Tuesday, January 26, 2016


I arrived in Cartagena knowing I'd probably be spending a while there - I had all the paperwork to do, and I had to get some parts and repairs to get the bike back in shape after the accident. So before I got a chance to enjoy the city much, I spent a few days taking care of business.

After getting to my hostel the first night, I set up and then went out to walk around the town. I'd gotten in somewhat late, but it was a Sunday night and Monday was a holiday, so there was still quite a bit going on. I ended up not getting much farther than a few blocks from my hostel, but still found some good mojitos at a nearby bar, a cigar shop where I picked up a medium-level cigar, and a tiny little bar so full of people dancing salsa that they were literally dancing in the streets in front of the people who had lined up chairs on the curb. Now, I really felt like I was seeing what everyone said Colombia could be.

The square just down the street from my hostel.
The next day was spent in the hostel on the computer looking up motorcycle shops. I had put out a few feelers on message boards for places to go, and most of what I heard was that there was an area with a bunch of shops all close together, and just go there. I tried calling a few of them, but I already struggle with Spanish over the phone (no gestures, facial expressions, or lips to read), so I gave up on that pretty quickly. I got some copies made of documents and prepared for a day of paperwork the following day.

That evening my hostel was having free salsa lessons, so I gave it a shot. I had some vague ideas of what a salsa step looked like, so after some correction from the teacher I was actually doing (I think) okay with it. The teacher was phenomenal - the partner I was dancing with was also new, but the teacher could come in and dance the girl's part with me, and the guy's part with my partner, and suddenly we were both good enough to do it together. I could definitely use a few more lessons, but I finally feel like I'm starting to get salsa dancing a little bit.

I did head out again to the streets of Cartagena, but it was much quieter than the night before, so I didn't stay out nearly as late. Probably a good choice, considering how early I had to get up as well.

In the morning I walked over to where Mitch and Julien were staying, and we shared a cab over to the offices by the port. We had instructions to start at a particular office, but Julien wanted to meet somewhere else since he'd told the people he was sharing a container with that they'd meet "at the entrance to the port," despite Mitch and I trying to convince him that they'd probably go to the first office. So Mitch and I dropped him off there and went to the first office where we needed to start our paperwork... where we ran into Julien's container-mates, who were just as flabbergasted as us that Julien went to the other place.

It didn't take too long for him to show up though, and as a group of about ten people, we all started our paperwork for the three containers that we were sharing. Mitch and I were in a container with two American couples who had some cars they were taking down south as well, but they were late arriving in the morning and had only responded to a single email so far. Rather than waiting around for who knows how long, Mitch and I started the process, knowing that at some point we'd probably have to wait for them since we all had to be together for part of it.

After the first office, we headed to another one, and then walked over to another office, did some paperwork, walked back to the first... well, you get the point. A lot of walking and sitting and waiting, though thankfully mostly in air-conditioning. We had a few people who we could recognize at this point who were guiding us through the process, and they would occasionally come out into the waiting room, hand us a piece of paper or request one from us, and then disappear for an hour and a half. Thankfully I had my phone and some books on it, so I could stay somewhat occupied reading Michener's "Hawaii," a book long enough to last through this whole process and more.

Julien conspicuously displaying his security tag.
Around 4:00 we discovered we wouldn't be able to finish everything that day and would have to come back in the morning, so we all went our separate ways. Some of the group had to go pick up insurance, because apparently in order to enter the working area of the port you need to be able to prove you have accidental death and dismemberment insurance; I'm not too reassured by places that require that, but my travel insurance covers it so I didn't need to purchase extra like some did.

I still hadn't found a good place to drop the bike, so I caught a cab over to "bike repair alley" that I'd heard about and started asking around at places. At some, as soon as I said "Kawasaki" they said they couldn't help. At others, it took until I said "key cylinder." But after going to five or six, I finally decided to go out to the Kawasaki dealership I'd seen on the map, way out at the edge of the Boca Grande peninsula. It was a long cab ride through a bunch of traffic, mostly caused by vacationers in the big hotels out there, and I was already tired out from a day of paperwork and the heat. I arrived only to have the guy at the dealership give me a card with the name and address of a repair shop which, when I looked up the address, was one street over from where I'd just been talking to the shops.

I decided it wasn't worth going tonight and I could shoot off an email to him, and instead of hopping right back in a cab, decided to walk down the beach for a ways. I got some good food, enjoyed the views, and tried to relax my mind a bit - I was still quite anxious about everything since I didn't have the bike and I wasn't 100% sure about the shop. Finally after an hour or two I headed back to my hostel as the sun started to set.

Saw this statue in front of a business park on the way down the beach.
Tired from the stress of the day, I headed back to the hostel. I mostly avoided the "game night" my hostel was having, but got roped into a beer chugging contest - with baby bottles. As an ultimate frisbee player, I obviously won, but it was pretty close.

It's actually really hard to drink it fast. It ends up being a rather slow competition and all of us ended with quite a bit of un-drinkable foam in the bottom of the bottle.
Back to the offices the next day for paperwork, we arrived and got started right away on our paperwork. We were actually making some progress, and pretty early in the morning we got some hard hats and reflective vests and were told to head into the shipping area to start getting everything out of the containers.

Getting badges with different security clearance to go into the container area.

I got a broken helmet.
Finally, it was time to open everything up. The dock workers opened up the doors to the container, and there they were. We got Mitch's bike out, and then mine - though my kickstand had gotten bent all to hell from how they'd strapped down the bike.

Opening it up.

There they are.

Not supposed to bend that way.
Of course, I couldn't turn my bike on - I'd turned off the ignition, and with the key broken off inside, I didn't have any leverage to turn it back on. But I got out a flat-head screwdriver and started fiddling with it, and sure enough after about five minutes of trying different techniques - tapping, putting the screwdriver at an angle, etc. - I finally got it to turn on, and was able to start the bike up. One less worry for me.

Pulling one of the cars out.

There he is, all ready to go... sort of.

We got the other cars out of the container and moved everything over by one of the buildings for inspections, and had the inspections taken care of as well, all before 11am. unfortunately lunch kicks in around 11:30, so things slowed to a stop little by little, and we were told to wait until 1:00 for people to come back.

So we waited. And 1:00 came and went, and we waited more, and I made more progress on my book. By 4:00 I was wondering if we were going to have to come back for a third day, but then we got called to a different office for some finalizing paperwork. When we got inside, we discovered that we were still delayed - their printer wasn't working. We sat in that office for a good 40 minutes waiting for someone to show up and fix the printer, and then finally got our last bits of paperwork done. Of course, because I thought we were almost done at 11:00 I hadn't disconnected the battery or turned off the key (and I was thinking since the headlights were broken it shouldn't be sucking up that much power anyway), so my battery was dead.

Waiting for the printer to get fixed.
A quick jump from one of the cars, and I was ready to go again. Mitch and I pulled out to the exit gate, had them check our paperwork, and then (finally!) rode out of the port. Mitch and I headed for the Kawasaki shop, both so I had someone to ride with and because he had a few things he wanted done on his bike. After dropping mine in their garage and waiting for Mitch for a bit, I asked where I could get a haircut. One of the younger guys at the shop said a few things (again, incomprehensible Colombian Spanish) and then told me to get my helmet. I wasn't sure why I needed that, but when I came back with it, he had his small bike ready to go and was on it, and gestured for me to get on.

Dropped at the shop.
I realized as I got onto the back of his bike, that in close to 75,000 miles of riding, I'd never actually been on the back of a motorcycle once in my entire life. I've probably taken 60 or more people on rides on the back of mine (mostly couchsurfers), but this was my first time seeing what it felt like from their perspective. Although it was probably a little different, because I don't usually lanesplit with passengers or go the wrong way down one-way streets.

He dropped me only a few blocks away at a seedy-looking shop with one barber chair, and a guy in the back getting a tattoo. I certainly wouldn't be comfortable getting a tattoo in a shop like that, but I guess a haircut was okay, even if the guy seemed to give it grudgingly. I gave the guy with the bike instructions to tell Mitch what I was up to, and got a nice quick buzz and beard trim.

Afterwards I walked back over to the shop (it was closer than I thought) for one last check, and went to head back to the hostel. Deciding to follow up on the experience, I took a moto-taxi: there's a bunch of guys riding around town with a second helmet hanging off the bike somewhere, and they'll pull over and give you the helmet and give you a ride across town for much cheaper than the regular taxis. There's a lot of crazy motorcyclists in Central and South America, and it's a little harrowing being on the bike with one of them, but it was much faster lane-splitting and much cheaper.

The sense of freedom of having the bike out of the container was immense, even if I was still stuck waiting for parts and repairs. I still had a few days before I could figure out what was going to happen to the bike and how long I'd have to wait, but it was time to start enjoying Cartagena.

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