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  • Writer's pictureKelsey

Shipping from Panama to Colombia: Part 2

So, here we are in Cartagena. Something about that name. Carta-Hain-ya! It conjures images of exotic travel, historic architecture and maybe, if you’re an 80's kid like me, images of Michael Douglas or Danny DeVito driving through the jungle seeking adventure and riches. Somehow, that silly movie (I meant great movie “Romancing the Stone”), colors my image of Cartagena. With that silliness in mind, here we go.

We had 3 days to explore while we waited on our truck so we tried to take advantage. We walked out the huge peninsula of high rise hotels, we walked through the rougher neighborhoods enjoying the graffiti and food. The beaches are nothing to write home about. There are many, but the water is brown and the waves are small. The bars and restaurants on the peninsula are cheesy by any world travelers standards.

The Walled City is where it’s at. Sure, it’s the epicenter of tourism, but it’s also the epicenter of history. We walked through the streets, took the free tours with our container buddies and stopped often for a beer or a drink. It was interesting. Lots of people offering you things, lots of cheesy outfits, but still amongst it all such immense and beautiful history and architecture it was a highlight our travels. We also explored the rougher areas of Cartagena and found cheap food, cheaper accommodations and as Colombia is known for, the nicest people I’ve ever met.

Monday came fast. We knew that it “could” take 2 days to get our truck so we decided to book one extra night at our Airbnb just in case. We got up early and started walking the 9KM to the harbor. We stopped for coffee on the way and realized about 1.5 KM’s into it that the morning was hot and humid here. By the time we arrived at the shipping office we were roasted. It’s 8AM and we’re drenched in sweat head to toe. To the point that we look as though we’d jumped into a pool. No matter, let’s get this tedious process started!!

The lady at the counter took a a while and then said. “The only step you can do today is to go to this bank and pay this fee.” So, off we went and paid the fee. She said to pay the fee and come back tomorrow. I had a bad feeling because I expected a 10 to 14 hour day, but okay. We found a bank, paid, and went exploring. The next morning we came back as we were told to do. This morning she said the container had not yet been found... This was worrisome because we expected to be driving our trucks today. Last night was the “extra” night we’d booked so we NEEDED to leave today!! Then after a while of not helping us she said “okay, all done!”

We were all smiling ear to ear. We had our final Bill of Lading. We needed this to head to the DIAN, the agency in charge of the next step. DIAN was a couple of KM’s away. We went there to start our next step and he told us what we needed to get from Aduana. We then went to Aduana and we were really feeling like we’re making some progress. At Aduana, the guy mentions that I need to go and get better international insurance. (My insurance was essentially a MEDJET subscription which would fly me back to the USA where I had another travel policy that would then treat me. This was NOT okay. To enter the port I needed a policy that would cover me here. My bad, okay. (Here I was upset thinking this mistake could cost us driving out today.)

Then, Elejandro told me that our container had not been found... Wait... we’d heard this at Seaboard Marine, our shipping company, but then later she seemed happy and gave us the Bill of Lading.... We’d assumed the container was found. We’d assumed it was sitting somewhere in the yard waiting for us...

From what he said and a general feeling of dread we used the ship tracking app to see where out ship was. (We realized the ship name was on our bill of lading.)

....SHIT... It was still in Panama. In the harbor where we’d loaded the truck. We emailed our shipping agent, who hadn’t replied to the last several emails, and asked what was going on.

With our heads hung low we left Aduana because there was literally nothing he could do to help when the item had not even entered the country. We knew only that our ship was still where we left it. No one we had info or would give us additional info. Our agent, Tea, told us that she had received no notice that the ship was delayed.... Here we are 3+ days past when it should have arrived. Well, let’s deal with the immediate problem and find a place to stay!

That night our Airbnb offered us a bigger room that would accommodate us and our container buddies. Thankfully it wasn’t too expensive. The next morning we heard that our ship had a paperwork issue. Some sort of an inspection had shown paperwork was not in order. We knew we had to look for a new place to stay. The place we were at was more than doubling in price for one more night due to Christmas. We found a hostel with a room and booked it. It was a dump and the following night we lucked out on a hotel listed on Airbnb that was a studio with a couch bed. So the next day we moved to the hotel. Each day we’d obsessively check the ship tracker with no progress and try to spend as little money as possible.. We enjoyed having some company with our misery. Of course, misery was too harsh of a word, but it was still nice to bitch and moan with some other travelers and friends.

After the hotel got expensive, again it’s day to increase prices for Christmas was later than the last place, we moved again. This time to the Bike and Dive Hostel. A cool place owned by some Germans who had motorcycles to rent and a sailboat you can book a day or a week on. (In other circumstances we would have jumped at all of the above). While we were staying at this new hostel enjoying the pool and watching a local rappers music video being shot on the roof we checked our apps methodically as we did every hour or so... OUR SHIP WAS MOVING! This was huge news. As usual, we saw that the ship was moving long before our agent, Tea, contacted us. We knew this was good, but still, how long did it mean until we get Goose back!?

So, the day it arrived we showed up to Aduana. We sat there the whole day going through steps. Part of which even involved seeing GOOSE!! We took pics of him and even let him out of the container!! WOOHOOO!!! Today we drive!.... We were done with the process at 2pm and after a couple hours of waiting to be handed the keys we were told that the offices were closing. The kid helping us said that he was trying to get us and another overlander in to get our trucks at the same time and instead... the time got too late and we’d have to come back tomorrow. (One thing this trip has taught us is that time is relative. 5 minutes means an hour and an hour means most of the day. Any longer than that offered and it could be a week.) Again, with our heads hung low we left and got another airbnb since our current one was again booked. We moved back to where we’d started, but this time they sprung a $60,000 peso surcharge on us at the counter that was not shown in Airbnb. What could we do expect complain later. We were zombies at this point. Exhausted. We crashed out and tried to stay positive for tomorrow.

In the morning we headed for Aduana early. Thankfully he took pity on us and rushed us through the last steps and our appointment to walk to our trucks. It only took a couple hours... Then, I still could hardly believe it, we were free. The moment that last checkpoint and barrier to the harbor was cleared I finally realized we were out. We were free.

and most importantly Goose was free!!! (And only a week and a half late)

Now, get me the F out of Cartagena!!!!and most importantly Goose was free!!! (And only a week and a half late)Now, get me the F out of Cartagena!!!!

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