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.