Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Day 35 - Bogotá to Zipaquirá and beyond

RobC:  We received some questions asking why we shipped the bikes and took a plane from Panama to Colombia. This is because of the infamous Darien Gap, a swampy, alligator and drug trafficker-infested area, which once upon a time was going to have a road (less than 100 miles is lacking), but it has never been built. Courageous people on foot and by bicycle, and even by motorcycle, have made it across the gap in canoes and wading through the mud, but we opted to fly across, as most people do. Another way would have been by boat, but there is no regular ferry service. The Australian fellow we met on the road opted to wait 5 days in Panama for a boat ride through the San Blas Islands and land in Baranquilla or Cartagena on the Atlantic coast of Colombia, 4 or 5 days later. There are quite a few horror stories about these boat rides, from salt-eaten bikes to no food to eat, to being dropped off at a beach somewhere with no customs or importation facilities, as many of these sailing vessels are run by smugglers.

We also forgot to mention that the problem with my motorcycle in Bogota was quickly remedied after a Skype call to our friend Hank (of MotoHank) in Dilley Texas, who was quite sure that one of the throttle cables had been pulled out of its tip housing when I lifted the tank to unhook and reconnect the battery. Problem solved, bike purrs like a kitten; thanks Hank! And what would we do without Skype?

RobT:  Today we picked up our bikes from storage at the car wash and, yes, we had them cleaned as well. They came back in showroom condition. 

Spotless bike!!  RobC was so proud.  Little did we know what we were in for later that day.

The guy at the reception desk of our hotel showed us a nice place we could stay at in Villa de Leyva.  Cool.  Looking forward to a gorgeous colonial town and nice spot to stay.  Loaded the bikes and headed for the BMW dealership in  Bogota, where we knew they had a taller windscreen for me, as I was done with the ATV skid plate I had managed to turn into a wind screen extension together with our friend Carter in Costa Rica. The noise and helmet vibration were too much. At the BMW dealership we found out the the prices in Colombia are quite steep!! 

RobC:  We met a couple of interesting 1200 GS owners at the BMW dealer. Miguel had wide experience traveling to other South American countries, and Henry, who had just finished a 3500 km ride in Colombia with friends. Henry is a freight forwarder and we may be asking for his services when it comes time to ship our bikes from Brazil or Argentina to South Africa. It is always great to see how motorcyclists help each other in any way they can. Both of these guys were sorry we were leaving Bogota already, but we have to press on.

RobT:  After finishing at the BMW dealer we rode for an hour through pouring rain into a little town where the Salt Cathedral we heard and read about is located and found a nice spot for lunch which consisted of large chunks of beef and pork cooked over wood coals.  The meat was served with some boiled yuca (manioc) and salt-covered potato, as well as fried plantain.  Nope, no greens.  This was definitely not a stop for a vegetarian.

The photo above was of the church in the town of Zipaquirá, not the Salt Cathedral.

The "Catedral de Sal de Zipaquirá" was AMAZING!  This is a huge church, built within the tunnels of a salt mine 200 meters (600 feet) underground.  It is actually a functioning church which receives more than 3000 visitors on a Sunday.  The mines were exploited by the pre-Colombian Muisca culture since the 5th century BC.  In 1950, construction started on the Salt Cathedral and it was inaugurated in 1954.  Part of the galleries were actually carved by the ancient Muisca.  Since the Cathedral was constructed in an active mine, there were safety concerns which shut it down in 1990.  In 1991, a new Cathedral was constructed 200 feet below the old one.  Here are some photos of this fascinating place.

RobC in one of the 14 chapels representing the stations of the cross.

A beautifully lit dome.

The water in the "baptismal font" was extremely salty ...composed of drops of water falling down from the ceiling, heated by a fluorescent light

Stairs down to the main nave.

Main nave viewed from a balcony.

Closer view.

One of the 6 main columns in one of the three large naves.

A small "tunnel" connecting two different naves.  Yeah, that's me, RobT.

On to Villa de Leyva which was supposed to be a 2 hr ride on a nice road, right?  Our GPS gave us the shortest route which, as it turns out was not the best route.  We figured we would end up riding in the dark but on nice roads. Right?

Wrong,  pouring rain, night time, potholes, rock/dirt gravel, some dilapidated asphalt and 10 degrees Celsius (50 F).  We only had 55 km (35 miles) to go, but we could only travel at 30 to 40 kph.  Got so bad we stopped in a grimy coal mining town in the mountains as both our GPSs were throwing up their hands.  We rode past our turn off since RobC

I took us back to the truck stop but not before we did a tour of the town due to one way streets.  Rob lead us through Bogota twice down the wrong way on a one way street and three times through red light, so I didn’t feel bad about leading him down a pedestrian walk and a flight of stairs to get where we were going.  LOL
Hotel above the truck garage. Room with a view.  At least we had a good view of the bikes, which by the way were no longer clean and were covered on local coal dust, mixed with mud.

View from our balcony.  No doors on the garage.  Everything was open.  The gas pumps were just beyond the wet pavement at the top of the photo.  Hung our gear to dry and hoped to get some good info on the roads for the next day.

RobC:  We actually had quite a good night's rest, as there was no Internet and for the first time we did not share a room and had individual rooms with a nice, queen-sized bed. Fortunately we had lots of blankets since there was no heater of any type.


  1. Thanks for explaining the part about shipping your bikes. My parents had said something about there not being road the whole way, but didn't know specifically. With all the dirt, mud, coal, and sweat your riding gear must be quite aromatic by now!

  2. RT and RobC,

    Just finished spending an hour or so getting caught up on your adventures and am knocked out at some of the things you've seen and done. You guys are truly fortunate to be able to do this trip.

    Have fun and ride safe,

  3. Hi Phyllis,

    We take time to wash clothes from time to time, even the riding gear, but to tell you the truth we have been looking for a small-sized bottle of Fabreeze. :-)

  4. The photos of the salt mine cathedral are amazing! What an experience that must have been. So that tunnel between naves....that's gotta be what, 3ft high judging by Robbie standing there ;)

    Stairs? STAIRS? *rolls eyes* I've ridden a little with Robbie....but seriously....STAIRS? LOL!