15 January 2018 | Yansalidup, San Blas, Kuna Yala, Panama
24 December 2017 | Cartagena, Columbia
17 December 2017 | Cartagena, Columbia
12 November 2017 | San Blas
24 October 2017 | Linton Bay
17 October 2017 | Machu Pichu, Peru
15 October 2017 | Ollantaytambo, Peru
06 October 2017 | Cusco, Peru
02 October 2017 | Puno, Peru
29 September 2017 | Ariquipa, Peru
27 September 2017 | Nasca, Peru
20 September 2017 | Lima, Peru
15 September 2017 | Panama City, Panama
06 August 2017 | Bocas del Toro, Panama
17 July 2017 | Bocas del Toro, Panama
07 July 2017 | Gallego Caays
19 June 2017 | Dolphin Bay, Bocas del Toros, Panama
11 June 2017 | Bocas del Toro, Panama
05 June 2017 | Isla Providencia, Columbia
Back to the Blas
15 January 2018 | Yansalidup, San Blas, Kuna Yala, Panama
We had a wonderful visit with Lisa and enjoyed seeing Cartagena through her eyes. She accommodated herself right back into the boat routine so that hasn’t left her even after all these years. We wandered the city, museums, and boutiques. We went to the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, one of the largest Spanish forts in the Indies and the only one to have never been captured. It is high on a hill above El Centro and commands great views. We also went to the Conventa de la Popa even higher on a hill overlooking the city, where you could see all the way to the Rosarios on a clear day. We sought out several rooftop bars for sundowners and enjoyed that wonderful perspective over this beautiful city and we enjoyed the cuisine of the many restaurants.
The neighborhood where the marina is located is Manga, an upscale place for the upper middle class, and interspersed with the high rise apartments are old traditional homes with beautiful courtyards. Walking along the waterfront for a couple of blocks brings you to Club Nautico, and a block up from there is Carullas, a wonderful, although expensive, grocery store. Walking in that direction for another mile or so brings you to the Plaza de Caribe, a very upscale mall, with a home center, grocery/ department store (a la Target) and many small shops and restaurants. Going the other way from Club de Pesca you cross a bridge over the lagoon and then you are in a neighborhood called Getsemani, full of restaurants, hostels and street art, and passing through there and past the convention center you see the walls of El Centro, the old city. From there to the left is a point of land covered with high rise apartments and hotels called Boca Grande. We found another very upscale mall there with a movie theater showing the new Star Wars film in English with Spanish subtitles, which we enjoyed very much.
The time flew by and Lisa had to go back to the cold on the 29th and we were leaving on the 30th. Unfortunately Lisa’s flight was delayed and she missed her connection in Ft. Lauderdale, but she was able to stay with brother Denny and Shannon after they kindly scooped her up and whisked her home with them. She was able to get home the next day, although to very cold temps after being in the tropical heat of Cartagena. We left on the 30th and went out to the Rosario Islands and anchored in a quiet spot in the Canal de Raton, between Isla Grande and Isla Naval. We sailed out of Bahia de Cartagena through the Boca Chica and passed the forts there. I spent a day cleaning the bottom of the boat and we had a relaxed New Years Eve there at anchor. From there we headed back over to the San Blas and cleared in at Porvinir. The politics of the area make checking in a frustrating, convoluted, and expensive process. We cleared immigration at Porvinir, and then had to go to Linton to get our cruising permit and then come back to the islands. The cost was a record for us, the most expensive check in the history of our travels. We paid $20 apiece and $20 for the boat to the Kuna Congresso as a tax, $100 per passport for immigration and $185 for the cruising permit for a total of $445, not counting the fuel and aggravation of having to go all the way to Linton and back. While in Linton we caught a chicken bus to Sabanitas to get to an ATM and replenish our cash supply and buy groceries.
Now we are relaxing in one of our favorite anchorages and decompressing after all the hubbub of the last couple of months. We will probably hang here in the islands for the next month or two and then look for windows to go back north.
For those who have found this and are thinking of visiting Cartagena by boat, here are some final thoughts. Cartagena is a magical place and definitely worth a visit, but there are some downsides to be aware of. You must by law use an agent to check in, and its expensive, $340.00 for us. The anchorage at Club Nautico is often crowded and is very rough when the pangas are running, usually in the morning and late afternoon. There are occasional thunderstorms locally called, culo de pollo, which have a lot of wind and rain and can cause boats to drag around a bit. The water is foul, we had an inch of weeds growing on our anchor chain after a week, and had our bottom cleaned twice while we were there. There is a lot of air pollution as well, the decks and rigging get covered with a black soot after a few days and need to be washed down. The marina at Club Nautico is a rough place. It’s all med moor and the fairways are very narrow. The harbor is rough enough that boats really rock and roll in the marina. They were working on the docks so this may improve in the future. Boats at anchor can use the showers and heads for a few dollars a day and the people there are very friendly. We liked Club de Pesca and the folks were very kind to us in letting us stay, but it is expensive. We stayed a month for $1450.00, but for that you get floating docks, good showers and heads, excellent security, and a convenient location. Finally knowing Spanish is a huge advantage, as English speakers are few a far between. For us all these were small problems and the city and its people made up for them by many times.
I would probably recommend a shorter stay, and maybe timing your visit when you need a haul out to paint, as there are good facilities there and you would have a clean bottom to leave.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year
24 December 2017 | Cartagena, Columbia
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Allegria crew. We are still in Cartagena for the Holidays. The weather has been wonderful, still very warm, but not as oppressive as before. The Christmas winds have set in so we have a nice breeze most of the time. We have been enjoying Lisa and have been seeing the sights, visiting museums, and feasting on the local cuisine.
The city is a delight, and all alight with decorations and very festive. In the evening things come alive as the temps cool down the action heats up. I have enjoyed strolling around as much as anything, looking at the street vendors wares and people watching. The old buildings and churches are magical and there is a lot of music and activity.
We will stay here until the 30th and then probably head out again. Lisa leaves to go home on the 29th, back to the cold north. If the weather allows we would try to jump north to Honduras, but it is very unlikely. The winds are howling (30-40 knots) and likely will not lessen enough for us to make that run. We will likely go back to Panama and enjoy the islands for a couple of months and then head north when the winds lay down a bit.
We hope this finds you well and we wish you the most wonderful Holidays and all the best in the New Year.
17 December 2017 | Cartagena, Columbia
We had gotten our zarpe to leave the country in Linton before we even got to the San Blas so we went over to Porvenir to clear immigration and get ready to leave for Cartagena. We were a little bit worried about being premature on all the documents, but in the end it all worked out fine. With our passports stamped we spent a few more days in the east Lemmons relaxing and cleaning the bottom of the boat, and then went over to Nargana to see what fresh veggies we could find. We nabbed a few and then left for Snug Harbor, an anchorage further east where, in the old days windjammers used to stop to pick up coconuts for export. We came in right before dark and managed to get the anchor down without running into anything hard. There are a lot of reefs around, but it is a beautiful anchorage. The next morning an old kuna in his ulu showed up to collect a $10.00 anchoring fee. It was a little unclear how long it was good for, but I think a week.
We had a good weather window though, so we left that afternoon for points east. We had a combination of motoring and sailing overnight and pulled into the Rosario Islands in the early afternoon. We had caught a nice tuna, so we threw some on the grill and had our Thanksgiving dinner island style with the Cartagena skyline in the background. The Rosarios are supposed to be noted for their clear water, but it was quite murky while we were there. I'm not sure why.
The next morning we were up early to head into Cartagena. There are two ways to get into the harbor at Cartagena, Boca Chica is the main shipping channel and is the western most entrance. Boca Grande is the other eastern most entrance and is interesting in that the Spanish built a submerged wall across it to prevent ships from gaining entrance to the harbor. The Boca Chica entrance was guarded by two large forts. Nowadays entrance can be made into the Boca Grande channel byway of a marked breach in the wall that will carry a draft of 2.5 meters. Cartagena looks a lot like south Florida with white high rise hotels and apartments along the water. Coming in from Boca Grande you pass all those buildings and then turn into the inner harbor. There is an iconic statue of the Madonna and Child in the middle of the harbor and you pass either side and the yacht anchorage is at the upper end of the harbor off Club Nautico marina and across from the navy base.
We surveyed the anchorage and found a spot to put the anchor down among the many boats already there, some transient and some permanent. It was truly an international crowd with boats from everywhere of all types and sizes. Club Nautico is the hub for yacht activity in Cartagena and allows anchored boats to use their facilities for a small daily fee. We flew our Q flag and went in to see about clearing in and get the lay of the land.
In Columbia, it is required that an agent be used for the clearance process, and the marina recommended David who happened to be there and started the process for us, allowing us the opportunity to roam about freely. We checked on slip availability and the marina was full and suggested checking back everyday but it didn't look promising. They are rehabbing the docks and apparently this has caused a lack of accommodations. The marina was, at best, a rough and tumble place and had a weird vibe that wasn't attractive to me. On top of all that, access ti the med moor slips was very limited and for a boat like Allegria, that can spell disaster. We were interested in getting a dock of some sort for Lisa's visit, but were comfortable at anchor for the time being. Comfort is a relative term, as the harbor is constantly churned by water taxis running around throwing huge wakes and playing the see how close they can get to the sailboat game. There is a great grocery store a block up from the marina and we checked it out and had a pizza at the shop across the street. We were able to get a SIM card for the phone with some difficulty due to our poor Spanish, but did get it done and finally figured out how to manipulate the phone system. For those planning a visit here, at least by boat, a knowledge of Spanish is a huge advantage. English speakers are few and far between. That may be different at the hotels and other tourist venues. We found most people to be patient and helpful (with the exception of the clerks at the phone store).
Our first week here was at anchor and we spent time wandering the old city (El Centro) and seeing the sights. It's a lot of fun wandering around people watching and seeing the old architecture. We also have had some memorable meals in the great local restaurants.
We managed to finangle a spot at Club de Pesca, a private marina nearby Club Nautico and moved in there to get ready for Lisa's visit. We'll have two weeks of sightseeing and exploring while she is here and I'm sure some stories to tell. One other curiosity about the place is the water in the harbor. When we pulled the anchor after a week there was an inch growth of weeds on the chain. We'll have to have the bottom cleaned every couple of weeks while we're here.
The San Blas Islands
12 November 2017 | San Blas
We came into Linton in the middle of a downpour and anchored amidst many boats there. I suppose they were all staging for the San Blas or maybe this was their summer hangout. We let the rain fall and the next morning we went into the marina and asked about checking out. The port captain's office was on the marina grounds and we determined that we needed to get our zarpe there and then clear immigration at Porvenir in the San Blas. The zarpe is a clearance document issued by the port captain and is very important to have in the Latin American countries for entry into the next port. It is still kind of unclear but at any rate we got our zarpe for Cartagena and headed out the next day for the San Blas.
Our first stop was Chichime in the islands, one of the western most in the group. The San Blas are an archipelago on the eastern coast of Panama and are the home of the Kuna Indians, an indigenous group who have been very successful in preserving their heritage and autonomy. They for the most part live on the islands and fish the reefs and harvest and collect coconuts to manufacture oil. They are also farmers and many have small farms they work on the mainland every day. They travel back and forth in dugout canoes called ulus. Many have sails and they are very skilled at sailing them around.
The Kuna culture is one of cooperative living and no land is personally owned but every coconut has an owner. Foreigners are also not supposed to take lobster or conch or spearfish. It is a matriarchal society where the women control the wealth of the family, usually wearing most of it in the form of silver and gold jewelry. Generally when a couple is wed they live on the wife's family island.
The small communities are built very close together so there is little room between the huts. A family unit will have several huts made of bamboo and thatched roofs for cooking, eating and sleeping. The huts usually last about 15 years and then need to be replaced. Generally in the middle is a large hut where the congresso meets every night. It is a town meeting where issues and complaints are presented to the chiefs or sailas and discussed. Most communities have a concrete block school where kids go up to the sixth grade. If they want to go further they must go to Panama City and live there and finish school. We got the impression not many do.
The islands are generally small and covered with coconut palms and surrounded by extensive reefs. Looking at the charts is confusing because at first glance it looks as though the islands are large but closer inspection reveals the large areas are reefs and the islands are very small. The water in the outer islands is very clear and the reefs are very pretty with many types of coral and many colorful tropical fish. The area is pretty fished out by the locals and they unfortunately harvest under sized lobster and fish and then try to sell them to the cruisers. The water closer to the mainland is not as clear due to the rivers that flow into the area. Most of the communities are on islands close to the mainland, but some families live on the outer islands as well.
In the traditional villages the women wear colorful mola blouses and skirts and scarfs on their heads. Molas are the colorful fabric creations done by layering different colors of cloth and cutting and stitching intricate patterns. They also have very intricate beaded leggings on their calves which are very colorful. The men are plainly dressed in pants and tshirts. The kids all are running around as you would expect in all manner of clothing. When a girl reaches maturity, she starts wearing the mola shirt and garb following a ceremony.They are very shy about having their photo taken.
The area we've been cruising is the Gulf of San Blas, which is the primary area where most boats stay. There are groups of islands, all with colorful and almost unpronounceable names. Some have Spanish names and Kuna names for the same island. We started at Chichime, then the Lemmons, and then over to the Holandes, down to Coco Banderas, Green Island, the Naguargandup Cays and then to Isla Maquina, also known as Mormake Tupu (mola maker island). We had bought some molas from Vernacio Restropo, a master mola maker, who lives there with his family. We got a tour of the island from his brother, Idelfonso. We also bought some molas from Lisa, the infamous transvestite mola maker from Rio Sidra, an adjacent island. To give you a flavor of the island names, I'll list a few of the ones at which we anchored. Yansaledup, Tiadup, Naguarchirdup, Ukupsuit, Guarladup, Olosicuidup and on and on.
We have found the people to be very friendly and kind to all the strangers around in their midst, but as with all places there are a few bad apples. Frequently the Kunas come to the boat in their ulus to sell lobster, octopus , crabs, fruit , veggies, and molas. In our experience most have been very friendly and honest and we let our guard down when one guy, Apio, offered to bring us some fruit and veggies if we gave him money. We were in the Coco Banderas anchorage and he was supposed to be back the next day with our stuff. Well, we never saw him again and have subsequently discovered that he is famous for that. So if you come here and Apio shows up, tell him he is "un mentiroso y un ledron" (a liar and a thief) and don't give him any money.
This has been a place of contrasts in our experience. It is a pretty place and the people are generally very nice, but the water is frequently filled with trash and we can't get past the locals harvesting immature lobster, conch and fish. They don't seem to be able to understand the concept of sustainable fishing. They certainly have embraced the concept of tourists and dollars. Tourism has become a big deal here and the locals see them as cash cows. There is a charge for everything, even anchoring beside an island. We also brought things to give away to the kids, but we believe in trading with adults. Many times though they approach us looking for us to give them things. We don't mind parting with a few fish hooks or charging a cell phone, but when they start asking for gas or diesel fuel we draw the line. We are hopeful that as we go further east and away from the prime tourist areas, things will improve.
Our plans now are to spend another week or so here and then clear immigration in Provenir and head east along the coast to see some of the more traditional communities. Then we'll jump off for an overnight sail to Columbia and try to be in Cartagena by the first of December. New pictures are in the gallery.
Off to the San Blas
24 October 2017 | Linton Bay
We made it back to the boat with no problems after a night in Panama City and a quick flight. We found the boat in good shape and spent a day provisioning and then left the marina and moved over to the Gallego Cays to dust off the bottom. We had collected a few barnacles and slime after sitting in the marina for 2 months.
The next day we headed out the Crawl Cay Channel and east toward the Chagres River. An overnight motorsail put us off the mouth of the river in the morning. We wound our way across the bar and into the river under the old Spanish fort at the mouth, Fort Lorenzo. We headed up the river past the first bend and anchored. We spent an idyllic few days there watching the toucans in the trees and listening to the howler monkeys. We dinghied up to the dam and walked up to the lake to check out the ships and were chased out by security. We also went down to the fort to explore as well and got up close and personal with a sloth on the trail to the fort.
We then headed around the point and past the breakwater, through all the ships waiting and into Colon harbor and over to Shelter Bay Marina. The marina is very nice with a pool and restaurant, and is full of the typical cruisers that have gotten struck or are staging to go through the canal. We had planned to stay for a week but wound up staying two as we had an opportunity to line handle for a boat going through.
We met up with some old friends we hadn’t seen in a few years and made some new friends as well. The marina is way out in the woods, so there is a bus that goes into Colon daily for shopping trips. It commonly takes you across the Gatun locks, so we get to see the ships and locks in action. The marina site is an old US Army base and there are old roads that are walkable and we saw monkeys and toucans galore. We also took the Panama railway excursion to Panama City and spent the night and then rode the bus back. It’s an excellent way to see the canal and Lake Gatun, and is a beautifully restored train.
One day on the bus back to the marina, we met Bill and Gene from Australia, who were scheduled for a canal transit and needed line handlers so we signed up. On the day of the transit we left the marina at about 2:30 and went out to the flats anchorage in Colon Harbor, where we were to meet our advisor for the first part of the transit. Bill and Gene have been through twice before in the last several years, so they knew the drill. They were delivering the boat, a Bravaria 42, back to Australia to sell, after buying it in Guadeloupe this year.
Our advisor showed up around 4:30, and we proceeded to the channel and up to the first set of locks. We were to go through center lock and two power boats ahead of us would raft together and go through side tied to the lock wall. We would all be behind a ship in the lock. Once the ship was in the lock then the smaller boats moved in. The lock workers throw a small line with a monkey’s fist down to you and then you tie the large line on and they then walk forward into the lock, finally pulling the large line up and putting it on a bollard. This is done for each corner of the boat. Then it becomes a matter of keeping tension on the line and keeping the boat centered in the lock. As the water enters the lock the turbulence is something to behold and we quickly rose to the top of the lock. This is done for all of the three locks at Gatun. As we went from lock to lock the handlers walk the lines forward until the new position is reached and then put them on the bollard. Once through the locks, we motored over to a large mooring buoy and tied up for the night. The advisor was picked up and we had a late dinner at 10 PM.
At 7 the next morning the next advisor arrived and we headed across the lake. There was a steady stream of ships going by as we passed through the lake. We entered the cut at around 2 PM and headed to the Pedro Miguel Locks after passing through the infamous Galliard Cut. We dropped one level there and then went to the Mira Flores Locks where we dropped two levels. Locking down was easier since the lines just needed to be slacked as we dropped. The other difference was that when locking down the small boats are in front of the ship. It’s interesting to see the huge ship coming up behind in the lock being controlled by the locomotive engines called mules.
After passing under the Bridge of the Americas, we were dropped off at the Balboa Yacht club and Molly and I caught a taxi to our hotel and then caught the bus back to Colon the next day. After getting back to Shelter Bay, we readied the boat and left the next day for Portobello. They were having the celebration of the Black Christ there so it was a huge party, and we waited to go in until the next day. We visited the forts and checked out the church.
Now we have moved over to Linton Bay, and will be here a day or two. We are trying to find out the logistics of getting our clearance from Panama to Cartagena. It is apparently something that changes all the time as to where you can do what. We want to avoid having to back track if possible, so we’ll see what they say. Next stop, the San Blas Islands and Kuna Yala.
Machu Pichu and the Inca Trail
17 October 2017 | Machu Pichu, Peru
We got an early start from our hostel in Ollantaytambo to the train station for the ride to kilometer 104 at Chachabamba, an old Incan way station along the Inca trail. The train ride was beautiful as it wound its way up the valley and along the river, the mountains rising almost straight up from either side. In short order we arrived at KM 104 and the train stopped and off we went. There is no station there, the train just stops to let hikers off. We met our guide, Albina, who was waiting for us. We passed through the ruins of Chachabamba, an old Incan village along the road leading to Machu Pichu. The Peruvian authorities are very restrictive about letting people on the trail. You must have a guide and a reservation in order to proceed and the numbers of people allowed is very controlled. Reservations for the longer hikes (4 day) are booked months in advance. Our papers were in order and we passed though the check point and began our hike.
The trail began climbing immediately up from the river. The trail is for the most part paved with stones and there are stone steps in many places. We continued to be amazed at the work that must have been involved in creating this. Up, up, up we climbed into the mists in the mountains. As we walked we passed many orchids and begonias in bloom that were beautiful and unexpected in the high altitude. This is a cloud forest, though, and the humidity and rain allow tropical flora to thrive.
We continued to climb up the mountain and as we turned a corner in the trail, miraculously out of the mist came an Incan city, Wineywayna. It is perched on the mountainside and is almost indescribable in its beauty. There are many terraces and buildings and temples in the complex. Also a series of fountains cascaded down along the steps. We climbed through the city and continued on up the trail, finally reaching one of the camp sites for the 4 day hike and we stopped for lunch and a quick sandwich before continuing on. The weather had been damp and sprinkling off and on, but now became a steady drizzle. As we continued we had been negotiating sets of steps carved into the stone or created out of stones. Albina had told us about a last flight of steps she called the “gringo killer”. We arrived at the base of the steps and up we went. At the top we were rewarded with the entrance to the Sun Gate, overlooking the valley and city of Machu Pichu.
When we arrived at the gate, the valley was filled with cloud and it was still drizzling. We sat for a few minutes and the clouds blew away and in the mist the sacred city was revealed. It was a mystical moment and we were teased with views of the site off and on for a while. Then the clouds above parted and the city was bathed in sunlight, and I have to tell you, it was a glorious sight. We stopped and just took it the view. The mountains jutting up almost vertically and the mists swirling around, gave the scene a surreal quality. As if that wasn’t enough, as we walked down to the city, a rainbow formed over the mountains creating a perfect end to our introduction to Machu Pichu.
We spent the rest of the afternoon investigating the city and its temples, residences, and shrines. That night we slept in Aguas Calientes, a town at the base of the mountain and the next day went back to the site with Albina, who described the various temples and shrines and their significance. Look for pictures of all this in the gallery. After a morning of exploration, we had a great lunch and then it was back on the train to Ollantaytambo and Cusco. We spent a relaxing night in Cusco and then got on a plane to Lima and then back to Panama City and then eventually back to the boat in Bocas.
We had seen so much and experienced so much that it now almost seems like a dream. We will definitely return to Peru. It’s a magical place and we have only scratched the surface.
For those interested, we booked our flights and some tours with Fertur Peru Travel, and Melany Garcia Moore. She was a joy to deal with and will do as much or as little as you want. They offer complete packages all included and high end accommodations or she will book bits and pieces for those on a slower pace. We elected to travel by bus (excellent) and stay in hostels and saved a lot of money and really felt like we got to see the country. For those with time, we feel this is the best choice. Our main source of info was the Lonely Planet Guide and Molly booked most of our accommodations with Booking .com or Trip Advisor. Melany is available at email@example.com.