25 February 2013

Cruising has made us bi-polar

We've just celebrated our sixteen-month cruisiversary.  We're like toddlers: you keep counting by months for the first couple of years, right?  We've been out here, living and learning....  wondering what the HELL we've got ourselves into....

Bananas ripening at Coco Banderos Cays
But now, I have a major breakthrough to report.  We have made a quantum leap in our understanding of the cruising life.  As Ean was writing his three-part series about our "adventures" in Kuna Yala, we came to this realization: cruising has made us bi-polar.

I don't suppose that we meet DSM standards to actually be diagnosed by a mental health professional, and I certainly don't mean to make light of what can be a crippling disease.  But now that it's dawned on us, we can find no better way to describe the mental state that for us has been a primary "side effect" of cruising.  Sure, I had highs and lows before we moved aboard JOY.  We had good days and bad days, sad moments and happy moments.

But since we started cruising, the spread between high and low has been wider. The highs are higher, the lows are lower, and the speed at which we travel between the extremes is whiplash-inducing.  Joys and sorrows.  Boredom and terror.  Wonder and dismay.  The past three weeks have been a microcosm.  It reminds me of that cartoon depiction of a dog's life, where she greets each event with either MY FAVORITE! or BUMMER!

Snorkeling off Isla Tintipan
Leaving Cartagena, heading for San Blas and the world: MY FAVORITE!

Anchored in 25 knots of wind on the windward side of Isla Grande, afraid that we're going to drag onto the rocks:  BUMMER!

Anchored off the lee shore of Isla Tintipan, tucked in, safe and sound, and I'm snorkeling in ten feet of gin-clear water: MY FAVORITE!

We start our passage to Panama with no wind, but the seas are big and lumpy and on the beam: BUMMER!

Arriving at Tupbak in Kuna Yala in the early afternoon, after a nice overnight sail: MY FAVORITE!

Ean has already written about stupendous Ustupu, Sally the starboard engine on strike, the GROSS grounding, our hero Amelio and his ulu, our wind-on-the-nose squally sail, the ups and downs of Elvis the generator, and a perfect drinks-and-dinner moment in the cockpit (MY FAVORITE, BUMMER, BUMMER, MY FAVORITE, BUMMER, BUMMER, MY FAVORITE, MY FAVORITE).

Andres from Ustupu helped us translate more JOY everywhere! into the Kuna language.
Both the rudder and the coral head were a little the worse for wear after their encounter.
The next day we had the most beautiful sail that anyone could ask for.  We had planned to stop at Nargana, but it was such a wonderful sail that we decided to go to Coco Banderos.  But then we kept sailing on to Holandes Cays. We just couldn't stop.  MY FAVORITE!

This is the kind of sailing day it was.  We weren't the only ones out enjoying it.
If you know the Canadian flagged s/v Aries, please send along this picture with our compliments.
In Nargana -  Internet: MY FAVORITE!

It looks like I'm in Nargana, but actually I'm on the WorldWideWeb, baby!
But then the internet was down and Nargana was out of coca cola.  BUMMER!  But when the coca-cola boat arrived, I bought a few bottles to go with the big bottle of Abuelo rum we found at the billiard hall: MY FAVORITE!  The island is covered in trash: BUMMER!

Molas from a master mola maker: MY FAVORITE!

We went to Mormaketupu (Mola Makers' Island) and bought molas from Venancio
Here's one of the molas we bought - learn more about this Kuna art form here.
I stupidly wrapped the dinghy line around the prop while we were anchoring later that afternoon: BUMMER!

Hanging with friends (who had sailed from Cartagena ahead of us): MY FAVORITE!

We first met Kirk (s/v Salsa) in Cartagena, where he had just completed his circumnavigation.
We had a couple beers with him in Lemon Cays.
And on and on it goes.  Getting into a slip at Shelter Bay Marina on a windy afternoon with one engine: BUMMER!  But then here we are, and we're getting big hugs from our buddies Arjan and Maia from s/v Skye: MY FAVORITE!

There are peaks and troughs.  We are learning to let the highs lift us: to truly appreciate all that is good.  And when it turns around, and we go tilting into the trough, we remind ourselves that the next big swell is coming.  As I sit here typing away, Ean pops over to the marina store and buys me a fudgesicle.  And if I'm lyin', I'm dyin' - it is the BEST fudgesicle I HAVE EVER EATEN.  And Ean: well, of course, he is MY FAVORITE!

21 February 2013

Polar Behrs (pt. 3)

We're waving off our new friend from Ustupu, Andres. With him, heading back to his village, is our bag of garbage which he has offered to take (we have given him some money, of course), probably to prevent us from throwing it all in the sea.

He has also brought us a Guna Yala courtesy flag to fly on our starboard spreader along with the Panamanian one. It is comprised of three horizontal bands, one yellow in between two red. In the yellow band is a swastika, but, as he demonstrates, it is oriented vertically opposite from the Nazi symbol. (We know from our guidebooks that it predates it historically as well.)

20 February 2013

Polar Behrs (pt. 2)

It is dawn and with two anchors we are holding against a six knot current that the previous evening drove us onto a coral head at the mouth of a bay.

It is a recommended anchorage in the latest edition of Eric Bauhaus's guide to Panama. It is, moreover, a bay that he himself discovered by air and subsequently named. La Bahia Golondrina. To our regret, we discover that Bauhaus's description of his find omitted some of the pertinent details, such as the width and placement of the deeper water at the entrance to the bay and the strength of the current washing across it and up onto the left bank. Since there are no tide tables for the immediate area; we have to rely on Bauhaus's soundings, purportedly calculated for low low water.

Despite Jane's efforts to drive us off with our port and only engine, the current pushes us further onto the coral and nearer to the shore. We stand in shock, helplessly  listening to the starboard rudder scrape and crunch across the top of the coral as it holds JOY both aloft and fast.

19 February 2013

Polar Behrs

It is around six in the evening. Jane and I are sitting in the cockpit eating grilled chicken breast and peas and rice, Jane has a rum and coke; I have a Bombay Sapphire martini with blue cheese stuffed olives. The sun is full and slants down between us and the Panamanian mountains, dark and majestic under their clouded skies. The air is hot and humid, but a breeze blows deliciously every few moments.

...rewind eight hours...

16 February 2013

Triple Crown Cartagena

This post is in appreciation of Colombian dentistry and "medical tourism" in general and Dr. Felipe Frieri in particular, who happens to be the BEST DENTIST EVER. He speaks super English and he has a great sense of humor and he has all the latest and greatest equipment that your "home" dentist hasn't yet bought.

Crown clip art - vector clip art online, royalty free & public domainI had been warned, by my dentist back in Milwaukee, that a few of my huge and ancient fillings were ready to go - the fillings themselves were going to crack, or the bits of tooth around them were going to get sheared off: decay would follow. I was told that all manner of bad things, including root canals, could be prevented by crowns. But crowns cost more than $1200 each, I needed three, and I didn't even want ONE. So in those last busy buy-a-boat-and-move-aboard months, it's no great surprise that "spend almost $4000 to undergo nasty dentistry to fix a theoretical problem not causing immediate pain or even mild discomfort" sort of fell off the list.

Fast forward a year and a half, and one of the three offending teeth had gone past "mild discomfort" to become "the side that I don't chew on anymore." Also, I noticed that when snorkeling, I can't dive past about 15 feet before my mouth starts feeling like it's going to explode. So when Dr. Felipe pointed out the two teeth that Absolutely Must Be Crowned Right Now, I was not shocked. And the third - yep, I already knew about that one, too. Make it happen, Dr. Felipe. Let's go for triple crowns.

These being my first crowns, I can't compare my experience with what might have happened in the US. I can tell you I paid 720,000 pesos for each crown, which sounds pretty scary until you divide by 1800 to get US$. I can tell you he numbed me up good, the first miserable appointment took two solid hours, and I walked out with three temporary crowns. I was sore and crabby and feeling old for a few days after, during which time I re-read all seven Harry Potter books in an attempt to recapture my youth and escape from my current middle-aged maladies. My youth, of course had been long-spent before Harry Potter was a glimmer in J. K. Rowling's eye, but that's beside the point.... Ean, with a well-developed sense of self-preservation, stayed well clear. Alcohol was administered orally for medicinal purposes.

But really, it wasn't that bad. All together, the process took a week and three appointments. One of the temporary crowns got loose, but I managed it. Felipe sent two of the permanent crowns back to the lab because the fit wasn't exactly right. I had some headaches (maybe they were caused by the Harry Potter reading marathon). I'm still getting used to the relatively smooth feel of the crowns; having not realized, until now, just how snaggled and jagged those back molars had become.

And honestly, meeting Felipe was a pleasure. He is kind and funny and tells it like it is. He does most of his work in a home office in his sunny apartment on the eighth floor, a block off the beach in Boca Grande. It is a serious, fully equipped dentist's office, tucked to the side a beautifully appointed living room. During my appointments, Ean waited, sprawled out on the leather couch, watching the big flat-screen TV and taking advantage of Felipe's wireless internet. We had the chance to meet Felipe's sweet young daughter, Sabrina; his older boy was handsome and polite and practiced his English on us.

Now it's been a few weeks, and the crowns (in concert with the teeth that remain) seem to be doing the job. No more discomfort, mild or otherwise. I can't be sure, yet, that the snorkeling problem has been resolved - I did a bit of swimming off Isla Tintipan on our last day in Colombia, but we were anchored in shallow water - less than 10 feet. I'll need to do diving "experiments" when we get further north, into the clear deep waters of the offshore Kuna Yala islands.

Shallow water snorkeling off Isla Tintipan, Colombia
This recommendation is not only for cruisers who might need their teeth cleaned when they stop in Cartagena, but for anyone back in the US who has a need for several thousand dollars of dentistry. Instead of going to your local dentist, come here! It's called medical tourism. Consider the possibilities: you can spend most of your money on an awesome vacation in Cartagena, and the rest with Dr. Felipe. Be sure to say I sent you - maybe he'll give me a break when I fly back for my next couple of crowns (Dr. Felipe Frieri Martínez  - I made my first appointment via email to his yahoo[dot]com address: ffodontologo).

[posted from Lemon Cays, Kuna Yala - update: I dove deeper in the Holandes Cays - maybe 30 feet - with no mouth explosions]

13 February 2013

Leaving the Land of Lulo

As we begin our passage to Panama, we ask each other: what the hell were we doing in Colombia for SIX MONTHS?! It seems excessive to us, now. This is an attempt, for the record, to put a positive spin on it. No, we weren't STUCK in Colombia. This is what happened.

For our first few weeks in Santa Marta, I was in recovery mode, having arrived on this new-to-us continent with a broken limb. We were taking it easy. Still, we saw some sights, like La Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, which is the farm where Simón Bolívar "bought the farm," so to speak, and not meaning any disrespect, of course. We learned our way around the oldest town in Colombia and were suitably impressed by the oldest church in Colombia. We drank jugos naturales. Lulo was Ean' favorite.

La Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino

We got a special permit to cruise el Parque Tayrona, and after Ean cut off my cast, we visited all five of the Five Bays, plus one extra. I did some snorkeling, we did a little beachcombing, and we wondered at the majesty of this remote land. Then we anchored off the dusty fishing village of Taganga, hang-out for backpackers and stray dogs. We wanted to see a bit more of Parque Tayrona, so we hired a guide and hiked to El Pueblito, an ancient Tayrona village. In Taganga Bay we were visited by a pod of dolphins, and we met Arjan and Maia from s/v Skye, with whom we became dear friends.

In the Marina Santa Marta - Maia would remind me that it is actually la Marina Internacional de Santa Marta - we were invited to our first cruisers' potluck, we celebrated our first cruisiversary, and I wrote a little story for Women and Cruising, of which I was a little proud. We met Bill and Caroline from s/v Juffa, who gave us lessons in sail repair, sailing, and graciousness.

From Santa Marta we took an overnight trip to Minca with Arjan and Maia, stayed in a hostel, and visited a coffee farm. We also took an afternoon trip to Rodadero with Arjan, Maia, Bill, and Caroline. Ean and I checked out their small aquarium, we all struggled to appreciate Colombian beach culture, and we had our first experience with that magical supermarket we would come to know and love: Carulla. There are other wonderful supermarkets in Colombia - Éxito and SAO and Carrefour - which we had discovered in Santa Marta - but compared to Carulla, they seem so... Colombian. Carulla has imported cheese, Cocoa Puffs, and Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice.

Finally bidding farewell to Santa Marta, we did a nice downwind day sail to Puerto Velero, covering about half the distance to Cartagena. There we found a fancy new resort and marina under construction, and we anchored out for a couple of days. The wind, inexplicably, shifted west, and we found ourselves stranded in Puerto Velero: or Puerto Mosca, as Ean began calling it. We decided to make lemonade out of the lemony-fresh weather, and took an overnight trip to nearby Barranquilla, the fourth largest city in Colombia. We acted like tourists and had a nice couple of days.

We arrived, eventually, in Cartagena. What a skyline! How exciting! Maia and Arjan had arrived before us, and they sent the bimini guy straight over. Yes, finally, Joy would have her new bright orange bimini. We applied for updated cruising permits and went to the immigration office on Halloween to extend our visas. We celebrated my birthday with a two-night stay in a fabulous B&B in the walled city. Maia and Arjan brought a maracuya cheesecake to breakfast - decadent.

We muddled around a bit, waiting for my mom to arrive for the holidays, and then flew to Medellin to meet her - on the fabulously cheap Viva Colombia airlines - and had a great visit. Medellin is the second largest city in Colombia and, at 1500 m altitude, the city of eternal spring - we wore long pants every day. We rode the metro, and the cable cars, and visited the huge modern library. We marveled at shopping malls, the likes of which we had never seen. We saw Botero in all his glory and ate Thanksgiving dinner at a Mexican restaurant way up a mountain. We were thankful, more than anything, to have survived the taxi ride to the restaurant (iffy transmission, lost driver).

Ean returned to Cartagena first to take over cat care duties from Arjan and Maia, who departed for Kuna Yala. My mom followed three days later on first class Avianca, and I followed three hours after that on el cheapo airline, which we absolutely loved, by the way. Ean got my mom settled into her "home" for the next five weeks, a great little one-bedroom apartment on the busiest street in Cartagena's walled city: Calle de la Moneda.

We got to be jostled and pressed very thoroughly on Calle de la Moneda over the next several weeks. It was almost like having a job - I got up every morning, got dressed, put the dinghy down, and walked or taxied to la casa de mi madre. I was on a mission, doing research for a book project. My plan is to issue an electronic version of my dad's book, and I want to add my mom's point of view, as well as my own perspective, on what has come to be known in my family as "the boat trip." We sorted pictures, read portions of my dad's book aloud, took notes, asked questions, dug up old memories... and then we took a walk, ate a meal, saw a sight....

In the meantime, Ean made friends with el mecánico Elvis. Elvis solved the heat exchanger problem on our starboard engine and then tackled our generator, which had not been operational for seven months, and for which we had abandoned all hope. But as my mother would say, Elvis "buckled right in with a bit of a grin" - rebuilt the starter motor, fiddled a little, had a new mixing elbow machined (twice), hey presto! - and we have power 'til heck won't have it. The generator has been rechristened: Elvis, of course. And every time we start the generator, we announce JOYfully, "Elvis is IN THE HOUSE." And in that moment of silence, when we shut it down, we intone, "Elvis has LEFT THE BUILDING." Life is good.

We fixed a bit of a Christmas dinner in my mom's little apartment - chicken instead of turkey, agraz instead of cranberries. The apartment had already been reserved for new year's weekend so mom had to relocate to the Hilton on Boca Grande, for the last five nights of her stay in Cartagena. In Boca Grande we had a couple of wonderful meals at Restaurante Árabe, which in addition to the best ever Middle Eastern cuisine, offers up a belly dancer on Friday and Saturday nights. We also found an awesome dentist in Boca Grande. Ean had his teeth cleaned, and my mom got some cosmetic thing done involving the magic of veneer. For me, the dentist was a triple crown event. I'll write more about this bit of fun later.

Big fireworks in la bahía on New Year's Eve, and my mom flew back to the US on the first day of the new year. Our first thought, being motherless in Cartagena, was: we've gotta get the hell outta here! And yet, we lingered. The triple crown event was on-going. We spent hours hauling jerry jugs of diesel to fill our tank. We finally figured out how to get our dinghy outboard serviced. We had some, errr-hmmm, issues with our heads. Not the heads where we keep our brains, but the heads where, err-hmmm, well... you know. Heads? As in, a nautical term for "powder room"? We passed a couple of very shitty and joyless days, to get one of the heads working better than ever (shiny new unpermeated hose!) and the other completely and hopelessly broken (pump motor presumably fried). We had Alberto out from Club Nautico to scrape off the eco-system that had attached itself to our hulls; and then again, early on a windless morning, to scrape off the first 45 feet of our chain and snubber.

Among all these fun activities, I made a new BFF, called Jaye, and started a new online project, called The Monkey's Fist. Jaye lives in Annapolis, but that doesn't matter. Our new enterprise brought us together. It was meant to be a small thing, but as things do, it became a slightly larger thing. Ean then got involved, although he had tried to resist; he found resistance to be futile. It was all-MoFi all-the-time, for a few days there. The fun we had.... As of this writing, I've been Jaye-less and MoFi-less for about four days - oh, sadness. Like I needed more reasons to miss the internet. Anyway, the Monkey's Fist distracted us, for a while, from the barnacles, the Yamaha, the diesel, the heads, and the triple crown event. But finally, one of us said, when do our visas expire? and the other one of us said, we've gotta get the hell outta here! So we downloaded some GRIB files, bought some groceries, and ¡vámonos!

We sailed out of La Bahía de Cartagena at noon and anchored on the north side of Isla Grande with a steady 25 knot wind blowing us toward shore: unwise. The next day we sailed to Isla Tintipan, in the San Bernardo archipelago, and went round to the south side of the island, so the wind would blow us off the shore instead of upon it. We stayed there two nights, waiting for the winds to moderate a bit; did some boat chores, snorkeled. As predicted, the winds dropped; so much so, in fact, that when we started our passage to Panama we had to use an engine for the first six hours, until we were clear of the reef-strewn shore. Then, a decent overnight sail, and we dropped the hook in Kuna Yala just after noon on February 4: six months, exactly, since our arrival in Santa Marta....

This, for the record, is what the hell we were doing in Colombia. Yes, it is as I suspected: in the retelling, I realize that these past six months have been Quite Busy. Even so, it's time to be busy Someplace Else.

[posted from Nargana, Kuna Yala, Panama - I'd like to add a few more pictures, but I'll wait for a faster internet connection]