us as much time as we wanted to spend with them…

In the sitting room, together with two bikes, we still managed to have a great time...!!

Our host Dario, poses with Fabio and I before we head for bed and a good nights rest...

From Fabio, Tomasso and I, we thank both Dario and his parents, as well as his girlfriend, Luzdary, for hosting us in Pasto and showing us what Colombian hospitality and friendliness was all about….!!

It had been a wonderful introduction to Colombia…!!

©GBWT 2012

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