A Travellerspoint blog

December 2007

Panama to Ecuador via Colombia

For info regarding the Darien Gap car shipping check out the general info entry at the start of this blog.

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On Friday night we headed to the airport in Panama City to catch our flight to Bucamaranga in Colombia. I know, bucama.. who; I hadn’t heard of it either but there were no direct flights to Bogotá, so it was as close as we could get. The flight was scheduled to leave at 7pm, but was delayed until around midnight. By the time we arrived in Colombia and cleared customs its was after 2am.

There didn’t seem much point in staying at a hotel, so we took a taxi straight to the bus station and caught a 4am chicken bus to Bogotá. A painful 10 hour journey in a crammed bus, over 2 mountain ranges and through half a dozen military check points. At some of the checkpoints they actually took us off the bus and made us put our hands in the air while they padded us down.

One of the first things you do notice about Colombia is the overwhelming presence of the military police. They really are every where, especially in Bogotá. Which may have been a dodgy city in the past but after spending most of Saturday wandering around different areas of the city, I have to say it felt surprisingly safe. We nearly got robbed on Sunday night but that was mostly our fault.... a long story.

On Monday we took another night bus (a luxury bus this time) to Cali, 10 hours east of Bogotá. Cali has a pretty relaxed feel about it. With a strip of bars and cafes in the middle of the city, it has a much better vibe than Bogotá. After a long and entertaining night at the bars in Cali, we went to the airport to catch our flight to Manta in Ecuador; the port city the car was shipped to.

Our flight was delayed, again; for about 4 hours this time. It was a mad rush through the airport in Quito (capital of Ecuador) to make it through immigration and catch our connecting flight, which we only made by 5 mins. Unfortunately our luggage wasn’t so lucky. As the baggage carousel in Manta spat out its last piece of luggage we realized that we would be wearing the same clothes for a few more days.

Early the next morning we took a taxi to the port to pick up the car. Which as you can imagine is a lot easier said than done. It ended up being a 2 day, bureaucratic ordeal of red tape, paper work and a lot of sitting around waiting. I will spare you the details. Finally late on Friday afternoon when we had both ready to shoot someone we were allowed to drive the car out of the port.

It worked… Granted there was a lot of paper work and a massive amount of time wasted by antiquated, out dated systems and protocol, but there she was, just as we had left her in Panama. Not a scratch on her. To celebrate we decide to buy her some tinted windows for Christmas. $11 for all 5 windows.

Yesterday we drove 3 hours south to a small beach town on the pacific coast to relax for a few days before driving south to Peru. Ecuador is much more relaxed than Columbia, the people are friendlier and the food is a lot better.

Next week we will be in Peru then Bolivia and Chile. Apparently it is an incredible drive down the pacific coast then up over the Andes, where some of the roads reach 5000 meters. We may even get to drive along the road of death in Bolivia. Check it out on Google.

It definitely has been a challenging couple of weeks. It certainly is a lot easier and more relaxed traveling by car. But we knew that the shipping part of the trip would take a lot of time and effort, and now that the business side of things is out of the way we can continue on and enjoy the rest of the trip.

Merry Christmas everyone…

The cable car up to Montserrat church over looking Bogota
Alex checking out the local tallent
Some tasteful Colombian Graffiti: " I will be King"

Posted by hayden111 10:14 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Costa Rica to Panama City

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Bridge over the Panama Cannel
After researching the car shipping side of things before we left the US, we decided that it would probably be cheaper and easier to ship out of Costa Rica. But after a week of emails and phone calls, we were getting no where. The best price we could find was $850 for a 20 foot container to Cartagena in Colombia.

The company only provided the container and the ship and we would have to do the rest: get the container to the port, load the car tie it down inside the container with chains etc (god only know how we would have done that) and unload it on the other side. A logistical and paperwork nightmare, that would take days at the ports on either side and would have ended up costing us over $1300 in total.

Finally after 5 days of phone calls, we found a shipping company in Panama City that did RoRo (roll on roll off), which is as easy as it sounds. You drive your car onto the boat, they tie it down to the deck, then you fly to the destination a few days later and pick it up. Of coarse there is still a mountain of paper work but it’s 10 times easier than using a container and a lot cheaper.

The ship was scheduled to leave the following Thursday, so we spent or last night drinking heavily at the local beach bar in Cahuita, before driving the 1000km to Panama City (with a few stops along the way for Alex to puke… what can I say Brazilians just cant hold there alcohol).

As I mentioned Costa Rica really is a beautiful country and not only the scenery, the women are stunning too. By far the most beautiful in Central America and they don’t mind showing it. Cleavage is definitely in fashion in Costa Rica. We spent the night in a small town, where we watched the local Christmas parade, then headed to the Border early Sunday morning.

Ah Panama, finally a country with freeways and a decent speed limit. After crawling through most of Costa Rica at an average of about 50km per hour we flew through panama at well over twice the speed. We made it to Panama City early Monday, found a hotel and started the paper work. It’s a really cool city; busy but a lot more organized and a lot safer than the other capitals in Central America.

We dropped the car off today at the port and it sails to Ecuador tomorrow at 6am. On Friday we will fly to Colombia for the weekend before meeting up with the ship in Ecuador on Tuesday. So we get to spend the weekend in Bogotá... should be interesting… i wish it could be longer..

Posted by hayden111 15:17 Archived in Panama Comments (0)

The six week mark: 5000 miles down 15,000 more to go…

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Before we started the trip we divided it into 3 parts. Mexico and Central America part 1, Columbia to Argentina part 2 and Brazil part 3.

Well part one is slowly coming to an end. We are in Puerto Limon, on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, organizing the shipping of the car across the Darien Gap ( 80 miles of impassable jungle controlled by the Columbian drug lords) to Columbia.

I hate to get all sentimental but so far the trip has been everything I expected and so much more. It feels like we have been on the road for a year now and it has been an absolute blur, but I have to admit I absolutely love traveling like this. To be able to go where ever you want when ever you want, in the safety and comfort of your own car really is fantastic. Driving through the beautiful countryside with the sunroof open, wind in your face, avoiding thousands of potholes and random animals on the road. I cant think of a better way to spend a day.

To be honest though, before we left Austin we were incredibly nervous, and the magnitude of the trip itself was hard for us to even comprehend. 15 countries 20,000 miles, 6 months on the road; it is a huge undertaking. I still remember how nervous I was crossing the Mexican border by myself on the first day.

But since then we have been to so many amazing places and met so many nice people along the way, that have been willing to help us with what ever we have needed. Even the border officials who are notorious hard asses have been really cool. One lady at the Honduran Border was feeding us cookies while we filled out the forms for the car, others were shaking our hands or giving us high fives and pulling out maps to show us the best spots for us to check out in their country.

The highlights so far:
• Driving through the Mexican deserts all alone in the middle of nowhere, having the road to myself; no one else around for miles.
• Puerto Escondido’s and the huge waves of the Mexican pacific coast.
• The beautiful colonial town of Antigua and the Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala. I had no expectations of Guatemala but it has been the most surprising country so far. A beautiful place, incredibly friendly people and lots to see and do. Hiking the volcano was definitely one of the best experiences of my life.
• Incredible scuba diving in Rotan Honduras, beautiful white sand beaches and great food.
• Playa Hermosa in Costa Rica, the peaceful beaches and amazing sunsets. In fact every place we have been to here has been great. Costa Rica really is stunning; beautiful country side and lots of strange wild animals, birds, iguana etc. We even get to wake up at 5am every morning to the sound of Howler monkeys screaming at the top of there lungs.

I have to say there is something so fun and beautiful about the randomness of life. You don’t always end up exactly where you intended but its often those unplanned situations and places that are the most rewarding and that you remember the most.

Posted by hayden111 17:44 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (1)

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