Almost a year a go, Mike and I went on the most wonderful trip from Colombia to Panama via the San Blas islands. As such, we got reminiscing on the bus to work on this cold, dreary day in Vienna. Now that I’m nearly 6 months pregnant, we couldn’t fail to notice how much has happened in a year and whilst we are ridiculously excited about welcoming a baby girl in to our little family, we couldn’t help feeling a little sad that we wouldn’t be able to jump on a plane to South America and sleep on a sailing boat with a bunch of young things and drink rum at 11 o’clock in the morning!
So, I’m not going to lie, getting to Cartagena, Colombia was a bitch. I’m sure there must have been more direct flights but now that we’re on an Austrian teaching salary with almost 50% tax to pay each month, we must have gone for the cheaper option rather than ease! Still, we rocked up at our hostel that Mike had booked and drank Corona to get us through the evening so that we would wake at a normal time. I felt a little old as twenty-somethings frolicked in a small swimming pool with heady music blaring out around the courtyard. We sat on funky luminous chairs and cringed at our pasty bodies that were about to taste the strong Colombian sun.
The Walled City of Cartagena is beautiful. It has so much charm; so much to offer. The streets are cobbled and brightly painted doors peek out behind falling pink flowers. There are numerous cafes and restaurants that you can rest for a while and watch the diverse mix of locals and tourists wander past. Mike had visited Colombia many years prior and had loved it. I had visited many other countries and places in South America but not made it to Colombia so it was the first time for me and a pleasant return for Mike. There are plenty of things to do here but we spent the majority of time exploring the city by walking. We did spend a few hot hours at Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, which was impressive as far as forts go.
We had just a couple of days in Cartagena before we embarked on our sailing trip to Panama via the San Blas islands. We met our group of 12, Robbie the chef, and El Capitano and boarded the boat late in the evening. We didn’t spend too long chatting and getting to know one another before crashing out in our small cabins under the deck. Mike and I had a private cabin at the rear of the boat that we had made sure to reserve. The next morning, we woke up to brilliant sunshine in the middle of the ocean and BIG waves. Apparently this was unexpected and El Capitano hadn’t realised quite how big the waves were. The sickness started. Out of the 12 of us, I think only 1 person escaped any feelings of queeziness. Mike did pretty well in the fact that he was able to eat and walk but even he said he felt a little dodgy. My dreams of becoming Moana, however, was squashed within minutes. I couldn’t keep anything down and moving made everything worse. The only relief was to lie out on deck. Unfortunately this meant every time I needed to pee, I would also throw up. I slept that night out on deck.
However, it wasn’t all bad. Firstly, I knew it would only last for 24 hours, until we reached our first island. And secondly, by sleeping out on deck, I was woken up by a beautiful sunrise and was able to see the light at the end of the tunnel!! As soon as we got onto waters close to the islands, the sickness stopped immediately and I was able to actually talk to the people I was sharing the experience with. They found out that I wasn’t, actually, a gross zombie who was a permanent shade of green. Another plus was that my stomach was now ridiculously flat due to nothing in it- queue all the bikini photos please!
Over the next three days, we island hopped; diving off the boat in to warm, clear water; eating freshly caught lobster and fish that Robbie the chef cooked up; drinking beer on the deck whilst watching the sun go down with some ludicrously appropriate music in the background- you know the song, where everyone looks out to the horizon and ponders on the meaning of life. It lasts until the sun disappears and then everyone starts dancing and drinking a little faster! Those three days were incredible. No one got a lot of sleep but it didn’t matter. The islands were beautiful and many of them were empty. We spotted ship-wrecks on the coral reef that had been smuggling various items but had got stuck in the process of escape. We played with the local Kuna children; stroked the skinny kittens that roamed the islands; and we even saw a nurse shark super shallow- so of course our first reaction was to all run in to the water to get closer to it!
Our sailing trip ended in Panama and we were all very sad to see each other off. As expected, we had all become quite friendly but it was time to say our goodbyes. Mike and I headed to Portobelo. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this place but we didn’t have as long to travel as the others- the curses of a limited Easter holiday in school time. However, it was only a couple of hours away from Panama City and looked like quite a fun, relaxing place to hang out for a few days. We spent one night at Portobelo before getting a small boat across to Isla Grande and found a nice looking hotel with hammocks and a pool to relax and do a lot of reading at. For one of the days, we were joined by a couple that we had made strong friends with on the boat.
At the end of the 10 day trip, we plushed it up in a beautiful colonial hotel in the centre of the old town in Panama City. We felt safe (although were warned that we may not be as safe if we were to leave the sanctuary of the old city), we enjoyed wandering around, eating delicious food and sipping cocktails on rooftop bars. As far as cities go, we thoroughly enjoyed Panama City and felt it had a lot to offer. There were many places to people watch and drink decent coffee, brunches were obviously popular here due to the large number of hipster venues offering smashed avo on sourdough, the nightlife was rife and we were able to go out dancing one night, and listen to some beautiful jazz music another night. As far as holidays go, this one was a great trip and well worth the grizzly flight!