Seven days ago, we returned to Santa Marta after a full three weeks away. Now my mind is in a bit of a jumble trying to switch gears from the Maine way of life, to that of Colombia. In addition to formidable efforts to speak Spanish and stay cool in this sweltering heat, we are adjusting to sailing in the company of 24 other boats. Well, we haven’t sailed yet, but this is the plan, starting on Thursday. A few days ago, Bill said “It feels like we are freshmen in college all over again”. Yes, it does. We are trying to remember names of people, names of boats (dorms?), and who is paired with whom (remember how important this knowledge was in college?!)
Back in August, we joined an OCC (Ocean Cruising Club) Rally which was to begin in Curacao Jan 2 and end in Belize May 1. Knowing we would be in Maine at the time of the introductions and first sailing legs from Curacao to Aruba and on to Santa Marta, Colombia, we decided to sail to Santa Marta early (arrived December 10), fly home to Maine, and be back in the marina when they arrived.
First to arrive was Shamal, with John and Georgina on board. They, like us, sailed directly from the Bahamas, and were eager to meet the rest of the Rally goers. Having a full day to get to know our new friends was wonderful, and easy. The next day, four more boats arrived, and I managed to learn each of their names and on which boats each person resided. I was thrilled to learn that Michel and Brigette, from France, were eager to converse with me in French. Then came the remaining boats and everything went blurry. Names, countries, boats, and languages, were all in a big pot of confusion. Luckily, someone had organized a cheat sheet with all of the boat names, people names, hailing ports, and boat types. They even had photos of the people! The Swedes’ photos were swapped, and a few pieces of information were missing, but receiving this by email was much appreciated. Editing the document as I learned more about each person, I used this chart like flash cards, where you memorized your new vocabulary words in school.
I believe I have most of the names down now, but which boats they are on is still somewhat of a mystery. We have already had a few Rally meetings, two pot luck dinners, and a jam session up at the marina headquarters area and many of us have gone to town and beyond together on foot, taxi, or small bus. Bill and I are having a grand time traveling beyond Santa Marta in small groups. It’s a toss up to decide which is more fun, amusements with the Rally folks or adventuring inland.
On Sunday, eight of us hired two taxis to take us to Minca, a small town up in the mountains. From there we set off on foot, up a dusty road, to a coffee plantation. Too bad I don’t drink coffee; the others told me that it was excellent. We gave ourselves our own guided tour of the coffee factory because we couldn’t wait the twenty minutes for a tour guide. As a result of El Nino, it has been exceptionally dry lately and we noticed that the water wheel was not running. There was a small electric motor running the huge drive shaft which is normally run by hydropower. Up here in the mountains, the power is scarce, so using it for processing the coffee beans meant that the espresso machine upstairs couldn’t be used.
After a delicious lunch at the coffee plantation, we headed back up the forest trail and down the dusty road back to Minca. The sweet little town, which seemed more of a crossroad than a village, was packed with locals celebrating their last night of the Three Kings holiday week. Buses, taxis, and motorcycles with far too many passengers on each, crowded the tiny intersection. As we threaded through the throngs of vacationers, we wondered how we would get down the mountain. No one in their right mind should travel up that winding road unless they were sure of a customer willing to pay to get down. A clever old man spotted us, calculating the fare he would collect if he could manage to cram us all in his jalopy. Christian, the best at speaking Spanish, got the front seat, four of us squeezed into the back seat, which was built for two, and two contortionists, Nigel and Bill, folded into the back, the space meant to carry a few bags of groceries. As soon as the tinny doors were closed and secured by rope (!), we began plummeting down the mountain. In our broken Spanish, we tried to tell our ancient driver that we were not in any hurry, but he insisted on playing slalom with every vehicle on the road. Many times, oncoming trucks had to slam on their brakes to avoid a head on collision with us, as our intrepid driver wove through the continuous line of cars heading down. The winding road, with switchbacks almost dangling over the cliffs, would be scary even at slow speeds and with no other vehicles.
Maybe it was the prayers, maybe it was gravity, but we made it down to the bottom of the mountain. I wondered if our driver was as relieved as we were to have arrived unharmed. I also wondered if he could take passengers up the hill, or if the old clunker had to go back up empty.
The following morning, we again assembled at the marina office, this time with 11 different people. We headed off to Tayrona National Park to hike and swim in several beach areas. The stop at the fruit stand was beautiful, and tasty. The selection was much better than any of the grocery stores we had visited. Lucky for us, the line to get into the park was ridiculously long, and we stood a chance to be told that the park reached max capacity for the day. Our tour guide, Andres, came up with a new plan, which proved to be much more fun.
First, we hiked into a waterfall where we swam in a crystal clear pool while watching the water plummet from the sky and also continue to fall well below us to many more pools and the river. After another short jaunt in the bus, we began another hike, this time into an indigenous village and toward a river where we jumped into tubes and floated for over an hour while watching howler monkeys and birdlife in the branches hanging above us.
The river carried us to the mouth, where it dumped into the Caribbean Sea. Here, we were advised not to swim because the waves were rough; our legs were getting sand blasted while just wading.
Shallow draft boats took us back up the river to where we had begun. Here we enjoyed a five star lunch. I really wanted to snooze in the nearby hammocks after the filling meal, but we were escorted back to the boats to the “bus stop”.
Back home to the marina, we showered off the dust and prepared for the jam session. This group knows how to have fun! We had several guitars and shakers, and Jeff’s masterful skill on his enormous keyboard kept us on tempo. Finally, the day’s events caught up with us and we began dropping with exhaustion.
Another day of boat chores and trips to town to provision our galley and our mechanical spares, we are ready to head off. But first another BBQ! The marina provided us with music and DJ’s who sang and we provided the food. Now I can say that I know everyone’s names and will be looking forward to leaving tomorrow to sail on to new places.