I was up ready to leave 4am. I kiss my weeping girlfriend goodbye and promise her everything is going to be ok. It is still dark and just walking the 4 blocks to the bus stop is unnerving as the only people around are the homeless sorting through trash cans, its also the first time I have been on my own since the start of the trip. I get my first bus and a kind Panamanian nurse on her way to work chats to me for the 1hr 15km trip to the main bus station. Once at the main bus terminal I wait with all the other early morning work commuters for another hour to get on a freezing cold bus to colon and of course I forget my jumper because it 30 degrees outside and for some reason these Latin American buses always have the air con set to about 2 degrees – I freeze the entire way even the arms inside the t- shirt trick didn’t work.
On arrival to colon my nerves have not settled much as the previous night I read that there are three murders a day in this city and a gringo with a big backpack won’t stand out much. I get off the bus and have to walk a couple of blocks to the bus station, I stop a passerby to confirm that I am going the right way because I look down the street I have to head down and there is not a soul in sight, quite strange considering it is morning peak hour and the street that I am standing on is bursting full of people, any way the passerby informs me that I am correct but then warns me in a serious tone that that I must take a taxi as that street is very dangerous, I am thinking a taxi for just 2 blocks – geez. So I try and get a taxi along with all the other 50 people trying to do the same thing, it chaos, but they are seasoned professionals and I don’t stand a chance. After 5 minutes of trying I almost resign to just walking the blocks when miraculously out pops the guy I asked directions from, he must of seen the desperation written all over my face and he magically instantaneously gets a taxi to stop at his feet, he signals me over and I share his cab 5 blocks in wrong direction, drop him off and then head back 7 blocks to the bus station, luckily the cabbie still only charges me $2.
2 hours later I arrive in Porto Belo my destination. I wait by the cathedral for another hour for the mystery boat captain’s wife to collect me but 2 South Korean guys and Russian guy show up, introduce themselves and then we are off to the supermarket to top stock up on supplies, mainly beer and vodka. We then head out to the yacht a 40 foot catamaran and meet the captain – Freddy a 60 something Danish bloke who spends most of time lazing around in his underwear drinking rum and his wife Yuderkis a pretty 26 year old Dominican republican girl. They tell me that they have to head off to another town to sort out the paper work for our journey to Cartagena which they also told me should only take 3 or 4 days. So I had the afternoon to myself.
Getting to Porto Belo safe and sound was an achievement I though I should let Monique know about so I emailed her from the only internet in town – the library, and told her that I would be in Cartagena sooner than expected and that I looked forward to meeting her at the airport. I then adventured around Porto Belo for the afternoon as it is an old Spanish port that was used to ship gold and silver back to Spain in colonial times, it was also repeatedly attacked by pirates so many reminiscents remain in the form of forts, cannons and walls.
That night we 4 boys decided on bonding by having a few drinks. Well a few drinks soon turned in to a lot of drinks. This was helped along by the Jonathon a gregarious Russian who fed us all shots of vodka like they were chocolate Easter eggs on Easter morning.
We anchored about 400 meters from shore and it did not take long before I was bored on the boat and as the captain thought that lowering the dinghy in to the water was to much work I decided I would swim to shore to get a water taxi to come pick him up so we could get the paper work sorted. On the islands lived the Kuna Indians, a placid beautiful people who wear traditional clothing which is unique and colourful. I organized the water taxi to pick up our captain and then returned with him to ensure my passport was stamped and all was in order. Unfortunately the officials could not give us the zarpe because the captain could not give them the correct paper work, Freddy claimed he had it on the boat and he would return the next day to have it all sorted.
By this stage we had also run out of fresh water on the boat. The captain claimed it was because we took showers for too long, I think he had not filled the tanks before we left, I hadn’t even taken a shower yet as I was swimming all time and felt it was pointless. The boat also had a faulty battery so we had to use a petrol powered generator most of the time which he also did not have enough petrol for so we had to go and buy more gasoline from the islands. We bought some water from the island but that did not last long. I’ll mention now though that we did not run out of beer for the entire trip.
During the day we had some dug outs row up to the yacht selling fresh fish, lobster and artisans. We ate sea food like kings that night.
I was glad to be finally moving somewhere as I was bored of staying put in the same place for so long. I was also concerned that I would not arrive in Cartagena in time to meet Monique at the airport. We left that afternoon to hollandaise cays where we hoped we would find more fresh water, some diesel as we might be running low the captain said and some more petrol for the generator.
When we arrive at Hollandaise cays we find no supplies at all, quite disheartening as we were hoping to head straight to Cartagena from here the following day. Instead we were head down to Isla Tupak where the captain was sure we would find the supplies (by the way I should probably tell you that this was the first time he had ever done this voyage, he had done Cartagena to Porto Belo but not vice versa)
By the time the captain was ready to leave it was 5:30 pm. So once again it was another all nighter on the sea. We spent a lot of the night collecting rain water using the fabric roof of the deck as a catchment which we had also been doing the previous three nights.
Here in isla tupak we found a small shop with a few food supplies. But my first aim was to find a phone to call Monique, the public phone on the island is out of order, so I go around asking if I can use someone’s mobile phone I offer US$10 for privilege but there is no reception on the island so my search is futile.
Jung hu and I had to trek to a river to find fresh water supply and then carry it back to the dinghy then I went in search of fresh fish, would have fished for it myself but all the fishing equipment on the yacht was broken and there was no tackle. So after asking several people in the village I get led in to a hut where there are 3 old women cooking a plethora of lobster, crab, fish and pulp. They are willing to sell me 8 fresh fish for US$8, quite a steep price, but I’m not paying for it, the captain is. I have to wait for them to clean the fish, it was pretty awesome sitting in their hut for around half an hour watching them go about their normal daily lives, no electricity, just a wood fire to cook, dirt floor and most of the family lying around in hammocks.
So the Korean Boys are getting pretty fired up by this stage. They have a flight from Caracas, Venezuela to Mexico City, Mexico booked for the 14th of August and it is a 24 hour bus ride from Cartagena to Caracas, so if they don’t get to Cartagena within 2 or 3 days they lose over $1000 worth of flights. They want to leave now to get on route to Cartagena, but the captain is too tired from sailing all night the previous night and the decision is made to leave first thing in the morning.
We finally leave around 2pm in the afternoon. Finally we are on our way to cartagena!!!
It slow going, we only have one engine working and the current and the wind is against us. We are going about 2 – 4 knots which is about 5 to 7 kms per hour, now you can walk faster than that. But we are slowly heading in the right direction. Luckily there is a dvd player and a television on board so it gives us something to do while we a putting along.
During the evening we get some wind and we get up to a speed of about 6 -7 knots and we all start cheering.
But it does not fix the problem and all night we are bobbing about the ocean. I think we were actually going backwards for a few hours.
Now this was a difficult task. First of all it was hot stuffy and there was not bearly enough room to move, then the level of the diesel in the tank was to low to siphon it out (unless I got in the ocean), so I created a container out of a 4 litre milk bottle and slowly poured diesel into it bit by bit, it is hard to explain the process in writing but after about 2 hours of collecting diesel, and lots and lots of sweat, grunting and swearing we had about 12-13 litres of diesel (all those times spent installing fence posts under decks helped me through). The problem was that because it was all from the bottom of the tank and had probably been sitting there for a long time it was filthy. So thanks mainly to Yuderkis (the captains wife) we filtered and cleaned the diesel using a funnel and coffee filters. So after about 4 – 5 hours of work we tried to start the engine again, but no luck. I was at my wits end.
I was now convinced that freddy had incorrectly installed the new diesel filter and the system was not pressurized. I told him that if it is not fixed by the morning, we would get on the radio and get some help. I had suggested this earlier but he ensured me that it was not an emergency we were just going slowly. I then went to bed.
I soon figured out why there was so much oil on the floor, the captain had been pouring it there instead of in the engine. It was actually really difficult to get oil in to the engine and the only way I could do it was to use a small coffee cup and pour a little in at a time another difficult time consuming task.
Ok so after its about 11:30am I had been working on the engine since about 6:30am, I had been fighting off the sea sickness all morning as the ocean was throwing us about a bit. We try the engine, more gas! more gas! I yell and broom broom broom WOO HOO! The engine starts. It was one of the most jubilant relieving moments in my life!
I take a seat on the deck, the captain gives me a beer and says here you’ve earnt that and that was the only thanks I got.
We putted along the engine didn’t miss a beat for the rest of the voyage I wanted to increase the power but the captain was worried we would run out of diesel so it was painfully slow.
We eventually get to the anchorage. The captain argues with other captains about where he is anchoring as they think he is too close to their boats. We put the dinghy in the water and just out luck the outboard motor won’t start. So we have to row in to the dock. I was just laughing at this stage.
I head straight to the supermarket as I am dying of thirst, after sculling a 2 litre bottle of juice I try and get hold of Monique on the phone to no avail. I then jump on the internet and try from that angle, I only see one email from her, so I figure she must not be too concerned as she only sent one email. I leave the internet café and wonder back to the dock, at this stage the exhaustion hits me and I feel like a zombie walking down the street. Then I look up and there is Monique running towards me screaming balling her eyes out. She basically jumps on me and hugs me for about 15 minutes, now this is the welcome I had been looking forward to; it was such a good feeling having my baby back in my arms