Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Puerto Velero Colombia

Puerto Velero lies between Santa Marta and Cartegena. It is a big sheltered bay with plenty of room to anchor however,we stayed in the new Marina which though still work in progress has a lot to offer. The floating pontoons are good and both Alex and Juan Carlos who look after the Marina side of things are very helpful. The one thing that is noticeable about this area is it is windy!! We tied up to a finger but Alex advised us to have long lines out holding us secure from the other side of the pontoon. It seems very secure and we have the Coastguard here on a permanent basis .....they live in a steel container at the end of the pontoons! However there are few boats here I counted 18 and most of these have been left by their owners whilst they travel in land or go home for the season. I would say it's a good place to do that. I have seen Alex and Juan Carlos check their lines every few days and when we had a bit of a storm they were out along the pontoons ensuring the security of all the boats. In some Marinas I have not found this to be the case....indeed the marinos complain about getting wet! When we arrived we were told that it had not rained for quite some time and this was evident as the boats that had been here a while had a visible layer of sand on them and the one heavy downpour we have had since arriving was obviously welcome!

Checking in was not much hassle the Marina took care of just about everything although we had to get a taxi into Baranquilla to immigration which again they organised for us. Raphael our taxi driver enjoyed trying out his English while we tried to converse in our basic Spanish which consisted mainly of 'Si' ....'si' ....and the occasional 'que' ! In immigration we waited in line telling them firmly ' non hablo Espanol'  'Si' came back the reply and we were then shown into a room where the immigration officer ' non hablo Ingles!' !!  Finally realising that he was not going to get very far he took us downstairs to a very nice gentleman who spoke passable English, well better than our Spanish, and we were out of there in no time. Waiting for Raphael to pick us up we hopped over the road to a kiosk on the roadside to sample the local beer, Colombians seem to be very conscious about underage drinking and as John went to buy it he asked to see me (I was around the side of the kiosk) to check I was over 18! We got back to the boat at dusk and there were still kite surfers out on the water .....there's dedication for you!

The following day we went to local village Porto Colombia using the motorbike taxi, as only the main roads are tarmaced it was a bit of a bumpy ride but good value. John and I had a bike each ,though John's was a bit of a boy racer and got there way before me. I was rather glad I got the tortoise and arrived in one piece. We ate dinner in one of the local restaurants and then did a bit of shopping for fruit and veg. It's cheap here and whilst I'm sure we were charged a little extra.....we bought lots of fruit and veg including a huge pineapple, mangoes, advacadoes and loads more for under £2....Mustn't grumble!! Whilst we were there the bin man with a donkey came to take away all the over ripe fruit and veg .....hopefully it was going to the pigs.

There is a restaurant at the marina which is really quite good, La Kioska, run and owned by an Italian, Franco, well he's from Scicily really! The food there is great good quality and really quite good value for what you get. It also gives John and me a chance to improve our Spanish. This is coming along.... slowly. Mind we had to laugh at a Pizza Express lookalike restaurant we came across and just had to take a picture

John couldn't get them to even sell him a beer!


Thursday, 23 July 2015

Finally Colombia here we come!

Leaving Aruba proved as eventful as arriving! As the process had taken us so long when arriving we were weary about leaving. We had asked about the possibility of of Customs and Immigration coming to the Marina but this was a no go. I know that the Marina staff have been asking about this for a long time and had no success but we figured there was no harm in asking though we half expected what the response would be! We had been looking at the weather now for several weeks and there seemed to be a small weather window opening that would give us just over three days to get to Puerto Velero after that it seemed to be back to the normal pattern of 30knots plus around Cabo de Vela so we decided to go for it....
We checked out of the Marina asked Aruba Port Authority for permission to go around to the Customs Quay and slipped our lines. When we got to the Quay we were a little dismayed to find a large barge moored with enormous very long lines to the Quay so that at least half the Quay was unavailable. In front of him was a small container vessel leaving us with a very small space to squeeze into between them. With no one on the quay to help I had to leap ashore only to find our lines were not long enough to tie alongside to the Quay. As I leapt ashore I noticed the container ship was reversing at the very same time Aruba Port Control were hailing us to tell us not to come in.....we were already there!! Fortunately as we reversed as far as we could as quick as we could he saw us and completed his manoeuvre springing off the quay as quickly as he could ...disaster averted!! As well as large black tyres there are also some nasty looking rusty metal lumps on one particular bit so advice would be make sure you have plenty of fenders out on that port side!! This time the Customs and Immigration were there, they took our papers,stamped them and did the necessary in double quick time then told us they wanted us off the quay and out of there in five minutes there was a large container ship coming in! You can't win it seems but we were happy to oblige and get outta there! 

We rounded Cabo de Vela with no issues and the trip was going well until we got just past The Five Bays when we were expecting a bit more wind and as we got to Santa Marta we got it! We had stayed quite close to the shore where the winds were less but had been advised to keep 10 miles offshore as we went past the mouth of the Magdalena River and Barranquilla as the seas were confused and the winds always gusting. We had gusts of 50 knots for periods of over five minutes and I can tell you it was pretty windy! George(the auto pilot) spat his dummy out and had trouble holding us on course so John and I had to hand steer. In heavy seas and strong winds this is hard work and we have friends, David and Dimity on SV Fanny Fisher who did this all the way from the Galapogos to the Marquesas when their auto pilot packed up,....that's a long way!! Respect you guys....I don't know how you did it!  
Finally at first light with calmer seas we made it into Puerto Velero, our friend Ben was there to take our lines and after we secured the boat..we slept.
This particular bit of the Caribbean must be treated with respect...the next day another boat came into the Marina, a Vagabond 42, Emily Morgan. They had started on a trip to Aruba but had to turn back, staysail was shredded, the engine had stopped(dirty fuel), main sail jammed and a rope around the prop. They sailed in on just the headsail, it had been quite a trip for them too!
Puerto Velero is a good place to chill though and that's what we intend to do for the next few weeks!

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Still in Aruba!!

Still waiting for this wind to weaken ....no sign of that in the next few days so John and I are resigned to enjoying Aruba's hospitality for a bit longer. All of the ABC islands are arrid and having come from the lush greenery in Grenada it is a bit of a shock. There has been very little rain in the month or so since we left there. One thing we have not seen yet but have heard about are the Boa Constrictors that live on the Island. At last count there were 17000 of them on the Island! They were bought onto the Island by some unknown inhabitant who then realised that they needed a lot of feeding and so they let their 'pets' go! Unfortunately for the Island Boa Constrictors love the place and feed on the bird population quite happily. They have decimated the bird life here ! Apparently they like to hide in car engines and so have been moving all over the Island and concern is such on the Island that they have snake hunt days when the National Park Rangers will pay $10 U.S. for each live snake handed in! One guy handed over a sack with thirty of the blighters! The snakes are then killed but it appears that the population just keeps growing....

Another thing that we have noticed in all of the Islands is that at the weekends ...but particularly here in Aruba I think, is that the more affluent Venezuelans come over in their motor boats fill the boats up with food and then return back for Monday morning. It is a sad state of affairs when these guys fill up with not luxury goods but what I see as staples....sugar, flour, toilet rolls,bottled water etc. I have to say that I would not want to be in the motor boat in these winds even if fuel is ridiculously cheap!
Our neighbours here in the Marina are Keith and Ida on Cheers they have been here longer than us ...and have been lucky enough to have been offered the use of a car by other yachties that have returned home for a few weeks, so set off off on a jaunt around the Island. The importance of tourism to Aruba is evident along the coast there are strings of very smart hotels with kite surfing,snorkelling and water sports being offered. We stopped off at the California Lighthouse in the North of the Island. It is a Lighthouse originally built around around the turn of the twentieth century. It is still working but in need of some much needed tlc which apparently is on the cards.

We moved onto the Alta Vista Chapel, a tiny church and the oldest in Aruba. The majority of the seating is outside the church and there are some wonderful views. The church surrounded by cacti is still in use.

In terms of things to see .....there does not seem to be that much to see on the Island and in the South the landscape is dominated by the now abandoned Aruba Oil Refinery. The refinery is still understandably a no go area for the public and the place seemed deserted bar the security guards that patrol the perimeter but it is a bit eery! St. Nicholas ,the nearest town, previously a busy place has obviously been affected by the closure but still has a working red light district with the girls hopeful that at sometime the Refinery might open!

Latest news on when we can manage our crossing to Colombia.....the winds are looking more favourable this weekend so fingers crossed!