Tag Archive for 'San Blas'

Paradiseando en la Caribbean

Kilometers this post: 218 biking, 523 sailing on the Wild Card

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As a bike tourist, there are a few options for traveling from Panama to Colombia. You can fly for a lot of money (plus extra for the bikes,) you can pick your way really slowly along the coast trying to find water taxis for each small leg of the trip, you can be NUTS like Matt Burney who mounted a sail onto a cayuco and took 2 weeks sailing from island to island with his bike in pieces (pretty tempting, actually), maybe along those lines, you can somehow schlep your bike through the Darien Gap and have a 50ish% chance of a less than pleasant run-in with Guerillas, or you can take a sailboat trip, also for a lot of money. But, this last one is the option we chose because we thought it was worth it to spend a few days on the San Blas islands, snorkeling, swimming, eating fish, and visiting indigenous island villages. Indeed it was worth it. Of course, this trip also included some awesome sea sickness, complete with turning the color of algae and losing our dinner over the side of the boat, but it didn’t take us too long to figure out dramamine, and then we were a.o.k. Visiting the islands and learning about the culture of the Kuna was a highlight of our entire trip so far. They are a matrilinear tribe, and they own and govern all of the 365 islands of the San Blas archipelago. Their livelihood is in the fish they catch, the coconuts they collect, and the incredibly bright and colorful crafts they sell to passers-through and on the mainland, all of which we sampled first-hand on our trip.

Our boat, the Wild Card, is a 60ft boat with a steel hull and an Australian captain, John, who has some neat stories to tell once you get him going. On our voyage, there were 3 crew and 14 passengers, 6 – you heard me, 6 – of whom were bike tourists. Needless to say there were lots of stories and route information to trade. We get a kick out of meeting bike tourists who have met other bike tourists we’ve met before, like Emilien and Lala from France who hung out with Sarah and Geoff (whom we met in Honduras,) in Nicaragua. It makes us feel like while it may be invisible, there is a community of bikers making their way south at different speeds with different styles.

We arrived in Cartagena salty, sunned, slightly sleep deprived, but so eager for Colombia. The city was the perfect introduction. It is colorful, full of young people, and bustling – especially so when we were there, since it was the city’s birthday and there was a big celebration. And man, do they know how to celebrate. In fact, they seem to do it non-stop. Walking the streets anywhere in the city there was music and boisterous conversation that spilled onto the sidewalks. Our conversations were all of a sudden spiced with humor in a way we hadn’t experienced in many of the countries we’ve been to so far. We also loved the fruit carts, which we seemed to find around every corner, heaped with mangos, mamones, bananas, piñas, aguacates, etc. There is an old, walled portion of the city where we happily got lost in the narrow, colonial streets several days in a row, taking pictures of parks and bougainvillea-adorned balconies before we finally decided it was time to head north to Santa Marta, to visit buddies from the Madison ultimate scene, Alicia and Chris, and their rock star 2-year-old, Magdalena.

The three day ride was flat, yes, but so hot that it was one of the hardest stretches we’ve done. We found ourselves on the bikes every morning before 6am (highly unusual for us), getting as many kilometers under our belts as we could by 10. Then we’d limp along, withering in the heat, until we couldn’t stand it anymore. One of the days, we caved, quit at 10:30am in the city of Barranquilla and found a hotel with air conditioning. But we arrived before we melted, and have been spending a blissful week hanging out with Alicia, Chris, and Mags, catching up, playing frisbee (woohoo!!), swimming, cooking (Chris is the master chef, we do what we can) and doing some bike maintenance. Over the weekend, we also went to a turtle release on the beach, which was a great time. Tonight, it is seafood stew and perhaps a movie, and tomorrow we will head off on the next leg of our trip, which will involve first another bus ride to save us a week of flat riding in the unbearable heat, and then making our way through the mountains to Bogotá.