Pictures/Journal - page 30

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   Belize   (Feb. '08)
   Bay Islands of Honduras  (Roatán, Guanaja)   (March - May '08)
♦   Passage South from Honduras to Panama  (Trujillo, Vivarillos, Isla Providencia, Albuquerque Cays, Bocas del Toro Panama)   (May - June '08)



BELIZE, February 2008:  After leaving the Rio Dulce river in Guatemala (with a relatively stress-free bar exam), we hung out in Placencia, a favorite of cruisers, for a month.  We arrived on Valentines Day, which gave us 2 days to buy and eat fresh lobster before the season closed, and so we did!  It's easy to get "stuck" here, but we did check out some new cays - Wippari Cay and South Water Cay.  We had planned on stopping at Belize's offshore atoll Glovers Reef, but forecasted strong north winds and equally unpleasant seas over the next several days told us we'd better get to Roatán while things were still rather calm.  An overnight passage put us into French Cay on Roatán, one of the Bay Islands of Honduras. 


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The BAY ISLANDS OF HONDURAS  consist of 3 islands lying to the north of mainland Honduras: West to east they are Utila, Roatán and Guanaja.  Each is very unique:  Roatán is a world-class but very affordable dive haven and tourist destination; flat and almost desolate Utila with its good diving but less amenities appeals more to the budget-minded backpacker; and Guanaja, isolated and off the beaten path, is in it's own world, with basically only boat and foot traffic.

While Honduras is a Spanish speaking country, a large percentage of the inhabitants of the Bay Islands speak English and Spanish.  English was brought here by Grand Cayman settlers.  Also, the majority of the population is Seventh Day Adventist, which means that businesses (including stores, restaurants/ bars) are closed on Saturday.  Makes it tough on the tourist!

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We may have to spend some extra time in Roatán collecting all our royalties! 

When we cleared in to Roatán, the port captain gave us, as a matter of routine, a brochure promoting the use of mooring balls at Sandy Bay.  And there is ARGO front and center on the cover!  Oddly enough, we'd never been to Sandy Bay and have never used a mooring ball in Roatán.  Upon further inspection, we recognize the anchorage as being French Cay, and a fake-looking mooring ball has been superimposed in front of ARGO!

A couple of weeks later, we run into ex-cruisers who now live and work in Roatán.  They hand us their business brochure, and there's a photo of us as "very satisfied customers"! 

And lastly, ARGO's  bow provided the setting for a vacationing couple to renew their wedding vows.  We rounded up our crazy cruising friends in Jonesville, hit the 2 floating bars and I know provided the "newly weds" with  indelible lasting memories!

ROATAN, HONDURAS,      March, April 2008:   We spent a couple of months in Roatán last year - and loved it.  So far, we've been in French Cay, and anchored in the "lagoon" (top center of picture on left) for the northers that still pass through. The Fantasy Island Dive Resort is right here, and we are able to use their beaches, pool and common areas, wifi internet and bar.  A dinghy ride, or taxi ride, puts us at French Harbor settlement for excellent grocery shopping, fuel, great pizza and more.  Life is good and easy here, so we are taking advantage of this great anchorage.

We have also spent some time in Jonesville / Bodden Bight again.  This community is accessible only by water and spans several bights (harbors).  Commuting done by dinghy, lancha and water taxis are either through broad deep canals (also used by large shrimping/ fishing boats) bordered with stilted houses over the water, or through narrower and shallower canals lined with thick mangroves.

Updates on Roatán since last year:  Electricity, or rather the lack thereof, has become a really big problem for Roatán.  This time, we've met quite a few business owners whose businesses are compromised because of unreliable/inadequate power.  Everyone from the enterprising young man doing our laundry, to the lady who makes bread and pastries, to the shop owner catering to tourists (i.e., big cruise ships) and on and on, are complaining openly.  Our heart goes out to all these people trying to make an honest living - but governmental "circumstances" get in their way.  The latest is that an American has bought the electric company here.

Roatán is a big tourist destination, especially for outdoorsy and water-sport adventurers.  The island (Roatán) has three canopy zip lines (those things where you go buzzing through the tree tops on a cable).  A few days ago a zip cable broke, sending a young woman to her death.  The initial story blamed one thing, but from an inside source we were told that a cruise ship company refused to go along with the cover-up, so the truth is now out - at least in the inner circles.  All zip line companies have closed temporarily and all are now installing double cables.  Probably the best QC method, however, is to send the owner zipping down his own line first thing each morning!



During our 2 years in Central America, we have seen many cultural differences.  One difference that still confounds the foreign traveler is the way that the general population is not taught to think beyond the present.  The following vignettes are true examples of what we have experienced.

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An ex-pat living in Roatán asked a grocery store owner to order a product he knew others also wanted.  The owner bought 2 cases, 24 units in each, of a product and put them on the shelf.  Word got around quickly and within a day or two it was completely sold out. 

  Ex-pat:   "Wow, this item really sold out fast!"

  Owner:   "Yeah, I'll never buy that product again," he said grumbling

  Ex-pat:   "Why not?"

  Owner:   "Because it sold out too fast.  It's too much trouble to keep it in stock."

-  -  -

A well-established ex-pat Business Woman (BW) in Antigua, Guatemala, asked her assistant to book a hotel room for her.   Days later when she followed up with her assistant about the reservation, she was informed that the hotel was full.      

  BW:    "Did you book me a room at another hotel?"

  Asst:   "No.  You didn't tell me to."

  BW:     "Then, why didn't you tell me the hotel was full?"

  Asst:   "Because you didn't tell me to tell you if the hotel was full."

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One of the best grocery stores in Roatán (lots of American brands and variety) prides itself on it's 'cereal' aisle, which I must admit is colorful and always meticulously fully stocked.  The reason:  They sell very little cereal, thus very little attention and maintenance is required!  (Be sure to check those expiration dates!)


Soon we will be moving on to the eastern-most Bay Island of Guanaja.  There, we will stage and wait for weather before making our way south to Panama.  There are several islands on the way, so we'll be able to hop down doing a few overnight passages.  Our first destination in Panama will be Bocas del Toro.

For more pictures and update on the Bay Islands of Honduras, see our update from Spring 2007 on Pictures/Journal page 24.

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GUANAJA, HONDURASMay 2008:  Guanaja, the eastern-most Bay Island, is almost off the radar.  There is little commercial transportation (airport, ferry) to this island and thus hardly any tourist traffic.  About the only visitors are cruisers, the majority of who, like us, are staging here waiting for favorable weather in heading to, or coming from, Panama and Colombia.

Guanaja is surrounded by reefs.  It is a hilly island (highest point 1,600 ft.), 11 miles long by 4 miles wide, with a total population of about 10,000.  Because of expected high east-southeast winds, we made our initial landfall on the northwest side of the island at Michael Rock.  We are anchored inside of the long reef, tucked behind the hills and big rock.  We see sand beaches and turquoise water scattered all around us.  In this area, there are a few secluded houses, a handful of Honduran weekend visitors to the beaches, and lanchas (private and water taxis) making daily trips through the intra-island canal. 

The main settlement, Bonacca town (aka "the Settlement"), is a tiny cay (island) of less than 100 acres, crammed with 8,000 people.  It is accessible only by boat.  The town is a maze of narrow concrete pedestrian sidewalks and small-boat canals bordered by 2- and 3-story buildings, mostly built on stilts over the water.  (Supposedly the stilted architecture was to keep the sand fleas at bay.)  There are no motorized vehicles on this cay.  While this is a funky place, visions of Venice should not come to mind.  We dinghy here to do our grocery shopping (the supply boat comes over from mainland Honduras every Thursday with fresh produce), buy fuel, use the internet and mingle with cruisers.  By dinghy, it takes us about 20 minutes to get through the intra-island canal to Bonacca town.


We pull our dinghy right up to this small fuel dock and easily fill our dinghy fuel tank and spare can.  The one pump handle is for the gasoline.  The other pump handle is for the oil -  the calibrated scale on the wall shows how much oil you've used - the owner supposedly has a patent on this device.


There are 2 much smaller settlements on the main island of Guanaja - one on the northeast side and one on the southeast side.  Through the center of the island, a wide but shallow canal cuts through, making access between the north and south sides easy - otherwise, a lancha or dinghy would have to go way around the island outside of the protection of the reefs.   However, until very recently, the ONLY way around Guanaja was by boat (private or water taxis) or by foot.  Now there are a handful of cars and 1 short, but very nice (why?) concrete, road connecting the 2 settlements.  Added very recently, a "bus"  - a small flatbed truck with plank-board seating and vinyl canopy -  now travels this road.  Several of us cruisers took off for a spontaneous hour walk on the beach, and 6 hours later returned after hiking to these 2 island settlements, used the bus and checked out the local bars' cold beers (why do they always put on C&W music when we walk in???) along the way.

Christopher Columbus discovered Guanaja on his fourth voyage to the New World and named it Pine Island for all the Caribbean pine trees that thickly covered this hilly island.  However, in 1998 Hurricane Mitch was a direct hit here denuding and destroying most of the pine trees, and rearranging cays and reefs.  Today, we see the green hills dotted with very tall, dead pine tree poles.  The lower vegetation has filled in nicely in many areas, though.  The outer structures of Bonacca town collapsed inward protecting the central part.  Since the days of Columbus, Guanaja has been known as having the naturally freshest and purist water in most of the Caribbean.




May - June, 2008:  For some reason, high winds plagued Guanaja (and only Guanaja!) for 3 weeks straight, keeping us held up at Michael Rock - which isn't really a bad thing - except as June creeps closer so do the tropical waves, depressions and eventually hurricanes.  We needed to start south soon.  With even higher winds predicted (over Guanaja) in the days ahead, we decided to make a perfect day sail south to mainland Honduras where we could stage for the expected roughest part of our trip to Panama.  The map below shows our route and stopovers from the Rio Dulce, Guatemala to Panama.


TRUJILLO is located on the north central coast of mainland Honduras, and is the last "civilized" port before heading south.  (Stopping on the coast prior to Panama is NOT a recommended option, as Nicaraguan coastal waters are not safe and Costa Rica does not have any suitable anchorages.)  Trujillo is located at the end of a huge, deep bay (10 miles x 4 miles) and used to be a nice vacation destination until a hurricane wiped it out.  Today, it's a nice little town, with bits of historical remembrances of Christopher Columbus (we're beginning to wonder if there is any place down here that Chris did NOT land???), the Spaniards and pirates.  Even William Walker, the American mercenary who eventually proclaimed himself president of Central America, made it here where he was finally executed in 1860 and buried - right here in Trujillo.  We anchored off Casa Kiwi, a nice little bungalow, restaurant & bar located near absolutely nothing.  But the New Zealand-born owner is very accommodating and took our group into Trujillo, as well as hosting good happy hours, while we waited for our next weather window. 



Most cruisers wisely will not enter an unknown anchorage in the dark, which includes us.  (We adjust boat speed or lay off until daylight.)  But on this trip, we did it TWO times - Yikes!  Having said that, in both cases, a boat from our group had made it in before dark, so they were able to guide the other boats in by radio and their boat lights.

It can be very surreal and disorienting to approach in the dark, especially when there is no land visible - you have to rely on your charts (some made in the 1800's!) and instruments (kind of like flying on instruments only).  Now consider having charts that are not accurate - which is the case for this area - and then you're really screwed.

We entered the Vivarillos in pitch dark - 3/4 of it surrounded by reefs, no civilization or lights, no moon light (thick cloud cover), and the cays not visible (heck, you can barely see them in the daylight!).

Although Providencia has channel markers, they did not correspond to the chart or waypoints that we had (it appeared we would have ended up on land following it).  With conflicting information, we turned back out to sea, consulted with friends already in, and found our way in totally ignoring the chart and using only the channel markers (which was then easy).

"GOIN' 'ROUND THE CORNER" is the worst part of heading south to Panama, that is, getting around Honduras' northeast coast, and at this time of the year usually means bashing head on into east winds and kicked up seas.  So picking a couple of days of lighter winds, or north winds if you're lucky, is most desirable.  There were five other boats waiting with us and we all left together for the approximate 40-hour trip.  In hind sight, we should have waited another day, but we all decided to go for it.  A tropical wave, spawned off a tropical storm, became a lot more than predicted and went right over our heads.  Punching through stout seas with strong winds on the nose made for a very slow and uncomfortable trip.  As such, we had to tack back and forth while motorsailing (motoring with sails up at an angle to the wind to lessen the impact).  In between white-out rain showers during daylight, we spotted a water spout (tornado over water) coming up behind us - and not that far away.  It was close enough for us to see the sea water being sucked up into its vortex.  We immediately took down our sails and started securing things in the cockpit when it thankfully dissipated.  (I kick myself now, but I opted to assist with taking down the sails first instead of getting my camera and taking a picture of the water spout - it would have been an awesome picture - but safety first!)  Although we had originally planned on making a stop at the aquarium-like reef- and coral-strewned Hobbies, the slow trip (at least 200 nm with all our tacking in 38 hours) was going to put most of us in after dark, so we changed course to the Vivarillos, a short distance away.  Although it is partially surrounded by reefs, it is a more straightforward approach.  See box "Nighttime Approaches".


VIVARILLOS is made up of two very small cays (and shallow banks) in the middle of nowhere off Honduras' southeast coast.  This area is known for diving, snorkeling and spear fishing, but with overcast, rainy skies, and some kind of boat repairs to be done by  everybody (we only had a couple of very minor things to do), we didn't venture off the boat to explore.  (We also didn't want to have to launch the dinghy, which we carry on the foredeck for open passages, with the outboard on the stern rail, for just a quick jaunt.  It takes a little less than an hour to launch and at least an hour to prepare it for passage making.)  After 2 days here, our next weather window (aimed at being able to sail, instead of motorsailing) appeared.  Six boats had left Trujillo together, one of which had to turn back due to engine problems.  The remaining four (and sometimes the fifth) stayed together until we reached Panama.  Traveling with a group like this makes it fun, gives you others to discuss weather and boat issues with, and provides a measure of security.  It was also an international group: Another Texas boat (down here, Texas is considered a country), Australian/Croatian, Brits and French/French Canadian.


ISLA PROVIDENCIA, located 150 miles off the coast of Nicaragua but belonging to Colombia, was our next stop after covering 210 nm in 34 hours - it was a good sail - entering the harbor after dark.  See box "Nighttime Approaches".  This scenic anchorage is surrounded by two green, hilly islands connected by a brightly-painted footbridge.  Providencia is a very neat (nicely maintained scenic walkways), clean (trash receptacles widely used) and colorful (all over) French-feeling island, reminiscent of the small French islands of The Saintes, Guadeloupe, in the eastern Caribbean (minus the fresh baguettes).  There are about 5,000, mostly English-speaking, inhabitants.  Life is good here, people extremely friendly and helpful, and absolutely no security problems.  This island will hopefully retain its charming character, as mainland Colombians and foreigners are not allowed to own land on this island.  Our group rented motorscooters (people drive in a civilized manner here, most using motorscooters) and explored the island (4 miles x 3 miles), and had several great dinners out. 

Her mom is a hair dresser

A very blue lizard .  .  .  and a very artistic one

Group dinner at Bamboo

This "Wanted" poster for Colombian terrorists was in the immigration office; top reward is US$2.7 million

School kids on a field trip of sorts

Bees would come to all our boats with bits of green leaves, and build nests in the winches, towels, etc.

Too many beers for Deb .  .  .  but Steve manages to focus the camera on  .  .  .

After a week we decided we should head on (it's now approaching mid June), although we all would have loved to stay much longer.  We left Providencia at dusk and arrived mid morning the next day in Albuquerque Cays, 80 nm away, just as the sun was moving overhead.


ALBUQUERQUE CAYS is one of those places that should be a panoramic or aerial shot on a picture postcard.  Out in the middle of nowhere (see above map), there are these two small islands, both thick with palm trees and surrounded by extensive reefs and coral heads (that's why we needed the good sunlight overhead to enter) and light turquoise waters.  One island is a fishing camp and the other island is an outpost for the Colombian army.  The latter is made up of about 20 young men who do their 30-day rotation here.  At lunch and in the afternoon, we'd see them playing in the water or swimming out to our boats to visit.  We were also paid a routine visit by the Colombian Coast Guard (they actually own a boat - not always the case in some countries!) who occasionally patrols the area (they're based out of Providencia).  We've been through this enough times in other countries that we know what to expect.  Here, we are boarded by a couple of the cute young men, who are very nice and polite and speak English, who want to see if everything is OK and check our papers.  After some small talk, they head out to the next boat.  We four boats (the French stayed behind in Providencia) are the only boats here.  One evening we have a beach bonfire and dinner with fish that some of the guys speared that day. 


Squid:  They change colors (camouflage) in seconds
Spotted Trunkfish(s) Hundreds of Blue Tang and Doctorfish   Unusual coral; Queen Angelfish at bottom Large Ocean Triggerfish

We all wanted to spend more time here, but once again, the weather forecast told us that the time had come to move on.  The Australians, sounding in their dinghy, had found a shortcut through the reefs that we all used the next day - but we waited until mid morning to leave when the sun was high enough and the underwater features were clearly visible.  It was a pleasant overnight sail with perfect winds until they died the next day close to Panama (which is typical), and after 30 hours we arrived at Bocas del Toro, Panama  .  .  .


Continue to Panama  .  .  .


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