Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Too much rain; best hot dogs in the world; and the nicest bullfighter ever.

October 26, 2007 Friday

Yesterday’s heavy rains all day long nearly drove everyone nuts.  You can only play computer games or read books for just so many hours before you go stir-crazy.  But Heather on SCOTT FREE saved the sanity of a few of us by getting on the VHF and asking people to play dominoes at the bar.  Seven of us met in mid-afternoon and played until almost dark, when the electricity again went down.  I lost, but who cared; we all just wanted off our boats for a few hours.

This morning a mechanic came and serviced our generator.  Nothing wrong with it but it was time for some routine maintenance.  Bill probably could have done it but he wanted to watch a professional do it first.  The mechanic said our generator looks brand new; did not find a thing wrong with it.  Next time Bill will probably do this scheduled maintenance himself.  I don’t know what was done and really don’t care as long as it works correctly.

While Bill was watching the mechanic, I plotted our routes to the San Blas Islands.  We don’t know where we want to go; it will totally depend on the weather and the adverse current when we leave this protected bay.  So that meant that I had to plot numerous variations of routes, all of which end somewhere between Puerto Perme near the ultra-traditional Kuna village of Anachucuna on the mainland of Panama and the Pinos channel entering the San Blas Islands.  Still haven’t decided if we will do a straight shot across or if we will stop at the Rosarios, the San Bernardos and/or Isla Fuerte along the way.  Heck, we still haven’t decided if we want to go down to Zapzurro or blow that off.  

We received very good news from Globalstar this morning.  We had hundreds of minutes that were scheduled to expire 31 Dec 2007.  We have not been able to use that phone hardly at all because can never obtain and hold a signal long enough.  Bill complained and asked some questions.  Next thing we know, we received an email saying that we now have until 31 Dec 2008 to use all these minutes.  AND, and this is a big AND, Globalstar has recently put up 4 new satellites and repositioned some others; so their service has improved significantly.  Our phone actually was receiving strong signal today and we were able to retrieve voice mail; something that we have not been able to do in a couple of months.  Now if it will just work in the San Blas Islands we will be delightfully surprised.  And I now take back all my complaining about Globalstar.  They really are trying hard to provide better signal service and to improve their customer service.

Last Sunday at the flea market here in the marina Bill bought a Mini M SAT phone.  It doesn’t work (which he knew when he bought it), but we are hopeful that Sven the wonder electrical engineer will be able to repair it.  It is at his shop now.  The Mimi M phone should work worldwide, whereas the Globalstar will not.

Colombia will be holding various political elections over the weekend and Monday.  So all sales of liquor and beer and wine are banned from 6:00 p.m. tonight until Tuesday morning.  Bet that will really hurt the restaurant businesses.  Someone made an announcement about this on the VHF yesterday and we got a chuckle from all the cruisers who said they were headed down to the supermarket in the rain to buy beer so they would not run out over the weekend.  Guess some of them can’t go a day or two without beer or wine or mixed drinks.

October 28, 2007 Sunday

Another rainy, dreary day.  It appears that this slow rain isn’t going to stop today at all.  Bill is shopping online for all kinds of boat stuff; I am reading and playing computer games and searching for new recipes – none of which sound interesting enough to make me want to heat up the galley to try one.  All I can say is:  thank God we are at a dock with A/C running.  Would hate to be out on anchor in this weather in a closed up boat.  Bill says he now understands what they mean by wet season vs. dry season.  Wet season in this part of the world extends from late April through November. 

The weather forecast for this week is all wrong for our passage to the San Blas.  Winds are predicted to be from the WSW or SSW all week, ranging from 10 knots up to 35.  So we have delayed our departure plans.  Maybe next Sunday we will leave here.  Will have to make that decision by Wednesday, I guess, in order to get our zarpe in time.  It usually takes several days to clear out of Cartagena.

About half-dozen boats arrived today from Aruba or Curacao.  We have met all of them up-island at one time or another, so this week will be an opportunity to visit some old new faces.

October 30, 2007 Tuesday

Rain finally stopped this afternoon, thank goodness.  The dreary gray is depressing.  On Sunday night a heavy rainstorm blew through and several boats in the anchorage dragged anchor.  Some boats started their engines and took evasive action to avoid being hit, but owner of the catamaran TANDEM didn’t awaken and go sit in his cockpit during the rainstorm and was unaware of the potential problem until he was hit.  Don’t know how much damage was sustained by either boat, hopefully nothing serious.

Last night we went to La Carreta (a/k/a The Burger House) with Buddy & Melissa on INDIGO MOON, one of the boats that arrived here Sunday.  We had met them in Bonaire but hadn’t had an opportunity to visit with them back then.  The burgers were okay (never as good as what we grill on the boat), and we enjoyed talking with Buddy & Melissa.  The burgers were served with the normal leaf of lettuce, mayo and ketchup, the ground beef patty, and a slice of cheese, plus what is apparently a Colombian variation of hamburguesa --a slice of green tomato and a thin slice of ham.  Strange; but it tasted okay.  BTW, they do not sell pickles here.  Hard to find any kind of pickle at all in the supermarkets.  Sliced dill pickles like we use on sandwiches in the US are unknown in most of the Caribbean; that is just an American thing.  Since Bill likes dill pickles and he eats a lot of sandwiches, I usually buy every jar of pickles on the shelf when lucky enough to find any.   

This morning we went back to old town Cartagena and walked around.  I was searching for a moisture proof salt shaker and possibly costumes for the Halloween party tomorrow night.  Didn’t find either.  Then we walked back to the hot dog man and the bullfighter bar that we had visited weeks ago.  The hot dog was just as good as last time, covered with crushed potato chips.  Found out what the mystery sauce is that he dispenses on top of the ketchup and mustard and mayo and thousand island dressing looking stuff --- it is a pineapple sauce.  Would never have guessed that a pineapple sauce would be good on a hot dog, but it is.  That also settles the question of what the almost clear sauce was that was put on the table with our hamburguesas last night—it also was pineapple sauce.  None of us tried it on our hamburgers.  But it is good on hot dogs.

After talking with hot dog man and Colombia at the bullfighter bar, then we walked along the top of the old wall that runs along the seaside.  Took a couple of photos to show you just how wide these walls are and how high.  No wonder the city was never after these walls were constructed. 

Thursday, October 25, 2007

El Convento de la Popa and the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. And wouldn't you love to have a gold goat?

October 25, 2007  Thursday

It is pouring rain and predicted to continue all day.  Since we are stuck inside the boat (wimps that we are), I will take this opportunity to try and remember what we have done this week.  Of course the electricity is off; thus, the marina WiFi is down; so this won’t be updated until the power is restored. 

Last Friday evening we were invited to an impromptu wine tasting aboard BLUEPRINT MATCH.  Paul and Michelle had purchased several bottles of wine with intentions of going back and buying more of the best bottle(s).  Tom & Colleen on UNPLUGGED also joined in.  We tasted (actually….drank….) almost 5 bottles of wine between the 6 of us.  Think most of us were feeling a little sluggish the next day.  The Malbec was voted the best.  It was a fun evening even though Bill and Colleen violated a major cruiser rule and got a little heavy into a political discussion.  That topic is usually avoided.

Sunday was another afternoon of Mexican Train dominoes and then the weekly pot luck dinner at the marina.  Nothing newsworthy about either event.  Sunday morning there was a flea market held at Club Nautico for us cruisers to empty our bilges of unwanted stuff.  We sold a set of charts for the Leewards, some double layer blank DVDs that won’t work on our computers and a gallon of paint that we would never use.  I bought 3 springform cake pans and 3 DVD movies.  Bill bought a non-working Mini-M satellite phone.  He bought the phone for exactly the same amount that we sold our crap for.  There is a German electronics guy nearby who might be able to repair this phone.  He does repairs even on the circuit board level.  If he can get it working, then we will have a sat phone for the South Pacific.  Otherwise, we won’t have lost much money.

We spent most of Monday cleaning out yet more barnacles from the saltwater system of our boat.  There were barnacles growing inside the copper manifold and the main outlet hose was absolutely jam-packed full of barnacles.  That was restricting the flow of saltwater to the toilets and air-conditioners.  Cartagena truly is the barnacle capital of the world.  When we first arrived we thought cleaning every 2 weeks would be sufficient.  That was a mistake and we changed to cleaning every 10 days.  That still was not frequent enough so we changed to cleaning every 6 days.  That too was definitely not frequent enough, so now we are down to cleaning the sea chest strainer every other day and cleaning out the intake thru-hull every 5 days.  We hope that cleaning this frequently will prevent any more barnacle growth in the hoses and manifold.  We are very glad that our Amel is plumbed with a sea chest instead of a bunch of different intake thru-hulls.  Most boats would have at least 8 intakes for the conveniences we have on this boat.  That would be 8 different thru-hulls to keep clean of barnacles.  Amel plumbs all saltwater intakes through the one sea chest, so we have only one to keep clean.  Yay, Amel!

Tuesday we did a tour of El Convento de la Popa and the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas.  The tour guide was DuranDuran, and he is a fabulous guide.  I think he used to be a history teacher.  He has a great sense of humor, and he sort of quizzes you throughout the tour by asking questions which reinforce your memory of what he has told you about.  Would highly recommend using him as a tour guide if you visit Cartagena.  There were 12 tourists included in this tour, all cruisers.

The Popa Convent was founded in 1607 by Fr. Alonso Garcia Paredes de la Cruz, an Augustinian Recollet Priest.  Later the convent was used by a mulatto who was lured by a renegade Spaniard into believing that one could be granted happiness and prosperity in life only by worshipping the devil in the form of a gold goat.  So they built a goat from gold.  People would bring gold and emeralds and diamonds and deposit these in a basket by the gold goat.  One night the Spaniard and the basket of gold and jewels disappeared.  We think he also took the gold goat. Then the mulatto was sentenced to 7 years of hard labor and life imprisonment.  After Simon Bolivar wrested Colombia from Spanish rule in 1811, the Austinians were expelled from the convent.  La Popa was uninhabited from 1817 until 1961, when Augustinian Friars began restoring it.

La Virgen de la Candelaria is the patron saint of Cartagena and La Popa is her sanctuary.  Her image stands in the center of the altar in the Chapel of the Convent.  Each year from January 28 to February 2 there is a huge celebration in Cartagena and hundreds of thousands of people attend services in the Chapel.  One hundred people at a time are allowed inside the Chapel (don’t know how they possibly fit 100 people in that small space).  People sleep outside on the stone courtyard awaiting their turn inside the Chapel.  La Popa is 512 feet above the city of Catagena and there are white crosses along the street leading up to the top.  These are not markers for accident victims; these are the Stations of the Cross and worshippers pray at each Station as they make their way up the steep hill.  On July 6, 1986, Pope John Paul II canonically crowned the image of Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria.

La Popa got this name because it is constructed at the top of a hill that looks like the stern of a boat when seen upside down.  The stern of a boat is la popa in Spanish.

Our next stop was the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, the largest military installation in the Americas from Colonial times.  This fort is very impressive.  The tallest part of the fort with the 4 guard houses was built in 1657.  No further construction was done on the fort until 1697.  At that time the fort was enlarged extensively.  These are tunnels throughout the fort.  Some guides in the past told tourists that these tunnels were escape tunnels and used to lead far out away from the fort.  This is not true.  Some of the tunnels do lead to the outside base of the fort, but none of the tunnels ever extended past the base of the fort.  Many of the lower tunnels now are flooded with water because they are below sea level.  Bill went down in one of them to the water level, but I opted not to go down into that hot, dark place that looked like a perfect home for bats.  I did walk through some of the higher level tunnels.

DuranDuran told us an interesting historical story about Lawrence Washington (brother of George Washington) coming from Virginia to Colombia in 1741 in an attempt to free Cartagena from Spanish rule.  Accompanying Lawrence was Sir Vernon from BritainLawrence Washington did take La Popa, but the fort was not taken.  They fought for days and finally at 5 a.m. on Sunday morning Sir Vernon requested a temporary truce in order to remove their dead and wounded from around the fort.  It was agreed that fighting would resume in 2 hours.  But the fighting never resumed because their surviving men threatened mutiny.  Their army was devastated by tropical diseases.  Instead, Sir Vernon and Lawrence Washington returned to their ships and sailed away.   When they left, there were more than 8000 bodies floating in the Bay of Cartagena---their crew and army who had died from dysentery, yellow fever, malaria, etc.  If Sir Vernon and Lawrence Washington had been successful, Colombians and probably most of South America would be speaking English today instead of Spanish.

Again we heard the story of the Half Man.  And, again, we don’t remember all the details.  His name was Don Blas.  He joined the Spanish navy when he was 15.  When he arrived in Cartagena at the age of 23, he had already lost his left leg and left eye and right hand.  Also, he had no movement in his right arm due to a shoulder injury.  All these injuries had been sustained during battles aboard ships.  But he was strong enough to protect Cartagena.  He was the leader at Castillo San Felipe de Barajas when Sir Vernon and Lawrence Washington were repelled.  Stephen Spielberg visited the fort several years ago and spent many hours going through it.  He said that he might make a movie about it some day.  If he does, then we would definitely want to see that movie.

As we were leaving the fort we saw a group of young men dressed in rather strange uniforms.  DuranDuran said they were missionaries.  They all spoke English (sounded American) and call themselves the Caballeros de la Virgen.  Information about these guys can be found at .  I think info can also be found at  but since we don’t have electricity at the moment I cannot check this out.

After the tour we enjoyed a late lunch with Tom on UNPLUGGED and Scott & Heather on SCOTT FREE.  We tried a place a few blocks from the marina that was new to all of us, and it was quite a find.  Nice, healthy lunch for about $2.50 including beverage.  We will go back there.  Wish we had discovered this place earlier in our stay here.

Last night was the weekly Wednesday night happy hour.  Afterwards, we walked to a Chinese restaurant.  Chinese menu written in Spanish; almost as bad as the Arabian menu written in Spanish.  Pollo is chicken and arroz is rice; that was all we needed to know.  Can’t go wrong with anything that says chicken and rice in a Chinese restaurant.  There was a free opera (Pavarotti in The Three Tenors) video in the theater at the fort tonight.  I would have enjoyed it but Bill would never have sat through an opera, especially not a live one.  Tonight there is a free live piano concert, but I do not think we will go in all this rain.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Barnacle capital of the world -- but we love this city

October 13, 2007 Saturday
Bill spent the past 2 days working his little skinny butt off!  Thursday morning he decided it was time to clean the saltwater strainer for the sea chest.  Oooohhhh….that was nasty!  It was so clogged with tiny bits of sea grass that I am surprised that it allowed sufficient flow for the air conditioners and toilets to work properly.  Then he decided that since he was already hot and sweaty that he would also clean out our sump bilge.  He does this every 3 months or so.  Well, that turned into a major project!

He borrowed a wet/dry vac from Paul on BLUEPRINT MATCH.  (We really have to buy one of those…..if we can ever find one that is 220v-50hz.)  When he suctioned out the bottom 2-inches of water in the sump bilge, he could see that the copper ground strap had broken.  The ground strap connects wiring, engine, generator, fuel tank and other things to a keel bolt at the bottom of the sump bilge.  This ground strap was intact when Bill cleaned out the sump bilge when we did the haul-out in Grenada in June.  So sometime between mid-June and mid-September the copper ground strap had corroded in two.  Really not a good thing!  Bill had noticed when we were hauled out here in Cartagena recently that the new zincs on the rudder looked abnormally corroded for 3 months use.  And the ground plate for the SSB radio looked corroded, something which we had never noticed before.  Bill was concerned about both of these and was worried about galvanic corrosion.  He had noticed an electrical wire hanging in the water from the boat next to us last week.  There was a taped splice actually in the water!!!!  When Alberto dived to check our prop for barnacles, he received an electrical shock when he touched the prop.  Hey…people could get killed that way!  We told the dock master and he rectified it immediately and will be chastising the caretaker of that boat for carelessness.

Bill found our trusty worker-friend Alberto.  If anyone knows where to find items needed for working on a boat in Cartagena, it is Alberto.  Alberto examined the bilge and ground strap arrangement and off he and Bill went to find the copper for replacement.  They were back in about half an hour with a perfectly sized strip of copper.  It was 1/8-inch thick and 2-inches wide.  They bent it in the appropriate dimensions for a proper fit and made a hole to connect to the keel bolt.  This was not a simple job!  Plus, like everything on a boat, access was torturous!  The keel bolt is more than 3 feet down in the sump bilge.  The bilge sides make an opening of only about 18-inches by 12-inches.  Try reaching 3-feet down when you can’t get into the opening!  Bill thought he was becoming a contortionist.  But it finally was securely in place. 

Today Bill worked on getting the wires attached to the upper end of the new ground strap.  This required trips to 2 stores for terminators (why is it that no matter what spares you have onboard they are never the right size?), and it took half the day to finish this project.  After many exclamations of distressed words that shan’t be repeated here, Bill finished the job by early afternoon.  Hope this new thicker ground strap lasts longer than the original one did.

October 16, 2007 Tuesday

Think I mentioned last week how tiny the taxis are here in Cartagena.  Most seat only 4 people, the driver and 3 passengers.   These are all either Chevrolets or Toyotas and the two brands look identical.  We have never seen these tiny Chevrolets or Toyotas in the states.  There are also a couple other modes of public transportation in addition to the normal busses.  There are bicycles with covered 2-passenger trailers attached on the rear; remind me of rickshaws.  We often see housekeepers or nannies picking up small children from school or doing household shopping using these bicycle taxis.  They are most often seen in the middle-class residential neighborhood on Isla Manga.  These are just standard old-fashioned bicycles so the driver must have strong legs.  Then there are these small motorcycles that one sees zipping all over the place.  If the driver is alone on the motorcycle, he will be wearing an orange vest with large numbers across the back.  He wears a helmet and also carries a second helmet, usually on the left handlebar.  This second helmet is for when he picks up a passenger.  He may or may not also give the passenger an orange vest with the same numbers on the back.  These are the numbers of his license to operate as a single passenger taxi.  These motorcycle taxis are most popular with young women, but we have also seen a few men using them.  We assume this is an inexpensive form of taxi service.  We have also seen police check points to confirm that the driver’s license to operate a motorcycle taxi is current.  If the license is not current then the motorcycle is confiscated and placed inside the back of a large police truck.  Don’t think they haul the person to jail, but they definitely take away his motorcycle.  The bicycle taxis do not appear to require any special license to operate.

Yesterday SCOTT FREE (Heather & Scott) and UNPLUGGED (Tom & Colleen) arrived here in Cartagena.  UNPLUGGED arrived and anchored under sail because their prop was fouled so badly with vegetation that they could not use the engine.  Both boats had enjoyed a leisurely 10-day coastal passage from Aruba.  They said there was almost no wind and they either motored or motor-sailed the entire way.  Quite a difference from the strong winds we experienced when we made the offshore passage from Curacao and over the top of Aruba down to Cartagena.  They enjoyed all their stops along the coast and found all the people to be very friendly.   In fact, they did a bit of land exploration at each of their stops along the Colombian coast.  The bad stories that one hears about cruising the coast of Colombia are blown way out of proportion.  We have not talked to one person who has had a bad experience except for the guy who anchored in Los Rosarios and was boarded; and he was anchored at the island closest to the mainland and completely away from the rest of the Rosarios islands.  He chased the 2 guys off the boat and took away their weapons.  Sounded like pretty inexperienced criminals to us.  Los Rosarios is a group of small islands about 20 miles south of Cartagena.  Maybe there is more danger in the coastal areas of Colombia between Cartagena and Panama, but it appears to be quite safe in the other direction from Cartagena to Aruba.  It is not safe to travel inland in most of Colombia yet; but the coastal areas appear to be just fine.  If you plan to travel inland from Cartagena, it is safest to do it by plane.

Probable change of plans --- again!  As most cruisers say:  our plans are written in jello.

We are now toying with the idea of cruising up and back down the western side of the Caribbean next year; and delaying heading to the South Pacific until spring 2009.  I am ready to head towards New Zealand, but Bill still is not keen on the idea of crossing the Pacific; he doesn’t want to commit to the time required to sail completely around the world.  And he believes that once we go through the canal that we would be forced to continue all the way around.  There are other options:  like the Sea of Cortez, Ecuador, Peru and Chile.  (Did you know there is a canal system in Chile that sailboats can cruise?)  Anyway, since we will already be in Panama it makes sense to continue up to Guatemala or Belize and Honduras; then back down to San Blas Islands again and maybe even back to Cartagena for a few months.  Gives Bill another year to maybe get more interested in doing the South Pacific.  We will have to make our decision on this by the end of the year because our insurance renews in January and we will need to tell them the geographic boundaries for which we want coverage for 2008.

October 19, 2007 Friday

Wednesday was a fun day for me; not so fun for Bill.  Bill was filling our water tank with dock water because we certainly would not operate our watermaker in this filthy water.  He got busy doing something on a computer.  It wasn’t until the water was overflowing into the main saloon that he finally realized what was happening.  The water only got into 2 floor lockers but that meant Bill had to completely empty those 2 lockers; dry everything; and then replace the contents.  It is a good idea to go through lockers every now and then, but this was not how he planned to spend that particular day.

My fun day was visiting thrift shops down in what we would call the barrio.  Judi on FIA has been in Cartagena for more than 5 months and she has been just about everywhere during that time.  She is the “social director” for cruisers here now (every anchorage needs one).  So Judi agreed to show several of us where the thrift shops are located.  Joanne on CALICO JACK and Kim on MIRAMAR accompanied us, and the 4 of us were actually able to squeeze into one of those tiny taxis.  Judi soon left us to our own devices because she had errands to run.  They must leave Colombia again soon because you are only allowed to be in Colombia a total of 6 months during any calendar year.  You initially get 60 days and can apply for a 30-day extension, then you leave the country; then you can re-enter for another 60 days and then apply for another 30-day extension.  After that second 90 days is up, you must leave the country for the balance of that calendar year.

Joanne, Kim and I had a good time browsing through the thrift shops.  These are really tiny “shops” in an alleyway.  We were the only gringos in that area.  A well-dressed young Colombian woman came up to Kim and Joanne and told them to hold their purses in front of their bodies so they wouldn’t be robbed ---this was in Spanish and that was the best we could make out of what she was saying to them.  Both Kim and Joanne know lots more Spanish than I do.  A few minutes later a Tourista Policia (armed with the obligatory big gun) arrived and proceeded to follow us around for the next hour.  He stayed a couple of yards behind us and waited outside the entry of each “shop” while we browsed.  Kim and Joanne didn’t even notice him until I pointed him out when we walked away from that alleyway.  He followed us several more blocks down the main boulevard until we reached a “safer” area.  He never said a word to us, but he was obviously alerted by someone that tourists were in the local market sector.  Cartagena does not want tourists robbed or harassed in any way because they are trying desperately to get tourist business back to the city like it used to be before their civil war and drug wars.  This is the safest city we have ever visited --- including any city in the US.  BTW, this local market sector is the La Matuna district of old town Cartagena that I mentioned earlier.  Guess that is why there is no tourist information on La Matuna; it is just the main shopping district for the locals.  Very interesting place.  Wish I had brought a camera, but I didn’t carry any purse or bag.  Instead I wore tight jeans --- no one can pick your pocket if you wear tight jeans.  People were cooking all sorts of food in pots set up right on the sidewalk; some of which looked and smelled really good!

My reason for this thrift shop expedition was to buy clothes to give to the Kuna children when we visit San Blas Islands next month.  We are bringing clothes, candies and crayons and construction paper for the children; fishing hooks and nylon line for the men; and reading glasses and sewing needles for the women.  Bill might also give some of his older tee-shirts to the men.  We really won’t give these things to the Kuna because that creates a charity expectant society.  Instead, we will trade these items for whatever the Kuna have to offer.  A kid can bring us a pretty shell and get a pair of shorts or a tee-shirt, but he must give us something to trade.  We don’t want them to start expecting hand-outs from visitors.

After we completed our bargain purchases we walked down the main boulevard to Vivero.  Vivero is a 3-story business that could best be described as a Caribbean version of a Target or Wal-Mart.   We each made a few purchases and walked on.  This time through the produce and flower market.  We planned to catch a taxi back to the marina but decided that we would treat ourselves to lunch instead.  So we walked past the Clock Tower, past Plaza Simon Bolivar, and down the side street to Crepes and Waffles.  After a 3-hour lunch we found a taxi and went home.  A very fun day away from the marina.

Yesterday morning we awoke to canon fire!  A beautiful old tall-ship arrived in the bay.  They fired a 7-gun salute and the salute was returned from one of the very old forts on Tierra Bomba, the island just south of Boca Grande at the entrance to the Bay of Cartagena.  The tall-ship was dressed; meaning that she was flying flags completely over the ship, up the forestay, across the triadic stays, and down the backstay.   This was a ship of the Argentinean Navy, we think.  The uniformed crew was standing at attention on deck and crew were also standing at attention at the end of each yardarm.  True old navy tradition!  Quite a sight to wake up to.  Stick your head out of the companionway hatch and find smoke wafting up from canon fire and this beautiful old tall-ship being maneuvered into dock by tugboats.  I do not think this ship has an engine, as she sailed into the bay and then was maneuvered to dock by 2 tugboats – a truely traditional tall-ship.  Wish we knew her name, but we never saw the stern.

This morning Alberto went diving under our boat to remove any barnacles.  The large inlet to the sea chest was completely clogged with barnacles.  We had noticed that water flow to the toilets wasn’t as strong as normal, and the salt-water pump started making a whining sound; so we assumed that the flow was restricted.  Sure enough, Alberto said it was packed solid with barnacles.  Alberto also said there were big barnacles growing on our newly painted bottom section of the keel.  We splashed 3 weeks ago today!.  One would expect that $300 gallon of Hempel Globic anti-foul paint to have worked better than that!!!   There are no barnacles at all on the hull, which is painted with Micron 66.  Interlux Micron 66 is by far the best anti-foul paint for the warm waters of the Caribbean, worth the extra cost; but not available in Colombia.   If you come here on a boat, be sure to clean your seawater strainer at least every 5 days and have a diver clean your prop and inspect the bottom at least every 2 weeks.  Cartagena truly is the barnacle capital of the entire world.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Enjoying more of Cartagena

October 8, 2007  Monday

Yesterday we went to a nice Sunday lunch with some other cruisers.  Tom and Cassy on S/V CYRANO and another couple whose names I never understood.  The taxis here are so tiny that only 3 people could ride in one, so we had to take 2 cabs.  Luckily both taxis did make it to the same restaurant at about the same time. 

This was the nicest restaurant in our Cartagena ventures to date.  Not the best food because that award still goes to Da Danni, the Italian place down in San Diego district of old town.  But this restaurant wins the best décor award.  It was called Arabe and is located in the posh Boca Grande area.  Arabe specializes in middle Eastern cuisine.  There is another Arabe in Manga where we have eaten before, but this Arabe in Boca Grande is in a totally different class.  Nice tablecloths and well-appointed décor and professional wait staff; a very nice place.  FWIW, I think arabe means Arabic type food here; the two Arabe restaurants are not connected in any way.  Now, neither Bill nor I know anything about Arabic food; so you can imagine the guessing game we were playing trying to figure out Arabic food in Spanish.  I had pechugas de pollo con champignones and Bill had a filet mignon (we think).   Both very good.  The others opted for wine but we abstained since this was lunch time.  Wine that early in the day would put us both down for the afternoon.

Last night was another pot luck dinner at the marina.  We were both so full from the large lunch that we ended up grilling pork chops and bringing them back to the boat to save for another day.  We grabbed the table closest to the grill and food serving table and shared it with the family from BLUEPRINT MATCH.  I got a private chuckle when the cruiser group from Club de Pesca arrived and obviously thought we had taken “their” table.  That group had claimed this particular table at all the previous pot luck dinners since we arrived; but, hey, it is open seating and we got there first.  It was just funny to see the expressions on their faces.  I enjoyed talking with a guy from Arizona who is a single hander.  He sailed alone from the top of the Sea of Cortez down to Panama.  His 2 sons flew down and transited the Panama Canal with him.  They then went down to the San Blas Islands and his sons flew back to Panama City and he sailed alone to Cartagena.  It takes a different kind of person to want to cruise alone.  I know neither Bill nor I would enjoy it all alone.  A big part of the enjoyment is having someone to share the experience.  Sad part is that he is married but his wife doesn’t like boats, so they spend 5-6 months per year apart.

After pot luck we returned to the boat and watched some DVDs.  Bill’s brother, John, had sent us a bunch of DVDs.  When Aaron and the grandkids visited us in Bonaire in August they brought 2 suitcases of stuff that John had bought for us.  Lots of goodies!  Stashed in one of the suitcases were a bunch of DVDs which we had not expected.  These included years of seasons of the old TV series Mash.  We rarely watched Mash when it was originally on television because those were the years we both worked and also had small kids to occupy our evenings, so these episodes are all new to us.  We are rationing ourselves to no more than 2 episodes each TV evening.  Thanks, John.  This provides us with many nights of entertainment in lieu of real television.  We can only read so much and then it is time for a bit of TV pap and Mash is perfect for that.

October 12, 2007  Friday

Okay, so what did we do all week?  Well…..pretty much, not a darn thing that anyone will find interesting. 

On Monday we again walked down to the Centro district and finally found the Museo Naval del Caribe, Cartagena; a/k/a the Maritime Museum.  It was hiding behind the Iglesia y convento San Pedro Claver.  Everyone kept telling us that it was at the San Pedro Claver church; no one told us that it was BEHIND the church and convent.

On the first floor were some great models of the undersea terrain in the Bay of Cartagena and the Caribbean Sea and even coastal Pacific.  There were also models of every fort and battery that was ever constructed near the city of Cartagena.  Also had a few models depicting the major sieges by sea that the city endured in its history.  Pretty neat stuff and way more detail that we care to try to remember.  Bill took photos of every sign printed in English so that I could read it later when writing this log; but I don’t want this to become a history lecture so I won’t use much of it.  On the second floor there were lots of great examples of old time ships from around the world…..from very old Chinese celebration ships and Phoenician and Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Grecian, etc., etc.  The most interesting to me were the very old Roman ships.  Never saw anything like that before.  Wish there had been more info on these old boats/ships.

Cartagena was founded in 1533, and by mid century it was the major consolidation point for the silver, gold and jewels being plundered from the New World by the Spanish. As such it was a popular target for pirates. In response to these attacks the Spanish built an elaborate defensive system of walls, the main one encircling the town, but also linking together outlying forts, which included a wall right across the closest entrance to the inner bay. Although the city was subsequently besieged by both the French and British (Sir Francis Drake in late 1500s), once the walls were completed it was never again taken...until 1821 when Simon Bolívar finally wrested the city - the last, insular outpost of the Spanish - out from under Imperial rule.  There were 7 forts and I can’t remember how many batteries—a lot.  The very first fort was built in 1534 and was located about where our boat is docked right now.

Most of the defensive walls encircling the city are still in place, and the Old Town has been preserved much as it was. To the south of it extends the crooked elbow of the Boca Grande Peninsula with its mix of modern high-rises and hotels. To the northeast rises two of the city's most famous landmarks, Fort San Felipe, and, even higher, the Convento de la Popa, (which has been restored by Augustine monks and is now a monastery).  North and east of all this sprawls your usual urban industrial spread, while tucked into an armpit of the inner bay is Isla Manga, an upper middle class area of old mansions and mid-rise apartment buildings, on the south edge of which is Club Nautico...our marina. 

The fort and La Popa are the 2 remaining tourist items that we hope to visit.  Another very popular tourist attraction is a mud bath.  This is a natural mud pool in the crater of a dormant volcano 36 kilometers north of Cartagena at Volcán de Lodo el Totumo. According to other cruisers, this is a 45' high mud volcano rising from the shore of a gorgeous lake and is supposed to be one of the largest mud volcanoes in the world. The locals have quite a little operation going giving mud baths and mud massages. You strip down to your bathing suit, climb the mud cone via mud and stick steps, and at the top lower yourself gently into the 10x10' crater. Imagine lowering yourself into a giant tub of slightly-gritty, room temperature chocolate pudding! Oh, by the way, there is no bottom, but the mud buoys you up with no risk of sinking. Three young guys awaited the tourists in the mud. Once immersed, they "float" you and move you around like floating dead wood. After everyone stops giggling, these guys start massaging you.  After an hour you climb back out.  From the crater, you make your way down another "ladder" from which you are led to the lakeshore by a team of ladies, who rinse you down with bowlfuls of water. Most everyone eventually gives up and takes off their mud-laden swimsuit and rinses more thoroughly.   This “natural spa” experience costs only  2000 pesos per person ($1).

We plan to give the mud baths a miss.  Don’t you just love that expression?  I heard it from a British woman.  Rather than say “we do not plan to attend” which sounds rather negative, she says “we plan to give it a miss.”  Whatever….neither Bill nor I want to submerge our bodies in mud.  But others aren’t so squeamish;  I know of 11 cruisers who have booked a tour guide and are going there next week.

Another place to visit is a hacienda where they raise bulls for bull fighting.  We also plan to give that a miss.

Wednesday night was the weekly happy hour, but this week there was a new twist.  The woman who owns the marina hired a dance troupe and “band” to entertain.  These were different dancers than we saw in Plaza Santo Domingo shortly after we arrived in Cartagena, but they performed the same dances.  Can those women’s hips move fast!  And the men tense their chests and arms so tight and move so fast that it looks really painful!  Afterwards, Bill and I walked to a local Mexican restaurant.  I know; we said we would not try any local Mexican food any more after being so disappointed in so many islands already.  But guess we are just suckers when it comes to Mexican food.  This time the food was okay; not great, but okay. 

Last night I made chicken enchiladas suizas.  That was much better than anything we could have had at the local Mexican restaurant.  Cannot wait to be back in Houston at Christmas and get a real Tex-Mex fix!

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Palace of Pain

October 5, 2007 Friday

First of all, a very Happy Birthday wish for our grandson Zachary.  Zach is 7 years old today!  Hard to believe; he is growing up so fast.

Now; the rest of this log and the accompanying photos are definitely not for children.

Today we visited the Palacio de la Inquisicion, a/k/a the Palace of Pain.  As noted in our previous log, the Palace of the Inquisition was a feared Punishment Tribunal in the 18th century.  Heretics were condemned and executed here for “crimes” such as magic, witchcraft and blasphemy.  Well…..okay….that might be the politically correct description of this place and the practices that occurred here, but in my mind this people were just plain crazy and sick.  They committed unspeakable horrors with ruthless abandon, all with the approval of the Church.  The Inquisition might have started out with good intentions (I will give the Church the benefit of doubt on that thought), but it very quickly became a means of eliminating anyone who fell out of favor with those in political power as well as those within the power of the Church at the local level.

According to our tour guide, the Inquisition began in Cartagena in 1610 and continued until 1811.  So for a period of 201 years, the local priests tortured and murdered countless people.  There is not an accurate tally of those murdered during this time by the Church, but it is generally assumed not to be a small number.  And it was so darn easy to get rid of anyone you disliked or who was causing you business troubles or political troubles or even private troubles!  

The Palace of Pain was originally constructed as a private home.  It was gorgeous; you can tell from what remains today that it was a very expensive home.  The priests took it over and turned it into torture chambers.  They began using the Windows of Denouncement on one side exterior wall.  There was a small opening beneath a cross between the windows.  This opening was the perfect height for an annonymous person on horseback to ride up during the dark of night and deposit the written name of a person he wished to be accused of witchcraft or heresy.  These names were later read from the windows by a priest with a green cross being held above his head.  The accused were rounded up and brought to the Palace and “interrogated” for their alleged crime; again with that dreaded green cross being held above their head.  It was extremely rare indeed for an individual to leave the Palace of Inquisition alive!  If you were brought there, you were pretty much considered toast!

 For people accused of witchery (usually women) there were a number of “proofs” to which they were subjected.  It was a no-win situation.  If you survived the proofs, then you were a witch.  If you died during the proofs, then you were a witch.  MEN!!!

The first proof was usually the weighing chair/platform.  They would weigh the accused witch on a suspended wooden seating platform.  If they weighed lightly (and most women living at that time in the heat of non-air-conditioned Cartagena and forced to wear heavy dresses were very thin), then that proved they were a witch.  After all, every man knew that witches didn’t weigh much because they had to be light so that they could fly around at night in the form of an owl.  Unbelievable today to think that any sane person could believe that crap!

Anyway, it was only downhill from the weighing chair.  There were also knotted rope whips to endure and forked tongs to rip breasts away from the chest wall and suspended dunking procedures and the list of torture goes on and on.  The best one could hope for was a quick death.  If one actually survived the “proofs” then that person (woman) was taken out into the area that is now Plaza Simon Bolivar and was publicly burned to death.  Man, sure didn’t want to piss off the wife of your lover back then!  She could anonymously turn in your name as a suspected witch…..after all you must have witched her husband to get him to seduce you in the first place.  Or your rival for a man’s attention; same story.  Lots of scenarios where perfectly innocent people could be accused and then tortured to death for absolutely no reason.  This whole Inquisition thing was so senseless.

When the Spanish first arrived in the area of South America that is now known as Cartagena, they found a tribe of people called the Kalamary.  The Kalamary were quite different from the earlier Zenu (the relatively peaceful goldsmiths and farmers who tamed the floodplains and rivers so successfully about 1500 years before the Spanish arrived).  The Kalamary were cannibals.  They lived in villages of raised homes that were built of vertical stakes with thatched roofs.  The villages were encircled by high stake walls.  It did not take long for the diseases of the white European man to ravage the population of the Kalamary.  The Spanish did not have a difficult time taking control of this area of South America.  Then the fun with all the gold and the grave robbing for gold started.

Cartagena was established and was the clearing center for all the gold.  Gold was brought north from Chile and Peru in boats to the area of what is now Panama.   This was far easier and faster than the mountainous overland route. The gold was off-loaded and brought by land to the Caribbean side of the isthmus, where it was re-loaded on another Spanish ship and brought to Cartagena.  Later, the gold was loaded on anther ship and eventually shipped back to Spain, following the trade wind route up through the Belize or Jamaica area to Florida/Bahama/Bermuda area and onward across the Atlantic.  Often they stopped in the San Augustine area of Florida to also pick up whatever treasure had been found in North America.  The Spanish were great looters.

Since all this gold was passing through Cartagena, this made Cartagena the perfect target for pirates.  And the pirates came down in droves.  Everyone was stealing from everyone for awhile.  Pirates attached Cartagena, and they were rebuked by “The Half Man.”  The Half Man (sorry, don’t remember his real name) was called that because he arrived in Cartagena from Spain with a missing eye, a missing leg, and a missing arm --- so he was only half a man in the eyes of the locals.  But half a man or not, he was strong enough to command the city and repel the pirates for quite a few years.

All this other history was happening during the same time period as the Inquisition.  And the other history is far more interesting and less stomach-turning.  I won’t go into a full history lesson on this blog because you can research all this stuff yourself if interested.

After the Inquisition museum we went to Crepes & Waffles for lunch.  This place had been highly recommended by other yachties.  I had a French bread bowl filled with chunks of the most tender chicken breast that I have ever put into my mouth with a creamy sauce and asparagus with sliced mushrooms.  It was wonderful.  Bill had a French bread bowl filled with chunks of veal in some kind of rosemary seasoned sauce.  Also good, but he thought he was ordering a pannini sandwich (these were called panne on the menu) so he was a bit surprised when they served him a bread bowl.  His 2 bottles of Aguila cerveza tempered his surprise and he enjoyed the lunch.  Crepes & Waffles is known for their ice cream.  They have an extensive menu book displaying the fanciest ice cream deserts you can imagine.  Looked great but we were already full of bread bowls, so we passed on the ice cream on this visit.  Maybe we will make it back over there before we leave Cartagena.  Oh, and I also had a glass of the weirdest ice tea ever.  When I saw ice tea on the menu, I had to order it; one so very rarely finds ice tea in the places we have visited during the past 17 months.  This tea was very, very dark brown; had a layer of foam on top and a large flat piece of strange looking ice floating just below the foam; and was incredibly sweet and limey.  Absolutely nothing like any ice tea that I have ever had before.  Not sure I would order it again as I prefer tea that is much weaker and without sugar.  Now I know to be leery if ice tea is on any menu here.

We wanted to also visit the Naval Museum but could not find it today.  Also searched for the tourist information office which is supposed to be near the clock tower but never found that either.  By the time we have finished lunch it was beginning to drizzle rain, so we hailed a taxi and came home to the boat.  Another good day.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Gold Museum

October 3, 2007  Wednesday

Today we visited the Gold Museum, or more correctly called the Museo de Oro Zenu, located across the street from Plaza Simon Bolivar in the Centro district inside the old walled city of Cartagena.   It was a rainy morning so seemed like the perfect day to walk around inside a museum, and this was the only museum that we knew its location.  There are also a maritime or naval museum and an Inquisition museum, but we haven’t found those yet.  One cruiser told us that this gold museum was a waste of time because all the gold is just replicas and not real gold.  Several other people told us that it was the best gold museum they had ever visited, even better than the one in Lima, Peru.  So we decided to see for ourselves.  Must say, the negative guy was just being his normal negative self—and he was wrong.  The displays are not replicas; they are real gold.

One of the most interesting parts of the Gold Museum was a display depicting the economical diversification of the early Zenu Indians.  The Zenu were living in the Colombian area of South America at least 2000 years before Christ was born.  Their culture was divided into 3 major parts and each specialized in something different.  This facilitated trade among the 3 geographic areas and indirectly permitted them to support their gold craftsmanship. The Zenu labored cooperatively and completed a huge hydrographical endeavor covering 500,000 hectares of regularly-flooding land in inland Colombia and another 150,000 hectares in another more western flood land area of Colombia.   These 650,000 hectares of agriculture represented the largest agriculture system in all of South America.   This process of building and adapting the land was a slow and lengthy one.  It seems to have begun in the ninth century B.C. and peaked by the tenth century A.D.

The Zenu constructed a system of canals and banks to allow the floodwater to drain.  The communities gradually transformed the landscape by means of a huge network of canals and artificial ridges which were used for controlling floodwater so that the clayey soil could be drained and large areas of land could be made suitable for housing and growing crops.  The channels and main rivers were used as the axis of the system.  Then more canals and ridges were built perpendicular to these main channels and rivers; this prevented the rivers from changing course and bursting their banks.  The canals channeled water to lower marshy areas, where further shorter canals and ridges were in turn dug, in rectangular groups like a chess board.  Thus the water was distributed uniformly; it flowed more slowly at times of flood and when there was a drought the land was still waterlogged and could moisten the ridges where crops were being grown.  They lived on and farmed the ridges between the canals, and apparently cultivated a huge inland fishery in the waterways.

They built platforms 2 to 3 meters high on top of the ridges and they build their homes on top of these so they would not be affected by rising water levels.  Villages of more than a hundred homes each grew in certain areas on the San Jorge River.  The area of Colombia covering what are now known as the Zenu, Magdalena and San Jorge rivers was heavily populated and farmed by the Zenu for a very long time before the arrival of the white man from Spain.  They had a diverse and extensive society and culture. 

The Zenu who survived the initial arrival of the Spanish fled to the mountains in the western region.  The Spanish quickly tried to change the entire system of canals and banks to a system like they used for agriculture in Spain.  This obviously failed miserably.  The Spanish quickly destroyed an agricultural system that was several thousand years old and worked extremely well by trying to make it just like their homeland agriculture.  Ignorant and arrogant people to think everything should be their way only. 

Back to the gold.

Metallurgy of the Caribbean plains of Colombia is notorious for the variety of techniques, decorations and subjects that were developed over a period of several hundred years.  Gold work was already being produced at least 200 years before the birth of Christ.  The techniques developed greatly and became widespread early in the Christian era and remained so in villages in the lower Magdalena region until even after the Spanish conquest.  They produced hammered gold pieces, embossed gold pieces, lost wax technique pieces, filigree, and cast molded pieces in various qualities of gold ranging from 85% gold to only 40% gold.  The finest pieces were 85% gold; and light adornment pieces were cast in tumbaga (a copper and gold alloy).   Of course, the Spanish raped the entire continent of South America and most of the gold was melted down and shipped to Spain.

We saw lots of staff adornments in the shapes of various birds and animals.  Also saw a great deal of ear pieces (what we would call earrings) and nose pieces, necklaces and hair adornments.  The men wore straight nose pieces (some of which were up to a foot long) and the women wore curved, much smaller nose pieces.  There were gold nipple covers for women, including one pair of large size nipple covers for a well-endowed woman.  Several breastplates were included, flat style for both men and mammiform for women.  One thing I found interesting were the “sex covers,” as our tour guide called them.  These were displayed in high quality gold and were obviously worn by someone of high status.  These “sex covers” were sharply conical shapes that were tied with a leather thong around the waist and were used to cover male genitalia.  Someone who was not yet a man but not still a child (a teenager?) would wear a shell for the same purpose.  Really struck me as funny to imagine a whole village of men walking around wearing these gold sharply pointed cones sticking well out in front.  Could not possibly have been very comfortable.

The Zenu buried their dead beneath small mounds, tilted so that their faces would be looking at the morning sun.  All the gold and expensive items belonging to the deceased would be placed beneath the corpse.  Unlike some of the North American Indians, they did not also kill the wife of the deceased and bury her with him.  Instead, they included women in his tomb symbolically.  Earthen vases depicting women and women’s nose and ear pieces would be included in a man’s tomb.  Finally, a tree would be planted on top of the tomb.  In the lower Magdalena area of Colombia lived a different tribe than the Zenu (can’t remember the name of that tribe right now).  These people buried their dead for 3 years.  After 3 years the bodies were exhumed and the bones were then placed in large funerary urns.  The funerary urns had lids with heads and short arms on top.  The fancier the head design, the higher the status of the deceased inside.  Some of the heads on these funerary urns also wore gold ear pieces.   Interesting anthropology.  Oh, BTW, when the Spanish learned of the “treasure” buried with the deceased, they destroyed most of the grave sites in search of gold.

Here is how another cruiser described the Zenu on his website: 
They had a vibrant economy, arts and culture. They believed in the circle of life and the dead were often buried with their gold and riches including figurines of pregnant women symbolising fertility and rebirth. Their goldsmithing was well established and is dated to 500BC. This was their downfall, and soon the graverobbers came, killed the men, interbred with the rest and destroyed a whole culture in the name of religion. These last few remaining examples of gold work by the Zenu, Uraba and Choco is all that was not melted down into simple ingots and transported to the courts of Europe.

Contrary to what the negative cruiser guy said about this gold museum, we thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it.  Worth a visit; especially considering that it is free.

Coming soon:
Naval Museum which is located in the Old City near the Hotel Charleston and Plaza Santa Teresa is next on our list of tours.  Its collection includes a permanent exhibition relating to Cartagena naval military history, marine navigation, and the Colombian Navy from both Colonial and Republican periods.

Palacio de la Inquisición (Palace of Pain), a museum located on Plaza de Bolívar directly across from the Gold Museum.  (Hey---we found it!  It was right across the street.)  One of the finest buildings in the town, the Palace of the Inquisition was a feared Punishment Tribunal in the 18th century. Heretics were condemned and executed here for 'crimes' such as magic, witchcraft and blasphemy. Today it's a museum displaying Inquisitors' instruments of torture, pre-Columbian