09/28/2011, Papagayo Peninsula, Costa Rica
Where are we?
September 28, 2011
The Haves and the Have Nots
It's hard being us. And part of the reason why is because we have so much. I feel ashamed of this often because I wonder...why us? We stop in countries, and we can't help but become close with people we meet. But on a daily basis, we are reminded of how much we have, and how so many people will never be able to have what we have. And I guess what's weird about it is that the people that we meet, most of the time, are people that see the way we live. We talk with them daily, or they come on our boat for a cold drink. They are our peers...and they become our friends. We develop deep bonds, and they will always remain in our hearts.
Let's take music for example...who doesn't like music? But, I know it might be hard for some of you to believe, but there are people in this world that will never have an ipod. Or a nice little plug-in Bose system to play their ipod on. If they're lucky, they might have one or two songs of their favorite musician to listen to on their phone. And the only reason they have a cell phone is because that is their only form of communication, since most don't have a computer, and certainly not a house phone. We are frequently asked, "How much did you pay for that?" It floors us and depresses us that electronics, once you leave the United States, cost double. That is if they're even available. A car? (Insert sarcastic laugh here) You can pretty much forget it for the average person. It just gets to me sometimes.
After two months visiting family and friends in the San Francisco Bay Area, we came back to the Lisa Kay feeling exhausted and somewhat overwhelmed. Our visit was fantastic, don't get me wrong! But, it also was an affirmation to us that we are exactly where we want to be and doing exactly what we want to with our lives. I know that is hard for our families to accept sometimes, but just because we're doing life differently doesn't make it wrong. Our good Aussie friends, Cheryl and Peter on S/V Stolen Kiss, have the perfect saying, "Those that wander are not necessarily lost." We love that, and it certainly sums it up.
What a whirlwind our visit was back at our old home. We were blessed with homes to stay in, cars to drive, and love and friendship by all! Thank you everyone! We cherished every moment. It warmed my heart to see Ben, just pick up exactly where he left off with his friends two years earlier. He absolutely had the BEST summer ever!
We literally ate our way through the bay area, knowing we wouldn't be able to have this or that for at least another year, so we went for it! We sort of had to learn to drive again. I mean, I simply could not go over 50 MPH on the freeway! My foot just wouldn't press the gas pedal any harder! I really had to concentrate to try and keep up with the flow of traffic, but everything was just whizzing past so fast! Noise pollution, now I get it. Cars, planes, sirens, and the shear noise of people everywhere. I couldn't stand on a sidewalk and not reach out and grab at Ben as if he were a young toddler. I was not used to the sound of cars flying by. At first we were in sensory overload. But after a few weeks, we weirdly adapted back. Grocery shopping you ask? Can I just say, American grocery stores are obscene. The look, the lighting, the selection, the ready made food, the PERFECT fruit and veggies, the 18 different choices of the same item...I almost cried the first time we shopped. And, California wines...there is nothing like 'em!
Well, we returned with 10 suitcases weighing EXACTLY 50 lbs each, and $390 dollars poorer in excess baggage fees. Totally worth it though because we know if we tried to ship this stuff in it would have been well over a grand. Thankfully, customs hardly gave us a second glance and we waltzed right back in to Costa Rica! And ahhhh...the quiet, the peace, the beauty of this country. We totally felt like we had returned home.
Our agenda now, as we wait out the wet season, is to stop the leaks we have in our decks. This means painstakingly removing the caulk between the teak planks, sanding, cleaning with acetone, taping off, and re-caulking. Section by section...slowly...back breaking...sweating profusely...day after day. After that we'll need to replace every (almost) screw in the deck, then we'll be good to go! (As of this writing we're over half way done!) But we do have a lot of fun too including meals with friends, surfing with Ben, snorkeling, and paddle boarding with whales???!!! YES WE DID!!! I am still pinching myself, because I never would have believed I would spontaneously be on the water, close with a mother and baby humpback whale for like thirty minutes, even getting in the water to put my head under to hear them communicating! It was unbelievable...and then it was over in a flash when dolphins came by...and that's when you sort of look back at land and see how far out you are...and blink and say, "Did that really just happen?"
I immediately was taken back to when I was a sixteen year old girl, working at Marine World, and buying a record (yes I'm THAT old!) called Songs of the Humpback Whale. (I also vaguely remember my old ice skating buddies making fun of me, imitating the noise...yes you did Brian!) And guess what? They sound exactly like I thought they would! Once again, here was a moment when I wished all of you could have been with me, and once again here was an experience that reminded me of why we are doing what we are doing!
When someone asks you how are you doing in Costa Rica you are supposed to answer, "Pura vida." As we reflect back on the 9/11 anniversary, remembering all those people that lost their lives that day, I am pretty confident that each and every one of them would tell you if they could, to follow your dreams. As we enter in to our third season of living on the Lisa Kay, I can honestly tell you that we are living a dream...and are definitely pura vida!
09/22/2011, Papagayo Peninsula, Costa Rica
Our boat is in the center of this shot!
September 27, 2011
Editors note: This post was something that Ben wanted to write totally on his own. It wasn't supposed to be part of a school assignment (although it is now). Everyday he would say how much he loves it here. So he decided to write this article. We stood back and here it is!
Costa Rica, Marina Papagayo Review
I recommend going to Marina Papagayo for many different reasons. Because of the great snorkeling close by, local surfing, and the exotic fish swimming around, this marina has been such a joy to be docked in. Some of the fish you might see swimming in the marina are Rooster Fish, Mahi Mahi, and Bonita. The best part however, is the nice people.
There is a pool, gym, laundry, plus a ship store. The docks are nice and wide, with a pump out service that is free (they even flush your holding tank with fresh water which my mom loves!), potable water, power, and cable TV. There is also a fuel dock with gas and diesel. There is a concierge, Jesse and Raquel, that will help you with anything that you need.
I recommend renting a car because it is a great way to see the good in Costa Rica. If you are a big time surfer then I recommend for you to go to Tamarindo. If you go, I would go at an incoming tide. It is perfect for both short and long boarding, and great for learners. Surfing lessons and board rentals are available. If you fish or have a sport fishing boat then come here because there is plenty of fish. Sadly you can't fish in the marina. The best grocery store is called Auto Mercado located in Cocos, plus there is the greatest Ice cream shop there that I have ever been to in my whole entire life!
If you live on a yacht the dock is big enough because the boat Sea Wolf, which is 193 feet, fit just right on the outside dock. If you are one of those exercise people there is a hill that you can either run or walk up if you have a lot of energy. It has monkeys in some of the trees, but you have to have a good eye to see these funny creatures. There are lots of snakes that you don't go near if you see one. If you need any hardware, then there is a place called the Do It Center about a 20 minute drive up the road and they have all the tools you need to ''do it''.
There is also a great doctor and dentist across from the Do It Center. If you need more lewers you can either go to the marina's ship store or to Cocos to a store called Berbone, and you can get a collapsible casting pole for $20.00. I know you don't like to cook a lot, so you can go to the Dive Bar and meet Johnson, Adrian, Luis, Tony, and the cooks. They have become really great friends of mine and they are really nice. The dock master Dan is very nice also, and will tell you the best places to go if you are in need of supplies or fun.
If you need to check in to Costa Rica at the marina, you can by hiring an agent. This made the whole entire process a lot easier and was worth the small amount of extra money. If you are a big time picture freak then there is sometimes a view of a fantastic lightning show. My dad has gotten some great shots and so have I! Don't worry about getting struck by lightning because we have been here almost 4 months, but sometimes I do recommend putting the electronics in the oven if you feel like you are in danger.
I normally like every marina that I am in, but this one is different. I love it and I hope you can come experience some of the things that we have to! For more information about this marina see Marina Papagayo I will post pictures on my web site listed below and I think that you will like them.
Written by Ben Anderson, age 11, S/V Lisa Kay, Tayana 55, live-aboard since July 2009.
I can be reached by my family web site Sailing with the Andersons
Our pictures of Marina Papagayo are in the Photo Gallery under Bens Gallery Costa Rica!
06/15/2011, Costa Rica
Marina Papagayo at night
June 15, 2011
Costa Rica...or should I say, Pura Vida!
You say, Pura vida, what's that? Pure life of course. And that about sums up Costa Rica so far. It's beautiful. It's clean. The people are happy. Life is good. Pura vida is more than a saying here, it's a way of life, and we really like it so far!
In 2007 the Costa Rican government announced plans for Costa Rica to become the first carbon neutral country by 2021. Achieved by balancing their carbon dioxide releases with an equivalent offset by clean technologies and the preservation of their beautiful land. According to the New Economics Foundation, Costa Rica ranks first in the Happy Planet Index, which basically is an index of human well being, and is the "greenest" country in the world. Their literacy rate is 94.9%, being one of the highest in the world, and Costa Rica is known for their medical tourism (or as Larry likes to say, "medcations"), with their healthcare system ranking higher than the United States.
The Lisa Kay and Perfect Wave spent 10 glorious days at anchor in Bahia Santa Elena, the most popular first stop in Costa Rica. This is a national park and the bay is enormous, calm, isolated and surrounded by nature. And what a treat to catch up with our old friends on S/V SOMF and S/V Windfall! Off in the distance we can hear howler monkeys, and these small green macaws that fly back to their roosts in the trees every evening in pairs (apparently for life), chatting and chatting away. It really is a very funny sound. I could listen to them forever.
Hiking, including a walk up to a small waterfall and pool, exploring, and snorkeling were our priorities here. And some wonderful dinners with our friends, including a bonfire on the beach one night that Eric (the dad of Perfect Wave) put on with the kids. T-shirts soaked in diesel and wrapped around limbs for torches, a raked clean beach, a giant log to sit on, a bonfire etc....They all worked so hard, we felt like we were in a scene from the TV show Survivor! Sadly one day we came across a hammerhead shark that had washed up on shore and yes, every fin had been cut off. All for a bowl of shark fin soup I guess.
Once again Larry and I were attacked several nights by these flying (enormous) ant kinda thingys. They simply come out of nowhere! A year ago I probably would have freaked out but adaptation is a wonderful thing. They're harmless - not biting or anything, but they land on you and crawl and you slap them and kill them and pile them up by the side of your bed. Ughh! It seems we're the only boat that gets them. (Do 'ya think they might be crawling in through our retarded wooden slat doors into our salon?) But Larry blames me because I read at night with a light on!
The snorkeling has been fantastic. Unbelievable! I have never seen so many different colors of coral and different beautiful fish. The kids just love frolicking in the warm, clear water exploring. To see the land formations, literally from the earth's crust up, being pushed and formed from ancient volcanic activity is a sight to be seen. Costa Rica means "the rich coast" and now we see why. We felt like we could have stayed here forever, but alas our fresh food supply was running out quickly so we thought we should start moving on.
Next stop, a quickie snorkel at the Mucielagos Islands, also known as the Bat Islands. We probably really should have paid attention when there was chatter on the radio about a gigantic bull shark that was in the area, but we really didn't think much about it...well okay...I did...but the "new" brave me didn't want to miss out, and we did have some amazing snorkeling! I saw not one but two moray eels! Later however, sitting at the bar in our current marina talking with a local dive instructor, he makes a casual comment about how he would never snorkel at the Bat Isles because they're known for bull sharks and he would rather be at the bottom diving so he could look up at them rather than floating at the top snorkeling! Aaaaggghhhh!!! Oh well, as we all like to joke, we cheated death again!! (You Tube "Bull Sharks at the Bat Islands" and you'll see!)
So, as I previously mentioned, yes we have ended up parking in the loveliest marina called Marina Papagayo after spending a few more nights in several different anchorages to get here. Paying the small amount extra to hire an agent and have the officials come to our boat and check us into the country was well worth it. Checking into a country can be quite laborious and costly. You often have to travel from the Port Captain's office to Immigration & Customs, back to the Port Captains etc...with time and transportation costs adding up. Seeing as there were two boats (us and Perfect Wave) checking in at the same time, we took advantage of that and asked the agent for a multiple boat discount. Well, ask and ye shall receive! Thank you Eric, for reminding us to never be afraid to ask!
Being able to leave the boat safely at the dock gave us the perfect opportunity to rent cars and spend a few nights in the glorious Marriott at Hacienda Pinilla about a 1 ½ hours drive away. What a cool place to celebrate Ben's 11th birthday!
We are so happy here. This country and the marina just have such a great feel. We go for long power walks up some very steep hills seeing all kinds of wildlife. I tell Ben we're doing PE but it usually turns into a science class as well. We hear and sometimes see monkeys in the trees, different birds with some amazing hanging nests, raccoons, iguanas of course, the occasional dead snake on the road, and thousands of teensy tiny frogs that seemed to have hatched every where when the rains first came. We can do our own laundry for a change! What a treat! And what a bargain! Since Puerto Vallarta we have only been able to drop our laundry off to be done by a service which always seemed to cost at least $50 every two weeks for the three of us.
Once again we are blessed with a marina staff that are so friendly and really look out for us. Ben has made friends with the waiters at the Dive Bar, riding his rip stick in the nearby parking lot and discovering his new favorite drink, the tamarindo margarita (virgin of course!).
Rainy season, May to November, is now upon us, although the northern part of Costa Rica receives much less rain. Hence the less likely chance of a lightening strike, which is kind of any boaters biggest fear at this time of year. With that in mind, we feel this is the perfect place to leave the Lisa Kay while we make a two month trip back to the San Francisco bay area to visit our mom's and for Ben to fill up his "love bucket" with his friends.
Looking back on this past season of sailing I can't believe how far we have come (not necessarily in miles), the countries we have traveled through, and the people we have met. And yes, a few dogs along the way as well. Land travel hadn't really been something we had thought about when we decided to go cruising, but now we have learned how it's as equally rewarding as being solely on the water. We have become so comfortable with each other, in extremely tight quarters, and much more relaxed in our second year as boaters. And yes, in case all of you were wondering...Ben and I graduated fifth grade! I know some of my friends out there, (yes, I know who you are!) laugh at the thought of me teaching Ben math...and English...and whatever else...but the truth of the matter is we are doing really well. He is getting an education of a lifetime and for now we wouldn't change a thing!
San Francisco here we come!!!! Pura Vida
Look in the gallery under Pura Vida Costa Rica for pictures from our travels so far in Costa Rica!!! Don't forget to write us a comment, we love hearing from you!!!
05/01/2011, Puesta del Sol, Nicaragua
Hiking in the Mombacho Volcano Mist Forest
May 1, 2011
Nicaragua- The Country of Lakes and Volcanoes
We quietly slipped off our mooring ball at 0515 and followed our panga guide out of the estuary. By 0645 both Perfect Wave and us had safely made it through the surf line and were on our way to Nicaragua. Not many boats it seems stop in Nicaragua, and we had mixed reports from the few that had about what the marina was like. One of the many things we love about our Perfect Wave family is not only their energy, but their enthusiasm to check out new places. Crossing the Gulf of Fonseca was not an easy or comfortable feat due to the short steep waves. (see photo gallery "Welcome to Nicaragua" for some incredible shots of Perfect Wave crashing over and under the seas) The mouth of the gulf is 21 miles wide and the bay is about 25 miles deep. This allows the wind to build up short, steep wind waves off shore. El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua all meet in this bay as well. We wanted to go in, anchor, and check out the old CIA base from the Reagan/Ollie North/Sandinista contra guerillas era on El Tigre Island. As stated in our Sarana Cruising Guide: "This cone shaped jungle island is a perfect base if you're an evil genius or perhaps just a CIA operative." However, the Port Captain in El Salvador firmly recommended that we not enter this bay due to theft and gun running that had recently picked up. "No problem," I said. I'm adventurous but I'm not crazy! So, these sea conditions are apparently pretty normal for this area but it made us feel very ill and it sounded like our boat was going to fall apart every time it crashed through a wave and slammed down in the trough of the next one. Thankfully by 3 PM it was all over and we pulled into the very pretty and quiet Marina Puesta del Sol.
Nicaragua is about the size of New York State yet is the most sparsely populated country in Central America at about 4.8 million. It is subject to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, as well as the occasional hurricane, the latest being Hurricane Mitch in 1998. 48% of the people live below the poverty level and lack of clean water is a serious problem. Much of the ground water supplies are contaminated due to improper waste disposal, chemicals, and pesticides. We were mortified to learn of the serious rate of kidney failure in the people, and that the causes have not yet been discovered. However, there seems to be a local knowledge that its cause is from the use of agrochemicals used in the growing of sugar cane, and the use of DDT when cotton farms were popular. As Larry and I walked one day on the dirt roads out of the marina, past ramshackle homes with small children and chickens running around, seeing the families pulling up a bucket of murky brown water from their well for their children to drink just made us cringe. We take so much for granted in the states. I wish I could just wave a magic wand over these third world countries and give them clean drinking water. I give thanks every time we are able to turn on our water maker and produce clean, clear water out of the sea.
On a happier note, we really loved our time at Puesta del Sol. There is a boutique hotel built on the property and a nice restaurant that our friendly waiter, Cinar, would serve us our dinner and drinks poolside while we enjoyed the warm evenings. Ben and I played tennis almost every day. I was even surprised on Mother's Day with a beautiful bouquet of flowers that the concierge, Maria, had made. What a special touch!
One evening, as we were lounging by the pool, a very, very, VERY skinny black lab mix of a dog wandered up sort of close to us and just sat there. Not begging for food, but patiently waiting...hoping maybe a morsel would find its way to his mouth. I was shocked at his condition, reminding me so much of the dog we had rescued near the Puerto Vallarta city dump, who has gone on to have the greatest life ever (thank you Teapot Tony and Ronnie for taking "Kruiser"!). We of course fed him and gave him fresh water and learned that all of the employees were familiar with him and named him "Negro", or in our language, "Blackie". This dog had the sweetest soul and I just could not, not follow through on him and figure out a better way of life for this dog. We figured out where he slept and spent the majority of his day. So we started feeding him three meals a day while we were there. We gave him a bath, picked ticks out of his fur, and even hired a taxi to take us in to the nearest town, Chinandega, with a veterinarian, an hour and a half round trip. We stood in the store front of the veterinary office while a very gruff man asked me in Spanish what was wrong with the dog. (Darn it....Rosetta Stone doesn't cover this one!) "Muy flaco", I said. Duh, he could see the dog was skinny. One shot of Ivermectin for the parasites, a bottle of injectable vitamin B (to be injected once daily for five days), a distemper and parvo vaccine for me to give at a later time, two syringes, a bar of soap for fleas and ticks, and two bags of food. All for the whopping price of $15.00. Heck at that rate I asked, "Could I get more syringes?" I hated using a syringe on this dog more than once, his skin was so hard to get through it had to have hurt. The cab ride by the way, was $50.00!
Seeing some amazing looking volcanoes off in the distance, our adventurous spirit kicked in and soon we found ourselves on a day trip to sled down the volcano Cerro Negro and have lunch in Leon, the second largest city in Nicaragua. Cerro Negro, meaning black hill, is the youngest volcano in Central America and last erupted in 1999. Some slopes are covered with rock and others with black volcanic sand, making it challenging at times as we hiked up the trail carrying our equipment. It was very windy and at times I thought for sure I was going to blow off the ledge! The view from the top though was amazing and even though there was no vegetation, the stark rugged beauty of the crater was impressive. So, what is sledding or surfing down a volcano you ask? Well, it's just a really cool way to come down quickly! Surfing would be hard, so we chose to sit on our wood sleds and one by one slid down easily. Very cool!
Now that we had been bitten by the "land travel bug", liked and had confidence in our guide Luis, we decided to take a weeklong trip with a private driver in a van and really do Nicaragua. So, the seven of us (Larry, Ben, and I, and Eric, Dawn, Whitney, and Tommy) loaded up and our first stop was Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. In the city we picked up a local English speaking guide to show us around. We visited a museum that embodied the whole country and its history in one, followed by a delicious lunch at a very nice restaurant serving traditional foods. I was just happy because they actually had a vegetarian dish on the menu! Yes folks, I know I complain a lot, but traveling in these countries and not eating meat is incredibly challenging. Let's just say, there aren't a lot of vegetables available and "tofu" doesn't translate down here! After lunch we stopped in a village to walk around a local artisan market, Ben finally buying a machete with his own money. He has asked for months to get one, thinking he can pick coconuts and cut the tops off so I can drink the coconut milk. It's actually harder than it looks. We chuckle thinking back, how at home he would be wanting to get the latest video game, now he wants a machete! How things have changed. We made our way back to the van, waiting for Perfect Wave to finish their shopping and we learned that our guide for the day also works at a local Managua radio station as a DJ. "Do you mind if I interview you live right now?" Absolutely not we said. The next thing we know, he's called the station and we are live, on the air, being interviewed. Wow! Who would have thunk!
Our next stop was my all time favorite volcano so far called Masaya. This huge smoking crater is constantly emitting gas so the white plume can be seen from far away. It is only about thirty minutes outside of Managua and has a nice road you can drive all the way to the top. Because of the smoke and sulfur gases it is recommended that you only stay up near the crater for about 20 minutes, as well as back your car into a space as opposed to pulling straight in, therefore allowing for a faster escape in case of a sudden eruption! (Say what?!) This crater was something else! The volcano was greatly feared by the indigenous people and the Spanish conquerors. The Spanish naming it "The Mouth of Hell", planted a cross on the crater lip in the 16th century hoping to exorcise the Devil. Sacrifices had taken place here, being thrown into the boiling cauldron, as well as executions. With the heat and the smell from the volcano, it felt evil and sacred.
Laguna de Apoyo was our last stop for the evening before we reached our hotel in the colonial city of Granada. This volcano top was blown away in a huge violent eruption, 22,000 years ago, leaving behind a tranquil crater lake 7km wide. From our view point, overlooking the pristine blue water, we could see Granada and it was a spectacular view. Just the drive up to the top was beautiful as this area is known for its nurseries. Every home had a garden. My partner in crime, Dawn, had been eagerly searching for the herb basil and this area looked hopeful to possibly buy a plant. (Yes, it's the little things that we miss!) But, we didn't know how to say it in Spanish. Have you ever thought about how you would try and ask for something like that in a foreign language? Thank goodness I had my handy dandy Webster English to Spanish dictionary and lo and behold...the word is Albahaca. Hmmmm....how are we EVER gonna remember that? Easy! Just remember Jessica Alba and hack a loogey I said! Voila! Did we ever find it you ask? No. But that's okay because as I write this we're sitting in Costa Rica, in the land of fruits and veggies, so it's a mute point!)
Granada, located on the shore of Lake Nicaragua, was founded in 1524 and is rich in colonial heritage, having a Moorish and Andalusian appearance. We really expected another Antigua, Guatemala, in atmosphere, but in the one evening we spent there it fell short for us. Although I have to say, we didn't give it much time. During the colonial period this city maintained a growing level of trade with ports on the Atlantic Ocean through Lake Nicaragua which drains to the Caribbean Sea via the San Juan River. The city has been victim to many invasions from English, French, and Dutch pirates trying to take control of Nicaragua. It was also where William Walker, the American filibuster, took up residence and attempted to take control of Central America as a ruling monarch. One of Walker's generals, set the city ablaze before escaping, destroying much of the ancient city and leaving the printed words "Here was Granada".
Sadly, the condition of Lake Nicaragua is a huge concern, seriously polluted by sewage - up to 32 tons a day, as well as industrial dumping. Once again we have learned how a country's economic situation has seriously hampered the building of sewage treatment plants and supplying clean drinking water. As Larry says, this country is still in survival mode. It's hard to worry about ecology when you're trying to meet your basic needs. It's so sad, as we have seen in the third world countries. We also learned here that the average family of four needs $400.00/month, just to put three meals a day on the table. The average salary being roughly $8-10/day makes this practically impossible. Which is probably why the more kids you have the more bodies that are out there working, even at the tender age of six, as we have witnessed. For example, our tour director's wife is a teacher at a private school, making $250/month.
On an interesting side note; even though Lake Nicaragua is a fresh water lake it has Bull Sharks who have actually been seen being able to jump along the rapids of the San Juan River entering and exiting the lake. As well as farmed Tilapia. Can I just say, "Ewww!".
Up early the next morning we were scheduled for a zip line tour and cloud forest hike on the volcano Mombacho, which is a huge strato volcano bordering Lake Nicaragua, 10 km from Granada. At the summit is a wet tropical forest, also called the cloud forest. Coffee plantations are plentiful. If you have never been to a coffee plantation and learned the processing of coffee, then all I have to say is DON'T complain ever at the price you have to pay for coffee. It is laborious to say the least.
Zip lining was a ball, but if I never do it again that would be okay. Once or twice in a lifetime is nice! We had a wonderful guide to escort us on our nature walk in the cloud forest, educating us on all the flora and fauna. I can't help but feel excited for Ben, exposing him to so much that he couldn't learn from a school book. And even though I know he doesn't necessarily appreciate it all now, we pray that someday he will go on to do great things in this world...or at least be a really happy person.
When we set this tour up with Luis at www.thetourstogo.com, he set up some very specific things for us to do to see the best of Nicaragua. However, we also wanted some freedom so he built in time for that as well. So, off to Punta Teonoste we went, a nature lodge and beach spa that we thoroughly enjoyed several nights at, albeit buggy nights to say the least, but great fun! First, let me explain that we had to do some serious "off roading" in our not so serious off road van. This cost us extra, for the wear and tear, not a problem we said. Our driver, Sergio, was such a sport and even though he didn't speak English and we really don't speak Spanish, we had a great time together and laughed a lot. He had left his wife and young son at home to drive us for almost a week, which was good for him to have a job, but we were very grateful and especially appreciated how safe he was with driving (which is a rarity in some of these countries!).
Punta Teonoste was so wonderful. There is a huge open aired thatch roofed building that houses the reception area, gift shop, restaurant, bar, and lounge area where the kids would sit at night playing games like they were in their living room. The chef was from France and fixed us some of the most amazing meals, and we loved the staff who were so warm and gracious. We had the whole place to ourselves except for one other couple that came for one night. Our bungalows were open aired as well, with a living room and bedroom downstairs, and a bed and bathroom upstairs in the loft. On the ground floor there was also a really cool outdoor bathroom which the wasps loved during the day and the mosquitoes loved at night. One night, even though we were all tucked in our mosquito net covered bed, we were attacked by a bazillion giant flying ant type things that somehow would get under the net and just drop on us, keeping Larry and I up most of the night. We all laughed about it the next day but decided it was probably time for us to move on. We hadn't seen our driver, as he had been able to stay in the employees' quarters also receiving three meals a day, but he was ready when we needed him and we all hit the road again. Now, at first we noticed that he kept looking out his window at the back tire. Hmmm... we know we are going to be on a dirt road for a good hour or more, needing to drive through 3 small (we hoped) rivers, with a not so clear map as to how to get back to the main highway, stopping at the occasional small home we came across to make sure we were going in the right direction. But now we know why our driver was looking at the tire, it started locking up, which made the van slide out and turn sharply. About the third time this happened, and I mean we are out in the middle of nowhere, our driver stops and jumps out to start to fix the problem. The three guys, Larry, Eric, and the driver, can totally handle this (I just love the testosterone that comes out in situations like this!). Larry sends me up the road to watch around the corner just in case the rare vehicle that might travel on this road comes speeding around and wouldn't be able to stop in time (accidents do happen this way), and my mind starts wandering. This is it. Banditos are going to find us and kill us. I can see the headlines now. What are our mom's going to think? Choke...I hear a car! And believe it or not, a tow truck (if you want to call it that) shows up! He's towing another vehicle but they stop, get out, see if the guys need help. The van gets fixed up, we all load up, wave goodbye and we're on our way. When I look at the back of the tow truck as they drive away there is a sticker on it that says something like "towing for God". Unbelievable!
Back to the big city of Managua we go, deciding to split the long drive back to our boat into two days, stopping in Managua to provision and spend the night at the lovely Hilton. (Lovely = no bugs!) Yes, Whitney and I can relax again, not having to jump at every tickle on our skin or shrink and hide when we hear a buzz! We got our driver his own room, gave him some money for food, and then realized that he had probably never spent the night at any kind of place like that. How we wished we could have gotten his wife there for a romantic evening. He was delighted and it really was cute. In the middle of the night, poor Eric's body decided this would be a good time to start to pass a kidney stone. So what did we all do? Go to the mall, see a movie, eat out...we really did feel sorry for Eric but there was nothing we could do but give him time, staying in the big city, close to a hospital in case he should need it. All passed well and with the van loaded to the hilt with food and drinks we headed back to our boats.
One thing we noticed that was very different from Mexico and El Salvador was a significant decrease in the number of men/security guards with very serious guns. In Nicaragua, we were told, they were so tired of the fighting and all that goes with it that there are few guns, little security, and no gangs. People were just concentrating on putting food on the table. It was a refreshing change.
What happened to Negro the dog you ask? After doing some checking about trying to bring a dog into Costa Rica, our next stop, we learned it would have been impossible and risked having the authorities turn our boat around. So, we convinced Marina Puesta del Sol that they needed a marina dog! This dog thought this was his home anyway, and there was always someone there 24/7. We loaded them up with months of dog food, a collar and cute bandana, a dog bed, bowls etc...and hope and pray they follow through.
We are so glad we stopped in Nicaragua. We are leaving with many fond memories. Next stop...Costa Rica!
(For all photos see photo gallery, Sledding Cerro Negro and Nicaragua inland trip)
04/23/2011, Barillas, El Salvador
Monkey walk at Barillas, El Salvador
April 23, 2011
Barillas, El Salvador
Even though when we left Bahia Del Sol we felt like we were saying goodbye to El Salvador, we did make one more quick stop in a super cool marina called Barillas. Again, this marina is set about an hour and a half in from the ocean up an estuary and we weren't 100% sure that we could make it in depending on the sea conditions and tides etc...we had been told over and over stories about how boaters had called on their VHF radio trying to contact the marina to have a panga escort come out and guide them in through the surf, but never getting an answer. Once again we have learned that sometimes you just have to check things out for yourself, that things are not always as other people say. With an e-mail a few days ahead, and a quick phone call, the marina was expecting us and eager to come out and help. Crossing the sandbar here was not nearly as exciting as the previous one, and even though at one point you actually turn your boat sideways to the waves the rolling back and forth wasn't anything our two boats (Perfect Wave and us) couldn't handle.
At this marina you are actually on mooring balls, surrounded by mangroves. It is peaceful and beautiful! Buggy, yes, I'll give it that, but 'nothing I couldn't handle. Whitney, Perfect Wave's 12 year old daughter, and I are the most squeamish about bugs. We try to support and encourage each other, and often just giggle! After all, Deet IS our new best friend! Heriberto, the manager, was the kindest most gentle soul, who loves his country so much and was eager to educate us. Immediately the next morning he arranged for us to go on the "monkey walk". About a twenty minute walk away there is a family who lives nearby and oversees about 30 spider monkeys. Some were rescue monkeys that Heriberto had received from zoos and circuses, one had been raised in a cage in a factory in Nicaragua and was too afraid to ever come out. This one I got to hold hands with. When I tried to take my hand away a little while later she just gently held on a little tighter, not wanting me to let go. The others just swing around freely in the trees, so playful and fun! It really was a special time for us!
Later on that afternoon, a very nice van picked us boaters up and took us up the side of a volcano to a quaint little colonial town for a nice lunch on a verandah overlooking the valley. Along with the driver were two heavily armed security guards. As much as we are used to seeing men in some sort of uniform carrying all types of guns, at the grocery store, gas station, bank, convenience store etc...it did surprise me that we needed to be so heavily escorted. We were grateful though for the protection. After, we drove up to see the lake that had formed in the crater of the volcano. It was really a lovely day and we felt blessed that we had stopped to stay in Barillas. Thank you Heriberto!
We ended up staying here for eight days, enjoying the restaurant, the pool, doing yoga, catching up on some serious homeschooling with our kids, and especially enjoying the quiet surroundings. This is also where we really started to bond with our buddy boat Perfect Wave. The kids are happy, the parents are happy, the boat is running well...life is good!
03/02/2011, Bahia del Sol, El Salvador
Two sisters watching the Saturday morning soccer game on the island across from the marina.
March 1 thru April 23, 2011
El Salvador & Guatemala
Wow! How our lives have been a blur! So much to tell, where do I start? Well, we made it into the marina in Bahia del Sol, El Salvador, easily. What fun and excitement though, surfing the waves in our boat, then having Peter and Cheryl of Stolen Kiss, and Henry from Cloudy Bay greet us on the other side in their dinghy and lead us in. We felt so welcomed and ended up staying for eight weeks! Oh yeah, and remember the engine problem we had when it died off the Guatemalan coast? Well, when Larry pulled off the inspection plate to take a look in the fuel tank guess what he found? Yep, my best bottle of Chardonnay that I had been saving! Nooooo! "Is the bottle okay?", I shrieked! It was sort of an orangy color, and what was left of the label was all gooey, and the foil cap on the cork was off, and all of this had sort of sucked up into the fuel intake valve. NOW we know why our engine died...problem solved! This really was worth a good laugh though and a lot of razzing from our fellow boaters. Did I drink the wine you ask? You betcha baby...couldn't let that go to waste!
So, the marina is attached to a hotel/bar/restaurant, and pool overlooking the estuary. If you walk down the long driveway to the hotel, cross the main road of Costa del Sol, then down another long driveway you can reach another section of the hotel, with pool and restaurant overlooking miles of beach filled with sand dollars that we love to pick up, look at, and sometimes keep. Larry and I immersed ourselves in Spanish lessons three days a week, two days a week we volunteered at the elementary school on the island across the estuary helping teach English, which Ben just loved being around the kids. There were many organized events such as wine tastings, a bonfire on the beach, Wednesday night fundraising dinners at Jan's (who has built a home on Isla Cordoncillo and dedicates her life to teaching the English language to the children as well as raise funds for improvements at the school etc...), Sunday pizza nights, yoga lessons by Ellie from Zeppelin, soccer on the island with the kids on Saturdays and Sundays, hours of walking on the beach, and a lot of socializing in the pool during the afternoons to cool off. We fell in love with Jan and spent a lot of time at her home, cooling off with a refreshment on her porch and loving her dogs, which included puppies that Ben got to see born! We also developed deep feelings for some of the El Salvadorian people, especially Leo, our favorite waiter, who took care of us morning to night, and Claudia, our Spanish teacher and receptionist of the hotel. The biggest downside to cruising, is always having to say goodbye and feeling melancholy for the people we have left.
The only problem being here on the coast of El Salvador was that provisioning was very inconvenient. The shortest amount of time it took to go to the grocery store or ATM was five hours and about $90.00 round trip. Now you certainly could do it all on the local buses for a few dollars and a few more hours, but the thought of trying to get ten big bags of groceries and cases of water and drinks on the packed buses back was unbearable for me. We did however take the bus one time, a two hour ride on two different buses, which really was a hoot. The buses here are old yellow school buses that have been nicely painted in bright colors, with designs almost graffiti style, usually with a woman's name on the side. There is a driver (duh!) and another guy that sort of hustles people to ride the bus, the intent being to fill it way beyond its capacity! The bus announces itself in a big way, honking its horn loudly anytime it is nearing civilization. Some of the patrons are along for the ride to just sell things like herbs, medications, foods etc...Yes, we stick out like a sore thumb and children will just stare, especially at Ben. It makes us giggle. There are truly, free range cows everywhere in this country, which makes for very exciting driving at times as they don't always look before crossing the road!
Ben really felt like this was his home. With the rally going on and many boats in one spot he had instant aunts and uncles, and grandma's and grandpa's and boy did he eat up all of the attention, seeing as we were initially the only kid boat. He became especially close with Carl and Christina on Bombalero, a twenty something year old couple that were so good to Ben and would play with him for hours. Carl, you were truly the "big brother" Ben has never had. He worked on a few peoples' boats cleaning and polishing stainless. He became the estuary taxi in the dinghy, running people back and forth from the anchorage to the marina, and he became every new boaters personal escort service in his dinghy, after they had crossed the sandbar at the entrance he would lead them into the marina. He took this very serious and loved every minute of doing this!
I have noticed as I have grown and changed on this journey, that the more you are exposed to things the less squeamish you become and it becomes your "new norm". A sort of slow process of de-sensitization. Like walking down the road with cows , seeing unusual large bugs, playing soccer barefoot in mud and God knows what kind of guck, eating strange foods in strange places etc..., it becomes your "new norm". I never in a million years could have imagined myself living in the places we have lived and going to the places we have gone in the last six months. It truly is life changing, this sailing around the world thing, and I am really excited that it has only just begun.
We were blessed with a visit from our daughter, Jessica, while we were in El Salvador, and this gave us the perfect opportunity to rent a car and explore Guatemala. We spent four lovely nights in the colonial town of Antigua. Being right before Easter, we were able to see the Semana Santa (Holy Week) parade, and the amazing colorful carpets that were handmade daily out of sawdust for the procession to walk over. Antigua is famous for its Catholic celebration of Holy Week, which commemorates the Passion, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It was amazing. Something you would see on the Travel Channel, never thinking you would actually be there for this special event. The town had such a mysterious feel. Narrow one way cobblestone streets, the street curbs are around 24", buildings that are attached together, block after block, some have fancy doors, some not, but when you look inside, past the 24" thick walls it's like entering a whole other world...courtyards...beautiful...open....gardens etc...and all of this surrounded by stunning volcanoes. One of which we took a tour and hiked in the evening, had a wonderful dinner at the top including roasting marshmallows in a vent of hot air from the center of the volcano, and then walking down in the pitch black (super fun, but you gotta do this stuff while you are young...don't wait!). The town was a little eerie...many of the men were walking around town in long purple robes, participating in the Easter procession that went on from early morning to late at night (felt like I was in a scene from the movie New Moon and a vampire was going to come out and eat me!). We stayed at a fantastic, luxurious resort, the Porta Hotel Antigua. We actually had to walk through an underground tunnel, lit by candles to get across the road to where our room was.
Now, renting a car in El Salvador and driving it across the sketchy border into Guatemala isn't for the faint of heart. I think our daughter was surprised at how adventurous we are and how we travel. It really did seem at times like it was going to turn out like a bad scene from a movie. Jessica had become really sick within 36 hours of being with us, but was such a trooper in the 100 degree heat and no access to a bathroom for the five hour drive. On our return, our rental car actually broke down near the border. Larry jiggled everything he could under the hood (it was mostly taped together with black electrical tape!), and the thing ran like a charm after. Phew! It is so hard sometimes. No 911 to call, no AAA tow service, heck...come to think of it, we don't even have a cell phone. But what we do have are hearts that believe in the goodness of people and no one has yet to let us down.
So, thank you, and good bye to El Salvador. We will never forget learning about your struggles as a country, and seeing the strength, beauty, and the love of the people.
See more pictures regarding El Salvador in the photo gallery