August 10 - Day 1: Behind the gate
We had arrived in Manzanillo Marina Club, Cartagena, early in the morning, literally exhausted by our trip from Panama and in particular the last night. The main thing we did that day was to go to the ATM in order to obtain Colombian pesos. Indeed, we were out of convenient Panama where we could use our dollars without thinking about exchange rate and things like that. So as everytime when you arrive by sea to a new city, you discover what's "behind the gate". Even when we arrive by dinghy, we are usually at a dinghy dock in a marina, so all the same. We asked the friendly and genuinely smiling marina guardian, José, for the nearest ATM and he asked one of the two other guys who were also going out the door to show us the direction of Bancolombia. Then, he opened the heavy blue metal door, and here we were, in Colombia.
It was a little bit of a shock. I guess we had been expecting a big beautiful city, so the bumpy dirt road came as a surprise. The neighborhood we were in was very industrial, with heavy trucks maneuvering in the dirt around buildings with barbed wire at the top of high walls. The people in the street were mostly men, workers, and we definitely didn't go unnoticed. Our guide showed us the direction of the bank as we reach the actual road and we kept walking along, "Past the gas station" as José had said. We found the bank without difficulty but were highly unprepared. We had to look up the exchange rate and got scammed by the bank with a commission. It also felt like everybody was looking at us in the busy ATM, but that part was probably in our head.
We walked back promptly and a guy on a motorbike (there are so many motorbikes) shout a "Welcome to Colombia" as he passed.
August 11 - Day 2: El Centro
On our second day, we set to go visit the historical city center, also the most convenient place for us to buy SIM card and internet data.
José, the guardian of the door at the marina, offered to order a taxi for us and also explained how to come back in case we wanted to take the bus. Five minutes later, we were in the car with an extremely friendly taxi driver who told us about the city, and his life in Cartagena, while making audible efforts to talk slowly to accommodate our beginner's Spanish. Clearly, Colombian people were as friendly as we heard in Panama! He dropped us off in the Old colonial town on the square Simon Bolivar which I had identified as the center of the city center.
It was a nice green park and the first thing we did was to buy an Arepa to a street vendor. Arepas are a sort of bread stuffed with cheese and ham in our case and were an appreciated late breakfast for our starving selves. We sat down under the trees to eat our very first Colombian food.
We spent a few more hours exploring the narrow streets of the old town while asking around where we'd be able to buy "tajetas SIM". Not in pharmacies like in Panama apparently. We even tried to follow WOM sellers (apparently a phone company) who had an ad for a great deal as a sign on their back, but we were too late to go down the thick city wall to find them. Yet, this led us to a back door to the maritime history museum. It seemed opened so we went in. At first, we thought about a free access area in the museum, but as we went through the exhibition room, it became more and more clear we had gotten a free ticket. We spent a little while but not in a mood for museum and starting to starve for lunch, we soon went out. We'll go another time, legally!
After this adventure and seeing that the door we went through now had a guard stationed in it, we decided to head outside the historical center, still in search of our SIM cards and a burger we had been dreaming off since the storm the previous day. We found our deed in the nearby neighborhood of Manga, in a not so glamorous mini food court by a gas station. I can guarantee that the burgers were appreciated though! Manga is also neighborhood of the downtown anchorage and marinas, which we checked out before returning to the historical downtown that, in the end, seemed like the easiest place for our phone business. Once fulfilled, we went on to our next errand, the city bus card! With a few hiccups about the bus number (the only place to find a bus map turned out to be online - thanks Yalçın), we manage to make it back to the "La Postobon" stop and the marina. A good first day in the city!
August 12, 13 - Day 3 & 4: Windlass and writing
One of our priorities boatworkwise had been the windlass. Not having it prevents us from going anywhere outside of a marina without the Damocles sword on top of our heads that we may need to muscle the anchor up in a middle of heavy weather, a rather dangerous and potentially quite physical perspective. Yalçın had opened the beast on San Blas already but now was repair time so he worked on it and with the help of the marina mechanic, Waldo, we managed to pull out the gypsy. But one of the broken gear firmly remained in place as there was very little space for a puller to grab it. Yalçın kept working and debugged the windlass motor as well, as I was working on finishing up an article started in Puerto Lindo. This meant I could help him here and there but boatwork wasn't my priority at the moment.
As a break in the middle of this, we also went to Ara, the local supermarket that turned out to have fairly good supply. To note: the milk was sold in flexible plastic pouches, which meant it had to be transferred into a bottle after opening, only small packaging for the yogurt which is a bummer with our yogurt eating monster (!) and it was still quite hot despite the AC. But overall everything was quite cheap and the cheap beer packages were incredibly pretty (I think it was a limited edition though). The short walking trip through the neighborhood broke with our first impression and we felt totally at ease.
On Friday, Yalçın learnt that the Monday, August 15th, was a holiday which meant we'd have to wait for quotes and any sort of work that involved other people. It killed his boatwork motivation a little bit. Understandable but I mean, so customary for us to arrive on a Sunday or like in Mexico, on a three day weekend. At least this time, we got a little heads-up!
August 14 - Day 5: Back in town
Boatwork demotivation for Yalçın and writing demotivation for me, that meant we would be good with a little change of scenery. What better than going to town and look for a coffee shop to work from? AC was a must as it was really hot. We got ready and took a taxi. We would squeeze in the visit of a local hardware store called Home Center to evaluate which supplies were easy to find and which ones weren't. It turned a little bit into a mall visiting morning. By the Home Center, there was a big mall and we discovered a supermarket a little bigger and better-stocked than Ara (still with pouched milk!) which might come in handy for provisioning in the future. We then walked toward the Getsemani neighborhood before the city center, but the long walk in the sun prompted another stopped to a mall facing the famous San Felipe fortress. Our hope was to work from the rooftop restaurant or café. Bad luck it was closed (Sunday of a three day weekend, that makes sense) but we still decided to have lunch in one of the only opened restaurant. It turned out they only accepted cash and we were very close to running out of Colombian pesos. After withdrawing some more and a little walk in the nice streets of the Getsemani neighborhood, we eventually found a Colombian equivalent (cheap version with amazing tropical fruit smoothies) of Starbucks to work for a few hours.
As I had a Skype plan and the sky was pitch black, we decided to take a cab home. Unexpectedly, two of them declined going to the Bosque (where the marina is located) so we went for the bus instead, which schedule was also a bit affected by either the fact that it was Sunday or the holiday or both. We eventually made it home but without beating the rain, which was heavy enough to soak us during the short short walk between the bus stop and the marina... I guess we aren't out of the rainy zone yet...
August 15 - Day 6: Nothing amazing to report
Nothing amazing to report. We didn't start the day on the same wavelength with Yalçın as it sometimes happen. Naturally, we decided to spend time apart. Yalçın wanted to go back to town and I would be happy to enjoy the AC and unlimited power of the marina lounge to focus on finishing my article for good - today was the deadline I had set for myself. The deadline worked and Yalçın came back after lunch. We even had time to play a pandemic game and gather our forces to be fully operational to retrieve where we left with boatwork the next day, at the end of the three day weekend.
August 16 - Day 7: Roulement à bille
In the morning, I finally emailed the article I had been working on. In addition of the 'I did it' kind of feeling that I still get when handing off articles, it meant that I would finally have time to dedicate to repair our wounded Tire-Bouchon. And it was overdue, Yalçın was losing purpose as he sometimes does. After handing off our laundry in the morning at the marina, we went back to the restaurant by the bridge outside the marina - can you believe we already had our habits in the neighborhood? This time, we went earlier than the last and had to share our little table with what appeared to be two students. Like last time, the meat came with a soup, a pitcher of fruity iced drink that won our hearts the previous time and sides of rice, salad, lentils and plantin.
Once replete for less than 5 dollar total, we started our mission: find the bearing AXK1226, one of the parts of our windlass that had broken. That's when being in this neighborhood was going to pay off - it was already growing on us nonetheless, there were many industrial and work shop all around. Yalçın found what looked like a bearing shop on Google Map and we went for it. It turned out the shop wasn't there anymore but people in a small hardware store indicated us where to find what we were looking for: Universal de Rodimiento, a 25 minute walk away. After a few asks, we found the store. It had a grid through which we'd talk to the vendor with a Paris Saint Germain tee-shirt. They had the item but not in stock, so we'd have to wait for it to come in 10-15 minutes. After that time, a motorbike pulled in, honked and handed the vendor three roulements. When we explained we also needed the washers around, we were in for another round of waiting, in the heat that was harder and harder to bear. Eventually the guy came back with our price as I was asking Ivan, the vendor, about his T-shirt. But as always, people were really excited about Yalçın being Turkish. Even the administrative person who was sitting in the back of the store the whole time, came to explain she loved the novellas. We had been wondering if that'd still be the case down in Colombia as other countries told us they used to have Colombian shows as well. Apparently, they had, and the enthusiasm was making our new friend talk way too fast for our Spanish understanding level. Yet, we gather she preferred the Turkish shows as they were more romantic and less violent than the local ones.
We eventually walked back another half hour to the marina, prepped the anchor chain which was meant to be pick up for regalvanizing early the next day and ordered food directly to the marina through an app' in the evening, to honor Yalçın's traditional Tuesday wings night.
August 17 - Day 8: Anchor and chain, gone
We had an appointment with Alvaro, a contractor who brings the anchor and chain to Barranquilla for hot-dip regalvanization. With the help of 3 more people, they took the chain and the anchor. Alvaro also hooked us up with a guy who does canvas work and could potentially change the windows of our dodger (2 out of 5 are broken and none are very transparent anymore). We got a bunch of quotes, cheap by American standards but still a bunch of money, so we are still making up our minds. Yet most of the price was the cost of the material so we will probably go for it, but are now wondering how much work to have done on it as some seams are giving up as well. He could also fix the jib but it's not that cheap and we have the sewing machine so we'll probably try on our own. Finally, two people came to look at the broken pieces of our windlass and recommend strategies and give quotes - the verdict and part 2 tomorrow.
I was about to forget, we got another person to start repairing a little deck delamination where the pin which locks the anchor locker, enters the deck. It's been a problem for a long long time and we're not confident to tackle the repair ourselves, especially when it comes to color matching. So Emil should come and do it tomorrow over 2 days. Let's see, if he does a good job, we may even ask for his help to tackle a more serious problem of deck leak by our dorade boxes.
We are shifting our attitude a little from our usual DIY. Many reasons. Yalçın has been looking forward for the opportunity to do so for a while in order to get help decreasing our long long list of projects - don't worry, it's not because things are getting done by other people, that we won't have work for ourselves. Also part of the reason, we have a lot of things to do and don't want to be stuck in this marina forever, and also see a bit of Colombia while we are here. Last, getting stuff done is cheap, so it also makes sense. Things like the dodgers window or the anchor locker pin have been on the list forever but we never seemed to get to it: too hard, too time consuming, other priorities. So here we go. Let's cross those items off. Yet, it leaves me thinking... Is there any cheap countries to save money while sailing in this world? Indeed, is Colombia really 'cheap' if we end up spending a lot of money in repairs? I guess it's money well spent, but still, you see what I mean.
August 18 - Day 9: Mechanic workshop Cartagena tour
We woke up to be ready for meeting with Waldo, the marina mechanic, at 9. He was going to drive us around different workshops for the windlass repair. We had to remove the biggest gear that was jammed in place and hard to unjam, we had to get it filed as some teeth were broken and we had to have threads repaired on another piece. Great to have local help for this windlass project that isn't what you'd call easy. Waldo was convinced we'd have to refabricate this large gear and drove us 30 minutes in the city opposite from the historical center, in neighborhoods where tourists like us, probably don't end up going. The life seemed quite different, more lively: corners with meat stores, fruiterias, and cafés with people sitted in front of hand written posters, sometimes looking at us (and probably my blond hair) with curiosity through the car window.
We eventually arrive to our destination. In Cartagena, most businesses who have expensive things to sell or equipment are behind bars. They moved a huge dog to the back of the workshop before letting us in and sliding the door. Waldo started explaining the problem, we dove in the conversation too with 5-6 men trying to understand our system: was it okay to only file the bad teeth of the gear? could they remove it? Yes, you could pull it this way, but not that way, and the problem is you need a special puller because there is no space for the puller's third arm over there... YouTube videos were played by Yalçın, I gave the best of my Spanish and Waldo helped as well. The verdict was 'they didn't recommend machining a new gear, we could simply file it and it should work in normal operations but they didn't have the tool to extract the gear. So the search had to go on. We went back to Waldo's car and stop at a few motorbike workshops without success, nobody had the puller we needed until... Waldo pulled out to a fundery. As for the previous times, he left us the car and went to explain the issue, but this time, he told us to take the windlass and follow him: they had the tool! We were not allowed in the warehouse, probably for safety reasons, but we could watch from afar and Waldo was there. Eventually, the pieces came back, separated. Yes! And high five with Waldo who seemed as involved as us in the process at that point.
From there, he drove around following the advices from the previous place to find a workshop which could fix or machine the last piece we had a problems with - threads were damaged and Yalçın had hopes to get them cleaned.
Places are difficult to locate in Cartagena. We had experience that with Google Maps: the pin was often a few blocks off from where the actual place was located. It didn't seem any different for Waldo, who stopped to ask directions on the side of the road, calling 'Jefe!' (Boss!) to bystanders. We eventually got a quote for refabricating the piece at Someica, but, disappointed they couldn't fix the threads, we didn't commit and drove back. It was around noon when Waldo parked inside the marina. We had discovered a bit more of Cartagena, learned a bit more about Waldo's life and made some progress with out project: overall, one of those experiences without many pictures but that we'll probably remember more than museums and architecture, because it's unique to cruising.
August 19 - Day 10: "Le vendredi, c'est epoxy" (Friday is epoxy day)
The next day, we started what we thought would be all the epoxy jobs needed on deck. Of course, we were wrong and we had to do some more rounds of epoxy which involves a lot of prep to protect the working station with plastics in order not to spread epoxy all over. Yet, that Friday we covered a good bunch: holes to welcome a new anchor pin to lock our anchor at the bow (it had been broken for a while), filling old holes and making new ones to move the whisker pole support slightly back to actually be able to accommodate our whisker pole (also a long standing project), new bedding for the hidge of our stern locker that wasn't biting anymore and protection of the wood in the hole under the windlass (since it's not in place).
After 10 days, we were sadly still at the beginning of the boat projects but rather happy about the pace and the chance to address a few long standing projects in a well-suited place with help in the marina and a lot of ressources right outside. Besides hardware and technical stores, the historical center of Cartagena would be a good place to escape boat work until, hopefully, Tirb will be deemed in ship shape with a repaired windlass allowing us to anchor by the downtown area...