In the last story we gave you some details about our shipping process to get the truck around the Darien Gap. We loaded our house on a cargo ship in Colon, Panama and sent it to the port of Cartagena in Colombia. Then the three of us boarded a plane and flew to Cartagena. It was a chaotic, frustrating and hot procedure. But this is really the only way to continue our exploration of the Pan American Highway. We arrived in Colombia safely, even Nica! We rented a small AirBandB apartment in Cartagena, so we went there to settle in while we waited for our truck. Luckily it had air conditioning, because Cartagena is HOT! But we found it to be very dog-friendly. Nica went exploring with us as we learned about “The Walled City” that we were inside of. The streets of this area are narrow and the buildings are tall and beautiful. Learning about the wall around the old part of the city and the fort which crowned it was a great opportunity to walk and explore. We also went geocaching along the wall. Here are photos of Mike exploring two different caches along the wall! We found them both : ) The wall is constructed of blocks of coral cut from the coral reef which surrounds the city. The indigenous people were conquered by the Spaniards and quickly placed into slavery. As slaves they were expected to help construct the fortification to protect the city from other countries, pirates that would try to overtake the city. The coral blocks of this immense wall are beautiful and full of detail.
This wall is over 50 feet wide in some sections. We found one section near our house which we could walk along the top and enjoy a slight breeze from the sea. We used this safe space to let Nica play off-leash. But after 15 minutes of chasing a stick, Nica discovered the drawback to playing on a dried coral surface…….. both of her front pads had shredded and were bleeding. We carried her back to the house and wrapped her feet in baby socks. She would spend the next 5 days in socks with limited walking!
But we humans spent the next 5 days walking a great deal. (Thank goodness for Geneva’s successful foot surgery back in Costa Rica). Cartagena is a city to be explored on foot, so we did! The fort is the crown jewel, and we enjoyed the refreshing breezes and beautiful views.
And in the evening we walked again, as we enjoyed the action of Trinidad Square near our house. This is a gathering place for locals, tourists, food carts and junk vendors as well as many street cafes. We found ourselves there several times during the week, enjoying the music and the show!
Also near our rental was an interesting steel sculpture of a man and a dog, both urinating on a light post. Each time we passed by the sculpture it made us chuckle. Then one night we passed by well after dark and after most of the area cafe’s were closed. As I glanced over to check on the sculpture in the darkness, I found this cat sleeping under the steel dog and had to take a photo! We were still patiently waiting for the news that our truck/house had arrived safely. So we went on about our daily business. A visit to the grocery store taught us that Colombia requires a commitment to your shopping needs from the moment the experience begins. You have to choose the size of cart that you will need! We also learned that in Colombia the international, eight-sided, red sign has a different word on it. It was explained to us that ALTO means tall and that makes no sense on a STOP sign. But PARE means STOP and so while many other Spanish-speaking countries have it wrong, Colombia indeed has it right. We will keep you posted on this as we travel further, but it is our first encounter with a PARE sign! And speaking of driving, apparently women are considered poor drivers in Colombia (and internationally?) so they have a driving school here to help them out. We found this billboard during our city exploration.
Walking around the city we saw posters for a “tall ship event”. This led us to a website which explained that over eight countries were participating in an international sailing regatta that would be stopping in the harbor of Cartagena. We found the location and enjoyed viewing many of the huge, sailing vessels from countries such as Honduras, Mexico, Peru and more. Here are some photos of these gorgeous “veleros”.
Although Cartagena has regions of the city that are considered “unsafe” we never felt fear or concern during our visit (except for the stair-story, which I will tell later in this post) and we spent many night hours out in the city!
One night we even went to a Colombian prison (carcel)! You read that right, we went to a women’s prison for Geneva’s birthday dinner. The prison operates an upscale restaurant which offers job training opportunities to the inmates. If you click on this link you can learn more about Restaurante Interno The kitchen where the food is prepared by women inside the bars of the prison, and the food is handed through the bars to the servers. The waitresses are parolees who are working off the end of their sentences. The dining area is also behind bars, but the doors are open during the dinner hour. All the proceeds from the restaurant support the families and children of the imprisoned women. It was a fascinating evening and the food was truly incredible. And outside they operate a little stand which sells arts and crafts made by the prisoners. In the photo below you can see the little dining area which is located adjacent to the prison. Inside the dark, two-story windows are the cells holding the prisoners and the actual prison San Diego, a full functioning women’s prison!
Just a short distance away, we returned to the tourist district and strolled the city streets at night. Coffee is very important in Colombia. While strolling the streets it is typical to see a vendor selling shots of coffee/espresso. We began to call this product “lava” because somehow they manage to keep the pre-sweetened, caffeine jolt scalding hot for many hours. When they hand it to you in a small, plastic cup it immediately burns your fingers in a warning of what it will do to your tongue if you drink it. Hundreds of these mobile coffee carts operate through the streets, day and night.
In addition to the fort, and the wall surrounding the city there is another key historic feature in Cartagena. The clock tower is a beautiful reminder of the history of this walled city. In the days of farming, hunting and threats from other places, this clock tower served as a time-keeper to safety. The villagers had to be inside the wall by 6pm each night. At that moment the gates would close and if you didn’t make it, you had to spend the night “in the wild”. That is a serious way to enforce a curfew!
We also participated in a walking food tour. This was a fun way to learn about some of the Colombian food, candy and beverages. The tour took us through the crowded, touristic section of town during a busy time. But we enjoyed the tastes we were introduced to.
We found the quirky, little KGB Cafe and Bar. This hole-in-the-wall is lavishly decorated in Russian memorabilia and repeatedly plays Putin military parades on a large television screen! The hamburger was good, but the whole thing felt a little strange. We enjoyed many long walks along the sea wall and views of the city skyline while we waited for our house to arrive in port. Then finally the email came in and we were ready to go to the port. This meant two days of chasing paperwork, paying fees and waiting….. emphasis on the waiting. We hung out in a waiting room with the other overlanders waiting on their vehicle. Everyone was a little nervous to find out how their rigs had fared during the shipping process. There is always the risk of damage and theft during the trip. One of the travelers tried to speed up the paperwork process by mopping the hallways of the document office. It didn’t help. There are hours and hours of waiting when processing a vehicle in port and bringing it into a new country.
But eventually the paperwork was done and Mike could enter the secured area and check the rig. WHEW!! Everything was fine. All the vehicles in our shipping group had a successful and uneventful voyage and were ready to be returned to their owners. The drivers started their vehicles and were escorted out the port zone. We were all anxious to begin our journey into South America. Here is a little video of the four overlanders driving to the check station at the port to leave on their journeys!
Remember up above I mentioned the stair-story? Here it is……
After we retrieved our home/truck from the port, we parked it in our rental neighborhood. Just around the corner from our AirBandB. We needed to spend a few hours repacking things and moving back in. Mike went down to work on the camper while Geneva and Nica packed up and prepared to leave the apartment. The truck was parked on a busy street, just across from the park where we had been walking the dog.
When Geneva got to the truck with the backpacks, she asked Mike, “where are the stairs to get into the camper?”. Mike replied, “they are folded up inside the door so they don’t get taken while I am working out here.”. After a cursory glance, it was obvious they were not there. Quickly we realized that someone had reached into the back door of the camper and taken the stairs while Mike was working on the other side of the rig! Geneva went to talk to the crazy, homeless man across the street in the park. He claimed to have seen nothing. Then he walked over and talked to the teenagers getting stoned in the park. After about 10 minutes the teenagers approached Mike and asked if he would pay to get his steps back. He replied, “Yes!” and off they ran! They returned quickly, shouting with victory and showing off a set of bloody knuckles. The spokesman of the two had our stairs on his shoulders. It turned out that they had seen the neighborhood goon (a really crazy guy that pees in the bushes and talks to the telephone poles) reach in and grab the steps from our camper. Once they knew they could make a little money, they chased him down, punched him and took the stairs away. We paid them a fair amount and they ran off to score their next high. I had mixed feelings about participating in the neighborhood hierarchy and drug addiction issues…….. but replacing our stairs would be really impossible. So we moved the truck to a guarded parking lot, and tried to forget the whole incident.
Nica’s feet were healed. We felt as if we had thoroughly explored the city. We had our house back and had regained our stairs. The sun was setting on our visit to Cartagena and we were ready to explore the huge country of Colombia!
Welcome to South America with us as we continue our drive. Let’s go explore Colombia!