Please read the comments on this one, there is a lot of controversy. Fritz gets involved in multiple ways…
Breaking news, hold the presses! Fritz The Cat, the infamous vessel which ferried us and hordes of other backpackers from Colombia to Panama SANK! That’s right, the catamaran is at the bottom of the Caribbean Sea. Colombian news website El Tiempo has a video in which you can hear the captain, Fritz, yelling in Spanish for rescuers not to take his picture as you see The Cat half-submerged in the blue water. Everyone came out alive, but how rough it must be for those 14 backpackers who lost everything. Here is a link to the video and news article:
Our boat trip seemed pretty crazy, but it’s hard to imagine going through that whole ordeal. Needless to say that it would have ruined our trip. I can’t wait to hear more details about the wreck. I feel like their will be a mention of captain’s error somewhere along the line. They probably hit an iceberg.
Summing up La Aventura Project in one post has left us here staring at a blank page for weeks now. The same questions run through our heads: “What did we do?” and, “What did we accomplish?” The jump back into life in the USA was quick, and we were immediately left with little time outside of work, back to normal US life. The world we came from was stuck in the backs of our minds, left to dwell in occasional yearnings and stories misunderstood by their listeners. When I have a street food craving at 11pm there is no friendly woman selling tortillas across the street. Saddening, but it’s also nice to have a kitchen.
Here is a quick list of answers to some of the more popular questions we have been getting from friends and family:
Yes, they did in fact have electricity in Latin America.
Yes, we got sick a few times from the food. But it was all delicious and we don’t regret trying everything!
No, we did not notice any drug cartel activity.
No, we don’t plan on settling down now or buying a house or anything like that.
Trying to make a list of our accomplishments sounded corny but I did it anyways to brag a little bit: Learned Spanish to an intermediate level in which we could have decent conversations.
Traveled to 10 countries without flying.
Learned much more about Latin American history than we did at school, more than most North Americans know.
Hiked the Inca Trail.
Built our blog into a resource for other travelers.
Regrets: I wish we could have done more volunteering, but maybe you could say that we were more like scouts, examining the playing field. We did have two stays at WWOOF farms, one in Colombia and another in Ecuador. It would be fun to check out some more WWOOF farms in Central America someday.
The travel at first was much easier than I expected. The roads were paved and the buses as nice as the Megabus that we took in the United States. But as we entered Bolivia our luck was about the change. It was there that we experienced transportation strikes and washed out highways. Bolivia was by far the most “out there” country we visited.
La Aventura Project started as a film project and a longing to escape from it all. Along the way we wrote more and more and eventually were able to use the website to make the adventure last longer. We passed through phases of preferring writing over filming and vis-a-versa. Near the end we really dreaded the thought of returning to the grind of working class society. Here everyone makes little problems seem like the end of the world. There there were real problems.
The future: We will continue adding to the website and will be posting hostel reviews by guest writes. (More info if you are interested.) Our goal is for the website to grow and continue as we start posting our travel tales from the States. We’ll be beginning the US section of the website in September when we take a road trip across the northwest in the process of moving to California! We’re also working hard to edit the documentary and we’ll post updates on that front as it gets done.
Ending where we began: So now we find ourselves in much the same place we were in when the seed of the idea for La Aventura Project began. Making the most of the US and working hard to save money for future adventures. Dreaming and trying to decide which continent to conquer next. Asia? Africa? Europe? South again to finally make it all the way to Patagonia? We have no idea where we should go, but luckily we have awhile to decide as we work to replenish our bank accounts. The only sure thing is that we can’t stay here for too long, so una nueva aventura is unquestionably on the horizon.
We’re still working on a big, cleverly and intelligently written sum-up of the whole darn adventure. It’s hard though! It is coming soon, but for now enjoy the final edition of our La Aventura Project superlatives!
Days in South and Central America: 217
Dollars Spent: $10,586.14
Average Dollars per day: $70.45
Countries Visited: 10
Books Read: 22 (Carrie), lost track (Zach)
Doctor visits: 1 (Zach), 0 (Carrie)
Things We Lost: More random stuff than we remember
I thought I would take a quick second to talk about where we have been told that the tap water is drinkable and our experiences with drinking it. As we travel further, we will add to the list.
Bolivia: We did not drink any tap water in Bolivia and would not recommend doing so.
Colombia: We drank the tap water in the following cities: Medellin – The water there was perfect and tasted pretty good. Have not heard of anyone getting sick from it. Bogotá – The water didn’t give us any problems but didn’t taste perfect and we were told that it bothers some peoples’ stomachs. Cartagena – we drank tons of tap water there but one time I did have a pain that felt water related. Taganga: We drank the tap water there but my stomach did feel a little weird a few times. San Agustín – The water was pretty good and we had no problems. Cali – We filled up our water bottle in the bathroom there and had no problems. Popayan – We filled up a bottle in the bathroom at the bus terminal and had no problems. Basically all the cities and population centers seemed fine. However, out in the country and the places where the bus lets you off to eat lunch are questionable and you should always ask a local before doing anything stupid.
Ecuador: The water there is not good. Don’t drink it. Baños – As of now the water is not safe but in the next few years they hope to have a new purification system running. I did drink some water one night in Chugchilan when I was really desperate but it wasn’t a good idea.
Panamá: We drank the tap water in Panamá City and had no problems. Don’t drink the water in Bocas del Toro.
Perú: We did not drink any tap water in Perú and would not recommend doing so.
Since we are always trying to save money, we try to buy as little bottled water as possible. We always boil some in our hostel kitchens (at least three minutes of hard boiling to purify it) when we get a chance and if someone tells us we can drink from the sink we always do. Yes, sometimes this comes back to haunt us but with the money we save I think its worth it. Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?
We might have been. While we were riding on Fritz the Cat, there was a message over the radio that the Cartagena immigration wasn’t letting anymore sailboats with backpackers on board leave port. This was reportedly because they are trying to get the government-run ferry between Colombia and Panamá restarted. We had heard many rumors that this ferry would be starting within a few weeks and cost around $100 and such but it still had no website, information, etc. The ferry would greatly decrease the price of the crossing and would undoubtedly be a blessing for all of us poor fellows searching for the cheapest way across the dreaded Darien Gap. Whether or not more tourist boats will cross is still unknown, but I would just suggest not to have too tight of a schedule if you are trying to sail.
Until the rumors of the ferry are proven true, there are still only two (recommended) ways to cross from Colombia to Panamá: either by private boat (like Fritz) or by plane.
Here is a rundown of the cost of sailing with Fritz the Cat:
$488 per person payed in USD.
$6 for a National Parks fee.
$3 for the boat from Fritz to where the road is
$25 for the 4×4 to Panamá City
Total = $522
Included on the boat are all 12 meals plus unlimited fruit, water, and lemonade until it runs out every night. Activities include the two days cruising around the San Blas Islas. Fritz also takes care of all the immigration stuff and you don’t pay anything to enter Panamá.
For this I’m going to assume that you don’t care which Colombian city you fly from and you want to see the San Blas Islands in Panamá. The cheapest flight I was able to find today was about $350 from Bogotá, Colombia to Panamá City, Panamá. Add onto that the $66 airport departure tax and probably pay for a bag so lets say $450 for the plane.
The trip to San Blas is $50 for round trip in the truck from Panamá City, plus $6 for the boat round trip, plus two nights lodging on the Islands $20 per night.
Rough total = $496
If you add food to all of this then the total will be far over the $522 of sailing. Even if you don’t want to see the San Blas Islands (well worth the money) then the $450 + 12 meals is still going to be more than the $522 for sailing. Any way you look at it, the boat is the better deal.
Sure, there are other ways to get to Panamá. One is by heading to the shady Colombian town of Turbo, taking multiple boats through different mosquito-ridden backwater villages until finally getting into the first town in Panamá, Puerto Obaldia. There is no road out of Puerto Obaldia, so from there you can take a domestic flight to Panamá City for around $100. This is possible, but no one really recommends doing it, so try at your own risk.
The price of these sailing trips has soared in the last few years, but we think it is still a great value and a great time. Maybe the new ferry will start; maybe everything will stay how it’s been, but for now we feel lucky that we were some of the last (or the last) people to experience this amazing adventure.
When we walked up to the deck after waking up on Day 3 of our cruise, this is the view that greeted us:
We had reached the Comarca Kuna Yala, otherwise known as the Islas San Blas, a pristine chain of paradisaical islands off the Caribbean coast of Panamá. Most islands are totally uninhabited, but those that are are occupied by the Kuna people. The indigenous Kuna have managed to maintain their culture and independence despite over 500 years of outside influence. Their islands are technically part of Panamá but the group maintains a mostly autonomous government.
And their islands are literally PARADISE. For the next two days, I felt like I was living inside a postcard! Fritz cruised us around to several different islands where we lounged on white sand beaches, saw starfish bigger than dinner plates (sadly we didn’t get a picture of one), snorkeled over diverse coral reefs, and caught glimpses of Kuna life.
This is basically what the last two days of the voyage on Fritz the Cat consisted of: snorkeling, lounging, and taking in the beauty! Watching the sun set and the stars come out each night as the anchored boat smoothly bobbed in the ocean was a surreal experience. We also enjoyed lots of fresh seafood bought from the Kuna who would drive up to Fritz the Cat in canoes. On the fourth day, as we were eating lunch, Zach glimpsed a flash of silver in the sunlight. A dolphin! It ended up being three dolphins who swam along side us for several minutes!!! Watching them dart and jump alongside the sailboat was, I think, the most magical experience of our entire trip. The rare privilege of visiting the Islas San Blas was definitely what made the whole Colombia-to-Panamá voyage spectacular.
Our last step in South America was onto a small dock in Cartagena as we jumped into a little boat that ferried us out to a larger boat. That larger boat was Fritz The Cat, the most famous and reliable of the many private Colombia-to-Panamá sailing vessels. We had booked our trip a couple months in advance via a PayPal deposit. Captain Fritz, an animated old Austrian fellow, guaranteed that we would leave on time and arrive safely, as he has made the passage with a boat full of backpackers almost 100 times. This was a popular time of year and, since we were now on a schedule and had heard stories of travelers waiting for a week for boats to fill up, we were glad to have someone who cared about timely departures. On the boat with us were 16 other people: four boys from Australia with their two Brazilian girlfriends, a couple from Switzerland, a couple from Seattle, one old German man, two young German guys, one guy from Argentina, Captain Fritz, and the First Mate Jose who did all the cooking and anything else that could be considered work. This made for a rather full boat, but there were beds for everyone. We arrived on the boat at 11am and, due to the Colombian immigration taking its good old time, we didn’t leave port until after 2pm. While waiting we had a nice lunch of veggie spaghetti and feasted on the unlimited supply of fresh fruit (oranges, mangoes, bananas, pineapples….).
Finally we set sail. Or that is half sail-power and half motor. We cruised at about five knots with the autopilot set at 262 degrees. The total trip was just under 200 miles. After two hours the skyscrapers of Cartagena could still be seen on the horizon, but they soon faded away and all we were left with in the world was our boat and water 360 degrees around us. The sea was relatively calm but it was still hard to walk, especially below deck.
We relaxed under the shade of the front sail on strong netting that was stretched over the churning ocean. After the sun set we gazed at the stars that were bright and clear above us. We sailed toward Orion in the west, as he shot his arrows into the never ending sea.
For dinner the first night we had crepes that we were instructed to eat as follows “Take zie crepe and cover it vit sugar and lime zen pour some rum on top, as much as you vant.” We thought the crepes sounded strange eaten like this, and they were, but most the rest of the food was very good so we didn’t complain but ate more fruit!
With the boat moving throughout the night we were each assigned a night watch hour. “If you zie any lights come close you come and vake me up,” Fritz instructed. My shift was midnight until one and there was nothing to report except a bit of boredom and a slight wondering about the lack of pirates. Because we were on the move, air entered our cabin very nicely and we were able to sleep very well. On other nights we were not so lucky.
We woke in the morning to fresh-baked German brown bread, sliced tomatoes, cheese, onion, baloney, peanut butter and honey. Breakfast was the best meal of the day thanks to the amazing bread. We hadn’t had a good slice of heavy bread in months so we were pretty happy.
The day was long and without much to report. At noon we had lunch and just after dark was dinner. We went to bed before anyone could assign us with watch duty. It ended up being the Aussies on watch and their story was as follows:
“Well we were sitting here drinking heaps of rum, hay, and we see these lights go by ’bout 10 meters off the left side. We were like ‘whoa that boat is close, hay’. Turns out it was some sort of marker booey, woulda probably done heaps of damage.” Good on ya, mates!
Luckily (with no help from the Australians) we made it safely to our stopping place at around 2am. What we awoke to was utter paradise…