October 25, 2016

The World is Round!

Turns out if you go west far enough you don't fall off. Arrived in San Blas and crossed the eastbound wake of little Ceilydh, 19 years after our first visit.

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San Blas Bound with a Hitchhiking Peeping Egret

Not our standard hitchhiker, but our most amusing. 'Gretel' joined us for 50 miles and left when we got her closer to land.

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October 23, 2016

Magical Cartagena

The clip-clop of our horse’s hooves, as they echoed off the cobbles of the unlit street, were almost enough to transport us back one hundred years—to a time when it would be normal to be transported by carriage on a street with no lights. In our case, there was a problem with the electricity, or the government, or both.

The reason half of the old-town was shrouded in darkness was lost between Spanish and English. But the fact remained, traveling by candlelight smoothes out the seedy bits, which keep the town authentic, and dims the veneer of tourism and gentrification, casting enough of a magical glow to last the evening.

A night out at the Teatro Adolfo Mejia for the International Guitar Festival
Night in Cartagena is filled with life. Storefronts we never notice during the day offer everything from tourist trinkets and Cuban cigars, to high end fashion and emerald jewellery, to discount groceries and hardware supplies. Our carriage guide pointed out some of the most famous shops, some lit some not, as well as historic buildings and squares.

Dancers in the squares around the town
We plodded past the home that once housed Garbriel Garcia Marquez then later walked back to Plaza Fernandez de Madrid—one of the settings from Love in the Time of Cholera—and watched as young couples strolled past, stealing kisses in the shadows of the almond trees.

People watching is the prime activity in Cartagena at night. Dancers weave their way into the city’s multicultural story by filling the street with folk dances, musicians play concerts for audiences as small as two and even the food vendors are on display—hawking their wares with the flair of an actor.
You can choose between fine dining or street food--arepas stuff with meat and egg cost about $1
For me, it’s the private moments that intrigue. Catching a quiet smile between a new bride and her groom or watching another couple, grey haired with years, dance an elegant salsa are enough blend the lines between reality and imagination. Enough to make this place magic.

Cruising Notes

The anchorage is busy with ferry traffic but holds several dozen international cruising boats. There are also a good number of boats running charters between here and Panama. We were able to get updated San Blas charts from one boat.
Club Nautico charges 70,000 pesos a week (about $25 US) for safe dinghy moorage, free wifi, showers, garbage drop off and laundry service. 
There's a good grocery store a five minute walk away and a large mall (Caribe Centre) with an excellent hardware store a 20-30 minute walk. The Basruto public market is near the mall.
We used the services of agent Manfred Alwardt to check in and out. His email: manfred.al@gmx.net
Taxis are cheap and plentiful and while we used them often we never felt unsafe walking in the neighbourhoods near the marinas. 
We did hear that a few dinghies have been stolen from boats--but nothing atypical for the Caribbean.

October 16, 2016

Loving Cartagena

Cartagena at Sunset
We entered Bahia de Cartagena through Boca Grande. During the exploring and conquering of the Americas, the Spanish impeded enemy access to the harbour by laying down coral blocks just under the surface of the wide entrance. If you didn’t know exactly where to go in, you’d rip the bottom off your boat.

Maia's first palata in years--the fresh-fruit popsicles are a Latin American favourite

flowering balconies line the streets
Happily, Cartagena now welcomes English speakers. We entered the bay with hulls intact and camera in hand—ready to shoot photos of the famous statue of the Virgin and Child which graces the inner bay. Oddly—the statue was missing. I wondered if the 60’ tall monument was off for cleaning or repair, but we soon learned the Virgin had been struck by lightning and had blown up.

fruit vendor in the old city
snacks of all types are available from hawkers
Our years in Latin American countries make this colourful and chaotic city feel familiar. It’s a place where shanties abut glossy high rises, yet everyone buys their breakfast arepa from the same street vendor and needs to navigate the same sea-flooded street.

A hat vendor pedaling his wares ;) 
Why I love this place is hard to define. It’s full of unexpected moments: We wandered through the unmarked tunnels of Castillo San Felipe and followed one steep corridor as it narrowed and shrank, growing humid and close as it snaked downward. We considered turning back, but assumed the tunnel must go somewhere—otherwise why would it be open to the public? Eventually it leveled out—arriving at a t-junction which was partially flooded and home to an aggressive looking iguana.

exploring the tunnels in San Felipe
There are daily rhythms in Latin America which never fail to make me smile: bedlam on the streets, a languid siesta, and a night that pulsates. Music everywhere, always…

taking a break at the top of the fort
Apparently if it weren't for this fort Colombians would be speaking English

Mostly it’s the sheer exuberance that makes me happy. The new paint on old buildings is brighter, the flowers and fruit are bigger and the hawkers are louder than in other places. Our cab was in a slow-motion car accident complete with blaring horns and wildly gesticulating hands. Both drivers got out and argued about the resulting dent in rapid-fire Spanish. Passersby and witnesses joined in. With traffic backing up, the other driver offered ours a fistful of cash—about $10 US. With a satisfied grin, our driver drove on to our destination.

Our plan had been to only stop for a few days but with so much to see, do (and eat) we may stretch our visit to 10 or 12 days.

October 12, 2016

Landfall Colombia

Country #29 and as sweet as ever.

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The Passage so Far--Cartegena or bust

It seems Iridium and blogger aren't playing nice and posts with photos are hard to read. So you'll have to imagine the fifteen-year-old sitting on the bow patiently pointing out pooping spotted Atlantic dolphins, or the pod of mamas and teenie tiny babies (they were common dolphins), or the lightning that lit up last night's ocean to a bright steal-white or even that five-mile swath of garbage soup.

Passages always feel like suspended time. We're not where we were; we're not where we're going. There's the sameness; day after day of sea and sky. Except neither the sea nor sky are the same one moment to the next. Moments at sea range from sublime, to frightening, to forgettable. But unlike sublime moments on land; say when you sea a mountain at sunrise or catch sight of your first wild grizzly, there's no simple way to give someone directions so they can experience the same thing. The infant dolphins that came at dusk yesterday, when the seas were mirrored and pink and the breeze was like warm breath on my neck, aren't something I can tell you how to find. I can barely describe how the mamas escorted their wee offspring into our bow waves and then gently pushed them back in place as the tiny torpedoes caught back eddies and awkwardly somersaulted out of the flow.
It seemed mean to laugh.

We read lots on passage and watch the ocean. Yesterday, when the first pieces of garbage floated past, I recalled how 20-years-ago on little Ceilydh we'd alter our course to go inspect anything we found floating at sea. It so clearly didn't belong there--we'd check to see if it was a message in a bottle, lost cargo or wreckage. Now it's different. The first time we came across a garbage gyre I assumed it was flotsam and jetsam from a wrecked ship. It's so incongruous to be in the middle of the ocean and see debris across the horizon. Most of it's so small it's unrecognizable--but always there's flipflops, water bottles and coloured bits plastic that caught some consumer's eye. If it's calm, and I can look down into the water, I can see bits of plastic film. I call it soup because it's not a solid mass. It's the individual pieces of garbage caught by a current, swirled together and broken up by the power of the ocean. If we took a net and scooped up all the rubbish from yesterday's patch we could have collected enough plastic to fill our boat.

The miles are going slowly this passage. It's not just the light winds--the 460 miles are loaded with meaning. This is our last Atlantic passage. In the San Blas islands we'll cross little Ceilydh's long-ago wake. Soon enough we'll no longer be exploring, but revisiting. We'll have done more than turn the corner for home, we'll be headed home.

And so we savour sailing into the sunsets as we make our final purely westward miles.
At 11/10/2016 3:30 PM (utc) our position was 11°34.76'N 074°43.60'W

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October 11, 2016

Garbage Soup

We're sailing through plastic stew. The first time this happened we thought we'd come across debris from a wreck. But hours later we understood: currents concentrate the garbage and the ocean's power renders it unrecognizable. People ask if I'm ever afraid out here. This scares me.

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Passage to Cartagena day 3

Continued light winds and dolphins. When they breathe out their blowholes sometimes we see rainbows in the mist.

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October 10, 2016

Passage to Cartagena

Mellow light wind spinnaker passage populated by pilot whales and spotted dolphins. It took seven years of watching dolphins with a kid for me to spot one pooping.

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September 30, 2016

Waiting for Hurricane Matthew in Curacao

Lovely and well-protected Spanish Waters--there are several anchorage areas and marinas tucked around the big bay
While I’m not *that* prone to magical thinking, I did make that comment about Spanish Waters in Curacao being a good place to hide from a hurricane and whammo, up popped Matthew. I don’t normally hold myself responsible for cyclonic activity, but considering my history with conjuring up tsunamis (three in this voyage) and causing southern Florida to spontaneously burst into flames (I said it deserved to burn after a miserable run in with a powerboat’s wake, and poof!) the odds are looking bad for me.

Then there’s the simple fact that historically Curacao doesn’t get hurricanes—but then we arrived and suddenly one headed straight this way.

Much of our week has been spent tracking and discussing Matthew’s, umm, track. As of this morning, it looks like we’re off the hook. Matthew has ended up going well north of its initial path so rather than getting tropical storm conditions all we really expect is a good deck wash.

We did opt to move the boat into a narrow channel that offers better protection from the south and west. The official anchorages offer great protection in the easterly trades but with a storm on the horizon, the port officials opened up the entire bay to anchoring.

While we were waiting for the storm to decide what it was going to do, we decided to dig into a few projects. Our auxiliary Tohatsu 6 Sailpro outboard has always been cranky—not running more than it runs. Evan broke down and got it a new carburetor—which we assumed would do the trick, but nada—so it’s off to the mechanic tomorrow.

We also have the material for new dinghy chaps. When we were in South Africa we had our old dinghy retubed for about $600. But the tubes are PVC, and they won’t last well in the tropics. With a flat-calm anchorage at our disposal we’re going to get sewing. We’ll also keep painting and varnishing.

Windsurfing lessons for gym class to keep Maia busy and beat the heat
There’s also been time for fun, now that Maia is mostly recovered from Zika. Yesterday we toured the city—visiting the forts; the Curacao liqueur distillery at Landhuis Chobolobo (nothing like bright blue liqueur for breakfast); and the impressive and sobering Kura Hulanda Museum. The museum was high on my list of places to visit. Two of my recent stories have required a lot of research into the African Slave trade—and the Kura Hulanda museum, which traces the history of many of Curacao’s residents, has a sensitive and emotionally powerful display of artefacts from enslaved Africans.

being able to touch these manacles made my blood run cold
After exploring for a few hours we finally managed to get to Marshe Blue for a local lunch (I drew the line at stewed goat head and curried sea snake). Evan had goat (the body bits, not the head)—while Maia and I stuck with the more familiar (and delicious) red snapper.
local lunch at Marshe Blue

Each time we set off exploring we grow to like this place a little more. Our initial impression was Punda was just a big outdoor shopping mall with a gorgeous facade. But as we’ve spent time wandering the narrow streets and popping into the historic buildings I find myself intrigued by the people who decided to settle here. The buildings are all made from coral stone—which because of their high salt content buildings require constant replastering and repainting. But somehow—despite the challenge of maintaining them (and finding a way to make a life in this desert environment) this is an intriguing and thriving island.

boats from Colombia and Venezuela bring produce to the floating market

hanging out on Galactic

This week we’ve also had a chance to get to know the Galactic family. If you don’t follow their blog—give it a read. These folks are hardcore; crossing oceans with toddlers, sending them to school in the Australs and then sailing to South Georgia... Alisa made the off hand comment that even after crossing the South Atlantic she wasn't in a mad rush to hit the grocery store because she's used to provisioning for seven months at a time and it had only been two! Compared to them, we’ve yet to take a risk. Makes me think we ought to go around one more time, just to make it trickier.

baby Ceilidh
But while they may be going for twice in a lifetime—for now, we’ll call once enough. We’ve left some beautiful things in our wake and this week we learned about one of the most wonderful: our dear friend Lewa in Fiji had her second son and honored us by naming him after us. We hope the name brings wee Keffy Ceilidh joy.