Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | June 4, 2017

Moving On

 

We always intended to continue cruising.  Maybe spend time in the Chesapeake where we got our start in sailing.  Perhaps visit Maine, Nova Scotia, or travel some of the Great Loop route that DeFever boats often do.  We like to stay in warm climates and prefer a slow travel pace with time to spare in our destinations.  We just couldn’t figure out the logistics to make another big cruise appealing to both of us and fit with our other priorities.   So we decided to move on to different adventures.

Mar Azul was lucky to find new owners, Rosie & Bruce, and hopefully she will fulfill their cruising dreams.  She traveled over 700 miles from St. Petersburg, Florida to a beautiful river location at their home in South Carolina.  She has been renamed “Summer Breeze” and is getting some well deserved spa time in preparation for future cruises.  You can follow their adventures at:

http://summerbreezephillips.blogspot.com/

As for us, we have taken the path of many former boaters and decided it was time to join the growing ranks of RVers.  We purchased a motorhome, aka “Rosy Roads” and will pursue travels ashore.  We’re still figuring all this out.  It probably won’t be nearly as exciting as our adventures at sea, but you are welcome to follow along at:

https://rosyroadsadventures.wordpress.com/

 

 

Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | December 29, 2013

Transitions

N 27° 77’  W 82° 64’

St. Petersburg, Florida.

Tampa_Bay

View from our current berth toward Tampa Bay

We had requests for an update on the return to shore life.  What was it like to return to the US and make the cultural & lifestyle transitions?  What are we up to at the moment?   While not as interesting as our Caribbean travels, we thought we would share some of the ups and downs of the past five months. The most frequent question we are asked is “Would you make the same choice if you had it to do again”?  The answer is “absolutely yes”.   With that being said . . .

We had not had the luxury of flying home during our 2 ½ year trip.  The first few weeks of discovering what was the same and what had changed was exhilarating:  re-acclimating to shopping in the US, being introduced to the latest gadgets, exploring old neighborhoods.  The joys of reconnecting face to face with friends and family were a high.  I had the chance to spend 10 days with my mother, something we had not done in many years.  It was a really special time.

There were some offbeat moments like the nostalgic visit to the house we lived in for the 21 years before the cruise.   I didn’t quite feel up to that outing emotionally but it turned out to be a neat experience.  The Smiths (the new owners) have done a fabulous job turning our comfortable former abode into a spectacular beach-themed home complete with Texas-sized accents including an enormous outdoor tiki hut bar & BBQ among the many improvements.  We had to congratulate them and admit that we are simply not creative people.   We would never have thought of all their delightful enhancements.

Early on in our adventure we had confirmed that our spending habits would require pursuing post-cruise work in some form to replenish the bank account.  Bob had been granted a leave of absence with his employer and it made sense to take advantage of that generosity and go back to full-time flying for a while.  I had pondered being the boat-keeper/dog-sitter with perhaps volunteer or part-time work.  The week we returned to the states Avantair closed its doors forever due to financial insolvency.  Mismanagement for sure, such a shame, maybe even fraud.  It was not a total surprise.  The unfortunate timing put a new twist in the game plan.  I realized I was ready for a change from the role of domestically oriented cruising partner and eager to pursue a career again.  There were many lively discussions of work and living options – what, where, how long, amount of flexibility & how future cruising might fit into the mix.

Bob’s interest in marine electrical systems had been cultivated during our trip and he decided to pursue work in this field.  He built upon an electronic correspondence with a highly experienced and well credentialed marine electrical engineer in St. Pete who agreed to serve as a mentor while Bob built a part-time business.   Thus, where to settle immediately was narrowed to St. Petersburg & vicinity, although the Captain worried if he could handle the mid-Florida weather zone winter chill after the last two warm Caribbean winters.  (Seriously.)

We signed on with the Harborage Marina in downtown St. Petersburg where there are sturdy floating docks with extra high concrete pilings, an advantage for weathering tropical systems.  There is an active and friendly boating and liveaboard community.  It is a comfortable spot most of the time, other than the long walk to the car in inclement weather and when easterlies stir up Tampa Bay and the swell rolls in.  Downtown St. Pete has been revitalized since our departure in 2011 and the new ambiance, plentiful outdoor cafes, greater influence of young people and weekend activities are especially appealing.

Transportation was the next issue to resolve.  We found that getting around on foot and via public transportation was not as easy here as in our foreign destinations. We tried to share one vehicle and it did not work for us.  As used car shoppers we found the car buying experience to be not as pleasant as in our prior life.  We ended up owners of a low mileage 2004 Lincoln Town Car, the perfect vehicle for Bob’s work needs and a flashback to his Dad’s former cars.  For me, we decided on a new basic model Subaru with an all maintenance included lease, over the protests of a cynical salesman who thought it was impossible for two unemployed liveaboards to qualify for a lease.  He didn’t want to waste his time talking with us.  After the Captain personally made our case with the Tampa dealership owner who had sold us a number of vehicles over the years the arrogant salesman was re-educated, apologies rendered and the deal further sweetened.

It was not so easy for me to jump back into the workforce, even in the booming healthcare field. Explaining a 2 ½ year professional gap and describing exactly what I was doing during that time resulted in a few surprised looks during interviews.  I briefly considered pursuing an executive role once more, despite all the lessons supposedly learned about the virtues of a life and work balance.  A clinical position seemed a better lifestyle choice with more options for a flexible future but perhaps not an easy transition either since I was many years removed from direct patient care.   The best fit seemed to be a Rehab Director position in a local skilled nursing facility providing an opportunity to learn a different healthcare setting, work more closely with patients and perhaps regain some clinical Speech-Language Pathology skills.  I can only imagine a lot of eyebrows raised among my friends and colleagues in the acute rehab realm when they heard the news, much as jaws had dropped when our cruise was announced.

The pups quickly adapted, as dogs do, to marina life with a rare weekend cruise.  We got back into the routine of long walks in the early morning and late evening.  The barking camaraderie of the many marina dogs and romps in the lovely St. Petersburg parks perhaps made up for time spent in some less-than-dog-friendly destinations over the past couple of years.   We lost our beloved little Bandit in October suddenly to a failing health at 14 years of age.  I miss my sweet little social butterfly with the personality that facilitated so many human connections.  Bob was sad to lose his “furry little hot water bottle” as she managed to make her way into the middle of our bed each night during her senior years to snuggle, over the reluctant snarls of Lady the Alpha.   Lady, 13, with her egocentric persona has adjusted easily to being an only dog.  She loves the higher human to canine ratio and knowing that she probably doesn’t have a lot of time left either has resulted in even more bounteous attention, especially from the Captain, whom she absolutely adores and vice versa.

Fulfilling the need that was often stirred during our travels to make a personal connection and a difference in the life of someone less fortunate , I signed up for a volunteer role with YouthLift, a local non-profit organization that matches tutors with homeless children.  One night a week is spent with my assigned fourth grader grabbing a bite to eat, visiting the library, pouring over homework, and trying to catch him up on math skills.  I am back to extreme time juggling to get everything I want to do accomplished.  It has been a return to sort of overextending myself, but a refreshing change at the moment.

The Captain was initially not so happy about my full schedule but has managed to create a jam-packed itinerary for himself, researching and implementing a self-directed 401K focused on investment rental properties in addition to his marine electrical endeavors.  He has set a goal to be a great landlord and no doubt he will succeed once we get this new venture figured out.  We have initiated a portfolio of modest properties that should achieve better returns than our conservative investments were generating.  Hopefully that will be a success.  If our plan is flawed we might never get to re-retire.  Maybe some day we will live in one of the little Historic Kenwood 2/1 bungalows, which seem huge compared with our current quarters.

Our lives are a blend of old habits and new.  Some things have changed and some remained the same. I check the weather first and foremost every day, the same as when cruising.  Weather remains such a heavy influence on life.  Is there a tropical system brewing that require extra lines and fenders?  A front coming that will generate a need for the golf umbrellas or careful timing of dog walks, laundry and shopping expeditions?  Can we safely plan to entertain on the aft deck or will it be too cool or breezy? The daily presence of the water is a joy, even if the marina hue woefully lacks the clear glistening blues and greens of the Caribbean. Sunrises and sunsets on the water are still an especially inviting time of day.  The nearby Coast Guard station with its loud broadcasts of the day’s activities and the occasional long blast of a ship’s horn announcing a departure (followed by Lady’s WOOF-WOOF in protest) reinforces our membership in the marine community.  The close proximity to neighbors and much time spent on our front porch, the sundeck, result in spontaneous opportunities to shape our social time.   The marina lifestyle is easy, informal, and mostly comfortable.

We are okay with a small living space and have not regained a desire to move ashore and accumulate stuff, with the exception of the cars.  We did have to purchase a larger and more efficient scanner to convert the growing piles of real estate papers to electronic documents.  We are committed to a “no storage lockers” policy, although Bob is debating taking a little space in the garage of one of the rental units for his expanding workshop. I am thankful that my job requires a simple wardrobe:  khakis & polo shirts with a lab coat thrown on top for polish. Boat projects have resulted in some disarray inside and out and there were a couple of super-cluttered, teak-dusted days where I felt like moving into one of the rental properties.  We were spared a haul-out this fall thanks to our diver who diligently cleans the bottom and thinks we are good until spring when the dreaded and disruptive event will likely occur.

There is still a lot of schlepping of supplies, just as when cruising.  It’s a LONG walk to the car from the more economical breakwater section of the marina and I don’t have a helper like in the islands when the rule in logistically challenged locations was “no help, no eat”.  I keep reminding myself this is great exercise.  Some days when the tide is extra low I insist upon a stronger arm to control the dock cart down the steep ramp that threatens to launch my goods into the water.

Shopping is much easier knowing what is available and where to find everything on the list.  The urge to hoard is gone, and in fact, we are still using up some of the supply reservoir.  We chuckle every time I pull out a fresh tin of the no-refrigeration-required Dutch butter I thought would be consumed long ago in the San Blas.  We miss some of the foreign flavor of shopping these days –  the Colombian produce, the European canned goods, the fresh French pates.  There is a special delight when we find an item that reminds us of our past shopping adventures like the South American baby bananas that Publix carries from time to time.  Even if they aren’t 50 for $1, paddled direct to your door by a guy in a canoe.

I am happy to have Bob home each night, a pleasant change from pre-cruising life that has become a wonderful routine.  This is a better quality of life than when he was away on pilot travels every other week.  We enjoy happy hour, conversation, dinner and an episode from an old TV series via DVD (currently Star Trek) almost every night.  Although I didn’t mind my prior independence I’m secretly glad the flying didn’t work out.

Thriftier habits, gradually adopted in the pre-cruise couple of years have become a bigger part of our lives.  We track every expense to be sure we stay on top of trends and opportunities.  We still enjoy eating aboard most of the time and have not gone back to the old routine of numerous weekly restaurant outings.  We have returned to being mail-order fans, something we missed while cruising and explore the local thrift stores on occasion.  I often navigate the aisles of Walmart these days, a shopping experience I used to detest, finding the 10 to 15% savings worth the effort.  I will admit to digging through other people’s discards at Goodwill, where great bargains can be found. We decided to continue our TV-less lifestyle for the time being, not really missing it very much.  Except for football, and the Bucs aren’t doing so well anyway. We feel connected with our splurge on smart phones and have good internet both in the marina and via our phones as back-up. While Bob does most of the boat maintenance himself, we decided to treat ourselves to the luxury of hiring Alex, The Boat Doctor to get the teak back in shape, something that is clearly not our forte.

Work is harder than I thought it would be.  Bob says maybe we are getting slower as we get older.  Sometimes I think he is right and perhaps I am headed for the dementia unit in the future.  It is not easy to learn a new job, new company and new systems and many days are absolutely insane.  Healthcare in this country is crazier than ever with the cumbersome regulations absorbing oodles of administrative time.  With 40 direct reports, none salaried, no overtime please, managing electronic documentation & misbehaving Ipads, staying on top of the critical and ever-changing 7 day a week schedule and following the progress of 75+ active cases – the work is a greater challenge than I envisioned.  Many days it seems harder than my past role.   Still, I absolutely love being part of this team that is so passionate about their work.  Yes, there are differences in the new setting, but great care can be found in the subacute & skilled nursing arena.

In summary, we have no regrets.  We are glad we made the trip, took the leap of faith that it would work out in the end, accomplished the changes in our lives and experienced something beyond our wildest dreams.  Thinking I would be doing good to make it to the Bahamas when we left, it was a thrill to get as far as South America.  As Bob says, cruising is not “rocket science” and with a little persistence anyone who is motivated to do so can figure it out.  While the sheer beauty of many of our destinations was a highlight, for both of us the best part of the journey was experiencing the different cultures along the way.  And yes, we could have had those experiences via air/land travel, but there was something really special about sailing into a new port and getting there slowly, mile by nautical mile, under our own power.

Would we retrace our path and make the same trip again in the future?  The Captain says “yes”.  I’m in the “probably not” realm at the moment.  Always the optimist, I remember setting out on every voyage hoping for the best and more often than not was disappointed with the travel conditions.  Maybe time will change that perspective, but in truth I found the Caribbean to be brutal especially considering that we traveled in better-than-average weather most of the time.

Do we look forward to cruising again?  “Absolutely yes” from the Captain.  He would love to take on the eastern US seaboard to Maine or thereabouts, although he is still trying to figure out how to accomplish that journey at our preferred slow travel pace, continue to live aboard and avoid cold weather.  “Maybe” from the Admiral, relishing roots and a shore-oriented life at the moment.  We’ll see!

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One of our first St. Pete reunions with former Broadwater neighbors Russ & Susie and an orientation to the new and improved Beach Drive

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A special visit to MD, VA & PA and reunion with four generations – fabulous!

Mom

A memorable lunch with Mom featuring home grown veggies

Elizabeth

Bandit had her own reunion with her beloved pet-sitter Elizabeth

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The bemused AT&T saleswoman educates two wide-eyed and somewhat tech starved boat people about smart phones

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One of many gorgeous sunrises over the Coast Guard Station

Alex

Will gladly turn the teak work and our paychecks over to Alex, “The Boat Doctor”, master of teak and awlgrip

 

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One of the lovely St. Pete waterfront parks, overlooking the Harborage, our current home

Lady

Lady doesn’t care where home is as long as she is beside her master

Motivation

Found at a beachside café at our last stop on the cruise. The sentiment seemed to fit the occasion.

Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | June 21, 2013

Closing the Circle

N 27° 26.2′   W 82° 40.8′

Longboat Key, Florida.

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We completed our Caribbean Loop on Sunday morning 6/16 as we passed the Sanibel Island lighthouse on the Gulf Coast of Florida

The last few days in Mexico were hurried as we prepared to catch the super calm weather window unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico. On Wednesday morning (6/12) we decided to take the boat 4 ½ hours north to Isla Mujeres, an island just off the coast of Cancun. Our goals were to quickly see the area,  take on diesel and check out of Mexico.

That was one of our more frustrating cruising days. Spur of the moment marina check-outs were not easily accommodated and the only person who could handle the task was late arriving to work. The delayed departure resulted in a siesta-time arrival at the next marina. No one answered our radio calls.  Docking was complicated by tight quarters and vicious ferry wakes. After the docking ordeal was over we were told we would need to wait 30 minutes before someone could come to turn on the fuel pump. The wait stretched into 2 ½ hours, with the Captain seething about the situation for which there was nothing that could be done. We absolutely had to take on fuel at this port since our last fuel stop was many miles ago in Panama.

We got the fuel aboard by 6 pm and the marina manager said we could spend the night in the same slip. I voted to get the Mar Azul out of her precarious berth, away from the wakes trying to smash us into the concrete dock and into the safety of the anchorage. The Captain was tired and didn’t feel like anchoring and launching the dinghy. He didn’t want to move the boat stern-to the slip so that one could disembark without performing a gymnastic maneuver that is not easy for those of us with short legs. There’s no way I can get off this boat . . . It was your idea to come here . . .  I was perfectly happy to stay at the other place . . . Why didn’t you say so before we left . . . We have got to turn this boat around so I can get off . . . I’m tired and not moving . . . Its easy to get off the boat, see . . . blah blah blah. Fortunately that kind of day is outnumbered by the ones where everything goes pretty smoothly and we operate in sync.

Once I figured out a way to get off the boat we found a cute, Mexican tourist town ashore filled with tempting restaurants. Full of lamb chops – the finest he has tasted since Culebra – the Captain stopped griping. The absence of galley duty after an aggravating day plus delicious Moroccan Tapas followed by a stroll around the upbeat downtown restored me to good humor too.

The next morning we handled the exit clearance ourselves, involving a stop at the nearby port captain and immigration offices. The marina wanted a $134 fee to process the paperwork.  The cost for doing it ourselves was $34 for about 45 minutes of time, not including the hour we spent in an air conditioned cafe eating breakfast while we waited for the immigration lady to get back to the office.  Unemployed and trying to stay on budget, the decision was a no-brainer.  We did not mind using the more reasonably priced agents in Colombia (required by law) and Honduras (optional), feeling that the service made logistics and communication easier for us.  In Mexico the agent fees were higher (the “sailboat rate” at Puerto Morelos for a check-in was $175 + $26 per person, not including the$50 boat importation fee plus $145 to check out; at Puerto Aventuras to the south we were told to expect between $450 – $500 plus boat importation just to check in).  We heard different versions of what was allowed by the officials in terms of independent check ins and outs in the different locations and never really nailed down the exact rules.  Our final impression is that the situation may be in flux, but at this moment for fellow cruisers looking for the most economical option, a self-directed process at Isla Mujeres is the way to go.  With a US address, the boat import permit process can be handled in advance on-line via the Banjercito website assuming you have a way to access your mail at least electronically.

We left Mexico with sort of a bad taste in our mouths about the marina and agent fee schedules that target power boaters. Oh, you aren’t a sailboat. That’s a different rate then. You guys can afford to pay more.  We have to charge sailors less because they won’t come otherwise. No kidding. It was not unlike what we found in a few places in the San Blas, but the Mexicans were not as endearing in their quest to extract money from the gringos.

We scooted out of Mexico on Thursday, leaving the turquoise waters of Isla Mujeres behind at sunset. The Mexican Navy bid us farewell off the northernmost island of Isla Contoy. That involved a few heart-stopping moments when we weren’t sure about the intentions of the boat that circled and sped up from behind in the dark. It was either the Mexican Navy or it was going to be a really bad situation. Bob asked me to go up to the flybridge radio, stay out of sight and quickly get out a distress call to the nearest ship, the Carnival Elation, about 10 miles to our port side, if it turned out to be a hostile situation. Not that it would have been much help in the immediate moment. The approaching boat finally came on the radio, identified themselves, asked us to stop and provide vessel and clearance information. After a difficult English-Spanish over-the-radio chat, they allowed us to continue on our way. It was one of the times we were glad we had given Mar Azul a Spanish name, familiar to our interrogators. “Ah, ‘Mar Azul’, ‘Blue Seas’”!

The strong Gulf current whisked us north through the Yucatán Channel at speeds up to 10 knots.  We crossed the 23° 26′ 15.143″ north latitude marking the Tropic of Cancer, leaving the tropics behind.  The rest of the passage was uneventful and fulfilled the promised pleasant conditions. Three foot seas settled down to a one-to-two-foot swell on day two, and the Gulf was almost totally calm on the third day. There was just enough shipping traffic on nights one and two to keep us alert. Even without both stabilizers functioning the ride was near perfect and justified cutting out of Mexico so quickly. We floated by the Matanzas Channel off of Ft. Myers Beach on Sunday morning, crossing the path where we had exited 803 days prior for a southbound trip to Marathon, the first overnight passage of our voyage.

We docked at Sanibel Marina and checked in with US Customs & Border Patrol by phone.  We are registered with the Small Vessel Reporting System which makes it possible to handle arrivals online and telephonically. We came direct from Isla Mujeres, Mexico. No, we didn’t visit Cuba. (Would have liked to, but felt we had to honor the outdated US policy making that in effect illegal. We didn’t say that.) We were in Roatan, Honduras before Mexico. Nothing to declare but a few molas. (Not enough to worry about.) Only a small amount of frozen packaged meat and produce aboard for our own consumption. We can dump it if you require. (Wasn’t necessary.) They never retraced our journey any farther, which was good since we expect that arrivals from Colombia might be treated differently. The officer didn’t know where Sanibel was, but decided it wasn’t worth a field trip and issued an 18-digit clearance number.

Monday we traveled up the Caloosahatchee River to downtown Ft. Myers where we checked out several marinas for future liveaboard options, met our friends Steve & Jean and toasted the completion of our voyage.  It felt strange to come back into the country with no home other than Mar Azul, no working cell phones, no internet service provider and no car. The following day we set off with a priority to get reacquainted with US supermarket shopping since we had come in light on fresh provisions not knowing what the authorities might make us pitch.

The next task was to figure out internet & communications.We have vowed to keep our lives simple but internet & phones are pretty much essential.  I mean even the Kuna Indians have cell phones, right? We walked the pretty streets of downtown Ft. Myers almost expecting to see vendors sitting along the sidewalks under colorful umbrellas dispensing phones and minutes and internet service like they did in Santa Marta. We found out the nearest phone stores were about 6 miles away in the shopping plazas. No taxis came along during a 2 mile walk, tooting a quick 2 beeps as they passed to see if they could be of service.  Even if they had, they wouldn’t have been of the $2 – 3 per trip anywhere-in-the-city variety. No public buses traveled our path with a waving conductor hanging out the door recruiting us to climb aboard an overloaded vehicle. This is the land of private auto transportation which I suppose will be soon on the list to address. We went back to the marina and called Steve who picked us up and delivered us to the AT&T store.  Two smart phones later we are feeling more connected and better armed to tackle the transition to life in the States. We’re learning how to Swype and use voice recognition software and figuring out the new apps.  Hopefully we will catch up quickly.

Our body clocks seem to be stuck on the Central Standard Time of Honduras so the ship’s schedule runs a bit late for this time zone at the moment.  We are wondering if it was always this hot in Florida in June.  The absence of the Trade winds makes the sub-tropics seem hotter than the tropics.  Maybe we should have picked another season to return.  And my gosh, the bugs in Southwest Florida might just be worse than in Panama.

Otherwise, at this point returning seems easier than leaving. Ask us in a couple of years.  We’ve grown and changed in many ways and have a new perspective.  We have a different appreciation for the way people live in other places and for a lifestyle that affords a strong connection with the beauty of our world.  We’ve learned how to be more self-sufficient, had many lessons in teamwork and achieving goals that seemed out of reach.  Having gotten rid of tons of material possessions we are committed to living a simpler lifestyle from this point forward.  We’ll see how that works out.

But a passion for experiencing new cultures and connecting with people different from ourselves has been kindled. Maybe the Mar Azul and/or her crew will live in distant lands again one day, who knows?

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One of many Isla Mujeres-Cancun ferries passing the fuel dock. One thing we are definitely not going to miss on returning to the US is the lack of attention to the effects of one’s boat wake near shore that was prevalent in many of our destinations.

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Charming downtown Isla Mujeres, Mexico. We saw so little of this island – wish we could have stayed longer.

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One of the top ranked TripAdvisor restaurant choices in Isla Mujeres did not disappoint

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Uh-oh. Not something we want to see on the radar screen. Big sigh of relief that it was in fact the Mexican Navy not the bad guys.

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Now THIS is passage weather, the Gulf of Mexico at its finest. Second only to the Bahamas-Turks crossing. Why can’t they all be this smooth?

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Friendly welcome from some familiar creatures and a little entertainment for the pups on an otherwise boring day at sea

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Bandit says, yeah, the St. Augustine grass here is good, but I’d rather be at Fantasy Island hunting watusas. Not a born cruiser, she tolerated our adventures but might have been happier if we had left her behind with Chuck & Sheree on their ranch.

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Lady doesn’t care where she is as long as she is within two steps of Bob.  Absolutely loved cruising, having her humans nearby and serving as an imposing Chief Watchdog. She is starting to have some issues with advancing age but is forever our “Miss Enthusiasm”.

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The best part of returning is connecting with friends and we look forward to many more merry reunions. With Steve & Jean at Legacy Marina, Ft. Myers.

So . . . this is our last post.  Until the next adventure, that is!

Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | June 12, 2013

What Happened in Mexico

N 20° 49.8′   W 86° 53.3′

Puerto Morelos, México.

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The signature Puerto Morelos lighthouse, tilted by Hurricane Beulah in 1967, with the newer model behind it

Here we are on the Yucatán Peninsula in Quintana Roo, the easternmost of Mexico’s 31 states. We are sporting the wristbands of the Hotel Marina El Cid all-inclusive resort. Tourists we are, two in a sea of many.  Today it felt more like a herd as we stomped around the Tulum ruins taking pictures of other tourists taking pictures of us taking pictures.  Moo.  It’s culture shock again, although the current culture is not that unfamiliar.  It just feels strange after so many months in places like Roatan and San Andres and Panama and Colombia.

Our companions in the marina are mostly fishing charter and excursion boats that serve the tourist market. Our friend Mike on M/V Doubloon and his Dad just pulled in from Honduras.  His passage wasn’t so nice either, maybe worse than ours.  It is so nice to see a familiar face and to quickly catch up, even though Mike has to fly out to go back to work.  Hopefully he will return soon to get Doubloon across the Gulf and safely back to the States.

A couple of cruising boats are anchored off the town about a mile to the north. No thanks, that looks like a constant motion gut-churning spot at the moment despite the cruising guide author’s assurance that she nicely weathered a 50 knot June tropical storm there. We’ll take the floating dock with super high pilings behind the huge breakwater, thank you.  We’ve made progress, but have a whole lot more room for improvement in the penny-pinching department. Guess that is one reason we are heading back to shore life and employment.

The stretch of 80 miles from Cancun to Tulum, down the Riviera Maya is filled with resort after resort after resort. There might be more resorts here than in Orlando.  There are upscale choices of the Ritz Carlton caliber, unlike in many of our Latin American stops.  There are many of the all-inclusive variety, a la Club Med.  Driving along the main highway we almost feel like we are back in the States, except that the billboards and road signs are in Spanish. They also have annoying speed bumps called “topes” that suddenly appear on the high-speed road with little or no warning.  That certainly makes driving more interesting!   Having only been only to Cozumel via cruise ship, mainland Mexico is not as I had imagined. Bob says the tourism aspect here  is not unlike Cabo San Lucas, although the mountainous terrain there is very different from the flat and swampy surroundings here.  I’m sure, like in Colombia, that there is diversity in this large country and we are only sampling one small piece.

It is really hot here. It feels like the hottest place we have been. My friend Professor Chuck would say that is the “experiencing self” vs. the “remembering self”. Right now we are experiencing incredible heat. Maybe in the future the memories of all the warmth we have felt in many locations will blend together, but surprisingly to us, the heat along our route has been mostly comfortable. Sometimes we have actually felt cold in the Caribbean.

Here we do not find the shady walks of Fantasy Island on Roatan. The dogs are consoled by the lush St. Augustine grass, their first in many miles, which they are happily sniffing at the moment. For the humans there are packed swimming pools and crowded sandy beaches and bountiful buffets to enjoy if we wish to purchase extra coupons to supplement our white wrist bands, which allow only our presence in the resort. There are numerous nature and water oriented adventure parks with names like XPLOR and Xel-Ha and Xcaret. There are dolphins to swim with and crocodiles to see. There is no reason to be bored here, that’s for sure.

One of the reasons we chose to stop at Puerto Morelos was the opportunity to experience a smaller Mexican fishing village. We found a quaint seaside pueblo, but one also heavy with tourists that overflow from the resorts. As in Cozumel, all the vendors want to be your amigo, want you to come into their shop, want to sell you a tour, want you to stop in to dine, want to sell you a cold beverage. Bob refuses to wear the white wristband, further branding him as a tourist, and has to remember to keep it in his pocket so he can get back into the marina. I manage to squeeze mine off after we venture outside to try to minimize the sales pitches. The town is still interesting, with a gorgeous beach, little shops, artisans and scrumptious restaurants and cafes.  It’s a perfect location to explore to the north, to Cancun, and to the south, to Playa del Carmen & Tulum.

We are disappointed to find that the advertised 5 peso (about 40 cents) collectivo ride to town, where buses can be caught, has been discontinued thanks to the local taxi mafia. The choices are a sweltering 30 minute walk each way to a bus stop or a $20 round trip taxi ride. Bob is still trying to understand why an all-inclusive resort would want to hold its guests hostage to those expensive fares. Why not provide a free shuttle ride to town, where the guests could be tempted to eat and drink and play at their own expense? A $20 taxi ride is probably pocket change to the vacation-goers here.  We find a rental car for $30 a day including insurance, which means easier and more flexible sightseeing and getting around town for us.

While we are still shaking the passage exhaustion and time change effects (to Daylight Savings, still Central Time zone) and getting settled in our location we see an upcoming weather window to cross the Gulf of Mexico. Go figure! This has been a repetitive event. We get somewhere, are just getting familiar with the new surroundings, having a fun time and then are nudged to leave. A Thursday  departure dangles the carrot of 3 foot seas, settling to less than 1 foot for much of the trip with little to no wind. This time, we aren’t going to say – nah, let’s wait for the next one. We know it could be weeks or months or who knows how long until we find similar. Bob thinks he has the stabilizer problem pinpointed, but it is expensive and complicated to FedEx boat parts to Mexico, among other places.   With that kind of forecast, stabilizers aren’t a necessity. We make an effort to cram in as much sightseeing as we can, provision and do the necessary chores to get ready to move on.

The plan from here is to take the boat to Isla Mujeres, about a 4 hour trip. We’ll have 24 hours to visit that island and maybe get ourselves checked out of Mexico for a few pesos less than will be required here in Puerto Morelos, where the agent-mandatory process and related fees has been pretty expensive.

This coast has been severely short-changed. We skipped Belize & Guatemala entirely, stopped at one atoll for 5 hours, and spent 6 nights here.  We will zoom through Isla Mujeres, where we had hoped to spend at least a week. It is not terribly far, compared with our other destinations, if we wish to return at some future time. Only a couple of days at sea, which should be a piece of cake for us. I can’t imagine traveling this coast in the other direction, fighting those strong currents that were as much as 3  knots at times.  Realistically I doubt that the Mar Azul will be back this way soon.

It will be another somber farewell but for different than the usual reasons. We haven’t had time to become attached to Mexico. We have mixed feelings about making this crossing so soon. We are anxious to get back to Florida, get settled for hurricane season, see family and friends again.  Yet we know we will miss the special lifestyle of these last two years and the thrill of exploring new destinations and different cultures.

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Puerto Morelos town beach and anchorage

 

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Imprevist Restaurant was a great find for Sunday Brunch in Playa del Carmen

 

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Resort row in Cancun

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We were two of many visitors to the Mayan Ruin site in Tulum. Interesting, but I guess we are not ruins aficionados.  Hot, hot, sweaty walk. The really smart people paid extra to use the beach for a cool swim.

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Amazing tortilla chips and salsas at Don Cafetos Restaurant in Tulum

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A provisioning adventure at Super Chedraui and to play it safe in case we are inspected, just enough fresh stuff to get us through the next passage

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Was surprised to find a huge bakery with all the goodies displayed uncovered on open racks.  We had to restrain ourselves not to pinch the donuts and swipe the frosting.  The  rest of the store was more Super Walmart like with a fairly good selection in all departments except for frozen products. Darn it, was hoping to simplify the passage food with a couple of frozen dinners.

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Small fishing boat fleet moored along the Puerto Morelos waterfront

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M/Vs Doubloon and Mar Azul berthed side by side at El CId. Lady’s little black nose can be seen behind the blue kayak, where she often stations herself to watch for us when we are gone.

Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | June 7, 2013

A Hard Passage

N 20° 49.8′   W 86° 53.3′

El Cid Marina, Puerto Morelos, México

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Roatan fades into the distance. Then the cameras were put away until the seas calmed.

Have I mentioned that sea travel in a small boat can be brutal?

I was going to entitle this “The Worst Passage” but there is some disagreement aboard about how this one ranks. Bob thought the Aruba-Colombia trip was the roughest. That was more of a Ba-BUMP-Ba-BUMP-Ba-BUMP pounding experience and only really nasty for about 12 hours. This 2-day journey was of the rolly variety, with large beam seas (maybe 6 to 8+ feet at the worst parts) and about 30 hours of unpleasantness. A slow and smooth tipping of the boat to port, with contents and passengers sliding downhill – HANG ON EVERYBODY – then a swoosh back to the right, contents rearranging, then slipping to neutral, repeat. Every couple of minutes there was an extra big wave when it seemed that the force might rip something loose, like a dockbox from its mount or the dinghy from its perch on the sundeck roof. Using a formula of degree of crew misery times duration times boat dishevelment this passage was the worst.

The starboard stabilizer, which has defied troubleshooting, picked this passage to act up again, making a threatening CLUNK-CLUNK . . . CLUNK . . . CLUNK-CLUNK . . . CLUNK sound. It seemed best to shut it down to risk further damage to the system. It was not a good time to be without full stabilization.  Bob laid out the options.  We could continue on or turn around, make it back to Roatan before dark and spend the hurricane season at Fantasy Island.  My choice.  It was SO tempting to return, but not wanting to be defeated and optimistic that conditions would improve a tad, onward we went.  I think Bob might have been quietly disappointed that we didn’t turn back.  Perhaps he might have convinced Jerry to give him a try as apprentice dockmaster at Fantasy Island.

The crew did not perform optimally and fatigue probably played a role as it was hard to get any sleep. Bandit was the only crew member who did not have an outburst. She spent most of the rough moments standing, quietly fighting the sea to keep her balance. She finally gave in, exhausted, after many hours and settled down on the floor. It was a tough trip for an old pup. The rest of us had moments of snipping and sniping, not the expected behavior for our level of experience. Lady initiated several squabbles with Bandit over precious cabin territory rights. Poor Bob was trying to sleep during one of the skirmishes.  His foot, sticking out from the settee ended up in the middle of a dogfight before I could get control of the situation. The Captain was not too happy about that. Lady came pretty close to walking the plank. We dug out the doggie tranquilizers, better late than never. Lady slept most of the rest of the way.

There were a few brighter moments. We had some relief as we passed behind the Chinchorro Bank off the coast of Mexico. I was able to open the refrigerators without having to change our heading and loaded essential items into a cooler bag on the galley floor for the rest of the passage. The currents were very favorable, and while we had anticipated a 3 pm arrival at Puerto Morelos, we ended up getting way ahead of schedule. We picked up a mooring at Cayo Norte to kill about 5 hours the second afternoon and avoid a nighttime arrival. We also got to entertain the Mexican Navy for an hour as they conducted a surprise welcome reception for us.

The stop at the Chinchorro Bank was a chance to visit an atoll, a ring-shaped coral reef that encircles a lagoon. The Chinchorro Bank, along with the three atolls off of Belize are the only true atolls in our hemisphere according to the guidebook. Supposedly they are similar to those found in the South Pacific. The geography on the chart was more intriguing than the actual experience of being there. It felt pretty open, the anchorage rolled and much of the reef was submerged. Let’s check “visit an atoll” off the bucket list and skip the trek to the South Pacific please. Admittedly, we did not do full justice to the experience with an underwater excursion around the reef which is supposed to be a marvelous sight. I took a quick swim in the clear waters, a passage first.

The Western Caribbean had the last hurrah.  Nothing life threatening or anything, actually a better than average sea day in this part of the world.  For me, the take-away from this trip is that the joy lies not in the journey, but in the destinations. There is no passion for the sea here, other than reflecting on its beauty and power from a comfortable harbor.

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A brief respite on the Chinchurro Bank at Cayo Norte

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Welcome to Mexico! A boarding at sea was not a good idea, even in the calmer waters behind the Chinchurro Bank and the attempt left us with another blemish to repair. They agreed to postpone the  inspection until we moored at Cayo Norte, a mile ahead, where two soldiers searched the boat, I had a Spanish lesson with the commanding officer who completed the paperwork and  a diver checked the hull for contraband. We should have offered them beverages and treats, I suppose but I was exhausted and a poor hostess.

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Cozumel in the distance, and another land mass to help shelter us from the big waves. We were surprised that there was little boating traffic here.

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A beautiful sunset view from our current berth at El Cid Marina & Resort. Currently unscrambling the boat, shaking the passage hangover and trying to figure out what to do about the stabilizers. I’m not too keen on a Gulf crossing without them.

Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | June 4, 2013

Time to Go

N 16° 21.61′   W 86° 26.34′

Roatán, Honduras.

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Fantasy Island – one of our favorite stops along the way

We need to get back into serious passage-making mode.   Hurricane season is here and unless we want to stay in Honduras for the summer we have positively got to get moving. Roatan offers decent geographical protection from a major hurricane, with the mainland to the south, many mangrove harbors and fewer boats to complicate a storm shelter. According to the historical tropical weather statistics this is a better place to be than most locations in Florida. It wouldn’t be hard to talk me into staying. But it’s time for the Mar Azul to move on.

The weather models are fluctuating more than usual, influenced by a passing tropical wave.  Travel windows appear, shorten then disappear. We were looking at leaving Thursday which quickly changed to Tuesday or maybe Wednesday.  We are ready to roll.  Well, almost.  Captain Bob is up to his usual last minute engine room chores and I’m still finishing up passage meals and cabin security details.

We don’t have super high expectations for this passage. It would have been great to find something better than 3 – 6 foot seas on a worsening forecast for a two night/three day trip.  I am hoping conditions will turn out to be on the light side of the forecast, but you know how that goes. We never thought this particular segment would be a problem.

We’ll catch up with you in Puerto Morelos, Mexico.  Wish us luck!

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Jerry, Marina Manager/Harbourmaster and Bob. Jerry was a fabulous host during our time in Roatan. The Fantasy Island Marina hospitality was tops!

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I’m going to miss this place and the beautiful people I met on Roatan. It’s going to be another sad departure, darn it. Photo courtesy of Captain Doug.

Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | June 1, 2013

Out and About in French Harbour

N 16° 21.61′   W 86° 26.34′

Roatán, Honduras.

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Residential area of French Harbour

Travel weather didn’t come together and we are still in Roatán. Having to stay in paradise a while longer is a tough assignment.

There are a few semi-permanent boaters here, a couple of cruisers heading for the Rio Dulce, one to Panama, and one going our direction. Jerry at Fantasy Island works hard to keep up a fun social calendar and we have some great company. Allan & Patricia on S/V Nauti Nauti coordinated a get together to celebrate Memorial Day at Brooksy Point, the other local marina. We had almost forgotten about Memorial Day!  There is a “farewell” potluck at Fantasy tonight since a number of people hope to move on soon. Next Thursday/Friday look like possible travel days for us at the moment.

Bob is still hard at work on the “project”. He often gets up in the wee hours of the morning and works steadily until after dark, taking breaks only to eat and take care of essential needs. The status of the programming determines the mood of the day. I have learned not to interrupt his thought process. He is in another world during the daytime. I get updates at Happy Hour, which has been getting later and later.

I’ve had the chance to get back to French Harbour, took some school supply donations gathered from cruisers to the Community Center and spent an afternoon helping to put the children’s library section back in order. I got to meet a few more local people and added some tidbits to the growing stash of observations about what it must be like to grow up and live here. Many single parent families.  Lots of teenage pregnancies. Young mothers who don’t find it unusual to give their toddlers to another family to raise, or to leave their children behind while they seek work abroad.  Challenges keeping kids in school and paying for books and uniforms since they are required and not funded by the government.  Families who have to go off-island for healthcare, and sometimes forego needs, like a brace for a child with scoliosis, when money is tight.  A family terrified to travel by bus to the capital city, Tegucigalpa, because of high crime, but with no other alternative to get a medical work-up for a child who has life-threatening allergic episodes.  Despite an array of social problems there is a strong sense of community and a motivated group of locals and transplants trying to take control of the issues they can and make a positive difference.

The multi-cultural aspect here is fascinating. Roatan, unlike mainland Honduras, has a British heritage. English was the primary language spoken, along with Garífuna, until there was mass migration from the mainland. The public schools are conducted in Spanish and English is taught as a foreign language. Some children grow up speaking English in their homes and some grow up speaking Spanish. Many gain basic competency in the other language. To work in a tourist job good bilingual English/Spanish skills are important.  It is not uncommon for a conversation to take place incorporating both languages. For example, in a group discussion or instructional session with diverse participants people might speak in English and then repeat what they said in Spanish. People often greet a stranger with “Hola, Hello” when not sure what language to use. This is a comfortable place to communicate as people are  tolerant of language mistakes.

We are getting better acclimated to the public transportation. We usually hop a free shuttle to town when the resort transports guests to and from the airport and ferry, then take a taxi or collectivo to return. The fares here are a loosely structured system and a tourist can easily pay inflated prices. We heard stories of drivers charging the unsuspecting airport arrival $50 for a ride which should cost no more than $10. The advice is to always negotiate fares before getting in the taxi. Our first ride back from the MegaMall resulted in a $5 per head/$10 total charge for a collectivo ride. I was later told that should have cost no more than $1.50 – $2.00 per head. Hmm. We learned that some drivers propose a highly inflated fare that they will quickly lower if they think you have an alternative.  Others just offer the appropriate rate. My last trip back from French Harbour I was feeling pretty smug as I had gotten the lowest fare yet. Then I realized I had agreed to “doscientos limperas” not “veinte limperas”. $10 instead of $1. Crap.  You have to give them credit for taking advantage of stupidity. I hope the excess contribution was well spent.

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Made-in-Roatan workshop hard at work. This session they were making beautiful earrings with a variety of stones. Debi (with the hat) and Bob (in the back) do a great job helping 20 families develop the skills to be self-sufficient.  I couldn’t leave Roatan without some of their unusual and creative works. Let’s not tell Captain Bob about the best souvenir find since molas in the San Blas.

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Made-in-Roatan jewelry artisans Angela, Christeline & Christena. These gals also attend school full-time – way to go!!!

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Ms. Joan, the sole French Harbour Library employee, works hard to promote a safe and fun learning environment and mentors many of the young people

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My young friend delighted in being photographed and seeing his image on the camera

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French Harbour anchorage, “class of May 2013”. Some really great folks. Jerry at Fantasy Island (back row, middle) arranged a lunch outing to Cal’s Temporary Cantina.  Delicious+ scenic! Photo courtesy of Michele, S/V Reach

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New friends Jackson, Drew, Michael & Robin on M/V Doubloon, a Grand Banks trawler. Beautiful family wrapping up an exciting one-year adventure traveling from Seattle, WA, down the Pacific Coast, through the Panama Canal, then on to New Orleans.

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“The Project”

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Overlooking the south side of the island. On a super clear day you can see the mountainous Honduras mainland in the distance.

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Bandit & I are going to miss the spectacular walking grounds on Fantasy Island and the many watusa sightings

Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | May 27, 2013

A Day on Roatan: Exploring the Needs and Volunteer Work

N 16° 21.61′   W 86° 26.34′

Roatán, Honduras.

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Fantasy Island

We are still in Roatan, waiting for weather. According to the European weather model, Tuesday and Wednesday will be good travel days. The GFS predicts a nasty trip for the same timeframe. It will be a last-minute call. Maybe we go, maybe we stay.

After three weeks on the island I felt like breaking away from the tourist environment. We have not explored much along the way in terms of volunteer opportunities. Our schedule is often unpredictable and we have spent a lot of time learning to adapt to the cruising lifestyle. We have often thought that finding the right opportunity to contribute volunteer time might fit into future cruising and retirement goals. Having some extra time on Roatan, I wanted to see what is being done on the island to address some of the critical needs.  Are there deserving charitable organizations that can use a hand?  How can a visitor help and what can be done from afar?

Island Friends Roatan Charities was a good place to get started and their website lists a number of  grass-roots organizations. There are many areas of focus – everything from marine preservation efforts to assistance for families impacted by HIV to animal rescue groups.  My areas of greatest interest are healthcare and education, so I focused my contacts in those areas. Most of these organizations are small and many operate solely on volunteer power.   Sometimes the websites are not current, and as I found, even having funding for internet access is not always a given.   I didn’t get a response to all my inquiries and I realized that it was going to take time to run around and do first-hand research. I felt lucky to get a quick reply from Kelly at Clinica Esperanza. She offered to show me around the Clinic and tell me about their work.  I was excited to have the opportunity to learn more about the healthcare situation on Roatan.

Bob is still busy with “the project”. He spends just about every waking hour delving into assembling electronic parts & pieces & computer programming. Way over my head. I get a progress report each evening and it sounds like it is coming together. He is not interested in joining me so this outing will be solo. Clinica Esperanza is way on the other side of the island in Sandy Bay and I am still figuring out the taxis and collectivos.  I chickened out and decided to rent a car for the day. Having wheels gave me more flexibility to adjust my agenda, though,  plus an excuse for another dinner outing at Cal’s Temporary Cantina.

Clinica Esperanza was started by Ms. Peggy, a nurse who relocated to the island and was inspired by the many medical needs here to found and grow this private facility that now serves 100 outpatients a day. It is an amazing place, where volunteering physicians work side by side with the local medical professionals and volunteer students to provide basic medical care. A consultation costs 100 limpiras (about $5 US). Fees are waived if patients are unable to pay. The morning of my visit there were about 60 islanders overflowing from the waiting room. No appointments are given (no shows are too high) and for 500 limpiras extra ($25) one can feel better about jumping to the head of the line since that money will be put to good use.

Kelly outlined for me the many needs and goals of the Clinic, which include expanding into the 24/7 realm with a birthing center and an outpatient surgery center in addition to more community outreach services. Basic medical supplies and medications are always in demand, and they keep a current wish list on the Clinic’s website. There is no radiology capability at the Clinic at the moment and they hope to find someone to donate basic digital x-ray equipment.

A steady stream of medical volunteers is important and they need physicians, nurses and physician assistants to come for whatever time they can spare. The credentialing process does not appear to be much of a hassle and a valid US medical license and passport are all that are required. Medical and nursing students have an important role and they would like to establish more school affiliations. That has been a challenge with the country’s current situation and negative press.  Students pay for their internship which helps to support the overall operations. Clinic personnel and volunteers need support with air travel, such as donated frequent flyer miles or discount programs. Funding is a top priority to keeping the clinic running and Kelly devotes much of her time to fundraising including monthly pledge programs and events on the island.

In the afternoon one of the visiting physicians connected me with Manu, the Volunteer Director. Manu grew up on the island and he was a great source of information. Manu took me through La Colonia, a poor local town adjacent to the Clinic where mainland Hondurans have settled, and arranged a tour of the Public Hospital on Coxen Hole. Wow – another eye-opener for me. Services are extremely limited and patients with more serious needs are referred to the mainland facilities. Paying for transportation to get there is yet another barrier to access for the many people living on a $12/day minimum wage. The hospital’s physical plant is in terrible condition.  The doors to the surgical suite did not fully close, diagnostics were limited to a small lab and an x-ray machine that often doesn’t work and routine medications are frequently out of stock.  The hardworking professionals and visiting volunteer physicians have a truly difficult job. With a change in local government the funds earmarked for a new hospital were apparently redirected to improving the roads, with the hope of positively impacting the tourist experience. I am pretty sure any unfortunate sick tourists don’t want to find themselves in the Public Hospital.  There is another private clinic in Coxen Hole that I didn’t get to see,  Woods Medical Center, that advertises 24 hour inpatient and outpatient services.  It sounds like for anyone able to pay, that would be a better option to pursue.

I asked about medical rehabilitation, my field for many years. Were there any programs or services for people with disabilities on the island?  What happened after people had strokes and serious injuries?  One of the directories mentioned a  private physiotherapist.  Clinica Esperanza reported occasionally physical therapists had volunteered on the island in the past and that families with similar issues might try to work collectively to educate themselves and help each other.  Medical rehabilitation is just not the priority and it is a struggle to meet even the most basic healthcare needs.

I had a couple of hours before dark and on my way back to Fantasy Island stopped by the Jarred Hynds Community Center/French Harbour Library.  The library runs a pre-school education program in the morning, provides a safe and structured place for kids to do their homework and hosts English classes in the evenings. They have a small supply of books, although with the last change in government they had to downsize and move into a smaller space. Their resources are not indexed at the moment. Ms. Joan the librarian is the sole employee, a warm-hearted woman who started with the community center as a housekeeper and worked her way up. She mentors the kids,  helps them with their homework and tries to keep them motivated to stay in school. She reaffirmed what I had heard, that most kids here don’t even make it to the 6th grade.  She was very proud that her daughters (twins ages 16 and one age 17) are finishing high school and hope to pursue advanced study.  Joan said the library needs school supplies, backpacks, books & educational materials, particularly Spanish language but also English, and computers. The library’s single computer is a dinosaur and internet access is not in the budget. Most months Joan pays for it herself, but this month, there were no extra funds. I gave her a donation for the internet and promised to spread the word to see what supplies we cruisers could gather.

While I was at the Community Center they were hosting a “Made In Roatan” training program and I met Debi and Bob, who started the organization. Made in Roatan teaches islanders to make jewelry and crafts to sell. They have a store in Coxen Hole and they also sell their works online with inexpensive shipping rates to the US. Most of these young people are the sole breadwinner for their family and I heard stories of great personal challenges. With minimal education and no job skills, life is pretty rough. The day I visited the young artisans were learning to make copper bracelets. The product was beautiful and would make a high quality souvenir. Definitely not “made in China”! Debi and Bob are making a great contribution with this organization.

I had only spent one day exploring, made a couple of contacts and my head was spinning by this point. So many needs, so much to do. What I saw was probably the tip of the iceberg.  Roatan might be one of those places we can return to some day, who knows?   For now, we can help spread the word about what is needed and the good work these organizations are doing.  Perhaps we can make a few connections and meet a few needs on the wishlists.

Cheers to the inspirational volunteers on Roatan who are working so hard to make a difference!

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Clinica Esperanza

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Manu outside the Public Hospital in Coxen Hole

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Neighborhood in La Colonia, an area heavily served by Clinica Esperanza

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The Catholic Church in La Colonia

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Jared Hynes Community Center / French Harbour Public Library

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I ended up with a free upgrade and a slicker vehicle than intended. Nothing special back home, but a new black Hyundai Elantra with dark tinted windows and a blond female driver sort of stood out in some of these neighborhoods. For future excursions I am going to have to learn to get comfortable with the local travel methods.

Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | May 20, 2013

The Reality Behind the Fantasy

N 16° 21.61′   W 86° 26.34′

Roatán, Honduras

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We have been here over three weeks now.  (For Steve –  we arrived in Roatán the morning of 4/26!)  After much debate, we decided that our next stop will be Puerto Morales, Mexico which will be a two-day passage.  Last week we passed up a brief weather window with mostly 3 – 4 foot seas thinking we could find something better. Now it looks like we are going to be here for at least another week or two with no calming in sight.  More tropical-looking weather continues to show up on the long-range weather models which makes planning a little more exciting.

Bob made another dive trip, this time exploring the popular “Mary’s Place”.  He spends most days working on an improved battery management system for the lithium house bank.  It is quite the project and we’ll have to get him to post a report at some point.  I love being able to get off the boat so frequently, taking long walks with the dogs and swimming at the beautiful beach.  There are social opportunities just about every evening, which is quite a change from our many months at anchor where we spent most of the time with no one other than ourselves to talk to.   Sometimes I can’t pull Bob away at the end of the night he is having so much fun.   The marina has organized special events such as Pizza Night with a fabulous thick crust dish prepared by the restaurant and a pot luck dinner hosted by locals who provided fresh grilled tuna.  Many of the women get together for early am yoga sessions.  I should broaden my horizons and take advantage of that, but my brief exposure to the practice in the past has not inspired a routine.

Fantasy Island is our little cocoon, surrounded by the sea, appealing grounds, the comfortable resort, fellow cruisers and a handful of vacationers. In our current location we have less direct day-to-day interaction with the local towns than in some of our past destinations.  We have been to Coxen Hole, the island’s largest town on a couple of occasions.  We go French Harbor, the closest small town at least weekly to provision. We’ve talked with local shopkeepers & workers, heard the perceptions of taxi drivers and ex-patriots who reside on the island. Learning about what life is like for the average person has been a gradual process and an assortment of observations, conversations and internet research.  Looking behind the exquisite beauty, there is a very bleak side of life here.

As I’ve mentioned before, crime was a big concern for me in stopping in Honduras. At one point I had thought maybe we should skip even Roatán but that would have required an unappealing 4 to 5 day passage.  International news has plentiful stories about the country’s menacing ranking as the “murder capital of the world”. The State Department Travel Warning for Honduras is stern, noting that  Honduras is one of the poorest countries in Latin America, with more than half of the population living in poverty (however that may be defined).  It also comments on the significant murder rate while informing that additional policing has been put into place in Roatán to protect the tourist interests here.  The next paragraph notes: “A majority of serious crimes are never solved; of the 24 murders committed against U.S. citizens since January 2010, police have closed none . . .  The Government of Honduras lacks sufficient resources to properly investigate and prosecute cases, and to deter violent crime.” In 2012, the Peace Corps pulled out all of its volunteers from the country, citing safety reasons.  Some Roatanians feel that they were better off in the days before the ferry service, and blame the influx from the mainland for the island’s increasing crime.

The available cruising safety reports (CSI, Noonsite) are not glowing either, with a recommendation to avoid the mainland and exercise caution in the anchorages of the Bay Islands, which includes Roatán, where a recent trend toward violent crime has been observed. In a poor country cruising boaters really stand out, no matter how modest the vessel, and we look very wealthy compared to the masses.  It is very different than being in, say, the Bahamas, where there are frequent mega-yacht sightings.  On the positive side, we are meeting boaters who have cruised Honduran waters without incident.  Bob says I worry too much but I think an extra dose of caution seems well justified. We met a couple from abroad who have lived in Roatán for 7 years and personally knew 6 people who were murdered on the island during that time.  That sounds like a huge number for such a small island.  In comparison, I can think of one individual I personally knew back home who was murdered in a brutal domestic violence assault.

The island has been on an accelerated track of change over recent years. Once a British territory, the island’s people have a different heritage than mainland Hondurans, with English-speaking Afro-Caribbean and Garifuna roots.   The population has increased five fold since the early 1990’s to about 65,000 presently, with significant migration from the Honduras mainland and some from foreign countries including the US. Before 1990 there were no paved roads and most people fished and farmed for subsistence. Tourism developed, funded mostly by foreigners, technology became more important and life transitioned to a wage economy. Cruise ships visit (as many as 50 per month in the winter and as few as  4 per month in the summer) and diving-oriented resorts have multiplied thanks to the area’s phenomenal reefs. With most of the large successful tourist businesses owned by outsiders, locals are in the position of taking lower level jobs. During the slow summer season, many workers are unemployed or have a significant drop in their earning. A typical daily wage is around $18 a day.

The island’s infrastructure has not caught up with current standards and electricity, running water, a safe drinking water supply and sewage treatment are problematic. (We rely on our watermaker for drinking as the dockside water is not potable and stick to canned beverages when dining out.)  Healthcare services are limited and the hospital and medical clinics are reportedly often without basic medications. According to one clinic, 50% of the children’s health problems are related to worms and children routinely suffer and even die from preventable diseases.  The HIV rate is high, about 220 times that of the US.  I was reminded that cases of malaria have been reported here. (We travel with malaria meds aboard and have not had a problem with mosquitos so far – only a few no-see-ums at times.)  For serious medical issues, patients are referred to the hospitals in San Pedro Sula or Tegucigalpa on the mainland, about an hour’s flight away, and not really accessible to the masses.  It’s not a pretty picture.

Learning about education here brought more surprises.  While education through grade 6 is “mandatory” in Honduras, only 25% of Roatán’s children attend school, and only 50% of those enrolled finish the 6th grade. Very few students continue to middle and secondary schools. Schools sometimes lack intact roofs, functioning toilets & toilet paper and have limited  books and supplies, often not enough desks and chairs. The Honduran government allots funds to education and it is mostly appropriated for salaries.  Local communities have to provide the rest. Teacher qualifications do not  require a university degree. In fact, with a 6th grade education, one can qualify to teach primary school. National teachers unions are said to have a stronghold throughout the country and frequent strikes reduce school days per year.  The government reportedly does not always meet its payroll obligations, providing more reason to strike.    According to an insightful community study,  local school supervisors do not have much authority in day-to-day operations and it is nearly impossible to replace poorly performing teachers.  Over 50% of students on Roatán speak English as their primary language, but Spanish is the primary language of the schools.  Nearly all of the island’s teachers come from the mainland, speaking little or no English.  The vaguely defined literacy rate for the general population  is estimated to be somewhere around 50%.

So many of the places we have visited have serious social issues. We saw great poverty in Colombia & Panama, the Dominican Republic and in some of the the Eastern Caribbean islands as well.  We have our share of issues back home too.  The difference here is that the people have way fewer resources available, less overall wealth and no ties to a stronger “mother country” for aid.  The Honduran government is in turmoil, struggling with finances, corruption and political problems and unable to follow through in administering national programs.  Local officials seem sincere but complain that their hands are tied in making great strides.   They bemoan the sense of complacency and a lack of leadership depth within the community ranks to step up and support change.  Improving education seems to be a key to resolving the island’s long-term problems.

Well that was sobering.  I’m adding a new project this week, to learn more about efforts being made to improve the situation on Roatán and see if there are ways for visitors to make a contribution.

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One of the main streets in Coxen Hole, Roatan’s capital

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One evening we attended a performance of Garifuna dancers, in a tribute to the island’s heritage. The Garifuna are an Afro-Caribbean people who were exiled to Roatan from St. Vincent by the British in 1797. The music and dancing were rhythmic, not particularly melodic and accompanied by drums and chanting, in the Garifuna language, we presume. The performers were very enthusiastic, and got the audience involved in dancing at the finale.

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We made a dash around the island one day in search of a few additional electronic components for Bob’s latest project. Potentiometers? Good luck with that! Parts & pieces mounted to an inverted planter dish from Ace Hardware that serves as an electronics board. Looks interesting so far . . . Has kept the Captain engrossed for many hours.

We march to the beat of our own drum here on the Mar Azul, but this picture is to prove that at least one of us has donned the cruiser-expected mask and fins and ventured under the surface of the sea. Picture courtesy of Charlie on S/V Kamaloha.

Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | May 11, 2013

Honduran Fantasy

N 16° 21.61′   W 86° 26.34′

Roatán, Honduras

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The past two weeks have flown by. We are docked at Fantasy Island which has been a wonderful change of pace after many weeks  (19 to be exact, not including 2 days at Turtle Cay) at anchor. The marina is part of a locally owned all-inclusive resort that caters to divers. It is a comfortable spot, well sheltered by a large reef, with the only access to the mainland via a small private bridge. The property is magnificent, feels safe and secure, and is a comfortable place to get a glimpse of life in Roatán.  Our cozy nest here is very divergent from what one might expect, given the news articles that surface if you do a quick search on Honduras filled with ugly crime statistics and horrific pictures.  Roatán, part of the outlying Bay Islands, has a better reputation than the mainland which is critical with the island’s focus on tourism, cruise ships & international visitors.

The entire crew is enchanted with our current setting.  I am happy to have easy access to the beautiful grounds ashore and appreciate being able to jump off the boat whenever I wish with no hassles. I think Bob is especially enjoying the frequent social opportunities hosted by marina managers Jerry & Annie. The dogs are overjoyed with multiple daily walks through the property that is also home to monkeys, peacocks, ducks, geese, chickens, iguanas, and their favorite – the watusa, a rodent type animal that looks sort of like a groundhog and scurries around, inviting a chase. The sandy beach just a few steps away is within the protection of the reef and I am indulging in this tranquil place to swim.  Likewise, spectacular diving, for which the island is well-known, can be accessed from the beach or via boat and Bob is taking advantage of this opportunity.

We were treated to a visit from our friend Doug last week, who now holds the Mar Azul’s “frequent visitor” record, with a little assistance from his pilot travel perks.  He and brother Glen caught up with us when we were in the Dominican Republic and St. Martin and we almost managed visits in Aruba and Cartagena.  It’s tough to coordinate schedules to rendezvous with a cruising boat. While Doug was here the guys undertook a couple of dive trips.  We also rented a car and got to see much of the 28-mile long,  1 -2 mile wide island, including West End, the tourist zone, and Coxen Hole, the largest residential and commercial area.  We had a couple of really fun days complemented by perfect weather that went by in a flash.

Many cruising boats pass through the French Cay Harbour area and the anchorage has had from 4 to as many as 10 boats at a time. We got to see Deb & Chuck on Neytiri, whom we had met in Santa Marta, and they were docked next to us for a couple of days. Most of the boaters we meet are headed for Guatamala’s Rio Dulce, considered a safe base for the hurricane season. Sounds like there is going to be quite the crowd there once everyone has arrived. With the first-hand descriptions we heard from repeat Rio Dulce visitors, we are still pretty sure that is not something we want to do at this point in time. We also spotted the first trawler boat in many months and met the family aboard M/V Doubloon, bound for New Orleans.

The wind and seas have picked up over the last couple of days. The surf is ferociously pounding on the reef, but we are tied up securely with just an occasional small motion at the dock. We are starting to look for travel opportunities and it will be at least a week, maybe longer. Bob just took a look at the long-range forecast which shows the threat of an early tropical storm developing in this area in two weeks. Sure hope that does not materialize, but it’s a reminder that we need to keep moving.  People still look at us cross-eyed when we say we are going to Florida for hurricane season.  Good point . . .   There are options, even here, with a couple of mangrove bays that could be used for storm shelter if needed.  We’ll be glad to get across the Gulf and settled in a well-built marina for the season, when we don’t have to worry about storms cropping up while we are traveling in unfamiliar places.

We have changed our itinerary and are planning to skip Belize and head directly to Mexico. It will cut some distance from the overall trip and eliminate a higher cost stop. Belize customs & pet fees, which are not extremely well-defined, have the potential to be on the high side, especially for a short stay. Maybe we’ll get back to Belize another time when we can visit longer.

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Mar Azul docked near the Dive facility at Fantasy Island. On a busy day, all the dive boats make multiple runs to the nearby sites.

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Some of the many critters roaming the property

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The most glorious of the bird species on the grounds is happy to display his plumage

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Fortunately the dogs have not noticed the monkeys hanging from the trees. The monkeys have been more astute.

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Afternoon feeding time, with fruit scraps from the buffet’s salad bar, brings out some monster-size iguanas

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The dogs are captivated by the watusas which are also the most plentiful of the animals on the island

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Doug & Bob in Half Moon Bay, West End, a picturesque tourist hub on the island

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While in West End we got to meet Karl Stanley of Roatan Institute of Deepsea Exploration and see his submarine that goes on underwater tours up to 2000 feet below the sea. Bob would love to do the trip, although it is priced out of the budget at the moment. No way claustrophobic Elaine is getting in this tiny vessel, which holds two adults plus the Captain, and plunging to those depths. I will have to be satisfied with the photo tour from their website: http://www.stanleysubmarines.com/

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Return from a dinghy dive with boat neighbor Charlie. The guys gave the local sites rave reviews – a shipwreck & submerged DC-3 were along a nearby wall. As marina guests we get a nice discount with resort’s friendly Dive Shop and it was incredibly reasonable compared to Bob’s most recent dive experience in Bonaire.

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After a lengthy road trip we finally found Temporary Cal’s Cantina, high on the hill, only a couple of miles from Fantasy Island. The #1 rated TripAdvisor restaurant lived up to its reputation.

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Menu of the day featured all sorts of delicious and artfully presented fare. Best part was the low prices. 1 lempira (the local currency) = 5 cents, so the tuna dinner entrée was 12.50 US, burger plate $7, etc.

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Main beach at Fantasy Island. Right now the resort is winding down for the slower summer season and pleasantly uncrowded. The hotel will close in the off-season this year for a make-over.

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Gonna keep an eye on this possible weather for 5/25 that just showed up on the long-range forecast and hope it is an aberration

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Mar Azul, French Cay Harbor anchorage in the distance. Waiting for weather again!

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