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Monday, June 30, 2008

Quiet week

Sorry to be so silent, but it's been a very boring week. The electricity in the entire city was shut down from 7 AM to 2 PM every day last week, and even longer over the weekend (to 5 or 6 PM). Today it's on again but may be shut down at 2 PM until 9 PM. This affects us primarily in the areas of showers (no water pump and no hot water) and internet, so we have to schedule those activities accordingly. I could still do email on the boat, I know, but has been hard to get motivated to do much of anything.

The days are cloudy and gray, often with light rain or drizzle mostly at night. The afternoon wind usually comes up out of the W/SW which gives me goose bumps even though the temp in the cabin is still around 78 degrees. Every once in awhile we get a hot sunny day. I miss wearing nothing but a bathing suit all day, and find myself constantly having to change clothes here depending on whether I'm going to town to shop, going to town to walk, going in to PA for a shower, going to town to eat out, or changing back into my old comfort clothes for life on the boat.

I force myself to continue going to yoga three times a week and have started taking Spanish with a small group. The teacher for the latter is not an actual teacher, but a young woman going to school to learn English. We have a two hour session at $2/hour/pp which is dirt cheap, but I'm not sure how effective it's going to be partly because of her lack of experience and partly because we're all at different levels (including two raw beginners). But it gets me thinking about it again and should at least be good practice.

We miss MX every day. I especially miss the excitement of raising anchor and slowly sailing off to a different place every few days. Staying here is like spending the entire summer anchored off of the dinghy landing at Bahia de los Angeles with every day revolving around going into town. Our summers used to be a chance to catch up on our budget because BLA is remote and we weren't spending any money. But life here revolves around spending money, especially if you do any inland travel. Yes, that travel is relatively cheap but if it isn't in your budget to begin with, it's going to be a big drain on your cruising time. So I can really only recommend coming here if you're already in the habit of leaving the boat to return to the States, or if you have the money to travel for weeks at a time in places like Ecuador and Peru. And of course this all works best if you don't have an animal on board.

We're grateful not to be swatting bees every morning, but we miss summer in the Sea of Cortez!


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Pictures of Bahia

I've added a link to pictures in the recent "Beaching Batwing" post, and I've also added a brief description of John's "hospital" stay with pictures dated May 21 (so go back to the May posts to see that one).

Here are some nice views of Bahia de Caraquez from the top of the cross on a hill above PA. The cross has stairs in it letting you climb to the top to get even higher above the trees.


John doesn't like this way of doing pictures and prefers to have them in the blog itself. But it's much easier and faster for me to use the Picassa links so maybe we'll try to do a little of both.

Yesterday we had a delicious almuerzo with Iwa at Hugo's. We still can't get over the fact that they can serve us a full meal for less than $2.

I'm continuing to take yoga classes three times a week. They're in Spanish so I'm gradually learning the parts of the body. I hope to start taking Tai Chi from a gringo guy the other two days of the week, with weekends off for other activities. John sometimes goes for a long walk while I'm in class, and Monday mornings we can walk to Leonidis Plaza for the street market. Yesterday I found a pair of Bill Blass denim capris in perfect condition for a whopping $5. Your Goodwill donations at work!

Everyone we meet here is so friendly and eager to engage us in conversation or to help us find whatever it is we're looking for. We're really enjoying this bustling town and all it has to offer.


Monday, June 16, 2008

Sturm und Drang

The "unsolicited" testimonials posted to the Southbound group on yahoo extolling the many virtues of PA are driving us crazy. We know for a fact that TM has asked cruisers to write letters on his behalf and this is so uncalled for. So far we have restrained our natural instincts to respond to these "oh, everything is lovely" missives on the Southbound group, but I'm afraid John's going to really let loose one of these days. We're still working to get the boat to Saiananda but in the meantime this is the most divisive issue we've ever experienced in the cruising community.

It's so weird to us that people feel a need to defend the integrity of PA when it's the only game in town, it's obviously a lovely facility, and Saiananda clearly isn't for everyone. In fact only a minority of boats would probably ever want to go there. It's remote, there's no permit to build a dinghy dock yet, no alcohol is allowed on shore, and use of the kitchen is limited to vegetarian meals only. So why is PA so threatened by this tiny haven? Probably only because the moorings cost $100 less per month there, and anyone leaving their boat for the entire season wouldn't mind all the rest of the inconveniences.

A friend argued that it was our choice to stay at PA when they blocked access to Saiananda. He pointed out that we could have moved to one of the three other approved host facilities in Ecuador, and that we weren't forced to stay in Bahia. Well sure that's true, but cruisers are by nature social animals (for the most part), and we wanted to be where our friends are. We don't know a single boat staying anywhere else, and heard from friends who stayed at Puerto Lucia last season that everyone was there for boat work and that the social scene was non-existent. So that's not really a reasonable argument for us since we're going to be living on our boat for most of the season. In fact cost is no longer even the issue since we've elected to stay on a PA mooring while we wait to go to Saiananda. We'd just rather stay here with the rest of the Saiananda refugees in the hopes that the situation changes.

We're trying to make the best of a bad situation but we're not going to let the issue get swept under the table either. A lot of people seem to want to ignore the politics and pretend that everything is hunky dory which is easy to do because on the surface PA is set up to offer most of the comforts of a U.S. style marina. Cruisers love the easy life PA offers and they really don't like to be reminded that there are two sides to every story. For instance, do they know that a lovely couple (from a boat that has been here longer than most) has actually been banned from the PA premises over a silly misunderstanding? Just recently another cruiser now living in Bahia full time had the temerity to write an article to a newspaper defending attacks made on Saiananda by a radio station. In the article he gave his opinion that he thought the mooring fees at PA are too high. The knee jerk reaction to this by PA is that they would love to be able to ban that cruiser too, except that they know what a furor it would cause. It's this kind of emotional reaction to the mildest form of criticism that makes the atmosphere so poisonous here. It's inconceivable to us that a former cruiser would single-handedly divide the cruising community as has been done in Bahia.

Do the new arrivals know that prior to Sailor's Run being refused help entering Bahia (when they wouldn't commit to paying for an entire season's stay at PA) the Port Captain didn't even care if boats moved to Saiananda? Do they know that an official in the Port Captain's office takes special pleasure in telling cruisers that Saiananda is illegal and they can't go there? That this same official (Sr. Guttierrez) started reading a letter addressed to the Port Captain until the cruisers who wrote it asked him not to because it wasn't addressed to him? People who tell us to "get over it" don't understand that we resent one (American) man deciding to mess with the local status quo to protect his piece of the pie. Because it's fairly obvious that during the few days delay between Sailor's Run's initial request to enter Bahia and when they finally got in everything changed.

People also say that Saiananda is "illegal." Legal and illegal are nebulous concepts in Ecuador and it's easy for people to use both terms to paint a picture to their own advantage. Yes, PA will assert that they jumped through hoops to become "legal," but as the Minister of Tourism herself pointed out, "legal" is not the only factor to consider when you're doing business in Ecuador.

PA is already crowded. If Ecuador/Bahia wants to grow its marine tourism industry, Bahia needs to keep the river open to further marina expansion. That includes an opening bridge, and eliminating the agent/host club requirement so that cruisers are allowed to interact directly with the Port Captain/Navy if they choose to process their own check-in/out. There's room for more than one game in town, and PA should be encouraging choice in Bahia, not doing everything they can to take it away.


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Snagging Sarana

This was a dragging of a different kind entirely! On Saturday, June 7, the R/V Nautilus was moving moorings from the south end of the mooring field where they were in the way of the bridge construction. The Nautilus was literally dragging the heavy mooring blocks along the river bottom to their new locations opposite Puerto Amistad. Up on deck for some chore I noticed that the Nautilus was slowly making its way towards Sarana's bow. At this point I didn't understand what it was doing or that there was any danger, and I watched for awhile and wondered why it was moving so slowly. All of a sudden I heard Jan on Claire de Lune shouting at the Nautilus and waving them away from Sarana's anchor. But it was too late, the Nautilus had already caught Sarana's anchor chain.

Jan put a call out to PA and dinghies came racing out to lend a hand, followed soon after by Carlos in the PA tender. Carlos dove on the mooring and untangled the mess in no time at all, and Sarana was just fine. Here are some pictures of the sequence:


This is the first time we're using Picasa for our blog pictures. Please let us know if you have any problems viewing the link to our web album. If it works well for people, we hope to post more pictures using this method.


Business Casual

Wednesday we had a meeting at Saiananda with the Minister of Tourism for Ecuador, Veronica Sion, for which we all wore our best town clothes in an effort to look respectable for her. It was such an honor to be able to sit down with a government representative and chat in an open, friendly environment. She took all of our comments about cruising in Ecuador, asked us pointed questions, and was very positive about making some important changes to current policies which would make cruising easier here, especially for boats wishing to spend more than six months in the country. The colonel in charge of the bridge project in Bahia attended, and we understand that he would also like to see an opening bridge across the river, so there's still hope for making that change.

Alfredo, the owner of Saiananda, graciously invited the owner of PA to attend the meeting as well. Instead, in a classic maneuver, Tripp worked with his Ecuadorian business partner to arrange his own meeting with Ms. Sion at PA. Except that here the cruising community was not invited to the meeting and was reduced to standing around basically eavesdropping on the officials seated at the table.

We noticed an obvious difference between the earlier bridge meeting at PA and the tourism meeting at Saiananda. We distinctly got the impression (from the way the question and answer session was handled) that the bridge meeting was a carefully orchestrated show to placate cruisers. We weren't really there to be heard, it was just meant to look that way. In complete contrast, the Minister of Tourism engaged us all in a give and take conversation, took notes, and asked us for our input - what a pleasant surprise.

We were very pleased to be invited to attend the meeting at Saiananda where we were served a fabulous vegetarian lunch and received gift bags from the Ministry containing beautiful tourism brochures and a souvenir T-shirt. It was an uplifting and hopeful meeting during which we felt our voices were finally heard.


Saturday, June 07, 2008

Beaching Batwing

Friday, June 6

John and a few of the other guys got up before dawn this morning to move Batwing over to "the wall" during the slack before ebb. This is a spot north of the ferry landing where the Bahia Yacht Club property juts out into the bay creating a solid east/west "wall" where a boat can be tied off and beached at low tide. Batwing was towed here to Bahia by Sarana on their passage to Ecuador from Panama after they lost the use of their engine due to a problem with their shaft which made the propeller literally fall off. The new part finally arrived and the tides are big enough this week for "hauling out" to replace it. Several of the locals had the same idea and we saw boats up on one of the small beach areas being repaired and getting new bottom paint applied. Two catamarans, Archie's Way and La Nave, beached across the river from PA to do their bottom paint as well. All went smoothly with Batwing's repair and she was re-floated under her own power on the high tide late in the afternoon (with a little push from John in our dinghy).


In other news Ziggy has twice jumped into the dinghy while it was trailing behind the stern, which is a new trick for him. The first time John thinks he did it because there was a cricket in the dink (there are tons of crickets here which is fine once you realize they're not roaches!). It was just close enough to Nakia for him to jump in from the pushpit which hangs over the stern. John pulled the dinghy up close to Nakia so Ziggy could jump back up with some help from the kitty rescue rope now hanging from the pushpit - and he promptly jumped back in again. This morning during slack tide the dinghy was gently bobbing back and forth in the waves behind Nakia, and I watched Ziggy sizing up the gap. After my repeated "Be careful"s and "No!"s in an effort to make him think twice about doing it, he jumped and landed in the dink (not in the drink!). This time John told me to let him stay there to learn his lesson. Ziggy prowled around while I finished my morning exercises in the cockpit and I kept an eye on him when he started sizing up the gap again. When I heard the approach of a panga engine I knew he wouldn't want to stay in the dinghy and sure enough, he made a leap for safety as my heart jumped out of my chest. Good boat cat that he is he caught the top of the rescue rope and pulled himself up onto the pushpit - not an easy feat considering all the junk that's stored back there!

I don't think I mentioned that our trip to Canoa cost a whopping 35/pp one way for the panga ferry (complete with life jacket) and another .35/pp one way for the bus ride from San Vincente to Canoa. The local bus is only .18, pedi-cabs for two passengers are .50 for travel around the city of Bahia, and regular taxi cabs are around $1-1.50. The reason for this must be that gasoline is about $1.50/gallon and diesel isn't much more than that. This was a nice surprise after what we thought were the high prices of fuel in Central America - until we were shocked to learn that those same high prices were the norm now for the States. We feel for all of you, and hope that Obama will be able to turn things around for the country next year.

I'll close by stealing something from my friend, Cheryl on Fortuitous (sorry Cheryl!). We were in the woman's shower which is adjacent to the men's, both of which have open air ceilings. She was talking over the noise of the shower water to a male friend off of another boat when she said, "I think this is the first time I've spoken to a man in the shower who wasn't my husband!"


Friday, June 06, 2008

Is That Boat Dragging?

As I wrote previously we are experiencing the extreme tides of the new moon when the river current really rips. Our friends on Blew Moon arrived Tuesday and had a difficult time complying with PA's new request to anchor bow and stern. This is supposed to create more space in the mooring/anchorage area, but it's a bad idea given the currents we face here. It's far better to let the boat swing to the current on one anchor because, if the anchor should happen to drag, there's a better chance of it re-setting itself again. Having a stern anchor out creates tremendous sideways pressure since the boat is never lined up perfectly straight to the current, and further complicates things if the boat drags. It took Blew Moon two or three tries to get their stern anchor set that first day, and they were up early the next morning repositioning once again. Since they gave it their best shot, PA management can't really complain that they finally re-anchored using just the bow anchor.

That same night the big Denmark ketch, Stormdis (unoccupied), broke loose from the stern anchor that PA had set in their absence, and Bruce on 5th Element re-anchored the next morning to make more room between the two boats. Yesterday afternoon we watched Yorikke drag both anchors up river in the flood while its owner was in town. John went out in the dinghy with several other people (including TM from PA) to get it stopped and re-anchored. I think I already wrote about Batwing dragging back in May. When they returned from their inland trip they re-anchored using only a bow anchor. Then when Cynosure tried pulling up their stern anchor to move to a mooring yesterday, John went over to see if he could help. He couldn't figure out why the crew was heaving and straining to pull it up until he saw that they had hooked Batwing's bow chain and were pulling it up along with their stern anchor. What a mess.

With over 35 boats at PA and more still to come it's getting a little congested. I understand this number of boats hasn't been a problem in the past but things have changed dramatically with the construction of the new bridge. The corps of engineers doesn't want us anchoring where the bridge will be, even though they haven't begun doing anything more than taking core samples from the river bed, and the Port Captain has issued a letter saying that we can't anchor south of bridge construction beginning in August. For some mysterious reason that rule is being "enforced" (no one has tested it) effective immediately and PA is in the process of moving unoccupied boats north of the line.

Since the anchorage is also restricted to the south and to the east by a huge sand spit which the locals actively fish at low tide; to the east and north by the ferry routes; and to the west (directly in front of PA) by another ferry path, there's not much room left for boats to anchor safely. PA has lost a couple of mooring spots to bridge construction, and the 20 remaining moorings are all occupied. In fact TM moved his own boat off its mooring so that Cynosure could have a mooring. Those of us still hoping to get our reserved moorings at Saiananda are hoping the Port Captain will amend his previous restriction and allow us to move there. That would surely help take some of the pressure off of the crowded conditions at PA. Even the dinghy dock is a zoo. When you have 15 dinghies tied up on a busy day it's tough to find a parking spot, especially if the current is running hard.

But the $1 rum drinks during happy hour help make all our troubles go away for a few hours!


Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Re: Galapagos Comment

Yes, you can take your own boat to the Galapagos, or rather, you can take your boat to one of the Galapagos Islands. Prices vary greatly. Hiring an agent to clear you into more then one Island can get very expensive. Once at an island you will probably have to hire a guide if you want to go to one of the visitor sites. Most areas are completely off limits.

Basically, we think we'll enjoy it more if we take a plane instead of NAKIA. At least it will only take 3 hours to get there and back instead of 6 days...

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Bahia de Caraquez

We're settling into living in Ecuador for the summer, trying to find some semblance of a routine for our days here. We haven't delved too deeply into boat projects yet, although John has taken care of a few minor problems like replacing the fuel lift pump (to try to stop diesel from getting into the engine oil) and repairing a tear in the main sail. It feels like we spend most of our afternoons on the internet in the bar, which inevitably leads into happy hour, which often turns into an excursion with friends out to one of the many small eateries for dinner, and then it's back to the boat to watch a DVD from the borrowed collections of other boats.

One of our favorite new discoveries, inspired by the loss of satellite radio access, is the free online NPR podcasts. John downloaded iTunes to the laptop and we went to the NPR web site to subscribe to our favorite shows. Now whenever we turn on the computer we bring up iTunes, and the latest episodes are automatically downloaded. So we're back to listening to shows like Fresh Air, Talk of the Nation, Car Talk, and Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me. I discovered a new one called Coffee Break Spanish which is produced out of Glasgow, Scotland. So not only can we learn some new Spanish, but John gets to practice his Scottish accent at the same time! It's a weird combination but, having lived for a year just north of Glasgow, I enjoy it.

We are experiencing some big tides at the moment and the current in the river really rips, especially on the ebbs. Occasionally we see some big trees floating by, but so far nothing has knocked into Nakia's hull. It can be a challenge getting the dinghy up to the boat for loading and unloading, but we're getting the hang of it.

Monday morning we walked south half an hour to Leonidis Plaza for their weekly tianguis (swap meet). There was no food to speak of, and it was mostly clothing and housewares. I managed to find one second hand clothing stall that had a "dressing room" where I could try on a pair of light blue capri pants, which I bought for $5. I'm going to have to invest in a few more cool weather items so that I'm not wearing shorts and tank tops all over town during what is essentially their cold season.

Saturday we went to Canoa with two other couples. This is a beach "resort" town which was reached by taking a panga ferry from Bahia to San Vincente, across the river, and then a bus the rest of the way. There wasn't much more to Canoa than a few beach restaurants, some beach vendors selling jewelery, and a few "hotels" catering to the back-packer, surfer crowd. But it made for a nice outing and we got to hang out with Rob and Linda of Cat 'n' About before they headed north to the States and then to Guatemala for the rest of the season.

So life is quiet for now, while we wait to see what happens next. We're looking into making a trip to the Galapagos by air, and hope to do that before we leave here. In the meantime, we'll try to make short trips to places like Guayaquil, Quito, Otavalo, Banos, and Cuenca, all in Ecuador.

Linda and John