Prepping for a year out of the country, Sarah and I considered what is most dear to us, recreationally. Sarah readily embraces her stand-up paddleboard (SUP), an inflatable model that can support two adults and a mid-sized dog. Dear to me is a bicycle, of any sort, but most especially one suited for off-road terrain. A bicycle also serves as redundant transportation, in a way, if we were unwilling (or unable) to move our vehicles. Top of the list, then, were added one paddleboard and three mountain bikes.
But which bike? The knee-jerk reaction is “My favorite one!” Then, however comes the realization that your favorite steed will be subjected to the elements for close to a year, draw the eye of those looking to remove you of your bicycle, and quite possibly be damaged while it is on the vehicle (either due to a collision or bikes clacking against each other on or off-road) not to mention being subjected to the dirt and grime from driving nearly 12,000 miles. My faithful Ibis mojo 3, my absolute favorite bike to ride, was quickly dismissed, as the bike is just too nice to abuse and too attractive for theives.
After further weighing these considerations, the obvious next choice was my old Ibis tranny. The frame had been damaged in a crash (what better bike to take than one that had been previously damaged?) and I had a slew of mid-level parts for it, plus a wonderfully wide wheelset that gleefully soaks up washboard. As the immense pressure of preparing two vehicles for a year out of the country came bearing down upon us, however, the feasibility of completing another relatively complex repair and rebuild side project quickly fell to the bottom of the list. Not to mention that the lively orange paint would attract a lot of attention.
Amongst the turbulence of our imminent departure, my eye settled on my covid-era mountain bike: made by Giant, this bike was conceived to go fast, world-cup fast, by riders a lot younger than me. And as mentioned, it was my covid-era mountain bike. A bike purchased when frame repair was backlogged for months and such a crushing demand existed for new bicycles that you had to take what you could find. It was in those times that I found this Giant.
And while stupid expensive and not made for idly touring another country, this mostly black frame and components (with splashes of dark blue) and super-subtle labels does not draw any attention. The proof of this being that, after two months driving around Argentina, I have yet to receive a single question about it. Perfect.
Track our ship by going to http://vesselfinder.com/ and searching for “Tempanos” in the ship search field. You will be able to track our ship all the way the Buenos Aires, Argentina! Currently, scheduled to arrive October 14th, 2022. Flying under the flag of Liberia.
So, you are planning on driving in Columbia! It is possible but it may not be for everyone. Our family rented a car in Bogota and we have been driving to sights of interests with our children and dog. Here are our observations.
If just arriving in Columbia, pick a couple busy street corners to watch traffic patterns. Watch how drivers behave when the streets are congested and when the streets are clear. How do they avoid bikes, pedestrians, other cars, buses, Semis? Do this before you drive, especially in a bigger city.
Remember, the Columbian drivers are driving correctly and it is you, the American, who will need to change to survive your trip without accident.
So, how do you drive in the multiuser roads of Columbia? One Columbian friend said drivers in Columbia are always alert, you can’t use cruise control. You need a foot ready for a brake at any moment. In general, bikes, pedestrians, dogs and horses are going to keep their path of travel with a gentle swerve to avoid being hit by your vehicle. You, too, will give a few inches so passing is safe.
Motorbikes move around you like rivulets. Motorcycles will fill any gap in traffic on your right, left, on your bumper, and you will be jealous of motorbikes in traffic jams. Motorcycles sometimes travel in packs on highways to help signaling the time for safe passing around cars and trucks. Sadly, the one fatality we witnessed was of a motorcyclist in the highway so, the impression that motorcycles always know what they are doing can be wrong. As a driver of a car you must always be alert to the possibility that a motorcycle is close.
Turning into traffic: you need to see the flow of vehicles like a river. As soon as the current slows, you join the river. In the States, you might wait for complete permission to merge by someone stopping or moving over. That’s just not going to happen in Columbia. It only takes once waiting to merge like an American to know you can’t go anywhere like that. You can trust that other drivers do see you and expect you to make a move to merge after you have made your intentions clear by signaling and moving in the direction you want to turn. It’s not aggressive, just join the flow.
Passing on the highway: The slowest vehicles on the highway are the Semis. A left turn signal when you are behind a large truck on the highway means it’s probably safe to pass. The truck driver needs to know you are wanting to pass by seeing you in his mirror. If you do not take the opportunity, the driver behind you will likely grab it. Or, also you may get honked at as if to, “What are you doing? Idiot?” The motorcycles below might pass the smaller bus if the smaller bus doesn’t make his move to pass when signaled.
We took toll roads when traveling longer distances between cities. Tolls ranged from 10,000 COP to 13,500 COP. It’s not essential to have exact change but it’s smart to have smaller bills and coins to make change easier. We didn’t see a credit option, so bring your cash.
Navigating: If you are using Google to navigate Columbia, you are in good hands with a few exceptions. When navigating to smaller towns, ask a local which road to take into town. Google maps will send you up crazy roughs roads that fool Google as drive-able because motorcyclists with phones pass over them quickly and drive the data to appear safe.
Also, Google maps time estimates are very optimistic even on highways. We learned to double the travel time due to accidents, rough roads, toll booth slow downs, construction and other more random events. All that being said, the highways are really nice except for the sudden deep potholes. Again, Columbia is no place for cruise control.
If you have the experience of driving at night, perhaps because you trusted Google’s travel estimate, you will find no lights on smaller roads. So, if driving small mountain roads at night, it’s good to try to stick to the back of a commuter bus like the red one below. If you do, you will have better vision around corners and will go faster. Also, traffic coming the other way stops for the bus on narrow passes. You will be amazed at how nimble these buses are through rough roads and sharp curves.
So, yes, it’s possible to drive all over Columbia. It takes a driver who can be alert at all times and a second person to navigate. In our case, it sometimes took 2 people finding better routes on Google and one driver making as much time as possible. So, plan well and go enjoy!