Chicken flavored potato chips, lovely. I need to be bit more careful when reading labels. I saw a word starting with a “p” and thought plain, when it really said “pollo” which means chicken. It’s not my first mistake. I study Spanish at least two hours a day, but there is a lot of pantomiming and guessing going on out there when I’m in the real world.
We hadn’t planned to stop in Santa Marta, but our friends on Uno and S’Bella were here and gave it a good report. Checking in to Colombia is a bit expensive. It’s a $150 fee for the agent and another $100 for the customs/immigration fees. You are required to use an agent as Colombia is not really set up to deal with private yachts and there is a lot of red tape. The agent knows all the places to go and eventually you get a cruising permit. For our friends on S’Bella it took 5 weeks, but our friends on Uno had theirs in a week. The Santa Marta Marina pays the agent fee if you stay here, so that kind of makes it a no-brainer.
A marina skiff met us outside the breakwater and showed us to our slip. The dock hands helped us tie up and when I went to the office to check in, they said, “Glass Slipper! We’ve been waiting for you. Your friends told us you were coming.” It was quite a nice reception.
Santa Marta is the oldest surviving city in South America with a population of about 400,000. It’s nestled between the beach and the foot of the snow- capped Sierra Nevada Mountains. Colombians vacation here and it’s hopping with people, day and night. Just past the marina and to the left is a lovely waterfront park that is well lit and people swim late into the evening. The sidewalks are crammed with vendors selling all sorts of tasty snacks. There are old fashioned snow cone machines, the kind where you grind the ice by hand, people with tiny charcoal grills cooking meat/vegetable skewers and roasting corn on the cob, people making all sorts of fresh fruit juices, beer, soda, arepnas, and these little fried corn cakes with a fried egg inside to name just a few.There is always music and it is a very festive atmosphere.
There are no giant hotel chains littering the seaside, but rather lots of tiny little hotels and endless cafes set back from the busy road that is always crammed with buses and taxis. The police are everyone, usually walking in a group of four or more. In the early morning, when I like to walk the dog, there are people in green uniforms sweeping and cleaning the beach and sidewalks. It looks nice for a few hours, but by my evening walk it’s a bit of a mess.
Along the marina front there are fancy, modern little cafes with outdoor tables, a health club that does a loud zumba class on their outdoor balcony at 6 a.m. , and to the right of the marina high rise condos, another lovely beach, this one with no vendors… and at the very, very far end is a naval base with an officers resort on the beach. The marina advertises that they have swimming pools, but this actually means they give you a day pass to the officers club so you can use their pool and beach.
Colombians seem to be huge on Christmas decorations and there are lights everywhere, on the streets, in the parks, and balconies. What you don’t see though is much in the way of greenery. There are few palm trees and bushes, but no grass. And it’s always dusty as the wind is always blowing.
In addition to the beautiful, huge marina, there is a busy commercial pier. At any given time there are two ships on the docks and four or more anchored in the bay awaiting their turn. When the wind blows from the docks, it’s a nasty affair with coal dust settling on the boat leaving a fine black grit. I have to dust and sweep inside daily, but it isn’t worth washing the outside more than once a week, as at 10 cents a gallon the water bill adds us quickly.
Did I mention it’s a noisy place, especially on weekends which seem to start on Thursday. Our boat is docked not far from an outdoor night club and the music starts at 11 p.m. and ends at 4 a.m. Ear plugs are the only option, but they work quite well, and I guess it’s just the price of being here. One lovely night our neighbor on a big fishing boat, played his music from an outdoor speaker so loud the glasses were rattling inside our boat. We were between his boat and the outdoor night club so we had music blaring on all sides. Finally at 4 a.m. a security guard climbed aboard and turned it off. Not much sleep on the Glass Slipper that night!
On balance though, it’s a fantastic place that even a few loud nights can’t spoil. We are two blocks away from a delightful little gourmet grocery store. The dollar is so strong here, we can buy a week’s worth of groceries for less than $50, and that is lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. A pineapple is about 80 cents, a box of milk $1, a package of chicken breasts or pork chops or fresh tamales $3. Lunch out with soup, salad, chicken and rice and a fresh fruit juice- $4. Lots of push cart vendors with fresh fruit, which they cut up on the spot, put in a large cup for 50 cents—pineapple, watermelon, mango. The only downside is the ice cream. The stuff is everywhere at a $1 for a double dip cone!
Coleen and I like to get sandwiches from the gourmet grocery store, walk to the park, find a bench and watch the people while enjoying our picnic supper. Everyone is out at night I think because it is too hot to be out during the afternoon. Everything is well lit and it’s lovely to just sit in the park or walk the streets, many of which are closed to traffic.
Santa Marta is even more interesting when you get away from the seaside, huge public markets, malls, but I’d better save that for another day. Time to study my Spanish……