31 Colombia, Venezuel

COLOMBIA. (1st time)                                                                      December 2006

Beware of the FARC and bandits!

This was how we had been warned. Therefore it was with trepidation that we entered Colombia. The sand ladders were over Dipli’s back windows. The grids covered the front side-windows. The PC, Sat. phone and other valuables were packed really “deep” and we hid some dollar notes, travellers’ cheques and a credit card superficially, as decoy in case of armed robbery. We made sure of stopping for the night long before dark (usually at filling stations).

All bikers have to wear a jacket or a vest with their motor bike registration numbers printed on their backs and on the rear of their helmets, which may not cover the face. The easier to be identified in case of crime (often assassination of gang enemies).

Along the main road, armed police and soldiers were frequently posted and soldiers were guarding all the bridges. When Dipli had to cool down on a steep incline, uniformed guards approached and… shared a cool drink and a sandwich with us. At road blocks we were seldom asked for our documents when they realised that we were from far away. They told us that they safeguard the main roads but think that there is no solution to the guerrilla war and drug cartels.

 

The cyclist, descendant of previous president Mosquera:

We reached Popayán late afternoon. Even with the GPS coordinates, we failed to locate a recommended sports club for safe camping. A pedal biker came by. He was a vet and had worked in the U.S. At his behest, we followed him (battling to keep up) to his apartment complex where, having dodged the Christmas decorations, we were in a safe haven.

The next day, in his 4-wheel drive Subaru car, we went to see the beautiful old buildings of Popayán. One house was a museum: Casa Mosquera. It had been the home of our friend’s great great grandfather, 4-times president of Colombia (1845-1867). The presidential farm was still in the hands of the family. We drove out to meet them and to see the historical homestead. They keep cows on the steep green slopes. Milking takes place in the fields and horses bring the cans of milk down.

Coffee is good in Colombia – one of the world’s largest producers. We saw red berries on trees and learned at the ‘Parque Nacional de Café’ that from seed germinations to harvesting, takes two years. 1 tree produces about 1,2kg of coffee per annum. Colombia also exports minerals and other agricultural crops like sugar, bananas and flowers – especially carnations. Illegal exports include large quantities of cocaine, marijuana and now also heroine. Colombia’s emeralds are the finest but we did not know how to tell the difference from synthetic ones and did not dare to buy.

We had visited the archaeological sights before, so did not go again on these “risky”? routes. (San Augustin; Tierra Dentro)

 

Bogotá

We eventually succeeded in finding a rather scruffy but 24-hour guarded parking lot. It was centrally located in the old centre near restaurants serving “ajaico”, the tasty chunky chicken and corn soup and maize pancakes called “arepas”. We could walk to the amazing Gold museum with 34 thousand gold pieces from the pre-Hispanic cultures. (Vases, statuettes, head dresses, masks, ear rings, breast plates, bracelets, etc)

The huge Salt-cathedral at Zipaquira is built in mining tunnels deep under ground. We were feeling quite safe on our route in Colombia and went to see the historical buildings at Tunja and Villa de Leyva, where we also found a real campsite with green grass and all the facilities.

 

Tiff with a taxi

In heavy merging traffic in Bucaramanga a taxi got his fender stuck on Dipli’s wheel step-ring. We blocked the traffic till the police came and confirmed what Jan had alleged – that he had smacked into Dipli when he tried to cut in front of us. The senior officer forgot all about regulating the traffic and posed to be photographed with us. Due to the delay we had to drive in the dark and the mist. But it was our last mountain pass and we were done with the Andes at last! (Diesel US$0,60/ℓ). For now, we were also finished with the Colombian road tolls: $56 for 1500km; compared with Ecuador: $8 for 1300km and Venezuela: $0.50c for 2200km!

 

VENEZUELA (1st time)                                                                      December 2006

It was a complicated business to cross the Colombia/Venezuela border. On both sides the paper work had to be done in different offices away from the border, i.e. having an inked imprint of the number stamped on the chassis taken before obtaining a release to leave Colombia with Dipli.

We were hot and bothered and lost in San Cristobal, Venezuela. Someone called from two lanes away and eventually led us to the supermarket we were searching for. He was in a Toyota Land Cruiser and was a member of an off-road club. At his home, inside and outside beautifully adorned with Christmas decorations and lights – even the kitchen and bath room - we were introduced to many small bottles of frosty cold Polar Ice beer. Once again we socialised a whole evening in our very broken Spanish.

 

Cheapest Diesel!

The next morning we had to buy diesel.  It cost only 2c U.S. a litre (About 14c SA!). Petrol: 3c and unleaded 4c U.S.  We knew then why there were so many old American gas-guzzlers on the roads of Venezuela.

We were travelling through the flat “Llanos” of south west Venezuela. There were many bridges to cross and we saw ponds with water birds, including scarlet ibis.

At Ciudad Bolivar we arranged to fly to and over Angel Falls. We landed in the remote Canaima National Park. The promised morning flight never took place. However, it was still thrilling, during the return flight, to see the highest water fall in the world (979 m) though be it through afternoon clouds.

After crossing the mighty Orinoco River we reached the lovely cool empty “Gran Sabana”. Characteristic of this grassy plato are scores of waterfalls and the large abrupt table top mountains. One of these “tepuys” is Mount Roraima, which featured in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Lost world”. Approximately 5000 people climb Roraima each year. It sits on the border of Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana. We were driving towards Guyana through northern Brazil via Boa Vista.  (Diesel US$1,00/ℓ).
 
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