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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Savant

South for Pasto

Updated: Dec 8, 2020


From Medellin I began heading south for Cartago. A few miles out of town I stopped to grab a bottle of water and rehydrate. While sitting at the gas station I was approached by a man, Alvaro, and his two children. They were curious about my travels and wished me well.

A few moments later an older guy came up to ask about the bike. He had been out of riding for many years and had been considering a 1200 GS, but it was thinking it might be too difficult to start riding again. It was obvious he has been researching them as his knowledge was quite good. He said he knew of a red 2012 Adventure just like mine for a good price and it was tempting but he wanted to know if a regular 1200 would be good for long distance travel. I told him certainly, and he said he was waiting for the civil war in Colombia to finally end before he would feel safe traveling alone. I admit that was news to me, as I had no idea there was a civil war in Colombia. Ignorance is bliss.

Reaching the first toll booth of many that day, I was pulled over by the policia upon exiting the motorcycle lane. They weren't particularly friendly and stared silently for a long time asking see the passport, drivers license, insurance - (which I was damn glad to have) - and even the temporary import papers. They finally seemed to think everything was okay and the police sergeant came over and offered to take our picture. It seemed funny since they knew the drill for adventure bikes and riders.

The road south to Cartago was covered in road delays and repair zones, to the tune of two additional hours. The terrain and mountains were beautiful, the road twisting up-and-down following rivers and the mountains. The road was clogged with traffic and very slow and many areas with massive traffic jams.

Much of the day was spent at stops waiting with 20 or so other motorcycles, the race beginning each time the attendant made a move for the stop sign, everyone spreading out only to regroup at the next stop a few miles down the road. Roadside vendors were strategically placed to sell snacks, water and eye the motorcycles.

As the long day droned on, the rain clouds began to form and the race was on to beat it. The hotel I had booked in Cartago showed to be four miles ahead just as the rain came sporadically. I was tired and exited the town of Pereira in slow traffic in a sharp right hand curve that opened onto wide lines downhill like a freeway. I accelerated up to the standard of 80 km/h and saw the police ahead. I was surprised when they stepped in front and waved me over, expecting the usual curiosity. Instead it was a ticket as the zone around the curve I'd made was about half that speed. Typical radar trap.

The next day my target was Popayan, supposedly a beautiful colonial town, and the route from Cartago led through mountains, then down into vast valleys of what appeared to be sugarcane fields for miles and miles. Whether natural or fertilized, the odor smells like rotting vegetation and excrement for long periods of time. Horse drawn wagons plopped along the roads here and there, piloted by African workers. The small towns seemed to be almost exclusively of African population.

Charlie was still in Popayán at the same hotel I'd picked, a little surprisingly as he had been there a couple of days with some other riders who just left that morning. I got settled in the hotel and we went out to grab some fast food before the afternoon rain showers began in earnest. The steady rain killed my attempts to wander the streets and get some photos, holing up in the hotel room instead. Room phone rang and something was said in Spanish about the motorcycle so I headed down to the garage where a UN labeled Land Cruiser sat idling. They were asking me to move my bike into a different parking spot so that he could nose in. There were two other UN land cruisers already parked. Curiosity was peaked.

It was the next day on the road to Pasto, a beautiful road with some high mountain scenery, that a small town had a lot of military activity and several UN vehicles parked there. Of course there's no way to know what was happening, but it appeared that the vehicles I'd seen in the hotel were part of it. As always, the military, whether at a checkpoint or just walking the streets, would give constant thumbs-up to the motorcycle.

Pasto was a bigger city than I was expecting, having reached it after climbing to over 10,500 feet on the mountain roads beforehand, dropping down to about 9600 feet where the town lay. Elevation definitely had its effect on Charlie and I as we walked around that evening trying to get some exercise and breath in the crisp mountain air.

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