Using Taganga as a jumping off point, we decided to hike into Tayrona on the caribbean coast for a day and take advantage of the beautiful beaches. Tayrona is a great place to kick back and relax away from the pull of modern life. The Tayrona hike starts off in jungle (and blessed shade), but soon turns into a beach slog (see my feelings about beach slogs in the sun). Our plan was to spend the day at Cabo San Juan, one of the further beaches from the entrance. There are plenty of camping options in the park including Cabo San Juan. The gotcha is that you need to haul in your own food and water (or pay park prices). You can hire a horse to do the hard work for you (a highly recommended option).
Before we set out, I was pleased to hear the park had a no-plastic bag policy. G and I are constantly reminded what a plague on humanity plastic bags are (and bottles for that matter). They stand out, they cling and they linger. Disappointingly, many visitors were hauling in plastic bags. The park authority does manage to keep the park clean despite this.
We were rewarded for our hiking efforts with some beautiful beaches and refreshing coconuts prepared by a indigenous woman. The coconut preparation was a funny scene. The woman prepared coconut after coconut with her machete while an indigenous man (husband? brother?) sat by and watched. In retrospect, she looked like the more capable one, and I was convinced she could crush those same coconuts with her bare hands. In any case, when you’re sunbaked, fresh coconut water is like a dream.
Our first stop heading north was Taganga, which has some mediocre okay beaches but is primarily used as a jumping off point for other attractions like Tayrona National Park. The G and I were just happy to be together back in Vida and sleeping in Taj.
The local fisherman were bringing in the day’s catch as we were walking along the beach our first evening. G was all over that and picked up a fish in the tuna family (much smaller of course). Now, the pair of us are incapable of remembering names (especially Spanish names), so we have no idea what kind of fish it is. I will hence dub it “delicious mini tuna fish”. George took care of the cooking duties.
Doing it all over, I’d would skip Taganga all together and head directly to Tayrona. Taganga is not a pristine little fishing village, it’s something else entirely. A few days after leaving, we heard some disturbing stories about backpackers getting mugged in the street and a hostel getting held up.
I’ve done my fare share of raving about some other colonial cities, but Cartagena really stands alone. Why you ask? Start with the fact that it’s gorgeous and well preserved. Add in the fact that it still feels like a Colombian city. Sure, there are plenty of tourists about, but Cartagena hasn’t (yet) been bought up by foreigners. Finally, throw in a cultural focus on the arts and you end up with something amazing.
In between the port runs, we managed to check out the city. We stayed in the Getsemani neighborhood. A slightly less gentrified and more affordable version of the walled old town neighborhood. Both offer plenty of eye candy.
My favorite moment in the city is chancing upon an art walk. A run down street had been transformed by local artists until such time when the properties would be developed. This was an organized effort. A local man even stopped to explain the art and make a point about the countries focus on the arts.
Once we got Vida tucked away safe and sound in a shipping container on Thursday, it was time to get ourselves from Panama City to Cartagena, Colombia. Of course we opted for a sailboat with George being the sailor he is and me being a wannabe sailor who is determined to nip her chronic seasickness in the bud. Our shipping partner Eric (www.trans-americas.com) worked some magic and managed to get us on the 85 foot (18 meters) Independence sailboat on Friday morning (originally the Independence was set to leave on Thursday). We would sail through the San Blas islands populated by the native Kuna people. Incidentally, the Kuna won independence from Panama in 1925 to govern themselves. They are ranked as some of the happiest people in the world and have managed to find a balance between maintaining their traditional ways and supporting their people through entrepreneurial efforts.
A jeep picked us up at 5:30 am on Friday morning from a hostel in Panama City. We would drive to Carti, a very small port on the Caribbean Sea and from there take a water taxi out to the Independence. We had heard the road out to Carti was terrible, but it turned out to be a much shorter ride than we were anticipating. They didn’t spare us from some carsickness on the windy steep road though. Soon enough we were off weaving through the river and then out into the open water to hop aboard. After the anxiety of shipping the car, we were all ready to kick up our feet and relax.
Being a large boat, the Independence had ample room to whittle your hours. The captain was a character, which seems like a job requirement to be a sailboat captain. He was originally from Slovenia, and had been sailing for the last 30 years. He took to the G very quickly as they swapped sailing stories and dirty jokes. After months in the car with me, G finally had an audience that appreciated his material. I tried to ignore the captain’s conspiracy theory rants, but was entertained by his sailing stories. There was talk of a mutiny once on his ship that he forcibly crushed and some funny stories about an all female Swedish crew. You can use your imaginations. The food included a lot of fresh seafood and the small crew did their best to prepare vegetarian meals for me. George and I had our own cabin, but really limited our time there. It was dirty and run down, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t see any cockroaches. I quickly dubbed it the roach motel. We ended up sleeping on deck every night, which worked out well with the fresh sea breeze.
The next few days we swam, snorkeled, and visited a small number of the Kuna islands. Many of the tiny islands are occupied by a single Kuna family. We had the pleasure of enjoying a bonfire on one such island. Two young sisters played around the edges of our circle, the best of friends and not a care in the world. It’s not difficult to understand why the Kuna people are so content with life.
On Monday evening, we anchored in front of Cartagena. In the morning, we would depart on the next leg of our journey. All things considered, our little shipping party had an amazing time touring the San Blas islands and getting introduced to the Kuna people.