Slow Dancing

04 March 2018 | Isla Rosarios, Colombia
26 February 2018 | Santa Marta
23 February 2018 | Santa Marta, Colombia
21 February 2018 | Santa Marta, Colombia
09 February 2018 | Santa Marta, Colombia
04 February 2018 | Santa Marta, Colombia
07 December 2017 | Santa Marta, Colombia
25 October 2017 | St. Georges, Grenada
25 July 2017 | St. Georges, Grenada
14 July 2017 | St. Georges, Grenada
29 May 2017 | St. Anne, Martinique
22 May 2017 | Portsmith, Dominica
19 May 2017 | Nevis
06 March 2017 | Pointe a Pitre, Guadeloupe
04 March 2017 | Pointe a Pitre, Guadeloupe
17 February 2017 | Pointe a Pitre Guadeloupe
17 February 2017 | St. Lucia
08 February 2017 | St. Lucia
03 February 2017 | St. Lucia
03 February 2017 | St. Lucia

Reflections of Santa Marta

04 March 2018 | Isla Rosarios, Colombia
Melissa Sunny and beautiful
Dec. 2, 2017 to February 27, 2018

Along the Colombian coast, there are few options for anchorages or marinas. The “loco winds” blow off the Sierra Nevada Mountains and from the Guajira Peninsula. “Loco winds” are gale or near gale force winds 24 hours a day for weeks and weeks. The Marina Santa Marta is right next to the commercial port. Tugs, pilot boats and coastal patrol boats berth in the marina along with locally owned powerboats and cruising sailboats. This was our safe haven.

We dealt with the marina paperwork as well as the immigration/customs paperwork, assisted by the wonderful marina liaison, Kelly, who knows everything a cruiser needs to know.

With paperwork complete, Dan commented, “What have we done?”

Spanish is spoken. It’s a Spanish speaking country, what do you expect? Very few Colombians speak any English and we speak very little Spanish. Our Spanish improved. Their English did not!

It’s about the people. Colombians are friendly and gracious. We heard “buenos dias” from everyone and returned the greeting. People stopped to offer help with smiles and gestures to show the directions. “Gracias” and “mucho gracias,” we replied. Dan’s ability to use the app Maps Me improved!

Santa Marta is a relatively compact city. There is signage on most streets and one can easily walk most places. There are many different types of busses. Taxis are plentiful and very reasonably priced. Our ability to understand taxi fares in Spanish improved!

Street vendors are everywhere, selling everything. My favorite was fresh jugo--limonada or mandarin. We often purchased two freshly squeezed, icy cold drinks for about $2.50. Coffee shops offered tinto (black coffee) and a shady spot to people watch. Supermarkets had a pretty good selection. My ability to read Spanish labels improved!

The Spanish influence is evident in the buildings, the botanical gardens and in the plazas. Our favorite plaza was Parque Bolivar. The restaurant and street scene near Parque di los Novios was terrific. I’m don’t usually write about restaurants, but the food was exquisite in Rocoto and Ouzo. Our Colombian and Peruvian palates expanded!

When we arrived in Colombia, we experienced a new world. It is very different from the islands of the Eastern Caribbean. We truly felt we lived in a foreign country.

A Tour of Comuna 13

26 February 2018 | Santa Marta
Melissa Sunny and much calmer
February 17, 2018

Comuna 13 is one of sixteen barrios within the city of Medellin. It is built on a steep hillside and is one of the most densely populated barrios in the city. About 65% of the population (120,000) is under the age of 40. It is one of the poorest barrios in the city. Small stairways lead up to different levels. Colombians from the countryside moved to the city to work and to escape the terrorists of the growing drug trade. Thousands became squatters on unclaimed mountainsides. Houses were built one on top of the other.

The location of the neighborhood was valuable. It granted access to the main road-leading west out of the city (and north to the Caribbean coast). This main road was vital to control, as it provided access for transporting legal and illegal goods, as well as direct access to sea and shipping ports. In the 1980s-90s groups loyal to Pablo Escobar controlled it. It was an epicenter of violence and struggle for criminal control. After his death, gangs, cartels, paramilitary groups, and guerillas fought to gain control. The barrio had the highest murder rate in Colombia, and maybe the world. Finally in 2002 the Colombian military conducted a strike to overthrow the rebel groups. People were killed and hundreds were wounded. The community took to the streets in solidarity flying white rags. The residents continued to voice discontent and anger through street art. Although Hip Hop artists used their music to support community solidarity, more than 10 were murdered. Residents of all ages were caught in the crossfire, and forcibly displaced from their homes.

The neighborhood is slowly transforming itself because the government has been supportive. A series of six escalators rise 400 meters up a very steep neighborhood allow the residents easier access. Climbing 357 steep stairways used to take approximately 35 minutes. A newly built roadway can be used by motor scooters. Our guide said the murder rate has dropped dramatically. Children play outside, plants and flowers grow, and break dancers perform. Shop owners sell snacks and souvenirs. Street art is everywhere. It tells the story of a violent neighborhood’s survival.

The walls of the stairways, the landings, and houses glow with murals that are the expression of three main artists. The paintings with graphic faces, animals, and creatures that could be imagined by Dr. Seuss or George Lucas remind the people to “Never Forget” a violent and murderous history. Tourists have visited safely over the past four years during the day. There’s a newfound pride in the “Hood.”

A Trip to Coffee Country

23 February 2018 | Santa Marta, Colombia
Melissa Still Windy
February 16, 2018

Many of the departments (similar to states or provinces) in Colombia produce coffee, specifically cofea arabica. Don Modesto, in the department of Antioquia near the small town of Concordia, is a plantation with 750,000 coffee bushes. Antioquia is the largest volume coffee producer of Colombia's 32 departments. At about 5,300 feet, the weather was glorious--bright sunshine, puffy clouds, delightful temperature, and no wind. In case, you have forgotten, we are stuck in Santa Marta! Winds have been mostly gale force for the month of February.

Coffee was everywhere on the mountainsides. We passed by small farms with beans drying along the roadside in the sun. The processes at Don Modesto reflected a much larger yield. Beans are hand picked. A good picker can pick up to 600 pounds a day during the height of harvest. Pickers work by row often on steep hillsides, leaving bags full of beans along the trail. Mosquitoes love the dense foliage of the bushes so workers cover their bodies. Our guide told us that everyone wants to work the harvest. The amount earned is much greater than a minimum wage job. Most workers, similar to migrants in the US, pay for lodging, so that they can work longer hours. The owners provide food. Motor scooters are the preferred means of travel to the fields.

Processing the beans, sorting for size, and drying the beans for shipping was very much like the processing at other coffee plantations we have visited. The fruit is striped from the seed, water runs through pipes to filter beans by size, sun dries the second and third quality beans, mechanical ovens dry the first quality. Once the first quality Arabica beans are dried, they are packed into 70-kilo bags for shipment. Parchment beans, or beans in husks, from Don Modesto are trucked to a nearby cooperative in Concordia for visual inspection, additional sorting, weighing and re bagging. Colombia ships bags of beans, stamped with the country code 3, to be sold overseas. Roasting occurs in the country where the beans are bought. Until about 3 years ago, all of the first quality beans in Colombia were shipped overseas. Today Colombians can keep about 30% of first quality beans for personal use and sale within the country. Price is set in the international market. Colombians party when the crop is poor in Brazil or Ethiopia!

We visited the heart of the finca where the owner has a hacienda. The finca manager lived next door in a small casa with his family. This farm also raised beef, hogs and tilapia. Waste products become fertilizer in the fields. Coffee bushes are pruned every 5 years. After the soca, or pruning, leaves decay into fertilizer and branches are trimmed for fuel in the dryers. Fruit and broken shells become mulch. Everything is used or recycled.

We watched the ritualistic process of brewing a cup of tinto. Juan, our guide and a former barista, heated 1000ml of water to 185* He measured 5 scoops (10 grams) of freshly ground medium roast beans into a French press. The aroma filled our senses. He poured a bit of water over the grounds, waited 1 minute, and finished pouring in water. After 4 minutes, he poured coffee into our glass demitasse size teacups. It was a gorgeous black brew with a light brown foam halo on the edges. The sharp orangey citrus flavor of the first sip was followed by delicious hints of caramel as the cup cooled. This medium roast coffee reminded us of the coffee we had tasted in Panama many years ago. Don Modesto, an award-winning producer, is only available in Colombia. I can only say that exporting would increase the income of the finca exponentially! What a taste!

Impressions of Cartagena

21 February 2018 | Santa Marta, Colombia
Melissa Windy, windy, windy
January 8-12, 2018
Road trip. We traveled with Lagniappe (Greg and LizAnn) and Lequesteau (Greig and Caroline) to Cartagena. Greig and Caroline met long time friends Kevin and Denise. While Cartagena is accessible by boat, we chose to take a bus. We traveled along the coast through an area of marshes and fish farms in the Magdalena River basin with a stop or two along the way. Cartagena is a UNESCO World Heritage Site surrounded by about 13 km (8 mi) of stonewalls. It is a beautifully preserved city. Narrow streets lined with flowering balconies and magnificent cathedrals overlook plazas. The city, once the main Spanish port on the Caribbean coast, is surrounded by a series of forts. Cartagena was the gateway to all kinds of treasure from South America. Pirates and buccaneers, including Sir Francis Drake, fought each other and the residents for the storehouses of treasure. The fortifications of Cartagena saw repeated attacks. We walked, laughed and avoided street hawkers on every corner. Memories.


09 February 2018 | Santa Marta, Colombia
Melissa Windy Windy Windy
January 25-28, 2018

What a different city. Medellin is filled with modern skyscrapers—banks, financial institutions and cathedrals. There are so many restaurants it is difficult to choose.

The biggest surprise was the rapid transit system. The equipment is first world. The ticket prices are third world. The transit system consists of modern electric above ground trains, several cable car routes and clean buses. Elevators for wheel chair riders are in busy stations. (Cable cars serve as transportation for the some of the city’s poor because they live in villages along the hillsides. Well to do residents live in the valley.) Residents have magnetic cards. As tourists we purchased cards for a set number of rides. We bought tickets to Arvi Park, 30 kilometers from the center of Medellin, for 5,500 Colombian pesos ($1.98) one way for 2. At Avecedo, we transferred onto the funicular for a 20 minute ride to Santo Domingo. At the transfer station we bought tickets for second funicular ride to the park for 4,000COP ($1.44) for 2. Fun! Amazing!

Medellin’s history is colored by the narcoterrorist Paulo Escobar Gaviria and his infamous drug smuggling cartel. In fairness, there are historical and art museums near Plaza Botero, an outdoor sculpture park full of round sculptures. Jardin Botanica, Planetario de Medellin, and Parque Arvi are some of the attractions. I liked Arvi Park, a nature preserve and archeological site, with its funicular and gorgeous views. Dan enjoyed the Planetarium that contains quite a few touch exhibits. Dan was happy to support my “visit” to the botanical garden. My quest to visit a botanical garden in every country is uninterrupted.

Blowing a Hoolie

04 February 2018 | Santa Marta, Colombia
Melissa Sunny and WINDY!
February 4, 2018

Weather predictions:
Beaufort Scale prediction for 3 days last week. Daytime Force 6 (strong breeze (25-31 mph) and at night Force 7-8 (near gale (32-38 mph) with gusts near storm force (40-50 mph).

The Pilot Charts show a pattern of Force 4 and 5 winds from the North or Northeast for about 70% of February. They also show wave heights of 8 feet between 30%- 40% of February over a wide area.

This is a typical winter pattern for the windy areas off the Colombian coast.

Personal observations:
White caps everywhere with swells and surge in protected marina on several days last week.

M5, a 75.22 meter (246’9”) sailing yacht lay at anchor for about 3 weeks. We did observe the vessel depart one afternoon only to return the next morning.

Commercial freighters and cargo vessels at anchor sometimes rock in the waves.

Sailing Attitudes:
“There is a small window and we have a date for the canal,” comments Totem, an American boat near the end of a circumnavigation, while shrugging their shoulders.

Colombian Power Boats party on and on at the dock.

A Dutch boat, Charlie, says, “We will stay near the coast of Colombia and break up the trip. We hope to see you in the San Blas soon.”

Bellatrix, a 30 ft. Bristol Channel Cutter, comments, “There’s no rush.”

“It’s going to be messy, but we are going. We like to sail,” says Grandiosa, a Swedish family headed to Jamaica.

Slow Dancing observed that most of the departing vessels are European. We are waiting for a weather window that forecasts a bit more than a 5 mph wind speed drop. There does not seem to be any change in sight. We’re loving our land travel excursions!

Vessel Name: Slow Dancing
Vessel Make/Model: Island Packet 44
Hailing Port: Annapolis, MD
Crew: Melissa and Dan Kenshalo
About: We began sailing on Chesapeake in 2005 on a 34 ft. Catalina. We became full time cruisers in 2012 on our Island Packet 44. Our journeys have been full of fun and laughter.
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