Cartagena, Colombia

Even before we arrived here, we met Colombian tourists in Guatemala and in Panama. After just a few minutes of talking, they wanted to take our pictures and were giving us their addresses and telephone numbers so that we could visit them when we arrived.
Mention Colombia and many people think of drug dealers. Other things that might come to mind are: Shakira, Juan Valdez, and the film Romancing The Stone (actually shot in Mexico). Love in the Time of Cholera was also filmed here, and indeed, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s books are sold in the grocery stores. Here you can “rent” cell phones on the street for about 15 cents a minute. Guys walk around with thermoses offering shots of dense coffee from tiny Dixie cups. Sometimes it seems like we’re in Spain, other times it feels like Africa.

The Castle San Felipe is the largest of several forts built to protect the city from pirates who sought the gold and jewels heading to Spain. We visited at night and got to tour the underground tunnels that descend below the fort. In the narrow, claustrophobic tunnels there are matacasas or “killing houses” every few feet. These are alcoves in which the Spanish soldiers would hide to await and ambush the enemy.

The construction of the fortress, and of the 11 kilometers of walls surrounding the city, took 208 years to build.

Victoria is a friendly fruit vendor, she dresses-up to attract camera-toting tourists. Cartagena was once a major slave port. Africans worked as cane-cutters and in the construction of the fortresses and walls around the city. Today there are more Afro-Colombians here than in any other part of Colombia.

We loved the sound of these carriages clip-clopping through town. Cartegena de las Indias was founded in 1533 by Spaniard Don Pedro Heredia and named after the port of Cartagena in Spain’s Murcia region. It is Colombia’s fifth largest urban area.

We enjoyed the architecture and colors of the old town.

This clock tower is the official entrance to downtown (the old walled city).
William stands at the entrance to Club de Pesca, one of the marinas.

"Sandia, Papaya, Mango, Mandarina, Aguacate, Pina!" Cry the local street vendors every morning. We appreciated the variety of native fruits.
A three masted schooner in the anchorage next to our marina.

Dancers performing in the street.
There are many bridges, islands, and peninsulas here.
This view of the convent atop the hill is shot from the mercado.

Another colorful building.

To us, the market seemed right out of Calcutta. In this picture it looks tame, but it teems with vendors, flies, dirt, sounds, smells, colors, and, of course, bargains.

This painting hangs in the Museum of Modern Art.

This pelican hangs out in the yacht club.

Drummer boys, getting ready to perform downtown.

The University of Cartagena resides in a 200 year old building. One morning, I had a nice visit with the director of the literature program. In the afternoon, students play hackey sack in the courtyard center.

Every doorway in the old city is a work of art. We could take pictures here for weeks. We priced one of these old doors at an antique furniture store… alas $3,500.
The naval museum was educational and entertaining.

Rooms full of model boats at the naval museum.

Artifacts from the Gold museum included lots of nose rings, earrings, breastplates, and decorative stuff having to do with fertility.

Of the several museums that we visited, the undisputed favorite with the boys, was the museum of the inquisition where basically ancient torturing devises are on display.

This little gem is guaranteed to fix any neck problems instantly.
See what happens when you don't finish your homework on time?
Here, Henry poses in the Plaza de las Carretas.

Henry is now a teenager. In lieu of a cake, he ordered this to help celebrate his 13th birthday.

An evening street scene. The jewelry store next door is called "Romancing the Stone."

One of the neat things about Cartagena is the blend of the modern with the old. While numerous skyscrapers grace the horizon, donkeys still haul bags of cement.
A confession: one of my favorite things about Colombia are the numerous cheap restaurants around. This meal, including soup and drink cost $2.25
Street vendors abound downtown.
We loved this rustic furniture made from wooden beams from old demolished buildings. We toy with the idea of importing it. Wanna place an order?
Of the countries that we've visited we especially like that handicrafts of Colombia.

There is some surprising lovely stuff made from coconuts.
Some of the best emeralds in the world come from the Muzo mine in Colombia.

Can I bring him home? Please?

Kuna Yala

No, Henry is not thinking of becoming a skin-head, he's just standing next to the ancient Kuna Yala symbol, found on their flags and buildings. In 1925 after the Panamanian police repeatedly and violently tried to suppress their cultural, the Kuna people finally revolted and eventually won their sovereignty. There are approximately 35,000 Kuna people in the San Blas Islands.

Of all the exotic wildlife we have enjoyed seeing, my favorite has been the three-toed tree sloths. They seem so gentle and peaceful, and have such a serene countenance. I wish I could bring one home, but they only eat the leaves of certain rainforest trees.

Boisterous anchored peacefully off of the East Lemmon Cays.

This man could use some new kevlar racing sails.

Lora sports the traditional Kuna fashion, a reverse-applique, painstakingly stitched, mola blouse. Her scarf is also typical in the San Blas islands. She declined the typical gold nose-ring.

We borrowed branch president, Lucio Arocemena's sailing ulu, for a little tippy fun. Steering with an oar is a bit tricky at first, but we stayed dry. Does Lora look worried?

When the line on the reel starts zipping out, sometimes it just means seaweed, this time William (14) caught a nice dog-toothed tuna which we ate with the usual garlic and lime over rice with a few sprinkles of salt and pepper.

Lora and Pauli (8) pose with the Chief Sahila of Ustupu, Octavio de Leon. The Kuna people are the second shortest on the planet after the Pygmies in Africa, but ironically all the boys love basketball (second only to soccer). Each inhabited island is governed by an elected Sahila or leader. There is is primary sahila, and usually two assistants and a secretary. One of the secretary's tasks is to collect money from each visiting yacht, usually $5-10. A few of the islands have LDS sahilas. Most days there is a "congreso" where the people of the island get together with the sahilas to talk about problems, news, developments, etc.
A boat full of boisterous but happy boys.

The larger of these pretty-colored fish sell for about 50 cents.

We've been eating a lot of fruits and vegetables that we have never seen before, much of which we can't pronounce or spell.

Kuna outhouses hang over the water. One man, on a nearby island, was bitten by a Crocodile while minding his latrine business. The croc was later hunted down, killed, and eaten.

Ustupu is the Venice of the San Blas Islands. There is a small maze of canals all around, and dugout ulus everywhere. Though there are hundreds of uninhabited islands, for some reason the Kuna Yala people prefer to crowd together in their huts built of bamboo and palm fronds.

Lora displays our dinner. A few minutes ago, he was scuttling about on the deck.

I was offered this little fellow for $1.50 and was told he would make an excellent stew. "I've already eaten," I said, "but thanks."

The Kuna women supplement their husband's salaries by making molas and foisting them upon cruisers. The Kuna Yala are a matriarchal society. Supposedly the women choose their husbands, and he moves in with her family.

The Kuna are excellent sailors, and I was always fascinated by their little dugouts. Some of them even had jibs. These boys from Playon Chico are, like us, out playing pirate.

These girls on Tikantiki a.k.a. Niadup (Devil island) offered to sell me some chirpy little birds. Alas, I politely declined. The birds were actually biting the girls, thus their expressions.

In virtually all the villages we visited, boys would show off for us by doing hand-stands.

If we let him, Parker (3) would play in the sand and water all day.

"When I grow up, I'll have my own sailing ulu."

We spent a couple of wonderful afternoons on BBQ island, the favorite cruiser hangout.

We actually heard the boys say, "Not lobster again?" This big fellow cost us a whopping $4. In the San Blas islands, we almost got tired of eating lobster and crab.

On BBQ island, cruisers gather for a pot-luck dinner every Monday. When we were there, about 50 sailboats showed up. Since a small well has been dug there, Lora and I did laundry.

This tasty little Crevalle Jack was caught on the island of Salardup.

We met Sister Dorinda Lopez in the traditional dress along with her daughter Patricia Jaen (9) at the LDS branch in Nargana. Since this is a matriarchal society, the women keep their own last name, but the children take the father's surname.

Ludicia Hernandez (12) is a real sweetie. She taught me a few Kuna words. All the school children speak Kuna at home and Spanish at school. She holds up a Kuna language Book of Mormon. Where ever Lora and I went on the islands, we were followed by up to 30 children at a time.

There are LDS branches on five or six islands and on two mainland villages. We visited with church members on four of those islands including Elders Laidlaw and Clark who serve on Playon Chico. They are wearing Mola ties.

It looks like Manuel Lutter got his ulu at a half price sale. He paddled up to our boat one afternoon, and we learned that he is taking the missionary discussions from the Elders. It also turned out that he was one of the students in a maritime (merchant marine) class that we helped teach to around 40 locals.
Sister Ibeth Valdez of Playon Chico, models the typical Kuna fashion.

These students are taking a maritime class in hopes of working for the Panama Canal (one of the few possibilities for a good job for the Kuna people, where schools only go to the 6th grade.) These students had to learn several hundred esoteric nautical terms in English (like schooner, yawl, ketch, bolt-rope, scupper, fairlead, stanchion, hawse-pipe, etc.) so we volunteered to show them the ropes aboard our boat in hopes of adding a little practical training to what had merely been theory for them. Since there were 38 students, we had to have them aboard in two shifts or might have had to add the word "capsize" to their list.
"Lisa" is one of the most famous mola makers, known for fastidiously small stitches and intricate designs. Lora has a hard time choosing one.

Another cool plant suitable for Christmas festivities. Watch out poinsettias.

There are sailing ulus everywhere, and I never tired of taking pictures of them. Boisterous is just visible in the background, anchored off Nargana.

Nothing beats playing on a pristine playa. The Kuna Yala people are scattered among the 365 San Blas islands that strech for about 230 miles. Only about 65 islands are inhabited.

William and Henry are avid anglers, often catching our supper.

While snorkeling around our anchored boat we saw several docile nurse sharks, and though William and Henry, to their delight, managed to hook them several times, to Lora's relief, they were never able to land them.

Here, we are anchored in a place called the "hot tub" where we did some of our best snorkeling.

Parker puts together a learn-how-to-count puzzle.

The dock at Ustupu, Boisterous in the background.
Everyday ulus paddled up to our boat to sell fish, lobster, crab, avocados, coconut, bananas, mangoes, limes, and various other local produce. The Kuna farm on the mainland, but most live on islands.

We made lasting friends among the beautifu people of the San Blas Islands, and though we've only been gone a week, already we long to return. installment, the charming city of Cartagena Colombia.