Paradise not so lost – we found it!!!!
So on Joy and Patrick’s advice and research, we decided to cut our south American travels short by a couple of days and catch a boat to Panama city (via San Blas) – highly recommended and a nice chance to relinquish planning and research duties.
So from Taganga we hot footed it to Cartagena de Indiana to check out the old colonial town. The city is stunning and fully deserves its “Cannes of South America” title. The streets are a mix of pastel colours trimmed with window boxes bursting with colour, so a two hour walk around the city, several frozen drinks (soooooo hot) and a couple of rest breaks were in order. In a whole day that was pretty much all we could muster and we’re going to have to get better at this wet heat if we’re going to survive any of Central America. We did however meet our boat crew and the twelve of them look like a cool bunch – if not a little young. I am going to have to do some “fun Emma” channelling if I am going to keep up with them – I did used to be fun.
Day two in Cartagena saw us a little more active, although only a little. We decided to visit the local attraction in Cartagena and cool off at the same time, so we visited the Volcan de Lodo El Totumo (Mud volcano). The 15m high mound looks very little like a volcano and more like a large mole hill, but inside was amazing!!! After climbing into the crater you were quickly aware that movement was a very hard option. You couldn’t even sink, the mud was so thick and buoyant, so the only option was to lay back and cover yourself in it. It was brilliant fun. And, to top it off, a man massaged you while you were in the mud – perfect (if not a little inappropriate at times)!!! So after a pretty intense washing (which was also pretty ineffective) in the nearby lake we headed back into Cartagena to finish up our last night in South America with some incredible sushi and a boys night for Patrick and Lee (which I am still yet to be let in on all the details of, but involved Cafe del Mar and two bottles of rum)!
So after 196 days of travelling South America we headed down to the port to board our boat (called Sacanagem which means dirty joke in Portuguese) and begin our Central American adventure. I should premise this by mentioning that I don’t really love the open sea, so the prospect of 36hrs of navigation through some of the stormiest waters in Central America wasn’t getting me going. Luckily for us the navigation was a breeze! We began late at night, and with only one waking day to fill (which I managed to avoid doing much during anyway) it was fantastic. So excitedly we woke on our second morning to approaching stunning little atolls in crystal blue Caribbean seas. The heat on the boat was intense and with no respite due to the lack of wind and perfectly flat seas (not complaining) we must have been the fastest group on earth to undress and dive into the water. And it was HEAVEN! The water was the warmest I have ever felt and still had the welcome cool off at the beginning which makes the whole swim worthwhile.
The whole day was incredible. El Capitan (Federico) moored us in this stunning bay where we got to swim to the islands, walk on the pure white sands, and start smashing back the beers which had been impossible to drink during navigation. After a strong comeback by El Capitan in the food department (the first night was pot noodles which didn’t bode well) we had a delicious salad lunch and headed over to the nearest inhabited island and met some of the Kuna natives. The Kuna are impressive people – if not just for the fact that they thrive in this heat and sand flies don’t seem to bother them. But they survive on the coconut trade and up until the late 90s, 80% of the coconut that “Bounty” used in their chocolate bars were supplied by the Kuna from the San Blas islands. The women in the community are also revered (as they should be obviously) and are the keepers of culture and tradition. For this reason none of the women learn Spanish as they are tasked with keeping the Kuna language alive. They were really interesting to meet and see how their lifestyle is changing over the years.
After loads more swimming and ridiculous diving off the roof of the boat competition , the nights festivities started. I expected these kids to be crazy and there wasn’t much disappointment. We headed over to the beach and had a BBQ over a massive bonfire then roasted marshmallows. Unfortunately being away from the boat meant two things – booze runs out & sand flies are mental. So we swam back in the dark and it was one of the most amazing things I have ever experienced. The water was FULL of phosphorescence, so whenever you moved (which is the primary action in swimming) the plankton in the water glowed like millions of little stars. IT WAS INCREDIBLE!!!!! We then all spent the next couple of hours frolicking in the dark looking down into the water with our masks to see the plankton.
Despite the large amounts of rum (which is called Ron in Latin America just in case you wanted to know) and beer consumed, we awoke quite sprightly the next morning and began our journey around to our next idyllic location. Not without a tug ride though, so we all donned our strongest bikini’s (I went for two bikini tops) and jumped into the water behind the boat. Despite the fact that we were probably travelling less than 2 knots, the pull was ridiculous and it wasn’t long before we were all swallowing half the ocean and losing our pants. So much fun...........haven’t laughed so hard in ever (which is also why we were swallowing so much salt water). So we dragged our way to the next location which was incredibly even more stunning than the first. Our first activity (after more food of course) was to swim over to a nearby sand bar and walk to the island. It was so nice, just Leethal and I swimming through beautiful water, and then me being dragged along the sand bar as I refused to walk – to wander around our own deserted island paradise. With rum supplies running low for the next two nights we decided to conserve so it was a pretty sedate evening watching the stars on deck and playing some cards (before having to call it quits as somehow we moved to cheat without mentioning it).
Our final day on the islands came far too quickly. At this point I think I would have paid anything just to spend a few more days in the islands. We had some brekky and then we took some more alone time to go snorkelling over to some coral reefs surrounding one of the islands. Despite listening to the captain’s snorkelling instructions we apparently didn’t hear them and managed to almost beach on the ridiculously shallow reeded outters. This led to an unbeaching contest which lasted the whole way to the shore.
OH MY GOD!!!! I would say I have seen a lot in my travels and been some incredible places in my life, but this place tops the cake for most romantic. The beaches were incredibly white and the palm trees lay over the blue waters. So stunning. Which meant there was only one thing to do – America’s Next Top Model photo shoot!!! Lee won unfortunately, but I came a convincing second (which was pretty good for just the two of us – I was looking like taking last for a while there until I pulled out the tree shot).
But alas, that was the end of our frivolity and we had to return to the boat to make our way back to the archipelago’s capital in time for the following day’s departure. We managed to check out the local town briefly on a beer run (I did check out more of the local women’s Mollah’s – traditional patchwork pieces – for you Kevo) before starting the nights celebrations.
Rum, I love Rum – it makes me very happy. So knowing we were down to only three quarters of a bottle, there was a good chance the night wouldn’t go on too long – but not so. Before the sun had even said goodnight we were dancing up a storm on deck. El Capitan had other ideas though and started a mass clearout on deck which saw several people thrown overboard. Lee revelled in it, but with so little rum left I wasn’t about to pass mine up and managed two passes and two bruised cheekbones before I finally hit the water. The only injury of the night saw Leethal landing on Joy’s head which not surprisingly didn’t end so well. Oh well, nothing a lot of rum won’t fix aye!!! So our final night on the boat was mental and so much fun. Dancing Kev, Phil Collins, Shakira and the cast of Grease all put in stellar performances making for a difficult get up the following morning, but a fitting farewell to one of the most beautiful places on earth! Central America here we come!
Love to you all
Em & Lee