21 Jul 2015

Into the Desert and back to the Beach

After the cool of Minca we fill with fuel and provisions and do a short drive to a site at a beach where we know we can fill with water and connect to electric to charge the leisure batteries before heading into the desert and who should turn up a couple of hours later but George and Janine that we shared the container with.
The following day we set off towards Punta Gallinus. The road is good for the first 100 miles, but after lunch in the large town of Riohacha the GPS sends us on a track across the beach, after a little while we take a track to the right but then come to a sign  that  prohibits entry so we turn round. On returning to the beach some guys in pick-ups point up the beach so off we set again. After only a few hundred meters one of the pickups shoots pasts us and proceeds to lead us right on the waters edge, swerving in and out to avoid the waves but stay on the hard sand. We are in low box so stay away from the water and plough through slightly softer sand.

The pick-up then leads us away from the beach and across someone’s land where we get our first experience of the local toll system, kids with ropes across the road wanting something to let us through, we see the pick-up handing out bags of crisps and not prepared for this we either stick to his bumper and go through with him or give them a piece of fruit or a few coins. Eventually the pick-up climbs up onto a road and waves us through.

The road is good for about 15 miles and then stops dead! No track going forward, just two tracks going left and right, we try the left but this turns back the way we came, the right one goes in more or less the right direction. At this point the GPS is useless as the track on the screen clearly does not exist, so we adopt a Mongolian type navigating system of turning up tracks that appear to go in the right direction and after a few dead ends and one road blocked with bushes we make our way up the coast to a small town.

At this point a sealed road heads inland to meet another road that is on the GPS that takes in the right direction. This is a wide rough road and the cruiser is in its element, floating past other vehicles bumping slowly along the track. Eventually we turn off towards our destination at Cabo, down a really rough road.

This place is famous for its kite surfing schools because of the persistent wind and we are aware that overlanders have stayed at one school called kit addicts, we could just stop on the beach but we need info on the next phase to the point. We stop on the beach looking for the right school and on attempting to re-start there is a cloud of smoke from under the bonnet! One of the battery connections has come off with the vibration and part of the terminal has melted. I push it back on for now, but next day had to cut off melted lead and use a screw to ensure it would hold.

The kite school pays dividends as there is a mix of Canadian, German, Dutch and Columbian and we get lots of info about Colombia in general, but the advice in respect of the point is to follow the tour vehicle which leaves town at 05.00 in the morning. It has been a long day so decide on a rest day before moving on.

The following day we take a walk round Cabo (very wild west) and meet up with the guy taking the tour the following morning and he is happy for us to tag on for propine (propina, a tip).

Getting up at 04.00 to get the tent packed for 05.00 is a bit of an effort, but off we set into the sunrise, crossing a mix of Serengeti like scrub lands with stunted flat topped trees and miles and miles of mud flats. After 3 hours the tour passengers disembark and take a boat across a bay, where they are picked up by another vehicle (this 15 minute boat trip saves 2 hours by road). Realising we are not going to leave the vehicle the driver finds a guide to come with us and after a bit of rearranging manage to squeeze him in the back and we set off for another 2 hour drive, he speaks no English but makes hand signals when necessary.

Eventually he stops us by a sand dune and leads us up on top from where we can see the sea and the sand dune running straight down into it. Back in the cruiser, a few more miles and we reach Punta Gallinas, the most northerly point of Colombia and South America, all we have to do now is drive to the bottom!

He then takes us on to a hostel, a combination of small rooms and shade areas for hammocks, again we could have camped wild, but the wind is amazing and they are happy for us to camp in amongst the buildings to shelter from the wind. They also have a restaurant and by now we are starving and they have lobster on the menu!

The following day we head back, following our own GPS tracks. The kids are out in force with their road blocks, going through 10 in one small village, with the kids running down the road to pick up their ropes as they here the vehicle coming. But we were ready for them this time after cracking out the orange pens (which Chris acquired when one of her former organisations changed name and they had to ditch hundreds of pens with the organisation name on them) these pens have since been given out in Morocco, Russia, Mongolia, many of the Stans and now Columbia and we are now down to our last 100.

It is too early to stay on the point and not worth staying anywhere else so we make our way back to the Kite School at Cabo in time for some amazing kite stunts in a perfect sunset.

We have to re-trace our steps as we are told that any closer to Venezuala is dangerous and find a there is a new road (not on my GPS) that is a lot quicker than finding our way back across the beach and at one cross roads we are flagged down by someone asking if we want fuel. The normal price for diesel in Colombia is about 50p per litre, this was less than 20p as it is smuggled across from Venezuala (where it is 4p per litre) and is a lot better quality than Colombian fuel and all appears to be perfectly legal in Colombia, so we take 115 litres!

We have lunch in Riohacha again and end up at the same beach site we stayed at on the way up. It is now time for a rest so this time we stay for 5 days (also because it is a holiday weekend and the roads will be a nightmare). George and Janine were still there but left the following morning to return to Cartagena to meet friends flying in.
Lunch at Riohacha

Then into the dessert

Camp at the Kite Addict School
In a real wild west town
Leave as the sun comes up
and head into the dessert

Climb a Sand Dune

for a spectacular view

and finally reach the furthest point north in South America

we camp in the Hostel to get out of the wind
With an impressive view
And prepare the orange pens for tomorrows road blocks

We make our way back across the dessert

find shelter from the sun and the wind for lunch

and have a well earned beer in the sunset, watching the kite surfers
Followed by a few days rest to celebrate our 35th Anniversary

10 Jul 2015

Once more into the breach (or is it - to the beach?)

After starting the process of re-aquiring the cruiser at 14.00 on Monday, we (myself and George who shared our container, plus Ivens, from Brazil, (who had a seperate container) were at the breaking of the container seals at 08.30 on Wednesday morning and got proof that it was actually there when they opened the doors. But it still took until 14.00 that day before we could finally drive out of the port. We were assisted with much of the process by a very friendly and efficient young lady called Rosalba, spending hours in her office whilst she chased each of the processes through the system so we could move on to the next step.

As soon as we were out we collected our bags from the Air B&B and high tailed out of Cartagena to park in the car park of a mud Volcano 40 miles up the road (we once parked in the car park of a mud volcano in Romania, but there the similarity ended). We negotiated a fee with a tour company to use their bathroom facilities and he then proceded to sit on a step behind us and watch our every move, which made us think we had suddenly been teleported back to Mongolia. We gave him a beer, dinner, with wine and then he went home and locked the facilities!!! Fortunately, next morning another trader allowed us to use his facilities for a fee of course and as we were leaving the first guy reappeared and asked for the money for the use of his facilities, with the obvious response! If I could write in Spanish I would have given him a bill for beer, wine and dinner!

I must just mention that we were expecting to come back to the rainy season and they did have heavy rain in Panama for some weeks, but whilst we have been back we had 2 heavy thunderstorms in the night whilst in Panama and another, again in the night in Cartagena, other than that it has been dry and very hot, often in the mid 40's and sometimes hotter. After the Volcano we have come up to Minca and at 660 meteres is a little cooler, still mid to high 30's in the day, but cool enough to pull the covers over at night. We have had a rest day today before setting off for Punta Gallenus, the most northern tip of South America, accessable by 4x4 only, a starkly beautiful desert region, still inhabited by the original indigeanous people in thatched bamboo huts.

The container seal is cut!

Proof of Life

And out she comes

and finally let out of the port (after weighing in at 3,420kg, with no water and half a tank of diesel)

Stop for a coffee at our favourite restaurant whilst I sort the vehicle so I can see out of the back window (Chris's bike + my wheels had to go inside so we could get it into the container)

We visit the mud volcano, obviously no health and safety in Columbia!

We did not go for a dip (quite a few did the following morning, then jumped in the lake)

And then errecting the tent in the car park.

Now camped at stunning Minca

Before a beer in the setting sun, it is so good to be really back on the road after the last couple of weeks

The view of Santa Marta at dusk

6 Jul 2015

Maps Added at Last!

Just a quick update to say that we are now in Cartagena and will be starting the process of retreiving the cruiser this afternoon, hopefully we will be back on the road by Wednesday. Cartegina is a fabulous city and the best we have been to so far in the Americas, but it will be oh soo good to be on the road again.

It has taken me a full year but I have finally worked out how to create the maps of our adventure and even more amazing, worked out how to add them to the site. You can now study the full map of phase 1 and also watch phase 2 route unfold. I will attempt to update the map as I do the blog but I am not sure how that will work out. I am leaving the spot line there also which will show our movements in the previous 7 days.

After spending 2 weeks in big cities we are heading to the northern most part of Colombia/South America to a wild area of desert and wilderness that is supposed to be little visited and very beautiful. Stll inhabited by the original indigenous people (who are very freindly). The only power provided by the odd generator and no wifi, so we will be off the grid for a week or so (but spot should still work to show where we are).

The Panama City Skyline

Panama City Traffic, 2 hours for 9 milkes each way from our Hotel in the morning and afternoon
Old Town at night

Cartagena City Sky Line
The Gate to the Cartagena Old City

Cartagena at night

Some of the sculptures dotted around


The Gallows, the chain saw in the corner adds a new dimension to drawing and quartering!

Removing the scaffolding from a building under renovation, interestingly all scafold in Cartagena is massive bamboo poles, where as in Panama it is all metal struts.

This was the site of one of the biggest Slave Trade Markets in the world

2 Jul 2015

The Adventure Continues after a trip to Scotland

With the odd exception the showers continued on a daily basis throughout our time in the UK, but we managed to see plenty of the kids and grand kids, including a 10 day trip to Scotland to visit Sarah, via the Lake District which was this years venue for the family camping weekend.

All to quickly the time came round to put the caravan back into storage, hand the car back over and fly back to Panama (this time on Air France as we could not face Iberia again).

The flight went well, as did the 8 hour bus trip the following day back up to David.

Day 3 saw us back at the Aduana (Customs) warehouse to pick up the cruiser, after the ususal performance (including a 2 mile walk in 40+ to get insurance, which I was told they sold at the office). After being left in an incredibly hot, very dust warehouse for almost 11 weeks the cruiser was grumpy to say the least, I reconnected the battery leads and instead of leaping into life as ususal it was coughing and spluttering and took 3 goes before it reluctantly came to life and was a full minute or so before all cylinders were firing. It was thick with dust and as I manouvred it out there were various scraping noises from the brakes!

So - first stop car was and then a few miles south to find a beach to camp on. The steering always feels odd as it is so light after driving other cars, but by the following day we were as one again and I even found a dirt road for it to play on.

We had a 3 day stop further down the coast just off the beach on top of a small hill on the edge of the rain forest, with regular visits from howler monkeys, who seemed just as interested in watching us as we were them and due to our position on the hill were pretty much directly in line with the monkeys in the trees.

Then it was back to Panama City, trailing round for a police check on the car and back to collect the papers from another location in the afternoon and then the following day to Colon to take the cruiser to the docks for loading into a container. This meant being at up at 05.00 to start at 08.00 and spend a very frustrating day chasing round the docks for various papers before finally getting to the loading point. Fortunately there were 8 of us (+2 kids) in 4 vehicles, including a couple of Argentinian lads, but even they struggled to understand what was going on. There were numerous different entrances where vehicles were being loaded but no names anywhere, we had visions of someone eventually agreeing to take our vehicles and never seeing them again.
But eventually found the right place and after the vehicles had been searched, sniffed and photo'd inside and out and downloaded on to the computer we got some paperwork confirming everything.The others returned to Panama City by bus for speed/cost), but we waited a couple of hours to take the scenic route via the Panama Canal Railway (established 1855).

We fly to Cartagena on Saturday and hopefully pick the cruiser up on Tuesday and then we will really be back on the road.
 A visit to the Cotswolds to see my cousin Richard and his monster motor bike a 2600cc special edition Triumph, with his gran daughter Olivia who loves to ride pillion
Frisby in the lake District with Covey the Spollie (Spaniel Collie cross)
Brannan in the water again, he has 6 pairs of wellies as he always goes in just a bit deeper than the wellies
As we walked through the countryside we past this typical Village Cricket Match and Kadi asked 'Why are all those men dressed up as sheep?'
Up to Scotland and the sun does not last long before a huge storm rolls in - so off to the pub!

We tackle 'The Cobbler' and fortunately the weather stayed good all day

Stop to pose for the cover of our new Album - The Dead Beats
Chris starts to lag behind
Not sure whos legs these were in front of Chris, but they didn't take her much further, she headed back soon after
Sarah and Vicky almost at the top
View through the rocks at the top of the cobbler
We reach the snow line

And then the top, sun might be shining but it was bloody cold up there

Sarah's birthday dinner after a hard walk

A famous small town in Scotland that I have forgotton the name of!
A highland calf (I had to get one scottish animal in)

A walk in the hills just a few miles north of Glasgow (another nice day)
After all the Myan ruins we had to add a picture of a scottish castle, Mugdock Castle dating back to 13th century

The bus from Panama City to David
Through the Rain Forest

The cruiser has a well deserved wash
While we tackle a monster fish

First night back on the beach
Then 3 nights on a hill

Surounded by inquisitive Howler monkeys

And relax at a bar on the beach
Cruiser at the docks waiting to go in its container

And back to Panama City on the Panama Canal Railway