20/Jun/2012, Santa Marta - Colombia
An early paddle ashore for a trip to Santa Marta, the capital city of the Magdelene region. Sophie and Pedro from Moana had kindly offered to show us the market and other key locations that would speed us up the learning curve in a new place. All the simple things in this cruising lifestyle take so much time when you don't know where anywhere is, nor how to get there.
We bounced along the roads aboard the bus, a 16-seater with the side sliding door wide open, Sue no longer looking quite so smug at nabbing the leg-roomy seat by the entrance, as the world sped by. Before eight o'clock and the humid heat already quite oppressive in the bus; some luckier than others to be sat on the shady side, as the sun, still low in the sky beat in through the gaping windows.
Over the limestone crags and we speedily descended into the outskirts of the city. Initially wide streets flanked by low concrete and brick dwellings, a railway track down the middle of one. Litter and other debris from human habitation sullied the appearance. Dust coating the masonry, still air, relentless radiation from the sun commencing to bake all before it. Further in towards the centre and various stores and artisan's workshops sprang into view. Hoards of motorcycles, scooters, taxis and buses ferrying workers to their destinations for another day's toil. Advertising skillfully painted onto walls gave colour and vibrato to otherwise unremarkable architecture. A few more blocks and larger, more impressive edifices lined our route. Some undoubtably monuments to a former colonial era, others more modern and built during the last century to service a rapidly growing nation as she struggled to develop and spread her wings.
Once on foot and into the centre the host of varying street traders made the eyes boggle. Many hauling carts or carrying vessels full with refreshment, cold drinks, lime juice, coffee, watermelons. You want it somebody had it. One chap selling spectacles took on the task of re-inserting Sue's lenses into new plastic frames, the original metal ones had succumbed to the damp and salty existence on board. Then a small cantina for breakfast; a simple meal of scrambled eggs (huevos) and corn meal pancakes (arrepa) washed down with two cups of coffee all for around UK£2 per person. While enjoying our coffee a shoe polisher touting for trade didn't even bother asking when he espied our sandal clad feet beneath the table.
The market was a complete onslaught on the cultural, aural and olfactory senses. Once, no doubt, a common sight on the streets of the UK, now largely elbowed aside by the takeover of supermarkets. Narrow stalls covered by ramshackle plastic and corrugated iron awnings were bedecked with foods of all types: meat, angrily red with no refrigeration; fish of diverse species, already dressed and ready for the oven or pan; fruits, some we had never seen before; vegetables galore and the produce of the tomato tree bought to sample foods anew. Stall-holders cheerfully babbling away as if we understood their patter, always smiling and helpful as we stumbled over our new found Spanish phrases. A sheer joy to have such a wide range from which to choose and at such economical prices after the East Caribbean where produce was always an expensive extra.
Definitely a fine day out and a satisfying start on our mission to master the language spoken by over 300 million folks on planet Earth.
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17/Jun/2012, Taganga - Colombia
Not a great choice of timing to arrive on a holiday weekend. Our agent, Senor Dino Alfonso, kindly came out to the boat on Sunday to get the paperwork started on our formalities and clearance to enter Colombia, our eighth country visited on this voyage of experiences and new discoveries. A visit by a coast guard launch in the afternoon seemed to be indicating we couldn't stay where we were and must go to a marina, much radio traffic later and we were told no worries. It seems a recent change in the law (8th May) has not yet been fully communicated to all authorities. Dino has emailed through our initial clearances so we now have copies of paperwork signed by the regional Capitana de Puerto saying we can legitimately be where we are located. So hopefully no more hitches.
Pedro and Sophie, the folks from our only other yachting neighbour "Moana" came aboard for sundowners and a chat about Taganga, they have been here for a couple of months. Pedro is Brazilian, Sophie a French Breton, who bought a Dutch boat in Florida and are cruising the Caribbean. More fascinating tales of life as cruisers with insights into sailing in Colombia.
A short paddle and the first step ashore in South America. Our heightened senses were assaulted by a plethora of new stimuli. Music from stalls and shops, the babble of strange voices, delicious smells from hidden cooking, proprietors attempting to lure us into their emporiums, street vendors hauling bright displays of wares, local buses coughing along the road, dogs laying in shade. A thriving community with many holiday makers from the hinterland enjoying themselves on the beach. In all a noisy developing town with a complete mixture of buildings and styles.
We spent some time checking out local diving and making a start on planning what we want to do during our stay here. After lunch ashore and a stroll back along the street the blazing sun signaled it was time to repair aboard for a siesta to await the evening coolness.
The photo shows the main transportation options: bike, taxi and old style (natural air conditioning) South American Bus. The modern air conditioned buses require one to wear thermal undies to avoid hypothermia, we hear.
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17/Jun/2012, Bahia de Taganga - Colombia
A night spent motoring in a large swell, lumpy remnants of the windier day before. Lightening flashing to seaward and more over the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, thankfully not on top of us. Quite a spectacular scene as the forces of nature play out a power struggle in the skies. From 30 miles distant the high terrain of the coastal side of the Sierra Nevada was visible, dark bulk with a harder edge in the murk. As darkness fell lights appeared in villages and on radio masts. A long slow motor into the darkness, our smooth passage impeded by a counter current of up to two-and-a-half knots at times. First traces of dawn came at 04:30 local time, initially an imperceptible lighting of the skies astern, followed by a hardening of the mountainous relief ashore. With the light came squadrons of pelicans, seaward bound for an early day feeding session, following them were pirogues, powered by outboards, racing along inshore of our track, possibly hoping to catch the same fish.
The most remarkable thing was the scent of wet tropical foliage and earth, smelt during the night and as we closed the shore and amazingly pungent within a couple of miles of land. As we rounded the last headland Bahia de Taganga and the village at its head opened out before us, quite a mixture of architecture and, loud music booming out at 06:30 on a Sunday morning. As we anchored a head popped out from the fore hatch of the single other yacht, within 30 minutes Pedro had rowed across to say hi and to tell us the noise was celebrating Father's Day. Pedro was the chap who posted the recent article on Noonsite about this being a great place to visit and his wife taking dancing lessons in the town square. Many local boats buzzing around, cheerful faces, waving folks. Our first impressions are very positive and maybe this will be a an excellent place to spend quality time learning some Spanish.
Photo shows Pedro and Sophie's yacht, the only other visitor here.
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15/Jun/2012, At Sea off Columbia Coast
All good things come to an end, including the fair current and the wind. Almost no wind and more than one knot of current against us has brought the iron topsail into play. The infernal combustion engine and its noise, plus fumes pushed by a slight stern breeze, are indeed tiresome but progress is preferred to sails slapping in windless swell.
A grey day with humidity increasing and the threat of rain always present is making the living environment less than comfortable. Oh for a cooling breeze.
Highlights in the last 24 hours have included spectacular lightning flashes over the unseen land to port during the night, no sign of it moving offshore, thankfully. More than twenty flying fish (see photo)threw themselves on deck during the night, probably helped by the choppy seas slapping the hull as we rolled from side to side. This afternoon a South American visitor alighted , a Carolina Sphinx Moth, very large and unusual; approximately 7 cm long and with a 10cm wingspan. Maybe a sign of the new fauna to be encountered on the mainland in the coming weeks.
No chance of getting anchored by nightfall so we'll slowly chug our way through the night and time it for a Sunday morning arrival.
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15/Jun/2012, At Sea off Columbia Coast
Good progress has been made over the past day. The seas are much kinder since rounding Cabo Vela and its notorious headland. After Aruba the water was shallower and the waves short and most uncomfortable. The current went slightly foul as we came round the cape putting wind against current, that is probably why this area of sea has a bad reputation in strong trade winds with the waves being kicked up into a short chop. However, we are fortunate with only around 20 knots of wind, it has recently been 25-30knots along this stretch of coastline for weeks at a time.
The better than expected progress now gives us the quandry of whether to attempt to reach our anchorage before dark tomorrow or to just slow down and plan for first light on Sunday. How we do during the night and our breakfast time position tomorrow should make the correct decision a little clearer.
The wind is now coming across the the port quarter (left hand rear corner) and we have a single headsail poled out on the starboard side, this rig should do us fine for the wee small hours as it will be easy to reef down with one person to save walking up the lucky off watch bunny. As we sail further south there is a chance we might view the snow capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, a range of mountains poking up some 5,000 meters into the sky and a very cold spot even at equatorial latitudes.
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14/Jun/2012, At Sea between Curacao and Aruba
Rolling along with a poled out genoa to starboard and a hanked staysail on the inner forestay to port. Not quite as much sail as with twin furling head sails but more versatile for changing rig when the wind comes onto the beam in a day or two. Curacao is still vaguely visible on the starboard quarter as it rapidly recedes astern. Our destination is a place close to Santa Marta in Colombia, some 350 miles west of our departure point at Spaanse Water.
We are running with about 17-20kn wind from astern. A fair current off Willemstad was 2kn for about 20 miles and now down to about 1kn. Pleasing progress to be averaging about 6 knots through water. Will have to slow down if we keep this up as we don't want to arrive at night:-) So far after 35 miles under the keel we are both settling in to on board routine for our first lengthier passage since sailing from Grenada to Bonaire about 6 weeks ago.
The past two days were spent hurrying about the island of Curacao in a rental car with friends Christian and Birgit from aboard Pitufa. Some sights were worth seeing. The limestone caves near to Hato airport particularly deserve a mention, although nothing that can't be found in the UK's Mendip hills or Yorkshire. The national park area was quite disappointing after the Slagbaai Park in Bonaire. In general, the historic parts of Willemstad with its old Dutch Architecture were a delight to view but the rest of the island seemed to lack the bonhomie hoped for. Outside of old Willemstad bars were grim affairs with drinks handed through a barred grill and no seating provided, cafes and places for a roadside snack were hard to find. A lot of crumbling and deserted holiday resorts lay waste and abandoned. How things came to this stage is unclear, maybe tourist amenties are to be discovered behind the gated compounds of newer establishments. All in all for cruisers with limited time, who want to dive, we would recommend trying Bonaire in preference and give Curacao a miss altogether.
Piccie of us in the caves: left to right - Sue, Andy, Christian, Birgit
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