Today marked the first time in the entire journey so far, around 14,000km, that the team took any transport other than by road. The flight from Panama to Colombia, unless you take a long boat ride, is the only way to get across the short Darien Gap, an impenetrable stretch of jungle without a single road. Despite this break in the road however, the Pan-American Highway is still known as the longest motorable road in the world, and so we boarded the Copa Airlines flight with the aim of continuing down this famous carriageway.
Coming from London where checking in at airports and other such activities are more akin to rugby scrums than anything else, the fast, easy and almost empty check in process saw us through security in a very short time, and before long we were waiting at the gate to board. This too was conducted on time, and an hour and and a half later we had landed at Cartagena International Airport after a comfortable flight with very little view unfortunately; the clouds were rather thick for the majority of the flight.
Another pleasant surprise was that once through passport control, our bags were already unloaded and waiting for us just next to the luggage carousel. Interestingly, from here we had to pass our bags through additional xray security; it would appear that Colombia is just as concerned with what comes into the country as comes out!
From the airport we grabbed a couple of taxis to take us to our hotel in the centre, and before long we were in the beautiful walled city of Cartagena! The hotel, as well as all the buildings in this city are all decorated in the original colonial architecture. Narrow streets abound with little alleys here and there taking you, unexpectedly, to large squares or little parks. Walking around after checking into the hotel really served to confirm all the advice we had been given; the place was absolutely enchanting, and the turbulent and sometimes violent history of this major trading post is visible everywhere.
With the car still expected to take a week to arrive, we were thoroughly looking forward to exploring this place and the surrounding areas. But for now, we were content to relax over a delicious dinner in one of the plazas and soak in the ambiance! A very quick, easy and painless entry into Colombia with an absolute gem of a city to stay in. We were just hoping that the cars would have a similarly easy route into South America, but given our previous experience of crossing borders, we were preparing for this not to be the case…