Tag Archives: Sea Travel

Mapping My Journey So Far

Sixteen months on the road is a long time. During that time I covered quite a distance and did many things. While I’ve been ‘resting’ in the United Kingdom, I’ve put together a step by step rundown of my trip including maps.

South East Australia

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In a van called the Pointy Brick I…

Antarctica, Chile and Argentina

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From Brisbane, I flew to Auckland and spent 3 weeks with family before flying to South America where I…

Brazil, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador

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From Buenos Aires I…

Colombia, Central America and Mexico

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From Ecuador I…

The Full Map. May take some time to load.

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The World Wanderer

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Looking Back, Central America

While it took ten months to work my way up the massive continent of South America, three months seemed only a short time to explore the Central America sub-continent even though it’s barely larger than Colombia. But since I was in the neighbourhood…

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Panama

San Blas Islands

With no straightforward bus route from Colombia to Panama, I chose a five-day cruise through the San Blas Islands, finishing in Panama City. The San Blas Islands are a glorious chain of islands in the Caribbean Sea, but make sure you do your research as the cruises aren’t always up to standard.

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Panama City

After so long in South America Panama City feels a little like home with its massive skyscrapers, malls, cinemas and fast food chains. When travelling long-term you lose the sense of time and on arrival in Panama days before Christmas I forget that it was prime holiday season for the locals. With most of the holiday destinations booked solid and long lines to get on any buses, I decided to spend the holidays hanging around the city. While there I visited the colonial old quarter of Casco Viejo, the canal and the ruins of Panama Viejo.

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Being in Panama City feels like being in the United States. There are so many Americans and I rarely needed to use my spanish skills as most people spoke english.

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Bocas del Toro

After the holiday break I headed west to Bocas del Toro, an archipelago on the border of Costa Rica. In the surf/party town I took the opportunity to spend a day on a catamaran snorkelling around the reefs and another sitting in a hammock at the hostel.

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Boquete

Then taking a chicken bus, I spent three days in the cooler climes of the mountain town of Boquete. While there I climbed the tallest mountain in the country – Volcán Barú. The views were wonderful from the top, but starting the 26km hike at midnight is difficult. So to recover I spent time in some natural hot springs just outside of town.

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Costa Rica

San José

Costa Rica has a reputation for being the most expensive country in Central America. From the capital, San José, I took a tour to the top of a volcano before boating along a river to see monkeys, a sloth, caimans, crocodiles and many different types of birds. It was during this tour that Iguana was served for lunch.

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Liberia

Next I headed north to the city of Liberia from where I visited the beach town of Playa del Coco and a set of waterfalls.

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Nicaragua

San Juan del Sur

My first stop in Nicaragua was the surf town of San Juan del Sur. A beautiful place to spend a couple of days with bars and beach-front restaurants aplenty. The town even has a statue of Christ atop a hill at the end of the beach.

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Isla Ometepe

No trip to Nicaragua is complete without catching the ferry across Lake Nicaragua to Ometepe Island with its pair of volcanos. Cruising around the volcanos on a scooter is a lot of fun, visiting beaches, cafés and thermal pools. Both volcanos are climbable and a group of us scaled the largest of the two.

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Granada

Next, I was on a bus to the touristic city of Granada at the northern end of the lake for some amazing food and a visit to yet another volcano, this one spewing smoke from the crater within its crater.

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León

Then a quick stop off on the city of Léon to go hurtling down the side of an active volcano on a volcano board.

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Honduras and El Salvador

With limited time, I set foot only briefly in both countries, mainly at customs on the borders. San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador seemed nice though for the thirty minutes we stopped there for lunch.

Guatemala

Antigua

Most travellers in Central America rave about Guatemala.  I arrived into Antigua to find another touristic city at the base of another volcano. Unlike other parts of Central America, Antigua has a lot of colonial architecture, although after numerous earthquakes over the centuries, many are in ruins.

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San Pedro la Laguna

I enjoyed a couple of days in San Pedro la Laguna on Lago Antitla with its thin streets, crazy Tuk Tuk drivers, great small restaurants and amazing lake views.

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Flores and Tikal

Then after a brief visit back in Antigua, I caught a bus to the north of the country to the island of Flores on Lago de Petén Itzá.

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Flores is a tourist destination and gateway to the great Maya ruins of Tikal, where I spent several hours exploring.

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Belize

Caye Caulker

Then on the one year anniversary of my time in Latin America I arrived in Belize, an english speaking country. Staying on the party island of Caye Caulker, I spent some time in the pristine waters snorkelling with Nurse sharks and Eagle Rays, some larger than I am.

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Mexico

While Mexico is actually in North America I included the southern portions as part of my Central American adventure. From Caye Caulker, I caught a ferry to Chetumal in Mexico and stopped for the night before heading on.

Palenque and Yaxchilán

After an eight-hour bus ride I arrived at the city of Palenque to continue The Maya Ruins Trail I began at Tikal. My first stop was the peaceful ruins of Yaxchilán and its connected site of Bonampak on the Guatemalan Border.

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Next it was to the Palenque ruins only twenty minutes out of the city.

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Merida and Uxmal

Four hours north in the Yucatán is Merida, a large and popular touristic city and the nearby ruins of Uxmal and one of its satellite cities, Kabah.

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Valladolid and Chichén Itzá

Then it was across to the city of Valladolid to see Mexico’s most visited archaeological site, Chichén Itzá, seen by more people every year than Peru’s Macchu Pichu.

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Tulum

Then it was back to the Caribbean Coastline to the town of Tulum and the Maya fortress of the same name.

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Cancún and Playa del Carmen

The final distinction in my thirteen month trip through Latin America, Cancún, where I did little more than prepare for my exit from Latin America, but managed a quick visit to the beaches at Playa del Carmen.

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Next, is a well deserved rest from travelling for six months to save and plan a year through Asia.

Adios America Latina,

The World Wanderer.

Caye Caulker, Belize – Impressions

Belize is a small country on the edge of the Yucatan peninsula. Unlike the countries that surround it, where they speak spanish, Belize’s primary language is english. After a year in spanish speaking countries where I couldn’t fully understand the everyday conversations around me, on arriving in an english speaking country it was a little overwhelming. It was like suddenly being able to read the thoughts of everyone around you.

As I’m nearing the end of my Latin American journey, I’ve chosen to spend only three days in Belize and all of that time on the island of Caye Caulker. Thirty kilometres from Belize City by water taxi, Caye Caulker was made popular by hippies travelling through the area in the 1970s. Since then the tourism industry along the coast has blossomed.

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On first impressions, arriving in Caye Caulker feels like arriving in Jamaica. There’s a strong reggae groove, plenty of locals with dreadlocks wearing rastafarian style clothing and that familiar accent: ‘yeh mon,’ and ‘want some gunga mon.’

One end of the eight kilometre long island is criss-crossed with white sand roads while the other is still claimed by mangroves. There is an estimated 40 hotels, hostels and boarding houses on the island, with fresh fish on the menu of the many waterfront restaurants.

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One of the more popular activities in the region is diving with divers hoping to swim in the infamous Great Blue Hole, an underwater sinkhole 300 metres across and 124 metres deep.

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But as I don’t dive, I chose to snorkel along the Great Barrier Reef and in Shark Alley. So, booking a tour, I set out with a group of fellow snorkelers for a day in the sun on a boat. And what a day it was… We began in Hol Chan marine reserve where the fish knew our arrival meant feeding time. Schools of large fish swum around the boat as our guide took us on a swim around the reef, spying a lone barracuda, sea turtles and even managing to lure a Moray Eel out from its hole in the rocks.

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Along shark alley the Nurse sharks came looking for food. There were probably a dozen of them, some more than three metres long. We were able to ‘pet’ one of them although their scales felt hard to the touch. Then came the Eagle Rays, allowing us to write our names upon their back.

A german girl in a bikini, I mean, a friendly three metre Nurse shark swimming past.

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Back on the island, there are several ways to get around. Most people hire cycles and ride around the unsealed, potholed sandy roads but I chose to hire a golf cart, the only powered land vehicle on the island.

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With my ‘wheels’, I toured the quieter end of the island where there were only a few secluded homes and hotels among the plentiful mangroves.

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Overall, Caye Caulker is a great place to spend a few days if you like water activities, seafood, partying or just hanging around with well-tanned beach clad people.

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Next I head into Mexico, my final Latin American country as I follow the trail of the Mayan Ruins.

The World Wanderer

Bocas del Toro, Panama – Impressions

Not far from the Costa Rican border on the north-west Caribbean coast of Panama is Bocas del Toro. Meaning ‘Mouths of the Bull’ in spanish Bocas del Toro is one of Panama’s primary holiday destinations for both locals and travellers alike.

Bocas del Toro refers to many places: first the province, then the archipelago within the province and the provincial capital on Islá Colón, which is also known as Bocas Town. The island is named after Cristóbal Colón, the spanish name for Christopher Colombus, who visited the islands in 1502 looking for a way through to the Pacific.

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Getting to Islá Colón is easy, either catch a 30-minute water taxi across the bay from the town of Almirante or fly in from the Costa Rican capital, San Jose. You can’t miss Bocas Town when crossing the bay as most of the shoreline around the town is utilised by hostels, bars and tour operators.

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The town itself feels very much like you’re in a surfing town. January being high season, the town is bloated with tourists, most of them early to mid-twenties, surfboard clad and heavily tanned.

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I call Panama the 51st state of the US, not only because there are so many americans here or that the US dollar is the currency, but because most people speak english, in a U.S. accent. Bocas del Toro is no different, with its upmarket hostels, shops and eating places, including a fantastic indian restaurant that I just had to visit twice.

While on Islá Colón, one of the easiest way to see the islands is via a sailing tour. They take a group out on a pair of catamarans to several choice spots around the islands.

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This included two different snorkelling spots, which would give me the opportunity to test out my new underwater camera. The first part of our mini cruise was to a bay they have nicknamed Dolphin Bay because of the dolphins that come to play around the boats.

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Then it’s off to the first snorkelling spot. Flippers aren’t really needed as the water is not deep and you float around a coral reef surrounding a mangrove island in a place they call Starfish Bay.

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While there I swam with a pair of jellyfish. Cool to look at under the water, but I wasn’t letting them get too close.

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The water was not the clearest, but at our second spot, there were more coloured fish and I got some shots of the brightly coloured coral.

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There are several beaches on the islands that are well visited by tourists, but at an expensive US$5 to get to the sand, I decided against going.

For the three days I spent on the island, I managed to stay in three different hostels. On arrival, I discovered the hostel I wanted to stay at was full (you can’t prebook online), so I booked in for the next two days and went searching for another hostel. The following day I discovered my booking was no longer there. This time they located another hostel for me and ensured I would get a bed the following night. On the third day I finally got the bed I wanted and spent the day just relaxing on the side of the channel.

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During the midday hours it gets rather hot in Bocas del Toro, even in winter, but all you need do is roll out of the hammock and into the sea to cool down. Then in the evening they set up a band and we rocked out to the sounds of Sublime, Blink 182 and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Next, I head back to David for the night, then up to the town of Boquete, a tourist town in the mountains.

The World Wanderer

Panama City, Panama – Impressions

When you think about Panama, the first thing that comes to mind is turkey. That’s right, turkey. Actually, it’s the Canal, but sometimes its nice to think about turkey…right?

But there’s more to Panama than just the Canal and this time I’m not talking about turkey. Panama City was founded in 1519 by the spanish as a launching point for the eventual conquest of Peru. Then, 150 years later, the city was attacked by pirates – over 1200 of them – and burnt to the ground. The ruins are still there as a tourist attraction – Panama Viejo (Old City).

One of the more complete buildings that remained…

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Two years later a new city was built further along the coast. It would eventually grow to surround the site of the old city, which is now a World Heritage Site.

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Similar to Cartagena in northern Colombia the new city was built with a wall surrounding it to protect it from future pirate attacks. This new city has more similarities to Cartagena than just a wall, the entire district within the walls look similar too.

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It has also been given a World Heritage status – Casco Viejo (Old Quarter).

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The Panama Canal was begun by the french in the late 1800s, but after an estimated 20,000 workers died during its construction – many from Yellow Fever and Malaria – the project was abandoned. The United States took over the project in 1904 and ten years later – 2 weeks after the break out of WWI – it was officially opened.

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The locks system is fairly basic. Water is locked off in sections allowing ships to enter. Then the water is slowly released into the next bank of locks, equalising the water level so the ships can move further along. This happens three times before the ships are through the locks. There are three sets of locks along the 48km of the canal.

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Between the Canal and the US presence over the next 100 years, Panama City has grown along the beach front.

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The central city has a decidedly western feel, like the business districts of most other large cities. My arrival coincided with Christmas and New Years, meaning bus services and travel destinations were filled to the brim with locals for the holiday season. But after 10 months in Latin America it’s nice to spend a couple of weeks in a place that feels a little like home.

Views from atop the Hard Rock Hotel…

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Next, after the holiday season, I travel to Bocas del Toro in northern Panama.

The World Wanderer

Looking Back, Part 3 – Northern South America

Peru

As I left Bolivia I made my way around Lake Titicaca and along the Andes to Cusco, capital city of the Inca Empire more than 600 hundred years ago. Cusco was built in the image of the Puma, a holy symbol of the Incas.

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Cusco’s a popular tourist destination because of it’s closeness to Machu Picchu. To get to the ruins many people walk one of the expensive hikes in the region: the infamous Inca Trail, The Salkantay Trek or The Jungle Trek. While these hikes are said to be amazing, the expense and length of time needed to prebook put me off. Instead I caught the train to Aguas Caliente, the township at the base of Machu Picchu mountain, and climbed the near 2000 steps to the ruins. At altitude, these steps are still hard going. The ruins felt like Disneyland because of the huge number of tourists but it was still beautiful to behold…

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After Cusco, I travelled to the city of Arequipa, the southernmost city of Peru. Near Arequipa is the county’s third most popular destination, Colca Canyon. Colca Canyon is one of the largest canyon’s in the world, twice as deep as The Grand Canyon. The hiking there is very cheap and doesn’t require a guide. I explored the canyon for three days, including the final climb, a kilometre straight up.

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After Arequipa I headed down from the Andes for a time, stopping at Huacachina, a small town near the ocean renown for its massive sand dunes. I spent an afternoon sand boarding down the slopes.

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Next was a visit to the capital, Lima. I stayed in the tourist zone of Miraflores which felt like I was in the centre of any other city in the world. I then moved to the historical centre and this was more to my liking with great architecture and a distinct lack of tourists.

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I continued north and back into the Andes to the city of Huaraz nestled between the Cordilleras Blanca and Negra. From Huaraz a group of us hiked the four-day Santa Cruz trek, with one of the hardest climbs I’ve ever completed.

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From Huaraz, I made my way to the far northern coast and the country’s second most visited destination, Mancora. Mancora is a beach town where I stayed for four days in a cabaña 20 metres from the Pacific Ocean. After the Santa Cruz hike, it was great to just sit and enjoy the beach for a few days.

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Ecuador

I left Peru and headed across the border to Ecuador’s capital, Quito, where I made plans to visit the Galapagos Islands. Two days later I was on a plane – my first since arriving in South America – and a few hours later landed on the famous archipelago. After booking a four-day cruise around the islands, I made friends with a Uruguayan guy at the hostel and spent the days prior to the cruise exploring Santa Cruz island with him, including a great swimming hole and the Giant Tortoise sanctuary.

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The cruise was amazing, I enjoyed snorkelling through the icy waters and swimming with penguins, fur seals, sea lions and sea turtles. On land there were many bird species including Blue Footed Boobies, the smaller water iguanas and the large land Iguanas.

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Back in Quito, I met some friends at the hostel and explored the city with them, including some amazing architecture, the original site of the equator and the newer more technologically accurate equatorial site. I had also prearranged with some locals to hang out with and spent a week enjoyed their company.

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With my friends from the hostel, I headed north for a weekend to the adventure town Minca buried in the rainforest, where we hung out with Hummingbirds, zip lined ourselves crazy and generally enjoyed our stay.

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Next, two of us travelled south to the city of Riobamba where we hiked to the amazing crater lake of a collapsed volcano called El Altar. Most hiking in Ecuador must be done with a guide, but the two of us enjoyed the three-day hike without one.

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Then we headed south to the southern city of Cuenca where my friend headed into Peru and I explored Ingapirca, the ruins of an Incan Fortress.

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Colombia

Then it was back to Quito for a last few days before I headed north into Colombia, to the city of Cali where I stayed for three days. I explored the city via a walking tour, learning its history, and climbed one of the hills to the local statue of Christ.

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From Cali I headed north via a very winding mountain road where the bus driver thought he was formula one driver. After the humidity in Cali, Bogota was cold. I’d prearranged to meet some people in Colombia’s capital and they were so friendly I stayed for three weeks to spend more time with them, including attending a huge Pop Culture Festival…S.O.F.A.

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Bogota is not well set up as a tourist destination but during my stay I caught a cable car up to a temple of the hill giving awesome views across the city.

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Then with general sadness at having to leave my friends in Bogota, I headed north to Medellin, a more popular city for tourists and home town of the late Pablo Escobar. I hung out at a New Zealand owned hostel and between a couple of nights partying I took a walking tour, both with a group and a separate one with a couple of guys from the hostel.

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Next I headed to Cartagena, a city on the Caribbean Sea where I hung out for a few days in the extreme humidity. Cartagena’s Old Town has a great stone wall around it that once protected it from pirate attacks 500 years ago. The entire old town is a world heritage site.

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Further along the coast is a small beach town of Taganga where I stayed for a few of days. It was a quiet little town away from the bustle of the larger Colombian cities.

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From Taganga I booked and walked the four-day jungle trek to find the Lost City, an amazing ruins of the local tribes that had been abandoned 500 years earlier. The trek was humid and sweaty, and this made the long climbs up clay trails more difficult. Swimming in the icy rivers were highlights of the sweaty days.

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After a couple of recovery days in Taganga, I headed back to Cartagena to say farewell to South America. After 9 and a half months of amazing adventure, it was sad to say farewell to the continent, although my travels were not yet at a conclusion. In Cartagena, I booked a cruise on a yacht with 11 others to make my way through the Caribbean Sea to Panama, and the beginning of my Central American adventures.

This will be an adventure I will never forget.

The World Wanderer

Colombia to Panama Cruise via San Blas Islands

 

After nine and a half months in South America it’s time to make my way north into Central America. I’ve mainly travelled by bus around the continent, but as the border between Colombia and Panama is said to be controlled by guerrilla groups and dangerous – whether true or not – I decided to look for other options. Because I’m carrying excess baggage I avoid flying so I decided on a 5-day cruise through the Caribbean Sea via the San Blas Islands instead.

The San Blas Islands are to the east of the Panama Canal and of the approximately 378 palm covered, golden sand islands, 49 are inhabited.

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The boat I booked was the Luka, a 56’ yacht that has been converted into a cruise vessel. For the 12 passengers and 2 crew there are few rooms and most are crammed. Because I’m a solo traveller I drew the short straw of sleeping in the saloon. While it’s not ideal, the couch like seats are longer than the berths in the rooms, and as I’m 189cm (6’3”) a longer bed is better.

Day 0
We all arrived at the dock at 8pm and were ferried out to the yacht where we waited in the calm of the harbour. We were due to leave at 10pm but it was closer to midnight before we set off. Eventually we set sail under motor which caused many of the rooms to be rather hot overnight, even with their built-in fans.

Cartagena Harbour at night…

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Day 1
No-one slept well and two of our number suffered major seasickness overnight, spending the night on the deck throwing up. I woke very hot and tired after 9 hours sleep. With the motion of the sea and the heat of the cabin, I couldn’t stomach breakfast. Standing up also caused me to feel sick, so I went back to sleep until the early afternoon. When I awoke I also couldn’t stomach lunch so went on deck where the cool wind made me feel a lot better. There wasn’t much to see though, no sea birds or land, only the waters of the Caribbean sea and the very occasional dolphin – too quick for the cameras.

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I stayed on the deck for much of the rest of the day enjoying the sun and the cool of the wind. While it’s winter in the northern hemisphere and I’m told it’s snowing in parts of the US, I’m spending most of my time in just shorts, even late into the evening. And though I slept for most of the day, without anything else to do I was ready for bed at 10pm. With the flashes of lightning on the horizon we prepared for a rainy night.

Day 2
It did rain overnight, while not heavy it meant we had to close the hatches which increased the heat of the rooms below deck. I woke early, not surprisingly, and just hung out in the galley until breakfast was served. After breakfast I went on the deck and enjoyed the breeze on the overcast day. Along one side we could make out the mainland as the San Blas islands came into view.

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The smaller San Blas islands reminded me of the islands of the Pacific – beautiful golden beaches, palm trees and not much else, all surrounded by reefs that keep out the heavy seas. We were ferried across to one of the islands, known as Turtle Island because sea turtles are known to lay eggs here in September.

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The day was spent hanging out in hammocks on the beach, swimming, eating and drinking. What else is there to do on a virtually deserted island in the Caribbean sea?

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In the evening, we cooked beef skewers over an open fire as we continued to take in the surroundings. After dinner, the weather turned against us and it began to rain. After the first shower, several of us headed back to the yacht. We’d only just made it when the clouds opened and it poured, drenching those still on the island.

Day 3
In the morning, the captain went to pick up the three passengers that had chosen to stay on the island for the night. While there was a hut where the locals lived, it was not the best in rain, so the three slept little as they shivered in the cold and wet.

After breakfast, we set sail for the next group of islands. While we were told it was only 45 minutes away, it took us nearly 2 and a half hours to get there in the heavy cross winds. When we arrived, most of us couldn’t wait to get over the side and into the clear warm water.
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Then after lunch, we were dropped off at one of the islands and left to our own devices. While it had been gorgeous weather when we’d arrived, it turned sour after an hour or so, so we headed back to the boat where we hung out for the afternoon swimming between showers.

While we were on the island, the captain had brought a bucket of Lobsters to the boat that was to be our dinner. This was to be our only taste of seafood on the trip.

Day 4
In the morning we sailed for another set of islands. These islands were actually only 45 minutes from where we had anchored the previous day. We were ferried to one of the larger islands and hung out on the beach drinking beer in the sun while a bronzed blonde girl kite-surfed back and forth along the beach.

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After midday we were ferried back to the boat for lunch before many of us swum out to a small desert island not far from the boat. I made it to the island without issue, but because of an old sports injury, on the return trip my shoulder locked up and I had to be collected by the crew. A little embarrassing, but you get that.

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In the afternoon the captain changed his plan and instead of sailing overnight for Portobelo harbour, our end point, we set sail at 3pm instead. Most of us slept through the rocky 8-hour journey as it was difficult to sit on deck. We were woken for an early dinner, then it was back to sleep again until morning.

Day 5
We woke on our last day to the dirty brown waters of Portobelo harbour and waited while the captain took our passports to immigration.

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Panama has recently passed a law requiring travellers to show proof of onward travel out of Panama or suffer a US$105 tax. Onward travel must be in the form of airline tickets. This has resulted in most travellers creating false flight tickets to avoid this absurd tax. While the rest of my boat mates had copies of real or fake tickets, I did not. As it turns out it didn’t matter and we finally got to land without any further fees.

A Not So Good Cruise
While I’ve painted a fairly positive picture of this cruise, it wasn’t all happy travels. Beyond the rough seas, rainy afternoons and the chap who was sea sick for the entire 5 days – none of which could be helped – the cruise was particularly badly organised. The Owner didn’t come with us on this cruise, so the two Panamanian crew had free rein. The captain spoke english well but the chef did not. Briefings were non-existent, so for the most part we had no idea what we were doing each day unless we pestered the captain, who gave us information that changed regularly. Sure, trying to estimate travel times when winds go against you is hit and miss, but the different between 45 minutes and 2.5 hours is vast even for an experienced captain in the region. Then dumping us on an island and disappearing while the locals on the island hound us for the US$2 per person entry fee is poor form.

The cruise was not cheap, but having hot dogs for meals 4 times was not acceptable. In fact, beyond the BBQ Crayfish and the beef skewers on the beach (which we made ourselves), most of the meals were sub par, including stale breakfast cereals, stale bread and potato slush.

Overall, the trip was an experience and while the location was great with the beautiful islands, pristine beaches and seas, the cruise itself was a great let down.

Next I explore Panama City…

The World Wanderer