Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Summertime, and the living is.....

Not easy.

After leaving Guatemala, we returned to Texas where we finished ( sort of ) the renovation of a cottage in Austin. I always wanted to do a reno, even had it on the bucket list.......what the HELL was I thinking. Definitely a case of ignorance is bliss.

We found an old house ( actually shack would be better description ) very close to downtown Austin last winter. It's a city we like, lots of walking, biking, great food and music. We could settle there if we wanted off the boat. But the whole renter thing isn't something we wanted to do, and we are not even remotely thinking of coming off the boat. Luckily, we had kids (future tenants!) graduating school who wanted to stay downtown Austin. So, the reconstruction began in January. By email and occasional calls we got a lot done thru our contractor, but as it got closer to habitable, there were way to many decisions to make from Guatemala. So in June we came back.
Turns out actually finishing the renovation was painfully drawn out. We spent two solid months in Austin (thanks Bailey and Nevin!) and finally left in early August with no cabinets in the kitchen or bath, construction mess everywhere, and the end nowhere in sight. We decamped for cooler climates in Mass, and left the cabinet guy working hard.

A million small, "don't worry, we will fix it before the final" comments from our contractor later, we might be finished this week. Still no bathroom vanity (the cabinet guy is STILL working on it) but there is an end in sight finally. And don't even get us started on " estimates" morphed along the way. Seems doing a renovation is like an onion. For every layer you uncover, new "unexpected" things are found which have a profound impact on the bottom line. Oh well, it's really almost done. Our tenants are settled in, and it seems to have turned out really well. We get to actually see it in a few weeks when we return to Texas before departing for Guatemala.
..AFTER (well, close-to-after)
The road trip from Texas was long and tiring. The only highlight was a far too brief stop in Detroit to see Royce's sister, Allegra. Arriving in Mass we decided we weren't going anywhere for a month, then turned right around and went up to Vinalhaven, Maine to visit our good friends Sue and Marty at their camp. Warm days, swimming in the quarry, sea kayaking, amazing sunsets, and lobster galore. Couldn't have asked for a better break.

Returning to Royalston we help to host a large family gathering which was wonderful, and the following weekend celebrated the 250th anniversary of the town. The three day event included music, helicopter rides, and the best fireworks I've ever seen with front row seating in a local field.

It's quieter now, and we are recuperating. The nights are decidedly chilly, leaves are beginning to change and we are back into jeans. First time for that in a year :)  Reading, walking and just enjoying the peace of Royalston. Recharging as I think of it. And in a few weeks, we will need all the batteries at full as we leave for NYC, DC, and then onto Texas. And finally home to Cerca Trova at the end of October.

Sunday, September 20, 2015


 AUGUST 2015

We are now back in the States after an extended shut-down of CT in the Rio Dulce of Guatemala.

(Not to worry – this is not going to be a massive posting like the Belize one)

We followed s/v Joyeux across the 6 ft bar into the Rio Dulce in mid-May, and cleared in at Livingston with the aid of Raul, the most excellent agent there.  He even processed our extended-stay paperwork off-line so we could get going asap – the anchorage at Livingston is awful, exposed to the river current vs the in-coming waves, no protection from the on-shore winds, commercial boats and shore noise, and poor holding.  Raul was a lifesaver.  We got across the bar at 08:30 and going up the river by noon, including a shipboard visit by Immigration, Customs, Health, and Agriculture.  

The river gorge is like something out of a Jurassic Park movie.  Sheer jungle covered walls hundreds of feet high, flowering trees and noisy birds, swirling river currents, natives in canoes.  We ran up the river about 7 miles to Texan Bay and anchored in a charming lagoon with our mentor-boat Joyeux.  They took off the next morning, we were so charmed that we stayed another four.  We got to meet Chris and Kelly, who live in Texan Bay on Godzilla, a big heavy green ketch.  Kelly took Jennifer to the local village and school for a visit to see what her charitable efforts are working towards.  We found their ittybitty church and churchyard.  We toured the backwaters through mangrove channels and stumbled across and Nature Conservancy preserve.  We played Sunday pool volleyball with the local ex-pat crowd thanks to an invite from Chris and Kelly.  We hung out at the restaurant/bar/lounge of the Burnt Key marina in the lagoon. And we discovered that our watermaker had finally quit. 
CT at anchor in Texan Bay
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Quiet final repose
Mangrove bayou preserve

So we were forced to move on.  Yes, we could have loaded up on water from the marina but that is exceptionally tedious and expensive, and we really needed to keep momentum on for our final, destination, Monkey Bay.
OK, so now we know: it blows like stink in the afternoons on the Rio Dulce.  Not knowing this, we set out late thinking it wasn’t very far, and arrived at Monkey Bay with a 20-25 knot gusty wind blowing up the river, caused by the day-time heating of the inland mountain ranges.  John, the dock master at Monkey Bay, was heading to town  said we could try tying up and showed Jennifer where we needed to go, or anchor out for the night and come in with the morning calm.  We chose to drive right on in, which meant threading our way through between several boats to the shore side of the long T-dock and then getting our boat side-to the dock before the winds blew us sideways into the banks.  (Remember that boat engines power them forward and back, not sideways) Hmmm .. we pulled it off but was pretty tense until we got the second line on and might have been a minor mess without the help of a couple of boaters who popped up to help get lines secured. 
Monkey Bay is so named because it’s a howler monkey preserve, ‘preserve’ not meaning much in Guatemala, but the howlers are still there.  They are the size of small dogs but make the noise of two parents at an intramural soccer match.  We found the marina to be exactly what we expected from the write-ups, small and quiet with no road access, so it is very secure.  It is very green and they keep orchids growing at large around the grounds.  But it is also very close to town by boat.  Excellent for what we wanted to do, to get the boat cleaned up and to discover a bit of Guatemala. 
Guatemala black orchid
Orchids and epiphytes are basically weeds
We made several side trips.  The most memorable was to Finca Paraiso, a hot-springs water fall dropping into a cold mountain creek.  Getting there required riding the collectivo aka “chicken-bus” inland about 30 km and a short walk into the park.  Riding along, the collective came to a stop in a long queue of other vehicles and everyone started getting out.  Curious.  Asking around, they pointed out the road-block barricades ahead and locals patrolling the barbed wire fence they had thrown up across the whole road.  A protest about the corrupt government.  And the passengers grabbed their stuff and headed in to the fields!  We did too, followed them along until we were accosted by a hut-owner demanding 5 quetzals to cross her yard!  We anted up and went to find another collective on the far side of the barricade.  The protesters were decidedly not happy.  But we made it to the falls and had a great time after figuring out how to get some change made in the local village so we could pay the entrance fee. Even though there was no one around to pay when we went in, the guy at the falls insisted we present our tickets. And he of course didn’t have tickets to sell and no money to make change.  So he took me down to the village and showed be around, very charming in the end.   And on our way back, there was the ticket seller!  The trip back also involved the barricades, which we were now ‘experts’ at, and then we found the only collectivo headed our way was stuffed full. So we rode on the roof with two kids, grinning and bouncing on the spare tires.  And now we know how many people fit in a collectivo – two more.

We met a bunch of fellow Manta cruisers there, had a good afternoon hanging out and at least one birthday cake.  We shopped in the very appropriately named village of Fronteras.  We found some really fine places to eat, the Mexican food at the lodge run by Australians was especially good, their margaritas might be the best we have ever had and we have had a few.  We toured the awesome fortress on the bank of Lake Izabal that dates to the early 1500’s.  Got some spare parts, set the boat up to be left for months in the water with the pouring rain and 100% humidity (thankfully we scored a cheap dehumidifier, that’s a whole other story). We cleaned, and polished, and made endless lists, then cleaned some more.

And then it was time to go.  We had air tickets from San Pedro Sula in Honduras, departing at 01:00 (yes, 1 am), and San Pedro Sula happens to be one of the murder capitals of the world, not a great place through which we had ride on busses and taxis.  John did extremely well in getting us to the right bus at 08:30 (changing in Morales), but it was SRO, so I ended up standing almost all of the 4.5 hrs to the far end.  Oh, and there was customs to clear leaving Guatemala and customs to clear into Honduras (which would only accept US dollars or Honduran lempiras that of course we didn’t have).  But we made it and had our first chain-fast-food in six months at the bus station.  Burger King has been a global presence since before you knew about McDonalds!  Found a cab to the airport and got on down there before nightfall.  The airport was clean and quiet and well appointed, very high security presence, and actually quite a peaceful hangout.  Plane boarded on time and off we flew, leaving CT behind, tied to mangroves and a wooden dock in the care of John.