When I first moved to Colombia in 2009, my main goal was to buy a motorcycle to explore Colombia and South America.
The plan was to teach middle school history at an international school on the North Coast of Colombia for a year, save money and then live my dream of traveling around South America for a year on a motorcycle.
Little did I know at the time that my motorcycle and I would never leave Colombia…
Upon arriving in Colombia, I was lucky to have two months of vacation time before I had to report to my new job. With the assistance of a very helpful Colombian friend, I purchased my motorcycle, a Kawasaki KLR 650.
I decided I first wanted to rest at the beach for a few weeks, so I set my sights north and traveled to Santa Marta. This was a long, 950 kilometer trek from Bogotá, and I couldn’t have been more excited.
About four hours into my journey, I was pulled over by two policemen.
My first thought was to prepare to be “shaken down” for a bribe (after twenty months and being stopped dozens of times by police and the military, not once did this happen to me in Colombia), or maybe an inspection of my luggage and my paperwork.
The first thing the policemen said to me was, “Hola amigo,bienvenido en mi pais“ (hello friend, welcome to my country).
The other policeman said, “Mi amigo, tu motocicleta es bonita. Te deseo un viaje agradable en mi pais.” (My friend, your motorcycle is very beautiful, I wish you safe journeys in my country).
After a few moments, I realized that I wasn’t being stopped because I had committed an infraction; I was, in fact, being pleasantly greeted by a Colombian welcoming committee.
Throughout the next twenty months I would have countless other equally positive encounters with the Colombian military and police.
After spending a few awesome weeks in the Santa Marta area, I set off on this route:
- Santa Marta to Medellín
- Medellín to Bogotá
- Bogotá to La Guajira
For a year, I made dozens of small trips on the North Coast and one long trip from La Guajira to Cartagena to Armenia and back to La Guajira over Christmas break.
In June 2010, I left my job and, instead of going on my South American motorcycle trip, I decided to act on another dream of starting my own business.
I created my own travel guide company and set off on an adventure to write and produce my own travel guide on Colombia. I structured a business and began to build a website as I traveled Colombia researching the North Coast of Colombia.
My route for my journey (on my motorcycle unless noted in parentheses):
La Guajira to Valledupar; to Bogotá (by plane); to Chicago (by plane, to visit my family); Back to Bogotá (by plane); to Valledupar (by plane); to Riohacha; to Valledupar; to Santa Marta; to Barranquilla; to Cartagena; to Tolu; to Mompox; to Taganga; to Riohacha; to Cabo de Vela (by car); to Valledupar; to Bogotá (by plane); to Valledupar (by plane) and one final journey on my motorcycle back to Bogotá, where I finished writing and producing the book.
When I was waiting for the ferry on the way to Mompox, my motorcycle made a friend…
I’m sad to say my beloved motorcycle had lots of issues.
For two years I crossed Colombia on my motorcycle and, over this time, not once did I feel uncomfortable or unsafe. My biggest fears were potholes, the weather and animals in the road.
Even though my motorcycle was only slightly used at the time I purchased it, I had scores of mechanical failures.
These misfortunes, though, led to new friendships in small towns and at rural military check points.
Every time my motorcycle failed, a horde of curious Colombians would come to my rescue with a local mechanic, a cold drink or letting me use of their cell-phone to call for help.
It was as if the whole country was alerted that there was a lost gringo traveling around and he should be assisted when the eventual obstacle would present itself.
While I fell in love with the landscapes and the adventure, it was the people of Colombia that captured my heart with their friendliness, happiness, and their willingness to share their lives and their country with me.
There is not a day that goes by when I don´t dream of returning to Colombia, to find my old motorcycle and to restart the adventure that ended a few years ago.
I also dream of writing one more travel guide on what I consider the most amazing country in the world.
About the Author: Justin Cohen is the writer of Explore Travel Guides: Bogotá and North Coast Colombia. Justin currently resides in Asia, and is researching and writing his second book, due for release by October of this year. His plan is to return to Colombia by the end of 2013, to research, write and produce a travel guide on all of Colombia. You can follow Justin at his blog, Go To Colombia, and on Facebook.