cartagena

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After a few long days of shuttling back and forth between the customs office in Cartagena, the port and our hotel, aptly named Casa Marlin, we managed to free our car along with his buddy Cabello from their container in Cartagena’s port.

Happy to have our little red rocket back we headed out to check out some of Colombia’s countryside.

Dreamy village of Barichara

Dreamy village of Barichara

After a long 13 hour drive (check out a map to see just how large Colombia is in comparison with all of Central America) we landed in the most charming village called Barichara. Founded in 1705, this small town is lined with cobbled streets and white-washed stone buildings.  It feels whimsical and fairytale-like, complete with running school children, the friendliest townspeople and a sense of joyful separation from the rest of the world.  Try the empanadas from the small panaderia (bread and pastry shop) on the corner of the main plaza.

Villa de Leyva

Villa de Leyva

Next up was playground of Bogota’s elite, Villa de Leyva, where the weather drops in temperature but the trendy restaurants and art shops increase considerably.  We happened to arrive during the week which led to room in a hospedaje (a small hotel) for much less than normal complete with hot showers! The Plaza Mayor is just that…major.  This huge square is covered in cobblestones and surrounded with white colonial buildings – it is also the perfect place to drink too many lattes, people watch and enjoy the sun.  There are a few museums to check out but we ended up wandering the streets and enjoying some downtime.

A whole town of crafts

A whole town of crafts

The following day we took Marlin to visit Raquira, a town known for its good-quality pottery, and as it turns out the entire town is dedicated to artesanias and you can buy much more than just pottery from this host of colourful buildings.  Somehow, though we don’t have a lot of  space in the car, we came away with a set of 6 typical stone-polished bowls but, for some reason, none of these:

Pre-painted cermaic pigs

Pre-painted ceramic pigs

So I have to say that although I loved the sailing I was pretty happy to be on dry land again after a fairly rough couple of days in the open water – some of the bigger waves going right over the top of the boat… not really my cup of tea, kind of dashed my romantic notions of sailing round the world.

Old City Cartagena

We spent some time hanging out in Cartagena waiting for the car to arrive. Founded in 1533 Cartagena became the main Spanish port on the Caribbean coast, treasure plundered from the indigenous peoples was held there until the galleons could ship it back to Spain. In response to numerous pirate attacks the Spanish constructed a massive wall that encircled the town and helped the port withstand many sieges.

Best Juice Ever

I think the old part of town has to be the most beautiful city we’ve seen so far, apparently it is one of the finest surviving examples of 16th and 17th century Spanish architecture and it remains relatively untouched since it’s construction. Narrow cobbled streets and stone arches with funny wooden balconies perched above. Rambling bougainvillea and palms and hidden courtyards and spontaneous dancing in the streets. The people are very friendly and Kelsey is in fruit heaven – her latest infatuation is the maracuya (passion fruit) juice… she had three in one day!

Dancing in the Streets from Kels M on Vimeo.

Climbing aboard the ‘Sacanagem’ a forty three foot sailboat we were greeted by Captain Hernando Higuera and his partner Maria.  “El Capitan” appeared to be a mixture of Captain Jack Sparrow and your seriously crazy uncle …. he ushered us on the boat all the while constantly tugging up his loose fisherman pants and proceeded to, in a very creative mixture of fluent Spanish and basic English, give us the lowdown on how things work on his sailboat.  Once finished, he brushed his long almost dreaded hair out of his eyes, winked at us and cracked a fresh beer – with that we were on our way to sail through the turquoise Caribbean waters of the San Blas Islands to Cartagena, Colombia.

The Sacanagem

We spent the first couple of days on the island of Chichime. After El Capitan had effortlessly directed the ship through the shallow reef and loosed the anchor he piled up beer, champagne and Maria in the dinghy and paddled off to land to start the first of three days of sailorly drinking.  We went snorkelling in the clearest warm water, catching a glimpse of a sting ray silently rolling through the depths, then headed to land to have drinks and dinner with the Captain.  Arriving on the pristine white sands, we were a bit startled to find a group of Spaniards raucously drinking in celebration of Semana Santa (Holy Week).  Even more startling was the fact that they had eaten an entire pig, offering us the remnants:

Some haunch perhaps?

Dinner (which was much nicer than pig leg) was freshly caught red snapper, garden salad and the most delicious coconut rice created by the Kuna and Maria.

We spent the next day lazing in the sun, snorkelling and perusing the molas available for purchase from the Kuna on Chichime.  El Capitan was anxiously awaiting the arrival of his daughter and seem right depressed until he spotted their boat on the horizon.  Out with more beer and champagne and party number two started… hoping to get fed we headed to the island to join the party where pulpo (octopus) was being chopped up in preparation of our meal.  A bit apprehensive about eating octopus salsa I was surprised to find that, if not for the suction cup bits, it wasn’t too bad.  El Capitan kept everyone entertained and explained the boats name ‘Sacanagem’ … in Portuguese it means ‘orgy’ and, according to El Capitan, una grande fiesta sexual in Spanish. After that description he cackled away, took another swig from his champagne bottle and proceeded to get thoroughly trashed.

On our third day we sailed to a cove reputed to be a hideout of Captain Morgan himself.  Before arriving we stopped in Porvenir to stamp passports and, in the process, picked up two young guys from Korea who spoke neither English or Spanish but had a Sacanagem business card in hand.  Presumably (since no one on the boat spoke Korean) they had been waiting for days to find the boat.  They joined us all on the ship putting our number to an intimate 12.

We left Captain Morgan’s cove early the next day heading straight into the wind, which made the two day journey to Cartagena a wee bit rough to say the least. However, according to Maria and the Captain, this wasn’t the worst voyage by far.  I kind of liked it, but for a few it looked like it was hell on water.  Everyone but the Captain was taking Dramamine, although for some this didn’t seem to be enough and the Captain’s beers seemed to last a little longer than usual.  But, amidst the uncomfy hours, there were moments of beauty — three times dolphins came close to the boat and swam alongside jumping and playing.  Being one of the only ones awake at times I snuck in some Spanish practice and chatted with El Capitan who constantly referred to me as flacita (skinny one) or just “you!”

We have heard that sailing from Colombia to Panama with the favourable winds is a little easier, but for us it was an amazing adventure, the San Blas are the most stunning Caribbean Islands we have seen and we intend to return one day soon.