Almost Hostages. It sure felt like it.

Hola Amigos

First of all a little description on the Colombian guerrilla. FARC. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People’s Army. Source from Wikipedia.

The FARC is considered a terrorist organization by the Government of Colombia. The FARC–EP claim to be a peasant army with a political platform of agrarianism and anti imperialist inspired by Bolivianism.

The FARC say they represent the poor people of rural Colombia against:

  • the economic depredations of the ruling bourgeoisie.
  • the political influence of the U.S. in the internal affairs of Colombia
  • neo-imperialism
  • the monopolization of natural resources by multinational corporations and
  • the repressive violence from Colombian state and paramilitary forces against the civilian population.

The operations of the FARC–EP are funded by kidnap to ransomgold mining, and the production and distribution of illegal drugs.[8][9]

The strength of the FARC–EP forces is indeterminate; in 2007, the FARC said they were an armed force of 18,000 men and women; in 2010, the Colombian military calculated that FARC forces consisted of approximately 18,000 members, 50 per cent of which were armed guerrilla combatants; and, in 2011, the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, said that FARC–EP forces comprised fewer than 8,000 members. According to an inform from Human Rights Watch, approximately 20-30% of the recruits are minors, most of them are forced to join the FARC.[10] From 1999 to 2008 the guerrilla armies of the FARC and of the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Army of Colombia) controlled approximately 30–35 per cent of the national territory of Colombia. The greatest concentrations of FARC guerrilla forces are in the south-eastern regions of Colombia’s 500,000 square kilometers (190,000 sq mi) of jungle, and in the plains at the base of the Andean mountain chain.

In 1964, the FARC–EP were established as the military wing of the Colombian Communist Party (Partido Comunista Colombiano, PCC), after the Colombian military attacked rural Communist enclaves in the aftermath of The Violence(La Violencia, ca. 1948–58). The FARC are a violent non-state actor (VNSA) whose formal recognition as legitimate belligerent forces is disputed. As such, the FARC has been classified as a terrorist organization by the governments of Colombia, the United States, Canada, Chile, New Zealand, and the European Union; whereas the governments of Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, and Nicaragua do not classify the FARC as a terrorist organization. In 2008,Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez recognized the FARC-EP as a proper army. President Chávez also asked the Colombian government and their allies to recognize the FARC as a belligerent force, arguing that such political recognition would oblige the FARC to forgo kidnapping and terrorism as methods of civil war and to abide by the Geneva ConventionJuan Manuel Santos, the current President of Colombia, has followed a middle path by recognizing in 2011 that there is an “armed conflict” in Colombia although his predecessor, Alvaro Uribe, strongly disagreed.[11] In 2012 FARC announced they would no longer participate in kidnappings for ransom and released the last 10 soldiers and police officers they kept as prisoners but it has kept silent about the status of hundreds of civilians still reported as hostages.[12][13]

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Peasant guerrillas at Marquetelia. FARC founder and leader Manuel Marulanda Vélez is second from left.

Now our story

After our long day riding of yesterday, where Matteo puncture his rear tire  on a remote gravel road, we leave toward the city of Pasto early in the morning. Pasto to the Ecuadorian border is about  200 KM so we are not in a rush. Our plan is to enter Ecuador in the evening and stay for the night at the first little Ecuadorian town. We couldn’t be more wrong about our plans.

When we reach Pasto we are blocked and surrounded by at least 200 “Campesinos” that are protesting against the national Colombian government. They are among thousands in all colombia that are part of the “National Paro”. The Paro is known as the total blockage of all main roads through Colombia. They do this to bring the government to a negotiation table and to defend what they think are their rights. In this PARO the campesinos (farmers), are asking the government to decrease substantially the price of gasoline and defend the products they are producing by stopping importation from different countries such as Ecuador where everything is drastically cheaper.Of douse we did not know about this national scale PARO. We later find out that most of the time they can be extremely dangerous as the days go by and no negotiation is found between the “Campesinos” leaders and the national government.

This first blockage is easily passed after a charming negotiation done by both of us with a local “leader”. We only had to stay with them for about half an hour and listen to their arguments. This was their request and we sure did it. After that we were allowed to pass and move forward.

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As we were not informed about this national protest, we thought that our road was free until the border with Ecuador. On the other hand we encounter at least four more blocks which we easily pass without any particular problems. All is fine until the blockage of Tangua. Tangua is a small village 60 KM from the border. This blockage from the start seems to be harder than any other one we passed before. I harm myself with courage and decide to go talk to a leader and explain our situation. No chance. he actually advise me to go back a kilometer or so because staying there could turn out very dangerous for us. We totally got that when Matteo took a photo of me talking to the leader when all of a sudden, about 50 persons started  yelling at me and raise their wooden pole to me menacing to bit me up. One particular protester even took out a machete and pointed it at me. I will never forget his face. I was terrified.

In a calm rush way, we backtrack about 3 kilometers and start knocking on houses to see if they would kindly help us to stay for the night. We were blocked. Could not go back nor forward. We find a beautiful family that agrees to allow us to stay in their garage. This garage will be home for us for the following 3 days. The garage was very cold at night and it stunk of cheap gasoline. We were constantly hearing the radio to see when we would have been able to continue our journey. The news was not very positive and we felt hostages of a situation that we could not control. We decided to call The Italian Embassy and let them know our location. We were stuck in what we now know to be a strong FARC region. Even the family that hosted us was a supporter of the guerrilla.  According to them the guerrilla does more for them that the Colombian government.

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Listening to the radio
Dreaming of Ecuador.
Dreaming of Ecuador.

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During the third day, we received the information from a moto-taxi that there was a break of half an hour from the blockage. In a hurry we packed our belongings and started to travel toward Tunga where three days earlier we were stopped. We travel at a slow speed because the street were full of stones, broken glass, and debris. We still were very afraid about the situation we were in.

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Just before reaching San Juan, a small group of people, advise us not to proceed further because the street were closed again and according to him there was another blockage ahead with many angry people. For sure they would have not let us pass. On top of it they would have burned our motorcycles he says. What to do next is “simple”. As many times before one of us goes to the people and try to plead our case, while the other watches our belongings. Being  Matteo’s turn he starts walking in search of the local leader. He tell me that his main worry is that the campesinos will cut his beard off. He arrives on a bridge, where about 500 people were listening to a speech given by a delegate from the government. He patiently waits when all of a sudden the leader of the local campesinos  starts explaining to the people our situation of being semi-hostages of the PARO. To Matteo’s disbelief the crowd starts yelling to the leader that they approve our passage to the border. Wow incredible. A woman on a little smokey bike escorted us safely to the border with Ecuador where even the border patrol are surprised to see us arrive. They state that no one has passed the border to Ecuador in the last three days.  It really felt like in the movie “Midnight Express”.  A unique experience, like unique was the ending of our Colombian adventure.

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Border crossing with Ecuador

17 thoughts on “Almost Hostages. It sure felt like it.”

  1. RIOJA has really good wine make sure you and Matteo enjoy some…
    ““Men are like wine – some turn to vinegar, but the best improve with age.”
    Congrats you guys are improving.
    PS bring me back some Coffee beans

  2. Hola Roberto/Matteo, I want to let you know that I feel really bad and somehow responsible for what happened. We cant believe what you guys have gone through before leaving Colombia!! we are so sorry you had to live a situation like that. Nothing out of control like that happened in a long time. Right after you called me, I called the ambasy and talked to the security guy (Rodrigo Cebolla), I told him about the situation, next morning called him again and he told me that the ambassy had contacted you guys, he did not give me any other information. I called several times to Don Luis but you guys weren’t around. Really, nobody was aware of the strike nor it would be so intense, we are “used to” this kind of things where normally they block the road for big trucks and leave everybody else alone as you described happened on the first block. Unfortunally, our goverment does not work on favor of small poor farmers as it does for big multinational corporations, which does not help.Ever since Lee contacted me and told me about the trip, I tried to contact you because I wanted to go along with you guys within the colombian territory.. cause you never know. For the past 9 years I’ve travelled all over the country with no problems whatsoever.We are very happy that you made it through and on the bright side.. no lines at the border.. (sorry bad joke) Have a great trip (I think you are having it) Andres

    Date: Sun, 25 Aug 2013 12:32:15 +0000 To: j_andres_2001@hotmail.com

  3. Unbelievable, Roberto! What a situation to find yourselves in. We’re just so very happy to know you and Matteo are now in Ecuador. Wishing you safe travels from this point on. Love from K.E.K.E

  4. The fact that you are riding for such an admirable cause may have saved your bacon.If you had been regular moto tourists who knows how it may have ended.Good work guys.Glad you’re safe.

  5. Wow! Truly an incredible and heart-pounding read, you guys are truly a fearless crew. So happy and grateful to be a part of your journey. Best of luck through the next unknown.

  6. Incredible! What a compelling and astonishing story. You should right a book Roberto! So thrilling and grateful to get to be with you in your journey. Brent xx

    Excuse any typo’s, sent from my iPhone5

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