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Colombia, Part 2: Medellin

Colombia, South America8 min read

May 19 - 23, 2010

From Cartagena, I headed south to Medellin, about 700 kms (440 miles) away. I broke up the trip, spending a night in Caucasia, about halfway there. In Medellin, I met up with friends of Fernando Morales and Sargento who are also on, Jaime Andres and Dario Fernando. I planned to buy tires in Medellin as the choices and prices would be best, being the motorcycle capital of Colombia. Jaime was a great host and took me on day trips during the weekend to sights around the city.

On Route 25, heading south to Medellin. Most of the highways in Colombia are tolled, but it's free for motorcycles. There's a special lane on the far right for two-wheelers. Wish all countries would follow this example.

My route through Colombia. Click on it to go to the interactive version in Google Maps.

The route was generally flat until past Caucasia, but the scenery was still pleasing.

The roads were well-signed all through Colombia.

Good quality roads and shaded routes made for pleasant riding.

Dinner in Caucasia for COP 4,000 (Colombian Peso, COP 2000 = USD 1). Rice with chicken and potato in sauce with a slice of avocado and yuca and a radish/onion salad. I stayed in Hotel Genesis for COP 18,000 plus another 1,000 for secure parking.

Heading south to Valdivia...

...from where the road starts climbing up and over a ridge.

Hitching a ride uphill.

Lots of slow trucks on the ascent leading to unwise overtaking maneuvers. I know, I'm guilty too.

Eucalyptus trees on the top of the ridge before descending down to Medellin.

Nice views from the road. Elevation was about 2,100 meters (7,000 ft) and Medellin is down in a valley at 1,500 meters (5,000 ft).

Meeting up with Jaime Andres (pronounced "hy-mee") at a gas station in the north of city. Jaime is a friend of Fernando in Cartagena through the national Colombian motorcycle forum of Jaime's riding a bright green Kawasaki Versys.

Thursday nights all over Colombia is bike night and Jaime took me to the local hangout to meet all the other bikers in town.

After meeting up with everyone, we took a ride around the city. First stop was this lookout with a fantastic view of the city at night. Medellin is in the narrow north-south Aburrá valley. It's the second largest city in Colombia, under the capital Bogota, with a population of 2.4 million.

The Medellin TouringColombia crew at the lookout.

Heading back down the fun twisties. Having huge mountains nearby provides lots of fun riding.

Next stop was Pueblito Paisa, a representation of small towns typical of the region. People from Medellin and surrounding areas are referred to as Paisas.

Around 10 at night we pull into the traditional biker restaurant for some grub.

They have a very active crew and get together for rides and other events quite frequently. Reminded me of bike nights at Strats in Chicago with

A welcoming change from all the rice and chicken; ribs and wings with fries.

The next day, Jaime took me around to shop for tires. Getting some fresh sugarcane juice.

My bike was at Jaime's girlfriend, Ana Marie's Suzuki shop for a complimentary service and we were scooting about the city on Jaime's fetching blue/white Vespa. Also note the Bajaj shop there. Bajaj is an Indian motorcycle company and is the most successful motorcycle company in Colombia in the sub-250cc category. It made me proud to see so many bikes from the homeland doing so well abroad. The 180cc and 200cc Pulsar have their own following and are well respected. The Bajaj's are assembled in Colombia by Auteco, thus skipping the high import tariffs and making them affordable to the masses.

Had to get a picture with the cute Vespa. Note the spare wheel in the back. And the vest I'm wearing with the license plate of the two-wheeler is required in Colombia for safety reasons. One reason is for quick theft identity as the helmet also has to have the license plate number on it and the other safety reason is that the reflectivity of the vest provides additional visibility for truckers, who've run into numerous riders. However, this is not required for foreign riders and I wasn't given any trouble by the police when I was on my bike.

Picking up sanDRina from Ana Marie's Suzuki service shop. She said all passing travelers get a free servicing. Since nothing really needed servicing, I had them just lubricate my clutch cable and properly set the tire pressures. Lubricated clutch cable was much needed; so much clutching in city driving.

Leaving the Suzuki shop. Suzuki is by far the most popular and well represented big name Japanese brand, probably partly due to the fact that they have a factory in Colombia near Pereira and assemble a lot of the bikes there, making them cheaper than the imported competition.

Picking up some new tires for the road ahead. I got a set of Metzeler Tourances (non-radial) for USD 107, a really good deal. My Kenda's still have some live left in them, so I'll carry these and mount them when needed.

Strapping the tires to the bike. The bike shop alley had lots of tire and spare part shops, but I couldn't find a spare 525 Master Link for my chain. I have one spare, but was looking to see if another one was available. I picked up some heavy duty PVC rain pants for USD 10 since my rain liners require removing my pants to put them in; not convenient for afternoon rain showers.

I stayed with Dario Fernando in his new motorcycle spa business. He recently moved from Pasto to seek better opportunities in the big city and having so many motorcycles here, a bike wash seems like a good idea (car and bike washes are all the rage in Colombia). He's riding a 180cc Bajaj Pulsar and has toured all over Colombia on it, that too with his girl friend on the back. He's getting ready here to give sanDRina a good wash, the first since I bought her in 2008, haha.

Colombian currency, the Peso. COP 2000 = USD 1. It's easy to become a millionaire here but hard for those still learning Spanish since having to say big numbers is harder than small numbers, but I learned fast.

Hanging out in El Poblado, the central area with all the fine dining and bars and clubs.

Getting some fresh crepes from this eatery...

...filled with beef and cream cheese. Very tasty and filling. Cost about COP 8,000.

Walking around and people watching.

Having shots of Aguardiente (meaning burning water), the most popular liquor in Colombia. It's an anise-flavored liquor derived from sugarcane, similar to Absinthe in taste, but was only 58 proof alcohol and not that strong. Even after a couple shots, I wasn't feeling any effects. It came with some raw mango that went well with it.

My hosts in Medellin. L-R: John David's girlfriend, John David (Dario's brother), Jaime Andres, Ana Marie, Dario Fernando and me.

Being presented with a Colombian friendship bracelet from Jaime.

Taking off for a day ride with my newly washed sanDRina. She was sparkling thanks to the treatment at Clean Xtreme Moto Spa.

Following Jaime and Ana Marie through the fun traffic of Medellin. I had no problems lane-splitting and haven't scraped a car yet. It helps that the panniers aren't wider than my handle bars, just.

Meeting up with the crew at an Esso gas station, where the route for the day was discussed.

Taking the Fernando Gómez Martínez Tunnel (the longest in South America) at 7.4 kms (4.6 miles) through the mountains heading to Santa Fe de Antioquia. The ventilation wasn't that good in the tunnel and the air was heavy with exhaust.

Lunch break.

Having the typical meal of the region: Bandeja Paisa, a heart attack on a platter: rice with steak, chorizo (different from Mexican chorizo), pork blood sausage, chicharrón (crispy pork rind with some meat on it), a fried egg, a potato, fried plantain, a small salad of tomatoes and onions, bean soup and an arepa (typical Colombian corn bread, thicker than a tortilla) along with some fresh lemonade. What a meal to have while riding. And can you believe, this was the half portion! Cost about COP 16,000 (USD 8).

Waiting it out for a bit before hitting the road. I can't believe I ate all that.

At the main attraction of the day, Puente de Occidente (Bridge of the West, so named as it lies in the west of Antioquia department).

The handsome Puente de Occidente, constructed in 1895 connecting the towns of Olaya and Sante Fe de Antioquia across the muddy Cauca River. It was designed by José María Villa and when it was finished, it was the longest suspension bridge in South America with a span of 291 meters.

The riding crew from Medellin's TouringColombia chapter.

Riding across the Puente de Occidente. The wooden boards clatter as you ride across and the sound echoes in the valley. Initially, it was only meant for pedestrian traffic but later one-way vehicular traffic was allowed.

The towers of the Puente de Occidente covered in galvanized sheets to protect the underlying wood structure.

Riding 30 kms (18 miles) further along tight twisty roads to Olaya, a small remote town that was once a FARC stronghold. The church was riddled with bullet holes.

Relaxing in the square in Olaya. Good riding crew and nice to be on a group ride.

Having a few drinks and snacks in the central plaza of Sante Fe de Antioquia, the capital of the region before Medellin got the honors. It was founded in 1541 to facilitate gold mining and the cathedral was completed in 1799.

That evening was the birthday party of Cesar, one of the riders in the chapter and he invited all his TouringColombia friends for a celebration. Sparklers in the cake.

After dinner and a comedy show, the dancing began.

It got a bit wild.

And since none of the other guys were dancing, all the girls were dancing with me :) The party went on till about 3 in the morning and we had to be up for another day ride.

Day ride on Sunday to Guatapé with Radman on the Suzuki Bandit 600.

Good roads heading to Guatapé.

A small part of the flooded landscape that is part of the reservoir of the Peñol-Guatapé hydroelectric project.

El Peñón de Guatapé, a large monolithic granite rock, rising 200 m (656 ft) above the ground.

Panorama of the Embalse de Guatapé, the reservoir that was formed in 1970s.

The four bikes of the day at El Peñón de Guatapé: Suzuki V-Strom (very popular all over Colombia, costing about USD 12,000 here), Kawasaki Versys, Suzuki DR650 and Suzuki Bandit 600.

Typical food on display: fried fish, chicharrón and sausage.

There are 649 steps leading to the top that were built into crack of the otherwise smooth and unbroken granite rock. Taking a break half way up.

A dizzying look at the remaining steps leading to the top. It took about 20 minutes and was a bit dicey as it was raining and the steps were slippery and that too I was in my motocross boots.

But the 360 degree panoramic view from the top was worth it. Rain clouds were moving in but the view was surreal. Islands dotted the landscape as far as the eye could see. The flooding for the reservoir began about 40 years ago and it looks a bit ill-conceived. Jaime said swimming is not advised since lots of trees and plants are just below the water surface.

The climb back down the narrow, slippery steps. At least there were separate staircases for uphill and downhill traffic.

View from about half way down. The bikes are in the lower left.

Lunch of fried fish, Corvina with rice, fries, patacone (plantain), a salad and a gorda arepa. I didn't really like this kind of arepa as the center was uncooked and tasted of raw corn, but it was offered with most every meal. There are many different kinds of arepa and I liked most of them, especially the ones that were re-fried with an egg and some meat.

Last night in Medellin at Dario's Moto Spa. I had a wonderful time in Medellin and truly felt welcomed with the warm spirit of the Paisas.

Next: Colombia, Part 3: Zona Cafetera

Previous: Colombia, Part 1: Cartagena


Jammin thru the Global South was the 3+ year, 100,000+ km ride Jay did from the US to India via Latin America, Europe and Africa. Explore the photojournals at the Journey Posts tab.

Jammin Global Adventures is a tour company run by Jay Kannaiyan. He organizes small group, premium motorcycle adventures in Peru, Kenya, Mongolia, India and more.

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