HiYa,

I’m always torn when it comes to subject matter for these missives.  Do I do a travelogue, boating technical stuff, or what?  I guess we’ll just keep on layin’ it down as we have been for the past few years until a better idea comes along.

The diving in Bonaire is super easy.  The island is surrounded by a reef which begins 50-75 yards offshore at a depth of around 7-10 meters.  This opens up the sport to those without watertaxis, because nearly every dive site on Bonaire is accessible from shore entries. We probably dove 2 out of 3 days that we were here.  We did a couple of boat dives with Wannadive, the scuba operation next door, but mostly dove from our dinghy, ranging a couple of miles both north and south, with frequent trips to Klein (Little) Bonaire.  Four days after the full moon, we did a night dive to look for ostracods.  These little guys are crustaceans, some 20,000 species in all, averaging around 1mm in diameter.  After the full moon, this particular species bio luminesces(?) for about a half hour after night falls.  We laid on the sandy bottom waiting for the show to start.  True to form, shortly after nightfall, the lights came on.  We felt like we were in the middle of the Milky Way, surrounded by a galaxy of stars.  Very cool.  We fell into a nice rhythm with our diving.  Heading out around noon assured us of good lighting for photos and our choice of dive sites, as all of the dive boats were back at base for lunch.  There are mooring buoys at every site, so it makes for a secure feeling when leaving the boat while diving.  Drop in the water, do our dive, then back in the dinghy easily (thanks to our new ladder).  Stop at Wannadive, drop off our empty tanks and pick up the 2 that we had left the day before (now filled).  Sweeeeet!  Boy, what’s not to like?  

Suzanne felt like she had maxed out her photo quality with her waterproof Nikon, so she picked up an Olympus TG5 camera, a serious little point-and-shoot, and an underwater housing.  In my humble opinion, she’s taking some great shots-we’ll do an all-scuba gallery soon.  I’m still just doing video with our GoPro Hero whenever we see a good “action shot.”

So…….The Caribbean Journal just ran a piece on the fantastic dining choices in Bonaire.  I’m here to tell ya that we didn’t have a bad meal while on island.  Here we go:  “Bistro de Paris, Zazu Bar”-our marina restaurant.  Super fresh ceviche, good burgers (especially on burger night), Happy hour from 17h00-19h00 featuring 2 for 1 beers and wines.  A nice place to chill after a busy day.  “La Terrazza”-a 3-time favorite for us.  (2 wine tastings-4 courses with 2 wines for each course with audience participation, moderated by owner, Gabi).  “Foodies”-kind of out in the sticks south of Kralendijk on the other side of the salt pans.  We stopped there for an early dinner on our way home from a beach day at Lac Bai.  They had just opened, so we were the only diners there when we arrived.  Great service, cool setting.  “Cappricio”-Just like it sounds.  Fresh Italian cooking in an upscale modern venue with both in and outdoor seating.  “It Rains Fishes”-right on the shore road in Kralendijk.  Upscale outdoor dining featuring you guessed it.  “Posada Para Mira”-just outside Rincon.  This open-air thatched roofed restaurant features local cuisine-goat stew and iguana soup being just 2 of the features.  The commanding view and steady breeze contribute to the ambience.  “Mezze” for Mediterranean.  “Sebastian’s” for oceanside seafood with an Italian bent.  “Captain Don’s,” an all-inclusive dive resort just north of our marina boasts a multi-level outdoor dining area abutting the ocean.  Very cool vibe.  The menu is typical of North American tastes.  “Between Two Buns” was our go-to for a savory lunch-great salads, specialty sandwiches.  “Donna and Giorgio’s”-Italian in a funky setting.  “La Creperie”-a favorite morning hangout for cruisers.  Their savory crepes are super tasty.  And…….let’s not forget the “Street Food” genre.  Lisa had a stall in the market featuring Indonesian food.  After buying finger-food from her several times, we got her to cook a traditional Indonesian meal for us, which we carried home.  Yhanni has a little palapa on Coco beach where she makes killer Arepas.  After a couple of post-dive lunches with her, she shared her secrets and recipes with Suzanne, who now makes these incredible Venezuelan treats.  

“Dash” food truck is only open on weekends, but their fried chicken on homemade biscuits with spicy slaw are worth the wait.  Their donuts look incredible too. 

 It’s amazing that I got out of Bonaire not a pound over a buck ninety-five.  Guess I can thank the diving for that.

“Jason,” our super-ratty, but trusty Toyota Hilux pickup truck took us on adventures all over the island.  From the salt pans in the south to the sunset hike up Mount Brandaris, he kept on keepin’ on.  We off-roaded the windward side of the island, hiking down into every boca (little inlets in the rocky coast, often with a small pebbly beach).  I don’t think that we saw 3 other vehicles all day.  Along the way, we visited a cave with pre-columbian drawings on the ceiling.  Massive wind generators dotted the shore on the northern end of our trek.  We returned to the road(?) at the gate to the National Park.  The park was an adventure for another day.  When we returned the following morning, it was an all-day hoot.  You are not allowed in the park unless you have a four wheel drive vehicle or truck.  Yep, 2 mile-an-hour roads (ummmhhhh….make that washed-out ruts).  We visited every boca, beach, dive site and vantage point in the park, enjoying a picnic lunch along the way.  After lurching and bouncing along all day, 600mg of “Vitamin I”, then happy hour soothed our aching backs.

Well, let’s pick up more of Bonaire…

-Later

Hola, mi Amigos

Here we are in Bonaire.  Alizann was really jammin’ on the way here from Grenada.  Following seas and a half to full knot current pushing us along, we shaved around 5 hours off our ETA.  That was the good news.  The bad news was that we arrived around midnight.  New harbor (for us), no entrance lights, narrow entrance, and the night was darker than the inside of a pocket.  Had a slip number, but had no idea where it was.  Another boating “DON’T,” but here we were.  Well…. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds.  We “What’s Apped” John on Seamantha.  He knew the marina, and told us where our slip was.  The radar and chartplotter were spot on, and the water depth here is in the hundreds of feet up pretty close to shore-all good.  We crept up within spotlight range and spied the opening, glided in.  We backed the Girl in between a finger pier and a 62-foot sailboat, and it was time for sips before turning in.

So….I’ve been pretty mum on the fish wars.  That’s because the score was edible fish 4, Alizann 0.  Not anything that I wanted to brag about.  We lost around 4 or 500 yards of line and 4 of our best lures.  ‘Nuff said.

Visits to Customs and Immigration were on the docket for Friday.  The mile-and-a-quarter walk should have taken 15 minutes, but morphed into a 2-hour ordeal as we fought the elements, walking in the steady rain, then dodging for cover as the squalls sporting 25+knot winds rolled through.  Three quarters of the way there, we said “The heck with it” and took cover in Julian’s Café for a late lunch.  We were soaked to the bone by then, so sat in the covered patio as the rain misted in-just a couple of loco touristas.  But…we did help them save their patio umbrellas which were turning inside out in the near-gale force wind.  No English speakers here, but their thank you’s were easily translated.  I had forgotten that even though this is a Dutch island, there is a preponderance of Spanish speakers here-shoulda brushed up on ours.  Actually, many of the folks here speak 4 languages-Dutch, Spanish, Papiamentu and English.  We got the job done with the authorities late in the afternoon.  No fees or taxes and super easy.  On the way home, we dodged ankle-deep puddles and scoped out some shops along the main drag.  Pretty evident that the local economy is tourist-based.  Shops catering to cruise ship passengers, and a dive shop on every corner, as well as restaurants of every ilk lined the downtown streets.

Sheeiit! How can you get a month behind in two weeks (or so it seems)?  1. Writing is super painful for me. (as a science geek) 2.  Time flies when you’re having fun.

So… Here’s the short version:

                Already went through Customs.  Super easy, with gracious officers who actually seemed happy that we were here-Check.

Dive shops.  One on every corner.  I think that CVS and Rite Aid took their business model from these guys-if you leave your door unlocked, there’ll be a dive shop up and running in your space the next morning when you get up.  This island is set up for below the water activities.  If you need the toys, you can find them here.  Also-kudos to the internet.  Prices of equipment are very competitive, in fact, many shops will honor or beat an internet price for the same doodad.  We’re looking for an underwater camera and housing for the Admiral, and finding prices very competitive-especially when you figure in shipping costs. -Check

Food.  Grocery shopping is a real pleasure-even better if you can decipher Dutch (thank you, Google Translate!!)  Instead of going shopping and setting our menu based on what was available in the store, we’re back to creating menus, then shopping for what we need.  Reminds us of Martinique.  Better than Martinique, every Tuesday and Friday, there’s a free bus to VanDenTweel, the “Gucci” supermarket for your provisioning pleasure.  Eating out is also a pleasure, with multiple, not wrong choices.  In the 3 weeks that we’ve been here, we’ve eaten at everyplace from local holes in-the-wall to food trucks and kiosks, to fine dining.  So much for losing weight!  I’m loathe to recommend particular venues-ask around to decide what sounds good for your tastes.  You already know that we like fine dining as well as the funky stuff, so iguana soup, goat stew, and tripe casserole may not float your boat.

Diving.  What superlatives are left to be said?  The reefs have certainly changed from our last visit, around 30 years ago, and not for the better.  At that time, the dive guide listed 14 dive sites.  Now, the newest edition lists over 100.  That being said, the diving is still superb.  After two weeks for me to shake off the “Grenada Cough,” we have been diving nearly every day from our tender, “White Star,” who recently received a dive ladder, courtesy of “Yours Truly’s” monkey work, under the tutelage of the Admiral.  Oh…..diving.  We participated in a dive “cleanup” of the harbor after the Bonaire Sailing Regatta, which left plenty of human-made trash (translation-bottles, paper cups, and assorted crap on the bottom.)  100 divers pulled up around half a dumpster of crap off the bottom.  There, we met Marije and Bart, a young Dutch couple taking time off from life to backpack around the world.  The post-dive appreciation barbeque at Hamlet Oasis, hosted by “Dive Friends”, was an enjoyable evening.  The next afternoon, drinks on Alizann with Marije and Bart proved to be very enjoyable.

The Girl.  Well, she has certainly become a “Marina Queen.”  After anchoring out almost exclusively for the first 3 years, we have kinda settled into the “tie up, plug in, drop off the bikes, rentacar, and keep our lives cushy routine.  The whole setup here in Bonaire kinda pushed us in that direction anyway:

  1.  You can’t anchor anywhere on Bonaire (reef protection) There are a finite number of moorings here (less than 40) You need to “know somebody” to get one, as they’re “first come, first serve”, and when a boat is leaving, they have already been in contact with someone who will slip onto the mooring the second that they’re off.
  2. We have internet coverage here in the marina.  Good for streaming American football, Skyping our kids, and downloading Netflix.
  3. It’s easy to put our bikes on land.
  4. The rental car’s right here.
  5. Maybe we’re getting older, and like to step off the boat onto land without schlepping in on the dinghy

Touring.  We started with an all-day “Island Tour” with our driver, Therese, so that we could get our bearings and see the high spots.  Subsequently, we rented a Toyota HiLux pickup for a couple of weeks.  “Jason” our truck, has a high ground clearance, super-torquey gear ratio, the ability to jump boulders in a single bound, and a propensity for conquering deep water has served us well, and so far, has taken us over 8 hours of off-road touring through and over some of the most uninhabited regions of the island.  Tho’ the trails are “lower back and vehicle undercarriage challenges,” they  are well marked.  The extreme diversity of geologic (?) features is mind-blowing.  Every two minutes, it’s an “Oh, my God, or This is incredible!”  The Cadushy Distillery in Rincon makes several liqueurs and a vodka, based on the distillation of the local Kadushi cactus.  It’s worth a visit, with expectations kept in check.

Fellow cruisers:  Well…….the Dutch are wonderful people.  The rub…..they take a long time to warm up.  We’ve been next to a Dutch couple for three weeks now, and in spite of us asking them at every juncture if we can help with their boat chores, pick them up something at the grocery store, lend tools, or whatever…we’re still just neighbors.  There aren’t a lot of North Americans here in the marina, so last night, we went to one of the “all inclusive” scuba resorts, and met some friendly Americans.  Only trouble is, that they’ll be gone in a week.  Oh well, the Admiral will just have to put up with my company exclusively ☹.

-Later

All Rightey Then.

We ran to Martinique through acres and acres of Sargasso weed.  Didn’t get hung up once.  Seamantha followed us 10 hours later with no problems either.  In Martinique, we rented a car, got provisioned up, and looked forward to staying a week or so.  There were a few attractions that we had missed on our last visits, so we planned a trip to St. Pierre and Mt. Pelee, and one to hike the Jesuit Trail.  The hike was also on John and Paulette’s radar, so we took two cars up the mountain, and spotted one at each end of the hike, as we weren’t sure that we were up for a round-tripper.  Rated at a “7” on a scale of 1 to 10, with an elevation change of a little over 2,000 feet through steaming rain forest seemed rather daunting.  The hike was a bit challenging, but very doable.  It didn’t hurt that the day was cloudy and a little less hot that usual.  At the lowest point, we crossed the Lorraine River on a rope suspension bridge and stopped for a snack before climbing out through the dripping trees in the tropical rain forest.

Another day found Suzanne and I driving up to the North, for a visit to Mt. Pelee, and the town of St. Pierre.  Mt. Pelee is a quiescent volcano which last erupted in 1902.  In May of that year, it was responsible for the instant incineration of around 30,000 people and the total destruction of the village of St. Pierre.  The pyroclastic flow, reaching temperatures in excess of 1,900 degrees F, and charging along at a speed of over of 400 MPH left absolutely no chance for survival, the exceptions being 2 individuals.  One, Louis-Auguste Cyparis, was a prisoner, housed in a tiny stone hut with a door measuring about a foot or two on a side that was situated in the lee of a stone wall.  The other being Leone Campere -Leandre who lived on the outskirts of town.  The Volcano Museum in St. Pierre was worth the visit, with video and static displays. 

More hikes were on the itinerary, but Ahhhh ”The plans of mice and men.” We got a call from back in the States.  Marty’s Dad was very sick, and we felt that we needed to get there as soon as possible.  We called Port Louis Marina in Grenada.  “Yes.  They could squeeze us in earlier.” Changed our flight to Michigan.  Did a “touch and go” in St. Lucia for duty-free fuel, and were tied up in Grenada 2 days later.  Four days to get the Girl “Hurricane ready” and we were off to Michigan.

We got back home to the boat on September 20th.  We didn’t have our bags on board yet, when an old friend reminded us that it was “Chicken Dinner Night” at Whisper Cove.  “Are you guys in?”  Hey, why not?  Quick shower, into our boating uniforms (for me-Carhartt shorts and a Tee shirt), and we were off.

The next week was a blur.  Reacquainting with old pals, going out to dinner, provisioning our larders, routine maintenance and repairs filled our days and evenings.  Unfortunately, one of our fridges had quit while we were gone.  Usually, that’s not a problem, as we empty them before we leave.  However….you may remember that we visited Martinique before flying back to the States.  Needless to say, all of the French goodies that we left had coalesced to form a rather odiferous goo in the bottom of the unit.  Oh, how I love FedEx.  3 days later, I had a new compressor control module in my hand.  That, coupled with a new cooling fan (which I already had on board), made cold work of the old fridge.  It was only…Mmmmh.. a “four expletive” job.  While we were at it, we pulled the other, functional unit and gave it the good vacuuming that it deserved.  So…let’s talk about the defunct WIFI antenna up on the mast.  That was about a “fifty-two expletive” job.  It only took two days and multiple trips up the mast (you know me and heights) to finally give up on the cable that was there, and replace it with a new one which we had brought back from the States.  The router is in the safety of the pilothouse, so the mast, ceiling panels, wire chases all had to be opened up to route the cable from the top of the mast down.  Good times.  It did, however allow us to clean the route along the way.  The Admiral standing by and giving directions while sipping on a pastel, umbrella decorated drink?  Surely you jest.  She was on a “seventy-seven expletive” course of her own, updating charts on 3 computers, then reconfiguring cables so that they would talk to “Otto,”our autopilot.  That stuff is waaaay beyond my pay grade, but I still don’t understand why you can’t just install the upgrades and carry on.  Job security for the Geek Squad, I presume.  Anyhoo…  The impellers and fuel filters are changed (oil and filters changed before we left the Girl).  The watermaker has been re-commissioned.  Everything SEEMED to be working 4x4.

The plan was to head over to Bonaire and do some diving and touring as soon as possible.  Our hurricane insurance be damned.  They want us to stay below twelve-and-a-half degrees North Latitude until November, but Bonaire hasn’t had a hurricane since the early 1800’s.  As beautiful as Grenada is, and as comfortable as we are in the marina with all our Pals, we were feeling the urge to move.  A weather window appeared to be opening starting in the evening of the 2nd, closing on Friday the 5th.  That forecast didn’t change for a week, and several models agreed, so we’re comfortable with its’ accuracy.  Right now, we’re 45 hours out of Grenada, having maintained a course of 271 degrees, True for 44.5 hrs.  Lines are out.  We hooked what looked to be a 50+” Wahoo yesterday, but after taking nearly all of my line, he swam back up under the boat, tangling the line so hopelessly that I had to cut it.  We’ve caught and released a couple of Skipjacks, and a VERY small Tuna.  We had our hearts set on some fish for the freezer, but now we’re not so sure.  Just heard a puff and went out to the bow.  A pod of around twelve dolphins treated us to a good show getting pushed along by our bow wave, all under sunny skies and an 84 degree temperature.  How’d we get so lucky?

-Later

 

Really??  5 months without even a “Hello”?  Okay.  It’s been a busy 5 months.  It’s painful for me to sit and write.  Four of the months were spent back on dirt, and I don’t want to bother you with that mundane stuff.   And……. sometimes I wonder if anyone reads it (even though Google says that we’ve had 700K hits.)

I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast yesterday.  But I’ll try to recap our last few months.

When we left you last, it was upon our arrival in Barbados.  When I dove the boat, there were no remnants of whatever we had been dragging through the night.  Our new bottom paint was a bit the worse for wear, but everything looked good.  Guess that we’ll never know what our uninvited passenger was.  Topsides, we got the Girl scrubbed up after her salty trip.  Retrieval of our cleaning supplies from the lazarette (the storage space under the back deck) revealed that we had taken on a bit of water during our trip over.  Although the laz was dry (it has its’ own bilge pump), there was a salt ring about 8-10” off the sole, and everything stored had a fine salt water mist on it.  Needless to say, everything out, everything rinsed, then everything restowed in the now dry, immaculate lazarette.  All I can say is that there must have been a heckuva lot of water in the cockpit for there to be that much down below.  That is…………if it hadn’t backed up the drains around the hatch…Hmmmmh.  By the way, we discovered that our WIFI amplifier had taken a hike as well.  It was still up on the mast (on its’ apocalypse-proof) mount, just no longer on speaking terms with his router friend down in the pilothouse.   Grrrrr.  Checked the simple stuff.  Up and down the mast a few times and etc.  “This project will wait until we’re back in Grenada for the Summer.”  The dockmaster was nice enough to let me hardwire our spare wireless router into his cable, so we were all set in that regard.

Now the fun stuff.  Port St. Charles marina is very small by anybody’s standards.  It’s set up for mega yachts, with around ten looong docks.  Alizann and Seamantha looked lost side-tied to 100 foot fixed concrete piers.  Barbados is a beautiful island, but doesn’t receive many cruisers, as it’s so hard to get to, being upwind from the Antilles chain.  The marina sits inside a gated community, much like the one that we stayed in at Las Palmas, in Puerto Rico, albeit on a much smaller scale.  Swimming pools and snorkeling in the ocean just a short swim from the boat made it a great base for exploration.

Now, for the adventures, in no particular order.

Suz and I rented a car, as the public transportation is spotty at best, and totally indecipherable to an outsider at worst.  Barbados, although independent, was a British colony, and the only (I believe) Caribbean island that has flown only one flag, as no other European nation was able to wrest it from the Brits.  It also happens to be the only foreign nation that George Washington ever visited, living here for several years in his late teens

We made several excursions to Bridgetown, Barbados’ capital.  There, we toured the garrison and explored some underground tunnels there.  Next, a guided walking tour of the town was in order before visiting Washington House for another guided tour.  Another day was spent watching the thoroughbred races for the first Jewel of the Barbados Triple Crown-run on a grass track.

Being formed by subduction of two tectonic plates, Barbados was pushed up from the ocean floor, creating a limestone, not volcanic, island.  There are many caves.  After taking a trolley tour through Harrison cave, Suz and I decided to return for a personal walking, crawling, swimming scrambling experience with a guide.  Before heading into the depths, we were outfitted with knee and elbow pads as well as hardhats, then asked to army-crawl a few hundred feet to make sure that we were fit enough for the experience.  The tour was incredible, and I would strongly recommend it if you come for a visit.

Another day was devoted to visiting beaches (of which there are many), shoreside caves, and not a few rhum shops and restaurants.  Driving overland between the shores, we took a walking tour of the Portvale Sugar Refinery, the only one on the island.

Nicholas Abbey, a restored sugar plantation is a must-see, with the manor house, cane grinding building, and numerous out buildings available for exploration.  On the way home, we visited Lewis sugar mill, a restored, wind-powered mill.

Suz and I took a tour of Banks Brewery to see the local beer being created.  As it turned out, we were the only two people on the tour, so we got the up close and personal version-very cool.

Remember the Concorde?  Well…during its’ short lifespan, these supersonic passenger jets had scheduled flights to only four airports: Heathrow, Paris, JFK and?  Barbados!  Of course, we had to visit the one on static display at the airport.  With a hangar built around this sleek airship, you are able to walk in, around and under her, while there are numerous interactive displays around the periphery of the building.

Almost forgot this one.  I have Suz, John and Paulette in our rental car on our way to Bridgetown one morning.  Forgot to get gas the night before, so we wheel in to a busy gas station/convenience store joint, wait in line, then fillerup.  I’m walking out of the store after paying, and I’m watching this guy in an old pickup truck backing out of the parking space directly in front of our car.  Surely, he’s going to turn the wheel and head out the driveway.  Nope, he keeps backing up until the truck is stopped by our car as I watch the scenario develop in slow motion.  Are you kidding?  Our rental only has 3,000 miles on it.  Long story short.  In Barbados you gotta wait for the police to arrive before moving the involved vehicles.  Soooo….we’re blocking 2 pumps at this very busy station.  The cop finally arrives and takes both of our statements.  Good to go, right?  Nope.  Can’t leave until both vehicle’s insurance guy comes and takes 18 glossy, full color photos, measures the scene, takes statements, and etc.  Our insurance’s guy was at the other end of the island, so needless to say, we had a wonderful time people watching.

This short synopsis doesn’t do justice to our visit to this beautiful Caribbean nation.  We hiked and drove much of the island, ate local food, and experienced the warm graciousness of her people.  If hurricane season had not been just around the corner, we would have passed our “weather window” and spent much more time here.

But……the wine cellar is empty, and it’s a quick 14-hour cruise to Martinique, where we’ll remedy that problem before heading down island to Alizann’s Summer home in Grenada.

Hopefully, we’ll get back on track with the blogs not too much

-Later

 

Morning, Morning,

We were back in the water on Monday, as promised.  Our pal at Crew’s Inn, Meleena, found room at the Inn for us, and we were in our berth by late afternoon.  The relaunch was not without a little drama, however.  The boys that we had hired to remove/replace the stabilizer wings and bow thruster props didn’t show until 14h00, when we were scheduled to splash at 15h00.  They showed up without the proper tools, but the good news was that we had ‘em.  15h05, and the Travelift was ready.  They picked us up at 15h15, and we were splashed shortly thereafter.  Really?

After we went back in the water, we were basically looking for a weather window for our passage up to Barbados.  We took a tour to Pitch Lake with one of Jesse’s guys.  Pitch Lake is the largest of three asphalt lakes on the planet, the others being in Venezuela and California.  The lake is 75 meters deep and is said to contain over 100 million tons of asphalt.  Asphalt has been mined here for a few hundred years and was used in paving roads in much of the northeast of the United States.  Asphalt is still strip-mined here today and exported overseas.  The machinery doing the mining must be kept in constant motion, or it will sink and be trapped.  Sections of the lake are mined in succession, to approximately two meters of depth.  It takes less than 2 weeks for the asphalt to rise back up.  Meanwhile, other sections of the lake are mined.  We hired a guide to walk us out onto the lake.  It felt spongy underfoot, and if you stood in one place too long, you could feel yourself sinking slightly.  There are spots on the lake that are more liquid, and our guide was careful to route us around these, lest we be trapped in the tar.  The houses in the village surrounding the lake are in constant motion, moving inexorably toward the lake, gardens and paths circumvent pools of pitch which has bubbled to the surface.  On the way home, we visited two Hindu shrines: The Temple in the Sea, and the Dattatreya yoga center.  The Temple in the Sea was built by an indentured immigrant from India.  As the British colonials would not permit the building of temples on land, he spent many years hand-carrying bricks and cement out onto the mudflats of the Gulf of Paria to create an island for the Temple.  Restored in 1994, the temple is the anchor for a park on shore.  When we were visiting, a cremation was taking place at the park.  The Hindus here still do it the old-fashioned way:  The body is placed on a pyre, the fire is lit, and the ashes are raked up afterward.  We saw a couple of these ceremonies in locations that we passed on our road trip that day.  The Dattatreya Yoga center boasts the tallest statue of Hanuman (the Hindu monkey god) outside India, standing at 85 feet.

The rest of out days were spent wheeling and waxing the Girl, as well as other minor boat chores.  Afternoons found us gathering at the swimming pool with other cruisers.  Of course, Saturday mornings were Market Days in Port of Spain, and Saturday nights were “Bake and Shark” nights, when we joined with other cruisers at the local watering hole.  We usually had a table of 10-15.  Conversation was lively and the beer was ice cold.  Bake and Shark?  It isn’t actually baked at all.  We’re talkin’ a fried dough bread pocket filled with fried shark and other ingredients-maybe coleslaw, tomatoes, peppers, topped with garlic sauce, Chadon Beni (kinda like cilantro) sauce, and a little Peppah sauce.  Deeeelicious Trini street food.  Thursday evenings, Crew’s Inn supplied the charcoal, grill, tables and chairs for the cruiser’s potluck.  Everyone brought a dish to pass, and a meat, or fish, or ?? to grill. 

Our projected couple day stay morphed into nearly 13 as we waited for the wind to quit howling.  Finally, the 22nd of April looked less bad, so, itching to leave, we settled for a forecast of 5’-8’ seas on a 10 second interval with 15-20 knot winds, which would be on our nose for half the trip, and our beam for the other half of our 190 mile passage, which we thought should take us around 24 hours.  We figured that we could take advantage of the North Equatorial Current, which had hampered our progress on the way to Tobago earlier in the Spring.  We were off the dock at 06h05 on the 22nd.  Our course was laid in to keep us around 10-12 miles off the coast of Tobago, to keep us out of the opposing current which always runs along its shore.  Just north of the eastern tip of Tobago, we would veer north to take advantage of the Equatorial Current.  The first leg of the trip was beautiful, as we cruised into 3’-5’ seas, under sunny skies.  The lines were wet, but no bites.  As we passed out of the lee of Tobago around 19h00, the seas increased to 4’-6’, darkness had fallen, we turned north with the seas now on our beam.  The Girl was rolling, but comfortably, thanks to her stabilizers.  Overhead, the wind had increased to 17kn with gusts to 23.  Suz had settled into bed around 20h00, and I was on the first watch.  All of a sudden, I felt a shudder, and an odd vibration.  The engine work load meter jumped to 65% from its normal 42%.  The engine temperature rose 10 degrees, and the fuel consumption went up 1.5 gallons per hour.  This all happened within about a minute or so.  The Admiral bounced out of bed and I cut the throttle.  “Sh#@! t, we must have picked up a net or something” Okay, we knew this drill.  Throw the prop into reverse, back up and whatever you have picked up will dislodge and you’re on your way.  Well, when you slow down, the stabilizers don’t work, and now the seas were running 5’-7’.  Stopping the Girl and wallowing in the troughs between waves in reverse was a cupboard-rearranging affair.  We rolled from beam to beam, and the cockpit was awash.  “Okay, that should do it.”  On our way again, I went below to check on the bilges.  Lifting the hatches, I could hear an ominous “Bang, bang, bang” against the hull.  Okay, repeat the backing up maneuver, this time at a higher speed, and for longer.  The wallowing between waves was magnified.  It was necessary to hold on with both hands to stay upright.  On our way again, the banging had stopped, and all seemed well.  Wrong!  Throughout the night at various intervals ranging from 45 minutes to 2 hours, we kept experiencing the same scenario, minus the banging.  The engine temperature would slowly rise, along with our fuel consumption and engine work load until we did the back-up maneuver again.  At every juncture, we acted more aggressively in the hopes of shaking our passenger.  We could see large patches of Sargasso weed with our spotlight, and we figured that we were dragging a net.  When it accumulated enough weed, the symptoms would become critical.  Going overboard with dive gear was out of the question, as Alizann was rolling from rail to rail.  We thought about heading due west to Grenada or the Grenadines, putting the wind and seas on our stern, but in the end, decided to push on to Barbados as we were really in no danger.  Worst case, if we lost propulsion, the wind and seas would carry us west to the Windwards somewhere.  We were 70 miles from any land. Needless to say, it was a long night.  At 08h00 on the 23rd, we ducked out of the current, changing our course to the northwest for Barbados.  It was now daylight, but we still couldn’t see what we were dragging.  At 11h00, we reversed for what would be the last time.  The surface of the sea was now covered with Sargasso weed in ¼ mile long patches.  We passed through effortlessly.  Whatever we had picked up was gone!!  I was almost disappointed, as I wanted to see what it was.  In the lee of the island, I was even able to wash some of the salt from our trusty little ship sailing into 1’-3’ seas.  We arrived at Port St. Charles, Barbados at 16h35, 34 hours after departing Trinidad.  John and Paulette, who had been there for two weeks aboard Seamantha were standing on the seawall waving when we arrived.  Paulette, true to form, had remembered that it was my birthday and had us over for her (in)famous rhum punch and munchies.  We went home early, fell into bed and slept like the dead.

Barbados travelogue to follow:

-Later

Morning, Morning,

Let’s just call this the “All work, and no play” log.  After an uneventful flight back home, and a very speedy visit with Customs and Immigration, Chad was waiting at the airport for us.  It was, of course, a real shocker to get off the plane dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt.  Not exactly apropos for eighty-five degrees and seventy eight percent humidity.

Besides being filthy, the Girl looked good sitting at her berth.  She had new neighbors, sailors from Germany.  During our absence, John had kept a close eye on her.  He told us that there had been an unusually high tide which required retying some of her lines-thank you, John.  We spent the first full day just cleaning the outside from top to bottom.  Saturday was Market day, so we rode in to Port of Spain with Stanley (another of Jesse’s guys) for fruit, produce and Trinidadian shrimp.  On the way home, a blast through Massey supermarket rounded out our supply of staples.  We pulled away from the dock at 07h30 on Monday, the 26th, and took a short short toodle out of the harbor to do a quick system check and empty the holding tank.  By 08h15, we were in the sling of Peake Yacht Services Travelift, getting our first haulout in 2½ years.  After 2 idle months sitting at a marina in very bioactive (polluted) water, there was plenty of growth for the guys to scrape/power wash off her bottom.  Very fragrant.  We left to go have breakfast at Zanzibar, where we could watch from a distance.  Alizann’s spot in the yard was less than fifty meters from the Travelift, and equidistant from Zanzibar.  Once we were blocked and the jack stands were in place, the troops were mobilized.  Richard came to the boat and installed an air conditioner in the overhead hatch of our stateroom (the boat’s A/C doesn’t function when she’s out of the water.)  We met with Greg and Lincoln, who would be managing our yard work and went over our list.  As we talked, the list grew, and it wasn’t too long before our one-week haulout looked like it would take two or so.  Git ‘R Done!  We got up with Mitch, our welder, to pick up our burglar bars and have him weld the “knees” that he had fabricated for our stanchions.  Oops.  “Thought that you were coming back after Easter.”  Okay, back on task.  Rishi, owner of Jonathon’s Outboard Service was lined up to do routine maintenance and chase down a cooling problem on the dinghy outboard.  Lastly, we visited Franz, owner of West End Power to remove and inspect our stabilizer fins and bow thruster props.

It's Friday of our second week on the hard, (FYI, Good Friday and Easter Monday are national holidays) and we’ve been pretty pleased with the progress.  The hull has been sanded and has two coats of new paint (waterline-four coats).  The boot stripe has been raised 2 more inches and reprimed and painted.  The hull above the water line has been wheeled out and polished.  The dinghy has had 2 coats of epoxy and 2 coats of bottom paint.  The outboard has been repaired and serviced.  The welding has been completed, and the bars are being polished as I write.  Suz and I have been busy too.  We replaced the support for the swim platform (which was damaged in Puerto Rico).  In doing so, we found that the core of the platform was wet, having been infiltrated around some improperly bedded fasteners.  We removed all hardware, reamed out all holes, let the core dry for a week, removed soft core material then refilled all holes with epoxy and rebedded hardware.  After discovering this problem, we removed some rails from our boat deck, and discovered that it too, wasn’t bedded properly.  Good news!  Some holes damp, but not soft.  Same fix.  The tender got its rails rebedded-Hey! As long as I was mixing epoxy (Actually, each hole took several “pours” in order to control heat).  One evening, we spooled out 300’ of anchor chain and reversed it, end-for-end (to keep wear even), cleaning the anchor locker as we went.  Retrieving 300’ of chain by hand is a real workout, being that we had no hydraulic power to raise it mechanically.  I replaced the stainless-steel tubing on our water maker another day (starting to spring some little leaks here and there from corrosion).  Of course, the unit couldn’t be worked on in place, so I had to disassemble it and take the membranes out on deck to replace 2 of the tubes.  Meanwhile, the Admiral got software updated on all of our devices in between “Hey Suz, can you come help me’s?”  Cocktail time doubled as “Marlinspike Hour,” splicing up new working lines for our Girl.  That’s the big stuff, I won’t bore you any more with all of the little tidbits that were dealt with.  Let’s just say that we’ve been busy.

The Admiral’s birthday came around, so we shed our work clothes and gussied up for a night out.  Chad drove us, joined by John and Paulette,  to Aioli, a fine dining restaurant in Port of Spain.  Of course “fine dining” means a lot of things to a lot of people.  Well….the place had a continental vibe from the moment that we climbed the stairs from its’ strip-mall entrance.  The food was truly incredible.  We could have been in Paris, New York City or Napa Valley.  The service matched the appearance.  We had a very uncruiser-like night out, and Suz was smilin’.

We had a farewell lunch with John and Paulette on the 30th, as they were off to Tobago to join Ken and Sylvianne.  It was kinda sad to see them go, but we’ll surely see them in the future (we think that they may join us for the Panama Canal transit in a year or so).

Anyhoo, that’s it for now.  They’re thinkin’ that we’ll be back in the water on Monday, the 9th.  We’ll sit at the dock until we get some semblance of a weather window (it’s been GORGEOUS this week) behind the weather that’s supposed to blow in next week.

-Later

Really?

So, I was posting up some pictures, and realized that there were a few adventures before the Grandbaby trip that I missed:

First of all, every Saturday, Jesse has a van to the city market down in Port of Spain.  We’re off at 06h30, but that’s still a couple of hours after the market opens.  Oh yeah!!  It’s your typical farmers market on steroids.  You wannit?  We gotit!  That’s where we be goin’ for fresh everytang.  Produce, seafood, meat, and then there’s the Indian spices and etc.  Oh yeah, there’s a “Doubles” guy there that has our favorites.  (Thanks, John and Paulette.)  I dunno how many acres the market covers, but it’s enough to spend a couple of hours there.  Jesse says “an hour-and-a-half,” so the foray reminds me of an old TV show where they give the contestants a shopping cart and a short amount of time to fill it.  The first pass is to scope out the various stalls and wares for prices and availability.  Stop at the end point for doubles, then sweep back through to make our purchases.  After the market, it’s a quick (half hour) stop at Massey (grocery store) for staples, canned goods, and etc.  Back at the boat by 10h00.  Fill sink with bleach water, soak all fresh produce, refrigerate, put away dry goods.  NAP!!!

One morning, Suzanne, Paulette, and I had one of Jesse’s guys, Chad drive us out to the “Bamboo Cathedral” for a hike.  The area is so-named, because the bamboo trees on both sides of the pedestrian path overhang it, creating a tunnel-like effect.  Troupes of howler monkeys live in the area, so if you get there either before or after the heat of the day, you may see them moving through.  We arrived just before light and lucked out.  We were the only people there.  We heard the monkeys before we saw them.  The howls/growls were loud and throaty.  Then, overhead, we spotted a group of three moving through the canopy.  The light was bad, so the pictures were very marginal.  After hiking through the bamboo, which was beautiful in and of itself, we followed the unimproved pedestrian road to the deserted U.S.A. radar station at the top of the mountain, a remnant of WW II.  As you might imagine, the view was tremendous.

So, we were ready for a little independent adventure one day, so decided to take public transportation into Port of Spain to walk around and have a fancy lunch.  Suzanne made reservations at “Veni Menage,” a highly rated Indian restaurant.  When we told Jesse of our plans, he said “Just make sure that you’re out of Port of Spain by 13h30, because there’s an afternoon Fete going on just north of the marina, and no taxis, buses, whatever will drive down there because of the traffic.”  We arrived in POS in the morning, and window (and otherwise) shopped until our 11h00 reservation.  We were careful to avoid parts of the city that had been forewarned by locals. Lunch was remarkable.  We left the resto at 13h15 and walked down to the highway to flag down a bus.  Every one that went by was filled to capacity (unlike Grenada, overfilled vans get big fines here).  We decided that this wasn’t gonna happen, so we started walking to the central maxi-taxi terminal, about a mile-and-a-half away.  Baloney!  I stuck out my thumb, and a private taxi picked us up.  He was headed south and would drop us off at the maxi-taxi terminal.  There, people were packed up, waiting for a maxi south.  A nice lady who happened to be passing by told us that no taxis were headed north, because they didn’t want to get stuck in traffic up there.  The maxis were not obliged to make their routes if they didn’t want to, but the public buses were.  She suggested that we walk to the bus terminal and take one of the hourly buses.  Dang!  It was 14h10, we’d have to wait nearly an hour for the next bus.  Oh well, we hot-footed it to the bus station, about a half mile away (Oh yeah, did I tell you that it was raining now?).  We bought tickets and got in line.  15h00.  No bus.  16h00.  No bus.  We’re starting to chat up the folks ahead of us in line.  They’re still waiting for the 14h00 bus.  Rumor has it that the bus is having “mechanical problems.”  Yeah, but how is it that we’re looking at a lot full of buses that aren’t in service?  Long, long, long story short, a bus rolls in at around 17h30.  After all of the pushing ‘n shoving, we, who were around tenth in line, make it onto the 50+ seat bus with about 10 seats to spare.  After some near-fisticuffs, the security guard closes the door, and 30 people are left standing on the platform, awaiting the next hourly(?) bus.  The next day, Jesse just laughed.  We were not amused.

So… we got back home from the adventure to POS.  The “Pool Gang” at the marina had a news flash for us.  A solo sailboater coming in had a little problem getting into the slip next to the Girl.  Somewhere in the 4 tries that he took getting into the slot next to us, He HIT our boat.  Dang!  We inspected our trusty little ship, and yeah, there was a whack out of our boat, and a bigger whack out of the concrete dock.   Whatever.  I got the buffer out, and soon the scar was gone.  Went over to talk to the skipper.  He was apologetic (in French), and said he’d buy me a case of beer.  (Well, three days later, and after his departure before daybreak, we didn’t see a drop of beer.)  Two strikes-a sailboater and a Frenchman-just sayin’.

Guess we’re almost caught up, so……

-Later

 

Morning, Morning!

So…..I don’t usually do trips back to the States in the Log, but a trip to Ann Arbor to welcome our new Grandchild?  Whatever.  Suffer through it.  Jesse’s guy Stanley picked us up at 04h30 and whisked us off to the airport.  There were no gate agents or signs, but we got in with a family of 6, and started a line.  Forty-five minutes later, we had fifty people behind us (and another 30 milling around, waiting for an official start-Trinis don’t like lines, they wait until the last minute, then push to the front).  The gate agents sauntered in, en masse, and the young lady from American Airlines tried to move us.  Not a chance!  Trinis are also very outspoken, and not a little bit resistant of authority.  We kept our mouths shut as several people at the head of the line with us argued heatedly that we weren’t moving and risking giving up our place in the queue.  In the end, several male agents came out, and moved the tightly-packed line backwards so that everybody more or less maintained their respective positions.  (Of course, some of the loiterers wedged their way in, which is why nobody in line wanted to move in the first place.)  We held our ground, as this was not our first rodeo, and it was on to the next hurdle.  Every passenger needed to be interviewed one-on-one with a security agent (Yep, you heard me right).  Then…. every checked bag was opened and hand-inspected.  I guess Trinidad is a high-risk point of embarkation for flights to the U.S.  Didn’t mention it before, but several alleged members of an ISIS cell were arrested right before Carnival.  Maybe the airport was on high alert.  Fourteen hours after we got up, Alison picked us up at the airport in Detroit, and we were at her and Ben’s house in Ann Arbor.

Nash wasn’t due until the 25th but didn’t make his arrival until the 5th of March.  The ten days was interminable for Alison and Ben, but it allowed us to get a lot of work done around their house.  And…we saw snow.  First time in a couple of years.  That’s the Admiral in Lowe’s parking lot.  Among other things at the house, we replaced all the copper plumbing in the kitchen, ran a new circuit from the main panel, installed a dishwasher and garbage disposal and plumbed an icemaker.  A ceiling fan was added to the living room, and we put 3 coats of paint on the inside trim of the windows, which had all been replaced during the Summer.  The list goes on, but you get the picture.  Busy, busy, busy.

Gotta quick tell you a funny story.  Here’s a copy of an email that I sent to John, Paulette, Ken and Sylvianne:

Alison and Nash were supposed to come home today, but her blood pressure is high, so they decided to keep her another day.   Nash is doing great.  Can't believe it, but he almost turned himself over yesterday.  But....I digress. A couple of months ago, Ali told Ben that she wanted Schramsberg Cremant when they came home from the hospital with the baby.  Schramsberg is a California sparkler that happens to beat many of the houses of Champagne in French competitions.  It is also the official sparkler of the White House since Nixon entertained the Chinese.  Well...Ben had a lot on his mind and failed to get a couple of bottles.  Hey Marty!  So, I call the high-end wine stores that I know in Ann Arbor, and no dice.  Finally, I find a little hole-in-the-wall liquor store that has the goods.  I get a couple of bottles of Cremant and a bottle of Blanc de noir for Suz and I.  Night before last, I grab what I thought was the odd bottle and cracked it.  Pour it, sip it...sh**, it's one of the bottles of Cremant!  No problem, we're coming home from the hospital today and we wheel in to pick up another bottle of Cremant.  As you know, Suzanne loves hardware stores and marine chandleries.  I guess that she likes liquor stores too.  I make the purchase, and she says "I just want to look around a bit. Wow, they have a ton of single malts and Bourbons.  Look at this, look at that" & etc.  She says that she just wants to check out their rums.  Now the owner's interest is piqued. He says that he has rum from this shelf divider to that, floor to ceiling.  Next, he's telling us that he saw a show on TV about rum, and that some of these distilleries have stockpiles of rum in barrels in warehouses as far as you can see.  "Yeah, we know.  We live in the Caribbean, and every island has a half dozen distillers." The Admiral says "They don't have Don Q.".  "Oh yeah, I do.  It's on the bottom shelf"  "Crazy, we have a friend that loves Don Q.  He had us buy 6 handles for him when we were in Puerto Rico.” ” That’s really strange." he says.  "I had a guy call me from Trinidad today asking me to deliver some to a friend that just had a baby"  "You taking it to ***** Dunmore Rd.?"  The rest, as they say, is history.  We took it and two bottles of Veuve, saving you a delivery fee.  CRAZY, No?  

Is truth stranger than fiction?

 

When the kids came home from the hospital, Ben’s parents and sister came in all the way from Pennsylvania for a visit.  It was a bonus for the Admiral and I, ‘cause we hadn’t seen them since Ali and Ben’s wedding in 2015. 

After a month of being house guests, it was time for us to leave and let their new rhythm settle in.  The flight home was uneventful, although boarding the plane in Miami was a bit unusual.  Customs and Border Patrol ,with dogs in tow, was on the jet bridge, greeting every passenger before they boarded the plane.  Home again, just call us Grandma and Grandpa.

-Later

 

Good Day, Good Day

OMG!  Has it really been 2 months?  My bad.  No excuse except that we’ve been having waaayyy too much fun.

So, we arrived in Trinidad, which was where I left you hanging.  The marina at Crew’s Inn was pretty comfy.  We motored in, and the dockmaster put us in an end slip with the port side of the Girl along the wall, and her stern on the dock.  Right below the swimming pool-SWEET!  With the Admiral’s expert directions, we backed our little home between the boat next to us, the wall, and the boat that was tied on the wall ahead of us.  Paulette and John, aboard Seamantha were a few days early, but a spot was still located for them while they waited for their assigned slip to become available.  For the next few days, we just walked around to get the “lay of the land,” locating vendors, repair guys, boatyards, and most importantly a “Doubles” roadside stand, and the “Roti Hut.”  Suz and I contracted with Peake Boatyard to haul us and give the Girl a couple fresh coats of bottom paint, lined up a tech to remove our stabilizers (I’m getting’ too old to haul those babies around), located a welder to fabricate some “Burglar bars” for the hatches over our bed and “knees” for the stanchions holding our new awning on the boat deck.  In between these jaunts, we lit up the internet, ordering some replacement spare parts and miscellaneous doodads.  One day, when Mitch, the welder was over taking some measurements, I was knee-deep in sewing machine parts which were scattered all over the cockpit table.  He asked me if I was okay, to which I jokingly replied “Do you do sewing machines too?”  To my surprise, he said “Sure.  My Mom’s a seamstress.  Who do you think takes care of her machines?”  Knowing that I had a backup in case of disaster was reassuring, but YouTube pulled me through.

Meanwhile, we all were anxiously awaiting the arrival of our friends Ken and Sylvianne on the Krogen 48 “Sylken Sea.”  They had recently launched in Antigua after the boat spent hurricane season on the hard there.  I’ve already alluded to the fact that the weather and seas have been very uncooperative this season.  Every day that they were stuck behind the weather, we had 6 sets of eyes checking numerous weather websites and offering their valued opinions.  Emails and texts flew back and forth hourly (actually, more frequently) for days with conjecture about weather windows and best routes for them to take.  Of course, there was no pressure for them to get to Trini, just the fact that they wanted to participate in Carnival, and oh yeah-they had boat guests flying into Trini from Canada.  Long story short, they made it after a less-than-enjoyable few days at sea with the Mother Hens on this end following their progress and texting them every hour of the trip.  Their guests, Ken and Carol arrived to find a lovely boat to sleep on.

Jesse James is THE go-to guy for cruisers visiting Trinidad.  He runs tours and shopping trips for cruisers with his fleet of five minibuses.  Besides that, he is the master facilitator.  No problem is too large for him to help solve, and it seems that he knows everyone on the island.  Unfortunately, when we arrived he was busy with a big job in another area of the island.  We went to his office daily, arranging tours and outings with his wife, Sharon Rose.  It became a standing joke that Jesse didn’t really exist, he was just the mythical face of the business.  When he finally appeared, we all had a good laugh.

Carnival here isn’t just for a day or two.  Some say that it is the third largest Carnival in the world, behind New Orleans and Rio.  Words alone can’t describe the two weeks leading up to and culminating with Fat Tuesday.  We attended the Junior King and Queen competition, a 6-hour marathon featuring elaborately costumed boys and girls separated by age from 2 to 16 years old.  Another night, we visited several “Pan Yards,” where various steel bands ranging in size from 20 to over 100 drummers practiced for the big competition.  Another evening took us to a costume shop, where workers fabricated costumes for the locals who played in various bands during carnival.  Made to order, some of the costumes were priced into the thousands of dollars ($TT).  (So, let me digress for a moment here.  There are many “bands” which march in “Pretty Mas,” which is the big parade on what we call Fat Tuesday.  The bands range in size from a few hundred to six or seven hundred.  Each band has a theme, so the costumes that are worn by the players all conform to that theme.  You may pay upwards of $1,500(TT) or $200(USD) to march (or play) in that band.  What you get as a participant is 4 semi-trailers: one with the hugest sets of speakers and amplifiers that you’ll see short of a rock concert, one with an endless bar (mostly serving beer and rum (150 proof) punch), the next is the food truck, lastly there’s the trailer loaded with porta potties.  Security details surround each band to help keep a modicum of control.  Picture band after band moving down the street, music cranking to the point that you need earplugs, stopping at four judging points along the 5-mile route all day long.  In between judging points, there’s a lot of winin’ and chippin’ going on.  The competition for the King and Queen of Carnival was another marathon which extended well past midnight.  The costumes were beyond incredible.  The semi finals for the pan band competition lasted a good eight hours, but we wimped out after six, just before 1:00 A.M.  So, you see, the lead up to Carnival was quite rigorous for us middle-aged cruisers.  I said nothing of the “Fetes,” which went on around the island virtually nightly (I say nightly, but the Fetes usually start around midnight or so and last until midmorning.  Pronounced Fet, these parties usually feature live music and lotsa’ adult beverages.  Some were attended by upwards of 10,000 people.)

Monday morning, J’Ouvert, or “Opening of day,” A.K.A. “Dirty Mas.”  There was no way that Suzanne and I were not going to participate.  You don’t need costumes for “Dirty Mas.”  In fact, the less the better.  You join a band, (ours had around 400 people) pay your money, put on some clothes that you don’t mind being trashed, show up at 2:00AM and start the parade.  Our 4 semi-trailers were ready to go, so off we went.  It’s Dirty Mas, because along the way, paint, mud, and chocolate are flying.  By the time 9:30AM rolled around, we looked like walking rainbows.  After seven-and-a-half hours of strong rum punch and dirty dancing along our 7-mile route, I’m not sure that my feet were even hitting the ground, but what happens at Carnival stays at Carnival.  We coerced Paulette, John, Carol, Ken, Sylvianne and Ken to join us, but that’s their story to tell.  We all recovered sufficiently to be back in Port of Spain the following morning at 7:00 to be observers for “Pretty Mas.”  The costumes were incredible, the excitement level built during the day, and by the time we bailed at 5:00 PM, it looked like it was going to be another long night.  All right, let’s address the 500-pound gorilla in the room.  There IS a lot of crime here in Trinidad.  The poor economy, due in part to the low price of oil is not helping the matter a bit.  It’s very important to be aware of your surroundings at all times and stay out of certain areas.  That being said, aren’t those precautions important anywhere?  Trying our best to adhere to “Alizann Rules,” i.e. not being far from home at night, not flashing a lot of cash, and not wearing jewelry makes us feel a bit more comfortable here.

After Carnival was over, the eight of us headed to Asa Wright Nature Center and Lodge, located in the north rainforest.  Our diet hadn’t been bad enough during Carnival, so we stopped at one of Jesse’s favorite roadside stands for some Trini Streetfood.  The Saheena was to die for.  The Roti, doubles, and etc. weren’t too shabby either.  Winding up to 2,000 feet above sealevel through the rain forest, the road narrowed to 1 ½ lanes in places.  Rounding one corner, we came across a well-kept little home.  In the carport, a lady had a 12’x12’ tarp laid out, covered with a medley of hot peppers.  Red, orange, yellow and green, glistening from their recent hose-down, they made for a real Kodak moment.  We got out of the van and chatted with her and her husband.  She makes hot (peppah) sauce for some of the local markets.  On Sunday, the carport is transformed into a church where her husband preaches the Gospel.  Cool.  Back on the road, Asa Wright’s main gate soon came into view.  The lodge consists of the original manor house and several outbuildings, accommodating up to 50 guests, on 200 acres of wildlife conservation area.  There, we had three days and two nights of quiet relaxation, hiking and bird-watching.  Suzanne and my room, one of 2 guest rooms in the manor house, afforded us easy access to the dining room, and the veranda which overlooked a dozen or so bird feeders as well as a several-mile view of the forest valley.  Guides were always available on the veranda to help identify any of the 170 species of birds found there.

Well, just about time to wrap this one up.  We headed back to Alizann, packed some winter clothes, and headed to Michigan to await the arrival of our newest Grandchild, Nash Joseph Wells.

-Later

Good Day, Good Day

John and Paulette recovered all of the stuff that bounced out of their dinghy when the hovercraft crashed, including the 2 new gas cans.  It didn’t look like the outboard went in the drink, but we took both dinks ashore just in case.  Customs and Immigration-Oh, Baby!  Sign on the door says that if we are not dressed appropriately (respectfully), that we will be turned away.  Luckily, we all put on our Customs clothes before checking in anywhere.  We had 4 sets of forms, in triplicate (lotsa carbon paper).  The “Do you have Stowaways on Board” form woulda made us laugh if we weren’t being on our best C & I behavior.  Next came the “If you have Stowaways on Board, what are their names and nationalities” form.  Really?  Computer is not scanning passports, so all info is hand-entered into the system.  I’ll make this quick-an hour later we were done with Immigration.  On to Customs down the hall.  So…..you can’t just “bay hop” here.  You need to give an itinerary, letting Customs know where you are at all times.  “It’s for your protection.  Officers check on your whereabouts for your safety.”  By the way, the island is divided into 2 sectors.  If you move to the other sector, you need to clear in and out there, as well as provide an itinerary for the anchorages that you visit within that sector.  Made our heads hurt.  Good reason to just stay in Charlotteville and explore from here by land.  Total C&I time, 1 hour, 20 minutes.  Good thing that no one else was in line.  Next stop, the only ATM in town.  Nope, neither of our cards work.  John’s only able to get a couple hundred TT dollars ($1TT=$.15US) out of it.  At the tourist office, the nice lady tells us that it’s a small ATM.  The truck from the bank arrives to fill it, and it’s immediately emptied by the folks who’ve been waiting in line for $$$.

It was time to stretch our legs, so we decided to hike up to Flagstaff Mountain for a view and photo op, then down to the windward side to check out the anchorage in Anse Bateau, and the dive shop at the Blue Waters Inn there.  The hike was on pavement all the way.  We had been previously warned by more than one local not to stray out into the bush without a guide.  Seems that over the years, several tourists had gone missing after not heeding this admonition, causing the whole village to be mobilized for search and rescue operations.  After being lounge-chair lizards for a few weeks, the 6.2-mile, 1,300 feet up and down was plenty of exercise, even on pavement.  Of course, it was lunch time when we hit the Blue Water, so lunch on the veranda, featuring Tobagonian delights was in order.  I wondered out loud how my rubber legs were going to make it back over the hill.  I must have missed the memo (not unusual), ‘cause the other three just laughed and informed me that we were getting a ride home.  Whew!  Hate to see a grown man cry, especially when it’s me.

Charlottesville is a fishing village, and there’s not a whole lot else there, so the Sunday check out town day went pretty quickly.  We walked over to Pirate’s Bay, a 600’ up-and-down, then walked the streets of the village, ending up at “The Suck Hole” restaurant.  “No local food,” our waitress informed us.  Our lunch was super good, starting out with an order of fries which were served as an appetizer.  OMG!  There was probably a pound of fries in each order (x4).  We had watched other diners squirting ketchup, mustard, and mayo all over theirs, so asked our server if this was a local custom.  Hahaha.  The squirt bottles contained Pepper sauce, Garlic sauce, and Chadon Bene (Windward Islands equivalent of Cilantro).  Squirted liberally over the sautéed plantain and eggplant-covered fries, the finished product might have been responsible for a paroxysm of ecstasy (tryin’ to keep things G-rated here).  When the main plates of fried fish, shrimp and chicken arrived, we were pretty much sated, so doggie boxes were distributed all around.

On Monday morning, Junior picked us up for a day of touring Tobago by car.  We toured the length of the island, checking out every anchorage and little fishing village on the leeward side.  After our recon, we decided that staying at anchor up in Charlottesville was still a good idea.  Moving to the interior of the island, Junior took us to visit the “Herb Lady”, Philomene, at Eboe Gardens.  Around her house, perched on the side of a hill (and what house here isn’t?)  were a myriad of imaginative containers filled with dirt and harboring a variety of herbs, medicinals, and decorative plants.  The containers ranged from discarded Styrofoam cooler tops to garbage bags, with all manner of holders in between.  Suz bolstered her collection of herb plants here.  Next, we had to stop at Bucoo Bay for a peek at the goat-racing track. Once a year, on Easter weekend, the annual goat races are held there.  Crazy-a huge stadium, built around a grass-covered dragstrip, and used only once per year.  I guess it’s a huge event.  People come from all around the islands to participate in the betting and spectacle of it all.  (Think a boisterous Kentucky Derby.)  BTW, these aren’t your garden variety goats, these are RACING goats.  With long legs and slimmer bodies, they look more like Greyhounds than goats.  The trick, though, is picking the right jockey(?).  Young men sprint alongside the tethered goats, so the oddsmakers place a fair amount of weight on who’s drivin’.    Might just have to get back for this event.  Wheeeling into Scarborough, the vibe was like day and night compared to little Charlotteville.  Very touristy, and a much busier, apparently the “business center” on Tobago.  We stopped for “Doubles” at a roadside vendor (the back of a station wagon).  Okay……Doubles are a breakfast staple here in Trinidad/Tobago.  Delicious.  First, a sheet of waxed paper.  Next, two Bara (a fried pancake made of Gheera (roasted ground cumin), flour and curry powder).  Next, Chana (chick peas, minced onion, ground garlic, chopped pimiento, chopped onions, curry powder, amchar masala, water, salt, and chadon bene is ladled on top.  The Chana has the consistency of split pea soup.  You bet it’s a challenge to eat.  Ya got no implements.  Hold the paper in one hand.  Slip one of the Bara out from under the fray.  Use it as a spoon to sop/scoop the Chana off the other Bara.  Then, eat the other Bara with the remaining Chana.  Or………….Get yer face right into the whole mess and slurp/suck your way through.  Walk to 2-gallon water jug and wipe off mouth, chin, nose, hands, shirt, shoes, etc.  Or be a Trini.  Eat and walk away without a trace of food on your Sunday finest.  Mastering the Double will become a quest during the following weeks here.   A short hike the Argyle waterfalls gave us a chance to stretch our legs with a stroll through the forest.  Back to the boats by early evening, we had a good feel for the island.  Paulette called Newton George, a renowned local guide to arrange some hikes in the rain forest later in the week to do some bird-watching.

Another day took us back to the Blue Waters Inn, where we had arranged for a half day excursion to Little Tobago Island.  This National park is a bird sanctuary, where we expected to see Frigate Birds, Red Footed Boobies, Brown Boobies and Red-Billed Tropic Birds.  We weren’t disappointed.  We saw all of these and more, even spotted a Tropic Bird in her nest on the ground, guarding her single chick.  After our hike, we enjoyed a nice snorkel on the reef, seeing the usual suspects plus a Hawksbill Turtle.

Well, that old weather thing cut short our sojourn on Tobago.  During our stay, the winds continued to build, but it looked like we’d get a bit of a reprieve late in the week before the Trades became “Brisk” again.  We had to cancel our Rain Forest hike, but promised ourselves that we’d return in March or April to finish what we had started.

Back at Customs and Immigration, our pleasant conversation about grandchildren, kids, and life in general paid off.  We were granted passage out of Tobago on a “nod and a wink.”  The officer provided us with a handwritten note, which she dutifully stapled together.  She told us that while we anchored overnight in the Scarborough sector that we didn’t have to check in, and when we got to Trinidad,  present her note to Immigration, and everything would be all right-she’d make a call.  So, we left the office after more chittin’ and chattin’, promising to bury her in New Grandbaby pictures upon our return.  (Oh, the Admiral tells me that I mightn’t have shared the news.  Our daughter and son in law are giving us a new little boy at the end of February.)

We crept down the lee side of Tobago on Thursday and anchored in Store Bay, outside Scarborough.  On Friday, we made a smooth passage to Trinidad over two-foot seas.  One more 48” Mahi in the freezer, by the way.  We docked at Crew’s Inn Marina and Hotel and readied ourselves for the Customs and Immigration ChaCha.  (Even tho’ it’s the same country, you still have to clear in and out.)  Ha Ha.  We produced our “Get out of jail free” note.  Frowns on the officers turned to smiles.  No paperwork.  Zip, Zilch, Nada.  After some more chitchat with the officers while everyone else in the room was filling out forms and waiting in line, we were home. 30 seconds formality, 5 minutes rappin’.

We’re here for the next couple of months.

-Later

Pages

Captain's Log

Buenos Noche,

So… we’ve had a couple days of on and off rain.  Gave us a chance to catch up on some inside cleaning and minor repairs.  This 140’ spaceship pulled in next to us yesterday.  The Captain, Grant came over to ask about getting SIM cards for the crew’s phones, and Suzanne ended up ministering to his upset stomach and changing some Colombian pesos for his Greenbacks.  Our phones came in handy for him as well.  He and his Mate, Elisha gave us the Cook’s tour tonight, and the boat is truly remarkable.  I think that we’ll see him again, as he recently bought a small island on the Pacific side of Panama, and we’ve got an open invitation to come and visit when we’re there in a couple of years.  We’re leaving Cartagena tomorrow morning, island-hopping to Colon, Panama.  We expect to arrive there around the 12th of June.  In the meantime, while we are in the San Blas islands I’m thinkin’ that we won’t have any connectivity, so we’ll talk at ya’

-Later

Buenos,

So…we’re luxuriating in bed on Sunday morning, and the air conditioner in our room goes off at 08h00.  Hmmmmh.  No voltage at the panel.  None of the breakers flipped.  No voltage at the pedestal on the dock.  Look over to the fuel dock-the LCD lights for fuel prices are out.  No worries, we close down the Girl-she’s fine on solar and battery power for up to a few days, and head out to breakfast.  Jim and Carole had told us about a favorite breakfast spot of theirs: “Stepping Stones” and it was on our “To Do” for the day. It being Sunday, the bumper-to-bumper stream of traffic headed into Getsemani and the walled city had slowed to a trickle. As we turned off the main drag onto one of the side streets, we realized that there was no power here, either.  There were a few portable generators running on the sidewalks with power cords trailing into buildings.  Other than the sound from these humming engines, the neighborhood was pretty quiet.  Well, we found our restaurant, but as you can imagine it was closed.  We talked to some folks who told us that the power was out in the whole city, and would not be back on until 17h00.  We had planned on a quiet day anyway, so after returning to the Girl for breakfast, we headed back across the bridge to visit the Cathedral and explore the streets and alleys of the Old City.  Apparently, we were among the few that didn’t get the memo about the power outage, as town was pretty deserted.  We did get a few miles in, though, walking the entire top of the old walls.  As promised, the advent of cocktail time brought the restoration of power to the city.  I couldn’t find anything about the days’ outage, but found several articles on the internet about Colombia’s power grid being inadequate to provide power to all areas of the country at all times.  Also, rolling blackouts are not uncommon in Cartagena.

We got our breakfast at “Stepping Stone”, and the food didn’t disappoint.  The restaurant was started by two Australians in 2017.  The mission is to hire kids from disadvantaged backgrounds who otherwise would be unemployable, training them to raise themselves up by working in the food service industry.  You don’t need to change the world, just change the little piece around you.  After breakfast, we hoofed it up to Castillo de San Felipe, the largest Spanish fortification in the New World. There we hired Raphael, who spoke passable English, to guide us on our tour of the fort.  It is really remarkable.  One of the best restorations and biggest that we’ve visited in our travels.

Convento de Popa sits atop the highest point in Cartagena.  We hired a cab first thing in the morning to drive us up.  Besides being unbearably hot, the authorities warn against tourists walking there, as the road goes through some sketchy neighborhoods.  On our way there, we observed a heavy policia presence, but at 08h30, it was still 88 degrees with humidity in the 90’s.  The Augustinians built a small wooden chapel on the site, which was replaced by the much larger convent in 1612 after taking 6-7 years to build.  It is well outside the old walled city, but is a strategic location due to its’ altitude and the fact that it overlooks Fort San Felipe. Therefore, over time fortifications were added to the original structures.  The self-guided tour takes around 30 minutes.  The restoration of the chapel and buildings surrounding the courtyard was well done.  The view from the surrounding balconies is stunning.  …..If it was good the first day, might as well go back the second. When we returned from la Popa, we walked back to “Stepping Stones” for a second go.  We spent the rest of the day just schlepping around town, finishing with dinner at “Da Oliva” near the marina.

Wednesday morning.  It was cloudy.  The weather report forecasted a 70 percent chance of rain.  Cartagena hadn’t seen a drop in over 5 months.  I’m not sure if it was my imagination, but as we made our way through Getsemani and the Old City to the Naval Museum, the sense of anticipation was palpable.  Maybe the rainy season was finally here. 

The Museum turned out to be a pleasant surprise.  It garnered mixed reviews on social media, but our experience was very positive.  We hired a guide, Miguel, who spent an hour or so interpreting the various exhibits for us.  We were able to tie together some of our Cartagena history loose ends, discovered that as a U.S. ally, Colombia sent troops to Korea, and learned about Colombia’s modern navy.  The Chocolate Museum provided a sweet rest stop on our stroll through the city.  In the retail shop, we tasted their wares, then stoked the local economy at the cash register before leaving.

Suzanne’s been dying to see a Tree Sloth since we arrived in Colombia to no avail.  The warning signs along the road to Mompox depicting Sloth crossings reminded me of the numerous Moose crossing signs in Newfoundland.  Lotsa signs, no animals.  Well….she heard that there were Sloths in the city park, Parque de Centenario, just outside the wall. We didn’t even know what we were looking for, but soon enough we saw a Sloth and baby in the top of a Tamarind tree.  Pictures were tough through the foliage, but The Admiral’s day was complete.  The locals still holding their collective breaths, it started to drizzle around 17h00 on our way home.  Thunder boomed all around us, but the rain never started in earnest.

Well, the rainy season is here.  It rained most of the day yesterday, and there’s heavy overcast today.  We’re starting to think that we’ve “done” Cartagena, and maybe it’s time to move on.  Suz took inventory of our supplies yesterday and the grocery store is on the short list for today. 

That said, I’ll talk at ya’

-Later

Hola

Well…we had a great night’s sleep, but woke up with some pretty sore hiking muscles.  Mike was much the worse for wear.  He too had succumbed to the dread G.I. bad juju.  Carol and Jim arrived by bus at mid-day, as they were helping Mike and Sue sail Skedaddle II to Puerto Velero on Sunday.  Suz and I spent the day getting our poor dirty Girl cleaned up.  We didn’t see Mike all day.  Sue, Jim and Carole joined us for dinner in town, as no one felt like cooking.  Saturday morning, it was Sue’s turn with the plague.  We didn’t see either her or Mike all day, but enjoyed Jim and Carole’s company.  We were thinking how fortunate it was that they were there, as they were fully capable of sailing the boat without M & S.  There was no possibility of delaying their departure, as M & S had plane tickets to fly to Portugal, and then home to Australia in 3 days.  We still maintain that the worst aspect of cruising is when schedules get in the way.  At any rate, Mike semi-surfaced by Sunday morning, and they were off the dock by 06h30.  Suz and I spent the rest of the day getting the Girl ready to move after being at the dock for a month.  She had a nice layer of soft growth on her bottom, and her running gear (propeller, rudder) where our bottom paint is failing needed scraping desperately.  The barnacles were thick, and I spent over an hour scuba diving in the cruddy water.

Puerto Velero is about halfway between Santa Marta and Cartagena, so it was a perfect way for us to split the 16 hour trip. We got the lines out after our 06h15 departure from S.M.. We got 4 fish along the way-3 Barracuda and a 28” Mahi.  All four were thrown back to Poseidon.  Passing Barranquilla, where the Rio Magdalena empties in to the sea, the ocean color went from blue to brown, even though we were 3 miles offshore.  Numerous logs and other flotsam from the river reminded us of dodging lobster pots off the New England coast.  We could only imagine what the conditions would be like during the rainy season when the river was really flowing.  After an hour or so, the water turned back to blue, and we let Otto (pilot) take back the wheel.  Ten miles from Puerto Velero, Mike hailed us on the VHF.  They had picked up our signal on their AIS.  He reported that he and Sue were feeling better, but Jim was now down with the G.I.’s.  Calling the facility at Puerto Velero a marina uses the term in its loosest form. The docks are literally in the middle of nowhere, at the head of a broad bay formed by a treeless peninsula with a mean elevation of around ten feet.  As with many dreams, building progress stopped with the death of the dreamer.  Several condo units and a small multistory hotel are on the site, as well as a very nice swimming pool.  In my opinion, the development never reached the critical mass necessary for it to be economically viable.  There is no restaurant or even a bar, and the nearest town is miles away.  It IS, however, an inexpensive place to leave your boat for an extended period.  We joined the gang on now-recovering Jim and Carole’s boat, Nepenthe for a popcorn dinner.  There was no need for “good-byes,” we will see them all in Panama in the Fall.

Suz and I had our traditional before boating breakfast-“Egg Tuckmuffins.” (We are still supplied with English muffins, as we bought 5 packages in Aruba.) We follow the maxim:  “If you use it and you see it, buy it. You might not see it again.” We were off the dock a few minutes before six, and had an uneventful trip to Cartagena. We didn’t fish, as we still had Tuna and Mahi in the freezer.  There are two entrances to the huge bay in Cartagena, and we really wanted to enter Boca Grande, as it was closest to our destination, Club Pesca Marina. We were a bit nervous about that entrance, though, as our charts are a little sketchy in this area.  Back in the 17th century, the Spaniards built a wall across the mouth of the bay.  Thing is, it’s three feet below the surface of the water (Surprise raiding pirates!).  Our cruising guide said that there was a narrow small boat channel blasted through the wall, but we weren’t seeing any buoys.  We watched as a fairly large sailboat sailed over the wall about a mile or so away from us.  We marked his course on our plotter, and motored over.  There were two buoys, right where we didn’t think that they would be, but we motored through, never seeing less than 11’ of water.

Getting into the marina was a different story.  We hailed on the VHF, and were told to come back tomorrow.  No, not possible.  We have reservations for today, confirmed with Adriana by email yesterday.  So… I will make an hour long story short. May 1rst is a holiday (Labor Day). No one at the marina spoke any English-not even a little.  Our mastery of Spanish extends to ordering food, a beer, and finding the restroom.  (Well, not quite, but close, and talking on the radio is difficult even when both parties speak the same language.)  We could see the marina but it was outside the buoyed channel, and the depth rose precipitously upon leaving the channel.  We were loathe to put the Girl on the ground just motoring over. We were about to scrap the idea and go out to anchor in the harbor when a center console outboard with two guys on it approached us and motioned for us to follow.  They led us into the marina, and we picked a slip.  Meanwhile, the security guard and another guy show up and we get tied up at the dock.  Still isn’t anyone speaking English, but now, face to face, we’re communicating okay.  I give the guys 20,000 peso tip each (approximately $6 USD), feeling quite happy to be here. “Not so fast” says one of the boat guys.  “You owe us 200,000 pesos for our service.” All the time, the security guard (with the gun) is observing the conversation, so I figure that this is the norm. Well…told him we didn’t have that much, and I’d give him 150,000 ($45 US).  Okay, we’re here.  Welcome to Cartagena.

This ain’t over.

-Later

 

 

Buenos Dias

I woke up a couple of times during the night to hear it pouring rain on the metal roof (or so I thought).  When we got up at O’Dark-thirty, I realized that the noise was from the river, now swelling from the recent rain roaring past camp.  True to Estefan’s word, it was not raining in the morning.  When we started out at 06h00, the mist was still hanging heavily over the dripping vegetation.  An hour into the morning, I let my attention lapse and rolled over my right ankle.  No!!!  Laying on the wet path, I couldn’t imagine that my hike would end only 3 hours from our goal.  I picked myself up and tested the ankle-it would still hold my weight, but not without barking at me.  I knew what was next.  (I had torn the ligaments in this ankle when I was 16, and after 2 months on crutches it was never the same.  I’ve rolled it several times since, and it’s always the weak link).  Fording the river a half hour later, there was no hopping across boulders, as the water had risen considerably.  The cold water came at just the right time.  When I took my shoe off, I thought Indio’s eyes were going to pop out of his head.  My ankle was already swelling, and blood was pooling at the edge of my sole.  No surprise to me-been there, done that.  Estefan asked me if I wanted a mule to come and take me down.  Well…we got that sorted out in a hurry.  Indio produced some analgesic cream and an ankle brace.  A few minutes later, we were headed back up the hill.  Ciudad Perdida predates Machu Pichu by about 600 years, and the stone “steps” have been there ever since.  Built out of uncarved natural stone, the steps have a very irregular rise and run. The only consistent feature is that they’re very narrow and steep.  We couldn’t help but wonder what coming down their wet smooth surface was going to look like.  I didn’t count the steps, but I’ll take their word for there being 1200.  It took us about 40 minutes of nonstop climbing to get to the top.

We had two-and-a-half hours to explore the site.  Indio led us around and spoke to us about the ancient Tairona people who built and lived in this city of over two thousand inhabitants, pointing out artifacts and explaining the layout of the buildings.  About 80% of the ruins are still covered by jungle, and there are no plans to uncover them.  I won’t try to describe our visit here-it’d be like trying to describe the Grand Canyon to someone.  You just have to be there.

We were almost to the bottom of the steps when it started raining again, this time a gentle drizzle.  We retraced our steps from earlier in the day, stopping for lunch and to pick up our packs at the previous nights’ camp.  The rain began in earnest.  When hiking up and down the numerous red clay ravines, you had to follow the stream of water flowing down, as it washed away the slippery red mud, leaving small gravel for traction.  Walking outside the water flow was hopeless.  The mud was slipperier than wet ice.  A couple more hours of trekking brought us into our bivouac for the evening.  Lots of smiles and……cold BEER!  The routine was the same as the previous nights, and by 06h00 we were back on the trail.  The day’s 6 hours would have 2 steep “ups” of around 45 minutes each, punctuated by, and ending with a few hours of “downs”.  After the first “up”, we had the option of spending the night at a camp or continuing back to Mamey.  The 4 of us opted for the latter, and a bit after 12h30, we rolled into the restaurant that we had started at four days earlier.  The rest of the gang had been there 20 minutes earlier, and were already at our table.  They gave us a standing ovation and 4 cold beers.  The groups of hikers waiting to go up gave us the eye.  I had a pretty good idea what they were thinking.  “If they could make it, I can make it.”  So glad to lend the moral support.  Back to the Land Cruiser, it was “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” back down to the highway.

True to form, our trip back home was not without incident.  One of the Magic Tour Toyotas was broken down, parked on the side of the road.  I thought we’d grab the clients, squeeze them into our vehicle and continue home.  Nope.  Joel backed up, hooked up a 10’ nylon tow strap and we were off, towing the other vehicle 10 feet away at 45 miles per hour.  That’s not the best part.  Joel got a call on his cell phone.  There was a police checkpoint ahead.  No problema.  It was on a downhill headed to town from the mountains, so they just disconnected the 2 jeeps.  Our disabled pal then just rolled down the several mile long incline and past the checkpoint.  Fortunately, they didn’t stop him.  When the road flattened out, he stopped and we rehooked him and towed him back to town.  Never a dull moment.  Joel dropped us off at the marina at dusk, and that’s the end of our Ciudad Perdida adventure.

-Later

Bueno Dia,

The Girl all bedded down for our 4 (or 5) day absence, the backpacks loaded and by 07h45 on Monday morning, we were ready to roll.  After spending the whole day in bed, Suz seemed to be on the mend from her G.I. bug-at least she hoped so.  Always game, she never says die.  Sue and Mike, our new Australian friends met us on the dock.  We walked out to the marina gate, where we were to pick up our ride to Magic Tour, in uncharacteristic silence.  Turns out that we were all thinking the same thing:  Were we physically and mentally ready for the arduous 4 days ahead of us?  When we arrived at the office and joined the gang that was waiting there for our 2 hour ride up to Mamey, the starting point of our trek, the uncertainty in my mind just blossomed.  There was no one else in the group of 27 people waiting that was less than 30 years younger than us, and boy, were we getting the eye.  In the end, that sealed the deal for me.  There was no way that I wasn’t gonna do this thing.  I’m pretty sure that my Bride was thinking the same thing.  We were split into 2 parties.  Ours had 13 hikers: a German couple, a Dutch couple, a couple from Italy, 2 guys from Sweden, a guy from Belgium, and the 4 grandparents.  Our local guide, Indio got us all briefed through our translator, Estefan, while their intern Juan loaded our gear onto a couple of Toyota Land Cruisers.  Our driver, Joel was a familiar face-he had driven us up to Mompox a week or so previously.

We arrived in the village of Mamey right around 12h00, just in time for lunch.  As we were eating, groups of hikers were straggling in, looking happy but bedraggled.  Lotsa “High-fivin’” was going on, as they had completed their hike.  Indio gathered us up in front of the topographical representation of our hike painted on the wall and took us through the plan.  Today would be a relatively easy walk.  Four hours, with one steep “up.”  The kicker was that there was no cover for this portion.  “Make sure that you have plenty of sunblock on, wear a hat, and drink lots of water.”  It was HOT.  Even though it was kinda hazy the sun beating down was relentless.  The footing was good, however, 2” of fine white dust covered the path which we shared with Pack Mules and motorbikes.  Fifteen minutes into our first steep “up”, our pal Sue said “I’m not going to make it”.  Well, we certainly weren’t going to make the time that the youngsters were, but we were going to do this thing at our own pace.  And so it went.  Rest stops were well planned.  Just when you thought your heart was going to jump out of your chest, there was the rest of our gang, catching their breath, having a sip, and maybe a snack of fruit.  Then, it was off again.  After a few hours, we passed the last spot accessible by motorbike.  After that, we only had to share the path with mules.  We arrived at the first camp a bit ahead of schedule, even with us taking up the rear.

Okay, so here’s the skinny on the camps:  The sleeping areas were like pole barns without walls-roof only.  The beds consisted of rows of bunks, each encased in mosquito netting side-by-side on a packed dirt floor.  The “mess halls” were rows of long tables and benches situated under a similar wall-less structure, with the galley attached.  All open air.  The toilets were in a separate cinderblock building with the “showers” behind.  These did have walls.  The shower consisted of a ½” pipe coming out of the ceiling, supplied by cold river water.  There weren’t many showers, but you didn’t need to worry about somebody luxuriating in the hot shower.  For Suz and I, the drill was simple:  Arrive at camp, grab a bunk, then head straight to the shower while everyone else was milling around.  Rinse out soaking wet clothes (I’m not exaggerating this one-you could literally wring out your shorts and shirt, you perspired so much) in fresh water.  Dry off with chamois (towel too heavy to pack).  Put on long pants and long-sleeved sleeping clothes and plenty of mosquito repellant.  Sit and chat with the rest of the group for a while, then have dinner.  There weren’t a lot of places to sit and relax, as the seats were just wood benches, and the generator went off around 21h00, so it was off to bed.

Several companies are licensed to trek up to The Lost City, and there are only a couple of camps, so we had as many as 50 people in camp at night.  Licensed?  Yep.  The Colombian government is very attuned to preserving their indigenous population’s ways of life.  The trek to Ciudad Perdida goes through indigenous tribal lands, so the number of hikers is limited, and you MUST go with a licensed company.  Forty percent of the monies collected in fees from hikers goes to the local peoples, and all of the camps are owned by them.  (Quite a contrast with the way that the United States treated our indigenous population).  The trail is closed for 1 month per year while the indigenous folks celebrate their religious season.  The Kogi are the tribal group that inhabit the area of the Sierra Nevadas where Ciudad Perdida is located, however the Arhuacas and the Wiwas, also descendants of the ancient Taironas consider the site sacred as well.  Over the course of the hike, we passed by several Kogi villages.  All of their buildings are constructed of natural materials-wood, bamboo, mud and palm leaves.  Several villages appeared to be abandoned, but Indio informed us that the owners were at their other homes.  The Kogi farm at different elevations, and all families have several homes, so that they can follow their crops.  Smoke was billowing out of the walls and roof of several huts as we passed by.  When a family moves back to their house after living away, the vermin are cleared out by starting a smoky fire in the chimney-less building.

05h00 came mighty early.  Happy Birthday to me.  Got a raise today-went on Medicare!  Out of the comfy pajamas and into the soaking wet clothes from the day before.  With humidity in the 90’s, ain’t nuthin’ drying overnight.  Since your clothes are soaked in sweat an hour after walking, it seemed silly to bring all that extra weight in clean clothes for every day.  The exceptions for us were underwear and socks.  T.M.I!  Breakfast at 05h30.  Our group’s departure time was 06h00.  (The different groups had different departure times, so we rarely saw other hikers on the trail).  Well….we were in a rain forest, and it was the beginning of the rainy season.  It started raining in the morning, and rained off and on (mostly on) for the whole 8 hour walk.  When I say it rained, I mean RAIN.  At times, it was tough to see the scenery across the sheer drop-offs next to the path, the rain was so heavy.  No reason to wear a raincoat, as you were wet anyway.  In fact, with the temperature in the 80’s the rain felt good.  The bad news was that the path was pretty steep.  In places where you weren’t scrambling up rocks, you were hiking up (now slippery) red clay.  The combination of water, mud and Mule deposits made a slip-and-fall a scary prospect.  Okay, that was the crummy part.  The good part was a hundred times better.  At times, the views across verdant green mountains and valleys with no signs of human habitation were breathtaking.  The trail, now fully in the rain forest was covered by a canopy of lush vegetation.  Bird songs, insect sounds and the drone of the rain created a sensory near-overload.  Combined with the sound of your footfalls, the rhythm of your breathing and the beating of your heart, you had your own personal mantra repeating itself throughout the day.  At times, you felt like you were the only person on the trail, as you could neither see nor hear anyone ahead or behind you.  The trail paralleled the Rio Buritaca.  At times, you could hear the water roaring 200 feet below you.  At others, the river was right next to the trail.  I think that we forded the river by hopping from boulder to boulder a couple of times during the day.

The morning hike was punctuated by a rest/snack stop.  Fruit was provided, and liquid in the forms of water, Gatorade or soda was available.  We stopped for lunch a little after midday.  Our cook, Maria had gone on ahead of us and had our second hot meal of the day prepared for us when we arrived.  Lotsa calories and protein at every meal kept us all charged up.  Supplies for the camps are brought up on mules, which we encountered frequently during the day, and heard passing by at night.  After lunch, we were back on the trail for 4 hours, again with a rest stop in the middle.  This pattern would be repeated over the next few days.  At one point, we crossed the river on a one-person platform suspended from a cable and hand-pulled by rope across the gorge.  Very cool.  We arrived in camp tired and wet, but exhilarated.  The next day, we would hike the trail and ascend 1200 steps, arriving at the Lost City four hours after our morning departure.  There was an almost audible buzz in camp that night.  Our translator, Estefan assured us that it never rained in the morning up there.  The generator went off early, as it ran out of gas.  We were too.

-Luego

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