The Great Shipping Debacle (part 2)
After an hour and a half flight, we stepped off the airplane into Rafael Núñez International Airport in Cartagena, Colombia. This was the first time since we started this trip that we had crossed a border without driving through it. It felt different. Easier, actually. We grabbed our bags from baggage claim and headed for the door. The door slid open and we were immediately hit with an overwhelming and nauseating wall of heat and humidity. Welcome to Cartagena!
We flagged down a taxi, jammed all of our packs into the trunk and sped off onto the Colombian streets of the hottest city we had ever been to. We arrived at our hotel and were shown to our rooms. The first thing we did was turn on the air conditioner and check the status of our ship, The Seaboard Pride. It was making its way to Colon, slowly but surely.
The next day, Saturday, was the day our container was supposed to be loaded and set sail toward Colombia. However, the ship was still off the coast of Columbia and hadn’t yet reached Colon. This meant that instead of starting the process of paperwork Monday and retrieving our vehicles Tuesday, we wouldn’t be able to start the paperwork process until Wednesday and retrieve our vehicles Thursday. Cartagena was beautiful, but hot. Very friggin’ hot. Feeling discouraged, we pondered what we could do for the next five days.
We went sightseeing around the city on Saturday. Getsemani, where our hotel was, is a walled city with colorful buildings, unique metal statues of people and street food galore. We walked for about two hours before we were dripping in sweat and needed a break from the sun.
Nate’s birthday had finally come and even though he didn’t get his first birthday wish (to get the truck back), he did enjoy a delicious dinner of crepes and a dessert waffle. 🙂 Happy 30th to the best fiancé, co-traveler and partner in crime a girl could ever ask for!
Wednesday morning, we woke up to a smiling Patrick who told us that the ship made it to Cartagena’s port. “Let’s go get our babies back!” He exclaimed. We shoved some coffee and breakfast down, packed a bag full of photocopies and paperwork and snagged a taxi. On the way to the Seaboard Marine office, Nate and I realized that we had everything we needed…. except for one very important thing. The truck keys… Idiots. We decided that we would get as much paperwork and such done today and if, miraculously, we were able to get the truck out of the container today, we would grab a taxi back to the hotel to get the keys.
We spent the next six hours going from the Seaboard Marine office, to aduana, back to Seaboard Marine, to the document center, back to aduana, etc. Five taxi rides, lots of waiting, interpreting some very slurred Spanish and sweating, we had everything we needed to get Truck out of that big blue box. However, our inspection appointment wasn’t until the next day so we got a taxi back to the hotel, cracked open some beers and waited until the next morning to tackle the rest of this seemingly never ending process.
The next morning when we woke up it felt like Christmas day. We knew today would be the day we would get the cars out of the container and we couldn’t have been more excited. We hopped into a taxi and got the the document center 45 minutes before our inspection appointment to make sure we didn’t screw anything up. We sat on the curb outside the office building waiting for them to open. As the sun rose higher and higher, so did the temperature. As soon as the doors were unlocked, we scrambled inside and took a seat. I assumed I wouldn’t be allowed in the port from stories I had previously read online. A man behind the glass held up two yellow hardhats for Nate and Patrick and I assumed my position for the day in the hard, plastic seat. Then he whistled to me and held up a bright red hardhat. Sweet! I get to go in too!!
We made our way through security, the boys getting their bags checked and waved with a metal detector while I just strolled on by. We didn’t know who or what we were looking for but we wandered around the port like we owned the joint, searching for our boxed-up babies.
After an hour of searching for the container and the inspector, we felt defeated. We had people “helping” us who weren’t actually helping in any way. We were frustrated, hot and didn’t know what to do. Finally, a girl showed up and went behind the aduana window and all the warehouse men were pointing at her like “that’s the girl you need to talk to!” After getting the whereabouts of Rodrigo and Truck, we sped walk over to the container. We rounded the corner of the warehouse and spotted the big blue Seaboard Marine box, already opened up and ready for us to drive the cars out!
We were told where to park them for the inspection, then took a seat in the shade on the curb. By now, it was about nine o’clock and we still hadn’t seen our inspector. We were getting nervous but knew that the common theme for this whole shipping process thing is “waiting.” Another hour went by and a security guard told us that we had to leave. We told him that we had an inspection appointment but he denied us the ability to stay with our cars. We weren’t supposed to be just hanging out in the port, as they were lifting cargo containers that were thousands of pounds up in the air right near us.
We went to the Seaboard Marine office to try to figure out where our inspector was. There were men who didn’t even work in or near the port on their cell phones making calls for us. We didn’t know the name of our inspector, which would have helped a lot, and were getting no where. Finally, we went back to the document center office and asked the lady behind the window. She seemed astonished that the inspector didn’t show up and made a quick phone call. When she hung up, she smiled and told us we were all set and to go to the DIAN office in the next town to pick up our paperwork. Somehow, and to this day we don’t know how, we got an inspection without even knowing it!
We had a half hour to get a taxi and take it over to DIAN before it was their two hour lunch break. We made it just in time and got our paperwork all stamped and signed. We had some lunch at the cafeteria in the DIAN office and then strolled around a bit before making our way back to the document center. We knew everyone has a lunch break from 12-2 so we were in no rush to get back. We stopped at a little cart that sold piping hot coffee in chintzy plastic cups. We cautiously sipped our hot beverage while playing hot potato with the cup from one hand to the other.
So, what does it cost to ship your truck from Panama to Columbia? I’ll tell you!
- Cargo through Seaboard Marine and our shipping agent’s fee: $ 990
- Port fees in Cartagena: $ 181.95
- Flights to Columbia: $ 733.10
- Millions of taxi rides: $ 90.02
- 11 days in a hotel: $ 527.14
- Photocopies: $ 1.46
- Orange vests (needed to enter port in Cartagena): $ 12.00
- Eating out for 11 days: $ 181.70
Granted you could do all of this a little cheaper if you stayed in a cheap hostel and did not hire an agent, but our grand total for 11 days of self inflicted hell was : $ 2,717.37!!