Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sailing San Blas

I departed on a 6 day journey to Panama via the San Blas islands, an idyllic archipelago off the Panamanian coast. I booked the trip aboard the Corto, a 43 foot sail boat made in Canada and sailed by a French Captain, Michel. Michel has sailed this trip 12 times and has 7 years of experience as a Captain. There would be 8 other passengers aboard the boat.  The other passengers were 3 Irish (Paul, Kate, Noelle), 3 English (Katie, Sophie, Tor), 1 Swiss (Michael), and 1 Uruguayan (Pupi).  Everyone got along really well throughout the entire trip.

The first day and a half was spent sailing. Everyone got sea sick to varying degrees, the easiest solution was lying down and staring into the sky. While sailing Michel dropped a lure into the water and went trolling. He landed a Bonito and a Spanish Mackerel.

Fresh caught Bonito Carpacchio

After sailing for 36 straight hours from Cartagena we reached Coco Bandera, a grouping of reef protected islands to set anchor and spend a day. At Coco Bandera you could kayak to a tiny deserted island with two palm trees, or swim to a group of four slightly larger islands.

Bonfire on the beach

The Kuna sold us 5 huge spider crabs for 20usd plus two old beers.

The next day we moved to another set of island and had our second encounter with the Kuna, whom are the native inhabitants to the region and still live autonomously although still being in Panama. The Kuna survive off of coconut farming, tourism, and handicrafts. The iconic palms trees which cover the San Blas were originally planted by Kuna.
Kuna women selling Molas

We also got to snorkel at a man made reef made from an old shipwreck.

On our third and final day in San Blas we got stamped into Panama at what must be the most relaxed and beautiful border post in the world. Then we went to enjoy one final afternoon lounging in perfect turquoise blue water.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Cartagena is port city with a population of over a million, but nestled within the old town is a beautiful well-preserved colonial city.  Pirates like Sir Francis Drake have layed siege to the city in search of Spanish riches, and writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez have written novels based on the romance and allure of such a beautiful place.  Today the city is a hub for tourists, each street meticulously preserved and restored. There is also a distinct Afro-Caribbean feel with music, dance, and food all heavily influenced.

Cartagena was used as the primary shipping hub for the Spanish in the exportation of gold and goods back to Spain. As such, it was attacked and sieged numerous times. The result was a well fortified city with underwater sea walls, forts, and cannons protecting an ornate and beautiful inner city.

Below are photos from Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, the ominous Fort across the channel from the Old Town.

Seafood is abundant and local tropical fruits are everywhere.  Food choices revolve around the staples of rice, beans and plantains, mixed with the regional specialties.  On her last night here, Christine treated me to a meal at La Vitrola, a posh Cuban restaurant catering to the local elite with live jazz.

Garlic shrimp over a bed of plantain chips at La Mulata
The menu at a local juice restaurant
Arepas at a street cart
Cartagena by night.  Sweltering heat keeps the city quiet during the day but at night a cool breezes moves in.  The city seems to wake up once the sun is down, with dance performances and horse drawn carriages ushering tourists about.

Next Stop: The San Blas islands(Kuna Yala) and Central America.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Tayrona National Park is located on the northern coast of Colombia. Typical terrain includes dense jungle covered mountains pressed up against the turquoise blue Caribbean Sea. The ocean is rough with undertows and strong currents, the jungle is sweltering and sticky. Mosquitoes are plentiful.

We decided to hike to one of the camping sites in Tayrona with hammocks for rent. After thankfully only a few hours in, we reached Cabo where we could set our gear down and pick out a hammock. Unfortunately the campsite was packed with other tourists, mostly South American, here on holiday. The overnight trip was amazing nonetheless, and punctuated by a 90 minute boat ride back to Tanganga, where we were staying. The boat hugged the coast but was battered by waves, soaking all 20 passengers. The boat was flying through the water and the sight of swells all around rising above your head was a bit disconcerting.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Salento & Medellin

After Bogota we headed 7 hours north to Salento, a small town in the coffee region. Salento is surrounded by verdant green hills and valleys and an economy based in the production and exportation of coffee beans. Salento happened to be celebrating the 169th anniversary of its founding when we arrived, meaning lots of people, beer, and street food.

This parade celebrating the founding of Salento features citizens dressed as the original settlers of Salento 169 years ago.

Just outside of Salento is the Cocora Valley, where we did a day hike. The valley is home to the iconic Wax Palm trees of Colombia. The Wax Palms are some of the tallest trees in the world, reaching up to 60 meters.

After Salento we headed to Medellin. Set in a valley in the heart of the Zona Cafetera, Medellin is a urban metropolis with new buildings, speedy public transportation, and a reputation in Colombia for being home to the most beautiful people on Earth.

Medellin was the birthplace of the aforementioned Fernando Botero. Botero has a statue park in the heart of downtown. Locals believe that touching certain parts of the statues will bring good luck.

Riding a cable car up from the valley floor provides a great view of the city (if theres no smog).

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


My sister Christine decided to fly down and join me in Colombia for two weeks. We met in Bogota, the capital of Colombia. Bogota is a huge expansive city, home to nearly 10 million people. It has had a reputation for violent crime, kidnapping, and drugs, however in the past decade it has become a popular tourist destination. The city has dozens of museums and historical buildings, many of which are tucked into the historic city center, the Candelaria.

Fernando Botero is Colombian painter from Medellin. His works are known internationally and celebrated in Colombia In the Candelaria, the free Botero Museum houses an array of his paintings, sculptures, and his own private art collection.

This is a view of sprawling Bogota taken from Cerro Monserrate.

A piece of Colombian gold work at the enormous Gold Museum in Bogota. The museum houses Colombia finest gold work. The gold pieces were created by ancient civilizations who are known for making the most elaborate and technically sophisticated in South America.