29 October 2012

Escape to Barranquilla!

Puerto Limbo: A nice place to visit, but we had to live there.
Sure, we could have made a beeline from Santa Marta (read: escape Santa Marta with what was left of our sanity and our diminished lives) to Cartagena. But doing so would undoubtedly have meant procrastinating on those nagging offline projects. Given even the most pathetic facsimile of an Internet signal, we have this tendency to ignore our actual, corporeal necessities in favor of a world for whose infrastructural shortcomings we take no responsibility.  It is a world in which we get to play and, when they arise, the solutions to our undire problems are easily workaroundable.

But, we opted for a rare stab at adulthood. We stopped off in a bay halfway between Santa Marta and Cartagena so utterly out of touch with the virtual world that the only way to stave off boredom was by doing responsible sorts of things like taping up our sail and remantling the wiring of our starboard head. And so it came to pass that we anchored, and thanks to a low pressure system which caused an "unusual weather pattern" (i.e., southwest winds), were unintentionally sequestered in what has come to be known (by us) as "Puerto Limbo".

But it wasn't all bad. Puerto Velero (as its owners prefer to call it), the brand new, only-been-open-for-two-months marina we anchored near has a restaurant headed by an executive chef. (Why don't more tiki bars serve amuse bouches? ). Plus, I got to engage in my new hobby: fly swatting. No, "swatting" doesn't really do it justice: fly killing, fly massacring, a full-out fly pogrom. However, despite my prowess at decimating their numbers, I am fairly sure I have been scarred for life. Drawn to our cats' food like heroin, there were no less than...oh, never mind, suffice it to say it was disgustifying.

Eventually, the combination of lack of web access and plague of fly drove us off JOY. We went into the marina, docked the boat, hired a driver, and hightailed it to Barranquilla. Talk about making lemonade from lemons...

In Barranquilla, even the pigeons live in high rises
Barranquilla, Colombia, birthplace of the pop singer Shakira, and home to what is reputed to be one of the two best Carnavals on the planet (the other being Rio de Janeiro) is everything Santa Marta is not: clean, modern, booming. There are road work and building construction projects everywhere. It is telling that I have more to say about Barranquilla after spending not quite two days there, than I have to say about Santa Marta after more than two months. To be fair, Santa Marta is hugely popular with Colombianos who come to play on its beaches; beaches, sad to say that suffer greatly in comparison with places famed for their beaches such as Chicago and Sheboygan.

It is said that there is nothing like traveling to make one miss one's home. If that is true, then for us there's no place like upmarket malls, there's no place like upmarket malls. We sniff 'em out like pigs do truffles. It's the sense of the known, the familiar in a land so far from either. For one thing, our lack of Spanish is not a hindrance there. Owing to Colombianos' adoration of all things (North) American, half of the shop names and nearly all of the signs are in English. We've no idea how the people who live here manage it, but for us it's like being wormholed back to the States. I mean there are two--count 'em TWO--"Mac Center" stores in Barranquilla (one per mall) where everyone speaks better English than we do. Truly, the clearest  indication that one is not Stateside is that they are still on iPad 2. Is it any wonder that Colombia is the third happiest nation in the world?

Rest assured, there is still much that is Colombian if one dares to leave the safety of the shopping mall. Street vendors peddle all manner of foods, donkey carts share space with cars even during rush hour even on the busiest streets, individuals subletting their cell phone minutes constitute a microbusiness replacement for phone booths, public markets are blocks and block long where people sell merchandise identical to that sold in the stores directly behind them, stop signs are utterly ignored by everyone and the use of turn signals has been supplanted by horns which communicate everything from "hola" to "watch out, you're about to bang into the corner of my car!"Oh, and people are ridiculously friendly and helpful which may go back to that whole being almost the most happy people in the world thing.

Not all of our time in Barranquilla was spent in slavish pursuit of things to conspicuously consume. We did spent an hour or so making a thorough inspection of the current exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. (So, it's a very small museum.) When we arrived, the only other art admirers were a couple of teenage girls, one of whom took pictures of her friend coyly poised next to each work of art. "Well, when in Colombia...", we decided. Following the girls' "school" of art appreciation, Jane and I took pictures of one another with works we liked.

Paisaje by Hernando del Villar
Cartagena by Hernando del Villar

We could easily have whiled away more therapeutic hours in Barranquilla, but the weather was finally becoming amenable to sailing. Moreover, unabated, the flies posed a serious threat to the life of our cats, if for no other reason than the direct competition for our pets' food they posed.

Once an homage to Greek architecture; now a shrine to discount housewares

Nothing hits the spot like a gourmet pizza and a can of wine after a hard day of sightseeing

Our time at Puerto Velero was not without its benefits, however, and I refer not only to the six bags of garbage we were able to offload. Construction on the marina will not be completed until 2014. When it is fully operational, it will offer the widest array of amenities of any marina on the Caribbean coast. To celebrate its grand opening, the Antigua Sailing Week Regatta will, for the first time, be stopping there. On hand to greet the racers will be Juan Carlos I, King of Spain. We are invited.

21 October 2012

JOY-ography 101 -The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

Today, we begin our 287+ part series with a VirtualVisit to the central and west Asian nation of Afghanistan.*


(Queue rousing rendition of Aghan National Anthem)

Our visit to this rugged, mountainous country begins in Kabul, the nation's capital. We land at the Khaja Rawash Airport (also known as the Kabul International Airport). As we deplane, we thank our Ariana Afghan Airlines flights attendants for taking good care of us. Though we chose to start our visit in Kabul, it certainly wasn't our only choice. Had we been coming from the south, we would have landed at the Kandahar International Airport. If our flight took off from Tehran, we would have arrived at the Hirat International Airport, and if Uzebekistan had been the previous stop on our itinerary, we'd have flown into the Mazar-i-Sharif Airport. In total, Afghanistan has approximately 53 airports.

As we leave the airport, we notice the Afghan flag flying proudly. Afghanistan has made more changes to its flag in the 20th century than any other country, but the colors black, red and green have appeared in most of them. The black band signifies the past, red is for the blood shed for independence, and green can represent hope for the future, agricultural prosperity, or Islam. The image in the center of the flag is the Afghan emblem.

At 652,230 sq km (251,830 sq mi), Afganistan is slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Texas and the 41st largest country in the world. Its more than 30 million people make it the 40th most populous nation. Kabul, the largest of its 34 provinces, is home to approximately 10% of Afghans.

18 October 2012

It's Been An "Interesting" Year

We had decided we wanted to do something interesting with our lives.  We were at a crossroads: not fully embedded in our current realities, not completely committed to our goals for the future....  And Ean said, "If you don't do anything interesting, you aren't."  We decided that buying a boat and cruising around the world would be... interesting.  And one year ago today, we moved aboard s/v More Joy Everywhere.

"May you live in interesting times": it is said to be both a blessing and a curse.  Indeed we have found it to be so, during this, our first year as cruisers.

On the one hand: "Poof! We're Interesting"!  We have a lot of great stories to tell.  We're off on a grand adventure, living an unlikely life.  Some people, it seems, find us funny and thought-provoking.  Others, apparently, think we're nuts.  Either way: interesting!  Mission accomplished.  According to this blog post from Forbes, How To Be More Interesting (In 10 Simple Steps), we have got it going on.

16 October 2012

Anti-Inspirational Poster #003

Dedicated to those intrepid cruisers who are, just now, preparing to drive down the ever-scenic and lovely Intracoastal Waterway.

11 October 2012

Dear Brad and Lindsay

Thank you for making the walk back down (well, first up then down) the hill from La Victoria to Minca as painless as it could possibly be. It was a pleasure to spend what miraculously seemed like too little time with you.

Mickey, regaling us with one of his many tales
We hope you guys found Mickey, the owner of the finca, as fascinating as we did. Imagine having the courage to attempt to take back your family's coffee estate from armed insurgents and actually managing to do it, or successfully negotiating with paramilitary assassins for your mother's life with nothing but your wits! Meeting people like him is one of the main reasons I decided to trade in my former life for this one.  And even if he never gets his spring water in biodegradable, pyramid-shaped bottles project, or his free-range egg project, or his fresh fruit project, or any of those other money-making schemes of his off the ground, even if, in the end, he is nothing other than the owner of a 120 year old coffee plantation, the only water pressure driven one in all of Colombia, he will still be one of the most interesting people I've ever met.

06 October 2012

Raft-Up: Keeping My Head Above Water

(photo by www.photositesag.com)
Sundowners aboard Juffa, a Fountaine Pajot Lavezzi, parked across the fairway from us at the Marina Santa Marta. Great conversation, great stories, a tour of their boat, and some great advice (Thank you, Caroline and Bill, for your hospitality). Eventually, we had to bid them good night. We had many garments to dry before we slept.

They had pulled into their slip bow first, starboard side to the finger pier. On their cat, just as on ours, the swim platforms at the stern end of the hulls are almost always the best boarding and de-boarding points. They were tied not more than 2 ft. (about a half meter) from the pier. Jane went first: grabbed a stanchion and swung/jumped off the boat onto the end of the pier. My turn. No life jacket. I'm so used to this feeling, the pressure in my chest, the buzzing in my ears, I hardly notice it now. More, I notice how embarrassed I am by it. I handed Jane my empty beer can, grabbed the stanchion, sat on down at the edge of the swim platform, stretched out my leg as far as I could and slid off, closing my eyes at the last second, hoping that I'd correctly gauged the gap. I did. The pier wobbled a bit under my weight, but I was OK, safe. We walked back to JOY, parked stern to, the bottom step of her swim platform not more than 8 inches (.2 meters) from the dock. Still, as I stepped across the  chasm, narrow as it was, there was that familiar moment of apprehension when I was more aware of the blackness that separated ship from shore than how easy it would be to step over it.

This month's "Raft-UP" topic is "fear" and when Jane and I discussed which one of us should take it on it was no contest. Jane is singularly unqualified to talk about fear; she doesn't have any. She is, with the exception of adolescent boys overstocked with testosterone, the most fearless person I've ever met. It is so annoying. That's not to say she doesn't get afraid in scary situations; she just doesn't have any abiding fears. Fear isn't something she has to negotiate with on a daily basis. Me? Yeah, I'm not like that.

I'm not saying I'm riddled with fears, that my life is ruled by them. It's not. It's ruled by only two. The lesser of which is a--fear doesn't even begin to cover it--dread terror of an accidental encounter with water. Nah, go ahead laugh; it IS funny in an absurd sort of way. I think it's pretty funny, too, when I'm not scooting around on my butt and remembering the occasions when I've gone under, the terror of flailing helplessly, sure that I was about to die.

I am often asked, as you might imagine, how I ended up being a cruiser when I can't swim and have an aversion to water. I've been asked this so often that now Jane and I respond in unison. "Well, first I (he) couldn't swim, then we bought a boat." More inexplicable yet is that this whole sailing around the world idea was originally mine. I can't imagine what I was thinking, really. Maybe I was just kidding.