The Journal  

12 January 2006


Author: Jeremiah

Photographer: Holly


Cali , Colombia

December 31 – January 1

Leaving Bogotá, we chose again to travel on a holiday, packing the Guzzi on the street in front of our hostel as the sun rose on a New Year's Eve morning for the 300 mile trip to Cali. Our guidebook said that the journey took 12 hours by bus, so we hoped that by leaving by daylight we could make it to our hostel by dusk. Our Canadian friends, Glenn and Sheila, were headed in the same direction and we decided to travel together.


We got up at 4:30 a.m. to be ready to leave at 5:30 a.m. just as daylight was breaking. Jeremiah had to park the bike in a public garage just down the street.


Glenn and Sheila showed up at the front door of the hostel to ride to Cali with us.

The Bogotá streets were already packed with people and traffic in the early morning light, and we wandered for nearly an hour before finding our way to the highway that heads west to the Pan-American. It was fun traveling with other motorcycles for the first time on our trip. We let Sheila and Glenn take turns leading the way, while we took up the rear. It was a relaxing change to follow other motos, letting them determine directions and having their swerves or brake lights as warnings of approaching pot holes or topes. About 100 miles out of Bogotá, Glenn and Sheila stopped for breakfast and we continued on alone.


Glenn (front) and Sheila lead the way to Cali from Bogota.

The holiday season is one of the few times during the year that Colombians venture out of their cities and take to the roads to travel, so the government makes sure to provide extra security along the way. The highway leading from Bogotá was lined with soldiers and policemen, with sand bag bunkers and road blocks every few miles. After we split from our fellow riders, we were in the Cordillera Central, the middle of Colombia 's three Andean ranges.

We climbed into the pine-covered ridges, slowly in the heavy holiday traffic of buses and ancient, compact Renault cars, that were packed with vacationing families and so much luggage that they whined painfully in first gear as they struggled to pull the grade. We rode in packs with scooters and small motorcycles, which kept pace with our slow progress. The road rose to 10,000 feet, with ridges still towering several thousand feet above us. The twisty pavement that passed along steep cliffs, for the first time on our trip, was lined with formidable concrete guard rails. The barriers couldn't obscure breathtaking views as metal bridges took us across raging mountain streams, past cascading waterfalls and beside valleys that plunged out of sight.

As we crossed the last peak and descended into Colombia 's central valley we ran into thick, mist-like clouds from which approaching cars and patrolling soldiers appeared momentarily before vanishing back into the fog. A quick sprint along straight roads and we were back in the mountains of Colombia 's western Cordillera Occidental , which we crossed into the hot lowlands of the coast.


Colombia offered beautiful rolling countryside that was dotted with palm trees in the lowlands.


A kid uses bus power to pull him through a small town we passed through.

Turning onto the Pan-American Highway, returning after a week's absence, we found ourselves on the outskirts of Cali by 4 p.m. We wandered for an hour until two motorcycle mounted policemen led us to our hostel, which was booked full. The last week of the year is Cali 's “feria,” which makes the city the party spot for the New Year's holiday. Just down the street we found another hostel which had space, run by a towering Italian assisted by a German shepherd. We pulled the Guzzi through the front doors and into the courtyard to be parked for the night.

After a week of feria, New Year's Eve is a time to spend at home with family for most Cali residents, another guest at our hostel explained. As the sun set we walked nearly deserted streets, failing to find anything open that served more than alcohol. On our way back to our hostel, the neon lights of a Chinese restaurant caught our attention and we had our New Year's Eve dinner there. Back in our room, we passed out, exhausted from the long day's ride and slept our way into the new year.

Cali 's January 1st streets revealed a ghost town with everything closed. We finally found a street vendor, who sold us strong cups of tinto coffee and buñelos, donut hole-like pastries. We decided to continue on to Pasto , loading the Guzzi and wheeling it through a mess of confetti, champagne bottle corks and empty beer bottles, relics of the party we had missed, in our hostel lobby.


A giant balloon nativity scene was suspended across the river that cuts through Cali.



All photographs © Holly Marcus / Page design by Robin Marcus