Over the Darien Gap

Having decided to fly both ourselves and the motorbikes over the Darien Gap we must make our way to Medellin airport to prepare the bikes for shipment. Early morning traffic is reasonably light and apart from the potholes and constant stream of motorbikes lane splitting, something we cannot undertake with our panniers, we steadily make our way out of Bogota, which we have enjoyed.

As we make our first descent, roadworks, mostly aimed as shoring up the mountainside, are in progress, at one point the stop/go sign holder walks ahead of us moving the road cones back, pursued by a gaggle of motorcyclists who have filtered to the front of the queue.

Waiting on the lollypop man.

Waiting on the lollypop man.

It is interesting how, in many countries where small motorbikes are commonplace, filtering between lanes is normal and acceptable, especially when the traffic is stopped or slow moving. This allows the benefits of being a motorbike rider in the community to be enhanced. In the western world, this practice, as a general rule, is frowned upon or illegal. This reminds me of that experiment of filling a glass jar with large stones and asking the audience if it is full, then adding small rocks, gravel and finally water and each time asking the audience if the jar is full. The motorbikes are the sand in my mind.

Highway down the Rio Negro valley.

Highway down the Rio Negro valley.

A new double lane highway runs up the valley of the river Negro, beautifully cambered and sparsely trafficked, a pleasure to ride. We will miss these types of open uninhabited roads we have found in South America. I am certain that Central America will not offer the same opportunities.

We all like to think of ourselves as adventure riders, but occasionally we come across a real adventure rider. This man daily takes on the challenge of delivering up to 1 meter high stack of eggs to his customers on the roads and tracks around the town of Pueto Salgar.

Scrambled eggs anyone?

Scrambled eggs anyone?

This is a real adventure rider, not the pale imitation that I am. We watch him ride out navigating the truck park, potholes and small lakes masquerading as puddles with his load of eggs. Back to safe tarmac for me.

We decided to do the journey from Medelling to Bogota over a couple of days and stop over for the night just past Puerto Triunfo. Anne chose the standard room with fan – not realising this meant cold shower only.

Just a cold stream of water called a shower

Just a cold stream of water called a shower

Before shipping the motorbikes, we need to give them a clean. It is surprising how dirty they get, especially after the odd rain shower We have noticed in the mountainous areas, near fast flowing streams and rivers for an endless supply of free water, truck cleaning facilities. Here the trucks are made sparkling clean and we probably see more than half the businesses occupied at any one time. We find one unused, and are allowed by the bemused operators to clean our bikes.

Roadside cleaning, just a little more dirt to remove.

Roadside cleaning, just a little more dirt to remove.

All clean at the truck wash.

All clean at the truck wash.

The rest of our journey to Medellin is uneventful and pleasant, apart from the mud puddle across the road, that even at a few kilometres an hour negates the recent cleaning activity!  We met our shipper, Dora, all our paperwork is ready for signing.

Tomorrow is Anne’s Birthday. Anne will cover her Birthday in a separate blog………….

We ride our bikes to the airport and into the Cargo area to be confronted by the first challenge of the day. The only way onto the loading dock is to ride up a short flight of stairs! Err no not for us –  while I think I understand the physics and we are told Kristjian made it up last week, we both decide that the mechanic can do it, we don’t take risks unnecessarily. We lighten the bikes and up the mechanic goes over a few steps, ABS kicking in on the loading dock surface.

The first work to be undertaken is to remove excess fuel from the tanks. The mechanic who has ridden the bikes up the pallets and stairs tries unsuccessfully with the old syphon via a hose. This works as well for him as it did for me yesterday, not at all! Apart from the taste of fuel and a lung full of fumes, we both achieved nothing. I am able to show him how to remove the fuel pump and filter unit, based on our experiences with Anne’s bike in Myanmar. Maybe restoring some street cred after not riding the motorbikes up the stairs, probably not.

Streak and Storm stripped down for Custom's inspection

Streak and Storm stripped down for Customs’ inspection

After the mechanic removes the side panels of the motorbikes, the drug dog and his handler appear and check out the motorbikes for drugs. Another officer, who spoke English had checked our panniers and bags and helpfully repacked the panniers, another friendly and helpful Columbian.

Drug sniffing dog at work checking our motorbikes

Drug sniffing dog at work checking our motorbikes

All clear, paperwork signed off and the bikes can be reassembled. In three hours since we arrived, we are all done and the motorbikes are wrapped in plastic wrap. Why did we not wrap the motorbikes when we started the trip to keep then clean? Possibly not too easy to ride.

Well wrapped up!

Well wrapped up!

We just need to get the motorbikes up onto the loading dock, so more pallets and muscle power and the motorbikes are ready to be loaded onto a cargo plane on Saturday. We will see them again in Panama City on Monday.

Getting the motorbikes up onto the departure bay

Getting the motorbikes up onto the departure bay

We return to the shipping company to make payment, and Dora, our contact, invites us join her for lunch. We are joined by her colleagues including her son Julian, who has been our English translator during the shipping process, the other three turn out to be Dora’s husband William, his brother Fernando and her brother Felipe. It’s a real family run business.  (Our Visas and Borders section will have information on Dora’s company Master Logistic and other useful shipping contacts soon)

 

Jullian, Felipe, William, Dora amd Fernando

Jullian, Felipe, William, Dora amd Fernando

We have a regional speciality for lunch, Bandeja Paisa, which with the great company perfectly rounds off our stay in Medellin.

A small ' Bandeja paisa' a local Antioquia district dish

A small ‘ Bandeja paisa’ a local Antioquia district dish

Our first flight is interesting, the distance between Medellin and Bogota is only some 200km away by air. Flight time is about 30 minutes, by road it is a minimum of 9 hours! It took us 11 hours. We had seen few buses between the two cities, most people travel by air with flights every 20-30 minutes. Having done both ways, air is definitely the quickest and easiest.

We depart Columbia having enjoyed the country and its people immensely. Columbia goes on our shortlist of counties we have high on our list of places to return to.  Panama and Central America await us.

– Anthony

12 comments on “Over the Darien Gap

  1. Well those experiences had me giggling ! Love the cold shower. Bikes are all good to go -plastic wrap could have left you in a spot of trouble – not just a sore foot . Take care and look forward to your next blog !xxx

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  2. Good call on letting the mechanic ride the stairs! Would not have put freight and stairs in the same sentence. Your skills with bike components continue to be put to great use & who would have thought plastic wrap for shipping a bike… Hope your trusty steads travelled well! xx

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  3. The egg deliverer took me back to Al1’s experience at the egg farm …
    Riding a bike DOWN steps might just be feasible, but UP?? Bon vol to Panama xx

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