Posted by: catamarantwooceans | October 16, 2014

In Colombia–part 2

12.10.14 – Sunday – After yesterday’s exertion we stayed mainly around the boat with only a short walk in town. As we came back to the marina Dino came running from behind. He apologized saying that he just learnt that tomorrow was a holiday and that our Zarpe, the cruising permit, will only be ready Tuesday evening. Dianne and Wade (www.joana.ca) invited us for happy hour; an English couple, Paul and Andy, from the Jeantot 57 Talula Ruby III came too; they are on their second circumnavigation, the first being with the A.R.C World Rally.

13.10.14 – Monday – Dino showed up again and said he hoped to come back in the evening with the Zarpe. The hope was realized and we were ready to leave early next morning. The plan – stop for a night in Puerto Velero  and then go to Cartagena.

14.10.14 – Tuesday – The distance to Puert Velero is 56 miles.Forecast: northerlies of 5 knots or less; going out of the marina we had the wind from the south at 20 knots… This kept up for about an hour and a half, then the forecast values came and we motorsailed using one engine. Approaching Baranquilla, where the Magdalena river flows out, the color of the water turned ugly brown. The flow fans out in a way that as you come from the east you have the current against and then with you.

Puerto Velero hides behind a low spit of land behind which we could see the masts of quite a few boats moored in the new marina. I was navigating by coordinates taken from the C-Map chart and saw that if I were to follow those I will be ashore sooner than planned. The chart was off by about one nautical mile. A good point to aim for when coming from The northeast would be 10 56.636 N 75 03.347 W; from there you can round the point and go into the bay. From afar we saw a familiar silhouette – "La Creatura", that motorboat we saw in Curacao.

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                               pic by Gili

Not seeing them in Santa Marta meant that they postponed their entry procedures to Cartagena. A few minutes after we dropped our anchor, an Armada Nacional boat was seen headed in our direction, coming alongside "La Creatura".

They spent about 30 minutes there and then came our way. I was happy to have all the required documents and proudly displayed them. The Colombian marineros were nice and polite; they did their thing and promised to come back with a paper proving that we were checked. (actually they never came back).

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After they left, Arturo and Rita, who took their two dogs for a walk ashore, came by. They said the Armada Nacional gave them no trouble about their not having checked in yet. On the other hand, in Curacao, when they tried going into Santa Cruz after checking out, they were warned by the Coast Guard not to do it, or face a heavy fine.

15.10.14 – Wednesday – We left the bay at 0600; very calm conditions made us motor but later in the day a northerly of about 10 knots came and we could sail at 5 knots. La Creatura followed and we came to the pass north of Isla Tierra Bomba at the same time. This pass is shallow, reportedly 2.5 meters, which is good enough for us but not for the 8 foot draft of La Creatura. Alberto tried to get information about the depth from port control but got nowhere. "Follow me" I told him and gave him depths as we entered; minimum was 3.7 meters and I saved him the 10 extra miles he would have needed to motor via the regular ship channel.

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There was space for us on the Club Nautico dock and we went in squeezing into a tight place between an American ketch and a motor catamaran. At the office Pablo, who seemed to be the manager, called a mechanic for our outboard. Jose took the Yamaha promising to bring it back "tomorrow at one o’clock". Our agents, Gladis and Daniela of the "Cruising Services" agency, showed up and we made plans for doing the departure procedure for the next day.

Dinner at the recommended "La Casa de Socorro" was disappointing.

16.10.14 – Thursday – The morning was dedicated to a visit at the Cartagena old town; friends told me it was beautiful and it surpassed my expectations. The old architecture, big buildings with huge patios, balconies overflowing with flowering plants and the different vibrant colors were really fantastic.

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A sculpture by Botero adorned one of the plazas.

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In the area out of the walled city other form of art, astounding graffiti was present on many walls.

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In the afternoon we did immigrations round with our agents. The Zarpe should arrive in the evening. hopefully we’ll be able to go out tomorrow!

Posted by: catamarantwooceans | October 13, 2014

In Colombia

10.10.14 – Friday – It was a working day in which boat jobs and shopping for food took most of the time. Walking around town we soaked in the special character of that South American country. The crowds, the traffic (on the road, not the other one) and the many small stalls selling everything from candy to fruit, clothes and accessories. In the evening we went to a fish restaurant near the marina named "Tres Sensaciones"; very good food and not so cheap. We felt we deserved it.

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11.10.14 – Saturday – We wanted to tour the land. Three options  were considered; first – a trek to the Lost City (Ciudad Perdida). This is a five or six days trek during which you walk about five hours a day, a lot of it in a climb; you sleep in tents and/or hammocks. I wish I could have done it but my left leg isn’t up to the job so we turned to the second recommended site – Minca which is 17 km from Santa Marta, 600 meters high in the mountains. We arrived at the bus station for Minca and were told that the price was 7000 pesos each(about 2000 pesos to the dollar). "If you want to go immediately, it is 30000 for both of you". We elected not to wait and entered the double cabin truck; a local gentleman came in too. when I asked the driver who he was the answer was:"he is family".

The road to Minca is in a horrible state and we got there in 50 minutes. When I took out a bill of 50000 expecting change, the driver wanted 10000 more. The language barrier being too big I left him the 50K bill and walked away with a bad taste of being swindled. We walked for an hour to reach "Pozo Azul"; a few rocky pools in a fast going stream. The view was just what we hoped for and we certainly needed the exercise.

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Walking back we stopped and had some Chorizos at an Asaderia where a man in a cowboy hat and red shirt was grilling meat .

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Back at the town center, I was ready to go back but Gili did not want to miss the other attraction of the place – the waterfall. "How long is it to walk there?" "About an hour". That was too much for me so we employed two Mototaxis and put our lives into the hands of two young men who slalomed on the muddy, pot-holed dirt road in a scary 15 minutes ride. They stopped at a certain fork and pointed to another muddy track. "This is the way, 5 minutes only".

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We started climbing as the cloud above thickened and turned black. After 10 minutes we found the sign directing to the "Cascade" and just as the observation shed came into view the sky opened up and heavy rain fell. The fall was a disappointment and now we were stuck, waiting for the rain to stop. After about ten minutes, when no let up was felt we decided to return to our transport. Of course we were soaking wet when we got there. We found our drivers, plus some more people hiding under a small tarpaulin covered shed and joined them. A stream that was not there when we left them roared by, getting bigger and bigger each passing minute. Those were no conditions to try driving back. Thoughts about Colombian mud slides crept into our minds.

After about 30 minutes there was a lull in the rain and our drivers prepared to go. "Con mucho precaution" I told them, hoping they understood my concern about our safety. We drove no more than 50 meters to stop before a river raging across the road making it impassable. Near by we saw a building and signs for a "Survival school" which seemed the right place to hide in the circumstances.

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A young woman, who said her name was Lady, let us stay in a palm covered gazebo on their plot. Looking at the conditions I was not happy with the idea of riding on the motorbikes back; a fall could result in a severe injury, not a risk we should take. I asked Lady whether she knew somebody reliable in town who could come with a 4×4 and take us to Santa Marta.

She made a phone call and came back saying:"You are lucky. A driver I know is on the way up the mountain and when he goes back he will take you to Santa Marta for 30000 pesos". Great! I paid the bike drivers and we stood in our cover, feeling wet, cold and miserable, to wait for Kiko who was supposed to come around 5 pm. By that time the rain became lighter; I took my camera out of my backpack, wishing to take a picture of the watery barrier on the road and found water sloshing behind the lens. Another one lost to the elements. When the rain stopped and the water receded somewhat I went out and took some pictures with my smartphone.

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Lady brought us shawls and a hot drink called "Aguapanela"; we stood there waiting for Kiko to come. Frankly, with time dragging on and night falling, a feeling of uncertainty raised its ugly head. I could easily see ourselves having to spend the night in a hammock, without dry clothes in the candle lit Survival School…

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Lady did her best to assure us that the man will come. She told us that together with her English boyfriend they opened the center seven months before, wishing to lead a simpler, healthy lifestyle. They were building an internet site; www.colombiasurvival.com and hope to attract tourists who share the same views.

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To cut a long story short, the man arrived at 1900, we squeezed into the Toyota Land Cruiser, joining a large local family and slowly made our way to Santa Marta. I asked Kiko to take us to the marina; he said he couldn’t go there as one of the car lights was not working and he feared the police. Suggesting more money did not change his mind. He stopped in a suburb on the outskirts of town to let the other passengers disembark and then took us to a mall to take out money from an ATM. Surprise! The machine did not take international cards. He took our last 26000, helped us get a taxi, told the driver we would pay him at our boat and we parted on friendly terms.

It was 2040 when we finally got back home; wet, tired and hungry. What was planned as a simple day trip turned out to be a bit of a survival story and while I do not feel we were in real danger – the episode was extremely unpleasant and uncomfortable.

Posted by: catamarantwooceans | October 12, 2014

Sailing from Aruba to Colombia

7.10.14 – Tuesday – Initially we thought of leaving Aruba for Santa Marta, Colombia on Wednesday but checking the weather forecast we found out that on Friday, our planned arrival day, the wind in the Santa Marta area will turn to the south. “Let’s go today” said Gili “there’s no attraction for us here”. The truth be said, we did not like Aruba; big hotels, casinos and shopping centers with all the famously expensive brands, Cartier and the like.

We took a taxi asking to go to the nearest supermarket, we had a medium size list of important items we needed. The super was “Price Smart” which is the local version of Costco, that is an inexpensive shop for members, where products were sold in big quantities. Gili was not very happy with the place; neither cucumbers nor lemons and even lettuce was not available. On the way back to Varadero we tried another supermarket and found out that those items were scarce all over the island.

We had to wait for a cruise ship to come into port and then got permission to come in for the departure procedure.

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At 1420 we went out and just before turning head to wind to open the sails we had the Coast Guard big inflatable with armed men intercepting us. “We need to come aboard and check you” hollered a guy who was probably in charge. Three of them came on board; their leader said a dangerous prisoner escaped and they were checking all the yachts in the island. Once the boarding was over we started sailing in the direction of the Peninsula de la Guajira, keeping a bit of a distance from the Venezuelan Monjes islands which we decided to bypass.

8.10.14 – Wednesday – The wind was strong and waves pushed us forward; in the first 12 hours we covered 89 miles. With that kind of speed we would reach Santa Marta, 266 miles away, before sunrise. We decided to make a stop in the shelter of Cabo de la Vela, which is at about the middle of the way. We dropped anchor at 0830 in a bight under the cape. Apart from two fishermen in a small boat our company were pelicans, who were giving a feeding show – rising and diving steeply to catch their meal. Other birds wanted to participate and were actually alighting on top of the pelican’s head hoping to snatch a morsel.

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At 1100 we continued sailing; we had 135 miles to reach Santa Marta  and at some point in the evening it seemed as if we should slow down in order to get there in daylight. That worry was erased at 2200 when amid thunder and lightning the wind shifted from the east to the south and became too light for pure sailing. One engine was started and  then, when an easterly current of 1.5 – 2 knots, right on the nose, entered the picture – the second engine joined in.

We entered Santa Marta marina at 1030. Thirty minutes later Dino, our agent, appeared. In Colombia you must use an agent; tackling the local bureaucracy is beyond the powers of a simple yachtie. This service does not come cheap; we were charged about 130$ U.S for it in addition for the country’s entry fee – another 100$.

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We went to the office to check in; they have a machine read your fingerprint and you can only go into the showers and the lounge where their WiFi can be utilized putting your finger in the reader. The toilet flush was also a peak of that industry’s technology – both did not work when you needed them. At least the internet in the “Captain’s lounge” was fast and good. I was in the marina office, trying to arrange the repair of my outboard, when I heard Mauricio, the manager,speaking to “Joana” on the V.H.F.  Wade and Dianne entered and tied in the same bay with us.

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