Saturday, September 27, 2014

And then there was Darwin

I'm now in Galapagos mode.  We are aiming to get out of here mid-November, to start our long awaited journey west, and the first stop is ....the Galapagos.  It's on everyone's bucket list, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  We've read other boat blogs, and seen photos of the wildlife, but in order to do it ourselves, we get to do more paperwork.

The fees have put some cruisers off, as it's not a free anchorage situation that we're talking about here.  Cruisers, for some reason, are known for being cheap.  Perhaps not even cheap, but miserly.  We rely on the free sunshine for power, and after the initial cost, we can make our own water.  With no rent on throwing out an anchor, no mortgage fees for a paid off boat, no car or car insurance, and all the accompanying fuel and toll fees and oil changes eliminated, we can live on a much reduced monthly allowance than we did while on land.  When someone asks us to pay ANYTHING, it can be a shock, so a price tag of close to $1000 (for us, $1085 to be exact) to throw out our anchor in waters deemed to be available to anyone with a visa, is an adjustment.  However, we simply can't imagine anyone sailing close by these islands that have so captured the imaginations of generations of scientists, and given rise to so many world-wide arguments about Darwin's "Theory of Evolution", without stopping.  In the whole scheme of things, the "pay to play" bill we have been handed is a pittance, and we are happy to pay.

What do we get for $1085?  We get to spend 3 months in this pristine natural environment, interacting on an "up close and personal" level with iguanas, sea lions and penguins.  Yes, we've been "up close and personal" with all of those in the past, but surely you can see that being able to count yourself among the lucky few that have been to THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS, has some bragging rights' merit.  We get to visit three separate islands, and the fees include various agencies, gov't officials, the picking up of trash, the inspection of our boat to make sure there is no contraband, the services of our agent Sr. Bolivar Pesantes who will submit all fees and paperwork to the appropriate officials (and for anyone that has been to Latin America this alone is worth it's weight in gold) and our national park fees.....(we paid $105 each when we went to visit Peru's archaeological sites, too) so in reality, it's understandable, and we are willingly handing over the cash.

In preparation, we have to stop some 40 miles offshore and do an additional scrub of our boat bottom to make sure we are not importing strange 3 headed-pests, we need to separate our trash (we do that in Canada, so no problem there) but other than that, we're pretty well set.

Our reading lists for the next few months include Kurt Vonnegut's Galapagos, Eric Simon's Darwin Slept Here, and a dipping of the proverbial toe into The Origin of Species.  Of course, tales of the Kontiki and Thor Heyerdahl, and anything having to do with The Bounty and James Cook are to be followed soon after.  Books open up my world, and have lead us to visit many places in Mexico and South America that we wouldn't have known to visit.

For those of you reading this blog who have no intention of exploring the world in a sailboat (it really is NOT for everyone), good authors can give everyone a glimpse of this fantastic world we live in, whether we are "up close and personal" with it, or whether our imaginations are fired from the cozy confines of an armchair.  The only thing I know is that watching the grass grow, (and then having to mow it) and keeping a fastidiously clean house, is not the way I want to live my life.  In the words of Irma Bombeck, I will NOT have on my headstone "ah, but she kept a clean house". 

To all you non-housekeepers out there, the world is a wild and wonderful place! 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The application process for French Polynesia

Last week was all about paperwork.  We are in the process of applying for a French Polynesia long-stay visa.  This will allow us, as North Americans, to stay in FP for up to a year, rather than the typical 3 months usually granted for people just rocking up.  As FP includes the Marquesas, the Tuamotus, the Gambiers, the Society Islands (which include the famed Tahiti and Bora Bora) and the Australs, we knew, given our cruising style, that 3 months just wasn't going to be enough time.  We had a hard time getting out of Mexico, and we were there for 2 years.  In true, planning ahead style, we decided that the paperwork would be worth the effort.

After making our appointments with the French embassy in Quito, we were sent a full list of requirements we needed to provide.  Applications, one in English and one in French, photos for the visas, copies of our passports, world-wide certification for health care, copies of our boats' registration, a letter in both English and French that explained our reasons for wanting to come for such a long period of time, and.....6 months of bank statements, showing that we had enough money to be there for that long.  Hahahaha, after hearing stories of the costs of provisions in the islands, we doubt seriously whether we can afford to be there, but whatever...

The interview process was pretty straightforward, and I am happy to report that the woman that helped us was incredibly friendly, encouraging and helpful.  She remembered friends of ours from last year that applied, and inquired as to their whereabouts now, and cheerfully told Ron that he was staying behind, while she took his place.  There was only one glitch, and that was when we needed to give our fingerprints.  The machine didn't find it funny that there were only nine fingerprints on Ron's application.

One of these is not like the other...

I am in the process of once again lowering our waterline, with cheaply procured items from here in Ecuador.  Not that there is much to buy, but knowing that where we are going, there will be even less, has me looking with new found interest at Nutella, packaged soups, and canned palm hearts.  We've been testing various products here to see which ones we find adequate, and are discarding items that just aren't cutting it, like oatmeal that is more dust than oats. You wouldn't believe it, but canned tomates are like gold.  Not a single one here in our little community of Bahia, so when we were in Quito, we took our traveling backpacks and filled them with cheese, canned tomatoes and more cheese.

We've been told that this process should take from 4-8 weeks, so until then, we wait, and provision, and wait some more.  Every day, we try to get at least one little thing we reinstalled a few turn buttons that had snapped off about 2 years ago (actually, we don't know the names of them) for the removable side panels on the pilothouse.  And we read....lots of stuff about clear French Polynesian water, reefs to dive on, coral heads (bommies) to avoid, and reef entrances to stress over.


Saturday, September 13, 2014

The list is piling up...

....for us to leave this continent.  Now that I write it down, its a reality.  After all, anytime you see anything in print, it's true, right?!

We have decided to head west, and then south, and then west again.  Any guesses?

Our goal, should all of the paperwork come through in a timely manner, is to head to the Galapagos in mid-November, or whenever our French Polynesia long-stay visa comes back from Papeete with a stamped approval.  New regulations are now enabling cruisers to spend up to 3 months in the Galapagos, so rather than hang out here much longer, we'll set up shop over in the Galapagos, and go swimming with the sea lions.  We find that we have much in common with the Galapagos turtles, as we seem to move about as fast as they do, so life should be good.  In order to go for any length of time, we have to apply for an Autografo which will enable us to visit 3 different islands, and stay past the usual 20 days.  Of course, this comes at a price and for a boat our size, it's going to come in around $1400, but we figure that while that amount is tough to take for 4 weeks, spread it out over 3 months and the cost/day ratio improves.  That is true creative accounting.

After the Galapagos, we'll see what the weather says, and if it's favourable, we'll head south/southwest to Easter Island.  Those of you that know us, know that we have been fighting about this for months, and months, and months.....Ron has worn me down and I'm tired of fighting.  Do I want to sail for 25 days to go to an island that we may have stay on board the boat for the entire time....nope.  Do I want to sail for 25 days to go to an island that we may have to leave after a day for the next island (Pitcairn), 10 days away....not so much.  Do I want to sail for 25 days to go to an island that we may have to move locations every day, due to weather and swell.....ya, no again.  But, it looks like we're going to try.  Unless, we don't.  The gribs will tell us, once we decide the time is right to make a break for it, whether we head to Easter Island, or whether we hitch a ride on the Coconut Milk Run and make a break for French Polynesia, and the Marquesas.

In the meantime, I am going to be provisioning like we'll never see land again.  Rumours of $10/pound of ground beef, $12 bags of Doritos, $4 beers.....we are in serious trouble if we think we can afford to buy food once we leave the shores of south America.  That being said, a fellow cruiser, Patty on Armaugh, and I have been commiserating with the less-than-satisfactory provisioning options here in Ecuador.  Where can we buy 8-packs of canned tomatoes.....where are the 12 roll bundles of papertowels....where are those jars of $6 (that's cheap!!!) peanut butter?  They are up in Panama, that's where, and since we came from there 6 months ago, we've run out of food stashes.  No pickled jalapenos, no cocoa powder, no $2.80 liters of wine.  It has been tossed around to "run up" to Panama to provision, but Ron rightly pointed out that I might have too much of a love affair with PriceSmart (a Costco affiliate) and that traveling for a week might be too much of an effort to be able to purchase 6 cans of chicken.  He did have a moment when I asked whether it was still too much effort to head up there for $12 cases (yes, that's right, a case, 24 cans, 4 sixers) of beer, but in the end, figured I'd make some sort of a plan to keep him hydrated.  I do...and it's called water, made from the sea.

I've been camped on the internet for days.  The anchorage here has improved their wifi signal, so I can now, in the comfort of my own boat, do as much research as I need.  I've downloaded sv Soggy Paws' Compendiums for the Tuamotus and the Marquesas.  I've made provisioning lists that include 12 cans of tomatoes, and 20 bags of tortilla chips.  I've filled out paperwork; more paperwork than I've done in years, for our French Polynesia long-stay visa.  I've been in touch with banks, and healthcare providers.....and after the internet signal dropped me for the 4th time while telling my financial advisor why I needed an infusion of cash.....I raised my eyes to the heavens and said aloud that it had better be worth it.

Ron has his own traumas, but that's for another post.

Meanwhile, the usual stuff continues to break, and we continue to fix it.  We have started looking around the boat for little things we can add to make our lives better, or at least keep our lives alive, like adding lines to our parachute anchor that somehow had been neglected.  And to once and for all, start adding stuff to our ditch bag for emergencies. In my moments of weakness, I reread John Vigor's black box theory, to motivate me.

In the end, we'll leave when we leave, and we'll leave things behind.  But unlike a lot of people, our dock lines were cut long ago, and we know that if we don't have it aboard, it won't kill us.  Mmmmm, about that black box.....