Cartagena to Caucasia

Trip Start Jul 01, 2011
Trip End Jul 21, 2012

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Where I stayed
Hotel Caucasia

Flag of Colombia  , Antioquia,
Tuesday, February 14, 2012

After yesterday's marathon day to get our car back at the port and make it go through customs, today we are ready to get back on the road... well, almost. Like many countries in Latin America, Colombia has a mandatory liability insurance requirement ("seguro obligatorio"), including for foreign cars crossing the country with a temporary permit like us. We couldn't buy it before having the customs papers so we had to drive the car illegally from the port to the hotel last night. This morning the first order of the day is to buy the policy. Prices are the same everywhere so there is no need to shop around. The bigger the engine the higher the price. For our gas guzzling 3.8l V6 engine the cost is $75 for 3 months. You can buy the insurance almost everywhere including gas stations... but they sell it for 1-year term only. Since we need it for the minimum term of 3 months (to match our passport visa stamp) we have to go to one the few agents that sell short-term contracts. Fortunately I had all week to get informed so I know exactly where to go (HB Seguros, located in the "Pasaje de la Monedad"). It's a nice morning walk and one last chance to take a stroll in the beautiful old streets of Cartagena. The precious paper in hand, I head back to the hotel. The staff is genuinely sad to see us leave and make us promise that when we come back to Cartagena we will stay with them. We stayed here for 12 days and have come to really appreciate the kindness and attention of every single staff member. We take a few family photos, hop in the car and get going to Caucasia. 

There is no particular draw to the town of Caucasia but the drive to Medellín is about 14 hours so we had to cut it in two and Caucasia has the double advantage of being located halfway and having at least one hotel with a web site so we could see pictures of the rooms before booking. Although a local expat told us that "there is nothing between Cartagena and Medellín, pack some food, leave early and get there the same day", we really did not feel like following this advice: 14 hours in a car is exhausting and stressful for humans and dogs alike, driving at night on small roads can be pretty dangerous, and the chance of getting lost increases sharply at night... so we stuck to our golden rules: 1. never plan more than 6 to 8 hours on the road on a particular day, and 2. always plan to arrive at least 1 hour before sunset.

The first challenge is to get out of Cartagena. Our only maps are of the downtown area, I suspended our US cell phone and data plans because they were too expensive, and the iPhone GPS application for "South America" is totally useless. So we wing it. After about 30 minutes we manage to complete a very scenic loop that takes us right where we started, but after that we're pretty confident that we're going in the right direction. The compass on the dashboard of our Montero is our best friend. Traffic is C-R-A-Z-Y, the worst I have seen in any city in Latin America. Only in my trip to Vietnam have I seen something comparable - but back then I was in the passenger's seat. Now I find myself having to zig-zag between cars, buses and motorbikes. The roads are wide but there are no lanes at all, and no rules either (except traffic lights). Buses overtake you aggressively, only to stop right in front of you 10 seconds later. In the beginning it's stressful but after a few minutes it becomes almost fun. Size is an advantage so I quickly find out how to navigate through traffic with our big 4x4. After about 30 minutes without any road sign or street name I stop at a motorcycle repair shop and ask for the road to Medellín... and to my great surprise, we are already on it!
The next few hours we go through very green and lush landscapes although the temperature remains very high between 90 and 95 degrees. Contrary to what we were told, there are actually many villages along the way, and hotels as well - although some of them look rustic ;)
We make it to Caucasia around 5pm, roughly 7 hours after leaving Cartagena. The town is larger than I expected so we stop to ask for directions to the hotel. The place is clean and comfortable, has secure parking and an elevator. The staff is glad to see us and helps us carry all our stuff to the room. They ask questions about the dogs, and one of them follows us to our room. She says she loves dogs and has 9 of them. She looks at Biela and tells her in Spanish that she's here now, she can hop on the bed. Mai and I look at each other and explain that our pups don't sleep on human beds, in fact they are forbidden to do so. The girl is obviously surprised: all of her 9 canine friends sleep on her bed!

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