Thursday, October 15, 2015

Kidnapped In Columbia!

Map picture

Early yesterday morning we anchored off the small town of Bahia Solano in Columbia. Naturally, having arrived into a different country there were the necessary clearance procedures. As is usual in these cases, the entourage that boards the ship goes way beyond the required officials. It seems to include family members and friends, all carrying cameras and all looking for the restaurant. In fact, while I was using the elevator, the door opened and the hallway outside was jammed packed with the so called “officials,” cameras at the ready.

As usual, our disembarkation was delayed while the “procedures” were completed which while I do not know why, I suspect involved some gratuities for the appropriate party. What really struck me, however, was that circling our ship was a rather large high speed boat from the Columbian military with 4 heavily armed men glaring at us while we dumbly stared back at them. This struck me as really funny. Do they really think a bunch of drug smugglers are going to sneak into the country in a large previously scheduled passenger vessel? About all we could do against their guns was to throw at them yesterday’s dinner rolls. Amazingly just as soon as the ship was cleared, they disappeared having insured, I guess, that appropriate hospitality was extended to the visiting “guests.”

Our zodiac ride to shore was a rather long one because the large tidal conditions in this part of the world required the ship to anchor far off shore. We were able to make a dry landing onto a dock, but then we faced a long walk into town. Fortunately, we had been advised that arrangements had been made for people who chose to be driven into town. Whoops – we should be careful what we asked for! Walking outside the small terminal we were greeted with what looked to be a strange contraption which the locals call a “Chiva.” Ours appeared to be hand built onto what looked to be a circa 1930’s Toyota truck frame which had three wooden benches, all covered with a roof and an elaborate paint scheme which could only be called garish. The one little step was so high that it took three people to push us up, and even at that, the opening was so small to enter, that more than a few hands pushed on our butts as we squeezed onto the bench.

Happily settled, we started off on our journey into town. Unfortunately, the road was unpaved mud covered by a series of one large pothole after another. I truly believe that whoever had built this contraption forgot one thing – springs! More than once I hit my head on the roof. If I thought the zodiacs were rough on my back, I just found something that could beat them hands down.

We finally stopped to visit the town center and the local elementary school. I was surprised at how all the children were so neatly dressed in their uniforms. We were welcomed inside and the children loved our attention. After a while, I drifted away from the group to take pictures, and I then begin to get a feel for the community. While the streets were not paved, there was a project underway not only to install a modern sewage system, but also to wire internet cable. There were little shops everywhere, and it appeared that virtually anything you could want, was for sale. Next to the grade school was their High School. Here again the students were neatly dressed, and I learned that education was free and that the uniforms and meals were all paid for by the Columbian Government. And while this little town may not be reachable by road, it has an airport, and the entire time we were visiting, there was the sound of one turbo-prop after another coming and going. They were used to bringing supplies into the community, and to carry the fish and other products out.

Since I had left the group, preferring to walk rather than to get back in our “limo,” I told one of the staff that I would be walking to the nearby church, and he advised that I should wait there and that he would have our group and the Chiva join us. So I dutifully visited the church, went outside to take some pictures, and as advised, the little Chiva showed up and parked in front of the Church. With my leg starting to hurt, I went over and the wizened little old driver jumps down and miraculously produces a plastic soda crate so that I can climb on board – now I wonder why we had not seen that come out initially?

And then it happened – “I was kidnapped, well kinda.” I could see the driver becoming anxious and looking all around, when suddenly he started the truck and begin to drive all over town. At first I was enjoying the tour – then he became more frantic and I started being thrown all around, every pothole an anguish on my back. I started calling out in jest to fellow guests that I was being kidnapped, “Help! I’m being kidnapped!” But as he became more frantic, I realized that he thought he had lost his group and was desperately trying to locate them. Finally, we went by a member of the expedition team who spoke Spanish, and I managed to yell loud enough about the problem that she came running and got our driver to stop. She had a radio and was able to sort it out and to send the little driver back to the church, where he and I both sat and started to laugh about the situation. The only thing he and I could communicate about was that he owned three dogs; this after a dog passed by, and he held up three fingers. Since I have four of the little friends, we were soon best of friends.

Lastly, the community held a cultural performance which was very interesting, and to my surprise, standing on the side was a lone figure wearing mirrored sunglasses and a hat pulled way down on his face. It took me a while, but I realized it was the Captain! The very same Captain that we had in the South Pacific; this led to some interesting conversation with him, and soon thereafter, the rest of our group appeared, and it was back to the ship for lunch and a quick nap.

During this time, the ship sailed at full speed south along the coast for 135 nm to anchor in Nuqui Harbor, a small cove within the Utria National Park. This has to be one of the most remote Parks in the world. In fact, we were told that few Columbians even know about it, much less visit it. It can only be accessed by boat and that is a long journey. The park is a vast and diverse ecological system which receives almost constant rain. While rain was forecast for our visit, as if by some miracle, it was a pleasant sunny day. Fortunately for us, the Park offers a unique way to see the interior and the adjoining mangrove swamps, they have built a long and beautiful boardwalk which has been cut through the dense vegetation so that people like us can actually see some of the wonders. We went ashore for a wet landing at the small visitor center. The walk was to our left, but before we even got to that point, I spotted a line of ants all carrying cut leaves in what appeared to be a never ending line. I could spot neither the beginning nor end of this tiny caravan, but it was amazing. Lisa and I walked most of the length of the walk before turning around. Along the way, we saw birds, lizards, crabs, needle fish, and did I say birds? The fauna was spectacular, and all in all, a very special afternoon!

Returning to the ship, Lisa and I again fell asleep, but when I awoke she had prepared a little celebration in our cabin before dinner, and then went up to eat under the stars. Unfortunately there were no stars, and only the lights of two small fishing boats far on the horizon, but get this, I looked at my phone and it had a shore based cell signal. What that came from I’ll never know, so I sent our daughter a text, but before I could send anymore the signal had disappeared and we had only the ship’s system which is too expensive to use.

After a long and rewarding day, Lisa and I cooked our huge Kansas filet mignons on a hot rock, enjoyed a bottle of wine, and marveled at having done so well and being so fortunate.

Hope everyone is well, and since today we are taking a break, I hope to get some pictures done this afternoon.


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