Monday 18th September

Mark

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Culture shock

In his last post Phil said some kind things about my arrival in Bogota and some even kinder things about my clean and tidy bike. Well, two weeks on I’m still here but the poor bike is anything but clean.

Colombia seems to have embraced us very quickly and quite thoroughly. It is nothing like I expected, neither physically nor culturally. Bogota is a large, sophisticated, vibrant city, albeit with an awful pollution and traffic problem. I probably expected all of that although it may not have helped that the Pope chose to visit at the same time as us, causing some road closures. We have stayed in, or passed through, other large sophisticated cities and this is one aspect of Colombia I had probably underestimated. We have done a little sightseeing and there is also clearly a rich cultural heritage including many fine colonial Spanish buildings. I had hoped for great scenery and in this regard it has exceeded my expectations. It really is one of the most spectacular countries I have ever visited. There are remarkable views everywhere and it is wonderfully green and fertile. What I hadn’t expected, and indeed was a little concerned about given it’s previous reputation, is the remarkable, friendly, open and helpful people. We have been met with kindness everywhere and never once have I felt in any way apprehensive.

I arrived in Colombia a fortnight ago (I started writing this post in the attractive colonial Colombian city of Popayan but am finishing it a few days later in Ambato in Ecuador ) but actually I nearly didn’t manage to get on the plane at Heathrow as I was initially denied boarding because I had no evidence of my intention to leave the country. This usually takes the form of a return or onward flight booking but I had only booked a one way flight as my bike was of course waiting for me in Bogota and that would be my means of transport to another country but at that time I had no idea when or where that would be. All was well once I explained this to the relevant manager. Eleven hours later the customs officer was surprisingly polite and helpful considering it was 4am local time and as he asked me if I spoke Spanish ( I do a bit ) we conducted our brief conversation in that language and I was welcomed into Colombia with a minimum of fuss. I had hoped that my modest grasp of the language of most of the continent would be helpful and so it has proved.

Having slept most of Saturday and not eaten much, by Sunday I felt like venturing out so in the afternoon I met up with Erika, a friend of a friend of my friend, Akemi, with whom Akemi had already put me in touch via WhatsApp. We had a walk around a nice part of Bogota and had lunch and a couple of beers. I am not usually a fan of the BBC but the Bogota Beer Company has an excellent product. It was nice to have a friendly face and Erika also speaks excellent English. I had an early night as I was due to collect my bike from customs on Monday morning.

It was a long and occasionally frustrating day but by 3pm ( we started at 08.30 ) my invaluable helper, Liberado, from CargoRider told me that all the formalities were done and the bike was mine again. He then gave me a choice. I could either ride it through a small door and down the steep flight of steps we had just walked up, to get to the cargo bay of the freight terminal where it was sitting, still strapped to it’s large pallet, or we could ask for the large forklift to come ( the normal one wasn’t up to the task apparently ) to take it all the way to the other end of the terminal where there was a ramp. I opted for the latter. This took another hour. Finally, I rode across Bogota in the rush hour to the hotel where I was to meet up with Ian, Phil and Tom again.

As I mentioned earlier, we have now left Colombia and I realise I haven’t told you anything about where we’ve been, who we’ve met or the roads we’ve ridden. There’s another post or two to be written on that but I wanted to get something down sooner rather than later. It’s a surprisingly full time occupation this adventure bike riding lark so time has been shorter than I expected. Indeed, rereading this piece I seem to have been surprised and confounded quite a lot already.

So, to conclude for now, thank you Colombia and your warm, friendly and helpful people for making the first two weeks of my trip much more than I expected. Special thanks to Erika for being a friend, Mike Thomsen of Motolombia for advice on our route, JJ and Elvita for a memorable evening in Manizales and Eddie at the wonderful Coffee House Boutique Hostel in Salento. Thanks also to you, our blog followers. We really appreciate your comments.

MF 18/09/17