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Monday, December 22, 2008

Panama City

21 December 2008

We've been anchored at La Playita in front of the Amador causeway for a week now. This is the largest city we've ever visited in Nakia, and we've had some growing pains in getting to know it. First let me say that being anchored right next to the ship channel is a thrilling experience. We have a ringside seat at one of the biggest crossroads of world commerce with ships passing us going to and from the Canal 24/7. They are a fascinating sight which for some reason I find very moving.

I mean that seriously but it's also an unfortunate pun. Between the ships, the pilot boats, the admeasurer's boats, the tour boats, the Canal Authority boats, and all the other misc. boats going by the Playita anchorage, we are in an almost constant state of motion. Periodically we are rocked by an especially large wake which knocks over cups, slides things around, and makes us lose our balance if we're not holding on to something. So far the only minor casualty is a broken chair arm when a bad wake caught John just as he was sitting down in one of our plastic cockpit chairs. People dislike the anchorage for this reason but there are currently 30 boats here as opposed to eight just across the causeway at La Flamenco. The problem with the Flamenco anchorage is a nasty swell or wind chop which is bad when the wind is out of the north, as it will be for most of the dry season. But that's a good anchorage during the rainy summer.

In both cases this is a difficult place to get anything done. The Amador Causeway is a tourist/weekender oriented strip loaded with steak and seafood restaurants and not much else. There's no Wifi to the anchorage, no laundry, no grocery store, and no showers, despite a $5/day charge to use the dinghy dock (which is accessible to the public and therefore not technically secure). The closest Wifi is at Bennigan's restaurant which is a dinghy ride to the La Playita dock and then a 15 minute walk around the causeway to the Flamenco Marina office where we end up looking straight back out at Nakia in Playita. The more direct route would be to land the dinghy on the causeway itself but that is forbidden and the fine is $500.

We wouldn't be bothered by any of this if there was a dependable bus service to get us off the causeway into town. But the fact that the local cruiser's guide lists 14 taxi drivers must be indicative of something. We had three bad bus days in a row when we first arrived. We waited three different times for at least an hour before giving up and catching a cab. One day we traveled extensively around the city and paid $27 for a total of three cab rides. But our last two bus days turned out better as we figured out that it's wiser to go out before 9 AM and come back in the late afternoon. All the restaurant workers use the collectivos (.25/ride) so they seem to run more frequently at peak staff turnover times. Because of the size of the city many cruisers have given up on taking buses, preferring to hire taxi's at $8-10/hour to take them around on their errands. This is so counter to our do-it-ourselves philosophy that we are determined to figure out the bus system. I simply cannot bear the thought of taking a taxi back and forth just to do my laundry!

We've checked out three of the recommended grocery store chains and basically this is like living in the States. We've seen items that have been missing from our lives for four years, but at Stateside prices (we imagine) we'll go on doing without them. Where we've seriously gone off the cruiser budget wagon this week is eating out. We celebrated our arrival with a delicious Italian meal at Alberto's with Sarana; ate lunches out during shopping days; splurged big time on beers and burgers at a Bennigan's Wifi fix; had a disappointing post-laundry ordeal meal at Mi Ranchito's (which is always mystifyingly packed considering the ho-hum food there); indulged in high end Indian food at Masala (no lunch buffet here!); and I'm working my way through all the flavors of ice cream at Gelarti (not really gelato, but good ice cream).

I'm enjoying all that life in the big city has to offer but John is pining for the slower pace (and calmer anchorages) of the Las Perlas islands. Our new oil sender should arrive before Christmas, and we'll attend a potluck dinner on the 25th with 30 other cruisers at the Balboa Yacht Club. We should be back out in the islands for a quiet NY's eve.

Linda and John

Friday, December 19, 2008

Isla Mogo Mogo to Panama City

17 December 2008

The evening before leaving the "Survivor" islands we were bathing off the boat and watching two of the tent campers preparing to swim the channel from Mogo Mogo back to their camp on Chapera. The current was running swiftly and it would be dark soon. Even though they wore fins and masks we were a little concerned about their safety. Also I happened to be in the water without a swim suit and hoped they would pass Nakia quickly so I could get out and rinse off.

Instead the two guys headed straight for us to stop and ask if they could hitch a ride to Panama City with us. We had spoken to Anton on the beach earlier in the day and mentioned that we were heading there on Sunday. Oddly enough John later asked me how I would feel about offering them a lift. We discussed all the cons of having very little fresh food left; what if they're late; they and all their gear would be covered in sand and salt; four extra people is a lot for Nakia to handle (our cockpit is made for two), etc. But I agreed with John that it would be a wild and crazy thing to do, so when they showed up to ask us we were already prepared to say yes.

As soon as it was light enough Sunday morning John launched the dinghy and made two trips to get the four people and all their gear. Sure enough they brought half the beach with them. We stow our inflatable right side up on the foredeck so it was easy enough to fit their big backpacks and dive gear in the dink when we brought it up on deck. After we got underway John put them to work washing the sand off the side decks with sea water so we wouldn't track sand into the cockpit and down into the cabin. I heated water for coffee, tea and hot chocolate, and we sailed out of the islands with a light breeze.

The three guys were in their second year of medical school in Montreal and Emily (Lionel's girl friend) was about to begin a Master's program. They were on a camping/spear fishing school break and were headed to the Caribbean side of Panama next. They were covered in bites from no-see-ums which they said had flown right through the no-see-um netting of their tents. We offered them showers down below and Lionel went first. Emily followed him but by that time we were motoring through sloppy tidal chop and it was a bouncy ride, especially for someone shut in a tiny bathroom at the bow of the boat. Poor Emily finally made it back up on deck where she promptly threw up over the side. She was a trooper though and after some time in the sun and fresh air she felt much better.

We had just enough bread left to make sandwiches with lunch meat, cheese and one big tomato sliced six ways, and a packet of cookies each for dessert. After subsisting on nothing but fish and rice for the previous couple of days our new crew was most appreciative of our simple fare. After our early lunch Lionel and Anton played chess while Emily and Mahmoud snoozed on deck until the wind really picked up at 1 PM. For the next two hours we blasted along at six and seven knots, catching three big crevalle before John declared fishing season closed. The crew were all excited about the fish but we don't keep crevalle and we were heeling and sailing so fast that we didn't want anyone getting hurt trying to land a fish.

We sailed through all the huge anchored ships up to the La Playita anchorage surprising our friends with our mystery crew. After two trips to the dinghy dock and many thanks we got everyone unloaded. We then picked up Sarana to go ashore where our crew treated us to beers and sodas. The day was a success and we were happy to have saved the four hitch hikers from the expense of paying a panga to take them to Contadora and then a flight from there to Panama City. They brightened our day and broke the monotony of getting from one place to the next.

Linda and John


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Las Perlas islands

We are currently located in the famed Las Perlas islands of Panama. We spent Monday and Tuesday nights in the flat calm but trash laden inlet between Islas Cana and del Rey. We were stunned by the amount and variety of plastics covering the high tide line on the beaches and floating by the boat at each tidal change. It was so bad that we had to keep an eye out for waves of stuff coming by when we bathed off the boat. And snorkeling or swimming were out of the question because it was too creepy.

This continued as we passed Espiritu Santo, where there's a calm anchorage in a larger pass between islands, and on into the hook at Punta Matadero on Isla del Rey where we spent Wednesday night. We saw all shapes and sizes of plastic buckets, jugs, containers, baskets, toys, shoes, and furniture. It was a shocking sight which we did our best to ignore as we took beach walks with Sarana in the afternoons. The islands are incredibly beautiful and each one is unique. Some rocky islets remind us of the Pacific Northwest and other islands are studded with white sand (coral) beaches, looking like everyone's version of a tropical paradise. There are all kinds of interesting rock formations in beautiful colors, and the look of each place changes with the tides as beaches and rocks appear and disappear.

On Thursday we continued north to Isla Contadora where wealthy Panamanians own vacation homes; there are expensive resorts; and most importantly they sell beer, and a modest and dearly priced selection of groceries. Best of all the supply barge had arrived that very day with fresh fruits and veggies, so we bought tomatoes and a delicious pineapple to last us until Panama City. The beer drinking was cut short when the sky turned black and white caps began forming in the anchorage. Of course we'd left all the hatches wide open so we raced back to the boats (four total because we'd met up with old friends from Honduras and Mexico) to raise anchor and move around the corner to a more protected side of the island.

Yesterday morning we dinghied out to Isla Bartolome for some snorkeling on the low tide. It was a bit of a rough ride in the wind and current chop, but it was well worth the effort. The snorkeling was really just above average but it seemed stupendous to me after such a long dry spell. And the island itself is a small gem with white beaches and exposed rock ledges at low tide. We made a quick circumnavigation of it on shore, and it's worth a return trip with a picnic lunch next time. We've seen little to no garbage on the beaches up in this area which is a huge relief.

This morning we sailed an hour to anchor between Islas Chapera and Mogo Mogo where a season of "Survivor" was filmed. After snorkeling off of Mogo Mogo we walked a bit on Chapera where there were two obviously cleared areas. Although we searched the woods/jungle we found no other "Survivor" relics, but there were three young guys tent camping and spear fishing on the island, living their own survivor reality vacation.

This is paradise. There are more boats than we've seen in a month but it's fun watching them come and go. There are so many islands and anchorages to choose from that it's easy to imagine spending a year here (except for the dreaded rainy season). We still have to get to Panama City tomorrow for engine parts and food but we hope to be back out in the islands by Christmas.

Linda and John


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Punta Garachine to Isla Cana, Las Perlas

8 December 2008

Today was a relatively short day of only 34 nm in eight hours. We tried to give the engine a vacation by sailing as much as possible but the winds were mostly light so we just kept the RPMs low while motoring. John played around with the oil pressure sensor and he's convinced that it's bad, but we still need to address the issue of fuel leaking into the oil.

Oh, and we don't feel so guilty now about dragging Sarana away from their Darien trip. After we left this morning they called and told us their desperately dying batteries were giving the alternator fits and they couldn't run anything like navigation lights. They needed to wait until after sunrise to follow us. Their new batteries are waiting for them in Panama City so they're just as anxious as we are to get their problem solved. John keeps joking that between us we might have one good cruising boat.

The nice thing about traveling slowly on calm seas is the number of cool things you're able to see, like: 3-4 big carp-like fish hanging out under a floating log; a flying fish that kept flying until it was out of sight; big sea birds roosting on big logs and little birds on little logs; the flash of blue and gold as a dorado swam underwater past the boat; a brilliant emerald green dragonfly taking a breather on the lifelines; a sea tern hitching a ride on our solar panel for an hour (yes, nature girl got to clean the poop up afterwards); dolphins riding our bow wake; a whale's back before it disappears from sight; and finally, absolutely amazingly, a dorado flashing blue and silver in mid-air while in hot pursuit of a flying fish out in front of it. That is definitely one of the most memorable sights we've seen in over four years of cruising.

Linda and John


Bahia Pina to Punta Garachine, Golfo de San Miguel

7 December 2008

After agreeing with Sarana that if we woke to rain we'd postpone the day's passage, we departed under a mostly starry sky. It was amazing to pick out constellations again (John spotted Polaris for the first time in probably seven months) and to see starlight reflected in calm seas. I enjoyed three idyllic hours watching the sky for satellites, planes, shooting stars, and flashbulbs of lightning behind clouds on the southern and eastern horizons.

Pause for the errrkk of a phonograph needle scratching across a record album or the screeching sound of a car hitting the brakes...

At 6 AM someone flipped a switch and we literally went from la-di-dah bliss to 18 knots of north wind and its friend, 3' wind chop. Did I mention we were motoring north? An hour later whoever was controlling the switch turned it off and we were bouncing around in no wind trying to sail. Forty minutes later the wind was back. This went on for another couple of hours with all the accompanying jib in, jib out, reef the main, take the reef out, engine on, engine off, etc.

The reason we were trying to sail is because of a problem with the engine oil pressure. That first time we tried to motor into the north wind and waves John revved it up to 2000 RPM, our normal cruising speed when we don't have the benefit of current behind us. The engine overheated and we lost oil pressure (according to the gauge). Until John could troubleshoot the problem we needed to sail as much as possible to our destination. To get the most out of the variable wind strength John hand steered most of the way. By early afternoon we were entering the gulf and were feeling the adverse affects of all those Darien Province rivers ebbing against us. Plus the wind had died to almost nothing again.

But this gave us perfect conditions for John to do an oil change. We've had a problem with the engine "making oil" (fuel leaking into the oil) and an oil change would at least eliminate that issue for a little while. John quickly dispatched the sweaty job and we consulted Sarana about diverting to a closer anchorage than we had planned on. They agreed it was useless fighting the ebb and that's how we ended up in this relatively exposed location.

We were fortunate to have calm conditions for one night here but we knew we couldn't count on it to stay that way for long. The original plan was to buddy boat a couple of the Darien rivers with Sarana but with our engine problem appearing to worsen we feel the prudent choice is to press on to Panama City to effect repairs.

Linda and John


Monday, December 08, 2008

Bahia Solano, Colombia to Bahia Pina, Panama

6 December 2008

We made great time during our overnight passage from Colombia here to Panama. We did quite a bit of motoring but with a 1-2 knot current in our favor we kept the engine at a low 1500-1600 RPM. And the best part was that we only had half an hour of hard rain even though we saw lightning to the south all night.

We anchored at 10:30 this morning, had a bite to eat, and picked Sarana up to see about going for a walk across the peninsula to Playa Blanca. The lobe of Bahia Pina in which we're anchored is owned by the Tropic Star Lodge but the guide books say that the resort usually gives permission to walk their beach and cross their property to the white sand beaches. A very nice man waved us in to their fuel dock and called the office after we explained what we wanted to do. We waited a few minutes before Kristi arrived to ask us our boat names as she consulted a laminated list. We assured her we were not on her list of member boats. She was very friendly and politely explained to us that they were in the midst of bringing a large private group in that day and we would not be allowed to mingle amongst the guests, not even on the beach right in front of the resort. She offered us the use of their moorings for $25/night, but I'm not sure that included shore privileges. (TSL monitors VHF channel 84 and you can make a fuel dock reservation to purchase diesel at $4.50/gallon.)

Disappointed but determined to make the most of it, we dinghied around a point to the much larger (brown sand) beach in front of the village of Bahia Pina where many of the TSL employees live. Even though it was low tide we made it over a shallow bar into a river, avoiding a surf landing on the main beach. The indigenous village children were riding their child size wooden dugout canoes through the surf having a great time. They approached our boats this morning after anchoring, but not until some sport fishers came in later did I realize they were waiting for us to give them candy.

Groggy from our night passage we had a quick dinner and went to bed early for an 0300 departure to the Darien Province the next day. Bahia Pina was a comfortable place to stop and rest, but with no access (other than by a long rough dinghy ride) to the nicer beaches we opted to press on.

Linda and John


Friday, December 05, 2008

Bahia de Solano, Colombia

I'm afraid our fast sailing passages may have come to an end. We raised anchor in Utria at 7 AM on Monday and motored the 40 nm to Solano accompanied by Sarana. The wind was too light to try to do any sailing in the lumpy seas coming from all directions (both Sherrell and I were a bit sea sick at first), and it poured down rain until we began our entrance to Solano in the mid-afternoon. We don't have a cockpit cover with standing headroom, and we needed to keep a good lookout for the many floating logs and tree trunks floating close to the coast. John volunteered to get soaked while I stayed dry down below. He wore deck shoes, swim trunks, T-shirt, wet suit jacket, light rain jacket, and a ball cap, and managed to stay warm except for his feet.
We anchored in deep water off the Guarda Costa station and municipal pier at Solano where we watched a small cargo/passenger ferry being loaded with lumber and other goods. The next morning the military guys came by in their boat to get our boat name and general info (where have you come from, where are you going, how long are you staying, how many persons on board, etc.). They were very nice and polite and even offered us a ride to shore. Since it wasn't even 7 AM yet we declined and waited until after the morning Panama-Pacific HF radio net to go ashore. We locked the dinghy to one of the concrete pillars of the small black wood building and set off on the very wet and muddy road, happy we had chosen to wear Teva style sandals instead of flip flops (which would have left us with muddy stripes up the backs of our legs).
It's only a 15 minute walk from the pier to town and we went directly to TransBahia to meet with Juan Carlos, our ship's agent for Solano. For only $50 (compared to the $120 in Tumaco) he is taking care of helping us with the paperwork for the Port Captain and Migracion. We will be getting our international zarpe and officially exiting Colombia for Panama from here on Friday. We then explored town to find the one bank (with ATM) and several small tiendas (no super mercado here), none of which had any vegetables other than some tired potatoes, onions, and garlic. The town has been waiting for a cargo ferry to arrive from Buenaventura with a load of supplies but no one knows when it might arrive. We are in desperate need of some fresh veggies (Sarana even more so since they are vegans), but it's not looking good for the supply boat to arrive before we leave. We did manage to have a 30 lb tank of propane delivered to the pier and John spent the rest of the day transferring gas from it to our tanks (one 10 lb and two 5 lb tanks). Since we had to pay for the whole thing anyway we donated the rest of the tank to the lady at the snack shack where we lock the dinghy.
It rained hard Tuesday night and most of Wednesday but on Thursday the sun is managed to shine through a mostly overcast sky. After checking prices to have laundry done at one of the hotels (there is a new lavanderia being established but it isn't quite open yet) we opted to do some hand washing since rain water has been so plentiful. We're anchored between two waterfalls on shore and the snack shack even installed a fresh water spigot on the beach during our stay. John filled our water jugs from that but he had to filter it through a pump and we'll use it for washing only.
On Thursday we ate almuerzo at "Gloria's" (no sign outside; it's just a couple of doors from the Artesania place as you come off the road which leads to the pier) which was very good. While we waited for our agent today we had juice drinks at Cabalonga, a charming restuarant with an actual menu. Too bad we didn't discover it earlier in the week because it looked very good. Everything is priced higher here than we're used to with almuerzo running about USD$5 a person, but it's mostly very good. After our lunch on Thursday we hiked to a waterfall up the river which runs through town. The last 20 minutes were spent wading up the stream itself which was easier than clambering up the banks to smidgens of trails which didn't go far. The water flows quickly and the rocks were not slippery. It was pretty, but too misty to take the camera out.
As I write this we're waiting for our agent to arrive with the Port Captain so that we can complete our check-out and be on our way to Panama. We were hoping to depart by 2 PM, but of course now (at 1 PM) it's pouring down rain. It doesn't sound like there's any wind blowing on the coast so it could be another sloppy motor trip overnight to Bahia Pina.
Linda and John

Monday, December 01, 2008

Utria, Colombia

We left Gorgona and after 36 hours of mostly sailing we diverted to Coqui to drop anchor and call it a day. We were soon visited by Paulo and Fidel in their pangas. They are not fishermen and seemed like enterprising people who were ready to ferry us to shore and bring us anything we needed from the small tienda in Jovi, the town we were anchored off of. Paulo went so far as to exchange cell phone numbers with us, but all the curiosity and questions made us a little nervous. We bought a papaya from him at an inflated price and he went on his way.

We spent a quiet night and were up before dawn to motor on to Ensenada Utria. Why on earth did we stay so long at Isla Gorgona?! Although it's deep all the way up to shore (we dropped anchor in 50'), it's flat calm in here. We are anchored directly off of the new park building because there is a struggling coral "reef" off of the south facing beach. Daniel and Ericson came out in the park panga to lead us in.

On arrival we were told we needed to pay an additional park entry fee of USD$12.50 per person and nothing was said about an anchoring fee (in fact I'm sure we asked and were told there was no charge to anchor). Unfortunately we made the mistake of complaining about how expensive Gorgona was and yesterday a modest anchoring fee (COL$7,000 per night; about USD$3) was requested as well. Interestingly enough we were only given a receipt for the park entry fee while none was issued for the anchoring fee. This is a dead giveaway that it's not a posted price.

There appear to be two hiking options here, both requiring a guide. There's a 2-3 hour (one way) hike to the small town of El Valle or a 30 minute hike across the peninsula to a snorkeling beach. Abaslan, a guide, quoted us USD$30 for our group of four to do the latter. We talked him down to a still pricey $20, but since it's been pouring down rain all day we ended up canceling. We did a short low tide walk through the mangroves with Ericson yesterday and snorkeled a wreck and the coral "reef." The wreck is marked by a buoy here near where we're anchored and wasn't visible in the murky water without free diving down to it. The coral was disappointing with very few fish, but both the walk and the two swims provided some needed diversion.

That afternoon one of the marine guards asked John if we could charge his cellular phone for him, and the next thing we knew John had a bag full of seven dead cell phones and their respective AC charge cords. He plugged them all into the inverter and while they were charging the guys came out with a load of husked coconuts, papayas, chili peppers, and plantains for us to share with Sarana. It was very thoughtful of them and we sent a few magazines back with the phones so they could at least flip through the pictures.

We are out of propane and down to the last of our fresh provisions and are weary of haggling over fees, so we leave for Bahia Solano Monday morning where we hope to check out of Colombia for Panama. I say hope because at this point we expect nothing to go smoothly or cheaply in Colombia.

Linda and John


Sunday, November 30, 2008

Isla Gorgona prices

It's been difficult to sit down and write this because our stay at Gorgona ended badly due to a dispute over the bill. I'll try to keep this short but at the same time I hope others can learn from our experience which could happen anywhere.

From information given to us by Diesel Duck, who visited in July, we knew that the quoted buoy price was USD$25 per person per night (which is in addition to the USD$12.50 per person park entry fee). We also knew that Ben and Marlene had negotiated a buoy price of USD$5 for their one night stay. Before leaving Tumaco Eric sent an email to Aviatur in Bogota asking several questions about Gorgona including the cost of the buoys. When the response was USD$25 per person per night Eric replied that that was too expensive and we would give it a pass. But we decided to stop anyway in case we could negotiate a better price with the staff on the island.

At the end of our initial meeting with William, the resort manager, we asked about the buoy price, and told him we wanted to pay the same fee as our friends on Diesel Duck. Without quoting us a price directly William said we would have to speak to Carlos at the adjacent desk in the office (first red flag). Eric asked how much the bouys were, Carlos consulted his computer, frowned and told us $5. We hadn't brought any cash with us so we couldn't pay up front that first day.

After our hike the next day Eric and John met with Carlos to pay our bill to date. They were able to pay the park entry fee, the hiking fee, and the boot rental fee, for all of which they received a receipt. But Carlos said he wasn't sure how to enter the negotiated buoy fee into the computer and we should come back later for that (second red flag). Again Eric made sure Carlos repeated the price of USD$5 back to him.

Two days later Eric and John went by the office again to try to pay our bill. We were now more certain that we would depart the following night and we wanted to get this wrapped up. But once again Carlos put them off with his inability to put the non-standard price in the computer (third red flag).

On 11/25 we went ashore for some final Wifi and to see the prison ruins, after which we again paid a visit to Carlos. Eric explained to him that we were leaving that night, that we still owed for the buoys and a lunch, and we needed to settle the bill. William was present in the office, along with Marie, another resort staff member. Carlos said he needed to go talk to someone about the cost of our lunch and exited the office.

Eric and I waited in the office while John and Sherrell went to fill water jugs. When they returned from that errand we were still waiting for Carlos to return. Eric went looking for Carlos and couldn't find him anywhere. Marie offered to help us with our bill but when she mentioned the official buoy price we told her we needed to speak with Carlos. She couldn't locate him for us (fourth red flag).

After at least an hour of waiting in the office wondering aloud where Carlos could be William finally got involved. We explained our deal with Carlos, and William insisted there must have been a misunderstanding and that we would have to pay the full price. Thinking that she was producing "proof" that we were fully aware of the actual price all along, Marie then printed out Eric's email to Aviatur and waved it at us and William. We argued that we would never have stayed even one night at that price, which Eric's email to Aviatur clearly showed.

Sadly the argument went nowhere despite our assertions that no one ever told us to our faces that we would be charged the full price, and that Carlos confirmed the USD$5 deal every time Eric met with him. Carlos had obviously ditched us or was told to disappear, so we weren't able to confront him face to face. To make matters worse we didn't have the pesos to pay the full price since we never expected to need it. Eric and John finally gave William what they could and we left.

In hindsight we should have insisted on paying up front, and left immediately when they kept putting us off. But everyone seemed friendly and we were enjoying our stay there. Actually now that we're at Utria we wonder why we stayed so long at Gorgona in the first place since Utria is a far superior anchorage.

Linda and John

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Coqui, Colombia

Just a quick note to let everyone know that we left Isla Gorgona at midnight on Tuesday and arrived here this afternoon. We'll head out early in the morning for Utria, another national park about 25 miles up the coast.

Hope everyone is having a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Linda and John


Monday, November 24, 2008

More Isla Gorgona

24 November 2008

Sunday morning at dawn we watched cargo being off loaded from a small double decker ferry into a panga and then onto the beach. It appeared to be mostly building supplies such as wood planks, metal struts/gutters/drain pipes, and plastic paint/stucco buckets. Later a panga arrived weighed down with fresh palm thatch. Then they loaded the old thatch, wood and other debris onto the panga for disposal. No doubt the park is restricted from cutting or burning their own thatch, though we've seen them trimming the palm leaves and coconuts (probably to prevent the latter from falling on the heads of their guests).

We noticed wireless routers at the resort and asked for permission to bring our laptops into the restaurant. All set for a day of internet we were disappointed to discover that most of what we needed was blocked. We couldn't access basic things like Yahoo discussion groups, Airmail, or even our own blogs. This was very frustrating and meant we got little work done other than gathering some weather info, podcasts, and world news.

Anticipating a midnight departure whenever we finally begin the next leg of our trip John decided we should go ahead and move to the second orange can buoy (at the GPS position of my previous post) so we can just slip a line rather than have to raise anchor in the dark. We successfully tied off to its pennant and hadn't been settled in for more than 30 minutes when a small Colombian naval/coast guard (they seem to use "armada" and "guarda costa" interchangeably so they're probably the same entity) ship arrived and launched its inflatable. The two young crewmen very politely explained that their ship needed to tie to our buoy for two nights but that we were welcome to raft-up to them or tie off to their stern. We told them that we would tie off their stern but while they were getting tied tothe buoy, we tried out the fendered mooring near Sarana. It is sufficiently secure, even though the waves were noticeably bigger, and decided to stay on it rather then figure out how to tie off the stern of the CG boat. The wind built over night and it got very bouncy because any wind out of the southern quadrant sends chop right through here. We're hoping for a more westerly shift tonight.

Once Nakia was settled in her third berth of the day John picked Eric up for a visit to the ship. They were invited aboard for a tour of the bridge, and were able to ask a number of questions pertaining to possible anchorages and safe coastal transit strategies (stay at least 20 miles off shore). The navy even had a spare copy of a detailed chart of Bahia Solano which they gave Eric.

There's something brewing in the Caribbean which is causing spillover winds to the north of us. So we made the decision this morning to hang here another night or two rather than chance a bumpy ride to Utria (another national park). That will be about a 36 hour passage and we'd prefer to wait for better conditions to make it a more comfortable sail.

In Ziggy news we are sorry to report that we made the decision to dispose of his beloved grass. It had gone dormant in the cooler climate of Ecuador (John insists it was simply dieing) and was getting browner and browner leaving very little green for Ziggy to munch on. He finally viewed it as something to destroy and delighted in digging out the dead grass, dirt clods, and gravel rocks, and tossing them all over the deck. This was something we just didn't have the energy to fight him on so we tossed the contents overboard. Now he sits in the empty Rubbermaid dish pan, his pink nose twitching over fleeting scent memories of dirt and grass...

Linda and John

Isla Gorgona

23 November 2008

It feels like we've discovered a tropical paradise here, but you can take that with a grain of salt since we just spent six months in Bahia de Caraquez. It's beautiful, quiet, the people are friendly, the water is a clear deep blue, and best of all there are no fishing pangas roaring in and out. Granted the mooring area isn't all that protected from the swell so it's bouncy at times, and we have our rocker stopper working full time. There's also usually a good breeze and some corresponding wind chop. But it's so peaceful and lovely that we are very happy to be here.

Gorgona is part of Colombia's Parque Nacional Natural system which emulates the parks established in Costa Rica and Panama. It's unique in that the island also supports an eco resort for tourists (Google Aviatur for package prices). For cruising boats there are two orange metal can buoys and one orange fender type all with poly-pro pennants. Sarana took the first can we saw on arrival while Nakia elected to anchor in very deep (40' plus) water. Technically we aren't supposed to anchor but we haven't been asked to move to a buoy yet.

Prices seem to be a bit of a moving target. We found prices on the internet, but except for the park entry fee (COP$25,000 pp; current peso rate is around COP$2,200 to the USD) everything else varies. We found the official price for a mooring to be far too expensive (similar to what Panama has recently begun enforcing in their Western Islands) and, based on a friend's previous visit, we negotiated something more reasonable for our budget. We were also quoted a price for our hike on Saturday but it turned out to be almost half that when we went to pay. We rented boots and of course the boot rental price was about twice what we were quoted, so in the end the overall cost of the hike was just a little less then the quoted price. It helps to keep an open mind when you get your bill.

We had a terrific passage from Tumaco, departing at 11 AM on Thursday and arriving here at dawn on Friday. It was another great sail averaging five knots or better until the last few hours when we had to slow down to arrive in daylight. We ate a big breakfast and were ready to crash when two guys from the dive shop paddled out in a kayak to tell us that our presence was requested for the orientation presentation. We begged off until Noon and then went in, still groggy from our brief nap. We met first in William's office for a welcome talk, and sat through a short DVD program on the park system and then a talk about the island itself at the interpretive center/museum. Although we were served coffee and tea everything was in Spanish, and we were practically comatose, so it was a bit wasted on us. But we took a walk around the well groomed resort grounds and then returned to the boat for a refreshing swim.

Saturday morning we went in at 8 AM to see about going on a hike. They don't allow anyone to hike trails without a paid guide, even though the trails themselves are easy to follow. This might be because of dangers posed by the three types of poisonous snakes and the very muddy, slick trails. Likewise you're required to wear calf high rubber boots which they conveniently rent for a nominal fee (bring your own socks). The hiking fee itself is also reasonable especially if you get Jesus as your guide. He doesn't speak English so were were lucky to have Eric as our translator, but Jesus spotted every lizard, frog, snake, and monkey there was to see. He told us we were exceptionally lucky to see four of the hard to find blue lizard (only a few inches long and slender as a pencil), two elegant walking frogs (I've forgotten the real names of things, though the latter is close), and a slender tan snake that Eric thought was a stick until it moved. Jesus also stopped to quickly husk a coconut with his machete, which we thought was for us until he showed us a pool full of coconut eating crayfish and shrimp. We enjoyed watching shrimp of all sizes duking it out for bits of coconut meat. Even the tiny fish managed to steal little pieces, and we nibbled on some of it ourselves. We saw two troops of Capuchin monkeys, but it turns out those are easy to see since we ran across a dozen of them right on the resort grounds Sunday morning.

The ultimate destination was a beach on the other side, opposite Isla Gorgonilla which is a bird and turtle nesting sanctuary. Since we get our fill of beaches living on boats this wasn't all that exciting for us, and we didn't bother swimming in the surf. The four of us sat on a log cooling our feet in a freshwater stream and watched three Swiss tourists grinding their skin off while attempting to body surf in the shore break. We back-tracked to the beach on "our" side of Gorgona where a panga met us at 2 PM for a ride back to the resort. We started out at 9 AM but Jesus went slowly and stopped at every interpretive sign so it's not really that far a distance, and was definitely worth doing. We got back in time to see a mother and baby humpback off in the distance. Apparently August and September are the prime whale watching months here and the season ended about a week ago so we were lucky. After sunset Sarana was visited by a mom (18') and baby (6-8') whale shark gliding right along the side of their boat. I'd call that a full day!

Linda and John


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tumaco wrap up

We had planned to leave for Isla Gorgona today but Sherrell woke up with an upset stomach so we'll wait one more day for her to feel better. We spent most of yesterday in the agent's office and in town taking care of last minute business.

Cruising Colombia is a work in progress and who knows what it will be like for the next boats to arrive here. We had hoped to get an international exit zarpe to Panama which would include intermediate stops at Isla Gorgona, Ensenada Utria and Bahia Solano. However, the Port Captain here would only authorize us to go to Gorgona and then on to Panama. If we want to go to Utria and/or Solano (or any place else beside Gorgona) we have to go to Solano and check in with the Port Captain there. That requires another agent, but he only costs $50 per boat including in/out so we opted for that. We're still stamped into Colombia on our passports and will receive a national zarpe only. The good news is it will include Gorgona and Utria. Why the local Port Captain will authorize us to go to Utria on a national zarpe and not on an international zarpe is not clear.

What is clear is that the Colombians are very honest and sticklers for paperwork. When we were asking about how our friends following us from Ecuador should enter Tumaco, the agent was very clear that your international zarpe must state that your destination is Tumaco, not Panama or some other port. He said it would be very complicated and problematic if your destination was not Tumaco. But when the conversation worked around a little, and the subject of needing food or fuel came up, the issue was suddenly simple: "If there's an emergency, there's no problem at all to come into Tumaco!" So, if you happen to have gotten contaminated fuel in Ecuador or something like that, and need to stop to clean your filters or tanks, it sounds like it doesn't matter what the destination is on your zarpe. He made it clear that the boat with the problem would need to state that they had an emergency on board and were coming to Tumaco because of that emergency.

Entry: Call Guarda Costa on VHF 16 no later than your arrival at the entrance buoy, and probably earlier than that if you need an English speaking person. They will need the following info:
- Your ship's agent (Servimar, whom you will have already contacted; see below)
- Name of vessel
- Names and passport numbers of all persons on board
- Zarpe number
- Cargo info like number of gallons of diesel, gasoline, and water that you're carrying

Ship's Agent:
Agencia Maritima
Balvino Gutierrez Martinez (or his very nice son, Charlie)
serviadu@col2.telecom.com.co (try this well in advance of your arrival as we used our cell)
Across the street from the gas station outside the base gates on the other side of the unused children's park.
Initially asked for $150 per boat in/out, but agreed to $120US.
All in Spanish but Charlie said they can get an English speaker if necessary. The agent made all the arrangements to meet with Aduana, the Port Captain, and Migracion at the Coast Guard/Navy dock. Do not go to the Port Captain's office yourself. They don't want to deal with you.

Fuel is currently approx. $3US for gasoline and $2.50 for diesel. The gas station just outside the pier has very erratic hours and is sometimes out of fuel.

We had purified water delivered to the pier and transferred it to our own containers.
Oasis (the company): 727 3206
Pablo, the driver (cell): 317 792 0616

Linda and John

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Quiet weekend in Tumaco

We had another nice day here on Saturday. It began with a trip to the mercado municipal which, for a city this size, was surprisingly small with a limited but sufficient selection of fruits and vegetables and was not as nice as the one in Bahia de Caraquez. We then visited several outboard motor shops as John would love to find a good deal on a new 15HP two-stroke engine for our dinghy. Yamaha, Mercury, and Suzuki motors are available here for prices a few hundred dollars less then those in the US. But more interesting than the details of price and availability of the various motors was the conversations we were able to have with the vendors. In one very large shop we had the full attention of Montoya and Fabio, and Eric and John were able to talk at length with them while Sherrell and I mostly listened and tried to follow what was being said. After being a bit lost for awhile we both immediately perked up when we were asked about Obama becoming president, and our enthusiastic responses were returned in kind by our new friends. Those are the kind of great moments travelers live for.

We made another trip to the commercial super market, followed by almuerzo just down the street, and then more internet. We took the bus to Hotel La Barranquilla at Playa Morro to pick up our bags of laundry, and the boys couldn't resist the lure of Club Colombia beers at a beach palapa across the street. After quickly becoming accustomed to fifty cent beers here they had sticker shock when the bar tab was over double that, but that's par for the course at beach bars.

After a short bus ride back to the pier, we loaded everything into the dinghy and called it another good day of cruising.

Today we're spending a quiet day on the boat doing chores and taking it easy. Eric and Sherrell were visited by a panga full of Colombian tourists who climbed aboard Sarana to have their photos taken. We were all prepared to be next, but they must have felt one sailboat souvenir picture was enough.

Linda and John

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Cruiser chores

We spent most of Friday taking care of normal cruiser chores here in Tumaco. We loaded everyone in Nakia's dinghy including laundry and laptops from both boats, and did the rusty old hulk dinghy landing again. This time the tide was even lower and we had to use a second set of pilings to climb across on. We walked about a mile to the hotel area on the nearby tourist beach where we negotiated a price for our laundry at the Hotel Barranquilla. They don't normally take in personal laundry and had no concept of charging by kilo/pound. Instead they charge by the piece, which in past experience has proved exorbitant. So we waited while the woman counted out her idea of what constituted a "piece" (one shirt; two pillowcases; one bandana and a hand towel; one queen sized sheet). It seemed arbitrary to me, but it came out to a fair price of around $5 per bag. There wasn't a machine in sight, and I have to wonder if the per piece pricing is because they'll be doing it by hand.

We then went upstairs to the hotel restaurant to use their wireless internet. We spent several hours there (they must only open for dinner because we were the only customers), and then went next door to La Barracuda for another vegan (Eric and Sherrell are vegans and we liked the sound of what they ordered) almuerzo of beans, rice, and patacones (plantains cut crosswise, smashed, and fried, but not greasy) with a generous helping of the local aji, or hot sauce.

We walked back to the pier where John ran the laptops out to the boats, and we all went for a walk through the nearest neighborhood on the road to central Tumaco. Many of the houses in this area are built on stilts with raised wooden walk ways connecting them over the estuarial land. The wooden houses were interspersed with small tiendas selling the basics and we managed to find one guy selling ice cream. There wasn't much to the place so by the time we got to the Navy base we were ready to turn around and return to the boats.

Here's a link to a news story John found about what was actually going on when we were in town on Wednesday:


Today we plan to see if there's a Saturday market. It turns out that Monday is a holiday, so we think we will do the checkout process on Tuesday for a Wednesday departure for Isla Gorgona about a 100 miles up the coast.

Linda and John

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Just another day in Colombia

We had an adventurous day here in Colombia today.

Eric and I started out by taking a survey of the area outside the channel. We're anchored in, or very close to, a navigation channel near the Coast Guard station here in Tumaco. The Port Captain has said that we can't really stay where we're anchored, but since we are no longer going ashore at the CG station (it's restricted) no one has come out to remind us that we should move. It looks like there's plenty of depth available east of the channel so we can move there and still be in visible range of the CG station. There's something very comforting about half a dozen olive drab Boston Whalers with 50 caliber machine guns mounted on them.

Next, Eric and I checked out our landing possibilities. Since we can't use the CG dock we checked out an old tuna cannery. There is a rusty old staircase leading up from the water, and a rusty old boat tied to the pier. The rusty old staircase held my (John's) weight long enough to get me to the top to find a rusty old locked gate. A smaller person could fit through the hole in the rusty old fence, but since the hole was surrounded by rusty old barbed wire we decided to check out the rusty old boat.

Eric managed to get aboard the boat (no easy feat since the deck is 5 feet off the water) to see how to get from the boat to the pier. It turns out you have to straddle a 4 foot high rusty steel wall, put your foot in a rusty hole at the base of the wall, then step onto a rotting old piling and then step across about 4 feet of empty space to the pier. Oh, I forgot to say the piling and pier and rusty wall with the hole is about 20 feet above the water. Definitely no OSHA requirements here.

We checked out other landing places, mostly muddy sloughs with houses built on stilts on either side and decided we couldn't trust leaving the dinghy in one of these neighborhoods. That and the fact that we'd have to walk through the mud. So the boat it was. We went back to Nakia and Sarana to collect the girls and take them ashore 'in style.' Sherrell got across okay and Linda made it after a little coaching. Then it was off to the beach restaurants for lunch and our first taste of Colombian beer. Well worth it.

We hopped a bus into town. Linda, Eric and Sherrell went to the super market and I went down the commercial street to price outboard motors. Finding that outboards cost about the same in Colombia as in the States I headed back toward the super market, checking the other shops as I went. I was in a plastic house wares shop when a woman ran down the street screaming. The shop owners looked at each other and madly started closing the steel doors to the shop. They were dragging stacks of buckets into the shop and things were piling up so I started moving stuff too. If they were that serious about being inside the shop when whatever was coming got there I sure wasn't going to go out on the street - I was going to help them barricade all of us in the shop. They got one of the steel doors closed and seemed to calm down a little. I asked what was happening and the best I could piece together was that a band of protesters were marching the streets and these bands can turn into looting mobs very quickly. It's best to put some steel between you and them if you can. Great, here I am in a plastics shop with Linda, Eric and Sherrell in the super market. I didn't remember exactly how far it was to the super market or if I could make it there before the protesters arrived, but the shop owner seemed calmer and assured me that it was only a block or two and I would be safe to go that far. I quickly walked to the market to find the last of the steel doors starting to close. I got in at the last second and they closed the door behind me. Then... nothing happened. No mob, no protesters, not even a police car. We bought our stuff and they opened the steel doors for us to leave. Actually this is what was happening when I got into the super market, they were letting someone out. We walked down the street to an internet cafe to surf for a while, the steel door partially down and at the ready. When we were done we asked about a bus, but they weren't running because of the protest so we caught a cab back to the pier.

The last adventure of the day was to get back across to the rusty old boat and down into the dinghy. After the threat of facing a looting mob this seemed pretty benign. The worst part of the day was having to clean out the rusty flakes that had rained down from the rusty old boat and into the dinghy.

John and Linda

Colombian Officialdom

Tumaco, Colombia

I don't know why we continue to assume all formalities will be handled on land, but we were still taken by surprise when a boat load of uniformed men came out to Nakia as we prepared to go ashore. They appeared to be representatives of the Coast Guard, Navy, and Marines. Only two men came on board, one to ask John questions and one to perform an inspection/search of the boat. They brought a friendly yellow lab with them but the drug dog had to stay in their boat when they realized both Sarana and Nakia have cats on board. The young man searching Nakia took a cursory look in a few lockers but seemed more interested in gazing at a photo of my 18 year old niece!

Both Eric and John got a lift in the CG boat to continue the check-in process with the Port Captain. They were gone for two hours so I knew something had gotten complicated. Usually this is only computers being down or electricity being out, but in this case our captains were blind-sided by a ships agent requirement. Prior to our departure from Ecuador Eric had done due diligence in researching the possibility of stopping in Columbia. He got high recommendations for places to anchor, and even exchanged email with the Tumaco Port Captain, who assured him we would be most welcome to visit. What everyone failed to mention was that we would be required to hire an agent to complete the check-in process for us.

Ships agents for cruising boats are nothing new and are SOP in many countries. But cruisers are known for preferring to do the leg and paperwork themselves to save money. Agent fees are all over the map but, for example, can be $150 at both check-in and check-out. Countries which see few recreational vessels haven't made any distinction between them and commercial boats so the paperwork is complicated, requiring multiple copies of many forms to several government offices. What takes only a few hours for an agent can take days for a yachtie, who also runs the risk of pissing off men who take their positions very seriously and don't appreciate "do it yourself" foreigners stumbling through established procedures.

So on top of being met by the decidedly unfriendly assistant Port Captain's, "What are you doing here? Why did you come?", our captains now faced an unanticipated expense. Fortunately the PC himself finally appeared and explained to his subordinate that we were here to visit their beautiful country. And regarding the fee, Eric's Spanish is even better than John's and he was able to talk the agent down from $150 to $120 per boat for the entire in and out process. After working with the agent and seeing the results so far, John feels it's a valuable service - he just wishes it was a more economic $50-75.

The next hurdle was Migracion and we had an afternoon appointment to meet our agent again. This time he brought representatives from Customs, the PC's office, and Migracion. We were permitted to tie our dinghy to the CG dock where this meeting took place. Many questions, forms, and passport perusals later, they seemed to have everything they needed. The one thing that the PC kept coming back to though was Sarana's exit Zarpe from Ecuador. While we were in Jama Eric realized that he didn't have his international Zarpe. In the confusion of checking out, Migracion in Ecuador asked for Sarana's Zarpe, Eric gave them the original, Migracion didn't return it, and Eric had no copy (John has learned the hard way to never give any official an original document unless specifically requested, and always makes multiple copies of any document he's given). So Eric made a copy of Nakia's original Zarpe, whited out and "corrected" the boat name, and made a copy of that. This is actually something he witnessed the Bahia PC do to avoid having to make originals for every vessel, so Eric wasn't being underhanded, just expedient. But the Tumaco office caught the anomaly right away and thought it was highly irregular. Although they came back to it a couple of times, Eric managed to assure them that it was just an example of the relaxed practices of the Bahia office.

Now we were finally free to take a taxi into Tumaco proper which is a few miles from the Coast Guard and Naval bases where our boats are. It's a large commercial city of 200,000 people with a rabbit warren of streets, so I'm glad we had a taxi for our first visit (even at the rate of $10/hour which seems high compared to $40 for a round trip shopping day from Bahia to Manta). Our first stop was to an ATM for the local currency of pesos which are at about 2200 to the US dollar, making it important to carry a calculator to help with conversions. We then took our Ecuadorian cell phone to be unblocked for other countries and purchased a Columbian chip and minutes to have on hand just in case. Sarana tried to take care of some US banking business but got lost in a recorded phone tree maze (which concluded, "We're sorry, but we're closed for the holiday."), and struck out when they couldn't connect via the internet either. By this time we were all ready to call it a day, and returned to Nakia for drinks before wishing Sarana a peaceful night.

It's lovely to be safely anchored in a calm estuary and, other than a brief rain shower, we had a restful night. We're still working out minor issues over where exactly to anchor the boats and land our dinghies. The PC feels we're anchored too close to where the fishing boats exit the channel to dock, so we'll take care of that today. Where to land the dinghy is more complicated. We don't want to impose on the CG to use their dock, but the fixed fishing pier is far too high for us and has no useable ladders or stairs. The guys are going out in the dinghy this morning to explore our options for both, and later we may take a bus back to town for some errands and shopping.

John has fixed the script for our position links and we also discovered I missed one degree in latitude in my previous post. The correct link is below.

Linda and John


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Punta Galera to Tumaco, Colombia

01 degrees 49.148 minutes N
78 degrees 43.764 minutes W

We miscalculated and left Galera too early in the morning yesterday. Even at the relatively relaxed departure time of 8 AM we had such a fast sail that we had to heave to at 3 AM this morning to wait for first light to navigate the entrance channel.

It was another perfect downwind sailing passage though. We probably have had more wind than we think and we must also have at least one or two knots of favorable current. There's usually a short swell and wind waves with white caps and cat's paws on the surface. One or two larger swells roll under us regularly and our beamy double ender waddles over them, waggling her stern like a duck's tail. It's not the most comfortable ride but we've decided it's far preferable to the hobby horse motion of bow and stern when we're pounding to weather.

We saw dolphin and when we went through them and a bird pile of frigates, terns, shearwaters, and boobies John hooked into two 20 lb yellow fin tuna. Since our fridge is small and the freezer is packed with meat he released one and spent about an hour filleting (and then cleaning up the mess from filleting!) a beautiful fish. Dinner that night was delicious.

We dropped anchor with Sarana between the Garda Costa (Coast Guard) pier and the fishing pier, and small planes are landing on the other side of the mangroves. After we check-in to the net this morning we'll go ashore to begin formalities with the Port Captain and Migracion.

Linda and John


Sunday, November 09, 2008

Punta Galera

00 degrees 49.405 minutes N
80 degrees 02.759 minutes W

The decision to stop at Punta Pedernales was a very poor one in hindsight. The anchorage near the fishing pangas is terrible. There's no protection from the west swell and the wind never let up. On top of that not all the locals are friendly. Both boats made the choice to leave shortly after midnight.

Sarana's batteries are shot so for them running at night means motor-sailing in order to have enough juice for things like lights and electronics. Nakia was able to sail the entire distance once we were well clear of the Pedernales anchorage. We made good time and reached Punta Galera by 10:30 AM. We ate a late breakfast and got some much needed sleep.

Although there is some swell at low tide we are much more comfortable here and the fishermen assure us that it is a safe anchorage. We are anchored off of the panga boats and their corresponding support village. The pangas go out in the late afternoon with three men to each boat, set their nets 50 miles off shore, and return at dawn with their catch. This morning we admired one dorado, one marlin, one tuna, and a skipjack for the sum total of a night's work for one boat. The men unload their catch to trucks waiting on the beach and then anchor their pangas outside the surf line.

It's lovely and calm here but with no national cruising zarpe and expired visas we have to move on before our presence attracts too much notice by local authorities.

Linda and John


Friday, November 07, 2008

Punta Ballena to Punta Pedernales

00 degrees 03.046 minutes N
80 degrees 04.776 minutes W

We enjoyed our stay in the large bay inside Punta Ballena. It was rolly enough to use the rocker stopper but more comfortable than Cabo Pasado. Yesterday, after reanchoring closer in towards the pier, we launched our dinghy and went to shore with Sarana. I was happy to share our bug spray when Sherrell and I were immediately attacked by small black "see-ums." The inflatable was a major source of admiration and curiosity for a dozen young boys and even a few grown-ups. As we started to walk away from the dinghy one boy wanted to know if John would give him the key so he could take it out for a spin while we were gone!

We began walking the narrow paved road leading out to the highway, but quickly climbed into the back of a covered pickup truck with bench seats for a "bus" ride to town. Jama is very small but it has a lovely, new looking town square, a Coactur bus station, and a charming restaurant called Bar-Budo (on Av. Jama between Delgado and San Francisco streets, just a few blocks past the square) where we ate a nice almuerzo. We had a bit of confusion clarifying that the beautiful beach advertised as being at Jama was actually the beach in the anchorage, where the village is called El Metal. And that the scenic river at Jama was the one we had crossed in the bus, and not really a tourist attraction. With no body of water as a possible destination for a walk after our lunch, we headed back to "our" beach to stretch our legs.

The dinghy and its contents - with the addition of some beach sand - was right where we left it. John took it out by himself to meet the three of us past the pier so we could all walk out around the point. The tide was still mostly low and it was a wonderful long walk on hard packed sand. The days have been overcast with heavy drizzle each morning to keep us moist and cool.

There is a Port Captain down at the opposite end of the beach in El Metal, and we believe he made a general announcement regarding zarpes on VHF 16 yesterday morning. To prevent hard feelings over not checking in we thought it prudent to depart this morning. We're enjoying another lovely spinnaker sail with low swell from the WSW and SW winds of 10-12, occasionally as high as 15 kt. John is taking a tip from our friend, Ed on Wind Dancer, and is poling the spinnaker out to windward with the whisker pole.

We've now arrived at Pedernales and are anchored in about 12' of water as close to the beach as we can get. But it's futile and as we expected we're still being rocked around by the swell rolling in from the west. The bay just isn't deep enough to get much protection from the point. But we'll spend the night here and get an early start tomorrow morning for the 50 nm day run to Punta Galera.

We've had a report that the Google Earth link in our last post is malfunctioning. We'll try it again in this post but it may be something we have to fix when we get internet access again, so bear with us.

Linda and John


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Bahia de Caraquez to Punta Ballena (Jama)

Yahoo, it's good to be out cruising again! We cleared formalities with the Navy early this morning. They came aboard with a list of questions but no actual paperwork changed hands. John had to have one question repeated three times before he understood it, and when the "inspection" was all over with he realized that the answer to all the questions is "Yes."

We were underway for the Rio Chone bar crossing by 6:45 AM and were sailing just after 8 AM. It started out slow, but we ended up having a great spinnaker run until 3:30 PM when we dropped anchor in the lee of Punta Ballena. So far it seems to be much more protected from the swell here than it was at Cabo Pasado where we stopped on our way to Bahia in May. We've already been visited by two local fishing pangas on their way out to the fishing grounds so it appears to be a friendly place.

We plan to get a good night's sleep tonight and then sail over closer to town tomorrow for some shore side exploring with Eric and Sherrell on Sarana.

Linda and John


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Kitty Rescue Rope Worked

John and I were asleep just before dawn this morning when something woke me up. I heard a bumping/thumping sound and thought Ziggy might be up on deck chasing a bird off the boat. A few minutes later he jumped through the porthole onto the bed and stepped on my ankles (I swear he does that deliberately) before jumping down onto the floor. His feet were soaking wet and I didn't remember it raining overnight, especially since the hatch above us was still wide open. I remembered that I had put a plastic jar of flowers out in the cockpit overnight so Ziggy wouldn't chew on them, and I thought he might have knocked that over, spilling the water.

This made me get out of bed to investigate and I found Ziggy sitting on the carpet washing himself. I reached down to feel his body and he was wet all over. "Omigod, what happened to you?!" (but not loud enough to wake John). I looked out aft through the companionway and sure enough, there was a puddly trail of water from the pushpit (on the stern) across the teak in the cockpit to the side deck. We don't know exactly where he went overboard, but I was surprised we didn't hear him meow because he was pretty loud the previous two times he went in the water and had to swim for it. Since he's very curious about anything (fish, crabs, etc.) attracted to his rescue rope (which hangs down a bit in the water), I'm surmising that he may have finally lost his footing leaning too far over the water. In this case he would have been right there by the rope and could have quickly and easily climbed back out on his own. The best thing is that the tide was close to changing and there wasn't much current. He is one lucky cat and we can only hope this will make him a bit more cautious!

Yesterday I went with a group of women to Canoa for a tour of the Rio Muchacho organic farm. We ate a delicious brunch ($3 for juice, tea/coffee, fruit salad, and egg dish of your choice) at Coco Loco on the beach before meeting our transportation at the Guacamayo tour office in Canoa (http://www.riomuchacho.com/). Two ladies rode in the cab of the pickup truck while the remaining five of us sat on wood plank "benches" perched in the truck bed for the 20 minute drive to the farm. Between dodging all the potholes in the road and passing other vehicles, it was another great E-ticket ride in Latin America.

Tess, a junior at the University of Tennessee and originally from Huntsville, Alabama, was our intern guide. She explained that the farm is permaculture based and we learned about all different kinds of composting methods. We oohed and aahed over two litters of piglets, and admired the cows, horses, donkeys, chickens, and guinea pigs - all of which are there primarily for their output which is used in the composting process. Several of the women were particularly interested in buying some of the fresh vegetables grown on the farm so Dario and his staff went out to the fields to pick whatever was ready for harvest. They brought back carrots, beets, eggplant, lettuce, leeks, chard, and basil to be washed and carefully tied in four pretty bundles. This big selection of organic vegetables cost only $4 per person. Because of the large size of our group the tour was just $3pp and the round trip truck ride was another $3pp. We all had an entertaining and informative outing and it was nice to get out of the "city" for the day.

Tonight we say goodbye to McLeod, who is leaving us tomorrow. It has been an honor and a privilege to make her acquaintance and we'll miss her southern drawl and cheerful enthusiasm for everything new.

Linda and John

Monday, September 01, 2008

Memories of Terry

Terry holding Secret o' Life in his palm above the anchorage at San Evaristo, Baja with Linda, Stan, and MJ (5/27/2005)

We gathered at Saiananda yesterday afternoon to share our memories and stories about Terry. Jean brought copies of the lyrics to the James Taylor song, "Secret o' Life," Eric read a poem by Emily Dickinson, John made a music CD, Maureen read a piece about sailing, Marcie made toasted oat cookies, Diane made Terry's favorite curry rice dish, and Gisela made a German version of cinnamon rolls that she'd promised to bake for Terry when he returned to Bahia. While not everyone knew Terry personally the crews of Batwing, Blew Moon, Che Bella, M/V Diesel Duck, Encore, Jubilee, Linda Lea, Mita Kuuluu, Nakia, Nine of Cups, Sarana, Shared Dreams, Taremaro, and Yohelah, along with our host and friend, Alfredo Harmsen, honored Terry's memory by describing just a few of the things that some of us will always remember about him.

That he was a fine sailor who wouldn't use his engine until he had exhausted his entire sail inventory.

That he had more sailing experience than the average cruiser on the eastern Pacific coast, and was a Commodore in the Seven Seas Cruising Association. He was happy to share his knowledge and wouldn't hesitate to mentor new cruisers when asked. But he was modest about his accomplishments and never lectured about the "right" way to do things or kept the spotlight on himself in conversation.

That he took everything that came his way and always saw the positive side of each experience. (Even when he brought up the minor failings of something like an inland trip, it was still always "great!")

That he cared deeply for his sailing and travel partner, Tammy Woodmansee, calling or emailing her every day that they spent apart.

That he took pride in his great uncle, Hiram Bingham III (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hiram_Bingham_III), and had looked forward with eager anticipation to visiting Machu Picchu with members of his family this month.

That he was happy to drop everything and lend a hand with someone else's boat project or repair.

That he could tell you more about tequila than anyone else we knew, and that he also appreciated fine red wine and good dark chocolate in moderation.

And finally, that he was a cruiser who made it almost a mission to live life to the fullest on a modest budget. We all joked with Terry about how frugal he was, even to the rest of us budget-minded cruisers, but he always insisted that it was possible to live well on a fixed income and took satisfaction in doing so.

Terry was an inspiration to us all, and a role model for what it takes to be a cherished and respected member of the cruising community. I think Alfredo expressed it best when he said that Terry lives on in all our hearts and is with us wherever we go.

Linda and John

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Status of Terry Bingham, S/V Secret o' Life

8/27/08 UPDATE: See http://terrybingham.blogspot.com/ for updates on Terry's status.

Tammy has given us permission to post about Terry's condition on our blog in case she hasn't already reached everyone who knows him.

Terry and Tammy departed Bahia in July to do some extensive inland travel, and arrived in La Paz, Bolivia on Sunday, August 17. On Monday morning he developed sudden and intense abdominal pain, and he was admitted to Clinica del Sur that day where he was diagnosed with Acute Pancreatitis. During exploratory surgery Tuesday night his pancreas was discovered to be hemorrhaging. On top of all this he has a serious blood infection which is being treated with antibiotics. After surgery Terry was on oxygen, fully sedated, and on a respirator in the ICU.

Three of Terry's children have flown in to be with him, and Tammy reports that the U. S. Embassy staff have been extremely supportive as well. They have coordinated blood drives (Terry is A positive which is uncommon in Bolivia) so that Terry can get blood plasma and platelet transfusions, and they are helping Tammy with translation issues.

The doctors hoped to remove the ventilator as early as Friday, but were unable to do so as Terry still was not strong enough. Finally Monday night Terry was awake and alert for the longest time since surgery. Today Tammy reports that Terry continues to be alert and is anxious to have the ventilator removed (he's communicating by nodding or shaking his head). But he tires quickly after only a short time of breathing on his own and can't be taken off of it just yet. The fact that they are at 11,000 feet of altitude doesn't help his situation.

The Embassy representative assisted Tammy in getting more access to Terry for her and family members than they had before. Tammy writes, "If Terry had his way we would be with him all the time. That's also what we would like but as long as he is in ICU that is not an option. This afternoon when I said I had to leave he adamantly shook his head no ... it just breaks my heart to have to leave him like that."

Terry is still fighting the pancreatitis and Sepsis/blood infections but improved labs indicate that these are abating. Tammy asks that you continue to send positive thoughts and prayers for Terry's recovery.

Linda and John

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Social Swing in Bahia

Bahia de Caraquez is in full holiday mode in this month. The beaches are packed with people any day of the week, not just on weekends; we've seen jet skis, kayaks, ski boats, a wind surfer, a Sunfish sailboat, and even a pontoon party boat skimming through the anchorage. It seems everyone in Ecuador is taking their summer vacation this month. Even tienda Yanina is better stocked than usual to accommodate all the condominium vacationers. This month also saw the kickoff for the Saturday Summer Nights in Bahia. Parts of Bolivar (the main commercial street) are closed off and everyone comes out to eat street food and home baked goods sold on the sidewalks; people watch and mingle in the crowds; and listen to live local music and entertainment. It doesn't really get going until 8 PM which is a little close to cruiser midnight for us, but it's a fun way to run into people we know from the local community.

In spite of a summer head cold spreading through the cruiser community, we are also having a whirlwind month. Marcie and David of Nine of Cups (http://www.nineofcups.com/) kicked things off at PA with two presentations on cruising South America. They recently completed a circumnavigation of the continent and helped get Jeff and Debbie of Sailor's Run off to a good start on their passage with a talk on Peru. For the really adventurous they also gave another slide show on cruising Chile. It all sounds absolutely wonderful - except for the getting there. Sailor's Run got nervous about the visa issues in Ecuador, and Jeff had a huge itch to go sailing so he conned Debbie into sailing down to the Peruano YC in La Punta, Peru (near Calloa/Lima). Because Jeff is one determined sailor their route ended up taking them over 500 miles offshore, they covered 1,825 nautical miles, and they only burned five gallons of diesel fuel. They finally arrived early on the morning of their 16th day at sea. The inshore route would have been less mileage, but with more obstacles like ships, fishing boats, and oil rigs, and Jeff didn't want to fight the 2 knot current going against them (they were never able to find the elusive inshore counter current). We hope they have a wonderful time visiting Peru from their new base, but it isn't likely that Nakia will be making a trip like that any time soon!

The visa issue continues to perplex everyone. The latest scuttlebutt is that anyone arriving in Ecuador prior to June 20 (when the no renewal rule went into effect) can leave the country to get another 90 day stamp, and that anyone arriving after that date is limited to 90 days after which they have to be out of the country for six months before they can get another 90 day stamp. But who knows how this will actually be implemented. For a real horror story of boundless bureaucracy in Ecuador take a look at the story of S/V Dosia (http://ssca.org/DiscBoard/viewtopic.php?t=6713). Back on the local front, we learned yesterday that no one (including the local population) is allowed to purchase more than two gallons of fuel at a time in a jerry can from the local gas station. Apparently multiple trips are okay. This is an additional restriction on the previously implemented rule (since we arrived here) that only one jerry can per person is allowed. Of course we can still buy fuel in quantity from PA and have it delivered to the boat, but when all you want to do is fill up your five gallon outboard tank...

I tagged along with three other women recently for a shopping day. We split the cost of a private taxi ($60) to make multiple stops in a few of the surrounding towns, each of which is known for a specific craft. Our first stop was a Tagua (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tagua_nut) workshop and gift store in Sosote, just outside of Portoviejo. Run by the Covena family, the workshop gave us a much better understanding of the nut's origins and the processes involved in turning it into jewelry and figurines. Our next stop was La Pila where we saw some clay reproductions of local antiquities. We had to search inside the open air shops for these because they were overshadowed by large gilt tchotchkes and other gewgaws displayed out in front. We made one more souvenir stop at the workshop of Jose Chavez Franco (386 Rocafuerte) in Montecristi, a town known for its Panama hats (http://www.ecuador.us/montecristi.htm). Here we also got to see a hat in the process of being made. Prices started as low as $15 and probably went up beyond $100, although we didn't ask about the super fino hats. By now it was 2 PM and time for lunch which we enjoyed at Cevicheria donde Cecilia out on the beach in Manta. We finished up our day with a quick stop at the SuperMaxi grocery store for a few things that are hard to find or more expensive to buy in Bahia. I enjoyed the shopping expedition very much since the store keepers were kept busy by the other women in my group, and I was left alone to browse and window shop to my heart's content. I wasn't any pressure to buy anything, which is my favorite kind of shopping!

Linda and John

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Back in Bahia

Just to let everyone know that we are back in Bahia after a quick trip down to Peru to spend a few nights and then return to Ecuador to get another 90 day stamp in our passports. Since we were really only there to get the Ecuadorian visa "renewal" we decided to stay put in Tumbes. Our room was mosquito free and had about 10 cable channels in English so we watched a lot of CSI episodes and a few movies. The plaza in Tumbes was very pleasant and they had two pedestrian streets where we could do a little walking. The raised Malecon seemed to be an outdoor urinal so we only walked a small portion of it on our way to the bus station to buy tickets for our Friday morning departure to Guayaquil.

After watching about an hour of the Olympics opening ceremonies (spectacular!) in the bus terminal we caught the first CIFA bus out of Tumbes at 8 AM (actual departure time was 8:30, which is normal). We forgot to ask if it was "directo," and it seemed not to be since it was picking up school kids and almost anyone else alongside the road. There were absolutely no issues with crossing back into Ecuador. Coincidentally Friday was the day we would have gone to Manta anyway to renewal our original visas had the government not decided to revoke the renewal process. We also were never asked by either Peru or Ecuador for our international vaccination booklets or specifically for proof of the yellow fever vaccine.

We arrived in Guayaquil at 3 PM and bought tickets on Reina del Camino for the 4:40 departure to Bahia. Seeing that once again Reina was the only bus line searching passengers boarding the bus (we were also video taped similar to our Oaxaca trip), I made a last minute decision to check my backpack rather than go through the hassle of unlocking it for security. Wouldn't you know, after concluding that we were never going to see a bus with windows that didn't open (i.e., with Mexican style, freezing cold air conditioning) I left my wool shawl in my backpack, and this ended up being the first time that I could have used it. This was the nicest bus we've ridden here so far. We couldn't open the windows, there were two TV monitors, and they ran a continuous loop of Jet Li movies (all dubbed in Spanish of course). The seats reclined so far back that you couldn't get out of your seat if the person in front of you was fully reclined. This also meant that my knees were poking into a young man's back and I could have just leaned my neck over to kiss the top of his head. I think my knees finally got the message across and he soon moved to another seat row.

We arrived back in Bahia shortly after 10 PM and had arranged to have our dinghy (without the outboard on it) left at the dinghy dock. We are anchored so close to PA at the moment that it was a short row to Nakia where Ziggy was waiting for us. Once again it is so good to be home. The more we travel the more I appreciate Bahia. It is the perfect size for us. It has a small town feel, but it has everything we need. The almuerzos at Hugos are better than any we've had traveling, Chifa Lau has the best Chinese food, Donatello has great pizza, and Muelle Uno is perfect for a steak dinner splurge now and then. The mercado has good fruits and veggies and Yanina is a good small tienda with everything else. The bathrooms and showers at PA are first rate, and our bed on Nakia is our favorite place to lay our heads. John is done visiting big cities so we have no further travel plans at the moment and will be content just to stay close to home and work on boat projects for the time being.

Linda and John

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Tumbes, Peru

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

We had another long day today beginning with our bus ride at 7:30. When we tried to buy tickets on CIFA the guy told us no for Tumbes, didn´t we want Mancora or Piura farther south. We were totally perplexed by this, took a moment together to try to figure it out, then went back and asked again for Tumbes. He gave in and sold us our tickets, but I took this as a bad sign for our chosen destination.

We arrived at the border at Noon where it took an hour to get through Ecuadorian Immigration for our exit stamps and almost another hour for everyone to clear Immigration for entry into Peru. We think the bus driver and conductor went for lunch while we were all exiting Ecuador, but the conductor stayed with us in Peruvian Immigration.

We arrived in Tumbes at 2:30 and caught a moto-taxi for a stop at an ATM to get some soles before checking into the Hotel Lourdes. Peru is expensive! We´re paying 60 soles (the rate is about 2.80 soles to the dollar) for our room, which is larger and has hot water, but is otherwise no nicer than our room in Guayaquil. And tonight for dinner at Los Gustinos on the plaza we paid 35 soles for a rice with seafood mix which we shared. To top things off, we couldn´t finish it and were sitting there while John finished his beer when a street vendor came up and asked if he could take it for us, and then quickly sat down at the table behind us and polished it off!

This is another noisy, big city with not much to offer so we´re thinking about moving on down to Mancora, a beach resort area, tomorrow. We figure if everything is going to be expensive, we might as well be somewhere more relaxing.

Linda and John


Monday, August 4, 2008

We caught the 7:15 AM directo bus from Bahia to Guayaquil yesterday, arriving about five hours later. It was a comfortable bus with AC and a movie (Shoot Em Up) dubbed in Spanish but the conductor played it with English subtitles (just for us?), and it was especially nice not stopping for anyone waiting alongside the road. The bus terminal here is enormous but a few bus lines still have offices in another older area a few blocks away. We checked the schedules for Peru in both places before taking a taxi to the Hotel El Dorado. Our cab driver wasn´t familiar with that one and stopped first at the Best Western El Doral. Muy rico - too rich for our budget! The Dorado is basic without hot water, but it has cable TV and a noisy fan, and is very clean. The best part is that after mentioning Jeff and Debbie´s names (and the owner´s name too - thanks Debbie!) we got a matrimonial (one double bed) for $13/night. It's very close to the Malecon and a major shopping area which we also liked.

We dropped our bags in the room and went straight to the Malecon. Terry on Secret o´Life didn´t overstate how well worth a visit this is. Although it doesn´t look out onto anything special (a muddy river with lots of hyacinth floating in and out with the tide) the promenade itself is beautiful with many things to offer in the way of amusement. Sunday afternoon was the perfect time for people watching, with local families out to enjoy their urban park. At the eastern end of the Malecon is Las Penas where we climbed 444 steps to the top of a hill for 360 degree views of the city. Las Penas is an old neighborhood which has been turned into a tourist attraction along the lines of Lombard Street in San Francisco (only more commercial). We inadvertantly chose the quieter back way going up, and were surprised at the flow of people we met on the main set of stairs on our way down. We stopped at one of the bars mid-way so John could have a beer and we could watch a steady flow of people huffing and puffing their way up the steps. We walked all the way back to our hotel, found a Chifa (called "Asia") for an uninspiring Mixto (half chow mein, half fried rice), and called it a night.

We had already located the place to go for our yellow fever vaccines so we took care of that chore first thing this morning. We had talked about catching a $30/pp luxury bus to Tumbes at 11:30 this morning but decided it was cheaper to stay another night here and take the $6 bus at 7:30 tomorrow morning. So we spent the rest of the day doing more walking and resting on benches in between all the walking. There´s a great park, Parque Bolivar, with dozens of iguanas of all sizes which are fed and kept there. They´re free to roam the grass and cobblestone paths in the park and are even overhead in the trees. We really enjoyed hanging out there and watching them, and a bright green baby one even ran into my foot as he ran for cover up on a curb.

It was another long day of lots of walking and we were very tired by the time we headed back to our room for showers and a pizza.

Linda and John

Friday, August 01, 2008

Musical Boats

31 July 2008

We received news during our "vacation" that another cruising couple has been banned from PA for posting libelous comments about TM on their blog, and that Ecuador is suddenly no longer issuing 90 day visa extensions. We had only been back for a few days when another cruiser (now a CLOD - Cruiser Living On Dirt) was also banned from PA. John has spent hours talking to the individual parties involved, trying to mediate for them, but it appears to be a lost cause. The cruisers refuse to budge and are more interested in their personal grievances than in what is good for the community as a whole. While John and I feel that TM has mishandled several difficult situations, we're tired of the continual political infighting and are ready to fight for peace so we can enjoy the rest of our time here. We appreciate the comraderie of the cruising community and hate to see it divided like this.

Friends of ours made it back from Columbia with another 90 day stamp in their passports, circumventing the renewal process which has been discontinued. They really enjoyed their short visit there but we don't want to have to connect north via Quito having just come from there. So we're leaving for Peru on Sunday to try to get another 90 day stamp ourselves. We're only going as far as Tumbes, unless it really sucks. I'm hoping to do a couple of day tours of the natural preserve areas north of there to get something out of the trip. Otherwise Tumbes sounds like a pretty awful border town. Oh well, if we don't like it, we can continue on to somewhere else. We plan to be back by Friday or Saturday at the latest.

It's been crazy here the past few days because ten boats had to be moved around to make room for a bridge construction barge with a big crane on it. We went off our mooring so Drifter could be moved there. Alaya and Djadara were moved to the close quarters bow and stern moorings behind Archie's Way. Hello World moved to Alaya's mooring. Claire de Lune reanchored just outside of Che Bella. Fortuitous and Leonidis were moved off their moorings and anchored right in front of PA. We're north of them behind Nine of Cups, who also had to reposition a little. Vilisar was moved from way south of the bridge to out in the eastern flats outside of the rest of the fleet. We actually anchored three times before John found a spot he could be happy with. Now we have our Fortress and Delta anchor in tandem on 25 ft of chain followed by 75' of chain and a kellet to help weigh everything down.

Today John helped TM move Sarana to a mooring. John suggested that they could leave a buoy on Sarana's anchor so they wouldn't have to pull it up. That move should only be for a few days, but the rest of us might have to stay put for a couple of weeks. And I just noticed Mahayana has been moved out to the eastern flats as well. Most of the boats are unoccupied at the moment so needless to say it was a bit of a nightmare for TM. He was given short notice (like two hours), but he and his crew came through and did a good job of getting everyone resettled. I haven't mentioned it before but the idea of requiring boats to anchor bow and stern was given up soon after a few of them dragged. It's a tight fit at the moment, but no worse than Tenacatita in high season.

We are much happier here since John's gotten involved in the peace process. Since we've started working with PA and the cruising community towards an accord, life is much more enjoyable for us.

Linda and John

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Our trip home and preventing theft

The bus ride from Quito to Bahia on Reina del Camino was exciting but thankfully uneventful. We caught an early morning bus from Otavalo to Quito where we bought our tickets back to Bahia on the 10:30 AM departure. We had a young driver who wore white plastic framed sunglasses and drove like he had a record to beat. He honked at just about everything; passed every vehicle on the road including other buses; played first a rave radio station and then salsa CDs at a good volume; let the cute single girls sit up in the driver's area; and all in all made it an amusing and fun ride. The conductor handed out sick bags to every row but I took a couple of antacids and was fine. After one very competitive passing incident with an Aray bus a woman walked up to the front of the bus to complain. We imagine she said something like, "I've got three kids on this bus and you can kill yourselves if you want, but you can't risk our lives along with yours!" Whatever she really said, it didn't make much of an impression and we continued to fly around the curves at top speed.

We happened to get front row seats on the right side of the bus which in this case gave us a great view and lots of legroom. We were in the sun the whole way but we could see the river gorges and hillsides covered in trees. It was amazing to go from a few fir trees at the higher elevations, down to palms, then banana fields, and finally to big stands of beautiful bamboo looking like feathery plume pens. It was a long day for us, but with the bus stopping for almost every arm held out at the side of the road, and vendors jumping on to sell everything from homemade music CDs, cold drinks, breads, Spanish/English dictionaries, popsicles, and coconut candies there was enough going on the whole time to keep us awake and interested.

So now that we are home safe and sound, I'd like to pass on a few tips for preventing theft. Just from talking to fellow cruisers and the travelers we met at hostals we figure that around 80% of people touring Central and South America had problems with theft. We carried all our cash on us at all times divided between our two money belts hidden under our clothing, with only pocket money for each day out. Neither of us carried a wallet. I kept my ready cash in a change purse in my fanny pack and John carried his in his front jeans pocket with a bandana stuffed on top of it. This way the thief has to get his hand past the bandana to get to the bills. I never carried a purse that I could unwittingly set down. I wore either my fanny pack or an across the chest style purse. We had jackets we could tie at our waists. We didn't keep anything valuable in my little day pack and we never let it out of our hands. Our two pieces of luggage were my regular school sized backpack and a large soft piece of luggage. We had small locks for each of these with which we could lock the zippers together. We stowed the big piece in the cargo areas of each bus and were lucky enough to usually get seats where we could keep an eye on what went in and out of the compartment. All of the bus conductors were very helpful and I felt that they kept a close eye on it for us. We had heard stories about people posing as bus employees who tried to take your backpack from you to "stow" it after you had boarded the bus, but that never happened to us (I always wore my backpack onto the bus until I was ready to sit down, just in case). We kept my daypack and locked backpack with us on our laps on all of our bus travel. NEVER put anything in any overhead storage or anywhere on the floor under your feet. Thieves sitting behind you will open zippers and take what they want from under your seat, leaving the backpack so that you don't know anything is missing until it's too late.

We had also heard various stories of thieves working in groups to create a diversion of some kind and distracting you from paying close attention to your valuables. There's the classic one about spilling something on you and then "helping" you clean it up, but a friend of ours almost lost his wallet when a well endowed and scantily clad woman got on the bus. He was enjoying the view until he caught on to the ploy and caught someone else's hand in his pocket.

You may think this all sounds like paranoia or overkill but it was a real problem for almost everyone we met. One of the reasons for us skipping Quito was our anxiety over the serious crime problem there, but it was also because we weren't prepared to visit a big city after the wonderful time we spent in the remote towns on the Quilotoa Loop. We had an excellent adventure and we highly recommend a visit to this area, but we were very happy to return to a warmer climate, our own bed, Ziggy, and the first class hot showers at PA.

Linda and John