Sunday, October 31, 2010

Back in Cartagena

It was SUPPOSED to be a calm trip. The forecast was for light winds with a westerly component. Seas were supposed to be relatively flat – 2-4 feet. The current was supposed to help us towards Colombia. But, we weren't that lucky...on any count. The winds were easterly – right on the nose; the seas were about 5-8 footers; and the current was against us. Yup – nothing that was predicted came to be. It was a rough trip with steep seas, winds 15-20K on the nose and a counter-current. We tried everything – sailing off course 30 degrees; motoring; and a combo of both. At times we could only make 2.5 knots. At that speed we were convinced instead of two nights out – it would take us three. Luckily, about 0600 the second morning, the wind shifted, the current turned and we started sailing making at one point 7.2 knots speed. That helped and we were actually able to make it into Boca Chica channel into Cartagena at 1545. We were anchored just before sunset. We enjoyed a relaxing evening with a cocktail, chicken curry and an early night of restful sleep.

Cartagena Bay is quite crowded with boats so finding a spot was a bit tricky. We nestled in and set the anchor in the mucky, yucky bottom. This is a very "hot" harbor – not pleasant for boat bottoms or anchors. After a restful night we woke up and a boat nearby was leaving (with much ado!) and we decided it would be prudent to move up a bit and put out more anchor chain. Some storms are predicted (a hurricane that is heading westward but relatively far north). We won't get the hurricane, but there may be some squally weather as a result. So we re-set the anchor.

Luckily the welder we want to talk to is working on a boat right next to us (installing an arch for them) so we should be able to at least have an early conversation with him today (Saturday). We also made contact with a maritime agent to handle our clearance papers – a woman we had met in San Blas, Paola. We were supposed to go with her to immigration today – but two cruise ships came in so we will probably do that tomorrow. Then, on to calling Colleen, Hans' daughter so we can deliver the gift to her from her parents.

Its nice to be back in is one of our favorite cities, and certainly our favorite in the Caribbean. We'll look forward to getting into the old town and walking around a bit though it is quite sticky and humid.

We made it safely – that's the good news. Astarte is a good boat and after a good night's rest, we're back to normal as well.

Happy Halloween to all you witches,ghosts and ghouls!

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

To Colombia

In the morning (Wednesday), we are planning on leaving Panama for Cartagena, Colombia. The weather looks calm enough for the 250 mile trip from Linton to Colombia. It may be more motoring than we would like - but its better than banging into big seas and easterlies. The winds should be light (5-10) from the northwest. The current is with us so that should make for a slightly quicker ride. Seas should on;y be 2-4 feet. So it sounds good and if the squalls don't hit – we should arrive sometimes on Friday. (In 2001, when we did the trip – we arrived in Cartagena on Halloween night...might be close to the same timing this year.)

The goal is to get there and meet with the best stainless steel fabricator and get a price on building an arch for the aft deck. This will clean up the two poles we now have for the radar mount and the wind generator (plus the outboard lift, antennas, lights etc.). If it fits our budget and timetable – we'll get it built.

We stopped in Linton today from Portobello to see Hans at the local restaurant, His daughter lives in Cartagena and speaks fluent English, Plus she's studying law. We may use her to help us negotiate our deal and make sure we are getting what we want. We'll deliver a mom and dad gift package to her as well from Hans and Endina. It's always good to have a local contact as well.

So anchor up in the morning. We're all legally cleared out (that was another interesting story !!)

See you in Cartagena.

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Friday, October 22, 2010


The celebration of “El Cristo Negro de Nazareno” was nothing short of amazing. The culmination of the seven day event was yesterday and we ventured into town in late afternoon. The town was packed - tens of thousands of people were everywhere. Many were folks who had walked 20, 30, 50 or more miles as part of the pilgrimage – so many were sleeping in bus shelters, the church and makeshift campgrounds along the side of the road. Whole families had made the pilgrimage. Purple was the color of the day with folks attired in fancy purple gowns with lace edges to plain purple t-shirts sporting logos of sports teams or playboy or TV-shows. It was quite a mix and contrast of cultures.

In the church, the purple robes have started to pile up as people discard them on the steps of the church upon completion of their personal pilgrimage along with the promise to the “saint” that they make.

There were many of the “crawlers” finishing up their pilgrimage on their knees. We stood along the last turn towards the church and watched. Some of these folks were obviously doing it for the drama and show. Others, those without entourages, seemed more faith-driven. The pain on some of the faces was quite obvious.

Throughout the town, there were makeshift “hair cutting” stations – with men cutting hair of other men. Don't know the significance of this but it obviously had some meaning. The booths of food, beer, rosaries, candles, and candies were everywhere. The contrast continued to amaze us – Mickey Mouse knickknacks next to religious items. Beer and scantily clad folks, next to purple gowned, candle-bearing pilgrims. There were many homemade shrines – glass boxes mounted on wooden platforms with the Black Christ statue inside were being carried around or set-up in areas.

Like most huge events, the camera crews, reporters and news trucks were everywhere. In fact, we were approached by one crew t ask us questions (I guess the token gringos at the event). But our Spanish wasn't good enough for broadcast!

As evening wore on – the crowds got thicker. Fire works were set off and people lined the streets. We parked ourselves on a wall along a street (later found out it was the makeshift jail). We were lucky that this was the first street the statue would come down as it makes its way around the town. A 90-year old man sat down on the wall next to us and told us stories about the festival, Panama and his travels. As we waited more crawling pilgrims, people carrying incense and candles, folks with large shrines and statues of the Black Christ and huge crosses started the procession..

Then this remarkable sight could be seen. Over the heads of these folks, in the distance, their was this floating, candle-lit vision that was swaying to music. This was the platform with the statue from the church, surrounded with many candles being carried through the street. The swaying was the result of the two steps forward, one step back, rhythm of the bearers. As our 90 year old friend told us, it was more impressive to see it at a distance than up close and hew was certainly correct. The photos don't capture the sounds and movement which was quite magical.

As the statue approached the crowds got thicker. The statue was surrounded by the National Police arm to arm holding their batons to keep the crowds from pushing too close. The statue bearers did not all have their heads shaved nor were they in robes – but they were working hard – shoulder to shoulder, tightly huddled under the statue platform.

After the statue passed our vantage point, a band of musicians followed. They were playing the same tune to help keep the cadence of the marchers – this slow swaying movement. The band had drums, horns, flutes, saxes and was a motley crew of men and women of all ages. It seemed everyone who had seen the statue pass, then got in behind it to march in the procession. All swaying and many carrying candles, statues or incense – a mass of humanity. The crowd went on further than the eye could see.

We were happy that we went in to experience the event. One of the joys of this cruising life is seeing life and events on these various islands and countries. We've attended many local events and fiestas and you get a good sense of the people. Plus, we enjoy street food and have luckily not had any ill-effects so far from our participation in this cuisine.

This was a fiesta with memorable images for us. One we were glad we attended.
More pictures on Photo 2 page!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Plodding Purple Portobello Pilgrims

Photos in "Photo 2" folder on

Today, October 21st, is the festival of El Cristo Negro de Nazarene – The Black Christ. It is part religious festival and part carnival.

For those inquiring minds, here's the story of "El Cristo Negro."

There are several stories about how the statue came to Portobello, Panama. All the stories do agree that the year was 1658. The statue, which is made of a dark wood thus the "Black Christ" moniker, was carved in Spain. The most popular story is that and was being shipped to the Caribbean and the boat it was aboard was caught in a storm as it approached Portobello. The boat tried to leave the port five times and each time it was sent back into the harbor. The sailors, fearing for their lives, threw the heavy statue overboard and it drifted to shore. (or some say some local fishermen who were distraught by the disrespect of throwing the statue overboard rescued it). Another story says that the statue was destined for Tobago but was mislabeled and sent to Portobello. Another is similar to the first where until the boat that was carrying the statue threw it overboard it couldn't leave the harbor – it threw it over then recollected it and had to throw it over several times so it could depart. Whatever the truth of its beginnings, the statue holds a power over many Panamanians.

Miracles have been attached to the statue. Upon its arrival in Portobello, there was an epidemic of cholera. When the statue was placed in the Church of San Felipe, the epidemic ended. The festival started last Friday and reaches its peak today – the actual fiesta day. Many people walk 53 miles from Panama City, or 22 miles from Colon (Sabanitas) to the church. Some wear ornate purple robes similar to those on the statue. Many crawl the last mile to the church on their hands and knees (or butts). The reasons for such a pilgrimage are many. Some do it as penance for wrong-doing; others are looking for help or a miracle; and some do it simply as a show of faith.

There are stories of miracles amongst those who make the pilgrimage. One woman asked "The Saint" as the statue is familiarly called, to cure her mothers of cancer. The mother's cancer was cured and since then the woman makes the pilgrimage every year. Another salsa singer credits "The Saint" for saving his career from drug addiction and continues to make the pilgrimage annually and has written a song to El Cristo Negro called "El Nazareno."

The stories abound also that a promise made must be kept. "El Cristo Negro cobra" - the Black Christ collects his dues. The story of the man who asks to win the lottery ($2000) and promises to paint the outside of the church in return. He indeed wins but fails to hold up his end of the deal. He in fact, brags to friends that he never intended to do the painting. The next year, he returns with the same request and same promise. On his way home form the festival, with the purchased lottery ticket in his pocket, he is killed in a traffic accident. The winning ticket was found in his pocket.

The Black Christ name is credited to a US Serviceman who during WWII came to the festival on leave and was so taken with the statue yelled "Viva El Cristo Negro" and the name stuck.

Many of the pilgrims wear the purple robes on their pilgrimage. At the end of the celebration at midnight, those purple robes are left on the steps of the church. Tonight, after a mass at 6 pm, the statue is lifted on a platform and at 8 pm leaves the church on the shoulders of 80 men. These men are honored to be selected and in a procession around the town, they carry the statue for hours. The step is a three steps forward, two steps back march. This is either similar to the way processions in Spain happen or as we were told, it replicates the statues washing up on shore in the tidal movement – forward and back. The statue is returned to the church at exactly midnight. It is said that it cannot be returned earlier as it gets too heavy to bring in if its before midnight.

Along with the religious meaning of the fiesta – there is also a carnival atmosphere – which makes for quite a contrast. Booth after booth is set up on every square foot of space in the town selling food, beer (60 cents), ice cream, and candies. Plus there are kiosks selling candles, rosaries, Black Christ statues, pictures, medals etc. Some sell sandals, hammocks, Jesus T-shirts and clothing. Shaved ice sellers have little carts with giant blocks of ice that they carve into cups. You can get your toe nails painted purple for the celebration. Loud music is blaring from speakers playing reggeaton, rock, salsa very loudly. And more quietly from the church, you can hear litanies and hymns being sung.

Religion meets is quite a sight. We've enjoyed some delicious street food the last several days as we've roamed around the town. Today is supposed to be the big day with 30,000 people expected in this tiny town. Some say, El Christo Negro is the patron saint of pickpockets, so we'll be careful not to bring in anything but some food and beer money and our camera.

Check out PHOTOS 2 – some pictures of the pilgrims and street vendors have been put on the site

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Back in Panama and Back Aboard Astarte

First - new pictures of the trip to the states on the website.

After a wonderful whirlwind visit to Nashville and Washington DC to see moms, sister, brothers, nephews, niece, in-laws and long lost friends we've returned to Panama and found the boat safely sitting on its moorings in Panamarina. Meaghan's and Matt's wedding was a great event and congrats to the couple. Thanks to everyone for their hospitality - Gen, Trish, Carol, CVD and Chris for the meals; Derek and Margie for the meals, house and all the running around errands; Matt and Meaghan and their families for the wedding events; Mark and Kathryn for the storage and delivery of all our shipments… and everyone for their hospitality. We're sure we missed someone.

As with every trip stateside, boat parts and items that are difficult or expensive in foreign lands were ordered. Kathryn and Derek were kind enough to be our delivery points and at each place lots of goods were gathered or bought. We told everyone that we brought back a metric ton and a half of boat parts. It seemed close - thank goodness Delta still doesn't charge for overseas bags - we maxed out. Then we got to Panama City and bought even more - hoses, wire, oil, filters, zincs, and most importantly; fish catching devices - a new spear gun, as well as a restock of beer, wine and some tinned goods. Unpacking everything and finding room aboard Astarte for all the bits has been a challenge. We have a long list of projects now to complete with all these new parts. Michael's already completed a few projects - the sink water faucet has been replaced and the mast's roller furler has been cleaned and greased up. But lots more to do.

We had only two days once back on the boat and had to leave the "marina" so we came back to Portobello where we'll do another provisioning run. Unfortunately our timing isn't great - there is a huge festival here - the Christo Negro (Black Christ). It is a pilgrimage to the Black Christ church here in tiny Portobello. They say 30,000 people come for it - and though mostly a religious festival - there is an abundance of eating and drinking and music. It started this Friday and ends next Thursday. The checkpoints on the road have already started which slows traffic to a snail's pace. The roads will close on Wednesday and Thursday as the pedestrians and pilgrims (some on their knees) make their way into the town. We will try to see if we can provision on Monday - but may not have much luck finding any driver wanting to make the run into Colon. If not, we'll wait until the festival is over.

Booths are set up all over town with local fare. We love trying the local delicacies and have already enjoyed one meal on Friday night. Plus the beers at the booths are 60 cents - a new personal best! We've connected with our friends Lelia and Jeff from Ivory Moon here in Portobello - so it's been a fun reunion.

Its rainy season now and the rains seem pretty consistent. We're able to fill our water tanks with rain water and even get some laundry done. It's amazing how musty things get in the tropical rainy time. Drying clothes is the issue. But, we take advantage of every break in the clouds and hang things out.

So, we're ticking off projects and trying to finish up a re-supply of food and then we'll be on our way again.

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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Back in the U.S. of A.

We're back in the states. First stop is Nashville for a visit with Michael's mom/brother and Margie - staying at their fabulous new home. And then off to DC for the big nuptial event of Barbara's nephew Matt to his lovely bride-to-be Meaghan. Excited to see Barbara's whole family. Hoping the weather cooperates all around. We're also thrilled about seeing some old friends we haven't seen for decades. It's a whirlwind trip and thanks to Kathryn & Mark, we'll be loaded down with stuff to take back to Panama and Astarte.

Back to the blog when we return…(or perhaps sooner!)

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