Bogota

A man looks out over Bogota Colombia from the Transferico cable car that gives tourists and locals a view of the city from the top of a nearby mountain. Photo: Alex Washburn

A man looks out over Bogota Colombia from the Transferico cable car that gives tourists and locals a view of the city from the top of a nearby mountain. Photo: Alex Washburn

Riding into Bogota, the capital of Columbia, was nothing like I expected. A few days earlier we had cruised into Bucaramanga, which you enter via mountain roads that give a view of the entire city as you crest them. This is what I expected when coming into Bogota, a city of 6.73 million people, but as Alex and I entered the city the limits, the city only slowly grew up around us.

In what reminded us of LA, and to a lesser extent Sacramento, Bogota is expansive, a main city built years ago that was expanded in the following decades. LA is 503 square miles, and Bogota is 613, which should give you an idea of how far it stretches. In a normal city the streets from north to south and east to west will be labeled Calle and Carrera, think street and avenue, and wont normally go past twenty or thirty. At the beginning of where Alex and I started we were at Calle 222, and we needed to get to Calle 9.

A group of tourists checks out a display at the Museo de Oro (Gold Museum) in downtown Bogota. Photo: Alex Washburn

A group of tourists checks out a display at the Museo de Oro (Gold Museum) in downtown Bogota. Photo: Alex Washburn

Bogota brings together quaint neighborhoods, dirty trash heaps, museums, universities, street vendors, and churches in a way few other capital cities we have visited do. In La Candelaria, where our hostel was located (side-note: Musicology Hostel is one of the best hostels we have stayed at on this trip. The staff are friendly, the vibe is chill, and you can park a motorcycle in the entrance!) is the historic old town, full of churches and museums. It has a smaller town feel, until you ascend the church on Monserrate and get a full view of the city and how far it reaches.

While there could be many associations with Bogota, the City of Museums should be one. Within a six block radius of our hostel, there were at least five museums, and probably more that I am not aware of. There is the Military Museum, the Botero Museum, but the most prominent would be the Gold museum, which show cases gold workings from all over Colombia and easily has over 6,000 pieces on display. It can get a little overwhelming by the end and there are three sold floors of exhibits to peruse, though I was told Pablo Escobar’s gold Harley Davidson would be there and was slightly disappointed when I didn’t see it.

Alex being a photojournalist wanted to go to Club Gallistico and take photos. Club Gallistico is one of the oldest cockfighting establishments in the city and she'll be doing a full post for that on her personal photoblog. Here a rooster waits to have fighting spurs attached to his feet. Photo: Alex Washburn

Alex being a photojournalist wanted to go to Club Gallistico and take photos. Club Gallistico is one of the oldest cockfighting establishments in the city and she’ll be doing a full post for that on her personal photoblog. Here a rooster waits to have fighting spurs attached to his feet. Photo: Alex Washburn

Bogota is located in a high plateau situated in the Andes mountain range, which means that it was a bit on the cold side even though it is middle of summer in South America. What helped to take the chill off was a local dish to the region, hot chocolate with cheese and bread with butter. We were a bit confused on how to eat the dish and ended up just dipping the cheese in the hot chocolate and nibbling on it only to find out later that you’re supposed to mix the cheese in and let it melt a little while you eat the bread and then drink the chocolate with the melted cheese inside of it.

As Alex mentioned in her previous post, there is a plethora of street food in Bogota, and many restaurants serving up traditional favorites such as Ajiaco (Colombian chicken soup) and tamals (think Mexican Tamales, but cooked in plantain leaves and considerably bigger with a softer form of masa). We weren’t left wanting once again for restaurants, but it is still hard to find good places among all the mediocrity, however asking locals and police officers never fails to produce results.

Bogota is so expansive you couldn’t ever explore all of it, from the historic downtown, to the more modern financial district (that has a building that at night would put Las Vegas to shame), to the outskirts with its apartments and neighborhoods. Alex and I enjoyed our time in Bogota, and thought it was the city that most surprised us thus far on the trip. Sure it is big and loud, like most capital cities, but there are treasures to be had if you put in the time to find them — and have a really great hostel to stay at!

We met up with a group of Colombian motorcyclists and went off-roading just outside of Colombia (details next post). Photo: Alex Washburn

Our last full day in Bogota we met up with a group of Colombian motorcyclists and went off-roading just outside of Bogota. Alex has a ton of bruises from the adventure (full post on the ride tomorrow). Photo: Alex Washburn

A.T.T.C.C.

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

The Cathedral of Barichara dates back to 1705 and seems to dwarf the tiny puebla on the hillside. Photo: Alex Washburn

The Cathedral of Barichara dates back to 1705 and seems to dwarf the tiny puebla on the hillside. Photo: Alex Washburn

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.

In Barichara you are always either walking up or down a hill. It creates lovely views from every street! Photo: Alex Washburn

In Barichara you are always either walking up or down a hill. It creates lovely views from every street! Photo: Alex Washburn


Barichara is built on a hill and as you climb your way to the top the views of the surrounding valley only intensify, no matter which street you look down. The citizens and local government has done a great job of keeping up the facades of the houses and there is a cohesive feeling between the buildings that you would expect from a great colonial town.
There are three churches in town, the largest being Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción, which is located in the main square of town. A couple of look out points on the west side gives great views of the valley, and the whole town can be traversed in under an hour at a lazy pace leaving plenty of time to sip a lemonada at one of the many mentioned cafes.
Sleepy, quite, and what you would want in a little getaway, though the lack of restaurants may leave you a little hungry at dinner time.

Villa de Leyva

The Plaza Mayor in Valle De Leyva is one of the biggest plazas in the America's. It's a huge open cobblestone square with a small fountain in the middle of it with a handful of eateries on its edges. Photo: Alex Washburn

The Plaza Mayor in Valle De Leyva is one of the biggest plazas in the Americas. It’s a huge open cobblestone square with a small fountain in the middle and a handful of eateries on its edges. Photo: Alex Washburn

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.

Villa De Leyva is full of people walking their dogs (some on leashes some not). It further adds to the quiet no-hurry atmosphere. Photo: Alex Washburn

Villa De Leyva is full of people walking their dogs (some on leashes some not). It further adds to the quiet no-hurry atmosphere. Photo: Alex Washburn

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.

Adventures in Colombia

Jesse was the last of our group to roll his bike out of our Cartagena Hostel and onto the street as we got ready to leave. Photo: Alex Washburn

Jesse was the last of our group to roll his bike out of our Cartagena Hostel and onto the street as we got ready to leave. Photo: Alex Washburn

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.

Alex nervously balances her bike on the floating dock that carried our six bikes from the Stahlratte to land in Cartagena. Photo: Alex Washburn

Alex nervously balances her bike on the floating dock that carried our six bikes from the Stahlratte to land in Cartagena. Photo: Nathaniel Chaney

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 mountains between Bucaramanga and San Gil Colombia are beautiful and the asphalt is perfect. Photo: Alex Washburn

The mountains between Bucaramanga and San Gil Colombia are beautiful and the asphalt is perfect. Photo: Alex Washburn

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.

Nathaniel had been wanting a haircut for weeks and we finally made it happen in San Gil. Photo: Alex Washburn

Nathaniel had been wanting a haircut for weeks and we finally made it happen in San Gil. Photo: Alex Washburn

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.

Why

Before we began planning Autopista End Nathaniel and I were already very well traveled. It was one of the things that first attracted us to one another.

Before we began planning Autopista End Nathaniel and I were already very well traveled. It was one of the things that first attracted us to one another. Before leaving on Autopista End Nathaniel had traveled 11 countries and I had traveled 24. (Photo: Alex Washburn)

Several Months ago Nathaniel and I were lying side by side staring at the ceiling of our nice apartment and mentally preparing to go back to our nice jobs the following day. Jobs- made possible by our nice college educations, stable lives and generally agreeable existence.

Despite all of this we had this overwhelming sense of being overwhelmed and sad. As I write this I realize it could be called bored housewife syndrome. There’s no particular thing that should be causing you to feel helpless or depressed but you do.

This is the ultimate #firstworldproblem.

Staring up into the dark Nathaniel inhaled a slightly deeper breath and in the form of a question said “We should just get some motorcycles and ride to Tierra Del Fuego.”

In our relationship and in life Nathaniel is very much an accountant and I am very much a photographer. When he is the one to come up with a nutty idea like taking up running, loosing insane amounts of weight or riding to Tierra Del Fuego there is no backstop for the idea to bounce off of. The idea just keeps going.

I laid there thinking… I inhaled deeply a few times to respond with “But we…” and realized there was no truly logical reason why we couldn’t make this happen.

We could afford it.
I speak spanish.
Our apartment was month to month.
My Mom could watch the cat.

“Yeah, okay. We can do that.” And we went to sleep.

The next day I presented Nathaniel with a logical departure date based on weather patterns and life events and a list of entry requirements for every South American country. I began bombarding him with travel concerns and logistics and his wide-eyed look usually reserved for my most frustrating and insane plans started to get bigger and bigger.

We had to have at least one more discussion about the trip before that look of his disappeared but it really didn’t take that long.

After our decision was truly made the path to actually leaving was made up of a relatively basic but long check list.

First: We needed motorcycles.