We had been looking forward to setting foot on South American soil for a quite a while and Colombia certainly provided a fantastic first experience of this diverse continent. We had an overnight sail from Aruba to the very windy anchorage of Ensenada Guaritcheru where we did a quick pit stop to sleep before continuing on to Santa Marta, where we were due to spend Christmas and New Year. We had been warned about strong winds (up to 40 knots) from the Sierra Nevada mountain range as we rounded the coast before entering the bay of Santa Marta, but in the event it was fairly calm and we were greeted by a view of huge modern tower blocks and the friendly and welcoming Armada – the Colombian Coast Guard. The Armada were to become a regular feature of our time in Colombia and we found then to be welcoming, helpful, reassuring (more of that later in our Colombia story....) and a credit to their country.
Having hovered around the marina entrance for a few minutes we were escorted in to our berth for the next couple of weeks and, after a few formalities at the marina office (thanks to the organisation of the Suzie Too Rally our formalities were very simple - an agent managing immigration, customs etc.. on our behalf), headed to the nearest restaurant for lunch. We spotted an ATM and took the opportunity to make our first Colombian peso withdrawal. An easy task you would think, but much discussion was had about how much we could try to request from an English bank versus how much currency our bags could carry. We settled on 800,000 peso each (about £200) and then spent some time trying to work our what each note was worth. The new currency is rounded up so that for example 50,000 pesos is a 50 note, whereas the old currency shows all the digits e.g. 50000. A trifle confusing for weary travelers.
Having caught up on eating and sleeping, we then relaxed into our time at Santa Marta with regular sundowners with the other rally members at 5pm on the quayside and regular walks into the vibrant old town. The old town is a network of streets (many pedestrianised) that buzz with; street sellers selling everything you could image from fresh fruit to sunglasses to cigarettes to hats to drinks; street performers dancing, singing and playing music; taxis honking their horns when they have to wait more than 1 second for the traffic to move; and people strolling or rushing around their business.
We found meals and drinks so cheap in Santa Marta that we hardly cooked on board and instead spent our time getting to know a little of this amazing country. I enjoyed some Spanish lessons whilst Steve had a heart-warming visit to Fundehumac to deliver donations from the Suzie Too Rally cruisers and spend some time with the children there. We took a trip out to the village of Minca to explore coffee farms, waterfalls, Colombian chocolate and some particularly vicious insects. A two day trip up to the Tayrona National Park saw us visit the small lost village on horseback, meet the local army, share a hostel room with 8 fellow cruisers and experience the local buses. Santa Marta Marina also kindly took us to a private house in the countryside to spend a day relaxing by a pool in a tranquil location.
Christmas and New Year passed in a blur of eating and drinking with Santa Marta providing a colourful and entertaining playground. So far Colombia had exceeded expectations and we were wowed by so many of the things we had seen, but our next adventure was to prove even more special – the Amazon.