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12 days after our arrival in Bogota and 8 days after landing at the Rafael Nunez airport in Cartagena, we are leaving the Bolivar department by riding our sidecars towards Pamplona, next to the Venezuelan border.
The journey has been full of experiences and deserve a few lines!
First, as soon as we left the port we needed to find some petrol. It can be an easy task but at the first service station we didn’t expect to see the prices in COP per gallon (COP = Colombian Pesos) rather than in COP per litre. It’s around 9,000COP/Gallon which means 1€/litre. The second new thing is that a petrol pump attendant will full your vehicle. Always kind people, they often asked us many questions about our trip and some of them will ask to take some photos.
We haven’t had any issue to find a service station later during our trip as there are usually no more than 40kms between two service stations.
During the first kilometres, we also needed to get familiar with the signs. Excepting the one for the full and low beams, most of the signs are similar to the European ones. We just needed to do some researches for the signs with Spanish wording such as the ones for roadworks and second itineraries.
The speed limits are less high compared to the French ones, particularly the highways as the speed limit is 100km/h. However, for locals this speed limit seems only informative! Wearing helmets and suitable clothing doesn’t seem to be an obligation either for Colombians. The most surprising is to see 6 people in a car or a family of 4 people on a motorbike, which is actually something usual for them.
The roads that we used are mainly the major roads. These ones also named “autopista” are very different compared to the quality of the French ones. First, because the highway is not necessarily a four-lane motorway. Plus, usually these roads cross villages. In addition, the quality of the road surface is not that great. We often needed to slalom between the potholes in spite of the several roadworks. Patience is key here as sometimes the road can be closed for 30mins.
The road construction is financed by the Colombian government. Their maintenance, safety and first aids are hold by private concessionaires.
These concessionaires are financed by the tolls they are installing. However, the tolls are free for the motorbikes. To avoid paying, motorbikes need to take a narrow path on the right hand side. With our three wheels, it has not been always easy to go through! When it’s not possible, we needed to negotiate with the agent to open the gate which sometimes was starting an alarm.
During this first trip, we realised how much mountains there are in this country. The North of the Andes Mountains offers beautiful landscapes and nice zigzags. We enjoyed going in the curves and changing of speed until getting stuck behind a « tractomula », these big trucks with an American design bringing containers on the top of the summit at less than 20km/h.
The road is highly frequented by trucks. For cars, we have been impressed by how famous is the Renault French brand in the country, as much as brand new cars and old cars. This notoriety is justified by the presence of a Renault factory in Medellín.
In Colombia, the queen on the road is the motorbike with preferably a small engine capacity. They can go up any steep road and go in the narrow roads when there are a lot of traffic. This choice for the 2 wheels reinforced their curiosity for our sidecars when they saw us. For them, these vehicles exist only in the historic movies about the 2nd World War.
Bicycles are also famous in Colombia. We were impressed by the numbers of bicycles and their quality. Once arrived on the secondary roads, the passion for pedaling is still there. Many bikers wear the official top of professional teams while going up summits of the Andes, and some of the youngest might be one of the competitors pedalling one day on the French Alpes summits.
Bicycles are also famous in Colombia. We were impressed by the numbers of bikes and their quality. Once arrived on the secondary roads, the passion for pedaling is still there. Many bikers wear the official top of professional teams while going up summits of the Andes, and some of the youngest might be one of the competitors pedaling on the French Alpes summits.
The main roads in Colombia are economic stakes in the villages and cities they cross. Each beginning of village is signaled with a speed bump. At each one, there are vendors to offer cold drinks, fruits and snacks to drivers of cars and trucks.
The second symbol of these villages crossed by highways is the presence of many restaurants. We do not know if this is to attract customers or if it’s to be heard over the neighbour’s music but for sure their speakers make latino music with a loudly volume.
It’s not rare to see on main roads some painted marks to signalise schools while there is no sign of a village around. For most of the villages in the mountains or at the bottom of the valley, schools have been built near the only closest main road.
On the road, there are many control points. Usually, policemen are checking the vehicle documents. We had barely a couple of « serious » checks by the police. Usually, they asked us to stop to learn more details about the Ural sidecars. The inspection ends with a photoshoot and a nice hand check.
This trip in side-cars allow us as well to enjoy odours. This is usually the smell of the fresh cut grass by the concessionaire agent, rain on the tarmac in mountains, or the sugar cane just harvested. But it’s also the smell of petrol and exhaust when we become closer to urban areas!
After a few days on the road, we had our first habits. Journey of about 150kms with a change of rider half way through. We spend an average of 4 hours per day to ride. The passenger in the side indicate the directions with the sat nav applications such as “Maps.Me” or “Here” depending on the preferences of each one. The passenger enjoys the road, takes sometimes a few photos and progresses on the writing of blog articles!
Both teams can communicate by walkie-talkies, used for the necessity of petrol or a break.
This is with these words that we mark this first experience on the Colombian tarmac. The beginning of an adventure on the roads in the world!