Day 48 – Tunja, Colombia

It wasn´t my day for the flight from Panama City to Bogota.  First, I was a few kilograms over the weight limit, so Copa Airlines charged me a flat rate of $50 extra.  It was a mistake to take the pelis off the bike.  I don´t think leaving them on would have changed the cargo price at all.

The extra $50 pushed the ticket price over $300 as I had paid $254 online already.  By the time we got to security we were already running late – it was 20 minutes to the scheduled departure time.  Unfortunately I had forgotten to move my Swiss Army knife from my Camelbak to one of my checked bags and security found it.  When I went back to the Copa counter to check it, they told me it would cost another $50 for me to send an extra piece of “luggage”.  I had paid $45 for the knife in Toronto, so it may have been worth it, but I was starting to think I may miss my flight.  I tried to give the knife to a random kid in the airport, but he didn´t understand what I was saying.  Instead, I ended up giving it to one of the security guards.  To make everything worse, I had a caffeine-withdrawal headache coming on because we had been so rushed getting to the airport that I hadn´t even had time for a morning coffee.

The flight was a pleasant 1 hour 27 minutes with a snack and drinks provided.  Mmmmm caffeine.  Things were looking up.  But when we landed in Bogota, I discovered that they had lost my duffel bag.  I was told that hopefully it would arrive on one of the remaining 4 flights scheduled to arrive from Panama that day.  The next flight was supposed to arrive in about an hour and a half.  We decided to eat lunch in the airport and wait for the flight to come in.

Later when I went back to the Copa desk to check on my bag (without much success because no one spoke English) I ran into a husband and wife who were fellow motorcycle adventurists.  They were from Brazil and were traveling from Ushuaia, Argentina to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska two-up on a Yamaha.  They were waiting for a flight to Panama.  After discussing our respective adventures for awhile, they informed me that the Dian (where we needed to get our temporary vehicle import permits) would close at 5, and that we couldn´t leave the airport on our motorcycles until we had the required paperwork.

It ended up taking several hours to get the paperwork finished and the bikes unpacked.  They brought the bikes into the warehouse on a forklift.  When they lowered the pallet, they managed to knock our bikes over.  The crew was incredibly friendly, and before long they were joking around with us, despite the language barriers.  I think they were offering some of their female coworkers as guides to show us around Bogato from the back of our bikes.

The helped me change a bolt on my luggage rack that would no longer tighten, even offering to put some welds on the rack if it was needed.  Luckily it was not.  One of the workers, Edouard, who had been helping us spoke excellent English.  His shift was over just as we were ready to leave, and he offered to take us to a nearby gas station where we could refuel.  We pushed our bikes the equivalent of a couple of blocks.  After gassing up, I asked Edouard how to get to a hotel that had been recommended by the Brazilian couple I had met in the airport.  Just as he was explaining us, his coworker, Levys, came over to say hello. 

Before long, we had been invited to Levys´ house for the night.  It started when he asked us how much the hotel was.  I said $60 (according to the Brazilian couple Bogota is expensive – most are around $100).  He laughed and said that for $40 we could stay at his house.  After Edouard helped me get my bag at the airport (my bag might still be there without a translator), we all went to Levys house (except Levys who had to work until 10 PM) and were greeted by his wife, Rosio.  Rosio prepared supper for us, and despite her limited English and our muy pocito espanol, we managed to have a good conversation.

In the morning, Levys cooked us breakfast (eggs, bread, and cocao) before we went shopping for a new spark plug for Rosa.  We found a couple of blocks from Levys´s house.  Once the new plug was installed, Levys took our bikes for a spin.  Initially he had been the most impressed with my KLR because big Kawasakis are a rarity in Colombia whereas Suzukis are everywhere.  However, although it pains me to admit it, after riding both our bikes he switched his allegiance.  Bah.  Just try sitting on that seat for more than 20 minutes.

Our plan had been to go to Medellin.  Obviously that didn´t happen because we´re in Tunja, which is to the northeast of Bogota, whereas Medellin is to the northwest.  We tried for hours to get out of Bogota and find the road to Medellin.  I must have stopped to ask for directions a half a dozen times.  The traffic patterns were bizarre.  Broad avenues 8 lanes wide would suddenly end and you had to choose left or right, and there was no way to avoid being thrust into a maze of narrow traffic-choked streets.  After sitting in a traffic jam for about half an hour, we finally saw a sign for Medellin.  We followed the arrow, and soon were lost in another maze.

I stopped to ask directions yet again, and the gas attendant said we should go to Tunja instead.  Apparently we were already on the road.  Since it was getting late (after 3:00 PM) and Tunja was only about 110 kms away, we decided to change our plans and go to Tunja because by then we would not have made it to Medellin in the daylight anyway (it gets dark around 6:00 PM and Medellin is about 7 hours from Bogota).  I still had to ask directions twice more because, yet again, the major road we were on ended suddenly and we were on a dirt road.  After sitting through one more jam, we had one more hurdle.  We were stopped by the police for not wearing a reflectiva.  This is a reflective vest that all motorcyclists are required to wear in Colombia.  In Bogota, all riders must have their license plate number tattooed on their vest.  Of course we didn´t have reflectivas, but I explained that reflectivas were not necessary for tourists (which may actually be true).  Eventually, they agreed with me and, after giving us more directions to Tunja, they sent us on our way.  We got to Tunja just as it was getting dark.

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