Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil

The Darien Gap: Vehicle Shipping, Colombia Side

September 11th, 2013 | Posted by Ian in Border Crossings | Colombia | Darien Gap | How To | Panama | The Places We've Been
Ridiculousness of the Darien Gap unloading process

If I had to choose a picture to sum up our experience, this would be it. Yes, they drove that truck out of the port without adding any more cargo.

So you’ve shipped your car from Panama, made it into Cartagena yourself, and now are ready to go about getting your car out of its container and out of the port (for all of our articles in the Darien Gap series, click here). Somewhat detailed maps of the places you will need to go to claim your vehicle are located below the text of this article.

Depending on what company you end up actually shipping your vehicle with, there are between four and six distinct entities involved in unloading your car in Colombia. Yourself, the shipping company, the port company, and customs are the minimum – you may also deal with a shipping agency (which may itself be a subcontractor of your shipping company or an unrelated company) and a port operations subcontractor if your shipping company doesn’t handle these things in-house. We used Evergreen as a shipping company, meaning we also had to deal with a Panama side shipping agency (Everlogistics), an Colombia side shipping agency (Global Shipping Agencies), and a Colombia side port operations company (Global Services OTM). My best pieces of advice are to keep all documents with you at all times (and don’t lose any!), assume most steps will have a speedbump or three, over-preparing is better than under-preparing (I have read this post from Life Remotely literally twenty times), and try to have a sense of humor about the whole thing.

Here’s How It Should Have Happened

If things really made any sense, here is how the process would go:

  1. Your cargo vessel arrives on time, because it makes the exact same journey every week of the year and should probably have the routine down.
  2. Your shipping agency (or agent) sends pertinent documents where they need to go via email, then schedules a time for all the relevant entities to meet up to unload the container, get a customs inspection, and exit the port. Because, ya know, those are the kinds of things an agent are really supposed to do, aren’t they?
  3. Pay all necessary fees at a perfectly functioning bank.
  4. Meet at the time assigned. Unload container, get inspections from whomever wants them (customs to ensure no smuggling, shipping company rep/agent to ensure no damage to your vehicle or their container, port company to ensure you haven’t stolen anything, etc.), do lots of paperwork, drive your car out of the port.

Here’s How It Could Have Happened

Based on how things actually work, what follows is the theoretical process that you will need to go through.

  1. Go to your shipping company’s or shipping agent’s office to obtain a copy of your Colombian Bill of Lading, as well as invoices for any services the shipping company and agent provide (probably a fee for unloading the container from the ship and an administrative fee).
  2. Go to the bank to pay your invoices. Receive receipts to take back to your shipping company/agency.
  3. Take the bank receipts back to your shipping company/agency. In exchange you will receive a letter authorizing the opening of your container and receipts from the shipping company/agent as proof that you have paid all required fees.
  4. Take the authorization letter to Servicio al Cliente (Customer Service) at Sociedad Portuaria (the port company) offices. Do some paperwork. Go just outside this office to bank window to pay the required fees to the port company (probably a fee to move the container to its storage area, a fee to unload the container, and a fee to move the empty container to somewhere where empty containers are stored). Return with your receipts for these fees to Servicio al Cliente. Do some paperwork. Provide proof of life/accidental death insurance. This is required to enter the port (apparently they have some problems with accidental deaths). The Servicio al Cliente rep will then schedule a time to unload your container. Note: if you complete this step after 10:30am, your container will not be able to be moved for unloading until the next day.
  5. Go to DIAN (Dirección de Impuestos y Aduanas Nacionales – AKA Aduana, AKA Customs), inform them of your container unloading appointment. They will schedule a time for the customs inspector to come do his inspection. Give them a copy of vehicle title, vehicle owner’s passport photo page, vehicle owner’s vehicle exit stamp from Panama, vehicle owner’s Colombia entrance stamp, and Colombian Bill of Lading. They will start some paperwork for your temporary vehicle import permit, but you will not receive it yet.
  6. Unloading at Contecar

    This is the moment you think are you waiting for.

    Return to the port (presumably to Servicio at Cliento) at your designated unloading time. Be sure to wear pants and close-toed shoes, and be sure to bring your keys. Follow a port employee to your container. Another port employee will show up with bolt cutters. They will cut the one-time use lock that was put on in Panama, verify that it is the same lock (you might want to do this yourself just to be sure), and do some paperwork on their clipboards. A driver will come to back your car out of the container and park it next to the container (or nearby). The port employee who you originally followed to the container will inspect the container to make sure it is undamaged and give you a form indicating this. The driver will drive your car to another lot. It might be a good idea to ask for the driver to return your keys to you. No guarantee your car will be locked, but at least then you know nobody will drive off with it.

  7. An inspector from DIAN will come to inspect your vehicle at the appointed time. You may or may not need to be present for this. If you are present, he will presumably tell you when your customs paperwork will be ready.
  8. Return to your shipping company/agent with the form indicating the container is empty and undamaged. In return you will receive the original Bill of Lading.
  9. Go to DIAN at the time your inspector indicated. If you were not present, perhaps just show up at DIAN and start asking. Here you will sign and receive two documents, an importation inspection form, and a temporary vehicle import permit.
  10. Take your original Bill of Lading, importation inspection form, and temporary vehicle import permit to Servicio al Cliente at Sociedad Portuaria. Do some paperwork. Receive your vehicle release permit. The Servicio al Cliente rep will make an appointment with the port workers so that you can go get your vehicle.
  11. At the designated time go to the port with your release permit. Also be sure to also bring your passport, driver’s license, original Bill of Lading, importation inspection form, and temporary vehicle import permit. You should probably just make sure you have all your documents.
  12. Follow a port employee to the lot your vehicle is parked in. Verify that the vehicle he points at is the one you are trying to get back. Follow him into a shack, give your release permit to a man in the shack, wait for him to type some stuff up and print it out for you, follow the first port employee back to your car so he can inspect it for damage, receive a copy of his inspection form, take it back to the employee in the shack, receive a document from him saying you can take your car out of the port.
  13. Drive your car out of the storage lot, around the truck waiting to get weighed, and up to the port gate. Show them the document you just received, wait for them to raise the gate, and drive out.

But Here’s What Really Happened

We came into this process assuming it would take two days, as that is what most literature on the web indicated was normal. We had decided not to hire an agent to walk us through the process, and in retrospect I don’t how this would have saved us any time, though it may have made things mentally much easier. A small part of us held out hope that if we got a little bit lucky we could knock it out in one long day, especially after we were able to complete the first step on the day we got in, as we were in the neighborhood of the port while getting an importation permit for the dogs. What happened instead was:

  1. The DIAN complex in Manga

    The DIAN complex in Manga. The far building houses the importación offices you will need to go to.

    Around 3:30PM on the day we flew in (Monday), while Brianna waited at the DIAN office in the neighborhood of Manga for our dog papers, I walk-sprinted down the road to the port, Sociedad Portuaria. I followed the signs to Edificio Administración (Administration Building). Upon entering, there was a security-badge turnstile directly in front of me and a reception desk at each end of the building to my left and right. I picked one that looked least busy and walked up to it. I apologized in advance for my poor Spanish, then told the receptionist I needed to go to Global Shipping Agencies to pick up a copy of my Bill of Lading. She picked up the phone, called GSA to ask if they were expecting me, asked for my passport, typed some info into her computer, handed by passport back to me along with a security badge, explained that I would need to follow the sidewalk outside the building to get into the port, and told me to ask the man at the security gate where to go.

  2. I walk-sprinted to the security gate, scanned my badge, walked through the turnstile, then had to stop while the guard looked through my backpack. When I asked him where GSA was, he mumbled and pointed into the port. Awesome, thanks. Off I went. There was a map a couple hundred feet away, so I figured that was a good place to start. GSA was nowhere to be seen on this map, so I just started walking. There are designed walking ways all throughout the port, presumably to keep people from loitering in places where giant machines need to go. I picked one and followed it. A port worker talking on a cell phone seemed to pick up on the fact that I was lost, pulled his phone away from his head, and stopped. When I asked him where Global Shipping was, he laughed, said no words, and walked away. Hmmm. I walked around for a minute. I was obviously an outsider, what with my running shoes, backpack, folder of documents, and hurried pace, and I drew a lot of curious stares. Eventually I saw an ambulance-like vehicle parked in a small space between two buildings and I figured that was something, so I walked toward it. A female port worker of some kind or another came around a corner walking toward me, so I asked her about GSA. She knew where it was! She told me to go right at the next corner, then walk to the end of the building, then go to the building across the street. Sweet! So off I went, following her instructions. When I got to the building she indicated, I walked all the way around it, glancing through each and every unmarked door. A gentleman happened to be coming out of a door at one point, and he cheerily asked me what I was looking for. When I told him, he motioned with his hand for me to follow him, and we walked back toward where I had come from and into an unmarked door. This was the GSA office.
  3. There was a receptionist directly inside the door. She either did not notice that a human being had just walked in the door two feet in front of her or was unaware that she was a receptionist. I stood at the desk for a minute unsure of what do to. Eventually she picked up the phone, telling the person on the other end that someone was here. Seconds later, a gentleman walked out from the rear of the office, introducing himself as David. I started into a slow and simple attempt to explain who I was and why I was there, but he cut me off and said he could speak in English if that was helpful. Whew! Much easier. David made a copy of my passport, asked me to wait for a couple minutes, then returned promptly with a copy of our Bill of Lading, a map of the port, and a chart indicating what I would need to accomplish to get our car back. He also produced two invoices (222,939 COP and 127,428 COP) that would have to be paid at one of two Banco de Occidente locations; one of these was in the neighborhood of the port, the other was in the center of Cartagena in the Torre del Reloj. Once those were paid, he would give me a letter indicating it was okay to unload our car from the container. He was very dry and serious, but also very helpful. I thanked him profusely and told him I would see him tomorrow.
  4. I walk-sprinted back through the port, through the security gate (including another backpack inspection), and back to the Edificio Administración where I turned in my badge before walking back to DIAN to find Brianna. I hadn’t realized before how terrifying this sidewalk really was. It was maybe twenty-four inches wide, bounded on one side by a wall around the port and on the other by a one-way road full of vehicles driving much much faster than they probably should have been. Add to this the fact that motorcyclists in Cartagena will honk at every pedestrian they see in an effort to offer them a ride and you have the potential for serious sensory overload. Finally I made it back to DIAN, and we set off in a cab to claim our dogs (running total: 2 cab rides, including the original cab to DIAN).
  5. The next day (Tuesday), we grabbed a cab (running total: 3 cab rides) outside our hotel at 7:45AM in order to be at the bank in Manga when they opened so we could make our payments that GSA needed to give us our letter of permission to open the container. We knew we would need a boatload of cash to complete this process, so we first stopped at the ATM outside the bank. It was locked. Hmmm. So we went inside, apparently the first customers of the day. Walking up to the clerk, we handed him our invoices. He them informed us that the bank’s system was down (whatever that means), and that he was currently unable to process our payment, and that he wasn’t sure how long of a wait it would be, though he did venture a guess of ten minutes. In order to be productive we asked him if there were any other ATMs nearby. Turns out there was another bank just two blocks away. We thanked him and walked down the street to the other bank. There actually ended up being three buildings with bank signs. Of these, one was completely empty, one was locked, and the third was open for business. We went inside the ATM room and promptly found out the maximum withdrawal was 300,000 pesos; this is about $150, meaning we were going to have to burn through multiple $5 international withdrawal fees, not to mention the fee on the Colombian side (or, alternatively, the poor exchange rate we might get in order to “hide” the fee). Great. We made just one withdrawal, which would get us through the first round of fees, in hopes of finding another ATM with a higher limit. Back to the bank we went. The system was still down, and the clerk had no clue when it might be back. When we asked about going to the branch in the city center, he told us it was a nationwide problem and not confined to this branch. He gave us the branch phone number so that we could call and check the status. Good thing we had budgeted ourselves three days in Cartagena. Back to our hotel we went to get a bit of work done while we waited (running total: 4 cab rides).
  6. At about 11:00am, Brianna called the bank’s phone number from her computer. It rang. And rang. And rang. And rang. No one answered. She tried again. Same result. Great. Then, in a stroke of genius, she found a branch of Banco de Occidente near our hotel. We went there to ask about the bank system. Good news! It was up and running again. We went to their ATM to withdraw our cash for the day. Another 300,000 peso limit. Awesome. Who cares about $5 international withdrawal charges anyway? We made three maximum withdrawals and went back inside to pay our fees. They gave us our receipts.
  7. After leaving the bank, we grabbed another cab (running total: 5 cab rides) back to Sociedad Portuaria. We went to Edificio Administración, where we told them we needed to go to GSA and then Servicio al Cliente. For the first of these, the receptionist in Edificio Administración directed us to another office (Puesto de Control), where the lady behind the window told us it was lunch hour and no one would be in the GSA office. We would have to come back at 2:00PM, which was about 40 minutes away. We ran across the street to a convenience store where we regrouped, ate some empanadas, and waited in the air conditioning. We returned at 2:00PM to Puesto de Control to find a room full of people waiting. Lovely. After a ten minute wait it was our turn. We had to explain where I was going, wait for them to call GSA to confirm, hand over my passport, and be issued a security badge. Brianna waited in the waiting room (for all steps inside the port, only the vehicle owner is allowed inside and my name is the name on the title), while I returned with our receipts to the GSA office. David met me, took the receipts, made me copies, and issued me a letter saying it was okay for us to unload our vehicle from the container. He also told me it was very important that I return to him immediately after our container was unloaded with a form from the port workers confirming the unloading. It would be great, he said, if I would snap a picture of two of the empty container as well.
  8. From here I returned to Puesto de Control, handed in my badge, and we walked back to Edificio Administración to get badges to visit Servicio al Cliente.
  9. The Servicio al Cliente office at Sociedad Portuaria

    The Servicio al Cliente office at Sociedad Portuaria

    After getting our badges, we walked through the turnstile and into an open courtyard/parking lot surrounded by buildings. Servicio al Cliente was in the first building to the right. We walked up some stairs, through a door, and into a room with workers behind windows on all sides. A gentleman behind an open window waved us over. Once we told him what we were there for, he directed us to go to an office downstairs on the right side and ask for Andres. Back out the door, down the stairs, and through another door into the downstairs section of the building. The far wall was filled with two bank windows and some other windows on either side of those. On the left and right walls were office doors. We turned right and, unsure what to do, just waltzed right in, asking for Andres. We were directed to a conference table kiosk in the back, where Andres Felipe Lou introduced himself to us and his sparse but perfectly organized desk. We gave him our Colombia Bill of Lading and our permission letter from GSA, and Andres started us in on some paperwork. He also asked to see proof of life/accidental-death insurance, explaining that getting my insurance approved was very important for port entry. I handed over my Seven Corners ID card and a print out of the plan benefits. He then produced two invoices (562,897 COP and 127,600 COP) that we would have to pay at either of the bank windows just outside the office. After paying, we came back in to finish up our paperwork and wait for Andres to get confirmation that my insurance was acceptable. He again explained how important it was to make sure I had proper insurance – how ominous. Andres then told us that our boat had not actually arrived (it was supposed to get in the night before), though it should be coming in soon. This meant he was unable to get us a form we would need to enter the port and also that he was unable to set up our unloading appointment. We would have to return the next morning for both, but, as Andres explained, we had three free days of storage at the port, so we didn’t need to be in a rush. This also meant there was no point in going to DIAN to set up our customs inspection. Lovely! Then he told us that Sociedad Portuaria actually operates two ports in Cartagena, and that our vehicle was at the second port, roughly twice as far away from our hotel as this one. Perfect!

  10. By this point it was after 5:00PM and there was nothing more we could accomplish on this day. We snagged a cab (running total: 6 cab rides) back to the hotel, only to find out a couple minutes later we had actually landed in a colectivo taxi and would be dropped off in the city center, where we could catch another back to our hotel in Bocagrande. We took advantage of this mistake by wandering the streets of the old city for a couple hours, drinking Aguilas from cart vendors, and watching the sunset while sitting on a cannon in the north wall of the city (this will be its own blog post in the near future). After this, Brianna talked an open-air party bus driver into letting us use his vehicle as a taxi since he was headed toward our hotel anyway (running total: 7 cab rides). Score.
  11. Wednesday morning saw us walking into Servicio al Cliente just after they opened at 8:00AM. Andres excitedly told us that our ship had indeed arrived the previous evening, gave us the container unloading authorization document we were waiting on, and told us our appointment to unload would be at 2:00 that afternoon, though it wouldn’t hurt to show up at 1:30. He instructed us to go to DIAN to start our vehicle import paperwork and set up the customs inspection so the inspector could be there at unloading, explaining that after the inspection I would need to procure two documents from DIAN, an inspection document (Auto Y Acta de Inspección) and temporary vehicle import permit (Importacion Temporal de Vehiculo de Turista). It was very important, he explained, to make sure the Bill of Lading numbers on this form were correct.
  12. From there we made the ten minute walk up the road to DIAN. Unsure of where to go, we walked back to the cluster of desks we had been at when getting our dog paperwork completed. It turns out that was actually the right place to be. They took a stack of copies we had made for them (vehicle title, vehicle owner’s passport photo page, vehicle owner’s vehicle exit stamp from Panama, vehicle owner’s Colombia entry stamp, and Colombian Bill of Lading). After telling them when our unloading would be, they put our info into some kind of giant list book and said either Carlos or Adolfo would be there at 2:00PM to do the inspection. With no progress to be made until that time, we caught a cab (running total: 8 cab rides) back to the hotel to get some work done.
  13. At about 1:00PM we left the hotel and flagged down a cab (running total: 9 cab rides) to the second port, Contecar. After being dropped off at the entrance, a security-type with a clipboard and a walkie-talkie looked at our unloading document, then asked a port employee who happened to be walking by to take us to the Contecar Puesto de Control office. We followed him, went through the whole documents-passport-badge dance, and I was quickly beckoned by a port employee to follow along.
  14. Unloading the container at Contecar

    So close, and yet so far away. It would be another 24 hours of running around before I would be able to enter our car.

    I followed him into and through the port to a small building inside a giant warehouse where I sat while he did something or other. From there we walked right outside this building to the container. An official with bolt cutters showed up, and after checking some paperwork they cut the lock off and opened the container. For the first time in a week I had made visual contact with the CR-Van. I asked to see the lock to verify it was the same one that was put on in Colon. They unstrapped the car and told me we had to wait for a driver and a ramp to back the car out. At this point I realized I had not actually made a point of including the car keys on the list of important things to bring. I slowly reached down and fumbled around in my pocket before I realized that they were there and that I had dodged a bullet. After a couple minutes the driver showed up, backed the vehicle out, and then pulled it forward to park it directly next to the container so that I could look at it. They said he was going to drive it away into a lot over yonder, and it came to my attention that none of these people was aware of the impending arrival of the customs inspector.  When I told them, the driver went ahead and parked the vehicle next to the container so we could wait for customs. A fourth worker came over; judging by the broom he was apparently in charge of cleaning out the container. At this point it was still not even 2:00 yet, and I was feeling pretty solid about our chances of getting the car all the way out of the port that very day.

  15. Waiting for the DIAN inspector at Contecar

    Trying to stay out of the heat while being stood up by our DIAN inspector.

    For the next thirty minutes I shot the shit with the driver and the broom guy. They were both quite friendly and very curious as to what the hell I was doing there. We talked about food, weather, sports, and whatever other topics were both interesting for all parties and easy to discuss in toddler Spanish. For the thirty minutes after that I sat in the shade propped up against the empty container. Then the guy I had originally followed into the port said it was taking too long, and he was going to have his driver take the car to the yonder lot. I asked if I could get the keys back after this, and they agreed. With no idea if it was actually locked or not, at least no one could just drive way with it. A mix of emotions ran through me as I thought about being stood up by the customs inspector. With no idea what to do, I followed the port worker back out of the port and to Puesto de Control. Brianna asked the lady behind the desk what to do.

  16. I was then directed to the Contecar Servicio al Cliente office one building away while Brianna waited in the Puesto de Control office. I gave a little knock on the glass door and walked on in, producing my unloading document and whatever else they asked from me (starting to feel pretty strung out by this point in the process, so details might get a bit fuzzy), and explaining that our customs guy hadn’t showed up to our appointment. They immediately got on the phone to try to track him down. Then they created an invoice (280,000 COP) for me to pay at a bank window right outside. We had been under the impression that we had paid all the necessary fees, so this was a surprise and obviously not a pleasant once. After a huddle with Brianna over the port turnstiles, I returned to protest. I had them call up Andres, and he confirmed that this was indeed a necessary fee. We had previously paid fees to move the container to the unloading point and move the empty container to wherever it goes. This fee was for the actual unloading process. I begrudgingly went to the bank window outside and paid the invoice. After returning with the receipt they told me to wait outside for the customs guy to show up. And then all of a sudden there he was, and apparently the inspection was already over.
  17. The people at Servicio al Cliente said we should go straight back with the inspector to DIAN to get our paperwork completed. He and I walked back to Puesto de Control, picking up Brianna from just outside (she had been trying to escape the freezing Puesto de Control waiting room). The lady at Puesto de Control called a cab for the three of us, saying it would be there in 8 minutes. As we waited in a tiny room with this person whose lack of punctuality meant it would be another day until we could actually retrieve our car, animosity grew inside me. As he was still in charge of doing our paperwork, however, and because there was still another step we could get accomplished today if he worked quickly, it had to be concealed as much as possible. When the taxi arrived, we just got on in (running total: 10 cab rides), neglecting to do the usual routine of agreeing on a price before we got in because 1) we were with someone who presumably did this all the time 2) someone else had called the cab for us 3) we didn’t exactly have any leverage in deciding on a price and 4) by this point there wasn’t exactly a lot of mental energy available for haggling.
  18. Fifteen minutes later we arrived at DIAN in Manga, paid the driver, and followed our inspector into the building as he condescendingly told us we had paid too much. Thanks, buddy. We followed him back to his desk, standing far enough away as to not make things awkward, but close enough that it was obvious we were anxious to be taken care of. He dropped his stack of papers on the floor. He picked them up. He tried to organize them. Still standing, he searched all his pockets for a pen. Couldn’t find one. Then he realized that someone had taken his chair and replaced it with another one, so he picked up the replacement and went in search of HIS chair. Eventually he found it and returned. Then he realized how hungry he was, so he opened a drawer, pulled out a sandwich, and took a bite. Then he realized that he hadn’t yet paid into the gift fund for the birthday boy who was sitting directly across from him, so he pulled some cash out of his pocket and walked it over to someone to put in an envelope. Then he went to tell the birthday boy “feliz cumpleaños.” Then he realized he still hadn’t found a pen, so he started asking around for a spare. He promptly dropped it on the ground under his desk, stooping down to pick it up. So hungry! Better take another bite of sandwich. At this point my disdain had started to subside, and I was doing all I could to not laugh at everything this guy did. We’d been standing there waiting for twenty minutes and he hadn’t done a single thing that could even remotely be called work. At one point he stuck out his index finger as if to hit a key, but was distracted by something to his left, and he stopped his finger hovering an inch above the keyword. There he froze for what seemed like ten seconds. I was trying so so hard to not bursh out laughing. “Do it…Do it…DO IT!” I said to myself. Finally he started rifling through his stack of papers, and amazingly pulled ours out first. What a guy! He flipped through our packet. With a confused look he flipped through it again. And again. And again. He seemed to be missing something, and went around asking about said thing. I still have no idea what it was. Eventually, he figured out he needed to print a couple things and fill them out for/with us. In a classic nice guy gesture, he found us a couple of chairs to sit in at his desk while he finished up our paperwork. We even got to participate! He had Brianna read him our VIN and Bill of Lading numbers. Finally, he asked for my signature on each form, and we walked out of DIAN for the last time.
  19. On the sprint-walk back to Sociedad Portuaria, we decided it would be best to split up when we got there. Brianna would take our DIAN documents directly to Servicio al Cliente to get the process/paperwork for our final vehicle release form started while I would take the empty container verification form and pictures of the empty container to David at Global Shipping. It was getting close to 6:00, when each of those offices would close, so we were in a hurry. I made my way through the port to see David, where he gave us the original Bill of Lading, which would be needed back at Servicio al Cliente immediately.
  20. I full-on sprinted the quarter mile back to Servicio al Cliente, walking in to find Brianna sitting at the table by Andres’ desk with Eliecer, another employee, who had stepped in to help because Andres had left for the day. He took the original Bill of Lading to finish up some paperwork, and I realized Brianna was chatting with someone else at the table. I did not ever catch her name, but this person turned out to be a fellow overlander going in to opposite direction. How exciting! I hope our similarities ended there. She had shipped her RV from France to Brazil and had been making her way north. The shipping process had her quite frustrated. For some reason or another she was under the impression that should could go on the ship with her vehicle when it was shipped to Panama, and when it became apparent this was not the case she apparently decided not to continue north, though she had nothing nice to say about anywhere she had been except Brazil (“Shit, they are all shit. They have so many kids and they are so poor and they are just shit.”), and had no idea where she could possibly go from here. I held my tongue and hoped she would take her negative attitude and leave. As soon as she did, the one remaining Servicio al Cliente employee in the office made eye contact with Brianna and they both started laughing. Apparently I had missed some big time fireworks. This lady had burst into the office screaming at everyone in sight, rattling off her general opinions of Latin America directly at the Servicio al Cliente employees. How embarrassing, both for herself and for fellow travelers everywhere. Eliecer returned within a few minutes, finished up our paperwork, returned our original Bill of Lading and customs documents, and issued us the vehicle release form before telling us to show up back at Contecar at 11:00AM the following day to pick up our car. He then cheerily explained that, as today was only the second day of our three free days of port storage, we didn’t need to be in any rush.
  21. With nothing to do until (hopefully) our final task, we tracked down a cab back to the hotel (running total: 11 cab rides).
  22. Thursday morning at 10:30AM we got in a cab (running total: 12 cab rides) and headed to Contecar. After getting dropped off, we showed our release form around to some men with walkie-talkies, and eventually they called me over to the port gates to show them my papers and my passport (which they held on to while I went into the port – having someone you don’t know out of sight with your passport is a terribly frightening moment). At one point they asked me for my driver’s license, to which I explained that I had left it, along with all of our credit cards and $160 USD, in a cab the night before. I had a copy, though, and that was apparently enough for them; one of them did tell me I would have to bribe the police if I got caught without it. Super! After a couple minutes of standing around, a guy in a truck pulled up and had me get in. We drove to yonder lot, he pointed to my car to verify it was the vehicle in questions, and took me into a little building to get some paperwork. From there we walked to the vehicle for him to inspect it for damage. He pointed out each noticeable blemish on our car, and I verified that each of them was pre-existing. He handed me his inspection form and an authorization to actually leave the port and directed me back to the building we had just come from. I handed this form through a window to somebody inside, and he told me that was all he needed. After this I drove around next to the scales by the port exit, handed over the exit authorization papers, and received my passport back. After this they raised the gate, and I was free to pick Brianna up and try to figure out how the hell to get back to the hotel with no maps. Luckily, we had made enough cab rides through the city that it turned out to not be a very difficult task.
  23. One thing we didn’t do was purchase vehicle insurance. Apparently this is mandatory, and we feel very lucky to have driven halfway across the country and not been found out/been in an accident. Oops. Don’t worry, we’ll pick some up while we are in Medellin.
Map of Cartagena, Colombia

Map of the areas you may need to go in Cartagena

Map of Manga neighborhood in Cartagena, Colombia

Map of Manga, the neighborhood home to Sociedad Portuaria and DIAN


Map of Contecar in Cartagena, Colombia

Map of Contecar

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