Maya’s New School

.

.

 

„Good morning students! This is your new classmate, Maya. She will be studying with us in fourth grade. I want you to welcome her in our class and show her respect. Maya comes from another country, from Canada. We all have to help her to feel welcomed in our school and in our country, Guatemala. We are all happy when someone from another country comes to study with us. That means they want to learn about our country, our culture, and language. But we are also lucky to have them among us because we also learn from them, about their country and culture. The foreign students enrich our knowledge about other places in the world. And this is why today we are very fortunate to have Maya with us, we have to appreciate this. Welcome in fourth grade, Maya! Luis-Pedro, bring a chair and a desk for Maya from the other room and put it over there.“

 

Maya's classroom

Maya’s classroom

 

Facing the class, Maya beside him looking at the cement floor, her heart racing with excitement, el profe Estuardo says these words in Spanish, his right hand resting on Maya’s shoulder. She doesn’t understand what he has just said, she doesn’t speak Spanish yet, but I do. I lean at the door of the classroom peeking inside. About twenty kids in uniforms, from eight to fourteen years old, are standing up very still, listening carefully to their teacher. His words bring tears in my eyes. I will never forget this moment. 

 

Maya's first day at school.

Maya’s classmates on her first day at school.

 

Maya starts school two days after we arrive in Rio Dulce. The subscription procedure takes less than a minute consisting in meeting the teacher and asking him if she can start school. Sure she can, no problem, he answers with a smile, and so she is immediately admitted. No paperwork, no photocopies, no fees. The only thing we have to provide is a few cuadernos (notebooks) and a school uniform.

 

Taking measurements for the school uniform. This woman is the only tailor in the village who makes the girl's uniforms.

Taking measurements for the school uniform. This woman is the only tailor in the village who makes the girl’s skirts.

 

The school is a small one-story building under a great ceiba tree: a row of four classrooms with permanently open doors and windows where a total of about sixty local kids between five and fourteen years of age gather every day from 7:40 am to 12:30 pm. There are a bunch of sun-stricken village dogs who also attend the classes on daily bases walking in and out the open doors, undisturbed, occasionally chasing the neighboring chickens who venture in the schoolyard looking for bugs.

 

Kids in front of the school building

Kids in front of the school building

 

The schoolyard is covered with gravel and mud puddles, with palm trees and flowers that never cease blooming in the humid hot air of Rio Dulce. Between classes, kids run around and women from the village come to sell snacks: coquitos (peeled orange halves with salt and pepper), jugo (juice), heladitos (small ice creams).

 

 

Maya playing with the kids in the schoolyard

Maya playing with the kids in the schoolyard

 

In the morning, instead of a school bus, a lancha passes by to pick up Maya and the other boatkids as well as kids who live further down the river.

 

The school lancha (like a school bus) passes every morning in the anchorage to pick up kids

The school lancha (like a school bus) passes every morning in the anchorage to pick up kids

 

Maya is not the only boatkid going to El Relleno school.

 

Cline, 4, s/v Souricat

Coline, 6, s/v Souricat

 

Noial, Lovam, Ilan, and Coline, also go there.

 

Lovam, 5, s/v FriendShip

Lovam, 5, s/v FriendShip

 

Maya loves her new school. Next Monday, she will be doing an oral presentation about Guatemala’s national flower, La Monja Blanca.

 

 

Maya waiting for the school lancha in the morning

Maya waiting for the school lancha in the morning

 

Share

The Trap

 

 

“I call it ‘the trap’. You think you gonna go there and stay for a week; you get there and stay for a year. Some people stay there forever, never leave,” Leonardo, a sailor and a dear friend of ours we met in Cuba, told us a few weeks ago.

Notorious among cruisers for being a place protected from hurricanes, Rio Dulce has become a main destinations for boaters from around the world during the stormy summer months. We also came here to hide from the hurricanes and Rio Dulce quickly became home.

 

View of Rio Dulce from the bridge

View of Rio Dulce from the bridge

 

Rio Dulce is a small area nine miles upriver from the town of Livingston, at the edge of Lago Izabal. All there is here is a bridge linking two aldeas (small villages), Fronteras and El Relleno, and the many marinas and anchorages in the waters around them.

 

The Rio Dulce Bridge

The Rio Dulce Bridge

 

In 1980 a massive cement bridge designed by the US Army Corp of Engineers was built by a Puerto Rican company. Standing 90 feet above the water, the bridge connects the east and the west banks of the river and the main road between Guatemala City and Tikal with lots of heavy truck and bus traffic. On the east bank of the bridge is the small village El Relleno, and on the west bank is the bigger town of Fronteras.

 

The Anchorage in front of Fronteras

The Anchorage in front of Fronteras

 

In the past few years Fronteres grew from a bus stop to a small town with everything that a small town might need: a school, a clinic, a post office, a few banks, many small shops, hardware stores, panaderias (bakeries), cernicerias (meat shops), shoe shine stands, pharmacies, fruit and vegetable stands all perched on both sides of the main road, the same heavy-truck-and-bus-traffic-road.

 

Quiché women making and selling tortillas in Fronteras

Quiché women making and selling tortillas in Fronteras

 

By the way, there are no sidewalks, you exit a small shop and you are on the street. It is an adventure shopping there especially on market day, which is Tuesday, when the vegetable stands are packed with fresh produce (always at very low prices) and everyone, locals and cruisers, are out to stock up.

 

Fronteras Main Street

Fronteras Main Street

 

El Relleno, on the other side of the bridge, is nothing like Fronteres. It never grew up. There isn’t a busy market street, but a few tienditas (small shops) on the ground floor of people’s houses and a small primary school where our daughter Maya, almost ten, has been accepted in fourth grade and is currently studying along with the local kids, learning Spanish.

 

Noial, Kaila, Sofia, and Maya in front of El Relleno Primary School

Noial, Kaila, Sofia, and Maya in front of El Relleno Primary School

 

And then there are the surrounding waters with their many marinas and anchorages, a city of masts. There are probably more boats here than houses in the two villages, and more boaters, mainly Americans and French cruisers, than locals. Twenty five years ago, there was only one marina in the area. Today there are about twenty competing to attract clientele. Each one has excellent services and amenities. Electricity, water, hot showers, laundry 24-hour security, book exchange, trash disposal, open air community rooms under grass canopy roofs and hanging flowers, work-shops, tiendas, beautifully decorated restaurants and bars under thatched roof, swimming pools, Wi Fi, gym, beach volleyball, tennis and pool rooms. Many of these marinas are accessible only by water and are surrounded by jungle. Some even offer jungle bungalows for rent. The best thing about all these marinas is their prices ranging from US$ 150 to US$ 250 per month. In United States you would pay more only for your monthly gym fee.

 

Maya and a friend enjoying the swimming pool at marina Nanajuana

Maya and a friend enjoying the swimming pool at marina Nanajuana

 

Us, and all the other boaters not staying in any marina but anchoring out for free wherever we chose for the week, are welcome to use some of the nearest marina services gratis. We have been welcomed to all the dinghy docks, swimming pools, volleyball courts, book exchange, and Wi Fi, as well as to free popcorn movie nights, Wednesday at Mar Marine and Saturday at Tortugal, yoga and Pilates groups every morning in Mar Marine and Bruno’s, watercolor painting groups Wednesday mornings at Bruno’s, Pot Luck Dinner Monday evenings at Mario’s marina. Every Sunday there is the boaters’ inter-exchange market happening at Mar Marine, where cruisers bring anything they want to get rid of and try to sell it. Here you can buy used boat parts, anchors, generators, cruising guides, even used clothes and shoes.

 

Ilan, Maya, Noial, and Lovam drawing a Quetzal bird. In Mario's Marina

Ilan, Maya, Noial, and Lovam drawing a Quetzal bird. In Mario’s Marina

 

It is easy to feel home in a place like this. Here we met new friends, young cruising families with kids, and with all those activities our days are pretty busy. And there is so much to explore around Lago Izabal and beyond. Rio Dulce is a trap, such a lovely place…

Mira choosing fruits at the Tuesday market in Fronteras.

Mira choosing fruits at the Tuesday market in Fronteras.

 

 

 

Share

Waters with a Taste of Mountains.

„First the earth was created, the mountains and the valleys. The waterways were divided, their branches coursing among the mountains. Thus the waters were divided, revealing the great mountains. For thus was the creation of the earth, created then by Heart of Sky and Heart of Earth, as they are called. They were the first to conceive it.“

-Popol Vuh

River and Mountains

River and Mountains

 

Very gently, like a thief entering a sleeping house, the fairy Morgana slides through the gates of the mountain: the mouth of Rio Dulce. It is the entrance to another world. Rocky shores (temples without roofs) overgrown with dark trees. Dark trees (sorcerers with sleeping birds and snakes in the hair) stretching thin fingers down, down to the green waters of the river. Green waters of the river (messenger of the tallest mountain and forgotten places) carrying aromas and the petrified reflections of ancient gods.

 

The Entrance of Rio Dulce

The Entrance of Rio Dulce

 

Nothing happens. Like in a vacuum. Like in a dream. Rocky shores, dark trees, green waters of the river-serpent. Only forest butterflies, men of maize in cayucos carved from tree trunks fishing with nets made out of Mayan secrets, and our alien boat sailing through the mountains perturb the slumber of this enchanted world.

Nothing happens for three days and three nights. We remain anchored near Cayo Quemado, a few mile before the town of Rio Dulce, unable to continue, slowly letting Guatemala soak in our bones through our skins, through our eyes, ears, and mouths.

Our mornings are populated by crystal drizzle, the smell of small fires, and the cry of a black forest bird.

A silent cayuco sneaks next to our boat. A mother with three children older than time are selling tamales. She made them this morning over the fire, with her hands and her magic. She put a chicken bone for a skeleton in the middle of corn-rolls and wrapped them, like you would wrap a newborn baby, in palm leafs. Over the fire, under her spell. They taste of palm leafs, smoke and flesh.

 

Quiche woman with baby selling Tamales from her canoe

Quiche woman with baby selling Tamales from her canoe

 

Our afternoons move slowly in the heat of the summer and even stop for an hour or go backwards. Time here is not the same.

On the second day we meet the river people. Half human half fish they live in the river from the waist down and in the forest from the waist up. They have small wooden houses built on the river banks. Their canoes glide like snakes on the surface of the waters. They have no other roads but the rivers. Their enemies are the invisible river crabs.

 

River People's House

River People’s House

 

Our evenings are purple with white dots. Purple like the mountain. The white dots are river lilies and egrets returning to sleep in the trees.

 

River Lilies

River Lilies

 

Our nights are filled with the distant songs of frogs and cicadas, and the melancholic cries of the river manatees.

 

Sunset over Rio Dulce

Sunset over Rio Dulce

 

Daily prompt 

Share

Livingston, Home of The Garifuna People of Guatemala.

 „Como se cuenta en las historias que ahora nadie cree -ni las abuelas ni los niños-, esta ciudad fue construida sobre ciudades enterradas en el centro de América. Para unir las piedras de sus muros la mezcla se amasó con leche. Para señalar su primera huella se enterraron envoltorios de tres dieces de plumas y tres dieces de cañutos de oro en polvo junto a la yerba-mala, atestigua un recio cronicón de linajes; en un palo podrido, saben otros, o bien bajo rimeros de leña o en la montaña de la que surgen fuentes.“

(As told in the stories that nobody believes now—neither grandmothers nor children—this city was built over buried cities in the center of America…)

– Guatemala, Leyendas de Guatemala, Miguel Ángel Asturias

Dawn

 

I am navigating in the dark. Time passes slowly when sailing with one knot and those final moments of night seam interminable. I know there is land in front of us just a few miles away, I can see it on the chart. The shores of Guatemala are so close I can scent the dry smell of earth and ancient mysteries. In the dark I can make out nothing more but the contours of mountains, a darker shade of black under the night sky. 

Two miles from land dawn begins to break with the speed of a flower blooming, and the most beautiful view gradually unfolds before my eyes. No more sea but mountain. Dark old cloud-eating mountain. The back of a sleeping monster in whose veins flows the blood of trees and forgotten animals. Green hills on the bank of a river, a home of herons, water lilies, and ghosts.

There, on the shores where the river meets the sea, under the lush chest of the mountain, men built a small town.

 

Livingston

 

Livingston , Guatemala. Hotel and docks.

Livingston , Guatemala. Hotel and docks.

 

Before heading up river to Rio Dulce, we spend a couple of days here dealing with customs and immigration, a lengthy but smooth process, and take advantage of our free time to explore the town. 

Public Laundry, Livingston Gatemala

Public Laundry, Livingston Gatemala

Livingston is a busy fishermen village where people and goods arrive solely by boat, as there is no land roads leading in and out of town.

Residential area in Livingston

Residential area in Livingston

Fishing boats and lanchas stop on the main docks to fuel, bring supplies, or pick up passengers for Rio Dulce or Puerto Barrios every few minutes.

Fishing boat at anchor

Fishing boat at anchor

As we walk up the main street where small negocios offer fresh fruits and vegetables, pan de coco, tortillas, and pretty much everything you need, we notice a bizarre mixture of people.

A young Queqchíe mother with daughter, Livingston , Guatemala

A young Queqchíe mother with daughter, Livingston , Guatemala

 

 

Ladinos with cowboy hats and checkered shirts are walking slowly down the street, indigenous Queqchíes and Quiché women with long black braids, bright-colored laced shirts and long pleated traditional skirts are sitting on the side of the road surrounded by a bunch of small kids. But what make Livingston a truly unique place within Guatemala is its Garifuna community, black Caribbean men and women with dreadlocks and Jamaican hats who make up the majority of the local population. 

 

A Garifuna girl, Livingston Guatemala

A Garifuna girl, Livingston Guatemala

 

Los Garifuna

 

In Livingston we met the „black indigenous people“ of Central America. Their identity was formed, in the 17-th and 18-th century, in the midst of destructive experiences, exploitation, and displacement. Their story begun with a shipwreck.

In 1635 a slave ship loaded with African men and women destined for the plantations of the colonies in the New World wrecked near the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent. The survivors found refuge on the island among a community of Carib Indians who had escaped the colonization in South America and lived free of European oppression and exploitation on the island. The two peoples’, traditions, music, and spirituality blended giving birth to a new ethnic identity: the Garifuna people. 

Polo Martines, a friend

Polo Martines, a friend

Later in the 17th century, French settlers joined the island community in a peaceful coexistence. But when English colonists came and started appropriating land, war started between the British and the Garifunas supported by the French. In 1796 the massive British troops won the war and exiled the Garifunas to the Roatán Island off the coast of Honduras. There, the Garifunas established new communities and fishing villages which spread to Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Belize. 

Garifuna child, Livingston, Guatemala

Garifuna child, Livingston, Guatemala

Today, Livingston is home of the largest Garifuna community in Guatemala, with population of 14,000. Here we met Polo Martinez. He takes us for a tour around the Garifuna part of the village. Extremely bright and knowledgeable person, Polo introduces us to their history and culture, music, language, and traditions. In exchange for the tour he asks for a bag of rice and some used books, in English.

Polo, leading us around the Garifuna neighborhood.

Polo is leading us around the Garifuna neighborhood.

The Garifuna people of Livingston are with no exception multilingual. They speak, along with English and Spanish, their own Garifuna language, a mixture of Arawakan, Carib, Spanish, English, and French. What is most fascinating about this language is the division of its vocabulary: women use different concepts and words than men. 

An old  Garifuna woman in her house, Livingston, Guatemala

An old Garifuna woman in her house, Livingston, Guatemala

Another friend we met on the docks while waiting for wind, Liverio Gamboa, tells us more about the local community and its struggles, mixing English and Spanish in a most innocent way. He is a curious-looking individual: black skin, white beard, long dark dreadlocks rolled under a red hat and blue eyes.

Liverio Gamboa, a friend

Liverio Gamboa, a friend

„How come blue eyes?“, I ask him.

„That’s the problem, he smiles, I told you. Who knows where these eyes came from…“

As the afternoon wind picks up and we are ready to sail up river we say good-by to Polo and Liverio. They will be there if we return.

„And remember, Liverio adds, somos el único pueblo que no ha vio combate. Aquí la gente muere de vejez.“

Mira with a Garifuna kid. Picture taken by another kid

Mira with a Garifuna kid. Picture taken by another kid

 

Share

The Gulf of Honduras Bridge Is Not On The Charts!

 

 Sailing south along the coast of Belize

 

Sailing south non stop for over twenty hours along the Caribbean coast of Belize between the mainland and the Belize Barrier Reef where the seas are low; winds over twenty knots, the boat doing eight, at times nine knots. The miles go fast. Small mangrove islands to port, tall mountains to starboard, dark and mysterious, a huge river delta poring its brown waters in the sea.

At night, we try to take turns steering the boat, Ivo, Viktor, and I, but most of the time Ivo is at the helm, enjoying the speed. As we enter the Gulf of Honduras, the wind dies and the sea becomes flat as a lake. Staying awake is a challenge. Humongous cargo ships criss-cross the gulf, passing just next to our tiny boat. One even alters her course avoiding us. Good thing she saw us.

 

The Gulf of Honduras bridge

 

Around 3 in the morning Ivo wakes me up after a sharp tack, worried.

„There is a bridge in front of us and it looks low, we almost crashed into the bridge!“

„What bridge are you talking about, I don’t see a bridge.“ All I see is city lights in the distance. I take the spotlight and gaze into the darkness.

„The bridge, there, don’t you see it? Shit, it’s not on the chart! And that’s exactly where we have to go, it’s on our way!“

 

Ivo

Ivo

 

He really sees a bridge. Viktor and I try hard, staring into the darkness to see it too. Ivo has convinced us the bridge is right there, only, we cannot detect it…

We spend an hour circling in front of the bridge, altering our course in order not to collide with it, checking another chart to see if they maybe indicated it there. They didn’t. Sometimes the charts are way off, but omitting to mark a creepy low bridge in the middle of the Gulf of Honduras is preposterous!

„Wait a minute, this isn’t a bridge, I say, this is a road on land far away in the distance and you are hallucinating! Go get some sleep,“ I take over the wheel for the rest of the night and turn the boat directly towards the imaginary bridge.

Ivo goes below to get some sleep thinking to himself, „Man I hope she doesn’t hit the bridge…“

 

 

weekly writing challenge

Share

Inside The Storm

„When in the wind’s eye she refused to go farther and with all her sails aback she slowly forged astern. Back, back, until every watcher’s heart was ready to burst with suspense, back to that fearful maelstrom. Back, to the octopus whose arms were extended to receive the doomed ship and her crew. Back, till in the hollow of a huge wave her stempost struck the sand beneath and the story is told.“

-An account of the 1849 storm and the wreck of the Hanover, by Milton Spinney, son of the keeper.

 

.

.

Imagine you could get to a small Caribbean island, one hundred percent virgin, covered with lush tropical vegetation, bordered by a long stretch of white powdery sand where you can go for walks in the morning and collect pink seashells, surrounded by waters so crystal and fresh you just snorkel all day among purple corals and fish. Imagine you can get there for free and stay for as long as you like to, never having to pay for airplane tickets and hotels. There, you don’t even have to worry about food. The avocado and mango trees are loaded with fruit, lazy lobsters and fat fishes are begging to be fillet and barbecued, and watch out for those big coconuts constantly falling from the palm trees just next to your bare feet. Totally free!

This is what you sign up for when you give up house and job, when you buy a sailboat and load all your belongings and kids aboard, and one fresh April morning you lift anchor, spread the sails, and chose a direction.

This island experience is not some romantic totally unrealistic representation of the cruising family’s journey. We are enjoying such moments since a few months now. The only detail that is not completely true, besides the coconuts falling next to your bare feet (if you want a nice coconut, you have to climb up the palm and get it!), is the „totally free“ part. Everything has a price, especially freedom. And not everyone is willing to afford the price of ‘free travel’. Sometimes this price can be as high as your very life and the life of your children. But you only realize that when you hit your first storm.

August 23

We are tired after a day of sailing and we still haven’t found a protected place to anchor. It is dark when we clear the reef and drop anchor just past the breakers, in sixteen feet of water, not too close to the shore of a small island where we can see the lights of a few houses. Belize City glows in the distance, further west. We are now in Belize.

This isn’t really an anchorage, there are no other boats, and between us and the sea is just a tiny stripe of coral reefs which are calming the waves a bit, but are unable to slow down the south winds. Our plan is to spend a few days here, check out the islands and snorkel around the Belize Barrier Reef, the second largest reef system in the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. But Neptune had other plans for us.

The next morning we wake up under heavy skies. A black cloud almost touching the sea is getting closer and closer from the south-east and soon a thick and dark wind full of rain descends upon us squealing and roaring and howling. Here comes the crazy old man riding upon the storm like a demon coming from the deep, mighty and furious. Lightnings slit the darkness around us followed by terrific explosions. We no longer see the shores of the island, we see nothing. The GPS says we are dragging anchor and fast. We turn on the motors and try to keep the boat from crashing into the reefs or to shore, but we have no idea which direction to turn, plus the wind is way stronger than the engines to be able to turn. Total chaos.

Good thing we dropped anchor away from the reefs and the shore and we had enough space to ‘drag safely’ for an entire mile. After some time, I have no idea how long the squall lasted, the wind calms down a bit, giving us enough time to reanchor and let out 300 feet of chain. Then it hits again. This time we don’t drag. We take GPS position every half an hour. The storm like a vulture circles above us and assaults us many times in the next couple of days and nights. Each squall is worst than the previous with winds of 40, then 50, then 60 miles per hour. But the boat takes it. We even get used to it and start playing cards.

On the third day looks like the worst has passed. The sky is still grey, the wind is still blowing hard but steady and the sea is rough, but no more squalls. Our wind-vane which anyway wasn’t working is missing and we are exhausted, but everything else is fine. It could be a lot worst. We could have been at sea and not at anchor, what would we have done then? Probably, for the experienced sailor, this would have seamed just a swirl of clouds. To us it was a hurricane. Later we found out that it was tropical storm Erin.

Time to sail the hell away from here, forget about snorkeling and visiting Belize, we now just want to get to Guatemala as soon as possible. Thus, we never set foot on Belize land, nor in Belize waters, we never met a single Belizean man or animal, although technically we spent a few days in Belize. Our memory of this country is populated by the terrible sounds of the storm. And the story is told.

 

Inside The Storm

Share

A Perfect Day At Sea

 

Caribbean Blue

Caribbean Blue

 

 

„What is your favorite color?“

„I love the colors around me“

It’s so peaceful. The world flows all around us. The sea, like a little girl gently carrying a butterfly on the palm of her hand carries our little boat, her white wings luminous against the sun. The liquid blue is poring beneath. I could dip my brush inside the ocean and paint blue jays, sapphires, eyes, moons, igloos at dusk, forget-me-nots till the rest of my life. My vision has become equine.

Some days at sea are truly perfect. Such days begin with a perfect candy-colored sunrise and end with a perfect candy-colored sunset. Orange, purple and pink clouds burst over the horizon during those two short spectacular moments, and then: just blue again. We sail.

Blue dolphins.

„Why do dolphins make us act like idiots?“

„I think they heard the music, some funny song they probably like, and that is why they came to dance around us.“

And we lough and we giggle, we call them and talk to them as if they understand. Surely they understand.

Blue wind.

„Wind is blowing from the right direction with the right velocity: five on the Beaufort scale. That is not too much and it is not too little.“

„It is perfect“

The sails are full and tight and shiny like the belly of a pregnant woman. We sail.

We fish. Fishing is important. We stick two fishing poles on both sides of the boat so that they are really stable and will not fall in the water when the fish pulls. Thus we don’t have to hold the fishing poles. We let the lures drag about five waves behind the boat. We wait and we listen for the sudden hiss of the line. Both lines pull almost at the same time! First one and a second later the other! Swish. (One). Swish. We panic. But it is a happy panic full of excitement. We bring in two identical tunas. Twins. The next couple of days, we don’t fish.

Some days at sea are truly perfect. This was one such day. Somewhere in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Mexico. And it happened to be my birthday, I am not joking. The sunrise, the blue of the sea, the wind, the dolphins, two tunas, a perfect sunset. Neptune sending me gifts.

 

 

Mira and her Birthday Gifts

Mira and her Birthday Gifts

 

Weekly Writing Challenge

Share

Playa del Carmen: Mayan Ruins and Sea Turtles

.

.

 

August 18.

We pick up the anchor and leave Isla Mujeres heading south.  (The windlass suddenly doesn’t work, so Ivo has to bring the chain and anchor up by hand.) Our destination: Rio Dulce, Guatemala, a hurricane hole famous among the cruising community. Lots of boats spend the unstable summer months here as Rio Dulce is one of the most protected anchorages in the Caribbean and storms rarely visit this pace. The distance we have to sail is about 450 nautical miles, at least 4-6 days of sailing depending on the wind and if we don’t stop at night.

But we have to be mad not to stop, we are sailing parallel to Riviera Maya, keeping close to shore, and on our starboard side are some of the most beautiful Mexican beaches and resorts. Why not spending some quality time in a five-star ultra luxurious resort (or somewhere near it) for free?

 

Hotel Pool, Playa del Carmen

Hotel Pool at a 5-star resort, Playa del Carmen

 

After a few hours of uneventful sailing we drop anchor just south of the crowded Playa del Carmen after the last hotel right in front of the beach. There is not a single anchorage here, so we are hoping for calm winds and seas at night. The next day we explore.

 

Fata Morgana anchored off the beach, Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Fata Morgana anchored off the beach, Playa del Carmen, Mexico

 

For the first time we leave our boat anchored in front of a beach, alone, in a country notorious for its high crime rate. There is no dinghy dock here, so we paddle to shore and finally Viktor brings the kayak back to the boat and swims to shore with a bag full of shoes. Thus we don’t have to worry at least for the kayak. We head to town.

 

Viktor after swimming from Fata Morgana to the beach with a bag of shoes.

Viktor after swimming from Fata Morgana to the beach with a bag of shoes.

 

Once a small fishermen village, today Playa del Carmen is a major tourist destination with modern gated hotel complexes and condominiums, downtown area with shopping plazas and boutiques, internationally recognized chain restaurants and bars, and luxury department stores.

 

Public Beach at Playa del Carmen

Public Beach at Playa del Carmen

 

From here we go to Tulum to check out the ruins. If we had a good detailed chart or/and a cruising guide explaining how and where to clear the reef breakers, we could have sailed to Tulum, a few miles south of Playa del Carmen, and anchored just in front of the God of Winds Temple perched on the edge of a bluff, facing the sunrise. But we don’t have a guide and the chart doesn’t show any depths beyond the reef, so we take the bus instead.

 

Mira in Tulum

Mira in Tulum

 

Tulum, City of Dawn, is one of the last Mayan cities and one of the best preserved Mayan sites. (Maya did not have to pay admission because of her name. Joke. Because kid under 13 enter for free.) We are impressed by the size of its territory and the number of individual structures: temples, palaces, frescoes, platforms. But the hundreds of tourists invading the ruins inevitably spoil the entire experience. At some point we just want to run away from there. Plus, we are getting worried for Fata.

 

Tourists at Tulum

Tourists at Tulum

 

We get back at the boat in the afternoon to find her undisturbed, quietly waiting for us. The next day we spend walking around the coast. South of the last hotel and sandy beach is a rocky deserted shore where we notice at least twenty recent sea-turtle nests. Suddenly, we spot a coati digging in the sand. The animal runs away and hides in the bushes as we approach. There is blood and turtle eggshell. He’s been eating recently hatched baby sea-turtles! We find two survivors and keep them in a bucket covered with sand, like Suzy did back at Loggerhead Island. We plan to release them on the beach around midnight.

 

Ivo with a baby green turtle

Ivo with a baby green turtle

 

It’s midnight, full moon. Ivo and I paddle with the kayak to the beach to release the two baby turtles. One is dead. The other one swims away. And then, we see a huge green turtle just finished laying her eggs, exhausted, covered with sand, heading back to the Caribbean Sea. I can’t resist and snap a picture. She tolerates us, ignores us, and disappears in the black waters of the night. We are overwhelmed. Was it a dream?

 

A green sea-turtleheading back to the sea after laying her eggs.

A green sea-turtle heading back to the sea after laying her eggs.

Share

Isla Mujeres, Mexico

 

.

.

Isla Mujeres, The Island of Women, is a small stretch of land, once populated by Mayan goddesses. About 4 miles long and less than half a mile wide, it is the eastermost point just off the Yucatan peninsula in the Quinana Roo province, across from Cancun; here Mexico wakes up. The northern half of the island bordered by vast fine sand beaches, is the tourist area: hotels, colorful negocios, street vendors, bars and restaurants, on both sides of the busy main street, everywhere vacation people chilling, having fun. The southern half of the island is occupied by las colonias where the locals live tranquilos in small brick houses of all colors.

 

.

.

 

We really love Isla Mujeres, its colors, people and laid back atmosphere. We explore the island, north and south, walk around the beaches and the east wall, shop in Cherdaui, a huge store in the residential area where we can find anything we need and even more things that we don’t need, including green sausages, freshly made pastries, and tons of ridiculously cheap tacos. We pretty much eat tacos for breakfast, lunch and dinner (and sometimes for snacks in between meals) every day.

 

Pastries in Chedraui

Pastries in Chedraui

 

We spend a week anchored in front of the charming El Milagro Marina using their dinghy dock with 24 hour security and internet for free. This is one of the best marinas we have seen so far, with excellent facilities and friendly staff. But the anchorage holding is very poor, it’s covered with sea-grass, and we drag our oversized Rocna anchor three times during some very strong squalls. Good thing that pretty much all boats drag together in the same direction during the squalls, like a synchronized dance, so we don’t bump into each other.

 

El Milagro Marina, Isla Mujeres, Mexico

El Milagro Marina, Isla Mujeres, Mexico

 

One day, we take the kayak to check out the floating plastic island not far from the anchorage. The artist, Richart Sowa, who, using recycled plastic bottles, built the small island and a two-story house where he resides, did it as an ecologiacal project hoping to demonstrate that garbage can be transformed and reused without harming the environment. You can read more about Joysxee, the floating plastic eco island here.

 

Eco Island, Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Eco Island, Isla Mujeres, Mexico

 

We also check out Poc-na Hostel with Steve, Julie, and Mike, very cool young travellers we first met in Key West, then in Cuba, and now here, in Isla Mujeres. (Check out Mike’s blog here.) This is probably the coolest hostel in Mexico! There is cheap drinks, live music, and a beach party almost every night in the hostel’s backyard and the crowd is, of course, bare-foot, bearded backpackers from all around the world.

After a week, it is time to move on. We didn’t plan to stay so long in Mexico at all, we were on our way to a protected anchorage in Guatemala where many boaters spend the hurricane season. So we never even cleared immigration and customs, officially we’ve never been to Mexico.

 

More photos from Isla Mujeres

 

.

.

 

 

.

.

 

 

.

.

 

 

.

.

 

 

El Perro Azul

El Perro Azul

 

 

.

.

 

 

.

.

 

 

.

.

 

 

.

.

 

 

.

.

 

 

.

.

 

 

.

.

 

 

.

.

Share

The Yucatan Current and The Dodos

Viktor on the helm, Maya keeping him company.

Viktor on the helm, Maya keeping him company. Somewhere between Cuba and Mexico. August 10, 2013

 

Across the Yucatan Strait, between the westernmost extremity of Cuba and the easternmost point of Mexico, flows the Yucatan current, an ocean river running north. For us currents were abstract lines existing only on charts, like borders and other imaginary lines people constantly draw on maps over deserts and mountains, to make them look more scientific and serious, until we begun the 102 nautical miles passage between Cabo San Antonio and Isla Mujeres.

We lift anchor in the late afternoon on August 10 and draw a straight line towards our destination. Two electrical storms and three squalls later we realise our mistake. About 30 miles from the Mexican shore, the waves big and nervous coming at a slight angle behind us, the wind pushing from the south, the boat surfing fast on a beam reach, doing at least 6-7 knots leaving a foamy trail in the dark blue ocean, the GPS says we are progressing with only 1-2 knots, at times even drifting backwrds, towars Cuba. The Yucatan current overwhelms us.

What dodos we are! We remember Harley telling us to keep a course 20 degrees south of our destination in order to compensate for the northbound current. Next time, Harley, we will do this, we promise!

Thus we learned about the importance of currents…

 

We get to Isla Mujerres at night, after 27 hours of fighting with the current and waves, and drop anchor in the dark. The next day we wake up in Mexico, in front of a creamy beach with palm trees and hotels.

 

Sunset over the Yucatan.  Isla Mujeres anchorage

Sunset over the Yucatan.
Isla Mujeres anchorage

 

 

 

 

Share