by Raul Verdecie/CO8ZZ
Amateur Radio offers the privilege to form friendships without preconditions. It creates, it generates, it leads the way and it expands horizons. Months ago I visited one of its temples. It is called “Jumanji”. Since then, I feel like a better person.
It all started in May of 2013 when I received the fantastic news from Juan Carlos / CO2JD – which I initially believed was a joke – that we both had been invited by Jorge / HK1R to participate in the yearly CQWW CW event at the HK1NA contest station. This was followed by email exchanges with Pepin / HK3TK / CO2TK which confirmed the good news. From this moment there were countless emails and many visits to Havana from Las Tunas to deal with many bureaucratic hurdles and consular requirements, which Jorge always helped us deal with in a timely manner. Finally, one day before our flight, I had the visa in my hand. Juan Carlos, who resides in Havana, had received his visa earlier. We flew to Panama City in the morning of 19 November where we boarded a connecting flight to Cartagena. We arrived in this beautiful Caribbean city at noon the same day. As previously agreed, we were greeted at the airport by Pedro / HK1X.
Cartagena de Indias
Pedro proved to be just what we had imagined after so many years of contacts via radio; someone of excellent character and above all a very good host. He took us to a small but very comfortable hotel. We agreed that he would pick us up in the evening for dinner and a tour of the old part of Cartagena City. Juan Carlos and I decided to go out for some lunch and then spend the afternoon checking out the surroundings. Cartagena is undoubtedly a very beautiful city and its inhabitants make it proud with their modesty and their amazing politeness. We soon discovered that friendliness and great personality are distinct characteristics of the Colombian people, at least for the “costeños” which the inhabitants of the northern coastal regions like to call themselves. Back at the hotel, I finally had time to email my family and friends and bring them up to date on our trip. To that end, I had brought along an I-Pod from Cuba. Despite some initial setbacks due to my I-Pod ignorance, I never missed an opportunity from then on to wherever I found myself connect to the internet via a Wi-Fi network.
In the evening we went along with Pedro to see a part of the old city which sometimes reminded us of historic Havana with its cobbled streets and an architecture dating back to that common era when the two cities were founded. We had dinner at a great crepes restaurant with the obvious name of “Crepes and Waffles”. It was a very pleasant place with a very friendly atmosphere. There was a harmonious mix of old and new in the establishment.
About nine-thirty the following Wednesday morning, Pedro picked us up and took us to the terminal for “busetas”, which is what the locals call the small buses, which provide the main means of transportation between all major towns and cities in the Caribbean. We boarded the ” buseta” for the Cartagena – Barranquilla route. Pedro instructed the driver to make a stop at a gas station close to farm where Jose / HK1R has built his ham radio station. There were supposed to be two motorcycle riders waiting for us there to take us to “Jumanji”. After a journey of about an hour and a half, the “buseta” arrived at the agreed destination. There really were two “Motor Cycle Taxis” waiting for us there! We were told that this means of transportation was very common in order to meet the transportation demands stemming from an “epidemic” growth of households in the area due to the opening of a nearby China owned factory. As we were approaching the Jumanji station, holding on for dear life to our luggage in the back of the motorbikes, the antenna field was becoming visible and I was beginning to comprehend the enormity of this installation. On arrival, we were met by Salim/HK1T who greeted us welcome and invited us into the building which housed the radio room, a huge kitchen with a dining and assembly area, sleeping quarters for at least fifteen people and three large bathrooms with showers. Salim asked us to enter the radio room and get acquainted with the equipment. As I stepped into the room, I further realised how privileged we were to have been invited to operate from this station. Seven comfortable operating positions equipped with ICOM radios; 7600’s, 7700’s and 7800’s and Alpha 8410 amplifiers gave me undoubtedly enough reason to feel this way. Salim is one of the leaders of the Jumanji “brotherhood”. He is an incredibly attentive and thoughtful person with a great personality who always is busy with something. He was working on the rotor for the cubical quad for the multiplier station when we arrived at midday.
The Foreign Legion
Jorge had already given us a friendly welcome by phone at our arrival and was continually kept up to speed through Pedrito about us during our stay in Cartagena. Having settled in at the farm, we learned that Jorge was in Barranquilla to meet some other contest colleagues who would be arriving from USA and Brazil. He arrived the farm around 3PM accompanied by Lars/K9FY, Ville/PY2ZEA-OH2MM, Thomas/PY2ZEA-SM0CXU, who along with Mariano/LU8EOT, Juan Carlos/CO2JD and myself completed the group of foreign operators. I met Mariano in person a bit later when he arrived from the home of Bolmar/HK1MW where he was installing an SDR (Software Defined Radio) for our skimmer along with Jaime / HK1N. From the first instance they all came across as great people; very accessible and simple in spite of holding respectable records from big expeditions and contests from various corners of the world. Lars and Thomas originate from Sweden while Ville is Finnish and a member of the world renown club “Radio Arcala”.
Later the same day, Jorge asked Juan Carlos and me to come along on a trip to Barranquilla to assist with some of the necessary shopping for the next few days on the farm. Jorge is the leader and it would have been exceptional not to accept this request. As it turned out, we got along like a house on fire and we quickly felt like we had known each other forever. We talked a little about many things during the trip to the city a few minutes away from the farm. The quality of the motorway caught our attention. It turned out to have a surface consisting of two layers of different materials separated by a layer of polyethen. Jorge explained that it was made that way to reduce damage due the constant changes between periods of heavy rains and droughts. We also noticed an impressive building construction activity everywhere we looked. The part of the city we saw see reminded us of some of the more modern parts of Havana, like “El Vedado”. After shopping, we picked up Frank/HJ1FAR, another member of the team, who is responsible for computer issues and also is a general trouble shooter. After that, we returned straight to Jumanj.
By Thursday morning, the whole team was assembled except for Pedro, who had to deal with some business issues, and Pepin/HK3TK, who had missed his flight from Bogota. Earlier, we had met with the rest of the team; Bolmar/HK1MW and Jaime/HK1N, who are like the patriarchs of the group – not only because of their seniority, but also because of the respect they inspire and deserve. The morning was buzzing like a beehive with activity; everyone was busy with some last minute details or remaining project – despite the many preceding weeks of intense work. As for the “Cuban contingement”, we were busy helping Salim make baluns for the cubical quad from 75 Ohm coax. Jaime was checking if they were made to the specified 100 Ohm impedance with his antenna analyzer. After lunch, Bolmar invited us for a tour of the antenna fields. In particular, he took us to see one of the two 5-element 80 m vertical arrays which he had personally worked on. There, while admiring his magnificent job and hearing him speak so passionately about it, I felt like the main character in an initiation rite, where I was facing a Radiating Monster and with Bolmar in the role of the Ceremonial High Priest. When we returned to the station, I sat down at the 10 m position and in what seemed like the blink of an eye, I had worked more than 100 stations. This was the first time the HK1/CO8ZZ call sign was heard on the air. In the mid-afternoon, Bolmar invited Juan Carlos and me to see Juan de Acosta, the town where he lives. We stopped by his house to check on Mariano’s and Jaime’s progress with the skimmer system before we continued our trip to Juan de Acosta.
Juan de Acosta
The town certainly doesn’t dazzle a visitor with its beauty, but with a particular magical simplicity. It’s typical small town character; the Parish, the park and everything else I studied around me made me for some reason dig into my subconscious and recall the writings of the illustrious “costeño” Gabriel Garcia Marquez. A colorful sculpture of the Simon Bolivar, the Liberator, stood in front of a building, which I surmised could only be City Hall, giving homage to this great man and his ties to the history of this land and all of America. After a brief tour around the town, during which we saw proof that Bolmar is held in high regard by its citizens, we returned to his house. There, Mariano and Jaime were working away on the SDRs for the skimmer, which for some reason did not work as expected just 24 hours before the start of the contest.At one time during our discussions, we suspected that the receiving antennas were causing the problem and we decided to raise them as high as the coaxes would allow us. In the end it turned out to be a software issue and the problem was solved just as night was falling. When we returned to Jumanji, it was late at night. I sat down at the 40 m station. The plan was that Pedro and I would operate this position in 4 hour shifts during the first part of the contest and that I would also do some 10 m operating later in the contest. However, because some of our colleagues were absent for some of the shift changes, alterations were necessary to our original plan.
That night I had the pleasure of operating this magnificient HK1NA 40 m band station; an IC-7800, an Alpha 8410 and an array of antennas to select from. For the most part I used the 3-over-3 el. stacked yagis. There was also an 5 element vertical array towards Europe along with various wire antennas and a SAL-20 receiving system. Being accustomed to the very high noise level at my home station, I was in paradise and enjoyed working and nourishing a constant pileup for the entire time I was on the air. One of the many Cuban stations I worked was Douglas / CO8DM who phoned my wife about it. I managed to speak to her myself a little later. It was an indescribable experience to be so far away and to hear my loved ones from my home station – a veteran TS-130 putting out a mere 10 watts. When I closed the station, I had logged more than 650 contacts.
With Pedro’s and Pepin’s arrival that morning we now had a complete team. Pepin was the last one to arrive. He is a Cuban who has lived in Colombia for many years. This was the first time we met person to person after numerous radio contacts and we were almost 2000 miles away from our homeland. Pepin has got the Cuban call sign CO2TK and while operating from Cuba on a permanent basis, he was one of the most active DX and contest stations from there; he is no doubt also a very nice person. I spent a part of the morning at the 10 meter station; a K3 with an Alpha 8410 and choice of antennas: a stack of 5 over 5 over 5 el yagis, a stack of 9 over 9 el new Super Berthas and a GP. Just like for 40 meters, it was a pleasure to work pileups with the added advantage of no QRN. Towards midday, I made my way up the hill where most of the towers are located. With Salim already up there, two of his tower workers aided by Frank, Pepin, Juan Carlos and myself hoisted the new cubical quad for the multiplier station to the top of the tower. I had arrived just in time to join the others in their efforts to get that monster up there without the wind entangling the spider webs in the tower structure. When we finally had the assembly completed, it was already a few minutes past 5 in the afternoon and we made our way back down to the station for a previously planned meeting and the pre-contest team photo.
A few minutes before the start of the contest, each first-shift operator was parked on a clean frequency; Bolmar/HK1MW on 160, Jaime HK1N on 80, Pedro HK1X on 40, Ville PY2ZEA on 20, Jorge HK1R on 15 and Mariano LU8EOT on 10 meters. At 00:00 UTC on Saturday the 23rd of November the powerful signals from HK1NA were being transmitted on all bands from 10 to 160 meters. An hour into the contest we had accelerated to a speed of 672 QSOs per hour and we had 591 contacts in the log. I had been planning to catch some sleep and wake up a bit before eleven to take over from Pedro. But I could not fall asleep. Instead, I decided to wait for my turn by watching our contest development, so I parked myself in front of a screen that was installed in the kitchen meeting area. I also took the opportunity to update my Facebook profile and reply to some pending messages. When our shift change came around, we already had 650 QSOs on 40 meters and 2150 total. The next few hours I was in intense activity and by the time I handed over to Pedro again we had around 1200 contacts in the log. A few minutes after finishing my shift on 40 meters, I relieved Bolmar on the top band as he was not feeling well and I honestly was not feeling sleepy. Working 160 at HK1NA was a wonderful experience because of the marvelous setup for this band; an IC-7600 and an Alpha 9500 amplifier, a full size vertical, dipoles and a Hi-Z receiving system. To use this system was a new experience for me because of its directivity. There is a direction selector which I used continuously to give me the best reception for each contact. At six o’clock in the morning, I returned to 40 meters and stayed there until the band closed on the dot at eight o’clock and I went to sleep for the first time.
I spent the day filling in for short periods on 10 and 15 meters although later in the evening I worked 15 for almost three hours after I had stood by the side of Lars at the 15 m station for a while and he asked me if I wanted to take over. I agreed immediately. By then we were at 8000 contacts and were running at a rate of 468 QSOs per hour. Jumanji’s setup on 15 meters is an IC-7700 and an Alpha 8410 to a stack of 6 over 6 over 6 element yagis and a vertical. At seven in the evening I started my “official” shift on 40 meters until eleven o’clock when I would be relieved by Pedro. The previous day, I had been alerted to be ready to take over from Pedro before his shift was over because he was not feeling well. So, a few minutes before midnight, I was back in the operating seat for 40 meters. Pedrito returned feeling better about two thirty in the morning. When I went for some rest, our statistics showed 11,600 contacts and a running rate of 280 QSOs per hour, something normal for that time in the early morning.
I woke up at seven o’clock in the morning and immediately went to 40 meters. A little later, having closed that station, we were approaching 12,800 contacts. I spent the rest of the day filling in on 15 and 10 meters and working the multiplier station: An IC-756 PROIII and an ICOM PW-1 amplifier and the 4-element cubical quad multibander. Something I enjoyed during the contest, in addition to the magnificent pileups, was the maneuverablility that the CW Skimmer offers in the hunt for multiplers at that station. The CW Skimmer is a software morse decoder designed by VE3NEA, that in combination with the SDRs spots stations heard over a selected bandmap segment shown on the computer screen. In turn, the Wintest logging program used at HK1NA identifies which of the spots that are needed multipliers. A double click on the displayed multiplier call sign immediately takes the transceiver to work that station on the frequency where it last was heard. This makes it possible to change frequency and complete a QSO quickly enough not to lose one’s running frequency. Without doubt, something fantastic. I spent the last four to five hours of the contest on 10 and 15 meters. Contrary to my expectations, the 10 meter conditions were not as good as on the Saturday and the same thing applied to 15 meters. Normally those two bands are very productive to the end of the contest. This, without doubt, contributed to a final result below our expectations. In the end, we failed the initial objective, which wasto exceed the 2012 score, and we ended up with 42.822.198 points for a total of 15.156 valid contacts, 203 CQ Zones and 756 countries worked. That same night, everyone began the return to their homes: Pedro to Cartagena, while Pepin, Thomas and Ville went by taxi to Barranquilla to stay the night before catching their early morning flights. Remaining to spend the night at Jumanji before catching their flights on Monday were Lars, Juan Carlos and myself along with Frank who lives in Barranquilla and Mariano who would be staying on for yet a few more days. As for myself, I had no problems at all with staying yet another night at Jumanji. I was intending to spend some of the time to update my Facebook profile with recent photos, answer messages and to work 40 meters SSB for the first time. Despite my fatigue, I was going to take advantage of all the amusements that HK1NA had to offer.
The next day, Bolmar came by and invited Juan Carlos and me for another trip before it was time for our farewell. He was later accompanied by his neighbor and brother-in-law Freddy/HK1ANP, whom we had known before at Jumanji. We went to the town of Baranoa which turned out to be much like Juan de Acosta, but with slightly more commercial activity. There, something curious happened to us. While visiting a shopping centre, I was taking a picture with Juan Carlos as the “model”, we were approached by the manager who very respectfully explained to us that it was the company’s policy not to allow pictures to be taken in their establishment. When Bolmar told to him that we were visitors from Cuba and that he and Freddy were local customers (he showed him a card) he went out of his way to give us a tour of the place. We talked with the manager for a good while about his business, projects and the future of their mother company which owns the shopping mall. Our conversation was very friendly and helped to reinforce the positive opinion of the Colombian people that we already had.
Their friendliness and their educated manners seem to be innate in them and particularly in those serving customers in shops and other businesses – something which we unfortunately are not accustomed to here. On our return, we left Freddy at his house where we took the opportunity to see his magnificient radio station and to exchange cards. It was already three-thirty in the afternoon and Jose was waiting for us at Jumanji. About five in the afternoon we took off on the road to Barranquilla. We left Jumanji and to me it felt like the place was entering a state of magic of slumber, because I am certain that HK1NA never really sleeps from one contest to another.
The end of the day.
In the evening, Jorge picked us up at our hotel in Barranquilla. He took us out for dinner at a relatively nearby nice restaurant which we arrived at after a small tour of the city. When Mariano and Salim joined us at the table, we had already covered several topics of conversation and some of our group had been able to enjoy more than one beer. This night time experience proved how special ham radio is. How else could such a fraternal atmosphere coincide with the small space of a table, with so many nationalities and with such a variety of idiosyncrasies; two Colombians, one Swedish-American, one Argentine and two Cubans. Wet returned to our hotel around eleven in the evening after saying goodbye to Salim and to Mariano, who would stay on for a few more days in Colombia. Juan Carlos and I were to fly out from Cartagen at one o’clock the following afternoon so it was agreed that Jorge would pick us up at eight in the morning and bring us to the nine o’clock “buseta” for Cartagena. Before going to sleep, we said goodbye to Lars, to who would take a taxi to the Barranquilla airport at five o’clock and would have to rise very early. An embrace goes to Lars who had become closer to us at the end of these unforgettable days.
Wednesday (the departure)
If there is something that I have never learned to appreciate, it is farewells; especially when leaving behind good moments and great friends. At nine o’clock sharp, we departed for Cartagena. When we said goodbye to Jorge, we left behind one of those freshly formed friendships and a friend who was the one responsible for allowing us the experience of such vivid good times there. The Cartagena airport was the last place where I was able to send an update to family and friends and to reply to some messages. By chance, while we were waiting for our flight, we met a compatriot who lives in the USA already for several years and who was visiting Colombia on religious matters. We enjoyed conversing with him so much that when we finally boarded our plane, all the other passengers were already in their seats. Upon arrival in the airport of Panama City, we went in search of Lars who had a long layover there, but we had no such luck. We arrived Havana fifteen minutes to seven in the evening and that’s how of a week of intense emotions and unforgettable experiences came to an end. A week that in an almost mystical way saw the confluence of friendship, a common interest and the love of ham radio.
Acknowledgements and a bit more…
Only a few days after my arrival in Las Tunas on November 28, I decided to start writing this kind of a travel diary, although the idea came from our first walk during the stressful days prior to our trip, when Juan Carlos repeatedly encouraged me to write one. My delay in finishing it has not been because of slackness or despondency; I have had to write it in small steps whenever time and the muses have allowed me to. In addition to the acknowledgements in these last few paragraphs I would like to also include something that had me puzzled; the origin of the name of the station. I also offer my apologies because many may find my narrative too long and excessively detailed; I am a minimalist who really has committed a sin. But, the volume and the quality of the experiences that I lived during this week out of the homeland were actually of such a magnitude that many of the details in fact have escaped my crowded head. First of all, I would like to thank those who from the beginning and in a decisive manner helped bring about the happy outcome of this event. Above all, and despite his aversion to recognition, Jorge receives our profound gratitude for bringing our presence at HK1NA beyond the realm of a dream project.
To Pepin for being there and extending his hand for us. A thank you also to Dr. Helmut Bellingrodt without whose kind and decisive collaboration our visa application would not have cleared in time. By the way, Mr. Consul was a radio amateur for a time and he is remembered by his compatriots for being Colombia’s first Olympic medalist. It was in the 1972 Olympic games ( silver in shooting – running target). He repeated this feat in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Our gratitude also goes to Mr. Roberto Rey / HK3CW, President of the League of Colombian Amateur Radio for the support he provided, to my QSL manager Erhard/DK1WI and to each and every one of the great friends that we met in Jumanji, for their humility, unconditional support, great hospitality and above all, for their sincere friendship that we are sure, will survive both distance and time. Many thanks to everyone!
It was something that I had always wondered about and I am sure it is a question that many people have asked themselves. Salim HK1T was the first one with whom I conversed on the topic. The story of Jumanji is good enough to warrant documentation in written or audio-visual form. According to Sal, there were some radio amateurs who operated individual contest from the farm when it had nothing but a rustic old house. There were large and small animals grazing all around the farm and the amateurs tried to cohabit with them in the best way possible – even having some of them sleep between operators’ feet during the long nights in front of the radio. At one of the many occasions when someone intended to ask Jorge for permission to operate from the farm, that person first mentioned this to Salim, who without hesitation remarked: “Ah, you will be going to Jumanji!” Sal was making reference to a literary work by Chris van Allsburg, which had been made into a movie starring Robin Williams. In it, a house is suddenly transformed into a quite inhabitable jungle as a result of a magic trick. Later on, when the new station house was being built, it was decided to name it Jumanji in honor of Salim’s witty response. Now, that I think of it, could not the magic that one breaths and feels at HK1NA be an inheritance from its literary baptism?
Las Tunas January 6, 2014