I initially considered a stop in Colombia a long time ago when planning the overall trip from Italy to Australia. I hadn’t given it much more thought until some months later, when Andy came onboard and mentioned that he had heard the Carnaval in Barranquilla is meant to be one of the best in South America, second to Rio de Janeiro… That sounded like a good reason to go, and the more we researched it and the more we spoke to people along the way, the more we realised we couldn’t afford to miss the opportunity to stop in Colombia!
We left Bonaire island, knowing there was some fairly heavy weather coming, but we figured that if things got too rough we could pull into Curacao or Aruba –or one of two ‘safety’ stops that I had marked on our charts along the Colombian coast – our destination was SANTA MARTA – some 3 days sailing if all went to plan.
No sooner had we cleared Aruba and Curacao islands, the winds picked up and the sea turned an usual green colour…. we were slightly spooked by it, but Squander was reveling in the 25-30 knot winds, we had caught a fresh tuna and we were knocking off some serious miles in the process.
After a couple of days we spotted the Colombian coast (or was it still Venezuela??) either way, we had heard reports of some piracy in parts of this world, so we were on medium alert and every ship that appeared on the horizon freaked us out…
Why are they doing circles around us??
Glad we were running with the wind n waves, this guy was doing it tough going the opposite way!
Soon after the clouds parted and everything was ok.
Squander was in fine form pulling out 8 and 9 knot averages.
We saw a few more ships along the way and as we neared Santa Marta, the wind kept on building
Simon trying to keep his balance as winds blow off the Sierra Nevada at a constant 45 knots, thankfully the seas flattened as we rounded the corner into the big bay near Santa Marta
….and then it was 50 knots….
….gusting to 54!!
By the time we arrived in Santa Marta marina the winds had dropped back to 35 knots, but it still made it a challenging entrance, with the usual marina talk over the VHF radio…. “yes Captain, just come in to Pontoon j45, first left, second right, you will see us waving – ok….?”
Santa Marta & Tananga
All is well, that ends well, we managed a safe and relatively trouble free entry and spent the rest of the afternoon, relaxing and waiting for the necessary paperwork to be cleared into Colombia.
the modern Santa Marta marina opened for business in November 2010 and still has a lot of room.
The next day we woke up to sunny blue skies, a lot less wind and the oldest city in Colombia (founded in 1525) waiting to be explored.
Santa Marta, like much of what we saw in Colombia, seems to be going through a large modernisation phase, fuelled by what appears to be a good government and strong economy.
The ice cream bikes come in all shapes and sizes… we even saw one that had an amphibious cart that went into the water to deliver ice cream to swimmers at the beach.
Colombia seems to be doing a good job of intermarrying the traditional with the contemporary – the “burro” parked in front of a new Chevrolet.
Street selling is alive and well – from freshly caught fish, to fruit & veg and everything in between.
Plenty of renovator’s delights for sale….
….and just as many that have been renovated!
Having spent the morning wondering around Santa Marta, the mercury was rising steadily and it was time to have some lunch and go for a swim. We decided to jump in a cab and go to a small fishing village nearby called Tananga… by all accounts it had ‘already been discovered’ by travelers, but despite that was still worth a visit.
Arriving in Tananga, we instantly liked the vibe – the waterfront had been tastefully transformed into a backpackers/divers hangout – with cafes, small restaurants and bars mixing it with the local fishing fleet.
On the streets, life seemed to carry on fairly uninterrupted – with local villagers going on about their business mostly unaware of the throngs of backpackers streaming through town. It seemed to be most popular with Israeli, Spanish and of course friggin Aussies!
aaah…Colombia – I recently read a quote (I think it was by the Dalai Lama??) “you should know the rules very well, so that you can break them most effectively!”
We had lunch at a local fisherman’s hut and were looking for a good coffee when we came across this little place which unfortunately wasn’t open – it did have us stumped though as our boat GPS informed us that were still well into the Northern Hemisphere!
After a quick walk through the back streets of town, we decided to keep walking some 20 minutes over the hill to Playa Grande…
Leaving Tananga behind us, we walked around a couple of headlands, through Cactus strewn fields.
Simon and Andy powering ahead.
Self portrait – gotta get into this blog somehow!
Caitlin double checking if we’re on the right track.
We soon came over the last hill and saw the beach and crystal clear water below.
Caitlin found a friend to play with
This ice cream guy will deliver anywhere!
wherever we go, we tend to eat street food if possible – often not sure what we’re getting into, more often then not we come up trumps – Andy and Simon getting into some “Empanandas”
Checking out the local fish market
This massive Barracuda was the catch of the day!
And as the sun set on another great day, we decided to stay on in the little town of Tananga for a quiet beer.
With the sun approaching the horizon in the distance, salsa and other south American music seemed to start playing from all corners of town, it wasn’t long before right in front of us a local group promoting carnaval started playing and dancing.
As night fell, the show got wrapped up and the street hawkers, tourists, backpackers and locals alike hit the streets
The 12 year old kid in the right of the above pic, was a beatboxer with a puppy – a novel way to make a couple of bucks!
Amongst others, we met this great old fella who was pushing 70 but still full of life. He held court for most of the evening telling us stories of running drugs between Colombia and the states, evading the authorities for over 20 years before finally getting pinned and having to give it all away – literally – as all his possessions got seized in exchange for his freedom – for all we know it could have all been made up, but if nothing else his thick American accent coupled with his extensive knowledge of American and Caribbean geography had me listening and asking questions – by 9:00pm we were all hungry and we accepted his invitation to go and have dinner at his friend’s restaurant specialising in char grilled chicken – Andy & Simon had their signature appetite going on and managed to eat a whole chicken each!!
We had a few more drinks and Andy and Caitlin decided to head back to Squander where as Simon & I went and sampled a few more local Colombian rums… Ron Medellin purchased at the bar at $30/bottle including mixers – who could refuse that??! We opted for the small hip flask option and remained sensible….
…until Simon spotted this beast outside the bar and insisted on proving to me he was good at hot wiring old cars!
The next day, we treated ourselves to some tasty food at a local organic cafe run by a nice American girl…
…before spending one last afternoon wondering the streets…
The local buses are awesome – looking part cartoon, part Barbie motor home…. !
By late afternoon, we headed back to Squander – it was Wednesday afternoon and we had decided we wanted to be in Cartagena by Friday morning in order to soak up a bit of that city before getting to Baranquilla on Sunday/Monday for Carnaval.
We had a quiet night, called our clearance/immigration agent and asked him to arrange our Zarpe, a clearance document which seems to hold a lot of importance in South America as well as going through Customs to get our temporary importation certificate for Squander.
By Midday Thursday we were ready to set sail for the 110 or so miles (16-18 hours) sail to Cartagena.
The trip was largely uneventful (other then snapping the leach line on our mainsail) and by dawn on Friday morning we had entered the narrow channel of BoccaChica and were motor sailing back up the large harbour of Cartagena city.
Squander is a British registered vessel, however one day we woke up and the British flag was missing and an Australian one was flying in its place??!!
We dropped the hook near the old city of Cartagena and slept for a few hours, by midday we woke up and arranged to move Squander into the Marina, which was reportedly safer, especially given we were planning on leaving Squander unattended for 2-3 days.
With the now signature boxing Kangaroo flying proudly in company with Colombia’s national colours, we set out to explore the old city in Cartagena.
I’m not much of a city person, give me islands or mountains over Paris or new York any day, but as far as cities go, old Cartagena is up there with my all time favourites – not sure if it’s the proximity to the sea, the energy of the city, the music, people, street food, bars – mix of old and new… or just because I haven’t been in cities for a while now, but I really found myself wanting more time here.
One of the main entrances into the old city – centre of pic under the clock tower.
Selling shaved ice with various flavourings – the original slushy!?
Outside the museum of contemporary art, celebrating an age old tradition.
Another satisfied customer!
throughout Colombia we have found the police and army presence to be both noticeable and reassuring – the police tend to get around on Mountain bikes or Beach buggies like the one above.
We finished off the afternoon with some more street food and a couple of beers.
Simon’s not going to go hungry in this town – $2 bucks a pop – THE BEST!
That evening we headed out to Cafe Del Mar, Cartagena style – perched on the edge of the city inside an old fort – it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, but we’re guessing that being carnaval time many people were either out of town or saving themselves for the weekend.
hmmm… to go out or not to go out?
Nonetheless we asked about
the best places to go out in Caratgena, Colombia
and were told to check out the following
- Tu Candela
- Mister Bubilla
Andy & Caitlin
Caitlin & Gavin
Simon & Caitlin
We never made it past Fragma… well truth be told maybe one of us did, having had the most gringo/tourist of all experiences – lured away by a cute Colombian girl, I ended up in a nightclub full of the most amazing looking women – wow, either the Ron Medellin rum was working overtime, or I had just found Nirvana!
Dancing away with my new found friend, quietly impressed that she understood everything i was saying to her in my best spanglish, i eventually mustered up the courage (well actually it took me two hours to work out how to say it in Spanish) to suggest to her that we may want to go somewhere more private for the remainder of the evening – she smiled, agreed and then looked at me slightly concerned – and then in her best English effort of the night – said… “you, me, fukky fukky – Cien ($100) dolarez… ok??” …. like a sobering punch to the head, it all became painfully clear, I had been hustled out of a nightclub by a working girl, into her environment… and although it would have been fun, and could have been put down to experiencing Colombia, i not so politely gave her a universal answer – middle finger went up, as i turned away and walked out the door and into a cab – the sun was rising and I was happy to see my cabin for a good rest!
The next day we relaxed on Squander, caught up on some sleep and even managed to get a few small jobs done – Saturday night was a quiet affair as we were getting up early on Sunday for the 2 hour trip to Barranquilla.
Carnaval de Barranquilla
On Sunday morning we jumped in a taxi and drove the 2 hours to Barranquilla, an industrial port city in the North of Colombia. Aside from being home to a BIG Caranaval, it also boasts a couple of interesting milestones. It is home to the first ever airport in South America, built in 1919, The Ernesto Cortissoz International airport continues to serve flights daily. The second oldest airline doing business today, Avianca, was also founded in this city.
According to historians, in the 1940’s, Barranquilla was the second largest city in Colombia, and one of the most modern cities in South America, but sadly after local administrations succumbed to corruption the standard of living started a long and slow decline.
We had been warned that Barranquilla is a dangerous city and although that kind of advice generally tends to make a place sound more interesting rather then less, enough people had told us to watch our back for us to have our wits about us.
We decided that our best bet was to find a hotel and dump all of our stuff in it so that other then a camera and cash we would not be in danger of being mugged for anything else.
Finding a hotel during carnaval was no easy feat, but as always things happen, stars align and before you know it I was talking to Kirsten, a Dutch girl we met in Spain who sailed with us to Ibiza and who just happens to have arrived in Colombia a week earlier and is living in Medellin.
Kirsten jumped on a 14 hours bus ride with 2 friends, Mike from Scotland & Emmanuel from Canada and had arrived in Barranquilla the night before – they were staying at the Hotel Diamante for $12/night… and it had room!
Our first night on land in a while was going to be “in style’!!
Well at least the sheets were clean & the people at reception were friendly…!
The neighbour hood was pretty ghetto, but it was central to all the events and there were cabs everywhere
And across the road there was street food!!
Kirsten and her friends were out and about and would meet us later. We jumped in a cab and headed for the street Parade on 40th Street.
It was pretty overwhelming at first, with not a single other tourist in sight, we stood out and were targeted by ticket sellers, hat sellers, beer sellers, scammers and local folk just wanting a picture with a blond haired girl or guy! People were coming up to Andy & Caitlin and putting their children in their arms for a photo.
We held our own, got some more street food and before long were talking to a couple of army guys about trying to get into the grandstand…. one of them introduced us to the lady in charge of the corporate boxes or Carnival equivalent there of, we made and effort to speak to her in Spanish and she spoke a little bit of English….”¿De dónde eres?” (where are you from?) she asked – “Australianos” – she smiled and replied… “Bien Venidos…” and just like that we were invited into the grandstands to take in the parade, the atmosphere and the warmth and generosity of the Colombian people.
Music, dancing and colours everywhere!
The army presence was impressive throughout the city and we saw no signs of threat or troubles. Andy & Simon all smiles in the stands.
The local girls seemed equally interested in the soldiers and the parade.
And the boys didn’t seem to mind.
Wolfman pausing for a drink.
Good to see some old favourites – The A-Team making an appearance
meanwhile Big Simon was making pals everywhere he went
Whoever is importing spray foam in a can into Colombia must be the second richest person in this country.
Hey Bud, can you mind my dog head whilst I go pee.
Muchas gracias senhor!
The local ladies from Bogota!
Simon and Andy getting into spray foam fun.
Caitlin trying to escape to no avail!
Kerstin arrives and gets straight into the fun – Caitlin, Andy, Kerstin & I
Some great local crew whom we ended up spending the afternoon with – – gracias for the Old Parr!
Caitlin getting amongst the local Armada.
Every time the parade would pause, the kids entertained themselves by spraying foam on anyone and everyone – resistance was futile!
We keep telling Simon he needs a shave!
As bottle after bottle of Old Parr whisky got shared around, the local lads got more confident about getting a picture with a Blonde Lady or two!
Don Simon, an instant hit wherever he goes!
Kiki getting in on the action with the crew from Bogota.
these two were the best shots when it came to a good foam spray!
By 8:00pm the street parade was winding up, and we were getting hungry – a couple of the local guys that we had met, thought we were crazy eating street food and took us to their favourite restaurant – American style broasted chicken – translated KFC, but a little more greasy! We were all famished and chowed down on a healthy dose of chook and accompaniments, before heading to one of teh many street parties that pop up in various neighborhoods during carnaval.
the gringos needed dancing lessons, and although Caitlin was by far the most popular dance partner, we all managed to get a few tips.
Caitlin shaking her booty.
Simon had the crowd in awe with his handstands!
As Caitlin danced with another suitor, we all got attacked by flour bombs – we’re not exactly sure what the significance of throwing flour on each other is, but everyone seemed to rejoice in doing it – was it some kind of ode to Pablo Escabar or Al Pacino in Scarface??
no one was spared – flour flying everywhere….
Andy tried hiding behind a mask.
Gavin, kiki and Simon – great partying with you again Kiki – World cup in Cadiz, Tarifa, Squander party in a deserted Spanish bay, Ibiza and now Colombia! I think you have covered all of our favourite parties so far!
Simon was the crowd favourite with kids and single mums…. he favoured playing with the children NOT the mums – Mojgan! 😉
We ended up heading out to 80th street for one last dance, but to be honest we had run our race and headed home soon after. Simon was in a cab with Caitlin, Andy and Mike – so I cannot say that I witnessed what I am about to describe – bit I so wish I had!
For those of you who have had the pleasure of meeting Simon, you will know he prides himself on his command of languages or at least very good command of a very few sayings in many varied languages – “rubbish bin” in dutch, thank you in Portugueses with a brazillian accent, french, Italian you name it…. but unbeknown to us, he had saved the best till now…. the guys were in the cab trying to ask the cabbie to take them to Maccers (McDonalds) for a late night feast – the cabbie was none the wiser as to what they were talking about, until Don Simon looked at the cabbie and in perfect spanish asked “Donde esta el Ronaldo Macdonaldo?!” They got their Cheese burgers and even bought one for the cabbie who put it in the glovebox for later??!
The next day we had a midday start and found a cool outdoor restaurant bar for a long lunch before searching out the day’s carnaval activities.
Kiki had us all trumped in the Spanish stakes and was doing a great job getting directions, with no shortage of advice coming her way!
We eventually got talked into buying tickets for the music festival, which would ahve been great had other people been also talked into it!
at least the beers were cold and we had met a couple of guys from California on the way in so our posse was growing. Kiki, Andy, Mike and Caitlin.
Great sunset and the music kept on playing, but a distinctive lack of people made it hard to get into the night.
We decided to go and seek some fun elsewhere and ended up outside the hotel windsor, we had met a couple of girls from Argentina along the way ( Hi Sofi and friend!) and now numbering 10, we scoured the city for fun…. we eventually ended up at the Hotel Windsor as someone suggested that there may be party there.
It looked festive enough, but alas no party – however a bunch of bars across the road looked like fun so we pulled up a table or two and continued the evening.
Sofi sporting her new hat – made out of paper!
No guns or running children allowed in this nightclub.
And so the evening was wrapped up and we all headed towards our respective hotels, with new friendships made and old ones re-kindled.
The next day we checked out of our hotel, arranged a door to door shuttle bus to take us back to Cartagena and took one last stroll through OUR neighborhood.
Simon squeezed in a phone call to Mojgan
Whilst we enjoyed a wholesome breakfast. Emmanuel had left the previous day, and so we bid farewell to Mike and kiki who had the daunting 14 hour bus ride back to Medellin to contend with, whilst we jumped on our shuttle bus back to Cartagena.
To all the Polish readers of this blog, I spotted this yacht from Gdynia in Poland – the city where I lived the first 4 years of my life.
The next day we fixed the broken leech line in the mainsail, inspected the rig, did the washing and a number of other maintenance jobs on Squander. We also checked out of Colombia, re provisioned and by 2:00pm the following day set sail for the San Blas islands in Panama.
Caitlin steering Squander as I try and work out if we can have one last stop in Colombia…. we decided to stop overnight at the Rosario islands, some 20 miles from Cartagena.
As we sailed towards the Rosario islands, we had the strangest sun set to date – everything went purple!
It as pitch black by the time we arrived in the reef riddled Rosario islands and we almost abandoned the idea of anchoring there overnight as we almost put Squander on a reef when we mis-judged the reef pass – thankfully we weren’t going very fast and had time to pull away in time and try again eventually finding the narrow entrance. We dropped anchor and enjoyed a nice dinner before crashing out.
We woke up early the next day and set sail for the San Blas – an overnight trip of around 180 Nautical Miles.
Goodbye Colombia – leaving the Rosario islands behind!
We are currently in the island paradise that is the San Blas archipelago in Panama – 365 amazing islets, of which only 36 are inhabited by teh very traditional Kuna Indians! But more on that in the next blog!
Sneak preview of the San Blas!