Northern Colombia was the final leg on my South American adventure...next stop Panama and Central America travelling in style by sail boat (another mode of transport tick!)
Northern Colombia is blessed with nice colonial towns and fishing villages. The area was key for the Spanish years ago sending treasure back to Spain...the pirate (as the locals call him) Sir Francis Drake also fought in the area.
The area is also famous for its beaches and Tayrona NP. Not necessarily the tranquil secluded beaches i was expecting but they got better towards Palomino. Nothing i like more than getting hassled every 5 mins for a drink, an ice-cream or a massage! It was great to chill after partying in Cartagena and catch up on some tome reading. Highlight for me were the sunsets...as majority of the beaches faced west cocktail or beer o'clock was an absolute joy after a hard day of chilling on the beach. Also managed to sneak in some animal watching with some cheeky monkeys on the beach throwing me mangos. Unfortunately on the to-do list for next time are the mountains in the region...one of the few places in the world where you can be sitting in snow and look down to the beaches. Also wanted to explore by the motorbike on offer but flip flops and shorts are not the desired kit of choice with Colombian drivers!! Oh well can't do it all the first time!!
Tayrona NP is a worthwhile stop as has some very picturesque beaches and ruins. Did a 5 hour walk in my Havianas over mountains and cant shout out how good they are as footwear...4 yrs old and still going strong! Hoping that with my 23,000 views of PalmerTours site Mr Haviana will be sending me a few pairs for a shameless plug...did i say i also like Omega watches and Aston Martin's!
Also dipped my toes in the Caribbean Sea (which has to be the warmest in the world) with some scuba gear. Been 12 years since the Great Barrier Reef so needed a refresher before the stunning dive spots of Honduras next month. After forgetting all hand signals plus how the kit operates for the first dive went down to 32m for some Moray Eels which were cool...realised that although great seeing the fish i just love pretending to be Superman and doing spins!! Sorry no photos of my superhero pose as awaiting Santa Marta dive school to post.
Now those who are geographically savvy will know that to get from Colombia to Panama is tough. The Darien Gap (land crossing) is very difficult due to the jungle and gorilla activity (not the hairy banana eating kind!). This is the only place between Alaska and Ushuaia where the Panamericana Highway doesn't exist. So options are flying, quick speedboat near to the border or as I did by sail boat from Cartagena to Panama. A 200 nautical miles journey of open sea for 5 nights with the sail of 36 hrs and 3 nights on the tropical San Blas islands. For some is a relaxing boat trip or in my case a sailing adventure!! It's meant to be
My original plan was a catamaran for stability. This was fully booked so moved to an 8 berth monohull that didn't turn up. So finally ended up on the 35ft Northern Drifter with one very chilled captain and 5 travellers...great bunch of people as it turned out...in fact an Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman...except couldn't remember any decent jokes!!
Anyway back to the adventure...arrived quayside with the customary slab of beers and bottle of rum. Before getting on the boat our captain offers us a "smoke" which is always a good sign for the alertness needed for the days ahead!! We get on board and off we go with the bright lights of Cartagena behind us. I had to ask where the life jackets were and general boat awareness. We had a lightning storm to the port (left) side but wind from the starboard (right) side so safe...or so we thought. It all started going Pete Tong!! Wind changed direction so the lightning storm was heading towards us. The engine broke so purely under sail power. I was throwing up my pizza within 2 hours (and I thought I had sea legs!! All those years aboard Miss Flexi didn't pay off). The navigation lights on top of the mast failed when in a busy shipping lane. Plus we had to do watch for 2 hour stints through the night to allow our captain to sleep/rest...or in our case "smoke" more! Lets just say he took phrase "sailing the high seas" a bit too literally...night 1 was an eye opener!!
Due to no engine and the wind dying our supposedly 36 hour sail turned into 50 hours. So you can sense my relief when we arrived to the protection and paradise of the San Blas Islands. Don't get me wrong I loved the crossing when not ill...the plankton at night lit up the sea...we caught a large tuna off the back so had lovely steaks for breakfast...didn't have the engine noise for hours so could relax and get to know the crew...plus our captain had bought some delicious food for our trip no doubt for his munchies!!
The San Blas Islands are beautiful as the photos will show. Loads of small islands in crystal clear water with some great snorkelling spots in reefs with rays, eels and turtles. The indigenous Kuna people make an existence from fishing and was great to buy their catch of the day (crayfish, crab and snapper) or in our case barter with them for a "smoke". Like all these remote places you think you are isolated but you can still get TV and mobile reception...in fact the Kuna's were bizarrely watching a skiing programme!
So in conclusion had a great trip/experience and met some cool travellers. Issue is you all pay the same price of $500 regardless of which boat you are on. Due to only one captain/crew it was left to us to cook (I avoided as have barely cooked for a year!) and wash up at all times which for other boats wasn't required...so less relaxing. I have realised that if I was to do this again or buy a boat it needs to be at least 80ft catamaran to stand a strong chance of not being ill!!