James arrives illegally in Colombia by boat but a family emergency means he has to wade his way through corrupt officials and bribes to escape back to the UK
The day I arrived in Panama City I met some guys organizing a boat expedition to the Colombian North Coast- the only sane way into Colombia… without flying. They were 3 guys and needed a fourth, and though exhausted from a brutal 3 week chicken-bus tour of Central America, I jumped at the opportunity.
After collecting some things (we had to supply our own food for the 5-10 day route) and sleeping for a few hours that night we woke early and rode a bus to Colon, a horrendously dangerous port city on the Caribbean Coast. We met our old Italian captain and saw the shitty little 33ft (10mtr) sailing yacht that was going to be our home for a while. With him and his wife we had 6 people on board.
We set out late in the afternoon and the first night we all had terrible sea sickness. I kept imagining the boat as a little cork in a bathtub with some giant splashing baby.
The next morning, we arrived in the remote San Blas Archipelago, a thin stretch of small islands covered in coconut trees and white sand. We spent 2 days relaxing, swimming, eating, and exploring the different islands, some inhabited, some not. It was perfect, but as paradise never seems to be sustainable, we had to leave with the favorable winds and the next day we were off.
Day merged into grueling day at sea and we all went a little crazy. The wind wasn’t strong and we trudged along at about 2mph the whole time. I kept thinking that if it were just solid earth I could get out and walk faster. I spent 23 hrs a day on my filthy little bench bitching to my Australian roommate or looking at the wall.
After the first day I stopped eating. The only water we had was the Colon tap water (technically drinkable, but I had my doubts). We all became terribly dehydrated. I can’t imagine what kind of terrible suffering it must have been to be an explorer on one of the early transoceanic voyages. It was a long 4 days at sea when we finally reached Cartagena, Colombia.
It was paradise. It seemed like I had been traveling forever only dreaming of Colombian beauties and rich living, and as we pulled into the heavily polluted bay and saw the third world skyscrapers and slums, I knew I had finally made it.
We paid the captain and handed our passports over with the police bribe money – to assuage the technicalities of entering without onward tickets. Upon entering land we walked a couple of kilometres with hilarious sea-legs and found a cheap hotel. I took a quick shower to wash a caking of grease off my body and went to the market for breakfast. I ate a corn pancake, a glass of orange juice and half a liter of water, but I had to fight not to vomit. I was too dehydrated.
I sat down for half an hour to pull my shit together and get over the strange feeling of being on solid earth. Eventually, I had the strength to walk to an internet caf