By Aaron Smith, Contributing Reporter
COLUMBIA – Arriving in Cartagena on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast, I saw why pirates like the infamous Englishman, Francis Drak, was so fond of plundering the place of all its gold in the late 1500’s.
A tropical climate and beautiful Spanish terraces dripping with Bougainvilleas draws flocks of wide-girthed cruise ship tourists in wide-brimmed hats. This in turn has attracted a new generation of buccaneers, from the Burger Kings, Hooters and casinos down to the everyday, smiling, trinket-touting, street vendor.
Deciding it was better to join the hordes than resist, we immersed ourselves in touristy activities – quite literally. Vulcan de Lodo El Totumo, a geothermic mud-bath just outside of town, appeared to be a man-made tower of sandbags with a bubbling pit of goo in the center – the rim was surrounded by giggling locals and an equally jolly Vivi gawking at gringos squirming in the chocolate colored ooze.
All was then forgotten as we partied away our last night in South America on a chivas pub tour, a brightly colored 50’s American school bus full of rum-swilling tourists with maracas. Waking up the next day with a half a bottle of Aguadiente and a Colombian cigar stub in my pocket, we were more than a little seedy as we boarded Fritz the Cat, a 50ft Catamaran captained by a jovial, retired chef from Austria, Fritz, who wore nothing but a tight-fitting pair of Speedos.
After six days at sea, sailing to Panama via the San Blas Islands with a mixed bag of ten other travelers, we came to realize Fritz’s lewd innuendo and hip gyrating were all harmless. His heart was in the right place and he won over all of ours in due course. Each night he cooked up a storm of fresh fish, crab or lobster that he had spear-fished during the day while we worked steadfastly on our tans.
All this set against a backdrop of the San Blas, an archipelago of 370, coconut-palmed, white-sand islands where an aquamarine, tepid Caribbean Sea lapped at their shores. The area, controlled exclusively by the traditional indigenous owners, the Kuna Indians, is pristine, exquisitely underdeveloped and thankfully difficult to get to. This slow, round about passage to Panama, once the playground of pirates, reminded me it’s all about the journey and not the destination.
Senhor and Senhora Smith are from different worlds; he, Aaron Smith, an Australian travel writer, still idolizes his childhood idol, Indiana Jones, and she, Viviane Silva, is a sassy Carioca ‘Sex in the City’ girl. They have decided to embark upon a trans-continental four-month honeymoon BEFORE they get married, from Bogota to New York, the Far East and Australia by bus, boat and donkey. Follow them along the Gringo Trail – it’s an epic Clash of the Titans journey to (hopefully) martial bliss at the end of the road.