Exploring Santa Marta, Colombia

Our first task on arriving in Santa Marta was to get Villa some air conditioning. Sitting at anchor, the boat has great air flow, because we always point to the wind. But in a marina, that’s not the case: wind can come from any direction, and gets blocked by the surrounding boats. Not that that matters much, because we have to keep the windows closed to keep the cat on the boat. For a short stay we would just live with it, but it seemed like marinas were essentially obligatory in Colombia, and we would be following that with some time on the hard. So, Jazz got to go on a merry chase around town, exploring the scenery on the way. Highlights: some really excellent street art.

And some city scenes, like where they gave up on drainage and put up a raised platform for pedestrians. (We don’t know that that’s the story, but we like to believe it.)

On a following morning, we went out on a walk, to grab a morning coffee and explore the hectic public market corner before it got too crazy. There are areas for everything, from beef and pork to vegetables, fish and ribbon and household electronics. Lots of empty stalls in the official market, while the street is overrun with vendors pushing carts and hawking their goods through megaphones. One thing we’ve noticed a lot of: emergency transport stretchers, which reminded us of the widely prevalent AEDs all over Girona, a little town we’d visited in Italy.

Here’s the first iteration of the air conditioner. It worked, but not as well as the system we’d set up in Brunswick, for essentially the same machine. We blamed airflow, and Jazz set off to find some better structural foam, this time with Patricia from Nautilife. They may have gotten a little distracted – but it was really interesting to see an actual child stall in a clean, sanitary-seeming bathroom. That’s been a while.

As we mentioned on our sail to Colombia, Nautilife crossed from Aruba around the same time we did. That meant they were able to join us to check out some of Santa Marta’s night life, clustered in the streets around Parque de Novios. It’s hectic, but fun, with lots of restaurants and bars, most of which offer two-for-one cocktails, so e.g. two mojitoes for about US$5.

There are also plenty of buskers, some begging, some selling beer and snacks, and others dancing or making various genres and qualities of music. Massages, hair braiding, eyebrow dye, light-up plastic roses for your sweetheart and chintzy woven bracelets. The whole world is out trying to make a buck. Note the engine powering that ice cream truck.

It’s definitely different here than on the islands, or back in the States. Fashions are noticeably different, as is the model desirable shape. There’s also a lot more visible poverty. That familiar urine smell from San Francisco is back packing a punch, and it’s rare we go a day without seeing someone digging through a dumpster.

Construction methods and naming conventions also vary widely. Yes, that’s regular garden hose embedded in concrete, and a fairly recent print of a pretty out-of-date Will Smith. And would you like some fresh fish from a Styrofoam cooler by the side of the road?

There have also been consistently long lines at all the vaccination sites. We’ve heard the the bottleneck here is not supply but throughput. It’s also interesting to see how which shot you can get is a function of your age (and presumably your district), and how the prevention suggestions include “don’t greet with a kiss.”

Meanwhile, life in the marina is reasonably “normal” and comfortable. The docks are busy with dive and tour boats coming and going, and the cafe has probably the best view in town.

Someone even put a speaker in the mens room, and while it only plays one CD on repeat, it’s better than the alternative soundtrack. The showers are cold, but the company is good. Organized by one of the cruising family boats, we had a showing of Romancing the Stone (an 80s film nominally set in Colombia, despite mostly filming in Mexico) at the marina’s cafe-bar-restaurant. Note the two stand-out chairs; that’s us, and we were pretty happy to have the comfy seats.

Adjacent to the marina there’s a long public beach, sometimes filled with revelers, and sometimes with fisherman. Look at the size of that net!

Captain adjusted quickly to his life as a dock cat. He doesn’t love having to wear his collar, or having to be clipped in when he goes outside. But he does love having so much going around him to stare at. We had some territory issues with the pregnant female from the boat across the way, from which we learned that Captain is actually a very good guard kitty, just with a very permissive attitude towards humans. Cats and birds, though…

One day we tried to visit the museum of gold, which we’d heard was surprisingly good. When we arrived, we found out that it was open, but only to seven people at a time, and that we would have to make reservations online ahead of time. Stymied, we spent a little time walking around the morning city, checking out the old buildings. Some of these streets fill with chairs and become makeshift restaurant seating once the sun goes down. Also notable: the glass door and frame blocking the view of an antique-looking wooden doorway right behind it.

We detoured our tour day to Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, where Simon Bolivar spent his last days, and which usually hosts a modern art museum. I say usually: the art is gone for the COVID era, which the lady at the gate helpfully told us after she’d sold us tickets. So we got to visit the old distillery, where we learned a shortcut recipe for rum production that explains why the local rum brands aren’t world famous. (We kid – but pretty sure you need more steps than this). Bolivar’s bathtub deserves special mention, carved from a single block of solid marble.

We were pretty nonplussed by the botanical gardens, which seemed mostly to be an unmaintained forest. Still, there were some big birds of prey just hanging out, and a lot of iguanas, and a completely passed out kitten.

Another day we went out to find hiking shoes. There are lots of stores in town that sell shoes, but they’re very much knock-offs and non-brands designed for looks rather than outdoor durability. And we’d both basically blown through our sneakers at this point, and were looking at the possibility of some mountain excursions. We’d packed a three-year supply in vacuum sealed bags before we started, but we’re entering year four now. So we headed to the Bella Vista mall, where we found the one outdoor gear store closed for inventory. We checked literally every other shoe store in the mall, before settling down to wait another hour for the real place to open. Mission success? Captain got boxes, so he gives it good marks.

Other things that happened in Santa Marta. We saw some other art, some planned and some less so. And Jazz got her first professional color and haircut since Bequia, over a year ago.

We also lost some time to getting sick; apparently it’s common for sailors coming out of small islands to catch colds when coming back into a big population. Less sailor-specific, we also lost a few days to food poisoning, which we picked up in Minca (another story). Once we were recovered enough to eat food again, we went to the little restaurant on the pier outside the marina. We had surprisingly good food with an intense audience, and watched the locals and vendors mingle outside.

When we got word that Jazz’s parents would be visiting us, we started to plan some other adventures. First step: taking the cat into the vet to get some paperwork, so he can fly around with us. Here he is in the cab, and at the desk, while he was still in a good mood before the traumatic episode of the oral deworming medicine. Travel always has a price, little guy!

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