It’s two hours before my flight, I’m resting in a lounge chair here at El Dorado International Airport in Bogota Colombia, some fat little Pokemon playing shithead sitting next to me, just unleashed an unbelievably wet, extended fart, and its really starting to smell. Without second thought, I swatted at the kid and gestured for him to beat it, all the while his even larger mom looking on, time for me to find a new lounger to try and relax in. It’s noon and our flight doesn’t leave for two hours, but we arrived extra early today, just I case there were complications as we went through customs. Police and customs agents are abound, patrolling the terminal, and I’m avoiding eye contact, trying to to be as inconspicuous as possible even though I’ve done nothing wrong, yet the longer I wait, the more I feel like I’m in the trailer for an upcoming episode of Locked-Up Abroad: Colombian Van Smuggling.
My backpack contains little, nothing that is considered illegal, yet the contents are evidential enough, that if the pieces were correctly placed, our van could and would be be confiscated by the authorities. I have a Canadian License Plate, tagged BC 366RWL, ownership transfer documents, the title and registration, along with my 90-day Columbian Temporary Vehicle Import Permit. The rules for leaving a country without said vehicle are a bit of a gray area and the information about said rules are most likely hidden somewhere deep in the northwest corner of the South American sector of the interweb. As per tradition, we are just going to jump head first into the dark grey muck of temporary import law, and ask for forgiveness at a later departure date (or just pay the damn fine).
Ecuadorian Grey Matter
Our story is one of fluency, not in español but in the rules of the the southern road, as we’ve just driven some 40 odd hours north, originating at our Ecuadorian storage facility, the Parqueadero VIP (and mini horse farm complete with peacocks) just outside the International Areopuerto in Quito Equador. Over the past five days we’ve cruised, rolling through, up, over and down, green, luscious rainforested and coffee covered mountains, crossing the border into Colombia and eventually arriving to Billy’s parking lot just east of the aeropuerto here in Bogota. After attempting a visa run into Columbia, finding out an Ecuadorian temporary vehicle import permit extension was not aligning with our storage time frame ends, we’ve rolled north in search of safe storage for what has become our prized and really only valuable possession the Savvlinvan.
Colombia Dark Grey Matter
Yesterday started with sunshine creeping through the curtains, roosters crowing and semi-trucks jostling for parking space in the gas station parking lot that we paid $1.66 US to park in for the night. It’s not uncommon for us to look at distant towns and campsites far away on the map, underestimate and miscalculate the amount of time, elevation and descent involved in reaching the target destination (especially so without our main voice of reason, Marlie, on board). As it were, we had a minor engine overheating snafu that beset us, just an hour shy of sunset, as we crawled out of dry desert like river bottom and up a massive hill towards the forested highlands that we’ve become accustomed. our oil pressure dropped and our engine temperature gauge set a near personal record of just over 3.25, as our check engine light began its ominous flicker. This light has instilled great fear in both my brother and I, this candlelight like flickering, triggered the bottoms of our stomaches to drop out and a hasty pull off onto the shoulder by Brian.
We did what we have learned to do, put the hazards on, pop the hood, crack a few beers and discuss about how to best to proceed while everyone and everything cools off. We checked out the vitals and found our oil level hovering near the refill line, decided it was best to give her a small bolus of synthetic blend 5w-30 motor oil and see if her pressure didn’t respond a bit. After a few beers and a bit of oil we were all feeling a bit better but the approaching nightfall had us anxious to find our campsite for the night. Now confident that having a few beers was the right thing to do, and slightly confident that the adding of a bit of oil had patched our minor issue, we dipped, the sun dipped, and with it the engine temperature; inversely the oil pressure and our spirits rose.
Yet there we were on the top of hill, both staring at the glowing purple snake of the dash top GPS, informing us that our destination lay just 30 minutes down into the dark abyss. Brian was at the helm, steering us down against the grain of the endless line of ascending semis, without the use of high beams, as the shaft that toggles between low beam and high has recently decided on an early retirement. Eventually the finish line flag came and went, around a 180 degree switchback without any indication or signage of the supposed campground. Our morale was low, tempers short, and our brakes were nearing the dreaded smoky phase, we made one last climb and descent mission at finding the spot, yet even with a slow crawl through the area and help from a family outside of their roadside shack were forced to head on into the night searching out a level home for the night.
After another hour of winding through the dark on the the road that would lead us to Bogota, we came across a small gas station with an even smaller cafe, with the fluorescent kitchen lights still on and the flies still buzzing. Morale was boosted by by the three dollar tipico Colombian set dinner, consisting of a quinoa and tuber soup, rice, carne asada, spicey bean medley, chopped veggie salad and a dollar ice cream cone to top it off, we leveled the van (with blocks) then settled into our truck stop campsite. Brian tucked into his back nook single bed, while I pulled out the bench seat and settled into a bit of reading, on our final night in the van of this quick trip we were finally settling into a routine.
Having not anticipated the chilly higher elevation nighttime air we’ve been encountering, we turned our ceiling vent fan on blast as custom, only to awake hours later shivering, trying to find more airplane blankets we long ago borrowed from Avianca Airlines. Once properly layered in the quarter sized, tee shirt thin blankets, we were able to sleep soundly, only arising when sun filtered through our blackout drapes and the hum of activity of the truck stop rumbling to life. After a tipico three egg and hot sauce breakfast burrito we made for Bogota and the adventure of finding the unknown parqueadero.
Two hours into the day the traffic slowed, shacks transitioned into buildings and began to enveloped the horizon. The road turned to four lanes as the proximity to Bogota became evident by the dramatic increase in spandex clad, traffic oblivious, fearless road bikers. There are two things that you can count on seeing on the shoulder of roads in Colombia, road bikers en masse and assault rifle toting thumbs-up giving military folk, both, the majority of which, smile and wave as we pass by. Big cities like Bogota are peppered with big American like box stores, at first chance we pulled in to grab essential Equatorial region van storage products, dehumidifier and gasoline additive, by ten am the only left to do was find an actual lot to hide the van in for roughly the next 70 days.
Airport parking in South America varied from the actual terminal long and short term sections, to VIP paved and covered lots, to the bare bone yards that look more junk than storage. We cruised through the neighborhood nearest the airport to discover a litany of mixed use parking areas. Our first quote was roughly $150.00 US for a corrugated tin fenced in area reminiscent of the Sandlot Lot, we decided to shop around for a more civilized looking yard down the street with an office instead of a shanty, iron instead of tin, and most importantly lots of big trucks to bury in behind. After introducing ourselves to the congenial English speaking owner Guerrimo aka Billy, we stuck a deal on $100.00 USD for the 70 days, tax free and cash only. To make the deal sweeter for us Billy pulled out a moving truck, allowing us to tuck into the very back corner, blocking us from street view and the prying eyes of the local police who might be tempted to investigate the foreign Canadian flag emblazoned blue behemoth resting in the far back corner. This hiding spot along with 15 guard dogs (none of which appeared Pincher or Doberman much to my dismay) gives us peace of mind leaving our van in a lot in a country that seemingly doesn’t allow non accompanied vehicles to peacefully rest while their owners are away stacking cash for the next leg of adventure commencing in just a few short months.
All Tucked In