Plastic Calypso

Full Moon Rising over Plymouth anchorage, Dominica

Full Moon Rising over Portsmouth anchorage, Dominica

Our journey in Dominica begins with a nice little boat party in the Portsmouth anchorage aboard Fata Morgana in honor of the big fish we caught on the way. I prepare yummy fried fish-fillets breaded with egg-and-flour mixture and we invite our boat-friends: Tina and Mark from s/v Rainbow, Bev from s/v Aseka, and Mel and Caryn from s/v Passages with whom we’ve been sailing together since Guadeloupe.

Mira with a King Fish

Mira with a King Fish

That evening we make plans to organize some activities together on the island. We decide to visit Indian River the next day. Bev has already arranged a “boat –boy” for all of us. His name is Albert and he will be our Indian River guide for 50 EC ($18 US) per person.

In Dominica, when a yacht arrives in an anchorage, a bunch of small wooden powerboats race to offer all sorts of services: organized guided excursions, small boat-works, transportation, local fruits and vegetables, fish and lobster, and anything else that the cruiser might need, for a fee. These are the Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services (PAYS) known as boat-boys and they and their families depend on the visiting cruisers, who, from their part, are very conscious about their role for supporting the local economy.

Albert

Albert

For Ivo and me $18 US per person ($50 US for the three of us with Maya) for a small tourist activity is a huge expense we would normally avoid. Most cruisers who are for the most part either retired and receive a monthly pension or wealthier couples on a year or two sabbatical vacation have a bigger budget than us. They buy souvenirs, go to restaurants, hire guides, cars, and in general enjoy themselves spending money like tourists do. Which is great, but it is just not our case. Our journey is all about simplicity, minimalism, self-sufficiency, off-the-grid way of life, and finding ways of traveling and exploring the world outside of the system with minimal spending. Plus, we have no regular income, and we are not planning to return to a land-based life and work any time soon, so the longer our savings last, the longer our journey will be. For us $50 US equals the amount of money we normally spend for food for the entire family for a week. But in Dominica we decide to participate, at least this once, in supporting the local economy, and so we sign up for the Indian River expedition.

Dominica, The Nature Island

Dominica, The Nature Island

Dominica, nicknamed The Nature Island, is a 750 square kilometers (290 square miles) island famous for its unspoiled natural beauty, lush rainforest mountains, abundant wildlife, and many rivers, 365 to be exact, “one for each day of the year” as they like to say. A guided expedition to Indian River is a must for the cruisers arriving in Portsmouth, the number one destination, featured in cruising guides again and again as “an amazing experience, unlike anything else you find in the Eastern Caribbean.” (Chris Doyle, The Cruising Guide to the Leeward Islands, 12th edition, p.455)

 Indian River, Dominica

Indian River, Dominica

Our guide Albert picks us up at 8 a.m. the next morning and we ride in his motorboat from the anchorage to the entrance of the park. It costs $5 per person to enter, but we buy $12 park permits good for a week for all of the national parks on the island as we are planning to explore Dominica’s interior thoroughly. Beyond the bridge, Albert stops the engine and starts rowing up a wide green river.

Maya enjoying the ride, Indian River, Dominica

Maya enjoying the ride, Indian River, Dominica

Soon the river splits in two channels and we enter the narrow one on the left amidst thick swamp vegetation and bloodwood trees with tangled roots like monstrous intestines above the damp ground, home of giant blue crabs. Albert tells us all sort of interesting and curious facts about the nature here, the trees and the ferns, the animal life, and the history and traditions of the island. He explains that if you cut the bark of the bloodwood tree a thick red sap will start oozing, like blood.

Albert showing Bev and Caryn some interesting plant

Albert showing Bev and Caryn some interesting plant

We reach a spot where a small creepy shack stands on the shore: Calypso’s house. Johnny Depp has been here as well as in many other locations throughout the island during the filming of The Pirates of the Caribbean. We are thrilled. Indian River with its bloodwood trees and mysterious swamp vegetation crawling with huge crabs is definitely the perfect set for the eerie Calypso scene.

Calypso's Forest Shack

Calypso’s Forest Shack

But we also start noticing trash here and there on the sides of the river, foam cups and plastic bottles. I ask Albert who is supposed to clean the river and he says it’s the park’s job.

Trash in Indian River, Dominica

Trash in Indian River, Dominica

We continue on our tour and get to the Bush Bar further upriver. It’s a nice little bar and restaurant, built for the tourists, among a forest-garden with beautiful trees and flowers, populated by birds, lizards, and butterflies.

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Then we row back to the entrance and back on the boats. The whole tour takes about 1- 1.5 hours thanks to Albert who takes his time talking about the nature and all sorts of things. Otherwise, the area we covered is not big at all, and we could have done the trip with our kayak in 10 minutes. It was a wonderful experience nevertheless, but both Ivo and I think it was not worth $50. We realize, too late, that we could have gone in the park with our kayak without a guide, saving the 50 bucks. The only rule there is not to use engines upriver (in order not to pollute the waters!?). Guides are not compulsory in any of Dominica’s National Parks. But the most disappointing part was all the garbage around and the park’s official’s attitude towards it.

Maya and Ivo

Maya and Ivo

The Indian River guides and personal sit near the park’s entrance all day waiting for tourists, and during the hurricane season they don’t have much work. But instead of spending some of their time cleaning the river which is their source of income, they just sit around all day, smoking and drinking, doing nothing.

Indian River, Dominica

Indian River, Dominica

The trash-in-the-river situation started bothering us more and more and a few days after our Indian River expedition Ivo and I comeback there with our kayak and with a big garbage bag. We spend about 1-1.5 hours, the same amount of time like last time, cleaning the area. But we realize we need much more than one garbage bags.

Mira collecting trash in Indian River, Dominica

Mira collecting trash in Indian River, Dominica

As we get further upriver where Albert didn’t take us last time, we see more and more trash floating around or stuck in the roots of the bloodwood trees. We get to a point where this channel borders a road and a residential area.

Plastic trash in Indian River, Dominica

Plastic trash in Indian River, Dominica

Apparently, people use the river to dump their trash from the road and the trash slowly makes its way down to the park. We are appalled. We will need a crew with shovels and lots of garbage bags or a truck if we want to clean up all this.

A bag full of trash, Calypso's house in the background, Indian River, Dominica

A bag full of trash, Calypso’s house in the background, Indian River, Dominica

Very disappointed, we turn back with our garbage bag full since a long time and we head home, to the boat. At the park’s exit where we go to deposit the river garbage, one of the guides tells us that we are supposed to pay a fee if we want to dispose of garbage. He thinks it’s our boat garbage! Both Ivo and I are about the explode, but I calmly explain that this is not our garbage but theirs, and leave.

Ivo with trash, Indian River, Dominica

Ivo with trash, Indian River, Dominica

We feel sorry for “The Nature Island” and its “365 rivers, one for each day of the year”. Who knows how many of these rivers are still flowing, and how many are dry, clogged with litter, extinct.
It is up to the local people and its government to address the issue of land and water pollution in Dominica, to protect their natural resources, and educate the inhabitants of the island about all this, before it is too late.
But also, what can we, the visitors, do to help restore nature’s unspoiled beauty, besides “supporting the local economy” with unrealistic guide fees, which according to Chris Doyle’s guide, are supposed to go towards the maintenance of the parks?

Indian River, Dominica

Indian River, Dominica

*This article by Mira Nencheva has been publish in www.caribbeancompass.com

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Cruising Guadeloupe

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Iles des Saintes, Guadeloupe

With many bays, marinas, and anchorages, snorkeling and diving spots, small and big cities offering relaxing atmosphere, good shopping, restaurants and boulangeries (bakeries) with French and Creole delicacies, and lots of unique and exciting natural sites, Guadeloupe, one of the biggest island groups in the region and territory of France, is a main destination for the Caribbean cruiser.

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Sainte Anne, Guadeloupe

If you start at daybreak sailing in moderate tradewinds on starboard tack from English Harbour, Antigua, 40 nautical miles to the north, you will reach the first anchorage on the northwest side of Basse-Terre, the western island of Guadeloupe, by early afternoon and grab one of a few free mooring balls in front of the charming fishing village of Deshaies.

Desaies

Desaies, Guadeloupe

From Monday to Friday you can clear customs at the Pelican souvenir shop by filing in a custom’s form on the computer there, for which small service you have to pay a small fee of 3 euro per boat. Otherwise, there are no customs or any other fees, and, it appears, you can remain in Guadeloupe indefinitely.

Fish Market, Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe

Fish Market, Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe

If you like hiking and waterfalls, you can walk from Deshaies along a shallow river, jumping over rocks and fallen trees, up to a small waterfall. The one-hour hike can be challenging and you will need good shoes, best if waterproof. You can also visit the Jardin Botanique de Desahaies, a kilometer and a half from the village, for 15 Eu per person (10 Eu for kids).
For more detailed account of our experience at the Deshaies waterfall read Island of Beautiful Waters.

Mira at Deshaie Waterfall

Mira at Deshaies Waterfall

If you continue sailing south from Deshaies for about 10 nautical miles, which can be slow as you are behind tall mountains acting as wind-stoppers on the lee side of Basse-Terre, you will get to another small bay home of hundreds of sea turtles, Pigeon Island.

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The Aquarium, Cousteau Marine Park, Guadeloupe

You can anchor there in front of the beach and take your dinghy or kayak across to the tiny Pigeon Island where mooring balls for diver are available. This used to be one of Jacque Cousteau’s favorite underwater exploration sites, and today it is a national park, Cousteau Underwater Park, with some excellent scuba diving and snorkeling sites, like The Aquarium on the north side of Pigeon Island.

Scuba Divers at Pigeon Island, Guadeloupe

Scuba Divers at Pigeon Island, Guadeloupe

If snorkeling makes you hungry, you can enjoy a grilled lobster or another excellent fish-dish at the waterfront restaurant La Tuna, a place with cozy atmosphere, friendly service, free Wi Fi, and reasonable prices. When you order a rum punch there, as I did, do not be surprised when they bring you a full 1.5-litre bottle of rum…(Also, do not bring your computer charger if it is not 220 volts.)

Shop at Sainte Anne, Guadeloupe

Shop at Sainte Anne, Guadeloupe

Further south, there are a few more options to drop anchor, including in front of the capital of Guadeloupe, Basse-Terre, from where you are the closest to La Soufriere volcano. It is an active volcano with craters still steaming and bubbling, emitting deep industrial sounds and heavy poisonous sulfuric gases. The hike there is about 1.5 hours starting in rainforest and then steep climbing up the barren slopes of the mountain. The view from the top is spectacular, and the nature up there is out of this world. La Soufriere is the best and most popular tourist destination in Guadeloupe. For the hike, bring sandwiches, water, good shoes, and a small jacket.

For more detailed account of our experience at Soufriere Volcano read Mountain of Magic.

.Io and Maya climbing up La Grande Soufriere

.Io and Maya climbing up La Grande Soufriere

Next, you can sail south-southeast to Îles des Saintes, 20 nautical miles across the channel where you might have to tack against tradewinds and current in order to get to one of the world’s most beautiful bays in front of Terre-de-Haut. The mooring balls here are not free, 9-10 Eu per boat per night (for 38-40 feet boats). But you can also anchor on the other side of the island in Baie du Marigot, for free, and walk 10 minutes to the main village. For 4 Eu per person you can visit Fort Napoleon, or you can just walk or rent a scooter to the top of the hill and from there enjoy the free-million-dollar view of the bay and adjacent islands.

For more detailed account of our experience in Îles des Saintes, read Îles des Saintes, Guadeloupe

Îles des Saintes, Guadeloupe

Îles des Saintes, Guadeloupe

From Îles des Saintes you can sail back north to Pointe-a-Pitre, the biggest city on the Grande Terre island, as there is a lot more to see and do in Guadeloupe. It is another 20 nautical miles, and in east to southeast winds you should get there on a port tack in 4-5 hours. There you have many options for anchoring, off Ilet a Cochons or on the other side off the town docks, or you can go to the marina in the Lagon Bleu, but be ready for extremely dirty stinking waters there.

Marina and bay, Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe

Marina and bay, Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe

From Pointe-a-Pitre you can rent a car for about 35 Eu per day and drive to some of the island’s many waterfalls. The Ecrevisses Falls is a popular destination with easy access from the road, no entrance fee, where locals and tourists come in great numbers to chill in the small shallow natural pools formed between the rocks of the river. A more hard-to-get-to and secluded falls are the Cabret Falls, a series of 3 waterfalls, 3 Eu per person entrance fee, and about 1 to 1.5 hours hike to the second and most spectacular waterfall with a 110 meters drop descending from the Soufriere volcano.

For more detailed account of our experience at the waterfalls, read Island of Beautiful Waters.

Cabret, First Cascade, Guadeloupe

Cabret, First Cascade, Guadeloupe

If you start early in the morning and rent a car from Pointe-a-Pitre, you will have time to visit the Cabret Falls on the island of Basse Terre, and then drive back and visit Sainte Anne in the afternoon, if you are not planning sailing there. Saint Anne is a picturesque little town, very touristy, with a nice beach and fun shopping.

Sainte Anne, Guadeloupe

Sainte Anne, Guadeloupe

If you are sailing to Dominica next, you can check out in Pointe-a-Pitre and get going, or you can sail to Marie Galante first, another small island 20 nautical miles south-southeast of Pointe-a-Pitre, part of Guadeloupe. You can check out from Grand Bourg anchoring in the tiny anchorage in front of the docks if there is any space. The custom’s officer there is very friendly.

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Named after one of Columbus’s boats, Marie Galante is a quiet unspoiled island with a few rural fishing and agricultural communities, not a popular tourist destination. Here you can relax and enjoy the island-time atmosphere, visit the old windmill Le Moulin de Bezard, or just go for a walk or a scooter ride among cottages and pastures where you will encounter an occasional cow or a pig staring at you.

Fruit Market, Guadeloupe

Fruit Market, Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe

 

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Îles des Saintes, Guadeloupe

 

Iles-des-Saintes, Guadeloupe

Iles-des-Saintes, Guadeloupe

Îles des Saintes is a beautiful small archipelago consisting of two inhabited and seven smaller uninhabited islands south of Guadeloupe. Its territory is about 12 sq km (less than 5 sq mi).

Like Guadeloupe, it is a French overseas department, a part of France. The official language is French and English is rarely spoken, and the euro is the only currency accepted.

Iles-des-Saintes, Guadeloupe

Iles-des-Saintes, Guadeloupe

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We sail there after spending a week in Deshais, and a few more days anchored off Pigeon Island, just at the edge of Cousteau National Marine Park where we go for some great snorkeling.

Sailing south along Guadeloupe’s west coast can be challenging as the mountains create eddies of calm and with our luck we spend 7 hours drifting in becalmed waters with less than 1 knot speed. I know Ivo is a crazy purist and will not turn on the engines in such a no-wind situation, but I think he should at least have peace of mind and enjoy the slow ride. Instead he is freaking out, cursing the entire world, suffocating with rage, unable to do anything except deploying the kayak in front of the boat and paddle.

We even get completely stuck in a thick field of Sargasso weed. A terrible. terrible day of sailing for us.

Fata Morgana stuck in Sargasso weed

Fata Morgana stuck in Sargasso weed

Finally we exit the ‘deadcalm zone’ and the east winds fill the sails carrying us towards destination. 16 to 20 kt tradewinds. Ivo is happy as if nothing has happened.

Ivo, approaching Les Saintes

Ivo, approaching Les Saintes

Just after dark, after 14 hours of torturous sailing (distance of 25 NM with a few tacks in the Les Saintes channel), we enter the north anchorage of Iles-des-Saintes, Baie du Marigot, where we are happy to find our good friends, s/v Passages already settled and waiting for us.

The next morning we wake up in a little enchanted fisherman’s bay. We are in Iles des Saintes.

Baie du Marigot, Iles des Saintes

Baie du Marigot, Iles des Saintes

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Iles-des-Saintes are surrounded by corral reefs and its turquoise waters are teaming with fish. The main industry here has always been fishing.

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But since a few decades now tourists and especially cruisers have made Terre du Haut one of their favorite spot contributing greatly to the local economy.

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The bay of Les Saintes is one of the most beautiful bays in the world attracting luxury yachts, cruise ships and sailboats. The locals have realized the importance of tourism and in recent times new hotels, holiday homes, and charming guest houses have sprouted without disturbing the archipelago’s wild natural allure.

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Crystal waters with coral gardens surrounded by green hills, colorful fishing boats and charming little houses and restaurants, a delightful French atmosphere…It doesn’t get better than that.

Terre du Haut and its bay is also one of the most photogenic places I have ever been to. You can take pictures like post cards in every direction with your eyes closed.

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The most popular anchorage is the one to the west of Terre-de-Haut under Pain-de-Sucre (Sugar Bread) hill. There are many mooring balls available the per foot per night, about 10 EU for our size boat (38feet), and anchoring is not permitted.

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But, for those of us who avoid paid mooring balls there is a wonderful free-of-charge option across, on the other side of the island. Baie du Marigot.

 

Baie du Marigot, Iles des Saintes

Baie du Marigot, Iles des Saintes

Almost no one knows about this anchorage, some charts don’t even show it, and most cruisers don’t consider it, but it is a well protected deep enough anchorage with easy free of reefs access and good holding, and we approached it and dropped anchor at night.

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It is a small bay in front of a tiny fishermen village, secluded and quiet. A short dinghy or kayak ride from the boat to the shore and then 10 minutes walk will take you to the main village on the other side of the island, Terre du Haut. Another 20 minutes up hill and you will visit the old Fort Napoleon des Saintes. Moreover, the best seafood restaurant featured in Chris Doyle’s cruising guide is right on the shore on this side.

You can stay in this anchorage for as long as you like, for free. Here, near the beach, you may even meet the sexiest goat alive.

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Mountain of Magic

-by Mira

For our good friend Nikolay Tzanevski

 

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In august of 1976 there were indications that La Grande Soufrière volcano in Guadeloupe will erupt with an expected explosion the size of 6 atomic bombs.

In August 1976 all inhabitants of the island’s capital and biggest city Basse-Terre situated right at the foot of the western slope of the mountain were evacuated, for, the scientists agreed, a catastrophe of great magnitude was inevitable.

 

La Grande Soufrière, Guadeloupe

La Grande Soufrière, Guadeloupe

A filmmaker and his crew were allowed to fly to Guadeloupe and film the final moments of its deserted capital. That filmmaker was Werner Herzog who found an eerie ghost town full of starving dogs, a bay full of dead snakes who have fled the mountain only to drown in the sea, and a homeless person who has refused to leave.

There were tremors and shock waves, 1257 earthquakes recorded, dense poisonous sulfuric clouds gushing from the mountain craters, yet, magically, nothing happened. Never before seismologists had measured signs of eruption of such magnitude, yet an eruption never occurred. The people who thought they would never again see their homes in Basse-Terre returned. La Grande Soufrière went back to slumber.

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In August 1976, back in Bulgaria, my mother gave birth to a baby-girl. That baby was me. I am a Leo.

This year, to celebrate my 38th birthday and the 38th anniversary of the active volcano’s failed eruption, we climb La Grande Soufrière in Guadeloupe.

The Life Nomadik family at La Grande Soufrière volcano, Guadeloupe

The Life Nomadik family at La Grande Soufrière volcano, Guadeloupe

The top of the volcano is also the highest point on the island rising 1,467 m (4,813 ft) above the sea.

The hike starts from a road east of Basse-Terre. There are no entry fees to the park and tons of visitors swarm the mountain slopes, especially on sunny cloudless days.

We start early in the morning sharing a car from Deshaies with our Australian mates Mel and Caryn. We have a long steep walk ahead of us.

Our volcano-climbing shoes. We are ready!

Our volcano-climbing shoes. We are ready!

The climb to the top is about two hours starting with an easy walk in the rainforest on almost flat terrain. The path is paved and shady. We pass by a small stone pool with hot volcanic spring water. Many people come here just for the hot springs and don’t go hiking further.

Hot volcanic springs in the forest.

Hot volcanic springs in the forest.

As soon as we are out of the forest we see the volcano, heavy and silent, standing before us, with a mantle of thin grey cloud. It’s all very strange and mysterious. It’s also a lot colder.

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The nature here is out of this world: low vegetation, damp orange moss over huge boulders adorned with small purple flowers.

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From the slopes, when the clouds clear, we can see Basse-Terre, the sea and Iles des Saintes in the distance.

 

Free Million Dollar View

Free Million Dollar View

But most of the time it’s foggy and the landscape is mysterious. Giant rocks are sticking out of the ground vertically, like teeth in the the low clouds, the result of some terrific Jurassic event millions of years ago.

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The walk up is now steep and narrow, at places difficult, but pleasant all the way to the top.

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We pass by deep shafts, ancient cracks on the slopes of the mountain, the result of seismic tremors and earthquakes.

Lava shafts

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We reach the summit, the highest point in Guadeloupe. We are now standing on top of a volcano.

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The smell of sulfur near the craters is so strong it burns the eyes and sticks to the throat.

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There are a few craters and a maize of small paths among jagged boulders, and in the mist of the fog we become disoriented and restless.

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Evo heads for one of the craters gushing dense yellow steam of sulfur with horrific industrial noise. The sound is deep and muffled coming from the underearth, like suffering. I start after Evo but Maya is left behind, she doesn’t want to breathe the intense poisonous gas.

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She is worried and I hear her voice calling us. Evo cannot hear her anymore, so I go back. We lose each other for a moment, each one of us looking for the others in a dense cloud of sulfuric smoke and mist, on an unfamiliar strange, unstable volcano.

Crater

Crater

I find Maya, Evo finds us, everything is OK. We are just a bit cold and bit scared.

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We are also awe-stricken like never before. The place, the entire experience is sublime, beyond explanation.

Picture A Volcano: La Grande Soufrière

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Maya

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Volcano Paintings

 

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Island of Beautiful Waters

Guadeloupe

River in Guadeloupe

River in Guadeloupe

Guadeloupe, one of the biggest and most populated islands of the Lesser Antilles island chain, is an overseas region and an integral department of France. French language only is spoken here, and the euro is its currency. Like pretty much every other Caribbean island, the main industry is tourism, but agriculture is also well developed, with vast banana plantations on fertile volcanic soil.

Guadeloupe consists of two islands in the shape of, most people say a butterfly, but to me they look more like human lungs. Basse-Terre to the west and Grange-Terre to the east are joined, almost like Siamese twins, separated by a narrow strait crossed by bridges. There are two smaller islands also part of Guadeloupe: Marie-Galante and Iles des Saintes.

Evo with dorado

Evo with dorado

Guadeloupe is our next stop after visiting the sovereign state of Antigua and Barbuda. Sailing there on a beam reach in moderate tradewinds from English Harbour is a sheer pleasure, and we even catch a small dorado. Evo has been hoping to catch a dorado for months now and it’s funny that his first one is so tiny and doesn’t fight at all. Small, but fish, one of the tastiest out there, and it feeds us all that evening.

Deshaies

We arrive in Deshaies, a main port of entry to Guadeloupe on the northwest side of Basse-Terre and a charming little fishermen village, and are happy to find s/v Passages already moored in the bay there (mooring balls in the bay are available free of charge, for now).

Desaies

Desaies

We met Caryn and Mel briefly when we were checking out from Nevis, and then again in Montserrat. With them and with the crews of two other boats in the Deshaies anchorage: Bev aboard s/v Aseka and Mark and Tina aboard s/v Rainbow, we organize our first waterfall expedition.

Deshaies Waterfall

Guadeloupe was once named Kerukera, The Island of Beautiful Waters, by its first known inhabitants, the Arawak Indians, for its abundance of rivers, lakes, and waterfalls.

River near Deshaies, Guadeloupe

River near Deshaies, Guadeloupe

Not far from the Deshaies anchorage there is a small river flowing through the forest, and a waterfall. But to reach the waterfall, which has no name (or maybe it does but we don’t know it) we have to walk beside and inside the river, over boulders and fallen trees for what seems an eternity.

Cruisers on a waterfall expedition

Cruisers on a waterfall expedition

Maya

Maya

Evo

Evo

We stop for a short refreshing splash-around in a small pond up river. Everyone is happy to chill before heading up and up again until we reach the place.

Maya and Evo in the river pool

Maya and Evo in the river pool

Cruisiers in the pond

Cruisers in a pond

It’s a beautiful miniature canyon with dark mossy walls dripping with water, a green pool and a small waterfall hidden in the dark behind a huge rock.

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We are really glad we have finally reached it, it was not an easy walk-in-the-park kind of hike. On the way back we pick up a few coconuts and lots of mangoes from the forest.

Mira

Mira

Ecrevisses Waterfall

A few days later we hire a car with our new best friends Caryn and Mel s/v Passages, very sweet people form Australia, and visit another waterfall, this one really popular and very close to the road, Ecrevisse Waterfall. You can park your car on the side of the road, get your towel, enter the forest, and walk 2 minutes to the place.

Ecrevisse Fall

Ecrevisse Fall

It’s full of people even at 6 in the evening, and everyone is cooling down in the pool under the cascade and in the small ponds formed here and there in the shallow wide river.

Maya having fun at the river, Ecrevisse Fall

Maya having fun at the river, Ecrevisse Fall

Most visitors are locals enjoying the refreshing waters in the afternoon, and we join them for a dip.

 

Cabret Falls

Days later we share a rental car again with Caryn and Mel and drive to the Cabret Falls for another expedition. The Cabret Falls are a series of waterfalls in a national park and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Guadeloupe. There is an entrance fee to the park of about 3 euros per person which is well worth the excellent trails with wooden paths and steps in some parts of the path.

Maya

Maya

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Maya on the trail

Maya on the trail

The first cascade is about two hours of uphill walking from the visitor’s center and descends from the Soufriere Volcano’s slopes dropping 125 meters (410 ft) in a deep pool of green waters surrounded by yellow and red rocks.

Cabret First Cascade

Cabret First Cascade

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Mira

Mira

Mel and Caryn

Mel and Caryn

It is not an easy hike to the first cascade and not too many visitors go there. Most people are content with the 15-minute walk from the visitor’s center on a paved wheelchair-accessible path to the second cascade which has a 110 meters (360 ft) drop.

Cabret Second Cascade

Cabret Second Cascade

Evo and Maya

Evo and Maya

The access to the third cascade, the one with most water volume, is currently restricted after an earthquake in 2004 and heavy rains caused landslides and cut off the trail.

Maya

Maya

We spend the day walking up and down the slopes of Soufriere volcano amidst the intense green vegetation of the tropical rainforest, going from one waterfall to another, eating sandwiches, singing and dancing among giant trees, enjoying Guadeloupe’s beautiful nature.

Maya

Maya

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Maya

Maya

Mel and Caryn

Mel and Caryn

Maya

Maya

Maya-elephant

Maya-elephant

Evo

Evo

Mira

Mira

Maya sleeping on a rock

Maya sleeping on a rock

Evo's blond-forest hairstyle

Evo’s blond-forest hairstyle

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Maya dancing and singing: I Will Survive!

Maya dancing and singing: I Will Survive!

The Life Nomadik family in Guadeloupe

The Life Nomadik family in Guadeloupe

 

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English Harbour, Antigua

English Harbour Antigua

After a short but unforgettable stay in Barbuda we sail south back to Antigua in moderate east winds between 18 and 22 knots, and waves 4 to 6 feet. Fata is happy galloping with 6 to 7 knots on a beam reach surfing sideways on the North Atlantic swell.

After 4 hours we are back in Antigua rounding the island from the east. This time we anchor on the south side just outside English Harbours in front of Galeon Beach.

English and Falmouth Harbours, Antigua View from Shirley Heights

English and Falmouth Harbours, Antigua
View from Shirley Heights

Both English Harbour and Falmouth Harbour, two side by side bays considered the yachting capital of Antigua and a major Caribbean yachting center populated by sailing megayachts , offer boaters some good and secure hurricane protection with a few winding channels among mangroves.

Nelson’s Dockyard

English Harbour, a main port of arrival for sailboats, also presents one of the most dramatic-looking still functioning old ports in the Caribbean. Built in 1723 and perfectly preserved, here was Britain’s main naval station in the 18th and 19th centuries known as Nelson’s Dockyard, a national heritage site. Its large complex of beautifully restored old buildings houses customs and immigration, a marina, a chandlery, a museum, hotels, restaurants and many businesses: a bakery, a sailmaker, a gift shop with impressive woodcarvings, and more.

Nelson's Dockyard

Nelson’s Dockyard

Nelson's Dockyard

Nelson’s Dockyard

Nelson's Dockyard

Nelson’s Dockyard

Galleon Beach

As there are port charges per day per foot in both English and Falmouth Harbours, we anchor outside the main harbor in Free Man’s Bay in front of a nice all-inclusive beach resort off Galeon beach, for free.

Fort Barkley stands on the rocks to the north of our new anchorage, dramatic rock formations known as the Pillars of Hercules are to the south, Galleon Beach and the trail to Shirley Heights are only a short swim away from our boat, and Nelson’s Dockyard is across a small channel. Our kayak Agent Orange takes us there when we want to visit the town which, during this time of the year (hurricane season) has a very quiet village atmosphere.

Galleon Beach, Antigua

Galleon Beach, Antigua

Fata Morgana at anchor in front of Galleon Beach, Antigua

Fata Morgana at anchor in front of Galleon Beach, Antigua

Fort

Fort Barkley, Antigua

The Pillars of Hercules

The Pillars of Hercules

JB

Here we meet JB sweeping the sidewalk, to the sound of Elvis Presley, in front of a small stone shack he has built singlehandedly on the east bank of Falmouth Harbour. He is planning to start a little restaurant with a few tables on a small terrace overlooking the bay. JB invites us inside to show us his place and after half an hour of mutual confessions we are fascinated by each others’ stories.

JB's place

JB’s place

JB used to have a sailboat and he has been sailing almost everywhere in the Caribbean. He knows much about boats, sailing and navigating, much more than us. He lost his boat but is hoping to get one again and sail to Cuba. Che Guevara is one of his heroes; the other two are Bob Marley and Jimmy Hendrix. We tell him all about our sailing adventures in Cuba last year.

JB

JB

JB also tells us about his hermit period. After his wife and two kids left he went to live in the forest. There he built a small cabin and lived removed from society and its consumerist ways, without running water and electricity, eating only vegetarian food.

Outside JB's restaurant

Outside JB’s restaurant

fire stove

fire stove

He says there is a Rastafarian community in Antigua called One Luv, where people live off-grid, producing their own food (and cannabis), where the mothers give birth in their homes, the kids don’t go to school, everyone plays the tam-tams, and crying is not allowed.

Inside JB's restaurant

Inside JB’s restaurant

– Comeback around 5 p.m., JB invites us for supper that day.

We bring beers and some vegetables: a few potatoes, carrots, a piece of pumpkin and some leeks, to throw in the stew he is cooking over a fire in an old clay pot. The tastiest healthiest vegan stew containing at least a dozen different local vegetables and herbs and the most important ingredient: coconut milk and grated coconut. It’s delicious, served in calabash dishes with coconut spoons.

Evo and JB

Evo and JB

Mira eating hot coconut stew

Mira eating hot coconut stew

Some of JB’s friends and extended family show up too and JB offers them a bowl of steaming goodness.

– I cook for the family every evening, he says.

Hopefully soon his restaurant will be finished and tourists too will be able to enjoy the authentic Antiguan atmosphere and JB’s coconut stew.

JB cooking

JB cooking

Maya and friends

At JB’s place Maya meets two girls her age, Lia and Raggaeney, JB’s nieces, great kids and she returns a few times to play with them at the beach near their house.

Maya, Lia and Reggaeney

Maya, Lia and Reggaeney

Maya, Lia, and Reggaeney

Maya, Lia, and Reggaeney

Maya also meets Keiki and Jay, a brother and a sister who live in Antigua not far from the anchorage where our boat is, and she spends entire days playing with them too, at the beach and at their house.

When Maya has new friends she is the happiest kid, and when Maya is happy we are happy.

Mia, Keiki, Maya, and Jay

Mia, Keiki, Maya, and Jay

Shirley Heights

A short pleasant walk from Galleon Beach is the famous Shirley Heights.

There are no tropical rainforests in Antigua, the vegetation on the island is dry with lots of different species of cactus plants best enjoyed along the footpath to Shirley Heights.

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It’s only about a 15-minute easy hike to the top from where the view of English Harbour and Falmouth Harbour is magnificent. We see Fata Morgana quietly floating in her little bay facing the beach.

Free Man's Bay, English Harbur, and Falmouth Harbour View from Shirley Heights. Fata Morgana is one of the three boats in the first anchorage.

Free Man’s Bay, English Harbur, and Falmouth Harbour
View from Shirley Heights. Fata Morgana is one of the three boats in the first anchorage.

There is a restaurant and bar serving fresh mango smoothies and rum drinks, among other delights, awaiting us up on the hill.

It’s 9 a.m. We order a mango smoothie for Maya, and a rum punch for Evo and me. We usually wouldn’t drink alcoholic beverages so early in the morning but we promised April and Harley.

Maya and Mira at Shirley Heights Bar

Maya and Mira at Shirley Heights Bar

They told us, when you get to Shirley Heights tell the girls to mix you one of their famous rum-punch drinks. Cheers, April and Harley! Here we are up on Shirley Heights, slowly sipping rum punch, marveling at the view bellow, thinking about you. See you in New Zealand, guys!

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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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Deep Bay, St Johns, and Carnival in Antigua

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Deep Bay, Antigua

From Montserrat we sail 25 nautical miles north to Antigua, one of the two larger islands forming the independent nation of Antigua and Barbuda, the other one being Barbuda, some 25 NM north of Antigua. We sail on a beam reach in moderate tradewinds, the waves long and gentle, making beautiful progress. It is the last time we sail together with Viktor.

We arrive in the early afternoon and check in Jolly Harbour on the west side of the island. Checking in Antigua and Barbuda is quick, easy, and only costs about 12 $US, but there is a 30 dollars departure fee on the way out.

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Jolly Harbour, Antigua

Jolly Harbour is a popular boating spot with a big handsome marina, many dredged channels surrounded by some 500 waterfront private two-story houses with docks for yachts, and a shopping center with over 30 shops and some excellent restaurants, among which a Greek restaurant with a beautiful view serving, among other delicatessens, spanakopita (or banitza, as we call it in Bulgaria) and lamb cooked for 6 hours.

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Jolly Harbour Marina, Antigua

 

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Greek Restaurant, Jolly Harbour Marina, Antigua

Evo kayaking in Jolly Harbour

Evo kayaking in Jolly Harbour

But the anchorage is outside the bay and kayaking to the docks to go on shore takes forever, so after shopping for some fresh vegetables, eggs, milk, and beer (the essentials) we move to the next little anchorage a couple of miles further north, Deep Bay, in order to be closer to land and closer to St Johns, the capital and biggest city on the island where the international airport is.

Deep Bay beach and anchorage

Deep Bay beach and anchorage

Deep Bay is a lovely little anchorage tucked between rocky shores, nicely protected from the trades and very secluded, with some interesting sites right there.

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View of Deep Bay anchorage from Fort Barrington

On the north shore, up on the dark rocks, stands Fort Barrington offering a spectacular view of the bay, and at the entrance to the anchorage the wreck of the Andes breaks the water surface and provides an exciting snorkeling spot.

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The shipwreck of the Andes’ history

The Grand Royal Antiguan resort is not far from the south end of the beach but the huge multi story hotel, vacant at this time of the year, is not even visible from the bay.

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Grand Royal Resort, Antigua, pool

We drop anchor a few feet away from the long sandy beach in deliciously blue waters.

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Deep Bay, Antigua

The holding here is excellent and the water remain calm with zero swell even when tropical storm Bertha passes through. Deep Bay became one of our all-time favorite anchorages and a very special place for us, the place where we say good bye to Viktor who decided to return back to Canada and continue his studies.

Viktor and Evo kayaking to shore on the way to the airport

Viktor and Evo kayaking to shore on the way to the airport

In Deep Bay we spend one unforgettable week, which happens to be Carnival Week in Antigua. Which means loud music and crazy partying day and night nonstop.

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Going to town from Deep Bay takes time as St John is a few miles away and even getting to the main road where the public bus passes is quite a hike. So we hitchhike. And every time we are lucky and someone really nice picks us up. Thus, thanks to hitchhiking, we meet Shelly, Ido and their cute one-year-old baby-genius Aviv.

Shelly and Aviv at their pool

Shelly and Aviv at their pool

Ido covered with mud from the Dead Sea and Aviv unsure why her dad is suddenly black...

Ido covered with mud from the Dead Sea and Aviv unsure why her dad is suddenly black…

They invite us to their place which is very close to Deep Bay and really cool, with a huge pool, and we invite them to ours (the beach and the boat), and they even let us use their car to go shopping in town.

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Maya

Maya

Aviv

Aviv

Our friends coming for a visit aboard Fata Morgana

Our friends coming for a visit aboard Fata Morgana

But the greatest thing is going to carnival together, to Jouvert Morning.

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Jouvert Morning is one of the many activities during Carnival Week and it is the most fun we had in a while.

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“You have to come to our place at 4 in the morning, and we will drive to town from there” says Ido and he is not joking. The event starts even before that, at about 3 a.m. and at 4 a.m. the festivities are already in full swing.

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We can hear the mad music all the way from our anchorage, miles away.

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So we go to our friends’ place in the middle of the night. Maya, Shelly and the baby decide to stay in the apartment, while Evo, Ido and I to go to town where the party is on.

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Ido brings a big shiny bottle of rum along.

Evo, Ido and...yo-ho-ho, a bottle of rum

Evo, Ido and…yo-ho-ho, a bottle of rum early in the morning

Drinking is an inevitable part of this particular event, and we are not here to watch from the sidewalk. We participate.

Ido and Evo getting warmed up.

Ido and Evo getting warmed up.

Means, we mingle with a crowd of young people with wild hairs, sexy girls with very minimal clothing shaking their booties, everyone drinking and jumping up and down on the streets behind a procession of trucks with platforms loaded with the biggest loudspeakers on earth booming some insane island music, the rhythm so fast gets your heartbeat accelerating just by listening to it. Antiguans gone wild.

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Carnival Week continues for almost two weeks, the whole time we are in Deep Bay, and we can see the glow and we can hear the music far in the distance day and night not stopping for a second, the entire town pulsating. And when it is over and the music suddenly stops, we wake up disturbed by the unexpected unusual silence and wonder what’s wrong.

 

Picture St Johns, Antigua

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The fish market, Antigua

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Mira

Mira

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Maya and Evo

Maya and Evo

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Antigua Beach Resort

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Maya and Evo

Maya and Evo

The Nomadiks at the beach

The Nomadiks at the beach

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Maya with coconuts

Maya with coconuts

Maya

Maya

Maya and Evo

Maya and Evo

Evo and Maya

Evo and Maya

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Stefanie, representing USA in the Miss Caribbean Beauty Pageant

Stefanie, representing USA in the Miss Caribbean Beauty Pageant

Stefanie and Maya

Stefanie and Maya

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Antigua Carnival

Photos by Mell Ebstein s/v Passages

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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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