Monday 10 January 2022

We are back in Colombia at Last

Its been some time since our last Blog Post, which was back in March 2020.

Like everyone, our lives were disrupted, but thankfully we, and our families,  are all safe and well.

Although frustrating, our time back in the UK wasn't wasted. We soon realised that this break from Cloud9 wasn't going to be a short one so we purchased a motorhome and spent as much time as we could travelling around the UK. We also volunteered at our local Covid Vaccination Centre for a few shifts. This helped us get our jabs early. And lastly, our eldest daughter moved house so there were plenty of jobs to do there.  

As the months went by we started to worry about what condition Cloud 9 would be in when we returned. Water ingress, Insects and humidity became a real concern. Unfortunately, we couldn't consider returning until we felt it was safe to do so and the British Government took Colombia off its "All but essential travel List"  This all happened in the first week of November 2021. We had our third Jab, Colombia was taken off the list and America opened up for transiting through. By the 10th we were on the way 

Cloud 9 had been stored at Camping Al Bosque, just outside Medellin. It's at nearly 3000m and the drive up there went on forever as our anticipation and anxiety levels climbed.

We expected the worst but were pleasantly surprised with, what we found. 

Outside was filthy and nature had clearly taken over. Inside, however, was dry and relatively clean. There was no sign of damp, humidity or mould. The cabin area had clearly been home to a million, now dead, flies but all in all we were pretty happy. The biggest issue we discovered was the starter batteries were dead, but after 20 neglected months, this was no surprise. The Cabin batteries were still good.

The cleaning began and in a few days it was looking much better 

New batteries arrived and the nervous moment of starting it was upon us. I knew that after 20 idle months and at nearly 3000m it wasn't going to be a quick start. All filters were changed, fuel primed and the button was pushed.
Once we were happy with the mechanical aspects of the truck and its roadworthiness, we started a dialogue with the local customs agency known as the DIAN

Like visitors who need a visa, all temporarily imported vehicles into countries require a similar permit known as a TIP. Colombia initially granted us a 90 day TIP in December 2019 and an extension of a further 90 days in March 2020 just days before we left the country. So technically the vehicle has been illegal since June 2020, some 17 months. Although the DIAN has published several papers during that time for people in our position our legal status was unknown. We filled out all the forms and submitted our application along with a long explanatory letter outlining our circumstances. We hoped that in the wake of a Global Pandemic common sense might prevail.

How wrong could we be. despite our pleas and objections the head of The DIAN in Medellin couldn't get past an existing flow chart that said " has the vehicle been in the country for 90 days " "Yes".  Has it been granted a 90 day extension"  "Yes"  ........ It must leave. They also claimed that the land borders had been open during this time and we should have left before now. This wasn't true as no land borders were open at that time.

There was no common sense or consideration applied to the circumstances. Our Application to have the vehicle remain in Colombia was flatly denied and we were granted 15 days to leave the country or the vehicle would be seized.  As all land borders were still closed at this time, our only option was to ship the vehicle out. 

We were gutted, this wasn't what we wanted to do but had no other choice.

Whilst waiting patiently for the outcome of our application to arrive we managed to meet up with some fellow overlanders.

When we left Colombia, back in March 2020 an Overlanding couple known as the Southbound Sea Hags, "Dechiara and Somer" stayed behind and became part of the local community. One of the great things they did was fundraise and Organise a Christmas party for the girls in the local Orphanage. We were glad we could help out, albeit from afar. We managed to take the opportunity to visit the orphanage. It was a very humbling experience. The girls were delightful and it was an experience we will remember.

I have a feeling that Dee and Somer will make this an annual event so don't be surprised if you see some fundraising plugs on our Facebook pages every Christmas.

Whilst we were out with Dee we managed to pick up a load of young Colombian hitch hikers in the back of her pickup 

We also managed to catch up with fellow Overlanders, and avid Vloggers, Curt and Snow at Parque Arvi where you can take a Cable car ride down into Medellin city. This was a great catch up as Pat is an avid watcher of their youtube Channel.

The direct route from Medellin to Cartagena is about 650 km, but we decided to try and make the most of our 15 days and visit a few places along the way. 

It wasn't without pockets of excitement 

One of these stops was the Underground Cathedral carved out of Salt at Zipaquirá. This underground network of carved out tunnels was created by local miners in 1950 . It reaches a depth of nearly 200m and has huge caverns and endless passageways.

With the Clock ticking we moved on to the north eastern town of  Barichara.  Knowing that it was made up of small narrow cobbled one way streets we decided to employ a local Tuc Tuc driver to drive in front of us through the town to the parking area on the edge of a deep valley at the far side.

You can see from the photo that the roadway was made of flat highly polished granite slabs. At one point we had to drive up a very very steep section. Unfortunately, we had to stop just prior to the top at a give way. Our hearts stopped as the entire truck started to slide backwards down the steep hill. I could not find any traction on the slabs. Luckily there was nothing behind us and the truck stayed in a straight line.  Bit Lucky there 

With some long drives, we eventually made it to Cartagena. we had arranged to stay at Hotel Casa Burgos in the Manga district, which is one of the few places that we could park our truck in their car park to prepare it for shipping.  It did take a bit of shuffling and major tree surgery to get it in though.

Cartagena Riverside area and Old Town was nothing like anything we had seen in Colombia. It was a mixture of Ultra Modern with old Colonial buildings and the evidence of wealth was everywhere from the high rise apartments to the superyachts moored in the marinas 

On our first night, we headed to a posh restaurant on the river front. The table in front of us had a large party of affluent looking socialites at it. Half way through the evening a catamaran came towards us with a two piece band playing romantic tunes on it. At this point, one of the men at the table got up, knelt on one knee, and proposed to his girlfriend. Very romantic. 

The food and skyline views and the old town of Cartagena were amazing. 

Although we were enjoying the town we still had a job to do, which was to get our truck on a ship to Mexico and prepare it for the trip.

As a poor Spanish speaker, the thought of doing all the local arrangements is very daunting, so like most people we employed a local, well recommended agent called Ana Rodriguez. She arranged the Ship, The Customs inspections, the Drugs inspections, all the paperwork and permits, communication and the Delivery to the port. I have to say she was a delight to work with. She was very professional and in constant communication with us. I really don't see any need to make arrangements outside the local country. I think using a local is the right way to do this.

We stayed right in the City at Casa Burgos and prepared the vehicle for shipping.  Many vehicles get broken into during the shipping process so I secured metal plates over every window and skylight to make it hard for them to get in. 

With everything in place, the day came for the vehicle to be delivered to the Port.  We had an appointment to be there shortly after 9am. This was the day our permit expired so we had to get it checked into the port that day.  We have owned this vehicle since 2012 and it has only failed to start on two occasions. The second time being this day.  There are only three things that will stop my engine from firing up. Lack of air, lack of compression, or lack of fuel. It is nearly always a fuel issue. After some frantic calls to my dear friend Perry in Germany, I started examing the fuel lines between the tank and the pump. After about an hour I found a small length of rubber fuel hose that looked like my problem. After I replaced it the truck fired into life again. Meanwhile, Ana had saved the day by quickly changing the arrangements and we headed to the port. 

The procedure for Exporting a vehicle is quite a process. Firstly, a huge amount of documents has to be prepared and the place on the ship booked. Ana took care of all of this. Secondly, after delivery to the port, the vehicle is examined by the Customs Officers to check that its identity is correct and that all the Engine and Chassis numbers are the same as shown on the documents. And lastly the vehicle is thoroughly examined by a Police Officer and a dog for  illicit drugs. The Customs part of this process went smoothly. However, we had been told that the drugs search would involve emptying everything, yes everything out of the vehicle. If we were lucky we might get a Police Officer who was in a rush or simply less conscientious. No such luck for us. The vehicle was emptied. It was near 35 degrees and the port area was a gravel and dust surface. It was a very long day as we have two vehicles (Motorcycle), I think I lost about 2 kilograms in weight. The interior of the truck looked like it had been burgled.  

When everyone was happy all the doors and lockers were sealed up and we said goodbye to Cloud 9. The next time we would see her would be in Veracruz Mexico in about a weeks time and hopefully in one piece. 

After we said goodbye to Cloud9 it gave us a few days to enjoy the beautiful city of Cartagena. 

This Colonial style walled city has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it was easy to see why.

We also managed to squeeze in some great social time with Ana and her family and our wonderful new friends from Brazil Marcos and Marianne

So this was it.       Its goodbye South America.

We have had the greatest of times here and more importantly, we have met the most wonderful people and have made friends that will be in our lives forever. 

Let's hope the truck arrives safely and our journey through the Americas can continue with as much adventure. 

Hasta Luego en Mexico