Thursday, December 1, 2011

On shore in South America

Arrving in Cartagena, Colombia was exhilarating! After 6 months on the road we made it to South America! (Also, after 24 hours at sea, we made it to land!) That, and we have heard such amazing things about Colombia that we were looking forward to checking it out for ourselves.

(Cartagena skyline)

Ludwig works with an agent to take care of immigration and customs both on the departure from San Blas and on the arrival into Colombia. Our passports were cleared that morning, the next step was to get the bikes over to customs for their inspections and temporary import documents. We weren't supposed to show up at customs until after 1, so we had some downtime in the morning. Mike went with Stephan and Giorgio to see about hotel rooms and to get some Colombian pesos. Giorgio took over the conversation with the hotel lady, so not much haggling took place, but the rooms were nice and reasonably priced (just under US$14 per person for a fan and private bath). Once they were back at the boat, Jill went to the hotel to hang out with a few other people and our luggage. It seemed more comfortable than waiting in a customs office for the afternoon. Mike was not smart enough to get the keys out of the luggage, though, so he took an extra trip to shore before the TA could go anywhere. But Mike returned to the dock just in time to help unload the Ural, the first bike off to allow time to attach the sidecar again.

Unloading the bikes was a bit trickier than loading because there was no dock alongside the Stahlratte, we were just anchored in the bay. So the crane was again used, but this time to hoist the bikes into the dinghy. This was definitely more nerve-racking than the loading process, but it went off without a hitch. The front of the dinghy is a perfect wheel chock, and with Floyd and Ludwig holding each bike at both ends, along with a rider on board, it was a piece of cake.

(Floyd and Daan letting the TA down)

(Mike gettin' a little frisky with Floyd)

(ready to go. I'm pretty sure that the Arai helmet will double as a flotation device)

Riding a motorcycle on a dinghy across water is actually a lot of fun! Some riders went rigid, white-kunckle style. Mike had a bit of water-moto-rodeo going on.

(thanks Daan and Mirjiam for shooting the footage!)
Once to shore, the bikes were simply lifted out of the dinghy by 4 guys and rolled off the dock directly to the street. Some basic directions were given to the customs office, which we were supposed to get to quickly given that we didn't have passports on us, nor moto paperwork (since it was waiting at the customs office). Mike arrived in the middle of the pack, but nobody had heard much. The agent was not very forthcoming with information, which made for a very frustrating wait as the hours ticked by.

For the first hour, no one knew anything. It was just after 3pm when the agent handed out draft import documents with the moto information typed up and mentioned an insurance office where Colombian insurance could be bought by the month (rather than the more common 3 month intervals, or even 1 year minimums at some offices, since the law is that Colombians must buy a minimum of 1 year at a time). His directions to El Porvenir were easy and should have made for an easy errand (Latin American style).

Anders and I jumped in a cab to try to buy insurance before they closed for the afternoon. It was Friday nearing 4 o'clock and we didn't want to be forced to stay until Monday morning if we could help it, so the race was on. We went right to Calle Larga in a cab, drove the whole stretch of it (around 6 blocks) and never saw a sign for El Porvenir. After some discussions with the frustrated cabbie, we jumped out to search on foot and ask questions in the neighborhood. In usual style, many people were willing to point us to a specific corner but in a very unspecific way. One lady tried calling her friend who would've known for sure, but couldn't get through. She even offered to take our number and call back, but we were sans cell phone. Super nice of her, though. It turns out that El Porvenir does not exist on Calle Larga. It was a wild goose chase that took us until almost 4, when we figured it was time to get back to customs to see what was happening there. We were staying through the weekend.

When we returned, a few people had already had their bikes inspected by the officials. Mistakes were all over the place in our draft documents, but we were told to not worry about it, and trust that the officials will catch the mistakes on the official documents. The agents attitude was more and more infuriarating, especially after the insurance info that didn't pan out. We were all very patient as we sat through the afternoon. Anytime someone did ask the agent what was happening, a smart retort to just sit back and wait was all that was received. After all of us had traveled across a number of borders to get to this one, it was more than frustrating to not have any control over information. Waiting is to be expected. But to not know if you are in line, or need an inspection, or need to correct/provide/copy a document is a challenge. Ignorance was not bliss.

The afternoon dragged on until around 6:45pm when a stack of documents came out for us to sign. All of the bikes had been cleared! And most of the mistakes were caught. So having not seen or talked to Jill since around 11am, it was time for Mike to get to the hotel. We had the weekend to explore Cartagena, and run the important errand of finding an insurance shop to get us legal.

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