Interview With The Life Nomadik Family for the Newly Salted Project

Newly Salted

After 13 months and 4000 nautical miles of continuous cruising in over 12 countries and 50 islands we are proud to be interviewed for the Newly Salted project featuring cruisers from around the world with less than 2 years of sailing experience, like us. The project, founded by Livia Gilstrap, is a great collection of stories from all over the world of people who love sailing, cruising and the sea-life are want to share their experience about the first and most difficult and amazing years of cruising. Find out more about the Newly Salted Project on the official website.

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The Life Nimadik Family

Evo, Maya, and Mira

Evo, Maya, and Mira

We are a family with Bulgarian origins currently living and traveling aboard a sailboat. We are Evo, Mira and 10-year-old Maya aboard Fata Morgana.

Our cruising adventures around the world, a voyage into a new and unknown way of life, started in July of 2013 with zero sailing experience aboard our first sailboat, a 38-foot Leopard catamaran Fata Morgana. We have left behind work, school, and home in order to prove that there are alternative ways of living, traveling and experiencing the world outside of the system , looking for ultimate freedom and adventure, and living off-grid visiting some of the most beautiful and pristine places on the planet on a ridiculously minimal budget.

Our journey is documented in our travel-adventure blog The Life Nomadik. You can also find us and follow us on Facebook.

 

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Questions-Answers

 

1. What is cruising for you and why did you decide to cruise?

The night is falling slowly, inevitable. The wind is changing direction, becoming stronger from north. The sea gets rough. No land in view. Anxiety creeps in. We take turns on the helm, and we can’t really sleep with the waves crushing violently around the boat rocking her in every direction. The next day we are exhausted and hungry but the only thing we can prepare under these circumstances is instant noodles. At last we see land. We see the green shores of a tropical island and we know soon we will rest. Soon the boat will be still, anchored near a beautiful beach with palm trees and pink flowers. We will swim to the beach, we will snorkel in the coral gardens around, we will jump from the boat, we will hike to the mountain and visit the village to buy ice cream for Maya and beers for Evo and me. We might meet new friends, we might learn new things. And then, after a few days, we will keep sailing further. To another island, another beach, another country, another adventure.

This is what ‘cruising‘ means to us. It is a way of life. It is not as crazy or heroic as some might think. It is just an alternative to the other more conventional land-life most of us have accepted as ‘normal‘. But to us ‘crazy’ and ‘heroic’ is to accept the routine of 9 to 5 Monday to Friday, the morning and evening traffic jams, the bills at the end of the month. Cruising is just living differently, simply, sometimes better, sometimes worst. For those like us who love traveling, nature, the sea, who want to learn about the world and its people first hand, who want to live off-grid and escape city-life, who don’t mind washing their clothes by hand and eating instant noodles from time to time, cruising is the better option. And before we decided to do it, we dreamed about it. It was our next dream in a series of dreams-come-true.

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2. What is the most important aspect of your cruising lifestyle?

Visiting places we never even dreamt about, remote, beautiful, breathtaking, places accessible only by boat; meeting people from different cultures, exchanging stories with them, learning from them, getting involved in their local communities, and sharing some incredible adventures together; meeting other travelers/wanderers/wonderers who inspire us so much; overcoming obstacles, conquering fears, growing and becoming. All these are some of the best characteristics of the cruising lifestyle that most of the cruisers appreciate, but for us this is not all.

For us the most important aspect of our cruising lifestyle is being self-sufficient spending as little money as possible, living off-grid outside of the system and in harmony with our natural environment. We strictly sail and don’t turn on the engines, we produce solar electricity and freshwater, we catch and eat a lot of fish, we wash the few clothes we have by hand, we prepare our own bread and food, and we don’t go to bars and restaurants much.

Boatmade Sushi

Boatmade Sushi

 

3. What is the best thing about your boat?

Our boat, Fata Morgana, is a 38-foot Leopard catamaran built in 2001 in South Africa. She is a small catamaran but very spacious and comfortable, perfect for our family’s needs. It’s the owner’s version with three double-bed cabins, two heads and big shower. Everyone’s favorite’s space on the boat is the huge cockpit for which we built a hard-top and an enclosure. Fata Morgana is heavy-built and even heavier after we loaded up all our earthly possessions. She is not fast at all but, we hope and believe, she is stable and safe, which is more important than speed for us. But the best thing about Fata Morgana is something we added after we bought the boat making her our off-grid water-world type of vessel.

In the beginning we invested in a huge solar power installation producing 1500 watts. We installed a desalination machine producing freshwater from seawater, and solar panels and lithium batteries capable of producing and store enough electricity on board for our fridge&freezer which runs 24/7, for all the lights, appliances and devices, and for the watermaker. We don’t have a generator and we don’t have to run the engines in order to make electricity. We can spend a week or a month or a year in the most remote anchorage of the world and we won’t need to fuel or buy freshwater, we won’t need any facilities.

Thanks to the solar panels, lithium batteries, watermaker, and sails, our boat has become a unique vessel, ready for some serious apocalyptic events.

Read more about our solar installation here.

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4. Is there something that you do differently from most of the cruisers?

Apart from the fact that we were born and raised in Bulgaria and have a very different mentality from most of the North American, Australian, and Western European cruisers, we strictly sail and we use a kayak instead of a dinghy. We turn on the engines only in life-and-death situations. This means a lot of tacking especially during the last months going against the tradewinds and it also means that sometimes we drift with ridiculously slow speed, under 2 knots, or even sit and wait in deadcalm in the middle of the sea for the wind to pick up. In such deadcalm situations Evo would even deploy our kayak in front of the boat and pull the boat at 0.5 kt speed. But it also means that we fuel only 2 times a year spending very little money for fuel (last year we took about 150 gallons of fuel and we still have 60 gallons in the tanks left) and it means that we don’t contribute much for the ever-increasing pollution of the environment.

If you ask any cruiser if they throw their plastic garbage in the water they will say No! immediately. They are very conscious about throwing garbage in the sea. But if you ask them when and why they turn on their engines (thus polluting the water and air) you might find out that most cruisers “motor-sail” all the time, even when they have perfect winds. Their reasons for doing so are many: to get there faster, to charge the batteries, because the wind is coming from the wrong direction and they don’t like to tack, and even because they don’t want the boat to heel, or because pulling ropes and adjusting sails is too much work. They have the choice yet they choose the engines and thus, apart from polluting the nature, spend tons of money for fuel each month.

We have invested in alternative energy systems and we have pledged to sail the boat always. We are very proud with this. And if we can inspire other cruisers to do so too our mission will be accomplished.

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 5. What do you find the most exciting about your cruising life?

We swim in the most beautiful waters and snorkel in coral reefs, we hike in spectacular rainforests and explore lakes, waterfalls, rivers, and caves. We met howler monkeys, sea crocodiles, swimming pigs, whales, flamingos, sea turtles, and manatees. We learned to sail, snorkel, fish, surf, and dive. Almost everything is exciting about our cruising life. The beautiful places we get to visit traveling for free, the things we learn about their histories, culture and nature, but most of all the people we meet on the way, locals and fellow-traveling gipsies like us. You can only meet such people when cruising really.

Before we started cruising we thought that we are about to do something completely insane and that not many are doing what we are doing. But it turned out that there are so many people out there on some incredible journeys, and crossing paths with them is definitely the best and most exciting thing about cruising.

 

Maya

Maya

 

6. What mistakes did you make as you started cruising?

We left Key West for Havana without provisioning the boat. We were determined to buy and eat local. Big mistake. We showed up in Cuba without food and the Cuban officials inspecting the boat couldn’t believe it. First time people coming from America without food. And for the first four days we couldn’t buy anything to eat there. It was a national holiday followed by a weekend and all the stores were closed. And when they opened we realized that there is not much we can buy anyway… The Cuban stores are a sad desolate landscape. After about a week they announced on national TV that „eggs will be distributed tomorrow in the entire country“ and we waited on a long line for eggs and I bought 100 eggs…(Reminded me of the good old times in Communist Bulgaria…)

First lesson learned: Always provision the boat especially when leaving from the USA and especially when heading to Cuba.

Another even bigger mistake we made in our first days of cruising caused by impatience, over confidence, inexperience, and ignorance was sailing unprepared and without checking the weather and researching the marine conditions. Apart from having zero experience we had no auto-pilot and no windvane. We hand-steered and we had no idea what is the wind force and exact wind direction for the first 1000 nautical miles of our passage between Florida, Cuba, Mexico, Guatemala and back.(But it was a great learning experience too. Remember, we strictly sail.)

When we showed up in Havana people asked us: „So how was the Gulf Stream?“ We didn’t notice any Gulf Stream we answered. We were lucky then. But not so lucky on our way back between Mexico and Cuba in the Yucatan Chanel where a storm almost killed us because we didn’t wait for good weather.

There is an old Inuit saying: To wait is not a waste of time. The patient man succeeds.

The Inuit people from the frozen North hunt seal for food, oil for the fire and leather for clothes and shoes. When the hunter finds the hole in the ice where the seal comes out for air every now and then, he prepares his spear and waits silently, sometimes for hours, for the seal to emerge. Only after a long time of waiting he can kill it. Patience is essential for his survival.

Patience is the most important thing in cruising too, I would say, and we learned this lesson the hard way.

We didn’t take the weather forecast seriously, we were too much in a rush and we got hit by a horrible storm in the Yucatan Chanel off the coast of Mexico. Sustained winds 30-35 knots from north, the powerful current flowing the opposite direction. Until then we hadn’t seen such big and confused waves and we didn’t know how to deal with the situation, especially at night, we got so scared. We had to go through this nightmare that lasted for two days. After that, we made a solemn promise to ourselves that, from then on, we will check the weather forecast and be very careful, and we will not rush anymore.

In cruising, the biggest mistake is to have a time schedule. You can’t. You have to wait for the best possible conditions and you have to be able to turn back if the conditions are not favorable.

Read more about our Yucatan Chanel misadventure here.

Mira "sailing" the kayak with an umbrella

Mira „sailing“ the kayak with an umbrella

 

7. What advice would you give to parents thinking about taking their children cruising?

When we started this adventure we were four. Our 17-year-old son Viktor spent over a year with us aboard Fata Morgana and was until recently also a part of this journey, but after a few months of cruising and sailing he decided to return back to Canada, where we used to live, to continue his education and start his own life. At his age he didn’t want to be on an adventure with his parents and little sister, stuck on a boat with them 24/7. And even though he enjoyed a good part of our adventures together: swimming in a dark cave in Guatemala, hiking up the highest Caribbean mountain Pico Duarte with mules and a guide, visiting Mexico and eating tacos every day, snorkeling in the Thunderbolt Grotto in the Bahamas and many more, he wanted to go back to his friends and his old way of life.

Maya on the other hand is only 10 and she enjoys living aboard, cruising, homeschooling, making new friends everywhere we go, exploring, and going on adventures with us. She is learning so much by traveling and being curious about the places we visit.

People always ask us about the kids schooling, and always tell them not to confuse the school institution with education. Education is found through experiences in the world. A kid who is traveling has so many more experiences than a kid who sits in a classroom. Reading about a place, its culture and history, is not the same as being there and experiencing it. Yet, I think that as soon as the kids become teenagers it is already too late to take them away from their familiar home environment and friends and put them on a boat, as we did with Viktor, unless this is what they want.

So if I have to give one advice to parents thinking about taking their children cruising it would be:

Traveling is a great learning experience that will change you and your children. It is the best thing for young kids. But don’t wait too long for the kids to be older or to finish school. The younger the child the better.

 

Riley, Maya (in the middle) and Wren with a huge lobster aboard Fata Morgana

Riley, Maya (in the middle) and Wren with a huge lobster aboard Fata Morgana

 

8. How do you keep in shape while leaving aboard?

Life on a boat can get really lazy at times. When at anchor or sailing there is not much space on the boat to move around and there is a big chance to become a „boat-potato“. In order to keep in shape we try to move as much as possible. We swim, snorkel, hike, and we do exercises on the boat or on shore (sit-ups, squats, push-ups and pull-ups). We even like to go jogging on the beach in the morning. We also kayak on daily basis from and to the boat instead of using the dinghy and we walk a lot. For us taking a taxi is not an option, it’s a question of principles. We hitchhike or take the bus if the distance to where we want to go on land is too big, or simply walk, sometimes for hours, and for many miles. Apart from being a great exercise, we believe that only by walking, and not by driving or even riding a bicycle, one can truly experience the land. Good thing we are generally not in a hurry.

And of course, we watch out what and how much we eat. We are not some healthy-food-freaks nor vegetarians and we eat and drink pretty much everything but we are conscious about quality and quantity trying to balance a healthy diet. We eat a lot of fish which we catch by trolling every time we go sailing and we also love those coconuts that we find all over the place. We buy fresh fruits and vegetables every time we stop some place. Lately we aet a lot of cabbage for example. We love fresh cabbage grated or finely chopped with some dry dill and lots of lemon, and it is one of the healthiest fiberest foods ever.

Mira and Evo

Mira and Evo

9. What is the price you have to pay for being on a ‘permanent vacation’?

The past one year was incredible. We visited Che Guevara’s house in Havana, Cuba. We walked among the Mayan ruins in Tulum, Mexico. We were the first white people to enter a sacred cave full of human skulls in the remote Sierra de las Minas mountains in Guatemala. We met a humpback whale in the Bahamas. We jumped from waterfalls in the Dominican Republic. We ate mofongo in Puerto Rico. We snorkeled in the most beautiful coral gardens in the British Virgin Islands. We walked across an impossible road in Saba. We met monkeys in St Kitts&Nevis. We saw what a volcano can do to a city in Montserrat. And this is just a small fraction of all the things that we have done in all the places that we visited in just 13 months.

But there is a dark side to cruising too, and bloggers don’t normally write much about it. The dangers and risks of the life at sea, the constant maintenance of the boat and everything on it, dealing with officials every time we have to check in and out of a country, the nostalgia for home family and friends, even the small inconveniences of not having an air conditioning or a washing machine or a hot water shower, the lack of unlimited freshwater or electricity, are all part of the bitter price we pay for all the enjoyments we get while cruising. But we have accepted the deal and we know: It is all worth it!

In other words, it is about 5 dollars per day.

Maya in the cockpit

Maya in the cockpit

 

 10. What are your plans now? If they do not include cruising, tell us why.

We will keep cruising until we are tired of it, or until something prevents us from doing it. There are so many things that can go wrong on a boat causing for any plans to change very quickly. But n the best case scenario, we are hoping to sail through the entire Caribbean region, from Antigua where we are right now south to Grenada and Tobago. From there, after the hurricane season, we will head west to Columbia and Panama. Once there we will cross the Panama canal and head to the Galapagos Islands. Next, we will sail across the Pacific to Tahiti and French Polynesia and do a few years of cruising around Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines,  India and beyond.

We are also hoping to be able to work for a few months in Australia if possible, as we don’t have income right now and even though we are all about self-sufficiency and off-grid living we still need a bit of money to buy food and repair the boat when needed. We are both Evo and me professional long distance truck drivers. We used to drive big tractor-trailers between Canada and USA. (We were nomads always.) It was a great way to see these two huge countries, to travel and make money at the same time. So we are hoping to do the same in Australia. We heard they need drivers there for those long four-trailer trucks crossing the desert. It will be fun again and we will get to explore the interior of this beautiful country for which we have a very old crush.

And then, let’s dream a bit further in time, when we are really tired of traveling (i don’t think this will happen any time soon, but it probably will some day) and we find the perfect place, we will stop, build a small cabin, build the furniture for the cabin, make our own everything (dishes, cups, pillows, etc.), plant billions of fruits and vegetables and herbs, get a bunch of beautiful chickens and a couple of goats, and install a few solar panels. Then, after I finish making the raspberry jam, we will sit back on the porch and watch the sunset remembering all the places we have been to, telling the most incredible stories to our grand kids running around chasing the chickens.

 

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Well, this is all for now. It was great answering those questions and participating in the Newly Salted Project. And if you are still curious about us you can like us, follow us and contact us on our blog TheLifeNomadik.com and Facebbook Page. It’s always a pleasure when someone writes to us with a question or a comment. Thank you!

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Back Home

Some months ago I asked Viktor to write a free text as an exercise in writing within the homeschool experiment. I gave him the topic ‘Home’ thinking that after so many months living on the boat he would write about the boat as his new home.

He sat down very inspired and wrote uninterruptedly for a few hours producing the following text:

 

The Good Old Ways of Home

-by Viktor

My home back in Canada was just like any other big old country house but mine was transforming depending on the seasons.

In summer, staying inside was like staying in prison: I lacked oxygen and I felt depressed, like I was missing out on things. So I would go outside where life was welcoming and vast. I could take a stroll around the house and I would see my dad mowing the lawn, my sister singing on the swing, birds pecking about, or even a little grey rabbit staring at me. It was green, it was bright; the summer feeling was greatly appreciated, and I would never have the same experiences repeated since every summer something new would always happen.

But when those pretty lime-colored leaves camping on the trees fell down to my knees, I knew that summer was over… A new season would take place. Some called it fall or autumn, others called it the time of sickness and disease, an unforgiving season that brought coughing pain and confusion about what to wear. Me? I yelled: “Yes! My birthday is finally coming!” All those season-names were telling the truth. Leaves would fall, people would get sick, and I would celebrate. I think, if it wasn’t for my birthday, this would be the worst season of all times because all it brought was misery, viruses, and a handful of cheap candy and broken potato chips.

This next one will break your heart. You will need a box of tissues at your side. Winter will not help your coughing but it will help you feel better if you have good friends and entertaining games…mostly virtual.

After a crushing blow of a snowstorm and an overnight earthquake of machinery, I would wake up in the morning and I would see a bright white light shining through the curtains. I would look through the window feeling like someone had injected ecstasy in my system. No more dead leaves, no more grass. I would see snow. Mountains of snow. I would take a deep breath of happiness and then suddenly I would hear a series of pounding knocks on the door.

I would smile, run down the stairs, run across the corridor, and I would approach the door while glancing through the glass at the dark sinister figure outside. I would reach for the door knob and quickly open it to make way for my frozen friend. Over my pajamas, I’d put on my black snow pants, my heavy winter boots, my gloves and Russian hat, slip on my jacket, ready for battle. Next thing, I’d be beating the crap out of my friend with snowballs and then we would return home for some video games and hot chocolate.

There were tons of other great events happening during this joyous season of ice and fire but I will have to write a book the size of the holy bible to describe my full emotions on this topic.

Sooner or later, the glorious white element melted into our sewers and that marked the start of the season of rebirth: spring. Almost everything was reborn anew: the grass, the sickness, school. I have mixed feelings about this season for it gave me joy as it would bring an end to the never-ending cold wrath of winter, but I was also sad to think that I had to wait six months to play with snow again.

Honestly, I miss my old home and friends. Now I will have to adapt to my new life at sea and Neptune’s anomalies, stuck on a boat with my family.

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After a little over a year stuck on a boat with his family, cruising aboard Fata Morgana and visiting many countries and islands all over the Caribbean region, Viktor, almost 17 now, decided it is time to return home. To his friends, to school, and to all those places and things he missed so much in the past months.

Cruising is a great learning experience for families with young children and we have met countless little sailors everywhere we have been, children with a unique sense of adventure, exploring, and love of the world that school-based and land-based kids lack.  We wanted to open the world for our children as well, to show them an alternative way of life more disconnected from the civilized material world and more connected to nature, more free. For Viktor, a very shy and introvert person, we hoped that our travels will provide a way to unplug from the computer and video-games which were at the center of his interests through a healthier, more active way of life. That he will accumulate knowledge and acquire new skills. And surely he did, despite his nostalgia. He became a good sailor, and will forever keep the good memories of our travels, the moments we enjoyed together, the places we visited, the people we met. But at his age, he is anxious to begin his own independent journey, to follow his own dreams back in Canada.

We can only wish him good luck, help him and support him in any way necessary.

Farewell Vik!

 

 

That day Viktor caught 10 flounders

The day Viktor caught 10 flounders

Evo and Viktor

Evo and Viktor

 

Viktor and Dylan

Viktor and Dylan

Dylan and Viktor

Dylan and Viktor

Viktor and Evo taking a rain-shower

Viktor and Evo taking a rain-shower

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Viktro with a puffer fish

Viktro with a puffer fish

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Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas

Viktor "pushing" Maya off the roof of the fort

Viktor „pushing“ Maya off the roof of the fort

Viktor, Maya, and Ivo walking with bug-repellent palm leaf hats, Cuba This is how we showed up at the beach.

Viktor, Maya, and Ivo walking with bug-repellent palm leaf hats, Cuba
This is how we showed up at the beach.

Ivo, Viktor and Maya, The human pyramid

Evo, Viktor and Maya, The human pyramid

Viktor on the helm, Maya keeping him company.

Viktor on the helm, Maya keeping him company.

Viktor swimming from Fata Morgana to the beach with a bag of shoes (because we forgot the shoes on the boat...)

Viktor swimming from Fata Morgana to the beach with a bag of shoes (because we forgot the shoes on the boat…) Mexico

Viktor, Agua Caliente, Guatemala

Viktor, Agua Caliente, Guatemala

Viktor Jumping from Agua Caliente waterfall, Guatemala

Viktor Jumping from Agua Caliente waterfall, Guatemala

Walking in a canyon, Guatemala

Walking in a canyon, Guatemala

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The epic ride downriver in a cayuco.

The epic ride downriver in a cayuco.

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Best swimming pool, Bahamas

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The swimming pigs, Bahamas

The swimming pigs, Bahamas

Viktor and Mira with iguanas.

Viktor and Mira with iguanas, Bahamas

Viktor in Thunderbolt Grotto, Bahamas

Viktor in Thunderbolt Grotto, Bahamas

Viktor

Viktor

Vick and Maya building a small fire.

Vick and Maya building a small fire on the beach, Bahamas

Maya and Viktor (Ivo behind them) with burgers.

Maya and Viktor (Ivo behind them) with burgers.

Viktor and Nick

Viktor and Nick

Viktor, Maya, Mira

Viktor, Maya, Mira

Viktor, Maya, Nick

Viktor, Maya, Nick

Vick and Nick

Vick and Nick

Vick and Nick

Vick and Nick

Up on the mountain El Mogote

Up on the mountain El Mogote

Damajaqua Cascadas

Damajaqua Cascadas, Dominican Republic

Viktor on the way to Pico Duarte, Dominican Republic

Viktor on the way to Pico Duarte, Dominican Republic

Viktor with the mules. Hiking to Pico Duarte, DR

Viktor with the mules. Hiking to Pico Duarte, DR

Viktor and Evo

Viktor and Evo

Viktor and Maya at the summit. Pico Duarte

Viktor and Maya at the summit. Pico Duarte

Damajaqua Cascades, DR

Damajaqua Cascades, DR

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Viktor

Viktor

The Nomadiks & Friends at Caja de Muerto, Puerto Rico

The Nomadiks & Friends at Caja de Muerto, Puerto Rico

Maya and Viktor, The Baths, Virgin Gorda, BVI

Maya and Viktor, The Baths, Virgin Gorda, BVI

Viktor, The Baths, Virgin Gorda

Viktor, The Baths, Virgin Gorda

Viktor, The Baths, Virgin Gorda

Viktor, The Baths, Virgin Gorda

Viktor

Viktor

Viktor hovering above baby fishes

Viktor hovering above baby fishes

 

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Happy One Year of Sailing To Us

Mira, Evo, Maya and Viktor 1 year The Life Nomadik

Mira, Evo, Maya and Viktor
1 year The Life Nomadik

 

Our Sailing Journey is One Year Old Today

 

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One year ago, in July 2013, we took off from Florida aboard Fata Morgana, our new home and ocean vehicle.We headed south.

In the next twelve months we visited a dozen countries and over 50 islands.

 

Florida

Fort Jefferson, Florida

Fort Jefferson, Florida

Cuba

Cuban girls

Cuban girls

Mexico

Tourists at Tulum

Tourists at Tulum

Guatemala

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The Bahamas

Maya and Mira

Maya and Mira

Dominican Republic

Comparticion, last basecamp before Pico Duarte

Comparticion, last basecamp before Pico Duarte

Puerto Rico

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U.S. Virgin Islands

Water Island, Honeymoon Beach anchorage

Water Island, Honeymoon Beach anchorage

British Virgin Islands

The Baths, BVI

The Baths, BVI

Saba

Saba. View form Scout's Place bar and restaurant

Saba. View form Scout’s Place bar and restaurant

Sint Maarten

Evo's bottle, St Maarten

Evo’s bottle, Sint Maarten

Saint-Martin

Mira at Fort Saint-Louis, Marigot, overlooking the harbor, Saint-Martin

Mira at Fort Saint-Louis, Marigot, overlooking the harbor, Saint-Martin

St Barth

Anse de Flamand

Anse de Flamand

St Kitts&Navis

Verevet Monkey, St Kitts

Verevet Monkey, St Kitts

Our Journey

We met remarkable people and made many new friends.

Noial, Sofia, and Maya in traditional mayan costumes. The skirt is called corte and the top is gupil. Mayan women in Guatemala wear similar clothes.

Noial, Sofia, and Maya in traditional mayan costumes. The skirt is called corte and the top is gupil. Mayan women in Guatemala wear similar clothes.

We swam with dolphins

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And we swam with pigs

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We walked across spectacular forests and river canyons.

Maya walking through the jungle, Guatemala

Maya walking through the jungle, Guatemala

We jumped from waterfalls

Viktor Jumping from Agua Caliente waterfall, Guatemala

Viktor Jumping from Agua Caliente waterfall, Guatemala

We entered caves

Daeli and Ivo lightpainting in a cave, Guatemala

Daeli and Ivo lightpainting in a cave, Guatemala

We discovered new flavors and fragrances.

Mira, trying cashew fruit for a first time

Mira, trying cashew fruit for a first time. Saba

We snorkeled in coral gardens with tropical fishes in water like liquid glass.

Underwater sculpture of grand piano and mermaid, Bahamas

Underwater sculpture of grand piano and mermaid, Bahamas

We learned to surf

Maya

Maya

We got involved with many of the communities we visited, we volunteered and worked with the locals.

Near Finca Jocoro, Guatemala

Near Finca Jocoro, Guatemala

We met a whale

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And a sea turtle

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

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

We met howler monkeys

Black Howler Monkey

Black Howler Monkey

We saw flamingos

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We caught a lot of tasty fish

Mira and her Birthday Gifts

Mira and her Birthday Gifts

We lived the dream.

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We did all this while being very conscious about the fragile environment we enjoy so much.

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We sailed for over 3,700 nautical miles without polluting the air and the sea, almost not using the engines. fueling once every 6 months. We also used a kayak instead of a dinghy.

Mira "sailing" the kayak with an umbrella

Mira „sailing“ the kayak with an umbrella

We lived off-grid not paying electricity bills, water bills, mortgage, taxes, or any other bills thanks to our solar panels and watermaker.

Viktor and Ivo installing solar panels.

Viktor and Ivo installing solar panels.

Our average speed was 3.7 knots which makes us Slow Pokes Drifters, but we had to sail against waves and tradewind most of the time heading east-southeast, tacking constantly, but not turning the engines on, no matter what.

Evo pulling the boat with the kayak in deadcalm. The engines remained turned off...

Evo pulling the boat with the kayak in deadcalm. The engines remained turned off…

 

Thank You!

The people we met along the way, whom we befriended, who helped us and guided us, who shared our adventures and joys are the most treasured part of our journey. We thank you!

Friends Key West, Florida

Friends
Key West, Florida

Tyler, you started us sailing and helped us so much. Thank you, we love you!

 

Vanessa Linsley, you were not just our broker, you literally adopted us, guiding and helping us so much. Thank you!

 

Rich, you were there for us when we needed you most. Thank you!

David, Lori, Kashara and Dylan, we value so much your company and all the lessons you thought us about sailing and cruising even before we started. Thank you!

 

Dale, you were the best boatyard neighbor. Thank you for the books and the veggies!

 

Peter, you fixed our jib and thought us so much in our first days of sailing, thank you!

 

Sherry and Nate, you adopted our Baba Ganoush, best thing that could happen to her! And you gave us Agent Orange! You have no idea how much we appreciate this kayak, thank you!

 

Tony, Cherri, Stacie, Ryan, Joey, Rebecca, Miranda, Sky, we had so much fun with all you guys in Key West. Thank you!

 

Suzy Roebling, we learned so much about sea turtles thanks to you and we really enjoyed the coconuts. Thank you!

 

April and Harley from s/v El Karma, you gave us lures, helped us to fix our watermaker, and shared some great moments in Cuba with us. Thank you!

 

 Daeli, Joni, Elan, Lovam, Noial, and Spirit from s/v Friendship, you and your journey inspire us so much. We love you, we miss you and we hope we will see you again soon!

 

Joseph, Jana, Katchka, and Anichka s/v Blizzard, so grateful we met you guys and shared so many crazy adventures in Guatemala together!

 

Alice s/v Suricats, yoga in the morning with Joni and you was one of the best things in Rio Dulce anchorage. Thank you!

 

Angie and Marty, thank you for your hospitality!

 

 Scot, Stephanie, Riley, and Wren, s/v Kiawa, without you our journey in the Bahamas wouldn’t be the same!

 

Ben Rusi, s/v Christel, great meeting you in the Bahamas!

 

Susanne and Jan s/v Peter Pan,so good sharing a few moments with you!

 

Mary, Shane and Franklin, great meeting you all, you have amazing stories! Hope we meet again around Australia next year!

 

Kate and Rob, nice bumping into you, twice!

 

Gabriel and Jade, how awesome of you to take us surfing in the Dominican Republic and show us how it’s done! Thank you!

 

Joao, Nae, Maria, and Noel, s/v Dee, it was wonderful having friends along the way between Domincan Republic, Puerto Rico and St Maarten, and sharing so many moments (and a rental car)!

 

Ivan, Nikola, Peter, Nanny, we had the best time with you in the Bahamas and in Puerto Rico, good old friends. Thank you for your visit and for all the gifts!

 

Greg and Michelle s/v Semper Fi, great meeting you in Puerto Rico guys and sharing your amazing stories! Thank you for the tips, the T-shirts, and the hats!

 

Tom, you mad our stay in Water Island unforgettable, thank you!

 

Ilian and Bisi, it was so great meting you in Saba, hope we meet again!

 

Martine Dora and Raphael, happy to have met you in St Maarten, hope we see each other again, maybe in Tahiti? Raphael, thank you for the ride!

 

Line and Corentin, thank you for your company in St Kitts and for the music!

 

Sejah Joseph, thank you for being our friend and guide in St Kitts!

 

We also want to thank our Sponsors, all those companies and individuals who supported our journey. Thank you!

 

 

What’s Next?

Our plans are weather dependent and as fluid as the sea. If all is well, we will keep sailing south the Windward Islands, exploring some more interesting places, until we reach Tobago. From there we will sail west to Columbia, then Panama and across the canal to the South Pacific and Australia next year.

 

Follow our journey and LIKE us on Facebook to find out what will happen in our SECOND year of sailing. Everyone is welcome aboard!

Viktor, Maya, Mira

Viktor, Maya, Mira

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Dominican Republic Conclusions

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The Dominican Republic is a small tropical country occupying two thirds of the island of Hispaniola. It is the most visited destination of all other Caribbean nations attracting tourists with its natural beauty and geographical and biological diversity, luxurious beach resorts, small mountain villages, cities, rainforests, high mountains, caves, rivers, waterfalls. Here is the highest mountain peak in the Caribbean, the biggest lake with the lowest elevation, some of the best surfing beaches in the region and the first cathedral, castle, monastery, fortress, and university in all of the Americas. There is so much to see and do! Not surprisingly, we met many people from different corners of the world who have moved here permanently after visiting the country making the Dominican Republic their home. Even whales come here for their honeymoon.

We spent one month in the Dominican Republic travelling inland and visiting many of its historical sites and natural monuments. The further we explored the more we fell in love with this country and its nature and we promised ourselves, one day we will return.

The Best Hurricane Hole in The Caribbean

Anchorage in Luperon, Dominican Republic

Anchorage in Luperon, Dominican Republic

The anchorage in the small rural town of Luperon on the north shore of the Dominican Republic is a notorious hurricane hole surrounded by hills and cow pastures. Deep inside a channel among mangroves, with excellent holding, the bay harbors a community of sailboats, some staying here for years. It is a safe anchorage protected by the National Guard against theft where we left our boat at anchor for days and went to explore the interior of the island not worrying for the boat’s safety. 

Read full article The Hills of Luperon

The Highest Caribbean Mountain

Early morning on Pico Duarte

Early morning on Pico Duarte

Climbing the 3087 meters-high Pico Duarte was the best part of our visit to the Dominican Republic. It is an adventure that requires physical strength and endurance, provisions and gear for at least two days, a guide and mules. Walking through rainforests, inside dry riverbeds, through high-altitude meadows, pine forests, and mists was the most beautiful experience of our lives so far. And it’s not the summit but the journey to the summit that we so much enjoyed. We would do it again and again, once or twice every year if we had the chance.

Read full article Pico Duarte. Journey Beyond the Clouds

Most Extreme Waterfall Adventure

Evo

Evo

The Damajaqua Cascades is an extreme waterfall adventure that we all absolutely loved, more than we expected. The tour includes hiking up river for about 30-40 min and then swimming, sliding, cliff-jumping and diving downriver for about one hour. Young children are not permitted, and only physically fit adults can do all 27 waterfalls and cascades.

Read full article Swimming, Sliding, Jumping, Diving Down Damajaqua Cascades

The Oldest New World Capital

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Santo Domingo and its Colonial Zone, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, should be on every visitor’s list. This is the oldest New World capital with some of the oldest colonial buildings, museums, and ruins. To us, it seemed much more impressive and preserved than the colonial zone in Havana, Cuba. In and around Santo Domingo there are many other tourist attractions. We only had time to visit the National Botanical Garden.

Read full article Santo Domingo. History, Culture, Nature

The Biggest and Lowest Caribbean Lake

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Lake Enriquillo in the southwestern part of the DR near the border with Haiti is one curious place. It is the biggest and saltiest Caribbean lake lying some 30 meters below sea level, populate by the densest in the world population of American crocodiles. On its arid shores, among dry spiky trees and cactus plants, we also met lots and lots of friendly lazy Rhinoceros Iguanas. Near the lake, in the town of Descubierta, we slept in the best hostel ever, an old house once belonging to a high-ranked official in Trujillo’s government, one of most terrible dictators the world has seen.

Read full article Lake Enriquillo. Crocodiles, Iguana, and Other Predators

The Surfing Mecca of The Caribbean

Kitesurf Beach, Cabarete

Kitesurf Beach, Cabarete

Cabarete near Puerto Plata on the north shore of the island became our favorite small town in the Dominican Republic. It is a very touristy, artsy, and laid-back place with a large community of expats who, together with locals and tourists, spend their entire time mostly surfing. Or kite-surfing. Or wind-surfing. Or paddle-boarding. Or chilling. We spent two memorable days in Cabarete with our friends Jade and Gabriel, surfing-maniacs and traveling junkies like us, who started us surfing a bit. Read about Jade&Gabby’s adventures and follow them at We Travel And Blog.

Read full article Surfing Cabarete

Oldest New World Settlement

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The ruins in Isabela Historica, a National Monument, are from the oldest settlement in the Americas constructed by Columbus and his settlers. Not much is left of the buildings but the place itself, a site up on the rocky cliffs facing the Atlantic Ocean near a snug little harbor is a beautiful place to see and hang around for a bit. There is a small museum with artifacts and historical information, as well as gift shops with hand-carved wooden Taino figurines, extremely cheap. Not too far is Montecristi, a small coastal town with very relaxed atmosphere and beautiful seascapes. One day was enough fo us to visit obth, Isabela and Montecristi.

Read full article Isabela Historica and Montecristi

Sailing Dominican Republic

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Cruising by sailboat around the Dominican Republic, especially on the north coast and especially going east, is not a joke. These are considered some of the most dangerous and difficult  waters for sailing due to unfavorable strong Trade winds, North Atlantic swell, strong Equatorial current and rocky shores with very little possibility for anchoring and sheltering, especially in bad weather coming from the north. A hook that helped us get from Luperon to Puerto Rico across the infamous Mona Passage safely is a must-read for anyone attempting the passage: The Gentelmen’s Guide to Passage South by Bruce Van Sand.

Read full article The Murderous Mona Passage

Our Biggest Regret

Cabo Samana, DR

Cabo Samana, DR

Not visiting Samana and the national park Los Haitises is our greatest regret. We were planning to stop there with the boat on our way from Luperon to Puerto Rico, but we had such a nice weather window that we ended up sailing all the way non-stop taking advantage of the favorable sea conditions. Samana and the park Los Haitises with their gigantic rocky cliffs looming over the sea and caves where the Taino Indians used to hide form the conquistadors provide the most impressive owe inspiring Jurassic vistas. The deep bay is also humpback wales breeding ground in the winter months. We hope to return to Dominican Republic some day and visit Samana. This time, we just sailed by the cape early in the morning absolutely stunned by the size and beauty of the cliffs.

Dominican Republic Facts

Entry Procedures for Sailors: The entry procedures are somewhat lengthy but not necessary unpleasant. You will have El Comandante from the National Army come aboard and inspect the boat, but chances are he is a really good guy. On shore you will go through customs and immigration and you need a dispacho when leaving a port.

Currency: They spend pessos in the DR. One USD is about 43 DR Pesos.

Language: Spanish is the language here and not many speak English or any other language. Moreover, the Dominican speak a very fast and muffled sort of Spanish, hard to hear and understand them even for Spanish-speaking people.

Security: Be vigilant, theft even gun shots are not uncommon occurrence in this part of the world. We didn’t have any problem, but it does not mean it is totally safe. Lock your boat/car/room and guard your stuff. Don’t get in trouble and respect everyone.

Music: If you don’t like merengue tipico you will be in hell here. Loud music is everywhere all the time booming from huge loudspeakers from restaurants, shops and cars parked at some street corner.

Food: Food is not expensive even in the restaurants. You can have a grilled chicken with french fries and beers for four people for less than 20 USD. Plantaines are everywhere and often they will serve you fried plantains instead of french fries, so make sure to make it clear what you order.

Shopping: mostly everything is available in the DR but only in the big cities. In the small ones like Luperon shopping is limited. For groceries there is a big chain store like WalMart in the big cities called La Sirena. Food is not expensive (especially after the Bahamas).

Water: Fresh water is a problem. There is no such thing as drinkable tap water and everyone buys huge water jugs. Not expensive.

Electricity: Electricity is a problem too. Many places have electricity for six hours and then don’t have electricity for the next 6 hours… Some people install generators.

Transportation: Getting from place to place is a hustle for visitors and locals. Fuel prices are high and there is no pubic buss. Instead, there are public guanchas, normal cars where 7 strangers get squeezed and the driver is usually crazy. The big highways are in excellent conditions but the small roads between cities are all broken up and sometimes not passable. The motoconcha, a motorbike, is another option to travel cheaply, but it is even more precarious than the guancha. Renting a car is a good option to travel independently and visit the country. You can rent a car for about 1000-1500 DR Pesos

Climate: the best of the tropics, always sunny and hot, windy near the shores, but rainy and very cold even freezing in the mountains. Bring a jacket if you plan to climb Pico Duarte.

Nature: Diverse, abundant, mostly unspoiled green nature virtually everywhere. Mountains, lakes, rivers and waterfalls, pastures, forests, beaches, banana plantations, paradise on earth.

 

 

* Other similar articles from the blog: Bahamas Conclusions

 

 

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Dominican Republic Road Trip

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Luperon is the safest anchorage in all of Dominican Republic in every senses of the word safe. It is a notorious hurricane hole with great holding where even Christopher Columbus used to shelter his fleet in bad weather back in 1492.

Today the visiting boats are also very well protected by the Dominican Republic Army against theft and any other criminal activities. There is an armed guard watching the anchorage 24/7 from up the hills, as well as a guarded road barrier preventing strangers form going freely in and out the docks.

For these reasons it is a good place to leave the boat at anchor for a few days, rent a car and explore the country inland.

Our new friends Jade and Gabriel who have been living and surfing in Cabarete for two years now give us a bunch of very useful tips: where to rent a car, where to go, and what to do. Thanks to them, the car we rent (Kayak rental cars, Puerto Plata) is only 1 000 pesos per day (23.00 US dollars) instead of the usual 1 500 and it is a big economic car, Toyota RAV4, everything working fine, even the ac, although we don’t use it to save on gas. Thus, the car costs us $163.00 to rent and we spend $135.00 for gas driving all over the Dominican Republic for 7 days. Total $ 198.00.

Driving in Dominican Republic is an adventure in itself. No driving school can prepare you for all the thrills of the Dominican roads.

Cow crossing the road

Cow crossing the road

Sheep crossing the road

Sheep crossing the road

 

Scary donkeys refusing to cross the road

Scary donkeys refusing to cross the road

 

Santiago

The first day we visit Santiago in the interior of the island, the second largest city after Santo Domingo.

Read  full article Santiago in Colors.

Monument in Santiago

Monument in Santiago

 

Jarabacoa

From Santiago we drive to Jarabacoa, a beautiful little town in the mountains very popular with tourist for its picturesque surroundings, hiking paths, ranchos and waterfalls. Early the next day (day 2) we hike up and down El Mogote and in the afternoon we drive to La Cienaga, deeper in the hearth of the Dominican central mountain range.

Read full article Mountain After The Rain. El Mogote

Up on the mountain El Mogote

Up on the mountain El Mogote

 

Pico Duarte

There is the national park Armando Bermudez in the Cordillera Central mountain range where we park the car for the next two days and go on an expedition to the highest peak in the Carribean, Pico Duarte, over 3000 meters. The hike to Pico Duarte takes us 2 days (day 3 & 4 of our road trip) and we are required to hire a guide and rent sleeping bags and mules. It is a journey we will never forget.

Read full article Pico Duarte. Journey Beyond The Clouds

Last base before Pico Duarte and an overnight stop

Last base before Pico Duarte and an overnight stop

 

Santo Domingo

After Pico Duarte (day 5) we visit Santo Domingo, the capital and biggest city in Dominican Republic on the south shore of Hispaniola, the botanical garden and the colonial town, and we are absolutely thrilled by the beauty, history, and architecture condensed in this place.

Read full article Santo Domingo. History, Culture, Nature

Colonial Town, Santo Domingo

Colonial Town, Santo Domingo

 

Isabella Historica and Montecristi

Next day (day 6) we drive back north and visit La Isabella Historica, the site of the first New World settlement, and Montecristi near the Haitian border on the north shore of Hispaniola with its dramatic rocky coast and salt flats.

Read full article In The Footsteps of Columbus. Isabela Historica and Montecristi

Montecristi, beach and rocks

Montecristi, beach and rocks

 

Damajaqua’s 27 Waterfalls

On the last day of our road trip (day 7) we drive to a place not far from our anchorage in Luperon where Las Cascadas de Damajaqua offer an extreme waterfall adventure hiking for about an hour up a river with 27 big and small waterfalls, and then jumping, sliding and swimming down the river and the waterfalls. This is Viktor and Maya’s favorite part of the entire trip.

Damajaqua Cascadas

Damajaqua Cascadas

 

Lago Enriquillo

A few days after we return to the boat and rest a bit, we rent the same car again and visit Lago Enriquillo, the biggest lake in the Carribean lower than the sea level, with saltwater, home of diverse wildlife among which iguanas and crocodiles.

lago Enriquillo

lago Enriquillo

 

Road Trip Map

Dominican Republic Road Trip Map

Dominican Republic Road Trip Map

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Men With Machetes, Bones With Souls, Mountains With Secrets

“Not even anthropologists or intellectuals, no matter how many books they have, can find out all our secrets.”
-Rigoberta Menchu Tum

Lake Izabal

Lake Izabal

„Are you afraid of death?” he asks me with the same intonation as if he is asking Do you like yellow flowers. I don’t know how to answer. My mouth becomes dry. „When you go to the graveyard, are you scared?” he clarifies.

„When I was a little girl, yes, I was scared of death and to go in graveyards, but now no. Now I am more afraid of the living than of the death.“ We both lough at the joke.

 

Hiking through the jungle

Hiking through the jungle

 

We are walking on a dirt road through a vast plantation of palm trees, the guy and me, past a palm-oil treatment plant, across a wide shallow river, and into the shadow of a jungle-covered mountain. Ivo, Joni, and the two other guys are walking ahead of us. We met them this morning. We don’t know their names. We don’t know if they are good guys or bad guys. All we know is that they are young indigenous Q’eqchi men who agreed to take us to a cave in the mountain above their village. They are wearing jeans, t-shirts and black rubber boots, carrying small backpacks and machetes.

 

Cutting a nut-like fruit called Monok from a spiky tree

Cutting a nut-like fruit called Monok from a spiky tree

 

The whole thing happened spontaneously. We were sailing along the remote edge of Lake Izabal, Guatemala’s biggest lake. It was getting late; we had to find a place to anchor overnight. We approached the shore where a big column of grey smoke was coming out of the forest: a village, we thought, and that’s where we stopped. From the boats we saw a few houses on the banks of the lake. Tiny, made of thin logs and roofs of dry palm leaves. Behind them, the heavy humid mountains of Sierra de las Minas: white limestone covered with thick intensely green jungle. The night fell.

In the morning the entire village gathered on the shore to meet our kayak. Caxclampon Pataxte is a small community of a few hundred indigenous Q’eqchi, mostly children. Tourists don’t stop here often, and so our visit is a huge event.

 

The people from the village greeting us

The people from the village greeting us

 

“Are there caves near-by?” I ask. Only a few speak Spanish.

„Yes, there is a cave not too far; we can take you there if you like.“ Thus begun our journey.

Once we enter the jungle and start climbing the mountain there is no road anymore. Our progress is slow and difficult. The guides use their machetes to cut a path through tangled vegetation and dig holes in the steep slopes making steps for us. The terrain is extremely harsh, at places seems impossible to pass.

 

Hiking

Ivo with one of the guides, hiking through the jungle

 

By the time we reach the cave, our guides tell us all about their struggles against the Colombian palm-oil company which, since over a decade now, is exploiting and polluting their land. The vast plantations of palm trees we have seen on our way, the smoke of the palm-oil treatment plant, the channels dumping chemical waste in the lake, are all killing the trees, poisoning the water, and bringing disease to their children. They have been robbed of their ancestral land by a corporate giant and are now fighting to get it back.

 

Road through the plantation

Road through the plantation

 

By the time we come back from the cave, we have become friends. The kind of friends who look out for each other and can count on each other. We could count on them for protection against the village crooks and the company people who saw us taking pictures and filming around the palm-oil treatment plant; they could count on us to tell their story of struggle against injustice.

 

Taking a break, sharing stories

Taking a break, sharing stories

 

We get to the cave’s entrance after about three hours of extreme hiking through the jungle. It is a small hole in the grey rocks leading down. The three guys stop at the edge of the hole to say a muffled prayer in Q’eqchi before going in. We follow. It is a place they rarely visit, they say, a sacred site for prayers and rituals; for secrets and secret knowledge. We are the first white people to ever enter this cave.

 

Saying a prayer in front of the cave entrance

Saying a prayer in front of the cave entrance

 

They lead us into a narrow dark corridor, humid and cool. We get to a chamber. The light of a small flashlight illuminates scattered objects on the floor: yellow bones, human skulls, lower jaws with crooked teeth. Some are calcified to the cave’s walls; others lay loose on the ground. It is a Tomba Maya, they explain, a Mayan burial ground. The skeletons must be hundreds of years old, they say, from the times before the Conquista.

 

Inside the cave

Inside the cave

 

Being in the presence of ancient Mayan remains is something both strange and beautiful. In the dark, my mind begins to wander. The cave with its breath of a carnivorous flower becomes a temple; I become a ghost from a faraway land.

“I am honored and deeply grateful, I whisper, to be here with you: men with machetes, bones with souls, mountains with secrets.”

 

Mayan remains inside the cave

Mayan remains inside the cave

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El Boqueron Canyon

A Photo Journal

After the River-Cave Expedition we sail west to El Estor, the biggest town on the shores of Lago Izabal located at the foot of Sierra de Santo Cruz on the far north-west corner of the lake.

Less than ten kilometers east from the town flows Rio Boqueron cutting a deep 250-meter-high limestone canyon through the mountains.

 

Anchorage and dock in front of El Estor

Anchorage and dock in front of El Estor

The three boats drop anchor in front of the main docks of El Estor and we all except Josef head to El Boqueron Canyon. Josef has already visited the canyon and prefers to stay and keep an eye on the boats. El Estor is not the safest place to leave three yachts unattended.

We are twelve people: Daeli, Joni, Elan, Noial, and Lovam (s/v Friendship); Jana, Kachka and Anichka (s/v Blizzard); and Ivo, Mira, Viktor and Maya (s/v Fata Morgana).

 

Fata Morgana, Blizzard, and Friendship crews

Fata Morgana, Blizzard, and Friendship crews

 

Our journey starts with an epic thirty-minute ride from El Estor to the canyon in an old packed to the rim minibus. Way too many people are already piled inside before our group of twelve board the vehicle. The mothers are holding bunches of sweaty kids in their laps (us included), the men are sticking on the outside of the minibus (our men included), holding on for deer life while the driver goes with a hundred km/hr, accelerating on the curves, stopping abruptly a few times to pick up some more passengers!

 

El Boqueron Canyon

 

Finally we arrive at the canyon’s entrance, safe and sound. There are no other visitors but our group. A few young local guys are sitting around all day waiting for tourists, charging 5 quetzals (less than a dollar) entrance fee and another 10 quetzals for a lancha (a boat) ride up the canyon.

 

Our lancha ride upriver

Our lancha ride upriver

 

Joni, Jana, me, and the kids take the lancha while Ivo and Daeli decide to swim upriver, for free.

 

 

Ivo and Daeli getting ready to swim upriver.

Ivo and Daeli getting ready to swim upriver.

 

Our lancha meets Ivo and Daeli.

Our lancha meets Ivo and Daeli.

 

We enter the canyon.

 

The entrance to the canyon.

The entrance to the canyon.

 

It is a different world: a world of giants. We are like a small family of ants in our little boat drifting in the yellow river, huge rocks towering above us.

 

Rio Boqueron

Rio Boqueron

 

A huge spider on the rocks.

A huge spider on the rocks.

 

We reach a boulder in the middle of the stream and the lancha stops. Our lanchero explains that this is our destination, the boat cannot pass, and so he leaves us stranded on that boulder and heads back. He will return to pick us up in a few hours.

 

The last stop of the lancha.

The last stop of the lancha.

 

Ivo helping the lancha pass across some rocks.

Ivo helping the lancha pass across some rocks.

 

 

We are left alone on a huge rock in the middle of the river. The rock is fun: we sit on it, we have a picnic there, but soon we get pretty bored and decide to explore further, on our own.

 

The boulder.

The boulder.

 

And this is where the adventure begins.

 

The adventure begins.

The adventure begins.

 

The twelve of us, men, women, and children, with Elan, who is disabled, born with cerebral paralysis, and the two little girls Kachka 4 and Anichka 2, start heading upriver walking or swimming against the current.

 

Journey upriver in El Boqueron Canyon

Journey upriver in El Boqueron Canyon

 

The water is cold and the day is rainy and cool.

When the current is too strong, the men swim ahead and pull the rest of us one by one or all together with a rope we brought, women holding children, children clutching the rope, struggling to stay afloat.

 

The rope was a good idea.

The rope was a good idea.

 

We reach a point where the river curves slightly and we have to cross to the other side. The water is deep and fast.

Ivo manages to swim across holding one end of the rope, Daely is holding the other end and the rest of us are in the middle.

In order for Ivo to pull us to the other side we have to grab the rope and hold on to it, and then Daeli has to let go.

But we have to do it all together and quickly, we have only one chance.

The weight on the rope is too much, it drags us down, and we all struggle to stay afloat. But we succeed.

 

Daeli holding one end of the rope.

Daeli holding one end of the rope.

 

After probably about 30-40 minutes of this ordeal we reach a small beach where we can finally step ashore and rest on the rocks.

 

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The kids are tired and frozen, their lips blue, but no one complains. We love the adventure. The place is so beautiful.

 

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Ivo and Mira

Ivo and Mira

 

 

Ivo and Daeli want to explore even further. There is always further. The human curiosity is infinite. Who knows what will they discover upriver.

 

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They „discover“ a small cayuco left on the bank of the river and decide to borrow it for a ride downriver.

 

Ivo brings a cayuco for the ride downriver.

Ivo brings a cayuco for the ride downriver.

 

A cayuco is a small traditional wooden canoe carved from a single tree trunk which the mayans use as transportation and to fish. Usually, it takes one or two people. We are twelve.

 

Loading up the cayuco with women and children.

Loading up the cayuco with women and children.

 

And I am sure that this is the one and only time in the long history of this particular cayuco when it took ten women and children, safely, back to the end of the canyon, Ivo and Daeli swimming beside it guiding it down the stream.

 

The epic ride downriver in a cayuco.

The epic ride downriver in a cayuco.

 

It is a fun ride. When the lancha guys see us arriving triumphantly all piled up in the little cayuco, happy and wet, they can’t believe it. They have never met a crazier bunch of gringoes before, that’s for sure.

 

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Then Ivo and Daeli have to swim back upriver dragging the cayuco, which almost broke and almost sunk twice, to the place where they found it. We wait for them probably for over two hours.

 

Kachca and Lovam

Kachika and Lovam

 

When the guys return we have to figure a way to go back to El Estor and we decide to hitchhike.

Twelve people hitchhiking.

Twelve people hitchhiking.

 

The first car that passes down the road doesn’t stop, but the second does.

 

"Come on , Mira, stop with your pictures and jump in the truck, hurry up!"

„Come on , Mira, stop with your pictures and jump in the truck, hurry up!“

 

A pickup truck pulls over and we all pile up on the back, twelve men, women, and children. No one wants to sit in the front with the driver, riding in the trunk with a good company is a lot more fun.

 

Riding in the back of the pick-up truck.

Riding in the back of the pick-up truck.

 

We are back at the boats in the late afternoon, hungry and tired, but ready for the next adventure.

 

 

 

 

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The River Cave Expedition

 

 

The River Cave Expedition is the first of series of expeditions we went on together with our friends, the Friendship crew and the Czechs, on the north and west shores of Lago Izabal where we sailed together for almost two weeks.

 

Fata Morgana, Blizzard, and Friendship crews

Fata Morgana, Blizzard, and Friendship crews

 

The members of the River Cave Expedition are: Josef and Katchka; Daeli, Noial, and Lovam; and Ivo, Mira, Viktor, and Maya. Total of nine people. Meanwhile, Joni with Elan who was born with cerebral paralysis, and Jana with Anichka, spend the day at the Agua Caliente waterfall. They will join us for the next adventure.

 

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We start at the Agua Caliente waterfall going up river. There is no other path but the riverbed. In the beginning it is wide and shallow surrounded by lush jungle vegetation. But soon it gets narrower and the water becomes deeper and faster, cutting a deep canyon through the mountain’s grey rocks. An awe-inspiring view.

 

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Some places are difficult and dangerous to pass; we help the younger kids climb big boulders and swim across deeper waters. Josef has to carry Katchka most of the time. Lovam accepts help very rarely and only if he truly needs it, trying to keep up with Maya and Noial who are jumping from rock to rock with great ease leading the expedition.

 

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After a while we get to a small pool of green water where the river suddenly stops, turns towards the eastern wall of the canyon and enters a dark cave. We follow. The water inside the cave is still, deep, and freezing cold. This is the place where the river sleeps. We only have two submersible flashlights for nine people, so we keep one in front and one in back of the group. We swim in the dark cold water getting deeper and deeper into the cave until we don’t see light from the entrance any longer. The world becomes black. Colors never existed here; the sun has no memory of this place. We are blind.

It is a completely new and bizarre feeling swimming in a cave, in total darkness. We hear the tiny sounds of bats above our heads. We are trying to hold on to the wet slippery rock-walls covered with guano. Everything is mysterious. Who knows what  thing without eyes is lurking in the waters beneath. Who knows what thing without soul is listening from the cave’s ceiling some 30-40 feet above our heads.

Only if you abandon yourself to the cave and its secrets you will be able to feel and appreciate it. Fear should not enter the river-cave.

Everyone is silent. At places there are big rocks we have to go over one by one helping each other. I am expecting some of the kids to start panicking in the darkness, but it seems they all are truly enjoying the ride, even Katchka, she is so brave! And Viktor tells me later this was his favorite of all expeditions so far.

 

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Then, gradually, the silence gets filled with the muffled sound of water booming in the distance: an underground waterfall. The roar trapped in the cavern gets louder as we go further and soon we cannot hear each other anymore. We now feel the strong current against us. The waterfall is about fifteen feet tall and the only way to continue would be to climb over it. So we turn back. The journey back to the cave exit is a lot faster, going with the current.

Exiting the cave is a happy moment. I think of Plato’s caveman and his amazement at the outside world. The trees, the river, the clouds, the rocks. We look at each other and we lough. Wow, what an experience!

We have reached the end of one more unforgettable journey.

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The Cave’s Exit

 

 

* All photos were taken by Daeli with his GoPro camera

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Exploring Guatemala’s Natural Wonders. Agua Caliente

 

Vista of Lago Izabal

Vista of Lago Izabal

 

Guatemala, a Biodiversity Hotspot

 

Between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, just south of Mexico, lies a small Central American country. Guatemala, a place of many trees, is one of the most biologically abundant regions in the world with a unique ecosystem: a reservoir of biodiversity. Coming from Canada where half the time we were looking at snow covered landscapes, it took us some time to adjust our vision to the Guatemalan green around us. The Nature here has gone crazy.

The country has been designated as one of the world’s biodiversity hotspot, a rich biogeographic region containing distinct fauna and flora of which over 6% of animal species and 13% of plant species are endemic, many under threat from humans.

There are five different ecosystems in Guatemala with climate varying from hot and humid tropical lowlands to drier and cooler highlands. With mangrove forests, ocean littorals, rivers and lakes, jungle-covered mountain ranges, wetlands, small deserts, valleys, volcanoes, caves, and cenotes, Guatemala offers countless destinations to nature-lovers like us.

 

Guatemalan Green

Guatemalan Green

Agua Caliente

It’s Friday. After dropping off the kids at school Joni and me go grocery shopping in Fronteras, stocking up fruits, vegetables and beer for the weekend. As soon as the kids finish school, at noon, we lift anchors and spread the sails. Fata Morgana and her best friend FrindShip are off for the weekend. Past El Castillo de San Felipe, we  navigate west for a few hours. It is an absolute pleasure sailing in a lake. No waves, light wind, green shores all around us. Two families, two boats, five kids, one dog. The lake is ours!

 

FriendShip and Fata Morgana sailing together in Lago Izabal.  Photo by Joni

FriendShip and Fata Morgana sailing together in Lago Izabal.
Photo by Joni

 

Lago Izabal is the biggest lake in Guatemala with a surface of approximately 600 km² and many rivers draining into it, of which the biggest one is Polochic River. The lake is surrounded by evergreen mountains, Sierra de Santo Cruz to the north and Sierra de las Minas to the south. At the foot of the mountains near the shores of the lake there are a few small fincas (villages) where Q’eqchi and Q’iche communities still live in the same way their ancestors did, in small wooden houses with roofs of dried palm leaves.

 

FriendShip and Fata Morgana anchored near Finca Paraiso

FriendShip and Fata Morgana anchored near Finca Paraiso

 

After about ten miles of navigating we drop anchors in front of Finca Paraiso. The next morning we all go to shore and head to Agua Caliente (Hot Water). We start early, to make sure there will be no one else but us, as the tourists start to arrive there by bus around 10 am. After a short hike parallel to a small river, past cow pastures and a village from a different era, we get to the place. From the green mouth of the forest above us a small waterfall tumbles down into a deep pool. Not a big waterfall at all. If you have seen many waterfalls (coming from Canada- Niagara, hello!) you might not even notice this one. But wait until you feel its waters.

 

Agua Caliente waterfall

Agua Caliente waterfall

 

The waterfall is hot! There is a geothermal spring above the river. Before reaching the edge of the rocks and plunging thirty feet into the cold river below, the hot spring waters form two scalding shallow pools and then cascade down the rocks. Speaking of hotspots! The deep pool below is a mixture of hot water from the fall and cold water from the main river.

We spend a few hours there swimming in the cold river below, soaking in the hot pools above, jumping from the rocks. Standing under a hot waterfall is a bizarre feeling. The water is heavy, pushing me down, falling relentlessly, booming, never stopping. I close my eyes. Only the compact hollow noise, the unforgiving liquid weight and a gentle smell of humid vegetation and minerals. The most extreme shower I ever took.  

 

Photos of Agua Caliente Waterfall

Joni, Elan, Noial, and Spirit on the rocks next to the river

Joni, Elan, Noial, and Spirit on the rocks next to the river

 

Maya jumping

Maya

 

Joni

Joni

 

Daeli

Daeli

 

Lovam and Spirit

Lovam and Spirit

 

Mira

Mira

 

Viktor

Viktor

 

Noial

Noial

 

Ivo

Ivo

 

Spirit and Daeli

Spirit and Daeli

 

Viktor

Viktor

 

Spirit

Spirit

 

Lovam

Lovam

 

 

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