Friday, December 31, 2010

Day 109 (159km): Seeing Ecuador in the light of day

When we left the room this morning to go have breakfast we were pleasantly surprised by the amazing views surrounding us. It was pitch black last night so we didn't notice anything, but this morning everything could be seen and the views reminded me of Montana a little bit. Breakfast was Americano, whatever that means. I did make an observation though, my bacon came practically raw. At first I thought it was just a crappy restaurant (since the service was terrible) but then my bacon at lunch was almost raw again. This was now a trend and not an isolated incident. Apparently in Peru bacon is enjoyed rare to medium rare as well. Too bad for you crispy bacon lovers out there. 
The views from the parking lot
Alberto warding off more nighttime mosquitoes
We were going to have a lazy morning around the pool but just couldn't be bothered once all was said and done so we left for Quito. The Panamerican Highway is really nice in Ecuador with only one small complaint: the toll booths. They are not expensive (like Mexico) at only 0.20 USD per bike but the inconvenience is really annoying. I wish they would do what Colombia does and make a by-pass for bikes. It takes me quite a while to stop, take off a glove, fish around for change, put change and receipt away, put glove back on and leave. Bikes definitely hold up the line, so I think they should be exempt!

It was nice seeing the scenery of Ecuador in daylight. It is most impressive. I'm loving the cold weather riding; it's very refreshing. I'm in no hurry to get back to the beach. The road changed to 3 lanes briefly going through Ibarra. The annoying thing was the traffic lights, until we came up with a game. We did a MotoGP style start to see who had the best skills. I was Dani Pedrosa and true to form Alberto was Valentino Rossi. 
Riding in Ecuador during the day; nice
Daryll and Angela had recommended a hotel they had stayed at in Quito so that was our Plan A. Knowing somewhere has bike parking is nice and removes the hassle of possibly trying several hotels. It was fairly easy to find since there were good signs to navigate around Quito. We were about to give up and ask somebody when we realized we were parked right outside of the hotel. They didn't have any of the cheap rooms available but we didn't feel like moving on so we stayed anyways. Thankfully there was a bookstore right around the corner and I got a full tourist/map guide for only 5 USD. What a deal! Also there was a nice fancy restaurant nearby which we treated ourselves too. It was a great! 
Yummy lunch
and dessert
Later in the evening we met up with Alberto's cousin (who lives in the area). We will be going to stay with her tomorrow since we are getting kicked out of the Traveler's Inn because they are full up for New Years.

Day 108 (579km): Into Ecuador

The only issue with our fook hotel was that there were mosquitoes overnight. It was crazy. We both spent part of the night swatting mosquitoes away and then woke up with bites all over us.

It was another early morning because we had some distance to cover. The road started out as being nothing special, it could have been a section of the trans-Canada in Manitoba. We did see one interesting thing. What we assume was a sugar cane train was driving on the highway, and it was a truly scary sight to see. It was probably 6 container boxes filled with sugar cane attached together driven by a semi truck. It looked like a caterpillar driving on the road because it was oscillating like crazy.

After Popayan we started to get back into the mountains. All the way to the border we saw the most spectacular scenery of all that we've seen in Colombia. We were driving right through the mountains. The mountains were green and there were deep valleys. At times the road was carved right out of the edge of the mountain. Very dramatic. 
And this was just the start of it

There were a few tiny sections of road that were being fixed up from landslides. They were rough and muddy. They were perfectly fine but what was difficult was traversing them at the slow speeds that cars and trucks do since we were in a vehicle line-up. Oh boy, momentum is your friend on a two-wheeled machine and cars and trucks do not carry any. We both made it through without mishaps though.
This wasn't the worst of it

My OH SHIT moment of the day came while we were going through a tunnel. There was a slight bend at the beginning of the tunnel and when we came around it we found a semi passing another semi... IN THE TUNNEL! I almost lost it. The semi quickly moved over and there was just enough room for us to get by, a car wouldn't have been so lucky. Driver's are so f*cking stupid here it's shocking and frustrating. People just really need to think through what they are doing and how it affects other people. Too much to ask for in Latin America?

All in all, if I for a moment forget about all the Colombian drivers trying to kill me, it was an amazing day of riding. The roads were more or less good (there were some bad sections) and the scenery was epic. It was getting late but we had no more Colombian pesos so we decided to push on and get to Ecuador (which uses USD).
The dramatic roadways

We arrived at the border at 4:15pm. It started to rain, but stopped by the time we left at 5:30pm. The border was extremely straight forward (especially the Colombia side). When we were getting the bikes sorted out the Aduana official had been trying to download some porn. When Alberto came in he moved over to the official desk and was helping us. At some point the video had finished downloading so there was porn background noises happening while we were getting our paper work sorted out. On the bright side he was extremely speedy because he wanted to get us out of there. We were just trying really hard not to laugh. 
It was easy to get in

At the border Alberto was talking to a gentleman from Ibarra. He told us it was 90min away by car but based on how fast we had passed him (I guess we went past him back in Colombia somewhere), he figured we could do it in less time. He gave us directions to a hotel and off we went. There were some hotels in the town at the border, but we didn't really want to stay right at the border. We continued on but there we no roadside hotels. We pushed on to Ibarra but we had not reached it and it was completely dark. We were driving in the dark for a while until we found a nice looking roadside hotel. We decided to stay there, a little pricey, but it had a restaurant and swimming pool. Plus it was dark and dangerous to be driving.

Final Thoughts: Colombia

Coming to South America has been a revelation and has re-sparked my interest in this trip (which was fading due to the monotony of Central America).

Arriving in Bogota was like a breath of fresh air, literally because it was quite a bit cooler than Panama City. The first grocery store we went to was amazing. I was so happy to find nice things; things I had missed from Canada. Also street addresses are used in Colombia. That's just one more tiny little thing that makes your life easier. The road ways are very good and the scenery is amazing. It is a great place to ride.

Some of the nuances of riding in Colombia include painted School zones on road. This is quite effective because they are very visible but all that paint is VERY slippery in the rain. I had an oh shit moment sliding around a corner on the painted school zone. Why are they always in corners? For bikes, there are no tolls to pay at the toll booths. This is great not only because it saves you money (we went through quite a few and at a few dollars a piece it could seriously add up) but because you don't have the hassle of stopping and paying. It was always a good opportunity to get ahead of some slow moving traffic. Another reason why Colombia is such a great place for motorcyclists is that there are literally TONS of hotels if you travel the main routes. We saw so many (and stayed in) gas station hotels and fook hotels. There are so many options you don't need to worry about being caught out. Another amazing revelation was the return of the road shoulder. For so long we have been driving on roads without shoulders. I was happy to have a shoulder back to pull over when needed, and in some cases, to pass slow moving traffic.

Motorcycle culture is much bigger here in Colombia than in other countries we've been too. It was fun walking into the BMW dealer in Medellin, I felt like a little kid at Christmas. Looking at all the goodies, deciding which ones to buy. People wear full gear and we've seen more big bikes than in other places. It's such an amazing country to ride, it's no surprise that there is a strong motorcycling culture. But for me the deal breaker is the truly atrocious driving. It's not just a few people (which you find in every country) it is a collective culture of truly terrible driving. For me, I'm in no hurry to come back and ride Colombia because it's just not worth putting my life in that much danger.

It was an expensive country, especially the gas. We went through many military checkpoints, but were never stopped. It was fun, the military guys would give the thumbs up, maybe the government tells them to do this? I had read some mixed reports about Colombia and police, and I was a little worried about getting hassled for not buying insurance. We were only stopped by the police twice. Once because the police officer wanted to tell us the road was closed and to give us directions and the second time was on our last day in Colombia. The police officer only asked where we were going and then told us to have a nice day.

Alberto: It is very surprising that people who can be so friendly can be such bad drivers. Colombian driver's have been the worst drivers so far; no respect for motorcycle drivers on the road despite the fact it has been the country with the most bikes.

Day 107 (381km): The law of averages finally caught up to me

We made a conscious decision this morning to not do any more touristy things. Quite frankly I’m a bit sick of it and I’m more interested in getting a move on and riding some of the sick roads in Peru. So we were no longer fixated on going to Cali. We just left Medellin this morning and we were going to get to wherever we got to. 
Saying goodbye to Hostal Medellin
The owner of the Hostel, Claudia, gave us directions on how to get out of town. It was actually quite easy; a welcomed change. We were taking a slight detour and driving to Manizales, Periera and Armenia on our way south since we were told this was the scenic and best way to go. 
Some of the scenery on offer

The first part of the journey was narrow twisty roads. I had anticipated us going into the mountains so I thought it was going to be pleasantly cool. We did go into the mountains, but the temperature remained hot. We saw a sign declaring that we were driving the coffee route so we knew we were on the right track. The scenery was okay (nothing like what we saw driving south to Medellin or in the Santander Province) but the experience was completely ruined by the drivers. Not only was it hard to enjoy the ride because we were constantly driving from one slow moving truck to another but we were constantly driving in fear of oncoming traffic being in our lane. This has been a theme throughout Colombia. 
Lots of green scenery
And then it happened; the law of averages finally caught up to me. We had had several encounters with vehicles driving in our lane but today I had the worst one. I was following a car, and behind me was a large truck. I was coming downhill, around a corner. When I came through the corner there was a large truck in our lane. It was an OH SHIT moment. The car in front of me braked hard, and then I braked hard and for a few short moments I was sure I was going to run into the back of the car. Somehow I didn't (thank you ABS again?) but I did fall over. The combination of coming downhill, leaning through a corner and a slight slope on the actual road all conspired against me. Braking so hard to avoid crashing into the car in front of me completely shifted the weight of my bike and it was too much for me to hold up.

So there I was with a bike lying on it's side in the middle of the road. Thankfully the truck behind me didn't run me over but due to his large size and the way he was taking the corner he was now blocking traffic (because he was stopped for me). Alberto was nowhere to be found because he had gone up ahead. I motioned for some guys (who were stopped in the opposite lane) to help me pick up my bike. About 3 guys helped me pick it up and I could tell by their expressions that they were surprised with how heavy it was. I quickly took off once I had got back on the bike a little embarrassed as I was holding up traffic but also totally freaked out from the whole incident because I was sure I was going to crash. I don't even know what happened to the truck that was in our lane. All I can remember is watching the bumper of the car in front of me coming closer and closer.

I spent the rest of the twisty sections a little more nervous than normal. That is the second time I’ve come around a corner to find a huge semi in my lane. And what is most frustrating is that there is nothing you can do about it and no way to foresee it. The bike was fine, I was more or less fine (a little sore in my leg) but I want to get away from the terrible Colombian drivers as fast as I can. Another reason why we are no longer interested in lingering in Colombia.
The ride got boring
We had entered sugar cane territory
Once we got to Periera the road flattened and straightened out. We had originally planned to go to Armenia but were finding the scenery and riding unimpressive so we cut our losses and followed the signs to Cali instead. At around 4pm we started our search for a fook (f*ck) hotel. It took us a little while because most of the hotels seemed to be for the Northbound traffic and the road was divided. Shortly after passing, a bizarre accident scene on the road: ambulances, police and a crashed airplane, I spied a nice looking fook hotel. For under 20 CAD we had a huge room and, according to the advertisement, all the toys you need. Alberto was disappointed that the tv only had one channel though. 
Putting our sexy chair to good use

Day 106 (0km): A long overdue service

So the service light on our bikes came on at 10,000kms. This was somewhere in Mexico, maybe? Hard to say. We had planned to get our bikes serviced in San Jose Costa Rica but with the combination of shock from high prices in the country and the shop being closed we blew off that plan. We were on a deadline to catch a boat so getting it done in Panama was out of the question as well. This left Colombia. So we planned to get our service done in Medellin. We had planned to go to Medellin from Bogota, but one thing led to another and we ended up doing a lap of Colombia first. So here we are with 20,000 kms on the bikes and finally getting the 10k service done.

We got up early and left the hostel before 8am to go find Ruta40 (the BMW dealer). We had the address, and had a plan on how to get there but these things never work out quite as planned in big cities. We got hopelessly lost trying to find Cra 43A. We wasted almost an hour to find Ruta40, and to add insult to injury when we took a cab ride home it only took 10min.

It is a proper bike shop, and I was eagerly looking around to see if there were any Christmas presents I wanted to gift myself. They sell a decent map for all of South America if anyone is looking. The service department graciously took our bikes in despite the weird looks due to the service being long overdue. Despite their busy day they thought they might be able to finish our bikes today. Bonus for us. 
The mechanic having a hard time muscling my bike into the shop
We went back to the hotel and hung around while we waited. At 4:30pm we got in touch with Ruta40 and yay our bikes were ready to be picked up. I got a new rear tire despite the fact that I still could get a few 1000kms out of my current tire. We are heading back into dirt riding territory so I figured this was as good a time as any to put a new tire on. Alberto of course likes to push the limit so he is continuing on with my old tire and will change to a new one (he is now carrying) at some point. Oh and the bikes were spotlessly clean when we got them back, I guess we have to go get them dirty again. The thing about having a clean bike is that you can see all the scratches and scars; boy I've really beaten up my bike. Even more incentive to get it dirty again.

We'd like to thank all the staff at Ruta40. It is an excellent bike shop and better service than I get back in Canada. For those who have gone before us, you are right their service is impeccable. If you're not in need of BMW related things try Moto Angel as well in Medellin. I think for ~450 CAD we got our services done and new back tires for both bikes. I think my first service in Canada was over $300.
Alberto's bike ready to go

We were leaving the shop at 6:15pm and it was dark. The Christmas lights were amazing though. We of course got lost; driving in cities at night isn't all that fun. We eventually made it back to the Hostel, but again it took about an hour. Oh useful GPS how you elude me. 
Ready to go

Day 105 (0km): Just hanging out

We just hung out today. We are hoping to take our bikes to the BMW dealer tomorrow so today was a free day. I took advantage and watched some boxing day football. There was Man United vs Sunderland on one channel and then Man City vs Newcastle on the other. So I switched between the two of them. This has been my first chance to see Gyan playing so I was excited about that. Not too sure about those white and maroon strips though. 
The city
We didn't go out and see any sights. Instead we settled for a day off inside. I was doing some research and looking into routes for Ecuador (still need to get a map somewhere). The hostel owner where we are staying is very friendly and helpful offering tips and suggestions. She's a big fan of the bike shop Moto Angel and from what we heard they are extremely helpful to travelers.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Day 104 (366km): Happy Christmas to all!

Apart from the accordion music I already mentioned (which I didn't even identify as Christmas music until Alberto told me that's what it was) things didn't really feel like Christmas. At home Christmas has a strong presence: my mom decorates the house hardcore, there is a large selection of Christmas music always in the background and there are Christmas treats up for grabs in the kitchen. While there are Christmas decorations (nice ones) around the big cities in Colombia, and Christmas trees everywhere, because we are traveling it just doesn't really feel like the holidays. I should insert a shout-out to Angela for decorating our bikes back in Nicaragua, when I look down I am reminded it's Christmas. Anyways today came and went like any other day on the road. I actually have a very hard time keeping track of the date and the day so I'm not particularly conscious of holidays. I also have a hard time remembering my own birthday so I guess that says something.

The first part of the day was still driving in the flat lands. There was evidence of flooding on either side of the road. The effects of flooding are quite devastating. I can't say that I’ve ever really been all that conscious of this type of natural disaster due to where I grew up in Canada. We don't even have rivers on Salt Spring, or at least not that I can think of. The weather was similar to yesterday, more or less hot with a few rain showers mixed in for good measure.
Pretty flat and straight

Once we started climbing into the mountains the temperature started to drop, thank you! Colombia is so amazing and due to the toll roads I assume, the roads are in very good condition. This combination you'd think would be a motorcyclists dream but there is one catch: the truly terrible drivers. Some people might find this aspect of riding in Latin America exciting as it provides an adventurous exotic flavour, me not so much. I would prefer to remain alive an uninjured. 
This guy on the bicycle was getting a helping hand

The road as we rose in elevation was amazing. Deep valleys to the left, twisty roads up ahead, and then I come around a corner and a bus (which is clearly going too fast for the conditions) is in my lane. I honk my horn and give my best WTF hand gesture. He mostly moves back over and I squeak by. I can't help but think that if I was a full size vehicle the situation would have resulted in an accident. This happened twice more, and I'm only mentioning the truly extreme cases. People are continuously in your lane. It's a way of life.

As we reached the summit there was fog. The not so fun part of fog, despite the lack of visibility, is all the moisture that gets on the visor and goggles. It's very hard to see. I end up having to ditch the visor and wipe my goggles every 10 seconds. It was very refreshing though, about 12 degrees. When we popped back out of the fog we were greeted with more amazing views of green mountains and valleys. Yay now we get to descend to Medellin. 
The fog

During the descent another offensive traffic interaction happened. There was a bus following a large truck. The bus wanted to pass the truck so he took a peak, saw us coming, thought about going back into his lane, then decided what the hell and decided to pass anyways (he was traveling uphill). We both honked our horns and Alberto produced a hand gesture involving the middle finger. I had to practically drive in the drainage ditch as we were all using the road 3 deep. Truly crazy driving.

On the way down there was a nice spot to pull over and take a look at the view. What we found out when we stopped is that it was a launching point for hang-gliders and para-gliders. It was crazy to watch how those guys just throw themselves off the side of a cliff and hope for the best. I bet that is quite the feeling. The view was well worth the stop too. 
This guy launched while we were there
The road we were about to take
La Gringa enjoying the view
After that, the ride was pretty uneventful to Medellin. It was a little tricky navigating Medellin at first. Lots of freeways going in all directions. We made our way to Hostel Medellin (a hostel I had read online had a garage for bikes). It was amazingly quiet at the hostel, because of the holidays? Either way it felt like we had the place to ourselves. It was fun looking at the wall of fame; plenty of bikers had been before us. The owner told me though that not that many women riding bikes come through. We cooked ourselves some Christmas dinner with the groceries we picked up at Exito: chicken sandwiches. I couldn't find mushy peas at the grocery store.

Day 103 (284km): Merry Accordion Christmas

Getting the bikes back out of their parking places was a bit fiddly but we did it. Alberto's cruise control made his bars just a tiny bit bigger than the hallway and he couldn't push the bike straight through; he had to wiggle it. Carrying the cases back downstairs (since we don't normally remove the cases) was hard work. We were both sweating like crazy when we had finished. When we left the hotel it was 11:30 and 32 degrees. 
The hallway we had to walk the bikes down

While Cartagena was a beautiful city (our favourite colonial city by far and well worth the detour) leaving it was an absolute nightmare. It was worse than coming back into Vancouver on HWY 1 after a long weekend. It was an endless line of buses. I was completely overheating and sucking back exhaust from all the buses. I tried filtering for a while but it was very stressful cause we were essentially offroading on the shoulder where there was a market with tons of pedestrians. I gave up on that because I was having a hard time planting my feet on the uneven ground. I also hit my cases on one bus and he wasn't impressed. So I played the waiting game in traffic. It was a truly terrible experience and a definite low point of our time in Colombia. 
In the traffic jam
The traffic jab from the outside
When we finally got on a highway things improved. At least I was getting air moving through my vents. The road was surprisingly terrible though. Compared with all the other roads we have driven in Colombia, this was like driving in Mexico again. At one point we drove through a badly flooded area. Right beside the road was a village that was ~2m under water. There were sand bags keeping the water off the highway and we went over 3 viaduct bridges. The water was level with the bridge driving surface. It was a weird feeling driving over them. It was very sad to see the devastation first hand, rather than just on the tv. These people have very little to start with and now they have no where to live and nowhere to grow food. 
The road improved to a regular road eventually. We didn't have a specific destination in mind. We were just going towards Medellin and we were going to stop before it got dark. So the lucky location was, drum roll please, Pueblo Nuevo. The gas station had a hotel. It was pretty nice, AND it had internet so we were sold. We walked across the street for dinner. We had the house special; the only thing on the menu. It was pretty good. Despite my dislike of coconut I am getting used to the coconut rice that is served with most meals on the coast here. 
Christmas Eve in Pueblo Nuevo
When we got back to the hotel I noticed that Colombian Christmas carols were being blasted right outside my window. My issue with this is the accordion aspect. I find it almost as painful as country music. So that kept me up until who knows what time; the guys were rocking out, I went to sleep with my ipod, where Michael Buble Christmas carols were being played. The music picked back up at 6:30am Christmas morning though. It's a non-stop party. Ho Ho Ho, Merry Christmas.

Day 102 (0km): Back to regularly scheduled programming

We decided to stay an extra day in Cartagena to give us time to see the sights. We also still weren't completely caught up with computer stuff. 
Welcome to the walled city
For some reason the colder snap that was in progress when we arrived had disappeared. It was at least 30 degrees, which seemed very hot all of a sudden. I was sweating quite a bit walking around the city being a tourist, but I guess it was worth it. The “walled city” has a wall around it (duh) and you can walk along it. So that's what we did first. The wall is interesting because it looks like it was constructed out of coral.
Walking the wall
The wall gets a bit narrow

A view of the fort from the wall

After we walked the wall we wandered around the city inside the wall. We picked up some yummy things from a couple of bakeries and headed back to our hotel.  I bought some non dulce mango from a street vendor. I don't know if I would do that again. It was a weird flavour.
 Inside the wall
I spent the rest of the day updating the blog. It was epic and my bum was almost as sore as a day riding in that stupid BMW seat.
Using the internet in the common area of the hotel

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Day 101 (0km): Back Online

With a working computer again there was quite a bit of catching up to do. Alberto pretty much spent the whole day sorting out all the pictures we had been taking since Chicha died. In the evening we went out for dinner with Mike and his classmates from school. It's always fun to meet other people who are traveling and to share experiences. It was good getting to see Mike again too. I hope we can meet up again in Peru.

Day 100 (125km): We finally reach our destination

Cartagena is not far away from Barranquilla so there was no real panic this morning. The only concern was that Cartagena is a very popular destination for Colombians during the holidays so I was a little worried that finding a place to stay would be hard. We had the names of a few places and we had an idea of where the cheap places would be.

Getting out of Barranquilla was tricky. We had to get on a divided road that we were told bikes weren't even allowed on anyways. On our second attempt to get on the road we realized we couldn't turn left, again. Oh well it was illegal to be on the road anyways, so we illegally used the pedestrian crosswalk to turn left and get on the road. The drive to Cartagena was a no brainer. Straight highway with not much to see.

Once in town it was a little tricky because of the one ways and divided streets to get around. Again we did some things we are not supposed to do. Thankfully a biker showed us which direction we needed to go when we got a little lost. Alberto had pulled over to take another look at the map and ask directions and we found out that we were parked exactly in front of two of the places on our list. There were tons of hotels in the area so we narrowed our choice down based on two criteria: ease of parking the bikes and internet. In the end the Marlin Hotel won out since they had triangular blocks that fit on the front steps to make a ramp. This made it easier to drive the bikes into the lobby. We had to take off everything to get the bikes in though so it was quite the job getting the cases and stuff upstairs to our room. Cartagena is warmer than where we had been, but still thankfully nothing like some of the unbearable places we have been so far. 
Starting the hotel search
That is why he insisted on the rolly cases
We are now were we planned to be starting on Dec 15 after arriving via boat from Panama. Only a few days later than expected. I fired an email off to our friend Mike, who was staying in Cartagena and learning spanish. He had some precious goods for us: a new netbook from Canada. He came by that evening and we went out for some beers on the wall. It was an awesome spot: nice breeze, ocean, view of the city at night. It was really fun to catch up with Mike and maybe we'll see him in Peru next year. It was a great evening; we even saw fireworks on the way home. So far from what we've seen, Cartagena is the nicest colonial city we've been to and well worth the detour. 
Inside the walled city
Mike taking us to the good places

Group photo
Fireworks on the way home
We were hoping to just switch the hard-drive from the old computer to the new computer since that would be the easiest fix. It worked and we were back in business. Mike is our hero for bringing us a new computer! Chicha is alive and well, she just has a different outfit.

Day 99 (560km): Cartagena or Medellin?

So after looking at the map we realized we were half way to Cartagena so it would be silly to go back south to Medellin and back into the mess of closed roads. We were out of the mountains so I figured we would have less issues with road closures. Just in case though I was watching the news. It was really sad seeing the devastation all over the country. I would be watching a crisis area and then try to find it on my map. There were no issues reported on the news in the direction we were going. The gas station attendant said the road to Santa Marta was open and that was good enough for me!

The road was pretty much straight and smooth so we managed to keep a decent cruising speed just below 120 kph. I find that at 120 kph and over the small screen sends so much wind blast at my head it's not worth it. This was great for making up some time we had lost the previous day. Also due to the straight nature of the road we were rarely held up behind slow moving traffic for long.We were only a few times on twisty hills behind several large vehicles so I employed a new trick. In Colombia the roads have shoulders (a new thing for us since the US) so I just sneak by on the shoulder. While I'm doing it I'm reminded of the signs in Washington that say “End of Shoulder Driving”. I always found those signs funny because I never even knew that shoulder driving had started. 
A lot of the landscape looks like this: flooded
For the first time we were stopped by the police. Alberto is now pretending that he's a gringo so I do the talking. The guy was surprised I was a woman, which I found funny. Anyways they only wanted to tell us that the road was closed up ahead and that we would need to take a detour soon. Thanking them for the tip and directions we continued on our way. We saw the road we needed to take but it was roped off. We decided to continue straight and see how it went. In the next large town we stopped for a snack and to find out information on the road. We were told it was closed and that we needed to take a detour now. The detour would be an extra 2-3 hrs. As we were getting ready to leave a biker came up to tell us that bikes could get through the closed section. He described the way to get through in detail, to the point that he sounded like he had done it, so we trusted him and continued straight. Some cars told us we couldn't get through but we continued anyway. There were lots of bikes on the road so we thought that they were getting through okay. Worst case scenario we can take off our cases and become more or less the same size as the small bikes.

When we got to the collapsed bridge there was a police officer. He said we'd be fine and just cautioned us to go slow. No worries. We drove along the shoulder and there was a narrow section were we slowly walked the bikes but it was overall pretty easy. We were minor celebrities as everyone wanted to know about our bikes and where we came from. I'm glad we didn't need to take the detour, it would have been filled with buses and trucks. 
Driving the collapsed section of the bridge
I had noticed on the map that Tayrona park had camping so we thought we'd stay there for the night. When we got to Santa Marta we asked the police for directions and they said it was far away. We pursued this idea for a little while and then gave up. Camping just for the sake of camping wasn't worth this much of a detour. We stopped at some hotels we saw outside of town but they were abandoned. So we gave up on Santa Marta and continued to Barranquilla. It was worth it because the sunset was amazing, even though I couldn't see anything cause the sun was in my face prior to it setting. When we got to Barranquilla it was late and we didn't want to mess around finding a hotel. We paid a cab to take us to a hotel and it paid off. He took us to a nice hotel and it was relatively cheap. 
Our room in Barranquilla 
While we were watching the news we saw that Bucaramanga was now completely isolated due to landslides. I guess we got pretty lucky with that one.

Day 98 (258km): The roads just keep getting better

We woke up extra early, for us anyways, since we were going to try and get to Medellin. We were on the road by 8am and it was raining. The ride from San Gil to Bucaramanga is amazing and would have even been better had it not been raining. There was cloud cover hiding most of the scenery. 
The cloud and fog hiding the view

 There was one section where the road climbs down into the canyon where we caught glimpses of the scenery and it was spectacular! The road wasn't too shabby either, switch backing it's way down. The driving was shocking though; bordering on offensive. I was following behind a medium size bus and the driver would position himself in the other lane before tight corners with complete disregard for anyone else who might be coming the other way. It was impossible for him to see if anyone was coming, but he didn't seem to care. That type of driving attitude is just completely offensive, but unfortunately common so it's hard to fully enjoy the twisty roads. 
The amazing riding in Colombia

Bucaramanga was a bit of an issue to navigate since there were no signs. Especially since it's a pretty big junction with major roads leaving in all directions. We found our way towards Medellin only to be stopped by the police 10min down the road. It turns out that the road is closed and we can't get through. He recommended that we go to San Alberto and then come back South to Medellin. Okay, at least that's better than going back to Bogota. Unfortunately when we got back to Bucaramanga we spent an hour driving around in circles trying to get on the road to go to San Alberto. People kept telling us to go different ways and we were getting nowhere fast. We stopped to ask the police for some help. We also wanted to confirm if the road was even open. The police made some calls and found out the road would be opening around 2pm. They pointed us in the right direction and off we went.

Soon enough we approached an endless line of semi-trucks parked. Of course we zipped to the front of the line and explained that we wanted to go to San Alberto. The police officer let us through. The road was completely empty and it was obvious the sections that had been cleared up due to landslides. We reached another line of semis and again went to the front. This time we had reached the closed section of road. All the motorbikes were at the front (probably about 50 small little bikes). Soon we had a huge crowd around us and our bikes. People were very curious. One lady even asked Alberto what type of car his bike was. He kindly informed her that it was in fact a bike. 
Alberto and his bike are in there somewhere
We only had to wait 2 hrs to be let through, which I guess isn't that bad because later that day we talked to a truck driver who'd been there for 4 days. It was chaos though. The police let the bikes go, then another one stopped us. Then we went again, and were stopped. Eventually I got behind an ambulance and followed him the rest of the way through the troubled section. It was great because he was going fast. There were countless sections of road that had been inundated by tree branches and mud. Some were clear, some were not. Either way our bikes are now quite a bit dirtier than they were. 
Lots of sections of road like this
Once we were out of the bad section the road was quite nice. Smooth pavement and twisty. We were really enjoying ourselves when I came around a corner to see a semi-truck passing another semi-truck on a steep up hill. He was completely in my lane and I had no where to go except the drop off into the ditch. I braked hard (thank you ABS) but then Alberto ran into me from behind. This sent me wobbling forward completely off balance. I somehow stayed upright and the semi moved back into the other lane just enough so that we could get past. Alberto gave the driver a piece of his mind and it was definitely the most dangerous road encounter we've had on the trip (well I guess after the horse incident).

It was still another hour or so until we reached San Alberto. We looked for a hotel but didn't see any passing through town. It was getting late and it had been a long day. We stopped at a gas station out of town to ask if there were any hotels and just our luck, the gas station had a hotel. It was actually extremely nice for the price so we were ecstatic to stay there. 
At the end of a long day