Thursday, December 23, 2010

Cartagena, Colombia

December 23 - Cartagena

We have now been in Cartagena for quite a while and we can happily report that we‘ve been enjoying the city but are ready to move on. Club Nautico has been fun, specially the happy hours. 

We've enjoyed meeting all the members of the cruising community and, it sure has been rewarding to get lots of good information on Cartagena as well as places we are planning to visit.

Dave listening to Steve from Music play some tunes.

We’ve put a lot of footsteps in the city’s old quarter, so much so that we can pretty much find our way around all the tiny, circuitous streets. Among the sights and museums we visited were the Museu de Oro and the Museu Naval, which in spite of not having much English posted, were very enlightening. We also toured the huge and impressive fort of San Felipe de Barajas.

Fort San Felipe de Barajas

The history of this area goes back thousands of years. Some of the indigenous cultures actually thrived right up until the Spanish arrived living along the coastal areas. They were sailors, fishermen, farmers and goldsmith (the latter was probably their downfall when the  Spanish found out). In the Museu de Oro we saw samples of what they were capable of making - they hammered out very intricate ornamental objects out of gold and platinum.

The colonial history of Cartagena goes back to 1533. That‘s when Pedro de Heredia founded the city. Apparently he waged a very successful campaign of plundering the Zenu Indians, including their “Mogote graves” after he found out that the graves often contained substantial amounts of gold. 

The future of the young city looked pretty good. But due to its success, only thirty years into its youth, the city started getting attacked by pirates and the English. After a few of these invasions and raids, the Spanish got wise and began to build forts to protect the city. That idea resulted in all the fortifications we see today (not that they always were successful in keeping out the invaders). 

Plaza Simon Bolivar

One last mention of the history of Cartagena is regarding a figure one often sees depicted here - Simon Bolivar. I don’t know much about him, but apparently he is viewed as a hero who led a number of the countries in South America to independence. 

Enough history.

A few days ago, Dave and I picked up Diane and Kristi at the airport. It was almost midnight - way beyond our bed time. But it all went like clockwork. We’ve since showed the girls around the city.

Barry, on the other hand, has been seeing a very nice Colombian lady who he met here at Club Nautico. They’ve hit it off real well, such that we haven’t seen much of him since we’ve been here.

The weather has been warm and a bit humid. Thank goodness for the fans we have in the boat and for the shower that Dave set up on the aft deck. Each evening we all go back there (separately) and cool off and get refreshed. The people here say that this is the nice weather - the hot weather is in May through July!!! Ouch!

One thing that is quite evident here is that there are a number of people who desperately try to eek out a living anyway they can. There are the fruit vendors, the coffee vendors, juice vendors, sunglasses vendors, bracelet and necklace vendors, and so on. They all have their little niche. I don’t know how much they can hope to make in one day, but it can’t be much. One of the vendors I used a lot was the coffee vendor - they sell a tiny cup of strong, sweetened coffee for 200 pesos (about a dime). Very addicting indeed. But wow, how many cups must they need to sell each day to earn a living?

Tomorrow we are leaving Cartagena for an anchorage south of here called Cholon. We plan to spend Christmas there and then head off to the Kuna Yala Islands otherwise known as the San Blas Islands. I doubt that there will be any internet there, so we may not be in touch until we reach Portobelo, Panama. With that, the crew of Lahaina Roads extends all you who follow the blog happy holidays.   

Local fisherman casting his net
We encountered this large iguana sunning himself in the park - he didn't move for us.

Colorful housing in the old walled city.
Friendly toucan at the Santa Clara Hotel

My new favorite actress - Lorena Rincon who we met at Lucy's.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Cartagena, Colombia

December 8, 2010

Cartagena de Indias

Our stay in Santa Marta was short. Surely we missed opportunities to see some in unusual  things, including the Tairona National Park, the Sierra Madre and a place they call the “lost city”, a Kogi Indian civilization that was discovered in the mid 1960‘s. It’s not getting there, though. A couple of backpackers we met had made the sojourn - it took them five days of dense jungle hiking and traversing rivers. Today, the Kogi Indians live in the Sierra Madre range. To read more about their interesting culture google them. Here’s an example of one of the readings I found -

We had good winds out of Santa Marta and were fortunate to sail most of the way to Cartagena. But it was an uncomfortable sail with the seas coming from the quarter. The winds and seas were choppy and lumpy. The boat felt like a little cork bobbing in the water from one side to another. To even just sit, we had to hold on. But we were thankful just to be able to sail.

On a sailboat, the last few miles to a destination always seem to take forever. We could see the numerous high rise buildings of a Miami-like Cartagena as soon as the sun came up. But it took several more hours to make the approach and come though the long channel. The entrance of the bay still has the sentry forts from the old Spanish colonial days (circa 1500), protecting the city from Sir Francis Drake and his cronies.

Once inside the bay, getting situated at the Club Nautico marina is no simple matter. It’s Mediterranean-style berthing, with a twist. A swimmer needs to swim out and tie either your bow or stern lines to an underwater line. This is all happening while you squeeze the boat in between two other yachts. But in time, we got Lahaina Roads snuggled in between the boats, with her bow facing towards the dock.

Club Nautico marina has seen better days. The docks are in a state of disrepair, the showers are a make-shift set of stalls next to the office and the docks are full of booby traps - you really have to watch your step wherever you walk. Construction seems to be occurring but not at a frenetic pace. Like many other boats, we extended a plank from the dock parallel to the boat (like a diving board), to get on or off the boat. It’s fun and exciting.

At Club Nautico, happy hour starts in the late afternoon. Cruisers who are docked, as well as ones who are anchored, bring their drinks and trade stories on the cruising life, tips for getting things done in town and things to do in Cartagena. It's a fun and dynamic group. Composed of people of various ages, the people are from a number of countries with some being relatively new to cruising while others have been at it for many years.

On one of the days we took a walk to the old walled city. It is not something that can be seen in one day - it’s enormous. The wall itself is four miles long. We stopped for lunch and a very tasty beef steak, rice and beans (con cerveza) at a local restaurant for $4 each. I can see why expats may want to live here!

The buildings in the walled city are colorful, with a distinct Spanish colonial architecture. There are fortifications, sentry stations and canons in various areas. We found lots of markets selling tourist trinkets, local tasty treats, cold beers and Colombia’s famous stone, the emerald. It was a lively introduction to Cartagena.          

On Saturday, Marty, who had sailed with us from Aruba, took a flight back home to California.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Aruba to Santa Marta, Colombia

December 6

Yes, it's been a while since I blogged. We've been busy and it's been hard to find time to blog. In addition, it's been more work, since I write the blog and save the photos on my computer then have to transfer everything to the ship's computer. It is hooked up to a wi-fi antenna that's not available to my netbook.

Aruba to Santa Marta, Colombia

We were out of the marina by ten in the morning then motored to Barcadera Bay to clear customs and immigration. The exit process went quickly and soon we found ourselves in rough seas and perky winds - but fortunately, we were going with the weather and not against it. Santa Marta was nearly 300 miles away - a two-night trip.

For most of the day we sailed with a double-reefed main and a reefed jib. Even with little canvas up, Lahaina Roads often exceeded 9 knots. In the evening we took the main down and reefed the jib even more - we still were moving at over 6 knots.  Coming from the quarter, the steep seas made things very lively below decks. It was hard to stand up much less do anything else such as cook. We managed a quick meal and went on one hour watches for the rest of the night. Sleeping, though, was impossible because of all the creaky noises down below decks.

The following day, tired as we were, we had a nice sail with the seas and the winds somewhat moderating. By evening the winds died down - we decided to motor since we wanted to make sure we got to Santa Marta during daylight the following day.

By mid-morning the following day, we were off the coast of Colombia - and it was pouring rain....again. The rain seems to follow us wherever we go. We continued to motor the rest of the way into Santa Marta Bay. Even without charts, it was a relatively easy harbor to enter. We located the marina and eventually got into a slip.

Colombia has a different entry procedure than all the other countries we visited. Here we needed an agent to clear us in. "Dino" did all the customs and immigration clearing, got the boat checked in and got our passports stamped. He was a nice young fellow who spoke reasonably good English. In comparison to the ABC islands where it was free to clear in or out, though, in Columbia the cost to enter was about $100.

The Santa Marta Marina has nice docks but it's not yet finished. As a result, we have no bathrooms and showers. Showers are on the dock with a hose or on the aft deck with a sun shower.  

After getting settled, we took a walk along the waterfront and through town. Santa Marta, founded in 1525 by the Spanish, reportedly is the oldest city in the Americas. It has a small town atmosphere but has the hustle and bustle of a larger one. All along the shoreline there was a boardwalk. Lots of families enjoying the waterfront, which also was busy with food and beverage vendors.

The area has numerous near-naked statues of indigenous Colombian Indians - the Amerindians from the Tairona culture, Arhuacos and Koguis.

On one of the days we took a bus to the nearby fishing village of Caganga. It’s a fishing village, a backpackers hangout and offers a relaxed atmosphere. Lots of Colombians head for its beaches and waterfront restaurants. I ended up talking to a fellow from Croatia who lives there part time as a dive master. He invited me for a dive trip, which I ended up doing the following day.

We had dinner at a couple of different restaurants. None were memorable. Luckily, there were too expensive, either.

The dives I went were fun but nothing out of the ordinary except for the sighting of a giant moray eel. It must have been 5-7 inches in diameter. The dive master who I dove with had never seen one that large either. For the rest of the dive, we saw numerous types of fish, including a beautiful lion fish, which they're trying to eradicate. Also I saw a variety of hard and soft coral, tubular coral and a coral that looks like a bright purple volcano - very beautiful.

Some other comments about what we've noticed. Colombia seems like a very family oriented country. On the other hand, you see lots of very young girls (under 15) with babies. They're not carrying them around as babysitters, either. Also, lots of older men in their 40's and 50's with women that appear to be in their early 20's.
Fruit vendor

Regardless, we've really enjoyed our first stay in Colombia. Very friendly people, not many who speak a word of English. No mosquitoes and no flies like we had in the ABC's.
Tomorrow we are off to Cartagena, an overnight sail of about 130 miles.

Marty in class - Bargaining 101

Beats me! Soldering cell phones? 
Cute little girl getting her hair done
At a local restaurant
Marty, hot after a new franchise opportunity

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Spanish Waters, Curacao

November 24 - Spanish Waters, Curacao

The sail from Bonaire to Curacao was all too familiar to us - it entailed  motoring. But it’s somewhat understandable in that October and November are months of transition with weak or non-existent trade winds and squirly currents.

From Bonaire to Curacao is about 35 miles - an easy day sail. By mid-afternoon, we rounded the southern tip of Curacao and spotted the low-lying island of Little Curacao to our south. We headed up the western coast of Curacao to Spanish Waters, a well protected anchorage south of the capital city of Willemstadt.

With a tight and narrow entrance, Spanish Waters is easily navigable during daylight hours but certainly not at night. We located a spot among other vessels and dropped the hook. With a backdrop of a steep rocky hill, it was a very tropical setting. Time to have a beer and relax.

The following day we took the bus into Willemstadt. We found the customs building quite easily. But finding the immigration office seemed more like one of those rally games where you get little hints that get you closer to your objective. It took us nearly two hours to find immigration with lots of help from a friendly staff at a law office. But once there, our luck improved. We met a British fellow, Peter, who offered us a ride back to our anchorage and offered us lots of local tips. We finished up the day with a round of Heinekens at Mermaid’s.

While anchored in Spanish Waters we’ve had a number of rainy days. The squalls come and go quickly, sometimes raining so hard that we’ve had opportunities to go on deck and take showers. We’ve also had time to see a bit of Curacao. Willemstadt is a picturesque city made up of an older part, Punda, and the newer district across the Anna Bay known as Otrobanda. Connecting the two districts are two bridges - the Queen Emma Bridge, a pontoon pedestrian bridge that opens for shipping traffic, and the impressively high Queen Juliana Bridge for car traffic.

Queen Emma pontoon bridge

Small draw bridge

Although Punda’s architecture is quite fascinating being distinctly Dutch and unusual  here in the Caribbean, the stores are touristy and mundane. Gucci, Benetton, Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein are some of the headliners. But we did find a nice little bar that served very cold beer and Dutch crockets.

There’s a colorful street along one of the quays that’s home to the Floating market. Made up of Venezuelan fruit, vegetable and fish vendors, on one side they sell their goods while on the sea side, lie the small wooden boats that they live on. We also dropped in to visit the Maritime Museum, housed in an old 18th century building. But we decided to leave it for another day.

Otrobanda (which literally means “on the other side”), does indeed lie on the other side of the Punda neighborhood. We walked across the pontoon bridge and followed a walking path tour described in one of the guides. We walked through twisting little alleyways and passages and found interesting old structures, many in a decrepit state.

We ended up walking to another touristy area in Otrobanda that had a hotel-resort,  more high-end retail stores, bars and a quay for a cruise ship. While there, we watched hundreds of pink tanned tourists pour off the ship for their two hours of shore leave. Didn’t look real fun to us. We had lunch at a local corner dive that had an unusual menu - you could order many of the dishes in several sizes, each with it’s own price. We ordered a plate of stew, salad and fried potatoes. Tasty.

One afternoon, we took the dinghy into a small bay near us to check out a snorkeling spot we had heard about. We walked across a narrow path to the ocean side and found a beach with some shacks next to a huge,  anchored oil drilling platform. We found out from some people there that the snorkeling area we were looking for was just a hundred yards off shore.

It turned out to be a great spot with a sunken tugboat in shallow waters and many types of fish and coral, including bright yellow trumpet fish, Christmas Tree worms, soft tubular coral and much more sea life. We really enjoyed the snorkeling. On our return there were small sabots with young kids in them racing around the anchorage. It was a lot of fun watching the kids sail.

Grocery shopping is easy here. The grocery store sends a free bus to the dinghy dock at ten each morning. It waits for an hour at the store and brings you back. The store is a typical grocery store and has lots of local, American, Dutch and Indonesian foods.

Our current plan is to check out in the next day or so, head up the coast to Santa Cruz Bay and anchor there for a couple of days. From Santa Cruz we’ll head for Aruba and pick up Marty for our sail to Cartagena, four hundred miles away.

View of Punda from Otrobanda

Dock tied to boat?

Barry enjoying a cold beer and a Dutch crocket

Monday, November 15, 2010

Bonaire, Dutch Antilles

November 15 - Kralendijk, Bonaire

After staying on the mooring, we moved to the Harbor Village Marina in Kralendijk. We decided to get a slip because it was going to be easier to make the necessary repairs. I think it was the right move. To repair the refrigeration, we ended up taking the entire unit out of the engine room (no menial task), and having a local repairman take it to his shop to solder the leaky pipe. Barry spent a number of hot and sticky hours in the engine room diagnosing the problem before the repairman came to get it. In the mean time, Dave replaced the entire battery charging system. Everything is now working beautifully.

Bonaire is a relatively tranquil island. Of the three ABC’s, it is the most environmental conscious island, having its entire surrounding waters designated as a marine park. I found it surprising to see (and hear) so much Dutch - but after all, it does have strong Dutch roots that persist even today.

Lots of people here speak four languages - Dutch, Spanish, English and Papiamento, the local Creole dialect that is a blend of Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, French and Arawak Indian. The history of Bonaire is pretty typical Caribbean. Settled by the Arawak Indians, the Spanish came along and promptly exterminated most of them. The Spanish were then in turn driven off (in this case by the Dutch) in the 1630’s. For a time, the slave trade prevailed as an integral part of commerce. But other forms of trade also grew in and around Fort Oranje, in Kralendijk. 

Today, Bonaire has developed a strong eco-tourism industry, mostly attracting diving,  fishing and bird-watching enthusiasts. It has over 200 bird species, 80 of which are  indigenous, such as the flamingo and a yellow headed parakeet. 

On one of the days here, we rented a four-wheel Suzuki jeep and ventured out to the Washington Slagbaai National Park in the northern part of the island. The park is home to flamingos, lizards, iguanas, goats, wild boar, donkeys. There are limestone caves and a number of dive spots that are accessible from the beach. The most fun we had was hand-feeding bread to groups of large lizards. From the car, we also hand-fed a friendly donkey who just walked straight up to us. We stopped at a dive spot to snorkel. But it wasn’t anything to write home about - some elk-horned coral, and typical tropical fish. As always, though, the water is warm and easy to get in to.

We’ve now fixed everything, are provisioned and ready for the next island - Curacao. Plans are to check out  tomorrow and leave on Tuesday morning. Curacao is only 30 miles west of Bonaire, so it will be a short day sail. Stay tuned.

The rugged limestone shoreline of Washington Park.

Hee-Haw!!! A very friendly donkey that came up to the jeep to greet us and get a snack.

                                                          One of the many varieties of lizards.

A peak at the ocean the  from the door of a restaurant at Washington Park.

Slave huts along the water. These are probably 5'x8', though I don't know how many slaves each would hold.

The crew at the Buenos Aires Restaurant with a cruise ship in the background.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Grenada to Bonaire

November 6 - Prickly Bay, Grenada to Bonaire, Dutch Antilles

After the preparation for getting the boat back into the water was complete, the boat yard crew expertly moved us back in to Prickly Bay. It was good to be afloat in the bay again, feeling the gentle rocking motion of the sea instead of being high up in the air on the hard. Now all that was left to do was refueling and food provisioning.

Early Saturday morning, under a clear blue sky, Lahaina Roads was ready for a sail. We pulled up anchor and proceeded out of Prickly Bay into the Caribbean Sea. Soon we were under sail with a full mizzen and genoa, heading due west. Isla Blanquilla was about 160 miles west of us. If everything went as planned, we'd be there the following day before sunset.

The sail began as a classic downwind run, the boat yawing a little to port, then to starboard, while the autopilot worked feverishly to correct and keep the boat on a fairly straight course. We relaxed, popped a can of beer and enjoyed the ride. What could go wrong.

By the afternoon we first noticed that the refrigeration system was running unusually warm. After checking it out, it appeared that the compressor was malfunction. There went the cold beer!

As the evening drew near we had a cocktail, followed by a steak dinner with a small glass of Cabernet. As Barry put it, "We were living large."

One hour long watches started at 9pm, which gave each of us a two hour cat nap. We encountered some ship traffic throughout the evening, with one ship passing off our bow by just a half mile. A little too close for comfort. But the rest of the night was uneventful and warm with a starlit sky and a new moon. 

Sunday morning, our second day out of Grenada, we decided to hoist the main. The Honda generator was busily topping off the ship's batteries, when it revved up and slowed down in an unusual manner. A burning odor began to come from below, soon followed by dense black smoke belching from the portside cockpit locker. Not a good sign!

Barry immediately went down below to check the engine room. After determining it was safe to open the engine room door, he discharged the fire extinguisher in the engine room, which fortunately contained the smoldering fire.

After the smoke cleared, it appeared that the battery charger had shorted out causing it to overheat, burning its plastic casing and the wood panel. We were lucky - any fire aboard is not a trivial matter. And fortunately, the rest of the afternoon didn't provide for any more adrenalin-filled events.

In the evening, we sat down to dinner and had pork chops, salad, mashed potatoes and gravy with a half bottle of Cabernet. Good food, good company and a spectacular setting. All in all, not a bad ending to an exciting day.

On the second night out, we decided to switch to 1 1/2 hour shifts, giving each of us three hours of sleep. By morning we all agreed that this was a better way to go - we were all well rested.

An occasional squall now was passing through. During one of the more intense squalls, we got out the soap and took a shower on deck. Needless to say, timing is everything - you don't want to be caught fully lathered and have the squall pass you by.

For once, fishing was good - that is to say, the fish were biting, for nothing came to the table. Dave was trolling with two lines, when suddenly one of the reels screamed in a high pitch alerting us of a hefty strike. Soon we spotted a big marlin jumping out of the water. It was not happy! Wow, that was something else! The marlin acrobatically jumped out of the water once more to fight for its release. It succeeded. I think we were all a bit relieved because it was too much fish for us to bring aboard; too much fish to try to eat. So it was best left in the ocean to have a chance to fight another day. And for us we'll leave it as the big one that got away. Pheewww!!!

We passed several island groups that would have been worth a stop. But with the problems we had encountered, we decided to forgo the stops and continue onward to Bonaire. By mid-day on Monday, we had passed the Los Roques group, while sometime at night we were along side of Aves de Barlovento and Aves de Sotavento. These would have been outstanding places to observe birds and hang out on the white sandy beaches. Our guidebook wrote of those islands having over 200 species of birds.

In the morning, Bonaire was off our starboard bow. When we approached the southern end, we were greeted by a large flock of flamingos flying by - strange seeing them over the ocean. They were very sleek looking birds, intent on finding something out there or so it seemed.

We rounded the southern end of Bonaire and motored to Kralendijk, the main town on Bonaire. There is no anchoring allowed in Bonaire since the entire island is a marine park. So we picked up one of the many available park moorings. We had arrived.