Sunday, April 19, 2015

Repairs, why always repairs?

Is it just our boat that is constantly in need of repairs?  When I was a land dweller, I can't remember EVER, in 35 years of paying rent and mortgages, waking up one morning and not having water coming from the faucet.  But that happened the other day here on the boat.  It didn't come out, and the fresh water pump was to blame.  It just decided it didn't want to work.

And then there was that other day that the toilet didn't want to bring in fresh seawater, flushing out the bad......other water.  Just didn't happen. 

And then our little media player, bringing movies and television shows from our computer to our television, just decided it didn't want to play the video.  It just....didn't. 

All this in one week, AT THE DOCK!!!!

If the coffee maker decides it's not going to make coffee tomorrow morning, I wouldn't be surprised. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Does it get any better than food in Mexico?

Time sure does fly when you aren't drifting aimlessly offshore.  It's been 2+ weeks since we "arrived" here in Huatulco, and our joy at being here has not diminished one bit since we first kissed the dock.  We are very grateful for:
  • Chips and Salsa - what is wrong with the rest of Central and South America?  El Salvador has those vile things called papusas (honestly, they are simply tummy filler), the other countries' "salsas" are vibrant plastic-containered pink concoctions which adorn every restaurant table from Costa Rica to Ecuador, and their colour alone should encourage NO ONE to try them, and those much beloved tortillas will only come to your table if you choose to make them yourselves (or are content with supermarket versions pumped with so many preservatives that they are truly perfect for 2 month long offshore expeditions).  I was fortunate to find a brand of tortilla chip in Ecuador that sufficed, and when we were provisioning, we bought 50 bags of the things.  Maybe deep down I knew we would be needing them....We found a chip bar at a local store recently, and as my hips will tell you, I could eat tortilla chips for every meal.  I parked myself there, with an idiotic and mesmerized grin on my face. 
  • Salsa -  okay, this probably should go above but Pico de Gallo is God's Own Creation.  It is perfect....and should be revered throughout the world as such.  However, no one outside of Mexico is familiar, although they all have the necessary ingredients to make it.  Upon getting to know the guys working here at Marina Chahue, when we mentioned that salsa in general, and Pico de Gallo in particular was really just embraced in Mexico, he frowned and visibly recoiled.  Priceless.  Salsa Verde and Molcajeteada....they have both found their way back on board, to the vast relief of Sundancers' owners.
  • Tacos Pastor - or frankly any type of taco, but Pastor is a favourite.  Made of spit roasted pork and topped with a "flick" of roasted pineapple, cilantro, onion, and of course, Pico de Gallo.....heaven.  And although we thought that Ecuador restaurant "eats" were pretty cheap, 39 pesos for 5....ahem, but that's about $2.60 us, and even us Canadians can afford it at $3.25.  Add a 15 peso beer ($1 usd, $1.20 cdn), and we are thrilled to go out for dinner every night. 

  •  Bolillos - while perhaps not as sexy as the above, bolillos are as indispensable in Mexico as is.....say salsa.  We use them for sandwiches, sliced sideways for bruschetta, and dunked in milk and eggs for Mexican Toast (the south of the border version of French Toast, people), and these rolls are a steal at 10 centavos/each.  That means you can get 15 of these things for $1, $1.20cdn.  
  •  Arrachera - I don't know how they do it, but this is the most flavourful, the most tender, the most heavenly hunk of beef you will EVER buy in any country in the world (this may be an exaggeration, but my love for arrachera knows no bounds).  I'm sure the marinade in the packages you purchase in the supermarkets have all sorts of questionable ingredients, but this could be the only time that I look the other way....the meat is THAT GOOD!  We first discovered it many years ago, when we first arrived in Mexico.  With friends, we visited the Costco located in Cabo san Lucas, and I admit to turning my nose up when Ron dumped a huge 4 pound package of this premarinated skirt steak in the cart.  I adopted my "when in Rome....." attitude when I agreed to purchase it, we grilled it a few nights later, and promptly returned to Costco for 5 more packages to stick in the freezer.      
Oh, yes, after 3 years away from Mexico and making this unscheduled return to our first "foreign" country after leaving Canada, we are going to make the most of the food.  How we've missed you!!! 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The end of the adventure....

So I'll pick up where I left off several weeks ago.  The day after the last post, Day 8, was frightful.  With sustained 35-40 knot winds, I came up from a break at 4am to hear Ron screaming at me to get him a knife.  The stainless steel radar mount had sheared in 1/2, and the radar, with it's base, was banging and whipping around the mizzen rigging.  No way in the current conditions to climb aloft to make an alternative plan and lower the radar to the deck (perhaps we could have done that had it been daylight), so we made the decision to cut it away.  And so we did, watching as $2000 fell into the sea.  I try to look on the bright side of all situations, and while in this case it was more difficult, it could have been worse if it had fallen down onto the 5 solar panels within striking distance.  The rigging was safe, we were safe, and the true adventure was just beginning.

Ron had been stressed; the worry of keeping me safe, keeping the boat safe, keeping the systems was starting to take it's toll.  We spent several hours discussing our situation, coming up with alternative plans.  The overriding thought between us, was that the last 5 years while cruising, we had been complacent.  It was difficult to get replacement parts, it was difficult to do major repairs and upgrading, but we were now faced with the future destination (Easter Island) and the loss of our radar.  The conditions were pushing our boat to it's limits (or so we thought) and we decided that if we really wanted to continue with the sailing life, we needed to do some upgrades, and the easiest place to do those was going to be Mexico.  Yes, it was a long way away, but water and food and fuel were plentiful, and the long range needs took precedence.  So, we turned the boat 180 degrees away and started heading north.

25-45 knot winds, 10-15 foot seas, some south and some east winds, we were doing fine, and had Mexico in our sights, 700 miles away. Then....disaster.  One day, there was some uneven reving with the engine, as we were using it under massive swells, but no winds.  Exploration discovered lots and lots of water in our fuel filters and an hour later, the engine had quit, never to start up again.  The fuel injection pump was hooped!

Not a problem, we thought.  We're a sailboat, and while we may not get there as fast as we could, as long as the wind held, we'd be fine.  AS LONG AS THE WIND HOLDS!!!!

Bypassing this an account of too repetitious days, a week later found ourselves still 280 miles away from the Mexican coast and enthusiasm was on the wane.  We had been heading first east to Chiapas, then further west to Huatulco, and then finally with the north winds in control, we headed towards Acapulco.  By this time, Acapulco Search and Rescue made an appearance, and indicated that for $33,000 they would be happy to give us a tow.  Uh, huh.  For that price, I would be too.  Another week of haggling, another several days of drifting either in one place or even backwards......the game was starting to get old.  A different system took hold, and we were back heading at 1-2 knots/hour towards Huatulco.

In the meantime, we give thanks to three boats who really gave our spirits the needed boost, and one boat in particular who we will remember always.  Islena, Sailor's Run, and Curiositas happened to be in Acapulco, heard about our trials on both the Amigo and Picante ssb nets, and came to our rescue by attempting to find a private party to tow us towards Acapulco.  Another quote, this time for $10,000 but we still weren't desperate, although it was now Day 36 since our little adventure began.  The winds switched again, and off we all went to Huatulco, our three new best friends from Acapulco, and us from 80 miles offshore.

It was finally decided, on Day 38 that if we could get our boat to Islena, who was drifting 9 miles away from us and 20 miles from Huatulco, that they would be able to tow us the rest of the way in.  We got busy.  As it was dead calm, we successfully lowered the dingy, got the outboard engine on, sidetied the dingy to Sundancer and at a blistering 2.5 knots, off we went.  We rendevoused with Islena at noon, and by 4:30pm that afternoon, we were inching our way into Marina Chahue, in Huatulco.

Our Saviours, Dave and SaM on Islena
Inch by inch we made it into Marina Chahue, Huatulco
Can you tell we are happy?
And so here we are.

It's now 3 days later.....and only now can I write about it.  We don't know what the future holds, except that the first order of business is to get the engine up and running again.  We are kicking around a couple of ideas, to stay here for a few months, to stay in Mexico for another year, to attempt the south Pacific again next year this time, to sail north back to the states or Canada.  The only thing we really know is that we are very grateful to the sailing community that pulled together to help a fellow mariner.

We are staying on land for awhile

Thursday, February 19, 2015

//WL2K Days 3....

and 4 and 5. So my daily updates aren't. Daily, I mean. Sometimes, the effort required to actually write an update is just too much work, and then there is the whole needing to actually getting a ssb connection....I have so many worries.

Firstly, the weather. It's been per usual, a bit of this, and a bit of that. Generally, we've had at least some wind to push us along, although up until today, it's not been from the right direction. Well, it's HAS sort of been correct, although combined with currents and swell, we were actually about 30 degrees off course, but the fantastic wind prediction program we use, and LOVE, PredictWind, was spot on with it's prediciton that either sometime today or tomorrow, we would have a wind shift. When I came up from taking a nap just now, we were on a 20 degree difference of course heading. Yay, for once, the little green line on our chartplotter has us actually heading to Easter Island rather than Pitcairn. This too was what null school showed, as a few days south of the Galapagos, the wind would shift from a southeasterly wind to one more directly from the east. Those of you that are'll appreciate that we've been pinching for days, trying to gain a degree or two anytime we could, but today for the first time, our apparant wind is 70 degrees off our port - perfect!

The squalls have settled down too - we were getting one or two a day, but yesterday for the first time, we just had a few clouds, but no rain.

The biggest news - we got showers today. The seas were such that we could safely throw some water on our various bits, and just like God, we rested (and washed) on the 7th day (actually, this is day 6, but didn't work with my little story). Once you become a sailor, things like a shower, or an ice cube, or a clean bra can make you giddy (or at least memorable enough to write about it).

The food situation has been about as expected. Day 3 I made up a pan of lasagne, which got an infusion of a some grated carrots of dubious usefulness (captain didn't complain). We ate around 4 in the cockpit, together for once, and I had a glass of red wine, and Ron had a beer to go along with our fine Italian repast. Several months ago, I had read of a technique to use lasagne noodles and layer them UNCOOKED in your pan. This, to me, was a revelation, as I'd always thought that lasagne was such a pain to make and made way too many dishes. Truly a "eureka" moment.

Today, the captain got a big bowl of biscuits and gravy, his favourite "county-boy" breakfast. Unfortunately, he got no side of bacon or sausage with that, just some leftover ham slices, that too, needed to be consumed before they got any slimier. Once thing that sailing does is beef up your immune system to cope with any amount of "less than perfect" produce. Take our bananas...they are a day away from the perfect consistency for bread, or the freezer.

We've seen no wildlife for days! A few birds always show up to fly alongside the rig in the night, but during the day...nuthin'. Except for the hairy man in my cockpit, there've been no beast sitings.

Position to date: 06 04'.195s, 097 21'.155w
Conditions: 1-2 foot swell
Wind: 11-17 knots
COG: 212 degrees
Speed: 3.5 knots
Weather: sunny, with gorgeous deep blue waters

Book reading continuing apace....

Monday, February 16, 2015

//WL2K Day 2

The greatest news to report is that we have finally dialed in our Monitor Windvane, and can say, with the utmost confidence, that this was a fantastic purchase. We had heard over and over again from other happy customers that most people were ecstatic with having a windvane aboard, as a reliable, uncomplaining extra crew member. We are now in this exalted group of folks - "Monty" has been quietly working for the last 24 hours, with nary a helping hand from us. Our autopilot has been put on standbye, along with all the power that it takes to run. I believe I can say that the windvane ranks right up there with a vhf and ssb, a watermaker, and a freezer, as things a long term cruiser should have on their boats.

The worst news is that after 48 hours into it, we've only made 140 miles. Must stop looking at the ground log - a girlfriend that has made it to NZ (we met in Panama) told me that the best thing to do is not look at the amount of distance still to go, but it sure is hard.

A few brief squalls, a bit of sunshine, winds ranging from 8 knots to 28.5 knots. So it was a mixed bag of conditions.

I'm not one of those cruising galley wenches that makes meals ahead of time. I just don't have that much freezer space to put complete meals in there, so I tend to make food as we need it. The first couple of days on a passage, we never seem to need too much and this trip has been no exception. Yesterday, I finally made hashsbrowns, with bell peppers, onions, melted cheese, fresh tomatoes and a fried egg on top. That was it for food, and if I make it midday, it holds over so that it means only one meal cooked per day.
I'm thinking some sort of pasta today - maybe with fresh tomatoes (now, if I only still had a basil plant on board). Of course, the one thing I have to always watch on these trips is the fresh stuff, as what is out of the fridge has a tendency to go rather quickly. Our mini-bunch of bananas has begun to ripen - yikes, so soon?! 2 yesterday, and it'll be two for each of us today. But I have a very first job when I was a teenager was in a health food restaurant, and smoothies were our specialty. I was a trendsetter, as this was "back in the day", mid-70s, before health food was really a thing. Anyway, instead of ice to thicken them, we used cut up frozen bananas. Which is the fate of the bunch I have currently hanging in the aft bathroom, if we get sick of them before they are all gone. We've had our fair share of banana bread over the last few months, so another strategy is needed. In my reserves, I bought a Nutella knockoff - in the next few months when bananas will be the only fruit we can get, I envision crepes, with a heap of Nutella, and cutup bananas over top, or perhaps a low rent version of bananas foster. Will see if I can steal a bit of Ron's rum, and without burning the boat down, set is aflame and have that foster flambe'd.

The sun has broken through the clouds first thing this morning, currently it's 8am. Ron is asleep and I'm on watch. Was finally tired enough last night to sleep when I went down below - again, takes a few days to get into a good rythum, rythem, rythm (how the hell do you spell this word?)

Position: 02 58'.745s, 093 09'.699w at 8am, February 16th, 2015
Heading: 210 degrees
COG: 232 degrees
Conditions: 3-5 foot swells, sunny skies
Wind: 10-15knots
Speed: 4 knots
Miles: 140

No problems on board - yay!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

//WL2K Galapagos to Easter Island - Day 1 recap

We left the Galapagos Islands with the speed of their namesakes - a lumbering tortoise-like 3 knots, but is there a better way to ease into a long, interminably long passage? If we get an average of 100nm per day, we should be making the passage in 20 days. Unfortunately....

24 hours has come and go and we are already behind schedule - haha. As all true sailors know, the only time you want to have a schedule is when you are desperate for something to go wrong. Schedules mean bad decisions. Schedules mean making plans prior to consulting with Mother Nature. Schedules are not a sailor's friend. So we go with the flow...except when the boat speed drops to 1 knot. Then we look at alternatives.

The first 24 hours has come and gone, and we are settling into "the life". A brief synopsis:

Hour 1 - Motoring out to find the wind
Hour 2- Found a bit of wind. Sails up, and clocking 4knots
Hour 3 - Wind died
Hour 4 - Engine on, hopefully not for long
Hour 7 - Engine off, sails out
Hour 14 - Squall hits, scramble for side panels for the cockpit - MUST KEEP COCKPIT CUSHIONS DRY
Hour 15 - Squall passes, drying out process (I was too slow)
Hour 20 - Wind died, motor on
Hour 21 - Wind back up!!!!

Which brings us to now, Hour 26, blazing along at a respectable 5.5 knots, with 12-16 knots of wind. But the best news is our heading is directly to our destination, despite a pesky 2 knot side current which threatens to deposit us to the Marquesas instead of south to Easter Island.

A sobering conversation predeparture....."Just think cap'n, can you believe we'll be traveling at sea for 20+ days?" Captain replies, "and just think, that'll then put us smack dab in the middle of nowhere. We'll then get to travel for another 10-20 days to get somewhere else"

Upon leaving the islands behind, we were witness to a tremendous manta ray belly flop display. I think that'll probably be it for sea life, except for the occasional bird.

No problems to report (for once). Yay!!!!

12 noon, February 15, 2015
Position: 02 02'0485s, 092 15'.715w
Heading: 190 degrees
Wind: 11-16 knots
Boat Speed: 5.5
Ground Log: 97.49nm
Conditions: overcast, and grey. 3-5 foot swells

Saturday, February 7, 2015

See Spot Run, See Heather Come Unhinged

When you travel, you realize that not everyone thinks the same way that you do (frankly, I hardly feel like anyone thinks the way that I do, but that’s for another introspective posting).  There are regional, municipal and certainly country-wide differences.  We all know that the Germans like things to be “just so”.  And if I could categorize and generalize a bit, the Dutch and Belgian folk seem to fall into this group too.  Those Danish and Scotsmen….well, they are “thrifty”, to use a politically acceptable word.  You head further south where the weather is warmer, and you’ve got those freewheeling Greeks and Spaniards.  Their weather allows them a bit of leeway, where if the job doesn’t get complete today, there is always tomorrow.  And then there is the middle east…..where being a woman, I don’t get to tell you what I think. 
We are here in Latin America.  I’m not really sure when it becomes Latin, and when it’s just South America, or Central America, but for now I’ll just call it Latin America to encompass the entire region from the US/Mexico border to the tip of Cape Horn.  And as you all know, we’re coming up on 4 ½ years being in this neck of the woods.  I must be a slow learner, or adapter, but I CANNOT SHED MY NEED FOR LOGIC, AND FOR COMPLETING TASKS IN A TIMELY MATTER WITHOUT A BUNCH OF BULLSHIT THROWN IN.   I have tried, truly I have.  Perhaps I started off with more than my fair share, but honest to god getting things done here boggles the mind.  

Yes, I am aware that everyone comes to each task with a different set of experiences behind them and driving their actions.  Yes, I know that sometimes I just want things done when, and how, I want them done, because, forgive me if I am in error here, but am I not forking over money to get something accomplished?  A man I worked with in Zambia used to get so pissed off when people would explain away ineptitude by exclaiming…”ah, but it is Africa.”  As if that is somehow an excuse.  I get it now.  

We just wanted a tank of propane filled.  The ENTIRE world uses propane to cook their meals, and heat their water.  We wanted to be able to do that too, but due to a slight bit of underfilling at our last stop, (let’s just call it thievery, shall we?!) one of our tanks had come up dry after only 6 weeks of use, where we normally could go for 2-3 months.  Now here on the most remote island in the Galapagos, and with a grounded tanker several islands to our east, we were coming up with a few shrugged shoulders and it looked like it was going to turn into a mammoth task.  I will not bore you with the blow by blow details, but suffice it to say that it took a monumental effort for me to keep from strangling a few unsuspecting Ecuadorians.  Ah, you say, but she isn’t on a schedule.  She really doesn’t need it to be done “right now”.  My reply is, “you’re damn right I’m on a schedule.  I’m on a life schedule and the clock is ticking, and the time I have left will NOT be spent getting the bullshit runaround!!!”  I’ve written about how difficult it is to get an egg on board, well multiply that exponentially by at least 1 million, and getting a 20 pound propane tank filled is harder. 

We got it done.  


I have less hair.
The ulcer that I’ve been working hard at eradicating after the last 10 years of my so-called life while still in Canada….yes, I can feel it growing again.  

Rant done.  

Until the next time.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Thar she blows (volcanoes, not whales)

A few days ago, we hiked another two volcanos to add to our growing list of peaks bagged.  Izalco in El Salvador with my sister, Pacaya in Guatemala with my entire family, (we think there have been one or two more but I've only had one cup of coffee so far this morning, and can't remember) and now Volcan Sierra Negra and Volcan Chico.  It was a 16 km. walk, and while it wasn't THAT long, our legs did feel it by the end.

If I add a picture, it means we did it
Meeting a great group of folks, 3 couples traveling together from Homer, Alaska, we started off on a beautiful calm morning around 8am.  The lack of clouds were what we were aiming for, as the altitude could make for enshrouded vistas, which we didn't want.  Four kilometers later, we were at the rim.

The crater is 10 kilometers across, and holds the title of being the second largest in the world, right behind Ngorogoro Crater in Tanzania.

We walked to the spot where the secondary volcano started to form, and then down the other side to Chico.

Very desolate but terribly interesting

Along the way, we got to know our walking companions and all of them were as interesting as the landscape, with one couple spending their winters traveling overland on the African continent in a retrofitted Range Rover Defender, another couple involved in Alaska's newest industry, growing peonies for the cut flower market, and all involved in one way or another in the fishing and marine research industry.  They spoke so highly of Homer that we might just give it a look for the future.

Unfortunately, it didn't sound as though they had had as amazing of a time here in the Galapagos as we have, and it just goes to show that not all traveling experiences are viewed in the same way.  What a lot of people don't have when they travel is time.  Time to research what experiences will be the most satisfying, time to discover what you are hoping to get out of each destination, and often, just the time to allow a destination to wash over you in silence, rather than in experiences.  Traveling sailors are lucky, or at least we know we are.  Aside from weather and visa issues, we have the luxury of being able to decide when and where to stay, and for how long.  We can get out of each destination what we wish to.  Ron and I have decided that given the size of the world, and where we still want to go, each destination we come to needs to be explored as if we are never going to return.  We therefor allow ourselves the time to come to know each stop as intimately as we can be as travelers and not residents. 

And with all this soul searching, we hardly noticed our aching knees when we got back to the bottom of the hill.  Ron, pass me another Advil. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Mantas, and turtles, and penguins....oh, my!

We've been very busy these last few days.  With our buddy Ron on Mar de Luz, we continue to check off the "must-dos" here on Isabela.  We have had to break into the piggy bank tho, something we aren't really happy about due to the bank situation here.

But back to the fun bit.  After roaming around town and interviewing a few companies, we settled on Rosedelco to use for our snorkeling trip out to Los Tuneles.  A murky start to the day had us all wondering whether we had made a mistake, but the second stop of the day saw us on top of a distinctly "darth vader-like" sting ray, a MASSIVE manta ray surfacing and diving just off the boat, and turtles.  Lots and lots of 4-5 feet long turtles (no lie, not a fish story, they really were this big) which we were able to swim alongside.  For me, the highlight of this stop was a seahorse.  Other than the descriptive of "yellow", I have no other specific info.  Oh, and it was about 8" long (tall).  Very, very cool, indeed.  

Which brings me to etiquette.  Ron and I are not really "group" people.  We actually try to do things on our own as we always find that in a group, the guides are more interested in getting you to lunch so they can have a break, or they just want to hurry you along so their entire day will be finished.  So we try to NOT do the group thing.  We want to mosey, take lots of photos without random strangers cropping up for the inevitable photo bomb, and can see the stuff we want to see without intrusion.  This snorkeling trip was a challenge.  We happened to be with a few snorkelers that didn't quite know that its not so cool to kick your flippers really hard, stirring up the mucky bottom.  Or that they shouldn't get so excited that they park themselves in front of whatever it is the guides have found, or that being aware of where your flippers are, is really important to the guy behind you.  At some point I just swam away, as I'd rather have a more peaceful snorkeling experience.  The seahorse was a case in point.  In only 6 feet or so of water, the guides' admonishments of "just float, people, just float; no kicking" fell on deaf ears.  Visibility was obliterated in a matter of seconds.  I let everyone leave, hung around for the muck to settle and the water to clear so that I could have another go at seeing the one thing I really wanted to see - and this little guy didn't disappoint.  It's obviously where he/she usually hangs out, as the guide knew exactly where to take us. 

We all piled into the boat again for the last stop of the day, which was in a series of grottos all created from lava tubes when the local volcano, Sierra Negra, blew her top.  Penguins, and incredibly clear water were what awaited us.  The visibility had to have been 30-50 feet, and the most insane colour we've seen yet.  AND yet another seahorse, this time bright red.

My snorkeling checklist for the Galapagos is now complete!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

We're never bored

Life has yet again, settled into a nice routine.  Ron and I, after living on a boat for 4+ years, seem to need a day of rest in between our bouts of activities.  I guess that's why it's taken us so long to get here - just recently I read a blog talking about a couple that had circumnavigated the globe, taking 5 years, and yet another rally, the World ARC, takes boats around in 15 months.  WTF?  We would NEVER be able to do this.  Must have time to "just live", surely.

With our "one day on, one day off" schedule, we can combine really fun stuff, with still continually working to improve our home.  But the fun stuff is what you really want to hear about, don't you?

Assembling the bikes once again, we headed off to see the Wall of Tears, a short, but uphill, 6 km to a former penal colony.  The Wall of Tears was imposed as a form of punishment, and I surely know that building a random lava rock wall, in the middle of nowhere, for no reason other than to break my spirit....I would be a model prisoner.  Ron's recent posting on Facebook has given rise to many quotes, coming in from all around the globe, referencing Cool Hand Luke....but even "shaking the bush, Boss, shaking the bush" has a purpose.  This wall...not so much.

So terribly pointless

 We continued to explore, and there are a lot of little nooks and crannies to ride the bike, walk, and explore, all not costing a penny.

The obligatory cemetery shot, although a bit sad
Our first lava tunnel
Uh huh, these guys are even cooler than tortoises
Publicity shot for his portfolio
Ron making friends wherever he goes - doesn't the iguana look thrilled?

Yesterday was boogie boarding day.  Just as I'm wading in, Ron yells "SHARK!".  Whipping my head around to check to see if he was laughing, with nary a smirk to be found, I waited a bit.  When he said, "I'm sure they are friendly", I thought good enough.  We both had an excellent time, boogie boarding and body surfing, with our friends the sharks, and each brought home a fantastically painful sunburn.  Surely we have learned....Me, I also rediscovered my intense hatred of sand.  How could I have been a surfer chick for so long with this loathing?  Perhaps because now I have to clean it up when it gets on the boat!!!

Today we just swam from the boat.  We headed across the bahia here, in search of.....whatever.  The most unique thing we found were thousands of baby puffer fish.  Oh, and penguins.  Oh, and rays.  Oh, and sea lions.

Yup, livin' in the zoo.


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Isabela Update

After our penguin sighting of yesterday morning, we figured we were ready for more exploring. We set off on long walk (okay, it only felt long due to the heat but in reality, we think it was about 5 kms roundtrip) to go to the Centro de Crianza, the Tortoise Breeding Center here on Isabela. There is a wonderful boardwalk that winds past a few pozos (new Spanish word - pools) and through the arid landscape (Ron had read somewhere that not a few people have wandered away, and have gotten lost. They then ended up dead.) This place is covered in hardened lava flows, and the island has no natural water sources, other than what falls during the rainy season. So it was a surprise that we saw these pools and came across the most beautiful coral coloured flamingos.

Another 10 minutes later, and we came to the breeding center. Suffice it to say that we think there is no danger of extinction of the 5 species of Galapagos Tortoises. We must have seen several hundred (maybe more), in all ages, which according to the literature all came from 4 sets of breeding adults. Looked pretty prolific to us.

Back to the beach where we stumbled, almost literally, across another 25,000 +/- marine iguanas, also in various shapes and sizes. There were some big papas roaming around, keeping an eye on the myriad offspring. They were all piled up, and didn't seem to care who's shoulders they stepped on on their way to the top of the heap. Sounds like most of the western world - we have not evolved very far from the our ancestors, the iguanas.

This is the high season here, and although everyone around the world knows about the Galapagos Islands, this place was empty. Not a soul around, which suits us perfectly, but it seems crazy that as well known as these islands are, so far we've seen only 4 boats here in the three days since arrival, with a total of perhaps 40 people. We'd read that the authorities, by the number of flights they allow to land on Baltra and Cristobal can control the number of visitors, and we frankly feel the numbers are just right. We haven't been to the most populated island, Santa Cruz, but as the vast majority of the boats depart from there, we figure it is probably the most lively. For us here, this Darwinian peace is perfect.

We have some hysterical pictures of the wildlife - unfortunately, until we get our internet signal sorted, you'll have to settle for these words.....or start your travel plans, and come out here to see it all for yourself.

Total costs so far, other than our initial $1085 Autografo, (not per person)

San Cristobal (arrived 1/1/15, departed 1/16/15)
Tour to Leon Dormido - $84
Taxi tour of the island - $30
Various fruits/vegies - ~$100
Top up of 17 gallons diesel - $54
Departure Zarpe - $15
Water taxi during stay - ~$30
One dinner out - $30
Various beers/water - ~$20
Total - ~$363

Monday, January 19, 2015

Sometimes days are boring....

...and other times, not so much.

We let go of our mooring ball in Baquerizo 2 mornings ago, with a brisk 15 knot wind blowing. Perfect direction, perfect speed, everything was perfect EXCEPT for the fact that it was Friday. In the book of Sailors' Superstitions, ranking close to #1 is to never set off on a passage on a Friday. We were planning to put this to test.

Within an hour, we were blazing along at a respectable 6.5 knots, a speed which was unheard of heading south along the Pacific coast, and one that we averaged until the wind stopped altogether, around 1:30am. Our trip from Isla San Cristobal to Isla Isabela was approximately 95 miles from start to finish, so we were hoping to arrive just at daybreak the following morning. With dead air, we of course turned to the trusty engine in order to push us onwards. It was also a crew change, and I gratefully headed down below, but sleep was tough due to the fact that there seemed to be an unknown rumble coming from underneath the bed. The Captain didn't want to acknowledge it directly, but 15 minutes later, I heard the engine get turned off, and a summons to come topsides. Seems the engine was getting a bit hot, and Ron determined that a new impeller was needed in the water pump. Nothing like doing emergency repairs while underway, in the middle of the night. We might have just waited but we were only 5 miles off Isla Tortuga, a crescent-shaped island that is the mostly submerged top of a volcano. It's pretty cool, but we didn't want to get any closer, hence the repair.

An hour later we were underway again, and with no wind whatsoever, we slowly made our way into the reef and rock strewn port at Puerto Villamil on Isla Isabela.

Now this is what I always envisioned the Galapagos to be. Its much quieter and a quick wander through town showed dirt streets, and everyone on bicycles. We had heard that the islands in the west were quieter and less developed, and we've seen for ourselves that this is true.

We had been having head problems. Not too bad, just seemed like the hoses were a bit clogged as the "outgo" wasn't quite keeping up with the inflow. Another boat project....which I announced yesterday that I was tackling. I believe I saw Ron rolling his eyes in disbelief. Now in cruiser's parlance, there seems to be Blue jobs, and Pink jobs. Pink jobs are usually galley related, and keeping clothes, dishes, and boat generally clean. Blue jobs are....pretty much everything else. Ron is a bit squeamish with anything poo related, and as a woman, I certainly have my fair share of "gross" to deal with and while I wouldn't say that its my favourite job, its easier for me to do. Several hours later, with a gallon or two of sweat dispensed, I announced that the job was done, with nary a leak to be found. 3 hoses, a vent and a y-valve, clean as a whistle. Which also meant that the cleanup also included the entire bathroom - BONUS.

For the first time in a year or so, this morning I saw the sunrise. Early mornings aren't my strong suit, but the boat was bumping up against the mooring ball, and around 5:30am we were up. Not only did we see the sun come up, but we also saw our first penguins swimming around the boat. Who knew they were so fast?! Another tick in our "what did we see in Galapagos?" book.

When we find an internet signal, I'll post some photos, but for now this update is being brought to you via single sideband

Aside from the flies (of which there seem to be an unending supply of), we like it here!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


We're on the move again.  Decision has been made.....Thursday we will drop our lines from the mooring ball, and head over to Isla Isabela, the second-most western island here in the Galapagos, and the largest one in the chain.  As far as where we can go, this island will be the most remote, so yesterday we topped up a few things we had used up since the we left Bahia on December 27th.

1) Diesel - We emptied 3 of our 5-gallon jugs into the tanks, and took these to town.  We thought we'd try to be sneaky and see if we could wrangle diesel for the local price, rather than the extranjero rate.  We told our taxi driver that if he'd buy the fuel at his $1.02/gallon rate for us, we'd give him a kickback of $10.  We think we're so clever....the authorities are sooooo onto us.  We first had to head to the Port Captain to get a paper authorizing us in fact, to buy the diesel.  With paper in hand, we hightailed it to the station, made our deal with our driver, and attempted the impossible.  Nope, as we didn't have our passports with us, there was some consternation, but a quick call to the Port Captain assured them we were "authorized" to purchase the fuel.  As far as a deal.....that wasn't going to happen.  We think it might have been possible if we were trying to buy gasoline, but the diesel identified us as "furreners".  I was relieved however, as we only had to pay $3.23/gallon, unlike our friends down in Salinas, that had to fork over close to $6 for their international status.  While in Bahia, we had filled our tanks 10 gallons at a time, as the gas station guy didn't mind charging us the $1/gallon rate for a small amount, even tho it's supposedly illegal to do so.  But....filling our 200 gallon tanks, for $200, rather than $1000....we were willing to try any sort of finagling.  Here, not so much.  When we initially arrived, we had to let them know that we might be wanting to buy a bit of fuel, so we were on record requesting a few gallons.  Although we had told them 15, we were able to get the guy to put in a bit more (paying more, of course) but we got 17 gallons instead.  Where we are going, every bit for the future will help.
2) The inevitable booze top up was required, as well.  In two weeks, I had gone through 3 boxes of wine, so those needed to be replaced, while I could.  Ron had managed to also go through a few beers, so 48 bottles were bought, along with a $10.70 bottle of rum.  The Ron Abuelo was $18, so we'll see if the $10 will only be good for stripping varnish.
3) Vegies - most of our fresh stuff was gone.  I still had onions, potatoes, a carrot, and a rather dubious bunch of celery.  We topped up the potatoes, got a few green apples, some bell peppers, and a bag of 20 WICKED hot yellow peppers (I'm not sure what those'll go into but getting anything spicy in Ecuador is a challenge (impossible to even buy Chili Powder in the major supermarkets), so I always jump when I see anything picante.  We managed to get a very green pineapple for the future, and 10 tomatoes, that are absolutely beautiful (unfortunately, they have no flavour whatsoever).  Added to this was another 5 pounds of potatoes, and a handful of limes.  I think the bill came to around $30.  Can't give an exact number, as we were buying from 3 different venders all at the same time, and money was getting handed to many people.
4) Eggs - Despite the risk of cholesterol overload that the media warns us of, eggs continue to be an important part of our diet.  I try to keep it at a dozen per week for the both of us, which includes baking, but sometimes an egg is just too easy to grab to make a hot sandwich, or to scramble into a breakfast burrito.  I had saved our empty cartons, so we took these along to the mercado and topped up with an additional 5 dozen.  We aren't too sure what we'll find over at Isabela - better to be safe than sorry.
5) Coffee - If you've been reading this blog, you know that we have a bit of an obsession with coffee.  We thought a nice souvenir to take away from the Galapagos Islands would be some of the home grown stuff, a little bit like buying Blue Mountain Coffee when you are in Jamaica.  We had been waiting to go back to the little man we had talked with last week while he was raking the beans on the concrete, drying them out.  (that's a bad sentence...but you get my drift).  He ushered us into his storefront (see the little door below, on the right?), and we proceeded to make a deal.  $5/pound....not bad! 

Professional drying facilities
Fancy Storefront - Organic, no less!
Let's many pounds do we want?
Twigs we get thrown in, no charge
All 6 pounds, bagged up and ready for roasting
Bolivar has been notified that we are on our we just need to store the bikes, buy a souvenir t-shirt or two, and get underway.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Snorkeling Highlight of our Lives (to date)

We think we've figured out how to stay here in the Galapagos, see what we need/want to see, and not break the bank.  Bolivar is the MAN!!!  We've now taken his advice on the second tour of the island, and this one was definitely worth the price of admission.

In his own words, Bolivar is our agent and believes that his job is fix our problems, and in general make our life while here on Cristobal as perfect as it can be.  He always offers to take our trash to town, he's fixed our fumigation paperwork, and he has ensured that the Park officials are happy with the state of the boat.  The latest in his recommendations was a "buddy" of his, who has a boat for touring the islands, and for fishing.  Along with our gang of six, Bolivar showed up with a 3-pak of Ecuadorians and we were away for a day of fishing, snorkeling, and beaching.

The ONLY man to know in town!
Bolivar and his captain friend were keen to do a bit of fishing along the way, so at various times they threw their hooks out.   With the exception of a "bambini" barracuda, they were thwarted in catching everyone a bit of yellowfin for a sushi dinner.  However....

The day started out by heading directly away from Cristobal, past the only two sailboats in the harbour, and out to a rock that all of us sailors had seen coming into port.  

No photoshopped colour - Sundancer and Mar de Luz
The Rock - A Baby Island with it's own light
Due to an entire flock of petrels showing the way, the guys were hoping for a few strikes here but it was not to be.

This island, called Leon Dormido was our destination.  The Sleeping Lion didn't look too much like its namesake, but the gap was the site for our snorkeling adventure.  It's known for hammerheads and other types of sharks, which we all hoped to see, sort of.  

Leon Dormido

We saw what we came to see.  It was truly like being in the middle of a Galapagos documentary.  The rays of the sun shining down through to the depths, the deep blue colour, the vertical walls of the rocks plunging to the sea floor, and a layering of marine life; the six of us snorkeling at the surface, the marine turtles lazily swimming just below, second floor down were the spotted rays, which looked to be about 4-5 feet in diameter, and then the sharks.  All those sharks!  None of knew how many there were, but suffice it to say that there were "enough".  Slowly patrolling the channel, these guardians were obviously well fed, as the countless schools of fish, the turtles, us....they just didn't seem too interested in any of it.  For which we are grateful!  

Ron was able to take some pretty amazing footage on our GoPro, which due to slow internet upload speeds here, you can find via this link on YouTube, if you are interested.  

Consider our minds blown, and despite what friends have said about the sea life we will be seeing in the upcoming months, we wonder if anything will ever be able to top this. 

Another stop, but this time at a deserted island, complete with lots of interesting plant growth patterns.  At first, when I saw them on the beach, I was sure it must have been someone's handiwork, but further into the mangroves, we came upon this under the water.

As I mentioned, Bolivar is a good man to know.  We had wandered through town upon our arrival, inquiring at various tour agencies about a trip out to Leon Dormido, and had gotten quotes in the range of $75-100 per person.  We had our own snorkeling gear and wetsuits, we didn't need a picnic lunch, and we had Bolivar - the cost was $84 for the both of us for this 6 hour excursion.   

It looks like we'll be moving on in the next day or two.  We've decided, after much discussion to bypass Santa Cruz.  Although this is the place that has the most tours, and supposedly is a very lively town, we've also heard that the anchorage is crap, being quite rolly.  There are moorings, but friends on Aros Mear, after a very uncomfortable night, decided that anchoring was better.  As the anchoring area is very small and tight, a stern anchor is needed to keep your boat from swinging into other close-by neighbors.  We don't really like tight, and we're not here to be a part of a lot of tourists, so we'll just head over to the westernmost island, Isabela.  Plans today include replenishing provisions we've used up in the last 3 weeks since leaving Bahia, as well as to top off the 15 gallons of diesel we've used up so far.

Until next time....

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Living in a natural zoo

The common perception, which is a MISperception, is that although you've paid the money to be here in the Galapagos, this is only the start of the bloodletting.  Many websites and blogs that we had read, informed us that if we wanted to see anything, not only did we have to have the $100 park pass in hand, but we also had to pay for an "official" guide, which of course, would eat up some more pennies.  We've paid the big bucks already to be here, so we're scouting out what we can do without having to pay additionally.

Our walks to the various snorkeling spots had paid off in the form of new marine life spotted, but we were now ready to spread our wings abit and see the rest of the island.  Yesterday, along with another boat that had joined us having also recently arrived from the mainland, and another random traveling couple, we piled into a taxi truck to head north to the La Galapaguera, which was a breeding and protectionist habitat of those wily Galapagos Tortoises.   The money saved was in the form of not going via a tour agency in town, but basically just a random taxi driver that had been living on San Cristobal all his life, therefore he knew a thing or two about those turtles.

First off, we headed to a lake called La Junca, which is a caldera lake, and serves the entire island with fresh water.  As strange as it may seem, this area is almost constantly shrouded in fog, and as such, photos opportunities were limited.  In a burst of silliness, as we all knew we'd be traveling around in a taxi, all 6 of us were shod in flip flops.  The hike up to the lake, had us all slipping and sliding, struggling to keep upright while trekking in the mud and misty grass.  In between banks of fog, we were able to just glimpse the water's edge, but only if you tried to focus on it.  Take your eyes away, and the lake disappeared again.  Apparently, this is fairly typical, even during the dry season.

Off we went to visit the Galapaguera.  In its heyday, there were upwards of 100,000 of these prehistoric-looking beasts lumbering around, but then as is typical, the Europeans arrived, and made off with countless turtle steaks deep in their holds.  Another wave of folks from Guayaquil also decided in the mid-1900s that the oil derived from said turtles, would make an excellent fuel for street lights in their town.  And so the numbers declined further.  I'm not sure who figured out that these guys made for good press, but someone must have seen that people paying over a bunch of years to take photos, might be good publicity for the islands, and for Ecuador in general.  So we bought into the program, and got our requisite pictures. 

Is this my best side.....
Even the tortoise world has conflicts
....or is this?
His knees look like mine feel after a lifetime of snow skiing
Photo evidence - "we were here"
 The Center also has a very successful breeding program - 60% of the eggs now hatch, as opposed to a 20% success rate in the wild.

Babies everywhere - these were 1 month old
After seeing the turtles, we headed off to Puerto Chino, the location of the finest sand on San Cristobal.  It was like talc, and from a high cliff overlooking the water, we saw massive marine turtles swimming, too.

So the grand total of our tour cost us $15/person, and that included a tip for our driver.  Combined with the fact that the day lasted for 6 hours, I'd say that was money well spent.  

Yup, our life in the zoo, and it costs about the same as the one in San Diego!

Friday, January 9, 2015

We think it should be called Sin (without) Progresso

We kid ourselves into thinking that as we are actively participating in the "sport" of sailing, that this means we are active.  Some days we are active.....walking from the salon to the galley (4 steps), turning the page of a book, (if we are REALLY active, 6 pages), washing dishes builds up arm strength, and cleaning the floors (all 12 square feet of them).  Some days we are even out sailing, and that entails looking at the sails, and sometimes bringing in the sheets a foot or two at a time.  On EXCESSIVELY, HUGELY and OVERLY active days, we may clean the bottom of the boat, or raise the dinghy out of the water.  It's a tough life, this.

Yesterday, we put our fitness levels to the test in going for a bike ride, which entails more than just a ride.  First, we have to remove the bicycles from the shower where they are normally stored while underway, then we need to get them onto the panga to go to shore, then we need to unfold them, install and pump up the tires, strap the backpack to the rack, make sure the cables, and brakes, and seat height are all perfect, and only then can we begin.

When we aren't using the bicycles, I hate them.  They take up a huge amount of room, either on deck or below, they are usually dirty, and greasy, and due to the sun attacking their storage bags, they now only have shreds of cloth protecting their bits, and the boats', from damage.  However, when we are using them, I love having them around.  While in La Paz, Mexico, we used them daily for several months, we kept them ashore for 7 months (and only used them once) while we were in Bahia del Sol, El Salvador, and most recently we were able to keep them permanently at the restaurant that we were anchored in front of in Bahia de Caraquez.  We used them there weekly, riding over to the surf community of Canoa to drink beer on the beach, and eat pulled pork sandwiches.

We had patiently been waiting for the weather to clear - typically here at this time of the year, we have been told that there is usually drizzle and overcast skies til sometime around noonish, and then slowly it clears up so that by 2pm, there is lots of sunshine.  We had decided a few days ago that we needed to see the town/community of El Progresso, which has a rather brutal past and instead of going by taxi, we would do it with our bikes, so yesterday morning around 11am, we called Boni our faithful watertaxi guy, hauled the bikes into and out of the panga, and off we went.

It was all uphill - not just an incline like properly made roads in North America, but "let's go in a straight line to get to where we need to go, regardless of how steep it is", uphill. Fortunately, the sun hadn't broken out in earnest yet, and there was a perfectly placed cemetery in order to get off and wander around.  I let Ron wander elsewhere so that I could fill my heaving lungs in peace.  Why is it that cemeteries are so interesting?  I think much info can be gleaned from reading headstones, and the message here was that it seemed disproportionately filled with people that had died between the ages of 10-30.  It seemed odd.

Further on we came to a small community, reportedly inhabited by 500 people.  I don't know if they all work in Baquerizo, but I think we saw only 4 or 5 people, one of course was sweeping dirt, one in a wheelchair, one sitting in the park, and a few children in some semblance of a school.  The mirador was awesome with a regal 360 degree view of the sea, the faraway port and an extinct volcano.    

In the mid-1800's, an established penal colony was created here, and a megalomaniac called Manuel Cobos figured these convicts could also be conscripted as slave labourers.  Cobos had his hand in all the pies; agricultural, cattle raising, and fishing, and saw fit to also create his own money, to be spent in his own stores.  I think he read the same business model as many of the industrialists of the day.  Suffice it to say that after 30 years of this bullshit, the convicts had had enough, and we saw the resulting tomb, although the body was later exhumed and sent to Guayaquil to be given the once over.  More specifics can be read here:

An exhilarating downhill ride, which caused me to wonder and worry if I had tightened the hubs on my wheels sufficiently, and a descent great enough to cause ears to pop, and we were back in Baquerizo in time for cocktail hour.  

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

I shouldn't complain....much

I guess when you consider that in the not-so-distant past, vagabonds around the world were using the dreaded traveler's check in order to get needed cash, I shouldn't complain. It is shocking, however, how quickly one set of expectations becomes the norm. Traveling as we have over the last few years, standing in line at a bank is practically unheard of. The ever present ATM machine, that timesaving banking convienience that has saved countless hours of needless linestanding, has to be a traveler's best friend. And when it doesn't is a brutal wakeup call.

As you know, we have had a money dilemma. We were in debt to our agent to the tune of $145 ($45 remaining for our Autografo + $100 loan he was able to give us), and I wanted/needed to get some money in our pocket and this debt paid off. Our Monday morning goal was to accomplish this and I wasn't looking forward to it.

Sure enough, by the time we had got to the bank around 11am, the entire town of Baquerizo was standing in line ahead of me, so I put on my "Tranquilo" hat, and stood along with the rest. An hour later, I got to the teller, and sure enough, she shook her head to say no, not here, you have to go outside to use the machine. Which we had done on Friday, to no avail. I wandered over to the manager, and proceeded to rail, in my most comical agitated spanish, but again soliciting the dreaded "no" headshake. Of course, according to him, there was no problem as at the next island over, Santa Cruz, there was another bank called Banco Pinchicha which would be able to help. I was aware of this, but I wasn't over on Santa Cruz, I was here on Cristobal and that bit of info wasn't going to solve my problem.

You know how when you call up the airlines, and you want a certain routing.....and the first reservationist can't figure it out, so you call back and reservationist #2 is no help, but you know the game, so you throw the dice and call back to wind up with reservationist #3, and she apparently has the magic fingers that her coworkers don't have. I've determined that banking works the same way. I had tried 2 different cards at the ATM machine on Friday, and was thwarted. After having no luck inside the bank, I went back to the machine and rolled the dice, bringing out yet another card, just to see.... Of course, that one worked. This third card had the same attributes as the first two. Shrugging my shoulders, I pocketed $600 and Ron and I continued on our way.

We were off to La Loberia, a sort of nursery for sea lions. We wandered through lava encrusted dirt roads, down side streets, and past the airport, and the sand quarry, and the newly contructed soccer stadium, and found ourselves finally on a road heading back towards the ocean, which had a beautiful course sand beach, and more baby sea lions pups than we could take photos of. We swam with them, took selfies with them, and watched not overly protective mums lazing about. Rays, tons of fish, and countless sea all feels a bit surreal to be interacting in an environment we have watched documentaries on, read books about, and heard tales of all our lives.

The a cruiser, it's our HOME for the time being.

Monday, January 5, 2015

There has to be a wifi signal somewhere!!!!

We're settling in here at Puerto Baquerizo, and have already made a few friends. Boni (or some variation of the spelling) is the water taxi guy. An affable fellow, that apparently speaks some sort of garbled, mangled, and slurred spanish that I can only "just" understand, is as close as a channel 14 call away. After taking a look at the dock here, and seeing all the sea lion activity that we frankly have to avoid when we step from the taxi to the dock.....we've opted to leave our dinghy on the foredeck and utilize Boni's services for the duration of our stay. When we didn't have any money to speak of, we talked about putting the dinghy in the water, but now that we are flush with $20 bills, we'll continue to be lazy, and just use his services.

Yesterday was a lazy day. There is a unspoken determination to see "all" that this island has to offer, as we are only here for a week or two, but arriving on the 1st, officialdom and a visit to the Interpretation Center on the second day. Day 3 had us in the water snorkeling and a couple hours walk.....yesterday we needed to chill. Around 11am, we finally got our act together and decided that a comprehensive tour of the town would be just the thing, along with trying to find a decent internet signal we could access from the boat. It was Sunday, and after the past two weeks, it looked like the townsfolk were taking a much needed and deserved siesta. About 10% of the shops were open, and none of them had wifi. On a side street, we did find a farmer spreading out coffee beans to dry in the sun. We inquired as to when they'd be ready and he said he needed another 5 days. We hope to go back and buy several packages, and at $5/pound, we reckon that was a pretty good deal. We'll roast them ourselves along the way, perhaps when we run across some free power somewhere.

The day we went snokeling, we had seen a Hotel called Casa Playa Mann, and Ron said it had a pretty good wifi signal we could see from the boat. We popped in there, and although they usually didn't sell beer, we stayed for a few and got to know the owners and their kids, one of which had just returned from a year in Australia, going to University there on a scholorship. We told them all about this new documentary that is out, called "The Galapagos Affair: Satan comes to Paradise", which tells the story of a murder/mystery on Floreana Island. Jose had heard about it, so we copied it onto a thumb drive, and in exchange for their hospitality, we handed over the movie for them to enjoy. As they say, "their house is now our house". We've been adopted.

So the way that most people explore the Galapagos is in a boat that is based out of Santa Cruz island. You fly into one of two airports here, and then onto a mini-cruise ship, ranging from 4-40 rooms. In this vessel, you are toured around all the various islands, which can be a better way of seeing this area. With an Autografo, which we applied for and got, we are only allowed to stop at 3 ports. In any of the other locations, its required to have a guide with you, so on a personal sailboat, it's impossible. We've heard that these boats range from $200-1000/person/day, so we doubt that they are in our budget, but a few of the day trips we are going to go on, as they range up to $100/day. There is one we've heard of on Leon Dormides, which has you swimming with hammerheads, and huge manta rays. We'll keep you posted.....

Last night in our little anchorage here, we had 10 of these boats, all disgorging their passengers into runabout dinghies, and then ashore. With a roll of the eyes, we say "Tourists!", because of course now that we've been here for 4 days, we are "locals".

Today we are off to a place called La Loberia, meaning the place that the sea lions hang out. Apparently, there are lots of turtles there too. It's several kilometers away, so we'll take a picnic lunch, and our snorkeling stuff, and have a burn around the airport, which is in that direction, too.

Standing by....

Sunday, January 4, 2015

first SHARK!!!

January 3, 2015 (yikes, already?!) dawned finally, with a little sunshine. It's been squally here, with the skies looking exactly like they've been in Bahia for the last 7 months. We were looking forward to some bluer skies, but until yesterday, we were thwarted. It was gorgeous out, and the water took on an even more turquoise shade of blue. Our first excitement came about when Bolivar showed up, and asked if $100 would be enough. (I had sent him an email the day before to let him know that money seemed to be an issue). In the 4+ years we've been traveling, this is the FIRST time that we've gotten a loan from a local. He must have seen this dilemma before, as it didn't seem to phase him too much. The day before I had yet again gone through all our drawers, and pockets, and wallets, and pouches, to see if I could wrangle up a few more pennies, and low and behold, a $20 bill miraculously appeared. And with the $100 that Bolivar gave us, we were feeling flush again. He indicated that on Monday, we would be able to go into the bank and get it sorted out, so that will be the first order of business.

But until then....

We were off to go snorkeling. The day before, our first trip ashore, we went to investigate the Interpretation Center, and having read all about the interesting goings-on here on San Cristobal, we found that there was a trail to a nearby beach, called Las Tirejetas (the Frigates). Vowing to return with gear, we went back for a bit of a snorkel, which worked out perfectly as the sun was still out.

(An aside - the day we arrived and continued to clean the bottom of the boat, after 2 hours in the water, I had the symptoms of early hypothermia. I could not get warm once out of the water. Hot broth, and tucked underneath the covers fully clothed, it still took an hour to stop shaking. The water here, fueled by the cold Humboldt current, has not started to warm up yet. Although in the low 70's, these temps will sap your body heat pretty quickly. For snorkeling, we grabbed our wetsuits to include with the rest of our snorkeling gear.)

A short 45 minute walk later, we arrived at the grotto where we slipped into our suits (not as easy as a few years ago, for some strange reason) and dove into the water. There were a few sea lions which came to investigate, and we swam with them for a while. Lots of fishes, and the cleanest, clearest water we think we've seen since we left on our sailing trip. Then.....SHARK! Funnily, it was a bit of a nonevent, the guy just slipped by me, and went on his way. Although I'm not a shark expert, I want to say that it was a white (or silver) tipped. Seconds later, before I had a chance to yell at Ron, he was yelling at me to come and look at a ray. Again, we aren't experts, but perhaps it was a cownosed ray.

After this excitement, we were congratulated ourselves on an excellent first day swim.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Rules, Regulations, and having a personal "fixer"

For all coming behind us.....

Entering the drizzly bay yesterday morning, we found the free yellow moorings the National Park provides to all visiting sailboats. There is a bollard on the mooring, which you tie your own lines to. Very sturdy, very practical, and even better, the price is right. After a quick radio call to "El Capitania del Puerto, El Capitania del Puerto, este es el velero Sundancer", we made our presence known. I did send an email via sideband to our agent Bolivar (more on him later) to let him know that we had arrived, and within 2 hours, he showed up with the Port Captain, a diver and a woman from the Health Department.

As explained by Bolivar, the Galapagos actually operates as it's own entity. The rules are extremely strict, and are frankly in a complete 180 degree turnaround from the very recent past, when tortoises were hunted and killed almost to extinction to provide oil for lighting the streets of Guayaquil. While the woman from the Health Department looked in all our cupboards, and took photos of our trashcan, a scuba diver was insecting the bottom of the boat, while at the same time the Port Captain was quizzing us on our holding tanks, and safety equipment. He told us he didn't want us to die in Ecuadorian waters, so.....out came the certification of radio license, the registration of our EPIRB, the paperwork regarding our most recent life raft inspection (fortunately done in Manta a few months ago), inspection of flares, and life jackets, and interestingly, our "papers detailing our Mariner's Qualifications". Now this is a joke, as neither Ron nor I are certified as anything (well, perhaps insane, but nothing else). We reckon we've come all the way down from Oregon with this boat, is this not certification enough that we know how to get from point A to point B? A bit of quick thinking on my part, and I pulled out an Oregon Boating Certification card, that I had obtained while I was huddled in a hotel room outside of Vancouver, BC, in order to add legitimacy to my need/ability to be in the states with our new boat. Sure enough, he copied that number down. Paperwork, people, dazzle them paperwork and perhaps a bit of bullshit.

You just never know.....

...and now we come to hiding pineapples.

Unlike in crossing the Panama canal where you are able to handle all of your own paperwork, here in Ecuador it is a requirement to have an agent when you leave/arrive into any port. Based on internet and personal recommendations, we chose Bolivar. Bolivar Pesantes. A bit like James, James Bond. Bolivar is a "fixer" and it was a lesson in watching him finesse the officials on our arrival.

As an example, it is required to have a fumagation done on your boat, prior or just after your arrival here. Stupidly, we just assumed it was for cockroaches, and any bugs in general we might have here on the boat. When the Health Department lady inquired (in spanish) "What do you do about mosquitos?", I pulled out the screens we throw over the hatches, and the mosquito repellent. Actually, she was wondering about our fumigation, but the fumigation we had had done in Bahia de Caraquez, prior to departure, did not have the "product" used during the procedure indicated. Bolivar kept mouthing "tranquilo, tranquilo" to me during this entire exchange. By the time they left, we had gone from "you need to have a fumigation today" to...."we'll call again to the company on Monday."

Another example....we had been told, and rumour had it, that upon arrival, the bottom of your boat needed to be clean, or they would point you back out to the ocean, telling you to go 70 miles offshore and "deal with it". We took the rumours seriously, which is the reason we stopped about 50 miles from seeing San Cristobal and jumped overboard to give the bottom a quick once over. Well, the scuba diver that Bolivar brought with him took a GoPro down under the boat, and then uploaded the images to his phone afterwards, sitting on our poop deck. In a quiet "aside", Bolivar told me to go back down, "this afternoon", and continue to clean, collecting various barnacles in a plastic bag, which he would collect the next day (today). We did, and he did, and the National Park guy's arrival today for yet another inspection, progressed without incident. We have now been given the all clear, and as Bolivar said, we are "free men".

Fruits and vegies....pretty strict here regarding the imporation of anything. Bolivar had said that the 2 pineapples we had needed to be stuck away in the refrigerator, and that bunch of bananas we had been slowly working our way through, yup, get those in the refrigerator too. Trash is all to be separated, and we needed to show them our "recycling bins", also known as plastic bags. I had remembered reading something about this, and had one bag with a few beer bottles in it, one bag with a plastic bottle, and my bin in the galley with organic waste. We were given the thumbs up.

We've nicknamed Bolivar, "the fixer".

So now we only have one more thing to worry about....and in typical fashion, it's about money. Every dollar bill we had on board went to Bolivar for all the fees collected by the Galapagos from private boaters, all $1185 of them. We came up $45 short, as the banks in Bahia had run out of money due to the holdays when we were withdrawing money. Not only do we now owe our agent $45, but today when we went ashore, the ATM refused to cooperate. Of course, tomorrow is Saturday, and then Sunday, so hopefully by Monday we'll have this money thing sorted. We're going to rely on our personal "fixer" to come to our rescue. If not, we can't even pay the water taxi guy the $1 to get to shore.

Cruising is sooooo very exotic.

Bolivar told us that if we needed help, that's what he was there for. We're going to make him earn his fee.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Such a disappointment we had to motor

Arrival.....GALAPAGOS! Under a very drizzly ski, we picked up a free yellow mooring buoy at 8am, in Puerto Baquerizo, San Cristobal, Galapagos, Ecuador. As we were coming into the harbour, Ron remarked...."mmmm, reminds me of BC weather." Yes, well, we aren't complaining.

The passage was uneventful and fast. We were out for exactly 5 days, hitting the open ocean at 8am on the 27th, and picking up the mooring here at 8am. Unfortunately, our fantastic sailing passage had to be interrupted by the engine...the wind completely died about 20 miles to the east of San Cristobal, and when a sailor can smell land, there isn't much to be done about it, but just to get there. Which for us, wasn't the end of the world - we needed to slow the boat waaayyyy down anyway, because as it was, we would be arriving in the dark. Around 5:30am, we started looking to the east to get a bit of help from the new year's sun, and got it (well, brighening anyway, no sun) in order to let us see what we were up against.
A smallish cruise ship is here, anchored just off our starboard beam. We assume it was a "holiday cruise", and we can't think of a better place to ring in the new year.

Not off the boat yet, but a few first impressions. Wow, the water is clear. In 28 feet of water, we can easily see the mooring resting on the floor of the bay. The sounds of sea lions ring through the air....yup, we've been told that it's a water taxi for us, as they apparently like to take up residence in your dinghy, even if it's hanging over the water. Guess our boarding ladder will also stay up, as we're not sure we want to sacrifice it to the comfort of these heavy beasts.

One thing we had to do yesterday was clean the bottom of the boat. While we had asked Ariosta back in Bahia to give it a scrub, we have been told that the officials here like to make sure that boats arriving aren't bringing any unwanted guests. Around 1pm, we dropped the sails, and I hiked myself overboard to give the waterline a look. Yes, ended up spending about 2 hours in the heaving sea. In these instances, Ron plays my backup, and I made sure to assure myself that we were in good moods with one another. Not sure I would have liked to have been left behind. It was a balancing act - a rope to hang onto, the hookah line to keep track of, the sides and bottom of the boat to be avoided in the swell; suffice it to say that I was knackered by the time I got myself out of the water. I got most of the slimey muck off, and was pleased to see that there were just a tiny few barnacles. One of our transducers was the worst, with a mini reef growing. Knocked that down, and also gave the propeller another quick scrub, and by 3:30, we were back underway again.

The officials haven't come to see us yet, but we've made contact with them via vhf, wishing them feliz ano nuevo. We told them our agent was Bolivar, but all they wanted to know was how many people on board. We'll see what the next few hours holds in store.

Over and out from THE GALAPAGOS!!!!