Who Would Have Guessed?
15 May 2019 | Shelter Bay Marina, Panama
Seven years ago Janaki decided we needed a boat to keep me busy during retirement and give her some peace and quiet. That did not work out so well..... We now find ourselves on the brink of an adventure that we had no idea we wanted back then.
This weekend, all being well, we will pass through the Panama Canal and into the Pacific. Reading this as I write I feel like I'm talking about someone else. I guess it will sink in by the Galapagos.....
We will probably be on the Pacific side of Panama for about a week. Then it is a week's sail to the Galapagos islands. We have a permit to be there for a month but may not stay that long before heading for French Polynesia. We, and a number of our friends, have one year visas for French Polynesia so we plan to stay there until next April and the end of the cyclone season before heading westwards to New Zealand. At this stately rate I will be seventy by the time we get to Australia. That is assuming we don't peel off to Indonesia or Borneo enroute. I guess this blog has a few years in it yet.
Wrapping Up a Great Trip
09 May 2019 | Medellin, Colombia
As we get ready to head back to Panama we are reflecting on one of our best trips ever. Peru was constantly amazing and we have had a couple of very pleasant weeks in Colombia (apart from the dentist....). We spent last week in the coffee country which was very pretty but without the grandure of Peru. Contrary to all the guides, we thought Salento was a scruffy, overcrowded dump and we got out of there to a delightful Oasis in the valley as quickly as we could.
However, the nearby town of Filandia was delightful and probably the nicest community we came across in Colombia. Hopefully they avoid the path Salento has taken.
We rented a car for this trip which proved to be quite an adventure. The main roads between towns are mainly paved but once you are off them roads vary from dreadful to completely impassable. Google maps was largely useless at distinguishing between them so we spent a lot of yesterday trying to get to a fairly large town with two access roads showing on the map that simply faded out into tracks. In the end we had to book into somewhere else because we simply could not get there.
Otherwise driving was pretty exciting. Hours and hours of tight mountain roads going in and out of the clouds
with masses of large trucks and frustrated drivers overtaking on completely blind bends. Yesterday we saw two overturned trucks, one right in front of us, and we were surprised that they were the only accidents we saw. Every journey took twice as long as the usually accurate Google predicted. We will be quite pleased to return the car later today.
Anyway, that wraps up the S. America trip. The main album is here
and an extended wildlife album is here
. I will start a new album for the Pacific crossing.
We are a little anxious about getting back to Leela. It will be hot and wet in Panama and we are really hoping we don't have a mold problem. We are also a bit intimidated by the still remarkably long to-do list. It will all come together.....
More Pacific Preparations
01 May 2019 | Medellin, Colombia
We have spent a lot of time getting Leela in good shape and now we are working on the crew. We both had incipient dental problems that we did not fancy dealing with in the Pacific so we decided to spend some time in Medellin getting fixed up. It turned out to be an awesome choice for a number of reasons. Firstly our dental problems were more serious than we had realized, particularly Janaki's loose crown. Secondly we found a great dentist who speaks English, is willing to work with tight schedules and communicates quickly and directly using text messages. Thirdly the costs are MUCH less than the US. The following is a rough breakdown (all in USD):
Panoramic x-ray, US $200, Col $14
Deep cleaning, US $250, Col $46
Molar root canal (Graham), US $1200, Col $220
Molar Dental implant (poor Janaki), US $2500, Col $846
Total, US $4150, Col $1126
All this in ultra modern facilities with super-friendly staff and a complete absence of delays and BS.
A pretty fancy apartment is costing us $59 a night and the climate is perpetually delightful. Based on this experience we would not hesitate to come here for dental, and probably medical treatment.
Anyway, we have another ten days in Colombia with a trip to coffee country and some dental follow ups then it's back to Leela and getting ready for the canal transit. We still have a bit to do on the boat but we are getting itchy to be on our way.
Culture Shock and Departing Thoughts on Peru
26 April 2019 | Medellin, Colombia
At 4am this morning we left our rustic accommodation in the Sacred Valley, Peru
We are now ensconced in a VERY fancy high rise apartment in Medellin, Colombia, complete with rooftop pool, gym, pool room and jacuzzi. It all feels a bit weird but we will get used to it.
Peru has been an amazing experience, exotic but easy, despite the language barrier. We learned enough Spanish to get by and mime or Google Translate filled the gaps. Everyone has been very tolerant and helpful.
So what did we love? The scenery of the high Andes has been wonderful and amazingly diverse, high plains, jungle, steeply folded mountains. I cannot think of a country with such a diversity apart from perhaps our next destination, Colombia.
The flora and fauna has been equally fascinating, exotic birds and beautiful butterflies abound. Janaki has been wonderfully patient as I chase around with my new camera trying to get 'the shot'
An array of very strange insects (I only got bitten once....)
And a wide variety of beautiful flowers with many different types of orchid and a surprisingly large number of cacti given the altitude.
There has been so much to see that I have made a special album for the wildlife, link here
The history has been very interesting, notably the remarkably sophisticated pre-Incan pottery
And the amazing Inca stonework, from the high terraces
to the dense communities
to the intricately joined structures of the temples.
Here I have had to be the patient one as my tolerance for history is considerably lower than Janaki's. Fortunately pretty much all of the historical sites have great wildlife or views.
We have been blessed with off-season crowds (still big in places) but generally fine weather and the air, apart from in Lima, has been clear and crisp. It's not everywhere you can take a picture of the moon like this with an ordinary camera.
There were a few less lovable aspects of Peru. The architecture outside preserved historic districts or high mountain villages is unremittingly aweful. The 'functional unfinished' school.
Almost every town is a forest of bare brick, concrete, empty windows and rebar. Part of the reason for this is that you don't have to pay full property tax until the building is 'finished'. Duh, why would anyone finish a building? There appears to be no environmental aesthetic, in strange contrast to the huge interest in decorative fabrics and pottery. Perhaps that is just for the tourists ...
On which subject, the sheer number of souvenir sellers, mainly selling the same stuff, gets tiresome. You are bombarded with offers wherever you go. Pisac was the nadir, not only were there streets full of stalls but the locals had entirely lost their town square to a permanent mess of high-sided and covered souvenir stalls which seems like a real loss to the community.
Even on the hiking paths there are rows of old ladies in local dress hawking a variety of nic nacs, very few of which they have made themselves. We bought as much as we needed and then some. In this case we succumbed and purchased some bracelets for bartering along the way.
The last issue, the mainly plastic trash, is shared with nearly everywhere we have travelled. It is everywhere, Including some surprising locations. It is pretty depressing when you are driving across the high Andean plateau, many miles from everything, and you have to look at the view past a twenty yard strip of old plastic rubbish. The only respite was in the state run archeological parks that were kept immaculate.
I've dwelt on these issues a lot but it was certainly not enough to spoil a truly amazing experience. When we come back to Peru we will escape the 'gringo trail' and explore the Andean foothills above the Amazon basin.
The S. American album is growing here
Peru - Part 2
17 April 2019 | Cusco, Peru
Sorry - long post - but things have been happening too fast to keep up.
Well 16,000ft turned out to be challenging. Janaki had a very bad first night but recovered well when we found out you can buy Oxygen in a can.
We have been slowly descending from the Colca high spot so no more issues. Apart from the altitude travails we loved the Andean plateaue, at around 14,000' it goes on for ever and is visually stunning, with strange rock formations, herds of Alpaca and Vicuña and active volcanoes on the horizon. (more pics here
The Colca Valley was also visually amazing although the Canyon end was perhaps not as impressive as some we have seen. The thousands of years of intensive agriculture in this dip in the Andean plateau was definitely worth seeing.
It was helped by Paul, our remarkable guide. He grew up in the Colca Valley in a family where even Spanish was a second language yet he spoke perfect English and was an enthusiastic font of knowledge about everything to do with the valley; history, flora, fauna, economics, social structures, everything. It was a great experience. Seeing the huge Condors soaring through the Canyon was definitely worth the effort as well. This one will have a wingspan between nine and ten feet.
Our experience with guided tours in Peru has not generally been like that. The norm has been poor to incomprehensible English and shallow knowledge. The visit to Puno and Lake Titicaca was a mixed bag, for me at least, Janaki was less troubled. Puno is a scruffy place that just acts as the gateway to the lake. We took a two day tour that included a visit to the floating islands of Uros (people really do still live on islands made of root mass and reeds which they initially made to escape the predations of the Incas)
and a home stay on an island further out into the Lake, which was very enjoyable and gave us a real insight into how they lived. This is Mama preparing dinner.
The downside of the trip was the constant commercial pressure. At times it felt like we were little more than a flock of wallets being carefully shepherded between shopping opportunities. Even the lovely home-stay family pulled out the standard range of stuff and guilted us into buying things at about three times the already inflated market prices - oh well.... This is something you have to live with in Peru. They do make some lovely (and VERY expensive) things but mostly there is a constant pressure to buy cheaply made souvenirs and (probably not) 'Baby Alpaca' knitwear. They are not as agressive as in India or Thailand but it is pretty constant and you have to develop a no-eye-contact policy to avoid being captured. There are thousands of stalls selling stuff everywhere we go. We have no idea how anyone makes a living with this much competition and the vaste amount of tied up inventory.
There are a few travel lessons we are re-learning. We have been happily paying about $12 for a main course at the typical (tourist) restaurants, not wildly expensive by US standards but it mounts up when you have to eat out a lot, then we went to the San Pedro market in Cusco (which was designed by Gustave Eiffel before his famous tower) and one end was about 100 micro-restaurants, serving all sorts of different dishes. We ordered quinoa soup, fried fish with rice and lentils (delicious) and Muna (mint) tea. The price? $1.50. We will have the hang of it before we leave.....
Airbnb has been working well for us. It is less sociable than hostels but the freedom to cook our own meals and relax in our 'own' space has been good. We had a well located apartment in Arequipa. A modern high rise apartment in Puno (with very challenging stairs at 12,500ft) and we are now in a lovely old Spanish colonial building in Cusco.
Generally the hosts have been a great resource for local knowledge and problem solving
We are now looking around Cusco and, after the initial shock of hyper-tourism, are really enjoying it. That can be the topic of my next post.
I have created a new photo album for our S. American trip here
. I have tried to annotate it in comments and would appreciate feedback on whether that is helpful.
Peru First Impressions
03 April 2019 | Arequipa, Peru
It's been a while since I last wrote. We are now in Arequipa, Peru after a few days in the capital, Lima. Lima seemed a lot wealthier and less dangerous than my last visit thirty-five years ago but it still doesn't have a lot going for it as a destination apart from some great murals. That was not a big deal as all we wanted to do was relax after a month working on the boat and we found a lovely hotel to hang out in. The Peruvian people are generally really nice although a little more reserved than the Colombians. This is probably due to the novelty of tourism in Colombia. Peru has had to deal with the descending hoards for ever ...
We are really enjoying Arequipa. It is not wildly touristy so we can see a little more of Peruvian life. One interesting aspect of the town is that, as we saw in Seoul, all the shops selling a particular item congregate in one area. For example, the area around our apartment is entirely shops selling rooftop solar water heaters. Yes, it is that specialized. Around the corner they all sell (BAD) wine, one street over is toys. Even in the huge market it is very clearly divided by commodity. The fruit market area is spectacular.
There are a few travel tribulations. The water supply to most of the city went off this morning. Apparently it 'might be back on tomorrow'. I guess we will all start to pong together so not a huge deal for a day or so. They are organized for this so buckets of water are available for essential services. Unfortunately no one drinks the tap water anyway so that is not impacted.
Arequipa is at nearly 8,000' and surrounded by snow capped volcanoes. They are hard to photograph from the town because the air is very hazy but we are going up through them to Colca Canyon later in the week so I should be able to get some better pics then. Now we are just enjoying the place and adjusting to the altitude before we go much higher. The high point of the Colca trip is over 16,000' which should be interesting. I had no trouble with the altitude on my last visit but I was a LOT younger.
It's a Boat.....
23 March 2019 | Shelter Bay Marina, Panama
Lest you were thinking this is all glamour.....
Even to get this far I had to remove the autopilot actuator, the rudder angle indicator, one bilge pump and a bunch of structure. We are getting there.
Tree House Life
16 March 2019 | Shelter Bay Marina, Panama
When we were kids, living in a tree house was a wonderful fantasy. Well. I'm sorry to report that, at our age anyway, it's not all it's cracked up to be. Apart from the constant ladder climbing and the boatyard dust, the lack of plumbing is the biggest hassle. The boat toilet is out of action and we cannot use the sink drains which definitely complicates life, but we do get plenty of exercise on the long walk to the bathrooms. No matter, it's just something that has to be done and this is our first haul since St Kitts in 2017 so we we're due for some boatyard penance.
We are making progress dealing with the last preparations for the Pacific crossing. The new ablative is on the bottom. Janaki bravely took on the job of stripping, lapping and rebuilding all the cone valve
through-hulls and I was ready to work on the Hydrovane
self steering installation until a sharp eyed yard worker noticed that our cutlass bearing inner sleeve was stuck firmly to the prop shaft and freely rotating in it's bronze case. This would definitely have failed badly on a long trip so a very good find BUT it means taking the propeller off, removing the shaft and then getting the remains of the old cutlass bearing out. None of these are trivial tasks so we are set back a few days (again).
Because we don't want to put the boat back in the water after servicing all the through hulls then leave it unattended we will leave it on the hard until we get back from our trip to Peru in May so tree house living will persist for a while - oh well....
Yesterday was a very sad day because we had to say goodbye to our good friends Jeff and Molly as they headed through the Canal into the Pacific. Our dream had been to cross the Pacific together but it turned out that they are on a much faster schedule than we are and there was no way we could be ready to keep up with them. In any event we plan to savor both S America and the Pacific for as long as it feels good and that was just not going to work for them at all. Anyway, it was a delight to spend some time with them and we will keep in touch as we both move west. Their blog is here
Panama Canal Practice Run
07 March 2019 | Gatun Lake, Panama
We are in Gatun Lake half way through the Panama Canal acting as line handlers for our Aussie friends on Capel Mara. It is a great learning experience before we take Leela through to the Pacific. It was pretty hard work and fairly stressful but we will do a couple of transits before we do it for 'real'.
Interesting aside - we are moored to a bouy close to a 36" steel pipeline which appears to be the dredging outflow pipe from the new canal. Every now and again the dredger picks up a bunch of rocks and they clatter down the pipeline next to us. The sound is spectacular, like a million quarters picked up in a giant vacuum cleaner. All conversation has to stop until they go past. Going to be a long night.....
Back to Reality
03 March 2019
After two days spent mainly working overhead while lying on a pile of chain and eating falling rust (nicely salted....) I finally got the old windlass out. After thirty-six years it definitely did NOT want to come out but a couple of backing studs and the handy prop puller got the job done. As always, fitting the new one should be a lot easier. I was thinking of trying to refurbish the old one as a spare but it's done it's time and is totally trashed so that plan is off.
Shelter Bay Marina
03 March 2019 | Fort Sherman, Panama
We are loving This place
! It is a very professional setup with everything you might want except shopping - more on that later.....
The location is the real prize. It is almost within sight of the bustling Panama Canal entrance but feels like another planet. The marina is on the old 2nd world war military base, many miles from any community and on the edge of the Fort San Lorenzo National Park. The animal and bird life around the marina is amazing. This morning on our regular walk we saw two large packs of Capuchin monkeys, a pack of howler monkeys and masses of birds including a flock of toucans. That was a pretty typical morning. Crocodiles occasionally swim between the boats (there is a swimming pool!).
I have posted lots of pictures in the 'Current Cruising' album
. All the good wildlife photos were taken by a fellow cruiser, Shiera Brady. She has two vital ingredients, a great camera and a great eye. Her website is here
Because this is the gateway to the Pacific there are a very seasoned bunch of sailors passing through and everyone is happy to share information and ideas. It is very envigorating on so many levels.
The price you pay for 'splendid isolation' is supplies. There is a daily shopping bus to Colon but that is often full and takes between one and two hours each way as you have to cross the Panana Canal or, when the access is closed, go on a ferry. When you do get to Colon it is unfortunately too dangerous to leave the fairly isolated mall. There is also a weekly bus to Panama City which is about two and a half hours each way. For us this is a price worth paying for the delight if walking in a veritable zoo each morning.
Another Huge Change
19 February 2019 | Shelter Bay Marina, Panama
We have just transitioned from the sublime tranquility of the San Blas Islands to the industrial hyperactivity of the Panama Canal entrance.
The top image is self explanatory. The bottom image is a screenshot of our navigation system showing all the AIS (Automatic Identification System) symbols of the vessels in the Canal approach. The chunky symbols are - well chunky - mainly huge container vessels and tankers. Slipping through the breakwater entrance between them is certainly interesting.
Leela is now safely inside the breakwater and tucked into Shelter Bay Marina while we pop back to the States to sort out some admin and pick up the inevitable shopping (boat bits....). We have been working hard to be ready for the Pacific but we still have some readiness issues and time is passing so it remains in the balance right to the last moment.
Chanticleer has Arrived!
11 February 2019 | Rio Diablo, San Blas
After a long hard journey from New England our good friends and Pacific crossing buddies Jeff and Molly Bolster have arrived in the San Blas. It turns out they too have been on again off again about the big trip but, right now, after a couple of bottles of wine, we are going for it. Tomorrow might be a different story.... We both still have some concerns about readiness but we have agreed that, being ‘mature’ cruisers, we are unlikely to be in better shape in a years time so if we want to do this we need to get on with it. I’ve had a couple of wins on the boat this week including fixing a niggling intermittent fault on the engine tachometer and stripping and cleaning the dinghy carburetor which have improved my confidence that we are on top of the boat issues.
We have a pretty intimidating job list for the next month including installing the self steering, a haul out and a brief trip to New England to sort out some admin, get some electronics repaired and see friends, plus all the horrendous admin required for the canal passage and the visit to the Galápagos Islands. As someone pointed out this week when I was grizzlies about the job list, “it’s an adventure not a vacation”.
Right now I’m going through the inevitable shopping list while Janaki takes Jeff and Molly on a guided trip up the Rio Diablo bird watching.
It’s a Boat....
02 February 2019 | Combombier, San Blas, Panama
Swam under the boat today for a quick check - shouldn't have looked..... The centerboard was hanging down a bit and I was sure I had stowed it completely so I gave it a shove. There was a clunk and down it came, minus the wire. Oops - our draft has just gone from 4' 6" to 10' 6". Worse still it clunks every time the boat rolls when we are not sailing on the wind.
The VERY good news was that I could still see the end of the wire inside the centerboard housing. I was running a little short of air (snorkeling) but I decided to shove my arm into the centerboard slot to see if I could grab the wire - BAD mistake. Apart from the fact that I could have got my arm stuck, a terminal error, the slot was lined with razor sharp barnacles. I stopped bleeding after about thirty minutes.....
Having stopped to consider my options (and stem the leaks), I managed to borrow a long scuba hose from Erica on Endless Summer that allowed me to stay under the boat. I cleaned the barnacles out of the slot and managed to get hold of the end of the wire which is now hanging under the boat. I also managed to hacksaw the old wire loop off so we are all set for a repair in the morning. We need to partially lift the centerboard with a line from the stern, because the wire is now too short to reach, then re-thread the wire and clamp it up with a couple of small D clamps that I was fortunate to have onboard. That should be good for a while - the Pacific? Not so much....
The Panamanian Coast
02 February 2019 | Nargana, Panama
Leela anchored off the mangroves and mountains of the Panamanian isthmus in very different weather.
02 February 2019 | Rio Diablo
We have left the islands for a while to explore the Panamanian coastline. It is cloudier and grayer but there are a number of rivers that are fabulous for birdwatching. We have done two trips up the Rio Diablo now, seeing a huge variety of birds including Toucans, Woodpeckers, Kingfishers, herons and an enormous array of small fly catchers and the like. I do need to give a shout out to the Merlin Bird app
from Cornell University. It is a big download but it is a wonderful app, making identifying birds easy and having wonderful photos.
Apart from the birds the river is incredibly peaceful the only people we saw yesterday were a young local couple in a dugout canoe collecting fresh water. We actually gave them a tow back to the river mouth to save them some time and effort.
We were so taken by the river that we will probably head down the coast to another one but we do have to head to an outer island for a day or so to charge up the batteries and make some water. It all needs careful planning in this cloudier weather.
Back in the Water
28 January 2019 | Saladarup, San Blas Islands
Unfortunately scuba diving is not allowed here but the snorkeling can be remarkably good. This afternoon we did a drift snorkel (towing the dinghy) through the cut between the two islands. The coral was in encouragingly good shape and we saw a number of small squid including this VERY small one. He clearly did not want to be photographed so he made himself as big and spiky as he could which was pretty impressive given that he was less than an inch long.....
More Boat Stuff
27 January 2019 | Salaradup, San Blas, Panama
I was not the only one having a notable boating experience yesterday......
A Better Day
27 January 2019 | Salaradup, San Blas, Panama
Sorry about the dark post.... Feeling better today. We had a gathering of the clans yesterday to celebrate Australia Day and it went off in style with beach games, windsurfing lessons, dugout canoe races and lots of good food, drink and company. It was a cloudy day which was good as we could spend more time on the beach without frying. There has been a lot of cloud here which is challenging our decision not to install a wind generator. We shall see how it goes. I am loathe to hang any more clut on the back of the boat.
Dereck kindly lent me his windsurfer and it was very gratifying that, at sixty seven and after a thirty year break, I could still actually do it reasonably well. Mind you, I feel like I was run over by a truck this morning.....
We will spend another week or so poking around the islands before heading to the canal and decision time. We are STILL undecided which is ridiculous but there it is.
The Veggie Boat
25 January 2019 | Saladarup, San Blas Islands
We are in an idyllic spot with a number of small palm covered islands set on a ring of coral reefs. Without the local charts it would be quite tricky getting in but, once inside, the water is completely calm and very clear. It may not be quite so idyllic tomorrow as it is the gathering spot for all the Australian boats in the area and various hangers-on to celebrate Australia Day, a celebration that is inclined to get a trifle rowdy....
But today is the veggie boat. It is pretty intimidating as it is about 10' longer than Leela and they are MUCH less concerned about their paintwork. Anyway, we managed without incident. Prices were definitely on the high side but, as the alternative is a day's sailing outside the reef then a night in a marina, they can pretty much charge whatever they want and the variety of stuff they carry is remarkable.
We are regularly approached by boats selling seafood but that is all a bit sad, undersized lobsters, octopus caught using Clorox and normally ornamental reef fish. Unfortunately we are part of the problem. Tourism, along with severe over-population due to better healthcare has resulted in the local consumption rate going up exponentially and they have pretty much fished the place out in ten short years. What with that, the worsening diet, booze and the copious amount of trash that they just toss into the sea they have become a poster child for the awesome destructive power of western capitalism and a depressing microcosm of the human condition. Ain't no such thing as paradise......
Sorry, having a dark day..... On a lighter note, we are enjoying the company of the rally boats and actually getting to know a few people better. The area is visually stunning and the weather is being kind to us, with less wind for a while. We are going to spend a couple more weeks here in the islands, hopefully with Chanticleer at some point, then head down to the canal entrance. We STILL don't know if we are going through this year. We will have to decide at some point. It is an irreversible step so not to be taken lightly, but we are laboring it a bit.....
Failure to Launch
21 January 2019 | Cayos Holandes, San Blas Islands, Panama
Yup, still in the same spot, growing roots or at least weed.... We have made a couple of failed attempts to move but they did not come to anything. Our theory is that all these island are very similar so why leave a really sheltered spot with great views and great company for the uncertainty and hassle of a new anchorage? Hassle? A bit. When you arrive anywhere here you will be gently accosted to buy, Molas, often undersized lobsters, fish, etc. The locals can be quite persistent but, if you stay in the same place a while, they get bored with paddling over and leave you in peace until you wave them over, an altogether better arrangement. We have a Mola (pictured) that we love but one is enough.
While we chill here we are mulling (not for the first time) a whole new plan. We are not completely convinced that we are ready to head over the Pacific. To some extent this is natural caution about boat and crew readiness but it is more about not wanting to dash through S. America and Central America. They are both SO interesting and attractive that our time here feels way too short. Anyway, we will keep working it and let you know when we make up our minds. I guess if we keep procrastinating the decision will be made for us as the Pacific needs a degree of preparation and commitment.
We will make another attempt to move tomorrow morning. We spent so long saying goodbye to people today that it got too late to go. I have confirmed that today's goodbyes are valid for 24hrs. Upside is a couple of Aussies from a large three-master back in the bay swung by and invited us to a beach barbecue this evening.
The social scene can be a bit overwhelming. We had a six hour barbecue party on another island yesterday dominated by a petanque competition which Team Leela managed to win after a nail biting comeback in the final where we were 8:1 down (first to 11) but clawed our way back. Things had gone on a bit long and the entire spectator fleet had headed back to their boats in order to get across the reef before dark so the prize ceremony was âlow key' then we had to dash off while we could still navigate our way home. All interesting stuff.
A Very Pleasant Change of Pace
17 January 2019 | Cayos Holandes, San Blas Islands, Panama
This is my first post by satphone for some years so I have no idea if it will work. I cannot pop it up on Facebook until I get Internet access again. We were very sorry to leave Colombia. It is a truly amazing place and people and it felt like unfinished business but this is a very pleasant change.
We have not really been in a remote island anchorage (i.e. no bars and no city dust and noise) since the Bahamas and that was in 2014! This is truly remote, no bars, no internet, no electricity, almost no motors. The locals visit us, and they do visit, in dugout canoes using hand-carved paddles. The Kuna seem very lovely but we have to remember that the 'cultural experience' is primarily transactional. They see cruisers come and go every day and their interest in us extends to extracting a few dollars. They are happy to stay for a bit of a chat (via Google Translate) but business is business. We did run into a few young children on a beach and stopped for a bit of a play. They were an absolute delight, happy, healthy and carefree and very quick to laugh. Their lack of stuff certainly did not seem to bother them in the slightest. This is in stark contrast to my excess of stuff, which bothers me enormously - oh well.
Talking of 'stuff', today the local 'head man' dropped by and managed to sell us a Mola (more on them later) and a couple of young men bought us a VERY large lobster that I paid $10 for and then discreetly released over the other side of the boat. I know - pathetic - but I made a contribution to the local economy and allowed a large lobster to go on making baby lobsters so I generally felt good about the whole transaction. Cheap at $10. Thinking about killing (or not killing) things for food, I caught my first large Mahi Mahi on the fast but uneventful crossing from Colombia to Panama (thanks for the lure Martin. It worked first time!). My satisfaction with the successful hunt was tempered by the gory process of killing and processing the large fish. This is particularly difficult on a small boat underway and we will be getting blood out of lines (and clothes) for a while. Perhaps that was why I was driven to release the lobster. Enough savagery for a few days. Good thing we both like lentils and tofu....
We are comfortably anchored in a fairly small sand hole surrounded by extensive reefs with palm covered islands scattered around us. It is very beautiful and it is good to be able to swim again, despite the crocodile rumors.... The snorkeling (scuba is forbidden here) that we have found so far was OK but we need to explore further. Unfortunately the surf on the fringing reef is HUGE so we will not be going there. When I look at that surf I think "no-one in their right mind would go out there in a small sailboat" - oops..... We will need to go and check in sometime then we think we will probably come back here. We are not inclined to 'tick islands off'. They are all very similar and we would prefer to get to know one spot better.
Still got Stuff to Learn
12 January 2019 | Isla Rosario, Colombia
Well.... That sucked. We left Cartegena with a careful plan to maximize the potentially light winds. The maximization definitely 'worked' - we ended up with mid 20's gusting high 20s with truly horrible seas, short, steep and random. Anyway, it was about 10pm and we were feeling pretty lousy but pressing on when there was a loud bang and the main cross support of the davits disconnected. We slowed the boat down but we were still rolling like a pig and the dinghy was threatening to pull the davits completely apart. By now the moon had set so it was pitch dark and both of us were seasick for the first time in five years. Are we having fun yet?
We managed to lower the dinghy into the water and get it on a very short tow without having to unclip the davit lines, not possible in any event. The dinghy thrashed around appallingly but the davits were now safe so what to do next? The closest shelter was back to Colombia and Isla Rosario and we had been there before so the anchorage was familiar. Fortunately this direction seemed to at least reduce the dinghy thrashing but I was waiting for it to be swamped the whole way back.
We got to Rosario at about 3am and crept through the reefs with a couple of different charts as it was utterly dark. Unsurprisingly, the Colombian navy intercepted us on the approach (this area is well monitored). After about twenty minutes of Google Translate yelled between boats, I managed to explain what was happening and they very helpfully led us the rest of the way to the anchorage and wished us a good sleep. Boy! Was it good to have the hook down and the sea flat.....
If you cannot be good be lucky.... The custom bolt that had come out had fallen into the bottom of the dinghy and nothing had been distorted by the incident so it has all gone back together really easily. Our plan is to do it all (well - not ALL) again tomorrow. What joy....
Like all incidents, there were lessons to be learned:
1. There is no such thing as a 'benign' passage. You always need to be prepared for the worst. Leaving the dinghy in the davits when going offshore was a HUGE error of judgement that could have got us into serious trouble.
2. You need to touch every part of a boat regularly and I mean EVERY part. Every fitting, bolt, structure etc. There were a disturbing number of other loose bolts on the davits.
3. Emergency equipment and supplies need to be checked and properly located all of the time. We struggled to find a number of items as we rolled around in the dark - not least being seasickness medications.
4. Cruising can be a lot of fun but it can also be extremely dangerous and needs discipline and constant vigilance. After nearly a month of living it up in Colombia we were way off our game.
Anyway, you don't learn much when things go well and the difference between doing it right and getting away with it is not always apparent so it was a valuable experience. Hopefully these notes will give you some ideas minus the pain.
A Tale of Colombian Grace (and My Stupidity)
08 January 2019 | Cartegena
Yesterday we went to a fairly distant mall to do a resupply run. By the time we were heading home we we're both pretty frazzled so finding that both my credit card and my driver's licence we're missing was not a happy moment. I went back to the supermarket, nothing (although the fact that they had a big pile of other credit cards made me feel a bit less foolish), the mall security, nothing, so the taxi was the most likely place. There are thousands of small Yellow taxis in Cartegena so it was going to be a tough one.
Another taxi driver at the ramp suggested I come back the next day and look at the mall security camera footage and get the taxi number. It was a great idea but easier to check the marina security cameras as they were closer. We found the number quite easily. The marina used it to get the driver's name and phone number and a few hours later the taxi driver was waiting at the marina gates with both my cards.
As a side note, I was checking for bogus transactions pretty frequently as I did NOT want to cancel the card, and yes, the driver was appropriately rewarded.
I'm not sure how many countries this would happen in, certainly few with zero form filling or beaurocracy. Once again stuff seems to work here and the Colombian people rise to the occasion. Loving it here.
The picture? I decided a picture of a credit card was not a great idea and this little beauty was fishing of our Stern dock line this morning.
Happy New Year
01 January 2019 | Cartegena, Colombia
We wish you all well for the New Year.
After a difficult 2018 we have resolved to make 2019 a better year, to the extent that we control the forces that buffet us.
It was hard not to be uplifted by the Colombian's approach to the new year. They moved on to the streets in their thousands and essentially turned the whole old City into a giant open air restaurant. The crowd was really dense but the atmosphere was completely relaxed and happy. We are still Loving this country and it's delightful citizens.
We are going to spend a few days more here trying to wrap up all the gnarly bits of 'real' life that follow you around and chew at your heels regardless of where you are. Then we will head for the San Blas Islands for some blue water and swimming.
Take care and enjoy the new year.
23 December 2018 | Puerto Nariño, Amazonas
Wow.... That was an amazing (and exhausting) few days. We spent the first night in Leticia which is a fairly scruffy town but we actually liked it. The place is full of energy. Despite having no roads into the town and being more than 500 miles from the nearest highway the streets are constantly full of tuk tuk's, motorbikes, cars and people. The noise is awesome, with or without the parrots. Fortunately our Airbnb was out in a quiet area so we slept well.
The next morning we were picked up by Sergio, our (very organized) tour operator
and taken to the public boat heading up river to Puerto Nariño, a distance of about seventy kilometers. The boat ride was an experience in itself. Firstly the river is incredibly wide even 1,500 miles from the river mouth. The boats are long and thin, like oversized canoes with huge outboards that travel at about 35kts while weaving through the floating logs that are a constant presence on the river.
Puerto Nariño is an interesting place. It has a population of about 4,000 but no vehicles at all, well, apart from a couple of community owned tractors. No cars, motorbikes, ATV's, not even bicycles. Everybody walks everywhere on reasonably well maintained concrete and brick paths. It makes for a very calm and safe place, with kids happily playing everywhere with no need for adult supervision. The atmosphere is wonderful. There is nearly always some kind of sport going on in the stadium. There are food stalls on the 'streets' and even where there are not food stalls people seem to pull their tables out and eat on the street anyway. There are a number of restaurants serving pretty simple food and lots of accommodation for the travellers that make it this far off the beaten track but the place does not feel overwhelmed by tourists.
I'm not going to give a blow by blow account or our experiences, in part because it is a bit of a blur and there are lots of Amazon tales online already. We spent some time walking in the jungle, both in the daytime and at night. They are having a lot of rain early in the wet season so mud was a dominant theme.... We spent a lot of time on the river and adjacent lakes in a small boat, both by day and by night. It was wonderful to see the extent of the forest and realize that it goes on for hundreds and perhaps more than a thousand miles in all directions.
The photos (here
) tell most of the story but we saw many things that my camera could not capture including many monkeys, pink dolphins, three toed sloths and many different birds. I do need to talk about the monkeys we interacted with. Normally I don't like these canned animal experiences but all the monkeys we came into contact with we're rescued, mainly by confiscation as illegal pets. They we're completely free to come and go as they pleased but had clearly decided they were on to a good thing and stayed around the rescue centers. They also seemed to love the interaction. The howler monkeys in particular were incredibly affectionate and actively solicited scratches and strokes.
We spent the last day in a Peruvian village where we had a really nice lunch of local fish and vegetables before heading back to Leticia on the high speed boat. Well, it was high speed until it ran out of fuel about five miles from Leticia. We enjoyed a locerly peaceful sunset, drifting down the Amazon, while we waited for some fuel to be delivered. Nobody seemed in the slightest perturbed by this. Perhaps it is a regular event but nobody in Colombia seems to get perturbed by anything. I just hope I can eventually cast off some of my 'first world' angst and learn to treat life the way people do here.
And Now For Something Completely Different
19 December 2018 | Leticia, Colombia
Well, we are right in the middle of the Amazon jungle and, to our surprise, nearly five degrees south of the equator. Also surprisingly, it feels cooler than Cartegena. It must be the absence of concrete and the presence of millions of trees.
Talking of millions, millions of paraketes roost in the trees in the town park. There is a whole jungle out there but that's what they have chosen.... When we got to the park, before they arrived, we thought there is no way we are going to hear parrots above the cacaphony of generators and motorbikes but within half an hour they managed to drown out the entire town. It was awesome. This video is one tree among hundreds, all full of squabbling paraketes.
We are off up the river at 6am tomorrow - VERY exciting.
19 December 2018 | In transit
Please excuse the gushing but I am definitely in love with Colombia. The environment is stunning, mountains, jungles, rivers, more birds than anywhere on the planet, amazing history, but what most impresses me is how utterly civilized it is in the true sense of the word.
Everything works, public transport is excellent and easy to use, even with minimal Spanish, flying is still enjoyable with superb airports and new planes. There is zero graffiti and everywhere is pretty clean and tidy. People are out on the streets as couples, families, groups, talking and laughing. They seem genuinely relaxed and happy, even in the middle of a large city. Everyone who we interact with smiles, not a 'have a nice day' synthetic smile but real warmth. The taxi drivers promptly give the correct change. Street vendors correct you if you give them too much money. It really is a fabulous atmosphere.
The most telling example of the degree of true civilization was on our drive back from Mompox. We we're on a lightly traveled highway and the driver was stopped at a police checkpoint (remember, this is a country only ten years out of a fiftyfour year civil war).
In the US it would be 'keep your hands visible on the wheel' and wait for the cop to approach. He will have his hand on his gun as he does so. In rural Colombia the driver reaches into the glove box for his documents as the policeman approaches - a VERY dangerous thing to do back home. The policeman comes up to the vehicle, smiles, reaches into the open window, shakes the driver's hand then politely asks him for his papers. It was actually quite shocking.
So this is the 'dangerous' Colombia. Kids and families on the streets, smiling cops greeting you, people relaxed and enjoying themselves. A total delight. I don't want to completely underplay the risk. There are definitely places not to be at night but that is universal in big cities. It just feels good in a way I have not experienced for a while. I really could live here if I felt that we could get our pathetic Spanish up to speed.
Anyway, if you want your spirits lifted from all the 'developed' world gloom, GET ON A PLANE TO COLOMBIA! You will not regret it.
We are currently in Bogota airport, on our way to Leticia, a town on the Amazon at the tri-boder with Brazil and Peru so more adventure to follow.
Arriving in Cartegena
16 December 2018 | Cartegena, Colombia
Arriving here is a lot like sailing through New York. Lots of big traffic and plenty to look at. We are now anchored pretty much in the middle of the city which is good and bad... The good bit is obvious - it's a buz. The bad bit came as a bit of a surprise. We have been given a 'special' anchorage for the rally which is apparently directly on the route used by the fast launches that ferry tourists from cruise ships to the old town and they are NOT going to move. Anyway they seem perfectly happy to go past us at considerable speed and about 10' away. It gets quite lively. Such is urban sailing......
More on Cartegena later.
Leaving Santa Marta
14 December 2018 | Off Cartegena
I am SO behind..... Anyway, we had a great time in and around Santa Marta. The town is probably a pretty typical Colombian seaside vacation spot for Colombians which is nice. I have posted a few pics of our travels in the album so I'm not going to write a long travelogue (until the Amazon....😊). What I do want to write about is the Colombian people.
Of all the peoples we have interacted with over our years of travel they must be some of the nicest. Right up there with Newfoundlanders. They have been universally happy, helpful and charming, even when faced with our negligible Spanish..... Just a complete delight.
Interestingly, Janaki has observed that they seem to treat women as equals. They are comfortable in positions of authority and Janaki has not had any of the 'you are just a woman' dismissive BS that she gets in many other places (including home....). What with this and the fantastically varied environment it would not be hard to think about living here if our Spanish was better.
We are currently sailing (slowly) past Cartegena on our way to Isla Grande, just to the south. Today's 14kts and light seas is a bit too gentle but a good break after yesterday's 30kts and 14' Stern quartering seas. It was the first time we have ever had water down the companionway from a boarding wave - not fun.... We fixed it by trailing warps an old trick but a good one. I will write that up separately.
We are generally enjoying the rally. They are a great bunch of people and the pool of knowledge and support is awesome. We are still struggling a little with the social dynamics of the large group. We generally prefer to get together with a couple of other boats but, strangely, that seems to be harder in this slightly overheated social scene than just rocking up in a marina or anchorage alone. Odd....
Anyway, we have a couple of days in the islands then we head into Cartegena for what looks like being a hectic holiday season, with friends visiting and a trip to Leticia, on the Amazon river.
There seems to be a lot of latency in the tracking map - it's on the to-do list...
05 December 2018 | On the bus
There were lots of tours available from Santa Marta Marina but they all looked a little too coreographed for us so we decided to get the local's bus to a
relatively non-touristy town. A local recommended Santa Cruz de Mompox
so here we go. We booked the bus and they sent a taxi to pick us up at the marina, This was all part of the US$22 fare for a fairly grueling six hour ride in a packed minibus that has seen better days. Note to self - we are not twenty any more.
When we started there were mountains to the east but now it is a gently rolling semi-arid plain that is startlingly like the drive south from Perth WA. I'm half expecting to see kangaroos although, if the road signs are to be believed, it's more likely to be ant eaters.
Only an hour or so to go....
The remarkable infrastructure is worth a mention. This was a standard inter-city bus. We rang up and booked and were told we would be picked up at midday. At midday a taxi was waiting at the marina to take us to the bus station. He made sure we were on the right bus and would not accept any payment, part of the bus fare. After about five hours we stopped in a very busy town and were pointed to another bus, again, no drama, no questions, it just worked. An hour later the driver asked where we were staying and dropped us at the door. We barely had to say a word, which is good because we have precious little Spanish. All this happened with smiles and calm. It was - civilized - in a way we have lost in the so-called 'developed world'.
01 December 2018 | Off Cabot San Juan de Guia, Colombia
I know I promised no food pics but Vegamite on.... pretty much anything, in this case rice crackers, is perfect for those rolly mornings when spending time in the galley is unattractive.
Our First new Continent!
01 December 2018 | Santa Marta, Colombia
We have arrived in Santa Marta, Colombia after a very pleasant two day sail from Aruba. We were expecting a pretty wild ride coming into Santa Marta but it was not bad at all. The forecast was for 30kt gusts and 10' seas and I guess that is about what we got but you can suck up a LOT of wind belting downwind.
First impressions here? VERY friendly people, VERY hot, surprisingly dry. At the moment our forward plan is cold beer, sleep, repeat. A couple of cycles will get us to tomorrow and we will make a plan.
24 November 2018 | Airport anchorage, Aruba
Well, we are on our way, anchored at the end of the runway in Aruba. It's a little noisy but not really much bother. We are still working through the to-do list but it is getting manageably shorter and we are making time to do nothing much at all - it feels good after a horrendously busy and stressful few months. We did a lot of second guessing after selling the house but what is done is done and we will move forward.
We have joined a rally, the OCC Susie 2, for the first time and, to be honest, I'm still a little ambivalent about it. There are some real upsides. Suzanne, the organizer with her husband David is a force of nature and invests massive energy in organizing and simplifying the cruising experience in an area where it can be tricky. She does not stop at documenting the status quo. If it doesn't work she changes it. Governments? Authorities? No worries - she takes them all on. I think the general cruising experience will be improved for everyone after her efforts in Curacao. We shall see how things change further down the line. The other great aspect is the instant community of generally like-able and like minded people. This provides both good company and a talented support network ready to help one another. A number of the participants are cruisers we met and enjoyed in Sint Maarten last year, the main reason we signed up. Another very positive aspect of the rally is the improved security. Some of the areas we are sailing can be a little hairy and not only will we be in the company of other boats but national coastguards and navies are aware of our presence and providing some support directly, an awesome achievement on Susanne's part.
So why the ambivalence? There are a few challenges. The main one is the size of the fleet. Our group has about forty boats (some of them pictured under the full moon). That's at least eighty people.... I find eight people a bit overwhelming so eighty is a good deal more than I'm completely comfortable with. It is also one hell of a lot of names to learn - not my strength. The strange impact of this is that where I might normally be out in the anchorage meeting people I'm tending to hunker down on Leela and keep to myself - silly I know but.... The other issue with such a big fleet is we create our own over-crowding. Anchorages fill up, dinghy docks can't cope, we even managed to sell out the Local cinema last night. The last challenge for me is the schedule. For me, schedules are the antithesis of cruising but, apart from weather, we now know where we will be every day for the next several months. Are they places we would have gone anyway? Would we have stayed longer or left sooner left to our own devices? That is going to take some getting used to.
Anyway, we will see how it all goes. I think there is definitely more upside than downside at the moment. we will be here for nearly a week and then head to Santa Marta, Colombia. We are really looking forward to that after several years of small island sailing.
21 November 2018 | Spanish Water, Curacao
I decided not to bore you with yet another mobilization saga. So here we are about to make the first SMALL step towards Australia, an overnight hop to Aruba. New for us, we have joined the Suzie 2 rally. More on that later. I need to get prepared for departure now so more when we get to the anchorage.
We both hope you are all doing well.
Here we go again
29 October 2018 | Portsmouth NH
As we sit in the cold of a New England fall wrestling with the trauma of selling our house/car/stuff and putting the rest into storage (it seemed like a good idea at the time - at least to one of us......) Leela seems like a different life but, all being well, we will be back onboard in a couple of weeks and getting ready to head off on our grandest adventure yet.
The PLAN is to head down to Aruba for a shakedown of new gear, spend Christmas and New Year in Colombia, then on to the San Blas Islands before heading to mainland Panama and through the canal in February. From there it is mainly blue.... the Galapagos Islands, French Polynesia, Tonga and New Zealand by Christmas 2019.
So - that is the plan. we will stay flexible and respond to events so anything could happen. It is incredibly easy to write this down. Doing it is something else. I will write more about this crazy scheme in a subsequent post. This is intended just to wake the blog up and make sure everything works as it did.
I hope you enjoy my ramblings, feedback is always appreciated.