** UPDATE ** Based on other travellers experience NYK is not accepting tourist vehicles anymore unless the vehicle is completely empty at shipping.
The major overlander story coming out from Panama is usually regarding to vehicle shipping, dog shipping and flying down to Cartagena. As there is no way they will build a road through the Darien Gap, the interests of shipping companies and the Canal are too high, the shipping soap opera is here to stay. So here is Part One from our experience, vehicle shipping. We contacted SC Line ahead of time about RoRo shipping to Cartagena and we set up everything ahead of time. Then two weeks later we received an email that the company has been sold and the route has changed and not just the route. A shipping to Cartagena now is 30 days and to Santa Marta 15 days. New emails went out to other companies and no answers came in regarding shipping. It was like nobody was interested. Now if your vehicle fits into a container, you are looking for a different story as our Sprinter will not fit into a shared tin box therefore we have two options RoRo and LoLo aka flatrack. We had to go in person to few offices, Seabord and Barwil to hammer out some prices. Seaboard $ 2,400.00 LoLo to Cartagena, Barwil/ Wilhemsen $ 2,850.00 to Cartagena, SC Line $1,460.00 to Santa Marta. Looks like no mater which of these three you contact Tea Kalmabach will be involved in the shipping somehow. After coming across a 15 years old blog post the NYK name came up. NYK will not deal directly with customers, you need to go to a shipping agent, which is Norton-Lilly in Panama City. They were quite helpful and efficient and came up with $750.00 RoRo to Guayaquil, Ecuador. The ship is once a month only and we had three days to arrange everything. we left the Norton-Lilly office in hurry to be at DIJ before 10 AM and 15 minutes later our van broke down. The repair process is detailed in another post. After the repairs we came back to NYK and arranged for the next ship. Received the B/L (Bill of lading), paid the fees as agreed $750.00 then next thing was Port of Manzanillo drop off. The whole process is not that complicated, as long you find the right buildings and have about 5 hours worth of patience. First you go to Aduana at the Zona Libre to cancel the import permit, then to the other Aduana by the port to collect some more stamps and copies at three different windows, then pay $71 for port fee. OK you can drive to the actual port drop off now, which is behind a closed gate, no sign. After two attempts to drive in through an open gate finally they managed to point out the right place for me. First you walk in to drop off the papers, then they open the gate and drive in the yard where some uniformed guy will actually point out the spot where to stop. Then they yank open all your doors and they start checking the vehicle 2-3 guys in the same time. The main jefe seems to be the 21 years old kid who handles the sniffing dog and the vehicle search. He will definitely play the jefe and will yank drawers out and start throwing things left and right in the van, calling me “my friend” in English about every 30 seconds trying to speed up the work by pushing me to open up everything in the same time. This is when I just lost it, switched to replay speed and told him ”buddy, once we pack back everything to this drawer, you can open the next one”. No worries, we’ll sweat together inside here. So every time he called out ”my friend, let’s go!” I told him, no worries we have time, be patient. Finally after a while he gave up, brought along the sniffing puppy for a tour and stormed away. His idea was to throw around in the van everything in a second and leave a mess behind. Well, not so fast buddy, one step at a time, this ain’t your momma’s kitchen to mess it up. As a final attempt he started to dig inside my backpack prepared on the driver seat to take it with me. I had to ask him “what are you doing? That is personal stuff, not part of the shipping!” He mumbled something like he has to check everything and I said “No, that is my personal stuff, hands off!”. I’m telling you this Mickey Mouse was a piece of work. Then they wanted the key right away and again, slow down people, first I pack back everything, locked and chained up ALL the doors beside the driver side, then I turned in the key to the office. Part One is done, now we will have a week worth of nerves how the van is holding up to the hungry eyes and sticky palms, hoping that the other side things will go well with freeing up from port Guayaquil. On the way out I asked the security guy how to call a taxi and he just told me wave one down on the street. Twenty minutes later I was still waiting to spot one. Finally a guy came up to me and said, there are no taxis coming out here and he gave me a ride to the first bus station where I could catch a cab to the train station. By then I felt like I have not taken a bath in ages and worn to bits. The ride to Panama on the train felt quite refreshing and the coffee they served was heavenly drink. It’s been ‘only’ five hours of runaround but it sure felt like at least double in the stinky hot weather.