Saturday, October 10, 2015

Such a Long, Long Time....

What a poor, sad, neglected blog this has been.  I can't believe it's been 6+ years since our last post.  This blog was only ever to be about travel, but still, we've been remiss posting a few minor things.  Our wedding.  Bringing Cielo up to the Chesapeake from Florida (750 miles of straight motoring in the Gulf Stream).  Trekking in Nepal.  Australia and South Africa.  Getting poor lonely Cielo back in the water and up to Maine for the summer of 2013.  And lots of dirt-dwelling in between.

So why the post now, after six years of radio silence?  Well, this:

She is Occam's Razor.  We decided to double-down and go for two hulls for our circumnavigation.  Which has, logically, prompted this:  we're selling Cielo.  It hurts to even read that, much less write it.  But we take solace in the hope that our lovely, safe, trustworthy friend who has looked after us so well and shown us so much, that she will do the same for a new family.  We've put so much love and work into her, and she is such a lovely vessel.  She's spent far too much of the past six years resting on the hard for a boat that wants nothing but blue water. 

So if you know anyone looking for a boat to go cruising, point her to this:  Selling Cielo.  She is almost perfect.  We will miss her dearly.

Monday, June 1, 2009

We're Back!

On Monday we arrived in Miami Beach, our new home for the next couple years. We'll be leaving Cielo on the hard until later this year and will be heading north by land for the summer.

Motoring With The Sails Up

The trip from Isla Mujeres to Southeast Florida is notorious for being a painful one. The Gulf Stream runs east at 3 knots, which would be good, except the Trade winds blow from the east at 15-20+ knots. Aside from the fact that you are trying to go east (and sail directly into the wind), the wind-against-current thing generates monstrously steep and choppy seas. So when we got a forecast for light Southerly winds instead of easterly Trades, we were so happy we nearly peed our pants. Turns out there was no reason to get excited.

The forecasted wind never did materialize, but severe squalls with enough lighting to solve the world's energy crisis sure did. We motored virtually the entire way, with the mainsail up to slow our rolling in the leftover ocean swells. We motored all day, and dodged intense lightning storms all night. There's nothing quite so disconcerting as being in the middle of the ocean during a lightening storm with a 55 foot tall metal pole sticking out the top of your home. Had we both not been scared to death, we probably could have appreciated how spectacular the lightning was. Stunning displays of branching cloud to cloud and cloud to ground (water!) lit up the sky. The squalls themselves weren't bad - 30 knots or so and heavy rain - but the lightening was just too much. I wish I could have gotten some better pictures, but in addition to being on a rocking boat it turns out that a) lightning is pretty hard to predict, and b) those scientists weren't kidding about the speed of light - that stuff is FAST! So despite the fabulous light show, we had trouble capturing it on film.

What we did capture on film though, finally, are good images and video of dolphins playing in Cielo's bow wave (if you're getting the email version of this you won't see the YouTube video link - click here instead). After 2 years and over 10,000 miles, this is something that has never gotten old. We see dolphins often, and they just make you smile. They'll come rocketing in from who knows where, leaping clear of the water and clearly excited. They rush up to the bow of the boat and then zig and zag across Cielo's path, just inches from the bow. I have no idea why this is fun, but apparently it's like catnip to dolphins. I know we sure enjoy it. Sometimes they do it for only a couple minutes, once they stuck with us for almost an hour. It's one of a very long list of things I'm going to miss while we're on land for the next couple years. Maybe I can try to hug a Manatee instead.

We've Got A Live One Here...

If you've been following our blog, you'll know that we've (ok, I've) become pretty obsessed with fishing. Not in a true angler-style, fishing just for sport kind of way, but more like a "damn there is a lot of sushi swimming around under me and I've got to do something about it" kind of way. Two years ago when we first started we couldn't catch anything. But I've learned a lot and by last year we progressed to hooking up a lot of fish and by this year we were hooking up lots of fish and landing most of them. We fish for meat, not sport, so there are three fish we focus on; Mahi-Mahi, Wahoo, and the prized tuna. The first day out the big reel starts screaming, I grab the rod, set the hook, and proceed to fight it in. After about a short five minute fight, we land a 20 lb tuna! The middle of the next day, the small reel gets a hit, and we land another fish, a 10 lb Mahi-Mahi this time. At this point, with the success we've been having, and with 15 pounds of fresh tuna steaks and Mahi fillets in the freezer we're feeling pretty bad-ass. I guess we were due for a setback.

About two hours later, the big reel gets hit. The line is peeling off the reel by the yard, and even after stopping the boat it's all I can do to slow the fishes flight. This is by far the hardest fighting fish we've caught. At this point we don't know what's on the other end, but it feels like Moby Dick. Suddenly, a 4' Mahi-Mahi leaps clear of the surface! After thirty minutes of fighting so intense I was winded from it, we had the Mahi-Mahi alongside Cielo. Lizz was ready with the gaff and tail-rope, and I began to hand-leader the fish in (you can't reel the last bit of heavy line in, so you have to bring it in by hand - with gloves on of course!). This fish is a good 60 lbs, and once alongside the boat he gets an eyeball pointed my way and decides he doesn't like the look of me at all. He goes completely berserk, thrashing around and slamming his big head into the side of the boat. He nearly pulls me into the water - remember, I'm holding the line with my hands at this point - and it's all I can do to hold onto him. He manages to get his head down in the water and starts flailing his tail like a maniac, covering and drenching both Lizz and I with salt water. Then he gives one more massive yank...and he's gone. I'm left standing there, exhuasted and soaking wet, holding a straightend 7/0 hook (the top hook in the picture).

The next day, idiot that I am, I put one fishing line back in the water - just for ha-has. In short order, the reel commences to screaming. After the previous day's monster, this one feels like just a toy. Instead, it's another Mahi-Mahi - about 25 lbs this time. Lizz is ready with the vodka (we pour vodka on the fishes gills to calm and subdue them), and gives him a good dousing as soon as he is clear of the water. Everything seems fine - until I get him on the cabin top. Suddenly he goes ape-shit bananas, and over the next minute I proceed to get my ass whooped by a 25 lb fish. I couldn't even hold him down! He flopped and flailed and throughly thrashed me. After about a half-bottle of additional vodka he finally calmed down (I think he must have been Russian). Not that I blame either of the two fish for any of it. In addition to trying to kill them, I've killed a few of their friends and relatives. I deserved every bit of it and then some more. Still, it's a little embarrasing. It's one thing to get beat up by the school bully. I got beat up by a fish.

Thank God for Tall Buildings!

We were highly relieved to get ourselves anchored just next to Miami Beach, nestled between sets of tall buildings, as yet another lightning storm made its way through. I've been sleeping much better at night knowing we aren't the tallest thing for 300 miles around. It's good to be here for lots of reasons though, and we're very happy to be back. We have one more short trip of 120 miles before Cielo finds her home for the summer in Ft. Pierce, FL. Since we won't be out cruising we won't be posting much, if at all. We have a few "best of" posts we've never gotten together that we'll try to post, those may come in handy for anyone travelling anywhere in the Caribbean basin. Other than that, if you don't hear from us on the blog - pick up the phone, ours work again!

Posted by: Kevin

Friday, May 22, 2009


So we're in Isla Mujeres now. We left San Pedro, Belize last Friday bound for Key West, but diverted here to avoid a potential tropical storm north of Cuba. You may notice a trend with this - on trips of more than 500 miles we're only 2 for 5 at hitting our intended destination on the first try. We're always at the mercy of weather. Still, this is a pretty nice place to be stuck for a bit - beautiful water and beaches, lots of good cheap food and drink and, miracle of miracles, good internet on the boat.

Previously on...

Lizz's last post left off right after the departure of my friend Scott and my enemy the Dengue Fever. After a couple of rough weeks Lizz and I were ready to get moving north and enjoy some of Belize along the way. With our target US-return date of June 1st looming, we wanted to try to see as much as we could. We had already decided to skip Mexico and focus on Belize, and so after fueling and watering in Placencia we set out for Belize's remote offshore atolls.

Caveat Emptor

For those of you not familiar with cruising, a cruising guide is a book that contains crucial information relevant for anyone traveling the area by boat. Information on anchoring, clearing in/out, chart details for harbors and dangers, etc. This is critical information even in places where general information is easy to come by and chart data is good - like the United States. When you're outside the country and chart data is poor, the cruising guide becomes your lifeline. Cruising guides are almost always written by cruisers who appreciate this fact, and they are generally quite good.

So it was with not a little dismay that we began to note some problems with our cruising guide to Belize. Islands were the wrong shape and size, waypoints weren't quite in the right place. Things were roughly correct, but coupled with the terrible quality of our chart data we were constantly on our toes. Unfortunately, we were about to find out just how bad the cruising guide really was.

We were headed into the Turneffe Islands, a large atoll with a fringing reef and hundreds of islands inside. Much of the atoll is too shallow for most cruising boats, but according to our cruising guide the entire southern section is navigable and can be accessed via two routes - a pass through the reef with minimum depths of 10 ft at low tide, and a channel in from the back with plenty of water for boats that draw up to 5' (Cielo draws 4'8", but we call it 5' to be safe). The text of the guide was specific, and reiterated what the chartlet showed. Conditions were moderate, so we planned to head in the reef pass and then out the back channel if conditions were rougher when we departed in a couple days.

We approached the pass in perfect light and at mid-tide, went right up the middle, yet the depths seemed a little low. The pass is only about 50 yards wide, with waves breaking on the reef on either side, so there was no room for error. Still, the guide is current and the authors claim to have sounded this pass only a year ago. Coral doesn't grow fast, so it's not like things change much during one year in this part of the world. By this point, we're past the point of no return - you can't turn a 40 ft cruising boat around in a 50 yard wide pass with breakers on either side - so we're going in one way or another. In the middle of the pass the depth sounder read 7.5', and at the bottom of the next wave Cielo hit the bottom. Not hard, just kissed it, and then we were through. No harm done to the boat, a lot of harm to my nerves, and it meant one thing for certain - we weren't going to be able to get back out this pass unless conditions were incredibly calm. We were a little shaken (remember, this is our house we're driving around out here), but not overly concerned since we knew we could go out the back channel. Or so we thought.

The next day we started heading toward the back channel. We had to cross a wide bar that our cruising guide authors insisted had 6' of water at low tide, but we couldn't find the 6'. We kept slowly nosing Cielo towards the bar, only to see the depths drop and Cielo kiss the bottom. Time after time we tried, no luck. Finally we called the folks at the lodge on the island over the VHF radio. They said, yes, you should be able to get over that bar. Just go a bit further west and you'll be fine. We tried it, and ran aground. With 25 knots of wind pushing us onto the shoal, we were stuck. The nice folks from the lodge came out with a launch to try to pull us off, no luck. We spent the rest of the day trying to get Cielo free, to no avail. The best we were able to do was punch a hole in our new dinghy while setting an anchor to keep Cielo from being driven further onto the shoal. Tired and exhausted, we finally resigned ourselves to spending the night stuck on the shoal and waiting for the next high tide in the morning.

By morning Cielo was floating free again, and we were ready to get the heck out of there. We called the nice folks at the lodge again, and they generously offered to send a launch out to guide us over the bar at high tide. As we followed the launch along the bar, they indicated we should begin our turn and head over the bar. Cielo's depth sounder strongly disagreed. I figured the folks on the launch knew this water as well as anyone, gritted my teeth, and began the turn. The depth dropped and Cielo came to a full stop, once again aground. Only this time we were even harder aground, and at high tide no less. Not good. This was going to require more drastic measures. The folks on the launch took one of our halyards (the lines that pull the sails up to the top of the mast), tied another long line to it, and then used the 200HP launch to pull Cielo down by the masthead until she was heeled so far over that we were floating and free. Lizz and I drove Cielo off the shoal at a 35 degree angle, heeled so far that the starboard side deck wash awash.

Though we were happy to be free and moving again, we weren't looking forward to spending a week or more sitting in the lagoon waiting for conditions to calm enough for us to get back out the dangerous reef pass we had come in. Fortunately for us, the folks at the lodge had different plans. While we were still heeled over at 35 degrees, they began gesturing wildly that we should turn left - over the shoal again. They proceeded to escort us, line still attached to the masthead, over the shoal and out the back channel - a distance of almost 3 miles. Cielo looked like she hadn't had her V8 in years, but it worked like a charm!

Caye Caulker

Finally free of the Turneffe Islands, we sailed back inside Belize's barrier reef and made a beeline for Caye Caulker. Still a bit gun (or ground) shy from the previous days, we found the shallow water inside the northern reef a bit nerve-wracking. We spent the majority of the 35 mile sail moving at 7 knots in water less than 7 feet deep. The water was so shallow that, at those speeds, Cielo's turbulence kicked up a trail of mud behind us that was miles long. Caye Caulker and San Pedro, a bit further north, were a welcome change after the week's adventures. Calm anchorages, easy access to stores, restaurants, and internet, and all with a relaxing pace and atmosphere. It was a great place to cap off our season before heading home to the US. Or so we thought.

Only 24 hours after leaving San Pedro headed for the US, our weather forecast became quite uncertain due to the potential tropical storm, so it turned out we wouldn't be skipping Mexico after all. After a week in Isla Mujeres and with the low pressure system safely drifting toward the US Gulf Coast, we will be leaving today to head directly to Miami. With any luck, our next post will be from lovely South Beach, our new home for a while.

Posted by: Kevin

Sunday, May 10, 2009

When Bad Things Happen to Good People

Belize is a beautiful country, with crystal clear water for snorkeling and diving, hundreds of white sand islands to explore and great sailing (relatively consistent trade winds but little seas because of the protective barrier reef that runs along most of the country). While we've thoroughly enjoyed all of these aspects of Belize, we've also had some other experiences here that have made our visit memorable, but not so much in a good way.


Belize was a sight for sore eyes...sore, because they'd been stinging from the sweat that had been incessantly dripping into them for the last week that we were back in the Rio Dulce after our travels inland. As soon as we cleared customs in Guatemala and headed out of Livingston, we were once again able to enjoy anchoring out in cooling sea breezes and swimming off the side of the boat in the clear blue water of the Caribbean Sea, as opposed to the murky waters of the Rio Dulce.

Traveling with our new friends from South Africa, Tamara and Warren, we spent our first few days in Belize enjoying some really fantastic snorkeling, while visiting a different set of islands along the southern part of the country each day. Our best day of snorkeling included spotting two sting rays (one of which was a spotted eagle ray, which are relatively rare) and our first nurse shark. Yes, I spotted a shark, which honestly, scared the crap out of me, even when I learned that nurse sharks are generally more scared of people that we are of them, and also have rounded, rather than sharp teeth. Plus they pretty much sleep all the time. Still, I imagine it’d hurt like hell if one decided to bite you. We capped off our visit with Tam and Warren in Placencia and said good-bye to them over a truly sumptuous dinner at a funky French restaurant that could have competed in quality and style with any number of great restaurants elsewhere.

Old friend, New ailment

The next evening, our newest guest arrived, this time, a friend of Kevin’s from high school and college. Kevin and Scott hadn’t seen each other in nearly two years, but picked up right where they left off over numerous happy hour rum and cokes. It was no surprise then that Kevin woke up the next day with a pounding head ache and a feeling of general malaise…it seemed pretty clear that he was suffering from a cheap rum hangover, so we had no reason to reconsider our plan to head out of Placencia, a town on the mainland, to visit some of the islands lining Belize’s coast.

That evening, after a great day of sailing, we arrived in Cary Cay. Kevin still felt lousy, so we decided to start him on some antibiotics, figuring that he was fighting some leftover Guatemalan germs that we could blast with drugs. The next morning, Kevin thought that the antibiotics were starting to work and would surely start to work better soon so we decided to sail another 10 miles northeast to the Pelican Cays, a deserted set of mangrove islands near the edge of the barrier reef. At one point, I suggested that perhaps we should select an inhabited island, in case Kevin got sicker, but I was assured that it wouldn't be a problem. Of course it was.

Monday night we consulted our on-board medical guide, “Where There is No Doctor” to figure out what could possibly be wrong since Kevin continues to get worse, and is now contending with a fever that seems to spike and break at irregular intervals. The list of potential ailments includes hepatitis, malaria, Dengue fever and meningitis, none of which sounds particularly appealing. Since Kevin can put his head between his knees, which our book tells us is a good test for meningitis; we rule it out (with much relief) and focus on the remainder of the list. Given what we know about Guatemala, we figure that Kevin likely has malaria and begin to treat him, as our book suggests, with massive doses of chloroquine. If you have ever taken chloroquine for travels to malaria-prone regions, you can image the impact that 5 weeks worth of doses in 48 hours can have on a person. Highlights included projectile vomiting, hallucinations, and generally feeling like you want to die – some treatment!

By some miracle of technology, we manage to get a cell signal from Scott’s phone on Tuesday morning, and make what must have been $50 worth of phone calls to the US. We are fortunate in my family to have two doctors (my father and brother) and a nurse practitioner (my step-mom) and finally manage to get my brother on the phone. He confirms the likelihood of our diagnosis and tells us that 1) Kevin may get worse before he gets better (awesome) and 2) that if his fever continues, we’d better get him to a doctor. We consider sailing back to Placencia on Tuesday, but are thwarted by the weather. We really need decent sunlight to navigate through the many coral heads that litter our route back to Placencia, and the skies remain cloudy for the rest of the day.

One hell of a day

On Wednesday morning, Kevin still feels terrible, and we have no choice but to promote me to captain (yikes) for the nearly 20 mile sail back to Placencia. After two years of living aboard Cielo, you’d figure this wouldn’t be a big deal, but I’ve never actually been completely in charge of the boat and considering we have crappy charts, less than ideal light and many shallow spots to contend with, I don’t really feel like I have the most favorable conditions for my debut. After a bit of a struggle getting the anchor up, Scott and I are able to successfully motor-sail back to the mainland in just under three hours and have the boat anchored down in Placencia by 11:00 a.m.

Thankful to have arrived in one piece, we set about getting Kevin to the health clinic in town, but arrive only to find that the clinic doctor is away in the town of Dangriga, an hour’s drive (or two hour bus ride) away. The nurse who sees Kevin recommends that we get him to the hospital as soon as possible and indicates that there’s a bus leaving in a few hours that will get us there by late afternoon. Even in good health, bus rides through Central America can take quite a toll, so we immediately begin looking for another option. Fortunately, we run into one of the women who works at the Placencia tourist office and explain our situation. She springs into action, calling the airport to reserve two seats on the next plane to Dangriga and flagging down a friend on the street who can drive us to the airport. Within 15 minutes we are sitting at the airport, tickets in hand, waiting for our 20 minute flight for Dangriga to depart. As we’re waiting for the plane, we catch a glimpse of CNN news on the waiting room television and learn of Mexico’s swine flu epidemic. As the other passengers watch the story and then catch a glimpse of Kevin’s frighteningly sickly appearance, they quickly change seats, leaving us the waiting room all to ourselves.

Finally, we board the plane and endure a terrifying flight in a tiny tin can during which time, I begin to look as pale and sweaty as Kevin. Thankfully, the flight is short, and 30 minutes after take off, we’ve not only landed, but have taken the taxi they had waiting for us and have arrived at the public hospital in Dangriga. Apparently, swine flu is the major concern of the day and Kevin and all those coming into contact with him are masked up within 30 seconds of our arrival. Amazingly, Kevin doesn’t have to wait at all for care, and is immediately given a bed and his first bag (of four) IV fluids. However, though we’re happy to be at the hospital, Kevin is still in terrible pain and other than taking some blood to have a malaria test done, he’s not getting any further care. I ask the nurse to give him something for the terrible pain in his head and she gives him a butt shot of some sort of painkiller that does absolutely nothing. 20 minutes later, he’s still groaning and is also becoming agitated as he begins to feel like there’s something desperately wrong with him, and there’s no one at the hospital able to give him the care that he needs. Taking matters into my own hands, I flag down the attending physician and explain to him that 1) Kevin is in debilitating pain and 2) he is making it worse by freaking out cause he thinks he’s going to die, so could he please have some more drugs, and this time, perhaps ones that include a sedative as well? About an hour later, once the nurse is able to locate the key to the locked cabinet where the strong drugs are kept, Kevin finally gets the meds that he needs. His headache begins to feel manageable and evidently the sedative begins to work, as his whole body begins to tingle and he stops worrying aloud that something is “seriously, seriously wrong”. I begin to wonder if I could convince them to sedate me as well.

By this time, it’s nearly 5:00 in the evening, and we’re informed that Kevin’s malaria test has come back negative, but that they’d like to get him tested for Dengue fever, which they’re unable to do from the hospital. So, they take more blood and set about the process of getting it sent out for testing. Around 6:00 I go out to use the phone to call Scott and give him an update, but when I return, Kevin has been moved.

“He’s been admitted” I’m told by an orderly and he offers to take me to the “male ward” where Kevin is now laid up in a bed in close proximity to four fellows who are looking mighty sick and more than a little contagious. I soon learn that the doctor was unable to get the Dengue test sent out, so he’s suggesting that Kevin stay overnight so that they can take more blood and try and get him tested the following day. At this point though, Kevin is starting to feel human from all of the IV fluids and pain meds, and we decide that it may be more comfortable for him back on Cielo, rather than in the Petri dish that is the room in which he’s been located. I go outside to find out about transportation back to Placencia, only to find out that the last bus and plane left shortly after 5:00, and that we are in fact stuck in Dangriga until the following morning. Not cool at all.

It is at this point that I lose it, realizing that we have to spend the night in a place that provides no towels or toilet paper or tooth brushes—all things that I’d really like access to if I am going to be forced to sleep over. I call Scott to let him know that we won’t be able to make it home, when it occurs to me that if there’s anyone who can finagle a way to get us home that night, it’ll be Scott. I explain the problem and when I call him back 20 minutes later, he’s on his way with a cab driver who’s agreed to drive from Placencia to pick us up. I should also mention at this point that our decision to leave the hospital was based on the fact that 1) We’d already treated Kevin with a full course of malaria meds, so if that’s what it’d been, it was gone, or nearly so and 2) that if he had Dengue, there’s nothing that the hospital could do that we couldn’t since there isn’t a cure for it, and since for pain, they weren’t able to give him anything stronger than Tylenol in the main ward—we had stronger pain killers on board.

Scott arrives by 8:30 and Kevin is permitted to sign himself out of the hospital, though it’s clear that the nurses on duty think we should stay. I head to the front desk to find out how much we owe for his day at the hospital that included four IV bags, two pain injections, a set of X-rays and overall, very attentive care. I’m told that we don’t owe anything. Kind of makes bringing your own toilet paper not such a big deal.

Bumps Along the Road to Recovery

Kevin has been feeling much better now for about a week now, though he did suffer a short relapse of fever and hallucinations the night after we got back from the hospital. And after talking with my dad and with some folks from Guatemala who told us that Dengue was on the rise there, we’re pretty sure that’s what he had. We were finally able to leave Placencia and enjoy great sailing and snorkeling with Scott before he flew out last Monday and for the past few days, Kevin have been anchored off of Cay Caulker with flat calm water, internet access from the boat, and plenty to do ashore….which is a good thing after the calamity we experienced traveling up to Cay Caulker..but I’ll let Kevin give you the details in the next entry….

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Catching Up

This post was first drafted on our last day in the Rio Dulce area of Guatemala, more than 3 weeks ago. We didn't manage to get it posted before we left, so it is more than a little delayed. We've covered a lot of ground since then, some of it painful and all of it interesting, so hopefully the next two posts will get everyone caught up. Also, the pictures from the previous post are now posted to the "photos" section of the site....

Antigua, Guatemala

Until reaching Antigua, what we'd seen of Guatemala consisted of the slightly run down, hot and dusty towns of Flores and Fronteras, so we were pretty thrilled upon reaching Antigua. We'd heard it was a cool town, but weren't prepared for the cobbled streets, ethnic restaurants, bars, cafes, and general European feel to the city. Not to mention the mercifully cool weather. After the insane temperatures of Rio and Flores, the 50 degree nights of the Western Highlands of Guatemala felt like heaven!

Antigua is the original Capital city of Guatemala, and still would be were it not for the unfortunate geological fact of being surrounded by volcanoes. Apparently its forefathers weren't the most fore thinking, if you get our drift. While in Antigua we hiked the nearby Pacaya volcano, the most active volcano in Central America. The hike would have been easy, except I had been crippled by less-than-vigilant dietary habits over the previous few days. Nevertheless, I was motivated by the fact that Pacaya had experienced a significant eruption the night before, and fresh lava flows beckoned. Unfortunately, our group dawdled a bit too much on the way to the top, and the park rangers caught us from behind and prevented us from climbing to the very top. "Too dangerous", they claimed. Prudes. My dreams of poking my walking stick into molten lava dashed, we were forced to admire the lava flows from more than a 100 yards away while roasting marshmallows over the ground. Stand still in one spot too long and the ground would melt your shoes. It was like being miniature people in a large gas grill!

Back to School

After Antigua we headed to Xela, even higher up in the Western Highlands, for a week of language school. We chose Xela for its lack of English speakers, knowing it would force us to use nothing but Spanish. It was a nice idea, but how incredibly exhausting! We enjoyed 5 hours per day of one-on-one instruction, materials, three meals a day, and a home-stay with a local family for the grand total of $140 per person for the whole week. Hard to beat that kind of educational bargain. Of course, there were a few minor inconveniences, like the bathroom that lacked a light, and hot water! Still, it was an experience we wouldn't trade for anything.

While we were in Xela, Semana Santa (Holy Week) was in progress. The streets were completely shut down and filled with Alfombras (religious iconography painted on the street like a carpet with dyed sawdust) and parades reenacting the crucifixion of Jesus. For those of you who haven't been to Central America recently, Jesus is big there. It was quite a production.

After our week of language school, we decided to try to soothe our incessant stomach ailments with a trip to the hot sulfur springs of Fuentes Georginas. Wow are these puppies hot. The hottest jacuzzi on the planet is tepid bath water compared to these suckers! Of course, we had to share them with about 300 of our closest Guatemalan friends, all of whom decided to pee in the water judging by the infection I got in a cut on my toe. Still, it was a beautiful and refreshing experience.

Relaxing on Lake Atitlan

We capped off our inland Guatemala travels with a few days in beautiful lake Atitlan. We splurged on our nicest hotel experience in Guatemala (a whopping US$25/night), ate wonderful meals, enjoyed one of the coolest bars on the planet (Zoo La), and kayaked about the lake. Thinking we'd get soft if we didn't do something active, we decided to hike up the San Pedro volcano on Easter Day. Three hours to the top, we were told, a lovely hike with great views. Three hours my ass. Lizz and myself, relatively fresh off a half-marathon, were joined by two 6'2" Germans and a 6'4" Australian who had just run a 60 mile (yes, 60 MILE) race. We all nearly died. Turns out the 3 hour "hike" was over 3000 feet of vertical, damn near straight up, and all at altitude. It took us almost four hours to reach the top, and I think it cost me a lung. At one point Lizz asked that we leave her to die. I don't know who makes it in three hours, but I know everyone in our group would like to meet these people, and would love to know what planet they are from.

Back to the Rio, off to Belize

After a juanty 8 hour chicken bus ride we were back in balmy (searing) Rio Dulce. While we had a great time in Guatemala, we were both ecstatic to get back to white sand and clear water. Our new friends Warren and Tam joined us as we cleared out of Guatemala and headed up through the southern cays of Belize's barrier reef. We were on our way to Plancencia to meet my friend Scott, and we had absolutely no idea of the adventures that awaited us. Lizz will fill you in on those details shortly.....

posted by: Kevin

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Perfect Vacation

Guest Blog Author: Lee Boykoff

It has been several weeks since Lizz & Kevin last posted, so I figured now would be an appropriate time to share the highlights of our week on Cielo in early March.

After an unsuccesful attempt to meet-up with L&K in Martinique in March of '08, Petra and I used our credit on American Airlines to book a trip in March '09 from New York to Roatan, Honduras. Given that the Beach Boys failed to mention any of The Bay Islands in the 1988 classic "Kokomo," and that my skin complexion is one shade lighter than Conan O'Brien, you can imagine what a supreme expert I was on Carribbean geography before booking the trip. Despite my naivite, that voice inside my head still thought it was "too good to be true" when we scored round-trip tickets from New York to San Pedro Sula for $250 (including tax). Well, you get what you pay for- After a 12 hours journey that included 4 flights (New York > Miami > San Pedro Sula > La Ceiba > Roatan) and a dual engine prop plane from the early 70s that was literally held together by Duct tape, we finally arrived in tropical paradise. It wasn't until early the next morning when we saw a 747 landing on the island that we realized Continental Airlines offered weekly 4.5 hour non-stop service between Newark and Roatan. Oops.

With that minor inconvenience out of the way, every other aspect of our trip was amazing. Petra and I had never spent an extended period of time on a boat. Rather than detail the chronology of each major event on our trip, we'd like to share 10 insights with you about life on Cielo, in the Bay Islands, with two of our favorite people on the planet:

1. The Bay Islands are an absolutely phenomenal place to vacation. Of the roughly 420 million islands that Lizz and Kevin have visited over the previous two years, they ranked The Bay Islands at the very top of their list... in a tie with the frequently mentioned Dominica. Now at the time we were there, L&K had yet to experience the legendary chicken buses of Guatemala... so it's possible that their rankings have since changed.

What set the Bay Islands apart from other islands in the Caribbean? Well of course there were white sandy beaches, picteresque sunsets, crystal clear ocean water, tropical beverages and rooftop bars playing Bob Marley... but that's really standard in that part of the world. What's really unique about The Bay Islands is its offering of world-class scuba diving and snorkeling in a region that is undeveloped, uncrowded, unpretentious and in many ways still undiscovered. The locals (and even the tourists) are friendly and laid back, and the culture is an interesting blend of Carribbean, Latin and British. A truly perfect escape from New York City!

2. We ate like kings. While Kevin has retained his title of master fisherman and outdoor grilling champion, Lizz has evolved into a gourmet chef. Seriously! One big trip to the local supermarket with 2-3 visits to the fruit stand on the corner was all we needed to keep Cielo fully stocked. With Lizz as our culinary captain and Petra as sous chef, we devoured multi-course lunches and dinners all week long.

3. Kevin has now officially surpassed MacGyver as the most resourceful person/character on the planet. In only 7 days, he narrowly averted 4 different crises: (a) A fierce late-night wind storm dragged the fully anchored Cielo (and all of the boats around us) 50+ feet from our original position, causing Kevin to sprint out of bed, reposition, and re-anchor in total darkness at 2am, (b) I awoke one morning to what looked like a 5th grade science project gone awry. Our water maker had broke (was Cielo in labor?) and Kevin reconfigured the desalinator using a rubber band, some chewing gum, and a warped copy of Air Supply's Greatest Hits on vinyl (no one had listened to the album in the last 15 years anyway), (c) In Cayos Cochinos we were forced to anchor the boat to a mooring... that was 20 feet underwater with no line. Kevin dove down to the bottom of the ocean to secure Cielo and emerged 7 minutes later just as David Blaine had arrive to ensure that his world record for holding one's breath under water would be not be broken, (d) Most impressively, one of our anchor chain's got knotted and completely stuck in the pipe that feeds it from the interior of the bow to the top side of the boat. To get the knot out of the line, Kevin had to wedge himself through the 2'x2' hatch in the forward head to completely disassemble the piping. Of course several of the nuts and bolts had been stripped, so the process required kevin to pull out his blow torch, soldering iron, a jackhammer, two backhoes, and an excavator. When that failed, he used is bare hands... which after a few scrapes, cuts, bruises and four letter words did the trick.

4. After living in a one bedroom apartment in Manhattan, our week on Cielo actually felt spacious. With two cabins and two heads on the boat, there wasn't a single time in our 7 day trip in which Petra and I felt cramped. Amazing!

5. Honduras + Boat = Most affordable tropical vacation ever! We spent almost no money. While the Bay Islands are more developed than most places in the third world, mainland Honduras is very much a developing country. Accordingly, the U.S. dollar goes a long way when converted to Honduran Lempira. With no lodging expenses (thanks to Cielo), no car rental required (thanks to the dingy), food from the grocery store, and $1 beers at the local bars, we may have spent less money on our vacation than we would have at home in New York.

6. Lizz can speak Spanish. Who knew? Her enthusiasm and dedication for learning a new language were seriously impressive. I'll be writing a thank you note to Rosetta Stone shortly after I finish this post.

7. Despite insisting that she is less passionate about music than many of her friends, Lizz is seriously obsessed with the Piano Man. Don't believe me? Just ask about a certain video that is soon to appear on YouTube.

8. In a world in which climate change is spinning out of control, there is something truly gratifying about the autonomy and efficiency of sailing. Harnessing wind power to hop from island to island, solar power to charge our electronics, a fishing rod and a water maker to provide our sustenance, and a snorkel mask and fins to fuel our entertainment, we dramatically reduced our impact on the planet. Wicked cool.

9. Cayos Cochinos is one of the most beautiful places on earth. With out our own boat, we never would have had the opportunity to explore this collection of islands south of Roatan. This was far and away the highlight of our trip. If you have not had the chance, I highly recommend checking out our photos.

10. Lizz and Kevin are two of the warmest and most generous people we know. We felt honored to have had the opportunity to share a week with them on Cielo in Honduras, and are looking forward to see everyone at their wedding this Fall!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Inland Travel

Note: Kevin and I are now on the second leg our our inland travel and will be away from the boat for the next two weeks or so, and someone left on the boat the cord that allows us to get pictures off our camara and onto the blog...and I'm not naming names, but it was Kevin...of course, someone else agreed to pack Kevin's bag and forgot the shoes he'd wanted...and I'm not naming names, but it was me....So, this means that our blogs won't have pictures until we get back to Cielo and when we do post our pics, Kevin's shoes won't match the rest of his outfits...but I'm sure, dear reader, you'll find it in your hearts to forgive us on both counts...

Because we've mostly been visiting islands, it hasn't really been necessary for Kevin and I to do much inland travel. However, since there are so many amazing sites scattered throughout Guatemala, we've decided to spend most of our time here off the boat, exploring the country by bus, and basically living as backpackers. Though our first three day inland trek to Flores and the ruins of Tikal was pretty fantastic, I was reminded why it's been such a luxury to date to travel in a way that has allowed us to make our own schedule, eat food from our own fridge and sleep in our own bed.

Sardine Buses

Guatemala travel guides wax poetic about the experience of taking the "chicken buses", which is the mode of transport used by locals to get around the country. The buses were so named because in decades past, riders would often share their seats with just about anything that could be crammed onto the buses, including, you guessed it, chickens. Our Lonely Planet gushes that these buses will, "leave you with some of your most vivid memories of the country." Sounds kinda romantic, and like a do-not-miss, right? Not so much. In fact, after having ridden a "chicken bus" for a total of nine hours between Rio Dulce and Flores, I humbly submit my suggested edits to the Lonely Planet section on bus travel...

"Traveling via chicken bus in Guatemala will expose you to how locals here are forced to travel. Inside these buses it is hot, (and by hot, I mean, add 15 degrees to the warmest you've ever felt waiting in a NYC subway station in August), there are no toilets and people are packed in like sardines, with four in a seat meant for two, and aisles crammed with the poor folks who got on too late to snag a seat. The buses themselves are old and rickety and probably wouldn't have passed US safety standards when they were 15 years younger."

That said, the prices are exceedingly cheap, and if none of these things bothers you too much, it's not a bad way to go...assuming you can grab a seat, don't have to pee, and aren't concerned about whether you live or die.

And we thought it was hot on the bus...

The town of Flores is where most people stay in order to visit the Mayan ruins of Tikal. Though one can stay in Tikal itself, the hotel rooms there are considerably more expensive and since we'd heard Flores was charming, we decided we'd give it a try. Once dropped off, we found a serviceable budget hotel towards the center of town for $12/night and a great late lunch spot where we enjoyed chicken, rice, tortillas, and several margaritas. All was well, except for the fact that it was approximately 100 million degrees when we arrived and cooled off only to about 99 million degrees by the time we were ready to go to bed. Evidently, April-May are the hottest months of the year in Guatemala and things tend to get pretty unbearable starting in late March...who knew? Obviously, there is no air conditioning at a $12/night hotel, so we basically passed the night lying awake and sweating, getting up occasionally to re-wet the towels we'd draped across ourselves in a lame attempt to stay cool.


The next morning at 4:00 a.m. when we awoke to catch the shuttle to Tikal, it was mercifully much cooler, and seeing the fantastic Mayan ruins nestled in the jungle made the prior day's bus ride and long night at the hotel absolutely worth it. We arrived at the park just as it opened at 6 a.m. and were thrilled to see that we pretty much had the place to ourselves--in terms of humans anyway. We were definitely not alone in terms of animals as evidenced by the cacophony of bird songs that were punctuated at intervals by what sounded like the roaring of lions. Kevin and I had been told that the howler monkeys that inhabit the park make an unmistakable yell, but even so, I wasn't prepared for just how loud and ferocious they sounded. We have pictures of the monkeys and the ruins that we'll share once we're back at the boat, and I'll hold off on writing more about the experience until I can provide some visuals of the absolutely amazing things we saw.

By noon, we'd gotten to see of the major ruins at Tikal, and since it was starting to become unbearably hot, decided to head back to Flores and spend the rest of the afternoon catching up on our reading while enjoying the delicious licuados (fruit shakes made with fresh fruit and either milk or water) that are sold in just about every restaurant all over Guatemala. The rest of our time in Flores was uneventful, and our bus ride home, much better than on the way up, since we were able to get seats and the weather had cooled a bit by Monday morning when we left. All in all, a pretty great trip...except for the one souvenir I hadn't planned on bringing back.

And then there's the Revenge

So...remember that licuado I just wrote about...well, I ordered mine with water and Kevin got his with milk and I forgot to ask that it was "water purificada". Most restaurants, especially those in tourist areas do this automatically, but evidently not so at the one we visited the night before we left Flores. I will spare you the details on what happened to me on Monday evening, but merely mention that it was incredibly unpleasant and that I have yet to shake it pun intended.

Posted by: Lizz

Friday, March 27, 2009

Welcome to the Jungle

Lord in heaven it is hot here. Two days ago we arrived in Rio Dulce (town), Guatemala, 22 miles up the Rio Dulce (river) and we were greeted by staggering heat and blistering sun. Sun so hot you couldn't walk on the deck without scorching your feet, and so strong I burned with SPF 50 sunblock on. Heat aside, this is already proving to be a wonderful and fascinating place.

Tunny Tim & Other Critters

We've had lots of quality time with quite a wide variety of wildlife of late. Before leaving Utila, we stopped at one of the coolest bars on the planet - Treetanic at the Jade Seahorse. Treetanic is really cool except for one really creepy bit - gigantic spiders, everywhere. Our last meal in Utila we shared a restaurant with what appeared to be large nocturnal hummingbirds...until we snapped a picture and took a closer look! Yikes. In just the time we ate dinner they emptied half of the hummingbird feeder. En route from Utila to Puerto Escondido on the Honduran mainland we caught a (tiny) Little Tunny. He may have been only 3 lbs but tuna is tuna. Nothing really strange about him, but he did make a tasty ceviche!

Clearing in

When we arrived in Livingston, Guatemala at the mouth of the Rio Dulce, we were promptly greeted by a very professional boarding party of no less than 6 officials. The Port Captain, his assistant, an Immigration official, a surgeon, and two other people (we still have no idea what they do). It was the first time in almost 2 years and 15 countries that we have been boarded. The boarding didn't make us special here, though - every boat gets the same treatment. Everyone was polite, professional, did their respective jobs, and no one even hinted at a "propina" (tip or bribe). Unfortunately it was also the most expensive clearance we've obtained - it cost us about US$130. But this is a poor country, and they really seem to be using the money rather than lining beaurocrats pockets with it, so we don't mind.

Up the River

After obtaining our clearance and getting our passports stamped, off we went up the river. The Rio Dulce winds through 300 ft high sheer cliffs, with dense jungle clinging to the sides. This spectacular section of river leads to El Golfete, a 10 mile long lake on which we enjoyed a lovely spinnaker sail. At the head of El Golfete is another short stretch of river that leads to Lago Izabal, a large fresh water lake. It is on this short stretch of river that the town of Rio Dulce sits, along with Tortugal, the marina which will be Cielo's home for the next month.

Castillo de San Felipe

Guarding the entrance to Lago Izabel is the near perfectly preserved Castillo de San Felipe. It was built in the early 17th century by the Spanish to stop the British from continuing to attack and raid targets further upstream and along Lago Izabal. How the British managed to get war ships 22 miles up that river, through deep winding canyons and against the current, I do not understand. But apparently they did it, and did it well.

Tomorrow we head to Flores and the ruins at Tikal. We'll be taking one of the infamous "chicken" buses, so I'm sure we'll have some great stories for you next time.

Posted by: Kevin

Monday, March 16, 2009

Bay Islands

We've now been in the Bay Islands of Honduras for exactly a month. We can't say enough good things about the Bay Islands, and we've really enjoyed our time here. Our good friends Lee & Petra (look for a guest blog from them shortly) joined us for a week on Roatan. After they left, we headed over to the island of Utila, where we have spent the past 10 days.

Cayos Cuchinos

While Lee & Petra were here, we took a short trip to Cayos Cuchinos, a small group of Cays about 20 miles SSW of Roatan. The absolutely stunning islands are home to a settlement of Garifuna Indians, one of Honduras' indigenous peoples. The settlement is home to about 80 people whose lives, in many ways, can't be much different than they were 300 years ago. The 80 friendly, warm people live and act as one large family. Unfortunatly, while we were there the island was also occupied by a scouting crew for the TV show "Survivor". Honestly people, go away. Does anyone still watch that show? Really?

The only thing that marred the trip to the Cuchinos were the M-16 toting guards of the marine park that insisted that we could not anchor and that we must tie up to the "mooring" they directed us to. Unfortunatly, the "mooring" was an old piece of shop equipment that had been dropped in the water and had a badly chafed line tied to it. Yikes! Not to worry, they said, they had another! So we motored over to the other "mooring", only to find empty water. "Where was the pennant?", we asked. "Se fue", was the response. What do you mean, "It went"!?! It went where, and what do you expect us to tie to? Well, we soon had our answer...they expected me to dive down and retrieve their mooring. An hour of chain and line untangling later, we managed to attach ourselves to a mooring, one which I felt reasonably certain would keep us off the rocks if a squall blew through.

Montado a Caballo

We spent the better part of a week in West End, Roatan, a lovely little town on the western tip of the long island of Roatan. Fabulous & inexpensive food, beautiful beaches, and great snorkeling right off the boat, all protected by a fringing reef. We took advantage of Roatan's great prices and went horseback riding one morning. The previous day we had stopped in at a small hotel off the beach that had advertised horseback riding. We had arranged with the owner/manager to ride at 7am the next morning. When we arrived the next morning however, he was nowhere to be found. We figured it may have slipped his mind, what with all the marijuana he was smoking when we had talked to him the day before. So we wandered on up the hillside looking for him, past some of the islands small deer, and finally found our guide and horses. Neither our guide nor our horses, Chile and Principe, spoke any English, but no one seemed to care. Off we went into the hillside, through dense forest and steep slopes. Our horses were small but sure-footed (thankfully!), and they even stood their ground when we had a face-off with some bulls and cows we encountered along narrow path. Then down to the shoreline we went, cantering down the beach and through the water! We were both so sore the next day, but it was worth every minute.

Scuba Dooby-Doo

We left Roatan and sailed another 22 miles to the island of Utila, the westernmost of the Bay Islands. We came to see the island, but the primary reason for the stop was to become certified Scuba divers. The island has a reputation for having great Scuba courses at rock-bottom prices, and it didn't disappoint. We really enjoyed the folks at Utila Water Sports - great people and they really took care of us. Lizz and I had a class with just the two of us, and after almost two weeks on the island we've done ten dives all over the island, including an additional dive on a wreck to certify us to 100 ft depths.

We've had so much fun here and have really enjoyed the Bay Islands, but it is time to move on. Tomorrow morning we leave the island of Utila to head for Rio Dulce, Guatemala. We'll make a few stops on the Honduran mainland along the way. Once in Guatemala we'll be spending most of our time off the boat, with inland trips planned in addition to a week-long stay at a Spanish school.

Posted by: Kevin

Monday, March 2, 2009

Hello, Honduras

A week ago we arrived in Roatan, Honduras. Roatan is one of the Bay Islands, a wonderful and beautiful little group of islands about 30 miles north of the Honduran mainland. We had a glorious and uneventful four day passage from Key West. Within a day of arriving, the Bay Islands were already at the top of our list of places we've sailed - they are less crowded, less polluted, less expensive, and have friendlier people and a closer knit cruiser community than anywhere in the eastern Caribbean. In short, we love it here.

A Quick Trip and a Big Fish

We left Key West early on a Thursday morning with a very light southerly wind and headed due west. Our forecast called for the light southerly to clock around to the west and then northwest and build to 20-25 knots. As soon as we got our west wind, we took a left turn and headed straight for Havana, Cuba, 90 miles to the south. We had great weather for getting across the Gulf Stream, and moved through it quickly. The sun was setting and Cuba was rising on the horizon, and just as I was about to pull the fishing lines in for the night the large reel started screaming as something took our bait and sounded for the deep. We were thrilled to have a fish on, especially since we'd lost a decent sized Wahoo earlier in the day, but the timing wasn't good. The seas were kicking up, it was getting dark, and that meant I'd be trying to clean a fish on deck in the dark on a rolling boat. Lizz and I are pretty well practiced at this by now, and 30 minutes of well-executed fighting later we brought a 4 foot long bull Mahi Mahi along side. We hefted his 50+ pounds aboard and got to work cleaning him. We're still enjoying the best Mahi I've ever had!


Once we were 2 miles off of Cuba, we turned west and paralleled the coast and fringing reef. I was surprised at how rugged and undeveloped the Cuban country is. I suppose it makes sense, it just seemed odd. Here we were sailing along, a stone's throw from a country we knew little about and were technically legally prohibited from visiting. We had done our research beforehand regarding current, and our plan worked out well. By following the Cuban coast closely we had positive current of 1 knot or so all along the coast, and then by turning SE after rounding the western tip of Cuba we kept that 1 knot of current for another 75 miles. What is generally an uphill swim for cruisers heading our direction turned out to be a lovely sail with additional help from the current.

Roatan & Friends

We were first welcomed to Roatan by about 3 dozen dolphins playing and frolicking in our bow wave as Roatan and Guanaja rose above the horizon on Monday morning. We experienced the forecasted squalls but they weren't severe. About 200 miles earlier we had realized that due to a mix-up we didn't have paper charts for Roatan, and our digital charts didn't have much detail. We were trying to pick our way through a reef into an anchorage. We could see the boats, but we couldn't figure out how they got in there. Roatan rises sheer from the ocean floor - 300 feet from shore it is still 600 feet deep - not good for trying to pick your way through a reef in poor light. On our third try we were welcomed again, this time by a friendly cruiser named David. Instead of just telling us how to get through the reef he hopped aboard and guided us through himself! It turns out David is the norm and not the exception - everyone we've met from cruisers to locals are invariably warm, friendly, and happy. The snorkeling is fantastic, the water clear and beautiful, the pace is laid back, cold beer is $1, a cab ride across the island is $3, there is a well stocked grocery, and the weather is beautiful. Hard to imagine a more wonderful place!

Lovely Days

Our good friends Lee and Petra are here with us for a week. Tomorrow we'll sail down to Cayos Cuchillos, a handful of small cays 20 miles south of here. We'll snorkle, hike, relax and report back as soon as we can.