Six Years on our Way and Counting
10 December 2018 | RAM Marina Rio Dulce Guatemala
Bert - Raining with nice temperature
Six (6) years ago on December 6, 2012 we started our Caribbean sail trip and we had a great time sailing, visiting many countries and meeting many nice and friendly people. Unfortunately, last year we had to miss the sailing season due health issues, but we still spent a lot of time on our boat Island Girl in RAM Marina. We arrived in the marina on May 27, 2017 and we are very excited that finally we can make the last preparations to start sailing again.
We left Miami Beach 10:00PM and it was dark and although we practiced taking off all the lines without any help it was more difficult than we anticipated. No one to cast us off, it was just Dorothy and me when we started this journey that we originally planned to take about 1 ½ to 2 years. Although we meet every day wonderful people it is still Dorothy and me and we love it to be together and can enjoy the world together. We visited 37 countries in the Caribbean, South and Central America. The countries we visited are beautiful, but it is mainly the people we meet that make a difference in our lives. We miss our family and friends and exchange a lot of “hi’s” and goodbyes which is typical in the life of cruisers. But although the oceans and seas are large, the world is small and one day we will meet each other again.
In the first 4 years we sailed 9 months out of the year. This was possible because we were sailing in the south Caribbean and the north coast of South America and this kept us out of the hurricane area. We made every year a month’s trip to the USA to visit our family, friends and get a health check. Every year we received a clean bill of health, except the one year when I was misdiagnosed for having Lung Cancer. In 2014 I had a new corneal transplant with the fastest recovery I ever had from this procedure. It was also the best transplanted cornea I ever had with very good eyesight.
However; this good luck changed completely after we returned to Panama after our annual visit to the USA. I developed a very aggressive infection due to a fistula. I had to take an emergency flight back to the USA and was operated in a hospital just outside “Bush International Airport” in Houston. Later I needed another surgery on this fistula and in the meantime, I underwent 2 more surgeries, unfortunately the problem only gets worse and not better. I had to stay for 3 months in the USA for daily wound care and be close to medical facilities for another couple of months.
After we returned to Panama, we crossed the Panama Canal on Board of a large catamaran. We made a very nice land tour through Panama with a rented car and we fell in love with the Pacific side of the country. We flew to Colombia and stayed for a week with Kelly and her family in Santa Marta. The remaining sailing season was short but very exciting. We visited the Colombian islands of San Andres and Providencia. In San Andres we drove Island Girl on a reef, but luckily the damage was very light. We teamed up with s/v Panache and s/v Imagine Square and sailed together to the Honduras Bay Islands. The season ended at the end of May in the Rio Dulce in Guatemala. On our way back to the USA we visited Antigua and had a nice sightseeing tour in Guatemala City.
Our stay in Texas was very eventful with another surgery with mixed results; we sold our condo in Miami Beach after it survived hurricane Irma and needed to evacuate our RV to higher grounds after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas. We had to delay our departure to Guatemala since Bush International Airport in Houston was closed.
We had a very nice land trip in a rental car through Guatemala and visited The Netherlands to see my brother who was diagnosed with ALS and the rest of my family. We had high hopes that our generator would be fixed, but the cause of the problems was never found. We visited the historic Maya site of Copan in Honduras where I got a cold and started to realize that my transplanted cornea was rejecting. Instead of starting our sailing season, we put the boat back on the hard and returned to Texas for a new cornea transplant. The new cornea never gave me the eyesight I had with the previous one and I was very disappointed. While recovering of my transplant we purchased a nice lot of land in historic Gruene along the Guadalupe River in New Braunfels.
After 3 months in Texas we retuned to the Rio Dulce in Guatemala and performed a difficult task of replacing the chainplates on Island Girl. We made a wonderful trip by bus through the south side of Mexico and the highlands of Guatemala. On our return to the boat we installed a new generator.
We were planning to start building our new home in the summer of 2019, but that did not seem to fit in our future sailing plans. We changed our plans and decided to fly back to Texas to get the process started. Again, I had a lot of health problems, so at the same time we visited doctors.
Due to a delayed flight from Guatemala City we missed the connection to San Antonio and then the connecting flight was delayed as well. It was 11:00 PM when we arrived in our RV. But thanks to our friends Kitty and Kurt and our daughter Dominique our RV was nicely parked on the campground and our bed was made.
We were very busy and hardly had any time to relax. I had a total of 13 doctors’ visits and Dorothy had 2 including cataract surgery. We had long meetings with the architect, developer and builder for all the designs changes we wanted for our new home and after that we signed all the needed paperwork for the construction which started a week after we left. We selected all the amenities like faucets, range, oven, refrigerator, microwave, sinks, granite tops and cabinets for the kitchen and bathrooms, the tiles, lamps, lighting and the front door.
During our stay it looked like our dear Texas was freezing over. One morning at 5:00 AM when I was leaving our cold RV for my morning swim it was 25F with a 25 miles northerly wind. All our friends used to cold temperatures will say that this doesn’t sound too bad and some will even say that it is great weather, but Dorothy and I are not used to it and cannot even remember when we were in this kind of cold weather. During our stay we used 4 large tanks of propane to keep the RV warm. The best evenings were Friday night dinner at our daughter’s house, good food, great company and warm environment.
Because I made a reservation error, we were flying back to Guatemala on Thanksgiving Day. We had a Thanksgiving dinner at our daughter Dominiques home on Wednesday night and our son Robert and his wife Heather invited us on Sunday to their apartment for a pre-Thanksgiving dinner. Except for 2 of their sons who could not make it, the family shared a good time and a great dinner. Jack, the son of Robert and Heather is joining the Navy and will report for boot-camp in Chicago in December and this was the last time we saw him as a civilian. We are very proud of him. Our daughter Dominique was together with her 3 kids, Justin who is our oldest grandson, Kristin and Katelynn the youngest.
Back on Island Girl we started to prepare the boat to start sailing again and weather permitting we hope to depart the Rio Dulce before Christmas. Our points of interest this season will be Belize and the Honduran Bay Islands.
However, we will return to Guatemala since we have decided to make the Rio Dulce with RAM Marina our home port.
Boat Maintenance and a lot of fun in Guatemala
04 October 2018 | RAM Marina Rio Dulce Guatemala
Bert - Warm and very Humid with a lot of rain
Due to my corneal transplant in February and the 3 months recovery we missed the sailing season this year and we could have used the time after my recovery to start to travel with our travel trailer through the USA like many of our cruising friends are currently doing. But we chose to go back to Guatemala and use the time to do some major boat maintenance projects. The first large project was the replacement of our chain plates which project we described in a previous blog.
For more than a year we had problems with our Fischer Panda Generator and spent close to a fortune on repair and new parts. Despite all the efforts the problems could not be resolved. We decided to replace this generator with a new Next-Gen 3.5 Kw generator. We used the RAM Marina shipping and custom clearance service and when we came back from our trip to Mexico the generator was waiting for us. Before we left on our trip to Mexico I had already deinstalled the Fischer Panda generator, so I could prepare the lazaret for the installation of the new generator. It was already clear that the new generator would fit in the lazaret but that the hatch was not big enough to get it through. We needed to cut a hole to enlarge the hatch opening. Since the new generator has a larger foot print we also needed a new platform. To get all this done we enlisted the help from Frendi the fiberglass expert from RAM. I installed the base of the sound box with all the connections for in- and output power, fuel lines, raw water and cooling fluid.
After this was all completed it was time to lift the 200 Lbs. generator into its place. We used the front loader from RAM to bring it to the level of the boat and then 3 strong men lifted the 160 Lbs. (generator without the cover) into the boat. The strongest, but also the largest man "Chilo" crawled into the lazaret took the generator and lifted it into the base of the sound box and over the 4 connection bolts. I still don't understand how he could do this. I completed the installation and the generator was ready for testing.
I did not want to do the testing with a water hose connected to the marina water supply so put the boat back into the water. Although we had a good time with the boat on the hard it is always great to be on the boat when she is back floating in the water. After a few problems due to incorrect DC power installation which was diagnosed by Tyrone our favorite mechanic, the generator has been running great and since it is built into a sound box, very quiet. We ran the generator now for over 30 hours and we are very pleased with its performance. We sincerely hope to have good use out of this investment for many years to come.
We have 2 water cooled A/Cs on board which we can only use in a marina connected to shore power or when the generator runs. This last option we used only one time many years ago. But when you are on the hard you cannot use these so last year we purchased locally a very inexpensive window A/C and installed it above the bedroom hatch. This is a great solution since it keeps the boat cool and the humidity out. Since we went back into the water we switched over to our boat A/C units, but it turned out that these units use a lot more power than the window unit so although we're in the water we still use our window A/C unit. That brings us to the cost of using an A/C in a country where electricity is expensive. In the USA the average cost of residential electricity is $0.12 per Kw/Hour. In RAM Marina we pay $0.49 per Kw/Hour which is 4 times more than in the USA. However, the total cost for our boat in RAM marina is $225.00 for the mooring and with our electric use of 400 Kw in a month for a $195.00 the total cost is $420.00. We paid in 2012 $1172.00 per month in Miami Beach Marina. In New Braunfels we pay $525.00 per month for our RV campground fee and no additional cost for electricity. We love staying in the Rio Dulce in Guatemala.
During the testing of our new generator I started doing some other maintenance work, like varnishing our teak boards, waxing the top deck, running rigging lines, fixing many small items including our water heater. The dirtiest job is fixing problems with the waste tank. In February of this year we installed a new maceration pump but did not use it since the boat was on the hard. When we used the pump to empty the waste tank for the first time I was very disappointed with its performance and it took a long time for the pump to prime. I had to disassemble the pump and discovered that since the pump was stuck because it had not been used the impeller was torn apart when we turned the pump on. It was a dirty and smelly job, but someone needed to do it.
Other people were working too. RAM Marina is expanding and during our stay they expanded a couple of covered slips. No large working barges with cranes to do the work, but swimming in the water using local wood to build scaffolds and people high above the water (see our pictures).
At the recommendation of our cruiser friend Maris Eshleman we visited the new dental office of "Cledent" for our 6 months dental cleaning. The office is located close to the historic fort of "Castillo de San Felipe de Lara" on "Lake Izabal". So instead of land transportation we used our dinghy to get there and tied it to the private dock of the clinic. The dental assistant lived in The Netherlands when her dad was the first Ambassador of Guatemala in The Netherlands. Beside English, her Dutch is good, and it was nice to talk to her. For this kind of dental visits, we paid $450.00 in the USA; this visit costed us only $46.50!
Fortunately, we also found time to do fun things. One of the larger marinas here is called "Catamaran". Catamaran is on an island off the shore of the Rio Dulce River in Guatemala. This may be the only resort on the Rio with nice guest cabins right on the water, a beautiful tiki bar/pool oasis, marina space for 20 boats, a full-service open-air restaurant, beautiful grounds featuring macaws, green, white & blue herons, green parrots, turtles, huge iguanas, all in all a bit of paradise nestled in the tropical rainforests of Guatemala. To transport guests from and to the island Catamaran uses a ferry boat called "Sledgehammer". This boat is also used for sunset cruises on the Rio Dulce. With a great bar, pre-ordered pizza and good 1980 music and dancing it is a lot of fun. We did this sunset cruise two times and as soon as Steve organizes another cruise we will be the first to sign up.
Since the Netherlands, my birth country, did not qualify this year for the world championships soccer we did not have too much interest to watch the games. But the qualification rounds became a little more interesting for us and we watched several games at our favorite restaurant "Backpackers" while enjoying their lunch specials.
Dorothy is not too crazy about our shopping tours to the little town of Fronteras, just on the other side of the river, but I like them. My most favorite place is the hardware store called "Commercial WYL" but better known by the name of the owner "Lorena". This place looks small and a little unorganized, but you can find any hardware item you can think of for prices so low that you cannot believe it. They are in a place known to the cruisers as the "Concrete Mall". The location is easy to get to since it has a small harbor at the end of a waterway through the mangroves. Since most of the places along the river can only be reached by boat it is always very busy and sometimes you see trucks offloading concrete mix (sand and gravel) or other heavy materials into the boats. I am very well-known at Lorena and despite my limited knowledge of Spanish I always get what I need.
Since we are now in the water we can use our dinghy to go to Fronteras instead of using a Tuk-Tuk. If we need a Tuk-Tuk the marina office calls one, he picks us up at the marina and takes us to the store we want to visit for $1.33 (Q 10.00). Many of the restaurants allow you to use their dinghy dock for your visits to the town but most of my trips start at the concrete mall. The concrete mall is not one building with many shops, but a square with on one side the store and lumber yard of "Lorena" and on the other side small shops which include the office of an ophthalmologist and optical store. I got my new glasses from this store for about half the price I would have to pay in the USA.
Fronteras has no market place, but along the main road you can find anything you need either in small stores or with street vendors. There are many pharmacies; they do not require prescriptions and their prices on most items are very low. When I do repairs, and I need a part that the marine store in the marina does not carry then Dorothy goes sometimes for me to town using a Tuk-Tuk and that makes it easy on her. She just shows the Tuk-Tuk driver the part I need, and he knows directly the best store to buy the part. I am sometimes amazed that Dorothy knows more where to buy parts in town than I do, and the funny thing is that the vendor recognizes her and helps her immediately while he or she makes other customers wait.
On Tuesdays and Saturdays, the market boat of "Casa Guatemala" visits our boat. Casa Guatemala is an organization who seeks to provide a safe home, love and nurturing, proper health care, and an excellent education to the children of Guatemala who are abused, abandoned, malnourished, or living in extreme poverty. Casa Guatemala relies on funds from individuals and groups around the world to provide care for up to 300 children at their villages and in the larger community. These children have been wards of the State, but the majority comes from families from the surrounding Mayan villages who live in extreme poverty and who, without Casa Guatemala, would have no other access to education. To support the Casa Guatemala Orphanage and School the organization operates a hotel and restaurant called "Backpackers", sells produce in a small store and the market boat that services the marinas and boats at anchor in the Rio Dulce. It also provides transportation services by land and by water to different destinations.
The Rio Dulce and Fronteras are in the "Izabal Department of Guatemala" and Morales is one of the largest cities in this department. It is only 22 miles away from Fronteras and can be reached by small busses called "Collectivo's". On 22 November 1896 the Northern Railroad Zacapa, Zacapa-Puerto Barrios connection, was opened to the public. The complete line from Puerto Barrios to Guatemala City was one hundred and ninety-seven miles and one of the stations was in Morales. Some of the railroad sections are still visible in town while other parts became parks as the median in the main street of the city. Morales is a lot larger than Fronteras, has more shopping options and more medical facilities. Cruisers of one of the resorts organize shopping tours to Morales. We took one of the more luxurious shopping tours organized by one of the best restaurants "Dreamcatcher" in the Rio Dulce area. "Dreamcatcher" is an "Eco Lodge" which can only be reached by boat and is built above the water in an area where you find many "Howler Monkeys". With Dorothy's birthday we had a great dinner at the restaurant and it was great. We shopped in one of the larger grocery stores, but not everyone could find the items they were looking for. The owner of the "Dreamcatcher Eco Lodge" who was our tour guide decided to extend our shopping tour to visit the port city of "Puerto Barrios".
Puerto Barrios is the departmental seat of Izabal department and is Guatemala's main Caribbean Sea port, together with its more modern twin port town just to the southwest, Santo Tomás de Castilla. Its heyday was in the latter 19th and early 20th centuries, following the construction of a railroad connecting large banana and coffee plantations with the shipping docks, all controlled by the International Railways of Central America and The Great White Fleet, both owned by the United Fruit Company. Due to the improvement of the economy the city and its harbor is growing and is now also a cruise ship destination. We visited a very nice grocery store and the local mall which has a lot of very good stores. We found everything we wanted to buy. On its way back to the Rio Dulce our shopping bus was filled with shopping bags.
On September 15 Guatemala celebrates its Independence Day. Looking at the history of Guatemala this independence was not really an independence of Guatemala but the independence of the Captaincy General of Guatemala, also known as the Kingdom of Guatemala which was an administrative division of the Spanish Empire, which included the present-day nations of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Belize and Guatemala, and the Mexican state of Chiapas. It was not until 1825 that Guatemala became a fully independent nation under its own flag, but after many power struggles on 21 March 1847, Guatemala declared itself an independent republic. With indignation of USA a civil war started in 1954. It was called a fight against communism, but it was based on the resistance of United Fruit against the land reform. Military advisers from the United States Army Special Forces trained the counter-insurgency force which eventually made it the most sophisticated in Central America. The discontent of the poor mostly indigenous people became stronger after the 4 February 1976 major earthquake which destroyed several cities and caused more than 25,000 deaths. The civil war ended in 1996 with a peace accord between the guerrillas and the government, negotiated by the United Nations through intense brokerage by nations such as Norway and Spain.
During the week before Independence Day many people from Guatemala City come to the Rio Dulce and in RAM Marina most of the motor boats and large yachts get launched and the fuel dock is constantly filling boat tanks. I watched the refueling of two large yachts where one took 1500-gallons and the other 6150-gallons of diesel fuel. The price per gallon is Q28.00 which bring the bills for these boats to $5,670.00 and $23,247.00 respectively. Locally here in the Rio Dulce the schools are the only organizations that publicly celebrate. They organized day parades and at night one with torches. On the 14th they gathered in fort Castillo de San Felipe de Lara where some cruisers participated with their boats in a staged pirate attack on the fort.
Island Girl is moored on the dock with on one side the fuel dock and on the other the covered slips of very large yachts. It is a fun place because the fuel dock has many local customers starting at 7:00 in the morning and the large yachts have nearly every day maintenance crews working on them. The small marina store with an outside seating area is across "Island Girl's" slip and next to it is the boat ramp for boats on trailers as well as large boats hauled-out or put in the water using the boat lift. Our slip location is only one of the few sailboats slips RAM Marina has available. All the covered slips are for large yachts. But RAM is the largest maintenance and storage marina in the Rio Dulce. The marina has about 150 cruising boats and 100 local power boats and yachts in storage. The marina is used free of charge by local farms to offload their products on to trucks and loads large pieces of equipment on boats to transport it to locations along the river. One day a large ATV was loaded on a boat and we were all guessing how it ever get unloaded (see my pictures).
One of the cruisers organizes on a regular basis trips to an Eco Lodge and Adventure Park called "Tenamit Maya". It takes about 30 minutes with a fast boat to reach this park which is along the "Rio Dulce Golfette". The park has among others two zip line courses. One course includes a jungle obstacle course and the other a kayak trip. We took the jungle zip line course. We had never been on a zip line and it was a lot of fun. The extra was that the zip lines running through a beautiful landscape with stunning views. The middle part of the course is an obstacle course through the jungle high up in the tree line. I had done these kind of obstacle courses in Medellin, Colombia and it was fun to do, but the cable course was difficult.
During all this time we were also sometimes daily in contact with the developer, architect, builder and mortgage broker to complete the design of our new home in historic Gruene in Texas. The Blue Prints are now in production and will be send to all the people involved and we expect to sign all the paper work during our stay in Texas from October 22 to November 22, 2018. Our hope is that the construction will start in January so that the basic construction will be done in June and we can work with the builder in the summer to complete the inside so that we will be able to move in during the summer.
I hope to report about this in our following blogs.
Trip to Mexico and the Guatemala Highlands
09 August 2018 | Palenque - Mexico
Bert - Warm and very Humid with a lot of rain
After working 3 months in RAM Marina on our boat “Island Girl” we needed to leave Guatemala to renew our visa and decided to make it a fun trip. Our plan was to make a round trip through the southern part of Mexico starting in Palenque and return to the Rio Dulce via the Guatemala Highlands. Our album for this trip has 7 sub albums with all our pictures. We hope you like them, like we do.
The easiest route to Palenque is via Flores which is the capital of Petén the most northerly department of Guatemala. The old part of the city is located on an island on Lake Peten Itza, connected to the mainland by a short causeway.
We left the Rio Dulce with an hour delay due to the late arrival of the bus that came from Antigua. We checked into our hotel in Flores at 9:00 PM. It was a very nice and comfortable trip with only 3 official passengers. However, just out of Fronteras the bus stopped for 10 guys who were hitchhiking along the side of the road. They were all from Honduras on there way back to the USA via Mexico after being deported. Their English was very good, and they had years of experience working in the States, but all had been convicted of crimes and were deported.
The next day, July 20, 2018 we spent a wonderful day in Flores. We walked through the town, took a boat ride on the lake, had good food and met a lot of interesting people. We met a Dutch couple and the husband was fluent in Bahasa Indonesia, so Dorothy could practice the language of her birth country.
The following day we had again an hour delay in our departure to Palenque in Mexico due to the late arrival of a very rude couple from Israel. The same couple made our border crossing more difficult due to document problems. All in all, the trip took 9.00 hours. We had an interesting Dutch family on board, the husband who is Dutch works for the UN in Panama City, his spouse was born in Venezuela, the oldest boy in Bogota, Colombia and their little daughter in Mexico and due to that she has a Mexican passport.
When most people refer to Palenque they mean the Maya Ruin site. But Palenque is a mid-size town about 4 miles away from the ruins, so to distinguish both, the ruin site is called “Palenque Ruinas”. Palenque Ruins, also anciently known as “Lakamha” which means "Big Water", that used to be a Mayan city state in southern Mexico that flourished in the 7th century. The Palenque Ruins date from ca. 226 BC to ca. AD 799 after its decline, it was absorbed into the jungle of cedar, mahogany, and sapodilla trees.
Palenque Ruins is a medium-sized site, smaller than Tikal, Chichen Itza, or Copán, but it contains some of the finest architecture, sculptures, roofs and bas-relief carvings that the Mayas produced. By 2005, the discovered area covered up to 1 sq/mi, but it is estimated that less than 10% of the total area of the city is explored, leaving more than a thousand structures still covered by jungle.
The first day in Palenque we kept it easy, we got some money out of the ATM, did some shopping, booked our tour to the Maya ruins and two waterfalls called “Misol Ha” and “Agua Azul”. In the afternoon we spent some time in the hotel swimming pool.
The next day we took our major sightseeing tour. We had an English-speaking guiding tour through the ruin together with a couple from Switzerland and a beautiful lady from Argentina and this worked out very well. Our tour guide spoke very good English and explained in detail the art and architecture of the temple and palaces. It is an amazing site and I took a lot of pictures (see my album).
After our tour through the ruins we visited two waterfalls. The first one was “Cascada de Misol Ha".
This waterfall is located 12 miles from Palenque close to the road that leads towards San Cristóbal de las Casas. This waterfall consists of one single waterfall of 35 m height that falls into a single almost circular pool amid tropical vegetation. The water is of a clear blue color due to its high mineral content. Behind the waterfall there is a cave of approximately 70ft in length. It was very nice to swim in the pool.
The second waterfall called “Cascada de Aqua Azul" ("Blue-water") is very impressive. This fall is a series of waterfalls located 43 mi from Palenque. I have counted 7 drops of which the highest is at about 25ft. The water is very cold and has a high concentration of calcium and the water covers the fallen trees and the rocks with a thick layer of limestone.
On our last day of our stay in Palenque we visited the third waterfall in the area called “Roberto Barrios". This waterfall has again many levels and has many deep pools which have a beautiful turquoise color. To reach all the levels you must follow a narrow path through the jungle. We enjoyed this waterfall the most because of the absence of street vendors and foreign tourists.
The next day we left Palenque to travel to the historic city of San Cristobal de Las Casas. We arrived after a 9 hours bus tour in this beautiful city. We could have taken a shuttle bus which could have brought us in 3.5 hours to this city over a very rugged road through the mountains with a total distance of 160 miles. But we had already been on the road during our trips to the waterfalls. So, we took a very luxurious bus which gave us a tour of over 450 miles through south west Mexico. It was unbelievably beautiful, we crossed mountains, rolling terrain and flat farm land. Large and high bridges brought us over a very large man-made lake.
San Cristobal de Las Casas
San Cristobal de Las Casas is founded in 1528 and is in a valley at an altitude of 7,200 ft. So, when the sun goes down it gets cold. But we had great weather and we could explore this city and the surroundings for a couple of days. We spent 2 days in San Cristobal de Las Casas and we had a great time. The historic city is great to walk around in to see all the narrow streets, buildings and of course the many churches.
The city has many good museums, but the one that most impressed us was the textile museum. Not only what is displayed in the display windows but the hundreds of drawers underneath the windows.
It was very crowded in the city with tourists due to the “Santiago Apostol Festival". It is a Mayan Religious Festival that starts early in the morning with lots of fireworks to invite people to go to church. These churches seem Catholic with the many sculptures and paintings of saints, but they are not. Chicken get sacrificed and the church is full of candles even on the floor. The church floor is covered with pine needles but are cleaned away from the candles. It is not allowed to take pictures.
As a real tourist town there are street vendors, restaurants and souvenir shops everywhere. The streets are full of people with a lot of musicians and street artists. The market is full of Mayan textile and art. Maybe not a town for everyone, but we enjoyed it very much.
We also took a tour to the traditional Maya towns of San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan where we learned a lot about Mayan culture.
During our last evening in San Cristobal de las Casas it started to rain and since the sun disappeared behind the clouds the temperature dropped like a rock. We had a great time, but we needed to move on. The next day we took a very nice OCC us to go to Comitan.
OCC is using very luxurious busses and we had a great 2-hour trip. We booked into a brand-new hotel which is located on the same parking area as Walmart. We took the opportunity to do some shopping for items we cannot find in the Rio Dulce.
Since we wanted to visit different sites we rented a car. With the car we visited two Mayan ruin sites “Tenam Puente" and “Chinkultic". Although other sites we have visited in Palenque, Tikal and Copan have more impressive temples these sites have a much better environment. No large crowds and no street vendors and only small family groups of visitors. The sites are beautifully maintained and there is no admission fee.
We also visited the “Lagunas de Montebello" which is a national park with many mountain lakes. The entire area in Chiapas is beautiful and we had a great time. Before we returned to Guatemala, we first had to return our car and the rental agent is in downtown historic Comitan. We had some problems to navigate through the narrow one-way streets, but the advantage was we were close to the town center where a marimba band was playing in front of the church. Downtown is nice, and we could have stayed a little longer.
Our bus ride from Comitan in Mexico to Huehuetenango in Guatemala was a ride full of extremes. We started in a luxurious OCC bus on a very nice 4-line highway, and it ended with a chicken bus over a small winding road. Close to the border the change came, since the last 3 miles in the OCC bus was over a dirt road under construction. The bus stopped 3 miles from the border in a town called “Ciudad Cuauhtemoc". We had to check out with the Mexican immigration and take a taxi to the border. No form needed to pass the Guatemala immigration. Then we took a tuk-tuk to the bus station where we boarded the chicken bus to Huehuetenango or as the locals call it “Way way”.
With only 3 passengers we left “La Mesilla” climbing into the mountains. However, the bus filled up fast with even no standing place left and passengers hanging outside in the rain. The road was through a narrow gorge next to a small river with towering mountains. It was scary but also very impressive and beautiful.
We spent our day by walking through Huehuetenango. Our first location was the Maya ruins called “Zaculeu". This site was restored in 1940 by the “United Fruit Company" and in the process the ruins were covered with gray plaster. The site is surrounded on three sites by ravines which gave it a strategic advantage for the Mayans. We liked the site and the views over the surrounding mountains are great.
Besides its town square the city does not offer a lot of interesting sites but its location in a large valley with the surrounding mountains makes it a great place to visit. Our hotel has a Bingo hall which is more like a Casino and probably to attract people with a good budget, the lobby on the first and second floors as well as the restaurant look very flamboyant. The stairs connecting the first and second floor are majestic. Even breakfast is served with class. However, the room we had was very small but clean.
Our next stop was Quetzaltenango better known by the name “Xela". We have not heard anyone calling the city with its original name. We took again the “Chicken bus" which costs only US$ 2.80 for a close to 3-hour trip. At the end of the trip the bus was overloaded since the school day was over, and many students needed to go home. We had a reservation in a boutique hotel in the center of the old city. Every road is very narrow with very high but even more narrow sidewalks. The pavement has cobblestones which is very rough on cars and difficult to walk on.
The city is high in the western highlands of Guatemala with volcanoes around like the towering Santa Maria and its active lava dome “Santiaquito". We spent a couple of weeks last year during the month of November in the highlands and it was cold. We assumed that since it is now summer that it would not be as cold, but that was a wrong assumption. It was cloudy, we had a lot of rain and during these kind of conditions at an altitude of 7,600 ft the temperature drops when the sun goes down or is behind the clouds.
Although the city was founded in 1524 by the Spanish it is said that the city already existed in 1200 as a major Mayan city. In the 19th century coffee was introduced as a major crop and a large group of Germans moved in and added a more Gothic architecture to the city. Now the city is the second largest city in Guatemala. In 1902 the volcano Santa Maria erupted, and large rocks landed in the city. Shortly thereafter an earthquake added to the destruction. The original cathedral built in 1532 was destroyed and only the façade remains. When the new cathedral was built the façade was not attached to this building and stands about 50ft behind it. The space in between is used as a parking lot (see my pictures).
In between the rain showers we had a private walking tour and did a lot of walking to interesting places in the city including the Museo del Ferrocarrill de Los Altos". The interesting part was that in 1930 a railroad was partly built to connect “Xela" with the Pacific coast.
We could have taken again the chicken bus to go to Guatemala City, but we opted for a more convenient but a lot more expensive type of transportation; a shuttle bus to Chimaltenango and the remainder with an Uber car. We made the trip in 4 hours through one of the most beautiful areas of Guatemala.
Driving through Chimaltenango was a very special experience. On both sides of the main road through this town used cars ‘fresh’ from the USA are sold. Cars, pickup trucks and large tractor trailers from 2005 up to 1994 are displayed and we were told that this was the major used cars sale location in the western part of Guatemala. I believe it since we have seen over 1000 vehicles.
The hotel we normally use in Guatemala City was completely booked so we chose a different hotel a little more expensive but very nice. After we went to the Litegua bus terminal to purchase tickets to Rio Dulce we asked the cab driver to drop us off on the Central Market which is also close to the “Parque Central”. The market is large and so fun to visit. Although “Parque Central” is not that interesting but a few of the most fun ‘pedestrians only’ shopping streets are connected to the park. Along these streets you find very nice small restaurants with outside seating which we enjoy so much.
Our bus ride back the Rio Dulce was pleasant and fast. We arrived at 3 PM and were happy to see “Island Girl” again. Next to the boat we found our new generator shipped from Doral in Florida and cleared through customs by RAM Marina in just 2 ½ weeks. So now we will be busy with the installation of this generator.
30 June 2018 | RAM Marina Rio Dulce Guatemala
Bert - Cloudy but warm
We just returned from a trip to Semuc Champey. Semuc Champey means “Where the river hides under the stones” It consists of a natural 1000 ft limestone bridge, under which passes the Cahabón River. Atop the bridge is a series of stepped, turquoise pools and it is a popular swimming attraction. Although it can be difficult to get to, Semuc is becoming more and more popular with visitors. We can attest to the fact that it is not easy to get there. The road from Rio Dulce to Semuc Champey is mostly a narrow dirt road climbing through the mountains and along the Cahabón River. The views are incredible but after 5 hours of bouncing you are happy to arrive.
We stayed in a great Hostel “Vista Verde” in the hills of Lanquin with a private room but above us was a dorm. We were clearly the oldest guests and most backpackers were of the age of our oldest grandson. This was our first experience with a hostel, we prefer a little more comfort in a good hotel. But this was pleasant experience. This hostel had little cabanas with 2 private rooms on the ground floor and a dorm on the second floor. These cabanas are scattered on the hill around the reception area and the restaurant. On top of the hill is a small swimming pool with astonishing 360-degree views. The room was a little bare, but the bed was comfortable, and the veranda had a great view. The hostel is owned by a brother and sister who slept overnight on the floor in the reception area. Due to the bad road conditions guests arrive sometime in the middle of the night. We were woken up one night when we got neighbors at 2 AM.
Not only were the other guests very young the majority were women. They told us that it was easy to travel alone since in the hostels it is easy to get together with other guests and in many cases continue the trip together. We met people from many countries around the world: Germany, England, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, France, Australia, New Zealand, the USA and the Netherlands. We also met a large family from Guatemala with their 3 married children and 9 grandchildren.
We took the complete tour which includes transport in the back of a pickup truck to Semuc Champey, a visit to the Kan’Ba caves, swinging off a giant swing into the river, tubing down the river, a break for lunch and then hiking to the viewpoint and time to swim in the pools. The tour of the Semuc Champey caves is great for the adventurous but not for the fainthearted, no helmets and no headlamps, but just a candle.
The tour guide painted everyone’s face with a black substance from the walls. In my case the 2 ladies in our group Hanna and Ruth did it. I don’t know if it was bat guano, but it was very difficult to wash off.
The first part of the cave tour was simply wading through the water holding onto a rope along the slippery wall. It was pitch dark without a candle and since my group consisted only of 3 people and 2 guides if your candle gets underwater there is no light anymore until someone lights your candle again. I declined the optional precarious climb and leap into a dark pool below, but Ruth the tough lady in our group did it and bruised her leg. The scariest part of the tour was when the tour guide helped you slide through a very small opening and then plunge into the water below. The candle went out, it was pitch dark and you had no idea where to go. But the two ladies took care of me and we safely exited the cave.
We walked a bit further up the river to a giant swing from which we could leap off into the river below. I did it and regretted this activity since I bruised my ribs upon landing in the river.
We then walked another 5 minutes up river to where the waterfalls at the bottom of Semuc Champey cascade into the river below. We took a lot of pictures of this incredible place.
After lunch we walked to the entrance of the Semuc Champey park and to the starting point of a steep 30 minutes climb to the most unique viewpoint. We hiked to the location where the river goes underground and the natural bridge with the 5 pools starts. After a nice swim in one of the pools we hiked back to our truck and drove back to our hostel.
Dorothy and I were the only dinner guests, but we had a great dinner and we danced with the lady staff and one of the owners, a beautiful lady with a smile that lights up the darkest day. We developed a very special relationship with her and she cried when we left.
The next day we kept it quiet, stayed around the hostel, enjoyed the view around us and I tried to heal my bruised ribs.
Our drive back to Rio Dulce was besides the road conditions very good, only 6 people in the van and we arrived well but very tired in the early afternoon back on Island Girl.
Chainplates Replacement on Island Girl
04 June 2018 | RAM Marina Rio Dulce Guatemala
Bert - Warm and Humid with Volcanic Ash in the air
This blog will be very boring for non-sailors and sailors who are not aware how the chainplates are installed in an Island Packet from the 1980s and 1990s.
Why do we have to replace the Chainplates?
Many people consider the original chainplates installation a big mistake. The Island Packet main chainplates are not three separate pieces, but one large assembly where the three chainplates are welded together on a bar. To make them incredibly strong this assembly was encapsulated into the hull, spreading the load over likely 20 or 30 if not more Sq/Ft of hull.
However, as we now know if Stainless Steel is not allowed to come into contact with Oxygen, and it gets wet it corrodes. If you maintain your boat and seal on a regular basis the location around the chainplates where they come through the deck, you can keep the chainplate assembly dry. But you don’t know if the previous owner took care of this. In my boat it was very well done and the old chainplates were in a good condition.
This is a daily blog of the work I did with the help of a Fiberglass expert in RAM Marina in the Rio Dulce, Guatemala.
Day 1 April 28
The boat is on the hard at RAM Marina in Rio Dulce Guatemala and we have rented a room in a cabana. The room is large which allows us to store some of the stuff which must be removed from the boat. The cabana is just next to the boat, but it still means that for every item we must go up and down the ladder. After installing the out of the water A/C I started with removing the cabinets. It was difficult since I did not know how the cabinets were constructed and there were many places that were very difficult to reach. But after some practice I got the hang of it and I broke only one small piece of trim.
Day 2 April 29
Continued to remove the cabinets and it went a lot faster, but it was still a lot of work in tight places. At the same time, we needed to remove more stuff off the boat into our room in the cabana. At the end of the day the entire cabinets on the port side of the main cabin were removed.
Day 3 April 30
Put some plastic cover on so I could control the dust in the working area. I also installed an exhaust fan like the one that is being used in the engine room, to get the dust out. I did the first test run to remove the fiber matting which covered the chainplates assembly. In it self it worked but probably my grinder blades were too thin since in no time I tore up two of them. To get the chainplates assembly out I needed to either cut the assembly in parts or make a larger hole in the bulkhead. I made a post on FB to ask for some suggestions and sent an e-mail to Mack Sails. All the replies on FB advised me to cut a hole in the bulkhead so that I could install the new assembly in one piece. The e-mail reply from Mr. Colin Mack expressed an opposite opinion based on their wide experience with chainplates replacements on Island Packet boats. This is his response: “In all of the Island Packets that we have done we have never used the complete assembly. The connector tie strap of metal offers no structural support to the assembly. It is our opinion that it was originally done to make the installation easier at the factory prior to the bulkheads being installed. We have never seen an issue with any of our installations and we feel that the extra work does not justify the extra expense in terms of safety or structure”.
Day 4 May 1
The only effective way to create a hole in the bulkhead is to use a reciprocating saw, but no hardware store in Fronteras on the Rio Dulce sells this tool. So, the job was a little harder without this tool, but I got it done. After this was done I cleaned the boat and called it a day.
Day 5 May 2
After some consideration I decided to use one of the RAM Marina workers to do the grinding to take the old chainplates assembly out. The daily rate for such an experienced worker is only $50.00 a day, which is half the hourly rate in the USA. In preparation I took off the shrouds in between heavy rain showers and attached them to a cleat and two stanchions. I took the caulking out which is in-between the chainplates and the deck and detected no corrosion at all.
Day 6 May 3
Today is the day of the truth, we are going to take the Port Side chainplates assembly out. We used my Dremel to cut the fiberglass which covers the bar of the chainplates and the very thick fiberglass that encapsulates the 3 chainplates. Under each side of the chainplates are pieces of wood that were placed to create some space between the chainplates and the hull. With the Dremel we could take these pieces of wood out and with some force we removed the chainplates assembly.
In the process we already noticed that the bar of the chainplates assembly was corroded through and was broken. The break was underneath the 40 strands of fiberglass, so I considered this a major issue.
After our RAM Marina fiberglass expert named “Frendi” started grinding off the old fiberglass strands and remnants of the fiberglass around the old assembly, I cleaned off all the corrosion on the chainplates and in the process found a lot of small hairline cracks, which indicate that the material was at the end of its lifespan. At the end of the day we removed all the dust of the grinding process and it was incredible to see how the dust penetrated areas which we thought we covered well.
Day 6 May 4
Frendi, our RAM Marina fiberglass expert, continued to remove the old fiberglass strands and remnants of the fiberglass around the old assembly and it took us the rest of the day to get all the dust out of the boat. It was not a pleasant day.
Day 6 May 5
De new chainplates are wider and thicker than the old ones. So, the first job was to make the holes through the deck larger and fit the new chainplates assembly. After the dry fit worked fine, I installed the assembly and connected the shrouds to pack the putty I put on the chainplates.
Outside I sanded the teak around the enlarged holes, waterproofed them and let them dry overnight.
Day 7 May 6
Frendi, our RAM Marina fiberglass expert came in to fiberglass the chainplates assembly in. We had purchased from the “Island Packet Manufacturer” 16 fiberglass unidirectional strands of which 2 needed to be wrapped around each of the 3 chainplates and attached to the hull after they were soaked in resin. Frendi did this all with his bare hands. In the meantime, I applied wood sealer to the teak on the deck where the chainplates come through the deck. After Frendi was done we had a lot of cleaning to do, but we were happy that the first, the Port Chainplates assembly was in.
Day 8 May 7
Now that all the cabinets and hull cover were removed I wanted to use the opportunity to rewire the electricity. For that purpose, I applied a lot of wood pieces with “West System Six 10” adhesive to attach them to the hull. It was not a great success since I cut the wood strips too long, the hull is curved and due to the original fiberglass surface, not very even. The rest of the afternoon was spent on repairing a leak in our galley faucet.
Day 9 May 8
I worked the entire day on the “rerouting” of the electric wires, removing live wires that were just cut off without any protection. Tested some paint, that I purchased at a bargain price, for the wall boards which cover the hull. It was oil paint which I did not like, but when it was dry it looked pretty good.
Day 10 May 9
Working again on the “rerouting” of electric wires, removing live wires that were just cut off without any protection. Reinstalled the top of the hang locker in the bedroom. Had a lot of problems to re-install the wallboard and finally cut it in two pieces to accomplish the installation. A small trim made the cut invisible.
Day 11 May 10
Installed the new deck plates around the chainplates and applied sufficient caulking to prevent water intrusion. Working on the “rerouting” of the electric wires and removing live wires that were just cut off without any protection. Painted the wallboard in the main cabinet and started to re-install the cabinets in the main cabin.
Day 12 May 11
Completed the re-installation of the cabinets in the main cabin and hang lockers in both the main cabin and the bedroom.
Day 13 May 12
Completed the installation of the cabinets in the bedroom. Started to remove items from our bedroom so I could start working on the starboard side. RAM Marina allowed us to store our mattress in their storeroom. The removal of the cabinet above our bed was very difficult since the cabinet was custom built in place and I did not want to de-assemble the cabinet.
Day 14 May 13
After removing the cabinet from our bedroom, we temporarily stored it in our room in the RAM Marina Cabana. After I removed the wallboard and inspected the chainplates assembly in turned out that the chainplate for the top of the mast was behind the bulkhead wall and I had to remove the cabinets from the main cabin as well. I also had to cut a large hole in the bulkhead to be able to remove the chainplates assembly.
Day 15 May 14
Since I did not want to remove the electric, electronic and communication center I had to cut the cabinet and removed the part that covers the chainplates assembly. After I removed the wallboard, nearly cutting the electric wires hanging between the hull and the wallboard, I saw that part of our watermaker was still in the way. But Frendi, the fiberglass expert, advised me he could work around it.
Day 16 May 15
With the use of the Dremel tool I cut the fiberglass which encapsulated the chainplates assembly. It was a hard job especially since the chainplate for the top of the mast was exactly on the location of the bulkhead. After 4 hours cutting I got all the material removed around the chainplates assembly and for the first time since I started this job I called it quits around lunch time. I was completely covered with dust and I desperately needed a shower.
Day 17 May 16
After opening the space of the chainplates where they come through the deck I removed the chainplates assembly. The chainplates showed some corrosion, no cracks but a broken assembly bar close to the stern chainplate. I enlarged the holes in the deck for the new chainplates and for the second day I called it quits before lunch. We took the time to go to town to drop off our bikes for a few repairs, did some shopping for materials I needed for the reconstruction of the cabinets, had a great lunch in town and afterwards a lazy afternoon.
Day 18 May 17
Then the most miserable day came. RAM Marina Fiberglass expert Frendi came to do the grinding of the hull. We thought that we had done a better job to protect the boat from all the dust, but it looked like it was definitely not enough. The dust was everywhere. The amount of fiberglass dust on the ground where Frendi did the grinding was enormous, and we could just scoop it up. After Frendi was gone we worked the rest of the day to remove the dust. For Frendi to be able to attach the chainplates assembly the next morning I worked late into the afternoon to get the assembly in, but this time it was difficult.
Day 19 May 18
When I came into the boat the next morning the dust had settled, and I started to clean it up. I was working in a corner and did not pay attention to the vacuum cleaner. Instead of collecting the dust it was blowing it out; the filter had come loose. The result was dust everywhere and I could start all over again.
After this disaster I did the caulking of the chainplates on the deck and Frendi came in to do the fiberglass work. In the meantime, I started to dis-assemble the seat, the steering and auto pilot mechanism so that when working on the stern chainplates these very greasy parts would not collect fiberglass dust. Grease and fiberglass dust is a very bad combination. The seat needed some repair and Frendi fixed these problems with his fiberglass skills. After Frendi completed his tasks I started to fix the wiring.
Day 20 May 19
Worked the entire day on the electric re-wiring. Installed at the end of the day the wallboard in the bedroom.
Day 21 May 20
Installed the cabinet in the bedroom and connected the lights and fans. Installed the wallboard in the main cabin on the starboard side and the framing of the cabinet that I had to cut. This one was a little tricky since I cut them in pieces, so I did not have to remove the part of the cabinet with all the electronics.
Day 22 May 21
Completed the installation of the cabinet in the main cabin. Cleaned the two bathrooms, the bedroom and the main cabin and prepared to remove all our stuff from the storeroom which is actually our second bedroom, so we could reach the small hatch that allows access to the stern chainplate and the water heater. Started to work on removing the 12-gallon water heater.
Day 23 May 22
The dimensions of the water heater are 20 x 18 inches and the opening to get it out is 21 X19 inches, so it was difficult to get it done. The area around the water heater is filled with cables and hoses for many different applications and it is a mess. The area is also very small so before I continued to clean it up we asked Frendi, the RAM Marina Fiberglass expert, to have a look if he could work in this small area. He crawled into the space and declared with a smile on his face that it was so good to be a ‘small’ Guatemalan man since he had no problems with his ‘work space’. But due to all the twisting and turning he lost his bearings and could not find the chainplate since he was looking at the inside ‘wall’ instead of the stern. We all had a good laugh out of this. The remainder of the day I spent removing hoses and rerouting wires to free up space to access the chainplates.
Day 24 May 23
Completed the rerouting of wires and hoses. I took the backstays from the stern chainplates and connected them to some cleats. With plastic cover we created two areas around the chainplates in hopes to contain the dust of the grinding which will start tomorrow.
Day 25 May 24
When I came in in the morning I put some more plastic cover on since the two spaces where you can reach the chainplates are so small. Instead of cutting out the chainplates with my Dremel I let Frendi do it at the same time he was grinding. The problem with the small spaces is that every time you move you tear up the plastic cover resulting in dust everywhere.
When Frendi was done we started to clean and it was almost impossible to get all the dust out in these small spaces with cables and hoses. We did our best. Afterwards I installed the new chainplates.
Day 26 May 25
Frendi came early to fiberglass the new chainplates in and install a piece of marine plywood I need to attach the Centek water/exhaust separator and the SSB antenna tuner to. After he was done I started to reinstall the endless amount of wires and hoses. It was very hard to work in these tight spaces.
Day 27 May 26
I continued to reinstall the wires and hoses. I took the opportunity to organize the wires better.
Took the day off to celebrate my wife Dorothy’s 70th Birthday
Day 28 May 28
After a day off to celebrate the birthday of my wife Dorothy, I continued to reinstall the wires and hoses. I took the opportunity to organize the wires better. This was a hard job in the very limited space in the stern of the boat.
Day 29 May 29
Continued to install the wires and hoses in the very small space in the stern of the boat. Installed water/exhaust system for the generator and installed the SSB antenna tuner.
Day 30 May 30
Installed the autopilot and the loudspeakers for the sound system. Installed the water heater. With this install I called the replacement of the chainplates complete. I still need to do a lot of cosmetic work on the cabinets but since I have to varnish that can only be done over short periods of time during the day.
Back to Texas for a Corneal Transplant
03 April 2018 | River Ranch RV Resort - New Braunfels, Texas
Bert - Nice Texas Spring Weather
In our previous blog I wrote that on New Year’s Eve I did not feel very well. My injured left eye with two transplanted corneas started swelling up. My vision slowly started to deteriorate, and I developed an inflammation in the eye. In this situation I use more steroid eye drops, which unfortunately adversely affect the immune system but help to reduce the chance of rejection of a transplanted organ, in my case a cornea. One of the side effects is that you are more prone to infections and I came down with a nasty cold.
In the previous paragraph I stated that I have two transplanted corneas.
Let me explain how that is possible.
The cornea is referred to as the "window" to the eye or better the window to the world. The cornea needs to be clear, so light can pass through towards the back of your eye called the “Retina”. When a cornea through disease or injury is damaged, light can no longer effectively pass through it, resulting in reduced or no vision. With a Penetrating Keratoplasty (PK) corneal transplant the damaged cornea is replaced with a clear donor cornea. My original cornea was replaced using this procedure in 1994 a year after I injured my eye. Due to rejections of the transplanted corneas I had this transplant 7 times over the years.
With this procedure a circular disc from the center of the cornea is removed. From a donor cornea a similar shape is removed and is put into position and sutured into place with 16 stitches. This is a well-tolerated procedure, but the recovery can be quite long, up to twelve months. It is also not uncommon to have significant irregular curvature of the cornea because of the sutures and this limits the vision and in many cases a contact lens is required to achieve the best vision.
Recently a new version of corneal transplant is developed which uses only a very thin portion of the cornea for transplant. In this procedure the unhealthy, diseased, posterior portion of a cornea is removed and replaced with a very thin portion of the donor cornea. This replacement tissue is folded and placed inside the eye where an air bubble pushes it in place until it heals in an appropriate position. This transplant procedure is called “Descemet's Stripping Endothelial Keratoplasty (DSEK)”. Unlike the PK, the DSEK procedure utilizes a much smaller surgical incision and requires no corneal sutures. This usually results in more rapid visual rehabilitation and reduces the risk of sight threatening complications that may occur with the PK.
This new procedure was now for the 2nd time used on me on top of a donated cornea. The result is that I have a cornea implanted with the PK procedure and the second with the DSEK procedure.
After our return from Rio Dulce, Guatemala and two visits to my eye doctors I underwent my 9th corneal transplant on February 20, 2018 using the DSEK procedure. During the checkup the next day we had a big disappointment, the new cornea was only partially attached. During the remainder of the week the doctor used different procedures to accomplish the complete attachment. My glaucoma tube released too much of the air that was put in my eye to create sufficient pressure. Four days after the surgery he used a gel to block the tube and an expendable gas to maintain the pressure. During these days I had to lie 50 minutes out of every hour, flat on my back to keep the air bubble pushed against the new cornea. Finally, 6 days after the transplant, it showed that the new cornea had attached. The doctor warned me not to pop the champagne cork just yet, but the healing had started.
Although we still had a few rough patches, it now seems that my vision is slowly improving, and we can stick to our original plan to fly back to Guatemala on April 25, 2018.
My son loaned us his beautiful truck and we were able to drive around and have transportation for our very frequent doctor’s visits. This was the first time that we did not only have to do this for me, but also for Dorothy. She already had for some time problems with her back and her knees. During our first visit to the house of our son one on his English Bulldogs ran into the side of one of her knees. The doctor she visited advised her to start an intensive program of physical therapy. I started my old routine of walking 3 miles through the historic town of Gruene and it was fun. Three weeks after my corneal transplant the doctor allowed me to start swimming again and now I am completely back to my morning routine while spending time in New Braunfels, Texas. Waking up in the morning at 5:10, ready to enter the pool at 5:30, swim for 30 minutes, take a shower, go back to the RV to have a light breakfast, drop Dorothy off for physical therapy and take my 3 miles walk. On nice days we take the truck and drive into the Texas Hill country which is starting to become very beautiful with the blooming wildflowers.
If the weather cooperates, March, April and May are prime blooming months for the Texas Wildflowers. With its sprawling size and diversity of landforms, Texas offers a treasure of spectacular wildflowers. More than 5,000 species of flowering plants are native to Texas. The most known flower is the state flower the Bluebonnets which are in their glory starting in March all through April. Watching Texas’ prairies and hillsides light up with seasonal wildflowers is a delight for the sense. It is a farewell to the short-lived winters and a harbinger of the warmer days to come. This symphony of color has played an important role throughout the centuries, its blooms providing medicine, inspiration, and beauty to lift the spirits. The state’s capital city, Austin, is home to The University of Texas Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, a research unit of the University of Texas at Austin, devoted to the preservation and use of native plants. The Wildflower Center is a botanical garden that demonstrates the beauty and importance of native plants. Water features, nature trails, display gardens, visitors’ gallery, café, gift store and award-winning architecture can be found, along with information on how to plant and grow wildflowers.
Bluebonnets are the most popular Texas wildflowers in central Texas. The Bluebonnets start blooming in the middle of March and usually peak about the second week of April. In the middle of April fields of the blooming flowers can be found everywhere and it is a beautiful sight. By the end of April, the Bluebonnets usually are fading away. A field that was filled with Bluebonnets can completely change over a few weeks’ time to a field of red and then a field of yellow. Texas Paintbrush wildflowers start blooming the same time as the Bluebonnets and bloom in the same areas with the Bluebonnets, side by side, from the middle of March through April. As the Bluebonnets and Texas Paintbrush are fading the Indian Blanket wildflowers come in to take over. You can usually see a lot of the Indian Blankets blooming from later in April through May. The Indian Blanket is a beautiful flower that is found along the highways. The yellow border on the flower varies from a wide yellow border to none.
We arrived in San Antonio, Texas in 1985 and it has always surprised me that this town with its very strong Mexican heritage gives so much attention to St. Patrick’s Day. They even go that far as dyeing the river green. San Antonio has many tourist attractions, but the crown jewel is the “Riverwalk”. The River Walk (also known as Paseo del Río) is a city park and network of walkways along the banks of the San Antonio River, one story beneath the streets. It is lined by bars, shops, restaurants, nature, public artwork. The River Walk winds and loops under bridges as two parallel sidewalks lined with restaurants and shops, connecting the major tourist draws from the Shops at “River Center”, to the “Arneson River Theatre”, to “Marriage Island”, to “La Villita”, to “HemisFair Park”, to the “Tower Life Building”, to the “San Antonio Museum of Art”, to the “Pearl Brewery” and the city's five Spanish colonial missions, which have been named a World Heritage Site, including the Alamo. The River Walk is used for any parade there is in San Antonio like the largest party in town “Fiesta San Antonio”, start of the Christmas Season, the many championships of the “Spurs” one of the best basketball organizations in the NBA and “St. Patrick’s Day”. We visited the River Walk on St. Patrick’s Day and had great Tex-Mex food with a couple of delicious Margaritas surrounded by all the green. How typical San Antonio Texas can be.
We are very grateful that after so many years of not being able to enjoy the most beautiful season in Texas we could be part of it this year. Unfortunately, sometimes “with the good also comes the bad”.
Just after we arrived back in Rio Dulce last year we received the horrible news that one of my brothers was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of ALS. ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. A-myo-trophic comes from the Greek language. "A" means no. "Myo" refers to muscle, and "Trophic" means nourishment, "No muscle nourishment." When a muscle has no nourishment, it wastes away.
Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their demise. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, people may lose the ability to speak, eat, move and breathe.
His life expectancy was so short that we decided to change our land trip through Guatemala and instead of 4 weeks made it 3 weeks and flew for one week to The Netherlands like we described in a previous blog. It was a good decision since we were still able to communicate with him and had a good time together. In the first week on January 2018 my so Robert visited him, and communication was not possible anymore. My brother was transferred to a Hospice and after very terrible suffering he passed away on March 12, 2018. It was a difficult week for Dorothy and me since we loved him so dearly.
This tragic event made us think a little more about our future and especially our future without our boat. Our past two sailing seasons were very much influenced by medical problems with needed surgery and a long recovery time. This year just before we wanted to leave the Rio for Belize and other waters in the West Caribbean my body rejected my corneal transplant and we had to go back to the USA. With now only our boat and our RV for our living space we started to develop a wish list where to live after our cruising days come to an end. It came as no surprise that we narrowed it down to a beach condo like we had in Miami Beach. Of course, a smaller version, closer to our children and at lower cost.
We concluded that the Texas gulf coast was a great place to start our search. We found that there is a significant different in the beach condo’s in Texas and South Florida: In South Florida no short-term rental; Texas Gulf Coast 90% or more short term rental. This means hardly anyone lives in a condo on the Texas Gulf Coast and uses the condo strictly as an investment property with very limited personal use. What further complicated our search was that due to labor shortage only very limited reconstruction was done after the horrible destruction by hurricane Harvey in August 2017. We found nice places, but it is very unsure when the units become available for permanent living, so it is difficult to make plans.
When we come back in Texas for the 2018 hurricane season we want to start using our RV to make trips through the USA. We sold our last vehicle in December 2012 just before left on our sailing adventure and have not had a vehicle since then. Most of the seasons my son Robert loans us a car or truck and in the 2 years he had nothing available we had a rental a car. Our friends Kurt and Kitty helped us to pull our RV from the storage location to the campground. We started our search for a towing vehicle and found that Texas is still the best place to find large strong trucks. We found a beautiful Ford F350 “King Ranch” with all the extra’s to make the perfect towing and traveling vehicle. When we were ready to make the purchase, we realized that we don’t need it until June/July, so we delayed our decision but know what we want and will look for when we return.
When I read my blog, I see what this trip is about and that is taking care of our health and troubles what to do with the time in-between the doctors visits and resting to recover. We love our retirement years which we expressed in an interview with a communication specialist of the Texas County & District Retirement System (TCDRS) one of the pension funds we get our retirement income from. This interview will be published in the Summer Edition of their newsletter. But it is clear why we enjoyed it so much, because we had a plan and that was sailing through the Caribbean and visit all the beautiful countries we came ashore. We do not have a plan how to spend our time in these recovery times. Doing too much will slow down the recovery but having too much idle time on your hands definitely leads to boredom. At the same time, we must be careful with our expenditures since living in the USA is a lot more expensive than the countries we visit. A good example is when I had to pay $20.00 for a haircut while the last haircut I had in Rio Dulce was only $1.25. We use a beautiful truck my son loaned me, but it uses a lot of gas and in the Rio a Tuk-Tuk ride into town is only $1.40 and a bus ride to the next closest city called Morales is $1.70 for a distance of 24 miles. In the USA everything can be done fast. A trip to the grocery store can be done in ½ hour while the same task in the Rio takes at least 2 hours on a good day, but the trip is fun with all the things you see and the people you meet.
We start to realize that a return to living in the USA will be hard to adapt to and we need a new plan how to live a fulfilling life. The future will show how we make this transition and we will write about it in our blogs.