Saturday, December 20, 2008

Los Roques to Bonaire Dec 2008

The 'mobile' airport tower on El Gran Roque, in Los Roques, Venezuela

A fishing camp in Ave Sotavento, VZ, last stop before Bonaire. We got inspected by the Guarda Costas here--very friendly.

Looking back down the beach at the fishing camp in Ave Sotavento. Jason and Mike inspect the signpost on the beach--we were a long way from everywhere!

A Las Aves sunset....

YOLO at anchor in Las Aves, VZ. Karen went up the mast of Jus'Now to get the shot. Mike had some work to do up there and I volunteered to go up so I could also get a nice shot of YOLO.

That's Karen up the mast of Jus'Now, cutting away some line from the spreaders.

Sarquis Is, VZ outer islands

We anchored in the middle of nowhere behind the reef and it was awesome!
This was a little beach bar/grill at Francisquis in Los Roques. Lots of kiteboarders and wealthy Venezuelans were here, too.

The town on El Gran Roque (the big rock). We came back here 3 times to buy food and drinks and wandered up and down the reefs and islands all around this one. Beautiful!! The little kid below was having a ball blowing bubbles in his bucket when he wasn't grinning at me. It doesn't take much to be happy, eh?

A school of blue tang in the coral in Las Aves. We saw many of these schools and lots of other fish seemed to join in, too.

And it was nice to see such healthy corals and sponges in the bays.
Jason's first lobster. We ate him for dinner.

Another Las Aves Sunset

Hi All,

We returned for our second cruising season to Chaguaramas, Trinidad at the end of September and rushed to sand and paint the bottom of the boat before getting it launched again into the water on October 3rd. Hot, horrible work and since our bottom paint is blue, I looked like a Smurf from head to toe before the day was out. Of course it was over 90 degrees for the temperature AND the humidity, so it was hard work! Leaving the boat in the hot, humid tropics is not such a good thing as the mold and mildew wants to take over every surface. Luckily, we'd bought a stand-alone air conditioner that we left running in the boat to keep the air moving. Nothing keeps a boat cool in that kind of heat and with the frequent power outages, the A/C ended up acting just like a fan/dehumidifier, which was just fine. We didn't have mold or mildew inside at all. But the helm seat was black with mold when we removed the cover--yuck!

Time for the heavy chemicals to return it to its proper white color. Cruising is really about surviving all the toxic chemicals one is required to use on a boat to keep it in order, I think. We're pretty surprised we don't see 4-headed fish and such in the bay, what with all the chemicals that get into the ground and water around these boatyards. Mother Nature does a wonderful job of cleaning up after humans and the messes we make.

The floating trash in the harbor, however, was just too gross for us to stay too long. We saw 15' bamboo logs, enough shoes/flip flops to outfit an entire village somewhere, windows, and a friend even saw a refrigerator float into the marina and get stuck between the boat and dock! Trinis think nothing of throwing all their trash on the ground when they are done eating, so styrofoam is present where it shouldn't be. They just don't care and it is an uphill battle educating them. Even the trash truck powerwashes its container into the bay. We rented a car and drove the length of the island, and stopped at Pitch Lake--very much like the La Brea tar pits in California except you can walk out onto it here. Luckily we chose an overcast day so the ground wasn't too soft and the rains had covered parts of the lake with water that doctors recommend for soaking. But if you stood still too long, you could feel the heels and balls of your feet start to sink into the pitch. Very wierd. And there are pools of ever-liquid black goo that never get hard enough to walk on; step in one of them and its like liquid quicksand. But they are cool to play in with a stick, making thick ribbons of black tarry pitch in the wind.

Once we'd done our limited touring, we were anxious to leave to meet up with friends in Venezuela. We may come back to Venezuela and can see more of Trinidad next visit, but the marine stores never seemed to have what we needed and our dinghy motor needs parts that don't exist in the country, and ordering them would mean a 6 week wait. So we are virtually without a dinghy unless we want to risk having to row or paddle (I usually don't). There are enough friends and fellow cruisers to help us get around when we need to, but we're anxious to get to Bonaire where the part should be waiting for us. The fear of pirates and bandits meant we didn't want to sail along the north coast of Venezuela, so we headed from Trinidad back up to Los Testigos and spent a couple of days there. Finally, clean water to jump into the ocean! We hiked up over the sand dunes, snorkeled around, and walked down the sand lane in the village. The local men were making lobster traps out of chicken wire and sticks as the season started November 1st. A few of them were taking a break under a tree of sea grapes and one of them gave us a leaf rolled up into a giant cone that was filled with ripe sea grapes, tart little things that are mostly a seed, but quite tasty I thought. Note to self: don't eat so many of them at one time unless feeling constipated.

We sailed south to Margarita Island and stocked up on many food and drink items as the island is duty free. We currently have over 40 liters of rum on YOLO, hello AA! Please keep in mind that Superior rum costs less than $3 UDS! FYI, you can trade a bottle of rum for a very large lobster in Venezuela. Couldn't find a Honda 2000 generator anywhere in the island, so we finally gave up and headed for the mainland and Puerto La Cruz. Rum and fuel are cheaper that water. Fuel sells for about 88 cents per gallon, cheaper if you are a local. If only we could drink gasoline! So as long as we have limes, we're good for a while! Puerto La Cruz is a big cruising (boater's) location and there were lots of folks (yatchs or cruisers) we knew here. Many spent the hurricane season here instead of in Trinidad as we did. You can get anything you want with a dinghy ride around the marina area, and luckily, friends played taxi for us if we needed to go anywhere. Cheap fuel helps. We stocked up on fresh fruit/veges at the local morning market and the local grocery store. We did take a trip to Angel Falls, the highest waterfall in the world. That was quite an adventure. Another note to self: stop expecting commitments to be met and expect transport to be pathetic.

The falls are about as far from here as you can get without going to Brasil, and the trip required taxi, bus, plane, dugout canoe and hiking to reach the destination! The taxi ride was crowded but short. The bus had issues and couldn't go more than 25-30mph, so that was a 6-hour endurance ride. When it reached the bridge over the Orinoco River it just choked to a stop and started rolling back down the approach ramp. It was done, toast, fried, over.... So we gathered all our luggage onto the shoulder of the bridge overlooking about a 150 foot drop. Of course by now it was pouring rain and we don't speak Spanish. Trying to arrange a ride in Spanish to get us to our destination hotel for the nite was difficult, at best. Luckily, we'd been chatting with a lady from the UK and she drafted a couple of local guys to make sure we got to the central bus station where a tour guide was supposed to be waiting for us. Seven soggy souls piled into the back of an open pickup along with our bags and another three locals sat in the front with the driver who had kindly stopped for the gringos on the bridge. We got to the bus station soaked and the guide's wife picked us gringos out of the crowd and took us to the hotel.

Early the next morning we were walked across the streets to the airport terminal. We ended up waiting 3 hours for the little 6-person Cessna to arrive. "They are checking the plane" was the excuse we kept getting along with the lie, "It will just be another 30 minutes or so". We think someone was out shopping for those 3 hours because when it did finally roll up, there were 720 eggs, a box of tomatoes, some bug spray and Glade tied into one of the passenger seats. We learned a new dice game, Farkle, from our traveling partners, so we had some fun in the airport lounge, even though that was the last place we wanted to be. The plane stunk like dead fish, so I was glad to have the copilot seat with an air vent. It was too loud to talk so we just looked out the window for the hour flight. The pilot kept yawning and some of the gauges didn't seem to be working, so I kept an eye out for potential landing spots, just in case..... Venezuela is really a pretty country once you leave the cities. Our tour guide for the falls met us at the airport at Canaima and we loaded into an open air bus to get to the lodge. Dropped the bags off, had lunch and went for a canoe ride to view some other falls nearby. Very pretty. We continued on and stopped to view Sapo Falls. We hiked to the top of them and then down so we could walk behind the cascading water--very kewl!
Then we swam in the pool below them and rested on the pink sand beach. The rocks around the river are mostly sandstone and leave pretty pink sandy beaches. The water is tea-colored from all the tannins in the plants and minerals, and when the shallow water is over the pink sand, it looks bright orange. The next morning we were loaded into a wooden 30 foot dugout canoe (which takes three months to carve by hand) with a 48hp outboard motor.

Our bags were covered in a tarp and we all had ponchos or rain gear for the wet ride up the river, 4 plus hours. We soon reached another set of falls and we climbed into the rock pool, swam over to them and clambered up onto the rocks to stand in the pounding water falling from above. You just can't do this stuff in America, what with all the lawyers just waiting to sue somebody. Here, you take the risks and get to do cool stuff that is still adventurous. People slip and fall and get hurt all the time, but nobody sues them for injuries.

Onward up the river, we encountered rapids. The river water looked like rioting root beer, complete with floating clouds of foam and the boat driver diverted to the shore so we could walk for half an hour on the savanna. Not us! We'd heard that the rapids were some of the most fun on the whole trip upriver and we wanted to ride in the dugout as he powered up them. I convinced Felix, our guide to work it out with the boat driver, and we four Americans got back into the boat while the others walked. Aren't we special?! Our friends who'd done the trip the week before said it was low water and described the experience as "rock climbing in a dinghy". We however, had plenty of water and bashed up through 3' standing waves of the water. It was a quick trip and we actually encountered many more sets of smaller rapids the entire way upriver to the hammock camp. Already the others in the boat were jealous not only because we got to ride the rapids, but also that we had brought seat cushions. The hard wooden bench seats in the canoe weren't kind to the buttocks for 4 hours. And yes, you read that right--a hammock camp. A tin roof with hammocks hanging every few feet from the log supports. Mosquito netting was hung over every hammock and blankets were available for our use. The tables were huge wooden slabs with benches hewn from the same wood. It was all open air and we vied for space on the ropes to hang our wet clothes to try to dry before morning. Jason made the mistake of hanging his clothes on the line outside and it poured durning the nite. Good thing he's used to living in wet shorts. We slept pretty well considering most of us had never spent the nite in a hammock before. We all got jostled a bit when anyone moved and we were packed in pretty tightly so we could touch the person in the next hammock with no effort. A new experience for us. We hiked for over an hour the next morning up through the rainforest to a viewing spot across from Angel Falls. I was sweaty and pooped when I reached the top but it really was an awesome site to see. Cameras just can't do justice to the majesty that Mother Nature provides for our viewing. Some folks had the energy to hike down to a rock pool in the river (cold) and then back up and down the original trail over tree roots and rocks back to the river. I passed on that one.

We decided to take a taxi back to the marina (a 3-hour ride) instead of relying on the bus and had told the travel agent that we wanted to do so before we'd left the airport on the way out. Of course, it would be "another 30 minutes or so" before the car and driver arrived. When we finally packed into the vehicle, we were treated to white-knuckle Venezuelan driving on the open road at night--oh my God!!!! I was in the front and my eyeballs hurt from being so wide open in fright for so long. I'm sure we were doing over 100 mph but the speedometer was broken. The driver just flashed his lights a lot and honked his horn and drove around all the cars in front of us, expecting the oncoming traffic to just move aside and let us have the middle of the 2-lane road. He didn't speak English, we didn't speak Spanish, the A/C was on high and Jason had to endure the loud music with a speaker blasting in his ear the whole way. When we finally got close to our destination, we hit a traffic jam and that seemed to really piss him off and he then indicated he would only take us to the bus or ferry terminal, not to our marinas. Typical of what we have found of dealing with folks here. Kinda held us hostage for more money. We ended up taking another taxi from the ferry terminal to our marinas and were glad to be back on our boats. We got the extra money back from the travel agent after complaining, but it was a sour ending to a unique adventure. We decided to leave Puerto La Cruz and anchor out at a nearby island and then make the overnight passage to Tortuga from there (Cayo Borracha)/Isla Baracha.

Jus'Now and YOLO rafted up together in the tiny harbor cuz there wasn't much room for 2 boats to swing and we thought it would be safer. A Frenchman brought out some repair supplies that Jus'Now was going to deliver to his friend on Tortuga who'd hit a reef and put a gash in his boat; he told us we shouldn't spend 2 nites there as it was dangerous. But we'd seen a Policia boat come in and spend the afternoon with a boatload of swimmers and beach walkers. Why they came in a Police boat still stumps us, but we were glad the Police knew we were there! We did leave the next night and headed for Tortuga.

Unfortunately, 2 more boats decided to anchor in the same spot the night after we left and were approached by 3 bandits with guns and one captain was shot and killed, another wounded. Though wounded, he managed to kill 2 of the 3 bandits and one got away. We were feeling like we just cheated death as that could've been us! We'd seen a boatload of 7 guys come in and circle our boats slowly and then leave, but they didn't come back when we were there. And all the fishermen had packed up their stuff and left the beach deserted the first night we were there. Jason had noted a mannequin or stuffed effigy hanging in the fishing camp the first night, and also noticed it was beheaded the 2nd day????? As careful as we are, we don't have guns to defend ourselves with. Mike loaned us his extra flare gun just in case, but we are anxious to leave VZ waters now and move on to Bonaire. (12/20/08 lots of different stories abound about this event, but apparently no bandits were killed and they all were arrested and tried, but the body just got released and the folks involved have left VZ; too much info for this newsletter, but what a story!!)

People in VZ are either very rich or very poor. The rich come to the outer islands for the weekends--one here flew in on their helicopter and just landed next to the beach! Huge power yachts also blaze over and anchor for the weekends.
YOLO in Tortuga (sans helicopter)

So we sailed again overnite to Los Roques where you can still feel like the first explorers and find little places to tuck up in and anchor and snorkel. The water is just gorgeous here!! Brilliant aqua. We traded a small bottle of rum and some Pepsi for 4 lobsters and some fish and had a great grill one night. Cost us about $4 for the lobster meal for the 4 of us! We will do that again when we find a fisherman ready to trade. We are pinned in the anchorage at one of the small islands in high winds and rain for a few days so we just start drinking earlier. We've managed to do all our laundry in the rainwater we catch twice lately so we are at least clean drunken sailors! And we don't drink if we're going to be sailing--only after the hook is set. Luckily the 2 boats are close together, though as getting in and out of the dinghy can be tricky after a few rum and cokes!

So here it is Nov 16th and you're all caught up with our news. Let us hear from you and let us know what the news and gossip is in your part of the world. We've had no news since the election, so any emails are welcome. Ciao for now,


s/v YOLO

Friday, September 5, 2008

Grenada and Trinidad May 2008

We entered the country of Grenada and checked in officially in Hillsboro, Carriacou, a small island in the Grenadines north of the actual island of Grenada. We anchored out and took the dinghy in to the main dock at the center of town. The Customs officer was asleep in a chair in an alcove at the end of the dock. He was surly when I woke him and his strong accent confused me when he spoke. We had some miscommunication and he got a little ticked off when I said 'yes' to a question that meant something other than what I heard. When we finally figured out he was asking us about checking out, not in to the country, we were pointed to another person who was much friendlier. Now that we'd thoroughly pissed off the sleepy official, I was glad we were planning to check out from another location!

We had to go to the local police station to check in, fill out the paperwork and then take it a block away to a computer school lab that had a photocopier and make 4 copies for the Immigration officials. They didn't want to incur the cost of the paper or copy machine, so every yacht has to go thru this routine of paying for its own copies from another party--so silly!

We picked up the glossy, full-color tourist books here and there seemed lots of neat things to see and do on this island. We anchored in a bay popular with cruisers and partied at the floating Tiki Bar and saw upside down jellyfish that looked like underwater flowers. (above)

We sailed down the coast to anchor in St. George's Lagoon, a soupy area surrounded by marina slips. They told us that anchoring will soon be prohibited as the entire lagoon is being turned into a mega-yacht marina. Seems to be a trend in the Caribbean islands these days.

We wandered the area for a couple of days and then sailed back up the coast to nearby Moliniere Bay where we read of an underwater sculpture garden. We dinghied over to the bay where there were snorkel and dive boats with paying tourists decked out to see these amazing concrete sculptures put on the seabed by an artist who wants them to be the beginning of artificial reefs for the sealife. These were full-sized statues of people and things: a set of 18 statues of women based on real women named Grace; a man on a bicycle; a work desk with chair and typewriter; a ring of children holding hands, a gardner with straw hat (made of metal) and others. Very cool! Of course I forgot my underwater camera on the boat, so I don't have pics, but I was glad we saw them when we did as parts of them are already being knocked down onto the sand. We don't know if people or Mother Nature is knocking them over, but they will become jumbled concrete reef structure as time goes on.

We took a public bus to the other end of the island to the Grenada Chocolate Factory to see the cocoa being processed into chocolate and taste the final product. The 'bus' was a 12-passenger minivan with a 'conductor' responsible for the money and seating arrangements. He packed 19 of us into the vehicle and we sat cheek-to-cheek and thigh-to-thigh as we sped through the Grand Etang Forest Preserve, tires squealing as we rocked from side to side on the winding, twisting road. We'd have been battered black and blue with the motion if there'd been any room to move in the bus!
We were dropped at the front door of the Grenada Chocolate Company and the van left. Woe was me when a worker told us they no longer allowed tours as the owner in New York City thought the tours distracted his workers and reduced production. (New York City??? reminds me of the Pace salsa ads). We had to trudge back down the hill and backtrack along the road for a mile or 2 to the Belmont Estate where they collect the cocoa beans and provide a tour that explains the process, including video of the place we just left; they provide samples, too!

Worldly as you may think I am, I'd never seen a cocoa bean off the tree before, so I was pretty interested. The slimy white seeds in the yellow, football-shaped pods weren't what I'd had in mind. The mucus-like covering of the beans is quite sweet and I wandered around sucking on the beans til the white stuff was gone and then saving the dark purplish-brown seeds that actually contain the cocoa. Local growers bring the wet beans to the Estate and have them weighed for payment. The beans are then put into wooden fermentation bins and hand-shoveled to a new bin every other day to promote even fermentation. The smell is reminiscent of a winery.

After 6 or 7 days, the fermented beans are then laid out on large wooden trays to dry in the sun. The trays can be rolled under a cover if it rains. Every 1/2 hour the beans need to be turned so they dry evenly. Employees "walk the beans", turning the layer of beans with their feet so they all get some sun and air. "Sure, go ahead" was the response when I asked our tour guide if I could try it. A highlight for me as I shucked off my shoes and socks and shuffled through the warm, sticky beans on one of the wooden racks! No need to worry about germs or such as the beans are cleaned and processed enough in later stages to kill anything that you can think of! My feet were still sticky and my socks still smelled like cocoa when I took them off back at the boat that night! And we nibbled handfuls of the dark chocolates with 60% and 71% cocoa at the end of the tour.--very yummy! They make organic chocolate bars and the Grenad Chocolate sells for over $5 a bar. Too pricey for me to buy, but I sampled plenty waiting for the rain to stop so we could catch a bus to the rum factory.

Ahhhhh rum! We've been having the daily tot of rum with a bit of Coke and lime for months now. Jason actually calculated the rum : coke ratio and then determined how much Coke/Diet Coke we needed to buy to handle the remainder of the 2 cases of rum we'd bought in St Martin. Since we were imbibing the stuff, we thought we'd go see one of the oldest rum distilleries in the islands.

The Rivers Rum distillery still uses the original building and processes from 1785 to make rum the old-fashioned way. It has the oldest original operating waterwheel and it is still what powers the conveyor belt and crusher for the sugar cane. The manual processes keep about 80 local folks employed in the very inefficient creation of the spirit, but it is pretty interesting, and you can get up close and personal with the whole process. The rum that comes out of the still (just like the moonshiners use!) is at least 75% alcohol (that's 150 proof!) or they send it back through the process to get stronger! It's not even legal to carry the stuff on an airplane at that strength, so they dilute it down to 69% alcohol for export purposes. I wouldn't even try the free samples of the hi-test stuff, and the low-test mixed into a fruity rum punch still melted the bones pretty quick. Whooo! watch out for that stuff!

We left St. George's and since it was pretty still, we removed the 75-lb. anchor and tried to unkink the 250' of chain attached to it. Every time we drop and raise the anchor, it swivels and kinks a little and we wanted to unkink the 600+ lbs of chain with the help of windlass to raise it back up instead of having to offload it all onto dry land to do it by hand. Then we motor sailed around the end of the island to Prickly Bay and met some cruising friends. We hopped along the southern coast to several different bays looking for good snorkeling stops, and ended up in St David's. This was the last stop before an overnight passage to Trinidad, and folks were waiting for the wind to settle down a bit before making the crossing.

Our friend Ted, with whom we'd sailed to Bermuda and sailed in the Chesapeake, was making a single-handed transAtlantic crossing from Spain to Florida when we suggested he come further south and join us for some Caribbean sailing. He'd been aiming to meet up with us since we were in St Martin, and his path finally intersected ours when he made his first landfall in 6 weeks in St David's, Grenada the day before we were to leave for Trinidad. We'd kept in touch via the SSB radio for the past couple of months, and thought he wasn't going to reach us before we hauled out and left for home. We only had a very short time to visit as we left the next night for Trinidad.

We sailed overnight, with the wind and current both pushing us northwest. We passed the Hibiscus gas drilling platform off the coast of Trinidad in the wee hours of the morning. It was all lit up and you could see the massive structure for miles! Once we passed the rocky canyon of an entrance to Trinidad's bay, the wind stopped almost completely and we were in beautiful protected waters again in Chaguaramas.

We cleared Customs and Immigration (a bigger ordeal than it really needs to be, I think) and anchored out in the bay. The local boats zip around at full speed, creating wakes and making the anchorage pretty rolly. We tied up at the marina dock the day before getting hauled out and worked ourselves stupid getting the boat ready to be lifted out and stored for the hurricane season. So much activity to prep the boat! Now it's sitting on the hard waiting for us to return.
Addendum as of 9/9/08: we just heard that cheap fuel in Trinidad is no longer. The local government has now decided that it won't sell the fuel to foreigners!! They might allow one place to sell to foreigners at the 'international price' which is over $4/gallon. There's quite an uproar going on in the yacht harbor over the ordeal and some folks are feeling like they're being held ransom since they can't get diesel for the yachts nor gasoline for their dinghies. Guess we'll fill up on food and head out if that is their attitude! Luckily our diesel tanks were filled before the boat got hauled out. But our dinghy is going to need gas so we aren't sure what will happen. Keep your fingers crossed for us