Sunday, November 11, 2007

Traveling by Boat in South America? Read this First!

Are you going to a South American destination that requires travel by local or regional boats? Then you’d better think twice or prepare really well. Along Colombia’s Pacific coast, as an example, for an ocean voyage of from several hours up to more than two days, you may well be obligated to take a boat on which there are not only NO creature comforts but also NO:

• Life vests or life preservers
• Life boats
• Toilets
• Chairs or seats
• Potable water
• interior lighting at night
• meals or food

More Caveats
There is likely to be poor ventilation and frequently passengers get seasick with no recourse or sanitation facilities of any kind. There might not be any reliable protection from elements like the broiling sun, cold, wind-swept rain or splashing waves, either. You could also be subjected to noxious fumes from cargo such as combustibles, solvents and other chemicals. We won't even go into animal "products" from livestock being transported. Yipes!

Photo: Forward cargo space for passengers and freight. Where’re you gonna sit?

Cargo Boats?
The cargo boat on which you’ll sail will likely have no night running lights, be poorly maintained, and have an uneducated, untrained crew who must work literally around the clock. The job of two or more crew members is to stand in nearly calf-deep water in the cargo hold of the vessel and manually bail water leaking in from the multitudinous cracks and loose seams in the wooden hull. As usual, the vessel will be dangerously overloaded. During vacation and holiday seasons, it’ll be overloaded with cargo and overcrowded.

Packed Like Sardines
For example, one ship, licensed to carry eight to ten passengers routinely crams more than 100 passengers aboard under conditions resembling those depicted during the transport of slaves during the slave trade. Many other passenger-carrying vessels aren’t licensed for passengers at all. Registering sea-going vessels as “cargo boats only” relieves boat owners of any responsibility for providing even the barest of humane conditions. Boats sail past armada inspection craft – without being inspected. Captains and crew just “hide” passengers inside and out of sight until they’re well away from the port (and the armada). Travelers are simply viewed as an “extra money” commodity with no consideration whatsoever as to comfort. Forget the idea of “pleasure” entirely. You can pretty much also forget English-speaking officials, captains or crew members.

No Alternatives
So why, you might ask, do travelers continue to put up with such archaic, unsanitary and perilous-at-best conditions that would be considered inhumane by any standards in the world? Simple. It’s because there are no alternatives. Cargo boat owners and captains are given “Carte Blanche” to revel in greed treating paying customers like cattle – or worse.

Yes, there are government regulations that mandate PFDs, life boats, sanitary facilities, having a potable water supply, ship to shore UHF / VHF radios and a satellite transceiver. Other essential equipment for ocean-going vessels including boats that ply the coastal waters from Panama to Peru include such items as night running lights after sunset, which can be as early as 4:30 pm, a compass, GPS locator and regular maintenance certificates in addition to crew and trip logs.

In the 1300 kilometers from Colombia’s southern region coastal city of Tumaco to Jurado, the northernmost port along Colombia’s Pacific coast, the sinking of fishing, cargo and passenger vessels with the resulting loss of life are all too common. During the past several months, a wave of sea-going vessel disappearances has stunned and dismayed populations of coastal communities in Colombia. We all grieve for these senseless deaths resulting from ignorance, apathy and avarice.

Think Twice or Prepare Well
So if you’re going to a South American destination along the Pacific coast that requires travel by local or regional boat, you’d better think twice or prepare really well.

Prof. Larry M. Lynch is an English language teaching and learning expert author and university professor in Cali, Colombia. Now YOU too can live your dreams in paradise, find romance, high adventure and get paid while travelling for free. Need professional, original salt or fresh water fishing related content, articles or photos, images and graphics for your fishing / outdoor blog, newsletter, e-zine or website? Have a question, request, or want to receive more information or to be added to his articles and information mailing list? Contact the author at:

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