New! New! New! (or, How to Use Parenthetical Subtitles)
10th March 2007 - 9th July 2007
9th July 2007
Two years. I passed that anniversary on 2nd June. Two years since I sailed away from Long Beach. And this is only the 6th update! I can’t be to blame for filling up your inbox. Most of those 2 years was spent cruising in only two countries: the United States and Mexico. What a change to voyage across the borders of 7 countries in only 3 months.
NEW HORIZONS (or, Adios Mexico!)
The southern Pacific coast of Mexico forms the huge gulf of Tehuantepec, curving northeast before heading southeast to Guatemala. It narrows the landmass separating the Pacific from the Caribbean and this creates a natural wind tunnel across the isthmus. Thus, the Tehuantepec experiences gale force winds 140 days a year. These northerly winds crash into the southerly swell and can create dangerous conditions. Cruisers are always nervous about the gulf and wait for just the right conditions before scooting across; usually skirting the coast (it’s called keeping one foot on the beach) so that if caught by a gale, you’ll be close to the shore where the waves haven’t had a chance to build.
With that introduction, it will be a disappointment to learn that our crossing was calm and gentle. We did have a few squalls but we motored about half the way as there was no wind at all. Two days into our passage we waved goodbye to Mexico (not realizing how much we would miss it!) as we sailed nicely under spinnaker into Guatemalan waters. We didn’t stop in Guatemala as there is only one port on the Pacific and the government has recently increased the fees and requires that you stay in the marina.
Near the border of El Salvador our sea conditions changed due to the long-range effects of a papagayo – a strong wind that blows across Nicaragua and northern Costa Rica. It wasn’t too bad but it did require a few hours of heaving-to to wait for the confused seas to die down. After 4 days and 543 nautical miles, we met the pilot outside of Bahía de Jiquilisco, El Salvador on 18th March. With Volcán de Usulután towering in the hazy distance, the pilot guided us through the breaking waves 8 miles up the estuary, past beaches and mangroves, to Barillas Marina Club. We took a mooring and then prepared Migration to be left on her own as we headed off on our next adventure.
In a few days we hopped on a bus for Guatemala City. The difference between Guatemala and El Salvador is dramatic. Guatemala – at least the places we visited – dripped with color and local culture. True, we were in many of the popular tourist towns but the depth of the culture is quite tangible. The people are striking and the traditional dress beautiful. Alene had traveled in Guatemala previously but this was my first time: I loved it.
NEW (to us) TRADITIONS (or, Latin American Religious Iconography on Parade)
Not so good: It was noisy. It was crowded. And noisy. Hard to find a room. And noisy. More expensive than usual. And, oh yes, noisy.
But the good part: the alfombras. All through Guatemala – but especially in Antigua – there are processional parades where large floats with religious images are carried through the streets. It is an honor to carry a float, some of which are enormous and require 90 people to hoist onto their shoulders. The floats are paraded for hours – sometimes all day and all through the night.
The path of the procession is mapped out ahead of time and people create alfombras – carpets – on the street. These are made with colored sawdust, pine needles, seeds, and flowers. Most take many hours to create, only to exist in their finished state for an hour or so before the procession walks right over it, destroying the beautiful design and leaving the bits and pieces to be swept up by the after guard. Some alfombras are simple: a bed of pine needles with flowers laid around the edges. Some are complex and colorful; made with stencils, each hue of sawdust carefully placed by hand. Glorious!
The procession itself is very strange. There were thousands of participants – men, women and children – dressed in a variety of costumes: hooded purple robes, Roman soldiers, shepherds and shepherdesses. There was a man playing a sporadic haunting melody on a whistle and drum. There were giant rotating noisemakers spun on the end of 6-foot sticks. A dozen men and boys swung incense censers (very smelly!). And weaving through it all, scores of vendors selling cotton candy, hats, toys, ice cream and soft drinks.
The procession plods along extremely slowly – about 1 foot every 3 seconds. All the time swaying slowly to the music of a dissonant brass band following behind. It is all strange and quite surreal – especially at night with the giant figure of Christ lit up by portable spotlights (powered by a little generator pulled along in a wheelbarrow) with the fires of hell glowing orange at his feet.
Surreal, yet interesting I do have to say. Not really exciting. It moves way too slow for that. But I certainly had never seen anything like it.
NEW ROCK (or, Never Tie Your Shoes While Standing in Lava)
Two days later at dawn, as we sat in the departure lounge at the Guatemala City airport, we could see our volcano in the distance, and there, on its upper slopes, barely visible, was a faint red glow. We’d been there!
NEW PLANE (or, Don’t You Love When a Friend Gets a New Toy)
Back in Guatemala we continued our travels; this time to Lake Atitlan. The lake is at 5,125 feet and surrounded by 10,000 foot-high volcanoes and peaks. Very picturesque. We visited my friend Klaus who happened to be living there, hiked up a few peaks and enjoyed the water taxi rides across the lake.
NEW COUNTRIES (or, If It’s Tuesday This Must Be Honduras)
When we leave the boat for any length of time there is a lot to do: Close all thru-hulls, turn off and clean the fridge, pickle the watermaker, remove running rigging, clean and stow cockpit cushions, surfboard and dinghy, get rid of perishable foods, double-check anchor or mooring lines, top up battery water. When we return we have to get everything going again. But we were soon underway and heading to another new country: Honduras.
Most people don’t realize that Honduras has a Pacific Coast. The Gulf of Fonseca is bordered by El Salvador to the north, Nicaragua to the south and a few miles of Honduras right in the middle. The gulf is dotted with islands and there is a small port inside an estuary in the northeast corner. A 12-mile trip up the ship channel (reminiscent of sailing in the Sacramento Delta) and then a winding 2 miles between mangrove islands, brought us to the town of San Lorenzo: a quiet place rarely visited by boats but very friendly and muy tranquilo. We stayed four days, exploring the town and getting to know some of the locals.
We sailed back down the estuary and spent a day and night at the old port of Amapala. The next morning we raised anchor and headed out of the gulf. We hadn’t planned on stopping in Nicaragua but another papagayo developed bringing strong headwinds and our main halyard parted. So, thirty hours into this passage we dropped anchor in a windy, but calm bay called Astillero.
At 5:30am the following morning we were awakened by what clearly was someone on board Migration. Because we had read that there is no port captain at this remote spot we were surprised – and relieved – to find our visitor was a representative of the port captain from San Juan del Sur, about 25 miles south. He was dressed in military fatigues and maybe 20 years old. Because he didn’t have a launch he’d had a fisherman drop him off. He was very polite as he carefully filled out a form with our vessel and passport information. Unfortunately, when he was finished he had no transportation back to shore. Our dinghy was put away for our passage so we couldn’t take him. So we shared some juice and talked for an hour while he waited for the fishermen to return. An interesting way to spend the early morning. Though sleeping would have been nice, too.
We waited another day for the papagayo winds to abate. They didn’t and we were anxious to keep moving so we left anyway. We sailed close to the coast so the seas didn’t have a chance to build and arrived that afternoon – covered in salt spray – in Costa Rica.
Bahía Santa Elena is a remote bay in the far north of Costa Rica. We were the only boat there. That night, as pairs of green parrots flew past us to squabble in the trees ashore, it felt like we had arrived in a very exotic place indeed. We spent 8 days exploring the bay and a few other anchorages along the north coast. My Mom was to arrive on 3rd May so we worked our way to Playa Coco – our meeting point.
NEW WEATHER (or, Be Careful What You Ask For)
Mom arrived on May 3rd. She’d booked into a hotel the first night in order to make it easier to meet. It also gave her a chance to rest up after her long red-eye from LA via Dallas. What a trooper! We met Mom at her hotel and then returned to the boat to finish provisioning. We were to meet back at her hotel for dinner.
At 5 pm the rain started. A chance to wash the boat! Perfect timing. It poured and we scrubbed. And it poured and we scrubbed some more. Then it continued to pour. We couldn’t see the shore. We bailed the dinghy which was threatening to sink after only an hour of rain. It got dark. It poured. Lightning flashed on the hills and the roar of thunder broke through the beating of the rain. It poured some more.
The rainy season had started. We didn’t make it for dinner.
A switch had been thrown. It rained nearly every day from then on. Some days a lot. Some hardly at all. The dusty decks of our days in the Baja were a faint memory.
NEW CREW (or, Endurance Testing for Moms)
(Check out the Video section for other videos including cool dolphin footage.)
Mom treated us to a fantastic tour at a private park called Rainmaker. Around every corner was a another amazing view of a waterfall, or a 300-year old ceiba tree, or a twisting vine climbing hundreds of feet into the canopy. Our naturalist guide was excellent. Most exciting were the long suspension bridges rigged through the canopy hundreds of feet above the river and waterfalls.
We anchored off of the beach at the famous Manuel Antonio Park – enough room for a few boats but we were the only one there. It’s a beautiful anchorage and a 2-minute row to the shore for hiking. The howler monkeys’ roaring each evening gave it a very wild feel.
We’re never sure how it will work out to have other people aboard. We live in a small space and Alene and I are used to doing things our way. But Mom was an easy guest and her time with us went quickly. We said goodbye in Quepos and she began her long trek back to California.
We spent a few more days in the Manuel Antonio area. A writing friend, Evelyn Gallardo, now lives there with her husband and it was great visiting with them. They have a beautiful home right on the beach and we saw scores of red squirrel monkeys in the trees in their front yard. Evelyn cooked a delicious Mexican dinner; a treat as the cuisine of most of Central America was a disappointment after being in Mexico for so long.
NEW YEAR (or, Feliz Cumpleaños Alene!)
Outside of Golfito, Migration was again alone as we anchored off of the Casa Orquidea botanical gardens (accessible only by boat) for Alene’s Birthday on June 10th.
The weather gods obviously love Alene because we had the first completely sunny day in over a month. Not a drop of rain. We spent the day touring the gardens, relaxing, reading, and swimming. Dolphins showed up for a few minutes around the boat to wish Alene Many Happy Returns. I cooked a special birthday dinner, including birthday cake, and we ate outside for the first time in many weeks.
The next day we raised anchor and waved Adios to Costa Rica. 300 miles – all of them upwind – lay between us and our next destination.
NEW EXPERIENCE (or, We Dived with Sharks!!!!)
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