??Colombia at last!??-Day 189 (15150 miles)

So nice to arrive in Colombia.  It took us a few hours to catch up with our sleep after staying awake all the previous night in Bogota airport.  As we have travelled approximately 1500 miles closer to the Equator we are back to more tropical weather and monsoon rains.  Not a problem, it gives a bit of relief from the heat and humidity.

Our hotel was chosen to be in walking distance to the port, Customs and our shipping agent.  As is usually the case this is never going to be the most glamorous part of town!  We wanted to stay local our first night so asked the hotel to recommend a restaurant as there weren’t actually any in the immediate area that we had seen.  The staff were very definite, NO we should not walk anywhere!  It didn’t seem to stack up, the hotel doors were wide open all the time, our street appeared to be full of families, the houses were nice and not a burnt out car in sight!  Anyhow we took their advice and ordered a takeaway, perhaps it was a bit dodgy at night?

The next day we set off to the nearest supermarket which was about 30 mins away.  We had asked one of the hotel staff if we would be able to buy a pay as you go SIM card at the same store.  Yet again they looked worried and one lady told us that there is a problem with guys on motorbikes pointing a gun at you, and even if you hand over all your stuff and don’t resist they shoot you anyway!  Her teenage sons who were there suggested she may have been exaggerating and it didn’t happen that often but they offered to walk with us anyway!  So sweet but we didn’t want them to come and at worse something happen to one of them or at best their Mum worry like mad until they returned!

Well, over the course of the 10 days that we were there we walked to the supermarket about 5 times and several other places and guess what we didn’t get robbed or shot or see anyone else that did!  I did get a bit panicky a couple of times as there are tons of bikes and mopeds and if I found myself surrounded by them when crossing roads I can’t say I was completely relaxed.

There are armed robberies for sure and we were advised to always note the unique number displayed on the side of each taxi as sometimes the drivers work with gangs.  As usual though if you are sensible, sober and not travelling really late at night there is a lot less chance of getting in trouble.

A nice touch but much too warm for the animal print fleecy blankets!

On Sunday we headed into the historical centre of Cartagena.   So friendly, colourful and with a truly Caribbean feel.

These ladies were part of a wedding party, we moved on but apparently when the bride and groom emerge from the church they parade through the streets with these dancers and a band.

In complete contrast to the historical area is Bocagrande seen above in the distance, very much a modern resort full of apartments and restaurants and popular with European expats.

We only ventured over there once for dinner at a very good Creole restaurant with Andres who we met on our flight into Cartagena.  We had 2 really enjoyable nights together and hopefully will get to meet up again in Andres’ home city of Bogota.

Feeling a bit festive in the 30C evening temperature?

These dancers where incredible, Andres told us that even amongst Colombians who all like to dance these particular dancers are the best, they seemed to be able to shake every inch of their bodies independently.

John had been tracking our container ship (we feel like we own it after all this time!) and as expected it docked on the evening of Wednesday 14/12.  We had already met with Siacomex our Agent and been told that we, along with them could start the process to have the  van released on Thursday 15/12 which was great news.   Based on the experience of others shipping into this port we really didn’t expect it to take less than 48 hours minimum and had mentally prepared ourselves for a longer wait.

There’s our blue box.

And there she is freed from her shackles!

This was our fantastic agent Elvis (yes really!)  He knew how to get to all the right people and avoid their long lunch breaks.  Basically the process took 10 hours start to finish and we drove back to the hotel that night.  Amazing!

The good news continued, the office staff at the Shipping Agent asked us to go back the next day to collect a refund, although at that point they weren’t sure how much.  We sat waiting the next morning and I joked to John it would be a shame if we’d come back for a few pesos when we could have been working on the van.  As it was it was well worth it and we left with $200 USD which goes part way to cover our hellish overspend in Veracruz.  We went crazy, had lunch and John had yet another haircut?.

Let the travelling recommence!


We’re off! – Day 178 (12560 miles)

So, the weekend of the 26/27th November was fast approaching and it was becoming obvious that yet again our Customs Broker had failed to obtained Customs clearance for our personal items so they and Juanita were going nowhere.  The frustration and feeling of helplessness was getting to us both.

Our Plan B was to tell our Shipping Agent we wanted to switch to another Customs Broker.  It could be risky and would be a gamble as to whether it may slow things down even more but we decided to take that risk.

In the meantime we headed 200km north from Veracruz to a quiet little town called Coscomatepec, the daytime temperature was a cool 20c which made a nice change.  It was quiet, the air was clean and the views of Pico Orizaba from our bedroom window were pretty special.  At 5636 metres it is Mexico’s highest mountain.


On Sunday we explored the town, our visit fell part way through an 11 day festival!  Very colourful and this group of dancers were great fun.



Piñatas make for a colourful addition to this greengrocers.

Isn’t there a saying about a butcher’s dog?

Back in Veracruz the following Tuesday we had officially engaged an alternative Customs Broker who were pretty confident that if the process went as they expected Juanita would sail the following weekend.  This was what we wanted to hear but having spent the last 3 weeks being told the same by the original broker we couldn’t allow ourselves to believe it could actually happen.

More than once during this episode we had found ourselves on a long jetty at the entrance to the harbour staring longingly at container ships hoping that “one day our container will sail”.  Sad I know.

We took one last trip (we hoped) back to the shipper’s yard.  We had a bag of mixed screws, nuts, bolts and washers that we had previously been told could not stay in the van.  Now we were told they could?, as the bag weighed a kilo or so putting them back was easier than hand carrying.  The Broker was confident that Customs were now happy with the paperwork so it was time to fix the final seal on the container.?

At llam on Friday 2/12 we got the call to give us the green light, everything was approved and ready for loading when the ship arrived on Saturday.  Big sighs of relief as you can imagine.

So, the process that Customs Broker A could not complete in 3 weeks was completed by Customs Broker B in 3 days!  I would say luck had not been on our side.  We chose our Agent/Broker based on recommendations of previous users and cost.  The unfortunate thing was our shipment coincided with all the members of their staff who dealt with the Customs Department being sacked!  So the staff that picked it up really didn’t know how to get stuff done.  The final result was we spent a whole lot more time and cash than we’d hoped to.  Currently we are trying to get some compensation back for the costs we incurred during the 2 week delay but we’re not particularly hopeful.

For our last weekend in Mexico we headed to Papantla and the El Tajin ruins.  In Papantla we watched the Valadores ritual where 5 performers climb a 30 metre pole and dangle from a pole from a rope secured around their waists.  It dates back to the Prehispanic period and was originally performed to please the Gods.  Now, really just a performance for tourists, mind you the performers really seemed to enjoy it.

The one standing in the middle in playing a flute and a tambourine while the platform rotates. ?

Papantla like most towns we have visited have free live music and entertainment in the square at the weekend, such a great atmosphere.

El Tajin our last Mexican ruin, different from other pyramids we had seen because of the recessed niches which represented pathways to the underworld.


We were checking the cargo ship tracker regularly to make sure our ship didn’t sink on the way to Veracruz!

So with Juanita finally gone we flew out of Veracruz, it was definitely time to move on.  We have loved Mexico and would certainly recommend it as an easy country to travel in with loads to see and do.

Next stop Colombia!