04-05-2017 – Tamarindo, Costa Rica

It’s hard to believe that we spent almost two years in one place (Bahia del Sol, El Salvador) – but we filled that time full! We made good use of the car that we bought early on, and saw many places in Central America while our boat safely rested in the Jaltepeque Estuary. We also enjoyed our longest trip away from the boat, almost two months traveling in South America. Bahia del Sol was a good place for us to accomplish many of our boat projects – short of hauling out or re-powering. We were able to have some large items shipped to us from the States, and it was quite convenient to have friends and family visit. We lived there long enough that we created our own network of “go-to” vendors, from a top-notch machine shop (Moldtrok) to a diesel lab (Manasa) to a repair shop for electric motors (Remesa). We got a custom-built propane stove from Imperial and lots of stainless steel parts from La Palma. We developed relationships with a couple of local men who refinished our cap rail (Reymundo), filled our water tanks (Deny), and cleaned the barnacles from our boat’s bottom (both of them, with helpers!). There is a small community of expats and boaters that we enjoyed socializing with while we were there, and a fairly regular stream of new faces coming in (and leaving again!).

Bill and Jean are the tireless force behind this community, organizing the El Salvador Rally to get the word out about this place as a cruiser’s destination. They not only arrange for cruising boaters to be guided safely across the entrance bar, and provide loads of advice and assistance to this community, but are also a huge boon to the local community living on the undeveloped island where they are putting together their own home. They are the focal point for many charitable activities to help the very poor families living there, including building cisterns to collect and store rainwater, acquiring the supplies and equipment needed to spray for mosquitoes that carry zika and chikungunya, providing ecologically sensitive stoves to reduce the need for firewood for cooking, and training several people in services that can provide a good living (like cleaning boats and sewing canvas). This couple has made an incredible mark on the lives of these people! Many thanks to them both!

We were very busy up to the last day, getting ready for our next adventure. It was nice to have Jonnie aboard for a few weeks before we left, so that she could settle into her new space and learn her way around. In this period, we decided to do a 5-day diet that we’ve been doing quarterly for the last year or so. Jonnie joined us on this Fasting Mimicking Diet, which leaves one very hungry – and occasionally grumpy. :-) Although it wasn’t the intent, it also turned out to be a good way to form a bond, sharing a bit of hardship, even though it was intentional. She was a real trooper! We sold our car to our friends on Isleña, who graciously shared the use of the car with us during the last week or two, even taking Jonnie to the dentist with them. On our last trip to town we were topping off our provisions when a local couple stopped us, saying that they recognized us from our boat. They introduced themselves as Luis and Lorena, and we had a short but pleasant chat in the canned foods aisle (almost made us sad to be leaving…). They have a small boat that they enjoy on weekends and have shared friendly smiles and waves across the water for the last few weeks. We were tickled that they recognized us, and also surprised to run into someone from one context in such a different one!

Sadly, SaM and David, our friends and neighbors on Isleña, who crossed the bar the same day as we did two years ago and had been planning to join us on this trip down to Panama, had a change of plans at the last minute which led them to stay behind when we left – with only three people on board a boat provisioned for five. :-) No one needs to worry about us going hungry! We added a food hammock to store some of our produce in the pantry. Jonnie has done a phenomenal job of monitoring all of the fresh produce, assuring that we enjoy all the fruits and vegetables in their prime, and introducing new foods into our routine diet. We’ve never had so much papaya, cabbage, jicama or cucumber; and we’ve been reveling in the bounty of avocados, tomatos, and in-season mangos that we “over-bought” before we left (as if that’s possible). :-)

We set a date for our departure, based on an appropriately high tide, and got one last delivery of water and one last cleaning of the boat’s bottom. Then, two days before we were to leave, it became apparent that the weather gods were not going to play along. A seasonal pattern of very high winds, beginning in the Gulf of Mexico and funneling over the Central American isthmus (how often do you get to use *that* word!?) meant that traveling conditions would be very uncomfortable for the coming week. These winds occur in a few places, most notably Costa Rica’s Gulf of Papagayo, and are often referred to by cruising sailors as “Papagayos”. We got a taste of them when we crossed Mexico’s Gulf of Tehuantepec on the way down to El Salvador (here, they’re sometimes called “Tehuantepecers”), and we were not enthusiastic about experiencing them again. So we consulted our tide tables and chose another date, 10 days out. It was a little bit disappointing, but also a bit of a relief, because we were able to do a much better job of getting the “house” ready for the rocking and rolling of the ocean’s waves. Lots of things needed to be stashed and stowed and lashed down. This is SOP when we’re underway, but when we sit in one place for a long time things have a way of finding a new resting place. It was good to have a little more time to get everything ready to go!

On the morning of Saturday the 11th, we visited the Immigration official and the Port Captain, to officially check out of the country. In the early afternoon, we placed the dinghy onto the new chocks that were built as part of our skylight project – and promptly cracked one of them in two! They will still do the job for now, but the dinghy won’t sit as securely as we’d originally intended. :-( After lashing the dinghy down, we started the motor and raised the anchor (yes, the anchor, we’d moved from our mooring ball a few days in advance, to give SaM & Dave an opportunity to settle in on our mooring ball and to make sure that our anchoring system was still in working order). We headed towards the dreaded bar, following Bill and the local pilot in a panga. We were delighted to be greeted shortly before we reached the mouth of the estuary by two people in a dinghy offering a gift bottle of wine up to us – they were the same two people that we’d met the week before in the grocery store, Luis & Lorena! How very friendly and thoughtful! We were really touched!

Going over the bar, the conditions were not as tranquil as when we’d arrived, but they were perfectly manageable. We continued to follow the pilot boat always heading for waves that looked scary, but never really encountering them ourselves. We were nervous, but all turned out well. The least depth we saw was 14 feet, which compares favorably with the 11 feet we saw on the way in – we didn’t need to furrow a channel for our deep boat. :-) We were also pleased that there were no big crashes coming from down below as we rocked from side to side, in a manner probably not described as “gentle”, but also probably not as rough as most of our peers. We had done a good job of preparing for this crossing, securing loose items that had accumulated on shelves and counters. It was a successful crossing, and we breathed a big sigh of relief as we said our goodbyes to Bill (and he turned his attention to the other boats crossing that day who also needed his attention) and made the big turn to the left.
Following Pilot Boat Over the Bar

It was wonderful to be back on the water, sailing only under Mother Nature’s powers. We knew we were really on our way when the cell towers disappeared and we lost our internet connection. :-) We sailed through the night and into the next day. The winds were pretty steady and we made consistent progress, but the seas were a bit choppy and even confused for much of the time. Jonnie was excited and nervous, and had taken some Bonine to make sure that seasickness would not cause her to be miserable. It worked, but also made her very sleepy. Dan and Kathy traded watches through the night, although not much needed to be done. We encountered a few pods of dolphins that came to say hi, and had a couple of booby birds sit on our bow pulput for a while, taking a break from their time on the wing.

The sailing was good, but a little bit hard on us and the boat. After so long away from actually sailing, both the boat and us needed some time to get back in the swing of things. We had several equipment failures that were disappointing, including our new depth display, our old radar, and our newly-repaired autopilot. The new water jacket that we put on our engine’s exhaust stack to help keep the heat from the engine’s exhaust from turning the boat’s living space into a sauna ended up putting more pressure on the water system, so that there was less water circulating through the engine. The result was a nearly over-heated engine. We were able to repair the autopilot underway (it turned out to simply be a loose connection between the motor and the hydraulic pump, so reseating the set screw at the shaft fixed the problem), but learned to live with the other issues until we could stop for a while.

We sailed through another two days (and a night), and stopped in Corinto, Nicaragua’s largest port. We arrived just after sunset and night descended as we worked our way in through the channel that was well-marked with many buoys with flashing lights. It was a challenging entry, that kept all three of us carefully watching to make sure that we stayed on course. Corinto has a constant stream of freighters stopping at the two commercial docks and off-loading containers full of cargo. When ships come in, the city’s streets fill up with semi trucks ready to carry the goods away. When we came ashore in the morning we noticed that there was not a lot of other traffic in town, except that there were quite a few pedicabs trying to drum up business by taking us to the beach or around town. But we were on a mission to get ourselves checked into the country (and get a sim-card for our hotspot so we could get connected to the internet again – it had been more than 72 hours, after all!) It was nice to have an extra crew-mate, because Jonnie was able to tend the dinghy while Dan & Kathy took care of the official formalities. We parked our dinghy in a shallow area where there were a number of small pangas and other fishing boats tied up, but realized that the falling tide would leave the dinghy up high and dry by the time we got back. Over the 90 minutes we were gone, Jonnie moved the dinghy periodically as the water retreated.

Meanwhile, Dan and Kathy found the Port Captain’s office, and waited while he rounded up officials from four different offices to process us into the country. We were seated in the lobby of the Capitania, while the officials pushed papers around behind closed doors. From time to time, one of them would emerge to ask a question, ask for a signature, or send us to the bank to pay a fee and return with the receipt. Altogether it cost us about $65 to check in. Finally they told us that we were almost clear, only needing to have a brief inspection by the immigration team. These two men, in long pants and shiny leather shoes, walked back to the dinghy with us to be transported out to the boat. There was some confusion as they contemplated wading through 9″ of mud, and eventually negotiated with a guard at the neighboring commercial docks for us to pass the gate and bring the dinghy to a ramp inside their purvue. They got things done pretty quickly, but then called their boss to sign off on things. Unfortunately the boss was busy (or somehow delayed) and it took about an hour to get that approval. The Migracion officials wrote up a long report, summarizing their wide-ranging conversation with Dan, including our careers, the original cost of the boat, the observation that we had a friend we hoped to look up in San Juan del Sur, and our future travel plans. Eventually the phone-call from the main office came in, and we got the green light. We took the officials back to the dock and moved on with life. Checking out was only slightly less officious. :-)

Corinto Commercial Docks

While in Corinto, we visited a Claro office and got a new sim-card with a Nicaraguan number for slightly more than $1 and a week’s internet package for about $8. Happy campers! We spent a couple of days catching up on our sleep and cooking some fresh meals. Dan also added a bypass to the water going through the exhaust stack, so that the pressure was reduced enough to avoid the engine over-heating problem. We wandered through the town’s streets one afternoon, and enjoyed chatting with a pedicab driver who took us back to the dinghy for less than $2. Nicaragua is the poorest country in Central America. It has a lot of natural bounty and promise, but is still developing. The people seem generally content and kind-hearted, but also subdued and burdened.

We spent the next three days sailing down the coast. Even though we had tried to choose a good weather window, the Papagayo winds were blowing pretty consistently during this passage. We frequently had winds above 20 knots and choppy seas of up to a meter. One night just before sunset we had a challenging but somewhat laughable situation arise. The sheets controlling the jib caused both of the kayaks to pop out of their generally-secure grip between the life-lines and trail along with Lungta by their skinny painter lines. Since Lungta was moving pretty quickly at this point, over 5 knots, it was exciting to try to pull them back up onto the boat. One of the kayaks had flipped upside down and scooped up a good bit of water, so it was quite heavy. We ended up tying a halyard (a rope going to the top of the mast) to the kayak’s handle and using a winch to pull it up, hoping that the handle was strong enough to support all the extra weight. Once it was high enough, we bailed out as much water as we could and swung it over the deck where we were able to lash it down for the rest of the trip. It’s unlikely that this retelling comes anywhere close to conveying the tense moments we had as we dealt with this unexpected situation, trying to bring the kayaks on board without anyone getting hurt, and wondering if we were going to lose one or both of them! We’ve never had one pop off before, and it was surprising for both of them to jump off at the same time. We decided that it was likely because we had changed the angle of the jib sheets when we disassembled that space in order to varnish the caprail more than a year ago! Sitting unused has caused things on Lungta to work differently than before, both because of the inactivity and because of things that we (intentionally) changed.

Fishing Vessel with Bird Cloud

When we arrived in San Juan del Sur, the souternmost port in Nicaragua, we were glad to duck out of the strong winds. We were also pleased to see a familiar name: we met Elizabeth and John on the sailboat Georgia B when they visited Bahia del Sol and left a few days before us. They had already been here for four days, and hadn’t been off their boat because of the winds. As soon as we arrived the winds moderated, but were still more than we usually see in an a harbor! We were able to get to the Port Captain’s office to check in, and we spent a little bit of time wandering the town in search of a market, partially to stock up on some fresh veggies and partially just to stretch our legs. The first night there was a Saturday, and the whole town was hopping, kind of like we imagine Spring Break in Fort Lauderdale. There were several stages set up around the bay, and the music lasted until the wee hours of the morning. Sunday there was also a lot of music, much of it featuring drumming; at different times of the day we thought we were hearing Japanese Taiko drummers and high school marching bands. Fortunately it was a special fiesta, and the town was a lot tamer after the weekend. We stayed for about four days ourselves, catching up on some projects, relaxing, and waiting for a weather window to proceed on down the coast.

We repaired tears in three of our sails, including the jib, which needed to be slipped out of its 60′ track during a calm moment and slipped back in again during another calm. We gave up on that latter point before leaving, instead travelling down to our next stop without a jib. We had a great sail from San Juan del Sur into a beautiful bay in the very north of Costa Rica, Santa Elena, where we once again ran into Georgia B. We had a lovely dinner with John & Elizabeth, and also went for an afternoon hike with them. We’re not quite travelling together, but it’s been fun playing leapfrog! We enjoyed three nights in this bay that we had all to ourselves. The night we had dinner on their boat we were thrilled to see the wake from our dinghy was completely aglow – the Jetsons have nothing on us! After we got home we stayed on deck and watched lots of fish creating luminescent splashes and trails alongside Lungta. Then we noticed something a little different and got the flashlight. It turned out to be a sea snake sinuously winding its way next to the boat. Before long, we had discovered 4 of them! One of them was coiling up like a stereotypical rattlesnake, and then unwinding. Kathy thinks this might have been a mating display. We haven’t seen these snakes since that night, so perhaps there’s something to that.

Cliffs of Bahia Potrero Grande

Just around the next corner we checked into Costa Rica in the town of Playas del Coco. This is an interesting combination of tourist destination and sleepy beach town. In contrast to the check-in in Nicaragua, but true to the info in our guidebook, it took an entire day to check in. We still had four stops to make, but we had to walk from one office to the next (first the Port Captain, who gave us something to take to immigration down the road, then to immigration who gave us something to bring back to the Port Captain, and finally to customs who were located a 30-minute bus ride away at the airport). We had half a dozen taxi drivers anxious to take us to the airport for $40-60, we opted to take a local bus for just over $1 apiece (that would be 695 colones). Our information about where to find customs seems to have been outdated, and we asked a tourist information guy and a security guard before we managed to get a customs official to come out from the secured area where they process arriving airline passengers. Once we got the attention of the right person, he easily understood what we needed and quickly processed our paperwork. While we were out we also tracked down a new sim-card for our phone and internet hotspot, since we are in a new country. Hooray, internet!

We spent the next 4 or 5 days moving from one sweet bay to another. We were looking for good snorkeling and few people. I’m not sure that our search is complete, but we found a few good candidates. We snorkeled at three different places, and walked one beach. We found quite a nice variety of fishes in the latest stop, Bahia Brasilito. The water in this area is very clear, and we’ve enjoyed being able to see our anchor again from on deck. The weather is quite calm, but there is a persistent swell coming in from the south. When the winds die down in the evening, the boat turns sideways to the swell and rolls from side to side, sometimes becoming annoying. So add to the criteria a bay that is protected from this swell! We’ve stopped every night, and enjoyed some beautiful sunsets. One morning, a small pod of dolphins was seen chasing a school of needle fish, perhaps 24″ each, in towards the beach. The needlefish were skipping along the water’s surface on the tips of their tails as they tried to escape. It was a dramatic show!

Dolphins under our Sprit

Our time with Jonnie has been fun. She has really participated in the galley, more than any other guest/crew we’ve had to date. She did a lot of the final provisioning, and then took the lead in managing what produce was getting near it’s useful life. She also participated in meal planning, preparation and cleanup – all much appreciated! We eat pretty well on Lungta, and Jonnie has certainly helped to maintain that standard! Kathy has particularly enjoyed doing yoga many mornings with her. Jonnie is a yoga instructor, and encouraged Kathy to give teaching a try. So the two have been trading off leading yoga sessions on the deck most mornings this last week. It’s been a real treat! Jonnie also brought a couple of books with her that we’ve been reading aloud, as a group. It’s a slower way to read, but we’ve all found it to be very enjoyable. (Future crew, take note! :-) ) The first book is called “The Kin of Ata are Waiting for You”, a rather obscure book that Jonnie has listed among her favorites for many years, and Dan & Kathy now include it on our lists as well! After we finished that book, we were enthusiastic about doing another. She happened to have picked up Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Lacuna”, which is a very long book, but well worth the read. Dan has even declared it his new favorite book. We finished it the night before Jonnie’s departure, after a few “marathon” sessions of reading!

Jonnie in Bahia Guacamaya

At the moment we are in the town of Tamarindo, where we have just dropped Jonnie off for her return to the States. We expect to pick up our next guests, Justin and Leigh Anna. This anchorage has the strongest surf beach we’ve visited yet, and we may end up swimming out to our dinghy rather than run it up and over the breaking waves. Always something new… It’s a good life!

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03-05-2017 – Jaltepeque Estuary, El Salvador

We’re in a busy place in time these days, and a lot has happened since our last blog update. It seems that we’re often opening our blog postings with apologies for long delays between posts. Difficult though it is, I’m resisting apologizing yet again. :-) We’re still in El Salvador, but getting close to heading out of the estuary. We’ve been immersed in our project to-do list, getting ready for our passage down to Panama and then across the Pacific. We’ve been talking with some other boaters (esp. Henry and Pamela on Rapscullion) who have been telling us wonderful things about visiting the islands on Panama’s Pacific coastline. So much so that we’ve been considering spending an entire season there, and delaying our Pacific crossing until 2018. All three of our friends who we’re hoping will join us on that trip sighed a big sigh of relief – or even did a happy dance! As we’re constantly reminded, plans in this life are always provisional, and we’re tentatively changing ours again. We’re now thinking that we’ll leave this coming weekend, cross the bar and make our way slowly down the coast to Panama. We’ll spend a few months there and then probably move on to Ecuador, where the turbulent weather of the wet season is much milder. This choice reduces the pressure to get our projects done on a specific schedule, which is much appreciated! As a matter of fact, we were intending to leave this past week when the tides got high, but strong winds made us decide to wait another 10 days or so until the next cycle of high high tides.

Our stay at the Paradise Marina lasted significantly longer than we originally expected. The rudder repair/rebuild project stretched out quite a while when we realized how much our welding equipment had degraded during the “flood” of last spring. We needed to replace many of the parts, and they were included in the freight forwarding experience that we described in the last posting. We started out tacking one edge of a piece of sheet-metal to the trailing edge of the rudder, cutting it to size/shape, and wrapping it over the top of the shaft. Then we clamped it as tight as we could and tacked it in place with the welder. Once the rest of the parts arrived, Dan went to town welding all of the edges and making sure there were no holes left. Once he got going, this last part went quickly. We painted the whole thing four times, once with a primer, and three times with bottom paint (where we used two different colors, hoping that when we see the color change that it will provide a warning/reminder that it’s time to start looking into repainting).

Painting our "New" Rudder

Installing the rudder was a whole project of its own. We had the marina team help us get the rudder into the water. Five strong men hoisted it up onto a trailer and pushed the trailer to a boat ramp next door. Dan had the brilliant idea of tying some big fenders to each end of the rudder’s shaft, just in case it was too heavy to float – we had added nearly two full sheets of sheet-metal, which weighed around 80lbs. The rudder with its two big fenders just barely floated, but “barely” was sufficient for us to tow it from the boat ramp to Lungta’s stern, perhaps 50 yards away. Once it was close enough, we tied on a halyard and hung the rudder (in the water) vertically from the top of our mizzen mast. We opened up the fill port and poured in 25 gallons of cooking oil that we’d gotten from PriceSmart, a Central American CostCo equivalent. When that ran out we jumped in the car and went looking for a local shop that could sell us some more. We got 6 more gallons, which the rudder swallowed up. As we returned from our second outing with another 5 gallons, the marina’s manager Willie produced yet another 5-gallon jug of used oil from a local restaurant that he knew. Finally the rudder was full – and we have 4 gallons of unused cooking oil sitting on our deck! :-) We put the cap back on the opening and moved on to the process of installing the rudder. Although straightforward, it turned out to be much more recalcitrant than expected. We tied lines to the top and bottom of the shaft, some pulling to the left and some to the right. We lowered the rudder until the top of the shaft was just poking into the hole in the boat’s hull, and then tried to align it with the skeg at the end of the keel. We pushed it and tugged it, manually and with ropes from all directions. We used halyards and sideways-pulling ropes from the winches and cleats on the dock. We grunted and moaned and schemed and struggled and *finally* the shaft slid up and into the hole that it belongs in. Then we were able to slip on the “boot” and secure it to the skeg. Hooray!

Moving Rudder Back Home

We had hoped to have our projects done and be back in our “usual” spot on the mooring by the time our series of visitors arrived, but it didn’t play out that way. Michael and Cate arrived the day after the rudder clicked into place. We picked them up at the airport and were all happy at how easily the relationship picked up right where it had left off. Their faces and voices were as familiar to us as if we’d seen them only a few weeks ago, when in fact it had been very close to a year. We met them on the cruise boat that we took around Cape Horn, and have stayed in contact over the last 11 months. They stayed with us for a month, testing the water so to speak, to determine whether they might be interested in joining us on our trip across the Pacific. They settled in easily and we all enjoyed our time together, although Dan & Kathy continued to spend a lot of our time working on our boat projects. These two are voracious readers, and we were surprised to find a number of books back on board that we had recently put into the book exchange. :-) We enjoyed many great conversations together, mostly in the evenings over dinner or under the stars. Michael, Cate and Dan all enjoy playing the guitar, and they spent hours teaching one another songs or techniques. We spent one afternoon at Lynn & Lou’s Sunday pool and barbecue gathering, where they had the opportunity to meet more than a dozen other cruisers. Another half day was spent poking around the mangroves on the other side of the island nearest our boat. There were lots of birds and very few people. :-) The four of us spent almost two weeks on a roadtrip to Guatemala, where we did a whirlwind tour of Antigua, San Antonio on Lake Atitlan, Chichicastenango, Todo Santos and Semuc Champey. These were five of our top six favorite places that we’ve already visited (only missing Tikal), and provided a broad overview of what the country has to offer a traveler. Unfortunately we took turns getting sick, so most days there was *somebody* not feeling well. Our time together passed quickly, and it was a shock when the day printed on their return tickets arrived. They have gone back home to do a short contract and replenish their travel kitty, and to think about when they will be back and for how long.

Swimming at Semuc Champey Chichicastenango Market

Although we were sad to see Cate and Michael leave, we were excited that Kathy’s sister Jean was arriving two days later, with her new boyfriend James. We had a full day in between, trying to make good progress on our project list while there was no one else around who might tempt us to dawdle. :-) During this period we put our mizzen sail back up, with a new strip of sunguard in place, we replaced a leaky valve in the house water system that was causing the pump to lose its prime frequently, we secured the new skylight to the pilothouse roof, and we made progress on a half dozen other larger projects. While Jean and James were with us, we continued to work daily but also spent plenty of time visiting (but never enough!) One afternoon we again puttered around the mangroves behind the nearby island, enjoying the many birds nesting and flying overhead. These two are enjoying their new relationship, and are experimenting with new foods, new activities, learning what the other likes and what makes them tick. It’s always nice to be around a couple in love. James spent the last afternoon with us dangling a line in the water, trying to tempt a fish to play along. Although he couldn’t entice a finned friend to dance with him, he enjoyed himself and Kathy enjoyed some sister-time with Jean. Our last night together we had dinner at a restaurant with seating on a dock over the water about a mile up the estuary from Lungta – it was fun to see our boat from our table.

Family Photo

Two busy days after Jean and James left, our next crew-mate Jonnie arrived. Jonnie is also a sailing novice, and is excited but nervous about the adventure ahead of us. She’s been with us about 2 weeks now, and seems to be fitting in well. Kathy is thrilled to have a yoga partner, and we’re all enjoying the conversations and meals together. She’s been taking lots of photos and posting them to FaceBook, so those who are our FaceBook friends have already seen some of her impressions of El Salvador and our life on Lungta. A couple of nights ago we watched the sunset – and then noticed that there was a volcano erupting about 50 miles north of us! We’ve installed a handhold and an additional step to the “trapeze ladder” on Lungta’s transom, so that Jonnie (who is quite a bit shorter than either of us) can climb aboard from the dinghy more easily.

Welcome Aboard, Jonnie!

Our two biggest projects have just about been completed (at least to the level of being seaworthy). The big skylight in the middle of the boat has been replaced with a beautiful new sheet of plexiglass, and framed in a hardwood frame that Dan has crafted almost single-handedly. It doesn’t yet have the hardware that we dreamed up: latches, pneumatic shocks and a hinge. We have also rebuilt our watermaker, building and programming a control panel similar (but still not full-featured) to the original – at a significantly reduced price! Woo-hoo!

Final Touches to Skylight

We’re enjoying ourselves with Jonnie here in El Salvador, but also really looking forward to moving into the next phase of our travels. Hopefully the next post will be from somewhere beautiful a bit south of here!

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12-22-2016 – Paradise Marina, El Salvador

It’s been a busy month, filled mostly with boat projects. We did take a small break to celebrate Kathy’s birthday, driving up into the mountains for the night, we stayed in a big town called Berlin. There are some nice overlooks nearby and a hike to a lake in an old caldera that we didn’t end up doing. :-) We sat for a while in the town’s square, which was just beginning to be decorated for Christmas. Lots of people passing through, living their lives and surprised to see that there were tourists in town. We had a relaxing evening, and came back the next day feeling refreshed and ready to get back to work.

Where's Lungta?

Our ship has (finally) come in! We moved into this marina almost two months ago, intending to only stay one month. As it turns out, though, our freight shipment was delayed, both in getting it ordered and then again in its tortured progress through the customs office. We ordered quite a few items, having them shipped to a warehouse in Florida that collected our boxes until we said we were done. Our new generator was the gating item, because it turned out they build to order rather than keeping some in inventory. Once it arrived, the container was loaded and put on a ship the next weekend. Four days later it arrived in Guatemala and was trucked across the border into El Salvador. We spent more than a week after that working our way through customs, driving the 90 minutes into San Salvador four times to meet with our agent and the customs officials to keep the wheels rolling. We really saw the “sausage-making” process in action! Usually these shipments are processed under the name of the freight forwarding agent, but for various reasons he suggested that it would be a good idea to do this one under one of our names. (One reason was the size of the order, but another reason had something to do with a previous shipment having been flagged with fines, which might cause delays in subsequent shipments under the same name.) Fortunately for us, we already had the necessary identification card that we had acquired when we decided to buy a car last year. On our first trip into town, we visited three locations to try to get an account set up using this id card, but had troubles because of various people being out of the office. On the second trip into town, we went through the entire list of purchases, making sure that the agent (and his team) understood what they were so that they could categorize them correctly for the customs process. At this point, we thought we were done, but then the actual customs assessment began. A randomized “green-light/red-light” process determines the degree of inspection required for each shipment, and we unfortunately got the “red light”, the more rigorous inspection. The customs official looked through the paperwork and expressed concern that we might be trying to sell the items (illegally, since we just have tourist visas). So our third trip was to meet with her and show her that we were just a couple living on a boat which needed a lot equipment in order to continue on our way. After the morning’s review of the paperwork, we stuck around for the afternoon inspection of all the goods. In the quarantine area of the warehouse, our agent opened all of the boxes and laid the items out in the same order as they were listed on the import papers. When the customs official came by, we walked through all of the items, explaining what they did, why we needed them, and confirmed that the quantity was what had been declared. She had several questions, and suspiciously eyed the tub of thermal paste that we wanted for our electronic components that get hot enough to require heat-sinks. Ultimately she fined us $190 for the mis-classification of one of the items as a gasket instead of a belt. It seemed that she wasn’t satisfied until she found something that was out of order. After that long day, we again thought that we were done. But again we were called in the next morning to participate in the processing of the paperwork. We needed to sign the document that levied the fine, in triplicate, and then take it to a manager at another location for approval (because the manager of the location we were at was out that day). The papers were brought to three more desks for additional copies, signatures and stamps. Finally we had our clearance and the truck was called to bring our stuff out to the boat. It was after dark by the time they arrived at the marina, and the local team of workers stayed late to help unload the truck. We couldn’t have unloaded the almost 600-pound generator by ourselves! We left the three biggest items on the lawn near the marina office, and brought all of the boxes down the dock to the boat.

Still in El Salvador

The next morning was like Christmas for us! We opened all 37 of our packages, stowing electrical components here, kitchen stuff there, and parts for the welder in that box over there. We installed our replacement solar panel and got the generator placed into the newly painted hold. We had spent a week preparing the hold, including installing our bowthruster once again. This *big* motor gets installed in a hole in the floor, connected to a pair of sideways propellers that can turn the boat more quickly than the rudder when needed. Unfortunately it has gotten flooded with salt water several times over the years, when our old generator had problems related to the cooling system. Each time we vow that it will never happen again, but somehow it does. Now we are hopeful that it really will not happen again, because we are installing a new generator which should not have the same problems as the old one. (Hope really springs eternal, doesn’t it? :-) ) We have also installed a new switch which will ring a loud alarm if there is water in the hold. We are very excited about all the updates to this area of the boat! Now the cover to the lower area is on, and we are working on getting the generator installed: fuel, exhaust, cooling water, battery connections, control panel – it’s a couple of days’ work, but we’re happy that it’s all coming together. Dan is getting the welder all put together with lots of new parts, to finish up the work on our rudder. Kathy is putting a new sun-guard cover on another sail. And in between we’re catching up on lots of other smaller projects.

New Generator

Our freezer motor gave up the ghost this last month. It’s been having troubles for a few months now, so we weren’t completely surprised. We had a new motor coming in our big shipment, but it couldn’t hold out that long. We tracked down a shop to see if it could be rebuilt, but the news was not good. The commutator was completely worn down and would cost more to replace than the motor was worth. So we swapped our fridge motor in to the freezer’s place, and have been using the fridge as an ice box for the last 10 days or so. Two or three times a day we move 3 or 4 containers of ice from the freezer into the fridge and 3 or 4 different containers of water the other way. The freezer is running almost continuously (with the fridge’s motor), but it’s making ice – and we’re not short on power, because we’re at the marina. We will swap the new motor into the freezer now that it’s arrived, but we have to adapt a few parts – which necessitates another trip into San Salvador!

Clamping in the Tropics

The other major activity going on with us this month is the search for companions on our travels next year. We’ve had several people contact us and express interest. We’re still exploring the fit with some of these people, but aren’t “full” yet! If you know anyone who might be interested in joining us as we travel to the South Pacific, please refer them to our web-site, www.lungtalife.com, and have them contact us. We’re not always as nose-to-the-grindstone as these last few months! :-)

We’d like to take this moment to wish all of our friends and loved ones (those two categories are not necessarily different!) a wonderful holiday season, taking time to be grateful for the people in your lives and the bounty that we all happen to have as citizens of the 21st century. I know that there are many people on this planet who have not been blessed with as much opportunity and resources, and I feel very fortunate to be living the life I am! Thanks to each of you for supporting us and encouraging us along the way! Here’s to a wonderful New Year – 2017, here we come!

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11-20-2016 – Paradise Marina, El Salvador

Again a long time since the last post, and again mostly boat work, which although engaging to us doesn’t seem like it would be of much interest to readers. (Please let me know if I’m mistaken!)

We had another family visit, this time with Dan’s family in New York. We spent the weekend spanning September and October along with 15 others in Maine, staying near Acadia National Park in a small group of cabins. For us this trip will serve in place of the Thanksgiving gathering that we have been attending for the last several years, so on the way up we spent the night at Dan’s Aunt Nancy’s farmhouse, where that gathering happens. We initially thought that this would break up the journey into two smaller segments, but when Dan’s sister Beth said “look at a map” we realized that it took us far enough west that it cancelled out the gains made by being further north. Hmmm, how’d that happen? :-) So we turned our one day’s drive into two! But it was nice to see Nancy, if only for one night. The gathering was partially a celebration of the life of Dan’s father David, and it was great to see his wife Shlomit again. She organized the event, remembering a previous trip there that happened during the New England Fall. Although the colors this year were not at their peak, we did nonetheless keep an eye out for all of the lovely displays of red, orange, salmon, gold and yellow – and were not disappointed! We all enjoyed some hikes and strolls, wandering the spectacular coastlines of this island park. A few people got up very early one morning to watch the sunrise over the fog, but we chose to stay snuggled deep under the heavy covers of our bed. :-) I think our blood has gotten a bit thinner after spending 5 years south of the border! We enjoyed meeting Davis, the (no longer so) new partner to Dan’s youngest sister Aria who, some long-term readers may remember, was with us when we first left Oregon in 2011 on our way to Alaska. They are threatening – but not yet promising – to join us on the next big passage, when we cross the Pacific next spring. But she is also whining about being busy as she works on a PhD at MIT. Sheesh! It was also a treat to see Eve, the sister from Washington (State) that we can never get enough time with, and both of Dan’s sons Jesse and Evan – at the same time! The winner of the (non-existant) photography competition was of Jesse on the coast (sorry it’s small here; it’s the only copy we have!). In addition to the 5 days in Maine, we spent another 10 days in New Jersey staying with Dan’s mom. We popped into New York City once or twice to get some culture, but it also served to remind us just how much we enjoy the quieter life on the water. We came home again with full bags and a renewed energy for tackling our many projects that will help us get across the ocean.

Acadia Vista  Highway Fall Color  Jesse at Acadia

Back in El Salvador, we began laying the groundwork for another fairly major project. Our rudder, which we built in 2011 before leaving Oregon, has developed a number of holes (we have several inconclusive ideas about just what caused them). We found a tiny marina nearby which has a space that was suitable for doing the sort of welding work we needed, and we purchased some sheetmetal in town. Two days before we planned to move down there – for a week of hard work (how naive! :-) ) – our generator stopped, and in what turned out to be a dramatic manner. So we moved in a day early – and negotiated a monthly rate instead of daily. The marina’s staff disassembled the generator for diagnosis and found that a valve stem had broken, causing the valve to get caught in the cylinder and get crushed into the piston. None of those parts were better for the experience. :-) Given the high costs of repair parts for Westerbeke generators, we are now in the process of buying a replacement. We will have it shipped down from Florida by a local man named Pablo, who we worked with last February. As long as we have that shipment coming, we are coming up with lots of other large (and small) items that we need at the same time. It turns out that our (spare) outboard motor was stolen off of Lungta while we were in New York. Shortly before that trip, we damaged one of our solar panels when something unbelievably small fell while we were working up the mizzen mast. :-( And our freezer keeps acting up, making us think that it is a good time to change out the 50 year old motor. We began work on our rudder, but quickly ran into troubles with our welding system because a number of the accessories were damaged in May when they got covered in salt-water. Although we were able to find a few items in San Salvador, the cost and ability to work with the welder we already own (rather than buying a whole new one!) inspired us to order parts from the States and have them shipped – delaying our rudder project by maybe as much as a month. Yikes – these are some big-dollar items for our budget!

Getting the rudder off the boat was a project of its own. Kathy dove three or four days in a row, whenever the current was slack, first tying a rope securely around it and then trying to remove the boot that holds the rudder’s shaft to the skeg of the boat, a finger of cement-encased stainless steel which extends from the trailing edge of the keel. It’s been a bit more than 5 years since it was last removed, but the marine growth added a lot more work separating it. Once it came apart, Dan hauled it up on the halyard and deposited it on the dock. Then 6 men from the marina tied it to a long pipe and scraped/hauled it down the length of the dock and up onto the main pier – fortunately it was high tide and they only had to negotiate 3 or 4 stairs! They left it for us in a small covered workspace, where we’ve spent a number of hours cleaning it up and fitting a new skin. We’ve amassed quite an assortment of tools up there, which they’ve allowed us to keep in their storeroom so we don’t have to lug them to and fro every day. The work is coming along nicely, and is now essentially on hold until our freight shipment comes in with the TIG (tungsten inert gas) welding parts.

Moving the Rudder

It will probably be another three weeks before this shipment arrives, but in the meantime we have a number of “smaller” projects that we can make progress on. We removed a portion of our main engine’s exhaust stack and had a local machine shop build a stainless steel water jacket around it. The idea is that this will channel *much* more of the engine’s heat out of the boat, which would be a welcome relief whenever we have to motor. We also replaced a very rusty bow roller, which directs the anchor chain out to the point on the bowsprit where it goes down. We made it from ultra-high molecular weight (UMHW, or something like that :-) ) plastic, which is super slippery and easy to machine. We had a carpenter install some brass latches into most of the floorboards on Lungta, each of which has a finger that hooks under the joists to hold the board in place even if turned upside down. We bought these before we left Portland in 2011, but weren’t able to do a nice enough job ourselves to want to make a permanent installation to the boat. Once we heard about this carpenter we took advantage of the situation to have the work done. The price was great (we paid him double and were still pleased), and he turned around 16 boards in 3 days. (He would have done them all in one day if we’d agreed to being without a floor for the whole time!) We installed a water-level sensor in our tanks and wrote up a new program for an Arduino computer, like we have monitoring the power consumption from our fridge and freezer. We’re becoming quite enthusiastic advocates of this gadget, and have envisioned half a dozen more projects that could use them – whenever we find the time…

"Pregnant" Exhaust Stack  UHMW Bow Roller

The move to this marina has been a little bit of culture shock, in that our “regular” place is much more developed and this place is much sleepier. We moved from a mooring ball where we were totally self-sufficient, to living on a dock where we have all the power we need from shore and a hose that dispenses (brackish) water at the turn of a knob. All of our friends (which at the moment only means three boats) are at the other marina, so our social life has changed dramatically. There’s a cool stretch of mangroves immediately next to the marina where a large number of egrets congregate every evening. We had no idea that egrets were social animals, since you always see them standing still and solitary along the shore. They gather together with a lot of squawks and cackles, somewhat reminiscent of a coffee-clatsch, and sometimes sounding like squabbling children. They are easily spooked by people make noise on the docks and a dozen or more may take flight, only to circle back around to find a new perch. The manager here called them their “avian watchdogs”.

Egrets of Paradise

We have the sense that we’ve entered the “chute” in preparing for our next passage. Much of the work we’re doing now is to make Lungta sea-worthy again, after being stationary for almost two years. We’re both excited at what’s coming up and daunted at the long to-do list. We’ve updated our web-site and started actively looking for boatmates to join us. While the timing is related to having company during the 30 day crossing of the sea, we are really hoping for people who become family and end up staying for several months or even years. If this sounds like someone you know, please point them at our web-site, www.lungtalife.com. We’re enthusiastic about communicating with anyone who expresses interest!

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09-05-2016 – Bahia del Sol, El Salvador

The last few months have been fairly quiet for us; we’ve spent a lot of time working on the boat. But we’ve also had a few small diversions from being too single-focused. :-) It seems appropriate that I get this update posted on Labor Day!

Last month we took a trip to Texas to visit Kathy’s family. Her mom Marilyn made arrangements to get two time-share condos in the same complex for the week of July 4th, and all 4 siblings plus spouses and children attended. It’s been more than 5 years since we’ve all been together, and it was great to spend time together! The condos were a bit north of San Antonio, a 4-hour drive from Marilyn’s place. Kathy’s sister Maggie and her husband Frank, live in San Antonio and are planning a dream-home on a lake nearby. On Saturday night the developer of their neighborhood hosted a barbecue & fireworks event, which was a fun way to kick off our time together. We enjoyed a morning walk/swim in the small river behind the condo, watching wildlife foraging at dusk from the back balconies, and catching up with the family. In addition we spent nearly a week with Marilyn in her new apartment, but spent much of our time running errands. We’re moving our “official” residence to Texas, to establish a clear location for tax and legal purposes. We’ve been somewhat inconsistent about our address, between Oregon, Washington and Colorado. We now have a Texas mailing address, drivers licenses and are registered to vote there. Also, we got the boat’s titling updated to reflect Kathy’s name instead of Dan’s father who had co-signed the loan more than a decade ago. And, as usual whenever we visit the States, we came home with some *heavy* suitcases full of stuff for our boat, our kitchen and our closet.

The most important project on our list is (of course!) our engine, which we are thrilled to report now seems to be doing just fine. We brought back a new starter motor from Texas and it quite handily starts the engine right up. After installing it, Dan was able to bleed the injectors pretty quickly, and we’ve now run the engine several times for a total of 2 or 3 hours. We’re essentially ready to call the project a success. We do still have a few odds and ends, though. The tachometer stopped working and is of an old design which is primarily purchased these days by vintage car enthusiasts (can you spell “$$$”?). We’re going to replace it with a digital device, since the joys of sailing Lungta do not require “vintage” instrumentation. We’ll probably change the oil one more time just to be cautious, but we’re pleased as punch.

During this time, a project “volunteered” itself; Dan noticed a crack in a turnbuckle that attaches the bobstays (chains) to the bowsprit, forming part of the entire circle of supports that keep our masts where they should be! We rummaged around in our bins of duplicate parts and came up with a replacement. Removing the old one was no small feat, but since it was already damaged we were able to cut it off with a grinder. Then we replaced the chains as well, which had been on our to-do list anyhow.

Cracked Bobstay Turnbuckle

The biggest project we’re working on now is to replace the skylight in the middle room of the boat (the room we call the Office, where the Nest is located, for those who know Lungta). This light is roughly 4′ by 4.5′, so it’s no trivial undertaking to build. We purchased a 4′ x 8′ sheet of Lexan several months ago, had it delivered from Miami by Pablo, a local frieght forwarder, and have been waiting for the right time to begin this project. We had a lineup of projects that required one to be completed before the next could begin, which is not an unusual thing in boats and other small(-ish) spaces. So we now have new chains on 4 of our shrouds (side-load-bearing cables for the mast), PVC conduits on another section of the wiring for our solar panels, and a refurbished hard dinghy (including new lifting eyes, fresh paint inside and a couple of new corners of teak trim)! Eventually though we got to begin the skylight project! We purchased some local wood called “almendra” (almond) to build the exterior frame and wall-extensions; apparently this is not the same tree that produces the almonds that are eaten, but probably a close relative. For the interior flashing of the trunk, we’re using more of the jatoba flooring that we bought before leaving Portland five years ago – when we thought we were going to replace all of the floors. Plans change; what more can I say? In addition to building the window, we’ll add a couple of new features: a step on either side to make it easier to get on top of the galley trunk without stepping on our new window, and a set of chocks, or cradles, to hold the dinghy secure when we’re underway. This area of the boat will be more functional as well as more beautiful!

The Old Skylight The New Skylight  DSCN3916

There has been lots of planing, sanding and varnishing of the various pieces of wood, which has largely been done by Dan, while Kathy works on other projects, primarily sewing. During the last month, Kathy has replaced two of the sail covers and made covers for the hard dinghy, the liferaft, a gas can and a stack of buckets. The sail covers have been changed from the navy that was the trim color from “the previous decade” to the burgundy that we are using for the next decade or so. She still has plans to replace the fabric trim that functions as a sun-shield on the three sails that have roller furling before the year is over – but the skylight project is in the way of the work-space! (Oops: no photos yet, but I’ll try to add one in the next day or so.)

Other than the trip to Texas and our slowly shrinking project list, the things going on are fairly short-lived. We have had some nice lightning storms, typically starting from huge clouds that build up in the afternoons over a nearby volcano. We saw nothing of the Perseid meteor shower because of these clouds. :-) One day we had a very unusual weather pattern – heavy clouds early in the day, winds from completely the wrong direction – that turned out to be the fringes of a hurricane in the Atlantic that came ashore in Belize. Even though Belize is two countries away, it’s only 200 miles from here! It happened during the national holiday week, and the locals didn’t let the dark weather deter their merry-making. We watched all sorts of water antics as the clouds were building up. Then the navy boat went around and shut things down before the winds got too rough.

DSCN3875 DSCN3900

The morning after a different storm, we awoke to see a black plume of smoke rising from the water about half a mile away from us. Our trusty binoculars helped us realize that a sailboat was on fire, and we could see the huge flames. It turns out that it had been hit by lightning the night before and smoldered all night. In the morning the flames finally broke through the deck and were not manageable. The boat was towed away from the other boats and deposited on a sandbar to burn itself out. The owners were away filling the cruising kitty, and we can only imagine what it felt like for them to learn that their boat was a total loss. :-(

We’ve developed a rhythm of getting up early to work outside, moving inside during the middle of the day, and heading for the swimming pool at 4 in the afternoon. It’s a nice life!

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04-28-2016 – Peruvian Amazon Tour

The Amazon River is the stuff of legends, and we were excited to have a chance to experience a bit of it while we were in South America. In the Atacama Desert we experienced one of the driest environments on Earth: thousands of square miles virtually devoid of life. In a startling contrast, the Amazon has to be one of the most varied and densely packed biosystems on the planet.

We started researching options to visit there soon after entering Peru, and even considered an Amazon trip while we were in Ecuador a month later. It can be challenging to get to the Amazon basin from the population centers of Peru and Ecuador, which is both a blessing and a curse. There are few roads and fewer airports, though there are an increasing number of eco-resorts, some of them quite luxurious, and most quite pricey. Since we were traveling on the cheap, we continued to look for other options. :-) We decided to try to arrange a tour guide from a small town in northern Peru (rather than pre-booking), and spent the better part of a week getting there.

We had been communicating with our German friends whom we had met in Colca Canyon, Alex & Maria, and it turned out that their trajectory was almost identical to ours. We ended up in Yurimaguas within 36 hours of each other. We had each done some research into local tour options, and came to an agreement over lunch at a great deli that even had Black Forest cake for dessert! We booked our tour together that afternoon and the next day hopped on a “fast boat” down the Huallaga River (pronounced something like “wa-YA-ga”) to the smaller town of Lagunas, on the edge of the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve. The fast boats are covered boats perhaps 80 feet long, but only about 8 feet wide. They are set up similar to an airplane, with maybe 30 rows of seats, 2 on each side (at the widest). We left just before dawn and traveled about 60 km as the crow flies, but with the twists and turns of the river it took roughly 5 hours. When we arrived, we noticed that the town’s waterfront was flooded (a good indication of the water levels that awaited us), and we had to hop from one rock or shaky board to the next for 25 yards, to get far enough up the main road to reach dry ground. There we met up with one of our tour guides. He took us to our hostel for the night and told us where to meet in the morning.

Inside the Fast Boat  Flooded Streets in Lagunas

We had dinner at a family restaurant a few blocks away that had a couple of monkeys for pets. The littlest one (that they called Pancho), had a 4′ harness which kept him leashed to a small shelf that was his home. He was very active and playful, and kept moving from the shelf to the nearby door frame to another space in the next room and back again. Sometimes he would climb up on one of our shoulders and enjoy a bite or two of bread from our lunch. Although we were enamored with Pancho, we were also saddened by his limited circumstances. After dinner we took a stroll around the town – and found that there really wasn’t much town to stroll! There is one main paved road, with a dozen short crossroads that might have been paved once but are clearly not maintained. :-) The locals live in very simple houses and get around by walking or taking a motorcycle taxi. We were surprised to learn that the town’s power is supplied by diesel generator, and is only on for a few hours in the morning and a few more at night. It seemed like there should be a better way to generate power from the river, but we were visiting during the rainy season, when the river was in flood, and there is far less water during the dry half of the year.

Pancho

Although we’d booked a tour for four of us, there were actually six of us, because another American couple, Leslie & Matt, started at the same time as us. They had booked a 7 day excursion and we had booked 6, though, so we traveled together until the halfway point. Our guides met us at the hostel along with two moto-taxis which were loaded to the brim with gear. We traveled maybe 45 minutes over a very bumpy dirt road and then stopped at a beautiful grassy property along a small river with a ramp and dock that we used to load all the gear into three hand-made dugout canoes. Matt & Leslie had their own canoe and two guides, we had a canoe with one guide (Rainer), and Marie & Alex had a larger boat with two guides and most of our gear and provisions. Each canoe had an extra paddle, and one guest in each boat was usually paddling along with the guide(s) – although the guides all insisted that it was unnecessary.

Loading Up the Dugouts

From the moment we entered the dugouts we entered an strange scene in which the river was indistiguishable from the land. There was water everywhere and the dense verdant jungle rose out of it teeming with life. Frequently our guide would steer us directly into the jungle into an almost imperceptable gap in the trees and we would be surrounded by the jungle only to emerge minutes later into an area where the blue sky was again visible. In drier times this must have been a river.

The first day we traveled downstream on a small river which was moving rapidly, so we barely had to paddle. (Isn’t there an old adage, “What goes down must come up” or some such?). There were many twists and turns and it was impossible to get a good sense of what direction we’d traveled or how far. At some point we joined up with a larger river, perhaps 30 feet across, called the Marañon (which means “cashew”) which moved a bit slower. We were on the water nearly all day, with only one break for lunch. The river was brown and murky with dirt picked up along the way, but it was clean enough that the guides used the water for cooking and washing. Most of the time we had trees overhead.

Paddling our Dugout  Tropical FlowersLook Up!

We saw lots of birds, including parrots and macaws, eagles and ospreys, egrets and storks, and lots and lots of song-birds. For Kathy, the big sighting of the first day was the plethora of blue-and-yellow macaws flying overhead in small flocks and perched noisily high up in the trees. Our guide, Rainer, who grew up in that jungle, pointed out a group of small bats sleeping underneath some bare branches over the water, by shooing them away in a cloud. Lunch was held in a lodge on stilts over the water. During the dry season it would be high and dry, but for us almost all of our stops involved getting out of the canoe onto a set of stairs rather than stepping onto ground. The meals were simple fare, but plenty of it. Most days one or another of the guides would go fishing in the evenings, and although they caught a variety of (mostly unfamiliar) fish, we were most intrigued at the idea of eating piranha! There are a number of varieties of piranha, but our favorite, the red piranha, was about 9″ long and had a tomato-red patch on its belly. The teeth are incredibly sharp! Piranha have such a fearsome reputation from the movies that we were all a bit nervous at the thought of swimming in the same river where they were caught, but the guides did so we all joined in each day at our midday and evening stops. It was so refreshing! We only saw a few fish while we were swimming, and never a piranha, but when the table scraps were thrown into the river after a meal the water would almost immediately roil with activity.

Hyacinth Macaws Overhead  Butterflied Piranhas

We slept in a different place each night, but always in a building with space for sleeping pads and mosquito nets. Sometimes there were raised bed-frames, sometimes not; sometimes there were room dividers, sometimes not; usually there were other parties in the same building. It was fun to see other parties at our stops along the way, but the meals were always prepared by one’s own guides without much sharing between groups. The guides personally pay for all of the provisions and equipment, and get paid a flat fee for their services. I think the tour agencies make a good bit on these tours, and for the guides it’s a good job but they’re definitely not getting rich! The guides would typically socialize amongst themselves in the evenings, rather than mixing with the guests (we were told that some guests would be horrified to have the guides eat at the same table with them!). The guides are often a couple, as was the case in our two-guide boat. They complete some coursework in tourism and the environment, and have to spend a year as an apprentice. They have to provide the bedding, the pots and pans and plates and silverware, and often even the canoe. But they get to meet people from all around the world, develop a deep knowledge of this ecosystem and its inhabitants, and spend the majority of their time doing what they love. None of them spoke (much) English.

An Evenings Lodge  Cooking the Evening Meal

We saw lots of wildlife on this trip, some of it fairly close-up, but also some of it waaay off in the tops of the trees (like the sloths, who are solitary and reclusive) and some “drive-by” sightings where you mostly just get a sense that something moved by quickly. Nature television has spoiled us! :-) According to Rainer, there are six kinds of monkeys in this area, and we saw five of them. At the time we knew all of the names, but I’m sorry to report that those names have slipped away when no one was watching. Our presence tended to spook the monkeys and they would generally move deeper into the jungle when they saw us. Photography is a real challenge! We saw dozens if not hundreds of monkeys swinging through the trees and leaping from one branch to another. We have little photographic evidence, however. One of the largest of the species is the howler monkeys, which we’ve seen in a couple of locations in Central America, but I’m not certain they are the exact same species. Here they are called “monos rojos”, which just means “red monkeys”. We enjoyed their surreal sounds at dusk and dawn every night, surging like a big wind in the canopy, and during the daytime we heard territorial “conversations” between troops of howlers. We never tired of these guys. There’s a kind of lizard with a red head that lives in this area that can skitter across the water using its tail, moving at an unbelievable speed. We saw 2 or 3 of these, but it’s one of those shooting star experiences where as soon as you notice it, it’s over.

A Sloth above the Canopy  Monos Rojos

The third day out, we took a side-trip to a magical place that had a unique plant, a huge lily-pad roughly 10 feet in diameter. It had thorns on its perimeter that were very sharp, and new leaves that hadn’t yet rolled out were like a porcupine! They are found nowhere else on the planet. The area they were in was very still, and the waters offered beautiful reflection images. The place had the air of being in a sacred space, a cathedral, a scene directly out of the Jurassic lost in time, and it was easy to imagine that we were the first people to ever be there and a Tyranosaurus might appear any moment. In this same area we had several very brief encounters with the pink Amazonian freshwater dolphin. We never got a good look, but we got the sense that they were playing with us, popping up just out of sight or an instant after we had turned away.

Giant Lily Pads  Turning a New Leaf  Tranquil & Reflective

The next night they took us on a night paddle just after it got dark. Rainer started out specifically looking for crocodiles and caimans, and managed to catch a small one. Don’t ask us how – he just reached into a bush, wrestled around for a minute and came back with this two-foot-long baby caiman in his hand! We had gotten separated from the other boat, and he handed the caiman to Kathy to hold for a few minutes while he paddled back in the direction where he thought they might be. (We never did catch up to them.) He was amazing at spotting wildlife at night, with a single small flashlight which he strapped to his forehead with an elastic band. And once he found something, he always had an interesting anecdote or factoid to share. One owl he found sitting on a nest, and he told us a local legend that struck similar chords to Snow White or Hansel & Gretel. There were two kids whose mother died, and when their father later remarried the new wife didn’t want them around. The father took them into the woods and left them. Later they returned as this owl which has a long sad call. He found a snake in the bushes, and a few very tiny frogs with huge voices, and perhaps most remarkable of all, he found our way back to the lodge again at the end of the tour! :-)

A Hole in a Roll  The Circle of Life

The fourth day we turned around and began retracing our steps (?) back towards where we had launched, but Leslie and Matt continued on for a bit longer. As we said our goodbyes that morning, we didn’t really expect to see them again. We were now only two canoes heading back upstream, and the paddling was notably more difficult. Rainer was a master at taking short-cuts whenever the river made a sharp turn. This not only made the trip a little shorter, but also got us out of the current and provided opportunities to see different scenery. Often it felt like we were entering a tunnel or cave, built from foliage, but usually it would open back up again quickly. The other boat had a somewhat more difficult time following through the narrow passages that he discovered, however, since it was larger and couldn’t turn quite as nimbly. These shortcuts probably only exist for the few months of the rainy season, and become land during the dry season. While we were eating lunch on this day, it began to rain. The lodge we were in (a misnomer if a lodge implies actual walls :-) ) was not in good repair, and we dodged numerous leaks in the roof. It poured buckets! It slackened off just about the time we were ready to move on, but didn’t really stop for the rest of the day, and it also rained most of the next day, although not as hard. We were visiting during the rainy season, so we had actually been quite lucky to have a string of dry days at the beginning of our trip. We were all dripping wet when we stopped for the night and actually went to bed chilly. Our clothes were all still wet (although no longer dripping) in the morning.

Alex & Maria in the Large Canoe  Bailing a Canoe

The last day of the trip the rain had spent itself. We didn’t have far to go. At one point Rainer stopped and looked puzzled, as did the other guides, as if they’d lost their way. A tree had fallen across the river and completely blocked our way. It must have been 18″ in diameter and hard as nails, so hacking through it with their machetes was not a practical solution. Eventually they figured out a way to lift the bow of one dugout up on top of the log, shift it along in bursts, and drop it in the water on the other side. Things got a little easier when another party arrived and the extra people helped lift and tug the three heavy boats up and over the log. Shortly after that we stopped for lunch at a “wide spot in the road”, a small beachy area. Two or three other parties also stopped at this place with us, some just beginning and some concluding their tours, so there was lots of conversation. An archaic motorized dugout went by with a couple of park rangers. Apparently a guest had gotten ill and they were heading out to retrieve him more quickly. (No motors are allowed in the park except for the park rangers.) When we told them about the fallen log they turned around and headed back to their headquarters for a new game-plan; a short time later they passed us by again with a huge chainsaw and we didn’t see them again. Our friend Leslie had been feeling poorly when we went separate ways and we worried a bit that it might be her who they were evacuating.

Crossing the Log

We finished up our trip by paddling a very short distance to the launching place. We helped pack all of the gear back up into two of the motor-taxis that were waiting, and we spent a few minutes saying goodbye to the guides who had made our trip so memorable but whom we would never see again. It’s always a bit inconceivable to realize just how different our lives are from local people in these less developed countries. They live so close to the bone and have so few opportunities compared to us. It’s humbling. We had been tickled to see the guides (Rainer in particular) showing interest in our game of chess a couple of nights earlier. None of them knew how to play, but there were three or four pairs of eyes watching. We gave them a basic intro to the game, and then later gave our travel set to Rainer. Perhaps we have touched his life in a little way as he has touched ours.

Back in town we checked back into our hostel, hung our still-wet clothes out to dry and took a nap before dinner. We had a very early morning departure on our fast boat, so we didn’t stay out late. When we got on the boat we ran into our friends Matt and Leslie, and we asked them about their return trip. It turns out that it was Matt who had been sick, although it wasn’t dire. He was suffering the symptoms of a kidney stone and wanted to be somewhere away from the middle of nowhere if he was going to have to deal with that situation. The guides and rangers had responded quickly and effectively, whisked them back to town, and got them situated in a nicer hotel for the night.

The six of us enjoyed an afternoon together in Lagunas. We had a running joke out in the jungle about ordering a strawberry milkshake, and so we were tickled to find an ice cream shop that could make that very confection. :-) We were all heading towards Ecuador, but had slightly different schedules. We traveled together that day to Tarapoto (via Yurimaguas – none of this is straightforward!), and then made separate plans. We got tickets to the town nearest Chachapoyas (called Pedro Ruiz Gallo, for those who are playing along) and the others went on to the next stop. We were told to be sure that we go to the municipal bus station across from a particular cemetery – to distinguish it from the older municipal bus station across from a different cemetery! This is where our previous blog posting picked up, and we will now resume our “normal” chronological postings.

Strawberry Milkshakes - Mmmmmm!

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