15 June 2013 | Dinner Key Marina, Miami, FL
20 May 2013 | Dry Tortugas Nat'l Park, Florida
18 May 2013 | Dry Tortugas, Florida
14 May 2013 | Puerto Isla Mujeres, Q. Roo, Mexico
10 May 2013 | Lighthouse Reef, Belize
01 May 2013 | Ram Marina, Rio Dulce, Guatemala
26 April 2013 | Livingston, Guatemala
23 April 2013 | French Harbor, Roatan, Honduras
20 April 2013 | Le Bight, Guanaja, Honduras
18 April 2013 | Vivorillo Cays, Honduras
10 April 2013 | Providencia, Colombia
01 April 2013 | Providencia, Colombia
23 March 2013 | San Andres
22 March 2013 | Off Nene's Marina, San Andres, Colombia
12 March 2013 | Red Frog Marina. Bastimentos
10 March 2013 | Boquete, Chiriqui, Panama
10 March 2013 | Cruiser Casa, Panama City
10 February 2013 | Panama City, Panama
02 February 2013 | Red Frog Marina, Bocas del Toro, Panama
My how time flies!
15 June 2013 | Dinner Key Marina, Miami, FL
My how time flies! – Well, I must confess to being a little overwhelmed and getting mixed up into the real world pace again faster than expected. Here it is mid-June, we have been back in Miami for almost 3 weeks, back in our house for almost a week, and I have not updated the blog. My sincere apologies! I’m sure everyone wanted to know about the last leg and how we actually got back to Miami. Well, we did it the easy way.
In our last posting, we were in Dry Tortugas and had about 230 miles to go. Our first stop was to be the little island grouping of the Marquesas west of Key West. We got some advice from our friend and coworker in Key West about how to get in and where to anchor. So we headed off due east along “Highway 30” (actually 24 30’N latitude line) into an almost dead calm wind and calm seas. We had motored the last 40 miles or so to the Dry Tortugas and after a little re-anchoring exercise and wind shift the night before, we were motoring again. The distance was only about 40 miles and planned on a nice afternoon arrival.
The islands came up quicker than expected and we worked our way through the shallow spots to a nice lee anchorage in about 8 ft. of water but still a quite a distance from shore. But everything was shallow. After anchoring we took the dinghy in to explore and promptly ran aground still 100 yards off. The islands make a small bay inside called Mooney Harbor but it is only about 3-4 ft. deep. So we explored along the beach and enjoyed the sunset one last time.
Next morning we were off to Key West. Again light winds and no seas so we putted over the last 20 miles or so to Stock Island and Oceanview Marina where my company’s Key West charter base is located. In our 10 years in Florida we had not yet been to Key West by boat so this was another milestone. Our friend and the charter manager, Vanessa, helped get us docked and loaned us your truck to do a quick run to the grocery and go downtown Key West to find our missing “boat buddies”.
As it turned out and as suspected, Swift Current had engine problems, skipped the Dry Tortugas and headed for Key West. It took another day to arrive and they had to wait until sunrise to get towed in to the Conch Inn Marina. But they were on the way to getting things checked out and hoped to be ready to leave with us in a day or two. They were really spared anything major but a blocked fuel line and in fact decided to follow us on to Miami.
We left at sunup again motoring into almost no wind or seas up the coast in what’s called Hawk’s Channel, the area between the Keys islands and the outer reef to the Atlantic. The water is only 10-15 ft deep for the most part and Swift Current was a little uneasy but trustingly followed along behind WD. Our first stop for the evening was to be tucked in behind Rodriquez Key near Key Largo about 80 miles up. The trip was uneventful and we actually pulled out the mainsail for a while. As we got anchored just about dusk, we had a major wind shift and squall came through, but anchorage was well protected from the north winds and soon we settled down for a calm night.
The next day was Saturday, it was a full moon, the Memorial Day Weekend and our little yacht club was planning a raft up near downtown Miami for the night. Our plan was to arrive right at happy hour and surprise everyone with our unscheduled arrival. We still had about 50 miles to go. We upped anchor at sunrise and headed out to Hawk’s Channel again with Swift Current again shadowing us along the coast. The winds were now up to about 20 kts and northeast so it was right on the nose. We motored with a reefed main to the north end of Key Largo and came through Angelfish Creek cut. This was even more unnerving for our Canadian friends as the depths here drop to only about 6 feet as you enter. Then the depths “increase” to 8-10 feet as you progress through the channels and up the bay. We had been here many times and were confident of the course and Swift Current followed along.
Finally about 5 pm, we ducked in behind Virginia Key and raised all the flags of our trip. All decked out we went under Rickenbacker Bridge and into the old Marine Stadium. Our friends were already there and as we came around they were truly surprised about our arrival. And we had made it home!
We spent three nights anchored out and were almost alone by Tuesday morning since the club members had all gone and the weekend boaters were all back to work. We headed back to Dinner Key Marina with Swift Current seeming still glued to our stern. But we took the long way back as we gave them a tour of downtown, Key Biscayne, Cape Florida lighthouse, Stiltsville, and finally Coconut Grove and Dinner Key Marina. We actually got our same slip back and WD felt right at home looking good as always.
At about noon on May 28th, we were back where we had started. It would be two more weeks before we moved off WD and back to the house. It was a very melancholy time as we knew the trip was over but we were very proud of our accomplishment. And the memories we had and friends we had made will always be with us. Thanks for coming along with us as well.
We will not close the blog but of course will not make as many postings. I do plan another soon to summarize the trip and the final accounting. Might be of interest to someone making a similar trip.
If you need a blog fix, our friends Bert & Dorothy on Island Girl are doing a that right now and you can follow them on their blog at www.sailblogs.com/member/islandgirl38. They are currently in St. Lucia and following our blog as they travel. We wish them well and fair winds.
Back in the US, kinda!
20 May 2013 | Dry Tortugas Nat'l Park, Florida
Back in the US, kinda! - We are on US soil! There is no immigration or customs office out here so there is no way to clear into the US. So we are kinda' illegal aliens! But we are flying our Q flag and no one seems to care. Or maybe they don't know what it means. Anyway, we are getting closer to home and we have time to finally enjoy the park.
The Dry Tortugas National Park and Ft. Jefferson are very remote being 60 miles west of Key West. Someone told me it was the least visited park in the system and I believe it. But it is really a cool place. West of here about 3 miles is Loggerhead Key which is really the most southern point of land in the US. We pulled in on a Saturday and the anchorage near the fort was almost full with weekend boats and all the good spots were taken. We went into the shallower water and got an anchor down but didn't really feel comfortable about the set. However, the winds were light so we seemed to be ok. Since it was late and we had been traveling so long we just crashed and waited until the next day to start exploring.
The only way to get here if you are a tourist is by fast ferry from Key West which arrives about 10 am and leaves at 3 pm. The ferry takes about 2 hours to cover the distance. Or you can fly in by float plane which takes only 30 minutes but costs about $300 per person round trip. Or come by private boat like us (but directly from Key West and not all the way around the Caribbean!) If you get into the fort before the ferry comes, it's pretty quiet and you can explore by yourself.
Built in the early 1800's, the fort takes up the whole island of Garden Key. It looks formidable from the outside as it was built with over 10 million bricks (a pork project for some brick rich senator if I ever saw one!) and has walls 12 feet thick but is really a three story shell for gun ports. It was designed to have over 400 cannon aimed at all points. Every "window" that you see is a gun port. The primary objective was to provide a protected anchorage for a fleet of ships to control the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico and the Florida Straits.
It was never completed and only ever had about 145 guns in place. It never fired a shot in defense. However, it was used as a prison during the Civil War and its most famous prisoner was Dr. Mudd who mended the broken leg of John Wilkes Booth. He is actually remembered more for his service to the fort as a doctor during a sever outbreak of yellow fever during his stay.
During the Spanish American War in 1898, a coaling station was built at the fort for ships traveling between Cuba and Florida. The ruins of these docks are prominent features in the anchorage. But from the beginning, supplying the fort with supplies for construction and basic survival had to come from Mobile or Key West and was a major challenge. The fort was abandoned after the war and finally became a park in the 1990's.
We took one more day to do a dive over at Loggerhead Key. The park ranger recommended diving the Windjammer Wreck on the reef south of the island and said it was only about 20 ft. deep. Actually named the Avanti when wrecked, it is called the Windjammer because it was one of the famous steel hulled Windjammer ships sailing the oceans in the late 1800's. We packed for a dive in the dinghy and took the 4 mile trip across the shoals to the wreck.
Although there was some current on the site, we went in and found the site covered with all types of reef fish. Two things struck us as something we had never seen. We saw lots of big barracuda swimming around the wreck. They were watching us but not intimidating. But they were big. And speaking of big, we saw the largest fish ever on a dive! Under part of the wreck structure in this shallow water was a huge (maybe over 8 feet long and 300 pounds) Goliath Grouper or more commonly called a Jewfish. And (sorry, Myra!) we did not have our underwater camera! Remember we had taken the second camera swimming with the battery door open in the Vivorillo Cays! So we could not get the picture but believe me it was huge and so amazing to see. What a way to finish the last dive of the trip!
But, you remember that we didn't feel good about the anchor set when we arrived. At sunset as we were getting ready for dinner, I noticed a small line of dark clouds approaching and felt there was going to be a wind shift and some gusts coming soon. I knew we might drag our anchor if this happened so I went out front, took the snubber off the anchor chain, and then started the engine just to be safe. Sure enough about a minute later, the winds came up to about 20 kts and WD started sliding sideways and backwards. The guy anchored behind us probably got a little nervous but we were ready, calmly drove forward, picked up the anchor and reset it in a much better spot that had been occupied when we arrived. The 18 months onboard had taught us to be prepared and handle things calmly and without delay. And it was a better anchor anyway! We were good!
A good night sleep and now we were ready to head on back to Miami. We have about 230 miles left to go. We were not in a big hurry but want to get back before Saturday to meet up with our yacht club for the Memorial Day weekend. We had made it to the Dry Tortugas and now it was time to go home!
Isla and beyond!
18 May 2013 | Dry Tortugas, Florida
Isla and beyond! - We stopped in Isla Mujeres to officially clear into Mexico, wait out some weather and do some provisioning. Actually US immigration really doesn't care about where we started from to reenter the US, and they don't ask for a Zarpe so we could have gone on to Florida without stopping in Mexico. But we wanted to see Isla and our Zarpe listed it as the next port. The stop ended up costing us a couple of hundred dollars to clear in and out again, but we enjoyed the stay and felt we might come back some time.
The Puerto Isla Mujeres Resort and Yacht Club is the marina where we ended up. Tom and Lori on Camelot were the first boat we saw and they came out to help us into the slip. Also on the dock were Skip and Betsy on Ducks in a Row. We had met Tom and Lori first in the San Blas and Skip and Betsy at Red Frog Marina in Bocas. And here we were together again. Skip and Betsy had their own story of crossing back to the states when fuel problems caused them to change course and ended up here. And a new acquaintance for us but known to some friends were Howard and Lynn on Swift Current also waiting to cross to the US.
So the four of us hung out and did maintenance stuff for a few days while the weather in the crossing area mellowed. We were watching for the winds to change more southerly and the seas to calm after a front had gone through. The weather looked good for Thursday, May 16, and we, with Swift Current, decided it was our best shot. Ducks still had fuel issues and Betsy had gone home for a few days so they were staying. Camelot decided to stay for a few more days to let things get just right. So it was to be just the two of us.
We rented a golf cart for Wednesday to explore the island, clear out of Mexico, and get a few more last minute provisions. The island is being developed and growing. It is still a big diving center and a day sail visit for tourists from Cancun on the mainland. The water around the island is crystal clear and the reefs beautiful. We had lunch at Punta Sur (same name as San Andres but not as nice).
But the highlight of our day was meeting the plastic bottle island guy and touring his house. His name is Richart Sowa from England and this was his third "island" attempt. He has been on BBC and Ripley's Believe It or Not. He has been in magazines and on TV. The concept is simple. Take a bunch of old fruit or vegetable bags like you see in the grocery store and fill them with empty plastic bottles. Then put them under wooden pallets as a base. Raft the pallets together and then start building on top. His island also uses mangrove and ficas trees planted on the island to grow roots through the bottles and give the island more stability. His two story "house" had two bedrooms, nice sitting area, galley, a sundeck with Jacuzzi(?) and a composting head. He uses a small barge also made from plastic bottles to cross from the shore to the island. I could go on and on but needless to say he is a colorful character and his island was an interesting visit. Check the Photo Gallery and Google him on the internet!
As a side interest, we also stopped at the Fish Institute and Turtle Farm before checking in the cart. It was bigger than the Old Hegg's Turtle Sanctuary on Bequia with a slightly different purpose. But in the end they are both helping to preserve the endangered turtle species. It is worth the small entrance fee.
We were ready to head to the US and took off as planned with Swift Current. Just out of Isla we headed northeast on a heading of about 45 degrees on a direct line to the Dry Tortugas and were picked up by the Yucatan Current.
A quick explanation here. There are four currents that make up the famous Gulf Stream which starts actually around Miami. The Caribbean Current comes north from South America and the eastern Caribbean to form the Yucatan Current between Cuba and Mexico. This shoots north into the Gulf of Mexico to where it goes west to form the Gulf Loop Current (which became famous during the BP oil spill) and then loops back east to make up the Florida Current. The Yucatan goes at about 2-3 knots so we were headed north!
Instead of the direction as planned, we were going about 20-25 degrees over the ground in the current. The sailing was great. Swift Current was just as her name and, as she was faster than WD and sailing with the current, soon was over the horizon! We were making good time with the current pushing us as well. We just weren't going where we wanted. But the trip was about 300 miles and we had a lot of time to make adjustments. Our plan was to slowly make our way across the current while going north and then catch the east bound Gulf Loop and head to the Dry Tortugas. For now we just sailed. Winds were nice between 15-20 knots and the seas were a relatively calm 3-5 feet. So the sailing was close hauled but not too rough.
At about 12 am on the second night we got a great lift as the wind direction changed and we headed almost directly to the Dry Tortugas with the Gulf Loop behind us now. Our plan would have worked if the winds had not decided to almost die soon after that so we had to motor the last 40 miles. We arrived at Ft. Jefferson on Garden Key in the Dry Tortugas after 54 hours covering about 320 miles. And WD was back in US waters for the first time in 18 months.
During the trip when people asked where we were going, we always said the Dry Tortugas. We had tried to make it there a few years ago but weather prevented us from getting any closer than about 100 miles. So it took us 18 months and about 6000 miles to get here instead. The plan is to explore the park for a few days and then make a couple stops in the Keys before arriving in Miami. The big crossings are done and we are back in familiar waters a little sad but also with a lot of pride in our accomplishment. Others obviously go further and stay longer but we had a plan and made it successfully. Now we are almost home.
The last flag!
14 May 2013 | Puerto Isla Mujeres, Q. Roo, Mexico
The last flag! - Having skirted along the outer cays and atolls of Belize, we headed north to Mexico. I went to the flag bag that we have been using for the whole trip to store our courtesy flags for each country and it only had one flag left. It was the Mexico flag. All the others had been used and moved to another bag. It was sort of melancholy to pull out the flag and find the bag empty. We were definitely getting close to home.
We left Long Cay in Lighthouse Reef, Belize early on the 10th for the 250 mile run to Isla Mujeres, Mexico, that our Zarpe gave as our next port of entry. But we had just received an email from Jacque and Annet from "Pananche" saying that they were heading to the Chinchorro Banks from Bahia del Espiritu Santo on the Mexican coast. We had to go right by there so we emailed back that we were close and might stop.
Starting out we had a great run north behind Lighthouse Reef as we tucked in close. The winds were 10-15 on a beam reach and the reef gave us very calm seas. With a slight current in our favor we were doing over 8 kts SOG (speed over ground). At that rate we might make the 92 miles to Cayo Norte on the Chinchorro Banks by sunset. We were going to give it a try.
We turned off the engine and sailed past the north end of Lighthouse Reef into the open water. The seas picked up and so did the winds so we put in a reef in both the main and genoa. Even so our SOG remained over 7 kts. By 2 pm, the winds were over 20 kts and the seas up to 6 feet. We put in another reef on the main and genoa and still our speed was over 8 kts. We were flying! What a great sailing day! Even with the higher seas, the beam reach gave us a pretty comfortable ride and the reduced sail gave us less heel. That's the way it's supposed to be.
By 5 pm we were at the south end of Chinchorro Banks. All conditions were the same but now we were again going into the lee of the big atoll and the seas were calmer. We had gone 72 miles in 10 hours. Not bad. Getting close to sunset, the winds were freshening even more so we doused the genoa completely and set the little stay sail. It would be much safer and calmer for the night run even with the loss of speed. We began calling Panache on the radio but go no reply from them.
By 8 pm, we were near Cayo Norte and could see the lighthouse blinking but no anchor lights. We tried calling more times for Panache but finally decided to keep going. Getting into the anchorage after dark was iffy and they still might not be there. It was not worth the risk. Cozumel was just 92 miles away but because our speed had been so good, we were now scheduled to arrive in Isla Mujeres in the middle of the night. So, we set our goal to Cozumel and a good night sleep at anchor instead of a questionable night sleep rocking in the ocean.
By 7 the next morning, we had covered 156 miles. The goal of most cruisers is an average of 6 kts which gives you 150 miles in 24 hours. We had done this with no engine! Just good sailing. We had 68 more miles to Cozumel, about 10 hours which would put us there in the early afternoon.
We reached the southern end of Cozumel at 1 pm and got some good pictures of the old lighthouse before realizing we were in shallow water with a strong current setting us toward the shore. Oops! Tack out and get into deeper water as we rounded the famous Palancar Beach and Palancar Reef diving site. We had visited Cozumel many times in the 80's as a place to dive and party. But this was a completely different view.
We came around the island and into San Miguel to the anchorage near shore. It was 3:30. 208 miles in 32.5 hours. The anchorage had plenty of sandy spots and we got a good set. But the fishing boats were coming by very close and very fast leaving large wakes and rocking us all around. We couldn't figure out what was going on. They were everywhere. I thought they were taking their clients back to the ferry dock to catch the last one back across to Cancun or Playa del Carmen. But finally they stopped and went away. Until the next morning when it started all over again about 6 o'clock. I counted over 50 and then gave up. They were everywhere again. Until 7 when they all took off. Basically just disappeared. We had anchored in the start and finish area of a big fishing tournament! Who knew? Oh, well. We slept quietly at least.
After all the fishing boats were gone, we weighed anchor and headed for Cancun and Isla Mujeres about 42 miles away. It was another beautiful day and the winds and seas were almost perfect for our crossing. In fact just out of Cozumel we were going almost 10 kts SOG! Those of you who have dived at Palancar Reef know all about the current! And we had it going with us! Obviously we were sailing well but the current just added to the fun.
We rounded Punta Cancun and coasted along off of the Hotel Road for 7 miles. Here are all the hotels for Cancun lined one after another. A really beautiful beach and coastal area! Then just a few more miles and we were at Isla Mujeres. We were not sure where we were going to stop until we passed a very nice marina and noticed that two of our cruising friends were there already. So, we came about and pulled into an empty slip. We had made it.
From the Rio Dulce to Isla Mujeres in 7 days stopping at 5 different islands. Some of the best sailing of our trip and WD did just fine! And we were about 350 miles closer to home. And we used our last flag after we cleared Immigration the next day. So no more flags. Must be time! Til then...
Belize it or not!
10 May 2013 | Lighthouse Reef, Belize
Belize it or not! - Sorry. I could not resist! We planned an 18 month trip and we are now into the 18th month so it is time to head home. We have about 800 miles to go with Belize and Mexico yet on the itinerary. We could go nonstop or we could take our time. Or we could stop a few places as we pushed on. We decided on the latter with only a few stops in the outer atolls of Belize on the away north. First we had to come back down the Rio Dulce and clear out of Guatemala.
We left early from Cayo Quemado and motored back down the Gorge. Since it was around 7 am, we didn't expect to see much traffic but were surprised how many kids were off in their little cayugos on their way to school. We also passed several larger pangas filled with kids like a school bus on water. They were all dressed neatly with their backpacks. And they all waved as we passed. Life goes on!
We arrived in Livingston about 8 am in a rain shower. There was no wind so it was a very pleasant rain even if we had to get out in it. We stopped at a little tienda to get a loaf of bread for the trip and then went to Raul's office to get our passports stamped and our Zarpe to Isla Mujares, Mexico. We were going to stop several times in the outer islands of Belize on the way but not actually be in a port of entry so we did not plan to clear immigration.
The rain had stopped by the time we got back to WD and we were off across the bar again. We had set a track on the chartplotter on the way in so we just followed the "bread crumbs" back out without dropping the anchor! This time the tide was coming up and we were just past low tide so we saw depths under 6 ft. for a short distance. But since we only draw just over 5 ft. we were fine. Once clear of the bar, we back tracked along the same course to Cabo Tres Puntas in Honduras and then turned a little east toward the lower end of the Belizean barrier reef and the Sapodillo Cays, a distance of only about 32 miles.
The winds were light and mostly out of the east so we motored but did pull out the newly repaired furling mainsail. The day was beautiful and the seas calm so it made for a pleasant trip. But since we got a bit of a late start, it was getting near sunset when we rounded Sapodillo Cay to Hunting Cay.
We cut the corner as close as was prudent and made for the cut between Nichols Cay and Hunting Cay with Gail on the bow watching for coral heads as best as she could in the setting sunlight. It was shallow but was mostly just sand, grass and a rocky bottom. We pulled up just off the little fishing resort on Hunting Cay and anchored in about 8 ft. of water for the night.
An interesting story of the Sapodillo Cays is that when Belize declared their independence from England in 1981, Guatemala tried to claim the Sapodillo Cays and set up a fishing rights in the Caribbean. Their coast line is only about 75 miles long and they have limited fishing area. But Belize quickly set up a small defense post and a police office on Hunting Cay and it remained a Belize territory.
Next morning early, we headed northeast to Glover's Reef and the island on the southern end called Southwest Cay. The trip was supposed to be about 40 miles but the wind was still mainly northeast and we had to tack several times as we went up the barrier reef. We ended up covering over 60 miles but arrived in the early afternoon. We had been here before on a dive trip and stayed at a small dive resort called Manta Resort. It was a memorable trip and we were interested to see how the resort had fared since the late 90's. But it was completely different and the resort was gone. Some of the buildings were still there but the tall palm trees were gone and replaced with much shorter ones. The hurricanes had really done some damage to the islands in the past 20 years. But the island is still beautiful and the water crystal clear. That will never change.
The next day we headed northeast again to Lighthouse Reef, home to the Blue Hole that Cousteau made famous, again only a 40 mile trip. It is the most eastern of the outer atolls of Belize and is a major stop for divers and liveaboard dive boats. We had almost perfect winds at 10-15 kts and 3-4 ft. seas. It was one of the best sailing days of our entire trip. We arrived in early afternoon and crossed the banks from Long Cay to Half Moon Cay with good light to avoid the coral heads. We arrived around 3:00 PM and anchored on the sand in only about 6-7 ft., of water behind the reef.
Using the remaining daylight and the remote nature of the anchorage, we gave each other haircuts. It had been over 8 weeks since our trip to Miami and we both felt pretty shaggy. We are not very good at the hair cut thing but we have several weeks before we arrive back in civilization so things should even out by then.
The next morning we went ashore on Half Moon Cay to see their infamous Boobie Bird Sanctuary. These are a variety of red-footed boobies that have various feather colors from white to brown. It is past nesting season and the chicks were in the fuzzy feather mode being about 4 months old. There were a lot up in the trees and the park has an observation deck that puts you above the tree tops so you can really see the different birds.
Early afternoon we backtracked across the banks and out to the anchorage on Long Cay. This will allow us a quick start for Mexico in the morning (and the park charges $10 per person per day to anchor). We went for a short snorkel on Long Cay reef before we put the dinghy away for the trip. It was a surprise to see so many queen trigger fish in one small area. It was the most we have ever seen at any one time!
So much for Belize. Weather was good for a two day trip up to Isla Mujares and we were ready. This would be a big leg on the way home. But we were glad that we stopped for a few days in Belize. Truly. Belize it or not!
05 May 2013 | Guatemala
Guate! - The ride into Guatemala City, or Guate for short as the locals call it, takes you along the Rio Montagua river valley as it winds is way up to the mountains. The Rio Dulce is at sea level and Guate is at about 6000 ft. so the climb is steep at times. Plus it's mostly a rural two land road with lots of different kinds of traffic from guys driving big BMW SUV's all the way to the lowly Tuk-Tuks putting along. You can just see how the trip might be exciting! Later we came back by bus and it took 5 ½ hours. We did it in 3 ½ by car. But we had the right car and driver for the trip.
We arrived at Carmen's in time to have dinner. She had planned for our visit and had a variety of Guatemalan food for us to try. The first night we had Rellenitos for desert. Sweet fried bananas stuffed with black beans. We, of course, added some vanilla ice cream. Yum!
There is just so much to see and so little time but with Carmen as a guide we planned to see the highlights. The next morning we took our first excursion to Antigua which is about an hour southwest of Guatemala City. Antigua used to be the capital of all of Central America under Spanish rule until it was destroyed by multiple earthquakes in the 1700's and the government was moved to what is now Guatemala City. Antigua has many intact ruins of churches and convents. We started at Casa Santa Domingo which is a luxury hotel on the grounds of an old convent. The church area is covered by a fabric tarp and is still used for weddings and other events. The grounds are very pretty and there is a path through the ruins with signs (in both Spanish and English).
Next we stopped at the market and did some shopping. We actually bought a number of items. Probably did as much shopping here as we have most of the trip! The fabrics are amazing and it was impossible to pass it all up!
Next was a walk around the Parque Central to take in the buildings and the fountain. It doesn't say anything about the fountain in the guide books, but take a close look at the picture! We also walked to the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Merced. The façade is amazing. Yellow with white trim. There was much more to see, but our day was over and we headed back to Guate before rush hour. We had a traditional dinner of chili rellenos in corn tortillas!
Tuesday we were scheduled to explore Guate. We started with a visit to University de Francisco Marroquin that Carmen's father founded in 1972. This is a small private college with 2400 students whose mission is "to teach and disseminate the ethical, legal, and economic principles of a society of free and responsible persons". The grounds are lovely. It looks like a wonderful environment to learn. There are also two museums on the campus. One dedicated to Guatemalan textiles and the other to Mayan history.
Our next stop was the El Correo, the Post Office, downtown to get post card stamps so we could post our last postcards to family. Carmen knew where it was, but she had never actually been in it! The main post office still functions as a post office, but most of the building is now an arts magnet school. There is a small but interesting postal and telegraphic museum in the basement.
We took a driving tour to Zone 1, the old city. We saw the Palacio National and the Cathedra Santiago de Guatemala. Guate has an unusual Mapa en Relieve. It is a mostly to scale relief map of the country that was completed in 1905! It is quite interesting and gives you a feel for the diversity of this beautiful country.
On our way home Carmen drove through the Torre del Reformador, a smaller version of the Eiffel Tower which tops out at 75 meters or about 250 ft. There is some controversy over the origins of the tower. Guatemalans believe it was a gift from France, but our guide book says it was built in the US in 1935 to commemorate the centennial birth of President Rufino Barrios. Google tends to back up the guide book.
Wednesday we drove to Lake Amiatitlan to Carmen's mother's home for lunch. We took the long way to the lake, because it was a holiday and there was a festival in town. The drive was very pretty along the lake and we could see the Orthodox Monastery that one of Carmen's sisters founded. New buildings to house the orphanage are almost complete.
Carmen's mother's home is a sprawling family retreat where the family gathers every Sunday for lunch. Wednesday was a holiday and we were celebrating one of her nieces' birthday. It was a small gathering with only 12 of us! A very relaxing day. Back at Carmen's we topped off the day with more traditional food. Guatemalan tamales, torte de Izote and chuchitos!
Our trip was short but so enjoyable due to the hospitality of Carmen and her family! We could not have had better hosts! There is much more to see. We hope to be able to come back again.
The next day we caught the bus back to Rio Dulce. After our bus trips in Panama, the 5 ½ hour ride was easy. The marina picked us up and we were back aboard Wildest Dream by midafternoon. A few days of routine maintenance and we will check out of Guatemala on Monday morning and head toward Belize! (Just as a note our current lat/lon in the marina at 15 39.4'N: 88 59.64'W will be our furthest point west on our trip.)