Thursday, 24 September 2015

Road Trip to Medellin

As we prepare to leave Colombia we were lucky enough to get the opportunity to go to Medellin with our friend Ben. He had decided to drive there as he needed to do some business there. We left Puerto Velero early and as we drove further South East the landscape changed. The area was much more rural .....green fields, cattle and more and more Gauchos. Colombia has very good air connections and the majority of people that leave from Barranquilla to go to Medellin would go by Avianca on a smart Airbus 320 but we were in a very comfortable 4x4 Pathfinder. Ben had already decided he was not going to rush and we decided to stop overnight about 8 hours into our journey. The road to Caucasia was busy but not outrageous though ominously there were quite a lot of trucks. There are Peaje on all the roads in Colombia but the tolls are not outrageous varying from 6,200 pesos to around 9,700 pesos. This sounds a lot but in reality it's between one to two pounds. A little better value than the M6toll road !However some roads are definitely better than others and those littered with pot holes made for a bumpy road at times! The gauchos on horse back definitely had the the right idea! 
A lot of Colombians use motorbikes so do not have to pay the tolls but on this road facing big trucks and lorries hurtling towards you on the wrong side of the road to avoid the potholes it is not for the faint hearted. One sight I will not forget is that of three school kids in spotless school uniform on the one bike weaving its way through the traffic to school...beats the school bus I guess.
The scenery reminded me more of England and as we got closer to Caucasia the heavens opened and we made it to the hotel just as the thunder and lightening struck. At this time of year thunder and lightening is quite common and we have now heard of quite a few boats getting struck by lightening. This can be catastrophic.....losing all your electrics is expensive and a pain to replace. The Hotel was very local, air conditioning that sounded like a DC10, cold water and lights that stemmed to have a mind of their own but it was fine we were only staying overnight. 


We left early the next morning at 7.30 anticipating that we would be in Medellin around midday. What do we know?!! 
Well we know now that the road to Medellin from Caucasia is a mother! The road climbs slowly to above 2600m, it twists and turns and at time disappears with roadworks reducing it to one lane. This would have been bad enough but you share the road with large oversize trucks that cannot manage more than 10kph and struggle to get themselves around the 180 degree bends. The scenery is beautiful though for a lot of the time the valleys were shrouded in mist. On either side of the roads were houses often no more than wooden shacks and you had to feel for the inhabitants....nowhere for the young children to play with ravine at the back and trucks hurtling past your front door. 



They had tapped the mountain streams to provide high pressure water hoses at the road. These naturally had no off switch and because it had been raining the pressure provided endless sprays of water over the road . The more enterprising inhabitants used the water to provide car washes for the trucks at various places along the road. Colombian truck drivers tend to keep their trucks sparkling and shiny......but this still does not detract from the fact that some of their driving habits left me with my heart in my mouth! Overtaking on bends on a steep incline with zero visibility seemed a particularly popular manoeuvre...
As you might of guessed in such conditions our progress was slow...40kms in three hours. However as we eventually started our descent to Medellin the scenery changed again ...the trees turned to Pine trees and if you did not know better you would have thought you were in Switzerland. The road did improve but another sight that made us all laugh out loud was that of an drivers cab on the side of the road. It looked a bit out of place and on closer inspection we discovered inside was a statue of a cab driver, a young child and the Virgin Mary! It was a shrine to all the lorry drivers that obviously use that road. Well that was certainly different! It was just a shame I did not manage to get a picture. 
Finally we made it to Medellin and we had booked a Hotel that was fairly central which turned out to be a real find. It was a great little hotel with everything you could possibly need all for the great expense of £25 a night including breakfast. Quiet air con, hot water and a fridge that worked! We also had the best meal we have had in Colombia, bottle of wine, dessert a brandy for the two of us it was a snip at £18. We made a good choice. 

The hotel was just at the gates of the San Joaquin Church, a fairly new church with an interesting design. The bells definitely worked calling people to Mass at seven o clock on Sunday morning but luckily they did not last for long. Medellin is a very new city and talking to Colombians they would say it's the place to be as it has a rail system and many modern malls. It just seemed to us that anything old had been knocked down to make way for the new. This may be a little unfair as we were only there a day but the scenery on the way made it worth the journey and like every Colombian we have met they were happy, smiley people. It had been a good trip and we arrived back at the boat to another horrendous thunderstorm and torrential rain but all was well and we were back home.
      

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Cartegena

Rather than sail to Cartegena John and I drove to the city from Puerto Velero. The journey takes just over an hour and it's a good road. We could have caught a bus but as we needed to drop off our hire car we figured that leaving it in Cartegena and treating ourselves to a few days in a hotel was a good option. The road to Cartegena is quite an easy one with nowhere near the traffic we experienced going to Santa Marta. We passed the Sombrero  Parador where we have eaten a really good meal for a great price and resisted the temptation of stopping off there for a snack! 

We booked a hotel inside the walled city ...the Zana Boutique Hotel and what a little gem it was. Air conditioned room, the Internet, breakfast on the roof terraces do all within walking distance of the main sites. The cost for four nights was very reasonable .... and the staff were great so friendly and helpful and more importantly for us..... Juan spoke English! So we did not have to resort to thrusting the iPad at them having asked the translation app to do its stuff and ask 'which way to the nearest bar!'

There is quite a lot to see in the walled city but it's hot, steamy and very busy so we decided to pace ourselves and the first stop was to the very impressive Castillo de San Felipe.  The castle is located on the Hill of San L├ízaro in a strategic location, dominating approaches to the city by land or sea.Built by the Spanish during the colonial era construction began in the year 1536 and it was expanded in 1657. Arming ourselves with hats, plenty of water and an English audio guide we were able to find our way around this impressive castle which dominates the view from the old city. Interestingly we discovered parts of English Naval History we never knew about....23,000 lost in the Battle of Cartegena, where we got our backsides kicked by a much smaller navy with the strategic importance of the fortress really coming into its own. Apparently George II instructed that the loss was to be kept quiet if you read the losses of ships as well as naval personnel you can understand why! ( https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Cartagena_de_Indias ). We were also fortunate that the heavens opened as we were nearing the hospital area, sheltering in there we found a really good video explaining the gradual development of the castle and it was in English!!

As the rain gradually eased and with the roads temporarily flooded we took refuge in a local cafe and tried out our Spanish ordering ourselves something to eat that looked vaguely recognisable.
The walled city is packed full of bars and restaurants as well as places of interest. As we walked past one an American collared us with an offer that was too good to resist....two mojito for 20,000 pesos ....that's around £4.50 ! He also countered the offer with ' if you don't like them then you don't have to pay!' .....never being one to resist a challenge we sat down and forced ourselves to try them ( not!). On a hot humid afternoon it was just what we needed....inevitably...we paid!

The bar also had a humidor with both Cuban and Colombian cigars for sale. One thing that we have noticed in Colombia is that they do not smoke. If you smoke you are very much the outsider. Cigarettes are not readily on sale in the big supermarkets and the little corner shops sell cigarettes singularly as well as by the packet. Whilst cigarettes are not expensive it is good to see the young people making the choice to spend their money on other things.

Dotted around the old city were also metal work statues and there were some in the square close to our hotel. They all depicted everyday scenes and one particular one of a guy leaning against a tree having a pee was always subject to the scrutiny of young children. Several times I saw young children tug at their mums hand and looking puzzled ask 'What's he doing Mum?' Their varying responses made me smile, some would ignore the child completely whilst others laughed and went into long explanations in Spanish (incomprehensible to me!).

Within the walled city there are many museums and statues. It is a vibrant and interesting place, street vendors on every corner are not too intrusive and they seemed to understand that 'no' meant 'no'. There is something of interest on most streets, for instance the local corner shop to our Hotel just oozed character and how it was still standing I'm not sure! Not quite your local Co op!

The naval museum is well worth a visit and whilst they do warn you that most of the signage is in Spanish, John and I used it as an opportunity to try to extend our Spanish. It is very visual so we were able to get the gist of most of the exhibits.
We spent four interesting days in Cartegena and we were glad that we decided to make it a road trip. The anchorage outside Club Nautico looked like it could get a little rolls when the powerboats come past and we were told by more than one yachtie that you hull gets fouled very quickly there. One guy even told us he had a diver go down to clean his hull every two weeks!! Yikes!
With an ever increasing list of jobs we have decided to go to Shelter Bay when we leave Colombia. We need to sort out yet another problem with our mast and so will haul out there. Now it is the inevitable wait for the weather window......