Tuesday, December 29, 2009

On the Fly- Bogota, Columbia

narrow cobbled street outside our hostal, Bogota.
On board flight AV0061 to Bogota via Boeing 757.

All packed up and ready to go on cargo.

Hotel Canadian, Chame Panama.

Off loading the bike in Bogota.

Trip: 2000km
Cost: ($900 for bike)
($772 for Us)
Exchange rate: 1 USD = 1850 Pesos
Hostel: 20,000 pesos per person
Bike storage per night 20,000

Our last hosts were a treat from home. We were riding toward Panama City and it was getting late. Motoring along at 95 km/hr we saw our destination. We pulled off the highway (which was smooth and void of potholes) and into a check point at a gated community. Apparenty its Panama law to allow public access to beaches but here it would be difficult. We u-turned and motored not far. It was then that I saw Hotel Canadian. I couldn`t resist, so we pulled in and met Ralph and Katy from the Yukon. Also staying with them were some folks from Fort Nelson B.C. who knew all kinds of people that I knew and who I worked for.

We left Hotel Canadian the next morning after coffee and goodbyes and headed for Panama City. Before I knew it I had already passed the only turn off to the ``Puente Americas``I pulled over on the side of the highway. There was no way around it I had to drive the wrong way down the highway and take the exit that I missed. I shoulder checked several times and then by stroke of luck there was a break in traffic. I whipped around and kicked it into 4th gear and cruised down the roadway into oncoming traffic. (I wonder what they thought). I pulled a hard hairpin 180 degree turn up the exit ramp and alas a few Km down the road we were cruising atop the Americas bridge over the Panama Canal. I took the first exit off the bride to tour the canal and I was immediately routed directly into the city via a 10 lane highway. We stopped, starving and bewildered, at McDonalds and had good o`le burgers for brunch.

We eventually found the hostal in downtown Panama City that we were looking for after getting stuck in grid lock traffic. I pulled along side a cab driver and handed him the hostal business card and motioned him to go there so we could follow. It worked out perfectly and we arrived there very quickly.

At the hostal we learned that the boats that we were planning on taking were not leaving until Jan 02. (Unfortunately due to my illness we missed the last sail of the year on Dec 26) We thought about it for a minute and decided to ride out to the airport just to inquire about flights and cargo.

We by-passed the main passenger terminal and headed towards the cargo flights (old airport). We passed through a security point where I didn`t feel like stopping so I waved instead. Luckily we turned the right way at the intersection and drove straight to the exit Panama Customs Hut. Here we saw a Honda Africa Twin parked outside. The guy was Mexican and had just ridden South America. We talked for a minute and then we proceeded to drive in circles for what seemed to be an hour looking for Griag Cargo. We finally found the tiny Griag sign and I went into the building while Julie waited outside with the bike. I was told that the cost was $901.38 and that the bike would be on a flight to Bogota, Columbia first thing in the morning. I referenced the pricing with Copa Airlines but I was told that they weren`t flying again until March. The price of $901.38 was paid only in cash and it was all over but for the dismantleling of the windshield and mirrors.

Julie and I walked away from the bike, just leaving it parked in the construction zone of a parking lot with trucks, forklifts, cars, motorbikes and people running and yelling everywhere. Before I finally walked away I stopped a guy and said ``Moto OK`` he said ``Si`` so we walked over to customs and got the bike cleared from Panama.

We were standing at a place outside of customs where there were no cabs, buses, or cars for that matter. We were waiting in the heat at 3:30Pm and I got fed up and waived a truck down. The guy stopped immediately to our suprise and I walked up to the window and said ``Aeropuerto`` and he motioned to get in. When we told him where we were going and where were had come from he was astonished. The guy drove us right to the airport departure gate and wished us well.

Julie and I walked into the airport when Julied asked what we were going to do since we had no plane tickets. I exclaimed that we were simply going to buy them right now and catch the next flight leaving in 1.5 hours. We were told that we couldn`t buy a one way ticket, I argued and finally were went to another airline who agreed to sell us oneway tickets for less money so were were pretty happy about that outcome.

The next thing we knew we were boarding a Boeing 757 to Bogota, Columbia. Immediately after take off my nose detected food. During the flight we were served a meal and complementary drinks. I had an orange juice and a Rum and Coke. It was all free and I had two drinks during the hour and ten minute flight. We began to wonder how these poor countries can still afford to serve food and free alcoholic drinks on their flights.

We landed in Bogota and we were informed that we couldn`t enter the country because we didn`t have hotel reservations or a hotel phone number. (The fact that 2 hours ago we didn`t even know we were going to Columbia completely eluded them). I decided a chance at ...Hotel Bogota... to no success and finally conjured up some broken spanish story about a moto traveler...mucho`s kilometre......uno moto.......dos personas....Canada...a...Columbia...a Ecuador...a...ChiliƩ. He got the picture and then reluctantly stamped entry on our passports.

It was all over but then again it was just the beginning. It was now 8 pm, the taxi drivers didn`t want to drive us to any hotels because we didn`t have reservations. We managed to get a drive to a $200.00 a night hotel. I said nooooo Way! But Julie insisted. We pulled out the lap top and Googled Hostels. Meanwhile the woman behind the desk told us that it would be dangerous to leave the hotel because we looked like tourists. This made me even more mad! I walked out of the hotel hoping for someone to mug us just to kung fu his ass.

We stood on the side of a busy fast moving street in the dark with the hostal addresses in hand. None of the cabbies could see us in the dark. I decided to pull out my flash light and did S.O.S flashes and loathe and behold....a cabbie pulled over almost immediately. We were whisked through the city and into an older looking part of town. Mostly the streets were one way and many were cobble. We pulled up right in front of our hostal for the equivalent of $20 dollars and walked right into our private room and courtyard. It was an excellent find and infinate times better than the 4 diamond American approved hotel with the bell boy fruit cake who kept taking my motorcycling gear from me without my approval.

We talked to the staff and they gave us a travelers book to read for our stay. In the morning our first plan was to go back to the airport and get the bike. Our cabbie that we hailed... again from the street... was amused that I was back track logging the route via GPS while in the cab. I showed him what I was doing but he couldn`t comprehend. Of course the cargo area that we arrived at was the wrong one so we got back into the cab and he all of a sudden became our interpreter and was fully captivated by our quest. He was completely floored that we were importing a motorcycle and that we weren`t going to wear the government issued number plate neon vests. I told him repeatedly that it just wouldn`t be necessary. (He laughed at how ridiculious he thought we were.)

To get the bike cleared through customs was a breeze compared to what others have written. The most difficult part was crossing the 4 lane death highway as there is not a pedestrian crosswalk. Busses, trucks, cars, motorcycles etc. were cruising by all trying to close the gap. In one heroic decision we bolted across the highway and ended up at the air traffic control center where we were told to walk around the chainlink barbwire fence to the other side and cross yet another highway to the customs office. We of course ended up at the wrong building again (There is poor signage here) I was told finally to go to: .... DIAN...there is a green sign!.... I was feeling confidant now and I managed to walk right by the place until Julie noticed a small green D on a sign that said DIAN on it. Once inside, the paperwork, which I read you needed a paperhandler for, was easily filled out by me. I guess in my line of work where by I must document everything has accustomized me for such feats which others find overwhelming...I actually enjoyed it!!

We were finally done all the paperwork. The most difficult part was to cross the highways again which with our prior experience was made easily. We almost jogged over we were so excited. Not having the bike has robbed us of our independance and we yearned for it back. We had to wait a while until the bike was finally unloaded from the plane. As soon as I saw it being wheeled around the corner fully intact, all the items strapped to it still present, I was relieved.

Everyone was scrambling trying to figure out how to get the bike down off the loading dock. Everytime I configured the ramps some guy would rearrange it once I got back on top and inside the loading bay. Finally I slammed the boards down and yapped..... FINITO! Everyone understood and four guys surrounded the bike and helped me wheel the bike down the ramp. All the chaos stirred quite a crowd. Once on the ground there was an uproar of applause and whistling. I turned to see the entire hanger staff looking over at us clapping. It was cute I must say!

I refitted the windshield and mirrors and loaded the GPS. We made it back through detours and construction to our hostal. I would have never made it back here without the GPS and I was happy to have had it. We stored the bike at a paid secure parking lot with two huge scary pitbulls that had their ears cut off to look even meaner. I asked the owner to please no let his dogs pee on my wheels and he sternly assured me that they wouldn`t.....he had no sense of humor!

From then onward Julie and I walked all around Bogota. The city is at 6700 feet elevation and its quite chilly. There are old parts with very narrow cobble streets and modern sky scrapers intermixed. The entire scene is encapsulated in a ring of surrounding mountains with buildings high up on the peaks. Jesus looks down upon us from one of the mountain tops and there is a huge castle looking building up there as well. Today we saw a tram cable car ascending and also a train like rail heading directly up the mountain and into a cave.

The next couple of days will be dedicated to exploring this city. Generally I shy away from city`s but this is a unique place which feels like a giant village with lots to offer to the keen traveler.

1 comment:

  1. WOW...... your adventures are leaving us speechless! Season's Greetings from cold and snowy NB...... windchill last night -30.... enjoy the heat. Your pictures are wonderful. Look forward to your next post.

    Margot & David