76. COLOMBIA -Cartagena or While We Were Waiting

In the 16 months, since on this journey this was our first time staying in a hotel/hostel. After we delivered Burt in the port on the Panamanian side we checked into a fairly nice but big, proper hotel with great facilities and A/C!! (Panama was extremely humid and hot and having aircon was a treat, not to mention the swimming pool) That very same day of the delivery we booked flights as well to Cartagena for the next morning so our hotel room treat was very short as we checked in late afternoon, but squeezed in a nice dinner with The OverlandingFamily and as the room included breakfast, I woke up extra early to get down to the breakfast room and I definitely helped myself with 2nd’s and 3ds’s of everything. It’s funny how these things like a nice cup of coffee, a piece of delicious bread roll or chocolate, air-conditioning or swimming pool became small pleasures and real treats to us.

After breakfast with the Family, we headed to the airport. Turned out it wasn’t only us who were desperate to leave Panama City, the whole gang was on the same flight. 9 vehicles worth of people were  there waiting for boarding and to get to Colombia, finally.

We arrived in the early afternoon hours on a Thursday, and if it was possible, Cartagena was/felt twice as humid and hot as Panama was. The Family had their hotel booked already, and after hooking up with Ben and Dante (also victims of the Panamanian shipping agent Tea’s) we got a cab and booked in to a little hotel next to The Family.

A few of us decided to go ahead without an agent this time so John, Steven and a couple of more  people headed to the port the next day to see if they can start at least the import process but no luck that day, in fact we found out that our ship hasn’t even arrived to Panama. At least not to the port. John was trekking the ship through a shipping website and we saw that it was floating near-by but not docked. It meant to leave Panama (Colon) on Saturday but there was no chance so we were facing more delays. At least we could see our ship, Ben wasn’t as lucky as us, he found out (from Tea, after he arrived to Colombia) that his vehicle won’t even be on the same ship as everyone else’s, and his ship is still in Venezuela!

As this was Friday, we all knew, nothing would happen over the weekend, ALSO (!) the following week is Easter week aka Semana Santa and this part of the world the holiday starts on Wednesday, so it occurred to us, if there will be further delays with the ship, or with the paper work we might won’t be able to get our vehicles cleared and taken out of the port for another 10 days or so. One promising thing happened though, that our ship has finally left for Cartagena on Sunday so with luck it will arrive on Monday.

Feeling a little gloomy and having done the Cartagena sightseeing, some shopping over the weekend we all were very keen to start the process first thing Monday. A few of the “gang” members hunted down an agent to help them but John, Steven and a few others trusted their own power on this, plus one of “our” team members, Rodney spoke fluent Spanish and had great negotiating skills -as we found out later.

The guys spent 3 full days (Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 6/7AM – 6/7PM) mostly only sitting for hours and waiting, occasionally sign a document then more hours of waiting and so on. Having to deal with the process with others made these endless days a lot more bearable and created a certain bond which we could all talk about over dinner and a few beers at the end of each day. With much effort and a huge amount of luck, finally Wednesday evening the boys could take the vehicles out of the port, park them up in a secured parking lot and we could celebrate. Sadly Ben’s ship didn’t arrive on time and he was facing another 4-5 days waiting until he can begin the paper work at the port.

We felt for our new friend -we stayed at the same hotel together and we all bonded. Ben, Gilly, the kids and I were having early morning coffees together while the boys were at the port, passing time and having dinner and beers on the terrace in the evenings moaning about not having our trucks. Really felt for him as he was still without Nellie (his car) while we were talking about what time we are off the following day.  Ben is a lovable, unusual, eccentric character who is originally Dutch but you hardly could tell as he lived so long in the US. He works with disabled kids and adults in San Francisco on art and garden projects. Nellie,  is a 1955 Chevi is an art project itself too that he made and built part of it with the kids. Nellie is a giant orange football decorated with everyone who he meets’ signature, Dutch tulips and clogs and a lot of bonkers madness stuck on the top and side of it. Ben is mad about football and he decided to drive from the US to Brazil, to the world cup with Nellie. Imagine Central and South America as the most football crazy continents, imagine a giant orange football scooting around remote Latino villages and towns and imagine an ever jolly, 2m tall white haired guy and you got Ben and Nellie’s Adventure. It was such a pleasure meeting him and I hope we’ll meet again.

The morning was crazy and somehow I missed the Family. I popped out for coffee, as usual and by the time I returned they were gone. Though I knew they were on a mission to leave super early so it was my fault too but somewhat I lost on the time scale. John and I were a bit more laid back and after we comfortably packed up and made sure we said goodbye to our lovely hosts at the hotel and to the few fellow travellers, members of the gang we headed to the car park.

There were a few things need to switch back on, fire up, fill up with water, re-apply the water filters etc. after the shipping so we knew it will take 10-15 minutes before we really leave town. Plus need to do grocery shopping as we did not have any food. We somehow lost a rubber gasket of one of the water filter and being Easter -everything is closed it took over an hour to create one that was the perfect size.

Finally we left and as we were driving out of Cartagena trying to stick with the big roads, we somehow missed a turn and ended up in the Historic district. Only 20 meters in the one-way street two police officers caught us. We explained them the situation and that it was not intentional to get in to the protected area. They said that there is no way out of here ahead, and they wanted us to pay them a “permission fee”. At this point we were “acting” not understanding what they meant. After a while they got bored with us and called in a third colleague who spoke some English. Now, one don’t have to speak any other languages to read body language. When the this third officer arrived, the two suggested him that this could be their lucky day with the dumb tourists. This guy listened to them first, then turned to us, he spoke little English but understood what John explained. Then he said “no problem, I lead you out of this street safely with my bike, just follow me”. We waved goodbye to the other two who were just blinking at this point, jumped in the cab and followed our guy. It was fairly straight forward way out and within a few minutes we were on the highway. Our guy stopped, shook John’s hand and wished us safe journey. He didn’t want anything but just help us. And we were very grateful for him. Good man.

Still on time, we were now driving on the coastal highway towards the area we wanted to visit before heading south, Punta Gallinas the northern most point of South America. It wasn’t just the fact that it is the tip of the continent, it also sounded fascinating by the what we read about it.

** (some photos will be uploaded soon)

Next, Punta Gallinas…

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