Canadian Passports in Colombia

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Arriving in Colombia by sailboat may turn out to be a very costly experience, especially for those holding Canadian passports, like us. For the first time since we left Florida almost two years ago we had to pay so much to check in a country (even the Bahamas – 300 US$- was cheaper). Actually, our Canadian passports which expire in three months were the main reason to come to Santa Marta and immediately fly to Bogota, to one of the three Canadian Embassies providing passport services in the Caribbean region (the other two are in Panama and Barbados). But aside from the fee we paid at the embassy for renewing our travel documents, our Canadian passports were the reason for an unforeseen unexpected expense as soon as we checked-in in Colombia.

Apart from the 90 $US for a 60-day temporary cruising permit, which is being charged to all foreign vessels entering Colombian waters, we were served a juicy bill of 80 US$ per person (a total of 240 US$ for the three of us) an immigration fee. (Later we found out that the fee should not be charged to kids under 15, but we still have to sort out this information). It turned out that since a few months now there is a new law targeting only Canadian citizens. All other citizens don’t pay. This new Colombian law has been introduced in response to the new Canadian law, according to which all Colombian citizens have to pay 80 US$ per person immigration fee when traveling to Canada… I suspect this “reciprocity fee” will greatly limit visits to Colombia by cruising Canadians . For the first time we regretted not having renewed our expired Bulgarian passports…

Santa Marta Anchorage

Santa Marta Anchorage

On top of this, it turned out that the only marina in Santa Marta, where we had to dock our boat for a week while traveling to Bogota, charges catamarans almost double, “because they are wider and take up more space” (even though there were enough empty berths at the marina). Today, it is not as dangerous to visit and travel in Colombia as it has been a few years ago, but it is still not a good idea to leave a boat at anchor in a lonely anchorage near a small town full of poor people for a few days and nights. Robberies in Colombia are still common events. The marina with its 24-hour security and locked gates was our only safe option. But our bill was 250 US$ for a week (no water and no electricity included) instead of 150 US$ per week, which a monohull the same length would pay.

Thus, our total bill for checking-in in Colombia and staying at the marina in Santa Marta was $580. But this is how a positive crew should rationalize the situation: We have been cruising all over the Caribbean since two years now and the only other time we had to pay for a marina was in July 2013 in Havana Cuba (anchoring is not permitted anywhere near Havana). So, we didn’t have big marina expenses per month for the last two years, if you look at it this way. Moreover, we didn’t have to pay any entry fees for the past five months in the islands we visited: checking-in in French St Marten and Dutch Aruba was free and there are no visa or checking-in fees for Canadians in Puerto Rico. Therefore, our huge checkin-in expenses in Colombia were compensated by the zero checking-in expenses for the past 5 months. Thus we tried to think positively…

Marina Santa Marta

Marina Santa Marta

And finally, in the days before arriving in Colombia we have received a few donations in our blog by our generous readers, which covered the marina fee. There is probably no better way to show you our gratitude except to mention here how much your generosity has made a difference, P. Vachkov, B. Pavlov, I. Russev, A. Grigorov, H. Hristov, S. Apostolov and K. Mirchev- we thank you!

Immediately after landing in Santa Marta we researched which would be the cheapest way to get to Bogota, some 1,000 kilometers in the interior of Colombia. A rental car is about $50-$60 per day and gas is about 3.50 per gallon. Plus, the highway is paid. A rental car would cost us over $400 for 4 days and two of those days we would spend driving. The bus to Bogota is 50$ per person in one direction and it takes 20 hours to get there. It turned out that travelling by airplane is not only faster, but also the cheapest way to get around in Colombia. There are a few airline companies but we found the cheapest to be Viva Colombia. You can buy round trip tickets Santa Marta-Bogota-Santa Marta for as little as $40, as long as you get them in advance and if you are traveling light- not more than one 6-kilogram bag. We paid $90 per person for a round trip as we got the tickets in the last minute and it was still the cheapest, fastest and best option.

After one hour and a half flying over mountains, fields, villages, rivers and lakes we landed in Bogota- Colombia’s capital and one of South America’s biggest cities which surprised us and charmed us with its colossal scale and unique historical and cultural attractions: numerous world-renown museums, ancient cathedrals, plazas and colonial buildings not only in the old district but all over the city. Visiting Bogota was worth all the hassle.

 

Bogota

Bogota

 

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Aruba- The Perfect Place to Pause

*This article was first publish and can be read on-line in Caribbean Compass issue NO. 239, August 2015 p.20-21.

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Our boat, a 38-foot Leopard catamaran named Fata Morgana, as well as we: Ivo, Mira and 11-year-old Maya, prefer to sail slowly but safely in mild weather conditions which in March, in this part of the Caribbean Sea between Puerto Rico and Colombia can be long to come. We had to wait for a month in Ponce checking PassageWeather.com daily before the orange, yellow and green zones on the small weather chart finally turned blue and we spread the sails.
After three days and two nights of uneventful sailing in calm seas and winds on a beam reach between 8 and 20 knots, we decided to go to Aruba for a quick pit-stop in order to rest and check the weather before continuing on to Santa Marta, Colombia. A month later we were still in Aruba, kind of stuck but also reluctant to leave. Stuck, because sailing from Aruba to Colombia is a dangerous business, crossing an area where high and low pressures meet creating violent winds and huge waves, and so we decided to wait until the winds calm down a bit. And this took a month. Reluctant to leave, because this small vacation island lying well outside of the hurricane belt, its clean manicured capital Oranjestad with lots of nice shops and restaurants, its sparkling resorts and world-famous beaches, its many natural wonders, and its welcoming people became one of our most favorite Caribbean destinations. It was free and easy to check in and out of Aruba, and free to drop anchor anywhere in its many protected bays on the south and southwest shores. It was safe to leave the boat at anchor unattended day and night, and safe to roam the island as there is virtually no crime in Aruba. We met and befriended a wonderful local family, who welcomed us in their home and showed us around; Ivo learned to kitesurfing; and Maya took windsurfing lessons. It felt like a vacation.

Oranjestad, Aruba

Oranjestad, Aruba

It took about 2 hours to clear immigration and customs at the commercial docks in Oranjestad, Aruba’s capital and main port, mostly waiting for the officials to arrive from Barcadera where a new port is currently under construction, and bring the paperwork. Passports were stamped, documents exchanged, no one boarded Fata Morgana, and the entire procedure was completely free and done right on the pier. We never had to leave the boat. Checking in and out in Aruba is almost like ordering a burger and fries at a drive-through. The service is slow and painless, but also- free of charge. No fees whatsoever for a two-month stay, which can be easily extended. What a pleasant surprise!
While visiting Aruba, most cruisers choose to stay at one of the marinas or at anchor in the bay near the marinas which offer all sorts of facilities and tranquil atmosphere, and this is probably the best option for yachts. Instead, we anchored in the calm shallow stunningly beautiful waters in front of Palm Beach, Aruba’s most popular white sand beach with tall palm trees and a strip of big sparkling hotels all lined up along the west coast, facing the Caribbean Sea and the spectacular sunsets. Radisson, Holiday Inn, Marriott’s, Global Suite, The Ritz, and the all-inclusive Riu Palace- the Caribbean Taj Mahal. With marble floors and crystal chandeliers, infinity swimming pools, artificial waterfalls and tropical gardens, restaurants surrounded by goldfish ponds with black swans, beach bars and every comfort and luxury the tourist might dream for, these resorts offer the ultimate beach experience, including jet skis and motorboats pulling infallibles loaded with happy vacationers, which we endured for weeks just because it was close to the fishermen shacks, where Ivo was initiated in kitesurfing and Maya – in windsurfing.

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Aruba lies in the southern Caribbean Sea 990 mi west of the Lesser Antilles and 18 mi north of the coast of Venezuela, directly on the path of the accelerated tradewinds which are always strong and always from the same direction, which is perfect for kitesurfing and windsurfing. Here we met the legendary Armando Wester, one of the first kitesurfers in Aruba. He opened a kitesurf shack on the north corner of Palm Beach – Armando’s Kitesurf Shack, which is exclusively for kiteurfing lessons, equipment rentals and sale. (For information go to www.seabornaruba.com. ) The place is on the southwest shore of the island and is a lot more protected from big waves than Boca Grandi, another kitesurf beach we checked out on the north side, where the pro kitesurfers fly. In fact, the sea at Palm Beach is flat as a lake, shallow and with sandy bottom, which makes it excellent for kitesurf beginners. Here we met Armando and his buddies and soon Ivo was flying around with a kitesurf like a disoriented butterfly…
And when we were not busy with water sports, we explored the island. Our new Aruban friends, a family from Europe, who moved to live in Aruba and contacted us through our blog, took us to a couple of great restaurants and drove us to Aruba’s most popular tourist attractions starting at California Lighthouse and Alto Vista Chapel, passing by Arashi Beach. The Arashi Beach on the west side of the island is a popular snorkeling destination away from the big hotels and crowds, attracting locals and tourists with its secluded sheltered from the winds little bays hidden among beautiful rock formations ,with abundant underwater sea-life. On the backdrop of limestone carved by the sea and tall cacti standing on the edge of the rocks two pirate ships had dropped anchors bringing tourists to swim and snorkel in the shallow coral gardens.

Palm Beach, Aruba

Palm Beach, Aruba

After a short drive on a narrow road surrounded by sand dunes and spiky Divi Divi trees all twisted and bent from the constant tradewinds, past Arashi Beach, we got to the northwest tip of Aruba where the island’s most famous landmark rises 30 meters tall. California Lighthouse was built in 1916 near Arashi Beach. It was named after the steamship California which wrecked near the shores in 1891.
Further down the winding sandy road we got to a small chapel built on a hill overlooking the sea amidst a forest of cacti which cover most of this hot dry flat island. Alto Vista Chapel was built in 1750 by Domingo Silvestre, a Venezuelan missionary, and rebuilt in 1952. It is also known as “Pilgrims Church”. Here started the conversion of Aruban Indians to Christianity. Behind the chapel we found an intricate labyrinth like a huge rock drawing on the ground which didn’t seem very complicated but it took us a long time to get to its center without cheating… A long time under the burning desert sun.
On the way back we made a few stops just to look at the sea and the shores which on the north side of the island, the harsh, unprotected by the relentless tradewinds shores, look wild and unforgiving. Swimming here is forbidden by law. We didn’t even think about swimming here, or sailing… It’s one of those places of awesome power where nature just wants to be left alone. Respect.

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Aruba was a pleasant surprise. We didn’t expect to find so many interesting places on such a small island (32 km x10 km). After visiting California Lighthouse and the Alto Vista Chapel we decided to go for a hike in the desert. The Casibari Rock Formations, about 3 km from the capital Oranjestad, are brownish- reddish boulders sticking out in the middle of the desert as if they had fallen from the sky, surrounded by cacti. It is still a mystery how this pile of huge rocks smooth and strangely shaped came to be on such a flat sandy island, where the tallest elevation is a hill barely reaching 189 m. One of the theories is that their origin is in fact extraterrestrial… The first inhabitants of these lands- the Arawak indigenous people- used to climb on top of the boulders and stare at the eastern horizons to see if a storm is approaching. Here, hundreds of years ago, they used to pray and perform rituals for the gods of rain and lightning. A narrow path through cacti and heavy rocks lead us to the steep steps of wood and stone. We climbed on top of a flat boulder. Aruba was at our feet, surrounded by blue waters. On a clear day you can spot the shores of Venezuela in the south from up here.
The next day, we packed water and sandwiches, put on good hiking shoes, and went to Arikok National Park occupying a huge territory on the island, almost 20 percent of Aruba. It is one of the main tourist destinations offering a variety of attractions and landscapes to the visitors: caves with pertroglyphs, sandy dunes, abandoned gold mines, ruins of old traditional farms, rock formations, a natural pool and many beaches. We paid 11 US$ per adult (free for kids under 17) admission fee, we got a map of the area and we were warned to watch out for snakes. Among the most common snakes in Aruba are the boa and the casabel- a type of rattlesnake endemic to Aruba, which you will not see anywhere else in the world. We’ve been told to stay on the paths in order to avoid stepping on a cactus or a rattlesnake. “What do we do if a snake bites us?”, we asked. “You start counting, because you have 20 min to live”, was the answer.
In the park there are many hiking trails and rocky roads, and the off-road safaris with jeeps and buggies are activities very popular with the tourists. We started on foot towards the Conchi natural pool hiking for hours through the monotonous rigid nature. We walked through forests of cacti and met a few goat families roaming in the shadows of the big boulders. We even encountered two caracara hawks perched on a rock, in the company of big brown goat.
We finally got to Conchi or Natural Pool– the number one destination in the park. Surrounded by rocks and protected by the stormy sea, it is like a small saltwater lake on the shore. They say that many years ago the islanders used the pool as “a prison” to keep live sea turtles, who couldn’t escape in the sea. The place is excellent for swimming and snorkeling or just for hanging out and chilling in the clear waters heated by the sun after a long hike in the desert.

Mira

Mira at Conchi- Natural Pool, Aruba

Thus, a month passed and we kind of settled on the island, where there were still more places to discover, we had many new friends, and Ivo and Maya wanted to continue perfecting their newly acquired kitesurfing and windsurfing skills. We truly didn’t want to leave Aruba and we considered staying for another month, but we knew that more wonderful places were waiting ahead. When the wind calmed down and the weather forecast was favorable once again, we lifted anchor and said good-by to Aruba.

Some Facts about Aruba:

• Aruba sits well outside of the hurricane belt and is safe for cruising all-year-round
• Checking in and out from Aruba is easy and free of charge.
• The maximum stay by boat is two months, which can be extended. For longer stay, there is an import permit required.
• Barracuda is served in every restaurant and it is a delicacy more valued than dorado and tuna.
• There are many small grocery shops all over the place, owned by Chinese and the prices are same or cheaper than the other Caribbean islands. There is a big shopping store like Sam’s club, which requires a membership card and has an excellent selection of provisions as well as cheaper prices.
• Aruba is maybe the safest Caribbean country with a very low crime rate, especially against tourists, which are the main support of the local economy.
• Aruba is one of the four countries that form the Kingdom of the Netherlands, along with the Netherlands, Curaçao and Sint Maarten. Its citizens are Dutch.
• The official languages are Dutch and Papiamento. Papiamento is the most popular language on Aruba. It incorporates words from other languages including Portuguese, West African languages, Dutch, and Spanish. English is known by many because of tourism.
• Europeans first learned of Aruba following the Spanish explorations in 1499. Spaniards soon colonized the island. But because it didn’t have much rainfall, Aruba was not good for plantations and slave trade. This is why there are not as many African descendants as in the other Caribbean islands.
• The Dutch took control 135 years after the Spanish, leaving the Arawaks to farm and graze livestock, and used the island as a source of meat for other Dutch possessions in the Caribbean.
• Aruba became independent in 1995
• Aruba is a flat, riverless island in the southern part of the Caribbean. It has white sandy beaches on the western and southern coasts, sheltered from ocean currents and waves. This is where most tourists go. The northern and eastern coasts are more battered by the sea and have been left almost untouched by humans.
• Most of the population is descended from Indians, Africans, and Dutch, as well as from Venezuelan immigrants.
• Aruba has one of the highest standards of living in the Caribbean region and the Americas, with low unemployment rate.
• The island’s economy has been dominated by five main industries: tourism, gold mining, phosphate mining, aloe export, and petroleum refining. Before the oil refinery was shut down, oil processing was the dominant industry in Aruba. Today, tourism is the most important.
• The holiday of Carnaval is an important one in Aruba and it goes on for weeks. It starts from the beginning of January .
• Beach camping is allowed in Aruba during the Easter and Christmas holydays and is a very popular activity among the locals.
• Aruba, with constant strong winds, is an excellent place to learn or practice kitesurfing and windsurfing. Many world kitesurf and windsurf competition are held here every year.

About the author: Mira Nencheva, her husband Ivo and 11-years-old daughter Maya are sailing around the world and living off-the-grid full-time aboard their 38 feet Leopard catamaran Fata Morgana since July 2013. Their journey is documented in a travel-adventure blog www.thelifenomadik.com and in theirFacebook page:

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Ass and Titties

 Ass and Titties

Патрик Райли

Patrick Riley

(If you allow me a short lyrical deviation. It’s shocking.)

The “titties” are the soft pillars of our civilization, the bursting shiny foundations of our past, present and future. The “ass” is the hot center of the Universe- the axis mundi– the connection between Heaven and Earth. Together (in combination) the Ass and the Titties represent the universal sacred purpose of life. Nothing else matters. Does it?

An old dark heavy sailboat made of metal, with brown sails furled inside black sailcovers, with rusty chain, was sitting at Marina Santa Marta. You don’t see such boats in these tropical waters. Rather, near the poles amidst icebergs and storms. This boat was a survivor.

Яхта Маги

S/V Maggie

The owner of the boat was Patrick Riley- an American who, as soon as he found out we are from Bulgaria, smiled at us with a big conspiratorial smile.

I have been in Burgas twice. I have something to show you, said Patrick and started unpacking a small rowing dinghy painted bright red, sitting upside-down on the front deck.

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While he was untying the ropes Patrick remembered Mariela with a very difficult to pronounce (especially for an American) family name. Vodenicharova or Vodenicharska, or something like this. She was from Burgas. His ex-girlfriend. He learned a few Bulgarian words from her and only remembered a couple. Did you guess which ones? These two words had inspired the name of the small rowing dinghy- the most original dinghy name we have ever seen. But unfortunately, Patrick said sadly, not many can read and appreciate it… I promised him, that at least ten thousand Bulgarians who are following us on Facebook will appreciate his ingenious dinghy name.

On a green wooden plate hе had written with big yellow Cyrillic letters Цици и Дупе (Ass and Titties in Bulgarian).

Цици и Дупе

Цици и Дупе (Ass and Titties)

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Passage from Aruba to Santa Marta

Passage from Aruba to Santa Marta

Passage from Aruba to Santa Marta

Passage from Aruba to Santa Marta

On our way from Puerto Rico to Colombia we decided to stop in Aruba (after three days and two nights of sailing) for a quick couple of days, to rest, check the weather and keep going. A month later we were still in Aruba, reluctant to leave.

Fata Morgana at anchor in Aruba

Fata Morgana at anchor in Aruba

This small vacation island, its clean manicured capital Oranjestad, its sparkling resorts and world-famous beaches, its many natural wonders, and its welcoming people became one of our most favorite Caribbean destinations. It was free and easy to check in and out of Aruba, and free to drop anchor anywhere in its many protected bays on the south shore. We met and befriended a wonderful local family, who welcomed us in their home and helped us enormously; we met Tony, Armando and his buddies who started Ivo kitesurfing; and Maya began windsurfing. It felt like a vacation. But mostly, we stayed longer than anticipated because we decided not to sail until we get favorable winds, so our passage to Colombia would be safe. Safety first.

Colorful fishing boats in Aruba

Colorful fishing boats in Aruba

A month passed and the trades finally calmed down a bit. It was time to lift anchor. The 260 NM passage from Aruba to Santa Marta, Colombia is notorious for being one of the most dangerous passages in the Caribbean, as the winds near the Venezuelan gulf and the Colombian capes are often violent, accelerated by the effect of high pressure colliding with low pressure from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range. Reaching an altitude of 5,700 m (18,700 ft) just 42 km (26 mi) from the Caribbean coast, the Sierra Nevada is the world’s highest coastal range creating this problematic for navigation area in the south Caribbean Sea, a so called “compression zone.”. It’s a spot on the charts not to be underestimated. We read all the information we could find online about how and when is best to sail there, and as soon as PassageWeather promised 3 successful days of maximum 15 to 20 knots east winds, instead of the usual 25 to 30 knots, we sailed.

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In the morning on April 17th we left our anchorage in front of Palm Beach and went to the docks at Oranjestad to check out from Aruba. It took about one hour of waiting for the officials to show up, bring the paperwork, stamp their stamps and let us go. The process is painless and we didn’t have to leave the boat, as the customs and immigration- very pleasant smiling, good-natured people- came from Barcadera, where they are in the process of building the new port, to Port of Oranjestad, bringing the necessary forms right up to the boat without boarding it. It felt like drive through.

Фата Моргана на док в Аруба

Fata Morgana at Port of Oranjestad

Around 9:30 a.m. we were off with a strong puff behind us- 30 to 35 knots. We reefed and we worried. There were no such numbers predicted by PassageWeather… But as soon as we were well away from the shores of Aruba, about 10 miles, the wind dropped to 8-12 knots and with it, our speed. We were sailing wing-on-wing, full sail, doing 4 to 5 knots. But we didn’t complain. Better slow and safe than fast and stressful. Later in the afternoon the wind picked up to comfortable 16-20 knots and the boat was doing 5-6 kts. Thus, the first day of the dreaded passage passed by with very relaxed wind, sea and crew.

It was late in the afternoon when we had crossed the entrance of the Gulf of Venezuela and we spotted the small twin-rocks which really are in the middle of nowhere, 50 nautical miles from Aruba, territory of Venezuela-Monjes del Norte, where an anchorage is marked on the charts and some people stop overnight. But the wind and sea were great and it didn’t make sense to stop, plus we had read a few accounts of terrible experiences by cruisers there, according to which stopping at Los Monjes should be only in case of emergency and in bad weather conditions. We kept going.

The night fell. Clear skies but no moon at this time of the month. Total darkness descended and we sailed in the blind. We were just passed the first Colombian cape, Punta Gallinas, reefed, expecting accelerated puffs, but nothing like that happened. All night Fata Morgana was galloping lazily, close to shore, about 5-6 miles, and the sea and wind remained calm, between 10 and 18 knots all night.

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On the second day things changed. The wind picked up in the late morning as we approached the area directly under the Sierra Nevada mountain range, and the sea rose. We reefed the jib and the main and even then the boat was going uncomfortably fast with 9-10 to 11 knots surfing down the waves. We furled the jib and kept sailing only with a reefed main in winds 25 to 30 knots directly behind us. And we were still doing average of 8-9 kts speed.

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At one point a pod of dolphins came to escort us. They usually show up when the sea is calm, and glide near the bow for a few minutes, but this time they came jumping out of the big waves all around us demonstrating awesome skills: jolts, pirouettes and splashes- a full program. Then we caught a nice juicy blackfin tuna, also called “football” due to its plump rounded shape and we had food for the next few days.

Ivo with a football tuna

Ivo with a football tuna

Then, we experienced something we had never experienced before and understood what people meant by “strong puffs”. They are not squalls that last for 10 -20 minutes, but extremely brief, sudden puffs from 12 to 28 knots for 2-3 seconds and back to 12 knots. It’s really weird, completely unpredictable and annoying. And there is nothing to do, but reef and get used to it.

The second night, sailing close to shore in about 3-600 feet of depth, the wind like a mad person who remembered to take his medication before bedtime, calmed down and became steady and sedate again. Ivo was sure this is the katabatic land effect which we witnessed on the north shore of the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Guatemala – the nearby landmass cooling at night cancels the wind near the shore just after sunset- but we cannot guarantee that the wind always dies out at night near the shore here, nor can we advise cruisers to sail close to shore. That was our experience and this time we felt we were lucky.

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As soon as the sun came out on the third day, the strong wind returned, doing its temperamental thing again, but we had just a few more miles left to go. The last cape to round was Cabo de la Guaja, couple of miles before Santa Marta, and Ivo decided to “cut the corner” and to pass just feet away from the rocks. We had full jib out and reefed main, wing on wing, and suddenly the waves rose big and steep, the wind behind us going up to 35 knots, Ivo hand steering, the boat surfing with 12 knots downwind for the longest few minutes during this passage. That was scary.

Note to ourselves: Next time do not cut the corner, go at least 3-4 miles away from the cape, try not to have the wing-on-wing sail combination when in doubt, and reef in time!

But we passed the cape OK and we found ourselves in calm water finally, heading to a small noisy town at the foot of dry hills, with lots of bus and taxi traffic and some tall buildings near the beach, a busy commercial port, a lonеly anchorage with lots of small fishing boats and just two sailboats, and a brand new modern marina sheltered behind a rock wall. We dropped anchor near the marina.

Statue of Tairona woman in Santa Marta. Fata Morgana at anchor in the distance

Statue of Tairona woman in Santa Marta. Fata Morgana at anchor in the distance

Many sailors stop once or twice on this passage in one of the five small bays along the Colombian coast between Aruba and Santa Marta, but in bad weather they becmoe dangerous to approach and are not exactly “protected”. This passage can be broken up in 2-3 legs and one can only sail during the day and anchor at night, or sail at night and anchor during the day. But we wanted to get it over with as soon as possible and not have our weather window close, so we sailed non-stop.

We arrived in Santa Marta Sunday, April 19th, after 48 hours of relatively “smooth sailing”.

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Rocks and Cacti in Aruba

Rocks and Cacti in Aruba

Aruba was a pleasant surprise. We didn’t expect to find so many interesting places on such a small (32 km x10 km) flat desert island. After visiting California Lighthouse, the Alto Vista Chapel and the northwest rocky shores, we decided to go for a hike in the desert in the interior of the island and to check out some more of the tourist attractions.

Мира в Казибари

Casibari Rock Formations

The Casibari Rock Formations, abut 3 km from the capital Oranjestad, are brownish- reddish boulders sticking out in the middle of the desert as if they had fallen from the sky, surrounded by cacti. It is still a mystery how this pile of huge rocks smooth and strangely shaped came to be on such a flat sandy island, where the tallest elevation is a hill barely reaching 189 m. One of the theories is that their origin is in fact extraterrestrial…

Скали в Казибари

The first inhabitants from the Arawak tribe would climb on top of the boulders and stare at the eastern horizons to see if a storm is approaching. Here, hundreds of years ago, they used to pray and perform rituals for the gods of rain and lightning.

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A narrow path through cacti and heavy rocks lead us to the steep steps of wood and stone. We climbed on top of a flat boulder. Aruba was stretching in our feet, surrounded by blue waters. On a clear day one can spot the shores of Venezuela in the south.

Скални формации Казибари, Аруба

From the top of one of the cacti which had invaded the entire island, a small orange-and-black bird was watching us. The Trоupial is one of the few rare birds native of Aruba.

Трупиал от Аруба

Arikok National Park

 

The next day, we packed water and sandwiches, put on shoes good for hiking in a salty desert surrounded by sea, and went to Arikok National Park.

Мая и Иво в парк Арикок

 

The Arikok Park occupies a huge territory on the island, almost 20 percent of Aruba. It is one of the main tourist destinations offering a variety of attractions and landscapes to the visitors: caves with pertroglyphs, sandy dunes, volcanic formations, abandoned gold mines, ruins of old traditional farms, rock formations, a natural pool and many beaches.

Северните брегове на Аруба, част от парк Арикок

 

We paid 11 US$ per adult (free for kids under 17) admission fee, we got a map of the area and we were warned to watch out for snakes.  Among the most common snakes in Aruba are the boa and the casabel- a type of rattlesnake endemic to Aruba, which you will not see anywhere else in the world. We’ve been told to stay on the paths in order to avoid stepping on a cactus or a rattlesnake.

– What do we do if a snake bites us?, we asked.

– You start counting, because you have 20 min to live, was the answer.

We decided to keep to the paths…

Мая в парк Арикок

 

Yet, a few times we did step off the path, mainly to take pictures of interesting things.

кактус

 

We didn’t step on a snake, but Mira did step on a cactus…

Мира стъпа на кактус.

 

In the park there are many hiking trails, as well as roads accessible by cars and off-roads accessible only by foot or 4×4 vehicles. The off-road safaris with jeeps and buggies are activities very popular with the tourists.

Оф-роуд сафари

 

We started on foot towards the natural pool. The park rangers told us that the hike is approximately 1.5 hrs. But we got lost, even though the paths are very well marked and there are signs at every crossroad. We just took the wrong turn at the beginning and after 1 hour of walking in the heat we got to a small traditional plantation house built in the cas di torto style.

Canucu Arikok

 

We had to turn back and walk another hour almost to the park entrance and when we got to the fatal crossroad with the sign we turned right and continued on to Natural Pool or Conchi.  But the deviation was worth it, as we enjoyed the monotonous rigid nature of this part of the park. We walked through forests of cacti and met a few goat families roaming in the shadows of the big boulders. We even encountered two caracara hawks perched on a rock in the company of big brown goat.

Двойка соколи и козел

 

The time was advancing, yet we were still far from destination. The sun hung low on top of our heads as if its greatest ambition was to start a fire in our hats. We climbed one hill from where we could see the sea and the northern shores of the island and from there was just downhill on a dusty rocky road accessible by 4×4 vehicles and hikers. Maya started complaining of her shoes…

Път към естественият басейн

We decided to hitchhike. A jeep with two girls from Boston passed by and the first thing they saw must have been Ivo’s beard, as they were not sure if they wanted to pick us up, but they finally did and saved us at lest one more hour of walking on rocks in the heat of the desert. What followed was the bumpiest ride we have experienced since the beginning of our adventure two years ago, except maybe when we had to drive on the mountain roads destroyed by landslides in the Dominican Republic countryside.

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Conchi- Natural Pool

 

We finally got to the natural pool- number one destination in the park. We were lucky and got there before all the off-road safaris with jeeps and buggies unloaded hundreds of noisy visitors, whose only wish was to jump in the cool waters of the pool and quickly transformed a secluded place into a soup of tourists.

Естествен басейн в Аруба

 

Mira in the Natural Pool

Mira in the Natural Pool

The Natural Pool is surrounded by rocks and protected by the stormy sea. It is like a small lake on the shore. They say that many years ago the islanders used the pool as “a prison” for sea turtles, who couldn’t escape in the sea.

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The place is excellent for swimming and snorkeling or just for hanging out in the clear waters heated by the sun. But when the waves are too big and crush high above the rocks, it is risky to go in.

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On the way back we hitchhiked again and got a ride in the back of one of the park’s 4×4 vehicles with three guys, one of whom was the park’s manager. He complained that the goats are eating up the vegetation and all there will be left soon are cacti. And by the way, we saw one goat eating a rotting cactus too.

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Arashi Beach

 

Another beautiful place we were fortunate to visit in Aruba is Arashi Beach. it is located near palm Beach and is just 15 minutes walk from our anchorage.

Араши плаж

 

This is the most picturesque rocky shore we have ever seen. On the backdrop of limestone carved by the sea and tall cacti standing on the edge of the rocks two pirate ships had dropped anchors. They bring tourists twice a day- in the morning and in the afternoon, to snorkel in the reefs.

Пиратски кораби, Аруба

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Easter Beach Camping in Aruba

Easter Camping in Aruba

or Los Locos Felices (The Happy Crazies)

by Mira Nencheva

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Palm Beach, Aruba

We sailed to Aruba in the middle of March and dropped anchor in front of Palm Beach, Aruba’s most popular white sand beach with tall palm trees and a strip of big sparkling hotels all lined up along the west coast, facing the Caribbean Sea and the spectacular sunsets. Radisson, Holiday Inn, Marriott’s, Global Suite, The Ritz, and the all-inclusive Riu Palace- the Caribbean Taj Mahal. With marble floors and crystal chandeliers, infinity swimming pools, artificial waterfalls and tropical gardens, restaurants surrounded by goldfish ponds with black swans, beach bars and every comfort and luxury the tourist might dream for, these resorts offer the ultimate beach experience for somewhere between 200 and 500 dollars per person per night. Maybe even more.

Hotel Riu, Aruba

Hotel Riu Palace, Aruba

Aruba is a world famous vacation destination for the rich and tourism is the country’s main industry. It is “Heaven on Earth” for those who can afford it…

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But imagine if you can fly to Aruba and pitch a tent on the beach, next to Marriott’s Resort, at a very low cost. Wouldn’t that be something! If you are a backpacker or a student, or anyone with limited financial means traveling on a budget and you still want to enjoy the same island, the same beach, and the same sun and sea as the rich and the privileged, why not camping for a week or two in Aruba? You just have to time it well and plan your Arubian camping trip around Easter.

Tents in front of Marriott Hotel, Palm Beach, Aruba

Tents in front of Marriott Hotel, Palm Beach, Aruba

Actually, camping in Aruba is a very popular activity among the locals. It is a decade old tradition which transforms the coastline of the island, especially the western side, into a huge camping ground but only for a couple of weeks in March or April, whenever Easter happens to be that year.

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Easter is among the most important holidays for the Arubans and “Easter Beach Camping” is a highly anticipated and very well organized event taking place every year since forever, even since before the first hotel in Aruba was built. Families gather on previously determined big camping sites on one of Aruba’s many beaches during the kids’ Easter vacation and pitch their tents and tarpaulins. But first, they have to apply for a special camping permit -one for one camping site which may include many tents, issued by the local police for 5 $US per tent. The biggest camping site I saw this year included 11 brothers and sisters and their families- about 70 people in total, of which 30% were children. The permit holder becomes the “president” of the camping site and has to ensure that everyone respects the strict rules, otherwise he might lose the permit: no excessive noise after 10 p.m., no littering, no fire, no BBQ, no driving and no animals on the beach.

Playing dominos

Playing dominos

Normally, they apply for a permit by filling in a form and paying the fee at the local police station a month before the event, to make sure they will get the desired spot on one of the many beaches all around Aruba: Arashi Beach, Eagle Beach, Baby Beach, and Palm Beach among others.

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The camping is perfectly organized with portable toilets and small open kitchens. Every compound includes many tents and a large common area where everyone gathers to eat and celebrate together. Every meal for the next two weeks is transformed into a party.

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I met and talked to a few of the campers. They were super welcoming and happy to share a beer and a nice meal with me, while telling me all about Easter camping in Aruba. And I must say, the chicken was fabulous!

We are “locos felices” (happy crazies), they said proudly. We have been getting together every year for Easter in this same spot for twenty years now. We are a big family, about 30-40 people. The children love it, and this activity is mainly for them! The little cousins play together on the beach all day long and sleep in the tents at night. On Easter morning we do Egg Hunt on the beach. The grown-ups, we don’t sleep in the tents, they are for the kids. We sleep all under this tarpaulin in hammocks, all together, in open air. It’s all about spending time together, as a family, living as one with the peaceful nature.

Maria, 85 with four of her children

Maria, 85 (right) with her three daughters and a son

At age 85 Maria is the oldest camper. She only spends the days in the camp and returns to sleep in her house at night. But in her younger days, 20 years ago when she was only 65, she used to stay overnight as well.

This year, she has four out of five of her children, as well as many of her grand and great-grandchildren camping together just north of hotel Marriott on Palm Beach. Her son is the “president”, or the “chief”.

 

Maria and her daughters in the common area. Behind Maria is the area where the adults spread their hammocks and sleep at night together.

Maria and two of her daughters in the common area. Behind Maria is the area where the adults spread their hammocks and sleep at night together.

Marriott is the newest hotel on Palm Beach and was finished just months ago. Before, the campers used the beach area which is now reserved for the hotel, and they got pushed away. Their grounds are becoming smaller because of the large resorts which are taking over.

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When I asked them if visitors to the island can also apply for a permit and camp in Aruba on Easter, some told me sure, but others replied it is just for the locals.

And even if it was permitted, they said, we wouldn’t like it for tourists to do it. Imagine everyone instead of going in the hotels, pitching a tent on the beach. There wouldn’t be space left for us!

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Yet, as confirmed by VisitAuba.com, everyone is allowed to apply for a camping permit from the local Police Station in Noord (Call+297 587-0009) for two week around Holy Week on Easter, locals and tourists alike, and as long as there is space available and the permit is granted 10 days in advance, you can camp in Aruba! The cost of the permit is $5 per tent for the entire period (1-2 weeks).

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The problem is, you have to apply for a permit in person in the police station and preferably one month in advance… So I guess, Easter camping in Aruba will remain predominantly a local tradition.

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Author: Mira Nencheva, her husband Ivo and 11-years-old daughter Maya are sailing around the world and living off the grid full-time aboard their 38 feet Leopard catamaran Fata Morgana since July 2013. Their journey is documented in a travel-adventure blog www.thelifenomadik.com and in their Facebook page Facebook/The Life Nomadik where Mira is publishing stories and pictures.

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Pilar Rossi: A Boat Story

Pilar Rossi: A Boat Story

By Mira Nencheva

This article was first published in the April 2015 issue #235 of Caribbean Compass on page 21

Pilar Rossi in Grenada

Pilar Rossi in Grenada

Some stories begin with a dream. Such is this story.

We arrived in Grenada in mid-October, after spending almost the entire hurricane season sailing slowly down the Caribbean Island Chain. It was our first year of cruising; our first time visiting the region. Every place was new and unfamiliar to us and everything seemed wonderful and magical. Yet, I remember one particular moment when we were so amazed that our jaws literally dropped like in the old animation films and we went:

“Woooow! Look! Have you ever imagined, have you ever dreamed about anything like this!?”

View from the mast- Anchorage in St Barths photo by Tomaz A. Christovao

View from the mast- Anchorage in St Barths
photo by Tomaz A. Christovao

And it wasn’t the crater of a bubbling volcano beneath our feet, or a family of green monkeys watching us from the trees in the late afternoon, or an infinite pink beach where the only footsteps are those of sea turtles crawling out of the ocean to lay eggs at night, or an old fort built up on top of a hill facing the sunset; not even a waterfall booming amidst insane tropical vegetation.

It was a boat. A most extraordinary boat.

Pilar Rossi- view from the mast photo by Tomaz Cristovao

Pilar Rossi- view from the mast
photo by Tomaz A. Christovao

We dropped anchor in the wide anchorage outside of St George’s Bay and with our orange kayak started for the Port Luis Marina. As we paddled pass the channel, keeping near to the south shore, we saw two masts sticking high above the hills, reaching for the clouds. Slowly, we turned the corner.

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And there she was looming above us like a giant white bird from a different world- Pilar Rossi , one of the top 10 biggest megayachts in the world.

Pilar Rossi in Grenada

Pilar Rossi in Grenada

Pilar Rossi is a 211-foot steel luxury megayacht with aluminum superstructure, width of 46 feet, and draught of only 7 feet. With such glorious proportions and unique design, there isn’t a single person who remains calm at the first sight of the ship. A magnificent enchantress.

But even more amazing and unbelievable is her story.

Aboard Pilar Rossi

Aboard Pilar Rossi

You see, Pilar Rossi wasn’t always as big and impressive as she is today. Like in the story of the little duckling who transformed as he grew older into a beautiful white swan because such was his destiny, so did Pilar Rossi change with time.

In the 1980s one person who believed in himself, a daring man for whom limits do not exist, or if they do, he goes beyond them, and dreams are a matter of passion and dedication, decided to build a boat.

Pilar Rossi began her life at sea in Turkey in 1989, as a 112-foot Alucraft motor yacht with one hull and no masts. But some years later, her owner, the legendary three times Formula One World Champion Nelson Piquet from Brazil, together with his uncle Mauricio Piquet, a naval architect, drew up a new design. Another 100 feet of length was added in the back of the boat thus doubling her size, as well as two massive outriggers built with the semi-SWATH (Small Waterplane Area Twin Hull) concept which was at that time the best options for multihulls, minimizing the ship’s volume near the surface area of the sea, where wave energy is located, thus maximizing the vessel’s stability, even in high seas and at high speeds. Two new masts, one 148 feet and another 138 feet high, made by Formula Yacht Spars in Lymington, England, gave the boat her new sailing soul and transformed her into a mega-schooner-trimaran. With hydraulically operated genoa, fishman, staysail and mainsail, she now has 2,200 sq m of sail area, capable of 8 knots under sail and up to 15 knots when motor-sailing. The main engines are two 1360 HP / 530 Kilowatts MAN, and two John Deer engines with 90kw each one as generators. One of her advantages is that the new hull is built on top of the old one creating an air cushion and thus making her virtually unsinkable.

The Engine Room- Pilar Rossi

The Engine Room- Pilar Rossi

We walked around the pier at the marina admiring Pilar Rossi for some time and there we meet Tomaz A. Christovao, one of the boat’s crew members. A tall young guy from Brazil born in Ila Bella, Tomaz is a licensed yacht master with extensive sailing experience and a great passion for the sea. He invited us for a tour aboard Pilar Rossi and revealed some of her many secrets to us.

Pilar Rosi Crew

Part of Pilar Rosi’s Crew

Inside, the boat looked even bigger, especially compared to our 38-foot Leopard catamaran Fata Morgana. We walked around the teak decks. Everything seemed enormous: the winches, the cleats, the blocks, the shrouds. Looking up at the massive masts gave us vertigo.

Aboard Pilar Rossi

Aboard Pilar Rossi

Besides the private cabins which can accommodate up to 18 guests and the luxurious saloon, the boat is equipped with a helicopter landing pad, a cinema room, an outdoors Jacuzzi and an enormous gym occupying a big portion of the lower deck. One racing boat (Cigarrete) 39ft as tender, bigger than our catamaran, and another one contender 34ft were stationed on both sides of the main deck.

Main Saloon- Pilar Rossi

Main Saloon- Pilar Rossi

Even though Mr. Piquet spends aboard only a few weeks per year with family and friends, Pilar Rossi is home of 7 permanent crew members who maintain the boat and all of her systems at dock in Grenada and when at sea. Mechanics, electricians, welders, carpenters, fiberglass-workers and sailors, they are all from Brazil: Tomaz A. Christovao, Francisco Soares, Marcos Dutra, Adao Pereira, Genivaldo Silva, Franciele Bastos “The Warrior”, chef Maria do Carmo, and Captain Ricardo de Fretas .

Control room

Control room

One of them, Marcus Dutra, is the chief mechanic aboard Pilar Rossi since 14 years. He showed us the engine rooms deep inside the belly of the boat, a dark labyrinth populated by huge pipes, cables and instruments, some very old and surely impossible to operate or fix by anyone else but Marcus. He explains how the systems have been adapted to fit the new design, and what things have been added after the boat has been remodeled so drastically.

The Gym o the lower deck - Pilar Rossi

The Gym o the lower deck – Pilar Rossi

– But why did Mr. Piquet do this? Why did he have to go through all the trouble of adding and changing things on the boat, instead of selling the old one and getting a new one? –I ask the captain Ricardo de Fretas, a member of the Rio de Janeiro Sailing Club, a club with 4 Olympic regattas medals.

– Because he loves the boat. And he is a loyal guy. Maybe he even made a promise to her, and he is the kind of man who keeps his promises. But also, he wanted to create the perfect boat for him and his family and friends to enjoy. The boat is his creation. He is always focused on even the smallest of details. It is incredible how much he cares for Pilar Rossi. Sometimes he calls me from the other side of the world and wants to know if a specific battery in one of the bathrooms works. When Mr. Piquet is aboard Pilar Rossi, he spends much of his time sitting on the large main deck table thinking what will be the next improvement, the next project.

Captain Ricardo de Fretas aboard Pilar Rossi

Captain Ricardo de Fretas aboard Pilar Rossi

 

Yes, it is a love story between a race car driver and a boat.

 

*This article was only possible with the help and information provided by Tomaz A. Christovao, licensed yacht master and crew aboard Pilar Rossi. Thank you!

 

Disclaimer: All yacht specifications and information are displayed in good faith and CaribbeanCompass does not warrant or assume any legal liability or responsibility for the current accuracy, completeness, validity, or usefulness of the superyacht Pilar Rossi information and/or images displayed. All boat information is subject to change without prior notice and may not be current.

 

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Welcome to Aruba

“Hello and welcome to our One Happy Island! I have been following your adventure and always wondered if you were to venture to Aruba, and here you are! Love to meet you in person and hear all about your travels. “

This was the most unexpected and wonderful message we received just a couple of days after we landed in Aruba, and it led to some awesome adventures and a great friendship.

North Coast, Aruba

North Coast, Aruba

The first place this guys (a family from Europe who now live in Aruba) took us was Taste of Belgium, a restaurant located in the Palm Beach Plaza Mall. Great style, food and service.

Maya at Taste of Belgium Restaurant, Aruba

Maya at Taste of Belgium Restaurant, Aruba

After coffee and hot apple pie with vanilla ice cream, we piled up in their jeep and went to check out couple of Aruba’s most popular tourist attractions: California Lighthouse and Alto Vista Chapel.

Aruba

Aruba

After a short drive on a narrow road surrounded by sand dunes and spiky Divi Divi trees all twisted and bent from the tradewinds, stretching branches to the southwest, we got to the northwest tip of Aruba where the island’s most famous landmark rises.

Lighthouse California, Aruba

Lighthouse California, Aruba

California Lighthouse is a 30-meter lighthouse built in 1916 near Arashi Beach. It was named after the steamship California that wrecked near the shores in September 23, 1891.

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The Arashi Beach itself is a popular snorkeling destination away from the big hotels and crowds attracting locals and tourists with its rock formations and underwater life.

Divi Divi tree, Aruba

Divi Divi tree, Aruba

The Arashi Beach is a participant in the Aruba Reef Care Project to clean up reefs, shallow waters and public beaches. Arashi is Blue Flag certified, part of a program to promote green behavior and increase eco-awareness on the island.

Further down the winding dusty road with a string of crosses all along one side we got to a small chapel built on a hill overlooking the sea amidst a forest of cacti which cover most of this hot dry flat island. From this small hill we could see not only the Caribbean sea but the entire island stretching to the south.

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Alto Vista Chapel was built in 1750 by Domingo Silvestre, a Venezuelan missionary, and rebuilt in 1952. It is also known as “Pilgrims Church”. Here started the conversion of Aruban Indians to Christianity.

Alto Vista, Aruba

Alto Vista, Aruba

Behind the chapel we found an intricate labyrinth which didn’t seem very complicated but it took us a long time to get to its center without cheating… A long time under the burning desert sun.

Labyrinth

Labyrinth

On the way back we made a few stops just to look at the sea and shores which on the north side of the island, the harsh, unprotected by the relentless tradewinds shores, looks wild and unforgiving. Swimming here is forbidden by law.

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We didn’t even think about swimming here, nor sailing… It’s one of those awesome places of power where nature just wants to be left alone. Respect.

The same afternoon our new friends picked us up from Palm Beach near where Fata Morgana was anchored (us and a huge bag with dirty laundry), and took us to their home for a “washing party”. While our clothed, towels and bed sheets were miraculously being washed and dried in a real big washing machine and drier, we shared stories, drinks and nice dinner- BBQ and the tastiest butter potatoes with mozzarella cheese, and crème brule for dessert. The kids played in the sun-heated swimming pool.

Not many land-based people truly understand the needs and daily problems of the cruising liveabord family (laundry and land transportation mostly). But these guys knew. They gave us a tour of Aruba, and insisted to help us do our washing and grocery shopping. Our gratitude cannot be expressed with words. The hospitality, generosity and kindness of these people whom we had just met the same morning are immense.

When we got home that day Maya couldn’t believe that all those things happened in just one day. She kept asking: “Did we really just meet them this morning?” It felt like we knew them for much longer time.

Maya Ivo and Mira in Aruba Мая Иво и Мира в Аруба

Maya Ivo and Mira in Aruba
Мая Иво и Мира в Аруба

Such was our unforgettable Friday in Aruba.

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Passage to Aruba

March 16th, Monday

After one last big shopping spree in Sam’s Club for boat provisions we sail to The Coffin Island (Caja de Muertos) 7 miles southeast of Ponce. Every weekend a boat unloads a mob of Puerto Rican weekenders with their beach umbrellas and beach creams to spend a few hours on the beach of this little island which is also a National Park. It is a small tourist attraction with a very interesting history. The legend has it, that a Portuguese pirate buried his beloved, along with half of his treasure, in a glass coffin on the island. Years later, the grave and the coffin were found, but to this day no one knows what happened to the treasure…

Caja de Muertos

Caja de Muertos

And among the sailors there is a superstition that if you want to have a safe passage, you better stop and visit the Coffin Island right after leaving Ponce. We do stop there for a night, but not entirely out of superstition. Rather, we want to start sailing early on the next day, before sunrise and without turning on the engines. In Ponce the wind dies at night because of the katabatic mountain effect until 8-9 a.m., when the sun’s heat cancels the effect, and even though this makes for an excellent night’s sleep, it is impossible to sail near the shores of Puerto Rico before 8 a.m.

March 17th, Tuesday

We set sail for Aruba around 6 a.m. It’s still dark. We have 380 nautical miles ahead, which is a big 3-day passage for us. In the Caribbean we have been sailing for just a few hours between the islands in the past year.

The weather forecast is perfect. East winds 15-20 knots, 1-2 meter waves every 5-6 seconds. We have been waiting for such mild tradewinds for a month now. But the weather forecast is not always exact and we don’t trust them 100%. Often the wind can be 5 knots more or less than predicted and there is always the danger of squalls. First a small innocent white cloud forms on the horizon. The cloud quickly grows tall, heavy and dark at the base. The wind dies for a minute or two- time to reef the sails. And then it starts squealing 30-40 knots, sometimes more, just for a few minutes. Such sudden squalls have ruined many boats.

Nothing extraordinary happens the first day of the passage. The wind is slower than predicted 8-12 knots. Fata Morgana is sailing calmly with 4-5 knots. We sleep, read, Maya plays the piano.

Maya and her piano

Maya and her piano

The dolphins find us again and stay to race with the boat for about two hours, which is unusually long. Usually, after a few minutes they get bored and leave to look for other boats to race. We always love to see them and we always talk to them and we admire their skillful fast movements through the water, how they swim, sometime on their backs, just for fun, how they exhale bubbles just before they come out for air, how they jump sometimes, how they enjoy the sea. We love them incredibly much and they know it.

Иво с делфини

Иво с делфини

Мая с делфини

Мая с делфини

March 18th, Wednesday

The night passes slowly, the wind remains calm, the sails are well adjusted and tight. We are 100 miles south of Puerto Rico and can still hear the US Coast Guard on the radio, and this is great comfort for us. We cross paths with a few big ships. Two of them even change course to avoid us. Celia, Harmen Oldendorff and tanker Lue Liang Wan on its way to Curacao.

No moon. Only billions of stars, so bright they illuminate tiny star-paths in all directions. Fata Morgana skims over the dark surface of the sea leaving a trail of white foam, like a veil, sprinkled with tiny photo luminescent glimmers- glowing jewels on lacework.

The morning arrives slowly. We are very tired and take turns on the helm, Ivo and I, every two hours. We keep sailing and everything is calm.

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In the morning Maya makes us omelets with feta cheese and reads another history lesson. There are no more ships around us, we are alone, 150 miles from the nearest land, in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. Ivo is not happy with the fact that we still don’t have a fish on the hook. He goes below for a nap.

Добро утро!

Добро утро!

Not long after, I see, just a few meters away from the boat, a marlin jumping out of the water vertically, and splash – a flamboyant splash, like a whale. White belly and dark sleek back, long body and a pointy nose, like a spade. I can’t believe it! He jumps again. Suddenly, the hiss of the fishing pole. Ivo appears eyes wide open, takes the rod and we see the marlin again. He shoots up vertically, falls and snaps the cord. He takes off with the lure. A beauty. Gone.

The wind picks up 14-18 knots and we speed up to 6-7 knots. The sea gets more agitated too. The waves are now bigger but still gentle, coming slowly behind us at an angle and we surf comfortably down with 8-9 knots. At noon we doze off in the cockpit. We see seagulls. Thousands of seagulls, flying low over the water, some perched on the waves, rocking. What are seagulls doing hundreds of miles away from land in the middle of the sea? Fishing! Beneath us, a school of hundreds of tunas are feeding on smaller fish and the seagulls are waiting for the abundant pickings. We are passing right in the middle of the commotion with one lure all tangled with seaweed, but the other clean and completely available for the grabs. We catch a striped tuna. They are also called watermelons, as they do look like watermelons, all round, with red juicy meat. Extremely tasty with garlic butter just a few seconds on the frying pan. Ivo is happy.

Иво с туна

Иво с туна

March 19th, Thursday

We are halfway there. The second night is as calm as the first, even more so with no ships around. Ivo decides to see how he would singlehandle the boat and orders me to go and sleep all night. He just lies in the cockpit and sleeps too, opening one eye every now and then to see if everything is normal. It is.

To imagine sailing at night you must imagine driving at night in complete darkness in a bumpy field, without headlights. Not any lights, no moon. Everything is black and you cannot see ahead. The only lights are the stars and the two screens- one is the GPS showing you on a map where the boat is and another indicating the wind speed and direction. The autopilot is keeping the course. You do nothing. Even if the tiny lights of a ship appear on the horizon (and you first see the ship on the GPS or the radar), it’s 2-3 hours at least before you get close to it.

The wind picks up in the morning 18 to 24 knots. The boat is going faster now 7-8 knots surfing with 9 down the waves. White caps form and it’s bumpier. But the distance to destination gets shorter a lot faster too.

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We catch a female dorado. She is a beautiful golden fish with an extravagant blue dorsal fin. Some fishermen will tell you that the dorados, also called mahi-mahis, get married and remain with their spouses for life, not like most people who divorce when they get fed up with each other. The couples love each other dearly, without questions, jalousies and complications. They swim together in oceans and seas, give birth to billions of babies, and die together at the end. When you catch one dorado, the other will desperately follow the boat without thinking, without a plan. It will just swim after the boat on which his beloved better half is, with a broken hearth and without hope till the end of the world.

Ivo gently unhooks Mrs. Dorado and puts some medical alcohol in her gills (anesthesia), and we watch her die. The shine in her gold skin fades away, she stops trembling and the terror in her eye freezes. Ivo puts the freed lure back in the water and carefully starts operating, like a skillful surgeon. First, he removes her guts, then he slices the filets on both sides of the middle bone, he peals the skin off, and he amputates the head.

Of course, after just a few minutes we hook Mr. Dorado, it’s inevitable. On the same lure. He comes out without a fight, he gives up, abandons himself, brokenhearted. The last thing he sees before he dies is the dismantled body of his wife. And Ivo leaning over him with a bottle of medical alcohol.

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We decide not to fish any more. One 15-pound tuna and a couple of dorados is enough food for a week. Like experienced shamans, satisfied, solemn and sad, we thank Neptune for the fish.

Sunset. It gets dark. We are approaching Aruba. In the night we first see a glow on the horizon, then the light from a lighthouse and then the many lights of buildings and cars and ships anchored. Hotels and restaurants, drunk people are singing somewhere on land. We drop anchor at midnight, after a 66-hour passage. Three sunrises, three sunsets, three fishes, not a single squall. Three people in a boat.

The next morning, March 20th, Friday, we go to the docks in Oranjestad, Aruba’s capital, where we clear in immigration and customs. It takes about 2 hours, mostly waiting for the officials to come to the boat and bring the paperwork, which we have to fill in and return, without ever leaving the boat. Passports are stamped, documents and exchanged, no one boards Fata Morgana, and the entire procedure is completely free and done on the pier. No fees whatsoever. What a pleasant surprise!

Фата Моргана на док в Аруба

Фата Моргана на док в Аруба

Welcome to Aruba!

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Puerto Rico Thank You and Good Bye

Puerto Rico was good to us.

Here we met again many of our old cruising friends and we also made many new friends.

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The girls from S/V Salty Kisses

One of our best moments was visiting Guavate’s lechoneras and spending an afternoon with Greg and Michel from S/V Semper Fi eating roasted pig Puerto Rico style and dancing with the locals.

 Michele and Mira dancing

Michele and Mira dancing

In Fajardo, the most wonderful thing happened: we got a new kayak we named Junior, thanks to our great new sponsors KaykShop.bg. We tried the kayak right away on a short expedition up Fajardo river. It was a smooth ride and we were very pleased with Junior.

Up Fajardo River

 

Our favorite place on the island remains old San Juan with its massive forts and colonial buildings, narrow streets and blue cobblestones.

Сан Хуан

Fort in Old San Juan

The most unexpected non-touristy site we visited this time around was the Monkey Island, where we met the resident Macaque monkeys used for scientific research.

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We are leaving Puerto Rico with a feeling of deep gratitude to this beautiful tropical island, which was home to us for the past 6 weeks, and its people, who treated us like friends and made us feel welcome every minute of our stay.

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We felt safe sailing in the waters around the island knowing that the US Coast Guard is just a call away on channel 16. They deployed an airplane and a helicopter investigating a mayday call we overheard on the radio, which to us sounded like a prank, and they took the positions of all boats in the area, who have heard the call, ours included, in order to establish a search perimeter, but a boat in distress was never found. Way to go guys, thank you for watching over us!

The customs’ officials in Fajardo and Ponce were pleasant and smiling when we cleared-in presenting our one-year cruising permit. As Canadian cruisers, we don’t need a visa to visit any US territory, only a cruising permit good for an entire year with multiple entries, which costs 19 US$. No other fees are charged entering or leaving Puerto Rico.

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We are grateful to the Fajardo’s Post Office manager who let us use the phone and the branch address for free, so we were able to order and receive mail, as well as to the supervisor in Post Office Ponce branch, who assisted us as well when we had an issue with a package held by the US customs in New York for over 3 weeks.

We are grateful to the Fajardo ferry operator who gave us a free lift right to our boat with one of the little shuttles that go between Isleta Marina and the main pier, when we accidently locked our kayak to the fishing docks, forgetting the key for the padlock aboard Fata Morgana…And to the guys who gave us and our huge pile of provisions a free lift with their motorboat in Ponce.

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We are grateful to Marina Puerto del Ray for immediately hauling Fata Morgana out and accommodating us at a discount price in their boatyard, after we had an emergency issue which could turn ugly if we weren’t near a haul-out facility (Ivo popped out the through-hull fitting for the starboard head while at anchor in 20 feet of water, and we almost sunk the boat).

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We are grateful to all those women and men, about a dozen, who gave us free lifts when we were walking and hitchhiking in Fajardo and in Ponce to the stores and shopping places, which unfortunately in both cases are miles away from the anchorages, and public transportation is unavailable. They would go out of their way and bring us to wherever we were going for no charge at all.

We are grateful to the free outdoors gym near La Guancha, just next to our anchorage in Ponce, where Maya loved to go now and then and do some exercises in the company of a few noisy green parrots building their nests in the palm trees in the park.

Мая в парка

Maya in the park

We are grateful to the pizza-woman in Sam’s Club, who always took our order with a smile teaching Ivo new Spanish words, and, it appears to us, she would put extra cheese on our pizzas, every time (we would share an extra-large 10-dollar cheese pizza in Sam’s Club every time we went there, about 10 times).

We are grateful to the waters of the sea around Puerto Rico for being so generous with us and sharing a few of their tastiest fishes.

Ivo the fisherman Иво е голям рибач...

Ivo the fisherman
Иво е голям рибач…

We are now all stocked up on the cheapest possible provisions from Sam’s Club, ready to continue our journey to the next unforgettable destinations: Aruba, Colombia, Panama, and beyond

провизии

провизии

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