The next day we drove some 313 km further north. The road is a mixture of 4 lanes and 2 lanes. It gave the impression that years ago the 4 lanes project was stopped and only recently restarted. This must have something to do with the relative peace Colombia is now enjoying after signing the peace deal with the FARC. You slowly go out of the mountainous area and come into the large valley of the Rio Magdalena. We stopped at a roadside restaurant/Hotel which had a swimming pool. Rudy desperately needed his cool down splash. For Jamaliah the 220V fan was rigged up to the 110 V supply. It did not blow hard but it made her night a bit more bearable.
Because we had the time we took the longer coastal road to Cartagena. That gave us the opportunity to visit the beach resort of Santa Marta. Here on the beach you saw the first sun worshipers (sitting in the shade). The beach looked ok but it is surrounded by cranes around the bay. Not too much is left of the old town (it was the first Spanish settlement in Colombia). However they had a lovely museum in an old colonial house which showed some of the gold jewellery worn by the leaders of the nearby the Tayrona tribe. This gold started the search for El Dorado. The gold work is different than the one we had seen in Peru. It is thicker and had more refined curls design on it. Of course there is also a section on Simon Bolivar. This was the house he died in when he went on his self proclaimed exile. He must have been frustrated that after all his liberation wars the countries he help create did not work out the way he had hoped.
We drove some 35 km further north east on the road to Venezuela and camped at a lovely campsite on a small river valley. It was very special. It would be our last camping in nature on this trip so we made the most of it like Rudy swimming in the shallow water stream.
On Thursday 7/3 we drove the final 261 km of our South America adventure to Cartagena. The road runs over a long land spit. It is full of trucks which have to wiggle themselves through the towns. I assume that this will be improved in due course. In fact Colombia is the first country we noticed which actually creates city bypasses. One problem is that they are not indicated, or the navigation system does not recognised them, so we still end up in the heavy city traffic. Also you feel the overpopulation everywhere along the route starting from north Peru. Villages are relatively large and there are many of them. The cities are extremely big with Lima (11.000.000) being one of the largest in the world.
In Cartagena, we initially settled into a nice hostel where we could park the camper on the premise and the room had an air-con. There we hooked up with Harry and Marleen. They are a Dutch couple who we visited in Holland and left also for their second leg a month before us. We have kept infrequent contact via whatsapps along the way. In the evening we had together a lovely end of trip celebration meal on one of the many plaza’s in town. The following day we drove to the shipping agent to sign the papers and pay the local handling fee. For this we had to make a separate trip to the bank in the middle of town, driving through all the narrow streets full of tourists/shoppers. It is an advantage that the camper is small. Cars mostly park where they want to, so we did the same in front of the bank. The traffic police was not happy but still let me wait for Jamaliah’s return. In the evening we strolled back into the old city and after admiring the sunset in the bay, wandered through the streets and had 2 different local street snacks from one of the many street venders along the way.
Saturday morning Rudy had to catch up with the camper convoy going to the harbour. Due to wrong coordinates he missed them at the shipping agents office by 10 min. The harbour is some 50 min away along the coast. Fortunately the roads through town were not as busy in the early morning. In the harbour the registration and checking of the campers is a slow manual process. We stood for hours next to our campers in the hot sun. Fortunately one of the “overlanders” had found a supply of cold water bags so we could keep ourselves hydrated. That we were with some 10 campers of course did not speed up the process. Most likely we all have to go back to the harbour on Tuesday when the customs/narcotics brigade checks the camper for drugs in your presence. You are not allowed to leave the country before they have cleared the camper.
After Rudy’s return we left the nice hostel for an AirBnb apartment on the 10th floor of a 30th floor apartment building close to the coast and not too far away from town. The apartment is OK but the first impressions of the neighbourhood was not so good. We will stay here 8 nights so hopefully we will find our way around.