Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Road Trip to Guatemala

Road trip to Guatemala

The decision was made to rent a car and drive to Antigua and Lake Atitlan. Before I go any further I must warn you that I am a little apprehensive about driving in Guatemala. Also David and I do not make for the best driving companions as he seems to have difficulty in accepting navigational instructions. David also likes to go on the road less travelled, another concern of mine as we head into Guatemala.

We did share some experiences with the other cruisers and I decided to bend. At 0830 our rental car was supposed to be delivered. We finally got away at 1100. Normally this would not be an issue but I am getting nervous as it looks like our arrival time to Antigua could be in the dark.

Before we left I told David that I did not want to be driving at night and we must stay on major roads!

After a few wrong roads we finally made it onto our second border crossing option.  We missed the highway turnoff to our first option. But this turned out to be a good one as the border was not busy. We went into the immigration office on the El Salvador side to get your exit slip. Then we got back in our car, crossed the border and went into the Guatemalan immigration office to get our passports stamped. It is really important to make sure that they stamp your passport and circle the Exit symbol. Then our trunk was searched and we were off. The entire crossing took about 15 minutes.

The road conditions were pretty good but the signage along with our maps were very poor. We had Google Earth and PocketEarth on the iPad but a lot of places and roads did not coincide. We could only hope that we were on the correct road. We had a surprise late lunch stop - Guatemalan White Spot! Great hamburger. And it was a good thing as that was our last stop till Antigua.

We were trying to find the cross road (highway 14) to Antigua in order to avoid Guatemala City! No such luck. We found out later why. The road is divided and the cross road comes off the East side of the road. We were driving on the West side of the road. What we were supposed to do was do a u- turn at one of the "returno's", get on the East side of the road and then we would have seen the sign for highway 14. Of course no one told us that and we found ourselves driving through Guatemala City at rush hour - and it is starting to get dark. I am getting  nervous. David is getting nervous and tired. Not a good combination. But with poor signage and the help of the odd traffic cop we managed to stay on a main road that would take us to Antigua. Then David decided to follow the traffic instead of my direction to keep going straight and we ended up on the wrong road. Then we ended up in a mall parking lot and could not get out. We had to stop and ask directions three times before we got it right. And by this time I have had just a little meltdown!

But finally we end up on the correct road and in Antigua. We found our hotel and only had to ask for directions once. I should add - David also acts like the typical male - hates to stop and ask for directions. He would just rather drive around and around and take more wrong turns. Being apprehensive about conversing in Spanish makes him even less willing to ask for directions! 

So we have arrived at San Jorge - a wonderful bed and breakfast type hotel. We can park on site. The rooms surround a beautiful garden and fountain. 

Evelyn was the owner and our host and she was wonderful. We were both exhausted and a bit ( David would say a bit more than a bit) miserable so we just got in our room and went to bed.

The next day we had a wonderful breakfast of fresh orange juice, fruit, granola, toast and coffee and went exploring the town. All businesses and homes and hotels can be found behind brick walls. So you have to be very nosy as you go past open doorways. Quite often you will find beautiful courtyards and lots of shops within the interiors of these walls. I did help support the local economy which helped to get me out of my funk. It is a great city to walk around in. The shopping is great. But my favorite part was the colorful traditional clothing of the people - mostly the women and girls. 

The Arch

The traditional dress.

A different way to buy fresh produce

Me bartering! Who gets this scarf?

Getting ready for Easter and another display of carpets made with colored sawdust.

Another beautiful church.

We went for dinner at an incredible restaurant - incredible for the food as well as the decor. We felt like we were in the old home of some rich Guatemalan. Okay - I am now out of my funk! 

Volcano Fuego is often letting off steam.

The next day we took a tour up the volcano Pacaya. I told David we were NOT driving! And it was a good thing because we never would have found it. The drive to get there was over an hour. Then one and a half hours to walk up and the same down. But it was incredible! It was like doing 5 Mount Doug's. Sure glad I have been swimming so my lungs could handle the climb. The quads were a bit sore for the next few days however.

We made it!

We were near them top when we noticed signs for the Lava Store. Yeh!  David just shook his head. Leave it to me to find shopping at the top of a volcano! 

We found a little souvenir for Sadie. But the best was our guide - Lionel pulls out a bag of marshmallows, directs us down to a place where the lava is still hot from a small explosion last year, hands us each a stick and points us to some openings where we can roast our marshmallows. That was just the coolest thing ever. I felt like I was five!

Back to town where we went for an inexpensive dinner recommended by a local. I had a traditional chicken stew called pelcain and David had Chile Relano's. I must go on line and find that recipe for the stew. It had lots of vegetables and chicken in a tomato type sauce with chilies, pumpkin seeds, cinnamon and other unknown spices.

Next morning we got in the car and started on our drive to Lake Atatlan. David won out again and we took the side highway! At least it was daylight. But what should have cut our distance in half doubled our time. Now I have to admit that the countryside was beautiful. We drove through a lot of farmland. But then we started through the canyon. Now I did not have a meltdown this time but I did spend the entire time with my fists clenched and stomach on edge. Oh did I tell you that at one point the road was washed out?

 Only reason why I let David try it - two vehicles ahead of us managed it even though one was a small truck and the other a gas truck! The entire road must have been washed out with the rains. Now the road is sand. But then it is paved again with many potholes. Then we cross over a mudslide! But respectable vehicles are ahead of us and going the opposite way. I am sorry there are not very many pictures - no place to turn off and too nervous.

But finally we make it to Panejachel and our hotel. The lake is beautiful with weather changing from morning to afternoon to night. 

My only disappointment was the lack of acceptable places to swim. Some of the hotels across the lake had docks that your could jump off of but in order to stay there yet would have to leave your car parked on the other side and take a boat across. We did not feel comfortable doing that. But shopping was great and we did manage another trek in the Nature Reserve which was great.

Getting there in our Tuk Tuk

Beautiful orchids

Next day we got up early. After a wonderful breakfast with real home fries we started our trip back to El Salvador. The road was a bit better and we made fairly good time to the border. It was a good thing that we were warned about the border. The trucks are backed up for a good 10 kilometers. 

We were told to just go in the oncoming lane and pass them all. You have to physically go into the immigration office on both sides but their was no line up and we were across in 5 minutes.

We stopped at La Liberstad for a wonderful lunch and a visit to the fish market. That was fantastic. We scored 2 kilos of shrimp for $24. And they were the big ones! Then we stopped at the grocery store to provision. We figured that we might as well take advantage of having a vehicle.

We made it back to the marina before dark.

I have to admit that I was glad that David talked me into the road trip. I am not sure when I became such a nervous backseat driver - might have something to do with never going more than 6 knots! And then there are all the stories that you hear about driving in Guatemala. But we had no issues. The people were all very helpful. What did I like the best? The colorful clothes that the indigenous people wear. They were truly beautiful!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Crossing the Bar at Bahia del Sol, El Salvador

Crossing the Bar at Bahia del Sol in El Salvador

Bienvenido a El Salvador!

Before I start this little story I must share a moment with you. A couple of days ago David asked me if it was the second or third of March. My reply - "I didn't even know that it was March!". I know - comments like this must really make you shake your head! 

And now to really piss you off further - the other day I heard that with the wind chill factor it was -33C in Sault Ste. Marie and it was + 33C on that day in Chiapas!

Now back to the adventure!

A sandbar guards the entrance to Bahia del Sol - Bay of the Sun - and our stopping point in El Salvador. Crossing a bar can be a challenging adventure as we so often discovered along the Pacific Coast of the United States. These bars, however, were well marked with navigational buoys and lights and break waters that extended well into the ocean. No such luxuries here. We had made arrangements to have a local pilot (guide) and Bill (an American local who assists cruisers with just about everything) to meet us outside the bar at 1330. As we crossed an area as designated by their coordinates we tried to make out the opening. 

There always seemed to be large waves breaking at all points along the coast. No way could we pick up the opening on our own.

If you remember my description about doing a surf landing with the Dinghie - well this is kind of the same thing except on a much bigger scale. So you are not going to do this on your own. The marina provides the services of the guide and Bill for free. I imagine if they did not than people would just bi-pass this delightful lagoon and carry on to the next port.

So all these arrangements were made ahead of time at a time when there is a high slack tide. If you mss this time or the conditions are too dangerous than you will be directed to anchor in a very exposed open surf until the next day. We had to do that from about 0730 to 1230 and believe me it was not fun! Very rolly and even though we were exhausted from little sleep there was no sleep to be had.

We were instructed to have all port holes and hatches secured, to run the engine at high speed for 5 minutes to ensure that it would not over heat and to ensure that everything was stowed. We even put our boat papers and passports and money and computers in the water proof bag in case we took a wave. Are we nervous yet? Remember we are not in the dinghie! We are on our boat!

We had to circle around a couple of times in order to get lined up properly as 8-10 foot waves are breaking around us. The guide was watching the surf and waiting for that break. 

As soon as he saw the lull we were instructed to apply full throttle, keep the boat perpendicular to the wave and GO! The wave picked our boat up 

and we surfed down the other side, 

over the bar with 10 feet of water under the keel.
We were lucky as we only had to surf over the one wave and then we were through.

Our guide sure can read those waves. As with crossing the Tahuantepec, actually crossing the bar was a snap. We followed the panga into the marina and were immediately greeted with a large welcoming committee. Al was there to grab our lines.

Customs and Immigration, other cruisers, Jean and Bill and the bartender with two Cuba Libre's. We were welcomed to Bahia del Sol and congratulated for crossing the bar. I tell you a drink never tasted so good.

Jean and Bill, who also organize the El Salvador rally, gave us a wonderful folder with lots of information about the area. Then we took our drinks and followed the officials up to the office to get our clearance documents for El Salvador. Within 20 minutes we were all checked in. Smooth as silk. Then we went over to the hotel/ Marina office, arranged Moorage for at least a week, 60 cents per foot per day, paid the weekly fee of $14 per boat to use the pool and showers, get $1 beer and 30% off the restaurant and we were back at the boat.

Marova and Confidence secure at the dock.

 I already had my bathing suit on so it took me no time at all to get into that pool!

I immediately liked the feel of the place. It took me a couple of days to figure out why that was - it really reminded me of Belize. The marina is on the lagoon side with docks reaching into the lagoon and mangrove along the shore. 

So we will stay here for a couple of weeks to enjoy the people and the area and get some serious swimming in. We will go on a road trip to Guatemala next week. So stay tuned for the next installment!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Chiapas to Bahia del Sol, El Salvador

Chiapas to Bahia del Sol, El Salvador

The parts saga is coming to a close! The correct extrusions ( sleeves) arrived on Wednesday morning. Along with another $200.00 tax bill. David emailed Defender and they agreed to give us a credit for that amount as it was their error. I personally feel that they should also give us a big gift certificate for our troubles but such was not the case.

So David and Wayne and I spent the day putting the roller furling together on the dock. 

Then Wayne and I hauled David up the mast and installed it on the boat. 

Then the sail went on and finally we were back to having a cutter rig and Confidence was smiling! I also kept the boys smiling with roast chicken and cranberry sandwiches for lunch and Indian Coconut Currie for dinner - and a couple of celebratory cerveza's.

So Thursday we did a final provisioning at Walmart, topped up the water tanks and got the laundry taken care of.

Friday involved a trip to the Port Captain, Customs and immigration. This is one thing that Marina Chiapas needs to be commended for. Enrique and Memo ensure that all of your documents are in order. Then Memo drives you to the various offices which is greatly appreciated as they are 3-5 km away and in three different locations.

Final phone calls to home. We were able to talk to everyone except my sister Susan - it was moving day for them so all I could do was leave a message.

Saturday afternoon the Port Captain and the army dope/money sniffing dog came onto the boat for our final clearance (Zarpe). 

The dog did not find any large sums of money on the boat - we had already given all of that to Defenders, Customs and the marina!

We originally entered Mexico on November 1' 2013 and are leaving today - February 27 2015. And we both have to admit to being just a little bit sad. Except for the issues of bringing parts and Mail into the country, we really loved Mexico!

First and foremost are the people. They are happy people and always ready to greet you with a smile and a Buena Dias or a Buena Tardis or a Buena Noches. They may not work really fast - but then who can at temperatures in the low 30 C's. But they work hard at 6 days a week and often hold down more than one job. Sunday or holidays were my favorite as that is family day. It was nothing to see large groups of people at the beach with their food and drinks, young and old, just having fun. I cannot count on one hand the number of times I heard a kid cry. 

It kind of reminded me of our Sunday trips to Batchewana Bay - with Mom's wonderful ribs and toast and peanut butter cooked on the open fire. Our family was not into Smore's!

The geography of the country is quite spectacular, with mountains and active volcanoes and waterfalls and beaches. Our favorites cities were Oaxaca, San Cristobal and Pelanque. Other highlights included the coffee plantations,  fruit orchards and of course, the Mayan and Aztac ruins.

And of course there was the food! We loved the food, especially all the fresh fruit.

So Thank You Mexico (mucho gracias) for sharing your country and your people with us. We will be sure to return.

1705: away from the dock with smiles on our faces. There is always an immediate change in our disposition when we get back on the water. It's the way one feels after climbing back into your own bed after a long road trip.

1715: at the opening of the channel. There is a slight chop with a 4 foot swell. 

1730: we have passed the breakwater and will be motoring for the first little while. David went to set the autopilot only to find out that it was not working. Guess we are into a night of manual steering. ? Loose wire. But it is getting dark and the seas are a little to rough to be playing around in the pit so we will make do.

1930: passing a net light on the port side - fishing vessel about 3 nm ahead.

1955: passed the fishing vessel abut 2 nm to port.

2030: steering 150* with an average speed of 4.5 knots. The seas have moderated a little. There is a teaser wind out of the south but not enough to keep the sails full with this swell.

2050: the light at Rio Suchaite, which marks the border between Mexico and Guatemala, is abeam

2100: BA is up. Dinner tonight is a homemade Mexican Chicken Tomato and Tortilla Soup.

0023: another fishing boat on the starboard side this time.

 0054: abeam Champerica, Guatemala. There should be a white light visible at 13 miles but I am unable to see it. It is the end of my watch - do not have to wake up the Captain as his sixth sense has kicked in and he is up.

 0245: Westbound cruise ship off our starboard beam.

 0600: you can tell when David has done a watch as there are not too many entries in the Blog! 
BA is up.
Sun is up.
Sails are up.
Monitor is on.
Coffee is on.
Captain is down.

A couple of Dolphins came by to say Good Morning. We are motor sailing and trying to maintain a speed around 5 knots in order to time our crossing at the bar at Bahia del Sol, El Salvador for a rising tide.
The winds are blowing around 5-7 knots and seas are rippled.

1000: Captain is up. Good because I am starving!  All night long I have been thinking about what to make for breakfast. Huevos Rancheros or Ranch Eggs, as most of you know, is a very popular breakfast - eggs on a tortilla with some kind of red sauce. Every time we order this it is different, sometimes excellent, sometimes ho hum. So I have decided to take some of the ideas from my more favorite dishes and make my own. I may have come up with the best Huevos Rancheros ever - though sitting in the cockpit with no land in site, surrounded by azure water and sunshine and enjoying such decadence might have something to do with it!

                               Huevos Rancheros for Dos

2 6" tortillas
4 tbsps of Black beans: your own or canned or retried
                                       Warm up and spread them over the tortilla

1 tbsp oil
1/3 sliced white onion
1/3 sliced yellow pepper
1/3 sliced red pepper
8 tbsp pickled jalapeƱo - diced
2 cloves of garlic - diced
2 fresh Roma tomatoes - diced
2 tbsp of tomato sauce
1 tsp oregano
2 tbsp fresh lime juice

Cook down for about 10-15 minutes leaving the peppers and onion with a bit of a crunch.

Crack 4 eggs in a non- stick frying pan.
Turn heat on medium.
Cook to preferred fineness - basically by the time the pan reaches temperature the whites should be cooked and the yolks runny!

Divide the sauce over the beans and tortilla.
Divide the eggs over the sauce
Grate at little bit of Manchego or Monterey Jack Cheese

Noon Position:13* 57.3 N 91* 21.8W

1215: wind is shifting to southerly

1300: motor off. Southerly winds at 6-7 knots and we are maintaining 3.5 to 4 knots

1543: we have travelled 100 nm. We are starting to lose our wind and painfully maintaining 3 knots. I do see a wind line up ahead - it gave us a little push up to 4.2 knots before the sun goes down.

1800: radio check in scheduled with Marova. No response.

1825: container ship " Hansa Kirkenes" came up for, astern. How do we know it's name? It shows up on the AIS! That is cool! It gives you the name and the course and the closest point of approach. He was about 1.2 nm off the starboard side and no threat to us

1825: furled in the Genoa. Motor on. Which wakes me up. So I make some tea and send the Captain to bed.
The skies are clear and the moon is 74% which makes for good visibility.

2330: Genoa is unfurled. Engine is off. Makes it nice and quiet for me to get some sleep. But as the night progressed the winds picked up to greater than 15 knots and Dave was sailing 6-7 knots. This woke me up as I could hear him playing with the sails. This was faster than we wanted to go in order to time our crossing of the bar so he reduced sail on the Genoa. Eventually slowed us back down to about 3.5 knots. I know it sounds silly to want to slow down - I mean we are finally going hull speed and should be enjoying it. But certain things are all about timing and when you are talking weather and tides and currents on the seas - well Mother Nature rules!

0400: BA is back on watch. The moon has set which has allowed the stars to light up the sky. 

First time I could make out Scorpio so clearly.

0600: battling to keep 2 knots and having to come off course to do that so I rolled in the Genoa and turned on the motor.

0616: sun is a big red ball rising in the east and the wind is on our nose! With the main still up and the Monitor engaged, Confidence is able to maintain a course of 090*. With the Autopilot out of commission it is nice that the Monitor is able to help out. Look Mom - no hands!

 0800: David decides to test the watermarker. It seems a bit odorous at first but settled down after running it for awhile.

1100: the wind has picked up to 10-15 knots again. We tried slowing it down this time with a reefed main and just the stay sail. Pleasant 4.5 knots. Monitor is maintaining our course of 060 and we are now in El Salvador! David trims the sails!

1130: Watermaker started overheating and tripped the breaker.

1200 Noon Position 13* 25.407 N. 89* 43.696 W

1330: 5 miles offshore. Wind is southerly at 6 knots. We passed a couple of fishing boats with well marked nets.

1400: seas have calmed down a bit. So I decided to do some preparations for dinner - Pico de Gallo and Chicken Quesadillas. All I'll have to do when we are ready to eat is turn on the frying pan and heat then up.

On a constant lookout for fishing boats and nets. But it looks like they are running them along the 114 foot contour lines. And we are traveling on the 139 foot line so we should be okay. Managing to just keep the sails full and traveling a whomping 2 knots.

Coastline of El Salvador looks a bit arid. It is definitely the land of volcanoes.

1630: BA tries for a siesta.

1800: David makes contact with Marova. Of course this woke me up so the Captain owes me an hour on my next watch. Might as well get up and heat those Quesadilla's. Sure glad I had prepared them earlier as it was quite lumpy. I couldn't even write in my journal. I went back to sleep and managed to get 3 hours.

2300: while I was asleep David decided to turn on the Autopilot to test it out and for some reason it just started to work! Who knows what was going on there but we were grateful to have the break from manually steering.

The air is very warm and the moon is up - 88% tonight. The moon is so bright that I can almost write in this journal without the help of my flashlight!I had to alter course to 070 to avoid 3 fisherman. The El Salvadorian fisherman seem to do a better job with maintaining lights and floats than the Mexicans.

0118: the last 2.5 hours seemed to go by really fast. Looking out for fishermen and writing in the journal helps to pass the time.

0153: Are we awake now? A fisherman in a panga turned on his lights just as I passed him - maybe half a boat length away. And then I came pretty close to a float so I pulled back on the throttle just to make sure that I had not picked up his net. This woke David up so he put the searchlight on. Everything was okay but as soon as he put the searchlight on other panga's flashed their lights. So we figured that we may not know where these guys are but they sure know where we are. After David went back to bed a couple more fisherman flashed their lights - just so I would know their location. I was on a course well away from them so they just flashed a couple of times and then shut it down. Communication. On the open seas. - without a radio!

0400: night sky is starting to lighten up. Quite a few planes flying overhead - probably from the military base. The moon has dipped below the clouds and is acting like a searchlight on the stern of our boat. Beautiful!

0719: we are approaching the entrance to the bar but are way ahead of schedule. Bill has contacted us from the marina and gave us the waypoints for anchoring and for the meeting place.

So we dropped the anchor in 40 feet of water and rolled around till noon. We tried to catch up on some sleep but that was almost impossible with the surf and the wind. 

1200: raised the anchor and started moving towards the meeting place getting a bit apprehensive as we watched the surf crashing on the beach and on the gap. Our friends had taken a large wave in the cockpit when they went across the bar just last week so we were a bit nervous.

Stay tuned for the next installment of the crossing of the Bar! And remember that is sandbar and not a place where one consumes alcohol - though some alcohol was consumed after we crossed it!