So it begins…

We have arrived in Bogota, Colombia. More about that later, I really want to use this post to document some of the fun we had in the week or so prior to our departure.

I had a nicely phased exit from work. Thanks to the Cunningham’s wedding I was able to do a three day week and then finish on a two day week. On the Tuesday night of that second to last week I had a great night out with the work team, followed by the wedding two days later. Finally we had a party in London for friends attended by some of our closest friends from work, university, London and even a few school friends. Even though it was all a bit last minute and hectic, it was a lot of fun spending a few nights surrounded by some of our favourite people. To top it all off I was presented with a huge pile of gifts from my work colleagues including some very useful items (new flip flops, awesome portable BBQ, disposable ponchos, US Dollars) as well as some amusing but slightly less useful gifts (rubber duck, fake moustache etc). That weekend we went up to Nottingham for a leaving party with the family, and to deposit my car safely on Dad’s drive. The party was a roaring success and a great way to see everyone.

After the weekend the real work began. The plan was to spend our final week decorating parts of the flat ready for new tenants, pack for South America (it turns out that packing for 6 months is very different to packing for a holiday) and finally to move all of our belongings to storage in Bristol and to do the last bits and pieces to enable us to leave the country.

It all started roughly to plan, while Alex did her last two days at work I decorated the bathroom, of course it took longer than I planned and I was still going on Wednesday. On Thursday we spent the entire day packing the flat and calling utilities, banks etc ready for the big moving day on Friday.

On Friday I picked up a Luton van from a local van hire company at 8am. I dropped it home and went for my final physio appointment hoping that if I combined physio and a day of heavy lifting I might just end the day with my back no worse than it started. By 10am I was back home and we started loading the van, the plan was to get to Bristol by 5:30pm latest as the storage closed at 6pm and although we have 24 hour access we had an issue the first time we tried to use it and I didn’t want to arrive with a full van to find out that we couldn’t get in! While Alex continued with some final packing I started moving boxes to the van.

About an hour later I managed to dislodge an elasticated strap that I was using to keep some smaller boxes in place in the back of the van and the metal end snapped back straight onto my right index finger. Within 30 seconds my finger had literally doubled in size but I could still move it and worked out nothing was broken.

After a quick break I carried on the loading albeit slightly more carefully. At 2:30pm (the time that we’d agreed to leave) the van still had plenty of space left in it and much more worryingly the flat still had far too much left in it. We carried on loading for another hour and with the flat starting to look emptier and the van filling up we decided to make a break for it. Luckily I had an inkling that this was a possibility, so that morning when picking up the van I had enquired about the possibility of hiring a regular transit on Sunday. Before we left for Bristol I booked the van for Sunday and we hit the road. The Sat Nav reckoned we’d arrive just after 6pm but I thought that we might be able to catch the time up so we hit the road with vengeance taking all the shortcuts and hoping we might just make the storage unit before six.

Things were going well and it was looking like we’d make it until disaster struck. When I picked up the van it had 3/8 of a tank of diesel and the trip computer thought this would take us 30 miles further than we needed to go. The plan was to get to the unit, unload then fill up with diesel for the trip home. Along the M4 all was well, we got to around 50 miles to go with around 75 miles of diesel left in the van then 15 miles to go with 35 left. Now at this point we were starting to have a little less spare than I was comfortable with so I decided to tell the Sat Nav to take us off the motorway a junction early, saving a couple of miles off the trip but adding a couple of minutes. We pulled off the motorway with 12.5 miles to go and 30 miles in the tank then, all of a sudden the miles on the computer starting to drop off at a rate of 1 every 10 seconds. We went from 30 to 20 miles within half a mile, then 20 to 15 miles in seconds and we realised that needed to find a petrol station quickly! We worked out that the nearest petrol station was 5 miles away in the right direction. We pushed on with the fuel still ticking down and a mile and a half later, with 3.5 miles left to go, we reached 0 miles left in the tank. Thanks to leaving the motorway early we were also on narrow country roads with passing places. With no choice but to push on we continued and hoped for the best. 2.5 miles later coming into a village I started to feel the engine splutter, I just managed to get through the village and on seeing the road narrow again heading up a hill I found the last possible place to stop where we wouldn’t be blocking the road and pulled in. The engine died immediately. I checked the Sat Nav, just under a mile to go and I set off for a walk leaving Alex to look after the van. At this point all thoughts of reaching the storage unit by 6pm were abandoned. I reached the petrol station pretty quickly, filled up a can of diesel and headed back towards the van. Luckily it was short walk up and over a hill on quiet country lanes but I was all too aware that if we’d run out of fuel two miles earlier it would have been a lot less easy! After the 45 minute round trip plus a few minutes visiting the petrol station (for the second time) to fill up the van we reached the storage unit just before 7pm. The access code worked perfectly. Unloading at the storage unit was a little quicker as they have trolleys to help with unloading, although negotiating the freight lift and carefully (and sometimes not so carefully) stacking our belongings up to the ceiling in the unit took a little time.

Exhausted we left the unit at 9:30pm and realising that we’d barely stopped for food all day we pulled into McDonald’s for some food. We got back on the road for 10pm and home for 12:30am. The van was due back before 8am the next morning so to save us the early start, we opted to drive it back there and then. We eventually got home around 1:30am and slept straight through to 10am the next morning.

So that Alex would be able to finish packing and getting the last few things ready on the Sunday we agreed that I would do the final trip on the Sunday on my own, and I called my uncle Nigel who lives near to Bristol to ask him to help me unload the mattress into the storage unit on Sunday. We were determined to avoid a repeat of Friday so we spent Saturday packing everything we could into boxes and I put the finishing touches on the bathroom.

Sunday morning was another 8am pickup, however this time the van hire people already knew me so I was back home and packing the van by 8:30am, I left by 10am and made good time to Bristol. I arrived at the storage unit and entered my code at the gate, got the usual “Entry Granted” message on the screen and then nothing happened. A few seconds later the inner gate opened while the outer gate remained firmly shut. I tried re-entering the code a few times with no luck. Another van had arrived just behind me and were wondering what the problem was so I explained the problem. They tried their own code with the same result. By this point it was pretty clear that the outer gate was broken. I entered my code again but this time I walked up to the gate and gave it a push, it opened a few inches and we realised that the magnetic lock had released but the hydraulic opener was preventing it opening. We called the assistance number but it just goes through to a central location where they promise to try to call out someone (while not sounding especially hopeful!). I had a van load and had just driven over a hundred miles, I wasn’t going to be deterred by a security gate. By this time I’d tried giving the gate a good push a few times and, although it was refusing to open, the gap had now widened to a couple of feet. By now I was mentally concocting strategies to unload everything through the gap, through the second gate, into the loading bay then to move it into the unit. I decided to try one last push at the gate and realised that by constantly pushing at it I could very slowly compress the hydraulics and inch the gate open. A couple of minutes later with the guys in the van behind me looking worried I had opened enough of a gap to squeeze the van though. I punched in the code one last time to open the inner gate and drove into the loading bay.

Unloading the van took as couple of hours, Nigel arrived and helped me to move the mattress and a few of the bigger items before he had to head off for a meeting. The hardest bit was squeezing everything into the unit. In the end I had to disassemble the bikes and BBQ and pack everything to the ceiling but it just about all went in. After a bite to eat I hit the road and got home for a reasonable time. Alex had spent the day packing and doing a few final bits of DIY but needed some help to finish it off. We then had to drop off the van, drive to Harley and Pete’s to drop off their car (that we borrowed from them for the week) and then get a taxi to an airport Hilton for the night. We ordered room service as soon as we got to the hotel and got to sleep as quickly as we could, unfortunately thanks to a long day and an early flight the next morning we only had four hours to sleep before we were due to get up.

The next morning we felt like the walking dead, having been working around the clock for days and desperately short of sleep however we managed to get a bus to the airport, check in and then grabbed some breakfast at the BA lounge. Our first flight to Madrid was uneventful and the final flight to Bogota was long but thanks to a short transfer in Madrid the whole trip was only around 14 hours. We reclaimed our baggage, found an ATM where we quickly had to work out how much money to withdraw (700,000 Columbian Pesos) then headed straight for the “Authorised Taxis” queue.

One thing that we’d repeatedly read about Bogota was that taxis can be dodgy, every now and then taxi drivers have been known to mug tourists. In particularly bad cases they’ve been kept hostage until midnight so that they could escort them to an ATM for a second time to withdraw the next day’s limit! We’d read that this was only really a danger if you hailed a taxi on the street, as long as you use an official taxi properly booked everything should be fine. With this in mind we were keen to catch a properly organised taxi. We were immediately approached by the taxi organisers who negotiated a fare with an official taxi put our bags in the boot and then asked for a tip. Not being familiar with the currency I gave the guy a note marked 50 which seemed to be the smallest denomination that I had. We set off with the driver and I used the privacy to have a look at what we’d actually got out of the ATM. At this point I realised that the notes marked 50 were actually the biggest notes at 50,000 pesos (despite the others being all labelled 10,000, 20,000 etc.). I quickly realised that I’d just tipped the taxi organiser the princely sum of £11 which was nearly double what the 1 hour taxi ride across Bogota was due to cost! Oh well, a few days later we’ve learnt our lesson and we’re just about getting to grips with the various notes and coins.

We eventually arrived at the hotel, checked into our room, set an alarm to wake us for dinner and settled down for a nap. When the alarm went off 1.5 hours later it woke me from a deep sleep, I immediately panicked and thought we missed our flight! I felt pretty terrible, I was short of breath and felt like I’d just been beaten up. Bogota is the third highest capital city in South America with an altitude of 2,640 meters (8,660 ft), that’s still a thousand metres short of La Paz but even walking through the airport we noticed that we were short of breath. Altitude seems to affect everyone differently. On our honeymoon in Peru I got altitude sickness when we arrived in Cusco at 3,400 m (11,200 ft). Luckily although it was pretty unpleasant for 48 hours it wore off and three days later I was walking the Inca Trail. This time the altitude sickness was much milder but we still decided to veto dinner so Alex (who was less affected) grabbed a snack from the hotel and we went back to sleep ready for our first proper day in Colombia.

To be continued….


Author: Chris Greenwood

IT Consultant, traveller, foodie, husband and occasional blogger

One thought on “So it begins…”

  1. Glad I didn’t know all of the mishaps in advance! As it was I was a bit concerned about you both working around the clock, anyway that’s all history now. Looking forward to the next installment.x

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