Monday, April 16, 2007

Worse things have happened at sea you know
Long story short- Hung about in Cartagena for about 3 1/2 weeks waiting for a boat, any boat. During this incarcination, we went up to Taganga for a week. I tried diving but pretty much hated it, not comfortable with all that breathing underwater stuff you see. Then back to Cartagena for a few unsucessful views of incredibly dodgy supply boats and finally the only boat we can get is The Melody, a 44ft sailboat.

It could have been ours!

Now given we arrived in Cartagena before the 15th March as instructed by Mark, the Melody´s captain and given it didn´t actually turn up till the 30th March, I´ll admit I would have rather taken the first barge out of there but seeing as that wasn´t an option, it was the Melody or nothing. Oh and as I predicted, Mark´s promise of a ´quick turnaround if there were at least 2 other people´turned into a wait of another 4 more days and an incredible 9 people on the boat.

So....On the eve of our scheduled departure, we turned up to the marina on the outskirts of Cartagena to get the bikes loaded onto the boat. To do this, mark tied a thick piece of rope around the bike´s frame and handlebars, then after nervously pushing the bike to the end of a narrow pier, the main spinicker line is tied to the rope on the bike. After that, its just a simple matter of winching the line which once the bike starts to get off the ground, it wants to swing into the side of the boat so another line is used to control the lateral movement. I´ll admit my heart was in my mouth a few times but in fact, it went pretty smoothly and after an hour or so, we had both bikes lon the boat, tied down on either side of the mast. Phew.

Don´t f%cking drop it!

So the next morning, we duly turn up at the marina at 6am to meet our fellow yachtie travellers and to finally get moving towards Panama. The plan is for 2 days sailing to the San Blas islands, 2 days on the San Blas islands and one days sailing to Portobello in Panama. Now normally Mark only goes to the San Blas Islands for 2 days, but as we´ve been waiting for 3 1/2 weeks for his boat, he has decided to give everyone an extra day on the San Blas so we´ll be there for 3 days not 2, strewth! After leaving shortly after 6am, we were somewhat detained by the Colombian Coastguards who, after boarding the Melody, spent the best part of 1 1/2 hours along with an a sniffer dog, going through ALL the luggage (which had all been secured by this point) and inspecting every nook and crany on board. Thankfully after finding nothing suspicious, it was out to sea.

Anyway its a little cramped on board, what with 9 people but at least we have the better of the few beds there are. There are 3 ´doubles´, 1 section of couch and er, the floor so they claim 8 beths). I´d heard from one of the guys who was on the boat coming the other way, that en-route from the San Blas to Cartagena, the captain announced that he´s not so good between 1am and 6am and so goes to bed leaving the night-time sailing to the passengers. Unbelievable but true and as we´d had the pleasure of paying double the fare that eveyone else was paying, we made sure that we didn´t lift a finger all night. I did do some sailing from 6am the next morning though, more due to not being able to sleep than anything else. Michelle didn´t take too well to the swell though and after spewing off the back of the boat, spent the next couple of days in bed where the movement of the boat wasn´t too bad.

There really wasn´t much to see for the first couple of days as we were out of sight of land but around 10pm the following night, I woke up (sleeping as much as possible was the best option) to find we´d finally arrived at the San Blas. We anchored next to Old School, Marks shrimping boat that they hope to turn into a floating hostal one day (but not if the Kuna people have anything to do with it though). The next day, we were taken to Pot Luck, one of the islands in a rubber dinghy. It was a nice but very small island of maybe 150m diameter and a few coconut trees although the water was very clear and we managed a couple of hours mucking about till we were summoned back to the ´Mother Ship´ for a dinner which didn´t happen for another few hours. On day 2, it pretty much rained all day so we made pancakes and drank though when it did finally clear up in the afternoon, Mark went off snorkelling with 2 of the passengers leaving the rest of us with nothing to do as there was only one dinghy.

Pot Luck Island

On day 3, (our bonus day if you will) we were all taken on Melody to the Kuna village islands which none of us really wanted because we knew that Mark was actually going to church there anyway so it really wasn´t much of a bonus. We were dropped off to wander around the island and meet the locals, though most of them appeared to be drunk. There really wasn´t much to do there for 2 hours while the captain and his wife went to church (they´re Mormons) and thankfully we were picked up again and taken back to Old School. We managed to occupy ourselves well enough the rest of the time as we all had a fairly good supply of beer and rum. The latter was put to good use by Sandra and Lars, Michelle and I in cocktails made with the plentiful supply of fruit on board.

Thankfully Monday finally came and it was ´up anchor´ as we set sail at 6am, first for El Porvenir for some passport stamping and then to our destination, Portobello. I could feel the stress of the last month disapearing already. We arrived just before dark which meant that by the time it came to off loading the bikes, it actually was dark. The offloading process is similar to the loading one but as there is no jetty for our size of boat, the bikes were lowered onto a small launch with yours truly holding it upright. The launch then motored over to the pier where a group of ´helpers´were waiting. The bikes were then manhandled (in the dark, no one thought to bring a torch) off the launch and up to the pier. The stress of the last month suddenly reapeared at this point as this process was less than smooth. After one of the (very drunk) helpers fell into the water (twice), God knows how but somehow we ended up with 2 bikes upright on the jetty. That is something I´ll never want to do again. We arrived in Panama exactly one month after getting to Cartagena. Next time I´ll fly from Bogotta!

We did meet some great people on board though: Sandra and Lars from Sweden, Volka from Germany, Ethan from Canada, Neil from UK and (another) Michelle from Australia who for reasons only known to herself was going to ´boat-sit´Old School for Mark and his wife for a month while they went on holiday.

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