Saturday, January 25, 2014

We made it to Colombia

We must have had 20 dolphins doing acrobatics, spinning in the air and diving under our boat as we sailed along

Dolphins swimming with us for hours

After almost a week in Cartagena, we can tell you if you ever get a chance, come.  The city is magnificent.  When we came in at 3 AM it was lit up like NYC.  Huge bay and lots of anchoring but very busy  harbor.  All day long excursion boats and private boats are going in and out.  By now we are used to the rocking, the Latin music and the Spanish speaking  announcers as they are bringing their passengers back and forth from the Cruise ships.  One arrives almost every day.  The area we are in called Mango  is evidently, a very wealthy area.  We hooked up with our SSCA cruising station host who just happens to own a penthouse on the 16th floor of a beautiful building over looking the harbor. We were invited to sit on his balcony all afternoon and learn about the history of Colombia and the best places to go touring.  What a treat!!!

Typical of the excursion boats going past us night and day

Huge schooner that goes out each day with cruiseship people

Every day since we have arrived we have walked the city.  Since we are right down town, we don’t need one of the thousands of cabs driving up and down the streets.   We put in about 5 miles a day touring a different area each time. 

The “Old City” is a walled area which is the original city with cathedrals, gorgeous old Spanish villas, museums and parks.  Vendors with their carts are everywhere as you would expect.   I have never seen so much fresh fruit in my life.  The Bahamians would be so jealous.   No one speaks English so we have our trusty map, our book called Spanish for cruisers (wonderful help) and the small amount of Spanish we know.

Me with pigeons in the park in the "Old city"

Typical street with tons of flowers on every balcony

Loved this lady, she has a very loud voice and yells "Fresh fruit" in Spanish all day long as she walks along.  Every street has vendors but I loved her hat

Typical colorful houses and balconies all over the city

Another street with flowers

So far we have done fine with only 2 funny episodes.  We were to meet our agent, David in front of a marina.  Harry had gone back into the marina and a man who looked like David was standing there.  I asked if he were David and he said yes.  So I got Harry and we loaded into his car.  We start asking him about our cruising permit and customs and he starts talking about the tour he is going to take us on.  Our wheels started turning and we realized he wasn’t David at all.  We finally got the word across to take us back and he did.  Nice man, thank heavens and a good laugh afterward.  Then yesterday, we were walking through an area called Boca Grande with tons of hotels and beach front etc. (Looks like Miami).  We both really needed to use the restroom so we stopped at a hotel.  Unfortunately, we picked the wrong one.  It was an all inclusive and we were stopped by a guard, taken to the Concierge who then proceeded to give us a guided tour of the whole hotel.  We couldn’t get away and no bathrooms to be seen.  Finally escaped and had a good laugh but then on a major search for el banyos.   It cost us dos cervezas in a restaurant to accomplish our mission.  We also did a 2 hour tour of a magnificent fort with caves and all.

San Felipe Fort
View of the city from the fort
Fort San Felipe up on a hill.  A real sight to see and a fantastic fort

Entrance to the caves.  We had to take flashlights because they are very deep and dark
Most of the city is very modern and clear with huge malls, that put some US malls to shame.  Very large  groceries stores with good prices, tons of restaurants and a very friendly attitude from the people.  When we try to say something in Spanish, they are most helpful.  Between hand gestures, mispronounced words and attempts to put complete sentences together, we are doing fine.  It’s really lots of fun.  We are getting across what we want and we are reading a lot of Spanish we couldn’t read before.  But when the people start talking, I go into a total blank.  I am sure our expressions are priceless when they start talking real fast.
Harry wanted to show how the prices can scare you to death.  A set of wine glasses which really cost $6.00 US but look at that price tag!!!
Colombia has played the Juan Valdez up and have coffee stores that compete with Star Bucks in all the malls.
It is now a week later and I have spent the last week trying to arrange a 12 day inland tour of Colombia.  We have finally gotten most of it settled.  We will be taking 5 flights, 5 hotels, 1 rental car and 2 tours on these 12 days.  We will be visiting the 2 major cities called Medellin and Bogota (the capital) and then a tour of the cafĂ© country in the mountains while staying at a hacienda (coffee plantation).  We will be looking for Juan Valdez!!
 Then we will be spending 5 days in the Amazon jungle in an eco-lodge seeing we hope a bunch of wild animals including howler monkeys, sloths, anteaters, pink dolphins, iguanas, boa constrictors, poison dart frogs, scarlet ibis, macaws etc.  I can't wait.   Trying to book all this in Spanish and on the internet has been an experience but I think we did ok.  We’ll let you know when we get back.
I finally broke down and bartered with a man selling hats.  The sun is very hot and the hat really helps.  There are tons of hats being sold in the "Old city"

Friday, January 3, 2014

We had a fantastic 4 day downwind sail from Carriacou to Bonaire.  No really rough seas and the wind behind us.  What a ride.  We were making 7-8 kn most of the time.  A few light showers from time to time and 2 big ones that gave us enhanced winds up to 30 kn but only lasted a couple of minutes.  All in all you couldn’t ask for better.
About Bonaire: what a beautiful island with pristine, crystal clear water.  Not only could you see the bottom but you could identify every fish and ripple in the sand.  They have strict laws, no anchoring so we must take and pay for a mooring which was ok but it does keep you from staying too long.  Bonaire is famous for its diving and snorkeling.  It is an island that has been elevated by tectonic plates rising up from the sea floor so it’s a fairly flat island with small hills but it is basically a giant reef so at about 100 feet off the land under water it drops like a cliff to the level of the sea floor, hundreds or thousands of feet deep.  The fish swim at the edge of that cliff and the coral is actually still alive.  It’s one of the few islands in the world that can boast about that.  Diving sites are about every half mile around the island and snorkel sites are everywhere.  Since Harry and I are not divers we snorkeled many of the sites and had a fantastic experience.  I have never seen so many fish on any island, any time.  At any site they might swim by you in large schools.  You might see thousands of all different species.  The icing on the cake was a spotted eagle stingray with a 10ft tail and a wing span of probably 6 feet.  We were very excited to be able to swim with it as he gracefully floated along.
The island itself is quite interesting as it takes on a desert appearance at the top with tons of cacti everywhere.

Bonaire is all cactus top and bottom, alot like Arizona
 The south end of the island is almost completely salt flats with many flamingos swimming in the ponds.  Salt production is the major industry for Bonaire.  Sea water floods the salt flats and is then left for the water to evaporate, leaving salt.  As the water evaporates it becomes red (due to bacteria in the water) and foam forms all along the sides of the salt flats.  It is quite fascinating to see.

Thouands of flamingos everywhere (my friend Kathy would be in heaven)

Salt flats with the red water (their version of snow)
We were anchored right downtown in the capitol, Kralendijk (the island is Dutch).  The town is small but very cute with brightly colored buildings and especially clean.  There are some upscale stores for the visitors coming off the cruise ships and really cutesy restaurants.  We stayed 7 days and almost every day at least 1 or 2 cruise ships came in.

Picture from our boat, with cruise ship 500 ft from us

We are anchored about 100 ft from Karl's Bar and the really cute downtown.  This was taken from our boat
Distillery that makes liquors out of cactus.   They were so delicious, I bought one

The fancy car we rented to drive around Bonaire.  None of the windows close and the inside was falling apart.  Cheap though
We happened to moor right next to 3 boats that we had met back in Puerto Rico.  2 guys and 1 lady, all single handed sailors.  They are party people so we had a great time.  We spent Christmas on John’s 65 ft Gulfstar and partied hardy.  Then the last night we were there, they felt they needed to throw another party for us.  So the party continued.  We do hope to see them down the road in Columbia or Panama.

John's boat for the party with Inga and her son.  They are Dutch and live in Bonaire
Party time on Christmas.  Bev who is in the middle standing is the single handler.  She is amazing and lots of fun

These little guys just wonder all over the island
We had just finished snorkeling on this gorgeous beach.  Unbelievable amt of fish
Slave house used back in the 1800's.  Thee poor people could barely stand up and almost no room to sleep

Slave house from outside.  The Dutch were huge slave owners.  We never realized that

Donkeys everywhere.  They were brought to the island as work animals, then multiplied, then cars and trucks came so no one wanted a donkey and they were left to roam around and starve

So leaving Bonaire was sort of a mixed bag of feelings.  We loved the island but time to go to get moving on.  We did a fantastic downwind day sail to Curacao, which some people say: “Why would you want to go there. “  Well, clearly they have their heads on backward because it is a fantastic island.  This island is very upscale with million dollar homes and a downtown city that is one of the prettiest cities that we have ever been in.  Willemstad is a very Dutch city with brightly colored buildings and couldn’t be cleaner.  A very old pontoon pedestrian  bridge  is the highlight of the downtown.  We happen to be there when 3 cruise ships had come in so there were hundreds of people all over.  Lots of outdoor cafes on the waterfront and you could shop til you drop.  Unbelievable the amount of stores and outside activities on the streets.

Picture of downtown building and how clean the city is

Pontoon bridge, you can't see well but look down in the water to the right and you can see the pontoons holding it up

Just another picture of the Dutch buildings
  Bonaire and Curacao are both Dutch but most everyone speaks English.  The fun part is in the grocery.  Huge supermarkets, equivalent to anything you see in the US, except Walmart.  The fun part is everything is in Dutch.  Luckily, you can see through most jars, packages etc so you know what it is but spices were fun.  I needed Tarragon and could not find it.  It is dragon in Dutch, so now I have a bottle of Dragon!   The people are super friendly, bus is $1 to go anywhere and there is a free bus for the sailors who want to go to the grocery.  You can’t beat that.  The anchorage is very windy but free (Bonaire was $10 a night).  Last night one of the local restaurants offers a super discount for the sailors so about 30 of us showed up.  We partied and ate and had grand old time.
Our weather man has told us that the weather is good for us to head to Columbia so tomorrow (Sat) is the big day.  We will stop in Aruba for about 4 hours to take a nap and then off we go.  So unfortunately, we won’t be visiting Aruba.  I do feel badly about that since our friends back in Florida love it so much they go every year but we can’t take the time.  The sooner we get around the extremely windy capes of the Columbia coast the better it will be.  I will post this while I have good internet.  The next time will be February when we can tell you all about the trip and Columbia.