Tuesday, August 21, 2007

We are fine here on the Rio Dulce

Just checking in to say that Soggy Paws and all the other boats here on the Rio are doing fine.

For the most part, the weather here is same-o same-o... some rain overnight and hardly any wind. It was a little cooler than normal out early this morning.

You guys with TV's probably know more about what's happening in Mexico and Belize than we do. We don't get the Weather Channel on the marina's satellite TV and the only CNN channel we get is CNN Asia, which frankly doesn't give a rats ass about a hurricane in Mexico. It finally made a little news last night... coverage was about 5 minutes at the top of the hour.

Our friends on Memory Rose are back from the States finally, so we have planned an inland expedition with them to the Guatemalan Highlands. We leave on Thursday.

I have to confess that we've opted NOT to take the 'chicken bus'. I don't mind the chickens, but the Guatemalan practice of cramming twice as many people on the bus as will fit, and stopping for anyone who waves the bus down, and driving like maniacs, makes the normally 5 hour trip into a 7 hour nightmare. We bought reserved seats on the 'gringo bus'... an air conditioned express bus. Dave booked us early so we have the front row seats, so we can see something as we travel the route. The gringo
bus from here to Guat City only cost $6.50, and then another $5.25 to go on to Antigua on a smaller bus.

We don't have our trip fully planned yet, but we'll go to Antigua and do a volcano hike, and then on to the Lake Atitlan area, making sure to see the Sunday market at Chichicastenango. Then we'll move on to Quetzaltenango and do some more hiking and/or horseback riding. We've downloaded the latest Lonely Planet guide to Guatemala (available chapter-by-chapter in PDF form for about $3 a chapter, so we have all the latest G2 on where to go and where to stay.

I have convinced Dave that we HAVE to take a computer along. So stay tuned. We'll try to do some updates on our travels while we're out and about.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Safe in the Rio Dulce

Thanks to all who've emailed us about Hurricane Dean coming our way. We think we are safe here in the Rio Dulce, 20 miles inland and about 250 mile south of the projected storm track. But everyone here is watching the system closely and preparing extra lines in case we get high winds. On the morning net, a 'weather guy' (who has good internet access) has been keeping us all up to day.

We expect to see some boats from the Honduras and Belize coastal waters in the Rio today, as the people holding out until a storm comes, finally run for cover.

We are continuing working on our 'projects'. Dave is still working on the watermaker, and our friends should arrive to day with a suitcase full of extra bits and pieces for us. Ron and Dorothy were even kind enough to make a special trip to Publix to pick up a couple of packages of Grits for Dave.

My canvas work is going slowly. Partly because rebuilding is harder than starting fresh, and partly because there are so many other distractions here... social events and other things. But I've put the pedal to the metal, because it would be really nice to have our cockpit enclosed if we get days of rain out of Hurricane Dean.

One of the 'distractions' is that things that would take a half an hour in the States take half a day here.

For example, Dave needed a couple of simple plumbing fittings. In the States we would jump in the car and run down to Lowes or Home Depot and be back in 30 minutes. Here, we have to dinghy to town, trudge around to the 3 small hardware stores in town, only to find that they don't have what we need. Then we hopped on a 'collectivo', a mini bus, to Morales (a hairy 30 minute drive east), and there trudge around on foot to several slightly bigger hardware stores. It's always an adventure trying
to explain what you are looking for (in Spanish), especially if you don't have one to show them.

Sherry

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Working on Projects

Yes, we are still alive 'lounging' in the Rio Dulce, Guatemala.

The internet is still out at the marina, so we haven't been on the internet much... it takes a dinghy ride to town to get our internet fix. I HAVE been gradually uploading the photos from our time in Belize. I'm still not quite done yet, but I added several albums several days ago.

Dave is working on constructing a new watermaker. He brought (almost) all the pieces parts from Florida. There have been a few items he needed and so far has been able to find in the local hardware stores. We will have pics and a discussion on the project posted on the website once he has it working. He chose to fabricate the system from scratch so he understood the inner workings of it and could maintain it himself no matter where in the world we are.

I am working on learning Spanish and on canvas projects. I spend 3-4 hours a day working in workbooks and listening to my 'Mastering Spanish' tapes. There is a Spanish Class for cruisers offered twice a week but I am already beyond the beginner Spanish--I thought it better use of my time to work on my own in a cram course. We are going walkabout in a few weeks and I want to be up on my Spanish. But this brain only accepts so much new info at a time. Fortunately Dave also has passable Spanish,
so between the two of us (and a dictionary/phrase book) we can usually make ourselves understood.

This morning we were trying to explain to the marina worker how to use Snobol to clean the waterline of our boat. The guy who does the boat cleaning as a job thought the Snobol was a miracle product. Hope we can find more here! It is often comical (and frustrating) to try to communicate well with someone who doesn't understand any English.

My first canvas project is to adapt the enclosing windows from the previous dodger for the new dodger. The zippers are different and the size is not the same. So I have to change out zippers and add a little fabric here and there. I am trying hard not to make the end result look too patchworky, since Canvas Connections did such a great job on the dodger.

Well, I'd better get back to work... Hasta luego mis amigas y amigos.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Galley Comments

We are still eating mostly food we brought from Florida. After 10 weeks that's pretty good, so I guess I get a gold star for 'provisioning'.

What I did for provisioning was to make a '4 week menu', listing the foods we liked to eat in a rough rotation. You can get very detailed with this, or not so detailed. Mine was in between. Spaghetti, Chicken Parmesan, Shrimp Scampi, Beef Stew, etc. Some things you eat every week, some are a once every couple of weeks. You need to consider breakfast and lunch, too, and the side-dishes. And figure what you're going to do about things like bread. (more on bread later).

Once I had a menu laid out (and approved by Dave), then next to each day, I listed the general ingredients/quantities for that day. For Chicken Parmesan, it is "Chicken Thighs, 1 Jar Spaghetti Sauce, 1 can mushrooms". The Parmesan Cheese went on the Spices list, and the green peppers, onions, and garlic went on the veggies list.

The next pass through the menu I counted up all the stuff by food type, and ended up with a grocery shopping list. 4 Pkgs Chicken Thighs, 4 Jars Spagetti Sauce, etc. There are some recipe programs that will do all this for you, but I had it all done from cruising before on a couple of Excel spreadsheets. By the time I got finished cruising in '97, I could put in the number of weeks I was trying to provision for and it would make the buy list for me. I just had to adjust my list for Dave's tastes instead of Lenny's and Nicki's.

On making up the menu, I made sure that I mixed things up... type of food, complexity of fixing, type of dish (traditional vs one-pot meals). I also left one day a week for either eating out or 'caught from the reef'.

Once we got underway, we didn't follow the menu exactly, but I knew that we had plenty of food aboard in the right quantities. We ended up just posting the list of the meat we had next to the freezer, and when we took something out, we marked it off. The list of what's left in the freezer is our 'what can we have for dinner list'. I made sure to save the 'easy to fix' meals for nights when we were on passage or had just finished a long day. And I always keep a can of Chicken Chow Mein (includes meat and veggies) for an instant dinner if we're REALLY tired and hungry.

Bread: Store bought white bread in the tropics gets green very fast. Putting bread in the fridge or freezer extends the life considerably, though if you're provisioning for an extended trip, there's usually not much space in the fridge for bread. Whole wheat and rye bread lasts longer without refrigeration.

If you're planning on baking bread, you need to know approximately how often you need to bake, and make sure you have enough flour and yeast to cover it. At home, without baking bread, a small bag of flour lasts a year. On the boat, baking bread, we went through something like 2 bags a week. How much you need to bake depends a lot on the eating habits of your crew. I'm not big on sandwiches, but Dave really feels he needs a sandwich for lunch every day. That means a small loaf of bread every few days. Don't forget to check the expiration date when buying yeast. It does make a difference. Nothing's worse than bread that doesn't rise.

Many cruisers have breadmaking machines that you pour in ingredients and out pops a loaf of bread awhile later. In the States you can buy pre-mixed pre-measured bread machine ingredients in box, that you just dump in and add water. Dave originally had a breadmaker aboard, but I chose not to take it along. They are usually large, and I couldn't justify that much space for something I wouldn't use that often. They require lots of 110v power to run. When we are far enough from civilization that I need to bake bread, we usually don't have an abundance of power, and we do have the time to make it the old fashioned way. The biggest challenge is just remembering to schedule your breadmaking day around the other activities. It did take me a few tries on our last cruise before I made an edible loaf that approximated store-bought loaf bread so practice a few times before you go.

On fresh veggies... My best advice is to buy "The Cruising Chef Cookbook". He covers the prep and shelf life of fresh veggies very well. A few additional tips... we really like celery and green peppers, and they don't have a very long shelf life. If you have the freezer space, consider chopping and freezing some in small boxes for use as flavorings in cooking. They don't last forever but will extend your ability to cook with them as flavorings from about 2 weeks to 6 weeks. Make sure you take along at least one head of cabbage and some carrots. These last forever if kept cool, and when you are dying for a bit of green crunchy stuff, will taste delicious, when everything else is long gone.

In the Caribbean, unless you are going somewhere pretty remote (like the Aves in Venezuela, or the San Blas islands in Panama), fresh fruit and veggies are readily available. In prep for our Pacific crossings, I bought some sprout seeds at health food store. I experimented with them while out at the Belize atolls. Mung beans were the most successful. I had nearly 100% of them sprout, they took the least tending to grow, they lasted a long time, and would actually be a good sub for lettuce in salads and celery in cooked foods. We also enjoyed just snacking on them as we walked past the sprout tray. The alfalfa I sprouted was less successful. Only about 50% of the sprouts made it to maturity... some didn't sprout and some got fungus and had to be pitched overboard. And the broccoli seeds failed miserably. I didn't get one usable sprout. It is very difficult to sprout beans in the tropics because the heat makes the fungus grow faster than the sprouts. The ambient air is too hot and the fridge is too cold. So I am still working on perfecting the sprouting technique that works on our boat. But for sure take along some mung beans for very forgiving sprouts.

Hard to find foods: Of course the list varies by where you are. On our previous cruise, we ran out of horseradish and couldn't find it for months in the Caribbean. We finally had friends bring us some. This time, it's peanut butter. We ran out and I've yet to find a store that stocks it (however, we haven't been to Guatemala City yet). One unexpected item is Cheerios. They have Granola and Choconuts here, but no Cheerios. If you have a favorite sauce, marinade, make sure you ring lots along. What most people do is eventually learn how to make what they like from scratch. Books like the Cruising Chef Cookbook and Corinne Kanter's Kiss cookbooks help a lot with tips on 'making do while cruising'. In the larger cities and cruising hubs, there is usually a grocery store that stocks imported items, but the selection is usually limited, and the price is high.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Zapped Again

A lightning strike appears to have taken out the new $2500 satellite dish that supplies the internet here at Tortugal Marina. They had just got the new system fully stable yesterday!! With 2 brand new Wireless-G access points and good antennas, we thought we were in heaven. A big storm blew through yesterday with lots of lightening. I don't think it actually hit the dish, but hit a tree nearby. I haven't heard a detailed post mortem by the owner of the marina, but there's no wifi up this morning, so I am assuming the worst.
We came home from a trip in the middle of the storm, and ducked into the boat to get dry, so I haven't heard any marina gossip if anyone else had any problems. On Soggy Paws, we keep all our 110v and 12v switches off and the computers unplugged unless we're actually using them. So it doesn't appear we were affected.

We went to the Castillo San Felipe on Sunday. We can see it from the marina, so it was just a short dinghy ride away. It is a small Spanish fort that was established in 1595 to guard the lake. They have recently restored it and opened it as a park. The brochure they gave us is in Spanish and we haven't fully translated it, but I think they were guarding some mines that are up on the lake shore, from pirates. Anyway, at the Castillo, there are a few concrete pads with nothing on them (ie not restored) and a monument nearby. When we asked about them our guide told us there was a big lightning strike on one of the dormitories, and a bunch of people got killed. The monument is in the shape of a lightning bolt, and is a memorial to the people that died.

Our trip yesterday was in a lancha with 13 other yachties. The lancha is a long open boat with a big outboard, and the tourist version has covered benches. Someone has a son visiting and so are trying to show him all the signts. We paid 100Q per person (about $13) for the lancha and the guide to operate it for the day. He took us downriver on some of the back waterways. We stopped for a hike at the Manatee Reserve. Some of our Pacific coast friends were really excited to see the one manatee we saw. We didn't get too excited because we see them all the time in the Melbourne area. We paid about $3 pp to get into the Manatee Reserve, and there was a fairly decent interpretive center and then a very nice 20 minute hike on a trail through the rainforest.

We didn't see much animal life on our hike because, with a group of 15 yachties, someone was always laughing and yakking. Dave and I and someone's son walked ahead to try to get away from the chatter, but by then everything in the forest for 5 square miles was gone. We did see a really cool Leaf Cutter Ant trail. This trail was a path through dense grass that was about 6" wide and wandered thru the jungle as far as we could see. In a square foot of trail there were probably 50 ants hurrying back and forth, about half of whom were carrying a big piece of a green leaf. It was good to get out and stretch our legs though.

One of the sights they pointed out to us was Ac Tenamit, a medical and dental clinic and school for the Mayan people living on the river. The clinic itself is housed in a houseboat... we could see a dentist chair through the sliding glass doors of the houseboat (and a bunch of people waiting). I imagine they make regular trips up and down the river system with the houseboat, as there are hundreds of families living on the river, with only a dugout canoe for transportation.

We had lunch in Livingston, the town at the mouth of the Rio Dulce. We had 2 hours while there to explore. Livingston is only a little bigger than Fronteras, the town near us upriver. We didn't find much in the way of groceries there... just the basics and some pretty old-looking fruits and vegetables. Dave bought a few bits of PVC pipe in a hardware store to complement what he'd brought along to put in the watermaker.

Livingston was an interesting mix of cultures. It is at the confluence of the Mayan people living in the interior/on the river, and the Caribbean blacks (called Garifunas here). So we had everyone in the street...Rastas selling trinkets, black ladies offering to braid our hair, touristas with backpacks, and Mayan men and women selling tortillas on the street. We got a table in a restaurant on the street and just watched the color go by.

On our trip back upriver, we stopped at Texan Bay Marina to say hi. Almost everyone in the lancha had stopped at Texan Bay on the way in, and several boats had become pretty good friends with them. I think one even had been towed upriver by them because of engine trouble. And the one boat who hadn't been there wanted to see it. The owners Mike and Sherry are unique characters and they are working hard to build a nice place for yachties to hang out. We had a beer at their Restaurante and then piled back into the lancha for the trip back to Fronteras.

We had intended to stop at Casa Guatemala, an orphanage just downriver from Fronteras. However, big rain clouds were flowing down from the mountain range to the east of us, and heavy rain looked imminent. we raced the rain all the way home, and only managed to avoid the heaviest parts. Dave and I and another guy were in the very front of the boat, pretty much exposed to the rain. Of course we hadn't thought to bring raincoats. Though it rains nearly every night, we have yet to have much rain during the day. Fortunately it didn't rain very hard, but the raindrops that did hit us stung like heck because the boat was going so fast.

I WAS catching up on my internet stuff, and getting ready to upload a bunch of photos. However, the internet being down at the marina will slow me down again. But I will start posting our Belize and Guatemala pics in the next day or so.

A bit later... I hauled my computer in to the internet cafe in town to do email and post some website updates, only to find "No Hay Internet". The internet at Bruno's is down too. Rats...

See more photos of these 2 trips on my Picasa Album: http://picasaweb.google.com/SoggyPaws