The Long Way to Get Prado to Colombia
A post definitely a bit different from the previous 1s. It’s more or less just about Cartagena. So, no driving thru breathtaking or annoying landscapes, no mix of whatever may happen when traveling. Just the town.
Not because it’s Colombia. Neither because it’s essential to experience Cartagena for 10 days.
No, it’s just because of the shipping of Prado from Panamá to Colombia. A vessel that just arrives 1 week late – even if it just takes a day from Colón to Cartagena. A super administrative port in Colombia and some unruly motorcycle-taxi drivers.
Cartagena, 25th February
It’s Saturday, 19th February. Today we’ve arrived by plane in Cartagena. A world completely different from what we’ve experienced in the last weeks in Costa Rica and Panamá. Reminds us a little of Mexico.
Apart from being astonished, we have to get used to Cartagena’s way of life as quickly as possible. Ok, to start with – let’s learn the essentials about Colombian beer – just 1 or 2.
Next morning. The streets are filled with people. Many wait patiently at the numerous food stalls to get their breakfast – Arepa. A kind of Taco, the Colombian way.
Of course, the places to visit and to stay in Cartagena are the old town or the quarter of Getsemani. Nevertheless, they’re just a small part of the town. Surrounded by the extended modern parts of town. A mix of high-rising buildings, exclusive or shabby residential areas, and slums.
Then a stroll thru the old town. Definitely, Cartagena is not a place where you just run from 1 spectacular sight to the other. It’s rather about the atmosphere of the town, the beautiful colonial buildings, the mix of incredibly fashionable and posh places with decaying structures. But also, an encounter with all these street vendors, touts, wannabe guides, and artists. Hence, all kinds of people trying to make their living from the visitors sneaking thru the alleys.
A stroll thru Cartagena’s alleys. Of course, every minute you’re asked if you want to buy a tour to some undiscovered islands with 5000 other tourists, go to an original Colombian restaurant to have real Italian pizza, purchase an incredible Chinese made Panama hat, or simply need a girl’s special attention to distract you from your wife’s notorious nagging.
Whatever, ignore all the wannabes, and the incessant noise of 1000s of cars competing for their way with 1000s of horse-drawn carriages. Ignore the touts with their bundles of menus to encourage you to visit the emptiest restaurants in town and these 1000s of visitors sneaking thru the alleys.
Just concentrate on the lively alleys with all these beautifully restored, or just decaying buildings respectively. The atmosphere of the tiny squares and the reflections of the late afternoon sun on the facade of the houses.
That’s all about Cartagena? Of course, not. Still to mention all these watering holes’n’eateries. They’re abundant – and what a difference to Panamá or Costa Rica.
So far Cartagena. We had quite some days to explore while waiting for Prado to arrive.
Of course, there’s still more to expect nearby: Getsemani. A quarter adjacent to Cartagena’s old town.
Formerly the small people’s world, nowadays it converts into a hip area for the more budget-conscious travelers. The place you find dozens of hostels with their immense offers specially dedicated to backpackies – pizzerias, pastarias, French-Italian panaderias, creperias, lavanderias, souvenirerias, etc. Whatever delights backpackies’ heart requires in their special environment.
For us, it’s more to experience the colorful alleys, to admire the famous murals, and to spend some time until Prado is ready to hit the road again.
Playa Blanca, 27th February
It’s a Friday. After 5 days in beautiful Cartagena. we need a change. To the Beach? Definitely.
Of course, there are quite some options not far from town. The nearest 1 at Bocagrande where you can spend your time enjoying the slightly grubby grey sand and the muddy water in the shade of the condominiums built all along its shores. A little further away is Isla Rosario. In Cartagena, it’s promoted as the real paradise on earth. Even better than the Maldives. White sand, turquoise water full of colorful corals, and fish. In reality, everyone knows the island is crowded with 1000s of day visitors, the sand is too dirty to be white. The corals have died due to pollution and the fish – probably eaten by all these visitors.
Remains Playa Blanca. Famous for its white sand and turquoise water. But at least nobody has to bother about corals or fish. There have never been any.
Ok, let’s opt for that.
A bus takes us to Playa Blanca, kicks us out on a huge’n’dusty parking behind the beach. Now we have to walk. About 1 km along the beach to our sleepery.
Just next to the parking, the beach is pretty crowded. Further away, it’s getting more and more empty.
Our sleepery – they call it glamping. We get a pretty big igloo under a roof equipped with everything. Not exactly what we’ve seen in the movie Out of Africa, but pretty ok.
Many years ago, in the 60ties’n’70ties of the last century – during the historic period called the Age of The Hippies – Playa Blanca was a popular destination for them. Smoking weed the whole day long, giving the flowers all power, and dreaming of converting the world into the ultimate paradise. Those days have gone a long time ago.
Maybe there are a few hippies left. By now, probably in their wheelchairs on the beach, completely stoned murmuring their eternal Hare Krishna litany. All others left a long time ago. Nowadays they’re possibly in homes for senior citizens where they impress every day their co-inhabitants with the very same story about Playa Blanca.
Whatever. The remains of that time are still in use. Time to admire them and to regret, that most hippie trails are inaccessible by now – or real weed from Afghanistan’s highland is no longer that easy to get and has a touch of political incorrectness due to the Talibans.
Next morning – a Saturday. Time to come to the essential. To enjoy the beach, the white sand and the turquoise water.
What a view.
Weekends are also the time when the crowd of day visitors arrives. By 9 am, in buses, in boats. Of course, also next to our empty beach.
Quickly the beach fills up. Hence, the incredible opportunity to study real Colombian beach life. Most visitors come with their large families. From grandma Luz Marina to ankle-biter Enrique and ever moaning teeny Julia. Others just come with their best friends. The status of each group seems to be defined by the ghetto blaster they bring with them. Of course, in fierce competition with their neighbors. Here some of our study results:
The very 1st thing we state: real beauty only becomes evident in taking selfies.
The 2nd important observation concerns sports. Incredible how addicted they are to sports. Especially those involving some engine power.
Now to the most important; no fun without something to sip and to munch.
There are a few installed beach bars. There you easily get the cocktail of your dream. There’s only 1 small problem. You have to walk there.
Thus, hundreds of vendors approach you with all their incredible offers; drinks, fruits, shrimp cocktails, ceviches, sweets, and everything else you may miss during your day at the beach. Not to forget the huge offer for massage. Yeah, it’s great how they convert the beach into a real supermarket.
By 3 pm everybody leaves again. Back to Cartagena. Looks like they have a strict 9 – 3 rule on beach visits.
Soon later the beach is yours again.
Esteemed readers of this wonderful post, by now you may consider this beach is not the stuff you’ve dreamed of since your age of 5. Well, probably you’re right. Still, it’s fun to observe it, if you know it’s not forever.
Cartagena, 3rd March
It’s Monday. We’re ready to get Prado back on the road. The vessel has finally arrived last Saturday. Indeed, by noon we receive the information from Ana Rodriguez – our shipping agent – that we should come to the port to have the cars out of the container. So far, excellent news. Soon later we’re slightly less optimistic. Ana informs us that the shipping company in Panamá has not yet confirmed our payment. Thus, no way to get the cars out of the port. At least, there’s a good reason for that – there’s the week-long carnival in Panamá, hence nobody works there. Just a few minutes later the next information. Everything in Cartagena closes down in the afternoon due to the unruly motorcycle taxi drivers. They started to block roads and demolish cars in town to show everybody how unhappy they are with some new regulations. Ok, at least now it’s clear not today. Let’s be optimistic for tomorrow.
Tuesday, day 2. Another day, another attempt.
Ana calls us to come to the port at 11 am as everything looks good. Optimistic as we are, we already dream of today’s final beer before heading for other destinations. Arriving at the port, they check if we really comply with their rules’n’regulations. Long sleeve shirt (borrowed from Ana), long trousers, sturdy shoes, insurance covering all eventualities, and all the information they required from us previously. After 30′ they recognize that we comply with all they invented. We get a batch to open the entrance gate. And, they call Carlos – our guide, watchdog, and dogsbody inside the port.
Finally, we enter and sneak some 50m to our container.
Arriving there, Carlos discovers, that according to his documents only 1 car should be in the container. No problem, he promises to rectify this in no time. And off he is.
We’re sitting on a bench – at least there’s some shade. Fortunately, there’s a customs officer working on our TIPs. 10′ and the TIP is ready. At least, now we’re allowed to drive the cars in Colombia – should they ever leave the port. 2h later, Carlos returns. With a new piece of paper. By now showing 2 cars in the container. No problem, we’re just dehydrated and near to heatstroke from the temperature under this shade.
Then the container is opened, the cars driven out. Both safe’n’sound for the next adventures.
To our great astonishment, we’re asked to leave the keys with customs for inspection and to go to Ana’s office to get all other stuff done. Exactly the very thing we never wanted to do. But, no other chance.
Back to Ana’s office, we wait for some 5′, finally extending to 30′ to get the finalized version of the finalized TIP. With that Ana can buy our car insurance. Then another hour to get our bill – a hefty 750$ per car, of which is 2/3 just for unloading and opening of the container.
We enjoy another hour waiting in the office. By now it’s 4.30 pm and the port closes at 5. Still, the insurance has not arrived. Then we learn, also a confirmation of the shipping line liberating the container is still missing – still due to carnival in Panamá. No way to get the cars today. Hopefully, they don’t pilfer them during our sweet sleep this night.
Wednesday, day 3.
By 2 pm we’re asked to be back to the port. Arriving there, we can enter with Carlos, even without all these formalities which were so important the day before. Even this missing clearance from the shipping company seems to have vanished into thin air.
We check the cars. All seems to be ok. No bad girl felt any necessity to clean them up. Carlos explains to us in all detail how to leave the port. Then he informs us that he needs just 5′ to get a final’n’ultimate form permitting us to leave the port. Well, we prepare for the next heatstroke. Indeed 1h later Carlos returns with nice pink paper and its blue copy.
Now, we have all we need to release the cars. Just another hour and 3 gates where the guys check all our papers, fight fiercely with their computer technology and finally open the gate to freedom.
10 days after arriving in Cartagena we can finally move on.
We made it, We crossed the famous Darien Gap. Of course, at a cost of 2000$ per car and a delay of 3 weeks. Just because of 150km of road missing between Panamá and Colombia.
Surely, now those following us would like to know how it worked with our 2 ladies acting as shipping agents on both sides.
With Tea the process ran pretty smoothly. She informed us step by step about the process. Organized it accordingly, and replanned a little due to the vessel’s delay. The different steps needing our presence we had to do without anybody assisting us. Nevertheless, we didn’t consider that a real problem despite the very autocratic attitude of Panama’s officials. Of course, a point a little difficult to understand was Tea’s payment method. We had to go to 2 different banks, wait for hours – just to pay 2 bills. Could definitely be improved.
In Cartagena Ana did much more for us. She offered a full package from everything in the port to TIP and car insurance. Unfortunately, she forgot to inform us accordingly. So, we felt the whole time in a kind of a black box. Never knowing the next steps, not knowing what will be needed once we leave the port. Adds to this a number of unclear, or even contradictory information which led to a certain confusion among all of us. We would have appreciated a slightly more structured approach, clearer communication, and less documents to be sent several times. Still, it was a very friendly cooperation and she knows perfectly well all details of her work.
Well guys, that’s it for this post. Tomorrow we’ll move to Minca. A village in the hills of Sierra Nevada. Mainly to escape the heat at the Caribbean Coast.
More about this in our next post. Soon, Promised.