A PERIPATETIC JOURNEY
not all who wander are lost
The road up into the mountains was sometimes concrete, but more often it was rutted and bumpy. It is only one lane, so if two cars going in the opposite direction meet, either one has to back up until they can make some room, or they just squeeze by each other while the passengers try not to think of the steep drop-off on the right. There is a lot of coffee growing up in the mountains and it has to get downhill to be sold somehow. On our way back down to Santa Marta we encountered at least six of these trucks slowly making their way downhill.
We arrived at Santa Marta about an hour before sunrise on December 4. It had been quite a night. Brian was feeling pretty worn out both from his cold and from the previous night of big winds and waves. We were all ready to tie up to a dock (there is no real anchorage in Santa Marta), plug into shore power, and rest. Everyone had been up pretty much all night as the boat's movement had made it impossible to sleep. Some of us were sick; all of us were exhausted. We called the marina multiple times before receiving an answer, then tried with limited success to communicate with the dockhand using our Spanish for Cruisers book. Fortunately, an Australian-accented English-speaking voice came on the radio and directed us to our slip. The voice belonged to a long-time marina resident who was waiting for the arrival of friends on another boat that had spent the past night in the wild wind and waves too. We were slightly ahead of her friends and she was happy to help us to our slip.
Brian went to the office to check in and surrender our passports to the authorities (we'd get them back in a few days). We were all in a bit of a daze as we walked to a juice stand just outside the marina entrance. It was hot. Hotter than any of us had remembered experiencing. Kendall felt short of breath in the intense heat. The kids were visibly wilting. It must have been the combination of tiredness and humidity we had not felt in a while. We got our juice (delicious and refreshing) and made our way back to Counting Stars to turn on the air conditioning for a brief respite and nap. Although living aboard means that we are without most of the creature comforts of our land-based life, we do sometimes indulge in air conditioning during those times when we are plugged into shore power, especially when it is so very very hot!
Once we were rested and cooler, we set out to explore the marina and the city. Santa Marta was vibrant and festive and it was fun to watch people and just take in the street scenes. The old city was beautiful and historic, with narrow streets and pedestrian alleys, plazas with lovely old churches, colorfully painted restored buildings, and picturesquely decaying buildings – Santa Marta is the oldest city in Colombia. We found what would be our favorite restaurant on Carrera 3 on the first day (Lulo) and went back multiple times for delicious smoothies, mojitos, and arepas. At night, Carrera 3 comes alive with tables outside the restaurants along the walls on each side, making the pedestrian alley even more narrow and crowded with people enjoying a night out. Street performers and vendors regularly pass by, stopping to sing, dance, make flowers and animals out of palm fronds, and offer cigars, jewelry, and snacks to diners at the tables.
Some scenes from Santa Marta:
Meanwhile, the Christmas winds howled through the city and the marina, picking up during the night as the katabatic winds rushed down the mountains toward the Caribbean. The Sierra Nevada mountains begin at the edge of town and rise to over 18,000 feet just 26 miles from the coast, making them the second highest coastal mountains in the world. These snow covered peaks and the steep slope to the nearby ocean below promote strong winds at night. As the air cools at night, it tumbles (some would say roars) down the mountains. These winds..... Once they start up in December, they tend to relax only a little (down to 20-25 knots during the day and 30-35 at night) and only for short times. Almost all the cruisers in the marina were watching the weather day and night, looking for any sign of decreasing winds that would make their stay in Santa Marta more pleasant and offer a possibility to get well offshore in more benign conditions. These mountain enhanced winds and the general compression of the trade winds around the northern tip of South America contribute to rough water and challenging sailing in these waters. In fact, this area is generally considered among the five most challenging sailing capes in the world. As a result, our two week visit to Colombia began to stretch out. But fortunately we weren’t alone, and there was a great group of cruisers and cruising families also ‘stuck’ in Santa Marta. Truth be told, it wasn’t a bad place to be stuck at all. In addition to exploring Santa Marta, we were able to travel up into the Sierra Nevada mountains and visit Cartagena for a few days.
A highlight of our visit to Santa Marta was going to see the new Star Wars movie with families from three other cruising boats. We had to wait until the 10pm showing to see it in English with Spanish subtitles. All other showings had Spanish dubbed in over the English, which would have been hard to follow.
Below are some videos and a collection of underwater photos from both snorkeling and diving.
McGlynn family 5 (Isla, Marin, Eoin, Kendall, and Brian) sailing Counting Stars