Forts and Fortitude

and another thing…

Forgot to mention that Captain Jack treating us to a last orders medley of Muddy Waters, The Rolling Stones, and The Beatles “Rocky Raccoon” in the bar with a guitar was amusing… in a good way.

Day 112, Tue 28th May

A slightly frustrating day, we decided to head to a beautiful beach only for the heavens to open up 10 mins after we’d got on the bus. A 3hr round trip with half an hour cowering, under shelter, at the bus stop.

Dull, wet, admin day. There is nothing but forts to do here!

Day 113, Wed 29th May

Planned to kayak over to see the fort on the other side of the bay; ok, well I planned to & Tracey grudgingly agreed… J

However, the skies were a bruised shade of purple & we kept waiting in vain for it to clear up… so a day of domestics & not much else… relaxing though.

The weather forecast put us off doing anything and then it didn’t actually rain, still, a lucky kayak escape, I suspect! Bruised? I think that Keir is channelling the late Richard Griffiths…

Colon & Portobello

Day 114, Thu 30th May

So, the day we leave Portobello it’s gloriously sunny… typical!

An easy transfer back to Panama & preps for sailing – in Tracey’s case that’s a trip to the salon.  I get the shopping & booze detail!

Now, I am sure you can imagine the likely mishaps surrounding a trip to the hairdressers and associated wax clinic in Spanish… suffice it to say, that whilst cheap, wonky was not what I had in mind, in either location…

Met our South African friend (from Antigua) and his wife for dinner, an enormous, and fabulous, seafood risotto in my case, and a couple of bits of ravioli for Keir, he accepted it manfully, but I took pity on him and gave him some of mine :)

Day 115, Fri 31st May

A pick up at another ungodly hour… in fact the driver couldn’t find us, so we sat for 45 mins at 5 in the morning.  A 4hr drive up hill & down dale in a 4×4 until we are boated out to a beautiful catamaran (the African Queen) anchored off some beautiful Caribbean islands… all white sand & palm trees.

My comment that the original ‘African Queen’ sank at the end of the story didn’t go down to well…

Afternoon spent snorkelling whilst our passports were supposedly stamped by Panamanian immigration… they weren’t in that day!

Then we moved anchorage to another beautiful spot between 3 islands… few other yachts around, but we just chilled & Cap’n Rudy bought fresh crab & lobster from the locals for supper…

More snorkelling whilst supper was made. Lovely set of people on board, so all is looking good for the trip.

supperBarely any sleep and it is time to get up again, so after almost an hour waiting outside, during which time the driver woke up all of the hotel staff trying to find us, we set off for the sailing adventure along a bumpy road to the Comarca, then a quick boat ride to the Catamaran to meet Rudy and Jamilie, our captain and cook, plus our new shipmates for the week, Marga, Jen, Yax, Babek, Alex, Jordan, Devon and Maria.


Day 116, Sat 1st Jun

Moved the next morning to a tiny anchorage between 2 islands & surrounded by reefs.  Great snorkelling all day – loads of fantastic fish & unspoilt coral.

Check out the pictures, words can’t describe how beautiful the islands are.


Then we moved further up the island to make a bonfire ashore for supper. 

Night spent Yo-Ho-Hoing around the fire whilst drinking Rum (& a few tinnies) & spinning a few dits (stories) – standard sailor practice obviously!

Snorkelled, watched the sunset, had fresh fire cooked on a bonfire for supper. What more could we want?

Day 117, Sun 2nd Jun

Moved to the final spot between 4 islands (including 1 that was literally 1 palm tree surrounded by white sand; no bigger than a five a side pitch).

This really is a Pirates of the Caribbean set… just waiting for Keira to appear out of the waves!

Tracey not happy as I bagged the window berth, but still made no difference…. Hot, still, sweaty night for both of us…

More of the same today, beautiful snorkelling and Keir and I swam over to an island all to ourselves (for a few minutes, at least). I love it here, if only the cabin had air-con it would be perfect!

 Day 118, Mon 3rd Jun

A day & night of sailing (motoring as there was no wind) across the ocean blue… for that read endless rollers & some very quiet shipmates as we all tried to stave off boredom & seasickness.

The night time was particularly spectacular as, in the distance; we could see beautiful lightning storms off the coasts of Panama & Columbia.

So today is the not so nice bit where I feel sick for the whole day, going to the loo or the shower whilst doing 6.5 knots was a major mission, and this after 3 or 4 Dramamine – on the plus side I slept a lot :)

San Blas Islands

Day 119, Tue 4th Jun

Arrived in Cartagena midday & time for a quick swim of the beach before disembarking. 

Booked into the 3rd Mamallena hostel we’ve stayed at now & met Stuart – the owner & inspiration for all 3.  Rather interesting conversation as Tracey had left a Trip Advisor review that was none too complimentary about one of the staff in the Panama City Mamellena! 

Stuart was great about it though & was amazingly helpful (not sure if it had anything to do with Tracey’s previous review!? :) ).

Feeling sick all morning again and then mercifully we reached Cartagena. Rudy stopped the boat for a final swim while he and Jamilie made us a last crab supper – I am going to miss their cooking and all this fresh seafood – then we motored into Cartagena proper, bringing half our crew to our hostel, the other half ended up there later, it must have been a good choice! Lots of animals in the courtyard, we have a tiny and not very well kitten, a parrot, rabbit, extremely protective dog (of the kitten primarily and then the rabbit!?) and another cat or two roaming around, lovely.

Cartagena - Hostel Mamallena (1)

Day 120, Wed 5th Jun

Spent the day exploring the old town of Cartagena – absolutely beautiful & surrounded by fortifications… something for everybody!

Cartagena is beautiful, and despite my fears of rain the weather is beautiful. Keir and I had a wander around all the old churches, a museum and the odd shop, then off to a fabulous Indian at Ganesha with Jen, one of our new friends from the boat.

Day 121, Thu 6th Jun

Visited the Mud volcano – a giant termite mound with a warm mud pool at the top warned from the bowels of the earth.

Looked around the Naval museum & the museum of fortifications in the afternoon… surprisingly Tracey wasn’t interested in these & went out & did her own thing!

Lots of history of pirates, buccaneers & gold… The English featured heavily! :)

However, Admiral Vernon was reportedly repulsed by the locals who were led by a one eyed, one armed & one legged Spaniard… not the luckiest man in Nato!

Cartagena - Mud Volcano (10)Today we got up early and then drove around for an hour and a half picking up people for the Mud Volcano, before finally exiting Cartagena. Whilst ascending the rickety ladder up to the ‘volcano’ with about 30 other people I began wondering why I was there. Miraculously it seems that there is always room for one more, and we finally got in – of course none of us could move independently as you cannot touch the bottom, and we spent most of the time laughing maniacally and being pulled around by here-to-fore unknown strangers, Keir kept trying to put one leg down only for the other knee to pop up – very funny and definitely worth it.

I then made the foolish mistake of objecting to one of the ladies hosing me down after my mud bath, after which I was unceremoniously washed anyway, coughing and spluttering while yet another bucket of water was poured over my head and an overly thorough wash job was done of my unmentionables, while my face was still covered in mud. Now everyone is aware just how bad that bikini wax was…

Went to Café Havana for a little salsa dancing in the evening – great fun, at London prices, ouch.

Day 121, Fri 7th Jun

Looked around another fort (Castillo de San Felipe de Baraja) – the biggest fort in South America. Tracey, amazingly, loved this one; probably because it was criss-crossed with tunnels that we explored.

Another fort? Surely not. Actually this one was kind of fun as we ending up walking around semi-dark tunnels for an hour before getting so far into the depths of the earth that our feet got wet; we concluded that a torch would have been a good plan…


Day 122, Sat 8th Jun

An early Bus to Santa Marta & on to Taganga where we sorted out some more Diving.

Another horrendously early morning, but at least we made it to Taganga at 10:30, had time to organise a dive for tomorrow, book a flight to Pereira (coffee country) and find out about getting to Tayrona; not bad! Oh, and we have a gigantic rabbit in the backyard of our accommodation, he is very fluffy, but Keir won’t let me bring him inside :( Taganga (1)

Had a nice meal in Café Bonsai where the drink of the day was mojito slushie, pretty good, so I drank 2, plus half of Keir’s. The white wine was unfortunately appalling, perhaps we should have avoided it.

Day 123, Sun 9th Jun

Another 2 dives – visibility wasn’t so good & it was fun getting in & out of the boats in a swell. I suppose we were spoilt with Roatan…

Taganga - Diving - Underwater (2)

Kind of a weird day today as I was out on a boat ready to dive while my grandparents ashes were being scattered over a different patch of water over at Leigh-on- Sea. It seemed fitting that we were all on the water somewhere.

The dive itself was ok, Keir is right, after diving in crystal clear water in Roatan, and snorkelling in the San Blas, anything but perfect visibility is a bit disappointing.

Day 124, Mon 10th Jun

Headed off late to Tayrona National park.  Bit of fun actually getting in the park but a beautiful walk/ forced march (as we were so late) along the coast, swimming in beautiful coves & a bumpy speed boat ride back to Taganga.

So much for setting off at a reasonable time today… we finally made it to Tayrona at 1:30 with the knowledge that the last boat might leave from the end point of the 2 hour walk at 4pm, not so great for our anticipated cooling down dips on the way! The walk was actually very nice, I saw a monkey in the first 5 minutes, we found a man randomly selling ice cream halfway along and went past some beautiful beaches before having a quick swim in La Piscina and San Juan del Cabo before the rather rough boat ride back – I had unfortunately read something on Trip Advisor saying that it was not worth staying in the park, but we came across so many lovely camps that I wish we had!

Taganga & Tayrona

Day 125, Tue 11th Jun

Morning flight to Pereira & then bus to Armenia & Salento. This is the Zona Cafetera … where all the decent Colmbian coffee comes from.

Flew to Pereira after being stung for an extra $20 at the airport for not checking in online, bastards. Then a bus to Salento in coffee country (as recommended by the lovely Jamilie from the San Blas boat). Our new hostel is not high on character, but the warmth of the welcome, spacious room and well-equipped kitchen more than compensate, we decide to stay an extra day.

Day 126, Wed 12th Jun

We picked up a Willy’s jeep ride (I’ll leave the puns to Tracey) to Valle de Corcora & an all day trek up the mountain & down through beautiful valleys – & played  Tejo in the evening. If I was to bring one bit of Columbian culture back to the UK it’s this!

Basically you through heavy lead weights at folded bits of paper containing gunpowder…. When they hit, they explode! There’s a scoring mechanism, but who cares… hurling heaving objects at explosive materials whilst drinking beer… what could possibly go wrong!!! :)

After riding the Willy’s to the Valle de Cocora for possibly the nicest hike/walk I have ever done, I was rewarded by a giant cock at the Finca Alcaide and numerous waxy palms. No, really!

WWII Willys (6)Salento - El Valle de Cocora (16)

Met Jen (bumped into her in the supermarket yesterday) and a couple from our hostel, Tony & Laura, for a game of Tejo – throwing rocks at gunpowder – and my first taste of Aguadiente (the local spirit). I found that the 2 combined remarkably well as I got more bangs than anyone else, came second my first time ,and first on our second round :)

I wonder how long I can keep up the double entendres?

Day 127, Thu 13th Jun

A little bit of exercise in the morning – fun at altitude

By Christ I am unfit, an attempted 30 minute run ended after 20 minutes when Keir decided to stop to admire the view, I simply could not go on and had to hobble back panting like an old lady. Of course I hate running, it was hot and at altitude, but it was nonetheless pathetic; I need to come up with a different plan, perhaps involving the skipping rope that we bought last month for fitness purposes and then shut in the rucksack after using it once as a washing line…

Day 128, Fri 14th Jun

A trip around a coffee Finca in the morning – best bit being adopted by a mongrel dog who followed us all the 5km to the farm, around on the tour, & all the way back.  Tracey wouldn’t let me put him in my bag!


Afternoon trip to Cali & arrived early evening where we crashed out; exhausted.

Salento (43)Breakfasted, packed up, and nipped down the road to La Finca de Don Luis for a tour of the coffee farm accompanied by our new dog guide, who adopted us, walked us there and then dropped us back off at our hostel. The tour was interesting and great practice for my translation skills, followed by a nice cup of home-grown coffee and banana.

Arrived in our new hostel in Cali too late for the free salsa lesson. Damn.

Day 129, Sat 15th Jun

Went out & saw the sights of Cali – not particularly inspiring & done in about an hour, Then Tracey made me Trek miles across the city to a café that supposedly sold the best lemon meringue pie in South America…. It didn’t have any & was horrendously over-priced. I was obviously amused at this; Tracey’s reaction is best not printed!

A night out salsa-ing at Zapateca – great fun, although the locals dance in a completely different way.

Dragged Keir around the limited number of sights in Cali, disappointedly with no Lemon Meringue Pie. Did the free, exhausting, and fanless, salsa lesson and then went dancing in a non-Cali style in the evening. Managed to dance despite an extremely expensive and STRONG G&T, maybe I am regaining my alcohol tolerance…?

Day 130, Sun 16th Jun

Inspired by the previous evening we had a 2 hour Cali style Salsa dance class. Great fun, but we failed to make it out again dancing that night & crashed out.

This inability of ours to consistently stay up late is a bit worrying, and we only came to Cali for the salsa.


Day 131, Mon 17th Jun

Spent the day travelling to Tierradentro along a very bumpy road – I understand now why they call some roads the ‘trampoline of death’ – we spent half the time airborne!

We were dropped off with a final 2 Km uphill hike to the village – deep joy.  It really is a one horse town.

Amazingly enough Keir took the travel today very well, he didn’t want to come to Tierradentro and the prospect of several hours in a bumpy bus with a possible 2km trek with luggage at the end was never going to be popular with him. I think the combination of stunning views and peanut M&M’s did much to alleviate the tension. I hope it is worth it!

Day 132, Tue 18th Jun

A beautiful day hiking 14km up & down the mountains visiting all the Tombs – we are talking 1400m upto >2000m high. It was fantastically beautiful but knackering!

OK, so definitely worth visiting Tierradentro, the walk was beautiful and we saw some incredible tombs, some still with visible decoration. Keir agreed that I was right to insist :)


Day 133, Wed 19th Jun

Up early at 5.15 for a whole day of traveling to St Augustin… well, that comprised of being crammed in the back of a Camioneta (4×4 with a hood on the back) bumping all the way  to La Plata,  then a minibus to Pitolito & finally a taxi to St Augustin.

Arrived exhausted early afternoon in Casa de Nelly’s – a lovely hostel built of wood with a giant aviary outside with parrots, budgies & tortoises.  2 dogs & 3 cats made up the menagerie so I was in seventh heaven! J

Viewed loads of ancient statues at the Parque Archaeological.  Amazing views from the top of the hill – Columbia really is beautiful.


Another incidence of ‘there is always room for one more,’ 10 adults and assorted children in the back of the jeep for a couple of hours… I have to say that the connections (and the children) were great though, 3 buses and no more than a couple of minutes wait for any of them!

Day 134, Thu 20th Jun

Walked to 2 more sites Chaquira & El Tablon – pretty, but nothing spectacular.

Then another overnight bus, again, to Bogota.

Rain cut short our planned hike to the remaining sites, but we decided we had seen enough statues and went for a drink instead :).

San Augustin

Day 135, Fri 21st Jun

Booked into a Hostal Casa Quevedo in the square of the same name, then straight out exploring the old city. Saw the gold museum – Tracey was happy looking at lots of shiny things!

A quick recorrido of Bogota old town today, the highlight of which was definitely Iglesia Museo Santa Clara, a beautiful church near the presidential palace. The gold museum was actually not that exciting, despite reports to the contrary. It is COLD here though, had to go out looking undoubtedly ridiculous as wearing practically all my clothes; mercifully there were no mirrors and I hid the camera…

Day 136, Sat 22nd Jun

We are lucky enough to have a friend living & working in Bogota who kindly asked us to stay for the weekend. So we met up with Hank who had arranged to take us on a private tour of the President’s palace – fantastic. A real peek behind the curtains of power that only a lucky few ever see.

I haven’t seen the whole family since Hank & Tamara’s wedding 8 years ago, so it was lovely to catch up with Tamara, Valentina & Samantha.  Valentina’s now grown into a beautiful young lady, like her mum, & Samantha’s an impish 6 year old. :-)

It was lovely being in such a warm atmosphere & actually staying somewhere luxurious – couldn’t get Tracey out of the sauna!

They took us up to a restaurant overlooking Bogota to see sunset – a beautiful sight.

P1350780The palace was pretty interesting and meeting Hank and family was great – Tamara is a great cook and Valentina very kindly gave up her room for us so we had a couple of luxurious nights in a nice en-suite with gym and sauna downstairs – we had better start preparing them for a slightly lower standard of living when they visit us in London!


Day 137, Sun 23rd Jun

Up early &, in Tracey’s words, off to catch a ‘Choo Choo’ train to take us to see the Salt Cathedral.

The steam train was delightful; the underground ‘salt’ cathedral was impressive in size & magnitude but a little bit repetitive in content.

A lovely day finished off with dinner out with Hank & Tamara.

I think the salt cathedral I saw in Poland was nicer, but perhaps I have just been spoilt with seeing so many amazing things… the train was cool though.

Took Hank and Tamara out for dinner to thank them for our stay and I had a great shoshito sake cocktail, kind of a Japanese mojito… somehow I managed to restrain myself from having more than one…

Day 138, Mon 24th Jun

Tracey went off to do a little bit of retail therapy with Tamara (I don’t know who was more worried – Hank or I!), before we had to say bye to all the family & catch the night bus south again back towards Ecuador.

Tamara very kindly took me underwear shopping – all these random laundry trips are playing havoc with my wardrobe – it was very strange to shop from an armoured car, nipping into a shop and then being driven to next one. It was definitely novel, but I can see why they are looking forward to being back in the UK; no browsing possible!