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Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.

Journal Entry:

Wednesday, May 18, 2011 03:28:14

Rolls Alaska to Argentina & back: 32 San Cristobal, Venezuela to Cartagena, Columbia

Friday, May 13, 2011

*Miles for the day: 84 (135 km) Miles to date: 17,469 (28,114 km)*

The drive to the frontier town of San Antonio began with switchback curves in bumper to bumper traffic up the mountain from San Cristobal. At a fork in the road we asked an army truck driver beside us for directions. He said to follow him -. very good luck, as there were a many unmarked intersections where we would have gone wrong. He took us right through San Antonio to the border.

It is an open border with no formalities required between the cities on each side. We crossed a bridge and found ourselves in Columbia without having been stemped out of Venezuela, so had to recross the congested bridge. Once we had our passports stamped and handed in our car documents we had to drive a considerable distance into San Antonio on divided road before we found a place where we could turn around. After a difficult and apparently illegal U turn we were stopped by a cop who wanted to see our car documents. We explained the situation, but he kept shouting "infraccion", so we started shouting, then pedrestrians took out side and started shouting. This eventually caused the cop to back down and recrossed the border.

Passports were stamped at the border no problem, but we had to drive 15 km (10 mi) into the heart of Cucuta, a big city I'd planned to avoid, to get the car permits. We hired a guy to show us the way, and he also found a money changer. Here black market rates are less than the official rate and money changers are hard to find. When we arrived at vehicle inspection after a lot of twists and turns we were about 2 minutes late, as they close from 12 to 2 for lunch. A bright 13 year old girl helped us get the compulsory insurance while they were closed, and took us to a mall to a money change that wouldn't change US dollars.

Paperwork was fairly quick once the office opened. The insurance fellow went on his motor cycle to get money changed for us at the bus depot, some distance away, then led us out of town to the highway to Pamplona. He was soaked, as it was pouring rain.

The road was fairly new but landslides and places where half, or sometimes the whole road had washed into the river were encountered almost every mile. Houses along the river were damaged or destoyed - one had the end bathroom wall fall into the river and the toilet was hanging out by the pipe; It rained hard all the way, and took hours to go 84 miles. We actually saw sections of road fall into the river as we were driving along.

Pamplona is a beautiful mountain city founded by the Spanish in 1549. The winding streets are one car wide, with shops or houses right to the sidewalk. It is a lively city, with music everywhere. After checking into the quite good Cariongo Plaza Hotel we walked to an interesting pub where Marilynn ordered a Malibu, and found she had bought the whole bottle! The only drinks sold by the shot were on the bar, 3 carosels of 4 bottles each with pourers. I walked up the street to order pizza, which was delivered to the bar. A downside was that the two discos in the hotel went until 3 AM. Mind you, it didn't bother me much as something I ingested during the day gave me an attack of diahorrea that kept me running all night.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

*Miles for the day: 94 (151 km) Miles to date: 17,563 (28,265 km)*

I was feeling pretty rough so passed on the included breakfast. Marilynn had breakfast with another hotel guest who said the only road to Bucamanga was closed due to landslides, and that he had been waiting 5 days to get through. The road we came in on last night was now completely washed out and closed, so there was no going back. Eventually the hotel phoned the police who said the road was open, so we found our way to a gas station, where gas is poured from 5 gallon (20 litre) containers. All gas in the area is smuggled in from Venezuela, and is so much cheaper that regular gas stations cannot survive.

We made our way to the road out of town only to find it had closed shortly before we arrived. Marilynn walked to the police barricade and was informed that the road would not open until 6 PM, and even then the damaged area was barely passable in deep mud. It was expected the road would reopen officially in 5 days. One of the others at the police barricade said he was going to take a back road through the high Andes that came out below the damaged area. We decided to follow him, as did another fellow who had a wife and baby with him.

The first part of the trip was on regular paved road, which become one lane pavement through beautiful scenery to the pretty Spanish style Indian Village of Caculto. Here any semblance of decent road ended. A dirt track led into the mountains. This track also had its share of landslides, wash outs and mud holes, some of which had the Rolls spinning wheels to push her through deep muck. At one point we stopped because she was boiling - we had crawled up to 3.470 meters (11,382 ft) at dead slow speed. All this was done while ignoring the diahorrea, as if I stopped we would lose those who knew the way. There were some pretty amazing looks from people who were working in the fields as the Rolls crawled by!

Eventually we got back to the main road, where we navigated switchbacks for the next 4 hours before reaching the large city of Bucaramanga. Our new friend who led us through the back country, Israel Dulcey, led us into the city to the excellent Chicamocha Hotel where he somehow arranged a deluxe room at half price. This is a true 5 star hotel with all amenities, and great value at the price we paid. We made use of the pool, then had dinner in a poolside restaurant. I'd not eaten all day, but tried part of a small bowl of soup, which went through me pretty quick. Big mistake!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

*Miles for the day: 218 (351 km) Miles to date: 17,781 (28,616 km)*

Marilynn had breakfast but I skipped it again to avoid problems on the road. We are back to paying for gas, it is less than many places at $US 1.22 per litre. At first we were told the only route out of town was closed due to landslides, but the parking guard called and said it was open. When we arrived at the place the road was closed there was a long line of vehicles waiting, as another landslide had occured. Behinds us was a bus load of kids going swimming, so they had a great time taking each other's photos in the Rolls. When we finally could move we passed two dump trucks buried by the last slide - only the windshield was visible on one.

It took us 3 ½ hours to cover the first 22 miles (35 km). We thought it would be easy going today through flat country, but we were in the mountains for the first 5 hours, dealing with switchbacks, landslides and washed out road. About 90% of the traffic was trucks. We were surprised at the number, as we thought Sunday would be a light day. They drive like Brazilian truckers here - we had to get off the road on various occasions as trucks passed other trucks on solid lines, around curves and over hills.

When we did reach level ground the road was still not straight, and had a number of one lane bridges that backed up traffic in both directions for miles. Add a large number of villages where the road went through the centre, speed bumps, potholes, toll boths, police and army checkpoints and it was simply not possible to average more than 30 mph (50 kph). This part of Columbia has music everywhere. One of the neat things about going through the villages is listening to music coming from bars, restaurants and shops - always very upbeat.

We eventually arrived at the town of Bosconia, where one of the vendors who stake out speed bumps as their sales place recommended Hotel Jorlin. It was excellent value at $50. It has swimming pools, cable TV, wifi, air conditioning, all the bathroom extras, indoor parking and a decent restaurant where I tried a boiled egg for the first food in a couple of days. This time it stayed with me.

Monday, May 16, 2011

*Miles for the day: 155 (249 km) Miles to date: 17,936 (28,865 km)*

After another boiled egg for breakfast a hotel employee recommended a shorter route to Cartagena via a new bridge which did not show on our map. We stopped and had the car washed at a truck stop, then realized a mistake that had been made when asking about the road. Our map showed dirt road, so we asked if it was paved but we didn't ask the condition. It was deplorable - massive potholes everywhere, pavement torn up in places - it made for a very slow, gruling drive. We were not to get off lightly on our last stretch of South American road!

It took the full day to cover the 155 miles to Cartagena, and various rainstorms made short work of the benefit of our car wash. Once we reached Cartagena it was hot and sunny, but traffic was brutal. After crawling along for some time the heat guage reached hot so we pulled into a construction area to let the car cool down, and to replace water boiled out of the radiator.

A taxi driver was nearby,so once the car had cooled we had him lead us to the Hotel Tres Bandera in the old walled part of the city. The hotel had been recommended by the owner of the company that will arrange the car shipping. It didn't take us long to find an open air restaurant in a nearby plaza to down a few drinks and dinner. We will start the process for car shipping tomorrow. We hope to have the car in our hands in Panama within the next two weeks.