The shipyard in Colon, Panama is not exactly the most comfortable place we’ve been. Really the only place we (especially Ashley) enjoyed was the bathroom at the Seaboard Marine Office, which was fully equipped with toilet paper, soap, and even some decor. Otherwise, we spent half a day at the shipyard on an obstacle race/treasure hunt, following the instructions set out by our shipping agent Tea Kalmbach. Tea was very quick to respond to our e-mails and gave us relatively straight-forward instructions to follow to complete the shipping process on both the Panama and Colombian sides. We were also very fortunate to have mellow and easy to deal with shipping partners. Katrina spoke great Spanish, which really helped us find where we needed to be, and Oscar was really good-natured and seemed just happy to be there.
After a bone-rattling experience with massive trucks blowing past us, dirt and grime on our faces, and the sun beating down on our skin, we reluctantly handed over the keys to the shipping company. Or more accurately, put the key in the door lock and walked away. Actually the last thing we saw before we walked away was one of the teenage dock workers joy riding another truck to be shipped past us. We pretended like we didn’t see him hooning around in a brand new Ford Ranger. Once that was blocked out of our psyche we caught a public bus, backpacker-style, back to Panama City.
We saved almost $500 flying from Panama City to Bogota and then to Cartagena with Viva Colombia. It made for a long day, but we weren’t in a rush. While people in the Bogota Airport had jackets and jeans on, we sat shivering in our poorly planned flip-flops and summer wear.
We regretted that decision until we disembarked the plane in Cartagena where we were blasted with 30+ degree heat and a wall of 1000% humidity. As our cab zig-zagged through the dark streets of Cartagena (the sun had set by then), tons of people gathered in squares eating street food, sitting, chatting while drinking Aguila beer, with music blaring out of the huge speakers parked nearby. It was an awesome mix of children, locals, Colombian travelers, backpackers, and other travelers from all over the world mingling in one place over food, booze and music.
The following five days were spent sampling the before-mentioned street food and beer. Arepas, patacones con queso (deep-fried plantains with cheese), and dulce (sweet) treats were plentiful. Good thing the heat in Cartagena acted like a giant sauna so we were able to sweat out all of the deep fried oil. That’s how it works, right?
We explored the streets in the old town of El Centro in the morning. The architecture, graffiti, and sculptures provided much to see, but we always had to hightail it back to our air-conditioned hostel room to wait out the afternoon heat.
Eventually it was time to free our truck from the shipping container. Once again, the process was relatively straight forward. All we had to do was follow the to-do list provided by our shipping agent Tea. Unfortunately, there are always things that don’t go as planned… but after dealing with paperwork at border crossings throughout Central America we were not surprised when things took significantly longer than we planned for. The best part about the process on this side of the Darien Gap was that the Colombians were very friendly and genuinely wanted to help us. After an 8 hour day of wandering from office to office with assorted papers the four of us were dog tired and paperwork-weary… but we were finally reunited with our vehicles.
It was all feeling a little surreal at this point. We had been thinking about this moment for almost two years. We were in freaking South America! The first thing to do was to hammer down and rid ourselves of the sweat and stress of the shipping process.
Our first stop was the mud volcano Volcan de Lodo El Tutumo. We dipped into the warm mud volcano where a couple of dudes gave us massages while we floated amongst 15 other people. Once it was time to clean off the mud we made our way down to the lake where some local ladies scrubbed both us and our bathing suits clean. Like, our bathing suits came off with incredible lightning speed while we scrambled to cover our private parts in the muddy lake water. Hola, South America.