The return trip was really only possible because of our new friend, Santiago. He not only took Aaron and me under his roof after my accident, but he also offered to watch after our bikes while we were gone. We said we’d try to return in about a year, but it ended up being closer to two and a half.
Santiago’s brother, and my Colombian surgeon, Louis and his family visited Chicago for an orthopedic conference. My family and I were able to meet up with them there and we had a nice dinner together and talked. After this, Santiago began including our parents in the offer.
So, mid-March, Aaron, my parents, and I boarded a plane to Colombia. A lot of gear also came with us. In part one of our journey, we received a lot of help from Woodstock Harley Davidson. They put a lot of work into helping us this time around, too.
Parts Unlimited gave us great deals on all the parts on our wish lists; so hopefully the things that bothered us before will no longer be a problem.
Kelty gave us a great discount on sleeping bags that should make camping in Patagonia a lot more comfortable. We are now in possession of the new Moose Monarch Pass riding suits, which should be great for just about any conditions we experience on our journey.
Giant Loop came through again for us and provided me with a new Fandango tank bag.
Malterra, a company that produces the most rugged duffle bags I’ve ever seen, has gifted us with bags big enough to put our other bags into while we’re riding, which is great for protecting from rain and the elements.
All of these sponsorships were reasons for being ecstatic, but they were also the reason that, between the four of us traveling, we were carrying two huge bags, three larger than normal bags, and three smaller ones. This made finding taxis difficult for us as we landed in Medellin and as we traveled by bus down to our motorcycles in Pasto.
We spent one day in Medellin. Aaron and I really wanted to spend longer there, but we just didn’t have the time. We walked the streets for a while, walked around a mall, and eventually stopped for some coffee at a café next to El Pablado Park.
About noon the next day we got on a bus and headed to Pereira. When we arrived, Aaron and I did a moderately quick walk around the neighborhoods nearest the bus station and decided that we would just get on another bus and head to Santa Rosa de Cabal instead of staying in Pereira.
Santa Rosa de Cabal was definitely a highlight of Colombia, especially for our parents. We arrived at night, crammed all our luggage into a small taxi, and showed the driver the address for the hotel we saw online while we were using the internet from the Dunkin Donuts at the bus station.
It was a long and rocky ride. We couldn’t see much, but from what we could see in the dark led us to believe that we were in a very beautiful place. The taxi driver was friendly and I remember listening to Sweet Child of Mine on the radio as we began to wonder if the ever-ascending journey was ever going to end.
When we reached the hotel, we were struck with how big it was… and how right next to a waterfall it was, too. The hotel is called Hoteles Termales. It has pictures of what it looked like in the ‘40s and has large, geothermal-heated pools. It was amazing and definitely above the average price range of Aaron and my usual travelling, but it was definitely worth it.
We left halfway through the next day, after thoroughly enjoying the pools, waterfalls, and the other waterfalls that were just a little further down the hill. We arrived in Cali in the dark and spent about 30 minutes at the bus station trying to find a taxi that was large enough to fit our bags.
Eventually we found a taxi driver willing to strap half our luggage to his roof and we were off to another hotel. Cali was particularly important to us because we needed to stop at Motolombia, a company that deals with motorcycle tourism. They sell motorcycles and organize tours for people who want to see Colombia by bike. They also are connected to Giant Loop, a saddlebag company that has graciously sponsored Aaron and my travels and there was a tank bag waiting for me there.
So the next morning, Aaron and I woke up, ate breakfast, and went to meet Mikkel, the owner of Motolombia. We talked about the trip ahead of us and got some good advice that proved really useful in the coming weeks. We also stopped by another garage and said ‘Hello’ to a friend we’d made the first time we passed through Cali. His name is Alain and he, too, gave us a lot of good advice for our trip. He’d had a serious accident in Bolivia since the last time we’d seen him, but had recovered well. Meeting with him definitely reminded of my serious accident and that last day of riding. We were in a rush the last time, too… but this time around we’d be taking a bus.
We met back up with our parents and had the same difficulties as before in finding a big enough taxi to take us to the bus.
We were advised to not take a night bus to Pasto from Cali. The reason for this was that the roads in Colombia often get backed up during the night. Narrow and winding roads quickly become impassable when a truck doesn’t take a turn the right way and impedes traffic going both ways. On the way to Cali we got stuck for about an hour because of this.
So Aaron and I ran to each bus ticketing kiosk trying to find a bus that went during the daylight hours. It was noon, but the earliest bus we could find left at 3:30. This would not do. Then we walked up to the TransIpiales booth and were told that a bus was leaving in 20 minutes. ‘Great’ we thought to ourselves. We grabbed beverages and snacks and climbed aboard a bus that would take us on one of the worst public-transit experiences of my life. We later learned that Colombians refer to the TransIpiales as ‘The Lechero,’ which means ‘The Milkman.’ This is because it seems to stop at every single house all the way from Cali to Pasto.
In addition to this, it has none of the modern conveniences (Wifi, TV, A/C, etc.) that most other buses have. Also, in our case, it didn’t really have any conveniences at all: no legroom, moving air, etc. As the bus slowly lurched from Cali street to street, stopping regularly to pick someone up or drop one off, the air became stale and Aaron and I wondered why we seemed to be so much hotter than anyone else on the bus. We realized that our window could only be operated by those in the seat in front of us. It was then that we became aware of a true villain of our journey:
He sat in front of Aaron and always kept his chair fully reclined, uncomfortably pressing into Aaron’s legs. He wore a jacket with a picnic tablecloth-patterned scarf wrapped tightly about his neck despite the oppressive heat. When the bus moved lethargically through urban regions and the air became unbearably stagnant – just as Aaron would begin to lean forward to confront him about his refusal to open the window, he would crack it suspiciously and allow the sweet, life-giving air to flow back to our sweat covered faces. He only allowed the reprieve for just enough for us to recognize exactly what we were missing when he dramatically slid it shut again.
We boarded the bus at 12:45pm and we still had hours to go at 7:45pm when we were forced to stop for about half an hour while the drivers poured buckets of water into something in the bus that we couldn’t understand. As the sun and temperature had dropped to a more comfortable degree, we noticed that our villain had shoved tissues up his nose, which really just confirmed our suspicions that he was ill. About two hours later, he got off the bus. I was coming to terms with simply embracing how uncomfortable I was at that point, though, so it barely mattered.
Throughout the entirety of the trip, I must say that I was impressed by my parents’ attitude. Mom seemed content with it and I don’t think Dad ever even complained.
We finally arrived at Pasto well after midnight. It was late enough for us to wonder if taking the 3:30pm bus that wouldn’t have stopped so much might have actually arrived before we did. We were greeted at Mister Pollo by Santiago and his friend, Adriana. We quickly moved everything into Santiago’s car and we were whisked off to his home and treated to a very late-night dinner.
From the next morning until about three days later, when our parents left Pasto, there was a frenzy of activities. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that Santiago had every moment of every day planned. It was exhausting, but it also meant that my parents had the opportunity to see way more of Southern Colombia than would have been possible otherwise.
We went to Sandona, a small, beautiful town a fair distance from Pasto. Aaron and I rode in Santiago’s Land Rover while Santiago’s wife, Guiomar, drove with our parents and Adriana in an SUV, which was probably best for them, as the Land Rover got a bit bumpy – fun, but bumpy.
On the way to Sandona we stopped and saw how sugarcane gets turned into loaves of sugar. Later in the day we visited an antique house and a hospital from the days of the revolution as well as a coffee plantation.
Another interesting place we visited was Las Lajas. The story goes that a young deaf girl miraculously gained her hearing during a lightning storm. A large cathedral was then built at the location of the miracle. It’s built in a canyon surrounded by waterfalls and sheer rock cliffs. People nearby regularly make a sort of pilgrimage there.
When we weren’t out exploring the countryside and neighboring cities, we were running around Pasto or eating amazing homemade meals with Santiago’s family.
On the last night, Mom cooked one of our family’s favorite meals: ham and pasta, cheddar biscuits, and apple dumplings. In order to do this, we made a trip to the supermarket and had a mini adventure just trying to find the right ingredients. Everything turned out well, despite some difficulties with quantities being in different units of measurement and the fear that being at a higher than normal altitude would alter the recipe.
Guiomar drove us to the Pasto airport and, after our parents’ flight was postponed an hour or two for rain… or clouds… or whatever. We couldn’t really figure out what was keeping the flight from taking off, as conditions seemed nearly ideal to us for a while before they finally called for passengers to board. We hugged and said goodbye and watched as they got padded down by security guards and had their bags riffled through.