I am sure most of us are familiar with Top Gear road trips. Clarkson and co get three completely inappropriate cars and do a long trip somewhere. They get lost, they get bogged in, they think they are going to die, and all this with only a large support team and medical back up for company.
Well, you can go from Barichara to Mongui two ways. One involves 280km of road and takes about 5 hrs. According to google, the other route is 180km and takes only 30 mins longer, but it is a route. I don’t like boring routes so we opted for the other one. It’ll be slow but pretty we said. And so, our Top Gear like adventure began, but without the scores of people in support.
Our inappropriate car was a Kia Picanto (16” wheels, 1L engine…… v small). The first bit was great. Metalled roads, a stop for a walk to a lovely waterfall, a town with a petrol station and all kinds of cars zooming about. Without really noticing it, the cars sort of stopped appearing and we ended up on some unsealed road with 83km to go before we hit the next town. I am ok with dirt roads. There are lots of them here and lots in Oz. You just have to slow down a little and watch for holes. The thing is, these ones became rather different; more like river beds than roads, with huge rocks and big dips. We started to hear horrible thuds under the car when the best route to be taken was not good enough. Initially we stopped when we heard these to see if we had done damage or were losing fluids but soon they became too frequent and we thought ‘fuck it; if anything happens we are fucked, so why bother’. Often J had to get out to help the car get a little bit more clearance or to see how deep a big puddle was (one proved almost too big and I spent a couple of minutes nervously mustering all my 4x4 off road experience trying to get the little shit unbogged). By this stage we were pretty much surrounded by nothing. No cars, some abandoned houses and some cows. We were averaging about 5km an hour and had 70+ km to go. We occasionally laughed through gritted teeth and occasionally admitted out loud we were idiots. In the space of about 50 km we saw three vehicles. One was an 1970s Landrover Defender going in the other direction, one a 4x4 delivery truck and the last was a 1970s Toyota Landcruiser with one man and 5 women in it. The last passed when I was having quite an open pee on the road, after all we were seeing 1 car every 2 hours, so what are the odds…………. Bugger.
We saw the odd farmer too. Mostly they smiled, waved, then stopped what they were doing to watch us scrape and bounce into the distance probably muttering ‘Idiotos’ under their breaths (that is an actual word; I’m not just adding an o to an English word in the Fast Show style).
With about 60k to go we started to discuss the possibility of sleeping in the car for the night as it really would have been stupid to go on in the dark, and we had two hours of daylight left. We also had to raise the question “is it safe around here?’. Colombia is safe but not everywhere. All the guidebooks say it is safe where the tourists go but we weren’t sure any tourists came here. (Since drafting this, there was a very nasty bomb in Bogota on the day after we arrived back in the city, killing 20. The police suspect it was the ELN, a guerrilla organisation ‘still active in the hills in Boyaca’…….. I don’t have to tell you where we were………)
This continued for far too long, then we got a bit of road that 20kmh became possible on, then it went back to a crawl, then to another ok bit, then to a crawl, but in one hour we covered about 15km. Speedy.
Civilisation came in the form of the mountain community of Bogotacita (Little Bogotá). This place is very odd. I think it is some kind of Eco community where people live with no real contact with the outside world and are largely self sufficient. All homes were made from wood and plastic sheets. Some were done well, others looked like they were put up that afternoon by a drunk. People
stared at us, but we thought not in a hostile way. We also considered it could be a cult so in someways breaking down where people were was a good thing, but if those people were in a cult, that may be a bad thing. Luckily, from this point the road steadily improved and, whilst it hammered down with rain, causing thick fog and wet clay to drive up hill on, we decided we would push on through nightfall.
The oddest bit was when, about 20km outside the next big town we hit a proper road. Really modern, wide, freshly laid, lined and signed, proper road. It snaked down the steep hill on which we were the only car for about 10km, then stopped. Completely. It wasn’t a fade out to a less good metalled road, or a well graded dirt road, it was back to shit again. It was completely and utterly bizarre.
The relief we felt when we arrived out our hotel in Mongui was immense. It was raised when we found a really good restaurant selling really good food and mulled wine that was open and happy to see us.
The little car seems to have made it through the ordeal ok……… but we were very relived to hand it back to the rental company.
Clarkson; you are an amateur.