Driving in Colombia

So we have a few days in Colombia waiting for the bikes to arrive. We’re travelling by taxi from airport to hotel and start studying traffic to imagine what we will be facing when we start driving. Well we are feeling apprehensive because we see driving habits are different than at home. My interpretation of driving in Colombia is that pavement has been provided by the government for the people to be used by the people. Every inch of paved area is therefore used to capacity by the citizens and that is the law! Whether it be motorist weaving in and about, vagrants finding their way, merchants selling wares , street workers getting their work done, no space is wasted. So from a driving stand point if you’re driving down the road and you see a space open and you fink your vehicle can fit then it’s free game. Go for it! Motorists here take any opening they can get. The lines on the road are more of an art form than functional lane separation. Just because there are two lanes doesn’t mean two cars. Remember the law on available space? Well cars, buses, motorcycles, bikes can pull up beside you at any time because they figure they can fit into that available space beside you. Share the road to the max. Oh and now add to the mixture the poor road conditions and lack of road signs in a foreign language. Now, let the games begin!
So you’re driving down the road in towns and cities, all signs are in a foreign language, you’re trying to concentrate on understanding the signs so as to go in the proper direction all while keeping an eye on the road for missing chunks of pavement, looking in the rear view mirror for all those things that will fill in the space beside you, and being aware of pedestrians bolting for their lives and cautious of changing traffic lights stocked with Policia eager to issue violations. Let’s just say it took some adjustment but before long we were in the game We figured out that you swim with the big fish or drown. Now it’s not necessarily a bad thing for us because this is the land of 2 million motorcycles so motorists are used to seeing them zip in and out of traffic and appearing out of nowhere. After studying local driving habits we have it figured out. See a chance take it. Many trucks are in state of ill repair so they are slow. Go around them. Buses stop anywhere at the wave of a hand by a passerby. Go around them. Weird little slow moving vehicles litter the streets. Go around them. Dogs, or any other animal on the street. Go around them. Combine them all together! Wait and wait and wait then go around them. Like putting pieces of a jigsaw together things seem to come together.
Now, away from the cities, on the open road, things are slightly different. There are still the countless potholes, rough pavement, gravel patches, construction detours, every domestic animal imaginable (including chickens), missing signage, slow trucks and other vehicles, but now you have higher speeds and curves. One needs to be cautious of all of the above while speeding around corners and be prepared for the oncoming traffic that decides to use available space coming at you. It’s not uncommon for motorcycles, cars, buses and trucks to pass on double solid lines, going up a hill, and around a blind corner. They expect the on coming traffic to accommodate them and move over. They are maximizing that usable paved space. Slow moving vehicles attract huge line ups all waiting for a moment to pass. Don’t start passing without a shoulder check because the impatient Colombian behind you is already riding the center line making his move to pass. It’s all part of the game.
Aside from all that, the scenery has been stunning and the experience worthwhile. We are a rather imposing sight coming down the street. All eyes turn toward us. People call out or give us a thumbs up, oncoming traffic flash headlights or honk. I’m amazed at the paparazzi-like reception we’ve been getting. Then again in the land where the 250 cc motorcycle is king our 1200 cc bike becomes outstanding. All eyes are upon us as we cruise through toward the far south and every time we stop, no, every time, we get swarmed by locals. They want to stare at bikes up close, try and talk with us, and take photos of the bikes with themselves beside them. Departures are always delayed.

We heard or read comments before coming about the dangers of driving in Colombia and now we can say we survived it. The reports on dangerous trucks and buses devouring both lanes and coming toward you is somewhat true but after seeing how the game is played here it’s not all that dangerous. Those other drivers are actually quite skillful and aren’t trying to wipe out other motorists but actually just trying to do their day to day job and avoid costly repairs from smashing into potholes and whatnot. When I pass a car at home I only go when I can see enough clear space ahead before proceeding knowing the car I’m passing will remain constant. Here it’s different. That truck I try to pass can swerve at me at any time. Not trying to hit me but to avoid a pothole or pedestrian or horse on the side of the road up ahead. So when passing keep in mind what the person you are passing is thinking as well as what they will encounter ahead of them.

We easily can see to not drive at night. No streetlights would make it difficult to see the holes, animals and speed bumps everywhrere to control speeding in outlying residential areas. We average about 280 km a day and at night it would be even far less. Another thing that slows one down is the policia and militario road blocks. The military presence grew larger as we went south from Bogota. Probably because the guerillas have been forced back into the southern jungles but are still present. We had two road choices going south. We took the inland road knowing we would have to cross westward over the mountains to get the other road to the border. We planned on crossing way south at Mocoa but found out that it was far too dangerous. The “Road of Death” as well as possible military activity made it so. Therefore we crossed via San Agustin, town with ruins, to Popoyan. Wow, now that was an adventure. The road was not paved most of the way. Elevation reached over 12,000 feet. Fog, rain, and narrow muddy roads made travel very slow. We had to crowd to the side of the road and stop to bypass huge oncoming trucks. It went on and on seemingly without end. All in all we are still alive and have learned to play the game. One more notch in our belt of driving experience


One comment on “Driving in Colombia

  1. Suzy says:

    What a journey you have chosen! 🙂 Nothing like sitting in complete trust of your senses. It is a beautiful landscape. Safe travels!!

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