The PanAm Shipping Process Part 2 – Colombia

Growing up in Miami, arguably one of the hottest/muggiest places in all of the United States, I thought I was familiar with stifling tropical heat. Cartagena, Colombia made the hottest summer in Miami seem like a visit to the North Pole. This place was downright hell on earth. The temperature in the shade would hover around 95F at 90% humidity. I think Sheena figured out the heat index came out to around 130F degrees. We spent most of our time huddled up in our air conditioned hotel room waiting for the cargo ship to arrive with the 4Runner.

The short excursions we did make out of the hotel showed us a beautiful city full of life and action. If I could get permission to strut around town in nothing but a thong and sandals this would be my kind of city. Ahhh ya, you got that vision in your head now and its NEVER coming out.

Our hotel had a rooftop area where we could hang out, drink beers, and watch the baseball games that took place all day in the street below. These guys were serious about baseball. We watched many fights and arguments break out over calls, score, turns, you name it, they loved to argue about it. I think they spent more time arguing about baseball than they actually did playing. Either way it was great entertainment as we sipped beers watching the sun go down.

Keith and I enjoying yet another heated argument in ladies street baseball.

We had a great view of the spanish fortress across the bay from our hotel. The “Castillo San Felipe de Barajas” was beautifully lit up at night.

Alongside our shipping partners Adventure the Americas, we were hanging out with our friends Drive Nacho Drivewho found the hotel in Cartagena. Many nights were spent sweating it out on the roofdeck enjoying the view and talking about adventures we have had and many more to come.

Eventually our ship arrived at the port and it was time to do the dirty. Team Adventure the Americas and I studied up the best we could to get a general idea of the process and headed out.

NOTE: Unfortunately our camera battery died and the charger was locked up in the truck. We have no pics of this process. I apologize for the WALL OF TEXT :(

Our first step was to head to the Seaboard Marine office to receive our official “Bill of Lading”, basically a sheet confirming all of our payment and container information. We grabbed a cab who took us right to the port about 15 minutes from the hotel. After asking a million questions to random people at the port we finally found a little window tucked behind some trees where they had our paperwork waiting and confirmed the container had arrived. YAY! Our trucks were in Colombia… Somewhere.

With our Bill of Lading in hand we hopped another cab back to the DIAN (Colombian customs) building where we needed to register for a mandatory container inspection. We would need this inspection of our container/vehicles before we could legally leave the port. At the customs office we were directed to an uninterested lady who took our paperwork, stamped a few things, and told us the inspection was scheduled for 8AM tomorrow. Alrighty then.

We decided to go back to the port that day and attempt to physically locate our container in order to be best prepared for inspection the following morning.

Back at the port we spent 2 hours hassling anyone and everyone that would listen. We knew the container was at the port, we even had a general idea of where, but no one would actually let us in to see the damn thing. Eventually these gaggle of gringos pissed off enough people that the head of Port Security was brought out to talk to us. Bossman said that we could not access our container today since we did not have proper footwear and we needed hardhats to enter the actual container area. When we balked and argued he promised that tomorrow he would personally escort us in his truck to the container to meet the inspector. Score!

With not much left to do for the day we headed back home.

Next morning we were up early, I squeezed into Lauren’s baby-sized sneakers (I had only brought sandals and you need closed toe shoes to enter the port) and we headed back to the port.

Upon arrival, we asked around for our supposed escort from the Head of Port Security and were directed to his office.

We knocked on the office door, no one home. We asked around some more and were directed to another office where a lady got on a radio, relayed some unintelligible information, and told us to wait.

10 minutes… 20 minutes… 30 minutes… By now it was 8:15 and we were worried we were going to miss the inspector. We asked the lady what was going on and in typical Latin American process she told us to wait some more…

We were just about to get up and walk out when a giant Colombian in a hardhat came into the building and told us to come with him. We followed him through the port entrance, snaked around a bunch of guys ripping apart tons of pallets and bins whom I assume were searching for drugs, and eventually arrived at a parking lot with a bunch of containers.

Our giant directed us towards the end of the row where we recognized our container number. We ran over to it and found that the doors had already been opened (We had thought we needed to be present for this process) and the port guys were already removing all the lashings that held the trucks in place. Keith and I both jumped into the container and inspected the trucks. Everything seemed to be perfectly fine, nothing out of the ordinary, no damage, and nothing missing. By the time we turned around our giant friend had disappeared and we were standing in the middle of the port with our container, our trucks, and no idea what to do.

Soon the port guys started yelling at us to pull our trucks out of the container. Uhhh I think we need to wait for inspection?


OK OK, We pulled our trucks out of the container and parked them in the road. Now what?

We asked around if anyone had seen the inspector. Not surprisingly most people didn’t know what the hell we were talking about and were yelling at us to get out of the way. The few that did understand believed that the inspector had already left for the day.

We sent Kevin off to run around and see if he could track someone down with more info while we waited by the truck. Eventually he came back and confirmed our fears that the inspector had indeed left for the day. Great! We missed him sitting around waiting for this damn head of security guy.

Eventually we make our way back to the Seaboard Marine office to try to get some answers. They too confirmed the inspector had left for the day. They told us we could park our trucks in front of their office, they would be safe there. But told us we would need to go back to DIAN and register for yet another inspection.

Sunnuvab… Well nobody said this was going to be easy.

Back in the taxi, Back to DIAN, Back to the uninterested lady. We were registering for a new inspection when an english bloke overheard us talking. He came over and started chatting with us, we relayed him the whole story of the day and how we missed our inspection. Apparently the bloke imports cars into Colombia for a living and knows the entire process, all the inspectors, and every loop hole in the book. He took us over to the very inspector we were supposed to meet this morning. He explains the situation to the inspector who barely even glances up at him before dismissing us and returning to his paperwork. Apparently the bloke is used this guy piss-poor attitude and keeps pestering him to help us out and just sign off our paperwork without seeing the cars. Unfortunately, Inspector guy will not budge and brushes us off yet again.

Bloke takes us off to the side and gives us some inside info. He explains that all the inspector cares about is seeing a picture of the car, the license plate, and a few pictures of the VIN. According to bloke, he goes to the port himself, takes the pics, and brings his camera to the inspector. He said if we brought pictures of the trucks to the inspector today then we might have a chance of moving on with the process. Only problem he said is the inspector leaves for the day at 1. We looked at the clock. 12:15.

We thanked the bloke for his info as we dashed out the front door of the DIAN. We start running down the street trying to hail a cab as we make our way back to the port. Cab scoops us up and we tell him to hightail it to the port. That cab driver driver seemed up for the challenge as we hauled balls through the crazy streets of Cartagena making it to the port in record time.

We blew through security, ran to our cars, and started snapping millions of pictures of the VIN, the plates, all sides of the car, whatever this guy could possible want. GO GO GO! Clocks ticking!

Once we were satisfied with our pictures we ran back to the street, hailed another cab and made it back to DIAN by 12:45. IMPRESSIVE!

Camera in hand we run to the inspectors desk. He’s not there. Our hearts sink to the floor. Did we miss him??

We decide to take up residence at his desk hoping he would soon return. We noted that only in Latin America could a group of guys waltz into a government office and start hanging out at random desks.

After about 10 minutes he comes back, yells at us for sitting at his desk, and shuffles around some paperwork. We show him we have the pictures. He uninterestingly glances at only a single picture and decides its good enough. He starts filling out both of our inspection permits! We quietly sit there not wanting to piss the guy off anymore. Eventually he hands us some papers to sign and we are done. SUCCESS!!

With our official inspection clearance in hand we head back yet again to the port.

For those at home who are keeping track, this is our third visit of the day and our fifth cab ride of the day. Port security is starting to think we are insane as we check in yet again.

We line up in the main office, wait around for a while, show our clearance forms, pay our port fees, and receive an exit form that we have paid and are officially allowed to the leave the port. Or so we thought…

We excitedly jump in the trucks, head to the gate to leave, and are stopped. The gate-man is yelling something at me in Spanish. I can see sweet sweet freedom only a few feet away. I highly contemplate just running the gate and escaping this god-forsaken place. He tells me that I need one more inspection and to back up and wait.

Today’s word of the day is: WAIT

We back up the trucks and sit… and sit… eventually a young kid comes up with some paperwork that we sign and he runs off.

We wait… and wait… 45 minutes later we are having a serious conversation about just bum-rushing the gates and leaving. We even hatch a plan and send Kevin to retrieve our passports from security in case anything goes wrong.

We get cold-feet at the last minute and abort mission. Opting to just go to lunch instead of ending up in a Colombian prison.

When we return we find the kid waiting around our vehicles wondering where the hell we have been. HA! HOWS IT FEEL!?

He hands us our final inspection documents and with nothing more than a wave goodbye, we drive our vehicles out onto the roads of Colombia. We honk our horns in a battle cry of victory up and down the boulevard in front of the port.


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