Colombia Motorcycle Adventure Log: Day 01

Lessons in Tolerance: touring Colombia on a rented BMW.

The word of the day is "Tolerance." And I don't mean the "be respectful to others and their culture" sort (though that's always a good idea, especially when traveling in another country). I'm talking about tolerance in the design and engineering sense, the "How close can two moving objects come in proximity before one should worry for their safety." Because that's what riding a motorcycle in Bogotá, Colombia is like.

Colombia Motorcycle Adventure
Micho tends to business at his tiny office at Elephant Motorcycle Tours. The space is shared by his residence, a tiny apartment on the second floor.Photo: Shawn Thomas

Motorists in Bogotá have all the same basic transportation rules we have in the USA. Everyone drives on the right. There are stop signs and white paint indicating lanes and shoulders. But these indicators may as well not exist. Drivers maneuver to & fro based less on assigned lanes, and more on where their machine might just fit if they are quick and stealthy enough to attempt it. With 10 million people crammed into a single city, it's no wonder transportation works this way.

Colombia Motorcycle Adventure
A selection of bikes available for rent during Elephant Tour expeditions. When asked about the name, Micho explained that “Elephants, are good in a group, travel well, and adapt to adventures as they unfold.” Indeed!Photo: Shawn Thomas

Of course, we California motorcyclists with our fancy lane-splitting laws are used to threading the needle between moving vehicles. Or so we think. In Bogotá, maneuvering through traffic on a bike is at a whole new level. Drivers allow mere inches between vehicles, squeezing through traffic in a chaotic flowing jumble. Personally, I'm a fan of aggressive riding and found the experience to be fun, if not a little nerve wracking with my daughter Hailey riding copilot. But she didn't seem to mind.

Colombia Motorcycle Adventure
Hailey and I take off for our flight to Colombia. We honestly had no idea what was in store for us, which is all part of the adventure!Photo: Shawn Thomas

Hailey has grown up on the back of my motorcycle, and to her, Bogotá traffic is just another exciting adventure. It had been a long, arduous decision to bring her on this trip. I had never been to Colombia, and knew precious little about the country (other than what I had learned on the Netflix show 'Narcos' which, I must say, is not complimentary). But with her 10th birthday behind us, and the "I'm too embarrassed to be seen speaking to or even near my father" teenage years fast approaching, it seemed a unique opportunity to stay connected with my little girl.

Colombia Motorcycle Adventure
Hailey inspects the machine we will be riding for the next 6 days (she approves!)Photo: Shawn Thomas

After about 8 miles (note to self: start thinking in kilometers) the traffic waned, and we found ourselves on the outskirts of town. It was a quick day of riding; we had flown in that afternoon, and were exhausted from travel. "We will only get out of the city, then get a hotel and sleep," Micho assured us. Mauricio "Micho" Escobar is owner of Elephant Motorcycle Tours and our guide through Colombia. A native to the country, Micho has spent a good long while finding the best backroads and dirt tracks in the region.

Colombia Motorcycle Adventure
Our first group photo, attended by Micho and his girlfriend. Lets ride!Photo: Shawn Thomas

We stopped along the way for a snack, then spirited along mountain twisties into Samacá Valley. "Watch for cars coming the other way," Micho warned over the Sena Comm system. Sure enough, vehicles came blazing through blind turns while claiming their half of the road out of the middle. But they were quick to move when we came in sight, and I was glad to have Micho leading.

Colombia Motorcycle Adventure
Micho was all too enthusiastic about sharing Colombian cuisine with Hailey.Photo: Shawn Thomas

We arrived last night in Villa De Leyva, a small town laden with cobblestone streets and adobe buildings. The place is spectacular, though we are far too exhausted to fully enjoy it. Hopefully tomorrow we are rested and ready to explore!

Colombia Motorcycle Adventure
Hailey and I are gear up and ready to explore the Colombian Backountry!Photo: Shawn Thomas
Colombia Motorcycle Adventure
We arrived in the small town of Villa de Leyva. Though it was a short day of riding, Hailey and I remain exhausted from the flight.Photo: Shawn Thomas
Colombia Motorcycle Adventure BMW
Shawn and Hailey's route on day 1 of their Colombian adventure.Photo: Shawn Thomas