Friday, December 21, 2007

Back to the U.S.A.

Our friends the Joch’s graciously let us stay at their mansion in Key Biscayne. Key Biscayne is just an incredible place to bike as a family. The quiet neighborhoods of mansions, bike lanes and cross walks on the main road and public parks on both ends, one of which used to be a zoo. Collectively we had 3 spills and Sabrina almost “met her maker” crossing a street when she was told to stop. Tragedy avoided, we made our way back for an incredible afternoon feast we all helped prepare. It was the maid’s day off so two beautiful babes and me in the kitchen, I wasn’t complaining. Topped up and repacked with clean dry laundry Orlando was calling. Hugs and kisses to the Joch’s and we were singing Christmas carols along the I-95 concrete corridor of SE Florida. That didn’t seem to appropriate so we tuned in some hip hop pop to pass the time.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Leaving Crystal and Stormy Nights

A few days later, Crystal finally sails in from the islands of Venezuela. To welcome them, I made arrangements for dinner on the beach at the Bonaire Beach Club Resort. After sundowners we zoom off down the coast to dinner. Since we made reservations and were a large party they had set up a large linen covered table on the beach with candlelight and everything. For $10/adult we enjoy an all you can eat BBQ buffet on the beach! We are all tied up at Hanks dock. The kids can roam freely with their scooters, snorkel under the dock checking out the over dozen moray eels and even bone fish. Bone fish are the prize of saltwater fly fisherman. They are mystical, elusive, and put up a great fight. I confirmed what Doug and Kim had said, the reality is they spend their days rooting around in the shallow sand like a pig looking for a snack. The kids enjoyed making Xmas cookies and delivering them around the anchorage.

Bonaire was quite lush thanks to the most unusual rain showers and cloud cover that came every afternoon while we were there. This island rarely sees much rain as evidenced by its arid dessert landscape covered in cactus and other prickly scrubby vegetation. As much as we could have stayed here for a long while we told the kids we had to get going to Aruba. This met with much resistance by the children as Crystal was staying behind. As much as we were trying to keep our Christmas plans a secret for the kids, Angie finally caved under Sabrina’s constant badgering and full fledged fit about leaving her best boating friend yet again. “Why do we have to leave!” she relentlessly screamed. “Because we are going to Florida and Disney for Christmas with the grandparents!! There, are you happy now??!!” Not quite how I envisioned surprising our children with a very costly and choreographed gift. It reminded me of the scene in Chevy Chase’s Family Vacation when he says “This is not a vacation, this is a quest! It’s a quest to have fun! In fact, we are going to have so much g@#$% ^&*$#@ fun, you’ll be whistling Dixie out you’re %ss! The stormy evening continued as the most squally high wind passage ever.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Beautiful Bonaire and the Junk Man

The contrasts between Venezuela and Bonaire were evident in our stroll to Immigration. We could wear our watch and wallet vs. cash in our underwear. The classic architecture vs. iron bar art and barbed wire in VZ. Money came from ATM’s vs the black market. Bonaire had a master plan with bikes rolling by vs. deteriorating buildings with ghetto buses rambling along pot holed roads. We wore jewelry , carried wallets, and the kids played on the promenade. The Dutch know how to do it right. Bonaire is a micro Netherlands, soon to be the Netherlands, with proper architecture, codes, culture, zoning, conservation, etc but without the free heroin syringes and girls in the windows like in Amsterdam. Guess you can’t have it all.

Upon arriving we picked up a 10/day mooring as no anchoring is permitted. For the same price including electricity and high speed wireless, you can stay at Club Nautico, a T dock marina run by Hank and his family and they charge $10/day. Hank owns two Mantas, Ushi Ushi and Dushi Dushi (means beautiful girl) and with his sons run day charters for tourists.

Safara, with Mark, Kirsten, Nick, and Ben, is a kid boat we in and had not seen since Trinidad. For $50/day we rented an open bed extended cab mini pickup truck and went on an island tour for the entire day. We cruised by the beautiful homes, the crystal clear seashore, took in the vistas, saw some ancient hieroglyphs, watched the waves come crashing into the coral island on the windward side, watched the kite boarders, saw the slave huts near the salt flats, observed the pink flamingos, had lunch in the locals town, and last but not least met the Junk Man and his property.

As we were nearing the end of our island tour on the NE end we passed this “property” lined with painted up junk and memorabilia. All I know is a hand painted rusty sign arranged amongst a bunch of other signs in Patwa said welcome and that was all I needed to say let’s stop and have a look. Beach trash, a shell of private jet, old cars, appliances, and anything you can imagine that people would have in their home or business that they no longer wanted ended up here. The edifice was set back some 100 meters from the road and his back yard was dense mangroves of the ocean where Angie determined no one could hear our screams. We’re goin’ in boys as we were greeted by Thomas. Sanford and Sons junkyard in the tropics. Inside his home, he had mannequins, many of which were sleeping in bedrooms As a memory he got all of us dressed up in sombreros and guitars and had us take photos with him. The guy was crazy, but in a fun way. Off to the wind mills and slave huts before the rent-a-car time was up. A great day was had by all.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Goodbye Venzuela

Isla de Aves (Bird Islands) is a very apropos name for the area. Out in the middle of the ocean exists two island specks loaded with seas birds because the fishing is spectacular. At sunset we passed the time away paddling along the mangroves observing the bountiful species and sounds. We were fascinated as to how close hundreds of birds would allow us to approach without flying off. Of particular interest in the seas were the midnight parrot fish, an extremely rare treat. They are 2-3x bigger than parrot fish with midnight blue bodies. Like Tortuga, there are a couple of fishing camps occupied by very friendly salt of the earth fisherman. Cigarettes and rum go a long way in trading for lobsters. They actually came back and bought Angie an extra lobster to sweeter the deal. The rum cost us a whole $0.50, we love this country. The islands we anchored between appeared to have tall hills; upon closer examination the hills turned out to be the remains of unsustainable conch harvesting. Never in my life have I ever seen anything like it. A conch shell graveyard of tens of thousands of conch harvested for profit. VZ now has an out and out ban on conch harvesting. The best snorkeling on our journey was at the Eastern Aves. Well goodbye Venezuela. We came far longer than we expected. We saw, far more than we planned, and we explored, without incident or mishap in a place avoided by most of the cruising community. The wind is up and so are the sails carrying us into the sunset to beautiful Bonaire.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Happy Birthday Sabrina

Most of the Rocques are virtually uninhabited because the killer black mosquitoes are such a menacing force. You can feel their blood seeking bayonets sinking in deep when they attack!! Our strategy with the enemy was to avoid mangroves, low wind areas, and being close to shore thus minimizing: land to sea attacks, air strike damages (bites) and making refueling difficult. In reserves were the no see ums that further dissuaded us from stepping on shore in many areas. Dos Tortugas was particularly menacing, day or night, it didn’t matter. It was a government funded turtle research and hatching center in the middles of nowhere with a couple of people acting as blood donors, researchers, and turtle ranchers. Razing baby turtles in captivity increased their chance of survival by almost 50X! It works because they have no parents, only instincts to guide them to the sea. The scenery was as close to postcard perfect island paradise as one could imagine. ‘Tis true nothing in life is perfect or without some flaw. Sabina celectrated her ninth birthday with a family party, horse cake and a homemade present from each of us. The malls in Margarita also provided a horse calendar and horse Barbie for our equestrian daughter.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Gran Roque, the jewel of Venezuela

While the rest of the Los Roques is of coral origin, El Grand Roque (The Grand Rock) juts 280’out of the ocean from tectonic plates buckling. El Grand Roque is one of the coolest places on earth with its sand streets and well-maintained. brightly painted stucco structures. Unlike the rest of VZ we had seen, the iron bars and barb wire were less excessive, the streets were litter free, and the hombres wore shorts vs. long pants. The mujeres, as in most of VZ, could arouse the dead with their attire. Small charming posadas lined the beach and other streets were interspersed with restaurants and small scale shopping. Basic provisioning was possible and the people were very friendly. At one shop I found a lone pair of size 13 Crocs for only $20 since no Venezuelan has feet muy, muy grande. Sabrina and Parker negotiated for their trinkets letting them know it was their earned money. All in all it was one of our favorite places.

Los Roques

Los Roques, the jewel archipelago of VZ, was another overnight sail. Upon entering we hit a school of tuna. Angie did circles after 2 hits were had.. bang, bang. That was a first for us, prolonging a sail to try to catch fish. Standing taller than all the islands, except Gran Rocque, is a massive freighter washed up on the barrier reef. Though we tried, the current and crashing waves kept us from snorkeling around it. Sandy bottoms and clear blue coral studded waters is something we hadn’t seen since the Tobago Cays or the Bahamas and just felt right. The kids were excited to find a bat fish.. a rare find indeed.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Little Known Out Islands

Sailing again! A 24+ hour passage and we arrived in the nearly untouched island of Tortuga. Wind swept beaches stretched for miles with an impenetrable scrub interior. At Punta Delgado o del Este lied a dirt air strip and a surfer posada. We stayed a few days enjoying the gentle surf and rustic beauty.

A few miles further we came upon Cayo Herraduro, a classic coral reef island with waves breaking over reef on the windward side. The interior was blanketed in sea grapes and scrub bushes while the lee shore had a perfect crescent sand beach. Some VZ fishermen make this island their home for 3-6 months out of the year. Their “beach casas” are fabricated from whatever wood has washed up on the beach. Every3-6 weeks a supply boat picks up their lobsters and salted fish and drops off some water, rice and beans, and maybe a cabbage and some potatoes. Paradise and prison both come to mind when I look at their lifestyle. A bottle of rum always gets you a lobster and a smile! On the north end of the island stands a lighthouse. Along the coast visitors have stacked rocks into towers and pyramids for amusement. Along the paths we passed a dozen grave sights of fishermen who had perished in this harsh environment. A simple wooden cross and a pile of conch shells over the body is all there is.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Thanksgiving, though an American holiday, gathered no interest by fellow American cruisers in Porlamar when we inquired on the net. The only other kid boat in the anchorage was Dafney, a South African family, so we invited them to dinner. Actually they were ecstatic as they had heard of our Thanksgiving traditions in America. Our family prepared all the traditional trimmings and foods for our Thanksgiving boat guests. We talked, we ate, we laughed, we ate, we joked around, and we ate and shared stories into the evening. A thousand thanks were bestowed upon us for including them in our Thanksgiving celebration. The funniest memory of the day was the “stuff”ing. We couldn’t believe it when we found a frozen turkey, already stuffed, in the market. As it turned out, the stuffing was a mixture of non-poultry based meat parts and products bound together with some flour, vegetable, lard mix. After 5 days of “stuff’ing leftovers I, the human garbage pit, started to gag on it before dumping it overboard.

Juan, the Revolutionary Freedom Fighter look alike, had our papers completed and gave us the spiel about how we have to go straight to Bonaire. Yeah right, we’ll be lucky if we get through the VZ out islands by Christmas. We said our goodbyes, just missed Crystal but not the temper tantrum Sabrina threw knowing they were just arriving as we were just leaving. Our cockpit and interior cushions were tailored and terrific! Minus the fabric, all the zippers, snaps, materials and labor costs just $300! Thank you Zoila; we appreciate the work. Thank goodness we told Trinidad to take a hike at almost ten times that amount. Our boat looks more elegant and nicer than ever.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Our need for speed

With bigger kids and the desire to try wake boarding, we needed a bigger engine to get our dingy on plane. Imagine always driving your car with a governor on it, that is what driving a non-planing dingy is like. For 3x less than the rate in the U.S., (thanks to Chavez), we paid in advance for a new outboard that we were hoping to someday see. What was to be 4 days had already become 14 days and we were itchin’ to leave. Finally it arrived, but the delivery had to be paid for. Prices change often in Venezuela but they are still cheap. Back at the marina, we waxed up our now one year old 9.9HP ultraclean burning, fuel efficient, environmentally friendly Tohatsu and moved it onto Masterpeace’s boat. Then we strapped on the 2 stroke, gas guzzling, global warming, smog spreading 18HP Tohatsu screamer onto the dinghy in our need for speed. IF there were 4 strokes available we certainly would have chosen one but its 3rd world and 2 cycle engines still are king.

Sadly, a fellow boater stopped to chat on his bike on the dock. As he went to leave, his foot caught on a cleat and he fell into the water, bike and all. His shoulder impacted hard on our back steps. He was panicking and in pain, so Marc pulled him out of the water but used his hurt shoulder. He was thankful but their boating plans were shorten due to his serious injury. It was a good lesson for our kids… no bikes on the dock. Finally we were off to Margarita to get our cushions. Sadly, we had to say, “sea you later” to “Sea U Manana” with Josh and Mathius.

Friday, November 16, 2007


Meanwhile back at the camp a fabulous meal was prepped for our large appetites. The aroma was more than the giant rats (capybara) could endure. Around the village. a mother capybara and her ½ size offspring had taken up residence taking to begging like a dog for table scraps rather than forage in the jungle like the rest of the species. So here we are eating in the dimly lit hut when all of sudden Angie feels this wiry haired animal nuzzle up her leg looking for handouts. Just scratch them behind the ears and they flop over as if to say “tickle my tummy” and grunt. Though we chased them out several times they came back late in the night and defecated a 5# pile of poop in the corner of the hut. Nice! The toucans were a more welcome addition to the dining room. The kids enjoyed feeding a wild toucan who would take bits of food from their hand.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Day 3

Day 3: After a delicious breakfast we were off on our five mile hike up the mountain to see the Saito Kuyuwi, waterfalls. Along the way we heard howler monkeys, saw poison dart frogs, and an indigenous hut under construction by hand. This area has over 40 more villages occupied by the indigenous Yeyuana O Uaquiritare. While standing on the cliffs where the river branches off into 5 falls we are awestruck by the water dropping some ten stories into a roaring mist! No caution signs, fences, or personnel to protect us from ourselves. Jumel free climbs down the near vertical wall to a perch some 30’ below. We opt to frolic in the tub like pools of water along side the falls with a fabulous view of the water freefalling over the cliffs. At the village, we were offered and graciously “sampled” some yucca plant “moonshine”. The name alone and the clumpy, cloudy appearance in the bottom of the calabash cup says it all! Yuck!. The smoked fish, however, was delightful.

As we descended back down the trail we met up with several Senemas carrying gasoline up the mountain to fuel the outboards of the over 40 villages above the falls. These people are no more than 5’2” and weigh no more than 130#’s. For about $0.50 they carry 60 liter jugs in hand made whicker back pack frames with head straps barefoot up a mountain for 5 miles. This goes on for 3-4 months as the “richer” tribe exploits the poorer tribe.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Rio Caura-Day 2

Day 2: Admittedly, I thought we Westerners, with our capitalism, missionaries and diseases had annihilated these people and their culture. For the most part, the indigenous Indians of the VZ rain forest have maintained their traditional lifestyle. Their enormous environment is only accessible by foot or by boat. The dominant tribe of the region is the Yeyuana o Vaquiritare while the lesser tribe is the Sanema O Chirichanaos Ramificaton of Yanomano. The yucca plant is their primary food. A brown skinned tubor that weighs a couple of pounds, has a potato like center, and tastes awful no matter how we had it prepared. The yucca moonshine will turn your insides out.

In the first settlement we stopped, Las palmas “Sanema”, we were greeted by 20 nude children swimming in the river. As they emerged from the water, they ran off to “cover up” as was preached to them from Westerners before us. There are numerous “tribes” of Indians most often along the rivers and their tributaries. They export no goods or resources to the outside world and live a self sufficient life of fishing, hunting, farming, and family time. They are a peaceful people (until we distributed whistles to all the kids of one of the villages) that are very content and happy. Perhaps the “modern civilized world” could learn a bit? The facial features and stature of the people clearly suggest that their ancestors migrated from the Mongolian/Asian continent many years ago. Many of them had eyes that were a mystical crystal blue or crystal green making them even more extraordinary.

Off in the distance ,we could see a white sand beach backed by a forested mountain with exposed rock and mist rising up from the rapids at our final encampment. The village had built a couple of large circular huts and a commons area to accommodate what tourists they get here. We went for a swim in eddies at the base of the rapids and marveled at the roar of fresh water making its way down the mountain. Our guide said a German once tried rafting this 3 mile stretch but neither he nor any part of his raft ever made it out.

Young visitors such as Parker and Sabrina are an extremely rare sight for the children that gathered and stared. It didn’t take long for Sabrina to whip out her collection of caballos (horses) and enjoy hours of play with the local girls. Meanwhile, Parker took to whittling, reading, and game boy. Most of the Indians are quite shy and tend to keep to themselves in part because only a few speak even Spanish.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Though I’ve lounged in a hammock sippin’ a coldly, I’ve never been relegated to spend the night in one. As I know some of you are wondering…hammocks are not conducive to romance. We each were assigned a hammock and a mosquito net (remarkably not as necessary as we thought). We woke up, refreshed and ache and pains free.

The hammocks became the reading spot and...I daresay Game-boy spot. “Hey kids look around, look at these leaf cutter ants. Wow, can you hear those incredible jungle sounds?”

“I’m almost done with the chapter….”

“I just beat the gym leader and caught a legendary Pokémon.” Oh well, their loss.

The deluxe camp site toilet facility consisted of a thatch walled platform with a 6” hole in to aim for while squatting. If you miss, quickly move your feet further from “the zone” to avoid collateral damage.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Somewhere Back in Time on the Rio Caura

The 5 day Rio Caura tour we booked with Adrenaline Tours, thanks to other cruisers and the Lonely Plant, costs us all of $500. For that we had our own tour guide, cook and boat driver. The owner picks us up promptly at the Ciudad Bolivar terminal and takes us to the Don Carlos posada, the nicest posada in Ciudad Bolivar. They have the 3 bed loft available, the nicest room in the place for $25. The 5 hour bus ride from hell is becoming a distant memory.

Day 1: Sadly, a freak accident involving downed power lines killed our driver’s two teen nephews. We strolled through the historic Spanish city along the Orinco River until another driver was found. In the market, we purchased some toothbrushes and whistles to destroy the indigenous children culture and introduce “civilization”. Ciudad Bolivar is a stepping off place for tours throughout the interior of VZ, so it has a backpacker vibe.

Did I say they like to drive fast in VZ? 80+ mph down a 2 lane highway is common. After 5 hours of riding on bench seats of a safari truck my bottom felt great. After fending off a macaw attack and hugging some newborn puppies, we are loaded up and ready to go up the river in a the 35’ long dug out canoe equipped with a 40hp Yamaha 2 stroke, the most popular engine around. The 100 meter wide river is loaded with underwater hazards (ROCKS), areas of rapids, and zero facilities. The fact that we carry no spares or first-aid kit is alarming to this former Boy Scout but laze faire to our hired help.

These canoes, because of their narrow beam and long water line, move very fast through the water. We have 7 people, 80 gallons of fuel, all of our food, clothing, hammocks, and supplies and we are going over 20mph. Pretty impressive. At the second rapids we are maneuvering up hill, the motor stalls…hhmmm. We’re looking down at the rocks and rapids while scrambling for our lifejackets. The driver has the engine cover off and bleeding off water from the float bowl and pulling like crazy to geter’ goin’ again. At the last moment, the engine revs to life and we propel our way out of danger and up to our first nights camp!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Pimp my Ride

Angie looked into an inland tour while visiting this beautiful country. The popular tour was a trip to Angel Falls, the world’s tallest waterfalls. Getting there required flying on a small plane, one of which had crashed the week before. Having heard multiple stories of cruisers having to wake up their pilots while in the air, we were convinced to forgo that trip for now.

Masterpeaces’ Alex and Isabelle went to the bus terminal for an afternoon to do some “bus watching” prior to their travels.. We, on the other hand, were persuaded by the unanimous choice of the tour agency and our taxi driver to use “Bubbas bus service” (the real name escapes us). Here we are waiting with our bags at the bus terminal surrounded by the most luxurious motor coaches I have ever seen, with “in flight” beverage service, movies, etc. Alas, none of them were our bus. Where is our bus? In rolls our ride just like the opening to “Pimp My Ride”. They pull the battered behemoth in and the engine hood goes up because it’s overheating. A peak inside looks and smells like something out of a 1970’s bachelor pad. No problem, they do upgrade us to another bus which also has no in-flight services, a broken bathroom, and looks like a 1980’s bachelor pad. Better I guess. The kicker, literally, was that the suspension was shot. Every bump in the road was a nauseating thud and sway. At our first stop, Parker, who has never been seasick, proceeds to hurl starting at the curb and finally ending at the men’s room across the parking lot. Poor kid even had to venture into the bus “bathroom” during the trip for more cleaning. Angie’s Spanish got a bucket from the bathroom attendant who even offered medicine free of charge. You can read his version of the trip in the kid’s section of the blog, coming soon.

Friday, November 2, 2007

I Am Leo, Your Taxi Driver

The area outside of the marina quickly deteriorated into abject poverty with warnings of violent crime close by. Cruisers did not walk far and used one of the many taxi drivers who “resided” at the marina. Leo the taxi driver is an urban legend in Puerto La Cruz He learned his English from watching American cartoons and is constantly practicing! “How are you my friend?”, he would say to everyone. Every morning at 8 a.m., Leo would announce in a staccato tone “I am Leo, your taxi driver” and his services on the VHF cruisers net. There were times I had to drag him out of stores because he just liked to talk to everyone. “OK, we go.”, he conceded “Taxi drivers make almost as much as doctors”, we were told. Most all of them were former employees of the national oil company that were fired for not voting properly. At $5-6/ hour when they have a fare, they are highly paid by Venezuelan standards. When not taking a taxi, the “barrio bus” was the “experience” for under a quarter to go to the open air market.

Andre, Leo’s competition, arranged a city tour for all the families. Angie coordinated with five families take the trip to the privately funded museum of modern art and metal sculpture. We had the place to ourselves and Andre jazzed it up for the kids. At Andre’s suggestion, we saw the “world’s largest tree fort”. Unfortunately, it was a funky art deco building with pod apartments cantilevered out to give the look of a tree. Angie had to berate Andre for this false advertising; the kids were expecting a real tree fort they could climb on. Kid’s museums, libraries and non-school parks were non-existent in these under-developed countries. The ½ day tour was a welcome break from home-schooling and the confines of the marina.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Cruising Kids, Tooth Fairies, and Halloween in Puerto La Cruz (Port of the Cross)

We motored just 5 miles, though worlds apart from the desolation of the out islands, to arrive at Bahia Redondo Marina in Puerto La Cruz. What a surprise and relief, the place had cruising kids! Parker and Sabrina were free to go and explore, only to return moments later with a whole bunch of kids to play with on our boat. Children from England x 2, Brazil x 2, Canada x2 and America x2 descended on Side-by-Side. The marina was nice, security was tight and the price was right ($7/night).

Halloween, though not recognized in Latin countries, was celebrated at the North American dominated marina. The children helped decorate the marina bar/restaurant with spiders, cob webs and their craved pumpkins. Squash was purchased in the local market so pumpkin craving was not missed.

On the big night, the kids took turns whacking a piñata with a stick until finally candy was dispersed everywhere. After the kids party, the families joined the nearly a hundred party revelers for dancing, drinking, and costume judging. To our delight, one of the condo residents made a haunted house that was really creepy. All the kids bravely walked down the hallway to enter. When it came time to going in, over half (mostly the boys) dispersed saying, “I need to go to the bathroom”, or “I need to find my parents.”

Parker dressed as a pirate and Sabrina a vampire, complete with fangs that came from my office. Non of the kids could top Joshua’s (from Sea U Manana) Capt. Jack Sparrow outfit. It was excellent! Angie was a sexy cat…meow! As for me …well I was the Tooth Fairy! I had wings, a tutu, magic wand and black knee high rubber boots to express my man side. My skin tight shirt and minimal undergarments were quite popular with the ladies. In the end, I was runner up to the King and Queen of Beer. I was so happy, I just wanted to “prance about” having won a case of Polar beer.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Mochima Park-Venezuela

We departed with Alex and Isabelle, a young French Canadian couple on Masterpeace, to cruise through Mochima park. Popular sentiment was to buddy boat while anchoring in the remote sections of Mochima park for deterrence against thieves that come in the night. Often we are asked about safety in Venezuela. No doubt, crime is a huge issue, with half of our close friends have an actual or attempted robbery. However, many of them visited areas specially discouraged in our cruising guide. Our experience was very positive with friendly people, and prices on goods and services we could find nowhere else.

Our first stay was deep in the multi-bayed cut in the hills that lead back to the actual town of Mochima. We later met up with Grace also in the stunning NE corner of Golfo de Sana Fe known as Bahia Petare. The reefs were full of fire coral and blanketed in every color of Christmas tree worms. We have never seen anything like it anywhere. The kids laughed and delighted as they waved their hands over them and watch them suck back in and disappear.

Sadly, our time with Chris and Chris on Grace was drawing to a close. They needed to get moving west and then onto Jamaica and Florida. We hope to visit England be the guests of the self-proclaimed Queen and Queen of England. Our next stop was across the bay from Puerto La Cruz in Chimana Grande. Our guidebook pictured a boat that looked like it was sitting in a land-locked pond. Now we have the same picture taken in Cienguita with Side-by-Side in the lagoon surrounded by reddish tinged hills on all sides. Parker, Sabrina, and I went free climbing one morning in hopes of being kings of the mountain. As we were nearing the top, the looseness of the stone and pitch of the hill were too much for my adventurous soul. Parker is credited with having scampered an additional 50’ further higher than Sabrina and I. Fortunately we avoided falling into any cactus or sustaining anything more than a few scrapes.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Iiissss . There Anybody Out There?" in Guacharo Caves

For the group trip to the guacharo caves, I was anticipating a junked 1970’s “Dodge church van” that was exhumed from the dead for service in Venezuela. Instead a brand new Mercedes Benz Sprinter van with A/ C and a professional sober driver showed up. Now we are talking.

Within just 10 miles, the vegetation turned from dense cactus growth to lush tropical. Along the road we noticed an above ground water pipeline that carried water from the mountain reservoir to Margarita Island. Pro Chavez stencils were painted on the pipe every kilometer or so. Every town, it seemed, had some public works project underway and a huge Chavez poster with his picture on.

We stopped by an old mission church from the 1700’s where the bells and a wall of the old church still remain. Smartly uniformed school children were standing around where we stopped. Apparently their teacher who has to come from 2 hours away was delayed and therefore, no classes. Teachers, we learned, are in short supply, not well paid, and stretched thin trying to fulfill Chavez’s educational initiative.

The roads up into the mountain were excellent, minus the guardrails considered a frivolous expense in most Latin countries. The air was cool and damp when we arrived at the Guacharo caves near Caripe. It is 8 miles long, one of the world’s largest and most magnificent caves. What makes it particularly interesting was that it was inhabited by some 18,000 guacharo birds. These large strange creatures: live in the dark, echo-locate like bats, and only come out at night to feed on fruit. They are sensitive to light so only the guides’ lanterns are allowed. The strident cry of what sounds like all 18,000 birds calling at once adds to the atmosphere. Jean Marc’s wife was thought to be our interpreter but backed out just as we were getting our tickets, saying she doesn’t do caves. So Angie with her high school Spanish and concentration did her best to translate.

The kids learned about all about the addictions of nicotine on this trip. Three chain smokers joined us on the trip, who could not wait to leave the non-smoking cave. The guide was asking for them to hold up, but they were nearly running to get to day light after 2 hours without nicotine! Every time the van stopped they already had their cigs in mouth and lighter lit before their foot hit the ground. After enjoying a stop for some strawberries and cream, we headed back high above a valley of clouds. It was like a fairy tale scene looking down into the cotton filled valleys with other peaks rising up out of the clouds like islands in the sky.

Friday, October 5, 2007

How fresh do you want your meat?

On the SW corner of the Golfo de Cariaco is the city of Cumana, the place to get your “free” fuel thanks to Chavez. We met up with our good friends with kids on “Sea You Manana”. The kids loved the ice cream and video arcade in the waterfront plaza. The next morning, it was off to the local marker. Unlike the touristy straw markets of the islands or the upscale farmers’ market back in Saratoga, this was a real local market where everyone comes to buy and sell food, clothing and supplies. Some vendors operate out of an old pick-up truck, others under a tarp or a tin roof. Most towns have a market with covered stalls housing the meats and fish vendors. The aroma reminded me of the days I use to spend helping grandpa at Ken and Bea’s Grocery. He used to take me to Smitty’s meat packing where I saw how the pigs in the corals ended up as pork chops at the other end. Here, we strolled by sides of cows and pigs hanging about as butchers would lop off sections as needed with their razor sharp knives. Chickens were pre-plucked and then “prepped” with the WHACK of a machete. If you prefer yours really fresh, you can carry them off flapping and squawking, swinging by their bound feet. Parker preferred to do his shopping at Hannaford and keep the butchering and related smell behind closed doors. We loaded up on everything (mostly vegetables and fruits) at prices that were a fraction of the US. The Bolívar rate was changing daily and was now at over 5000/$1 within a couple of weeks. While we were there the marina doubled their rate to cruising boats. We ended up paying $17/night including A/C before leaving, while our friends paid $8. Prior to leaving, we filled up our tanks and jerry jugs with diesel and 96 octane gasoline at $.04 a gallon, 100x cheaper than anywhere else! The “set” price by Chavez to keep the people happy is 47 Bolivars/gallon. At 4000-6000 bolivars to the $1, you do the math.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Fisherman On!

We sailed off toward the mainland and the Golfo de Cariaco with Grace in light winds that moved the boats just fast enough to make Laguna Grande by dark. As we usually do, we trolled lines 100 yards behind the boat to see if dinner was out there. What was out there, were several fisherman buzzing at a high rate of speed between the mainland and Isla Margarita. Angie frantically yelling, la linea, la linea and making hand motions did not stop one boat. Our line caught the prop of a fishing boat. The zing of the reel as it spooled out confirmed why their boat was stopped. This was one ER situation we had not rehearsed. In case you need to know, here is the step by step plan when you catch a fisherman:

  1. Stop the boat (with no brakes, this one takes time).
  2. Yell to the fisherman as he tries to clear his prop.
  3. Watch the fisherman get pulled out of the boat and dragged as the fishing line gets caught around his hand.
  4. Get out the knife and cut the line to save the fisherman’s life.
  5. Hope the fisherman has better luck with your expensive lure than you did. Also hope he is not armed.

After that mini-adventure, we continued on our trip. Grace had better luck fishing and landed a nice tuna, much more edible than our catch.

Words cannot describe the landscape of this desolate place on the west end of the Golfo. The steep barren landscape is a collage of distinct earth tones ranging from white to rust to black. We hiked up onto the arid crushed rock hills created by seismic and glacier activity. The views were spectacular as were the unusual crystals and rock textures. We spelled our boat name in white rocks atop one of the hills. The water was a beautiful blue but very “cloudy”. Late that night as I was raising the swim ladder the water exploded in sparks of phosphorescent light given off by tiny jelly fish. Ahh, that’s why the water was so cloudy. I dove in looking like an asteroid shooting through space. Before bed we all laid out on the trampoline gazing up at the heavens above wishing upon falling stars.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Don't get anchored in prosaic detail

We weighed anchor and motored east further into the 30 mile long Golfo bound for Medregal Village. The peninsula’s mountains are shaped like a continuous line of soft serve ice cream that changed from arid to green to tropical the further east we went. There’s this place, Medregal Villlage, run by a former Belgian Congo expat named Jean Marc that has become a cruiser’s destination. Over the years he began welcoming cruisers ashore to enjoy the pool and tropical rustic facility. The market trips, bar tab, and meals are all done on an honor system that is settled up when you leave. Foosball and ping pong were the games of choice for Parker. Sabrina enjoyed the company of Jean Marc’s daughter “Ya Ya”. We rejoined other boats we had last seen in Trinidad or Margarita.

For those sailors who really got stuck here, they ended up buying property next to Medregal village. I had to say I took an interest in what property was available for many reasons: no hurricanes, no tide, no barnacles, very safe due to its remoteness, beautiful views, trade wind breezes blowing from land free of salt air, easy access to great cruising grounds, and pricing 1/10 -1/100th of ocean property elsewhere.

We passed the days away enjoying conversation with others, playing games, lounging by the pool, and best of all, water color painting with Terri of Sea Otter. Terri reiterates what an art teacher once told her as she instructs us in water colors, “don’t get anchored by prosaic detail”, (i.e. stop wanting perfection). She is such a giving person and hopes to inspire others who like herself, didn’t know they had it in them. The Johnsons as artists.. who would have thought.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Lowering our water line in Margarita

Monday morning, we boarded the “VIP” shopping bus to Sigo’s courtesy of Juan Marina and received our very important Sigo number pass. Later we learned the money we spend gives Juan and his family “points” at Sigo, so they essentially eat for free. See, you like that angle? And we thought the numbers were for free coffee.

Margarita, a duty free shopping zone, had the cheapest prices in the Caribbean, mainly due to the unofficial exchange rate of the bolívar to the dollar. When we saw the prices, we thought we were shopping in the 1950’s! Where else can you fill a jumbo shopping cart to the top with wine and spirits for a $100? The best part of shopping, from my perspective, were the Scotch reps. I swear they were all former Miss Venezuela contestants, clothed in black low cut spandex tops and form fitting pants. We must have enough Scotch to last us for the next 5 years now. Oh, the rest of the market was fantastic too, except there were no eggs or milk.

Chavez has price controls to keep basic items affordable for the 80% of the population that is impoverished. Watching kids tear apart my trash moments after depositing it was heart wrenching. Price controls includes fuel at $0.04 a gallon, beer at $2/case, cigarettes at $0.10/pack and other “necessities” such as sugar, eggs, milk, flour, and meats. One of the problems is the producers aren’t able to cover their expenses at times and will not supply the product. The milk gets powdered and stockpiled somewhere so there is no milk available. The eggs are sold illegally in the streets and open air markets for a premium price.

Margarita has 4 star malls, shopping, dining, and accommodations and is the vacation destination primarily for Venezuelans. Gated apartment high rises overlooking the ocean start at $20,000 including all the amenities. The “rabbit market” as it is called has great basic clothing, pirated CD’s and DVD’s, and generally decent produce. Cruising the high end mall, we realized just how much we did not need anymore. Xmas was around the corner and Margarita served us well for the kids.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Los Testigos

The Los Testigos is a delightful group of island with about 160 inhabitants who live by fishing. Other than a church, a school, and a beach bar (tin roof stick structure with Regional beer pennants and loud music) there is nothing else. To get supplies, they jump in their pirogues and zoom over to the mainland some 40 miles away.

There is a Costaguardia post that allowed us to stay for 3 days before moving on and officially checking into the country. Angie’s primal Spanish and some smiles were sufficient to check in. The arid islands were quite beautiful and the people were very friendly.

Our best experience was the sand dunes of Playa Gozman. From the SE shore we climbed up a path-wide sand dune from the water’s edge up to the top. Along the way, there were thousands of white butterflies floating about like snow in the tropics! As we climbed the soft sand trail, we sunk to our ankles. Approaching the top, the trail starts to widen out with nothing but sand and a few clumps of bushes. Cresting the top to view the oceanside was stupendous. On this side, the dune opens up and descends onto a half mile beach. The windswept landscape of powder dunes, desiccated tree trunks, and the random clumps of green were beyond words. I vote this the most beautiful untouched beach in the world! We spent the day frolicking in the waves, walking the shore and playing on the sand dune.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Chacachacare the Leper Colony

Side-by-Side headed west to explore the Trini island of Chacachacare (Chaka-cha-carie) some 13 miles away. In 1924 a leper colony was established here by the Dominican nuns, and continued until 1984. The hospital, houses, men and women dormitories, paved road, and church were simply left behind. Today most of the structures are still standing though Mother Nature is slowly absorbing them back into the earth. Walking through the buildings one must be careful of rotted or unsupported floors, especially on the second story! For a while the Trini Navy used it as a base but mysterious pulled out, rumor has it they were spooked away. The only island resident is a lighthouse keeper who lives high atop the island tending the lighthouse and communications tower and the mossies (mosquitoes).

We hiked up to the top of the island to have a look and take in the spectacular view. We stayed a couple of nights and opted to move to Scotland Bay back on the main island. As dusk was approaching, green parrots were flying all about. In the lush mountains rising up all around us we could hear the bone chilling howler monkeys. They sound like a monster having its arms ripped off… slowly. Our plan was to depart to Venezuela with a group of boats for security reasons. As seems to be the case in making boat plans, the 6 became 2 us and Grace, the boy boat. Our first destination was to be a speck on the sea called Los Testigos.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Ikin wit Jessie Janes and Snake

With two other kid boats, we organized a family ike (a/k/a hike) into the rain forest. Along the road we met “Snake” and company, our river guides. Their vehicle resembled a former demolition winner being held together by rope and chicken wire. Snake taught us that eating and drinking bacteria tainted food and river water would make our bodies stronger and healthier! He had a pet snake (hence the name) that the kids enjoyed holding. Jessie, the perpetual tour guide, engaged the kids in fauna and Hindi culture as the van chugged higher and higher into the mountains on the ever narrowing roads. Our initial walking decent was straight down a paved road that could only be used by 4x4’s in creeper gear. Angie’s knees screamed when not using any available body as a brace down the hill. The trail decent was easy and led us to the jungle stream. The fauna was lush and of ancient origin. The cool mountain stream eased our adult aches and pains and provided playful entertainment for the younger half of the tour. We climbed and jumped down waterfalls, floated along through gorges and waded in other areas. Alas, the trip up and out. Again the trail was easy but the road section was so steep we had to zig zag our way up it. How they were ever able to pave this I think must be the 8th wonder of the World. This climb brought tears to some due to the angle and necessitated heart saver breaks. Fortunately there were fruit trees with oranges and mangoes for everyone along the way. We completed the climb in an uncontrolled sweat and smiles of accomplishment on our faces.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Treasures of the Bilge and "the rock"

We had missed the morning “net” on our first Sunday back because we, like everyone else, are still sleeping. However, Kurt on Crystal was listening while on the john for “free treasures of the bilge”. This is a time when one man’s junk becomes another man’s treasure. Never in history has anyone come on the net giving a way a whole boat and all its contents to the first person who gets there! Kirk finished in a hurry and raced in the dink to the boat.

It seems an English man bought an older ferro-cement ketch on Ebay and flew to Trinidad to start working on it. The boat was too much hassle and he decided to give it away. For the $1 transaction fee, our friends on Crystal were the proud owners of a 47’ boat and all of its contents. The contents included a RIB dinghy, 15 HP Mercury, a new portable generator, more charts than one could ever imagine and a boat that needed a lot of love. Kurt, the optimist and head of the family, had the boat hauled out and was making plans to get her sailing again. Two boats needed work, two home-schooled kids a dog and a marriage are more that most people can handle at once. With a little nudging from an ex-navy captain, they decided to put boat on Ebay and were paid 10’s of thousands for their blood, sweat and tears spent cleaning her up.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Return to Trinidad

Oh, while you were away, a worker was stabbed at the ATM…. other than that, things have been pretty quiet. Side-by-Side was in perfect shape as we again sweated our pa-tuties off prepping her to go back in. All of our cash was spent paying the marina bill before we left. Unfortunately, we did not think to bring greenbacks with us. Off to the same ATM where the worker was stabbed, I reported that the card was rejected. Angie tried several machines, just to have hers eaten. Long story short, we had opened a new checking account for my dad to be able to pay some bills. Schwab, without ever telling us, cancelled EVERYTHING with our current checking account. Why would we need it since we had a ‘new’ one. Of course, the new checks, etc did not make it to Trinidad. No cash, not a good thing. Angie spent about $20 making calls to Schwab and got a promise of “overnight” delivery of new card. 5 days later, we had our cards. A similar story occurred with our internet antennae to be ‘overnight’ to Trinidad. The antennae which was to be received in Michigan, then Florida while we were there, but the no problems I received from the staff at Radio Labs turned into large problems. A replacement was “overnighted” I was assurued on 9/2/2007. After almost daily checking and finding out how packages are “held” at customs, it arrived in Trinidad, long after we had left on November 11.. 2 months later. Now you know why we had not updated our blog, no wifi antennae, no internet access. These are the stresses we experience....a complete paralysis to speed up packages, have working phones, internet, the basics that all Americans take for granted.

We motored around the corner to TTSA (Trinidad and Tobaga Sailling Association) where we reconnected with Puddle Jumper who we had last seen in North Carolina, and Sea You Manana with their two boys. There we met the self proclaimed “queens” of England, Chris and Chris of Grace. They had their Rainbow flag, Speedos at lunch, and TMI to make even us blush. And so it was … the beginning of a great friendship.

“Dis e the Y-Sat sutl, No problm, I’ll be der en won mint,” was the voice heard continuously on the VHF radio. Trinidadians by their nature cut short every word and speak in melody with a happy lift. Ann Vanderhoof, the writer of the cruising book “The Embarrassment of the Mangoes” said, “I fell in love with the soft, musical, lilting, smiling, flirtatious, seductive, down right sexy, melt-your-heart, Trini voice.” Ann is still out cruising and happened to be tied up at the marina across from us. Angie took her book to be signed, saw she wasn’t there and stopped by our friends on Alize to say goodbye. “Well Ann’s here on our boat having sundowners.” Angie and Nadine had a delightful chat with her and their books autographed.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Get Me Outta Here

Sweating like a pig, except I don’t think pigs sweat, we stripped off and secured everything above deck for hurricane season and opportunity seekers. The last night we treated ourselves to the motel across the street and met a lovely pulmonologist and her daughter. She, with her personal bodyguard spoke of the murder a day, 240 kidnappings in a single year for extortion, and a huge drug problem.

We were picked up at 10:45 a.m. (scheduled time 11:00), Angie still in her towel from the shower, for a 3:00 p.m. flight. Upon arrival the flight was Really delayed. Let’s get the famous East Indian doubles while waiting. What is a double exactly? Well it started out as a “single” round piece of fried flat bread rolled up with a chick pea based filler, some “Trini” sauce, and the optional black sauce from hell that melts your eyeballs into your brain. Following the marketing success of super sizing it, they started using two pieces of bread, “double”. We all enjoyed all of parts of them.. me the fire burning sauce.

At security, we were separated by sex, ask to remove every accessory, then pranced through and patted down in our knickers practically. Locals wearing big gold chains, baggy pants, hoody jackets walk on by as the red lights nearly explode off the graph. They look at them and don’t even pat them down (wouldn’t want to offend them or wand them or anything!! Today is the day of the breaking story of Trinis attempting to blow up JFK. Security was TIGHTED today.

As the sun is setting, we our wearily boarding our lunch time flight to Miami. Nice new age music is playing at a non-deafening volume, “complete” white smiles of the stewardesses and functioning A/C, are a reminder of what we left behind 9 months ago. Within a half hour we had our bags and were on the Crown Plaza shuttle for a night of pure decadence! The sheets were turned down over the goose down comforter. At the head of the bed was a selection of pillows numbering more than I could count. Everything worked and was like brand new. Aaahhh, its good to be back!

Friday, June 1, 2007

Turtles Nesting by Moonlight

Trinidad is like no other island in the Caribbean with 1.2 million people of African and East Indian decent. Tourism is minimal with an economy based on natural gas and oil reserves. In fact the US is dependent on Trinidad for 70% of its natural gas. Chagaramas, where all the haul out marinas are, is a filthy port that is the “safe place”, below the 10.5 latitude for hurricane insurance. The sail boats are packed like sardines into large yards having 20’ fences laced with razor wire and armed guards to keep ‘dem safe.

Jessie James has become a legend among the cruising community. He organizes trips to the market, the grocery stores, site seeing, and airport shuttle service. I asked what the secret to his success was and he said easy, “if you want to be picked up at 2:00, I’ll be there at 1:40. Other taxis forget, don’t care, or are out liming.” The highlight of Trinidad was the Leather Back turtle excursion that took us from the west end of the island to the untouched northeast corner. Starting at 5:00PM, we meandered across Trinidad stopping to eat at a Chinese restaurant. We were shocked seeing a street person dash in, grab a patron’s abandoned meal, and flee into the darkness as it dripped through his fingers. The drugs must have given him the munchies. After travelling several hours on ever unimproved roads we arrived at the protected NE coast.

A few remarkable facts about the Leather Back turtles we learned included: they are highly endangered and only number a couple thousand; have no shell just a massive thick black skin; live most of their life in the North Atlantic; mate with several turtles they happen to meet in the north each mating season and do so for 4-6 hours a session. Wwhhmmm, I want to be reincarnated as a turtle, whispered Angie. Only the females come down to a select few areas in the Caribbean to then lay multiple “clutches” of some 80-120 eggs each. The adults are massive, about the size of a twin bed and weighing in at 600-1200 pounds. Sadly, the survival rate to adulthood is less than 1%. They will not lay there eggs where there are lights on shore (ie. development) because the babies follow the night light of the stars and moon reflecting off the ocean to guide them on their amazing quest for survival. Otherwise, they follow the artificial lights on land and are found dehydrated and dead about the compound the next morning. Unfortunately, in places like Grenada and St. Vincent, locals still take the eggs! Trinidad and its international band of researchers are working hard to save the majestic leatherback from extinction.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Happy Knickers

A short hop from Bequia is the National Park of the Tobago Cays, a paradisaical cluster of a half dozen small islands floating in shallow Bahama Blue water and protected from the Atlantic by a large shelf reef that rises up to the surface. Since the DR, we had not really connected with any other families. Fortunately, our luck was about to change. As we were leaving Bequia we met “Jimmy” from NYC, his Bermudian wife, Judy and their 4 year old daughter Charlotte. In TC we also met a French/American and Norwegian family all with babies!! Together we scuba dived, dined, beached, and limed the days away. Judy had a birthday party for Charlotte on the beach. Fortunately, Charlotte inherited her mothers lifting English accent vs. her dad's Brooklyn one. We all laughed when she wanted to swim with the other kids but had no proper bathing suit. "But Mummy, I don't want to soil my happy knickers!", she exclaimed. As long as she feels the same way when she is 16.

We spent just a day in Union Island to clear out and buy some poor quality produce in what was also a very seedy harbor. The boat boys tried to offer us up one of their moorings that we declined having more faith in our ground tackle. For giggles I dove and photographed one of these fine moorings and counted 5 different lines that had failed and were re-knotted together, severe chafe, rusted links and a half a foot of barnacles attacking the thing. Some naive yachties trust these more than they trust their own anchoring ability! Skipping Grenada, we sailed on through the night to Trinidad our final destination of the season.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Bequia, Paradise Lost

For years, we had heard stories, read articles, and even listened to songs extolling the beauty of Bequia and its people. “Do you want to buy some fruits? I am your fruit man….(and I’m also stoned out of my mind and haven’t bothered to bathe in a week) No fruit? You want some smoke? How about for the nose? I can help you out.” If someone wasn’t wanting to sell drugs to our family out for a stroll, then our "Hellos" and "Good Afternoons" fell on deaf ears with hardly an acknowledgement.

The next morning I awoke at sunrise and went for a walk . I upon saying good morning to everyone, I got two responses. I think they were drug dealers by the look in their red eyes. The privately contracted school vans looked like something straight out of “pimp my ride”. They traveled at insanely fast speeds with 1000 watt sound systems reverberating through the hills long before you saw them. Gee, I wonder why Joey and Suzie can’t hear.

Around 11:00 that morning, when not 50 yards from out boat on shore we saw a female tourist and local man “wrestling”. When suddenly she really screamed and he took off running up into the wooded hillside with her bag. My God she was just attacked and mugged!! Now, I’m really lovin’ this place. We put out a “Pan Pan”, May Day, and anything else we could say on the VHF trying to call for help. Not one single local response. She sat their shaking with that stunned look in her eyes. Fortunately, all that her pack contained was a Lonely Planet Guide. I flagged down a local boat boy for help. He shrugged and said you’ll have to go to the police and fill out a report not bothering to offer his cell phone. Now that’s apathy. So there the perpetrator sat halfway up the hillside. When she went to the police, they had actually told her to come back at 5:00 p.m and give her report!!! Just go get the guy!!

At 5:00 in the evening we happened upon the victim giving her police report. We learned that the attacker had a cloth over his face and what she thought may have been mace or something. We let the policeman know how appalled we were at the lack of response from the Bequia community and authorities. You’re on an island of less than 3000 which means you know everyone by first and last name and you still haven’t figured it out who the bad guys are? The next morning I was in the tourism director’s office. We had a very long chat and she was truly appalled and frustrated. I suggested to her that the boat boys should “take care of things”; I didn’t go into the exact proportions of cement and water for the shoe mold…but after all, cruisers are their and many shop keepers’ livelihood. We provided email documentation of the incident and the toursim people were following-up, not the police.

Our final afternoon, Parker, Sabrina, and I taxied over to the “the Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary” a place that preserves baby sea turtles until they juveniles of about 3-4 years old. The self made concrete tanks and facility were a culmination of this incredible man’s life work to help save the hawksbill turtle from becoming extinct. He gets no subsidies and relies solely on admissions and a few donations to keep his efforts afloat. I was appalled when a group of loud mouthed American tourists showed up and were demanding a discount from the $4 to get in. I suggested, in addition to paying the full admission price, they should also consider an additional contribution. They paid their proper way and the assistant quietly thanked me for “handling” the situation. He is trying to educate the local youth that it is not OK to eat the eggs and the turtles which is still customary in this part of the Caribbean.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Fort de France, Where All the Action Is.

This is now the capital and cruise ship port of duty free shopping. The streets are jammed with cars, busses, vendors, shoppers and life. This is a sight to behold, bag home schooling, we are going to get off the boat early to see the sites for a change. What's doing on, everything, including McDonalds is closed on Ascension Day???!!! In America, we’d be having a sale, but here you could have heard a pin drop a block away. Well, no problem, we can walk around and see the historical sites on this French owned island.

The State Buildings were blocked off and under renovation, the fort wa closed today, Place de la Savane (12 acre waterfront flower park) was taped off and under repair, the grand Episcopal church was shrouded in scaffolding and a 3 hour church service was in session. We were able to buy some fruits and veggies from a couple of other sinners on this holy day in the ghetto street market 6 blocks from the waterfront. Well that about covers it; let’s go.

Mt. Pelee-Vaporized

Our first sight of this beautiful island was the infamous volcanic mountain of Mt. Pelee jutting up some 4,582’ and dripping of lush green vegetation. We anchored on the northwest side in front of the city of St. Pierre. For our sundowners (the kids had milk), we read the story of St. Pierre and that fateful day of May 8th, 1902. For weeks leading up to that day, there had been rumblings, gasseous eruptions and smoke belching from the mountain top above the city. There was an election coming up and the incumbent didn’t want to upset the people of the capital and have them evacuate unnecessarily and possibly lose the election because of it. He also got pressure from the merchants who said it would be bad for business if everyone left. So he and his “experts” assured the people there was absolutely nothing to be concerned about and that it was perfectly safe to stay. The people must have been quite gullible because next to no one left. Unfortunately, “they” were wrong. In a very unique eruption, the whole side of the mountain blew out with such intensely hot gases (1800-3600˚F) that it vaporized the entire city. In an instant, all 29,933 people were dead except for one prisoner deep inside an underground jail cell.

Today, the town is only a fraction of what it used to be. Many of the structural foundations like that of the grand theatre and hillside buildings still stand in memory. We walked through these and the museum, Musee Vulcanlogique. Is it English? “Oi, boot of cours” Like 10%! But the visual collection of ruins needed no explanation. They had remains of vaporized food stores, blobs of glass bottles, melted church bells, and limp iron implements. The collection reminded us of just how powerful Mother Nature can be when she’s unhappy.

The kids seem to want to leave quickly and did not really like the hike to the base of the volcano, sensing that it could happen again.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Dog Attack and Other Fun in Dominica

Antigua is the land of 365 beaches and Dominica is the land of 365 streams! Mentally, I have a hard time comprehending where all this water comes from on this small lush island. The windward side where all the rain clouds collect receives far more rain than the leeward or west side. The 1.5 lane wide paved roads lack any guardrails and are virtually untraveled. They are without question the steepest, curviest, white knuckle passages in the interior we have ever seen. In addition to the thrill factor, the limited road system brought us some of the most breath taking vistas and sights.

Over two days we hiked back into several waterfalls. Trafalger falls with the mama and the papa falls was absolutely breath taking. What made it even more interesting was the natural geothermal spring’s stream meandering down a staircase of natural pools to relax in. Our favorites were the ones under enormous boulders. Where the warm water met the river, you could wade across from cool to warm to very warm as they commingled. Dusk was settling about the land and so we started to make our way north to the boat.

Another we were trying to find the heated river pools and accidentally ended up on a squatter’s property. It’s getting dark, we are in the middle of no where, and Sabrina and I are walking up the path while Angie and Parker wait in the car. All of a sudden, dogs start barking and racing toward us in the shadows. She screams, grabs me, and unknowingly knocks the keys to the car out of my hands. I pick her up and start retreating to the car when we here a voice coming from a large tree overhead calling the dogs and asking, “are you OK?” Sydney, a Dominican and his Canadian wife, Lynn from Toronto had chucked the big city life after 20 years and were now back in his homeland living off the land in a tree house! Kewl! The keys were found right before dark.

Driving back late Friday night, all, and I mean all, the locals were “liming” in the streets, on steps, and on curbs as we passed. Conversations were lively, music was thumping, rum was flowing, and we just didn’t quite blend in in our rent-a-car trying to squeeze through. The medical college was our favorite eating, meeting a girl from Amsterdam NY during our last visit.
And so after about 8 days in Dominica we set sail for Martinique.