Waters with a Taste of Mountains.

„First the earth was created, the mountains and the valleys. The waterways were divided, their branches coursing among the mountains. Thus the waters were divided, revealing the great mountains. For thus was the creation of the earth, created then by Heart of Sky and Heart of Earth, as they are called. They were the first to conceive it.“

-Popol Vuh

River and Mountains

River and Mountains

 

Very gently, like a thief entering a sleeping house, the fairy Morgana slides through the gates of the mountain: the mouth of Rio Dulce. It is the entrance to another world. Rocky shores (temples without roofs) overgrown with dark trees. Dark trees (sorcerers with sleeping birds and snakes in the hair) stretching thin fingers down, down to the green waters of the river. Green waters of the river (messenger of the tallest mountain and forgotten places) carrying aromas and the petrified reflections of ancient gods.

 

The Entrance of Rio Dulce

The Entrance of Rio Dulce

 

Nothing happens. Like in a vacuum. Like in a dream. Rocky shores, dark trees, green waters of the river-serpent. Only forest butterflies, men of maize in cayucos carved from tree trunks fishing with nets made out of Mayan secrets, and our alien boat sailing through the mountains perturb the slumber of this enchanted world.

Nothing happens for three days and three nights. We remain anchored near Cayo Quemado, a few mile before the town of Rio Dulce, unable to continue, slowly letting Guatemala soak in our bones through our skins, through our eyes, ears, and mouths.

Our mornings are populated by crystal drizzle, the smell of small fires, and the cry of a black forest bird.

A silent cayuco sneaks next to our boat. A mother with three children older than time are selling tamales. She made them this morning over the fire, with her hands and her magic. She put a chicken bone for a skeleton in the middle of corn-rolls and wrapped them, like you would wrap a newborn baby, in palm leafs. Over the fire, under her spell. They taste of palm leafs, smoke and flesh.

 

Quiche woman with baby selling Tamales from her canoe

Quiche woman with baby selling Tamales from her canoe

 

Our afternoons move slowly in the heat of the summer and even stop for an hour or go backwards. Time here is not the same.

On the second day we meet the river people. Half human half fish they live in the river from the waist down and in the forest from the waist up. They have small wooden houses built on the river banks. Their canoes glide like snakes on the surface of the waters. They have no other roads but the rivers. Their enemies are the invisible river crabs.

 

River People's House

River People’s House

 

Our evenings are purple with white dots. Purple like the mountain. The white dots are river lilies and egrets returning to sleep in the trees.

 

River Lilies

River Lilies

 

Our nights are filled with the distant songs of frogs and cicadas, and the melancholic cries of the river manatees.

 

Sunset over Rio Dulce

Sunset over Rio Dulce

 

Daily prompt 

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The Gulf of Honduras Bridge Is Not On The Charts!

 

 Sailing south along the coast of Belize

 

Sailing south non stop for over twenty hours along the Caribbean coast of Belize between the mainland and the Belize Barrier Reef where the seas are low; winds over twenty knots, the boat doing eight, at times nine knots. The miles go fast. Small mangrove islands to port, tall mountains to starboard, dark and mysterious, a huge river delta poring its brown waters in the sea.

At night, we try to take turns steering the boat, Ivo, Viktor, and I, but most of the time Ivo is at the helm, enjoying the speed. As we enter the Gulf of Honduras, the wind dies and the sea becomes flat as a lake. Staying awake is a challenge. Humongous cargo ships criss-cross the gulf, passing just next to our tiny boat. One even alters her course avoiding us. Good thing she saw us.

 

The Gulf of Honduras bridge

 

Around 3 in the morning Ivo wakes me up after a sharp tack, worried.

„There is a bridge in front of us and it looks low, we almost crashed into the bridge!“

„What bridge are you talking about, I don’t see a bridge.“ All I see is city lights in the distance. I take the spotlight and gaze into the darkness.

„The bridge, there, don’t you see it? Shit, it’s not on the chart! And that’s exactly where we have to go, it’s on our way!“

 

Ivo

Ivo

 

He really sees a bridge. Viktor and I try hard, staring into the darkness to see it too. Ivo has convinced us the bridge is right there, only, we cannot detect it…

We spend an hour circling in front of the bridge, altering our course in order not to collide with it, checking another chart to see if they maybe indicated it there. They didn’t. Sometimes the charts are way off, but omitting to mark a creepy low bridge in the middle of the Gulf of Honduras is preposterous!

„Wait a minute, this isn’t a bridge, I say, this is a road on land far away in the distance and you are hallucinating! Go get some sleep,“ I take over the wheel for the rest of the night and turn the boat directly towards the imaginary bridge.

Ivo goes below to get some sleep thinking to himself, „Man I hope she doesn’t hit the bridge…“

 

 

weekly writing challenge

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Cuba: An Introduction

Esto No Es Cuba

 

For years we dreamed of visiting and exploring Cuba. Starting in Havana with its rich cultural and historical heritage, we were planning to travel in the interior of the country as well and see authentic Cuban life in rural villages, away from the big city and the touristic resorts. This plan didn’t work for various reasons.

Before sailing to Cuba, I read a thick book: Anderson’s Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life and I couldn’t help but admire Fidel Castro’s struggle against military dictator Batista and Imperial America’s interests and presence in Cuba in the 1950-s. Castro, Che Guevara and a  handful of rebeldes hiding in la Sierra Maestra started a movement that grew and spread and sparked a full scale revolution which overthrew an unjust cruel regime and implemented social and agrarian reforms in the early 1960-s. To us the Cuban Revolution, like the French Revolution (and any other revolution) was, and still is, the greatest event in any country’s history.

Che Guevara graffiti on a wall in Havana

Che Guevara graffiti on a wall in Havana

 

In Cuba, we were expecting to find „the accidental eden„: a country small and isolated but independent and dignified; a land unspoiled by big industry where all crops are organic and the food is healthy; a defiant welcoming people that stood undefeated and proud so close to an imperial giant. We wanted to show to our children that an alternative is possible and can work for an entire nation. An alternative to capitalism, consumerism, globalization; a whole different system organized around principals of equality and simplicity, where people were not reach in possessions but nevertheless educated, healthy, and happy.

We didn’t find that country and our romantic expectations all burst into pieces in just a few days.

Instead, we found a ruined place with building crumbling over their residents and streets resembling war trenches; dirty stores with almost no merchandise inside; people begging for a dollar or a T-shirt or a roll of toilet paper or anything at all, with tears in their eyes and no pride left in them, cheating, stealing and prostituting themselves to survive another day full of incomprehensible misery, afraid to speak out their indignation; a dysfunctional system that has abandoned its citizens in deplorable state to fend for themselves; and a government implementing its rule with police force, propaganda and cruel restrictions to basic human rights.

 

A street in Havana

A street in Havana

We arrived in Havana on July 24, just in time for the big national holiday: the anniversary of the Moncada assault 26 de Julio, but we didn’t see any organized celebrations and festivities.

The first Cubans we met were the immigration and border officers, a doctor, the dock masters, and a drug dog who one by one boarded our boat upon arrival. They all, except the dog, asked for propina (a tip) in a way we couldn’t refuse. One guy even returned our five dollar bill and said he couldn’t accept less than twenty… They also „liked“ our big garlic which they spotted in the galley and of course took some of it. This unpleasant situation lasted for a few stressful hours. One by one various officials boarded Fata Morgana and extorted American dollars from us. And this is the „normal“ procedure for all boats arriving in Cuba.

In the next few days we met more Cubans. We noticed that those who were corrupted like the border officials, or those who had relatives in America sending them money and things, managed somehow to live comfortably, but the ones who were trying to lead more honest life and had no relatives outside of the country,  lived in complete misery, even though employed.

The Cuban doctors, teachers, drivers, janitors all receive a ridiculous state salary, the equivalent of about 10 to 20 US dollars per month which cannot cover basic expenses like food, electricity bill, water. And pensions are even less.

 

Tita, 82 and Roberto, 83 in their downtown Havana apartment. Both retired. To survive, they collect fresh water and boil it at night, selling it in plastic bottles to neighbors the next day. ( The municipal water in Havana is dangerous to drink if not boiled)

Tita, 82 and Roberto, 83 in their downtown Havana apartment. Both retired. Tita’s pension is about $ 8 per month. To survive, they collect fresh water and boil it at night, selling it in plastic bottles to neighbors the next day. ( The municipal water in Havana is dangerous to drink if not boiled)

In Cuba, there are two currencies: the Cuban peso for the Cubans and the convertible peso (CUC) for the tourists, which complicates the crippled economy further and is insulting for the population. The convertible peso’s value is almost the same as the US dollar. 1 CUC costs 24 Cuban pesos. There is also food stamps for the population (as if the entire population is underprivileged or in a state of emergency, which they pretty much are). This is the only country in the world that distributes food stamps to its citizens outside wartime, which get them a small ratio of basic products like rice, beens, eggs (if there is any),flower, sugar, and salt but this is not enough to get by. And they cannot afford anything „fancier“. A bottle of 1.5L orange juice costs 1.5 CUC. One beer is 1 CUC. One bread is 3 CUC. So they are pushed to resort to alternative ways of providing for the family.

A truck driver makes about 360 pesos or 15 CUC per month. So, he will steal the truck’s fuel and sell it, as well as most of the load, property of the state. Thus, often, the goods don’t get to the stores and nobody wonders why. A construction worker makes about the same salary as the truck driver. So he will steal construction materials and sell them. Thus, buildings and roads are falling apart often killing residents, the whole infrastructure is crumbling, and nobody wonders why.

 

We tried to find and buy bread. This is the local panaderia, bakery. All they had was galletas, dried hard bread.

We tried to find and buy bread. This is the local panaderia, bakery. All they had was galletas, dried hard bread.

But if Cuban people today are stealing and cheating and prostituting themselves, it is because they are pushed to do so in order to survive, not because they are inherently bad. It is the last consequence in a chain of consequences. And in the base of the chain is, with no doubt, the American embargo.

In the years after the Revolution, as a response to a massive nationalization of American business and assets in Cuba, United States placed an embargo which prevents American companies from dealing with Cuba, as well as US citizens from traveling  to Cuba. It also sanctions non-US corporations trading with Cuba. Thus, during the Cold War, Cuba’s economic survival mainly depended on trade and assistance from the Soviet Union. But after the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s, Cuba was left hanging in thin air, alone. And the US embargo is still on.

 

A Cuban Girl

A Cuban Girl

The embargo is cruel, unjust, hypocritical, and simply ridiculous. Its stated reason for still being in effect after half a century is the lack of democracy and human rights in Cuba. At the same time, USA has supported and even helped to implement cruel dictator’s regimes in the region: Pinochet in Chile, a bunch of dictators in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala, and many many others. Instead of helping to liberate the Cuban people from communist oppression, the embargo is causing poverty, famine, and suffering among the population.

But the embargo is not the only reason for the present malfunction of the communist regime in Cuba.

In such a deplorable economical state of affairs, a political system based on principals of „equality“ cannot function at all. Pretty much everyone is „equally“ poor. And in such an environment corruption on all levels easily takes root. The entire communist idea, the principals of the Revolution, got corrupted long ago and today the poor Cubans we met are placing the blame for their dire situation entirely on the Cuban government who seams has abandoned them, or more precisely, keeps them as slaves. „What do you think needs to be done?“, I asked a man (whose name I cannot mention here) after he invited me in his house with dirt floors and no windows which he shares with his daughter and four grand children, to show me how Cubans live so that I can show the world. Getting very close to my face, with an intense look, he answered: “ Fusillar a Castro“ (Shoot Castro).

A poor Cuban household in Jaimanitas, near Havana

A poor Cuban household in Jaimanitas, near Havana

Later that day we witnessed an arrest further down the street in Jaimanita, a small village near Havana where marina Hemingway is. An army jeep full of soldiers quickly appeared and  stopped in front of a house and all people walking up and down the street suddenly disappeared. The soldiers ran in the house and pulled out four middle aged men with handcuffs. Someone explained to us, the arrested were organizing something against the government, but one of the many „chivatos“ (traitors) who are all over the place betrayed them. We don’t know what happened to those men.

It is evident that a great change is needed for Cuba, if not a new Revolution, and fast. The country, like a small ship that has sailed a long way across storms and sharp rocks, is now sinking, but the captain is not letting an SOS signal keeping the passengers away from the life-rafts. And on the American ship, a humongous cruise boat near by, people are watching the spectacle and having a party.

 

A Cuban Man

A Cuban Man

 

 

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Dry Tortugas

 

 

 

The time has come to sail away. Leave Key West and start visiting other places.

First destination: Cuba with a short stop in Dry Tortugas.

 

July 19, 7:00 am, Friday, we leave our Key West anchorage and head west. From here to Dry Tortugas are about 70 miles. Light wind (about 10 knots) is pushing us from the east. We are not going very fast, 5 to 6 nautical miles per hour, but we are not in a hurry and after 3 jibes and 14 hours of uneventful sailing we enter a marine sanctuary comprising seven uninhabited undeveloped coral and sand islands: Dry Tortugas.

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Garden Key

Explorer Ponce de Leon originally named the area Las Tortugas (Turtles) in 1513 for the shores of the islands were (and still are) favorite nesting grounds for sea turtles. Soon after, as ships started cruising these waters, the place became known as Dry Tortugas to mariners indicating that there ins’t fresh water on the islands.

The Lighthouse on top of Fort Jefferson

The Lighthouse on top of Fort Jefferson

It is already dark when we drop anchor in the anchorage next to Garden Key, a small island entirely occupied by Fort Jefferson: an impressive 19th century fort. This must be the most dramatic anchorage just outside the massive abandoned monster of a building.

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Fort Jefferson

The steps leading up and down the 2 levels of the fort and the roof

The steps leading up and down the 2 levels of the fort and the roof

 

The story of Fort Jefferson is as pathetic as it is fascinating. The Americans begun its construction in 1846 and the idea was to build a military fort and thus control navigation in  the Gulf of Mexico. Thirty years later, as the fort was still unfinished, it became evident that the construction was a failure.

Maya, Ivo, and Vick looking out from Fort Jefferson

Maya, Ivo, and Vick looking out from Fort Jefferson

Too many things went wrong mainly because of the lack of drinking water: the water tanks collecting rainwater failed, the iron corrugated, the bricks crumbled, the sewage system didn’t work, the workers became sick having to drink mosquito larva infested semi-salty water. Nature defeated man.

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From the top looking down

Looking out a broken window

Looking out a broken window

 

Still, Fort Jefferson was put to use during the Civil War as a Union military prison for deserters. It housed the four men convicted of complicity in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln including doctor Samuel Mudd. By 1880s, the American Army abandoned the project and in 1908 the area became a wildlife refuge; a National Monument in 1935; and a National Park and Sanctuary in 1992.

 

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Inside the abandoned fort

The next two days we explore the fort in and outside as well as the island kayaking from our boat to shore.

Viktor "pushing" Maya off the roof of the fort

Viktor „pushing“ Maya off the roof of the fort

The building is enormous, we didn’t expect this. We roam for hours through its dark humid corridors and chambers imagining life in those times. We go there in the morning and in the afternoon, when all the day tourists arriving from Key West packed  in a motor boat for a four-hour guided tour are gone.

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Running around Fort Jefferson

At this point, we hate those tourist crowds so much, we keep as far as possible, as if they were diseased cockroaches. I believe tourism has spoiled so many once remote natural wonders and historic sites transforming them into ridiculous crowded polluted money-making resorts and attractions.

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At least, they don’t play loud music and serve alcohol in Fort Jefferson, no disco clubs and casinos here. I hope they will never transform part of the fort into a hotel, but at this rate, I wouldn’t be surprised if they do… For now, there is only the anchorage where boats can stay overnight and a small camping ground on the island with a few tent sites.

Getting to Fort Jefferson by kayak.

Getting to Fort Jefferson by kayak.

The only permanent residents here are various seabirds, billions and billions of hermit crabs with fancy shells, and a sea crocodile who comes out of the ocean before sunset to slumber on the hot sands of the deserted beach.

Sea birds resting on our boat

Sea birds resting on our boat

Mira with a hermit crab

Mira with a hermit crab

A sea crocodile on the beach at sunset

A sea crocodile on the beach at sunset

close up of the crock running back in the water

close up of the crock running back in the water

 

On the third day, we lift anchor (no motor on) and we sail very carefully among coral reefs for about two hours to the next  island, Loggerhead Key, where a tall lighthouse stays erected amidst a patch of palm trees surrounded by sandy beaches. Here, we spend a day and a night. And something incredible happens, it must be karma… You won’t believe it!

Loggerhead Key Lighthouse

Loggerhead Key Lighthouse

 

Inspiration

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The Wreckers

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The Wreckers by Rush

 

The breakers roar
On an unseen shore
In the teeth of a hurricane
Oh, we struggle in vain
A hellish night
A ghostly light
Appears through the driving rain
Salvation in a human chain
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All I know is that sometimes you have to be wary
Of a miracle too good to be true
All I know is that sometimes the truth is contrary
Everything in life you thought you knew
All I know is that sometimes you have to be wary
‘Cause sometimes the target is you
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Driven to ground
With a helpful sound
Drowned by the cheer from the shore
Oh, we wonder what for
The people swarm
Through the darkening storm
Gather everything they can score
‘Til their backs won’t bear any more
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All I know is that sometimes you have to be wary
Of a miracle too good to be true
All I know is that sometimes the truth is contrary
Everything in life you thought you knew
All I know is that sometimes you have to be wary
Of a miracle too good to be true
All I know is that sometimes the truth is contrary
‘Cause sometimes the target is you
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Key West’s Geology

Lying in shallow tropical seas, a long and disordered chain of islands, the Florida Keys, stretches between the southernmost point of Florida’s mainland and Dry Tortugas. Alongside, submerged in turquoise waters and hidden from view, run the corral reefs: a 200 miles (320 kilometres) of underwater wilderness just a few feet bellow the surface. Beyond the reefs, a busy ocean highway flows, a major shipping route: The Gulf Stream.

How many absent-minded ships carried by winds and powerful currents have diverted from their route in the uncertainness of night to slit their bellies open upon the shallow  underwaters? Countless.

For them- disaster.

For local wreckers- booty.

A Short History of Key Wet’s Wreckers

It’s been going on for centuries, since ships started sailing in these waters: a wreck per week. For centuries, rootless islanders have been awaiting  unaware vessels to run aground, sometimes luring them towards the shallows with deceiving lights.

When an elephant falls, a hundred hyenas rush to the carcass,devour it, fight for a chunk.

The wreckers would anchor behind mangrove islands at night and patrol the dangerous waters during the day looking for stranded vessels to pillage. The first wrecking captain to reach a crushed ship would became the wreck master. He would employ as many wreckers as he needed to help salvage the ship, and direct the whole operation.

The salvaged cargo and the ship, if it could be saved, were taken to Key West where they were appraised or auctioned. The wrecking vessels and crews that participated in the operations would then be awarded a share of the salvage value. Half of the salvage award went to the owners of the wrecking vessels, divided among the boats on a tonnage basis. The other half went to the wrecker crews, proportional to the number of crewmen on each vessel.

Thus, by the mid 19 century wrecking, regulated, became one of the main industries in the region, along with piracy, drug trafficking, smuggling, and other shady activities.

Recent Wrecking Events

Tyler calls on the VHF and tells us of a recent wreck. A sailboat has ran aground and has been abandoned. What exactly has happened and why is a mystery. So are the identity and the whereabouts of the boat’s owner. We decide to go check it out.

The wreck is near Stock Island, a few miles away from our anchorage, and we get there sailing aboard Fata Morgana in a couple of hours. With us are Tyler and Tony. We get to the site in the afternoon and drop anchor away from the shallows using our dinghy to get to the wrecked vessel.

The crippled boat is leaning on its starboard side, the tip of its mast pointing towards the sunset. Its insides are a dark mess half full of water and green liquids. It must have been a slow painful death. There is a yellow note from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Law Enforcement explaining: Vessel aground. No sails. Abandoned. No apparent value. Open to elements. We, Tyler, Tony, Ivo and Mira, thereupon name ourselves The Elements, pumped up with adrenalin, and proceed to scavenging the wreck, working with screwdrivers and hummers, taking anything that looks useful.

We get a bunch of valuable stuff, we have to do two dinghy rides to bring them to Fata.

The boat is stripped of most of its valuables before the night falls and we are going back to our anchorage in Key West to split the goodies.

Approaching the wreck

Approaching the wreck

Boarding the wreck Ivo and Tony

Boarding the wreck
Ivo and Tony

Inside the Wreck Tyler and Ivo

Inside the Wreck
Tyler and Ivo

Green diesel water inside the wreck

Green diesel water inside the wreck

Notice

Notice

 

Grabbing stuff Tyler

Grabbing stuff
Tyler

Inside Mira

Inside the wreck
Mira

Ivo finds the American Flag

Ivo finds the American Flag

Smoke break  Tony and Tyler

Smoke break
Tony and Tyler

Bathroom break Ivo

Bathroom break
Ivo

Tony's new anchor chain

Tony’s new anchor chain

 

Back at Fata Morgana Tyler and Tony

Back at Fata Morgana
Tyler and Tony

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClbE019cLNI

 

 

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Doctor Ivo’s Floating Orthopedics

*The name Ivo is pronounced with an e (eevo) and sounds much like evil

One day Stacy and Ryan drop by for beers. Stacy is not feeling too good. She has stepped on some broken glass on the dinghy dock and has two cuts on her left foot. After about a week she is still in pain and her infected foot looks worst than before. Ivo examines it and immediately admits Stacy for an emergency night operation aboard Fata Morgana. Using a razorblade and alcohol for disinfection, he first removes the dead skin and scrapes off the decaying flesh inside the wound. Stacy is suffering quietly, she is so brave. The only anesthesia she gets is a shot of rum. She says the cutting hurts less than the alcohol Ivo pours over the open wound.

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Maya is assisting Doctor Ivo holding a spotlight and staring at the operation. I couldn’t do this… I am taking pictures from the opposite side. Just thinking about the open wound: putrid meat oozing with blood, makes my stomach turn. But Maya is brave, like Ivo, and maybe one day she will be the one operating. She learns so much from her dad.

That first night Ivo cleans one of the two cuts and does the second one couple of days later, again in the dark.  This time Ryan is the assistant. He is so impressed with Ivo’s surgical skills, says Ivo is better than any general doctor he has encountered in America, and since the operation calls him Doctor Ivo (which is a much better nickname than The Bulgarian Flying Hummer, I think…).

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Today, Doctor Ivo is treating new patients at his private nocturnal cabinet. The doctor works in his swimsuit and only at night, using cutting-edge technologies such as razorblades and tissues soaked in alcohol. Bring your own rum if you prefer a bit of anaesthesia before, during, or after an operation. Tips in the form of fish, lobsters, beers, buckets, and others are always welcome.

If your feet are in such a bad state that you cannot walk any longer, the floating cabinet can sail over to you anywhere on the planet.

D-r Ivo

D-r Ivo

 

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Peter the Sailmaker

On one of our first time sailing aboard Fata Morgana, the headsail gets a bit torn on the edge where the sun cover is while furling it. This means we have two options: buying a new jib or repairing the old. Both options involve spending money which is the last thing we want to do.

We research in the Internet and it turns out that a new jib for our boat costs about $ 3,000 and a used one could be somewhere between $500 and  $1,000. There is a sailmaker in Stock Island, and we bike there to see if he has any adequate used sails and get a quote for a new jib or for repairs. His name is Peter and it looks like he is the only sailmaker in Key West because everyone recommends him.

Peter inspects the jib and tells us the thread on the suncover is burned and needs to be restitched, which is normal, and that the canvass is still good. He can repair it for about $250. Sounds better than buying a new or a used sail.

Peter

Peter

We tell Peter that we are “on a budget” and that we could work and help him if this will bring the price down. Turns out, he has an old wooden sign to be repaired and he hires us to do the job, Ivo will do the woodwork and I will do the artwork. He will repair our sail and we will repair his sign, no money involved. Barter. How cool is this!

Barter is a system of exchange by which goods or services are directly exchanged for other goods or services without using a medium of exchange, such as money… Barter usually replaces money as the method of exchange in times of monetary crisis, such as when the currency may be either unstable (e.g., hyperinflation or deflationary spiral) or simply unavailable for conducting commerce. [From Wikipedia]

I think barter is a better micro economic system of exchange as it creates relationships and is a lot more satisfying and ultimately creates a sense of community where people interact with one another helping each other using their particular skills on friendly basis. Plus, it is a better option for people low on cash or who don’t want to deal with cash, like us. From now on, we will try to do this as much as possible.

Mira and Peter working on a sail in Peter's loft

Mira and Peter working on a sail in Peter’s loft

The next week we spend at Peter’s loft listening to some good old blues songs, helping to remove the old stitches from the suncover and fixing the sign while he sits behind his sawing machine and works on our jib. We like Peter who is all about adventure and sailing, a bit of an anarchist like ourselves. In the past, he and his late wife have organized and participated in regattas and races to Cuba many times.

Ivo repairs Peter's wooden sign

Ivo repairs Peter’s wooden sign

Thus, we not only had our jib fixed without spending money, but we also learned a lot about fixing sails. Also, we made a new good friend who is also a good sailor and who enjoyed snorkelling and sailing with us on Fata Morgana, teaching us valuable tricks about tacking with a catamaran, for example. I suspect, we will go out sailing and snorkelling some more while we are still in Key West, Florida, plus, we will probably make a dodger for our boat with Peter’s help, we’ll see about this.

The sign is ready

The sign is ready

Thank you Peter!

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Ninety Percent Chance of Showers

We are now anchored north of Fleming Key Florida, a 5 minute dinghy ride away from Key West downtown. There are hundreds of boats anchored out here. It’s free and you can stay indefinitely. We are still doing repairs on the boat, still waiting for parts we have ordered, so we will be here for a few weeks. We have to fix the starboard engine, we need a longer chain for the anchor, and we have to deal with the headsail: either buy a new jib or have the old one re-stitched.

Every day here in Key West is beautiful: either a beautiful sunny day or a beautiful rainy day. There are tons of things to do when it is sunny: sailing, fishing, snorkeling, hanging out with friends, bicycling or walking around town. When it is rainy, there are things to do as well, things you can’t do when it is sunny.

Here is what you can do when it rains (and if you can think of other things-to-do-in-the-rain, please let us know in the comment box bellow):

  1. Give the boat a nice scrub, especially if she has spent the past two months in a filthy boatyard;
  2. Collect rainwater to fill your freshwater tanks;
  3. Ride a bike and get soaked, but feel happy;
  4. Take a shower.

Freshwater shower is a luxury for people of our lifestyle and so an opportunity like this (a free and abundant downpour) needs to be grabbed and enjoyed.

Ivo and Vick taking a rain shower.

Ivo and Vick taking a rain shower.

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Maya collecting rain water.

Maya collecting rain water.

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The Solar Ark

„The overriding goal is to get away from the notion of ‘waste’ – everything natural is food for somebody or something, and therefore a resource.“

– ARVO

Close your eyes and imagine a place:

A mountain desert. Harsh climate. Desolate landscape.

But that is not the place you had to imagine, I’m sorry. Go back, and close your eyes again, and imagine a different place:

In the mountain desert, amidst the desolate landscape, surrounded by beautiful highlands, imagine an oasis. But don’t imagine the typical boring clishe, the one with the small lake in the middle and two palm trees, please. The one I am asking you to envision is much much more complicated and will take a lot more effort and ingenuity from the part of your imagination. But I’ll help you, don’t panic. Here are some of the most important items you need to place in your mental picture of the oasis: 

(You can now open your eyes in order to continue reading and see the visual aids)

 First, imagine HOMES built with a deplorably low budget using natural or recycled materials (such as rock, flagstone, recycled brick, tile, glass and lumber, straw bale, pallets, earth block [adobe], and pumice), powered by sun and wind. Imagine wind turbines and solar panels sending little packages of canned sunlight and wind puffs which come out of the wall outlets of these homes to power ultra-efficient appliances: a light-bulb, a washing machine, a well pump, a ‘solar fridge’. The sun bill of these households never goes up one cent, imagine…

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  Next, imagine a complex of integrated GREENHOUSES where lemons ripen without any supplemental heat while outside temperatures can dip to -25 degrees and where, surrounded by plants and rocks, you can take a greenhouse shower, rain water heated by the sun cascading down from a log.

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Imagine a BEAUTIFUL BACKYARD which we will now call Flushing Meadows as it is irrigated by Greywater from the showers and toilets (after a proper sceptic treatment, of course).

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Imagine a truly sustainable to perfection  ORGANIC FARM where frogs eat the nasty insects, ladybugs dine on pests, earthworms take care of the waste material turning it into prime soil, bees provide honey, wax, propolis and pollen while pollinating the orchard, and when they die, god bless their innocent little souls, become a source of protein for the chickens. And the chickens eat everything and everybody. Cannot blame the chickens, because they make eggs and are tasty, but also, they poop. And that’s good too. In this particular oasis, chicken poop makes biogas for heating and prime liquid fertilizer, which is used to grow duckweed algae as a protein-rich feed, for who?- For the chickens themselves!

Arvo with Carlos

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And finally, imagine, in the middle of it all, A SMILING GERMAN GUY NAMED ARVO who looks dramatically like Klaus Kinski, holding a female raven named Carlos.

Klaus Kinski

Klaus Kinski

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Congratulations! You have now successfully imagined The Solar Ark . And if you like this vision, let me tell you, it is real! And you, if you just imagine it possible, can become a part of it. All you need to do is to get to New Mexico where this oasis exists for more than a decade now. Or, you can simply think about all of this, maybe consider it possible to change your ways a little?

Thanks to Baba Ghanoush, we met Sherri and Nathaniel who told us about all this and who are heading to New Mexico in June to become part of The Solar Arc Project, to live there, to learn, and to help Arvo build and maintain his oasis.

Note:

I took the liberty of getting information and pictures from The Solar Ark’s website which you can visit right here for more information and details on accommodation for visitors and students, the educational program and topics covered, cost, and possibility for work-exchange (you don’t have to pay anything to learn and stay there as long as you work!)

This is something Ivo and me would totally do and we would be perfect, as we come from Bulgaria where everyone had orchards, and chickens, and outside toilets, and wells, and little wood shops. Maybe one day we will do this, when we get tired of sailing the world…

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Stock Island

It’s strange living in a boat. The very idea of home becomes problematic. HOME IS WHERE OUR BOAT IS explains a little sign we found aboard, and in some way it is true. ‘Home’, the equivalent of ‘house’ is our boat. But ‘home’, the equivalent of ‘hometown’, where the mail gets sent to, or the geographical place where one feels one belongs is an ever-changing fluid notion.

Since we have been travelling we have become conscious of a peculiar occurring. As soon as we stop somewhere for two weeks or more temporarily living in a place, not merely visiting the touristic attractions, the place transforms into ‘home’. The transformation occurs slowly, by degrees.

As we learn where the local grocery store, park, beach, bus stop are; as we get used to the climate, flora, and fauna; as we establish relationships with new friends and temporary neighbors; as we learn bits and pieces of the place’s histories as remembered by the locals, the place becomes familiar to us. And we become familiar to the place too. We become familiar to the woman who sells us beer and ice cream in the grocery store, to the homeless guy who lives in the park where the kids play, to our temporary neighbors with whom we share food, drinks, and stories. It soon feels like home. We become locals.

Today, home is our boat Fata Morgana located in 3D Boatyard in Key West, Florida.

Actually (technically) we still haven’t visited Key West. The boatyard is in Stock Island, a small island which is part of Key West, Monroe County, but is also a separate city linked by a bridge north of the City of Key West.

Remember that big good-looking kid in fifth grade, with expensive clothes and a sleek haircut, smart, blond, and popular; and that other poor kid: dark, skinny, dirty, and mean, always getting in trouble, whose parents don’t speak English?

That other kid is Stock Island.

All the hotels, beaches, nice restaurants, nice bars, galleries and museums are in Key West. In Stock Island there is a military navy base, a sewage treatment plant, and a jail. All the fun-loving money-spending tourists go to Key West. In Stock Island live unemployed and low income families, mostly Cuban and Haitian refugees, no tourist comes here. The area is so poor that there is not a single full-scale grocery store (if we don’t count the small corner stores), but a food bank where the low-incomes can get loads of free groceries once a week. The jail is full with the Stock Island’s many homeless, who would do anything to spend more time there getting three hot meals a day, a bed, and good company.

In Key West you can visit the Light House, Hemingway’s house, or the Museum of Art. In Stock Island you can visit the trailer parks with no fences between trailers, laundry hanging out to dry, the smell of spices lurking out of open doors with dark interiors.

In Key West you can watch the sunset from Malory Square. In Stock Island you can watch Cuban fishermen gutting groupers at sunset.

In Key West you can sit in a coffee shop and admire the pink tourists in bikini and straw hats flip-flopping down Duval Street. In Stock Island you can walk down the side of a street covered with pieces of bleached corals and watch a group of black men in shorts sitting in front of the porch of a trailer, smoking and watching you back, suspiciously.

Here people have boats instead of cars parked in front of their houses. The ones who don’t have houses live in boats or repurposed motor vehicles of all kinds. And everyone rides bicycles.

If you were to wake up one morning here, say, fifty years ago, you would find the place pretty much the same: the same mangroves all around the shores, the same blue waters teaming with tropical fish, the same people and dwellings, only less. One change you might notice is that, in the old times, the bravest and most drunk party-loving tourists would come to Stock Island at three o’clock in the morning after the bars in Key West were already closed, because the bars in Stock Island would stay open all night.

This is the charm of Stock Island: its authenticity. If you are able to detect beauty in a pink trailer with an unhealthy stray cat sitting in front; in an old black woman with a wig and a bright orange dress walking down the street holding a heavy bag in each hand; in an old turquoise school bus turned house wild chickens running around; in a young Cuban boy helping his father clean fish on the pier; in a green iguana sunbathing on the edge of a boat; you will find Stock Island enchanting, like I do. It is home, really, for the time being.

Stock Island’s Dwellings&Dwellers

An old wooden house on pylons

An old wooden house on pylons

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