Quick stop at the equator for a picture then off towards Columbia. Through more and more beautiful scenery and 100s of miles of beautifully surfaced constant radius bends..again. Now I know I should love all this but SOMETIMES I JUST WISH THEY’D BUILD A FUCKING BIG BRIDGE SO I CAN MAKE MORE THAN 2 INCHES PROGRESS PER 10000 BENDS! SOMETIMES I JUST FUCKING BLOODY WANT TO GET SOMEWHERE. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH that’s better.
Out of Ecuador, lovely place, lovely lovely place. Todays border is brought to you by the letter W. W is for wait, wait, WAIT. Its also for wanker, waster, what when who and why. Every border we cross they have to fill out a computer page with the bike details on, fine. We’re at a stage when we could do it ourselves now. Now we appear at the Columbian customs (after getting ripped off by a money changer at passport control – My fault – I fell for a con, but I still hope the bloke dies a tragic, horrible, protracted, painful and embarrassing death) and the two blokes initially get to the computer and start. The place is quite modern, good computers, ESPN on TV, new chairs and stuff. I’m thinking this will be ok for a change but as soon as the bloke sees how many people he’s dealing with he just gets up and goes outside…for an hour…and a half. He’s doing nothing, we’re doing nothing. He says he’s called for more help and rather than starting the work he’s decided to just wait instead. I just want to ring the little fakers neck. In my head he’s got a knife between his eyes. His mate is doing even less. He’s employed to stare out the window. He just stares and stares and stares out the window. He stares all day, that’s his job. So with Capitan Starey and the work sky wanker doing the sum total of sod all we just wait. Some time later someone else arrives and some time later still he starts actually putting fingers to keys. We arrived in this office at 12 at the front front of a queue of 0. I leave at 4. We’ve had to cut the day short because of the delay.
As we pull away from the customs a police convoy comes through. Two police outriders complete with pillions carrying what look like anti-aircraft weapons, probably some sort of sub-machine gun. They’ve got some trucks containing something or more likely someONE important and they push and barge their way through the traffic. They get ahead and we decide to follow. We’re winging along like ambulance chasers, whipping through the traffic at high speed. They’ve got their lights on and they’re not stopping for anyone. We’re following and we don’t care. It’s all a bit surreal.
We’re in Columbia following an armed police escort, we’re breaking all the speed limits and every rule of the road. We come to some roadworks – they simply go through against the single file traffic down twisting blind cornered roads and simply push everyone else out the way…so we do too. Bizarre. We come to a point that is obviously an ambush pinch point. You know that scene in the Italian Job where the hills are covered by Mafia men with guns? Well that’s the scene here. There must be 20 to 30 heavily armed police lining the road and the hills to both sides as we all rush through without touching the brakes. Columbia here is very beautiful. More twisting roads cut into the sides of steep sided mountains, no straights more than 200m long, no time for pictures if we want to hang with the federalies though and get our groove on after the customs delay. We get to Pasto and get mobbed when we stop. Very friendly people, all taking pictures, asking questions and sitting on the bikes. A nice welcome to somewhere I thought would be a scary intimidating gun and drug fest. Maybe that’ll be tomorrow. Lovely hotel tonight though, definitely an atmosphere after dark though. All the ATMs have armed guards for a start.
We get up and go at 6 today to make up the mileage we missed yesterday. If you have to take the rough with the smooth then we’ve had the silk and satin and today we get the sackcloth. We’re high in the mountains and we have to descend. It’s raining hard, but not hard enough to wash away the oil slick sitting down the middle of the road the whole morning. The slippery black sweat from the trucks crawling up the hills is a constant threat and the road often looks more like a mechanics garage floor than a thoroughfare for bikes. Then back up into the sky for a few hours.
The roads are absolutely shit, as bad as tarmac gets. Pissing rain, very very warm, steamy and misty, potholes everywhere and visibility is next to nothing. Guess the lines, feel your way. The scenery at this altitude is simply awesome, and I don’t usually use that word. The mountains disappear for thousands of feet below the road, low clouds fill the vast valleys and follow our route for miles like soft fluffy rivers off into the distance. You’ll have to imagine though, no time for photos today and it’s absolutely titting down. Tuned into the weather, the roads and the bends you just don’t want to stop. As we descend the rain stops and everything goes ‘rain forest’.
Cowboys on horseback herding cattle, lovely houses with proper, well tended front gardens full of bright exotic flowers. Life by the roadside. Kids, animals, dogs. The road is a peach though. It give the sensation I’d expect from sitting on a pissed off bull. Bucking and weaving and trying to throw me off it jumps and dodges through the scenery in a 2 hour burst before it finally runs out of steam and calms down, tamed at last. Columbia is a weird place. So much more developed than I imagined it would be. There are garden centres, public swimming pools, holiday parks, all the infrastructure you’d expect of a first world country, and this isn’t just in the big towns and cities either, its everywhere in the populous places. It seems to have emergency services too. Much much more than I ever thought. Lovely friendly people too. I’ve not felt really threatened so far either and it seems quite a happy place. Maybe I’m just getting used to the higher level of threat down here though. I’ve no doubt there is danger not far away if I go looking for it. I’ve not seen any of the shanty towns or vagrancy that is so prevalent in a lot of the other countries either.
Somehow I get slip from the others, I take a wrong turn and get lost way off track for a few hours. Not the ‘where the fuck am I’ kind of lost, more the ‘bollocks I’ve gone the wrong way and I’m way off course’ kind. I’ve got to go through a huge town and I’m having trouble navigating out. The place is absolutely teeming with bikes. Columbia is very highly populated by two wheel transport. All the bikers have to wear vests with their plate ID on and it has to be on the back of their (plain, black mostly) helmets too. I think its to cut down bike related naughtiness….like drive by shootings… The riders and their pillions all have to be identifiable at all times. I can just imagine the ‘al the gear and no idea’ boys going for that back home. The bikes are all quite small and the riders swarm round my big old bus like pilotfish round a shark. They help me out of the city and back on track. I’m often asked if I’m riding alone though – which sounds a bit intimidating sometimes.
Later I meet up with some of the others. Another puncture. Off with the wheel and the rider comes pillion with it in search of help. We find a bloke who does tractor tyres – that’ll do. He’s done in 10 minutes. Fits a new tube we have with us and fixes the old one. ‘How much?’, ‘£1’. I never get used to that sort of thing.
There is a serious storm brewing. On the horizon a black strip of evil cloud is busy striking out at the ground, the air is thick and moist with the smell of oncoming rain. It’s only 130k to go, easy right? It’s never easy. First we run headlong onto the storm and the rain. Proper rain. ‘Black rain’ as they would call it in Hong Kong. If you stood under an umbrella would feel like you were in a tubular waterfall and wouldn’t be able to see out kind of rain. It’s bouncing a foot off the road. It’s the ‘i’ll just stop and put on my waterpr… bugger… too late’ kind of rain. I’m wearing leathers, they’re waterproof right? You don’t see cows run to get their coats every time it rains do you? Well that only works if there is blood pumping through them, right now they’re just a sponge. My boots fill quickly and my crotch is mimicking a pensioners at a drinking contest. Open the visor…shut that quick… looks way to scary out there. A visor gives a peculiar sense of security, like shutting a car door. Follow the shapes and keep between the lumps on the sides, the road is awash. After 40km the storm passes and the hot sweaty afterglow takes over. 90km to go. Easy right?
Right, unless someone puts a 10000ft mountain in your way. Shrouded in cloud, dark, steep, tight and slippery. Up we go again. Massive diesel motors scream in agony as they pull heavy lumps of metal and flesh up into the sky. The more modern buses simply fly up, turbos screaming fit to burst as they throw them up conserving every ounce of momentum round the bends. These drivers know the road well and you best keep out their way. The trucks crawl up the slopes like shot soldiers on their last breath, chugging on the edge of a stall in their lowest gears. We get near the top and the clouds have all pushed themselves together to make it harder still. Visibility is down to 20 feet max. Hairpins, trucks, soaking roads and heat. We see a sign, 45km, easy right? Ummmm, I’m sure you’re getting the picture by now.
The descent is insane. It has to be the inspiration for the most scary coasters on the planet. It’s not easy to describe though. The bends are mostly steep and tight but often the surface is both up and down so its like a wooden coaster, you’re always getting a mixture of positive and negative G forces combining with the ridiculous corners. I’ve been round the Nurburgring and it reminds me of some of the corners on that, except this is whilst trying to loose 1000s of feet of altitude at the same time. The whole thing is frankly, just fucking ridiculous. For 30 miles there are absolutely NO straights, none, less than one, bonkers. The handlebars are not allowed to sit still for a second. Bends constantly buck and drop and turn trying to shed altitude. It dries out towards the end at least but the bends just get even tighter.
Every right turn your head is within a few feet of a solid rock face, every left is the constant possibility of meeting a retired rally driver bringing a bus up. To be fair, they are trying to deal with it. There are huge bridges being built to jump the huge chasms and they tower above as as we spin round the rock faces. Eventually it will be a lot better but for now all we can do is concentrate on the job in hand. We eventually get to the town in the darkness, follow a taxi and end up in a menacing district with dark allays and roads where the ghosts and baddies live then strangely end up at a really nice hotel. We go out for a walk to try and find an ATM. We walk, which turns into a trot, then a canter and a jog as the perceived threat seems to rise. Almost certainly my imagination though, I cancelled my spider sense subscription years ago.
Wake up to rain again. Same as at home, it’s only so green because it rains so often. IBauge is on a hill. It’s thundering, lightening, and there are instants rivers everywhere. As we ride through the town we’re riding along the hillside and every cross junction is like a river crossing, the torrents flow down the hill and we have to ride across in water up to out ankles. It’s a strange sensation, every puddle is of indeterminate depth and some are big enough to count as mini lakes when Columbia does the next map census. I’ve got a pillion again today, another biker. You always feel ‘under assessment’ with a rider on the back. I just can’t see a thing for the first 30 minutes. Traffic is heavy, super heavyweight in fact. Crawling towards Bogota we have to go through some more mountain twisties for a change. The bike keeps on cutting out for some reason too and I keep having to try restarting it…going down mountains..in the wet. Pull the clutch in for an instant and it often just stops – a little bit annoying.
All the road markings are brand new too. The lines seem to be made from a mixture of vaseline and body lotion and even Torvil and Dean would have trouble standing up on them. Sliding round with the pillion in the mountains was a very relaxing experience indeed. Get to Bogota. This is a place i NEVER expected to ever come, especially on my old british registered bike. This is the capital so the chaos has a capital C. Again, they’re trying to sort it out but the all the roadworks are just a car park. You feel like you’re in the road ‘penny shove’ machine again as the traffic piles and pushes ever tighter behind you.
The only thing to distract me was my totty RADAR. It was looking like a pearl harbour attack, the screen was simply a big green blob with targets at all distances at every angle. I challenge anyone to amass so much totty in such a small area. Flippin heck…flippin flippin heck.. amazing. I think they must have a totty factory round here somewhere. I wonder if they’ve got any jobs going? Eventually get to the cargo freighters at the airport. Both we and the bikes have to fly over the Darien gap to Panama. These things are ALWAYS a ball ache. 6 hours waiting today – not too bad today. Taxi to the hotel. It’s dark and the freaks are out again. The taxi driver tells us to close all the windows and keep your arms down. The baddies will spot a target then reach in and grab what they can see, opening the doors or braking windows if necessary. The area we’re in looks dodgy with a capital Dodge. The hotel looks like a bail hostel. Smelly, damp, cell like rooms with a curtained off toilet and shower in the corner. The foam mattresses and pillows have plastic covers and are wafer thin after supporting 1000s of bodies and its pretty scary. We’re all carrying large bundles of cash and have ‘victim’ tattooed on our foreheads. We’ll have to be a bit careful round here.
No sleep…at all. The mattress has been laid upon by half the criminal population of Columbia, so that’s pretty well half the population of Columbia per se then. It’s wafer thin and smells…of….stuff. I can’t bring myself to expand upon what ‘stuff’ might be though. This hostel is shit. It’s a hole. Not the best place to be certainly in a place like Bogota. Get a taxi to the cargo company. Taxis are weird round here. They don’t have a meter, the use a chart. You pay the price from district to district no matter how long it takes. All these schemes are to cut down on fraudulent and criminal activity I suspect. Its a good idea though. They recruit the taxi drivers from the terminal diseases ward at the local hospital, every one of them has a death wish. The taxis are typically very small Daewoos and Hyundais. The people themselves are generally pretty small too and the taxis are a bit of a tight fit for us. If you sit in the front seat you have the sun visor against your nose. We arrive at the cargo terminal at 7:30. This will be the last stop on my waiting holiday, the ultimate waiting experience. We have to sign two pieces of paper and have the police check the luggage with their sniffer dogs. How long should that take? Answer…8 hours. Somewhere in that 8 hours we all have 5 minutes work to do. I’m flabbergasted. It was as truly amazing exhibition of work dodging as I’ve ever seen in my life. I almost clapped them for their skill and expertise. It was just un-be-fucking-lievable. On the way back into crime central its pissing down…again….
Near the hotel I see a surreal sight. There is a woman in the street, under an umbrella. Every person around her looks normal as they head back from work in the rain all dressed in their work clothes, as is she. She is tall, dark and slim, long shiny black hair, very attractive. She’s wearing high heals. Red, latex, thigh length boots with high heals…together with thin back lace knickers and bra. How do I know that? Because she is wearing absolutely nothing else. A woman of the night out early. Keeping herself dry under the umbrella, strutting up and down the street looking for business. She certainly doesn’t look cheap…or cheerful. Maybe someone has invited her to our ‘hotel’. We fly to Panama tomorrow. I’m running out of time, I don’t think I’ll get to Alaska. I’ll probably have to cut and run to New York as soon as we reach the US. Pity but I’ve ridden to Alaska before so that’s not so bad. If this thing had been planned properly it wouldn’t have been an issue which grates with me.
A morning in Bogota, very cosmopolitan. Breakfast in a coffee bar with all the choices you’d expect from a coffee nation. I could sit and just sniff the air all day long in these places. The food is all cheese/bread based though – I want eggs and bacon! The streets are humming, everywhere you go there are people selling air time by the minute on mobile phones. People stand with mobiles chained to themselves and let the users have a quick cheap chat. 200 pesos a minute. All very enterprising. This part of Bogota is nice but there is still an atmosphere, like you’re walking a narrow path of safety. It’s good to experience these feeling though. Most modern cities just leave me cold but this one keeps your consciousness keen and on the ball. Out to the airport and on to Panama City. The Darien Gap slides underneath us in the dark, it’s tangled web of swamp and jungle dodged in the night. In Panama its raining SERIOUS. Thunder every few seconds, lightening, flooded roads. It goes on all night. the hotel is right on the edge of an extremely rough area but is a very nice place indeed despite looking like a converted prison block. Money is not very far from muck round here and the owner is speculating that good will triumph over evil and push the money district towards and beyond this place. I hope he’s rightNext Page