Into South America: Week 5


With a "friendly" Cartagena cabbie.

With a “friendly” Cartagena cabbie.

When we last left off, I had just arrived for a brief stay in the walled city of Cartagena. I made the most of my day there, walking around the castle, and different parts of the city, after befriending yet another policeman who helped me get my bearings. It was so hot though. I was had by a very smooth talking Morgan Freeman look-alike who offered me a walking tour. Well we did walk, but he really didn’t tell me much (e,g. “that’s a church”). He would also walk me into places to shop where he clearly already had agreements in place, but after awhile he got the message that I wasn’t buying. He really had only one thing in his mind, and that was to see how much money he could extract from me. The whole experience was disappointing and I found him to be disingenuous and insincere, although he was very, very good at reading people.

First mate Janeiro

First mate Janeiro

I headed to the marina for about 5:30 pm to board the Gitano del Mar, a 47-foot catamaran, for five-day trip to Panama. Captain David, a Frenchman, briefly went over some rules, introduced the crew Janeiro (first mate), and Luis (cook). Fourteen passengers in all including me, all

Luis, our chef.

Luis, our chef.

early twenties to early thirties from Sweden, Great Britain, Holland, and a bunch from Australia. More on them later. Oh…and Mystico, the boxer, who lives on the boat.

imageAll our shoes were taken as we boarded because no one wears shoes on the boat, which makes sense. I did not realize then that my feet would not be dry again until five days later. There is no ice on board, or anywhere in San Blas as it turned out, so all drinks would be luke warm at best from now on. Then our main bags were stowed for the trip (we all packed and kept only a day pack for the trip), dinner was served, and we were shown our very modest quarters. I had a small space on the port side, about 2×6 feet, in a small corridor connecting to small rooms. This will be like camping on a boat, I thought. It also felt a little like being on Survivor. Part of me was also panicking, wondering how I would ever survive five days on this relatively small boat, with all these people that I have very, very little in common with.

The boat gently pulled away, all of us perched on different parts of the deck admiring the night view of Cartagena behind us, and the spectacular lightning show ahead of us, way in the distance. Then I helped the crew hoist the main sail, and we were off on our sailing voyage! I sat over the edge of the bow and noticed a bunch of glowing dots in the churning water. It was some kind of plankton apparently that glows when it’s disturbed. Really cool.

Then it started to rain a little, so we all moved to the seating/dining area in the stern. Then it rained harder and the sea got a little rougher, so we battened down the hatches. Hmm…not quite so cool now, but just another part of the adventure. I really should have taken their advice and picked up some sea sickness pills, I thought.

Then everyone started disappearing to bed, most not looking so good. I tried to go to bed as well, but could not sleep for hours. Not because I was in a tiny little bunk. Not because there was some water dripping on me. Mostly because we had sailed directly into the eye of this storm. Thunder and lightning crashed around us. The boat was rolling front to back and side to side, and crashing into huge waves. With every heave and crash, I could hear and feel the entire structure groaning, and I was sure the boat would break apart. I could hear the captain and crew screaming instructions to each other through the wind and the rain. I could also hear alarms going off every few seconds. This can’t be normal. It all felt like a movie. It was a long, scary night, but I finally drifted off, sometime in the wee hours of Thursday morning, thinking “please Jesus take the wheel.” And he did.

Things were still rough, but not so stormy the next morning. We had, in fact, sailed through a severe storm, and there were some equipment malfunctions that the crew had to cope with. The 30 knot winds were much more that the usual 5-10 on crossings over the last several months. “Like a lake,” was how our captain described the crossings of the past several months. Not today though. Everyone on board spent the second day napping, sitting quietly, and/or vomiting. But I felt some level of group cohesion kick in. Check out this clip.

Captain David

Captain David

I spotted flying fish off the bow all day long. And out of nowhere, many miles from shore, a bird landed on our boat, sat in our hands for a few minutes, and then flew off.

I still found it quite bumpy and it took time to adjust to the constant rocking and lurching of the boat. I bumped my head and fell a few times over the first day or two, but eventually started to find my sea legs. I was fortunate that I never got sick though. And once I made it through that first night, I thought I had probably weathered the worst. Another very stuffy night in the cabin, but the seas were not as rough as the first night, and I slept quite well.

Before we left, the captain had explained the “gypsy toilet,” which essentially involves hanging off the back of the boat and urinating…while the boat is moving! The toilets were not very nice places to be–tiny, basic, and smelly, but I thought there is no way in hell I will be hanging off the back of this boat! But by about day 3, I had found my balance, and was really enjoying the whole gypsy toilet experience. And also by day 3, I had figured out everyone’s name, and had connected at some level with everyone. By day 3, I could really feel a relaxed, nautical groove kicking in. Check out this clip.

Sunny skies, after weathering they storm.

Sunny skies, after weathering they storm.

We were supposed to hit the San Blas islands early on day 3 (Friday), but the crossing took us much longer than expected with a heavy head wind the entire trip. In fact, we set a record for the longest crossing in this boat…about 44 hours. We finally spotted a few birds, and then land in the early afternoon, which was so exciting. I now have a glimpse of how it must have been for sailors hundreds of years ago, who were at sea for months at a time, to finally spot land. Around 4 pm we pulled in between three small islands and dropped anchor. The clouds finally parted and the sun came out as the day wound down. And boy did we need the sun by then!image

Everyone jumped off the boat, basking in the stunning surroundings and warm sunshine. We swam to one of the islands, drank some fresh coconut milk, bought a bunch of fresh lobster, and Luis, our chef, cooked a delicious dinner. The party was going strong, but I was exhausted, so I moved to the front of the boat, away from the noise, and drifted off to sleep lying on the net between both hulls, watching the sky, a few shooting stars, and listening to the water lap gently against the boat. Magic.

IMG_0584IMG_0581We woke up to a beautiful sunny day on Saturday, and after breakfast and a quick swim, we headed off for a leisurely ride to a few more islands where we dropped anchor, swam, snorkelled around the stunning reef…all kinds of fish, even a stingray, and visited a few more islands. There are almost 400 islands that make up San Blas which run along much of the Caribbean side of the Panamanian coast. They are owned and inhabited by the Kuna Indonesian people, part of Panama, but with some cultural independence, and very different from mainland Panamanians. Some islands are small enough to fit a single coconut tree, others might take you 5 or 10 minutes to walk the perimeter.

Greeted by the Kuna

Greeted by the Kuna

imageSome of our gang swam over to a nearby island and spent the day there. I had proposed to our captain and passengers that we give the entire crew the evening off, and that we eat “out” at one of the nearby islands. Everyone loved the idea, so off we went for a traditional Kuna dinner of lobster and tuna. We ate, drank, toasted the crew, and enjoyed each other’s company. And the crew were thrilled with some time off, with Luis saying at one point that he didn’t know what to do with himself.


A side note again about coconuts (yes I know I seem to be quite obsessed with them). I have mentioned that I have often wondered how many people die every year from falling coconuts. Well, walking around that Kuna island today, a big heavy coconut fell from a tree only about 10 feet away from me! Definitely not the way I want to go!image

Everyone since day 1 had been putting on their music at different times…some really good stuff I had never heard before which was fun. I hadn’t bothered putting any of my own stuff on. But I did have a few ideas brewing as we headed back to the boat on that 4th night, and a few people had learned of my musical background and asked me to play that night. So I came out of DJ retirement for a few hours Saturday night, and I rocked the boat! A wild party ensued with everyone screaming, dancing, and laughing, well into the wee hours. I felt another groove kick in as passengers and crew saw a different side of me that perhaps they had not imagined. And it was fun for me to let that side of me run wild for awhile. Got my MoJo workin’ now.

One side note about Australians…I had heard how they like to party, but this bunch of Ozzie blokes were wild, wild men. I had no idea. It reminded me of some of my younger days. I can’t and don’t want to run like that anymore, but it was very interesting to observe, and “gently” partake.

To bead or not to bead...

To bead or not to bead…

The trip was supposed to end Sunday afternoon, but because the crossing had taken so long, the captain offered to extend it to Monday morning which was very kind. Sunday morning the weather was looking threatening again, and we were moving early while everyone slept. Well, mostly everyone. We dropped anchor next to a small island with a tiny landing strip that serves as a Panamanian immigration for San Blas. Our bleary-eyed, rag-tag crew all marched in, got our passports stamped, and swam or dinghied back to the boat where we continued out magical mystery tour of San Blas. We dropped anchor between two new islands surrounded by reef, went snorkelling (with small sharks!), swam, and relaxed for the rest of the day, with many of our group napping and nursing very sore heads. The crew worked for hours to put on a special final dinner for us: seafood ceviche appetizer, followed by fish tacos and sushi made with fresh caught tuna! Captain David spun a few very cool tunes, the crew picked up their percussion instruments and started to groove, and Luis and I had an impromptu little jam session.

For the final night of the trip, we had made arrangements to have a bonfire on the island next to us and meet up with passengers and crew from another boat, as well as the local Kuna inhabitants. Check out this clip of captain David showing off his great balls of fire!

imageI was hoping for a quiet night to try to catch up on sleep and be ready for a big travel day on Monday, but it was not to be. The Ozzies had arranged a rum run to restock, and had every intention of going out with a bang. So I stopped resisting the flow and just went with it. And I was very, very touched when back on board they had all got together and decided I was “Best On Vessel,” and made a big show of announcing it. And then it felt like the generation gap narrowed a whole bunch. I heard lots of “Good on ya, John-o!” This was followed many shaking of hands, slaps on shoulders, hugging, more music and singing, and general all around merriment until the wee hours, as the lightning rumbled around the night sky.

Another thing I noticed repeatedly about the Ozzies, or at least this group of lads anyway…they laugh easily, whole heartedly, and often. I loved their sense of humour and would spend hours enjoying their banter. Often very crude, but always very sharp, witty, and very clever. I found it to be quite entertaining, and really enjoyed listening to the banter.

IMG_0572Overall the experience was very challenging (mentally and physically), cramped, stuffy, hot, smelly, basic, loud, wet, and potentially dangerous if you do not have your wits about you, particularly during the 30-45 hour crossing. It is not a trip for everyone. But it was also awe inspiring, exciting, expansive, and peaceful. I loved all of it, on so many levels, and it is without a doubt a trip I will never forget. I did not completely click or connect with everybody, but I did with many, at different points on the journey. With some the connection happened early in the trip, some right at the end. And some not really in any meaningful way. Sometimes it’s just not meant to be. But the intention and the effort was there. The trip forced me wide open, perhaps more open and flexible than I have ever been.

The whole island hopping part of the trip was fun and beautiful, and they are certainly quite unique. Many people have referred to San Blas as paradise on earth. I would not characterize them this way, although I’m not sure I would recognize paradise if I found it. Lots more soul searching to do on this clearly.

A final note regarding our crew. Although I have nothing to compare them to, I have heard horror stories about bad and incompetent captains and/or crew on other crossings. Captain David, Janeiro, and Luis were superb. Flexible and professional and always looking for ways to improve the experience for the passengers. I was really, really impressed with these guys and am very grateful for everything they did. I am also grateful to all the passengers who shared their week with me and made it such a memorable trip. Check out this clip from Captain David.

imageMonday morning we packed up quickly, said out goodbyes to the crew, and were picked up by another boat to the mainland where we were met by a few SUVs for the hilly and quite spectacular 3-hour drive to Panama City, where we all dispersed to various hostels. In my case, I continued on to the bus station, in a bit of a daze, where I continued on another 5 hours to the Azuero peninsula in South Panama, finally stopping in Las Tablas. I started my day on the Caribbean and ended my day on the Pacific Ocean, or very close to it. But I felt really tired and travel weary on this day.

Woke up Tuesday morning in Las Tablas feeling like death warmed over and still had wobbly sea legs. What the hell am I doing here, I thought, a feeling that comes over me every few days since I have been on the road. I did not feel good about this place, and I felt like a fish out of water, and that people were looking at me funny. But I suspect it had little to do with the town, and everything to do with me. As I am, so is the world. That lesson is becoming clear.

After a shave and shower, I felt a little more human and decided to continue South to Pedasi to get closer to the ocean. With the help of a few locals, I found a “collectivo” (mini bus) nearby. I know I must have looked like I needed help at that point, and the Canada flag on my bag didn’t hurt. I crammed into the hot bus with all my stuff and about 15 other locals and after about 20 minutes, off we went. I tried to wait outside the bus until we were ready to leave, but I was able to somehow figure out from the driver that it doesn’t work like that. You have to be in your seat or risk losing it if someone else takes it. A little strange. It was only a short trip to Pedasi, and I am happy to say, after five weeks, I have finally landed in a quaint little chill beach town of only about 2,000 people! I stayed at Dim’s, a really nice, clean hostel opposite a grocery store and a tourism agency. Perfect! There are many quality restaurants and shops, and quite a large Canadian and American community here.

imageAfter quickly settling in at Dim’s, I popped into Smiley’s, a decent looking restaurant right next door for a quick bite. They had a full musical set up, and an older dude was fiddling with the sound board, so I asked him if he was leader of the band. “Do you play,” he asked. “No…but I sing,” I replied. Then he asked me to sing with the band, who just happened to be playing that very night. And that’s exactly what I did! We performed a couple of songs together, including the slinkiest, coolest, most laid back versions of Honky Tonk Woman I have ever done. And zero rehearsal time with these guys. I just dropped right into their groove, and let it rip. A very talented bunch of guys who play so loosely, yet are so tight! It was a pleasure to share a stage with them, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity. From feeling crappy in the morning, to singing with a bunch of locals in Pedasi…I certainly could not have predicted this day. You never know what’s around the corner.

‘Til next week,


With Smiley's House Band...what a night!

With Smiley’s House Band…what a night!

Into South America: Week 4

image When I signed off last week, one of my biggest frustrations was not being able to speak the language. So certainly one of my biggest giggles this past week was being asked at a cafe to be a translator between the cashier and an Australian couple…OMG…the irony!! But I managed to help them. I have also been complemented on my Spanish accent which I find very hard to believe.

Wednesday I spent the day getting my tooth reconstructed by a very good dentist in Medellin (pronounced medajeen), and getting to know the area of El Poblado. Very hip and modern part of the city, with lots of beautiful hotels, restaurants and shops. Very first world, and they know what they’re doing. I also switched hostels, moving right next door for half the price. I had heard of another spot, the Black Sheep Hostel run by a New Zealander, so made arrangements to move there for Thursday and Friday. It’s a very popular spot with young people…so I fit right in (well sort of, not really)! They had a tour going out Thursday, so a signed up for that.

With Rafael

With Rafael

There was an interesting mix of Canadians, Americans, British, Australian, and Dutch. All early twenties. We all piled into a big blue bus, led by Rafael, a local 30-something dude. He and I looked at each other and connected, an immediate transfer of powerful positive energy that was way beyond language. Lots more to say about him.

A troubled bridge over water, in Guatapa

A troubled bridge over water, in Guatapa

The destination for the day was Guatape, about two hours North East of Medellin. But as it turned out, the destination didn’t really matter. There was strong positive energy on that bus right from the get go…singing, dancing, and laughing all the way (ha, ha, ha). Check out this video from about 1 hour in. Samuel, a young musician jumped on the bus and played some tunes for us for awhile. We then jumped off a rickety bridge, that was certainly higher than it looked, at least to me when I was preparing to jump. Check out this clip.

imageThen we arrived at Guatape and climbed a HUGE rock (740 stairs to the top!), that looks like it has absolutely no business being there. About half way up there is a statue of the Virgin Mary. There is a Spanish sign on her that reads “please don’t touch the virgin,” which I thought was very funny, although I was too tired to laugh at the time. imageAfter the climb Raffy prepared a home-made picnic lunch for us. On the way back we stopped at a few quaint little towns along the way. I also got to chat with Raffy about all kinds of things: the people of Colombia, drug wars, how Pablo Escobar basically ran the country, how that was solved, and how the solution may be worse than problem, why most women here get boob and/or lip and/or other cosmetic surgery, and much more. Raffy has no formal education, but is a very wordly wise man. He spent about 10 years travelling South America in his teens and twenties, before settling down and having kids. This has given him a perspective on life and people that no school can ever teach you. At the end of the tour, Raffy invited me to join him the next day to visit the central market and run some errands, so of course I accepted. This turned out to be an incredibly rich day, beyond anything I could have ever predicted.

He picked me up this morning and we toured the central market, a very different experience because I was with a local. Some random dude stopped and wanted to talk to me…he saw that I wan’t local and was interested. Great chat with him about life and people of Colombia. Had lunch there, and then a massive wind and rain and thunder and lightning storm hit. They say they haven’t seen this kind of rain in 20 years. One of the waitresses thought I was Santa Clause. Now, I realize I have a slightly bigger belly than when I left Canada, but Santa Clause? Seriously? Although I remain a gringo, so far it feels a little different in Colombia…many more people seem interested in the fact that I am not from there.

Pancho gringo

Pancho gringo

Then he invited me to his place for the night. I hesitated at first…the unknown…but then figured I could not experience life in Colombia in a better way, and simply could not say no. So we picked up his wife, one of his kids, and drove about an hour up and through the mountains to his place, where I spent the night. He has a small hostel of his own there, right next to where he lives with his wife and kids. We spent the evening chatting, having a few drinks, listening to music, and enjoying each other’s company, high in the mountains, with a spectacular view of the full moon and lightning storms rumbling around in the distance. I will always remember his kindness and generosity of spirit. Here’s a short clip.

Saturday, Raffy drove me back to the hostel where I packed up and headed to the airport for a quick hop to Santa Marta on the North coast. I had booked a few days earlier with Viva Colombia, a local discount airline. Although the entire experience from buying tickets to boarding is a bit of a shit show, it turned out to be a very lively flight. I got the sense that very few of these folks had flown before, and most of the 200+ on board seemed to be having the time of their lives, finishing the flight with a raucous round of applause. It was surprisingly refreshing, so much so that I almost didn’t mind all the kids crying and screaming, and being treated like cattle.

imageI was in a window seat next to a small boy and his mum (Jennifer). The husband was sitting two rows up. It was clearly a thrill to be flying for both of them, so I offered them the window seat, and suggested ways for them to deal with the pressure change. I also gave the small boy a Canada pin. (As a side note, I always travel with these now…people everywhere really appreciate this small gift, and you can get a bunch for free from your local MP office). Once the husband (John Freddy) got wind of this, he was so happy and appreciative…you’d think I’d bought him a house! He kept shaking my hand and thanking me. Then he wanted to take a bunch of pictures as we were heading for the exits. We were holding everyone up, but no one seemed to mind, and seemed to be as happy and excited about all this as he was!

I seem to be surrounded by lots of positive energy lately, especially the last few days, and everywhere I go it seems. Not sure how or why, but something is definitely happening. Maybe it’s the full moon.

Feeling more comfortable and confident, I decided to take the bus from the airport, and save some money to boot. Beautiful drive at sunset along the coast. I showed the driver the address and he told me where to get off about 20 minutes later. So out I went, quite proud of myself, walking up and down 21st street, but could not find the hostel. Turns out he let me off in the wrong city! Santa Marta was another 20 minutes up the road! Bad man….apparently they often do this to save time and money. With the help of a friendly local, I hopped a cab to Santa Marta.

I was greeted at the Aluna hotel by Luis, who was reading the bible. When I told him my name was Jonathan, he looked at the bible, and then again at me, and made a connection. Not sure if he caught it when I jokingly tried to explain that Jonathan means “gift from God.” Beautiful little hotel, run by Patrick, an Irishman. These Irish seem to be everywhere! Very peaceful and orderly place though. They clearly care about their clients and surroundings, and I love that. It doesn’t matter to me how fancy it is, as long as someone cares.

Santa Marta is a fairly big town of about 700,000. Geographically it’s a very interesting spot where mountains, beach, and jungle meet. So far, very good vibe in this town, but it’s really hot and humid. And on my first night here, I had the best meal of my trip, and perhaps the best fish dish I have ever had. I think it was sea bass, with an interesting combination of veggies…contrasting yet complementary flavours. And mercifully, no rice. At $13, it was expensive compared to what I have become accustomed to the last few weeks, but cheap compared to what you pay at home. I don’t usually write much about food, but this meal was exquisite. I also tried a new drink…beer, rum, sugar, and lime, with salt around the rim. I am not much of a beer drinker anymore, but this drink was delicious and totally refreshing!

Sunday I made the journey into the national park, Tayrona…tropical rainforest, snow-capped mountains and hugged by the Caribbean Sea. The journey started with a cab ride with Irving, the cabbie. We were at a very busy intersection waiting to turn left. There was a guy on a motorbike ahead of us, in the middle of the intersection, on the phone, completely oblivious to everyone around him. “Idiota,” I said (I had learned that with Raffy). Well, Irving roared with laughter for the next five minutes, like this was the funniest thing he had ever heard! Then a 90-minute bus ride in a local “collectivo” to the entrance of the park. Then a short ride in a jam-packed mini bus to where the hike in would begin. Here is a short clip.

imageA fairly easy hike I guess by most standards, but I found it quite tough through the jungle in the 45 Celsius heat. Eventually the trail led to the Atlantic Ocean (dangerous, not swimmable), and continued North along the coastline to Cabo San Juan…about 2 hours hike in total. The trail and park and ocean…all stunning. But the experience was marred for me by the people who work in the park…from the ticket person at the front gate, to the shuttle drivers, to the restaurant staff in Cabo. They are all fully aware that they are the only game in town and treat the visitors with complete indifference. But I did enjoy the surroundings, and when I finally arrived at swimmable beaches, they were magnificent. Beach, jungle, and mountains…all in one spot. I wondered again, as I have many times before when looking up at palm trees: how many people die each year from coconuts falling on their heads? I think I must have been quite delirious.

Lots of young folk here from all over the world. Most people camp in the park or rent a hammock. I was not in the mood to stay overnight, but neither was I looking forward to hiking all the way back for the return journey. So I was very happy when I discovered that I could take a high speed boat back from Cabo to Taranga, close to Santa Marta. The 4 pm departure didn’t leave til 5, and the boat crew were rude and condescending. Again…the only game in town, and they knew it. During the trip back, I tried to push all that negativity away and enjoy the bumpy ride and the spectacular scenery as we made our way West along the wild coastline. Big, fast, safe looking boat, but I was a little concerned when the old dude in the front whose job was to hold the anchor in place and watch the water made the father/son/Holy Ghost sign as we were leaving. But watching the crew do their thing, I did end up appreciating their expertise, even though I had trouble shaking this heavy energy. When we arrived at Taranga, even the dogs picked up on it and were barking madly at me. Very rare, that. Even rarer that I barked back.

I am annoyed with myself that I allowed other people to affect my park experience.

With Luis, like we have been friends forever.

With Luis, like we have been friends forever.

I finally made it back to Aluna Hostel, and was greeted again by Luis, this time very warmly. Not that he was cold before, but something shifted, and it felt like we were old friends. A beautiful spirit, he has. I told him of some of the day’s frustrations and he apologized on behalf of Colombians. He then said ” tu es un persona mas elegante” (or something like that). I was surprised because I certainly did not feel very elegant. But certainly an nstant energy shift. I then ventured out into the town, which was very quiet compared to the night before. Everything was closed and most of the streets were very quiet. I had a quick bite at a cafe I had discovered the night before…another beautiful meal…fresh, exquisitely prepared shrimp ceviche, and the best mojito I have ever had.

Also ran into a young man staying at the same hostel who was just on the Panama-Colombia sail boat crossing. And on the same catamaran I will be on in three days. And at the park today, I ran into a young woman who was on the Ecuadorian jungle tour with me a week or so ago. What are the odds?

On Monday I decided to head to Minca to visit a coffee operation in the mountains. After a short cab ride to the market I found the SUV headed to Minca. I sat around for about 20 minutes with two other people, and with no sign that we were leaving, I lost patience and got up to leave. Then there was some action, and agreed to pay a little more to leave right away (a gringo surcharge?). I learned that if you behave like a wallflower here, you will be ignored.

With Louis and our two very good bike drivers.

With Louis and our two very good bike drivers.

I met a young guy from France who was going to the same place, and he could speak Spanish, so we joined forces and spent the rest of the day together. After 45 minutes up the mountain in an SUV, then another 20 on the back of a motorbike on a very bad road (imagine the, err, challenges with my ongoing intestinal problems?) we finally arrived in one piece. The scenery on the way up was spectacular as we climbed into the clouds, through massive bamboo and other trees. And the air was pure and much more comfortable.

Great coffee farm tour with Jaime...bean there!

Great coffee farm tour with Jaime…bean there!

Then a very interesting and private tour of the coffee facility, where the whole 6-day process was explained, from harvesting to washing, cleaning, drying, and roasting. Made me wonder again, not for the first time, who could possibly have initially figured this out thousands of years ago. Our guide, Jaime, said that legend has it that it started in Ethiopia. Some farmers noticed cows eating the berries and then acting strangely. So they got rid of the berries by throwing them into the fire. And then noticed how good it smelled. I have no idea if this is true, but it sounds plausible.

Then it started to rain and we still had to go back down by bike which worried me. They were good drivers, but still…the road was very bad, and now getting slick and very wet. I was anxious, but at a certain point I started saying to myself “Jesus take the wheel.” And I guess he did.

imageStopped for lunch (the dogs were MUCH friendlier today) and then coffee, and listened to Louis chat up a young Dutch woman running the coffee shop on the science of sex. A long chat. Ahhh…the French! He also told me a little trick he uses to help travelling intestinal issues…he drinks a bottle a day, and swears it kills everything! And I’m ready to try almost anything! Then a long drive back by car this time, spending about an hour driving down the rest of the mountain in 1st gear!

Then back to the hostel where I chatted with Patrick the Irish owner we had been here for about 14 years. He explained how things used to be in Colombia: government, drug cartels, guerillas, how thousands of people were murdered, and how the clean up process began. I still find it quite incredible how quickly Colombia has gone from very dangerous to very livable.

Overall, Santa Marta is chaotic, dirty, poor, and by and large the people are not as open and friendly as other parts of the country. It’s also very loud everywhere, like everyone is desperate to be heard. When I am not well rested, I find it quite draining. And the oppressive heat takes its toll on me. I get the expression “crazy from the heat.” It must also have long-term affects on the people who live here. But almost without exception when I had the energy and patience to push through all that, I could feel temperaments and attitudes changing for the better, and overall I really quite enjoyed them. Despite all the issues I ran into, I don’t regret coming here.

Tuesday I left Santa Marta for the 4+ hour bus ride West to Cartagena where I will begin a five-day sailing trip by catamaran to Panama, through the famous San Blas islands. I met with captain David Tuesday night, and honestly I’m not quite sure what I have gotten myself into here. They are all 20 something, and I am definitely the oldest by far. Not sure how relaxing it will be, but I suppose I must approach this like another adventure. I must keep an open mind. The French captain seemed to be a bit scattered at first, but I chatted with him and feel he is competent, and we connected in French. No real opinion yet on Cartagena…feeling my usual discombobulation when I first arrive somewhere new. And I have arrived here at Carnival time so everything is louder and more insane than usual. I have already been bumped by a bunch of prostitutes who tried to pickpocket me, but I was ready for them. Sorry ladies…not this gringo.

‘Til then,