Saturday, October 31, 2009

Reefs to the Right of Us=?ISO-8859-1?Q?=85?=Reefs to the Left of Us

And Kunas in ulus next to us! We left the town of Ustupu and headed for Bahia Golondrina. This is a mangrove surrounded bay named for the golondrina birds. We have no idea what a golondrina bird is and were curious to see them. The guide book said at dusk they come out in full force. From Ustupu, we had to wind our way past islands, islets, points and reefs to get to Bahia Golondrina. It was a very scenic motor over sometimes very shallow water. Lots of Kunas in their dugout canoes were out fishing or paddling their loads of coconuts and bananas. One island had an interesting "resort" -a row of turquoise colored huts on the water, each with a solar panel on the thatched roofs. It was a very pretty day on the water with the majestic Panama mainland on one side and islands and reefs along the other.

We got to Golondrina and after anchoring, Tumshi and Ti Soaz (the French Boat) thought it might be too enclosed and too buggy in the evening. So after a brief stop there, we moved on towards Mono Island. "Mono" in Spanish means monkey - so perhaps this was an island with monkeys. We got there and anchored in this lovely bay - a bit more open than Golondrina, but still with lots of mangroves. Tumshi and Ti Soaz each caught a mackerel (Astarte is only catching very tiny Tunny). Ti Soaz invited everyone over for a mackerel dinner (with Tumshi contributing part of their large one).

Of course, within an hour of being anchored in this bay (no town on shore) - an ulu with a Kuna man and three Kuna women comes up to the boats to collect the anchoring fee. It's amazing how they do this. So another $8 to Kuna Yala. The women were selling handmade baskets as well - and we got one perfect for holding garlic for $2.

After a night in Mono Island - no monkeys - we moved on again to an offshore island. The destination was Aridup - a tiny island surrounded by reefs. It is a pretty little island (actually a few small islands) covered with coconut palms and little beaches. It took a few tries to find a good sand patch to drop the anchor and get it to hold. Several Kuna fishermen came by selling lobsters or crabs. Another boat came by to; you guessed it, collect the $8 anchoring fee. We bought two lobsters for $7 and enjoyed them for dinner. No luck fishing today (other than another few hook ups with the little Tunny).

We had a great swim to a reef and will explore more tomorrow. One Kuna "salesman" will be back tomorrow with Kuna bread and some eggs. We'll probably spend a few days here if tonight is pleasant.

Happy Halloween to all - we probably won't have any trick or treaters - but you never know!

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Rainy Season

A full day of "di" and "malgole" - that would be rain and thunder and lightning in Kuna. It was pretty non-stop. We gathered 12 plus gallons of rain water for the water tanks, plus several buckets for cleaning water. With all this rain - you do find all the leaks on the boat. We discovered on in the clothes locker in the aft cabin - so we had to do some laundry of clean clothes before water stains set in. Bummer. We're running out of places to hang wet things. But then it clears and it's magnificent.

We spent a few additional days in Tupbak - Michael helped a local man - Horation Martinez, repair a few items. He also rowed out and brought his wife's and daughters' molas for us to see. They were quite beautiful and we purchased a few. We snorkeled along a great reef with lots of caves and alleyways carved into the coral. Michael is forever searching for lobster - but has only seen undersized ones.

We enjoyed Tupbak (Isla Pinos) and are glad we stopped there and spent a few days. Many cruisers miss this part of Kuna Yala - and head right to the "popular" spots. We decided we may or may not be back and we should enjoy the spots along the way. Plus, with company coming, we wanted to see if there were places we should try to come back towards.

After our Tupbak adventures, we decided it was time to move to the next stop. We selected Ustupu, the largest village in Kuna Yala. Trading boats come in from Colombia and we are anchored between the dock and an islet, Isla Mosquito (hoping it isn't filled with the biting critters). Just as we approached a big rain squall with heavy wind came in and it was interesting to watch all the men paddling their ulus in from the jungle. They were struggling in those heavy canoes, loaded down with coconuts and bananas. But, they are quite strong paddlers. We anchored and watched the rain come in. Then Michael spotted that the Colombian boat that came in just after us, was selling fruits and vegetables off the boat. He headed in with Friedl and came back with all kinds of goodies - tomatoes, carrots,peppers, cabbage, beets, squash, cukes. It's hard to get fresh stuff on the islands so this was like hitting the jackpot. He also found diesel on the island - which has been an issue. We've had to motor everywhere - so we are getting low on fuel. Unfortunately, it was very expensive so we settled for 10 gallons. He also had to pay the Kuna Yala fee ($8). This is adding up having to pay $8 to $10 at every anchorage. It isn't bad when you stay for several days but the single night stops are expensive. But we're still glad to stop and see these places.

Last night we feasted again on Tumshi - he caught a nice barracuda and grilled up the steaks. It was very tasty. We know we've eaten "cuda" before - but it was always disguised as something else. This was very tasty. Another couple off a French boat joined in the festivities. It was fun to sit at a table with so many languages being spoken.
Today (Thursday), we'll move on again.

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Monday, October 26, 2009


From Mulatupu, we motored all of 7 miles to Tupbak. Tupbak means "whale" in Kuna and the island does look like a whale. It is also called Isla Pinos and was a favorite anchorage for pirates and pillagers because of the pine trees for ship repairs, the good anchorages and fresh water. The island is 500 feet high (oh no, a hill to climb!). We are anchored in a pretty spot near a tiny coconut palm tree island. This area is not as popular with cruising boats - so its just Tumshi and Astarte in paradise.

Coconut palms line the pretty beaches and cover the island. Coconuts used to be Kuna currency and every tree is owned by some Kuna tribesman. You cannot pick up a coconut and take it - it would be considered robbery and when caught there is a $50 fine. The land is divided up and the trees on your piece of land are yours. The coconuts are sold to the Columbian trading ships that come in plus some islands press the coconuts for coconut oil that they sell. Daily, you'll see ulus going by filled with coconuts and also see the outer husks floating by. They only sell the inner nut.

After arriving at the island on Saturday, another Kuna came by to collect the anchoring fee. Kuna Yala looks like it can get expensive if you stop at a lot of islands and have to pay $10 with each stop. This place was actually only $8 and he offered to take our garbage which was good. A few ulus with kids came by as well - they are always looking for sweets. There are a lot of Kuna children.

After a swim/shower, a bit of baking, some outboard repairs and boat cleaning, we enjoyed a wonderful dinner aboard Tumshi. Friedl caught a magnificent tuna - it was huge - just as he was approaching the island. There is some argument as to what kind of fish it was (perhaps a yellow fin). We'll await Mark and Kathryn's visit and a look at the photo for proper identification. It was tasty whatever it was! We tried our luck with a line in - but we had no such luck. Now, Tumshi did have bananas on board and landed one giant fish. So the banana theory still is being tested.

Today, Sunday, we went ashore. We met the gentleman who came by to collect the fee and he took us on a tour of the island. First we had to stop by the Chief's hut for permission. It cost us $2 each for that permission to walk around the island. With that fee, you were allowed to take photographs (not of people) and we got to places that you really aren't allowed. We circumnavigated by foot the entire island - taking us about 3 hours. We went through the "village of the dead" (which is a restricted place according to all the guide books). This is where Kunas are buried - three to a hut. It was a piece of cleared land on a hillside with a wonderful view and actually some grass growing. The walk took us through banana groves, coconut trees, some ancient mango trees, avocado trees, over rocks, through muddy paths (with nasty mosquitoes) - and it was a great lesson in the ecology of the island. One green snake ran over Barbara's foot and scurried off. The guide told Michael (who was trying to get a photo of it) to not to get too close to it (hmmm).

We enjoyed the tour, than sat and learned more about Kuna traditions. Our guide showed us some of the tools they use to make their "sacred" drinks as well as a jaguar skin. We sat near his hut and enjoyed a cold (yes VERY cold) beer for 80 cents each. The beer - "Old Milwaukee." (can you believe that??)

Then, we were invited to come back in the afternoon and look at all the molas made by the women on the island. Molas are one of the main handicrafts for the Kunas and how the women make their money. They wear them as part of their clothing - stitched on as part of their blouses (one mola in front - one in back). The molas are intricately designed, layers of fabric with a variety of stitching. Most are colorful and often depict marine animals, birds, fruits, lizards, butterflies as well as the more traditional geometric designs. The quality of a mola is dependant on many things - the number of layers of cloth; the detail and closeness of the stitches and of course the design. Many sell for high prices and some people collect them. So we went in at three to look at the molas. We were invited to sit in the "congresso" building - a large hut that is their meeting room. While waiting, the women set up their molas outside on the dirt road and then we went and looked at them. It was a bit strange - we felt awkward having all these women waiting for us to decide if we would purchase any. We selected a few and negotiated prices.

Then we went back to the boats exhausted after a very full day in the heat of the tropics. The hike was great - but long and hot.

We'll sleep well tonight - hopefully the rain won't come so we can keep the boat opened.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Mulatupu Tour

Our second day at Puerto Escoses began with a choir - monkeys howling with great energy and a large variety of birds screaming their individual and quite unique tunes. It was a magnificent jungle morning. You could watch the Kuna Indians leave the village in their ulus at sunrise and head into the jungle where they tend their crops. It is a peaceful scene as the ulus glide through the water. The ulus are these handsome dugout canoes that seem tipsy - but the Kuna are quite fleet-footed in them and move around as if they are walking on land. They are heavy and the paddles are beautifully carved - and in various shapes. This is probably the preference of the paddler. Some of these dugouts are quite long - perhaps 20 feet.

After a morning getting organized, we decided to head to a reef around the corner and snorkel. Unfortunately, Yoshi (you remember that bad-boy outboard!) decided we had been rowing too much and punished us with a lack of willingness to start. Back on the boat and Michael starts to tear it apart. This is a new issue - some corrosion someplace that won't let us even pull the cord. He unjams that - but doesn't have a flywheel puller(of course a Yamaha specific tool!), so can't open the top to get to the cord and clean it out. He does manage to get it started with a squeal almost as loud as the monkeys in the jungle! But we decide we can't let it sit for any length of time - it needs to be used daily.

So off we go snorkeling. The reef has a lot of algae but it is nice with a variety of coral. Not too many fish. But you can see its lobster country - lots of sea grass and ledges. The water is very warm. We are now in the eight degree latitudes - a new southern record for us - and the air temperature, water temperature and sun are all very hot.

On our way back, in the Kuna village, some fisherman hold up a lobster and yell to us to come over. We do (the call of the lobster). They have a bunch of nice sized lobsters and would like to sell them to us. We negotiate a deal - three lobsters for $5 and head back to the boat for our money. We stop at Tumshi and they decide they want some too, so Friedl and Michael head back. Tumshi gets two giant lobsters for $7. We feast on lobsters that night on Astarte. Barbara makes her mom's bread pudding for dessert (thanks for the recipe mom!) A lovely night worthy of the champagne we popped to celebrate making it to Panama.

A funny Kuna story - a Kuna family canoes to Tumshi to visit - three men, a Kuna woman and a three year old boy. The men drop the woman and boy off on Tumshi - then leave. Yes, leave. They disappear for two hours leaving the woman and boy - neither of whom speak English or Spanish. The woman is in Kuna dress which consists of beaded stocking like leggings that start just below the knee and end above the ankle. They are made of tiny, colorful glass beads in a beautiful design. They are tightly woven on the leg. The blouse is a colorful print loose fitting shirt with billowy sleeves and has a mola (their famous stitched cloth designs - more on those in another post) as the lower part. She wears another brightly colored fabric skirt. She has a gold nose ring and earrings. So they sit on the boat - serve her coffee which she doesn't like; a soda which she does like and listen to the little boy cry a lot. Finally the men return, pick up the woman and leave. They stop by our boat - but we are getting the lobster feast ready - so they don't come aboard.

On Friday morning we depart Puerto Escoses and head to Mulatupu. It is a lovely cruise up between islands, avoiding reefs. We pass islands with interesting names like Suledup, Nianega and Takarkandup. We hide out behind Soskandup for lunch as a rain squall passes. Along the way we pass Kuna villages of Akwakinni, Ular, Kwibgana and Misla which are on points (murru) along the coastline. As we enter Mulatupu, the ulus come out in force. They are filled with kids - some six to a canoe, others two or three. The Saila (chief) comes out to collect his $10 before our anchor is even set! He has his own receipt book - this is a big village! There are about 2000 Kunas in the community, a school and a covered basketball court. Now this is a bit funny as well - as the Kuna are a short-statured people. Only the pygmies rival them as an indigenous people that are shorter. Barbara is actually tall amongst them! So basketball seems to be a sport that they wouldn't gravitate towards - but alas, they love it.

The non-stop boats hanging on can get tiring. You have a sense about what a zoo animal must feel like. They just watch you as you go about your business. The kids are more talkative than the adults - and they are learning Spanish in school so it's a bit easier to communicate. A few even have some good English language skills. It's a bit strange when all of a sudden they say something and everyone starts laughing - you just kind of wonder!

After settling in a bit, we decide to head to town (Michael and Friedl made a quick run in to see if they have diesel - no luck) and they found a bakery with Kuna bread and sweet rolls. Friedl decides to stay aboard Tumshi and three of us go back to town. The town is filled with huts - all close to each other with narrow mud streets. The huts are made of renewable resources - cane and stick walls, sand floors and roofs from a special palm leaf found in the jungle. No commercial fasteners are used - everything is held together by jungle creepers. They hold up in big rain storms and wind! There are a few concrete houses and stores. There are about four small stores that have a strange variety of goods in them. Everything from fabric, ribbons and plastic beads for the Kuna dress to Adidas aftershave, bleach and Tulip brand meats (yech). The bread is 50 cents a loaf and the sweet rolls and donuts were 20 cents each. Panama uses US currency - so no need to mess with exchange rates! We have a tour guide for our walk through the village. Miquel, an albino Kuna teenager - 17 years old is our escort. He speaks very good English, Spanish and is teaching us Kuna words and phrases. He walks us all over town - to the school. Across the big long concrete bridge, past huts, into shops, we meet relatives, we see the monkey at the restaurant - it is quite a tour. We meet some young girls who want their pictures taken - Michael obliges (no surprise there).

After a few hours walking through the muddy, narrow streets we head back. At the dock where we left the dinghy, we have quite a crowd. I guess we were the social event of the day!

We'll head to another island tomorrow (and it'll probably cost us another $10 - this is getting spendy!)

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Welcome to Panama and Kuna Yala

It was a long, long motor across the Caribbean Sea from Columbia to Panama. We had winds coming from the southwest - the direction we were headed and mostly light. We also had a strong knot to knot and a half current fighting us. It was a long day and night of listening to the motor. The final four hours were the only strong enough winds to be able to actually sail. Through the night, we had some bad squalls - and tried to maneuver around them as best as we could - going off course some five miles. We still got a lot of rain - and our bimini seems to have lost its "waterproof-ness" so it was a wet night in the cockpit.

As the sun came up - the hills of Panama were visible. It was a beautiful morning and quite a magnificent country to see at sunrise. Rolling green hills and some pretty high "jungle" made for a dramatic welcome.

In 2001, this was our goal - but we never quite made it here - running out of time. So it was a real joy to make it to Panama this time around. Neither of us have ever been to the country by air, land or sea - so it was great to arrive on our own sailboat and make landfall. We headed for a small inlet called Puerto Escoses and sailed past some Kuna Indian huts and set the anchor in a very picturesque bay surrounded by high hills filled with very exotic looking flora.

A little lesson on the San Blas area. There are over 340 islands in the San Blas group sitting on Panama's Caribbean coast. They are home to the indigenous Kuna Indians which control the islands and the surrounding mainland jungles and rainforests. They manage the area, govern it themselves and are pretty independent from Panamanian rules (though they also participate in Panamanian elections). The Kunas have maintained their culture, their identity and their traditions better than any Indian group in the Americas. The Kunas don't like the name San Blas - because it was the name given by the Spanish invaders. They prefer Kuna Yala - and with respect for them, the Astarte log will also now refer to the San Blas as Kuna Yala.

More on some of the interesting Kuna traditions and customs in future logs. But suffice it to say, they are very friendly people with warm smiles and a unique style. After being at anchor for a few minutes, we had "ulus" - dugout canoes, paddle to the boat and visit. They simply tie their dugout to your boat and climb on and sit down. No invite required! Franklin was our first visitor (after a small dugout with colorful sails (aka bits of cloth) sailed by waving earlier. Franklin made himself comfortable on our back deck and simply stayed for a few hours. After visiting with him awhile, we went about the business of getting the boat reorganized after a full day sail - hanging wet raingear, baking, re-fueling with the jerry jugs etc. Franklin just sat their and enjoyed his time on the boat.

A bit later, Mr. Green came by looking for someone who spoke good Spanish and English - as he wanted to practice his English speaking. Then came the sahila - the chief - Mr. Martinez. He also climbed aboard with his dugout canoe paddler (also Mr. Martinez - no relation). He came to visit then collect the fee for staying in that village's anchorage. He very kindly wrote us a receipt, on our paper and using our pen.

Then, as the afternoon light started to fade - the nearby jungle seemed to come alive. The monkeys and birds began a chorus of very exotic, almost frightening sounds. The howler monkeys have a roar that is tremendous and when in the company of other monkeys - it's quite a vocal exhibit.

We really feel like we're in the jungle in this anchorage. Hope the bugs and bats and other critters stay on the outside of the boat tonight.

Welcome to Kuna Yala. Welcome to Panama.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Lightning and Thunder and Squalls - Oh My

A night of unlimited lightning and booming thunder as we sat anchored in San Bernardo made for a sleep deprived night. The rain and boomers continued most of the morning. Then it changed to rain. More rain. And more rain. A full wet day which meant we didn't move on to Panama as planned. Instead, it meant laundry (thanks to all the "free" water). That meant the bucket load got multiple "rinse cycles" but never got dry. So we remain with lots of wet stuff onboard. We anticipated that the rain would stop by afternoon - but it never really did until dusk (which meant the fear of mosquitoes loomed).

The fruit and veggies we bought at the locals market is starting to go (all at once) - so we are cooking things as we have to…so menu planning is a bit easier! We used the eggplants, the avocado, some carrots, onions, red peppers, spice peppers…and lots of the tomatoes. One watermelon down and one pineapple gone. Made a pineapple upside down cake (with some of the pineapple) yesterday and invited Tumshi for an afternoon dessert. We'll miss the fresh fruits and veggies once we get into Kuna Yala.

It was a quiet night - but the rain began again this morning (Tuesday). But as soon as there is a break with enough visibility to get out of the reef - we'll move on. It'll looks like a wet motor sail - there is very little wind with the exception of the squalls. That's not how we wanted to move - but we don't have options as we do want to get closer to airports and communication as quickly as possible.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Nine Degrees of Latitude

After a short stay in Cartagena for some phone calls with family and doctors, marina searches, airplane schedules etc., we made the tough decision to continue on our trip and head for Panama. We're thinking of Michael's dad daily and are planning our next several ports of call so we are not far from an airport.

We made it back to the Rosarios on Saturday than decided to keep moving to San Bernardos on Sunday. We left early in the morning for the 30 mile run - having to avoid some shoal areas and reefs.

San Bernardos is a small island with some nice houses and private beaches ashore. Getting past the reef was simple once you found the markers - but they were not easy to locate. Tumshi, our traveling friends were at anchor here, so they helped direct us towards the markers. We anchored and when Michael dove the anchor, he realized the chain was too close to a healthy coral outcropping. So we decided to move so we wouldn't swing over it. After a move to deeper water and a re-anchor, we settled in for the afternoon.

This is the farthest south we've been so far on a sailboat. We got out of the double digit latitudes and entered the nine's. In 2001, the Rosarios was as far south as we managed. It's always rewarding to hit new milestones!

We did a quick swim/shower and spent the afternoon with Tumshi deciding the next stop. If weather holds, we'll head out first thing in the morning and get to Panama on Tuesday morning. It'll be a 24 plus hour run and we're hoping for some advantageous wind.

It's a lightning-filled night so hopefully these storms will pass and we can move on in the morning.

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Back to Cartagena

After two nights in the clearer waters of Isla Rosarios, we got some bad news and had to get back to "civilization" so we could be in communication via phone. Michael's dad, who had some recent surgery, was back in the hospital and it sounded quite serious. So we headed back to Cartagena on Friday morning. Now we had officially cleared out of the country so coming back in could be an issue. As we cleared through the Boca Chica shipping channel and had to call Port Authority, the woman who gave us permission to enter the harbour was so nice. She wished Michael the best and hoped his father would be better soon. That was illustrative of how nice the people in Colombia are. Also, another boat, Makai, entering at the same time, got on the radio and offered a phone to Michael as well as any other assistance. So thoughtful.

So we got back in, anchored and Michael headed to shore to an internet/phone café. There was a family call that afternoon at 1400 Oregon time so we made it in plenty of time for him to be on that call. He'll know more as he checks on the status this morning - and will make the decision if he needs to fly to Oregon.

After cleaning the boat bottom and chain - it's hard to come back into the "hot" harbour. You can almost hear Astarte screaming in pain as new barnacles attach to her bottomsides.

De-Barnacling in the Rosarios:

At the Rosarios, we completed the boat bottom cleaning (and boy did it need it). The waterline, the entire bottom and the prop and shaft were all de-barnacled, de-slimed and de-mucked. It was quite a job. We also dropped the entire rode of anchor and line in the water and scrubbed that as well.

Some local fishermen (Yogi and Juan) stopped by the boat on Thursday morning and offered some spiny lobsters and crabs. After some tough negotiating we got four lobsters (split with our friends on Tumshi), for an "okay" price. They were actually quite high for this part of the world - but we had leftover Colombian money we thought we'd spend. That night's feast aboard Tumshi was fabulous. Lobsters (Barbara had to give a lesson on getting the tail meat out (no jokes)) and Angelika made this fabulous chocolate ice cream and served it with fresh pineapple - yummy. We hope this is just the first of many lobster feasts.

We also did some snorkeling around the reef - it was close enough we could swim to it from Astarte - so we got some good swimming in as well.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

On the Move=?ISO-8859-1?Q?=85?=Finally

Sorry for the lack of entries - we were busy the last few days in Cartagena, preparing the boat for places where there are no handy grocery stores or internet cafes.

The dot on the "where are we map" won't burn a hole into Cartagena any longer. We sailed on Wednesday to another Colombian island - Isla Rosarios. It was a motor through the Boca Chica channel - the large shipping entrance into the Port of Cartagena and South and West to a small island chain. We had to work our way through a reef and are comfortably anchored. It was great to jump into the clear water - finally. We hadn't been swimming since Punta Hermosa, on the Colombian coast before getting into Cartagena. But, unfortunately it wasn't time for pleasure swimming (though we both took a quick trip to the nearby reef to at least see a fish!). The bottom of Astarte needed some serious cleaning after being in the hot harbour of Cartagena. So we managed to get half the boat done after arrival. Today (Thursday) we'll get the other half done.

But let's re-cap what's been happening from the last entry. Most of the days were spent trying to get some serious provisioning done. As we get into the San Blas islands - we'll need to live off our stores as there are no major shopping stops in the island chain. We understand there is a boat or two that come by with fresh fruits and vegetables and a few supplies - but you can't count on those things. So we needed to stock up. Plus, we've been on the boat eight months and our supplies from Florida are pretty well used up. Things like cooking oil, olive oil, rice, pastas, flour and sugar had to be purchased. We went to several different stores throughout the days - looking for the best deals. We are on a budget! We got a good work out walking and carrying the goods back to the boat.

We shopped for beer and wine - pricing the various stores and a place called "contraband alley." The end result - after all that shopping and pricing - was that the best beer price was the closest grocery store. On certain days, they offer a 15% discount on local beers if you have your "tarjeta de Carulla" (Carulla's - the grocery store- discount card). So with the discount, on a Thursday, we could get the cheapest beer. Plus, it didn't require a cab, rather a nice young girl and the grocery cart, to walk with our three cases of beer and groceries two blocks to the dock.

Barbara also went back to the locals market - this time with Angelika - to buy the fresh veggies and fruits on Tuesday - prior to our Wednesday departure. That was a true adventure. We hired a young man with a beat up old cart to go through the market with us - picking up kilos of potatoes, onions, carrots, four watermelons, three pineapples, eggplants, oranges, plantains, tomatoes, limes, cabbage, etc. We bought fresh, unrefrigerated eggs by the "layo" (a layer of 30 eggs). It was fun negotiating and haggling over already very cheap prices. We bought a lot of stuff and didn't spend all that much. As we got in a cab to get back to the dock with all our fresh stuff - the cab wouldn't start. The cab driver had to play with the engine a bit and finally got it started.

While Barbara negotiated her way with vegetables, Michael was fighting off catfish as he cleaned the prop and rudder enough to keep the engine from overheating on the 20 mile run to the Rosarios. The water is pretty nasty in Cartagena - so getting in it - wasn't fun. He then had to clean up and get our paperwork to the agent to get us cleared out. Agents have to be used in Colombia for the clearing in and clearing out process. We used a guy named David Arroya and he did right by us. It cost $80 US for the paperwork. But unfortunately, our friends from Tumshi used a different agent and it cost them $150. It is amazing how the prices for just about everything vary, from person to person, and from day to day.

So we had our paperwork, our fresh stuff - we did a last run for some more meat and bread and then the crew of Tumshi and Astarte went out for a very nice dinner. This was more than we normally spend on dinner - but we figured it would be the last dinner (or lunch) out for months.

On Wednesday morning, we paid our last debt for dinghy dock, water, internet and laundry to Club Nautico, bought a chart to the Rosarios and went to the grocery one last time to spend the last of the Colombia money. We kept a bit in case we could buy a lobster or fish from the fishermen in Rosarios. And what would YOU spend your last pesos on??? Beer, of course! But not at the sale price.

It was a busy few days getting ready - but its great to be back underway and away from the city. We do love Cartagena - it's a great city and we had a great time. Practicing Spanish in real life situations was the best of language lessons. Now, we're back to island time. But the next few days in the Rosarios mean cleaning the hull and waterline; swimming and waiting for a good weather window to Panama.

Sorry, we never captioned the photos - internet was very iffy. And a reminder - if you contact us on aol, gmail, web page or facebook - you won't hear from us for a really long time on anything requiring an internet connection. Our sailmail and winlink still will work (hopefully)

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Forts, Walls and Markets

The Astarte crews' walking shoes are getting a big workout. For the last three days we've been exploring different parts of Cartegena, Colombia by foot. We re-visited old sites from our 2001 trip and discovered new ones this year. Because it is very hot here - especially as the sun gets high at midday, we've been getting up earlier and getting going to beat the heat of the day. The last week it's been in the nineties every day - and quite humid.

On Sunday morning, we headed for the "Castillo San Felipe de Barajas," called "the fort." It is a huge structure began in 1656. It was finally completed in 1798 and was quite an engineering feat. The fort had 63 cannons and protected the city of Cartagena from Spanish and British invasions. There is a remarkable web of underground tunnels throughout the fort - and the design allowed footsteps to be heard in them long before any approach by enemy soldiers. The thick walls have sand in between them to absorb canon fire from the enemy. The huge statue in the front of the fort honors Don Blas de Lezo. He commanded a successful defense against the biggest attack of all from Edward Vernon in 1741. With only 2500 poorly trained and badly equipped young men, he took on Vernon's 25,000 English soldiers and 186 ships. The best part of the story is that Don Blas had already lost an eye, a leg and an arm in previous battles! In this Vernon battle - he lost his last leg and died soon after. But he's credited with saving Cartagena.

The fort is a busy place - even on an early Sunday morning. It seems to be the hangout for many young people who sit along the walls, making out and goofing around. The walk up to the fort is also lined with vendors selling straw hats, t-shirts, jewelry, carvings etc. It was a good walk and the views from the fort are incredible. It really shows the old and new in contrast.

On Monday, at 0650, we ferried our friends Friedl and Angelika ashore for their adventure to the Lost City. We considered this six day hike but were ill-prepared with backpacks, sleeping bags or good hiking shoes. So instead, we got an early start and "walked the wall." This is supposedly an eight mile walk around the outer perimeter of the city's wall from Manga, where our boat is anchored. It was really a great walk as we watched the city wake up. We walked on the wall, next to the wall, up and down stairs and ramps - through a bit of town where the wall was broken down by some badly conceived urban renewal project, and then back to Manga. We stopped for some Tintos, fruit and vendor food along the way. It was a good walk and we saw parts of the city we had previously not explored.

On Tuesday morning, another early start - but this time we went to the "locals" market. This is an area where you can buy anything and everything - from freshly caught fish to watermelons to plastic shoes and rebuilt blender motors. It is blocks and blocks of open stores, small booths and stalls. The sounds of the market place are loud and raucous from all the booths selling pirated CDs and DVDs. Plus, each store seems to have a DJ with a huge sound system playing music and yelling "deals." Of course the stores are side-by-side so the dueling DJs can get quite noisy! We can't understand who buys all these shoes - there were rows and rows of shoe kiosks and stores filled with flip-flops, plastic shoes, sneakers of every type and high heels. Everything is negotiable. We FINALLY found our popcorn pan (after looking since the Bahamas!). Michael found another pair of shorts (since a nail on the dinghy dock tore his last pair of khaki ones) for a bargain ($8) and Barbara found a swimsuit. We negotiated for a whole watermelon ($1) and bought some other veggies and fruit (30 small limes for 50 cents). The enterprise of some folks is also interesting. You can hire these men with carts to carry your stuff if you purchase a lot. We may do this if we decide this is a good place to provision prior to leaving for the San Blas.

Between all these morning adventures, we've managed to get some projects done as well. Michael spent a few hours with Lorenzo and his cab to hunt down hydraulic hose to fit the old fittings (success) and look for a fishing store, a foundry (to make new zincs) and get the rebuilt propane valve replaced on the tank. Only one success after much riding around. Oh well. It's always adventure especially when our Spanish isn't very good.

Barbara's been getting some cooking done to load the freezer (meatballs and meatloaf) prior to departure. This is the last "shopping" spot for several months- other than what a little dugout canoe can deliver!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Trip to the Colombian Countryside

On Friday, Barbara joined a group of women cruisers on a trip to Turbaco. The goal of the trip was to help some displaced women and see a school for disadvantaged children. The trip was set up by a local woman who is president of an NGO (non-governmental organization) that was established to improve the quality of life for people in extreme poverty. This group, “Cucuman International Gender Organization”, works with displaced women of the Paraiso Village area in Cucuman, Turbaco. This is an area inland from Cartagena and once the cultural center of the Yurbaco Indians in Colombia.

The women are displaced as a result of some of the guerilla warfare in the area as well as simply by “Husbands” who have left them with the children to pursue “other” interests. We also stopped by a school, San Javier, part of a Catholic parish that helps children in the same area. The priest who runs the school and parish was from Spain but has lived in Colombia for many years. The school provides medical help as well as an education and also helps the parents (mostly single mothers) with training programs and skills.

About 14 women went on the trip and the goal was simply to share some skills and information with them on how they can best establish cooperatives to sell the goods they make. The women the cruisers met with represented various villages within the area – and were the “leaders” of their various villages. Many were quite young.

Getting into the countryside was in very interesting. It’s a beautiful country with rolling hills and lush landscapes. Many rivers and streams crisscross the area. We met on an old farm that is owned by the family of Isabella (the head of the NGO). They have many small homes on the 40 hectares of land that provide shelter for some of these families. Lunch was prepared by some of the women and what we paid for the food also helped feed many of these families.

The children at the school on the day we visited were very young and very polite. It was a “holiday” in the area for the older children – some type of cultural festival.
The kids seemed excited about having all these visitors to their school and happily posed for pictures – getting very excited seeing themselves on the digital cameras. A few a bit confused how they got into those little metal boxes.

The trip was very interesting and it was a good way to meet some local people and interact with folks other than boaters. Hopefully the Colombian women felt the experience was also helpful. They seemed to be grateful that someone even cared they existed. They did manage to sell some of their goods (particularly hand woven bags) to some of the boaters. What is interesting is how little money they get for their product. These beautiful, hand made purses take a woman three days to make and they sell them for 35,000 pesos (about $20). They were glad to get the whole 35,000 – because moist often they only get 17,500 – having to split the money with the person who actually sold the bag in the city of Cartagena. They also made beautiful children’s clothing – both sewn and crocheted. They can only make one product at a time – needed the money from the one they sold to purchase more material for the next product.

The fact that most of these women also have three or four children complicates their lives – having to feed and care for them and still work to provide for them.

It was a wonderful experience and a great opportunity to get off the boat and into the interior of the country.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Radio Nets

The cruising community is just that - a community. And as with any community - there are ways to share information and communicate. In the larger cruising ports (Georgetown, Grenada, Curacao, St. Martin) there is a morning "cruisers' net" on the VHF radio. It is hosted by a "volunteer" controller (aka DJ) and the net's personality often takes on that of this "controller." Some put a lot of work into prepping for the net (music intros, thoughts of the day etc.) and others follow the "script." The nets offer all kind of shared info like weather reports (from someone who's gone on the net and hunted down the NOAA reports, locals reports, wind guru, passage weather etc.); help with services (who fixes engines, sails, where the best deals are on something, when propane is picked up etc.); people looking to buy or sell stuff - often called "treasures of the bilge." Everyone seems to listen in on these and it is both informative and entertaining. Sort of like your morning radio station!

There are also other "nets" on the SSB (Single-Side Band) radio. The Cruiseheimers (mostly US and Bahamas); Panama net; Safety and security net; various weather nets; the Caribbean cruisers' net; mobile maritime nets etc. These provide either specific information (weather) or are contact places to connect with our cruisers or get more information at a greater distance. The VHF is usually a shorter/line of sight radio whereas the SSB frequencies can reach much farther. Again - great info as well as entertainment.

The people who host these nets do a great service to the cruising community. And if something big happens somewhere in the world - it's a good way to learn about it. For example - the tsunami the other day in America Samoa - there were some cruisers impacted by this disaster. On the morning local net here, someone had received an e-mail from a fellow cruiser and the sad news was that one cruiser got swept away by the wave. We had met that cruiser in 2001 when we were in the Turks and Caicos. It shows what a small community this is.

It's been mighty hot and sticky here in Cartagena the last few days and today looks like another scorcher. There is a light breeze on the boat - but on shore - walking is a hot and sweaty exercise. Yesterday, we went into old town early trying to beat some of the heat. Michael wanted to take his watch into a repair shop (the alarms stopped working). The repair man wasn't in when we arrived, so we bought a cup of fresh cut watermelon (for less than a buck) and walked to a park. The shaded park was lovely and it was fun to watch the people and services provided. Shoe shine folks, fruit sellers, and cell phone call sellers. The cell phone call sellers is a big business in Cartagena - for 150 pesos a minute (about eight cents) you can make local calls. Many people use the service and the cell phones sellers are on just about every corner. We've used it as well to call the local seamstress making our cushions. And of course, there are Michael's favorite business people - the Café tinto sellers. Cafe Tinto is a strong cup of expresso coffee - very sweet - served in tiny cups. The coffee men walk around with these thermoses filled with the stuff and serve it up - at 500 pesos a cup (28 cents). Not exactly Starbuck's prices!!! Michael loves the stuff! Too sweet for Barbara.

We enjoyed our morning in the park and chatted with a gentleman on the bench. We remember this as one of our fondest memories from 2001, so it was nice to do it again. We'll go to town a few more times and just sit in the park and enjoy.

Happy October 1st!