Written by Kyle Hahn and Kassandra Henning
March 9 – April 1: Colombia
Our last post left off with us making landfall in Cartagena, Colombia on March 9th, 2016. Our long approach through Boca Chica, and across the large bay to the historic “Walled City” of Cartagena gave us a good perspective on its history.
Looking at a map of Cartagena, you see that the city is located in the Northeast of a very large bay, with a large island, Isla de Tierra Bomba, in the center. When approaching the city by water, as the Spanish and English explorers and settlers of the day did, ships would have the option of entering through the “easier” Boca Grande entrance in the north, or continuing south with the winds and current to the heavily guarded, narrow Boca Chica deep-draft entrance. For protection of the city, the Spanish built a submarine barrier of stone almost all the way across the Boca Grande entrance, thus forcing potential attacking ships to pass by this entrance, and try to make it through the Boca Chica entrance, which was guarded on both sides by forts. Even if a ship could make it through the entrance and past the fortifications, they would then enter the large bay of Cartagena, where Spanish line ships would be ready to battle.
Such a battle took place in 1741 when 29 British line ships, many frigates, and over 27,000 military personnel attempted to take the city. They struggled to make it through Boca Chica over several days, losing many of their ships and men. Once they made it into the bay, they sent word back to Britain that they made it through and would easily take the city now. The message made it back to Britain, but the weakened British forces could not take the walled city and well built fort, Castillo de San Filipe. An estimated 3,000 Spanish, with just 6 ships of the Spanish line, defended Cartagena. With Cartagena being such a valuable strategic point in trade and military, the outcome of this battle may be the main reason Spain was able to maintain its influence on the region, and why Central and South America speaks Spanish to this day.
The history of Cartagena, and the beautiful old walled city made Cartagena a great stop. From our anchorage, we had a short row to shore, and a 10 minute walk into the city center. The exchange rate was ~19 pesos to 1 USD, and the cost of food was low. We ate well for less than $5 per meal, and most of our entertainment just involved walking around.
We were also making repairs and prepping Winnie for an upcoming passage north to Jamaica (~500 miles). Due to a semi-permanent low just north of Cartagena, which is often blowing 40 knots from the east, we made sure we were extra prepared. We loaded Winnie with some extra diesel in case we would have to use a lot of engine power to get clear of Cartagena without losing our eastward progress. We watched the weather patterns for 2 weeks before deciding on our departure date. Due to the very polluted waters in our anchorage, we hired a local guy to clean Winnie’s hull, which he did for just $15 USD! The same guy helped me fix my 4hp outboard, so we didn’t have to row ashore anymore! We heard good stories from all of the other sailors, about how Colombia has high quality craftsmen, hard workers, for a really good price.
Back in January, Kassie and I had left Winnie in Panama and made a trip by plane to Bogotá and Medellin, Colombia. We had a lot of fun in these two cities, which may have influenced us to go ahead and sail to Cartagena. The flights were very cheap (Bogotá to Medellin was just $23 USD!) and even more so than Cartagena, the prices were cheap. We stayed in nice private rooms in both Bogotá and Medellin for around $15/night for the two of us.
Upon arrival in Bogotá, we first noticed extremely nice people. While wandering around, looking for a place to stay for the night, a man in a suit approached us and in limited English, asked us if we needed help finding anything. Usually we are skeptical of such offerings, as many people are trying to sell you something or run a little hustle. This man told us a couple of places to check out, and then walked with us a few blocks to a place he thought might be a good deal. He was proud of his city, and genuinely just wanted us to have a good experience there. We found that a lot of positive changes have happened in Colombia over the past several years, and the citizens are proud of it. It is much safer, the public infrastructure has improved, and tourism is growing. Colombia is filled with art and energy. Buildings are covered with high-quality graffiti and murals. Boutique stores sell fashionable handmade clothing, art prints, and gifts. Locally owned restaurants serve food for all budgets and tastes. The local chain, Crepes and Waffles, was one of our favorites. Both cities were full of chubby bronze statues and paintings by the famous artist Fernando Botero. The street art/grafitti tour was one of our highlights in Bogotá. At night the city parties hard, and we found ourselves in an amazing Cuban night club with a live band that everyone was dancing to.
Below are some pictures and captions highlighting our time in Bogotá and Medellin.
Monseratte is a mountain in Bogotá. The mountain rises 10, 341 feet above sea level and has a church at the top. The options to reach the top include walking or taking the cable car or funicular. Kyle and I took the cable car and enjoyed visiting the gardens and walking in the cool mountain air with views of the city below.
Ajiaco is a traditional Colombian soup made with chicken, three types of potatoes, and sometimes hominy. Capers, heavy cream, rice, avocado and lime are served on the side. We enjoyed a couple different versions from a couple different restaurants while in Bogotá.
Paloquemao Market was amazing! Probably everything grown in Colombia was represented here. The market has vendors selling fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats, herbs, and flowers. We spent a couple hours exploring this bustling marketplace. Colombia is the second most biodiverse country by landmass . We bought fruits we had never heard of before. We had lulo and uchuva and pitahaya to name a few.
Shopping in Colombia is so much fun. In all three cities we enjoyed seeing unique clothing, jewelry and art. I purchased a jazzy knitted party sweater from this lovely woman. She has a neat store with all her own knitted crafts. She knitted this sweater in just over a day. I am completely impressed.
Traditional and modern living were often sharing the same space. We learned about the Colombia Conflict over the years displacing thousands of people from their homes. We learned about the efforts of lawyers and other advocates fighting to help resettle people back on their rightful land. We saw homeless mothers washing their toddlers on the street from water given to them by store owners. We saw a homeless community outside of the Bogotá city center where a young homeless woman was putting on makeup and presumably preparing to walk the few blocks over to the Red Light District. To us it seemed like even though Colombia is at a time of peace, the country has much work to do to restore the lives of the victims from the decades of violence and corruption.
Comuna 13, Medellin
Below is an image of the escalators in Comuna 13 in Medellin. The escalators were completed in 2011. They span 384 meters in 6 sections and take less than 10 minutes to go from the bottom to the equivalent of 28 stories to the top. Vehicles are not able to traverse the neighborhood, so before the escalators were in place, residents only option was to walk. For this reason, the 12,000 residents were isolated from the rest of the city and struggled with drug trafficking and violence during the Colombia conflict starting in 1964 and hopefully coming to a complete close with recent peace negotiations between the government and revolutionaries. Comuna 13 was known during the 80’s and 90’s as one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the world. Because of these positive changes, the community is a safer more connected place for its citizens.
Gondolas to Parque Arví took us on a 20 minute ride from the metro train up and over the city to the park far into the countryside. At the park ,we stepped off the gondola at an attractive newly constructed building and then found a well maintained trail to hike along.
Fernando Botero was born in 1932 in Colombia and is world famous for his modern paintings and sculptures of oversized people and animals. We saw his art displayed at museums in Bogotá and Medellin.
We shouldn’t leave out that we ate at a Colombian chain restaurant called “Crepes and Waffles” which has great food, ridiculous ice cream deserts, at good prices. The restaurant was started by single mothers in Colombia, and is ran almost entirely by women. A great successful business from Colombia, that has locations throughout Central/South America now.
Street Art is an important part of the culture in Colombia. Because of the decades of political unrest people have used graffiti and murals as a way to communicate. We learned street art became a legal form of speech after a deadly confrontation between an artist and police officers. Police officers shot a man in the back as he was running from his mural. Through community protest, the laws changed and now people have a legal path to street art. Property owners often hire talented artists to paint murals to protect their property from random tagging. Out of respect, most murals are left untouched by other artists. We took a tour in Bogotá of the street art. If you visit, we recommend the tour to learn about the artists and art. bogotagraffiti.com
Now Back to Winnie
From our anchorage in Cartagena, we were getting ourselves ready to depart, and eyeing our weather window to make it north to Jamaica. We picked the day, and made our way through the shallower northern entrance of Boca Grande at sunrise. We had 9 foot depth across the submarine barrier, and the channel was well marked. As we made our way north through the first 100 miles of potentially strong wind and current, the seas were relatively calm. Taking it slow and picking a good weather window really paid off. We turned our engine off midday, and sailed on a starboard tack for the next 5 days, heading basically true north. We put an extra reef in the main sail during the night, but for the most part, barely touched a thing once our sails were trimmed. We had a consistent 15 knots of wind, which kept us moving along nicely close-hauled. We landed in Jamaica on the southeast end of the island, at Port Bowden. It was a very well protected anchorage, and the coast guard was a stones throw away. They all had huge smiles, were very jovial, and relaxed. They offered us free water from their dock, which tasted great and I took my first shower in 5 days with a hose on the dock.
That brings us to April 5th, when we arrived in Jamaica. We are safely back in the U.S. with our boat, so if you are reading, you no longer have to worry about us, aside from the trouble that we can get into back on land!
Enjoyed the blog. We also have a 1963 Alberg 35 (Hado) that has been extensively refitted and restored to “near Bristol” condition. I particularly liked your blog on Bogota as it was one of our favorite family trips several years ago. Damned shame more Americans don’t visit (or maybe not)… I particularly like the color you chose for Winnie’s hull. What Shade blue is that? She looks very Hinckley!! Eric
We’ve really enjoyed following the blog! Are you in the US for a break? Any future plans for Winnie? We also have an Alberg 35, which we are refitting for future sailing adventures. Coincidentally, we painted her the exact same colour as Winnie, lol. Your adventures have been really inspirational.
Thanks Nat! We are back in the US and soon starting jobs. We are selling Winnie and wrapping up our blog. We wish you all the best as you start your adventure. If you would like to stay in touch email us at email@example.com
Wonderful and brave experience! Tom & Sandy Bachman