The Ecuador/Colombia border crossing was full of Venezuelans, so the going was slow getting out on the Ecuadorian side as for some reason I got caught up in quite a crowd. The Venezuelans have a separate line.
I crossed into Colombia and was shocked to see how many Venezuelans were waiting to cross into Colombia. A huge tent had been set up to shelter them. I felt sorry for the many families with young children there. A number of aid agencies were on hand helping out.
I was through the Colombian immigration in a flash, but the Customs Officer was nowhere to be seen, so I bought a sim card and exchanged money. I had to wait for 45mins or so before he showed up. It was standard procedure getting the temporary import permit, and then I headed for the nearby town for the night. It was dark by the time I left the border area and it is not advised to travel at night in that part of Colombia.
I found a service station to park at and went to look for a place to eat. I was surprised to see that almost the only food available were guinea pigs, (which are common in Peru especially) and not much else. I did manage to find a place selling chicken and chips, so I bought from there,
I headed north the next morning and was very impressed by the scenery through the mountains. The road is windy and mountainous and there are some spectacular valleys along the way. They are also doing a lot of work on the road, so there were many stop/go sites along the way.
At one of the stop signs I noticed that the brake pedal was getting softer and softer. I didn’t like the feel of it, so got out and had a look. Sure enough, there was a leak in the rear brake line. I took it easy to a nearby city and asked around some brake shops. I was pointed in the right direction to the best brake shop in town and asked them to replace the whole rear brake line, which they did. It took about 1.5hrs to work out, and I had a look around the city in the meantime. It was very much a transit town with a lot of people going to and fro.
They did a great job on the brakes and they felt the best they’ve ever been, and all done for about $40! I headed off again, happy to have good brakes on the mountainous road. It was bliss to have a straight kilomere. The scenery really made up for it though. It was surprising to see how many Venezuelans were travelling, either by foot, (pulling their suitcases) or on the back of freight trucks. I had seen them before, but there were far more on the move in Colombia. It would’ve been very interesting to hear some of their stories.
I parked up at a roadhouse that night. I was the only one there for the night as they closed at 10pm. They were very friendly and gave me good information about the area. Knowing a bit of Spanish goes a long way.
After a good night’s sleep, I headed for my destination, Raquira, 130km north of Bogota. The drive was similar to the previous few days, though the road was a bit straighter. I got caught up in Bogota traffic, (Traffic is generally a nightmare there) but managed to bypass the worst of it.
I arrived into the village of Raquira in the afternoon, happy to be there as it had been quite a heavy few days of driving.
After lunch and looking around the beautiful town square, I drove up the hill to my friend’s place, (Nelson), and met his Parents. Nelson was getting back from Bogota that evening, so it was a good chance to practise my Spanish as his Parents spoke no English. We had an enjoyable afternoon chatting about politics, and Nelson’s Mother made a very nice dinner. When Nelson arrived, we continued talking into the night. Nelson is one of the very few Colombian balloonists, and had only moved back not long before. He’d been working at the Kubicek Balloon factory in the Czech Republic, and that’s how we’d first met.
We went for a walk the next day to some beautiful waterfalls in the hills, and later drove to an ancient Incan site. It’s a great area to explore, hidden treasures everywhere.
The next day we had his and my balloon up. I was free-flying my balloon, and he tethered kids in his. It was nice to see another balloon again.
I took off and flew to 11,000ft. The winds were quite fickle, and after 45mins or so, I looked for a landing site as the direction was getting more and more difficult for anyone to retrieve me. I landed in a very nice field close to a house. A husband and wife came over for a chat. They were very surprised to see a balloon in their back yard.
The crew eventually found me. They had taken quite a difficult route to get there. We packed the balloon and went on quite a steep track to get out. It was a bit of fun.
We returned to Nelson, who had just finished packing up. He had managed to fly all the kids from a school group which had come down. It happened to be Raquira’s anniversary, so it worked out very well as part of the celebrations.
We went to the historical town of Villa de Lleyva in the afternoon, famous for it’s Spanish colonial look, which hasn’t changed much for the past few centuries.
Nelson took me to Bogota the next day, down the back road, to catch a flight to Dubai. I had to make a quick trip there to do a check flight and keep my visa valid.
On my return 10 days later, I stayed at Nelson’s nephew’s place for the night, before catching the bus to Raquira. I had a couple of hours to burn in the bus station and a Venezuelan man came and sat next to me. We struck up a conversation. His English was quite good. It turned out he had worked for a phone company there, but had left due to the dire situation. He’d managed to find a job through a friend at a hotel in Cusco, Lima, and was catching a bus there the next day. He’d been in Bogota for two months, though I wasn’t sure why he needed to stay so long. Venezuelans can get 50% off their bus tickets, and are looked after by various aid and government agencies. A group just behind us were getting vouchers while we were talking. After 15mins or so, he had to go as it was his turn to be issued with a ticket.
I arrived into Raquira at night and went to Nelson’s Parent’s place. Nelson wasn’t there, but I was looked after well by his Parents.
I headed off at 10am. I was a few days ahead of schedule as the boat I was booked on from Cartagena to Veracruz, (Mexico) was running late.
I had an easy drive to the small town of Oiba to see a beautiful stream, Las Gachas, which Nelson had recommended. I found a cheap hotel and caught a public van to a small village. The stream was a 25min walk through fields from there.
The stream is famous for the holes that have formed, and you can actually bathe in some of the holes. There were a number of locals enjoying the afternoon.
I walked down the stream further and was amazed to find a very beautiful waterfall. It was very relaxing to sit there and enjoy the majesticness of it.
I caught the last ‘bus’ back to Oiba. It was a pick-up and I stood on the tailgate for the trip, (around 45mins) as it was packed with people inside. It was a bit of fun.
The next day I headed for the 2nd deepest canyon in the world, Chicamocha, arriving there in the early afternoon. It was very impressive. An amusement park with all sorts of rides had been set up. I took the gondola across the valley, which took around 20mins. I spent a bit of time on the other side, had the best Arepa I’d ever tasted, then headed back again.
The road after was very windy, with a lot of slow traffic, but it gave enough time to take in the spectacular scenery. I stayed on the outskirts of Bucaramunga that night.
I finally left the Andes the next day. They had been such a big part of the journey through Chile, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia.
It was bliss to travel on long, straight roads again. I love travelling in the mountains, but it gets tiresome when you’re driving through mountains for days on end.
I stayed in a small but busy transit town that night, Bosconia. The weather was incredibly hot and humid, so I stayed at a cheap hotel with air conditioning. You can’t got wrong for $15 or less a night.
I took a secondary road the next day. Some parts were perfect, others quite rough and bumpy. All asphalt though. About an hour from my final destination, Cartagena, I hit a huge traffic jam in the middle of nowhere. I found out that a fuel tanker had rolled and completely blocked the road. They were still cleaning up the spilt fuel and no one really knew how long they would be stuck there for. After 1.5hrs of waiting, I looked on a map for an alternative, and decided to backtrack and take another road, which would take 2.5 hours or so to get to my destination. I had no idea of the road condition though.
The first part of the road was perfect asphalt, which was surprising considering how small it was. It soon turned into a very bumpy dirt road, then reasonable asphalt, then more bumpy dirt, then almost perfect asphalt, (though the road was narrow). It was driven in the dark, with lightning all around, which made it more interesting. I finally arrived into Cartagena at around 9pm, with rain pouring down.
I stayed at an airbnb for the week, sorting out the shipping of the truck. I used Enlace Caribe, who were very good. Three other overlanders were also shipping their vehicles on the same boat, a couple from Brazil, a couple from France, and a young guy from Germany.
We went into Enlace’s office on one day to sign various documents, then went to the port the next day to take the vehicles to the port to be signed off by Customs, amongst various other paperwork. The port had been changed to a different one about 40mins further away, as the boat couldn’t get a spot at the usual port.
I think it worked in our favour though. Port Bahia is much smaller and things seemed a bit more laid back. Because there were four vehicles going through, we had to spend a bit of time waiting for each other, but it wasn’t terrible, and we were all finished within a few hours.
A few days later we were ready for the Police narcotics inspection, which everyone was dreading. All of us had heard horror stories about police asking people to take everything out of the vehicles and getting thoroughly checked.
Enlace took us all out to the port and the police arrived for the inspection without too much of a delay. Much to our surprise, they only ran a drug sniffer dog through the vehicles and that was more or less it. It only took two mins for my truck to be checked.
There was a bit of messing around and document signing after that, but it was all relatively painless. We were all very relieved.
I spent another couple of days in Catagena before flying back to Bogota, where I’m going to be flying to Mexico City tomorrow night. The ship is running early at the moment, only taking 5 days from Cartagena. Sometimes it takes 8 or 9, depending on stops.