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Published: August 28th 2011
Hanging out and bonding over rum and stoli and seco.
Seco is the national Panamanian grog and is rocket fuel. My sadly deceased hero, Keith Floyd, would probably say something along the lines of: "I shall pause here, if you don't mind, and have a nip of this seco. Me and the crew were vast quantities of it drinking it last night which is probably why I'm not looking my best on this fine Panamanian morning because it really is ruddy strong stuff, though admittedly a bit rough on the palet". In actuality, it's clean and crisp and lovely, like Philippines' Ginebra.
"Delightfully tacky yet unrefined"
Me and fourteen others stepped foot on a catamaran called Fritz the Cat, captained by an obese Austrian called Fritz the Cat whom got both the name of his boat and his nickname from the infamous animated film, the first of which to receive an X rating (or 'R' to those not from the UK). Fritz greeted us with lots of jokes about girls bunking up with boys and vice versa and generally struck me, initially at least, as a bit of a twat (most people do, you'll have noticed*). He gave us a very rudimentary safety talk and we set about bonding with one and other over the gargantuan amounts of booze we'd stocked up on, bearing in mind we were potentially staring at five days on a boat without a chance to re-stock. For those of you are and aren't interested, TJ and I pooled together and bought a total of 3 litres of Stoli vodka (may be more; each bottle had a handle), a 75cl bottle of Seco and a 75cl bottle of black label Johnny Walker. Our intention was to drink the Stoli and JW on the rocks, needless of
a mixer where as the Seco we bought for a laugh as it is the national grog and we figured it tasted foul. It turned out to be somewhat delicious though only I thought so. Mother dear, we didn't drink it all (that would have been silly). This is mainly because it became apparent that were only mooring around the San Blas Islands for two nights before voyaging across the ocean to Cartagena, Colombia and drinking was strictly forbidden when chugging along at maddeningly slow speeds out to sea.
Tensions began to creep in once we weighed anchor for the last time and set off for Colombia. I chose to spend a lot of my time complaining about the lack of shade in which I could sit, read and listen to the excellent selection of music on my iPod. Others played chess. We were charged to arrange a watch for the first night, an hour per person. Ben and I instantly volunteered for the 2am to 4am slot (two people, two hours... made sense I guess) and whiled away a very pleasant brace of sixty minutes, watching the moon playing off the waves and keeping an eye on the
horizon. Catherine and Leigh, who we had travelled with on and off since Guatemala are a lovely couple who didn't deserve to pull the 4am to 6am slot out of the hat, for that was the night of The Storm. It kicked in at 4.30am (Ben and I smugly high fived upon hearing this the next day) and meant that Fritz was forced to stamp around booming at those sleeping outside to get inside. This they did whilst refraining to bring any of the bed clothes they were using with them which narked Fritz off a treat.
We arrived in Cartagena at 2.30am on the 22nd of August to a rather sad parping noise from Fritz via the use of a tired old trumpet which had been lying around the cockpit the entire trip and with which I had immediately noticed upon boarding. This caused me to engage in staring matches with the trumpet whenever I passed it: never trust an unmanned trumpet (if unmanned trumpet is 'y' and twat is 'x' then y+x=mindboggling irritation to the point that one finds one's self standing at the top of tall buildings holding out handfulls of suger cubes making clicking noises
in an attempt to encourage the coming of the Four Horsemen).
Colombia is probably most famous for the 1984 smash hit 'Romancing the Stone' starring Michael Douglas, Cathleen Turner and Danny DeVito (the three of them would go on to make a dreadful sequel together in the horrible form of 'Jewel of the Nile' in 1985 and then return to form, sort of, with the black comedy 'War of the Roses' in 1989). It also had a nasty turn for a while of being a drug infested war zone but its the adventures of Joan Wilder and Jack Colton that have made the biggest impression.
Cartagena was OK... it is a very nice looking city but too manicured in places for my liking. It is also expensive and slightly irritating due to all the vendors who hassle you. In fact, generally, it is a slightly irritating place for reasons I find hard to put a finger on. That said, we had a very nice couple of nights, saying fair well to some shipmates and regrettably not managing to see others (apologies).
The day TJ and I left was horrid. We wrongly got up early and got a
taxi to the airport, hoping to get a cheap deal to Medellin. This was pointless. We then managed to sort out a 14 hour bus ride for cheaper but got on the wrong bus to the terminal, witnessed the hind regions of a dog being run over, engaged in a mad dash in a taxi where we finally managed to get on the right bus to Medallin only to sit, panting, for a further 15 minutes after the bus was due to leave. When the bus DID finally leave it became freezing and I had to buy a rubbish blanket to keep warm.
A day after TJ arrived in Medellin, Ben caught up with us, such is his way. Medellin was, of course, the hub of Pablo Escobar who was apparently some kind of massive drug baron. Luckily, in 1993, he was popped off by a sniper whilst boasting to the media on a roof top, presumably about beating down The Man ($1000USD to anyone for every policeman slain) and doing nice things like building schools. Anyway, this strikes me as the epitome of a rooky error. One should never go down the Roof-Top Boast route when one is
a massive multi-national felon. Nowadays it is mostly safe with some barrios that aren't which is fine because we had no intention of getting involved with any kind of barrio, preferring to concentrate on the city's reputation of being home to vast quantities of very beautiful women.
After a quick explore, I found Medellin to be bland, plastic and somewhat depressing, not least because this is also the very nature of the infamous women of Medellin; if appearances are are anything to go by then appearances are paramount and materialism is the Queen of these sullen sirens with impressive front and back shelving bought by their parents for their fifteenth birthdays and if THAT isn't a poor but visually arresting show then I don't know what is. Ben and I, therefore, booked a flight to Quito, Ecuador, leaving three days after arriving. This, really, was to give me the opportunity to say a proper goodbye to TJ whom I have travelled the most distance with during my trip. This is NOT to say I had a miserable time, for we had many laughs, the three of us, with much thanks to relaxed laws re public drinking and the fact
that there was a Medellin branch of Hooters which I had never before frequented and which was an experience in itself. "Now that I'm this far in to the maw of this bulging beast of bought beauty" I mused darkly, "I might as well walk right in to the bastard's belly and see what it's guts look like". Its guts looked delightfully ripe and bouncy which, I suppose is something I could have predicted without actually walking in and buying several beers and returning the next day to watch the Barcelona v Porto game. The most shocking thing about it all was that they have a children's menu. It's supposed to be a family joint. The wonders of travel never cease, it seems, but - to me at least - the wonders of Cartagena and Medellin are almost entirely non-existent.,,
Our final, bleary eyed night with travelling stalwart, TJ, was full of excellent pool matches (most of which I won), bromance and the three of us getting cheerily legless with an annoyingly young, yet thoroughly decent 18 year old chap. Thomas Joseph (TJ) Bice: I worry about your love of shanks and guns and worry more about your hope
that, one day, you will be able to legitimately (or otherwise) use both of them - more than likely at the same time - but I salute you, dear friend. You shall be missed.
*In the days preceeding my journey out to Central America, my mother told me that 'hopefully you'll return from this trip a little less judgemental about people, dear'. All very well but judgement is extremely important when travelling which is why I continue in one lovely, tanned piece. I do make an effort to give people a chance and am often pleasantly suprised but I'm afraid my judgement of character usually turns out to be correct. Thus twats remain twats in the same way that the world revolves on its own, slightly askewed axis which probably means it's less than sure about the rest of the galaxy and definitely takes umbrage with the Moon.
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