Barbuda Nice

Barbuda: the place where God goes on vacation

 

Barbuda

Barbuda

25 nautical miles north of Antigua lies, hidden below the horizon, the flat low island of Barbuda. Surrounded by coral reefs, the final resting place of many boats, the island was once considered the greatest peril to navigation in the Indes, its invisible sharp coral jaws ready to snatch another careless vessel. Even today Barbuda is not a popular cruising destination not only because of the reefs, but also because the island does not offer many weather-protected bays, and its location is off the main route most cruisers follow around these waters. All that makes it even more attractive to us, always in search of quiet unspoiled places, always lured by the off-the-beaten-path destinations.

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We sail north, the wind coming from east, blowing with 16-20 knots, just beautiful. Only after four hours of sailing with about 7 to 8 knots on a beam reach we approach Barbuda. Usually in the Caribbean when we sail from one island to another, we can see our destination from many miles away, but Barbuda remains hidden and mysterious, right until we are just 5-6 miles from its shores, and even closer to it reefs. We sneak between the shallows and the breakers on the southwest side and drop anchor in crystal blue waters like the waters in the Bahamas in front of the longest most beautiful beach.

Fata Morgana at anchor in Barbuda

Fata Morgana at anchor in Barbuda

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There are no people and no buildings for miles and miles, only one small hotel, yellow with red roof. Lighthouse Bay is a luxurious all-inclusive boutique resort with 1,000 dollar suits where extremely rich guests arrive by helicopter, but at this time of the year there are no guests, not even staff. We are alone.

Lighthouse Bay Resort

Lighthouse Bay Resort

Lighthouse Bay Resort

Lighthouse Bay Resort

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Mira

Mira

The beach on the west coast of the island, 12 miles of pink fine sand, has no footsteps, only sea turtle tracks. This time of the year, this time of the month, sea turtles are laying eggs.

The first night we encounter a hawksbill turtle looking for a spot to lay her eggs. At first we see a black shadow in the water slowly approaching land. As she reaches the shore, the turtle lifts her head above the water and looks around before emerging, her wet dark shell shining in the silver moonlight. We freeze, squat, and watch in awe from a distance as the big creature makes its way up, painfully crawling in the sand. Up on the sandbank near a bush she stops for a while. Did she see us? Did we spook her? Or she simply didn’t like the spot and started heading back to sea? I can’t resist and snap a picture before she enters the water and disappears in the ocean even though I know it is not a good idea to flash the poor creatures in the dark. Forgive me mama-turtle. Hope you found the perfect spot to lay your eggs. May all your hundred babies hatch healthy, reach the sea safely and live to be a thousand-years-old.

Haeksbill Turtle, Barbuda

Hawksbill Turtle, Barbuda

The next day we jump in the kayak, all three of us, and start paddling in the shallows parallel to the shore for about a mile and a half to the north end of the beach.

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The sea on this side of the island is completely still, like a lake, there are no swells, and the waves that reach the shore are tiny and gentle.

Evo and Maya with the Kayak

Evo and Maya with the Kayak

Maya

Maya

The sand is white and powdery peppered with pink miniature sea shells giving it its unusual pink hues specific and unique to this place.

Pink sand beach, Barbuda

Pink sand beach, Barbuda

We reach a spot where there is a strange art installation on the beach, a piece of driftwood adorned with all sorts of plastic garbage the sea has spewed ashore. It is the marker indicating a cut across to the mangrove maze.

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The long 12-mile pink-sand narrow strip of a beach on the west lee side of Barbuda is separated from the island’s mainland by a shallow swampy area, Codrington Lagoon, where the water is dark-colored due to the mangroves and with higher salinity. The only way to access our pink beach from the main island is by small boat, and it is not a short ride. That is why there is no one here most of the time.

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The remote mangroves on the northwest side of Barbuda where humans rarely venture provide habitat for the largest Magnificent Frigatebird breeding colony in the Caribbean, one of the biggest frigate bird sanctuaries in the world. With about 1700 nests, the site has been declared a national park.

Kayaking inside the frigatebird sanctuary

Kayaking inside the frigatebird sanctuary

Magnificent Frigatebirds

The Magnificent Frigatebird also known as man o’war or man of war is long-winged, fork-tailed black bird of the tropical oceans. An agile silent flier he snatches fish off the surface of the ocean and pirates food from other birds.

Magnificent Frigatebird, Barbuda

Magnificent Frigatebird, Barbuda

Frigatebirds never land on water, and always take their food in flight. It spends days and nights on the wing, with an average ground speed of 10 km/h (6.2 mph), covering up to 223 km (139 mi) before landing. They alternately climb in thermals, to altitudes occasionally as high as 2,500 m (8,200 ft), and descend to near the sea surface.

Frigatebirds, Barbuda

Frigatebirds, Barbuda

To visit the frigatebird sanctuary you can hire a local guide with a small motor boat which costs 40 $US per person. Or, you can take your kayak along the beach, all the way to the north corner until you reach the driftwood decorated with ocean garbage, drag it across to the mangrove lagoon and paddle inside the bird sanctuary, exploring noiselessly its many small channels, inaccessible even to the guide with the motor boat because they are too shallow. This will save you some cash and you will be able to go much closer to the nesting grounds without disturbing the birds, and spend as much time in the colony as you wish for free, like we did.

Frigatebird Sanctuary, Barbuda

Frigatebird Sanctuary, Barbuda

We spent over an hour in the mangrove maze, surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of frigates nesting in the bush, hovering above us like dark kites, looking us suspiciously, telling us something important but alas incomprehensive to us. I wonder if they remember us. We surely remember them with so much affection.

Frigatebird Sanctuary, Barbuda

Frigatebird Sanctuary, Barbuda

Frigatebird Sanctuary, Barbuda

Frigatebird Sanctuary, Barbuda

Frigatebird Sanctuary, Barbuda

Frigatebird Sanctuary, Barbuda

Frigatebird Sanctuary, Barbuda

Frigatebird Sanctuary, Barbuda

Frigatebird Sanctuary, Barbuda

Frigatebird Sanctuary, Barbuda

Frigatebird Sanctuary, Barbuda

Frigatebird Sanctuary, Barbuda

Frigatebird Sanctuary, Barbuda

Frigatebird Sanctuary, Barbuda

Frigatebird Sanctuary, Barbuda

Frigatebird Sanctuary, Barbuda

Frigatebird Sanctuary, Barbuda

Frigatebird Sanctuary, Barbuda

 

By early afternoon we are back on the boat. After splashing in the warm crystal blue waters, a math lesson, and some rest, we decide to make a fire on the beach around sunset and celebrate the full moon tonight.

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We love beach fires and fires in general, we think they are fascinating and have their own short lives, and it is always a great excitement building them, lighting them and watching them burn.

Mira and Maya building a fire

Mira and Maya building a fire

Maya and Mira gathering firewood

Maya and Mira gathering firewood

Mira dancing around the fire

Mira dancing around the fireplace

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Maya made fire!

Maya made fire!

Maya at sunset

Maya at sunset

Evo by the fire

Evo by the fire

Maya with marshmallow

Maya with marshmallow

Maya...

Maya…

moon

moon

Maya firedance

Maya fire-dance

Evo and Maya by the fire

Evo and Maya by the fire

Full moon in Barbuda

Full moon in Barbuda

As we are eating fire-roasted potatoes and hamburgers, and sipping white wine, the full moon watching over us, turtles crawling out of the sea in the darkness down the beach, dark birds sleeping in the branches of the mangroves behind us, we are thinking how nice, how magical these two days, and nights, in Barbuda were. Days, and nights, like these we don’t want to end.

Evo and Maya by the fire

Evo and Maya by the fire

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Bitter Guana Cay

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The 700 Bahamian islands and cays are all low-lying flat tablelands of sand, coral, and limestone on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, averaging not more than 30 meters/100 feet in elevation. Most of the smaller cays are uninhabited, covered with low tropical vegetation, small spiky palm trees and cedars. 

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One such cay is Bitter Guana Cay in the Exumas where we stop for a few days for a total do-nothing relaxation period away from everything and everyone. The island looks like a chocolate-covered puff-cream pastry. The white sand is the vanilla cream filling and the limestone is the chocolate on top, which is now all cracked-up and melting away as a result of some glorious roaring Jurassic convulsion of the earth’s crust.

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On the west side, the side of the shallow Bahama Bank, the anchorage in front of the small beach is completely protected from east, north and south winds and big ocean waves.

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We spend a few days here alone, with no other boats around, swimming, fishing, climbing the crumbling sandy ridges, exploring the small cave, feeding the population of hungry but friendly iguanas with whatever leftover food, which is not much, sorry, iguana-buddies.

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Only once a dinghy stopped by our iguana-island and a young couple spent the afternoon on our beach, completely naked and happy, their white butts shining like vanilla ice cream under the mighty all-seeing ever-smiling tropical sun. We forgive them the trespassing, just because they were naked and therefore totally free and defiant, and because they too shared some food with our iguanas.

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On the other side of the island, the Bahama Sound, the sea is not so kind. It is scary and menacing, deep blue-purple color, east winds and huge waves pounding the rock. Here the ocean dropoff plunges to depths our depth founder will never record, some of the deepest ocean water in the hemisphere. We stay away from there. For now.

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Strawberries and Champagne on the Beach

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December 30th, 2013

Shroud Cay is one of the many uninhabited islands in the archipelago of the Exumas, some 3 miles long and 1.5 mile wide. The low flat rocks and sand dunes of the island are covered with thick impassable mangroves, a population of short and very resilient trees and shrubs adapted to saltwater and the relentless tides of the sea.

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A web of tidal channels cross the island from east to west, like salt rivers which empty their riverbeds in the sea and fill them again every few hours, switching direction.

At some places the channels are deep and narrow, carving their way through rock and vegetation.

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Further they spill their waters over vast sand dunes, completely exposed at low tide and shallow at high tide.

The only way to explore the place from one end to the other is by kayak. A dinghy would not go through the shallows and even our brave kayak, Agent Orange, had some difficulties at times.

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We start at low tide, at the west end of one of the channels, Maya, Ivo, and me. All is completely silent and still. The roots of the mangrove trees, like dark fingers of dragons or giant chicken feet, are exposed.

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The vast sand dunes in the middle of the island are now dry, only faint streams of blue water allow us to continue across.

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The water is completely transparent and clear like in an aquarium; crabs, yellowtails, small nurse sharks and sting rays swim around us.

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We get to the other side of the island.

The sea to the east of the Exumas gets deep, there are not many anchorages, and with prevailing east winds and big waves coming all the way from Africa, it is a lot more dangerous and difficult to sail, so cruisers usually keep on the west side, protected by the east winds and waves by the islands, where the water is shallow and calm.

Our tidal river has brought us to a vast white-sand beach, completely deserted, where the only footprints are the ones left by our feet.

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December 31st, 2013

Here is what might have happened on this beach on December 31st, 2013:

A guy named John Collins, or John Dillinger, or John Johnson, proposed to his girlfriend Susanna, on New Year’s Eve.

John, born in a small town in Georgia, or in a small town in Pennsylvania, or in a small town in New Jersey, is about 30-35 years-old, college graduate, passionate about American Football and fast cars. He has a handsome little job as an executive assistant in a small corporation in east Florida where he lives in a nice second-floor apartment, since two years now. As a next logical step of his comfortable life development, John has decided the time has come to settle down. First marriage, immediately after that mortgage, and then, maybe after a few years, a kid. Plus, Susanna is a nice girl, 26, blond, good-looking, and fun. She would make a good wife and with the income from her receptionist job, they will do pretty good.

So John takes out his Master Card and organizes everything to the minute detail eight months in advance. He charters a luxury yacht for four days. A beautiful 48-foot Jefferson with two 210 hp engines, three double staterooms, outdoor speakers, and a nice little deck where Susanna can sunbath in her bikini. He has thought of everything: an affordable ring with a small diamond, a bottle of champagne, Dom Perignon 2003, chocolates, strawberries, he even buys a beach umbrella and a small cooler. He is ready to propose.

Susanna looks excited to go to the Bahamas on a luxury yacht with John for New Year. She posts photos in Facebook of the boat and the sea so that all her 682 friends can be jealous.

John is sure she will say “Yes”. She cannot possibly say “No” with all these preparations and expenses from his part.

John finds the perfect place: a beautiful secluded beach on the east side of an uninhabited island in the Exumas. There is no way they will be disturbed by anyone here; all cruisers go on the west side. He is planning a very romantic afternoon on the beach. He will set everything beforehand: the umbrella, the cooler with ice, the beach towel, maybe he should bring chairs? No, no chairs, a beach towel so that they can lay on it, chat, and make love after she says “Yes” and after the champagne and the strawberries. Like in the movies.

December 31st, 2013, they get to the beach a bit later than he has planned as she was busy texting with a friend, and then couldn’t find her sunglasses.  

They sit on the towel (John brought one of the boat’s white towels as he forgot to get a beach towel, the only think he forgot) , but the umbrella keeps falling because of the wind. They chat and kiss. She gets irritated when he starts talking something about all the plastic garbage that the sea has brought to the beach and how there is no one to clean it, even though this place is part of the Exuma Land and Sea Park. She hates garbage and she loves the environment, but this is not the time to talk about it.

Then he pulls out the little red box with the ring and the ice-cold champagne from the cooler and she is really surprised. She thought the champagne was for New Year?

“Susanna, will you marry me?”

Her face becomes all red, like the strawberries. It’s all perfect: the beach, the ring, the champagne.

“Oh, John…wow” is all she can say with her shrill voice. She tries on the ring, wonders how much it costs, they kiss, drink a bit of the champagne, she tries the strawberries and then the chocolates, but they are not her favorites.

“These are your favorites, that’s why I bought them.” says John.

“No, my favorites are the chocolate truffles, not these.” says Susanna.

“No, I remember you like these.” says John.

“Maybe is your ex who likes them, not me. You still think about her, don’t you… You think I don’t know she called you yesterday.” says Susanna.

“What the fuck are you talking about?” says John.

“You know what, here is your stupid ring and you can bring the rest of your stupid chocolates to your ex, I’m off.” says Susanna.

January 1st, 2014

We celebrate New Year alone on the boat with a nice dinner and a movie, nothing special. We forgot to buy a bottle of champagne and so we have no reason to stay up until midnight. There are no other boats in the anchorage, and it is just like any other night.

The next day, January 1st, 2014, Ivo and I take the kayak for another trip through the mangroves and channels, this time in high tide. 

Everything is different. The roots of the shrubs, the sand banks are submerged. We don’t have to walk across any shallows.

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As we get to the beach on the east side we discover a white towel, a beach umbrella lying open and crooked on the sand, and a small cooler with strawberries, chocolates (two of them half-eaten), and a bottle of champagne, Dom Perignon 2003, half empty. Everything looks abandoned; there are no people dead or alive and no boats nearby.

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We have no idea what has happened here not too long ago; we can only imagine. There are so many possible scenarios. One thing is sure, they left suddenly, in a hurry.

We wait for a while; we explore the hills, the shallow pools with hot water formed by the tides, the beach. There is a bunch of plastic debris on the sand: a broken bucket, shoes, bottles. It is incredible how much garbage accumulates washed by the sea on such beautiful deserted places, spoiling them.

As the afternoon advances it is time to go back to the kids and the boat.

We are now faced with a dilemma: leave the umbrella, cooler and towel on the beach, or take them.

The people might come back to look for their stuff. But why did they abandon them like that, the umbrella open in the wind, the champagne half full getting warm, the strawberries about to go bad, the chocolates uneaten?

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It looks like they left suddenly, affected by something, never to return. In that case, this stuff will simply become part of the rest of the garbage on the beach.

We decide to act responsibly and do the right thing.

 

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We eat the strawberries and the chocolates, we drink the champagne, and we take the umbrella, the towel and the cooler with us.

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There, we did have champagne for New Year after all, and an adventure!

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If the owners return later looking for their stuff only to find the green parts of the strawberries scattered about and two pair of footprints in the sand, too bad! They should not have abandoned their stuff on a public beach like that and I am sure next time they won’t.

On our way back, champagne in our system, we are pretty excited and happy, as well as a bit guilty.

The beach umbrella immediately proves to be very useful. With the wind about 10 knots coming behind us we use the umbrella as a sail and we get back to the boat at an incredible speed, sailing with the kayak through the mangroves, using the paddles only to steer.

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Note: if you know John, the owner of the stuff we appropriated, and if he wants them back, tell him we are willing to return them and we’ll share a bottle of wine when he comes to retrieve them.

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Isla Mujeres, Mexico

 

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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.

 

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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

 

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El Perro Azul

El Perro Azul

 

 

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Cayo Levisa to Cabo San Antonio

Close to shore or offshore?

We leave Cayo Levisa together with Harley and April and we get to our next destination, Los Morros at Cabo San Antonio, almost at the same time, after over 30 hours of sailing. Only, Harley and April, who have more than 10 years of experience crewing aboard mega-yachts sailing 4 times around the globe, kept close to shore and stopped to sleep for the night anchored behind the reefs, while we took Fata Morgana way offshore and sailed non-stop the whole time, day and night, battling with current and waves, dealing with squalls and electrical storms. Turns out, sailing close to shore is way faster and the sea is much calmer, with less currents and waves, and about the same wind as offshore.

Lesson learned.

April and Harley

April and Harley

 

Marina Los Morros

We arrive in the afternoon of the next day.

Los Morros is technically a marina, if you can call a small wooden pier and a small concrete building with a couple of toilets a marina. The nearest village is over 100 kilometers away. But, there are the officials waiting for us: customs, immigration, coast guard, the entire gang, and that’s what qualifies a small pier in Cuba as a marina. We drop anchor near by and we clear in for a fourth time… Soon El Karma joins us. We sleep for 12 hours straight and the next morning we are ready to explore.

Mira witha Cuban military truck

Mira witha Cuban military truck

The place is so tiny and charming, so far away from everything, at the end of the mangrove world, it feels like a childhood memory. An immigration officer gives us directions and we start for the beach. A bunch of slow sun-stricken cows roaming around the shore are paying close attention to our actions while chewing their breakfast for the second time.

Fata Morgana anchored at Los Morros, Cabo San Antonio, Cuba

Fata Morgana anchored at Los Morros, Cabo San Antonio, Cuba

 

Bug-infested walk to the beach

Turns out, the beach is at the end of a three-mile road through the jungle, where the bugs live. We need a bug repellant fast if we don’t want only our dry skeletons to arrive at the beach. „Hay que inventar“ (Have to invent) I remember the phrase everyone uses in Cuba, and soon we solve our problem using palm leafs as fans and hats against the insects. We camouflage so the unintelligent mosquitoes think we are some sort of walking trees and leave us alone.

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

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

 

 

The Beach

Cabo San Antonio Beach

Cabo San Antonio Beach

The one-hour bug-infested walk is worth it. We get to another secluded mini-resort: little bungalows with tiki roofs at the edge of the forest and just next to the beach, little piglets running around.

Piglet

Piglet

There are a total of four tourists and six pigs on the entire beach (before we showed up all covered up with vegetation). We spend the afternoon chilling, having lots and lots of fun in the water. Best time in Cuba!

Ivo, Viktor and Maya, The human pyramid

Ivo, Viktor and Maya, The human pyramid

 

Mira, Ivo, Maya, Viktor: a rare picture of the four of us

Mira, Ivo, Maya, Viktor: a rare picture of the four of us

 

 

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Turtle Nest Expedition

 

 

 

Loggerhead Key is a tiny island in Dry Tortugas, across from Garden Key where Fort Jefferson is. A tall lighthouse, three times the height of a regular one, was erected here in the 19th century, about the same time as Fort Jefferson was being built.

Pier and Lighthouse, Loggerhead Key, Florida

Pier and Lighthouse, Loggerhead Key, Florida

 

There are not organized tours here, and so the island, its white sandy beaches, and the coral reefs around it are undisturbed by people most of the time. The only way to come here is by boat.

Driftwood on a white sandy beach, Loggerhead Key

Driftwood on a white sandy beach, Loggerhead Key

 

July 22, Monday

We drop anchor very carefully on a sandy bottom patch, making sure there are no coral heads beneath. Ivo and I take the kayak to check out the lighthouse and explore the place. Viktor and Maya stay on the boat to play video games…

Fata Morgana anchored off Loggerhead Key

Fata Morgana anchored off Loggerhead Key

 

On the island we stumble upon Mark and Suzy, Marine Biology Students doing an internship and a group of scientists studying the sea turtles.

Suzy

Suzy

Kristen Hart, a research ecologist, and her crew have just arrived to monitor some of the turtle nests on the beach.

They accept our offer to help with the turtle nest expedition. (Our help consists in caring a huge beach umbrella and holding it above the excavating researchers, taking pictures, and asking too many questions.)

Excavating a recently hatched turtle nest

Excavating a recently hatched turtle nest

 

In the next couple of hours, under the hot tropical sun, Kristen and her crew excavate turtle nests marked by a pole indicating a recent hatching.

Kristen Hart holding unhatched turtle eggs

Kristen Hart holding unhatched turtle eggs

They count the eggshells, mark the nest GPS positions, take samples from the unhatched eggs by opening them and collecting the smelly rotten yolks in a jar.

An unhatched baby turtle

An unhatched baby turtle

 

The nests contain exactly one hundred yellowish eggshells each, of which a few unhatched eggs in various stages of development, and couple of baby turtle body parts, meaning that most of the baby turtles successfully hatched and made it to the ocean sometime in the past couple of days.

We are so grateful to be part of this expedition… It is an amazing learning experience; we only regret that the kids didn’t come. We learn about the green turtles and the loggerhead turtles, their habitat, behavior, and reproduction first hand.

We spend the evening and a night of a full moon on the boat watching the light of the lonely lighthouse lazily circling around us. Tonight, enormous creatures will emerge slowly from the warm dark waters of the ocean hauling their heavy shells across the sands to find a familiar spot. A place where many many years ago they awoke buried among their one hundred brothers and sisters and with much effort their journey begun. At this spot, they will remember, their old mother came, many many years ago, and gently covered with sand one hundred round eggs, her most treasured possession. They will remember, yes, and they will do as she did. Tonight.

Full moon over the lighthouse

Full moon over the lighthouse

 

The next morning we go back to the island, this time with Maya and Viktor, to investigate the sands of the beach for new nests. Another short expedition.

Suzy leads us along the beach

Suzy leads us along the beach

 

Suzy leads us along the southeast beach showing us fresh turtle tracks and nests, explaining the difference between the green turtle and the loggerhead nesting behavior. I am glad the kids are interested and participate. This is an example of how they learn valuable lessons outside school, thanks to traveling. A natural history, ecology, and biology lesson they will never forget.

A recent turtle nest and tracks from the night before. The eggs are under the little hill.

A recent turtle nest and tracks from the night before. The eggs are under the little hill.

 

They learn that green turtles and loggerheads have different patterns of walking on the sand and making their nests. That they dig sometimes a few nests before choosing where to lay their eggs. That they do this in the dark of the night to avoid being discovered and bothered by birds and predators. That they lay a hundred eggs or more, of which over 90% hatch successfully, but only a small fraction of the baby turtles make it to adulthood. The rest become easy prey for marine predators. That, if they make it, they can live to be hundreds of years old. That people hunt them in the past for they were an easy pray and had delicious meat until their numbers diminished dramatically. That today hunting and killing a sea turtle is a crime. That pollution, oil spills, and destruction of their habitat continues even now to endanger them. And that there are now programs and individuals out there who care about them and try to preserve them.

 

You can read more about the sea turtles of Dry Tortugas and the research and conservation efforts of scientists like Kristen Hart in Implementing the Dry Tortugas National Park Research Natural Area Science Plan: The 5-Year Report 2012.

 

 

 

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Marine Survey and Back

From Key West, FL to Montreal, QC the distance is about 1800 boring miles. Baba Ghanoush, cautious and focused as a mule, is capable of going at not more than 50 miles per hour, which means about four long days of driving through three different types of climates, going from tropical through moderate to continental.We have done this trip many times in the past aboard one of those commercial trucks, and so we don’t think it is a big deal. Plus, we have a stop in the middle.

In South Carolina, we detour from our rout to visit Brian and Joyce, our neighbors from Bois-des-Filion and good friends (the guys who helped us repair and clean Baba Ghanoush in October, and prepare for the trip), who are snowbirding in a nice three-bedroom-three-bathroom condo in Myrtle Beach. We spend there two days and nights, enjoying the condo and all its comforts, a walk on the beach, some discount shopping in OldNavy, and Joyce and Brian’s exquisite cuisine&company.

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

We are now driving back north on Interstate 95, somewhere in New York state. The heater is on. The sky is the same color as the highway: dirty-grey. So are the leafless trees and the dead grass, and so is our mood. We are even starting to see patches of grey snow. The tiny transparent ants who descended from a tree somewhere in Jacksonville climbing aboard our RV in the beginning of this trip are nowhere to be found. Either they abandoned the premises knowing deep in their guts that we are heading towards below zero temperatures, or are presently hibernating in some cosy unknown to us place in Baba Ghanoushe’s old body.

Going back from Key West, Florida to Canada in the beginning of March sucks. It is like going back from summer trough fall into winter. But we have to return to Quebec and deal with our bank, our house, our stuff, and then go again to Key West by the end of the month to take possession of the boat, and basically, to move aboard.

Her name is B&B Adventure but that will change soon. She is a 2001 Robertson and Cane Leopard 38 owner’s version, which means, she is 38 feet catamaran and has three big cabins. Built in Cape Town, South Africa in 2001, these boats are heavy and stable, not as fast as other catamarans the same size, but very roomy and comfortable. Which is more important to us, as we are not going to race her, but live aboard, spend lots and lots of time in the galley and the salon, in the cabins and in the cockpit.

Haul-Out for Marine Survey

Haul-Out for Marine Survey

We did a marine survey and a sea trial in Key West a few days ago, and we have signed the acceptance papers. The survey showed a number of little things that need to be fixed, and a few bigger repairs, but nothing major or urgent (or that is what we are thinking right now, optimistically…). Still, my head hearts just thinking about what are we getting ourselves into… For sure, every (used) boat needs some taking care of; being a boat owner means also a permanent state of fixing, maintaining, and upgrading (or paying for it). But before the repairs, we need to worry about bank transfers, vessel registration, cruising permit, etc. So, Montreal, here we come!

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Maya’s Corner

I am so happy, I got a flute from a guy named Phil.  And I keep practicing but it is really hard and I loose my pacience. But I know with practice I will be an expert someday. Phil has at least a dozen flutes and he plays them at the beach at sunset. He has all kind of sizes and some very special ones. There is one made out of turquoise. Mine is wooden and has a bison on it and strings made out of bison skin. Phil lives in a very very big RV with his wife Margie in Turtle Beach. Thank you Phil!

Maya and Phil at sunset, Turtle Beach

Maya and Phil at sunset, Turtle Beach

Sometime ago I was on Skype with Anne-Sophie, a very good friend of mine from back home. I always call her Anne-Sou for short. She speaks French. Back home, we play a lot wii, we ride our bikes and we do sleepovers. Me and her together we have a huge imagination. I miss my old friends and Anne-Sou… I love meeting new people and making new friends, but the worst part is every time we meet new awesome people they go away like after three days or after e few hours, or we go away.

In Turtle Beach, Mia was my new best friend for a week. Me and her were always together. In the pool we were splashing, playing with balls in the water, it was so fun! The second day after we met we thought about a sleepover. So we asked her grandma, and she said yes, and my mom said yes too! So we rushed to our RV and we packed up my PetShops, Bubba, my teddy bear, and my swimsuit. We planned what we were going to do at the sleepover all the way back to her condo. There, we had popsicles and we went back to the pool. After, we played PetShops all day and a bit of the night. Mia always sleeps with crossed legs and she sleep-talks. It was so funny. We wake up, and first thing’s first, we play PetShops.

Maya and Mia

Maya and Mia

The last day before Mia left, our families got together for dinner and Mia and me made a performance: Clown Act, Goblin, Ballet, Shower, and Restaurant. It was funny.

A bad thing happened:

We were supposed to meet Bear Grylls at the Boat Show, but the stupid RV broke down so we couldn’t see him. It was going to be the best day of my life but it turned out to be the worst day of my life… And I am pretty upset to write about it because it reminds me.

The drawing Maya made for Bear Grylls. (It's him standing next to a volcano)

The drawing Maya made for Bear Grylls. (It’s him standing next to a volcano)

The message on back of the drawing.

The message on back of the drawing.

But every time something bad happens, something good happens too. If the RV haven’t broke down I would meet Bear Grylls, but I wouldn’t meet Jasmine. She is my other best friend for a few days. Nickname- Jazz. She made me dice nail polish, white with black dots, and glitter nail polish on my toes, rainbow color. We watched movies together. Once we watched a really scary horror movie, so scary I almost peed my pants.

Jasmine and Maya

Jasmine and Maya

Dice&rainbow nail polish designs by Jasmine.

Dice&rainbow nail polish designs by Jasmine.

Next subject:

Two dogs wrote to me. Their names are Joppe and Tango. I like Joppe because he is funny and he said he can pee when they tell him to. Tango is cool too, he likes eating and he even eats carrots. I really wished I had a dog too.

I sell pot holders $2 each and two for $3. And it is $2 minimum, which means you can give $3 or $4 or more if you want to, but I am not forcing you. I don’t buy them, I make them out of my shirt sleeves and they can be pretty handy sometimes. I was thinking to buy me a skateboard with the money, but now I don’t know what will I buy, I am still thinking about it. I only sold one for $2 so far. I also found lots of seashells at the beach and I was thinking to start selling them too.

Maya's Pot Holders

Maya’s Pot Holders

When i am pretty bored I go swinging for like half an hour or more and I also sing when I swing. I sing about what will happen in my life or what already happened, or what I’d like to happen.

I love traveling. I loved the Everglades. It is fun to see all the trees and gators, it’s so cool.

I also like when my dad makes freshly squeezed orange juice. My dad is my favorite member of the family, he takes good care of us.

My favorite guest from the trip is Mia and this guy named Ray. He is awesome! He brings us lots of pizza and he has amazing stories. Once, when he was 17, he needed to go to California with an airplane but he ended up in Spain instead! It is a long story but a good one. He gave me awesome cookies! I gave him one of my pot holders.

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Friends from Turtle Beach

We are on the move again after a full month staying in Sarasota’s Turtle Beach. We absolutely loved this secluded quiet place, away from the crowds of tourists down in Siesta Key. The park became our home and all the people we met there became our friends and temporary neighbours.Some are from the local community, others, visitors like us.

Toma, from Russia, now married to an American and living in Sarasota

The most avid fisher-woman I’ve ever seen, full of energy and laughter. With a contagious smile on her face and strong accent, she would tell us stories of horror and unimaginable endurance from the Second World War in Russia, where Nazi bombs killed all of her family, and she survived for years living in a hole dug in the ground, starving. She knows the value of proteins and she celebrates every fish caught on her hook.

Toma with a fish

Toma with a fish

John, born in Montreal, Canada, now lives in Texas

He would tell us the funniest stories in the morning, passing through the park on his way to his 6-mile walk. We hope to see you again soon and here some more of those stories! Say hi to your daughter back in Montreal, and thank you for the fish!

Jan and Tony, from California, now live in Sarasota

Authentic Californian hippies, they thought us how to fish for flounders and sharks. And with reggae music running through their veins, and ours, we spent together a crazy evening at O’Leary’s Tiki Bar down in Siesta Village. Road Block, a surprisingly good reggae band, plays there every Friday between 6 and 10 p. m. and the place is packed with dancing people.

Jan and Tony at the beach

Jan and Tony at the beach

Ivo with Desi Adams from Road Block in O'Leary's Tiki Bar

Ivo with Desi Adams from Road Block in O’Leary’s Tiki Bar

Candis, Harley, and Mia

On vacation from Fargo, Candis, Harley and their grand-daughter Mia, 7 years old, practically adopted Maya for a week, as Maya and Mia became best friends. They have rented an apartment in Tortuga, a condo near our park. The girls activities that week included: constant swimming in Tortuga’s heated pool; playing PetShops in Mia’s room; a legendary sleepover at their place; a very improvised dinner at our place in the park (with  a shower curtain for a tablecloth, foam dishes, plastic cups and no knives for the turkey and sausages I grilled on the BBQ); another dinner at their place with Mia’s parents, who came for a weekend to get Mia. Harley, who is a professional jazz musician and can play on various instruments, played the clarinet for us, and the girls performed last-minute choreographed dances and skits, and we all got cheek muscle pain from laughing too much.

Mia and Maya, drawing at the pier in our park

Mia and Maya, drawing at the pier in our park

Mia, Maya, and Candis

Mia, Maya, and Candis

Ray, lives in Sarasota

As a way to escape the daily boring routine, Ray delivers pizzas from a restaurant two evenings per week with his flaming-red convertible Jaguar. We met him thanks to Wally, to whom he brings food Tuesdays and Thursdays. He started bringing us delicious pizza from the restaurant that didn’t sell the night before, as well as salads, chilli, even crab cakes, and other masterpieces that he makes himself.

The first time I tried a salad he made, I felt (like the one who escaped Plato’e Cave to discover the real world outside the cave) struck and enveloped by light. I then realized with nostalgia, I’ve been living in some sort of a salad cave all my life… But most of all, we enjoyed ray’s incredible stories and company. Thank you Ray!

Ray's Crab Cakes...Yum!

Ray’s Crab Cakes…Yum!

Anna and Lucas from Bavaria, Germany

One day, they parked their car next to our Baba Ghanoush in the park and stayed with us for two unforgettable weeks. Nineteen-years-old, just out of high school, beautiful intelligent kids, they are touring Canada and America for a year before going back to college, sleeping in a car, cooking their own food on a small portable propane stove.

We thought them to fish at the beach, we trained at sunset following Lucas who is a track-and-field athlete, and, with two more Canadian friends who came to visit us for a few days, we went to Fort Desoto Park and we made sand sculptures.

Maya and Anna painting

Maya and Anna painting

Lucas training with Ivo and Viktor

Lucas training with Ivo and Viktor

Laundry time ...in the beach showers...

Laundry time …in the beach showers…

Fun time with Anna, Lucas, and Ivo

Fun time with Anna, Lucas, and Ivo

Anna and Maya working on a sand sculpture, Fort Desoto.  -photo by Lucas

Anna and Maya working on a sand sculpture, Fort Desoto. -photo by Lucas

Mira's sand sculpture

Mira’s sand sculpture  -photo by Lucas

We also grilled things on the BBQ and partied in the park, together with Wally, almost every night, around Ivo’s fires „made from scratch“ out of dead wood and dry  palm leaves.

BBQ time with Maya, Ivo, and Anna

BBQ time with Maya, Ivo, and Anna  -photo by Lucas

Once, Wally wanted to have roasted lamb like the one he had in Crete years ago, and so he makes me take a pen and paper and write down the necessary ingredients: a boneless leg of lamb in a net from Publix; mint jelly for coating the meat; elephant garlic cloves; a specific type of charcoal, and a Key Lime Pie for dessert. We get the stuff and Anna and I rub the meat with olive oil and salt, poke wholes all over and stick in slices of garlic everywhere. Then, we wrap it in foil and we forget it on the grill for about three hours. Best lamb all of us ever had!

I also made salad with the free vegetables we get from the market every week. (Same as in Saint Pete, we volunteered to help a farmer in Sarasota’s Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays, and he gives us, for about half an hour of work, three-four boxes full of Fruits and veggies. There is enough for all of us: our family of four, Anna, Lucas, and Wally for a week!)

Half an hour worth of produce.

Half an hour worth of produce.

After dinner, at about 10 p. m., Wally calls a 24 hr. Walmart, electronics department and wants to buy new two-amp speakers for his laptop, which we got for him from his storage. We listen to Wagner’s Flight of the Valkyries, full power, and it’s past midnight! The following days and nights, the park echoes with Wally’s favourites: Pavarotti, Leonard Cohen, Bob Marley, Willie Nelson. I can’t believe no one complains or calls the police. I guess everyone likes the music, we do. In any case, I promise myself we’ll get Wally some nice headphones soon.

The night before Anna and Lucas left, we took group portrait, 30 second exposure, with Wally asleep as a background. We miss you Anna and Lucas!

Mira and Anna, with Wally asleep

Lucas and Anna, with Wally asleep

Lucas and Anna, with Wally asleep

Anna and Anna, with Wally asleep

Anna and Anna, with Wally asleep

Ivo, Anna, Mira, and Lucas, with Wally asleep

Ivo, Anna, Mira, and Lucas, with Wally asleep

We love experiencing a place as opposed to just visiting it for a short period of time. Our plans are to return to Turtle Beach and our friends after visiting the boat show in Miami, and a catamaran for sale in Key West.

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Communitas. Genesis

The strangest thing. A small and almost unstructured community has come into existence right here, in the park.

A spontaneous and fragile birth of a tiny fruit-fly nymph: Dolania Ephemeroptera.

First, a family from Switzerland in an RV tentatively joins us for a few unforgettable days. Next, a young couple from  Germany travelling around North America by car decide to stay and stick with us for an undetermined period of time, hopefully longer. And recently, a woman with a dog currently living in a car, are often to be seen around. An intense and unfamiliar spirit of solidarity can be detected here, early in the morning, at noon, and late at night. As well as in between-time. It is defined, I believe, by the uncertainty of future outcomes. In other words, we are all staying here until they kick us out, or until we choose to leave, whichever comes first. But Wally says they wont because it’s up to him, and every time this sounds reassuring. Wally is the mayor (here in the park). He is not really a person, but a place. An icon and a legend, Wally is our nucleus. I will write more about him, as well as each and everyone of them in my next posts.

The Family from Switzerland

After two days and nights of undisturbed squatting in the park’s parking near Turtle Beach in Florida, a small rental RV joins us. Michele, un italiano vero, Claudia, his beautiful better half, and their kids, the six-years-old twins Laura, and Fabio, decide to move on the other side of the campground’s fence next to our Baba Ghanoush, where the grass is greener, the sky is bluer, there is no fees, no structure, no order (no showers, no electricity, no full hook-up).

Laura, Claudia, Michele, and Fabio at Turtle Beach, Florida

Laura, Claudia, Michele, and Fabio at Turtle Beach, Florida

They are on vacation from Switzerland, travelling all over Florida. We quickly become friends. Together, we are driven by the irresistible impulse to have fun. At the beach or (when the Red Tide is raging there) somewhere else. We play volleyball, we play football (the Americans wrongly call it soccer  but we are all with European roots); in the evening, in our park, we have BBQ and lots of vino. The kids, like innocent shamans, are playing with burning sticks near the lake. Fabio and Laura, who only speak Italian and some Swiss-German dialect which to me sounds as beautiful as butterflies, are teaching Viktor and Maya a song which they now only remember in their dreams. How is it possible that kids of different languages always find a way to communicate? Isn’t it magical?

Their feet covered with grey dirt,  fingers sticky, eyes heavy with sleep, the kids are transported into their beds in the campers. Tomorrow they will continue the game.

Around the fire, Michele continues to sing gently, and we all join in, the songs of Adriano Celentano, Toto Cutugno, and Al Bano and Romina Power. The night will never end.

A few days pass, and our new friends have to continue their journey. Departure is the saddest part of every friendship. We didn’t have enough of each other and yet it is time to say goodbye.

Who will sing to us Felicita now, Michele?

When will you play with Maya again, Laura?

Who am I going to photograph now, and how are we ever going to play football without you, Fabio?

When are we going to savour again the best spaghetti with tomato sauce, Claudia?

We miss you, guys…

Laura, Maya, and Fabio

Laura, Maya, and Fabio

The men washing the dishes at the beach showers.

The men washing the dishes at the beach showers.

The Unstoppable, Unbeatable, Football Legend: Fabio

The shy but ambitious Fabio. Before the game.

Fabio, a frail little guy, but feisty.

Claudia and Fabio playing football (soccer-am.)

Claudia trying without any chance of success to score a goal against Fabio

Two players: Maya and Laura, trying to outrun Fabio. Impossible.

Ivo is trying to take the ball. from Fabio. Ha-ha! Better luck next time, Ivo!

Ivo is trying to take the ball from Fabio. Ha-ha! Better luck next time, Ivo!

Gooooooooooooooooooooooal

All of us

All of us

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