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Corporate Runaways

Overland travelers and certified geeks, based in Vermont.


16-Minute Read

Yesterday had a mind of its own and the results were dizzying. Today was similar, and radically different.

We packed our things and left the pimp room in a cab, sans breakfast. It was a residential area and there simply wasn’t anywhere to go for desayun. Someone asked if it was a per-hour hotel. We’re not really sure. The cabbie did the negotiating and took 2/3 of the total for himself. From one perspective you could be pissed because we got charged 3 times as much as the room cost. On the other hand, we asked for a $60 a night room (you try finding something cheaper near any international airport and see how far you get) and we were given a $60 room.

So, off to Girag Bogota. It wasn’t hard to find. Just get the cabbie to take you to the Carga terminal and look for the long brick building. Girag’s sign is near the middle. As soon as we have our stuff out of the cab there’s a woman waving at us from a little window with a slot. She hands us their end of the airbill for each bike and sends us off to customs insisting that we must both go, but that we can throw our stuff just inside the door by the security guard.

We wander off to customs, which is not “across the street” as all the other reports claim. It’s a smaller blue glass standing in front of the large blue building you can see from Girag. Walk up to, and past, the big blue building and when you you do you’ll see the smaller building in front of it. Go in. Go to the third floor. Walk up to the first desk where the person isn’t busy and tell them you have two motocycletas for import. They’ll forward you on to the appropriate person.

Now. If you’re smart, and prepared, you’ll ask Girag to make you a photocopy of the papers they told you to take to customs as well as a copy of the page with the Colombian immigration stamp in your passport. We didn’t know this. We just knew we’d need “some copies”. So we hand the guy photocopies of our registrations, and Passport (which also had the license on it). And, because we had most everything, he took pity on us, and took us downstairs to make copies. Turns out they moved the copier and he had to go make them himself but hey, we didn’t have to walk back to Girag. :)

Back upstairs he flips through photocopies of old imports to see examples of how to do ours, prods our passports and notices that immigrations gave us a Transit permit for 3 days, and the day you enter counts even though there was only about an hour of it left. Today was day two and it was approaching noon. There was no way in hell that we could make it to the Equador border in the remaining day. And, we didn’t want to, either.

He sends us off to the airport (just down the road) to attempt to rectify it but he’s leaving in two hours so we may have to deal with someone else. We decide we’d rather not so instead of walking we just hop a taxi and pay about $3 to get back to the airport ASAP. Go in, find immigration, see that it’s behind security, talk to an army looking dude and explain that we don’t need to fly we just need immigrations. He points us to an office to the side of security, we go in, explain the situation, and a very helpful man who speaks english (we could have done it in Spanish but it was much easier to just go straight for English in this instance) gets us 60 days because we told him we wanted to enjoy Colombia.

But, we know why we got the transit, and we know how to keep you from getting it. Know the name of a hotel in advance. That’s it. If you don’t know where you’re staying they haven’t a clue how to deal with you so they give you transit. It doesn’t matter what the name of the hotel is, or if you actually stay there, just make sure there’s some hotel, or person you can give them a name and city of. Last night we looked up where we’re staying in Cali (Hostel Casa Blanca) and used that.

(Dachary’s note: Personally, I suspect it was simply a communication error. We told them that we were coming back tomorrow to pick up our motorcycles, but I think they only got the “coming back tomorrow” part and that’s why they gave is transit instead of tourist. I think they thought we were just flying out again the next day.)

When you get your stamp they will write “Touristo 60” on it, or something like that. For us they wrote “Trasit 3” which we didn’t think to check because we told them we wanted at least 30 days and that we were tourists and they didn’t tell us they were going to screw us, or that they’d given us only three days.

Anyway, run to the food court because we’re starving, grab sandwiches, grab a cab back to customs (he had no clue where it was but we showed him) and back to a semi-surprised customs dude. He clearly wasn’t expecting us back so quickly. Who does some typety typety and then, even though he’s sitting in a totally modernized office, surrounded by computers and laser printers, pulls out two special pads and some carbon paper. He takes one sheet from the first pad and manually fills out a long form describing the bike. He takes three sheets from the other pad, shoves carbon paper between them, and fills out a different form containing mostly the same information and has me sign each. Then repeat the whole thing for Dachary’s bike. He then starts collating all the copies and forms and everything and realizes he has a copy of the passport with the transit note and not the updated tourist note, and, once again, takes pity on us, and himself, and runs downstairs and makes new copies of that page of our passports.

As we’re finishing up I ask him, out of curiosity, how much easier it would be if we were using a Carnet. His reply is something of a shock. Not only would it be more complicated he says, it would cost $400 US instead of the $0 US it costs doing it without a Carnet. Now, maybe he was mistaken. He obviously hadn’t gone through this process very often but…

Including about forty-five minutes spent running to the airport and dealing with immigrations again, it took about two and half hours, but we still weren’t done.

Back to Girag, eat our sandwiches, go inside and wait for someone to handle us, who takes us upstairs to a secretary who calls another Girag office, and hands the phone to us, where the woman on the other end asks us to send her an e-mail… “I can’t send you an E-mail. I’m in the Girag office and don’t have a computer.” … “Oh, we’ll it’s going to cost… " “No, we’ve already shipped the bikes” “Oh, well go to gate…” “No, we’re IN the Girag office IN Bogota RIGHT NOW.” “Oh, well talk to (some name I’ve forgotten).” ….

Seriously?! I mean, the secretary AT Girag called her and got her on the line to talk to us before I even said “hello”.

Anyways, they say the person will be back in fifteen minutes so I run to the bathroom, but then the person appears before Dachary can since the room is locked. Downstairs and back to waiting by security, where we wait, and Dachary makes the mistake of asking if she can go use the bathroom instead of just walking back upstairs. Security woman can’t leave her post but asks one of the workers. No. not allowed. Go use the ones in the parking lot. “No, those aren’t open.” (we checked before we came in)…. Eventually the woman who gave us the papers in the morning comes out, the security guard says something to her and she hands us papers to sign. We do, and then, in a quiet voice the lady looks at us and says “Baño?” I nod to Dachary, and they quietly go back upstairs.

We grab our stuff, the lady grabs our helmets for us, and we make our way to the warehouse where our bikes are waiting for us. Reconnect the batteries (fucking BMW and their six screws and removal of the oil cap and seat to get to the battery), reattach the little Wunderlich Wind Deflector they removed from Dachary’s. We should have though of that. Instead we had just folded it down. Now it’s missing a little plastic spacer where it clamps on to the plastic, but it appears to be holding ok. We lost a screw somewhere during the ride to Colombia though.

Anyway, considering that the windshields could have been cracked or broken in half as a result of our being too lazy to remove them we didn’t really think this such a bad outcome. While we’re doing this they wheel in a 1200GS With “Mustang Joe” on the right side of the tank. They tell us it’s a Canadian biker’s and he’s doing the americas south to north. I grab a card, write him a note wishing him the best of luck, and stick it to the plastic wrapping his bike with a couple Corporate Runaways stickers. We’re not sure if he put the plastic wrap around the bike or Girag did, so maybe they’ll remove it before he sees it, but I didn’t want to stick it to his actual bike, because I wouldn’t want people sticking things to MY bike without permission…

Bikes Safe and Sound at Girag Bogota

Speaking of sticking things to the bike… Do you see the little white sticker on our front fenders? It’s just a handwritten note with the airbill number, or something like that, but the adhesive is vicious. and when you try to peel it off the paper just rips; something Dachary discovered right away, but I left the sticker on mine.

We get the batteries reconnected, load the bikes up again, check the tire pressure and then get ready to go. We’re not sure where to go. The front of the building is just loading bays about 3-4 feet off the ground, but the back of the building seems to lead onto the airfield. Dachary suggests they might have a ramp, but I’ve seen nothing to indicate a ramp so I head toward the airfield. A guy sees me going that way and motions us toward the front where the loading bays are located, and starts pulling out a ramp. Ok. This ramp is wood laid across steel reinforcement, and looks pretty solid, so we’re happy. But when they prop it up, the top of the ramp is about 6” above the floor of the loading bay. So they set a pallet in front of it, and a 2"X4" board on top of the pallet to create “steps” leading up to the ramp.

I just say “Fuck it,” cross my fingers, and then go for it, and make it down ok. Dachary pulls up and then puts the bike on the sidestand, and calls for me to come drive it down. Apparently she saw me wobble a bit when I went over the pallet and 2"x4" and decided it was better for me to drop the bike than to try it herself. She told me later that she felt she lost all cred with the Girag crew (she’d reconnected the battery on her own bike and looked generally competent before) but didn’t have the machismo to care because she’s a girl - men expect her to not be able to ride a big bike like this so she said she doesn’t feel as bad looking like a girl in front of them. She said it was more important to her to get the bike down safely. But she also said that she was annoyed at herself because if I hadn’t been there, she would have done it on her own - so I told her next time to do it on her own. She’s gotten better but still lacks confidence in some situations on the bike.

Eventually we’re off, and on our way to find the obligatory SOAT insurance. The thing is, that while you can buy it at just about every gas station, it’s really hard to find somewhere that can sell it to you for less than a year. I’d looked it up on Google Maps the night before, and the address looked really straight-forward to get to from the airport. So we set out, and immediately after leaving Girag my gas light goes on. Ok, I’ve got about 30 miles. Should be plenty. No worries… we continue looking, find we can’t actually get onto the roads we want, get somewhere in the neighborhood, we think, and discover a gas station. Ooh!

It’s now about 4:30 and while we’re there a cab pulls up at the other side of the pump, and backs one rear wheel up a little ramp they have next to each pump, which tilts the gas cap way up and … i dunno… lets them fit more gas in? Anaway, I take the opportunity to ask the people how to get to the intersection I need. They say something I can’t quite figure and point in the direction I thought it was. Then they ask the cabbie, who does some complicated motions with his hands…. Ah yes… mmm… How ‘bout I just pay you to go there and we’ll follow you? That works.

We go, and we go, and we go, around, down, back, over, around, behind, through… Is he just fucking with us? … loop, one way, one way, back, over stop on some industrial back road where a shitty semi driver has wedged his semi across the road so thoroughly even the tiny motos can’t get past. Wait… Wait…. Go and voilla. We’re there… except… it’s just some random intersection with nothing useful on it.

Did I mention this is like a crazy video game ride? Following a cabbie in a major city during rush hour is crazy. Two people following the cabbie is even more crazy. Especially when they’re motorcycles, and everyone else is used to pushing motos around and expecting that they’ll get out of the way. At one point we lose the cabbie and Dachary has to do some crazy Frogger moves to get in and between the traffic, and I follow - I was so proud of her! She’s leveling up!

But re: the insurance - Fuck. It’s almost 5:00 pm now, everything’s about to close, and dark will be here soon. We need a hotel. “Know of any economical hotels with parking for the bikes?” He starts suggesting hotels like the Marriot (too pricey) and others which I’ve never heard of and I’m like “Whatever you recommend.” And he heads off. We stop and he motions us to stay while he runs in, talks to the bellhop, and comes out. Nope too pricey. We drive down the road, and repeats the process. Nope. Too pricey. Once more and we’re at the Hotel San Rafael* which is 80,000 pesos ($40 US), has internet, a Steak house a couple doors down, and a garage that’ll fit about two compact cars with locked steel doors you can’t see through, and includes breakfast. Oh yeah…

The Cabbie chats with us for a bit, and gives us a card for the company that sells insurance to the taxis suggesting that we go to the url on the card and find a local office. He doesn’t speak a lick of english, but we don’t care. He’s awesome. I ask him the total and he says 27,000 pesos ($13.50 US). I give him 40,000 ($20 US) because he has gone way above and beyond. And no, he wasn’t cutting deals with the hotels, he was just being damn helpful.

There ended up being some confusion at the desk, they thought we wanted two rooms even though I repeatedly specified just one. We paid too much because we were so not going to look for another place at this point, but then resolved it and they gave us money back.

We head for the ATM down and around the corner as we’re almost totally without cash at this point, and then chill on the upstairs patio of the Red Angus Steak House where, for the first time in two days, we feel we can stop and breathe…

Back in the room we chill with some Dr. Who, then diligently stop to do our research to find where the hell we can actually buy this freaking insurance. But, we find that the Wi-Fi password is incorrect. I go out to the lobby. He assures me it isn’t. I bring out my laptop, click “show password” and type it in, and assure him it is, in fact, “invalid”. Ahh… Yeah, no. He can’t do jack shit about it but “manyana” the other guy will be here and we can resolve it…

I go back to the room, break the news to Dachary, and decide to go use the hotel computer in the lobby. Sure that’s fine he tells me. I sit down. Oh by the way. It’s 2,000 pesos an hour. What? No. Screw that. I don’t want to pay you for the fact that you’ve fucked up the password to your own Wi-Fi. I go back to the room. Dachary agrees that it sucks but rightly points out that it’s a lot better than the alternatives. I go back, and confirm that I still have to pay even though the Wi-Fi is “roto”. “Yup.” he says with a smile, but I can pay for just half an hour if I want. I grumble and hand over the 1000 pesos and start some hardcore googling.

The computer doesn’t have shit for ram, and eventually Internet Exploder explodes. I’ve got ten minutes left and I notice an icon for Chrome on the desktop. Wish i’d know that was there before. More googling. More cross checking. I walk away with four addresses, and about two minutes left.

Back to the room, where we attempt to sleep after debating if getting our sleeping pads and putting them on the hard tile would be softer than the bed or not. We decide it would be about the same, and proceed to toss and turn until about half an hour before the alarm goes off.

Overall, not a great day. But it did give us a wonderful example of the generosity, and helpfulness you keep hearing about the Colombian people, as well as a very tasty, and relaxing dinner. And, Dachary totally leveled during our follow-the-cab escapade.

Side Note: In our experience it’s the day staff who actually has a clue about the net connection. The first thing you do when you get into your room should be to check that the password they gave you actually works, because if you check after the shift change you may be screwed. It’s one of our new rules.

  • Hotel San Rafael is at Avda. La Esperanza la miasma Calle 24 N. 43a-49, Barrio Quintaparedes, Bogotá, D.C. There are a bunch of other hotels on that street too. Just keep driving and pulling over in the driveways until you find one that’s to your liking.

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A couple with 2 dogs and a thirst for exploring the places in-between.