Colombia – (Shipping the motorbikes)

Posted by on Jul 5, 2012 in Travel Blog | 0 comments

Colombia – (Shipping the motorbikes)

Throughout this motorbike trip I have been constantly told by other travelers that Columbia has been their favorite country. And as we crossed the border I felt the same. The customs officials were so helpful and it became one of the quickest border crossings. We stopped off for a night in Pasto before arriving in Cali. I was trying to find a hostel and without GPS the task can be quite difficult. 2 Police officers stopped and we received a police escort to the hostel. It must have been a funny sight for the other guests of the hostel. We reached Bogota, the capital of Columbia on a wet and overcast day. We parked our motorcycles, got changed into warm clothes and went out for lunch. With an array of restaurant choices, I was in heaven. We visited the Police Museum, which was very interesting. We saw the notorious Columbian drug lord’s (Pablo Escobar) gold plated Harley Davidson and how the police and military are controlling the war on drugs. Medellin was our next port of call. A town made famous by Escobar. I had read online that this place had a great night life and it sure did not disappoint. The atmosphere is amazing with every street in the Zona Rosa district crammed with different themed bars playing music from salsa to reggaeton.

 

When we left Medellin we went right off track. We never made it to our intended destination. On the outskirts of town the traffic was diverted off the main highway and there was no signage on when to connect back onto the highway. So we followed the flow of traffic and the signs towards Cartagena. We stopped off in a quiet little town called Giron. It was a very authentic Columbian village with little bridges crossing the river that split the town in two. The next morning we headed off expecting to arrive in Cartagena by lunch time. However around 2 o’clock, I wondered why teenagers where selling gasoline from plastic containers on the side of the road. 3 kilometers later a saw a range sign that read 400 kilometers to Cartagena. I pulled over at the next town and found an internet café.  Instead of leaving Medellin and heading north, the diversion had taken us East towards Venezuela. Fuel is very cheap costing as little as 2 cents a litre. Fuel in Columbia costs about 1 dollar a litre. The teenagers cross the border and sell it in Columbia making a nice profit. legal……phhh I doubt it.  Luckily we are in no rush and laughed it off and could see the benefits. We got to stay in a beautiful town that we would have otherwise missed. We speed off into the afternoon, making up for lost time. As the sun started to fall I was  chasing the last few hours of sunlight. I had my music pumping as I speed around the corners. I was in my own world. I was about 50 kms from Cartagena when the trip nearly ended. As I came around a right hand corner, I felt as if I had not washed off enough speed but it was too late, I was commited to the corner and pitched the bike over to the maximum lean. Unfortunately the corner had a smaller radius then the speed I was carrying and I started drift to the outside of my lane. This is never a good situation for a motorbike rider to be in because oncoming vehicles often cut corners. At the half way point I realised I was in trouble. A truck was coming and I was going to have a head on collision. By this point I had been able to wash off my speed to about 80kms by slightly squeezing the brakes while leaning. I considered pitching the bike back up and steering in front of the truck to the far outside of the corner and try and ride it out through the small shrubbery. However the truck was fast approaching and there was not enough time. I was commited to the corner now. I was at the max lean as my footpeg strapped along the road. Any more and the bike would wash out and I would slide underneath the moving truck. All I wanted to do was aviod hitting the front of the truck. Both situations would mean death. I missed the front bull bar by about 20 cms and for a split second I thought I had made it. At that point I felt the front clutch lever squash my left fingers against the handlebar. My left shoulder hit the trucks trailer. Apart of me was so happy that I had been able to miss the front of the truck and the hardest impact point that hitting the side of the trailer was still a life saver and it took me a micro second to realise I was still not out of the woods. I scapped down the side of the truck. I thought the handle bar would have caught and I would have been thrown off the right side of the bike. However the bikes handle bar hit full max to the right and left a few times. In the biking community we call this senario ´tank slap´ or ´death wobble´. Luckily I was carrying enough speed that the handle bars stopped shaking and balanced out. However after the right hand corner the road swung back to the left. By the time a regained control I was facing 45 degrees to the road. I tried to pitch the bike back to the opposite side but it was too late. I hit the gutter on an angle and tried to ride it out like it was a berm on a motorcross track. However the bike fell over. I scrapped along the road with the bike on top of my left leg. Luckily by now my speed had dropped to about 50kms an hour.  It was a sureal experience that the music was still playing through my helmet when I finally came to rest. The truck driver came running over to me to help lift the bike up. I think he thought he had killed me. However I expalined it was my fault. My heart was still pumping as I took in what just happened. I did a body check. Nothing was hurting, no broken bones. I was amazed that all I had was some gravel rash on my knee and a small cut on my right shoulder. My Lee jeans took the brunt of the slide on the road and I only ripped a hole on the knee. My shirt now hung like a singlet and I sctached the side of my helmet on the road.  But that was all. As I drove to Cartagena that night I realised how lucky I was to be alive and came face to face with the reality of speeding and not concentrating.

 

Cartagena to me was always going to a special place. It was the finishing point of our South America adventure. In addition it would be a place where I needed to find a yacht to take our bikes to Central America as there is no road between the 2 continents. A 200 km stretch of land known as the Darien Gap divides the 2. It´s inhabited with Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia Guerrillas and drug traffickers. At first it seemed like a challenge but it’s too risky and dangerous in todays climate. Plus sailing a yacht through the Caribbean islands of San Blas sounded like amazing experience. Unfortunately 2 days prior to our arrival in Cartagena, a yacht had sunk attempting the voyage. Luckily everyone on board was rescued. Supposedly the port master had sent a message to all captains that motorbikes must not be transported until further notice. Nobody would take our motorbikes and it seemed like we were stuck in South America with our bikes. I started to look at other options. Through mutual friends, I meet another Australian Steve from Melbourne trying to get his motorbike to Panama. We explored the idea of renting a containership and sharing the costs, but this turned out to be very expensive. We would not be able to travel with our bikes and therefore forced fly to Panama. My overland trip could not include a plane. I am very stubborn like that. So I kept exploring the idea of travelling on a yacht. And along comes Michael, an eccentric Slovakian who has spent many years on the ocean, maybe too many. His stories were interesting to say the least. I set up a meeting with him and he ensured me that he could take our bikes onboard as he had a good relationship with the port masters. We paid extra for our motorcycle to be onboard, but I was just happy to get them to Central America. And I was not sure as to when the port authorities would enforce the rule of no motorcycles on board yachts leaving their harbor. In addition the day of departure was on my birthday. It would be a great way to celebrate my birthday.  We loaded our bikes onboard the boat at night.  The process took about 1 hour each. Firstly we lowered the bikes from a jetty onto a small inflatable boat. We then parked alongside the yacht and using onboard winch lifted them on board.   The following day we visited customs and sorted out all necessary paperwork for exporting our bikes out of Columbia and hoped that the Port Authorities and customs did not talk to each other.

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