Aside from a brief layover in Bogota, Cartagena was our first South American city to visit. Before arriving, we didn’t have big expectations for this city and planned our visit solely to retrieve our truck at the port, but we were shocked by the sheer beauty of this beautiful Colonial city.
Cartagena’s modern roots go back to the early 1500’s when it was settled and developed by the Spanish on top of the remnants of an indigenous community. A large wall surrounds most of the old city designed and built to protect it against invaders. The charm of the old city lies in the colonial style buildings and the extremely narrow streets between them. We walked there streets for a few hours but the heat zapped the energy right out of us and forced us to retreat to a cafe for iced coffee before heading back to our apartment for a siesta.
Since we would be in Cartagena for five days, we sought out an Air BNB apartment to remain a little more comfortable during our stay and allow us to cook to save money. It was not a luxurious apartment, but was newly remodeled, had A/C, TV, fast Wifi, and a relatively well stocked kitchen. We drooled over having running water to do dishes having been without running water for more than six months. It was a treat, not to mention easy on the budget.
For most of our meals, we cooked for ourselves and ate at the apartment but we had to enjoy the restaurants too. We enjoyed a nice meal on the beach one evening and pizza at the Santo Domingo square the next.It was enjoyable people watching at both places.
Just around the corner from our Air BNB was a hair salon where Laughlin was able to get her hair trimmed and colored natural. She had been talking about it often since we were approaching Colombia, so we decided it was important to have a new look for a new continent! The stylists working were fun to watch as they were quite animated while watching telenovelas on TV. As street vendors walked by the front door, they almost always poked their heads out to visit. At one point, they bought everybody in the salon a maiz con leche drink which was interesting and very good. It was fun to “mingle” for a couple hours and Lauglhin’s hair turned out great so that’s all that matters!
Following the hair stylist, our afternoon was spoiled as we began walking back to our Air BNB. Not more than 30 seconds after leaving the salon and while we were deep in conversation, I saw Laughlin get jerked back and when I looked down, there was a man with both hands on Laughlin’s purse pulling as hard as he could. My reflexes kicked in and grabbed it out of his hands and shouted as loud as I could aggressively walking towards him. He retreated immediately and we later thought that he probably thought we would simply give up. At a slow pace, he made his way across the busy street where he hopped on the back of a motorcycle and zoomed away. As we discussed the event, we agreed that I easily could have caught the guy but then we would have had to hold him until the police got there or perhaps he could have a knife or other weapon. Also, it all happened so fast, we weren’t sure if there was just one guy or two, so it was better to keep together while it all unfolded. It was surprising to us as this all happened in broad daylight with many people around. Nobody was hurt, nothing was stolen but it was another reminder that we stick out and are targets in Latin America. It saddens us that this is the third bad event to take place since leaving the US, but we will continue to travel and wont let it spoil the trip!
From Cartagena, we began driving towards Barranquilla, the birthplace of Shakira and the location of Iguana 4×4. When we had our locks replaced in Managua, Oliver did a thorough inspection of our truck and noted that a bushing in our track bar was beginning to crack and should be replaced at some point in the near future. A couple weeks later, I noticed a boot on a tie rod was torn which needed addressed, too. Our rear brakes had been squeaking since we had our axle seal replaced in Manzanillo, Mexico and our exhaust tailpipe had been loose since Baja, so it was time to get everything ready for our South American adventure. I contacted Hernando at Iguana 4×4 through Facebook who told me that we could get in without a problem. We discovered that Hernando went to Wyotech from 2004-2005, so it is likely we were in Laramie at the same time. Once again, it’s a small world. Karl also joined us to Barranquilla as his transmission was damaged in Canada and recently his third gear quit working. Unfortunately, he needed a new transmission shipped from Germany which would take nearly three weeks from the date we arrived. We appreciated the ability to camp in our truck at the shop where there were toilets, showers, Wifi, some awesome Land Cruisers, a Defender, a Patrol and a Unimog with a lot of work ahead of it. Iguana 4×4 is the new Holiday Inn for overlanders!
While in Barranquilla, we learned that there are very few storm drains in the city due to lack of planning so when it rains, the water becomes a raging river through the streets. We witnessed one of these as we went out to lunch with Hernando and were happy we were driving around in a nice, tall Land Cruiser.
Between Cartagena and Barranquilla, we stopped into a free beach where we met a very cute stray dog that followed Karl and us around everywhere. We teased back and forth with “your dog is over here” sort of jokes. Well, we left the beach and everyone had heavy hearts for leaving “Lizzy.” Jumping ahead a couple of weeks, we received an email from Karl with a photo of Lizzy indicating that she is now an overlander too! How exciting for Karl and Lizzy, named so due to her royal resemblance.
And the photo from Karl with her new collar:
We left Barranquilla once our truck was finished which also meant we had to bid farewell to Karl. It was sad to leave and we wished our travels could continue together for more time but we hope to be able to meet later in South America or visit him again in the future. We cherish our friendship with him and are happy to have so many great memories together.
It was noon when we left which meant we wouldn’t make it too far so we decided to drive towards Santa Marta for the evening to set ourselves up for a good drive over the next two days. The entire way out of Barranquilla, throughout Santa Marta and even in the small village of Minca, we were barraged with incredible traffic making for an exhausting day. Once we emerged from traffic jam in Minca, two police officers with nothing better to do each checked our vehicle paperwork and were pushing us to keep driving through town while another man told us there was a place to camp just around the corner. We ignored the police and continued “loitering” for a few more minutes before maneuvering into the parking area. We slept well for the first time in Colombia with a rushing stream just down the hill from our truck and an overnight low of 74 which we hadn’t experienced for several weeks.
This is what 75 feels like when it’s been 80+ for months:
Unless you have a beard…
Also, Laughlin bought me a frozen yogurt as I was sick with a cold for the third time in six months. Ugh… ridiculous!
Without wasting time in Minca, we packed up the Alaskan and began our drive straight south. The majority of our drive was relatively flat and we noticed by driving and looking at the map that a massive section of north central Colombia is a mix between marshland and lakes. The terrain was mostly flat but to the east right on the Venezuela border was a grand mountain range that followed us on our journey to the south. The dense jungle, banana and palm farms and flowing water followed us for many hours until we began gaining elevation and the mountains grew taller. From this point forward, we would be in the mountain region of Colombia and our excitement grew steadily.
In our next blog post, we will share our experience exploring the majestic mountains, quaint pueblos and a few other oddities we stumble into along the way!