By Stein, Kristiansand, 2nd June 2007.
For Photos see Picture Gallery No 41.
Islas del Rosario, Colombia.
Suddenly it is Saturday, 2nd June and finally time to sit down and recall two pleasant sails we made to the Rosario Islands in March, nearly three months ago.
When we last reported on the exciting, inland trip to Cuidad Perdida we were in Cartagena in early March and honestly believing that we would do more writing just a few days later.
But what happened? Too much, I suppose - and sometimes too little... I admit that there have been days when Diana and I needed to just be idle on a white beach, snorkel slowly over colourful reefs, or just relax with a good book in the cockpit. There were, in fact, quite a few such wonderfully inefficient, lazy and enjoyable days in San Blas. The intended reporting kept being postponed “just another day”.
And another day. And another day.
We have now been back in Norway for more than a month, and although very busy at the local Dept of Cardiology, Kristiansand, today I have no more excuses.
Our friend Anne Holst Torgersen flew from Oslo to Cartagena March 5th to stay with us for nearly two weeks. Just as when she sailed with us in Red Admiral many years ago, she quickly adapted to life on White Admiral and the shimmering heat of midday Cartagena.
Visitors mean opportunity to see more of the local landmarks. From the beautifully restored monastery of La Popa we had the best view of Cartagena and surrounding waters. Just below this highest hill of the area live the poorest inhabitants of the city. At least they can enjoy the best views!
Another famous sight is the meat- and fish market. It is a huge area with a lot of good, fresh food, but also lots of garbage, dirt, dogs, vultures, pocket thieves and pungent smells. When animals are slaughtered practically everything is utilized. Ophthalmologist Diana was intrigued to see a tray of cows’ eyes offered for sail – “full of good protein and very cheap”!
Islas del Rosario are a group of islands just 20 n. miles SW of Cartagena. Navigation can be difficult due to a lot of reefs and small islands, so in the morning of March 7th we trailed behind a couple of other yachts going the same way.
It was wonderful again to swim in clean, clear water, snorkel and get to know some locals. About 2000 people live on these islands; most of them are fairly poor, always hoping to make a buck from the visiting yachts. So we had a regular trail of visitors in dug-outs and other simple crafts offering fish, lobster, papaya, coconuts etc.
Some inhabitants work on the many private holiday homes on the islands and the two tourist attractions; The Oceanarium and The Aviary. But as we heard from Norwegian Finn Martin Mjelde, owner of Kokomo Hotel near our anchorage, they prefer importing workers from Cartagena. The reason is apparently that the locals are not so hard-working and less honest, having a tendency to help themselves to items, probably pressurized by large families nearby. Finn is known locally just as Fin. He has been in Colombia for 30 years, retains his Norwegian passport and proudly flies the flag outside his little hotel, but has no intention of returning to his roots in Oslo. He is married to Yolanda, who takes care of the finances. From an earlier marriage he has children who now live mainly in Norway with their mother.
Fin is a real character, an overweight, rum-swilling extrovert who seems to have met or known everybody who is anybody in Colombia, including politicians and drug lords like the late Pablo Escobar. So a beer or a rum punch at his bar is a guarantee for a good story. Fin and Kokomo is deservedly listed in the Lonely Planet guide on Colombia.
Early morning 10th March we motored back to Club Nautico in slight headwind and long swells; took about 5 hours. Here we stocked up before receiving another visitor, Diana’s brother Jim from Canada. Next morning we were off again, could raise the genoa off the coast and sail most of the way, catching a large dorado (dolphin fish) en route. This time we knew our way through the treacherous reefs of the Rosarios.
With Anne and Jim we went back to the Aviary, a most amazing collection of birds. The owner, Rafael Vieria, is the enterprising naturalist who first created the successful Oceanarium ( http://www.rosarioislands.com/oceanarium.html ) , a large aquarium/dolphinarium on a neighbouring island 20 years ago, and then invested the profit in this aviary about 7 years ago. Admission to see the birds so far is free!
Another Rosario attraction is a tiny mangrove island where hundreds of birds come to nest. The most spectacular is the Magnificent Frigate bird. In the mating season the male inflates a red pouch on his throat. Sometimes this red balloon becomes really big. - Amazing what some boys will do to attract a bird!
Grand Rosario is where most of the locals live. We had a long walk in and around the village, visiting the small, but attractive school and some tiny shops. We could not help noticing the many small children and the public notice offering advice on family planning. The cost to the patient should not be prohibitive: For either an intrauterine device (IUD), sterilizing for the ladies or vasectomy for the men the price is the same, 3.000 pesos; about NOK 10 or US$ 1,5!
We also saw the small, fenced-in arenas used for cock-fighting, a big sport among locals of the Rosarios. These week-end fights involve a lot of betting and drinking. We decided to give cock-fighting a miss and headed back to Club Nautico 13th March, catching a nice barracuda on the way.
Jim is not a person to overstay his welcome, and after a quick look at The Old City and a restaurant headed back to Toronto and Oakville. A couple of days later Anne also took us out for a meal before she headed for wintry Norway. She had a deep tan and was pleasantly impressed with Colombia and Colombians.
Two days later was the start of our next adventure: four weeks of sailing through the San Blas Islands, Panama. Something we had been looking forward to a long time.