Monday, May 30, 2011

Gulf of Fonseca

We made it out of Bahia de Sol across the bar without a lot of drama on Tuesday morning at high tide. It was Rojelio's (the bar pilot) day off, but he came down at 8:30am and jumped on his jetski to guide us out. We had to stop near the outside to let a large set break and then reform so we could ride over it. Then we were free to roam the Pacific. It was a motor boat ride for the first 20 miles down to Barrillas, then the wind picked up and we had good sail for 30 miles or so down the coast. Motor went back on a few hours before dark and we rounded Punta Amapala in the dark. The charts show one good 12 mile light on the point. Of course it was not working, but there were about a dozen other navigation lights that were visible and not on the chart. We turned into Tamarindo Bay and talked to Henry & Pam who had come in the day before on Henry's cat, Rapsculion. They guided us in and we dropped the hook at about 8:45pm. A pretty good run for the day.
Next day we got picked by a panga(called a lancha down here) with Giovani on board. He is putting together a marina inside the estuary here. It is in the planning stages and he has finally received environmental approvals from the government. It is a ways off yet, but when done should be a pretty cool, ecologically sound destination for cruisers. John and Veronica from the old Coast Guard cutter, Sea Quest,also came down from Bahia del Sol by van with Giovani. The plan was to look around his property and the nearby town of La Union, and then in the afternoon to tour the boat lift capabilities at the Salvadoran Naval base in La Union. Pam still needs to haul her boat, Precious Metal, for repairs after her lightening encounter. We'd also heard that Rose and Jani, on Lovely Lady, were also headed down here to haul for an inspection after hitting bottom while crossing the bar in Barrillas (while being guided in by the Barrillas bar pilot!!). The officers at the Naval base were very friendly and toured us all around. Hauling boats brings in some extra money for the base that can be used for maintenance, etc. They are interested in setting up a dry storage area for boats. This John's area of expertise and he wanted to see what was planned.
There's a large brand new container ship base here that is currently a white elephant. It was supposed to be connected to the Caribbean side via a new railway. This would have been a land route for containers across Central America instead of the canal. The port was built by the Japanese. The story has it that the railway was to use the old right-of-way from the existing but decrepit United Fruit narrow gauge railway and be built and funded by the French. The down turn in the world economy and perhaps a few other nefarious factors conspired to have the French pull out. Now the completed container port, with its dredged channel and markers are still awaiting their first ship. This has put a lot of stress on the town, as locals have invested their life savings into businesses to support this as yet unopened port.
When we looked at the naval lift it was in use by a large navy vessel. This boat looked like it had been there for awhile and still had a ton of work to to be done on it. The commander mentioned that he planned to drop the boat in the water and make room for the two private vessels to haul out (Lovely Lady and Precious Metal)to haul, as soon as they could. He said he needed to do some maintenance work on the lift first. When we went into the officers club to get more details on hauling Precious Metal, it became clear that no one had setup an appointment to haul Lovely Lady. Setting up an appointment includes getting a formal quote from the Navy, then going to San Salvador with a certified check to pay for 50% up front... none had been done.
The next day Lovely Lady showed up in front of the Navy base. The following morning they tried to lower the navy ship back into the water, but part of the lift gave in. Pictures to follow when we get an Internet connection I'm not sure what Love Lady's plans are now. Precious Metal will still probably haul here, just not real soon.
We headed over to Meanguera Island for a 3 night stay. Nice little anchorage in a bay on the backside near the La Joya de Golfo hotel. This is a beautiful 4 room boutique place ($79 per night) run by a Los Angelino (as in California)and his Salvadoran wife. They are cruiser friendly, offer delicious fancy meals, along with the use of their deck built out over the water for enjoying afternoon cocktails. Their 10 year old daughter, Rachel, seemed to really enjoy the English speaking company.
We are back in Tamarindo Bay now. This time there's a big ground swell running from south of the equator that is rolling in here and making the anchorage pretty rolly and uncomfortable today. We plan to get a lancha ride into shore tomorrow and taxi to La Union. We need to get some R-134a refrigerant to try to get our refrigerator running again. We also need to go to see the port captain and immigration to check out of the country. Then, if we can get a few jerry jugs of fuel, we'll head back out, southeast, with probable plans to make Costa Rica in a day or 3.

No pictures til we get internet again.

Paul

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Hanging with the elite in San Salvador

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We got invited to go to a meeting in San Salvador with various government officials to discuss nautical tourism in El Salvador.  There were representatives from the Ministry of Tourism, a number of development agencies, and even the Navy. That’s Commander Sanchez on the right enjoying a great lunch at a French restaurant that they took us all to. El Salvador is going after more grass roots tourism rather than chasing mega-projects. The governments main focus is small projects that create jobs for locals. Believe it or not, surfing has brought in jobs for the country. Surfers are cheap, like sailors, but the infrastructure to support their lifestyle requires minimum cash up-front and the jobs this small industry creates makes a difference here. Some graying surfer shows up, sees a cheap house near the break. He buys it, hires locals to remodel it into a surfer lodge. Hires caretakers, a guard, maids, etc. Taxi stand shows up out front, the local pupuseria grows and a surf shop opens.  All pretty low-key, but still job creating.

Cruising sailors are a relatively new market opportunity in El Salvador. The whole cruising scene here is currently centered around the place we’re hanging out at, Bahia del Sol. This is a medium sized hotel. The place does a good business on holiday weeks and on weekends. During the week it is just dead of guests. The cruisers spending their $1 on a beer and eating at the restaurant with a 30% discount keeps the staff working and earning tips. So the meeting in San Salvador was to discuss what needs to be done to encourage more ‘nautical tourism’. Some of the suggestions we discussed were: supplying low-cost dry storage for boats,  making it easier to visit multi-ports without excessive official paperwork, making import of boat parts easier, and creating multiple boating destinations. All in all the officials were very supportive.  This is a young country just getting its act together after years of civil war. A democracy with lots of opportunity.


There’s been an unusual string of boat incidents around here recently. Three boats, each with an experienced woman skipper, got into trouble in the last few weeks.  First Pam on Precious Metal got hit by lightening 35 miles off of Nicaragua and ten miles from the closest storm cell, starting a fire in the engine room. She was pretty shaken by the experience. She’s in Bahia del Sol now working out what sounds like a sweet deal with her insure company to put the boat back right. That’s good for us as we have the same insurance.

Next up was Vicki, on Inspiration at Sea. Her boat was in El Salvador for the last 18 month or so. She got it fixed up and ready to head back north. Somewhere between Huatulco and Acapulco her EPIRB went off. This sends a satellite signal to a rescue center that gets forwarded to US authorities. They called her contact person who is down here in El Salvador and then contacted the Mexican Navy. She’d lost her engine, got caught up in a storm, and the rest of the story isn’t quite clear yet. The Navy ended up towing her 60 miles into Acapulco.

Yesterday, Rose and Jani left on their Halberg Rassey 46, Lovely Lady, heading just a few miles south. They crossed the Jaultepec bar at the early morning high tide. They were headed to Barrillas to put the boat up for 3 months while they headed back to the Pacific NW. They traveled the 20 miles or so down the coast and arrived at the entry waypoint. They waited for a pilot to come out guide them in. The bar at Barrillas is longer but not as dangerous as in Bahia del Sol. Well, the pilot lead them smack into a 4 foot sand bar. The boat went up sideways, heeled over 45 degrees and got pounded by the high surf. Ugly. A Mayday went out and a second pilot came out and helped get them off the bar and back into the channel. They are now in Barrillas deciding if they need to haul to the boat for inspection.

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Just so you know it isn’t all women skippers getting in trouble, see the photo above- what’s wrong with this picture? The boats above all had experienced skippers. In this story, there’s a couple with 2 kids on their Newport 30, Gypsy. They haven’t been sailing long, came up from Nicaragua and have been here in the estuary for a few weeks and apparently haven’t noticed the tides. The pic above was taken after they attempted a slip landing during a max ebb current. Pushed the boat down onto the dock at high speed, they backed out and then proceeded to put up the boat up sideways on the boat next door, Sunnyside UpGypsy would’ve been pinned onto the transom except for the dinghy in the davits which which held her off by her shrouds. A few bent stanchions and mashed dinghy, but not near as bad as it could have been. Ouch.


We’re working on a few typical boat problems. Right now it is getting the refrigeration to refrigerate. Cold is good. When we get this straightened out we are ready to get back on the road, or the seas as the case may be. Looks like the plan is taking us South and East to Costa Rica and then on to Panama. Chris is trying to setup some work sometime in July, but the dates are pretty soft.

Paul

Friday, May 20, 2011

Top 10 Salvadorian jokes

They decided to have an international national police contest to be held in El Salvador. The FBI, KGB and Salvadorian State Police were all to compete. The way the contest worked was that each team got one test. The team stood at the starting stage while a rabbit was released. They had to wait 10 minutes, then they were off to capture the rabbit. The team that brought it back in the shortest time would win.

The first team out was the FBI. The judges let the rabbit out and the FBI took off hunting down the rabbit. About 2 hours latter two black suited FBI agents with aviator glasses returned holding a white rabbit.

Next off was the KGB team. They took 6 hours to corral the rabbit and bring it back. All duly noted by the judges.

The last team was the Salvadorian State Police. Everyone stood around waiting for them to return. 8 hours went by and nothing. Finally the next morning the judges see the Salvadorians dragging back an iguana. One of the Salvadorian police was hitting this bedraggled iguana with a rifle butt. Slowly the iguana turned and looked up and said slowly, '”OK, I confess – I’m a rabbit”

Actually, that’s the only Salvadorian joke I know.

Paul

[EDIT]This was told to me by a proud Salvadorian

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

December 21, 2012 – the spaceships arrive

Its still hot and humid!

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We took a week-long 3 country tour with a small group of other cruisers we’ve gotten to know here. Long van rides to Honduras, Guatemala and through eastern El Salvador to see the Mayan ruins. The Mayans ran Central America as a corporate oligarchy long before the Spaniards even dreamed of the place. Chris put the tour together with Jorge Martinez, of TourIn, El Salvador (http://www.tourinelsalvador.com/new2/). Jorge is a great guy. He really knows his country and is enthusiastic about sharing it. Works hard to get it put together for a good price, too. He is one of the movers and shakers on the El Salvador side who have worked to make the El Salvador Rally a good deal for cruisers. Good price too.

The Mayan’s had a sophisticated calendar that had a portion that repeats every 52 years. A convenient period considering their life expectancy. Ignoring what the experts say, calendar experts and New Agers figure that the calendar runs out on Dec. 21, 2012. According to Jorge, the same space ships that were used to evacuate the Mayan temples when they were mysteriously abandoned will return and pickup the rest of us at the end of 2012. So, pack your bags!

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We stopped in San Salvador at a fancy mall to hit the ATMs on our way out. This is the sign on the close in parking stalls.

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First stop was to see the Spanish colonial town of Santa Ana, El Salvador. Not a Mayan temple, but built by the same labor (and probably on the site of a previous temple, as was the practice then).

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Jorge explaining church construction and the virgin birth.

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You feel a little invasive visiting these churches, as they are clearly in very active daily use.

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On our way to the Honduran Mayan site Copan, we took a short cut through the corner of Guatemala. Here’s the important signage above the men’s urinal in the Guatemalan immigration building.

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We stayed at a way cool fancy hotel in Copan – hot running water and all. Copan is a kicked back tourist town focused on visitors to the Copan ruins.

Copan is a massive, highly decorated, set of temples and buildings. It was occupied for many centuries and then unexplainably abandoned. It’s a bit like looking at Detroit in 500 years and wondering ‘But why?’ The Temples in Copan are not as big and extensive as in Tikal, but they are more ornate and have a lot less tourism. We picked up our local guide, Saul, and headed out in the morning for a walk around. Saul is Honduran. Jorge explained to numerous times that unlike the industrious Salvadorians, Hondurans were born tired. Saul was an old rock ‘n roll guitarist now with a good paying job. He had just the right amount of detail history, anecdotes and dumb jokes.

mayaIMG_7485 Water god of some type. Note the red paint still showing on his eye. One theory is that the mercury from these paints got into the sophisticated water supply system of the town and turned them all into Mad Hatters.

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The dancing Jaguar. There’s a pair of these each facing opposite directions. Looks like they’re doing the cha-cha to me.

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Excavated temple on the left, pile of rocks on the right. They have lots of carefully labeled artifacts and blocks that are stacked around from the excavations. Some of the earlier excavations were not done with modern methods and modern, low-cost grad students. This left a lot of material that is carefully identified as GOK, or God Only Knows.

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Macaws guard the entrance and exit to Copan.

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Incoming!

After Copan we left Honduras, re-crossed the border back into Guatemala for the long haul up to Antigua. Antigua was the Spanish Colonial center of Central America. After they conquered the Mayans, they ran the whole place out Antigua. Lots of well preserved colonial buildings, along with backpacker hostels and high-end restaurants. 

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Unfortunately Antigua is surrounded by active volcanoes and very susceptible to earthquakes. These have partially destroyed the older buildings and rose to enough of an irritation to the Spaniards that they moved the capital to Guatemala City. Above is a collapsed column of the central church. It was rebuilt about a 1/3 of its original size and is still in use.

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The remnants of a colonial era frieze on the non-rebuilt side of the church.

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Looking up de road in Antigua- this arch is in all the archetypical Antigua photos. That’s Sergio, our city guide with Jorge. Note the women in the traditional Mayan dress coming down the road, they come into town from the western highlands of Guatemala to hawk their wares-- mostly weavings, all beautiful.

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Dinner at the good restaurant in Antigua.

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Vicky showing the locals how to dance in the restaurant. Guatemala is still very Mayan. Chris and I feel like giants there, as the people are classically short. These dancers wear masks that represent Europeans with colonial-era dress. The Mayans, despite hundreds of years of colonization, continue to practice much of their ancient traditions including multi-deity worship, fitting it neatly into the corner of their Catholic churches.

We had 10 cruisers on the trip. About half way through they started to drop like flies. First Vicky got sick. She had been fighting something for awhile. After her dance night she was starting to look a bit for the worse. The hotel staff organized a doctor to make a house call at the hotel. He spoke 3 or 4 languages, was Canadian-trained and had great bedside manner. Price for a house-call, US$75– less than a lot of co-pays. He thought she had strep and needed some killer antibiotics. So he called the pharmacy and they brought over meds in 20 minutes at 7pm. Cost US$30.

Vicky and Larry stayed in the hotel that night. Tom and Cary (off Dragon’s Toy) and Torbin and Judy (off Tivoli) headed off to eat with us. We settled on the La Fonda de something. It was doing a good business and had photos of the stars who had eaten there –including Bill Clinton. Torbin was the first to fall, waking up queasy later that night. 4am the next morning we had to all get up and take the van into the airport in Guatemala City for our flight to Tikal. It’s a 1 hour plane flight or a 12 hour overnight bus ride. My backs just not up to 12 hours of a Guatemalan bus. Chris didn’t look too good in the morning, but then who does at 4am? By the time we got hiking on the jungle trail to get into Tikal, she was going down fast. (I’ll spare you the details and I’ve decided to withhold the pictures in the same vain as Obama holding back the pics of Osama.) We got Chris back to the Jungle Lodge hotel room and she went down for the count. Torbin followed soon after, another wounded soldier.

mayaIMG_7602 The Jungle Lodge at Tikal. These used to be the bunks for the early excavators.

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It’s the jungle, they do have a few bugs. Chris felt right at home when she saw a scorpion. There’s no TV screen in the room, but plenty of entertainment watching the ants move bugs 50 times their size along the window screens.

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A croc in the lake by the Tikal entrance.

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Wild turkey on the trail to Tikal.

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And out of the jungle comes the temples. It must have been amazing when the early Spaniards cruised by and saw jungle covered mounds that just didn’t seem all natural.

 

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The main plaza

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These stairs really are this steep. If they were a few more degrees vertical, you’d have to call them a ladder. In the Latin lands of personal responsibility, loosing a tourist or two is not too big a deal.

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Half excavated and half still covered templemayaIMG_7640.

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The view from the top of Temple 4 looking over the Tikal jungle.

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Coatimundi, called a Pisote here,scooting across the road looking for some lunch desert. These are kind of raccoon like critters who don’t seem real fearful of or particularly interested in humans.

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A mom spider monkey transporting her baby over the lodges in the hotel. At night you hear the bellowing of the howler monkeys, supposedly the loudest mammal on earth.

 

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On our way back, we stopped at Flores, a small town on an island in the middle of Lago Peten. Just a note to remind you not to throw your garbage into the lake. Flores looks like a cute tourist town with lots of cool bars cheap beds that got a little overhyped by the Lonely Planet guidebooks.

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Once we got back into ES, we stopped in the mountain town of Sayulita along the ‘Ruta de Flores’ (Route of Flowers). One more church and a market whose stalls specialize in serving delicious hot cooked meals.

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Getting our locally grown cashews weighed at the market. US$5/kilo, or 2.2lbs.

 

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We also stopped at Joya de Ceren in El Salvador on our way back. They call this the Pompei of the Mayan ruins because it was completely covered with volcanic ash. Unlike Pompei, everyone here got to higher ground before the place got inundated (but probably died anyway due to the searing volcanic ash they’d inhaled). What’s interesting about this site is that it is not a site of high-end temples and housing for the aristocrats.  This was a working-class Mayan town, the structures that have been excavated are adobe houses. The one above is the shaman's house (in this case they believe it was a shawoman).

 

All in all, we had a great tour for a good price. And dedicated interesting guides, except in Tikal where we all suspect that the guide took us into the park on a back trail to avoid the entrance guards and was able to pocket our entrance fees. Despite this little snafu, we’d highly recommend using Jorge (TourIn) if you need any Central American travel planning.

 

Paul & Chris

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mas El Salvador

Its been awhile since the blog got updated. Using Chris’ laptop now, so CAPS, ----- and numbers are all available. Its hot and humid- like really HOT. Kind of reminds me of the growing up days in Florida, except I was a lot younger and didn’t know there was an alternative back then. We are anchored in a large estuary just off the Bahia del Sol hotel. The hotel caters to cruisers. You pay them US$14 a week for the use of the dinghy dock, pool, showers and 30% off on their menu. It’s a pretty sweet deal.

The hotel is on a fairly narrow strip of land that runs from the docks in the estuary across the main road and over to the beach. It’s a wide, long and empty beach with good shell pickings.

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  Chris getting ready to hit the waves with a Boogie board she borrowed from Henry.

The hotel has a couple of resident Macaws that live with clipped wings in a mango tree at the entrance court yard.

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My morning political discussion with the opposition. We both agreed to wear matching shirts today.

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Each morning the hotel staff put out water, seeds and mangos for the birds under their tree. If they don’t think they got enough, they come and knock at the supplies door entrance.

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“Finally, someone is paying attention to me”

 

The closest shopping is in a town about 4 miles up the estuary, La Huerradura,  that you reach by dinghy, or convoluted bus trip.

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Locals fishing in the estuary in a dug out canoe on the way to Huerradura. It’s a family affair.

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The Huerradura fishing fleet at low tide. Unfortunately, the catch includes a lot of sharks, a species soon to be endangered.

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Like most buildings in Central American towns it is well protected by high walls and guard dogs.

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Armed guards are also typical just about everywhere.  This guy is holding the weapon of choice, a pistol grip, pump shotgun. (truth in advertising, this guy is actually Guatemalan)

When the civil war peace was negotiated, one of the terms in El Salvador was to reduce the army from 80,000 to 20,000. They needed something to keep these armed and battle hardened men busy and out of trouble, so a number of large security companies were created. These guys stand in front of banks, McDonalds, fabric stores, donut shops ---- just about everywhere--- and are almost always polite and helpful.

 

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Chris checking out Santos’ new baby, Princessa. Santos is an industrious local guy who builds and manages the moorings used by many cruisers here for long term boat parking.This is on the island that is across the estuary from the hotel. No running water or electricity, but they do have a small school.

San Salvador is the ‘big’ city. No matter what you ask for around here, someone will tell you it is easy to get in San Salvador. The place has blocks and blocks of street side sellers, the ‘informal economy’ which contrasts with rows of competing high end malls (one owned by an Arab conglomerate). The malls have all the typical US stores plus high-end Euro stores. Typical wages are $7 to $10 a day here, yet the malls are doing a booming business. There is a growing middle class here, in addition to the the uber-rich, from the original (pre-civil war) 14 land-holding families. A huge chunk of the El Salvadorian GDP is actually the money sent back from the US by El Salvadorans living and working in the USA. Many families from the eastern side of the country moved to the US during the civil war because that’s where most of the fighting took place. One of the tourist ‘routes’ here is there, through the ‘Ruta de Paz’. Prior to the civil war the country was entirely controlled by 14 families who owned most of the land and were growers of indigo- once an important dye. As a result, there are now 14 counties here although the land has been redistributed and is farmed by cooperatives. Unfortunately the US CIA was instrumental in the civil war, trying to keep the original status quo in place-- and the boogey men communists out.

 

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Here’s Shannon, off of Sweetie, standing in front of the Apple repair store in San Salvador in an attempt to get here cracked screen on her Macbook fixed. The building is a palatial ex-house of one of the controlling families.

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You still see books for sale on the street covering the past glories of the guerrillas. ’Diarios de Motocileta’ (center left row) is the story of Che Guevarra in the early days – great movie if you get a chance to see it, The Motorcycle Diaries. Viva la revolucion!

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Enough politics…Check out the colors in the bark on this iTree in front of the Apple store. Those Apple guys!

 

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We stopped at a recommended machine shop in San Salvador. This place had ‘good English speakers’ and did good work, was the recommendation. I wanted to get some replacement port toggles made. Some of the older ones are starting to snap. The machine shop had about a dozen people working there – with not a drop of English. I got my point across in spanglish and hand waving. The price was a lot higher than I expected, $25 a piece, but they did good work. The original is on the left.

 

The El Salvador Rally is centered at the Bahia Del Sol Hotel. It is run by two ex-pat types, Bill & Jean on the sailboat Mita Kuluu. They have excellent support from the Ministry of Tourism and API, the port authority. The rally has no official start and no real ending and no charge to join in. Just about the right level of formality and planning for my tastes.

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The hotel throws a big party for all the cruisers and the representatives of the ministries. Lots of speeches and gift bags are given out, along with the free food and drink.

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Jeorgia’s official we-did-the-El-Salvador-rally certificate duly awarded at the banquet.

Stay-tuned for the next blog covering our inland trip to the Mayan ruins – details at 11.

Paul & Chris