Signing off

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
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Andean Adventure

Signing off
June 3, 1998

Hello folks,

So where did we leave off? Ah yes, in the mountainous region of Colombia, where all that good joe is from. As always, we received grave foreboding warning about the road leading to Cartagena. NumerouS HOT areas, as they say. The road, indeed was brutal, though beautiful, and we did see our share of military camped on the hills and squatters who had fled their towns due to paramilitary death squads. As always, we inquired about the safety of the road ahead. "Si, no hay problema" the soldiers would say as they loaded 2-inch bullets into their machine guns.

We said our last goodbyes to the Andes and descended through the mists and into the coastal plains of Colombia. Mangos fell at our feet and iguanas skittered across the baking asphalt. The heat burned like a blanket of flames draped across our backs, but sprouting water hoses along the road (to wash trucks) provided some relief. We spent the nights camped at cattle haciendas, an interesting parallel to the beginning of our continental journey.

Finally, there was Cartagena in the distance. It's fortified walls visible through a torrential rain. We arrived in the city plowing knee deep through water. This magical city proved worthy of every compliment bestowed upon it. Nancy swooned before the Colonial charms ooohing and aahing at the flower-filled balconies and colorful buildings. Definitely her favorite city in South America.

Amazingly for us, my parents came down for a visit. Ironic, since they had been warning us from the beginning to fly over Colombia. We were again spoiled thoroughly with fine dining and Manhattans at sunset. Alas, their sojourn ended and we returned to the "unsafe" sector of the city and our little $5 night room.

After cleaning our heads from the dream, we headed to the coastal paradise of Tayrona National Park. We spent a week walking the beaches, eating coconuts, and frolicking in the mighty surf. No condos or high rises, just our tent and the scattered hammocks and the tropical jungle of Santa Marta stretching for untold miles. The waters were not without their dangers and we were warned constantly of strong currents. My adolescent camp years paid off when I had to rescue a drowning woman. Quite an experience, that.

After our diet of coconuts, chocolate bread, and tropical sun, we were suitably rested to return to Cartagena, where a sailboat awaited to take us to Panama.

Out to sea we went. Eight days aboard a 30-foot sailboat named the Orca. There were five of us living on top on one another, including a Dutch couple on the tail end of a world tour and Humberto, our knowledgeable captain.

Good thing too, for the winds never materialized and our motor gave out on the second day. Another boat, Schatzi, towed us to the islands. Ahh, the San Blas: like walking into a travel poster. A full 365 coconut-studded islands with turquoise seas. The islands are inhabited by the Kuni indians who govern them separately from Panama. The women are particularly distinctive dressed in elaborately embroidered wraps called molas. Many have a distinctive line tattoo down their noses and a thick gold earring through the nose. Just like Seattle.

We brought along coffee, rice, and sugar to trade with the men who came daily in their dugouts with fresh lobster and fruits of the sea. These waters are an undisturbed sea aquarium. Snorkeling off the boat we saw manta ray, nurse sharks, schools of giant barracudas, and a 12-foot shark! "Emmm, emmm, emm!" Humberto screamed through the water pointing at the prehistoric carnivore. Ironically, we gave chase flippering madly after the retreating giant. That night my head reeled with possible scenarios. In the morning I asked Humberto what we would have done if the shark decided to attack. "Easy, we just go sit on the bottom and wait for it to grow bored." Easy that is for someone who can hold their breath five minutes under water.

Our sailboat odyssey ended at Porvenir, the last island in the chain. Still not able to bike across the seas, we awaited the coconut boat which travels up the jungle coast, buying coconuts from isolated villages. We loaded aboard this floating market and made our way to Miramar, and the beginning of a dirt track leading out of the Darien jungle and back to civilization.

Civilization, it turns out, was more of a shock than the jungle. Panama has a long history of U.S. involvement and we stood gaping as people greeted us in English and we paid in dollars. For the first time, we didn't have to calculate exchange rates.

On down the highway to Panama City. An obligatory stop at the Canal which proves that only engineers get excited by engineering wonders. Okay, Panama City. If you can't say anything nice ... We're anxious to move along, but at least Nan's bike has gotten a new haircut, manicure, and pedicure.

So from here, across the Continental Divide to more islands, beaches, and the coast of Costa Rica. Still accepting reservations for those who wish to join us.

Our calendar has one firm date: October 17 for the marriage of Chris and George Tunney in Chicago. So, we'll see you there. Until then, Well, I'd say until Mexico, but you know Cuba is so close, it'd be a shame to pass up ...

Besos y abrazos, Guillermo y Nan

©2000, Mariah Media Inc.

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