An Agence France Press photographer and I climbed into a black 1958 DeSoto cab. We bounced over the cobblestone roads from the airport into old Cartagena, a walled city that had grown from a pirates lair 400 years before. Cartagena was a war zone in paradise. Sandbagged machine gun nests were stationed along the roads, under the swaying palms and a full moon. At the time, Colombia was at war with the M-19 guerrillas as well as the narcotrafficantes.

    Narcotics traffic actually benefits Colombia in many ways. Cocadollars had bestowed a skyline upon Cartagena. The tallest edifice on it was the Rallye headquarters, the Hotel Capilla del Mar.

    The hotel was a hotbed of activity. Slot machines clanged in the lobby. Empty Polar beer bottles lined the walls. The bell was rung at the concierge desk to no avail.

    The suite is not bad, at $50 a night, the most I will pay on the entire journey .A balcony overlooks the muddy Caribbean and brown beach. Perfect for a sunset Ron Pampero and coke. There's also a rooftop pool with attentive barmaids.

A coca and rum fueled meeting pulsed at 2:AM, five hours before the supposed departure: Last minute orders/directives from the race officials: If you go over the cliff that's it! "We will NOT bother to look for you. Another good one: Do not obey STOP signs, except at the official (Army) places, it may be a trick of the M-19 guerrillas ! However, if you don't stop at the official checkpoints you may be shot.How do you tell the difference? You can't!!!! "

    It turns out we are stuck here for a spell. The race was supposed to leave on the 19th, but the organizers have left town with all the money. Participants had paid $8000 per team to have cars shipped from New Orleans to Cartagena, all gas, food and lodging, fees, triptix and shipping back from BA to New Orleans. Luckily such an amount was pocket change to most of the participants and the race was saved. Departure is now Friday, April 22.

    Cartagena is not a bad place to spend four days. A restaurant dinner of Red Snapper rice and beans with a few beers is at most five bucks. If you're into the white stuff, it goes for about four dollars a gram. Cockfights are a great source of entertainment. The Rosary Islands are nearby for excellent snorkeling and swimming. At the giant bar next to the Capilla del Mar, Salsa was blasted 18 hours a day, from noon till six AM.