Isla Providencia is an island where we immediately felt at home. Even though it is part of Colombia it is 475 nm from its mother country, being closer to Nicaragua only 125 nm away. However it is really is isolated being in the middle of nowhere, a place that cruisers stop for a break on their way north or south going along the western Caribbean. It is only 4.5 miles long by 2.25 miles wide, but has a wonderfully protected harbour formed by the big island and its little sister, Santa Catalina island; which is connected by a foot bridge. It is protected by an 18 mile long barrier reef, so fantastic for diving/snorkeling and the land has a rustic beauty with its mountains as a back drop.
There are 6,000 residents and most of them speak English as well as Spanish. There is a small airport flying mainly tourists from San Andres each day, a busier island 54 nm south. Luckily there are no cruise ships or international flights and there are only a few boutique hotels. With ten other sail boats it was our kind of place.
We rented scooters for a day at a cost of $20 and explored the island. The shop was not interested in a driver's license or credit card swipe, just wanted to make sure we had a fun day. The people are all very friendly and helpful. There are very few cars on the island, but thousands of motor bikes; quite often with a whole family of four on board. Helmets? Did not see one. Lunch was at Artoro's in South West Bay where they race horses bareback on Saturdays. We had a massive mixed plate of lobster, prawns, conch and fish that we could not finish for $15. Yes, here we are millionionaires as you get about 40,000 pescos for $20. We were therefore surprised when our agent "Mr. Bush" charged us $100 when we checked out (he started off at $150) especially as we still had our cruising permit from Santa Marta (while we were in the San Blas we were only "in transit"). Apparently if you stop in Providencia you have to have a tourist permit which costs $30 per person, however long you stay, the rest was his fee - not cheap; which is why sadly a lot of boats do not stop.
We only stayed for three days as our weather window showed that the wind was due to disappear. The night before we left we had another excellent meal of prawns and lobster (have never eaten so much lobster before) with two other crusing boats from the US at a restaurant called Sea Storm on Santa Catalina - they specialise in corn ice cream, had to have and very tasty too. Our new friends were heading south, although one of the couples shared that they visit Providencia every year, for about 6 weeks each time, and they have many friends ashore. We can certainly understand why as everyone says "hello" and wants to have a chat with you as you wander through the town.
Our sail to Providencia was amazing. A total of 275 nm and we had to slow the old girl (Ta-b) down as otherwise we would have arrived during the night - this is certainly not an area to arrive in the dark with its many reefs off the coast. To be honest we always plan to arrive in the light, but sometimes the wind plays games with us ☺ Apparently six boats have sunk hitting the reefs in San Blas this year, most by entering at night . We have been using our radar much more than normal, not only does it show boats that may not have AIS, but it is also is great for ear marking reefs and the odd rain squal. A great friend to have on board.
We normally work on a 5-6 kn average, but have upped it to 6-7 kn especially as we have been getting up to half a knot of current with us. The wind to Hondurus was a perfect 15-20 knots with fairly kind seas, but yet again we went too fast and had to slow Ta-b down, sailing with two reefs and pulling some of the geni in to get the perfect speed. It was odd to be sailing a lot of the way in very shallow water off the coast of Nicaragua and then Hondurus. With another 330 nm under our belt in less than a week, we certainly have been chewing up the miles and are looking forward to a slower pace in Hondurus in April.
Happy Easter everyone and enjoy the pictures in the photo gallery. Make sure that you highlight the first to scroll through, so that you get the pictures information.
We feel blessed and privileged to have recently spent some time cruising the San Blas Islands off Panama. A gorgeous archipelago of over 360 islands most are small and uninhabited, with white sandy beaches and swaying palms and are protected by miles and miles of barrier reef. They are home to the Kuna Indians who live on 48 of the islands and have managed to preserve their culture and traditions and are part of the mainland territory called Kuna Yala. Luckily no foreigner is allowed to buy or invest in Kuna land and the untouched virgin rain forests and stunning cruising grounds have managed to escape industrial development.
The Kunas are very friendly and welcoming to visitors, however no Kuna is allowed to intermarry with non Kunas and violation would result in expulsion from the islands. So far we have not seen any albinos, although we understand they are common. The Kunas are also very petite (yes smaller than me) and are known to be the second smallest race after the Pygmies.
We found the energy in the islands wonderfully peaceful, so very different from mainland Columbia. The Kunas are happy and gentle while quietly going about their daily lives and there are no police, no jails and no crime - magic. The men leave the islands at sunup to go ashore in their dugout "ulus" for the morning. They collect coconuts, fruit, water and firewood, some also grow vegtables ashore. They trade the coconuts with Colombian boats for rice and flour. The Kuna also fish and grow cane for their twice a year piss up, apparently it is quite a party, but otherwise they do not drink. We were surprised to see children in school uniforms, they have a large school in Mamitupu, and there are a lot of solar panels generating electricity, with quite a few families having televisions.
The Kuna are a mutrilineal society with the women in control of the money. Most marry young at about 13 when the women gets to choose her husband (now that's a novel idea), he then moves into his wife's family compound. The Kuna women still wear the traditional unique "mola" shirt, wear strings of beads on their arms and legs to ward off evil spirits and some have gold rings in their noses deemed to be a sign of beauty. Most live in family huts made out of bamboo sticks, with a palm frond roof.
We travelled west along the island chain from Islas Pinos, one of the more traditional villages about 80 nm east of the main San Blas anchorages. Apart from our New Zealand friends on s/v Oynas we only saw one other boat whilst cruising the eastern region of the San Blas for a week. It was fun having a buddy boat, and we really enjoyed the company before they had to leave to get to Panama to meet their son. Only in New Zealand would two farmers decide to go on an adventure and buy their first boat in Turkey to sail back home within 16 months.
We visited Bahia Masargandi with its peaceful mangroves, Mamitupu a delightful Kuna village, Aridup with only one family ashore, before we stopped for a while in Coco Bandero Cays; which were stunning. The reefs are everywhere and we followed weigh points from our pilot book religiously, as all of our GPS navigational charts (we have three different sorces) have been putting us on land. We found the best time to travel is between 1000 - 1400 hours when the reefs are easier to see.
It has been difficult not to buy a ton of "Molas" which the Kuna women sell. They are beautiful reverse applique squares that the women wear, intricately made by sewing and cutting different layers of colourful cloth. They take up to three months to make, some being more intricate than others. Most show birds, animals and marine life, and I just LOVE them. We had a Kuna come one day in his ulu asking for magazines - useful apparently to learn English. Russ found him an old sailing one and we were duly presented with three lovely mangoes - what a trade. We also bought LOTS of lobsters, still in season until April, they were delicious and ... cheap. Our fruit and vegtables held out; which is lucky as the Kuna basically live off what they gather and we never saw the vegetable boat.
Each village has up to three chiefs who seem to run everything with the help of their younger interpreters, as it is disrespectful to talk directly to them. We have come across a couple of Kuna who speak English, but otherwise the men understand Spanish, but the women only speak Kuna. It is amazing what one can do with sign language, and a few words of spanish, plus a dictionary.
We left Santa Marta the first opportunity we could, we were told to wait another week, but we had been stuck there for a month with the weather not letting up. Apparently this was unusual as there is normally a break every week or two. Most nights the wind would keep us awake with a constant 40-50 knots in the marina, coming down slightly during the day to 20-25 knots. The coal dust from the refinery got into everything and we were continually hosing down the boat and cleaning. Once in the San Blas we took all our lines down to wash, they were black and horrible to handle. The boat also needed a thorough "spring" clean, so no let up on the work side.
The good news is we did manage to get a little work done while we were stuck at the marina. The Kohler people quickly sorted out our generator with a new battery and also serviced our alternators with no problem. However, our lovely freezer guy was the most frustrating workman to date. He meant well, but he had no idea about time and wondered why we were pissed off when he said he would arrive each day at a certain time and then eventually turned up a week later. He also never managed to fix anything. We thought we had sorted the freezer out by ourselves, but it is not happy again, looks like there might be a leak in the system which we will hopefully sort out in Hondurus. The washing machine? Well the short answer is, it is still not fixed.
Santa Marta does not leave me warm and fussy, in part because I came down with not one, but three stomach bugs while I was there. How come I ask myself as I did not get tempted to buy any lovely goodies from any vendors. On top of that (weakened system I suppose) I also suffered from all the coal I was breathing in and my glands and throat were sore for weeks. I felt dirty the whole time we were there and treasured my daily showers, although the clean feeling only lasted a short time. We were very happy to eventually "escape" from Santa Marta when at last a very short slightly better weather window presented itself.
The sail to the San Blas took us three days. We stopped after a long bumpy, windy day 50 Nm south of Santa Marta in a bay with a marina, well protected from the wind and great sand holding. We began the next day at sunrise to get to the Rosario Islands off Cartagena before nightfall. On our arrival the wind was still up at 30 knots and we did not feel the anchorage was safe, so with our Kiwi friends we carried on through the night arriving at Isla Pinos late afternoon the following day. The swells on the way were very uncomfortable even for us, apparently it was horrid in a monohull. However we were able to sail most of the way, unlike our friends who did a lot of motor sailing.
The weather since our arrival has been pretty cloudy, with the occasional rain (great for cleaning Ta-b), but a perfect temperature. The sea has been murky because of the swells that have been here for over a month, but are becoming clearer and I had one of my best snorkels ever in the Hollandes Cays. Saw a huge amount of marine life, including a couple of large nurse sharks, one of which I nearly swam into ☺ Stayed in two anchorages in Hollandes Cays commonly known as the "Hot Tub" and the "Swimming Pool" both beautiful although the "Hot Tub" was our favorite. We plan to return to the San Blas again before we go through the Panama canal, but needed to move onto Providencia 275 nm away while the weather was in our favour.
Columbia, a country of many extremes. A photo is worth a thousand words, so we hope our gallery will help give you a glimpse of our time here. The pictures are in two groups, we hope you enjoy.
Leaving Williamstead, in Curacao, we headed south (against the wind) as we needed to pick up fuel in Spanse Waters at the marina, there being nowhere in the main city to get it. Luckily it was not far as the wind was still blowing a tad and it was a bumpy ride. Then we proceeded to have a lovely sail up the coast to a bay at the northern part of the island, where we spent the weekend having a much deserved chill out. We picked a perfect weather window for our trip to Santa Marta and had a fabulous 3 day/night sail. For the first time we flew our parasail (called big red) for nearly 32 hours keeping her up overnight as the wind was steady and under 10 knots. We made great time and decided to stop just before Santa Marta, in the third bay (there are five), in the national park for our last afternoon and night. A beautiful area, but it was lucky we only spent one night there as the weather was changing. Two nights later in the marina we were getting 35 knots at night at dock, it's very windy here, with 55 knots forecast for tonight. These are not the notorious Chocosanos winds, a local phenomenon that also occur in the San Blas Islands; which normally only last about 30 minutes and come with rain during the end of the hurricane season.
They say it is easy to get stuck in Santa Marta, we now know why. At the moment every 10 - 14 days there is a day or two where one can safely leave. We were hoping to head for the San Blas Islands this week, but the weather is still not looking great . All the cruisers here are patiently waiting, some are due in Panama - yikes.
Santa Marta for us has been very frustrating, although it has slowly helped us to become more patient - not an easy lesson. We arrived on Friday 13 Feb (okay, not the best day) hoping to get some work done at the beginning of the following week. Our generator had died on us again (luckily proved to be only the old battery) and our freezer as snuffed it as well. What a saga, especially as the electrician decided our compressor was stuffed. He said he would get us a new one, but luckily it was a four day weekend (always is when you need work done) and Russ started double checking their work with the help of a supplier in the US. Compressors are supposed to be bullet proof ..... well seems ours is okay, thankfully the guy was not able to get a new one - phew! However, the controller (and maybe the thermostat) was the culprit so we are now waiting for parts from the US (can't get here) which are due tomorrow. Fingers crossed that all will be well, thank goodness Russell is such a handy man. Don't need a "professional" electrician.
You are probably wondering why we always have boat projects, maybe this is a good time to explain. If you can imagine your house being sprayed with "salt" water on a regular basis, then a mass of "fine" sand (and coal here), then being shaken around big time for four days I am sure you would have some "projects". These may only be loose wires, but they can certainly take some time to find. Here in a third world country the workman are also different to what we are used to. They "think" they know what they are doing, say they are going to arrive at 4pm and arrive (after a lot of pressure) maybe five days later. Then there is the language problem as hardly anyone speaks English, and sadly our Spanish is the same. It took us ages to find a dictionary. We were amazed in Santa Marta to find that there is only one, very small, book shop in town with no dictionaries. Did I mention parts? Well of course that is another issue, they are good at fixing things, because there are no parts. Sometimes however "things" can't be fixed and that is when we have to ship items (at great cost). We have a ton of spares on board, but occasionally not quite the one we need.
Anyway the upshot is that we have spent a ton more time in Santa Marta than planned. Not a bad thing as the longer we are here the more we learn about the country. It is warm and sunny, and we have found the people pleasant. Before Adrian left last week we went for a walk to Taganga Bay, about 5km away, with some other fellow cruisers. On the way we had to pass the refinery that sends out 50 trains a day with coal (our boat is filthy even though we hose it down every few days - keeps me busy). There was a shanty village by the rail tracks with so much garbage/rubbish the smell made me gag (dead dogs did not help). Did I mention that there is rubbish everywhere, except in the "tourist" spots? Lots of starving stray dogs too. Horrendous. Anyway past the town, as we went up the hill to get to our destination, we noticed two policemen on a bike were passing us and then stopping to check out the view. When we got to the top they confirmed that they were escorting us as we were not in a "safe" area. To be honest, Colombia although a lot better than it was, still for me has an "unsafe" energy about it. There are a LOT of police everywhere, even in the "safe" areas.
We have just come back from 3 nights in Cartagena. It is four hours away by bus and the journey was an education in itself. The Colombians are very industrious and many walk/ride around selling their wares. On our trip we had about 20 people jump on and off the bus when it was stopped because of traffic, check points, etc.. to sell their wares. Everything from water/pop, food/chips, homemade enchiladas, sweets, we even had a guy who serenaded us for about half an hour. How he managed to play the guitar on the bumpy, pot holed roads I'll never know. It was impossible to read a book and you certainly would not want to suffer from car sickness.
Cartagena was wonderful, although we found the rich and poor living side by side in Getsemani, where we stayed, difficult. There are 1.8 million people in Cartagena with under 200 thousand living in the five "wealthy" districts. We passed houses where people were sleeping on the dirt cement floors, with maybe a plastic chair or two, next to a plush hotel. Further out they live hand to mouth and there is a lot of crime we were told. Families are close, often three generations living in one room, kids playing happily with no technology. It was interesting to observe.
The history of Cartagena is fascinating and the old town great to explore, people watch and enjoy. We had a wonderful free tour around the walled city (worth the big tip given) and learnt a ton. Visited the Fort of San Felipe, good for the view, but otherwise we have seen a lot better. The navel museum was impressive, though sadly without any English so an English speaking guide/friend would have made a huge difference. There was a video explaining how the natives had devised a canal and drainage system thousands of years ago that tamed the great flooding that occurs in certain areas of Colombia each year. Their drainage system was amazingly effective. But when the Spanish arrived they filled in this wonderful drainage system, causing flooding to begin again, and which
continues annually to this day. We did not visit the House of Pain, sounded like the Tower of London and is where the Spanish Inquisition was carried out in the name of the Catholic Church. You certainly would not want to upset anyone back then, as the priests sounded evil.
Colombia is thankfully cheap. Stuck here at the marina it is costing us $350 per week, including electricity and water. Not that cheap, but we would have had to pay that for a night in some parts of Europe. Being at anchor is not an option in these winds. Colombia is a bargain for restaurants compared to the Eastern Caribbean. We have splashed out a lot and have enjoyed the 2 for 1 happy hour (normally all night) where Mojitos cost $7 for two and have become a favourite. The food is also excellent with a main course costing around $10, I have told Russell I can't cook a meal for that cost (he believes me - yeah).
Not sure now what we are going to get up to. Latest weather says we are here for another week - yet again we are thankful we have no agenda. We are thinking that once we have sorted out the freezer we might take to the hills and/or the national parks to experience the waterfalls, hiking, birds, etc... Our next blog will tell all. Keep safe, smiling and .... Slow down (our new motto).
Happy Days are here again, oh .... I feel a song coming on. We are back in the water; which in "boatie" terms is called splashing. It was a tad overdue, but hey I "kindof" suspected that Russell and Adrian might not have got through the "to do" list by the time I arrived a couple of weeks after them. We flew Adrian over to help polish the boat and to have some "boy' time with Russell. Last time he visited he had a broken foot, this time he fell off a ladder and had to have ten stitches in his elbow, luckily he has insurance ☺. Sadly the polishing went a lot slower than anticipated, but we now have the outside hulls done which look great, the rest we can do while we are in the water.
There is a reason for everything and it has meant that Russ has been able to get most of his "to do on hard" jobs done, including sorting out the new two back rubbing strips. As this is a visual item I am a very happy bunny. It has also meant that I have been able to help him for the last week while not cleaning and .... doing more cleaning. As Adrian says "I love Catamarans, but not when I am having to polish them". Bless him, I feel the same Ta-b needs a lot of looking after. For sure living on a boat has its pluses and minuses. As you can imagine we are all looking forward to anchoring in a beautiful bay so we can jump in the water and have a much deserved play day.
The good news is that the weather is much, much kinder than it was when we were last here in November. Although it is 30 degrees and sunny, every day we have a cool wind to ease the heat. It has not been a bad thing to be on the hard for an extra week as we could not have left before. We have to wait for a good weather window to sail to Cartegena, a passage which apparently is one of the 5 hardest sails in the world and the toughest in the Caribbean. Friday is looking good. It now will depend on when we can get some new batteries as yesterday we found out that our current ones are on the way out. We hope to ship some to Aruba this week - fingers crossed.
Curacao is an interesting island and part of the Dutch Antilles. The main town of Willemsted has lots of character, with delightful buildings painted pastel colours. The rest of the island is rather barren, but there is a huge tourist industry as like Bonaire the diving and snorkeling are excellent off the coast. There is a lot of African influence, just love their belly laughs, and most people speak either English, Dutch, Spanish or Papiamento their local dialect. In fact it is strange to see so many "English" signs every where. There are 170 species of birds and we have enjoyed their birdsong at dusk and sunrise, however I have not enjoyed their popping on our decks. The national bird is the yellow breasted Oriole, beautiful.
Now looking back at our time in Vancouver seems like a distant past. We had a lot of fun house sitting for Ken while he was in Australia, Otis his dog and two cats Mojo and Charlie were fun to be around. We spent lots of time walking Otis on the beach or through the Endowement lands, a pastime we thoroughly enjoy. In between we spent the month catching up with as many friends as we could, attending appointments, myself enjoying some regular yoga and of course seeing as much of Edwin and Amy as possible given their busy lives. They are a delight and we love their company.
Edwin is still very keen on boarding and photography and is doing well in both. Workwise he is now managing Finest at Sea at Granville Island, looking after his increasing staff and helping the business expand. He also helps out a friend when he can who has an upmarket catering company. He gets paid well and finds it really interesting. When he is not riding up at Whistler or Grouse (he gets a free pass for his photography) he goes off with his friends. Lately he went to Big White and is currently on a road trip to Silver Star, Banff and Revelstoke. At the end of the month he is off again to Reno, we just love the way he is fully enjoying life.
Amy moved from Cactus Club to Lululemon for the holidays; which she loved and I was lucky to enjoy the discounts on their clothes which I adore. 20 May is the big day when Amy will graduate from UBC, she has studied hard while working at the same time. She has liked the combination, although it has taken her a lot longer to get her degree than if she had studied full time. It must be exciting for her to now be able to look ahead as she is wanting to travel, and maybe live in London for a while.
After housesitting we stayed with Kim and Cam for a short time; lots of fun, we get on well especially having crossed the Atlantic together. We have friends currently doing the trip at the moment and our hearts are going out to them. Our trip took 16 days and although tough is nothing like our friends journey. They still have 300 miles to go and are on day 27. They have a monohull and are still in their thermals and wet weather gear at night. Russ is helping them with their weather and we are getting their daily blog, they are still in good spirits.
When Russ left for the boat I set off to Sun Peaks to visit my girlfriend Cathy for five days of ski-ing. I lucked out with the weather as it was sunny for four days and powder for two, with lots of snow on the mountains. We had a wonderful time together and I managed to see many of the friends who we had met two years ago. Sun Peaks is a very special place, certainly it has a huge place in my heart and we plan to visit again this Summer.
Our agenda? Depending on weather (always is when sailing) and batteries, we hope to leave for Cartegena in Colombia by next weekend. Yet again, depending on weather, we will either do day sails or a couple of overnighters. We want to leave the boat in Santa Marta Marina so we can go down the coast and stay in the old city of Cartegena for a few nights. Then if the weather is in our favour we will head for the San Blas Islands off the coast of Panama. Think we will head for Hondurus end of March as the outer islands are supposed to be worth spending some time inbefore we head into the Rio Dulce in Guatemala where we will leave the boat for the hurricane season. Spring is around the corner, enjoy everyone such a fabulous time of the year.
12/31/2014, On the move
Ga day Mate, Kia Ora where downunder shoes are optional (even at the airport or in the grocery store) and everyone says "no worries" to everything. She'll be Right, You Little Ripper, Sweet As .. and Stone the Crows soon started to flow easily for us once again. As they say "You Gotta Love It" and we do, a little bit more, each time we go and visit family and friends.
We spent nearly a month in Australia and New Zealand, stopping off in Vancouver on the way to say hi to the kids and to enjoy the RVYC vegas night. Our last few weeks on Ta-b we spent de-commissioning her to be ready to put on the hard, for the two months we would be away. It is always a lot of work, but she is certainly worth it. Russell is returning to Curacao on the 10th January with our friend Adrian. They plan to get all the boat jobs done before I get back on the 22nd January, what wonderful guys.
Our first stop downunder was Australia to visit Russell's older sister and family. They live about an hour south of Brisbane, an area we have always loved. The weather is warm and the natural beauty of the countryside is spectacular. We spent a lot of time hiking the Hinterland rain forests and enjoying the stunning foreshore trails and beaches. In Oz there are an incrediable amount of colourful birds, the music from their constant singing is magic and in Queensland they are very tame and are more like pets. We managed to catch up with our niece and her kids and also our friend Andrew who rowed across the Atlantic at the same time as we sailed it. Ten days was not enough time with Yoga and Boop, next time our visit will be a lot longer.
We had an amazing last day in Brisbane, meeting up with Russell's younger sister who was on her way back to New Zealand, and then bumping into our old flatmate at the airport. We had not seen Ken for about 30 years and I was amazed when he recognised me, such a small world and so wonderful to find each other after all this time as we had lost contact.
Next we spent ten days with Russell's mum in Timaru. She is 91 years of age and just a delight. She still lives on her own and is in very good health both physically and mentally, so we had a lot of fun together. Our days revolved around eating and drinking, two of her favorite pastimes, and going for drives.
Grant and Mary kindly had us to stay again and we had some fantastic evenings catching up with them and various friends. It was the beginning of summer while we were there and the local Rose Festival week; which I was able to enjoy with Mary one day. About ten homes are chosen for their gardens and they are open to the public for a couple of days. Wow is all I can say, they were spectacular. Gardening is a big pastime and New Zealanders, like the English, love roses so it was a real treat. Normally the houses are not open, but we lucked out as most were and all decorated beautifully for Christmas - we had a lovely day. We also had a fun day out with our friends Irene and Chris of s/v Cutty Hunk who are now living back in Christchurch and running a tour company.
From Timaru we drove down to Queenstown to see our best man Foxy who has recently moved there from Perth. It is about a four hour trip south past various lakes and through several mountain passes, just stunning; especially with all the wild loopins covering the sides of the roads and fields. The view from Foxy's house of Coronet Peak and the Remarkables ski areas was fantastic; we can certainly understand why he and Jacqui have chosen to retire there. Queenstown is known for its outdoor activities and has become the hub of the south island since Christchurch's earthquakes. Sadly that means a lot of tourists, but we were there just before the season started and saw it at its best.
Next stop was Auckland to visit Russell's younger sister who has just moved to Piha, a beautiful area on the west coast about half an hour north of the city. We took off for a few days in Jillie's bus/converted camper van and headed up the east coast to Whangarei and ended up Whananaki where we met up with Leslie and Bruce from s/v Midi. They now have a fab caravan for land travel while they are not sailing around Greece/Turkey, a perfect life. We could have spent a lot more time enjoying the beautiful coast, but the weather was not that great and time was not on our side as we wanted to head back to Vancouver for Xmas.
A lot of our friends have visited New Zealand and Australia, however if you have not, we would highly recommend it. New Zealand has again, three years in a row, been voted as the best place to visit by The Telegraph. The people are laid back and friendly - everyone stops to have a chinwag (chat). With a patchwork history of Māori, European, Pacific Island and Asian cultures it is a very diverse country. The majority of the people live in the north island, especially Auckland, whereas the south island has its stunning mountains and lakes. Everyone is into the outdoors with camping very much a way to travel and explore. There are not many big hotels and on our trip most places to stay were either camping grounds or B&Bs. We look forward to returning there in 2016 with Ta-b once we have crossed the Pacific.
I have added a few pictures to our gallery for you to enjoy. Please keep in touch, it is wonderful to get all your news and know that you are there for us even if we are not around very much. Kia Ora (Maori for be well/healthy, now used as "hi" in NZ).
Bonaire; we found the longer one is there, the more it grows on you and the longer you want to stay. Yet again this was so true. Our seven weeks went far too quickly and it was very hard to leave what is for sure one of our favorite islands in the Caribbean.
Bonaire is part of the ABC islands and although part of the Caribbean they are in a class of their own. Tourism has not yet taken the charm from the people who still go out of their way to help you. Luckily we were there in the low season, and it remains the same sleepy, laid back place that we remember from six years ago. The three islands are part of the Netherland Antillies. Bonaire is 50 miles from the Venezueland coast and the smallest at 112 square miles (24 long and 3-7 wide) with Klien Bonaire (a little uninhabited island) off the west coast.
Six years ago there were no cruise ships, but sadly they have recently found this little gem, we can't imagine what it must be like once the season starts on the 4th November. In a couple of years it will become a different place as we saw a lot of building work in progress.
The weather was very kind to us with cool offshore breezes to ease the heat that we remember being quite intense our last visit. We had a few wind reversals, but the mooring buoy we picked did not put us too close to shore. We were in our favorite spot just off the Yellow Sub dive shop; which has fantastic snorkeling and diving. The sea around the two islands is a marine park. There are 63 dive sites off the main island and 24 off Klein Bonaire. You are not allowed to anchor and all boats either take a mooring buoy and go into the marina.
Needless to say, the diving and snorkeling is some of the best in the world and so we pigged out. Be warned there are quite a few underwater pictures with this blog that I took with my new camera. I just love being in the water (above or below) the beauty of it draws me and each time I enjoy looking for that rare treasure that Bonaire always seems to deliver. However, time on board Ta-b is not always play as she is an ongoing concern. Russ especially got a lot of boat jobs done (of course more reared their ugly heads to keep the to do list in balance) and I kept the place running and clean (not an easy task). We had some great days where we took friends out sailing and diving to the more remote sites, with a late leisurely lunch after, before sailing back before sunset.
The boating community are such a wonderful mixed bunch. We made wonderful new friends with numerous nationalities, some who will be friends for ever and we are looking forward to seeing again in the San Blas islands next year and others in Panama/Pacific the following, with more downunder. When we arrived there were only about a dozen boats, but by the time we left nearly all of the 30 odd mooring buoys were taken. There was probably a rush for ours as we left, as it was such a great location. We experienced more boats during regatta week; which was fun, but there was always seemed to be a mooring buoy for all the cruising boats .
When we were last in Bonaire Karel's bar was very unpopular with cruisers as their speakers pointed in our direction and the music at night kept everyone awake until dawn. Thankfully they are now pointed in the other direction and we never heard them, although we were told that they are still loud if you are close to Karels. Also if you are near the fishing boat dock the fishermen tend to wake you up predawn as they shout to each other leaving. Just a heads up for fellow cruisers. There is also a new supermarket in town that does a free shuttle on Tuesdays and Fridays at 10am for all the cruisers, makes life SO much easier.
We used to get together on Wednesdays at the marina with other boaties for their two hour happy hour (2 for 1) and fantastic $8 hamburger night. I am not a hamburger person, but without the bun, a choice of six toppings, salad and fries it made for an easy, yummy, fun and cheap night out. Another weekly event was going to Bobbejan's (only open at the weekend) a Bonaire must. They have a garden to dine in, but we found that it was more fun to have take out and take it to the kids park with a crowd. We all took our own refreshments and enjoyed the ambience of the kids who stay up until all hours in true European fashion.
Our favorite dive site was probably Salt Pier, it is not too deep so I was able to take quite a few pictures and it was always teeming with life. Salt is still exported from the island and one can see many pink flamingos on salt pans. Our second favorite diving spot was off the back of the boat, especially at night when the colours are so fantastic and different fish come out to play. We also went across to the East Coast with friends for a day's outing and enjoyed diving the White Hole, a huge collapsed cave with a white sand bottom with sleeping turtles on the reef.
We have found as we travel we open doors to perceptions we did not previously know exsisted. We meet new challenges, form new friendships and discover new visions of our world. We have a week of hard work to put Ta-b to bed for two months, she will be on the hard at Curacao Marina. Next week we fly back to Vancouver for a quick stop over on our way to Australia to visit Russell's older sister and family. We then go to New Zealand to visit Russell's 91 year old mum, his younger sister and also our best man Foxy who has moved to Queenstown. It will be a busy month before we return to Vancouver for Xmas and New Year.
We hope that we will be able to see many of our friends while we are off the boat, please let us know if you will be around over the holidays. The best way to contact us is via email as our global cell phone is rather expensive. Enjoy some of our Bonaire pictures, it is a place that we would recommend to anyone; especially if you are a diver.