SAILING MEXICO

    Hi everybody!  In case you were wondering, no we did not sail off the edge of the planet.  The crew of the sailing
    vessel Southern Belle is still exploring here on good old Earth.  Sorry it has taken so long to update this page and
    while we will try to keep things succinct and interesting, here is what has been going on for the last 8 months!  In this
    web site update we will take you on an exciting journey through South America!  Remember, you can find
    corresponding pictures by clicking on the Photo Album button above.  And don't forget, you can always look at our
    previous explorations by clicking on the archived Journal Entries (above) and the corresponding archived Photo Albums
    on the Photo Album page.

    We departed the San Blas Islands of Panama in June and made a course straight for Cartagena, Columbia some 180
    nautical miles to the northeast.  By this time of the year we were into rainy season and the trade winds had all but
    disappeared.  We had a rather tranquil motor-sailing passage all the way into Cartagena.  The only moment of
    excitement was when we hooked up a medium sized Sailfish.  Even though it wasn't huge it almost spooled us.  We
    fought it back to the boat, retrieved our $15 cedar plug lure, and released the fish.  The Sailfish was very happy, and
    besides we aboard Southern Belle decided we don't need to keep any fish that come equipped with  swords attached
    to their noses!

    We anchored Southern Belle in the inner bay close to Club Nautico in Cartagena.  Cartagena is a beautiful, historic city
    the highlight of which is the Centro Historico (the old walled-city).  You can walk around almost the entire Centro
    Historico on top of the old wall.  All of the old buildings and churches are nicely kept up and picturesque plazas are
    lined with sidewalk cafes and restaurants.  In the evenings you can take a horse drawn buggy ride through old town
    and watch the city light up as the sun goes down.  The purpose for the fortifications was to protect the city from
    marauding pirates during the time that the Spanish were plundering gold from the indiginous peoples of South
    America.  Just outside of the walled city is a huge fort they call the Castillo.  It was great fun to explore with the
    kids because it has all sorts of secret passageways and hidey holes.

    One of our reasons for visiting Cartagena was to leave Southern Belle in a safe place while we did some inland
    exploration in South America.  So on July ?? we hopped a plane down to Buenos Aires, Argentina and started looking
    around.  Our loose plan was to travel by bus, eventually working our way back to Cartagena some ???? miles to the
    north.  We thought we would take about two months to complete our travels, but actually were gone for 2.5 months
    and did not make it all the way back to Cartagena by bus.  In Quito, Ecuador we realized we were out of time and had
    to fly back to Cartagena.  So we missed exploring Columbia, but will try to do that next year.

    We each carried a backpack full of gear (we tried to pack light, but failed miserably) and stayed predominantly in
    Youth Hostels.  Melinda and George hardly qualify as "youth", but Joshua being 9 years old gave them a little street-
    cred by association.  The Hostel thing was new for us and turned out to be a great way to travel.  In addition to being
    economical it was just down right fun.  You really get to know the other travellers when you stay at a Hostel, and
    sometimes leave with new friends.  Every Hostel we visited had an option of a dorm room type accommodation or, for
    a little more money, private rooms.  Being a family, we always went for the private rooms.  All the Hostels we stayed
    in were really geared up to provide information and guides for all sorts of cool activities like trekking, biking, rafting,
    para-gliding... you know, all that stuff that the "youths" do.  And we did it too, with a little help for Mom and Dad from
    the fine folks who manufacture Advil.  

    Travelling by bus was also interesting and ranged from Super First Class all the way down to the Chicken Bus.  For
    example, the nicest First Class bus that we travelled on was in Argentina and included large seats that folded down to
    a full flat bed complete with pillows and blankets!  In addition, they had first run movies in English, full meals, drinks,
    wine/beer/whisky with dinner, and an after dinner glass of champagne.  Then there was the bus in Ecuador with no
    shocks, no air, a completely insane bus driver, and some live dogs tied to the roof.  Oh yeah, we remember that one
    well!    

    So, what did we see and do!  Well we'll tell you.  A lot, but still not enough!  In order to keep things concise and
    interesting, we will follow our standard bullet item format and let the photographs do the rest of the talking.  Our
    adventures were as follows:

  • Buenos Aires, Argentina was our first destination.  We immediately learned just how cold South America can
    be during their winter, approximately June through September.  Brrrr!  We went right out and bought hats and
    gloves.  Buenos Aires is a beautiful and fun city!  We had great fun exploring the city and enjoying the great
    food and wine.  Argentina is producing some fabulous wines and they have always been renown for their beef.  
    We even took in a Tango show while there.  You can easily get around town on the extensive subway system, just
    keep your things close because pick pockets abound.  We had our Canon ELPH camera stolen in the subway
    system.  We sure hated losing those pictures!

  • From Buenos Aires we caught a ferry boat over to Colonial, Uruguay to visit with our friends Jeff and Debbie
    aboard the sailing vessel Sailors Run.  Jeff had recently solo-sailed around Cape Horn from Peru to Buenos
    Aires, and was reunited with Debbie who had told him, "You just go ahead and have a good time doing that "Cape
    Horn" thing.  I'll see you when you get there."  We had a great time with Jeff and Debbie, and Colonial turned
    out to be a gem of a city.  While here we rented bicycles one day and went horse back riding on another day. We
    even attended a local fight...that started as a soccer match!  We worked our way north through Uruguay and
    crossed back over into Argentina in the town of Salto.  Sadly, our Uruguay photos were lost to the camera
    theft.  

  • Our next major stop was in Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, a town which provides easy access to the amazing
    Iguazu Falls National Park.  We spent three days here, two of which we spent at the National Park.  Iguazu
    Falls is absolutely beautiful and the park service has constructed an amazing system of paths and walkways
    which get you up close and personal with this natural wonder.  This is a spot that should be on everyone's travel
    destination list.  Again, we lost most of these photos to the camera theft.

  • From Puerto Iguazu we traveled back south to Buenos Aires where we had our camera stolen on the subway.  
    We should have down loaded those photos.  Oh well, such is life.  We bought another camera which turned out to
    be a lemon, so our pictures from this point until Cusco, Peru are somewhat suspect.  Jeff and Debbie had sailed
    back over to Buenos Aires so we had a chance to visit with them one more time before heading west.  We all
    spent the afternoon at the artisan flea market they set up every weekend in the park which houses the
    cemetery where Eva Peron is buried.  The quality and variety of the artwork was astounding, and at very
    reasonable prices!

  • We said our last goodbye to Buenos Aires (which Joshua still claims to be the coldest place on Earth) and
    headed west to Mendoza and the wine country.  Mendoza is a great little town with fantastic wineries all
    around.  The Malbec variety of red wine is what they excel at in this area.  We took a wine tour one day and
    then took a tour up to the high Andes west of Mendoza.  That was our first snow day in South America and our
    first introduction to the high altitudes.  Joshua had a blast sledding, we got our excercise breathing.

  • From Mendoza we went south into the Lakes District of Western Argentina.  Down here the Andes turn into
    beautiful conifer forests, whereas up toward Mendoza the mountains were very arid.  We were able to trade a
    week of our Palm Springs, California time share for a week at a Villa on a mountain lake in San Martin de Los
    Andes.  This was a luxury stop for us and we took great advantage of all it had to offer, like indoor heated
    swimming pool, saunas, games for the kids, live music, etc.  The ski resort of Cerro Chapelco was just a short
    shuttle ride out of town so we went skiing for 3 days.  We were lucky they had a bout of fresh snow while we
    were there and we had some nice powder days.  The mountain was big and challenging and cost a whopping $35
    per day for a full adult lift ticket.

  • When we finished up in San Martin de Los Andes we decided it was too cold to head any further south, so we
    headed back north passing through Mendoza on our way to the high desert towns in the Andes Range of
    northwestern Argentina.  We visited Amaiche de Valle, Argentina because it was close to the archaeological
    site of Quilmes.  We discovered a gem of a museum here called the Pacha Mama Museum.  Designed and built by
    a local artist, the museum has a beautiful display of artwork and architecture.  Our next stop was Cafayette
    which turned out to be one of our favorite places in all of Argentina.  Not only was the town great but the
    surrounding area was fantastic for mountain biking, hiking, and wine tasting.  We met a young couple from Aspen,
    Colorado who had a great restaurant where we ate two nights in a row.  We continued north and stayed in Salta
    (which was rather large), Tilcara, and finally Purmamarca.  The last two desert towns were very small artisan
    villages and the hiking just outside of town was phenomenal.  While in Purmamarca we took a day trip up to the
    salt flats which reside at an elevation of over 15,000 feet above mean sea level (amsl).  Man was it cold up
    there!

  • From Purmamarca we took a bus that travelled over the Andes, again reaching elevations in excess of 15,000
    feet amsl.  Amazingly we traveled for over 60 miles across the Andes Plains at elevations exceeding 13,000
    feet and oxygen is provided on the bus to keep everyone comfortable. We dropped down into the town of San
    Pedro de Atacama, Chile.  This little desert town exists for tourism and resides in one of the driest places on
    the planet.  They claim there are areas in the surrounding mountains that have not had rain since man started
    recording the weather!  We rented mountain bikes and spent an entire day exploring some archaeological sites
    and a way cool canyon outside of town called the Garanta del Diablo (the Devils' Throat).  It was without a doubt
    the best mountain biking adventure we have ever experienced.  We also took an excursion up to the geyser
    fields high up in the Andes in an ancient volcanic caldera.  The van picked us up at 4:00 AM and got us to the
    geyser fields before sunrise.  Again, this was at an elevation of 15,000 feet amsl and it was very cold!  There
    were hundreds of geysers of varying sizes spewing water and steam all around us.  As the sun rose the geysers
    became more and more active until the entire basin was a big cloud of steam.  Our tour guides prepared
    breakfast while we all walked about and took pictures.  The breakfast was hot coffee, boiled eggs, warm bread,
    warm milk, hot tea, and hot chocolate all prepared by cooking/heating in the geyser pools.  Yummy!  After
    breakfast they took us to a big geyser pool where you could jump in and go swimming.  Melinda and Joshua
    jumped in and by their reaction it did not seem warm enough for George, so that big weenie stayed out and took
    pictures.  When Melinda got out she complained that the high mineral content of the water was making her hair
    stiff.  Upon closer inspection we found that her hair was just frozen!  George still contends he made the right
    decision!

  • Our only other stop in Chile was in the town of Calama.  This is not a big tourist destination and is certainly not
    a very beautiful stop.  We stopped here for two reasons, to break up the long bus ride to Peru and to visit the
    open pit copper mine just outside of town.  Environmentally speaking, the copper mine is a blight upon this
    earth.  But from an engineering standpoint it is an incredible operation.  For years the mining company
    maintained a town on the mine property where all of the workers and their families lived.  The town was
    complete with grocery stores, schools, theaters, government buildings, etc.  In the last 2 years the mine has
    grown so large that the tailing piles (which are so large they look like a small mountain range) are overrunning
    the town and making it unsafe (and unhealthy) for the inhabitants.  Everyone has moved into the big city and the
    mining town is now a ghost town.  The tour was informative and very interesting.  Joshua loved the huge trucks
    they use for moving tailings.

  • Our next major stop was in Cusco, Peru.  Wow!  What an incredible place!  The city of Cusco sits at an elevation
    of over 10,000 feet amsl, so it takes a little getting used to.  The city is beautiful and the surrounding area is
    just loaded with cool archaeological sites, not to mention the pinnacle of archaeological sites... Machu Picchu.  
    We stayed in Cusco and the surrounding area for 10 days and needed more time.  While here we took a 4 day
    trek through the Lares Valley that was the highlight of our entire journey through South America.  The company
    we used provided all of the gear, did all of the cooking, provided a great English speaking guide, and carried all
    of the gear via horseback.  All we had to do was carry a small daypack with water, snacks, and a camera.  We
    hiked for three days reaching a top altitude of 15,000 feet amsl!  Our only hiccup was on the first day at the
    beginning of the trail, Joshua fell down a scree slope and cut his arm pretty bad.  We thought our trek was over,
    but we were able to hike back down to the tiny town of Lares and luckily found a doctor who was able to stitch
    Joshua's wound.  The doctor put in three stitches, gave us antibiotics, and provided us some pain pills all for the
    price of $10.  After Joshua was patched up we hired a local guy to give us a ride in his pickup to catch up with
    the rest of our group who had forged ahead.  We are not sure if he was driving on roads or trails, but it was
    definitely Mr. Toads wild ride!.  Along the hike we met some of the Quecha Indians who live year round at these
    high elevations.  Needless to say the scenery was incredible!  On the fourth day we visited Machu Picchu.  We
    just do not have the words to describe this incredible Inca creation.  It is absolutely mind boggling and breath
    taking!  You have to see it.... you just have to!!  A couple days after we finished our trek we took a white water
    rafting trip which turned out to be great fun for all of us.

  • From Cusco we visited Lima, Peru (mainly because you have to go through here to connect to buses toward
    Ecuador).  Yuck!  It is a big ugly town without much to do.

  • We worked our way across the border of Peru/Ecuador and up into the mountain town of Cuenca, Ecuador.  The
    border crossing at the town of Tumbes was an adventure in itself.  We hired a motley group of locals to drive
    us up to the border.  Once we got there they told us we needed to pay more for the police protection that will
    save us from the bad guys that were lurking around every corner.  Then we were passed off to a guy who led us
    on foot at a fast clip (with all of our gear) through some alleys and streets until we reached the bus station on
    the Ecuador side.  It was all very weird and quite expensive.  We think we were ripped off, but at least we
    were not accosted by any of the lurking bad guys.  Cuenca was a beautiful stop and we had a great time exploring
    the old city, checking out the local hot springs, and a day of hiking in the National Park just outside of town.

  • After Cuenca, we travelled to Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador to visit our friends at Puerto Amistad where we
    kept Southern Belle in 2008.  We had a wonderful time with our old friends and some new friends.  Joshua got
    to spend some time with his good buddy Gregorio (see Archived Photo Album #22).  It was here in Bahia that we
    realized we were running out of time to get back to Columbia.  We made the decision to fly back to Cartagena
    from Quito, Ecuador in order to get busy working on Southern Belle.

    That ended our incredible journey of exploration in South America.  Once back in Cartagena, Columbia we hauled out
    Southern Belle at the ship yard for a month of hard work.  We did not have any time to delay because we were
    scheduled to meet Melinda's sister, Dorothy, and her husband, Byron, in the San Blas Islands.  During the month that
    we were on the hard, Joshua attended the Montesorri School in Cartagena.  This was great for him as he improved his
    Spanish, and he also learned how good he has it in home school as compared to regular school!

    Now we are spending our time between the beautiful San Blas Islands of Panama and the incredible city of Cartagena,
    Columbia.   


      




















               Until our next update we wish you all fair winds and following seas!
South America 2009
Iguazu Falls National Park, Argentina