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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Puerto Amistad

Last Tuesday morning we had arranged to be brought across the river bar of the Rio Chone to enter Bahia de Caraquez. I believe it's a requirement of the local Port Captain that every boat use a licensed bar pilot (at a fee of $30 for a single boat, less if you can get more than one boat to cross at a time). Apparently the licensed pilot is away for some time so Tripp Martin, the owner of Puerto Amistad (PA, a river front restaurant/bar with a mooring field out in front), came out with an employee of his, Carlos, and they came aboard Nakia to point out the way. After signing a waiver absolving PA of responsibility should Nakia come to any harm, we were fortunate to have completely calm conditions and a favorable tide and thus entered without incident. Carlos helped tie us up to a mooring buoy and we paid him the $30 fee.

The cruising situation in Ecuador is a new one for us. Currently there are four "host" "yacht clubs" which were created after last season's furor over the whole expensive agent mess, during which boats were required to use an agent to check in and out of every port at a cost of over $100 for each arrival and departure. As a result of the cruiser outcry at this price gouging four of the largest facilities catering to cruising boats banded together to create the current system wherein they will check a boat into the country only if that boat pays to stay at their facility.

On January 1 of this year we made a reservation at a small resort called Saiananda to stay on a mooring there. We first heard about this charming spot last summer from our friend Garth, on Inclination, and then read even more about it in Latitude 38 and SSCA Bulletin articles by Migration and Iwa. Saiananda is farther up the Rio Chone from PA and we were attracted to the quieter surroundings and smaller group of boats since Saiananda has fewer moorings and no anchor outs. As Garth described them to us the moorings are of a type that are very secure, and we had heard reports of boats breaking loose at PA. As a major animal lover I fell in love with descriptions of the animal and bird rescue menagerie located on the premises. As full time liveaboards we looked forward to making Saiananda our summer home for six months, with a few inland trips to keep things interesting. We were unsure of how we would feel about being parked in one spot for that long, but we thought Saiananda would make it all worth while. We figured we would be making visits for drinks and meals with friends staying at PA and that it would become a home away from home when we needed a town fix.

Our plan was to stay at PA while we got checked into the country. This process includes a visit to Immigration in Manta, a two hour cab ride away, along with a shopping expedition and any errands requiring the services of a larger city. So we figured we'd be staying at PA for at least a week to get checked in and oriented to Bahia before moving up river to Saiananda. Unfortunately just before we departed Costa Rica, Tripp Martin became annoyed by boats coming in and doing just as I described. His policy is that any boat he checks in should stay at his facility for the entire season. He reported Saiananda as an "illegal" destination to the Port Captain, and no one has been able to move there since.

PA is a lovely facility with nice showers and bathrooms in an upscale restaurant/bar overlooking the river. There is inexpensive laundry service and wireless internet on site. Unfortunately the PA business model is designed to limit the WiFi signal to the restaurant only and not to extend it out to the mooring field. Undoubtedly this is to help boost bar and restaurant profits, but it's a major inconvenience for anyone living on their boat full time to have to schlep everything back and forth in the dinghy whenever you need to go online. For $270/month/mooring or $100/month/dinghy dock (for anchor outs) fees, it seems reasonable to expect WiFi to reach the boats, especially when PA has plans to invest its profits in additional local WiFi hot spots.

There's also the issue of a bridge which is being built just south of the PA mooring field. In their great wisdom the Ministry of Transportation has decided to go with a low, fixed bridge, preventing any large boat traffic from continuing up river when the bridge is completed. So not only will boats be physically unable to get to Saiananda (most likely not until next year), but there will be first bridge construction, and then bridge traffic noise and dirt right on top of the PA mooring field making it a less attractive option for cruisers in Ecuador. It's a crime against the local economy that bridge planners took such a short sighted view, and didn't design a higher span or an opening bridge with future marine expansion up river in mind.

So here we sit, living in limbo, in hopes that Saiananda will be able to jump through the bureaucratic hoops required to make it a "host" facility so that we can move there before summer's end. If we liked Ecuador, we had initially planned to spend two summers here, but given the lack of freedom to move about the country by boat we doubt we'll return next summer.

Linda and John