By Todd Lyons
At the end of July I was invited down to Bogotá, Colombia, for a race that was part of the “Festival de Verano” (Festival of Summer). The people treated us great and the race was first class. The local government and the track invited us and paid for our entire trip. We were a bit skeptical about Bogotá being a dangerous place, but once we got there, we realized that it was safe city. We went out on the town a couple of the nights and the only thing we saw were people partying and having a good time. We also saw a lot of South American girls with nice booties!
Darrin Mitchell, Jason Richardson, Manuel Lopez (from Argentina), Jonathan “Mosquito” Suarez (from Venezuela), and I were the crew of riders who were invited to the race. We were there to compete against the best Colombian riders, including Santiago Silva, who is currently ranked #4 A-pro in the NBL. The guy who helped put the whole trip together was German Medina, who happens to be Randy Stumpfhauser’s trainer. We flew into Bogotá on Wednesday night only to find out that Percy missed his flight out of Tampa, FL, so Percy didn’t end up flying in until Friday night.
Thursday was our day for sightseeing. We first went to a museum right in the city. There were about a zillion dollars’ worth of gold in there from the early days of Colombia. I guess Colombia is known for its green emeralds as well. There were a couple of groups of school kids in the museum and as soon as the guys we were with told them that we were “famous BMX pros from the United States,” all hell broke loose. We couldn’t even walk through the exhibits without being mobbed for autographs. From there, we took a cable car up to the top of a mountain that overlooked all of Bogota. Later, we went to some crazy salt mine that has been transformed into a church and cathedral. It was amazing. We were hundreds of feet below the ground walking through these caves and then it would open up into a huge area with religious crosses carved into the walls. I guess people get married down there.
We went out that night with a bunch of the Colombians. The cool thing while we were there was the crew of guys and girls who went everywhere with us and showed us around. They acted as our translators as well. Darrin and I drank way too much of the “Aguardiente”, which translates to “Fire Water.” I think it’s the national drink down there. Somehow, we stumbled into a “alternative” club later that evening and that was our cue to end our night and get back to the hotel… at 4am.
On Friday we went to the track for practice. We were well impressed with the track. It was way better than most of the tracks that we race on over here in the US. There were also some dirt jumpers building jumps for the weekend’s festivities. I watched some of the guys riding, and they were good! One guy named Julian was bustin’ turndown flips and other good stuff. He said that his nickname is “Nasty.” Man, there are Nastazio clones over the world! It rained a bit over the weekend, so the jumps never really got up and running.
Percy finally flew in on Friday night (two days after he missed his flight). In Saturday’s race, we had semis and all of us made it to the main. Jason Richardson holeshotted the main and Percy Owens slid out in the first turn. Jonathen Suarez was in 2nd until Darrin tried to come under him in the second turn and they both crashed. Santiago Silva got by for 2nd while I flew off the track after trying to bunnyhop Darrin’s fat head. I got up and got 4th and Darrin and Percy got 5th and 6th. It w quite an action packed main, to say the least. At night, we went out to eat in an area called “Zona Rosa.” Bars, nightclubs, and people everywhere. Too bad we had to race the next day! Next time I come to Bogotá, I’m going to stay an extra week to get in a full weekend of partying!
On Sunday, all of us Americans made it to the main again. I did some flips during practice on these 2-foot tall doubles. The crowd didn’t know what to think. In the main, Darrin holeshotted and left us behind. Richardson got 2nd, Percy 3rd, and Silva 4th. I was in 5th all the way to the last turn until I crashed all by myself. I did a little jump demo after the mains, flipping the first jump on the track. Saturday and Sunday’s finishes were added together for the overall placings and money awards. Richardson won overall and won $1,000, Silva 2nd and $700, Darrin 3rd and $500, Percy 4th and $300, I got 7th and won $200. We all came back with more money than we went down there with. A free trip to Colombia AND we made money. Stoked!
After the race, we were escorted out of there (I’m telling ya, they go crazy for stickers and autographs down there!) and we all headed to Mario Soto’s family’s house for dinner. Mario was a top AA pro racer from Colombia living in America and he was destined to eventually be the National #1 U.S. pro. Two and a half years ago he had an unfortunate motorcycle accident and lost his life. The BMX community across the world mourned the loss of an incredible rider and person. It was a great feeling being in his house, trophy room and bedroom. His family has kept his room exactly like he left it. I could feel his energy there. It was an emotional moment as well; there were plenty of tears and hugs going around. His parents gave us each momentos of Mario’s life. “Mario Soto esta con nosotros!” We love you Mario…
Our last night there was Sunday and all of the nightclubs were closed. The Colombian guys we were with had an idea to go up to the top of a mountain which overlooked the whole city. There were seven cars of us including riders, track officials, riders, chicks, trainers, and even the president of the Bogota BMX organization! We all acted silly and had the time of our lives! We were just parked on the side of the road at a place that could be considered “make-out point”. We had car stereos blastin’ Colombian Salsa music while we were dancing our butts off. The rest of the night was a blur and before I knew it, I was on a plane headed back to the USA.
Colombia gets a bad rap here in the United States on CNN. I had the time of my life there and met some of the nicest people ever. The Bogota BMX organization is strong and they’re looking to bring even more riders down next year. If you ever get a chance to visit Colombia, I highly recommend it!