Dynamite Dean at Last

Friday, February 26, 2010

In a country where transport between places is almost always an 8-12 hour excursion, it's tempting to take advantage of the night bus. You hop on, sleep, wake up, and you're there. Admittedly you are not liable to sleep as well as in a hostel, but at the same time you also save a night's accommodation. The problems only become apparent when you are on a night bus that is raided by guerrillas (much more likely than in the day though still pretty unlikely) or when you look out the window on a drive from Bogota to Armenia in the daytime. The scenery was spectacular, reminding me at times of northern Laos and at other times of Guatemala, both of which rank simply as stunning. So, with music playing, the 8.5 hours to Armenia passed relatively quickly. I was there primarily to visit a friend of mine, Katie, from something called Pacific Challenge that I had taken part in a few years ago running across New Zealand and Australia. She is now teaching in Colombia for a couple years and I was looking forward to the chance to catch up with her again.

I had her address in hand and got in a cab at the bus terminal then got off at her apartment in the nicer area of town. It's a funny feeling climbing the stairs several flights to find a familiar face from a long time ago looking at you and looking exactly the same as when you said goodbye in Sydney a few weeks shy of three years ago. It's crazy how time flies but we had no problems chatting like old times and discussing them as well. Two of her friends, Andrea and Shauna, a fellow Oregonian and Canadian respectively, came by and we drank tetra-packed wine and ate Colombian-style pizza while refreshing the website with the most up to date score on the Canada-Germany Olympic hockey game. It was a nice and relaxing evening and much needed after all the running around with Phil throughout February. The next day I contemplated an excursion to nearby Salento and the wax palms that grow in the clouds there but vetoed it when I left my room and saw NOBODY. A place entirely to myself (Katie was at work) was too good for a traveler to pass up and I spent the day relaxing around the house and, if truth be told, trying to find a way to stream the next Olympic hockey game live.

Katie came home around 5 PM and I had not succeeded in my task but it had been a great day nonetheless. We headed out for Mexican food with Andrea and her husband, Jon, who I understand is a mad Simpsons/Curb Your Enthusiasm/Seinfeld quoter, but the only quotes I heard that evening were from his students. There was a lot of talk about the school and the students which might sound exclusionary but was in reality quite fascinating. Things are definitely different here. For example, the parents are upset that in this touchy-feely culture the foreign teachers are not affectionate enough with their children. And then the very lurid exploits of a stereotypical Colombian male acted out by an 11-year old with a homemade strap-on... well, you get the idea which was completely acceptable by local standards. The differences in discipline, and even the sorts of things the kids endure from kidnapping and violent crime to transient families and more. I would love to have Katie write a guest post about her experiences here but I'd be having my own soon enough. Anyway, back to dinner, it was delicious, spicy, and again a very nice way to finish an already great day.

The next morning I headed off to Salento, right in the heart of the coffee region (Zona Cafeteria) for a day trip. Katie had said it was about a 30 minute walk and because of my usual walking pace I estimated about 20 minutes but I'd forgotten to whom I'd been talking. The walk took me almost an hour and had me doubting myself at every step. Is this REALLY the way? Soon enough I found the bus and hopped on, enjoying once again the beautiful scenery in which Armenia and Salento even moreso are set. I arrived in Salento around 11 and looked around the town plus walked up the hill to an outlook before grabbing lunch. I probably shouldn't have taken lunch just then for, delicious though it was (trout fresh from the nearby farm) I missed both the 12:00 and 1:00 jeeps into Valle de Cocora which is the heart of the wax palm forest high in the clouds. Quite surreal I hear. So, despite the late-growing hour and the darkening clouds overhead, I decided to amble around town for an hour and catch the 2:00 "Willy" jeep there. I wandered, decided it was a nice town, and all of a sudden I see a familiar face walking down the street: Raj from the Hike From Hell in Panama. We chatted for a bit and I walked back with him to his hostel for free coffee, still undecided about whether or not to take the trip. More visiting there and suddenly my watched revealed it was 1:58 and I said a hasty goodbye and ran out the door.

I turned the corner just in time to see the jeep leaving behind a trail of black exhaust and heading up into the sky. Next Willy? 3:00. Forget it, I'll have to come back which was becoming an anthem for Colombia, I hopped on the bus for Armenia and got home just before Katie did. That night they had big plans for me: an introduction to a Colombian game called Tejo (Teh-HO) which involves throwing iron 'stones' at a metal ring similar to the game of horseshoes. The key difference here is that instead of wrapping the shoe around a pole, the goal here is to land the stone on the metal ring, thereby exploding the 'dynamite' or gunpowder packets that are placed on top of it. Sound fun? It was! It took us a lot of time, several beer, and a healthy portion of Aguardiente before we gave up trying to do it from afar and got close. The Aguardiente was needed to summon the stupidity to stand close to exploding things but nobody's ears were seriously hurt. After this we retired to drinks but I refused to give up and continued my attempts from afar. At last I hit it, the only one of us to explode something from that distance, and earned my nickname of Dynamite Dean for once and for all. I should mention in fairness that Katie was kicking our collective butts at the outset but soon gave way to Andrea's beer-infused skill which even included two direct hits that didn't explode. Shauna on the other hand, was a lot of fun.

I was leaving for Cali to visit with Phil for his final days in South America the next morning but first there was one major thing to do: visit Katie's school. I got up relatively early considering the night prior and grabbed a cab for the school after a magnificent shower. Katie's school is out of town and is really more of a compound, set in the hills with many buildings and beautiful vistas everywhere. I'd arrived during the equivalent of house leagues, a week filled with competition within the school in various events and it seemed the big day was saved for last: Friday, which happened to be the day I was there. The kids were divided into colours and had to carry water balloons around all day as they climbed ladders, surfed across the field on a piece of plywood hoisted by their peers, ascended a slip and slide, ran laps, and finally crawled through a mud trench to victory. As a result, neither Katie nor Andrea had to teach that day and it was pretty much a chance to sit outside and watch Colombians doing crazy things. Which is exactly what we did. I met some of the kids, including a couple that had recently moved with their families from Ottawa and others with varying degrees of English skill. I overstepped my bounds when I attempted to invent a new chant for the poorly-named "Naranja" team that went "Na-na-naranja" and received blank stares and raised eyebrows for me effort but otherwise was quite welcomed there.

Of course the best part was a visit to Shauna's first grade class where I was thrust to the front of the class to answer questions and attempt to keep the kids somewhat orderly. Their excitement made that impossible, or I would have thought so, but Shauna had any number of methods of instituting order that impressed me immensely. The questions were everything from predictable "Why are you here?" to out of left field. For example, I have never really considered a favourite shape before. I answered triangle, because of the pyramids, and it so happened that the student in question was actually heading to Egypt for a vacation in a few weeks. One girl fell in love with my turtle chain and another asked for an autograph and overall I loved every minute of it. Thankfully I didn't have anything important to impart to them or the lack of order would have been a problem. When it was really out of hand, Shauna would step back in the room and save the day. Afterwards, we grabbed some pizza (thanks to the school for the free lunch!) and it was time for yet another goodbye. I got a lift on the back of somebody's motorbike to the highway and walked along for a kilometre or so until I figured out which bus to stop and managed to bus my way back to Katie's.

I did the dishes, cleaned up a bit, and packed my things up, doing the computer last as I'd found somewhere to grab some of the Oscar-nominated movies I wouldn't be seeing down here. As a result I managed to receive the message in time that the Iguana hotel was full but that Anabella was in town and had invited Phil and I to stay with her at her dad's house. I called them on my arrival and we decided to meet up at Iguana anyway so the next step was a cab (it was after dark and I wasn't bussing with everything I own on my back). It wasn't that far and the cab agreed to take me for 2000 so I hopped in and began immediately to regret it. He started talking about being able to get me 'girls' and he paid off some vagrant that did nothing but say to me, "Iguana, yeah" and point at the cab I was already talking to. I was getting ready for anything but we arrived there without incident until he asked me for 12000 for what was definitely not more than a 4000 peso fare. See, "dos mil" is 2000 and "doce mil" is 12000 and I definitely know the different but he tried. So I went into the hostel and asked how much it should cost and the lady told me 5000 at the MAXIMUM. I didn't want to pay him but I gave him 5000 and got rid of him then waited. Soon, or rather a fair bit later, the lady from Iguana called and said I had somebody waiting. There, outside, were Phil and Anabella waiting to take me to a part of Cali I'd probably never see on my own.

Armenia and Salento Photos

Home Free Bogota

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

We arrived at the Bogota Bus Terminal at about 9 at night, later than we would have liked but with travel times this large between places in Colombia, there wasn’t much to be done about it. Our first stop was to find a hostel, and most of them are in an area in the centre of town called Candelaria. They have a taxi stand from which to purchase fares at fixed rates which is helpful to say the least and we bought a couple and went to get in a cab. The only problem is that none of them would touch us – and specifically Phil’s surfboard – with a 6’2” pole, although none were saying that in so many words it was obvious. Why should they, after waiting in line to get a fare, have to do the extra work of securing that thing when they could turn us down and be assured the next fare anyway. So I hid him in the shadows of the terminal and found a cab to take us – after about 15 minutes of frustration. Of course when the cabbie saw the board he said there was no way to take it but I told him we’d squeezed it in many cars his size before. He incredulously opened the hatch and we showed him and all the other idiots who had refused us how it was done. We did end up paying more because there are two Candelarias in the city and we’d been given tickets for the wrong one (and had heard this from a few others before our eventual driver as well) but soon we were there in front of the Platypus hostel and happy to have an end in sight.

Of course, being that it is quite popular and also listed highly in the Lonely Planet means that it was full when we arrived but we found nearby Hostal Sue to be very friendly and he got on the phone for us and spent 15 minutes tracking down beds for us for the night. It was a nice family’s homestay though the room itself was pretty Spartan and small. They didn’t have enough beds so they put a mattress on the floor and Phil and I flipped a coin to see who’d sleep where. Enough is said about how bad the bed was that when I won the coin toss, I chose to sleep on the floor. We immediately got a hold of Maria but she was pretty wiped out from work so we were on our own for Friday night and, to be honest, we were pretty wiped out from the trip too. So we didn’t even leave the hostel to grab a bite for dinner, Phil showered and I slept. The next morning I was pretty hungry because all I’d had the day prior was a sausage on a stick and my chicken dinner lunch but first things first, we had to check out and find a hostel. We went back to Hostel Sue as they had not only been really helpful but it looked like a cool place, too, and hey, it’s my grandma’s name... done and done.

The weather was surprisingly chilly which is accounted for by the fact that, apparently, Bogota is the third highest capital city in the world clocking in at about 2700m above sea level. Add to this it was cloudy and drizzling and you have a recipe for a pretty cool reception; It was probably about 15 C. We were to meet Maria in Parque Periodistas at 12:30 so starving or not there was no time to eat and we went there and waited. And waited. 1:00 came and then 1:30 and we were shivering and hungry in the rain before Phil went to see if she had left us a message about what happened and/or to call her. 15 minutes later he was back saying there was no message but he’d called and her soccer game had been delayed and by the time she finished she figured we’d have given up waiting. I was pretty annoyed that she hadn’t even left a message but when I finally got some food in my belly and warmed up a bit I felt better. Our next step was to head north to the Bulletproof Tailor of Bogota, a man named Miguel Caballero that specializes in discreet bulletproof and knife proof clothing from jackets to suits to tailored vests that can be worn discreetly under a dress shirt. We found our way up eventually only to find it closed up for the weekend and from there we made a second attempt at calling Maria.

She lived about 10 blocks south of us and we wandered over to her building although the bizarre way in which addresses are done meant it was more search than stroll but soon we arrived. Her doorman called up for us but there was no answer. We pondered what to do and then asked him to try her cellphone but he instead called the other number again and she answered this time so we were on our way up. She looked pretty different out of backpacker context and had a really nice place. We also met her younger sister who like the others has great taste in music and also an artistic bent. However, we learned that the other sister we’d hoped to also see (Anabella) was off in San Andres Island visiting her boyfriend and thus our self-imposed deadline to catch Anabella before she flew to France had been mostly for nothing. On the other hand, we had covered (albeit very poorly) a lot of ground and made it to Bogota before Phil had to leave and with time to visit Cali after, so it was not all for nought. Maria took us out and on a little tour of the northern section of Bogota all the way through the banking district to the “T zone”, two intersecting streets filled with clubs, restaurants, bars, and pubs.

Our first stop was actually a brownie-coffee frozen drink of some name or another from the Juan Valdez coffee shop and a good long visit with Maria. I think she felt like we expected a tour guide and her to take us places but we were happy just to catch up and visit with her. I should mention before I go too far from the topic that I have drank more coffee in Colombia than I have in all the rest of my life put together. Anyway, in spite of the initial snag meeting up with her we had a great visit and soon it was time to eat so we went to a ceviche restaurant for what would be one of the most memorable meals of this trip. You may remember earlier encounters with ceviche up in Central America but if not it is basically seafood, usually raw, marinated in lime juice to wipe out any bacteria and usually served with some spices and diced veggies. For the three of us, in addition to a bottle of white wine (yeah, it was going to be a splurge night anyway), we ordered three ceviches: fish, shrimp, and a mix of grilled octopus and kalamari. For each you also had a choice from a list of about ten sauces to pair it with. So the number of combinations alone ought to keep the relatively small menu fresh for plenty of return visits.

It’s a test in memory if I can recall what we finally paired with what, but I believe we did a grilled onion, tomato, and garlic sauce for the octopus/squid, a mango salsa for the shrimp, and a Picoso picante and pepper sauce for the Corvina fish. To say all were delicious is an understatement. We took turns passing the three bowls around and I was unable to choose a favourite. The fish was tender and melt-in-your-mouth with just the right amount of spice, the shrimp and mango was a great combination if not wholly original, and well, octopus. Enough said. We sat there drinking our wine and visiting and eventually one of Maria’s friends, named Beatrice, came by that looked strikingly like Rosario Dawson. She could have been and I wouldn't have known any better but Phil was on the ball and we compared photos. Wow, what a resemblance. Eventually, her friend left and was replaced with a guy friend named David who did not, to my knowledge, resemble any stars. Yet. But he was a lot of fun and the four of us went to a cool club playing some great music although I think it was more to my liking than anybody else’s. Psycho Killer, Qu’est-ce que c’est?

It was Sunday when we went to sleep and still Sunday when we got up. The day lived up to its name: instead of the drizzle and low-flying clouds that had hovered above the city the day prior, we had a beaming sun and crystal clear skies. A quick lunch in the park and a bunch of freshly cut mango and papaya for 50 cents and we made our way up a street to a cable car and funicular rail we didn’t even know was there the day before to take advantage. They led up the mountain to a church called Montserrat that overlooked the whole of the city and this definitely improved our perception of Bogota not to mention underscored how big a place it is: somewhere between 8-10 million people call Bogota home which is easy to see when you can get out of the streets and up to a vantage point like this. Maria was supposed to let us know around 3:00 what was happening that day as there was a ‘BBQ’ for a friend’s birthday and their family had a club that they were closing for the night for this purpose. So back to the hostel where she told us she had a lot of work and would probably go a bit later and then that she would message us when and where to come.

We headed north again as that was where the party was going to be and also the area Maria lived in and wandered around for a while. Eventually it was getting to be 9:00 and we couldn’t find internet or for that matter a phone anywhere that was open so we had to ask a local to borrow his cellphone to check our email. No messages anywhere from Maria and the last bus back was fast approaching, so we cut our losses and headed back to Candelaria where we were thinking we’d meet up with Hanna, Amy, Jared, and Renee for drinks but the place they were going to be was closed so we wound up hanging out at the hostel with a couple other Canadians and some Argentinian and Chilean guys. The less said about this, the better. We found out the next day that Maria hadn’t thought she was going to stay too long and there were a lot of things going on at that party that we wouldn’t be into and she did apologize for not messaging us and asked if she could meet with us Monday evening after her work. Sure, we’d be up for that. I also called Luis and Nicolas, the former a friend of Maria & Anabella that I’d met with them in Nicaragua and the latter someone I met New Year’s Eve in Sydney however many years ago.

We headed north because we had a meeting with the Bulletproof Tailor before anything else. Today it was open but as we walked towards the building we were surprised to be confronted by security there. We were asked our business and then ushered in to the store. Now this is no ordinary store. When you enter there is nothing to see but a reception desk, so we bravely marched up to the desk and asked if it were possible to look at some of their work in the next room amidst stares of incredulity and disbelief. The man has made clothes for Obama, so two backpackers (however well dressed we were that day) are not a common occurrence. And so it was that I was looking for protective clothing for our ‘club’ back in Saskatoon and Phil was my friend along for the ride but also curious about getting a bulletproof leather jacket for his brother. The sales agents treated us very nicely and went through their clothing and the levels of protection offered. I had been wondering how they managed to make thin dress shirts bulletproof or even knife proof but it turns out that they haven’t: they’ve just made some very thin vests to wear beneath dress shirts. You can, however, get bulletproof panels sewn right into jackets, blazers, and heavier garments which was pretty cool and only ran about $300 or so. Still, discreet or not, it was too heavy to wear unless you were actually in danger of wandering into a gunfight which I hope is not the case for either of us.

From there, we went and saw Precious, an Oscar nominated movie produced by Oprah Winfrey. It’s a tragic story and the main character is unbelievably strong in the face of all sorts of wrongs, but I didn’t feel like it was anything remarkable at least in terms of cinema and I’m not sure what the Oscar nomination is for but I don’t think I’d be awarding it. I also didn’t like the fact that Oprah came up several times in the movie – it seems pretty self-serving to me to produce a movie and have them talk about you on it. Insert the following dialogue into ET and see what I mean: “ET watch Steven Spielberg movie? ET and all galactic civilizations think his movies are the best. ET loves Spielberg.” Lame? We met up with Maria after the movie and with her cousin and went for Mexican food and then ice cream at the Colombian Crepes & Waffles chain both of which were affordable and delicious. Luis had gone to a movie so we weren’t able to get a hold of him, but as we said goodbye to Maria, Nicolas showed up. It was great catching up with him, and the three of us sat and chatted about Colombia, Australia, and other things over a few beer. We didn’t get to crazy with it being a weeknight, but it was fun times and Phil and I taxi’d home around 1:30. I had to be up early to catch a bus to Armenia, about 8.5 hours away and Phil would be spending the next day or two in Bogota before meeting up with me in Cali.

Bogota Photos

Medellin and Medellout

Friday, February 19, 2010

We landed in Medellin at about 4:30, half an hour ahead of schedule. I don’t generally like to fly as I feel like I’m missing out on countryside and adventures in between hubs, but in this case it was not much more than the bus and much faster (two 1 hour flights vs 13 hours) and we were in a bit of a time squeeze with Phil’s last days looming and attempting to meet up with Maria and Anabella in Bogota before the 23rd. And anyway, I don’t feel so guilty flying within a country especially when the flight is not much more money than the bus. It’s interesting here as both of our flights took off well before the scheduled departure times although the second one was stuck in traffic in Medellin for some time. But finally we were in Medellin, or at least an hour from Medellin on the other side of the mountains. The city lies in the heart of a cauldron of green hills, towering on all sides, and we got our first view of it as the bus came over the ridge and around, looking like a crumpled piece of lettuce drizzled in Thousand Islands dressing (from the Mediterranean tiles) with most along the valley floor and splashing up the mountainsides in places. Or maybe it looked like a giant Petri dish with pink mold eating away at it. I guess it depends on what you want to see. Either way, we were on our way down to find out.

I was immediately impressed. Admittedly, we came down into the more wealthy area of the city, near Zona Rosa (or the pink zone) but the streetscaping was some of the nicest I’ve seen anywhere. Parks are all over, trees line boulevards and everything flowed really organically along the hillside with sophistication that I, in all honesty, wasn’t expecting to find. We had a card for Tiger Paw hostel and made our way there with a taxi as we had neither map nor inclination to haul Phil’s surf board on a bus. The taxis here are metered for a change which definitely helps when you don’t know how far away your destination is. Tiger Paw was a really nice hostel: the beds are incredibly comfortable, it’s clean, and it’s located in a perfect area. Drawbacks, as we would discover, were that the clientele was largely middle-aged Americans perhaps because the owner himself is an American. We didn’t find much of a social scene here which is probably the most crucial ingredient in a hostel. They had a pretty awesome looking party for Saturday where they take you out to a lake with giant karst pillars sticking out of it, put you on a boat, and you cruise around enjoying the scenery and some drinks. But not only would we not be there, the question again is who else would be on this boat.

We really didn’t have a lot of time allocated here, so the next day, tired as we were from our post-Carnaval syndrome, we set out on foot to find the metro station. We took a turn on a road we thought was a different road and wound up walking a long way towards downtown (buying a strange fruit called Grenadilla, some yogurt, and some plums from the grocery store for breakfast) before finally hopping on a bus heading in that general direction. We passed the metro station and hopped off, ironically exactly where we’d hopped off the airport shuttle though we didn’t realize it at the time. The metro system here is great, another point towards Medellin as a well-planned city. It could be more extensive but at the same time it ran along the main corridors. Additionally, because of the hills, part of the metro system is a cable car running up into the mountains which you ride at no additional cost. I think this is an ingenious way to get around, and probably a LOT cheaper than trying to lay rail and clear strips of land below or digging up the earth to put in subway.

We got off at the central square which was teeming with life and interesting buildings. We walked around the square and I decided it was finally time... for a haircut. I picked a place and they took me upstairs and for 7000 ($3.50) they cut my hair (pretty short), washed it (afterwards to clean all the little scraps), styled it, and gave me a straight razor shave. I have done a lot of crazy adventure sports in my travels, but I can’t recall many that filled me with as much fear as a sharp straight razor scraping along my adams apple. Phil, meanwhile, went hunting for a washroom, and I was finished and discovered he went to the very small “casino” (named Casino Athenas, incidentally) next door. So I went in and took out a 2000 note and a few spins later, hit three out of five of the big ticket item on the slot machine. So Phil found me sitting at a machine that was first of all giving free spins and then hitting this jackpot, taking my money from 2000 to 9000. I was excited – after all it paid for my haircut. And then I thought about it in dollars and realized I had just won $3.50 but strangely this didn’t dampen my spirits.

We walked the downtown area and along the markets and when I took out my camera to snap a photo of some teenagers hanging out on a small balcony a scraggly guy stared as though I had just pulled out a solid brick of gold bullion from my camera bag. So I put it back promptly and we walked back to the more solid center and took the metro to the cable car and then took the cable car up into the mountains. The views of the poorer areas spread along the mountains and the city below were sweeping and this really gave us some energy again as spirits were flagging a little before that. We had gone to the centre to explore the city and had failed, leaving us without a plan. After our cable car ride we returned to the hostel via metro and bus and got ready for the evening. Medellin, aside from its history as home to drug cartels, was famed for its nightlife and friendly girls, many of whom were daughters of the drug cartels and surgically enhanced for your viewing pleasure. We would see about that. As you probably didn’t note, we never actually had any lunch so we were pretty hungry and went for some Mexican food in zona rosa then found a cool little bar in the park (seats and tables were tree stumps) to have a couple beer. From there back to the hostel to hopefully meet others to hit the town with but in the end, all we got was a tip that a club called Babylon was the place to be.

Naturally, we investigated. It cost 30000 to get in ($15) which included drinks until 1:30... that is, assuming you could get the bartender’s attention. It didn’t include all drinks, but you could get mickeys of terrible Medellin Rum or Aguardiente (ouzo mixed with moonshine) as part of the package and we opted for the rum. Want mix? Well that you have to pay for. We found a seat next to a group of older people celebrating a birthday and as the night progressed found them to be among the most friendly in the room. The girls here were not all that remarkable, at least not compared to Cartagena. And then club, though filled with cartoon beings of yore, was decent but nothing incredible. They did have a big Star Wars banner however, which I took a photo of. This brought me a tap on the shoulder about twenty minutes later and a man scolding me not to take pictures of girls which I hadn’t been and as much as told him so. He then pointed to a grumpy looking trouble-maker whom nobody in their right mind would photograph in this bar full of much better looking girls and said (this was all in Spanish) that she was his girlfriend. Ah. Right under the Star Wars banner. So I took out my camera and showed him the photo and explained that I was a fan and she was hardly in the photo and he laughed, apologized, and walked off. I saw him go and explain to his girlfriend that no, there was still nobody else interested in her as she looked annoyed that there hadn’t been some altercation she could tell her friends about.

We did dance with several groups of girls throughout the night and it was fun, but I guess our expectations had become a little too high. We took a taxi detour to a grocery store on the way home and called it a night pretty early by Colombian standards. Morning came and it was time to finally get on the bus to Bogota which was easily reached by the metro. Another point for Medellin city planners. The fare was 65000 but we managed to get it down to 40000 which is something we had no success at in Cartagena and it left in just enough time for us to grab a quick snack from a nearby cafe. Then we were on our way, winding along the beautiful mountainous countryside to Bogota and our friends there, Maria and Anabella. The trip takes about 8-9 hours even though it’s only 450 km because of these winding roads and single lane highways choked with trucks, curves, and hills. I finished my book, Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, which was a very imaginative form of social commentary on pretty much everything. It is dark, disturbing, compelling, and a master work that I know you’ll love. After all, this blog shares at least those first two characteristics.

Medellin Photos

Carnaval in Colombia

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

North we trundled in the minibus. Our destination? The town of Santa Marta. Or was it a city? It occurred to me, sitting on that bus, that I didn’t have a clue what we were heading there to see; I only knew that nearby Tayrona National Park was meant to be beautiful. Given that we were halfway there, it struck me as about the time where I should be able to answer why and I dug out my big red Lonely Planet. The summary was less than exciting: A city with fading charm as colonial buildings crumble and are replaced by modern concrete ones, mostly used as a stopping point for people doing the five day trek to the ruins of the lost city. Why we were going here on our short time budget was a question that neither Phil nor I could answer and we both laughed at how ridiculous our current scenario was and waited to see for ourselves. Luckily, when we arrived we found it quite a lovely place. We’d booked ahead for the Aluna hostel, new and really nice. They had what is, without a doubt, the most impressive collection of a book exchange I have ever encountered as Patrick, the owner, is very selective on what gets traded. The dorms were clean, spacious, with great mattresses, fast and secure wifi, and beautiful rooftop common areas. Sometimes it’s best to not rely on guidebooks, and this seemed a good case for that argument.

In our room was a hilarious Norwegian guy named Chris but otherwise not much of a social scene to speak of. Then again, it was Carnaval and although the big party is in nearby Baranquilla, there is still plenty of action in the streets here and quite a few were gone there, we suspected. Phil and I went for a walk through town and stumbled on the Carnaval area replete with people whose faces were powdered in white, clown wigs, big hats, and black body paint. Street vendors were everywhere selling snacks and drinks and inside a fenced wall there seemed to be a beer garden of sorts, though more likely it was a place to watch live music later in the evening. Beer gardens themselves have no place in a country which allows you to have beer in the streets. As my camera was already in hand, I managed to catch a couple little boys spray down Phil’s entire left side with spray foam (espuma). I chuckled at it and we were joking about his new skin complexion when the kids decided I was next. They covered me and my camera in white foam but I got what is now one of my favourite photos as they did so, not to mention a pretty funny one through my soapy lens. The camera, with a few minutes of love, was fine after its first Carnaval encounter.

But we were hungry and street food was not going to cut it today so we ducked out of the area and walked to the oceanfront where we were surprised by the number of people out on the beach at dusk and milling around. Santa Marta doesn’t have a great beach (it’s more well known for nice beaches it’s close to) but it was definitely adequate and had a nice island backdrop not to mention a very parky avenue running along the coast. In fact, this city has an abundance of nice, wide, green avenues and we walked along a couple before we finally settled... for street food. Otherwise, prices were a bit too steep, but the salchipapa we had (cut up hot dog, fries, grated cheese, and cabbage) was actually pretty decent. We were planning on heading to Baranquilla for the carnaval so we didn’t end up returning here that night but went back to the hostel, met up with Chris, and had a couple beers on the rooftop terrace before calling it an evening. The plan for the next day was to take a day trip to Tayrona and see what it was all about, but by the time we woke up and talked with an Aussie guy, that plan had been nixed. It was an hour drive to get there and a two hour walk with your stuff to the nice beaches not to mention a pretty hefty 35000 entrance fee and in the end, the math didn’t make sense to do a day trip much less a half day trip. We needed a plan B.

We could hang out in town. We could go to nearby Taganga, a fishing village just outside the park with a decent beach for the day instead. We could go to Baranquilla today and come back to do Tayrona tomorrow. In the end the option we went with was to leave a day early, stop in Baranquilla for a few hours, and then catch the last bus home to Cartagena that evening. So we packed up and trucked out, two hours later arriving back in Baranquilla with no idea where to go. Still, we stashed our bags at a restaurant in the bus station. Hopefully they would be there when we got back – I took my passport and camera with me but otherwise most of my stuff was in there. Finally, we convinced a cab to take us there for 15000 and while we wondered at times if he was taking us all the way to the Carnaval in Brazil, he got us to the place eventually and we were free. I’m not sure if there’s a lent-Carnaval connection, but what it is, basically, is a four day party-holiday for most from Friday to Tuesday with Latin music and dancing and crazy outfits, paints, and so on. As we were walking around the stadium which was filled with roaring people, we saw a big mural for Daddy Yankee and got excited when not one but two scalpers told us that he was playing tonight. Phil and I looked at each other.

The tickets had a face value of 24000 and we paid 30000 for them which also included (through muscle and force of will) the ability to cut through the massive line that was spiralling around the stadium and walk right in. Well worth the extra $3. And we didn’t know it then, but that night would be the best night out we’ve had since, well, I’d probably have to go back to Vang Vieng in Asia or something to top it. We had no hotel, and all our stuff was at the bus station, so why not? The party was over at about 5 AM and we could go to the bus station and just catch the first bus heading back to Cartagena. In we went, a quick search later, coming out of the entrance below the stands to live reggaeton music and the sounds of thousands of Colombians dancing, drinking, and throwing flour and water at each other. Phil and I were smiling ear to ear at this unplanned modification of our heretofore rather ill-planned trip north and without even trying a really friendly Colombian started introducing us to all his beautiful female friends. Now THAT’S hospitality!

Before we got into any more drinking however, we had to get some food in our systems. That was solved by the numerous meat-on-stick with potatoes venders spread around the stadium. Then, large plastic beer cup in hand, we rejoined our new friends and for us, the party began. They were a cool group and Maria Jose (who asked that we call her Majo which is an entertaining nickname) in particular took to introducing us to her many friends that were also there. How we got so lucky as to be included in this group of Colombians is beyond me but I am extremely grateful. Nearby, there was an older guy, probably in his late 40s anyway, who was delighting in childlike mischief. He’d buy water after water or talk the guys with coolers into dumping some into his cup and then start splashing random people. He soon turned his attentions on our group which instigated a full out water war that would flare up time and again throughout the night. I’m not sure if they sold packets or people brought them from home, but the next innovation in Carnaval weaponry was flour all over your face and clothes and hat, and throughout the night I sported white beards and skin grafts of varying size, shape, and density. All of this was a lot of fun.

Of course, the main event at least that day, was the music. They had band after band of live Colombian music and meanwhile the girls would patiently attempt to teach us steps which passed the time really quickly. In retrospect, a bit more drink would have been good as I might have loosened up a bit more on the dancing, but budgeting intoxication for a 12 hour shift with no sleep is difficult at best and all the more so while already intoxicated. I feel like the fact that I did not collapse in a heap on the grass is testament to my skill in this department, but I probably have to give the group credit for keeping us so entertained. We didn’t end up getting to see Daddy Yankee live, which would have been awesome, but we did see a live performance of “Yo No Se Manana” which I was quite excited about and – and this is important – AND we found a new musical obsession to knock “Llamado de Emergencia” to second place in the charts after a very long run. The song? “El Celular” by some Cartagena group, performed live and catchy as swine flu at preschool. This song became a theme throughout the night and by morning we were hooked.

Eventually, it got to be about 2 AM and Grace invited us all back to her house for a house party. First, of course, we stopped at a little restaurant and grabbed a really good mid-party roast chicken meal and then to get some vodka, red bull, and Canada Dry. I’m not sure that gingerale is especially Canadian, but it makes me feel patriotic nonetheless. Then off to Grace’s house which was actually really nice. We had lost the guys who first introduced us which is too bad because we owed him a bottle of vodka all to himself – what a great group of people. I’d had dance lessons galore from Majo and Daniella, and we met a Swedish Colombian girl (!) named Elsa there who took my education into her own hands (or should I say onto her own feet) at the party. The vodka didn’t last long and the red bull was half gone before we’d even arrived but it was enough. Our new song came on several times throughout the evening and we got excited everytime. We partied until 6 AM and then said our goodbyes and headed to the street to find a taxi to the bus station. There weren’t many, and when you look foreign they try to get a good price out of you, but almost four months of travel hadn’t exactly left us new to the game. We negotiated pretty hard with one guy (we already knew what the fare should be) and he drove off but eventually turned around and told us to get in. “How much?” I asked. It’s always important to be clear. He tried one last time to repeat the number we’d already refused and I shut the door again and said no then he caved and said, “OK, 15.”

Watching different people haggle is interesting as everybody has their own approach and I think it largely depends where they’ve learned or if they’ve learned. Some don’t haggle at all, justifying the cost as meaningless to them in their currency but very meaningful to the locals. This doesn’t work if you want your trip to last more than a few days. Others think drawing a hard line is rude and I’ve seen people react negatively to it, but at the end of the day, they won’t sell you something if they’re not making money or it’s not worth it for them. They’re just trying to get the most they can for what they’re selling (in this case, a ride) and on our side, we’re just trying to get the best price for what we’re buying. It’s a bit unfair on our side, if anything, because we often don’t really know what we’re bargaining for. Exactly how far IS the bus station, for example? But for those worried that we’re rude about it, no, not at all. We have our price and a respect for the other person so long as they’re not asking initially exorbitant amounts and though you play the game afterwards all is well. Our driver seemed dejected and like he was making a big sacrifice, but once we agreed he was all smiles. It’s not every weekday morning you get a big cross-city fare I’d guess. We ripped across the city at breakneck speeds, sometimes almost triple the posted limit and when he found out we liked “El Celular” he found a CD with it, cranked the volume, and played it on repeat all the way to the bus station. A great cap to the night.

But it still wasn’t over. We still had to get back to Cartagena, though getting a bus ticket and getting on the bus was not much work at all. Both Phil and I slept pretty much the whole way back to Cartagena and then from there we taxied to the old town again and stayed at Casa Viena. Phil was asleep the moment we sat there waiting for them to clean the room but I couldn’t get back to sleep. I read, I laid down, but I wasn’t tired... just exhausted. So I went around the town on a bit of a walk, grabbed some lunch, and then came back and finally had a two hour nap from 3-5 PM. Phil and I got up and did a bit more walking around the town. Cartagena deserved more time, more photos, and is somewhere I’d really like to return to in the future but fatigue still had me in its grip and after a seat in our usual square and finding Hotel Santa Clara at Maria from Bogota’s suggestion (they wouldn’t let us in!) we went back to the hostel and slept right through until morning. We were going to catch the bus to Medellin at 7:45 AM but nobody would give us the fare we’d researched, which was 70000 pesos ($35). They wanted $55 or 110,000 when we could fly for 81 plus taxes and get there in 4 hours instead of 14. So we got on the internet, booked a flight for noon, and headed to the airport. We had to repack Phil’s whole backpack into mine and his surf bag to save him money on extra luggage but it worked and we were soon in the air and flying south to Medellin.

Carnaval Photos

Colonial Cartagena

Sunday, February 14, 2010

We were in the small village of Capurgana in the Darien gap of Columbia, one of the most uninhabited regions on the planet because here, the wildlife is truly wild. A Norwegian guy would later tell us a story about a journalist in Darien who had fallen asleep with his tent not fully zipped and woke up to find blood everywhere and half his scalp chomped off. A vampire bat – with rabies, it turned out – had managed to get in and feasted all night. He managed not to die, somehow. We however, we in a village and while there were no cars, roads, or electricity after 8:00, it was not so remote as that. The only way in or out was by boat and it turned out that the one boat heading to Turbo, a small city two hours away with roads and a bus terminal, was sold out for the day. There were, however, three spots on an indirect route to Candi and from there onward to Turbo. I looked at Amy, one of the three English people from the boat, and said that since Phil and I were two and Renee and Jared were two, it made sense for them to take the spots and we would spend another day in the middle of nowhere. “But I feel so bad, you guys are stuck here,” she replied. “If there were four spots, it would make more sense for us to use all of them instead of you guys but there are only three so this is the most logical thing,” I replied and she agreed with me. That is, until 30 seconds later the ticket agent turned and said he actually had 4 spots.

Suddenly, it still made more sense for the three of them to take the tickets. Simon, after all, was only traveling for two weeks. Well, Phil only had two weeks left too, I thought, but I said, “I wish everbody were here to discuss it” because I did still feel a bit bad to take the spots and strand them. She went to tell them while I stalled for time to try to hold the four spots and came back saying everyone had agreed that the three of them should go. Fair enough, consensus wins, and one more day in this small town wasn’t so bad. Still, not once did any of them say thank you and I further discovered from Phil that the story they’d heard was that there were four tickets to Candi where they’d probably have to spend the night and not all the way to Turbo via Candi. Anyway, I wasn’t happy with them on principle though the town was lovely. It also allowed Phil and I a chance to retrieve our hats which had been left aboard Da Capo. We walked around, lunched, finished our vodka with Jared and Renee, and went to sleep. I had a weird night where I awoke certain I had drunkenly got myself on some ship. We were in a hotel right over the water and the window was open, so there was the noise and breeze from the sea plus my head was still wavy from 5 days on a boat. I had philosophical thoughts for a few hours, saw shapes in the shadows, grew paranoid that our open window was an invitation to thieves, and finally fell asleep where I had a dream I could fly. I guess being back on land was taking some adjustment.

The next morning we got on our boat to Turbo where they fleeced us for baggage weighing over 10kg. In other words, any backpackers not making day trips would pay a lot more. Two hours of bumping and motoring along the ocean and we made it to Turbo where we hunted down a bus to Cartagena. However, there is no bus to Cartagena, only collectives (minivans) to Monterria and we got into a bidding war which ended with in a converted truck for 20000 pesos ($10). The driver was an idiot however and managed to clip an oncoming truck... with Phil’s surfboard. This didn’t seem to concern him at all which was obviously upsetting but he eventually had karma catch up with a flat tire. Of course, we had to sit there and wait at the side of the road, so I’m not sure that’s really a fair trade. We made it to Monterria finally and from there got in another colectivo (with a different company) to Cartagena for another 4 hours. Here, I made some friends in the van and wound up chatting with a few of them while they would talk to me and take turns answering my questions. Two of them gave us phone numbers to call, the first (Osbaldo) for somewhere Phil could get his surfboard fixed and he’d pick us up and bring us there, and the second (Carlos) to go out with him and his friends.

We got into Cartagena 13 hours after we first got on the speedboat that morning and Osbaldo offered to split a cab with us then negotiated a fair price out of the locals. He made sure the taxi knew where we were going and we were finally in Getsemani, the backpacker district at Hotel Holiday. We went out and explored the town and basically decided we loved it almost immediately. The buildings were colonial and thanks to the city’s walls and well-positioned defences it had never been sacked by pirates and privateers. People were everywhere, plazas with old buildings filled with chairs and people drinking in the moonlight with floodlit churches and historic sights all around them. Houses and little bars were pumping out salsa music and families and friends were there loving life and partying like there was no tomorrow. Phil and I sat in the square and people watched for some time, too tired to do much else but enjoying the atmosphere too much to sleep.

The next day in Cartagena we just walked around. Freshly squeezed orange juice and a fried mashed potato, egg, and ground beef ball for breakfast, we walked around the old town where we were staying looking at hostels and buildings. From there up to the centre looking for surfing shops for Phil and of course enjoying the town on a Saturday afternoon. We walked all the way up to the beaches and downtown area before grabbing a taxi back to the hostel. Daylight had only made us appreciate this place more, not to mention that it is literally crawling with beautiful girls. People watching has never been so much fun. We’d seen some cheap places in the old centre to grab a bite and wandered back there. While looking around, we ran across Renee and Jared and very shortly after, Hanna and Simon. We all had a beer together at a place we thought served dinner but nope, only lunch, and then split off because Renee and Jared are picky eaters and didn’t care for the cheap place that Phil and I found. We’d planned to meet them but the place they were going to go was closed when we got there and there was no sign of them at their hostel.

We walked back to the centre thinking they’d maybe taken a seat in the square but they weren’t there either so we decided to check out the nightclub all the street guys were trying to get us to visit: Isis. We arrived with beer still in our hands so we sat outside watching. It didn’t take much watching to realize the place was crawling with prostitutes. It was basically a brothel under the guise of a nightclub but we went in anyway to see what it was like. Everywhere, and I mean everywhere, we saw them and a few American-looking guys and not much of anybody else. We thought it’d be entertaining to have a drink – beer, to make sure if wasn’t spiked – but they told us it was 12000 for a beer that is usually 1500 and we saw why. If you are there, it’s for one thing only. We left. From there, we walked back to Getsemani and Avenida Nacional which is along the city walls, water, and filled with clubs. We went to a few but discovered that everybody was there with somebody. Outside one, a blonde came up and asked where we were from. “Canada” we answered. “WHERE?!” “Saskatoon”. At this she gave us a thumbs down and stuck her tongue out, and her lame attempts to excuse herself later were unheard. Traveller or not, that’s my home! And you’ve probably never been there.

Inside the club, she was nowhere to be found thankfully. The plaace was a visual overload, the girls here and the way they dance was eyeball popping. Of course, everybody is with somebody else, and we didn’t find any groups that looked inviting. Phil tried, against his better judgement, to chat with some Argentinians we’d seen in Bocas del Toro, but as usual they were snobbish and couldn’t wait to be rid of him so that they could be ignored by everyone else. There have been exceptions, of course, a few really cool Argentinians we’ve met along the way, but for the most part this is standard. One of the friendly ones told us that most of them who travel are the rich and think they’re better than everyone. Someone else postulated it was their largely Italian descent that led to their arrogance. It’s been said that once you are let in to the group they are very warm and friendly but otherwise nearly impossible to even be friendly with. Unless they want something from you. I stupidly gave away my bandana in Bocas del Toro (after initially laughing and refusing) to some Argentine girl that came up to me on the streets. Phil had lost his treasured SURFO hat. If you’re thinking it’s ironic or hypocritical to be offended that someone tells me my town is a dump and then have a paragraph about the attitude of Argentinians, you’re probably partly right. But I’m not dissing a place I’ve never seen or even talking about the country as a whole. I’m only recounting that most of my encounters with Argentinians thus far have been negative.

We had ourselves a dilemma the next morning. It was now the 14th, Valentine’s Day, and if we wanted to meet up with Anabella and Maria, we had to be in Bogota by the 20th. And there was still Santa Marta, carnival in Barrenquilla, the Tayronga National Park, the lost city, Medellin, the slow boat trip south to Bucaranga (two days) and busses. We decided that morning to head north to Santa Marta, spend a day there, a day trip to Tayrona, come back to Barenquilla to see carnival, and then back to Cartagena for one more day before heading south. I would have to miss Medellin (at least for now) to do my boat trip and I’d also have to skip San Gil and some hiking near there. Colombia would probably need a return visit even if I did double back to Medellin. The north was getting the short end of the stick but on the other hand it would help accelerate my timeline a bit and ensure that, despite the temptation, I didn’t spend too much time in Colombia. So we got on a collective and headed north to Santa Marta, four hours away to squeeze in what we could of this part of Colombia.

View Cartagena Photos

Welcome to South America

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A favourite speech from Seinfeld begins with George Costanza setting the scene: “The sea was angry that day, my friends, like an old man sending back soup at a deli.” Indeed, many of the crew would, that day, refund their soup and also cheetos. The wind was coming from behind us as our sailboat, which suddenly felt too small to make this passage, bobbed, weaved, dropped, and heaved in the swell. Contrary to what you might expect, a tailwind is probably one of the worst winds you can have sailing. Why? Well, I’m going to get geeky on you here but it’s because a sail actually works a lot like an airplane’s wing: that is, the wind doesn’t actually fill the sail and blow it forward. Instead, it runs along the curvature of both sides of the sail. Because the same volume of air blows across both sides, the air on the outside of the curve of the sail is actually more spread out than on the inside of the sail and that means there’s higher pressure inside the sail than out. What THAT means in turn is that the sailboat is actually sucked forward more than it is blown much like a plane is sucked upwards into the sky. This phenomenon means that wind blowing about 70 degrees from the front actually gives you the best speed and most stable configuration. What we had was a sail filling and pushing the boat along and then going slack as the boat reached the wind’s speed then jerking taut again as the boat slowed. In addition to the boat not being pulled in one direction and therefore rolling back and forth. (NOTE: This continues part 1, Sailing San Blas, below)

Still, I didn’t get sick. Others did, definitely, but that Dramamine was looking like the best $5 I ever spent. There was nothing to do except sit on the side and stare out at the waves and distant islands we were sailing past or standing beside the mast and looking off the bow as though it were your boat. Thus, it was the most relaxed I’ve been on this entire trip, with no pressure to be moving on to the next place (after all, we were!), study Spanish, write my blog, edit photos, or even read my next book which is Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood a very thoughtful bon voyage gift from Barb. I just sat and watched and contemplated and occasionally listened to music. I could get used to sailing, I think, although by the last day I was getting comfortable enough to not only start studying my Spanish some more but also working on photos belowdecks as we plugged along. At least for a little while.

Kuna, Ya!

We arrived in the Kuna town of San Ignacio de Tupile a bit after 5 PM and immediately headed for land where we noticed for the first time that land felt funny as opposed to comfortable. Some of us even walked a bit off-kilter though I wasn’t really at that point yet, or at least no more so than usual given my tiptoe tendencies. And anyway we were soon too wrapped up in Kuna attention to notice. What a friendly and warm people! After reading about how isolationist and ‘tolerant but unwelcoming’ the Kuna are meant to be according to the idiot that writes the Panama section of the Lonely Planet (easily the most unresearched and throwaway section of the Central American LP) we found them excited to see us and eager to converse with us. In the main square kids would either run up to us and ask us to take their photo or approach shyly or just pose and hope we’d notice. The older kids would be brimming with questions and for us guys the eligible females were definitely curious if we had ‘esposas’. None of this was money related – we were twice approached by people looking to collect a $1 visitor tax but the others never asked for anything aside from our attention.

While we were standing in the square distant explosions, pops, and bangs approached with shouting. Suddenly, the square was awash with Kuna in red with wooden weapon facsimilies like rifles and swords running around and shooting at each other and us. They were rehearsing for their Independence Day celebration and as quickly as all the play fighting had started it moved further along the village. We left the village at sundown for the boat and after another great dinner and a bit of chit chat we went to sleep. Alcohol in any quantities was basically no longer an option after the day’s sail so we had our beer and realized we had purchased far too much alcohol for the voyage. There was no swimming here (especially after seeing the pit toilets over the ocean, Slumdog style) or beautiful island but the village was a unique experience all its own and we felt lucky to have seen it.

Day of the Dolphins

We had another big day of sailing the next morning but everybody had found their sea legs by then and nobody was sick at all. We broke up the trip by stopping for lunch outside a small group of islands and yet more Kuna villages. The afternoon sail was unbelievable: not only were we all in good spirits as the bouncing of the boat no longer phased us, but we saw no less than five separate pods of dolphins including one pod that was very curious and friendly and loved the sound of us cheering and clapping. They’d flip and jump and splash and race alongside the boat and probably hung around for half an hour. By the fifth pod, half the people couldn’t be bothered to look up from their books but I think we all knew it was pretty amazing. My perception of the ocean changed a bit that day. It’s kind of like wandering through the jungle. At first all you see is trees but with enough time you see there is plenty of life hiding among them and sometimes not hiding at all. Dolphins have that peculiar distinction of not having been hunted by man and are one of the few animals out there with whom, despite reckless tuna fishermen the world over, we still have good relations. This, to me, is what being in the Galapagos will be like and I’m very excited to make it there if I can.

Night of the Storm

We anchored that night at Isla Pino which was again beautiful and also the last of the San Blas islands we would visit. There was a really strong current but some braved it anyway and while they were ashore we realized that our anchor hadn’t stuck and we’d drifted pretty far. Luckily we didn’t run aground or get hung up on some reef and we motored back up and anchored again as they swam doggedly back to the ship. We all sat on deck and watched the last sunset we would see over Central America which not coincidentally was beautiful. That night the wind really picked up and the boat was rocking something fierce but again, we’d all adjusted to the sea by then and only Phil in his hammock, swinging in the wind, had any problem sleeping. The captain asked us to wake him up if his computer started beeping, as it would mean we’d drifted more than 100m from our anchor point but thankfully there was no such emergency. We awoke in the morning afloat, intact, and anxious to complete our journey and see the coast of South America appearing on the horizon.

Yes, our last day had arrived and the agenda was nothing but sailing and fried bananas wrapped, interestingly enough, in bacon. I have grown to dislike two foods in my time here: beans and fried bananas. I started liking them, moved to loving them, but have since consumed more of both then any ordinary non-Latin human could be expected to endure and now can hardly stand the taste of either. Not green beans, mind you, just the refried variety that are part of every economical meal from here to Tillajuana. We sailed and sailed and yet more dolphin encounters to the point that I surreptitiously kept an eye on our captain to see if he was chumming the waters but I found no evidence in the end. Our last dolphin encounter came as the green hills of Colombia were growing large on the horizon, our first sight of South America and our last sight from the bow of Da Capo. We anchored at Sapzurro, right on the Colombian border and in the heart of the Darien Gap with no roads or cars, just boats to bring supplies and people in and out. From there, back on to a lancha with all our worldly possessions and we said our goodbyes to Mats, Dina, and Mateo then motored off in the distance to the next coastal town of Capurgana. We arrived just in time to visit the immigration office and get our passports stamped. “Welcome,” the officer said to me, “to South America.”

View Part 2 of San Blas Photos