Colombia

Fear and Freedom: Riding Motorcycles in Colombia

A view from Colombia

Riding 60 mph around a 90-degree corner might not sound like death, but on the back of a motorcycle, leaning so far into the turn I feel as though I could reach down and pick up a few rocks for souvenirs, it feels like I’m at a restaurant about to order a large plate of scrambled brains. As a passenger, I’m suddenly aware of how little control I have of the situation, and how quickly something, anything, could go wrong. If we sideswipe the mirror in a car, we lose the mirror. No big deal. If we side swipe the mirror on a motorcycle, we might lose an arm, or lose control completely and spin into a ditch. I try not to think about how a misplaced rock could send us flying, or the danger of a car unexpectedly pulling out in front of us, or the brick that flew off the truck in front of our guide yesterday, or the full can of oil lying in the middle of our lane, slowing spilling its contents into a slippery puddle. I try not to think about these things because the positives are worth every minute. Without the fear there would be no adrenaline rush. Without the open-air ride and the curvy mountain roads, the journey would be lacking. Without the freedom to go where we want, when we want (despite being on an organized tour with Motolombia), Colombia might not be the same amazing place I believe it to be.

Colombia

Bogota, Colombia

Since Day 1, I’ve learned to trust my driver more with every turn. That first day was the worst because speeding down a curvy motorway with my life in the hands of a man I had only ridden behind for a mile or two, I felt helpless. There was nothing I could do to prevent or make better a crash, other than my best to relax, lean correctly and not fall off. I hadn’t ridden behind him enough to know when he was doing something intentionally or if he was out of control when it felt like he was. After a few words and a few more days, I now trust that he has the bike where he wants it, and that he’ll slow down if it’s not. I have a better sense of the motorcycle driver he is, and he has a better sense of the roads and the traffic.

Riding in Colombia

Mads overlooking the valley below.

We’re both amazed at how considerate the drivers are here. Instead of giving us the finger when three motorcycles go buzzing past on a double yellow line (which is not illegal here, even if you have to pass a police vehicle in such a situation, like we did; it’s a necessity) at twice the speed limit (also not illegal for a motorcycle). Instead, they wave us by when it’s safe to pass, give us smiles and a thumbs up when we do, and move over as far as they can to allow room. Even when riding in between two vehicles on a multi-lane highway, one can watch the traffic split to make room. I expected a lot more chaos and the other drivers to go just as fast, but the roadways here are quite civilized and the roads, for the most part, are in great condition, clean of gravel and potholes. This allows me to focus more on the passing scenery, trying to snap photos and video, and to enjoy the beauty with my mouth agape in wonder, not fear, for as a passenger on a motorcycle, I have the best view of all.

Riding in Colombia

Photo by Mads Kragelund

Today is Day 5 of our 16-day tour, and our first rest day. We’re in a quaint little mountain town called Villa de Leyva, where the cobblestone streets line colonial white buildings with terra cotta roofs and the people smile when we pass by. We’ve been up and on the bike by 8am almost every day, riding for several hours before reaching our next destination, though lots of stops are involved along the way, to drink the locally grown coffee or wine, eat lunch, see a church built deep inside a mining cave, or to ride a gondola to the top of a mountain and admire the hilltop views of Bogota, Colombia’s capital city. In five days, we have yet to lose sight of the the mountains. We’ve crossed over the Andes range three times already, and tomorrow we will continue our ride along the ridge, eventually descending to the Carribbean sea.

Colombia

Villa de Leyva

I mentioned earlier (in this post) that I was scared I might get used to the luxury of staying in 4-and 5-star resorts every night and, indeed, it’s been nice to have a comfortable bed and a hot shower in the room after our first four nights spent in a simple hostel, and our previous adventures with couch surfing. But I must admit I miss those things, if only slightly, and I now know it’s not the gorgeous hotels I’ll crave when I take off for another new land, it’s the luxury, the freedom, and the adrenaline rush of seeing a country by motorcycle. Traveling any other way just might never be the same.

Colombia

 

 

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6 Comments

  1. Mo Cat says:

    This post was fantastic. I'm so happy for you that you're having this experience. I love that picture Mads took of you. Any pictures of the church in the mine? Stay safe, have fun and I can't wait to hang out when you return…IF you return. ;p

  2. Yeah, once you fall in love with traveling by motorbike, it’s hard to go back and is likely a lifelong love affair. I’m 100% confident that part of why we loved Vietnam so very much is because we rode a motorcycle across the country and saw it in a way that most people never do. It sounds like Colombia is another excellent place to do just that. So bad ass that you did this!

    • jessicajhill says:

      I would love to do the Vietnam coastline! I considered it while I was there, but didn’t have time and only did a little stretch by scooter. I’m a Little hesitant now, after the crash, but it would probably be all different if I were operating my own bike (guys do stupid things!). You guys would love Colombia!!

  3. Kat says:

    Yes yes yes yes yes!!! Love all of it. I’ve visited Colombia and totally loved it. Glad you are too!!

    • jessicajhill says:

      I totally see what you were talking about now, with how Colombia feels very authentic. We’ve seen very few other foriengners, except in Bogota and Medellin. This place is amazing – you were so right!

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