Just another day on the Pan-Am

I’ve been spoilt. Not in the usual trust fund baby style however, a more Morgan-esque approach has found me on the back of Dad’s bike for the past week through Colombia. Riding pillion has its advantages and instead of pothole dodging I’m lucky to get a good look around, it’s with this spectator’s insight that I’m going to try and paint for you a picture of a typical day on the Pan-American highway through Colombia…

The countryside oscillates between postcard images of New Zealand and typical Colombian drug lord territory. Both incredibly green and lush, the latter chocka with banana trees and pineapples. The NZ style sections could be straight out of the Waikato, only difference – sheer size. This is NZ on some pretty serious steroids. These hills put the Rimutakas to shame, and are what the next generation of Colombian yellow jersey wearers have to thank on the Tour de France podium. It’s all within a day’s work for us to climb and descend over 2000m (sometimes more than once) and endure the corresponding 20 degree temperature shift. This can be mildly uncomfortable at times so when the next group of uber fit Lance Armstrong types pedal past I feel like I’m being rather precious.

Driving on the right side of the road is just one of the differences in traffic protocol. It seems that in Colombia passing on the inside isn’t off limits – more like “frowned upon”, and those double yellow centre lines are purely ornamental. I’m not sure the extent to which these interpretations of the road rules are accepted but, based on the fact we passed a Police car in such circumstances today, I’m confident to say pretty widely.

What has surprised me is that the road conditions have been pretty good the whole way through Colombia. It’s amazing to think that we’ve been driving along highways almost the same altitude as Mount Cook. No problems really apart from the odd slip blocking the road, and in NZ this situation would be cooly handled by two lollipop men in fluro orange Hi-Vis vests holding STOP/GO signs. Similar here really, main difference is that to be a lollipop man in Colombia ambidexterity must be a prerequisite. How else is one to comfortably hold a PARE/SIGA sign one hand and nurse a machine gun in the other?
Lunch stops, if we’re lucky, consist of fried plantains (green bananas) and trucha (trout). The trout here is absolutely amazing, that is one thing that Colombia has really got down. The problem is they bring you all sorts of side plates so by the time you’ve eaten enough to be able to send the plates back without feeling too rude you’re ready to pass out. This would be ok if one was a passenger in a car…but falling asleep on the back of a motorbike isn’t so easy to get away with, more than once I’ve woken myself up by headbutting the back of Dad’s helmet – sorry Pop!
Overall it’s been a great week with the olds; and considering the circumstances we got through relatively unscathed. That was until today, the final 90km from Otavalo to Quito, should have been a piece of cake…but there was the incident with the traffic cone. I’ll leave the details for Dad to share when it’s a little less tender, literally, but to be fair it was either a traffic cone or a bus.

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