I had three days to leave Colombia before my visa would expire. If I didn’t exit with the motorcycle in this time the Colombia customs had the legal right to keep the bike. I’d been waiting over 2 weeks for the campesinos (farmers) to reach a deal with the government over their struggle for assistance in their simple survival, and to lift roadblocks that had the country in a standstill.
I made my best attempt to relax, but inside I felt nervous about the outcome of attempting to cross with an expired visa.
When the news came that the blocks had been lifted I prepared to leave.. While traveling I met another motorcyclist Tyler Lucas, a Canadian moto adventurer who advised me that the route south through Neiva was still completely blocked. The news meant the Pan American Highway was the only option to leave.
I left from Salento and planned on arriving to a city called Popayan where I would wake up early the next morning and race to the border of Ecuador (Pasto/Ipiales) another 200 miles away.
The day was long, winding and exhausting. I prepared myself for the possibility of roadblocks ahead. By the time I reached Popayan I’d seen only a small roadside protest but no blocks. When I arrived at Popayan my fuel gauge on my 6 gallon tank displayed 211 miles and still had three bars since last refill. Since I’d never seen my moto run for so long on the gas id used I decided to keep moving to a smaller pueblo in between Popayan and Pasto.
Exhausted I fired along with the motorcycle, in a half awake state, my alter moto ego ignited. I felt I had little to do with the following hours behind the handlebars. We both were running on fumes and there were no gas stations nearby solo casitas along the road selling gas out of plastic bottles. I began to realize why the government had little concern for the south of Colombia, there wasn’t much to it. The landscape was a mountainous arid dust bowl, reminding me of South West Texas.
Without my thoughts or fears the ride passed by effortlessly. The moto and I arrived at our destination, a small pueblo called “El Bordo” as the sun was setting over the little red town.
“EL Bordo” was livelier than I anticipated. The only main road lined itself with restaurants and bars, full of foot traffic, motorbikes, families, and teenagers. Along with this mix working girls stood outside of nearly every motel as Truckers passed by load after load headed for the border. The end of the strip sticking to the edge of the hills laid the lower end motels, hotels and seedier disco tech/strip clubs.
I found prices for habitation in this area more economica. In search for a place where I’d be able to park my bike, a cute older full lady in shorts and a tank top wearing sandals casually waved me in into her business. She was the experienced madam for the few ladies working at her spot. Her joint was an un-glorified series of storage units each with a bed and no fans or windows. The sign in marker read 7,000 pesos a night (3.50 US dollars). And since I was so tired I could have slept on an ant mound the level of comfort made no difference to me.
I began to unwind, I felt secure my passage would be worry free the next morning when suddenly a motorcyclist sprinted up to me off the road, and began frantically trying to say something. I still had my helmet on and I was unable to make out what he was telling me. His overly excited face showed the expression as if zombies were coming and we needed to evacuate immediately. His patience was short and I couldn’t get him to repeat what he said. I only made out “no quedarse” or don’t stay here!
I thought about the man, and hopped off the bike, I relaxed, sat down and grabbed a smoke from the madam. My heart sunk, as she proceeded to tell me a block had been set up just 5 miles down the road 10 minutes ago. As we were speaking nearly 50 trucks and busses full of campesino protestors rolled through the town. This caravan was the zombie apocalypse the motorcyclist warned me about.
Nervously I asked some of the locals what was happening. Some told me a block was being set up to the north just below Popayan, some said it was south of Bordo. One man told me he knew the leaders of the camp and the roadblock north was to be set up indefinitely.
Had I stayed in Popayan to the north would I have been blocked from going south the next morning? Was there another block down the road, that had I continued a little further south I would have missed? I mulled over all the possibilities what to do. The option of riding the motorcycle further south was out; I was completely tanked. I decided I’d leave early next morning and hope for the best. It was around 8 o’clock now, so I found some pollo asado, treated myself to ice cream and returned to my storage unit brothel.
I went inside my unit, closed the heavy steel door, and fell back on my 1 inch thick mattress while listening to the neon busy pueblo outside. The busses, cars and semis, the women, the doors opening and closing, the jukeboxes faintly playing salsa all lulled me into a deep sleep. I was so damn tired I don’t remember taking any clothes off.
Not a moment seemed to pass and I woke up from my slumber in complete darkness. I felt completely disoriented. I had a “Memento” moment as I tried to figure out where the hell I was. So where are you I said? I felt around my surroundings, and said, “Ok I’m in a hotel room”. I illuminated my watch it read 4 am. I waited for my eyes to adjust to the sheer darkness, but they never did. I listened to the quality of the equally quiet surroundings to place myself, the silence was a sharp contrast to the bright noisy shed that I’d fallen asleep in.
Not a single bug creaked. I wondered if the calm on the road meant the blocks were in effect. I lit a candle, quietly tiptoed on the cold cement floor to the back of the building and took a cold shower.
Afterwards I packed up my moto and began to slowly push her out. The madam heard the movement, woke up and helped open the rolling front gate that was shut at night for the protection of everyone inside. We shared one last smile together, and I noticed her ample body more true. Her real gentleness showed through the partially dyed hair that fell over her shoulders. There was no attempt or struggle to appear as the beauty she once must have been in the morning.
I rolled the moto out into the cold black darkness of the early morning. The sheet metal door echoed throughout the dead streets as it quickly slammed back down. Hair stood up on my arms and I realized anything was possible. I smiled a pale proud smile while mimicking the sliver of the moon above. I realized, damn man, I cant pay for the suspense that stood in front of me now.
I cranked over the engine and slowly crept away. As I drove out alone “alive with the Gods” I watched the world wake up over the sleepy mountain pueblos. Quiet as the night, quiet as their lives, unnoticed and simple silently we moved on. These Hermosa Colombianas hard won smiles was matched only by their intense generosity I received.
Above me brighter and pronounced the white sharp twinkle of a million glimmering stars paved my way. I’d been away from the stars for too long. I wondered if I’d fasted from their light only to feel their brilliance once more in overwhelming glory. Steadfast climbing and falling through curves I felt as close to their pure expression as ever. The thin sweet air shortened my breath and forced the stars into an intense white. Eventually the sun peeked over the layered mountains and I chased the shadows through the gold crowned light. I wasn’t capable of handling the peace I felt. I held back tears; “ye of little faith” I then knew no roadblocks were ahead; I had only to stay within the lines.