Monday, February 15, 2016

Riding the "Trampoline of Death"

Making coffee and taking in the view.

I get out of the tent at first light to avoid the heat of the sun. Azure turns around and refuses to move. She got up last night to see the "moment supreme" of the meteor shower while I slept through it. I make coffee and not long after the first rays of sun come over the hills in distance. While I sit there taking in the view I see something move. At first I think it is a dog but as it gets closer it looks more and more like an ant eater. I have never seen one of them before! Azure is out of the tent in no time and we follow the beautiful creature around for a bit. 

We spend the morning riding around the desert. It is a stunning part of Colombia. Parts of it remind us of our ride through Badlands National Park, one of our favorite parks back in the USA. 





Completely dehydrated we make it back to town and prepare for our ride to San Agustin. The town is known for its pre-Colombian megalithic funerary monuments. The ride there is not that long but it is terribly hot and somehow we don't seem to make much progress. 

Stopped to help this stranded family... the kids now know a thing or two about sorting out flat tires.

In the evening we find a hostel where we can camp and we spend the next day looking at beautifully carved rocks, representing gods and super natural beings. It is very impressive but the tourist trap feeling is getting to me and I can't wait to get out and ride our next adventure: 

The Trampoline of Death.

I avoid mentioning the name to Azure while I gather information. Stories vary from the worst road ever with impassible river crossings to it being 'ok' depending on how much rain fell in the last 24 hours. The guy that is sitting across from me at the table is also keen on going there. We exchange information and conclude that it is doable. Azure walks around the corner. "So you're about to ride the Trampoline of Death" he says upon seeing Azure. "I'm about to do what!?!" Damn... Oh well babe, it's just a name of a road... It's the shortest way to the border with Ecuador you see... How to talk yourself out of that.... Hmmm... In the end we agree that it will be an interesting experience and then next morning we set off.

The start of the trampoline is just past Mocoa. The ride there is easy. At the main square we get directions and before long the smooth tarmac gives way to sharp rocks and a road that is covered in deep potholes. 

One of the better stretches of the ToD, but you never know when a truck is going to come around the corner!
Within seconds we understand how this road got its name as we bounce around from one hairpin curve to another. The trampoline climbs and climbs and the drop offs get steeper and steeper. 

We are getting used to the road and slowly putter along. The vans and trucks that come flying down the road is what really freaks us out. Every single driver on the road (but for us) seems to be tired of life. No wonder this road claims so many lives each year.


The river crossing I'd heard about that had me slightly worried turns out to be ok. But there are a bunch of them. Azure somehow manages to get stuck behind a big rock during one crossing and drops her bike. She laughs and everything seems to be ok but her feet are now soaking wet. 

As we climb higher and higher it cools down and Azure's wet feet make her really cold. While I am trying to make a picture of Azure going around one of the hairpins with a steep drop off, I too drop my bike and only just manage to get it back up before an old truck comes squeaking around the corner. 

The going is VERY slow, and we are only killing a few miles every hour. The daylight is diminishing fast. Finally we ride above the clouds and make it to the top off the pass. The views are breathtaking and although the Trampoline is taking its toll we are glad we chose to bounce along it. 

We continue, eager to make it down the hill. After riding downhill for a bit the road starts climbing again. Azure's feet are freezing by now. Another highest point. Is this it? We roll down again... straight into a cloud. We both groan. Enough for one day. It starts raining and we are officially completely miserable. The road turns into a mudslide and it is getting dark. This was not what we had in mind. We chat about our mutual fantasies of platefulls of hot, fatty foods (for me) and soup (for Azure) and how delicious a hot shower would be... And then a light is suddenly visible in the distance. Sections of the road turn into concrete slabs. Whew... we've survived the Trampoline of Death. We roll into the small town of Sibundoy and find a hostel run by a young couple that is willing to empty their lobby in order to give our filthy bikes a dry, safe spot for the night. We enjoy our hot meals and defrost under hot showers. And then happily call it a day.  

Our Trampoline of Death Stats:
"Trampoline of Death" Stats
-Distance: 25ish miles
-Time: 5 hours
-Close Encounters of the Head-On, Moto vs. Truck/Bus Variety: 7
-Africa Twins Dropped: 1
-Transalps Bathed: 1
-Landslides Navigated Around: 3
-Ambulances Staged: 2

Side note: when our friend from the hostel, Mark, rode the Trampoline of death the next day, there was actually a bus full of people hanging precariously off of one curve. The driver had extracted himself from the vehicle and was wandering the road in search of help. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Trading Overlanding for Overwatering


Via Ibaque we ride down towards Desierto de Tatacoa. We have been told that it offers some great riding and stellar star gazing. Somehow we miss the turn off to the desert and we find ourselves on the wrong side of a big river. In Aipe we see a sign for a boat crossing the river. Hmmm, it is not on the map. It is either that or take a long detour via Neiva. It is late already so we decide to give it a try. We arrive at the river and are surprised by what we see. A longboat just took off to the other side. It looks narrow and unstable and the river looks wide and deep. There are bikes on the boat though! Ok, 150cc bikes, not heavily loaded overland Honda's. I ask a local if it possible to get our bikes on that boat. "No problema" is the answer. Right! Let's see how this works. 

The boat returns 15 minutes later. And takes a new load of people and bikes. It looks easy but I am seriously worried about how stable the boat is. After seeing another load make it across safely and dry we decide to give it a go. The skipper insists on moving my bike on the boat himself. He tries to get it of the center stand. Fail. I give him a hand and another local jumps in to help. The skipper complains about how heavy the bike is but he is not giving up. We manage to get the bike on the boat and I walk back to get Azure's. He stops me and says he'll do another run for the Transalp. 

Slowly we start going across the river. I hold the Twin steady and am only able to relax a bit once we are half way. I realize that if this goes wrong, it is the end of the journey. 

A minute later we make it to the other side and I ride out my bike over a plank. It was not as easy as writing it down... There are a few kids on the other side and I am worried about leaving my bike and my gear there. The skipper assures me that they are his kids and they will look after the bike. What can I do but to get back on the boat and get Azure and the Transalp.

The Transalp is easier to handle and just before it is absolutely pitch black dark we get to the other side. We thank the skipper and his kids and ride off with a warning about a bridge just down the dirt road. 30 seconds later we stop in front of a bridge that consists of planks and does not look like it is made to hold some heavy bikes. Slowly I tippy toe the bikes over the bridge. The dirt road continues and about an hour later we end up in the desert where we are welcomed by a show of shooting stars. We find a place to camp next to a tall cactus and just sit there for a while. It's quiet and there are millions of stars above us. What a beautiful life!

We hope you enjoy the video of our river crossing:

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Colombia's Own 'Valley of the Giants'


When we open the tent there are green valleys all around us. There are some gentle clouds covering the higher mountains. The birds are telling each other good morning, the sun is coming out from behind a cloud. This is promising to become a great day! After some coffee and some work on the bikes we ride off into the valley. The mountains are covered in grass and when we come around a corner the first palm tree towers into the sky. 
It is unreal to ride between these trees. 
It is a little piece of paradise complete with waterfalls. We ride around for a while and go for a short walk.

Azure is craving coffee again so we head back to town and visit a sustainable coffee farmer. We get a full tour which takes us through the whole process of making coffee including, picking, crushing the berries, washing, drying and finally roasting. It resembles wine making in a way and we thoroughly enjoy the cup of coffee at the end of the tour. 

We spend the afternoon in the square of Salento drinking more coffee and absorbing everything that happens around us. In the evening we take a short ride to Armenia where we get picked up by Uriel and Anna whom we had met on the road a few days earlier. They bring their daughter, Monica, who speaks English fluently. We spend the evening touring the city, which is part of the coffee triangle and looking at pictures and maps of South America.

The next day they want to take us to all the touristy highlights in and around town. It takes us a good amount of time to explain that we would rather get to know them and hang out in town. We have a beautiful morning together and in the afternoon father and daughter escort us out of town on their V-Strom. But not before they had Colombian stickers made for us because we had a hard time finding them so far. 

We ride up the mountain together and say goodbye after enjoying a local delicacy, Aguapanela (a hot sweet tea-type drink) with Queso Campesino (yes, cheese). 

Monica had snapped some photos of us while we were riding and by the time we make it to the next gas station, she's sent them to Azure.