With Rodrigo back on the road, we checked out of the hotel this morning. We have a whole new continent to explore, so no time to waste. Patrick went out at 8:00am together with Nathan to buy car insurance. They had to stop at 4 different offices before they got the documents they needed – and the last office was on the 8th floor (lift not working, of course).
With the car insurance sorted, we packed the car and left behind the air-conditioned hotel room! As Nathan and Sarah were heading in the same direction today, we decided to aim for the same camping spot in Sahagun – which is on the way South to Medellin. Driving through Cartagena traffic, we quickly lost sight of the other car, so good thing we had the navigation! Miraculously we found each other again a couple of kilometers further.
After spending a first day running around the harbour area we were full of good hopes to be able to get the car back today. We had our appointment with the customs inspector planned for 8:00am, so we jumped in the taxi at 7:00am and went to the find the container! We’ll do a proper write-up of what it takes to locate your container in Cartagena, but I can tell you it involves speaking to a lot of people, going back and forth from the document centre to the operations centre, getting hold of a hard hat and then – magically out of nowhere – spotting a blue container in the distance! When we arrived at the container, the seal was already broken and a guy started to untie the cars!
We got the green light to drive the cars out of the container to the inspection area. Patrick was very happy to reclaim the driver seat, though getting into the car proved a bit more difficult than getting out!
By that time it was already 8:30am, but everyone assured us that the inspector was on the way. We waited near the cars but 2 hours later we had not seen anyone – except a guy who said that he was indeed an inspector, but not the one for our car. We checked with the operation centre, with the shipping company and the document centre – but no one had seen the inspector. After a few phone calls it became clear that the cars however had been inspected – and that they had been cleared by customs. I still don’t understand how exactly that happened, but it did. We got in another taxi to the customs office (conveniently located in the city centre..not!) and got our paperwork for the car sorted, stamped and copied. With the official release papers in hand, we could have headed straight for the cars, but as everyone is on a lunch break from 12:00 to 2:00pm, we had to wait 2 hours more.
After the lunch break we were told to get one more stamp from the shipping company so we ran over to get that one. With finally all the documents and stamps we headed back to the cars. There the foreman stamped our documents once more (why not, one more stamp does not hurt) and we could drive out of the port. FINALLY! Our papers were checked on the way out by port security and the police. The nice police officer welcomed us to Colombia with a big smile – that has to be the first time that a border official actually welcomed us! – and we drove back to the hostel.
We cannot begin to explain how happy we were to have this shipping process over and done with. In principle, the process is not so complicated. In practice, it needs a lot of stamps (did not count), taxi rides (9 in total), security checks to go in & out of the port, waiting, paperwork, … but it worked out in the end.
At the end of the day, we parked Rodrigo close to the hotel and had pizza to celebrate! Today’s blog post song was playing in the background, which put a smile on our face. Maybe you will recognise it too!
Help, ayuda me!
En tu amistad he puesto toda mi fe
Help, ayuda me!
Y tiende me la mano de un hermano
Lights, camera, action! Finally the wait was over and we got news that the Seaboard Pride had arrived in the harbour. After breakfast we headed immediately to the Seaboard Marine offices to collect the bill of lading. It’s a ten minute taxi ride and then a bit of asking and wandering around to find the right office. As you can see, it’s not like the building is labelled or that there are any signs pointing to it.
We went inside and picked up our paperwork. The nice lady explained to us that we needed to head to the customs office to request a temporary vehicle import document. So we jumped in another taxi and headed to the other side of the harbour. We asked around for where we needed to be and the security guard escorted us to a lady’s desk where we had to fill out some more paperwork. After going out to get some more copies, we handed in the paperwork and made an appointment to have our cars inspected on Wednesday (tomorrow morning) at 8:00am.
We headed back to the other side of the harbour by taxi to try and locate the container with our car. When we arrived at the Seaboard office they said that we should go to the document centre next door. We got a visitor badge and walked into the document centre, which is the administrative headquarter of the port. Although we only have an appointment for tomorrow, we figured we would see what we could still achieve today. However, what really happened is that we confused the crap out of everyone (and they out of us). We did another taxi ride and we walked back and forth to the Seaboard office to try and get a stamp on a document. At the end of the day, we only had an invoice… and the news that we should come back tomorrow at 8:00am. The taxi ride back to the hotel was not the most comfortable considering the speed, start-stop action, strong air freshener and constant honking.
It looks however like everything is set for getting the car back tomorrow. Maybe it will take a bit more confusion and a few more blank stares, but we’ll make it happen! Pictures of happy people in cars coming soon!
I’m totally confused by you
Ten foot man, making my lunch
You’ll never understand
Today we literally did not do anything – so you should not be surprised that we don’t have any pictures! We still have some time to kill in Cartagena waiting for the boat to arrive. The good news is that the boat has made it to Cartagena and tomorrow we are heading to customs to start the paperwork. In order to have at least some visual aids in this post, here’s a picture of our boat!
As we are halfway through our journey and on a new continent, we thought to share some moment of reflection on the past 3 months.
Situations you will not likely see back home… (and that we have almost stopped noticing)
- People selling all kinds of food and stuff in the middle of the street (toilet paper, lobsters, …)
- All types of different bugs accompanying your toilet visit
- If we are looking for something, sometimes people will walk with us to the shop
- People working at 35°C in the middle of the day on roadworks
- Officials on lunch breaks from 12:00 to 2:00
Most amazing things seen so far…
- Big blue butterflies (although still not caught on camera) and other unfamiliar wildlife
- Beautiful beaches (varying from crystal white to dark grey)
- Volcano craters in Death Valley, Crater Lake and Poas National Park
- Cities of a lost civilisations who lived long before our time
- Panama canal
Most stressful moments…
- Border crossings – especially when people are jumping on your car…
- Driving in Mexico City but even worse, driving in Panama city
- Sleeping in a tent during a tropical storm
- Arranging all the necessary documentation to ship a car from Panama to Columbia
What happens behind the scenes…
- We need to regularly wash our clothes (by hand)
- Supply on food every day and try to turn it into a yummy dish
- There are only so many ways to make a long drive entertaining
- We need to make a lot of copies of documents
- We get sick every now and then (even though we keep on smiling on the pictures)
Things that we miss from home…
- Being able to hug friends and family
- Luxury of our bathroom (note: that is the bath tub and the hot water)
- Local food (fries, stoofvlees, curryworst speciaal, club kip special, home made soup, …)
- Big warm duvet
A warm Sunday in the Carribean… the perfect opportunity to catch up with friends and family over Skype! After breakfast we did a short walk to the ‘Castillo San Felipe de Barajas‘, a fortress built in the 1500’s to protect the city.
We tried to stay out of the sun as much as possible, with but the sun right over our heads that was not so easy!
We stopped at a large sculpture of a pair of old shoes, based on the poem “A Mi Ciudad Nativa” by Colombian-born poet Luis Carlos Lopez, where he compares his fondness of Cartagena to his love for an old pair of shoes.
The rest of the day we spent checking Marine Traffic to see when the Seaboard Pride would pick up our container and head to Cartagena.
Being too hot to go outside we spent the entire afternoon in the hostel’s air conditioning. Hopefully the boat will arrive soon so we can get the paperwork started. Sunday evening the ship had docked in Colon, but the container was not loaded yet.
These boots are made for walking
And that’s just what they’ll do
One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you
Welcome to Cartagna, the hottest city on earth! That may not be statistically true, but it does feel like that! The coldest temperature ever recorded here is 18° Celsius. There is only a very light breeze coming over the Carribean Sea, so it’s hot and sticky all day long! Thankfully Cartagena is also a very colourful city!
We walked around in the heat and saw the ‘Torre del Reloj’ inside the walled city.
After our little tour through the city we walked back to the hostel to cool down a bit in the air-conditioning! We only went out again after dark to have dinner at a local comedor.
Said it was 96 degrees in the shade
Real hot in the shade
Ten thousand soldiers on parade
With the car safe in the container, it was time to move ourselves to another continent. Thankfully we did not have to do that in a dark box. We booked tickets last week to fly from Panama City to Cartagena with Copa Air, Panama’s flag carrier.
We got up at 7:00am for a quick breakfast and then took a taxi to the airport. The first taxi that we tried to hail was pulled over by the police before he reached us because he drove through a red light. The next one did obey (most) traffic rules so he managed to reach us. We got in and speeded to the airport. We met Nate and Sarah in the airport and after check-in and security we got a coffee – seems like the coffee cartel decided that coffee should cost $3 no matter where you buy it in the airport.
The free internet at the airport provided some entertainment and before we knew it we were on board and heading to Colombia. As it was a bit early to have a beer, Patrick only had an Atlas when we were served lunch.
It’s only a short one hour flight to Cartagena and it’s definitely easier to cross a border without a car! We took a taxi to the hostel – and contemplated how many more taxi’s we would be taking as we are now carless. In Cartagena we did some grocery shopping and tonight we’ll look into how we will spend the weekend. There will only be news on the car earliest on Monday, when we hope the boat will arrive! In the meantime we will hold an Apple convention in the hotel lounge…
Tomorrow we will explore the city a bit more!
Joe le taxi
C’est sa vie
Le rhum au mambo
With Rodrigo safely locked away in a container (we cannot imagine how hot it must be inside that container), we went out to explore Panama City. We had a late breakfast of Zucaritas (the local Frosties) and toast and headed to ‘Panama Viejo‘ around noon to meet Nate and Sarah. It’s within walking distance of the hostel, but with the heat and humidity we were sweating like crazy when we got there. Somehow we managed to skip paying the entry fee – which is always a nice bonus to start the day! Panama Viejo is the remaining part of the old capital of Panama. It was attacked in 1671 and destroyed.
From Panama Viejo we took a taxi to Casco Antiguo, which is the historic centre of town. The taxi ride was almost like GTA Panama City – with wrong turns and driving in opposite directions – but we made it safely to our destination. Lunch was pretty high up on the list so we went and found a nice restaurant ‘Tantalo‘. Marijke ordered the sushi which was super delicious, even though they contained ketchup and cheese :).
We took a little tour of ‘Casco Viejo‘, the historic district of Panama City, where you can see the remains of churches and convents.
All these historic sites are very different to the real Panama City, which is a congested city with skyscrapers and construction zones. Five days here are enough to give you a serious dose of road rage! We walked for miles trying to find a bar to have a drink. We finally found the ‘Hacienda Real‘ and had a beer and iced tea there. We also got 4 free cups of delicious chicken soup due to a small misunderstanding with the staff. Afterwards we walked a bit and took a taxi back to the hostel.
Tomorrow we head to the airport to fly to Colombia! Hopefully the boat with the car will also be leaving tomorrow!
It’s all over the front page
You give me road rage
Racing through the best days
We faced an exciting day today as we would learn first hand about international shipping. After reading about it for weeks, it was finally time to drive Rodrigo into a dark container! We met Nate and Sarah at the Balboa Yacht Club after a nightmarish drive through Panama City. It seems like traffic is getting worse every day! Marijke was not feeling so well today and the start-stop action in the traffic jam did not help!
At the Yacht Club we waited for 45 minutes for our agent to turn up. Relax, we’re in the tropics!
Today we did not have to take any action for shipping the car, so what better way to spend the day then watching boats go by! Panama is an excellent place to see lots of big boats and Patrick had been looking forward to this day for a long time! We drove from Panama City (on the Pacific side) to Colon (on the Carribean side) across the highway. At the first tollbooth we had to buy a prepaid card for $8 to drive on the tollroads and and the second booth they said they don’t accept the card and we had to pay cash. Panama did not score any points with us for that move! On the other hand, you can drive from ocean to ocean in under an hour… where else can you do that?
When we arrived at the ‘Gatun locks‘ on the Carribean side, we could see the canal in action from very close! We could see the biggest ships that fit in the canal (their size is aptly named ‘Panamax‘) go through the locks being guided by the little trains.
We saw one ship actually hitting the side on the locks – and we’re pretty sure that’s not supposed to happen! Business carried on as usual…
We could write a long blogpost about all the interesting facts of the canal, but you have to see it for yourself to appreciate the size of the undertaking. The two boats in the pictures above each paid over $100.000 to sail from the Atlantic to the Pacific in about 10 hours. Funny thing is that whereas tourists pay $5 to see the ships go through, the crew on the ships is not nearly equally fanatical about it…
After spending some time on the sunny Carribean side, we drove back to the Pacific side to see the ‘Miraflores locks’. We met Nate and Sarah there as well. We watched the 3D movie about the canal (it’s about 10 minutes long) and then watched the ships arrive. We debated a bit about how the canal actually works and finally settled the argument with ‘gravity’.
In a couple of years the expansion of the canal will be complete and much bigger ships will be able to sail through! We know at least one little boy who will be coming back to see that!