Week 20 - Salento to San Agustin
We went back to Salento and the amazing peanutbutter milkshakes, did an awesome dirt road lined with thousands of wax palms, stayed in the best hotel on the trip so far and visited lots of little Colombian towns. We also ventured back to the Tatacoa desert (because we didn't learn from the lack of sleep the first time) and ended up in the archaeological town of San Augustin. Time in Colombia was running out fast!
On this visit to Salento we stayed in a different hostal to the last two visits, just to mix it up a bit! Michnus, Elsebie, Regina and Bernard with their lovely Dalmatian dog 'Gina' came with us and were able to park their van on the area just outside of the hostel. First stop in Salento...Milkshakes! The place was quieter than normal and we were greeted by the owner of Brunch and had a good long chat. He talked about the area and gave us some tips on where to go, and we told him how much we loved his place. I think in our several visits to Salento we had probably been in Brunch about 10 times! Crazy people!
I had been waiting for my new V5 (vehicle documentation) while in Pereira, but it hadn't arrived, so we had to go from Salento back to Pereira to pick it up, after Kelvin´s dad managed to send me a new one to Pereira. Somehow, the frame number of my bike was missing the first three characters (the same on all 1996 DR 650's I believe) plus another three zero's!!! Hmmmmm, well at least it's now sorted. Andres from A2 Ruedas, who we met in Filandia, kindly allowed me to have it sent to his address, he then sorted out getting it and also meeting us outside of Pereira. So, note to self...check ALL paperwork super thoroughly before leaving, because it's not always picked up.
After a couple of days gorging on food at Brunch and about 5 milkshakes each, we headed off on the back road to Ibague with Andres. It was an Awesome ride and way better than the Cocora valley. There were virtually no tourists except one van full of mountain bikes and bikers, and so many more wax palms than we found at Cocora, plus we had the perfect weather. You can't really ask for more. Actually, yes you can...the roads were great to. Beautiful gravel roads, a road on the edge of a cliff and a slight detour to 'Volcano El Machin'. To be honest, if Andres hadn't told us it was a volcano you would never have known as it was completely covered in trees. We were at altitude and the walk would have been long, so we declined to hike up but sent the drone up for a nice view and it gave Kelvin some more practice flying.
One of the other places we stopped on route, just before the volcano, was Toche. It was a very small village with a tiny shop, but they sold nice cold drinks and snacks, so it was all we needed. Toche has a sad story though. Several years ago, a guerrilla group descended upon the school in Toche and killed everyone inside. Fortunately, these days they are no longer around that area, but past stories like this are common in Colombia, especially when Pablo Escobar was alive, and following his demise. Colombia is now a much safer and happier place.
Ibague, Purification and Tatacoa
Anyway, on a happier note, once we finished the route we went for a lovely meal with Andres before he left us to go back to Pereira on the PanAm highway. We then searched for a hotel, stopping for a coffee in a little cafe and hijacking their wifi. Ibague was busy so we wanted to stay on the outskirts and prices everywhere were quite high. We settled for our first over-budget hotel in a while, but man was it worth it! We ended up staying in the best hotel we'd been to so far on our travels, and probably the best one I had stayed in, period. We even tried extending for one more night but they were fully booked being the weekend. Sad times. However we enjoyed our one night there, making full use of the gorgeous pools, the bar and the free tea and coffee. The room was a huge luxury appartment with a king size bed, amazing shower, and sitting room. It's not often you get that when your travelling, but it was a welcome one-off.
After our luxury stay in Ibague, we headed south to Purification. It was a journey full of winding tar roads and lovely views, and again perfect weather. We had booked a cheap Hotel with a pool, which was greatly needed after getting lost trying to find it as hotel location totally wrong and they said they even knew it was wrong. We were very hot and bothered and I was not impressed with their complete lack of understanding that having a location that is almost 2km out is not acceptable, especially when you don't have air con and the place is hot, hot, hot! When we finally got in the pool, there was a party of young Colombian kids in there, a couple of which spoke a few words of english and they were really excited that four gringo's showed up. It was quite funny trying to talk to them and they had pizza...so we ordered some for us as well. When in Rome....
The next day, we set off again staying on the southward track towards the Tatacoa Desert. We stopped for an ice cream as the temperature was melting us and I managed to make a right fool of myself. I placed my jacket on the back of the chair, went to sit down, and in the mean time the chair disappeared with weight of jacket and I ended up sitting (or falling) smack down on the floor, much to everyone's amusement! Well, at least I made people laugh!
This day was also the day that I noticed my bike trousers seam was coming apart, which was a right pain. Next, on the same day, my fuel filter came apart and the filter, with all of the shit it had collected, floated down into the bottom of my tank. Great! Third, I noticed a large oil leak...worse than before they were 'fixed' in Pereira. Well, they say things come in three's. Anyway, on to Tatacoa.
Tatacoa was as hot as we remembered it...scorchio! Kelvin had another play with the drone and we took lots of photos...well, Michnus did anyway, while we all enjoyed the roads. This time around, we stayed in a proper place with a very welcoming pool, no wild camping and melting into the ground again. It was a lovely, a bit overpriced, but the pool helped. It was still hot so we got about four hours sleep, however that was four more than on our last Tatacoa visit! We also met a young group setting up a motorcycle touring business (Paramo Moto Travel), who were scouting routes. They were lovely guys, and they had Honda XRE300's, so nice and light, and great for Colombia's back roads. Elsebie took one for a quick spin, just to check they were up to scratch. Verdict: good bike for dirt roads, with a bit more vroom than the masses of 150-200cc bikes around.
Yaguara, Paicol and San Agustin
After packing up and leaving the heat of the desert, we headed south to Yaguara. It was lovely little town with 'Moe's bar' (the Simpsons for those of you who are wondering what the hell I'm on about). I ate far too much ice-cream but it was so nice after the heat. We stayed in a cool little colonial hotel, plus it had air-con (so happy). There was no parking, but they said we could park in the inside courtyard, which meant
riding all four bikes along the footpath due to road works, through the hotel entrance, through the lobby and into the courtyard. It felt wierd, but it was a good, safe spot for the bikes. Happy days. Naturally, we had to get a beer in Moe's bar. We were all quite shattered from the heat and not so many hours sleep, so we had an early night.
Next was Paicol, another nice little town. It had only been a short journey to Paicol but it still felt like we were melting. The Paramo guys contacted us and said they had been there the night before and recommended a lovely hostal with a huge pool just a short walk away. It was a lush swim, and we also found a cafe with some awesome liqueur coffee's and juices, plus a panaderia that made us yummy eggs for breakfast. Sorted.
After a two day stay in Paicol, we moved on to San Agustin. It's a very popular town due to the archaelogical sites it has there, and it's way more built up and easier to get to than Tierradentro (another archaelogical site we went to previously) due to it being all tar roads to get there. Unfortunately, my bike was leaking oil like crazy and the engine sounded a little dodgy on route but it settled. I was not a happy bunny seems it had only just been repaired in Pereira the week before! Time to scout another mechanic.
We stayed for a long weekend in a nice quiet hotel, and much of our time was spent chilling in cafes, people-watching, browsing the very colourful shops and we got to eat an awesome steak 'churassco'. There was an abundance of Artisanal shops and a funky, newly opened cafe where everything was upcycled, and we were their first customers. Needless to say, they were a bit apprehensive, but after our third visit and a few more customers, they settled down. The coffee was good. San Agustin was a nice town, however I would say I enjoyed Tierradentro more as it was a lot less touristy and in the middle of the mountains, but for ease of travel, San Agustin came in a good second best if you want a taste of Colombian archaeology.
So, with time quickly fading on our visa, and my bike sounding a little worse for wear, we headed even further south to Macoa, where the 'Death Road' called 'Trampolin del Diablo' (Devil's trampoline) awaited us.