Thursday, December 27, 2012

Nicaragua and Costa Rica and the Papagayos

07:00, Monday, 17 Dec, 2012 Anchored in Bahia Santa Elena, Costa Rica It is absolutely calm and windless for the first time since we arrived last Friday. The Papagayo winds that buffeted us on the crossing and here at the anchorage had begun to decrease yesterday and suddenly shut down last evening. What we are left with is a beautiful mirror surface broken here and there by surfacing fish and the occasional seabird diving for a meal. Had we been up at sunrise we would have heard the parrots in the trees ashore but we’ll have to wait for sunset to enjoy that again. Fran was up at 02:00 and was amazed at the reflection of the starry sky on the water and the pop of phosphorescent particles, a truly magical scene. Our departure from San Juan Del Sur wasn’t without drama. Our newfound faith in Central American bureaucracy was dashed during our out-routine when both the Port Captain and the immigration official (different individuals from our entry processing) demanded another payment, but, what can you do? Luckily we had enough US cash to cover the extra $75. Funny, that only the cruisers get charged these extra fees. If you drive or fly into the country this never happens. We (with Nauti Moments) motored out of the bay hoping for the predicted decrease in the papagayos but, alas, it continued to blow 25-35 kts all the way across. The 4-hour washing machine-like ride was quickly forgotten when we entered this pristine bay. Our welcoming committee was a large school of rays feeding on the surface as we entered. We anchored in the lee of the northern shore in 25 ft. with a good mud bottom. With the papagayos still gusting up to 30 kts we needed a good holding and this is the best. This peninsula is part of an extensive national park system and is maintained as such. Normally we would be charged for being here but there are no attendants on this side so we get it gratis. Over the past few days we have been limited in our exploration of the bay by the high winds but today should be a much better day to see some of the more distant beaches. Yesterday we hiked up to a waterfall that was described in the cruising guide. It was a short hike mainly along a stream bed but the small waterfall and swimming hole made it all worthwhile. Later on Fran and I went snorkeling in a bay close to the boat but the sand and mud bottom was uninteresting. Earlier we had seen rays and barracuda hunting in the same area. The guidebook claims that there are hundreds of wild and exotic animal and bird species in the park but we only saw a few large cat tracks on our hike to the falls, a few hawks and some green parrots. The parrots only fly overhead at sunset, probably so that the hawks can’t see them clearly enough. They always fly in pairs but there are a few loners who squawk constantly as if to say “wait for me, wait for me”…. Fran wasn’t impressed to see a 3 ft. sea snake beside the boat one morning.
Last night we met a fisherman who took shelter here in his panga for the night. We managed to trade some beer and pop for a few small red snappers and a lobster. His 2 sons got the pop, and a few packages of Halloween red licorice. The fish and lobster were cooked right away. What the treat! We are expecting company later on today. Beverly J and Risk Taker should be on their way from San Juan Del Sur. The weather predictions state that by the weekend the Papagayos will be back to full strength so we will be departing here by Wednesday at the latest. 22:00, 20 Dec, Anchored offshore, Playa de Coco, Costa Rica Another calm and quiet anchorage; well, after 21:00 it is. There must be some kind of ordinance that ensures silence after a set hour. Last night it was closer to 22:00, after some fireworks and loud music coming from one of the shore establishments on the beach. Tonight it was lower key with a live band playing Christmas carols until closing time of about 20:00. Sunset here is about 17:30. We arrived here with Nautimoments, Beverly J and Risk Taker yesterday just before noon. The latter 2 boats had joined us, as expected, in Bahia Santa Elena and we sailed in company very early yesterday morning, hoping to get a respite from the Papagayos. They had been a bit gentler over the past few days and we were hoping the trend continued for this crossing. We had following winds and seas for the first hour but our track then took us south and, just like our trip from San Juan Del Sur, we had the wind on the beam at 12 to 25kts for most of the way. We managed to get some sails up for about an hour near the end of the passage as the wind decreased to 15 kts. As entered the bay we saw a large commercial barquentine, The Star Flyer, anchored off the town. It is a small passenger vessel offering the “sailing” experience to those who want something different in a cruise. When she left last night she was all lit up, a nice sight as she left the bay.
Today was a very busy but rewarding day. We began our in-routine into Costa Rica with a visit to the Port Captain’s office. From there we went to the immigration office, back to the Port captain and lastly to the Aduana (Customs) office near the Liberia airport. We were pleasantly surprised at the efficiency of all of these officials and the lack of any charges, so far. We must return to the Port captain after our stay at marina Papagayo, on the 27th to get our national Zarpe (travelling papers). Fishing licenses on the other hand, were a disappointment. Costa Rica is still working on a system similar to what Mexico was using 6 years ago. Everyone on board has to have a permit and the vessel must be licensed, the total would have been about $375. We can buy a lot of fish for that price so we opted to stow the fishing gear until we leave Costa Rica and hope that Panama doesn’t have any such regulation. We did manage to get money from a bank machine, do some shopping and find an internet cafĂ© where we caught up on a week’s worth of traffic. So far we have found that Costa Rica is the most expensive country we have visited in Central America. Prices are quite similar to what we are used to back home. Even fuel is upwards of $1.35 per litre, beer at happy hour prices is $1.65 and coffee, over $2.00. Their currency trades at 500 to one, so, for $100, we got 50,000 colones. We’ll be watching our pennies more on this part of the trip. 21:00, 26 Dec 2112, alongside marina Papagayo, CR Another crystal clear, moonlit night. We have been in much different surroundings for the past 2 nights. This is relative luxury over what we have experienced for a long time, in fact, since the El Cid marina in Mazatlan a few years ago, but it comes at a price that we haven’t seen since the marina at Cabo San Lucas in 2008. At $2/ft/night this is not our normal choice in a marina but for 3 nights (one night free) we decided to splurge and spoil ourselves for a few days. With unlimited fresh water, power, WIFI, laundry facilities and a pool we are not wanting. The marina is only a few years old and, actually, there are very few boats here. There are 3 super-yachts, Legacy with a helicopter, Sea Wolf with a 35 ft. sailboat and a large powerboat on its stern, Morning Glory, a 165 ft ketch,originally built and, commissioned by Rupert Murdoch and now owned by, non-other than the ex- Italian Premier, Silvio Berlusconi (rumoured to be hiding out hereabouts) the biggest of all, Pegaso, believed to be owned by a Mexican, telecommunications mogul. (Could that be Cartlos Slim?). It boasts a 9 mtr submarine among other amenities. We feel kind of humble being in the same marina as that kind of talent but, I guess that’s why we are paying the big bucks…..
Yesterday our four boats were joined by August Moon, another Canadian boat that will be accompanying us south. They are longtime friends of Ken and Carol and have been speeding down the coast from Mexico to catch up. Christmas was a blast here. The wide docks were perfect for dock parties for Christmas Eve and another yesterday. If you think we don’t enjoy the same fare, think again. We had Pollo Navidad (marinated chicken), turkey, ham, mashed and fried potatoes, beans and carrots, 2 different types of stuffing and another two of gravy - oh yeah, and rum cake for dessert. We waddled back to our boats.
Gosling's Christmas tree.. The
wind actually blew it over whenwe were setting it up and JG had to dive for the top portion. Luckily the water is only 25 ft deep.... Yesterday as we were setting up for the dinner there was a shriek from Nautimoments. We looked over to see a swarm of bees just above their dodger. We immediately started to spray them with hoses and that resulted in the swarm attaching itself to their yardarm flags. No amount of water could shoo them from there so the call went out to the marina manager, who called the local fire station. They arrived some time later after the bees had migrated to Nautimoments mast and looked like they were going to set up a hive on their deck light fixture. The firemen sprayed it with AFFF foam getting many down but reassured us that they would have to return several times to complete the job. Finally, after the third application and a shot of insecticide by a fireman in a bosn’s chair up the mast we think they are gone. We’ll be able to tell for sure tomorrow morning. Apparently this is a common occurrence and the firemen are the experts. Only Betsy was stung and their boat was the farthest removed of the group.
Tomorrow we will water and fuel up and move back to Playa de Coco. Friday morning we must get our national Zarpe from the port captain before he closes shop for the week. We will then be free to leave and travel anywhere in Costa Rican waters.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Nicaragua - another country checked off the list.

22:00, 11 Dec 2012, at anchor in San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua It is still HOT. If it wasn’t for the brisk, Papagayo winds blowing across the bay it would be unbearable in the salon. We have been here since yesterday morning after a comfortable, albeit, mostly windless 2-day motorboat ride from Bahia Del Sol. Our departure wasn’t nearly as exciting as the entry 8 months ago. Fran really enjoyed her early birthday present, a ride out on the back of the jet-ski that the guide, Rogelio, uses to lead the boats in and out. Fran was his radio operator for the morning, escorting our 3 boats out and 2 others into the bay. She hasn’t stopped talking about how much fun it was since we left.
Once settled in, sails up and heading in the right direction J-G had quite the chore, repairing one of the springs on the aft cabin door. This entails a disassembly of the entire door assembly. It definitely is not a good design and one wonders why the builders went that route. We now have used up the last spring, and will have to order more from the UK on our return home. Last night we experienced some stronger headwinds and saw some lightning inland, but, apart from the wind and a few light showers in the early morning we were spared anything serious. One of the highlights of the passage was seeing the dolphins during the night watches. The waters along the coast are rich in plankton and the dolphins leave a phosphorescent wake as they swim. On the first night the phosphorescence trail was in bright bursts of light rather than the normal wake-type trail. The other was catching a 6 lb wahoo, our first, and, for an ugly fish, he tasted really good.
We entered the bay just after sunrise to a light mist giving us fleeting memories of the Pacific Northwest. The bay has a large population of fishing pangas and some charter fishing boats but there are a few visiting sailboats, a German, Danish and another American sailboat. Beverly J is also here. This truly a picture perfect coastal town, complete with a giant statue of San Juan on the top of the hill on the north side of the bay, a long sandy beachfront and a new Japanese built fishing plant. There is a small pier adjacent to a boatyard and the Port captain’s office where passengers are off-loaded from cruise ships that stops in on a regular schedule.
Yesterday was Fran’s birthday so, along with Ken and Carol, as soon as we completed our check-in to the country, we did an afternoon Mojito run ashore. There are a number of little bars and restaurants along the waterfront where drink specials are the norm. We found a few good mojito places but none meet the standard we have set back home with the mint from our own garden. This evening we celebrated Fran’s birthday again with a wonderful dinner at the Colibri (hummingbird) restaurant. We have been in communication with our friends back home who are taking care of Rosie. All is well with and she is walking them regularly. …. We miss our guard dog but we feel better knowing she is in good hands. 20:30, Thursday, 13 Dec, Still at anchor in San Juan del Sur The wind has finally let up for the past few hours. Since we arrived the Papagayo winds have been ranging between 15 and 30 kts. The anchor is holding well and, because we are so close to shore, the waves are not a consideration, however, going ashore in the dinghy can be a wet ride. Yesterday the Star Princess anchored offshore for the afternoon. The ship is on a 30 day cruise that began in San Francisco and will end in Argentina after sailing around the horn and including a short visit to Antarctica. As is the routine, the ship disgorged hundreds of passengers to the shore trinket stands, to waiting busses and many found their way to some of the shore establishments. We met quite a few of them in a restaurant where we were testing out yet another source of mojitos. All were in high spirits about their adventure but were very curious about our lifestyle choice. We even got an invitation to stay at one couple’s place in Huatulco or Vera Cruz, Mexico. She is an ex-nurse from Bathurst NB and he is a Mexican ophthalmologist. This evening, under similar circumstances (restaurant) we met a young family who invited us to a party on the weekend (had to decline as we leave tomorrow) The parents are in the medical field as consultants and have decided to live here in SJDS for the next 6 months with their 3 children (under the age of 10). We went to Grenada today. One of the main cities in Nicaragua, it is located on the great inland lake about 1.5 hours away by road. In many ways it resembled the colonial towns we have visited further north. The museum offered a rich history of a country that went through centuries of turmoil Spanish Conquistadores, marauding pirates, JP Vanderbuilt and his shortcut to the Goldrush, the many revolutions and the still extant plan to build another Canal through the country. One of the features of Grenada is the large population of horse-drawn carriages, representative of a mode of transport that is still very much in use all over the country. We have seen many ox and horse drawn “daily drivers” on the roads.
Lake Nicaragua with volcanic Island and typical wind waves..... Nicaragua has been a very pleasant surprise for all of us. We had been told not to expect much and that the severe unemployment and lowest per capita income of all of the Americas would make this a more hazardous and bureaucratic country. On the contrary we have found the people to be very warm and cheerful and we have certainly experienced worse bureaucratic nightmares in Mexico. Although the Sandinista candidate just won the latest national election there doesn’t appear to be the political intrigue that many were expecting. We found that the country is much cleaner (trash wise) than its neighbors to the north. Also it is blessed with a large supply of fresh water so crops are diverse and plentiful. On our way to Grenada today we witnessed the considerable investment in giant wind turbines that the country has made to harness the power of the steady winds passing over the country from the Caribbean. A positive side of the low per capita income is that this is a very cheap country to live in so there are many American and some Canadian ex-pats here enjoying the simple life. Off to Costa Rica tomorrow.
Check out the top of the bus. Yes, that is a man laying on the matresses while the bus is speeding down the highway; it just passed us. Don't think they would allow that back home.....

Friday, December 7, 2012

We're finally off, well.... tomorrow

21:00, 6 December, 2012, Alongside Bahia del Sol Marina Another few days and we’ll be off and away from this backwater. If it wasn’t for the efforts of Bill and Jean, the El Salvador rally organizers, there wouldn’t be anyone here, and for good reason. It is a barely decent place to leave a boat and, as of this year, the choices are diminishing. Island Marine is up for sale and who knows what will become of the buoy field opportunities there. The buoys at the Santos facility are of poor quality and he doesn’t offer much in the way of preventative maintenance during the summer months. That leaves the marina docks. After the storm last April and observing the way the docks lost most of their flotation, cleats ripped out and decking washed away and the lack of commitment by the owner we realize that the marina is not a priority. Naughti Moments had quite a bit of gel coat damage when a cleat let go and she rubbed against the dock and Ken was told that he was lucky the hotel didn’t pursue him for ripping out the cleat….. The repairs to the facility were only superficial and it is a disaster waiting to happen…. again. But, people will keep coming, attracted by the $1 cervesas, discounts on food and mooring, but is it enough when you consider the ride in over the bar, the crappy facilities, filthy river water, and the 1 ½ hour, $90 taxi ride to El Salvador to get decent groceries and supplies? Yup, I’m ready to go. Gail and Mark (Mangareva) arrived this afternoon with the dinghy parts so that item is crossed out. While Fran went to San Salvador with a number of others for last minute shopping I stayed and tended to some last minute items. Yesterday I decided that the water-maker re-build kit had taken up enough space in the bilge so the water-maker was broken down and rebuilt with new seals. It was re-installed today and it seems to be working much better and with less leaks. All fuel tanks are full and tomorrow we top up our water tanks and check everything for departing. Fran will be busy with Immigration and Customs in the morning and tomorrow night we have a dock party. We have heard from Alan (Beverly J) a few days ago. They had gone into the Gulf of Fonseca, where El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua share the waterfront. They were boarded 3 times by the 3 different nations and finally chased out of an anchorage by the Nicaraguan navy. They motored down the coast to Corinto and didn’t find much so they are now on their way to San Juan Del Sur. After their story the 3 boats leaving Saturday have revised our plans and will most likely follow them to that port. The guides indicate that it is a pleasant anchorage with good facilities. 2100, Friday, 7 December It was a really nice pot luck dock party. The food and company were great. The work is done and the 3 boats are ready for sea. We leave on the full tide tomorrow morning. Fran will try to hitch a ride on the jet-ski that guides us out of the surf line. She’s been itching for that since we first crossed in March. @ boats have announced that they will be arriving tomorrow, Rathscallion and Precious Metal. We’ll be boats passing in the morning…. Next stop will be San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua, but first we have to cross the infamous Papagayo region where the gap winds from the Caribbean pick up quickly and can blow up to 50-60 kts. We’ll tell you how it went in the next blog.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Almost ready.

Friday, 30 November, 2012, still at the buoy. It is pitch black out. The moon is just starting to rise behind some heavy clouds and we have had a bit of light rain in the past few hours. The bay is flat calm and the fish are jumping all around the boat. Friday night brings the weekenders to the beach so there is a bit more music playing from the western shore and most of the properties are lit up, some with Christmas lights. The eastern shore is mostly dark. They rely on generators and batteries there and few can afford such luxuries. Apart from the barking dogs and an occasional flash of a flashlight glow there is very little activity. Before I start the new chapter I must add a PS to the last one. While in Antigua we discovered something everyone from our generation would appreciate. Remember the Lone Ranger and his sidekick Tonto? Well, we had found out a few years ago that Tonto means stupid in Spanish. Fran was mortified and I was a bit disappointed that Hollywood would show that kind of blatant discrimination. Well last week we discovered that Tonto name for the Lone Ranger was Kimosabe. OK, close but no cigar. It was actually Quien no sabe, or, loosely translated, he who knows nothing…. Who knew all those years ago that the two were passing insults back and forth. I have to watch a few episodes again. We just got back from having supper at Mary Sol’s restaurant with Colette a little while ago. We had the best fried whole fish ever! Colette’s guidance really helped since we gringos didn’t have a clue where to start. It was a 2-3 lb red snapper baked crispy, just the right size for the 3 of us. Who knew that you can eat the skin and tail…. Colette is leaving Sunday and this was one of the last chances we had to have a nice quiet time with her. She has been the ideal landlady as we have occupied one of her buoys and we certainly hope we’ll see her again in Canada during our summer’s home. Our ranks are beginning to thin out. Last week Beverly J left and today Whiteshell (Comox) departed for points south. Naughti Moments has gone to the marina dock for a few days and we’ll be following soon for a few days of last minute preps alongside. It will be nice to have shore power for a change and lots of water to wash the decks and hull before we depart. It looks like we are on schedule, so far. It has been a busy week. The lines are all where they are supposed to be, thanks to some help from Ken who helped me get to the masthead to sort out broken messenger lines and a loose steaming light. The sails are bent on and the forward head is back in operation….. The last item was an unexpected one. The smell of sewage was beginning to get strong in the Vee-berth and we discovered that the holding tank was full and overflowing something we had experienced on our maiden voyage. We still haven’t figured out how the Y-valve was in that position but it was making quite a mess. Once we had all the valves back in order we had to pump the tank out with the hand operated pump and it broke on the first pump. I was not looking forward to this repair but I had most of the day as Fran was going shopping. The job wasn’t as messy as I had anticipated. The poopy water wasn’t up to the pump so I was able to remove it and do a jury rig repair with a screw and some 5200, the cruiser’s best friend when a difficult gluing job presents itself. The pump held together while I pumped out the tank and, hopefully, will last for the next few years as we don’t expect to use it much. The cleanup was a bit more daunting but was completed by the time Fran arrived back. Steve and Linda (Warren Peace) are still adding up the list of items that they will have to replace due to their lightning strike. It looks like most of their electronics have been fried. Thank goodness that they were insured. There are so many cruisers who do not have any insurance. They will be delayed but they will leave here with a complete fit of up-to-date electronics. There is a silver lining to their cloud…. We are now convinced that the problem with our inverter/charger was caused by the same strike. Warren Peace was only about 75 ft. away from us at the time. Lightning is very unpredictable and will cause the weirdest types of damage. After some investigation we have counted out the microphone problem on the VHF radio as lightning caused. Looks like the repairs we had done to the radio last summer caused the issue so we are now discussing the problem with ICOM. If and when we replace the radio we’ll be looking for another brand. Way too many issues with ICOM products. Monday, 2 Dec, alongside the marina dock. We moved Gosling to the dock yesterday. A few days before I removed the bags that we had wrapped the prop blades with and cleaned the bottom as best I could. The bag idea worked well. There was very little to scrape off and the hull has survived the summer remarkably well. There are a few barnacles but, overall, it is not bad. The extra copper we put in the bottom paint in Guaymas has paid off. We shouldn’t have to do another paint job till Cartagena. We have had a minor problem with the dinghy. There has been a slow leak and we narrowed it down to one of the valves. When we tried to fix it the inevitable occurred; it broke, so we scrambled to find a way to get parts delivered from the US. We found out that Gail and Mark (Mangareva) are arriving Friday so we ordered the parts and had them shipped by the fastest means to their place. Hopefully everything will fall in place and we’ll be ready to depart on Saturday. Saturday we attended a pig roast on the Island. Ian (Blyth Spirit) had bought a piglet s few weeks ago for the event, a benefit for one of the young men on the Island who is trying to make his mark on the local boat maintenance scene. The proceedings are to purchase a VHF radio so he can communicate with the cruisers. It was turned into a potluck at Jan’s place, a local gringo lady who has lived here for some years. The pig was slowly cooked over a coconut fueled fire and was absolutely delicious.
Ian Tending to the piggy that didn't go to the market....
Ready to dish out. We are spinning our wheels as we wait for the dinghy parts. There should be at least 3 boats leaving on Saturday. We are in most respects ready to go, although we are a bit low on propane but we should have enough for the next few weeks. It is very difficult to get bottles filled here. The locals rely on a tank exchange system. Cruisers with our fancy aluminum tanks that need a special adaptor must go to the other side of San Salvador for fill-ups. We missed the last propane run two weeks ago while we were away on our Spanish lessons. The Sarana Guide indicates that San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua should be a much easier place to fill up. The following photo is of the group at lunch in a small fishing town of Herradura in the mangroves.
A look at the early morning sky is revealing what the Olmec (pre-Mayan) astronomers had predicted way back when they were the dominant people of Mexico and Central America. The sun and all the planets are lining up so that on the 21st of December they will all be on a flat plane, much like the planetary models we were shown in grade school. Little did we know then that this phenomenon occurs only every 28,500 years? Jim Papp explains it this way in an internet article: This rare astronomical event, foretold in the Mayan creation story of the Hero Twins, and calculated empirically by them, will happen for many of us in our lifetime. The Sun has not conjoined the Milky Way and the plane of the ecliptic since some 25,800 years ago, long before the Mayans arrived on the scene and long before their predecessors the Olmec’s arrived. What does this mean? Due to a phenomenon called the precession of the equinoxes, caused by the Earth's wobble that lasts almost 26,000 years, the apparent location of the Winter Solstice sunrise has been ever so slowly moving toward the Galactic Center. Precession may be understood by watching a spinning top. Over many revolutions the top will rise and dip on its axis, not unlike how the Earth does over an extremely long period of time. One complete rise and dip constitutes the cycle of precession. The Mayans noticed the relative slippage of the positions of stars in the night sky over long periods of observation, indicative of precession, and foretold this great coming attraction. By using an invention called the Long Count, the Mayans fast-forwarded to anchor December 21, 2012 as the end of their Great Cycle and then counted backwards to decide where the calendar would begin. Thus the Great Cycle we are currently in began on August 11, 3114 B.C. But there's more. The Great Cycle, lasting 1,872,000 days and equivalent to 5,125.36 years, is but one fifth of the Great Cycle, known scientifically as the Great Year or the Platonic Year - the length of the precession of the equinoxes. To use a metaphor from the modern industrial world, on Winter Solstice A.D. 2012 it is as if the Giant Odometer of Humanity on Earth hits 100,000 miles and all the cycles big and small turn over to begin anew. The present world age will end and a new world age will begin. Over a year's time the Sun transits through the twelve houses of the zodiac. Many of us know this by what "Sun sign" is associated with our birthday. Upping the scale to the Platonic Year - the 26,000 year long cycle - we are shifting, astrologically, from the Age of Pisces to the Age of Aquarius. The Mayan calendar does not really "end" in 2012, but rather, all the cycles turn over and start again, vibrating to a new era. It is as if humanity and the Earth will graduate in the eyes of the Father Sun and Grandmother Milky Way. So now you know the facts. Celebrate the new era, if you will, but don’t bury your head in the sand. This is a time for a new beginning not the end of it all….

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Spanish lessons in Guatemala

2000, 24 November, 2012. Onboard Gosling, Bahia Del Sol, El Salvador We have just returned to Gosling from Antigua, Guatemala. It has been 2 weeks of intense Spanish; well, as intense as 4 hours a day can get, 1 on 1 with an instructor, but with homework thrown in, the “intense” classification might just be appropriate, OK, we are over 60, so any brain drain over 20 mins is pretty serious….. Fran and Carol had arranged for the courses online at the Antiguena Spanish Academy. Initially we were a bit nervous as this was within weeks of the volcanic eruption of Fuego, just west of the town, and of the earthquake in Guatemala City. That one, and some of its aftershocks, had also been felt in Antigua.
Fuego (Fire) Aptly named but out of focus... We arrived in Antigua on Sunday night (2 weeks ago) after a long and grueling 8-hour taxi and mini-bus ride through the El Salvador and Guatemalan foothills. After a night in a cheap hotel we checked into the school and were assigned our homestay venues and our teachers for the course. The homestay system consists of a number of families who have been contracted by the school to provide room and board for their students. Our first family was the home of an elderly widow and her daughter who had 4 rooms available. We soon found out that the quality of food and lodgings varied considerably among the providers. Fran soon became unhappy with the food quality and we found the accommodations to be wanting. The bathroom sink drain leak and wet floor, the lack of hot water and the barking dog on the roof were sufficient for us to seek another location. Ken and Carol were in another homestay nearby and ranted about the place and, as luck would have it, there was a vacancy when we inquired. Problem solved: great food, comfortable accommodations and a super group of students, mostly half our age but it didn’t make any difference. Another student (in another homestay) almost got electrocuted when the showerhead caught fire. This probably requires a bit more explanation to those who have never taken a Latin American shower where the shower-head is an electrical appliance. It actually heats up the water as it passes through it, similarly to the instant hot water systems we are familiar with. No way would this meet the electrical code of anywhere north of the Mexican border. She was OK but later did feel a jolt as she shut off a bedside lamp. It was just her day…. On Monday of the first day we showed up at the school office, completed our registration and were assigned our own private maestras de Espagnol (teachers). We walked with them to another location, a park setting, chatting all the way, in what halting Spanish we knew so that the teachers could establish the level at which we had to begin. Neither of our teachers quit right away so we must have shown some potential. Every morning at 8 AM we would meet at the park, find our 2 chairs and table and slave away. By noon we were both fried, so after a homework assignment we both went our separate ways until the next day. We have to admit that we both actually know much more that we did 2 weeks ago. Our vocabularies have increased dramatically and verb conjugation is actually something we consider now. On the weekend we decided to visit the Mayan ruins at Copan, Honduras. It was another bumpy 6 hr minibus ride that began right after classes and ended after dark. We spent Saturday morning visiting the ruins with an English-speaking guide who explained in detail the history of the Mayans and purpose of the various buildings, the Mayan customs and traditions and so on. That really made the visit! I highly recommend to anyone visiting sites like this one to employ a guide. Without one the ruins are just a pile of rock; with one they become alive. The photos below show ruins that are much worse for wear than at Paleque (Mexico) where we toured last Feb. Most of the truly spectacular artifacts recovered from the archeological digs are in museums around the world, but some have been preserved in an adjacent museum where some of these pics were taken. Only a fraction of the existing ruin sites have been explored in this park. For those of you who have heard that the Mayan calendar is predicting the end of the world (or worse) and are considering entering a bunker on the Winter Solstice, it is a lot of crap. The date signifies the end of a Mayan era. One of many that was predicted centuries ago by their astrologers. Try a Google search for “Mayan Calendar End date”. There are some really good articles there including the Wiki site.
Temple ruins
Warrior Training Ground
Reconstructed wall panel showing a macaw god figure
The accurate location and reconstruction of a past mayan king's bed. Oh, come on, you'd have done it too!!!! The following day we toured a rescue bird sanctuary where hundreds of rescued exotic birds which cannot be returned to the wild are sheltered. Fran had her photo taken with several Macaws.
Fran, the bird lady. She found out later that while this was happening sand fleas were biting her ankles. Apart from the Spanish lessons and Copan there were other highlights worth mention: -we made lots of new friends. Arv and Belinda from Tasmania deserve special mention. If it wasn’t for Belinda, Arv would surely self-destruct as the Tasmanian Devil in the Looney Tunes cartoons is prone to do. Also of note were Jeri and John, an American couple taking time off from cruising their 50 ft steel trawler, currently in Rio Dulce. They are in Antigua for 6 weeks while John learns Spanish. Jeri is actually fluent in Spanish and teaches back home. She is spending the time learning to play the harmonica. We hope to catch up with them in the Caribbean next season; -We met Barry (Passat II) and his friend who were touring the area while Passat II is undergoing a refit. Between him and another couple we met on our course, Jerie and John Milici (MY Peking), who also have their boat at Rio Dulce we obtained a lot of detail about the area. This might be our final destination to store the boat for the summer season this season or next; -Shopping in Antigua was great from Fran’s perspective. We also discovered what is reputed to be the best rum in the world, Zacapa 23 yr old. We haven’t tried the premium Gosling rum yet so our jury is still out… - the town had more coffee shops than bars and Guatemalan coffee is very nice; - We decided to splurge for our last 2 nights and stayed in a beautifully appointed bed and breakfast, Casa Menta. It is run by a young Japanese couple who opened it just a few weeks ago; -on our last night we went out with a number of students for a final dinner and bar visit. On our way we discovered a specialty chocolate shop that provided a history lesson on the origins of chocolate and a demonstration of the manufacturing process. We were also able to sample the products of the various stages of production, a fascinating ½ hour accidental find; and -The volcano actually puffed for us on Friday morning, When we arrived back at the marina, Steve and Linda (War and Peace) were waiting for us with their tale of woe. When they arrived back from their Spanish lessons the previous week they discovered that they had been hit by lightning over the summer. Most of their electronics have to be replaced and they will be delayed a few weeks longer than expected. We were lucky to be spared as they were the closest boat to us in the mooring field. Just discovered that one of the cameras is defective. It took the photos but didn’t record them on the storage card. Bummer!!!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Another year, another adventure bigins.

0800, Friday, 9 Nov, at the buoy, Bahia Del Sol Up early today, before Fran for once. She seems to have had a good restful night. So, as they say, let them lie….. It is another clear and bright morning. It is already getting hot so the new fans I have installed will come in handy again today. The few hours of rain we had this past week appear to be the final remnants of what has been a very wet summer and the start of the gradual transition to the dry season. Our min/max thermometer indicated that the cabin only reached a max of 98F this season, however, the humidity would have made it feel much higher. We left last Thursday via Vancouver and San Francisco, so we had a leisurely day via the ferry and to Surrey where we met up with Bill and Janet (Optical Illusion, who will be catching up to us after we leave here, the boat is in Huatulco) and Ken and Carole (Nauti Moments) who graciously offered to accompany us to where the truck was to be stored for the winter and also drove us to the airport. They left the following day to join us. We flew with United and TACA, the predominant Central American airline. The TACA plane was a newer A-320 and the service excellent, much better than United. We arrived at 8 AM to a considerably hotter climate than we left. All of our baggage was there (whew) and we later discovered that only a bottle of contact cement had been removed by TSA. The going rate for a van taxi is $30, for the 40 minute drive, such a deal! It was with heavy hearts that we left Rosie behind this year. The airline industry is making it more and more difficult to bring animals as cargo. Also, after considering the areas we were heading to this season, it was getting increasingly difficult to plan pet friendly stops and inland travel. We’ll miss our alert dog but she is with very good friends who will undoubtedly teach her a bunch of new tricks and spoil her. When we arrived at the hotel/marina, Carlito was waiting for us with his panga to take us out to Gosling. He is Murray and Colette’s right hand man at Island Marine where Gosling and 8 other boats, (Including Nauti Moments and Warren Peace) have spent the summer. When we arrived onboard we were amazed at the sparkle and cleanliness. The crew had washed the upper-decks and even polished our stainless. When we opened her up Fran’s phobia of finding mold and mildew everywhere was eased. The boat had been aired out repeatedly during our absence and the interior had been wiped down several times by Murray and Colette’s crew. The fans, we had left on, also helped. There were a few closets that had a bit of mold but nothing serious. Fran’s vacuum packing of the majority of our clothes, bedding and dry goods paid off in spades. After getting the dinghy and outboard from storage ashore we were ready to start prepping for another season. We needed to get our bags unpacked and their contents stored in an already strained storage network. We must remember to take the time to get an inventory before we depart next spring. It is a common cruiser’s dilemma to bring lots of stuff from back home that really isn’t needed, especially clothing. Maybe if we were younger we’d remember what we had onboard form season to season. Next we had to get water onboard and start the process of putting up all the running rigging, sails, tending batteries and getting all of the items in Murray’s storage lockers, including all of the electronics back onboard. So far we have found a few items that have failed, probably from lack of use. One is the command microphone and the other is the charger-inverter that is, once again, not responding to a shore power input, the same problem we had 2 years ago and cost us about $600 to get repaired. Half of that was shipping costs to the factory in Minnesota….. So, it has been a busy week but we have had the time to socialize. Carole and Ken arrived, as scheduled, last Saturday and there are several other boats at the other marina that have, either just arrived or have spent her summer here. Among others are, Ideal 1, another Victoria boat, Timeless, Que Bella, Mita Kuulu, Blythe Spirit and Saucy Lady. A few boats left this week to continue their adventures, including Contento and Desmarais, a couple we had met in Guaymas in 2008. Yesterday was the first big shop. 4 couples shared a local mini-bus for the day and went to capital, San Salvador. The normal routing is a few hardware stores, a fabric supply store (where you can get Sunbrella for a low a $4.50/yd), a large shopping mall, Price Smart (Central American version of COSTCO), a large grocery store and back. We left at 8 and were back at 4, a long and expensive day but critical to our progress. We’ll do this again before we leave. Things are much more expensive in Costa Rica so stocking up here is essential. Sunday we are on our way to Antigua, Guatemala for our 2 weeks of Spanish lessons. We heard about the earthquake in Guatemala 2 days after it actually occurred. There was quite a bit of damage in the capital but Antigua was spared, as was the lake Atitlan area where Steve and Linda (Warren Peace) are doing their language training for another week. Once we get back from that we’ll be focused on preparations for our departure. We are aiming at the first week in December.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Countown to reality

22:40, Good Thursday, 5 Apr 2012, Anchored, Bahia del Sol Things are definitely winding down on Gosling. Much of our prep work to leave the boat for the summer is completed. Today Fran was sealing some of the foodstuffs we are leaving using her Food Saver. The vacuum sealer does an excellent job. We will be using a similar method for our clothing, bedding and towels when we get the bags in a week or so. Ken and Carole have returned home to BC for 2 weeks and have a list of items to bring back including the bags. Several boats are going through the same storage routine. Steve and Linda on Warren Peace are almost complete. They are at their summer mooring already and are well advanced. They will be leaving soon to take Spanish lessons in Guatemala before heading for home. There are still a number of boats that are prepping to continue down the coast for Panama. Tomorrow, Tom and Laurie on Camelot will be leaving and they will be followed by Hotspur and others as they continue their voyage. Ken and Carole have not decided whether they will continue this year or not. They feel that they are going too fast and missing too much so they are now considering leaving the boat here and continuing next season. It is still very hot during the day and cools down slightly overnight. We are at full moon and the highest tides of the year will be occurring next week. The current is 4-6 kts at times and actually gives anchored boats a bow wave and a wake. The locals seem to relish the heat. Conditioning must be the secret. Semana Santa (Easter week) has begun and the beach residences are full to overflowing. The resort here is sold out but we are spared the big crowds who would rather spend their time on the beach side of the resort rather than the estuary side where we are. 2300, 7 Apr 2012, same location What a light show we are having!!! Thunderstorms have been predicted for the next week and every day we have seen a build-up of clouds and some distant sheet lightning by nightfall. Over the last 2 evenings the thunder clouds have been forming closer and closer. Yesterday at about 5PM we saw a funnel cloud emerge from a big ugly black cloud just to the west of us and by nightfall we could see lots of lightning to the west. Well, tonight those clouds (minus the funnel) are overhead. At dusk we saw the first lightning and since then it has been a continuous show. So far it has been contained in the clouds above us and the thunder is muffled. It was absolutely still, not a breath of wind until a few minutes ago and now it is whistling through the rigging and making the awning flap wildly. I had to put up some frapping lines to keep the awning in control but that has only limited effect. 20 mins later: It is blowing 30-40 and raining like hell. Now we have forked lightning and real thunder claps. Rosie is hiding somewhere on the boat. She seems to find little cubby holes in the Vee berth when she is really scared. We weren’t completely caught by surprise but things are wetter onboard than planned. It was so hot that we waited to close the hatches until the last minute but fell asleep. Oh well, another lesson learnt. It’ll be hot and drier tomorrow. 1200, 8 Apr 2012 same location Everything is dry again but we will probably have a similar downpour tonight. We are in the transition period between the dry and the wet seasons. Jean (Mita Kuulu) says that this is the typical weather pattern for the transition period but it is a bit early this year. It has put quite a damper on the Semana Santa party-goers. For many this is their last day; tomorrow is a holiday only for the federal employees so most of the holidayers are on their way home. Soon we will be back to normal at the resort with only the cruisers using the facilities and keeping the bar staff employed. 2300, 22 April, 2012 At Colette and Murray’s Mooring, Bahia Del Sol I didn’t think I’d have much to write about during the last few weeks of preps to depart but we have had another interesting event to break up the monotony. Some of you may remember an incident I wrote about 3 years ago, about a microburst that hit us with high winds while anchored in Barra De Navidad. Well, a case of Deja-Vu last night. In late afternoon we had watched the build-up of nimbus clouds to the north of us, nothing abnormal about this and getting to be quite commonplace. We were expecting a light show and were not disappointed. As dusk arrived there was a lot of distant sheet lightning to the north. By 8 PM the wind picked up and rain started to fall. Our dinner guests, Ken and Carole, fresh from their 2-week trip back to BC, decided to get back to their boat before it got worse. Luckily for them they made it with minutes to spare before we were hit with what must have been another microburst. Our wind meter started at 30 kts and during the following 30 minutes it rose steadily reaching 73 kts at its peak. Our mooring field has 8 boats in it and 5 were swept away, with their mooring clumps. I was watching a Beneteau 45, next to us, lit up by almost continuous lightning as it wind-vaned beam on to the wind and begin its drift. An amazing sight! Luckily we had taken precautions when rain seemed likely but nothing prepared us for the maelstrom that followed. Our only loss was the gas tank from the dingy and a tear in our canopy. Other boats weren’t so lucky. 2 boats from our group drifted into each other and caused some damage to wind vanes, pulpits and railings while others suffered mainly torn sun shades and canopies. As soon as the wind had died down I was able to go out with Carlito,the caretaker of our mooring field to assess the condition of the boats. We discovered 2 local fishermen hanging on for dear life on the mooring cable of one of the boats. Their wooden canoe had flipped over and, lucky for them, they were upwind of the mooring field otherwise it would have been a much more tragic outcome. Boats at the other mooring field and the docks weren’t so lucky. One got a few small holes punched into her from an anchor on a drifting boat that broke her mooring line. One of the anchored boats, a J-36, ended up on a concrete dock and was severely damaged, and is now considered a write-off. Docks were damaged, cleats pulled out and panicked owners did everything they could to minimize damage. This morning we were able to better assess the damage. Cruisers are a remarkable breed. They have an inbred spirit of cooperation and are always willing to assist where assistance is needed. It certainly showed today as everyone pitched in to help those who were worst hit.
Tolerance - write-off
Island Marine's dock We have only 4 more days to go. We hope that will be the last excitement before we leave. Ken and Carole (Nauti-Moments) will be joining us in the moorings in the next few days. We are close to completing our preps. Fran has been packing things to go and things to stay. Her vacuum packer has seen a lot of use. She has also been vacuum packing large items using special bags that Ken and Carole brought back. She uses the vacuum cleaner for those. We are not taking any chances on mold so any linen, clothes, pillows or anything else liable to be affected is getting bagged. All surfaces on the boat are being wiped with a vinegar or chlorox solution. To back these precautions up we have a wonderful staff here at the moorings that will open up the boats regularly to air them out and check for excess moisture. Yesterday we were finally able to confirm Rosie’s flight arrangements, however, a SNAFU with the airlines will have her arriving 3 hours after we do in Phoenix. 2330, Same location Just a few minutes ago I was sitting on the bow in one of our folding chairs just enjoying the ambiance. There is a crescent moon setting directly in front of us. The tide is ebbing, we are pointed west, the current is about 3 kts and is burbling at the mooring chain. The only other sounds are dogs barking and occasionally, the sound of a small boat engine as they zip up and down the estuary. On the starboard side the shore is dark. There is no electricity supplied to the island so all we can see are small solar lights and the occasional bobbing flashlight as someone walks along the path by the shore. A few people on the Island have generators but by this time they have shut them off and gone to bed. The other side of the estuary is the narrow strip separating us from the ocean and the main road leading to the Pan-American highway. They have electricity on that side so there are lots of lights. With the right wind and tide we can hear the sound of the waves crashing on that shore, but not tonight, it is absolutely quiet. Earlier you could hear the bus announcing his passage by a blaring horn. Somewhere in the dark is the dock where our ever-faithful guard is watching over us. Every once in a while he turns on his million candle power spotlight and sweeps the beam over all of the boats in his charge. There is a slight odor of smoke in the air probably from sugar cane fields or trash burning. Since the storm there has been a lot of that. This is our last night aboard so I have to soak it in as best I can. It will be another six months before I can do this again. Tomorrow we finish our preps onboard, give our keys to Carlito and get a ride from him to the resort where we will spend the night, or part of it. We have to be at the airport by 5 AM so it will be a short night. It has been a great season and, as usual we have enjoyed our time on Gosling. We have left the Mexican comfort zone and are on track for Panama and what lies beyond. We’ll be leaving Gosling with some trepidation. This is our first time leaving her in the water but we will have the Island marine staff looking after our baby. This is probably our last entry of the season, Hope you have enjoyed reading about our adventures. Hope you follow us next season. Cheers, J-G, Fran and Rosie

Friday, March 30, 2012

Sitting tight in Bahia Del Sol

22:00 Tuesday, 23 March 2012 At anchor, Bahia Del Sol, El Salvador
Another blistering hot day in El Salvador. It is 10PM and it is still 80F in the cabin. Thankfully the breeze we have during the day makes it feel a bit cooler but it has died and now the breeze is a manufactured one – 12 V fans.
Fran and I have had another busy day. We went to San Salvador using the local bus system. What an experience! We left mid-morning to make a 2PM dental appointment in town for Fran. We caught the local bus at the resort gate and rode it for an hour to the highway junction to the city where we transferred to another similar bus for another 45 minute run. These buses are mostly of the old Bluebird school bus variety, most likely recycled from the US. They are all modified to carry more passengers and most are worse for wear, however, they run on time and they are an efficient mode of transport. One weird (to us) custom is for the driver to allow hucksters aboard at various stops or at the station before departure. These people sell anything from gum to candy bars, fruit, religious calendars, cookbooks, pastries, chips (banana, potato or coconut with your choice of sauerkraut, salt and hot sauce), plastic bags of water (actually factory filled and sealed 1 litre bags – bite off a corner and drink) and a host of other items. We bought a dollar bag of strawberries and peanuts (complete with a small bag of hot sauce and lime juice). When in Rome..... we were disturbed to see that any and all trash is thrown out of the windows adding to the litter along the roads.
Other than the trip there and back the event wasn’t noteworthy except that there was nothing wrong with Fran’s teeth. She thought she had cracked one. We also discovered Central America’s version of Costco – Pricesmart. It will be a very good source when we re-provision in the fall. Lunch was at Pollo Campero, a Central American chain that brought inexpensive fast food (chicken in this case) to the masses. The chain is expanding into the US and Japan.
Our trip to Guatemala was very pleasant. It was an expensive outing but, this time, we let someone else do the driving. We managed to have Rosie bunk in with Chris and Alan on Beverly-J for the time we were away so that freed us up for a more relaxing time. Once again we teamed up with Ken and Carole (Nauti Moments) and took a 3-day tour with driver and tour guide. We spent a lot of time driving from place to place but the van was air-conditioned and very comfortable. Our tour guide, Benjamin, spoke good English and had much to tell us about El Salvador and Guatemala. It is hard to believe that both countries were rife with political unrest within the past 20 years. Benjamin had some first-hand accounts of some of the horrifying events that unfolded in the early 1990’s and how the US (CIA) came to the aid of both countries to stall any further incursion by the Soviet hordes...... We noticed a big difference from Mexico with the amount of US influence in both countries. Every fast food chain is represented and US aid money is obvious everywhere. We did saw a sign in Atitlan expounding the aid provided by Canada for small businesses.

Sign in Atitlan about Canadian Aid to Small Business

Crossing into Guatemala was a much easier process than what we have experienced with our check-in and out of Mexico. It took only a cursory check of our passports and a stamp and we were on our way. Our first stop was Antigua, a beautiful colonial town, founded in 1543 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. The town is nestled between a trio of volcanoes of which Fuego is still active and emits a steady stream of vapour. The city has 38 churches but only a few were rebuilt after a devastating earthquake in 1773 that destroyed most of the city. We met many Europeans and had a fun time wandering the streets around the square and selecting a restaurant for dinner. One, featuring lamb, venison stew and another meat stew we couldn’t identify, drew us in. J-G, being the “gotta try it once” guy, went for the latter which actually turned out to be the most succulent of the 3 choices. It turns out that the meat is of the sheep family but one sporting hair rather than wool. After a night at a very nice hotel (Hotel Carmen) we spent a few hours touring the town before heading off to Lake Atitlan. We visited a jade factory, a native market but were turned away from a very scenic hotel by a bunch of serious looking guys in suits, sunglasses and ear-pieces. It just so happened that Antigua was hosting the presidents of the Central American countries for a meeting on Drug control. As we drove out of town we saw hundreds of police and military that weren’t there the previous afternoon.

Fuego Volcano from Antigua

Antigua cathedral with hand-laid coloured salt crystal carpet and fruit/veg offerings for Easter. Alter is covered by a 3-D scene which is changed daily.

School girls and religious procession, town square, Antigua

Our next destination was Lake Atitlan, a 128 sq km lake in a sunken volcanic crater, 1000 ft deep, surrounded by 3 other volcanic peaks. We spent the afternoon taking a boat across the lake to visit 3 isolated villages, San Juan, San Pedro and Santiago where people make traditional native crafts, now exclusively for the visiting tourists. At the last stop we were getting late in the afternoon and the peddlers were getting anxious to make their last sales. One lady followed Fran for 3 blocks trying to sell her a skirt. She finally wore Fran down but settled for a fraction of her initial asking price, which was probably what she expected to get anyway.

Look who's afraid of a bit of spray - fresh water spray.

Incredible sunset scene over lake Atitlan with storm clouds brewing overhead.

The following morning we went to Chichicastenango, an indigenous market town where everything we had seen in the previous 2 days and much more was for sale. The roads in the mountains were bordered with lush fields and terraced gardens where a wide variety of market crops were being grown. This was a marked difference from what we had observed in Mexico on our trip to Palenque where the natives eked a living growing corn and coffee everywhere there was a patch of soil, no matter how steep the hillside. We all wondered whether this was another instance of US aid at work.

Shopping in Chichicastenango

Ken and Carole - Chichicastenango market

Well, we are back on the bay and are slowly gearing up to leave at the end of April. We have now committed ourselves to an Apr 26 departure. We have had some issues getting a flight where we can take Rosie. Finally yesterday, after several frustrating attempts to get answers from United Airlines, we got the green light but it will not be easy. She needs a vet’s checkup within 5 days of departure (at a vet in San Salvador), must be weighed at the airport the previous day and must arrive 3 hours before our 0630 departure time and all this will have to be done by taxi. When we arrive in Houston (on our way to Phoenix because they don’t have pressurise cargo holds on the planes that fly directly to Tucson) we need a minimum of 3 hour layover so that she can be checked out by US officials. What a hassle!!
2030, Friday, 30 March, Still anchored
Over the last few days we have had some leisurely lazy days. Mornings are projects times, before it gets too hot. We have been setting up a sun shade using fence coverings used at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The panels are 6’ by 40’ and we have 2 of them, obtained from a provincial surplus outlet in Victoria. All we have to do is adapt them to the boat by cutting out sections where the rigging interferes with the layout. Easier said than done working on a sailboat. In the meantime we have set up an old shade we found on the boat when we bought her. So far that is working well so the other project has taken a back seat. Apart from walking Rosie, cooling off in a pool that is just below ambient temperature and waiting for Happy Hour at poolside, chatting with other cruisers there isn’t much exciting happening. Every few nights there is something special happening. Tonight there was a wine tasting followed by an Italian dinner at the resort but Fran is under the weather so we opted for a nice quiet spaghetti supper onboard.
Today J-G went on a short excursion to a nearby town with a bunch of cruisers to participate in a school fruit festival. The kids and parents welcomed us graciously and we enjoyed a few hours of entertainment and fruit tasting. J-G added 3 more exotic species to his list.
Next week is Semana Santa here and it is promising to be an absolute ZOO. The week before Easter is Latin America’s Spring Break. The management has all their units rented out as do most of the resorts and hotels along the strip. The waterway we are anchored in will be very busy so Rosie will get her exercise chasing watercraft from one end of gosling to the other. Beer tents have popped up all down the road and 2 circuses have set up camp a few miles away. This would be a good time to be away but it will be crazy everywhere so we will just have to hunker down and survive the onslaught....

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Over the bar into San Salvador

2000, Tuesday, 20 Mar, 2012 At anchor, estuary Jaltepeque, El Salvador
Another blistering hot day is over and we are relaxing in the cockpit. Fran is reading and J-G is writing the blog, trying to catch up on the past week’s events. It is absolutely quiet save for the distant roar of the surf on the other side of the peninsula. There is a cool breeze blowing and it is really quite pleasant after another scorching day. Every once in a while a dinghy or a panga goes by and Rosie gives them a few warning yaps. Early this morning we had quite a downpour, a rare event here at this time of year. We both had to hustle to close the hatches before getting everything soaked. It was nice to take a shower under nature’s own for a change. We are hearing that Eastern Canada is getting a very early hot spell, in the mid-20’s.
The highlight of the passage from Chiapas was the entry into the estuary over the bar, or Boca Conrdoncillo, as it is called locally. We all arrived at the waiting area well ahead of time and waited for the tide to run its course. Just before the end of the flood our escort jet-ski, driven by Rogelio, one of the marina staff, and Mita Kuulu’s Bill riding shot gun, arrived through the surf line. Last minute instructions were given, engines were run at full throttle for a few minutes to ensure we had lots of power and all hatches were shut and sealed. In Gosling, J-G took the precaution of tying Fran to the wheel (she was driving) and Rosie to her bed below. We all watched as Warren Peace passed through and then it was our turn. With Rogelio expertly driving the jet-ski beside us and Bill giving us directions by radio, Fran floored it and we entered the maelstrom. J-Gs running commentary to Fran as to the state of the rollers following us in and which way to adjust the helm to stay perpendicular to them can be heard in the video that he was taking (unable to copy here). Fran compared it with coaching through childbirth.... The actual crossing was much easier than we expected. We were picked up 3-4 times by huge rollers and surfed one in for 15-20 seconds, then it was over and we motored into a much calmer estuary over to the marina and tied up, changed our shorts and, no, it wasn’t that bad.... Fran did have a small bottle of Champagne to celebrate the crossing and our arrival at our final destination for this season.
Surf's Up

Kuan Yin 1 had a better ride.

Good drive Fran!!

We heard later that the conditions at the bar were about as bad as it gets and that the previous day was worse. One boat, Serendipity, was nearly rolled as they caught a bad wave the wrong way. They also had left their main cockpit hatch open and had a mess to clean up. They also lost an outboard. Bill takes photos of all boats entering and leaving so we all have photo souvenirs of our exploits.
Once we were settled in and everyone was tied up safely we headed up the dock to do the entry paperwork at the port office and immigration. This marina/hotel complex has both services integral to its organisation and it was a fast and efficient procedure, and cheap as well, compared to the Mexican entry/exit routine. The first document we signed was one warning us not to bribe the officials... How refreshing!!
The marina at the Bahia Del Sol Resort (RCI affiliated) is the host for the Rally and is the centre for all the activities from the opening day (17 March) to the closing event (29 April). They work on a resort system where all is charged to your boat name. Bills are paid weekly and they welcome credit cards, another refreshing change from Mexico. Another important feature of El Salvador is that they use the US dollar as their currency.
The local area is quite “desolate”. Apart from the hotel and its grounds there isn’t much to see locally. The big city is San Salvador and it is 90 minutes away. At the opening ceremony we were welcomed by numerous officials that want us to encourage others to visit this country. We will get a chance to see more of it soon. We are going on a 3-day tour beginning Friday. We also met up with Colette, our friend from the Maple Bay marina who, with her husband Murray, own the mooring facility where we will be leaving Gosling for the summer. She delayed her trip home to be able to see us after we arrived. They have a lovely little place on the estuary with an A-frame that Murray built, surrounded by fruit trees, mangoes, olives, cashews and others. They have a dedicated staff that will be looking after our boats during the wet summer season to ensure we do not get a mold problem below decks.
Beach walk

We took advantage of being at the dock for 3 days to get most of our preps done for storing the boat. All the sails have been washed and bagged. Most of the running rigging has been removed, washed and replaced with chase lines for the summer.
We have all been amazed at some of the new plant life we have been seeing including cashew nut trees, new varieties of mangoes, kapok trees and others we haven’t been able to identify yet. Cashews are an interesting crop. As you can see from the photo, the nut is an appendage to the fruit. The fruit is edible but an acquired taste. The cashew is harvested when the fruit is ripe and must be roasted twice to remove the outer toxic shells. No wonder they are so expensive!
Cashew below the parent fruit

Kapok pods. Similar to a milkweed.

More when we get back from our trip.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

More inland travel and to El salvador: Final desination for 2012

Tuesday, 13 March, 2012, At sea, on route to Bahia Del Sol
We have departed Marina Chiapas and are on our last leg to Puerto Del Sol. We expect to arrive at the entrance to the bar at high tide at about 08:00 on Thursday. The winds are light and we don’t expect to make much headway under sail but we have factored in some extra time in case the wind does come up. We are in company with Tension Reliever, Warren Peace, Quon Yin 1, and Nauti Moments. Several boats left yesterday and more will leave over the next few days.
It has been a busy week. We were able to get away for a 4-day trip inland after all. Many thanks to Carole and Ken for insisting that we all go together and working hard to find a solution. We finally found a car to rent, a small Chevy rattletrap, the only choice available with good air-conditioning. It was relatively cheap and there was space for Rosie but she insisted on the door side of the rear seat forcing Fran to the “hump”.
The drive up to Palenque convinced us that we would never attempt such a thing again. The road up was very long and wound through 2 of the coastal mountain ranges. The worst aspect was the “topes” or “sleeping policemen”, those humps in the road designed to slow down traffic. Well, they certainly work! We had to slow down to a near crawl to go over most of them. The afternoon sun and shadows made it difficult to see some of them but after bouncing off the roof a few times we became extra vigilant. Another feature of the topes worth mentioning is the “opportunity commerce” common in many of the villages we passed through. As cars slow down to negotiate the bumps, people, mostly children approach them selling anything from fruit, tortillas to trinkets. At two places on our return trip there was a string barrier erected as we approached a tope and several adults and children came out of nowhere. At another a young girl jumped in front of the car as we were negotiating some very rough spots and took a lot of convincing to move out of the way; we weren’t stopping.
Road barriers by roadside sellers. Note the string.
Other road hazards - landslide damages
A common sight along these back roads are the “collectivos”, small privately owned vans that pick up passengers along and drop them off at their destinations for a small fee. This is a valuable service for the outlying areas where native people subsist on farming small holdings of coffee and/or corn. Most live close to the poverty line and do not own vehicles so this is their only way of transportation.
By nightfall we were still driving along the serpentine roads, crawling over topes and slowing for areas where previous washouts and landslides had been roughly repaired. The area we went through is also where the Zapatista uprising occurred in the late 90’s. Our copy of the Lonely Planet (2002) still warned of civil unrest and hold-ups along these roads. Today there are numerous military checkpoints that are another cause for delays.
We finally arrived in Palenque at 2130, after almost 12 hours on the road. We found Margarita and Ed’s hotel, highly recommended by Janet and Bill, at the entrance to the park gates.
Margarita and Ed's hotel
For 400 pesos / night we had an air-conditioned room in a 6 room building located in serene jungle like setting. Rosie wasn’t welcome so she slept in the car. There are several other hostels and small hotels close by but the jungle affords privacy. There were many people staying among the various accommodations, a very international and diverse gathering. Many were young adults, modern bohemian/ hippy types with their dreadlocks, baggy pants, bongo drums and huge back packs. Our son Mike had passed through here 12 years ago and this would, indeed have been a comfort zone for him.
The following morning we headed to the Mayan ruins of Palenque. These 500 (plus) buildings are spread over a 15 sq km area and date back to 250 BC to 900 AD. They are located in a jungle setting where the people carved out lush fields out of the bottom land fed by several watercourses. Only a small percentage of the buildings have been excavated. Unlike the Aztec and Zapotec sites Palenque had no gold and silver treasure so it was ignored by the Spanish conquistadors. It was rediscovered in the late 1700’s and in the following century it was claimed to be the lost Atlantis and by others, an extension of ancient Egypt. It wasn’t until the mid-1900s that the real discoveries occurred with the unearthing of several crypts with semi-precious stone offerings. Jade appears to have been an important commodity and many of the skeletons were adorned with jade death masks. Our guide through the ruins was very informative and pointed out many features that would have been missed had we been on our own. Several buildings still have original murals and inscriptions. The Palace (El Palacio) featured many rooms with murals and a small courtyard where frescos of captives were still in good condition after 2 centuries. The tomb of the Red Queen with its cinnabar red stains is still visible in its original location. Pakal, one of the more notable royal had his tomb built during his 90 year reign. The story of the discovery of his tomb in 1952, deep in the foundations of the temple, could have been the subject for an Indiana Jones sequel.
Temple of the skull- Palenque

Temple of the inscriptions - Palenque
Unexplored building - Palenque

Frescoe still in good condition after centuries of exposure

We were told that howler monkeys are quite common on the site but during our visit they were off duty. Our guide explained that when Jurassic Park was being conceptualized the creators were at a loss for a sound effect for the dinosaurs in the movie. When they heard the call of the howler monkey they immediately decided that the sound was what they wanted. We were able to confirm that the next morning when we heard some calling near the hotel just before dawn. Fran also got to see a Toucan spotted by some bird watchers.
We had hoped to also see the ruins at Yaxchilan but that would have been another full-day adventure using a guide service. Part of that trip involves a river boat ride up into the jungle on the Mexico/Guatemala border. The ruins at Bonampak are also close to that site. We had also intended on seeing the waterfall at Misla-ho but that would have involved driving the rattletrap over 10 kms of dirt roads.
We left Palenque early on our third day and headed back into the Sierras to San Cristobal de Las Cruces. On our way back we stopped at Agua Azul, a beautiful set of falls with a river the colour of turquoise due to the sediment it carries. We endured another 5 hour bone jarring drive over a multitude of topes but in daylight this time.
Agua Azul

We arrived in San Cristobal (alt 2100m) in early afternoon. This is a beautiful colonial town that was founded by the Spanish in 1528. It is now an artsy and bohemian community where hordes of tourists, many of them European, flock to experience the modern culture of Mexico. The many bars and restaurants are alive with people from early afternoon to late at night and the indigenous people are everywhere plying their souvenirs. Many of these are people expelled from their villages for turning protestant under the influence of foreign evangelical missionaries and live in makeshift colonies on the outskirts of town. We found a very nice little hotel that allowed Rosie to stay (as long as she didn’t go onto the bed). We dined in a Lebanese/Indian/Thai restaurant owned by “Liz” a displaced New Yorker, who we met just outside our hotel. We later discovered that she is the daughter of Ben Gazzara and Ann Rule. The climate at this altitude was quite different from what we have been used to and, thankfully, we had been pre-warned to bring warm clothes.
Young native souvenier seller carrying brother

The next morning we boarded our beater and drove back to Puerto Madero along the main highways and toll roads. It took us 5 hours but we had only a few topes to deal with and there was very little traffic. It was a very pleasant drive compared to the drive up on day one.
Before departing Mexico the formal exit paperwork must be completed. The final product is the “Zarpe” which must be presented at the next port of entry. In Ensenada, where we did our entry procedure in 2008, it only took a few hours. Everything was done in a single location: immigration, Port Captain and bank payment services. Puerto Chiapas is not organised like that yet so we were in for a long day. The Port Captain is close by, but Immigration is at the airport, 12 km away and the bank they use is in Tapachula 25 km away. The marina is expected to simplify this procedure but for our group of 9 Enrique’s right hand man, Memo, was tasked to drive us and walk us through the procedure. Even with Memo’s help it took us most of the day but finally we had our Zarpe in hand and it was time for another round of cocktails on the dock, a farewell to Mexico occasion (as if we needed a reason!)
The following morning the final boat inspection was carried out by the Port Captain’s staff and the navy (dog included) and we were cleared to go. Just after 8 AM we slipped our lines from Mexico and headed out on our final passage of this season and to a new country.
1300 Wednesday, 14 March 2012, At Sea
We are sailing in a beautiful 12 knot breeze on a broad reach about 15 miles from the Guatemalan coastline doing 6.5 kts. We have had a great day of sailing, one of the best this season. This morning we attained 7.5 kts on a close reach, the best we have ever done on that point of sail. We do have a problem though. It is ironic but we are going too fast to make our ETA at the bar tomorrow morning. We will have to shorten sail soon and adjust our sped to arrive by daybreak, a difference of About 4 hours at this speed. Within the next few minutes we will be entering the territorial waters of El Salvador. Guatemala is the first country we have bypassed without stopping. We’ve seen a few turtles and dolphins and a new bird for Fran, a Cook’s Petrel who tried repeatedly to land on our solar panels but kept sliding off; cute little guys. She has been keeping count of all her new sightings.
Sunrise over the mainland

0510, Thursday, 15 March 2012. Approaching Bahia Del Sol
It has been a good night with some sailing earlier but the wind has died and we are back to powering. We are an hour away from the entrance to the bay. There are 5 of us congregating at the mouth of the bay for an entry sometime between 6:00 and 8:00. We are expecting some kind of watercraft to come out and guide us through the surf line. This has been a source of trepidation for the past few weeks. We have seen photos of other boats surfing in with the swell as it builds over the bar entrance. We have had the experience already, albeit not a pleasant one (see: Knockdown at San Blas – You Tube). Lots of boats have been through this so it shouldn’t be all that difficult and, unlike San Blas, this will be a straight, down sea approach. There should be some good photos.
I will try to get these 2 blog entries away soon after our arrival. Hopefully the bandwidth will be suitable for the photos I want to include.
Note,2130 same day: good connection at the marina/hotel bar. Here for a few days before moving to the anchorage.