Morne Diablotin. Lost in The Labyrinth of Hell

View from Morne Diablotin

View from Morne Diablotin

Dominica is the youngest of all the Caribbean islands, still being shaped by volcanic and geothermal activity. Rich with rivers and waterfalls, lush forested mountains teaming with wildlife, Dominica  offers miles and miles of hiking trails all around the island. The ultimate and most difficult hike is not The Boiling Lake, as many wrongly think, but the trail to the highest peak standing at 1,447 meters (4,747ft) above the sea: Morne Diablotin, The Devil’s Mountain.

Road to the trailhead

Road to the trailhead

After a night of abundant tropical rain, around 7:30 a.m., we take a bus from Plymouth direction Roseau to the intersection of the road leading up to the Morne Diablotin trail. The bus ride, 15-20 minutes, costs us 3 EC per person and the driver knows exactly where to drop us off. We start up the road, steep but paved, walking among farms and agricultural lands, stopping often to eat fruits.

Maya with grapefruit

Maya with grapefruit

There are mango, oranges, and grapefruit trees on the side of the road covered with ripe fruit, some of it lying on the ground under the trees.

Ivo and Maya near a fallen banana tree

Ivo and Maya near a fallen banana tree

Maya, the blue wizard,  saving bananas from rotting on the ground.

Maya, the blue wizard, saving bananas from rotting on the ground.

We have a fresh delicious fruit salad for breakfast right there on the road, and gather a few mangoes and grapefruits for later in a bag adding to the already heavy load Ivo is hauling on his back: water bottles, sandwiches, rain ponchos, and jackets for the three of us.

Mira with mango

Mira with mango

Fresh grapefruit

Fresh grapefruit

Maya and Ivo

Maya and Ivo

The higher we go the colder it gets and it drizzles every now and then, so we put on our blue rain ponchos. We meet people working on their lands, gathering fruits, planting trees, greeting us.

Planting a coconut palm tree

Planting a coconut palm tree

After 2 hours, already a bit tired of walking uphill, we reach the trailhead where a warning sign explains that the hike to the mountain summit is between 2 and 3 hours long in one direction and should not be attempted after 10:30 a.m. It’s 10:00 a.m. so we are good to go. There is no one here to present our one-week park permits to, so we simply enter the park and start walking.

Maya at Morne Diablotin trailhead

Maya at Morne Diablotin trailhead

“A certified guide is strongly recommended”, the sign advises. We don’t have a guide as they charge somewhere between 50 and 100 $US per person for this hike.

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In the beginning we walk slightly uphill on steps made of wood. Soon, the climb becomes steeper and the steps are replaced by roots. The forest is beautiful: giant wet ferns and tall trees covered with moss. The ground is very muddy from last night’s rain and our progress is slow, choosing where to step. After an hour I start thinking, this isn’t too bad. We can survive this terrain for 2 more hours.

Maya in the forest

Maya in the forest

Maya walking on roots

Maya walking on roots

The devil heard my though.

Just like that, the world transforms, like in a bad dream. Dark roots like monstrous intestines emerge from the ground to form an ugly twisted web all around us and above our heads.

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The tropical rainforest is replaced by nightmarish woods with trees that grow upside-down and sideways, twist and disappear in the swampy ground. Never seen anything like it, except maybe in horror films. The trail is no more.

Maya

Maya

We are now in a labyrinth of hell, painfully making our way up and up between these giant slippery moss-covered roots and branches, climbing on boulders, walking on trees, sinking in mud. If it was just a section that ends after 15 minutes it would be a fun experience, but this nightmare goes on forever, hour after hour. We wish we had superhuman powers, we wish we were ninjas, or lizards who can crawl, or birds who can fly, so that we could save ourselves. Even a certified guide wouldn’t be of any help here unless he can perform miracles.

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Three hours have passed and we are still in the infernal maze of roots and mud, still climbing up, still haven’t reach the summit. For the first time, I give up. I just don’t want to suffer anymore, and I know I have all this way, two hours of torture, to go back down. So I stop.

Mira

Mira

Ivo and Maya persist, determined to reach Dominica’s highest dome. I wait for them for one more hour, unable to sit anywhere, mud and roots covered with damp moss all around me. When they return, Ivo tells me it gets even worse further up and there is nothing really to see on top, especially with all those thick clouds. He had to carry Maya on his back a few times climbing up huge boulders and more of those hateful roots.

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I can’t believe they are calling this “a trail”. How is this a trail in a national park?

mud

mud

Maya

Maya

We have walked to a cave in Guatemala up the mountain through a jungle without trail, cutting vegetation and making steps in the steep ground with machetes in order to pass, walking across precipices and fallen trees. We have hiked for two days, across different climates and terrains, to the highest Caribbean peak with guides and mules, sleeping in mountain shelters. But we have never seen such an impossible “trail” as the Morne Diablotin one. We have never felt so defeated by mud and roots, so at the end of our strength.

Maya

Maya

Somehow we manage to get back down to the trailhead without any of us getting injured, even though we all fall in the mud over branches now and then.

Maya fell in the mud

Maya fell in the mud

Ivo fell over branches

Ivo fell over branches

It’s 5:00 p.m. and we haven’t had the chance to stop and eat anywhere. We are starving, tired, destroyed. We sit on the road for a while and eat our sandwiches, then we hitch a ride in the back of a pickup truck returning from a day’s work at the farms, loaded with avocados, pumpkins, oranges, and bananas. Then back on the bus, and back home, on the boat.

Maya at the end of the journey

Maya at the end of the journey

It has been a crazy hike in the most surreal terrain ever and Maya, 11-years-old, did really great. She remained positive and enthusiastic the entire time, leading the group, jumping from branch to branch. And even though at the end of the journey she cried a little bit, from exhaustion and pain in the legs, she was really happy she made it. I didn’t cry, but I also didn’t make it all the way to the top, and I felt miserable most of the time. Yet, now, looking back at this unique journey, I feel proud and glad we went there. One more incredible story to tell, one more unforgettable memory. (Just don’t ask me to go hike up to Morne Diablotin ever again…)

Maya

Maya

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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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Passage South. George Town to Long Island

Map of our Passage South

Map of our Passage South

Day 1

Saturday, March 8

 

After carefully studding the charts, cruising guides, and weather forecasts, we begin the 260 nautical miles passage south from George Town, Bahamas to Luperon, Dominican Republic, a passage most of the thousands of sailors who cruise regularly in the Bahamas will never undertake.

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260 nautical miles may sound like a few hours of driving distance for those who never sailed. For us, getting to Dominican Republic means 3 one-day (30-40 NM) ocean passages, 4 one to two-day (25-30 NM) island passages (along the shore and in shallow bank waters), and 1 two-day (100 NM) ocean passage. It also means waiting at anchor in-between passages for a weather window (favorable winds: force and direction) for as long as it takes.

 

That is, if everything goes well. Moreover, we tend to be slower than most other sailboats, as most other sailboats ‘motor-sail’; they go on engine all the time in order to get faster to their destination (before sunset), or to avoid tacking or heeling too much (tacking is when you zigzag towards destination instead of going in straight line, because the wind is blowing from the direction you want to go). Often, they don’t even bother hoisting the sails, motoring all day, their masts remaining bare like sad winter trees even when the wind is good, behind them. For us ‘motoring’ is ‘cheating’. We strictly sail; the engines are for emergency only, which saves us a lot of cash and hustle. Last time we fueled was in Key West Florida, about four months ago, and our fuel tanks are still full to the brim. We never motored in the Bahamas, and we don’t even know what the fuel price around here is… We even go in and out of anchorages and cuts through the reefs full-sail, often at night.

 

In our Bahamas Cruising Guide the part covering south of George Town is called Far Horizons. The Unexplored Bahamas. This is how the chapter starts:

 

“The generally perceived wisdom that it is different south of George Town is true. Below latitude 23 30N, the tropic of Cancer, you are in the real tropics and in a different game. You are exposed to the Atlantic, you have legendary passages to negotiate, there are almost no all-weather anchorages, and few settlements. You shouldn’t venture into these waters in a craft that isn’t well found and well equipped. If passage making or cruising in an area like this lies outside your experience think twice about going that way.”

 

As we lift the hook from the anchorage in George Town and set sail for Long Island, a first of four island passages, suspiciously too many other boats from all the anchorages around the harbor lift their hooks as well and start sailing in the same direction. We find ourselves in the middle of a spectacular procession of about one hundred sailboats, all sailing (none motoring) southeast with us! It is beautiful.

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Our departure has coincided with the Long Island Rally. The rally is escorting us to Goat Cay for about two hours where our paths finally separate. The boats continue northeast to a waypoint from where they turn back northwest to George Town; we head south through Goat Cay Cut.

 

With the wind blowing from north at 10-15 knots, forecasted to turn from northeast the next day, we decide sailing south-southeast on the west lee side of Long Island would be best, as the island, 80 mi long north to south, will act as a shield from the Atlantic waves which tend to always come from the same direction as the wind.

 

The same cruising guide warns us about sailing on the west side of Long Island:

 

“The west coast of Long Island is a No-Go for the long-haul passage maker. (That’s us). The west coast is the Bank side, with sandbores and shoals which effectively bars that side as a cruising ground. A Bank transit path does not exist. Only local captains can safely cross the southeast corner of the Great Bahama Bank. Underline that word ‘local.’ It requires local knowledge.”

 

All we get from the previous paragraph is: ‘It’s shallow, but people do it’. Our very limited experience with cruising guides tells us that they should not always be trusted. Some of the information they provide is useful but passage making is ultimately dependent on weather conditions in relation to geography, sailing skills and experience, and boat specifics. There is no one general best way to go. Cruising guides are overprotective and I think they consider the average cruisers (for whom they are intended) to be semi-blind elderly people with no common sense aboard 7-8 feet draft vessels.

 

Many fellow-sailors we met in George Town told us not to even think of sailing south to Dominican Republic without following the exact steps described in Bruce Van Sant’s book with the suspicious sexist title The Gentleman’s Guide to Passages South. “Just read the book and do exactly what he says if you want to make it.” they told us, most of them never made the passage nor read the book. Luckily, we had The Book aboard. I think it came with the boat along with lots of other stuff left from the previous owners. Problem is, this book too had nothing to say about Long Island’s west bank, not an option according to Mr. Van Sant. He too insists on sailing on the east side of Long Island, covering more than a 130 NM from George Town to Clarence Town, three days of sailing, battling Atlantic waves and current.

 

We study the charts and the west Bank side looks shallow but doable with a distance of only 55 NM from George Town to Clarence Town (west side of the island), a real short cut. Our boat’s draft is less than four feet. We close the cruising guides which have nothing more to say about sailing on the side we chose: the west Bank of Long Island.

 

Around 10 a.m. we pass through the narrow shallow Goat Cay Cut between Great Exuma and Little Exuma at mid-tide. The starboard keel lightly touches the sand for a second once we are through the cut, but from then on we have no troubles sailing in the uncharted Bank along the west shores of Long Island. We keep away from the shoals and coral heads and always have enough water under the keels; the island stops the waves as we have expected and sailing is pleasure. We make a beautiful progress of 55 NM the first day with the wind behind us and the boat doing 6 to 8 kt. Evo catches 9 barracudas that day, I think this is a world record, and we keep the 3 smaller one to eat in the next few days. They are delicious.

 

After Stephenson Rock, we turn port; carefully approach a white-sand beach looking out for coral heads. The water surface is flat like a mirror. There is no sign of civilization. We drop anchor for the night just before sunset. Dean’s Blue Hole is right across on the other side of the island, a couple of miles north of Clarence Town. We’ll visit it the next day.

 

We sleep like babies and dream of cruising guides.

 

 

Fata Morgana anchored on the west side of Long Island, Bahamas

Fata Morgana anchored on the west side of Long Island, Bahamas

 

 

 

 

 

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Our Friends, The Forbidden Island, David Copperfield, And The Barracudas.

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When our friends came to visit us in the Bahamas for a week they surely didn’t imagine that so many crazy things can happen in just a few days. Ivan, one of our best friends ever, his 16-year-old daughter Nanny, and 18-year-old son Nikola who is also Viktor’s best friend (the mastermind behind Viktor’s Achievement List), landed in George Town and survived a week aboard Fata Morgana sailing in good weather and in bad weather complete with a 35-knot squall and huge waves, entering through a narrow cut between rocks and breakers at night with the current against the boat and both the skipper and the helmsman (Evo and Mira) panicking, discovering a magical island and its enchanted inhabitant, spearfishing in barracuda-infested waters, snorkeling with stingrays and starfishes, swimming with sharks and mermaids, kayaking in a small grotto at night where the only light is from the photoluminescence in the water, almost burning down a palm tree, feeding coconuts to a man-eating dog, and eating barracudas every day.

Evo and Ivan sailing into the sunset.

Evo and Ivan sailing into the sunset.

About 35 miles north of George Town is Rudder Cay. It is a private island with a few remote beaches and beautiful rocks with a small cave owned by the famous illusionist David Copperfield.

Rudder Cay, cave and beach

Rudder Cay, cave and beach

We were told that there are video cameras surveying the shores and a man-eating dog guarding the island’s secrets, so better don’t go ashore, you don’t want to mess with a magician and his rabid dog.

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As we get to the island, first thing’s first, we go ashore. Some of us swim, some of us pile on the kayak and we are all on the private beach in two minutes. We can’t wait to meet David Copperfield; he would be the first famous person we meet in the Bahamas.

Kayaking to the forbidden island.

Kayaking to the forbidden island.

We roam the island, collect coconuts, and explore the cave, but no sign of the magician.

inside the cave

inside the cave

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Mira

Mira

 

Then suddenly, as we are peacefully chopping coconuts on the beach, a dark hungry creature emerges from of the bush. Is it David Copperfield? Is it Robinson Crusoe? Is it Tom Hanks? Is it the man-eating dog? We are seven people. Three say it’s a dog, four say it’s David Copperfield. Finally we agree it is the illusionist who, after a magic-trick-gone-wrong, turned himself into a dog.

Evo getting some coconuts.

Evo getting some coconuts.

Evo opening coconuts

Evo opening coconuts

 

A dog shows up.

David Copperfield

Poor David Copperfield, his fur matted and smelly, his nails overgrown, marooned on his island with no company, no food, and no freshwater.

David Copperfield is our friend

David Copperfield is our friend

He avidly eats about four coconuts, and from then on becomes our good island-friend and guide. We call him David for short.

David eating coconuts

David eating coconuts

The next day, while Ivan and Evo go spearfishing in the reefs, the kids, David, and I go to the other side of the island where we discover another secret beach. We bring leftover chicken bones and give them one by one to David. We have lots of fun. Everyone is happy.

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Maya making weapons, just in case, before the private island exploration

Maya making weapons, just in case, before the private island exploration

 

Viktor and Nick

Viktor and Nick

Viktor, Maya, Mira

Viktor, Maya, Mira

 

same people, in the air

same people, in the air

 

Back on the boat, we organize a jumping competition.

Viktor, Maya, Nick

Viktor, Maya, Nick

Same people, in the air

Same people, in the air

 

Evo doing a halo

Evo doing a halo

Vick and Nick

Vick and Nick

 

Nick and Maya

Nick and Maya

In the evening, we go back to shore with a huge bone we promised David and we make a huge bonfire on the beach with driftwood and dry palm leafs. 

Fire on the beach

Fire on the beach

Nanny and David

Nanny and David

 

Around the fire

Around the fire

Evo, the pyromaniac, is having lots of fun that evening.

Evo burning down the house

Evo burning down the house

no explanation...

no explanation…

 

The next day, we discover another of this enchanted place’ secrets: a mermaid playing a grand piano underwater.

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The life-size sculpture commissioned by Copperfield made of stainless steel is submerged in about ten feet of water, and the trick is to find where exactly it is.

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Nick

Nick

 

Mira

Mira

Best time to see it is at low tide, when the current is not too strong.

Ivan (!?)

Ivan (!?)

We are all sad leaving the island after a couple of days, especially leaving David behind, alone again. Nanny really wants to adopt him.

Please, if anyone ever goes there, bring some food and freshwater to the dog who is not dangerous and is completely abandoned. He survives on spiders and lizards, and drinks seawater… We all thought abandoning a dog alone on an island (to guard the private property from trespassers) is an example of animal cruelty, and whether David Copperfield or someone else is responsible for this, it is not an honorable thing to do.

Next, we spend a few more days sailing from one island to another, spearfishing, snorkeling, exploring, swimming, jumping, and kayaking some more. Everyone has a blast. We even eat the barracudas Ivan catches all the time. People say you can get ciguatera poisoning from barracudas: a bacteria found in big predators who eat smaller fishes who eat corral, but Ivan has come to the Bahamas to fish and eat fish, and nothing could stop him from eating barracudas! Still, we take precautions: we only keep the smaller barracudas which are safer than the bigger ones and we let our guest taste a little piece of the fish first. Then we wait about an hour to see if something unusual will happen to our friend. If he is still alive after an hour, means the barracuda is safe to eat, and we stuff ourselves with the white tender filets. It is one of the best tasting fish we ever had, and is the easiest fish to catch. Yum!

Nick with grunt

Nick with grunt

Nanny with starfish

Nanny with starfish

 

Assorted fishes

Assorted fishes

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Vick and Nick

Vick and Nick

Ivan and Evo with barracuda

Ivan and Evo with barracuda

 

Thus, a week passes way too fast, and when our friends leave it is hard to get used to the boat without them… We surely miss them.

Evo and Ivan

Evo and Ivan

Nick

Nick

 

Nanny

Nanny

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Father Jerome’s Via Dolorosa

Giving Back

As travelers we are fortunate enough to be able to learn about foreign cultures, geographies, and histories, to visit the most beautiful natural sites and tourist attractions, to enjoy local arts, foods and entertainments, to meet many interesting people, and generally to have lots of fun and good time everywhere we go. But I started asking myself how can we give back to a place we are visiting, a place we are taking so much from? Is spending money (for food, transportation, accommodation, and other necessities) enough to support local economies and to make us, travelers, feel we are not exploiting a place and its people? And what if we don’t spend much money for anything when we travel, as in our case? We live on a boat always anchored out for free, don’t use fuel as we sail using the wind, we have solar panels to produce electricity and a watermaker to produce freshwater. We do our washing by hand, we fish a lot and make our own food with products we bought back form the US or the cheapest local ones, and we don’t need any new cloths, cell phones, furniture, cars. Well, there are many different ways to get involve and give back to places and peoples. Each one of us can figure such ways according to what is needed and what we are able to do. We figured, helping local people and cleaning polluted places is the best way to give back. Thus, everywhere we go we offer our help.

Father Jerome’s Via Dolorosa

We are travelers. The World is our address; the Sea our permanent residency. ‘Our Home is where the Boat is’, a sign hangs in the galley of our catamaran. We don’t spend much time in one place: we sail farther. We are driven by a need like an unquenchable thirst, like a curse, to find out what lies beyond the horizon. Yet, sometimes we pause. Sometimes we climb a ridge and look from the top of a mountain to see where we have come from and where we are going. 

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The distance between Little San Salvador and Cat Island is 34 nautical miles. We sail all day. It’s already dark when we drop anchor in the vast anchorage on the west lee side of the island.

The next day we grab a bottle of water and take to the hills. As we climb the 206-foot tall Mount Alvernia on Cat Island, the highest land elevation in all of the 700 Bahamian islands, I tell this story to my children:

Once upon a time there was an old hermit, a most unusual man, who lived alone in a stone home he built atop a hill. You might imagine that he was a very small man, maybe a midget, about four feet tall, for his house, which still crowns the hill, is so tiny. Everything in it: his sleeping quarters furnished with nothing but a simple plank bed taking up most of the space, the cloister with only three miniature columns leading to a guestroom where no more than one or two guests could fit, the little bell tower, and the chapel with its single pew where one must bend in order to fit through the door, resemble a child-size castle on top of a tiny mountain where a tiny person dwelled. But you know what? The resident of this place was in fact a very tall person, slender, with white beard and sad eyes, wearing a grey robe with a hood. Why do you suppose he built for himself such a small dwelling?

Inside the chapel.

Inside the chapel.

We keep going. It is a short but steep trek to the peak of Mount Alvernia. Visitors from all over the world come here not only to climb the Everest of the Bahamas, but also as a pilgrimage to Father Jerome’s final masterpiece: the Hermitage which he designed and built singlehandedly and where he spent the last 17 years of his life in solitude, as a poor person dedicated to seeking God through prayer, charity, and seclusion from society.

Hermitage on Mount Alvernia

Hermitage on Mount Alvernia

Born John Cyril Hawes in 1876 in England, he studied architecture and theology. At age 21 he was already a practicing building designer. At age 27 he became an Anglican priest. In 1909 John Hawes joined a mission in the Bahamas to restore local churches damaged by a great hurricane. After repairing various churches and building a few new ones, the architect-priest left the Bahamas and didn’t return until 1939, almost thirty years later. During that time he traveled to the United States where he converted to Roman Catholicism, then spent a few years as a homeless person and a wanderer traveling across North America by foot and even working as a laborer on the Canadian Pacific Railways, and then he sailed to Rome and was ordained a priest after two years of studies at The Beda College. He was then commissioned to go to Australia both as an outback missionary and a cathedral architect. He spent many years in Western Australia designing and building various churches, cathedrals, and chapels. In 1937, as recognition for his important work as a missionary priest and church builder, he received the papal title, monsignor. When he came back to Cat Island in the Bahamas he was an old man of 63. Everyone called him Father Jerome.

Father Jerome

Father Jerome

 

We reach the summit. The view from the top is spectacular. We see the entire Cat Island below: an evergreen scrubby mass of low tropical vegetation with small colorful houses strewn along the west coast bathed in crystal sunlight. The placid emerald-green waters of the sea to the west are calm and warm, home of coral gardens and fish. The roaring Atlantic to the east stretching all the way to Africa is deep, purple, mysterious. Up here the wind which never rests carries the songs of insects and birds, and the muffled prayers of an old hermit. Up here, inside the one-man monastery with its massive medieval-looking stone walls, we, atheists, feel the presence of the old hermit: a sudden nostalgic sensation of profound spirituality and awe.

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The grey stones of the walls constructed over the limestone dome of the hill following its curves in perfect harmony with the natural surroundings, and the white cupolas bright in the sun against the blue sky are perfect as a renaissance painting. Except for the cone-shaped dome of the belltower which is broken and crooked, a huge gash like a wound gaping on one side.

“What happened?” I ask a man mixing cement on the grass in front of the hermitage, rocks, sand, buckets, and instruments scattered about. Another man is working up on the tower.

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“A lightning strike it. There is a metal bell inside, so the lightning come and BAM, strike it! About a month ago. Worst damage ever since the hermitage was built”, he explains.

Cedric Wilson, a building contractor with over 45 years of experience specializing in church restoration, and Kirk Burrows, both Cat Islanders, are commissioned by the local Catholic Church to repair the damaged belltower.

Cedric Wilson

Cedric Wilson

We offer to help and they gladly accept.

“You see, we have to bring everything up here by hand, there is no other way”, Cedric explains.

Kirk Burrows

Kirk Burrows

We begin working the next day. A fellow sailor, Ben Rusi, also joins our little brigade.

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Cedric, Kirk, and Ivo building the scaffolding around the belltower.

Cedric, Kirk, and Ivo building the scaffolding around the belltower.

Every morning for about a week, we walk from the anchorage to the foot of Mount Alvernia where we find construction materials waiting for us to be hauled up. As we walk the narrow steep rocky path carrying buckets of sand and water, wooden planks and iron rods, I can’t help thinking of Father Jerome building the hermitage all by himself, stone by stone.

Kirk and Ivo mixing cement.

Kirk and Ivo mixing cement.

There, all along the path from the foot to the top of the hill, set among shadowy trees, he has placed large concrete bas-reliefs representing various Stations of the Cross, imaging Jesus carrying his cross on the way to his crucifixion along the Via Dolorosa: the Way of Suffering. The analogy is inevitable: Jesus struggling with the cross, Father Jerome building the hermitage, Cedric and Kirk fixing it, and now us too being part of it.

Ivo along "the Path of Suffering"

Ivo along „the Path of Suffering“

After a few days, the belltower is fixed, and we celebrate with a small picnic on the terrace of a closed-down restaurant on the beach. Cedric brings tomatoes from his garden, homemade citrus juice, and a big pot of thick chicken and potato soup his wife cooked for us. The bread I made in the morning is on us. The chicken soup is hot and rich and so tasty, it enters our list of Best Foods we Ever Had. We enjoy the food and the stories Cedric and Kirk share with us in the orange-and-blue afternoon on the beach.

At the end, the reward we receive for our hard labors, for our time spent helping those in need, is the ultimate one: it is the feeling of moral uplifting and spiritual inspiration achievable only through acts of selflessness and charity. It is the lesson that Father Jerome and his humble yet charming last dwelling taught our children: to enjoy life one doesn’t need a big house but a big heart.

Through our efforts to help repair the belltower we became forever connected to Father Jerome and his Hermitage, to the past and the present of Mount Alvernia, to the people of Cat Island, and to the history of the Bahamas.

The only inhabitant of the hermitage today is a small hermit-frog.

The only inhabitant of the hermitage today is a small hermit-frog.

Cat Islanders who told us stories and facts about Father Jerome

Deacon Andrew Burrows

One Saturday night last December there was a big storm. When the lightning hit, everything went black. The lights went down. The next day we found out that the belltower got struck. It is an act of Nature. It is also a wake-up call. Everyone uses the Hermitage, we have pictures of the Hermitage printed on Cat Island brochures to attract tourists. The Hermitage as a cultural and historical heritage is a resource we are using, but nobody maintains it. Yes, the lightning can be interpreted as a wake up call, to bring attention. 

Deacon Burrows in front of Holy Redeemer Catholic Church designed and built by Father Jerome.

Deacon Burrows in front of Holy Redeemer Catholic Church designed and built by Father Jerome

  He had a bell placed at the bottom of the hill. When people needed him they rang the bell and he would come down. He gave clothes, food, helped everyone as much as possible.  People came to him from Monday to Friday when they needed him. He preached the gospel but would help everyone regardless of their religion.

Father Jerome died on a June 26th. I was born June 26th.

Deacon Burrows during service, inside Holly Redeemer Church.

Deacon Burrows during service, inside Holly Redeemer Church.

Poompey

We have more churches than people in this town. Everyone wants to build their own church. Father Jerome built 5 churches on Cat Island and Long Island alone. But the Hermitage is where he lived for 17 years and he is buried up there too.

Poompey

Poompey

Paula Thurston

My mother, Katleen Thurston, used to take care of Father Jerome. She used to clean and cook and wash clothes for him. She was about thirty then, married, but she couldn’t have children. One day father Jerome put his hand on her shoulder and talked to her in Latin and blessed her. And told her, you will have a daughter. And that was me. I was blessed by Father Jerome. My mother didn’t have anymore children.

One morning, after it rained all night, my mother found him lying on the ground there. He fell down and hurt himself. It’s very steep and the rocks get slippery after rain. She found him and called people from the village and they called the C-plane. and they took him to Nassau, to the hospital. He returned after that but was not the same man. He died shortly after this incident.

Paula Thurston

Paula Thurston

Gladys McKenzie

I don’t know how old I am, I don’t remember. But I remember Father Jerome. Sure, I remember him. He was a nice man. He is buried under a rock in the ground, right there up on the hill. When he died I was a young woman. We all went to the funeral. Now everyone comes here and takes my picture, because I remember him. (She loughs.)

Gladys McKenzie, around 90-years-old

Gladys McKenzie, around 90-years-old

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Solar Power Rangers

 

Viktor and Ivo installing solar panels.

Viktor and Ivo installing solar panels.

 

We sailed back to Florida all the way from Guatemala, braving currents and winds, risking our lives, in pursuit of one thing and one thing only: energy. Turned out we need more solar panels and more batteries in order to produce enough electricity for the fridge, lights and ventilators,  watermaker, electrical heads, and electronics without using the engines or a generator (which we don’t have anyway), or any other fuel-consuming machine. It also turned out, that outside of the United States everything is a lot more expensive if you find it at all. So here we are, back in Key West, installing solar panels.

Our fridge, which has two compartments: one is a fridge and the other a freezer with two cold plates, is the biggest consumer of electricity on board; it draws somewhere between 8 and 10 amps per hour (Ah).

The electronics: GPS, autopilot, radar, sonar, wind vane, AIS, and VHF radio take roughly somewhere between 10 and 15 Ah when in use while sailing. When at anchor, they are tuned off.

The lights: salon, cabin, anchor, cockpit, and deck lights are all LED and consume very little electricity, using one tenth the power of conventional lighting. For example, the anchor light will take 3 amps, not per hour but for the entire night.

Our watermaker, Catalina MK II, takes 16 Ah producing 16 gallons of water per hour, 1 amp-1 gallon. But we use it very rarely, as we also collect rainwater every time it rains through an extremely efficient system Ivo came up with: two hoses attached to the hard top (the roof of the boat) run down to the water tanks. When it rains hard all night, we fill up the two tanks: 220 gallons of pure rainwater. But when it doesn’t rain for a while, then we turn on the watermaker which we bought and installed ourselves. This is a fun little contraption that takes the salty water from the sea and separate’s the liquid from everything else thus producing pure drinkable freshwater without any salts and minerals in it.

Maya collecting rainwater in a bucket. When we want to fill up the water tanks we plug hoses to the opening on the hard top.

Maya collecting rainwater in a bucket. When we want to fill up the water tanks we plug hoses to the opening on the hard top.

The electrical heads, two of them, which we installed first thing after we came back from Guatemala replacing the old regular ones, consume 16 Ah (but of course, we don’t use them constantly).

The air conditioning system which came with the boat went in the garbage with all its bulky tubes and insulations as soon as we moved in. ACs on boats need lots of electricity and the people who use them are usually those who stay plugged at the marinas and pay marina and electricity bills. We are not such people. Except in Havana Cuba where we had no choice, we have never stayed at a marina; always at anchor. And when it gets too hot, we turn on the small ventilators which consume 0.5 Ah, or jump in the water.

When we bought the boat she came with two solar panels 170 watts and 3 AGM house batteries 300 Ah. Initially, we bought and installed 3 more Kyocera solar panels, adding 750 watts, and we replaced the 3 AGM batteries with 10 deep cycle led acid batteries 6V, 370 Ah. Thus, when we started cruising, we were producing almost enough electricity for our needs, but had to be very cautious about it, constantly monitoring the amperage in the battery bank. What’s more, after two or three overcast days and when sailing and using all the electronics, we had to turn off the fridge or we risked the battery bank dropping below 50%.

Now, we solved our electricity shortage problem by buying two more humongous solar panels, 320 watts each, and replacing the 10 deep cycle batteries with four lithium batteries, all together  700 Ah. Total of 7 solar panels: 1390 watts of pure solar energy. That should be enough! Seen from above, Fata Morgana looks like a solar panel field floating in the sea. With so many panels, we produce electricity even at night, when the full moon illuminates the liquid world around us.

Fata Morgana from above

Fata Morgana from above

We got the new panels from eMarine Systems located in Miami Florida. They specialize in alternative energy systems and have some of the most competitive prices on the market. After spending much time answering our questions and helping us take the right decision as to which panels, how many to buy, and how to install them, Bob Everhard the sales manager of eMarine Systems, agreed also to become one of our sponsors by giving us a bit of a discount from the price. Thank you, Bob, for supporting our journey and our goals: to achieve self-sufficiency, to travel without polluting the environment, to live off the grid entirely.

A BIG thank you goes also to Balqon and their staff for all the patience and professional service in dealing with us; corresponding with Ivo via E-mail over a thousand times, answering all his questions. These are the guys who have the best and the cheapest lithium batteries in this part of the world.

And finally, we would not be able to do so much work on the boat in so little time without the help of the guys at the new West Maine store in Key West. Thank you all!

Next stop: Bahamas!

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16 Advantages of a Simple Kayak

A simple kayak will:

 

1. Get you to a shallow place

A simple kayak will take you to the place you want to go, even if it is too shallow for a dinghy.

The drought of a kayak is 0.0002 ft.

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Near Comunidad Indigena Caxclampon Pataxte, Guatemala

 

2. Get you to a quiet place

The kayak has no engine, therefore it makes no noise.

Sneaking near an indigenous home on Lake Izabal, Guatemala

Sneaking near an indigenous home on Lake Izabal, Guatemala

You can sneak upon people’s properties without being noticed; or float downriver without disturbing the wildlife.

 

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Floating down the River Polochic, Guatemala

3. Get you to a tight place

You can paddle even in mangroves, between roots and branches.

 

Mangroves near Cayo Levisa, Cuba

Mangroves near Cayo Levisa, Cuba

4. Get you to a beautiful place

With the kayak you will be able to explore the most beautiful places on your journey.

 

Lago Izabal, Guatemala

Lago Izabal, Guatemala

5. Not pollute the waters

Keeping the environment clean (and having your conscious clean) is another advantage of not having an engine.

River Lilies

River Lilies

 

6. Save you money

This is an obvious one. No engine= no fuel= no dollars

 

Mira and Ivo paddling. Photo bi Joni Spencer

Mira and Ivo paddling.
Photo by Joni Spencer

 

7. Provide a nice spot for kids to do art while under sail

 

8. Provide a dark shady spot on the boat for resting

Maya sleeping under the kayak

Maya sleeping under the kayak

9. Keep you in shape

Paddle, paddle, paddle! Often living on a boat means less physical exercise. Paddling the kayak will make you spend that extra energy and it is good for your heart and muscles.

 

Maya and the kayak in front of Fort Jefferson, Florida

Maya and the kayak in front of Fort Jefferson, Florida

10. Take your kids and their friends off the boat

The kayak will become a favorite jumping-off platform and transportation for your kids, no matter how old they are. They will paddle between boats to pick up their friends, go to shore, or to explore the region.

Maya and Noial in Rio Dulce, Guatemala

Maya and Noial in Rio Dulce, Guatemala

 

11. Provide transportation for Cuban officials

If you ever sail to Cuba you will be unpleasantly surprised how many times you will have to deal with officials. Every time you move the boat from one cayo to another you will have to do another immigration checking out and checking in. The Cuban officials will board the boat every time to verify if there are any undocumented people on board (you are not permitted to have Cuban friends visiting the boat EVER even if the boat sits at the marina). Making the officials paddle to the boat instead of taking them there by dinghy is a nice little revenge.

 

The Cuban officials will come aboard no matter what; if you are on a dock or at anchor.  Here Ivo and an immigration officer paddle the kayak, El Poderoso (the name of the kayak means The Mighty One in Spanish) back from the boat anchored at Cayo Levisa. Fastest kayak ride ever, said Ivo.

The Cuban officials will come aboard no matter what; if you are on a dock or at anchor.
 Cayo Levisa, Cuba

12. Be loved by children everywhere

When you show up with a kayak in an indigenous Mayan village in Guatemala, you become The Event of The Year. Not you, the kayak!

Finca Jocoro

Finca Jocoro

There hasn’t been any scientific research done on the subject of How many indigenous kids can sink an unsinkable kayak, but the experiments have already started.

 

Near Finca Jocoro, Guatemala

Near Finca Jocoro, Guatemala

13. Help you make friends

Your new indigenous friends will visit your boat if you invite them. They are as curious about your way of life as you are about theirs.

 

Friends from Playa Pataxte visiting the boat

Friends from Playa Pataxte visiting the boat

You may take a few kids to the boat on your kayak, the rest will arrive shortly with their lanchas and cayucos.

 

Our kayak also has new friends!

Our kayak also made new friends!

14. Transport you and your groceries

You can park your kayak on the docks everywhere and visit the local village or town. Be sure to lock it against theft, though. When you comeback with bags full of fruits and vegetables, the kayak will be there for you. It will take more load than you think.

 

Agent Orange waiting for us next to Angelica and Andrea... Rio Dulce, Guatemala

Agent Orange waiting for us next to Anthonia and Andrea…
Rio Dulce, Guatemala

15. Transport 10 cases of 24 beers!

Yes, it will. You can load as much cases of the cheapest beer you ever saw on a simple kayak as you want. 10 is not the limit!

 

Ivo, happy, with 10 cases of Brahva, El Estor, Guatemala

Ivo, happy, with 10 cases of Brahva, El Estor, Guatemala

16. Pull your boat

When there is no wind there are but a few alternative ways to advance with a sailboat without using engines. Put your flippers on and go push the boat; or jump in your kayak and pull! Ivo has done both, but he prefers to pull: it’s more efficient. His record speed pulling the boat by kayak is 0.5 knots!

Ivo pulling the boat, Lago Izabal, Guatemala

Ivo pulling the boat, Lago Izabal, Guatemala

 

The story of Agent Orange

 

A few months ago, our good friends Neith and Sherry gave us a kayak along with a bunch of other useful things, before heading off to the desert in New Mexico where they will take part in The Solar Ark Project. We named the kayak El Poderoso which means The Mighty One in Spanish after Che Guevara’s famous motor bike. But after some time, we nicknamed him Agent Orange, as the kayak’s most notable feature is his bright orange color.

 

Agent Orange is a simple plastic unsinkable kayak. We didn’t realize then how much we will be needing it on our travels. The kayak became one of our most treasured possessions. We use it for transportation to go from the boat to shore and back when we are anchored someplace, as well as for a number of other things and I am sure that the list of ways to use it will keep growing with time.

Sailing into the sunset

Sailing into the sunset

 

 

 

 

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Most of all, I need a friend

 

Maya with candies

Maya with candies

She was crying.

„You know how much I need a friend? I would give up all the candies in the world and all my toys for a friend right now… And every time I make a friend we leave or they leave… You know how many friends I’ve lost? Too many…“

„Don’t cry, Maya, you are making me sad. A friend you never really lose. You always keep them in your heart. Your heart will become a piggybank of friends, a map of the world with a million pins: a pin for each friend, you will see. You will become Million-Friends-Maya.“

“ I only need one now…“

 

 

This was weeks ago.

Maya met Noial on a Friday, at noon. By 2 pm they were best friends.

 

Maya and Noial. Breakfast after a sleepover in the boat.

Maya and Noial.
Breakfast after a sleepover in the boat.

 

Since then, they have been together all the time. At school, at the boat, at the pool. In jungles, in rivers, in caves.

 

At school

Noial and Maya In the schoolyard with chickens

Noial and Maya
In the schoolyard with chickens

 

 At the boat

Noual and Maya Making art while sailing

Noial and Maya
Making art while sailing

At the pool

Maya and Noial At Nanajuana Pool

Maya and Noial
At Nanajuana Pool

In jungles

Maya and Noial Hiking up the river

Maya and Noial
Hiking up the river

In rivers

Maya and Noial Chilling in the river

Maya and Noial
Chilling in the river

In caves

Noial and Maya Light-painting in a cave

Noial and Maya
Light-painting in a cave

They have been taking showers together, dancing together, jumping together.

Shower together

Noial and Maya  Taking a river shower off the boat.

Noial and Maya
Taking a river shower off the boat.

Dance together

Maya and Noial At a school party

Maya and Noial
At a school party

Jump together

Noial and Maya  Jumping off the boat

Noial and Maya
Jumping off the boat

The best moments are the ones we share with a good friend.

Maya and Noial  Taking El Poderoso (the kayak) for a ride

Maya and Noial
Taking El Poderoso (the kayak) for a ride

Maya and Noial In traditional Guatemalan costumes at the school dance.

Maya and Noial
In traditional Guatemalan costumes at the school dance.

They even cried together once…

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FriendShip. The Extraordinary Story of One Family.

 

Why do we love traveling?

– Because the world is beautiful. It is not a big world, if you think about it. The Sun, which is not bigger than a shiny pancake in the sky, is about a million times bigger than our planet Earth, which makes our planet Earth as small as a pancake crumb! But, still, it’s a beautiful planet. So many amazing places to explore…

But that’s not all. We love traveling also because of the other people who love traveling. One of the best thing happening everywhere we go is meeting incredible folks and making new friends. We become magnets for people with similar interests, values, and worldviews. We form a tribe based on common dreams.

The very first day we arrived in Rio Dulce we met Daeli, Joni, Noial, Elan, Lovam, and Spirit, presently living and traveling aboard a 39-feet catamaran Solaris Sunstream named FriendShip. We became inseparable.

 

FriendShip in Lago Izabal

FriendShip in Lago Izabal

Their extraordinary story captivated us. It begins like this:

At the foot of a volcano a tall French guy met an American girl who was reading his favorite book: Papillon by Henri Charriere. They climbed the volcano together and kept going; never stopped.

We were in a town slowly getting swallowed by the Sahara desert. Today probably it doesn’t exist anymore, covered by sand, the last town before the desert. The last time it rained there was ten years ago. It’s one of the driest places in the world. That’s why they keep metal there, mountains of iron, it never corrodes. The people in this town are really tall. They wear white jilabas and blue turbans, completely covered from the head down. There was this doctor who let us sleep on top of his roof for three nights. He told us, ‘I think she is pregnant’. He was speaking good french. The morning we found out Joni was pregnant we smoked our last cigarettes and started down the road hitch-hiking. A car saw us and pulled over. There was a goat near the road but the driver didn’t see it and hit it. The goat was badly injured. „Don’t look the goat in the eye, Daeli said, an exchange of evil spirits might occur!“ Noial was born in 2003, the Year of the Goat, in Reunion Island, after we have been traveling for months around Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and Mauritius.

 

Most of the time we would hitch-hike and camp out. But sometimes we would take the train. The trains in West Africa are tricky. People from the surrounding areas start arriving at the station days before the train and camp out for up to a week next to the railroad tracks waiting for the train to arrive. The whole thing turns into a huge party. Finally the train shows up, one of those iron trains: carts loaded with iron. That’s the heaviest train in the world. The passengers hop on top of the iron chunks and that’s how we traveled, on top of the iron. They even serve tea up there, pass it around to the people. After Noial was born we spent two years traveling around Reunion Island, Madagascar, Mauritius, Rodrigues, Comoros Islands, Kenya , and Ethiopia. Back in France we bought two bikes. The plan was to go around the world on bikes. We traveled for eight months around Europe as far north as Tromso in Norway (even to Svalbard). Then we went south to Tunisia. There we found out Joni was pregnant again. We couldn’t do a bike trip around the world with two babies and so we decided to get a sailboat instead.

 

We started looking for a sailboat while biking. We biked around Guadeloupe,  Martinique, and St Maarten where we finally found a boat. A 31-feet aluminum Brise-de-Mer named Josee. We knew nothing about sailing, we didn’t even know how to move the boom but we were so happy.

 

We enjoyed our boat and life at anchor, swimming and splashing around even though the anchorage was so dirty and polluted by the nearby boatyard. No one else was going in the water. Maybe that’s where I got the infection, I’m not sure. Elan was born in 2006 in St lucia with hypotonic cerebral palsy. In the beginning we were so worried. What is he gonna be like? Is he gonna walk? But then we realized there is no point worrying about those things and accepted his condition as part of our life.

 

We kept going. We sailed to Venezuela, Aruba Bonaire, Curacao, Colombia, and Panama and did land trips there. We travelled inland in Colombia and Venezuela for 4 months. Two years later, in 2008, Lovam was born in Guadeloupe.

 

We now had three small kids, one with PVL, but we never stopped traveling. I think it’s genetic. There is this theory about the nomadic gene. You either have it or you don’t. If you are born with it you start to get depressed if you stay in one place for too long, you can even get physical illnesses. I think both Daeli and me have the nomadic gene.

 

In 2011 we bought FriendShip, a 39- feet catamaran, as we needed more space.

 

In the beginning of their travels, in Africa, Europe and Latin America, Daeli and Joni didn’t record their journey as they didn’t have a photo camera. They were traveling mainly on foot, hitch-hiking and biking trying to keep it really light, getting their backpacks down to 7 kilograms each. They slept by the Alley of the Baobabs in Madagascar, and on top of Piton de la Fournaise volcano in Reunion, they camped at the edge of the Limestone Forest and Isalo Park with white lemurs in the trees around them. They sailed with the Vezo, semi-nomadic people on the west coast of Madagascar, on a small hand-carved pirogue. That is when they first got the taste for sailing. They were welcomed to pitch a tent in a Masai village in Kenya. They met the turkana people of lake Turkana, and visited the medieval town of Gondar in Ethiopia. They went on bike trips around France,Denmark, Norway, Finland, Italy, Germany, and Sweden and later around USA with the three babies, four months camping out, never slept in a hotel. They biked the Olympic Peninsula and the coast of Oregon. They lived in Slab City for a while. Then they got an old 1986 van and did van trips in Canada, and from Canada down to Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Honduras.

 

I kept going to the United States in between trips to do therapies with Ilan. We tried everything:  all the traditional physical, speech and occupational therapies; we tried alternative ones: Craneosacral therapy, Conductive Education, the Feldenkrais Method. They were all really good but very expensive. My hope is that one day they will be covered by insurance.

 

People ask us how we finance our lifestyle. We work from time to time, but most importantly, we live really cheaply. We have no bills. We make handmade jewelry and sell it. When we work, we save up to buy the big things, like the boats and the van. Our most precious possessions are our experiences and memories.

 

The following pictures are from their later travels with the kids, when they got a camera.

Joni, pregnant, and Noial with bikes.

Joni and Noial with bikes.

 

Daily with in Slab City

Daely with Leonard Knight in Slab City

 

Lovam

Lovam riding Daeli’s bike

 

Noial climbing the mast

Noial climbing the mast

 

 

Ilan

Elan

 

Joni

Joni with Elan

Noial and Daily

Noial and Daeli

Daily and his super-bike (100kg)

Daeli and his super 100 kg bike

 

Camping out

Camping out

 

Noial in Slab City

Noial in Slab City

 

 

Joni with the kids

Joni with the kids

 

 

Joni with the kids in their dinghy, two days ago. Photo by Mira

Joni with the kids in their dinghy, two days ago. Photo by Mira

 

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Viktor’s Trip Achievement List. Difficulty Level/Points : 1-6

People ask How is Viktor doing? I usually answer: He mostly stays on the boat and plays video games. He is actually programming a video game. Whatever it is, I get pissed off. I wish he would stop being lazy, antisocial, and plugged all the time and gets out a bit more. He has been in denial about our boat trip and we have been fighting a lot, until today. He just announced he wants to learn everything there is about sailing and become a captain!

It is not easy for a 15-year-old guy leaving behind everything he knows: his home, school and friends, and being stuck on a tiny boat with his parents and a younger sister 24/7. It takes time to adjust to a new life at that age. He mostly misses his friends.  And they miss him too. Check out what his best friend Nikola did for him.

Viktor’s trip achievement list was inspired by video games and sent to him via e-mail by his best friend back in Montreal, Nicola Guekov.

Nick and Vick  in 2008

Nicola and Viktor
in 2008

1)My pet rock
Find a pet rock and name it rockio. : 1

2)Rockio heh
eat 100 tacos during your whole trip. : 1

3)Hooker daisy
Find a hooker named daisy and give her a high five. : 4

4)Lost relic
Find a necklace in public and bury it under the sand on a beach. : 2

5)Journey of a life time
Spend 1 whole year on the trip. : 1

6)Yucky green
eat some raw seaweed. : 1

7)Armory
Find a wild sword fish and touch it. : 2

8)Slippery hands
Touch 100 wild fish. : 2

9)Bigote mexicano
Find a Mexican and comb his moustache. : 5

10)Seafood express
In a seafood restaurant order 5 different meals and eat them,you may have a helper but the order must be yours. : 3

11)Wrinkled skin
On a beach go for a swim and stay in the water for at least 1 hour. : 2

12)Lazy pancy
On a beach stay on the sand and rest for at least 1 hour. : 2

13)You you’re ok, this one, REAL FUCKIN UGLY
Find a pare of black shades and wear them for 3 hours straight. : 1

14)Ivo dedication
Shave you’re head. : 3

15)Far far away
Sail fair enough to not see any land. : 2

16)Fuck you greg
Find a shiny male numel without a gameshark or hacks. : 5

17)Scared lips
Find a NON poisonous blow fish and kiss it. : 3

18)Collision
Hit a boat with your boat. : 4

19)Harpoon kid
Catch 5 fish with the harpoon gun. : 1

20)Harpoon wielder
Catch 25 fish with the harpoon gun. : 1

21)Harpoon hunter
Catch 50 fish with the harpoon gun. : 2

22)Harpoon god
Catch a whale with a harpoon gun. : 2

23)Spongebob?
Find a pineapple under the sea. : 4

24)Lost city
FIND THE CITY OF ATLANTIS. : 6

25)Library lurker
Read 5 books in a library. : 1

26)Space connection
Acquire internet for the boat. : 1

27)Player
Play online with nick from the boat. : 1

28)Zero motivation
Disagree with whatever your parents want you to do 5 times. : 3

29)Bulk up
During your trip workout enough to get muscles and keep them. : 2

30)The green past
Go back to being a vegetarian for 1 week. : 2

31)Endless hunger
During your trip for one day do not eat. : 2

32)Day of birth
During your trip reach the age of 16. : 1

33)Blogspot
Help your mother with a post on her blog : 1

34)Internet star
Do something crazy enough that’s worth mentioning in the blog. : 2

35)The kid on the block
Get acquainted with 5 new people. : 2

36)Magic destroyer
Beat someone you have met during your trip in MTG. : 2

37)Mini engineer
Help your father to fix the boat. : 1

38)Treasure hunter
Find something underwater that’s worth keeping. : 3

39)The alpha male
During your trip get a girlfriend. : 3

40)Viktorai tha PIMP
During your trip get 5 different girlfriends. : 5

41)Dirty Dee
During your trip do not shower for 1 full week. : 2

42)Spice searcher
Visit India and acquire some spices. : 5

43)Indian enemy
visit India and take a shit on ground in their land. : 6

44)World trader
While you are in the ocean trade something with another boat. : 3

45)Mind of an RPG
Create an RPG game. : 2

46)Bottle capzz
During your trip collect over 1000 bottle caps. : 5

47)The loner
Spend a night on the boat far away from land. : 2

48)Fears
Find a sea monster. : 6

49)Another killing on the dancefloor
Dance in a party that is hosted on a boat. : 4

50)Frozen tongue
During your trip eat at least 50 ice creams. : 3

51)Impenetrable defense
During your trip do not get sick. : 4

52)Ocean rodeo
During your trip find a seahorse and name it Horsilicok. : 3

53)Maya’s present
Fart in Maya’s face. : 1

54)The lie
Turn your boat into a spacecraft. : 6

55)Fancy Georgiev
During your trip on a day with your family eat breakfast,lunch and dinner in restaurants. : 3

56)For Pete’s sake
Sneak out from the boat at night and jump in the water when everyone is asleep. : 2

57)Shortcut
Dive under the boat from one side to another. : 1

58)Sand savior
Dive underwater and grab a handful of sand and bring it back to the surface. : 2

59)Did something touch my foot
At night in the boat watch at least 2 scary movies related to the sea and after go for a swim for at least 20 minutes. : 2

60)Nightlife
On the boat stay up all night and stay busy 5 times. : 2

61)Gamer
During your trip acquire 5 new different video games. : 1

62)Action movie
During your trip ride a jet ski alone. : 1

63)Serious air
During your trip somehow stay in the air for more than 10 minutes. : 2

64)Human jaws
Eat a shark. : 1

65)HM03
surf on the beach. : 1

66)Alien food
During your trip eat at least 100 sushis. : 2

67)The ancient stuff
During your trip watch all of the episodes of ancient aliens. : 5

68)Mineral boy
Find something made of gold or gold itself. : 3

69)Sea rover
Find a real life pirate. : 2

70)Sea rover +
Find a pirate with an eye patch. : 3

71)Stranded fellow
Find a person who is stranded on an island. : 4

72)Wishes
Find a genie lamp and wish for an infinity supply of sesame seeds. : 6

73)Unforgettable Vacation
Spend 2 years on the trip. : 2

74)Hawaiian style
Attend a hawaiian themed party and ruin the party by taking a diarrhea dump on the dance floor or if there is no dance floor on a table. : 4

75)My friend the ocean
During your trip never get sea sick. : 3

76)Yellow assassin
While in the water take a full piss next to someone without being caught. : 3

77)Green assassin
While in the water puke behind someone without being caught. : 4

78)Brown assassin
While in the water draw something on a piece of paper with a brown crayon without being caught. : 2

79)Naked assault
While in the water remove your swimming trunks and go super close to someone. : 5

80)World traveler
By boat visit 20 different docks. : 4

81)Aquatic lungs
Hold your breath underwater for at least 4:31 minutes. : 3

82)My own way
While all your family members are in the water go take a shower. : 1

83)Towel saboteur
While in the water with 3 or more people sneak out and throw their towels in the water without being noticed. : 4

84)Swamp crook
Visit 5 different swamps. : 4

85)Jungle boy
Jump in a lake by swinging from a rope/vine etc.. : 3

86)L.O.S.T
Find a bottle with a message in it in the ocean. : 4

87)Medical boat
Out in the ocean find a boat with a injured passenger and help them feel better. : 4

88)Life saver
Help someone who is drowning survive. : 3

89)HAHAHA
While on the boat push Maya in the water without her knowing that you will. : 2

90)Midnight swim
At night swim 50 Meters away from the boat. : 2

91)Shits ahoy captain
Pilot the boat without your dad’s permission. : 2

92)Water game genie
Flawlessly win a game of marco polo by never becoming „it“. : 1

93)Addicted
Spend 3 years on the trip. : 4

94)Day of birth 2
Reach the age of 17 on the trip. : 2

95)One for the price of two
While fishing catch 2 fish with the same hook before reeling in. : 4

96)While he was riding his bike there was a lightning strike and now he reads real fast he’s good at science and math
During your trip visit a black doctor. : 2

97)Midshipman
During your trip find a sailor with white hair and a pipe in his mouth that like fish sticks. : 3

98)Ocean lover
By boat visit the pacific and atlantic ocean. : 4

99)False nick
During your whole trip do not encounter any inconveniences. : 5

100)Oh and before i leave…
End your trip by coming back to Canada. : 7

*We will be posting regularly and updating Viktor’s achievements and score.

Nick  2008

Nick
2008

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