Colombia remains embroiled in a struggle with the insurgents of Left and Right battling for control of its lucrative cocaine trade. As we ride south from Bogota – and we’re only a day or two from the Ecuadorian border now, things have become a bit more militaristic on the road. The army roadblocks, searches of bus passengers and their luggage, helicopters hovering overhead and armoured cars in abundance – none of this is normal for peacetime. And despite the big advances Colombia has made it’s still a battle down here in the southern provinces especially Just yesterday the army killed FARC boss Oliver Sarte at the border (BBC report here) and further north we were we a bit too close for comfort the exercises ended up with the death of 12 of the rebels. Today just south of here the rebels attacked a police station with bazookas sending the town’s residents fleeing into the hills.
The advice from here to the border is to stay strictly on the Pan American, no wandering off as we’re in FARC country. It is so reminiscent of times on previous rides when it was the Maoists in Nepal or the muslims in Kashmir that were effectively in control. The FARC rebels are in the Andean hills that flank this long north-south valley.
But apart from the military activities this area is Colombia’s rich agricultural heartland with swathes of the valley between the Cordilerra Occidental and the Cordillera Centrale planted in maize, sugar and other crops. Lots of African folk working the fields here too – presumably descendants of the slaves the Spanish brought in.