A Night at the Opera

November 17, 2012

Another great evening at the Angela Perralta Theater – this time for a performance of La Boheme, featuring the Sinaloa Symphony, the Theater Chorus, the Mazatlan Children’s Choir, a brass band for the “tattoo,” and great sets and lighting. The singers, all local, were superb – fully as professional and up to Puccini as anyone I’ve heard.

And opera, being opera, the story is, well, an “opera.” Starving artists squeaking by in a Parisian garrett, boy meets girl, girl gets TB and dies. All set to music. Corny as it is, that Puccini knows how to evoke emotion in music, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house as Mimi coughed her last!

Ole’s due home tomorrow noonish – and the boat looks fine, with new deck paint, new varnish on all the exterior surfaces, new canvas rail covers, sun shades, and window covers. I think he’ll be pleased – I know I am.

This time, for some reason, was lonlier than usual. I think it’s because I was alone on the dock for at least half the time he was away, and when folks started trickling back, they seem to have their own routines and friendships to reestablish.

Well, THAT Was Fun…

March 13, 2012
Marina Riviera Nayarit, La Cruz
Banderas Bay

When we left Chamela last Monday morning, we saw the only “hole” in the weather around Cabo Corientes would occur between 6:00 and 10:00 pm, when the winds would theoretically die down to less than 15 knots.  The forecast for the rest of the week was 20-25 knots for days.

We timed our departure accordingly, leaving Chamela just before 8:00 a.m. to travel with a few sailboats toward the Cape. The late morning hours were fine – certainly 5-7 foot swells, and apparent wind from 15-20 knots. I made lunch…then it all went horribly wrong.

[Read more…]

Dolphins for Breakfast — and a Raft-Up Dinner

March 10, 2011
Bahia Tenacatita

Sailboat in the Moonlight at Tenacatita

Tenacatita Neighbor in the Moonlight

What a wonderful few days it’s been here at Bahia Tenacatita, just over 30 miles northwest of Manzanillo. As far as anchorages go, this is one of our top 5 so far.  We’re snug as a bug behind Punta Chubasco and nestled among about 15 other boats (most of them with sticks). Afternoon breezes have come up, nothing past 10-15 knots, and at night, the wind lays down nicely and leaves us with a gentle “wrap-around” swell – just enough to rock us to sleep.

Both mornings have featured company for breakfast – dolphins feeding among the anchored boats. Way too unpredictable to snap a photo, so you’ll just have to take our word for it. [Read more…]

Anchoring in “Pudding”…

March 6, 2012

Morning in Barra Lagoon

Morning in Barra Lagoon

Barra de Navidad is one of those magical places we dreamt about when we took off from Florida over 5 years ago. It’s a large, sheltered, shallow lagoon behind a long, crescent-shaped beach, offering protection from swell, lots of entertainment from the fishermen and competing seabirds, and a sweet little town well worth exploring.

French Baker

French Bakery Delivered to Your Swimstep

We woke this morning to mirror-calm water, a spectacular sunrise, and fishermen casting large circular nets inthe shallows. During the second cup of coffee, we were offered an offbeat treat: fresh-baked French pastry delivered right to our swim step with a hearty, authentic “Bonjour, masseur/dames.” (Cue Homer Simpson voice…yummmmm). [Read more…]

An Encounter with Huichol Art

February 25, 2012

Today we decided to mount an excursion by bus to Zihuatanejo, just a short 10-minute, 9-peso bus ride away. Neither of us had been ashore there since the mid-1980s, and we felt like an adventure.

We took the mini-bus from the marina lighthouse to the end of the line, near the craft market and waterfront in Zihuatanejo. We felt compelled to support the local economy, adding to our hat collection and chatting with a Huichol artist, from whom we bought an exquisite beaded vase.

Huichol Beaded Volkswagen

Huichol Beaded Volkswagen

The artist showed us his unfinished work in progress, a beaded jaguar. He starts with the form, either carved from wood, cast from a mixture of bone and resin, or sculpted in clay. Little by little, he applies a mixture of beeswax, then applies tiny glass beads by hand to decorate the piece with traditional Huichol symbols and patterns. The process takes from weeks to many months, depending on the size and complexity of the finished piece.

As we chatted, he pulled out books and magazine articles featuring his colleagues and his craft, and the most striking was an article about a group of artists who beaded an entire Volkswagen Beetle, currently sitting in a museum in Germany! [Read more…]

Ixtapa — A Mexican “Fantasy”

February 24, 2012

Resident Crocodile at Marina Ixtapa

Resident Crocodile at Marina Ixtapa

After a long day of doing absolutely nothing in Zihuatanejo Bay, we spent a night with zero wind – which means the swells had their way with us all night.

And since we’ve got to repair the anemometer (requiring a trip up a ladder to the top of the mast) and the galley hot water, we decided to move 5 miles along to Marina Ixtapa.

It’s a lovely, sheltered place that requires a bit of surfing to get in – but once in, there was barely a ripple for the two nights we spent there. (Except for the ripple of the resident crocodile’s wake…) [Read more…]

“Repairing Your Boat in Exotic Locations”

February 23

Ah, boating. Defined as “repairing your boat in exotic locations.”

Acapulco Harbor

Leaving Acapulco Harbor

We hadn’t even cleared Isla Roqueta off the entrance to Acapulco yesterday when we heard a mysterious bang (not the kind of thing you really look forward to hearing on a boat while you’re underway).

A quick run through the salon and the sound of rushing water…under the sink!  The hose between the hot water tank and the kitchen sink blew, and fresh (thank god) water was spraying all over under the sink. That wouldn’t have been so bad, but it has to GO somewhere, so it went down, through the acoustic overhead in the engine room, and under the cabinets and into the carpet in the salon. [Read more…]

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.


Watch Your Belongings on a Costa Rican Bus!

Early February found us getting excited to get back to the boat, and Dale and Linda still having the time of their lives cruising the southwest coast of Panama, toward their ultimate rendezvous point with us here in Puntarenas.

We had more company on the ship, with old friends of Ole’s from over 20 years ago joining the cruise on February 6 – Roar and Trish Molvik. We were able to entertain them at Chops, the specialty steakhouse where you can’t get away from the table in less than 2-1/2 hours, and enjoyed the do-it-yourself Bloody Mary bar on one of the sea days.

The exciting part of the February 6 cruise was a group of bikers who brought 36 motorcycles aboard, ranging from Honda Gold Wings to Harleys of every shape and vintage, and a few custom bikes that defy description. I spent the last hour before departure in St. Maarten watching them all come back aboard after their island tour with the local Harley club, and as the last bike came aboard, a HUUUUGGGGEEEE Boss Hoss (manufactured in Tennessee, I gather), I stuck out my hand, introduced myself as the Chief Engineer’s wife, and he said, “Great! I’d love an engine room tour!” To which I responded, “Great! I’d love a ride on your bike!” Deal, he said, and we made arrangements for both.

On Wednesday, early in the morning of February 10, I got one of the best bike rides of my life, even though it only lasted about half an hour. The bike, equipped with a 400 hp Corvette engine, was painted in blue flame, and the chrome on it shone like a musical instrument. We only drove it as far as the gas station on the east end of Charlotte Amalie, but on the back of that bike I could feel the surges of unrestrained horsepower when he held back and then throttled up. What a machine! And, like most bikers, what a wonderful guy!

As we prepared to fly home on February 20, we found ourselves with a total of three suitcases, two briefcases, a chart tube, a back-pack, and a tote bag in addition to my purse. All told, we figured we brought a couple boat-units worth of stuff along, everything from varnish to gaskets to spark plugs and oil filters. Each bag weighed in at 52 lbs., and the tote bag and backpack probably weighed in at 25 lbs. each. We managed to check the three suitcases and carry the backpack, chart tube, briefcases and tote bag successfully aboard the airplane and then to the Hotel Santo Tomas in San Jose for our forced overnight. We aimed at taking the bus into Puntarenas on Sunday, the 21st.

We were at the bus station by 8:50, missed the 9:00 bus, and with all of our stuff, waited in a crowded terminal until the next bus, which arrived about 9:30. We wrestled all of the stuff to the luggage bay, checking the three suitcases and backpack, then carried aboard our briefcases, chart tube, tote bag and my purse. (Are you starting to get the picture?) We sat in the third row opposite the driver, and Ole put his briefcase and my heavy pink and purple tote bag in the overhead directly over of our seats. I carried my purse and briefcase with computer at my feet. During the ride, we joked about the very large and prominent sign just three seats ahead of us that said, in English, Spanish, and German, “KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR PERSONAL BELONGINGS.” Get the picture yet?

The ride down to sea level from San Jose was just over two hours, along good paved highway, not nearly as third-world and ziggedy-zaggedy as we had expected. There were perhaps four stops before we got off at the Costa Rica Yacht Club on the outskirts of Puntarenas. Ole grabbed his briefcase, leapt down to organize getting the suitcases out of the luggage bay, leaving me to wrestle my purse, my briefcase, the pink and purple bag and the chart tube. But when I stood up to grab the pink and purple bag, it was gone. Vanished. Disappeared.

I couldn’t believe it. In the overhead was the big Ziploc bag with my toothbrush in it (had been in the pink and purple bag). I walked up and down the aisle at least three times, glancing down at people’s feet, but nothing. Looked at people’s faces. Nothing. Asked for help. Nothing.

In that bag were, in no particular order:

  • the digital camera, with all of our pictures from November, December, January, and February
  • the 160 gigabyte hard drive, with all of our pictures from 2004 to the present
  • the iTunes library containing all of our music, all of our personal files for banking, correspondence, and archives going back to 1998
  • the iPod itself, with the only living copy of all of our music
  • a brand-new, never been used SPOT gps messenger we could use to check in with family and friends whenever we change positions
  • a new gasket for the replacement exhaust elbow
  • the two most recent issues of PassageMaker
  • four brand new cruising guides for the Costa Rican Coast all the way up to the Sea of Cortez (NOT cheap)
  • a new Harry Potter movie
  • my personal journal
  • the phone charger for my cell phone
  • and basically irreplaceable stuff.

I could barely say hello to Dale and Linda, I was so shocked. I put my stuff onboard Emma Jo, then caught a cab to the police station, where I waited in the sun for 45 minutes before being invited in and being assigned to the secretary to take my statement (denuncia). That took nearly an hour, including interruptions on the telephone, accidentally erasing the computer-based interview form a couple of times, and refusing to find me anyone who spoke English. I definitely got the feeling they were just going through the motions.

It’s clear to me we’ll never get the stuff back. It’s also very clear to me that the thief was an opportunist – we were the only people on that bus with as much stuff as we had, and the only obvious non-Costa Ricans. But damn, whoever it was was good – to move that heavy bag from directly over our heads without our being aware of it was masterful. I’m hoping they’ll see the camera, the iPod, and the Harry Potter movie, and toss the rest – it’s of no use to anybody but us. I’m praying that they erase the hard drive before they decide to use it or sell it. I’m angry at myself, angry at us, for joking about the sign right in front of our faces. In the past three years, bussing from Fronteras on the Rio Dulce into Guatemala City countless times, bussing from Bocas del Toro to David just as many times, never have we seen such a sign. It’s obviously a big enough problem here in Costa Rica that a sign is needed. Dumbass Gringos.

Hence the limited number of pictures.

In spite of the loss, we’ve tried to remain upbeat during the remaining days with Dale and Linda. We had a dinner out, an interesting $100 cab ride to sort out the paperwork transferring control of the boat from the Bixlers back to us, an afternoon at the pool, and a couple of very long cocktail hours on the fly bridge. They took great care of the boat, great care of the cats, and had the time of their lives cruising some pretty spectacular and unspoilt cruising grounds. We put them on a van to the airport on the 25th, and were a bit unsure what to do with ourselves finally being alone back on the boat. And Barclay – we’ll have to watch her for signs of depression, she got so close to Dale during these past few months.

On Saturday, I put Ole on a bus (oh no, not again) for San Jose, so he can fly up to Orlando for a management meeting. Crappy timing, as it will cut our cruising down from ten weeks to about seven, but we’re hoping to make it up to Huatulco before he has to sign on to Independence on May 5. I’ll spend the week he’s gone re-marking my territory, taking inventory of stores for a two-month cruise, and seeing what I can do to replace some of the things we lost.

Our Canal Crew Arrives, and Then We Wait

Shelter Bay Marina

In spite of the fact that Dale and Linda Bixler, of El Capitan in Brownsville, Washington, arrived on the 12th of November, we’re still here, watching the notorious Panama rainy season in process. It reminds me of the Ray Bradbury story about the astronauts stranded on a planet where it rains all the time – and they die, one by one, being smothered by rapidly growing plants, while they’re trying to find a sun dome to dry out. We could sure use a sun dome about now. It’s 10:17 in the morning, and it’s been raining hard for two and a half hours.

The week I returned from Seattle, Ole and I spent our time cleaning, arranging, organizing, and getting ready to share the boat. On the 11th, my birthday, we took the free marina bus to downtown Colon to stock up on a few necessities, including a “backup” birthday cake. The traditional Ole-made Norwegian cream cake went horribly wrong this year, but the whipped cream turned out great. I love the effort he made, but the fact that the oven was set at the wrong baking setting (partially my fault) and that the cake pan was overfilled, meant that most of the cake ended up all over the bottom of the oven, and what was left in the pan lacked its usual fluffiness. Add to that the fact that the bag of vacuum frozen shrimp I bought to make scampi for my birthday dinner, when opened, reeked of ammonia – well, I’ve had better birthdays. But as fellow-boater Russ on Chicana says, any day you get up and watch the grass COMING up instead of GOING up is a good day. So in that regard, it was a good day.

On November 12, Ole got a ride into town with Stanley, a local free-lance agent, who was able to drive Ole around to Abernathy’s, Price Smart, and several other necessary stops on the way to the airport to pick up Dale and Linda. Meanwhile, here on the boat, it rained all day like the end of the world. I finished up the cleaning and organizing, and put on a pot of dinner, so that when they got here we could all just unwind. Also found on YouTube a few videos about folding towel animals, so that they could feel at home on this “cruise.”

We all took the bus into Colon to provision for four people for a couple of weeks on the 13th, deciding to get underway for the Chagres River on Saturday. We cheerily paid our bill, cast off the lines, waved goodbye to everyone, and motored jauntily toward the Colon breakwater, where suddenly both engines went dead. Great timing – only 20 or so ships waiting to enter the breakwater, and us dead in the water. We dropped anchor – and Ole and Dale went below to figure out the problem. It was a bit of a sphincter-tightener to be at anchor only 100 yards or so from the main entrance channel to the Panama Canal – but it could have been worse – we could have been IN the channel. The problem turned out to be air in the fuel system. The port engine started right away, but the starboard engine was stubborn, so we opted to return to our slip in Shelter Bay so the problem could be solved calmly. Five hours later, the guys determined that the best solution was to come back at it in the morning – and jump start the brain cells with some martinis and smoked salmon. Seemed to work – the problem was solved by noon Sunday, with both engines starting and growling happily. An afternoon walk through Fort Sherman allowed us to see an agouti (think about a large cross between a guinea pig and a possum), millions of leafcutter ants, and a few Jesus Christ lizards, and a late afternoon cocktail hour up at the marina pool gave us a good view of a capuchin monkey fight.

We may have to forego the Chagres trip, as it’s been raining so much the Corps of Engineers is going to release water from the dam – so maybe today, if sea conditions permit, we’ll head east along the coast a few hours to Linton or Portobello.