25 December, 2010

Christmas Wishes

Dear Friends and Relatives,

There are some big differences between Christmas in Providencia and Christmas in the US or UK. For one thing, there's no snow and we're walking around in shorts and t-shirts! We've also not been able to find any Christmas pageants, Christmas plays, Christmas carolers, or Christmas bell choirs - that doesn't mean there aren't any - we just haven't found them yet. Palm trees replace pine trees, loud, thumping music replaces "Silent Night", fireworks replace the lighting of the community Christmas tree, and fresh wahoo stands in for turkey or ham at Christmas dinner. And needless to say, we miss the sounds of our grandchildren opening their presents with shrieks of delight.

There are also some big similarities. The people here are SO friendly. We've been met with nothing but smiles since we've been here. One new friend offered to let the cruisers use her house for a Christmas potluck. Random "Welcome to our island"s pop up in unexpected places. We've been wished "Merry Christmas" or "Happy New Year" everywhere we've gone, and the houses are all decorated.

Our Christmas traditions on Rachel remain the same, however. A lovely, romantic dinner at home on Christmas eve (our 9th wedding anniversary this year), decorations on the mast moose (or, as we call it at this time of year, the "Christmoose tree"), presents at the base of the mast, watching "Miracle on 34th St.", "White Christmas", "It's a Wonderful Life" and other Christmas favorites snuggled together on the settee, visiting and exchanging gifts with our friends on other boats, and many other little things too numerous to mention remind us of home, family, and all of you. You have enriched our lives and for that we are truly grateful.

Wishing you all a happy, peaceful, and fulfilling Christmas.

21 December, 2010


Sheesh we forgot to tell you that on our first day we had a pod of about 25 dolphins come to play with us for about 30 minutes. They were swimming around the boat, leeping into the air and twirling around, and swimming in the bow wake. As usual we ran up onto the bow sprit, which sticks out in front of the boat about 6ft above the water, and looked down on sometimes 8 dolphins of varying sizes swimming right below us. One time 2 of them flipped over onto their backs and slapped their tails as they were swimming along as they were looking up at us. They wove in and out of each other crossing the bow. It was stupendous and the best dolphin displat we've seen yet.
We took this as a sign that we were going to have a good passage, and it was so.

Wahoo? Woohoo!!

Date: 21 December, 2010
Location: Providencia, Columbia
Position: W13 22.785 N081 22.398

Hello all. We had a good passage and are now anchored in Providencia, a Columbian island in the middle of the western Caribbean, actually nowhere near Columbia.

We set off from Guanaja, Honduras with light winds and motored with the main sail up for almost 100 miles. This was the trickiest part of the trip, getting around Cabo Gracias a Dios (Cape Thanks be to God) named by Christopher Columbus after it took him 30 days to get around it. The prevailing winds and current are on the nose from the East so you have to basically wait until there's a light wind and then make a beeline to get around before the wind picks back up again. Thank goodness for today's modern diesel auxiliary engines - we bet Columbus would have loved to have one <g>.

We were lucky enough to have a light north westerly breeze and were able to motor-sail to make the turn to SE by the Vivorillo Cays. Then the light wind turned north, further assisting us in getting around the Cape, another 100 mile leg.

We had glorious weather and decided to get out a brand new fishing lure as we hadn't had any luck with our old one for over a year. 20 minutes after we put it out Julie came up from down below and said 'What's that?" We looked back and thought something was caught on the line. As we pulled it in we realized what we were seeing was a huge open fishes mouth with our new lure wedged sideways inside it. Sheesh! Wish we'd taken a picture of that!

Immediately we were busy clearing out the cockpit, getting the big gloves, the gaff, and the 'fish vodka'. As we pulled it in close enough to identify, we had to scurry below to get the fish book, we couldn't tell if it was a king mackerel or a wahoo. Mark did his usual great job of gaffing and landing the monster, this time without smearing blood all over the side of the boat, much to Julie's joy. Turns out we had a 45" Wahoo - woohoo! Now for the hard part. We wrestled him into the cockpit where Julie spent some quality time filleting and skinning it. She stripped down to her underwear, not wanting all that extra stinky washing to do, and set about it. An hour and a half later we had 4 huge ziploc bags full of boneless, skinless fillets, a scrubbed and sparkly cockpit, and Julie back in her clothes now that the excitement was over. No more fishing for us this trip since we have no more room in the fridge.

The rest of this 2nd day and night was spent crossing the shallower banks. Some of the 5 other boats we were traveling with also caught fish so we were all happy. We had got too far apart to chat on the VHF radio so we set up an hourly schedule to check in on the SSB and make sure everyone was OK. Towards morning on that 2nd night we started seeing a lot of blips on our radar but no lights. We were starting to get close to the deep ocean water again and decided they must be fishing boats. As daylight came we could see 10 or so boats all within 6-8 miles. This must be a great spot for fishing. These boats probably come from Honduras and Nicaragua, both about 90 miles away, to fish these abundant waters.

After we got into the deep water again we headed SSE for a 3 day run down to Panama. The wind was almost dead behind us and it was a pretty rolly ride. We did our usual morning routine listening to the weather and checked into the Caribbean Nets on the SSB. We called into our weather guru, Chris Parker, to get an update on our weather for the trip down to the San Blas. The first 2 days were going to be great but the last day the wind was shifting to dead behind and there would be numerous squalls, 35 knot gusty winds and a lot of rain. We really wanted to get down to Panama for Christmas but we also really didn't fancy getting all that bad weather on our last day after being at sea for 4 long days. We tossed it around, anguished, pondered and made the decision to head to Providencia.

We'd heard wonderful things about this island and were planning to visit it on our way back north, whenever that may be. Well, if we're going to get stuck somewhere for Christmas this seems a good place. As a bonus, the other five boats we set off with were all planning on stopping here so.....

We had a problem, however. We were going to arrive after dark into an unknown anchorage, no sailor's choice. We chatted with a few people on the SSB net and got waypoints from some friends for getting in. Everyone we spoke with told us it's a nice, wide, easy entry. We were able to get accurate, up-to-date waypoints for getting in, the weather was benign, and the moon was full, so we decided to take the chance and go for it rather than dawdle around overnight and wait to go in during daylight. So that's what we did!! We had plenty of light and dropped the anchor in a spot, for which a friend had sent us the position, at about 10pm. Then we got the first good night's sleep we'd had in three days <yawn>.

This morning we awoke to a drizzle and pretty gusty wind so we were glad we were already in and safe. The harbour is surrounded by mountains and what looks like a quaint little town. We're looking forward to going ashore, checking in, and going exploring. That is, after we get the boat in order and eat a full English breakfast.

Then it's wahoo for lunch and wahoo for dinner for us and all our friends in the anchorage. We wish we could serve up some of Julie's famous "Traditional Olde English Christmas Grilled Wahoo" with all of you too!

Happy Holidays, best wishes, and lots of love from The Rachels,

15 December, 2010

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Position: N 16 27.257 W 085 52.254
Location: Guanaja, Bay Islands, Honduras

The Good: we are still in Guanaja waiting for weather. It's been over two weeks since we arrived in Guanaja. This island is really beautiful. It's only 3 x 11 miles but mountainous with trails and waterfalls, surrounded by stunning reefs to snorkel and dive.
A bunch of us dinghied around to Michael Rock on the other side of the island to hike up to the falls
Michael Rock falls after an hour spent scrambling up a rocky trail

We have a resident dolphin in the anchorage who spends his day visiting all the boats and playing and fishing around us. The best part is that Guanaja is practically undiscovered by the tourists. No cruise ships, no big resorts, no crowds. We were here back in April and are glad that we've had the opportunity to come back and spend more time here, discovering more of the islands natural delights.

The Bad: we are still in Guanaja waiting for weather. This is one of the most frustrating aspects of cruising for us. Every day we get up and spend a couple of hours poring over the forecasts. Our passage will take 3 to 5 days. We start out heading east for a day, turn SE for a day and then just east of south for 1 to 3 days depending on where we decide to stop. This means we need a chunk of good weather, preferably with winds and waves that aren't too big. If possible, we'd also like to arrange for the wind to shift around as we change directions. So far, we haven't had enough pull with the weather gods.

We look ahead on the forecasts for 5 days and often see an opportunity to leave but as our departure day gets closer, the forecast changes, the weather window narrows or closes, and we decide not to leave. We're all provisioned up so it's necessary to go to town every few days to top up our stores and underway treats as we use them. We can't start any major boat jobs because we may have to leave at a moments notice. Back to 'Good', however, this means we have more time to explore and have fun.
Mark playing pool with the Osprey kids, Kaeo and Birdie, at Manati, German Restaurant in El Bight while we are waiting for weather

The Ugly: we are still in Guanaja waiting for weather. Ugly is what we are hoping not to encounter. Ugly would be to leave when the weather is not 'right' and come across 30+ mph winds and 10-15 foot seas. Rachel can handle those conditions, and we can handle them, too, but we really prefer not to have to - we do our best to avoid “Ugly”. Given the weather tools available to us, our flexible schedule, and our self-imposed caution, we've managed to do pretty well so far (knock on wood). But longer than about 2-3 days out, weather forecasts can become notoriously unreliable. So we'll choose our time carefully, and after we leave we'll continue to monitor the weather as we sail. If it looks good, we hope to continue on to Panama, but we won't make that decision until we approach our “3 day” destination.
El Bight, Guanaja
Once we leave here we will probably not have Internet access so we've set up our blog so that we can email postings to it from our ham radio email. There will be no pictures but we can send our position and text to keep you updated. When we get Internet access we'll post pictures. So please check the blog to stay up to date with our adventures for the next few months. If the current opportunity doesn't close up on us, we hope to start heading East and South this coming Saturday, 18 December.

Our “3 day” destination is either Providencia (N12 20.685 W081 22.763) or San Andres (12 32.746 W081 42.896), both Colombian owned islands off the coast of Nicaragua. Our “5 day” destination is either Portobelo (N9 33.209 W079 39.255) on the Panamian coast or Porvenir (N09 33.20 W78 57.00) in the San Blas Islands. We're hoping to spend the next few months exploring the beautiful and reportedly pristine San Blas archipelago. After that, who knows? We'll keep you posted.

Oh, by the way – a cold front just passed and it was downright chilly here last night. It got down to 78, but the wind chill made it feel like 70. We know you feel sorry for us....

06 December, 2010

Decisions, decisions

Date: 6 December, 2010
Position: N 16 27.257 W 085 52.254
Location: Guanaja, Bay Islands, Honduras

We left Guanaja yesterday morning in unpredicted SE winds and snotty seas. After motorslogging for 2 1/2 hours, Diva and Rachel decided to return to port, and Osprey chose to keep going. We were pretty uncomfortable, and, since the wind wasn't as predicted we also began to lose confidence in the forecast. It was a tough decision and we both have mixed feelings about it. However, it is what it is and we'll deal with it and carry on.

We've been following Osprey on the weather and cruising nets - the wind is higher than predicted, but they're doing well and should be in Providencia sometime Tuesday or Wednesday. We'll continue following their progress and are still planning to meet up with them again in Providencia or the San Blas as soon as we can get there.

In the meantime, Rachel and Diva will clear back in to Honduras today, then sit here and wait for that elusive "perfect weather window" to show up. It looks like we might get an opportunity next weekend, but that's pretty far out for a forecast, so we'll just have to wait and see. After mid-December opportunities to head east and south diminish. The easterly trades known as the "Christmas winds" settle in and can blow nearly continuously until sometime in March.

As always, we'll do our best to keep you apprised of what we're doing and where we end up as soon as we know.

We'll be in touch again soon,

Mark & Julie
s/v “Rachel”

04 December, 2010

Catching up and moving on

Date: 4 December, 2010
Position: N 16 27.257 W 085 52.254
Location: Guanaja, Bay Islands, Honduras

We left Guatemala a couple of weeks ago and headed back to last spring's old stomping grounds in the Bay Islands of Honduras. Thanksgiving with friends in West End, Roatan (where we visited w/ Julie's son Dan last spring) was followed by a flurry of provisioning and edging ourselves as far East as we can get before “jumping off”.

We're finally ready to make the big leap East and South from the Bay Islands in Honduras to the San Blas Islands in Panama. If we go nonstop it should take about 5 days. The weather seems to be cooperating although it's beginningto look like the seas will be higher than we're comfortable with. We're traveling with our friends Carl & Debbie on “Diva” and Johnny, Wendy, Kaeo, and Birdie on “Osprey”.

We've shopped 'till we dropped and filled every nook and cranny on Rachel with food, toilet paper, wine, rum, and other essentials. We leave Guanaja tomorrow morning and plan to make it to the island of Providencia off the East coast of Nicaragua before we have to make the decision to continue or stop for a while because of weather or high seas.

As always, we'll do our best to keep you apprised of what we're doing and where we end up as soon as we know.

15 October, 2010

Habla Espanol?

Location: San Pedro la Laguna, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
Position: N 14 41.589 W 091 16.195

We left the Rio Dulce fairly early in the morning, it was hot, humid and we were dripping in sweat. Luckily we traveled on an air conditioned bus, which even showed a movie. We didn't watch the film though, as we were too busy looking out of the windows. The entire 5 hour trip we were going up, up, up, sometimes a gentle incline, other times steep winding roads. At 1pm we got off the bus in Guatemala City, the capital of Guatemala, there was almost a chill in the air and NO humidity. Ahhh this is why we came!!

Our first destination was Panajachel another 90 miles higher into the mountains, over the Continental Divide. Because of the enormous amount of rain this year (the most since they began keeping records in the 1940s) the road had been closed off and on for a few months due to mud slides. We were amazed at the destruction caused by these slides, not only to the road but to villages and fields all along the way. This area is rich in crops now we see why we've been enjoying such a variety of vegetables and fruit since we arrived in Guatemala. We passed miles of fields being worked by hand. Men and women in traditional Guatemala dress were scraping away a living with hand tools and carrying the produce to the road in big baskets and bundles on their heads. These bundles are then piled high waiting for trucks to come and pick them up. It's like we stepped back in time.
Firewood being delivered

We finally left the main Pan American highway and started to head down a narrow winding road toward Lake Atitlan. For about 20 miles we slowly descended around hairpin bends, this road also with much evidence of land slides and lane closings. We finally reach Solola, which is an old cobbled town with a magnificent old church in the centre, again almost everyone is wearing traditional dress. This town is perched 1/3 mile above Lake Atitlan with amazing views of the lake and the surrounding volcanoes. We wished we could have stopped there and wandered around but the bus continued on and another steep 5 miles later we arrived at the edge of the lake at Panajachel. The road from Solola to Panahachel has since been closed for repairs due to damage from the mudslides. Apparently large rocks kept falling down the steep banks onto the road and crushing cars and people. So they're going to excavate all the way up the mountain to try and control it.

Earlier in the year we met an older couple who have a boat at our marina in Rio Dulce and are now living most of the year in Panajachel. They had kindly invited us to stay with them for a few days.
We spent 2 days exploring, Panajachel, fondly called “Pana” by the local ex-pats,. The town is not as old as Antigua, nor as quaint as Solola but it had lots of little back streets, a great market, including amazing local flowers, and transportation by tuk-tuk for Q5 ($0.65) per person to anywhere within the town. We really enjoyed getting to know our wonderful hosts Brian and Christine better. They showed us around the town and then left us to our own devices to wander around and do as we pleased. They were gracious and interesting hosts.

Lake Atitlan is a caldera, a collapsed volcanic cone, over 1,000 feet deep and the views are spectacular. Surrounding the lake are 3 volcanoes and several towns. Transportation between towns is by lancha from the public docks. This year's “gringo price” was Q25 ($3.20) one way to any of the other towns. Because of all the rain the lake is 7 feet higher than usual so the public docks are under water, making it a challenge to get passengers on and off. The drivers stand at the waters edge shouting their destination “Santiago”, “San Pedro” etc.
Note the many baskets that the women carry on their heads being transported on the top of the lancha

The standard way to carry things here is to have a band around your forehead which changes the distribution of weight from your back
Due to the high water in Lake Atitlan the docks are having to be rebuilt. Note the ladies with baskets on their heads on the dock.

Many of the ladies and girls embroider their own clothes

We saw this old man in traditional attire every day when we walked through San Pedro, he always smiled and said Hello

We were heading to San Pedro to attend Spanish school for a week so we climbed into the correct lancha. We were the only ones on the boat so we asked the driver when we would leave. He said, “When we have 12 passengers!!” We looked at each other, shrugged and sat and waited. Actually it only took about 30 minutes to fill up and we really enjoyed watching the hustle and bustle of the dock. Women carrying baskets on their heads, men carrying cases of heavy goods on their backs with a strap around their forehead to take the weight. Mark said “Now I see why Guatemalan's are so short!”

We arranged to take one-on-one Spanish lessons and live with a family including a private room and 3 meals a day in the nearby town of San Pedro la Laguna. We really need help with our Spanish. We have learned enough to be able to ask questions but not enough to understand the answers. We weren't expecting miracles in a week but we were hoping to improve. And we were really looking forward to living with a family and learning more about what life is like here.

San Pedro is 5282 ft or 1 mile above sea level. The Rio Dulce at 289 ft elevation is only 230 miles from San Pedro. San Pedro is unofficially split into 2 sections. Down by the water are the restaurants, hotels, and shops for the tourists. By following several steep cobbled roads (they seemed almost vertical when we first arrived) you come to the town centre with market, church, schools and local businesses.

We attended the Cooperativa school which was half way up the hill.
Mark studying, good job he has his back to the view
Our school had salsa lessons one night. We were really bad, but had lots of fun.

Our teachers, Ligia and Josefa
Dinner with our family
A fun visit to the ice cream shop with Helena, the kids and their 2 cousins
Classes are conducted in gardens with little palapas, containing a table and 2 chairs, dotted around so you have privacy and serenity. We had class every morning for 5 days from 8-12. The teachers find out how much you know and what you are hoping to learn and then take off from there. We had lots of conversations dotted with grammar and really felt that we made leaps of progress during the week. Concentration was difficult though with classes overlooking these wondrous views.

The family that we stayed with lived right below the school and they were wonderful. Lorenzo and Andrea had 3 kids, Francisco, 11, Elena, 9 and Lorenzo, 4. When we weren't in class we'd wander around town, do homework and hang out with the family. We had our own room, spartan but clean and comfortable, and shared the bathroom with the family. The kids helped us with our Spanish, and we watched kids TV with them too which was really helpful. Francisco showed us how to make a kite from sticks and tissue paper, Elena showed us how to embroider a traditional belt, and 4 year old Lorenzo was wild and crazy and of course loved his big new toy – Mark!! We ate all our meals with the family and practiced our Spanish on them. They were all very patient and helpful. Julie sometimes got Andrea to let her help with the cooking.

Andrea trying to teach Julie how to make tortillas

Most people here are Mayan and speak Maya as their first language and Spanish as a second. We learned so much during our visit that we're really glad we decided to take classes here in this small remote town rather than in Antigua which is much more touristy and much less traditional.

At the end of our week we caught a bus to Antigua. This was yet another amazing ride, up and over the volcanoes with outstanding views.
Beautiful view of San Pablo and Lake Atitlan

View of the volcanoes from above San Pedro

Antigua is only 20 miles away from Guatemala City but very different from 'the City'. This old colonial town founded in 1542, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It sports cobbled streets, old buildings, and is dripping with charm. The town has a definite Spanish influence, the houses are hidden off the street in courtyards surrounded by high walls with grand old wooden gates and some of the most impressive knockers we've ever seen.


We spent 4 days here wandering around the back streets, hoping to find gates open so that we could nosey in at the elaborate courtyards, looking at ruins, climbing up to the Cero de la Cruz to enjoy views of the town with Volcano Agua in the background.
View from Cero de la Cruz, Antigua

La Merced church,Antigua

Fountain in Parque Central, Antigua

Marimba band playing outside the town hall on a Sunday night

Andean pipe band playing in Parque Central

We found a couple of great cheap local places to eat and a couple of good more expensive places. Our favourite hangout was the Central Park. Here we would sit and people watch. Usually there would be music or a mime to entertain and of course the shoe shine boys and women hawking Guatemalan 'stuff'. A fountain in the centre of the park was a big attraction - topless mermaids spouting water from their breasts! Needless to say, lots of tourist photos get taken here.
Volcano Fuego spews every 10 minutes.

Mark being artistic took this picture of the menu outside . It looks like they etched out a place in the wall so it would sit correctly

Primary transportation for locals around Guatemala is the “chicken bus”.

These are retired US school buses that have been purchased and driven down here, renovated, “blinged up” and put into service transporting people around the country. There are no regulations, no inspections, and no oversight. The faster they drive, the more passengers they can carry and the better wage they can make. It's a scary sight seeing them round mountainous corners on two wheels. The coolest thing about them is all the “bling”. Most of them have been really tricked out with chrome, fancy lights, great names, decals, and colorful paint.

Here's a link to an article about “camionetas” from a local Antiguan magazine: http://revuemag.com/2010/03/the-birth-of-camioneta/.

And here's a link to as many chicken bus photos as you could ever want: http://www.google.com/images?hl=en&q=chicken+bus&psj=1&wrapid=tlif12914091680071&um=1&ie=UTF-8&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&biw=1112&bih=801&uss=1

05 September, 2010

The Long, Long, Long Way Home

Location: Hotel Catamaran Marina, Rio Dulce, Guatemala
Position: N 15 40.366 W 088 59.538

Bee bee beep! Bee bee beep!”

Dang. It's the alarm. It's 4 am and time to get up.

We've had a lovely 6 week visit with family and friends and spent some quality time hugging and playing with the grand kids. We have a big day today. Have to drive with Mark's mom from West Hartford to New Haven and catch the 6 am commuter train to Grand Central Station in NYC. We're heading back to Guatemala. With three 50 pound bags, a long tube, a collapsible hand truck, and two backpacks. Yawn. Stretch. Well, let's get crackin'!

We arrive at the station, unload Mom's car, and send her off following another car that's headed back to I-91. Load up the two soft bags onto the hand truck. Tow the wheelie suitcase. We get to the doors at Union Station and find the two bags won't fit through on the hand truck. We turn them sideways, drag them though, and Julie's off to the ticket machine.

A lady security guard points out the elevator and we take it down to the hallway to the platforms. Plural. Which one goes to NYC? It doesn't say on our ticket and there are no signs. We ask a man and he says “10”. We find the entrance to track 10 and are greeted by about 25 or 30 steps up and we can see the train is at the platform. How are we going to do this and not miss the train? A nice young man stops and offers to help. He carries one, Mark carries two and the cart, and Julie carries the backpacks and the tube. We get on the train about 30 seconds before the doors close. Whew, that was a close one.

We look at each other! It's going to be a long long trip home to Rachel!

Thankfully, the train ride is uneventful. The number of people on the train and the platforms who are texting and talking on cell phones is incredible. Virtually nobody is reading a paper or talking. We watch the starched shirts and suits and shiny shoes heading to the city, thankful we aren't them. At each station the train gets more full until it's bursting at the seams.

Grand Central station, the end of the line. We get off the train along with everyone else. Being in no hurry, we decide to just stand on the platform with our bags and wait for the throng to dissipate. Blocking the platform doesn't seem to make us very popular but aside from almost getting pushed under the train by the thundering horde all is well. Now we just need to get to the bus to LaGuardia airport.

Mark stays with bags in the magnificent lobby of Grand Central while Julie goes on a fact finding mission. She verifies which exit we need to take, checks on the bus times and buys the tickets. Negotiating the ramps, more doors that aren't wide enough, we manage to exit the station and get across 42nd Street at rush hour. Only a 10 minute wait for the bus and then we are whisked away to LaGuardia Airport and dropped fairly close to the American Airlines check-in.

The weight limit for checked bags is 50lb per bag with a $50 fee for overage. We've already weighed the bags at Mom's and we know it's going to be close. The first bag goes on the scale – Uh oh - it's 53 lbs. We look at the check-in guy who says “Put another one on”. Together they're exactly 100 lbs. The attendant says “Okay – no problem. Add the third bag.”

151 lbs. Oh man. We glance at each other with just knowing we're gonna have to move stuff between bags and add another pound to the backpacks. The attendant says “No problem. It's fine. Have a great day.” and we have our boarding passes. Whew! What a nice guy! Julie almost kisses him, “Thanks Earl”, she says.

We head to the gate and wait 4 hours for our flight to Miami. No problem. We actually planned our arrival early so the TSA folks would have plenty of time to go through our bags – we want to make sure they all make it on the same flight with us.

After another 2 hours in Miami and we board the plane and are on our way to San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Again, no problems.

At 8 pm we land in San Pedro Sula and pass through immigration. All our bags have made it – they're all here!! Awesome!! We have been nervous about the next part of the trip. Customs. Our bags are loaded with food stuff, vitamins to last a year, parts for the boat, fabric and glass to get a new dodger made and other general incidentals that we can't buy in Guatemala. From talking to other cruisers and the way we read the customs form we believe that we don't need to declare all of this stuff. But you never know if you'll get an official who's a bit of a 'stickler' or is looking to “grease his palm”.

We pass through customs with nothing to declare, put our luggage and backpacks on the x-ray machine and hold our breath. We're trying not to look obvious and anxious. If they decide to go through our bags it could be a LONG night. La la la la nothing nothing nothing. The x-ray operator is talking to a young lady and neither of them look concerned so we nonchalantly remove our bags and head for the door. Woohoo!!

We are spit out into the airport waiting area where there a lots of people waiting expectantly. Looking around we see Luis waiting for us. Luis and his wife own Guesthouse Dos Molinos. We stayed there on our way to the US and booked in again for the trip back. What a relief to see a smiling face waiting for us after a very long day. After a pleasant ride back to the B & B we flop into bed and drift off to sleep. Now we just have a 6 hour bus ride tomorrow and one more border to cross and we'll be home free.

Bee bee beep! Bee bee beep!”

Dang. It's the alarm. Again. It's 4 am and time to get up. Again.

We have to catch the bus to Rio Dulce. Thank goodness we only have to change buses once.

We stagger downstairs, rubbing sleep from our eyes, to find Luis up, waiting and ready to take us to the bus station. Dos Molinos has been great and de-stressed our trip immensely by willingly picking us up and delivering us to bus stations and airports at weird times of the day. We apologize to Luis for having him get up early again to deliver us. “No problem” he says.

All our heavy bags spent the night in his van so at least we didn't have to carry them up and down the stairs here. At the bus station, which is just opening at 5am, Luis disappears and returns with a porter with a huge cart. Thank goodness. We load up all the bags and are whisked away to the bus with big thanks to Luis. The bags are loaded on the bus and we just have time to buy a little something to eat before we board.

We've been told that we buy the tickets on the bus so we sit back in air conditioned comfort and enjoy the scenery, napping and reading. After about 3 hours we still are not seeing the ocean which is a bit strange because we're pretty sure that on the trip out we were by the ocean at this point.

There are only about 10 or 12 passengers and as far as we know nobody on the bus speaks English. And, of course, we don't speak enough Spanish to get any information so we just sit and enjoy the absolutely gorgeous mountain scenery. The road winds around and we pass through lots of interesting villages. We see many ranchers on their horses herding cows along the side of the roads. Also lots of mud and rock slides with the road closed down to one lane – or less!! We traverse a couple of almost washed out bridges that were down to one lane barely wider than the bus. Raging water rushing right below us, no guard rail .

After about 5 hours we are really starting to wonder what's going on. We are still in the mountains, which we should not be, and we haven't passed the border yet, which we should have. None of the places we pass through are familiar, but that's not surprising because we only know places along the coast. Luis had mentioned that Honduras had been having a lot of rain, but no mention of road closures.

The conductor comes around selling tickets.

Rio Dulce!” we say.

Rio Dulce?” the ticket taker asks.

Si.” we say.

Rio Dulce?” he says again. We think we may detect a bit of incredulity this time.

Si.” we say again.

He turns to the driver and says “Rio Dulce?”

Si.” says the driver, then he launches into a brief explanation we don't understand but assume contains his plan for getting us there.

The ticket taker writes out our tickets, hands them to us, and asks “Rio Dulce?” one last time.

Si” we say.

He shakes his head and moves on. We're really thinking something might be up now. About an hour later we pass Copan which we know is pretty far inland and SW of where we should be going. Finally we come to the border. There is probably half a mile of trucks full of produce and other goods parked along the road. Some have hammocks w/ sleeping drivers slung below them. This doesn't look good. We slowly wend our way through the traffic jam on this really narrow road. Our driver is amazing – he gets the bus through places we'd be nervous about driving a compact car.

We all get off the bus and go to Hut 4. This is the Honduran immigration, passports stamped, no problem. Now we are told to go to Hut 1, Guatemala immigration. After paying Q10 each ($2.50 total), our passports are stamped again, “Welcome to Guatemala”. The place is bustling: money changers; guys with big wads of Honduran Guatemalan and US currency; all the truck drivers trying to get through; tour groups who have been visiting the Mayan ruins at Copan; street vendors and comedors selling food and drink. We don't buy anything to eat because we're supposed to be back in Rio Dulce by lunch time. Even though we seem to be running a bit late.

No customs issues getting into Guatemala, either. Didn't even have to take our bags off the bus. Maybe today won't be so bad after all.

It's now about 11am and we're back on the bus again traveling along windy roads. At one point we drive through several hundred feet of muddy water – along the shoulder on the wrong side of the road – we hope the road's intact under it.

Finally we pass about another skillion or so parked trucks, grinding slowly forward, weaving our way around mud slides and huge boulders that block much of the road. And we stop. There's a lot of road working equipment here. Apparently the road ahead has washed out.

The workers have leveled one stretch, filling the gap with boulders covered with mud and gravel. It doesn't look good - it's about 6” wider than the bus and very wet. But they wave us forward so the driver slowly tries to cross. We're almost through it when we start to hear the mud and rock scraping the side of the bus. We're getting bogged down in the mud. Our driver expertly reverses and we back all the way back to where we started and park, waiting for the workers to add more gravel.

An hour, four dump trucks full of gravel and dirt, and a lot of standing around and talking later, we try again. We're not so sure that we like the idea of our bus being the first one to go over this stretch of road. Everyone is standing on the bus looking out of the front window as we slowly make our way through the mud. We bog down a bit, but manage to get through successfully. We all cheer and clap, shouts of “Bravo” are heard, and all the passengers express gratitude and respect to the driver.

It's about 12:30 pm now and we're starting to wish we'd bought some food at the border.

Finally we emerge onto a main road with both lanes open and no rocks or mud in evidence. Except now we start seeing signs that say we're heading to Guatemala City. This is not good. It's a long way in the wrong direction from Rio Dulce. After about 40 minutes the bus pulls over at the side of the road where another bus is waiting. The conductor says “Rio Dulce” and waves us off the bus. We hesitate, because we know this is NOT Rio Dulce. Finally we understand that we need to change buses to get to Rio Dulce. We get off, drag our bags across the gravel around to the other bus. “Rio Dulce?” we say. “Rio Dulce!” the new driver says. We get on the bus, this one is not air conditioned and has way more people on it. They all smile and say “Buenas tardes” and off we go.

This driver is a bit more aggressive that the first one. Roaring around corners, passing on curves and hills, and slamming on the brakes to avoid oncoming traffic we become a bit tense. After about an hour of this we stop again at the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. There are 2 buses waiting and everyone is told to get off our bus. We all remove our bags, a bus official says something to the crowd and they all start getting on the 2 buses.

We say to the official “Rio Dulce?”
He points to one of the buses “Rio Dulce! Si”
Again we drag our bags over to the new bus. We want to make certain we're doing the right thing, so we say “Rio Dulce?” to the new driver
Rio Dulce! Si!” the new driver says. We sit down and off we go.

As you can imagine we are now feeling totally inadequate with our Spanish. Julie has been studying our language tapes on the iPod but has not really learned enough to get information in this situation. We can ask questions but do not understand the replies – quite frustrating and demoralizing. But we're confident things will work out fine.

After about another hour the bus stops again at a cross road on the Rio Honda. There's yet another bus waiting. The driver looks at us and says “Rio Dulce” and points to the other bus
Rio Dulce?” we say
Rio Dulce! Si” he says.

We get off the bus and are surrounded by throngs of venders selling food, drinks, fruit, all yelling and shouting for our attention. We're hungry but we don't want to miss our bus so we AGAIN get our bags from the old bus ….drag them through the venders who are shoving scrumptious smelling food in our faces....get them on the new bus and haul ourselves into our seats. People on the bus are poking money through the 2” opening in the windows and the venders are cramming food and drinks back. Even as the bus is starting to leave these purchases are madly being made.

This driver must have gone to the same reckless driving school as our last one. Our lack of ease is exacerbated by the fact that the seat backs are broken and, as soon as you lean back, you're lying in the lap of the person behind you. We sit on the edge of our seats and grin and bear it.

Finally we see road signs for Morales, a name we recognize - and we know it's only about a 40 minute drive from there to Rio Dulce. The bus stops at a Fuente del Norte station outside of town, where we changed buses on our way to the US. People get off the bus. We ask the bus driver if this bus will go to Rio Dulce. “Si”, he says. We are starving and really need a bathroom, it's 3:00pm and we haven't eaten since 6am.

We ask the driver how long before we leave. Thank goodness we can at least ask these questions in our broken Spanish, although we often don't really understand the answers. At least we have time for a quick pee and something to eat. We hop back on the bus just as the driver begins backing it up to leave.

Off we go, now for the first time in hours feeling like we are really going to make it back to Rachel today.

Our marina has free lancha (boat) service back and forth from town several times a day and we think we can make it just in time to catch the 3:45. We have it all planned out. When we arrive Julie will jump off the bus with the back packs and run down the hill to make sure the lancha is there and will wait for us. Mark, in the meantime, will get the bags off the bus and start dragging them down to the dock.

Great plan, but the timing is a bit off. As Julie runs down the hill she sees the lancha about 100 yards off the dock heading back to the marina. It's not really a problem, though, as we just make a phone call and have them come back and pick us up for a nominal fee. While we're waiting, Julie nips up to the store to get enough food to last us until we can get back into town the next day.

Whew! Back to Rio Dulce (Fronteras) at 4 pm – only about 4 hours late. Not too bad, considering all the excitement.

It's nice to be back after our long, long, long way home.

As it turns out a bridge on the major highway from Honduras to Guatemala had been washed away and there were lots of other roads closed due to many mud slides and rock slides. Luckily they were still running buses to Rio Dulce although we were the only 2 traveling from San Pedro Sula to Rio Dulce. Once we learned this news we were so grateful that the driver had gone out of his way to hook us up with these other buses so that we could make it back to Rio Dulce. Our hats are off to all of the Fuente del Norte folk that helped make our trip successful. If we'd known what was going on we'd have been way more appreciative. Click here to read more about the bridge outage.

17 July, 2010

Is it the weekend yet?

Location: Hotel Catamaran Marina, Rio Dulce, Guatemala
Position: N 15 40.366 W 088 59.538

It's hot here. They don't call it the tropics for nothing. The humidity is almost 100% this morning and it is NOT raining. We keep half gallon jugs of cold water in the fridge, often going through three or four a day. Handkerchiefs are worthless. We have several old hand towels we've designated as “sweat rags” and cycle through them during the day as we work, wringing them out, washing them and and hanging them up to dry when they become too saturated to absorb any more. Our brains often shut down from the heat and humidity. Sometimes they don't start back up until the next morning. Luckily, we have two fans down below that generally run 24/7 and a window air conditioner we usually run for 4-6 hours in the evening to cool Rachel down enough so we can sleep. However, we find some solace in the fact that it's not been as hot here as it's been on the East Coast of the US for the last few weeks.

A day in our lives: We get up, have coffee, breakfast, and check our email. We do a few hours of boat jobs. Some days we go to town to do some shopping. We have lunch. We do a bit more work on the boat or read for a while, then we go up to the pool. The pool is usually warm and only slightly more humid than the air, but it's nice to relax and even though it's warm, the water does eventually cool us down a bit. We hang out at the pool chatting with our friends until either “the afternoon thunderstorm” or dusk begins to fall, whichever comes first. We go back to the boat and, before the bugs come out, seal ourselves into our cocoon for the night. Since we'll be cooking we start the air conditioner. We eat dinner, do the dishes, and watch a borrowed movie, play a game, or read until it's time to go to bed – usually before 9:00 pm.

It's like we've entered a place where time stands still. Or perhaps runs backwards. Today is like yesterday which is like the day before. Days turn into weeks turn into months. One boater we know says “I came here 14 years ago for hurricane season and I'm still here.” Sometimes at the pool we have earnest discussions:

“When was it that we saw that in town?”
“I don't know...it could have been Monday!”
“I thought it was Saturday because it was fresh vegetable day.”
“Yes you could be right but I'm thinking it might have been Sunday.”
“Could it have been two weeks ago?”
“Well I KNOW it wasn't yesterday!!!”
Everyone agrees “Yes it was NOT yesterday.”

Obviously, the Khronicles have suffered. We've dropped the ball, come apart at the seams, blundered, floundered, hemmed and hawed, bobbled, lurched, staggered, stumbled, muddled, goofed, and generally screwed the pooch Khronicle-wise for the last couple of months.
 The one big break we had in our daily routine was a road trip with friends from two other boats to see the Mayan ruins at Tikal and Yaxha (pronounced “yih-SHAH”). We've got a Khronicle about it in the works, but haven't managed to find time to work on it, what with our busy day-to-day sleeping, eating, working, sweating, resting, reading, swimming, and socializing schedule. But we're sure we'll get to it. One of these days. Yawn.

What day is it, again?

Mark & Julie
s/v Rachel
 pictures will eventually be posted ....

20 June, 2010

Mayan Ruins

Date: June 20. 2010
Location: Tikal National Park, Guatemala
Position: N 17 13.330 W 089 37.416

We started this Khronicle back in June and are just now getting back to it. And we actually have some pictures this time, too!

Inland travel is one of the best perks when you're “on the Rio”. Guatemala is rich in Mayan culture and ruins and there are several well-developed sites within reach. Back in June we took a trip to the Mayan ruins at Tikal (“tih-cahl”) and Yaxha (“yah-shah”) in the northern part of Guatemala along with our friends on “Osprey” and “Diva”.
We made arrangements with a local tour company for a van and driver for four days for $50 each – a pretty good deal, considering he'd be available to take us wherever we wanted to go in the area. We met at Tienda Ingrid at 8 am and by 8:30 we were loaded up and on our way. With 7 adults and two kids the van was full but comfortable – just as well, since we had a four hour trip ahead of us. Our driver Enrique didn't speak English, so we all got to practice our pidgin Spanish on him, poor fellow.

This was the first trip inland for all of us and we enjoyed seeing the small towns, the rain forest, the mountains, the farms, and all the beautiful views.

Lots of Guatemalan stuff for sale
Our first stop was the town of Flores. This small town is on an island on Lake Petén Itzá and is connected to the mainland by a causeway It's a quaint tourist destination with steep winding streets, colorful buildings and really interesting architecture. We're not sure if tourism is down or if everyone heard we were coming, but the town was very quiet.

We had a great lunch at Restaurante Los Peches.
The food was cheap and delicious, but the big draw was the sign reading “5 beers for Q40” (that's just $1 each). It was a hot thirsty day and we made the best of it. The owner even brought his pet parrot over to visit with us while we waited for our lunch.
From Flores we drove to El Remate, a small town on the opposite end of the the lake. El Remate is not far from the Tikal park, making it a convenient location for us. We stayed at "Casa Don David" for three nights.
These are our rooms at Casa Don David
The gardens at Casa Don David, check out the topiary
Enrique connected us with a guide he knew who lives next door to the hotel and we arranged to all meet outside the hotel at 5:30 the next morning.

The next morning we all met as scheduled, although the adults in the crowd were a little subdued after celebrating Wendy from Osprey's birthday the night before.

We can't say enough good things about Tikal. Our guide Luis was amazing. He really brought the ruins to life through his stories of growing up there, explanations of Mayan culture and religion, and his love of nature.

The first thing Luis did was lure a tarantula out of it's hole!
He took us on back trails where we barely saw any other tourists giving us the chance to really get a feel for the site.
Luis is not only a student of anthropology, he's of Mayan descent, an avid birdwatcher with a degree in biology, and the second licensed archeological guide in Guatemala. As expected, we saw a lot of ruins.

We are sitting way up on top of Temple IV
....and here is the view
Temple I, II and III
But we also saw tarantulas, 21 species of birds, howler and spider monkeys, crocodiles, and loads of other wildlife during our 7 hour walking tour.

Wild turkey

A ceiba tree, the national tree of Guatemala
Luis' enthusiasm was infectious. He'd periodically say “Look...a [insert animal or bird name here]. See it?” and go dashing off into the jungle trying to get a good photo of it for us. He coaxed a tarantula out of it's hole and let the kids hold it. He got the howler monkeys howling for us.
Spider Monkey
Huge grasshopper


He showed us a site where, if you stood in the right spot and clapped your hands you'd hear not only the echo of the clap but a loud, distinct squeak following it. No idea how the Mayans arranged that.
The 'squeak' was right here where Kaeo is being prepared for sacrifice
Jaguar Temple
Central Acropolis

The day was hot and muggy but luckily most of the time we were walking through the jungle in the shade. Then we'd suddenly burst out into an opening and be confronted by a huge pyramid or series of caves or a ball court, or the Plaza of the Lost World , finally ending up at the Great Plaza.
His explanations about the sun, solstices, construction, and sacrifices were amazing. He gave us just the information we needed to bring the ruins to life without overloading us with details. We were all so glad that we'd hired a guide and specifically Luis - he was great.

Wendy, Debbie and the kids obviously had not got enough exercise for the day (though, after walking around the ruins for 7 hours, the rest of us were ready for a break) so we stopped at a zip line on the way back to the hotel!! While they did the zip line a.k.a canopy tour, the “non-zippers” relaxed watching the World Cup with frosty beers in hand.
The next day we could identify every muscle in our legs, they all ached from climbing up and down those pyramids. We spent the morning loosening up by wandering around El Remate, then Luis went with us again to another archeological site named Yaxha.

The ball court at Yaxha
A stele , a stone slab inscribed and carved in relief
Temple from afar
Temple close up

Yaxha - North Acropolis where the TV show “Survivor Guatemala – The Mayan Empire” held their tribal councils. Does that make us special, or what?
Yaxha was about an hours drive away, smaller and less developed than Tikal, but still different and very interesting. Being less developed we were able to see many pyramids and buildings as the first explorers must have seen them – rather steep hills covered with trees. This gave us a much better feel for the vast amount of work that goes into excavating a site like this.
One of hundreds of unexcavated pyramids dotted around Guatemala
still waiting to be uncovered
We spent a couple of hours walking around the ruins and then Luis arranged special permission for us to stay late so we could watch the sunset over the jungle from the top of one of the pyramids – Wow!!!

A couple of other pictures we wanted to share
Carniceria = Butcher shop!!! Wouldn't want to be that cow!
Insulation - Guatemala style.
Plastic bottles framed and covered with stucco, recycling at work.