Monday, June 29, 2009

Cholon Beach Bar Bingo

Bahia de Cholon - Colombia 10 09.7N 75 39.9W

We came down to Cholon, about a two hour motor, on Friday. It is a beautiful Bay accessed via a narrow cut where you pass right next to a sand bar with several tables and sun shades set up in about waist deep water next to a beach. We had seen pictures of people sitting at these tables, drinking a beer and having a good time, so we knew we would need to go there for lunch before we left. We spend Saturday and Sunday between Better Days and Visions, with a visit to Roberto on shore who is a retire LA cop and very cruiser friendly. We also took an amazing dingy ride about 2 miles through the mangroves to Baru. Baru is probably the poorest town I have ever been to, but the people were incredibly nice and the mangroves are both beautiful and productive as the primary mode of transportation by the locals (sort of the Venice of Colombia).

Today we decided to stay one more day in order to enjoy the beach bar. Being a national holiday here, it was quite busy for a Monday. We dingied up, tied up to a tent, bargained for our meals, table, and chairs; and took in the scenery--boy was there some amazing scenery. We met a very nice Colombian medical student, in his final training toward becoming a plastic surgeon, and it appears he will do well in Colombia based on the number of "enhanced" chests we saw. The Colombian women are not shy and the swarths of twenty somethings were out in force. Pics will surely be coming once we get some decent Internet, and Bill even shot some video...certainly not to be missed by the lesser half of the reading audience.

Tomorrow we leave for Panama and the San Blas. Can't hardly wait.

Cartagena Part 2 - Captains Blog

With some reluctance, I have left Cartagena behind. True cruising is a delicate balance of time and distance; it takes time to become familiar with and learn about each place we visit and more time to mine their best features, yet there often arises a sense of a need to move on. While it seems that we have a luxurious amount of time, most every other boat out here is out for the duration. Itineraries are measured in multitudes of years, or built around cruising seasons and where to leave boats for planned return trips home. Our 18 months actually pales in comparison…but I am not complaining. Not really, anyway!

Cartagena was an interesting city, and I remain quite intrigued with both Cartagena and Columbia, I also feel that I have only touched a few highlights – similar to visiting NYC and only seeing the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building, or a Boston tour limited to Paul Revere's house and Faneuil Hall.

Founded in 1533, Cartagena was recognized by the Spaniards as a key port and one that would allow control of the northern Caribbean, if not the whole of Eastern South America.

(Old Cartagena Picassa)

Our highlights of Cartagena included the Catedral Cartagena des Indias. Attacked and essentially held hostage in the 1586 siege of the city by Francis Drake, the Cathedral collapsed in Drake's attack and was reconstructed but attacked again and again as a symbol of the city and as the leading place of worship.

(Catedral Cartagena des Indias Picassa)

The mountains in central Columbia were also rich with gold and the combination of strategic land and riches marked Cartagena as a prize worth fighting over. There were 5 pirate attacks in the 16th century alone. As a response, a wall was constructed entirely circling the "centro" and a protective circle of forts and fortifications were constructed in a ring around the city over a 197 year time frame, again encouraged by a successful French attack of the city in 1697. Club de Pesca lies within the confines of the first fortification built to protect the city.

The little red x marks on the maps give you a sense of the defensive ring. The hand points to the major water entry to the city, Boca Chica and here are the forts as they look today.

Fortification Picassa

The Castillo San Felippe de Barahas, a fort built into a hillside, and the Naval Museum were more highlights. Construction techniques evolved and over time high thin walls designed to repel spears and hand propelled weapons were eventually replaced by lower and thicker walls to defend against cannon fire. The Naval Museum was quite proud of the Spanish military engineering exhibited, and numerous dioramas depicted the time line of the fortification – with English subtitles, to boot!

(Naval Museum Picassa)

The Castillo San Felippe de Barahas addressed a weakness in the cities defense, and protects the city from (the only possible) land attack from the North. Designed to cross fire with guns placed at a fortified hilltop, the main entry was designed as an upsloping hall, forcing any invaders to open themselves to gun fire. The lower level had a defensive maze in the event of intrusion.

(Castillo San Felippe de Barahas Picassa)

A most famous battle was a British attack by Edward Vernon in 1741. By this time it appears that the defensive ring was completed, as the much smaller Spanish force resisted a 186 ship armada (picture them all anchored just outside the harbor) with over 2000 cannon and a 24,000 man invasion force.

The hilltop fortification by a monastery (now the The Convent of La Popa) was briefly taken in the battle, but the English eventually retreated. The views from the 150 meter high site are impressive.

(Convent of La Popa Picassa)

Cartagena today seems to recognize the desirability of tourism. The city feels safe (with a modicum of city smarts) and is clean – there are orange suited men everywhere sweeping and cleaning the streets. People seem poor, but happy and we have experienced, at least in the marina, very industrious people. There is a vibrant underground economy in Columbia and it also seems that everyone is trying to sell you something – but I was impressed that there was a relative paucity of outright begging. The people are friendly and very patient with my (our) language deficit. A simple apology about my lack of spanish - aka "lo siento" or "I am sorry" goes a long way. Of course, this is somewhat of a metaphor for life in general.

Filled with plazas, churches, and beautiful 16th century architecture, Cartagena was a worthy stop. The Bay of Cholon was beckoning however. With clean water to swim in and good friends to share it with, Cholon is proving to be another winner.

(Modern Cartagena Picassa)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Leaving Cartagena

Last night we headed over to Silandra V for cocktails and said said goodbye to the friends we met here - Kieth & Briney (Silandra V - Rich was at Surf Camp in Panama this week), Dan & Jaimie (Neria), David (Brudair), and Steve & Connie (Better Days).

We have enjoyed it here in the city, but are ready to stretch our fins and be able to swim, so we are headed down to the Bay of Cholon, about 20 miles south for at least a few days before heading across to the San Blas. Internet will likely become much more spotty for the next few weeks, so expect less pictures, and less phone calls via skype, but we will stay in touch, and I promise Bill will eventually finish his 2nd post about Cartagena's historical tour.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Cartagena Pt 1

The city of Cartagena des Indias

Greetings from Cartagena, Columbia. Jo and I rejoined Visions of Johanna this past Wednesday, safely berthed at Club de Pesca on the island of Manga.

Literally ensconced within an early 17th century fortress, the marina is gated and exceedingly secure. While the Isle of Manga is residential and not unsafe, security at the marina is job one and there are always guards at the gate, as well as several others scattered around. They often position themselves at the ends of each “T” dock, and as we are berthed near a “T” head, we often feel that we have a “boat guard” standing by of our very own. The marina is full and we are shoehorned into a tight stern-to slip.

It was a bit exciting backing in to said slip with at least 12” between us and the pilings to port and starboard, but fortunately, both we and the pilings escaped unscathed. Fortunately, we have a full but shapely stern which just nestles into the diminutive fingers.

While I was gone, various boat jobs were done either by Gram or under his direction. Aside from the major acquisition and installation of the air conditioning unit, a forward bow awning is being sewn, some varnish work was done, and our baby was washed and awl-cared.

The Columbian people, certainly those who work about the marina, are industrious and hard working. Labor is inexpensive, and our friend Javier, and his twin brother Reynaldo, will spend a seven hour day working on your boat for $50,000 Pesos, or about $25.00 dollars.

More on the people of Cartagena later, but suffice it to say that I have found them to be uniformly friendly, interested, and patient with us and in our attempts to communicate.

Hopefully we will soon get back into a regular blogging mode, but since our return on Wednesday, we have been having a great time busy as both tourists and with typical vessel maintenance. The engine room and sole has been cleaned and the boat is being squared away. Even simple chores such as changing money and going to the outdoor market becomes an adventure.

Saturday I managed to squeeze a swim and a run in between early an morning cockpit teak clean and brighten, a wonderful and informational mid-day city tour, and finally…drum role please…a wrestle with a toilet as I changed seals and valves on the vacu-flush head. It worked again the second time I put it back together.

The long awaited Saturday tour made the day worthwhile and was much anticipated, as our first tour attempt with (our fantastic) delivery crew failed. Thus, I dedicate this portion to Jacob, Chuck, and Peter. I have become quite fascinated by the history of Cartagena, a history colored by wars, walls, and defensive measures necessitated by geography and it’s strategic location. Now a city of 1.2 million, the area was inhabited by indigenous Carib Indian tribes until European colonization by the Spaniards in the early 1500’s. A 200 year litany of siege and attacks, ensued, necessitating the creation of a walled fortress around the downtown (centro) and multiple, multiple strategically located forts and armaments.

The picture is from the Museo Naval del Caribe Cartagena de Indias. More details about this and our tour of the fort to follow soon but it is now time to get back to chores and tourism.

Also, please see our picasa web albums for more photos.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Cartagena Videos

Cartagena Colombia

Bill will have more tomorrow from our historical tour today, but here are two videos of the city from the monastery at the top of the hill. The first shows the tourist areas of Manga (Mango), Getsamany, Centro, & Bocagrande. This is where the "plastic people" live.

The second shows the real Cartagena where the workers live and shop including the large red arched market, the bull ring, and a sprawling metropolis.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Air Conditioning

Cartegena Colombia - 10 24.5N 075 32.6W

Well, Chuck wins the bet....and it took less than two weeks. After two sleepless nights due to extreme heat and no wind and stories of the San Blas being even hoter at times I managed to procure a used Air Conditioning unit from our friend David on Brudair. I had originally wanted to bring down a dehumidifier, becoming a believer in their cooling and comfort factor in Hawaii, but we weren't sure if it would fit, so it didn't make the list. I tried to find one here, but no-one even knew what they were and the only units I found were very small "mini" units. It appears they either have Fans or A/C here in Colombia. I then looked everywhere for a portable air conditioning unit. They are like window units, but the whole unit sits in the room (on wheels...hence the portable part) and they use a duct (or preferably two) to pump the hot air out a window. This would be a much easier install than trying to fit a window unit to a flat hatch. I did finally find a place that has some on order, but he didn't know when they would get there and the price was rather steep at over $600 for a 9,000 btu unit (this would be about $300 in the US).

I knew David had a 16,000 Btu unit for sale, trying to make space as they are now using a window unit into their butterfly hatch, so I went about determining if it would fit. After many careful measurements I determined that it would fit under the sink in the galley and we could use the SW intake for the sink spigot as the supply and drain out the deck drain using a left over SS "Y" fitting we had in our spares box. Wiring would be easy as the AC panel is right there. Short term we would just run the duct-work out the cabinet which would probably need to be open for proper air supply and long term, we could put a louvered vent out the inboard face below the AC panel and put louvers in the door or kickstop for return air.

It took about 2 1/2 hours on Saturday to take the AC unit out of Brudair, complicated as the foam pad had bonded to the wood platform pretty well over the 5 years it had been installed. I then spent about an hour cleaning the unit and strainer on the dock. Here I made a minor mistake that would come back later.

Sunday morning I got started at 7:00 installing the system. The strainer ended up fitting in the back of the cabinet mounted to the plexiglass separator, with the pump just forward of that and the main unit outboard. I had to relocate the fire extinguisher within the cabinet and relieved the water filter bracket with my dremel to make the fit easier. By 2:00, just 5 hours later, the unit was up and running, producing cold air. I had the crew of Silandra V over for drinks to celebrate the accomplishment and then sat down for a movie. About halfway through, at 8:30 or so the unit shut off with a high pressure alarm, which is usually caused by insufficient cooling. I tried a few things, checking the strainer and things, but couldn't figure it out and was getting tired and gave up at about 9:45. The next morning I tried a few things, eventually finding two small muscle shells in the pump that must have gotten past the strainer when I was cleaning it. I figure they took a while to work their way into the pump, explaining why it ran fine for over 6 hours. It worked the ramainder of monday evening and overnight, allowing me to sleep in comfort, even requiring a sheet over me for the first time in weeks.

I went about trying to figure out the power consumption today, but it appears our electric meter (on the dock) isn't operational. I know it uses about 3 kW when running, but don't have a great idea of what that means over 24 hours or so. The bad news is I don't know how much power it uses over time, but the good news is I guess we aren't paying $.25 US per kW since the meter doesn't work. It will be interesting to see what the marina does when we go to check out, but I think we are fairly safe.

The rents show up Wednesday afternoon, so I will finally have some company. Today is a holiday here (no-one knows what the holiday is, but much is closed and noone is working). Hopefully the Stainless polishers will finish tomorrow so I can wash the deck Wednesday morning (it will be covered in dust from the polishing and being in this city) before Bill and Mom get here.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Finally some Relaxation

Cartegena Colombia - 10 24.5N 075 32.6W

Last night was just too hot to sleep. I finally got to sleep around 1:00 in the hamock and moved downstairs at 3:00. Made for a slow morning, but that was ok. The awning guy came by about 11:00 and he was my final worker to deal with so I was free. I packed up the bike, and went to the fan shop to exchange the fan for my room that had died the night before (perfect timing) and then to the fabric shop to find some netting for the companionway (partial success). Then it was on to the Hotel Caribe where I have joined the gym/pool. I headed to the beach for about an hour before getting sick of being pestered and headed back to the pool. A nice swim, some reading, a short nap, and then another swim before hopping back on the bike for the 20min ride home in some CRAZY traffic. This is not a ride I would suggest mom go on, but it is fine as long as you are confident in traffic. The good news is people ride bikes here, so the cars are used to it...they just drive like maniacs so you need confidence that you can ride VERY straight and stop on a dime if neccesary (Newport was good training for this). The good news is this evening seems much cooler and at least at 6:30 there is still a breeze.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Best Job EVER

Cartegena Colombia - 10 24.5N 075 32.6W

I found my new favorite chore on the boat....defrosting the freezer. The humidity is so high here that the frost was already becoming a problem on the freezer plates. There is too much food to defrost the "normal way" so instead, you have to shave the frost off with a knife. The good news of this method is that you end up with a medium sized bowl of snow which feels really good when rubbed over your body and stuck under your armpits.

This afternoon brought a series of thunder-showers that have pretty much killed the day. Ronaldo, the young man that has been cleaning the boat the last few days was unable to finish polishing the stainless as it was all wet so he will have to come back either tomorrow or Monday to finish the job. I will have a varnisher here in the mornings for the next 4 to 6 days depending on weather (needs 6 coats which with the rain would take 6 days, but if it stays dry and warm, they can apply two coats in a day), but he should be gone after an hour or so, so hopefully I will start to get to head out and explore cartagena in the next few days.

For now I am sitting in the pilothouse waiting for the rain to stop so I can put the bikes away. I was hoping they would be dry, but I didn't get started washing them down in time. I will have to bring them back out tomorrow to dry.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Solemente por Dos Semanas

Cartegena Colombia - 10 24.5N 075 32.6W

Yesterday we managed to back Visions into her slip at Club de Pesca de Cartagena which was a rather tight fit through two pilings and a concrete notch that is only two fender widths wider than our aft beam making for a tight fit. The good part of such a tight fit is that the boat is nicely nestled in and quite secure with crossed stern lines and twin bow lines out the the piles as well as twin forward and aft springs (both sides). It was a long day, but finished nicely with some drinks with three fellow american cruisers we had met last week. It was also the first time I was comfortable outside. The wind was drier than previous days and it cooled off to probably 75 degrees last night. Of course, it was still 85ish in the boat, but much drier. My thermometer didn't survive the passage down as it got some salt water spray along the way. I will have to look for a replacement at Commercial Centro which is the craziest bazar, mostly with odd computer parts and electronics.

Today we got the help of Ronaldo to clean the deck. Tomorrow he will tackle the stainless steel and the topsides. It was very hard to sit and watch him work, but after lunch I did lay in the hamock for an hour or so as it was just too hot to keep working at 1:00 in the afternoon. By three if finally starts to cool down, but it isn't nearly as cool as yesterday evening as the humidity has returned. Pache says that it isn't usually this hot here, so I suppose there is hope and it makes us feel beter to see the locals suffering as well. Apparently, we are expecting some rain later in the week. It will be interesting to see what it is like here when it is raining.

Bill left today around 10:00 for his flight home for two-ish weeks. This leaves me alone in Cartegena (if anyone wants to visit, please let me know...I would love the company). Since he didn't come back I assume he made his flight. I went grocery shopping after Ronaldo left at 4:00 and discovered the one thing worse than going grocery shopping hungry....going shopping thirsty when you have to carry the grocereries the mile or so home. I managed to fill my backpack almost entirely with things to drink making it rather heavy. Apparently you can have the bagger bring the cart to the marina and take it back for only $2-3 so I may do that next time if I go overboard again. I have one or two more days when I am stuck at the boat all day taking care of dayworkers, then I can head to the home center to find a dehumidifier as well as spend a few days at the beach. I need to get in touch with a canvas-maker and wood-worker as well...maybe tomorrow.