We decide to explore the countryside around Medellin by car and Sara arranges a good deal for us. And before we leave for the south, we are invited by Sara to go visit her family’s property in Sopétran.
Lots of people flee the city in the weekend to visit more tranquil areas with a healthier atmosphere and so do we, when we drive the hour north to Sopétran, near the village of Santa Fé de Antioqiua.
First we drive to Santa fé, famous for it’s authentic Colombian character. It’s a wonderful, typical Colombian village, surrounded by green mountains and beautiful colonial houses. Yes, it is a tourist destination but absolutely not fake or over-visited. Like everything in Colombia, it guards over it’s authenticity. Unfortunately, they were working on the main square so we missed out on the complete picture of Santa Fé. We will need to come back here once the town is restored to it’s full glory.
After enjoying some great food, we drive to Sara’s weekend house. And what a treat this is !! Beautiful house, green garden and a big pool, good food, great company, … Perfect weekend !
We’re all very exited for our trip to Medellin, the long-time drug -and very dangerous- capital of the world. For decades, Escobar & his Medellin drug cartel had a strangling grip on the city and it’s 4 million residents who were terrorized by bombings and daily killings.
But these days, Medellin is a modern and booming city and proud of it’s progress with the most innovating and clean public transport system in Colombia. As every big city, it still has it’s problems to tackle but in general we feel this city is dynamic, young, innovative with bars, restaurants and coffee shops bustling with it’s own style and originality. No mainstream ‘hipster’ style where everything and everybody looks the same.
The ride from the airport to the city gives you a good view on the location of the city: surrounded by green, lush mountains in a deep valley. Unfortunately, being in a valley surrounded by high mountains and with a 4 million headcount, Medellin struggles with a very high air pollution.
The people of Medellin are very friendly and helpful, very proud and also very curious about our family and our travels. In general, Colombians are very courteous and considerate, always ready for a chat or willing to help out, specially with kids around. And especially when you have a cute, blond ‘angelito’ running around. There’s a movie-star in town and his name is GUS ! People in the street want to touch his hair, have a picture taking with him, cuddle him, … but my little boy doesn’t like it at all and there are a lot of pictures going around in Colombia with a very mad angel ! Jos came up with a possible solution and told Gus to reply to all girls with photo requests with “no plata no photo” or “no money no photo” … We’ll have to see how that works out …
Medellin has 16 burrows -communas- and these are divided in estratos from 1 to 6: estrato 1 & 2 being the poorest, most unsafe neighborhoods on the flank of the valley mountains, consisting of shacks. To battle the poverty in these neighborhoods, Medellin has installed a cable lift, that links these areas to the metro system, to give the residents a better opportunity for education and work.
Estrato 3 & 4 are the average, working class hero’s, the good burrows start from estrato 5 and estrato 6 -El Poblado- are the rich and famous and most of the expats.The higher your estrato, the more you pay for water, electricity and all daily costs. Also the restaurants and shops are more expensive, schools are private, …
The metro is a cheap and easy way to explore the city so we buy are tickets and visit our first communa: La Candelaria -the city’s centre- where you can find a lot of the cultural point of interests: Plaza Botero, Museo de Antioquia, Parque Berrio, catedral La Candelaria -a huge checker-board church-, …
This is the heart of Medellin with beautiful historic buildings, theaters, libraries, … but it’s also the administrative and business centre which makes it the busiest and most chaotic burrow. At least in the daytime …
In the days of Pablo this was a hard and dangerous place to live and most of the wealthy residents moved to other, safer parts of the city so when the commuters go home in the evening, you see a whole different façade.
But we enjoyed La Candelaria & especially Plaza Botero and it’s magnificent bronze statues.
But being so hectic, it drains your energy so we’re glad when we are back in the more laid-back, green Laureles where we stay. It’s a very popular neighborhood with a lot of restaurants, bars, parks, …
Actually, all over Medellin, in every communa, you can find parks and playgrounds, which makes it one of the greenest big cities I’ve visited. They have invested a lot in making the city livable for everyone and at first glance, they are succeeding. The mayor of Medellin is now running for president in the upcoming elections.
We also meet up with home-boy Thomas who moved to Medellin a couple of years ago on a mission to find the most exquisite coffee beans, landing him in Colombia. So many years later, he’s fluent in Spanish, completely integrated and planning to mary the Colombian love of his life, Sara ! And to top it all of, he’s going to be a first-time dad, beginning of next year. Well done, Sara & Thomas !
He shows us around Laureles & El Poblado, taking us to the best coffee houses and tasty restaurants. And while he talks about the fantastic living in Medellin, the weather and the beauty of the surrounding pueblo’s, we starting to dream about the possibility of starting a new life here. Our new land of opportunities.
When we were in Mundo Nuevo in Minca we met a Belgian-Colombian couple that lives in the Sierra Nevada, in a finca in the middle of the jungle and are completely off-grid: they have their own springwater, get their energy from solar and -in the future- a waterturbine, have composting toilets, grow their own veggies and fruit, have chickens running around for fresh eggs, geese, a pig, cows for milk, they make their own cheese, pasta, soap, … the whole nine yards.
In Minca, Bjorn and Monica invited us to come visit and we were so very curious so we contacted them a few days before we left to Palomino.
Unfortunately, being off-grid also means no internet or phone. They have no signal in the jungle so we got no reply … until we just got on the bus back to Santa Marta.
After a brief discussion Jos and I decided to jump off in Buritaca and do the hike to their finca cause if not now, probably never ….
We asked for directions and got a vague answer which we didn’t quite fully understood, but managed to get to the right camino and start our adventure.
Soon we’re on a natural trail through a thick jungle: crossing water creeks, passing wild horses, mules and donkeys alike (must be fun for them in the woods), and climbing steep rocks, enjoying fantastic panoramic views of mountain rivers and green valleys.
After 2 hours walking, we get to a riverbed and we’re not sure where the trail continues.
There are several options and none seems to be the right one. The boys are starting to get tired and the night animals are starting their songs… There’s a slight panic because we’re in the middle of the jungle on vague directions ,and the sun starts to set. What if we take the wrong path & get lost ? Do we really wanna be here when it’s dark with only one small headlamp ? The thought crosses our mind to go back but we decide to give it a last change. We go back to the riverbank & cross the sandy part and yes, after continuing 15 minutes, we find the path back -we hope-. Half an hour later, we get to a beautiful creek and on the other side we can see a house peeking through the trees. The watchdogs go off and run up to us, and shortly after we’re greeted by Monica & her 2 children Amélie and Gabriel.
Yes, we made it. Not even half an hour later, it’s completely dark outside, but we’re enjoying a homemade lemonade on the porch talking to Bjorn & Monica.
After a great day, I fall asleep in my tent with the creek flowing through my dreams.
With all the impressions of that day and the jungle sounds at night, I have the strangest night’s sleep: deep & intense but very vivid dreams.
The next morning, Bjorn and Monica talk about their home and their life, sharing their knowledge about Colombia, ecological and environmental issues and the future, theirs and the future of Colombia. They are open and honest and this is the way I like people. No complexity, no big ego.
We are invited to stay another night so we leave our bags and follow the creek upstream to a waterfall with natural pools while the family go about their daily work. ‘Chia’ the dog will be our guide.
The hike up is like a scene out of Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom !! Luckily without the snakes and dudes trying to rip your heart out … (or at least we didn’t see them)
We enjoy a dip in the clear water of the natural pools and the boys and me swim through a narrow cavern -walls covered with spiders- to get to the waterfall.
I feel happy. This is pure nature. With the rough and tough, itching mosquito bites, sore blisters but unforgettably beautiful, unspoiled pure nature.
This is a trip I’ll never forget.
Back at the house the boys are happy just running around collecting eggs, tasting new foods and playing Lego with Gabriel on the porch, while we just sit and talk more until the night falls.
After a frustrating night fighting the merciless jungle mosquito’s -apparently I was using my anti-repellent the wrong way- we thank Bjorn and Monica for their hospitality and are on our way back to civilization. We want to be in Buritaca before it gets too hot but at 9 am we can already feel her burn. We get good protection from the jungle but the heat is on and we need all our water not to dehydrate.
After an intens and wet 2 hour hike we’re back where we started. Twan is just in time to hold a comfortable air-conditioned bus. Yeah, this is heaven. We pay our 32 000 pesos -!!- and are on our way home. We’re tired, dirty, full of bites -nothing a nice shower can’t handle- but we are bliss.
After a few days of rest and school, it’s starting to itch again to go on adventure. This time we decide to go to Palomino, a beach town on the foot of the Sierra Nevada. We want to go tubing on the Rio Palomino & hopefully see howler monkeys or toucans. Again we’re taking the bus from the terminal in Santa Marta and the next 2 hours we drive along the coast so no winding mountain roads and we arrive there without any stomach troubles.
Because of the mid-day heat and the bigger chance to see wildlife, we decide to go tubing early in the morning and book a hostel for the night. Our hostel KANTA SANA in Palomino is also a cevicheria -speciality here in Colombia- and we decide to eat here. Great decision ‘cause the food was delicious, generous and fresher than fresh ! A real treat.
The next morning at 7 am, the motorcycles that we booked the night before, are waiting for us at the hostel. The boys are all hyped when they see our transportation and jump on the motor-taxis: 1 for Jos, 1 for the two boys and 1 for me.
It’s a 15 minutes drive on narrow side-roads full of potholes & loose pointy rocks -this would be so illegal in Europe- and I notice that my driver hits the breaks a bit more often than he really needs to …
We arrive safely at a mountain path that will take us to the starting point of our journey down the river. On the background we hear the loud cries of the howler monkeys but they are far up the mountain so I don’t think we’ll actually see them. It’s another 15 minute hike through a lush, green valley and we have an excellent view on the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada. What a magical view this early in the morning … even before breakfast or coffee !
It’s a bit of a trick to get into the river cause we get pushed back to the bank by the current but once in the river we have a very relaxed ride. We just hang in our inner truck- tubes and enjoy the scenery. Maybe a bit too relaxed cause halfway down the river Gus starts whining that he’s bored and wants to get out -?!?-. Whaaw, he’s getting too spoiled with adventure and traveling. I could only dream of this when I was a kid !
2 hours later the Rio Palomino flows into the Carribean sea, our destination. On the beach we stare one last time at the magical peaks of the Sierra Nevada before they disappear in the thick clouds for the rest of the day.
The hosts at Kanta Sana were so good to save our breakfast and a few minutes later we are being served a big bowl of fresh fruit, oatmeal and yoghurt accompanied by tinto – a mixture of hot water, lots of sugar and a bit of coffee. A typical drink for Colombia. Mind-blowing that a country so rich in coffee doesn’t have a coffee drinking culture. Most of the Colombian gold is being exported to Europe and America.
We say goodbye to our host and walk back to the busstop.
We left Santa Marta on monday morning with 3 families: SY Nomad with Martin, Virginie, Amos, Noa & Adi, SY Blue Zulu with Patrick, Anna, Stella & Finn and us. We took public transportation to Minca from the Santa Marta bus terminal and left the chaos crammed in a hot minibus.
After a half hour of winding roads and very pale kids, we got off in Minca, just in time for Twan who donated his breakfast to the already very fertile soil of the mountain village.
10 minutes later, we’re on our way to a riverbed, passing through the charming village. We walk 10 minutes down a rocky path & arrive at a shallow turn where the water drops down the flat rocks. Perfect for bathing ! We enjoy the scenery and a refreshing dip. The adventure has begun and the boys go out to explore, balancing on the slippery rocks or wading through the stronger currents. Luckily we have 6 pairs of parental eyes looking out !
After a swim and a playground visit, we’re all starving and get some lunch to pump our energy levels back up – before the 60 minute hike to the eco hostel Mundo Nuevo, in the lush green hilltops of the Sierra Nevada.
It’s a steep and intense walk up the mountain via a sometimes slippery and rocky path… we’re sweating like crazy but we came prepared and with lots of water in our backpack. Nevertheless, we’re happy when we finally arrive at our high accommodation, and it is indeed a new world: cool and pleasant with waterfalls and amazing panoramic views over the valley & Santa Marta. What a magical place !
The kids absolutely love it: sleeping in a dorm room, freely roaming the domain from the hostel, playing games, swinging in the hammocks and discovering a new kind of butterfly like every minute. I have never seen so many different types and colors and I nostalgically reminisce back to my childhood when my brothers and I went hunting for caterpillars and butterflies. Those were still abundant back then in Belgium…. now not so much ….
We walk to a coffee and cacao farm not so far from the hostel: La Candelaria and we get a very informative cacao tour. In an hour, the owner shows us the whole process from seed to finished product and we get to taste the cacao beans fresh, roasted & ground. We finish the tour with a nice hot cup of cacao and a chocolate mask to make us pretty again !
The rest of our stay we are lazy and relaxed, enjoying the scenery and talking about opportunities and dreams to the other guests and our companions over a nice, cool Colombian beer.
Vandaag was een dag waar Gus al zéér lang naar uitkeek, de dag waarop hij zijn eerste melktand verliest. Een beetje geholpen door de Lego blokken, zat zijn voortand eindelijk los genoeg om getrokken te worden door papa !
Een beetje bang dat het vreselijk pijn zou doen, maar toch dapper genoeg om zijn mondje open te doen. Ping ! Tand uit en EINDELIJK komt de tandenfee met een chocolaatje voor Gus. Yes !!
Santa Marta is hot, humid, loud & in your face ! What a different vibe to the Caribbean one we’re used to. The city wakes up early in the morning, before the heat hits the streets and vibrates until late at night with music, traffic, laughter & loud and fast Spanish conversations. It’s quite an adjustment to the pace & heat.
The chaos is completely surrounded by lush, green & tranquil mountains that stand in contrast with the noisy city life. Nature versus human, still in balance, for now because as the country is opening up after a long history of violence, tourism starts to boom and high-rise blocks are popping up along the boardwalk. Let’s hope they can manage to keep this fragile balance.
The Colombians are friendly and proud of their beautiful country. The welcome is always warm and sincere and as soon as they see “Gustavo” with his blond locks and blue eyes they’re even more smiles. He’s quite an attraction and we can’t go into town without people coming up to us, asking to take his picture. Very strange.
We’re soaking up the novelty of it all: the food, the language, the people, the way of life, … and we’re enjoying. Colombia is vibrant, dynamic, young and amazingly beautiful.
It’s also very nice to be in the marina, for a change. The marina is clean and safe and the boys love the freedom of going on land and running around whenever they want to. They’re friends with all the local fishermen and we’re not the only family boat here. SY Blue Zulu and SY Nomad, who we met in Curaçao, also arrived here and soon all the children are playing together, going from one boat to the other.
We get on so well that we decide to go to Minca -a mountain village with beautiful waterfalls & hikes- together, next week.
We wanted to get an early start but customs & immigration on Aruba felt differently about that. They had us waiting for 3 hours at the docks before we could begin our crossing to a new continent… Finally, we set sail around 11 o’clock with light winds. We’d hoped that the winds would pick up but the predicted 16 knots never kicked in that day, instead the wind even died on us for the rest of the day & night! Motoring was the only option … The seas were flat -which was a good thing- and we were accompanied by hundreds of dolphins, a sight that never gets tired. It was the perfect weather for Cersei but we didn’t take her out of the locker, since that last nerve wrecking tantrum she threw at us. After a calm night, we began our day with the same conditions and because we were tired of motoring we bravely decided to give uber bitch Cersei another chance. We got her flying perfectly and she did her job well for the next few hours. In the afternoon, the winds picked up and we decided to take the spinnaker down. We handled her perfectly but again she got stuck – just under the wing. Luckily, the wind was out of the sail and with some sweat and struggle, we managed to get her completely down. After some investigation, we noticed the retrieval lines got twisted in a knot and around each other… so with a pickle like that no wonder that it was impossible to get the sail into the snuffer bag. Just as we were putting Cersei back in her locker, the winds picked up to a 20 knots, half wind. We raised the main and genua and continued our sail alongside the Colombian coast. Around us, spinner dolphins jumped out of the water, splashing and playing in the waves, all along while the sun set. Picture perfect !
Unfortunately, as the dark fell so did the winds and we had to use the engines again.
In the night we were visited several times by pods of dolphins and as the sun rose, we had an amazing view on the snowy -yes, SNOWY – peaks of the Sierra Nevada. Sunrise after sailing through the night is often spectacular, and land in sight after a few days and nights in the open ocean is nothing less than a euphoric experience, but this sight was something else … We are so proud that we’ve sailed to a completely new continent: South-America ! And it’s looking fantastic. As we approached, the winds turned to southern winds bringing the smell of the jungle to our boat. The fantastic smell of earth and trees and fruit and flowers mixed with the morning dew. Yes, Colombia, you are a beauty ! To top it off, Jos reeled in another mahi mahi just minutes after throwing out his fishing line … That’s delicious fish tacos for lunch then !
With Santa Marta in sight, Juggernaut was surrounded once again with dolphins playing in our bow waves. As they continued their way we entered the marina of Santa Marta, our home for the coming month.
The moment is finally upon us to sail to our most favoured destination: Colombia !
We’ve been looking forward to visiting South-America for months but have also dreaded the crossing from Aruba to the main land. It’s known to be one of the roughest passages in the world, with strong winds & high seas due to the unique geographical characteristics. The fact that Venezuela is in a deep crisis, and Venezuelan pirates roam that area doesn’t help neither …
We’ve checked & double-checked the meteo and we should have a smooth crossing if we can trust the weather reports: flat seas & 16 knots of wind. Perfect !
Aruba, for us was just a stop. I can imagine, as all things, Aruba has a beautiful, rough side but we only saw the crowded beaches, the loud parties, casinos & huge shopping malls with all the high-end brands like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Prada, … It felt very artificial.
I guess, for some people, it’s the perfect yearly holiday destination but we’re not sad to be leaving. We have our eye on another continent. A land of beauty, natural wealth & diversity, history & culture,…
Gisterenavond, toen we Aruba binnen vaarden, lagen er 2 grote cruiseschepen en kregen we niet veel response op channel 16 van de marina. Daarom beslisten we om de nacht door te brengen op de airport anchorage zonder in te klaren. Terwijl we ons anker dropten, scheerde er een vliegtuig rakelings langs onze mast om even verder te landen op de landingsbaan. Wij stonden met ons billen toegenepen naar het topje van onze mast te staren terwijl Twan euforisch op het dek stond te springen. Dit was het coolste dat hij ooit had meegemaakt. Maar hij is op een leeftijd dat dit wel meerdere keren per dag gebeurt.
Deze ochtend proberen we het opnieuw. We krijgen redelijk snel antwoord en de meneer aan de andere kant was verwonderd dat we nog niet ingeklaard waren. Gelukkig is hij net niet verwonderd genoeg om boos te zijn en laat hij het passeren. We hadden al gehoord dat ze hier bij de douane & immigratie redelijk strikt zijn … 15 minuutjes later varen we de marina binnen en parkeren we Juggernaut tussen 2 sleepboten om ons aan te melden bij de port captain. Dit is de eerste keer dat we met voltallige crew én schip op het appel moeten komen.
De inklaring is gratis en verloopt redelijk vlot, enkel Jos heeft wat pijn aan de pols door het invullen van de vele documenten.
Na het inklaren kan je hier op Aruba zowat overal ankeren waar het je uitkomt, enkel rekening houdend met de toch wel sterke wind die over het eiland giert. We her-ankeren terug terwijl we 28 knopen wind over ons heen krijgen maar voelen de ketting onmiddellijk strak gaan. We hangen.
Morgen gaan we aan land.
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.