Sunday, 29 July 2012

Cartagena, Colombia Part 1

Welcome to the northern tip of South America!! Cartegena, Colombia..  My first impressions are very good!  I didn't expect such a modern good looking city from the boat. 

After breakfast we are waiting on the bow of the Independence and I ask Kevin how did he enjoy his journey?  I got quite a response!!  It's the perfect combo.  A big smile for the greatest time in the San Blas Islands, the finger refers to the last 2 days of hell... Good answer.

We have motorcycles to sort out, so the first job of the day is to ferry the non-motorcycle passengers to shore so they can be free to move on. Lucky dogs!!!

After they're gone, the captain tells us that we are not taking the bikes to shore today until our bikes and passports and passed through the agent.  He wants to charge us $75 USD to do this.  We all have enough border crossing experience not to have to pay him to process paperwork for us. We politely declined. ;-/

We were not going to stay another night on this boat, so we went to shore as well to organize a hostel.

This is where Kevin decides to give the captain (who is driving the dinghy), a proper Scottish mouthful!  He was still really ticked off about the life jackets situation and the captain is still standing by his argument that he has plenty.  Why then.... have seen only 8!  If we needed fast access to them, where are they?  We are on the dinghy leaving the Independence still totally unaware of all these life jackets he claims to have.  "I will get them for the passengers if they need them... " That's not good enough!!!  Go Kevin!!!!!!

Once we were off the dinghy and enjoying our leisurely illegal entry into Colombia, the bikers all went their separate ways except Patrick, me and Kevin.  The plan is to meet up with the others tomorrow to unload our bikes from the Independence.

The best thing we can do at the moment is start our mad search on foot for a place to stay.  There are two areas most recommended.  One is the old town.. expensive.  And Getsemani neighborhood... much cheaper.  Guess which one we chose? 

Our first meal off the boat and even better our first meal in SOUTH AMERICA!!!! Life dreams are coming true..!!!!

So far, we are thinking Colombia is pretty darn cool.  We ran across the other boys still searching for hostels as well.  We joined up and found a place down a road that had enough rooms for all of us.

This was our street, loved it as soon as I saw it. I'm glad we chose the Getsemani neighborhood.  It's not recommended as the safest place to stay, but we never had a problem and loved the location and character.

After a big big shower, we set out to explore more of the old town Cartegena at night.

Which way do we go???

Kevin said "Even at this angle it's a long way to the bottom of South America".  He thinks it looks big.. I think it looks small. Every time I see this I can't help to sing, "It's a small world after all.. "

The next morning all the bikers congregate at the dock to return to the dreaded Independence.  While waiting, we saw another dinghy loading motorcycles for the opposite direction and they are from the more famous Stahlratte aka Steel Rat.  We originally wanted to take this boat as well, but it was well booked in advance and we were not willing to wait.

Anyway, Kevin went right over to discuss their loading/unloading procedures, because we thought it was really strange to drop us off right in the middle of a city and country without going through the immigration process.. and of course the life jacket issue, etc.  When he told the Stahlratte guys our storm experience they couldn't believe it.  They, as well as most other boats, watched the weather reports and chose NOT TO SAIL THROUGH THAT STORM!!  Ugh!

That waterlogged boat we are returning to this morning is preparing for the new passengers boarding this afternoon.  (How they are going to get all the bedding including mattresses dry from SALT WATER in one day is beyond me) Plus there is an issue with the wooden floors warping already.

Anyway, that is why he sailed through the storm, more passengers = more money.  I understand that, business is business.  But not when you put the lives of others at stake.

We're picked up by the captain and back on the boat now... Oh man, that smell!!  We packed up our bike gear and my green t-shirt I found on our little paradise of one-tree island is still in our cabin.  Kevin looks at me, aren't you keeping it?  I said, no.  It's smells it's full of holes, I don't need this shirt in the limited space I have on my bike.  He asks, "Can I have it?"  Sure!  Not sure why you'd want it but go for it!

Now for the scary process of hanging my bike over a very deep ocean by a rope and then lowering it into the wobbly dinghy below.  Sorry for the overload of photos again in this post.

This shot made me laugh.. it's a Kevin photo taken in my time of wanting to get to the deck below as fast as possible to catch my bike if it falls.... yeah right!!

I screamed a couple times on this one.  The waves are not horrible, but they are choppy enough to make me feel I could lose the bike just from being nervous.

The photo below is not my best angle, but it was the best way I could stay balanced with the bike.

Now Kevin's bike .

Oh man.. don't drop it!!!!

Here comes Kevin.. He is all smiles, no where near as nervous as I was.

So.. check this out.  The police show up!  We knew that it was wrong for the captain to have us unload on a standard city dock.  He says he does it all the time, and we don't know any better. 

To make a long silly story short, as this captain never fails to surprise us, the police go out to meet with him and charged him a fine for exactly that!  Unloading foreigners AND motorcycles onto a city dock!  I wish I knew how much the fine was.  I wanted to pipe up and say.. can you do a Maritime inspection while you're out there???  Any boat safety standards apply in Colombian waters?

The police were cool with us though and we did as they asked which was to ride to the Customs office after all bikes are unloaded and ready. After a few hours, we had each and every bike off the boat.  Need to give the captain some credit, not a single bike was dropped in the drink. All in all the captain was a nice man, just a little loopy.

Kevin (above on the concrete fence) is taking this photo below..  Little girl black dog was hanging around us all day.. She makes another appearance in the next blog.

We made it to Customs!!! Let the process begin!!!

Don't get too excited.  We arrived the Customs office (Aduana), only to find them closed for lunch.  Damn.. it never fails!!!!! Might as well have our Colombian South American lunch too.

So here's the complete motorcycle team.  Annie from Scotland, bought a Harley Davidson in Florida and is riding south solo... Good on ya Annie!!!  Next is Sam, Dan's good Australian friend who lives here in Colombia, Dan from Oz on KLR, David from the USA on BMW 1200gs, Guillaume from Montreal Canada on KLR, Brad from the US on a bright yellow Suzuki V-strom, Patrick you all know,  from Canada on Suzuki DR650, Kevin and me!  Missing in this shot is Conor from the UK on a Red Suzuki V-Strom.  He is as bit overwhelmed from the heat and humidity and sitting outside with the coldest glass of water we could find.  I don't think I've had a photo of all of us together yet, so I wanted to introduce a bit better. By the way, my first Colombian meal ended up to be "Cuban" rice. It was fantastic and I've never been there either!

Welcome to Colombia....  Hasta luego! ;-)
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Saturday, 28 July 2012

Panama to Colombia Part 3 - Sailing through the storm

After our day in paradise, the next day is without islands and paradise.  It's open water the remaining voyage to Colombia.

We can not sleep in our cabins.  There are no windows that open for fresh air.  The captain only runs the generators twice a day for a short time, so the toilets are completely full.  He suggests we go over the edge and what shocks us is that the waves are so high, if somebody went overboard doing their business, we would never be able to turn this big boat around to be to pick them up.  On top of that, we'd probably never know somebody was missing until it was too late, or be able to see them in the dark.  Anyway, the stale air stench downstairs on top of the heat was too much to bear.

So Kevin and I took our sleeping bags and pads up to the top roof and slept under the stars. He was like a kid in a candy store, so excited about sleeping on the roof. It was sort of like building a fort when we were kids. He had us all strapped in as we are literally on the roof. If the boat started rocking too much we would definitely roll off one side or the other!

At this stage, the sea was still calm within the island group.  About half way through the night, Kevin started throwing up a lot.  I got worried about him going over the edge, so all I could do is stay with him and get him water.  This continued until the sun came up, the poor thing.  We've been on the boat long enough that it can't be sea sickness.  I think he ate a bad lobster last night, however, the others were not sick.  So it's still a bit of a mystery.

The captain is usually in his cabin, which leaves either the staff to drive the boat.. or us!  He's doing well!  The captain is 68 (if he was telling the truth), and his young Colombian wife is around 23.  (ick...)  She more or less runs the boat, the other two young Colombians are making 3 big meals per day, washing dishes, sailing the boat, all boat maintenance.. jumping up every time the captain yells for them from his cabin.  It's all a bit crazy.

So the following day in the rough seas, we offer to help sail.

Gui, the young Canadian found that if he sails, he is not so sea-sick.  The waves are gigantic now and most of the passengers are throwing up.  I'm not sick at all.  Gui drove for as long as he could.  It was too cute.  He has heavy metal music in his ears and jamming out to the waves, having a good ol' time.  He did very well too!  Keeping the boat on course is so difficult in these waves!

As I soon found out.  One of the staff teaches me to do the same when Gui took a break.  It was really really hard to keep the boat on track!  Each gigantic wave would knock it to the side and I had to try to steer it back into the waves.  I could have used some heavy metal myself!!

Aussie Dan does his bit to help sail the ship 

This is the state of Gui when he wasn't driving.  And then I've got Kevin on the floor next to me at the captains wheel. I feel so bad for them.. and the others around the boat.  Kev's not throwing up anymore, but he's not feeling well either.  (He did take that photo of me above at the wheel though. He thought that was cool even though I was doing a horrible job...)

So sick and being in the hot smelly cabins would only make it worse.  They try to sleep and survive up on deck.

The seas got rougher and rougher.  You really needed to hold on to get around, even on this huge 85 foot steel boat.  One of the American girls asked the captain to explain safety or emergency procedures.  He said we will throw you a life jacket.  We asked where the life jackets are so we can help save each other (since he's mostly in his cabin). He said we have them everywhere.  The boat has 23 passengers for a maximum 20 passenger capacity.  So, where exactly are the life jackets??  We asked often. The German captain kept telling us this boat will never sink.  That's why he bought it.  Uh... Captain.. ever heard of the Titanic??

Finally Kevin went on a search and found a total of 8 life jackets.  He was livid!!!! Here is a photo of all the life jackets he found.  Kevin's theory why the captain wouldn't show us the life jackets in the first place is because he didn't have enough, and didn't want that issue.

So happy days have taken a turn for the worse....

We have all of our panniers and gear stuffed inside our little cabin..  Just a photo, that didn't bother us, totally understandable. On all boats space is limited.

The last night we knew we couldn't sleep on the roof.  Too dangerous, the boat was rocking and rolling big time in the huge waves.  We couldn't sleep downstairs either, so we stuck to the little spot on the floor next to the captains chair... and made the most of it. ;-)

We really needed to save a place on the floor as the only other option was the small lounge, and all of the passengers need to find a space.  This is the young German couple saving theirs at our feet.

Kevin is feeling much better and the tables of turned.  Now, he is really looking after me instead!  I wasn't sick, just a bit nervous about the bikes and the boat.  The waves are between 15-30 feet high.  It's fun for a while, then in the dark it gets a bit scary for me.  He literally just held on to me the whole night. I felt very safe in a rather unsafe situation. After going through most of the world alone, I was really grateful how he took care of me.

In the dark, Kevin did a little sound recording only, no video.  But I just heard it today and was laughing so hard!  I could tell he was using humor to take our minds off the crazy storm.

He's saying, "Whey didn't we fly...?"  It was my fault.  Sailing from Panama to Colombia sounded far more fun and adventurous than a boring flight.. for us and our bikes!  I'm not sure I sounded that way when I suggested it though.. ;-)))

We were doing everything we could to keep ourselves braced, Kevin was holding on to me tighter than ever and then BAM!!!!!  This massive wave hit and threw us over to the other side of the boat! We are all soaked, our sleeping mats, everything with sea water.  I ran downstairs to get my SPOT tracker to press the emergency button if we needed help. 

When I got downstairs, I found the wave had come through the windows of the lounge where some of the backpackers were trying to sleep.  EVERYTHING is completely broken or soaked with salt water.

I'm watching water pour in to the lower deck and cabins below through the ceiling.. all the bedding and floors are soaked as well. By miracle, the bed in our cabin is not wet.  I stayed downstairs in the smelly place holding on to whatever I could.  Kevin was pissed off and wanted to stay up on deck to keep an eye on the situation and the captain, however coming down often to check on me.

The storm finished about 2 hours later, you could totally feel it.  It wasn't like we were sleeping.. as much as we tried. The boat was getting calmer and calmer.  Kevin took my waterproof camera for more photos.  It's a sorry case when the table was one the only place these two could attempt sleep. I'm not totally sure who this is, but it looks like the Australian boys.

As with most things in life, after the storm, the sun always rises in the morning.. 

Everybody is drying out.. The motorcycles were completely covered in salt water.  Every little bit of metal on each bike is now brown or red.

Cartegena Colombia is in sight.. Hallelujah!

We are all glad this is nearly over and we'll be leaving the Independence soon.  Despite a rough couple of days, and regardless of a totally trashed boat, the young Colombian staff made us a nice big breakfast.  Kevin and his self-photo talent managed to get everyone in with one arm.. including himself!  It's good to see so many happy faces again.

It's also exciting to see South America.  I have wanted to come here all my life.. There is a huge continent ahead, and it looks like it's not only me that feels this way...
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