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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.