Buenos Tarde

Maria took care of getting our zarpe to clear out of Colombia, and brought it to us in the morning.  We snapped a few photos with her, paid the rent at Club Pesca marina, and were off the dock by 09h30.  Cruising south through Cartagena Bay, we saw at least 8 Colombian naval warships laying at anchor.  Guessin’ that had something to do with all the saber-rattling that our dear POTUS was doing regarding the Venezuelan issues.  Our first leg took us to Isla Grande in the Rosario islands, just 20 some-odd miles from Cartagena.  Just an overnighter, we were off the hook by 07h00, on our way to Tintip.an, some 30 miles south.  We spent 2 nights there, one on the hook and one on a mooring ball after the park rangers told us that we weren’t allowed to anchor there.  We had planned on anchoring in a lagoon on the west end of the island, but the route suggested by the Colombian Cruising Guide took us through 3’ of water.  That would have been a big “Ouch”  It was no big deal, however, as the seas had been like a pool of mercury for the past few days.  Anchoring on the south side of the island was very comfortable.  A half mile to our west was Isla Islote, the most densely populated island on the planet.  At just over the size of 1 ½ football fields, it is home to more than 1,200 souls.  Don’t ask me, I haven’t had time to research it.  Google it yourself.    Next stop, Isla Fuerte, another 30 miles to the south.  Again, another day with seas less than 1 meter (We are starting to get used to this).  The cruising guides suggest anchoring south of the island, but we snuck up into a little bight on the east side and anchored in 10’ of water over a sandy bottom.  Usually, the “boat boys” are out to the Girl asking if we want to buy anything, or offering services.  Not here.  They asked where we came from, and if we had anything for them-water, fruit, beer, etc.  As usual, we enjoyed the afternoon, puttering around in “White Star” and swimming.  We launched “Scout”, our drone, and snapped a few decent photos.  Next was the 80 mile trip to the Colombia/Panama border.  We were up at Oh-Dark-Thirty, and underway by 04h00.  The Admiral went back to bed, and we were on our way.  Lightning lit the sky on both sides and in front of the Girl.  The radar showed a squall line of red (no Bueno) blobs around 15 miles ahead of us, directly in our course.  Decision time.  Lightning brings eighteen kinds of bad JuJu when it strikes near a boat.  The line of storms was nearly three hours ahead of us, so I opted to let Suz sleep and forge on.  As it turned out, the squall line dissipated after an hour as day dawned, and we just received a steady drizzle.  There must have been some high winds, however, as the seas resembled a washing machine-lots of high, unorganized waves which lasted for an hour or so.  We were out of the National marine park for most of the day, so it was okay to fish but the freezers were full.  No lines went out.  We arrived at Capurgana on the Colombian mainland around an hour before dark.  The anchorage there is more of an open roadstead, not really a bay and it was rolly.  We opted to move up to Sapzurro to see what it was like.  Much better.  In the north corner of the bay, we anchored in 14’ of water and took lines to shore, keeping the Girl’s bow pointed into the slight swell.  With lines to shore, it felt like North Channel and Newfoundland cruising.  In 9’ of water, we’ve been here for 2 comfortable nights, planning to leave and check in to Panama, just around the corner, tomorrow morning.  Yesterday, we walked part of the Capurgana/Sapzurro trail, and checked out the Diana Cascada (waterfall).  The rainy season hasn’t really arrived in earnest yet, so the falls were just a trickle.  We cruised the village of Sapzurro, and made it home just before it started to RAIN.  As our friend, Andy would say, it was a real “turd floater” (referring to the latrines in Viet Nam).  It rained all afternoon.  I had to bail out the dinghy, as it was nearly full of water halfway through the afternoon.  These two villages, Capurgana and Sapzurro are like the outports in Newfoundland, accessible only by water, so there are no autos-just motos and horses.  Today, we hiked to Capurgana, 2 ¾ miles over the ridge.  It was a slippery, greasy stroll, but we were rewarded with some beautiful views when we popped out of the rainforest on the crests of the mountains.  Along the way, we trekked by flowering Hibiscus, Heliconia, and many tropical plants that we’ve had the pleasure of killing in the privacy of our own home.  Suz spotted a Green Frog, whose powerful neurotoxin is instrumental in fabricating poison darts, and many tropical birds.  There were some pretty steep ups and downs, but they didn’t compare to the 40-minute hills on our Ciudad Perdida hike.  Back at the Girl, we took a swim in the 85-degree water as the drizzle came down.   

Our stay here has been pretty entertaining.  The guys are out in their pangas, morning and late afternoons fishing.  They catch bait fish with throw nets and dump them into their boat.  Then, they throw handfuls of them into the water and toss their handlines in to catch the bigger, edible fish.  Very strange, watching them bailing water INTO their boats to keep the baitfish alive.  Yesterday, we watched the local kids, under the tutelage of an adult bandmaster practicing with their percussion instruments and marching along the shore..

We’re sitting on the back porch now, listening to the Howler Monkeys in the forest, having sips and getting ready for dinner.

No internet, just cell service so no pictures.  We’ll head to Puerto Obaldia, around the corner in Panama to check in tomorrow, then off to the San Blas archipelago.

-Later

 

Buenos Noche,

So… we’ve had a couple days of on and off rain.  Gave us a chance to catch up on some inside cleaning and minor repairs.  This 140’ spaceship pulled in next to us yesterday.  The Captain, Grant came over to ask about getting SIM cards for the crew’s phones, and Suzanne ended up ministering to his upset stomach and changing some Colombian pesos for his Greenbacks.  Our phones came in handy for him as well.  He and his Mate, Elisha gave us the Cook’s tour tonight, and the boat is truly remarkable.  I think that we’ll see him again, as he recently bought a small island on the Pacific side of Panama, and we’ve got an open invitation to come and visit when we’re there in a couple of years.  We’re leaving Cartagena tomorrow morning, island-hopping to Colon, Panama.  We expect to arrive there around the 12th of June.  In the meantime, while we are in the San Blas islands I’m thinkin’ that we won’t have any connectivity, so we’ll talk at ya’

-Later

Buenos,

So…we’re luxuriating in bed on Sunday morning, and the air conditioner in our room goes off at 08h00.  Hmmmmh.  No voltage at the panel.  None of the breakers flipped.  No voltage at the pedestal on the dock.  Look over to the fuel dock-the LCD lights for fuel prices are out.  No worries, we close down the Girl-she’s fine on solar and battery power for up to a few days, and head out to breakfast.  Jim and Carole had told us about a favorite breakfast spot of theirs: “Stepping Stones” and it was on our “To Do” for the day. It being Sunday, the bumper-to-bumper stream of traffic headed into Getsemani and the walled city had slowed to a trickle. As we turned off the main drag onto one of the side streets, we realized that there was no power here, either.  There were a few portable generators running on the sidewalks with power cords trailing into buildings.  Other than the sound from these humming engines, the neighborhood was pretty quiet.  Well, we found our restaurant, but as you can imagine it was closed.  We talked to some folks who told us that the power was out in the whole city, and would not be back on until 17h00.  We had planned on a quiet day anyway, so after returning to the Girl for breakfast, we headed back across the bridge to visit the Cathedral and explore the streets and alleys of the Old City.  Apparently, we were among the few that didn’t get the memo about the power outage, as town was pretty deserted.  We did get a few miles in, though, walking the entire top of the old walls.  As promised, the advent of cocktail time brought the restoration of power to the city.  I couldn’t find anything about the days’ outage, but found several articles on the internet about Colombia’s power grid being inadequate to provide power to all areas of the country at all times.  Also, rolling blackouts are not uncommon in Cartagena.

We got our breakfast at “Stepping Stone”, and the food didn’t disappoint.  The restaurant was started by two Australians in 2017.  The mission is to hire kids from disadvantaged backgrounds who otherwise would be unemployable, training them to raise themselves up by working in the food service industry.  You don’t need to change the world, just change the little piece around you.  After breakfast, we hoofed it up to Castillo de San Felipe, the largest Spanish fortification in the New World. There we hired Raphael, who spoke passable English, to guide us on our tour of the fort.  It is really remarkable.  One of the best restorations and biggest that we’ve visited in our travels.

Convento de Popa sits atop the highest point in Cartagena.  We hired a cab first thing in the morning to drive us up.  Besides being unbearably hot, the authorities warn against tourists walking there, as the road goes through some sketchy neighborhoods.  On our way there, we observed a heavy policia presence, but at 08h30, it was still 88 degrees with humidity in the 90’s.  The Augustinians built a small wooden chapel on the site, which was replaced by the much larger convent in 1612 after taking 6-7 years to build.  It is well outside the old walled city, but is a strategic location due to its’ altitude and the fact that it overlooks Fort San Felipe. Therefore, over time fortifications were added to the original structures.  The self-guided tour takes around 30 minutes.  The restoration of the chapel and buildings surrounding the courtyard was well done.  The view from the surrounding balconies is stunning.  …..If it was good the first day, might as well go back the second. When we returned from la Popa, we walked back to “Stepping Stones” for a second go.  We spent the rest of the day just schlepping around town, finishing with dinner at “Da Oliva” near the marina.

Wednesday morning.  It was cloudy.  The weather report forecasted a 70 percent chance of rain.  Cartagena hadn’t seen a drop in over 5 months.  I’m not sure if it was my imagination, but as we made our way through Getsemani and the Old City to the Naval Museum, the sense of anticipation was palpable.  Maybe the rainy season was finally here. 

The Museum turned out to be a pleasant surprise.  It garnered mixed reviews on social media, but our experience was very positive.  We hired a guide, Miguel, who spent an hour or so interpreting the various exhibits for us.  We were able to tie together some of our Cartagena history loose ends, discovered that as a U.S. ally, Colombia sent troops to Korea, and learned about Colombia’s modern navy.  The Chocolate Museum provided a sweet rest stop on our stroll through the city.  In the retail shop, we tasted their wares, then stoked the local economy at the cash register before leaving.

Suzanne’s been dying to see a Tree Sloth since we arrived in Colombia to no avail.  The warning signs along the road to Mompox depicting Sloth crossings reminded me of the numerous Moose crossing signs in Newfoundland.  Lotsa signs, no animals.  Well….she heard that there were Sloths in the city park, Parque de Centenario, just outside the wall. We didn’t even know what we were looking for, but soon enough we saw a Sloth and baby in the top of a Tamarind tree.  Pictures were tough through the foliage, but The Admiral’s day was complete.  The locals still holding their collective breaths, it started to drizzle around 17h00 on our way home.  Thunder boomed all around us, but the rain never started in earnest.

Well, the rainy season is here.  It rained most of the day yesterday, and there’s heavy overcast today.  We’re starting to think that we’ve “done” Cartagena, and maybe it’s time to move on.  Suz took inventory of our supplies yesterday and the grocery store is on the short list for today. 

That said, I’ll talk at ya’

-Later

Hola

Well…we had a great night’s sleep, but woke up with some pretty sore hiking muscles.  Mike was much the worse for wear.  He too had succumbed to the dread G.I. bad juju.  Carol and Jim arrived by bus at mid-day, as they were helping Mike and Sue sail Skedaddle II to Puerto Velero on Sunday.  Suz and I spent the day getting our poor dirty Girl cleaned up.  We didn’t see Mike all day.  Sue, Jim and Carole joined us for dinner in town, as no one felt like cooking.  Saturday morning, it was Sue’s turn with the plague.  We didn’t see either her or Mike all day, but enjoyed Jim and Carole’s company.  We were thinking how fortunate it was that they were there, as they were fully capable of sailing the boat without M & S.  There was no possibility of delaying their departure, as M & S had plane tickets to fly to Portugal, and then home to Australia in 3 days.  We still maintain that the worst aspect of cruising is when schedules get in the way.  At any rate, Mike semi-surfaced by Sunday morning, and they were off the dock by 06h30.  Suz and I spent the rest of the day getting the Girl ready to move after being at the dock for a month.  She had a nice layer of soft growth on her bottom, and her running gear (propeller, rudder) where our bottom paint is failing needed scraping desperately.  The barnacles were thick, and I spent over an hour scuba diving in the cruddy water.

Puerto Velero is about halfway between Santa Marta and Cartagena, so it was a perfect way for us to split the 16 hour trip. We got the lines out after our 06h15 departure from S.M.. We got 4 fish along the way-3 Barracuda and a 28” Mahi.  All four were thrown back to Poseidon.  Passing Barranquilla, where the Rio Magdalena empties in to the sea, the ocean color went from blue to brown, even though we were 3 miles offshore.  Numerous logs and other flotsam from the river reminded us of dodging lobster pots off the New England coast.  We could only imagine what the conditions would be like during the rainy season when the river was really flowing.  After an hour or so, the water turned back to blue, and we let Otto (pilot) take back the wheel.  Ten miles from Puerto Velero, Mike hailed us on the VHF.  They had picked up our signal on their AIS.  He reported that he and Sue were feeling better, but Jim was now down with the G.I.’s.  Calling the facility at Puerto Velero a marina uses the term in its loosest form. The docks are literally in the middle of nowhere, at the head of a broad bay formed by a treeless peninsula with a mean elevation of around ten feet.  As with many dreams, building progress stopped with the death of the dreamer.  Several condo units and a small multistory hotel are on the site, as well as a very nice swimming pool.  In my opinion, the development never reached the critical mass necessary for it to be economically viable.  There is no restaurant or even a bar, and the nearest town is miles away.  It IS, however, an inexpensive place to leave your boat for an extended period.  We joined the gang on now-recovering Jim and Carole’s boat, Nepenthe for a popcorn dinner.  There was no need for “good-byes,” we will see them all in Panama in the Fall.

Suz and I had our traditional before boating breakfast-“Egg Tuckmuffins.” (We are still supplied with English muffins, as we bought 5 packages in Aruba.) We follow the maxim:  “If you use it and you see it, buy it. You might not see it again.” We were off the dock a few minutes before six, and had an uneventful trip to Cartagena. We didn’t fish, as we still had Tuna and Mahi in the freezer.  There are two entrances to the huge bay in Cartagena, and we really wanted to enter Boca Grande, as it was closest to our destination, Club Pesca Marina. We were a bit nervous about that entrance, though, as our charts are a little sketchy in this area.  Back in the 17th century, the Spaniards built a wall across the mouth of the bay.  Thing is, it’s three feet below the surface of the water (Surprise raiding pirates!).  Our cruising guide said that there was a narrow small boat channel blasted through the wall, but we weren’t seeing any buoys.  We watched as a fairly large sailboat sailed over the wall about a mile or so away from us.  We marked his course on our plotter, and motored over.  There were two buoys, right where we didn’t think that they would be, but we motored through, never seeing less than 11’ of water.

Getting into the marina was a different story.  We hailed on the VHF, and were told to come back tomorrow.  No, not possible.  We have reservations for today, confirmed with Adriana by email yesterday.  So… I will make an hour long story short. May 1rst is a holiday (Labor Day). No one at the marina spoke any English-not even a little.  Our mastery of Spanish extends to ordering food, a beer, and finding the restroom.  (Well, not quite, but close, and talking on the radio is difficult even when both parties speak the same language.)  We could see the marina but it was outside the buoyed channel, and the depth rose precipitously upon leaving the channel.  We were loathe to put the Girl on the ground just motoring over. We were about to scrap the idea and go out to anchor in the harbor when a center console outboard with two guys on it approached us and motioned for us to follow.  They led us into the marina, and we picked a slip.  Meanwhile, the security guard and another guy show up and we get tied up at the dock.  Still isn’t anyone speaking English, but now, face to face, we’re communicating okay.  I give the guys 20,000 peso tip each (approximately $6 USD), feeling quite happy to be here. “Not so fast” says one of the boat guys.  “You owe us 200,000 pesos for our service.” All the time, the security guard (with the gun) is observing the conversation, so I figure that this is the norm. Well…told him we didn’t have that much, and I’d give him 150,000 ($45 US).  Okay, we’re here.  Welcome to Cartagena.

This ain’t over.

-Later

 

 

Buenos Dias

I woke up a couple of times during the night to hear it pouring rain on the metal roof (or so I thought).  When we got up at O’Dark-thirty, I realized that the noise was from the river, now swelling from the recent rain roaring past camp.  True to Estefan’s word, it was not raining in the morning.  When we started out at 06h00, the mist was still hanging heavily over the dripping vegetation.  An hour into the morning, I let my attention lapse and rolled over my right ankle.  No!!!  Laying on the wet path, I couldn’t imagine that my hike would end only 3 hours from our goal.  I picked myself up and tested the ankle-it would still hold my weight, but not without barking at me.  I knew what was next.  (I had torn the ligaments in this ankle when I was 16, and after 2 months on crutches it was never the same.  I’ve rolled it several times since, and it’s always the weak link).  Fording the river a half hour later, there was no hopping across boulders, as the water had risen considerably.  The cold water came at just the right time.  When I took my shoe off, I thought Indio’s eyes were going to pop out of his head.  My ankle was already swelling, and blood was pooling at the edge of my sole.  No surprise to me-been there, done that.  Estefan asked me if I wanted a mule to come and take me down.  Well…we got that sorted out in a hurry.  Indio produced some analgesic cream and an ankle brace.  A few minutes later, we were headed back up the hill.  Ciudad Perdida predates Machu Pichu by about 600 years, and the stone “steps” have been there ever since.  Built out of uncarved natural stone, the steps have a very irregular rise and run. The only consistent feature is that they’re very narrow and steep.  We couldn’t help but wonder what coming down their wet smooth surface was going to look like.  I didn’t count the steps, but I’ll take their word for there being 1200.  It took us about 40 minutes of nonstop climbing to get to the top.

We had two-and-a-half hours to explore the site.  Indio led us around and spoke to us about the ancient Tairona people who built and lived in this city of over two thousand inhabitants, pointing out artifacts and explaining the layout of the buildings.  About 80% of the ruins are still covered by jungle, and there are no plans to uncover them.  I won’t try to describe our visit here-it’d be like trying to describe the Grand Canyon to someone.  You just have to be there.

We were almost to the bottom of the steps when it started raining again, this time a gentle drizzle.  We retraced our steps from earlier in the day, stopping for lunch and to pick up our packs at the previous nights’ camp.  The rain began in earnest.  When hiking up and down the numerous red clay ravines, you had to follow the stream of water flowing down, as it washed away the slippery red mud, leaving small gravel for traction.  Walking outside the water flow was hopeless.  The mud was slipperier than wet ice.  A couple more hours of trekking brought us into our bivouac for the evening.  Lots of smiles and……cold BEER!  The routine was the same as the previous nights, and by 06h00 we were back on the trail.  The day’s 6 hours would have 2 steep “ups” of around 45 minutes each, punctuated by, and ending with a few hours of “downs”.  After the first “up”, we had the option of spending the night at a camp or continuing back to Mamey.  The 4 of us opted for the latter, and a bit after 12h30, we rolled into the restaurant that we had started at four days earlier.  The rest of the gang had been there 20 minutes earlier, and were already at our table.  They gave us a standing ovation and 4 cold beers.  The groups of hikers waiting to go up gave us the eye.  I had a pretty good idea what they were thinking.  “If they could make it, I can make it.”  So glad to lend the moral support.  Back to the Land Cruiser, it was “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” back down to the highway.

True to form, our trip back home was not without incident.  One of the Magic Tour Toyotas was broken down, parked on the side of the road.  I thought we’d grab the clients, squeeze them into our vehicle and continue home.  Nope.  Joel backed up, hooked up a 10’ nylon tow strap and we were off, towing the other vehicle 10 feet away at 45 miles per hour.  That’s not the best part.  Joel got a call on his cell phone.  There was a police checkpoint ahead.  No problema.  It was on a downhill headed to town from the mountains, so they just disconnected the 2 jeeps.  Our disabled pal then just rolled down the several mile long incline and past the checkpoint.  Fortunately, they didn’t stop him.  When the road flattened out, he stopped and we rehooked him and towed him back to town.  Never a dull moment.  Joel dropped us off at the marina at dusk, and that’s the end of our Ciudad Perdida adventure.

-Later

Bueno Dia,

The Girl all bedded down for our 4 (or 5) day absence, the backpacks loaded and by 07h45 on Monday morning, we were ready to roll.  After spending the whole day in bed, Suz seemed to be on the mend from her G.I. bug-at least she hoped so.  Always game, she never says die.  Sue and Mike, our new Australian friends met us on the dock.  We walked out to the marina gate, where we were to pick up our ride to Magic Tour, in uncharacteristic silence.  Turns out that we were all thinking the same thing:  Were we physically and mentally ready for the arduous 4 days ahead of us?  When we arrived at the office and joined the gang that was waiting there for our 2 hour ride up to Mamey, the starting point of our trek, the uncertainty in my mind just blossomed.  There was no one else in the group of 27 people waiting that was less than 30 years younger than us, and boy, were we getting the eye.  In the end, that sealed the deal for me.  There was no way that I wasn’t gonna do this thing.  I’m pretty sure that my Bride was thinking the same thing.  We were split into 2 parties.  Ours had 13 hikers: a German couple, a Dutch couple, a couple from Italy, 2 guys from Sweden, a guy from Belgium, and the 4 grandparents.  Our local guide, Indio got us all briefed through our translator, Estefan, while their intern Juan loaded our gear onto a couple of Toyota Land Cruisers.  Our driver, Joel was a familiar face-he had driven us up to Mompox a week or so previously.

We arrived in the village of Mamey right around 12h00, just in time for lunch.  As we were eating, groups of hikers were straggling in, looking happy but bedraggled.  Lotsa “High-fivin’” was going on, as they had completed their hike.  Indio gathered us up in front of the topographical representation of our hike painted on the wall and took us through the plan.  Today would be a relatively easy walk.  Four hours, with one steep “up.”  The kicker was that there was no cover for this portion.  “Make sure that you have plenty of sunblock on, wear a hat, and drink lots of water.”  It was HOT.  Even though it was kinda hazy the sun beating down was relentless.  The footing was good, however, 2” of fine white dust covered the path which we shared with Pack Mules and motorbikes.  Fifteen minutes into our first steep “up”, our pal Sue said “I’m not going to make it”.  Well, we certainly weren’t going to make the time that the youngsters were, but we were going to do this thing at our own pace.  And so it went.  Rest stops were well planned.  Just when you thought your heart was going to jump out of your chest, there was the rest of our gang, catching their breath, having a sip, and maybe a snack of fruit.  Then, it was off again.  After a few hours, we passed the last spot accessible by motorbike.  After that, we only had to share the path with mules.  We arrived at the first camp a bit ahead of schedule, even with us taking up the rear.

Okay, so here’s the skinny on the camps:  The sleeping areas were like pole barns without walls-roof only.  The beds consisted of rows of bunks, each encased in mosquito netting side-by-side on a packed dirt floor.  The “mess halls” were rows of long tables and benches situated under a similar wall-less structure, with the galley attached.  All open air.  The toilets were in a separate cinderblock building with the “showers” behind.  These did have walls.  The shower consisted of a ½” pipe coming out of the ceiling, supplied by cold river water.  There weren’t many showers, but you didn’t need to worry about somebody luxuriating in the hot shower.  For Suz and I, the drill was simple:  Arrive at camp, grab a bunk, then head straight to the shower while everyone else was milling around.  Rinse out soaking wet clothes (I’m not exaggerating this one-you could literally wring out your shorts and shirt, you perspired so much) in fresh water.  Dry off with chamois (towel too heavy to pack).  Put on long pants and long-sleeved sleeping clothes and plenty of mosquito repellant.  Sit and chat with the rest of the group for a while, then have dinner.  There weren’t a lot of places to sit and relax, as the seats were just wood benches, and the generator went off around 21h00, so it was off to bed.

Several companies are licensed to trek up to The Lost City, and there are only a couple of camps, so we had as many as 50 people in camp at night.  Licensed?  Yep.  The Colombian government is very attuned to preserving their indigenous population’s ways of life.  The trek to Ciudad Perdida goes through indigenous tribal lands, so the number of hikers is limited, and you MUST go with a licensed company.  Forty percent of the monies collected in fees from hikers goes to the local peoples, and all of the camps are owned by them.  (Quite a contrast with the way that the United States treated our indigenous population).  The trail is closed for 1 month per year while the indigenous folks celebrate their religious season.  The Kogi are the tribal group that inhabit the area of the Sierra Nevadas where Ciudad Perdida is located, however the Arhuacas and the Wiwas, also descendants of the ancient Taironas consider the site sacred as well.  Over the course of the hike, we passed by several Kogi villages.  All of their buildings are constructed of natural materials-wood, bamboo, mud and palm leaves.  Several villages appeared to be abandoned, but Indio informed us that the owners were at their other homes.  The Kogi farm at different elevations, and all families have several homes, so that they can follow their crops.  Smoke was billowing out of the walls and roof of several huts as we passed by.  When a family moves back to their house after living away, the vermin are cleared out by starting a smoky fire in the chimney-less building.

05h00 came mighty early.  Happy Birthday to me.  Got a raise today-went on Medicare!  Out of the comfy pajamas and into the soaking wet clothes from the day before.  With humidity in the 90’s, ain’t nuthin’ drying overnight.  Since your clothes are soaked in sweat an hour after walking, it seemed silly to bring all that extra weight in clean clothes for every day.  The exceptions for us were underwear and socks.  T.M.I!  Breakfast at 05h30.  Our group’s departure time was 06h00.  (The different groups had different departure times, so we rarely saw other hikers on the trail).  Well….we were in a rain forest, and it was the beginning of the rainy season.  It started raining in the morning, and rained off and on (mostly on) for the whole 8 hour walk.  When I say it rained, I mean RAIN.  At times, it was tough to see the scenery across the sheer drop-offs next to the path, the rain was so heavy.  No reason to wear a raincoat, as you were wet anyway.  In fact, with the temperature in the 80’s the rain felt good.  The bad news was that the path was pretty steep.  In places where you weren’t scrambling up rocks, you were hiking up (now slippery) red clay.  The combination of water, mud and Mule deposits made a slip-and-fall a scary prospect.  Okay, that was the crummy part.  The good part was a hundred times better.  At times, the views across verdant green mountains and valleys with no signs of human habitation were breathtaking.  The trail, now fully in the rain forest was covered by a canopy of lush vegetation.  Bird songs, insect sounds and the drone of the rain created a sensory near-overload.  Combined with the sound of your footfalls, the rhythm of your breathing and the beating of your heart, you had your own personal mantra repeating itself throughout the day.  At times, you felt like you were the only person on the trail, as you could neither see nor hear anyone ahead or behind you.  The trail paralleled the Rio Buritaca.  At times, you could hear the water roaring 200 feet below you.  At others, the river was right next to the trail.  I think that we forded the river by hopping from boulder to boulder a couple of times during the day.

The morning hike was punctuated by a rest/snack stop.  Fruit was provided, and liquid in the forms of water, Gatorade or soda was available.  We stopped for lunch a little after midday.  Our cook, Maria had gone on ahead of us and had our second hot meal of the day prepared for us when we arrived.  Lotsa calories and protein at every meal kept us all charged up.  Supplies for the camps are brought up on mules, which we encountered frequently during the day, and heard passing by at night.  After lunch, we were back on the trail for 4 hours, again with a rest stop in the middle.  This pattern would be repeated over the next few days.  At one point, we crossed the river on a one-person platform suspended from a cable and hand-pulled by rope across the gorge.  Very cool.  We arrived in camp tired and wet, but exhilarated.  The next day, we would hike the trail and ascend 1200 steps, arriving at the Lost City four hours after our morning departure.  There was an almost audible buzz in camp that night.  Our translator, Estefan assured us that it never rained in the morning up there.  The generator went off early, as it ran out of gas.  We were too.

-Luego

Feliz Pascua!

The Girl was resting so comfortably (and clean) that we didn’t even leave her all afternoon and evening.  Periodically, gusts of wind would race up the bay, causing our wind generators to really fly.  I love the sound of money going into the bank.  I think that we finally have our renewable energy sources tuned in.  The solar panels and the wind generators are at full potential.  We’re covering all of our electrical loads, and putting the surplus in the battery bank.

Warning:  A small bit of tech talk ahead.  I think that I told you that I had rewired our 110VAC watermaker to run off our inverter, so that we could make water while underway without running the generator.  That experiment didn’t work out so well at first.  The watermaker was drawing so much power that the alternator never fully charged the house battery bank, so…the engine start battery (which also runs the CPU controlling the engine) never got it’s share of juice.  As the start battery’s voltage dropped, the low voltage alarm on the John Deere panel went off, signaling that the CPU was not getting enough voltage to run the engine.  (Bad Juju!)  Eureka moment!  A month or so ago, I figured out that I could reprogram the alternator regulator in such a manner that we could overcome that problem.  After a half dozen passages, I can now confidently report that the fix is working.  We no longer regret not purchasing a 12VDC watermaker.

We had a wonderful night at anchor.  Absolutely no chance of rain, so we inflated the Air bed that our pals Dick and Jan bought us and slept up on the boat deck.  Under the full moon, we didn’t see many stars, but it was all good.  Friday morning greeted us with a conundrum.  We were only allowed one night in a bay.  The wind was, if anything, blowing harder than the day before.  We decided to stay put.  If the Coast Guard chased us out, we’d head back to the marina.  After a breakfast of Tuckmuffins (a legendary breakfast treat in my own mind), we dropped the kayaks into the water.  Paddling out to the opening of the bay, the Admiral found that she couldn’t paddle against the (I’m guessin’-30 knot winds).  One gust hit me on the beam and nearly knocked me over.  Back at the Girl, we had a refreshing swim/read/nap afternoon.  17h00 (park closing time) came and went without a visit from the authorities, so we had another quiet night on the hook.

Saturday morning we were up and out in order to get ahead of the winds, which increase as the day progresses.  We still had 20+ knot winds and 4’-6’ seas, but they were on our stern.  After a year or so without fueling, the Girl was thirsty, so we put on 575 gallons of diesel before returning to our slip.  We got our backpacks loaded up for our forthcoming hike to Ciudad Perdida on Monday, then took a stroll through town.  Holy week is a big deal here in this predominantly Catholic country, so the city was rockin’.  We snagged a table at “Ouzo” before the dinner rush:  Crispy pork belly app., Duck Confit Ravioli for Suz and Hornido Sofrito for Yours Truly, all washed down with a pitcher of Sangria de Casa (tinto).

We hit 07h00 Mass this morning, only to find out that the Easter schedule was different than the usual-it started at 06h00.  That turned out to be okay.  Forty-five minutes into the service, Father was just getting warmed up, so we still got an hour and fifteen minutes of religion even tho’ we were 45 minutes late.  Suz looked like Death during church, and she’s been in bed since we got home at 08h00.  It’s 15h00 now.  The lower G.I. funk has been going around, and it looks like she’s the latest victim.  We’ll see about the hike tomorrow………

-Later

Ola, Amigos!

We’ve had a couple of quiet days, just hangin’ on the Girl taking care of the necessaries.  Holly the haircutter invited us to a potluck the other night, and we met half a dozen other cruisers.  Most are on the other dock, so we hadn’t interacted with them yet.  Among a few other pearls of wisdom, we found out that all of them were making water here at the docks, and most of them had been here at least 6 months.  We have never run our watermaker at a dock, for fear of fouling the delicate membranes with any petroleum pollutants which may be in the water.  Long story short, we made water for 7 hours yesterday without any issues.  We still won’t make a habit of it.

Yesterday we rinsed off our trusty little ship and polished some stainless steel.  The dust here is unbelievable.  You can rinse down the decks, come back a day later and still get a wave of brown water streaming out the gutters.  We’ve learned to keep the hatches mostly closed since we were having the same problem inside.  Thank goodness for Vornado fans.  At night, we turn on the airco in our stateroom.

 

We’re into our second day of “Lose incredible amounts of time to computer crap”.  Yesterday, I cleaned up our main navigation black box.  We still had routes and waypoints from Labrador and Newfoundland clogging up the memory.  That went smoothly, just took some time.  Then we started on the PC based program.  I got stuck.  The Admiral couldn’t help.  Then……I know better, but consulted multiple forums and flogged around for a few hours without result.  Suz says that John on Seamantha uses the same program-he’ll know.  What’s Apped him last night.  Talked to him this morning.  All good.  I just heard a “Woohoo!” from the pilothouse while I’m peckin’ away in the cockpit.  Here’s the deal.  There aren’t any official charts of the area we’ll be visiting next (The San Blas Archipelago in Panama).  The definitive cruising guide for the area has been compiled over the years by Eric Bauhaus.  He has taken over a million soundings and created a whole portfolio of charts which can be found in his book “The Panama Cruising Guide.”  These charts have in turn been magically turned into an electronic format for “Open CPN,” an open-source navigation program created by a group of cruisers.  Suz downloaded these on to our nav PC months ago, but never said “Abracadabra!” so our boat did not appear on the electronic chart.  Well, she did her prestidigitating today, and made it so.  When she called me up to the pilothouse a couple hours ago, it was working waaayyy cool.  When she closed the program and tried to reopen it, it crashed big-time.  She’s been up there for all this time trying to resurrect it.  In the meantime, I’m hogging up the bandwidth downloading 650 other charts to the laptop.  Okay, I’m heading up to see how it’s going.  Hahaha.  She’s got GPS position, AIS targets, and depth working on the Open -CPN and the Bauhaus charts.  And you thought that she was just another pretty face.

Well, we spent another day manually entering the latitude/longitudes for waypoints and anchorages in the San Blas islands.  It was painful, (I think that there were around 140- some odd positions) but will be well worth it over the next year.  It was time for a break, so we decided to take the Girl up to a couple of the bays in Tayrona National Park.  We had passed them on our way here and they looked, and we had heard, that they were pretty cool.  Problem was that you need a cruising permit and permission from the Port Captain here in Santa Marta to anchor there.  Our trusty lady at the desk, Kelly failed us big-time on this one.  She told us that the cruising permit could be had in a day, and that as soon as it was in process, we could head out.  We paid for the cruising permit last Friday, planning on heading out on Monday.  Monday morning, we head to the office for our permit.  Kelly’s on vacation for 2 weeks, but David, the Agent here at the marina will handle it.  Come back this afternoon.  The Port Captain had to check with the bank to make sure our $$$ had been deposited, manana.  Tuesday morning.  He’s working on it.  Come back this afternoon.  Manana.  Wednesday morning.  David’s meeting with the Port Captain.  Come back this afternoon.  No can do.  “Can’t we go, since he has our money, and it’s in process?” No.  We’re resigned to not being able to go, and having a cocktail up on the boat deck, when David appears around 17h30 with a gorgeous document in his hand.  Yay!  Weather’s supposed to be iffy-very windy and high seas.  We’d already decided not to go.  Didn’t tell David that.  So, we are in this conversation with him, and he tells us that he’s so happy that we got the permit ‘cause he worked so hard to get it.  His contract here at the marina is up, and his last day is Sunday.  He’s a full-time business student at Magdalena university, and his last year will require his full time attention.  After he leaves, Suz and I decide that we should probably go-it’ll make David happy.  My concern is that David is also the Agent at the marina, acting as the go-between with Customs and Immigration.  I have a shipment of boat parts coming that I don’t want to pay duty on.  Hopefully the new guy knows the ropes and will get our stuff through the maze.

Thursday, 07h30, and I hail the Port Captain on the VHF.  Yep, we get permission to anchor for 1 night each at 2 bays up in the park (The limit is 1 night).  The wind was brisk when we pulled out of the harbor, but nothing really significant.  As we turn the corner 45 minutes later and start heading East, the breeze is picking up.  Picking our way between a rocky point on the mainland and a small island, the sea becomes a washing machine.  Breakers are crashing over the shallows on our port and starboard.  It looks scary, but the guides that we’ve read say that we can go through.  Well…we never see less than 66’ of depth.  Boy, it was kind of a puker.  27 knots of breeze on the nose with a beam sea.  We could hear the cupboards being rearranged, and took a peek down into the salon.  Oh yeah!  Our recliners had slid across the floor, bunching up the rug in the process, but were now stable in the center of the boat thanks to the bunched-up rug.  An hour-and-a-half later, we turned the corner into Bahia Neguange, more or less out of the wind-driven waves.  Up at the head of the bay, all appeared calm.  Before we dropped the hook, we let the boat settle into the wind, and found that the swell rolling into the bay was right on our beam, making for a bit of a roll.  Nope.  Even with the flopperstoppers out, it’d probably be an uncomfortable stay, and we were looking forward to some peace.  Out of the bay and into the one next over, Bahia Gayraca.  Much better.  The swell wasn’t funneling in to this one nearly as much and we had a nice breeze.  We dropped the hook in 22’ of water around 150 yards off the beach and put out 150’ of chain, just in case.  We got the cupboards and inside of the boat tidied up, then took to scrubbing the layer Santa Marta dust off the outside while enjoying the sunny afternoon.

-Later

Buenos Dias,

Our “go to” lady here at the marina is Kelly at the front desk.  (She’s one of the 3 people in town that speaks English-not dissin’, just sayin’).  We have a Q&A with her at least twice a day, and she’s invaluable.  She guided all of our paperwork through Customs and Immigration without us ever seeing an official.  Nice!  She also acts as our go-between with the marina manager and the dock supervisor.  IMHO this place would be lost without her.

Back to our walkabout, the visit to the Museo D’Oro turned out to be a hidden gem.  Besides exhibits featuring gold jewelry (as the name implies), there is a wealth of information regarding the Sierra Nevada regions of Colombia.  The museum also happens to be housed in the building in which Simon Bolivar laid in state after his death in 1830.  Written descriptions in Spanish and English attend each display.  We learned more South American history in two visits than we had in the previous sixty-odd years.

Adjoining Simon Bolivar Parque and adjacent to the Gold Museum is Juan Valdez coffee shop.  This is the Colombian version of Starbucks, with coffee that is ten times better.  Most of the best Colombian coffee is exported to Europe, with the inferior mass produced beans staying in-country, or exported to the U.S.A. The Juan Valdez chain’s aim is to introduce Colombians to their finest coffees. However, it was a total shocker when we were charged 13,000 pesos for a large cappuccino and a large latte.  Ohhh…. That’s around four bucks.  Needless to say, we’re now regulars.  The coffee dude doesn’t ask our names anymore.

In the morning, fruit vendors ply the streets, pushing their handcarts.  Some have amplifiers and loudspeakers over which they hawk their wares in the concrete canyons between the high rises.  Whole pineapples go for 3,000 ($.90 U.S.).  Bananas, Mangos, Pineapples and other South American fruits that I’ve never heard of are equally inexpensive.  After we buy fruit for the boat on the sidestreets, we have a favorite guy by Bolivar Parque that sells plastic cups full of sliced fruits, accompanied by plastic forks for 2,000 a pop.

We’re not really sure what the diving here is all about, but there are several dive operations in town.  We’ve visited a couple of them, and may go for a dive or two while we’re here.  -Keep you posted.

Besides street food, we’ve eaten at a couple of recommended restaurants.  “Ouzo”, is highly rated by both Tripadvisor and fellow cruisers-very good, with Sangria that is superior (or maybe it was so because we had been walking all afternoon).  Lamart, a funky little place recommended by Andrea (up at Minca), served up a mean Ceviche, followed by a very good main course of fish. A couple of other restaurants were good, but not memorable.  The common denominator is that all have been very inexpensive by North American standards ($30-$40 U.S. for 2 drinks, apps, and entrees).  Kinda makes going out a very viable alternative to staying home and cooking.

Back on the docks, we filled our water tanks with the tap water.  No good! No good! No good! cried another North American who had been here for 6 months.  “I was sick for a month, and Nigel, down the dock, ended up in hospital for a week (he has other health issues) from drinking the water.  Sheesh!  What a dummy.  We’ve been drinking tap water since we left home 5 years ago, but this IS South America.  So we’ve just taken on 300 gallons of potentially poisonous H2O in our public health graduate’s pristine water tanks. W.H.O website says that a cup-and-a-half of bleach in each tank should do the trick, so now our dishes, laundry, and skin is whiter than white.  The Admiral does this procedure once a year, so the drill wasn’t unfamiliar.  Meanwhile, we’re buying bottled water.

You know that these two science majors are nerding out on history these days, and our visit to the gold museum just whetted our appetites for some South American rat facts.  After a twenty minute, two dollar cab ride, we arrived at Quinta San Pedro Alejandrino, the estate at which Simon Bolivar spent his last few weeks. The botanical garden there was very much less-than-spectacular, but the colonial architecture and the artifacts on display more than made up for it.  With the help of our sorta English speaking guide, we learned more about General Bolivar, a.k.a. El Libertador.  Our taste of history at the estate provoked us to dig deeper, thanks Google, when we got home.

Monday the 8th, 08h30.  Time for our road trip to Mompox.  Sue and Mike joined us for the 5 hour trip, driving out of the shadow of the Sierra Nevadas, through the lowlands leading to and surrounding the once-busy port of Mompox on the Rio Magdalena. Established in 1540, the town was the major port linking the coast to the interior of the colony. During that period, goldsmithing and ironwork flourished in this center of commerce.  Late in the 19th century, trade routes changed to another branch of the river Magdalena, and Mompox has been in decline ever since.  As of late, it has been increasingly popular as a tourist destination, due to the plethora of colonial architecture there.  By no means touristic(?), I can see this sleepy village exploding on the traveler “must see” scene when the local airport and highway are completed.  We stayed at a small, 8 room hotel on the river in Mompox. It is a charming little property housed in the historic Portales De Marqueza warehouse. Our cook, Margherita served us up a savory breakfast of local fare which generally held us until dinnertime every day.  Jim and Carole joined us, and the six of us wandered town, taking in the local culture.  We visited several churches, took a three hour boat ride into the Pijino swamp, and plied basically every street in this busy little village.  Feeling like we had seen all there was to see in Mompox, Suz and I came home on Thursday, leaving Jim, Carole, Mike and Sue, who were spending another day (Their rooms were prepaid).

Suzanne prepared a fantastic chicken curry yesterday.  Mike and Sue joined us for dinner when they returned from Mompox, as we figured that they wouldn’t want to chase for food after the long drive home.

The washer quit yesterday with a load still in the drum.  Sleep last night was sporadic.  I hate having things broken.  This morning, while Suz was having her hair cut by a fellow cruiser, I pulled the doors and moldings off the cabinet where the washer/dryer sits, and pulled it out so I could take the cabinet apart.  Good news was that the failure was located in the switch that stops the washer when the lid is open.  I couldn’t fix the switch, so I bypassed it by jumping the wires.  All good!  The Admiral says that she’ll enjoy sleeping with the Maytag repairman tonight.  T.M.I., I know.  No worries, I won’t keep you posted.

-Luego

Buenos Tardes,

So… we’re getting ready to start our second week in Colombia, and what a time it’s been.  Right now it’s 92 degrees and 88% humidity at 13h00. It has become pretty clear to this Gringo why siestas are the order of the day here.  I’m hidin’ out, peckin’ away at the laptop with the sweat rolling down my spine.

The crossing was a dream.  We had 2’-4’ seas on our quarter most of the way.  At 06h00 on Saturday morning (36 hours into the trip), we rounded the point north of Santa Marta.  It’s not unusual to have 40 knot winds with the current piling the waves up around this point where the Sierra Nevadas rise up out of the sea.  This passage is consistently rated as one of the most difficult in the WORLD!  Yeah, that includes Cape Horn.  My red-headed weather forecaster and lifelong companion hit the nail on the head.  5-10 knots, 1’-3’ seas, as we watched the sun rise over snow-capped mountains.  I got the 2 Blackfin tunas that we caught filleted and into the freezer as we eased our way down to the IGY Marina at Santa Marta.  After we had the Girl properly secured in her assigned slip, screens and sunshades in place and lounge chairs out, one of the dock guys came by.  He didn’t think that the other guys had put us in the best spot and wondered if we might want to move before it got windy.  Long story short, we moved.  Later that night the wind came up to a steady 27 knots with gusts into the mid 30’s.  At 22h00 Suz and I were on the dock securing extra lines across the slip next to us, happy that we had moved.

Small world time.  We introduced ourselves to the Australian couple on the sailboat next to us.  They told us that they had some friends from Michigan that they had met in Indonesia several years ago and had travelled quite extensively with them.  Suz asked what city in Michigan.  “Grand Rapids” The name of their boat?  “Nepenthe” Aha! Must be talking about Carol and Jim (You remember them-we met them in Guadeloupe a couple of years ago.  You know the couple that started a 2 year circumnavigation and ended it 17 years later.) Well….Turns out that they didn’t go back to land after all, and they were about 20 miles up the coast here in Colombia. The 4 of them had just returned from a trip up the mountain to Minca, and were planning a 4-day jaunt to Mompox(Mompos) the next week.  Carol hoped that our new pals, Sue and Mike would talk us into joining them.  No problem!  Mompox was on our list of places to visit.  We got a hotel reservation, arranged transportation for Sue, Mike and ourselves, and made a plan to meet up with Jim and Carol there.

For the first day or so, we just got the “lay of the land” here in Santa Marta.  We quickly found out that in this city of 400,000 or so, about 3 people spoke English.  Crash the Spanish “How-To” books, and gracias de Dio for Google Translate.  After hitting the ATM, I finally found out what it feels like to be a billionaire.  (A Coke costs around 5,000 Colombian pesos. 10,000 COP is around $3.15 U.S.)  It took awhile to get the conversion thing figured out.  We had planned to do some hiking/touring inland from Santa Marta (hereafter SM), so we checked out the tour operators in town.  We settled on “Magic Tours,” and booked a day trip to the small village of Minca, located up in the mountains around an hour from SM.  It seemed like a good way to check out their operation before booking our big trips with them.

The next morning, our driver was at the marina gate.  We drove through the narrow streets of SM, congested with cars, motorbikes, bicycles, and yes, horse and mule-drawn wagons.  It took me about 5 minutes to realize that renting a car and driving in this snarl of apparent traffic anarchy was TOTALLY OUT OF THE QUESTION.  Nonetheless, we popped out the other side and made our way up the serpentine road to Minca.  So what’s in Minca? Not much.  Some small farms, growing coffee and cacao and some small hostels.  It’s known as a hub for backpackers and trekkers, and there are scads of them there.  Suz and I were definitely the oldest non-locals by 30 years.  What’d we do there?  We met our guide, Andrea and our 5 fellow walkers.  Our first walk was to a small coffee plantation, where we stopped and had some killer coffee.  One of our companions was a Brit who didn’t like coffee, so they brewed her a cup of Coca tea.  We also learned that only the indigenous men, not women, chewed coca.  It is legal to grow and smoke marijuana in your home, but not in public, nor is it legal to sell it.  Oh….the useful information tangents that we get off on. After the coffee farm, we hiked for another 2 hours to a small waterfall, where we cooled off under the rushing water.  From there, it was another hour or so to Andrea’s dad’s house on the side of the mountain, where he cooked us a wonderful lunch followed by some cacao drinks. Besides the ignominious moment when Yours Truly slipped off the bridge comprised of 2 bamboo poles spanning the creek, the hour long walk back to the village was uneventful.  I really thought that the least one of my companions could do was follow me in to the drink, or at least suppress their laughter, but no.  It wasn’t to be.  Ego severely bruised, but ankles unharmed (although rather soggy) I trudged (squishelly) down the jungle path.  Our ride arrived, and we decided we’d stick with Magic Tours for our next outings.

The Santa Marta marina is right in the center of town, so walking access is very easy.  Before it gets too hot, our routine has been to put a few miles on and explore.  After our Minca experience, we headed back to Magic with Mike and Sue in tow, to book our hike to Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City).  It’s said to be a pretty strenuous hike, so we’ve been trying to get some walks in before, even though we know that we won’t be able to get in shape walking on the flat at sea level.  We’ve got our trek scheduled to begin the Monday after Easter.  We’ll keep you posted.  If you want, you can check out The Lost City at:  https://ciudadperdida.co/

Lotsa stuff here in SM, so I’ll talk at ya

-Luego

Pages

Captain's Log

Buenos Dias,

24 October.  We made all of our “Goodbyes”, and waited semi-patiently for our 15h30 departure time, which would put us into Laguna Bluefield in the Bocas del Toro archipelago by mid-morning.  The weather proved to be benign (as forecast).  Always a question after months of idleness, all systems  functioned well, including the stabilizers that Scotty and I had serviced but not tested.  The new charging parameters that I had set on our alternator regulator were spot on.  The new batteries came up to full charge, and stayed that way throughout the passage.  I went off watch at 01h00.  It was calm and stuffy, so I opened the porthole in the stateroom.  When I awoke at 06h00, it had been pouring for several hours with the wind on the beam.  Try as I might, I couldn’t hide all of the wet cushions, drapes and rug from the Admiral.  Every now and then, we all need a case of “Dumb #ss” to keep us humble.  I have more of those than most.

Laguna Bluefield, an idyllic anchorage surrounded by tropical rainforest was our home for the next 24 hours.  We just napped, chilled and read.  Dolphins danced around the Girl for a few hours and the baitfish “boiled” the water most of the afternoon and evening.  Our next stop was in the lee of the Zapatilla islands ( Numero Uno and Numero Dos).  They are a popular spot for “Day Trippers” from neighboring islands due to their beautiful sandy beaches.  We anchored about a half mile off shore of “Uno”, and dinghied in to a deserted beach where we spent the afternoon.  The morning of the 27th, we were off to Bocas Town.  We tried our luck fishing the Caribbean side of Bastiementos Island with no joy.  At one point, Suzanne looked down from the pilothouse window and saw a Mahi swim by.  Obviously, I was using the wrong lures.  Nearing Bocas town, we realized that we weren’t ready for civilization yet, so headed deep into Hospital Bight on Bastiamentos.  We tiptoed into the uncharted end of the bay, and dropped our hook amidst the Mangrove islets there.  From our lonely base, we explored the bay by dinghy for the next few days.  Oh yeah, don’t forget that it’s still the rainy season.  Just because I haven’t mentioned the fact that there are intense lightning and thunder storms every day doesn’t mean that they aren’t happening.  We had a delivery of boat parts and essential foodstuffs ( Gatorade, Reese’s cups, Pop Tarts, horseradish and etc. ) for our friends (from Santa Marta) Holly and Michael on “Pecaro”, that we received from Dan and Jackie at Shelter Bay.  We dinghied the 4 miles over to where they were anchored in Bocas Town to make the much-appreciated delivery.

We hauled the anchor on the 29th, and made our way to Bocas Town.  Since we already had a track on our chartplotter, the trip out of the end of the bay was much less stressful.  It took 2 tries to get our anchor to set in the rubble-strewn Bocas anchorage, under the watchful eye of the USCG cutter “Confidence”, which was riding at anchor in the Bocas Strait.  For the last few days, it’s been the usual “new port” routine, scoping out grocery, hardware and marine supply stores on shore, and generally sucking information out of anyone that would talk to us.  Yesterday, (the 31rst), we did a 2 tank dive with Bocas Dive Center.  The crew couldn’t have been nicer, but the visibility and dive sites left a lot to be desired.  Not sure if we’ll dive here again.

Buenos Dias,

Touchdown in Panama at 20h00.  Customs was non-existent, which took a load off as we had lots of small, but expensive boat parts intermingled with our clothes in all 4 duffle bags.  Olmero was waiting out front, and we soon were off to Shelter Bay.  The new bridge over the canal had been completed in our absence, and the 2-hour trip was cut by 40 minutes.  The fact that we had arrived after the horrendous Panama City rush hour didn’t hurt either.  The sense of relief that you experience at the end of a long trip soon dissipated.  The hotel/restaurant office was closed for the night.  While Olmero got busy dialing, I checked the boaters lounge.  The A/C wasn’t working, but the couches were not occupied.  Looked like we at least had a place to sleep.  By the time that I got back to Suz, Olmero had located the hotel manager, we got our key and were good to go.

The next week was truly all work and no play.  The morning of the 1st, we checked on the Girl, who had been moved from the secure storage area (surrounded by a 12’ fence topped with razor wire, and occupied by 3 “Junkyard Dogs”) to the work yard.  Alizann had fared well.  A fair bit of mold and algae on the outside, but inside she looked and smelled sweet.  Our favorite marine tech and pal, Scotty was flying in from the States the next day, so we got things ready for an efficient visit.  All the tools and toolboxes were brought up from their homes in the engine room, bow thruster props were removed, the washer/dryer was moved to the companionway to facilitate access to the top of the stabilizers, and etc.  Earlier in the Summer, we had shipped a pallet of stuff including our new Lithium batteries from the States.  We located it in a storage bin, and spent an afternoon taking inventory and stowing our new goodies.  It was like Christmas in October.  We reestablished contact with Demaso (Recommended by a cruiser at Shelter Bay), confirming that he would start work sanding and painting Alizann’s bottom on the 4th.

Olmero picked Scotty up, he arrived just after noon, and by 1330 we were off to the races.  Stabilizers off, oil drained, seals replaced, everything cleaned and put back together by 22h00.  I won’t bore you with the details, but it was up at 06h00 and work until after dark for the next week.  Demaso arrived with his boys as scheduled, which was a relief to me, as we had wired him several boat units ($1K) before ever meeting him.  That relationship was not without drama as we went back and forth regarding materials specified, materials delivered, work quality and etc.  He didn’t speak a word of English, and Google Translate didn’t work worth squat for the local vernacular.  Scotty is a machine, fueled by Coca Cola and peanut M&M’s.  We finished the list and many other projects.  By the time he was scheduled to leave, I have to admit I was slap wore out.  We got the Girl back into the water without a lot of drama, and back to our old slip, D42.  As we were tying up we got a reminder to not swim in the marina as a 7’ Crocodile glided past.  It was so nice to move back aboard and sleep in our own bed again.    Still plenty of work to be done before heading out, but there was light at the end of the tunnel.  I put a new control module in our icemaker (found one for $80 in the home appliance parts website, whereas the boat part dudes listed the same part for around $200.  I love part numbers and the internet).  We now have ice.  Recommissioned the watermaker-it’s only making around 22 gal/hr, instead of the nearly 29 that it’s rated at.  Could be that water temperature is a factor, could be that I’ll have to put in new membranes next year.  I’ll send our specs to Spectra (our watermaker brand) and see what the techs there have to say.

The cupboards were bare, so it was time for the next adventure-provisioning.  We tried our luck on the free shuttle bus to Colon, and did pretty well at “Cuatros Alto” Mall.  The meat at the Rey supermarket looked somewhat suspect, so we limited our purchases to a few pounds.  Although Colon is the largest city on the Caribbean side of the Canal, its population is generally very poor, and the stock in the grocery store reflects this demographic.  Our friend, and long-term inhabitant of Shelter Bay Marina (1.75 years and counting), Spencer was renting a van for a run into Panama City, so several of us chipped in and we were off on an all-day shopping extravaganza.  He knew the city like the back of his hand, and was taking requests.  Suz needed an Alcatel hot spot and some SIM cards (our Google Fi phones didn’t work well in the San Blas islands).  The phones in the U.S. generally don’t use Band 28 which is more or less ubiquitous in many other countries.  Don’t ask me-that’s the Admirals’ job, and she gathered info from various sources for 6 months before arriving at this decision.  She had been in contact with a guy who spoke English at the phone store at Albrook Mall.  He got a hotspot and told her that he’d be in to help her set it up.  Yay!  This is a whole ‘nother story, but the Mall is the largest in Central and South America (It’s over a mile long, and several stories high-people literally take a cab to get from one end to the other)  Spencer knew exactly which entrance to use, and 40 minutes later, we had the goods and were headed to our next stop.  We hit a couple of marine chandleries, the Casa de Jamon (for gourmet foods-they had 20 or so Serano hams hanging in one area), the Discovery Center (beyond description-kinda like a cross between Home Depot, Walmart, and Bed, Bath and Beyond.  You could find everything from power tools to tampons).  Next, it was time to do some serious provisioning.  PriceSmart-Panama City’s equivalent to Costco.  Of course, Spencer had a membership, so it was “Katie bar the doors.”  We rounded out the day and provisions at a regular grocery store(Riba Smith), which was considerably more upscale than the one in Colon.  Eleven hours after we started, we were back home, and filling Alizann.  The deck fridge wasn’t working-#@%&!!.  I had turned it on several days earlier, and heard the compressor kick on, so I ASSUMED that everything was copacetic.  We jammed everything in the galley fridges and icemaker and hit the sack.  Suz spent most of the next day breaking down large packages and vacuum sealing their contents in smaller aliquots.  I thought that the control module in the freezer was shot (as it had been at Atlantic Yacht Basin after storing a few years ago), but after a bit of troubleshooting, discovered that it was just a cooling fan.  (Which had a feedback loop to the module-making it wonky.)  Off to the Alizann hardware store.  Yep-behind the corner settee in the salon there lived not one, but two 6” computer fans.  An hour later, we had cold.

We were getting closer to being outta there when Windows alerted us that there was a new update that needed installing.  No problem-4 computers updated.  Sonofagun!  The Nav computer (You know the one-it has 2 programs of navigation software, our secondary radar and all of our routes and waypoints on it) wouldn’t even boot up Windows.  This looked like it was going to be a big one, so I started another project.  Two full days later, after Suzanne had burned up the phone with Scotty and Rose Point Navigation’s techs, she had reinstalled Windows, repaired a Com port, found our radar and resurrected some vocabulary from her archives that I haven’t heard escape from her lips in many years (maybe since our eldest was a teenager).  She also now had LED lights in all of her kitchen cabinets, activated by switches on the doors.

Weather looking good for an overnighter to the Bocas del Toro archipelago west of Colon, the Girl is shipshape, so we’ll head out a little…

-Later

A belated Buenos Dias,

It’s like that “Thank You” note that doesn’t get sent right away.  The longer you wait, the harder it is to send it.  Well……I hope that you’ll accept my apologies for the 100th time.  Your recalcitrant, writer-blocked, tongue -tied, lazy blogger is back.  Sheesh!....we’ve already been to the States and back.  Rainy season will end in a month or so, but we’re already on the move.

To recap:

               Departed Hollandes on the 31st of May for a 2-hour run to East Lemmon Cay, where we helped a lady with a severe toothache sort out her medication regimen, and explored on the dinghy for a possible future stay.

               Off to Chichime, where we wedged into a very crowded anchorage.  We did a bit of snorkeling, but never went to shore as it really wasn’t very appealing to us.

               The 4th of June saw us leaving the San Blas archipelago.  We were now on a mission to get to Shelter Bay Marina in Colon, the Girls’ rainy season home.  We anchored in Linton Bay, on Panama’s mainland.  It is a very busy little outpost, with a huge mooring field and a small marina.  The whole place looked like it needed a lotta love (and money).

               Next stop was Portobelo, a port and small town, also on the mainland.  We stayed a couple of days, anchored beneath the ruins of an old Spanish fort.  Being a vital port in the Spanish “Triangle of Trade” (Consisting of Santa Maria, Portobello, and Rio Chagres), used to extract the vast quantities of precious metals from South and Central America, it was a juicy target for pirates.  Among others, Henry Morgan had sacked and burned the town.  We explored the ruins and also the town of Portobelo on the other side of the bay.  There, we also got our first glimpses of the “Diablo” buses-ornately decorated school bus-type vehicles which made regular runs between Panama City, Portobelo and Colon.  The paint jobs were crazy.  A visit to the Iglesia de San Felipe was a must, as the statue of the “Black Christ” was ensconced there.  Scores of miracles are attributed to the statue, which was found floating in the bay in the early 1600’s.  Every year, on October 21, thousands of pilgrims from all over Panama converge on Portobelo to celebrate the Festival de Cristo Negro.  While we were anchored in Portobelo,, we had torrential rains.  The runoff from land was so severe that the water in the bay changed from blue to brown.  The lightning was spectacular, but in retrospect, very costly.  When we readied the Girl for departure on the 7th, our primary navigation systems (Chartplotter, Depth sounder, and Radar) were down (and out).  #$@%!!.  That one’s gonna leave a mark on the nestegg.  Fortunately, our PC based backup system was unfazed, so we didn’t have to resort to compass, sextant, and paper charts.

               Dang!  We were here now, but not quite ready for marina life.  So….we passed Colon and headed up the Chagres River, anchoring just inside the bar after threading our way through a tricky passage in the reef.  Sandy and Britt joined us there, as they were on their way to Bocas Del Toro, where they would haul their boat for the Rainy Season.  Suz and I hiked up to Fort San Lorenzo, which guarded this important waterway during the 17th thru 19th centuries.  Britt and Sandy were off the next morning.  Suzanne and I decided to travel up the river to the dam at Lake Gatun.  The trip was about 6 miles up the winding river, with nothing but rain forest/jungle on both sides-just beautiful.  Up at the dam, we watched as a freighter transiting the Canal passed by around forty feet above us.  On the way back down the river, all of a sudden the Howler Monkeys started up in full out four-part harmony.  This was really strange, as it was a beautiful sunny day.  (They usually get rockin’ just before it starts to rain).  Whup! Whup! Whup!  We jumped out of the pilothouse in time to see a military chopper threading its way over the river behind us.  He was so low that he was between the trees on either bank.  Suzanne thought he was going to hit our mast!  He popped up and over us, then he was gone.  Silence returned to the forest.  Guess he just wanted to see what this boat was doing so close to the dam and Canal.  Slip D 42 at Shelter Bay Marina awaited us, so we passed through the reef, and an hour later the breakwall at the southern end of the Panama Canal, entering the small bay where the marina is located.  It is on the property formerly occupied by Fort Sherman, the U.S. outpost that guarded the Caribbean end of the Canal when it was run by the U.S.

The next 10 days were busy, busy, busy.  Here in Panama, the rainy season isn’t just wet…it’s WET!  Mold and mildew are a huge problem when leaving a boat here.  So…….everything came out of every locker and storage space (I have 44 compartments listed in my inventory spreadsheet), the space was cleaned meticulously, then sprayed with white vinegar before being refilled.  The water tanks were drained, opened, dried out and vacuumed.  Fuel tanks were filled to avoid condensation.  Routine maintenance, oil change, filters, fuel filters and water filters were replaced….you get the picture.  Repairs were performed (Yes, the Admiral diagnosed a blown video board in our Nav computer and got one ordered, even though the company was reluctant to send one out to a non-professional).  Of course, it wasn’t all work and no play.  We renewed friendships with other cruisers that we had met along the way, and made some new friends while enjoying Happy Hour at the pool.  The marina general manager, Juanjo, was the manager at Las Palmas where we stayed in Puerto Rico several years ago.  We had a lot of catching up to do.  The week flew by, and we moved to the marina hotel when Alizann was hauled.  We had her shrink-wrapped and put a dehumidifier in the galley sink to keep the humidity down.

The 19th of June came in a flash, and our new driver, Olmero drove us to the airport in Panama City for our flight back to the States.

Okay, I already said we were back, so we’ll get on with this season

-Later

 

Buenos Tarde,

It’s June 1rst, and we’re at anchor at Banedup in the Eastern Lemmon Cays.  Our plan was to move to Chichime today after one night here, but the squalls have been rolling through all morning, with winds gusting to 25 knots and sheets of rain.  It’s certainly not good weather for spotting reefs and shallows, so we moved the Girl to a better spot in the anchorage and will spend another day here.  There are a lot more places that we want to scope out in the next 10 days or so before we leave “Alizann” in Colon, and head for the States.  We’ll be out tomorrow, rain or shine.

We left you in Coco Bandero.  Well, the weather was gorgeous, and the anchorage was absolutely beautiful, so we ended up staying another day.  Coco is one of the most popular spots in the San Blas.  It is the cover photo on the “Cruising Guide to Panama,” and, during season there can be as many as 30-40 boats there.  Besides us, there were 3 other boats.  The anchorage is surrounded by shallow reefs, so we dropped the kayaks in and got some exercise, paddling around the islands and out to the Caribbean on the other side of the barrier reef around a mile or so away.  It seemed like the perfect spot for some aerial pics, so we put “Scout,” our drone up.  I think that he got some good shots, but you’ll have to be the judge.  In the afternoon, we had a visit from Vinancio and his brother.  He specializes in selling Mola’s, hand-stitched artworks of traditional local images.  Much like cross stitching and embroidery combined, they’re created by the local ladies on rectangles of cloth around 16x20 inches in size.  Vinancio is well-known amongst the cruisers, and the Admiral had been hoping that we’d be able to find him.  As it turned out, he found us, thanks to Sandy and Brett on “Halcyon,” who had left us the day before, but had given him our names and location.  My math isn’t that great, but I’m pretty sure that he made around $300/hour in the 2 hours that he spent with us.  When they left, he asked us for one of our boat cards with a note from us that we’d purchased from him.  It seemed strange for us to be giving him a receipt, but he explained that there is so much drug trafficking in this area that he might have to justify to the authorities why he had so much cash.  Go figure.  As they were leaving, I asked him if he knew Apio (our fruit guy).  He asked: “Did you give him any money?”  When I replied affirmatively, he just shook his head.  The next morning, Apio was vindicated.  He showed up with our produce order and got the other half of his money.  We hauled anchor at 1100 for the arduous hour-and-a-half trip to the “Swimming Pool” anchorage in Hollandes Cay.  On our way, we were hailed on the VHF by Tad and Robin aboard “Bisou”, the catamaran that had been berthed next to us for a day or so on Aruba.  They were headed to the same anchorage.

The “Swimming Pool” is another one of the really popular anchorages, and can accommodate 40-50 boats during season.  There were around 10 boats anchored when we arrived, including “Halcyon.”  We were excited, as we had hoped that we’d meet up with them again.  The next six days flew by.  We hadn’t intended to, but the snorkeling, exploring, and visiting with new friends was too good to give up.  Dan and Jackie aboard “Pleasant Living” and Mike and (haircut) Holly aboard “Picaro” from Santa Marta showed up, and it was like old-home week.  Of course, we had to meet Reg and Debbie, aboard “Runner” who are pretty much fixtures in the anchorage.  Although they have been cruising the San Blas for 19 years, they have been at anchor in the “Pool” nonstop for the last 3.  Reggie says that he goes ashore “once a decade,” while Debbie hitches a ride to the mainland a few times a year.  They’ve got a local guy who shops in Panama City for them, and brings provisions out every 2 weeks.  Not my cup of tea.  Diff’rent strokes.  Every evening around dusk, we’d look for the resident Caiman (crocodile) as he/she swam through the anchorage on its way from the barrier reef to who-knows-where.  He was usually accompanied by 2 sharks who glided beneath the boats around the same time.

Before I sign off, let me say a few words about our Panama cruising in general.  Our plan is to spend next season in and around the Caribbean side of Panama, most of the time in the San Blas.  The last few weeks of this year, we’re trying to get a feel for the cruising here and gather intel and make contacts.  At this time, there aren’t many other cruisers here.  It’s the rainy season, and most have headed home.  We’ve had rain nearly every day, usually in the afternoon.  Most days, we can hear thunder rumbling in the distance nearly all day.  In the evenings, we usually get a pretty good lightshow-mostly in the distance, but every so often too close for comfort.  The Admiral says that besides the U.S.A., there’s more lightning here than anywhere else on the planet.                                                                                      As far as the anchorages go, away from the mainland here in the east end of the San Blas they’re very different than what we are used to.  We usually anchor in the lee of a large land mass or in a bay.  Although there are islands here, they are tiny-often no more than a sand spit with less than 10’ of elevation and a few palm trees.  The anchorages are often just spots of water that are deep enough to be navigated, surrounded by many square miles of reef, often no more than a foot or so deep.  It is really strange to look out into the distance and see boats apparently anchored in the middle of open water.  Crazy.                                                                                                                                                

Provisioning here will be different too.  There really aren’t any cities on the mainland here, and none out in the islands.  Several times a day we are approached by local Kuna guys in their ulus and pangas, selling fresh fruits and vegetables.  If you love lobster, this is the place for you.  There are always fishermen coming around with live lobster, octopus and conch, as well as an occasional fish.  This morning, we got a call on the VHF from the sailboat next to us saying that the “Walmart” guy was at his boat.  He had soft drinks, frozen meat, veggies, fruits, beer and etc.  “Did we need anything?”  Turns out that they have been long-term cruisers here as well, and the “Walmart” guy fills custom orders for them on a biweekly basis.  Needless to say, we got his contact info for use next season.  I’m guessin’ that there are more guys out here during season, but I think that we may press the deck freezer back into service and bring out some frozen meat with us, though.                                                                                                                                 

The cell service is virtually non-existent with phones from the U.S.  Up until now, we have had excellent results with our Google Fi phones wherever we traveled-not now.  Yesterday was the first time that we have seen any emails.  Text only.  No images.  Apparently, the phones here are allowed to have more powerful antennas, and it’s necessary to buy a local phone/hotspot to get any connectivity.  We’re getting our weather and texting capability from our satellite device, but we’ll have to do a little more research into our options for communication before next season.  This report will stay in the can until we have WiFi.  That may be much….

-Later

Buenos Dias,

A seventy-five yard swim to shore and the shore line was off.  Suz held Alizann in place while I got back on, then it was anchor up as usual.  We were right on the Colombian border with Panama, so it only took us 45 minutes to motor over to Puerto Obaldia in Panama, where we would clear in.  We had heard that the swell coming into this north-facing bay could be treacherous, but Poseidon was smiling on us today.  Even tho’ we put out a ton of anchor chain, we sat on the pile of chain, never testing our anchor in the non-existent wind and swell.  Obaldia has a very substantial concrete dock for transients’ use.  One problem.  It’s 8’ off the water with no ladders, and a flush concrete surface with no handholds.  As we were puttering around the dock, trying to figure out how to get off the dinghy, a couple of SNF (national defense force) troops came out to see what we were doing.  After some negotiation in sign language and broken Spanish, we ended up mooring to their boat, then climbing across it to another boat, then up to the dock.  They couldn’t have been more helpful to the aging Gringos.  That was the easy part.  Two hours later, our paperwork from Colombia (all in order), had been perused, okayed, and the 87 Panamian Immigration and Customs forms (all in quintuplicate, keeping the carbon paper industry in fine form for their shareholders) had been duly stamped, stapled and filed for future reference.  Oh, did I mention that we were fingerprinted (both hands, including thumb), and photographed for posterity?  The Caribbeans MUST love the sound of stamps hitting documents, and let me tell you, the legs on their desks are doubly stout-I believe to withstand the constant beating.

Done with the formalities, it was time to explore the village, so wonderfully illustrated in the “Cruising Guide to Panama.”  I’m guessin’ that the pictures in the guide were taken a few (or so) years ago.  Obaldia is obviously a shadow of its’ former self.  The streets were bare, there were little signs of commerce, ‘cept the hand-written sign announcing “gasolina viende”.  Okay, we needed gas for the dinghy, so I returned to shore with our 5 gallon can and our hand truck, while Suzanne idled offshore in the dink.  In the back room of a storefront were around a dozen 55-gallon drums of gas, along with, (I’m guessin’, a hundred cases of beer).  Our 5-gallon can was filled by 5 one-gallon bottles.  With the help of another SNF guy, we were off the dock, and back to the Girl.  Under lowering black skies, we got the anchor up and headed west to Isla Pinos.  Lightning all around, we motored through several squalls on our way to Isla Pinos, more or less the entrance to the San Blas archipelago.

We dropped the hook in 2.5 meters of water off Isla Pinos.  We stayed for two days.  A half mile to our left was a traditional Guna Yala village.  A quarter mile to our right was a beach bar, run by Gunas, but powered by a generator, and crankin’ out Soca music.  We were guessin’ that the traditional village tolerated the bar, as it was a source of income, and all income and natural resources are shared by all.  When we ventured to shore, we were superstars.  (White, and not from anywhere around there).  The kids followed us everywhere like the two pied pipers-it didn’t hurt that the Admiral had a bag of hard candy.  Next day, we put the kayaks down to reconnoiter the exit, which looked dicey on the charts, only to find that exiting to the north would not be a problem.  We visited with some kids, and much to their delight, taught them a few phrases in English, which they repeated incessantly as we paddled away.

Our next stop was to be Snug Harbor, About halfway between Isla Pinos and Devil Cays.  We threaded our way through the “Inside Passage”, thanks to Eric Bauhaus’ “Guide to Cruising Panama’s” guidebook.  An officially uncharted area, Eric’s book is the bible for getting through this 100 mile long archipelago.  When just off a lee shore, we had a visit from the Panama military.  True to form, Suz had all of our papers in order, and presented them before being asked.  Although we were boarded, none of the troops came further onboard than our cockpit, as the Commandante was satisfied with our papers.

Our next stop was Snug Harbor, named by pirates, privateers and the British military alike for its safe anchorage.  We (I) decided to enter from the East, as it would save a half hour of time, and it was again threatening rain after a whole day of it.  We were nearly in, in flat skies (no visibility of shallow areas), when we heard that abhorrent sound, the bane of all seamen.  We were aground on a reef.   Shhesh!   Really?  We were hard on, so went above decks to see if we could ascertain where deeper water was.  We certainly weren’t ready to lose our Girl at this point.  The propeller wouldn’t get us off, so we used the bow thruster, timed with the rise and fall of the swell, to rotate us into deeper water.  We got the Girl afloat again, and backtracked our course in to get to deeper water.  We circumnavigated the island to the north, and entered from the west with our skirts up at dead slow (once bitten, twice shy), and motored to the most conservative anchorage.  It was time for (double) sips, and a change of knickers.  Next morning, we launched the dink and reran our reciprocal course. Another 15’ to the port would have gotten us through.  Next morning, amid black/blue clouds all around and 2 ‘’ of clay around the 200’ of anchor chain, we were off to Coco Bandero

Now moving west, we were getting into the most popular cruising grounds of the San Blas.  We were headed to Coco Bandero, one of the most popular anchorages.  We were gratified to see only 4 boats there.  During high season, there can be as many as 50. We sauntered in, the lone. “Stink Boater” amongst the sailboats there.  Dutifully, we anchored down wind of the ragbaggers.  With the kayaks down, we paddled by “Halcyon,” in the afternoon, and invited them for “Sips.”  Turned out to be a good match, and we hope to see Sandy and Britt in the future.

It’s 16h20, and we have not seen our guy, Apio, who has our money and our order for frutas, and legumas, supposedly to be delivered today.  In the meantime, we have scored 3 lobsters, big ones, for 10 bucks.

-Later

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