Aug 03 2008

179 Days – From Colombia to México

Published by at 9:42 pm under xAmerica

I like the smell that morning brings, I like the first sip of coffee, to feel when the sun shines through my window and fills my sights with a beautiful sunrise… nice Colombian vallenato that makes me feel that country every time I hear it, and my mind is filled with memories.

Cartagena, Colombia, the South American odyssey to send the car back to Central America, to Panama to be precise. The Pan-American Highway that covers the entire continent from Alaska to the Patagonia is only interrupted in one part of America, between Colombia and Panama; between these two countries there are no highways and there haven’t been, and because of that the only way to cross to the other sub-continent is by using some sort of maritime transportation.

Monday morning and I reach Cartagena de Indias again, a very nice city, with the old walled (F) quarter and built by the same architect who designed the old Panama city. Beaches, modern buildings on the other side (F), the Colombian city with most tourist attractions and maybe the most expensive one. Besides the beautiful architectures there were also long procedures waiting for me to export the car; first I needed to find a shipping company who had a boat that was leaving soon to the north, then I had to make all the customs procedures which were simple really but overwhelming: 3 days to obtain all the paperwork, the anti-narcotics revisions and the customs ones. All in all I stayed 2 weeks in Cartagena, one of those only waiting and the other one in said procedures.

Colombia fills my senses and always amazes me, from trees that fall on the road causing nice surprises to friends that will stay with me forever (F). Upon my arrival an angel gave me company, gave me hope, strength, dreams and desire to continue north. Now I hope this angel can stay with me to end, whispering words of support to my ear.

The surprises continued and they made the procedures easier to swallow. Paolo, Luisa, Juan Pablo, and Juliana welcomed me and included me among their friends in Cartagena (F), always with an invitation for me, either for an activity, dinner or simply to enjoy a cold beer. Paolo, “Chilean” with the soul of a jipié (F), and his Colombian wife Luisa (F), with the will of a leader, Juan Pablo (F) from Cali with an adventurous spirit and maybe a future travel companion and Juliana from Cartagena (F) with always a smile on her face and injecting joy to the group of friends; warm, kind, always willing to help. Nights in Santo Domingo  (F) Square, jazz concerts and beers in the park  (F), just like in Sonora, as simple as finding a place to park the car, turn on the music and drink among friends talking about our lives and passions.

Weekend with the new friends and it is time to cook (F). Something Mexican that surprises their senses, what could it be? Of course it has to be spicy so they feel the taste of Mexico! Salmon with spinach and habanero cream, quesadillas, guacamole and steak (F). A few red faces because the chile is not part of their everyday menu, other amazed with the guacamole and the delicious quesadillas that are so easy to make. We end the day in the newlyweds’ apartment pool, those being Luisa and Paolo (F).  

Wednesday of the second week in Cartagena, at last, all the paperwork for the car is ready and all set to travel without me through the Caribbean seas to Panama. The car would reach the port of Manzanillo on Saturday, but it would leave the dock until Monday, so on Thursday when I was sure that the car was on its way, I spend the night in Paolo and Luisa’s house and wait for Friday morning to take the flight. After traveling for so long and being always in different places every day, without course, without bearings, for a moment one forgets the calm that comes with visiting a common place, and this is what I felt in Colombia: a familiar place and something that my mind recognizes after so many kilometers on the road causing me a sad and beautiful nostalgia while I fly back to Panama to reunite with my travel and adventure companion.

Friday morning and in one hour I am in a different place, I am in Central America again (F), and now what? Procedures to take out the car! I do what I can to have everything ready for Monday and everything turns out to be easy because the people knew me from when I was going south. Evelyn from the shipping company who always made more than she had to in order to help and the very kind Mrs. Aleida from Panama Customs helped so that the procedures only took a couple of hours. I look for a cheap hotel to spend the weekend walking around the center of the city when the rain comes again. It didn’t abandon me since Northeast Brazil, and since then it was part of my everyday life. Soaking wet I find a hotel for a good price that had parking space, necessary for that day when I would receive the car, although when I asked at the front desk if they had parking space I caused a couple of smiles in the employees who saw me arriving on foot and looking like a bum.

Aleida, who hasn’t stopped worrying about the trip and always writes on the website, receives me with her family and they include me as another member. She recommends me with her daughter’s husband, Melquíades, on Saturday morning so that he can show me the city; he turned out to be a real connoisseur of the Panamanian history and he explained me the country in detail and made me understand it and see it with a bigger emotion, aaah and at last I know who Morgan the Pirate was, I only knew the Mexican wrestler and my friend Ricardo; it turns out this pirate burned the city in the XV century so that he could steal the gold. The city was completely destroyed and had to be rebuilt to almost identical what it was before in what is now the old Panama quarter (F).

I accompany Mel on his work day Saturday, and while he worked he told me about history, about how good his work on the street is, and he showed me every place in detail. At night at his mother in law’s house there was a meal being prepared for the traveler: patacón, sautéed meat and chicken (F), and there I had the privilege of meeting Mrs. Aleida’s family, her sons and grandsons; by the way her son Aurelio, who is a colleague of mine, had tires the same size as my car, and I was incredibly happy to hear that he would give me one, since I am traveling without a spare tire from Patagonia in Argentina because I couldn’t find one in size “R18” and here by chance there were 3 at my disposal, but I only needed one. Great dinner, nice talk and the affection that the family showed me without knowing me that well, without knowing who I was, compensated the weariness I was feeling.

Everyone I have been fortunate to meet during this trip, they all commonly make my day and they make me feel both nostalgia and happiness. They have made possible for this trip to still have a story to tell, they may not know me but they help me in every way possible, they motivate me, cheer me and make me discover other facets, thanks to each and every one of you.

Another goodbye, now from this great Panamanian family, a goodbye with tears and words I still remember, I know that now I am not a traveler for them, but another member of the family (F).

Central America awaits, with the car again with me after missing us for 4 days we are ready to cross it with my angel by my side. The adventure to see Mexican territory begins. Costa Rica and its beaches Manuel Antonio and El Tamarindo(F) (F) see us pass again, the old city of Granada Nicaragua, although Honduras takes only about 130 km. to cross it, the car procedure is the most expensive, 40 dollars plus the tourist fare. In El Salvador, even though it is not recommended to travel through it by night, I do it because of the impatience of reaching Aztec territory soon; no delays, and a surprise with the good state of the roads and the free highway around the capital. Guatemala is the last temporary importation procedure of the car, at last, no more paperwork, from now on I can enter freely to the remaining countries, but since goodbyes have to be good ones, when I reach the border Saturday night I’m told that I can’t enter with the car because the bank is closed and the customs office doesn’t receive payments, and this time no words and no experience asking for favors were effective to convince the customs officer to accept the payment, leaving me no option but to wait. The tent goes up between Guatemala and El Salvador to spend the night. Old Guatemala (F) this beautiful colonial city says goodbye with lots of rain and good moments.

Mexico before my eyes, and although my eyes are tired because I once again reached the border at night, they magically open wide just by thinking that my country awaits after almost six months; tacos, tortas, tostadas, tamales and gorditas appear in my mind. At midnight in the customs office they receive me in the same place where I left, with a seal dated on July 22nd of 2008 I enter into Mexico again and I stop being a foreigner to turn into a Mexican again, with the same car, less weight, 50,000 kilometers on the road but with lots of good memories, love and close friendships.

Goodbye, and until next time when America allows us to meet again.

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