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July 15, 2011
We stayed aboard the boat for the night in Cartagena, our destination would eventually be Santa Marta past Barranquilla, North East headed towards Venezuela.
The unload from the boat is not a direct lift onto a solid surface, more of a four man drag up the side of a wet wharf onto an unsure surface. But somehow after all that I’ve seen, it wasn't as stressful as the sling over open water. Regardless, it was a relief to have it done.
We would be heading directly, as is required by law, to the DIAN or Customs to gain clearance. The Captain had already arranged a broker to help clear and we simply needed to show up for the inspection, documentation and clearance. This would end up taking several hours probably longer than needed since the broker was somewhat useless and tended to slow things down. Dan did not have the broker’s assistance and his clearance was actually faster and smoother than ours; of course Deya was present and she has a way of grinding a process whether it wants to move or not.
We learned several things again about the Customs and port process, though it was not knew to me it was a first hand experience. Our process was somewhat simple but some others who had used containers had very expensive port handling fees and wait times, a caution to those thinking the cost (FOB or CFR Cartagena) of importation and handling over the ships rail is covered.
After spending time sweating at the Customs office we headed to a hotel where the bulk of the passengers were going. We had a very good price compliments to Ludwig’s connections and the place was very nice. It was walking distance to the old quarter and to a large fort. The rest of the folks that joined us on the Stahlratte had moved to a new hostel that was fractionally cheaper and met their needs better.
The city of Cartagena is very nice, and not too difficult to get around. As with any place caution is needed when walking alone and especially at night. The good thing is that there are literally bus loads of police moving around the city, it looks like football teams of cops roaming around and you have a sense of real security. Unlike in other Latin American countries if you have trouble you head for the police or military right away because they actually are the good guys.
The city reminded us of Cuba somewhat and walking down the streets and checking out some of the sights was pleasant. We were only there for two days but we spent some time wandering with knew friends Kai and Annette from Germany. They are riding a BMW with sidecar, lovingly modified over the last twelve years of travel by Kai.
A local artist is famous for his fat people paintings which feature naked fat chicks. You might laugh or be offended at first but there so well done that they inspire form and sophistication and offer a smooth appearance of class.
We never entered the primary Fort because it costs 8 bucks each and we would not have time to explore it so it wasn't worth it, maybe on the way back we thought. We exited Cartagena heading towards Santa Marta with no maps and very little GPS help. The GPS at this point is failing badly due to screen damage and I don't know how to get it fixed while we are on the move. Maps are also hard to find here so we have to ask for direction which is always an adventure. The common answer to directional problems is either ‘Derecho’ (straight) or ‘Izquierda’ (left). The issue is that if the only option is to turn left or right we get ‘Derecho’, if the answer is ‘Izquierda’ then they wave their arms madly to the right. Baffles me every time.
The road led us to Baranquilla, this town is a total dump full of garbage, pollution, exhaust, sketchy folks and amounts to one long traffic jam. The poverty surrounding the city was shocking and Deya was moved by the somewhat hopeless appearance of it. The heat and traffic didn’t help much either and we were in no mind to linger here.
Retarded Colombian Drivers
Please realise I mean no offense to actual retards because they have a legitimate ailment however I mean every offense to the majority of Colombian drivers that have crossed us. Here is how I see it.
In all the Americas that we have travelled from Canada to Colombia we have seen total retards behind the wheel. The issue is, what percentage of the drivers are retarded? In Canada, in a big city you will inevitably find 2-5 or less out of every 100 cars that come near your safety bubble to be retards. As we head South the percentage seems to increase. In a first aid scenario, statistically speaking, they say for every 100 near misses you can expect 1 medical aid; that means bad news.
We've been hit by a drunk driver in North Vancouver, road raged on by a Newfoundlander while looking for shelter in a hurricane and bumped at speed by a truck in Guadalajara. There have been countless numbers of stupid manoeuvres and we dodged bullets through every country. This seems normal and is the greatest danger we face, period. The trouble in Colombia is that at least 95 of every 100 motorbike, car, truck or transport vehicle does something completely retarded within our danger zone. Simply Colombians should be ashamed of their nation's driving and it suggests something about the nation's attitude towards its rule of law, social standards and value of human life. There are many excuses for this and I have the privilege and the right not to accept a single one. Done.
Santa Marta and the Grande Casa
We arrived at our location, hot and sweaty. Our good friend in Vancouver had hooked us up with his friends here and we had intended to spend a good amount of time on the beach, collecting ourselves, catching up on blogs and generally lounging around.
It was a nice spot and our host Jota and his family are fantastic people. It was also pretty busy, hot and cautiously dangerous with black flies that were able to brutalize the uncovered tourist. Despite those natural deficiencies we were able to fully recharge ourselves and prepared for departure. We had learned that a return trip on the Stahlratte would be made in November 2011 to Cuba, this would advance our schedule somewhat and have us leave the beach early.
The beach was good to us and we enjoyed the folks we met there, we even attempted a beach oven and made some Irish bread. My masonry however is lacking and the oven never survived long enough to attempt a pizza before we left.
The roller coaster of emotions became evident as we left since every great experience seemed to get trumped by 20 bad driving experiences. We would stop frequently to swear and curse for a bit before reminding each other not to get sour and keep a positive attitude. It works, the swearing then remembering to be positive, helps to appreciate the little wins.
Our first night would be spent in a lovely little town called Pailitas where we would discover some local foods that were fantastic. The prices are pretty cheap and after a long hot haul it’s difficult not to want a cold shower and a closed door. We intended to stay in Aguachica but simply could not make it there.
The next stop had intending to be San Gil the following day but as we entered the industrial looking town of Bucaramanga we had a problem. We stopped for gas but could not get money from the ATM until the following day so needed to use our credit card. Deya was very clear when she confirmed that they could accept our foreign credit card. After the gas was pumped the attendant took the card then returned to say the card was rejected, we checked, it wasn't rejected the problem was the station's connection had failed. They refused to return our card so we could go find money and would not accept us spending the night to get the 12 dollars the next morning.
In the ensuing commotion the shop's owner across the street muscled through the crowd and gave the gas station bosses hell, then paid for our gas. This is our impression of Colombians, generous and friendly people. It meant that we would spend the night to pay this guy back right away. The town was expensive and unattractive but the experience was great. The following morning after repaying our champion he also guided us through the labyrinth out of town.
The rest of route was filled with Colombian drivers, though our friend says they hire Mexicans to do the driving for them. As we neared San Gil a random scream came at us that sounded like ‘Mexico!’, we continued, shortly after a car full of screaming people waved by. Also not uncommon but as we entered the city the car with screaming people had turned around and followed us to a stop. It was our friend Jota’s wife from Santa Marta. It was completely random as we had never expected to see them again. Jota had seen us on the road and screamed ‘Mexico!’ and called his wife in town to track us down, we were now in good hands and invited to the family's farm for lunch.