On dry land at last after our voyage at sea from Panama, we trekked off with our new group of friends to find an ATM and something cold to drink. The sun was out in full force in Cartegena, Colombia and it was incredibly hot when we finally found a market with a small bank inside. My legs were still wobbly from the boat, so I swayed waiting in line for the cash machine. Once the crew got out their money and chugged down a few ice cold Cokes, they set out to find Hostel Mamallena, sister to the hostel we stayed at in Panama, but Grant and I had different business to attend to. The Land Cruiser had arrived in port that same morning, and we had to get our baby back.
The retrieval would prove to be a much more difficult process. We knew it would take at least two days of paperwork and office visits, so we were hoping to get everything started as soon as we got there (Monday morning). Leaving the rest of the group, we decided to walk to the port and get the ball rolling. The 3 km walk was pretty excruciating in the Colombian sun, a situation certainly not aided by our collective sunburns and wobbly sea legs. To make matters worse, the port had a long pants and closed-toed shoe policy, so the heat was compounded in our pants and hiking boots. After what seemed like an hour of wandering we found the port office. Unfortunately, despite the presence of at least four officials sitting at their desks, it was a “state holiday”, and the office was closed. Our voyage to the port was a waste, and more importantly, we had lost a day of driving time.
We took a cab back from the port and found our hotel behind a large wooden door in the old town section of Cartagena. The boat captain still had our passports, apparently because immigration was also closed for the holiday, so we almost couldn’t check in, but fortunately we had some photocopies left over from border crossings and were ushered through the open inner courtyard into our room. In retrospect we were probably in the country illegally, or at least not technically approved to be there. We never got stamped in, and didn’t even have our passports when we landed on shore. It was all a bit sketchy, but sure enough our passports would be brought to us that night, and the appropriate stamps were within them. At the time we were too tired to worry about our entry status, and succumbing to the AC, we climbed in bed and both passed out.
We were asleep for a few hours and it was barely two in the afternoon when we woke up. Trading pants and boots for flip flops and shorts, we reluctantly left the air conditioning and went out to explore the town. Cartagena was an old Spanish colonial town (one of the oldest in South America, if memory serves), and the old town had remnants of the era, including the old walls and a massive fort outside of them. We bought some empanadas from a local vendor, and wandered through the streets admiring the buildings as we weaved in and out of alleys and dodged the heavy foot traffic. Everyone seemed to be taking advantage of the holiday – which we found out was related to Colombian independence – and were crowding the shops and restaurants throughout town. We passed through a t-shirt shop and each bought a knock-off Colombian soccer jersey for the equivalent of about five US dollars. We have tickets to Colombia vs. Cote D’Ivoire in Brasilia and we wanted to fit in with the crowd! We stocked up on bottled water and chocolate on the way out before seeking out the hostel and our friends staying there.
We found them, not at the hostel, but at a random bar we happened to pass while exploring the old town. They were just finishing up a quick drink, and we all left back to regroup with the others at the hostel. We wanted to all eat together, and doubting the ability of a restaurant seating all of us, we decided to utilize the kitchen and make a mass of spaghetti and eat right there at the hostel. We took over the kitchen and a large part of the courtyard, and after a trip to the grocery store our meal was under way. The kitchen was cramped and only a few people could actually do the work (thanks girls!), so the rest of us volunteered to cleanup. While we waited we turned to Torie, the hostel parrot for entertainment. While Grant made a friend, I got pooped on. At least the spaghetti was delicious.
Tuesday was about the same as Monday. Paperwork in the morning and a few jumps between offices and then we were free for the day. We wandered around Cartagena and ate lunch at a local restaurant while watching pre-World Cup friendlies on the small TV in the corner before meeting up again at the hostel and hanging out with our friends and that damned parrot.
The following morning was judgment day. We had already missed Monday thanks to the holiday and had eaten up the one buffer day we had. We needed to get the car by the end of the day, or there was a chance we would miss our first game. We were a little nervous when we headed back to the import offices early Wednesday, but after a wait in the glorious air conditioning, we got the right form and the right stamp, and were ready to pick up our baby! We took a cab down to the port, and Grant disappeared behind a gate. He was gone for twenty or so minutes and having run out of things to do on my phone to make me not look awkward, I was getting nervous. After what felt like an eternity, the man at the desk told me Grant was ready, and motioned me outside the building down the block. The sight was glorious.
Car in tow and apprehension dissolved, we made our way back towards town and found a 24 hour lot to leave her for the night. They charged us for two days, even though the car was there less than 24 hours, but we were too relieved to care. We had the Land Cruiser back, and that meant tomorrow we would be driving one step closer to our goal. That night we had a few farewell beers with our friends and said our goodbyes. We would not be participating in the nightclub scene that night; we had a 4:30 am date with the highway and South America. We got back to our hotel excited and exhausted, and watched Dragon Ball Z in bed, the only channel in English we could find. Goku and the gang were just about to defeat Frieza as I finally drifted off to sleep.