We decided to leave Colombia. As soon as we made this decision, the wind started to howl making the passage out of here very uncomfortable. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know by now how we are all about comfort. So here we sit just sort of hanging until the wind dies down a little bit.
We have wandered all about the streets and alleys of Santa Marta and never once felt unsafe here. There is a very large police presence. In the evenings there is usually an officer on every street corner. We have roamed side alleys to restaurants and between main streets. We didn’t see banditos or any narcos dealing. This is very contrary to the image of Colombia most Americans possess. I think Colombia has a bit of a branding problem. The towns of Santa Marta and especially Cartagena should be on everyone’s bucket list. They are beautiful and offer a wealth of history. Sofia Vergara really doesn’t do her home country of Colombia any favors by acting as though everyone here knows how to use a gun and will kill someone at the drop of a hat (in her role on Modern Family). I got a chuckle out of something Cindy said as we found ourselves lost in Cartagena; you know you have roamed off the tourist path when the people selling hats and sunglasses aren’t about anymore. We have roamed off the beaten track more than once and have lived to tell the tale.
Some tourists are put off by the vast number of vendors and people willing to perform a quick service for a small tip. This practice is embedded into the Colombian culture. To the tourists who are put off by this aspect of the culture I ask the question, would you rather people earn a little money working on the street or would you rather they sit at home waiting for a government check to arrive in the mail? Poverty in Colombia, while not as harsh as other parts of the world, can be pretty bad. We have passed through townships with hundreds of homes without windows or doors. They have dirt floors and the roof is often metal sheets weighted down with rocks. Knowing this is what people are trying to avoid when hustling on the street for a few spare coins should make it that much easier to part with some spare cash. We take very good care of the street musicians. Some of them are really quite good and we’ll make a point of stopping to listen.
In our short time in Colombia, I am truly impressed by people’s willingness to work and ingenuity for earning some spare change. The latest hmmm moment was when I noticed a guy aiding drivers parking cars. He was not on a private lot but was working the public streets. If a vehicle started to park, he’d guide them into the space. The driver would then go about whatever business he had. When the driver returned to the vehicle this same guy stopped traffic by stepping into the street and guided the driver out of the space into traffic. Before the driver took off, he rolled down the window and gave the guy some change. We watched this happen over and over. The people in Colombia are most certainly open to tipping for services rendered. We are generous with our loose change.
Window washing at traffic lights is another activity common place here. The window washers pride themselves on removing every speck of dirt from the windshield. For their efforts they are rewarded with a few spare coins. While in a taxi, we stopped at a light and sure enough the windshield was washed. The driver actually thanked the guy for doing it as he parted with some change. I’m not sure what the going rate is for this but it doesn’t seem like a lot. Whatever is offered is accepted with a smile and appreciation.
For the most part we are ready to go now. We need to make one last trip to the grocery store to stock up on some last minute items like bread, eggs, milk and fruit. Cindy tracks of all our food and logs everything we purchase and eat on an Excel worksheet. We are planning to island hop along the Colombian coast until we reach Panama. When we reach Panama we’ll check in at a little town called Puerto Obaldía. This is a tiny little town barely visible on Google maps. But lucky for us, located there are customs and immigration officials. Sailing north from this town we will begin to explore the San Blas Islands. We are getting ready to go of the beaten path, way off the beaten path. We expect not to see a grocery store or have internet service for at least a month. This is why Cindy keeps track of food. She knows exactly what we will need so we don’t have to ration. We also try not to take too much to avoid spoilage. This is a fine art.
Today we went out for a hamburger at one of our favorite restaurants, Porthos Steakhouse & Pub (named after the musketeer). This is one of the tough things about our nomadic lifestyle. Just as we find things we love, it’s time to go. When we get to new places, we have to start anew with restaurants, stores, cell service (if not covered by Google Fi) and friends. Friends are always the real tough one; stores and restaurants not so much. Sometimes we’ll hit a raved about restaurant on TripAdvisor and find the place to be very mediocre. We have learned we need to experience some places for ourselves since people throw out five start reviews with little justification. When we find a gem it’s hard to leave it. Porthos makes a killer hamburger and I know I will be craving one some point in the near future. I often find steakhouses make the best burgers. Porthos confirms this by making not just the best hamburger in Santa Marta but for sure one of the best hamburgers of my life. Our favorite burger is The Smokey. It starts with a premium beef patty. This is covered with BBQed pulled pork (from pork ribs). Caramelized onions are added before the American cheese is melted onto it. Then, it is dressed with their special sauce, lettuce, tomatoes and served it on a homemade potato bun. OMG – it is to die for. To complement this work of art: wedge fries with the perfect amount of paprika spice and a choice of dipping sauces. I go for ketchup every time. I am not very adventurous with sauces. I am really going to miss Porthos. And, I’m going to miss Ouzo’s. Ouzo’s is another of our favorite places. We have eaten our way through their entire menu. It is a popular place and reservations are needed. Cindy has rapport with the manager and has his personal email (this in itself could be a blog post). He makes certain we get a table whenever we want.
Saying goodbye to friends in this particular port is not as hard as some other ports. This is because most everyone is going west. If they leave before us, there is a pretty good chance we’ll see them in the San Blas Islands of Panama. Other ports in the Caribbean can be a little harder to part way with friends. This is because not everyone ventures beyond the West Indies into other parts of the Caribbean. They are perfectly content going to the same places each season and have their group of buddies to hunker down with during hurricane season. When we broke away from this circle, we knew many of the people we met we would never see again. This can be a little rough to deal with. It was the same when we lifted the anchor for the last time in the Bahamas. A lot of cruisers never venture very far from the Bahamas each year and we knew we’d not run into them down the road and would make new friends in the Caribbean. I can’t say I blame people for going back to the same places each year. The Bahamas are beautiful and some of the islands in the Caribbean chain are spectacular. It would be easy to adopt this style of cruising. However, I guess we are wired a little differently. We are always wondering what newness awaits us over the horizon. There’s only one way to find out.
So, speaking of running into old friends, a boat just parked right next door to us. It belongs to an American couple we met in Martinique last year. It is an Amel boat just like Cream Puff. The marina parked them in the open spot next to us by coincidence. There were a lot of other open slips but this is the one the marina assigned to them. What we didn’t know when we were in Martinique was the relationship between their boat and ours. As Amels are born in La Rochelle, France, they are assigned a hull number as part of the serial number. Amel makes a few boats at a time and are in various stages of production throughout their facility. Cream Puff is hull number 275 meaning our Amel was the 275th Super Maramu model made. The boat next door is number 276 meaning our Amels were produced in the factory together side by side. And now, here they sit side by side again almost 20 years later in Colombia. When you think about the odds of this happening, it is incredible to think how our babies are reunited on the other side of the world on another continent almost 20 years since they we launched one behind the other in France. I can’t help but wonder if the boats swap stories at night about their travels. Do you think they do it in French?
Some other friends we keep track off just went through the Panama Canal. They have provisioned in Panama and are all set to cross the Pacific Ocean. They just posted something rather profound on their FaceBook page. Here, I thought we were getting ready to go off the beaten path and they posted a statement that just humbled me. It will take them about 25-35 days to cross from Panama to the Gambier Islands of French Polynesia. This is about 4,000 nautical miles of sailing (4600 miles or 7300 km). They wrote, for much of this trip the closest they will be to another human being are the astronauts in the international space station. Wow, right? I don’t think they’ll be updating their FaceBook page anytime soon.