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Container ship

Poor impulse control – At a paint store – Sweet baby Jesus – Tazering Argentines – Oftimes Barrio Manga

The grip of hot muggy weather never loosened the entire day. It was a day when sweat instantly drenched my being upon stepping outside into what was not unlike a large outdoor steam-room. On such a day men are capable of anything as the weather alternately maddens the mind or saps the spirit, makes them crazy or delusional, and exacerbates an already poor impulse control.

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Skyline of Panama City.

We arrived at the docks early at 8:30am, hoping to free the faithful FJ from the bondage of a container where it had been trapped for the past eight days. Armed with a piece of paper outlining the eleven (!) steps of bureaucracy needed, we expected the first to be fairly straight forward:
1) Print final Bill of Ladings.

It was not to be. Maddeningly, it was not quite ready yet, for a reason not fully explained. I decided to call our agent in Panama to find out what deity had to be sacrificed to in order to get this precious paper. After being sent on a wild goose chase to find where I could make an international call and driven to the brink of mental collapse because of the torturous sun I stumbled upon the Glidden Paint store that seemed like the only place in the docks where an international call could be made. Now why didn’t that occur to me, of course, I needed to find a paint store to make a phone call!!

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FJ in container.

I don’t know what magic Evelyn did or whether the paint store God was pleased by my suffering but when I got my smelly sweaty self back to the docks the paper was ready! Of course, I had piddled away most of the morning doing step #1, still had ten more to go, and it was dangerously close to lunch time. Step two called for us to be in Barrio Manga, conveniently located several kilometers away. After taking a taxi there we were told, no, that was the wrong office and we had to be in another such-and-such office, very thoughtfully placed four double avenue blocks away in the noonday sun. When we made it there we waited, thank you sweet baby Jesus, in an air-conditioned waiting area. Clutching three delicious and treasured copies of the Temporary Importation Permit we taxied back to the docks for the next steps.

Noontime is lunch time and if you are a government worker you are entitled to a two hour lunch. How very civilized! The cheap Chinese restaurant at the docks had Chateaubriand on the menu (??!!??), but we satisfied ourselves with some rather underwhelming “Chow Min”. At two o’ clock we presented at the third customs office, this time at the docks.

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The dock area was hyper secure only me and my container mate, Mssr. Mario Moreno Bordignon, were allowed into the waiting areas. Our mujeres had to wait outside, in the weakly air conditioned area. A helpful young woman at window #6 took all our precious papers and told us to wait for the container to be unloaded. While waiting a cheer went up amongst the officials and everyone abandoned their stations to watch what we thought was a soccer game. It was not – Ingrid Betancourt and fourteen other hostages held by the FARC had been liberated in a daring cloak and dagger operation! Bravo, Colombia!

A port official in a starched white uniform rushed in and excitedly told us our container had been unloaded. Before I could get on my knees and kiss her saintly white shoes she let on that the container had been unsealed, and our personal lock had been broken, as a mere courtesy detail. An Argentine lad flew into a rage at this news and I am sure they would have Tazered him into submission if he had carried on much longer.

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Old City, Cartegena

Now it was time for our assigned inspector to inspect our car. Well, it was one of his lackeys, the real inspector was far too important to do any inspections. With a clean inspection report in hand we had to go back to the lovely environs of Barrio Manga to get the signature of someone-or-another. Of course Mr. so-and-so was out and we spent several tense minutes waiting since the port closed at 6:00. Leaving a car out in port overnight around avaricious, kleptocratic, elastic moralled people did not seem like a very good idea. Luckily he signed and now it was time to go back (again) to the docks.

Squeaking in ten minutes before the port closed we waited at our favorite window, number six, to get the release papers. Let there be more papers, as if we didn’t have enough already! After getting a hefty bill for 660,000 pesos (almost $400) for port costs and paying at the bank located next door (at last an appropriately located office) we got the papeles. By the time we got out darkness had descended and we were left to navigate the chaotic streets of Cartagena at night…

10 Responses to “Collecting your car in 11 easy steps”

  1. dave says:

    Yep, i’m still smiling at your misadventures At least you got yours in one day. It took me two full days. Not sure how you feel but for me, the shipping process separates the wheat from the chaff. It takes a lot of patience and committment to the adventure to suffer the shipping ordeal and the average traveller is not willing to go through it. congrats again on getting back on the road.

  2. Neena says:

    It does require a great deal of tenacity to ship the car across the Darien. Ferry crossings seem fairly straight forward but container ship is a whole another matter and several magnitudes more complicated.

  3. Suhasini Taskar says:

    Shreesh and Neena,
    Congratulations! We were relieved to know that after going through the ordeal that you just described, you were able to get hold of the precious cargo. Was it ok? No damage done?
    Burocracy at this port reminded me of the of a similar experience at the port in Mumbai when we had to clear the luggage shipped from Canada. Now that you are back on wheels, let us know your schedule next.

  4. Shreesh says:


    So far so good, we have inspected the car for damage and there is none. We have not driven it a long distance yet, so we won’t know until tomorrow whether all is well.

  5. Fred says:

    Clearly Kafka must have done his research in Central America.

  6. madhuri says:

    Funny writeup :-) Congratulations on finally getting your faithful servant back.
    How are the Albrights holding up?

  7. Vinay says:

    Would you call this a quixotic quest? 😉
    I keep wondering how very different the world you’re in is from here. But it does seem similar to the redtapism in India

  8. Shreesh says:


    The Albrights are a lot of fun to travel with; very laid back and eager to enjoy new stimulation. They were in a surprisingly good mood after traveling for over forty hours straight!


    From what I have experienced, the red-tapism seems worse in India. But I think in India it is harder if you are from India than if you are a foreigner.

  9. Noel says:

    I ran into your website while looking for ways to travel all across the Americas, just like what you are doing right now. I think is so AMAZING what you guys are doing. One day soon I’ll be there as well. By the way I’m Noel Mendoza a member of the US Air Force serving in San Antonio TX. Don’t forget to visit the “NEW” Mitad del Mundo or the “New” Ecuator (the one calculated by GPS). They have some cool experiments there! Hope you enjoy Quito, is a fascinating city! I hope to get some more stories and perhaps some more insights of your trip so we can plan ours better. Good Luck! noel

  10. Shreesh says:

    Hi Noel,

    I’m glad you found us. If you need any assistance planning the trip or other specifics do not hesitate to contact us.

    Quito was a little difficult at first, but now we are having a blast!

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