Reunited and heading north

After George reunited in Cartagena with our little shipping party, we decided to head north (momentarily breaking our south-only driving rule).  We stopped by Volcán de Lodo El Totumo on the way.  Technically it’s a volcano, but the only thing it’s spewing is mud.  A minute climb up a muddy staircase will have you at the top of this behemoth.  We decided not to partake because of the sizzling temperature and long drive ahead of us (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it).


Cartagena, a crown jewel

I’ve done my fare share of raving about some other colonial cities, but Cartagena really stands alone.  Why you ask?  Start with the fact that it’s gorgeous and well preserved.  Add in the fact that it still feels like a Colombian city.  Sure, there are plenty of tourists about, but Cartagena hasn’t (yet) been bought up by foreigners.  Finally, throw in a cultural focus on the arts and you end up with something amazing.

In between the port runs, we managed to check out the city.  We stayed in the Getsemani neighborhood.  A slightly less gentrified and more affordable version of the walled old town neighborhood.  Both offer plenty of eye candy.

My favorite moment in the city is chancing upon an art walk.  A run down street had been transformed by local artists until such time when the properties would be developed.  This was an organized effort.  A local man even stopped to explain the art and make a point about the countries focus on the arts.


Panama to Columbia: Shipping part 2

On Tuesday morning together with our sailing comrades ( we milled around in the reception area of the immigration office.  It wasn’t long before some Colombian shit hit the fan over our heads.  Problem George, Bulgarians need a visa to enter Colombia.  Bulgaria is the only EU country for which Colombia requires a tourist visa.  George and I got so wrapped up with shipping Vida that we forgot to double-check the details of shipping ourselves into Columbia.

The cliff notes have George back on the Independence for the night and flying back to Panama City the next morning.  Now, I know what you’re thinking.  It’s kind of cool to say you’ve been deported from somewhere.  Technically, he was just denied entry and it definitely wasn’t cool.

Thanking our lucky stars that George and I have joint ownership of Vida and my name was also on our Bill of Ladding, our little shipping team left the immigration office one man down and in low spirits. George reminds me here that we actually deliberately put both of us on the title for shit-storms like this one (you hear that planning traveler out there?!).

We headed to the port that afternoon to pick up the paperwork from the shipping company.  As we were getting passes to enter the port, we ran into our fellow overlanders (Team Mercedes).  They looked a little tense, and we felt like contestants of Amazing Race who were at the back of the pack.

After getting our badges, we went through the security turnstiles to pick up our paperwork.  Once you passed these, it seemed we were free to wander all corners of the port aimlessly.  We circled the port twice on the bus before arriving at our intended destination.

Lost in the port.

Lost in the port.

Next, we headed over to the Servico al Cliente office in the Sociedad Portuaria (the port authority).  Because it was late in the day and Team Mercedes was in there waiting, we would need to come back the next morning.

In the morning back at Sociedad Portuaria, Team Mercedes was there wrapping their stuff up. We got as far as registering our vehicles but hit another roadblock.  Only one of us could be present to unstuff the trucks, and that person would need accidental death and dismemberment insurance to enter the port.  Lovely.  Since the office is closed from 12 to 2 pm, we would have to return in the afternoon.


What’s up Team Mercedes?

Before we left the port, Eric dropped of the payment receipts to shipping company.  Meanwhile, I hopped on the bus and took a tour of the port again to snap some pics for George.  No one seemed bothered by my little photo tour.


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We returned in the afternoon after another round of cab rides.  At Sociedad Portuaria, we handed over the insurance details and filled out some more paperwork.  This was followed by a lot of waiting.  I was praying to the coffee gods that the office coffee lady would pay us a visit.  We were not so lucky, which meant endless waiting with an empty coffee cup to taunt me.  Finally our paperwork was approved, and we had the unstuffing appointment.  Next up was Dian to schedule the customs inspection. It was 4:30pm, so we scurried over their hoping to make it before they closed up shop at 5pm.


This step was frighteningly easy.  We waited for about 5 minutes to ask the guy at the front desk where we needed to be.  He then showed us back to a young girls desk.  She was wearing tight jeans and a tight white tank with belly showing. She handed us 2 copies of the same form to fill out and took copies of passport, entry stamp and title.  As we filled the forms out, ‘Red Red Wine’ played in the background.  Apparently there was an office party happening.

Our unstuffing appointment was at 1:30 the following day followed by the customs inspection.  Eric would be our representative.  He reported back in the afternoon.  Our trucks had been liberated from the shipping container.


We had our final paperwork in hand the next day after more running around the port.  The day was not without its casualties though.  Eric was almost out for the count after a poorly placed bent sign took a large gash out of his head.  There were some welders nearby who gave us a rag to stop the bleeding.  Eric tried not to think about where that rag had been.

Our trucks were actually at another port further out of the city, so we cabbed it over there.  I might have teared up a little when I finally set eyes on Vida again.  We braved the Cartagena traffic, and secured the trucks in a parking lot near our hotel.  I could finally give George the all clear, phew.



From Panama to Colombia, sailing the San Blas Islands

Once we got Vida tucked away safe and sound in a shipping container on Thursday, it was time to get ourselves from Panama City to Cartagena, Colombia.  Of course we opted for a sailboat with George being the sailor he is and me being a wannabe sailor who is determined to nip her chronic seasickness in the bud.  Our shipping partner Eric ( worked some magic and managed to get us on the 85 foot (18 meters) Independence sailboat on Friday morning (originally the Independence was set to leave on Thursday).  We would sail through the San Blas islands populated by the native Kuna people.  Incidentally, the Kuna won independence from Panama in 1925 to govern themselves.  They are ranked as some of the happiest people in the world and have managed to find a balance between maintaining their traditional ways and supporting their people through entrepreneurial efforts.

A jeep picked us up at 5:30 am on Friday morning from a hostel in Panama City.  We would drive to Carti, a very small port on the Caribbean Sea and from there take a water taxi out to the Independence.  We had heard the road out to Carti was terrible, but it turned out to be a much shorter ride than we were anticipating.  They didn’t spare us from some carsickness on the windy steep road though.  Soon enough we were off weaving through the river and then out into the open water to hop aboard.  After the anxiety of shipping the car, we were all ready to kick up our feet and relax.

Being a large boat, the Independence had ample room to whittle your hours.  The captain was a character, which seems like a job requirement to be a sailboat captain.  He was originally from Slovenia, and had been sailing for the last 30 years.  He took to the G very quickly as they swapped sailing stories and dirty jokes.  After months in the car with me, G finally had an audience that appreciated his material.  I tried to ignore the captain’s conspiracy theory rants, but was entertained by his sailing stories.  There was talk of a mutiny once on his ship that he forcibly crushed and some funny stories about an all female Swedish crew.  You can use your imaginations.  The food included a lot of fresh seafood and the small crew did their best to prepare vegetarian meals for me. George and I had our own cabin, but really limited our time there.  It was dirty and run down, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t see any cockroaches.  I quickly dubbed it the roach motel.  We ended up sleeping on deck every night, which worked out well with the fresh sea breeze.

The next few days we swam, snorkeled, and visited a small number of the Kuna islands.  Many of the tiny islands are occupied by a single Kuna family.  We had the pleasure of enjoying a bonfire on one such island.  Two young sisters played around the edges of our circle, the best of friends and not a care in the world.   It’s not difficult to understand why the Kuna people are so content with life.

On Monday evening, we anchored in front of Cartagena.  In the morning, we would depart on the next leg of our journey. All things considered, our little shipping party had an amazing time touring the San Blas islands and getting introduced to the Kuna people.