The 4L, Faithful Friend of Colombia

« Land, captain!  » After 48 long hours at sea, we spied the lights of the Colombian coast in the middle of the night. At dawn we stepped onto South American soil, a first for both of us, in the beautiful colonial city of Cartagena. We organised our journey so as not to waste time waiting for the car. We arrived at the same time as the cargo, and tackled the paperwork quickly. Since we were sharing the container with another car, a Land Cruiser of travellers we met in Panama, we had to go through the whole process with them, which wasn’t unpleasant for us! We found two new friends in Alexander and Mireia, and promised to see each other again in Brussels! Alexander and Matthew, car owners, spent nearly three days running from office to office in the port, alternating between waiting in ultra- conditioned rooms and sun-baked parking lots, next to the container. Nothing in the proceedings seemed rational: invoices calculated in dollar bills had to be paid in Colombian pesos, without a currency exchange present for miles around, there were multiple levels of security and dozens of photocopies to be made even though the cars had not even been searched yet, and there was an appointment with the inspector at 6:30 am, even though civilians couldn’t access the port before 8:30am… At the arrival of our next crossing in Dakar, Senegal we’ll get an agent’s help! Meanwhile, Nicolas was busy organising the rest of the trip. Delving into maps, tourist guides, specialised websites and setting various appointments to plan the coming weeks is always an exciting time! The time we spent in Cartagena made it possible for us to discover this beautiful colonial city, rich in history. Indeed, for nearly three centuries it was the stronghold of Spain in South America, holding a leading role in the trade between Incan gold and slaves. We often marvelled at the impressive, almost unbelievable, range of the Spanish influence in the region, which, among other things, impacted the language, religion and architecture of the area.

Ten days after sealing the container, we had the pleasure of getting back on the road in the scorching heat and as part of a convoy, since we were accompanied by our friends in their 4 × 4. After long, angry hours spent in traffic looking for an insurance company – required to drive in Colombia – we arrived at the volcano Totumo. There, we met up with the French family traveling by motor home that we met in Panama, and once again had a good time together. At dawn, we plunged into the crater of the volcano, filled with mud that had the consistency of heavy cream. It is so thick that despite its being five meters deep it is impossible to sink! It was a very strange, yet hilarious feeling! We then headed for Bogota and the mountains, after parting with our friends. During three days, we passed through small colonial villages, crossed 3000-meter high passes through the green Columbian countryside, and pitched our tent in the courtyard of a school and in front of a hotel. Colombians are friendly and it’s easy to get them to talk about their country, they are often convinced that it’s the most beautiful in the world! But just like the Iranians, they are reduced to their simplistic image of coca growers and cartel-led countries, often relayed by international media.

Renault set up an assembly plant in Colombia in 1970, which is why we see Renault 9, 12, and 19s on the daily, cars we are too young to have known in France, along with countless 4Ls! Some are hard to see as overgrown skeletons on the roadside, but meticulous collectors keep others spotless. Finally, we are always surprised to come across 4Ls arranged in the tuning way with the « spoiler, rocker panels, and subwoofer. » The anachronistic, inconsistent aspect of these strange creatures that are the pride and joy of their owners make us smile without fail! The reasons why the Renault 4 is so popular in this country are the same that led us to choose it for this trip: its simplicity, cost and robustness. The bond between Colombians and this car is so strong that they nickname it el amigo fiel or the faithful friend: she’ll never let you down, and we’re not ones to contradict this!

Some amigo fiel enthusiasts came together in a 4L club, the Colombia R4 Club, whom we easily contacted through their Facebook group. We’d been talking for a while about taking a long break in Colombia to turn our car over to a qualified mechanic, since after almost 30 000 km on the roads of the world, a big repair job was necessary! It was an easy thing to do, thanks to this club and its extraordinary welcome. So the 4L spent four days with Jorge, a mechanic who had a passion for small French cars. The Indians had tinkered instinctively with the rear suspensions, but it was now high time that a professional take a look at them. Indeed, a lack of parallelism caused us to lose a tire in record time! In addition, all the sensitive parts of the engine were cleaned and revised: candles, carburettor, valves, belts, electrical connections… With a new torsion bar, two new rear tires and a new 4L motor, our car is now ready to face the impressive mountains and passes, over 4000 meters high, in the Andes!

The last day of our stay in Bogota, a Sunday, the R4 Columbia Club proposed that we participate in the Feria Antiguomotriz, a gathering of vintage cars. We accepted without hesitation, curious to see what such an event looked like in Colombia! Thus, with more than fifteen 4Ls, we drove through the heights of Bogota, taking frequent breaks on the edge of the road, convivial moments where conversation focused mainly around the various models of Renault 4, original parts from France and the state of this or that engine! Our fireball then took place in the midst of dozens of vintage cars and instantly stole the show. All afternoon we explained our trip in Spanish to playful and friendly Colombians, surrounded by our friends from the club. We are now leaving Bogota and heading south towards Ecuador! Spending a few days in Bogota living with a couchsurfer was an interesting experience. A city to be avoided at all costs a few years ago, the capital is in transition and its downtown is bursting with life. We look forward to being back on the road, moving towards new horizons. South America, here we come!

Nicolas & Matthieu


See the pictures from Colombia on our Flickr gallery