November 3, 2015
Another fantastic day of riding. This country just keeps teasing me with incredible roads and breathtaking scenery. I had so much fun riding today that I forgot to take any photos. Well, okay, I took one.
I left La Dorada this morning and rode south past Honda, which looks nothing like a town named after a motorcycle by the way. Apparently its’ claim to fame is that it was at the end of the navigable part of the Rio Magdalena in the early days, thus it was the port town.
At Honda I turned west on Highway 50. I really had no idea what to expect, but it looked a little squiggly on the map so it must be a good motorcycle road. That would be a monstrous understatement. If yesterday’s ride was the most scenic of the entire trip so far, today’s ride was far and away the most fun. I literally found myself laughing in my helmet.
Early on, before really climbing much but already in the twisties, I caught a glimpse of a super-moto styled bike in my rear view mirror. Unlike others who just wanted to see the weird “over-loaded” XT250 with Texas plates, this guy stayed right on my tail and seemed to be flowing with me in the corners. So I picked up the pace a bit, and he stayed right there. We rode like this — at the edge of good sense — for several miles, until I finally decided it would be wise to back off. When I did, the other rider pulled alongside, gave me a thumbs-up, and rode on. I stayed with him for a while, then slowed again. I could tell from his body position that he was an accomplished rider, and he was the first local I had encountered wearing high-end roadracing boots.
The road continued to climb and the temperature was getting noticeably cooler. Like in the 50s. Then the clouds settled on the mountain and I found myself in thick cloud fog, and quickly getting colder yet. Visibility dropped to about 20 meters. I turned my heated grips up to 100 percent, which helped, but the levers felt icy. I could see tire tracks in the wet pavement, and it almost looked like a dusting of snow. As I came around a bend a couple of miles before the summit, the super-moto guy was on the side of the road putting on his rainsuit for warmth. He caught up to me a few minutes later and motioned that he was going to stop for a drink at the summit, so I followed him.
He didn’t speak a word of English, so it was a great opportunity to struggle with my Spanish. We talked about the highway, the places I’d been and where I was going, and my bike. He bought me an aguadepanela con queso, which is basically hot apple cider with a large piece of goat cheese that you slice off and put in the cider until the cheese changes consistency, then you scoop it out and eat it. We both sat there shivering, trying to warm up with the cider.
At one point he asked what I did for a living and I told him. He said that he rode (or had ridden) a Yamaha 660 for work, and I asked what kind of job. He pulled out his National Police badge. I had to laugh. We had been racing up the mountain, passing in no-passing zones, probably staying at twice the speed limit or above. He definitely knows how to walk the line between work and fun. I was glad that my first encounter with a Colombian cop was chasing each other up a mountain.
We left the restaurant at the summit and again raced down the mountain. The sun broke out and it began to warm up quickly. By the time we reached Manizales it was warm again, and I couldn’t quit smiling. I was back in traffic now and as motorcycle traffic does in Colombia, young guys on bikes and scooters were passing slow-moving cars and trucks on the left and right. With my wide stance, I tend to be a bit more cautious.
As I was riding in a large group of motorcycles, I saw five or six pull out to pass a flatbed 18-wheeler just ahead of the car in front of me. There was too much oncoming traffic, including a bus, and there was no way I was going. The “passing lane” (hint: there wasn’t one; this was the oncoming traffic’s lane on a double yellow striped section of road) got very narrow as the bus passed in the other direction, and one guy moved over to the right slightly, directly into the young guy next to him, which pushed the young guy into the left rear wheel of the flatbed. In an instant I saw the kid’s bike jerk up and sideways as the truck tire grabbed it and spit it out. Somehow, amazingly, the kid stayed upright (his feet were flying), but the resultant jerk back to the right upon landing threw his body into the left rear corner of the truck. I watched his shoulder go under the rear corner of the bed and his helmet slap the upper side of the bed. Through little or no skill of his own, he managed to ride it out and eventually pulled over to the shoulder, one broken mirror and a lot of black rubber later.
I’m thankful that he wasn’t seriously hurt, and that he didn’t go down in front of the car. There were many more motorcycles beside and behind him, and the carnage could have been tremendous.
I had originally intended to spend the night in Manizales, but it was barely noon, so I kept going. Next intended stop: Palmira, outside of Cali. When I got to Palmira, I found that the city is much larger than I had expected, and the hotel where I had intended to stay was right downtown on a pedestrian-only street. So there was no way to safely park the bike. In light of this I continued on south with no plan. I figured I would find a hotel before dark somewhere before Popayan, or else I would find a safe place to pitch the tent.
As I rode through the town of Santander de Quilichao, I spotted a brand new hotel. I spun around and pulled in. The desk manager was extremely nice, and showed me where to park my bike out of sight of the street and in view of the front desk. The place is so new that I’m fairly certain I am the first person to stay in this room. Very nice, clean, new, with ceiling fan and a nice shower for $11 a night.
After the last two days of stellar riding, Colombia is firmly at the top of my list of the countries I’ve been through so far on this trip. The scenery is fantastic, the people are the friendliest and the food is great. Sorry Mexico, you have been bumped to Number Two.
Today was a long day, and in doing so I inadvertently cut a couple of days off of my Colombia schedule. Looks like Ecuador by the weekend…