Sur America and a looong process to clear the motorcycles!
The flight itself from Panama City to Cartagena, Colombia was at noon; it was quick and without any problems. We booked rooms in a hostel together with Adeline and Francoise. The taxi driver was not really amused to drive to the part of Cartagena where our Hostel was – he said it is a dangerous area; they shoot people there, even at day time… We chose that place because they should have safe parking and it is not too far from the port area as well not far to the old town center.
The hostel was a little nice place with a little fenced front yard with an friendly owner and nice employees. We asked about the area, where to get foot and how to walk to the beach. We strolled around and we did not feel unsafe at any time. Of course there were some side streets you which were not really inviting but all people we were talking too were friendly. We received the information that Monday is a bank holiday in Cartagena – they shifted the All Saints’ Day from the last week to Monday. The upcoming weekend they celebrated the Independence Day and the celebration starts already on Thursday. Realizing we chose a bad timing (we all had a check for any upcoming bank holidays but the calendars we looked at were not showing all these days). We worried a bit because in fact we have only 2 days to get the vehicles out and for the third day we have to pay already the storage fee. If not we have to wait until next week Tuesday. Nothing we can do except being prepared as best as possible and so we used the Monday to explore Cartagena.
Tuesday morning we went early to the port. Maybe you know `The Twelve Tasks of Asterix´ so you have a good idea of what we had to go through. We had 21 steps and were running from one place to another, back and forth, waiting getting another paper, walking back and forth, waiting… But the second day we finally had the bill of lading, the TVIP and even the insurance done. And the moment we opened the container we saw our motorcycles as we left them and left happily the port in the afternoon.
First time driving in the Colombian traffic and in the rush hour. For about 5km we needed 40 minutes. Sascha’s horn was not working for longer already and now Kerstin’s was not working anymore as well. Surely we have to work on that ASAP – here a loud horn is really needed to make your way through the traffic. We spend the evening sorting and washing clothes. Early the next morning we drove just 10km north to La Boquilla. There we found a perfect place, parked next to the pool to work on little things and jumping into the pool in-between. Kerstin´s horn was fixed within an minute; it was just not correctly connected to the battery. Great! For Sascha we have to find a new one on the way.
After all these days in the cities in the heat and processes and bureaucracy we ached for mountains and fresh air. Our next destination we chose was about 250km north of Cartagena: Minca. It is a small village at an elevation of 650m in the Sierra Nevada above Santa Marta. On the way we managed to find new horns for Sascha which he fixed as soon as we arrived in this much cooler temperature than the boiling cities. This was a perfect place to plan our further route, to work on the blog, to fix small thinks and to explore the lovely area. We were staying three nights and we relished the spirit of this little village with several beautiful nature spots close by. You can easily hike to the Pozo Azul, a popular swimming hole with two small waterfalls. As it was weekend when we went there the pool was packed with people, 300+, tssss. But when we climbed up we had the cascades at the upper falls just for us. Las Piedra is another river bath place just around the corner. And if you spend more time here you can learn about its organic coffee plantation or explore the bird-watching places.
On the way to Panama City we had a stop in Playa Farallon at Trixi´s little cozy Taca Tucan Hostel just next to the beach. The bikes were just fitting in her front garden and we jumped into the ocean directly after parking. We spend a nice evening together with her, her friends and with Adeline and Francoise (our container-buddies who parked at the beach) in her garden drinking beer and eating Pizza. The Pan-American Highway is not really nice at this point, so where possible we made a little detour through the hills along the coast.
Now the serious part started. We rode to Panama City where we booked a room just behind the Puente de las Americas (Bridge of the Americas) together with all our container buddies: Adeline and Francoise (France) and Lars and Carin (Swiss). We explored a bit the bridge and the area, cooked and sorted our paper work.
The next morning we all needed to go to get the inspection of our vehicles done. We were told to be there at 7 AM and we agreed to be there already at 6:30 AM. When we arrived there was already a long cue but hey, at 10 past 9 AM we all had our inspection done. Now we had to wait until 2 PM to get the papers. We drove back to the hostel having breakfast and another shower and to pack our things together. The plan was to leave after the inspection directly to Colón where we had the loading appointment at 7:30 next morning. At 2 PM at the office they told us to sit down and wait a few minutes…we were watching the scenery… clerks carrying coffee cups, clerks carrying empty boxes, waiting, clerks carrying some papers, waiting a little bit longer and after two hours they handed out the inspection papers. The traffic in the city was mad! And Adeline, Francois and us we decided to stay one more night in the hostel in Panama City and drive very early morning to Colón. Adeline made incredible delicious crepes and we had a relaxed evening.At 5:30 with the first glimpse of daylight we left. The air was still cool and we drove north along the Panama Canal, through the rain forest and on the highway to Colón. It was a real good decision we realized because we heard the road was blocked the last evening and they had a hell of traffic yam. Now we drove only 80 minutes. The last meters it started to rain and we just parked under the roof at the meeting point and heavy rain started. We do not want having everything wet in the container and we were praying that it will stop soon.
Boris was our agent on the Panama side. His dad, “Papa Boris”, arrived at the meeting point and the rain stopped when we were driving over to the port area. We found our way in a convoy (two more cars were sharing another container) on this gravel area full of rain filled potholes trucks and trash. Finally we were all parking around the two containers. Papa Boris told us that we probably need to take off all four panniers to make it fit. Hmmm not nice but well… There was no dry or clean area to put anything and we always have to unpack the pannier to take it off. So it was a bit off a challenge to sort everything. Of course meanwhile the sun was out, it became immediately hot and we were sweated in a second. Our container buddies allowed us to store all our `loose´ things in their cars – THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH FOR THAT AGAIN!!! As a precaution we organized some big rubbish bags where we `sealed in´ all our sweated gears and boots not to `contaminating´ the cars of our buddies ;) So far so good! On arrival we identified with the pre-bill of lading the correct container together with Papa Boris and an hour later they started to load the wrong car (one of the other group with the second container) into our container while we were sorting our things. Luckily Sascha saw it and so they had to unload it again… puhhh! Additional Papa Boris is suddenly mentioning that our two motorcycles might not fit in the container as they are really big… ????!!!!???? WHAT??? We gave all our measurements upfront to them from the beginning – even the width with the panniers on. So we told him there is no question about putting maybe one bike in the other container. They HAVE to fit!
The loading was a sweaty act. Kerstin’s bike they dropped once with the front wheel in the space between the loading truck and the container. It plunged hard on the fork – uffff. We had to fit the bikes in on the main-stand. Sascha did not like that idea at all but there was no other way and finally we fit them and strapped everything as best as possible – DONE. Let´s hope they will arrive in one piece and still standing…
The next step was the customs. Boris was waiting for us outside at the port entrance and the paperwork was done pretty quickly. Good part! When we paid Boris he was wondering about the amount and said $300 USD is missing because of the two bikes. Hmmm??? The last invoice was nothing mentioning like that and as well in the e-mails he never said the price will rise. We discussed a while and in the end we agreed he takes over 100 and us we share the 200 between us as we did not want to risk delayed shipping. It was a shame somehow – everything went well and now that – it left a bad taste in our mouth. So be aware! Ask for the final invoice because it may not be up-dated by them!
We had to find our way back to Panama City where we booked a hotel with a roof-top pool. We had to stay 5 nights before our flight to Cartagena Colombia is going. We do not like to stay in cities that much but we wanted to make the best out of it. We explored the area we lived, the old town (Casco Viejo), the fish market and the viewpoints. We went to the shopping center to get some supplies and of course we went to the Panama Canal. With the bus you can go for 0,25 cents to Miraflores, Panama Canal locks. It is worth a visit. You can watch the boats driving through the locks and in the museum you learn everything about the construction, the boats, the fauna and flora. In the little cinema they show a kind of short summary – if you don´t see it you do not really miss anything. The entrance fee is $20 but the ticket is valid the whole day. We went early morning and when we left at 1pm we sold the tickets for $10 USD.
Of course we spent time as well at the pool and enjoying the views from the roof top… and getting prepared for the process to take the vehicles out at the Colombian side. The flight is going on Sunday the 4th November and on Monday we need to start the process which will take probably 1 and a half to two days… A new chapter: South America (America del Sur)!!! We are really curious, excited and looking forward to explore this new continent!!!