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Back on the Road Again

Two weeks of fluffy pillows, good food and Kathy’s company had left me in a better frame of mind. I pulled the cover from my bike in the hotel’s car park where it had sat since I arrived in Pereira and did a little servicing.

In the morning I packed my gear and loaded the bike, still with a little trepidation. I remember how I felt when I last got off it. I recalled the vibrations from that big single cylinder engine, the aching butt from the wafer-thin seat and the resonating bark from the exhaust. I hadn’t missed it one little bit, and I wasn’t looking forward to returning south through countries and roads I’d already experienced. I’d chosen a different route where possible, but some repetition was unavoidable.

One push of the starter and the bike fired right up, it didn’t sound as loud as I recalled. As we navigated our way out of the city, it didn’t feel as heavy, didn’t vibrate so much and the seat actually felt quite plush.

It was Sunday morning and the streets were almost empty of cars, but there were lots of cyclists (cycling is big in Colombia) and as I pulled into a gas station, there were around 30 adventure bikes, similar to mine, all lined up while the owners were grabbing a coffee before setting off for a club ride for the day. Many of them spoke English and we chatted for a while. I commented that I’d seen a lot of adventure bikes in Colombia and they told me that most of them used to ride sports bikes, and the adventure bike craze had come late to Colombia, but now they were very popular.

Most of their bikes were smaller, BMW 310 GS, Honda CRF 300, and a couple of KLR's. They were super friendly (typical Colombians) and wanted to take pics with me. I gassed up the bike and they headed out on their ride.

My ride out of Pereira felt good, the sun was shining, and the bike felt great. I was enjoying my ride for the first time in a while. I passed a phenomenon I’d not seen before in Latin America, the Love Motel, where vehicles are discreetly parked out of sight and rooms are charged by the hour. There are many such establishments on the outskirts of Colombian cities and always painted in the same colours.

The next day I crossed a mountain pass that would see me close to Ecuador, for my border crossing. As I climbed into the clouds the rain began to fall and the temperatures plunged. The road turned into a muddy track and at some road construction, I fell. The front wheel slipped out from under me in a section of deep yellow mud with no gravel base. I was only going slowly in first gear but went down hard with the bike’s metal pannier landing heavily on my foot. The pain was excruciating and I knew I’d done some real damage.

Two road workers rushed to assist me, and we got the bike upright but I couldn’t place any weight on my foot. My ankle felt fine and I could wiggle my toes ok, but any weight on the sole of my foot was near impossible, and I must have looked a sight. That stupid gringo hopping about on one foot, covered in yellow mud. Finally I managed to mount the bike from the wrong side while the road workers held my bike, and gingerly made my way to the top of the pass, and down the other side. I couldn’t change gears in the normal manner but could manage it by using only my heel.

I’ve never been more pleased to see a dry sealed road in my life. At the next town I found a car wash (Lavado) and asked the guy if he could wash both me and the bike. He could barely hide his laughter and a small crowd gathered to watch the gringo being hosed down with a water blaster. My humiliation was complete.

I rode to Popayán, the nearest city with a decent sized hospital, and booked into a hotel. I was sure I had broken a bone in the bridge of my foot. It was very swollen and I could barely get it out of my boot.

The next day I got a taxi to the hospital’s A&E. The hospital was a bit of an eye opener for me. A locked metal gate, manned by two armed guards at the entrance to A&E. Fortunately they signalled me to come straight in, while others were still waiting to be allowed admission. Inside, the place was packed. Many patients waiting in chairs, others on gurneys lining the corridors, all waiting to be seen. It looked like I was in for a long wait.

I was taken into a room with a nurse after only one hour and she assessed my injury before sending me hobbling to registration, where they wanted all my details and needed to know how, as a foreigner, I was going to pay for my treatment. Fortunately I have good insurance cover, and had notified my insurer of my situation. Then the long wait began.

I have to say, I admire the Colombian spirit. A woman I was sitting next to started to chat via Google Translate. She was waiting for an operation and was obviously in some abdominal discomfort. Like most others, she had family there supporting her. She apologised for my wait and told me the system was broken. I asked her how long she’d been waiting. She said 12 hours... I wondered how long my wait would be if I was suffering from only a sore foot! Then I remembered how broken our hospital system is in New Zealand, and how I’d presented myself to Thames Hospital A&E recently and waited 9 hours before giving up and returning home.

At one stage I asked my fellow sufferer if she knew where I could buy water. She gave me directions on where to find the vending machine and I hobbled off to find it. I was unsuccessful and returned to my seat empty-handed. Shortly after, two people arrived with bottles of water for me from the vending machine. They had seen my plight and gone and bought me water. Neither would accept payment. The generosity and friendliness of Colombians continued to amaze me.

10 hours after I’d arrived, I got to see a doctor. Thankfully my neighbour awaiting her operation was wheeled away a couple of hours earlier.

I was seen by a very pleasant young doctor with good English, who’d recently returned from five years' training in Calgary, Canada. He quickly had me down to X-ray, and I was relieved to hear there were no broken bones, just severe tissue damage.

The doctor gave me anti-inflammatories and pain relief and sent me on my way. I asked where do I pay? He said, “no charge”. My insurance company (who to their credit had been in touch several times offering support and advice through a senior nurse) were very pleased to hear that news!

I rested the next day at my hotel, then managed to squeeze my foot back into its boot, where it was more comfortable, and headed south to Ecuador.

So, how does Colombia rate on Muzza’s shithole scale? Colombia gets an 8.5. Great roads (except the one that broke my foot), almost no roadside rubbish, huge scenery, and super friendly people. Combined with fabulous restaurants, a coffee culture and a very favourable exchange rate, what's not to like?

Colombia is a great getaway destination.


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