Stein’s mother Eli, accompanied by Kim and Jeanette Halle, arrived precisely at 0320 a.m. on 9th October at Flamingo airport in Bonaire. Eli unfortunately had a bad case of sciatica, but was otherwise as sharp as ever despite approaching 91 years of age. Kim and Jeanette are a young couple, friends of Eli, who are themselves considering buying a sail-boat for long-distance cruising, and wanted to get a feel for the life.
After the jet-lag had been slept off, we spent the first couple of days driving around, enjoying the now familiar sights of Bonaire, its surrealistic salt-lakes and hills, the impressive North coast cliffs and the Washington Slaagbai national park with it lakes full of flamingos. This week was the annual Regatta Week in Bonaire, with daily races for sail-boats of all sizes, dinghies and wind-surfers. This was not anything we wished to take part in, we’ve never tried racing, the very thought of other boats sailing close to us with danger of collision puts us off… So this was mainly to our disadvantage, as there was no chance of a place in the marina, which we thought would have made life easier for Eli, and there were festivities each night with huge stereo equipment along the water-front blasting out music until about 3 a.m.! But we did have a couple of day-sails for the benefit of Kim and Jeanette, well away from the racing crowd; one up and down the west coast of Bonaire and one around Klein Bonaire, the small island just off the town of Kralendijk. They enjoyed both the sailing and snorkelling and the life aboard, and went home still more determined to buy a boat.
Eli was with us for another week and a half, which we spent partly in the marina where we eventually got a berth, but the as the mosquitoes found our ankles very tasty there, we moved back to our buoy in the bay after a couple of days. In a rather desperate attempt to escape the heat and the mossies inside Stein slept up front on the trampoline for several nights. At sunrise Diana would found him wrapped up like a mummie…
While on the buoys Eli managed amazingly well to climb in and out of the dinghy, even with her back pain. She was happy to spend most of her time on the boat, enjoying the warmth and sunshine and doing some of the dinner preparations.
There was a change of weather during this time, with wind from the west for a few days, something which happens a couple of times a year, and makes life on the buoys much less pleasant. So we moved across to another buoy off the now lee-ward west coast of Klein Bonaire. This was very comfortable, although when we left it after two days, the coast-guard passed us and told us that those buoys were only for day-visiting boats! We suspect they had been kind and let us use it, as they must have seen us while we were there.
Eli travelled home to Norway on her own, and had a good trip, thanks to KLM, who upgraded her to business class and looked after her well. She even had pleasant company as in the next seat, to her surprise, was the daughter of an old friend from her home town. This lady was on her way home from Lima. It’s a small world, indeed.
On our own again
We enjoy having guests, but after six weeks non-stop, it was quite nice to relax alone again on board. By this time we felt we had seen enough of the Dutch Antilles, and were keen to get to Colombia with its more exotic culture, and Diana was looking forward to trying out her hopefully improved Spanish. On 28th October, we sailed off at dawn to go to Curacao, and after a gentle morning going the right way in the light trade-winds, we could anchor in Spanish Waters, the large protected lagoon in Curacao, where the foreign yachts gather and which we now know well. We had hoped to be here only a couple of days, mainly to pick up a new EPIRB (emergency beacon) to replace the one which had been stolen in Venezuela last year. But as so easily happens, something had gone wrong with our order, and we had to wait over a week for a new one to come. Time was spent doing a few small jobs on the boat, and enjoying the company of other yachties, who gather at Sara Fundie’s Marina, a small bar/restaurant where one can leave the dinghy, use Internet, have a shower and wash clothes. This delay meant that we had no longer enough time to visit the last of the ABC islands, Aruba. As we had heard this island described by two different sailors as ‘Disneyworld’ and ‘Las Vegas’, it was no difficult decision to make to sail straight from Curacao to Colombia.
A rough sail
The area along the North coast of Colombia from the Dutch Antilles to Cartagena has a bad reputation for being a rough stretch of water. However, we had looked at weather forecasts on the Internet, and as there was almost no wind in Cartagena and light trade winds otherwise, we thought we should be lucky. We set off on 8th November in perfect conditions, and the first day had a beautiful sail with double foresails, doing 6-7 knots. The night was a bit rougher with some current between Aruba and the mainland of South America, but the second day was back to sunny, gentle sailing. When the wind began to increase in the afternoon, we were not quite mentally prepared, but as the wind was gusting to 30 knots by the evening, we realised we were in for a hard night. Fortunately we were sailing with the wind, but there was a strong, tidal counter-current of up to two knots, making the sea very rough with big breaking waves hissing around us. Heavy banks of cloud and flashes of lightening over the mainland made the place seem even more forbidding, especially as darkness fell. We considered trying to make a landfall in the dark, as there are some beautiful bays on the coast which others had recommended. So we came within a couple of nautical miles of land, but the sea was so rough and the night so dark, that we didn’t dare to try and indeed regretted having come so close to land where it was probably even rougher. The wind remained over 30 knots all night; i.e. force 7-8 conditions. (The highest recorded on our instrument was 39.6 knots.) Trying to keep White Admiral running straight puts a great strain on the steering. We were sailing with a deeply reefed genoa. In spite of a concentrated effort, the steering was occasionally so erratic that the sail gybed with a loud bang and a violent shake. Of course, in order to get it back on the right tack another gybe and bang and shake was necessary. The poor, battered sail must be a high-quality product; it survived the night without any visible wounds. In retrospect it would have been better if we had changed earlier to a storm jib hanked on the inside stay...
The autopilot was unable to handle the violent motion, so we hand-steered throughout the night, changing over every half-hour. Dawn came as a blessing, although the same conditions continued throughout the morning. Only in the afternoon as we approached Cartagena did the wind drop and the seas became gentle enough for Otto, our Autohelm 4000 autopilot, to take over again.
It was exciting to see the old city walls of Cartagena appear, then the penincula of Bocagrande with high-rise hotels and apartments and simply wonderful to motor into the large, sheltered harbour, where we anchored in front of Club Nautico just before sun-set.
What a great sleep we had that night!
Colombia has a bad reputation, most people only associate it with drugs and guerrillas, but even so Cartagena has become a popular stop for the yachties, thanks to a beautiful city, a coast-guard which takes its business seriously, and a very friendly yacht club. Club Nautico caters mainly for the foreign yachts, consists of a large bar/restaurant with a dinghy dock, where one can have showers, wash clothes and get rid of rubbish for a small fee. The good atmosphere is very much thanks to the dock-master, John, an Englishman who gave up cruising to settle with his Colombian sweet-heart in Cartagena, and who welcomes everybody and makes them feel at home, This is a place people seem to get stuck, many of the other boats had been there for months or even years.
Cartagena itself is a historically fascinating city, built by the Spanish in the 16th and 17th centuries, with inner city walls up to 12 metres thick to keep out English pirates like Sir Francis Drake and Henry Morgan! The architecture has been well-preserved and one can spend much time just wandering around, looking at the many churches and old buildings with ornate balconies and lush inside gardens. The city is also a popular residential area and very much alive. Only a short walk from the most famous sites are shops of all types. That includes several small foundries. Here we ordered a bronze replica of the top for our Taylor stove, as the old top was full of rust. It was done in a couple of days and very reasonably, too.
One of the biggest forts in the world stands guard behind and overlooks the centre of the city, making one understand how eventually a large English force was repelled by a much smaller Spanish/Colombian one.
Outside the city centre there is a large, poor, sprawling area, typical of Latin America. People seem friendly though, and we had no bad experiences, though there are a number of beggars, and endless people trying to sell souvenirs. Very few people speak English, so Diana had to put her elementary Spanish into use. She can make herself understood quite well, but has problems understanding what people say back, especially when they talk fast in some dialect which cuts the ends off words!
We were keen to experience a little more of Colombia than just Cartagena, and decided to take a bus journey inland, despite warnings from American cruisers that we might be kidnapped! In fact, there is very little chance of this now, the situation has improved during the last years, and the guerrilla problem is limited to certain remote areas of the country.
Mompos (also known as Mompox) is a small town 200 km from Cartagena, inland and up the river Magdalena. It was also built by the Spanish in the 1500’s and used to be an important port and a refuge for families fleeing from the attacking English. It also has well-preserved old buildings in typical Spanish style with atria in all the houses, although the feeling is one of ‘fallen glory’. Some of the churches and well-to-do homes are well-kept, but most are in need of masonry work and paint. The only other tourists we met were a doctor and his wife from the capital Bogota. They were on holiday, and took us with them into private homes to look at jewellery. Intricate, filigree jewellery is a speciality of the area, both in silver and gold, and the prices are very reasonable. We ended up buying some ear-rings as presents. Nobody spoke any English, so Diana had good practice, though often ended up feeling very frustrated…
We also visited the dilapidated, local public hospital, and we highly recommend it to anybody who is not too pleased with the health services here in Europe!
The best hotel in town, Dona Manuela, cost 20 pounds (250 kroner) for a double room, in a big building with huge patios and a swimming pool. The room was clean but quite run-down. Dawn brought strange noises as howler-monkeys visited the banyan tree in the patio just outside our window! (We also saw these monkeys in tall trees elsewhere in town.) We stayed only one night, found another hotel which was just as good for 15 pounds. How the hotels in places like Mompos survive is a puzzle, as there seems to be very few guests. We heard that tourism has unfortunately almost disappeared after all the trouble the country has had.
The area round Mompos consists of marshland with a rich bird-life. We were offered a tour in a lancha, a large, canoe-like boat with a sizeable outboard engine, and were taken through narrow channels in the swampy vegetation to a large lagoon with floating islands, innumerable egrets and cranes and a few fishermen in engine-less, dug-out canoes. It was a very calm, dream-like place in the setting sun. On a proper island is a new hotel, where we stopped for a drink. This was even more of a puzzle as there were no guests, and it would be hard to find a more remote spot!
The bus journey back and forwards to Mompos took about 8 hours, including one hour’s ferry journey. The life around the ferry was fascinating, with restaurants along the banks of the river, catering to the waiting passengers; rough wooden shacks with fish being grilled over open fires. The ferry was 46 years old, looked as if maintenance was an unknown word, but carried an impressive number of cars and buses. One could sit in the bus, but it felt safer to be on deck with the food and drink sellers, or one could join the captain in his simple bridge on top deck. Here we were welcomed in, while in Europe there would have been a no admittance sign...
White Admiral has now been lifted on land in a large marina called Ferroalquimar. We have done some bargaining and there should be a new fibreglass awning (bimini) over the cock-pit on our return as well as a general waxing and polishing.
The last few days we managed to find time for some more sightseeing, including a visit to the huge El Morro fort behind the Old City. (Its full name is Castillo de San felipe de Borajas.) Constructed to defend the coastline during the 17th and 18th centuries, this dramatic fortress rises 140 feet above the sea on a rocky promontory, and is composed of six levels of ramps, barracks, dungeons, turrets, towers and tunnels.While there we wanted to see some of the numerous tunnels and agreed to take a guide for about one hour. He was a lithe Colombian, about 40 years old, had a good vocabulary of English words and knew a lot about the old fort. The only problem was that he repeated most sentences very fast and several times! We realised he must have a bad case of Tourette’s syndrome and although a bit tiring to listen to, had to admire him for having chosen such a difficult profession!
The taxi came as arranged on Friday evening, 24th November, but on arriving at the air-port, we wondered why there were so few passengers, and soon found out that our plane was delayed by 10 hours… But at least Air Madrid put us up in one of the best hotels in Cartagena, and arranged to have us returned early the next day. Security here is no doubt a reflection of the country’s drug problem; every single passenger had to open every piece of luggage which was thoroughly searched. Cameras and PC’s had to be switched on to prove they were not hollow boxes...
We missed our connection in Madrid of course, and here Air Madrid took no more interest in us, as we had booked the next flight to London on another air-line. So more expense with hotel in Madrid, and a fee to change our Easy-Jet booking. As often as we travel, we have to expect a few small problems. In London we stayed at Elisabeth and Hugh’s new ‘Skin studio’, which they have been working hard with for the past few months. It was fun to see it taking shape. There are two studios which can be used by Elisabeth or other photographers for their fashion and advertising work as well as a third floor occupied by a new photographic agency.
Before returning to Norway we had decided to go to Cornwall for a few days to walk along The Coastal Path. This is a more than 300 miles’ long path round the whole Cornwall coast, but we had only time to do the part from St Ives around Land’s End to Mousehole. It was wild and windy, wonderful scenery, very few people out and about; we had the pleasure of being at Land’s End all by ourselves in a gale at 8 a.m.! We spent the nights in bed and breakfast places or local inns, lovely to creep into a warm pub after a day’s walking. Altogether a great walk, only spoiled a bit for Diana who got blisters from her new walking boots.
After visiting Stein’s mother in Sandefjord, we are now back home in Kristiansand. Stein is hard at work again in cardiology, Diana is unemployed (an underestimated condition!) and we are looking forward to Christmas with most of our children and grandchildren.