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Old 12-05-2008, 01:49 PM   #1
SS in Vzla. OP
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Joined: Dec 2006
Location: Banana Republic of Black Gold
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11 Days Through Colombia

DAY 1 -
Thursday October 30th


We met at 6:00am in front of my home and got going north-west towards the border.
It was 4 of us. Guido and Andreas on their XLV-650 Transalps, Francisco on his GS1150 and me on my F.
As is usually the case when you ride through a familiar (and straight and boring) road, there are not many pictures.
I did remember to take some at our only longer stop: lunch at "The Embassy"... (La Embajada), so here are some porn food pics.



This is typical Venezuelan Plains food: carne en vara (meat on a stick).


You order the meat by the pound and whatever you want to go with it... Yuca, salad, beer, etc.


After lunch we got on our way. The only other pic we took that day was this one of the river that marks the border between Venezuela and Colombia.


We arrived in San Antonio del Tachira (Venezuelan town at the border) around 7:30pm. To give you an idea to how fast (or slow) travelling in our countries is, here are some facts: it's around 830 Kms/ 518 Miles from Caracas to San Antonio, most of the road is straight, only the last 100 Miles or so are mountain roads. It took us 13 and a half hours (with 2 and a half hours total stops between lunch and fuel stops). The last section of road between San Cristobal and San Antonio is a nightmare, tightly packed bumper to bumper cars for several miles and the road is very narrow, so passing the cars is quite difficult. Since sunset comes early here: 6:00pm, this last stretch of road was ridden in the dark. Drivers here don't care too much if they have the high beam on when they have other vehicles coming towards them.

We rode directly to Venezuelan Immigration (ONIDEX), bought the required stamps for the immigration fee (about $10) and stamped our passports. The immigration official never adhered the aforementioned stamps on our passports, instead she put them in her pocket and probably sold them to the next "customer" but as long as you have the rubber exit stamp on your passport with the appropiate date, you're good to go... As for the "stamp scam"... you just play dumb and go with the flow . Afterwards, we found a hotel with secure parking. San Antonio is not a safe town to stroll around. Too many illegal things going on, so the less time you spend there, the better you are. Dinner was at a restaurant across the street from our hotel

DAY 2
Friday October 31st


Friday morning was a rainy morning. But we where eager to get going so we ate breakfast at the hotel (included in the $20 price for a single room) and jumped on the bikes early.

San Antonio del Tachira is right at the border, so in less than 10 minutes we where crossing the Simon Bolivar bridge that connects both countries. The white buildings you can see on the right are the Immigration Offices (DAS) on the Colombian side (the Venezuelan ones are "hidden" on some sidestreet in San Antonio)



Thereīs good parking right in front of the immigration office so you can keepan eye on your bike while you stand in line waiting for your passport to be stamped. Nevertheless itīs a good idea to secure anything that might be easily swiped by a passerby.



There werenīt too many people today, so we where done in about 30 minutes. If you cross in December-January or Easter Holidays, be prepared for a VERY long line (at least a couple of hours).

Can you see the pissed off Immigrations Officer? "Hey Seņor!!! No photos allowed in here!" Yeah, yeah...


Once done with the immigration process, we formally crossed into Colombia and rode about 10 kms / 6 Miles to get to Cucuta, the Colombian city closest to the border. Cucuta is much nicer and safer than San Antonio. Cheaper too, so if you donīt know your way around and find yourself in this area having to spend the night, I advise you to find accomodations in Cucuta instead of San Antonio. You can freely cross the border, even with a vehicle between the two cities without any problem, so even if you are comming from Venezuela and donīt feel like going to the ONIDEX that day, you can still go sleep in Cucuta and go back next morning to stamp your passport. For us Venezuelans is easier to move around in San Antonio than it is in Cucuta (that is: we have excellent GPS maps for Venezuela and not for Colombia), so we chose to stay in San Antonio.

Our plan for that day was simple: Get ourselves and our bikes properly processed into Colombia by midday and ride 300 kms / 187 Miles to a small town called Barichara. The rest of the guys had done a similar trip two years ago and they knew that the customs process for the bikes would take aprox 2 hours, so we where on time when we arrived at DIAN (Colombian Customs) at 8:30am... but our plans where about to be changed.

DAS is obvious, right next to the Simon Bolivar Bridge, DIAN on the other hand, you have to look for inside Cucuta. And it is a big city. So in case anyody reading this needs them, here are the GPS Coordinates for

- ONIDEX (Venezuelan Immigration at San Antonio del Tachira) N 07 48'50.8" W 072 26'39.1"
- DIAN (Colombian Customs in Cucuta) N 07 55'05.7" W 072 30'6.5"

BTW, we kind of cheated with our bikes when leaving Venezuela, since from prior experience we knew the Colombians would not request any paperwork from the Venezuelan authorities stating the bikes had properly left the country, so as far as Venezuela is concerned, our bikes never crossed the border and we saved ourselves a lot of paperwork (and time). Since free transit is allowed on neighboring towns at the borders, nobody cares what you do. Having the correct paperwork is up to you, but if you don't get it and get stopped by the authorities once on the road, you will get into trouble... This means I don't have any GPS Coordinates for the Venezuelan Customs though, because we never even went there.

Once we found it (it took us about 20 minutes) we lucked out since there where no other vehicles in line at this little shack (across the street from the real DIAN building) where this guy with the blue/yellow vest checks your VIN # and hands you a piece of paper with your bikeīs information as well as your own.


Afterwards, you go down the street to the photocopy shack, you have to photocopy your passport (photo page, exit stamp from Venezuela and entrance stamp from Colombia), your bikeīs title and the paper the guy in blue/yellow gave you (they will ask to check your ORIGINAL bike title, the photocopies are for them to keep, but they wonīt accept them for proof of ownership and only the person appearing on the title can take the bike over the border)
All this paperwork must be presented at a window inside the main building.
The process is fairly simple and should take 1 or 2 hours tops.
Not this time.... We handed the papers at the window at 9:30am... Almost no other travellers in line... Officials where very polite (as is the case with almost all Colombians) and with that politeness, they told us: "thank you very much sir, now, come back for your Temporary Import Papers in the afternoon, after 2:00pm"...

No begging or negotiating on our part could change their minds. We where forced to wait. Our plan of reaching Barichara that day was shot. 300 kms in the Colombian mountains meant at least 6 hours non-stop riding. Sunset in the area is around 6-6:30pm.

So we went to a local Mall where there was a Money Exchange Office, ate something and came back at 2:00. Seeing very little movement on the part of the officials inside the window (they even told us that we could consider to be lucky if we got our papers by 6:00pm), we went outside to talk to the "Blue/Yellow Guy" (which had been quite friendly and helpfull in the morning) and we managed to arrange a "Priority Service" which finally got us our Temporary Import Permits by 3:00pm.

After the Import Papers are received, you go again out on the street and buy the SOAT (mandatory third party insurance). This insurance is the only document you will be asked for when stopped by the police. They do not care about your drivers licence, passport and sometimes they donīt even ask about your bikeīs papers, but the SOAT is always required. And not any insurance will do, only SOAT, so you canīt bypass forking the $20 for a 3 month policy. The rest of the Temporary Imort process is free (aside for the "Priority Service", that is ;-) )

The SOAT is taken care of in 30 minutes and we where on our way on the great Colombian roads. And although the cloud cieling was pretty low due to the rain, the views started improving fast.
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Old 12-05-2008, 01:53 PM   #2
SS in Vzla. OP
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Our plans for Barichara down the drain, we thought we might be able to get to Bucaramanga. One of Colombiaīs largest cities and some 150 kms away.

We where making good progress on the nice roads until we got to a point where there was a huge line of cars parked for several miles.


Itīs good to be on a bike in Latin America... we just bypassed the line and kept riding, but when we where almost at the landslide that had caused the backed up cars, we just had to stop. The trucks where passing so close to each other (barely touching their rearview mirrors at some points) that there was no room even for the bikes, so we just had to wait for 30 minutes or so.


Land slides are common occurances on Colombian roads, so the work crews are never too far away. The M.O they use is to let traffic in one direction for half an hour, then stopping traffic alltogheter in order to work clearing the landslide for half an hour and then open traffic in the other direction for half an hour... Repeat all over as many times as necessary. This means that in a car, if the line is long you could be forced to wait several hours to clear the problem spot. On a bike, OTOH, if you manage to get to the barricade, the work crews will let you pass through the machinery (at your own risk, they wonīt stop work for you, as a matter of fact, Andreas was bumped on the side by one of the the big machines while maneuvering in reverse... he managed to stay on two wheels)... This meant that once the incomming traffic was stopped, we where able to cross.

But now our itinerary had been changed again. In order to get to Bucaramanga we had to cross the Berlin Pass which is at 12.000 feet and almost always engulfed in VERY thick fog and rain, so none of us was very keen on riding the pass at night. Pamplona, the next town would have to do for the night.



Pamplona is a medium sized town, which has a big university, so itīs filled with young college types. It still has a small town feel to it. The only hotel in town with secure parking is the Cariongo Hotel, which is supposed to be the "best" in town. At $50 a night (breakfast included) it sure was expensive when compared to the other $10-$30 options available, but the bikes where our priority so Hotel Cariongo it was.


For an American Holiday we where very surprised to see that people in Colombia take Halloween VERY seriously, as seriously as any-town-USA, so there was a big party going on in the streets of Pamplona. We decided to take a bath and join the festivities.... Surprise, surprise: the "best" hotel in town only has hot water from 6:00am to 9:30am... :lol: :lol: :lol: At 9.000 feet I was not about to take a cold shower, so that was postponed for next morning. Party it was through the streets of Pamplona.




Interesting name for a bar... "ebrio" means "drunk"


These food stalls are quite common. If you ever come across one, you just HAVE to try the corn, it is absolutley great! the meat is not bad either, but I didnīt see too many stray dogs on the streets ;-)


And after all that partying, when you feel the urge to let all the beer you drank flow free, please donīt do it here or else...
(Posted on the front entrance of the "best" hotel in town... "Urination in this sector is prohibited under penalty of jail up to 12 hours)


And one last picture of Pamplona at night


DAY 3
November 1st 2008


Some pics of Pamplona the next morning. After the party last night, the streets where a mess, but contrary to normal Latin American behaviour, lots of people where out en masse cleaning the streets by 6:30am...





These contraptions are pretty common. They are rented by their owners to carry stuff. Like on the picture. The really interesting thing is to see them with an unladen cart, racing downhill. Can you spot the orange "brake lever"?...no ABS on those things :shock:



Leaving Pamplona towards the Berlin Pass and Bucaramanga, we start climbing in altitude and the views start getting better.


This is what riding in Colombia is all about. TWISTIES !!!! Great Twisties everywere!!! You will actually use more thread on the sides of your tires than on the center.


Lots of old trucks and cars on the road. Most of them are in very good shape even though they have been worked hard all their lives.


The Berlin Pass, at 12.000 feet above sea level is almost always engulfed in thick fog and mist/rain...Almost always... Not this time, which actually meant a great ride over the pass.


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Old 12-05-2008, 02:07 PM   #3
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After the hassles at the border, the trip looks great. Nice countryside.
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Old 12-05-2008, 02:17 PM   #4
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Great Report and thanks for the informative description of the crossing the border.
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Old 12-05-2008, 02:20 PM   #5
Charles Seguin
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What a great country eh?
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Old 12-05-2008, 02:32 PM   #6
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Very nice RR...
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Old 12-05-2008, 02:44 PM   #7
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Thanks for sharing the border process in detail. Beautiful photos,great report!
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Old 12-05-2008, 04:38 PM   #8
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Magnificent report; thanks!
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Old 12-05-2008, 11:42 PM   #9
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Beautiful country!
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Old 12-06-2008, 11:22 AM   #10
SS in Vzla. OP
Totally Normal? I'm not!
 
Joined: Dec 2006
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Charles Seguin
What a great country eh?
I see you are enjoying it as we speak

Just be sure to ask the locals (several of them) if itīs ok to go exploring on small dirt roads. Although few, there are still bad guys in green fatigues out there.

We actually got turned around by the locals when trying a shortcut on the road to Medellin... the shortcut was between the towns of Riosucio and Jardin, so if you plan to go to Medellin and see the dirt shortcut on the map, DONīT go there

Good luck with your trip. Ride on!
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Old 12-06-2008, 02:19 PM   #11
C5!
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epale Silviu. que suerte de viajar por Colombia, impresionante este país...
As for the DIAN I had a better experience in Turbo. Arriving at the office it was closed because all the staff was on a course... but after a few minutes one guy came out of the course to attend me, had me sitting at a desk while he filled all the forms and handed me my temporary import prmit. total time about 30 minutes... and the politeness of the Colombians, as you said, "irreprochable".. what about a beer before christmas... claude
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Old 12-06-2008, 02:20 PM   #12
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Fantastic ride.. we rarely get this glimpse in Columbia... Thanks for the detailed report and pics

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Old 12-06-2008, 05:08 PM   #13
Charles Seguin
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SS in Vzla.
I see you are enjoying it as we speak

Just be sure to ask the locals (several of them) if itīs ok to go exploring on small dirt roads. Although few, there are still bad guys in green fatigues out there.

We actually got turned around by the locals when trying a shortcut on the road to Medellin... the shortcut was between the towns of Riosucio and Jardin, so if you plan to go to Medellin and see the dirt shortcut on the map, DONīT go there

Good luck with your trip. Ride on!
We did take a nice little dirt ride to San Agustin, checked into that road pretty thoroughly. We met a local here who had been kidnapped by the FARC twice .
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Old 12-07-2008, 06:37 AM   #14
SS in Vzla. OP
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Quote:
Originally Posted by C5!
what about a beer before christmas... claude
Absolutely!
Whatīs the status on your 800? When will it arrive in-country.
Iīm planning to go to La Gran Sabana and maybe Manaus on the last week of January... maybe we can meet in Sta Elena?
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Old 12-07-2008, 07:21 AM   #15
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great report; brings back nice memories

I have spent time working in Colombia as a geologist for an oil company. It was a very friendly country with beautiful women and scenery. I agree the travel can be slow, even on the Pan American Hwy.
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