Last week we joined Greg (Skipper), Danny, Bob and Stephania on Sweet Dreams for a canal transit. It provided us with first hand experience of line handling which was great. Not so difficult but you have to stay alert.
11/25/2012, Shelter Bay Marina, Panama
It hasn't stopped raining here for a week and over the past few days its been torrential. Every night we are woken by blinding lightening and claps of thunder that make the boat shudder and send shockwaves through the water. The poor marina is struggling to keep power to the docks, laundry and bathrooms and the pool and deck areas are deserted. In a brief reprieve we emerge from our bunkers in the reds and yellow of offshore jackets and scuttle to the shop or showers trying not to fall on slippery tiles. Then its back below to the damp walls and linen and the constant battle against mould. It feels like we haven't seen sun in months.
Normal sea wall
After 12 inches of rain in less than 24 hours
11/24/2012, Shelter Bay, Panama
We have been back on the boat in Panama for a month now. It seems hard to believe we were in Australia at all. My mother, Margaret, died 2 months ago. She was 89 and had had a long and full life - from her early years designing and painting for repertory companies in Britain, to the wilderness and heat of Humpty Doo in northern Australia and 3 small children, and finally to Canberra. She was always drawing or painting or writing and always interested and engaged with old and new friends and her grandchildren. And she was always there for us.
I find it inconceivable that someone who has always been in my life, who I always returned to, was a focal point for us and a conduit to the past, is no longer there. So, just for a moment and because we are so far away -
Remember on my last trip home we visited the old Lanyon homestead. I wheeled you along that gravel path lined with giant pines and over knobbly grass down to the oak tree - you did very well to hold on. We had lunch under the tree and later meandered home through the streets of south Canberra recalling old haunts and people. It was a lovely day.
I can picture you now in your chair looking out to Mount Ainslie and it's grey eucalypts and ring of morning fog. I love you very much and will miss you for ever. Kate.
After spending the first few weeks of our stay in Columbia in the coastal regions we decided it was time to go inland. We settled on Bogota and the Cafetera region to its south west which we had heard is quite beautiful. We wanted to see some of the country but were reluctant to spend 18-20 hrs in a bus getting from Santa Marta to Bogota and so arranged to fly to Bogota then take a bus to Solento and return to Santa Marta by flying from Peirera via Bogota - we changed the final flight to Cartegena then bused back to Santa Marta when we heard we would need to return to Australia in September and so would not sail to Cartegena as originally planned.
We packed light but with warm clothes for Bogota which is at 2700 metres. Our first step was a 2 hr bus ride with Marisol (a door to door service) to Baranquilla which sits on the giant Rio de Magdelena and is the major industrial city on the Caribbean coast. Its outskirts are a mad confusion of dust, trucks and myriads of vendors selling tools, fasteners, fabrics, plastics, machines, internet, photocopies, stationary - you could buy anything there. We stayed downtown in leafy streets with supermarkets and restaurants - Baranquilla has an established middle eastern population and some good restaurants with a middle eastern flavour (we enjoyed our meal at the Lebanese "Arabe Gourmet").
The following morning we flew from Baranquilla to Bogota and took a taxi from the airport to our B&B hotel in La Candelaria. We had heard and read stories about bad taxi experiences but we used the official taxi service at the airport and found it inexpensive and easy. There is a yellow taxi kiosk to the left as you exit the airport. Give them the address of your hotel/hostel and they will print a voucher with the price. You give this to the taxi driver as well as the address.
We stayed at Hotel Chorro de Quevedo which is on Calle 12B and right in the heart of the Bohemian section of La Candelaria. Its a slightly edgy area with a colourful history of gangsters and crime but it is alive with artists, students, restaurants and music - we loved it. Chorro de Quevedo is a quirky B&B over 4 floors. It was originally a brothel for transvestites [if only those walls could talk] and, Massimo, its Italian born owner, has an eclectic taste in furnishing which means there is something to gaze at or explore in every corner.
Our first afternoon was spent wandering the area. Everywhere the walls are covered in elaborate graffiti and paintings. The walls themselves painted rich ochres, terracotta, whites and blacks. Small shops sell sweets and pastries. Street vendors offer freshly made sugared preztels or potato crisps, intriguing stews with pimento, fruits, nuts and fresh juices.
It was Sunday and so the main streets around the city were closed and given over to cyclists and the public to stroll, meet, eat, and watch the many buskers. In the evening we stopped at Rosettas restaurant in Quevedo Square - a popular place for students - and sat and watched the comics perform to an audience of onlookers, while in the background others made attempts at walking a tight rope, or listened to guitar players and bongo drums and people watched.
Our next day was spent at the bank. Not our preference but we have had difficulty with withdrawing money from the cash machines in Columbia and have had to go to cashiers in the bank. In Santa Marta this was straightforward in Bogota it was more difficult - but we got there. The next day was a public holiday - a common phenomenon in Columbia - to celebrate the battle of Boyaca when Columbia won its independence from Spain. Once again the roads were closed and we wandered the city and then took the funicular to the top of Mt Monserrat to view the city. On a neigbouring mountain is a statue of Christ - a smaller version of the one in Rio de Janeiro.
Catedral de Sal
Our final day we headed to La Catedral de Sal which is about 2 hrs north of Bogota by buses. We used the TransMilenio which is a rapid transit bus to Portal Norte on the outer edges of the city and then hopped on the local bus to Zipaquira - another hrs ride. Once again straightforward and modern and while the return buses were very crowded, it was no different to being on public transport in any other city during peak hour.
The cathedral is spectacular. Originally inspired by a modest shrine built by salt miners, the main shaft has been turned into a gallery of symbols depicting the 14 stations of the cross, each lit with changing hues of blue, white, and magenta. The catherdral itself is vast and together with the galleries can carry 8000 tourists at any one time. On our day there were only 250 and the place felt empty. The mine away from the cathedral is still active and its salt is used mainly in industry. There is also an Ozi presence in the structure. Eucalyptus wood is used in the tunnel supports because of its resistance to salt corrosion. Outside, the mine complex is surrounded by a forest of eucalypts.
Next morning we took an early taxi to the Terminal de Transporte to catch the 8am Bolivariano express to Amenia in the Cafetera region - we finally left at 9am not on the G2 (wifi, movies etc) but on an everyday 70 seat bus with two drivers. The early stages of the 8hr trip are mostly flat and rural but the latter half twists and winds through steep mountainous country. Our 2nd driver thought he was Michael Schumacher and belted down the mountainsides at white knuckle speed, dodging around trucks and buses, narrowly missing head-ons. Paul spent half the trip trip trying to film it.
From Amenia we took another bus to Solento and then a taxi to our hostel La Serrana which is about 15mins walk from the town. We arrived before dusk to a bucolic landscape and a "family" dinner for 13. Solento is a small town arranged around a central square. Its a popular weekend spot for Columbians and known for its trout and gigantic patacon (a flattened deep fried plantain) as well as for coffee and its proximity to the Valle de Cocora with its 60 meter wax palms. We had two meals of trout and patacon and then couldn't eat it again which was difficult because 99% of the restaurants serve this or beans and meat so we reverted to Ramen noodles on the last night.
Our plan in Solento was to chill and we did a bit of this but I couldn't resist a short hike through the Valle de Cocora (with Paul in thongs that's all it was ever going to be - certainly the 5 hr hike around the valley was out of the question). We walked into town just after 9am to catch a jeep to the valley and arrived about 15 minutes later with our dozen companions. We had discovered on the way that the cocora were mostly at the end of the 5 hr hike so you could backtrack without having to walk the entire route. The other alternative was to ride horses for the first hour then walk the remaining track. We had planned horse riding and a coffee plantation visit the next day so we set off up the hill in the opposite direction to everyone else. At the top of the hill there is a black wooden gate with white tips and a narrow easement onto farm land. The entire area is scattered with wax palms but it is not until you walk among them that you get a sense of their height.
Our last day we spent the morning riding horses to a small coffee planation run by Don Elias. Our guide Omar tested my Spanish with his amiable commentary on the area, its produce, and geography. I was pleased that I understood about half of what he said and managed to construct some questions and comments of my own which he understood. This trip has improved my Spanish and Paul now understands quite a bit although he doesn't speak it often. Omar's horses are well behaved but responsive and a delight to ride and Don Elias ensures you understand the growing and production process of coffee, as well as correcting your pronunciation. His coffee is delicious.
Another early morning taxi into town and bus ride to Periera - a city of 1 million people. It was foggy and raining and flights were delayed from Bogota because of bad weather. This worked in our favour since Lan had sent a message to say that our flight to Bogota had been cancelled and we had been scheduled on a flight at 8pm - 2 hrs after our flight from Bogota to Cartegena! A feat only H D Wells can imagine. As it turned out we arrived in Cartegena at 4.30, four hours before we had planned. The same taxi scheme as Bogota was available in Cartegena and we had our bags down at Hotel el Viajero in 20 minutes. El Viajero was pretty ordinary compared to our other accommodation. The room is a dark cell with an ensuite but it does have cable tv if you want it. Still, we were there to see Cartegena and the staff were very pleasant and helpful and it cost only 70,000 pesos per night for a hotel situated in Centro so not too bad.
The old city of Cartegena is georgeous. Its architecture colonial Spanish with frequent squares and balconies everywhere. But, its a tourist city and the touting can become tiring and it is very expensive. It was well worth the visit and we managed to catch up with Sue and Andy on Spruce before they left for the San Blas Islands. Their experiences with docking and anchoring in Cartegena made us glad we were not going to sail there.
Our final leg was by bus again using Marisol's door to door service to Santa Marta. Not a pleasant trip this one. We were in the back seats which sit over the luggage so no leg room at all. We were very glad to get to the marina and then in the evening to sit unaccosted in our favourite Parque de los Novios.
LINK TO PHOTOS
We have been in Columbia now for almost 3 months and most of that time has been spent either in or around Santa Marta. In July Spruce and Zenna joined us at Marina Santa Marta and we took the opportunity to head inland for a couple of nights to Minca. For us it was a second visit having first explored it with Vicky and Bob on Foxy. It was then that we met Leila and Guilame who have a small art/craft gallery called Ecoarte Casa Taller and discovered that Leila runs classes in bookmaking. I had followed up with Leila and arranged a class for us. The plan was for the three girls to spend an afternoon making books and for the blokes to chill or do whatever they do.
A taxi to Minca is around 30,000. We had two rickety jeeps collect us from the marina and drive us there for 10,000 a head - so basically the same. We stayed at Casa Loma for the views and organised our days so that we had minimal climbs up and down the 250 stairs to the hostel (worth every step when you get to the top).
Our afternoon through to evening session with Leila was a lot of fun and we each came away with a small perfectly formed and bound book. Leila is a patient and particular teacher and ensured our finished products were something to be proud of. She and Guilame are delightful people and have a simple elegance in all that they do, including the garden where they grow and sell arugula and avocados, and it was a pleasure to spend time with them. Link to Ecoarte
While we made books the boys headed to town and waited for us to join them for dinner. We took longer than expected and by the time we returned they were well watered and hungry. We had dinner late in a cafe called el Mox Mica remarkable for its perfectly round front door. The food was good too.
Next day we walked to the cascades about 5 km out of town. The walk is pleasant along a dirt road that winds through forest and in and out of rural areas. The last stretch winds around a hill, with huts and restaurants below and pasture above, to a series of pools and a gushing, slightly chilly waterfall - welcome after a warm walk.
The final evening we spent lounging around the hostel watching the sunset. It was Sue's birthday the next day and she was champing at the bit for an upmarket meal. By the time we arrived back at the boats that idea had gone to pot and it wasn't until they reached Cartegena a few weeks on that she finally got her dinner.
Three days after our return from Cuidad Perdida (see separate entry), we headed with Spruce and their two companions Ed and Fay from Casa Loma to the bays of Tayrona Park for 10 days. There are 5 bays in all but with northerly winds and swell we decided to spend the first few nights in Ensenada Gairaca. Spruce arrived before us and we both secured an anchorage in a nook on the inside east end of the bay thinking this would shelter us fom the swell and winds. Swell yes, winds no, at least not at night. The katabatic winds were phenomenal, blasting us with gusts that felt like 50+ knots but because they were dumping the strain on our anchor was minimal. Even so, the strain on us listening to that at night was wearing. The bay is relatively isolated with the exception of Ronaldo who has a habit of rowing out to boats in his canoe and having a chat and collecting boat cards. He has been doing it for a while with cards back to 1990.
There are nice walks along the beach and into the bays but Ed and Fay on Spruce found out on the second day that our boat permits were only valid on the water and we were not to walk on the beaches or hike unless we had individual permits for the park. While this is fair enough since tourists coming from land have to pay, for us it posed a problem because we were unable to get to the park entrance to obtain passes. In effect, we were prisoners on our boats - albiet very comfortable prisons. After 3 nights of being battered by wind Spruce up-anchored and moved to Ensenada Chengue. We stayed put, planning to join them the following day at Ensenada Concha. Spruce thought the snorkelling was better at Chengue but they were hit by swell and the reef made the anchorage uncomfortable. Our only regret with staying at Gairaca was not trying the south west corner of the bay. Although counterinutive given the direction of the trades and swell it may have been a more comfortable site and we saw two boats anchor off the beach there. In fact, this is roughly the position we ended up anchoring in Concha. The first night we anchored off a fishman's hut on the east shore near Spruce but the wind turned south west and blew us around on our anchor to be uncomfortably close to the rocky cliff. That plus an early morning signal from the fisherman that they were putting out their nets had us haul the anchor and head towards the beach for another site. We anchored in 6-7 metres of water off the beach. This bay is popular with tourists and between 10am and 4pm is crowded with swimmers. Before and after though we had it to oursleves and it is a very pretty beach with better snorkelling. Sue topped the snorkelling off by finding a seahorse.
Spruce headed back after 3 nights and we again stayed for another day. There was some filming going on in the bay and an imitation minature submarine was being towed around with an intermittent flurry of activity - a lot of fun to watch. The only incident which left us a little weary was what we surmise was two boys pulling down our swim ladder, taking a shower with our deck shower, and stting in our cockpit. Nothing was touched otherwise but it was uncomfortable and left us thinking we would anchor further out next time.
Cuidad Perdida (Wikipedia link) is the remains of an ancient city built on terraces by the Tairona in mountainous terrain in the north east of Columbia. The hike to Cuidad Perdida which takes 4-6 days is considered a must for travelers to this region and around 40-50 hikers a day visit the city. The hikes are guided and cost around 600,000 pesos whether you do it in 4 or 6 days. We took 6 days which pretty well means one hill a day and an afternoon just to let the experience settle which is great - for others it is "free" lodging. Accommodation is dormitory style in hammocks or cots and all food and non-alcoholic drinks are included as well as a guide (generally without English, so having a smattering of Spanish helps). You carry your personal clothes/thongs, toiletries etc and towel but do not need linen.
Its not an easy hike. The terrain of mountains and valleys is cartoon like - you are either going up or going down and for every up there is a down, regardless of your direction.
Sue and Andy from Spruce and I (Paul just thought we were barking mad) booked with Magic tours but the night before we left Sue came down with a tummy bug so just Andy and I headed off the next morning. The hike was strenuous and the humidity debilitating at points because the air was so still. On the first morning I developed blisters on my ankles from sweat and tender skin that doesn't see shoes. I walked the entire hike in my crocs carrying and cursing my heavy leather boots.
I had had some misgivings about taking this hike with its reputation for being a challenging course with mosquitos, humidity, and what many consider to be only a moderately interesting site at the end. But it was worth every mosquito bite (legs covered) and the litres of sweat. Cuidad Perdida is impressive and evokes the living city that was abandoned so hastily with the Spanish conquest. Our guide explained the customs of the local Koguis tribes and their early distinction between male and female roles (eg. young girls carry string bags and boys slingshots). Our guides and helpers in the cabanas were hardworking and friendly, the hike itself rewarding, and our group of 13 hikers a lot of fun to walk with. Getting home to warm showers and a good bed topped off the experience. LINK TO PHOTOS