Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Isla Gorgona

When sailing from Ecuador to Panama, most sailors avoid Colombia, for fear of pirates, drug dealers and guerrillas, but we like to live dangerously. Just kidding, there are some safe places to visit along the way. Eric and Sherrell on the boat Sarana wrote an online guide to cruising Columbia, and suggested stopping at Isla Gorgona, located 35 miles from the Pacific Coast of Columbia and so named by the Spanish conquistador, Francisco Pizarro who, when he visited the island in the early 1500s lost two of his crew from snake bites. That experience reminded him of the Greek Gorgon or Medusa, the frightening woman with snakes in her hair, and thus the island's name.

So at 4:00 am on Saturday morning with the full moon lighting our path, we grabbed one of the three moorings in front of the island full of snakes.

We were pleasantly surprised to find that Isla Gorgona also has a fine restaurant, hotel, swimming pool and tour guides. Visitors are not allowed to wander the lush forest without a guide. Remember this island has poisonous snakes.

But the snakes didn't stop us. We were looking for the famous blue lizard, Anolis gorgonae, only found on this island.

(We never saw the elusive and rare blue lizard but I was able to borrow a photograph from Maria Margarita Ramos, a researcher from Princeton University.)

Instead, we did find the Basilisk or Jesus Christ Lizard which walks on water and is very fun to watch as it scurries on top of ponds.

We found many white-faced capuchin monkeys who didn't seemed troubled by the snakes and loved eating the orange seeds from the palm tree.

Early Sunday morning, we rented rubber boots and took an escorted walk on the lush island. The rubber boots are needed for protection from snakes and also to maneuver the muddy paths. One of the first things we saw on the path was a boa constrictor. I didn't get a great picture since I was a little nervous -- silly me, boa's are harmless!

Here's Kai walking the gorgeous beach wearing his requisite rubber boots.

In the afternoon, we took a look at the island's sad past. From 1965 until 1984, the island served as the Alcatraz of Colombia, a maximum security prison. Our guide, Ranulpho, showed us around the remnants of the prison which is overgrown with trees and instead of prisoners, the rowdy monkeys frequent the grounds and bang on the walls. As Ranulpho told us about the horrible lives the prisoners led, the monkeys hollered from above. We learned about one prisoner who had managed to build a raft and escape by sea 50 miles to Buenaaventura. That same prisoner - at the time a freeman -- went to the bar, got a little drunk and bragged about his feat. Someone called the authorities in Gorgona and they came out and brought him back to the prison. I guess he learned the lesson of keeping one's mouth closed.

We planned on leaving early the next morning, but Luis, a biologist on the island dissuaded us. He told us that we could watch him tag turtles. They were going to catch them at eight in the evening when the turtles go to sleep, bring them on shore and tag them. The previous month, they had used GPS to tag and study the turtles, but they lacked the money for more satellite. This was Colombia's first ever sea turtle tacking project.

Look closely as there's a green turtle in the photo. The biologists put a towel over the turtle's head so as not to bother her and then they measured her shell, head, fin and even her tail. They also weighed her. This is probably the first or second time the this turtle has been on land. Turtles begin their lives on land and the females only return to lay eggs.

P.S. For any of the sailors reading this entry, contrary to popular belief, the costs to visit the island were reasonable and we did not have to check into the country. They accept credit cards and don't accept dollars. It cost us $5 for the mooring; $15 to enter the island; $1.50 to rent rubber boots; $3 for the hike which included a panga ride return. We splurged $10 for the three course dinner - shrimp, rice, vegetable and dessert. Not bad and well worth the visit.

1 comment:

Trevor said...

Wow, what an interesting place you describe! I hope you are enjoying the holidays and we look forward to more communication as we cruise the seas, now on opposite sides of South America. We're in Cartagena for Christmas with family and plan on heading north in a month or so. Continued fair winds and seas to the crew of Kamaya!
Trevor, Karisa and Kiera
SV Lea Scotia

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