Cali Come. Cali Go.

Colombian Coffee Bananas

Coffee & Bananas Everywhere in the department of Quindio, Colombia

Montenegro Rooftops

Sprawling rooftops and homes of Montegregro, the heart of Colombian Coffee growing region.

Calarca Scene

I loved getting lost and riding up and down the hills of Calarca, Colombia – also in the coffee growing region.

Horse Carriage Colombia

Moving coffee and other goods is still done by horse drawn carts in Quindio, Colombia.

Ironically, I found this group outside a motorcycle repair shop – “Taller de Motos”

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Getting To Cali. Leaving Cali.

Juan Valdez-1Rather than simply hop on the Autopiste to take the two hour ride to Cali, I decide to ride through the Ruta de Cafe – The Coffee Route. Cruising through the largest coffee growing region in Colombia I decide to head to Cartago going through Montenegro, Quimbaya and Calarca. This was one of my best days on the road in Colombia. First, there was no rain. Second, there were hardly any cars, let alone trucks. My goal was simple today. Good riding, good scenery and get to Cali by nightfall and take in on of Colombia’s busiest cities’ nightlife.

But soon the scenic beauty of the Andes and the coffee plantations were faded from my rear view I found myself on the Autopiste and happy once again for Colombia’s decision to let motorcyclists ride free. There are a number of good reasons for this. First, a motorcyclist takes more time at a toll booth than a car or truck. I never have change for tolls readily handy and therefore have to peel off my gloves, dig into my pockets, then put the gloves back on and eventually move forward. When cars back up behind me it’s frustrating for them — and for me. Colombia’s free toll “moto” lane eliminates all of this.

Watermelon Stand Colombia Outside Cali Cops

It seemed for miles and miles I was passing through sugar cane fields, processing plants and other large agricultural facilities. I think I even passed one of the largest chicken processing plants in Colombia. There are the usual police and military stops. Usually they wave me on through. But an hour or so outside Cali a cop waved me over to the side of the road. Walking up to the bike he stuck out his hand and said “Buenas tardes!” A huge smile took up half his face as he listened in earnest to where I was from, where I’ve been and where I’m going. His fellow cronies soon joined the party and then invited me to get off the bike and sit down and have a “refresca” to get out of the heat of the day.

As instructed by anyone Colombian, I picked the officers’ brains for information regarding the road from Cali to Popayán and Popayán to Pasto. If there had been more warnings and danger signs, it was about this rugged route in the mountains approaching the Ecuadorian border. They assured me this was a safe road and that I should simply ride it during the day. I finished my Fanta and bid my new friends good bye and headed to Cali.

My Cali experience was like most big cities I’ve visited in Latin America: smoggy, busy, noisy and confusing. Arriving around 2:30 and driving head first into the heart of the city, I soon found myself in traffic. Not so bad because no matter where I sit, someone rolls down their window or rolls up on a Korean or Chinese motorcycle and begins the interrogation. I soon felt claustrophobic and nothing about the city was calling to me, so I made a decision to blow off the Cali nightlife and head to the more tranquil setting of a colonial city just a couple hours south.

But with my reserve fuel light glaring at me in the puff and spew of a nasty diesel truck, I remember that I had no money in my pocket. Unable to buy my police friends Cokes, I spent my last 100 pesos. So I started scanning for banks — an ATM machine — I was getting deeper into the city and at just over 2 hours away and through the rugged mountains famous for guerilla activity I needed to get out of Cali and on the road. But I needed gas.

And I was lost in the big city.

Cali EscortMoments later in stop and go traffic an mini-van pulls up and down the window went. The usual conversation. But I switched it around. Asking about the road to Popayán, safety and timing. The van driver warned me about asking people for directions. There are many bad people, he assured me in impeccably easy to understand Spanish. You must be careful. Then I asked him how to get out of the city on the road to Popayán. He tried to explain. Then indicated I should follow him. Then for the next 40 minutes he guided me through side-streets, major thoroughfares and past stop signs, traffic lights, over bridges until I was finally on the road to Popayán. We both pulled over and shared a few moments. He was with his wife and their mini-van a school bus. I wanted to give him a tip so he could buy a fresco for he and his wife. But I was broke. I gave him my email and website and a big hug and was on my way. It’s this kindness of strangers that continuously reinforces my faith in humanity and the good in people all over the world — and in Colombia. I woulda been lost in Cali for hours had it not been for the unselfishness and earnest desire to see me safely out of the city of these two kind people.

So on my way out of the city, but running dangerously low on fuel and the city and its banks and ATMs behind me. Fortunately the first gas station I came upon accepted credit cards. The first time I’d seen this in months. A miracle? Just good luck? Whatever, I was happy to ride the “danger road” to Popayán just before nightfall with a full tank of gas.

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Photos
(not captioned): (1) Juan Valdez. I found him. On the door of a utilities truck on a coffee plantation; (2) Roadside watermelon stand outside Cali, Colombia; (3) My friends the Colombian Highway Patrol; (4) my personal escort out of the city of Cali, Ivan and his wife.

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