Buenos Dias,

Our “go to” lady here at the marina is Kelly at the front desk.  (She’s one of the 3 people in town that speaks English-not dissin’, just sayin’).  We have a Q&A with her at least twice a day, and she’s invaluable.  She guided all of our paperwork through Customs and Immigration without us ever seeing an official.  Nice!  She also acts as our go-between with the marina manager and the dock supervisor.  IMHO this place would be lost without her.

Back to our walkabout, the visit to the Museo D’Oro turned out to be a hidden gem.  Besides exhibits featuring gold jewelry (as the name implies), there is a wealth of information regarding the Sierra Nevada regions of Colombia.  The museum also happens to be housed in the building in which Simon Bolivar laid in state after his death in 1830.  Written descriptions in Spanish and English attend each display.  We learned more South American history in two visits than we had in the previous sixty-odd years.

Adjoining Simon Bolivar Parque and adjacent to the Gold Museum is Juan Valdez coffee shop.  This is the Colombian version of Starbucks, with coffee that is ten times better.  Most of the best Colombian coffee is exported to Europe, with the inferior mass produced beans staying in-country, or exported to the U.S.A. The Juan Valdez chain’s aim is to introduce Colombians to their finest coffees. However, it was a total shocker when we were charged 13,000 pesos for a large cappuccino and a large latte.  Ohhh…. That’s around four bucks.  Needless to say, we’re now regulars.  The coffee dude doesn’t ask our names anymore.

In the morning, fruit vendors ply the streets, pushing their handcarts.  Some have amplifiers and loudspeakers over which they hawk their wares in the concrete canyons between the high rises.  Whole pineapples go for 3,000 ($.90 U.S.).  Bananas, Mangos, Pineapples and other South American fruits that I’ve never heard of are equally inexpensive.  After we buy fruit for the boat on the sidestreets, we have a favorite guy by Bolivar Parque that sells plastic cups full of sliced fruits, accompanied by plastic forks for 2,000 a pop.

We’re not really sure what the diving here is all about, but there are several dive operations in town.  We’ve visited a couple of them, and may go for a dive or two while we’re here.  -Keep you posted.

Besides street food, we’ve eaten at a couple of recommended restaurants.  “Ouzo”, is highly rated by both Tripadvisor and fellow cruisers-very good, with Sangria that is superior (or maybe it was so because we had been walking all afternoon).  Lamart, a funky little place recommended by Andrea (up at Minca), served up a mean Ceviche, followed by a very good main course of fish. A couple of other restaurants were good, but not memorable.  The common denominator is that all have been very inexpensive by North American standards ($30-$40 U.S. for 2 drinks, apps, and entrees).  Kinda makes going out a very viable alternative to staying home and cooking.

Back on the docks, we filled our water tanks with the tap water.  No good! No good! No good! cried another North American who had been here for 6 months.  “I was sick for a month, and Nigel, down the dock, ended up in hospital for a week (he has other health issues) from drinking the water.  Sheesh!  What a dummy.  We’ve been drinking tap water since we left home 5 years ago, but this IS South America.  So we’ve just taken on 300 gallons of potentially poisonous H2O in our public health graduate’s pristine water tanks. W.H.O website says that a cup-and-a-half of bleach in each tank should do the trick, so now our dishes, laundry, and skin is whiter than white.  The Admiral does this procedure once a year, so the drill wasn’t unfamiliar.  Meanwhile, we’re buying bottled water.

You know that these two science majors are nerding out on history these days, and our visit to the gold museum just whetted our appetites for some South American rat facts.  After a twenty minute, two dollar cab ride, we arrived at Quinta San Pedro Alejandrino, the estate at which Simon Bolivar spent his last few weeks. The botanical garden there was very much less-than-spectacular, but the colonial architecture and the artifacts on display more than made up for it.  With the help of our sorta English speaking guide, we learned more about General Bolivar, a.k.a. El Libertador.  Our taste of history at the estate provoked us to dig deeper, thanks Google, when we got home.

Monday the 8th, 08h30.  Time for our road trip to Mompox.  Sue and Mike joined us for the 5 hour trip, driving out of the shadow of the Sierra Nevadas, through the lowlands leading to and surrounding the once-busy port of Mompox on the Rio Magdalena. Established in 1540, the town was the major port linking the coast to the interior of the colony. During that period, goldsmithing and ironwork flourished in this center of commerce.  Late in the 19th century, trade routes changed to another branch of the river Magdalena, and Mompox has been in decline ever since.  As of late, it has been increasingly popular as a tourist destination, due to the plethora of colonial architecture there.  By no means touristic(?), I can see this sleepy village exploding on the traveler “must see” scene when the local airport and highway are completed.  We stayed at a small, 8 room hotel on the river in Mompox. It is a charming little property housed in the historic Portales De Marqueza warehouse. Our cook, Margherita served us up a savory breakfast of local fare which generally held us until dinnertime every day.  Jim and Carole joined us, and the six of us wandered town, taking in the local culture.  We visited several churches, took a three hour boat ride into the Pijino swamp, and plied basically every street in this busy little village.  Feeling like we had seen all there was to see in Mompox, Suz and I came home on Thursday, leaving Jim, Carole, Mike and Sue, who were spending another day (Their rooms were prepaid).

Suzanne prepared a fantastic chicken curry yesterday.  Mike and Sue joined us for dinner when they returned from Mompox, as we figured that they wouldn’t want to chase for food after the long drive home.

The washer quit yesterday with a load still in the drum.  Sleep last night was sporadic.  I hate having things broken.  This morning, while Suz was having her hair cut by a fellow cruiser, I pulled the doors and moldings off the cabinet where the washer/dryer sits, and pulled it out so I could take the cabinet apart.  Good news was that the failure was located in the switch that stops the washer when the lid is open.  I couldn’t fix the switch, so I bypassed it by jumping the wires.  All good!  The Admiral says that she’ll enjoy sleeping with the Maytag repairman tonight.  T.M.I., I know.  No worries, I won’t keep you posted.

-Luego

Buenos Tardes,

So… we’re getting ready to start our second week in Colombia, and what a time it’s been.  Right now it’s 92 degrees and 88% humidity at 13h00. It has become pretty clear to this Gringo why siestas are the order of the day here.  I’m hidin’ out, peckin’ away at the laptop with the sweat rolling down my spine.

The crossing was a dream.  We had 2’-4’ seas on our quarter most of the way.  At 06h00 on Saturday morning (36 hours into the trip), we rounded the point north of Santa Marta.  It’s not unusual to have 40 knot winds with the current piling the waves up around this point where the Sierra Nevadas rise up out of the sea.  This passage is consistently rated as one of the most difficult in the WORLD!  Yeah, that includes Cape Horn.  My red-headed weather forecaster and lifelong companion hit the nail on the head.  5-10 knots, 1’-3’ seas, as we watched the sun rise over snow-capped mountains.  I got the 2 Blackfin tunas that we caught filleted and into the freezer as we eased our way down to the IGY Marina at Santa Marta.  After we had the Girl properly secured in her assigned slip, screens and sunshades in place and lounge chairs out, one of the dock guys came by.  He didn’t think that the other guys had put us in the best spot and wondered if we might want to move before it got windy.  Long story short, we moved.  Later that night the wind came up to a steady 27 knots with gusts into the mid 30’s.  At 22h00 Suz and I were on the dock securing extra lines across the slip next to us, happy that we had moved.

Small world time.  We introduced ourselves to the Australian couple on the sailboat next to us.  They told us that they had some friends from Michigan that they had met in Indonesia several years ago and had travelled quite extensively with them.  Suz asked what city in Michigan.  “Grand Rapids” The name of their boat?  “Nepenthe” Aha! Must be talking about Carol and Jim (You remember them-we met them in Guadeloupe a couple of years ago.  You know the couple that started a 2 year circumnavigation and ended it 17 years later.) Well….Turns out that they didn’t go back to land after all, and they were about 20 miles up the coast here in Colombia. The 4 of them had just returned from a trip up the mountain to Minca, and were planning a 4-day jaunt to Mompox(Mompos) the next week.  Carol hoped that our new pals, Sue and Mike would talk us into joining them.  No problem!  Mompox was on our list of places to visit.  We got a hotel reservation, arranged transportation for Sue, Mike and ourselves, and made a plan to meet up with Jim and Carol there.

For the first day or so, we just got the “lay of the land” here in Santa Marta.  We quickly found out that in this city of 400,000 or so, about 3 people spoke English.  Crash the Spanish “How-To” books, and gracias de Dio for Google Translate.  After hitting the ATM, I finally found out what it feels like to be a billionaire.  (A Coke costs around 5,000 Colombian pesos. 10,000 COP is around $3.15 U.S.)  It took awhile to get the conversion thing figured out.  We had planned to do some hiking/touring inland from Santa Marta (hereafter SM), so we checked out the tour operators in town.  We settled on “Magic Tours,” and booked a day trip to the small village of Minca, located up in the mountains around an hour from SM.  It seemed like a good way to check out their operation before booking our big trips with them.

The next morning, our driver was at the marina gate.  We drove through the narrow streets of SM, congested with cars, motorbikes, bicycles, and yes, horse and mule-drawn wagons.  It took me about 5 minutes to realize that renting a car and driving in this snarl of apparent traffic anarchy was TOTALLY OUT OF THE QUESTION.  Nonetheless, we popped out the other side and made our way up the serpentine road to Minca.  So what’s in Minca? Not much.  Some small farms, growing coffee and cacao and some small hostels.  It’s known as a hub for backpackers and trekkers, and there are scads of them there.  Suz and I were definitely the oldest non-locals by 30 years.  What’d we do there?  We met our guide, Andrea and our 5 fellow walkers.  Our first walk was to a small coffee plantation, where we stopped and had some killer coffee.  One of our companions was a Brit who didn’t like coffee, so they brewed her a cup of Coca tea.  We also learned that only the indigenous men, not women, chewed coca.  It is legal to grow and smoke marijuana in your home, but not in public, nor is it legal to sell it.  Oh….the useful information tangents that we get off on. After the coffee farm, we hiked for another 2 hours to a small waterfall, where we cooled off under the rushing water.  From there, it was another hour or so to Andrea’s dad’s house on the side of the mountain, where he cooked us a wonderful lunch followed by some cacao drinks. Besides the ignominious moment when Yours Truly slipped off the bridge comprised of 2 bamboo poles spanning the creek, the hour long walk back to the village was uneventful.  I really thought that the least one of my companions could do was follow me in to the drink, or at least suppress their laughter, but no.  It wasn’t to be.  Ego severely bruised, but ankles unharmed (although rather soggy) I trudged (squishelly) down the jungle path.  Our ride arrived, and we decided we’d stick with Magic Tours for our next outings.

The Santa Marta marina is right in the center of town, so walking access is very easy.  Before it gets too hot, our routine has been to put a few miles on and explore.  After our Minca experience, we headed back to Magic with Mike and Sue in tow, to book our hike to Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City).  It’s said to be a pretty strenuous hike, so we’ve been trying to get some walks in before, even though we know that we won’t be able to get in shape walking on the flat at sea level.  We’ve got our trek scheduled to begin the Monday after Easter.  We’ll keep you posted.  If you want, you can check out The Lost City at:  https://ciudadperdida.co/

Lotsa stuff here in SM, so I’ll talk at ya

-Luego

Adios, Curacao!

As usual, leaving a comfy berth and heading into an unfamiliar one was kind of a Yin/Yang thing.  On the one hand, we had seen what we wanted to see on Curacao, but the familiar routine was comfortable.  On the other, the prospect of visiting a new island was exciting, but would we really like it?

We decided to shorten the trip by 20 miles, so we obtained an anchoring permit, allowing us to move north up the west coast of Curacao and anchor overnight in Santa Kruz Bay before heading west to Aruba.  The Girl was off the dock at Santa Barbara Plantation at 09h00 and had the anchor down (for the first time) in Santa Kruz by 12h30.  A guy in a tourist snorkel boat comes by and tells me we NEED to leave.  We’re right where he takes his snorkelers to the sunken boat nearby.  Well…..ask me-it’s all good.  Tell me…..we may have an issue. I told him that his snorkelers were welcome to swim near our boat-no problem.  He didn’t like that idea, and as he motored off, he let me know that he’d be back “Motherf#$@r!”.  The Admiral and I didn’t like the idea of sleeping with one eye open, so when he was out of sight, we moved over a hundred feet.  Before dinner, we had a visit from the Coast Guard, as the lady issuing our anchoring permit suggested we might.  They boarded us, checked our papers (which were all in order), and bade us good night.  We were up, and the lines were out by 06h45.  In 15 minutes, the drought was over.  We had a nice 34” Mahi in the cooler, and life was good.  No bites the rest of the trip.  The seas were predicted to be 3’-5’, they were actually 2’-4- all the way over, and we got a nice push from the current.  Aruba Customs and Immigration was a breeze.  After the paperwork, an officer came on board, exchanged pleasantries and sent us off.  The marina was a couple miles away.  We motored over and Med-moored (stern in, bow tied to a mooring) against the wall just inside the jetty with the help of a dockhand in a dinghy and one on the dock.

The dude from “Carvenience” picked us up at 09h30 the next morning, took us back to his office and we were in business with our rental by 11h00.  The first order of business was to find a battery for our engine starting, as our current (no pun intended) one was darn near dead.  Budget Marine had one size 8D in stock, so one boat unit ($1K) poorer, and one battery richer, we were almost good to go.  Almost, because the battery box for said behemoth (156 pounds) has about 20” of clearance above it and is situated at about chest height when you’re kneeling in front of it.  Jair, the manager at Budget said “No problem, I’ll come over after work and put it in for you and take out and dispose of the old one”.  He said that he was really strong, shouldn’t be a problem, but I had my doubts.  The last time that we changed batteries, we got 3 football players from Florida Central to do the honors.  Suz and I managed to get it out of the trunk and down to the dock, then on to the stern of the Girl with the help of a dock hand.  At 18h30, Jair and his wife, Natasha show up, and he’s ready to go.  He couldn’t get the battery down the ladder into the engine room, but this wasn’t MY first rodeo.  I had the salon floor ready to pull up, so we took out the floor panels and lowered the unit into the engine room with ropes, while Suzanne was down below, steering.  That was the easy part.  Now, the battery had to be lifted into the battery box that is tucked back in the corner.  Let’s just say that it took a half hour or so of noodling different ways to get the job done without result.  In the end, pride was the solution.  He said he was strong, he said that he could do it, and by Gosh, he wasn’t going to be humiliated.  Up and in.  We spent the next hour or so chatting with Jair and Natasha about their daughter, Bella, who is an autistic savant.  She was talking by age one, reading before 2, knew several languages before age 5 (self-taught), and is a whiz at math. Of course, we were fascinated and mostly just listened intently while they described their now 14 year old’s exploits.  It seems that her extraordinary talents are balanced against some behavioral issues and present quite a challenge for both her teachers and parents.  We meet some pretty interesting people in our travels. 

James and Pam, aboard “LoveZur” (Thanksgiving dinner in Antigua- 2017), were in a slip around six boats down from us.  After being in Aruba for 7 months, they knew the drill.  Over cocktails, they read us in.  We knew what groceries to buy at which stores, what day of the week that they stocked, Senior discount day, etc.  They told us about the facilities at the two Renaissance Hotels where we had privileges etc. and etc. The island of Aruba is fairly small, so it’s pretty easy to cover the high points in a week.  We drove from the Dutch military base in the south to the California Lighthouse in the north.  We visited the beaches and the “Hotel Zone” on the west (Leeward) coast to the rock-strewn east (windward) shore.  We climbed to the highest point, Mt. Hooiberg and signed up with “Mermaid Divers” to explore the depths. James and Pam hadn’t done much exploring, as he had been dealing with some now-resolved health issues, so we dragged them along on a couple of our jaunts.  Compared to the “B” and “C” of the ABC islands, Aruba is super touristy (like athleticism-Is that really a word?).  Anyway, we hit the tourist spots.  My favorite was the butterfly farm-I had never been to one before, and our guide imparted some fascinating facts about the life and times of butterflies.

We got our boat chores done. I needed to fabricate some attachments for the terminals on our new battery, as the new one wasn’t quite the same as the old one.  It took a little time to find the parts that I needed, but a picture of the final result garnered a “Nice” from Scotty, our “Master of All Things Krogen” guru back in the States. We had also developed a fuel line leak when leaving Curacao the week before. Jair put me in touch with a local guy, Roberto, who made up a new hose patterned after the one that I removed.  Nothing’s ever easy.  The new one leaked at the other end, and I ended up replacing some flared fittings (Also supplied by Roberto) before the Girl was leak-free.  Sheesh!

Okay.  You know the plan.  We are staying in Aruba for a couple of weeks. Wait for a weather window.  Go to Colombia.  It’s been windy as all get out for weeks, with seas to match.  We’re laying in bed the morning of Thursday, the 28th and Suzanne busts out with “I’ve been watching the weather for the route to Colombia for a month or so, trying to figure out a pattern.  The offshore high in the western Caribbean is contracting right now.  It’s too bad that we aren’t leaving today.”  Well…….’Nuff said.  Aruba wasn’t really our cuppa tea.  By 09h00 we had called the marina at Santa Marta.  Yep, they had room for us.  Reservation made.  Told Hans and crew at Renaissance “You know that month’s berthing that we paid in advance……?” New bill computed, refund made by 12h00.  Rental car? “Okay if we bring it back a day early?”  Check.  Mexican rice casserole, Tuna salad, carrot and celery sticks cut (for the ride) Ditto.  Guest stateroom (It’s midship-quieter and less motion while underway) bed made.  We were off the dock at 16h30.  Had to show up at Customs in person and with boat, so a 45 minute ride in the wrong direction to take care of that bit of business. We were enroute to Colombia forty minutes ahead of schedule.  Sunset.  Dinner.  I am off to bed and Suzanne will take the first 6 hour watch, so I’ll talk at ya….

-Later

Adios, Curacao!

As usual, leaving a comfy berth and heading into an unfamiliar one was kind of a Yin/Yang thing.  On the one hand, we had seen what we wanted to see on Curacao, but the familiar routine was comfortable.  On the other, the prospect of visiting a new island was exciting, but would we really like it?

We decided to shorten the trip by 20 miles, so we obtained an anchoring permit, allowing us to move north up the west coast of Curacao and anchor overnight in Santa Kruz Bay before heading west to Aruba.  The Girl was off the dock at Santa Barbara Plantation at 09h00 and had the anchor down (for the first time) in Santa Kruz by 12h30.  A guy in a tourist snorkel boat comes by and tells me we NEED to leave.  We’re right where he takes his snorkelers to the sunken boat nearby.  Well…..ask me-it’s all good.  Tell me…..we may have an issue. I told him that his snorkelers were welcome to swim near our boat-no problem.  He didn’t like that idea, and as he motored off, he let me know that he’d be back “Motherf#$@r!”.  The Admiral and I didn’t like the idea of sleeping with one eye open, so when he was out of sight, we moved over a hundred feet.  Before dinner, we had a visit from the Coast Guard, as the lady issuing our anchoring permit suggested we might.  They boarded us, checked our papers (which were all in order), and bade us good night.  We were up, and the lines were out by 06h45.  In 15 minutes, the drought was over.  We had a nice 34” Mahi in the cooler, and life was good.  No bites the rest of the trip.  The seas were predicted to be 3’-5’, they were actually 2’-4- all the way over, and we got a nice push from the current.  Aruba Customs and Immigration was a breeze.  After the paperwork, an officer came on board, exchanged pleasantries and sent us off.  The marina was a couple miles away.  We motored over and Med-moored (stern in, bow tied to a mooring) against the wall just inside the jetty with the help of a dockhand in a dinghy and one on the dock.

The dude from “Carvenience” picked us up at 09h30 the next morning, took us back to his office and we were in business with our rental by 11h00.  The first order of business was to find a battery for our engine starting, as our current (no pun intended) one was darn near dead.  Budget Marine had one size 8D in stock, so one boat unit ($1K) poorer, and one battery richer, we were almost good to go.  Almost, because the battery box for said behemoth (156 pounds) has about 20” of clearance above it and is situated at about chest height when you’re kneeling in front of it.  Jair, the manager at Budget said “No problem, I’ll come over after work and put it in for you and take out and dispose of the old one”.  He said that he was really strong, shouldn’t be a problem, but I had my doubts.  The last time that we changed batteries, we got 3 football players from Florida Central to do the honors.  Suz and I managed to get it out of the trunk and down to the dock, then on to the stern of the Girl with the help of a dock hand.  At 18h30, Jair and his wife, Natasha show up, and he’s ready to go.  He couldn’t get the battery down the ladder into the engine room, but this wasn’t MY first rodeo.  I had the salon floor ready to pull up, so we took out the floor panels and lowered the unit into the engine room with ropes, while Suzanne was down below, steering.  That was the easy part.  Now, the battery had to be lifted into the battery box that is tucked back in the corner.  Let’s just say that it took a half hour or so of noodling different ways to get the job done without result.  In the end, pride was the solution.  He said he was strong, he said that he could do it, and by Gosh, he wasn’t going to be humiliated.  Up and in.  We spent the next hour or so chatting with Jair and Natasha about their daughter, Bella, who is an autistic savant.  She was talking by age one, reading before 2, knew several languages before age 5 (self-taught), and is a whiz at math. Of course, we were fascinated and mostly just listened intently while they described their now 14 year old’s exploits.  It seems that her extraordinary talents are balanced against some behavioral issues and present quite a challenge for both her teachers and parents.  We meet some pretty interesting people in our travels. 

James and Pam, aboard “LoveZur” (Thanksgiving dinner in Antigua- 2017), were in a slip around six boats down from us.  After being in Aruba for 7 months, they knew the drill.  Over cocktails, they read us in.  We knew what groceries to buy at which stores, what day of the week that they stocked, Senior discount day, etc.  They told us about the facilities at the two Renaissance Hotels where we had privileges etc. and etc. The island of Aruba is fairly small, so it’s pretty easy to cover the high points in a week.  We drove from the Dutch military base in the south to the California Lighthouse in the north.  We visited the beaches and the “Hotel Zone” on the west (Leeward) coast to the rock-strewn east (windward) shore.  We climbed to the highest point, Mt. Hooiberg and signed up with “Mermaid Divers” to explore the depths. James and Pam hadn’t done much exploring, as he had been dealing with some now-resolved health issues, so we dragged them along on a couple of our jaunts.  Compared to the “B” and “C” of the ABC islands, Aruba is super touristy (like athleticism-Is that really a word?).  Anyway, we hit the tourist spots.  My favorite was the butterfly farm-I had never been to one before, and our guide imparted some fascinating facts about the life and times of butterflies.

We got our boat chores done. I needed to fabricate some attachments for the terminals on our new battery, as the new one wasn’t quite the same as the old one.  It took a little time to find the parts that I needed, but a picture of the final result garnered a “Nice” from Scotty, our “Master of All Things Krogen” guru back in the States. We had also developed a fuel line leak when leaving Curacao the week before. Jair put me in touch with a local guy, Roberto, who made up a new hose patterned after the one that I removed.  Nothing’s ever easy.  The new one leaked at the other end, and I ended up replacing some flared fittings (Also supplied by Roberto) before the Girl was leak-free.  Sheesh!

Okay.  You know the plan.  We are staying in Aruba for a couple of weeks. Wait for a weather window.  Go to Colombia.  It’s been windy as all get out for weeks, with seas to match.  We’re laying in bed the morning of Thursday, the 28th and Suzanne busts out with “I’ve been watching the weather for the route to Colombia for a month or so, trying to figure out a pattern.  The offshore high in the western Caribbean is contracting right now.  It’s too bad that we aren’t leaving today.”  Well…….’Nuff said.  Aruba wasn’t really our cuppa tea.  By 09h00 we had called the marina at Santa Marta.  Yep, they had room for us.  Reservation made.  Told Hans and crew at Renaissance “You know that month’s berthing that we paid in advance……?” New bill computed, refund made by 12h00.  Rental car? “Okay if we bring it back a day early?”  Check.  Mexican rice casserole, Tuna salad, carrot and celery sticks cut (for the ride) Ditto.  Guest stateroom (It’s midship-quieter and less motion while underway) bed made.  We were off the dock at 16h30.  Had to show up at Customs in person and with boat, so a 45 minute ride in the wrong direction to take care of that bit of business. We were enroute to Colombia forty minutes ahead of schedule.  Sunset.  Dinner.  I am off to bed and Suzanne will take the first 6 hour watch, so I’ll talk at ya….

-Later

 

 

Goedenmiddag,

Well….I’m still playin’ catchup, ‘cause I was playinhookie for months. I took some editorial liberties with the Bonaire and Curacao visits.  We visited both islands twice.  Bonaire #1 was from October 4th-December 5th.  Curacao #1 from December 5th-January 31rst.  Bonaire #2 from January 31rst-February 27th.  Curacao #2 from February 27th-March 21rst.  Sooo….we had nearly 6 months split between the 2 islands.

For the sake of brevity(?), some stuff was omitted:

The kids’ visits

The flu (or whatever-we had our shots) that put both of us down in bed for a week when we returned to Bonaire after Jeremy and Jodi’s wedding. (Yep!!!)  My cough is still hanging on nearly 2 months later.

Many memorable dive trips

More great restaurants

Lotsa fun with John and Paulette

Gulp! Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa!

-Sooner

Goedemorgen,

Well….it’s always nice to get a quick and dirty overview of a new location. The Admiral found an outfit that offered tuktuk tours of Willemstad, so the day after we arrived, we Tucks were tucked in the back of a tuktuk with our new friend Nigel at the wheel.  At 6’ 8”, Nigel hadn’t fit the profile of former tuktuk drivers in southeast Asia, but after he folded himself in, he was one with the machine.  We spent a couple of hours together, seeing the sights, learning some history, and ugh! talking politics. It was a blast.  Note to selves… “Schedule tuktuk tours for the kids.”

Our favorite tour director, Paulette scheduled a dive trip for us with Go West Diving out at Westpunt, the western end of the island.  Marilyn and Steve, friends of John and Paulette’s from 2 other boats joined in, and we car-a-vanned out to west end.  We did 2 boat dives on the dive boat, captained by one certifiably crazy captain-they were delightful.  Of course, you can’t do an outing with J&P without food.  We had a late lunch at Playa Forti restaurant, located on a cliff overlooking the azure blue Caribbean sea. Second note to selves... “The kids will love this restaurant.”  By the way, there was a nice little bay near the restaurant where the fishermen cleaned their fish and threw the offal into the water.  Yuck?  Well no, not really.  The turtles were always present in droves.  The chance of seeing a turtle was 100%.  (third note to selves).

I’m pretty sure that I mentioned that we were moored in the entrance to a large lagoon called Spanish Waters.  The several square mile lagoon made for great exploration, both by kayak and dinghy (cocktail cruises). Literally, 100’s of boats were either moored or berthed in there.

More tourist stuff. We toured the Aloe farm and the Curaloe product manufacturing facility, a commercial Ostrich farm, and the ChiChi studio (Serena’s Art Factory).  Gotta check out the fat lady figurines at:  https://chichi-curacao.com/

“De Koksmaat,” a top-end kitchen supply store was a regular stop for us (you know us, hardware stores and kitchen shops). Owned by Monica and her husband Wilfried (a retired high-end caterer) had a small commercial kitchen in one corner. In this kitchen, he put on a weekly cooking demonstration, each week with a theme.  Wil would cook one course per hour for 4 hours from 1100-1400 every Saturday.  His philosophy was that great food needn’t be complicated to cook.  No, we didn’t hang out for 4 hours.  We’d show up for the last 2 courses, but by the time we left Curacao, he knew that we were coming, so he’d reserve a couple servings of the first 2 for us.  Oh yeah, we bought a few gadgets too.

We’re still looking for fun stuff to do when the kids arrive, so it was our duty to take a day trip out to Klein Curacao, a small island around 8 miles east of Curacao.  Although there are many operators who go there, the gang aboard “Blue Finn,” a 75’ catamaran came highly recommended.  We were rather familiar with the boat, as she came past our dock twice a day-early morning and late afternoon.  The boat had a great playlist and a killer sound system.  Looked like the crew was always having a good time.  It was a no-brainer.  They picked us up at the Girl, then we motored over to Jan Thiel, where we picked up the rest of the touristas.  We had a wonderful day, anchoring on the lee side of Klein.  We had time for a snorkel before lunch was served on the stern of Blue Finn. Afterwards, Suz and I walked this small coral islet to the lighthouse on the far side.  We climbed the lighthouse, snapped a few pics and checked out a shipwreck nearby.  A bit more swimming, then sailing back to Curacao with an open bar with a never-empty glass completed the day.  The Admiral and I decided that it probably wasn’t a great day for our soon-to-be 1 year old grandson or anyone that couldn’t/shouldn’t handle a day of extreme sun. Grandpa and Nanna (did I really say that?) had a great day, though.  (fourth note to Selves.)

Crikey!!  Christmas sure got here in a hurry!  We got the Girl all dolled up a couple days ahead of time.  Suz had her Flamingoes in their Christmas hats and driftwood Christmas tree inside, and I (a.k.a. Clark Griswald) had my strings of lights outside (on a timer, of course).  Off to the States to see the fam, John and Paulette kept an eye on our little ship.

Back from our Holiday foray to the States, it was time for the Pagara celebration.  Don’t ask me-I have no idea about the origin or the meaning of the festivities.  The high point is the lighting of millions (literally) of firecrackers in and around Curacao, with the majority taking place in the Petermaii district of Willemstad.  Strings of firecrackers, bound together in 8” diameter snakes up to a couple hundred meters long are laid out in the streets and lit on one end.  After 250,000 firecrackers have blown, you can’t see across the street the smoke is so thick.  Walking along and following the main fuse is painful, as unlit ‘crackers blown from the main bunch explode randomly in the smoldering ashes.  Okay, those are the big ones.  Smaller strings, maybe only 10,000 or so, are going off here, there, and everywhere for 4 days.  The strings on the sidewalks are setting off burglar alarms, the ones on busy streets and sidewalks are stopping traffic.  Stores pop up in empty locations selling nothing but firecrackers.  Hey, any excuse for a party.

Suz and I were interested in the “Coral Restoration Project,” so got up with Ruud, at his shop Atlantis divers.  There, he taught us how to clean the “trees” that he was growing coral on in the bay prior to transplanting it on the reef.  With the participation of many dive shops on Bonaire and Curacao, the intention of the project is to rejuvenate storm-damaged reefs.  The project is going well, as evidenced by the new patches of vital coral in many areas around the islands.  We visited him several times, cleaning algae off the PVC trees with toothbrushes and scouring pads.

Our kids, Jeremy and Alison are both certified divers, but neither had been diving for years.  We needed to find a place where they could do a refresher dive, and their non-diving spouses/kids could chill on the beach.  Enter Samantha.  We had met her and her partner,on our trip to Klein Curacao. They both worked at, and told us about a dive shop at Blue Bay.  Sounded ideal.  Suz and I road tripped there.  Nice sand beach, palapas, 2 restaurants.  Check.  (fifth note to selves).

Getting’ wordy…

-Later

Ola, Amigos

The thirty-five mile or so trip from Bonaire to Curacao is an easy one.  The wind and current is always at your back, thanks to the Trade Winds.  You (almost) don’t even need to check the weather, just throw a dart at the calendar and go.  Halfway across, we passed another Krogen 48 going the other way.  Chuck and Barb, aboard Tusen Tak were headed back to Bonaire from their seasonal haulout in Curacao for the 8th year.  They went to Bonaire 8 years ago, fell in love with the island and diving, and never left.  This’ll be their last year in Bonaire, as they’ll head back to the States, sell their boat, and R.V. around North America for the next few years.  We dragged lines all the way, and passed through several patches of water that were literally “boiling” with schools of feeding Tuna, but got nary a bite-Boo!  Our destination was Santa Barbara Plantation Resort.  A spot on their quarter-mile long floating dock in the channel leading into Spanish Water lagoon would be our home for the next couple months.  As we pulled alongside, our pals, John and Paulette aboard “Seamantha” were waiting to catch our lines.  Later, they whisked us off to Willemstad, a 30 minute drive, so that we could clear in with Customs and Immigration. Locating the offices would have been akin to the search for the Holy Grail on our own.  Each was on a different side of the harbor, and located amidst a warren of alleys and one-way streets.  It sure is nice to have friends like J & P.  We hadn’t seen them since Martinique back in May, so had plenty of catching up to do.  Paulette, like Suzanne, is a “research queen” and having been on Curacao for 6 months had a ton of local knowledge for us, right down to where to take our dry cleaning.

The resort hotel at Santa Barbara was our choice for the simple reason that both of our kids and their families were coming to visit us (at different times).  Our dock paralleled the sandy beach at the hotel, providing a nice sheltered place to swim.  We had 2 swimming pools and a “splash pad” at our disposal, as well as a fitness center and 3 restaurants (where we received a 20% discount).  If the boat got “too small”, we could always get a room at the hotel to overflow into.  The hotel is located within the Santa Barbara Plantation development, which covers 1,500 acres of the southeast end of Curacao.  There are paved roads with platted building lots covering a small portion of the acreage, but only 50 or so homes have actually been built.  So…….there is plenty of undeveloped “bush”, which makes for lots of hiking and mountain biking. We took maximum advantage of both opportunities.

We had a little adventure on one of our mountain bike treks.  Suz and I were heading down a dirt two-track through the bush on our way to a path we knew.  All of a sudden, a helicopter appears.  It is hovering at about 100’ of altitude, around 200 yards behind us, and sidling sideways, keeping pace with us, it’s gun door pointed toward us.  We had planned on stopping at a rifle range up ahead for a water break.  As we did, the helicopter stopped and hovered.  We figured that these military guys were just using us for practice until 3 white SUV’s roared up the track and positioned around us.  Flak jackets, semi-automatic weapons and faces as serious as a heart attack accompanied the guys that got out of the vehicles.  Hmmm.  “You guys coming up for some target practice?”  After a little discussion regarding who we were, where we came from, and why we were there, we were informed that it was “Not safe for you to be here”, and that we were to leave immediately.  Interesting.  We had been out here several times before, hiking and biking.  On the way home, we stopped at the Seru Boca marina and related our story to Robbie, the marina manager there.  Yep, he had gotten a call about us.  He told us that the military was looking for some Venezuelan illegals who had come ashore nearby, and that the troops should have told us instead of being so mysterious about it.

Besides hiking around our area, one morning we joined a local hiking group to a peak overlooking Pescaidera Bay. The hike was led by a naturalist who stopped along the way to identify and tell us about some of the local flora.  Although there weren’t many English speakers in the group, they were enjoyable to walk with.  Of course, a visit to an island without taking the guy who doesn’t like heights (Yours Truly) to the highest point wouldn’t be any fun at all.  We drove to the west end of the island to the national park there and scaled Mount Christoffel.  Most of that hike was an uphill on a reasonably wide path, but there were parts that traversed narrow (at least to me) ledges along drop-offs, ending with a short climb up the rocks at the end.  I had a hard time enjoying the view, as the Admiral scampered around the edges at the top snapping pics in a 20 knot breeze, because I was thinking about having to get down. (What a weenie!).

Shete Boka is another national park at the west end of Curacao.  It stretches for a couple of miles along the windward shore.  As is typical of the windward side, the land is very rocky and arid.  The sea can be wild, crashing in on the near vertical fossilized coral shore.  The park has dirt tracks which connect several scenic points along the shore, so each can be accessed by driving.  There are also hiking paths, so we had the chance to get around 10 km of walking in.  The wind was really blowing, and we got some good pictures at one of the bokas, where the waves were rolling in to this indentation in the rocks.  At another boka, a cave could be entered from the land, winding down to a small grotto which was open to the sea.  So much for staying dry, as every 10th wave crashed over the flimsy platform, leaving you crouching in 2 feet of water.  Another of the trails coursed inland, and up to a small promontory about a mile or so from the shore, giving us a totally different perspective.  We’d be back 2 more times, as both of our kids wanted to visit too.

Well then, that’s 1100 words, so let’s continue

-Later

 

Bon Tarde,

Here are the odds ‘n ends to wrap up Bonaire.

First, the couldabeena cruise ender.  I told you about the Ostracod night dive.  Suz and I came back to Alizann in the marina and were rinsing off our dive gear in the cockpit.  The wind was blowing offshore, and bringing with it a “chemical/electrical” burning smell.  Eagle nose mentioned it, I kept on rinsing.  A bit later….(well, let me say that the Admiral never uses that word unless seriously provoked).  I turned and saw that the electrical power cord entering our boat from the dock was completely melted where it entered the inlet.  The fiberglass above it was covered with a black plume of soot.  We hadn’t even unlocked the door into the salon, but when we did, the acrid smell was just a tad (yes, that’s sarcasm) stronger.  The back side of the power inlet is under the corner of our settee.  Also, under that space is a heat exchanger for our diesel furnace, the control for our cockpit winch, our power cord winch and its’ controls, assorted cabling for our stereo, and a 110V supply for an outlet.  I was afraid to pull off the cushions and remove the cover for the space.  When I did, I saw that the conduits and many of the wires had been reduced to a dripping mess (they looked like candle wax).  The backside of the power inlet had the consistency of that marshmallow that fell off the stick and into the fire at camp-black and easily crumbled by hand.  Soot covered everything, and the odor was intense.  The next compartments contained our non-perishable food.  Since our heating ducts pierced the bulkheads between them, the soot had permeated all cabinets up to and around the right angle 7 feet away.  We kinda lost our appetites, so spent the rest of the night trying to salvage what we could.  Suzanne pulled all the sooty labels off cans and jars, relabeling them with magic marker after washing every single one.  Every product in boxes came out.  Rice and flour went into Tupperware—You get the picture.

Now the postmortem.  We could have very easily lost our boat.  If you’ve ever seen a plastic boat on fire, you know EXACTLY what I mean.  Why did the fire self-extinguish?  All of our wire conduits are marine grade and self extinguishing (don’t cheap out with the Home Depot stuff).  I think that the presence of the cushions over the space caused the fire to oxygen-starve, as it must have all happened within seconds or less.  So, what caused this near-catastrophe and how could it have been avoided?  Okay, we all check the ends of our shorepower cords a couple times a day to make sure that they’re not warm (did that).  Routinely pull ends of cords apart to check for corrosion (do that).  Take apart power inlet to snug up screws and check for corrosion on the backside (got me on that one).  Unplug shorepower when leaving the boat.

The next week was spent ripping out old wiring and replacing, scrubbing, scrubbing, scrubbing, and applying 3 coats of paint, while the overlying, upholstered cushions lived in garbage bags containing baking soda.  Sunshine helped too.  Suz could still get a faint smell of smoke from the lockers-a 12V ozone generator from Amazon took care of the last bits.

As long as we’re on “Oopses,” here’s one for you.  Suzanne and I were doing a beach day at Coco Beach, just down the street from our marina.  It was a “No cruise ship” day, so we were nearly the only ones there.  We snagged a couple of lounge chairs under a shade and were peacefully reading our Kindle’s when I caught movement out of the corner of my eye.  I looked to my right while exclaiming to Suzanne that “That idiot is going to drive his jeep onto the beach!”  Whoa!  Nobody at the wheel.  The jeep careened over the foot-high seawall, across the 15-foot beach and straight into the water, where it stopped, hanging precariously on a rock ledge, it’s rear wheels in 2 feet of water, its front wheels hanging several feet off the bottom.  Every wave rocked the vehicle, threatening to pull it off the ledge into deeper water.  I yelled for the beach dudes working the bar.  Two of them tried to keep the car from slipping deeper, while I sent the third to fetch rope.  He came back with a clothesline.  “That’s all we got.”  “Dude, we need to tie this vehicle to the palm tree up there.  Go to “WannaDive,” they must have a longer, stouter rope.  Meanwhile, a beachwalker and a couple in scuba gear are on the scene, helping to hold the aspiring submarine.  I swear, the owner must’ve lived in his car, because life possessions, seat cushions, and last months garbage were all floating out.  Suzanne went into action, fishing crap(coke cans, bags of M&M, plastic bottles, etc) out of the water until the oil/gasoline slick chased her to the showers.  Yay!  Guy’s back with a real rope.  They get a line around the trailer hitch and we tie it to a palm tree on shore.  There’s been a guy watching the scene unfold from a distance.  A light goes on, and I walk over and ask him if it’s his jeep.  Yep.  I ask him if he’s called anyone to retrieve his car.  Well…. maybe later he’ll call a friend.  Even though I remind him of the ecological damage he’s causing, he seems unconcerned, As I’m calling the authorities, he melts away.  The cops never came, but I called STINAPA, the managers of the national Marine Park, and within a half hour they had a crew and a pickup truck on site fishing out the mess.

 

I mentioned that there’s no anchoring anywhere around Bonaire.  When we arrived, all 42 moorings were occupied, so the marina was our only choice.  (By the way, if you’re headed to Bonaire, make a marina reservation as the moorings are first come first serve-no reservations).  Many of the moorings were occupied by participants in a large sailboat rally slated to leave Curacao several weeks hence.  Nonetheless, when we passed by the mooring field on our way to dive, we would notice several new boats in the field every day.  Finally got the memo from some sailing friends that we met there.  The grapevine knows who’s leaving and who needs a mooring.  The minute that a mooring is vacated (or before if the incoming boat ties their dinghy to the mooring), the ball is re-occupied.  A few weeks in, we had met enough friends that we were now part of the grapevine.  The day that we moved out onto a mooring, we had 3 choices.  Well……. that night was an adventure.  We had a wind shift, then the wind died (unheard of), and we found ourselves literally on top of our neighbor boat.  They were very gracious, but I stayed up all night fending off their boat so they could sleep.  The next morning, we were back to the marina, but not before calling our new friends, Dennis and Karen, stuck on their sailing catamaran “Toes in the Water,” in the marina.  They popped out and snatched our mooring as they were a few feet shorter than Alizann.  It only took a day or 2 for the grapevine to get us out onto a ball with more swinging room.  And……. we could dive right off the stern of the boat.

Thanksgiving was closing in on us fast, so Suz got a feast organized.  She and Karen from “Toes in the Water” started working on the menu while we decided on the guest list.  We ended up with Karen and Dennis, Dan and Roseann (our morning water aerobics pal) from “Exit strategy”, and a couple of their friends who we had over for dinner but never saw again so don’t expect me to remember their names.  The Admiral/Chef outdid herself.  Roast turkey, mashed potatoes (of course), homemade bread, cranberry/citrus salad, sweet potatoes, ambrosia, pumpkin pie and Hooch (yeah their was a bit of alcohol in it) pie.  Wine from Martinique (France) helped wash down the goodies from apps to the main course, while liqueurs chased dessert.

Okay, that’s it-off to Curacao.

-Later

Hey There

So…..Whadja do on Bonaire?

You got the diving part-lots of it.

After dives on Klein (Little) Bonaire, accessible only by boat, we’d stop at the sandy beach there.  I’d drop the Admiral and our beach shelter on the shore, take the dinghy out to a mooring and swim in.  Did I mention that anchoring anywhere around Bonaire or Klein Bonaire is strictly forbidden?  Well, it’s a good thing.  Keeps the reefs from being destroyed by anchors and chains.  Picnic lunches, reading, napping and floating on our swim noodles was the extent of our activities on Klein.

Flamingoes are a big attraction on Bonaire, which fulfills all of the requirements for an ideal Flamingo breeding habitat.  About 2,500 of the Southern Caribbean’s 50,000 Flamingoes reside on Bonaire.  The population can rise as high as 7,000 as the birds fly regularly between Curacao, Venezuela and Bonaire.  Flamingoes are the only filter feeders in the bird kingdom.  They stand in shallow water, tilting their heads upside down while stirring up the mud on the bottom with their feet.  This they draw into their mouths where their tongues, acting like a plunger forces the muddy water through lamellae on the bill, filtering out small edible bits of plant and animal matter.  We spent a fair bit of time, both on the North, and South ends of the island, where salty ponds supported flocks of these colorful guys.  By the way, the adults are pink from the betacarotene in the animals that they eat.  The juveniles start changing from white to pink as their diet transitions from herbivorous to carnivorous.  The Papiamento word for Flamingo is “Chogogo.”

The Yellow Shouldered Amazon Parrot is a bird whose habitat is primarily in Bonaire and Venezuela.  The population of these birds on Bonaire has been decimated by poaching (they’re beautiful birds, and in high demand as pets) and loss of habitat.  Fortunately, it is now illegal to own Yellow Shoulder’d’s in Bonaire.  Echo Bonaire is a facility dedicated to “Conserving the endangered Yellow Shouldered Parrot of Bonaire through conservation management, local community engagement and research.”  Suzanne and I visited the facility and received a tour from its’ director Julianka.  We visited the cages where injured and confiscated birds were being rehabilitated-over 75 parrots and 100 Brown-Throated Parakeets have been returned to the wild.  She also showed us their nursery, where plants are grown to reforest areas of the island as parrot habitats.  Some 85 acres have already been created, and fenced off to keep invasive herbivores (feral pigs, goats and donkeys) out.  We told Julianka that we’d be at the northwest coast the following Saturday where more trees were to be planted.   If you want to know more, check out www.echobonaire.org.

Okay, so let’s talk about the donkeys of Bonaire.  They were originally left here by the Spaniards who visited the islands briefly in the early 1600’s, before moving on to the South American mainland in their quest for gold.  (In fact, the Spaniards labelled these the “Islas Inutiles”- The useless islands, as they lacked any sources of gold).  The feral donkeys have become a real problem, as they are responsible for wreaking havoc with all edible vegetation.  Car/donkey confrontations are also a real problem.  Enter “The Bonaire Donkey Sanctuary,” whose “primary objective is to offer a sheltered, protected life to all the donkeys of Bonaire.”  The sanctuary covers around 400 acres (I think) near the airport on the south end of Bonaire.  Sick and wounded donkeys are brought there from elsewhere on the island.  They are then nursed to health and housed for the rest of their lives.  The Sanctuary also participated in a program to castrate males in the wild to control population (Until the “animal rights” folks got involved and put a stop to this humane way of controlling the population-ed.)  We visited the Sanctuary by truck.  Driving through the habitat with a bag of raw carrots provided for some interesting pictures.  Want more?  https://donkeysanctuary.org

Ever drink a cactus?  The Cadushy (cactus) Distillery will give you a chance to do so.  This small distillery formulates several liqueurs from a sustainable crop (they collect cactus on the roadside).  Their distillation apparatus is TINY and looks like it could have come straight from your uncle’s place in the hills of North Carolina.  It took about 10 minutes for the tour, a half hour for the tasting.  I think that the stuff is an acquired taste, but hey, we were here, we hadda do it.

Alleta has a goat farm in the middle of the island where she raises milking goats.  She makes and sells feta cheese, goat milk, and goat milk yoghurt.  What started out as a hobby has morphed into a full-time (although definitely on a shoestring budget) business.  We had a chance to milk goats and play with some babies which had been born several weeks earlier.  They were the cutest, and we got some good pictures.

We decided that we needed a quiet “Beach Day.”  Remembering “Sorobon” resort from our outing at Lac Bai, we figured that renting a cabana on the beach there would be a perfect way to chill on the water while staying out of the sun.  (Neither of us can afford a lot of time sunbathing these days.)  At Sorobon, a small exclusive resort, the pamper factor is high.  The palm-thatched bar afforded cold drinks and a delicious lunch while the windsurfers on the bay provided entertainment.

Regatta week in Bonaire brings sailors from all over the islands to participate in the races.  It also creates a mess on the reef that parallels the shore road in Kralendijk.  The Monday after the festivities ended, we joined around 100 other divers for a reef cleanup.  In all, we pulled a bit more than half a large dumpster of bottles, cans, and other assorted trash off the bottom.  “Thanks for the help” came in the form of a barbeque dinner at “Dive Friends” resort.  Suz and I won two reuseable grocery bags in the raffle-Wahoo!  

Every couple months or so, (I really never figured out a schedule, think they do it when the spirit moves) a park ranger leads a hike which involves climbing Mount Brandaris, the highest peak on Bonaire.  The hike is timed so that the sun is setting just about the time that you reach the summit.  The view for 360 degrees is nothing short of incredible.  Being that the first half mile down would be a scramble down a scree-covered face and a foot-in-front-of-foot on narrow ledges, Yours Truly who doesn’t really care for heights was just a tad concerned as the sun went down.  As I crouched low and sweated every step, Admiral Mountaingoat nursed me along.  It was pitch dark by the time we got back to “Jason” our trusty little Toyota Hilux truck.  It was an incredible experience, and being in the park after closing felt like a taste of forbidden fruit.

The majority of the slaves on the island worked on the salt pans in the south.  You may be aware that salt was the major (sustainable)  export from Bonaire for many decades.  In fact thousands of tons are still exported by the Cargill Corporation to this day.  Production goes like this:  seawater is pumped into huge holding ponds where it is allowed to evaporate, leaving sea salt behind.  Back in the day, this salt was harvested and transported to waiting ships by slave labor.  As you may imagine, this was back-breaking work, and the sunlight glaring off the snow white salt often resulted in blindness for the workers there.  Nowadays all operations are mechanized.  After working 6 days in the pans, the slaves made the 8 mile trek to Rincon, where many of their families lived, to receive their weeks food rations at the King’s warehouse there.  After a day off, it was an 8 mile trek back to the salt pans for another week.

The King’s warehouse now contains a cultural museum which is well worth the stop.  After visiting the museum, Suzanne and I returned on the last Saturday of the month for the cultural market.  Not many tourists, but the locals turn out in force for food, music and activities for all ages.

Okay, that’s it for now.  More adventures…..

-Later

 

HiYa,

I’m always torn when it comes to subject matter for these missives.  Do I do a travelogue, boating technical stuff, or what?  I guess we’ll just keep on layin’ it down as we have been for the past few years until a better idea comes along.

The diving in Bonaire is super easy.  The island is surrounded by a reef which begins 50-75 yards offshore at a depth of around 7-10 meters.  This opens up the sport to those without watertaxis, because nearly every dive site on Bonaire is accessible from shore entries. We probably dove 2 out of 3 days that we were here.  We did a couple of boat dives with Wannadive, the scuba operation next door, but mostly dove from our dinghy, ranging a couple of miles both north and south, with frequent trips to Klein (Little) Bonaire.  Four days after the full moon, we did a night dive to look for ostracods.  These little guys are crustaceans, some 20,000 species in all, averaging around 1mm in diameter.  After the full moon, this particular species bio luminesces(?) for about a half hour after night falls.  We laid on the sandy bottom waiting for the show to start.  True to form, shortly after nightfall, the lights came on.  We felt like we were in the middle of the Milky Way, surrounded by a galaxy of stars.  Very cool.  We fell into a nice rhythm with our diving.  Heading out around noon assured us of good lighting for photos and our choice of dive sites, as all of the dive boats were back at base for lunch.  There are mooring buoys at every site, so it makes for a secure feeling when leaving the boat while diving.  Drop in the water, do our dive, then back in the dinghy easily (thanks to our new ladder).  Stop at Wannadive, drop off our empty tanks and pick up the 2 that we had left the day before (now filled).  Sweeeeet!  Boy, what’s not to like?  

Suzanne felt like she had maxed out her photo quality with her waterproof Nikon, so she picked up an Olympus TG5 camera, a serious little point-and-shoot, and an underwater housing.  In my humble opinion, she’s taking some great shots-we’ll do an all-scuba gallery soon.  I’m still just doing video with our GoPro Hero whenever we see a good “action shot.”

So…….The Caribbean Journal just ran a piece on the fantastic dining choices in Bonaire.  I’m here to tell ya that we didn’t have a bad meal while on island.  Here we go:  “Bistro de Paris, Zazu Bar”-our marina restaurant.  Super fresh ceviche, good burgers (especially on burger night), Happy hour from 17h00-19h00 featuring 2 for 1 beers and wines.  A nice place to chill after a busy day.  “La Terrazza”-a 3-time favorite for us.  (2 wine tastings-4 courses with 2 wines for each course with audience participation, moderated by owner, Gabi).  “Foodies”-kind of out in the sticks south of Kralendijk on the other side of the salt pans.  We stopped there for an early dinner on our way home from a beach day at Lac Bai.  They had just opened, so we were the only diners there when we arrived.  Great service, cool setting.  “Cappricio”-Just like it sounds.  Fresh Italian cooking in an upscale modern venue with both in and outdoor seating.  “It Rains Fishes”-right on the shore road in Kralendijk.  Upscale outdoor dining featuring you guessed it.  “Posada Para Mira”-just outside Rincon.  This open-air thatched roofed restaurant features local cuisine-goat stew and iguana soup being just 2 of the features.  The commanding view and steady breeze contribute to the ambience.  “Mezze” for Mediterranean.  “Sebastian’s” for oceanside seafood with an Italian bent.  “Captain Don’s,” an all-inclusive dive resort just north of our marina boasts a multi-level outdoor dining area abutting the ocean.  Very cool vibe.  The menu is typical of North American tastes.  “Between Two Buns” was our go-to for a savory lunch-great salads, specialty sandwiches.  “Donna and Giorgio’s”-Italian in a funky setting.  “La Creperie”-a favorite morning hangout for cruisers.  Their savory crepes are super tasty.  And…….let’s not forget the “Street Food” genre.  Lisa had a stall in the market featuring Indonesian food.  After buying finger-food from her several times, we got her to cook a traditional Indonesian meal for us, which we carried home.  Yhanni has a little palapa on Coco beach where she makes killer Arepas.  After a couple of post-dive lunches with her, she shared her secrets and recipes with Suzanne, who now makes these incredible Venezuelan treats.  

“Dash” food truck is only open on weekends, but their fried chicken on homemade biscuits with spicy slaw are worth the wait.  Their donuts look incredible too. 

 It’s amazing that I got out of Bonaire not a pound over a buck ninety-five.  Guess I can thank the diving for that.

“Jason,” our super-ratty, but trusty Toyota Hilux pickup truck took us on adventures all over the island.  From the salt pans in the south to the sunset hike up Mount Brandaris, he kept on keepin’ on.  We off-roaded the windward side of the island, hiking down into every boca (little inlets in the rocky coast, often with a small pebbly beach).  I don’t think that we saw 3 other vehicles all day.  Along the way, we visited a cave with pre-columbian drawings on the ceiling.  Massive wind generators dotted the shore on the northern end of our trek.  We returned to the road(?) at the gate to the National Park.  The park was an adventure for another day.  When we returned the following morning, it was an all-day hoot.  You are not allowed in the park unless you have a four wheel drive vehicle or truck.  Yep, 2 mile-an-hour roads (ummmhhhh….make that washed-out ruts).  We visited every boca, beach, dive site and vantage point in the park, enjoying a picnic lunch along the way.  After lurching and bouncing along all day, 600mg of “Vitamin I”, then happy hour soothed our aching backs.

Well, let’s pick up more of Bonaire…

-Later

Hola, mi Amigos

Here we are in Bonaire.  Alizann was really jammin’ on the way here from Grenada.  Following seas and a half to full knot current pushing us along, we shaved around 5 hours off our ETA.  That was the good news.  The bad news was that we arrived around midnight.  New harbor (for us), no entrance lights, narrow entrance, and the night was darker than the inside of a pocket.  Had a slip number, but had no idea where it was.  Another boating “DON’T,” but here we were.  Well…. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds.  We “What’s Apped” John on Seamantha.  He knew the marina, and told us where our slip was.  The radar and chartplotter were spot on, and the water depth here is in the hundreds of feet up pretty close to shore-all good.  We crept up within spotlight range and spied the opening, glided in.  We backed the Girl in between a finger pier and a 62-foot sailboat, and it was time for sips before turning in.

So….I’ve been pretty mum on the fish wars.  That’s because the score was edible fish 4, Alizann 0.  Not anything that I wanted to brag about.  We lost around 4 or 500 yards of line and 4 of our best lures.  ‘Nuff said.

Visits to Customs and Immigration were on the docket for Friday.  The mile-and-a-quarter walk should have taken 15 minutes, but morphed into a 2-hour ordeal as we fought the elements, walking in the steady rain, then dodging for cover as the squalls sporting 25+knot winds rolled through.  Three quarters of the way there, we said “The heck with it” and took cover in Julian’s Café for a late lunch.  We were soaked to the bone by then, so sat in the covered patio as the rain misted in-just a couple of loco touristas.  But…we did help them save their patio umbrellas which were turning inside out in the near-gale force wind.  No English speakers here, but their thank you’s were easily translated.  I had forgotten that even though this is a Dutch island, there is a preponderance of Spanish speakers here-shoulda brushed up on ours.  Actually, many of the folks here speak 4 languages-Dutch, Spanish, Papiamentu and English.  We got the job done with the authorities late in the afternoon.  No fees or taxes and super easy.  On the way home, we dodged ankle-deep puddles and scoped out some shops along the main drag.  Pretty evident that the local economy is tourist-based.  Shops catering to cruise ship passengers, and a dive shop on every corner, as well as restaurants of every ilk lined the downtown streets.

Sheeiit! How can you get a month behind in two weeks (or so it seems)?  1. Writing is super painful for me. (as a science geek) 2.  Time flies when you’re having fun.

So… Here’s the short version:

                Already went through Customs.  Super easy, with gracious officers who actually seemed happy that we were here-Check.

Dive shops.  One on every corner.  I think that CVS and Rite Aid took their business model from these guys-if you leave your door unlocked, there’ll be a dive shop up and running in your space the next morning when you get up.  This island is set up for below the water activities.  If you need the toys, you can find them here.  Also-kudos to the internet.  Prices of equipment are very competitive, in fact, many shops will honor or beat an internet price for the same doodad.  We’re looking for an underwater camera and housing for the Admiral, and finding prices very competitive-especially when you figure in shipping costs. -Check

Food.  Grocery shopping is a real pleasure-even better if you can decipher Dutch (thank you, Google Translate!!)  Instead of going shopping and setting our menu based on what was available in the store, we’re back to creating menus, then shopping for what we need.  Reminds us of Martinique.  Better than Martinique, every Tuesday and Friday, there’s a free bus to VanDenTweel, the “Gucci” supermarket for your provisioning pleasure.  Eating out is also a pleasure, with multiple, not wrong choices.  In the 3 weeks that we’ve been here, we’ve eaten at everyplace from local holes in-the-wall to food trucks and kiosks, to fine dining.  So much for losing weight!  I’m loathe to recommend particular venues-ask around to decide what sounds good for your tastes.  You already know that we like fine dining as well as the funky stuff, so iguana soup, goat stew, and tripe casserole may not float your boat.

Diving.  What superlatives are left to be said?  The reefs have certainly changed from our last visit, around 30 years ago, and not for the better.  At that time, the dive guide listed 14 dive sites.  Now, the newest edition lists over 100.  That being said, the diving is still superb.  After two weeks for me to shake off the “Grenada Cough,” we have been diving nearly every day from our tender, “White Star,” who recently received a dive ladder, courtesy of “Yours Truly’s” monkey work, under the tutelage of the Admiral.  Oh…..diving.  We participated in a dive “cleanup” of the harbor after the Bonaire Sailing Regatta, which left plenty of human-made trash (translation-bottles, paper cups, and assorted crap on the bottom.)  100 divers pulled up around half a dumpster of crap off the bottom.  There, we met Marije and Bart, a young Dutch couple taking time off from life to backpack around the world.  The post-dive appreciation barbeque at Hamlet Oasis, hosted by “Dive Friends”, was an enjoyable evening.  The next afternoon, drinks on Alizann with Marije and Bart proved to be very enjoyable.

The Girl.  Well, she has certainly become a “Marina Queen.”  After anchoring out almost exclusively for the first 3 years, we have kinda settled into the “tie up, plug in, drop off the bikes, rentacar, and keep our lives cushy routine.  The whole setup here in Bonaire kinda pushed us in that direction anyway:

  1.  You can’t anchor anywhere on Bonaire (reef protection) There are a finite number of moorings here (less than 40) You need to “know somebody” to get one, as they’re “first come, first serve”, and when a boat is leaving, they have already been in contact with someone who will slip onto the mooring the second that they’re off.
  2. We have internet coverage here in the marina.  Good for streaming American football, Skyping our kids, and downloading Netflix.
  3. It’s easy to put our bikes on land.
  4. The rental car’s right here.
  5. Maybe we’re getting older, and like to step off the boat onto land without schlepping in on the dinghy

Touring.  We started with an all-day “Island Tour” with our driver, Therese, so that we could get our bearings and see the high spots.  Subsequently, we rented a Toyota HiLux pickup for a couple of weeks.  “Jason” our truck, has a high ground clearance, super-torquey gear ratio, the ability to jump boulders in a single bound, and a propensity for conquering deep water has served us well, and so far, has taken us over 8 hours of off-road touring through and over some of the most uninhabited regions of the island.  Tho’ the trails are “lower back and vehicle undercarriage challenges,” they  are well marked.  The extreme diversity of geologic (?) features is mind-blowing.  Every two minutes, it’s an “Oh, my God, or This is incredible!”  The Cadushy Distillery in Rincon makes several liqueurs and a vodka, based on the distillation of the local Kadushi cactus.  It’s worth a visit, with expectations kept in check.

Fellow cruisers:  Well…….the Dutch are wonderful people.  The rub…..they take a long time to warm up.  We’ve been next to a Dutch couple for three weeks now, and in spite of us asking them at every juncture if we can help with their boat chores, pick them up something at the grocery store, lend tools, or whatever…we’re still just neighbors.  There aren’t a lot of North Americans here in the marina, so last night, we went to one of the “all inclusive” scuba resorts, and met some friendly Americans.  Only trouble is, that they’ll be gone in a week.  Oh well, the Admiral will just have to put up with my company exclusively ☹.

-Later

Pages

Captain's Log

Hola

Well…we had a great night’s sleep, but woke up with some pretty sore hiking muscles.  Mike was much the worse for wear.  He too had succumbed to the dread G.I. bad juju.  Carol and Jim arrived by bus at mid-day, as they were helping Mike and Sue sail Skedaddle II to Puerto Velero on Sunday.  Suz and I spent the day getting our poor dirty Girl cleaned up.  We didn’t see Mike all day.  Sue, Jim and Carole joined us for dinner in town, as no one felt like cooking.  Saturday morning, it was Sue’s turn with the plague.  We didn’t see either her or Mike all day, but enjoyed Jim and Carole’s company.  We were thinking how fortunate it was that they were there, as they were fully capable of sailing the boat without M & S.  There was no possibility of delaying their departure, as M & S had plane tickets to fly to Portugal, and then home to Australia in 3 days.  We still maintain that the worst aspect of cruising is when schedules get in the way.  At any rate, Mike semi-surfaced by Sunday morning, and they were off the dock by 06h30.  Suz and I spent the rest of the day getting the Girl ready to move after being at the dock for a month.  She had a nice layer of soft growth on her bottom, and her running gear (propeller, rudder) where our bottom paint is failing needed scraping desperately.  The barnacles were thick, and I spent over an hour scuba diving in the cruddy water.

Puerto Velero is about halfway between Santa Marta and Cartagena, so it was a perfect way for us to split the 16 hour trip. We got the lines out after our 06h15 departure from S.M.. We got 4 fish along the way-3 Barracuda and a 28” Mahi.  All four were thrown back to Poseidon.  Passing Barranquilla, where the Rio Magdalena empties in to the sea, the ocean color went from blue to brown, even though we were 3 miles offshore.  Numerous logs and other flotsam from the river reminded us of dodging lobster pots off the New England coast.  We could only imagine what the conditions would be like during the rainy season when the river was really flowing.  After an hour or so, the water turned back to blue, and we let Otto (pilot) take back the wheel.  Ten miles from Puerto Velero, Mike hailed us on the VHF.  They had picked up our signal on their AIS.  He reported that he and Sue were feeling better, but Jim was now down with the G.I.’s.  Calling the facility at Puerto Velero a marina uses the term in its loosest form. The docks are literally in the middle of nowhere, at the head of a broad bay formed by a treeless peninsula with a mean elevation of around ten feet.  As with many dreams, building progress stopped with the death of the dreamer.  Several condo units and a small multistory hotel are on the site, as well as a very nice swimming pool.  In my opinion, the development never reached the critical mass necessary for it to be economically viable.  There is no restaurant or even a bar, and the nearest town is miles away.  It IS, however, an inexpensive place to leave your boat for an extended period.  We joined the gang on now-recovering Jim and Carole’s boat, Nepenthe for a popcorn dinner.  There was no need for “good-byes,” we will see them all in Panama in the Fall.

Suz and I had our traditional before boating breakfast-“Egg Tuckmuffins.” (We are still supplied with English muffins, as we bought 5 packages in Aruba.) We follow the maxim:  “If you use it and you see it, buy it. You might not see it again.” We were off the dock a few minutes before six, and had an uneventful trip to Cartagena. We didn’t fish, as we still had Tuna and Mahi in the freezer.  There are two entrances to the huge bay in Cartagena, and we really wanted to enter Boca Grande, as it was closest to our destination, Club Pesca Marina. We were a bit nervous about that entrance, though, as our charts are a little sketchy in this area.  Back in the 17th century, the Spaniards built a wall across the mouth of the bay.  Thing is, it’s three feet below the surface of the water (Surprise raiding pirates!).  Our cruising guide said that there was a narrow small boat channel blasted through the wall, but we weren’t seeing any buoys.  We watched as a fairly large sailboat sailed over the wall about a mile or so away from us.  We marked his course on our plotter, and motored over.  There were two buoys, right where we didn’t think that they would be, but we motored through, never seeing less than 11’ of water.

Getting into the marina was a different story.  We hailed on the VHF, and were told to come back tomorrow.  No, not possible.  We have reservations for today, confirmed with Adriana by email yesterday.  So… I will make an hour long story short. May 1rst is a holiday (Labor Day). No one at the marina spoke any English-not even a little.  Our mastery of Spanish extends to ordering food, a beer, and finding the restroom.  (Well, not quite, but close, and talking on the radio is difficult even when both parties speak the same language.)  We could see the marina but it was outside the buoyed channel, and the depth rose precipitously upon leaving the channel.  We were loathe to put the Girl on the ground just motoring over. We were about to scrap the idea and go out to anchor in the harbor when a center console outboard with two guys on it approached us and motioned for us to follow.  They led us into the marina, and we picked a slip.  Meanwhile, the security guard and another guy show up and we get tied up at the dock.  Still isn’t anyone speaking English, but now, face to face, we’re communicating okay.  I give the guys 20,000 peso tip each (approximately $6 USD), feeling quite happy to be here. “Not so fast” says one of the boat guys.  “You owe us 200,000 pesos for our service.” All the time, the security guard (with the gun) is observing the conversation, so I figure that this is the norm. Well…told him we didn’t have that much, and I’d give him 150,000 ($45 US).  Okay, we’re here.  Welcome to Cartagena.

This ain’t over.

-Later

 

 

Buenos Dias

I woke up a couple of times during the night to hear it pouring rain on the metal roof (or so I thought).  When we got up at O’Dark-thirty, I realized that the noise was from the river, now swelling from the recent rain roaring past camp.  True to Estefan’s word, it was not raining in the morning.  When we started out at 06h00, the mist was still hanging heavily over the dripping vegetation.  An hour into the morning, I let my attention lapse and rolled over my right ankle.  No!!!  Laying on the wet path, I couldn’t imagine that my hike would end only 3 hours from our goal.  I picked myself up and tested the ankle-it would still hold my weight, but not without barking at me.  I knew what was next.  (I had torn the ligaments in this ankle when I was 16, and after 2 months on crutches it was never the same.  I’ve rolled it several times since, and it’s always the weak link).  Fording the river a half hour later, there was no hopping across boulders, as the water had risen considerably.  The cold water came at just the right time.  When I took my shoe off, I thought Indio’s eyes were going to pop out of his head.  My ankle was already swelling, and blood was pooling at the edge of my sole.  No surprise to me-been there, done that.  Estefan asked me if I wanted a mule to come and take me down.  Well…we got that sorted out in a hurry.  Indio produced some analgesic cream and an ankle brace.  A few minutes later, we were headed back up the hill.  Ciudad Perdida predates Machu Pichu by about 600 years, and the stone “steps” have been there ever since.  Built out of uncarved natural stone, the steps have a very irregular rise and run. The only consistent feature is that they’re very narrow and steep.  We couldn’t help but wonder what coming down their wet smooth surface was going to look like.  I didn’t count the steps, but I’ll take their word for there being 1200.  It took us about 40 minutes of nonstop climbing to get to the top.

We had two-and-a-half hours to explore the site.  Indio led us around and spoke to us about the ancient Tairona people who built and lived in this city of over two thousand inhabitants, pointing out artifacts and explaining the layout of the buildings.  About 80% of the ruins are still covered by jungle, and there are no plans to uncover them.  I won’t try to describe our visit here-it’d be like trying to describe the Grand Canyon to someone.  You just have to be there.

We were almost to the bottom of the steps when it started raining again, this time a gentle drizzle.  We retraced our steps from earlier in the day, stopping for lunch and to pick up our packs at the previous nights’ camp.  The rain began in earnest.  When hiking up and down the numerous red clay ravines, you had to follow the stream of water flowing down, as it washed away the slippery red mud, leaving small gravel for traction.  Walking outside the water flow was hopeless.  The mud was slipperier than wet ice.  A couple more hours of trekking brought us into our bivouac for the evening.  Lots of smiles and……cold BEER!  The routine was the same as the previous nights, and by 06h00 we were back on the trail.  The day’s 6 hours would have 2 steep “ups” of around 45 minutes each, punctuated by, and ending with a few hours of “downs”.  After the first “up”, we had the option of spending the night at a camp or continuing back to Mamey.  The 4 of us opted for the latter, and a bit after 12h30, we rolled into the restaurant that we had started at four days earlier.  The rest of the gang had been there 20 minutes earlier, and were already at our table.  They gave us a standing ovation and 4 cold beers.  The groups of hikers waiting to go up gave us the eye.  I had a pretty good idea what they were thinking.  “If they could make it, I can make it.”  So glad to lend the moral support.  Back to the Land Cruiser, it was “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” back down to the highway.

True to form, our trip back home was not without incident.  One of the Magic Tour Toyotas was broken down, parked on the side of the road.  I thought we’d grab the clients, squeeze them into our vehicle and continue home.  Nope.  Joel backed up, hooked up a 10’ nylon tow strap and we were off, towing the other vehicle 10 feet away at 45 miles per hour.  That’s not the best part.  Joel got a call on his cell phone.  There was a police checkpoint ahead.  No problema.  It was on a downhill headed to town from the mountains, so they just disconnected the 2 jeeps.  Our disabled pal then just rolled down the several mile long incline and past the checkpoint.  Fortunately, they didn’t stop him.  When the road flattened out, he stopped and we rehooked him and towed him back to town.  Never a dull moment.  Joel dropped us off at the marina at dusk, and that’s the end of our Ciudad Perdida adventure.

-Later

Bueno Dia,

The Girl all bedded down for our 4 (or 5) day absence, the backpacks loaded and by 07h45 on Monday morning, we were ready to roll.  After spending the whole day in bed, Suz seemed to be on the mend from her G.I. bug-at least she hoped so.  Always game, she never says die.  Sue and Mike, our new Australian friends met us on the dock.  We walked out to the marina gate, where we were to pick up our ride to Magic Tour, in uncharacteristic silence.  Turns out that we were all thinking the same thing:  Were we physically and mentally ready for the arduous 4 days ahead of us?  When we arrived at the office and joined the gang that was waiting there for our 2 hour ride up to Mamey, the starting point of our trek, the uncertainty in my mind just blossomed.  There was no one else in the group of 27 people waiting that was less than 30 years younger than us, and boy, were we getting the eye.  In the end, that sealed the deal for me.  There was no way that I wasn’t gonna do this thing.  I’m pretty sure that my Bride was thinking the same thing.  We were split into 2 parties.  Ours had 13 hikers: a German couple, a Dutch couple, a couple from Italy, 2 guys from Sweden, a guy from Belgium, and the 4 grandparents.  Our local guide, Indio got us all briefed through our translator, Estefan, while their intern Juan loaded our gear onto a couple of Toyota Land Cruisers.  Our driver, Joel was a familiar face-he had driven us up to Mompox a week or so previously.

We arrived in the village of Mamey right around 12h00, just in time for lunch.  As we were eating, groups of hikers were straggling in, looking happy but bedraggled.  Lotsa “High-fivin’” was going on, as they had completed their hike.  Indio gathered us up in front of the topographical representation of our hike painted on the wall and took us through the plan.  Today would be a relatively easy walk.  Four hours, with one steep “up.”  The kicker was that there was no cover for this portion.  “Make sure that you have plenty of sunblock on, wear a hat, and drink lots of water.”  It was HOT.  Even though it was kinda hazy the sun beating down was relentless.  The footing was good, however, 2” of fine white dust covered the path which we shared with Pack Mules and motorbikes.  Fifteen minutes into our first steep “up”, our pal Sue said “I’m not going to make it”.  Well, we certainly weren’t going to make the time that the youngsters were, but we were going to do this thing at our own pace.  And so it went.  Rest stops were well planned.  Just when you thought your heart was going to jump out of your chest, there was the rest of our gang, catching their breath, having a sip, and maybe a snack of fruit.  Then, it was off again.  After a few hours, we passed the last spot accessible by motorbike.  After that, we only had to share the path with mules.  We arrived at the first camp a bit ahead of schedule, even with us taking up the rear.

Okay, so here’s the skinny on the camps:  The sleeping areas were like pole barns without walls-roof only.  The beds consisted of rows of bunks, each encased in mosquito netting side-by-side on a packed dirt floor.  The “mess halls” were rows of long tables and benches situated under a similar wall-less structure, with the galley attached.  All open air.  The toilets were in a separate cinderblock building with the “showers” behind.  These did have walls.  The shower consisted of a ½” pipe coming out of the ceiling, supplied by cold river water.  There weren’t many showers, but you didn’t need to worry about somebody luxuriating in the hot shower.  For Suz and I, the drill was simple:  Arrive at camp, grab a bunk, then head straight to the shower while everyone else was milling around.  Rinse out soaking wet clothes (I’m not exaggerating this one-you could literally wring out your shorts and shirt, you perspired so much) in fresh water.  Dry off with chamois (towel too heavy to pack).  Put on long pants and long-sleeved sleeping clothes and plenty of mosquito repellant.  Sit and chat with the rest of the group for a while, then have dinner.  There weren’t a lot of places to sit and relax, as the seats were just wood benches, and the generator went off around 21h00, so it was off to bed.

Several companies are licensed to trek up to The Lost City, and there are only a couple of camps, so we had as many as 50 people in camp at night.  Licensed?  Yep.  The Colombian government is very attuned to preserving their indigenous population’s ways of life.  The trek to Ciudad Perdida goes through indigenous tribal lands, so the number of hikers is limited, and you MUST go with a licensed company.  Forty percent of the monies collected in fees from hikers goes to the local peoples, and all of the camps are owned by them.  (Quite a contrast with the way that the United States treated our indigenous population).  The trail is closed for 1 month per year while the indigenous folks celebrate their religious season.  The Kogi are the tribal group that inhabit the area of the Sierra Nevadas where Ciudad Perdida is located, however the Arhuacas and the Wiwas, also descendants of the ancient Taironas consider the site sacred as well.  Over the course of the hike, we passed by several Kogi villages.  All of their buildings are constructed of natural materials-wood, bamboo, mud and palm leaves.  Several villages appeared to be abandoned, but Indio informed us that the owners were at their other homes.  The Kogi farm at different elevations, and all families have several homes, so that they can follow their crops.  Smoke was billowing out of the walls and roof of several huts as we passed by.  When a family moves back to their house after living away, the vermin are cleared out by starting a smoky fire in the chimney-less building.

05h00 came mighty early.  Happy Birthday to me.  Got a raise today-went on Medicare!  Out of the comfy pajamas and into the soaking wet clothes from the day before.  With humidity in the 90’s, ain’t nuthin’ drying overnight.  Since your clothes are soaked in sweat an hour after walking, it seemed silly to bring all that extra weight in clean clothes for every day.  The exceptions for us were underwear and socks.  T.M.I!  Breakfast at 05h30.  Our group’s departure time was 06h00.  (The different groups had different departure times, so we rarely saw other hikers on the trail).  Well….we were in a rain forest, and it was the beginning of the rainy season.  It started raining in the morning, and rained off and on (mostly on) for the whole 8 hour walk.  When I say it rained, I mean RAIN.  At times, it was tough to see the scenery across the sheer drop-offs next to the path, the rain was so heavy.  No reason to wear a raincoat, as you were wet anyway.  In fact, with the temperature in the 80’s the rain felt good.  The bad news was that the path was pretty steep.  In places where you weren’t scrambling up rocks, you were hiking up (now slippery) red clay.  The combination of water, mud and Mule deposits made a slip-and-fall a scary prospect.  Okay, that was the crummy part.  The good part was a hundred times better.  At times, the views across verdant green mountains and valleys with no signs of human habitation were breathtaking.  The trail, now fully in the rain forest was covered by a canopy of lush vegetation.  Bird songs, insect sounds and the drone of the rain created a sensory near-overload.  Combined with the sound of your footfalls, the rhythm of your breathing and the beating of your heart, you had your own personal mantra repeating itself throughout the day.  At times, you felt like you were the only person on the trail, as you could neither see nor hear anyone ahead or behind you.  The trail paralleled the Rio Buritaca.  At times, you could hear the water roaring 200 feet below you.  At others, the river was right next to the trail.  I think that we forded the river by hopping from boulder to boulder a couple of times during the day.

The morning hike was punctuated by a rest/snack stop.  Fruit was provided, and liquid in the forms of water, Gatorade or soda was available.  We stopped for lunch a little after midday.  Our cook, Maria had gone on ahead of us and had our second hot meal of the day prepared for us when we arrived.  Lotsa calories and protein at every meal kept us all charged up.  Supplies for the camps are brought up on mules, which we encountered frequently during the day, and heard passing by at night.  After lunch, we were back on the trail for 4 hours, again with a rest stop in the middle.  This pattern would be repeated over the next few days.  At one point, we crossed the river on a one-person platform suspended from a cable and hand-pulled by rope across the gorge.  Very cool.  We arrived in camp tired and wet, but exhilarated.  The next day, we would hike the trail and ascend 1200 steps, arriving at the Lost City four hours after our morning departure.  There was an almost audible buzz in camp that night.  Our translator, Estefan assured us that it never rained in the morning up there.  The generator went off early, as it ran out of gas.  We were too.

-Luego

Feliz Pascua!

The Girl was resting so comfortably (and clean) that we didn’t even leave her all afternoon and evening.  Periodically, gusts of wind would race up the bay, causing our wind generators to really fly.  I love the sound of money going into the bank.  I think that we finally have our renewable energy sources tuned in.  The solar panels and the wind generators are at full potential.  We’re covering all of our electrical loads, and putting the surplus in the battery bank.

Warning:  A small bit of tech talk ahead.  I think that I told you that I had rewired our 110VAC watermaker to run off our inverter, so that we could make water while underway without running the generator.  That experiment didn’t work out so well at first.  The watermaker was drawing so much power that the alternator never fully charged the house battery bank, so…the engine start battery (which also runs the CPU controlling the engine) never got it’s share of juice.  As the start battery’s voltage dropped, the low voltage alarm on the John Deere panel went off, signaling that the CPU was not getting enough voltage to run the engine.  (Bad Juju!)  Eureka moment!  A month or so ago, I figured out that I could reprogram the alternator regulator in such a manner that we could overcome that problem.  After a half dozen passages, I can now confidently report that the fix is working.  We no longer regret not purchasing a 12VDC watermaker.

We had a wonderful night at anchor.  Absolutely no chance of rain, so we inflated the Air bed that our pals Dick and Jan bought us and slept up on the boat deck.  Under the full moon, we didn’t see many stars, but it was all good.  Friday morning greeted us with a conundrum.  We were only allowed one night in a bay.  The wind was, if anything, blowing harder than the day before.  We decided to stay put.  If the Coast Guard chased us out, we’d head back to the marina.  After a breakfast of Tuckmuffins (a legendary breakfast treat in my own mind), we dropped the kayaks into the water.  Paddling out to the opening of the bay, the Admiral found that she couldn’t paddle against the (I’m guessin’-30 knot winds).  One gust hit me on the beam and nearly knocked me over.  Back at the Girl, we had a refreshing swim/read/nap afternoon.  17h00 (park closing time) came and went without a visit from the authorities, so we had another quiet night on the hook.

Saturday morning we were up and out in order to get ahead of the winds, which increase as the day progresses.  We still had 20+ knot winds and 4’-6’ seas, but they were on our stern.  After a year or so without fueling, the Girl was thirsty, so we put on 575 gallons of diesel before returning to our slip.  We got our backpacks loaded up for our forthcoming hike to Ciudad Perdida on Monday, then took a stroll through town.  Holy week is a big deal here in this predominantly Catholic country, so the city was rockin’.  We snagged a table at “Ouzo” before the dinner rush:  Crispy pork belly app., Duck Confit Ravioli for Suz and Hornido Sofrito for Yours Truly, all washed down with a pitcher of Sangria de Casa (tinto).

We hit 07h00 Mass this morning, only to find out that the Easter schedule was different than the usual-it started at 06h00.  That turned out to be okay.  Forty-five minutes into the service, Father was just getting warmed up, so we still got an hour and fifteen minutes of religion even tho’ we were 45 minutes late.  Suz looked like Death during church, and she’s been in bed since we got home at 08h00.  It’s 15h00 now.  The lower G.I. funk has been going around, and it looks like she’s the latest victim.  We’ll see about the hike tomorrow………

-Later

Ola, Amigos!

We’ve had a couple of quiet days, just hangin’ on the Girl taking care of the necessaries.  Holly the haircutter invited us to a potluck the other night, and we met half a dozen other cruisers.  Most are on the other dock, so we hadn’t interacted with them yet.  Among a few other pearls of wisdom, we found out that all of them were making water here at the docks, and most of them had been here at least 6 months.  We have never run our watermaker at a dock, for fear of fouling the delicate membranes with any petroleum pollutants which may be in the water.  Long story short, we made water for 7 hours yesterday without any issues.  We still won’t make a habit of it.

Yesterday we rinsed off our trusty little ship and polished some stainless steel.  The dust here is unbelievable.  You can rinse down the decks, come back a day later and still get a wave of brown water streaming out the gutters.  We’ve learned to keep the hatches mostly closed since we were having the same problem inside.  Thank goodness for Vornado fans.  At night, we turn on the airco in our stateroom.

 

We’re into our second day of “Lose incredible amounts of time to computer crap”.  Yesterday, I cleaned up our main navigation black box.  We still had routes and waypoints from Labrador and Newfoundland clogging up the memory.  That went smoothly, just took some time.  Then we started on the PC based program.  I got stuck.  The Admiral couldn’t help.  Then……I know better, but consulted multiple forums and flogged around for a few hours without result.  Suz says that John on Seamantha uses the same program-he’ll know.  What’s Apped him last night.  Talked to him this morning.  All good.  I just heard a “Woohoo!” from the pilothouse while I’m peckin’ away in the cockpit.  Here’s the deal.  There aren’t any official charts of the area we’ll be visiting next (The San Blas Archipelago in Panama).  The definitive cruising guide for the area has been compiled over the years by Eric Bauhaus.  He has taken over a million soundings and created a whole portfolio of charts which can be found in his book “The Panama Cruising Guide.”  These charts have in turn been magically turned into an electronic format for “Open CPN,” an open-source navigation program created by a group of cruisers.  Suz downloaded these on to our nav PC months ago, but never said “Abracadabra!” so our boat did not appear on the electronic chart.  Well, she did her prestidigitating today, and made it so.  When she called me up to the pilothouse a couple hours ago, it was working waaayyy cool.  When she closed the program and tried to reopen it, it crashed big-time.  She’s been up there for all this time trying to resurrect it.  In the meantime, I’m hogging up the bandwidth downloading 650 other charts to the laptop.  Okay, I’m heading up to see how it’s going.  Hahaha.  She’s got GPS position, AIS targets, and depth working on the Open -CPN and the Bauhaus charts.  And you thought that she was just another pretty face.

Well, we spent another day manually entering the latitude/longitudes for waypoints and anchorages in the San Blas islands.  It was painful, (I think that there were around 140- some odd positions) but will be well worth it over the next year.  It was time for a break, so we decided to take the Girl up to a couple of the bays in Tayrona National Park.  We had passed them on our way here and they looked, and we had heard, that they were pretty cool.  Problem was that you need a cruising permit and permission from the Port Captain here in Santa Marta to anchor there.  Our trusty lady at the desk, Kelly failed us big-time on this one.  She told us that the cruising permit could be had in a day, and that as soon as it was in process, we could head out.  We paid for the cruising permit last Friday, planning on heading out on Monday.  Monday morning, we head to the office for our permit.  Kelly’s on vacation for 2 weeks, but David, the Agent here at the marina will handle it.  Come back this afternoon.  The Port Captain had to check with the bank to make sure our $$$ had been deposited, manana.  Tuesday morning.  He’s working on it.  Come back this afternoon.  Manana.  Wednesday morning.  David’s meeting with the Port Captain.  Come back this afternoon.  No can do.  “Can’t we go, since he has our money, and it’s in process?” No.  We’re resigned to not being able to go, and having a cocktail up on the boat deck, when David appears around 17h30 with a gorgeous document in his hand.  Yay!  Weather’s supposed to be iffy-very windy and high seas.  We’d already decided not to go.  Didn’t tell David that.  So, we are in this conversation with him, and he tells us that he’s so happy that we got the permit ‘cause he worked so hard to get it.  His contract here at the marina is up, and his last day is Sunday.  He’s a full-time business student at Magdalena university, and his last year will require his full time attention.  After he leaves, Suz and I decide that we should probably go-it’ll make David happy.  My concern is that David is also the Agent at the marina, acting as the go-between with Customs and Immigration.  I have a shipment of boat parts coming that I don’t want to pay duty on.  Hopefully the new guy knows the ropes and will get our stuff through the maze.

Thursday, 07h30, and I hail the Port Captain on the VHF.  Yep, we get permission to anchor for 1 night each at 2 bays up in the park (The limit is 1 night).  The wind was brisk when we pulled out of the harbor, but nothing really significant.  As we turn the corner 45 minutes later and start heading East, the breeze is picking up.  Picking our way between a rocky point on the mainland and a small island, the sea becomes a washing machine.  Breakers are crashing over the shallows on our port and starboard.  It looks scary, but the guides that we’ve read say that we can go through.  Well…we never see less than 66’ of depth.  Boy, it was kind of a puker.  27 knots of breeze on the nose with a beam sea.  We could hear the cupboards being rearranged, and took a peek down into the salon.  Oh yeah!  Our recliners had slid across the floor, bunching up the rug in the process, but were now stable in the center of the boat thanks to the bunched-up rug.  An hour-and-a-half later, we turned the corner into Bahia Neguange, more or less out of the wind-driven waves.  Up at the head of the bay, all appeared calm.  Before we dropped the hook, we let the boat settle into the wind, and found that the swell rolling into the bay was right on our beam, making for a bit of a roll.  Nope.  Even with the flopperstoppers out, it’d probably be an uncomfortable stay, and we were looking forward to some peace.  Out of the bay and into the one next over, Bahia Gayraca.  Much better.  The swell wasn’t funneling in to this one nearly as much and we had a nice breeze.  We dropped the hook in 22’ of water around 150 yards off the beach and put out 150’ of chain, just in case.  We got the cupboards and inside of the boat tidied up, then took to scrubbing the layer Santa Marta dust off the outside while enjoying the sunny afternoon.

-Later

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