Wed 27/03-2013 Day 435

The huge 'Cartagena de Indias' of the Colombian Navy - my home for the next days


Pos: here
Loc: before Carpurgana
Acc: Navy supply ship “Cartagena de Indias”
Dist: 5 km
Start: 12:50 End: 13:40

The hotel hut I was sleeping in last night was made out of wooden logs (no palm tree leaves huts any more here…), but built in a local Colombian way with a few spaces here and there in the walls, where you easily could peep through – but even worse which also let the bugs in when I had light on which I really needed at least for some time. Fortunately the roof was not leaking, as it was raining heavily at night and in the morning.

The rest of the interior design was also local, functional, but not perfect. I am already used to bringing my own toilet paper, soap, towels and clean sheets, no problem, and the only cold shower is just refreshing. But the ventilator I was so happy to have working at least to cool me down, and it was even keeping the bugs at bay, was quitting it’s job around 2 am permanently due to no electricity in the whole village. Not sure if this was just a break down like we had already about four short times last night, or if it was a regular night shut off.

At least I didn’t really feel relief on my skin the next day. But the forecast was very windy and big seas anyway for at least two to three days, and I was happy to be at least not at the beach only. Although not sure what I’s prefer – a reasonable bug free tent, or an at least temporarily working ventilator and a cold proper shower…

My Coastguard guys were also sleeping next door, as their station was in the next village Carpurgana and not here. Not sure actually why we didn’t paddle yesterday around one more corner to Carpurgana, as I had to go there anyway for my passport entry stamp.

We agreed to meet at 8 am this morning to drive on the small coast guard boat to Carpurganana, but it was 9 am by the time the guys had their breakfast and we were ready to go.

I prepared for a wet ride, rain-wise and drive-style-wise…which was quite clever. I had packed all my electronics and papers into Aquapacs in my back pack, and was wearing only shorts and t-shirt. Though this big heavy open boat was made for chasing, equipped similarly to the Pacific ones with three large engines and running quite solidly different to the for example small lightweight fishing boat I was driving back to my kayak yesterday, we all got our soaking wet showers from the sea and also from the sky. But it was not jumping as hard, despite this young boat driver also knew only one speed – full power…and we had quite big lumpy seas out there, especially in front of the cliffs of the headland!

I got my jobs done in the small village of Carpurgana, escorted by Julio, a nice good English speaking Navy guy. Carpurganan has only boat and air access, no road access here yet. Still a bunch of tourists were enjoying the upcoming holiday week,and the handful of shops probably made good business. I got my passport stamped, changed my last US-$ into Colombian pesos, recharged my cell phone with another four weeks of data access on my Colombian sim-card, and bought some additional food for the expected slow travel the next few weeks.

You could see many some soldiers around and a bunch of policemen, but the very mixed faces of the happy local people and tourists were rather dominating the scenery – different to the Pacific side, where I thought the soldiers were rather dominating the population.

After the duties were done, I suggested we should drive out to the large Navy boat where Julio came from, and which was in charge to watch over my travel. I liked to speak to Capitán Castagnera rather now when I had the days off due to bad weather about how they think the upcoming escort should work out.

The Navy supply ship “Cartagena de Indias” was actually the sister ship of the large “Buenaventura” I got to visit on the last night of my Pacific stay. It was also German origin, and changed the name from “Lüneburg” when the Colombians bought it together with the “Buenaventura” running now on the other side of the continent.

The boarding was proving a little difficult due to the high seas, but the “high speed” boat driver now also showed his skills in maneuvering carefully close to the large ship to throw a rope holding the smaller coast guard boat close enough I could grab the rope ladder and climb up the steep grey wall. I had already some practice in that, but this time the sea was much bigger!

Capitán Hector Castagnera warmly welcomed me on board, wet as I was, and we climbed up to the bridge to discuss the options. It turned out that despite the Atlantic coast may be a little less dangerous than the Pacific side of Colombia, the drug traffic is not as heavy but still threatening and the FARC actions not as likely but still there (remember the recent kidnapping of the two Germans on the border to Venezuela…), he would be most happy for me to stay every
night on board of the “Cartagena de Indias” and getting escorted during the day’s paddle by a small coast guard boat.

Well… as I just had my “freedom” paddling weeks in Panama, which I really enjoyed, but also had to suffer a lot in my hot and humid-muggy lonely and maybe not completelysafe campsites on the beaches and getting away with only some skin infection, I eventually didn’t mind again to trade my loved “freedom paddling” against a cool, dry and safe sleeping place at night with a proper shower to clean and to dry my skin. Plus as I’d have to paddle hard against wind and current, I don’t mind to paddle unloaded again to make it a little bit easier. Nobody is so crazy to paddle this direction, if paddling only for a few weeks along this northern area! My rest at night will be better in favour of having more energy for the paddle.

Plus – which woman wouldn’t be honored to have eventually now *80* Navy plus 4 coast guard staff at her demand to service her safe circumnavigation around South America passing along the Colombian coast! I am improving my entourage…and the Colombian Navy surpassed herself again. Thanks a lot! Muchas gracias!

As I am not on my trip to study deeply the indigenous local population and life style (which I do enough anyway for my gut feeling…), but to paddle safely around South America, I don’t mind a bit of comfort on this section of my trip. And I’d like to see my family again at some point!

I had found a small blue plastic piggy bank floating in the water yesterday, thinking a little piggy brings me luck – but I didn’t feel too lucky yesterday the last hours in Panama! Only when I saw the smiling faces of my favorite South American coast guard again, I kind of felt like being back “home” – at least for a while, and I knew the lucky star of the blue piggy started to rise *now* – and today!

We drove back to my hotel hut at Cabo Tiburon to pack my things, and to paddle my kayak to the ship. But I had to lay down for a few minutes, as the big seas and smell of the engines made me already a bit sea sick…

I now already paddled unloaded, which felt even for this short distance of 5 km quite different again in the big sea! It was about 15-18 knots wind and probably 3-4 meters of sea at least in front of the cliffs of the headland, coming from behind the left shoulder. I had to concentrate a lot, and my neck got stiff from constantly looking backward.

How to get eventually on board in these conditions? Where the ship was anchoring, the sea was still 2-3 meters, going heavily up and down, but fortunately with no breakers. I really, really underestimated the Caribbean sea!

I approached the huge ship,turned in against the wind, and waited for action…surely the small coast guard boat had to go aside first, no way to fish me directly out of the water in those conditions. But even when they were tied up, the movements were still heavy and actually quite dangerous! I kept cool,concentrating to stay upright and straight against the wind. I approached carefully the coast guard boat from behind, my deck line ready to throw up, paddle free to pass aboard, and managed to pop my spray deck and hold to the boat and lift myself up with neither squeezing me nor the boat badly on our both movements. It had just to go quickly! I wriggled myself on board, when already the guys reached my now reasonably lightweight unloaded kayak to lift it on board also very quickly! I did that job already those many times in the Pacific, but never in those big sea conditions! Part one of the act done…

Now we just had to get my four bags, my kayak and myself up the steep high wall of the big ship! Already an interesting job in calmer conditions, now in those seas the task becomes demanding and actually also quite dangerous for myself and the kayak and gear.

The easiest job were the four gear bags – knotted reasonably safe on top that no small bag could fall out, they got lifted up those maybe 10 m with a rope. They are heavy! But strong men were on the other end and no small bag fell into the water.

Next they wanted me to go on board – no, my kayak first! No one else is responsible for the safe lift than myself! They thought about the tiny rope they used for the bags to attach on the bow and to simply pull it off the small coast guard boat – Hahaha! My poor fragile composite kayak hanging on it’s not 100% secure bow toggle like a fish on this tiny rope and then banging anywhere on the steep ship walls…no way! I pointed out we need at least two ropes as a sling around each hull end and two ropes. Plus my kayak was on the off side of the coast guard boat now.

They saw the problem and my wish, and we drove to the other side of the ship, that my kayak was inside now. Don’t think this was just an easy job in those seas! The boat driver needed to be quite skillfull, and more than once he banged his boat heavily against the steep metal grey wall. They showed two solid belt slings and two solid hooks on a  pulley – just perfect! The guys caught the thrown belts and slung it around bow and stern, but I pointed out we need to present the hull and not the deck to the ship’s wall! They turned the kayak on it’s other side, caught the two hooks, and up on board the strong men were pulling on the pulley and soon my loved baby was up in the air hanging high against the ship wall. There it was reasonably safe, and I signalled the men to be slow now and keep on carefully lifting it up. Ok. This job was also done!

Now it was my turn to grab the rope ladder, best on a wave top, and to climb up. Kind of easy job now…

On deck, my legs were wobbly from standing in the coast guard boat so long responding to the heavy movements of the boat on the big waves – but it was all on board, gear and myself, with no damage or injury! Thanks, guys! They tied the kayak down on the empty load deck – inside. In the other load room I discovered – a small soccer field with two tiny goals… 🙂

I got a nice officer’s cabin to share with the two only female officers Diana and Paola, very nice ladies! They fortunately speak English well, and we had some laughs already. The shower was also cold, but no problem – more of a problem is my tendency to sea sickness! As the huge ship was moving in those seas enough to make me eventually quite uncomfortable, I spent all afternoon resting on my bed in horizontal position, enjoying the feeling of  clean and dry
skin. I didn’t have to scratch any more, and I could even feel how the sores were healing! Two more days, and I am good again…thanks for the luxury to stay on the “Cartagena de Indias”!

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Richard Mason

Whatever it takes.
You do not have to justify any of your actions. Your journey -Your rules.
So good to hear that the Colombian Navy is so helpful and has your best interests at heart. –They sound like Real Gentlemen.
Well done Freya. Thanks for sharing your adventure.

Frances Price

Since your one goal is the kayak circumnavigation of South America,and it is your trip, and YOUR rules, I haven’t seen you write anywhere that you are supposed to do the trip in misery and with dangerous infection. You may not have such a comfortable, convenient place to stay once you leave Colombian waters, so by all means enjoy it.

Hope this part of your voyage makes up for all the blisters and itching!

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