Another Weather Window Approaching

A nice calm spell is forecast for Wednesday and Thursday with the winds picking up again on Friday, so we are very much hoping that we can clear out tomorrow and head out towards Cabo San Antonio around lunchtime Wednesday. The seas are supposed to drop down to under 3 feet later on Wednesday and the wind may allow us to sail for a while before it drops to motoring speed.

Museum Entrance Ramp Around The Garden

Museum Entrance Ramp Around The Garden

I am getting excited about the prospect of arriving in Cuba on Thursday morning but although it is only 2 days before we leave, things may yet change and I should remain patient! We use Weather 4D and Passage Weather, plus Windguru and Chris Parker’s broadcasts for our information. Once we download the Weather 4D it remains on the iPad without Internet connection so we at least have a reference as we move east. We listen and speak to Chris on the SSB.

Our last week has flown by once more; we paid for another week in the marina on Saturday at a cost of 212.50 US$, played dominoes all afternoon yesterday and caught up with James and Patty from ‘La Adventura’ for drinks a couple of times. Rob and I were playing table tennis when they found us and we had a nice reunion after 2 and a half years. The last time we saw them was in Trinidad.

Modern Museum

Modern Museum

Mike and Jean from ‘Tomorrow’s Dawn’ came with us to the Museo Maya de Cancun, spending all morning in the modern building. They started off towards Cuba a couple of weeks ago but had to return due to boat equipment issues. It is a long taxi ride from the ferry port on the mainland, costing us 400 pesos or 8 pounds but we caught a bus on the return for just over 2 pounds for the 4 of us. Much better value although it didn’t go to exactly where we wanted, the shopping mall. Another taxi trip to the modern complex only cost 2 pounds though, so it was still far better to catch the bus.

The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 0900-1800 and you enter on the second floor, with a choice of lifts or a winding spiral ramp around a pretty garden. Inside it was cool and light with a great view over the sea. The exhibits are amazingly well preserved, the sabre toothed tiger skeleton included and although some of the information was in Spanish, much was in English. The pieces reflect the development and decline of the cities, the beliefs and lives of the Maya over 2000 years. There are 3 exhibition halls, 1 temporary and currently they have objects in celebration of fertility on display.

Mayan Mother & Baby

Mayan Mother & Baby

The beautiful buildings we saw at Tikal and Chichen Itza had ornate carvings and a very special style and many exhibits showed aspects of their architecture. It was certainly worth visiting. The tickets cost less than 3 pounds each and included entrance to the archaeological site next door. You wander along a pathway to view several buildings they have excavated, with all the information in English. All that was lacking at the Museo was a coffee shop but Rob did buy a book about the History Of Mexico at the gift shop.

Animals Featured Frequently In Mayan Carvings

Animals Featured Frequently In Mayan Carvings

In the mall we had a great lunch at the Waffle House, then went our separate ways to find new flip flops for Rob and get another taxi to the Home Depot (US equivalent of B&Q) for exciting items such as drill bits and plastic tubing to replace the split one which protects our SSB cable on the backstay. I hoisted Rob up the few feet in the bosun’s chair to complete that task yesterday. Today we need to clean the dinghy on the beach, do a quick food shop and start alerting people (again) to the fact we will be offline for a month or so in Cuba. Then we want to take a last walk into Centro to pick up a proper Mexican flag with the emblem in the middle of the white stripe, have a meal out and perhaps buy a souvenir.

Tomorrow I will go to Port Authority and Immigration to clear out at a cost of 20 US$ whilst Rob does the final fresh food shopping. The value here is quite astonishing, even after Guatemalan prices. For less than 10 pounds we bought the following: salad dressing, big bag of gourmet crisps, a whole 2.25kg fresh chicken, .5kg of sirloin steak, red and yellow peppers, mushrooms, broccoli, spring onions, a beetroot, 2 courgettes, 4 tomatoes and 2 avocados. As Belize is more expensive and Guatemala lacks a lot of goods other than fantastic fresh fruit and vegetables, this is the place to stock up before heading south.

The boat is ready for passage and tempting fate, all her systems and equipment are working. Rob re-assembled the watermaker pump, having fitted expensive new seals and tried to run it expecting it not to work but it did. Not sure of the water quality but we won’t drink it, just use it for showering and cleaning the boat. We still intend getting a new membrane for it in the USA.

Farewell Sunset Behind The Memorial Obelisk In Isla Mujeres

Farewell Sunset Behind The Memorial Obelisk In Isla Mujeres

So, we hope to be in Cuba by Thursday midday to clear in at Los Morros before moving the 5 miles to the Canal de los Barcos that apparently has excellent shelter from any winds. It is a cut between 2 mangrove islands but is deep and wide to enter in any conditions and we can wait there until the weather is calm enough for us to motor around the 3 capes to the south. We may get internet access along the way east but plan to visit some Cays before checking in again at Cayo Largo, then again at Cienfuegos before heading to Grand Cayman if no northers are imminent. From there we will jump on the Gulf Stream to Florida when the weather allows.

Posted in Belize, Caribbean, Costs, Cuba, Domestic Info, Friends & Family, Guatemala, Maintenance, Mexico, Tourism, Weather | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Not Cuba Bound Quite Yet

A short weather window has arrived after a nasty front passed through the area on Monday. The wind suddenly clocked around to the northwest and we had a bouncy night with the waves coming directly into the anchorage and through the marina. All the boats were like bucking broncos and the sound of the creaking ropes straining to keep us in place was unsettling.

It finally subsided after midnight and the water was calm again. Yesterday was windless and we have been watching the forecasts as the seas die down from over 7 feet to under 3. This is a short window and we initially thought it would enable us to leave the dock and motorsail the 120 miles to Cuba’s southwest tip to clear in at Cabo San Antonio. From there it is a 5 mile hop to the northeast into a long canal between 2 mangrove islands where the shelter is said to be good. We planned to wait in there for the next calm spell to head around 3 notorious capes and along the south coast.

The Anchorage Suffering Another NW Blow

The Anchorage Suffering Another NW Blow

We also contemplated Plan B, carrying on past the headlands to a small island for the night, some 180 miles but we would be forced to find a sheltered bay the next day to sit out a few days of stronger easterly winds and we couldn’t guarantee that the bay on the NW of Isla De La Juventad would be deep enough for us to enter. In addition, we might arrive at the islet in the dark as fighting the current could slow us down by hours. We couldn’t clear in there either so we decided we would rather get through customs and just chill out. We should be able to hear Chris Parker’s weather broadcast on the SSB radio each morning at 1330 UTC/GMT but the small marina at Los Morros has weather information, we understand.

In the event Rob and I had a long discussion and looked at the weather forecast going ahead to 3 February. It looked like we would need to bunker down for a week in a mangrove bay with nothing to do, as the conditions wouldn’t allow us to move south and east. So, faced with staying in this marina on Isla Mujeres, with all the attractions of our easy life here or sitting it out in the middle of nowhere, we opted for waiting another week or so. Today there is a cruiser’s ‘swop meet’ where you can sell or buy boat related items from one another. Tonight El Milagro are putting on a BBQ with ribs and fish plus salads for 15 US$ a head. Tomorrow is the weekly pizza evening at Oscar’s and I’m still keen to go to the Mayan Museum over in Cancun, cycle around the island and spend a rare day on the beach like the tourists do 🙂

La Pelegrina's Bow Pitched Several Feet For Hours

La Pelegrina’s Bow Pitched Several Feet For Hours

Whilst waiting we have filled the freezer with meals frozen in the marina kitchen’s big freezer. Using freezer bags works really well as you can squeeze all the air out and end up with flat bags that take very little space. They obviously defrost really quickly too. I also made another Christmas cake (rich fruit cake with nuts, glace cherries & spices), only a week after finishing last year’s one, as it will keep for months steeped in Brandy. We really don’t know what food we can take in as stories vary but the food here is such good value that we decided to take everything and if some gets confiscated then so be it. Preparing the boat for possibly 2 months without a lot of food has been like getting ready to cross the Atlantic and we are pretty much full of storable and frozen items.

Our friends, Mike and Jean, on ‘Tomorrow’s Dawn’ left today, as they want a calm passage and have a shallow drafted boat which can get into all the bays. Hopefully we will catch up with them in Cuba somewhere, as they will be there a while. Our farewell meal in Greenverde with Jeff and Di was a little premature! We might go to the Cayman Islands after Cuba and then pick up the current to ride up to Florida on but we will need to be sure of the weather before heading to the anchorage on Grand Cayman. It is open to the west and we doubt we can get into the shallow anchorage on the north coast, so have to consider our lack of options if the wind goes west. Occasionally we wish Beyzano had a 5 foot rather than 7 foot draft but not very often.

Yet Another 'Christmas Cake' Ready For Soaking In Brandy

Yet Another ‘Christmas Cake’ Ready For Soaking In Brandy

We were told that on the Cuban islands where officials and park rangers have to spend long periods on duty, they really appreciate a cold beer, as they don’t have a fridge. Also soap, fishing lures and any food other than rice and beans, which is what they are given as rations. I read on the Facebook page ‘Cuba, Land & Sea’, that Cubans are very kind, welcoming people who will share what they have. We will also need to share what we have and it is not seen as bribery, just basic friendship. We will hopefully find out for ourselves in the not too distant future but for now we can relax again, knowing the boat is ready to go. Just hope we didn’t miss the only good window in months. Mind you, nothing goes to windward like an Airbus A380!

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Chilling Out Waiting To Sail To Cuba

Whilst Steve was with us he rented a golf cart for 24 hours for less than 40 pounds and we made the most of it whizzing around the small island, several times. Our first circuit took less than an hour, giving us a view of where we wanted to return. Golf carts are fun to drive and there are hundreds on Isla. Ours wouldn’t do more than a slow pace and was perfectly safe. It even had lights so we could go further afield for that evening’s meal.

Southern Point Of Isla Mujeres

Southern Point Of Isla Mujeres

There wasn’t too much to see to be honest. The southern tip of the island has nice scenery with waves crashing ashore but the ruins aren’t very big and the sculpture park has a handful of exhibits rusting away, not worth the 3 US$ they charge. Paying in pesos was far cheaper, so we did that.

Along the lagoon road is an Ice Bar, a turtle sanctuary, sadly a dolphin park and plenty of hotels where you can rent a sun lounger for the day and swim or sometimes just buy a drink for the privilege of a few hours at the hotel. The Mia resort on the north end of Isla is all-inclusive and for 30 US$ you get meals and drinks too. The beach is a beautiful expanse of white sand backed by bars and stalls but it is a bit busy for us. Having had the luxury of deserted islands in the San Blas, we are a bit spoilt now, preferring to have our own beaches accessed only by dinghy.

Church With A View

Church With A View

We also stopped by a couple of graveyards as the history the stones provide is one of my interests and I tend to visit cemeteries in most islands if I can. Here the graves are similar to those of the wealthier in Guatemala, being painted concrete and above ground but the shockingly young age of most of the deceased was painful to see. All but 2 I saw in 1 graveyard were younger than me.

The view from the church on the eastern coast road was stunning, overlooking the sea. The chapel at the cemetery on the same road also had a backdrop of the sea for the congregation to look at during funerals. In town, the graveyard contains the grave of a real life pirate who retired to Isla Mujeres in the 19th Century and fell in love with a young woman, Prisca Gomez, who unfortunately preferred a younger man whom she married. Heartbroken, Fermin Mundaca died a few years later in Merida but was buried in the graveyard on the island to be near his lost love. The grave has a skull and crossbones on the northern end and is to the right as you enter the cemetery. His old estate is another attraction to visit.

Pirate's Grave

Pirate’s Grave

Naturally we have been enjoying eating out, especially whilst Steve was with us. Next door we have the Soggy Peso with excellent nachos and tonight we are trying their lobster tacos. We bought a big bag of ground coffee at the Mango Café, one of the best on the island and we have had 3 excellent meals there now. Superb French toast for breakfast served with fruit, toasted almonds and maple syrup! Greenverde is another great place to eat and do bright green nachos with guacamole, stuffed peppers and beautifully presented rice and beans, both in little nacho baskets. The latter 2 restaurants are both small but serve wonderful food in a cosy atmosphere. You can walk Greenverde from El Milagro marina. In town we liked Mogagua coffee shop, Sardinian Smile and El Patio but prices rise as you get towards the tourist end of town where so many of the holidaymakers spend their time. It has quietened noticeably since the 6 January though, after everyone’s Christmas and New Year fortnight ended. We were told we couldn’t have a golf cart for 24 hours as they made more money renting them for 3 hours but things changed after the holidays.

Catching Up With Jo & Liz

Catching Up With Jo & Liz

Liz and Jo, our neighbours in Haslar Marina visited us twice last week whilst they were on holiday in Cancun. They came to see us off in Las Palmas way back in 2011 so it was great to see them again. Rob did a BBQ under the palapa in the marina and we introduced them to the wonderful Kraken Rum, a bottle of which they kindly brought us after we mentioned how good it is. Hopefully they took some home. We swopped stories of life in the Caribbean compared to the Med, where their boat is and wondered where all the years have gone to.

Steve got back to the snow of the UK after what we hope was a restful fortnight in the sunshine. He did some stand up paddle boarding before he left and got a couple of souvenirs but we couldn’t persuade him to buy a huge sombrero for some reason. It was good to see him again, shame the time went so fast but we will be back in his ‘hotel’ in May, so not that long now.

Los Tres Amigos

Los Tres Amigos

In the meantime we have a lot of miles to cover and were watching a weather window appearing for this Thursday. Suddenly, after being pretty lazy for 3 weeks, we had a list of tasks to complete before we could leave, including replacing the engine and fresh water pumps (brought out by both friends), changing the masthead anchor light bulb, getting diesel, shopping, cooking and freezing food for 2 months in Cuba where there is very little to buy and generally getting everything ship-shape.

I considered getting new curtains whilst in the Rio as the humidity had left mildew spots on the cream stripes but a brushing of neat ‘magic bleach’ has completely cleaned it off without damaging the navy blue stripes, so I’ve washed all of them. I have been trawling through the Cuba Cruising Guides, some of which are a bit out of date now, such as Calder’s but the free Frank Virgintino guide is good, with lots of waypoints now entered in my iPad’s Navionics charts.

Memorial To Lost Fishermen

Memorial To Lost Fishermen

We are not sure whether Cuba will be a good stop or not as stories vary wildly and things keep changing. We hear that you can’t take in eggs, citrus and meats or that rice and flour will be sealed up but other people said everything was OK. All we can do is take what we will need and see what happens. We also stocked up on beers, soap bars and toilet paper for ‘oiling the wheels’ of officialdom as it is intense in Cuba. Apparently we will need to clear in and out of every port at a ‘marina’, sometimes with 5 or more officials and all may want a ‘gift’. We have to anchor where they say and can only go ashore in a specified place, the dinghy needing to be lifted out of the water by 1800. This mostly applies to inhabited areas, as the fear is that a Cuban will try to stow away or take our dinghy to leave Cuba. You can go ashore in the deserted areas. I’m fine with abiding by each host’s rules and being mega patient with officials, so watch this space. Actually, don’t watch this space, as we may not have Internet access in Cuba for the entire visit unless we are lucky. So I’ll have to update from Florida when we get there instead.

Marina's Resident Pen Dismantler

Marina’s Resident Pen Dismantler

Our first weather window has now been discarded in favour of another hopefully arriving next week, as the waves were predicted to be over 5 foot and a short chop for last Thursday/Friday. The issue going from Isla Mujeres to the south western tip of Cuba is that you have to cross the emerging Gulf Stream which flows north and west at over 3 knots but when you get closer inshore near the treacherous capes off Cuba, there is a counter-current going south and east. The wind we need is as little as possible and south of east so we can steer east to counteract the big current taking us north. Our plan is to leave here around lunch time or early afternoon to arrive in Los Morros to clear in the following morning. Near the marina, 5 miles east, is a very sheltered canal between the cays with deep enough water for Beyzano. We can wait out any nasty weather there before getting around to the south coast and east along the islands to Cienfuegos. From there we want to explore inland before heading south to Grand Cayman, then west again and on to Florida. Plan A, that is!

Having gone through our first ‘norther’, albeit on the dock, we now understand why you need to seek good shelter as all but 4 boats in the bay here had to move to the lagoon when it blew through. Many dragged their anchors. It was well predicted but arrived suddenly with a dark sky followed by lots of rain, thunder and lightning. The winds got up well over 30 knots and continue to blow from NW through N to NE for nearly 2 days. They can sometimes blow for a lot longer before calming down and the northers can also crop up every few days, meaning you have little time between them. Last winter wasn’t good but we’ve only seen the one small norther in a month, so counting ourselves lucky.

Our Plank Access System

Our Plank Access System

We continue to enjoy Isla Mujeres with our friends, none of whom have left yet either. ‘Tomorrow’s Dawn’ and ‘Horizons’ will probably go to Cuba with us once we get the right conditions. Yesterday Di and I caught the ferry for a day out shopping in Cancun on the promise of bringing back Krispy Kreme donuts for Rob. I got new flip-flops, lingerie, iPad cover and coffee mugs plus some food in Walmart, which we don’t see in the local supermarket. Prices are amazing value and only 6 items in my basket were over 2 pounds, only 1 was over 4 pounds and that was swimming trunks for Rob. The huge mall has everything we needed, included an optician who put 2 new plastic nose supports on Di’s glasses and cleaned them for 2 pounds.

I need to buy all the storable food I can find here over the next few days and start freezing meals, just in case we can’t get much in Cuba, although I’m hoping we will find some fresh fish and vegetables at least. We also need to get US dollars to exchange for Cuban CUCs, the tourist currency. It isn’t cheap and I wish we had thought ahead and asked Steve to bring pounds as there is a 10% tax on US dollar exchanges as well as 10% on the ATM here. You can exchange Euros and pounds in Cuba without the 10% tax added. They don’t allow American credit cards either but we can use ours I’ve heard, so long as the bank’s parent company isn’t American.

Green Food At Greenverde!

Green Food At Greenverde!

Apart from putting the 80 litres of diesel Rob bought yesterday into the tanks, our boat jobs are complete. Rob went up the mast to sort out the anchoring light and the new water pumps are running fine. The generator ran the other day when all the island’s electricity went down, the main engine had a quick run and we are up to date with the cleaning and even did the annual ironing! The only equipment not working is the watermaker but we need to get a new membrane from the US in April.

We are waiting happily here, about to pay for another week in the marina and not too worried if we are here another 6 weeks. I have just paid Chris Parker 195 US$ for a year’s weather advice via our SSB radio, so we can get weather whilst offline in Cuba. I will write a final blog from Mexico just before we leave for what promises to be quite an experience in Cuba.

I have also compiled a page on our 2016 spending, if you have the nerve to read it! It is under Cruising Information.

Posted in Caribbean, Cuba, Friends & Family, Maintenance, Mexico, UK, Weather | Leave a comment

Happy End Of 2016 In Isla Mujeres

Feliz Año Nuevo everyone! All the best for 2017 from sunny Mexico where we have had a great Christmas with friends in El Milagro marina and celebrated New Year with our friend Steve who flew in from the UK.

Lovely Social Area At El Milagro

Lovely Social Area At El Milagro

It has been all too easy to relax at the marina hotel, thanks to the great staff and numerous hotel guests and cruisers. Many evenings have been spent just chilling out over a few beers whilst Felix lights the BBQs either for us to use or for him to cook us local fish and lobster. The patio area is really pretty, with tiled tables, candles and lights under the palapa. We have wifi, open air hot showers which cascade like waterfalls, a movie theatre we can run films in, an area to play table tennis, stand up paddle boards and kayaks on the beach and a small swimming pool.

Communal Kitchen

Communal Kitchen

It is a great place for cruisers as we can use the huge, well-equipped kitchen to prepare our meals and keep food in the big fridges and freezers. Over Christmas this was a godsend and the staff often do our washing up, clearing our plates without being asked. Hammocks are hung between the palms but a coconut did fall down near me once, so I’m cautious when the wind gets up, especially when I’m in the shower under a swaying palm tree.

There are bikes you can borrow to cycle to the huge supermarket just south of the marina or explore the mainly flat island, only half a mile wide and 5 miles long. Many places in town rent out golf carts and scooters but the red taxis only cost a few pesos anyway. For our first week we didn’t do too much, preferring to get Beyzano cleaned up and ready for Christmas. Our usual decorations were supplemented by glittery stars I bought in Guatemala and a beautiful glass heart Jeff and Di gave me. Rob used his bleached driftwood draped in blue lights as a centrepiece for the cockpit but some of our older decorations have started to deteriorate in the humidity. The boat always looks lovely and cosy at this time of year but sadly it is already time to pack them away under our berth and I hope we are able to put them up before the 20th of December this year.

Driftwood For A Caribbean Christmas

Driftwood For A Caribbean Christmas

It was fitting that we had to use our passarelle again, after 5 years of being stowed on deck, as Steve obtained it for us before we set sail from the UK. It was a bit wobbly so Rob fixed a couple of lines to our dinghy davits to lift it off the dock and I added 2 handrails to make it feel safer. The water is clear and clean here but even so I prefer not to fall in. Being such a tiny marina makes it friendly and sociable, one of the reasons we chose to be dock bound for the holiday season.

A Snowman Of Course!

A Snowman Of Course!

On Christmas Eve we went into town, as I was keen to go to the service at 2130 at the church in the main square. The church is Catholic and we arrived in time to see several baby Jesus dolls being blessed before they were placed in the empty mangers around town. We had seen several when wandering around and the town had a lot of decorations and 2 huge trees. The naval building had green lighting up the decorative mast outside, making a tree shape. Naturally the modern ferry terminal had a number of big decorations to welcome all the tourists, including the typical Mexican snowman! The music and atmosphere in the church was really upbeat and helped get us into the Christmas spirit, sadly hard to invoke in the warm climate and so far from our family but our friends are very dear to us and we support one another.

Town Sqaure & Church

Town Sqaure & Church

We started the day with champagne and found 7 bottles of wine and 1 extra champagne whilst getting the glasses out. Merry Christmas indeed! El Milagro bought 7 turkeys and provided potato cakes and cranberry salad for Christmas dinner and we all brought side dishes and desserts. The 15 US$ charge went to the staff, a kind gesture from Eric, the owner. Around 100 people attended, including the staff and their families, so it was a good evening. We find the Americans like to eat early, starting at 1700 and then getting home before 2000, whereas the rest of us like to start at 2000! So the British contingent carried on a bit later …

I have been baking and enjoying letting Rob BBQ most nights and grateful for the huge selection of food available in the Chedraui supermarket which seems to be open round the clock, even on Christmas and New Year’s Day. The restaurants in town cater for the large number of tourists, with many different nationalities represented so we have been spoilt for choice. El Patio has been a favourite and we decided to go there on New Year’s Eve, quite late as we had heard the fireworks and party didn’t start in the town square until midnight and went on until dawn. The set menu was a bit pricey in US dollars but if you pay in pesos it is much cheaper. They have live music and a pretty upstairs area with lighting in the trees.

Old Year's Eve

Old Year’s Eve

Cocktails are based on the Mexican drink, tequila but the strengths vary considerably. In the Soggy Peso, almost next door to the marina, you should only have a single margarita or suffer the consequences! Their nachos are great though and each evening they offer a different meal, lobster tacos is one we intend trying. There are Cuban bars with salsa dancing classes during the day, several Italian restaurants and a few Mexican establishments but mainly they sell burritos, tacos and quesadillas, food most of us know already. We haven’t yet found anything local that is unusual but we’ll go south, away from the tourist area and hope to eat something more typical.

Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza

Just 3 days after Christmas, Steve arrived but had a trying few hours in the busy airport before he arrived in Isla Mujeres. A pre-booked taxi helped but the traffic in Cancun was manic too and he was glad to arrive on the boat and get a drink in hand. We had delayed exploring too much until he arrived so after a couple of days to recover we planned his stay. New Year’s Eve was a big event and sure enough the town was packed with people wanting to welcome 2017 in style. The fireworks were spectacular and the band got everyone in the party mood. I believe it is televised.

War Games For Real - Playing Court With Hoop On The Wall Below Viewing Area

War Games For Real – Playing Court With Hoop On The Wall Below Viewing Area

Steve was keen to see Chichen Itza, the Mayan site about 2 hours away and also do some fishing with a professional crew, i.e. not us. We have caught tuna and Dorado before but only by pure luck, so a lesson and a few tips was also on our agenda and we booked a boat for 6 of us for 5 hours and asked Felix to ready the BBQ.

We visited Chichen Itza with a tour operator booked on Isla but it was a long day, starting on the 0630 ferry to Cancun to be met by minibus for a transfer to the bigger bus. Both were air-conditioned and we happily waited at a Starbucks for the entire group to assemble. There is good coffee in Mexico and good chocolate to go with it. The day’s tour was great value, for less than 40 pounds each we had a buffet lunch, visited a craft market, swam in a sinkhole (Sevla Maya), had 2.5 hours at Chichen Itza and a quick stop at the colonial city of Valladolid, complete with chocolate shop. All we needed to buy was drinks and pay the tips.

Stone Statue Waiting For Human Sacrifices

Stone Statue Waiting For Human Sacrifices

Having visited Tikal in Guatemala, we have to compare the 2 Mayan sites and Tikal is really on a different level. If you can get to Tikal, please do, it would be the experience of a lifetime. There you can feel the history as you climb amongst the buildings, marvel at the temple tops peeping through the forest canopy as you literally sit on top of the Mayan world on Temple IV and you can climb them at sunrise or sunset. We walked along the roads they did and apart from a vendor or two at the entrance, it was peaceful inside the huge park, full of birds and animals we had never seen. With fewer visitors it was a personal and magical experience, one I will never forget. Chichen Itza on the other hand was mobbed with tourists; chock full of vendors and everything is roped off. Our guide was brilliant though, very enthusiastic and knowledgeable. I did ask him why Chicken Itza is one of the modern 7 wonders of the world rather than Tikal and his answer was sad in a way. Money and power: Mexico is big and was able to push harder.

Pillars All Beautifully Lined Up

Pillars All Beautifully Lined Up

We did learn a few more facts about the ancient civilization though, some contradictory to Tikal. At Chichen Itza there is a huge playing court where ball games such as lacrosse (which I incidentally played at school) were played in front of the nobility who were seated above the court. Often these games replaced ‘war’, with opposing teams taking on the responsibility of their nation. One was played with an 11 lb ball, not touched by the feet nor hands but which needed to be thrown through a high hoop, seen in my photo. The losers would beg for their lives to be taken, as they could not go home in disgrace but apparently warriors were treated well, not sacrificed wantonly in Mexico. They did sometimes sacrifice an individual, cutting his heart out in 5-8 seconds whilst he was laid facing up across the statue shown in another of my photos. The best warriors were the superstars of their day, given expensive headdresses and jewels to wear, even the King’s own belongings.

Somewhere Cool To Swim But With Mandatory Lifejackets!

Somewhere Cool To Swim But With Mandatory Lifejackets!

Due to having many serpent statues decorating the Mayan buildings, the catholic Spanish invaders thought this signified devil worship and conflict ensued. The Mayan calendar is very accurate and they were great intellectuals. Chichen Itza consists of one temple inside another; the smaller has 65 steps on 4 sides denoting the ‘woman’ calendar whilst the other has 91 steps plus one on the top denoting the ‘man’ calendar of 365 days. The pillars we saw held up a 2-storey building and they had beautiful plazas, markets and administrative buildings, all brightly painted. The first ruler of Chichen Itza was a woman but only men were warriors.

Colourful Stalls

Colourful Stalls

The craft market was naturally full of local items such as statues the priest would bless, silver jewellery spelling your name in Mayan letters, textiles and carvings. It wasn’t over pushy but try to pay half the initial asking price if you are OK with bartering, as this seems the norm here. If you start to walk away, the price drops again to a reasonable rate. Usually reserved about this kind of thing, we have become adept lately, getting prices down from a ridiculous 800 pesos to 200 for some items. Lunch was good, a buffet of salads, tender pork tortillas, chicken, pasta and potato. Dancers put on a display of balancing trays of drink on their heads for tips. Everyone wanted a tip wherever we went but as our immigration officer also asked us for one when we arrived, guess it’s the usual practice.

Jeff and Di swam in the cold waters of the cenote or sinkhole but it was getting late by then and we didn’t bother. 2 of our group didn’t get back to our bus at the temple so we lost half an hour waiting for them before we left them behind to get another bus run by the same company who delivered them to the sinkhole. This meant we only had 15 minutes in the city, Valladolid, a great shame as we didn’t get time to see inside the beautiful church.

Dancers In Traditional Mayan Dress

Dancers In Traditional Mayan Dress

The minibus picked the Isla Mujeres passengers up from the big bus and we caught the 2130 ferry back. Hungry, we stopped at Sardinian Smile in town, for a meal, one of the best we’ve had here with great service and delicious food. Steve’s shrimp ravioli in asparagus sauce looked amazing, pity I didn’t order it. We finally got to the boat around midnight, a very long day but an interesting one, especially for Steve.

Some Of Our Catch!

Some Of Our Catch!

Despite being tired, we were off again the following morning for our fishing trip, along with Jeff and Di from Horizons and Mike from Tomorrow’s Dawn. The boat had a cabin, shower and 2 decks but it wasn’t the most modern boat in the harbour. It cost us 640 US$ to hire and could take 8 in theory, although that would have been a squeeze. Julio worked hard all day, rigging the lines and helping us catch 2 big red snapper, a huge barracuda, 3 trigger fish, bonito and mackerel. It was fascinating to see how they spread out the 5 lines and used a 10 lb weight to do the deep fishing at around 200 feet. We used some of our catch as live bait and the 5 hours went by very quickly. They dropped us back to the marina dock, along with our catch that Felix left in marinade and cooked for us in the evening. Delicious. The rest of the fish is now in the big freezer for our next BBQ night.

Di & I Battling For Our Catch

Di & I Battling For Our Catch

Tomorrow we are hiring a golf cart to see the rest of this little island and plan Steve’s final week. Our friends Jo and Liz arrive the following week, bringing in a new engine water pump and Steve brought a domestic water system pump last week. Plenty for Rob to do once our friends return home, including replacing our masthead anchoring light. In the meantime we’ll make the best of relaxing on this lovely holiday island.

Julio Setting Up The Rods

Julio Setting Up The Rods

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13.7 Knots – Fast Sleigh Ride To Isla Mujeres From Belize

Wow, what a ride! Fast and furiously, ‘Beyzano’ made her way from the southern tip of Turneffe Atoll in Belize to Isla Mujeres, Mexico covering the 260 miles in just 35 hours. Our top speed was 13.7 knots and we had a 2-3 knot current with us from Cayo Norte making the passage even more exhilarating. We were bowling along with, as promised, east-southeast winds of between 10-25 knots. It wasn’t the most comfortable sail due to the waves being on the beam but we left our trusty autopilot, Cyril, to take the wheel for virtually the entire journey whilst we sat in the cockpit and tried not to feel too queasy.

Nothing Under The Keel

Nothing Under The Keel

But, I’m getting ahead of myself, as first we had to leave Guatemala and get over the sand bar at the Rio Dulce mouth at Livingston. We decided to stay in Fronteras one more night and had a final lunch with Carla and Robert of ‘Moody Mistress’. We left on Tuesday at 0630 to motor straight to Livingston and arrived by 1045 to clear out with the agent, Raul. There is a very shallow patch before the entrance to El Golfete, where we have seen 0.0 under us too. The best route is the southern side of the river. It cost us 80 pounds for a boat to tip us up and another to tow us and Hector was booked for an hour before high tide. Immigration was 16 pounds and the zarpe plus Raul’s services cost another 45 pounds. I gave our last Quetzals to a little girl at the ferry dock and got back to the boat to prepare her for the exit. Several boats joined us to wait but none needed help out. We were one of the deepest drafted boats in the Rio. We watched the catamarans ‘Makani’ and ‘Harmonie’ leave, followed by ‘Platypus’.

Waiting For The High Tide

Waiting For The High Tide

Hector and what looked like his son, father and daughter came out at 1710 and we were off. We just didn’t want to risk using the engine through the shallows in case some mud or sand got into the pumps. All I had to do was steer to follow the tow boat, which went at some speed. The depth dropped off to 0.0 and we were still being pulled along at over 4 knots. A signal to the tipping boat when it shallowed got us pulled over by our spinnaker halyard to about 40 degrees and although we touched bottom, we didn’t stop this time. Much better than June when all the paint got scoured off the keel to the bare metal. There are 2 very shallow patches but it took about 15 minutes and we were over and into blue water again.

We may have got another inch by going an hour later but the fishermen put out nets and pots at dusk and Hector wanted to avoid those. Once out we had a clear 7 mile run to join our friends in the sheltered anchorage of Tres Puntas to stop the night. After dawn we headed for Placencia in Belize, inside the reef but had a choppy passage of 40 miles heading into the wind. We also had our first possible encounter with ‘pirates’ when in the rough seas a pirogue headed straight for us with 4 big guys standing up. They then stopped for a minute to talk before heading straight at us again. Certainly not fishermen and with no good reason to motor for us, Rob got the engine revs up so we were going at 8 knots and they decided to give up, probably assuming it would be too difficult to get on board. Worrying at the time.

Cancun - Nearly There!

Cancun – Nearly There!

Placencia was quiet but we knew all the boats in the anchorage from the Rio. It was lovely to be back there in the sheltered bay but we were only resting the night and risking going ashore, against my usual rules, to get weather in the telecoms shop. As we got to the dock I saw the customs officer I met in April and hoped he didn’t ask any questions! We quickly got weather, which still predicted the long awaited south of east winds we needed, so we decided to leave for Isla Mujeres on the Saturday.

On Thursday we motored up the channel to Blue Ground Range and anchored off one of the cays for a pretty choppy night. The wind was still in the north, so protection wasn’t great. Friday we sailed and motored to Belize City and out of the big shipping channel before sailing at speed to the southern tip of Turneffe Atoll. It was good to get some fast sailing in and experience the choppy seas as after 6 months in the Rio we felt like total beginners and hadn’t any sea legs at all.

On approached the anchorage we saw another Rally boat we knew, ‘Arkouda’ and hailed Sean and Cynthia to say hi. They were also waiting for the winds for Mexico and changed their timings to leave with us on Saturday morning at 0315. We managed to sail all the way as when we awoke we saw the wind had gone to the east, thank goodness. There were times during the last couple of weeks when we thought we’d have to abandon our booking in Isla and get our friend, Steve, to fly from Cancun to Placencia instead but we were lucky.

We averaged 7.2 knots over the 35 hours and behind the 3 islands got more comfortable conditions but it was never dangerous and we didn’t get any winds over 25 knots. Having so much current with us from Cayo Norte meant we had an additional 3 knots of ‘apparent’ wind, so it felt fast and furious. Even Rob wasn’t up to eating much but as we could see we’d only do 1 night at sea, we were OK to catnap in the cockpit and eat very little. Dawn soon broke and we had passed the 3 possible stopping off anchorages anyway! We sailed with 2 reefs in the main and genoa but were still bowling along, there was no stopping her. Cozumel loomed and was passed by before the final stretch to Isla Mujeres and this seems to take ages in very lumpy seas. Just wanted to get there and calm it all down, we were glad to be getting behind the island and the sails down. Jeff, from ‘Horizons’ called us up to see where we were and we were there! If we had arrived in the dark we could have anchored off the western coast but it was very rolly there so we were glad it was early afternoon and we were able to motor west of the 2 port navigation buoys and into the harbour. We saw 0.7m under us (2.8m).

Rob & Jeff With A Whale Shark

Rob & Jeff With A Whale Shark

We had been told that the holding is terrible here but our anchor set straight away, yanking the wheel over as it bit into the sand. We were just opposite the ferry docks, near the naval buildings, to the northern end of the anchorage. Suddenly hungry, we ate the chicken casserole we should have had the night before and crashed out, sleeping from about 6pm through to dawn. We heard the cruiser’s radio net on channel 13 at 0830 and found out that Mexico is an hour ahead of Guatemala!

Our berth at El Milagro marina was awaiting us but we collected Jeff so he could take our dinghy out of the way of us manoeuvring astern into the dock and had a quick look at the task ahead of me. There is one long pontoon to which boats tie up either side, stern or bow to. It is easier for us to get off the boat on the stern platform and to have the bows into the prevailing winds. It is shallow on the southern side so we asked for a space on the northern. There are 4 wooden posts to drop a looped line over and then posts and cleats for the stern lines and spring lines.

The El Milagro Marina & Hotel

The El Milagro Marina & Hotel

It was gut wrenching as usual, as I am always nervous when motoring ‘Beyzano’ into metal or wooden structures in side winds. I cautiously turned into the space ahead of the berth as it was shallow and saw 0.7 metres but it was enough room to get the momentum to have the stern moving back straight and we made it between the posts without hitting them or the neighbouring boats. The dock hands took our stern lines and do have a launch to deploy if you need help with the bow being pushed over but our bowthrusters were enough.

So we are here for a month, happy to see our friends on ‘Horizons’, ‘Gone Walkabout’ and ‘Bad Kitty’ here in the marina and ‘Tomorrow’s Dawn’ joined us yesterday. Several other boats we know are anchored in the bay nearby too. I’ll write more about the marina next time but suffice to say it is lovely and we are really looking forward to an amazing Christmas.

Feliz Navidad!!

Posted in Belize, Caribbean, Costs, Domestic Info, Friends & Family, Guatemala, Mexico, Techy Stuff, Weather | Leave a comment

Another ‘Final’ Month In Guatemala And We Are Leaving For Mexico

Being back in the marina area of the Rio Dulce means plenty of social events and catching up with friends. The low did develop into a named storm, then hurricane called ‘Otto’ but it went west rather than north, making landfall in Nicaragua and spared Guatemala. It went on record as being the latest hurricane at such a low latitude and was fascinating all the meteorologists.

We are in limbo now, waiting for the next really high tide on December 13 but have been able to return to dominoes, movie nights and quiz evenings. One Monday we picked up Robert and Carla from ‘Moody Mistress’ together with Tim from ‘Seraphim’ and motored ‘Beyzano’ the half hour under the Fronteras bridge to join ‘Horizons’ by the Castle. Although the bridge is supposed to be 80 feet high, it is the cables, sagging down in the middle underneath, which concerned me but we made it with plenty of space, apparently. I wasn’t looking up!

Street Life In Fronteras

Street Life In Fronteras

Rob fired up our Magma BBQ and the Cobb, as we had tons to cook, far too much for the 7 of us. He did a great job, managing to serve up baked potatoes, chicken, sausages, homemade burgers and spring onions at the same time followed by chocolate bananas, none of it burnt. Our friends kindly brought salads, cheese and drinks and Rob made his sweet and sour pineapple salsa. It was a fun afternoon, with a dip in the cool fresh water before we left ‘Horizons’ for the night and took our guests home to Nana Juana.

Now the ‘moving about’ bug has caught us again, we took off for Texan Bay to join a crowd of ‘gringos’ and locals at Mike’s restaurant for the US Thanksgiving the following day. We took a lime pie and mashed potatoes, Mike provided turkey, stuffing and gravy and everyone brought a dish to share. A chocolate fountain was kept running for us to dip frozen melon into until the chocolate set. Americans love their ‘pot lucks’. Some of the former cruisers who live here full time were happily indulging in smoking dubious substances and were quite entertaining later. It was another good afternoon meeting new and old friends and swopping stories.

Horizons & Beyzano In Texan Bay

Horizons & Beyzano In Texan Bay

Due to ‘Otto’ we had several days of rain, needing to run the generator to boost the batteries. Further south, all the way to Panama they have had torrential rain and the Panama Canal actually had to release water to alleviate pressure on the lock gates. In February Gatun Lake was so dry, the possibility of the ships carrying a third less cargo so as not to run aground was being discussed. It is also quite cool and for the first time in 5 years we are thinking about getting a thin blanket out from wherever we hid it, as its chilly at night in bed. Cooking is much more pleasant though and we don’t run the fans anymore. I made whisky ginger fudge this morning and it set in the cooler atmosphere. Little improvements make a big difference out here!

We caught the bus in town to the Agua Caliente, or hot water springs and it was an inexpensive day out. Tourists were jumping off the top of the waterfall and enjoying cooling off but if it hasn’t rained much we heard the water can be very hot. You don’t need a guide as the path is straightforward but the elderly man only wanted a pound each, so we decided to let him earn some money.

Day At The Hot Water Falls

Day At The Hot Water Falls

It was nice to see ‘Horizons’ afloat again after her 2 months in the yard. She looks really smart with her new canvas and paint. They have a shallow draft so headed out of the Rio to Belize for a couple of weeks and we will join them in Mexico for Christmas if we don’t get adverse weather. We have perfect weather for going north next week, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and hope it doesn’t change. Before they left we spent a few days together in Texan Bay to BBQ again and then headed our separate ways for a while.

We met another friend, John, from ‘Oystergo’ when we got back to Fronteras. He left the day we decided not to and suffered a terrible 1000 mile passage going east, with 20 foot waves and several issues on the boat. He said it sounded like the boat was breaking up around him and was glad she was a strongly constructed older Oyster. Chris Parker, the weather forecaster we use, helped him out on the SSB radio as he was the only boat out there. Fortunately he turned around and lived to tell the tale.

People are drifting back to the Rio, sorting out their boats and planning the next season. Many just sail for a few months and return to the Rio, some are going to Panama to cross the Pacific and others are heading north. Some we have sailed with for the past year we may not see again, always a sad farewell. We thought we’d dismissed going into the Pacific when Robert suggested going to some of the South Pacific islands before heading for Hawaii, Alaska and then south again to Vancouver and back to Panama. It would only take a friend to commit to going and we’d probably be off too. So we’ll see. Another option for us now is to sell the boat in the US next summer and return home for good. I would be too young not to work and that would be a big change after 6 years not working. So many questions and decisions to make though and the thing is, it was easy to leave but we are very concerned about what sort of life we would have if we went back to living in a house and working. We’d be apart a lot, we’d be on a schedule and there wouldn’t be lots of changes after the initial ones. The UK weather can be dire nearly all year round. They say it is hard, nigh impossible, to go back to a ‘normal’ life after this one but we do miss our family. Another option is to buy another boat in the Mediterranean or sail Beyzano there and cruise for a few years, as it is quicker and cheaper to get home to the UK. Decisions, decisions.

Students At The Fund Raising Event at Ram Marine

Students At The Fund Raising Event at Ram Marine

We have been watching the weather as it gets nearer to our leaving date and so far, so good. It looks like light winds followed by more easterly then south of east winds, which would mean we can either motor north or sail most of the almost 400 miles. On a good day Beyzano can do over 180 miles, more if we let her. There are a couple of anchorages we could stop in along the route but our plan is to keep going overnight from Livingston and motor behind the reef off Belize, making one of the offshore atolls for a night or two. Then we motor around the southern tip for a better angle and head north staying off the coast about 10 miles to pick up the north going current. This can run up to 3 knots. We can stop in Bahia De La Ascension overnight to rest if the conditions are bad but otherwise it would make sense to continue to Isla Mujeres in case the weather deteriorates. We will pass inside Cozumel and then have just 50 miles to go.

I’ll be very sad to leave Guatemala. The people are friendly, happy and welcoming and the country is stunningly beautiful but the poverty and basic standard of living are sad to see. Many young children make a few Quetzales selling fried plantain crisps or fruit as they are off school at the moment. They wander around on their own, visiting the bars and restaurants in the hope of taking some money home. A big bag costs only 2Q, about 20 pence. On December 3rd, Ram Marine hosted a charity event to raise funds for the school in Cayo Quemado aka Texan Bay. Food and drink was laid on, West Marine products were 15% off and a raffle and silent auction raised the cash for the teaching to continue and help students go to University. It doesn’t seem to cost much by our standards but finding 30 pounds a month is too much for most families and great opportunities have to be turned down, perpetuating the poverty. The event was well supported and it was good to see the children and hear about their ambitions. We also bought some toys in the big supermarket in Morales to donate to the orphanage and gave some sunglasses to the old people’s home. Hardly anybody wears sunglasses here but the older people then suffer from sensitivity to the sun’s glare.

Farewell Fronteras - Scenes We Are Unlikely To See Again For Some Time!

Farewell Fronteras – Scenes We Are Unlikely To See Again For Some Time!

The Christmas trees and decorations are up all around town and they had a big firework display last Friday to celebrate the lighting of the tree. We are looking forward to getting our own decorations up but it will have to wait until we are in the marina to settle down for a month. We haven’t done a thing for Christmas yet apart from baking the cake. How things change! I used to have the house decorated with an advent light arch in every window, cupboards full of food, drink and presents by now, carols playing and be driving everyone crazy.

We will be offline for a few days from the 13th and hopefully enjoying a good sail north. It has been over 6 months since we were in deep blue water and we are both looking forward to getting going. It is also the first time in decades that we have been in one country continuously for so long. Next post from Mexico, she writes confidently!

Posted in Caribbean, Costs, Domestic Info, Friends & Family, Guatemala, Tourism, UK, Weather | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

You Can Check Out But ……………….

With apologies to The Eagles and Hotel California but will we ever leave? Strange how things turn out sometimes but we filled up with water on Monday and motored the couple of hours to Texan Bay to anchor for the night. We had a nice meal in Mike’s new restaurant and caught up with ‘Moonstone’. The following morning we checked with Tom to see if our sail had arrived but it hadn’t, so we left some cash with him to cover customs charges and headed through the beautiful gorge to Livingston to clear out.

Passing The Traditional Maya Riverside Homes

Passing The Traditional Maya Riverside Homes

The river was busy with canoes and motorised lanchas. In one area we saw lots of people fishing, clearly a good spot for a catch. The gorge was as spectacular for the return trip as it had been in June, only this time we knew we had enough depth not to keep a close watch on the sounder.

With the fast current it took less than 2 hours to reach the river mouth and anchor with only 0.4 metres under us. Being back in the town reminded us of the Eastern Caribbean, where the local people came from, as several boat boys rushed to fight over our dinghy line when we approached the dock. That done we went to the agent’s office to clear out but once we had internet we also read a message from Steve, on ‘Bad Kitty’, who asked if we’d seen the latest weather forecast. We hadn’t had internet in Texan Bay so downloaded Chris Parker’s latest broadcast and were shocked to hear that the low we had been monitoring was now more likely to turn nasty and could even move west. He also said that it was unwise to be moving around in our area and if he had been in a hurricane hole, he would stay put. Decision time.

Communal Fishing

Communal Fishing

We are cautious sailors, never knowingly taking any risks with our boat, she deserves better than that. We wondered what the chances of it going west would be but nobody could predict that. We did know that once we got over the bar, it would be a month before we could get in again and there was nowhere safe in Belize to hide from a big storm. We went for lunch to ponder and I started feeling very uneasy and lost my appetite. Facing a week of constant worry and watching the weather wasn’t a good prospect and although keen to get sailing on the lovely blue water we could see, the better decision was to stay put until the middle of December and keep safe. Happily immigration stamped us back in for free and we got all our towboat money refunded, so weren’t too out of pocket. In fact, taking off the cost of clearing into Belize meant we were in profit!

Our New Crew

Our New Crew

We saw our friend John, on ‘Oystergo’ just getting ready to leave and told him of our decision. He was still keen to go as the northerly winds would help him get east and we wished him well and hope he had a good passage. Then we got another chance to see the lovely Rio on our way back to Texan Bay. It is so calm and tranquil there, with just a few boats. We see 0.5 metres under us for most of the bay, just enough. There are a couple of bar/restaurants and locals come by to sell banana bread, tomales and handicrafts. We explored through the lily pads into the mangroves, just using our paddles so as not to spoil the peacefulness.

On Friday we made our way back to the Fronteras part of the Rio to go to movie night and see our friends again. We managed to get enough internet connection one morning in Texan Bay to post a quick Facebook message about not leaving, so most people knew we were coming back and all the replies had been ‘good decision’. Today the forecast was for a reduction in the likelihood of development of that low but in my view it isn’t over until it disappears completely.

The New 'Engine'

The New ‘Engine’

As fate would have it our mainsail did arrive, the day after we should have left and it was in Tom’s sail loft in Texan Bay where we were. Having got the old one up on Monday and seeing how smelly and awful it was after 5 months on the deck, we were delighted to see our crisp, new, white sail, made by the US company Mack Sails. Tom put the battens in and delivered it to our boat in his 30 foot lancha, ready to be hoisted. He took the fishy smelling one away but I couldn’t resist a last photo of the sail which has done 3 Atlantic crossings. Tom will make it into awnings for the local people, a fitting end of life use. Tom said the stitching wasn’t too bad but the shape had gone completely. Our new sail has a bigger roach, bearings in the reefing blocks and is crisp. Fortunately we had the new sail bag made bigger and longer than the previous one, as this sail would never have fitted inside otherwise. We should sail more upright and make better speed in lighter winds, a bonus. It cost nearly £4K and should last 10 years plus.

Once it was fully up the mast on the smooth new sliders, we got the reefing lines sorted out and pulled the sail down in sections, as we would in bad weather. One reef we have never used, thank goodness, is the third or last resort reef, so I took a photo of the size of the sail when that reef is in. About half the size I guess. We were lucky it was so calm in Texan Bay so we could play with the sail and it is now ready to use.

Never Used, So Far - The Sail With A Third Reef In

Never Used, So Far – The Sail With A Third Reef In

So, we are back in the Rio for a few weeks but will anchor off the Castle on Monday for a BBQ and go back to Texan Bay for a few days. We haven’t got much to do on the boat, as we were ready to leave but the generator has packed up yet again, so Rob will soon be back in the hot dungeon trying to figure out what’s wrong with it this time. Generators, outboards, freezers and water makers are the bane of a cruiser’s life. It is dominoes again today, back to the usual sociable routine.

What Was Supposed To Be Our Final Dominoes Session!

What Was Supposed To Be Our Final Dominoes Session!

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Last Post From Guatemala

Beyzano is looking lovely, bless her, all shiny and clean with full tanks and a lot of new canvas. We had been told that the climate causes some electronics to fail but we have been fortunate and everything that worked when we arrived does still work. Just awaiting the mainsail but if it doesn’t arrive by Tuesday we know a few people leaving later in the year and hope one of them will bring it for us. It may be in the country, having arrived into the port quite near us but from there it had to go to Guatemala City for the container to be unpacked and clear customs and from there back to the Rio on the Litegua bus. A transport strike hasn’t helped the situation but this is life in Guatemala.

Back Where She Belongs

Back Where She Belongs

Meanwhile we finished off the boat work in the yard and had the workers clean the hull off again as they’d been sandblasting an aluminium boat nearby without tarps up to prevent the clouds of dust blowing around the yard. We were very impressed with Ram Marine, they took responsibility for everything and when one boat was damaged they sorted it out very quickly and without fuss. The showers were clean and spacious, as were the villas so it’s a good place to haul out and we would definitely return. Karen runs the yard really well and the work is done on time and for a good, fair price. Our 12 days accommodation, lift and launch, topside touch up spray paint and polish, sanding of the toerail and rubbing strake and the antifouling plus sandblasting the keel, applying 3 layers of rust proofing, 2 coats of epoxy and a final clean for the topsides cost us 1819 US dollars or 1467 pounds. We supplied the paint and polish.

Easy For Us - No Boat Handling

Easy For Us – No Boat Handling

Nana Juana, on the other hand, wouldn’t be our choice again despite the fact we enjoyed the company of the cruisers there. The grounds, cruiser’s palapa, swimming pool and gym are nice but the restaurant is soulless and rarely used, the bar is permanently shut and the office staff have become increasingly rude and surly. They don’t organise a single event for the cruisers and show no interest in their long stay customers. Worse still, the water is not potable so we had to fill our tanks at Ram’s fuel dock. When we went back to Nana Juana last week to book in for a 5 night stay to wash off the boat, they charged us 5 times what we had been paying and didn’t even ask how our month ashore had been or say hello. After 3 nights we decided to leave and were told we had 5 minutes to vacate the dock or they’d charge another night. After 4 months there it doesn’t seem the right way to treat their customers. We would go to Tortugal or Catamaran if we returned.

They Certainly Do!

They Certainly Do!

Ram allowed us to stay the first night on the fuel dock and put us back in the water last in the day. All went very smoothly hoisted on their clean straps and Beyzy was soon bobbing about again. No leaks from anywhere, good to go. The dockhands manually dragged her from the lifting bay to the dock and we had a celebratory meal at their snack bar and caught up with ‘Moonstone’ there.

The following morning we filled up with water, which is free and then motored under the bridge to give the engine a good run at 3000 rpm before docking at Nana Juana. We spent 2 days washing off the deck, cleaning the cream bimini and having some polishing of the coachroof done. Our clean dinghy was relaunched and hung back on the stern davits. The outboard started first time after a month’s inactivity, despite us forgetting to drain the fuel out! We got the genoa back up one windless morning and put the new sailbag into place, along with new lines to hold it. A lot of our lines went green in the humidity so we replaced many of the smaller ones with rope from Tienda Reed by the bridge, at a third of the cost they were at West Marine. We scrubbed the others after a couple of days in a bucket of diluted washing liquid, followed by a bath in clothes conditioner. Even our fenders have new lines and we hope everything appreciates the cooler climate as we go north this season.

Happy At Anchor Just Off Ram

Happy At Anchor Just Off Ram

Rob serviced the navigation lights ready for our night passage to Placencia on Tuesday, got the cockpit and anchor lights cleaned and working and I cleaned the sprayhood inside and out so we have a clear view again. A refill of our 10 lb cooking gas bottle cost £4.50 and they filled it as we waited at the Shell fuel dock.

We have begun to say farewell to friends we’ve made here but will see many again in Belize and Mexico before Christmas. Some people live here year round, such as Jody who runs the film nights at Tortugal. She has chosen excellent films and we have only missed a Friday night there if we’ve been away. We had our last cuisine night at Mar on Tuesday, with thanks to Debbie for cooking for us all in this heat and providing a special for us, her most regular customers. Speaking of heat, it is cooling down at last and we actually felt cold this week, hugging the duvet cover up. Thankfully the mattress isn’t hot anymore when we go to bed and we can actually sleep without the fans running all night – hooray!

Marvin Arriving For Work After An Hour's Paddling

Marvin Arriving For Work After An Hour’s Paddling

Now at anchor, we have a few small tasks left but nothing important. The laundry is one as it is half the price here compared to Placencia. I’ve been cleaning and polishing the stainless steel before putting up the canvas and making sure all the boatyard grime is cleaned from the cockpit locker lids. Otherwise the dirt just drips down onto the clean floor. We paid Marvin 15 pounds a day to clean and polish the smooth GRP on the coachroof and there are many people here who will clean boats, inside or out, for the same pay. The rate of pay for farm labourers is a third of that. He has 3 young daughters but just casual work and as the boats head out for the season, his opportunities for earning are disappearing fast. The government cannot afford to support people here, so families have to shoulder the burden if someone is ill or can’t find work.

Tortugal Marina

Tortugal Marina

We have yet to bid farewell to the lovely waitresses in Café de Paris, one of our favourite haunts, attend the Remembrance service at Mar on Friday and then host our last Mexican train dominoes session on Sunday. The hours spent playing dominoes have been very enjoyable, so thanks to everyone who came along. Early Monday we will fill up with water again at Ram as the dock opens at 0600 and motor to Texan Bay. We’ll be without WiFi for a couple of days but the forecast is for very calm conditions on Tuesday night, meaning we’ll have to motor the 50 miles to Placencia. Our fees for checking out of Guatemala are 8 pounds per passport for immigration, 45 pounds each for the Port Captain and customs as we use an agent, plus 50 pounds to Hector for getting us over the shallow bar at Livingstone. Whilst we have loved Guatemala and her people, we can’t help getting excited about the prospect of sailing again and are looking forward to getting out of the Rio and starting our 6th Caribbean season.

One I Won't Mind Leaving - This & A Snake We Saw

One I Won’t Mind Leaving – This & A Snake We Saw

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Celebrating Life On ‘The Day Of The Dead’ In Sumpango

Along with visiting Tikal, this was a very special event for us and being able to share the day with so many Mayans was touching. We decided to take the easier option of going with Oswaldo’s Rio Dulce Travel company and so did another 8 people we knew. It cost 37 pounds each return with a night in Antigua at extra cost but including a tour of the city. The air-conditioned minibus picked us up from the marina at 0645 and even with a quick stop at the church in San Cristobal Acasaguastlan we were in Guatemala City before lunch time.

Graveyard At Sumpango

Graveyard At Sumpango

Our guide, Hugo, wanted to show us the relief map of the whole of Guatemala, made long before technology would have made it easy. Unfortunately the area was closed for a couple of days and I could only take a photo through the fence. It looked quite good and is apparently accurate.

We then continued to Antigua to our cheap hotel, La Sin Ventura. It only cost 30 pounds a night but was clean and comfortable and we were only there one night. It was good to be back there in the cooler climate and surrounded by great restaurants, very unlike the Rio Dulce. After checking in we wandered off to the chocolate shop to stock up and had a rest before going out to Hector’s for another amazing meal with Jeff and Di of ‘Horizons’. This time I had the best steak I’ve eaten in years, with a mild blue cheese sauce, roast potatoes and spinach. The other three had the equally delicious surf and turf. It is an excellent restaurant that we highly recommend.

The London Pub Complete With Hallowe'en Decorations

The London Pub Complete With Hallowe’en Decorations

All over Antigua the streets were full of people of all ages dressed up for Hallowe’en, a real sight and lots of fun. The bars and restaurants were decorated, some holding parties and fancy dress competitions. We all ended up in the London Pub and found James and Claire from ‘Ocean Rainbow’, so we joined them for a few drinks and complimentary shots from the landlord, Martin, glad to have some Brits in.

After another wander around the main square with the crowds, we tried to get some sleep but failed due to the thumping music coming from a Hallowe’en bash in our hotel. Finally, at 0130 it stopped and we were up again at 0545 to catch our minibus to Sumpango for the kite festival. I read that the idea originated from using noisy paper to scare away evil spirits on All Saints Day and later developed into kites. Another idea is that they take messages from the living to the dead. Our driver was 20 minutes late, his excuse being that he’d had to leave the bus a bit further out of town, which didn’t go down too well. Get up earlier!

The Simple Graves Being Tended By Their Families

The Simple Graves Being Tended By Their Families

It took less than an hour to get to Sumpango, north of Antigua and we were dropped off not far from the graveyard on the hill. This was by far the highlight of the trip for me. The party atmosphere was a surprise but the families were there to celebrate life and enjoy gathering at their family’s graves for the day. There was a definite poor and rich divide, with some graves being unmarked and simply mud. My saddest moment was seeing an older man with a young boy, tidying up 2 mud graves and I wondered who was buried there, perhaps the boy’s parents. The rains had made many mud graves very solid and we saw people digging them over to loosen the soil and then add lime to the surface. On the other side of the graveyard were brightly painted concrete tombs holding several of the deceased from the same family. Some were very ornate. These would be covered in flowers and mementos and people were taking great care to create a beautiful display and clean up the graves.

Children Celebrating The Lives Of Their Grandparents

Children Celebrating The Lives Of Their Grandparents

I spoke to one family with 3 children sitting beside the tomb of their grandparents. They had bought food from the many vendors selling candyfloss, popcorn and drinks and were enjoying the atmosphere. At another bright blue tomb, what looked like 2 sisters happily posed for a photograph and we didn’t feel like we were intruding on their grief, quite the opposite. They seemed glad we were interested and had spent some time there. The graveyard was a hive of activity throughout and you could even pay a trio of musicians to play for your family at the graveside. At the main entrance a long colourful banner heralded the celebrations and it was a really happy occasion. It was a spectacular event and I wish we had had a lot more time there but our guide wanted us to get to the kite festival very early ‘to get a good position’.

Beautiful Colours Of The Traditional Mayan Textiles

Beautiful Colours Of The Traditional Mayan Textiles

So we climbed the hill to the big football field, not an arduous walk, especially before 0900. The Sumpango festival of ‘barriletes gigantes’ has been running for many years. A few kites had already been erected at one end of the field and people were milling around, admiring them. A grandstand seating area cost us 1.50 pounds each to get a better view but it was virtually empty when we got there so we checked out the food stalls and bought some fried plantain and grilled sweetcorn for breakfast for a pound. There were plenty of toilets too, fortunately, at 20 pence a go!

As the morning wore on more and more kites arrived and we saw several being put together. Some cost thousands of pounds to make and use quite big bamboo canes as the structure behind the material. Groups and families take months to make the kites and the sizes varied from a few feet across to about 30 feet across. Most were circular but there were a few diamond ones, an owl shape and more intricate patterns. They were all incredibly colourful, depicting messages of peace and the Mayan culture. There is a different theme each year.

More Colour - Magnificent Display Of Kites

More Colour – Magnificent Display Of Kites

This is a competition and judges did their rounds marking the kites in the different categories. Children had their own competition and were proudly posing beside their kites. We saw some being flown on very long strings stretching over the heads of the crowds and across the field. A few crashed and burned straight away or got entangled with another kite but as the wind picked up the kites made a good display. The bigger ones sometimes get torn apart by the wind and did look a bit fragile. They are grouped with the largest at the back and you get a wonderful view of nearly all the kites from the hill at the far side of the field.

The other great display was just seeing all the textiles the Mayan women were wearing. Each group has a traditional pattern and you can tell which village they come from if you know which is which. Everyone was enjoying the day and I understand over 100 thousand people attended. Another wonderful cultural experience for us and our last before we leave Guatemala.

Proudly Waiting To Fly Their Kite

Proudly Waiting To Fly Their Kite

We had to leave Sumpango at 1230 to get back on the long road to the Rio, so didn’t get to see the really huge kites flying. I imagine there are plenty of photos on the Internet though. Shame really but we decided to get back to the boat as we were going back into the water and had a few things to do first. I am happy that we have done Guatemala justice and will leave feeling we have immersed ourselves in this lovely country and learnt a fair amount about her people.

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Special Visit To Tikal & Flores

We just couldn’t leave Guatemala without visiting Tikal, the amazing ancient Mayan city built between 400 BC through to 900 AD. It is one of the largest archaeological sites of the pre-Colombian Mayan civilisations and the park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although there are over 16,000 buildings, many have not been excavated yet and we could see many pyramid shapes covered in vegetation just waiting to be revealed. It contains palaces, temples, pyramids and plazas and at the height of the city’s fortunes must have been an incredible place to live, deep in the rainforest.

Half Uncovered Pyramid

Half Uncovered Pyramid

Our week away began on Monday with the bus ride with Fuente Del Norte from Fronteras to Flores. It cost 100Q per person, or about 10 pounds each way. They don’t have the best reputation and friends recently told us of broken down buses, delays and having to stand up for hours in overcrowded buses without seat reservations. We were dreading it to be honest and were then pleasantly surprised. The clean, cool bus arrived half an hour late but there were plenty of spare seats and we had a good journey, arriving in the town next to Flores some three and a half hours later. Robert and Carla from ‘Moody Mistress’ came with us.

After a discussion with a taxi driver who wanted 20Q each to begin with, then down to 5Q each, we took a tuk-tuk to our hotels. A bridge connects Flores with the mainland around Lake Peten and it is a small town, full of hotels, restaurants and tourist agencies selling trips to the Mayan sites and into Belize and Mexico. We chose Casa Aemelia for our 4 night stay, a reasonably priced hotel overlooking the lake. Our room was clean and cool, with a good shower and quiet fan to replace the noisy air-conditioning for sleeping. A good breakfast was included in the price and their restaurant served plenty of food we enjoyed. A roof terrace could do with a few comfortable chairs but was a great place to watch the sun setting.

Lake Peten - View From Our Room

Lake Peten – View From Our Room

For the first day we explored Flores and it didn’t take long to walk all the streets. We met our friends for lunch in a local restaurant off the main square at the top of the islet. Cheap and tasty, so fine for lunch. Another cheap and tasty meal was had at the food stalls set up near our hotel each evening. For less than a pound we both had dinner and Rob had a huge slice of chocolate cake for desert.

Another evening we ate at Enrico’s, further north around the waterfront from our hotel. Good food once again. Plenty of happy hours, coffee and ice cream shops kept us more than full. The local dish of eggs with pureed black beans is not a favourite but the pancakes, muesli, yoghurt and fresh fruit goes down well. Our hotel also provided coffee and toast from 0330 for the early start to Tikal.

Pretty Building In Flores

Pretty Building In Flores

Carla found a good deal, just 100Q each for the return trip to Tikal, which takes around an hour. It included an English speaking guide, Lewis, who was excellent. The minibus was half an hour late, which at 0500 was a bit annoying. No explanation but if we’d got to Tikal before 0600 the park was shut unless you paid another 100Q for the sunrise tour. At the park gate we paid 150Q or fifteen pounds to get in and that was all. Much cheaper than some of the package tours we have read about. A small coffee shop sold sandwiches, crisps and drinks but by 0615 we were off, in a group of 13, walking along easy paths to the main temples, pyramids and plazas.

Along the way we saw a nasty coral snake, quite dangerous apparently, a howler monkey doing just that, very loudly and many birds, spider monkeys and insects. No jaguars though. The national park runs several different tours including wildlife and bird watching. You can also do a 3 day hike to other Mayan sites further into the spectacular countryside.

Temple I

Temple I

Getting there early meant it was quiet and cool. We wanted to climb Temple IV, the highest in the park so it was better to do that before 1000. The first building we climbed was a pyramid, with steps on all 4 sides. The Temples only have steps on one side. The views from the tops were beautiful, over the lush vegetation to other temples poking through the canopy. When the city was flourishing up to 200,000 Mayans lived there and there was no vegetation around the buildings just open roads and plazas. Nature reclaimed Tikal since the demise of the Mayan cities but it once thrived despite not being near water. They just collected rain. At their peak the Mayan world was made up of 52 million people and there are still 23 Mayan languages spoken in Guatemala alone.

Coming down from the mountains, where the Kings and priests climbed high to speak to God, meant they had to build the pyramids and temples to replicate them. The sides of the pyramids face north, south, east and west and were for astronomy. The temples were built for prayer and so the sun shone through doors and windows at different times of the day and year. Winter solstice on 21 December is celebrated at Temple IV for example. Under Temple I a King was buried with jade jewellery and death mask. His necklace was made of 114 huge jade beads which weighed nearly 4kg in total. He was very tall for a Mayan at 1.8 metres whereas most of the lower classes were around 1.5 metres but strong and stocky. There were 52 pots of offerings around him including jaguar skins.

Ceremonial Stones

Ceremonial Stones

One acropolis contained 2 big temples and many smaller buildings. There are wooden staircases to make climbing the temples easier and we went up Temple II for a view over the acropolis. Standing stones were inscribed with the history of the people and round stones were used in ceremonies, for offerings and sacrifices, some human. We heard that it was the winning rather than the losing team that was put to death, an honour in Tikal. Work continues on renovating the buildings but it is slow and expensive. Mayan culture is fascinating and I should spend some time reading up on it. The tribes seem to have been very blood thirsty.

We continued through the lush rainforest and passed some workmen making repairs. They were using an old motorbike as an engine to get the materials to the top of the pyramid. Ingenious.

Adapted Motorbike

Adapted Motorbike

Temple IV is over 70 metres high and the highest pre-Columbian Mayan structure remaining in the New World. From the top you can see Temples I, II and III poking out from the rainforest. Once we had taken in the beauty of the view from the top of Temple IV the tour was over and we were free to explore the rest of the huge park. Buses returned at 1100, 1230 and 1500 so we opted for the middle one to give us time to visit a few areas we had missed on the way in. As luck would have it we passed by Temple V just as a Mayan priest was setting up the altar for a specially requested offering. A couple having relationship problems had asked him to get help from the Gods and he had come to the sacred site to lay out a variety of items.

View From Temple II

View From Temple II

He told us that Temple V faces north and he was laying out coloured sugar with black denoting north, symbolising death, red was for south, the beginning, yellow was west and white east. He lay out huge cigars, candles, incense balls, honey, bay leaves, pine needles and several other items in the circular pit ready to be lit. Like God speaking to Moses in the burning bush, they believe fire and God are connected. He also told us the temples were painted when the city was inhabited. The ceremony was held at Tikal the day we visited but the priest also conducts it on a smaller scale every day at home.

On Top Of Temple IV

On Top Of Temple IV

The following day we chilled out around Flores, walked into the town and were pleased to find a well stocked supermarket with goods we hadn’t seen in nearly 5 months, such as shower gel and Heinz ketchup! They had put up some Christmas decorations in the mall complete with old-fashioned plastic reindeer and a Father Christmas. In the afternoon I joined a Mayan family for a chocolate making workshop, the drink rather than chocolates. This initiative helps supports the local people as their tourist trade has dropped to 20% of what it was, a huge change. It was interesting to see how the family lives and cooks, to meet the children and help with the process. We first toasted cocoa beans in a dry pan over lit wood. Then we had to take the shells off by hand, a sociable task the women do whilst chatting. Next the dark chocolate beans were ground on a special stone but it’s a long and tiring job so we only did 5% of them before using a grinder.

Highly Scented Offering To The Mayan Gods

Highly Scented Offering To The Mayan Gods

Next we ground this into a paste, adding honey, vanilla, chilli and pepper and mashed the flavours in. Then we formed big discs using the heat of our palms and finally melted a couple in a pan of boiling water until it turned into thick, creamy hot chocolate. The chilli and pepper was a bit overdone but the result was very drinkable and full of antioxidants. Might try it again with rum, nuts, cinnamon and raisins instead. The workshop cost 150Q and the 3 of us were picked up at a hotel in Flores to drive the few miles to the farm. Volunteers stay with local families helping to drum up business and learning Spanish. Courses are also run in making avocado oil, coconut oil, the Mayan calendar and crops. The entire session was in Spanish but I understand they also have English ones.

Grinding The Cocoa Beans Into Paste

Grinding The Cocoa Beans Into Paste

The return bus journey was late starting due to a mechanical failure but the booking office had a computer terminal and we had reserved, numbered seats. We were only an hour late, not bad! We are now back on the boat for just 2 days before heading west to Antigua and the kite festival with a host of friends. I am looking forward to another cultural experience in lovely Guatemala.

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