Chasing Two Volkswagen GTIs Through The Canyons Of Colombia
Photography by Alvaro Pinzón
What is your favorite road trip from recent memory? I know my answer.
A few weeks ago some friends and I embarked on a mission to find the hand-built aluminum creations of Juan Badel (a story you can read here), and our journey brought us through quite a few places between our starting point in the crowded Colombian capital and the remote location of his workshop in Boyacá.
Our group consisted of myself, my friends Lucho and Alfredo and our cars: my BMW E21, Lucho’s Mk1 GTI, and Afredo’s Mk2 GTI. The first part of the trip would be taken solo as I spent the first couple days just getting to the rendezvous point wherein I would continue onward with Lucho and Alfredo for the remainder. So after packing what I’d need—food, travel bags, some spare parts and fluids—into the BMW, I set off heading north out of Bogotá and took the Autopista Norte for a few hours until I arrived at my first stop, in Turmequé.
Turmequé is a little town in the Boyacá region named after the legacy of the indigenous people that lived here before the Spanish colonizers invaded. Another relic of those times is the game the native peoples developed called Tejo. Still quite popular in Colombia, the town square of Turmequé has a statue honoring this heritage. Impressed with the workmanship, I took a photo of the piece, but after the long drive I was then ready to get some rest for the rest of it.
The next morning I set off for Tibaná, the next town on my list of locations on the way to Juan’s workshop, and after a brief rest there for the night I rose before the sun to continue the trip north. The plan was to arrive in the capital of the Boyacá region, Tunja in order to meet up with Lucho and Alfredo.
Though harboring some excellent driving roads, Boyacá is known for a different sort of passion for wheels, as the region is famous for attracting cyclists to its mountains so they can train for the altitude and inclines of the competitions in Europe. Stopping briefly in the town of Ramiriquí, I found a statue of a cyclist in recognition of the area’s sporting background, snapped another photo or two, and continued onward increasingly eager to join my friends for the remainder.
After a few more hours on the road with some photo stops in between, I finally made it to Tunja, the capital city of Boyacá, and my rally point with Lucho and Alfredo. After saying hello and the attendant bits of small talk, I paced a few slow circles around his MkI GTI while he recounted experience rebuilding it. It’s hard for me to believe while looking at the finished product, but he began this build when the car was more or less a bunch of puzzle pieces in boxes.
Then, of course, I ask Alfredo about his Mk2. Though clean and handsome on the outside, it looks a lot like your standard GTI, but it’s with a knowing smile that he tells me what’s really going on; outside, yes, it’s pretty unassuming, and you’d likely never guess it’s packing a powertrain good for 250hp, thanks in part to the addition of a turbocharger to the little inline-four.
With the Mk2 requiring more fuel than the gas-sipping Mk1, we take a precautionary fuel stop nearby before taking to the highways that would eventually deposit our little Teutonic trio in the canyon roads leading to our destination in Villa de Leyva.
With a little lucky bit of empty highway ahead of us, we made good time getting through the boring bits, and had an ever better one driving along the constant elevation changes and sweeping corners of the tight passes through the mountains. It was here that the rear lights of Alfredo’s Mk2 became a less frequent sight. Not just quick in a vector, his car’s also benefited from years suspension tweaking to really bring the whole package up to par with the power. The Mk1, while decidedly slower, still demonstrated its virtues all the same, talking the esses and hairpins with the kind of ease only found in light, nimble, short-wheelbase cars. It helps when the pilot is adept too of course, and Lucho, having just won a rally (as in, the on-dirt type) with this car the week prior, was more than capable of putting the red GTI through its paces.
As for me? The heavier E21 lagged a bit behind the two VWs, but the car delivered all the joy I could have asked for. Driving an inline-six BMW through tight canyon roads and feeling the torque coming through the rear wheels on especially tight spots? There’s a reason people like these cars, and I was certainly reminded of my own.
After some quick stops for more photos, we finally made it to Villa de Leyva, which turned out to be one of the most beautiful towns in Boyacá, with plenty to do too. Over lunch we regaled each other with stories and impressions from the caffeinated drive just completed moments earlier, and following our version of refueling, we gassed up the cars and did a few loops around around the town’s streets to do a bit of sped up sightseeing. An hour’s drive outside of the town center saw us arriving at our final, final destination: Juan Badel’s workshop.
The shop and Juan were worth the trip, but even on its own merits our journey was spectacular. Traveling to new places, on amazing roads, in fun cars, and with friends that share these enthusiasms? What more can you ask for, really?