Countdown to Christmas in Colombia

Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Saturday, December 23, 2006

"Of course I can get you cheap flights to Panama" insisted Mangy Manfred, "no problem at all!" We went along with him as it seemed that obtaining discount flights to Panama was his specialty - and after all, he had been recommended to us by the local Yacht Club. But after a visit to a dingy 'hole-in-the-wall' travel agency in a very seedy section of town and backroom discussions about forged seaman's documents, we decided that this was really not somewhere we needed to be. Bidding our rather obnoxious and arrogant 'friend' farewell (an ex-pat in Cartagena for 21 years, he openly admits to hating living here) we beat a hasty retreat to the nearest legitimate agency in a slightly better part of town. Biting the bullet, we coughed up the US$300 each for the short flight across to Panama, and booked to leave on December 25th. This is the same day that DC3 is supposed to be shipped - who knows, maybe they'll serve us a turkey dinner on the flight!

Now that the preliminary shipping arrangements were in hand, we had a few days to head out of town and explore the Caribbean coast of Colombia. We didn't want to go too far - DC3 was still not in top form - but we needed to get out of the city and find some sea breezes to give us some respite from the heat and humidity. Our first stop was the little town of Luruaco where there was supposedly camping at a recreation club on a reservoir. No luck - all the gates were tightly padlocked - and nobody seemed to know when, or if, they might be opening again. We tried a few more places up the coast, but this neck of the woods didn't seem to have anything even remotely suitable for us.

By late afternoon, we were running out of options, so we decided to head to the small seaside village of Galerazamba where everyone assured us there was bound to be something. We arrived on the almost non-existent sandy road, to find what looked like a ghost town. Certainly no campsites, hotels, alojamientos or other modest forms of accommodation were immediately evident. Just then a group of young people emerged from the local salt processing plant and immediately took us under their wing. Within five minutes we were happily ensconced in the backyard of Maria Hurtado and her family, hearing about the plans of their local group setting up an eco-tourism cooperative. Their enthusiasm was infectious and the next morning we joined them on a guided tour of their community. It had previously been an important salt mining centre, but the operation had closed some fifty years ago. Now their main claim to fame was the original India Catalina statue, created by the Spanish sculptor Eladio Zambrano to honour the indigenous people of the area. We left them busy preparing lunch for a group of fifty tourists soon to arrive by bus - improvising cooking arrangements as the whole village had lost power during the night.

Our next stop was 'Volcan de Lodo el Totumo'. Believe it or not, people actually pay good money to jostle around in a disgusting crater of warm mud in a 15 m high mini-volcano! Sharon insisted that it would be really good fun, but luckily I was the designated photographer for the day (at least, that's my excuse, anyway!). It certainly looked like a scene from hell in one of Bosch's gruesomely detailed depictions. Sharon's verdict was that it was, well.....pretty yucky, like submerging yourself in slimy chocolate pudding! No doubt it has all kinds of medicinal curative properties as claimed, but the wash-off in the local lake wasn't really that effective and traces of mud kept appearing in unexpected places for several days afterwards.

On our way back to Cartagena we decided to take a trip down to the beach. We had just parked DC3 when a voice from a nearby pick-up truck called out to enquire: "Are you Gerry and Sharon?" We know it's a small world, but this was getting a little bit ridiculous! To cut a long story short, it turned out that cyber-friends of ours - Cecilia and Claudio, an Argentinean couple based in Oklahoma City currently on a trip driving down to Argentina, and with whom we'd had extended e-mail correspondence - had recently stayed with the couple in the pick-up. We had narrowly missed meeting up with Cecilia and Claudio after they had completed their Darien Gap crossing because we had been delayed in Medellín. (Never mind, C & C, we'll catch up with you on the road, someplace, sometime!). Meanwhile, Guillermo and Marie Teresa invited us back to camp at their 50 acre finca - a farm that they were busy converting into a beautiful learning/recreational centre. There were two other Argentinean travelling families camping there (Guillermo is an ex-pat Argentinean) and we spent the next couple of days swapping travel yarns and enjoying the fresh country air.

Only time for a couple more days in a quiet resort on the beach just north of Cartagena, and then it was time to get back to business. Yesterday - from 8 in the morning until 7 at night - was spent in splendid frustration, marvelling at how a major port such as Contecar (one of four ports here in Cartagena) manages to function at all. After hours and hours of "hurry,, wait, wait" and countless forms, notarized letters, signatures and security checks, and with the aid of two shipping agents, we finally managed to complete the process of arranging shipping for DC3. The least onerous part was the dreaded "anti-narcotics" inspection. We had heard from other travellers that this often entailed literally everything being taken out of the vehicle, and gone through with a fine tooth comb - even to the extent of thin probes into the seats and upholstery! Luckily for us it only took ten minutes, and after a bit of perfunctory poking about most of that time was spent chatting with the Inspector about our trip. By the end of the day - after a final mad dash on motorbike taxis back to the Customs Head Office to get one final missing signature - we were assured that everything is in order and DC3 will be loaded onto the "MV Silkeborg" when she arrives tomorrow. By mid-day on Christmas day she should be off-loaded in Manzanillo, the port near Colon at the Caribbean end of the Panama Canal.

Meanwhile, we are spending our final few days in Colombia leading up to Christmas at a very pleasant family-run hotel in the Getsemaní barrio of Cartagena. Martha and Alberto, and their daughter Daniela, at the Hotel Villa Colonial have looked after us very well, and we would certainly recommend it if you're ever looking for accommodation here. And if we've whetted your appetite for a visit to Colombia you'd be well advised to check out the website which is currently being developed by a young Colombian, Andres Umana, who we had the pleasure of meeting this afternoon. Andres is very proud of his country and is doing his best to provide tourists and travellers with information about this hidden gem. As we bid farewell after two all-too-short months here, we certainly endorse his efforts and encourage you to come and discover the "passion of Colombia" for yourselves.

Finally, we wish all our TravelPod readers a very Peaceful and Blessed Christmas, and hope that all your travel plans for 2007 come true. Follow your dreams!
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Where I stayed
Villa Colonial Hotel
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uncle_davros on

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Sorry it is slightly late, but better late than never. Keep up the stories and the health


David - Uncle Davros

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