Package tourists

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>Pictures at text sections!

 ….via Ecuador – Colombia to Panama

After many thousands of kilometres on the South American roads and trails, we had to part with our camper vans for a short time, pack a bag with the most necessary things and board the cramped plane in Santiago. Yes, the unbound freedom was over for the time being and we had to stick meticulously to the programme of our alternative.

The fact that you can’t just fly from Santiago to Quito/Ecuador, but have to jet over Panama, lengthened our day many times over. It was not until late in the evening that we reached our hotel in the Colombian capital, where our bus for the city tour was waiting in front of the hotel at an early hour the next day. Of course, the equator to the north was not to be missed, which made the day even more strenuous.

In Quito itself, we wandered through many alleys and paths of the old centre and were – after the capitals we had already experienced on the South American continent – positively surprised by the cleanliness. There was also a lot going on in the historic part of the city on this Saturday, and in addition to the many tourists, the local population also meandered through the beautiful centre. Besides the crowds at certain points, the past is omnipresent and busts of some personalities from Ecuador’s past stand on some pedestal everywhere.

The fact that there are two equator lines in Ecuador can be traced back to the earlier inaccuracy of the measurement; we were at the real line and with various demonstrations this was also shown to us accordingly, which led to smiles and winks from our physicist in the group. On the other hand, the accompanying museum about the indigenous peoples was very informative and instilled in us a certain respect for the headhunters in the Amazon. Let’s hope we don’t become their prey in the next few days and can leave the jungle with our heads.

The recovery after the many impressions of the wonderful Quito had not yet been properly processed, and already it was time to get out of bed and into the luxury bus. From Quito, we descended through the Andes into the rainforest to the east; a densely packed programme in a jungle lodge was on the agenda for four days. Participation in the various activities was voluntary, but the offers were so attractive to me (Tom) that I could hardly resist.

Even the journey by boat was so special that you immediately had the feeling of being far away from civilisation. Nevertheless, the accommodation offered us all the comforts of the civilised world. I was always fascinated by the fact that the boat was used for every excursion and underlined the impression of remoteness.

We visited the village life of the indigenous population and were shown various aspects of their daily life and were shown various aspects of their daily life. Of course, a short instruction in blowpipe shooting was not to be missed, where the participating women beat the men in marksmanship by far. A visit to a carver rounded off our tour so that we could stock up on his freshly carved products.

The visit outside in the jungle was rounded off with hikes in different nature parks, a visit to a sanctuary for injured animals kept in an unworthy manner by humans, which are being made fit for release into the wild, or looking over the shoulder of the cocoa farmer, where we were shown everything about the cultivation to the processing. The programme was really comprehensive, almost too much was offered to us, so that relaxing at the pool came too short.

No sooner had we got used to the roar of the monkeys and the chirping of the birds than we had to pack our bags and drive back across the Andes to the high plateau of Quito for our onward journey. We set off on the next hop to Cartagena/Colombia, which meant another flight via Panama to our destination in what was once the most important city for the Spanish conquest of the South American mainland. In any case, the day was very exhausting and the intermediate spurt at the transfer point in Panama challenged us even more.

Whether Cartagena is the pearl of South American cities or not, we let everyone decide for themselves, but the old town has managed to preserve its flair up to the present day and even the sins of construction in the historic core are hardly disturbing. The rhythms of the Caribbean and the cheerful life of the people continued well into the morning hours. In addition to the almost obligatory city tour, there was a Chiva ride on one of the legendary buses that used to offer the rural population a cheap means of transport and carried everything that needed to be transported.

No sooner had we got used to the rhythms of the Caribbean – Cartagena would still have many a pearl to discover – than time was pressing again: on we went to Panama, where we were soon able to take delivery of our motorhomes. Finally, life on the plane, in the hotel halls and on the buses came to an end. Not only we – Chantal and I – could hardly wait for this moment; jetting around and hotel holidays are definitely not for us!

For the freight and customs papers, our agent in Panama had to make a bigger effort, as such transports are apparently not commonplace, so we were taken by bus to the Panama Canal and the historic part of town. That the local city guide didn’t exactly have the golden touch was proven by the fact that we were standing at the locks at exactly the time of the daily lull. The city tour itself was relatively informative, but unfortunately he kept forgetting to switch off the microphone of the headsets when making lazy remarks, which led to some displeasure.

Then finally the time had come! We could finally pick up our vehicles at the port. But until that time came, we – all vehicle owners – had to spend many hours in a customs agency, checking papers for any errors and taking any stamps at many counters. Again, our agent had to drive to another customs office and our tour guide was already worried that the takeover of the cars could be delayed for another day.

Later in the afternoon, there was some movement in this story and we were finally allowed into the port area. After the first external inspection of the vehicles, we were handed the keys and immediately went to check the interior of each vehicle. Our group in front had a lot of things stolen from the vehicles during the crossing or in the respective ports. Our group also had some things missing and there was even damage to the interior. Chantal and I were very lucky in this respect and nothing was stolen nor was there any damage. We don’t know if it was due to the preparation or the accessibility of the vehicle, but we were very lucky.

Despite the negative incidents, we were all very happy to have our vehicles back and steered them back to the hotel, where the women left behind gave us a warm welcome. Now it was time to get the motorhomes ready for the journey again. We – Chantal and I – allowed ourselves an extra day of preparation, as we really had to clear out everything and put it back according to our needs.

Now our journey on the Panamericana can continue; finally we have our mobile home again and can experience the landscape as we like to do. Tomorrow we will finally continue our journey westwards through Panama and the other Central American countries. We are really looking forward to it!

Chantal & Tom/2023-03-31

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