Posted by: Sailing Camelot | June 5, 2013

Back in the Good Ol’ U.S. of A. !

As I write this post I’m realizing that we’ve been sitting pretty on U.S. waters for the last 15 days!

I’ve been slacking, admittedly, but I have a valid excuse. A whole lots of changes happened within this short period!

But before getting into all of that, here’s a recount of our dramatic return to the United States. Because, you know,

WE’RE BACK!

We left Isla Mujeres early morning on May 18th, eager to get the crossing of the Gulf of Mexico over and done with, and set course straight for the South West coast of Florida.

With an estimated +/- 470 NM to go, we knew it would take us three full days and two nights to get there.

The final destination in our crosshairs, Punta Gorda, is nested all the way up Charlotte Harbor Bay on the estuary of the Peace River.

Our trip was quite rough for the first two days; not very pleasant, but bearable. The third day was spectacular, an absolute gift: sunshine, calm seas, plenty of dolphins traveling with us for hours: a veritable made-to-order day! Totally perfect, just devoid of the wind we needed to sail… So we resigned to motor-sailing the whole way.

I spent most of my time straddling the bow and interacting with “my” dolphins, couldn’t have been any happier.

But just as we approached the entrance to Charlotte Harbor, with a couple/three more hours to get to Punta Gorda, the weather suddenly turned ugly.

It looked like a squall was ahead of us, so we braced for a little wind and some annoying rain.

Greyness here ...

Greyness here …

Big Clouds there...

Big Clouds there…

Within minutes and without warning, however, we got caught in the Storm from Hell which was voted hands down

THE ABSOLUTE WORST we have seen in 9,500 nautical miles of cruising!

The buoys marking the entrance to Charlotte Harbor vanished from sight; we were suddenly engulfed in the ominous dark greyness of the storm.

Constant lightning forming an “X” at the mouth of the bay kept us effectively out, like a high-voltage electrified gate, making us wonder if this was a bad omen… Maybe we were not meant to be in Punta Gorda, our chosen home-base, after all?

No time to dwell on that…Mother Nature’s special effects kept us on our toes.

NOT looking good...

NOT looking good…

The winds intensified, creating very confused seas and really tall waves. There was no escaping this: we had to go through it, period.

Tom basically pulled a “U” turn and went back out to sea trying to outrun the storm, hoping to skip the worst of it; but we still ended up being run over like roadkill…

We endured 45 knots of sustained winds with terrifying long gusts clocking at 62 knots – just a smidge under the Hurricane One level mark -, scary-crazy seas and torrential, fire-hose-quality rain.

We wore our high-tech sailing gear, yet were soaked in minutes. The water in the cockpit was sloshing around our ankles, first time we’ve ever seen that happen!

For about an hour Tom struggled against the elements, relying on his full 30+ years of sailing experience, his mariner’s instincts and every ounce of common sense. He pulled every trick he knows to keep Camelot as steady as possible. It was quite a fight, a brutal, drenched wet rodeo…

At the same time he was communicating via radio with a couple of other vessels is distress, eventually leaving them to the Coast Guard to deal with. Not much we could do to help, being in the same situation…

Where was I during all this? Too stunned to even freak out, I just sat there quiet as a mouse, hanging on for dear life. Looking back, it was quite terrifying. At the time, however, an unnatural calm enveloped me. It was just “breathe in, breathe out, try not to choke on the rain”. Tom kept his cool, like he always does in emergencies, though his eyes were a little bigger than usual… Like, uh, small saucers…

But we escaped unhurt and with no damages: finally we managed to arrive to destination, entering Fishermen’s Village Marina just 10 minutes before midnight on Monday May 20th.

With some difficulty we found our designated slip in the dark, only to find out that it wasn’t deep enough for our draft and our rudder was sticking in the muddy bottom!

We tried sneaking in another couple of empty spots, Cinderella-style, looking for a slip that would fit. No such luck.

Frustrated and bone-tired, we decided to tie up to the fuel dock for the night and figure it all out in the morning.

Exhausted and on zombie-pilot we safely tied up to the dock, then shuffled to bed only to find our bedding soaked all the way to the mattress! A hatch in the cockpit had been left open just a sliver for ventilation, and we forgot about it. All that water sloshing around during the storm found its way to our bed… *groan*.

So we had to move all the *crap* we keep piled up on the forward berth (which is slightly smaller) and finally collapsed unconscious for a few hours. Hey, we made it!

Thank you, Florida, for the warm welcome… *dripping sarcasm here*

The next morning we were assigned to a slip that fit (yay!) and settled Camelot in, finally taking a minute to briefly assess the new neighborhood. We like!

Like nothing ever happened...

Storm? What storm? Welcome to Punta Gorda!

Fishermen's Village Marina, aka Fishville

Fishermen’s Village Marina, better known as Fishville.

Dock "B"

Dock “B”

Tom assessing our new backyard, and approving...

Tom assessing our new backyard, and approving…

After that, it was time for legalities: we rented a car and drove to the Ft Myers International Airport to proudly announce our presence in the Nation, after an almost 33-month-long absence.

Sounds pompous, doesn’t it… It was, in reality, quite subdued…

The very courteous Customs Official who checked us back in the Country was not impressed in the least, but welcomed us back regardless…

We’re now legal.

Poor Old Glory (actually only 3 weeks old) was the only casualty of the storm.

Poor Old Glory (actually only 3 weeks old) was the only casualty of the storm.

You’d think we’d rest for a few days, right? Nope!

By Wednesday May 22nd we’d already seen and chosen our new house, on Thursday 23rd we bought a car and on Friday 24th our offer on the house was accepted.

How’s that for moving fast?

Everything went so smoothly, even buying our new-to-us car was such a quick occurrence that it felt almost prearranged!

We were returning from a meeting with the mortgage broker, driving our rental car through a neighborhood of car dealerships and used car lots on the way back to the Marina.

I casually mentioned to Tom that we might want to start thinking about looking for a car pretty soon… Suddenly he turned sharply into the first dealership (Toyota), which also had a used cars lot.

“Well, no time like the present!”, he said. “Just to take a look”, he reassured me, while I shook my head (I’m not fond of Toyotas)… But there’s no harm in looking, right?

Twenty minutes later we were seated in front of Ed the salesman, signing ownership papers. And that was AFTER our test drive! What can I say: when you know you know.

So, please welcome our newest addition: a beautiful pre-owned Volkswagen Passat station wagon (I like to haul big stuff!), gunmetal gray in color with black leather interior, in exceptionally good condition and with low mileage. All we wanted in a car, really! As soon as I sat in it, I said “Tom, this is IT!”

I have a passion for German machines, two or four wheels, it doesn’t matter…I named her “Das Panzer Tank”!

Everybody, meet "Das Panzer Tank" (it's the one with wheels...)

Everybody, meet “Das Panzer Tank” (it’s the one with wheels…)

So, as you can see, already there have been a few dramatic changes in our lives.

My desire for a home-base is being fulfilled, while Tom is agreeable to keep cruising on a part-time basis; we’re both very excited about living a different lifestyle and are very eager to discover Florida as residents.

We’re definitely NOT done cruising, let me assure you. No swallowing the anchor for us just yet. We just decided to enjoy the best of both worlds!

More on the house that stole my heart, and that we’ll shortly call home, in the next post!

And no, I won’t make you wait too long. Here’s a sneak peek.

Here's a preview... Yes, there's a dock. And it will be longer in a few weeks...

View from the canal. Yes, there’s a dock. And it will be even longer within a few weeks… with Camelot tied up to it.

Posted by: Sailing Camelot | May 9, 2013

Isla Mujeres – Reunions, Separations, and Changes

Oh My, Isla Mujeres, how you’ve changed!

Tribute to the Whale Shark!

Tribute to the Whale Shark!

Welcome to Isla Mujeres!

Welcome to Isla Mujeres!

Last time I visited this pretty island was February 2002… I did expect some growth and development over the past eleven years, but what I found was… Well… A smaller version of Cancun!

Approaching Isla Mujeres

Approaching Isla Mujeres

Or should I call it "Little Cancun" now?

Or should I call it “Little Cancun” now?

Nah, maybe I’m exaggerating a little… On crowded days yes, it looks just like your average tourist place, with people hustling for business and shop owners frantically waving in and relentlessly pursuing the visitors.

But then there are those quiet, magic hours, usually in the early to mid-morning, when you can clearly see the beauty and feel the true spirit of the Island.

I take great pleasure in walking the tiny, meandering streets, guided solely by the next brightly colored building, or by a glimpse of the dazzling Caribbean Blue Sea beckoning behind palm fronds.

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Blinding white beaches of fine, powdery sand and sparkling aqua-turquoise waters, temperature in the high 80s: my version of Paradise!

This side of Mexico -the Caribbean side- is quite different from the Pacific Mexico I fell in love with. Certainly much more developed and more than a touch too touristy. But its people remain the same, regardless of which side: sunny, smiling, friendly.

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Oh, how I missed Mexico!

Well, I guess we’ll get our fill of this lovely country and its rich, lusciously flavorful food.

We’re planning on staying at least until mid-May; considering we’ve been here already over three weeks (since April 13th), there will be plenty more time to enjoy.

Isla Mujeres also happens to be a busy hub for cruising boats. Many boats and crews we haven’t seen in whole months are gathered here, planning their next trip in whichever direction.

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It makes for some good, festive reunions but also for some awful Adios… You finally get to see people you haven’t seen in ages, people you missed; you catch up on each other’s experiences and plans, only to help them untie their lines just a few days (sometimes just hours!) later. As they leave for points beyond, you wonder if you’ll ever see them again.

I hate goodbyes with a passion by now. We had to say so many of them so many times that I don’t even show up when friends leave anymore. People who know me are aware of this and understand, others who know me a little less may think I’m just a rude, uncaring bitch… To them I say “Sorry, people, just trying to save me from some grief…” That final greeting just hurts.

Frankly, this is the single negative about cruising and I am mighty tired of it.

Good friends leaving us behind

Good friends leaving us behind

I'm tired of good-byes...

I’m tired of looking at my friends’ backs…

 

Anyway, enough complaining about things I can’t change…

For those like us who came from the Pacific North West, also known as “The Other Side”, a common plan is to cross the Gulf of Mexico and catch the Gulf Stream all the way to Florida. Many friends are going up the Eastern seaboard; others will conclude their cruising life by selling the boat and return to a somewhat forgotten land life.

No matter how you put it, Isla Mujeres for us cruisers is sort of a Turning Point: from here on, plans change, life takes a turn.

Big decisions ahead: do we look worried?

Big decisions ahead: do we look worried?

Speaking of plans: let me tell you how ridiculous it is to even contemplate wasting your time making them… The only constant of this lifestyle is change. That’s all the wisdom I gathered in 32 months of cruising, and I’m sticking to it!

Our plans (yes, we waste time making them, too) today are different from what they were last month, or even last week for that matter…

For many reasons too tedious and convoluted to explain, we came up with this latest development: once we leave Isla Mujeres and Mexico behind, we’ll aim for Florida. So far, so normal, right?

Here’s the twist: we plan (here’s that damn useless word again!) to stop in Florida for a few months, taking a break from the cruising life, regrouping and figuring out what we want to do when we grow up.

And here’s the juicy bit: I schemed and connived until I convinced Tom to buy me a house (GASP!).

Nope, we’re certainly not done cruising; there’s still a good portion of the world we want to explore. But I feel like taking a land break, and convinced Tom he needs one too. I did mention the scheming and conniving part, right?

Anyway, we’re thinking of trying the 6 months on – six months off routine, try the part-time cruising so many others so successfully enjoy. We’ll see where that takes us.

To be honest I have mixed feeling, like I always do about everything.

I want a Palapa just like this in my future home!

I want a Palapa just like this in my future home!

I'm happy just thinking about it!

I’m happy just thinking about it!

I’m quite excited at the thought of living on land for a while, doing landlubbers’ stuff. At the same time I’m mildly apprehensive about reentering the USA. Will it feel like a foreign country after almost three years away? Probably!

We’ve been living in total freedom for a long time, making and breaking our own rules any which way we liked. Are we going to feel repressed? Is it going to be tough to readjust?

Will we be swallowed whole by the American Way of life? I hope not… I didn’t miss the sensationalist, negative, endless stream of news, the race to buy stuff and more stuff, the constant “noise” in the background and foreground that prevented me from thinking clearly… Maybe now, knowing a simpler, different way to exist, I’ll be able to enjoy the best of both worlds? It remains to be seen, but I’m eager to find out.

On the other hand, I see many positive aspects of having a home base. For one, we’ll have a place where we can welcome family and friends to visit!  Not to mention those big bushes of basil and rosemary I’m envisioning growing on the porch… I’m looking forward to the conveniences I used to take for granted: a fully stocked grocery store, a night at the movies, boat parts readily available. New friends! Developing hobbies… Classes in photography, perhaps?

This portrait could be improved with some photography classes!

This Iguana portrait could be improved with some photography classes!

It will be interesting to see how we adapt to the new environment, and if it gets to be too much… We still have the opportunity to escape again, should we feel too “trapped”…

But I’m letting my mind run away from me. Must not forget to live in the present! Especially while the present is so pleasant…

As it turns out, the weather won’t be favorable for at least another week, so we’re not going anywhere until May 15th for sure.

Oh, bummer… The house hunt will just have to wait.

We’re stuck playing tourists for a while longer!

Clever Advertising or Fair Warning ???

Clever Advertising or Fair Warning ???

Posted by: Sailing Camelot | April 17, 2013

Back to Mexico on Easter Day

38 ½ hours in a washing machine, and not the gentle cycle: that’s what the trip from Roatan to Mexico felt like.

It has to be said though, that between the winds and a finally favorable current our sturdy Camelot was gracefully gliding at a steady 7 ½ knots, reaching over 9 knots at times.

Tom held up like a trooper, like he always does, while I finally joined the ranks of those who occasionally get seasick.

Yes, after 11, 015 nautical miles without so much of a hint of queasiness, I too joined the Hurling Hos Club, earned a membership to the Barfing Sisterhood, and changed my name to Barfin’ Betty…

I know, I know: too much information… But it is a big deal for me! Made me realize I am human after all and not all that tough, either. Quite humbling, really…

Anyway, that was my re-entry into Mexico. Hurray.

We are now in gorgeous Puerto Morelos, Mexico, safely tied up to a solid dock at the El Cid Marina. A short distance away the enormous luxury El Cid hotel complex extends for a long stretch of the beach.

 

Camelot at Rest in Marina El Cid

Camelot at Rest in Marina El Cid

 

We're at the end of this long dock

We’re at the end of this very long dock

 

Marina El Cid, Puerto Morelos

Marina El Cid, Puerto Morelos

 

This is still Semana Santa, the extended Mexican (and Central American) Easter Holiday that coincides with the American Spring Break, rendering any tourist spot impossibly crowded.

Lucky for us, the Marina is pretty immune to the disease, we can find peace and quiet on our boat when the craziness gets unbearable.

The Marina is just two Km away from the quaint little town of Puerto Morelos, which lies spot in the middle between Cancun (37 Km to the North) and Playa del Carmen (35 Km to the South). Perfect logistics for our explorations!

Puerto Morelos

Puerto Morelos

 

Colorful railing!

Colorful railing!

 

 

Pto Morelos Beach

Puerto Morelos Beach

 

The New Lighthouse

The New Lighthouse

 

Thanks to my good friend Mike, who has been here before, we were introduced to The Little Mexican Cooking School  in Puerto Morelos.

 

We were here !!!

We were here !!!

 

We both ended up attending a cooking class taught by Chef Marcus Marin.

 

Cocoa Beans.. The source

Cocoa Beans.. The source

 

... and the End Product!

… and the End Product!

 

Our patient teacher, Chef Marcus Marin

Our patient teacher, Chef Marcus Marin

 

Yes, Tom can now make Tortillas.

Yes, Tom can now make Tortillas.

 

Tom making Tamales

Tom making Tamales

 

It was a fun day of learning about the local cuisine, dabbling with Mexican food and eating our results!

 

Finally we get to eat our efforts!

Finally we get to eat our efforts!

 

Dessert! Always my favorite.

Dessert! Always my favorite.

 

Should you ever get the chance, I strongly recommend this experience.

Of course there had to be the mandatory Mayan ruins tour, so we rented a car and drove to Tulum.

 

There was some adjusting involved, but Tom finally managed to fit in the rental car.

There was some adjusting involved, but Tom finally managed to fit in the rental car.

 

Tulum, the Mayan city also known as Zama

Tulum, the Mayan city also known as Zama

 

The imposing ruins and dramatic views, although a little bit of a tourist trap, were well worth the visit.

 

Right on the water!

Right on the water!

Imposing structure, still standing tall!

Imposing structure, still standing tall!

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Prime real estate, overlooking the ocean...

Prime real estate, overlooking the ocean…

Mayan Ritual re-enactment

Mayan Ritual re-enactment

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Once the crows left at the end of the Easter holidays, we spent a lot of time on the beautiful beach and in the gigantic pool of the El Cid complex, waiting for favorable weather to get to our next destination.

The weather this year has been really screwy, with all those cold fronts the USA had to endure producing strong winds and very choppy seas down here.

But the perfect weather showed up once more, so it’s time to leave!

 

Thanks for the hospitality, Puerto Morelos!

Thanks for the hospitality, Puerto Morelos!

 

Next destination: Isla Mujeres.

Posted by: Sailing Camelot | April 5, 2013

Roaming Roatan

True to form, the originally planned two-week stop has been stretched to twice the length.

Sometimes I wonder why we even make plans at all… We’ve been in Roatan for a month now!

I blame it on the weather…

Let’s just say we’ve been waiting for the perfect conditions to leave, and we’ve been particularly picky on what would be considered perfect …

It’s hard to tear ourselves away from this place: we’ve been spoiled senseless here at Barefoot Cay Resort and Marina    and we took a liking to that…

It’s healthy every now and then to take a break from the cruising life; Barefoot Cay is the perfect place for a vacation, and it was time for us to enjoy a second honeymoon… I have about a thousand more excuses to justify our prolonged stay, but do I really need to?

I mean, come on, just look at this place and give me one good reason why we should leave!

Camelot at rest at the Barefoot Cay Marina

Camelot at rest at the Barefoot Cay Marina

The whole resort is tastefully designed for the guests' comfort

The whole resort is tastefully designed for the guests’ comfort

This is mostly where we spent our days...

This is mostly where we spent our days…

The POOL!

The POOL!

Our floating home, conveniently parked about 30 feet from the pool

Our floating home, conveniently parked about 30 feet from the pool

Peaceful corner to relax just three steps from the boat

Peaceful corner to relax just three steps from the boat

The mini-ferry connecting you to land stops here

The mini-ferry connecting you to land stops here

The narrow channel separating the resort from the rest of the island

The narrow channel separating the resort from the rest of the island

The building housing the Dive Center, more accommodations and shops

The building housing the Dive Center, more accommodations and shops

The Mini Ferry

The Mini Ferry

The Palapa, picturesque and relaxing spot

The Palapa, picturesque and relaxing spot

Besides, we both fell in love with the resident Parrot of Barefoot Cay.

Chacarron Kennedy, a star in its own right, is the only bird I know who has its own Facebook page – and boasting a lot more friends than I have!

He has free reign of the Cay, but prefers to hang out on the trees surrounding the pool area.

Hello, I’m Chacarron Kennedy!

Hello, I’m Chacarron Kennedy!

Starting usually around 5:40 in the morning with his calls, he would delight and entertain everyone within earshot with his antics.

Totally camouflaged and comfortably perched on a thickly leafed Mango tree branch, he’d greet us with a British accented “Hello” followed by a “Pretty Bird!” that sounded almost like his own personal introduction.

Chacarron stealthily observing the scene

Chacarron stealthily observing the scene

Tom kept him happy by feeding him peanuts and occasionally slipping him a French fry (which he prefers over watermelon). 

I know you have French fries there! Give it up, buddy.

I just KNOW you have French fries there! Give it up, buddy.

St Francis feeding his new feathered friend

St Francis feeding his new feathered friend

Aptly nicknamed St Francis for his affinity with any living animal – domesticated or not , Tom developed a strong bond with this feathered sweetheart. 

Chacarron’s vast repertoire also includes a bone-chilling frightening manic laughter that had me looking over my shoulder more than once… But since he’s a cutie, he gets away with anything.

He sure made our days at the pool quite entertaining!

Oh, yummy! I love peanuts!

Oh, yummy! I LOVE peanuts!

And I enjoy them down to the last crumb…

And I enjoy them down to the last crumb…

Contrary to popular belief, we haven’t just been dillydallying by the pool every day – not that there would be anything wrong with that!

We thoroughly explored the island with Ken Johnson, a local driver and knowledgeable guide, who took us from one end to the other and anywhere in between.

Ken guiding Tom on another adventure

Ken leading Tom on another adventure

The two ends of Roatan couldn’t be more different. The West End is the busy, renowned party zone, quaint but extremely touristy, catering mainly to the younger crowds and aging hippies. Definitely worth visiting, but not quite our style.

One of the colorful buildings in the West End.

One of the colorful buildings in the West End.

I just liked the name of this shop in French Harbor

I just liked the name of this shop in French Harbor

If you ever find yourself in the neighborhood, stop HERE!

If you ever find yourself in the neighborhood, stop HERE!

Entrance to the cantina. Great food and atmosphere, and a view to remember!

Entrance to the cantina. Great food and atmosphere, and a view to remember!

Under the municipality of Santos Guardiola, The East End couldn’t be a starker contrast: it is much less wealthy than the rest of the island and a lot quieter.

There are no resorts here, no fancy developments, no tourism, and a lot less cash flow. This rugged, beautiful, primitive side of the island is lush with thick vegetation and so utterly quiet in places, you can hear yourself breathe! I’m told the scuba diving here is truly magnificent.

The rugged beauty of the East End.

The rugged beauty of the East End.

The small village of Oak Ridge in the distance

The village of Oak Ridge in the distance

I cringe at the thought and I hope I’m wrong, but I fear it’s only a matter of time before this place, too, gets torn apart to make room for yet another huge resort…  

The water channels of Oak Ridge

Pretty Oak Ridge

Pretty house in Oak Ridge

My favorite house in Oak Ridge… Had to be yellow!

The water channels of Oak Ridge

The water channels of Oak Ridge

Cruise ships stop in Roatan every week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and the island gets flooded with tourists. We learned fast that those days are better spent in the quiet cocoon of our resort…

It was fun to be tourists! We took a whole day excursion to Cayos Cochinos on a fast boat, a welcome change for us to see someone else in charge!

Our Fast Boat for the day

Our Fast Boat for the day

Capt Greg on Go Baby Go (that’s the boat name). Boy, can she GO!

Capt Greg on Go Baby Go (that’s the boat name).
Boy, can she GO!

Cayos Cochino’s Scientific Research Station

Cayos Menor Scientific Research Station

The long dock at Cayo Menor

The long dock at Cayo Menor

It also served as a reminder of how privileged we are as cruisers, being able to visit spectacular places in all privacy with our own boat… We tend to take it for granted at times.

 I enjoyed the day, but it was definitely strange being part of a pack of tourists.

Our Welcome Committee at the village on Cayo Grande

Our Welcome Committee at the Garifuna village on Cayo Grande

The kids of Cayo Grande gather around Tom

The kids of Cayo Grande gather around Tom

Fishing fleet of Cayos Cochinos

Fishing fleet of Cayos Cochinos

There are only 9 private homes on this island populated entirely by Garifuna Indians

There are only 9 private homes on this island populated entirely by Garifuna Indians

Tom insisted on visiting the dolphin research facility at Anthony’s Key Resort , a big resort on Sandy Beach on the West side of Roatan where tourists are welcome to visit and interact with these splendid creatures.

Anthony’s Key Resort

Anthony’s Key Resort

Makes you want to BE there, doesn’t it…

Makes you want to BE there, doesn’t it…

Accommodations at Anthony’s Key

Accommodations at Anthony’s Key, complete with hammocks on the porch.

I was dead set against it: after enjoying the sight of thousands of dolphins roaming free during our travels, I thought it would be sad and pointless to observe dolphins in captivity, Marine World style… As it turned out, I couldn’t have been more wrong!

Meet Dixon, our Dolphin Guide.

Meet Dixon, our Dolphin Guide.

I could swear he’s flirting! Or maybe he just wants to play…

I could swear he’s flirting! Or maybe he just wants to play…

It was quite an experience. The dolphins are kept in very spacious and deep pens, and are taken out often into the open sea for roaming and frolicking. They have the option to return to the pens or just keep going in the wild… To my great surprise, they all choose to follow the lead boat back to the pens.

Aerial View: The Bottom Key is the Dolphins Home

Aerial View: The Bottom Key is the Dolphins Home

Training Pen

Training Pen

Dolphins coming to greet us

Dolphins coming to greet us

True, there were a few demonstrations for the amusement of the tourists of how well the animals are trained, but mainly to demonstrate these animals’ great intelligence. The emphasis here is definitely “Dolphins rule, humans observe”.

They can “walk on water” with their powerful tail!

They can “walk on water” with their powerful tail!

Total Tourist Shot, but a great memory nevertheless

Total Tourist Shot, but a great memory nevertheless

Dixon the Dolphin and Tom in a Public Display of Affection

Dixon the Dolphin and Tom in a Public Display of Affection

  Any activity, from the photo op to the swim with the dolphins sessions were organized with the animals’ comfort in mind, limiting the amount of people to avoid stressing these wonderful creatures.So we watched, listened and learned. We swam and interacted with them, or rather let them interact with us as much or as little as they wanted.

Tom (St. Francis), spent the longest time in the water and was constantly surrounded by playful dolphins.

Tom trying to blend in with the family of dolphins…

Tom trying to blend in with the family of dolphins…

Is that an eye connection, or a potential head-on collision?

Is that an eye connection, or a potential head-on collision?

An 8 months old puppy particularly followed him around closely, occasionally bumping him on the sides to elicit attention.

Baby Dolphin to the left, Mama to the right and Tom trying to keep up…

Baby Dolphin to the left, Mama to the right and Tom trying to keep up…

Pity that taking underwater photos was not allowed, or I’d have some very fun shots of those two at play!

Me, well, I didn’t get much dolphin attention, but was quite content observing in awe.

This was possibly the highlight of our visit in Roatan, and an incredibly magical experience.

Their skin feels like thick, wet rubber!

Their skin feels like thick, wet rubber!

Dolphin Boy reluctantly getting out, escorted by his friends

Dolphin Boy reluctantly getting out, escorted by his friends

Roatan, boasting the second largest reef in the world – the Meso-american Barrier Reef  – is also a haven for divers; in fact, most of the tourists visiting Roatan come here specifically to dive. 

Like every other diver, I was itching to go so we organized a session with Barefoot Cay’s excellent Dive Center .

Unfortunately the dive had to be cut short, thanks to an old ear injury sustained a long time ago during a careless dive. The pain was unbearable, so I decided not to push my luck and abort the dive… How I hated to be the party pooper! Sadly, it seems that my diving days may be over. No matter, I’ll always have snorkeling!

Smooching Fish!

Smooching Fish!

The menacing Lion Fish

The menacing Lion Fish

I'm still happy to see beauty, even if only at snorkeling depth!

Plenty of beauty to see even only at snorkeling depth!

Eventually the perfect weather window was forecast, we ran out of excuses to stay.

But we both already said that we’d like to return next year.

Typical Roatan living room

Typical Roatan living room

Fishing docks in Punta Gorda

Fishing docks in Punta Gorda

Yes, Roatan will do that to you… Make you itch to return.

Punta Gorda scene: yet another relaxing vista

Punta Gorda scene: yet another relaxing vista

The beach at Punta Gorda, East End, Roatan

The beach at Punta Gorda, East End, Roatan

But for now, we’ve seen enough. 

We’ll leave Roatan and take a straight shot to Puerto Morelos, Mexico – should take us more or less 40 hours.

I’ll report from there in a few days.

Ciao!!!

Goodbye, Relaxing Roatan!

Goodbye, Relaxing Roatan!

Posted by: Sailing Camelot | March 15, 2013

A long trip to Roatan, Honduras

“Only” four hundred and twenty six nautical miles ahead of us our next destination, Roatan, is sitting pretty among her sisters, forming part of the Bay Islands of Honduras.

 

That's where we're going!

That’s where we’re going!

 

Mostly renowned for the spectacular diving, and boasting access to the second biggest reef in the world, Roatan has been on my wish list for the past 12 years. I’m extra-eager to get there, even if I’m not one bit thrilled about the long, non-stop trip.

No matter: we’re happily under way by 6 in the morning, leaving Isla Providencia behind, more beautiful than ever enveloped in the golden-rose light of dawn. I say my silent farewell with a furtive wave of the hand and a nod of the head in grateful thanks for the blessed time we spent here, before turning my face in the wind.

 

Goog-bye,Virgin of Providencia!

Goog-bye,Virgin of Providencia!

 

We’re grinning like maniacs. The wind is coming from a favorable direction and at the perfect strength; the sea, though not quite as flat as I’d like, is tolerable and the current is with us. The sails are set; Camelot glides happily at a more than respectable speed while we review our chosen course.

About half of the way to Roatan there’s a small cay –Cayo Vivarillo- with a protected anchorage. It would be ideal to break the trip and enjoy a restful night of sleep, but… Sadly, in terms of personal safety Honduras has a very poor reputation among sailors.

Cruisers have been targeted, and quite a few violent occurrences happened in the recent past: armed robbery, kidnapping, rape and murder.

These thugs employ deception to gain access, often boarding boats at anchor in the middle of the night yelling “Police”, or posing as a boat in distress, or even in one instance pretending to offer help to a sailor in trouble.  Honduras is terribly poor, and desperate people do desperate things…

So scrap the idea of a “restful” night of sleep, we decide to go for a straight shot, in true “Island Hopper” style.

Keeping in sporadic contact with a couple of sailboats about an hour behind us, we enjoy some of the best sailing conditions until sunset. After dinner, however, the wind dies down and the current turns against us. Bummer, but it was great while it lasted…

At about four in the morning, under my watch, Camelot takes a sudden 90 degree turn to the left. Startled and alarmed I jump behind the wheel and steer her back to course, all the while trying to reset the autopilot. Merlin, however, remains unresponsive. Tom soon pops up in the cockpit, having been thrown off the bed by the unexpected maneuver – if not by my screaming.

And so begins the long hand-steering marathon… We start with 90 minutes shifts, soon reducing to an hour when we realize how exhausting it is to keep this boat straight with following seas.

Needless to say, it sucks, big time. For the next thirty-one-hours we experience levels of fatigue I never thought possible. Tom eventually discovers the cause of Merlin’s failure to be simply a sheared bolt. And of course we don’t have a spare aboard. Oh well, at least we know it’s not a multiple-thousand dollars fix… That knowledge considerably brightens the general mood aboard.

 

The cause of our grief...

The cause of our grief… A $52 bolt.

 

We are greatly helped by our fellow cruisers Lynn and Howard on the vessel Swift Current, who volunteer to move in front of us and slow down to guide us all night long. It’s much easier to keep a (somewhat) straight course following their stern light than fighting the wheel while checking position on the compass…

By now we have a strong two-knot current against us and quartering seas. The waves are coming from a particular angle behind the boat, causing poor Camelot to behave like a cork in turbulent waters, with me desperately trying to minimize this drunken-sailboat syndrome…

I have to recognize Tom’s superior boat handling skills: it’s a much smoother ride when he drives!

Ok, I’ll openly admit it: without the autopilot I probably wouldn’t have made it out past the Golden Gate Bridge.

There, I said it! If that makes me a fair-weather, sissy-la-la sailor, so be it…

Mercifully, the night goes by quickly and the brand new, sunny day finds both Tom and I in pretty high spirits, all considered. Knowing we are only a little over four hours from destination probably helps, too…

 

Swift Current, our buddy boat and guiding light in the darkness

Swift Current, our buddy boat and guiding light in the darkness. We can’t thank you enough, guys!

 

It’s about seven o’clock when Tom points to what looks like a small, derelict fishing boat trailing behind us.

Hey”, he says “isn’t that the same fishing boat we crossed last night at sunset, going the opposite way?” Damn, it sure looks like it… So why is it following us, twelve hours later?

We both immediately get on high alert and start talking about evasive maneuvers, our max speed versus theirs, how to quietly raise the alarm with our buddy boat, where is the flare gun, etc… Then we hear a voice over the VHF radio, first in English, then in Spanish, hailing… us?

Good morning, sailboat! Hey, sailboat! Sailboat! Wake up, wake up, good morning!

Tom instinctively grabs the microphone to answer while I yell at him “Don’t even think about responding, dude! It’s a trap! Let’s ignore them and keep an eye on their boat”. Tom nods and we remain silent for a while, listening to more of the friendly hailing… It goes on for a while.

I go down below to make coffee and by the time I get back in the cockpit, Tom is yakking away on the radio. I want to smack him, I’m so scared… “What the hell are you doing?” I cry. But he ignores me and carries on… Here’s the conversation taking place in a mixture of broken English and Spanglish:

Them: “What’s your position, sailboat?”

Tom: “I’m right in front of you

Them: “Yeah, I see you, but… What’s your position?”

Tom: “Dude, I’m right in front of you, look at your coordinates

Them: “That’s the problem, amigo. We’re fishermen from Colombia and our GPS quit working last night, we don’t know where we are…

We look at each other. I blurt “What if it’s a ruse? What if we give them the coordinates and their buddies come out to assault us…

But Tom just shrugs and proceeds to rattle off our current position reading, even handling me the mike to translate in Spanish when the Colombians have troubles understanding. My turn to rattle off numbers…

The fishermen thank us profusely, but still keep their course right on our tail. They never said where they were going… So we start planning for contingencies: Tom calls Howard on the radio, relaying the exchange; they chat for a little while, casually letting the word “gun” slip in a couple of times (just in case “they” are eavesdropping), and leave it as that.

I HATE to be this suspicious and untrusting: it’s not my nature, but it can’t be helped, not after the horror stories I read and heard… And I certainly do not enjoy being scared, but I am…

About forty minutes later the fishing boat slowly falls off, heading for the island of Guanaja – the first of the Bay Islands of Honduras. We breathe a sigh of relief, but still half expect to see some vessel loaded with armed people coming to get us. That’s how psyched out we are about all the information we read on Honduras…

 

Roatan, at long last!

Roatan, at long last!

 

We complete what’s left of the trip on pure adrenaline. Thankfully the water is as smooth as a lake, making it finally easier to steer.

And finally, oh joy, we’re there!

 

We're so "there"!

We’re so “there”!

 

Barefoot Cay looks like a bare foot on the map...

Barefoot Cay looks just like a bare foot on the map…

 

“There” is Barefoot Cay Marina, our safe haven for the next two weeks or so, depending on how fast we can get the replacement bolt for the autopilot shipped down here. But we’re in no hurry…

It looks very beautiful and safe here, a welcome sight after the tension of the last thirty-plus hours. We’re completely exhausted after this fifty-four hour trek, but exhilarated and happy to be in such a gorgeous place.

 

Swift Current and Camelot safely berthed. We're closer to the pool!

Swift Current and Camelot safely berthed. We’re closer to the pool!

 

Oh, wait… I see a sparkling POOL right behind us, just a few feet away from our dock! Those comfy-looking beach chairs are beckoning…

I’ll leave you with this parting image, just so you know we’re not suffering here… More on Roatan later!

 

Just this view is worth all the trouble to get here. Enjoy!

This view alone is worth all the trouble to get here. Enjoy!

 

 

Posted by: Sailing Camelot | March 1, 2013

The enchanting Isla Providencia

This precious little jewel of an island is tiny, measuring 4 miles North to South and 2.5 miles East to West. There’s only one main road circling the 18-mile perimeter and it doesn‘t take long to cover it all.

Morgan's Head guarding the Bay's entrance

Morgan’s Head guarding the Bay’s entrance

The Promenade

The Promenade

Along with friends and fellow cruisers Lynn and Howard of the sailboat Swift Current we rent a “buggy” for a day, the perfect vehicle to roam around in style and discover the beauty of Providencia.

The Motley Crew on a Buggy Tour

The Motley Crew on a Buggy Tour

As I said, there’s only ONE road to follow, but Tom keeps taking abrupt turns into little alleys that invariably lead us nowhere specifically, usually ending in someone’s yard. Why? Because he’s curious, he says, let’s make things interesting… Besides, touring the island takes only a couple of hours, we have the whole day and an adventurous streak.

Colorful Bus Stop

Colorful Bus Stop

One of the many Playgrounds scattered around the island

One of the many Playgrounds scattered around the island

He’s got a point… To be honest, his diversions took us down some pretty interesting sights! Luckily, Lynn and Howard don’t mind being tossed around.

My favorite island house. Yellow!

My favorite island house. Yellow!

The Conch Shells House!

The Conch Shells House!

And more Conch Shells inside...

And more Conch Shells inside…

It is a very pretty island, and I particularly love the very low tourist presence. True, it is the off season, but I’m told that even in the high season Isla Providencia doesn’t see mass tourism. Sweet!

Deck of the luxury Deep Blue Hotel

Deck of the luxury Deep Blue Hotel, the best hotel on the Island

Tom’s erratic driving is often interrupted by my yelling “Photo Op!”, so we stop frequently to admire a church, investigate a colorful mural, buy a bottle of water or just generally nosy around.

There are a lot of churches on the island!

There are a lot of churches on the island!

Church of Our Lady Queen of Angels

Church of Our Lady Queen of Angels

Jerusalem Baptist Church

Jerusalem Baptist Church

We happen to take yet another detour – Tom is hell-bent on finding a beach access -, ending up once more in someone’s yard. There’s a small group of people sitting in plastic chairs, shooting the breeze with gusto, totally unfazed by our invasion. Actually, they’re very friendly and welcoming!

Tile decoration on the wall of a house

Tile decoration on the wall of a house

Why leave a wall blank...

Why leave a wall blank…

... When you can make it a work of art?

… When you can make it colorful and pretty?

Tom and Howard get off the buggy to ask for directions, so we ladies stay aboard thinking this is going to take just a minute.

Wrong! It’s a good ten minutes before the men return, all giggles and smiles, enchanted by the people they just met; they apparently forged fast friendships and almost didn’t want to leave! We girls missed out…

In any case, the road to the beach is the next left turn. We find Manchaneel Beach, a nice place with a palapa where, oh joy, they have cold beer served by Ms Julia, sister to one of the people our guys met just a few minutes ago. Another fast friendship ensues.

Ms Julia entertaining Lynn, Howard and Tom.

Ms Julia entertaining Lynn, Howard and Tom.

Ms Julia, born and raised on this island, is a delightful lady in her mid-seventies with a vivacious spirit and a quick laugh.

We end up spending a couple of hours swapping stories and guzzling cold drinks. Tom is in heaven, having found his favorite beer available in seemingly endless supply. Eventually the conversation turns to the topic of food; we ask Ms Julia about the local island fare, and get some unusual answers…

Well” she says “the typical local dish is Rondon, a fish stew with yucca, potatoes, plantain and dumplings, really tasty. Or,if you prefer, you can have Iguana”.

Noticing my horrified expression -I happen to love iguanas-, she quickly adds in her melodic Caribbean lilt “It’s really good, dear, tastes just like chicken !”

When I casually mention my penchant for coconut meat, she tells Tom to go pick one off the beach and then proceeds to skillfully crack it open with a Machete… I’m a happy camper now, and for the rest of our visit I’m busily chewing coconut, contributing very little to the conversation.

Watch out! She's mighty mean with a Machete!

Watch out! She’s pretty menacing with a Machete!

Before taking our leave we promise to return in two days to sample her Rondon, guaranteed to be the best on the island.

We wander about some more, stopping at South West Beach for a tasty lunch involving a lot of shrimp and an ungodly amount of garlic. After that, a long walk on the lovely beach is mandatory… Although a siesta in one of the hammocks nearby would be mightily tempting right now…

One of the many pristine beaches on the island

Manchaneel Beach, one of the many pristine beaches on the island

View of South West Bay

View of South West Bay

And so we carry on for the rest of the day: hop on the buggy, stop here and there for pictures, find more little roads heading to more beautiful beaches, having a jolly good ol’ time. Truly a spectacular day, one to remember.

Turtle Mon!

Turtle Mon! An unusual bench on Almond Beach.

Lover's Bridge, connecting Isla Providencia to Isla Santa Catalina

Lovers’ Bridge, connecting Isla Providencia to Isla Santa Catalina

In the end, we stay in Providencia exactly two weeks, longer than originally planned. The delay is officially attributed to the weather, the winds are too strong and the seas too angry to venture out… At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

Some days go by in total relaxation, when we don’t even feel the need to leave the boat; other days we spend snorkeling, or taking lazy walks to the tiny neighboring Island of Santa Catalina, joined to Providencia by  picturesque Lovers’ Bridge.

Historical Point of interest on Santa Catalina Island

Historical Point of interest on Santa Catalina Island

The cutest resident of Santa Catalina Island

The cutest resident of Santa Catalina Island

Who said kids need video games? A coconut husk will do!

Who said kids need video games? A coconut husk will entertain them for hours!

And yes, we did return to visit Ms Julia and sampled her incredible Rondon. That day is tucked away in my Most Precious Memories chest…

When we arrived, two pots were steaming on the live fires, manned by Mr Alfonso and Ms Julia’s sister, Ms Anisse.

Ms Anisse, five years younger than Ms Julia, is possibly even feistier, with a rumbling belly laugh that can be heard for miles. She wouldn’t stand still one second, constantly fluttering around like a hurried hummingbird, making it impossible for me to take her picture…

Mr Alfonso, our Chef for the day and a thoroughly great guy!

Mr Alfonso, our Chef for the day and a thoroughly great guy!

While waiting for the food to be ready, the two sisters were trying out a couple of new songs to be sang in church the following Sunday. Accompanying music was not necessary and probably would have been too much: just their two beautiful voices, so different and so perfectly complementary, sounded heavenly. What an unexpected treat!

After one of the best lunches to date, we sat around listening to their stories. The sisters reminiscing the days when, as very young children, their Mother would send them up the hill to get water before going to school, a good hour’s walk on little rocky paths with no shoes… The days when electricity finally came to the island, not more than twenty years ago, how it changed life for everyone, and so on and so forth.

It sounds like a hard life to me, but they feel blessed about every minute of it…

Ms Anisse said: “It doesn’t matter how poor you are on this island, if you’ve got friends you’ll never go hungry. We got fish in the sea, we grow things in our gardens. God looks after us. There’s always enough to go around”.

Ms Julia: bewitching smile and mischievious eyes. Lovely Lady.

Ms Julia: bewitching smile and mischievious eyes. Lovely Lady.

Somehow, at some point, out of the blue and right in front of me Ms Julia asked Tom if he is a faithful man, or if he plays the field… My usually chatty husband was caught speechless and sputtering, so Ms Julia prompted him by further asking “What I mean, young man, is: can you keep your pecker in your pants?”

Roaring laughter followed for long minutes before Tom could answer. “Ms Julia”, he said “I’ve got plenty of woman here to keep me busy until I die! I’m not sure I could play the field even if I wanted to…

I guess the answer pleased her, as she cackled loudly for a while, slapping her thigh and Tom’s with some force.

Ms Julia asking the Million Dollar Question...

Ms Julia asking the Million Dollar Question…

Oh, what a memorable day! It was painful to leave our island family, especially knowing we’ll never see those wonderful people again…

Three generations on a very sturdy moped...

Three generations on a very sturdy moped…

Just when we’re starting to know the islanders by name, a favorable weather window approaches and we have the choice of taking advantage or be stuck here another couple of weeks until the next one… It’s a tough decision!

Eventually our wanderlust prevails. We’re planning to head for Roatan, another beautiful island off the coast of Honduras.

Apparently most of the other cruisers in the anchorage are planning to leave as well, scattering in different directions and dispersing within a couple of days.

But I’m sure the anchorage won’t be deserted for long: the lure of Isla Providencia is strong, soon other boats will arrive.

As we prepare to leave, we ask each other… What was our favorite attraction, what did we especially like of Providencia?

For me it was mostly the colors, the dramatic contrast and the vivid colors.

For Tom, unquestionably, the people.

Even a wreck  can be transformed in a colorful work of art

Even a wreck can be transformed in a colorful work of art.

View off Lovers' Bridge

View off Lovers’ Bridge

Music School!

Music School!

Ah, yes, the wonderful people of Isla Providencia with their musically accented English, their rapid-fire Spanish and their incomprehensible (to us) Patois language. Unforgettable.

Stop by, if you ever have a chance. It’ll be one of the most enriching experiences of your life.

I know it certainly was for us!

View off Almond Bay

View off Almond Bay

Posted by: Sailing Camelot | February 13, 2013

Colon, Panama to Isla Providencia, Colombia

Oh, what a long, tedious and somewhat bumpy trip: a total of 284 miles in about 42 hours. Not our worst, but not our best by far. Maybe because it’s been seven months since we last did an overnighter, but we both feel quite fatigued after two nights on watch…

Leaving Shelter Bay Marina, Colon, Panama on Feb 7th at 14:30 we make our way out of the breakwater sneaking through the anchorage area, between the many cargo vessels waiting for their Canal transit, and set course straight for our destination, Isla Providencia.

It‘s a very lonely trip. During the whole time we never encounter one single boat, ship, and vessel whatsoever.

For company we have flying fish all around and the occasional small pod of friendly, playful dolphins delighting us with their antics above and below water.

The only contrast in color to this vast blue expanse is supplied by the large quantities of Portuguese Man ‘O War, the adults very noticeable with their hot pink or purple translucent fin, the babies just a shimmery sparkle in the water.

 

Portuguese Man O' War

Portuguese Man O’ War

 

I just recently read about these strange creatures and the only detail I memorized is basically “stay the hell away from them”! They’re not a single organism, but a colonial organism made up of many zooids and have tentacles typically about 30 feet long although some have been observed to be up to 165 feet long!  

Yuck… I hope I never encounter one up close… But if you’re intrigued enough, go see here for more detailed information.

 

A Beautiful Monstruosity

A Beautiful Monstruosity

 

During the second night we pass Isla San Andres, the other Colombian island, bigger and more developed than Isla Providencia. Even at a 30 miles distance the glow of nightlife is still quite visible.These two islands are only 55 miles apart from each other and belong to Colombia, although they are situated about 150 miles off the coast of Nicaragua.

Eventually we reach Isla Providencia and safely make our way into the calm, protected Santa Isabel Bay. It’s an easy entrance with a channel well marked by lighted buoys, with a very unique and convenient landmark perfectly aligned with the channel.

The landmark in question is officially called Split Hill, but we soon learn that the locals call it “Morgan’s Ass” with more than a little irreverence…

 

Morgan's Ass!  I mean, Split Hill...

Morgan’s Ass! I mean, Split Hill…

The infamous pirate Henry Morgan used Providencia as a base for raiding the Spanish empire, and rumors suggest that much of his treasure remains hidden on the island. Many parts of the island are named after Morgan. I say, he must have been quite a hell raiser back in the days, as we found many sites built up or burned down by him all over this stretch of water…

Isla Providencia

Isla Providencia

By 14:30 on Saturday Feb 9th we’re comfortably anchored along with another handful of vessels.

Tom has already contacted via radio the local clearing agent, Mr. Bush, who is waiting for us on the main Plaza to welcome us and process our paperwork.

Tired and bleary-eyed, we go meet him. What a character! Very friendly, organized and efficient, he welcomes us to his island as he walks us to his nearby office.

The island is very colorful, very clean –not a piece of trash to be seen anywhere-, everything looks quite new. The locals are a joy to meet. People make eye contact with a genuine smile, many greeting us with a heartfelt “welcome to our island!”.

 

Downtown Santa Isabel

Downtown Santa Isabel

 Tom is ecstatic, I am thrilled. When you say hello to someone, you get a smile and a greeting in return! No one is a stranger, here.

We’re almost overwhelmed: after seven months of the mostly grumpy and reserved people of Panama, this is quite a refreshing and certainly welcome change!

 

View of Santa Isabel Bay

View of Santa Isabel Bay

The island is quite tiny with narrow streets, so the main means of transportation are mopeds, small motorcycles and some golf cart-looking vehicles. Very few full sized cars, here!

 

Rasta Daddy hauling kids

Rasta Daddy hauling kids

 

This Dad has three kids aboard!

This Dad has three kids aboard!

 

Everyone is zooming around, up and down the island’s hills; soon we learn that it’s perfectly normal to carry your whole family on a small moped, the tools of your trade or even your whole business! Most of the taxis are motorcycles as well… Just hop on, Mon!

 

Local Electrician towing his whole business

Local Electrician towing his whole business

 

Biker Chicks abound, here!

Biker Chicks abound, here!

Oh, I can’t wait to be fully awake, rested and ready to take on the Island! I fully expect hundreds of picture opportunities.

But for now, formalities pleasantly completed, we’re going to take it easy.

 

The peaceful bay where we're currently anchored

The peaceful bay where we’re currently anchored

 

Posted by: Sailing Camelot | February 7, 2013

40 Days in Kuna Yala (San Blas) – Feb 7th

The “time flies when you’re having fun” saying? It’s totally true.

Maybe because there are so many islands to see, maybe because we lost ourselves in relaxation, but forty days have gone by in a blink.

In the end we managed to visit only nine of the 365 islands; a small percentage, I know, but enough to develop preferences.

The first noticeable fact is that there are a lot more boats traveling the Caribbean Sea that what we were used to see on the Pacific side. To us newcomers, it feels downright crowded!
There’s a multitude of European vessels: for the majority French, good numbers of Spanish, Germans and Italians, and the occasional British, Swiss, Belgians, and Dutch. Canadians and Americans feel outnumbered here!

We noticed that there’s a lot less socializing and interaction going on, and more “clustering”; maybe the language barrier, maybe the cultures’ differences, but the abundant “spontaneous gatherings” we experienced in the past are a lot less frequent here.
Tom, my very sociable and outgoing husband, is somewhat disappointed. Even I, usually content in my own company (read loner), am starting to feel pretty lonely…
Thankfully, the Kuna Indians make up for the unbalance.
No matter where we are, there’s a steady stream of smiling faces approaching Camelot multiple times a day: young fishermen offering lobster, squid, or whatever the catch of the day may be, Kuna women in their Ulus (little dugout canoes) peddling their Molas (colorful panels of fabric intricately embroidered and quilted by hand) and beaded bracelets.
This is how we meet Lisa, a pretty famous local character. Lisa came by one day to say hi, welcome us to her islands and introduce herself. In pretty decent English, no less!
A Master Mola maker, Lisa is also a Kuna historian and travel guide with an engaging personality.

She is also a transvestite. As she explained, Kuna Yala is a matrilineal society, with the women controlling the financial aspects of life. If a Kuna woman gives birth to sons only, the third son will be raised as a girl for all intents and purposes. There were a lot of third sons around…
Anyway, we thoroughly enjoyed our stay, and would have prolonged it if it weren’t for a pesky mechanical problem. Our alternator quit on us.
After much debating, we decided I should fly from the island of Nargana to Panama City in hopes of resolving the issue. I flew to Panama City twice in ten days but sadly, it was all for naught; the alternator stayed dead as a doornail…
Feeling uneasy about relying too much on solar panels and generator, we decided to leave the islands and return to Shelter Bay Marina in Colon to properly and effectively address the issue.

Between waiting for the new alternator to arrive and the endless list of chores, two weeks have vaporized. But Camelot, which after a long time at sea needed some dedicated TLC, is now shiny and ready for new adventures.
I should add, after seven months in Panama, so are we… definitely!

So today we leave, bound for the island of Providencia, a couple of days’ sailing from here.
The islands of San Andres and Providencia are located about 150 miles off the coast of Nicaragua, but belong to Colombia.
So that’s it for now, we’ll report from a new Country next time!

Enjoy the pictures …

And a very long process...

And a very long process…

It's a very precise skill!

It’s a very precise skill!

Kuna woman dressing up a tourist's ankle in their typical beads

Kuna woman dressing up a tourist’s ankle in their typical beads

I just thought these snails are beautiful...

I just thought these snails are beautiful…

Off they go, looking for tourist to sell their wares to...

Off they go, looking for tourist to sell their wares to…

Kuna woman getting redy to go on a selling trip

Kuna woman getting redy to go on a selling trip

Kuna woman with her child

Kuna woman with her child

Little bay in Salardup

Little bay in Salardup

Waiting for the sunset

Waiting for the sunset

Walking in Paradise

Walking in Paradise

My favorite Islander

My favorite Islander

Looking at open sea from Salardup

Looking at open sea from Salardup

I just LOVE palm trees!

I just LOVE palm trees!

Te "Promenade" on Salardup

Te “Promenade” on Salardup

Walking on Salardup

Walking on Salardup

That hammock has my name on it!

That hammock has my name on it!

Essential Island Life equipment...

Essential Island Life equipment…

View from the Island

View from the Island

Salardup, my favorite of them all!

Salardup, my favorite of them all!

Approaching Salardup

Approaching Salardup

Green Island

Green Island

The beauty below...

The beauty below…

Lone Star

Lone Star

A very fun Kayak trip!

A very fun Kayak trip!

Tom leading our circumnvigation of Green Island

Tom leading our circumnvigation of Green Island

Local inhabitants of Green Island

Local inhabitants of Green Island

Tom walking the perimeter...

Tom walking the perimeter…

I could have sat here forever...

I could have sat here forever…

Another side of Green Island

Another side of Green Island

An unforgettable sight off Green Island

An unforgettable sight off Green Island

Dingy parking spot

Dingy parking spot

Green Island

Green Island

The clearest waters I've ever seen!

The clearest waters I’ve ever seen!

Green Island

Green Island

Me signing the passenger manifest

Me signing the passenger manifest at the Corazone de Jesus Airport

Aerial view of Panama City

Aerial view of Panama City

 

Approaching Cayo Holandes

Approaching Cayo Holandes

Aerial view of Panama City

Aerial view of Panama City

Aerial view of some of the San Blas islands

Aerial view of some of the San Blas islands

Part of Kuna Yala

Part of Kuna Yala

View from above

View from above

The embarassing moment: weighting the passengers...

The embarassing moment: weighting the passengers…

I got to fly on this one...

I got to fly on this one…

The puddlejumper arriving

The puddlejumper arriving

Corazon de Jesus airport

Corazon de Jesus airport

Corazon de Jesus airport in the distance

Corazon de Jesus airport in the distance

Local fauna

Local fauna

I think Tom wanted to dopt them all...

I think Tom wanted to adopt them all…

They wouldn't leave him alone!

They wouldn’t leave him alone!

Tom entertaining the Kuna kids

Tom entertaining the Kuna kids

Even men get to do chores on the river...

Even men get to do chores on the river…

Kuna family doing laundry

Kuna family doing laundry

Rio Diablo commute vehicle

Rio Diablo commute vehicle

Yes! This is perfect.

Yes! This is perfect.

Tom picking a suitable spot for us to take a bath...

Tom picking a suitable spot for us to take a bath…

Kuna family doing spending the day on the river

Kuna family doing spending the day on the river

We gave them a tow...

We gave them a tow…

Kuna family going up the river for laundry

Kuna family going up the river for laundry

We took a bath right here!

We took a bath right here!

Another villager gathering water

Another villager gathering water

My Rio Diablo guide... and husband.

My Rio Diablo guide… and husband.

Rio Diablo

Rio Diablo

These women work HARD!

These women work HARD!

Kuna woman with her load of fresh water

Kuna woman with her load of fresh water

The Church, Corazon de Jesus

The Church, Corazon de Jesus

Isla Corazon de Jesus

Isla Corazon de Jesus

Downtown Nargana

Downtown Nargana

Typical abode on Nargana Island

Typical abode on Nargana Island

The locals paddle up the river to get fresh water every day.

The locals paddle up the river to get fresh water every day.

Entrance to Rio Diablo, Nargana

Entrance to Rio Diablo, Nargana

At anchor in Nargana

At anchor in Nargana

Tortuga Beach - again!

Tortuga Beach – again!

Calming view...

Calming view…

Tortuga Beach

Tortuga Beach

Isla Tortuga

Isla Tortuga

Sunken fishing boat off Coco Banderos

Sunken fishing boat off Coco Banderos

Coco Banderos

Coco Banderos

Camelot at rest in Coco Banderos

Camelot at rest in Coco Banderos

Ray Alert!

Ray Alert!

Greetings! The water is 24 feet deep here...

Greetings! The water is 24 feet deep here…

Amazing how the palm trees always find a way to thrive

Amazing how the palm trees always find a way to thrive

Goodbye, Salardup! Definitely my favorite place in the whole San Blas...

Goodbye, Salardup! Definitely my favorite place in the whole San Blas…

Posted by: Sailing Camelot | December 24, 2012

West Lemmon Cays, Kuna Yala – Dec 17th to 24th

After the spectacular colors and dramatic scenery of the East Lemmon Cays I must admit the Western sister islands don’t impress me much at a first glance… But maybe I’m unfair and should give it some time before jumping to conclusions.

The weather is awful: thick cloud cover, plus heavy and incessant winds, plus intermittent squalls equal a very grumpy Lori and an irritable Tom. That could influence my perception for sure!

Anyway, with some difficulty we finally find a place to anchor. This anchorage is quite crowded, there must be about 30 boats or so, but there’s room for everybody including us.

Dodging a reef here and another boat there, we eventually manage to settle in.

Between squalls we get incredible rainbows and pretty dramatic clouds; there’s still beauty to be found even in greyness…

I didn't go look for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

I didn’t go look for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It would have required scuba gear…

One of Mother Nature's artful compositions

One of Mother Nature’s artful compositions

There’s a small bar on one of the islands, Isla Elefante, where we find Internet coming in via satellite. It’s sort of old style and you plug your computer in via cable; there are three cables so three users can be connected at a time. It’s slow to start with and gets slower when more than one user is online. BUT, it works!  So I’m grateful to be able to get my fix.

Tom catching some Internet at the Elefante Bar

Tom catching some Internet at the Elefante Bar

The Kuna Indians on this teeny island are industrious; they provide beer, rum, wine and sodas at the bar (I recommend the Kuna Libre!) and even simple meals with previous agreement. They run a water taxi service to neighboring islands for simple provisioning, they organize shopping trips to Panama City as needed and –most important- they safely disposing of the cruisers’ trash.

The Trash Problem plagues every cruiser. It’s incredible how much of it we manage to pile up, and disposing of it responsibly requires some ingenuity and a lot of common sense.

 

Overlooking part of the anchorage from the Elefante Beach

Overlooking part of the anchorage from the Elefante Beach

 

Isla Elefante, where they even decorate the Palm Tree trunks!

Isla Elefante, where they even decorate the Palm Tree trunks!

Here on Isla Elefante trash is accepted for a fee of $1 per bag, collected in a separate corner of the island and burned periodically. The aluminum cans are separated and sold to Colombian traders for recycling.

The first rule here in Kuna Yala is: do NOT give your trash bags to just any Kuna islander for disposal. They usually take your tip for this service, then turn around the corner and toss the trash into the ocean. If you don’t like to see trash littering these gorgeous beaches and crap floating on the water, remember this rule.

We spend our days mostly on the boat, hiding from the weather, hoping for the rainy season to end before we have to leave…

Me, busy playing Scrabble during yet another squall.

Me, busy playing Scrabble during yet another squall.

There are some rare but welcome periods of sunshine; as soon as we see a break in the clouds, we hop in the dinghy with our snorkeling gear and run over to one of the reefs – there are so many all around the islands!

As it turns out, the underwater world more than compensates for the lesser beauty of above. It is indescribably beautiful and incredibly colorful, just a couple of feet under the surface. Truly a world apart…

A string of underwater pictures follows at the end of my ramblings – you certainly won’t need any commentary to go with them.

Another display from Mother Nature's Art Gallery

Another display from Mother Nature’s Art Gallery

If you need relaxing, this is a good sight...

If you need relaxing, this sight can help…

We’re still here at Isla Elefante and it’s now Christmas Eve.

We’ll spend Christmas here then we’ll probably leave in a couple of days or so to go hunting for more uninhabited islands to enjoy.

It will be a while before I can update the blog again.

The rough plan is to be leaving Kuna Yala and the rest of Panama by January 10th, bound for Isla Providencia – a Colombian island off the coast of Nicaragua. I know, confusing. More about that at a later time…

So may these images entertain you until the next time. They are my Christmas present to you.

May your Holidays be filled with love, harmony and joy.   To everyone,

MERRY CHRISTMAS and HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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Posted by: Sailing Camelot | December 23, 2012

East Lemmon Cays, Kuna Yala – Dec 16th

One of the beauties of Kuna Yala is that the islands are mostly very close to each other, so a complete change of scenery is only a half hour away.

Today we leave Chichime bound for the East Lemmon Cays. We move very cautiously, ever mindful of the reefs all around us. Tom is at the helm, intently watching our forward-looking sonar, constantly making sure there’s enough water underneath the boat. I’m perched on the bow with the camera around my neck, polarized sunglasses on, scanning the different shades of the sea. The water is so clear that I can see the reef 30 feet below! It makes me nervous, and I occasionally forget to breathe… It seems that every island is marked by a wreck, a constant reminder that things can go very wrong very quick…It sure doesn’t help with the tension…

 

Camelot at rest on the East Lemmon Cays

Camelot at rest on the East Lemmon Cays

 

The water is deeper than it appears, thankfully!

The water is deeper than it appears, thankfully!

 

But we make it to destination unscathed, finding more spectacular scenery and a nice spot to anchor.

The weather is moody, quickly changing from cloudy, to windy, to sunny, back to cloudy, a quick squall, then sunny again, all within minutes.

 

Welcome to the East Lemmon Cays!

Welcome to the East Lemmon Cays!

 

Parking lot on on the Island

Parking lot on on the Island

 

With a shrug we jump in the dinghy and go explore the small island. There are maybe four or five huts, a few hammocks hanging between the palm trees, a bigger open hut functioning as a bar of sorts.

 

Looking at the anchorage from the Island

Looking at the anchorage from the Island

 

Tom overlooking his Domain of the Day

Tom overlooking his Domain of the Day

 

Some local men are sitting, having lunch and a few beers, Kuna women darting in and out of their huts carrying plates of fried fish, rice and tomatoes. Tom gets tempted and buys a beer.

The local people are friendly, if a little reserved. We are free to roam the island, which takes all of 10 minutes.

 

My favorite piece of Real Estate

My favorite piece of UnReal Estate

 

Another Island to go explore!

Another Island to go explore!

 

After that, we move to the tiny, uninhabited island opposite, walking its whole perimeter in about 5 minutes. Two islands, twenty minutes, tops. Within that short time my twitchy finger shoots about 150 pictures.

 

The East Lemmon Cay Anchorage seen from the Beach

The East Lemmon Cay Anchorage seen from the Beach

 

Then it’s time to cool our heels – and the rest of our bodies! It’s always breezy here, which keeps the humidity level down, but it’s still hot enough and the water is so inviting… Tom is like a kid, playing in the water, bothering the starfish… Me, well, I can’t keep my hands off the camera for too long…

 

Tom, simply Star struck!

Tom, simply Star struck!

 

Tom having a Zen moment before returning to Camelot

Tom having a Zen moment before returning to Camelot

 

There’s so much beauty here, stuff the travel agency posters are made of…

Regardless, we are already planning to move tomorrow. Just a little farther away lay the West Lemmon Cays and it is rumored they have Internet over there!

We have been incommunicado for a few days; no phone signal, much less Internet – which is not a bad thing, actually.

But Christmas is creeping up, and we’d like to figure out a way to get in touch with our families.

So tomorrow we go hunting for signs of technology.

 

The Best View of East Lemmon Cays

The Best View of East Lemmon Cays

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