November 12-20, 2006
We continued our trek toward the east, stopping in Santa Marta to run errands. At the internet cafe, we discovered that we were going to have problems with our airline reservations. While American and United Airlines would issue us e-tickets, Avianca would issue e-tickets only if we purchased them on their website. Otherwise we had to get paper tickets issued by the company in the US and obviously that wouldn't work as the agencies couldn't get the paper tickets to us in Colombia. We cancelled our reservations and decided to deal with it when we returned to Santa Marta in a couple of days.
Deciding that we needed to resolve our airline ticket issues and start making our way toward Cartegena, we headed back towards Santa Marta. Hoping that we could maintain the same flights (they had the best price) but get Avianca to issue us paper tickets, we made a stop at the airport outside Santa Marta. After explaining our situation, the counter personnel at the airport told us we needed to go into town to an actual Avianca office to resolve the problem. After a couple of trips back and forth between Avianca, a travel agent and an internet cafe, we finally decided to purchase the first leg of our flight directly through Avianca and the second (and third) leg on the internet. All of this running around took a couple of hours, so after finally eating lunch, we didn't leave Santa Marta until four in the afternoon.
We made the mistake of wanting to get as far as possible, and ended up stuck in a horrendous traffic jam in Barranquilla, again after dark. We think that there had been flash floods in the town because the roadway was covered with water, dirt and debris. After sitting in traffic and moving only inches at a time, we finally found a gas station where we, exhausted, stopped for the night.
The next morning we got an early start and drove along Colombia's northern coast toward the town of Cartagena. The drive was beautiful but as soon as we reached the outlying suburbs, it started to rain. We passed through a small town with flooded streets and came out onto the main highway along the ocean that was also flooded. Driving slowly, we continued on our way, looking for a parking area just outside the city's ancient wall, that was indicated in our guide book. Miraculously the parking lot was not flooded and we found a good spot to park within walking distance of this historic old city.
Cartagena was founded in 1533 and within a short time it became the main Spanish port on the Caribbean and as such, a storehouse for plundered treasure before it was shipped to Spain. In response to pirate attacks, the Spaniards built a series of forts and walls around the town to protect it. The walls still stand today and add an interesting element to a beautiful city full of well preserved colonial style buildings, many with flower-covered balconies overhanging the narrow streets. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of South America's greatest cultural treasures. It is still Colombia's main port and the location from which we would be shipping the Fuso to points west.
The heavy rain abated for a while and we decided to venture out to find a phone and start the process for shipping the Fuso out of South America. We headed for the old city where we discovered more flooded streets and were glad for our waterproofed boots as we waded through six inches of water. We finally found a phone and contacted the Customs Agent that had been recommended by our Bogota Shipping Agent. The Customs Agent agreed to meet with us so we found a taxi (difficult in the rain) and headed over to the Manga section of the city. The Customs Agent then introduced us to the Cartagena Shipping Agent (who spoke English). The Shipping Agent arranged for the Customs Agent to start our document processing that afternoon, and invited us to wait in his office. After waiting for 2-1/2 hours for the man to return with our documents, we decided to call the next morning to find out when they would be ready.
Not to go into too much detail, but we ended up making countless trips to Manga and the port and waiting for four working days for the Customs Agent to finish the paperwork that we felt we could have completed in one or two days. On the last day before we were supposed to fly out of Cartagena, we were instructed to bring the truck to the port at 8:00am for its final inspection by the police before being shipped out. Only the Customs Agent hadn't made an appointment for the inspection, so when we showed up, the police said, no, we'll inspect you two days from now. Well that obviously won't work since the boat leaves the next day and so do we. Don finally convinced the police to do the final inspection, but they wouldn't do it until 5:00pm. Since the Fuso had already been allowed into the port area, it wasn't allowed to leave, so we were stuck without our home/transportation for the rest of the day and Don had to return in the late afternoon, again, to finally finish up the paperwork. And for all this "help" we had to pay $100.00 to the Customs Agent, in addition to the $120.00 in port fees.
Anyway, in the middle of all this, there was a weekend. So since nothing was going to happen with our shipping arrangements, and while we still had our home, we drove to the Bocagrande section of Cartagena, which has some nice beaches and found another parking lot right across the street from the beach. We spent two days alternating between cleaning and packing the Fuso and hanging out at the beach. On Sunday night we moved our clean and packed Fuso back to our first parking lot and moved all of our suitcases to a hotel. We had a wonderful dinner sitting on a restaurant balcony watching the horse drawn carriages and the entertainers and the hawkers in the plaza below.
On our very last night in Cartagena, we toasted South America and reminisced about all of the wonderful experiences we have had, the beautiful places we had seen and the friendly people we had met. This has been an outstanding expedition and we are very appreciative of all we have learned. We thank you for following along and we are looking forward to our next expedition in New Zealand.