Not a piece of cake - Epeli’s journey from Colombia to Panama
We’ve heard many horror stories about shipping vehicles from Colombia to Panama, stories of cars getting damaged in the hands of the loading crew, or even broken into and burgled. Needless to say we’re feeling pretty worried,now that it’s getting close to the time for us to ship Epeli from South America to Central America. On our quest to find a safe shipping company, we soon find out that the couple of days journey is also gonna make a good dent in our travel budget, it’s effectively daylight robbery!
Luckily we’ve gathered lots of useful information and tips from other, more experienced travelers we’ve encountered on different campsites. We’re aware that we’ll need a forwarder at both ports to help with all the rather complex paperwork, so we begin to correspond with them via email, weeks in advance, sending scans of various documents back and forth way before our arrival at Cartagena. Filling out complicated forms in Spanish feels rather daunting, especially since even the natives don’t seem to understand what the forms are saying. One of the worst ones is a form relating to transporting dangerous goods, which we need to fill in for things like fuel, gas and car batteries. Thankfully, Pekka is a logistics expert and a lecturer specialising on the transportation of dangerous goods. There’s no way that my three years worth of Spanish evening classes would even come close to sufficient in situations like these.
We spend three whole days of our time in Colombian Cartagena just running from pillar to post together with our forwarder. Pekka signs numerous, Spanish documents , with no clue of what they actually say. I’m not allowed in the port at all, but have to stay in the waiting room by the gates for hours at a time. The most time consuming part is the nine-hour drug inspection, during which all moveable contents of our vehicle have to be emptied on the tarmac. Pekka completes this task wearing the compulsory safety shoes provided, which at size 41 feel less than comfortable on his size 46 feet!
The boat leaves the harbour a day late so we’re glad to have booked our flights with a couple of days margin, because we wouldn’t be allowed to leave Cartagena before the boat had set off. We fly out to Panama city, where we spend a lovely day of leisure, taking in the old city “Casco Viejo”, and it’s endless ornate balconies as well as the modern city centre filled with tall business and office premises.
The next morning we make our way to pick up Epeli off the boat in Colon, a shabby harbour town, which turns out to be Panama’s version of Harlem. While walking on the streets we get warned several times about he dangers of the area and get told that armed robberies are common place here. We stand out from the locals not only because of our accent but also our pasty skin tone. After a few words of warning we decide to take heed and get a taxi back to our hotel.
Our app shows that the cargo-ship “Constantin” has actually arrived at the port earlier than expect. I phone our forwarder, and a quarter of an hour later the four hour “desk-marathon” in Manzanillo port begins. Once that’s over, we pick up Epeli, who’s waiting for us safe and sound on the security protected yard at the port.
We’re grateful to step on board our home on wheels, and carry on with our travels toward North.