Saturday, March 22, 2008

Boat haul - (oh what fun – NOT) & Good Bye Cartagena !!

Getting your boat hauled is always a somewhat traumatic experience. When you are cruising it is more likely than not a ‘new lift’ to you and each one, combined with the operator seems to have quite life of its own. There are the usual things to consider, protecting the hull from scraping on the cement walls or steel pilings, tugs and other watercraft in the way, the preparing the rig stays for dis-assembly etc. But all of these things are usually quite easy to manage.

We will long remember this haul out experience was one for the books. It started soon after leaving the anchorage with the Pilot guide from the Haul out facility on board to assist in the navigation of some very skinny water. We hadn’t travelled the first mile, when we touched bottom the first of three times and the last one just outside the haul out facility with not much hope of getting ‘off’ the bottom without the assistance of a tug. After a few words between the pilot and the ‘yard’ manager they called the Coast Guard for assistance.

In three years of cruising we have never needed the assistance of the the Coast Guard. Gary worked his ‘MOJO’ and gently worked KS out of the mud (thank goodness for a rising tide and a very happy and well loved little engine that could).

We arrived at the haul facility, which by this time was well aware we were coming, only to find yet another obstacle in the way, another boat sitting in the sling waiting to be hauled. Now we are not talking about a lot of maneuvering room here…and spent the next hour trying to stand still against a building breeze within 50 feet of a gigantic rust bucket of a Columbian freighter that would not have noticed or cared if I became one more scratch on his big red hull.

Finally we got into the sling and after three attempts, two bent stanchions and a four foot scratch in our Awl Grip we are here now, inside the Ferroalquimar Shipyard, which at its very best is like being in the middle of the Gobi desert surrounded by boats. The dust flies continually, and getting work done in the heat and dust is quite a challenge.
We are having the inside of the main salon, re-varnished, the outside bottom, cleaned, painted, the topsides waxed, the deck and rig cleaned and hopefully within the next week we will be ready to re-launch provision and head out of Cartagena back to the San Blas for a couple of months of much need rest and solitude. (Footnote: The varnish work looks great, the rig and deck are clean, topsides polished and bottom paint looks good. Oh and if ever you need work done on a broad range of skills ask for Jaime at Ferroalquimar yard. He is honest, good natured and diligent.

Cartagena is a beautiful city with a great deal to offer the casual tourist whether it be in the choice of foods, music, nightlife, sightseeing and cultural events that are quite different than those we are used to in Canada. We have enjoyed our time and taken advantage of the many offerings during our time here, however, this big city life can be quite strenuous and not anything we really miss, even when you can get internet and pizza takeout which is making quite a concession on Gary’s part.

As we prepare to launch, provision and sail west back into the Island paradise of the San Blas we take with us memories full of fun and laughter and new friends, and a few interesting stories to tell. Hey we survived, unscathed and little worse for wear.

We are just now heading out to dine at what has become our favourite 5 star dining experience here in Cartagena, the Olive restaurant…one of the best Filet Mignon’s on the planet.

Till the next time - Hasta la próxima vez!

Going to the dogs! – Or Doc makes new friends

One of the simple pleasures for Gary & Doc is the meeting and socializing with other of God’s creatures they meet along the way. This is often the four legged, or two winged version. To date, this has included dogs, cats, birds, horses, pigs, dolphins, sharks, and a Panther in the Chagres river jungle of Panama.

During Doc’s daily walks here in Cartagena he and Gary were adopted by a pack a street dogs along the waterfront. One young sweet little female, we call ‘Senorita’ took a shine to ‘Doc’ and it wasn’t long before Doc and she would be looking for each other during our daily walks. Shortly after she disappeared. They found her a few days later lying alone and in great pain. She appeared to have been hit by an automobile, suffered a broken her hip and not generally doing well. Gary and Doc got her cleaned up, hand fed her, got her stable and visited her daily, working with a young local boy massaging her legs and hips and working with her until she could stand and walk on three legs. She is now up and full of pee and vinegar and doing much better. She has partial use of her one hind leg and strong enough to take care of herself. Next was another small dog hit by a car. He was included in the ‘rounds’ and Gary & ‘Doc’ visited twice daily, feeding and tending to both pups.

The rest of the pack has come to accept Doc and his ‘friend with the food bag’ and soon they were all feeding from the little food piles that Gary would line up and it was fun to watch them all find a place in line.

One of the pack was a rather pregnant little ‘lady’ who was quite stand-off-ish in her matronly condition. Kaija made the connection and was able to hand feed her. Soon enough her pups were born in the parking lot of the neighborhood Police academy. Six little bundles of fur.

One morning as Gary & ‘Doc’ were walking past the Police academy, one of the guards called to Gary and took him to see ‘Lady’ and her pups. ‘Lady’ had a large gash in her right front leg. Despite our attempts to clean and dress her wound it was beyond our scope and unless we did something she would certainly lose the leg, and perhaps her life. We found a good hearted Vet and transported little family to the vet’s office for proper care and treatment. We are happy to report that after a short stay she is much improved and back in the Police yard under the care of ‘Maria’ a sweet angel who works as the secretary for the Police Department.

We were off to the ‘yard’ to haul the boat for bottom cleaning and painting. We look forward to our short re-union in another week when we are again back in Cartagena anchorage.

Kaija’s Side Trips

Kaija made a couple of short day side trips while at the anchorage. She did not, again did not go to the mud bathes but some of the other ladies did. The first trip was out to a small village about two hours by mini bus from Cartagena – San Jacinto. This is a small town where they actually weave the material for the hand-made hammocks. Also the town has many shops for them as well as the special woven hats. There is a small gas station where the trucks, cars, motorcycles and burrows – uhuh I said burrows stop to get filled up…where else?

The other wonderful day trip was by local bus to the Botanical Gardens. Here you are able to see many of the local varieties of flora and trees. Also, there are resident three-toed sloths and birds that build swinging nests. In the midst of all the greenery is a very old church / chapel that is still being used for weddings. Of course, no new place would be the same without finding a new frog.


We also met Hernando…commonly referred to as the one eyed pirate of Cartagena, Hernando if a very large and quite jolly man and if you plan on spending any time in Cartagena he is definitely a must meet kind of guy. His family just happens to be in the emerald business, and Hernando can find you the biggest fattest shrimp in Columbia or about anything else you are shopping for. Kaija manages to leave Cartagena with her Emerald needs satiated. Gary enjoyed the shrimp enough to forget the pain of the Emeralds. Ain’t Life Great!

Dealing with Cartagena Contractors…or Trabajando Con Los Tres Stooges-

A word of caution before you read on. Do not attempt this at home!

As momma said…if you don’t have something nice to say, say nothing at all…well that’s fine, but then you wouldn’t be able to read about it.

We planned to have some interior refit work done while here in Cartagena. Gary had planned and hoped to have this work completed before Kaija returned from visiting with her family in Vancouver. It was all with the best of intentions and meant to surprise, enlarging her bathroom (head) and converting two others into a laundry/utility room and office/nav station.

In keeping with my momma’s suggestion….we chose a carpenter, a canvas fabricator, and a Corian installer. We’ll change the names to Curly Larry & Moe…I think you get the idea!

After reading and re-reading my comments I have just now deleted a page and a half of what could only be construed as ‘whining’. Please read on!

Suffice to say our expectations were quite unrealistic. This is Columbia after all!

To cut to the chase…the particular contractors we chose, do have potential, and it could be said they do good work…when you can find them…and therein lays the rub. Contractors are quite willing to take on the work, take a hefty deposit, then disappear into the ether., and in the case Larry & Moe, they were bad money managers, and the money disappeared before the work was done and our friend ‘Curly’ he took money for product and either the cash or the materials went missing…this was not good! It is amazing to what levels one sinks when trying to get work done by people that have this ‘gringo system perfected’…knowing full well that sooner or later, they can outlast you unless you plan on taking up residency. This attitude is not only acknowledged but seems supported and enabled by the club staff who continue to recommend the services of these contractors and further who suggest that ‘you are not a proper cruiser unless you are used to waiting’. Not a sentiment we agree with or support. In other words, if you are a cruiser coming to Cartagena and hope to get work done, be very careful who you choose, and make sure you are prepared to ‘outlast’ them.

We now have a much better understanding of the intended meaning of the word ‘Manyana’. Many, including us wrongly believing this word means ‘tomorrow or morning time’ as taught. This is not the case. In reality it quite simply means ‘not today, and probably not tomorrow’.

Although we were rapidly increasing our knowledge of the language, more thru immersion then by intention. Despite our best intentions it proved to be a continuous exercise in charades, or perhaps more correctly described as the flailing of the body parts trying to get your point across. This is tough enough when you dealing face to face but almost impossible over a cell phone, when you are lucky enough that will answer your call. Needless to say, some of the finer points got lost in the translation and frustration, Kaija’s bathroom never did get enlarged and other things had to be put on hold, but in the end we did improve our poccitto casa on the water, and after all, that was the goal. A little at a time.

Now back to the ‘Yin’ of Cartagena. We were fortunate that during this period of increasing frustration, we enjoyed many of the cultural offerings available here in this beautiful city. Kaija found a number of other cruisers who enjoy walking as much as she does and seeing the sights at a more leisurely pace. She discovered the best locations for provisioning and made more than a few trips to Home Center, Carrefour, and Contraband Alley and Gary and Doc discovered the best Pizza place, Hamburger Joint and 5 star dining experience (the Olive Restaurant) and Shawarmas ( a pita filled with shaved pork, chicken or both and served with different sauces) , all within easy walking distance of the designated Anchorage area.

Cartagena Continued – January – March 2008

Most of our time spent in the Caribbean has been in idyllic paradise island settings. This is by design and we have found the beauty and offerings of privacy and tranquility on this ‘road less travelled’. So we looked forward to our big city visit to Cartagena and the romance and intrigue of its ‘old walled city’. It has not disappointed and is a treat in architecture, antiquities, stone fortresses, scenery, culinary treats, great music and wide eyed friendly ‘amigos’ everywhere you look.

We arrived just prior Christmas and enjoyed the beauty of the lights and the spirit of the season and wonderful music. There are still lights, the music is continuous and as spring approaches there is a good dose of romance in the air as couples young and old meander along the waterfront. It is a wonderful place for a complete immersion in a foreign language experience.

Now before you go thinking that ‘they are living a life of leisure eating bon bons all day’…this is not the case and as in all things there is the balance of Ying & Yang…it was about to be ‘our time of the Yang’…if you know what I mean.