When entering through border gates, I usually take pictures of the area. I went down the hill for the last kilometers in the Ecuador and suddenly I found myself in a human crowd. It’s a complete mess. Some people are trying to sell things, some ask for money, Venezuelan citizens who have just crossed the border with their families, sit in a group at the exit of the border and talk about what to do. Taxi drivers keep an eye on tourists as easy pickings. When I enter such a crowded environment with a bicycle full of loads, everyone’s eyes inevitably turn to me, looking and examining. I leaned over the front of the bike and quickly took out the GPS put it into the handlebar case. Electronic items shouldn’t be visible on the bicycle in this crowd. I got off the bike and entered the passport control point. I always leave the bike outside at these checkpoints. But this is a very crowded spot and since it won’t be easy to leave the bike, I looked around and found what I’m looking for. There was an elderly peddler close to me. After buying water and little chatting, I asked him to keep an eye on the bike. In such cases, it is useful not to take any chances. I got the exit visa from Ecuador and went to the Colombian side. There was Unicef’s tent at the entrance, doctors, nurses, incredibly crowded. I didn’t ask what is this. I have to get out of this crowd by bike as soon as possible. On the Colombian side, there was the police outside the checkpoint, after I handed the bike to him and made my transactions, I got a 90-day visa for Colombia, the last country of my South America trip, on December 14, 2019, and immediately started pedaling to get away from the area.
Sometimes at these borders crossings the exchanging currency has very good value, sometimes bad. I had about $ 15 with me, it wasn’t bad idea to exchange some of it because I don’t have Colombian peso with me. Ipiales is the first city on the border. As I climbed the slope, I saw a woman selling watermelons and pineapples. Ooo, I wanted so bad.
-Do you take dollar, is it ok?
-Sure, no problem.
-You cut the watermelon and pineapple mixed, I’ll take one.
She prepared and gave very quickly. We also started a conversation. She shortly explained her own situation, from the state of affairs to the country’s economy, from her children to her husband. What I ate cost $ 1.5, because of the beauty of the conversation and when she learned what I did, she also gave one as a gift. Look, it hasn’t been 10 minutes since I entered the country and climbed the hill, I encountered the first goodness in this country. Everything will be fine.
I say this country will go well or something, but there is a situation like this. It is said that the most beautiful women of South America are in this country. Maybe it will be more correct if I say that it will be nice and difficult. I will be very glad if I can leave the country without being madly in love with someone. Let’s see what the next days will show. I entered the city in Ipiales and said WOW friend. Passing through cities and villages slowly and livingly makes me realize the anthropological and sociological change. With the first city, this change made itself very noticeable.
The first cities are important, as you know from my other road memories. First of all, I looked for a place to stay, I found such a good place in the center of the city which is super and affordable for both cyclists and motorcyclists. Moreover, the place has a courtyard. So, you can repair or wash your bicycle or motorcycle, etc. Buuuttttt I didn’t take the name or photo of this beautiful place. But if there is someone who will stay, send me a message, I’ll find it via GPS. I have never seen such a vivid city in a long time. One of the reasons is that Christmas is coming, everyone is in the streets and malls to buy gifts.
After finding a place to stay, I went to the bank. There is a long line in front of each ATM. Aha, there wouldn’t be any money left in ATMs, this is very bad. I hope I can withdraw money. And the money run out in the first 3 ATMs. Finally, fortune is smiling upon me. 1000 Pesos on December 14, 2019 equal (remove 3 zeros from money and calculate as 1 Peso) 1.78 Turkish Liras. It’s sad. I also gave the hotel money in dollars. Actually, as long as I have dollars, there is no problem. I always have enough money to manage for a few days. I was out of cash once or twice, and I took care of myself. Hotel, bank are ok. Now it is time to solve the cellphone line that I will use in the country. Claro is the line that has good reception from everywhere in Colombia. I buy a ready to use card, I gave 50,000 pesos, or 89 TL, to 1.8 GB internet. Thus, Colombia became the country where I spent the most money on the cellphone line to use internet in South America. I will find wifi area as much as possible or I will be broke (I changed the line in the next days). Since I took care of the place I stay, bank and cellphone line then Colombia should begin.
My South American friends always highlight Brazil and Colombia when it comes to dance. But there may be those who would say Gurkan there is tango in Argentina. Yes, there is tango, but what we call tango is only in Buenos Aires and Cordoba. In general, Tango is not a type of dance performed in every city of Argentina. Everyone in Brazil and Colombia dances to all kinds of music at anytime, I observed this situation in the south of Brazil too. It is the same in Colombia. Especially there is the salsa, I have never seen such a thing.
“Feri Cali” starts on December 25th. Go to the city of Cali, people are doing salsa on the streets, the images are amazing, the entertainment is superb (I don’t have a photo since I don’t walk the streets with my camera). But it doesn’t have to be a festival, people like to dance in the streets. When music comes from somewhere, everyone starts dancing. Haha even I do it once in a while. One day, I pulled the bike aside to drink water in the lights, the music was coming from a car, I started dancing with the rhythm. It is on the air of the country. Meanwhile, a salsa monster came out of me. It is not clear who taught when.
As I was on the road, I noticed a serious economic difference between the south and the north of the country. The situation is changing after the city of Popayan. I thought I went back to the black continent, especially in some areas in Colombia. Only afro americans live in some villages. The marks left by Africa on me are very deep. At a time when I said enough, I crossed from South Africa to South America. Otherwise, I would have finished the entire continent, only the west of it was left. But I was tired in Africa, it was really tiring to pedal without ever leaving that continent. That’s why I left West Africa and said I would come one day. Then, as time progressed, I realized that I missed Africa. I always remember the words of the famous explorer Livingstone: “If you opened your eyes once in Africa morning, you will never forget this continent again and even if you go far, you will always miss it.”. The region he is talking about is Sub-Saharan Africa and what he says is true. You can’t forget. Here in South America, the south of Colombia reminded me of Africa, and everything looked exactly like it. It was as if someone had taken a piece of Malawi and put it here.
When I met the famous Spanish motorcyclist Agustin on the road, we had dinner in one of these villages and chatted with the guys. He was someone who traveled the world with his motorbike and made a documentary with people, whom seems different during his journey. His story and what he does is inspiring.
-Gürkan do you know which is the most asked question to me?
-Most likely they are asking for the price of your motorbike.
-Really Agustin tell me, how much money?
In general, the people of the country are very good. When I asked someone something, everyone tried to help. A piece of bicycle was needed, the neighbors were informed immediately. I wanted a place to stay, they said pitch your tent in the garden. Everyone is very nice, from the police to the fireman. No bad people? Of course, there is in this country as in every country. It hasn’t hit me yet. As in Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador, I haven’t met a bad person in Colombia yet. I hope I will not meet either.
Colombian roads are similar to Ecuador. Altitudes are not as high as Bolivia or Peru. But the degrees of climbs and altitude differences are really high. So, when this is the case, Egan Bernal, the champion of the 2019 tour of France, 23 years old, also came from this country. I had the opportunity to ride my bike through places where Egan Bernal was training near Bogota. Bogota is at 2,800 meters, the man leaves his house, cycling towards the city of Ibaque. It falls from 2,800 meters to 300 meters in an instant. Then he climbs 2,500 meters on the way home, or leaves his house and climbs 3,000 or 4,000 meters per day between the national parks to the north and return to his home. Moreover, it makes these climbs above 2,500 meters altitude. Who could win if this man is not going to win the contest? By the way, there is a 17-year-old boy who passed Egan Bernal (23) in the Colombian race in their home country. So these young people are like robot you know. I wonder if there are places in our country where cyclists can leave their homes, climb over 2,000 meters and return to their homes. Of course, there must be a safety lane along this road! For example, you can go from Hopa to Ardahan, at an altitude of 2,400 meters in approximately 180 kilometers. But there is no safety lane. And everybody drives like crazy, it’s leap in the dark. There seems to be only one place where there is a safety lane and a climb above 2,000 meters; that is Uludağ climbing. It was said that a 2,100-meter climb was made in this area. But on the other hand, cyclists told me that the safety lane that must be reached by bicycle from the city to the climbing point is not at some points. Although I sent a message or two to Bursa Municipality, didn’t return to my messages. At such moments, people kept saying to me, “You have been traveling for so many years, you still have not many followers, there are very few people who know you.”. If I were a cyclist who they want me to be “a well-known and followed cyclist”, I would announce on social media that they did not respond to the messages I sent and form a public opinion. Then “Friends, Bursa Municipality does not answer meeeeee boooooo.” If I said, they would return immediately and ask “Why are you announcing to millions?” (do I? No, I just wrote the advent). Have as many employees as you can who work for your social media addresses, government agencies !! Maybe someone could give you a little two or three details that will work for you or us?
Safety lanes on the roads in Colombia for cyclists. It is included in their laws, and they also put signs on the roads every 300 meters. But the laws and their sanctions are not the same as in Chile, and this is an important detail, why? In Colombia, cycling is like an ancestor sport. I have never seen so much people in any country in the world use the bicycle for sporting purposes. China, South Korea, Japan, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, France, Belgium, Netherlands, England, Scotland, Spain, south of Morocco, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, South Africa, Argentina , Chile, Peru. In these countries I mentioned, bicycles are used for transportation, commercial vehicle, freight vehicle, child transportation vehicle rather than sportive activities.
But I have never seen a country citizen using mountain and road bikes as much as sporting purposes, it is unbelievable! But, despite the use of so many bicycles, there are more than 400 kilometers of bicycle paths in the capital Bogota, there is no other nation that is so disrespectful to the bicycle users! In other words, Colombia has refuted the understanding of as the use of bicycles increases, the respect for cyclists increases in society, in my mind.
There is a thought that the Turkish cycling community and I have been standing behind for years. So Colombia has buried our saying, “As the use of bicycles increases and people turn to cycling, so will a cycling culture”. Moreover, it did this very clearly. It took Colombians 50 years to use bicycles in this way, and unfortunately the cycling culture has not been established. Studies for bicycle paths started exactly 50 years ago. Every Sunday the busiest street of the city is closed between 6:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Once a year, “the use of private vehicles” is banned all day during the week, going to work by bicycle. There is a 500-kilometer BICYCLE ROAD in the city of Bogota. We are just building 56 kilometers to Ankara, it’s like a joke. We do not do it according to our own culture, we took from Europe as an example. (BUT THANKS SO MUCH WE DO OR I SAY WE ARE TRYING TO DO IT, EVEN IT IS VERY GOOD)
Cycling culture in Chile has been formed in 15 years. I can see how society affects sociologically and culturally. However, this interaction did not occur at 3,000 km above the same continent. So at this point other dynamics are involved. I have understood what these are, too. (In Bogota, my friend Laura and local cyclists gave very good details on this issue). The learning process continues .
I continued to use Warmshowers in Colombia as I have used in other countries. It is very easy to find a Warmshowers user in almost every city in this country. I also stopped by Juanita, a Colombian cyclist who started his world tour by bike from Asia.
– Hi Juanita. I am near Armenia, we can meet if you are in the city and free.
I sent her that message and a few days passed. By the way I keep going on my way but don’t hear a dicky bird. So I sent a message to Julian from Warmshowers;
-Hi Julian. I’m on a long trip by bike. I’m about to arrive the city you live in. If you are available, I’ll be glad if you host m for a few days.
After five minutes I sent this message, a message came from him and Julian said he would be happy to host me. He even said that he had a 4-star hotel in the city and I could stay there. Wow, that’s good. There is a village that I must visit right on the Armenia road. I say “must” stop by because my two traveling friends who had been to this village before told me to visit the village in particular. First let me go and see this village and then go to Armenia city. This time, on the way to the village, a message came from Juanita;
-Sorry Gürkan, I wasn’t in the city so I couldn’t answer to you. My house is your, you are welcome anytime.
“ My house is yours.” It is very nice that people all over the world welcome me wholeheartedly. Wherever you are, whatever situation you are in, such a message always creates a smile on your face. I thanked her and said that I would let her know when I close to the city.
I told before that I came across people who showed hospitality while pedaling in the country. One of them is Pati and her family. I didn’t find this family by Warmshowers or any apps. I arrived Colombia during the rainy season. There are no 4 seasons that we know in countries close to the equator line. They have dry season and rainy season. I entered the country towards the end of the rainy season. My tire blowed out while cycling on a rainy day.
I repaired it, it blowed out again after a few kilometers, and while checking the tire, I notice it was splitting. There was nowhere I can avoid from the rain. I had tire patches on me. I used both of them and wasted because I couldn’t fix it under heavy rain. There was nothing to do, I had to walk until I find a dry place. The fact that the road was rainy and downhill caused me to slow down and the tire blowed out while braking. It could blowed out when I was going faster and I could have a big accident. It could blowed out not on this slope but on another slope as well! For example, it was 10 km to the city in front of me, it could blowed out somewhere closer, but it blowed out at this point. The tire had to blow out here!
I walked in heavy rain. I took the first turn and there was a house on the right. A separate road leads to the house. I walked towards there and saw an old lady. I went to inside and salute. In Spanish;
-My tire blowed out and I need help. May I spend a night in your garden?
-Welcome, of course. Wait a minute, I’ll call my daughter.
I waited on the porch to avoid getting wet any more in the rain. A few minutes later, Pati came. I explained the situation and said that I should go to town and buy tires.
-Gürkan, welcome. Thus, you are the second Turk we will host. Months ago, a Turk named Tarık was our guest. Actually, this place will be a hostel but we haven’t finished yet. It will be finished next year. If you want to set up a tent, you can set it here. Where do you come from, what are you doing?
-Thank you so much. I have been traveling the world with my bike for 8 years. I’m pedaling towards Alaska. At the same time, I write my memories and take photos.
-How is your photos? Do you have equipment?
-I’m fine, using a drone.
-So could you take photos and videos for us too?
-Then you don’t need to set up a tent here. Let us give you a place to sleep and a meal in return for the images you took. How many days can you stay? Do you want to spend Christmas with us?
-I wanted to arrive in Cali for the new year, I have time. Of course, I can spend Christmas with you. I have enough time to arrive in Cali.
The next week was really busy. I took the promotional photos and videos of their hostel. I asked them to keep the small hut in the garden for cyclists. I said I would be glad if you do not charge the cyclists. They accepted. We got on very well with Pati, her sister Lina and her brother Adolfo. I spoke mostly English with Pati and Adolfo’s daughter Sofi. I helped renew and relocate the canoes which for tourists to take canoe tour on the lake who will come when the season will open. Linatold me her dreams, she wanted to grow and sell garden plants for the houses behind the hostel. She managed over time. Right now, I come across her videos on my social media page from time to time. Together, we took the children of the village to the city and toured the parks prepared for Christmas. An organization was held to help people in need.
The mother of this family, Laura said, “Gürkan spend the New Year’s Eve with us, too.” They were such a hospitable family that they wouldn’t let me go after the beginning of the year. I gave some details and ideas about the business. They decided to apply them at the hostel. One day Pati came and said, “Gürkan, we want to work with you. We’ll pay you, stay with us. We will also give you the room you stayed in. ” It was an incredibly beautiful offer. I could live the life that many people want to live here with this family on a good salary. A lifetime would pass very well in this nature, it’s not about the money. But I told that I could not stay and I have dreams of my own. All of them came and hugged. I couldn’t write the words they said, I’m gonna break down in tears.
When I was leaving, their mother said again, “Don’t go, stay.” Then she said “My house is yours, come and stay whenever you want, Gürkan.” and all of her family shocked. Pati in English said that “My mother never said this sentence to a stranger before. Always have a family and house here, never forget .”
It was difficult when the time of leaving. Every one of them hugged me sincerely. Each of them broke down in tears. How many memories we fit into a week, how busy our days were. It is good to know that I have a house near Cachagüi in the south of Colombia. They still send me photos and keep asking me about it. In fact, this situation continues in the same way as many people I stay at home around the world. We always text and chat on Whatsapp, Facebook.
In general, I am keep going well in Colombia for now, I hope it will continue.