After Colombia I’d initially planned to head East through Venezuela before crossing into Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana, then looping round the North Eastern corner down through Brazil again.
Unfortunately the Venezuelan government closed the border with Colombia after a shootout with smugglers resulted in the death of Venezuelan security forces. They also kicked out over 1000 Colombians living in Venezuela, whereafter 6000 more fled. All this helped reinforce the numerous instances and various ways that I’d been told – often by Venezuelans – to avoid the country as it was far too dangerous.
So, what else is there to do but jump on a boat for a relaxing 4 day cruise through the San Blas islands?
After loading my bike in Cartagena along with 5 others, we headed out to our home for the next 4 days – the Stahlratte. Built in 1903, it served a fishing trawler for almost 80 years first with sail, then motor, before finally being transformed into a 2 mast schooner in 1984.
Once the bikes and our luggage were loaded and secured we hoisted the dingy and made sail. Well, kind of. A metal bracket holding part of the pulley used to hoist the dingy snapped, sending it swinging wildly before splashing into the water, half sinking before we managed to right it. Great fun!
In any case we soon left the port, hoisted sails and were on our way through the Caribbean! Along the way we saw dolphins, flying fish, and surprisingly pilot whales – apparently uncommon to see in this part of the world. After just over 30 hours of sailing we arrived at our destination for 3 days, a cluster of 4 islands only hundreds of meters apart.
We spent the next few days swimming, snorkelling, jumping off the boat and all other sorts of fun. The locals had set up a crude shelter on one of the islands and we joined them one night for a bonfire and BBQ, with freshly caught lobster on offer.
I took the opportunity one day to head to one of the more inhabited islands, a larger one where a community had settled. Quite an interesting community in fact, seeing how the natural resources of the San Blas are few and quite limited. It had rained the night before, I was greeted by countless buckets and vessels beneath roofs to catch as much fresh water as possible.
After spending some time wandering around the island I came across an interesting sight; the largest canoe I’d seen to date, heavily loaded with sand. Chatting with the locals quickly revealed that the sea levels rose about 6-7cm per year, and as such they regularly (twice a month I think I understood, although that seems to be quite frequent – maybe twice a year?) had to get sand from other islands to raise theirs.
The next hour was spent carrying buckets of sand around the island exchanging pleasant banter with locals. Really a quite unique experience.