Monday, December 31, 2018

S2R2 - Well, We Have Come This Far - Santa Marta

Santa Marta water front 

December 31 2018
S2R2 looking sharp

S2R2 meeting

We are finding Santa Marta Colombia a very vibrant city.  I thought I would show you around.

We are staying in the IGY Marina.  This area is very famous for strong gale force winds.  The katabatic winds come screaming down the Sierra Nevada Mountains at night.  It is not uncommon to have winds in the 30's with gust in the 40's and 50's.  The other night it was howling.  I got up and turned on our instruments.  We had a gust of wind to 46 knots!  Nice to be in a marina when those winds kick up.  BTW - the marina staff is EXCELLENT!!!!  We have been treated SO well.
The Liberator Simon Bolivar

Writer Gabo Museum 

Being in the marina has allowed us to explore the city at will.  There are many Colombian's from other parts of Colombia here on holiday as well.
Proper coffee with sv Quicksilver


Fresh juice - Pic by Samantha Pettitt
Mangoes cut and ready to eat - Pic by Samantha Pettitt

There are lots of restaurants and food stands.  More than once, we've eaten our way up and down various streets here.  The prices are low.  Actually, it is just dirt cheap here in terms of food.  "Cheaper to eat out" has been the general consciences among the S2R2 boats.  Example:  full meal - soup starter, meat, rice, salad, beans, plantain, and fresh juice =$10US for both of us.  Street snacky food is really, really cheap.  And YES, we eat it.  No issues!!  Fresh street juices made from real fruit are $2US for both of us with endless refills.  You can just stand there next to the juice guy drinking as much as you want.
S2R2 boats enjoying the night life of Santa Marta

Sharon sv Quicksilver in the heart of it all

Not far from the marina, there are two or three streets that are pedestrian only.  They are several blocks long.  There is also a "square." This is the epicenter of action at night.  Locals and tourist alike, stroll these areas, enjoying diner, drinks, and live performers.
Tom enjoying the sounds of Funky Band

In regard to the last item, live performers.  We have seen a couple of different live street bands that are excellent and a young tumbling/break-dancing troupe.
Tumbling / break dancing troupe

The street art is kewl.

Along the waterfront near the marina, there are tons of street vendors selling hats, t-shirts, Colombia, woven purses and other tourist items.
Conga line off the party bus

Colombians on holiday - party bus
SO vibrant!!


S2R - Well, We Have Come This Far - Minca Day 2

December 29 2018

After a fairly good night's sleep in our hostel hut, we dressed and joined the others on the common patio.  Btw - the mosquito netting worked.  However, I think a gecko or something similar ran across the netting on the upper part of my pillow and hair during the night!  And hearing a river rushing by so close throughout the night was a new sensation for us.  Breakfast was included in our room and consisted of coffee, two crepe like pancakes, good scrambled eggs and fresh bananas and papaya. 
Lat and long at the waterfall

Today's plan was to hike up to Marinka Waterfall - Casade de Marinka in Spanish.  The hostel staff confirmed the directions and distance.  "One hour walk but steep."  So longer for me!  We organized our stuff, "Of course you can leave your items here!"    Then we paid our bill and set off across the river. 

The hike up to the waterfall was on the road/trail and mainly shaded.  It was steep at times.  And of course I am out of shape, especially for mountain hiking but we managed.  Many locals and Colombians from other areas of Colombia were hiking up too.  Some came by Moto Mink motobikes and a few by 4 wheel drive. 

An hour or so later, we arrived.  $5,000 COP each entry fee or $3US total.  The waterfall was nice with two levels.  We came this far, so of course we got in.  The water was refreshing aka chilly.  S2R2 boat sv Tao Pao showed up and took a dip as well.

We dried off and hiked down.  A hint from Sher on sv Tao Pao lead us to a yummy chicken lunch in Minca - soup starter, rice, fries, small salad, 1/4 toasted chicken each and fresh juice smoothies. 
We booked our ride home and walked back to the hostel to get our other bag. 
Mural on the wall of the lunch spot

The ride home was a souped up, mountain ready Land Cruiser.  Tom and I stuffed in front, 9 others crammed in the back.  Again, our driver was very cautious and easy driving us back down to Santa Marta.
Our ride down
We arrived back home to the boat around 16:30 tired, hot and a tad but sore from all the walking.  
But what a wonderful time in Minca!

S2R2 - Well, We Have Come This Far - Minca

*Never mind me waiting to do this post until I catch up.  We are just going to dive right into the current action, ok?
View from Minca with Santa Marta in the distance

December 28, 2018
We are in Santa Marta Colombia in the IGY Marina. 
Taxi that runs on natural gas

Refueling with natural gas

We packed our backpacks and were off the boat by 7:30 this morning.  Tom flagged down a local cab and negotiated our ride up the the mountain town of Minca.  It is approximately 22 km from Santa Marta in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Colombia.  All the trip reviews flag it as a backpackers paradise.  We knew other cruisers who had been and really enjoyed it, so why not go have a look?  We've come this far!  One note of interest - Minca has only been opened up to tourist for approximately 10 years.  Prior to that, paramilitary forces in the surrounding hills and roads meant it was a no - go for any tourist -local (as in Colombian) or international.
Painted maps of Minca found all over town

Based on what we read online and other cruisers experience, we decided a simple day trip with a guide would not be enough for us.  We wanted more.  So we researched and booked a hostel.  Our first hostel.  Turns out this would be a trip of many firsts.  Btw - we researched, read reviews but in the end, it's really just a roll of the dice when booking travel, isn't it?
Minca mural

Our taxi driver spoke very little English.  We don't speak any Spanish other than a few basics but he had some good tunes playing and we managed a few bits of friendly communication and many head nods and smiles.  At first, the traffic was light, then we hit true rush hour traffic.  Omg - buses, trucks, taxis, motorbikes, bicycles and even a few donkey driven carts where everywhere.  I think it was a three lane road each way but I can't be sure as no one seemed to use the lanes.  There were many close calls as we crept along and a lot of horn honking but no one got mad and yelled.  We stopped before leaving town to refuel.  He made us get out of the car.  We didn't understand at first.  I thought perhaps we would be forced to pay for the refueling, not part of the deal Tom negotiated.  But we quickly learned, we had to get out because the taxi runs on natural gas and staying in the car during fueling is forbidden.  Our first ride in a natural gas powered car.  We suspect the buses may be the same. 
Mountains around Minca

We arrived 45 mins later in Minca.  He dropped us at the main intersection.  We decided coffee was needed as we skipped it on the boat.  We had a cup at a place close by our drop off point and just sat taking it all in.  Yes, backpackers everywhere.  And motorbikes.  Omg - so many motorbikes.  Many dressed the same, with jackets that said "Moto Mink".  Hum? 
Moto Mink drivers

Next item was to find our hostel and get thelay of the land.  We wondered a bit as Google Maps had a road crossing a river where there wasn't road.  Minca is a mountain town like those in West Virginia or such, where the town is small but spread out because of a river and mountain terrain.  We found breakfast as we searched for our hostel.  Tom had an empanada.  I had mashed potato ball stuffed with chicken and veggies, I forget what these are called here in Colombia but yum! 
Mountains around Minca
Also along the way to our hostel, we ran into two other S2R2 boats.  They had came up the day before and gave us some hints and tips.  15 mins later we ran into several other S2R2 boats on a group touristy day trip with guide.
Entrance to our hostel

Soon enough we found our hostel - Costeno River.  It's lovely!  The young people running it were very nice.  They had limited English but a young Israeli guy staying there knows Spanish and English and helped interpret.  Btw - everyone is young in Minca!  We were too early to check into our private room but they said we could leave our stuff and go exploring.  They gave us a rough briefing of the various sites and hikes around. Kewl! 
Coffee plant

Coffee beans and shell - sweet to taste - shell has the most caffeine

One reason we came to Minca was for cocoa and coffee farm tours.  There were a couple of options but we opted for La Candelaria Farm as it had both.  However, it is WAY up in the mountains.  Up from Minca.  The hike would take quite a bit of time and effort.  Prior research all pointed to the local solution - hire motorbikes, Moto Mink, the guys we saw at the main intersection and everywhere we had been so far.  It is the main mode of transportation for locals and tourist alike.  The hostel people and the Israeli said it was fine.  So we agreed and they made the call for us.  It seems they have a sort of union of these driver guys.  Soon two motorbikes with drivers were beeping for us up in the car park.  Oh boy!  This would be a BIG first for us!
Moto Mink drivers
We are not motorbike riders.  I don't think I have been on a motorcycle since.......high school or college.  My driver, Hayden sensed it, offered me his helmet, (which I took and immediately put on) and motioned that I could hang on to him around his tummy.  Most of the other riders are used to riding and thus simply hang on to handles on each side of their seat or not at all!  One woman was in a skirt with heels riding side- saddle on the back with the greatest of ease and grace.  I saw a grandfather with a young (8 or so) rider behind him with a stack of 5 gallon buckets in between.  Families of three riding, sometimes with very young kids.  It is just how people and sometimes stuff gets around in this mountain town.  Btw - Tom held on the his driver's shoulder with one hand and his seat handle with the other.  He said that worked fine for him.  I stayed with the tummy hug on Hayden. 
Typical road/trail/path

Typical traffic plus motorbikes
Off we went.  I made a few squeals at the first bend, first hill, and first rut in the road but soon I got the hang of it.  I think I heard Hayden chuckling at my reactions.  Both drivers were very good.  They did not go fast, only fast enough to negotiate the crazy mountain road/ trail/ path.  First it was a concrete road, then just two concrete strips, then dirt with deep ruts, then some concrete broken up, then dirt again and so on.  Up, up, up we climbed.  Once or twice we actually went down (in the holler, so to speak).  Those times I was smashed forward against Hayden because I was holding his tummy vs my handles.  Oh well.  He seemed to take it in stride.  Soon enough we were going up again and I was back in position.  Up, up, up we went.  I have no idea of the elevation, I think we ended up at......1243 meters above sea level?  You can Google it to be sure if you so desire.
La Candelaria Cocao and Coffee Farm
I kept thinking "I cannot believe we are doing this" and yet I was very impressed with our drivers.  And then we arrived.  Not at the farm but the path up to the farm.  Tom paid the guys $15,000COP each or $10US total.  Tom's driver entered Moto Mink WhatsApp number and his name in my phone in case we needed a ride down or a ride somewhere else.  We assured them we could walk it down and thanked them. 
Poinsettia bushes everywhere 
The 15 min hike up to the farm was steep but beautiful.  The trail was nicely maintained and as a bonus, had poinsettias planted along the path.  Wow! 
The cocoa and coffee Farm

At the farm, we ran into sv Canapesia and sv Innamorata again.  They were red faced and sweaty.  They had hiked most of the way up.  Near the end, Carol flagged down a truck and begged a ride.  They agreed we were the smart ones to come by motorbike. 
Touci the Toucan - can you see him

We had to wait for the next tour but the view from the shaded veranda was stunning.  In the far distance, we could just see Santa Marta below on the sea.  A wild toucan bird that has become the farm's mascot kept us entertained hopping around in the trees just off the veranda and then occasionally over to the feeder near us to grab a piece of fruit and pose.  Touci is quite the poser - seriously!  The Kardashians have got nothing on Touci!  Ha! 
Eugene teaching us about cocoa, bean to cup

His demo roaster for cocoa seeds and coffee beans
Cocoa seeds, pure ground and molded chocolate

Chocolate masks - very soft skin aftward
Owner of the farm, Eugene, does the tours himself.  We started with the cocoa tour on the path looking at cocoa trees. We ended up in a room at the farm where he demonstrated the various stages.  This farm is know for it's tours that are 'seed to cup".  He roasted cocoa beans for us right there in a tiny roaster he built for demo purposes - "off a You Tube" video he saw!  Then he ground the seeds.  Then molded the chocolate. Then made a pure cocoa drink with hot water for us, all the while teaching us all things cocoa and chocolate.
Coffee picking basket with beans drying in the background

Coffee processing machine - I forget which stage

Old fashion method of shelling

Grinding the coffee beans

Making coffee - don't let the water boil
Real Colombia coffee - hmmmmm

He did the same for the coffee tour, "bean to cup".  And wow, what a cup of coffee!  The farmland is third generation but he and his wife started the actual businesses.  First, with a bed and breakfast (3 rooms) eight years ago.  Then with the coffee and cocoa.  They do tours and sell directly to tourist.  If he sells coffee beans to the coop-op, he gets $6 but it costs $7 to produce.  Selling directly to tourist pays much, much better.  I would guess at least 1/3 of the people on the tour buy coffee or chocolate or both.  We bought coffee beans!  BTW - most good quality Colombia coffee is exported.  The lesser quality coffee stays here.  AND, shock of shocks, they import 3rd rate coffee beans from Honduras for domestic use.  I know, crazy! Anyway, informative tours, nice man.  But it was time to start down.  We took it slow as we navigated the rough path / trail / road!  We arrived at our hostel hot and tired. 
Our hostel.....hut

Our hostel hut

En suite bath in our hostel hut

We checked into our room.  Again, lovely.  We booked a private room with en suite bath.  Actually, there are three, stand alone tiny huts that make up the private rooms.  Well designed private huts.  The bath / shower was open to the river but high enough for privacy.  A bug screen draped over the bed was a welcome sight as was the fan and 110v plugs.  But soon we migrated out to the hammocks on the central patio overlooking the river for some chill time and to get our tired feet up.
Hammock area - I think some slept in these overnight and why not!

Common area off the kitchen

Just after sunset, we decided to head into Minca proper for drinks and dinner.  We had watched several hostel guest wade across the river as a short cut to town but we had not properly investigated during daylight.  D-oh!  Oh well.  We pulled off our shoes and rolled up our pant legs and waded in.  Tom used his phone flashlight to guide us.  In one spot, the water came to just below our knee, other wise, it was mid shin deep. 
Stairs down to the river

River crossing to main part of Minca
We made our way out to one of the main roads.  It was buzzing with locals walking here and there, kids playing in the church playground, and young backpackers out for social time and some cheap grub.  We opted for dinner at the Lazy Cat and sat street side so we could take it all in.  Some sort of candlelight vigil/procession, lead by the local priest passed by.  The ever present motorbikes continued their taxi services.  Interestingly, they would often wait to turn on their headlights as they left town and kill them as they rolled back into town so as not to blind all the pedestrians walking along the streets. 
The Lazy Cat for dinner
After a delicious and cheap dinner, we walked back to the river.  The side streets are mainly dirt and rough, with few lights but we never felt unsafe.  We crossed the river again back to our hostel and were greeted by the other hostels guests and staff.  Some sat around a fire pit, others in hammocks, and others typed in laptops under the covered eating area.  Maybe a dozen or so.  All young.  We joined the fire pit group but soon the smoke drove Tom off.  He decided to try the big hammock suspended just off the car park concrete. 
Fire pit at our hostel

Star watching hammock by the car park at our hostel
The busy day's activities caught up with us and we turned in around 22:00.  It was slightly chilly (66 degrees) so the blanket felt good. 
What a wonderful, action packed day of firsts!  

Btw - our private room was $30US.  The tours were $20,000COP or around $7US each. Dinner and drinks $25US total for both of us.