Mexico December 1 to January27,2016

We sailed the 320 mile trip from Grand Cayman to Isla Mujeres, Mexico with good wind. We hovered outside of Isla for a few hours so we could enter with daylight. Here is where we expected to stay throughout the holiday season as all the kids are flying into Cancun, Mexico only 6 miles across the channel.

    
The water is light bright blue, lots of white sand and a few boats anchored off of the town in Isla. We anchored near the lighthouse and small islands off the peninsula. Lots of day snorkelers come on tours here everyday. The snorkeling proved to be quite good especially in numbers of fish including some of the biggest barracudas we have seen. At one time I counted about 25 all ahead of me and maybe that many more in front of them. But all just sat there looking at us. There was some coral but it is so not a big coral reef. We spent hours getting photos of fish here. This area is a marine park and Mexico has a law that snorkelers must wear a life jacket when snorkeling. Very hard to do if you want to go underwater. It did cause us to get yelled at a few times.!

   
Isla Mujeres is a small island only 5 miles long and 1/2 mile wide. People were very pleasant and helpful. There is a good sized cruising community there, some having been there for years. The cruisers have a VHF net every morning to welcome new arrivals and help them become acquainted with the community. Safety and security, tips on where to find needed things, weather, buy or sell items are all part of the daily agenda. 
Time now to get Maraki ready for Christmas and the kids coming. As always this means clearing their bunks, bikes go outside, extra clothes in bins in aft lockers, Christmas decorations put up,few gifts bought. 
We decided to head to Puerto Morales area for their arrival as it is south of Cancun nearer to the airport. We spent 4 days at a free mooring off the little fishing village before going into the marina just outside of town. El Cid Marina was mostly empty of sailing boats, there were several fishing boats that did day charters and a big sailing catamarran for day charters. The marina had good protection from the north and east wind that was coming as well as being part of an All inclusive resort of the same name. Being in the marina allowed us the use of the pools, hot tubs, entrance into the nightly shows, maybe even a few free drinks! We did a time share presentation that got us free all inclusive day passes as well. 

 
 We did some car travel with all the kids to Tulum and took in 2 cenotes on the way. Tulum is a Mayan ruin of a walled town right on Carribean sea that was a thriving trading town when the Spanish arrived here in the 1520s. 

    
A cenote(natural sinkhole) is an underwater cave fed by underground springs. These vary in size and how commercially developed they are. We went to two, one called 7 Bocas and a small mom and pop type. It had 7 holes into the freshwater pools, quite basic. It had a wooden ladder to climb down about 15 feet to enter the water or of course just jump into. We did snorkel and explore here. 

        
The other cenote was called Dos Ojos and it is the entrance to the worlds longest known underwater cave system, over 350 miles long. It was two sinkholes with half caves and less claustrophobic feeling. We enjoyed snorkeling, the water so crystal clear, few little fish, filled with spectacular stalactites and stalagmites. Divers coming up from the deeper water with lights and bubbles make eerie scenes. 

      
For Christmas Day we sailed the 25 miles back to Isla Mujeres. We rode bicycles around the island, snorkeled, wandered around town and Playa Norte, 

   
 sampled food and drink in various waterholes. We all love Mexican food and found the little market stalls/restaurants to be best value. We tried a different one each day for lunch!  

   
   
Places we visited include the Turtle Rehab center filled with green and white sea turtles, hawksbill ranging in size from tiny to adult. The south point of Isla called Punta Sur was a great place to stop,rehydrate and take pictures of the beautiful scenery. 

   
   
Whale sharks are found north of Isla Mujeres during summer months. They are the symbol it seems for the island.

     
 

   
    
 The time quickly passed and all the kids left again. It is so special for us to have them all gather with us to celebrate the Christmas season on Maraki! We feel fortunate that they enjoy it as much as we do. Time to relax, play games, swim/dive off the boat and enjoy each other. We planned to stay here for a bit longer as we hoped to visit Chichen Itza yet, do some boat chores and get ready for our next sail to Cuba. 

My brother Will decided to pay us a visit here as well so next post will continue with Mexico.

I am also starting to publish under the title of marakistillsailing.wordpress.com so look for us there

Onward to Grand Cayman Island, November 2015

the weatherman says we have a good sailing window for traveling north so we go in to town on Providencia and spend our last 30,ooo pesos. Don’t be too impressed as that is about $10 inUSD. 

Grand Cayman is about 350 miles almost straight north but shallows and banks riddle this region. Probably not too shallow for us to sail over but we go around the shallowest stuff. It adds some distance but safety first.

Fishing on this trip was great. We caught 2 mahi mahi, 1 jack and 1 bonito using only the pole! Fishing provides entertainment as well as food.  Perfect size catches for the two of us and still package up some for the freezer!

   
 

The wind was easterly the whole way meaning we had the sails in making it a bit bumpy but fast enough. The 1-1.5 knots of current helped us too.  We knew that arriving one Sunday would involve overtime charges with officialdom so we jogged along to time our arrival for daylight monday morning. When we called Port Security  to announce our arrival, we were informed that today is a holiday and OT charges are in effect.  Thankfully,they allowed us to take a mooring and “remain under the Quarantine flag” until Tuesday morning.  We were grateful for a day of rest,cleaning up the boat and enjoying sunset complete with a gin and tonic.  Our view ahead and behind the boat at our mooring. 

   

    
   Tuesday morning at 0830 we are escorted to checking in dock to officially clear in to Caymans.

   
  

We were boarded by a Customs agent and his dog Nugget who sniffed all around Maraki inside and out looking for undeclared weapons, drugs and other illegal things. But we had no worries and sat back enjoying the activities in the port. We did surrender our speargun and hawaiian sling until we leave. 

Most days have 1 to 5 cruise ships anchored out just behind us so days are busy but by 5pm they are all gone again.

   
  This big super tanker came in briefly.  AIS states his dimensions as .18nautical mile long, beam as 198 feet and draft as 70 feet.  The island is deep quite near shore so he could come in. 

The harbor authority have installed free mooring in about 30 feet of water just off the town for vessels to use. This is to protect the reefs located all around the island. 

   
    
  
So even though Cayman Islands are more expensive for buying things, we are visiting here for little cost. Once again our folding bikes have allowed us to see the island while providing exercise. We are in harbor with SV FatAnnie from England, Robert and Jill. They have almost the same bikes so we are riding and exploring with them. We rode to Hell and back, about a 5 hour ride. Cycling here is quite easy, flat terrain, a shoulder to ride on and courteous drivers. The island culture is very visitor friendly!

   
   
   
  Robert and Jill in front of Christmas Store as decorating here is Big Business! 
The biggest attraction is Pirate Week and it is this week. They go all out celebrating their pirate heritage. Parades complete with floats and Queens, steel pan music,mock pirate invasion. Lots of great pirate costumes.

   
  

  

   Famous pirates such as Blackbeard and his lady. They are really from NC and have been coming to participate for last 28 years.

  
  
Popeye made it too. 

   
The mock invasion featured a pirate ship named Jolly Roger, defending the island with Redcoats, and sword fights. Very festive 

   
   
   
   
There were street performances as well. A slack line artist named Alex, gymnastics group, jet ski acrobats and jet boots.

   
 
   

But the best was people watching, especially the kids.

  
      
  
That’s our first week here in Grand Cayman. Likely we will stay til Thanksgiving as we have more exploring, biking and playing here. Then off towards Mexico on the next good weather window. Happy Thanksgiving to all our family and friends. Stay safe and pray for peace in this volatile world.

Bocas Del Toro to Isla Providencia, Colombia. October 2015

After many months in Panama and the end of hurricane season near, we were anxious to get moving again. The heat and humidity of Panama was also wearing on us so we prepared to set off northward. We had spent a pleasant week with the kids(minus Charlie) in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica and now they head off to pacific CR while we head back to Maraki. 

  
We hope to see them again in Mexico for Christmas.

The sail to Albuquerque Cays consisted  of 170 miles, much motoring in little to no wind, little birds hitching a ride, catching a shark, and changing out an alternator due to it having frozen up. That was no small feat as the engine room was soooooo hot and the boat was a bit rocky. In two hours time, he has us going again under power. But it was a beautifully lit up full moon trip.i

   
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The Albuquerque Cays are really only 2 little sand islands, one occupied by 11 Colombian soldiers on duty for 45 days straight guarding their coastline. I can think of much worse places for guard duty. They were very pleasant and friendly. We could walk around the perimeter of their island, the island had bunkers built into sand shores and an armed guard circling the beach at seemingly all hours.  The other island was a “fishing camp and we should not go there as they could not guarantee our safety.”   It was a little slice of heaven for us snorkelers. Large grass beds between big coral gardens. We spent a few days here in the company of 1 other boat, Yachtsmans Dream from Washington state. Delightful place. John continues to have lots of fun with his camera underwater.

    
   
   
    
The next island to the north was San Andreas and then another 50 miles to Providencia. Both belong to Colombia even though they are near the Nicaragua coast. We need to check into each island using a ships agent so we took the advise from past cruisers and skipped San Andreas. SA is reported to be very touristy  so on through the night we go to Providencia. During this beautiful sail with steady 15 kts from the east, we suddenly found the jib letting loose from the top. The jib halyard had chafed through. So we dropped it on deck and hoisted a staysail. Onward we sailed so that by morning we were off Morgan’s head channel entrance. That cleft in the rock is called Morgan’s ass and it lines up with the headland called Morgan’s Head.  There are also lighted buoys to guide one easily through reefs  on both sides.

   
   

   
 Providencia is a laid back clean island that tourism has not found yet. It has about 5000 residents who are very friendly to visitors. They all speak English, we were told “we speak in English but feel in Spanish”.  We hiked to Morgan’s Head via a trail and found old cannons on the way.

    
    
   
 We arrived just in time to see the annual Crab festival. To get there we hired this “mule” for $30 for 6 hours.  John and Lela off Yachtsman dream accompanied us.  There are many bicycles, scooters, motorcycles and mules on the road as well as cows, chickens etc.  The speed limit was about 30 everywhere.  
    
   
The Crab Festival features crab competition for biggest, a crab race involving the crab tied on one claw to a string, music played including a horses jaw bone, horse race between 2 horses down the beach. Lots of food including crab pizza and crab stew/soup.  We had a really enjoyable day and felt so welcomed by the local population.  

   
    
    
 

  
John continues to spend lots of time upside down underwater capturing fish by pictures and by speargun.

     
        
   
We have enjoyed this lovely peaceful island but soon we will be underway again northward. I will try to post this and catch up again.

 

The Many Sides of Panama City. july 2015

I have never been a fan of big cities but I enjoy a few days wandering in an old city inside a bigger city. Panama City lies on Pacific side of Panama and is large, maybe a million people. But is is a city with lots of color, noises,  smells,  old and new standing side by side and vibrant people of all ages.
Rooftop view from a nearby restaurant to across the bay and modern PC .

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The ever present vulture wairing on rooftops for its next meal.
  

The old mingled with new buildings. There may be 300 years age difference here ( or more)

    

Young Policeman wander the streets quite leisurely but toting a gun! Right beside the school with kids in uniform. All was harmonious! We ate lunch by the blue umbrella and people watched.
   

 
Tides out by the Presidential Building. Ominous looking sky over new town

  


Balconies, planters, homes, shops, small businesses all together.

    
Mike has that same shirt, right Mike Knape?  It is the most popular boys shirt in the country.
  
Kuna Indians from San Blas islands continue to wear their çolorful clothing in the big city

  

    
 

  
Old churches on central plazas with gold and stain glass windows and this one has a shell adorned tower that glisten in sunlight. Also has a small tree growing out of it. 

   
   
Art work on the buildings throughout the city was bizarre, amazing but we did not get what it represented.

We stayed in a hostel/hotel in the old city called the Magnolia Inn which was beautiful. We chose to go into a dorm room for 6 people with 3 sets of bunkbeds. Cost was $13 each per night and other than freezing when someone turned the AC to max, it was great. The hostel is used by many Peace Corp workers so we met lots of interesting young people, many Americans doing interesting things.  We felt safe enough in this part of town but recieved many warnings about where NOT to go.    The hostel provided coffee in the morning and had a kitchen for use by all. It was an old beautiful building with high ceilings, dark old wood aand stone staircase and stone walls. 

  

We spent a day sightseeing on the Hop On Hop Off bus. It took us to the Panama Canal Mira Flores Lock where we watched ships passing through the locks. You could see off in the distance the construction of the new bigger locks that should be ready for use next year. We went to the Albrook Mall, the largest mall in Panama with so many stores and people. Very modern mall. We toured the ring road out to Flamenco Marina and wandered the new waterfront on a sunday morning. It was so busy with runners, walkers, bikers, families playing together enjoying the well thought out waterfront.  But those pictures are lost for now. 

Bocas Del Toro  early July 2015 and again in late September 2015 aka Mike comes to Bocas Del Toro

A fine mostly sailing passage from Portobello to Bocas Del Toro back in early July brought us a new sailing ground. We were anxious to check out the archepeligo after having heard about it from our twins. They told us it was a great surfing area in the right season, which in mostly winter months. The other fact we heard was that it rained alot and had severe thunderstorms. So we set out to explore the truths of these facts. 

   First a few facts about Bocas Del Toro. It is in the NW corner of Atlantic Panama and 30 miles south of the Panama/Costa Rica border.It is made of 2 very large bays with 8 big islands  and 250 smaller islets.   Picture the area of 25 miles  E to W by 25 miles N to S roughly. Lots of open spaces of water and greeeen rainforest hillsides sprinkled with beaches, coconuts and a few town areas. Some say they have a wet and dry season other say they only get wet and wetter. I can now tell you that July had 26 inches of rain and August 27 inches of rain. Luckily we were gone for most of that so it did not bother us much. Lots of English is spoken here. 
 We entered first into Laguna de Bluefields and anchored off this small villages for the night. our goal was Bastiamentos but the wind lightened and Bluefields was manageable before dark. Wooden canoes with kids fishing (and begging) came to greet us. we could offer cookies which they were happy to recieve.  Sleep was the priority so we did not explore here. Very green with some cows grazing and few villagers around.  Next morning we headed for day sail to Bastiamentos and entered a channel well marked and apparently accurate but no buoys where our chart suggested they be. Hence why we enter in daylight.

   
  Just  under Punta Bastiamentos we anchor in calm water and a small village in the lee of the point. We had heard of wizard beach being on the windward side and we could see surg rolling in there so we decided to hike up and over, a 10 minute hike according to a guide book.  Hike we did but it took way longer than 10 minutes and quite treachorous as it was a mud fest. Another adventure but i cant find a picture of it. 

On Wizard Beach looking Northish.

  
This is proof we made it however. A beautiful beach and a viscious riptide. The swell at knee deep knocked me over and luckily i was carrying nothing so no damage except i got wet. A welcome but unexpected surprise. Hiked along this beach a long ways working out the kinks of a few boat bound days.

Found hidden art prizes in the swampy beach area.

   
 

 After a quick look around we entered the Bocas Marina and started the tasks of preparing Maraki to be left alone for 2 months in a wet, humid but safe from weather environment.    We bought a used AC unit and timer, put up tarps and sunshade and headed off to the states. 

Fast forward 2 months and we are back to Maraki who sits just as we left her.

  
 We have to adjust to the heat and humidity again but we also have Mike Knape coming for a week long visit in a week. So pleased to find no mold and mildew thanks to the AC and the formaldehyde packs we left inside the boat. 
The day after Mike arrived was the Birthday Celebration for Bocas Marina(15 years old i hear). This includes a swap meet for boat parts, food and drink, entertainment from Capt Ray and his juggling a(including juggling 3 bowling balls)  and games for adults and children.

   
Thats our AC unit that we sold again. no room left on Maraki

    
Ray was a famous juggler in his day -fire, bowling balls  etc. He performed for the NFL halftime shows including the 49ers . Just try to juggle 3  12lb bowling balls, hard enough to hold them!
   
Mike and I were runner-ups in the egg throwing contest hoping to win the botttle of red wine. Oh well, i got the egg on me when i caught it in front of my face. 

    
  We wanted out of the marina and headed along west coast of Isla Colon to Starfish beach where we planned to watch the lunar eclipse(if we had clear skies). Remember how much rain this place gets. 

Mike tried to find a surfable wave, (surfing requires so much patience),did a bit of snorkelling and then watched a spectacular lunar eclipse. 

      
        Moon rising over Starfish beach with some clouds. Doesn’t look too promising does it!

Then sky cleared for the rest of the night. This is early on maybe 1/4 eclipsed.  This are handheld photos 

from the boat, very still water.

    
  Eclipsed !

  Starfish beach is aptly named! Photo taken through one foot of clear water

  It is a busy tourist beach on the weekends. Souvenirs from the sea, interesting!
 

Next off to Red Frog Beach to find wave. Very little wind so it’s a motor trip..

  Searching, searching, is there enough to surf?

    Mike decided we should get up with sunrise and head to beach for early morning session. He decides this after drinking his Balboa in the surf communing with the birds.

 
   
This is how we look at sunrise! Scary huh? 

 
Look at the concentration it takes .
 
                
Mike also got to do some scuba diving with his dad.

 

   Spear fishing as well  although not with a lot of success.   We found clear water at times but best was over by Zapatilla cays off of Bastiamentos Island. Snorkelling was interesting but not fabulous. I guess we are quite spoiled now.                                                                                 

  

 Mike spent quite a bit of time up at the spreaders and helped us to navigate through the Crawl Channel from there. It is the perfect spot to see the shallows from.  He also used the GoPro to record the view.

Bocas has good walking trails especially in an area down by Dolphin Lagoon that is owned by the Smithsonian.  Here are some of the sights we saw hiking around there.

little green poison dart frogs, many of them. They have a unusual lifecycle. The frog eggs are laid on land and when they hatch into tadpoles, the little ones jump on mothers back and she carries them to a pool of water in a flower called a bromeliad. She neds to bring them food and make sure there is water in the flower.  After 6 to 8 weeks the tadpoles emerge into frogs and return to the rainforest floor. We saw mothers with their babies nearby.  Tiny but brightly colored.

 
     large spiders. watch out Mike!
  

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Fancy dock where we could rest and cool down after our hike, only the caretaker was around and he was an 80+ year old panamaniam gentleman who looks after the place. The land was owned by an American who when he died donated all the land to the Smithsonian. 

A week goes by very fast .

  

soon it was time to bring Mike back to Bocas Town and his small single prop plane back to San Jose Costa Rica and Bolivia. Always nice to have them join us. In two weeks we hope to join Mike, Jim, maybe Chris for a few days while they explore Costa Rica by land.  How lucky we are!  Hope this finds all of you well!

LINTON ISLAND PANAMA – JUNE 2015

I am trying to do a blog post on Linton Island where we have been for the past 5 weeks as we do work and maintainence on Maraki. Linton island is about 20 miles east of the entrance to the Panama Canal zone on the Costa Arriba, a rural jungled coast not very frequented by tourists.  There is a marina being built here, for the past several years but it is finally nearing completion at least it has docks. 





There are no services yet like electricity or water but it will be a great place maybe even later this year. The marina will have a haulout facility with large travel lift, we think maybe 175 ton lift. We have been at anchor off the marina and have enjoyed clean water, mostly fresh breezes and friendly people. The view out the “back and front door” are wonderful





The noises from land are also special. The howler monkeys and birds replace the rooster who is usually the predominant noise maker. 





These are not all howler monkey pictures as there are many other kinds we have seen. here, the white shouldered capuchin is pictured here too. 

We also have seen lots of birds, parrots, macaws toucans. The sloth pictured here was found hanging from a pilling near the marina yesterday. He hung there for several hours and moved ever so slowly to look at us when we came right up to the piling with the dinghy. He opened his eyes wide , slowly and then closed them slowly and ignored us again. 







There has been sightings of a boa constrictor too but we have not yet seen it. It  had slithered onto to the deck of our friends catamarran and when they tried to get it off, it swam around the side and came up the side of the hull to an open port hole. luckily they slammed it shut before it could get in. We hope to avoid that excitement. 

We have spent the time here building a new bimini shade cover that has incorporated 2 large solar panels that we bought in the Free Zone here in Colon. John did the fabrication and a German/Panama named Guido did the welding. We are very happy with it.



There is another marina nearby here called Panamarina which has no docks or services but line boats up along a buoy system and is used mostly by those who leave their boats and go away for the rainy season. They watch over the boats. It can be reached by dinghy from our anchorage by going through the Tunnel of Love, a mangrove lined shallow waterway. it is quite a cool dinghy ride. 







The one drawback is that Puerto Lindo is a tiny town with almost nothing to buy in food stuffs. There is a vegetable truck that comes around 2-3 times a week to sell wonderful fresh, never refrigerated fruits and veg. Pineapples sell for $1, 8 oranges for $1, avocados, cabbage, carrots, mango, everything you could want. We tried some new produce as well. 

 These are the “”fruits” from the palm tree which when boiled like potato serve as a starch. 

So to get into a biggergrocery store we need to ride a bus, an old american school bus, fioor 2 hours one way. They are usually full as they serve as transport for the school kids as well. They are painted and decorated according to the likes of the driver/owner.





The horse and farmer head down the same roadways as does every other kind of conveyance. Accidents are not uncommon. We have met people who have experienced this first hand. 

Diesel can be hauled from Colon area too but we used a driver and his truck to haul the 120 gallons we needed to refill Maraki. First fill since Trinidad!



We have been involved in 2 medical situations. One resulted in a baby boy being born and the other in a death. The baby was on a neighbor boat but we managed to get them ashore in time for the baby to be born. I was prepared and releatively comfortable with the idea of assisting her but it was a first baby so we had time. 

The second situation involved a 37 year old Italian man who had been a crew on a charter cat. There is a large Italian community here as it seems that there is an old aggrement between Panama and Italy allowing  Italians to have privileges like citizenship. Anyway a VHF radio call went out requesting medical assistance and I responded. John and I dashed by dinghy to the marina where we found this young man collapsed on the deck. The language barrier existed between all of us. He and his mate spoke only Italian, some spoke Spanish only, French and me with English. I immediately determined there was no pulse and began CPR and hoped for help. I was the only medically trained person but another women, Stephanie from France had taken a 2 day Emergency course. To make this long story short, we ended up doing CPR for 2 hours!! while we waited for an ambulance or someone who could help. A local dive shop arrived with oxygen and defib machine about 45 minutes to one hours into CPR. They kept saying the ambulance would arrived in 20 minutes. We never had any response or return of pulse. Finally the ambulance arrived, declared him dead and then it was another 2 hours before the police . This served as a reminder of how isolated we are and that help is not easily available. A few days later I met the parents and friends of the gentleman who died and they were very gracious and thankful for all we did. It just was not fast enough or with the right equipment. I guess I needed to have my cardiologist friend with us. A positive note was that John as well as several other lay person were able to experience this event and have first hand experience with CPR and resue breathing. It was a learning but traumatic experience. 

Soon we will need to get moving on to Bocas del toro near the Costa Rica border. MARAKI will stay there in a marina while we head to USA to see friends and family. So till next time, love to all of you. Hope to see you in person soon. 

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Kuna Yala from mid March to early May 2015

We entered in to the land of Kuna Yala also known as San Blas in the far eastern border of Colombia and Panama. The mainland here is called the Darien which is a large area of rainforest,mountainous, largely uninhabited and wild. The Panamerican Highway which runs from USA through to end of South America is interrupted by this wild land. No roads exist and paths are limited. We met 2 Dutch boats in Sapzurro, Colombia and ended up traveling with them all the way through Kuna Yala. Gerard and Lies are on Sylfer, is from Edam. Ben and Ingrid on Blabber from Apeldoorn. So much better to have company when this remote. My Dutch improved as did Johns!

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Kuna Yala, comprised of many small offshore islands and the adjoining mainland, is the land of the Guna Indians. They are actually part of Panama but control themselves and consider themselves really autonomous from Panama. They do not use the name of San Blas saying that was the name Spanish invaders gave them. Kuna have preserved their culture and resisted control by outside forces throughout their history. They moved out of hill villages on to island villages largely to better protect themselves. Today they still live on densely populated small sandy islands. The Kuna number in population somewhere around 40,000 to 50,000 depending on who is counting. But there numbers are diminishing as outside influences reach them.Trading boats come from Colombian ports to buy coconuts from the Kuna. Coconuts are everywhere but picking them up is stealing and highly frowned upon.

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Here is a teacher taking a picture of his class in front of our boats. The children all wore uniforms and looked clean amazingly.

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Villages range from very traditional in the eastern end to more modern in western end. Homes are made of cane walls and palm leaf roofs. Jungle vines attach the walls and roof but some now have rope. The floors are swept dirt, the interior sparsely furnished with hammocks and remarkably cool inside. Wood fires still are used for cooking and the meals consist of banana or plantains, coconut, rice, fish and some meat supplied by pigs and chickens found roaming and in pens in the villages. All villages have now received solar panels and batteries.

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This allows for some lights at night as well as charging for cell phones which they do limitedly own. It used to be that visiting yachts were routinely asked to charge the cell phones for the locals. We saw a few satellite dishes but most did not wqork. Internet was only found on Mulatupu through the school. I am not sure how the cell phones made any connections because none of ours could.!

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The style of dress for women is colorful and homemade comprising of hand sewn “mola” which has become one of the main sources of income by selling these cloths to tourists. Molas usually depict abstract animals and objects from nature. They are all very intricate and colorful. The older women often have a gold ring in their nose. Women wear “wini beads” which are hand made colorful beads on legs and arms.

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Head covering with light red and yellow scarf and hair is cut short once a female marries. Once females reach puberty they begin wearing these traditional outfits. At the less traditional villages you will see modern dress by all. Permission needed to be granted before any pictures were taken in a village. Some charged a fee per picture as well.

The society is said to matriarchical and the women control the money and husbands move into the women’s family compound. Women choose their husbands. The village is run by the community and each village has at least one main chief called a Sailah. The community meets nightly in a central hut called a Congresso. Crime is rare and punishment is determined by sailah. Children are everywhere and appear healthy, friendly and vibrant. What a smile this guy had!

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Soccer is the main sport played and it can be played with any kind of ball. These 2 boys wanted their picture taken. They love seeing themselves in the camera.

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Transport on land is by foot with families walking some miles inland to grow their fruits and vegetables. By water they use “ulu” sailing or paddling. They are made from trees dug out by hand. All ages are seen coming and going by ulu.

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This man said he sells an ulu for $60 and took from 6 weeks to 3 months to complete.

Kuna is a language like none other. It is mainly a spoken language and is difficult to learn. Children are now learning Spanish in school so that is the language used to communicate. We visited many villages in our 2 month stay and found the people welcoming and friendly. Women tended to stay away but children and the men were eager to show us their village. The Kuna are small in stature, only the Pygmies are smaller. We felt large beside them. John stooping to walk into a home.

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We visited at a school on the island called Mulatupu, a larger village that had a clinic and larger school. A teacher at the school spoke good English as he studied in Panama City Panama so we spent some time with him learning about the culture and ways. We saw a ping pong table with paddles in the school and played many games with the kids and the other boats. That is the principal standing near me. They thought it great to play with us. This school taught about 800 students from kindergarden to high school. Kids came from nearby smaller villages to study. John spent his 62nd birthday here and we were invited to eat dinner with Mr Green and his family. We brought corned beef, some beer and i baked brownies to share. We also sang to John while the kids showed us their pets. We could have bought a parakeet for $1! We wanted to buy them and set them free. The whole extended family can to see us.

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Inside a school room

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Of course with all this water and reef, we did lots of snorkeling. The waters near the mainland were largely murky but the water in the western San Blas were fabulous snorkeling. I will try to continue this blog tomorrow or soon.

One thing I want to emphasize on this post. The surrounding might look drab or poor but the culture, the lives of these people is very rich. They have a sense of community that is hard to come by in Western culture. They are subsistence all the way and have resisted change and mechanization of their farming and fishing ways. Largely they are not a cash economy although that seems to be rapidly changing. We found the people overwhelmingly welcoming and friendly. I hope you can see all this in our pictures.

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Taganga Bay and Sierra Nevada Park in northern Colombia, March 2015Th

The Santa Marta winds that are a known phenomena along this part of the Colombian coast have kicked in. We are safe and secure in the marina here but noone is moving out. The government officials discourage yachts from anchoring and require a special permit to do so overnight. However we took a bus over to the nearest bay(only 3 KMs away) called Taganga Bay for the Sunday. It was filled with families and locals. It is known as mostly a fishing village but popular with divers and backpackers. The scenery was beautiful but windy.  Here is the view from the bus window.

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Wind was whipping the sand into everyones face but it did not seem to bother anyone. I think they are used to it.
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Fishing boats are made out of dug out trees but often with a coating of fiberglass and some paint.  The hillsides are brown and cactus covered. Not sure why this Virgin Mary needs so much protection!!

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Taganga Bay has a trail joining the next bay with eco-resorts like this one with the tiki thatched roofs. Lots of people playing and eating here on the beach but no town. We had a delicious lemonade adorned with fruit there.  Getting into some bird watching too.

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See the wind whip the water on the bay!
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Delightful sunday at the Beach.

We wanted to make of trip up further into the Sierra Nevadas to see our snowy peaks. John met a tour guide in town who could take us up into the Sierras for an overnight which included hiking, birding and staying at a hostal Colombian style. He spoke good English and was a very enthusiastic birder. so we signed on for the next day. 0800 we were at the appointed place with our packs ready to go. Erik, the guide and his friends uncle who was the driver of a 4×4 which was owned by another uncle. We would be going to the home of the family. The road was 40 km of mostly dirt and potholes and dust. The driver was skillful and kept saying that the road was in great shape. I would hate to imagine the rainy season on this road. We had to drive over the river a few times now during dry season. We stopped many times to see birds, overlooks, have a drink, etc. Our tour was priced as including everything, drinks, snack, lodging, guides etc.

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And this was just on the drive up the mountain.  At the end of the road for us waited Alejandro(cousin of driver and owner of farm) his horse Corselle and mule for carrying a bag of platanos.

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The finca is 3 Kms up a dusty trail and is the only way to the farm. Everything must be brought up this path.  In the hour or so it took us to walk the path, the weather changed from hot and sunny to being in the cloud forest, cool and wet. Not sure of the elevation at the start of the trail but we ended up at 2200 meters at the finca.
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At the gate to Finca Santa Elena in the cloud forest. Santa Marta is the red dot at the left.

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Erik, our guide had prepared us for this weather change and so we quickly changed into our long pants and jackets. Ana the owner with Alejandro had prepared for us a large meal of Colombian food and drink. We were starving and it all tasted so good. First we had a drink called Panela which is pure cane sugar and can be served hot or cold. It is meant to replenish you with energy after our exertion of walking uphill to the farm. It tasted very good and not sweet. Then came the meal of beef, patacones(green platanos fried crispy), rice, vegetable soup and Lulo juice. Now very full we sat around the kitchen dominated by the cooking area which is all done with wood. We chatted for hours with Alejandro and Ana with Erik doing all the translation both ways. He is remarkably good at that. The cloud forest had turned into a rain, light but windy so we missed out on a sunset but enjoyed the fire and warmth inside.

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Early we all went to bed under several blankets as we were truly cold for the first time in more than a year. The plan was to be up and watching the sunrise above the farm. 0530 we were up, dressed warmly and out seeing the sun come up over the snowy peaks of Pico Colon, Bolivar and a few other 18,900+ peaks.

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It was a spectacular site for sure,so quite except for the occasional cow mooing, rooster crowing! No wind, crystal clear. We wandered up aboe the farm looking for birds and watching color come into the world.

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By 0700 we were back to the house to have breakfast and prepare to climb up to the top of Cerro Kennedy at 3100+ meters. We needed to get a start ahead of the clouds that usually begin to gather by midday.Oh but first I have to do a bit of milking of the cows to provide fresh mile for the meal. I think they did not believe i knew how!  Ana hobbles the cow in the corral and away we go. I believe they had 6 milking cows at this time and that provided their milk plus they make cheese. i heard that Ana is also the “vet” for the area cows. Tough lady and very hard working. They raised their 3 children on this farm and now they live in Santa Marta. Carlos, their son, is involved with the tourism business and is partners with Erik. He leads tours but does not speak much English so Erik did our tour.

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Our breakfast was a milk based potato soup-with a poached egg in it plus arrepas with their cheese in it. (Cornmeal bread fried with cheese) and Lulo juice made from their lulos. (seen below)

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So good and so filling. Turns out we would need all this energy to climb to Cerro Kennedy.

Alejandro would be our guide while Ana went to nearby farm to tend a sick cow and do a bit of milking for a neighbor who was in Santa Marta.

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Alejandro and his dog Komotu

We walked all types of terrain, pastures, wooded areas, crossed little streams.

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This ruin is now owned by Alejandro and his brother. The bank repossessed it from a big ganga dealer who built it from his profits.

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We walked upward from 0800 till about 1130 and still had not reached the Cerro and the clouds were now rolling up the valley on both sides of mountain. We decided to eat our snack of passion fruit that Alejandro had carried up, enjoy the meadow at 3000 meters and return down to the farm! They said we could just pretend we had reached Cerro but that would be fraudulent.                                                                                  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADSCN1367 (1)DSCN1369

The clouds did indeed move in and we ended walking back in and out of clouds. Luckily for us, Alejandro has lived his whole life on the mountain and so has Ana. The only farms we saw along our path up belonged to his parents and Ana’s parents. They love their mountain home.

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Waiting for us was another fabulous meal. The green soup is made of green pumpkin and their milk. Again Patacones, rice , beef and cucumbers from their garden. The juice was made of tomato de arbor which is like a sweet tomato and made a delicious juice drink. Finished off with a guava paste and their cheese.

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Just a quick siesta in the cool sunshine before we said our goodbyes to our new friends at Finca Santa Elena.

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I will miss the rooster(all 6 kgs of him), the cows and calves, horses, mules and our hosts.
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Alejandro and his trusty steed stands ready to lead us back down the mountain to return home.
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After a few more stops to get pictures of parrots and other birds, and a sunset we arrived in Santa Marta where the wind is still blowing hard.

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As always, happy to be home but have so enjoyed this excursion into Colombia and its people. May be sore tomorrow from our uphill climb but will recommend this to everyone. Soon we will be moving on towards San Blas and Panama–when the wind lightens a little. Hope all is well with our family and friends. Enjoy each day that you have!!

Colorful Cartagena Colombia February 2015

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View of city from Castillo of San Felipe

Cartagena is one of the most colorful and beautiful cities I have been to. I mean the old walled city of Cartagena where we spent our time and stayed. We found a card at the marina with this Hostal’s info so we headed straight for there. We decided to take a bus instead of sailing there for many reasons. The bus ride was half a day and showed us the countryside as well . The anchorage in Cartagena is dirty and not very good as well as expensive for clearing in/out.

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The whole city has about one million people living in it. It reminded us a lot of old San Juan in Puerto Rico. The actual area is not large and can be walked easily in a day and explored in a few days. So off we went.  Narrow streets, lots of balconies, pigeons, squares, sculptures and paintings, things for sale like fruit, hats, beer, arrebas and various street foods. Overwhelming amount of color, smell, sounds and peoples!

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We found a tour guide on the internet by the name of Edgar who advertised Free Walking Tours. So we met him at the Naval Museum along with 6 other English speaking tourists and had a wonderful 2 hour explanation of the city. I highly recommend him and he works for the tips he receives.

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The wall around the city has great views and turrets, guns and peekholes throughout. Great places to watch the sunset or go for the breezes.

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People watching is part of the experience of visiting this city. The plazas offer music, dancing, children playing, lounging.

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Another colorful attraction to the city are the ladies named Palenqueras, all dressed in colors of Colombia wearing bowls of fruits on their heads and big smiles on their faces.

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We noticed that many of the doors featured door knockers on large wooden doors. Edgar our guide explained that the knocker indicate the profession of the owner or his lineage such as royalty had iguana, or owl for academics, etc.

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The plazas and squares come alive after dark. Musicians with guitars stroll playing and singing, people dressed up, horse and carriages readied for a romantic ride through the streets.  Street food continues to be sold and we sampled lots of fried things, dough, cheese, chorizo, candies made of coconut and sesames. This was taken by 2 Colombian men who spoke good english and shared a meal with us while we grilled them about Colombia and its cultures. Loved it all….and felt safe!

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Hat sellers were everywhere, we needed a good covering as it was hot so we each got new hats. Hard to keep them on though in the breeze.  He was such an enthusiastic salesman we could not resist him.

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On our way out of town we walked across the bridge to visit the Castillo de San Felipe which was built to protect the city from attack from the mainland. It has beautiful views from the top but was very hot. It also  has miles of tunneling which has been opened and preserved.

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Just a quick word about the trip by bus. The country is flat here, arid, dusty, monochromatic mostly but the people are lively, friendly, but speak very little English. We managed to communicate ok though with our Spanglish and gestures.  A smile goes a long way!

We crossed the Rio Magdalena which is the huge river system that goes 700 miles up towards Bogota. The pictures are taken out of the bus window.  Imagine sailing on this dugout with a big plastic tarp sail.

 

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The buses were clean, air-conditioned and cheap.Frequently the driver will stop to allow a seller on the bus for a few miles to sell the passengers everything from soup to nuts.   The traffic is a conglomeration of motorbikes, bikes, donkey pulling carts, cars of all sizes but mostly taxis, buses of all sizes and trucks. The cacophony of the traffic is loud.

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We were happy as always to get back to Maraki and find her safe and sound.  We want to do a bit more exploring as we wait for a weather window to head westward again. Hope you have enjoyed Cartagena as much as we did. Let me know if the size of the pictures caused you troub

Santa Marta Colombia February 2015

The 350 miles downwind sail was one we were carefully picking out our weather. This stretch of water along Colombia had caused us problems and ripped sails in 1993 when we were first setting out for Panama and our circumnavigation. Now we know this is one of the windiest areas in the Caribbean and even in the world. So we did our research and involved Chris Parker from a weather service to look ahead. We also wondered about the decision to go to Colombia but found lots of positive writeups from previous cruisers. We headed off from Curacao knowing we could stop at Aruba if need be.

A pod of pilot whales accompanied us that first evening. They played in the waves and around the bow wake similarly to dolphins but much bigger and with a very blunt face. Here I am communing with them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey must have been good luck for us as we set off at a good pace. We did the first 170 miles in 24 hours sailing past Aruba during the night at 8 knots in flat water. There was a offshore anchorage with about 20 ships all at anchor and lit up like hotels.

Fishing as always underway is part of the entertainment as well as dinner. Caught a great big male Mahi Mahi and we are still eating it.

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In the area near Santa Marta we lost the wind entirely for a few hours. We needed a charge anyway as the wind vane had stopped working and the autopilot was doing the job. John would be able to fix it but not underway. We neared the Colombia coast near Santa Marta and the 5 capes. We had hoped to be able to see the 2 snow covered  18,000 foot peaks just inland of us but no luck. We did decide that this would be a great place for us to stop for the night in a bay in Tayrona National Park. No one else here except a few fisherman on shore. We were a bit surprised to find the hills so brown.

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The fisherman was out early to put out more pots in his dug out canoe and paddles. He moved the boat very quickly. No lights came on at night in the 3 small huts on the shore.

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Next morning we sailed the 12 miles around into Santa Marta. Anchoring is only allowed by special request from Port Authority so we have to go to the Marina. It is a busy cargo port and we have enjoyed watching many ships come in right along side the marina breakwalls.
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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMaraki in one of the rare times she gets to be pampered with fresh water rinses. We were expecting the weather to change and it did blow up to 45 knots the next few nights. We were happy to be inside the breakwall. This is a brand new marina and very nicely done. They also have just now started using agents to help with the clearing in process. This was one of the worries coming here- how would officialdom treat us. So far as has come smoothly although a bit expensive.

Santa Marta is the second oldest city in South America, started in 1525. Simon Bolivar died here.Its twin sister is Miami Beach. It is a moderate sized city(450,000) and very interesting place. Here we are walking the waterfront beside the marina.

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Wonderful fresh fruit stands as well as every other kind of street food available. Can be bought whole or cut up served with a fork and plastic cover. Love this.  Everything can be bought or fixed in this city, even baby chicks in crates.

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We took a day trip up into the hillside above Santa Marta to a small village called Minca.(Pop. 500). I wish I had a picture of the car taxi that took us plus We made it 2500 feet up in just under an hour on a narrow, potholed dirt road. He dropped off the feedbags all along the way. From here we loaded onto to the back of motorbikes to travel another 40 minutes uphill to Los Pinos for the overview of Santa Marta region. Hugo and his master Vladamir were the only people up here. He said he was the caretaker for a hostel now undergoing renovation. He had his coffee drying as well as his marijuana.
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We then sent the motorbikes away and wandered our way down back down to Minca over the next 5 hours. We heard lots of howlers in the mountains. We had hoped to see those snow capped peaks from here but no luck again. We needed to be here first thing in the morning instead of midday.
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So the road down was an easy walk(except on the quads) and we saw no one. We took along a picnic lunch and stopped at this coffee picking station.

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Here are some of the wildlife seen on the way down.

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On the way down we stopped to visit a coffee plantation(La Victoria) on the hillside. We had heard they gave a great tour so we detoured 15 minutes off the path to see.
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The plantation was started in 1892 by an Englishman who brought all of his equipment with him from England. It still runs without using any electricity instead running all the machinery and processes using water from the river and springs in the mountainside.
Jaime, a young women who was born and raised on the plantation gave us a great tour. Her english skills were good and were all learned on the internet. Made me ashamed of our Spanish skills.

She told us that the pickers pick usually from October to December but were very late this year. 120 men were employed around to maintain and process. They were paid by the amount of coffee they picked per day. the coffee is sent down from the mountain using water and pipes. Water then moves it into fermentation bins for 24 hours. Then using water power it is husked and sorted. All the grade A beans are dried by dryer for 36 hours(7000 kilos at a time). The husks and rejected beans are composted, left with worms and then sprouted. When they are 30 cm tall they are planted into the ground with mango and avacado trees to give them shade.

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We bought some beans to try them at home.

Now it was time to finish our wander back to Minca and catch the last taxi collectivo to town. Minca was a one intersection town.

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It was a great day and our legs were sore from all the downhill walking. Off next to Cartagena for a few days.