13 February 2013

Leaving the Land of Lulo

As we begin our passage to Panama, we ask each other: what the hell were we doing in Colombia for SIX MONTHS?! It seems excessive to us, now. This is an attempt, for the record, to put a positive spin on it. No, we weren't STUCK in Colombia. This is what happened.

For our first few weeks in Santa Marta, I was in recovery mode, having arrived on this new-to-us continent with a broken limb. We were taking it easy. Still, we saw some sights, like La Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, which is the farm where Simón Bolívar "bought the farm," so to speak, and not meaning any disrespect, of course. We learned our way around the oldest town in Colombia and were suitably impressed by the oldest church in Colombia. We drank jugos naturales. Lulo was Ean' favorite.

La Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino

We got a special permit to cruise el Parque Tayrona, and after Ean cut off my cast, we visited all five of the Five Bays, plus one extra. I did some snorkeling, we did a little beachcombing, and we wondered at the majesty of this remote land. Then we anchored off the dusty fishing village of Taganga, hang-out for backpackers and stray dogs. We wanted to see a bit more of Parque Tayrona, so we hired a guide and hiked to El Pueblito, an ancient Tayrona village. In Taganga Bay we were visited by a pod of dolphins, and we met Arjan and Maia from s/v Skye, with whom we became dear friends.

In the Marina Santa Marta - Maia would remind me that it is actually la Marina Internacional de Santa Marta - we were invited to our first cruisers' potluck, we celebrated our first cruisiversary, and I wrote a little story for Women and Cruising, of which I was a little proud. We met Bill and Caroline from s/v Juffa, who gave us lessons in sail repair, sailing, and graciousness.

From Santa Marta we took an overnight trip to Minca with Arjan and Maia, stayed in a hostel, and visited a coffee farm. We also took an afternoon trip to Rodadero with Arjan, Maia, Bill, and Caroline. Ean and I checked out their small aquarium, we all struggled to appreciate Colombian beach culture, and we had our first experience with that magical supermarket we would come to know and love: Carulla. There are other wonderful supermarkets in Colombia - Éxito and SAO and Carrefour - which we had discovered in Santa Marta - but compared to Carulla, they seem so... Colombian. Carulla has imported cheese, Cocoa Puffs, and Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice.

Finally bidding farewell to Santa Marta, we did a nice downwind day sail to Puerto Velero, covering about half the distance to Cartagena. There we found a fancy new resort and marina under construction, and we anchored out for a couple of days. The wind, inexplicably, shifted west, and we found ourselves stranded in Puerto Velero: or Puerto Mosca, as Ean began calling it. We decided to make lemonade out of the lemony-fresh weather, and took an overnight trip to nearby Barranquilla, the fourth largest city in Colombia. We acted like tourists and had a nice couple of days.

We arrived, eventually, in Cartagena. What a skyline! How exciting! Maia and Arjan had arrived before us, and they sent the bimini guy straight over. Yes, finally, Joy would have her new bright orange bimini. We applied for updated cruising permits and went to the immigration office on Halloween to extend our visas. We celebrated my birthday with a two-night stay in a fabulous B&B in the walled city. Maia and Arjan brought a maracuya cheesecake to breakfast - decadent.

We muddled around a bit, waiting for my mom to arrive for the holidays, and then flew to Medellin to meet her - on the fabulously cheap Viva Colombia airlines - and had a great visit. Medellin is the second largest city in Colombia and, at 1500 m altitude, the city of eternal spring - we wore long pants every day. We rode the metro, and the cable cars, and visited the huge modern library. We marveled at shopping malls, the likes of which we had never seen. We saw Botero in all his glory and ate Thanksgiving dinner at a Mexican restaurant way up a mountain. We were thankful, more than anything, to have survived the taxi ride to the restaurant (iffy transmission, lost driver).

Ean returned to Cartagena first to take over cat care duties from Arjan and Maia, who departed for Kuna Yala. My mom followed three days later on first class Avianca, and I followed three hours after that on el cheapo airline, which we absolutely loved, by the way. Ean got my mom settled into her "home" for the next five weeks, a great little one-bedroom apartment on the busiest street in Cartagena's walled city: Calle de la Moneda.

We got to be jostled and pressed very thoroughly on Calle de la Moneda over the next several weeks. It was almost like having a job - I got up every morning, got dressed, put the dinghy down, and walked or taxied to la casa de mi madre. I was on a mission, doing research for a book project. My plan is to issue an electronic version of my dad's book, and I want to add my mom's point of view, as well as my own perspective, on what has come to be known in my family as "the boat trip." We sorted pictures, read portions of my dad's book aloud, took notes, asked questions, dug up old memories... and then we took a walk, ate a meal, saw a sight....

In the meantime, Ean made friends with el mecánico Elvis. Elvis solved the heat exchanger problem on our starboard engine and then tackled our generator, which had not been operational for seven months, and for which we had abandoned all hope. But as my mother would say, Elvis "buckled right in with a bit of a grin" - rebuilt the starter motor, fiddled a little, had a new mixing elbow machined (twice), hey presto! - and we have power 'til heck won't have it. The generator has been rechristened: Elvis, of course. And every time we start the generator, we announce JOYfully, "Elvis is IN THE HOUSE." And in that moment of silence, when we shut it down, we intone, "Elvis has LEFT THE BUILDING." Life is good.

We fixed a bit of a Christmas dinner in my mom's little apartment - chicken instead of turkey, agraz instead of cranberries. The apartment had already been reserved for new year's weekend so mom had to relocate to the Hilton on Boca Grande, for the last five nights of her stay in Cartagena. In Boca Grande we had a couple of wonderful meals at Restaurante Árabe, which in addition to the best ever Middle Eastern cuisine, offers up a belly dancer on Friday and Saturday nights. We also found an awesome dentist in Boca Grande. Ean had his teeth cleaned, and my mom got some cosmetic thing done involving the magic of veneer. For me, the dentist was a triple crown event. I'll write more about this bit of fun later.

Big fireworks in la bahía on New Year's Eve, and my mom flew back to the US on the first day of the new year. Our first thought, being motherless in Cartagena, was: we've gotta get the hell outta here! And yet, we lingered. The triple crown event was on-going. We spent hours hauling jerry jugs of diesel to fill our tank. We finally figured out how to get our dinghy outboard serviced. We had some, errr-hmmm, issues with our heads. Not the heads where we keep our brains, but the heads where, err-hmmm, well... you know. Heads? As in, a nautical term for "powder room"? We passed a couple of very shitty and joyless days, to get one of the heads working better than ever (shiny new unpermeated hose!) and the other completely and hopelessly broken (pump motor presumably fried). We had Alberto out from Club Nautico to scrape off the eco-system that had attached itself to our hulls; and then again, early on a windless morning, to scrape off the first 45 feet of our chain and snubber.

Among all these fun activities, I made a new BFF, called Jaye, and started a new online project, called The Monkey's Fist. Jaye lives in Annapolis, but that doesn't matter. Our new enterprise brought us together. It was meant to be a small thing, but as things do, it became a slightly larger thing. Ean then got involved, although he had tried to resist; he found resistance to be futile. It was all-MoFi all-the-time, for a few days there. The fun we had.... As of this writing, I've been Jaye-less and MoFi-less for about four days - oh, sadness. Like I needed more reasons to miss the internet. Anyway, the Monkey's Fist distracted us, for a while, from the barnacles, the Yamaha, the diesel, the heads, and the triple crown event. But finally, one of us said, when do our visas expire? and the other one of us said, we've gotta get the hell outta here! So we downloaded some GRIB files, bought some groceries, and ¡vámonos!

We sailed out of La Bahía de Cartagena at noon and anchored on the north side of Isla Grande with a steady 25 knot wind blowing us toward shore: unwise. The next day we sailed to Isla Tintipan, in the San Bernardo archipelago, and went round to the south side of the island, so the wind would blow us off the shore instead of upon it. We stayed there two nights, waiting for the winds to moderate a bit; did some boat chores, snorkeled. As predicted, the winds dropped; so much so, in fact, that when we started our passage to Panama we had to use an engine for the first six hours, until we were clear of the reef-strewn shore. Then, a decent overnight sail, and we dropped the hook in Kuna Yala just after noon on February 4: six months, exactly, since our arrival in Santa Marta....

This, for the record, is what the hell we were doing in Colombia. Yes, it is as I suspected: in the retelling, I realize that these past six months have been Quite Busy. Even so, it's time to be busy Someplace Else.

[posted from Nargana, Kuna Yala, Panama - I'd like to add a few more pictures, but I'll wait for a faster internet connection]


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