Friday, 1 February 2008, Cartagena/Colombia
It's now one week since I wrote part 1 of the chapter "Shipping" so you would think that by now I would have found some peace and quiet, relaxing on a nice beach - not so: I'm sitting in the camper in a FORD garage in Cartagena whilst the guys are trying to fix the "Check Engine" problem; but more about that later in due order.
I spent the last two days in Panama rather tired and bored in the Hotel "Riande" near the airport; a place which wasn't even quiet and relaxing, with over 40 rooms off one long tiled concrete hallway and badly noise-insulated doors... On Sunday morning I rose early to the now familiar sound of my alarm to catch the flight to Cartagena. Upon check-in I received the next good news: the flight might be overbooked and my seat was not guaranteed. But it all went well and at 9:20 we took off in a tiny turbo-prop plane.
The flight altitude was relatively low so you could see clearly through the clouds how impassable the terrain between Panama and Colombia is: the so-called Darien Gap with no road for about 100 kilometres, which cost us almost $3,500 to pass. We touched down at the quaint and quiet little airport in Cartagena, where only a few passengers got off the plane (which continued on to Barranquilla), hence there wasn't much of a line at immigration, and the luggage was already stored near the belt. I drew the first money from an ATM and took a taxi to the hotel I had picked from our guide book. The welcome was rather friendly and the place looked, for a little over $20, clean and well kept, with private bath, a/c, and cable tv. Overnight I realised that it was built in the typical Latin American style with no consideration for noise coming from neighbouring rooms: you could clearly hear televisions, kids crying, people talking too loudly, passionate sex, even most showers. So rather badly rested I got up the next morning (once again to my alarm) to tackle the task ahead: to get the camper out of port in one day.
I stored my luggage, went for a quick breakfast, and then asked the friendly man at the hotel reception if he could ring up and find out the name and address of the local agency, since it wasn't mentioned on the papers from Barwil. I was given directions to Seaboard (to be expected) at "Muelle El Bosque" and hailed a taxi. At 8:40 I arrived at the port asking my way to the rather hidden office of Seaboard, where I tried to communicate through a tiny slot in a window with one of their employees who speaks some English. The ship hadn't docked yet, but I was assured that I should start the paper trail and could most likely receive the camper the same day. I was given a list with all steps explained in English, and I started with Step 2 (Step 1 was to retrieve the "Bill of Loading" from the Seaboard office - I held a copy).
So I hailed another taxi and told the driver to go to the customs office in "Barrio Manda". Upon arrival I was sent from one office to another until I was finally told that the office issuing the papers I needed had moved to the port entrance in Manga, but that it was only down the road. In the last second I remembered that all my photocopies were in the camper, that I hadn't brought the folder with me, and from experience I knew that in these countries you need copies of everything to do anything. So I asked which papers I needed copies of, and on the 5 minute walk to the port I stopped at a copy shop to get the required papers.
I then asked my way to the DIAN (Direcion de Impuestas y Aduana Nacionales) office, where a blonde guy and two Latinos were already taking up the only seats in the waiting room - I was going to run into them for the rest of the day. I was let into the office, and a friendly man explained I would have to wait 15 minutes. After about 40 minutes a woman called me in and issued the first permit, with which I then had to return to the port office in El Bosque.
During my wait I had remembered that in Colombia vehicle insurance is compulsory, and since the next taxi driver I caught spoke reasonably clear and slow Spanish, I asked him if he knew where to obtain one. So we drove to several petrol stations, where car insurances are sold in the shop as well; but all they could offer were policies for one year, which we don't need, so after the third try I told the driver to get me back to the port. Arriving there he asked for 20,000 Pesos, the much longer trip from the hotel to the port had been only 8,000, but since all the detours had taken some time I finally left him with 12,000 Pesos, not caring about his protest.
I first went to the Seaboard office in the hope I could now get an original of my "Bill of Loading", but found it closed for lunch from 11:00 to 2:00, so I walked down to the nearby port office. When I stood in front of it to finish my quick cigarette one of the guys from the DIAN office waived me in and pointed to a counter where his colleagues were standing - my next step. We started chatting in some Spanish and some English: two of them were from Brazil and living in Florida (the third a local friend), they were on a 2 months return road trip to enjoy the carnival in Brazil, driving in two cars, a Mustang and a BMW X5 = crazy!
Despite being very friendly the woman at the counter insisted on the original "Bill of Loading" before she would do anything. It was just before 12:00, so this meant a two hour wait (and lost time). I was hungry and went to explore the surrounds, looking for a restaurant, but couldn't find any which had anything other than meat dishes on offer (which we don't eat), so I ended up with some rather dry pastries at a bakery, washed down with a sparkling water... A good hour later I sat in the air-conditioned front room of the port authorities, wishing I had brought my book.
Continuation on > Page 2 > !