Elephant Moto is an enterprise created by Mauricio “Micho” Escobar, who I had the chance to meet in the first “BMW Riders”. After that, we have met each other several times, but never on the route. Elephant’s business is to rent BMW motorcycles, teach driving lessons in both On and Off Road and long national and international rides in and out of Colombia. The invitation was to Paseo de Ríos, an outstanding 4 days experience of about 1700 kilometers, with near 70% Off Road.
Riding again throughout our very beautiful Colombia
I arrived on Thursday to Bogotá, right straight to the Elephant facilities, where Micho introduced me to the motorcycle I’d use in this great adventure: a brand new BMW R1200GS, Keyless, QuickShifter, among many other accessories for this mainly off road journey. After a brief check to the motorcycle I made some adaptations to my gear (like GPS, luggage, etc.).
Later, we met with two of the other participants for a brief about the adventure for the next day, especially for the group driving indications and the route. We went to rest, got the travel guide, stickers with our names for the helmets, stickers with the Elephant’s #26 “Paseo de Ríos” id and a great t-shirt with the ride’s logo and its sponsors: BMW Motorrad, Rev’it and SENA Bluetooth
Like the Americans say: “Rubber side down, Sunny side up”
We agreed to meet at 5 a.m. and it was very cold and we felt sleepy. The surprises started when I met with Felipe Rojas, another adventurer I met before through social media, because of his emblematic trip throughout South America, riding a BMW F800GS Adventure. I was told that “Pipe” was the newest member of the Elephant Staff. In this occasion he was the escort on the support car, which included a trailer, groceries, supplies and three of our pilot’s companions (Andres’ wife and son and Ed’s wife).
We were ready to start the journey and we took the highway heading to the first gas station after the turnpike to meet with other participants and with Francisco “Pacho” Escalante, the third member of the Elephant Staff, who was going to be the leading guide on this expedition, with Micho after him.
A brief introduction to the other pilots, we had breakfast and it was time to go. We took the route heading to Colfrance, a much known dairy enterprise, located at the Chiquinquira Kilometer 2, where we made a very short stop to regroup. I used these 100 kilometers to get used to the motorcycle. I didn’t drive a GS since my K25 2010, besides it was using Heldanau tires, which were new for me as well.
After many unsuccessful attempts, we finally met Guadalupe, Santander
We got to San Jose de Suaita, the end of the paved road, and then we headed to Guadalupe, in a mixed road (unpaved and muddy), where the skills of the pilots are tested. Finally we got to Mrs. Gloria’s house, a place where we left the bikes to walk to Las Gachas gorge, a place that I wanted to meet but I haven’t had the chance. This gorge is famous because the riverbed is made by stone (very flat by the way), in which the waters run cold and clear.
There are a lot of very deep holes in this riverbed, with different diameters and depths, where you can’t touch the floor standing on your feet. These holes are like very big natural Jacuzzis, where taking a refreshing bath to lower the temperature is delicious. Mrs. Gloria had a very succulent lunch ready for us to have: meat, yucca, baked corn, boiled eggs and rice. A very traditional meal.
Las Gachas creek, a Paradise known by only a few Colombians
A well-deserved rest and Pacho called us to continue the route, because it will take a lot to get to our final destination. The unpaved road lasted for a while as we kept going up to a hillside with an incredible view, although we noticed something strange on the ground which seemed like purple colored. That’s how exotic our Colombia is.
We arrived to Contratación where the soft rain became a very annoying downpour. Some of us wore raincoats.
The route turned more difficult. I didn’t know what to expect because at the end of that little town we face a very long descent, the longest and muddiest of them all. I didn’t feel comfortable because the bike wasn’t mine, it weighted 240 kilos and I don’t have any expertise on descents.
The route was getting more difficult because the rain was stronger, the descents were tougher and I felt very nervous. All of this made me to be second-to-last. Behind me just Micho and the support car. He stopped me and gave me some instructions. “Man, relax” he told me. Then he gave some driving tips for this kind of terrain and they really helped me a lot, the tension disappeared, my confidence came back, but don’t believe I arrived on first place.
I survived the mud!!!
Then we got to Simacota, where we had a little pilot meeting and decided to take the paved way to San Gil because it was too late, the rain didn’t stopped and it would take us until 9 pm to get to our destination. There we refuel, repaired a flat tire and checked a bike with clutch issues. Finally we got to Barichara, where we headed to the Misión Santa Barbara Hotel. We got off of our bikes and drank some cold beers as a reward for our first day. Then, some of us headed to their bedrooms and some stayed at the T.V. room to talk about the anecdotes of the day. One by one felt asleep, waiting for the second day of journey.
I woke up at 6 a.m. to take a shower, organize my clothes in my Mosko Moto bag, had a great breakfast with different kinds of bread and went to the ATM. When I got back at the hotel, everyone was ready to start. The day was sunny and clear. I felt tranquility so hard to explain and Pacho asked us to start. We went into a lot of Barichara’s places I didn’t even know. I saw a great viewpoint (I’ll be back to check it better for sure) and the paved way is over again. The Off road began when we headed to Zapatoca.
The way was completely dried but there were some traces of mud caused by the rain. I didn’t even want to think about it. The scenery you can find in these routes is just amazing. Colombia always amazes me and I feel I just don’t know it entirely.
We arrived to Zapatoca Park, a very small and beautiful town, where we stopped at a store to refresh ourselves and suddenly a lot of people came to see our bikes and take some pictures with them, even an elderly man who was riding a bicycle wanted a picture with us.
We continued our route to the outskirts of this town and we saw some very nice houses. Living in this town has to be great. Finally, we took a mixed paved road again and I was stunned with the curves. Then we got to highest peak of the mountain and from there we saw a very winding road, a very European one – from the pictures I saw, sadly I’ve never been there – and a smile came immediately to my face because I actually like those kinds of roads a lot. Very hard curves and very great views but I couldn’t stop because I like the movie feeling I was getting from that place. We got to the bridge in the lowest part of the canyon, and it really was like a movie.
Guillermo Gómez Ortiz Bridge at Zapatoca, Santander
We stopped, regrouped, continued on the road and now I’m driving uphill like crazy. In the summit we found the plain with a river where we had lunch. The support car arrived with delicious sandwiches and the bikes were the focus of attention for the local people again.
Every stop was a whole bunch of new stories to tell
It was not easy to follow the route after lunch, not after feeling full. We went to Gijon and there we took the paved road to Lebrija, where we took a detour to an Off road route. This part was very different to the one at Zapatoca due to the landmarks. It was definitely more rural than the other towns we visited before. Ergo, the roads were getting narrower. “Leave plenty of space between you and the one before you in order to maneuver”.
Then it was my turn to take the downhill route. It was a steep slope with an abyss next to it. It didn’t seem that difficult to me, but maybe that was according to my experience from the previous day.
We arrived to a energy station at the end of the downhill, we crossed the bridge and then we regrouped, waiting for the support car, which I suppose it was very difficult to drive down that hill. A kid came to us to invite us to his mother store. We went there to wait for Pipe and the support car.
From that bridge to Sabana there are about 75 kilometers with some old railroads and a very big bridge, which we crossed. The bridge moved like if it was about to fall down. The landscape and the river gave some mystique to that landscape, something I have never felt before. In the pictures you won’t see the wonderful of that look.
Then we crossed through a road which gave us the feeling to speed up our bikes, but Pacho and Micho already warned us not to trust that road, because there were a lot of dangerous curves. We could see little towns who had old and antique train stations. People got in our way to say hello to us.
The bridge over La Gomera creek
We went in a very fast way when suddenly I found Charlie, one of our very best friends. He was stuck in mire and I stopped to help him. He told me that he was fine and then I helped him with his motorcycle. It was a R1200GS Adventure, deeply buried in that mire. I tried to put it in neutral gear but I couldn’t, open the switch and I found a big surprise: it was in its fourth gear. This man was speeding and there was no way to take that bike out of the mud. We waited for the support car and Pacho was the only one who could solve the issue.
We took the rear view mirror out – the screws broke – and then the warning came again: “Be careful because the next bridges are very dangerous, they have gaps and you can fall inside them”. Man, am I lucky or what? The terror goes on…
The indestructible R1200GS Adventure
And the bridges were dangerous indeed. I saw myself already in the river with my bike on me. Fortunately we had no problems, although Micho told us about a foreigner who had an incident in one of their journeys, luckily with no injuries.
We arrived to Sabana de Torres and we took a paved way to Troncal del Magdalena Medio who would end in Barrancabermeja. I have to confess that the paved road wasn’t that fun anymore. Now I understand why there is such enthusiasm for the Off Road.
We got to a big gas station with a hotel and a little mall. There we spent our second night. We had a very good cold beer and took a shower.
At 7:30 pm we had a very good dinner. Some asked for Ceviche (at Barrancabermeja) and was not satisfied. The food was over and Micho called us to the Elephant Hour, when we had to tell what was the best and the worst for the day. We didn’t do this the previous night because the Colombia soccer team played and we watched the game. So there was a good time to tell and listen to all the pilots’ experiences. Then we went to bed to rest and prepare for the next day adventure.
The Off Road is addictive
I woke up at 6 am, organize my bag and head to the restaurant to have breakfast and to get the news: we had to take a new route from the one we planned previously. The road was not in a very good shape to go from Barrancabermeja to Puerto Berrio throughout Yondo. That road is made of very long straight lines, where all of a sudden a road police may appear with speed radar. Luckily, there was not something like that.
We regroup in Puerto Berrio, hydrated and the Off road started again. Thirty minutes later Charlie appeared stuck in mire again. His bike was almost half buried and he was all covered by mud. We laughed a lot and fortunately the bike went out easy. Charlie has no injuries again, except for his ego…
The castaway rescue
At Puerto Triunfo we regrouped again and this and that. We took the way to La Dorada, where everything was loose gravel. Very wide roads, few vehicles and it were very favorable to speed up. All of a sudden I saw myself in very deep gravel that shakes my bike and I thought “Lord, save me from this”. The temperature was high, not even a cloud in the sky. Luckily for me there was no mud to add to the gravel…
Natural Tunnel in the road to San Miguel, Antioquia
We got to the main road and headed to Doradal to have lunch in Asados del Camino. Refueled and went on the road again. We faced a mixed way with gravel and some mud. We arrived to a town called San Miguel and the end of our journey’s third day would come with a very special surprise: we had to cross the river on a ferry.
In the middle of the river, Micho told us that we were about to face a very tough uphill and that we have to be cautious and take distance from each other. Now what? But it wasn’t that tough compared to the roads from the previous days. Some loose gravel but nothing else.
We arrived to a parking lot and left our bikes there. A man came and said “give me your bags and ride the boats” Boats? What boats? Yes, there were a couple of boats waiting for us to sail against the tide of La Miel River. I wasn’t amazed enough. I thought all the funny and interesting things from the trip were already behind. But what a way to be wrong…
Through the river’s clear waters you can see big and small fish and nutrias. In the jungle which surrounds it you can see birds of all sizes and colors. Beautiful!
We arrived and Adrian and I jumped to the river. The heat was unbearable and it was a very good reward after all we have done, along with the natural spectacle…
La Cachaza hotel is just spectacular. The cabins are made with guadua. The rooms are much ventilated and had 6 beds, two doubles and four singles, each one with its own mosquito net. They also have its own private bathroom and a shower, a balcony with a hammock, chairs and a fridge. The dinner was a very delicious mojarra and then some beers during the Elephant Hour. Some anecdotes and then we went to bed.
In the morning I felt so tired that I couldn’t even be entirely awake. We returned to the boats and when we were in our way when someone screamed from the cabins. It was Kiko. We left him behind. We returned, took him and got in our way again. We were in a boat with Edgar, a very experienced native boat driver, who was telling stories all the time, while showing us all kind of animals throughout the river, one he knows like the palm of his hand.
An hour or so later, we got to a canyon, where Edgar insisted to dive into the water. Everyone dived with their vests and the cold water refreshed us as we get to the lowest part of the river. Edgar called us, we rode the boats again and we headed back to the hotel.
The way there was faster as I thought. Once we got there we had thirty minutes to be ready and to return to the road once again. It wasn’t easy to get dressed with that heat and I couldn’t stop thinking about that huge rain which happened the night before and all the mud it must have bring with it.
Sadly the end of Paseo de Rios is coming
“Elephant: stories to tell for life”
From left to right: Pipe, Me, Micho and Pacho
It was really hard to tell this story, because I couldn’t take as much pictures as I would want to. It is not easy to forget for a while what you’re living, enjoying the ride, the views and the landscapes. I made a lot of new friends, got new skills – thanks to Micho and Pacho’s patience – and the best of all is that I discovered a lot of unknown places from Colombia, ones that are going to be printed in my memories forever. That’s why I recommend you all to travel with these guys, because ELEPHANT are stories to tell for life.
To enjoy this kind of trips a lot more it is always good to train yourselves a little more. Off Road driving is a lot different than paved road traveling. ELEPHANT offers Off and On Road driving lessons, ones that I’m going to do after my next Off Road journey.
Until next time