Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Shopping early for Christmas in Cartagena

Debra and I have been shopping around Cartagena, mainly looking at molas. These are made by the Kuna indians in the San Blas islands and most of the stores here carry a good selection. Molas are cloth "paintings" made with layers of cloth cut to reveal the different layers and then hand stitched and embroidered somewhat like a quilt. The work varies in quality and

subject matter, most wonderfully imaginative. Most are animals and flowers but really fun scenes involving people show up from time to time. We went through piles of molas looking for good workmanship and design. Debra bought two that show two men eating, drinking, playing cards and smoking at a table with lots of fun details. I bought two that show a group of parrots, some in a cage and some outside. Their feet are very individual and expressive and the colors brillliant. I had these and some others made into large zippered bags as gifts. It's fun to grab lunch at one of the interesting cafes along the beach where Debra enjoyed fish soup! On the way back we wandered through the vendors in the Calle de Dulces, the Street of Sweets. Here all kinds of candies are sold under a long portico of arches.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Doorways and balconys in Cartagena

First let me apologize for the clarity of some of my photos. I am hoping to get a better camera this winter. However if you are interested, you can double click on any photo and a large version comes up on the screen (you need to page down to get the whole photo displayed) and this is much clearer.
Many mornings I take my camera on our walk. The doorways and balconys fascinate me. There are beautiful examples in both the poorer and richer parts of town. Flowers cascade from almost every one. Generally of course we see them from the ground, but one day we met a fellow who rented homes in the city and he took us to one for a tour (he was really hoping we'd rent it - but it was way out of our financial league). The roof top had a sun deck and small swimming pool.

From there you could see all over the city and over to the ocean. The tops of other homes sport these tiny rooftop pools and decks. We certainly wish we could rent this lovely home for a month or more. This city reminds me so much of Italy and I'm looking forward to painting again. We stop for some fresh squeezed orange juice halfway and chat with the vendors. We feel perfectly safe here in Cartagena. There is little crime. That isn't true however in the rest of the country. It isn't possible to go into the mountains for example. My book on hiking and touring South America says in the preface that they don't even include Columbia in the book because of the danger traveling in their mountainous areas.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Cartagena for lunch!

Richard and Debra and ourselves went into the centre for lunch one day. We started at San Marco square where the palenqueras women are selling their fruits. The fruit is a sideline as their main income comes from the charge to take their photos. One american dollar per picture! These women are called palenqueras because they are descended from the slaves that escaped into the mountains and formed communities there called palenques. These towns keep their own customs and language even today.
We met another group in equally colorful and interesting costumes. These young men are "missionaries" for the Catholic church. They bring a statue of the Virgin Mary to villages in the countryside as inspiration. The leader was a young man from Florida but all the others were natives of Columbia. This is one of the rejuvination projects of the late Pope John and according to our young american, these groups work all over the world. It's very hard to decide which restaurant to eat at. Do we want to sit out in one of the lovely squares, or at a table just inside a charming arch? How about a quiet courtyard with a fountain, or a balconey overlooking the square? Decisions, decisions... Many types of cuisine are available here as well; we have seen Chinese, Italian, Spanish, Mexican, Arab, Israel and French. We settle for the balconey with Columbian and continental dishes and watch the action down below as we eat a great lunch accompanied by some Chilean vino rojo.
Wine and liquors are fairly expensive here (that bottle of Chilian house wine was $22); beer and rum are the general choice. The very best restaurants downtown have similar prices to New York city but it is possible to have a wonderful lunch in a lovely restaurant for $10 (dinner entries run run $9 - 20. In one of the city's cafeterias or small restaurants they offer a meal of the day at lunch for $2 to $2.50 which includes soup, either meat/chicken/fish and a selection of veggies/salad. Breakfast is usually $1.50 and includes coffee, fresh fruit, juice, eggs and bread and/or plantains. Needless to say, we've been eating out a lot!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A visit to the San Felipe Fortress and La Popa

There is a cruiser net each morning at 8 AM. Scott is the moderator on Thursdays. It serves the community like a bulletin board with announcements of social activities, new arrivals and departures, weather and "treasures of the bilge" (things for sale or barter). One woman organized a half day tour of the huge fort, San Felipe Fortress, and La Popa with Duran Duran, a local official guide. Twelve of us were picked up at the marina in a large van. The fortress is the largest defensive complex erected by the Spanish in the new world. Construction began in 1536 and was completed one hundred years later. It was taken once by pirates under the french Baron De Pointis in 1697 but resisted all the efforts of Sir Francis Drake when he arrived with a huge navy. This has been restored beautifully, including many tunnels far underground. At the base is a bronze statue of two old shoes that commerates the Cartagena poet Luis Carlos Lopez's sonnet comparing the memory of present Cartagena to that of the past, once heroic and now affectionately loved like a pair of old shoes.

La Popa or La Candelaria Convent was originally built in 1606 by the Augustine fathers. It was built to house the image of "Virgin de la Candelaria", found in a house in the city in a vision from God. She is now the patron saint of Cartagena. It is built on the highest hill in the area and the view from the top is very beautiful. Some monks live there still. Much of it was destroyed over the years when the monks were expelled several times by various political leaders. >>
The chapel contains an elaborate alter piece with the famous statue which has many miracles attributed to it. Several cases contain hundreds of silver charms sent by individuals who have been healed by the statue. The charms show the body part that was healed - legs seem to predominate. At present they are trying to raise money to stabilize the structure and relocate the families living on the sides of the hill without water and sewerage connections. This has caused much erosion and the resulting mud slides. The cloister is really lovely with double arches and a well in the center of the garden.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Cartagena in the early morning rain

Scott and I have been walking into the center of the city most mornings as early as possible. We try to leave around 6:30 AM. Our walk starts along the harbor looking across to Boca Grande, the high rise wealthy condo community along the ocean front. The promenade is always busy with walkers and runners. From there we cross a bridge into the old city. On the corner there is an old battery and guard post. On Wednesday morning we didn´t get far before the heavens opened.

We took shelter under an overhanging balcony and waited. Taxis come in three major sizes here; bright yellow cars, motorcycles and bicyles with covered seats behind. The motorcycle taxis have two sets of vests and helmets, one for the paying passenger. They wear distinctive red or day glow orange vests and display their license plates numbers on both the vests and helmets. Odd numbers have one day and even numbers the next. Once a month no motorcycle taxis are allowed. Everyone warned us never to take one. There are accidents all the time. It rained so hard that most drivers pulled over and

waited out the storm. We shared our overhang with several. Vendors roam the streets with thermos of hot coffee, served in tiny plastic cups. We all had some and laughed together. Even in the rain the brilliant colors of the homes brighten up the gloom. This blue house is somewhat unusual, pink and yellow are more commen, but every shade is represented.

We had a brief break and walked further downtoen but only a half hour later the skies opened up again and we took shelter in a small cafe and ordered breakfast; scrambled eggs with veggies, fried plantains and bread. An ice vendor stopped just outside to break off a big chunk of ice for the owner of the restaurant. Vendors sell everything on the street here, including most services. You can get your shoes repaired, clothes altered and appliances fixed - all out on the street. Street food is very good, quick and stuffed with calories.
Most everything is fried. Fritters, fried doughs, arepas (corn cakes stuffed with cheese, eggs, meat or plain), and pastries of all kinds (meat, meat and potatoes, meat and potatoes and an egg etc.). Our favorite is the last one mentioned and it's a meal. Some of the fried dough is of course sweet - the latin version of doughnuts. Luckily they also serve fresh juices and fruits of all kinds so you can persuade yourself you are eating something healthy! Needless to say, my doctor is not going to be pleased with me when I return.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Punta Hermosa to Cartagena

Punta Hermosa is a big protected shallow harbor that hardly shows up on the charts. It has evidently been developing from debris from the Rio and maybe human assistance. No high rise buildings here or fancy restaurants. Hundreds of reed beach hut line the bay and a few casual places to eat and rent small boats. The wealthy go to Rodadero and the rest of the Columbians are here - all having about the same amount of fun. We only planned one night here but as we were leaving early in the morning, Unplugged had problems with their charger. By the time Tom replaced it, it was too late to make it to Cartegena by dark, so we reanchored. Actually it was a lovely lazy day, doing nothing but swimming, reading and of course, saying good night to the sun with a tradional sundowner. The next day we were off by 5:30 AM and motored the whole way, arriving around 2:30 PM.
During this trip we had an hour long visit from a small green bird. He flew in and out of the cabin exploring the premises thoroughly. Finally he headed off when a small island of vegetation appeared floating past. What a sight when

the city came into view! Cartagena is one of the most beautiful cities I've seen. The modern section, which is huge, looks like Miami, with hills. The old central part is a beautifully restored and maintained 15C Spanish city - still surrounded by the old walls. The harbor is protected by a seawall, now mostly underwater, broken by a 100 foot entrance and a larger one further south. This is a busy sea port with a lot of commercial traffic and many recreational boats as well. The anchorage is tucked in one corner near the two marinas. We waited for five days for a slip to open up at Club Nautico and tied up there this morning.
Two days ago we heard guns going off and came out in the cockpit to see the Argentine tall training ship enter the harbor to a 21 gun salute from the fort. Cadets lined every yardarm on the huge masts (we were glad to see they were wearing safety harnesses). What a sight! Cruise ships, some looking like cities themselves, are in and out of here all the time. Our very first morning we dingied in at 6 AM and walked all around the old city as it woke up. This is a magical place and we feel so lucky to be here. Years ago when we started this voyage this seemed unimmaginably far away (and kind of scary) so we have to pinch ourselves a bit to believe we're here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Rodadero and Santa Marta, Columbia

We spent four days in Guayraca and as we passed the fifth bay, we wished we had planned another one there. This is a beautiful area. But we were off back to civilization - Rodadero looks like a miniature Ft. Lauderdale. Honestly, except for the mountains behind, this area looks like Florida. The beach is lined with high rise condos and hotels, beach bars and restaurants - and tons of people. It was a lovely calm night and after lunch on the beach (and a stop at the well stocked supermarket) we enjoyed a quiet dinner on board watching the action. Pedal boats, kyacks, and sightseeing boats circled our two foreign vessels, staring at us curiously, all very friendly. Many people stopped to talk and welcome us. The next day we took a taxi into Santa Marta, a lovely small Spanish colonial city only 10 minutes away. Among the new high rise office buildings are lovely historic ones now renovated and in use. This photo shows a high end retail shop in a lovely old home. The streets were busy with small shops and vendors selling everything immaginable.

We visited two museums, had a huge "plato typico" lunch, and walked the all over the city - did some shopping too. The picture here is one of our young college student guides. Scott bought two pairs of shorts on the street, one labeled Tommy Hilfinger! Monuments and statues are everywhere in Columbia, often in lovely shady squares.
When we returned to the boats we found that the wind had picked up and now the beach was a lee shore. Our boats were bouncing up and down in too shallow water for comfort. We moved out until we had 40 feet of water under us but still had a restless night. Up at 4 AM for our next 55 miles past the dreaded Rio Magdelena. This huge river, the largest in Columbia, is known for bad wave conditions and extensive debris at its' outlet. Luckily for us the wind calmed down and the seas were flat enough to spot any tree trunks headed our way. By 2:30 we were anchored at our last stop before Cartegena, Punta Hermosa.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Five Bays, Columbia

Our last few nights here have been the quietest ones we've spent on the boat for a long time. Scott made pancakes one morning to celebrate! We are anchored off a caramel colored beach in Bahia Guayraca, one of the "Five Bays", part of Tayrona National Park in Columbia. As we approached this area we were watching for the snow capped mountains of the Santa Marta range, usually visable from the sea.
They are indeed beautiful but not snow capped this year - global warming? These are the highest sea coast mountains in the world - one is 19,000 feet! This was a large indigineous Indian settlement before the Europeans came and the area has been extensively worked over by archiologists and treasure hunters. The grave sites are now pocked with holes for miles. After the bodies deteriorated the remains
were placed in large pottery containers and buried with their possesions. Above right is one still recognizable. Fragments litter the ground for acres and many bone pieces too. At least one grave yielded gold ornaments and everyone's been hoping for another strike since. We met a charming local man, Renaldo, who gave us a walking tour of the area and invited us into his home. His son Jonathan joined us for our tour. Their neighbor Maria invited us for coffee at her home too.
Our Spanish is improving quickly as no one has spoken English since we left Aruba. For the previous 26 hours we motored in flat calm seas from Cabo de la Vela. We dodged thunderstorms but kept out of them pretty well. Most contained little wind, mostly rain. Occasional showers are part of rainy season and so are rainbows. One picture shows one over Unplugged. Unplugged ran through a patch of heavy vegetation and it wrapped around their propeller. We headed back to help them but Tom dove and freed it after the lightning moved away. We experienced a half knot to two knot current against us almost the whole way as well. The 125 miles took five more hours than we expected. Every night down here is a light show but the storms stay mostly over the land.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Cabo de la Vela, Columbia

Cabo de la Vela was very pretty but rolly so we didn't get as much rest as we needed the first night but the second night it was calm and flat and we all got a good night's sleep. On the day in between we landed the dinghy nearby and walked up to the light station - nice views down the coast. The nearby village had a small store where we got some cold beers afterwards and talked to the owner and her grandchildren. There were only a few shelves of canned goods and candy for sale but several bottles of Heinz ketchup surprisingly. The village appeared to have been built all at one time. We wonder if the old one was destroyed by a storm. The houses were mostly the same and someone had planted new trees, two in front of each building, all surrounded by a fence to keep them safe from the goats and sheep. It was very neat and tidy. Further away across the bay is the tourist area with a number of small restaurants and cottages. We didn't do any snorkeling as there were a number of jelly fish around but managed to duck them for swims around the boat. The second day the three French boats showed up and told us that they'd had a hard time the night after we left. A sudden squall hit Monjes in the night with winds up to 50 knots. A gust blew the little house at the end of the dock to pieces and both they and the fishing boats scrambled to get out of there. It must have been a mad house! Tom had a really hard time getting his bow line off the anchoring line when we left. Most people have to tie several lines together to get the length needed to go through the loop and back to your boat. He had to pull the boat up to one of the knots as something had caught and stopped the line from pulling through. If that had happened the next night he would have had to cut himself free and lost the 200 feet of line. Our next leg was an overnight so all of us left in the afternoon for a 125 mile passage.