Panama / San Blas

Birthday boy Gus

6 jaar !

Today we celebrate the 6th birthday of Gustavito. How time flies …

One of the more plezant rules on Juggernaut is that there is no school on birthdays so 4 times a year we have an extra day off. So it’s all about having fun, opening presents -we had to be creative-, eating lots of cake and candy, building Lego, swimming and bomb jumping from the boat and having sundowners … unfortunately for the last time here in San Blas because tomorrow we leave for the nearest marina to give some tender love and care to Juggernaut after being hit by high voltage.

Our insurance company is sending a surveyor this week so we’ll see how good our insurance choice was.

But first we need to get Juggernaut to Puerto Lindo the old school way without our beloved electronic toys. We have no auto-pilot, no gps, no tracking, no depth, no wind direction nor – strength, … Luckily we have our back-up navigation on the iPad and we have already done the route before so we just need to go back on our steps but still … it’ll be exiting.

And I’m sad to leave here, I wish our time and exploration of the islands was more extensive but fate decided differently. I believe that everything happens for a reason and in time we’ll see what the rest of our adventure has in store for us. But for now, it’s goodbye Kuna Yala.

Perfect day in our lives, San Blas

Lemon Cays, San Blas

We’re still in our same spot in the Lemon Cays, 3 days after lightning struck Juggernaut. We’re sad that we can not sail around and go explore the other islands but we still enjoy our time here. Life is simple. Tranquil. Basic. But I so love days like these and they are exactly what I imagined the cruising life would be, before we left.
The boys enjoy setting the breakfast table and making coffee so hey, … I let them. Mornings are for school and -I admit- can be quite a struggle. Twan gets so distracted by the smallest things: a boat passing by, a new sailboat coming in the anchorage, fish jumping out of the water, a splash, a cloud, the fart of a fly, … He truly has the concentration span of a flea and teaching him is soooooo frustrating but when you tell him stories of asteroids, the invention of fire, the galaxy and beyond, … he’s like a sponge that soaks it all in and stores it neatly in his brain. And Gustavito, my little boy who turns 6 years tomorrow, reads a book a day. A little routine he created himself: after lunch, he picks out a book and we cuddle up and have some alone time and he reads to me. He loves it and I do too.
During school, we have Kunas passing by, selling lobster or fish, which we buy regularly. We could fish ourselves but this is one of the only means of income for them so as we are their guests, we choose to support them this way.
I’m getting the hang of filleting fish so it doesn’t take up as much time as before and the boys love dissecting ! Where are the gils, what’s in the stomach, show us the guts -and ooh what fun if bile and other juices comes out !
In the afternoon, we swim, snorkel, annoy lobsters by trying to catch them -in which we horribly fail-, we dinghy to the surrounding island, watch fish jump out of the sea and today we went hunting for the first time !
We anchored Wal-rus just outside the reef and go hunting for … lion fish !! These beautiful, exotic fish originating from Asia have spread all around the world in no-time, destroying the reefs and the habitats of the local sea dwelling creatures. And with close to no natural predators and the ability to reproduce in the blink of an eye, they are a real nuisance and actually NEED to be hunted to control their population and keep the reefs healthy and diverse. After 5 minutes I spot 2 of them, hanging under a rock in not more than 4 meters depth. Jos approaches with his gun and spears it like a pro ! First try, first kill !!
Besides being very pretty and very yummy, these fish have 18 spines that are venomous. Their stings are not lethal to humans but they can be extremely painful and cause nausea and respiratory problems and with no hospital or doctors around, I’m on high alert -maybe a bit too high-.
The second shot is less successful and the rest of our meal disappears in a dark cave.
Back on Juggernaut, Jos fillets the fish, after first cutting the venomous spines away and 30 minutes later we have fresh lion fish sushi on our plates as appetizer. It doesn’t get any fresher than this.

lightning strikes, San Blas

The last 3 days, it has been raining cats and dogs here in the San Blas. Every night we get thunder and lightning storms and in the day it’s one squall after the other. We are confined to our little home on the water and Twan and Gus can’t channel their energy so frustrations and aggravations are running high. Thursday is the highlight of the depression and we have stormy weather with rain pouring down and 45 knots of wind raging over the anchorage. Happy as ever with our Rocna anchor, we watch the chaos in the other anchorage from a distance. Boats dragging, ripping sails, cruisers coming in at the worst time trying to drop anchor, dinghies going back and forth in an amazing effort to help others in need and in the meantime getting soaked, “thank you”’s on the VHF from boats that were in distress, … It was quite a morning and I’m charmed by the helpfulness of the cruising community.

After a quiet afternoon, I hear heavy, low pitched roars in the distance and I know we’re in for another thunderstorm.

I put the boys to bed, Jos grabs a book and goes to bed as well, but after a frustrating and tiresome day, I can’t sleep. The weather is so unstable with building winds from the north and shortly after, no winds from the west leaving us bobbing around the anchorage in all directions. I’m worried about the wind, our depth, our changing direction, thunder closing in and lightning lighting up the nearby island like it’s daylight every 10 minutes. I pace around the boat going out to check our distance to the reef, and back in to check our depth and the winds. I have never in my life heard such a deep, loud, all-surrounding rolling thunder in my life, with eye blinding lightning bolts following so quickly. I get scared and put all electronics -ipad, iphone, handheld vhf, laptop,…- in the oven for protection, and wake up Jos while winds are quickly building back up.

Just as Jos and I walk on deck to double-check our surroundings, the sky and the island next to us flare up and I see a huge lightning bolt crashing down – just a few metres from Juggernaut. We hear a massively loud cracking sound as if the globe is splitting in two and a heavy bass that rumbles my belly and makes my heartbeat jump. I’m frightened, my scream wakes up the boys and my instinct tells me to go hide so I duck in our cabin under the sheets… A minute later, I feel silly and when I go back up I see Jos pacing around and checking out all our electronic instruments … the verdict is harsh : they’re all toast !

Another thunder rumbles, Jos curses, and when I see the bright light I immediately duck back down feeling like a scared little rabbit. I hate this. This is paradise at it’s worst !

Gus is crying of fear, so I go and try to comfort him the best I can and while we listen to the thunder and lightning slowly fading away, I drift off into a deep sleep.

Santa Marta – San Blas

anchored in San Blas

Finally, after 3 weeks of waiting for the right weather window – Los Brisas Locas were blowing gale force winds on a daily basis – we are leaving the marina of Santa Marta. It has been our home for the last 4 months while we explored the interior of beautiful Colombia that has been so good to us. We’ve had plenty of adventures and breathtaking sceneries and we leave this friendly and welcoming country with a satisfied soul. We have all lost a bit of our heart here and we will surely be back.

But our journey has not come to an end just yet, so we look forward to our next destination: the remote and pristine San Blas islands in Panama. We have stocked up on food, diesel, beer, sunscreen and a good mood and Juggernaut is eager to set sail for this 50 hour trip across the golf of Colombia. And for the first time on our journey we will be ‘buddy-boating’ with two other family cruising boats, heading in the same direction. We have met Element from Canada, and Counting Stars from the US in Marina Santa Marta and we were happy to be joining them for this short period before they both go through the Panama Canal into the great Pacific Ocean.

After 4 months “on land” we have lost our sailing routines a bit so the first day is all about re-adjusting to life at sea. Our mindset and stomachs need to do a 180 and the day was -to be honest- horrible. The boys were white as snow within the first 30 minutes and Jos and I followed soon. The winds were not as strong as forecasted plus we got a nasty swell on our beam so we are bobbing away, not finding our groove alltogether. In hindsight, we should have gotten Cersei out immediately but we expected much more wind and were concerned she would throw another tantrum. Before we left we replaced the twisted dyneema line in the snuffer bag with a new one, sent to us by Bojan from Bomarine in the Netherlands, straight to Santa Marta.

So the problem should be solved but still, that last time when we couldn’t get our spinaker down and windspeed was building like crazy is still fresh on our minds …

We keep on messing about while being sick and sleepy and in the meantime watching both Element and Counting Stars gaining distance, so by sunset we decide to put on the engines and simply motor through the night – which leaves a big dent in our confidence and our diesel supply.

Early next day, we are determined to raise our sails. During the night we have dipped more south to avoid that heavy cross swell and strong winds, so with the first daylight we are finally ready to raise Cersei again. As soon as she is flying fiercely, Juggernaut stablizes magically and picks up speed, doing a 7 knots on average with 14 to 16 knots of dead down wind. The boys are feeling better so the noise level on our boat rises again … And to top things off, we are joined by a pod of small spinner dolphins who stay with us for about half an hour, showing off their acrobatic skills and have us all smiling and cheering them on. Around noon we even catch a Mahi Mahi, but as soon as we haul it onboard, it’s obvious that the fish is infested by parasites and worms ! Yuk ! Twan is very dissapointed and throws it back into the ocean while mumbling “we might have been able to clean it though” … This second day on the sea seems to literally fly by, soon enough the sun sets and a beautiful yellow full moon lights up the night.

Around 11 pm, we decide to bring Cersei in for the night not knowing what the following hours would bring so we go over the procedure one more time and get to work with our deck light on. In contrast with the last few times, this time taking her down in 16 knots of apparent wind is a piece of cake and within a few minutes, she is down, tamed and tucked away in the anchor locker. Bless her ! For the rest of the night, our genua is on duty and we have just enough wind to make it comfortably through the night and early morning. The San Blas -or Kuna Yala- islands are a group of about 340 small islands, inhabited for centuries by the indigenous tribes of the Kuna. These beautiful and remote islands with tall coconut palms are surrounded by treacherous patches of shallow reef, where many ships still crash on every year… Jos is super concentrated and uses a second, more detailed chart to navigate safely to our destination. Around 10 am we hail our buddy boats on the VHF and hear that they succesfully dropped anchor at the western Holandes Cays -or islas Maqui- where we join them later for a swim and a well deserved beer !

And let’s not forget another year has almost ended so we have the most original New Year’s eve diner on the boat, just the 4 of us: pasta ! And even now it’s a winner. After diner, we meet up with the other families for a great bonfire on one of the islands and in the company of the Kuna family maintaining the land. The kids are running around collecting wood, coconut shelves, palm leaves, … anything to keep that fire burning. We tried really hard but for the first time in many many years, we do not make it untill midnight.

But what a year this was !

Hacienda Napoles, Colombia

our iconic Napoles photo

Owkay, it’s a massive tourist trap and not really something you want to remember Medellin for, but it was kinda cool to visit Hacienda Napoles, Pablo Escobar’s estate just outside of Medellin. And we promised the boys a nice day out after being confined in the car for 2 days on a crazy & dangerous road trip from Bogota to Medellin.

We decided to take highway 60 to Medellin and on the map it looked like 1 of Colombia’s main highways…. but little did we know …. It started out ok but the road became more narrow after every village we passed until it was nothing more than a soft and sandy mountain pass full of holes, rocks, trunks and the likes. We passed mud slides, man holes, waterfalls in the middle of the road, muddy forest trails, sketchy little villages nothing more than a few “houses” and some chickens, proud & evil looking roosters, eye-balling you while you pass -I was not going to get out of the car at that moment!-, landslides, … and it took us forever. Nature is overwhelming, nothing like I’ve ever seen before. High green mountains with fertile valleys full of flowers, fruittrees and meadows entwined by creeks & rivers. But there is nothing else. Every 3-4 hours you drive through a small village that has only 1 road & a few houses and then again … nothing. The deeper we drove into the mountains with our hired Renault family sedan, the more nervous we became of continuing this not so well planned trip. What if we have a flat tire ? What if it starts to rain heavily and we get washed off the mountain by one of the many land slides we encountered ? What if the cars overheats ? Do we have enough water ?

There is no GPS or mobile signal so if something happens, well, you’re on your own, you’re in the jungle baby. In the meantime the boys get bored in the backseat and start their usual drama. So we start looking for a place to spend the night, and end up in some kind of holiday hotel, colombian style. It has a pool so Twan and Gus are all thumbs up. Jos mentions it makes him think of the Hi di Hi – Ho di Ho resort from that tv show, with soft muzak gliding out of speakers throughout the compound. However, the heavily armed military guys walking around are a pbit out of place, and we realise we’re actually in the middle of guerilla infested territory in these hills. We have dinner and a few beers and go to our room. After Gus somehow manages to rip the sink out of the bathroom wall and break it into a hundred pieces, we go to bed and drift off into a strange kind of sleep … In the morning we have breakfast next to the corpse of a snake with it head bashed in by one of the hotel staff, and we’re on our way again …

We’re completely exhausted but very happy when we finally drive out of the mountains, onto a ROAD, halleluja. We haven’t seen a paved road for 12 hours or more.

So after our little venture it was time for some easy entertainment and who better to provide than Pablo ! Not much is left from his estate but a theme park, the villa & crooks are gone but the hippos stayed. In fact, the imported african hippopotamus felt so good in Colombia, they started to wander around, escaped the premises and dove into the nearby Magdalena river where they reside still today and their numbers are growing … some have been found more than 100 miles downstream from Hacienda Napoles, all healthy and making hippo babies …

It was a fun day out, we now have our iconic “Napoles” photo and little reminds you of the violent days of the drug cartel. Let’s hope it stays that way !

Villa de Leyva, Colombia

Villa de Leyva

Villa de Leyva is a beautiful authentic colonial town where all the rich Spanish families that lived in Bogota, had a holiday home. It’s filled with white villas with balconies and rich flower gardens.

The image of the cobbled street town hasn’t changed much over the centuries, only the houses are now filled with banks & ATM machines and modernized coffee houses and restaurants. Villa de Leyva is more focussed on tourism than Jerico and Jardin. It’s the Bruges of Colombia: very beautiful but it’s more about preserving and tourism than actually living there. I missed the laid-back vibe on the main square, the cosy chattering of locals, the horses riding into town, kids running around, the food stalls in the evening offering Colombian yummies, …

It’s nice but if you are looking for the authentic Colombian way of living, you might be disappointed.

Nevertheless, if you are in the neighborhood you shouldn’t miss out.

A lot of fossils have been found in the valley where Villa de Leyva is situated and the largest specimen is a nearly complete Kronosaurus Boyacensis, a very large marine carnivore. Very impressive. They have left the fossil where they found it and build a small museum around it. The museum has a large collection of other local fossils and, although not very large, is fascinating to visit – we turned ours into a school trip for our boys !

 

 

Bogota, Colombia

Plaza de Bolivar

Our first trip in Colombia was a great adventure and we are looking forward to exploring more: this time we fly to Bogota where we hire a car and do a road trip all the way to Medellin. Bogota is a world city with over 8 million -!!- residents and capital of Colombia. I was very skeptical before we left and only planned a visit of 3 days but again, I was very much surprised.

We only stayed in La Candelaria -the old city’s centre because of our timeline but next time, I will explore more of this interesting mix of old historic buildings with it’s young dynamic vibe. Bogota is much more bohemian than Medellin, more artistic & alternative and the city is filled with little gems hidden behind the sometimes plain walls but once you look inside, it’s a whole new world.

We love walking around in the historic city centre and going in & out old architectural beauties, shopping around for hats, watching people, visiting museums that are plentiful in Bogota.

The most known -and not to miss- museum is the gold museum. It’s a 4 level building full of gold artifacts from pre-Columbian history and on the top floor a huge walk-in vault with all the most precious pieces. It’s not only fantastic to see but is also very educational and Twan & Gus especially loved the stories of shamans dressing up and acting like animals to take over there strength & power.

We also had a great time at the military museum: full of canons, a complete range of guns from early 16th century until present, sables and daggers, military costumes, submarine bombs, tank ammunition, a helicopter and much much more. We were guided by a very knowledgeable luitenant that loved our interest so he decided to accompany us the whole way. It was all in Spanish & we didn’t understand everything but it was interesting nevertheless. The boys were very impressed and in the end they got to wear the helicopter helmet. The museum was free. We visited the Botero museum that had a beautiful collection from Degas, Dali, Miro, Picasso, Matisse and of course, Fernando Botero himself.

On Sunday, the larger part of La Candelaria was closed for traffic, leaving the street to cyclists, skaters and families with kids.

Bogota was a pleasant surprise and next time I would plan more days to explore the other neighborhoods.

Jardin, Colombia

Caballero Antonio with his horse

Next pueblo on our list was Jardin, a beautiful town in one of the most fertile area’s in Antioquia. The landscape changes as we climb up to Jardin via a winding road that takes us through lush, green mountains filled with coffee, banana trees, cacao palms, mandarine trees, … The big, heavy clouds roll over the rim and look threatening while they close in. It has been raining a lot this month and roads are starting to get flooded, with mud & trees dangerously sliding down & leaving a trail of destruction.

note to self: do not drive when it starts pouring down

We arrive in Jardin together with the rain and we get soaked while looking for a place to stay. Our hostel ‘Jardin es tuyo’ is on the main square and has a balcony that looks over the bars, church & the vivid chattering of the locals. Unfortunately,  as was the case in Santa Fé, the beautiful & famous main square was being renovated and left us with a whole different image of this authentic little mountain village.

Our hostel turned out to be very noisy -of course, it’s on the main square where everything happens !!- but the beds were fantastic so we didn’t loose any sleep over it. And the activities in Jardin are plentiful so by 8pm we’re exhausted.

We went hiking, passed trout farms, tasted all the dulces in Casa del Dulces with a fantastic interior, visited waterfalls and got soaked in the rain to be completely dry again after 10 minutes in the sun, drank one of the best coffees in Colombia in a coffee bar where they roasted the coffee on the spot -again with excellent interior, watched the locals drinking tinto and aguardiente & watching the Football World Cup preselection, …

We also visited a coffee farm where Jos was an excellent interpreter for our Chinese compagnons who didn’t speak a word of Spanish. We picked coffee beans and saw the whole process from plant to coffee. Twan & Gus were feeling right at home on the farm climbing trees and harvesting mandarines and lulo but our highlight of our Jardin trip was definitely the adventurous horse riding !!

We finished our visit to the coffee farm with a horseback ride through the coffee plantations. The horses of the finca were not used to calmly walk around with tourists but instead were very, very eager to get out of their stables and have some fun !

Gus was too young -later I understood why- to ride one of these horses, so he got a donkey which he absolutely adored and after everybody mounted their horse we rode off into the hilly & thick coffee fields. Apparently, the plant owner thought -after his good translating performance- of Jos as the leader of the gang & gave him … the alfa horse. This alfa horse, a stallion with the promising name “huracàn”, couldn’t stand being second so as soon as he felt another horse closing in, he started galloping in speed tempo and as he was the leader the rest followed his example. Needless to see, we had quite a wild ride. It was absolutely FANTASTIC and adventurous and in the end we were going as fast as we could while we were laughing like kids. Twan was even slapping his horse’s ass to get to the front !!

If you ever get to Colombia, this is definitely a place to visit. Jardin has it all: history, culture, authenticity, beauty, adventure, nature, bird watching paradise, friendly people, culinary delight, and simple Colombian living.

Jerico, Colombia

Jerico, authentic Colombian life

After a relaxed weekend in Sopétran, we drive south to the village of Jerico. And we have no regrets of hiring a car because just driving through this scenery is breathtaking. We love the independence of having our own car so we can travel at our own pace, stop when we’re hungry, take the scenic road when we feel like it. It’s a bit of an adventure and the car we hired wasn’t always fit for the roads we had to take but we -and the car- made it in one piece.

Colombia is very divers and in a couple of hours we drive through thick forest with roadsigns that warn us for crossing animals -monkeys, tigrillos, iguana’s, ant-eaters, …-, green mountains that remind us of the Alps… but with palmtrees, high pyramide mountains, coffee-planted hill sides, meadows with cows and horses,… we’ve seen it all in abundance.

In the early evening after a huge but delightful detour, we arrive in Jerico at our    home for the coming days : a place called cabanas y flores.

We have our own little cabana with an amazing view over the mountains on one side and Jerico on the other. The owner is super friendly and loves to chat with us in the morning over a healthy home-made breakfast with typical Colombian tinto -bad coffee-. We later learn on one of the coffee plantations that all the good beans are exported to America or Europe and that all the second choice beans stay in Colombia for the tinto. Opposed to what you might think, there’s no coffee culture here ! It’s slowly starting to change though and you see hip coffee bars popping up all over, but it’s still hard to get a descent coffee in the hotels, bars and restaurants. Tinto however is available everywhere, even on most streetcorners. It is a very weak brew of coffee mixed with way too much sugar. Jos says it reminds him of the kind of “coffee” served in hospitals in Belgium, the kind of lukewarm brownish liquid people drink all day long…

Jerico is a typical mountain village with a big church and the main square where everyone sits outside talking and drinking … tinto. The caballeros are walking in town on or next to their horses, and kids are running around. There’s such a laid-back atmosphere.

The houses have wooden balconies and are painted in the most amazing bright colors all set in a mountain background.

Antonio & Gustavo are quick to make friends while we sit and chat.

Twan has been crazy about horses for a while so we decide to surprise him the next day to go horse riding and in the morning, after breakfast we hear the clicking of horseshoes on the pavement. Twan can’t believe his eyes and is in heaven ! No backseat driving, each his own !

The horses are very tame but nothing can spoil the fun and we walk around the town, up the hillside like true caballeros while the old ladies wave at our two boys from behind their windows.

I absolutely adore Jerico. It’s beautiful to visit and has remained the same for many years, of course there is tourism but in the first place, there is authentic life ! It’s Colombia at it’s best: genuine & welcoming.

Our life at sea is about our family and the adventures -the good, the bad and the ugly- we encounter on our travels around the world.