Posted on January 17, 2014
A.T.T.C.C. is A Tale of Two Colonial Cities. Colombia has two well known towns that are colonial to the bone, both well preserved since their founding and now a days keeping up appearances for tourists. The older of the two is Villa de Leyva founded in 1572 and the baby brother is Barichara founded in 1705. Both are promoted by Lonely Planet and as they are within driving distance (and on our way to Bogota) we decided to do a back to back comparison.
Barichara is located in the hills above San Gil, sitting atop a plateau that overlooks a dry valley below with a river running through. The landscape between San Gil and Barichara is pastoral bliss and once your in the town, it reminds one of the hills in Tuscany (our what I imagine they are like). The streets are cobblestone, but they have been cemented together, and though most likely slick when wet, it makes driving around on a motorcycle pleasant.
There is the sense that this isn’t just a tourist trap, but a real town nestled in the Colombian countryside. There are not an overwhelming amount of restaurants or knickknack shops, though there are more than enough cafes for some reason (this also is the case in Villa de Leyva). However, you see tons of locals on the streets, or sitting on stoups at night enjoying the country living.
Villa de Leyva
On a dusty road off of Highway-62, between San Gil and Bogota, in a high valley lies Villa de Leyva. The valley, unlike the aird environment of Barichara, is lush and the ride reminded Alex of the hills in Switzerland. The whole town revolves around the Plaza Mayor, which is one of the largest in the Americas and does feel impressive when you stand in the middle.
White washed walls prevail throughout the town, and like Barichara, the architecture is consistent throughout. Villa de Leyva does have a feeling of being more developed, many cafes and trinket shops along with jewelry stores and clothing shops line the inner streets and near the outskirts there are shops where locals would do their shopping.
The streets are cobblestone too, however laid in the traditional style, which makes driving a motorcycle on them…interesting. Upon entering town, Alex and I ended up going down a one way, the wrong way, and were told by cops to turned around. This is easier said than done on cobblestone, and an elderly gentleman came running up and helped pull us both backwards so we could turn around.
The town is about twice as big as Barichara, but there aren’t any more restaurants as one might expect. As in most smaller towns, stores tend to close early, and that might leave you without many options for dinner if you don’t plan ahead.
Lush, cobbley, and far from the bright lights of Bogota, it is a great escape from the larger cities, though the high altitude may have you reaching for a jacket instead of the sunscreen.
Both towns have hits and misses, Alex prefers Villa de Layva and I was more partial to Barichara. The best advice would be to hit up one or the other that fits best into your itinerary and then know that you got most of the experience of the other.
Posted on January 14, 2014
Our first full day in Colombia (and our FOUR YEAR anniversary!) was spent running all over Cartagena trying to legally enter the country with our motorcycles. Six o’clock came early, and Alex rolled over in her bed and gave her cheeriest “Good Morning Jesse!”, as he we sleeping in the bunk underneath me. He didn’t loose a step and replied back with his patented “Hey Buddy!”, as we all got up and got ready to get the bikes off the boat.A twenty minute walk landed us back on the Cartagena docks just as Captain Ludwig and crew were pulling off in their dingy. All safely back on board the Stahlratte, we loaded panniers and collected our gear, getting ready for the “floating dock” that was going to carry us to land. A little waiting around, and then all the sudden bikes were flying through the air and we were all magically on a piece of floating metal, one tip over and Alex would have been in the ocean as Ken’s massive GS1200 was right next to her.
All disasters avoided, we got the bikes on land, and Nico realized he had forgotten his keys back at the hostel. No big deal, Ken borrowed a rope from the crew, tied it around the GS1200 and off we went to Aduana (customs), no passports, no insurances, not legally in the country, just seven bikes, one being towed.
To condense the next seven hours, the fixer that the boat hired to help us through costumes was late, so we went back and forth from the hostel and didn’t get to leave Aduana until 12:30 (supposedly when lunch was happening), this confirmed to Alex and I that we can do the boarders just fine on our own. A quick stop back at the docks to get the rest of our panniers and gear and then off to buy insurance. It was a full day of bureaucracy (and here we thought it was going to be easy).
Finally done with our list of chores, we headed back to the hostel through the gritty grueling Cartagena traffic. Ken and Diana ride two up on a GS1200, and with all the gear they are as big as some of the taxis we have seen. A taxi kept trying to edge into Ken’s lane and and Ken finally showed him what he thought about that by landing his size 13 boot into the cabs door. Jesse and I looked on thinking that we might have a brawl on our hands in the middle of the street, our ragtag ‘biker gang’ versus the taxis of Cartagena. Luckily it didn’t come to that and we all got back to the hostel without harm, no worse for the wear.
Our last day in Cartagena we all went on a walking tour of the city, before Jesse and I split off to do some motorcycle supply shopping. The rest of the day was filled with bike maintenance, chain cleaning, and laughs, with a little bitter sweet realization that we would be parting ways soon. A fellow traveler had shown the group a picture of a BLT earlier in the day, and Alex spearheaded our last meal together. We had a BLT party, real comfort food for a group of weary road warriors.
The next day saw bags packed, bikes loaded, and handshakes all around. We all had to get out of Cartagena, so five bikes, minus Nico, rode through the packed streets desperately trying to escape the city before the heat got out of control and the traffic started. Accomplishing neither of these goals, we finally got out one very long hour later.
After escaping the city limits of Cartagena we stopped at a roadside restaurant for one last meal together before the 5 remaining bikes split into two.
Ken, Diana, and Taylor were off to Medellín, but Jesse mentioned he was up for taking the alternate route with us to Bucaramanga (an Instagram follower mentioned that the roads around Bucaramanga have some of the best scenery in Colombia, but more on that later) and we soon split off, Jesse leading the way as he has GPS.
Two long days of riding followed, as our trio headed to Bucaramanga. The landscape was unimpressive compared to what we have ridden through in the past, and some close calls with gas (literally drove through a town where all the gas is sold by people from gallon jugs) were the mainstays of the riding. The one noteworthy part of the ride was that Alex and I have now earned our truck passing badges, as we passed at least a hundred trucks on our way to the city.
Jesse commented, in between drags off his cigarette, that:
“You know when you think about it — a lot of what we are doing is legitimately dangerous”
To us it is just another day on the road.
We finally made it to Bucaramanga just as the last rays of light crested the mountains and found a safe place for the bikes and ourselves. Exhausted from days ride, we grabbed a quick bite and then headed to bed (Alex and I without showers- oh our poor dorm mates). The next day Alex and I were headed for San Gil and Jesse was rolling out to a hostel owned by some friends he met in Medellín. We shook hands with our final travel companion and watched him take off on his DR650.In a lot of ways this has been a trip of goodbyes just as much as of beginnings. We have had to say goodbye to family, friends, places, hostels, always on road to new beginnings. I know it is cheesy, but I don’t care, there is a lyric from the song ‘Closing Time’ by Semisonic “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end” and I thought about that when Alex and I hit the road, AutopistaEnd once again.
Not knowing what to expect heading to San Gil, and only knowing it by suggestion, we headed into a deep valley. Expecting to see trees and foliage we were shocked when the landscape turned arid, spotted with cactus that reminded us of Mexico.
Then we were suddenly in the middle of what I can only describe as the Grand Canyon of Colombia. We climbed and climbed, zigzagging through the canyon, trying to avoid the trucks as we took in the picturesque scenery. Alex and I both agree that it ended up being one of the top five rides of the trip thus far, so we are very thankful for the suggestion that came from our instagram follower!
Now in San Gil, recharging the batteries and getting ready for more adventures and friends to come.
To everyone we have meet along the way, we are richer for it.