About the Difficulty of Turning Back
“If it doesn’t work, then we’ll just turn back” – a sentence that has crossed my lips several times already. But no matter how crazy it got – we have never turned around! Somehow the optimism was always greater. Then you say something like “now we’ve come so far”, “it would take much longer to turn around” or “it will get better soon”. All nonsense.
The reason for such phrases is quite simple: it’s damn difficult to turn back. At least for me. Because turning back means giving up. It’s a failure. And that never feels good. But that can also be okay, no, even reasonable – that is what today’s continuation of our journey through beautiful Colombia is all about.
Where did we stop last time?
Oh – we are now on two motorcycles! (If you haven’t noticed it yet, you can read in the last post how it happened). During the last months we had taken care of organizing everything (without our dear friends and family in Germany it wouldn’t have worked out!) and now the time had finally come: We could pick up the second Tiger in Bogotá.
That was also an interesting experience. Or let’s put it this way: If you want to get a different perspective on bureaucracy of the Global North, we can recommend a motorcycle transport to Colombia.
Back to the jungle!
After the bureaucracy madness was over, the new Tiger of course wanted to be properly tested.
We chose to ride across half of Colombia, back to Ecuador. Two month ago it was rainy season and we couldn’t go into the jungle because of landslides. Now we could catch up on the boat trip to the Amazon and get our 90-day visa extended at a Borderrun at the same time. So we are heading south again.
An excursion into the desert
The first kilometers on two motorcycles were quite exciting (which is not least due to the bogotanic traffic) – but mainly it was an insanely overwhelming feeling to finally be on the road on two bikes!
The first highlight on our way south is the Tatacoa Desert. Hot, dry and super beautiful. It is again one of those places where you are really happy to be on the road with your own motorbike.
It is the first time I practice unpaved tracks riding such a big bike. We ride on great trails and spend a few lonely days in the desert.
What follows is pretty ugly. On the about thousand kilometres to the Ecuadorian border the road turns into such a hole road that we are busy riding zigzags only. Some holes are so deep that one could take a bath in them. At least there is little traffic and the incessant overtaking in the rest of Colombia is largely being spared.
But it is nice that less tourists get lost here. We enjoy exotic status which gives us the opportunity to get to know people a bit. So we have a chat with the coffee seller at the roadside, who is obviously wondering how one can be on the road for so long on a motorcycle (wouldn’t that be terribly boring?). In a hostal we get to know Ricardo who immediately offers us to visit him at home in Bucaramanga. A dear hostel mother gives us the local pastry as a snack for the next day. And a group of young men show off their broken English to give me compliments.
After a few detours we finally arrive in the extreme south of Colombia, only a few kilometers from the border.
In the past days there were disturbing news from Ecuador which unfortunately got worse and worse. A few days ago, after the government had cancelled the subsidy of the fuel prices due to conditions of granting a loan by the IMF, there was a strike in the transport sector.
Meanwhile, the indigenous population has joined the protests and the roads are closed nationwide. Tree trunks, burning tires, nails on the roads and lack of fuel are currently bringing traffic to a standstill. Food is becoming scarce. There has been looting. The government has declared a state of emergency.
We are torn: On the one hand, we do not want to be put off by – in our experience often exaggerated and non-differentiating – travel warnings. Most of the closures are in the big cities and on surrounding main roads where we would not necessarily be.
On the other hand, through friends and acquaintances we get to know how difficult it is to move at all. In addition, local motorcycle clubs warn against entering the country at all at the moment. No matter who we ask: there are warnings everywhere. How long everything will last and how the situation will develop – nobody can tell.
Even if it is difficult, we decide against an entry at the last moment. The risk seems to be too high and we don’t have to be the heroes. We would just be easy victims.
What we do not suspect at this point: In the following weeks, much more will happen in South America. In Chile, Bolivia, Argentina, and also here in Colombia people will go on the streets to protest against their government. What this is all about in the different countries can be read for example here.
We realize (once again) how lucky we were on the journey so far. We could always move through South America without any problems. The last weeks have shown how fast the mood can change.
So, I am a Party Pooper
Now we saw the events as a chance to ride the famous “death road” of Colombia, the Trampolina de la Muerte. It is the southernmost connection of the two main roads leading from North to South. Where it got this name from, you can probably already guess: it is not the safest road. Along deep abysses, a narrow earth road leads over the mountain pass. There are several water crossings and – the worst – murderous traffic.
If you ride the road carefully and in the dry, it is probably well feasible. The only problem is that in this region it actually always rains. We want to try it and wait for better weather.
Five days later we get up early to set off – and after only ten minutes we are standing in the pouring rain (although sun was announced). What a flop!
Frustrated we stop at the roadside and discuss the situation.
As all other connecting roads are known for even worse conditions, turning around would mean that we would have to ride back the thousand kilometres or so we came. We have no desire for that at all.
On the other hand, it is very unlikely that the rain will subside or even stop in the next few hours. Although Moe and I had decided earlier that we would not ride this road in the rain, Moe wants to try it now. The alternative sounds too disappointing.
I, on the other hand, am fighting an internal battle. I don’t feel ready for the steep mud tracks and deep water crossings that await us on the Trampolina. But I also have the feeling of a failure to back down when Moe wants to take a chance.
“We can have a look”, I decide. Then the fight starts. Within minutes the road turns into a small river and I increasingly ask myself what this is all about. A few times I suggest to turn back. But Moe remains hopelessly optimistic. “It’s okay with me. You decide,” he replies to me over and over again, whereupon I continue.
Cause I don’t want to be the one to fail. The fact that we just had to turn back at the border makes everything even more difficult. “I thought we’d decided beforehand that it would depend on the weather. And the weather couldn’t be more definite.”
Thick fog denies us any visibility, the sky hangs in a deep grey and the pouring rain knows no mercy. However, Moe sticks to his statement that he leaves the decision to me. “We wanted to ride this road because of its famous view, of which we cannot see anything at all under these circumstances. What are we fighting this fight for?”
Only too well I do remember the numerous wrong decisions of the past. How many times have we already ended up in a mess, even though I swore to myself to be more reasonable next time? Over and over, I let Moe talk me into it. Because I don’t like the role of a party pooper at all.
I’m torn, but most of all I’m angry that Moe that he’s pushing me into an extremely unpleasant role (without him intending to do so of course or understanding my point). But this is not a game. I might save us a lot of nerves. In the end, experience and reason prevail: “Let’s turn around.” Three hard words.
We turn around and ride back to Mocoa. In the village, we take refuge in the first bakery to sit out the pouring rain. Nobody says anything, we just stare out at the water that is constantly pouring down from the sky. Sad mood.
trial of patience
So we head back again until we reach the coffee zone of Colombia.
Here we have the task to extend the visa at one of the Migraciones. It turns out that this process can be done completely online. “How progressive”, we think and register immediately. Within half an hour everything is uploaded and we should get an answer within the next 24 hours. That sounds almost too easy to be true.
Is it, then. We don’t hear nothing from the Migracion for days. When we finally appear at the office, the man at the counter fills out the same online form for us again – well, we could have saved ourselves this one. When I express my concern, he promises that we will have an answer tomorrow in any case. This remains an empty promise.
So we are back in front of the office one day before our visa expires, now obviously nervous. When the door is opened, the same man takes our passports directly out of our hands, without making a face. We are confused, but wait well-behaved. An hour later we finally have it: the extension. The journey can go on!