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Monday, November 24, 2008

Isla Gorgona

23 November 2008

It feels like we've discovered a tropical paradise here, but you can take that with a grain of salt since we just spent six months in Bahia de Caraquez. It's beautiful, quiet, the people are friendly, the water is a clear deep blue, and best of all there are no fishing pangas roaring in and out. Granted the mooring area isn't all that protected from the swell so it's bouncy at times, and we have our rocker stopper working full time. There's also usually a good breeze and some corresponding wind chop. But it's so peaceful and lovely that we are very happy to be here.

Gorgona is part of Colombia's Parque Nacional Natural system which emulates the parks established in Costa Rica and Panama. It's unique in that the island also supports an eco resort for tourists (Google Aviatur for package prices). For cruising boats there are two orange metal can buoys and one orange fender type all with poly-pro pennants. Sarana took the first can we saw on arrival while Nakia elected to anchor in very deep (40' plus) water. Technically we aren't supposed to anchor but we haven't been asked to move to a buoy yet.

Prices seem to be a bit of a moving target. We found prices on the internet, but except for the park entry fee (COP$25,000 pp; current peso rate is around COP$2,200 to the USD) everything else varies. We found the official price for a mooring to be far too expensive (similar to what Panama has recently begun enforcing in their Western Islands) and, based on a friend's previous visit, we negotiated something more reasonable for our budget. We were also quoted a price for our hike on Saturday but it turned out to be almost half that when we went to pay. We rented boots and of course the boot rental price was about twice what we were quoted, so in the end the overall cost of the hike was just a little less then the quoted price. It helps to keep an open mind when you get your bill.

We had a terrific passage from Tumaco, departing at 11 AM on Thursday and arriving here at dawn on Friday. It was another great sail averaging five knots or better until the last few hours when we had to slow down to arrive in daylight. We ate a big breakfast and were ready to crash when two guys from the dive shop paddled out in a kayak to tell us that our presence was requested for the orientation presentation. We begged off until Noon and then went in, still groggy from our brief nap. We met first in William's office for a welcome talk, and sat through a short DVD program on the park system and then a talk about the island itself at the interpretive center/museum. Although we were served coffee and tea everything was in Spanish, and we were practically comatose, so it was a bit wasted on us. But we took a walk around the well groomed resort grounds and then returned to the boat for a refreshing swim.

Saturday morning we went in at 8 AM to see about going on a hike. They don't allow anyone to hike trails without a paid guide, even though the trails themselves are easy to follow. This might be because of dangers posed by the three types of poisonous snakes and the very muddy, slick trails. Likewise you're required to wear calf high rubber boots which they conveniently rent for a nominal fee (bring your own socks). The hiking fee itself is also reasonable especially if you get Jesus as your guide. He doesn't speak English so were were lucky to have Eric as our translator, but Jesus spotted every lizard, frog, snake, and monkey there was to see. He told us we were exceptionally lucky to see four of the hard to find blue lizard (only a few inches long and slender as a pencil), two elegant walking frogs (I've forgotten the real names of things, though the latter is close), and a slender tan snake that Eric thought was a stick until it moved. Jesus also stopped to quickly husk a coconut with his machete, which we thought was for us until he showed us a pool full of coconut eating crayfish and shrimp. We enjoyed watching shrimp of all sizes duking it out for bits of coconut meat. Even the tiny fish managed to steal little pieces, and we nibbled on some of it ourselves. We saw two troops of Capuchin monkeys, but it turns out those are easy to see since we ran across a dozen of them right on the resort grounds Sunday morning.

The ultimate destination was a beach on the other side, opposite Isla Gorgonilla which is a bird and turtle nesting sanctuary. Since we get our fill of beaches living on boats this wasn't all that exciting for us, and we didn't bother swimming in the surf. The four of us sat on a log cooling our feet in a freshwater stream and watched three Swiss tourists grinding their skin off while attempting to body surf in the shore break. We back-tracked to the beach on "our" side of Gorgona where a panga met us at 2 PM for a ride back to the resort. We started out at 9 AM but Jesus went slowly and stopped at every interpretive sign so it's not really that far a distance, and was definitely worth doing. We got back in time to see a mother and baby humpback off in the distance. Apparently August and September are the prime whale watching months here and the season ended about a week ago so we were lucky. After sunset Sarana was visited by a mom (18') and baby (6-8') whale shark gliding right along the side of their boat. I'd call that a full day!

Linda and John