Wednesday, 26 May 2010

The Curious Incident of the Landcruiser in the ISO Container

N.B. The following broadcast is sans-photos since we have no laptop at the moment via which to download them etc. This is because it is in our car, and we don't have our car, but more on that later.

We left Medellin (a little late after realising we'd left the locking wheel-nut key at a mechanic's) and headed north to the port town of Cartegena. Declared the jewel of South America by someone, possibly the Lonely Planet writter who labels everywhere in need of a good old spring clean as Bohemian, Cartegena is certainly in the top 100 or so cities we've visted so far. Without doubt the old town is pretty. It's also pretty small. The locals are outgoing and chatty though the conversations follow a similar form:
Cartegenian (in annoying Colombian/American accent whilst following one down the street): "Hey, my friend, my friend, where you from, my friend, you, hey, where you from? Hey! America?"
Us (Speaking correctly and continuing to walk): "No, England."
C: "Hey, England, I've spent much time in England."
U: "Oh, where?"
C: "London, Manchester United."
U: "Good."
C: "Hey my friend. You want sunglasses/necklace/giant-inflatable-frog/spatula/weed/cocaine (delete as applicable)?"
U: "No thanks."
C: "Hey my friend. I give you good price. Hey my friend. My friend. Best price."
U: "No thanks."
C: "Hey my friend. England. Manchester United. Good Price. Weed. 100% Best quality."
U: "No thanks. Go away."
C: "Hey my friend. My friend, man. You want party tonight? Manchester United......."
....You get the idea.

Cartegena not only provided a great venue for such rich discourse but also a home for us for a week as we serviced the car and arranged for its shipping beyond the Darien Gap. If you are unfamiliar with said gap, google it (I understand it as something like the Watford Gap but with no road and more guerilla forces including some chaps from FART or some such organisation). Originally our plan had been to send the car to Panama and then carry on up through Central America. Unfortunately Costa Rica (and possibly Nicaragua) does not like right-hand drive cars like ours and told us we wouldn't be allowed through. They brought this new law in a month ago and no-one we'd previously asked, including the RAC and various Latin and North American motoring clubs, was aware of it. We looked at many options including risking it and having a contigency plan in case we got stuck. In the end, since we would have to go through Costa Rica, the fact there are limited border-crossing points at which to try our luck, and the time and money costs associated with any contigency plans, we decided to stick it in an ISO container and ship it to Mexico, the furthest south we could ship beyond Costa Rica, before chasing it overland. We have since that day been travelling through Central America on something known as 'public transport'.

We flew to Panama City and then got a coach through Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and finally Mexico. We barely stopped en route; we had little time and we wanted to spend a decent amount of that time in one country rather than the odd day or two looking around the various towns the bus stopped in. We chose Guatemala and had a fun few days visiting Mayan ruins, sweating, showing the Guatemalans how to put 'style' into freestyle diving, sweating some more, paddling dugout canoes around jungle rivers and trying to cook sausages on a volcano whilst... sweating. We'll save the details of those exploits until we can add the pictures.

So we now find ourselves in Oaxaca, Mexico (pronounced slowly: Wha-haa-kah, Mere-hee-co). We're trying to make the most of the time before the ship arrives with its precious cargo, whilst at the same time sending increasingly terse emails between us and our shipping agent regarding classic Latin American hidden/unmentioned costs. We fear there may be a Mexican stand-off at the port. Or rather just a 'stand-off'; we think they drop the 'Mexican' here.

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