Santa Marta and Aracataca

Santa Marta anchorage

Santa Marta anchorage

Santa Marta was our home for a month and the base for a few thrilling inland explorations to other parts of Colombia. It was not a perfect home, yet one we will always remember with much tenderness.

Notorious for its violent winds gathering speed down the slopes of the highest coastal mountain in the world- Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta- the place was nicknamed “La Loca” (The Crazy One).

Santa Marta was extreme heat day and night, loud music booming until the morning hours from the terrace of the restaurant facing the anchorage, the trades carrying coal dust from the commercial port which is upwind from the anchorage, covering the entire boat in a thick black layer of dirt.

Fata Morgana at anchor downwind from the commercial port in Santa Marta

Fata Morgana at anchor downwind from the commercial port in Santa Marta

But Santa Marta was also a safe place to leave the boat at the marina and fly to Bogota or go hiking and camping in Tayrona for a few days, or even leave the boat at anchor for a few hours and go on a daytrip to Minca’s Waterfalls; a town with a big market and lots of shops within a walking distance where we could stock up the boat with provisions for the remote San Blas islands.

Sunset in Santa Marta

Sunset in Santa Marta

Santa Marta is the most ancient European settlement on the South American continent, housing the oldest church built by the Spanish colonizers in the center of the city. In the 16th and 17th centuries it was the most important port for the Spanish galleons landing here in search of gold, but after numerous pirate attacks, Cartagena de Indias became the main port on the Caribbean cost.

The oldest church in South America in Santa Marta

The oldest church in South America in Santa Marta

Santa Marta is also the final resting place of Simon Bolivar- the most important figure in Latin American history who brought independence from Spanish rule to the entire region. Bolivar liberated Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru and Colombia from the Spanish monarchy and founded the first union of independent nations in Latin America, Gran Colombia, presiding over it from 1819 to 1830. He died on December 17th of 1830 in Santa Marta’s Hacienda Quinta San Pedro Alejandrino, today a museum and a botanical garden.

Street in Santa Marta

Street in Santa Marta

Santa Marta of today is a noisy busy town with crazy traffic and insane scorching-hot-windy climate. It is a major port where big cargo ships arrive daily to load tons of coal and tons of bananas – some of the region main products of export. The streets are populated by a mixture of locals, tourists and indigenous Arhuacos and Kogis, descendants from the Tayrona people who ruled the highlands before the colonization. They live up in the mountains in traditional communities cultivating potatoes, pumpkins, corn, beans, yucca, guava, oranges and coca (which they us for tea and chewing and for traditional ceremonies). They also make traditional bags knitted from wool and sell them to tourists. We got one for our collection of traditional bags from different places of the world. The Arhuacos and the Kogis still dress in the clothing of their ancestors, which they make themselves, and when they visit the city on business, they walk the streets proudly wearing an expression of disgust from modern civilization. I asked many if they would kindly allow me to take their picture, but except of a couple of rare occasions, they usually refused very annoyed and I had to steal a few portraits from far away.

Street life in Santa Marta

Street life in Santa Marta

Images from Santa Marta

The lighthouse, Santa Marta's landmark

The lighthouse, Santa Marta’s landmark

The poor neighborhoods in the hills of Santa Marta

The poor neighborhoods in the hills of Santa Marta

A ship waiting at anchor near Santa Marta Port

A ship waiting at anchor in the bay near Santa Marta Port

An Arhuaco in Santa Marta

An Arhuaco in Santa Marta

Santa Marta beach

Santa Marta beach

Street in Santa Marta

Street in Santa Marta

Santa Marta downtown

Santa Marta downtown

There is a fruit or juice stand at every corner in Colombia

There is a fruit or juice stand at every corner in Colombia

.

.

Ivo and Maya refresh

Ivo and Maya refresh

Watermelon juice

Watermelon juice

Lemon-squeezing device

Lemon-squeezing device

Honey

Honey

Cheese and meat

Cheese and meat

Market in Santa Marta

Market in Santa Marta

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Индианци от племето Арауако на посещение в Санта Марта

Arhuaco Indians in Santa Marta. The tiny bag contains coca leaves.

There was one last place we had to visit while in Santa Marta before we continue sailing to Cartagena and then on to Panama. Aracataca.

Aracataca is a river town founded in 1885 in the Department of Magdalena, 80 km south of Santa Marta. In the late 19th century, the infamous United Fruit Company supported by the Colombian government colonized the land and started cultivating bananas in the wide region, exploiting and terrorizing the local workers, marking forever the history of the place with violence and injustice. After the downfall of the company because of the worldwide recession and the WWI, the town remained hidden behind a curtain of forgetfulness.

Aracataca

Aracataca

Aracataca also happens to be the birthplace of a monumental literary figure as well as the inspiration for the fictional metaphorical town of Macondo. Gabriel García Márquez was born in this hot dusty village surrounded by banana plantations in 1927 and grew up in his grand-parent’s big old house listening to the fantastic stories and superstitions of the ever-present Guajiro Indians employed there as servants. These stories, along with his grandfather ‘s tales of the horrors of war and his grandmother’s way of transforming the fantastic and the improbable into the irrefutable truth, left a great imprint on his mind and later influenced his writings.

Márquez became journalist in Bogota and wrote short stories and non-fiction works, as well as novels, which brought him international acclaim and immortal fame. He introduced a new style in literature labeled as “magical realism” – using magical, surreal elements in realistic or even historical situations and events, transforming the extraordinary into something perfectly natural. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982 and became one of the world’s all-time best authors and “the greatest Colombian who ever lived” (Juan Manuel Santos, president of Colombia).

The only regret I will have in dying is if it is not for love- Garcia Marquez

The only regret I will have in dying is if it is not for love- Garcia Marquez

He also became the reason why I learned Spanish and was finally able to read my favorite books in their original language. These books have had an enormous influence on my life, on the way I perceive the world and reality, and the way I feel. Nothing else has thought me more about myself than the stories and the characters created by Gabriel García Márquez.

I was 16, back in Bulgaria, when my mother gave me a book to read, her favorite book. It was a Bulgarian translation of Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. It changed my life.

The story took me to, a village consisting of “twenty houses of mud and canabrava, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs”, a place that didn’t exist in a world “so new that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point”–like a child. Like an early ancestor lacking language. A place I was drawn to ever since. I have been away from home and homeland for many many years, yet my most tangible nostalgia has always inexplicably been for Macondo.

Aracataca

Aracataca

So you can imagine what it meant for me to visit Aracataca. It was my personal pilgrimage, in search of the reality behind the magic. And vice-versa.

In Aracataca I didn’t expect to find blue dogs and very old men with very big wings. There is nothing extraordinary about Aracataca, except the unbelievable heat. The most surreal thing we encountered there was a 60-years old truck transporting tons of bricks and its 60-years-old truck driver both still in good shape. I just wanted to feel the dusty air, the extreme dry sun of many summers full of mangoes; to occupy and to go through the space of other times.

Inside the house-museum Gabriel García Márquez which was reconstructed after the original house has decayed, I cried in front of a quote on the wall from One Hundred Years of Solitude like someone who has found something only to realize it is lost forever. I wept until I felt a great burden had fallen off my chest and I was ready to go on.

Images from Aracataca

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Mira at Gabriel Garcia Marquez house-museum

Mira at Gabriel Garcia Marquez house-museum

Mira at Gabriel Garcia Marquez house-museum

Mira at Gabriel Garcia Marquez house-museum

.

.

Ivo cannot believe this 60-years-old truck!

Ivo cannot believe this 60-years-old truck!

The 60-years-old truck driver

The 60-years-old truck driver

magical realism

magical realism

Facebook/The Life Nomadik

Share

Canadian Passports in Colombia

.

.

Arriving in Colombia by sailboat may turn out to be a very costly experience, especially for those holding Canadian passports, like us. For the first time since we left Florida almost two years ago we had to pay so much to check in a country (even the Bahamas – 300 US$- was cheaper). Actually, our Canadian passports which expire in three months were the main reason to come to Santa Marta and immediately fly to Bogota, to one of the three Canadian Embassies providing passport services in the Caribbean region (the other two are in Panama and Barbados). But aside from the fee we paid at the embassy for renewing our travel documents, our Canadian passports were the reason for an unforeseen unexpected expense as soon as we checked-in in Colombia.

Apart from the 90 $US for a 60-day temporary cruising permit, which is being charged to all foreign vessels entering Colombian waters, we were served a juicy bill of 80 US$ per person (a total of 240 US$ for the three of us) an immigration fee. (Later we found out that the fee should not be charged to kids under 15, but we still have to sort out this information). It turned out that since a few months now there is a new law targeting only Canadian citizens. All other citizens don’t pay. This new Colombian law has been introduced in response to the new Canadian law, according to which all Colombian citizens have to pay 80 US$ per person immigration fee when traveling to Canada… I suspect this “reciprocity fee” will greatly limit visits to Colombia by cruising Canadians . For the first time we regretted not having renewed our expired Bulgarian passports…

Santa Marta Anchorage

Santa Marta Anchorage

On top of this, it turned out that the only marina in Santa Marta, where we had to dock our boat for a week while traveling to Bogota, charges catamarans almost double, “because they are wider and take up more space” (even though there were enough empty berths at the marina). Today, it is not as dangerous to visit and travel in Colombia as it has been a few years ago, but it is still not a good idea to leave a boat at anchor in a lonely anchorage near a small town full of poor people for a few days and nights. Robberies in Colombia are still common events. The marina with its 24-hour security and locked gates was our only safe option. But our bill was 250 US$ for a week (no water and no electricity included) instead of 150 US$ per week, which a monohull the same length would pay.

Thus, our total bill for checking-in in Colombia and staying at the marina in Santa Marta was $580. But this is how a positive crew should rationalize the situation: We have been cruising all over the Caribbean since two years now and the only other time we had to pay for a marina was in July 2013 in Havana Cuba (anchoring is not permitted anywhere near Havana). So, we didn’t have big marina expenses per month for the last two years, if you look at it this way. Moreover, we didn’t have to pay any entry fees for the past five months in the islands we visited: checking-in in French St Marten and Dutch Aruba was free and there are no visa or checking-in fees for Canadians in Puerto Rico. Therefore, our huge checkin-in expenses in Colombia were compensated by the zero checking-in expenses for the past 5 months. Thus we tried to think positively…

Marina Santa Marta

Marina Santa Marta

And finally, in the days before arriving in Colombia we have received a few donations in our blog by our generous readers, which covered the marina fee. There is probably no better way to show you our gratitude except to mention here how much your generosity has made a difference, P. Vachkov, B. Pavlov, I. Russev, A. Grigorov, H. Hristov, S. Apostolov and K. Mirchev- we thank you!

Immediately after landing in Santa Marta we researched which would be the cheapest way to get to Bogota, some 1,000 kilometers in the interior of Colombia. A rental car is about $50-$60 per day and gas is about 3.50 per gallon. Plus, the highway is paid. A rental car would cost us over $400 for 4 days and two of those days we would spend driving. The bus to Bogota is 50$ per person in one direction and it takes 20 hours to get there. It turned out that travelling by airplane is not only faster, but also the cheapest way to get around in Colombia. There are a few airline companies but we found the cheapest to be Viva Colombia. You can buy round trip tickets Santa Marta-Bogota-Santa Marta for as little as $40, as long as you get them in advance and if you are traveling light- not more than one 6-kilogram bag. We paid $90 per person for a round trip as we got the tickets in the last minute and it was still the cheapest, fastest and best option.

After one hour and a half flying over mountains, fields, villages, rivers and lakes we landed in Bogota- Colombia’s capital and one of South America’s biggest cities which surprised us and charmed us with its colossal scale and unique historical and cultural attractions: numerous world-renown museums, ancient cathedrals, plazas and colonial buildings not only in the old district but all over the city. Visiting Bogota was worth all the hassle.

 

Bogota

Bogota

 

Facebook/The Life Nomadik

Share

Passage from Aruba to Santa Marta

Passage from Aruba to Santa Marta

Passage from Aruba to Santa Marta

Passage from Aruba to Santa Marta

On our way from Puerto Rico to Colombia we decided to stop in Aruba (after three days and two nights of sailing) for a quick couple of days, to rest, check the weather and keep going. A month later we were still in Aruba, reluctant to leave.

Fata Morgana at anchor in Aruba

Fata Morgana at anchor in Aruba

This small vacation island, its clean manicured capital Oranjestad, its sparkling resorts and world-famous beaches, its many natural wonders, and its welcoming people became one of our most favorite Caribbean destinations. It was free and easy to check in and out of Aruba, and free to drop anchor anywhere in its many protected bays on the south shore. We met and befriended a wonderful local family, who welcomed us in their home and helped us enormously; we met Tony, Armando and his buddies who started Ivo kitesurfing; and Maya began windsurfing. It felt like a vacation. But mostly, we stayed longer than anticipated because we decided not to sail until we get favorable winds, so our passage to Colombia would be safe. Safety first.

Colorful fishing boats in Aruba

Colorful fishing boats in Aruba

A month passed and the trades finally calmed down a bit. It was time to lift anchor. The 260 NM passage from Aruba to Santa Marta, Colombia is notorious for being one of the most dangerous passages in the Caribbean, as the winds near the Venezuelan gulf and the Colombian capes are often violent, accelerated by the effect of high pressure colliding with low pressure from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range. Reaching an altitude of 5,700 m (18,700 ft) just 42 km (26 mi) from the Caribbean coast, the Sierra Nevada is the world’s highest coastal range creating this problematic for navigation area in the south Caribbean Sea, a so called “compression zone.”. It’s a spot on the charts not to be underestimated. We read all the information we could find online about how and when is best to sail there, and as soon as PassageWeather promised 3 successful days of maximum 15 to 20 knots east winds, instead of the usual 25 to 30 knots, we sailed.

.

.

In the morning on April 17th we left our anchorage in front of Palm Beach and went to the docks at Oranjestad to check out from Aruba. It took about one hour of waiting for the officials to show up, bring the paperwork, stamp their stamps and let us go. The process is painless and we didn’t have to leave the boat, as the customs and immigration- very pleasant smiling, good-natured people- came from Barcadera, where they are in the process of building the new port, to Port of Oranjestad, bringing the necessary forms right up to the boat without boarding it. It felt like drive through.

Фата Моргана на док в Аруба

Fata Morgana at Port of Oranjestad

Around 9:30 a.m. we were off with a strong puff behind us- 30 to 35 knots. We reefed and we worried. There were no such numbers predicted by PassageWeather… But as soon as we were well away from the shores of Aruba, about 10 miles, the wind dropped to 8-12 knots and with it, our speed. We were sailing wing-on-wing, full sail, doing 4 to 5 knots. But we didn’t complain. Better slow and safe than fast and stressful. Later in the afternoon the wind picked up to comfortable 16-20 knots and the boat was doing 5-6 kts. Thus, the first day of the dreaded passage passed by with very relaxed wind, sea and crew.

It was late in the afternoon when we had crossed the entrance of the Gulf of Venezuela and we spotted the small twin-rocks which really are in the middle of nowhere, 50 nautical miles from Aruba, territory of Venezuela-Monjes del Norte, where an anchorage is marked on the charts and some people stop overnight. But the wind and sea were great and it didn’t make sense to stop, plus we had read a few accounts of terrible experiences by cruisers there, according to which stopping at Los Monjes should be only in case of emergency and in bad weather conditions. We kept going.

The night fell. Clear skies but no moon at this time of the month. Total darkness descended and we sailed in the blind. We were just passed the first Colombian cape, Punta Gallinas, reefed, expecting accelerated puffs, but nothing like that happened. All night Fata Morgana was galloping lazily, close to shore, about 5-6 miles, and the sea and wind remained calm, between 10 and 18 knots all night.

.

.

On the second day things changed. The wind picked up in the late morning as we approached the area directly under the Sierra Nevada mountain range, and the sea rose. We reefed the jib and the main and even then the boat was going uncomfortably fast with 9-10 to 11 knots surfing down the waves. We furled the jib and kept sailing only with a reefed main in winds 25 to 30 knots directly behind us. And we were still doing average of 8-9 kts speed.

.

.

At one point a pod of dolphins came to escort us. They usually show up when the sea is calm, and glide near the bow for a few minutes, but this time they came jumping out of the big waves all around us demonstrating awesome skills: jolts, pirouettes and splashes- a full program. Then we caught a nice juicy blackfin tuna, also called “football” due to its plump rounded shape and we had food for the next few days.

Ivo with a football tuna

Ivo with a football tuna

Then, we experienced something we had never experienced before and understood what people meant by “strong puffs”. They are not squalls that last for 10 -20 minutes, but extremely brief, sudden puffs from 12 to 28 knots for 2-3 seconds and back to 12 knots. It’s really weird, completely unpredictable and annoying. And there is nothing to do, but reef and get used to it.

The second night, sailing close to shore in about 3-600 feet of depth, the wind like a mad person who remembered to take his medication before bedtime, calmed down and became steady and sedate again. Ivo was sure this is the katabatic land effect which we witnessed on the north shore of the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Guatemala – the nearby landmass cooling at night cancels the wind near the shore just after sunset- but we cannot guarantee that the wind always dies out at night near the shore here, nor can we advise cruisers to sail close to shore. That was our experience and this time we felt we were lucky.

.

.

As soon as the sun came out on the third day, the strong wind returned, doing its temperamental thing again, but we had just a few more miles left to go. The last cape to round was Cabo de la Guaja, couple of miles before Santa Marta, and Ivo decided to “cut the corner” and to pass just feet away from the rocks. We had full jib out and reefed main, wing on wing, and suddenly the waves rose big and steep, the wind behind us going up to 35 knots, Ivo hand steering, the boat surfing with 12 knots downwind for the longest few minutes during this passage. That was scary.

Note to ourselves: Next time do not cut the corner, go at least 3-4 miles away from the cape, try not to have the wing-on-wing sail combination when in doubt, and reef in time!

But we passed the cape OK and we found ourselves in calm water finally, heading to a small noisy town at the foot of dry hills, with lots of bus and taxi traffic and some tall buildings near the beach, a busy commercial port, a lonеly anchorage with lots of small fishing boats and just two sailboats, and a brand new modern marina sheltered behind a rock wall. We dropped anchor near the marina.

Statue of Tairona woman in Santa Marta. Fata Morgana at anchor in the distance

Statue of Tairona woman in Santa Marta. Fata Morgana at anchor in the distance

Many sailors stop once or twice on this passage in one of the five small bays along the Colombian coast between Aruba and Santa Marta, but in bad weather they becmoe dangerous to approach and are not exactly “protected”. This passage can be broken up in 2-3 legs and one can only sail during the day and anchor at night, or sail at night and anchor during the day. But we wanted to get it over with as soon as possible and not have our weather window close, so we sailed non-stop.

We arrived in Santa Marta Sunday, April 19th, after 48 hours of relatively “smooth sailing”.

Share