Tuesday, January 21, 2020

We Love San Andres Island

Our first view of San Andres

After staying in Providencia for a few weeks and enjoying the peace, quiet and serenity of one of the least visited islands in the Caribbean we did the short 50 nm sail over to San Andres which is the exact opposite of Providence.

First sunset looking over the marina where we docked our dinghy and got services

San Andres, like Providencia, is located about 150 nm off the coast of Nicaragua and almost 400 nm from the coast of Colombia. Providencia is mostly mountainous and San Andres by contrast is almost flat but the differences expand from there.

Anchored boats with Amekaya the last boat out

Before we arrived we needed to call the Port Captain for permission to enter just as we did in Providencia. We've found that the Colombian Coast Guard watches their ports here very closely and just as in Providencia, after we anchored in San Andres, (in fact they followed us in the channel and stood by while we anchored), a Coast Guard boarding party greeted us and examined our paperwork after which they did a quick walk-through of our boat. They were very courteous and professional. They smiled, welcomed us to San Andres and hoped we would enjoy our stay.

Lighted boats in holiday display in San Andres

In Providencia the anchoring was very easy and holding was good. In San Andres, not so much. When we initially anchored in San Andres with our primary Rocna anchor it seemed to grab well although the bottom was grass. I swam down on it and though I was not really happy it seemed to be set well. The next day I swam on it again and was able to shake it and clumps of grass fell from it. We backed down on it again and it popped out. We reset it and again under heavy load it popped out.

One of the many San Andres party boats that hung out close to us everyday.

We then went to our secondary anchor a 45# CQR with 30' of chain and rode. It grabbed and held as  we backed hard on it. The prevailing wind direction in the harbor is east and the harbor is open to the east. Fortunately, the reef keeps the swell down but there is nothing to stop the heavy trade winds so

We even found a sushi place that actually was pretty good.

it was important that the anchor be set well. Several days after we got here we had heavy squalls including one with winds exceeding 50 kts and the anchor held. The entire time we were there the anchor continued to dig in deeper and held through frequent gale force winds.

Looking at the shore from the anchorage

San Andres is a major vacation destination for Colombians. The island population of SAI is in excess of 75,000 or 10x that of Providencia but with the tourist traffic the population is closer to 100,000 at any given time. Almost hourly flights arrive at the San Andres airport bringing tourists from several parts of Colombia and Panama for vacation attracted by the sparkling clear water, beaches, water sports, a duty-free zone and endless partying.

Looking at the many high-rise hotels on the north end of San Andres

On Providencia most buildings were less than 2 stories but on San Andres there are many multi-floor hotels and condos. Many restaurants and cafes line the streets and the beaches all around the island. On the north side of the island is a long and broad beach bordered with a malecon lined with stores, hotels and restaurants. Truly a destination resort.

Near the beach streets were converted to pedestrian walkways lined with duty-free stores.

The island celebrates its heritage

In 1954 the government of Colombia designated San Andres as a duty-free zone so walking along the streets with stores that look like they came right out of an airport featuring high-end luggage, electronics, fragrances, accessories and liquor. Very interesting are the store hours. They usually open by 9 but close around noon until 3 and then are open until into the evening. Many businesses also keep those kinds of hours patterned on what we also found in Spain.

 What's a resort without a floating boat bar?

The year-round climate in SAI is very comfortable. Temps have an average high around 90F and an average low about 78F with a nice trade wind blowing to keep the real feel very comfortable. Water temps are about 82F this time of year. However, SAI does get a lot of rain even in the dry season. Most homes and businesses use rain water for everything but buy bottled water for drinking.

Very nice beach day when we rented a cart to go around the island. Sunday brunch on the beach with 2 Pina Coladas.

Around San Andres Island is a holiday atmosphere all the time. Boats speed by us at anchor all day long taking tourists to the many sightseeing spots on this side. Several little cays inside the reef offer tourists nice beaches, refreshments and water sports. All the usual are here. Parasailing, kite-boarding, diving, snorkeling, underwater adventure boats and even a floating bar from about 1000 to 1700.

Our dive getting ready to go out. Conditions were pretty rough so I only did 6 dives.

One Sunday we rented a golf cart and drove around the island stopping at Rocky Cay for some beach time and lunch. Rocky Cay is a big tourist areas with several restaurants, a nice beach and the cay itself about a half-mile off the beach across a shallow sound. On the outside of the cay is a reef and a shipwreck that features lots of underwater attraction. The day we went the seas were rough so we didn't go across the reef after getting to the Cay.

Waffle cones that were real waffles

Life in San Andres was very easy other than the nagging worry about the anchor. But I checked the anchor daily and each day's weather seemed to enable it to dig deeper into the bottom which is what

Pastries anyone?

we love to see. We were able to have laundry done but water and electric are expensive on the island. We were able to buy 5 gallon bottles of water to dump into our tank although the water company never really let us have the bottles. One of the workers went out to our boat and helped dump them into our tank.

We had an enjoyable holiday meal to celebrate Christmas and Chanukah with a real turkey from the US and a bottle of California Carbernet. Sweet potatoes and a mushroom gravy.

Provisioning was great! Food was not as cheap as the Rio but usually available and not too expensive. We were able to get a turkey from the US for our holiday meal and found all sorts of other surprises in different markets enabling us to enjoy the standard of living to which we have become accustomed. There were all varieties of stores with a wide selection of products. We found some good Spanish wine (in fact we bought a case) including wines we had purchased in Spain and brought back with us. We found cheap liquor in the duty free stores and some amazing ice cream.

The beach and Malacon. The beach was packed in spite of the high winds on Christmas.

 Christmas tree at the beach.

We really could have stayed in San Andres longer but we did need to get to Panama to prepare for our upcoming trip to Costa Rica and a major weather event was arriving. Forecasts were for winds over 20 kts (with more than 30 kts for several periods) from the east for about the next 2 weeks and seas of 3-4 meters and more. With that forecast it would be difficult to leave our boat to enjoy the island and provision as needed.  So we made the decision to head to Panama before the weather arrived.

We Love San Andres Island on the west side which is the leeward side so much calmer.

We contacted our agent more than 2 days before we planned to leave although he only asked for 24 hours notice. We heard nothing from him until Monday morning, 6 January the day we planned to leave and he told us that he had been sick and the Maritime Services system computer was down until Tuesday. We had planned to leave early Tuesday morning to get into Bocas Del Toro, Panama before the weather arrived. Our trip was now in jeopardy.

A beautiful anchorage at Ensenada on the west side. The towers are a Colombian military base.

West side of the island looking toward the north end.

After lots of communication we finally got our clearance to leave about 1600 on Tuesday 7 January although we did not have a hard copy of our zarpe. But we got the boat ready and headed out. As we got to the end of the channel we were contacted on our VHF radio by the Port Authority for our clearance. We gave it to them and we were on our way to Panama.

One of the beautiful beaches around the island busy on Sunday afternoon.

Only God knew what weather we would encounter on our trip but we hoped it would be fair and headed south. The weather was not what we had planned for but the late departure and the incoming weather left little choice. During our sail overnight we had wind pretty much behind us that we were able to sail for about 7 hours until it got dead behind us and the size of the waves had the sails flogging. We motored until morning and the wind came up so we could sail on just our jib. But, after several hours we got overtaken by frequent squalls that kept us from keeping up the speed we needed to reach safe harbor in daylight so we resigned ourselves to going in at night. But, sooner was better than later as the heavy weather was close behind.

A skeleton of the past.

About 35 miles off the Panamanian coast we ran into what a friend described as a vortex where the curving coast deflects the wind and currents that travel all the way across the Caribbean. We had been riding 15-20 kt winds from the north with 8-10 ft seas behind us that now were crashing into the same coming from the south. When the waves collided they provided lateral waves putting us not in the proverbial washing machine but being tossed around by waves and wind coming from every direction. That lasted for almost an hour as the northerly swell got reduced and we were left simply with the head-on swell until that gradually subsided as we got closer to the coast.

The crowded waterfront of the North End

By the time we got close to the channel in Bocas del Toro the seas were relatively flat by comparison with only a slight wind on our nose. Fortunately, conditions were benign as we began looking for channel markers that were reported on the charts but we had been warned were not there and in fact there were no channel markers.

San Andres in the rear view mirror

Using the charts and depth soundings we navigated our way safely into the channel and found an anchorage with several other boats where we would wait before reporting until we had a zarpe.

Sunset on our first night after leaving San Andres

We made the passage in 28 hours to Bocas del Toro once we left San Andres. We got the anchor down in the dark and relative calm. Now it was time to take stock of our passage and we soon found that we had water come in through our propane locker and took out our electrical inverter. We need the inverter to convert the DC power in our batteries to AC power that we use for many appliances and to charge AC devices like our computers. It seemed like that was the only damage we suffered in the violent seas but without it our only source of AC power was our generator. So, we left toasting for the next day and made an assessment of our condition over a quick dinner and went to bed knowing e had many to explore in our new destination country of Panama. So we were now in the second major destination region of our Caribbean experience.

Toasting our safe arrival in Panama

Friday, January 17, 2020

The Caves of Nerja and Malaga a great adventure

The Malaga Skyline

After a wonderful day with our friend Wendy and her friends Nigel and Joanne we took off for Malaga (pronounced MALaga). We would have like to spend more time in Cartagena because it was a fantastic City but our time was running down.

Entrance to the Cave Park

It was strongly recommended that we stop by Nerja on the way to Cartagena and visit the caves. So we did. They were not far from the Autovia and easy to find. The caves were discovered not that long ago by some boys playing hooky from school in 1959 climbed down into a hole and realized there

 Inside the Cave

was so much more than they expected. The caves have human remains that date back more than 50,000 years and changed the entire concept of human habitation in Spain. Before the discovery there was no knowledge that human life existed in Spain that many years ago.

Some of the spectacular stalactites

The caves were reported to authorities that began exploration, cataloguing and documentation. There are portions of the caves that are still not thoroughly explored. The main cavern room has been the site of shows and extravaganzas since it's discovery.

Stalactites and rock formations

The caves had excellent features  with highly developed stalagmites and stalactites formed over millions of years.  The interpretation was excellent explaining the excavation and discovery of remains in the various rooms of the site. At the deepest I believe we were about 400 ft underground. What an incredible sight and so glad we took the time to stop here.

Hall of Ghosts

After ascending from the caves we found a lunch spot in the town of Nerja before heading the hour or so to Malaga.

Lunch in Nerja

After our very nice late lunch we drove to Malaga, checked into our hotel and were just overwhelmed by the views from our balcony. While driving to our hotel we found one interesting area after another. Our hotel was located right in the heart of Malaga near the port and many of the ancient ruins. It was busy with some local events  but not too busy for the valet to park our car in their garage. They were very careful to document any damages to the car before they parked it and later when it was returned they wanted confirmation that there were no new damages. Having parked in many of these garages before I was happy not to deal with having to park it and the doormen were so wonderful in helping us to our room.

Street view from our room looking towards the Cathedral 

All of the people we encountered in the hotels were absolutely wonderful. They went out of their way to help us as they could.  All spoke some amount of English and freely explained things we needed to know about where we were. I don't think I tipped them well enough for all the help they provided. After getting settled in our room we opened a bottle of wine we had from our travels and sat on the balcony and soaked in Malaga.

The main entrance to the Malaga Cathedral

Having had lunch about 1600 we weren't hungry for dinner so during the Spanish dinnertime (about 2000) we walked about before going to a local place and having some appetizers and wine.

The Cathedral Square

We now woke up to our second and last Saturday of our vacation. Our primary mission besides exploring was to find the Picasso museum. Malaga was Picasso's birthplace and childhood home before he traveled and studied in Barcelona and Paris.The Picasso museum in Malaga was much different and featured a display of the work of American artist Alexander Calder who became a close and influential friend of Picasso's. Calder is a favorite of Linda's and we have some of his work.

Entrance to the Malaga Picasso Museum 

See photos of the Picasso Museum in the appendix to this article

In the basement of the museum are ruins that were unearthed during excavations for the renovation including Roman garum processing sites. Garum was a fish paste that was made in the area and exported to Rome as a delicacy. There several excavations of garum sites in the area.

Picasso's home

After the museum we grabbed a quick lunch at a street cafe and then walked over to Picasso's birth home. We found a bodega that had a nice selection of Spanish wines and liquors (rums) and we added to our purchases that we would bring back to the boat. That night for dinner we went back to the restaurant we visited the night before because the food was good and enjoyed a nice dinner of tapas.

Looking East from our hotel at the Alcazaba

Malaga Harbor at night

Sunday began with our regular hotel breakfast. In most of the hotels where we stayed breakfast was included with our stay. Several of the hotels had rooms that were used only for breakfast service and the breakfast in each hotel was almost the same. A selection of meats, cheeses, breads, eggs, fresh fruit, pastries, juices, coffee and tea. There were some cereals and yogurts but the selection was not usually very robust. Unlike American hotels that start their breakfasts at 6 or 630 the breakfasts didn't start most days until 7 or 8 and went until 10 or 11. That way lunch at 2 or 3 was doable.

View of the Roman amphiteater

See more photos of the amphitheater in the Appendix to this article

On Sunday we did several tourist sites near the hotel including the Roman Amphitheater and the Moorish Alcazaba that was built during the 11th century AD to protect the city and provide a walled palace for the arab rulers during their tenure. The gardens are quite beautiful and collections of

The Alcazaba behind the Roman Amphitheater.

pottery and servingsware have been found on site and are on display in the castle. The location certainly provides a commanding view of the harbor and the surrounding lands. We also went into the Cathedral that has its own history having originally been built as a Christian church, then converted into a Mosque and then converted back to Christianity after the reconquest of Grenada and Malaga. The artwork inside the Cathedral was exquisite. To think of the dedication of all the artisansa that work on it over centuries is truly awesome (not in the perverted sense of the word that it has become).  As in other cathedrals we visited the devotion and dedication of truly talented artists to their love of God and their beliefs is inspiring.

Walking inside the walls of the Alcazaba

For dinner we wanted to visit a recommended restaurant but it was closed so we ate at a street cafe that wasn't particularly memorable. During our trip we found places to have their own particular days of closing that bore little resemblance to what you might think their business would be. So it was always important to check their schedule and what as posted in Google was not necessarily true.

Views inside the Alcazaba

 More photos in the Appendix to this article

So after 2 busy days in Malaga we retired and got ready for our next and final adventure in olive country.

The Malaga bull ring

Malaga is a beautiful city with so much life and so much to offer. There were so many wonderful things to do and see and the weather was much warmer than in Madrid or Barcelona. I never realized until this trip that Madrid is a fairly high city at over 2,000 ft of elevation and surrounded by much higher mountains. Malaga's climate is influenced by warmer southern Mediterranean waters keeping it much warmer.

Views of the Malaga Cathedral (more pics in the Appendix)

So on our last night we enjoyed another very nice bottle of wine on our balcony and soaked in the sights and sounds of Malaga.

Table of Appendices 

Appendix 1 - Photos from the Caves
Appendix 2 - Scenes from the Picasso Museum
Appendix 3 - Photos from the Roman Amphiteater
Appendix 4 - Photos from the Alcazaba
Appendix 5 - Photos from the Malaga Cathedral

Appendix 1 - Photos from the Caves


Appendix 2 Scenes from the Picasso Museum

The inlaid tile ceiling of the museum 

Picasso's Famous Bull's Head

Part of the story of the site

Under the Picasso Museum during renovations was unearthed Roman ruins of a Garum processing facility. Garum was a fish paste that was shipped back to Rome and enjoyed as a delicacy.

A storage urn typical of how the product was shipped.

Ruins of the pits were the garum was made.

Holes used to store the urns

Appendix 3 - The Roman Amphiteater

Artist rendering of the original amphitheater. 

Under the street in front of the amphitheater where the stilts are were more Roman Garum pits.

Appendix 4 - The Alcazaba 

Appendix 5 - The Malaga Cathedral