Another hurricane season is quickly approaching. Now is the time to start making cruising plans for the summer pilgrimage to hurricane Mecca.
Why not try something new and different for a change? Avoid the overcrowded anchorages, and get off the beaten track. Sail to a new destination and make your insurance company happy as an added bonus. Cartagena and the San Blas Islands are the perfect option. Contrary to popular belief, Colombia is not all drugs and guns. It has beautiful countryside, wonderful people, and one of the oldest cities in the new world. This is where Sir Francis Drake made history. And to top it off, it has a terrific cruisers marina ‘Club Nautico’ with another, Club de Pesca just around the corner, as well as a decent anchorage out in front of the marinas.
The facilities are all at your doorstep. Dockage at very reasonable rates, night security, lots of space to anchor, a restaurant and bar with delicious fresh-caught fish and cheap beer on the menu, laundry service, showers, day laborers at great rates. There are haulout facilities down the bay, a big air-conditioned grocery store two minutes down the road, all situated in a safe, beautiful, neighborhood of old mansions and new condos. For a couple of bucks you can jump into a taxi to get to the old walled city of Cartagena, where you can purchase just about every conceivable item imaginable, or go for an evening stroll and check out the abundance of reasonable restaurants with varied menus. Catch the latest flick (in English) at one of the cinemas, or hop on a bus and go on a road trip to explore one of the many sights. Check out the arts and handicrafts in one of the nearby towns. Load up with hammocks. Get really adventurous and fly to Peru, and see the awesome ruins of Machu Picchu. Bus it to Ecuador and backpack the countryside. Go skiing in Chile. For a trip of a lifetime, cruise down the Amazon. It’s all
very affordable, even on a cruising budget.
Once you have provisioned and repaired and are ready to roll, the next stop are the Rosario’s, a group of beautiful islands just a few hours sail from the magnificent entrance to Cartagena. It’s a great place to just chill out, clean your bottom for the next hop, and hang with the other cruisers. Now you are ready for something truly special: the 180-mile sail across the Darien Gulf will get you to The San Blas Islands, which are something else again.
The San Blas Islands are a separate reality. It’s like entering a time warp. The Cuna Indians live in their thatched huts and sail their handmade log canoes, fishing and gathering fruit from the islands that are family owned. It feels like you’ve stepped back in time, until you see the dugout that pulls up beside you is powered by an antiquated outboard. These shy, friendly people are happy to sell you their wares, supplying you with fresh fruit, eggs, homemade bread, fish, crab, lobster, all at great prices.
Invite the Cuna women on board for a cool beverage and negotiate the price for some of their unique Molas. These are incredible works of art and are an important part of the Cuna economy. Many women make their living and support their families by selling these handicrafts. The fishing and lobster trade has depleted supplies, and export has dropped over the years, forcing locals to come up with alternate means of income, for those living in the larger villages.
The outer islands still retain the simpler way of life. You can request permission from the village elder to land on one of his islands to stretch your legs. The locals will welcome you ashore and allow you to explore their unique neighborhood, and the children will delight you by trying to hold a conversation consisting of Spanish and sign language. Or, if this sounds like too much hard work, simply choose a deserted island and lounge on a pristine beach with the gin clear water lapping at your feet. Snorkel surrounding reefs, or go spear fishing for lobster dinner, and meet your cruising neighbors for a potluck on the beach. If this sounds like a paradise to you, you’re not wrong.
There are not many places like this left on the planet, and this one is within your reach. So why not break from the pack, and discover what cruising is truly about? You won’t get this opportunity very often, and when you are sitting in your rocking chair at 80, you won’t want to have to kick yourself because you missed something that was just over the horizon. Isn’t it what you came for after all? Not just sailing from bar to bar, but really experiencing life.