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Cartagena & the Hot North

May 17, 2017

In a Servo Overlooking the Canyon Del Chicamocha 9th May 2017.

Camping places are rear in Colombia so overlanders have to make use of hostel grounds and servos who usually have a vast area for truckies to park their semis when they need a break. Where we are now is such a place but it has one major asset. It overlooks the spectacular Canyon Del Chicamocha the floor of which lies some 1500 metres below. The Rio Chicamocha has ground its way to this depth over the aeons. It is a fabulous sight with the sun casting its rays into the deeper parts of the canyon. While admiring the view a young bloke on a motor bike pulled up to take also admire the view. We got talking, his name was Walter pronounced Gwalter. No English but we had apleasant few minutes getting messages over. He was off to San Gill, a city some 40kms further along the windy road. Night falling, cloud enveloping the country, continuous heavy transports,I did not envy him. Then a couple of hours later as we were getting ready for bed a motor bike pulled up. Walter presented us with a bag of the finest Colombian coffee with a pleasant note in English wishing us safe travels. The kindness of strangers.

From the heights of the last few weeks we are slowly descending to the plains that head northwards to the Caribbean. Our aim is to get to Cartagena by Friday to sort out the shipping of the vehicle. We have been corresponding with a French couple who want to share a container but corresponding with the agent is is a futile endeavour; they don’t answer your emails!

Our stays since leaving Popayan have been one dayers. We were going to stay an extra night at Villa del Layver, a colonial town, but with 850kms still to go to Cartagena thought it best to keep on. Thinking back we did stay for two nights at a 150 year old hacienda that runs dairy cattle, sheep and horses. A beautiful thatched main house that has been in the present family since 1919. Milk prices have been depressed in Colombia of late as they are in AU so the family is branching out into tourism to keep the place afloat. Us RVers are the poor cousins and get put around the back. But it was a nice place and Catalina was a very pleasant host.

There is a town not far from Bogota that has one of the biggest attractions in the country. There is a salt cathedral built some 180 metres under ground. The salt mountain is still being mined but at a lower level. The cathedral and its Stations of the Cross is very impressive. At each station there is a massive cross all different. Most are made of salt rock but some are in granite. The cathedral itself has a more slender cross standing about 10 metres tall. Masses are held in the cathedral each Sunday at 12 noon. The acoustics are meant to be exceptional.

Cartagena 16th May.
Things have moved quickly since starting this post. Hittying the plains and straight roads were a blessing. The heat that became more oppressive the further north travelled, wasn’t. Pleasant while a breeze blew but that always dropped at dusk and the bakkie became a furnace despite having many opening areas in the back.
The storms have been amazing. In the city of Baranquilla we were wondering why the traffic had suddenly ground to a halt on the major road out of the city. Eventually moving slowly on we found the cross road, on quite a slope, had become a river and some of the smaller cars were too hesitant to try crossing.
Cartagena is an amazing city. The old centre is an area of narrow streets where horse and wagons clomp through, the balconies overhang the street and the shops have the most beautiful glass and gift ware. The Bellavista Hotel where we camped in the parking area is a kilometre from the centro Historique. The hotel itself is a throwback to the Spanish days: one level with plenty of arches and courtyards and built across the street from the Caribbean it is now surrounded by multi storey apartment blocks.
We met up with the French family, Karel, Ben and their three children at the Bellavista and on the Monday went to see the shipping agent about the arrangements involved. Initially we were told the boat would be leaving onn the 25th. But Luis the agent, after a few phone calls, said it was now leaving on the 29th May. Bad news as we would be putting up with the heat so much longer. Then, a few more phone calls and still on the phone, he wrote down 17th May. Two days time! ‘Yes’, he said, ‘if you can get your vehicle down to the port by 8am tomorrow I can get it on the boat that leaves on Wednesday the 17th. When I told Joan this there was a look of shock. What about the two bags of dirty laundry? So little time to pack for 16days living out of a suitcase. But none of us wanted to hang around till the 29th.
So Monday afternoon Ben and I had to go back to the office where, in the meantime, Luis’s staff had been doing all the paperwork and sign sign sign. Then a visit to the customs at the port while Joan and Keral started packing and sorting. It was hot and rain threatened making it difficult to sort.
Then yesterday, Ben took his VW, the same as ours, and I our Nissan and reported to the docks at 8am. Seven hours later and completely drained we drove the cars into the container, watched as they were tied down then took photos of the three seals that were attached by the police port authority and Aduana.
During those 7 hours there were waiting periods, more paper signing then the bomb shell hit. ‘Everything must be taken out of your vehicles!’ We queried ‘Everything?’ ‘Si.’ We started to do this alongside the container in the open then they looked at the skies and made us put it back as rain threatened. They took us to a big shed, a good thing as it poured. They were very thorough. All bedding was checked, even the foam mattresses. Panels were tapped, it was a thorough search. Ben, with his family, had much more to take out than I did. It was hot and the hard hats did not help. Then as we drove back to the container we watched the police drill holes in the base of the container and prod with a long stick to see if there were frugs enclosed there as well. And to think that naïve young girl could get away with smuggling drugs she must have been mad.

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