Getting to Know Huatulco

Marina Chahue
Huatulco, Mexico

It’s been an interesting week getting to know the marina, the neighbors, the town of La Crucecita, and the reasons for Mexico’s reputation as the “land of mañana,”

Marina Chahue has limited cruiser amenities, lots of surge, and a staff who, though friendly, have limited facility with English. Patricia in the office has been most helpful, understanding my poor Spanish and responding with her equivalent English. I think we’ll get along fine. Our challenge is in securing Emma Jo in the slip, fendering her against the almost constant surge, and making sure we have enough lines out. Many of the boats here seem to stretch their lines across adjacent slips to dampen the movement, and when our delightful neighbors have gone, we’ll do the same. We’re about a mile or so from town, so weather permitting we can walk to grocery stores, restaurants, and beaches.

Companera Leaving Huatulco

The next door neighbors left this morning. Doug and Jill, aboard Compañera from Cordova, Alaska, are some of the kindest, most interesting folks we’ve met so far. They are rowers, with a Capital R, having rowed the Inside Passage from Seattle to Skagway, Alaska’s North Slope, the coast of Labrador, from Gothenburg, Sweden to Kirkeness in Norway, and completely around Spitsbergen. Jill’s book, Rowing to Latitudes, we will wholeheartedly plug for the ripping good stories it contains and the demonstration of will and skill the two of them embody. Both of them are also world-renowned avalanche experts, and ran their own consulting firm out of Anchorage for many years. Jill has also written about their avalanche adventures in Snowstruck (also a ripping good read). Their boat, Compañera, is a one-of-a-kind Halifax trawler built for heavy weather, and they’re on a journey to Chile. We spent a few evenings together this week, exploring La Crucecita for dinner and sitting on the fly bridge in the cool of the evening. After just a few days, we felt like we’ve known them all our lives. We’ll miss them!

We Welcome Our Dear Tourists

La Crucecita, the main town of the Bays of Huatulco, is lovely, well-organized, and secure. There is a lot of development and investment ongoing here, with hotels, resorts, condominiums and the like sprouting up almost monthly. The town is laid back, and contains the best grocery store we’ve had since we left Florida…as well as ice cream shops, espresso bars, and shops. They even have a sign on the main square: (Click to enlarge)

There are several beaches in the neighborhood, with opportunities to dive and snorkel as well as just sit around in the shade with a Pacifico or a Corona. I think I’ll be fine here on my own, the challenge being NOT to put on weight while Ole’s gone!

And as for the “land of mañana” reputation: I’ve spent the better part of the week trying to hunt down a wireless modem for the computer. While there is free wi-fi at the marina, the signal doesn’t reach our slip and seems to disappear at night when the staff turns out the lights.

All cruiser advice is for us to purchase a “stick” from TelCel that enables us to have internet wherever we can get cell signals – much of the Mexican coast. Sounded great, so on Tuesday, I asked Patricia at the marina office where I might find one. She directed me to the TelCel office in Plaza Madero, the mall in town, where I was told they’d have a modem available “mañana en la tarde” (tomorrow, in the afternoon). Fine. Ole and I went grocery shopping, stopping at a TelCel kiosk in the grocery store to try to buy a local cell phone. “She’s on break,” they said – “back at 4:30 or 5:00 this afternoon.” Wednesday afternoon, I went back to TelCel at Plaza Madero – “sorry,” she said, “should be in tomorrow.” Thursday, on an evening in town, I stopped back in only to find that she expected to have them Saturday morning. Okay – there are other TelCel vendors in town. I stopped at a promising office, with a smiling woman inside, who cheerfully told me to come back “tomorrow at 6-ish.”

Friday morning, I had Patricia in the office call yet another TelCel office, who told her yes, they had the modems in stock and I could purchase one today. I walked 20 minutes to the office, confirmed that yes, they had modems in stock, only to find they did not take credit cards,  So it was off to the ATM and back. When I returned, the young man asked me if I’d brought my computer with me; explained to me how the monthly plan worked; and when I pulled out my wallet to buy the modem he assured me he had in stock, he told me it would be available “tomorrow.” So today, Saturday, I went back to the smiling woman, and was able to actually purchase and walk away with the modem and instructions. “But,” she said, “there’s nobody working at TelCel over the weekend, so although you have the modem, you won’t be able to get a signal confirmed until Monday at the latest.”

“Great. At least I’m a step further down the road,” I thought. So I unpacked the modem and put the SIM card in my phone to register it, as instructed, only to find that I can’t do that. So it’s going to be Monday, maybe. Meaning this little adventure in technology has taken a week – might take me ten minutes at Costco in Silverdale.

Ah, Mexico.

Walking on the Wild Side in Barillas

Barillas Marina, El Salvador

Based on what we’ve been able to see in the weather forecasts, we’ll leave from here tomorrow and try to make Huatulco in one go. We calculate it should take us between 72 and 84 hours, depending on conditions.

We’ve enjoyed our time here in Barillas, even though we’re a bit remote. There aren’t too many boats here, so the social life is quiet. But it’s been blessedly calm, with refreshing afternoon breezes and tide swings to change the scenery four times a day. We’ve taken a few dinghy explorations as it’s rumored there are “crocodiles” lurking in the mangroves – I think they mean caimans, I’ll have to look up the difference.

When we’re in the mangroves, all of the birds seem to hold their collective breath, and the only sounds we hear as we row along are drips and loud pops. An internet investigation suggests that the pops we hear are actually a species of shrimp – pistol shrimp, or snapping shrimp – that are rumored to be among the loudest creatures on earth for their size. Of birds, we see lots of ibis, herons, parakeets, and ubiquitous grackles. We hear and see fish jumping in the water, but they are uninterested in our spinning rod and lure.

We’ve spent some of the time touching up the varnish on the cap rail, as we haven’t seen rain from the time we arrived in Puntarenas until a shower came through just the other night. The boat is dusty and covered with sugar cane ash, as we’re in the season where they burn the fields to prepare for the new crop.

We joined a Canadian couple for an accompanied walk through the forest to visit the spider monkeys, known personally and by name by an old man, Don Miguel, and his family who live on the property. Roberto, the marina’s security guard, led us through the jungle, helped us identify trees and plants, and introduced us to the landlord of the “monkey preserve.” As we approached Don Miguel’s poor little house and compound, he cheerfully began shouting for Pancho and Maria, and after a few minutes, we saw the upper branches of the trees moving, and a family of spider monkeys swung down into the garden to eat bananas from his hands. He identified each one by name, and pointed out a matriarch of 30 years old, whom he has known all her life, as well as Maria’s son Panchito, a youngster of a year or two in age. It was touching to watch Don Miguel interact with the troop, and his affection for them and their trust of him were clear.

A Trip to San Salvador, and Pupusas

Barillas Marina, El Salvador

Yesterday I was up at 5:00 a.m. for a private car ride into San Salvador, hoping to get new visa pages and a printer, and see a bit of the countryside. For $100, a private car and driver was available for the day, and Francisco, my driver, was very accommodating and helpful. He dropped me off at the US Embassy, a beautiful property on the edge of the city, and after just an hour and a half, picked me up again for a visit to Las Cascadas, a huge, modern shopping mall with an Office Depot! Found a great new Epson all-in-one wireless printer, some replacement business card blanks, extra ink cartridges, helped along with Francisco acting as my “business manager,” not uncommon in Central America.

Once we finished with my business, Francisco had to stop at Barillas’ city offices, so I enjoyed the drive through the city and a pleasant wait with the security guard. San Salvador is a beautiful old city, sitting on the shoulders of a volcano, with clean streets, fairly uniform sidewalks, and a look of prosperity about it. After the 13-year civil war that finally ended in the 90s, the country is united, prosperous, and proud of its democracy. And clearly, the US interests prevailed, rightly or wrongly, evidenced by the Burger Kings, Office Depots, shopping malls, and English signage. The city seems clean, tidy, well-organized and fairly safe, and like any other Latin American city, full of armed security guards everywhere.

Making Pupusas

I told Francisco I’d treat him to lunch if he found us a good local place to eat, so on the way out of the city, along the freeway, we stopped at a rest-stop equivalent lined with Pupuserías – little entrepreneurial shops specializing in the local comfort food pupusas. These are like empanadas, though made with rice flour, stuffed with everything from cheese to beans to flowers and herbs, made to order, and accompanied by a relish made of cabbage, carrots, citrus and jalapeno, all eaten by hand. Francisco and I each ate three, topped off with iced hibiscus tea, and the total bill was about $5. What a country. He explained to me that this place is known locally as the “pueblo de pupusas” or “pupusa town” because there are over 200 separate vendors in this one little stretch of freeway rest stop. Delicious!

The other task while here was to find a cheap Salvadoran cell phone so Ole could communicate with Independence of the Seas more cheaply than with our US cell phones (at $3 per minute for incoming calls, a 30-minute conversation costs a fortune!). No luck in San Salvador finding any phone less than $45, so we stopped in Usulutan on the way back to the marina and found a $20 phone, a $20 card, and back in bidness. There are now regulations all over Latin America, though, that require any cell phone to be purchased and/or licensed by a legal resident of the country, ostensibly to keep track of illegal transactions of one sort or another. So part of Francisco’s service was registering the phone in his name and handling the finances. It didn’t seem too far outside the bounds of custom for this type of transaction to take place. The local philosophy seems to be “when the door is closed by some legal restriction, use the window.”

Visiting Usulutan, El Salvador

Barillas Marina, El Salvador

Ole decided to order a cleaning kit for the water maker, which is coming from the States. We opted to order it here because the marina is proud of being able to import boat parts duty-free. The fridge was getting low on fresh produce again, so I joined the other cruisers in a van trip to nearby Usulutan, the county seat for the district of Jiquilisco, where Barillas is located. Half the ride into town was leaving the property via a dusty dirt road that passes through the cane fields – the town itself is just 15 minutes once the van reached the highway. Like any Central American city we’ve encountered, it’s full of traffic, noisy, a bit gritty, and filled with small businesses and entrepreneurial vendors selling everything from avocados to DVDs from little stalls on the sidewalk. Usulutan is a bit different, though, as it sits on the lower slopes of the mountains and is pleasantly hilly. I successfully found a new v-belt for the generator, and spent an hour and a half visiting hardware stores looking for a tiny t-fitting for the water maker, and almost an hour looking for a replacement printer, all in vain. Hot, sweaty, dusty and a bit dizzy, I ended up at the grocery store and found decent produce and something cold to drink while I waited for the van home. Given that my passport only has one visa page left and we’re so close to San Salvador, I think I’ll go into the city to get more pages at the Embassy, and while I’m there, investigate a printer that meets our needs.

Exploring Around Puesta del Sol

Sunday, March 28, we opted to walk to the Pacific side beach facility that belongs to the marina, a spectacularly-placed thatch-covered pavilion (called a palapa) paved with tile, shaded with woven palm and lattice, furnished with white wrought-iron tables and chairs, and graced with a freshly-painted blue infinity pool facing the miles-long expanse of beach. The only complaints we had were that the sand was blisteringly hot to walk on and the surf at the beach made swimming out of the question. So, rats, we had to sit in the shade and enjoy a fresh-water swimming pool, shade, and garden. Life is brutal. Since we expect the President to arrive at any moment by helicopter, we’re staying away from the marina facilities.

Stampede on the Road to Chinandega, Nicaragua

Tuesday, March 30, we joined up with John and Gayle, a couple on the boat Sirens Call from Suquamish (just over the hill from Poulsbo) and booked a van into the nearby town of Chinandega to do some shopping for fresh produce and meat. This area of Nicaragua is the breadbasket of the country, and we passed fields and orchards and herds of cattle for the hour-long drive into a city of maybe 100,00 folks. The city is a typical Central American city –noisy, full of traffic and strange driving habits, and irregular streets and sidewalks with open-air shops selling any- and everything. Had to make a stop in the hardware district to find some parts for the watermaker and generator, spent a couple of hours in a beautiful large grocery store, then asked our driver, Indolfo, to recommend a nice restaurant for lunch, where we treated him.

Indolfo and his Wife Making Easter Sweets

On the drive back, he stopped at his house to introduce him to his family and show us how his wife and daughter were baking Easter pastries in a clay oven in the back yard. When we got back, we shared cocktails on the flybridge, and noticed the marina and staff were still in a state of high alert, as the President hadn’t arrived yet.

Wednesday, March 31, we joined John and Gayle on Sirens Call for dinner and lots of conversation. Their steel boat is a testament to craftsmanship. John built it himself, starting in his back yard and finishing at Port Townsend to the point where he could launch and do the final touches underway. Everything on the boat is hand-built: from the aluminum railings, to the stabilizing gear and the watermaker. We were entertained by the Easter Party thrown by the village at the shipyard on a nearby point, eliminating the need for any mood music over a delicious dinner of bacon cheeseburgers and salad.

Presidential Guard at Puesta del Sol

An Adventure Near Marina Puesta del Sol

Marina Puesta del Sol, Nicaragua

Frigate Birds off Marina Puesta del Sol, Nicaragua

We arrived the morning of Friday, March 26 after a passage of nearly 140 miles and just a bit over 24 hours. On our arrival, we were surprised to find we were the only cruisers at the dock. Roberto, the marina owner, told us that while we were welcome, there would be limited use of the facilities because the President of Nicaragua had reserved the entire property for Easter week, and was scheduled to arrive on Monday. We wiped the salt off the boat, took a dip in the (HOT!) swimming pool, and enjoyed a dinner out with the full attention of the staff – being the only customers raises some interesting concerns about financial viability of a spectacular place like this. Unless the rate for chartering the entire property for a week pays off…

Saturday afternoon there was a potential emotional and physical disaster – I ran out of cigarettes, the marina didn’t have any, and so we embarked on an adventure into the little village just outside the marina gates to hunt down any cigarettes that might be found in a village of maybe 200 people.

The walk was dry and dusty. We passed small, simply constructed houses of cinderblock, wood, tarp, and woven leaves, during the late afternoon when the villagers were tidying up and preparing for evening. Though the houses were small and poor, they were tidy, the gardens were full of shade and food plants, the animals were sleek and fat, the children were well mannered and clean, and everyone we passed wished us buenas tardes. Women were busy drawing water from their wells, sprinkling down the gardens to keep the dust down, and preparing food. Men were gathered talking and laughing in groups. Our walk through the village drew nothing more than polite curiosity as we inquired from the folks we passed where we might buy cigarettes. At a bus stop, we asked an old man, who pointed across the road to a house with an open air kitchen and a large extended family gathered around while grandma prepared the evening meal.

We felt a bit timid about walking right into the back garden kitchen, but the old toothless grandma bid us welcome and told us that yes, she could sell us cigarettes. Then the negotiations started.

We had no Nicaraguan money, the marina couldn’t change a $20 bill, so there we were in this tiny village set in the early 1900s, trying to make a $5 purchase from a family that probably doesn’t see more than $5 in a week. (Damned Gringoes.) When we showed her the money, she expressed concern, and the whole family – grandma, daughters, children, all chimed in to help figure out how to save the sale with the money they had on hand. One of the daughters, heavily pregnant, brought out a couple of chairs and asked us politely to sit while they discussed the problem. At one point, one of the husbands was called – he was Mexican, and probably had some pesos, and if he could be persuaded to part with them, we could get change in Nicaraguan Cordobas and Mexican Pesos – but that deal fell through as he was reluctant to part with his pesos. As the discussion progressed, a huge sleek pig ambled through the garden, hens and chicks and naked toddlers rolled around in the dust, and the family talked, argued and laughed, trying to figure out a solution.

Finally, someone suggested a visit to another “store” down the road, where the proprietor might be likely to exchange the $20 for Cordobas. Grandma indicated I should give the $20 to her granddaughter who would return shortly with the change – I thought it might be a better idea to walk with her and protect my investment. In retrospect, it would have been fine to trust her; after all, we were customers of Roberto, the patron at the marina, and to rip us off would not be in their best interest.

So as we walked, we chatted a little with the 13-year old Lal, who was the designated financial comptroller of the transaction. Once the money had been exchanged over a fence with the “rich” store owner (we knew he was rich because he had a tile walkway and floor in his home), we walked back to Lal’s family, made the purchase, and everyone was happy. I know, I know, smoking is a filthy, unhealthy habit. But it led to an interesting adventure and some deep thoughts about what the nature of poverty really is. We had run into some cruisers earlier in the month who talked about how miserably poor this village was, and how it moved them to want to come in and build everyone a modern house. But our experience of the village was different.

We figure that maybe fewer than 1% of Americans see this kind of lifestyle close up and personal – and when we comparatively rich gringos see or hear reports of poverty on the news, we automatically apply our cultural and material standards, assuming, arrogantly, that the affected folks need what we have. When we talked about it later, we agreed that yes, the people of this village could use a doctor, a dentist, or a clinic, perhaps some reliable water supply and maybe some improvements in electricity – but what they had seemed to work. Roberto built a school for the village, there was work to be had, the children and animals seemed to be clean and healthy, and the garbage was minimal. We will admit, though, that the contrast between the several-million-dollar marina and it’s neighboring village was a bit surreal.


Exploring Pacific Panama and Handing Over Emma Jo

Well, we made it through the Panama Canal without incident, stayed a few days at Balboa Yacht Club, and made our way out to the Perlas Islands southeast of Panama City to enjoy a couple of weeks cruising and familiarizing Dale and Linda with the systems aboard Emma Jo..

We passed Thanksgiving at Balboa Yacht Club, and broke out the good French tablecloth and real cloth napkins, as well as a magnum of champagne we’d been saving since we departed Florida, to celebrate our gratitude for a great adventure so far. With a turkey roast, canned yams, cranberries, and green beans, as well as a box of Stouffer’s stuffing found as a treasure at the local supermercado, Thanksgiving dinner was about as good as we could make it. While we ate, ship after ship passed us on their way to and from Miraflores Locks, often within a hundred yards, making for some great rolls with dinner!

Ole and Dale made an excursion to Abernathy’s, the Panamanian equivalent of West Marine, for fishing tackle and boat parts, while Linda and I explored the Allbrook Mall, fully as extensive as any to be found in the US. Our list included stocking up on clumping cat litter, a must with two cats, and somewhat difficult to find in Central America. We were able to locate 6 40-lb bags, which were stored in the engine room and came with instructions to NOT PUNCTURE THE BAGS at any cost! We also found all of the thyroid medicine little Maggie might need for the next four months

On the 27th, we headed toward Contadora and the Perlas Islands, and broke out the fishing gear for the first time. Finally got the decks bloody, hooking an albacore almost right away! Dale educated us as to his “filet and release” philosophy of fishing…

Hotel Romantica, Contadora

We anchored off Contadora for a couple of nights, and went for a walk one morning. This island used to be quite the place for the Central American rich and famous to retreat to, and when the Shah of Iran was ousted, he even had a place here. We found the locals to be very friendly, and the anchorage to be pleasant enough to cast the spinning rod one morning. Learned about the “cut the line and release” philosophy once I hooked a devil ray with 5-lb test!

We traveled one morning over to another group of islands to finish out the month, and finally got to try our hand (foot?) at snorkeling and beachcombing on an island called Bayoneta, where we educated Dale and Linda on the finer points of deck showers, and took several dinghy rides for picnics and snorkeling. All in all, not a bad way to spend November!

A Welcome Visitor Joins us from Norway

Aboard Independence of the Seas

The first part of August was fairly routine, with Ole working long days and me holing up in the Cigar Bar (my “office”) to read and enjoy my daily latte. Afternoons were taken up by reading, keeping up with the news, and painting.

Ole and Andreas atop Gibraltar

The routine was changed with the welcome arrival of Andreas, Ole’s oldest son, on the 15th of August for two weeks of living the high life. Andreas and I managed to get ashore in every port, doing everything from walking tours on our own to ship-sponsored excursions, understanding that Ole could get ashore only occasionally.

The first port call, Gibraltar, Ole and Andreas went on a taxi tour up to the top of the rock, but were disappointed because there were so many people with two ships in, they didn’t get a chance to see the apes.

Poetto Beach, Sardinia

We lucked out in Sardinia, though, and caught a city bus together to go out to Poetto Beach, touted to be one of the best in the Mediterranean. It was pleasant, but crowded – and after having had so much solitary beach time on Emma Jo, we realized it just wasn’t our cup of tea to stack ourselves up cheek by jowl with thousands of strangers.

Andreas and I took the bus to Florence, and walked around on our own. He was stunned by the art and architecture, and was great company. We found a great little restaurant located in an interior courtyard away from the teeming tourists and had authentic pizza.

In Cannes, we opted to just take a walk, visiting the theater and investigating the famous handprints (the other end of Grauman’s Chinese Theater) lining the sidewalks.

We opted to explore Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia Cathedral on our own, and it was by far the highlight of the entire summer. Taking the Metro from Las Ramblas, we stood in line perhaps 10 minutes, paid our admission, and rented the audio guide for an additional fee. We were glad we did. This cathedral is a work in progress, started in the early 1900s, and designed by a heretical architect named Antonio Gaudi, who was so far ahead of his time that his contemporaries must have thought him crazy. Having seen St. Peter’s in Rome, the Duomo in Florence, and Chartres and Notre Dame in France, I can honestly say this building is the most spiritual building I’ve ever seen. We walked around the outside, through the inside, and spent nearly three hours in awe of the scale and symbolism of the place. Words just can’t do it justice – the best I can say is that the cathedral appeals to anyone of any religion, and feels like a forest inside, the vault being constructed of columns of differing material, and the ceiling being supported by branches and decorated with carved abstract leaves. I’ll direct you to a link, here, that will provide more detail, but in the meantime, here are a few photos.

Both Andreas and I were thrilled to have seen this in our lifetimes. We wrapped up our visit with an obligatory call in at the Barcelona Hard Rock (Andreas is a collector) for overpriced burgers and loud rock and roll, strolling the Rambla back to the shuttle bus.

Lisbon also presented the Hard Rock challenge, so we explored the Metro, found the t-shirt, and walked Rossio Square, stopping for a cold one on a charming side street.

In Malaga, we took a short tour by horse-drawn carriage, and just strolled through town, stopping to have a coffee and a snack.

Medieval Village on Spain/Portugal Border

We took a ship-sponsored excursion in Vigo up to the Portuguese border and visited a small medieval walled city as well as the fortress in Vigo that has been converted to a park.

It was hard to say goodbye on the 29th, but we felt so lucky to be able to share the ship and all of the experiences with Andreas. Hope it won’t be too long before he comes back!

The end of August, the ship added an out-of-the-ordinary 4-day cruise from Southampton to Cobh, Ireland, which we visited last summer.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the Cobh visit actually happened on the ship. The few Swedes aboard had raided Ikea in Southampton, buying them out of crayfish, and sponsoring a Crayfish Party on the forward mooring deck for the tiny Scandinavian population onboard. Apparently it’s traditional in Sweden to have such a party once a year, eat your brains out, and drink accordingly. Here’s the evidence!

A Fitting End to a Brief Visit in Norway

Bocas Marina
Bocas del Toro, Panama

Ole Paints the Roof

The first week of June was our last week in Norway, and lucky for us, the weather turned sunny long enough for Ole to coat the roof of the house, which was rusty and in serious need of attention. As he often said this visit, “now it looks like people live here, instead of just sheep.”

During the week we managed to visit many folks on the island for dinner, including Lyder and his family, Liv at her new cabin, and Wenche and Odd Kaare (distant cousins of Ole). A couple of different versions of moose stew demonstrated to me that I love that meat – rich and sweet.

Seagull Eggs for Breakfast

An odd culinary experience was a first (for me) tasting of seagull eggs for breakfast, courtesy of Wenche and Odd-Kaare. When you think about it, folks who live on an island this remote are accustomed to taking advantage of every single opportunity to gather food – from fishing to berry picking to nest raiding. I must say that while it definitely was an egg, the texture and color were more intense, and the idea was a bit weird to me. Just gave me pause to consider where my food comes from. As an American, I’m used to my food coming from Safeway wrapped in plastic. Here, you see it alive and frolicking before you exercise your “top of the food chain” predatory rights.

Scouts Camping Next Door

Another exciting addition to our last week was the arrival of about 50 10-year-old Boy Scouts from the local community, as well as their chaperones. They’re camping just between us and the road in several enormous canvas teepees, and are here to learn some of the local traditions that internet-game-playing TV-watching 10-year-olds just don’t seem to know how to do any more: how to find, catch, and clean fish; how to tie knots (so your boat doesn’t drift away); how to spit-roast a lamb; and other boy scout stuff.

Rodoy Music School Concert Cast

Lyder invited us to a local concert given by the community’s music school on our final Saturday afternoon. The community may have close to 2,500 people, scattered among the mainland and several little islands – and the music school, of which Lyder is the director, has about 80 students. Forty or so students between 8 and 15 years old gathered on Saturday, June 6, to share their accomplishments with about 200 proud parents and interested locals. Ole and I were thoroughly impressed with the professionalism and skill the kids showed, and were delighted to see some truly talented kids. While a few kids played solo keyboard or guitar pieces, there were several groups with drums, keyboard, rhythm, bass and lead guitar, as well as soloists and backup vocals. We realize that Norway is VERY expensive, with a tax rate of about 50%. But seeing the quality of music education, the state of the art equipment, and the ferry system putting on an extra boat to transport the audience from several islands (in other words, tax dollars at work), we might want to give some thought to quality arts education in the US. Though it’s not the best picture, here is the cast doing their final bow.

Enjoying a Wild Night with Raymond, Britt, Wenche, and Odd-Kaare

After the concert, we walked across to Britt and Raymond’s cabin for an evening snack and were joined by Wenche and her husband Odd Kaare. We laughed, ate, and drank until they spoke English and I spoke Norwegian. Amazing what a little lubrication can do! At the end of a lovely evening, we walked back home and enjoyed the sun peeking around the Rodoy “lion” at 2:30 in the morning. Spectacular to watch the sun go sideways across the sky instead of up and over. In this part of the world, the sun comes up around June 1 and sets again sometime in early July. Hard to believe until you’ve seen it – and it makes getting to sleep at night very interesting!

We packed and closed up the house to leave on Monday, June 8, to fly to Oslo for an overnight. Petter took the train from Lillehammer to join us for dinner and a very short visit. Then Tuesday morning, the itinerary was Oslo/Amsterdam/Panama City, where we stayed a couple of days to get some business done on the house project. We were able to get back to Emma Jo in time for cocktail hour on June 11. It was sure good to see everyone, and to find the boat so well taken-care-of by Brian. The cats were thrilled to see us, circling our feet and smelling the suitcases to see what we might have brought them! It’s good to be home.

Transatlantic Cruise Aboard Independence of the Seas

April began with a sudden feeling of dryness…where has all the rain gone? Oh yeah – it’s Panama – where in the dry season it rains every day, and in the wet season it rains ALL day every day. Pleasant daytime temperatures, not too hot, led to visions of getting the varnish done on the bow caprail and a coat or two all around. I planned to do one coat every day from April 2 until April 11 – but then it started raining on the fourth day.

I sang at the Cantina again – and when we ran out of common material, we added a few verses to the improvised “Bocas Bottom Feeder Blues:” (it’s a basic three chord, 12-bar blues) – here goes:

Started varnishin’ on Monday
They said it’d be sunny all week long.
Yeah, I started varnishin’ Monday,
Said it would be sunny all week long.
Well, Thursday it started rainin’ —
Now all my motivation’s gone…

So I spent my time cleaning the inside of the boat ready for Brian’s cat sitting service, getting some help from Margarita from the Marina. Really helps to have somebody willing to stick knives and microfiber cloth into all of the louvers…

April 11 I took off on the early morning flight from Bocas to Panama City, for a reasonable 2:30 flight to Miami to join Ole after an overnight in a HOTEL! With CABLE! And a BATHTUB!! And ROOM SERVICE!!! Oh, we cruisers celebrate the small comforts of life. It really was a bit of a break-in period for the outright decadence of the Chief’s cabin on the Independence.

April 12 I took the crew shuttle to Ft. Lauderdale to meet Ole and the ship, and our friends Dale and Linda joined us for the Atlantic crossing cruise and the first Med cruise of the season. It’s their first trip to Europe, and they are tickled pink to be able to join us and get what we’re sure will be a first taste of the banquet that is the Mediterranean.

The first six days we spent at sea, following 30° North pretty much 2/3 of the way across. No Titanic passage for US! We had fantastic, warm, sunny weather and light breezes all the way across, making us wonder what all the hubbub about crossing the Atlantic was. We played $10 a day in the penny slots in the Casino, went to shows, shopped, and tried to work off some of the extra meals in the gym every other day, warming up the muscles and the feet for Europe. We split up the dining experiences among the Windjammer, the Dining Room, the Italian restaurant Portofino, and the steak house Chops, as well as taking a few quiet meals in the cabin. Ole joined us for lunch and dinner every day, and it was great for him to share his experience of his fantastic workplace with friends.

The first port call was a new one for me as well – Ponta Delgada in the Azores. What a pretty place – not at all tropical – it’s a volcanic set of islands with cloud forest and a permanent halo, being the first land for hundreds of miles in any direction. Dale and Linda and I took a little walk, and as it was Sunday, town was pretty deserted. It was charming, though, with a distinctly Portuguese colonial feel. After our walk, we opted to join a private tour and drive up to an area with twin volcanic lakes called Sete Cidades. Though it’s tough to see in the pictures, one lake is blue – the other green – even though they are only separated by a thin strip of land. All of us were impressed with how prosperous, tidy and friendly the island seemed. It’s not exactly on the beaten tourist path, which may have something to do with the local attitude.

Second port call was also a new one for me, as well as Ole – it was Funchal, Madeira. It’s a bit south and east of the Azores, so it has more of a subtropical feel, and has been visited by tourists since the 17th century. There’s a lot more development and tourist infrastructure, including a step-on-step-off bus tour and two Madeira wine houses that offer tours and tasting, so we opted to go that route after a half hour walk into town. Ole was able to get away for lunch, and we were talked into a wonderful (but pricey) seafood restaurant up on the bluff away from town that the locals prefer – called O Barqueiro, it sits across the street from a developed path down to a natural swimming spa. It was in the high 70’s, which didn’t stop the mad dogs and Englishmen from having a dip.

One more sea day, then it was Vigo, where we called last summer several times. Again, we opted to walk, saving our big bucks for the Florence and Rome excursions to come next cruise. After spending so much time roughing it in terms of clothes and shoes in Panama, I persuaded Dale and Linda to join me for some department store time, during which Dale found a dress shirt and some new tux shoes, so I guess it wasn’t all girly shopping. Stopped for a lunch of seafood in the Medieval quarter of the city, and had a wonderful, relaxing visit.

We arrived in Southampton on April 26, and I took advantage of the proximity to a good hairdresser and Marks and Spencer to run some errands. Dale and Linda strolled the city on their own, and seemed to have a grand time exploring. The highlight was the sail away, though, as it’s about an hour and a half downriver, passing the Isle of Wight, Portsmouth, and a summer home from Queen Victoria’s time, as well as some 18th century fortifications at the mouth of the river. One of them is privately owned, converted into a James Bond/Sean Connery sort of mercenary’s paradise – apparently he’s behind on his payments and the government is trying to evict him – but he’s not going quietly!

First call was again, Vigo – and Ole joined us for lunch at a restaurant recommended by Captain Teo called El Mosquito. It was charming, reminding me of the small country places we discovered while we lived in France. While we were there, a Spanish couple at a neighboring table chatted with us, and before we knew it, had treated us to a round of local liqueur. The friendliness of Spain just cannot be topped in my book.

Monument of the Discoverers, Tagus River, Lisbon

Second call was Lisbon, where Dale and Linda and I walked two miles down the Tagus River to the Monument of the Discoverers, celebrating the important Portuguese contributions to navigation. Across the street, in an old monastery, is the Lisbon Maritime Museum, with a fascinating collection of ship models from the 1400s to present time, as well as costumes from the various naval ages, and a reconstructed stateroom from the king’s yacht. For fellow boaters, I can’t recommend any better fun than touring maritime museums – and this was one of the best.

Gibraltar was the third port, and the three of us joined a taxi tour to the top of the rock, taking in St. Michael’s Caverns, the Barbary Apes, and the 18th century network of British fortified tunnels that Swiss-cheese their way through the rock. Linda and Dale just had to join the fun.

Dale is a real picture-taking-fool, and I highly recommend visiting his website as well. You’ll see that he and Linda are fellow DeFever owners, and spend their summers in Puget Sound and Canada and winters in their motor home, lately of Key West.