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Latin America Kavitha Dispatch

Starving and Penniless

Panama and Columbia
Imagine running out of money in a small, remote village where there are no phones, no banks, and where they don't take American Express. Now imagine you are stuck there during a holiday week so it could be days before a boat can take you to the next city. What would you do?

Shawn, Monica, and I got to find out last week as we ventured from Panama to Colombia with mere pennies in our pockets. When we left Panama City on the Voz Confio, we thought we were going on a 12-hour ride overnight to the border town of Jaque, where we could catch a ferry to a Colombian port and then catch a bus to one of the big cities in Colombia. Sounds easy enough, right?

We left Panama with about $150 cash. Well, that was 11 days ago, and let me tell you $150 is not enough for 3 people to live on and travel with for 11 days--no matter how cheap South America is! First we paid $12 per person for tickets on the Voz Confio, then a $5 per person exit fee from Panama, (after originally being asked for $20 each, as you may recall from two weeks ago: "Twenty Dollars to Leave"

As it turns out, the trip to Jaque takes a bit longer than 12 hours when you go entirely off route to make deliveries to small jungle villages and islands along the way! (See Shawn's dispatch for more on this.) We arrived in Jaque 2 days later, starving, where we ate a cheap meal and took a 3-hour launch to Jurado, the border town on the Colombian side. The launch was way over our budget, at $20 a person, but it was the only way out of Jaque. In the next town, Jurado, we went to the cheaper of the 2 hotels in town at $5 a person, which wasn't bad considering we could finally take a much-needed shower and sleep in an actual bed! But the next morning we realized there's not a bank in town, and the boat wasn't coming for a few more days! We were stuck and running out of money fast in a place where our credit cards, ATM cards, and travelers checks are worth about the same as Monopoly money!

How did we survive? If it weren't for the hospitality of the kind Colombian people, I don't think we would have made it, or at least I would have been a lot skinnier that I already am!

  • We met a sweet woman, Olivia, who agreed to let us stay on her upstairs balcony for about $1.50 per person per night. She also fed us meals of rice, lentils, and salad for about $1.50.
  • Everyone was curious about the foreigners in town and I made two new friends, Celestino and Jose, who invited me to their homes. I instantly felt welcome with their families and they invited me over for lunch and dinner every day!
  • In the mornings our friends took us on walks through the jungle where we could collect local fruits...breakfast for free!
  • By our third day in Jurado, Monica sold her Walkman for $8! We were all looking through our things trying to find things we could part with - my Swiss Army knife was next.

When a boat finally did come through on our 4th day, the trick was to get the captain to let us on board without any money! Even after we showed him our travelers checks and credit cards and all our new Colombian friends vouched for our honesty, the captain wasn't convinced . What could we do? In a last minute act of desperation we decided to give the captain one of our digital cameras, worth much more than the cost of our tickets, as collateral until we could pay him in Buenaventura. He accepted.

Click image for larger view
Sophisticated navigation equipment!
Caption

Finally, we were on our way! BUT wouldn't ya know it, there was yet another obstacle that stood in our way: Yes, we left Jurado Wednesday afternoon, but were only going to travel as far as Bahia Solano, merely a 1/4 of the way to Buenaventura. Thursday and Friday were important religious holidays here in Colombia, the culmination of Semana Santa (see Monica's article) and nobody, including sailors, work on such holidays.

Well, we stayed on the boat for those 3 nights, so at least we didn't have to pay for a hotel, and for about $1.50 we were able to find some veggies and food that we cooked on the boat. But once again, as in Jurado, it was Colombian hospitality that saved us in the end. As we walked through the town of Bahia Solano, locals curious about the foreign tourists and proud to share their culture invited us to sit and talk and eat with them. We left two days later after sharing the holidays with these kind people.

Thanks to our crew for transporting us to South America
caption

As our boat finally pulled in to Buenaventura yesterday evening, the city skyline looked almost like an oasis in the sea. The city meant access to money, communication with family, food, showers, and a bed, but it also meant noise, pollution, traffic, and busier people who didn't have time to open their homes up and share meals with strangers on the streets. With such mixed feelings of relief and dismay we withdrew money from an ATM, paid our captain, said goodbye to our kind sailor friends, and fought our way through the car exhaust and trash to find a bus to take us further along the way to Peru.

And our epic adventure of the Odyssey continues on a whole new continent....

Kavitha

Shawn - Life on a Cargo Boat
Monica - We Began the Journey as Paupers and Finished with a Japanese Feast!
Making a Difference - Live from Death Row
Kevin - Graverobbers and Life After Death - My Visit to a Moche Lord's Tomb
Team - Peru's Early Hunters, Artists and Fighters
Abeja - Hot! Hot! Hot! I Looked Into His Eyes and Melted...

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