Miles traveled: 7,820 (12,585 km)
On February 20th we arrived safely in Cartagena, Colombia after a short flight over the Caribbean Sea. Our good friend Antonio Cediel, from Colombia, put us in touch with some friends of his, who generously offered to pick us up at the airport. We were greeted by Ruth and her two daughters, Eva Luz and Maya, 6 years old and 4 months respectively. We took a taxi to her house where we met her husband Diego, a one of a kind Parcero aka homie! Their house was simple, warm, and welcoming. We were in the heart of a barrio costeño on a Saturday afternoon. The sounds of Vallenato and salsa music came from within all the houses and brought the streets to life.
Hungry as usual, we walked to a corner store to try some typical Colombian food. Kids ran every which way, men played dominoes on the corner while drinking beers with a small crowd. Women walked hand in hand with sun-brellas to withstand the afternoon heat. Every three blocks deserved a cold soda or ice cream. It had to be in the upper nineties, we had barely spent 10 minutes outside and were sweating profusely. At the food stand, we had some arepas – fried corn meal patties stuffed with almost anything you wanted – but meat is clearly the preference here. We had ours with egg, a typical variety, topped with hot sauce or garlic sauce or in my case both. We couldn’t have been happier with our first day in Colombia.
With such a wonderful welcoming family of our same age, our friendship grew quickly. Ruth was on maternity leave from the University of Cartagena. A major hip-hop lover, she break-dances, raps and even produced her own music video. Diego, an artisan, designs and creates some of the most beautiful lamps I have ever seen and lives from his art. Diego’s time is his own. He works his own hours, usually when his girls go to bed; he stays up, focused on his craft, each piece original and unique. Having traveled for some time now, I was used to seeing the same necklaces and trinkets over and over. His art was one of kind. They both had an easy going, open and sharing vibe and made us feel very comfortable. They made sure to let us know, we could stay as long as we wanted. Little did they know that this would prove true, as our stay extended much further than planned. The ship with the container holding our beloved veggie car “El Chaski” was supposed to arrive in Cartagena just two days after us. The story couldn’t have been more radically different.
Sunday, the day before the supposed arrival, we made some phone calls to prepare ourselves. Dealing with ports in foreign countries is no easy task. We quickly found out that the ship had never left the port and that it was a week behind schedule; it would depart on Friday and arrive the following Sunday. We were outraged. Anticipating this, the company, reimbursed us $100 via Western Union, but it only calmed our nerves.
Trying to remain positive, we decided that things could be worse. We were in a beautiful city and with great people. Sure, we were behind schedule, but everything would be fine. We decided to explore the centro colonial, the fortified city of Cartagena de Indias. Divided into two parts by canals, we started with San Diego and later found our way to Getsemani. I didn’t realize until walking through this city, centuries old, that it was actually an island connected to the mainland by small bridges in various directions. Majo and I were impressed with the amazing colonial architecture, beautiful churches and colorful houses. Often times, these beautiful places are reserved especially for tourists, but Cartagena broke the mould; this touristy center was packed with locals, walking, shopping, eating and enjoying the ambience the city exudes.
We were surprised when we discovered we had arrived during Cartagena’s International Film Festival. I guess everything does happen for a reason. Our car, running behind schedule, gave us an opportunity to explore Cartagena in depth and relax since we hadn’t planned any projects here. We saw a great Argentinean film “El ultimo viaje de Boyita” and invited our hosts to the red carpet premier of a Colombian film that didn’t impress any of us. The best part was just sitting in the beautiful Teatro Heredia, with its painted dome ceiling and 5 floors of balcony seating.
The following weekend we began to make more calls. The emails they said they would send us never came. We had no information on our car. After hours of furious discussions, someone was honest with us. The ship had left port but had broken down just kilometers at sea. They assured us that there was nothing to worry about and it would only be one or two more days at the most.
Two days passed and we began the fastidious process of tracking down shipping representatives. Truth be told, the ship was in bad shape. This was no simple malfunction. They had blown a turbine! They couldn’t get the parts in Panama, so they were being ordered in from Greece! AHhhhh! It sounded like a 3rd grader’s far-fetched fantastical story. To top it off, when the part arrived, they were further delayed because no one on board could make the repair. A special engineer had to be flown in from Miami! It was ridiculous.
To add insult to injury, the Colombian company, owners of the ship, began to make up charges we were not privy to. That after removing our car from the container for a fee, we were responsible for the container, which could not remain in the port. They insisted we had to hire a trucking company to move the container to a storage facility where it would be stored at our expense! This didn’t even include the costs of customs, unloading, transit permits and other details. I flipped out and Majo was exasperated. I was livid with the agent and had to remove myself from the building. In Panama, our shipping agent assured us that our port expenses in Cartagena would not exceed $100. I was hearing, our expenses would be well over $500 dollars of bullshit! I simply refused to pay any of it. I was going to raise a storm with the company in Panama, but first we had to visit the actual port for some other paperwork. As it would turn out, the Colombian representative didn’t know how to read our paperwork. When the port authorities read it, he simply stated that all of those costs inferred had been taken care of with our original contract and that the process would actually be fairly straight forward, that is, when the car eventually arrives.
At long last, we drove the car from the port into the streets of Cartagena. We were free from the nightmare and ready to begin our journey through South America. After discussions with others, we knew this didn’t happen to everyone transporting their car past the Darien Gap. Maybe it was just bad luck. We tried to find a lesson in the madness. Majo and I like to believe everything has a purpose, a meaning, that nothing is superfluous, pure chance or whimsical. Our lesson teaches us that we must accept the things beyond our control. Life has a course of its own even when we are piloting the ship. We give it direction with our intentions, our dreams and aspirations. We haven’t lost faith in ours. Patience is the difference between a dream fulfilled and a dream deferred. If we fight time, we will always lose, as time stops for no one. We will continue to seek vegetable oil to fill the tank and persist in reaching our families in Chile. The trip ahead will be long. Although it seems like a halfway point, in terms of distance, almost two thirds of the road lies ahead. We are confident there will be many more challenges and that together, with patience, we will endure and overcome. Venceremos!
We said good-bye to our Parceros. Diego, Ruth, Eva Luz and Maya (If you are reading, we will miss you). The beauty of the trip, like at other times, is that we have been introduced to strangers who through the course of short periods of time have become friends for life. We drove east to the Parque Nacional Tayrona and beyond towards Venezuela and whatever else awaits us. We smiled and put on some tunes, happy to be on the road once again.
Carlos y Majo