It’s been quite some time now since we left Colombia for Panama. We’ve been in Panama for almost 3 months now, but the feelings of leaving behind Colombia are just as strong. On our 3 day passage from Cartagena to Linton Bay, Panama, I typed my thoughts into my phone while on night watch. Here’s what I wrote:
People often ask how we decide how long to stay in a place or a country. The freedom to strap everything down in your home and blow off to another country or island is truly amazing. With that freedom comes the difficult task of deciding when to leave a place that has stolen our hearts.
Sometimes, this decision is made much easier for us by storm seasons, visa expirations, or covid travel restrictions. Other times, we could stick around almost indefinitely. It really is the nomadic conundrum, how long to stay put to truly know and love a place, but still be dreaming of the next new place to discover.
We spent the last 2 months exploring the magnificent country of Colombia. Although not a place either of us had really considered sailing to before we left on this journey, it is where our path and the wind led us. And wow, are we glad it did.
Colombia was an enormous change of pace from the laid back island culture we have grown accustomed to throughout the Caribbean. In fact, when we first pulled into the dock in Santa Marta, stepped off the boat and walked around downtown, it was outright shocking. The vibrance, the people, the streets, the commotion, at first it was totally overwhelming.
From all this traveling, we have learned just how much our impressions of a place are influenced by our own preconceptions. At first we were put off by the crowded streets with constant approaches from street vendors, beggars, and shady characters offering us Colombia’s most notorious product.
As the weeks went on we found how easy it was to use Santa Marta as a jumping off point. We made a trip to the quiet mountain village of Minca, just a one hour taxi ride away. Another week we went on a trek of a lifetime and spent 4 days hiking deep into the Sierra Nevada mountains to Ciudad Perdida (the Lost City.) That trek deserves a blog post of its own, and maybe someday it will get one. And another weekend spent in the carefree beach town of Palomino where backpackers and expats live in harmony with locals. Each place had a unique energy and limitless corners to explore or quiet escapes to hide away at.
After each trip we returned to our home at the dock in downtown Santa Marta, ready to dig deeper into the city vibes. We came to love the ease of stepping of our boat and walking a few blocks into the city center, full of restaurants, bars, and street performers. We found a surprising number of sailor friends close to our age at the marina, which made for some pretty epic nights out. We don’t often find 30-something year old’s out sailing (or 20’s for that matter), but for some reason Santa Marta seemed to be the hot spot for young adventurous cruisers this hurricane season. With 5 boats loaded full of young sailors, we left the marina for a week and sailed a half day to Tayrona National Park. We spent a week anchored in a remote bay, just us and the occasional fishermen. We spent the days paddelboarding, snorkeling, and spearfishing and the nights cooking and partying around a big fire on the beach.
This balance of exploring the rural areas of the country intermixed with immersion in the fast-paced chaos of Colombian city life kept us content. Too much of anything starts to wear on you. While busy, packed streets with motorbikes and buses whizzing by is entertaining for a while, after a few weeks we find we need solitude and quiet to reset our minds. I guess this is the whole reason we embarked on this lifestyle to begin with, the constant search for variety and balance.
After about 8 weeks at the dock in Santa Marta, the urge to get out sailing again was stronger than ever. The ease and convenience of being tied to a dock is a strong force. Air conditioning, long hot showers, and cheap dinners at great restaurants are some of the most convincing gimmicks of land life. But, we had all of that and more in our previous years spent living on land. The point of this whole adventure is to leave behind the safety of what is comfortable, and force ourselves out into the unknown.
So, we said some very difficult “see-ya-later’s” at the marina in Santa Marta, unplugged the shore power cord, and cast off the dock lines. We made a quick stop for about a week in Cartagena just to see the city and prepare for our passage to Panama. The San Blas Islands were calling to us and we thought we would like it there, but as usual we had no idea what we would actually get ourselves into.