Playing in the Mud – first impressions of Colombia

We arrived in Colombia on a Friday afternoon.  Our mandatory insurance wouldn’t be available until Monday morning so we took the weekend to hang out with our new friends and explore a little of Cartagena.  Most notably, we were impressed with the Getsemani neighbourhood, which is most representative of Cartagena and full of great street vendors and excellent pizza (best so far!)  and with beer at just 60 cents CAD a bottle we knew we would love Colombia.

Getsemani charm, Cartagena

Entrance to the Old Town

Old town, Cartagena

With 2 running bikes, insurance, and importations taken care off, we were ready for a test run on Monday morning with the aim of ‘bathing’ in a volcano.  As we left the city, we became very aware of just how many motor bikes are on the road in Colombia.  Weaving between cars and trucks took on a new meaning and in the middle of the packs of bikes we literally felt like we were being swarmed by bees.  The locals were also very interested in our motos, which were giant compared to theirs and often, while driving in thick, slow traffic, we chatted to the them about our bikes.

just grab a spot near the stop light. Cartagena

Within an hour we crested a hill to see a large fresh water lagoon with what looked like a giant ant hill in front of it (El Totumo).  As we approached the hill we could see that 2 wooden, rickety ladders flanked each side 15m to the crater at the top.  Peering into the crater we were presented with cauldron of thick, bubbling grey goo.  With a little apprehension, we eased ourselves into the goo which is said to be anywhere from 1,000m to 2,300m deep.  But, because it is so viscous, there was no way to submerge ourselves regardless how hard we tried.  Every once in a while large sulphurous bubbles would slowly float to the surface and rudely belch at us.  After about 45 minutes we made our way down the ladder and to the lagoon where we washed the mud off each other surrounded by lily pads.

– El Totumo, the mud volcano

floating in the mud

The next day we left for the town of Mompox, a UNESCO town located in the swampy lowlands about 250 kms from Cartagena.  To get there, you must catch a river ferry or private lancha.  The ride was spectacular – through river and swamplands with breath-taking scenery to keep us occupied for the 45 minute trip.  Once on the other side, the ride consisted of good road and gravel track to the actual town of Mompox.  It was getting late and dusk was approaching.

cart & horse are a common sight... big, overland bikes are not

bikes ready to board the river ferry

Ready to disembark

Not long after we got on to the gravel stretch, with the intent of keeping pace with the diminishing sunlight, I crossed paths with a large truck at the exact part of the road which temporarily ended for the oncoming truck due to a large hole.  Because the truck is bigger and it took my ‘lane’ to pass the hole, I was forced to move right – and ended up riding through an unexpected soft, sandy rut which took me down at about 40kmph.  Although my left pannier was ripped off the bike and the pannier frame was now bent, the slow slide caused no injuries.  But, this meant we had to fix the pannier to the bike with straps at dusk, and ride the remainder of the gravel & pot-holed road in the countryside of Colombia at night (everything everyone says NOT to do) but, since there were four of us we felt safe, many locals stopped to ask if we needed help, and it all worked out in the end.

The next day we learned just how resourceful Colombianos are.  A local mechanic made a house call to our hotel to look at the damage.  He then took my pannier while Jordan took my bike to his ‘garage’ – a small non-descript hut next to his small home 5 minutes away.  Within just 2 hours, he returned the pannier frame to normal and, proving that necessity is the mother of invention, he used some bicycle parts to re-create the locking system that secures her pannier to the frame.  Total cost?  $13 CAD, and that included picking Jordan up at our hotel to get the bike once he was finished!

Cementario de Mompox

Mompox countryside

Our stop in Mompox was part of a larger off road trip to El Banco that we had planned with Daan and Mirjam, as we knew the rest of the trip would be pretty intense, Daan and Jordan decided to do a little reconnaissance and scout out the 1st leg of the off road trail.  As it turned out, the conditions we excellent, we had feared that the recent rains would transform the track into an un-passable mud pit, but instead they were delighted to find perfect hard packed red dirt roads and trails, ideal for riding.  They spent the day zooming across the trails leaving huge plums of dust, riding across fairly large water crossing and standing on the pegs all afternoon.  The road was excellent and they jumped the big overland bikes repeatedly, not sure that if that is the best activity for the heavy Dakar and Africa Twin, but they had a lot of fun and they both said it was one of the best days of riding ever.  Jordan actually got a little over enthusiastic and dropped his bike for the 1st time of the entire trip, but neither he no the bike were hurt.

After hearing their report on the road conditions, we were pretty excited for the next day’s adventure, however that night it poured all night long and we awoke to find less than ideal riding conditions, mud and more mud.    We decided to give it a go anyways, it was pretty rough, and my tires were not ideal for the muddy conditions, I managed to keep on dry track, but we finally called it a day when Jordan crashed his bike (again).  He was actually talking to me on the intercom and watching me in his review mirror when he crashed.  Ironically, his final words were “remember to take it easy and look far ahead”.  Guess who wasn’t looking ahead when he crashed….

We decide the conditions were only going to get worse, so we decided to head back the way we came, the far more experienced Daan and Mirjam decided to go on, you can watch their amazing adventure here:

We were feeling a bit sad about turning back, however after seeing their photos a few days later we realized that turning back was the right decision.  We ended up having a great day of riding ourselves, it out out to be a nice sunny day.  While we waited for the river boat ferry to take us back to the main roads, we even had the bike washed, the 1st time since leaving our friends TJ and Mary Jane’s place in Pensilvania back in July.  They looked so good we almost didn’t recognize them.

The Dakar getting a much-need wash

We stopped for the night in the town of Sincelejo, it’s nothing special but they sure made us feel special.  We stopped in the main square, I left Jordan to watch the bikes while I went to find a cheap hotel, when I got back he was surrounded by 30 – 40 people who wanted to where we were from, what we we doing, how fast the bikes would go, and how much they cost.  People gave us special blessings, patted us on the back and thanked us for visiting Colombia.  It was actually a bit overwhelming, as it turned out to be difficult to leave, we had to stop several times and ask people to move away so we could leave without running anyone over.

The bikes attracting a small crowd

We typically don’t plan our routes too far in advance, when we wake up n the morning we often don’t know where we’ll sleep that night.  After walking around the main plaza in cool evening air search of some yummy street food, we decided that we had not had nearly enough beach time in Mexico, so when we got back to the hotel we plotted a course for the Caribbean coast to soak up some more sunshine.

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