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19. Mar, 2011

Sailing into the ‘sea’ of green…

Sailing into the ‘sea’ of green…

Phew… its been a blogging while, so lots to catch up on! Apart from the drama’s mentioned before we spent a wonderful few days in the beautiful and remote Sapodilla Islands far south in Belize. This area is a marine reserve and the southern end of the Belizean barrier reef, the second longest barrier reef in the world.

We were the only boat anchored off tiny islands surrounded by crystal clear waters and stunning snorkeling all around. It is an amazing feeling to be able to jump off the back of the boat and snorkel incredible reefs all around. Whenever we arrived and anchored at a new islands, we were greeted by huge majestic Spotted Eagle Rays ‘flying by’. (interested in what the anchor would bring up). They allowed us to swim with them and admire them. Its quite funny when you try and follow them, they dart off, but as soon as you turn around and pretend not to be interested (which is difficult – they are stunning!) they swim/fly along with you.


It was quite a surreal feeling as we set sail on our last voyage in Pako (our little home for the last few months) to the Rio Dulce River in Guatemala, the last stop and storage place for the boat for remainder of year.

We arrived in Livingston, the entrance to the Rio Dulce (Sweet River) early in the morning to check into Guatemala. Rio Dulce is an incredible deep river that you can sail up for over 20 miles, the only problem being an incredibly shallow river mouth bank (about 6ft) that you need to get over to get into the river. Luckily we entered with the right tide and was a beautiful drama free entry!

After all the check in formalities (and handing over of lots of money) we were ready to head up the river.

This river trip is breathtakingly beautiful. It starts in a gorge with huge cliffs covered in jungle, emerald green water, tropical birds and monkeys…such a huge contrast from the starkness of the remote Sapodilla islands.

We made our way very slowly up the river trying to take it all in. We stopped halfway in a small marina in the jungle. Rio Dulce/Livingston area is a strange place, incredibly beautiful, very remote and ….a place where people can disappear… It has no road access and it seems to be the place where dropouts, people ‘staying away’ from their countries (for various reasons!) hang out for years. We met drug-runners, Polish New York taxi drivers and very salty sea dogs with tales of surviving hurricanes to name a few!

We explored the river in kayaks, a wonderful experience to get a feel for life on the river. Small children paddled past in tiny dugouts in their school uniforms on their way to school (so sweet!)…

The big Pako pack up felt like a huge challenge in the sweltering heat on the river. In a display of ‘closure’ to the Pako adventure the cockroaches seemed to be making a reappearance much to our horror!  We turned the boat upside down, inside out cleaning and sorting out all our stuff.

We managed to handover all our excess food to a big orphanage (Casa Guatemala) on the river.

We thought we might feel relieved to arrive in Guatemala and leave Pako safely after all the boat hassles, but we were really sad to say goodbye…the end of Pako days, maybe we will see her again someday!

23. Feb, 2011

Mexican Reflections

Mexican Reflections

We are a little behind in our updates, so writing this from a marina in Belize where our boat is being fixed after our engine failed yesterday…more on the drama to follow..:)

We spend a week sailing down the Mexican coastline. Some updates on our time in Mexico…

Arriving in Mexico (at the little island, Isla Mujeres) after cruising in Cuba was like arriving in another world. Lots of boats, people and…SHOPS!! We hadn’t seen shops in a while and wandered around the isles of the grocery store aimlessly just gazing at all the products and admiring all the choice available.

Security eventually started to follow us around as we took photos and did excited jigs of joy to find a variety of food again:)!

Jig of Joy Video

Thanks to a very kind aussie (thanks Storme if you read this!) we stayed in a BEAUTIFUL marina for a very good rate. Clean toilets (that flushed!), clean and la la la la HOT showers….was like a dream come true. We reveled in the small luxuries for a few days. Little Pako with all the big boy fishing boats was quite a funny sight.

Isla Mujeres is a lovely island off the crazy big city of Cancun. We had a wonderful time exploring the small island on our bikes, enjoying the beautiful beaches and crystal blue waters, eating some delicious Mexican food (such a variety, we were overwhelmed!) and of course celebrating with some Don Julio tequila!

We set off down the coastline stopping at some lovely ports along the way

We based ourselves at Puerto Aventuras for a few days to hide from a big storm and took the opportunity to do some land based travel.

The Yucatan Peninsula is a playground of adventure spots from Mayan ruins to hundred of cenotes (deep water filled sinkholes…check out this link if you are interested http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cenote) and incredible underground river systems and cave formations. Its amazing to go through the jungle to find a hole in the ground and a fresh underwater cave system. We dived in an area called one of the cenotes which was a magical, outerspacey kind of feeling. You enter into the jungle in your scuba gear, make your way down a dark tunnel into a cave with crystal clear water. It is the most incredible feeling diving in these caves with magnificent stalagmite and stalactite formations. You feel like you are flying as you can maneuver your way around the formations (beautiful!).

We hired a car and went to see the Mayan ruins at Tulum and Coba. What an interesting and sophisticated civilization so many thousands of years ago and still so much to be uncovered and learnt. At Coba there were a number of mounds which still be need be uncovered…more Mayan temples? …exciting!

14. Feb, 2011

Things that go BUMP in the night…

Things that go BUMP in the night…

Pako is quite a rolly boat and if things are not secured, they tend to go flying so we have become quite good at diving and catching falling/flying objects. On our night sail across to Mexico, I was on watch in the early hours of the morning. I was quietly enjoying the starry, peaceful night when something bumped onto the seat next to me.

Of course, a natural reaction I immediately leaned over to grab it to prevent it from falling…only to find a slipperly flapping FLYING FISH in my hand. The poor little dude got confused and flew right into our boat (which is a pretty impressive height to reach!)

I got the fright of my life, screeched and jumped around the boat (the brave sailor I am!). Adrian, who was fast asleep below, jumped up thinking that we were ploughing into a tanker. He instantly became my grumpy hero as he threw the slippery, flapping (VERY STINKY) flying fish overboard…

13. Feb, 2011

Farewell Cuba

Farewell Cuba

We spent our last few magical day island hopping to the Western most point in Cuba. We had good steady winds and calm seas for lovely sailing days and tucked away into gorgeous bays along the way. We spent many happy days exploring the islands on land and  under the water.

We met some friendly and interesting people along the way. The fisherman were very happy to trade some beers for lobster and fish so once again we ate like kings!

We met two rangers on a strange monkey sanctuary island, Cayo Cantilles. Why strange…monkeys are not indigenous to Cuba and this is the only island where they are found (they were delivered to this island in the 80s and now have two permanent rangers on the island to feed them). The rangers were thrilled to have some company, took us on a nature trail and shared some lovely fish and coconut milk (with rum of course) with us… but no sightings of the elusive monkeys.

As we moved further west the sea life got more and more abundant and the waters clearer and clearer. We anchored in a spectacular marine reserve, Punta Frances just off Isla Juvendud which was strangely deserted. We had the whole beautiful bay to ourselves!

After a lovely few days on the Western point of Cuba we very sadly bid farewell to Cuba and headed off on our longest passage yet across the Yucatan channel to Mexico. All the water from the Caribbean is squeezed northwards through the relatively small gap between Cuba and Mexico with currents measured at speeds of 7knots!

To give you some perspective…Pako can just go 7 knots with full sails and a steady breeze so we would get nowhere going against the current. With some skilled chart work we decided on a route south to avoid the current but in the end the dreaded Yucatan current amounted to very little (maybe 2 knots) so our crossing was unnecessarily long!

But all went really well, it was a beautiful sail with good winds and a warm starry night. It was a good feeling to see the coast of Mexico and we felt a huge sense of accomplishment that we have made it this far in our trip! We were greeted with calm seas and lots of huge green and leather-back turtles popping up their heads near the boat. Hola Mexico:))

02. Feb, 2011

A little lesson…

IMG_0886

We were anchored in a beautiful ‘tranquilo’ bay alongside a fishing boat with some friendly fishermen who had generously given us some wonderful lobster.

In the morning as we were all setting up to leave, I noticed some little song sheets floating past our boat. “Wow, this is so nice, they were all singing together last night’, was the first thing that came to my mind. So…I grabbed the boat hook and scooped the little leaflets out the water and hung up them up to dry, hoping to return them to the fishermen before they left.

When Adrian came outside, I proudly showed him my find. He looked horrified…”Oh Nix, that is their toilet paper!” Lesson learned…When anchored DON’T scoop up anything that floats past from other boats!!

14. Jan, 2011

A Cuban Christmas

A Cuban Christmas

We had wonderful whirlwind experience of Santiago de Cuba, the musical capital of Cuba. As we sailed into the harbour in Santiago we passed the majestic huge fort of the hillside, quite a sight as you enter in at first light. The city was a big frenetic city with lots of people, a melting pot of different cultures, afro-cuban music and great vibe.

We decided to retreat to the tiny beautiful Chivrico (about 30miles from Santiago) for Christmas. What a perfect amazing spot (I could have spent weeks there!). A little hairy entrance as we negotiated coral reefs on either side of a very narrow and windy channel that took us into a tiny protected lagoon. The tiny town is magical, set on the beautiful beach, with a central park and a small village centre.

We celebrated Christmas eve in a traditional Cuba way at a tiny local restaurant on the beach with a BIG pig on the spit (No one talks of eating pork here, you eat pig…say it as it is:). We arrived at 6pm and drank Cuba Libras until the piggie was finally ready just before midnight.

Christmas day was a real blessing in Chivrico. After feeling quite homesick and thinking of all the family celebrations at home, we made our way into the small town and were approached by a lovely elderly man who asked us if we celebrated Christmas and invited us to visit his church. We weren’t sure what to expect but decided to take up the invite and visited his tiny church service in a little house. We were warmly welcomed by the church community and prayed for and felt very loved on Christmas day – a wonderful Cuban Christmas experience.


Our Christmas pressie was as we left Chirvro to set our for our long sail to the islands, a family of dolphins joined us and played in our bow wake as the sun went down…this is what cruising is all about!

27. Dec, 2010

Impressions

Impressions

(Dodgy internet so more pics to follow shortly when we can upload, sorry!)

We have met some interesting and wonderful people and wanted to share some initial impressions of this fascinating country.

Music:
Music is everywhere, its wonderful. No matter what time of day there is always a variation of music… blaring out of big speakers, or someone playing guitar gathering groups of singers and dancers around them. Every night there is a selection of places to watch live traditional music, beautiful!

Initiative:
Half way up the steep, long trek to the top of the El Yunque mountain, in the middle of know where, a local farmer had set up a fruit stand where he cuts up delicious tropical fruit and you pay 1CUC (R10) for an all you can eat buffet on the way up and way down! Genius! A cuban typically earns only about the equivalent of R150 a month! So the tourist $ is highly prized!

Revolution:
The revolution propaganda is everywhere in Cuba, even though the revolution took place over 50 years ago! It seems to be the way the government keeps the local population loyal… this is not just a revolutionary house (aah, Malema you beaut), but a revolutionary country!

Cuba Living:
Although people are not wealthy, everyone has free access to health care, education and basic food and it is amazing to see the equality this has created on the surface in cuban society. Tourism brings in another dynamic where some are starting to earn considerably more than others so the government tries to control this as much as possible. Some interesting facts: education: apparently every citizen in Cuba knows how to write and read. Cuba has 70000 qualified doctors, the whole of Africa has only 50000, health care: infant mortality rate is 5,3 per thousand and life expectancy is 75,2 years (vs. SA?).

Rural, subsistence life:
Fisherman take tiny dingy (almost the size of Pakotini!) into the big open ocean (respect!). We need to be careful not to go over any fishing lines and nets when sailing and on a couple occasions we have had to take drastic steps to avoid a tiny vessel that literally pops out of nowhere! The below boat came closer and closer just to say hello, with lots of waving and pointing at the Cuban courtesy flag we have flying. When we brought out the camera the one fisherman dived down into the boat and came up proudly displaying their catch.

Speaking Spanish – its how you say it!
We have been putting our Spanish into practice and doing reasonably well. People have been really accommodating and helpful and willing to speak veeery slooowly. I wanted to buy eggs and couldn’t understand why when i asked, people gave blank slightly confused stares. Maybe I’m not allowed to buy eggs? But I sure we saw eggs for sale in the village? I asked in the street, at the gas station and kept getting the same blank stare. At the market I tried once again and finally reverted to doing a chicken impression and laying an egg! After much laughter they said ‘aaah, huevo’, i had been saying hueve which sounds like Thursday in Spanish! Its easy to buy eggs but not so easy to buy Thursday!

17. Dec, 2010

Hola Cuba, we made it!

Hola Cuba, we made it!

After braving the elements, sailing on very rolly seas for two full days and two nights, two very weary and quite sick sailors arrived on the coastline of Cuba!

Seeing the lights from afar was really exciting, we had finally made the crossing and arrived in Cuba at 3 in the morning. It was quite eery sailing into a little bay in the dark. We anchored in the dark and waited to see what the morning would bring.

We woke up to see we were surrounded by lush forests and in the most beautiful bay, it was like waking up to find ourselved in paradise.

And then the checking in procedures began…we were guided into a place to anchor where the doctor would meet up before we could go to the marina. After the doctor (which took about two hours), we had a string of officials entering our boat from agricuture, veterary, customs, immigrations and harbour master. Checking in took about 8 hours, but was all very friendly and welcoming. When we got our final clearance forms, the offical said to us “Welcome to Cuba, you can now get off your boat” !! YAY:)

Exploring around little Baia de Vita was wonderful, being in such a lush, green beautiful surroundings. We rented a scooter to get to the town of Holgin and loved experiencing the feel of life in Cuba. It like being in a time warp, where time has stood still for the last 50 years.

07. Dec, 2010

Attack of the flying pig!

Attack of the flying pig!

Well who thought pigs could fly…..? or in this case swim incredibly fast!

We are experiencing all kinds of weird and wonderful things but swimming pigs, who would have thought….they may look very cute and quite funny, but these pigs are enormous and when trying to board little Pakotini quite a terrifying experience!

Well our boat nearly capsized but I managed to fend off swimming piggie by tapping (quite firmly) on his snout. (You might hear the little nah ah, nah ahs…..ha ha ha!) and our moment of marital stress was quickly extinguished with hoots of laughter! Never a dull moment…

19. Nov, 2010

Crossing the Gulf Stream and arriving in the Bahamas!

Crossing the Gulf Stream and arriving in the Bahamas!

We did it!! Our first big crossing in little yacht Pako.

We didn’t really know what to expect as we had reports of the Gulf Stream being a tiger or pussy cat depending on the conditions, we hoped the tiger didn’t raise its head for our crossing. But we had been following the weather and waiting and waiting for the right winds and Tuesday 3am in the morning seemed right. It was quite eery coming out of the Biscayne channel in the dark and shining a flashlight to find the channel markers. I was the torch shiner and A was the skipper. I have to be honest I had feelings of excitement and complete terror and was very happy when the sun finally came up and we could see our surroundings:)

The crossing was relatively smooth sailing, beautiful to be out on the open ocean with nothing in sight but water all around. But of course there had to be some drama in the day….and it all happened at once. A was trawling a fishing line out the back of the boat and suddenly we heard zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz….what followed was a flurry of excitement and panic. Adrian was bringing in a huge beautiful Mahi-Mahi (Dolphin fish), I was steering and trying to take photos and then the main sheet shackle broke and detached from the boom… Fish, blood, crazy maniac swinging boom, lots of shouting…trying desperately to find the right bits to fix the boom, wind howling and trying to steer into the wind. NOT FUN (but we did have fresh fish for dinner:))

When land was in sight and the sea started to change to the most magnificent colour, all worries of the day disappeared as we took in the magic of the Bahamas water…blue blue blue….sea and sky melting into one, I can’t even begin to describe the beauty!

We spent a night in the gorgeous little town of Bimini and experienced the Caribbean vibe. It felt good to be in this slower pace of life, where there are no worries.

A day and night of sailing on the beautiful calm Bahamian waters and we have arrived in Nassau to do our last stock up before we really do go off the charts….