Friday, March 28, 2014

The Galapagos Islands!

64 Year Old "Peppy" a land tortoise on San Cristobal
Well, here we are! Even a couple of years ago, I never dreamed I would be sitting in the Galapagos Islands with sea lions, sea turtles, marine iguanas, sharks, and multiple species of fish and birds! Let alone on my own yacht! Sometimes this whole adventure seems surreal.

Sea lions will sleep anywhere they can
get out of the water for a while! They are
noisy and stinky, but fun to watch.
But here we are. You don’t take your dinghy ashore – unless you want the sea lions to take it over and probably leave you a smelling gift. They are everywhere along with their smell. We have large fenders on our swim step to keep them from sleeping there.

As I look around the anchorage, there are a number of boats with visitors on their swim platforms. One even climbed up on the settee on the aft deck of a catamaran and was sleeping with its head on a pillow! When the skipper saw it, he went out on deck and the sea lion hissed at him, so the skipper retreated. Then he decided that it was his boat and went back out and growled at the sea lion, who promptly slid into the water and went to look for another home! You need to be the Alpha male here!
All of these officials came on the boat at one time!
It was rather crowded and very confusing with all of
the Spanish conversations.
There is a renewed conservation mode in place here. We had to have a health inspection of our boat in addition to all of the other visitor fees. There is a $100 National Park fee even for those you just fly in to join a boat and don't see anything!

A crew of eight officials came out to the boat and boarded at the same time. We had to complete a pile of paperwork. They asked many questions about what we had on board and inspected parts of the boat. They took many photos of things and on some boats, removed a number of items. Nothing was taken from us. One question they asked was did we have biodegradable detergent. Dennis said, "Yes, Joy" and I quickly grabbed the bottle of method so they could take a photo of it! Not sure what the people in the office would have done with a picture of JOY!

Come to think of it, would you let
these two into your country!?!
They sent divers out to inspect the bottom of the boats and 18 of the fleet boats had to go 60 miles offshore to have the bottoms cleaned. This has been expensive and frustrating as most of the boats had been hauled and cleaned or cleaned and painted just before leaving the Caribbean! Fortunately, we were not one of those. It looks like we are all going to contribute to the cost for those boats as it is $300-500 per boat.

The bigger issue is that many of these sailors have family and friends waiting at another Galapagos island to join them for activities and cruising! Now they have lost out on booked tours and time to do what they had planned. Apparently a new naturalist has come to the islands since the WARC negotiated our fees and clearances and this was recently put into place. We also have to sort our garbage into three separate groups: recyclables (paper, plastic, glass and metal), organic and general trash. We cannot take them ashore here, but have to keep them on board until we get to Santa Cruz which is two weeks away.

Welcome to the Galapagos!
The Water Taxis are our means of transportation.
$.60 pp during the day and $1 pp at night.
I am not opposed to the sorting and recycling, but keeping the organic materials is a stinky deal - literally! As sailors, we respect the ocean and all of nature and we abide by the philosophy of leaving a Clean Wake! We do not contaminate the ocean with anything that is harmful to it. We keep all non-biodegradable items until they can be properly disposed of on land. Our concern is what happens to it all on Santa Cruz? There are no incinerators. We assume they will compost the organic stuff, but we don’t see how this solves the problem of introducing non-native items into the ecosystem here.
I am not opposed to the sorting and recycling, but keeping the organic materials is a stinky deal - literally! As sailors, we respect the ocean and all of nature and we abide by the philosophy of leaving a Clean Wake! We do not contaminate the ocean with anything that is harmful to it. We keep all non-biodegradable items until they can be properly disposed of on land. Our concern is what happens to it all on Santa Cruz? There are no incinerators. We assume they will compost the organic stuff, but we don’t see how this solves the problem of introducing non-native items into the ecosystem here.

As for San Cristobal, there has been much work done on the waterfront to create a tourist area. When you get off the water taxi, it feels a little like “Welcome to Disney World.” There is a “board walk” of cement along the entire waterfront with a fence to keep the sea lions in the water and rock area and not in the streets. Occasionally, a few do manage to get up to the street level and lay around causing traffic issues. The opposite side of the street is filled with shops, restaurants and several small hotels. In many establishments, you can access Internet after a purchase. The Internet service is typical of most islands and not reliable nor is it secure.

We have had some great seafood meals in interesting little places. We even found a place that makes terrific milkshakes on the way back from the beach! Location. Location. Location. A smart business woman runs a 6 table open air restaurant/snack bar just at the top of the hill you have to climb on your way back from the bigger beach where we snorkeled with sea lions and turtles. The Blue Footed Boobies nest nearby.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Leg 2: Las Perlas to the Galapagos

We had a beautiful start to the second leg of the circumnavigation. The winds were light so spinnakers and genakers were flying. It was a sight to behold: the gentle breeze, the colorful sails and a narrow start line! The countdown began and the shoots were hoisted – and we were off!

The START of Leg 2
This passage is known for its lack of wind so we were all strategizing to find the most wind for the longest periods of time. We used Jimmy Cornell’s cruising guides to plan our course. Instead of following the rhumb line, we went south until we turned southwest. Actually, there is a strong westerly current so unless you are motoring, it is difficult to go straight south. (Oh, did I mention that Nick was disappointed when he realized it is not a RUM line!)

Nick and Dennis were also the champs when it came to catching tuna. They caught three in a matter of 45 minutes! I am still looking forward to a Wahoo or MahiMahi.
The START was very crowded, but after 30 hours we
saw no one in person and after 48 hours we saw very
few of the fleet boats on the AIS screen.

I have to say we were so pleased to have Nick sail with us as he had never been on the boat. He learned a lot, became proficient at a number of sailing skills and provided great humor! He and Jack had the most interesting discussions that challenged logic on all levels. It made for some good laughs.

The third tuna!
Dennis did a great job of charting our course and we sailed most of the passage when other boats were motoring. We only had 30 some engine hours out of the 7 days. Unfortunately, some of those came when we were herded north and east by a fishing boat. We think it was one of the illegal ones with 2 mile long lines out fishing without any lights on.

Real on the job training for Nick!
This experience resulted in another night of screaming in Spanish. We could only make out that he wanted us to go north and east. Of course, we wanted to south and west! Even with Nick’s limited Spanish and our Spanish for Cruisers book, we did not know what he was saying. When we asked a simple question, he went off on a screaming fit, repeating himself over and over. Obviously, if we didn’t understand him the first time, we were not going to understand him with his many repetitions. We think he was telling us he would be fishing there until Friday as if we were going to sit and wait for him to finish!

A great week of family time for all of us.
Since he had no navigational lights we couldn’t tell which direction he was going or where the lines were. We think he was trying to tell us there were some flags in the water to mark the boundaries. Good luck as it was late at night and we couldn’t see anything except his white spotlight aimed at us as he came toward us! We were literally “run out of town” by this vessel. If you look at our track you may think we had been into the rum at sea! Unfortunately, this episode caused us to lose a lot of time and 15 extra miles out of our way. We had been on a good run to the finish line prior to this incident.

Crossing the Equator! Woo Hoo! We made it!
Nick was our hero throughout the Spanish speaking islands. Dennis and I have limited Spanish and would never have make it through the many challenges of shopping, dining and navigating without his help! He and Daphne had free time to enjoy many tours and hikes on three of the islands we visited. And we loved having Nick with us. Sure do miss his giggle!

I tried using the self-timer and jumped into the picture. It
looks more like I have had too much bubbly and am
falling off the seat! Oh, well!
After this incident, we lost our enthusiasm even for the crossing of the equator. No costumes of Neptune on the Captain! We did celebrate with champagne (Spanish Brut, to be exact) and a group photo. Somehow in the rush to get out of the house and onto the boat, I wasn’t thinking about costumes for various occasions as we celebrate around the world. We will just be the fuddy-duddies!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Off to Las Perlas, the Pearl Islands

Getting ready for a crew change: Ron leaves from Panama,
Vicky and Peter leave from Las Perlas where Jack, Larry
and our son Nick will join us for the sail to Galapagos.
It was time to continue west! The leg from Panama City to the Archipelago de Las Perlas, consisting of more than 220 islands and islets, was not a “race” so we left when we felt like it. There was no wind for half of the trip. In fact, the Pacific was like glass near the harbor and for a couple of hours out. Then we picked up enough wind to unfurl the sails. We had a nice gentle sail with Vicky and Peter still on board. Ron had headed back home from Panama City. Las Perlas is about 45 miles southeast of Panama City, still in the Gulf of Panama.

Our view from the anchorage.
Our destination was the Island of Contadora, which was the island where they counted the pearls found here in the early days. Even though this is the most developed island in the group, there isn’t much there but it is one of the few inhabited islands in the group of islands. It is only 750 acres. That is smaller than Pointe aux Barques! The fleet that left earlier had time to visit several other islands before the rendezvous on the south side of the island near Hotel Romantica.

We needed to be there as we had crew scheduled for arrival on three different days. Of course, between the airlines and the Panamanian government, none of them showed up when expected. There was not much to do on the island so it was a time to relax some and read a good book. Actually the down time felt good.

Nick, Jack and Larry finally joined us for the trip to the Galapagos. Vicky and Peter took the ferry back to the mainland to meet their daughters for more exploring in Panama. The current was very strong so we did not swim off the boat. The crew that did swim at several beaches had a run in with jellyfish and had a number of stings.

There are a couple of hotels on Contadora and it could be a very peaceful place to visit for a vacation if you are into sun and sand. Personally, I would take the beaches of Saint Bart or Hawaii over this one. Our big purchase was fishing lures to see if we could improve our luck.

What you see is what you get! Not much here!
Since I have been interested in human behavior through my 23 years of coaching and training, I have found the people watching very interesting when it comes to food and drink! Obviously, there are those who have no limits on libation so they are in a state of non-existence when at anchor or on shore. I guess my “drug” of choice is Coca Cola – pretty benign compared to the flow of beer and rum. So it leads to good people watching!

Dennis at the Prize Giving Event. None for us!
There are a few who can’t seem to control their consumption of food. This has become a frustration because they go through the buffet lines multiple times – even eating while standing over the buffet – before everyone has made it though once.  The caterers usually run out of food and some of us don’t even get our meal. Visually, you can identify the ones who are the indulgent! Maybe that is why we are losing weight! I find it annoying that they are so out of touch with their own behavior and don’t realize others are missing out on what they have paid for in their Rally fees.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Another Interesting Shopping Experience

An unbelievable amount of citrus fruits here!
It is so good to see fresh things!
I am getting pretty good at working my way through the various outdoor food markets. I have become accustomed to the numerous root vegetables, but I have not tried to cook any yet. Since it is so hard to find fresh fruits and vegetables, I really stock up when I do. In fact, I usually over buy and then force feed the crew! Hey, what's wrong with fresh bananas, grapefruits and oranges every day! I peel and section the citrus fruits so they are at hand and an easy to grab snack.
The locals call these "pumpkin" but they look
like varieties of what we call "squash."

In Panama City, Vicky and I went to the local farmers/wholesale market. It was somewhat like Eastern Market in Detroit, but not as clean. The one we visited had permanent stalls as well as some under a common roof.

It was organized by the type of foods so it was easy to compare between vendors. Our biggest challenge was the language. Fortunately, we found a taxi driver who would stay with us and translate. He also carried everything to the car and unloaded it at the dock. Mario was a blessing on such a hot day in the dusty market.

It was difficult asking for the cost of an item without
speaking Spanish. I had to depend on Mario.
One of the things that I have found I can finally accept is the idea of not refrigerating eggs that have never been refrigerated! Yes, that is right. If I buy them in a store, then I have to keep them cool. I also have to take my own egg cartons with me since eggs don't travel well in a bag!

It is a busy place on Saturday.
As for bags, you cannot count on the vendor having them available. So I head of to market with a boat bag full of other bags. The best bags I have are REI shopping bags. Check them out near the checkout counter in the store.

I found such good bargains there. A whole sack -as in 25 pounds - of oranges was $5 and a sack of grapefruit was only $4! Now think of what you are paying in the market at home! These look like produce that would be used for processing and not in your store. There is nothing wrong with them; they just aren't pretty like the ones we like to pick out individually. The taste is wonderful and they are very juicy.

Wow! Fresh parsley and romaine. It is hard to find fresh
greens. I miss my cello packed romaine that lasts!
Then there are the bananas. For $5, I could have purchased a whole stalk! However, I did not have room for that many, nor could we eat that many before they would spoil. I managed to negotiate for a half stalk for $2.50. (Sign language is working better than my Spanish!) We have had bananas for four weeks as a result. They are very green so I select the most ripe ones and put them in a plastic bag with an apple to speed up the ripening process. This way I can have a continuous stream of perfectly ripened bananas.

Truly Mother Nature's palette of colors!
Pineapples were $1 each as were the better avocados. I tried the cheaper avocados but found them not lasting as long. Tomatoes were $0.40 a pound.

It is hard to find lemons as we know them. The ones here are somewhat orange in color inside. The limes are yellow on the outside. They had green ones like we have at home, but the vendor was insistent that I wouldn't like them because they were not yet ripe. So I bought the yellow ones and he was right! They are sweeter yet still tart. You learn something new everyday.

Back on the boat, everything was soaked in
saltwater over the side of the boat and then
given a fresh water rinse and dried before
storing. Just need to keep bugs off the boat!
I ended up with a trunk full of fresh fruits and vegetables for a grand total of $35 plus $20 round trip taxi ride. This is probably the last time we will see this kind of selection and at such low prices. The provisioning on the Galapagos Islands will be limited and expensive. And everything is cash only. We were advised that the prices in the Marquesas will be outrageous. Feeding the crew will be challenging in both budget and finding meats and produce we like.

I am sure my shopping and cooking will become even more comical as we continue westward into the more remote islands. I understand that some of them have no official currency so we will be trading goods. I hope I have brought along the right things to trade!

So far I haven't had any complaints from the crew so I will keep being creative with what I have available on any given day!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Visit to the Embera Indians

Arriving at the river to board the dugouts
The World Cruising Club does a nice job of arranging activities in our various landings. Once again they made it possible for us to spend a day with the Embera Indians near Panama City. Tours are available through many sources, but the WARC makes it easier by making all of the arrangements. As a result, we have a carefree day of enjoying another culture.

He stood in the bow of the canoe for
the whole trip up the river.
After a 45 minute bus trip to the edge of the river, we were greeted by the men of the tribe. Our guide suggested we use the facilities there before boarding the canoes. One enterprising woman (gotta love those women business owners!) had a "pay toilet" on her property near the bus parking area. She charged $0.25 per person to use it. We Americans understood the program and offered our coins. Some of the Europeans just went right in and out without paying. It was interesting to watch her reaction and lack of gumption to go after them.
Here we go 

The Chief shared information about their culture.
 As we approached the river, we saw the men in their native attire - which was minimal - offering us life jackets and directing us toward the dugout canoes. Once we were all tucked in several canoes we looked like those old fashion orange marshmallow peanut candies that my grandmother always had available! The canoes were somewhat comfortable as we sat two on a seat. We quickly learned it is better to be in the back if you want to stay dry.

Masks made with basketry techniques.
Wooden carvings from a single piece of wood
One of the older men ran the outboard motor while a younger one stood in the bow holding a long stick. He used it to push off and for balance. At times it seemed like he was giving directions to the driver by tilting the stick one way or the other. We were in the canoes for another 30 minutes or so as we followed a path through the water plants up the river to their village. The passage was very peaceful with many birds and interesting vegetation to enjoy. I can't imagine making this journey without an outboard motor as it would take days to paddle. There were no roads along the river to this wilderness village as it is very isolated.

Once we arrived at the village, we were greeted by children on the beach and musicians playing part way up the stairs. This is a community where dress is skimpy, but not in a sexy way. The women only cover up with skirts from the waist down and the men were something like a diaper. They use a plant material to paint or stain their skin creating interesting designs as you will see in the photos. At first it was a bit awkward looking at their dress (or rather the lack of), but after a while you don't even notice the bareness. In fact, they looked really comfortable and cool in the warm sun! There have been many days when I have envied the crew who go bare chested!
Some of their jewelry designs.

The Chief explained about their culture, arts, dance and food. Our guide David translated it for us. We were encouraged to buy their handmade items as this is their source of income. Each family retains the money from their sales while the village as a whole benefits from the tour income. They make baskets, masks, carved wooden objects and jewelry. They also created designs for their skirt fabrics that are then printed in mass in the city. It is a long piece of fabric that you wrap around your waist and tuck in. Hopefully it stays up!

All of the women join in the singing and dancing
while the men watch. Then they drew in the guests.
The women create the music with handmade instruments and sing and play while doing the traditional dance. They line up by age with the eldest leading and circle around and around. The little ones were so cute! Some of them already have the moves going! Then the children came to the visitors and asked them to join in the dance so we did. How could you say "no" to those darling faces!

The last little girl really had all of the dance moves down!
Following the program, they served us a meal of fresh tilapia cooked over the open fire in a vat of oil, fried plantain patties and fruit. The food was served in a banana leaf bowl. I wish I could have saved mine. We were able to see the "kitchen" which was a raised thatched hut where the plantains were being fried and the fruit prepared. The fish was being prepared below on the ground. The kitchen is the community kitchen for events. Each home has its own kitchen. The preparation of the food was hard work and very hot as well.

Fresh tilapia with fried plantain cakes.
 After lunch we were free to roam around their village, but not to enter their homes. The houses are thatched huts up on stilts to protect them from the jungle animals and the water during rainy seasons. We noted the "stairs" to the hut were made out of logs with steps notched into them. To keep people out (like closing the door) - or keeping children in - they turned the log around so the steps were not accessible! Very clever!

Serving a large crowd on disposable plates!
 We were allowed to visit their herbal or healing garden where they grow the plants used for medications. Even the dye that is used on their bodies has the effect of our bug repellent. Many of the plants have multiple uses depending on whether you are using the stem, leave, root or flower or make it into something, like a tea.

Some 50 years ago, the government had displaced these people from the land they had occupied for generations. They created 5-7 communities throughout the jungle south of the Panama Canal for them to create new communities. There were around 140 people in this one.

Frying the tilapia in oil over an wood fire was hot work.

The raised community kitchen

Preparing the fruit trays
Cooking the fried plantains

Piles of plantain cakes or patties.
 We learned that they usually have 5-6 days a month when the tours are welcome in the village. Again this is a major source of income for them. There tour season is from December through April and then the water in the river becomes so low the canoes with motors cannot travel the paths. This is when they plant rice and corn along the river bed. They were very happy the week we were there because they were having 7 days of tourists.
Children at play

The stairs to their homes are logs.

A "street" in the neighborhood

Someone gave her a Snickers bar. She shared it, but
was not happy when he took most of it! Some things
are the same no matter where you are!

The children captured our hearts.

Once again we donned our orange vests and boarded the canoes. On the way back to the buses, they took us to a fresh waterfall and pool on the river. It was an interesting climb through the rocks along the river to reach the waterfall. I gave up and waited on the rocks while Dennis, Vicky and Peter continued on. They came back refreshed and wet!