We Venture into Santa Marta, Colombia

Christmas decorations inside Oceans Mall

Christmas decorations inside Oceans Mall

The island mindset is gone. Over the past couple of years, we have hopped from one Caribbean island to another. Each has their own traits but there are a lot of similarities. One of the similarities is the lack of availability regarding boat parts, specialty foods, or essentially anything that is not a basic necessity. And now we find ourselves in a large country with real cities and stores. Granted, it’s all in a language we don’t understand but we now have choices.

Cindy, the entertainment director, is putting together some plans for activities while we are here. We plan to use Santa Marta as a base and visit some of the other popular Colombian destinations. Figuring out the buses since neither one of us speaks Spanish is going to an adventure. This reminds of another husband and wife cruiser couple who posted on their website a conversation they had when catching a bus. He asked, is this the bus we need to be on? She replied, I don’t know but wherever this bus is going is where we will be spending our day. I love that sort of attitude. The adventure is where the bus happens to take you. Our own adventure is starting out this way.

Do you remember me talking about the very courteous drivers in Aruba and how if you wanted to cross the street they would pause and wave pedestrians across? The polar opposite is true here in Santa Marta. Step into the street and prepare to die. Our first walk outside of the marina meant crossing a couple of major roads. Crosswalks are few and far between. We saw a gap in traffic and went for it along with a guy pushing a bicycle. He blocked traffic for us using his bicycle as some sort of ninja shield and we all got honked at in a major way. I thought the driver was going to have smoke blow out of his ears. The driver inched right up to the bicycle guy and they exchanged “the look”.

We have managed to accomplish a couple of things this week. We went to an ATM, found a grocery store and we purchased fuses. Neither of these tasks turned out to be easy. The currency here is a little crazy. It is Colombian Pesos and there are 3,237.85 Colombian Pesos to an American dollar. We made a withdrawal of 600,000 pesos. I wanted to do a million just so I could have a million pesos in my wallet but the ATM was a little difficult to understand and people were waiting behind us. We are still trying to make sense of the conversion rate. At first we weren’t really sure if things are really inexpensive here or if we are doing the conversion math wrong. We are pretty sure it’s the former and we have the math correct. We paid 30¢ for a half liter of ice cold bottled water at convenience store.

The people waiting behind us to use the ATM were speaking English. Me being me feel I have the right to accost any English speaking person and start a conversation. It turns out the first people we met in Santa Marta are American Expats and have lived here for 5 years after moving from Austin Texas. Once we discovered we had a Texas connection, the guards went down and new friends were made. They suggested a few local restaurants and gave us the lay of the land. We took one of their suggestions for lunch and decided to make the short walk to the restaurant. At lunch, we discovered Colombia’s version of lemonade. Most of the restaurants serve lemonade. Fresh lemons are put into a blender with crushed ice and some other secret ingredients and viola: the perfect drink for people entering from the hot streets. There seems to be varying concoctions of lemonade such as lemonade with coconut juice or mango. Not wanting to go over the top on our first day here we opted for plain or natural lemonade. Yum!

Now with a gazillion billion pesos in my wallet, I am ready to buy some fuses so I can figure out what is going one with our multimeter that went dark on the passage here. We used the intermittent marina Wi-Fi to find a hardware store. Our marina has a security system where a figure print scanner controls entry onto the docks. It is the most complex security we have encountered on our travels. However, they seem to struggle with the basic technology of enabling a Wi-Fi signal to pass through the air making life on the internet a little challenging.  Imagine my surprise when we discovered an ACE hardware store located within walking distance. Things are looking up! However, it turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. While it was a very nice store, they don’t sell glass 1 amp fuses. Using our phone and Google translate, the young store clerk was nice enough to tell us where we might be able to buy our fuses. We pulled out the map we managed to print during one of the freaky times when the marina Wi-Fi actually transmitted something to Cream Puff. He marked the general area of the electronics store and off we went. We got totally lost. We reached the area he marked for us and realized he may have had the map upside-down. Young people and paper maps are not compatible. We didn’t get the name of the store from him so we couldn’t Google it and follow Google maps to get there. He did tell us the name of the store but in Spanish and we don’t know how to spell Spanish into Google maps. We sat on a doorstep in the shade to try to figure out our next steps (pun intended). Have I told you how hot it is here? At this point we are both pretty sweaty. But, we are still determined to complete the fuse buying mission.

Once we realized the map was upside-down for the ACE guy, we decided to set off in the opposite direction. Cindy recalled him saying something about a hospital. This recollection confirmed we might now be walking in the right direction. I was glad there was a hospital nearby since we had to cross the street a few more times.

We passed the store twice. Silly us. We were looking for an actual store. It turned out to be more of a kiosk. On the third pass we spotted it on the other side of the street. One more death defying crossing and we made it. And eureka, they sold fuses. It was at this point I realized it might have been a good idea to bring the old fuse with me. It would have been a lot easier to hold up what we needed rather than use Google translate to totally confuse the poor lady behind the counter. She was patient and another young lady helped.  It took four of use to buy four fuses. When it came time to pay, I was pretty sure we had enough money to do so in cash.

On the way to the Ace Hardware store we notice a grocery store. We needed a few things and decided to shop for some basics. This was an incredibly different experience. First, the prices are unbelievable! I mean this in a good way. Do you remember me saying we paid about US$8 for a gallon of milk in Aruba? We purchased bags of milk, yes it is sold in plastic bags for the equivalent of US$ 3.50 per gallon. For the most part, groceries here are about half the price of any other Caribbean Island we have visited.

This is different - Milk sold in plastic bags - no refrigeration needed - a cruiser's dream

This is different – milk sold in plastic bags – no refrigeration needed – a cruiser’s dream because the long expiration data

The best way to describe the grocery store we found would be to compare it to a mini Wal-Mart. They sold tires, cloths, appliances, perfume and groceries. All of this is cramped under one roof leaving little room for the customers. If you are in an aisle and someone comes the other way, well, good luck with that. We realized again how spoiled we have been in the past buying groceries and actually knowing what we are buying because we can read the labels. Do you know how long it takes to buy meat from the butcher counter when the phone and the Google Translate app are being passed back and forth multiple times before we are offered something resembling what we imagined we might get?

I went off to buy Salsa leaving Cindy to fend for herself at the meat counter. There is no Pace here. I made my purchase decision of which salsa to buy based solely on the color of the salsa inside the jar. In truth, I couldn’t quite decide which to buy so I wound up with two; a red one and a not so red one. I’m guessing the red one will be best. I’ll let you know.

The most popular way to get about Santa Marta

The most popular way to get about Santa Marta because of the bad parking situation in the city

Monumento Tayrona -sculpture of an Indian couple who look towards the Sierra Nevada

Monumento Tayrona -sculpture of an Indian couple who look towards the Sierra Nevada

Parque de Los Novios - Lovers (bride and groom) park

Parque de Los Novios – Lovers (bride and groom) park

Finding a shaded spot for a drink

Finding a shaded spot for a drink

This sidewalk cafe looks like something form a postcard

This sidewalk cafe looks like something form a postcard

Parroquia Del Sagrario Y San Miguel, Catedral Basílica - a beautiful cathedral in the heart of Santa Marta

Parroquia Del Sagrario Y San Miguel, Catedral Basílica – a beautiful cathedral in the heart of Santa Marta

The square about the cathedral

The square about the cathedral

Edificio del Consejo Municipal - Municipal Council Building

Edificio del Consejo Municipal – Municipal Council Building

Small store down a side street sell colorful wares

Small stores down a side street sell colorful wares

Street vendors are everywhere

Street vendors are everywhere

Hey, you lunch looks good. Let me text my friends to meet here.

Hey, your lunch looks good. Let me text my friends to meet here.



Categories: Caribbean, Colombia, Sailing Blog

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