Even without seeing any "before" photos -which we're curious about- you can see the amount of work she has put in. Her good taste and attention to the smallest detail gives it a unique character that is very inviting. We were actually toying with the idea of having the wedding here, then having a big party when we get back to Key West. The flight to Panama would be little more than one to Key West and while here, food, drinks and accommodations are very reasonable. $1 beers! It would have been cheaper for everyone in the long run. If US Immigration were not such a pain in the duff, that is. We need to call an immigration lawyer to confirm it but from what we're reading on the internet, it's a paperwork nightmare. Oh well, it was a good idea.
We took a walk up the road to check out the area. This road is a bane to the existence of everyone who lives along it: full of potholes, and a real mess after it rains. It's slated for repair soon but in the meantime, Stacy has only a couple of cab drivers to call that will tackle it, and residents themselves say they go through 6 sets of brakes/year -it's 4-wheel drive territory only. However, the brakes aren't the only casualties... not while I'm present, anyway. I really don't consider myself a klutz, but I'm rethinking it! We'll call this Wardrobe Malfunction #2. Actually, it would be #2b, because these flip flops have failed me on another occasion and I have a nice scar on my knee to attest to the fact. Anyway, I slipped on a patch of mud that looked adequately dry and ended up pretty much doing a half-split! Of course, I was trying to save the camera at all costs and with hands in the air, I ended up with a bruised elbow, ankle and knee, but I really sacrificed my hamstring -that's gonna take some time to heal! However, my sense of humour was not sacrificed -I couldn't even get up because it hurt and I was laughing so hard! It must have looked like quite the slapstick routine as Travis tried to pull my muddy ass off the road! But the funniest part is that I was wearing an old pair of shorts that are about in tatters, and they have a button-up fly. Yep, you guessed it, W.M. #3: my buxom 6-pack popped every one of those buttons off and I limped an hour back to the hotel holding up my pants! And trying to do so discreetly when vehicles passed by... Yeah.... I have a stomach ache, that's it....
I wonder if this crap happens to everybody else, too. We've all decided that it does, but not everybody gets as good a laugh out of telling the world about it. It reminds me of someone I know who stuck her tongue on the side of a bus shelter. It was Saskatoon wintertime. She was 29 years old. When the next bus came by, she decided it was less embarrassing to look like she was drunk than what the situation really was so she put her arm around her head and nobody could see her tongue stuck to the metal while she waited for her friend to return with some warm water. She later decided to tell the whole story on her CBC radio show...
09 July 07 ...The Conclusion of the Transmission Saga
Even though the postal service actually lost our package for a few days, they can confirm without a doubt that it arrived in the country with the packaging in pristine condition. They are therefore blaming the company in Florida for not packing it adequately for international shipping and, as such, refuse to compensate us for a fully insured package. All this is of course hooey. So JB Weld it we did, tore the boat up and installed it. It seems to be holding but it's something we'll have to keep an eye on for awhile.
We said bye-bye to the marina on Saturday and we're happily back out in the anchorage, our neighbourhood. The four of us celebrated with a feast of massive smoked double-bone pork chops, mash & grilled veg, a pitcher of sangria and good conversation. Ahh, home sweet home!
13 July 07 ...Paperwork
After the transmission episode, our most recent challenge has been dealing with Panamanian bureaucracy. Sound like fun?
Travis inquired locally about getting a crossover license: all of his US Boat Captain credentials transferred to a Panamanian license so that he would have an easier time operating boats outside the US. This would usually involve writing an exam. When he visited the port captain, he was told that it involved a trip to the mainland and a $100 fee, only. It seemed too easy, so we double-checked that there was no misunderstanding, and there wasn't. So early one morning last week, I dragged my sick butt out of bed and off we went to Almirante to meet with the "boss" at 9am. At 10am, the "boss" showed up, not knowing who we were, or what we were there for. He checked Travis's papers, made a phone call to our port captain, and got things rolling with the paperwork required. After about 45 minutes, he was nearing the end of the process when someone looked over his shoulder and told him, "That's not what he wants." Apparently the boss had a boss. Turns out that what we were paying for was a local operator's license that the water taxi drivers need. So this little official-looking document was a $100 souvenir. It's unique, anyway, I suppose.
After that, we boarded my sick butt on a bus and went to the other mainland town of Changuinola to renew our tourist visas. While the boat is allowed to be in the country for 3 months, we peons are only given 30 days at the border. I always knew CJ had more class than us! This is a recent change in policy, and it seems that these policies are evolving so fast that the officials can't even keep up with them. Anyway, we called in advance and were told to come by the office in Changuinola at 2pm. After over an hour of waiting, running around for photocopies, watching several people come and go before us, watching a grouchy official be mean to little old ladies, watching another official squint at forms and new policies she'd obviously never seen before...
-"We have a new policy. Would you like option A or option B?"
-"Because I just want you to get what's best for you. Would you like option A or option B?"
-"Because I just want you to get what's best for you."
Two hours after walking in the door we were walking back out with little more than nothing accomplished -she gave the last forms away to the guys ahead of us (which could have been us, had we not been told to come in only at 2:00). So we were released into the wild with a handwritten note stapled to our passports, hoping that it would explain to somebody-or-other why we were in their country with an expired visa.
Of course, we were the last people out of the office. We jumped into the nearest cab to get to the water taxi dock, only to find out that the last two boats for the day were already full, "You'll have to go back to Almirante." Grab the cab before he takes off, back to town (another $4, please), back on the bus, hoping we would make the last boat home. We did, by 10 minutes. Otherwise, the dingy back home wasn't locked up for the night, so we could just say goodbye to that, and we would have had to take another bus back to Changuinola to get a hotel!! I was still sick, and I had absolutely nothing nice to say about this country that day, to say the very least.
Yesterday we made our second trip back to Changuinola -via Almirante, the long way around of course, because the water taxis were full again... because I was sick again (BAD chicken!) and we missed the first taxi out. This week's expedition got everything tied up after another two hours in the office, and after all the boats, buses and cabs our $16 visas x2 =$32 have turned into an $88 ordeal. The only way this could have been more complicated or costly is if we'd walked in with a transmission under our arm.
It's not all bad, though. Upon further inspection of the little official-looking document, we've determined that it sits somewhere between what we would call a "6-pack" license (to operate small charters) and an Able Bodied Seaman in the Merchant Marines. So, maybe a unique $50 souvenir... And don't think me naive about government politics: they're the same everywhere. I'm chalking all this up as good practice for next year when we'll be applying for residency, a green card, and my favourite: Advance Parole. Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?
16 July 07 ...Leaving Bocas
It's been 6 weeks here in Bocas and we're wrapping things up to leave tomorrow. We went out to visit Stacey one more time at her hotel -it's such a nice chill place to spend an afternoon- and we managed to get her out on the boat for breakfast this morning. She's so busy that we didn't get to hang out with her as much as we would have liked, but then again, we were busy too. Oh, and we did get to see some "before" photos of the hotel. Wow, it's not even the same place.
I made my first really bad Spanish mistake yesterday. Stacey sent Roberto to pick us up in town and he said that the roads were very bad. Indeed, even though it hasn't been raining as much, the potholes were enormous. I said (in Spanglish) that I grew up in a rural area of Canada, so I was very familiar with potholes. Well, that's what I thought I was saying. Roberto says, "WHAT?!" I guess the difference in Spanish between "pothole" and "lesbian" is very slight. So we had a good chuckle over that one and a couple of minutes later I said, "Oofda!" as we bounced over another pothole, and again he says, "WHAT?" because he thought I had said something else. This one I did know, but actually didn't say. Still, maybe it was time to keep my Spanglish mouth shut! And I certainly wouldn't turn to Roberto to help me correct any blunders. He's the one who had Stacey running around looking for a vagina every time she wanted to sweep the floor -and "vagina" and "dustpan" don't sound anything the same in Spanish!
Anyway, I'm still confused about the whole thing so for safety's sake, I don't think it wise to comment on anything to do with me and potholes again until I get it straightened out. In the meantime, rumours about Canadian smalltowns abound... Still, it's better than Travis's blunder in Columbia several years ago. Truth be told, I am familiar with lesbians and these friends are probably laughing their butts off right now as they read this! In Travis's scenario, however, he was out with a woman friend, and wanted to ask her if she was hungry. He didn't know the word for "hungry" so he asked her if she wanted to go eat ("comer" in Spanish). But in Columbian slang, he had actually asked her if she wanted to f*$#. He earned himself a friendly smack, but since they actually were out on kind of a date, one had to wonder if she wasn't thinking, "Gee, do you think we could at least have dinner first?!" However, she wasn't actually hungry and there was no comer-ing of any kind that day, which should come as no great surprise to anyone, considering the circumstances.
Travis, Jeremy & Crystal went on one more bottle expedition over the weekend -it was their third. Travis was told that there were some antique bottles in the channel and he thought they might be worthy of his collection. Some people forage for treasure, Travis likes his 19th Century bottles and they found some cool ones. They clean up very nicely as well, and we've included some photos in the Bocas album. The square blue medicine bottle is my favourite but also interesting are the ones with the round bottoms and the irregular hand blown beer bottles.
Apart from some canvas work and sorting through a ton of photos, we should be pretty much ready to go. We'll be heading east doing easy day sails to the Zapatillas, Bluefields and the Chagres River all the way to Colon. Hopefully the weather will cooperate. Right now the most unstable weather in the Caribbean is sitting right on top of us. For the last month there have been tropical waves one after the other coming off the coast of Columbia with winds 20-30mph and seas 9-12 feet. This weather pattern is fairly typical for this time of year. Early in the season, the tropical waves that start hurricanes originate from down here. Later on, the waves are coming off the coast of Africa, and at the end of the season the waves are starting in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic. However, the conditions are amplified this year because of the ITCZ (Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone). This area of unstable weather is normally within a few degrees of the equator but this year it is much further north. This has been responsible for the unsettled weather as of late. (Thanks to Travis for the weather report. The extent of my knowledge about weather patterns? It's raining. I have to walk around puddles. I'm worried about keeping the computer dry here on the patio.)
We won't have access to the internet for at least a week, but we can still be reached at our satellite account that we'll be checking every few days. Until next time...!
24 July 07 ...Colon
So much for our leisurely trip to Colon! It was a rainy day when we got up to depart Bocas and we wondered why we would want to pull the anchor to sail 2 hours to set the anchor again and sit inside the boat all day while it rained outside. However, the wind and current were in our favour for an expedient trip all the way here, so why not? The only place we skipped over that we really wanted to catch was the Rio Chagres, which is only a half-day's backtrack.
It's pronounced "cologne", by the way, though Travis might disagree. Referring to another unsavoury body part, he calls it the Armpit of the Caribbean. It's a very industrial town, since it's the entryway to the canal. As such, there are a lot of gringos here waiting for their passage through the canal. It's a good place to reprovision while you wait since things are very cheap but don't venture out on your own! Theft and muggings are rampant, and you are advised to go nowhere outside the yacht club without a taxi. A good taxi driver will also escort you into the offices and businesses you need to visit.
We were reprovisioned within 2 days and the boat is stocked up for the second half of the trip. We went all out, since this is going to be the last stop for cheap goods -Cartagena is still good, but a little pricier than here. So we've been just hanging around over the weekend. The rain has kept us inside some afternoons, but we wanted a few days to chill out anyway. We made a trip up to look at the canal locks which was very cool, but not exactly what I was expecting. Here I stood in front of this manmade wonder and proclaimed, "I thought it was gonna be bigger!" What a brat. But it was very interesting to watch the massive boats going through, and there's been an array of them to look at every day from the anchorage as they approach and depart from the locks.
We've spotted our dream pilot house. One of the other boats in the anchorage had it made in Cartagena for less than half what it would cost in the States -if you could even find someone with those skills and the time. It's all hand-laid teak, done with hand tools. We're in love! It would look so great on CJ. We always thought that a cockpit enclosure was going to look boxy and out of place on her, but this one has great lines, keeping with the shape of the boat. We've already contacted the marina in Cartagena in hopes of setting up an appointment with the carpenter, but he's booked up. So are the 2-3 other equally qualified carpenters, but I'm not discouraged yet. I'll just keep dropping him emails and maybe it will fall into place. I just feel like it was meant to be since we struggled to have a canvas enclosure built before we left but it just didn't work out. We also really have our hearts set on it.
In other news, we've taken on a 2nd mate. She is a gorgeous black & grey tabby, only tentatively named as of yet. The yacht club is overrun with resident cats, but nobody is really looking after them. When I inquired, I was told that they don't belong to anyone, "They just grow." Most of them look related, and all of them are in some state of ill-health. Obvious signs of starvation: eyes too big for the head, head too big for the body. If they have both eyes, that is! One of them is so gibbled and broken that I was almost bawling, it was the saddest thing I've ever seen (Jacqueline, you'd be so proud of me!). Our little kitty is different from the others: still healthy, albeit a bit thin, and tons of personality. Two employees of the marina told us to take her, and our cat lover neighbour talked us into it -she's already adopted to capacity. She encouraged us to just try it out for a few days and made it easy by setting us up with a kitty starter kit: litter and box, a baggie of food, treats and some toys, all things to make a kitty test drive easy. Who knows? Maybe the cat would hate the boat. However, we now think she was a boat cat left behind. I fully expected to be shredded to bits as I held her in the dinghy on the way out. She was curious but not freaked out, and kept her claws to herself. When we put her on the boat she crawled over the coaming, into the cockpit and waited for me to open up the companionway. She made her own way down the stairs without hesitation, checked out the front cabin, then the back, then situated herself under the table for a nap. She's even since made her own way up to the cockpit again to check things out, but seems to think that things are better down below and situates herself in the middle of the main salon for us to step over. She's has taken up residence on our bed as well. So she's pretty comfy on the boat and bonus: she's litterbox trained, yay! If she doesn't freak out while we're underway we'll bypass Colon on the way back and she'll have a place to call home.
The irony of us gaining a pet at this juncture is that we've wanted one for so long but have always put it off, anticipating this trip. We thought it unfair to drag a pet through quarantine in every country but every pet owner we talk to says they haven't had a problem. So I guess the pet found us -she zeroed in on us two suckers! Probably saw us coming from a mile away and turned on the charm.
After a week here in Colon we're pulling anchor in the morning and backtracking a bit to the Rio Chagres for a day or two, then heading east towards the San Blas Islands.
26 July 07 ...Rio Chagres
It's only a 2-hour trip back to the river and as we rounded the corner to the mouth, we could taste the earthy air. Jungle! We heard the howler monkeys right away and we wound our way up the river 6 miles or so spotting monkeys, sloths and toucans. As we set the anchor and turned off the engine, we were surprised to see a group of about 20 monkeys right by us on the river bank! We had a lot of fun watching them and snapping many, many pictures. Gotta love digital!! Some of them turned out blurry since they were so far away, but I've posted them anyway.
Then we all got in the dinghy and motored up some of the smaller tributaries looking for more wildlife. We spotted many basilisks, a.k.a. Jesus Christ Lizards, so named because they run on the water on their back legs. Hilarious!
Back to the boat for a relaxing happy hour and CJ's first good wash since the Rio Dulce back in Guatemala in early May. She was filthy! She got a good scrub, and we re-situated the kayak on the stern using the dinghy davits. As a result, the decks are now nice and clear and we're hoping she doesn't look like such a circus tent: banana-yellow kayak with red fuel cans and blue water cans. Can't miss her from a distance!
We, too, got a just-perfect-temperature bucket bath and we settled in for a relaxing night with the chirping of bugs and birds, the splash of tarpon and the barking of monkeys. Little kitty Tigra was even curious enough to come up top and explore. The wildlife sounds had her ears perked right up!
The next day we put the kayak in the water and paddled up some even smaller creeks. The water was very muddy -crocodile water! We wondered if they would try to eat us in our kayak. Mmmm. Yum-yum yellow: crunchy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside... But alas, no crocs to be worried about. We did see a red squirrel, though, and it was a nice quiet paddle.
The only fly in the soup was that there were poachers on the river tonight. We could hear the rifle, but the boat was just a little around the bend for us to bear full witness. However, they were in plain view of the only other boat on the river! How ballsy! 6 miles of river, and they choose to hunt right in front of us! It made us wonder if these guys and their guns were a threat, however, they delivered a friendly wave as they passed us by. Our neighbours said that they had shot a sloth. This area is a protected park but I guess there's really nobody to report to. They've seen this same boat a few times in the three weeks they've been anchored in this spot. And what the heck to you want to shoot a sloth for? It sure isn't for the sport of it -they only move a half inch per hour! Ya, big man!
28 July 07 ...Portobelo
Portobelo is a beautiful little town just up the coast from Colon. Travis has always said that if he were stuck a few weeks awaiting a canal transit date he would spend it here, and I would have to agree. It's a pleasant and friendly town with tons of history. We visited both 18th Century Spanish forts situated on opposite sides of the harbour and took a leisurely stroll through town. We had happy hour and snacks ashore and enjoyed a quiet evening aboard CJ in the very pretty harbour.
Unfortunately, we had to make a stop on the way here: back to Colon to drop off the kitty. She is the most perfect little thing: affectionate and sweet, litterbox trained, doesn't shed tons and is obviously at home on the boat. Until it's underway, that is. On the way to Chagres she was freaked by the sound of the engine. I couldn't find her -she was hiding between the pillows on the bed! On the way back it was a little rougher and she was so seasick it was coming out both ends after only 20 minutes. I couldn't bear to see her so sick because of course I know what that feels like! We discussed what to do. We have our doubts that it's something she would just get used to -maybe that's the whole reason this perfect cat was left behind in the first place. The only other option was to find some sort of kitty dramamine but with our plans coming up, we're going to be moving every day or two and it's not right to keep drugging up this cat on a near-daily basis. Then there's the miserable weeklong crossing we're anticipating in September... Worst of all, if it didn't work out in the end despite our best efforts, I was not happy with the fact that we'd probably end up having to leave her somewhere even worse and less accommodating than Armpit Colon. So we dropped her back off at the marina and left a bag of catfood. I feel like it's a death sentence for her, but she'd be miserable everyday with us, too. Maybe someone else will take her in. I sure miss that little kitty. ...stupid cat... (sniff!)
So when a pod of dolphins approaches the boat it's just good manners to go up to the bow even if it's bucking up and down like an amusement park ride. And so I rip myself out of my fetal position and go say hello. It seems very rude not to.
03 June 07 ...Land!!
It was a sloppy, wet 3-day slog from Honduras. Clearly, the weather wasn't listening to the forecast. The wind was coming out of the east and so we anticipated having to motor right into the wind and waves until we rounded the tip of Honduras for the turn south -then that east wind would work to our advantage! However, as we turned south the wind mysteriously clocked around to the south as well and we bucked waves all the way here. At times we were only making 2 knots, a snail's pace. It was a long 350 miles. We wondered if we turned around and headed back north if the wind wouldn't find a way to switch directions, too...
So we're here in Providencia, a small Colombian-owned island off the coast of Nicaragua. It's another beautiful, mountainous piece of undeveloped land, and one of three in the chain. San Andres to the south is purported to be very busy, with the party atmosphere of South Beach. The Albuquerque Cayes are a bit further south yet -we don't know much about them, but Crystal & Jeremy will be stopping there on the way down. As for Travis and I, we have to blow off the rest of the islands and make a beeline straight to Panama due to some mechanical issues. Our transmission has been giving us trouble, and we were hoping that it would make it to Panama where we could have it looked at. Well, it's just about kaput now, as it keeps wanting to slip out of gear in forward. Right now we're able to go forward in idle only. It seems to work better as it warms up, so we have high hopes for the trip but we still have to plan it carefully with the weather which, once again, seems to be ignoring the forecasts. Today is looking good, though, and we're planning a sunset departure. If worse comes to worse, we have water and ravioli to last us a couple of weeks while we bob up and down on the sea, waiting for wind!
Personally, I'm convinced that CJ has purposely sabotaged this portion of the trip. San Andres was to be the next stop, and that was her home for many years where she sat neglected. She was pillaged of all her parts and was just left there to die... Wahhh!! I suspect that despite all the therapy, going back there is just too much for her to bear...
And so we're hoping to limp into Bocas del Toro, Panama by the end of the week. Don't be surprised if we report that we had to nudge CJ along with our rubber dingy... Wish us luck!
What else... oh yeah. Travis and I are getting married (wish us luck with that, too!).
05 June 07 ...Panama
The transmission held out, but not without its complaints (some disturbing noises coming from the bilge!). It was a very comfortable trip and perfect sailing weather -we averaged 6 knots all the way here. We arrived in Bocas very early this morning and went through all the lah-de-dah with the officials. Things have changed since Travis was last here and we had to fork out some decent cash -ouch! More disturbing than that is that the first thing we're hearing upon arriving is "lock up your stuff". Not that we're not careful, but everywhere so far has been very secure, even the places we were warned about. Apparently you could have the glasses stolen off your face here, so to speak -there have been some pretty bold and cheeky thefts. Not the first impression we wanted to have of this place, since we're scouting it out for investment opportunities. However, it deserves a fair chance.
We did manage to bump in to one of our Key West friends right away, though. Unfortunately, they're all leaving for their weeklong trip today so we'll have to wait to visit with them. In the meantime, we're trying to find a mechanic who can help with the transmission. We're counting on having to go to Colon or Panama City to have it done and we might just take the boat a little further east along the coast and put it in a marina -they're all full here. Just our luck a big wind would come through the anchorage and the boat has no propulsion! We'd feel better having her tied up to a dock while she's having surgery...
We'll spend the next few days sorting all this stuff out, doing laundry, getting caught up on emails and hopefully fit in some relaxing!
07 June 07 ...The Gods Smile Upon Us
We made it into a marina here... somehow! We received an email from friends we met in Providencia -a Key West connection, actually, and another small world story! She informed us that she had spoken to Mary at Marina Carenero and that they might be able to take us in an emergency. Funny, Marina Carenero was the first to reply to my email saying that they had no room. We buzzed by anyway, thinking the worst they could say is "no". Again. Mary jockeyed around three boats to squeeze us in -that woman has a special place in heaven! Turns out she and her husband were cruisers before they bought the business 10 years ago and can therefore fully sympathize with our situation.
It was pretty stressful getting the boat to the marina because she didn't want to go in forward for a second and last time -after we had the anchor pulled and the engine died and we'd had a nice shiny new megayacht pull in right behind us an hour earlier that we could just drift into... OY! For about 15 minutes there I became very religious!
So anyway, we're here and relieved and feeling very thankful for our good fortune. We were in a quandary as to what to do and we probably wouldn't have checked back here if we hadn't received the news from our friend. The transmission got us to Bocas just fine, but after all her hiccups and sputters yesterday, there's no way we would have wanted to chance making it to Shelter Bay -it's a two day trip. So you never know what's gonna happen and how. And while we sometimes grump at our seeming lack of fortune with things mechanical, sometimes we end up being very fortunate indeed, and usually thanks to the goodness of somebody or other. Our faith in humanity has been restored for the time being!
We've signed up for a month, which should give us plenty of time to sort things out. Except that we're med-moored and have to jump over the bow to get off the boat, it's very comfortable, the facilities are good and the wireless internet is very fast! What a pleasant surprise! So it'll be a nice month of hanging out and hopefully getting all the urgent things done at our leisure (she says naively).
We have our first guest flying in tomorrow and we're busy putting the boat back together so we have room for her! It'll be nice to see her mug.
27 June 07 ...Catch-Up
While I've been thinking that not a lot has been going on to report over the last couple of weeks (at least nothing newsworthy), now that I sit down to compose this update I'm not sure where to start. Ok, here goes. Grab a seat, everyone.
Our friend Martini flew in on the 8th delivering her big smile which was good to see again, plus all sorts of goodies she'd picked up for us in Key West (mail, supplies from the shop, etc.). It was like Christmas, but Santa's in shape this year! Santa stayed the week and we mostly just chilled. We stumbled across an opportunity to stow away on a real estate tour and we spent one morning zipping around by boat looking at some amazingly beautiful property -some islands, some remote tracts of land on the mainland. All out of our price range, of course, but it was interesting to snoop around.
When it came time for Martini to leave, we were all, "Already?" She's such an easy guest it seemed like she had just arrived. Her plans were to take her next to the Canal, the Darien National Park and possibly the San Blas islands, where she could maybe meet up with us later. Crystal and I escorted her to the nearby mainland town of Changuinola to catch her bus. The town itself is nothing to speak of, but the journey there...!! We took a water taxi up the length of this island and sped towards the mainland. It looks like you're about to hit land when at the last second the driver makes a sharp S-curve and then whoosh! You're headed right down the canal at full speed. It's a beautiful tree-lined canal and while zipping along he dodged tree trunks and other obstructions -like pothole dodging, I guess, something a lot of us are more familiar with! As we headed further up the canal, the abundance of floating flora increased to the point where we had to slow down and motor hard through it. They were like water lilies, except thicker and with purple flowers. It looked like a beautiful field. Not so good for the props, though -when we cleared the "field", we had to stop and throw the engine into reverse to rid the prop of the plant corpses.
*-Transmission (are you ready for this one?!):
Recall that we limped in here 3 weeks ago with a tranny that didn't want to go into forward anymore. After much investigation, we discovered that it would cost around $700 plus shipping both ways to have it repaired (we couldn't find anyone here who could fix it). For a new one: $1000 plus shipping one-way. It was a no-brainer, so we just ordered a new one from Ft. Lauderdale, since there was nowhere here in Panama to get it. And then we waited in anticipation. And waited. Finally, with Mary's help here at the marina, we started making some calls and knocking on doors, and after much poking around and calling and emailing between Florida, Panama City and here, the package was discovered under some other boxes at the airport here in Bocas. Well good, at least it was here because there was a point where we were led to believe that it had been put on a ship and we wouldn't see it for three months! After paying duty on it, which we didn't think we should have to for a "vessel in transit" (grumble grumble) we had it in our hands so all was right with the world.
On Saturday, Travis and Jeremy had the boat all torn apart, the engine lifted, the old transmission out and they were about to install the new one when Jeremy wailed, "Oh no...Ohhh Nooooo.....OHHH MAN, you're gonna be mad!" Indeed. The transmission had been dropped and the housing cracked. We hadn't seen this through the plastic wrapper until just that most inconvenient moment.
So now what? Who the heck dropped our very expensive part? After we thought it over and put it all together, we came to the conclusion that it was dropped after it was taken out of the box -you could see where it made contact with concrete or some such. Since we're confident that the part left the shop in Florida in good working order, that leaves only a few options. Unless it was opened by officials somewhere in the States for God-knows-what reason, it probably happened here at customs, or with the marina employee who delivered it to the dock. But at the end of the day, it's lose-lose for us and there's no use in even wasting time or energy thinking about who did it. It's already been signed for and accepted by the dock employee, and there's also no way to prove that WE didn't drop it. And the chances of someone popping up and saying, "Hey, sorry about your part I dropped, let me replace it.": Zero.
More phone calls, more emails and more tearing out of hair. With marina costs, etc., we're in for $2000 on a $1000 part, and counting. Can it be patched, can it be welded, can we swap the old housing for the new one? Is it likely damaged on the inside, anyway? Blah blah blah. After more phone calls, more emails, more tearing out of hair and even considering the possibility that one of us might have to fly home to get this rectified, we've decided that our best course of action is to patch it with JB Weld two-part epoxy and be on our way. It only has to last the rest of this trip, then we'll take care of it at our leisure when we get home.
However, Mary is convinced that we should be able to get our money back since it was insured, and that the signature was only to release the package to customs. We're not optimistic about this at all but she is insisting that we wait 2 more days while she jumps through some hoops to give it a try. That means, MORE PHONE CALLS, MORE EMAILS, AND MORE TEARING OUT OF HAIR! We've faxed photos and documentation to somebody-or-other for review who will contact us tomorrow. Good grief, we don't even have the packing slip to show this somebody-or-other because the marina employee threw out the box at customs!! So unless the sky opens up tomorrow and the hand of God comes down and hands us a new transmission, we're ready to write this off, throw on the patch and be on our way while we still have some hair left because we are OVER IT!! We just want the headache to go away!
Apologies for the length of my rant but even if you got bored and just let your eyes skip over the majority of the paragraphs (and I wouldn't blame you!) it would still illustrate the extent of the messed-uppedness of this situation!
Just bumming around Bocas and getting to know the area. Honestly, this stop was supposed to be our rest and relaxation pause but we've spent so much time running from one place to another that we haven't even made it to our friend's hotel yet. Oh well, we have as much time here as we want now that we're out of the storm belt. It's an interesting little town and it is chock full of old Key Westers. It's weird walking down the street and thinking, "Hey, I've seen that guy before!" Or in Crystal & Jeremy's case: "Hey, our neighbours and good friends are here!" There's a huge expat community plus the yachties that are here for a season. Or a month, or whatever.
Travis's old boss and mentor, Reef Perkins, is in town right now, so the number of officers present from the Conch Republic Navy =4. For those of you who don't know: Reef is the Rear Admiral of the Conch Republic Navy, Travis is a Lieutenant, and I am the Foreign Liasons Officer for the Canadian Territories. And Bill Bahmfalk, owner of a local bar here, is a Lieutenant Commander and sole defender of this Southernmost Outpost of the Conch Republic. Another tidbit that may be of interest: Key West tried to secede from the United States back in 1982 during the Cuban exodus, the Mariel Boatlift and the ensuing roadblock on US 1. This led to the formation of the Conch Republic.... but that's a whole nother saga. Here's a link to the full history of that, if you're interested (and thank you, Travis, for the history infusion!):
We're trying to pin down a date for the wedding and maybe a venue, but that one is tough from way down here. So far it looks like it will be in the March 25th-30th range, but we just have to coordinate a last few immediate family members before we know for certain. I'm not sure how formal our invitations are going to be, but we'll keep you updated. It's going to be just a big casual, shoeless party so if anyone is going to be in the area or wants to try to be in the area at that time, let us know! You're all welcome.
Ok, that ends my ramble for now. Hopefully things will settle down for a bit, and that next time I'll be able to update before it becomes a novella.
02 May 07 ...Leaving Belize
Well, while Monkey River and its corresponding town were nice, it didn't live up to its name -it was a bust for monkeys. There was a town, there was a village... A good river cruise, though, and a way to break up the day enroute to Punta Gorda, where we checked out of Belize. We were hoping to stay here a few extra hours, grab dinner and some rest before getting a very early morning start -our arrival at the sandbar at Livingston needed to be carefully timed for high tide. However, Belize Customs & Immigration wanted to charge us an outrageous "overtime fee" for the privilege of a few hours "rest" in their rolly, exposed anchorage. So instead, we are stubbornly pushing on to Livingston and will be anchoring up outside the river delta for the night in an equally rolly and uncomfortable anchorage, but for free, unwilling to pay for the privilege of being seasick in our beds! Tomorrow morning we will cross the sandbar and check in with Guatemalan Customs & Immigration before heading up the Rio Dulce (Sweet River!).
03 May 07 ...Hello Guatemala!
Crossing the sandbar was fairly easy. Jeremy & Crystal hit bottom once, but were able to power off the soft river mud bottom. The Guatemalan officials were out to our boats within an hour, and what a friendly bunch of guys! There were 4 of them: Customs, Immigration, Health Inspector and Port Captain that filled the small cockpit of our boat and we were warmly welcomed to their country. They didn't even go inside -they just asked if we had pets, guns, etc. and the whole process was relatively quick and easy. The price was moderate: 650 Q, about 86 USD. After a quick walkabout to pay the fees at various offices, plus a lunch stop, we headed right away up the river. See attached photos for grandeur of said river!! Absolutely beautiful! It was 8 miles or so to our first night's anchorage. Before dinner, we checked out the Manatee Reserve which had a very nice nature trail -but no manatees (I sense a theme here...)! But Jute Creek looks right for a paddle with our kayak, so we made arrangements at the reserve to rent a cayuco for Chrystal & Jeremy and we'll do that in the morning before we leave.
Right now, our bellies are full with a great dinner. There was really only one place to eat and we stopped by there after the reserve for a cold beer, only to discover that they didn't have any. This was dire! But we made arrangements to have dinner around 6, and it was ready when we arrived. We were the only customers on this quiet stretch of river, and we're fairly certain that the whole river perch that Jeremy ordered was hauled from the waters by the chef herself. We're hoping, though, that Travis' chicken dinner wasn't the scraggly, half plucked little dude that was running around earlier, poor little guy! Crystal and I each had a bowl of glorious coconut based soup that came with rice and, to our surprise, a whole plate of seafood! Shrimp, crab and a whole fish... I am bulbous as I type this, and after a nice river bucket bath -the perfect temperature!- I am ready for bed.
04 May 07 ...Rio Dulce, Day 2
We started off the day with the paddle up Jute Creek. Turns out these cayucos are single person vessels, only. And especially for the Jeremy-sized who, as it turns out, was too big for them at all. These were built for Mayans!! I don't think that Travis was too disappointed to give up his seat in the kayak -he's been coveting the cayucos from the start and wants to trade our kayak for one... It was a nice serene trip up the creek with healthy mangroves and myriad other trees that we can't name, but the jungle was thick, lush and wild. Afterwards, CJ got a quick and well-deserved freshwater scrub, and we were off towards Rio Dulce town. This is an area that's becoming huge with the cruising community as a hurricane hole so there are tons of marinas and facilities for yachties. And I guess for us, too. With the exception of the one main street in town, all other commerce is conducted on the river. Cayucos, lanchas and water taxis are the main modes of transportation for many people.
We'll be leaving the boat in the marina here for a few days as we travel inland. Crystal & Jeremy have an old co-worker/friend from Key West who is here in Guatemala City, and he's excited to see us and show us his country.
14 May 07 ...Interior Guatemala
We're back in Rio Dulce after a fabulous week inland. Wow, do I have a ton of photos to wade through!! We had such a great time, due in large part to our new friend Luis and his Mom. We were all four of us welcomed into his home, which means his Mom's home too -it's customary to live at home until you're married. Anyway, Mom's a gem, she loves to cook, and she loves to have Luis' friends over. Who's luckier than us??!
The first day, we were picked up at the bus depot and after a quick stop at Luis' house we were whisked straight off to Antigua, the old capital city. It's a beautiful city with colonial architecture and tons of character. Many Guatemalans have their weekend getaway homes here, and we spent our first night in one belonging to Luis' friend. There's always something to do in Antigua, and we investigated everything from upscale hotels to ruins, to bars & restaurants... and then there were the markets. We did a lot of shopping here, since it will be among the best prices on our trip. Then add the Luis factor! Not only do the locals naturally get quoted a better price, but Luis' negotiating skills and charm earned us some rip-roaring bargains all week. I'm sure he was well worn out by the end of our visit... Bless his patience!
After playing in Antigua for the afternoon, we went back to Luis' home in Guatemala City and we had a houseful for dinner. We enjoyed Mayan lasagna, a fabulous exotic salad, and "rellenitos" for dessert -kind of like a plantain perogy stuffed with sweet cinnamon bean paste. Sonia (Mom) and Florentina invited us into their kitchen, and Crystal & I got some cooking lessons. Florentina, by the way, is the tiniest Mayan woman, and has been with the family for 18 years. So while others might call her the "help", she's more like family, especially since she's live-in. Florentina is also single-handedly responsible for spoiling Luis rotten. His idea of heavenly food involves Chef Boyardee and Hot Pockets -he likes very little traditional Guatemalan food. Of course, he was subjected to it all week on our account, "poor guy" (we don't have that much sympathy for him, since it would certainly be difficult to starve to death at his house!).
The following day, we headed off to Lago de Atitlan, a lake surrounded by volcanoes. Actually, the lake itself is formed inside a collapsed volcanic cone. I was especially looking forward to this, since it's been on my Wish List for some time. We experienced some car trouble on the way, but our ever-prepared MacGyvers were able to remedy the situation with a cable tie, a pocket knife and a leatherman! We eventually limped into Panajachel, a town on the northeastern side of the lake. While I don't believe it's actually a market town per se, it's turned into one because of all the tourists that make their way through there. Still, we weren't stifled by gringos, which was nice. In fact, a few extra gringos might have taken pressure off us! Those ladies, and even the small children, can be relentless when sales have been low for the day.
As for the lake itself, it was beautiful despite the fact that it's the hazy time of year -in the late fall, the volcanoes are clearly visible. Still, plenty of photo opps. Early the following morning, we (sans Jeremy, who was laid up with las turistas) hired a boat to take us around to a few of the other Mayan villages along the lake. First to Santa Catarina, then San Antonio and finally Santiago. Each village seemed to have its own flavour, despite their close proximity.
In Santiago, we spent some time in search of the elusive Maximon (pronounced "masheemon"). He's a cross between a Christian saint and a Santaria voodoo doll. The effigy is carved from a tree that is no longer in existence (in fact, there's not even a name for it in Spanish -only in Mayan) and they predict that he's approximately 500 years old. His original purpose was to protect the women and children of the household while the men were away, but check out the photo -he's pretty short! This is because he was cut from waist to knee and had his arms removed when the men returned and discovered that he was sleeping with the women... We're wondering if something was lost in translation here!
This Mayan patron saint is passed from home to home on an annual basis -only the higher-up families are eligible. He brings the family good luck and wealth but it seemed to us that having this dude in your home would be more like a fulltime job! Only a select few are even allowed to touch him, yet he has to be "put to bed" every night, which means moving him. I suspect these were the 2 guys that acted as "guards", ever present in the room -the week before, someone had attempted to break in and steal him. Then there was the guy who was there to tell the whole story of Maximon. And who cleans up after 4 dozen people have traipsed through your house in a day?
In any case, Mayans and tourists alike arrive in town looking for him. Believers bring gifts of booze, money and cigars as an offering in hopes that Maximon will bring them luck in business, academics or whatever. And he's not just a local saint -Mayans from as far north as Mexico come to seek out his blessing when crossing the border into the States.
By mid-afternoon we were heading back to the city. A bit of car trouble again on the way, but we arrived in time for another great meal... Did I mention we liked the food?
On our last day, we had a look around the old district of Guatemala City: Central Park, the National Palace and the Metropolitana Cathedral. And of course, another huge market! Thursday was also Mother's Day here, and we took the family out to a nice Italian restaurant for dinner. Our first proper dose of dead cow and red wine since we left home!
Friday found us on the bus back to Rio Dulce, grateful for the fabulous time we had and the amazing hospitality of Luis and his entire family. We invited them all back to the river to spend the weekend with us but only Luis was able to make it. He brought his friends Diego and Lisa with him for the drive. We had a fun Saturday night on the town and yesterday, Crystal & Jeremy took them out fishing on the lake (my turn for las turistas!). Unfortunately, everyone had to be back to work today so it was an all-too-short visit.
This afternoon was spent buttoning up some things on the boat -for me, sewing up the canvas for the cockpit sunshade. Tomorrow we head downriver back to Livingston to clear out of Guatemala. We've really enjoyed our time here, which is especially ironic since it wasn't really in our plans to come here in the first place. It's definitely a place we'll look forward to coming back to. We seem to be having more fun the further south we go. Can't wait to see what's next!
01 April 07 ... Pre-Departure
Well, we've had our going away party, so I guess we have to leave
now! Special thanks to all our Key West friends for making it such a
memorable night -and wee hours of the morning! We truly had a blast
with old friends and new. We should go away more often!
The wind seems to be laying down and the seas in the Gulfstream
have dropped from 6-8 feet to 4-6 feet and will be down to 2-3 by
Thursday. We're busy finishing up our last-minute projects and plan
to pull out of Key West early Thursday morning. With the predicted
easterly winds, our course will be due south towards Cuba then we'll
ride the counter-current along the coastline to Cabo San Antonio,
across the Yucatan Channel and into Isla Mujeres, Mexico.
We will have traveling companions for the first few months of our
journey. Our friends Crystal & Jeremy will be sailing aboard their
35' Bristol, "Max". Crystal and I met at my very first job when I
arrived here in Key West in 2003. She and Jeremy weren't yet living aboard their boat, but they soon made the transition and love the lifestyle. Travis and Jeremy have since been co-workers as well, and we've all remained good friends. We look forward to sharing part of our trip with them.
09 April 07 ... Heave, Ho!!
We arrived in Isla Mujeres, Mexico early yesterday morning, traveling 360 miles in less than 3 days. The weather was great in the beginning as we crossed the Straits of Florida. Off the coast of Cuba, the conditions deteriorated with the passing of a cold front. Travis said it was just "bumpy", but I discovered that the new padded backrest on the stern rail makes for much more comfort whist leaning over the side -the mahi we dined on was soon released back into the wild! However, I did regain sea-butt (hey, it's not sea-legs, but it's better than sea-fetal-position!) and the remainder of the trip across the Yucatan Channel was pleasant.
Arriving on Easter Sunday, we weren't able to clear in so we relaxed on the boats and spent all of today dealing with customs and immigration. Even after hiring a ship's agent to ease the process, it was still a 4 hour ordeal plus a ferry ride to the mainland to "import" our boat for 10 years even though we're only here for the week. Incentive to return, I guess!
We're presently planning out the rest of our week, checking out dive sites and Mayan ruins. Next time: navigating underwater caves and the superhighways of Mexico...
17 April 07 ... Hello? TowBoat US?
It's been a busy and eventful week here in Mexico. On Tuesday, we enjoyed a relaxing afternoon lunching, beach bar-ing and hammocking, and we found our new favourite restaurant for dinner. Happy and bellies full, we settled in for a good night's sleep, looking forward to the beginning of our inland adventure the following morning. However! At 1am we were awakened by increased winds as they climbed from 20 to 30 to 40 knots. Everything held up great until sustained winds picked up to over 50 knots. At that point, the anchor decided to it was time to go sailing again as we dragged towards the beach. Simultaneously (I think they were in cahoots!), Jeremy's headsail decided that it wanted to go sailing, too, as it became unfurled and started flapping in the wind. Somewhere in the fracas, the kayak took off from the deck like an MX missile coming out of its launch tube, bouncing off the bimini top -and over the top of Travis' head! "Travis, don't stand up right now!!" -"Duh, what...?"
As exciting as a beachside condo sounds, it's not what we had in mind for this vacation -we narrowly missed having one by 30 feet. Instead, we attached a buoy to the anchor and cut the whole thing loose and we drove around in circles in 50 knots of wind until the storm subsided at about 4am. We spent then next 2 hours retrieving our anchors and the kayak, and getting everything put back together. It was pretty hairy, but fortunately, I have a stalwart and steadfast captain who maintained his station admirably. In the end, no damage was sustained to either boat, but we're lucky enough to know some qualified salvors and sail repairers if the need should ever arise.
On Wednesday we put the boat in the marina before going inland. For $30/day it's peace of mind, and that way Crystal & Jeremy wouldn't have anything to worry about, either. There's no way they could have helped us out that evening, let alone take care of the whole thing in our absence. So, CJ secured, we hopped the ferry to the mainland and took the bus to the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza. We missed the express bus that morning, so the chicken bus it was... A long trip, and if ONLY it had smelled like chickens!
The ruins were amazing. I'm always sort of dumbstruck when I'm in the presence of things that are thousands of years old -makes me feel like an ant! We were very glad that we planned our visit for very early in the morning, for when we finished our traipsing around we almost had to fight our way through the throngs of tourists coming in the gates. There couldn't have been any less than 2 dozen buses in the parking lot. We barely escaped with our lives!
We had been planning on checking out Merida, a colonial city further west, but instead blew it off and headed straight for Celestun, a sleepy little beach town on an estuary on the edge of the Bay of Campeche. I had heard of this place many years ago from an old roommate who had appreciated how mellow and laid back it was. We enjoyed it as well, and ended up staying two nights. It was clearly a tourist area, but there were more Mexican tourists than gringos, which was refreshing. We took a nature tour to visit the pink flamingoes, and spent the rest of our time beach bumming and relaxing.
Altogether it was a great trip and the ease in finding quaint hotels and quality restaurants made me actually look over my shoulder! It's not always easy finding the best of the best when you're traveling in another language, but I'm finding that my Spanish is coming back fairly quickly and I haven't even had time to crack open a book yet. We're also quickly learning about the local traffic laws. Things like stop signs, "do not pass" signs and divided roads don't seem to be so much "laws" or "rules of the road" as they are mere suggestions. The only thing that we've managed to figure out for sure is this: the bus is bigger than you, get the hell out of the way!
There were goodbyes and hellos this week as Scott had to return to Key West for work. The next day we got to say an unexpected hello to a visitor from the mainland, who's an old friend from Key West. We discovered late into the week that he's here, but thought we wouldn't get to see him. He surprised us with a visit yesterday.
We had another blustery day this week, and we all took advantage of the extra electricity the wind generated! Crystal & Jeremy watched movies all day, and I spent it editing the photos we've taken so far. Unfortunately, the internet connection is lousy for uploading them, so I'll post them from ashore in Belize. We have a weather window opening up this afternoon and we're ready to make the beeline!
We'll be in touch again from Belize!
21 April 07 ...Greetings from Belize!
We left Mexico with fair winds & calm seas and it was a blissfully uneventful 48 hour cruise down the coast into Ambergris Caye, Belize. Clearing customs here was a lot of standing in line but once seen, the officials were friendly and helpful. And unlike Mexico, we didn't have to pay a cent! The island has changed a lot since we were last here a year ago. Most notably, the three main roads which were originally sand have been paved over. Personally, I got a chuckle out of the mudbath a good rain afforded us last year! The way things seem to be developing so quickly to accommodate their growing tourist industry, they'll be just like Key West in no time.
We'll be spending a few relaxing days here. A swim in crystal clear waters starts the day, then tinkering on the boat followed by some hammock-swinging... a jaunt into town, happy hour & early evenings. The good life! Next we'll be heading south to the Turneffe Islands for a few days and continuing onwards inside the barrier reef. No big crossings this time, but leisurely daysails to anchor up for the night as we head towards Guatemala.
28 April 07... The Cayes
We were blessed with perfect weather as we made our way south along the inside of the Barrier Reef. Calm seas and crystal clear waters made it look like we were on the verge of running aground even though we were in 20 feet of water. We anchored up every night alongside yet another picture perfect island -Tobacco Caye was our favourite. I've never seen such a pretty patch of sand! Part of the South Water Caye Marine Reserve, it cost us $10 BZ per person to anchor in their waters and it was worth every penny! We did a bit of snorkeling here, had happy hour at the one bar that was open, and retired to Cafe Max for dinner -you had to make reservations early in the day to eat ashore, since they had to arrange for the stores to come from the mainland. The following day, I jumped aboard Max and the three of us (Travis opted to stay behind and tinker with the boat) went to the Garifuna mainland town of Dangriga for a provisioning day. Not that no fun was had, since we paid a visit to the famous Marie Sharp's hot sauce factory and came away with a bag full of goodies at wholesale prices.
Continuing south, we visited the island of South Water Caye itself. This one was a bit too resorty for us, and rather than spend too much money ashore we threw the dive gear in the dinghy and had an incredible dive instead. The manta rays we're so desperately looking for continue to elude us, however, the reef was alive with funky and very healthy coral of all shapes and sizes. We spotted 2 eagle rays, a spanish mackerel, a grouper and many other species of fishies. Unfortunately, I had some technical difficulties with the camera -on the best dive I've ever done!!- but I did manage a few pix. I'm sure there will be more great diving, but the colours were unlike anything I've ever seen underwater before, so the camera snafu was a bit of a disappointment.
Not a disappointment: Crystal & Jeremy's dolphin encounter on a late afternoon snorkel! The flippers swam right up and checked them out, speaking dolphin gibberish the whole time. I jumped in... no dolphins. I'm still waiting. "Maww!! Iwantmydolphins!! RIGHT NEEOWWW!!!"
Yesterday was another great sail down here to Placencia. Weather and seas were perfect and it was smooth sailing until we doused the spinnaker only to have the sheet get caught in the prop. Captain Naked Man jumped in to save the day, gnawing through the rope with his teeth and he got the engine running again. "He-e-e-re he comes to save the Da-a-a-yyyy!"
The weather is deteriorating a bit, so we're gonna hang out here for a few days. What a pretty town, full of character. The original main street was only a sidewalk since all commerce took place on the shoreline of this little fishing village. An ashphalt road has since been added, but the "sidewalk" remains a main thoroughfare and you have to duck down sandy side-paths to get to a lot of the quaint little shops and restaurants. It's a mixed community here, with lots of expats as well, and we're struck by how very friendly everyone is. One of my travel books comments on how this backpacker's destination has become the country's worst-kept secret. Sure enough, the locals are lamenting the construction of the dreaded condos... But for now, it's still a sleepy, relaxing little town and we'll enjoy the next couple of days here before heading further south towards Guatemala.
29 April 07 ...It’s a Bird...It’s a Plane..........It’s a Wet Chicken!
It certainly has been an interesting 48 hours worth noting, and a story nobody would believe if we didn’t have photographic evidence (trust me, I’m not an advanced photo editor).
On our way into Placencia on Friday, Travis and I spotted something suspicious floating in the water. Since we already had our spinnaker up, it would have been a pain to turn around to investigate, so we radioed Crystal & Jeremy behind us and they deviated course to intercept. “It looks like...” Sure enough, within a few minutes, we received confirmation back that they had reeled in a 24 kilo Columbian white square grouper, very well packaged. However, seeing as how the fines for taking the rare grouper out of season are severe, we all decided to release it back into the wild. It’s nice to know that we’re rich enough to throw away what was probably worth close to a million dollars!
Then last night we were on our way to look for dinner when we spotted a huge billow of smoke. Pork BBQ? It seemed awfully big and on further investigation we discovered that somebody’s home was on fire. When we arrived, there was already a bucket brigade trying to save the restaurant next door and the shop across the sidewalk -the house itself was already a writeoff. Wanting to help, Jeremy did a half-mile mad dash to get hoses, while Travis joined the bucket brigade. Arriving back with common garden hoses (one “borrowed” from the local charter yacht company), Jeremy took the lead position in the doorway of the burning building, barefoot. A local tossed him some shoes.
It took 3 hours to get everything under control, and the two neighbouring structures were saved. There is no local fire department in Placencia, and they rely on the station in Dangriga to get here from 2 hours away over questionable roads. In fact, they didn’t arrive on scene until after it was all over and done with. However, we left with a sense of real camaraderie as we witnessed old and young, black and white, tourists and locals all standing side by side and working together to save life and property. It was quite inspiring.
Now remember that we had been on the search for dinner before all this happened, so we ducked into a nearby casual restaurant for a bite -it would have to be casual, since we arrived stinking like smoke and Jeremy soaking wet with bits of ceiling in his hair. Our waitress was hilarious. She took one look at him and in her thick Caribbean accented flatly stated, “You look like a wet chicken.”
From Millionaire, to Superhero to Wet Chicken all in about 48 hours. Wonder what’s gonna happen today...
...boldly going where Columbus has gone before.
30 April 07 ...Leaving Placencia
We've had a great time here in Placencia, it's such a quaint and friendly little town. We often judge a place based on how happy and healthy the local dogs are. Here, they bound out to meet you. In fact, we've had a pair of them acting as our tour guides for two of the last three days. Seriously, they just pop up out of nowhere and start hanging out with us! They're everywhere! Are they cloned? Does every tourist here have one issued to them upon arrival?
Tomorrow we head out to Monkey River Town. And guess what? We're told they have monkeys on the side of the river that goes through the town. Monkey River Town delivers!!
18 May 07 ...Honduras
Our trip back down the river was over all too fast -what a nice cruise. We found our yellow butterfly and our twin finches right about where we left them! If you recall, we commented on how we had those two dogs issued to us in Placencia... They must have radioed ahead to the Guatemalan welcoming committee. We were escorted up the river and back: the butterfly closer to the mouth of the river, and the finches up closer to El Golfete.
Dealing with the officials was as expedient and pleasant as it was the first time and we weighed anchor in the wee hours of the morning to catch the high tide. We thought it was going to be a 24 hour trip, but as we rounded the tip of the Honduras mainland, the current we were anticipating helped us along a little more than we expected and it was instead a very pleasant 20 hour trip that landed us here in Utila, Honduras at 2am. Clearing in was easy and cheap -only $6 per boat!
Things have changed a lot since I was last here in 2000. Tourism has brought in more dive shops, and tons more restaurants -I seem to remember not having that many choices 7 years ago! But it's still the easy, laid-back island I remember and we'll spend the next couple of days here hanging out and doing some diving and snorkeling. We're hoping to see a whale shark, but apparently one hasn't been spotted in 3 weeks.
22 May 07 ...Yay, Utila!
We've had such a great time here over the last 5 days. The first couple were dark & rainy and I was blamed for being the weather magnet again. Back in 2000 when I was here to get my diving certification, Hurricane Keith was a tropical storm brewing overhead. We would do all of our classroom work and pray that the weather would be good enough in the morning to go for a dive. Waking up at 7am, we would hold our breath until the first wave broke against the nearby seawall and hit the window of our guesthouse..."Not today, I guess..." We never did get in the water, but I got an excellent score on all my bookwork!
And so the dark & rainy Utila is the one I remembered. However, magnet or no magnet, we have nothing to complain about considering this is the first bit of non-perfect weather we've had so far. It lasted less than 2 days and certainly didn't put a "damper" (groan!) on our fun. We dove the Hallibourton Wreck on the second day. For those of you familiar with diving in Key West, it's the same as the Cayman Salvor except it has the superstructure intact. We saw some interesting corals that even Travis had never seen before since they're more common at greater depths.
We took the kayak out for a spin a couple of days ago through the lagoon and down the mangrove canal to the other side of the island. We had our own private beach there, and there was lots of sea life. The bone fish were feeding in about 6 inches of water, so we could see their fins dancing above the surface; blue crabs, which I'd never seen before; conch; and lots of cool coral and shells washed up on the beach that the other tourists hadn't gotten their mitts on yet!
Eating and drinking out are cheaper here than we thought it was going to be, so we've been treating ourselves. Flor de Cana is the house pour everywhere, and it can usually be found for $1... Yep, paradise!
As a result of more frequent social outings, we've met some really great people and yesterday we were invited to someone's home for dinner. Brent is American, Doris is Honduran, and they've just moved back here from the US to build their dream home and retire. They have a fabulous treed hillside lot with a view of the ocean in the distance. Part of the house will be off the ground and the thought of a treehouse in the jungle really appealed to us two big kids!
Today we're messing about with the boats: oil change, transmission check-up and some modifications to our fridge. It's working way too hard and is a huge drain on our battery bank -we've had to turn it off most nights. We found some styrofoam and the last two cans of expanding foam spray on the island and we're cutting its size down by about half. Hopefully this will allow the compressor to operate more efficiently or we're likely to lose it by the end of the trip because it's starting to make some funny noises!
Tomorrow we leave for Roatan early as we make our way through the Bay Islands. We're looking forward to some excellent diving in more remote locations as we reach the Eastern tip of Roatan and the island of Guanaja which is the third and last in the group.
26 May 07 ...My New Best-Dive-Ever!
We zipped through Roatan quite quickly, eager to get further east. Our first day was at West End where we did a fabulous dive -my first wall dive. I know, I know... It's a disgrace that I lived in Cayman for four years and never did a wall dive... Extenuating circumstances, you know... Anyway, we went down to 135 ft, just a wee bit over the recreational diving limit -that's about double the limit, for those of you who are wondering. Shhhhh! I have a very capable dive buddy/master at my side who I think was born with a set of gills, so I'm safe. Anyway, it didn't seem like we were that deep and I really liked flying over the edge of the wall. Usually I'm so overly concerned with accidentally hitting the coral and it wasn't a concern here. We saw all sorts of interesting coral, and again, some that Travis was unfamiliar with. Up top we spotted a good-sized nassau grouper, large mesh sea fans and some things we have yet to identify in our books. But the most remarkable feature of this site was the abundance of pillar coral. It was everywhere and when we first dropped down from the boat there was a big stand of it against the sunlight. It looked like a castle in the distance! We got some photos but I'm not sure how they'll turn out. We had late afternoon sunlight, and I'm having trouble editing the photos to look as good as the last ones did.
The following day, we made our way to Coxen Hole which is the biggest town on the island. There's not much to do here.... well.... Coxen Hole is a hole, we'll put it that way. It has the cheapest prices on the island so it was a reprovisioning stop but first and foremost, it was to find the computer shop we saw advertised in the newspaper. As you can see, we had some measure of success but as luck would have it the diagnostic equipment that would have given all the systems a good check-up was broken and they were waiting for a new one that was to possibly arrive that day. Or Monday. But since we are familiar with island time, we figured it was more likely to arrive next Friday! Oh well, he fixed the internet connection and I was able to run all my anti-viruses and we're up and running for the time being.
We ran quickly away from Coxen Hole hole, and spent the night at French Harbour. The following morning the weather was so good and the water so flat calm that we skipped the whole rest of Roatan and we're now in Guanaja.
Now here's an interesting place. It's the highest of the Bay Islands, roughly 18km long x 6km at its widest point and covered with Caribbean pine. It is largely uninhabited and therefore unspoiled, and very much a jungle. There are a couple of tiny settlements here but the main town is on a small cay just off the coast. There are five to six thousand people stacked one on top of the other on this tiny cay. Homes are built on stilts extending over the water and forget about roads -there's no room! Narrow walkways wind around homes and bridges span the canals that allow residents to pull their boats right up to their house. Boats are the main mode of transport here. They call it the "Venice of Honduras."
Just as every inch of that cay is developed, the same holds true for every rock, sandbar or shallow flat that even comes close to the surface of the water. Homes and hotels perch on stilts over what seems like an impossibly small piece of "land" for support.
The people we've met so far have been great and a lot of fun. There's a small expat community here, and I suppose they're happy to have someone new in the mix! They're all very friendly and we've been welcomed warmly. Tomorrow, we've been invited to hike over the mountain to the north side of the island. Apparently everyone gets together there on Sundays and it should be a good time. And anyway, we're looking forward to the exercise!
27 May 07 ...Wardrobe Malfunction
So what happens when you take a really expensive pair of hiking boots and put them in a closet on a boat for a few years and forget about them?
Our Sunday hike promised to be a combination of good exercise and a chance to see the other side of the island. We set off at 8am. At 8:05, the laces pulled out of my right boot. The left boot was quick to follow suit. They were also so stiff that I felt like I had a plank tied to each foot and my gait up the mountain must have looked something like an attempt to snowshoe up a set of stairs. At 8:50 we lashed the boots to my feet with the otherwise useless laces but by 9:00 we had to abort the mission because the back of my feet were so ripped up. Another 2 hours would have been impossible but still, it was another hour back down. Good thing I brought that extra pair of socks. I wobbled down with my left boot in my hand and 3 socks on my maimed tootsie. I imagine the locals thought us quite nuts. So did I, actually, and at one point I got quite a case of the giggles when I looked down at the boot in my hand and saw that the whole sole was lifting away and crumbling. And that the right one would be doing the same if it weren't still actually lashed to my foot!
Funnier still is that when Crystal & Jeremy returned from the adventure we discovered that the same thing had happened to his shoes -he arrived on the other side in a pair of booties. Our local friend/guide must have been wondering what the heck was up with this group of people! It's called dry rot, Ed. Try living on a boat for a year and see what happens to all your zippers, too!
The weather looks good for a departure tomorrow. Leaving Honduras is about as hard as leaving Guatemala was, we've had such a great time here and have met some wonderful people. Wish we could stay longer, but we must be heading south.
28 May 07 ...Dolphin Ruminations
We're pretty darned sure that dolphins actually know how cool they are. I mean, wouldn't you, if you were a dolphin? Typically you'll see them bounding towards you playfully, "Hey cool! And we thought there was going to be nothing to do today!!" They love to swim right in the bow wake, so you have to lean far over the front and I just know they can hear us cooing at them, "Awww! Look at the little ba-a-a-b-b-y-y-y one!" (he was exceptionally cute!). And they must be thinking, "Yeah, we know we're cool!" Travis thinks that they think we're cool, too. I think they must think that we're just a bunch of dopes. Dopes on boats.
It's interesting how social they are, too. You can see them looking at you and if you decide to stop watching them (say, because you're about to toss your cookies if you don't go lay down again), they leave. Nobody to play with anymore.
03 July 07 ...La Coralina
Last weekend we decided to take a break from the aggravation of dealing with the transmission and we finally went up to visit our friend Stacey at her hotel, La Coralina. It was supposed to be turnkey when she bought it, however, she has spent the last two years renovating it and turning it into the gem that it is. The place is absolutely gorgeous. The buildings have a Spanish colonial feel to them. There are three rooms in the main house along with a reception area, a sitting area, and she runs the kitchen out of the back. There are two rooms in what used to be a garage -looks more like a carriage house- and out back are smaller rooms and staff housing. Her Dad and her friend Byron built the restaurant/bar over the hillside and there's even an area reserved for a fire pit -we made S'mores, a first for her Panamanian staff. There are plans for building more rooms in the future, as well as a pool and hot tub. All of this sits on a hillside overlooking a beautiful stretch of beach and the sound of the waves crashing makes for a nice night's sleep!
30 July 07 ...San Blas Bound
We left Portobelo in the morning and had a medium-bumpy but short cruise to Isla Linton. It was just a picnic stop, but we were hoping Crystal would find some monkeys, which she did! They're used to people and a little overly-friendly. Until you try to leave, that is. Crystal had them grabbing at her, and one got ahold of her ponytail and starting pulling and chewing on it! Jeremy shooed them away and they made a run for the dinghy. She got some great photos, though. Travis and I opted to stay a little closer to the boat since there was in inviting beach nearby, and our outboard motor has been giving us trouble. That thing had better consider its future because it's almost been dumped overboard in anger a few times now! There's nothing worse than unreliable transportation and it's left us stranded more than once. We've even been spotted paddling towards shore with our flip flops on our hands -you can bet we made sure the oars were packed after that one!
Anyway, we had a nice little swim and some lunch and we motored 2 miles further to Isla Grande. It's a popular weekend town for the city folks and it has a variety of nice homes & restaurants and a beautiful beach . We wandered around town for a bit, grabbed some dinner and went back home for an early night, anticipating this morning's 5am departure time. It was a hard slog 50 miles east in 8' swells -you bet I took my dramamine! We arrived here in Porvenir this afternoon but we missed the port captain's office. Tomorrow morning we'll check in and make our way east into the the beautiful San Blas Islands. The best news is that due to the sharp drop-off of the islands, we'll be anchoring so close that we could practically swim to shore. We're going to haul the dinghy out and use the kayak as our sole means of transportation while we're here. The outboard would be blowing oil and gas into these pristine waters, and there are places where outboards aren't allowed anyway. We like the kayak, it's good exercise and cuts out the frustration factor of the outboard motor!
We were welcomed by a nice little squall only about an hour after our arrival here in Porvenir. We'd heard about these storms that blow through fast and furiously. I forget the name for them in Spanish, but it translates into "chicken's ass". Tonight's poultry posterior furnished winds of about 35 knots and the only other boat anchored here dragged toward shore. Luckily, they were home to deal with it but they had a hard time resetting their anchor. We were up top with the engine running just in case but we held fast and it was all over in about 30 mins.
01 August 07 ...Ahhhh!
We're finally here in the beautiful San Blas Islands, a little piece of heaven on earth! Travis has been anxious to get back here. He enjoyed it very much in 2003, but said that it was the only place he's ever felt lonely. Every morning was another picture-perfect day with pristine untouched beaches and crystal clear waters -but nobody to share it with. Indeed, it's one beautiful island after another, 365 of them: one for every day of the year! They're small, and while some of them have a sizeable population, the majority are uninhabited or have only a home or two. The islands and the associated mainland territory are called Kuna Yala by the autonomous Kuna Indians who control this corner of Panama. They have worked hard to maintain their own economic system, language, customs and culture. There is no inter-marriage allowed and foreigners can neither settle here nor invest in the land.
Kuna Yala is a matrilineal society: the women control the money and commerce. They paddle up in their little dugout "ulus" every day to peddle their wares, and they prefer to deal with the woman on board. This means that Crystal & I are the ones bargaining. We weren't even here 10 minutes before they descended upon us, and they're persistent! I had to ask one of them 3 times to please come back later, since we were in the water swimming and couldn't very well do our shopping from there! We did buy one very nice mola later on.
After checking into Kuna Yala with the port captain in Porvenir yesterday, we sailed an hour to this very pretty spot in the Eastern Cayos Limon and anchored off the island of Banedup. It was a delicious day! Most of it involved the four of us bobbing up and down on foam noodles, cocktails in hand. We did end up shopping in our bikinis after all: one boat laden with veggies stopped by and another had 2 small lobsters and the hugest crab we've ever seen! We weren't even sure how we were going to cook the thing, but he gave us a deal we couldn't pass up since it was later in the day and he had a long paddle home. We cooked that sucker up and had a feast!
Today will be spent in much the same fashion. We've done our bobbing up and down on the noodles already, had some lunch, and Travis is napping. Someone has already paddled by with a bunch of bananas for sale, another with a shovelnose lobster, a nice snack for $1.50. No doubt we'll have more shopping to do today -it's kinda fun having the groceries come to you!
04 August 07 ...Cayos Holandes
We got another of those squalls the night before we left Cayos Limon and we dragged anchor about 60 feet before it reset. It's nothing serious and we had plenty of room, but it's a lot of anxiety for me. Travis is a seasoned professional and I think Crystal & Jeremy are a little more used to it because they lived in the mooring field in Key West. But for me, the first experience was in Mexico where we could have ended up on the beach! In my head it's not a matter of life or death, but I can't imagine losing this boat, our home that we've put everything into. Travis said he'll tell me when it's time to be scared and I said, "Ha! And when is the last time you were ever scared?!" -"The night I asked you to marry me..." Awwwww.
So I guess there's nothing to worry about, but when we moved over here to the Cayos Holandes, we were careful, as always, about choosing an anchorage: good holding with plenty of room to swing. There sure are a lot of boats out here -far more than we expected. That's ok, though, since we tend to stay away from the lemming anchorages, anyway. We found a nice secluded place with some great snorkeling nearby.
We found our mola lady. Or rather, she found us. A word about molas, I guess. They are part of the traditional dress of the Kuna women: a colorful short-sleeved blouse with identical molas sewn onto the front and back; a red printed scarf on the head, usually not tied; a colorful printed cloth tied around the waist as a skirt; bracelets on arms and legs; gold nose rings, earrings and necklaces. The molas themselves are rectangular in shape and are made by cutting and handstitching several layers of different-coloured cloth into an applique. Some have geometric designs, and other are abstract animals, birds and marine life. Each mola is unique and takes about 2 weeks to make with tiny, tiny stitches and about 4 layers of fabric -the good ones, anyway. When you know what to look for, you can pick out the better molas.
Crystal & Jeremy had heard about a lady who makes custom molas, and you could have one made that depicts your boat. What a keepsake! And along came Lisa one day, in her ulu. She is actually a he/she, a famous transvestite from an island near the mainland. She is very pleasant, not pushy at all, and speaks a little English so Crystal & Jeremy had no trouble at all telling her what they want for their design. We'll pick it up in 2 weeks and I can't wait to see what she's come up with. We're dying to have one made, too, but since we're trying to negotiate a carpenter in Cartagena to make our enclosure, we're not sure what our schedule would be to come back and pick it up. We're also not sure about a design, and it would change, too, if we got the enclosure! We'll have to play that one by ear...
08 August 07 ...Cayos Coco Bandero
I have to make a journal entry every couple of days while we're here in the islands so I can keep them straight!
While we enjoyed the anchorage at Cayos Holandes, we were driven out by the no-see-ums! They were voracious! Also, a boat with 5 guys in their early 20s pulled up with music blaring. Then they started fishing with both spears and rod & reel -illegal in Kuna Yala. So, it was time to move on and all the better since the anchorage here in Cayos Coco Bandero is even more amazing! We anchored up off the island of Orduptarboat (say that ten times fast.... say that once!). The water was so clear we could see straight to the bottom in 30', swimming with no mask. We paddled over to the island and walked all the way around it, discovering a small village at the other end. Two little Kuna kids ran out in their underwear to greet us with big smiles and "holas"! Some very happy fishermen came by (the men are always so happy, the women more sullen) and we bought 4 lobsters that we grilled up for dinner with some coconut rice, salad and red wine. Yum.
I finally finished Crystal & Jeremy's raincatcher/sunshade. I've been working on it since Bocas, but have been having trouble with my sewing machine. I've had to put it away a few times, leaving it a chance to reconsider its future until I had the patience to take it out again. It's barely useable at this point, it's skipping stitches and shredding thread so badly. However, Travis and I have a deal: if he's not allowed to chuck the outboard motor into the sea, I'm not allowed to chuck the sewing machine overboard, either. So there you have it. Anyway, they love the raincatcher and it passed its test drive with flying colours. The weather has been consistently cloudy/rainy, with patches of sunshine.
We moved to a second anchorage on the eastern tip of this same chain and it's our favourite so far. The beach comes up so fast that we can literally walk halfway back to the boat before we have to swim -nuts! And dozens and dozens of starfish, all of varying shades of reds, oranges and yellows. We were greeted by two sets of neighbours right away who invited us to a barbeque on the beach and right on cue, another friendly fisherman came by with a 10 lb grouper so we even had something to throw on the grill. It was a blast.
11 August 07 ...Adios, San Blas!
Unfortunately, it's time to head back to civilization for a bit. My six weeks are almost up which means it's time to have my thyroid tested again to make sure they've prescribed the proper levels for me. We could have gone back to Colon, but it was such a hard slog around that corner. Another option was to sail 20 miles back to Porvenir and fly me to Panama City. But when we sat down and crunched all the facts, fees and numbers, it makes more sense to just head over to Cartagena early. While we're there, we hope to seek out a carpenter to build us our pilothouse as well. At the very least, we can take this opportunity to arrange for it to be done, then come back when it's time to start building it. We'd either head back to San Blas, or check out the Rosarios in Colombia in the interim.
So, we got up early on Thursday and motored 4 hours back to Porvenir to check out of Panama, then another 4 hours back to Coco Bandero so we could spend our last 2 nights in our favourite anchorage, hanging out with the starfish and our friends aboard "Lioness" and "Calypso". Can't wait to make it back here again!
Crystal & Jeremy will stay here in the islands for at least another week since they need to meet up with their mola maker. We'll see them shortly in Cartagena.