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Basura

Published on March 2, 2013 by in Paradise

Basura aka garbage is scattered throughout Paradise. What is it about people everywhere that allows them to live amidst their garbage. One can’t blame all the garbage on the Kunas, after all this is the westernmost part of the Caribbean and due to the ever-present easterly tradewinds is the recipient of all the crap that floats from east to west.

But even in their own villages, where you can see a level of tidiness, garbage lies here and there and looks like it has for a long time. It’s a problem, no doubt, for them because where do they put the garbage even if they did collect it all? They live on islands. Their young generation must be affected, lulled into a state of oblivion growing up watching no one pick up the garbage.

It’s probably totally unfair to think every one doesn’t care about their garbage for if that was the case the place would be waist high in it and the smells would be unbearable. But with just a little more effort their paradise here in the San Blas islands could be immaculate.

I propose that if the Kuna elders, or better said the Kuna leaders young and old, declare two weeks each year, one week every six months, a national pride week where every one makes a coordinated effort on every island to collect and properly dispose of the garbage. Make it an event, a celebration of the beauty that is all around them. And get us tourists, the cruising sailing community, to pitch-in, literally. I think all would be surprised how much help would rise to the occasion.

And a sense of pride would shine brighter than it all ready does here.

 
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How many days can a man take in Paradise?

Published on February 26, 2013 by in Paradise

How many days can a man take in paradise? I don’t know; let me count the days. To me part of the being in paradise is absence of money or at least where money goes so far that it will last forever. When I can’t find that in the places I visit, the word Paradise is off the table for a descriptor.

I can remember my first trip to Puerto Vallarta back in the 80s. Leaving the old Buenaventura Hotel one could walk a few blocks into the barrio and buy a fresh orange juice squeezed in front of you for a couple pesos then walk a little more and sit down at an open air joint, enjoy too cold cervezas, a bowl of frijoles de hoy and a stack of tortillas for the equivalent of $2. Now that’s paradise. Of course the streets of PV don’t qualify but enjoying your hard earned dollar go so far is a wonderful feeling. In all my INNcredible journey that feeling has eluded me everywhere we’ve been. No matter what currency you’re counting in, food costs are very much the same with few exceptions.

Well yesterday, here in the San Blas islands, more precisely in the Holandes Cays, where all the criteria for paradise on a beauty and weather level are met, finally I got that wonderful feeling of money paradise.  First a Kuna fisherman comes to our boat in his dugout and offers some fish. I pick out four nice yellow jacks and offer $5, he takes $7. Then we dinghy into the adjacent island where three families live in their grass huts. The ladies buy a couple molas. But I notice quite a stash of conch in this other Kuna’s dugout. I ask to buy 4 large conch and watch him wield his machete and pull these globs out of the shells as if it were easy but couldn’t hide the snotty  mess however. My mind quickly fast forwarded to how I was going to prepare these globs of conch and so I asked for two coconuts. He obliged and wacked away with a few swipes of his machete and there they were. When I asked how much?, the old man motioned to the matriarch, all dressed and adorned in Kuna women’s wear, for the answer. I braced myself for a shellacing. But to my pleasant surprise the grand total for the four conch and two coconuts was $6. Immediately I felt blissfully calm and totally happy that paradise really does exist if not just for the moment here in the Kuna Yala.

Those four yellow jacks fed 6 of us for dinner and today the coconut breaded conch fritters will feed the 6 of us again. If this keeps up one could stay here for a long time, certainly another criteria for the word Paradise

 

 
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A world of dugout canoes and colorful people

Published on February 24, 2013 by in Paradise

Paradise!? That’s a strong word that certainly is up for interpretation and a host of varying criteria but here we are in the island nation of the Kuna Yala where scattered throughout this reef-strewn crystal clear water in many shades of blue are coconut palm studded sandy islands inhabited by in village form or just a couple families or uninhabited. For many these islands are the visual form of paradise and to look at the amenities that are so basic to us but so lacking here most Americans would say no thank you to life on these islands in paradise.

But to visit them by sailboat and look in on a way of life that has changed little for hundreds of years is an adventure in itself. The scenery is gorgeous, the water is 85 degrees, the sun is strong as well as the wind. The Kunas are the second shortest people on earth next to the Pygmies. The Kuna women dress colorfully and adorn their legs, arms and faces. This is a matriarchal society and the husband moves into the woman’s family hut with multiple generations all living under one grass roof, dirt floor and no windows because the breeze has no problem finding its way through the grass walls. Cozy, real cozy.

Men and sometimes women and sometimes the whole family show up in dugouts selling lobsters, and the handicrafts like their famous molas. But there is no ice, no cold beer, not fruits and vegetables, if you’re coming to visit you’d better bring your own everything. And I always travel with candy for the ninos because I cannot step onto any island without the cry of Santa Claus or Papa Noel and all the children waiting with expectations of something. Sugar, something sweet and treat-like is the universal token offering – hundreds of lollipops, gummibears and the like. Chocolate melts in your hand here.

What an experience, what a treat for me to swim in this beautiful water and see this culture but even paradise has its issues. But for the moment just close your eyes and think of a tropical paradise and that’s where we are right now.

 
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Colombia

Leaving Aruba at dusk sailing into the night heading toward and along the north coast of Colombia, we ran with the wind but the swell was a bit off to our side making for a rock and roll ride. But as dawn awaken the misty images of layer upon layer of mountains ran right down to the shoreline. This coast was uninhabited for the most part or at least uninhabited from a visual sense. I did see a village of thatch roofs tucked into a deep protected bay off in the distance. Rounding the point aka Cabo to Santa Marta was rough and majestic with the winds howling in full force.

Santa Marta is Colombia’s oldest city and has Colombia’s oldest church, the Catherdral Basilica. The Friendship park was quite a find bustling on a Saturday night with folks everywhere, outdoor cakes, restaurants, street food vendors and a totall tree shaded park in amongst the old narrow streets and three story plastered buildings. As much as we would have liked to stay longer in Santa Marta and onward to Cartagena, weather was predicted to increase both winds to 40+ and swells to over 3 meters within 2 days. So Sunday morning we set sail for the San Blas Islands, a 400 mile run through Colombia’s notorious wild windy coast then onwards in open seas crossing the Caribbean. Flying at 7-10 knots we hit 16 knots surfing waves. Each day waves built to the 3 meters predicted but we had got out and ahead of the worst.

Excitement came with an acrobatic pod of dolphins that jump 10+ feet out of 3 meter swells all around us as they passed by – the highest most exciting dolphin show on earth right here in the middle of the open Caribbean sea.

That wonderful sound ZZZZIIINNNGGGGG! went off several times and after two lost fish we finally landed a 30′ Wahoo who ran out our line a football fields length before Andrew could begin the fight to reel it in. Wahoo for dinner last night and guess what’s for dinner tonight too. Delicious!!!

After 49 serious sailing hours I brought the INNcredible in as dawn made way through the darkness so we could negotiate the reef lined San Blas Islands. And we made it and are now at anchor off Isla Provenir.

 
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Curacao

First impression sailing into Curacao was rather bleak but captivating nonetheless. Upon closer inspection the spartan landscapes began to show its complexity and unique combination of contradictions. Volcanic layers of welded ash, lava flows folded by plate tectonics with broken synclines and anticlines pushed skyward and eroded into eclectic forms. Cloak these forms with a vegetation not expected in the Caribbean with pillar cactus, barrel cactus, Spanish swords aka agave, acacia like tree/shrubs with mangroves right at the waters edge. We anchored for almost a week in a secluded anchorage inside what is known as Spanish Waters and got to see and experience this unique environment live and up close both day and night. Unforgettable is the best word to wrap up my feeling for Curacao.

Of course there is Willamsted with its colorful buildings lining the malecon and the  giant cruise liners that dwarf the city skyline, the swinging pontoon bridge, the fish mongers and produce vendors and of course tons of ‘brand name’ stores for shoppers to do what they do everywhere – shop.

On our exit last night we actually motored into the main harbor opening the pontoon bridge past a monster cruise ship to dock at Immigration and then back through the swinging bridge past all the folks lined up on both sides waiting and watching for us to pass and the bridge swung back so they could walk to the other side.

Off into the sunset, we set sail for Aruba some 75 miles to the west and with the wind just off our backs we arrived before my more conservative plan at 3:30 am and had to tie up and dock and sleep for a couple hours until customs opened at 6am.

Andrew and I did sneak in two dives off the reefed coast of Curacao, gorgeously clear waters lots of colorful sponges, corals and reef fish. The highlight, especially for Andrew was in the last minutes of the last dive a Giant Manta gracefully swims by along the reef’s edge. I captured some good footage close up of a spotted Moray eel.

 
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Bonaire – so many dives, so little time

That’s the tourist bureau’s slogan for Bonaire on their Dive Guide. Known for its shore dives where divers rent pickup trucks and tanks and drive to marked spots, suit up and just walk in from the shore and eventually slip under the  water and drop over the nearby sloping reef wall that runs along most of the island, I so far have all boat dives under my belt here. I will fit in a shore dive or two before we depart for the next island Curacao. Boat dives take you where fewer go and today’s east coast dives where very few go.

The effort takes more planning and experienced divemasters but the rewards are untouchable. The east coast of Bonaire faces the open ocean, the Caribbean which is wide open to the Atlantic so there’s swells and currents and sometimes more turbidity. But today we were treated to turtles large and larger, swimming, eating and sleeping, a green moray eel the length of two yard sticks, a nurse shark, barracuda not to mention all sorts of other less celebrity but nonetheless beautiful and interesting fish. Saw so many turtles that we were always looking one way or another at one, sometimes two at once. Also experienced harvesting the dreaded lionfish with three hunters along with us, they speared every one of these voracious out-of-town reef predators they saw and eventually cleaned them and will eat them for dinner. There is a concerted effort here to eradicate if possible the lionfish. And Bonaire’s reefs are really all about the corals, fans, sponges in amazing vivid colors. I hope my go pro captured some of the great moments of close encounters with our neighbors below the ocean’s surface.

I’m sure there is nightlife here but after a day of diving, it’s hard not to just fall below the sheets and hit the pillow.

 
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Aves de Barlovento

Anchored on the edge of the mangroves just beckoned for some exploration with the dinghy penetrating the waterways within the mangroves. And so Andrew and I set out this morning in this uninhabited/able mass of mangrove trees, birds, sand and muck, beautiful don’t get me wrong. We knew it would be shallow but outside this landless forest in the aqua blue calm ocean water were turtles swimming around going about there morning munchies. Once inside the passageways of the mangroves we meandered into shallows where we abandoned our motor, tilted it up and use our oars like canoe paddles and quietly proceeded. Hundreds of birds, thousands if I really started a count, flying all about, roosting, nesting, some with fuzzy chicks and I’m ashamed I can’t tell you what kind of birds. Then there was the unmistakable pelicans dive-bombing about and raising there gullets to slide another one down as if they were toasting – cheers. Around a corner there it was – PINK, long legs, really long neck curved at the top with a big beak – a pink flamingo, that icon at the entrance of so many zoos. There was only one pink one and we just watched, I filmed, patiently waiting for flight without causing it. Got it and I wish I could share it with you but the SAT phone doesn’t carry such megabytes for less than megabucks, so when I get home or should I say back because I feel quite home her on the INNcredible Sea Lodge I’ll share that footage of a pink flamingo in the wild.

Before rowing back out of the mangroves back to the boat, we beached it on a stretch of sand. Andrew went for a walk and came back with three conch, freshly picked from the waters in between some mangrove trees. We’ll be exploring the culinary possibilities of conch soon.

Back on board it was time to pull up chain and anchor and head off to the next fantasy island Aves de Sotavento some 20  miles west. And that meant it was time for the fat lady PUFF to get all poofed out.

 
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Gullible travels

Can you imagine if you lived on a very remote hidden island within a tribe isolated from the rest of the world most of your life? The village shaman would be busy diddling around everyday as the other men were hard at work hacking away at their tree trunks making their dugout boats as would be the women collecting the edibles, preparing them, etc. For almost a lifetime the hardworkers put up with the shenanigans of the shaman after all it is their tradition. But they had to wonder about what this shamanism was all about.

Then one day, one bright sunny morning, far out across the sea appears a tall bright golden billowing cloth with red radiating from its three corners and this brilliance riding in upon a pure white chariot of sorts cutting through the seas. The shaman takes everything as a sign but this was big, this was something and he wasn’t going to miss this opportunity to show his stuff. The shaman declares an arrival, a coming, a fulfilling of the ancestors prophecy and rallies all villagers to come to the beach, to witness the spectacle, to partake in the fulfillment of prophecy. The sweaty men chipping away say ‘oh what the hell, let’s take a break’, the women are more supportive of the shaman and the children run with excitement down to the sand,

Meanwhile on the boat I’m daydreaming looking at the backside of PUFF and admiring her brilliance and wondering what if we came upon an island and they saw this magnificence coming toward them. And this magnificence had some significance that propelled the village into action. Upon our arrival would the white bearded man behind the curtain (PUFF) be fulfilling enough? What would they expect me to do or be? What did I have to offer? Well, I had some leftovers from Christmas when I was Santa in the fishing village of Anse le Raye. Actually I have about 200 lollipops, 30 packets of gummy bears and some other gummy fruits. Would this be enough? And what about after they suck the life out of those pops?

I could pull up anchor in the cloak of darkness that night and mysteriously vanish. But what if this  was just a rerun of a story passed down through the ages about when men showed up in big sailing ships arriving in fanfare and with treats but then proceeded to enslave them, rape them their women and their lands and eventually almost kill them off with their diseases? Maybe they already have a fire started with a big pot to boil and we’re headed for the pot. Oh my god, I looked up and there it was that island in the middle of nowhere but the sea. And on the shore awaits a small crowd of underdressed men, women and children. I’m in my shorts and a T-shirt. Should I change into something more exciting, more colorful, more inspiring? Naah, remember I got lollipops.

 
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Meet the fat lady Puff

Finding respite after 50 hours of sailing in a little sandspit within the Los Roques archipelago in the distant coastal waters of Venezuela, Andrew and I enjoy a good bottle of Cartuxa Portuguese wine, a pot of Colcannon and a movie. Mind you all this is at anchor with little or no shelter from the wind and swell but we woke refreshed after a good night’s sleep and set sail for the next of Venezuela’s islands, the Aves.

To sail the 55 miles we needed enough speed over ground to go those 55 miles within daylight. It’s always smart to find your next place of anchor with good light especially out here in the land of reef and sandbars, mangroves and coral heads. The wind was DDW (dead down wind aka at our backs) calling for a spinnaker. We just flew our spinnaker for the first time ever the day before so we were eager and confident to fly her again. Up she went with slight modifications from the day before and how beautiful she is, flying high, all puffed out, brilliant yellow-gold with three corners radiating red and in the morning sun – magnificent. If the apparent wind was 8, our speed was nearly 6; if the wind freshened to 10, our speed was popping 7.  That’s 40 tons moving through the sea powered by a 50 foot by 25 foot of fine cloth – that’s what is amazing to see and feel. Like our Gennaker “Big Blue”, our now out-of-the-bag new spinnaker needs a name. As I sit admiring her all sorts of possibilities pass through my brain and I’m sure more will come but one keeps coming around and for now I’m settling on “Puff”. Later today as we doused the spinnaker, just before a squall, and we both were stuffing this big sail in its bag, actually cramming it, through the large hatch into the sail locker, Andrew said we should call it the “Fat Lady” because it made him think of stuffing a fat lady into a small dress.

Well, that fat lady Puff gave INNcredible head for 45 nauti miles today and we thank her kindly.

Now we lay at anchor, nicely tucked in on the lee side of a long spit of sand and mangroves stuffed with roosting birds within the Aves Barlovento.

Lest I not forget, today started off with a zzziiiinng, actually two zings, shortly after we set sail early this morning. And the first line was flying out faster than we could begin to reel. And just as I got that line at a stand off, the other line set off a running. Andrew jumped on that and started reeling in furiously. Andrew’s line was 50 lb. test and mine only 20 and with the bigger fish still not giving me any chance of bringing it in. As Andrew’s big fish was approaching the boat, the dilemma came with both of our hands full reeling in who was going to get the net to bring in the fish. I walked over holding my rod in total tension, making no progress but not loosing any more line, so I could at least hold the other rod while Andrew got the net. By this time the big fish was at the back of the boat and it was really big. It wouldn’t even come close to fitting in the net, this barracuda was 3-4 feet long and mad. Andrew darted to get the gaff. Down on the lowest step of the transom Andrew took a swing with the gaff but it bounced off and the fish went wild. “Gaff it hard or lose it”, I said; so he whacked it good and yanked it on board and threw it on the beautiful teak sole (floor). I gave him my rod in hopes that he might bring this monster of a fish on while I tended to the blood bath and the 3+ foot heavy mean-looking and wiggling mad barracuda. How I managed to subdue Boris the barracuda I will spare you the details but Andrew looked over several times and looked away just as quick as I wielded my machete to address the moment. After all the excitement passed, the scene of the surgery washed down, we enjoyed coconut/panko breaded Barracuda burgers with Andrew’s secret sauce and all the trimmings. The other bigger half of the fillets went into the freezer. My neighbor Tom, who offered me much fishing advice and lent me some of his personal gear, would be proud of us – thank you Tom.

 
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PINK, what can I say I saw it and it was PINK.

Anchored on the edge of the mangroves just beckoned for some exploration with the dinghy penetrating the waterways within the mangroves. And so Andrew and I set out this morning in this uninhabited/able mass of mangrove trees, birds, sand and muck, beautiful don’t get me wrong. We knew it would be shallow but outside this landless forest in the aqua blue calm ocean water were turtles swimming around going about there morning munchies. Once inside the passageways of the mangroves we meandered into shallows where we abandoned our motor, tilted it up and use our oars like canoe paddles and quietly proceeded. Hundreds of birds, thousands if I really started a count, flying all about, roosting, nesting, some with fuzzy chicks and I’m ashamed I can’t tell you what kind of birds. Then there was the unmistakable pelicans dive-bombing about and raising there gullets to slide another one down as if they were toasting – cheers. Around a corner there it was – PINK, long legs, really long neck curved at the top with a big beak – a pink flamingo, that icon at the entrance of so many zoos. There was only one pink one and we just watched, I filmed, patiently waiting for flight without causing it. Got it and I wish I could share it with you but the SAT phone doesn’t carry such megabytes for less than megabucks, so when I get home or should I say back because I feel quite home her on the INNcredible Sea Lodge I’ll share that footage of a pink flamingo in the wild.

Before rowing back out of the mangroves back to the boat, we beached it on a stretch of sand. Andrew went for a walk and came back with three conch, freshly picked from the waters in between some mangrove trees. We’ll be exploring the culinary possibilities of conch soon.

Back on board it was time to pull up chain and anchor and head off to the next fantasy island Aves de Sotavento some 20  miles west. And that meant it was time for the fat lady PUFF to get all poofed out and take us for a ride.

 
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