With a newly rebuilt engine, and a whole vast Colombia ahead of us, Kaleidos and I set out to see what we could find. Since our starting point after the airfreight was in Bogota, the sprawling rowdy capital of the country, it seemed like the best route would be to first veer North East to the Eastern Cordillera of the Andes for Bocaya and Santander Departments, before eventually heading North West to the Caribbean Coast. Colombia is huge, about the size of 6 of the Western US States, so progress across the land has been slow especially given my proclivity for secondary roads and dirt alternates. In Colombia, even the main roads are a maximum of two lanes wide and not the fastest going. There are plenty of days where 5th gear is a distant dream, as I cruise along between slow-speed dirt and tight twisties on the pavement.
Our first stop was the lush colonial village of Villa de Leyva, a 400 year old town nestled into the valleys and vineyards about 2 hours North of Bogota. This lovely region was the perfect place to orient ourselves and begin to make a plan for the adventures ahead. I explored nearby waterfalls and rode to another small colonial town Guatape, the colorful pottery center of the country. We stayed at a camp known to host overlanders, the Hostal Renacer, and eased back into the rhythm of life on the road.
From here, it was time for something a bit wilder — I felt compelled to venture a little off the beaten path to the eastern branch of the Andes that includes El Cocuy National Park. My goal here was to hike several of the 15,000ft mountain routes, but the riding opportunities also attracted me. All the roads that lead to El Cocuy village are dirt, and some of the alternate routes are tiny winding gravel routes that climb up into the mountains and twist like a rollercoaster. Near Bogota I had first encountered the Paramo ecosystem, a high Andean swampy tundra that only exists on the South American continent. On the way to El Cocuy, the Paramo was much more primoridial, with some of the otherworldly frailejones plants towering twice as tall as me. These specimens are possibly 150 years old, and have seen eons of fog drift up from the valley before the sparse settlements here were established. The route from Jerico to El Cocuy via Chita is one of the best I have come across; empty of traffic, dirt and gravel ascending to almost 11,000 ft into the barren high altitude plains. Sadly the connecting route from Mongui to Jerico is through a mining-district, and was choked with coal trucks spewing black fumes, impossible to pass on the narrow roads with sheer drops to the valley below.
In El Cocuy I stayed at the wonderful Hostal El Caminante, the perfect base camp for exploring this idyllic mountain region. The rolling green hills around El Cocuy, dotted with dairy cows and scruffy herds of sheep, reminded me of my nostalgic childhood memories of Bavaria. While my primary activity here was two of the all-day hikes up into the park, I also took the chance to complete the loop between El Cocuy and Güicán. A spectacular 2 hour ride which creeps up the boundary of the National Park, with viewpoints that show off the sugary peaks of the glaciers when the clouds allow. It felt wonderful to ride up to these heights with Kaleidos running so smoothly, and made me appreciate the character of this motorcycle with all my being. The slow grunt of its engine, and the casual pace with which it climbs over rocks and up snaking mountain passes, allowed me an ease to really look around and drink in the spectacular landscape. It was like both of use wanted to just take it easy and soak in this marvelous place.
From Güicán I began to make my way in the direction of Barichara, a two day journey given the serpentine route even the truckers would have to take here across the mountains. I opted for an even smaller mystery route, which turned out to be an overgrown farm-track, and BDR style off-road adventure. With sand and rocks hiding under layers of pine needles and grass, a few tiny stream crossings, and large drops and climbs, it was a beautiful route for an ADV bike if you’re looking to spice things up a bit and are comfortable riding dirt. The connection from Soata to Onzaga took two hours, but the main road from Onzaga to Mogotes is also rough and a bit rocky, and took another few hours as well. My ending place in the region was the picturesque little town of Barichara, which locals claim inspired the Disney film "Encanto". I came here on the invitation of a fellow Himalayan rider Sebastian, who has a second home here and took the time to give me a very thorough tour of the town and many of its most important sites. I fell in love immediately, and after leaving for a night to join the Royal Enfield One Ride, came back to stay here almost a week to explore the surroundings.