Thursday, January 31, 2008

Escaping Guatemala today

The transmission is in, John's filling the jerry jugs with diesel now, he has paid for the dock, and we're waiting for our exit paperwork to come back to us. It looks like we'll be leaving Guatemala in just a few hours now. Hooray!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

No news is, well, no news

The transmission is still stuck in customs. Thursday they (customs according to DHL) wanted two more documents from the marina. Friday morning those documents were in DHL's hands, but we were unable to reach Dayana (the woman from the marina who is helping us) later in the day to learn more. DHL tracking still shows it as held for customs clearance. Dayana will be at the marina again on Monday, so we'll talk with her then.

Meanwhile, I've contacted citizens' services at the US embassy here via e-mail asking for their advice. I'm sure they can't or won't do anything directly, but I'm hoping they can direct us to someone who can help.

The longer we're stuck here, the less likely we'll be able to reach Florida in time for the ARC Europe rally. Our allowance for weather-related delays in the Caribbean is already pretty small. We're starting to think about Plan B.

I'll post again when there is real news.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Maybe today…

It’s been a frustrating week of trying to get things through Guatemalan customs and to the boat. Apparently it does no good to mark parcels “yacht in transit” here. We got stuck in customs. The smaller package of forwarded mail (including our Panama courtesy flag and a prescription) was ransomed and delivered on Tuesday. Despite having paid the customs and storage for the transmission, DHL still doesn’t know if they will be able to deliver it today. As it turns out, going to the city to pick up the package wouldn’t have worked for DHL because it’s addressed to the marina. Dayana of the marina office is helping us with this, but she’s having trouble too. Now DHL says they “hope” they will be able to deliver it this afternoon.

Meanwhile, the mechanic is standing by and I’ve alerted the agent (the guy who will help us clear out of the country) that we hope to leave Sunday. And I’ve put more money in the checking account because it looks like we’ll need it.

In all my free time, I’m studying Spanish--not that I’ll ever know enough to deal with local customs in a place like this—and planning our Caribbean routes. I’m also trying to find a place for us to stay in Panama while we have the boat out of the water. I’ve discovered that I can connect to the Internet if I take my laptop up into the cockpit. (My Hawkings antenna broke.) It’s fairly comfortable with the breeze here as long as I can stay out of the sun. I heard from KetelUp that they met a lot of Baja Ha-Ha boats at Marina Chahué, so maybe we’ll get some cruiser company here before we leave.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

New photos are posted

I've posted a bunch of new photo pages on the website. John says he's all caught up for now. Here's a link to the main photo page.

The transmission is in Guatemala

I just realized that I haven't posted anything since the transmission shipped from Seattle. It has arrived in Guatemala City, but it didn't get here until Friday. So now, we don't know if DHL will deliver it here or if we have to go get it. The city is a couple of hours from here, but Santiago will take us if we need to go. At least, we should have it and be able to get it installed this week. We're getting tired of being at the dock here and are looking forward to moving on.

Our mail was also forwarded from Florida. This time it was shipped via Federal Express. It has also arrived in Guatemala City, but the tracking info says we're out of the delivery area. The sport fishing guys say that Fed Ex definitely delivers here. I've e-mailed Fed Ex, but haven't received an answer. I'm hesitant to call because I don't think my Spanish is up to it. I guess we'll know more tomorrow.

We've heard from Casteele. They're in Costa Rica now and taking it easy. It would be nice to catch up with them again before we go our different ways in Panama.

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.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Things are looking up

Thanks to the Internet, John found a new transmission for us, in stock, in Seattle. Our regular mechanic’s supplier wasn’t going to have one for ten more days, so we had to look around. Good thing we did! Not only is this one being shipped today via DHL, but it’s enough less expensive that the difference covers the shipping. It’s DHL one-day service, but we don’t know how long it will take to get through customs.

Today a cruise ship is coming in, so all of the little shops in the marina will be open. It arrives at 9:00 am and leaves again at midnight. We hope we’ll be able to arrange a trip to Antigua with whoever is taking the cruise ship people.

We get our news from a girl who waits tables at the marina restaurant. Ashley is originally from Belize and speaks perfect English. John learned yesterday that she’s only 14, but her big 15th birthday is next week. I’ve been concerned about how we will get provisions. The town is not within walking distance and it wouldn't be safe to walk if it were. There’s no supermarket, so we’ll have to visit several little stores and the open-air market to get what we need. The taxi we used to go to the ATM and get cash for our clearance fees charged $15 roundtrip and spoke possibly less English than I do Spanish. Ashley told us that there’s a van that runs regularly for 10 Quetzales (the Guatemalan currency that converts at 7.25 to the dollar). She agreed to go with us and help us shop tomorrow (her day off).

In other news, KetelUp continued north yesterday. We got the name and phone number of Roberto, the first mate, who is from Panama and will be back there in about three weeks. He’s eager to help us in any way he can and if he’s around, we’ll definitely hire him as one of our line handlers. Kokopelli continued south this morning at 0600. She’s a racing Santa Cruz 40 with six guys on board. They’re looking for a safe harbor closer to Panama to leave her so they can go back to work. Fayaway is still here for a few days. They’ll be going through the canal later in the spring, so we’re likely to see them again. They’re headed to the Chesapeake and on to Europe next year.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Quiet weekend at Puerto Quetzal

A couple of boats have arrived from Marina Chahué: Kokopelli and Fayaway, both San Francisco boats. One we were expecting, Black Dog II, started taking on water and put in at Puerto Madero, Mexico, according to Kokopelli. Together with KetelUp, who arrived soon after us on Friday, we now have four sailboats here in the company of all of the sport fishing boats.

With not much to do here, I’ve been planning routes for when we resume the voyage. John can connect to the Wi-Fi from the boat, so he’s been getting downloads of clips from our regular shows. I’ve been working on the website a little and have posted the longer version of our latest adventure at

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Oops! We’re in Guatemala

If you saw our position report for Friday, you know that we lost our transmission and had to stop in Guatemala. If only we’d had a little more wind, we could have made it to Barillas in El Salvador, but it was looking like four more days of drifting, so we said “uncle” and called the port captain at Puerto Quetzal. We were never in any danger, and now we’re safely (albeit somewhat expensively) docked in Marina Pez Vela, Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala. We really don’t know how long we’ll be here.

That’s the short story. I’m working on a longer story to post on the website for those who are interested. John also has some interesting photos. We'll make all this available soon.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Clearing Out of Mexico

We are now leaving Mexico. We got all of our clearing out papers done in a single day. First to the Port Captain who looks at your papers, takes copies and hands you more papers. Then on to Immigration to get the Port Captain's papers stamped, passport stamped, and sign and return the tourist card. Then on to Customs and they stamp the Port Captain's papers. Then it's back to the Port Captain and he signs his papers that are now stamped and I get two copies and an international zarpe. All of this and no one noticed that the Port Captain had spelled John as "Jhon". I guess only the stamps matter.


Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Crossing the Tehuantepec

Like the other challenging passages we've made, crossing the Tehuantepec is, so far, a non-event. The key is to time it properly and wait for the window, be it wind or tide. We bided our time in Huatulco and Oaxaca, and as a result, we don't even have enough wind to turn off the engine. We're hoping that will change because we'd really rather sail. We're about a day and a half away from the southern end of the gulf, so there's time yet. Until then, our passages along the Oregon and northern California coast remain our most exciting and uncomfortable.


Saturday, January 5, 2008

Oaxaca is beautiful

After our all day bus ride from Huatulco, we were delighted to see Oaxaca. It’s much cooler here (I’ve added its weather to our home page), and this is the most beautiful city we’ve seen in Mexico. The buildings in the old city are monumental and everything is very clean, including the air.

The first evening Jan and Joan left a message to meet them at the cathedral at 7:30. Our bus was late, though, and we missed them. Nonetheless, we had a very nice dinner on a balcony overlooking the zócalo, the city square, which was decorated with white lights from the holidays and filled with poinsettias.

Our bus delay was caused by a roadblock at which we were boarded by the Mexican army and forced to disembark. Thanks to a German woman on the bus who spoke Spanish as well as English, we learned that they were searching for drugs but found turtle eggs. The women smuggling the eggs were in the back of the bus, and we watched as the army removed one of their bags and tried to get them off the bus. The soldiers were extremely polite, as were the women, but the women refused to leave until they made everyone get off. While we were standing outside, we experienced the Tehuantepec winds, which rocked the bus and nearly blew us off our feet. The water in the gulf was white with spray. It was an exciting trip, and the scenery was impressive too.

Yesterday was very busy. We met Jan and Joan for breakfast and then visited Monte Albán, an active archeological site. The sites in the ruins date from 650 BC to about 800 AD, and the Zapotec civilization that built the city pre-dates the Mayans, Incas, and Aztecs that we’re more familiar with. We splurged on a guide, and it was worth it. Clemente is part Zapotec and federally licensed as a guide. It was fascinating, and there will be photos on the website. Meanwhile, you can learn more about it by searching in Google for “Monte Alban.”

For dinner we went to a dinner/show called the La Guelaguetza. It was a buffet at the most expensive hotel in town with dancers performing folk dances from the eight cultural regions of Oaxaca to authenticate music. It was a very festive and colorful show. The actual guelguetza is a festival in July, so this was just a sample.

Today we’re off to the museums, cultural and art. There’s lots to do here, and we’re keeping our room another night. To any cruisers out there who are in the area, we highly recommend a side trip to Oaxaca.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year, everyone!

We haven’t made it to the Lighthouse for our Internet connection for a few days, so today I’ve posted two entries (assuming I actually get this posted today). It turns out that we can’t see the Lighthouse router from the dock, and the heat makes us lazy.

Most of the gringo population of Marina Chahué celebrated New Year’s Eve last night with a potluck hosted by Black Dog II. John made his famous tomato-avocado salad, and I made deviled eggs (I had a craving). Jan and Joan brought curried shrimp, and all of the other food was good too. It was a fun cruiser gathering. Later in the evening a young Mexican family joined us, Victor and Christina and their children Richard and Sara. I think John will be seeking them out later because Victor is a professor of quantum physics, and that’s a field that fascinates John.

Two more boats have joined us here, both from San Francisco, so that the San Francisco population now equals the Seattle one. They are Fayaway and Kokopelli. See saw Fayaway on our here and talked with them on the VHF radio, so they gave us a shout as they came into the dock. Kokopelli says “Santa Cruz, CA” on the stern, and she’s a Santa Cruz 40, so I asked the skipper (Kevin) if he knows Lou Pombianco. He does, so I asked him to say hello for us. I really enjoy the small-world feel of the sailing and cruising community, in case you couldn’t tell.

We’re still planning to go to Oaxaca, but we won’t be going with Jan and Joan after all. They’re cruising to a schedule because they want to meet Jan’s sister while she’s vacationing in Costa Rica, so they’re going to fly to Oaxaca tomorrow. There are no seats on the bus today, and probably not tomorrow either, so it looks like we’ll go Thursday. (We’ll go to the bus station today for our tickets and reservations.) It doesn’t look to us like the Tehuantepec will calm down by Saturday after all, so we have time. The days we linger here will simply shorten our stay somewhere else or cause us to hurry more later.