We didn’t get started as early as we wanted to – as usual. By 11am we were fighting the traffic once again out of Cartegeña and 216km later we arrived in Magangue. Before we arrived we pulled over for gas just as the sun was setting, filled the tank, and the bike wouldn’t start. Jesse tried to kickstart it to no avail. We hadn’t lost our North American weight yet so eventually the kickstand broke from under him. Locals gathered, a mechanic showed up, the town tried to help bump start it with the mechanic driving and finally ….. they realized the kill switch was on. Duh! As the locals laughed we sped off just a little embarrassed. Lesson learned the hard way, but it was a mistake we wouldn’t make again! Little did we know this was foreshadowing even more mechanical problems.
We were wiped by the time we arrived in Magangue and it was dark so we pulled over and chatted with a local family sitting outside getting some much needed water and hotel recommendations. Eventually we found something and explored the town a bit before crashing hard for the night.
The next morning our priority was getting the kickstand fixed – it doesn’t look very cool leaning your bike up against a wall every time you stop. As I went to find coffee I also found a welder two doors down from the hotel – convenient!!
With the bike back in order we searched the waterfront for the ferry that would take us across Rio Magdalena. We had a couple hours to kill so we grabbed some fresh orange juice, watched giant iguanas fight and, once again, attracted locals that seemed satisfied to just park their bikes near us and hang out.
A rickety old barge docked and we squeezed our motorbike between large trucks and cars. The boat was Werner Herzog-esque which inspired us to name the bike Fitcaraldo, or Fitz for short. This nickname was fitting as the bike threw us into ‘fitz’ of rage every other day.
It was a nice easy 50km drive to Mompos – a sleepy little colonial town. We arrived mid-afternoon so had time to drive around and explore. A local soccer match seemed pretty heated so we stayed to watch a while And drank some of the tiniest costeña beers we’ve ever seen.
We happened into an Italian restaurant which was way out of our budget but the pizza was the best meal we’ve had here – thin crust, real cheese, and cooked in a wood-fire oven for just over a minute.
The next day we managed to get up at sunrise and hit the road. It was one of our longest rides at 350km but not without interruption. Sadly a cyclist had been hit and killed on the highway – a sheet covering the body was a solemn reminder of how careful we had to be driving here.
As we pulled up to yet another ‘paje’ (toll booth) Jesse noticed the bike was rumbling and loosing power. The paje attendants directed us to the nearest town, Morrinson – a mere blip on the highway. First a nice local walked us over to the mechanic shop in town. The five or so men working there stopped what they were doing to try and help us. No english was spoken as they looked over the bike, changed the oil, tried to explain a few things by pointing to bike diagrams and eventually, with the help of google translate and our Spanglish dictionary, let us know that there was a bigger problem with the bike and we needed to go to the next big town, Bucaramanga, to get the right parts. Meanwhile, a significant crowd had gathered and, while Jesse dealt with the mechanics, I was entertained by the kids asking questions about Canada like ‘Is it fancy there?’ Similar to past experiences, mechanics in small towns proved themselves to be the most honest and giving people refusing to accept any money for their time.
What should have been a beautiful 150km drive through the Sierras was extremely stressful knowing the bike might break down any second. As night rolled in we creeped our way through the sketchy barrios on the outskirts of Bucaramanga and checked into the first hotel we found. Being ‘Domingo’ (Sunday) we struggled to find food and eventually called it a night vowing to get the bike fixed the next day.
Jesse visited a few mechanics. After a quick look they all gave the ‘finger pistol to their throat’ sign which we’ve interpreted to mean ‘it’s fucked’. As always the solution is right in front of you and the mechanic right next door to our hotel agreed to take the bike apart and take look. The bike is a ShineRay which is a Chinese model. This meant the parts weren’t readily available in Colombia. We were starting to think our bike adventure was coming to an end, but after many hours of charades, dramatic hand gestures and google translate they communicated that the piston was ‘finger gun to the throat’ which ended up being a costly but necessary repair. After strict instructions to pull over every 50km to let the engine cool and change the oil every 1400km we were finally on our way.
We didn’t get much time to explore Bucaramanga but we did visit the statue of Luis Carlos Galán, the once presidential candidate who was pro-extradition and eventually assassinated by Pablo Escobar’s sicarios.