We’re Sailing to Colombia! What About Titus? – Panama to Cartagena

After a fun week in Bocas del Toro, it was time to begin the complicated process that would end up with both us AND Titus leaving Panama/Central America and landing in South America, completely by-passing the Darien Gap. What is the Darien Gap and how do you cross it? Well, take a look here:

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The Darien Gap is a break in the Pan-American Highway consisting of undeveloped swampland and forest. The fact is, this area is really dangerous

So how do you cross the Darien Gap with a car? We only had one option (the one that many overlanders have forged before us), which was to put Titus in a shipping container to Cartagena, Colombia, while we arrived by sailboat. NOTE: you might be asking yourself right now, “Is it really that easy to just put something in a shipping container?” The quick answer…no, no it is not (read on).

Titus Goes to Colombia

[written by guest blogger, Titus our Sportsmobile]

George and Jenine, were quite frantic leading up to the time when they put me in a box. First they gave me a face lift. Its really hard work carrying a roof top box filled with George’s toys, surf boards, a bike, bike racks. They began taking everything off and it felt great! But then they proceeded to cram this stuff inside and locked everything up, presumably for safety (as if I would ever willingly give everything over).

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Titus all packed up and ready to ship

The next day we drove to a weird parking lot in Panama City where I met my box-mate, the Land Cruiser that carries Mick and Chris from the UK (intrepidfor10minutes.com). We would end up sharing a 40-foot shipping container for almost a week! Luckily he was pretty easy to room with. I also ran into my old friend and cousin, the Sportsmobile owned by OurRoadLife’s Karie and Simon (and kids Ty and Jaime). My owners seemed pretty darn happy to see them and Jenine and Ty were hanging out again like old times.

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We shared a shipping container with Mick and Chris from England (intrepidfor10minutes.com)

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We met up with our Sportsmobile companions Simon and Karie in Panama. We did the shipping process together

On this day I spent a lot of time parked in the heat while Jenine and George met a police inspector to get some paperwork, make copies, etc. Always paperwork, always waiting, and always more copies.

The next day I took a break from all the hard work, but on Wednesday we were off again at 7am, this time to the Port in Colon. Colon did not look like a very welcoming place, so I was on high alert since my owners told me they were going to leave me here (jerks). George and Jenine kept mentioning a women named Tea (their shipping agent?), and kept referring to her written instructions, but they must not have been very good because we drove back and forth all day, asking people if we were at the right place. When we arrived at the final drop-off location for the day, a woman searched me pretty well (I felt so violated). Then a dog came and sniffed me looking for god knows what. My owners looked pretty sad, and after several hours someone finally came over with my keys and started to drive me towards the cramped box that would be my home until next week.

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Beginning of the afternoon inspection process at the Port in Colon. Simon is feeling optimistic. Little would he know that after several hours in the heat we would finally get to leave, and our bus would break down on the way back to Panama city. Fun times.

I couldn’t wait to get my tires on that South American soil, and even more excited that our first country would be Colombia. George and Jenine told me they would try to pick me up on Tuesday of the following week in Cartagena (7 days without them!), but Tuesday turned into Wednesday and I was starting to get really depressed. They wouldn’t leave me here in this box, would they? Finally, on Wednesday morning I heard the door open and had to wait for the Land Cruiser to move out of my way before I could see George. Wow was I relieved! Here I am happily leaving the stupid box; they really should make these things more roomy inside.

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Titus exits the container

I thought I would get to leave right then and there with my family, but I should have known it would be 5 more hours of waiting and paperwork before we could leave together. I’m not sure what George and Jenine were doing all this time, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that they weren’t sitting on a beach somewhere sipping mojitos, enjoying Cartagena without me.

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After 3 painful days at the port, we can finally drive him away

George and Jenine Sail the San Blas Islands, then on to Colombia

[by Jenine]

This whole shipping process with Titus really wore George and I out. I can’t explain enough how much confusion, waiting, heat, and paperwork there were over the few days on either end of the process. Luckily, we started the process in Panama City and settled into our hostel in the beautiful Casco Viejo (the historical district). This area is really quite lovely, and between our shipping tasks over the next few days we enjoyed the food, cuban music, and strolling along the waterfront with a view of the “new” panama city skyline in the distance. I even got to see the Panama Canal!!

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Jenine got this great shot, summing up life in the fashionable city of Panama

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Looking toward the colonial buildings of casco viejo in Panama City

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New hat! I'll drink to that

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The Panama Canal! We cleared the other tourists to snap this photo

We managed to get Titus safely in his container on schedule, which allowed us to make our mode of transportation to Colombia on Thursday morning… a sailboat! George and I were ready to hit the open seas and explore the San Blas Islands on the Amande for the next 5 days.

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Happy to set sail

The Amande was a proper sailboat in all respects. We did hit a few surprises when we got there though… 14 guests instead of the 12 we were told would be on the boat. And the Captain and Chef, Oliver and Alex, instead of the owners of the boat. That’s ok, we were happy to be there, and it turns out it was so fun getting to know all our fellow travelers on the boat, most of which were long-term travelers. There were the 6 young Irish fellows, all in various stages of their travels around the world, who proceeded to bring 2 full boxes of liquor and booze for our 5 days at sea (oh boy this would be fun!). There were Anita and Greg who have a blog of their travels backpacking around the world. And an awesome couple that we ended up hanging out with even after our sailing trip, Sandra and Eddie (Sea2Stars) who are also backpacking in various places around the world. There were even 2 fellow Americans on holiday from the states.

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The sailboat crew jump on 3

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Our quite packed sailboat crew at dinner time

The San Blas Islands really were beautiful, and totally deserted with the exception of the indigenous people, the Kunis, who inhabited some of the islands. Some of the islands had awesome beach bars or restaurants, and the snorkeling around these islands was amazing. I highly recommend going to the Islands if you are looking to relax in an awesomely beautiful location.

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The crystal clear waters of the San Blas

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Some of the islands had cool bars like this one

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There were countless islands such as this one, inhabited by a native kuna family

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Lobster night was excellent

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Enjoying the sail. Maybe we'll get a sailboat one day??

We really were in heaven, even fantasizing about sailing around the Caribbean someday on our very own sailboat. Then came time to cross the open seas to Cartagena. We were told by Captain Oliver that it would be 30-40 hours at sea and it would be “a little rough”. George and I were not worried at all. We had been in really big seas before and never gotten sick.

Well, it turned out to be the longest 30 hours of our lives. Most everyone on the boat got sea-sick, with the exception of about 5 of us who held it together, just barely. It was so rough I couldn’t even brush my teeth for 30 hours, for fear of injuring myself. I really felt for those in the lower cabins; they couldn’t open their windows because water would rush in, so the sick people had to lay down there in the intense heat with no air flow. Ugh. I also couldn’t even read, something I could normally do on a bus, airplane, really anywhere. So we twiddled our thumbs with little-to-no sleep for 30 hours. That is, until the seas calmed and we entered the glorious Cartagena bay at 4am. It so was peaceful, and we all rushed onto the deck, ecstatic that the crossing was over.

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The city of Cartagena lit up, view from our sailboat as we enter the bay

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Entering the port of Cartagena at 4am. Titus is somewhere there

I will never forget how those harbor lights looked across the calm waters that early morning, everyone sitting in silence, huge smiles on our faces. Pure heaven. Eager to put the past behind us, but not forget. Excited for new adventures in Cartagena, in Colombia. I’m not sure I would want to do the crossing again, but it seemed like the perfect way to mark the beginning of new adventures in South America…

…and the new adventures began with a few days in Cartagena while getting Titus out of shipping. It was fun to explore this vibrant (albeit touristy) city.

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Happy to have made it together to South America

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The old city of Cartagena on top of the walled city

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It is not true that people stop chasing their dreams because they get old, rather you become old when you stop chasing your dreams

Many, many more pics here:

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Titus all packed up and ready to ship

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Driving over the Bridge of the Americas which connect north and south america

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Having a drink in Casco Viejo neighborhood looking at the beautiful skyline.

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New hat! I'll drink to that

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This was at our hostel Mamallena over looking the night skyline

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We met up with our Sportsmobile companions Simon and Karie in Panama. We did the shipping process together

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We shared a shipping container with Mick and Chris from England (intrepidfor10minutes.com)

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Twins at the mall

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The Panama Canal. I was underwhelmed, but I image it must be a lot cooler when a huge ship is passing through

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The locks

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We cleared the other tourists to snap this photo

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Looking toward the colonial buildings of casco viejo in Panama City

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Skyline panama city

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Casco Viejo

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Jenine got this great shot, summing up life in the fashionable city of Panama

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Love this modern park along the shore

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Beginning of the inspection process in Panama. Simon is feeling optimistic.

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The drug dogs were making sure we weren't running any drugs back into Colombia

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Just a bunch of overlanders trying to ship

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Ty was having fun through the long process

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After finally getting Titus loaded onto a container ship, we hopped on a sailboat to sail through the San Blas Islands to Colombia

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Happy to set sail

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This was the welcome drink, a shot of Rum followed by a limed dipped in coffee grounds

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It was delicioso, sort of

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Our quite packed sailboat crew at dinner time

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It was a lot of fun exploring these pristine islands

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The crystal clear waters of the San Blas

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Shore lunch, bbq fish

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lunch time on shore, with our grizzled captain

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Exploring the islands

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Those were the native Kuna women who live in the San Blas islands. Really wonderful patterns on their dress. Jenine bought a funky handbag from them

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A solid wooden trunk boat in the San Blas.

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After Jenine took this picture, the pig's owner demanded $5

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Jenine in her reading spot on the boat

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There were countless islands such as this one, inhabited by a native kuna family

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Shallow beautiful water, the snorkeling was also fantastic near the reefs.

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Some of the islands had cool bars like this one

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Our traveling buddies Sandra and Eddie. The are traveling around the world @ http://www.sea2stars.com/

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The sailboat crew jump on 3

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Someone didn't get the memo to jump on 3 🙂

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Lobster night was excellent

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Maybe we'll get a sailboat someday ???

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Enjoy the sail

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Jeine having fun in the water

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Our boat

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Although it was a rough journey at times in a packed boat, the memories on the islands made it so worth it

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Entering the port of Cartagena at 3am. Titus is somewhere there

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The city of Cartagena lit up, view from our sailboat as we enter the bay

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Shuttling our tired and half seasick crew to shore

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The mooring field in Cartagena

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Me and captain Oliver

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The Cartagena bay

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Our first meal in Cartagena. Delicious caribbean food from La Cocina de Pepina

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Jenine on top of the wall in Cartagena

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Exploring the old city, first day in Cartagena

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Happy to have made it together to South America

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The old city of Cartagena on top of the walled city

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The main clock tower plaza in Cartagena

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Cartagena streets

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The streets in Cartagena are very lively and many filled with cool graffiti art

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We stayed in the Getsemaní neighborhood and the center of action is the Plaza de la Trinidad

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Our sailing crew meeting up for a beer or more and to collect our passports from the captain

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It is not true that people stop chasing their dreams because they get old, rather you become old when you stop chasing your dreams

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Street performers in the Plaza de la Trinidad

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Fucking Bueno!!!

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Street performers work every night in Plaza de la Trinidad

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Titus and his buddy are inside that container

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Titus' shipping buddy made it to Colombia in one piece

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And there is Titus

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The crew trying to untie the beast

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Me looking ready and official to retrieve Titus

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Titus, out of the container and looking as good as ever

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After 3 painful days at the port, we can finally drive him away

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Titus exits the container

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After getting our van out, we celebrate with new friends at Cafe Havana in Cartagena

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