Adam writes on 2014-02-18:
Hello from barrio Suba in Bogotá, Colombia. We arrived here safely yesterday on our mid-day flight with Copa Airlines. There was nothing to report about the flight, and not surprisingly, it lacks the familiar good nature and humour of West Jet in Canada.
The only two points of drama were that a) we almost were not let on the flight, and b) our bikes are not yet in Colombia.
To start with point “a”, apparently Colombian government regulations are strict about tourist entry and you are supposed to have proof of a return flight out of Colombia, or bus ticket of onward passage. From a brief survey of various travel forums, there is much written on the subject. While we were aware of this restriction, I also took a similar flight without issue in 2010. I am not sure if these are new regulations but the internet forums suggested that sometimes you can get by without having a return ticket, while others offer solutions such as buying a completely refundable return ticket (which you never intend to use), or showing a print out from a web session just prior to actually hitting “submit” (i.e. before you have spent any money).
I guess we sort of took a chance with this, but I kind of figured that we could talk our way through it so we opted to do nothing and just show up with our e-tickets one-way flights. For me, if a bus ticket to Ecuador offers enough currency that one will find his or herself out of the country, then having one’s own form of transportation (motorcycles), as well as a passport filled with stamps indicating consistent transit, should be sufficient. As luck would have it, one of the first things the Copa agent asked for was proof of a return ticket out of Colombia. Crap. We sort of just stood there as if not to take “no for answer” and were insistent that we had motorcycles waiting for us, and showed her the related paperwork. We made certain to mention, whether it will be true or not, that our trip would be ending at one of the further countries away from Colombia, being Argentina, and naming off all of the countries in between.
She disappeared for a while, and then came back and was sort of baiting us to answer questions as if she would settle for a carrier name and flight number without the paper work. She suggested Air Canada, and I stated “yes, yes, si, si. Air Canada”. After a pause, she finished typing and handed us our documents. In hindsight, I was half inclined to have listed our “return flight” as “Air Canada 767”, choosing an airplane model, so that I could effectively declare ignorance and reference a clear language misunderstanding.
As a note, if you are another motorcyclist following our posts, YMMV, you may well find yourself returning from the airport, finding internet, and somehow providing proof of your return flight. Actually, your best bet might be to hop on the free airport shuttle over to the cargo terminal and use the computers at the business centre to book a refundable ticket, as I don’t think there is any internet available to unchecked and uncleared passengers at Tocumen.
Speaking of cargo, this leads us to point “b”. Once landed in Bogota, we took the airport shuttle over to the cargo terminal, lugging around our big duffel bags, daypacks, helmets, and of course, wearing our big riding boots. Having secured “security clearance”, and eventually finding the proper office at Girag cargo, a gentleman took the paperwork from me and went to check on the status of our bikes. Some fifteen minutes later another gentleman handed it back to me informing me in a curt manner that the bikes had not yet left Panama. No apologies or anything to that respect and said I should call Girag in the morning.
We were disappointed but not completely surprised. Having visited Girag’s office on Thursday, we dropped our bikes off with Girag early on Friday, as per their strong recommendation (they made it seem like sort of a big deal), for a flight on Saturday. It was explained to us that we would not be able to retrieve them on Sunday, but they would definitely be there on for Monday. It is generally better to make sure your bikes arrive before you do, and we took a bit of a gamble with this, but we are not too concerned at the moment since we are now told that they should be here Thursday [edit: now realistically Friday].
So, having found ourselves at Bogotá’s air cargo terminal without motorcycles, we went to a little business centre and made some phone calls to our local contacts. In 2010, I met a fellow in Bogotá by the name of Jorge Orlando who I stayed with and did a day trip with, and who is an avid motorcyclist. In fact, he is now just becoming the regional manager for KTM, Kawasaki and Bajaj. This, in its own way, is a minor problem – but not really. As we were getting closer and closer to Panama, we had been making more plans with Jorge but, as it turns out, he had just change jobs, moving from Kia to the previously mentioned organization.
Because of this, he would to be in Medellín, another city in Colombia, for the next three weeks. Having been provided with some contacts by Jorge, I called his wife, Gloria Patricia, as planned. Gloria’s English isn’t too strong, and while my Spanish is slightly better, it was not enough to piece together a conversation on the phone. Luckily, Jorge’s brother William was home and took the call. We were instructed to hop in a taxi and head on over to their place. We had already been invited to stay with Jorge, but plans changed slightly and we would now be hosted by his wife, brother, mother, and father while communicating with Jorge on Skype.
We arrived in the barrio of Suba (a neighbourhood, which is not quite a suburb). Having stayed with Jorge briefly in 2010 who was living with his parents at the time, I hadn’t realized that now married, everyone was still living on the two level housing unit above the small store which Jorge’s parents operate. As we pulled up in a the taxi, it became clear to me that, yes, we would be staying in his parent’s house and I must admit that I had questions about the practicality of Jorge’s generous offer. In 2010, it was a bit of a tight fit, and Jorge gave up his bed to me and squeezed into his brother’s bed.
Carting our gear up to the third floor, it became apparent that some renovations had been performed and what was once sort of a roof top storage and laundry area had been converted to have an additional bedroom, bathroom and living room. This certainly solved the question as to whether they would be space for us here, but also how they fit Gloria into the house on a full time basis as well.
So in Jorge’s absence, Gloria set us up. I suggested that we had camping beds and so forth, and that we could put them in their mostly empty living room (presumably recently added) and she would have none of that – and insisted that we take their bed. She is presumably now crashing in what was Jorge’s old bedroom, the one I stayed in previously. Jenn and I were admittedly both hungry, and having thought about grabbing some food at the cargo terminal, decided to just make contact with our hosts. Gloria inquired as to whether we would like some lunch, and we gratefully accepted. In short order, Gloria returned with some nice bowls of soup and a banana. Perfecto. Shortly after, plates of food arrived, including tuna, rice, potatoes, and some fried plantain. And then a small dessert! We were stuffed!
The whole meal was shroud in a subtle humour, as while the kitchen is visible from the dining area, Gloria was carting the food up the stairs. I presume from the store downstairs but having asked her, not all of it came from there – she may have been running off to a restaurant to make sure that we were fed. Wow. That is hospitality. [Edit: yes, there is another kitchen downstairs]
Breakfast was similar. Gloria sort of disappeared to the family shop to grab some things: bread, chocolate bars for hot chocolate and some cheese. While ultimately convenient, this was a little unusual for us and resulted in a little chuckle – and very appreciated.
Following breakfast, Jenn, Gloria and I headed off for downtown, taking Bogotá’s TransMilenio transit system to the Bogotá’s world renowned Museo Del Oro, what has been coined as the most important gold museum in the world. We spent a good part of the day looking at all sorts of indigenous artifacts, had lunch while watching the Colombia version of “The Price Is Right – El Precio Es Correcto”, before heading home, and eventually sending Gloria off for her 7pm to 7am shift at the hospital where she works in the ER as a nurse. That, to me, seems like a long day for her.
While, this morning, I ran into Jorge’s brother, William, who speaks English very well, Jenn, Gloria, and I have been putting some effort into language skills. Gloria is trying to learn English, and we are trying to learn Spanish, so this is win-win. As per “El Precio Es Correcto”, I have been quizzing Gloria on the English names of some common objects with accolades in the form of me mimicking the game show host: “corrrrectooooo!!!”.
[Edit – some additions on 2014-02-20:]
There has been a change of plans and we are now in the hostel Crazy Croc in the historic La Candelaria district. A number of personal events are taking place with our hosts, so we are going to continue our travels toward the coastal areas of Colombia to the north and eventually circle back to Bogotá at which time Jorge will have returned from his work trip. As of today, we still do not have our bikes but expect to pick them up Friday morning.
Gloria, who has been a star, came along with us to our hostel this morning at the suggestion of Jorge. We have been trying to get a concrete update concerning our bikes for some time. They were supposed to be here today (Thursday) at mid-day but we have really been jumping through hoops with Girag to get someone on the phone who could answer our questions definitively. I am a little annoyed with them right now as we were originally told that bikes fly only on Thursday and Saturday so I have no idea why someone (specifically Xenia) would have alluded that we might see the bikes earlier.
We should really not have been told that the bikes would be available for Monday, when they didn’t end up on a plane until Thursday, and would only really be ready to be picked up on Friday. All things said and done, Gloria has been very helpful as she managed to find the local Bogatá contact for Girag – person’s name, telephone number, etc. So while we were told “noon” – it probably really meant that they would be loaded on the plane at noon, landing at 2:30pm, and only unloaded at 4pm. This sort of information makes a difference. When I used Girag in 2010, they seemed OK and easy to deal with. I would say that this transaction has totally sucked.
We are not dwelling on this though. Jenn and I had a nice walk through La Candelaria this afternoon, had some good, cheap pizza, and a coffee and local treat. The Bogotá Beer Company – apparently Bogotá, partly due to its “English” weather, is the beer capital of Latin America – is close by. While we don’t usually drink at bars (money pit), the BBC apparently makes some very good beers. Ironically, having arrived in Bogotá, Jenn and I both agreed that we are not really all that interested in beer at the moment – the weather is just a bit murky for the sort of bland, fizzy beer common in Latin America and which is very refreshing on a beach, and were thinking that a bottle of red wine might be nice. But now, the BBC is sounding pretty good…