Monday, November 29, 2010

Cartagena Chaos

Well, things did not go as planned on Thanksgiving Thursday. After having made sure that the motorhome was here and docked and unloaded, we set off for the shipping office to pick up the bill of lading. After much discussion, Arlene, our contact told us that we had been given incorrect information. We had been told to have a cashiers cheque, made payable to Wallenius Wilhelmsen (the cargo carrier) for our shipping fees. We are now informed that they do not have that name in Colombia and the cheque should have been made to Naves Shipping. Naves! Tom and I looked at each other. This was the first time we had heard of the name. They were unrelenting. We can give cash or we need to take care of the cheque another way (no options were offered) but until the money issue is resolved we will not be given the release on the vehicle. We are stunned. We now have a cashiers cheque, that we handed over cash for to the tune of $2,600.00 and it is no good, at least not in Colombia. We called Joel, our contact in Manzanillo. He apologized, Arlene apologized, but the end result was we would not get our RV today. We must now, send the cheque back to Manzanillo to Joel and when he recieves the money, then the RV will be released. We leave and assess our options, the first being getting more time at the hotel. We have another problem. It is now after 12pm and the Hilton due to hosting a convention, does not have any rooms available for tonight. They suggest we try across the street from the hotel where there are many condo/apartment buildings but they do not know which accepts pets. Fortunately, most do and we got a 1 bedroom apartment in the El Conquistador. Our next stop was to the Federal Express office to mail the cheque to Wallenius Wilhelmsen in Panama and since we are here to mail the Christmas presents back to the US. We find out there is no overnight service to Panama, only a 2 day service and so the cheque will not arrive until Monday. We get back to the Conquistador and contact Joel in Panama to let him know the cashiers cheque will be there on Monday. Monday is a holiday here, he tells us. Cripes! What more can go wrong. We will now be at the Conquistador until Tuesday at least. After getting back to the condo, we took time to regroup. The whole shipping process has thrown us off and we are reconciling ourselves to being without our RV for another 5 days minimum. We spend Friday grocery shopping. The condo has a small kitchen area so we will be able to cook some of our own meals and be more self sufficient than at an hotel. We are just across the street from the beach so can still walk Winston and enjoy the town. Tuesday finds us checking the Fedex website every couple of hours to track the cheque. Finally at 4pm, Joel signs for it in Panama. I email him and he assures us that all is well and we can get the bill of lading tomorrow (Wednesday) from Naves in Cartagena. I am so relieved I am almost in tears. Thank You God! Tom is as thankful as I am. We really are missing our rolling home and looking forward to picking it up in the morning. It is truly a good Tuesday and hopefully a better Wednesday.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Waiting in Cartagena

Our flight to Cartagena was quick and uneventful. We had once again given Winston a sedative so he would not stress in cargo. The plane took off on time and one hour and one glass of wine later we had a smooth landing. By the time we had cleared immigration, Winston's crate and our baggage were waiting along with an official from animal cuarentina, known in Colombia as ICA (eeka). He took us into an office, checked Winston's paperwork, filled out and stamped another form for a total cost of $26.00 and we were clear to enter Colombia. We had elected to splurge a little and stay at the Hilton Hotel, which are a pet friendly chain. Once we arrived, the entire staff became smitten with Winston. One of the desk clerks is also called Winston and this caused great hilarity for all concerned. We were shown to our room, beautiful, fantastic and awesome come to mind. After spending most of the past 8 months in the RV, having a king sized bed and huge bathroom with plenty of hot water is indeed a luxury. Oh, and let's not forget a television! Being late, we fed Winston and gave him a walk on the beach but he was still too groggy to enjoy it much. We ate at the hotel restaurant and before going to sleep, I took a luxurious bubblebath - heaven. Monday, our RV was supposed to arrive but there was a delay leaving the port in Panama so we will be staying at the Hilton for another night. We decided to spend the day in the old town. Cartagena was one of the original walled cities and as such is filled with historic landmarks and forts. We also wanted to get some Christmas shopping accomplished, so we are not rushed at the last minute sending the gifts back to the States. Colombia is famous for it's emerald mines and I wanted to check out emeralds and prices. After a day of shopping we found most of the presents we needed to purchase and a beautiful emerald ring for me. I was ecstatic. We had decided to try one of the restaurants in the walled city and after asking around went to one called Casa de Sorocco. They serve typical Colombian food so it should be interesting. Hmm. Turtle, which is protected all over Central America was listed on the menu. Tom decided to try it, I declined. He didn't like it. I also found the beef dish I ordered quite greasy and had most of it wrapped to go - Winston will be grateful. All in all, it wasn't very satisfying. Tuesday, we ran into another problem proving once again that having some flexibility is essential. The boat is here in Cartegena but the port is congested and the shipping office has not been given any information on when a dock will be available. "Call tomorrow morning (Wednesday) I was told". Another night at the hotel. We spent Tuesday hanging out at the hotel, on the private beach with Winston and lazing by one of the three pools - I could get used to this. Everyone knows Winston and staff calling out his name, greet us whereever we go. This night we eat in the hotel restaurant again. The food is excellent and the service attentive, especially because we are Winston's parents! We called the shipper early Wednesday morning. Ship is still anchored out at sea and please call back in the afternoon, they are hopeful there will be a dock available today. Not an hour later, our ship with the huge Wallenius Wilhelmsen markings appeared in the bay. "There's our boat" I said excitedly to Tom. It remained in the bay so tantalizingly close all day. I called the shipper again at 4pm and we were told that they should be able to get into port at 6pm. and for us to be at their office early Thursday. Another night in the hotel. The expenses for the part of our travels is rising exponentially. To boot, there is a huge convention happening at the hotel and it is now at capacity, which raised the room price by $100.00 to $300.00 per night, ouch! But we are reconciled with the wait and again spend our time between the playa with Winston and the pools. We also hope that we can get our motorhome back on Thursday. It is Thanksgiving at home but in Colombia just another day.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cargo an RV from Panama to Colombia. Part Two. November 18th, 2010.

We knew that flexibilty is key both with travelling and shipping. Wednesday we felt pretty good about things. We had successfully dealt with the DIJ and Secretariat General. We made our hotel reservations for the 6 nights in Panama, picked up our rental car from the airport, got our laundry done and RV washed. Wednesday night we went to the Balboa Club to get on line, skype and check emails. After talking with family and friends, I logged onto our email. One from the shipping company. We are shipping with Wallenius Wilhelmsen and have been in contact with Joel, their logistics coordinator for the past few weeks. We are booked on the Galaxy Leader scheduled to leave Tuesday. Not anymore. It appears the Galaxy Leader is stuck in Texas so we need to be at port in Manzanillo, Colon as early as possible on Thursday because they are going to try to get us on a vessel, the Kassel, leaving Friday. Friday! That means we need to leave for Colombia on Sunday instead of Wednesday. Thank God we haven't purchased tickets yet. We send an email to Joel that we will be in Manzanillo as early Thursday as possible. I barely sleep. Thursday, we get up early, pack up the items we will carry with us on the plane, mainly our expensive electronic equipment, install our temporary plywood wall and feed and walk Winston. I also give Winston a tranquillizer pill. We want to sedate him when we fly and his vet had suggested we try the pills out first to see how he responds to them and this seems as good a time as any. When we get to the terminal at port we meet up with Joel and get our final bill of lading. Winston sleeps. We then go to Aduana (Customs) to cancel our temp. import permit and give a copy of the authorization form we had recieved from the DIJ on Tuesday. Winston sleeps. It's then onto the exit office for another stamp and finally to the harbor master where the RV was inspected for shipment by customs both inside and out by both officials and drug sniffing dogs. I couldn't help but wonder..drugs. Didn't they know we were going to Colombia. I mean, if we were so inclined, isn't that like taking sand to the beach! We are given the go ahead and finally hand over the keys of our beloved casa rodante to the harbor master. A sticker is fixed on the windshield, I hope it gets on the right ship! Winston sleeps. We head back to Panama City to our hotel for the next three nights, not six as originally planned. The RV is on it's way to Cartagena, Colombia and now we need to get reservations to meet up with it. We get to the hotel, check in and get our luggage into the room. We have to wake Winston up, he is groggy. Tom walks him a little so he can go to the bathroom and we settle him into the room before going to get a bite to eat. When we return to the room, Winston sleeps..and so do we.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Our final few days in Panama. November 20th, 2010

We had originally planned for 6 full, free days of sightseeing and shopping in and around Panama City but now that is cut short. We contacted the airlines and made reservations for Sunday and since we will spend only one night in a hotel in Cartagena, decide to splurge and stay at the Hilton, which we found, after doing an internet search is pet friendly. In Panama City, we are staying at the Hotel Benidorm, also, pet friendly and economical. It is a small hotel close to Avenida Balboa (the main thoroughfare) but has everything we need. In addition, Carlos the owner whose family besides owning this hotel also owns the Hotel Veracruz in Panama City is extremely helpful and was invaluable in assisting us with obtaining a cashiers check. We had visited every main bank in the city (HSBC, Banco General, Banco National, Scotiabank to name a few) and because of the banking laws to get a cashiers check, you need a bank account. To cargo the RV, you need, not a credit card, not check, not cash even, you need a cashiers check. We were in a catch 22, until Carlos arrived. After we explained our dilemma, he talked to his bank and then he and Tom went to the bank and we finally got the blessed check. We also, got to visit the Miraflores locks. The Panama Canal consists of a series of lock systems to negotiate the route from the Pacific to Atlantic Oceans and Miraflores is the closest to the city. We were able to watch a huge cargo vessel negotiate through the locks being guided by small trams on each side called mules. Absolutely amazing. After that we went to the highest point in the city for a spectacular 360 degree view of the city, extremely photogenic. We then visited the historic section with it's churches and government buildings before heading back to the hotel. Tomorrow, it is a travel day to Colombia but Tom and I relished our last night by eating at Bennigan's and discussing our time spent in Panama. We can now understand why so many Americans retire here. It is accomodating with many of the conveniences of the US - shopping, medical, dental, hospitals, housing and communications to name but a few but significantly less expensive than the US.

Cargo an RV from Panama to Colombia. Part One. November 16th, 2010.

We have done a lot of research on RV shipment and it seems everyone has a different experience during the shipping process. We knew the procedure and now is the time to put it into reality. The first step on Tuesday is to go to the Policia National Dirrecion (DIJ) to have the RV checked against the VIN/ID number to be sure we have not been involved in an accident or have any outstanding tickets. Then to the Secretariat General office to get an authorization for permission to leave the country. Everyone who takes a vehicle from Panama needs to go through this process and it must be done no more than 6 days prior to leaving the country. So, 7:30am on Tuesday finds us outside the DIJ even though they don't technically open until 9:00am. The reason for this is that all vehicles both import and export must go there and if you don't go early enough then you are told to come on another day. As it was, we parked and Tom went in. Five minutes later he comes out and gloomily says "They said come back tomorrow". No explanations, no reasons just, come tomorrow. We talked it over because Wednesday would cut it close for us as we need to be at port on Thursday. After some discussion we agreed that I would go and try. Putting on my most cheerful face, I went in. I shmoozed, I cajoled, I was adamant. We had to be seen today. The gentleman I was trying to win over was also adamant. "My captain has told your husband to come back tomorrow". "Then I need to talk to your captain", I said. "He speaks no English", I was told. Undeterred I flashed back "Fine, then I will practice my Spanish on him but we need to be inspected today". The officer walked away and came back not a minute later "Come back at nine am today". "Gracias' I smile. I walk back to the RV. "Today, at nine" I tell Tom. "Great" he says "maybe you should deal with them, they like you better". Since it is 8:15, we decide to wait, as the office is downtown and in a really rundown, seedy area. As I walk Winston, I can't help but notice the slum tenement buildings and poverty of the area. Definitely a part of the city that tourists don't visit. At 9am, we are back in the office. We wait and wait. There were 5 other people waiting and many others were turned away. I guess 6 is all they can handle on any day! At 10:30, a man came out of an office and gestured to everyone to follow him. We were told to lift the hood and have our temp importation permit and shipping confirmation forms ready. He walked over, checked our paperwork against the vehicle ID number and we were told to return at 2pm in the afternoon. After a 3 and a half hour wait, we were inspected in five minutes. At 2pm we return and Tom goes in, whist I walk Winston and warily eye the neighborhood. Ten minutes later, Tom and an officer come out. Because of the danger in the area, the DIJ escort you across the street with an armed officer but first... Tom has been told he needs to put on long pants and a dressier shirt. (He was in shorts and a T shirt). Maybe that is why they sent him away this morning, his informal dress style. To see the Secretariat General it seems, one must be attired correctly! Also, the officer said to me, "it really isn't safe for you to be walking in this area. Bad people with guns. Much shooting. You need to stay inside and lock the doors". This is in the police yard but even the police do not come out alone and are always armed. "This is crazy" I say to Tom. "Tell me" he says "who would have thought there was a dress code. I hope sandals are ok. Oh, and stay inside, we don't want you shot!" "Gee, thanks, try not to take too long". Tom leaves and I turn on the generator to get A/C. An hour later he appears and waves the authorization form at me. We are done for the day and more important, successful. "Let's get the heck out of here" I say and Tom agrees but only after he puts shorts back on. He also agrees that we deserve a beer and Winston needs another walk. Tomorrow is another day.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Onto Panama City, November 13th - 15th, 2010

The two weeks at Playa Santa Catalina went quickly and it was with regret that we said our goodbyes to Juventino and Abby with promises to see them again when we return to Panama in about a year. We have had lots of fun but it is time to get prepared to take the RV to Colon for shipping and arranging our flights to Cartagena. Our plan is to stop at XS Memories one more time, clean the RV and tanks before going to Panama City on Monday to start the exit process. We have also been using up all our refrigerated and frozen foods in preparation for leaving so our only stops on the way to Santa Clara is at a home depot type store for plywood and the pet store to purchase a travel crate for Winston. Our RV is open from the front cab to the rear and we need the plywood to create a temporary wall to separate the front cab from the living quarters and this will hopefully, deter anyone from stealing our personal items. After the stop in Santiago we are once on the panamericana and once again.....yep, same lead-footed husband, same spot and..same traffic police with radar gun. We both groan and try to look contrite. Tom wound down his window. "So sorry, so sorry" he repeated as the policeman came up to us. "My friends" he shouted "how are you?" as he firmly shook our hands. "Too fast, too fast" he said. Tom continued to apologize. "No problem" he said "we are friends". We are travelling with T-shirts and baseball caps from the San Jose Fire Dept, which Tom got when he retired and we offered him a T-Shirt. "No, it's ok", he said and after about a 10 minute chat, we all shook hands again and we started to drive. I sent the remainder of the drive, driving Tom a little crazy by reminding him of the speed limit was at any given time. We spent Sunday figuring out the plywood for our temporary wall, sprucing up the RV and bathing Winston. Monday, it's Panama City and the Balboa Yacht Club again. We also have a vet appointment for Winston. He needs some shots updated and the vet is going to prepare the paperwork for flying into Colombia. In the evening we adjourned to the club and sat outside, skyping family and friends and watching the flotilla of boats of all sizes meandering their way up the Panama Canal whilst having a glass of wine. It really is a beautiful view.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Santa Catalina. October 28th - November 12th, 2010

Both Tom and I love the quiet little surf beach community of Santa Catalina. It is quite far from the beaten path and remarkably undeveloped. We set off fairly early for the 6 hour drive. In addition, we knew we needed to stop for groceries as the place we stay in Santa Catalina is remote, so for the duration of our stay which will be 2 weeks, we need to be self sufficient. The first part of the journey from Santa Clara to Santiago is fairly smooth going on the Panamericana and after a stop in Penenome for provisions we were making good time until....traffic police with a radar gun. Yep, my lead footed husband was speeding as the police was eager to tell us. We tried everything and he was remarkably undetered by our abysmal spanish and his little English. "Are you sorry" he asked, we both nodded. "Lo siento" Tom kept repeating. "I'm sorry". "Will you slow down and be carefully?" We both nodded again. "Very careful". Tom responded "and slow". The questions kept coming. He spotted a dictionary we carry and went through it, collecting various words and phrases. Where were we coming from, where were we going, how long were we staying in Panama. "I could give you a ticket and then you would have to go to David (which is really far) to pay it". We frowned. "So sorry" Tom kept repeating whilst I was beginning to think he would keep us there all day chatting. "What does he really want" I whispered to Tom. So far no money had been mentioned so we took matters into our own hands. "How much would a ticket be?" asked Tom. "Oh, I don't want to give you a ticket but you were going 90 kilometers in a 45 kilmeter zone". Tom took out his wallet and extracted a $20.00 bill, all the while checking out the policeman. He calmly folded it up and whilst taking back his license, shook the policeman's hand, pressing the folded bill between them. "Drive slowly, be careful, good luck, mi amigos" the policeman cheerfully. After a 30 minute stop we finally said our goodbyes and waved. Thank God and the speeding fine has only cost us $20.00, much cheaper than the United States! After Santiago, the going through the town of Sona and then to Santa Catalina was much slower. Narrow roads, less well maintained, lots of pot holes and, rain but we plodded on and finally arrived at the Rancho Cosa Mia by 5pm. The property is owned by Americans and managed by a Panamaian couple, Juventino and his wife Abby. They live on the property in a small house and then there is one cabin to rent and plenty of space for the RV. It is on a cliff, overlooking the beach and the access to the water is only a short 5 mins walk. They were not home when we arrived but we parked in the same spot as on our prior visit which is close to the bathroom, electricity and the deck with it's amazing views. By the time Juventino and Abby get home, we had even gotten our awning up. Since our automatic, custom installed awning had been torn off in Mexico (refer to Mexico blogs) we are reduced to a simple set up using ropes, stakes and cover but it works and gives some protection, even though it is quite cumbersome to set up. They were thrilled to see us again and volunteered to let us know when they would go to town so we could get fresh milk, produce and of course, freshly caught fish and prawns from the local fishermen. Abby also told me I could use her washing machine to do laundry. We will stay in this idyllic spot for 2 whole weeks. There is good surf here so Tom is thrilled, Winston is allowed to roam without restriction, so he is excited and me, well I'm glad because I can catch up on preparing the RV for export to Colombia, reading and long walks on the beach.