Thursday 25 December 2014

Happy Holidays from Amelie IV

Thursday December 24th 2014

Merry Christmas !

As we've got pretty spotty internet here in the San Blas Islands we haven't been able to do a full blog update or even Facebook updates for the past few days so we'll have to do this with just a few photos for now. Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. We're thinking of all our friends and family this holiday season, wherever you are, and wishing you all the best in the New Year.

Mark, Marie-Claude, Matthew and Meghan

Sunday 21 December 2014

Hello from Kuna Yala

Sunday December 21st 2014

Interim update; Kuna Yala (San Blas Islands)

Today we're anchored off our own bit of paradise. The uninhabited island of Gannirguinnitup, San Blas. No that's not misspelled! We're here with another kid boat we've been traveling with since Colombia called 'Perry'. The kids spent the day exploring the beach while the dad's tried their luck on the reef for supper. Quite a few undersized lobster and conch, and one spider crab that managed to get away, so no fresh seafood for supper unfortunately, oh well.

Great sights the last few days. Anchorages to ourselves, and some interesting Kuna villages that will get more attention in MC's next blog update. Definitely eyeball navigation here though. The GPS charts have been out up to 1500' since we got here. Last nights anchorage had two (!) boats wrecked on the approaching reefs in the past three weeks.


Meghan on Amelie (Written in December 2014)

Hello everyone or should I say: Hola amigos! since Amelie IV is no longer in English speaking countries or even in North America anymore! We are still in the Northern Hemisphere but have set foot in the two other Americas by now!

I have to say for my first South American adventure, it was pretty spectacular to have it in Cartagena! It was also pretty close to what I was expecting but a bit different in that it was better than I expected! First of all, there were skyscrapers, malls, movie theatres and highways! I have seen the odd mall or movie theatre in other islands but I have not seen a big highway or skyscrapers since we left Canada! It felt a bit weird sailing into the bay next to waterfront towers and stadiums instead of sandy white beaches or palm trees or little huts like all our other destinations. 

Although the modern city was a treat for us, the old city was the most fascinating part of Cartagena. Like Quebec city, the older part of Cartagena is surrounded by walls built a long, long time ago. We can actually today walk on the wall just like the Wall of China (but much smaller than the Wall of China). Here are some pictures of the walled city.

Also, one night in the city park, there happened to be some dancing show going on so we went and checked it out. The outfits were beautiful and one of the dresses reminded me of a Spanish castanet dancer’s dress. The men dancers were dressed in traditional Colombian clothes which is: all white. Most of the dances seemed African but it was obvious which ones were definitely South American. 

Friday 5 December 2014

Week 37 ; Cartagena, Colombia

Friday December 5th 2014

  ¡Buenos Dias Cartagena !

We are about to cross a busy intersection when we see these three guys on the opposite side of the street just ,very casually, hop onto one another’s shoulders, as if completely unaffected by gravity, oh, and they are carrying large knives !  This made us pause, we froze as our minds tried to process what we were seeing. “Okay, Um, what’s this now ?

The three man pyramid then walk into the street,very business like, until they are facing the waiting cars and motorcycles and they start to juggle their knives, in unison ! Just another typical work day in Cartagena !


The knife yielding trio

Performing for the waiting traffic

This famously beautiful walled city (it is a UNESCO Heritage Site) is giving us loads of opportunity to enjoy and appreciate the South American Culture. In a way it reminds me of Europe, with its narrow streets, imposing cathedrals and charming plazas.  

Soon after crossing the street they used the traffic light pole to get into position

Cristobal Colon

This is where the similarities with Europe end however, as it is distinctively South American in every other way; the salsa music, the beautiful fruit (vendors selling mouth watering fruit everywhere!), the guys wearing 15 hats on their heads as they try to convince you that you need one too, the beautiful latino women wearing high heeled sandals, the guy counting and sorting coffee beans on  the street. What a great atmosphere !  ¡Que Lindo ! 

The ubiquitous Cartagena hats sold every where

Balconies as far as the eye can see

Many years ago, Cartagena had a history of being attacked by ruthless pirates, over and over again. So it is not surprising to hear that this fortress (Castillo San Felipe) is the largest fortress ever built in the Americas. It was built by the Spanish in 1637 and took over 80 years to complete. We had fun visiting it, and walking through the many dark tunnels. S-p-o-o-k-y ! 

Not all the tunnels have been found by the way, archeologists are still excavating them !

Castillo San Felipe de Barajas
Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

The spooky tunnels in Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

The city is also an artistic and cultural hub. We have enjoyed seeing great sculptures and paintings as we wandered around the old city. 

Cartagena is a veritable artistic and cultural hub

Linguistic woes.

¡ Lo siento !  My spanish is not great ! I wish it was better !  I had studied quite a bit in preparation last March, but, that was 8 months ago..and sadly my brain has forgotten more than bits and pieces ! In theory I can get by. I can say the essential stuff and when I take the time to think about what I need to say, I can formulate a decent sentence and I can understand most of everything I read !  But when things happen muy rapido and I have to think fast, my brain freezes, (or melts one of the two) , and all that comes out of my mouth is Indonesian, or just, nothing !!!  I stand there like an idiot with a painful grin pasted on my face, unable to even remember the most basic words. Like the time the bus dropped us off at the wrong place, we were standing on the sidewalk next to the conductor who had escorted us out, the bus was about to drive away and, I lost all my words!!! It’s like when you’re playing Pictionnary and you only have a few seconds left on the timer and you are just blurting out nonsense, repeating the same word over and over again, yeah, that was me! In the end we had a good laugh, and we got to where we needed to go. It is all part of the adventure and challenge of traveling after all !

Multi coloured buses

As we walked around the old city, we have simply enjoyed being surprised by what we can discover around the next corner. Each street It is really quite stunning with the gorgeous balconies over flowing with flowers, the wonderful immense doors (with smaller doors built into them), the curios and antique shops, the many colourful vendors of the streets.

Yes, this restaurant has its very own stuffed bull greeting you at the door! 

Visiting antique stores

Did you know that Colombia is the world’s second largest exporter of Emeralds ? Neither did I !  Fortunately for our pocketbook, neither Meghan or I usually wear gems or jewels. It was interesting just the same to see the beautiful green stones in the stores. We have been enjoying visiting the plazas and trying the local food from vendors. One such snack was corn bread pan fried with cheese inside, another favourite is a 'plato' of beautiful layer; meat, cheese, plantain, more meat, topped with crispy potatoes & garlic sauce), muy delicioso! We visited El Museo de la Inquisicion. Colombia participated in the “Spanish Inquisition” in the 1600s’ and in the museum we saw a variety of “tools” which had been used to convince people to talk back in those dark days. We also got to read an interesting questionnaire that they had for “Witches and Warlocks”, Sheesh !

The Museo de la Inquisicion

Great timing !

When we first arrived in Cartagena after a 5 day crossing, it was Sunday afternoon. We were amazed at the sight of so many sky scrapers, and all of them so white !  We came in to the bay, with the Statue of Madonna and Child greeting us right in the middle of the water.We even saw a fleet of navy ships and even a couple of submarines! I had never seen a real submarine before!

The white city of Cartagena

Statue of Mary in the Harbour

Arriving into Cartagena

Immigration Building 

Inside the impressive Immigration building

A submarine !

Once we anchored and cleaned ourselves up a little bit, we went to shore, we had not checked in to Colombia yet, and we knew that we could not do it ourselves as we normally do. (In Colombia you need to hire an agent who will do the process for you). Because it was 5 pm on Sunday, we expected that we would have to wait until the next day to meet the agent, but we thought we’d just pop over to the dock at the Marina, to see what we could learn. When we got there, a lovely gentleman (named Victor) who was just hanging around the marina asked us if we needed our passport stamped. We said; “Yes! Sure !” So Victor called the agent (David) on his cell phone and told us he would be here in 1/2 hour !  Great !  So we waited. When David arrived, he asked us what country we were from. When I told him we were Canadians, his eye brows jumped up and he said : “Well I have some news for you: Starting tomorrow, Dec 1st, there will be a new fee of $80 US per person for all Canadians !”

My first thought was: “Ok, is this guy being honest, or does he pull this stunt on every new comer to get some money out of them?”  Then I found out that it was true. Our Canadian Government imposes a similar fee to all Colombian residents entering Canada and so the Colombian Government had decided to reciprocate. Luckily David was well connected and had called the immigration office and explained that there was a Canadian Family that HAD to be checked in IMMEDIATELY, and could not wait until tomorrow. 

And this is how we ended up, at the immigration office with David (who drove us) on Sunday night  narrowly missing a $320 expense ! By 6 pm we were all checked in and legal and we felt pretty darn happy. As David was driving us back to the Marina, he asked us if we needed anything else..and so we asked him to drop us off at the nearest restaurant for dinner !

And this is why we ended up in a Chinese restaurant on our first night in Cartagena ! This was a bit of a comical situation to find ourselves in because, in Calgary, when we go to a Chinese restaurant, I‘ve come to expect the owner of the restaurant to speak broken english ( I know it is a cliche, but it’s true!) But on this occasion, even if I had a few rehearsed Spanish sentences in mind, when we walked in and  were greeted by the Chinese owners.I found it difficult to get my head around speaking Spanish to this gentleman, and then when he handed us the menu and it was all in spanish, it was just too much for my exhausted brain ! And there was my family, with eyes turned expectantly towards me,waiting for me to perform my linguistic duty!  I floundered at first, but by the time dinner was over, I was proud to be able to ask for the food to be wrapped up to take away with us. We ate Chinese food for the next two dinners ! Our next destination will be the group of islands just south of the city (Islas Rosarios). We look forward to catching up on swimming and snorkelling.We will keep you posted on how that all goes, in our next blog ! Until then, Hasta Luego Amigos

Cartagena at night