I asked Haley if I could use her images for our blog and you can see why! She also captured some of the more ‘real’ sides to this cruising life. Take the time to click on some of these to get the full image.
Lines checked, deck swabbed, provisions stowed, rust busted (for the most part), sails readied, hatches battened… the hectic phase of passage prep in Panama City is finally done and Allora is ready to cast off for the Galapagos Islands (900 nautical miles away) with the whole Stevens crew aboard. Farewell Central America; hello, Pacific Ocean!
(We have many more Panama pics, including a sweet month spent with Haley and a sail to the Las Perlas Islands offshore, coming soon!)
We’ve been having so much fun exploring in Panama that we haven’t taken the time to embellish these images with words – sorry, but if you look at these pics, you’ll get it! At present moment, we are ‘on the hook’ at Ensenada Benao (famous surf spot) in Panama, awaiting a weather window to round Punta Mala (aptly named, in my mind at this point) into the Gulf of Panama. On the 7th of March, we have an appointment at the French Embassy to obtain a long stay visa for French Polynesia, and Haley’s coming in from NY. Feeling pretty lucky to get to celebrate her 25th birthday together on the 9th! Pretty soon, all 3 of our crew members will be gathering to prep Allora first for the passage to the Galapagos and then beyond to the Marquesas. More on that SOON!
Our hearts ache without our GREM!! BUT, (and this is a pea sized consolation) – there is quite a bit more space aboard s/v Allora! Haley was going back to March in the DC rally and Maddi was off to India, so we had to release them!! Having been more leisurely with our movements from Mexico to El Salvador, we now realized that our time is getting somewhat crunched, so our pace has to pick up in this next zone, which is regrettable. Weather really dictates many of our ‘should we stay or should we go’ movement decisions and it can be capricious. We’ll get a flavor of Central America; enough to know we could happily come back – on a slower pace.
We took a taxi to the nearby town of Chinandenga to get some cash from an ATM to pay our check in fees. It was low light (late afternoon to sunset) and the driver was quite heavy on the pedal, so we whizzed by idyllic pastoral scenes of a Sunday in a Nicaraguan village. Nicaragua was basically a beautiful blur, as you can see in this smattering of shots from the bumpy cab window:
An excursion to a coffee Finca (plantation) around 5 hours from Bahia Jaltepeque, in a general NW direction. First, a stop at the beach surf village of Playa El Zonte for a traditional breakfast and a beach walk (the Auntie of the driver we’d hired ran the place. His cousin was the local surf hero).
On the drive up to the coffee plantation we passed this mound of color and I first thought it might be recycled glass. I asked Enrique if we could remember the exact spot and stop on our way back. On the sign it says, ‘Protect our environment.’ The material is shredded plastic. Although they are recycling, this endeavor sits alongside a busy road with countless trucks flying by to disperse untold amounts of the stuff into these beautiful agricultural hills. Well, one bag less, as I bought some for a mosaic (which will hopefully address the scourge of said plastics).
On one of our first passages, I was typing labels for our personal flotation devices (PFD’s) without my glasses, so I asked Maddi if what I’d typed said, ‘CREW?’ Guess it didn’t! That laughing went on awhile, but the term has stuck and now whenever anyone comes to help out aboard Allora, we call them our ‘GREM!’
Just a mile from Rio Suchiate on the Mexico/Guatemala border. Allora’s been in Mexico for 13 months, which is at least double the time we thought we’d stay. Spanish is still embarrasingly slight, but you’d want us on your charade team. I am sure I’ve said, ‘Lo Siento’ (I’m sorry) far too often, with ‘mucho gusto’ coming in a close second. This part of the world makes me want to be a young backpacker again!
Like many sailors we were so focused on crossing the Gulf of Tehuantapec, we didn’t think a lot about the Papagayos until we left Chiapas. We heard they were frustrating and unpredictable, and they didn’t disappoint. Our first brush with them came farther north than their usual haunts as we sailed passed Guatemala. The wind jumped from nothing to the twenties in a matter of minutes. We’d been lulled by the forecasts and the calm weather into sailing further offshore than the recommended strategy and so we headed back in before the wind waves got too rough. The breeze was on our beam, but we we were going to have to turn into it to continue on toward El Salvador. On the other hand we could run off, 20 miles in the wrong direction, and find a spot for the night in Guatemala’s one marina, Puerto Quetzal, then wait for a better forecast for the next day. We gave it a little test, but no one really liked the idea of slamming into what was now 27 knots (plus) for who knew how long into the night. We decided even if the wind didn’t die down, it’d be more pleasant in the daytime. We had heard negative things about Puerto Quetzal – like they weren’t welcoming, or there was a coal plant nearby that dropped soot on your boat. They might have mentioned before complaining about the mood of the place that the docks are complete SHIT, totally unstable and completely inadequate for any boat over 30 or 35 feet. They didn’t have ‘surge,’ they had full on rolling waves that would have made an anchorage unpleasant. We had every fender out and zig zagged a 300 foot line across to another dock to try to hold Allora off and still she was slamming into the slip and the mast was rocking back and forth through a ridiculous arc while Diana tried to negotiate a deal where we could spend the night, but not have to “check in” to Guatemala. Though the port captain said we were okay, the marina people were not cooperating. I couldn’t imagine getting a wink of sleep at that slip, so we decided to forget it. We untied our lines and backed out of the slip fast to keep from hitting a piling as the wind gusted and waves surged. We’d back tracked two hours for nothing. And I still had a dorado to filet (it would have been easier at the dock). Diana took the first shift, but I was up with her by midnight. The winds were 37 knots and you couldn’t peek out from under the dodger without getting drenched. Allora slammed into the seas to get in close to the beach. Everyone later assured us that these were unusual winds, that the Papagayo’s never came that far north. So special treat for us. The bar crossing into Bahia del Sol was mercifully uneventful even though it was still blowing over twenty. We were very happy to get our welcome drink and tie up and that cozy Marina.
(See the Drone blog post with more mast/Bahia Del Sol pics!)
A short walk across this spit of land and we are back on the Pacific side; a different perspective than looking at this from the sea as we came in. LOVE THAT!
A glimpse of the island of Cordoncillo in Bahia Jaltepeque:
We took a short dinghy ride over to the nearby village on stilts, called “Tesajera” for lunch. There were about 15 different options, but Bill and Jean (cruisers who came to Bahia del Sol and never left – they now run the El Salvador Rally) had their favorite to share. Other options were McDorado and the one they called ‘Hooters,’ spelled Juurers.