Thursday, January 17, 2008

Ups and downs

The supplier still hasn’t shipped the transmission. He’s blaming it on DHL. Maybe we’ll switch to Federal Express. John is definitely getting annoyed. Time at this dock is money.

On a happier note, we went provisioning with Ashley on Tuesday. We walked out to main road and caught a minivan. Guys simply drive their vans back and forth on the road picking up passengers for a fairly reasonable fare. You have to ask in advance how much it will cost to get where you’re going, and you have to know how much is too much. Ashley waved the first van away because he wanted too much money. Ashley’s mom met us at the store and joined us for the ride back to the marina. Although Ashley consulted her a few times, the mom really just seemed to be along for the ride.

Yesterday we hired Santiago to take us to Antigua for the day. Antigua is an old colonial city nestled on the slopes between cinder-cone volcanoes. (We could see the plume from one very active one, Volcan del Fuego, from the highway although the mountain itself was covered by clouds.) Antigua was the capital until an earthquake demolished it in 1773. Many of the old church buildings from pre-earthquake days are still standing in ruins. Many North Americans live in the city because its climate is very pleasant. We walked around town and had lunch there. I love the tapestry that the Mayan women weave. I bought one from a street vendor and probably paid too much even though John bargained. Then Santiago took us to a coffee plantation that has a museum and tours.

I didn’t realize until we got there that one of the museums was of Guatemalan musical instruments. A tour had just started when we arrived, and it was in Spanish. The instruments were interesting (did you know the marimba came from Guatemala and is the national instrument?), but the highlight for me was that I could understand almost everything the guide was saying. Not every word, of course, but definitely the gist of it all and many of the words. She spoke slowly and exceptionally clearly, so it isn’t as if I understand most people who speak Spanish to me. John said he understood a lot of it too.

The coffee tour was good too, but that guide wasn’t as easy to understand. There were signs in English too, though, so I can tell you with authority that Antigua coffee is all shade grown. That’s ecologically much sounder, but it’s also labor intensive because the coffee cherries (the bean are inside) are hand-picked, and they only pick the ripe cherries rather than stripping the whole branch. In such a poor country, it’s definitely good to give lots of people work. Their gift shop had more tapestry for sale, and I bought a couple of small handbags. They were really inexpensive.

One of Guatemala’s principal crops is sugar cane, and it grows on the lowlands along the Pacific coast, where we are. Before they harvest the cane, they burn the fields. Some mornings we find ashes on the boat, and we can always smell it at night. On our way back from Antigua, we drove past a field burning. It was an awesome sight with the tall flames against the dark sky.

From Santiago we learned why Ashley said it wasn’t safe to take the bus to town or for us to go alone. There are banditos who hold up the public buses and rob everyone on board. This is especially common in Guatemala City but happens everywhere. He says the government and police are corrupt, but a new government just took office that was elected because they promised to clean things up. So we hang out here at the marina, safe behind walls with a guarded gate, unless we are accompanied outside.

Fayaway left yesterday while we were in Antigua. Black Dog arrived on Tuesday and left this morning. Both are heading the same way we are, so we’ll probably catch up eventually, maybe in Panama. For the moment, we’re the only cruisers on the dock. It will be interesting to meet the next ones who come in.


Roger said...

John and Shirlee,
I removed and reinstalled my own rebuilt transmission in Port McNeil 2 yrs ago. Sometimes its recommended to haul the boat for the work if one has a dripless seal and the shaft has to be slid back. Let me know if I can be of any help on this end.
Roger on Destiny

John Forbes said...

Good to hear from you. Spectre Mairne (builder of our boat) tells us we don't have to haul out to replace the transmission. Good thing since it isn't possible here. Thanks for the offer of help. The transmission has now been shipped.