We spent a week in Cartagena. The undisputed most celebrated city on the Caribbean coast of the South American continent. The old town of Cartagena was like a living museum. The balcony lined streets were all covered with colorful Bougenvillae (have I mentioned I love Bougenvillae?), the street vendors were dressed in vibrant traditional dress, carrying their wares on their heads. The streets were clean, there were boutique hotels, cafes and souvenir shops in all the historic buildings. The whole of old town is a UNESCO site and money is obviously funneled there to protect it. It is almost too perfectly preserved. It doesn't seem real. After you tour the Palace of the Inquisition you can shop next door for Colombian Emeralds, taste some coffee from Juan Valdez, buy a souvenir Pablo Escabar T- shirt (he is literally revered here in Colombia by many) and window shop for some swanky designer shoes. We did find a few neat old barber shops and some hole in the wall places to eat, but as a whole the old town seemed a little too polished for our liking. When the cruise ships were in town, it even felt a little Disneyesque. On our very last day we were there for, what the locals were telling us was "Independence Day". The official Independence is celebrated in July but apparently this was a similar local celebration. We were lucky enough to witness a parade that rivaled those of Carnival (or so the tourist office said) and true to the claim the costumes were amazing! We watched fire breathers on stilts (take a swig of gasoline, blow on a torch and viola), we We watched colorful floats pass by and flamboyant dancers all from our lofty perch on the ramparts. In the evening we wandered around with the crowds and got in the middle of shaving cream fights (a traditional activity the kids embraced with a gusto), sampled more street food (skewers of unknown meats) and took some (possibly blurry) photos of the elaborate costumes. Every costume was more impressive than the last and as I was trying to get it all in the frame of a camera I was hardly taking time to focus. I don't usually like taking pictures of people while we travel (unless we've really developed a relationship with them). It seems like an invasion of privacy to snap away and I know some cultures are afraid of it. Although I love seeing the traditional colors and dress and wish I could preserve those images, I hesitate to put them in the frame of a lens. Normally I would rather enjoy the experience and leave the camera at home. Hence, there are websites with far better pictures than ours and many more with photos of traditional people that are sadly absent in our photos. As the parade passed, I was free to take as many photos as I wanted of people and locals, and I even got some people to pose for me. It was a fabulous experience. Photos to follow on the next scheduled post.
While old town was slightly sterile, on the edges of the old town you could find the locals and the local merchants, the street food and the every day hustle and bustle. At night everyone was in the streets or in the squares. It was very reminiscent of old town Havana for us, only less run down. The music was loud, the kids were running around everywhere, street food was fantastic and it was a fun place to wander and people watch. This was the part of Cartagena we really enjoyed.
We visited all the requisite sites the city had to offer; the Castillo do San Felipe de Barajas, the largest fort the Spanish empire every built in one of the Spanish colonies, we explored a few museums, walked the ramparts and meandered around the municipal markets. The markets do not cater to the tourist and they are very real. The smells are real too and its an assault on the senses, but fun to explore. The produce is fantastic, but it is often crawling with cockroaches so we were extremely selective with our purchases.
I'm not sure Cartagena is best by boat. We were anchored in a very rolly, dirty bay the whole time, but the marina wasn't much better. At night there was a strong smell of diesel on the water and you could see the refinery blazing in the distance. We couldn't swim and the boat was stifling hot (although we did have a handful of showers and some overcast days to cool things down a little). The anchorage was very rolly as big power boats sped around at top speeds completely oblivious to the small dinghy's moving around at a snails pace. Walking around town was fun, but the kids were interested in the museums, the forts and urban exploring for just so long. For my birthday we rented a AB&B condo in one of the high rises for two days to get a break from the boat. We sat by the pool, luxuriated in the cool air conditioning and enjoyed the convenient wifi. We had a fantastic view of the Caribbean Ocean from 24 floors up on our balcony and yet I'm not sure anyone ever went out. We see plenty of ocean on a regular basis, our jonse was for wifi, TV and AC!
Our next stop is the San Blas Islands. The San Blas Islands, an autonomous area of Panama, are inhabited by Kuna Indians. The Kunas are known for having preserved their indigenous culture when many other tribes of the Americas could not. My memories of the area from 15 years ago are not fond ones. I was sick as a dog in the midst of pregnancy and could not get away from the islands fast enough (or the boat for that matter). In fact, I flew out of a small island with a grass runway after only two weeks in the San Blas. No issue with small planes, I've flown in many small planes in Alaska in my lifetime. At this particular runway there was a plan crashed into the side of the administrative building and even that sight didn't deter me from getting away. Death by airplane seemed a small price to pay for getting off our rolly boat. I'm sure the island will be far more enjoyable this time around. We expect to have almost a month to travel through the 120 mile stretch of Archipelago islands.
The following pages chronicle the journey of the sailing vessel Pelagic and her crew. We are a family of 5; Michael, Amy, Zander, Porter and Anakena, taking our 42' Hallberg Rassy as far as we can comfortably go in three years. We left Oregon in September 2014, participated in the 2014 Baja Haha, continued on through the Panama Canal, into the Caribbean, up the coast of the US to Maritime Canada and from there crossed the Atlantic. After an arrival in Ireland we toured Scotland, then sailed down to France, Portugal and on to Morocco. In January of 2016 we slowed down considerably and enrolled the kids in a local Spanish school in Sanlucar de Guadiana for a few months. In the spring of 2016 we crossed the Atlantic towards the Caribbean. We are now in the Pacific, officially on our way home, albeit via a very circuitous path. We are currently in French Polynesia and looking at weather windows to Hawaii before finally making landfall back in the Pacific Northwest.
Currently our exact location is not available. Our spot coverage will pick us back up in Hawaii towards the end of May, 2017.
Our favorite sailing quote:
"If anythings gonna happen, it's gonna happen out there boss!" Captain Ron