Welcome to Our Home! Добре дошли у дома!

For the first time since our journey began we have been invited to visit friends who found us thanks to the blog and we did it!

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За първи път откак тръгнахме на това пътешествие бяхме поканени да посетим хора, които ни откриха благодарение на блога ни и ние ги посетихме!

Nettle Bay residential complex, Marigot Lagoon, St Martin

Nettle Bay residential complex, Marigot Lagoon, St Martin

We arrived in St Martin, the French part of the island, and we dropped anchor in the lagoon in front of a charming residential complex. Small beach with palm trees, white houses and a swimming pool.

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Пристигнахме във френската част на Ст Мартен и пуснахме котва в лагуната пред една очарователна резиденция- малко плажче с палми, бели къщички и басейн.

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In one of the houses live our new friends- Maria form Sofia, Bulgaria, her man Gennaro from Italy and their three kids.

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В една от белите къщички живеят Мария от София, България, мъжът и Дженаро от Италия и трите им деца.

View from their balcony. Fata Morgana is anchored just a few meters away from the beach.

View from their balcony. Fata Morgana is anchored just a few meters away from the beach.

Philip, 6, Robert, 5 and Michelle, 3 are the cutest kids ever, and already speak 4 languages: Bulgarian, Italian, English and French! Maya loves playing with them in their house.

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Филип на 6г., Робърт на 5г. и Мишел на 3г. са най-сладките деца на света, които вече говорят на 4 езика- български, италиански, английски и френски! Мая много се забавлява с тях в къщата им.

Philip, Michelle and Maya playing

Philip, Michelle and Maya playing

Maya, Michelle, Robert and Philip

Maya, Michelle, Robert and Philip

 

And they love to visit our boat.

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И те много обичат да ни идват на гости на лодката.

Philip and Michelle aboard Fata Morgana

Philip and Michelle aboard Fata Morgana

Visiting Fata Morgana

Visiting Fata Morgana

Transportation from our home to their home.

Transportation from our home to their home.

 

We are cooking together and sharing meals in their home and aboard Fata Morgana;

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Заедно си готвим и хапваме у тях или на борда на Фата Моргана;

Michelle

Michelle making pizza for us

Diner time aboard Fata Morgana

Dinner time aboard Fata Morgana

 

We do Yoga in the morning (Maria is a Yoga instructor in the local school);

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Сутрин праим йога (Мария е инструктор по йога в местното училище);

Yoga in the morning

Yoga in the morning

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We visit the island with their car;

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Разхождаме се из острова с тяхната кола;

At the beach at Grande Anse

At the beach at Grand Case

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Maya and Robert at the beach, Grand Case

Maya and Robert at the beach, Grand Case

Ivo and Gennaro are fixing stuff (Gennaro found a fishing boat that has sunk in the lagoon who knows how long ago, pulled it out and fixed it up)…

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Иво и Дженаро ремонтират неща (Дженаро намерил една рибарска лодка потънала в лагуната кой знае кога, извадил я от водата и я ремонтирал)…

Ivo and Gennaro cutting holes in the boat...

Ivo and Gennaro cutting holes in the boat…

ivo and Gennaro

ivo and Gennaro

These guys have opened their home to us, and invited us to use their internet, their shower and washing machine, their car, the swimming pool…

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Това семейство отвори вратите нa дома си за нас, все едно сме стари приятели или роднини, поканиха ни да ползваме интернета им, банята и пералнята им, колата им, басейна…

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We are having the best time, thank you guys for inviting us and for sharing these precious moments with us!

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Изкарваме си разкошно! Благодарим ви, невероятно семейство, за поканата, за щедростта и за прекрасните споделени моменти!

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Children’s Christmas Party / Детско Коледно Парти

Sheryl, the owner and manager of the Fig Tree bar&restaurant is also the organizer of the Children’s Reading Club in Bequia, St Vincent& The Grenadines running the program with volunteers,, most often from the cruising community, who come to help local kids to learn how to read and enjoy books every Saturday since 2009. To celebrate Christmas this year, Sheryl invited all the kids form the Reading Club and all the cruising kids to get together at the Fig Tree for a little party. A local artist and writer read a story to the kids and gave them presents. There were free popcorn, pizza, juice and cake for the little ones. A cruising couple from Scotland brought their musical instruments and we listened to the most surreal sound ever heard on the island- Scottish bagpipes, the slow hum of the waves in the background. The entire anchorage rang with Christmas music.

Thank you all who made this possible, for the generosity and love you gave to the kids!♥

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Шерил, собственичката на ресторант Fig Tree в Бекия е също така организаторката на детския клуб за четене. Всяка събота в ресторанта се събират деца и доброволци, предимно крузъри, които помагат на местните деца да се учат да четат. Тази година Шерил организира малко детско парти в ресторанта по случай Коледа. Всички местни и мореплаващи малчуганиа бяха поканени. Една жена-писателка прочете книжка на децата и им раздаде подаръци. Имаше безплатни пуканки, пица, сок и торта за малките. Двойка крузъри от Шотландия си докараха музикалните инструменти и най-сюрреалистичният звук, нечуван досега на острова, се разнесе из целият залив- писъкът на шотландски гайди.

Благодарни сме на всички, които организираха това мероприятие за щедростта и любовта дарени на децата!♥

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Мая и Джулия

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Thank you Sheryl!

Thank you Sheryl!

 

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The Things I Like and Don’t Like About Cruising

– by Maya, 11

*This article written by Maya was published and first appeared in the December issue of 2014 Caribbean Compass p.33

Maya with a grooper

Maya with a grooper

 

My School is NOT a Building

Hello people! It’s Maya here. Today I will be writing about things I like and things I don’t like in this Nomadik boat-life.

My mom asked me if I’d rather live on the boat or in the house back in Canada. That was probably the hardest question, harder than god-forsaken math! I think I like the boat better. In the house I was always scared of the dark and I still am and I always will be. I’m willing to hold my bladder till the morning instead of going to the bathroom at night. And also I was scared because I was young and I believed in monsters. My room was the biggest in the house not to mention it was pretty empty. I’m pretty much the opposite of claustrophobic. Here in the boat my room is small proportional and cozy. The house was ok though. We had a huge TV, a leather couch, a big kitchen, and all that cool stuff. But it was boring when my brother wouldn’t let me in his room, my parents watching movies that are not for kids, and I had nothing to do. So yeah, I defiantly pick the boat. We travel, meet new people, we go sailing and see remarkable islands. It’s really great.

But let me start with one thing I don’t like about cruising. The worst part of sailing is that every single thing gets salty wet. And we have to wash it by hand! I wash my clothes or bedcovers and the next day we go sailing. And a huge wave splashes on top of everything which really really sucks. Then comes the worst part: washing again! I have to fill up a bucket with water, and then I put all the bedcovers in it with detergent. Then I mix and scrub and I leave them to soak for about half an hour, and again scrub scrub scrub, then squeeze the water out, then rinse twice with fresh water, then put them to dry on the safety bars on the sides of the boat. So now you know how I wash my stuff by hand. But you guys on land have your washing machines, right? To be honest, your way is a pretty lazy way of doing it.

The really cool thing I like about saltwater is saltwater itself. I have become a professional free-diver and if you don’t believe me, your loss. I dive like 7-8 meters deep. Pretty much as much as my dad but I’m sure I will learn to go deeper. I can hold my breath for 32 seconds. We did a test at the beach in Martinique. But I’ll learn to hold it even longer. I have never been so proud and happy for myself. Just a couple of months ago I was terrified by deep water and the creepy animals lurking inside the vast ocean: sharks, barracudas, remoras, and stuff like that. But now, when I dive deep to the ocean bottom, I feel flawless, fearless, and careless of what’s around me. I feel like I’m the scary great white shark chilling on the ocean bottom. It’s a feeling not everyone can feel, it’s as though I can breathe underwater. I am blessed to have this superhuman power that King Neptune has granted me.
But the best thing I like about cruising is friends. Back in Canada, I had only a few friends that you can count on your ten fingers, at school and in my neighborhood combined. But since we are on the boat its genius, so many new friends: old, young, everyone is awesome! I love going to the beach and other places to meet new local kids and also other boat-kids like me. It saves me from going crazy on the boat. Meeting new friends is easy. I usually ask them: Hi, do you want to hang out? Or Hi, want to be friends? And it almost always works! Worst case scenario- they, don’t want to hang out with me.

But so far, since Guatemala, I really miss my best friend Noial from s/v Friendship. I do really miss her a lot. The day we met at the pool, she came for a sleepover, just a couple of hours later. I miss playing with her, I miss swimming, drawing, sleepovers, chatting , climbing mountains, exploring canyons, jumping from waterfalls, making our own braking news videos I still keep on my phone, and also when we recorded ourselves dancing in the cockpit when Vik was dj-ing his music. I still have that on my phone but it’s embarrassing so I won’t show it to anyone. She helped me at school in Guatemala, because I didn’t speak Spanish in the beginning, and we went together to this local school with the local kids for a few months. Also, Noial thought me how to dive from the steps of our catamaran. We used to jump in the water after school with our clothes on. I feel like crying while I am writing these happy memories… Noial and me, we were born almost at the same time. We celebrated our double 10th birthday together. That was the day I saw her for the last time. We hugged, wished each other happy birthday, said see ya tomorrow, and never saw each other the next day, or ever since. We had good wind and we sailed away… I always wonder what she does right about now. We did argue more then we should have which I totally regret doing, but like they say: you only realize what you had after you’ve lost it.
Of course, leaving is one thing I don’t like about cruising. Every time we meet cool people and make new friends, we have to leave, or they have to leave, and who knows when we will meet again…

Maya and Noial in traditional costumes in Guatemala

Maya and Noial in traditional costumes in Guatemala

Another thing I like is hiking up mountains and volcanoes. I have a list of all the best climbing we’ve been doing: we climbed Mount Scenery in Saba, Morn Diablotin and the Boiling Lake in Dominica, la Grande Soufriere in Guadeloupe, Mont Pelé in Martinique, and not to mention the great one and only Pico Duarte in Dominican Republic, the tallest mountain in all of the Caribbean! It took us two days to reach the summit and we had a guide and two mules: Margarita and Pintero. It was Awesome! We also visited all types of waterfalls and natural pools.

Green became my favorite color. Not the money-green, but the vegetation-green of the Caribbean. All the beautiful plant, trees, fruit, vegetable, and insect-green. The Caribbean is a great place, I will never ever forget it, and it’s just wonderful! Not that I am bragging but all I’m saying is that I’m proud with all the climbing I did. I lost a lot of fat and my legs became the legs of Hercules because of walking, climbing, and free-diving. I’m fit now.

Everyone we meet asks me “What about school?” It’s really getting on my nerves. I do actually go to school. And I also have something to teach you today: MY SCHOOL IS NOT A BUILDING, it is the world!

I have this huge book on the boat fully illustrated and alphabetic and it’s called: The Random House Children’s Encyclopedia. I learned a lot from it, and when I opened it on “K” and read about knowledge it said: „If learning took place only at school no one would ever graduate.“ It also said that the three steps of learning are: 1. Traveling, 2. Reading, and 3. Growing up. I’m doing all three steps at the same time!

There is your answer to your really annoying question.

Maya at school

Maya at school

Did I like school back in Canada? Not so much. But school on the boat is pretty great. I bet I learn more traveling and talking to people in one day then any school kid does in a classroom for one week!

Anyway, I wanted to write this because it’s all facts and I think I will end it here. Thank you for taking your time and reading!

 

*Read another article by Maya, about her experience in Montserrat, here.

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Back Home

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

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

 

The Good Old Ways of Home

-by Viktor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Farewell Vik!

 

 

That day Viktor caught 10 flounders

The day Viktor caught 10 flounders

Evo and Viktor

Evo and Viktor

 

Viktor and Dylan

Viktor and Dylan

Dylan and Viktor

Dylan and Viktor

Viktor and Evo taking a rain-shower

Viktor and Evo taking a rain-shower

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Viktro with a puffer fish

Viktro with a puffer fish

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Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas

Viktor "pushing" Maya off the roof of the fort

Viktor „pushing“ Maya off the roof of the fort

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

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

Ivo, Viktor and Maya, The human pyramid

Evo, Viktor and Maya, The human pyramid

Viktor on the helm, Maya keeping him company.

Viktor on the helm, Maya keeping him company.

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

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

Viktor, Agua Caliente, Guatemala

Viktor, Agua Caliente, Guatemala

Viktor Jumping from Agua Caliente waterfall, Guatemala

Viktor Jumping from Agua Caliente waterfall, Guatemala

Walking in a canyon, Guatemala

Walking in a canyon, Guatemala

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The epic ride downriver in a cayuco.

The epic ride downriver in a cayuco.

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Best swimming pool, Bahamas

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The swimming pigs, Bahamas

The swimming pigs, Bahamas

Viktor and Mira with iguanas.

Viktor and Mira with iguanas, Bahamas

Viktor in Thunderbolt Grotto, Bahamas

Viktor in Thunderbolt Grotto, Bahamas

Viktor

Viktor

Vick and Maya building a small fire.

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

Maya and Viktor (Ivo behind them) with burgers.

Maya and Viktor (Ivo behind them) with burgers.

Viktor and Nick

Viktor and Nick

Viktor, Maya, Mira

Viktor, Maya, Mira

Viktor, Maya, Nick

Viktor, Maya, Nick

Vick and Nick

Vick and Nick

Vick and Nick

Vick and Nick

Up on the mountain El Mogote

Up on the mountain El Mogote

Damajaqua Cascadas

Damajaqua Cascadas, Dominican Republic

Viktor on the way to Pico Duarte, Dominican Republic

Viktor on the way to Pico Duarte, Dominican Republic

Viktor with the mules. Hiking to Pico Duarte, DR

Viktor with the mules. Hiking to Pico Duarte, DR

Viktor and Evo

Viktor and Evo

Viktor and Maya at the summit. Pico Duarte

Viktor and Maya at the summit. Pico Duarte

Damajaqua Cascades, DR

Damajaqua Cascades, DR

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Viktor

Viktor

The Nomadiks & Friends at Caja de Muerto, Puerto Rico

The Nomadiks & Friends at Caja de Muerto, Puerto Rico

Maya and Viktor, The Baths, Virgin Gorda, BVI

Maya and Viktor, The Baths, Virgin Gorda, BVI

Viktor, The Baths, Virgin Gorda

Viktor, The Baths, Virgin Gorda

Viktor, The Baths, Virgin Gorda

Viktor, The Baths, Virgin Gorda

Viktor

Viktor

Viktor hovering above baby fishes

Viktor hovering above baby fishes

 

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Happy One Year of Sailing To Us

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

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

 

Our Sailing Journey is One Year Old Today

 

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

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

 

Florida

Fort Jefferson, Florida

Fort Jefferson, Florida

Cuba

Cuban girls

Cuban girls

Mexico

Tourists at Tulum

Tourists at Tulum

Guatemala

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The Bahamas

Maya and Mira

Maya and Mira

Dominican Republic

Comparticion, last basecamp before Pico Duarte

Comparticion, last basecamp before Pico Duarte

Puerto Rico

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U.S. Virgin Islands

Water Island, Honeymoon Beach anchorage

Water Island, Honeymoon Beach anchorage

British Virgin Islands

The Baths, BVI

The Baths, BVI

Saba

Saba. View form Scout's Place bar and restaurant

Saba. View form Scout’s Place bar and restaurant

Sint Maarten

Evo's bottle, St Maarten

Evo’s bottle, Sint Maarten

Saint-Martin

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

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

St Barth

Anse de Flamand

Anse de Flamand

St Kitts&Navis

Verevet Monkey, St Kitts

Verevet Monkey, St Kitts

Our Journey

We met remarkable people and made many new friends.

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

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

We swam with dolphins

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And we swam with pigs

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We walked across spectacular forests and river canyons.

Maya walking through the jungle, Guatemala

Maya walking through the jungle, Guatemala

We jumped from waterfalls

Viktor Jumping from Agua Caliente waterfall, Guatemala

Viktor Jumping from Agua Caliente waterfall, Guatemala

We entered caves

Daeli and Ivo lightpainting in a cave, Guatemala

Daeli and Ivo lightpainting in a cave, Guatemala

We discovered new flavors and fragrances.

Mira, trying cashew fruit for a first time

Mira, trying cashew fruit for a first time. Saba

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

Underwater sculpture of grand piano and mermaid, Bahamas

Underwater sculpture of grand piano and mermaid, Bahamas

We learned to surf

Maya

Maya

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

Near Finca Jocoro, Guatemala

Near Finca Jocoro, Guatemala

We met a whale

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And a sea turtle

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

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

We met howler monkeys

Black Howler Monkey

Black Howler Monkey

We saw flamingos

DSC_1797

 

We caught a lot of tasty fish

Mira and her Birthday Gifts

Mira and her Birthday Gifts

We lived the dream.

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

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

Mira "sailing" the kayak with an umbrella

Mira „sailing“ the kayak with an umbrella

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

Viktor and Ivo installing solar panels.

Viktor and Ivo installing solar panels.

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

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

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

 

Thank You!

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

Friends Key West, Florida

Friends
Key West, Florida

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Angie and Marty, thank you for your hospitality!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Kate and Rob, nice bumping into you, twice!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

What’s Next?

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

 

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

Viktor, Maya, Mira

Viktor, Maya, Mira

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Secrets of the Mountains

This is the extended version with previously unpublished images of the story about our October 2013 expedition to a Mayan burial ground: a cave full of ancient human remains in the mountains of Sierra de las Minas in Guatemala. It also includes the story of the Q’eqchi community Caxlampom Pataxte where a foreign palm-oil corporation presently exploits the land and pollutes the environment, with transcribed and translated testimonies given by two members of the indigenous community.

 

 

Smoke over the village in the morning

Smoke over the village in the morning

 

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

-Rigoberta Menchu Tum

 

 

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

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

We are walking fast on a dirt road through a vast plantation of palm trees, the guy and me, past a palm-oil processing plant, across a wide shallow river, and into the shadow of a jungle-covered mountain. Ivo, Joni, and two other local guys are walking ahead of us.

 

Ivo, Joni, and two of the guides walking across a palm plantation.

Ivo, Joni, and two of the guides walking across a palm plantation.

One of the guys is propping a little radio on his shoulder, his ear stuck to it, and is listening to the news the entire time.  

“Something happened in Syria again” he announces.

He is small and very serious, with a melancholic expression. His Spanish is good and most of the time he is the one speaking with us. One of the other two guys is his brother; I like him a lot. He is slightly chubby and has the most sincere beautiful smile every time someone is talking to him. Makes him look happy. The third guy doesn’t speak Spanish and doesn’t smile. He is like a ghost. Walks way in front of the group; appears from nowhere, and then disappears again. Sometimes they use signals to communicate between each other from far away.

We have met them this morning. We don’t know their names. We don’t know if they are good guys or bad guys. All we know is that they are young indigenous Q’eqchi men who had nothing to do this particular day and agreed to take us to a cave in the mountain above their village. They are wearing jeans, t-shirts and black rubber boots, carrying small backpacks and machetes.

 

Mira with the guides before the hike.

Mira with the guides before the hike.

The machetes are worrying me a bit. Are they for our protection or what? Protection against whom? And what was this question about death? We are heading to a cave hidden in the jungle with three unknown men armed with machetes who like to talk about death and the war in Syria. Great.

The whole thing happened spontaneously. We were sailing along the remote edge of Lake Izabal, Guatemala’s biggest lake, near the valley of river Polochic. The area is largely uninhabited. It is one of the world’s most bio diverse regions where manatees and crocodiles chill in the waters of the delta, giant anteaters, sloths, and jaguars roam the forested land, and howler monkeys, like sad demons, announce from the tops of the trees the end of each day, the most ominous heartbreaking roars. The few villages scattered on the shores of the lake are tiny Mayan Q’eqchi communities whose inhabitants live pretty much the same way as their ancestors hundreds of years ago: fishing, working their milpas harvesting beans and corn, raising chickens and pigs.

 

Q'eqchi people gathered on the shores of Lake Izabal, Guatemala.

Q’eqchi people gathered on the shores of Lake Izabal, Guatemala.

It was getting late; we had to find a place to anchor overnight. We approached the shore where a big column of grey smoke was coming out of the forest: a village, we thought, and that’s where we stopped. From the two boats we saw a few traditional Mayan homes on the banks of the lake. Tiny, made of thin logs and roofs of dry palm leaves. Behind them, like the back of a sleeping iguana, rose the heavy humid mountains of Sierra de las Minas: white limestone covered with thick intensely green jungle.

 

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As we drew closer we realized that the grey smoke was not coming from any of the houses; it was very dense and did not smell of firewood or tortillas. There was something else, something hidden between the village and the mountain, exhaling thick mysterious clouds into the afternoon sky. The night fell.

 

Before dark

Before dark

In the morning the entire village gathered on the shore to greet our kayak. Cacxlampon Pataxte is a small community of about thirty-forty indigenous Q’eqchi families; the majority are children. Tourists don’t stop here often, and so our visit is a huge event.

 

Caxlampom Pataxte greeting us

Caxlampom Pataxte greeting us

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

 „Yes, there is a cave not too far; we can take you there if you like“, says the guy with the melancholic expression.

Thus began our journey.

 

In the village

In the village

Once we enter the jungle and start climbing the mountain there is no road anymore. Our progress upwards is slow and difficult. Our improvised guides use their machetes to cut a path through tangled vegetation, dig holes in the slopes making steps for us, and remove thorns from spiky trees so we can hold on to them. The terrain is extremely harsh, at places seems impossible to pass. We go over crevices stepping on fallen trees and slippery rocks; we zigzag where the mountain is too steep. Here, one mistake, one wrong step could be fatal.

 

Ivo

Ivo

We stop to rest a few times even though the Q’eqchi guys are not tired at all. They tell us they are used to this kind of hikes in the mountains. They have been doing it since kids, since they can remember. They would walk for hours, sometimes days to gather firewood and logs for the construction of their houses and cayucos, and to get from one place to another. “We don’t have other roads but the rivers and mountains. And we don’t have electricity in the village. We depend on the forest. Without wood we cannot make fire, we cannot make tortillas and roast fish; without the forest our children will not eat.”

 

A traditional Mayan house

A traditional Mayan house

We didn’t bring any food and it is already lunchtime. One of the guys pulls out a big bottle of atol from his backpack and passes it around. I love atol: a thick drink prepared with cornflower and water, but this one is without sugar. Still, it is the best thing to bring on a hike: it’s like liquid bread: food and water mixed in a bottle. I take a big gulp. The guy with the nice smile cuts a few small round balls from a thin spiky tree and opens their hard shells with his machete. “We call it Monok, he explains, because the little spikes on the shell make it look a bit like the fur of the howler monkey, como los monos: monok”. The little white nut inside tastes like hazelnut but is softer. Two-three of those contain as much protein as a full meal, and they are everywhere in the forest. You just have to know. When you know, it is easy to reach and take what the forest is so generously offering. But the forest has many secrets.

Monok

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As we are enjoying our forest snack, I look around. In our feet lies the vast river valley, and beyond: the lake, sparkling, delicious, immense liquid mirror in which the mountain contemplates itself. Behind us, grey rocks like towers without roofs, and in their skin: tiny fossils of ocean creatures, pale empty skeletons, ancient remains of underwater creatures, witness of another time.

 

Taking a rest from a steep trek.

Taking a rest from a steep trek.

We are at the bottom of the jungle, on top of the mountain, surrounded by insane vegetation, abundant, pulsating with juices and life, like a still image of some mad extravagant festival: The Secret Life of the Forest. Thin palms with dark spiky skins dance behind luxurious fans of oversized ferns. Giant elders with yellow barks smooth like paper walk heavily, as very important kings do, up and down the mountain, their majestic wigs made of leaves, birds, clouds, and mysteries. Lianas like garlands fall from the forest roof twisting around, stretching and swinging in the shadows of the roaring mountain.

The names of these plants and trees, like poetry, testify to the transience of cultures known to these forests: Poc-xum, Saqi Lokab, Q’eqi Lokab, Lindernia Rotundifolia, Hyptis Recurvate, Russelia Longifolia, Zygadenus Elegans, Quequescamote de Culebra, Plumilla de Gallina, Santa Maria, San Pedro…

 

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

 

A channel carrying thick dark waste waters across the palm plantation to the lake.

A channel carrying thick dark waste waters across the palm plantation to the lake.

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

 

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Their story is not an exceptional one. It resembles all the other similar stories which take place in a third-world country, where the poorest indigenous people live in a most remote, beautiful, bio diverse setting. Rivers, mountains, forests, and lakes. Endemic wild animals. Abundant evergreen vegetation. Explosion of life. In the rivers: fish. Under the lakes: oil. In the forests: jaguars. Under the mountains: nickel, aluminum, copper, and gold. Vast fertile valleys. A foreign corporation shows up with promises of “progress and development”.

But there is one obstacle for the corporation: the local people. A few people. Small indigenous communities. Small obstacle. The mine/plant/company moves in. Animals/people/communities move out. Or rather, are being moved out/displaced/killed, their habitat destroyed, their homes burned down. Economic interests equal exploitation, corruption, destruction. The story continues with evictions, massacres, pollution, devastation.

The End.

 

Waste waters from the processing plant

Waste waters from the processing plant

Actually, it’s not The End because the story goes on, but that is how it ends for a lot of people and ecosystems throughout the world.

A child drinking water from the river.

A child drinking water from the river.

 

In reality, what happened is that they didn’t respect our indigenous rights.

In the beginning, when our grandfathers lived, our grandfathers lived in this part of the land. There, on the lakeshore are the lands we occupied for over two hundred years; the place known as Caxlampom Pataxte. This is the name. ‘Caxlam’ means ‘chicken’. ‘Pom’ is the thing we extract from the trees and we use it for ceremonies and cults.’Pataxte’ is the name of the river, just there next to the lake. For this, our community is called Caxlampom Pataxte.

People from the community.

People from the community.

 

But then what they’ve done is evict us. The palm-oil company came and the owner of the company told to our grandfathers:

“What a poor life you are living here on the shores of the lake! It is not good! Better, what I am going to do”, said the owner of the company, “I will move you up there, up in the mountains, so that you will live better.”

 

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The company took the lands and promised our fathers to give them work and progress. Thus, our fathers had to move and build their houses in a very small piece of land. But our fathers had ten children. And then the children had children of their own. Where to live? For this reason, taught our fathers, better if we take back our land, which has been ours. We belong to this land.

 

The only thing the company has done for the community is building a non-functioning clinic which is closed down and deserted.

The only thing the company has done for the community is building a non-functioning clinic which is closed down and deserted.

But the company now said the land is not ours, they called us invaders. ‘People who are stealing land’, this means the word ‘invaders’.

In our political constitution of Guatemala, in the article 122 is said that there is on the shore of lake Izabal a National Area of the State of 200 meters, all along the banks of the lake. No one can be owner of this piece of land. Only an ‘organized community’ can own these lands.

 

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Thus says the article 122. If the law in Guatemala is worth nothing, then let them say we are invaders. But if the law is to be respected in our country, let it be applied! I believe I am not superior to the law, nor are they. We have to respect the law. So, this is what I am asking. If the land is theirs, then what happened with the article 122? And they call us invaders. I pull out my ID. Look, my ID says I was born here; let me see yours. You are foreigners.  Señor Juan Melg is foreigner; I think he is from Germany. He came here a few years ago and is calling me and invader? How is it possible?

Now the rich and the foreigners have the best flat lands and our communities are pushed up in the mountains. Why? Because they know how to manipulate the law. There is a great corruption.

 

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NaturAceites was founded in 1985. In 1998, the company began production of palm and palm kernel oils, with the first planting of palm cultivation in the Polochic region. In 2002 started the cultivation, production, extraction, refining and marketing of edible oil, butter, and margarine based on palm fruit

NaturAceites currently operates in three agricultural areas located in Fray Bartolomé de las Casas in Alta Verapaz , El Estor in Izabal and San Luis in Peten , two extraction plants , one in Fray Bartolome de las Casas and the other in El Estor and a refining plant in Escuintla. In previous years local communities have been evicted, their houses and crops burnt, and people slaughtered as a result of locals protesting against the company taking over their lands.

 

Plantation of palms for palm oil.

Plantation of palms for palm oil.

In 2011 they kicked me out of work. I worked there for 18 months. My first job was on the irrigation pump. But it was very strong, the chemical waste coming out of the processing plant. In wintertime the pool overflows and the waste gets to the rivers and contaminates them. And the rivers contaminated the lake and the fish died. There is not much fish left in the lake.

 

Waste-water pool.

Waste-water pool. The stink is indescribable.

The company takes advantage of us, the indigenous people. Even though they pay us a bit of salary our work has more value. But they take advantage of us, as if we are basura (garbage). They put us to work in all the dirtiness and we become very affected because we have to breathe the contaminated air and it is very dangerous for us and also for our children; it is a risk we are taking. All this contaminated air… And the waste they are dumping under the palm trees attracts flies. Now we cannot eat in peace, there are so many flies everywhere, and the children get diseases. Sometimes children die and we don’t know from what class of a sickness. It’s from the contamination. The contamination of the environment is very strong.

 

Blue fly-catchers placed around the processing plant.

Blue fly-catchers placed around the processing plant.

Before it was not like this. Before all this shores of the lake were very beautiful, there were lots of birds, there were monkeys, but now they are no more.

 

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One day there was a visit, I think it was from the United Nations, to inspect the plant, but they only spoke English. Then the engineers told me, as I was the one in charge of all these ugly things, the irrigation pump and the pool that contaminates the rivers with all these chemicals, so what they told me was: ‘There will be a visit now, if they ask you if the pool overflows, you tell them that it never happened. Because if you tell them that the waste overflows in the rivers they will shut down the plant.’

 

Black waters flow to the rivers and lake.

Black waters flow to the rivers and lake.

When they came, they didn’t ask me anything. At the end, the inspectors left satisfied. The bosses gathered us in a room to congratulate us, to tell us that the visit was excellent: the inspectors didn’t see any cont

I was very happy when we finally started to organize with my friends and to recuperate our lands. We organized a group and started discussing things with our grad-parents. Our grand-parents told us that, yes, this land is ours, that the company cheated us. The company promised many things, but all we got is contamination. This is the reality.

 

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I am very happy now that you came here. When people from outside come they can see the reality and tell our story to the rest of the world, they can explain what is happening in our community, what is the company doing. The owners of the company think that we don’t know what is happening, that we cannot express ourselves and tell what we experience. But thanks God our fathers sent us to school and we learned a bit of Spanish. Now we can speak a little bit Spanish, not only Q’eqchi, so that the world understands us more. Now it is not like before. Now, we, the indigenous peoples, are organizing and uprising. 

 

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

The cave's entrance.

The cave’s entrance.

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

Human remains inside the cave and a cacao-fruit offering.

Human remains inside the cave and a cacao-fruit offering.

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

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 “We didn’t think you will make it all the way to the cave”, tell us our Q’eqchi guides, laughing, upon our return from the mountain that day, and invite us to a “celebration” the same evening. I imagine it will be some sort of a party with local food, music and alcohol, maybe even dancing.

As we return to the village at dusk, we are escorted to a house with wide-plank walls and a few separate compartments. There we meet the leader of the organization fighting to recuperate their lands. He shows us documentation and maps proving that according to the Guatemalan law the palm-oil company should not occupy the 200 meter stripe on the shores of the lake. He also says that this area of Sierra de las Minas is a protected national park and therefor industrial activity and environmental pollution should not be allowed, but they are.

Looking at documents in the dark.

Looking at documents in the dark.

A chart of the lake's shores.

A chart of the lake’s shores.

 

There is no electricity in the village even though the company has promised “progress” and, as the night falls, our hosts bring candles and flashlights. We are served tortillas and fried fish the women have just prepared for us over open-fire stoves. We eat in silence, in the flickering light of the candles, thinking how we can help. What can we possibly do for these people who see in us some sort of saviors?

A woman frying fish for us over the fire.

A woman frying fish for us over the fire.

There are many people in the house: young women working in the open kitchen with dirt floor and no running water, holding flashlights over black pans on the fire; shy kids giggling, sitting in the corners, watching us with respect and curiosity; men walking in and out: impossible to know who exactly lives here, and who is just passing by driven by curiosity to see the ‘foreign visitors’.  

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The furniture in the room consists of one massive rough wooden table, a few chairs, a plank bed and a few hammocks. All sorts of objects hang on the walls: family photos, green fishing nets, machetes, bags, clothes, instruments. To us all this seems impossibly miserable, yet it is one of the biggest and ‘richest’ houses in the village.

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After supper, we start for the church. One of our cave-guides now leads us across the broad cobbled streets of his village without electricity, illuminating our way with a small flashlight. The darkness of a village without electricity is intense. We hear dogs barking from the blackness of yards, we see tiny beams of blue light in the distance: other people with flashlights going somewhere, we choose our step carefully over stones, puddles, and animal dung.

The church

The church

The church, one of four in the small village, is nothing but a hut with wooden walls, palm-leaf roof and dirt floors where a generator allows for a single light bulb to illuminate the space inside. There are huge nails sticking on the inside of the walls on which bundles of sleeping babies are being hung. Three rows of long benches occupied by men, women , and children are placed on both sides of a narrow walk leading to the front stage where men take turns to sing and read passages from the bible in Q’eqchi and, just because of our presence tonight, in Spanish as well. The only musical instrument accompanying the singing is a turtle shell which a young kid rhythmically bangs away with a stick while the rest of the congregation claps hands. Many young men sit close to the electricity plugs where the generator is and charge their cell phones during the entire service. Not exactly the sort of ‘celebration’ we, atheists, have imagined. Yet, we are overwhelmed with joy and so happy to witness all this.

Inside the church.

Inside the church.

We are presented to the fifty-sixty people gathered for the celebration as the “guest-foreigners who will help us”, a related passage from the bible is read in our honor, and we are asked to say a few words. I thank them for the hospitality and the friendship, for the food they have shared with us and the trust they have placed upon us, and express my profound humility and joy to be among them. My words are being translated in Q’eqchi for the audience and everyone applauds.

More singing from the Bible follows, a baby receives a blessing in exchange for a bag in which something moves, maybe a chicken, and the celebration ends with a performance by kids who sing for us.

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The next day we return to the village to document some more of the palm-oil company secrets. Our new friends show up with a small motorbike with a flat tire and say only one of us can go on the bike with only one of them. That one is me and my camera. After an epic motorbike ride through endless plantations of African palm trees, and a few stops to pump some air in the flat tire, we arrive to a place where a small channel runs across a dead forest and finally dumps its thick black waste-waters in Lake Izabal. I have never before seen a dead forest. It is a haunting apocalyptic vision of what pollution does to nature.

A thin channel carrying chemical waste flows through a dead forest in the outskirts of the village.

A thin channel carrying chemical waste flows through a dead forest in the outskirts of the village.

Before we leave, we decide it is our turn to invite our new friends to visit us on the boat. We invite only the three cave-guides and their wives but the entire village shows up. It is funny how we think of a home as a one-family unit, and how the Q’eqchi perceive ‘home’ as a community and not as a private space. 

Guests on the boat.

Guests on the boat.

I remember asking someone, the first time when we went ashore with the kayak, if it is OK to leave the kayak there, on the shore, and they were amused telling me of course it is OK, it is no one’s land in particular. And then I remember how people were going in and out of houses and yards without knocking on the doors or asking permission. And then I remember how one of our new friends explained to me the meaning of ‘community’ and how the land is to everyone and no one in particular. With this kind of mentality one must expect that if one person from a community is invited, the entire community is invited. And thus, we have almost the entire community of Caxlampom Pataxte, men, women with babies, and children aboard Fata Morgana.

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Our kayak in the company of the visiting lanchas and cayucos.

Our kayak in the company of the visiting lanchas and cayucos.

 

Q'eqchi kids aboard Fata Morgana.

Q’eqchi kids aboard Fata Morgana.

For them it is like visiting a spaceship. I show the women my kitchen with running water and a fridge, Ivo shows the men the solar panels and the electronics: the GPS and the autopilot and explains how we produce freshwater out of saltwater using a special machine, and how the sails work with the wind and the boat moves without engine.

Q'eqchi men aboard Fata Morgana.

Q’eqchi men aboard Fata Morgana.

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“Would you like to travel as well and visit the world?” we ask them.

“We don’t even think of traveling. Every people has its place. This is our place. We are connected to our community, our home. Our land it is our life.”

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A Q'eqchi home built with bamboo trees.

A Q’eqchi home built with bamboo trees.

A turtle from the lake makes for delicious soup, a great delicacy.

A turtle from the lake makes for delicious soup, a great delicacy.

 

A kid carrying the turtle.

A kid carrying the turtle.

 

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Young Q'eqchi woman with a baby washing clothes in Lake Izabal.

Young Q’eqchi woman with a baby washing clothes in Lake Izabal.

 

Early morning fisherman.

Early morning fisherman.

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Mira holding a baby in Comunidad Indigena Caxlampom Pataxte, Lago de Izabal, Guatemala

Mira holding a baby at Comunidad Indigena Caxlampom Pataxte, Lago de Izabal, Guatemala

I have promised to help our Q’eqchi friends. Even if ‘help’ only means ‘expose’. I promised them I will tell their story to the world.

If you want to help too, please share this story, and contact me if you know of an Indigenous Rights organization or a group who could help them further. Thank you- Bantiox!

Stop NaturAceites

Stop NaturAceites

 

For further information about the palm-oil company NaturAceites and the history of violence surrounding the Q’eqchi communities in the region, please read the following article by clicking here.

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Marooned in Burger Paradise. Part Two

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After a week of unlimited burgers in the private cruise ship resort Half Moon Cay, we decide it is time to go and make a first attempt to sail away to the next Bahamian island south, Cat Island. As we lift anchor we look back at the beach, the fake pirate ship, the cabanas. Our friend ‘Crazy George’, one of the island workers whose job is to clean the beach and even the sand early in the morning before the arrival of the tourists, and whom we befriended, is standing on the shore whistling and waving in our direction with both arms over his head. We are waving back at him, our hearts heavy, we feel like we will never again see this place we enjoyed so much.

"I wish i could stay here forever."

„I wish i could stay here forever.“

But as soon as we are out of the protected anchorage, we are overwhelmed by strong headwind and big waves and the thought that for the first time in a week we will not have a proper lunch. After an hour of banging and too much stress, we turn back. For the first time in our sailing experience (about 7 months now) we change plans, give up, and turn back. With the wind now pushing us from behind, we arrive in the anchorage we have just left in only 20 minutes. There are a bunch of other sailboats which have arrived the evening before and as we drop anchor we spot two little girls, about Maya’s age, watching us from their boat just a few feet away. They have long hairs: one the color of gold, the other the color of fire. Riley (11) and Wren (9) become instant friends with Maya (10).

Wren, Maya, Riley

Wren, Maya, Riley

Thus, in the next few days, the three girls are inseparable. They play together all day rarely getting out of the water having tons of fun.

Maya, Riley, Wren

Maya, Riley, Wren

At the same time, Ivo and me become instant friends with Riley and Wren’s mom and dad. Turns out, they are „professional“ adventurers and teachers on a sabbatical vacation. Scott is teaching Adventure Education and Tourism (and currently writing a manual on the subject) at Washington County Community College. Stephanie, an athlete, is also an instructor in the same collage with many years of experience working as a White-Water Adventure instructor. Avid adventurers, hikers, mountain-climbers, skiers, free-divers, sailors, Scott and Steph are also great parents and friends, great people.

Stephanie

Stephanie

Riley, Scott, Maya, Ivo

Riley, Scott, Maya, Ivo

 

Wren and Stephanie

Wren and Stephanie

The perfect paradise became even perfecter with friends in it. We show them around and invite them to our buffet, and the girls are happy all day long. Scott, a snorkeling and spear-fishing addict, teaches Ivo how to spear-fish with a Hawaiian spear. They disappear and spend pretty much a million years in the water coming back in the evening, just before shark-time, with a bucket of assorted fish and a huge lobster. We improvise a small party on our boat and have fish for super for a change.

Riley, Maya, Wren with lobster

Three little savages and an unlucky lobster.

After a few days, we sail south together with our new friends aboard s/v Kiawah and spend a couple of days more with them at Cat Island, hiking up the tallest hill of the Bahamas where the famous Father Jerome hermitage is, shooting coconuts with rocks (Scott is an unbelievable good shot with those rocks, no coconut has a chance), drinking beers and listening to live music at the small beach shack with Cedell and Poompey, world-famous Rake-and-Scrape musicians, plus an epic sleep-over (Maya had the best time sleeping over at Kiawah with her two friends).

Wren and Maya at Cat Island

Wren and Maya at Cat Island

Riley in Blue, Cat Island

Riley in Blue, Cat Island

 

What the boat-girls play with

What the boat-girls play with

Hiking up Mount Alvernia

Hiking up Mount Alvernia

Inside the Hermitage's small chapel

Inside the Hermitage’s small chapel

 

A hermit-frog inside the hermitage

A hermit-frog inside the hermitage

Shack on the beach

Shack on the beach

 

Maya on the flute, Cedell in the saw, Pompey on the accordion, Scott on the drum

Maya on the flute, Cedell on the saw, Pompey on the accordion, Scott on the drum

And then is time to say goodby… Kiawah continued her journey taking away our friends, and we stayed behind for another week. We had a job to do.

Dear Riley and Wren,

Dear Riley and Wren,

 

Maya, Riley, and Wren BFF

Maya, Riley, and Wren
BFF

Check out S/V Kiawah amazing blog and follow their journey here.

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El Boqueron Canyon

A Photo Journal

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

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

 

Anchorage and dock in front of El Estor

Anchorage and dock in front of El Estor

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

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

 

Fata Morgana, Blizzard, and Friendship crews

Fata Morgana, Blizzard, and Friendship crews

 

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

 

El Boqueron Canyon

 

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

 

Our lancha ride upriver

Our lancha ride upriver

 

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

 

 

Ivo and Daeli getting ready to swim upriver.

Ivo and Daeli getting ready to swim upriver.

 

Our lancha meets Ivo and Daeli.

Our lancha meets Ivo and Daeli.

 

We enter the canyon.

 

The entrance to the canyon.

The entrance to the canyon.

 

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

 

Rio Boqueron

Rio Boqueron

 

A huge spider on the rocks.

A huge spider on the rocks.

 

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

 

The last stop of the lancha.

The last stop of the lancha.

 

Ivo helping the lancha pass across some rocks.

Ivo helping the lancha pass across some rocks.

 

 

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

 

The boulder.

The boulder.

 

And this is where the adventure begins.

 

The adventure begins.

The adventure begins.

 

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

 

Journey upriver in El Boqueron Canyon

Journey upriver in El Boqueron Canyon

 

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

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

 

The rope was a good idea.

The rope was a good idea.

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Daeli holding one end of the rope.

Daeli holding one end of the rope.

 

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

 

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

 

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Ivo and Mira

Ivo and Mira

 

 

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

 

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

 

Ivo brings a cayuco for the ride downriver.

Ivo brings a cayuco for the ride downriver.

 

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

 

Loading up the cayuco with women and children.

Loading up the cayuco with women and children.

 

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

 

The epic ride downriver in a cayuco.

The epic ride downriver in a cayuco.

 

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

 

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

 

Kachca and Lovam

Kachika and Lovam

 

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

Twelve people hitchhiking.

Twelve people hitchhiking.

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

Riding in the back of the pick-up truck.

Riding in the back of the pick-up truck.

 

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

 

 

 

 

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The River Cave Expedition

 

 

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

 

Fata Morgana, Blizzard, and Friendship crews

Fata Morgana, Blizzard, and Friendship crews

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

We have reached the end of one more unforgettable journey.

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The Cave’s Exit

 

 

* All photos were taken by Daeli with his GoPro camera

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Princesas Maya de Guatemala

Mayan girls of Lago Izabal, Guatemala.

When our sailboat drops anchor for the first time near Finca Jocoro we are greeted by a hundred kids. Most don’t speak Spanish but Qeqchi. They are wearing secondhand American clothes, the younger ones are naked. An average family here has between 7 and 10 kids and the village seams entirely populated by children. I notice that many of the older girls are holding babies in their arms, the way girls back in Canada are holding dolls, but they don’t look like kids playing with toys, rather like miniature mothers.

A Mayan girl starts working helping with chores around the house as soon as she turns three: feeding the chickens and ducks, the cats and dogs, cleaning the house, washing the clothes. The older girls’ responsibilities include carrying firewood, making tortillas, selling produce at the market, but mainly: taking care of the youngsters. Thus, they are ready to be mothers and housewives even before they reach puberty.

Everywhere I go: in Finca Jocoro, El Estor, Finca Paraiso, Playa Pataxte, I am captivated by the indigenous girls’ maturity and mysterious coarse beauty. I ask them if I can photograph them. The bravest ones face my huge camera, some for the first time in their life, with reservation and mistrust, but many refuse to be photographed, giggle and hide. Still, in just a few days I accumulate an impressive collection of girl-portraits from the local Qeqchi communities of Lago Izabal. I name the project “Pricesas Mayas de Guatemala”. It attempts to reveal the Mayan girls’ present reality in their natural surroundings challenging the western norms for beautyand and innosence. 

 

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