Shipping - Part 1

March 26th, 2018

Other than many blog readers might expect, it is not possible to travel by car from Panama directly to Colombia. Because the DariƩn Gap is in between. It is a disruption of the Pan American highway between Yaviza, Panama and the Colombian border. There are dense jungles, large swamps and mountainous rainforests. Without Machete, a lot of time and a rubber dinghy there is no way around a shipment. Overlanders often ship their vehicle from Colon (Panama) to Cartagena (Colombia) by cargo ship. This is probably not an everyday matter for all travellers.
There are several options to transport your vehicle by cargo ship. In most cases, the choice is between RoRo (roll on, roll off) or a container. The safest way is to rent a 40 foot container and then share it with another traveller. In this way, the costs can be halved. Shipping costs for one container are approximately USD 1050 per party.

But we met a couple in El Salvador who wanted to ship their vehicle to Colombia at the same time as we did. To make it simple, we teamed up with them. However, your vehicle is much too high for a container, which is why we are now shipping our van on a flatrack. This variant is considerably more expensive overall and also offers slightly less security than a container, since the flatrack is open on both sides and the vehicles have to be driven onto the rack by the port staff. According to reports of experience, there are also supposed to be some thieves among the dock workers. Everything that is not nailed down or has a certain value but cannot be completed had to be removed from the vehicle. We were able to agree with the French that we would not have to pay much more than a container shipment would cost us. And since they agreed to take over the organization, this was a good solution for us.

Due to the rather complex shipping process and our unfortunately still insufficient knowledge of Spanish, we soon looked for an agent who would support us throughout the entire process. In all the forums and websites known to us the same name is always circulating. Boris. And that's the name of our agent Boris. Admittedly: at the beginning we were a little uncertain how professionally the whole thing would finally work out. The Whatsapp chat with him was full of errors, ambiguities and unanswered questions. But as we all know, hope is the last to die.

On Saturday, March 10th we arrived in Panama City after an incredibly long and exhausting drive with an outside temperature well above 30 degrees (without AC but with open windows). But it was impossible to think of resting for the time being. Marc had to go to the hospital Pacific Salud in the emergency room. He is still suffering from the consequences of the severe food poisoning we contracted in Mexico. As we had already suspected.
a specialist. I.e. wait until Monday morning and hope to get an appointment within the next four days.

On Sunday we prepared the van for shipment. Actually, Douglas should also receive a well-deserved cleaning. Although we had made an appointment for the car wash just around the corner, the employee in charge wanted to go home earlier. So we had no choice but to postpone the washing date - clearly annoyed - until Monday.

On Monday morning the vehicle inspection at the local police (DIJ) was due. At 5.30 Mathias already had to get up and go to the DIJ. His mood was at an all-time low. Because he had found out the night before that it doesn't really make a difference whether you show up first or 20th, but our agent had instructed us to be there at 6 a.m. and we did it all Swiss. When we arrived at the DIJ, we first had to draw a ticket and wait for the officials. Because they only start their working day at 8 o'clock. At 9 o'clock the whole spit was already over. At 2 pm the same day we were able to pick up the official document from the police. After copying the Temporary Importation Permit (TIP), DIJ inspection document, vehicle title, insurance certificate and our passport five times, we were ready for Colon.

Thankfully, Marc got another appointment with the specialist for the late evening. This was not so easy, because on Tuesday we had to take the van to Colon and on Thursday morning we already flew to Bogota (Colombia). Once more we drove across the city. Panama City has so much traffic that you can hardly get ahead (2.5km in rush hour traffic = 45min driving or standing time). And horns are sounding everywhere. It is not unusual for three cars to drive side by side on two lanes. This calls for chief's watchful eye. After the consultation it was clear - we have another appointment: Wednesday morning 6.30 a.m. - Endoscopy.

We spent the night from Monday to Tuesday with the French in the parking lot of a hostel near the motorway, so that we could drive together to Colon on Tuesday morning. Once more we had to get up at 6am. As soon as we got up, the bad news arrived. There was unrest, demonstrations and looting in Colon. Corresponding live recordings were shown on TV. Great! So it was said: let's get going and hope that there will still be enough time. Shortly before the harbour area we met Boris for the first time. With him we drove to a huge cargo area, where all the containers are handled and transport documents are issued. Because of the riots in Colon, heavily armed police were everywhere. But for us it was primarily a matter of waiting until the customs officials came to work. However, because of the riots in Colon, the person responsible for us had not shown up. Hustle broke out. Good thing we had an agent with us who knew the people personally. Respect his father, who is also called Boris. As soon as this had been clarified, the next problem appeared. On our TIP only the name of Mathias was listed. In the document for the port of Cartagena, however, the name of Marc was noted. And again it looked bad for us. But Boris pulled out all the stops. The customs officer phoned - completely dissolved (only played) - with the border customs where we got the document issued on entering Panama and asked him to reissue the TIP. Shortly after noon we received the new papers and could finally go to the port, where the documents were checked one last time and the vehicle was searched intensively together with the tracking dog and finally handed over to the port employees. Our way then led back to the office of Boris, where we still had to pay the amount due. We did it!

However, due to the riots in Colon, all bus lines to Panama City had been cancelled. Since Marc definitely had to be back in Panama City on Wednesday morning for his hospital appointment, we simply had no choice but to take a taxi back to Panama City. Father Boris kindly supported us in catching a "serious" taxi driver. Which was not so easy. Because of the unusual bus lines, the taxi prices have also risen immeasurably (supply and demand).
But thanks to a lot of patience and flexibility we made it back to Panama City and flew to Bogota on Thursday morning as planned, where we will now spend some days before we travel to Cartagena on Monday to receive our beloved van.