Sunday, June 29, 2008

Day Trip to Barranquilla & Passport Renewal

Barranquilla is a big city up the coast from Cartagena.

When Dave inquired about getting his passport renewed while in Colombia, the U.S. Embassy said that it can be done from Bogota, where the Embassy is (a very long way away), or via the Consular Services office in Barranquilla. Since Barranquilla is only a 2 hour drive up the coast, we decided it would make a nice day trip, to go and drop his paperwork off.

To get to Barranquilla (without your own car) there are 2 options... there is an express bus that goes that way, and there are 'shuttle vans'. The problem with the bus is that the Cartagena bus terminal is far outside the city. So you have to take a taxi there, then take the bus, then a taxi in from the Barranquilla bus station. It ends up costing more money and taking more time.

So we chose the MarSol shuttle bus, which picked us up at the door of Club Nautico and dropped us off not too far from our destination. It is 19,000 pesos per person one way (about $11 USD). MarSol Cartagena: 656-0302 MarSol Barranquilla: 369-0999

The road part of the trip was pretty uneventful. The road between Cartagena and Barranquilla is a nice 4 lane highway, with few cars on the road. We went through one toll booth and at least one very serious-looking police checkpoint (we didn't have to stop). The road runs along the coast, so you can get glimpses of the ocean. For the most part, the land is farm or ranch land, punctuated with a few very upscale housing developments. If you didn't know better, you could be in South Florida (about 30 years ago, before it go so built up).

Though we thought the shuttle bus was supposed to be 'door to door' service, they let us off on a main drag in Barranquilla, and most of the passengers continued on to Santa Marta. We had a vague idea of where we were and where the Consular Services office was (the streets are conveniently numbered). But it was a hot day, and we had to get all our paperwork done by 11:30 when the office closes, so we took a taxi for 5,000 pesos ($3) to the office.

The office was in big building called something like Centro Commercial Americano. In the lobby, you had to give up your ID to receive an electronic pass key that lets you in and out of a turnstile at the base of the elevators. There is a guard who is supposed to be watching the turnstile to make sure that there is no funny business with the pass cards. I guess they would not give a passcard to anyone who looked like a 'bandito', but there was so much coming and going at the lobby desk that it can't be a real security measure. At least using this system they can theoretically tell if anyone is left in the building when they go to lock up at night.

The consular office is on the 5th floor, and in their lobby is a nice and polite Colombian policeman, just hanging out.

When we entered, a lady behind the partition said in heavily accented English, somewhat rudely, "Sit down." So we did.

But we had not gotten Dave's passport photo done yet... Dave had been warned by another cruiser not to do it before we got there. So he went up to the little window and tried to ask about the passport photo. It was already 10:30 and we were worried about getting the whole thing done by 11:30 when the office closed for the day. He was told, rudely again, "I am busy with the other guy, sit down."

So we asked the policeman where the photo place was. He didn't really know, but after a discussion in Spanish with him and another guy waiting, we knew of a photo place very near by. Assuming that the closest photo place to the Consular Services office would know of the correct requirements... we walked off in search of photos. Well, that place was closed.

We then grabbed a taxi for a 4-5 block ride to another photo place (Photo Japon, a chain in Colombia). We asked for US Passport photos, they said OK, and after about 10 minutes, we had 6 copies of Dave's smiling face in our hands.

We walked back to the Consular Services office and the lady said "Why didn't you wait for me, those photos are no good!" I am still not clear why. They looked like perfectly good passport photos, within all the proper size limits, etc. But she wouldn't accept them.

NOW she hands us the list of 'approved' photo shops and gives us detailed directions how to get there. (Sorry, we lost this paper, but be sure to call the Consular Services office to find out, before you have pictures made. There is one in Cartagena, one in Barranquilla, and one in Santa Marta).

It is 11:15 now, and Dave hasn't even started filling out the paperwork. But she said she'd wait for us. She told us that we didn't need to wait for the photos to get printed, but come right back with the receipt, and she would pick the photos up from the photo place later.

We paid the normal passport fee of $75 in cash (they will accept either USD or Pesos), and gave her a phone number and an email address. She said it would take 3-4 weeks and she'd let us know when it was back. She did NOT take Dave's current passport, but said he must bring it back with him when he comes back to pick up the new one.

By 11:45 we were finished, and were heading for lunch. Dave got a recommendation from a previous taxi driver to 'Casa del Marisco' (also known as Asados Tony), on the corner of Calle 72 and Carrera 61B. So we went there (another $3 taxi ride). There are 2 big shopping centers within a few blocks of the office, which probably would have been a better choice. We had a good (but not exceptional) 'Almuerzo Ejecutivo' (executive lunch) at Casa del Marisco... large soup, rice, meat, very small salad for 6,000 pesos ($4). This seems to be a standard weekday lunch offering in many Colombian restaurants, and is considerably cheaper (and probably faster) than anything that was on the menu they gave us. So ask for it if you go into a restaurant.

While at lunch, we called the Baranqilla number for the MarSol van, and they said they'd be there to pick us up in about 20 minutes. It turns out that they sent a small taxi to get us (and 2 other passengers on the way) rather than navigating the big van thru the busy city streets.

Again they didn't take us to our door, but dropped us off downtown near 'The Clock', about a 10 minute walk from Club Nautico.

We met 3 other American cruisers on the van... they were headed for Santa Marta for 2 nights, just to explore. One of the 3 was originally from Colombia. So she ccould speak the language fluently and knew her way around pretty well.

Dave, in his usual fashion, pumped her for travel advice, which we are now using to plan our trip inland towards Bogata and Medellin. They must have found some interesting stuff in Santa Marta, because we haven't seen them around the marina yet (it's been 4 nights now). We may check out Santa Marta when we go back to pick up Dave's passport.

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