Santa Marta, impressions, and how to motivate a mother in law

Dear friends and family,

I thought I would share some of my trip planning ideas and first impressions of Colombia.


Since I wanted to stay off the main highway north to south, So I get to plan my own route.

First I want to explore the Tayrona National Park and the Sierra Nevada mountains, both in the northeast corner of the country. I plan an “out and back” before I head south. Riding directly from the huge city (over a million people) of Cartagena seemed too dangerous, so I attempted a shuttle to the next fairly big town of Santa Marta. From here I could ride.

At my hostel, they  advertised an inexpensive shuttle to get me there. I asked at the front desk if I could make arrangements to take my bike. The woman at the desk asked to see the bike in its bag and then called for me. Once she hung up she said that they might be able to take the bike, but the problem was that I was too big for the shuttle. She said I couldn’t fit into its small seats and would have to take a larger bus. That’s the problem being a “gigante” (giant) here!

I ended up hiring a car and driver for the three hour trip, which didn’t cost a lot more. We fit the bike in the backseat with no problem. He spoke no words of English so I had three hours of Spanish practice

In Santa Marta, once checked in, I assembled the bike in my room. In about thirty minutes I had it ready with no leftover parts, ready to ride. Only travel damage was a broken water bottle bracket on the front fork that a zip tie remedied. And, surprisingly, no leftover parts!

I was ready for my trial run. See next blog for that.

Some notes on Colombia so far


  • holes in sidewalks, broken curbs, open manholes 
  • Beggars 
  • Street vendors everywhere
  • Piles of garbage everywhere, sometimes forced by traffic to drive through some
  • Can’t drink tap water, contains gringo unfriendly bacteria
  • No ice- it’s made with tap water
  • Toilet paper doesn’t get flushed
  • No salads as they could be washed in tap water
  • Petty crime- don’t ever take out your phone or wallet when on either a dark or busy street
  • 95 degree F heat with high humidity. Sun can bake you.
  • Different language, which is my problem, yet I still get frustrated as to how long it is taking 
  • I stick out like a sore thumb with my white skin and height (average height here is about 5’7” for men)


  • I love early morning rides
  • I can live like a king here with strong US dollar
  • People are friendly and if I use humor they  can laugh as they help this almost helpless gringo
  • The people are beautiful ( they claim to be the most beautiful in the world and they might not be wrong)
  • Cloth must be really expensive here, so they don’t waste any when making bikinis
  • It’s sunny and warm
  • Things here take time- I could learn to appreciate that. Or at least get used to it.
  • It’s a beautiful country

As i was walking around being a tourist yesterday, I all of a sudden felt a big increase in what earlier felt like comfortable trade winds. As anyone who has cruised by small boat knows, this is the time to worry. This is one of my first times to be in the Caribbean without having a boat at anchor, but the sense of worry is deeply imbedded.  

First thoughts might be “Is the boat safe at anchor in this wind”, often followed up by “ How about my dinghy at the dinghy dock? Is it okay and will I be able to row back to the mother ship in this increased wind?”

Reminds me of a time I was anchored in the Caribbean many years ago. 

My crew consisted of Nancy and her ( what I thought then were elderly) parents, who were visiting from Ohio. Since they came all the way to the Caribbean to visit, we were doing our best to show off the islands to them. 

We anchored in the lee of Sint Eustatius, the island the locals call Statia. It does not have a harbor, you just have to anchor in the lee of the island, letting the bulk of the island block the trade winds and swells. At least that is the theory. I think the guidebook said “In settled weather”.

So I did, anchored offshore, hoping we would be safe and could get onshore to explore this beautiful place with few visitors at the time. 

Both Bill and Rhoda (parents) put on their best “go sightseeing clothes” and I told them of the plan to first row Bill in and then come back for Nancy and Rhoda. 

Bill and I stepped off into our eight foot inflatable dinghy and I rowed him towards land. There was a long concrete finger out into the water, so I headed there. As I approached, a big swell took the little boat and rose it to the level of the top of the concrete. Bill stepped off neatly from the top, kind of like the cartoon character being oblivious of the danger directly behind, and then the swell crashed me and the boat against the bottom of the concrete as it dropped. The boat turned upside down, I was thrown out and the oars both were flung free. 

Several young boys who were fishing from that pier started yelling ‘Save da boat, save da boat”. I was not sure why they didn’t want to “save the skipper”, as I hit the rocks hard, grabbed the boat and oars and jumped back in. It seemed to be floating ok, so I assumed no cuts and I bailed her out on my way back to our anchored mother ship. 

As I held the side of Lily (the mother ship), Nancy and Rhoda came out ready to go, clad in dresses, fancy shoes and nice purses. They looked at a very wet me and I  clarified for them “Bill made it safely, but you better put some clothes on that can get wet, because the chances are high”. 

They changed into more reasonable clothes and plopped in the dinghy and off we went. I sure didn’t want them to get dashed against the rocks so I headed towards the remains of a steel dock that reached out about a hundred feet into the water, probably used at one time to tie up big ships. All that was left was the steel frame of pilings holding it in place and the I-beams that at one time held the now rotted decking. 

At the outer end was a very rusty steel ladder. My target. I rowed next to this ladder, Nancy grabbed ahold at the top of the swell, and clambered up. Rhoda, who was quite a bit older and should we say, less athletic, was nervous about climbing the ladder once landed. I didn’t see any other choice, so at the top of the swell yelled loudly for her to grab the rungs, hang on as the boat dropped away, and climb up. If given a choice I doubt she would choose this (joke), but this time she was good at taking orders. 

Up we went on the swell, and as Rhoda grabbed the rung, I tried to remove the dockside oar from the oarlock to protect it from hitting the ladder and getting crunched. The oar got stuck so I muscled it out hard to save it, and as I yanked it out it came free faster than I expected and my powerful pull upwards pushed it directly into Rhoda’s backside.  Before or since, I have never seen anybody climb a ladder like she did then! She was safely on top, only to have to walk an I-beam to make land; easy compared to what just transpired.

See my article entitled “ How to goose your mother in law with an oar” that wasn’t written or published (yet).

My guests might have enjoyed the touring that day, but my mind was on “How the fuck am I going to get them back onboard safely?” As luck was on our side, the swell laid down during the day and it was easy to get back. Worried all day for nothing. Guess that’s the skipper’s job.

Comments are sure welcome. If you don’t want them published, send to me via the return email or if you don’t mind them being posted use the blog “ comments” section.

Con mucho amor,


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6 thoughts on “Santa Marta, impressions, and how to motivate a mother in law”

  1. Snowing here in da UP. Ya made a good choice going south. Wish I was sweating in 95 degree heat with you.
    Da Wheelman

  2. We also visited Santa Marta on our cruise. I just remember it being a more laid back beach city. Yes, you have to adjust to the pace of the country. What an adventure! At least you have no schedule to keep. Love.

  3. Wow – I’m already vicariously buckling up for what is obviously going to be quite the adventure. Happy holidays, Charley. We had a Christmas once in New Zealand. Found it a little disorienting being in heat during this season. Sounds like your Spanish is going to improve a lot (out of necessity.)

  4. Hey Charley,

    Fleas Navidad!

    It sounds like you are playing it smart acclimating slowly and avoid the crowds.

    When I spent a few years in Mexico and a few points S [on land and boating] I carried a small container of grapefruit seed extract to purify drinking water [10 drops/gal] and to make disinfecting water for washing veggies and fruit, etc.

    The only time I ever got sick in ~5 years was after a fancy dinner in San Diego on my way to get some boat parts… [salmonella… grapefruit seed extract wouldn’t have helped…]

    Here are a few citations in case it is of interest…

    Carry on!

    Cheers, Bill

  5. Dear Carlos –

    Hope my pictures and videos of taking the bike apart helped put her back together again :-). One of my favorite of your many stories of cruising on Lily! Great imagery.

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