About Us

Welcome to our blog, describing our voyage aboard Bravo, a Kelly Peterson 46 sailboat with homeport in Seattle, Washington. We headed south in 2010, destined for Mexico and beyond. Cheers, Adam and Cindi


"As for me, I am tormented by an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts." -Herman Melville, 1844


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

High Stakes Game of "Whack-a-Mole"

We arrived yesterday in Bahia Santa Elena, Costa Rica, after sailing for the past 2 days and nights down the Nicaraguan coast. We left Bahia del Sol at high tide on Friday afternoon, escorted again through the surf by the dynamic jet-ski pilot duo of Rogelio at the helm and Bill on the radio. This crossing was more boisterous than our inbound crossing of the bar. The pilots read the wave sets well, though, telling us when to hold our position while waiting for another wave to break before applying full throttle to get through before the next set began. A bit tense, but not to worry, it all worked out fine. Hopefully will have some pictures to post when we are next connected to the internet (this post comes via Winlink on ham radio).

The first night was relatively uneventful. We had light winds for the entire passage, never seeing more than 10 knots of breeze, and more often winds were in the 4-8 knot range. We saw a fair bit of lightning on the first night, but it was far in the distance, seemingly over land (we were typically 20-30 miles off shore). A couple of squalls appeared on radar, but also far off, and not in our path.

While on watch on the second night, though, things got interesting! Several convection cells appeared on the radar, some ahead of us, and some behind. As we altered course to avoid the cell blobs, with their major lightning activity, some would begin to dissolve, while others appeared, as if intentionally trying to block our path!! No matter which way we turned, we'd soon see a new cell starting to grow in our way. Left....right....more right....left.....Finally after around 4 hours we were through the area, and all of the lightning was behind us. Yeee-hah.....dodged another bullet!!!

The lightning was intense, some of the brightest we've seen yet, in what has become a nightly display. While in El Salvador, we made up a readily deployable mast ground wire. Using heavy gauge 1/0 welding cable with a big lug on one end, we have it bolted to the mast near the deck. When we see lightning, we throw the 15' long cable into the water, trailing it alongside the boat. The hope is that, should we be hit, this will provide an easy path for the jolt to get to ground, rather than arcing through the hull with possible unsavory consequences. Hopefully we'll never see it tested, but at least we feel that it may provide a bit of protection. Of course, we also put all of our portable electronics in the oven when entering "the zone" for extra precaution. Does it work????? Who knows, but it can't hurt (unless we fire up the oven and fry 3 laptops!!!)

So we arrived in this beautiful bay, Santa Elena, yesterday morning. It's a large bay, but deep, and completely protected from any swells or waves. We were escorted in by a huge pod of spotted dolphins, and more turtles (olive ridleys) than we've ever seen. One other boat in the bay, but a long way off. The jungle sounds are fantastic, as the area is known for it's parrots, sea birds, and others. We also heard numerous howler monkeys in the evening. Yesterday remained calm, and we lounged about, reading and catching up on needed sleep after the previous night's game of "Whack-a-Mole".

During the night, as forecast, the weather changed. We now have a "papagayo", a gap wind coming across from the Caribbean, similar to the "T-pecker" which we described a few weeks ago. It will likely keep blowing for the next several days, with typical gusts so far around 20-25 knots. No waves, though, so we're comfortable, and using the time to catch up with boat chores, reading, games and videos. Perhaps launch the dinghy tomorrow in the lulls, to explore some of the hikes on shore that we've heard about. The diving and snorkeling are supposed to be great around here as well, but we'll need to let the winds die down a bit before heading out of the bay.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Exploring Suchitoto

Along with crews from a few other boats staying at Bahia del Sol, we hired a van for a trip to Suchitoto, a pretty, colonial treasure of a town about 2-1/2 hours north of us.  The town is known for it's vibrant art community, with numerous small galleries and cooperatives scattered about. 
We stayed at an amazing little hotel, the Los Almendros de San Lorenzo.   Owned by Joaquin, the former El Salvadoran ambassador to France and his partner, the renovated hacienda was a like an intimate museum displaying the owners diverse and extremely high quality art collection in every nook and cranny.

Stencil seen on doorways of homes throughout Suchitoto
The town itself was in an area which served as a stronghold of the guerilla movement, the FMLN, fighting the U.S. backed military junta government during the bloody 12 year El Salvadoran Civil War (1980-1992).  

"In this house, we want a life free from violence against women"
To this day the town shows a left leaning spirit, with women's rights issues, Catholic sisters working for the rights of the poor, and other indicators that the movement, while no longer violent in El Salvador, remains a watchdog for human rights and land reform.  

The Bravo crew spent one evening enjoying a few beers at the El Necio bar, a funky pub owned by Jerry, a former guerilla, with leftist posters on all walls, and flags of communist countries hanging from the ceiling.  Reminded Adam of coffee houses in Greenwich Village in the 60's and 70's.  Given the recent history, though, this had a much more real feel to it.


 
Monument to the FMLN in a local park.  Check out the little hollow on the ground below the sculpture.  (see detail below)




 Cindi enjoyed an afternoon at a women's cooperative, where they raise money making a variety of crafts with indigo, a natural dye from plants harvested in the region.  
Together with a few of the other women we traveled with, they learned to make tie dyed indigo scarves.

  

 
 

The town of Suchitoto is very well preserved, as both sides during the war agreed to spare the buildings from destruction.  We enjoyed our walks around, exploring the little side streets as we made our way down toward the lake below.  


Cindi, with the weight of the world on her shoulders!

A delightful mix of old and new technologies!!!
 All in all, this was a great excursion, where we learned more about El Salvador, her people, and history, within the context of a pretty, unique little town.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

'Bravo' Stars in a "BEE" Movie!!!

Over the past 4 or 5 days, Bravo has been involved in a seemingly insurmountable battle against a swarm of honey bees.  One morning, a few scouts came aboard, and evidently liked what they found.  The next morning there were a few more, and then more, and more still.  Now, your trusty 'Bravo' team has nothing against bees, per se.  In fact, Adam used to have a few hives of his own.

Adam zaps a few of the early scouts.
But when we're waking up to 10-20 in the cabin, things have gone too far!!!

"Houston, we've got a problem!!!"

We borrowed a pail of shredded coconuts from the marina, and lit it with a torch to smoke the lil demons out.  This seemed to have the desired effect.  Success!!!   Ummmmm.....not so fast!!!




We looked outside, and they had swarmed to the aft rail, around a fender and the GPS antennas.  Their queen must have been there, and the gang was rallying to her defense!  There were hundreds if not thousands of the little buggers.




Things were looking pretty grim aboard the good ship, until Dena, a "bee whisperer" and fellow cruiser from the boat Talaria heard of our plight.  It seems Dena's family used to be commercial bee keepers, and as a girl, she put in many an hour dealing with swarms.  She jumped into the fray like a real trooper, trying to sweep the rascals into a bucket.  Bare handed, I might add.  This girl has cajones!!!

Well, 'plan A' didn't work out too well.  Several bee stings later, it was time to bring out the big guns.  After dark, when the bees were catching a few zzzzz's, we fired up 'Bravo's' shop vacuum, and went deep!!!  Sucked literally a couple of pounds of bees into the vac, and bundled the whole thing into a garbage bag.




The next day, they were back.  We vacuumed up more with a friends vac, and added a bit of Raid to the garbage sacks, to hasten the passage of the pesky beasts to the happy hive in the sky.

Took a few more days till they got the message, but happily, for today, 'Bravo' is a bee free zone!!!  Hopefully this story will need no update!!!   Case closed!!!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

El Salvador rambles

El Salvador navy.....a Vietnam relic.....Apocalypse Now, 2012 edition!!!

We've been really enjoying our explorations of nearby towns around Bahia del Sol.  As we reported a few days ago, we took the dinghy up the estuary to Herradura, a little fishing village on the water.  Just got a few photos back from the lab...














Food court at the market...served in baggies w/ a fork.....tasty business!!!

Internet cafe

Herradura recycling center
Two days ago we took the bus to visit the small city of Zacatecoluca.  About 2 hours away, this bustling city gave us a good taste of the local landscape.  The bus ride itself is quite a scene.  Much like the Tokyo subways, they have a guy who's job it is to pack as many aboard as possible.  We stood for about 1-1/4 hours before we could grab a seat.  Counted about 120 people total on the old school bus!!!  Vendors come aboard often, pushing their way down the aisle through the crowd, selling water in baggies, papusas (a local delicacy...a thick corn tortilla filled with bean paste), vegetables, and other treats.  Then the conductor climbs over people, both sitting and standing, continually shaking his change bag to collect fares.  You know how in the US you see women putting on makeup in their rear view mirror as they drive???  Here we had a woman on the bus putting on deodorant in the 90 degree heat.  How considerate of her fellow travelers!!!  Great stuff!!!
Mass transit, Zacatecoluca style
Typical Zacatecoluca street scene

Cindi especially liked the pharmacy at the central market!  "Que necesita???  Tenemos!!!"  (what do you need??...we have it!!!)

Friday, April 6, 2012

Bahia del Sol....'Bravo' goes to summer camp!!!

The last week has been eventful.  We cleared out of Mexico in Chiapas.  The "paperwork cha cha" was quite a process.  It included trips to the port captain and customs offices, and the airport for the immigration officer.  Fees were due, requiring trips to bank machines (or bank), and back again.  We were clearing out with two other boats, so we all went together, driven and greatly assisted by Guillermo from the Marina.  All told it took nearly 4 hours, and we were told that this was very quick!!!  I can see why people often use an agent to help out.  The next morning, the navy and port captain came by to inspect the boats, with along with drug dog "Gamma", a friendly german shephard.  Fresh brewed Chiapas coffee all around, Bravo passed inspection, and was free to leave Mexico, in fact HAD to leave within 48 hours.

Leaving Mexico was emotional for us.  This country has been so welcoming, and the people so warm to us everywhere we traveled.  It was also our intro to this cruising lifestyle, and a great intro it was..."Cruising Light" as we call it...everything you need is available, perhaps with a bit more effort than in the states, but with a bit of perseverence, it's all doable.  Not always the case as we venture further afield.

Breakwater leaving Puerto Chiapas
But we headed out, and immediately had the best sailing conditions that either of us could remember on this entire journey.  With winds between 15 and 22 knots over the starboard quarter, 'Bravo' flew along on the flat seas at a 7.5 knot average, quick for us.  And it lasted all day, and all of the first night of the two night passage past Guatemala to El Salvador.  But this created a real dilemma for us.  One that we've never faced before.....there is a bar crossing to get into the estuary in Bahia del Sol, El Salvador.  We can only get in at high tide, and a pilot boat is required on a jet ski to guide us across the bar through the breaking surf.  Getting there early would just mean bobbing around outside the surf waiting for the high tide at 11 am.  So the entire second day and night we had to continually work to slow the boat down...double reefed main strapped in way too tight, and no headsail, had us crawling along at 4 knots in the glorious sailing breeze.....ARGHHHHH, how frustrating!!!

Panga working his long line off the Guatemala coast.
Even 20 miles out, we passed many long lines floating between two unmarked buoys on our trip down the coast.  Actually they're not entirely unmarked.....oftentimes there is a scrap of black plastic bag tied to a stick in a floating plastic bottle!!!  A bit tough to see in the dark.  Happily we avoided snagging any, though there were several quick evasive maneuvers!!!

3 foot barracuda had a mouth full of razors!!!




Fishing was good on this short passage.  Report:  2 skipjack tuna, 1 baby dorado, 1 barracuda, 1 20 lb. jack crevalle, and finally, 1 nice dorado.  Quite the assortment!  All except the last were thrown back, but the dorado that we kept was a tasty treat!

We finally arrived at the pilot meeting place a bit early, and bobbed about with s/v Panache and s/v Belle Star, both also waiting to cross into the estuary.  The crossing has a serious reputation, but we were confident in both our jet ski pilot team and in 'Bravo' to hang ten and surf in safely. 

Note the pilot coming out through the surf in the center!

The waves looked pretty daunting from outside the line of breakers.  'Bravo' was the first boat called, and as the waves built behind us, the pilot would send instructions over the radio......"big push coming.....hit full throttle NOW.....a bit to the right.....looking good.....another push....." and so on, for a couple of minutes, and we were in!  Easy peasy!!!  As pilot Bill from s/v Mita Kuulu said later, this really was an ideal day to cross the bar.  The photos weren't as impressive as those taken of a few other boats earlier in the year in bigger seas, but we were certainly not complaining as we whooped and hollered and settled into the calm water inside the surf line.

Yeeeee hah.....we're surfing now!!!
We were directed to an open slip at the marina, where we were met by officers from the customs, immigration, and port captain offices.  They escorted us up to the AIR CONDITIONED office resort hotel at the head of the dock, we quickly handled the paperwork, and bingo, we've arrived in El Salvador, and hoisted the new flag.  I mean, how much easier could entering a new country be?????

So, what's the deal here, you ask.....the 'Bravo' crew in a resort?????  Are our heroes hanging up their adventurer's shoes and settling into a new cushy lifestyle???  Well.....a bit of yes, and a bit of no.....This is the destination of something called the "Cruiser's Rally to El Salvador".  Not really a rally in the traditional sense, it is rather a gathering place at this hotel/marina where cruisers are made to feel incredibly welcome, with activities, inland travel opportunities, and exploration of the local villages along the estuary all possible.  It's spearheaded by Bill and Jeanne, a couple of cruisers on s/v Mita Kuulu who visited here a few years ago and fell in love with the country, it's people, and opportunities for unspoiled tourism. 

Based on our first 2 days here, we get it!!!  Here we are at a beautiful resort with 2 pools, for $23/day at a dock (free at anchor).  Beers are $1, we get 30% off everything else at the restaurant and bar (already pretty cheap).  We took a 4 mile dinghy ride up into the estuary yesterday, to the tiny fishing town of Herradura.  Walking up the main street, we were greeted with smiles and waves everywhere.  Other than a few other cruisers, no gringos visit here.  Tourism is not part of their program, and we enjoyed the authentic ambiance of the town.  Picked up a few needed fruits and veggies, and dinghies back to the boat.  Spent the afternoon swimming a mile or so away in the estuary, at a palapa built on stilts, out in the middle of the bay.  People can just drive their boats out there and tie up to enjoy an afternoon in the shaded hammocks, enjoying the swimming and cold cervezas.  Very popular with the locals, it was a great way to spend an afternoon.


Practice makes perfect.....time to quit while ahead!
Adam took casting net lessons from bar pilot Rogelio and his friend Daniel.  They make it look really easy.  Always wanted to learn to throw one of these rascals...takes a while to get the hang of it.












We're now busy with boat projects, and planning some inland travel possibilities in El Salvador.  Volcanoes, Mayan villages, and jungles await!!!  Stay tuned.....

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Bravo Crew meets Indiana Jones




Ever up for adventure, the Bravo crew, along with buddies from s/v Nanna and s/v Belle Star headed out on a road trip to explore the northern reaches of Chiapas.  After arranging the details with guide extraordinaire Arturo and his company Macaw Tours, we headed out by minivan at the crack of dawn for the town of San Cristobal, at an elevation of about 6300'.  The medium sized colonial city is in the heart of the traditional indigenous villages of the Tzotzil and Tzeltal people, and gave us a great base for exploration of the region.


After finding a suitable (read "cheap" and "reasonably clean") hotel for the night (the Hotel Buen Samaritan..."Good Samaritan"), were met by another guide to take us into a couple of the local villages.










Wonder which of the two shrines gets the most attention????
The first, Zinacantan, at 8300', included a stop to visit with a Tzotzil family in their home, where we watched the women weaving traditional fabrics with backstrap looms, and shared some freshly made tortillas cooked in their wood fired kitchen.  The family obviously makes a fair bit of income selling their (beautiful) shawls, blouses, and hangings, and in return tolerate tourist's intrusion into their daily lives.


Ears of corn symbolize the cardinal points


The people live much as they have for centuries, with few concessions to the modern world around them.  Largely through the successes of the Zapatista movement since the mid 90's, the people enjoy greater freedoms, educational opportunities, and healthcare, but the lifestyle continues much as it has for centuries

Leaving Zinacantan, we headed over to the small town of San Juan Chamula.  There was a bit of drama before being granted permission to visit Chamula, as there had been a shooting at a political demonstration in the town square earlier that day.  We couldn't grasp the subtleties of the politics, but after getting the "all clear" message, our guide drove us over to check things out.

Even more than Zinacantan, Chamula is a town with a culture very much as it has been for years.  The Tzotzil women in particular seem to have a difficult position in life, at least when viewed through our eyes. Allowed to marry at puberty, the girl is sold by her parents to a village man, who is allowed as many wives as he can afford.  Going rate is from 5,000 pesos ($370 USD) to 30,000 pesos ($2,200 USD), with the youngest girls fetching the highest price.

The predominant religion is called "Catholica Traditional" (traditional Catholicism), an interesting and unique mix of Catholicism with the traditional shaman based religion of the Mayan people.  We were able to visit a church to witness some of their religious rituals underway when we arrived.

The interior of the church (sorry, no photos allowed) had no pews, or chairs of any kind.  The floor was strewn with pine needles, and fresh flowers were everywhere.  Literally hundreds of candles of many sizes and colors were burning throughout the church, on tables and on the floor.  In the center of the floor, a shaman was performing her healing rituals on a man who had come for care.  The ritual included breaking a live chicken's neck, then waving the dead (though still flapping) bird over the guy's back.  Then she would take a big swig of Pepsi and belch loudly, which was supposed to send the unhealthy spirits away so the poor guy could get well.  We couldn't tell what was wrong with him in the first place, though the candles in front of them included black (death) and red (blood).  I guess we'd just have to return to see how well it all worked out!!!

The next morning we headed out for a winding 6 hour drive to the Mayan ruins of Palenque.  On the way we stopped at a couple of spectacular jungle waterfalls to stretch our legs.




One of many levels of the falls at Agua Azul




Cave behind the falls
We finally arrived at the Mayan ruins of Palenque.  One of the best examples of Maya architecture in Mexico, the ruins seem to rise right out of the surrounding jungle.  We hired a guide on the site.  Victor proved quite a character, with his own, well, unique interpretation of the origin of the Mayan culture.  We came to learn later from Arturo (himself a licensed Palenque guide prior to founding Macaw Tours) that, as in much of life, politics can be fairly intense in the world of archeological opinion and guiding.  In fact, there had been a large fight last year, with blood spilled on both sides, between the "official" guides and the other, unlicensed guides.  Victor (one of the latter), has been working at Palenque since 1965.  He's a scrappy character, and apparently had to be tied to a tree to subdue him!!!  Ahhhh...ya gotta love archeologists with passion!!!

Victor sharing his theories of the temples.
At any rate, Victor gave us an excellent tour.  His interpretation of the various styles of design and art on the site was unique, and had to do with influences from early Egypt, China, and Hebrew explorers, who brought their cultures to the Mayan world as they navigated the world's oceans.  Ohhhhhh.....kaaaaay ????????  He kept explaining that everything we read in Lonely Planet guides and on line is "garbage".  Whatever the actual truth is, Victor was a hoot and worth every penny of the 100 pesos that we each paid for his time.


And Palenque lived up to its billing as one of the top destinations of Chiapas.  The temples are spectacular, and the estimation is that only 10%-15% of the ruins have yet been excavated.  The rest await funding for archeological discoveries yet to come.  Great stuff!!!!!   (Watch out, Indiana Jones, more rolling balls await you!!!)









Isabelle rising from the inky depths.....

Women cleaning the temple stones with brushes....a never ending chore.....



This tomb robber from the 1800's carved his name into the temple wall!!!!  Cheeky bastard!
The next day we came back to explore the deeper jungle, with it's semi excavated treasures.  This was pretty cool, as it was easy to imagine the early archeological explorers coming upon the temples rising out of the dense jungle of the rain forest, unvisited for hundreds of years.  Clearly much discovery and many treasures await future explorers of Palenque.




Partially reconstructed thatched roof over jungle temple





After spending the day on the temple site, we took a hairball bus ride up the winding mountain roads back to San Cristobal for another night at the Buen Samaritan.

In the morning we had time to check out the city before meeting Arturo for the drive back to Marina Chiapas.  Glad we had the time to explore, as San Cristobal really is a pretty city, with it's very walkable streets and sights providing plenty of interest.  








One cop you don't want to mess with!!!!!  (actually a private machine.....)
A festival was taking place for the school kids from the remote Mayan villages.  Taught via satellite, the kids get together in the big city occasionally to share art and science projects, read poetry, and other performances.  Great to see their enthusiasm and pride in their works.








Projects to learn about engineering of suspension bridges.

Evidence of Mayan influence is everywhere in San Cristobal!
Exhibit of making religious candles.  Note various colors for different ailments.
We visited the Museum of Mayan Medicine.  Very interesting exhibits of their use of herbs and plants for healing the sick.














The museum also had an attached chapel for the shaman to heal his patients, same as we saw back in the church of Chamula with a dead chicken and Pepsi.  Buuuuuurp........


Not sure if these chickens in the hardware store were destined for the alter or the stewpot......or both!
Bootleg video store...burning more copies while you wait!!!

Finally it was time for the 6 hour drive back to the marina.  Arturo met us at the hotel, and we headed home after a very full 4 day road trip.  Arturo had suggested an excellent itinerary for us, with a mix of self guided touring and public transportation as well as time with guides.  We had no idea before this of the great travel opportunities in Chiapas, and really enjoyed our time spent in this part of Mexico often missed by cruisers.  All boats heading south should stop here, and look up Arturo for his hospitality and insight into the people, their politics and their culture.

Tres amigos....Arturo, Ernesto, y Adan
We also really enjoyed our last evening in Chiapas aboard Bravo with Arturo, his blues guitar, and friend Ernesto.  Cheers, guys!!!