07/15/2013, Rio Dulce, Guatemala
Charlie and I were blessed with a visit from our friends from Texas, Linda and Susi. They arrived in Guatemala on July 8th. We took the bus to Guatemala City and then a van to Antigua to meet them. Antigua is west of Guat. City and in the mountains, with the weather being in the high 60's at night, a great relief from the heat of the Rio. Antigua was the colonial capital of Guatemala until an earthquake ruined the city in the 1770s. It sits at the base of an inactive volcano. The traditional dress of the Mayan women in Antigua is quite different from the women of the Rio Dulce area. In Antigua, the women wear wrap around skirts (corte) with traditional shirts (huipil) tied with a sash. Of course , all from woven fabric of amazing colors. In contrast, the women of the Rio wear gathered skirts and lacey shirts. Linda had made reservations for us all at Posada St. Vicente not far off the town central, where a beautiful park is located. The streets are cobblestone and it is difficult to discern one street from the next because all of the store, hotel and restaurant fronts, although very colorful, are very plain . Once you enter the doors, you walk into a new and most often beautiful atmosphere. The girls were not at the hotel when we arrived, but we soon found them, shopping, imagine that! We then went to Frida's for Mexican food and tequila. It was a wonderful evening.
The next day began with a wonderful breakfast at SabeRico y Jardin. It was a beautiful restaurant with tables tucked into garden niches. The food was excellent and we ate there two more times. Antigua is a city that attracts people from many different countries. There were a lot of young adults backpacking. And, of course, many shops for us girls to spend money in. We took a taxi to a working Coffee Plantation and Museum in town and had a great guide (who spoke English) and took us through the grounds and explained the process to us. We met Maria Cristina Orive, one of the members of the family who owned the plantation. She was a delightful and informative woman in her 80's who is a photographer and journalist. We bought her book, Actos de Fe en Guatemala, (Acts of Faith in Guatemala). She offered us a ride back to our hotel with her driver, but we had a taxi, and in retrospect we should have ditched him. Oh well, live and learn.
On Wednesday, we set out for Panajachel, on Lake Atitlan. Lake Atitlan is considered to be one of the 10 most beautiful lakes in the world. We took a laucha from Panajachel to San Marcos. There are many villages all around the lake, and we heard that San Marcos had an esoteric vibe. We stayed at the most fabulous hotel any of us had ever been in, Aaculaax. It was beyond description, but I will try. The German owner, being an artist, built it from recycled materials. It had a wonderful garden and the hotel rose up the side of the mountain with each room being unique unto itself. The bathrooms had exposed rock and there were small porches to sit and gaze at the lake and the birds. It was truly magical. Instead of shopping, Charlie got an hour massage, smart boy. Our next day was spent in San Pedro where the road rose steeply up to the city. Thank goodness for the Tuk-Tuks, another form of transportation, that got us up the hill. We purchased some woven material and a few small paintings typical of the region, but had to make our way back to the dock to catch the last launch back to our hotel.
Thursday, we left San Marcos, in a launcha for Panajachel around 4:00pm, then rode in a extremely cramped van to Antigua, getting there around 8:00pm. The next morning, was a tough traveling day as we left Antigua, again in a van to Guatemala City where we waited 3 hours in the bus station and then left for Rio Dulce around 1:00. We got to Rio Dulce after dark and had to find someone to take us down river to Mario's and our boat. We were all tired puppies when we got home, but luckily the cook made us dinner.
We have spent two days resting and laying around the pool, but today we took a short trip by van to Finca Paraiso. On the property of this large farm is a hot spring waterfall, which cascades into a very cold river. Another magical place and we were so glad Susi got the experience as she is leaving for the states tomorrow. Then off to the shores of Lake Izabal for lunch at Don YuYo's. We ended the day trip with a short canoe ride up a river into the Boqueron, 1500' high canyon walls with lush jungle plants. We saw a howler monkey in a tree and many kingfishers up and down the river. What a day! Again, we are so blessed to be in such a beautiful country with such beautiful friends.
More to come! Hasta luego!
07/03/2013, Mario's Marina, Rio Dulce, Guatemala
Well, we finally made it to Guatemala. We arrived here on Friday, June 28th.
Let me begin, with our trip from Key West. Charlie and I made the 3 day trip by ourselves from Key West to Isla Mujeres. We were blessed with good seas and good weather, just no wind. We have basically motor sailed the whole trip so far. The drone of the motor became unidentifiable at times. Crossing the Yucatan Channel was a trip, though. We were sailing in 7,000+ depths of water. Passing Cuba by only 10 miles...I had no idea that Cuba was so mountainous (north side) and forested. It was sort of surreal to see it, the mysterious Cuba, but exciting all the same. What wind we had was at our nose and then there was the current to deal with which was also on our nose. That is the reason we sailed so close the coast of Cuba, to get into the counter current which helped us somewhat. But, getting closer to Mexico and with the updwelling sea floor + current, we had about 6 hours of the boat tossing to and fro and side to side, very uncomfortable. We were never able to really sleep due to the point of sail and our conversations soon centered on how much we were going to sleep once we reached Mexico and in the AC....needless to say it is hot as hell during the day. We got some relief with our fresh water hose at the stern...where we would perch on those back upper seats and shower. Night time sailing was actually somewhat of a relief. Fortunately, we never saw any other boats or tankers here, until we cleared Cuba.
Isla Mujeres was a wonderful sight to see as we were certainly ready for a good rest. The water out in the channel was the most beautiful color of blue I have ever seen and then coming into Mexico it turned a light turquoise. We could see rock and coral heads and I would yell out to Charlie, "OMG there is coral"...but he would then assure me all was OK, as we were in 20-30' of water. We anchored in the lagoon on the north side of the island for a couple of days while we did our entrance paperwork...with the help of an agent, can't imagine trying to do this on our own, as even with an agent it was crazy....that is a whole story unto itself. We did experience our first squall here. We had just gotten back on board from spending 4 hours doing paperwork, when we noticed that the sky was getting dark....now, we had our Shade Tree awning up covering our whole boat....not good when a storm is approaching. No sooner than we said, we better get this awning down, when we got hit with 20-30 knot winds and blinding rain. Of course, then our anchor pulled up and we were heading for the boat behind us. This was happening to several other boats in the lagoon, they just didn't have a gigantic sail to make everything happen in double time as we did....we learned many lessons from this event! After 45 minutes of Charlie at the helm trying to dodge boats and me at the bow holding down what I could of the awning ( there was damage to several of the tent poles that formed the arch of the awning) with the rain pelting us and making it difficult to see, we got the awning down and the boat under control. But, just as quick as it started, it stopped, no need for a shower that day as we were drenched, but hey all the salt was washed off the boat! We immediately got on the VHF and informed El Milagro Marina we were coming in for a slip!
We spent a total of 7 days in Mexico at a wonderful marina, El Milagro, owned by a Californian, Eric, and his wonderful Mexican staff. The place was very quaint. It was a hotel as well as a marina.We highly recommend it if you are coming to Isla Mujeres. We met so many wonderful people here, some cruising and some just tourist staying at the hotel, again, just too many wonderful things to report from here. The one thing we did that was a bucket list item, was we took a whale shark tour! We left at 8:30 am and had about an hours ride northeast from the Isla, when you could see a congregation of fishing boats (40 or so). As we entered this area, there were "fins to the left and fins to the right" (maybe Jimmy Buffett did this tour)....hell, there were whale sharks everywhere, it was unbelievable. The boat had 2 guides that would take 2 people each into the water at a time (there were 9 people + 3 crew on board). We had on short wetsuits and our snorkeling gear...and into the water and then those beautiful huge creatures were within arms length from us. It was amazing! These plankton eating fish have huge squared off snouts, unlike the v shaped noses of regular sharks, that are open wide as they skim the surface. Covered with white spots, they are 20-30' in length. We were in and out of the water several times during the trip and got to see an amazing number of fish. We were so glad we did this side trip.
Our friend, Dan, joined us in Isla Mujeres and we left the next day for Guatemala. No stopping in Belize. It took us 3 days, again going against the current. Got into Livingston around 9:00am, which was good as there is a sandbar we had to navigate, but it was high tide and we went right over it. We are now in a REAL 3rd world country. We were anchored out and the whole immigration group (6) boarded our boat. It took about 30 minutes and a round of oatmeal cookies and we had our paper work done. We had to dingy into town to retrieve our passports and pay 1300 quetzales ($170 US). If you think Mexico is 3rd world, you ain't seen nothing yet! But having said this, it is really neat, mayan women walking around in their native dress with bowls on their heads carrying laundry, or food or whatever. We hit the ATM and the bank, armed guards let you in and out of the bank, to exchange our $, then back to the boat.
It was then a 17 mile ride up river to our marina, Mario's On the Rio. You can look at their website: www.mariosontherio.com
The first 5 miles or so the river is very narrow and there are 300' cliffs on each side covered with jungle. The vegetation is so lush, bromeliads, palm trees, vines, just fricking jungle. There are mayan palapa huts and people in dugout canoes, there is also, of course, modern fishing boats both large and small. We only passed one other sailboat. The river twists and turns and then opens up into Lake El Golfte and the water turns green from the brown brackish water of Livingston. The trip from Livingston to our marina took about 3 hours motoring at 5 knots. So, we finally made it and as we were entering the marina, I hear my name shouted out by Terry Morris, a woman who I met in a knitting group on the internet over a year ago. Terry has been feeding us very pertinent information since we left Galveston about what to expect and tips along the way. I feel as I know her already before we actually get to meet and hug. The marina is really nice, they have a well that is UV treated, showers, a river water filtered pool and a great bar/restaurant under a large palapa on the river. Lala, the waitress makes great boat drinks! But there is no ice to buy, so that will take some getting use to. I can see we will need to make room in our freezer for our 3 little ice cube trays.
06/18/2013, Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Hey friends and family, we finally got that weather window we were looking for and took off from Key West on Friday around 5:00 pm. Again, we were blessed with calm seas but unfortunately no wind, so we motor sailed the whole way. The water was the most beautiful color of blue I have ever seen and the one word that seems to fit it the most is "azule". We were amazed to see that we would be in 7000'+ of water. We made our way west from Key West and headed toward the Dry Tortugas where Fort Jefferson is located, something we wanted to see, but it just wasn't going to work out. Turned south and headed straight for Cuba where we caught a countercurrent and made some good time, 7.5 knots. I had no idea that Cuba was so mountainous and wooded. We were about 12 miles from shore and could see land with our marine binoculars. After leaving the southern tip of Cuba we were in the Yucatan channel, there was some ship traffic, counted 12 ships during our passage, but not one other pleasure boat...guess that is because they are all safely in a hurricane hole by now. About mid way across we hit that heavy northern current and slowed down to 2.5 knots. As the sea floor began to rise plus the current and what wind we had on our nose, we had some pretty uncomfortable sailing then, as the boat was rocking from bow to stern and side to side. This went on until we reached about 300' of water, then the seas and our boat settled down. We arrived at Isla Mujeres around 4:00 am on Sunday, Father's Day, and hove to about 10 miles offshore till day light....trying to catch some much needed sleep. We motored to the north end of the island and entered a protected lagoon where we set our anchor. This anchorage is just West of a great little marina named El Milagro run by a really nice guy named Eric. We stayed on the hook for a day and then decided to go into the marina for a couple of days or so until we got our Zarpa and were officially cleared in. We hired an agent named Chepo at the Pariaso Club de Yates which is the marina next door to El Milagro. It's also a nice place, but we liked Eric, so decided to go there (EM) instead. Luckily, when we went out to get Island Sol, we got there just as a squall arrived and she started to drag. We had set an awning, (really nice, made by Shade Tree) but had been warned by another cruiser that "people who set shade structures drag" Also, when we first set the hook, a nice guy named Lawrence came over and said "when I bought 400' of chain it changed my life". I asked him how much scope he had out and he said 250'. That seemed a little extreme to me for 15' depth of water (I had out 100' of chain and the new Manson anchor and was sure that was enough but later found out this stretch of sand and grass is known as "the drag strip"). Very aptly named. So, you get little hints of what will work and you need to listen to experience. More scope is better in sand and grass, don't leave your shade structure unattended at anchor. Anyway, we made it to El Milagro where we'll stay until we depart for Guatemala.
The last thing we need to do "officially" is to get our "import fee" for Island Sol. Mexico requires that if you stay more than 5 days, you need to have this document showing you have paid up or your boat can be impounded. Well, we don't need that, so we took the ferry to Puerto Juarez on the mainland (where the Banerjito is located) after lunch only to find that Chepo had duplicated one of the copies of our tourist cards and so we needed another copy, but the official needed to close in 15 minutes, so it's back to the ferry in the AM.
06/02/2013, Key West, Florida
Well, we are getting a lesson in patience from Mother Nature. We are waiting for another weather window and we keep getting the same response...maybe next weekend. So now we are looking at another week in Key West. We have now been here since May 24th and have settled into a routine - Charlie wakes up early and rides around town on his bike, he then calls and wakes me up and tells me where to meet him for breakfast. This morning was a little French bistro where we had a wonderful breakfast outside. Buckwheat galettes: mine with prosciutto/tomatoes and basil, and his with smoked salmon/capers and cream cheese....so yummy! While enjoying our breakfast the wind picked up and sprinkles started, so we paid the bill and jumped on our bikes hoping to make it to the boat before the heavens opened up. Not to be, we even had to find refuge under someone's carport as the lighting and thunder became more intense. Finally, we just made a run for it and got soaked
This is a great place to ride bikes as the town is not that big. We have visited two museums. First, Ernest Hemingway's Home which turned out to be more than we had anticipated. I was not a fan of Hemingway, but came away from there with two books. I also had no idea that Hemingway was a cat person. There are still many descendents of his 6 toed cats roaming the property. We also visited the Mel Fischer exhibit of the Discovery of the Atocha. The Atocha was a Spanish galleon that was wrecked on a reef out of Key West in the 1600's by a hurricane. It is estimated that there is 40% of the treasure still lying at the bottom. Had this ship made it back to Spain, the USA might well be under Spanish rule today. There is also Truman's Little White House, which we have not seen.....yet.
05/27/2013, Key West, Florida
OK...stuck in paradise, it's 5 o'clock somewhere and I ain't got a nickel and I ain't got a lousy dime.... all come to mind here in Key West. But, let me digress...our time in Panama City was really nice, it was a great little town, but we were ready to get on our way to the Tampa area. As it turned out our friend Dan and his son Spencer could not wait for Key West so they planned on joining us there. We arrived at the sea buoy to Tampa Bay around midnight on May 19th. We decided to anchor out behind Egmont Key (a bird breeding ground), so finally around 1:30 am with Island Sol on the hook we tried to settle down and sleep. I just couldn't do it, I kept popping up making sure we were not dragging our anchor. Come to find out there is a 80' deep ridge that runs around Egmont Key and it is a shark breeding ground also! Yikes...unfortunately we never saw any "fins".
Later, that day we got a slip at The Harborage Marina at Bayboro in the shadow of USFSP...University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Again another great town. After some boat cleaning, Dan and Spencer arrived the next day. Spencer just finished his first year of college and was ready for some decompression. It was great seeing Dan again. We met a yacht broker, Joe, who knocked on our hull, turns out he had listed Island Sol before we bought her. Joe was a wealth of information about St. Pete. On the 21st we celebrated Charlie's 63 birthday with lots of food and drink...it was a great day! The next day we visited the Island Packet Manufacturing Plant and got a tour by Carson Johnson. Very interesting and amazing that these boats are made totally by hand. At 4:45 pm we slipped our mooring lines and headed for Key West. Again, we were blessed with good seas and weather. We did some sailing finally in order to make our arrival during daylight hours. The porpoise gods were good to us and we had a couple of occasions to watch them ride that bow wave. I just can't get over how clear the water is here and so blue, it is just beautiful. On Thursday morning Charlie decided to throw out a lure and see what we might come up with. About an hour later that zzzzing sound told us....fish on! It was really exciting and took all 3 of us to get that 15 pound bonita on board. Charlie cleaned it in the cockpit, cut it up and marinated some of the pieces. It was grilled later that afternoon and was very tasty, so more for dinner that night. We arrived in Key West on Friday, the 24th, around 8:30 am with a side berth at Key West Bight Marina. I have never seen so many boats in one place.
So, here we are back at that first sentence. Seems our weather is going bad on us with 30 knot winds out in the Gulf for the next 5 days. This is a crazy town, not unlike New Orleans...some very colorful characters live here. The architect is really neat and as you can imagine the place is quite pricey. We have rented bikes which has made the city more accessible to us, toured Ernest Hemingway's home (which was very interesting) and have found many cool bars/restaurants. Thanks to the ladies at the Elks Club and to our new found friends Melissa and Eric who spent a "wild and crazy" day with us yesterday. You know...what happens in Key West stays in Key West!
We are sending love and prayers to our son-in-law, Bobby, at the passing of his mother the other day. It hurts our heart that we can't be with him at this time. So love to all our friends and family....until the next post! Hopefully I will learn how to post some pictures soon, too.
05/16/2013, Panama City, Florida
Left Pensacola around 4:30pm yesterday and had a lovely sail into the night. We heated up some leftovers and enjoyed some tunes with 1' seas and trucking along (motor sailing) at an average of 7.4 knots, so we were making really good time. My (Saundra) watch was from 11:00-2: 00 am and there was absolutely nothing on the radar the whole way, calm seas but the wind was 30 degrees off our starboard so the "kicker" was a necessity. Oh, and the autopilot is now working after purchasing a new compass. And, that was after hours of Charlie brainstorming and 2 days with an electrician in Pensacola, then Charlie contorting his body into a tiny hole to install the new compass...yes, again, he is my hero. Charlie took over the helm around 2:30 and I went below for some sleep. But, around 3:00 I awake to the engine going off and finding out that the oil indicator was lowering. After pulling off the engine cover, Charlie found that the "professional diesel mechanic" in Kemah, who checked our engine, did not torque down the valve cover and the gasket was not set, thus throwing oil all down under the engine. Not really sure how long all of that took, but finally got back underway and I woke up at the sea buoy to Panama City. We docked at the Municipal Marina, got a shower, a bloody mary and some sausage and now we are retiring till who knows when. Should be departing here tomorrow morning as we have a good weather window to make Tampa Bay.