Janet and I started Tuesday, the day after the public holiday and now 4 days since we had arrived in Cartagena, at the shipping agent with Janet, and as we arrived at the Agent’s office at 9 am Ravi arrived direct from the airport in a taxi, so we went in together. Then we sat there. And sat there. And sat there. Apparently we were waiting for our Bill of Lading, but at noon lunch time (2 hours here), we still had nothing. This was really frustrating because they should have had this already. Then they told us just before lunch time that we had to pay some bills before we could get our BoL, and that these bills (like $1500 or more for shipping) had to be paid in cash, not via direct bank transfer as we normally do for shipping bills. Really frustrating since we could have been paying these bills at 9 am !! And of course, by the time they told us at noon, the bank was shut till 2 pm !!
So during lunch time, I taxied back to our hotel to get some moolah – Nice crisp US $’s so I could pay the bank. Got back to the bank soon after 2 pm, and they then advised me I had to pay in local Columbian Pesos, and they would not accept dollars. And nor could they change US $’s, despite them being a bank (??). So I had to find a Cambio – money changer – and the only ones I knew were back in the old city – Yup, back near the hotel. So yet another taxi ride back to town, found a cambio, got my pesos (hey, over 3 million !! I was a cash millionaire for a couple of hours !!), then another taxi ride back to the bank. I might add that in the street outside the bank the sewers were over flowing, and as I was on foot it was a delicate operation to get to and from the bank each time !
By the time I got back to the bank it was 4 pm – and yes, you guessed it, the bank closed at 4 pm !! But the good news was that for some reason it opened again at 5 pm for another hour or two, so I waited ! And finally paid my bill !! Went the 200 yards back to the Agent, Naves, and they then gave me the Bill of Lading – But of course now everything else was shut and we could do no more.
I forgot to mention that the agent also told us in the morning that we needed liability insurance to go to the port to collect our car, and she told us we could get it just up the road at a local insurance company. So Ravi and I walked there, and after an hour found that they didn’t do this type of insurance, and we had to go all the way downtown to the Bank of Bogota to do this. This was another taxi ride in the heat of the day – Before we found out we needed cash to pay the shipping bills ! I should add here that we later found out from Peter our Peruvian friend that you ONLY needed this liability insurance if you did not have
an existing personal liability insurance, and of course we do have this !! But of course no one tells you this – They just say you have to “Go here, pay this amount, and get this insurance” !!! Grrrr. So anyway, at the end of the day, all we had achieved was to pay our shipping bill, and finally receive our BoL, which we COULD have done in an hour if we had not been in Columbia and we had been advised by our agent of the correct order in which to do things. Two other friends who used a different agent WERE advised correctly, and got their bills paid, received their BoL, and also had time in the day to go down to Sociedad Portuaria, meet with Andrea, and get registered in the system. In fact, even Ravi who got ahead of me because he had pesos to pay his bill, managed to get a step ahead of me !
Anyway, had a meal at Plaza Trinidad with Ravi and went to bed early so I could get up and be back on the trail by 7 am ! Which I duly was, while Janet went off on a tour of Cartagena. Ravi and I then started going backwards and forwards between Sociedad Portuaria and DIAN (customs) which are a good 15 minute walk apart, and the whole process is supposedly computerised. But what this means here is that they register you on the system in one department, and then sit there and wait for 2/3/sometime 4 hours while someone in the next department finally clicks “OK, I have seen you”, and then you can go to the next step, where it all then starts again. Luckily for us by this time we had “caught up” with Mauro from Brazil and Peter from Peru who had the other shipping agent (they got held up somewhere in the system), and although Ravi speaks a lot better Spanish than I do, without Peter and his Spanish we would have been totally lost. And each place you go to you need to get a pass to get in (first finding the place where the passes are issued !), and then try and find the person who you are supposed to deal with ! The (almost) final step of the car-retrieval process is to have an inspection of your car done by DIAN in the port, and to do this you have to make an appointment, and inspections are only done at 6 am and 2 pm – And to get a 2 pm booking you have to apply before 10.30 am !! On our second day we had managed to book our inspection for 2 pm in the afternoon, but we still had more steps to do after the inspection so as long as the inspection was quick, we would be able to complete all the steps. In the morning we did get to see our cars though, and at least now knew they had arrived safely !
So after a quick lunch we made sure we were at Contecar, the port where our vehicles were, by 1.30 pm, nice and early for our 2 pm appointment. We then waited, mostly in the heat, until 5.15 pm before the Inspector rolled up for our 2 pm appointment. And the inspection itself took about 2 minutes – All he did was check the VIN number, look inside, and say “OK”. And of course this meant we could not get the final steps done to get our cars released, nor could we get to the bank for the insurance because it also closed at 5 pm !! Not an apology, not a murmur from the Inspector – We later found out he is ALWAYS late like this !! If had not been for the fact that the four of us were together, and that we had Spanish speaking Peter with us, I think we would all have gone bananas, the process is just so disorganized and bureaucratic. But we managed to laugh a lot, and tell tales of our varying trips so far, and this helped us through. All this time dealing with issues like this makes for great friendships !!
By then our French friends Greg and Estelle had arrived and were starting the process for their motorhome a day behind us, so we were able to give them instructions ! We all met for dinner in the old city, but Mauro and Giovanna and the kids had a tummy bug, so it was just Greg, Estelle, Peter, Ravi, Janet and I who ate in an old local pizza place in the old city. Then again to bed early for yet another 7 am start at Sociedad Portuaria.
Ravi and I set off again in a taxi, while Janet continued exploring Cartagena on an open topped bus which she had been on yesterday afternoon, and as the ticket was valid for 24 hours, she could keep going on the same ticket !!
First stop for Ravi and I was with Andrea at Sociedad Portuaria, and we thought this was going to be about a 30 minute job so we could then get downtown to arrange compulsory Columbian Insurance for the car, called SOAT, and pick up our cars. But we sat in with Andrea all morning – with bits of paper coming out of her computer at maybe hourly intervals, which required on to go upstairs to “the 3rd window from the left”, wait for something to appear on his screen, then pay some money, or get a stamp on your piece of paper, then take that back down to Andrea who would then log into the computer that you had completed that step, then we would wait again. By this time Mauro and Peter had caught up with us again, and we were all waiting for the same piece of paper so we could get back to Contecar to pick up our cars. We had imagined that we would have our cars and be on our way south before lunch time, so we had all checked out of our hotels etc. We finally got the papers just before lunch, but this meant no time to go to get our SOAT insurance, so went off to Contecar to get our cars. This meant MORE waiting, until finally we were let through the gates – A drama in itself since we had to leave our back packs (ie papers, passport etc, and for Ravi all his luggage) at the gate in a very insecure area. Ravi asked to take his helmet through so he could ride his bike out legally, and they refused, saying he should wear a hard hat instead ! This just about summed up the whole process – Bleeding stupid !!! We went into the port roaring with laughter. Finally got the cars after more people examining paperwork, and then coming out of the gates, the idiot on the gate (who had made Ravi wear a hard hat on his bike), wanted to inspect the contents of our vehicles !! We had just spent 3 days having our vehicles inspected by customs, and doing all the paperwork and he wants to inspect our vehicles again in the heat of the sun ?? Needless to say, he never got to inspect them, and we drove out into the car park so we could all repack our cars to get them into drivable mode with all our gear, and get out of there.
We all followed Peter back into town, stopping at a Gas station to see if we could arrange our insurance there – You can, but a) they were closed for lunch (now after noon), and b) they would only do it for a year – and we only needed a month or less. So we all went into town, parked our vehicles in various places (secure parking not an easy operation in Cartagena), and met up at the bank to arrange our insurance. That done, we, and Mauro and his family, both managed to get one more night in our hotels, while Peter and Ravi headed out to try and get a couple of hours up the road.
What a palaver – And I haven’t even given you the detail of what we went through !! I will leave it to your imagination. What really does surprise me is that this process is not documented in more detail on the internet, or even better, by the shipping agents. It just seems as though everyone who does this process has to go through the same rubbish – Thank goodness we had Peter and his Spanish !!
Anyway, finally we get out cars out of the port . Three long and very tiring days, but we did it.