Deciphering directions in Colombia

Asking for directions and route information in general is a necessary, and most entertaining, pastime.

Over the course of our travels we have learnt to be wary of the advice of non-cyclists when it comes to distances, cycling times, and terrain. On many an occasion we have been totally convinced by enthusiastic assurances that our destination could be reached within the hour, and that we would enjoy flat and downhill riding to get there.

Two and a half hours later would find us cursing and panting up yet another hill, kicking ourselves for being so silly as to have actually taken the information at face value, again!

We have also received interesting interpretations about our ongoing travels on roads considered by many locals as too steep, or in too bad condition for bicycles. One woman told us not to set off in the afternoon up into the mountains as there would be a ‘bad atmosphere’, much better to get going in the morning. Logic-defying advice.

We’ve also been warned against riding in tropical rains as the extreme variances of heat and cold would definitely make us ill!

However, it is the directions given to us here in Colombia that have simultaneously flummoxed us, and left us barely able to stifle our giggles. Colombian directions invariably involve a bewildering array of hand and arm signals that resemble moves in some wild, robotic dance rather than identifiable instructions. What’s more, in our experience at least, Colombians seem to dislike making use of the useful terms: left and right. The preference is for aforementioned signalling and complicated ways of avoiding saying either left or right!

If more than one person is present at the time of asking a full on debate is sure to ensue. Once we found ourselves at the centre of a heated discussion and received wildly varying estimates as to distance to our next destination. Somewhere between 40km and 90km! The mid-point proved to be about right.

What with all the confusion it’s a miracle that we find our way at all sometimes. We always ask at least three people now if we’re not sure, and somehow, so far, everything has turned our fine!

Above all Colombians really want to help, so luckily there’s no shortage of people to ask even if their particular brand of wild semaphore remains practically indecipherable to us!

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2 Responses to Deciphering directions in Colombia

  1. Eric says:

    “complicated ways of avoiding saying either left or right”:

    “izquierda”; “derecha”

    hope this helps

    ;-) ,


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