So, I’ve made it all the way to Colombia! I’m now in Barranquilla, right on the northern coast, where I’ve met up with my uncle P who lives out here. Spending a few days up here while I plan my next moves – my flight leaves from Bogota 2 weeks on Friday, and that’s if I want to actually take it. As you can imagine, I’ve not planned this far (I don’t even have a book for South America!), so am plotting and planning. While I’m this far south I’m also quite keen on popping over the Equator to tick off the Southern Hemisphere, so a trip to Quito, Ecuador or Leticia, Colombia could be on the cards. And then I have to decide if I actually want to come back at all! (oooooh exciting)
Back in Panama City I waited a few days extra to get on a boat with some people from the hostel [for anyone looking at doing the trip between PC and Cartagena I did it with a guy called Fritz the Cat, a name quite funnily now indelibly left in my passport]. The day we left didn’t start too well – we were left behind by jeeps sent from the hostel to take us to the ‘port’, since a load of Israelis who hadn’t reserved a space jumped in front of us (bastards), so we had a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and arguing on the phone with people to try and get them to pick us up. Luckily, I was with 3 Americans, so all that came naturally to them, and I could take a quiet seat back and seeth quietly in my stereotypical British manner.
Well, needless to say, 5 and a half hours later another jeep came to pick us up and 3 hours after that we arrived in a tiny little town called Carti in the north of Panama. At one point on the way we passed into the Darien province (reportedly one of the most dangerous areas in the world) but to be honest I’d been up since half 4 so was grabbing some winks in the car.
The San Blas islands where we stayed for 3 days were quite simply phenomenal. Mindblowingly beautiful islands, lovely warm Caribbean water, gorgeous clear blue sea. I also taught myself to properly snorkle there as well, which was nice. We got taught how to do it back in Utila, but I hadn’t been snorkelling since, so now I had an opportunity to practise I took full advantage and was going up to 8-10m down to admire the reefs, instead of from the surface.
On one of the days some of us from the boat went spear-fishing for lobsters with the local Kuna tribe that Fritz (the Austrian owner of the boat) got along with, which involved fannying around with a makeshift lassoo on a stick to try and catch their legs in before someone else powered in and skewered them. We didn’t in fact find any lobsters but caught a couple of crabs.
Then on the third night, the voyage began. I’d picked up some seasickness tablets in PC before we left, as some people I’d spoken to who’d come the other way said it got a bit rough. But despite the fact I had them, I wanted to see if I could rough it as a sailor anyway. I couldn’t. I lasted at least until the first meal, but then in true Gap Yah style… well you know the rest. So I immediately hit the Dramamine and though felt a bit rough for the rest of the time held everything down.
We left San Blas at about 5pm and got into Cartagena harbour at 2.30am two nights later. I think the full night of sailing was possibly one of the worst nights sleep in my life. The next day, as there was nothing to do but sit, look at the water, feel nauseous, read or sleep, I tried to sleep for most of it wherever there was space in the boat. I think it was about 6pm that I finally felt like I’d woken up properly for the first time that day.
But arrive we did, and into Cartagena, Colombia. And it was hoooooot again. The last few days in PC it rained, so was comparatively cool. We got off the boat at 8am and in the taxi to the town we passed one of the thermometer/clock-on-a-stick things that said it was already 32C. Sheeez Louise.
Cartagena has a bigged up rep from the Lonely Planet, but I was disappointed. It’s apparently one of the jewels of South America – if so, I’m happy I did Central America. Or maybe it was cos I’ve just done Central America that I wasn’t too impressed – it was a nice colonial town, with some nice big defensive walls, but then I’ve had that for 3 months already in Guatemala and Nicaragua. Not even beginning to mention how expensive it was too! The accommodation was about $8 (reasonable) but the food and beers where back up at San Jose prices! A standard bottle of local brew set you back in places upwards of $6-7,000pesos, which is over $3 – not bad compared to back home, but I’ve been used to prices a third of that!
So needless to say I spent a couple of nights in Cartagena, said goodbye to the guys from the boat, and headed up north to Barranquilla.