As predicted, we didn't make it very far outside of Bogota's city limits last night before being stopped by the darkness and the rain. We stayed for the evening in a cheap motel right on the main highway in a small suburb called Mosquera. The plan today is to try to head further west within the country.
If it looks like we're backtracking a bit, it's because we're totally backtracking a bit...
We've been squeezing our bikes into plenty of tight spaces lately...
Last night: Wet tires on slick tile = high pucker factor
We're kind of getting sick of the cold and the rain. It seems like the waterworks has been following us ever since last autumn in Guatemala. The rough idea we had in our heads was that because we were moving so slowly, the rainy season would actually overtake us. It would seem that this plan backfired spectacularly, as the rain has actually kept the same pace as us. So in fact, we've been traveling in a perpetual rainy season for the last 6 months... fml...
As we were preparing to leave in the morning, Juan and his dad stop by on their bicycles and pepper us with questions
All over Colombia everyone has been asking to take pictures of us and our bikes. It's a bit unusual because there are lots of larger bikes like ours all around the big cities. I think what draws their interest are the overloaded luggage hanging off our bikes... and the only Asian person within 100 square miles is piloting one of the motorcycles... Latin Americans are very curious about me. I feel like I'm 25% Celebrity and 75% Alien...
Juan's dad told us that he wants to do the same trip that we're doing with his son on bicycles one day. Cool!
Heading westwards towards the Coffee Triangle
The Coffee Triangle is an area in Colombia where cars, motorcycles and trucks mysteriously vanish. Oh, and they also grow a lot of coffee plants in this area as well.
Since we're descending from the heights of Bogota, the weather starts off cool in the morning but quickly heats up as we dip into the lush valley. Between cities, most of the major roads in Colombia are only two-lane highways which means that there is a lot of aggressive passing when cars and motorcycles get stuck behind slow-moving trucks. We're told that most traffic accidents in Colombia occur because of bad passes resulting in head-on collisions or vehicles rolling over in the ditch, especially in the mountain roads on blind corners.
This is where we got into a bit of trouble: Neda was leading for the day and we were following a truck that was crawling up-hill. As we hit a small straightaway, she pulled out to pass the truck over a double-yellow and I followed her... right in plain sight of a traffic cop who was standing on the side of the road.
He pointed at us angrily and motioned for us to pull over.
This is not the cop, because I was too scared shitless to take any pictures of the actual incident.
But it gives you an idea of what it looked like...
This is our first ever run-in with the law since our trip started (if you don't count Neda's no-helmet transgression with the bicycle police in Medellin). We're very wary of crooked cops in Latin America trying to shake down tourists, so we've discussed various strategies on how to deal with the situation if we're ever stopped.
I've heard that a popular strategy is the "No Fumar Espanol" defense (translated: "I don't smoke Spanish"). Basically, you mangle and butcher the Spanish language so badly that the police officer gives up trying to communicate with you and lets you off in a fit of exasperation. We both agree beforehand that this is what we'll do because, quite simply, it's not far from the truth in my case.
So we pull off right beside the police officer and over the communicator I hear Neda speak, "Buenas tardes, senor. Hay algun problema?"
Because I don't understand Spanish, I'll give you my point of view of how the conversation went:
Cop pulls out a book, turns to a page and points out a section to Neda
Cop: "espanolespanol MULTA"
(oh no, I know what that word means... we learnt it in Medellin when our bicycles got impounded for five days)
Cop looks stern. Neda looks worried
Neda: (pleadingly) "espanolespanolespanol"
Cop laughs, but not in a nice way.
Cop then looks at me disapprovingly. Then Neda looks at me disapprovingly. What the hell is going on?
Neda: "Gracias, senor!"
(did we just get off?)
Neda taps on her communicator: "Okay let's go..."
A few minutes later we're on the road and I ask Neda, "What the hell just happened back there?!?"
She replied, "Okay, so he said the fine for crossing a double yellow is that our motorcycles would be impounded for five days".
(Five days? Is every punishment five days long in Colombia?)
"He said that we would have to turn back towards Mosquera and wait till Monday to plead our case with the judge. Then I asked him is there any other solution to this problem?"
(Did my wife just offer a bribe to a police officer?)
"Then he scoffed at me"
(Great, we get stopped by the most honest policeman in Latin America...)
"He went on about how this was a really serious offense. But then for some reason he seemed to think that you were leading and then told me to explain to you what a bad thing you did and what a mistake it was to follow you."
(What?!? I wasn't leading! I was following Neda! Did my wife just throw me under the bus?!?)
"So I just nodded my head and agreed with him."
(My wife totally threw me under the bus.)
"It seemed to work, he let us go..."
I listened to Neda's entire explanation in stunned silence. Forget "No Fumar Espanol". Next time we get stopped, we're "Throwing Gene Under The Bus!"
Looking for a place to stay in Armenia
We tiptoed through the rest of the ride, camping out behind slow-moving trucks, inhaling diesel fumes until the next broken yellow line appeared to our left. The day stretched out incredibly long this way. We were hoping to make it to the pretty touristy town of Salento, but the daylight escaped us and we were forced to stop for the evening in Armenia.
Our hotel let us park our bikes in the spa! They slept better than we did!
Armenia wasn't even on our radar as a place to visit, but the next morning we walked around the small city to see what it was all about. It was surprisingly nice.
Medium size city, medium size traffic
There seems to be an artsy vibe around town
I do as instructed
Studies have shown that Omega 3 fatty acids from fish is beneficial for the heart
...which is totally what the artist was trying to convey. I'm sure of it...
Hangin' out, playin' tunes.
As if on cue, the afternoon brings rain...
Do you remember the kid in Charlie Brown, called PigPen? He had a perpetual cloud of dust hanging around him wherever he went. I feel exactly like that, as if we've got a perpetual rain cloud lingering over our motorcycles.
Our bikes reluctantly leave the spa
Okay, but seriously, enough with the cities, we're off to spend some time in the countryside!