Colombia’s grueling roads, toyota tacoma brakes, and lots of toys

Somewhere in Colombia’s coffee country, that familiar sound of worn out brakes started squealing away in the background as we drove. We decided to deal with the problem of finding new toyota tacoma brakes when we got back to Bogota for the third time to pick up my passport (no, we did not optimize our time in Colombia). George removed the pegs that make the noise as a temporary bandage to save our sanity.

As we drove over 4000 meter mountain peaks to Bogota, I tried to block out the state of our front brakes. We were unsuccessful buying brakes at any of the Toyota dealerships in the big B. They simply ‘do not have Tacoma specific parts in Colombia’. ‘We can have them for you in one month’, they said. Hard to believe because Toyota Tacoma parts are almost identical to 4Runner models. They have 4Runners in Colombia as well as the similar Toyota Hilux (what the Tacoma is called everywhere else).  It seemed like the guys behind the counter did not want to use their heads and work with us.

On the way out of town for the last time, we swung by the Pasion 4X4 Adventura store that George had seen one day driving along the highway.  We stopped in search of new back shocks. The parking area in front of Pasion 4X4 Adventura was full of big toys (off-roading vehicles), a good sign.

Pasion 4X4 Adventura

Pasion 4X4 Adventura

Pasion 4X4 Adventura didn’t have the shocks we were looking for, but they had  Samuel Olarte and Jose Luis, two of the friendliest guys we have met on our trip so far!  Both Jose and Samuel spoke great English and were both Toyota off-road junkies :).  Jose had a Toyota Land Cruiser 1998 (I might be 2 years off on the model) and Samuel had the Toy monster featured below :).

The toys in the parking lot

Samuel and his Toy…

The guys quickly offered to help (Jose, Samuel you are welcome to come visit in the states anytime you want!). Jose offered to take George over to the auto parts area of town. It would have been ill advised for us to go it alone because chances were good we would get ripped off. Samuel offered the use of the store’s facilities for free to lift the car and take the old brakes as a model to make sure we bought the right part.  And now a technical interlude from George since a little clarification is in order:

We had to take both front wheels off at the same time thanks to the hack (literally) the last mechanics in Nicaragua made.  If you remember from this post, those  ‘mechanics’ put both outside pads on one wheel and when they got to the other wheel they had to modify (cut) the one pad since one of them did not fit. We had to take one pad from both wheels to make a full set!  Thank you Leon – we will never forget you.

Miraculously, George returned with a set of good brakes and another set just in case. One set was dubbed ‘original Toyo’ parts and one set was a Chinese knockoff.  You could tell by the difference in price – $90 and $25. George had decided to buy a spare set just in case since the knockoffs were so cheap

New brake pads were great news because the next possible place to find brakes would have meant many more miles of mountain roads.  The pieces of s$%t the mechanics in Nicaragua installed were completely done.  Did I mention those brake pads lasted only 3000 miles.

At the end of the day, we had new brakes and a opportunity to speak with Samuel and Jose. Man, it’s nice when you desperately need something and in walks some off-roading guardian angels to assist.

Replacing our Toyota Tacoma 2003 brakes

Replacing our Toyota Tacoma brakes

The big B – Bogota and around

First some fun facts about Bogota, a city of roughly 8.5 million. Admittedly beforehand, I had no idea that Bogota sits at 2,625 meters (8,612 ft) above sea level. This high elevation clearly translates into cooler temperatures (avg 14.5 Celsius).

Anyone who listens to National Public Radio (NPR) in the states for long enough, has probably heard of Bogota and it’s failed license plate traffic scheme.  Bogota limits the days you can drive by the last digit of your license plate.  To side step this annoying limitation, many locals have purchased second cars leaving them free to drive when they like.

On our first encounter with Bogota’s notorious traffic, we found that driver’s in the city were more respectful than in the smaller towns (they didn’t honk continuously and there were some engaged blinkers, oh my). On subsequent visits however, it was a whole different ball game and so the flow of Bulgarian curses commenced.

We stayed at Charlies Place Hotel which included free breakfast, parking and wonderful service.  The hotel is in walking distance of both the Brazilian and Bolivian embassies.  For the next 3 days, we laid down a lot of shoe leather (or I guess rubber since we were in our sneaks), walking more than 200 city blocks.  But, the end result is visas and a several days in and around Bogota.

We spent Colombian independence day exploring El Museo del Oro (the Museum of Gold) and surrounding neighborhoods.


Bogota is not a beautiful city, but you can feel the undercurrent of art, music and politics as you walk the streets. The people were nothing but welcoming and helpful to us.  At the very least, El Museo del Oro demands a visit. It’s a beautifully planned gallery that gives you an idea of the tradition of metalwork in Colombia.


While waiting for our visas, we also paid a visit to Catedral de Sal de Zipaquirá (the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá).