Monday, July 27, 2009

3 years aboard Meggie

We chased our dreams for 2 ½ years while we restored Meggie, our 1964 Cheoy Lee Bermuda 30. Only by saving every spare dime, selling off most of our belongings and severing all financial ties, did we then gain the freedom to slip the dock lines and venture away for as long as we wanted or at least as long as we were having fun.
We kept our boat simple, both safe and easy to sail, also free of any major electronics and expensive systems. We put all of our trust into Meggie’s hull design and heavy timber construction. Our best efforts went into restoring the youth within Meggie, this was essential because she would not only become our home but also carry her devoted crew of two on an epic voyage through the blue waters of the Atlantic and Caribbean Sea in search of adventure and tropical paradise.
In July, 2006 we quit chasing and started living as Meggie sailed out of Thornbury’s harbour and although she gracefully approached her vintage years, Meggie was likely never more fit for sea.
We sailed through the great lakes to the Hudson river, then past the statue of liberty in NYC harbour. As we rounded Sandy Hook, New Jersey, Meggie felt the Atlantic under her keel for the first time. When the stiff ocean breeze filled her sails, Kylie and I also felt the spray of the Atlantic for the first time. It was here that a bond was formed and off we sailed as a team of three. We visited 18 countries and sailed 14,000 nautical miles in our 3 years. We faced many challenges and created many memories along the way, some of which I would like to share, however these only scratch the surface of the memories that remain etched in our minds.
We made it all the way to the bottom of the eastern Caribbean island chain in our first season. The reason being, we had hurricane season hot on our tail. To achieve this we sailed thousands of miles to windward along the thorny path, south bound to the West Indies where we spent 5 wonderful months in the beautiful country of Grenada.
We then sailed north to let Meggie show off her “Yar” among the big classics of the Antigua Regatta. Here she took an impressive 2nd place in her racing class and 3rd place in Concource d’Elegance for best privately maintained boat.
A few months later we found ourselves sailing fast and quietly under the cover of a moonless night with all lights off to escape the pirate waters of Venezuela, bound for the beautiful off shore islands, here we spent an incredible six weeks.
We then had a glorious run with quartering wind and seas clear across the Caribbean Sea from Curacao to Jamaica, and then on to Honduras covering twelve hundred nautical miles with a 14 day break in the middle. Meggie logged regular noon to noon runs of 125 to 145 nautical miles. Meggie always takes care of us and we found her to be a great little passage maker.
We never tire of watching dolphins play with Meggie s bow wave, or scanning the sea surface hoping to spot a whale. We marvel at the many species of interesting birds, Pelicans, Frigates, Egrets, Terns, Boobies,(famous for steeling our top water lures) Ospreys, Scarlet Ibises, Ocean Gulls, and oh yes, Wild pink Flamingos.
We have weathered countless storms, including two tropical depressions, three tropical storms, and one full fledged Cat 1 Hurricane named Felix. We were on board and well anchored for each one, with no problems.
Our worst storm while at sea lasted for thirty hours, the rigging screamed with steady thirty-five knot winds and higher in gusts, the seas became on average one full storey in height. This storm hit us while 300nm offshore in the waters south of the Cayman Islands, called the Cayman Trench, it is known for being the deepest part of the Caribbean Sea…the bottom being twenty-five thousand feet below the keel. Little Meggie rose her stern to each approaching wave as it hissed and roared but never let a single wave on board.
We will never forget the Christmas we spent on the Island of Guanaja, or the remote jungle anchorage of the Honduras main land surrounded by the wild cries of the howler monkey and the magnificent birds of the jungle. We had this place all to ourselves.
We spent a wonderful month in Guatemala. We took Meggie up the mystical Rio Dulce, where we explored parts of the mainland including the ancient temples of Tikal.
We spent an exhilarating five days blazing along at six knots through the shallow protected waters inside the barrier reef of Belize. The next day in the open sea Meggie set her quickest noon to noon run of 174 nautical miles, due to the fast currents setting north through the Yucatan channel.
Kylie and I have become very passionate about fishing, and more importantly eating fish. We have enjoyed countless cockpit dinners of either deep sea fish or reef fish and lobster, that we caught by ourselves.
Above all, the pleasure of spending the last three years together, watching the sun rise and set everyday aboard our little boat has provided us with memories that will last a life time. Also, now our team of three has gained the confidence and the ability to sail off, bound for distant shores, just two people aboard our little boat, alone on the high seas. This makes the horizon but our only limit.
Although we have to return home for now, our hearts assure us that Meggie has not finished leaving her invisible tracks across the beautiful and seemingly endless blue waters of the world, just yet.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The last leg.....

Usually I start our blogs with “Where should I begin?”, this time as I write the blog I’m wondering where should I end? This is our last blog of our adventure, however we will be posting 1 last one upon our arrival home.
Almost 3 years ago to the date, I sat in Tobermory’s harbour and commenced writing a journal of our travels to share with you all. Not knowing where the journey would take us, and with more uncertainties than certainties, we left our home waters of Georgian Bay to escape the “everyday". Not knowing what we would find or even what we were looking for, I now know we found it.
So, now Meggie sits in the comforting harbour of Tobermory once again as I write my last entry of our adventure. As we rounded Cape Hurd this morning and entered into Georgian Bay we both felt a sense of calm and beauty that we had missed (unbeknownst to us). These waters of Georgian Bay are littered with picturesque island after island with beautiful clean clear water surrounding them. It did feel like coming home, now that is not to say we’re not missing the life we had grown accustomed to, or the locations we were used to. To sum it all up, it’s bitter sweet.
The last blog seems a very long time ago, way back in Norfolk. We left Norfolk with a decent weather window to head on the outside to Cape May, NJ. The sail was uneventful (which is always a good thing) and upon reaching our destination of Cape May, I thought I would check in with our weather guru Chris Parker and see if we would be getting out of Cape May and into NYC in the next day or two. We had wanted to meet Mike’s brother Martin there for our last ocean voyage, but wanted to get underway again quickly. Chris gave it to me straight up…”If I were you, I would get in and out of Cape May today and head straight for NYC as a cold front will be approaching and hitting the NJ coast pretty bad. If you don’t go today or tonight, you’ll probably be there at least a week, if not more.” And I was so looking forward to a good nights sleep. So, we passed the inlet to Cape May and continued on for another night to NYC. Another uneventful night (which is always a good thing), but as the sun rose the next day to reveal what was in store, we didn’t like what we saw. Nothing! We couldn’t see ¼ mile in front of us. Dense, dense fog surrounded us and here we are entering NEW YORK CITY harbour of all places. Stress level…8 (well for me…for some reason Mike has been staying very calm in stressful situations…I’m taking this as a good thing).
So I put our position on channel 16 on the vhf radio every ½ hour or so, and pretty soon we spotted a green buoy (after dodging a couple of boats, as the tanker approaching honked his horn), and as we continued in the channel the fog lifted enough for us to see our way to a safe anchorage.
The next day brought a clearer sky and a nice sail into NYC harbour where we anchored behind the Statue of Liberty to await our crew. Martin and Harry (Mike’s brother and our nephew) joined Meggie as we sailed past the Statue of Liberty up the Hudson river to the 79th Street boat basin. Thinking we were going to have a fantastic sail, we sort of forgot about the extreme current that was against us and to make it even more interesting we had the wind against the current, and to top it off, there were heaps of boats in the harbour making huge wakes which added to the already wish washy waves. All of that aside, it was great! Harry loved when the wish washy waves came over the bow and soaked the decks (all Mike could think was “I really hope we latched down the hatches”). He would exclaim “Awesome” every time we hit a big one. We were flying down the Hudson, on a broad reach until we noticed the anchored Coast Guard boat in front of us and he wasn’t moving…and neither were we, in fact I think we were actually going backwards, due to the strong current. We were smack dab in the middle of the Battery at max ebb….oh boy. So on with Stg. Major and a slow slog up the Hudson. We had some good times and lots of laughs so it was definitely worth every wish washy wave bash.
Martin and Harry spent the night aboard, which was a great way to catch up and spend some quality time together. It was nice to see the Shaw boys together again.
Our time in NYC passed too quickly and on up the Hudson we began. In no time we were in Castleton taking the masts down to transit the Erie Barge Canal.
Not much excitement for the next week. If you remember from our previous passage through the canal, there was a lot of bad songs getting stuck in your head for days at a time, no exercise, long days and cold mornings.
Pretty uneventful, except for the 37 locks. At this point we were both feeling the last few legs of our adventure were feeling more like a chore to get the boat home. Moving everyday, rain or shine, hot or cold. Finally we were at the end of the canal in Buffalo and ready to put the masts up. There is one place to do so and they charge $6US/foot of mast. So Meggie is ketch rigged, so we have almost 60 feet of mast…you do the math. Out of the question. So our only other option was to motor to Port Colborne on the Canadian side of Lake Erie and put them up there for $100 (CND), so off we went to Port Colborne. Luckily the wind was zilch and there were no waves and we had Megs up and running in no time. We were in Canada!
Before we left the confinement of the canal, we had a visit from our Antigua crew, Paul and Leanne. It was a short visit, but a great one nonetheless. We were also excited for a visit from Mike’s sister, Marie and her boyfriend Doug who were planning to meet us in Port Stanley, where we were going to take a much needed couple of days off.
After a long sail around Looonnnnngggg Point and a beat into Port Stanley we tied Meggie to the dock for 3 days for a much needed rest. It had been over 3 years since we had seen Marie, so big celebrations all around were in store. We had a great weekend with her and Doug. The weather was gorgeous and we got to spend 2 solid days together just catching up and chillin. They treated us way too much, but all the same it was much appreciated. It was really nice to see Mike have some one on one time with both his sister and his brother that month. And, it was nice to stop….did I mention that?
So, onto Erieau, Leamington…done Lake Erie. Up the Detroit river (no mishaps with the spreaders this time), cross Lake St. Clair, up the foul current infested St. Clair river, stop in Sarnia for 2 nights for weather, sail to Bayfield in Lake Huron, overnight from Bayfield to Tobermory. Phew, and pretty soon Thronbury, and then that’s it.
So we’re enjoying the last of it. We’ll anchor in Wingfield basin, a sweet little anchorage for a couple of days before we make our last run to our home port.
Plenty on our minds, mixed feelings, mixed emotions, but it is all good. We’re in a beautiful place and the best you can do is make the best of every situation and place you are in, otherwise what is it all about?
I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their constant support over the past 3 years. To our new friends we met along the way, our destinations wouldn’t have become experiences without you. To our cruising friends, may you always be safe, we will be living vicariously through you now, so make it good. The memories we have stored in our minds and hearts will last a lifetime. I know this isn’t the end of Mike and Kylie’s excellent adventures, but it is the end of a wonderful 3 years spent together sharing a different world we didn’t know 3 years ago. It is the end of this chapter, but another is about to begin. Sniff sniff.
Live your life now,
Be well,
Kylie and Mike

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Oh my…where do I begin. I guess I’ll begin where I left off! I have to first admit that the last couple of months seem a blur and a lot of happenings all mashed in together. So lets begin.
In case you haven’t realised, we are back in the land of; loud traffic, your every convenience at your finger tips, way too much indulgence and materialistic everything that we don’t necessarily need! Yes, we are in North America and have finally begun to overcome our shock. My first outing in the grocery store in Marathon, Florida was just a bit overwhelming. I didn’t know what to buy! I wandered the isles in awe of all the “things” I could buy, but did we really need Tostitos Spinach dip in a jar for our chips??? And what kind of chips???…there was only about 100 kinds to choose from, and what? No plantain chips? We bought a quart of cold real milk and chugged it as we left the supermarket, and finally found good cookies. One thing I did noticed was the produce. I said to the Publix man stocking the shelves “what on earth do they do to the green peppers around here?” They were the size of my head, and looked beautiful but once I got them home they were practically tasteless. I’m used to buying green peppers so green that are the size of a small fist from the local farmers that are so jam packed full of flavour you can’t believe it. Don’t even get me started on the pink tomatoes and oh….the colorless yolks in eggs. Organic, here I come.
I must admit that some conveniences are nice. Wings and cheap beer, English speaking everywhere I go (although I do miss my Spanish with strangers), and people everywhere we go are so considerate and accommodating to boaters. We don’t remember much “good” things about Florida, but this time ‘round people have been fantastic, and not just in Florida, but everywhere.

Anyway, enough about that. I believe I left off with quick visits from our families in Mexico. Oh Mexico, how I miss thee. Anyway…after the families left, Mike and I chilled out and continued to enjoy the lovely island of Isla Mujeres with many new friends, many meals at our favourite “ma and pa” restaurant “La Negrita”, and nice warm sunny temperatures, but eventually it was time to get a move on. We monitored the weather and with the “go ahead” from the weather guru we rushed around like mad people to clear customs, get fuel and last minute items before sailing out of the harbour and the Caribbean for our last time. We had a weather window of 15 knots from the SSE (south, southeast) for most of the 300 miles to Dry Tortugas moderating the last 16 hours or so. So, off we went and our first 3 hours were great, then we entered the gulf stream. There was a north opposing swell to the north setting current (of 3 knots) and we had wind from the SE with a pretty good wind chop, so the seas were “confused” as we made our way east. We pushed east so we wouldn’t get pushed too far north by the current, and as the sun set the wind increased to 20-22 knots making the wind chop bigger, but by evening the north swell had diminished a bit making things a little more comfortable. I wasn’t feeling great due to the wishy washyness from the motion of the boat in the confused seas, but Meggie was a freight train averaging 8.5 knots for quite a few hours. Mike had to do a sail change at 2:00 in the morning as we were overpowered due to a squall that hovered overhead, once that was done, it was smooth sailing all the way to the Dry Tortugas. We actually set our fastest 24 hour run…180 nm. By the time we got into the lee of Cuba, the seas had moderated to a smooth swell and light chop and by morning the wind was light, and by the next evening there wasn’t a breath. By the 3rd morning we had a steady 13 knots on our beam and we had picture perfect sailing all the way to the anchorage at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas.
We were in Florida. Yet, it didn’t quite feel like it yet. We lingered in the turquoise waters of the Dry Tortugas for a couple of days and meandered through Fort Jefferson and had a good look at the Cuban refugee rafts that had landed in the Dry Tortugas while we were there, but ignorantly…we didn’t even know until afterwards. Amazing, if a Cuban raft touches the sand of the U.S. of A. they are welcomed into the country with open arms, but if found on the water….well, it’s a different story. Strange.
So from the isolated Dry Tortugas, we had a beautiful sail to the Marquesas Cays where we anchored the night…one more night in isolation before we reached the civilization of Key West, and enjoyed our fresh catch of the day, a nice sized mackerel. Next day it was Key West where we would wait out a cold front and upon arriving realized there really was no good anchorage for weathering such a thing, but we managed to wiggle Meggie into the protection of an island and waited out the front. We were reintroduced to strong currents and wakes from big power boats, making our stay in Key West anything but pleasant…however the town of Key West is a sweet little town, an old fishing village touched by tourism with beautiful homes and with busy shops and restaurants lining the main street.
We were having a bit of a problem with an oil leak from the engine, so we really wanted to get the problem sorted as we knew we had the Erie barge laying ahead of us, and lots of motoring. So as soon as we could, we left Key West and sailed to Marathon, Florida the hub for boaters in the Keys. Unbelievable! 200 sailboats on moorings!!! We took a mooring as we had to pull the engine to fix our problem. So, we got to work. Mike rigged a system to pull the motor off it’s mounts and let it hang until he could have a good look at the oil seals and fix the problem. This meant we had to take the 100lb flywheel of the engine, which along with the starter I sanded down and repainted. Mike found that the transmission bolts were loose about ¼” and obviously needed to be retightened as the oil was just falling out, but he couldn‘t have found the problem unless the engine was lifter. So thankfully that problem was solved. Anyway he tightened the bolts in 2 different spots and we got the engine back together and put in place looking better than it had in months. However, as soon as we pull into the Thornbury harbour, the first thing we want to do is to pull the engine right out of Meggie and do a complete rehaul of the engine and the engine compartment. Mike can’t wait! Seriously.
Ok, so that done we left the next day for Miami, a quick overnighter, well sort of. There was some serious squalls from a cold front forecasted for the next morning and we wanted to get in before that so we left early and arrived in Miami at 3 in the morning. We only agreed to arrive in the dark as we had been in the open wide cut before and somewhat knew it. Otherwise…big no no. We had a uneventful sail, hooking up with the gulf stream to push us along. Mike managed to catch a small mahi mahi (perfect size for us), and after a bit of a nerve racking night entrance hrough the Government Cut, we dropped anchor at 3am and slept like babies, and we did get quite a few nasty squalls the next morning!
While we were in Marathon I booked a flight home. My first flight home in almost 3 years. One of my dearest friends was getting married and I had decided that if we made it to Florida before she was wed, I would fly home (if it was reasonable). I found a return flight from Miami for $220.00USD so booked it. I left the day after we arrived in Miami. My trip home was filled with kids, family, friends, laughter, alcohol, tiredness, hot baths, ice cream, fresh clothesline hung sheets courtesy of Mom, more laughter, lots of food, a wonderful beautiful wedding and lots of hugs.
It’s truly a blur, but a good one. I saw people at the wedding whom I haven’t seen in years, and I got to see all my closest girlfriends in one place at one time which was fantastic. I got to see my niece and nephew whom I’ve missed terribly, and of course my family.
So back on the plane and back to Meggie. We provisioned the boat and left the next day for anywhere north. We landed in Fernandina Beach, Florida just at the Georgia border where we waited out 25 knot winds and then jumped back out again up to Charleston, South Carolina. Our first 330 nm run was pretty uneventful, light to moderate winds with good sailing and then no wind, but we made good time and managed to time the tides right in St. Mary’s inlet where we cruised into the inlet doing 8 knots! I talked to the weather guru as we were heading out the St. Mary’s inlet again to head north and he warned us that we might encounter 30-40 knot squalls on our next run north (destination unknown at this point…hopefully Beaufort, NC). We listened to the WX weather on our VHF radio courtesy of NOAA weather and all day they had been sending weather watches for severe thunderstorms, and before we knew it they were sending out weather warnings for severe thunderstorms with high winds and 2 really severe cells that were parallel on land to where we were on the ocean. I tried to track the cells and figure out if they were going to get us or not or if we could avoid them by going slower. As I listened to the 6pm update they had included the coastal area out 20 nm miles of where we were in their warning, with warnings of tornados on land.
They warned of high winds in excess of 60 knots winds (64 is hurricane force) and all mariners should take cover, turn bilge pumps on, all passengers to get their life jackets on etc…I was freaking. Now the WX weather tends to be a little bit cautious, but as I came up from down below to tell Mike we might encounter some pretty nasty weather he just looked at me and said “yeah, I know” and pointed to the west of us. There was the cloud. Yes, the one in the previous blog picture. Mike took control as I tried to remain calm, which I realized I don’t do very well.
Anyway, he took the big jib down and set our storm sail, put 2 reefs in the main and 1 reef in the mizzen. He said “be ready and when I say turn up into it, do it”. So as the beast approached us and finally lay over top of us and Mike yelled turn. I did so, and he came back and got Meggie into the “hove to” position. Basically “hove-to” gets the boat into a position that she can’t get out of. You use the sails against each other so the boat is confused and sits still. Anyway…we lay hove-to for about 45 minutes as the squall blew 40 knots with gusts to 50 and Meggie did exactly what she was supposed to do…sit there. She healed to the gusts, but never wandered out of her hove-to position. We’ve hove-to before, but never in gusts of 50 knots. So…it was a learning experience and we both feel more comfortable knowing how Meggie reacts to this wind. I was freaked…but soon felt eased as Meggie was great. So after 45 minutes we set sail and continued on our way, but only to Charleston, South Carolina. We didn’t encounter another squall the rest of the trip, but that beast was enough for me to endure.
From Charleston we made our way up the ICW to Oriental, North Carolina where we love, and met with new and old friends as we took a short break from moving. From there we continued on sailing in the Arbemarle sound into the Dismal swamp (where the weather was truly dismal...another cold front, and it was freezing) to Norfolk, where we now sit. We will leave on Friday for the 160nm run to Cape May, NJ where we hope to acquire new crew (Mike’s brother, Martin) for our last ocean voyage of this adventure.
So…that was a bit of a novel eh? People say we don’t sound like Canadians because we don’t say “Eh”.
Ok, well that is the excitement of our lives at the moment. I’m desperately missing clear warm water, warm sand on my feet, wearing my bathing suit and speaking my horrible Spanish, but we’re excited also to return to Canada and get on with it!
Pretty soon we’ll be in the Hudson, Erie barge, Lake Erie, Lake Huron and finally Georgian Bay. We still hope to be in Thornbury harbour by the beginning of July…so we will see. So far, so good.
So until next time (probably the last),
Hasta Luego, Eh.
Kylie and Mike

Monday, March 16, 2009

The last hoorah!

Ok. I know it’s been a bit too long, but time has again escaped me. It’s been another busy month or so and Guatemala seems like it was months ago, but the impression Guatemala left on us is one that won’t soon be forgotten.
After arriving back to the boat after our trip to Tikal, we began getting ready to head away again for a couple of weeks inland. We wiped the boat down with diluted bleach to keep mould at a minimum, covered any holes with netting so no bugs could get in, made sure our lines were secure and she wouldn’t rub the dock in a NE wind, covered her as best we could to protect her from the sun, and with all this done we were ready to get underway.We took the launcha (water taxi) to Fronteras, where we caught the early morning bus to Guatemala city which would carry on to Antigua, a beautiful colonial city just 1 ½ hours from Guat city. On the way we met a young Aussie cruising couple who were also heading inland with their 2 gorgeous little girls and who had been cruising as a family for 3 years. It always amazes us to see couples cruising with their children and I always marvel at the experiences the kids must be having. Anyway…we also met a backpacker travelling alone who happened to be from Toronto, but who spent quite a bit of time in the Huntsville area just north of Thornbury.
Before we knew it, we were beginning to see signs of colonial architecture and soon were approaching the beautiful main square situated in the middle of Antigua. Beautifully placed in the highlands and surrounded by Agua, Acatenango and Fuego volcanoes, Antigua feels like you’ve stepped out of Central America and into Europe.
The city has a wonderful feel to it, surrounded by little shops selling mayan treasures and restaurants tucked away in every corner, with elegant squares and beautiful churches surrounding the main square. You can walk for days around the streets and not see it all and never get bored. Mike and I developed a quick friendship with our new Canadian friend Yasmine and together we walked the streets in search of a posada to spend our nights in Antigua. We came across “Casa Amarillas” which is more of a hostel type accommodation, but for $17.00/night we got a large room with a TV, shared bathroom and huge breakfast…now how can you beat that? Being in the highlands, when the sun goes down for the day, we were met with cold temperatures. Our first cold temperatures since the mountains in Venezuela, and once we dressed properly, it was soooo nice to be cool. Our first night the 3 of us enjoyed the ambiance of a beautiful restaurant that was host to an Andean flute band, which was very lovely to listen to.
The next day we decided to do a hike to an active volcano. Unfortunately you have to have a guide to do the hike which we are unaccustomed to, having done all our hiking on our own. A group of backpackers from all over the world and us 3 Canadians packed into a van and headed up to Pacaya volcano. We decided to do the afternoon hike so we could watch the sunset on the volcano and the other reason was that there is live lava flowing and we thought it would be cool to see the lava at dusk. We hiked about 3 miles up up up, but was strange for us hiking with a group at different athletic levels. We had to stop a lot, and to our surprise we met quite a few other groups on the trail. We finally arrived at the top of the volcano where you start to walk on the hardened lava. We were shocked at the amount of people on the volcano.There had to have been 100+ people wandering around…people heading off the trail and walking on untouched sections of the hardened lava, people everywhere. Now this…we are very unaccustomed to. To us this sort of thing is a sacred area and shouldn’t be treated like an attraction, but it clearly is. And, unfortunately unbeknownst to us, the lava wasn’t running this particular week, so all we saw was a little tiny stream of lava running deep in the crevices. It was still a cool thing to see, but the amount of people that were there was a bit shocking and took away from the experience.
The next day we had decided to carry on to Lago Atitlan as we had much to see so we wanted to get a move on. I woke up feeling not right and by the afternoon was committed to the toilet, garbage can and bed. Originally I thought I had a bit of food issues, but must have picked up a bug as I had aches, pains and chills accompanied by the other fun stuff that comes along with being sick. By the next day I was feeling better and we decided to continue on.
We arrived in Panajachel, the main town at the north end of Lago Atitlan and checked in to a room, and by that night I was feeling more like myself. Ol’ iron guts Mike continued to put hot sauce on everything he ate and didn’t get sick, this…must have been the key! Panajachel is a unique sort of town, a large amount of foreigners have decided to call this village home dating back to the 60’s. It was a prime hippy hang out in the 60’s and 70’s, but back then received a bad reputation as the gringo’s had introduced drugs into the otherwise quiet mayan village.
There is still a large gringo community, but the locals and gringo’s have developed a relationship that works and the village has a nice, relaxed, hippy type feel. Pana was probably the best place to shop with the streets being lined with mayan treasures and local shops with weavings, huipiles (mayan blouse), leather goods, hammocks, hand woven blankets and pillow, bags and on and on and on. A bit pushy but a “No gracias”, is usually sufficient and you are usually left alone, however I have never said “No gracias” so much in my life!
As I said, Pana is the entrance for most people to explore Lago Atitlan. Lago Atitlan is said to be the most beautiful lake in the world, as it is surrounded by volcanoes and deep valleys and is host to some of the most traditional Maya villages in all Guatemala. When you first set eyes on the beauty that surrounds you it indeed takes your breath away. You can’t believe how beautiful and peaceful the Lake is. Now as for the most beautiful in the world…they obviously haven’t been to Canada!!!
We boarded a launcha to take us across the lake to the village of San Pedro La Laguna, where we would spend almost a week. A cross between bohemian, mayan and hippy, this little village was a great place to stop and settle down to stage ourselves for day trips around the lake and to the surrounding villages.
The village is mellow and very chilled out, with an abundance of cheap yet classy restaurants, backpackers filling the hostels and posada’s, travellers living with local families while enrolled in Spanish classes, coffee beans drying along the trails that surround the village, local mayan markets and local cayuca’s fishing in the surrounding waters. It was a very peaceful and lovely place to spend our time. We found a little posada just off the main area and down a quiet street for $10 a night. Yes…let me say that again, $10 a night, for the both of us, not each. It was large, very clean, nice pillows (a good find in Guatemala), a private bathroom with hot water (another good find in Guatemala) with a nice view of the volcano and lake from our balcony that we could admire while we swung in the hammocks hung outside our room. $10.00 A NIGHT!!!! So, this inevitable made up our minds to stay there.
San Pedro was very cheap.We had some of the best meals we’ve had our whole time out and that would give restaurants in North America a run for their money for so cheap you can’t even believe it. It was just what we were looking for.
One day we hired horses and a guide to ride part way up the volcano which offered great views of the surrounding volcanoes and the lake. We visited the other villages that border the lake and went to many local mayan markets. But our favorite day was when we hired a motorbike to ride to Chichicastenango. “Chichi” has what is considered the largest mayan market in Guatemala and the quiet day to day life falls apart come market day. The market attracts commercial traders and mayan weavers from all around the central highlands, and was one market that I didn’t want to miss, so why not hire a motorbike to get there.
We began our day around 8am which would give us lots of time to get to Chichi and give us lots of time to wander the market as we didn’t have to have the bike back until 5 or 6. Having a proper road map may have helped things, but there was a map in our guide book that was from 1999 and we figured that it was good enough. It looked like there was a road that extended from San Marcos, one of the villages on the NW corner on the lake that would “T” into the main highway and would save us time to get to Chichi. The beginning of our ride was beautiful as we wove our way along the road making our way to San Marcos. We got lost in the second village we came to and rode back and forth along the streets trying to find the way out while little mayan women giggled at us as we did so. Finally we were forced to stop and ask how to get back on the main road. Once again our ride was beautiful, however just short of San Marcos the road turned to gravel/sand with huge ruts in it. Oh well, we were almost in San Marcos, so we continued on and the road became somewhat paved again and we stopped at a little stand and got a drink while asking where the road to the main highway was. We got our directions and were on our way. The road became not paved again and as we headed towards the little bridge we saw a local look at us and kind of laugh and shake his head. We didn’t think anything of it at the time, and carried on. We crossed the bridge and were back to the gravel/sand rutted road except it was more like small boulder/sand rutted road that began to climb. The road got progressively worse and we started to really climb to the point where we were doing switch backs every 100 yards, like full on Baja style.
We got to the point where I got off the bike and began hiking up while Mike tried to get the bike to stay out of the 1 foot ruts while trying to get the bike to climb. We were now well above the small village below and we still had a long way to go up, and we couldn’t see the end. I finally saw 2 young boys coming down on a bike a little smaller than ours and asked them how much further to the main road. They said it was about 20 minutes more, but that the road got worse, with huge boulders everywhere and steeper with deep sand. They got to Mike and just shook their head at him. Basically they told us that you can’t go up…only down! We were on a mountain access road that was not traversed by vehicles or bikes only by foot. However Mike was the determined guy we all know and took 3 runs at the same corner that was obviously too steep to traverse. By this point it was 10am and we were only about 10 miles from San Pedro. Now we had to get the bike turned around and get it back down. Mike did a pretty good job of manoeuvring the bike in the ruts, dodging the boulders and not going over the 1000 foot drop. Finally we got on less steep ground and were both able to get back on the bike. We crossed the bridge again and the same man laughed at us and shook his head at us again. We stopped at the same little stand and got another drink while the school children all gathered around the bike giggling at us as we drank our cokes. So we asked the little stand man where the real road was, and he said we had to back track back to the first little village where we had got lost. So off we went back tracking through the little village we had got lost in and made it through without problem and ended up on a nice paved road. The road was filled with switch backs that took you up up up, but was such a beautiful ride. The higher we got the more beautiful the view got. Finally we were on the main road to the highway that would take us to Chichi. We only got lost one more time on our way, but didn’t get to Chichi until 1:30pm.
The market was outstanding. I realized we should have been there hours before as it would be impossible to fit it all in, but we tried. Unfortunately I didn’t get nearly enough time to wander, but it was still successful. We didn’t want to be on the road when it was dark, so at 3:30 we had to pack it in and head home.
We didn’t get lost once on the way home and it only took us 1 ½ hours to get back to San Pedro. The whole thing was very comical and we had a good laugh about our mountain/motor biking over a beautiful cheap dinner that night.So we met some great people while in Lago Atitlan and had some very memorable times. We thoroughly enjoyed our time there. I had originally wanted to get to Todos Santos which is quite a bit further to the west, but we just couldn’t fit it all in with the time we had and if we had of tried we would have spent half the time travelling on a bus. So I concluded that we will have to return! We headed back to Antigua for another couple of days before returning to Meggie. We were getting anxious to get back to Megs and make sure everything was all right and of course it was. We spent the rest of our time in the Rio Dulce hanging out with a couple of cruisers, checking out Fronteras and the surrounding areas and getting the boat ready to head back to sea. We spent Mike’s birthday with 2 other couples from the marina and we headed to a really cool restaurant that we took Greg’s launcha through a narrow waterway to get to the restaurant that was lit up by candles in the middle of nowhere in the jungle. It was pretty cool and we enjoyed a wonderful Swiss meal (believe it or not).
So Mike celebrated in style including a winnie the pooh birthday cake (not much choice in Fronteras…it was either Pooh or a ballerina).
Meggie was anxious to get back to the sea, so we left the Rio Dulce after spending 1 month in this amazing country with the most beautiful and kind people.
We had a hard beat from Livingston (Guatemala) to Tres Punta where we would stage to head to Placencia, Belize the next day. We had a hard beat the next day to Placencia, but only the first part of the trip was uncomfortable as we were soon tucked behind the barrier reef. We moved quickly through Belize, but enjoyed anchoring on our own at some beautiful islands in behind the reef, and enjoyed eating the big Mackerel we caught along the way.It was a bit surreal to be close reaching along at 6 knots in 6-10 feet of water with no waves and lots of wind….very fun sailing! Pretty soon we were at the north end of Belize and ready to make the jump north to Mexico. We left San Pedro cut and headed for Hut Point just 40 miles south of Isla Mujeres. We did an overnighter that was our fastest sail to date. We did 180 nautical miles in 25 hours. That is averaging 7.3 knots!!! For those of you who don’t know what that means….it’s fast. The current was ripping between the mainland and Banco Chinchorro giving us our fastest sail. It was great.
We waited out a cold front in Hut Point, which is just an anchorage behind a reef, but it was a nice place to hang out for a couple of days before heading to Isla Mujeres. We had another hard beat to Isla and were really really glad when we arrived. We checked the weather as soon as we got here to see if we could move to Florida straight away or if we would have to check in and wait a bit. The weather held consistently NE and we knew we wouldn’t be able to go anywhere for at least a week, so my mom came to visit. She had her flight booked in a day! I think she was ready for a vacation. We had a great time and got to explore the island together which was lots of fun. We took her out for a sail which she loved and she steered Meggie most of the time, until we had to tack.

She got a taste of dealing with a cold front and stayed aboard during the windy cold conditions. We were sad to see her go, but not too sad as we’ll see her in a few months. In the meantime we were checking weather and realized we still couldn’t go anywhere so Mike’s dad and step mom came to visit! They too, had a great time. We again got to explore the island with them and enjoyed walking the entire length of Isla. We took them for a sail as well on Tony’s birthday, which was great. We really enjoyed our time with them and I’m pretty sure they will be back on their own someday.

The day they left a window opened up. We figured we could leave on Friday, but it was Friday 13th and sailors have a funny superstition about setting sail on a Friday let alone Friday 13th. So we figured we would leave on Saturday. We rushed around Thursday and rushed on Friday and then we stopped and said “Why are we rushing?” We didn’t feel quite ready to leave. It had been a busy couple of weeks and the boat wasn’t ready and to be honest I don’t think we’re ready to get to Florida and the mainland just yet.
Life as we have known it will be over once we get to the mainland, so what’s the rush? Anyway…we’re still anchored in beautiful Isla Mujeres, Mexico and will take the next weather window. We just want to linger in the Carib for just a bit longer! Can you blame us??
So….in a nutshell this is what has been happening. I tried to keep it short, and left out quite a bit, but I think you get the picture.
Pretty soon now, we’ll be back in North America and on our way north….yikes! I’ve just clued in to what a big adjustment it will be to be on land again and honestly am not sure I’m ready. But this was the inevitable and there is not much we can do about it. It will be a new chapter in our lives, but it might take a bit to readjust. More than anything, I can’t believe Meggie will be out of the water and still for 6 months…this makes me sad. However I believe more now than ever that we will head out again. I just read an article by a cruiser that has been all over the world and that we both really enjoy reading. In his article he talks about how devastating the financial crisis is, but it is essential that we don’t give up on our dreams. You might have to adjust your dream accordingly, but never give up on them. One quote in the article stuck with me and it is a very simple motto for life “Live while you’re alive”. Pretty simple. If you want to read the whole article, check it out in the February 2009 issue of Cruising World (also check out the article on p.84 by yours truly!).
Anyway, blah blah blah. Enough already.
I will write about Mexico next time, but for now….
Hasta Luego amigos
Kylie and Mike