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May 1 is always fun as it is Dana's birthday! The day started off with us having a breakfast at a restaurant of Dana's choice O in the village of San Pedro, Guatemala on Lake Atitlan. After breakfast, we took a panga across the lake to a nature reserve. The nature reserve has a Butterfly Farm as part of it and we were very excited to visit there. Inside the butterfly enclosure was a hawk O. He seemed nice at first, but then began attacking us! Really chasing us down and attacking. It was a case of him feeling threatened and us feeling threatened and it escalated from there. Mike ended up with some ankle and leg scrapes and after being trapped inside for a bit, (the hawk was guarding the entrance door) we finally made it out safe and sound. Not many folks can claim to have been attacked by a hawk! We returned to our home for the week O with a wonderful family in San Pedro while we attended another week of Spanish school. When they found out that it was Dana's birthday while we were there, they asked if we would like them to throw a fiesta for her. It was a big surprise, neither Dana or Fletcher knew anything about it. During the week, Mike and Nancy were scurrying through the small town to buy the pinata, cake, tamales and various other supplies for the party. When we returned to the house, Mike and Dana played games while Nancy decorated and helped to get everything ready O. Finally the time arrived and down came the birthday girl from our beautiful upstairs bedroom suite O. Boy, was she surprised! We started out with the cake O. The tradition in Guatemala is that the birthday person gets their face pushed into the cake. None of us were aware of this, so we sure were surprised, it was very funny O. If you grow up there, you know it is coming and the challenge for everyone else is to figure out how to get your face close enough to the cake to have them make contact. Dana really got it good since she had no idea it was coming O. After cake there was music and the pinata O before the presents were opened O. Notice the beautiful clothes that the women of the family wore O. Even the little five year old was beautifully dressed every morning.
After our week in San Pedro, we crossed the lake to the village of Panajachel where we spent the next 24 hours. This town is full of the Maya people who dress in the traditional clothing as their everyday attire O. It was the first place that we saw the men in traditional clothes also O. All of the textiles and bead work are just amazing O. We had a lot of fun looking in all of the shops and did buy a few things. Our whole time at the lake had been quite foggy and hazy and we had yet to see the beautiful views O. Lake Atitlan is said to be the most beautiful lake in the world, but we had not been able to see it. Finally, on our last morning, the haze lifted and we were able to see across the lake. It was indeed beautiful with several volcanoes surrounding the lake O, which is itself a filled in crater of a volcano. It is very deep, so the water is quite cool, similar to Lake Tahoe. While in Guatemala, we also saw a few movies to learn about the war experiences in the area. There are two that we would highly recommend, La Hija de la Puma (The Daughter of the Puma) and Voces Innocentes (Innocent Voices). These are both very good accounts of what it was like being a kid and teenager during the war years. We wanted the kids to have an understanding of what the people around us have gone through not that long ago. While watching these movies, we were pretty embarrassed to be from the USA! We would just kind of slink out of the theaters, it is amazing that these people like us at all. We spent one more night back in Antigua before taking a bus back across the border to El Salvador and making our way home.
When we got off the bus four hours later in San Salvador, we grabbed a quick lunch before getting a Taxi to take us back to the boat. We had the driver stop at a large market in the city so that we could stock up as the boat would be empty of fresh food when we returned. We love where we are, but provisioning is not the easiest here. When we returned to the boat, the animals were of course thrilled to see us after being left alone for a month O, but the boat was a mess. We spent plenty of time trying to get a months worth of pet hair out of the boat, it was May and they had been shedding quite a bit. Many people took advantage of us being gone and really enjoyed getting their animal fixes for the year. Hopper probably had more beach walks than he gets with us! We got all moved back into the boat and began catching up on the school subjects that we did not cover during our month away. The bay sure looked different when we got back. When we left there were about 14 boats and most of them were unoccupied, when we returned there were about 42 boats and most of them occupied O. What a change! We saw lots of familiar faces from the past year of cruising in Mexico and there were many kid boats now in the bay. Every afternoon when school is done, all of the kids and grown ups meet at the pool for happy hour and cooling off time. It is really fun and great for the kids to have so many neighbor kids to play with! The second night after our return, there was a huge freak storm with big, big winds and lots of lightening. One large boat broke free from its anchor and ran into another boat. The second boat's anchor held through the night with both boats linked together. It was raining so hard that even when the lightening lit up the sky it was difficult to see the end of your own boat, let alone see if there were any other boats headed towards you. Mike and Nancy were up most of the night. One boat got hit by lightening and lost all of their electronics. All of the locals said that it was very unusual and that they had never seen anything quite like it. The next couple of weeks brought more unseasonable and heavy rain and lightening almost every night. Yikes, if this is what rainy season is like, watch out!
Right after our return, Dana did her first ever radio net O. When you are in places with several boats, every morning there is a radio net where everyone checks in and says if there is anything that the other boaters need to know. There is a standard format which begins with asking for any emergency, medical or priority traffic and goes on to announcements, lost and found, trades, mail carriers, etc... We also talk about any special events or projects that the cruising community is having. Dana handled herself like a pro, nobody even knew that it was her first time. The next day, Fletcher stepped up and took the net. He had done it before, last year, and did a great job again. We had planned our return to be back in time for a local fellows wedding that we had been invited to. The wedding itself took place on another cruisers boat. After the ceremony, the family (and about 4 other cruisers that were invited) went back to the family home on an island right in front of where we are anchored. This was a very fun event, lots of food, kids playing, pinata bashing, toasts, and cake O. It was really very special that we had been invited as it was mostly locals from that island and the next island over. It was fun to get to know the locals on a bit of a more personal level and also to see how a local wedding is celebrated. One thing that we are really glad about, is that we got here a few weeks before the rest of this huge group of boaters. Arriving early enabled us to get to know some of the folks here a bit more closely. Now, there are so many boats, the locals are not going out of their way to really connect like they did when we first arrived. The advantage of having so many boats here, is that all of the kid boats are getting together and having group kid activities, like writing workshops for the kids O. We may also have an art workshop day with one of the cruisers who is an artist. This is really good for the kids and for the adults. It is great to have someone else teach the kids a bit also.
One of the other pastimes/entertainments for us is to watch boats coming into the bay. To get in, boats have to cross this sand bar with breaking waves all around. (We were very lucky when we crossed! We just scooted right in without any drama or excitement.) There is a two story palapa restaurant at the point about a 15 minute walk away where you can watch the action. About a dozen cruisers would go there when boats are coming in. Everyone brings their binoculars and radios to they can keep track of what is happening out there. Other folks go out into the channel in their dingies to help out if it is necessary. The spot that the boats anchor to wait for the best conditions for coming in is pretty far out. It is often very difficult to see where you should come in. There is a boater couple that has been here for 3 years that assist everyone else coming in. They tell you that, "you are the captain of your own ship", but they give you hints and try to guide you over the shifting, shallow bar. This year there are more boats that have come in than ever before, and there have been more boats that have had real problems crossing the bar. A few boats broached (got rolled sideways by a wave), one boat got swamped from behind, several boats had some pretty major damage, but they did all make it across and into the estuary safely and still afloat, albeit a big shaken up and the crew had some good bruises. The next event will be when boats start to leave here. For most boats, this will not be until the end of summer when the rains let up.
One day when we returned to the boat, it was full of bees on the inside. It took awhile to get them all out. On another day, as we approached the boat, a swarm of bees was just descending O. We managed to make them decide that Desiderata would not be a good place to settle in! Smoke and salt water were the deciding factors.
The next big excitement for May was Hurricane Adrian. One of the reasons that so many boats are here, is that this is a safe area for hurricanes. Historically, they just do not come here... We heard about the possibility of its approach a couple of days in advance. Nancy went and stocked up at the small local store with as much as she could stow. Everyone in the fleet began to make hurricane preparations, which means taking sails down O and clearing the decks. This is a full days work and fills the interior of the boat. Once our boat was close to ready, Mike began to prep the boats that did not have owners present. Everyone helped everyone else and now it was time to wait it out. The fleet also had organized a medical team, a communications team, and a logistics team in the event that we were in an area where there was extensive damage and injuries and that we were cut off from the rest of the world. One of the most stressful parts of this day was that there was still a boat outside that was disabled (a single hander with no engine, torn sails and broken and burnt hands) and had not been able to get in since the waves were large. He had been waiting for several days already and now with the added pressure of the coming hurricane, everyone was rooting for him to get in. Late in the afternoon, with the high tide, he was finally able to get in to safety. There was another boat out there that was trying to approach, he choose to go further south and outrun the storm, since we were in line for a direct hit. As evening approached, we all anxiously awaited the worst. We were all as prepared as we could be. One good thing that came out of it was that Nancy finally catalogued all of our on board medical supplies. We had gotten all of our medical kits out and ready in case we had to set up an emergency medical station on shore. Nancy figured that she had better get everything organized so that someone else could assess what we had and what they might be able to use. This has been on the list of things to do for about a year! On our boat, the whole front cabin... the kids room, was full of all of the stuff that we usually have on deck. We had taken the kayaks and surfboards to shore and stored them at a friends house. Mike wanted the kids and Nancy to go get a hotel room, but they refused to leave the boat and leave Mike alone. We hunkered down to wait out the storm. We had our Ham radio tuned in to the National Hurricane Center in Florida. They were doing increasingly frequent updates as the hurricane approached land. The course appeared to be steady and it was looking like the eye would hit land about 20 miles west of us. The problem with this information is that there is about a 40-50 mile variance for the accuracy of these predictions. Given this info, at any time it could have come right over us! It was pretty nerve wracking to say the least. As it got closer, we got one report that the airport, which is only 20 miles from us, had winds of 81mph. We were never sure if we were going to get it at any moment. The highest reported winds that we saw were about 46mph. The National Hurricane Center was very impressed with the fleet down here for their preparations and level headedness. We did get rains and wind, but nothing that much stronger than we had been having over the previous couple of weeks. The next day was beautiful, clear skies, quite anticlimactic. We all slowly came out of our boats and began to unpack and put the boat back together. We were all a bit loopy from lack of sleep and a build up of adrenaline in our bodies. By the time everything was done, the kids had camped out in the salon for three nights O. We kept a fairly normal schedule, doing school, cooking, and watching movies in the evening. Like the hurricane that threatened us last fall, this turned out to be a non-event, but again, was good practice in hurricane preparation.
One event had been postponed a few days because of the hurricane. That was a school event on one of the local islands. There is a big mothers day fiesta every year about this time, the whole month of May is dedicated to the mothers O. The cruisers had taken up a collection to help the school, and this day was to be the day that the goods were presented. On the rescheduled day, about 50 cruisers formed a flotilla for the 20 minute dingy ride over to this village of La Colorada. It turned out to be an all day event with lots of games, contests and food. The kids did talent shows for the moms and it was all around a very entertaining day O. All of the boat kids had a chance to play together and to play with the local kids. Some of the cruiser moms even got up on stage and competed with the local moms. It was a very fun community event. Next on the list for good deeds is a school that is on the island nearest the anchorage, Isla Cordoncilla. They need a whole new building built! This is the school that the kids will be attending for summer school to work on their Spanish skills. It is only 3 hours a day and they will get to know the local kids better.
As soon as we were cleaned up from the Hurricane, it was time to prepare for visitors the next week. Mike's sister, brother in law, nieces, and mom were scheduled to arrive in a few days. Once the Hurricane passed, it was really beautiful weather. We were worried that they would cancel because of the hurricane, but they didn't. The kids were so excited to see their cousins O. It is always great when they can get together. It was 5 full days of pool, beach, fun, and eating O. We could not keep the kids out of the water! What a surprise! We ended up with a townhouse that had a full kitchen, so we ate in the room about half of the time and even had a dinner party one night with another boat family that we love. Nancy made spaghetti for 14! We did some local excursions, nothing too far away. The biggest trip we did was an estuary excursion to the mouth of the Rio Lempa, one of Central Americas largest rivers. Along with this day is a stop at a very fun "stick" restaurant that we love. The family that has it is so wonderful and our kids really like their kids O. They just serve you what they are making that day, there is no menu and no taking orders. They fried up some just caught whole fish and some little shrimps. The kids dug right in O and even decided to gross each other out by all eating the eyeballs! They really got into it and surprised us all. After lunch the local girls offered to take all of our kids out in the local dugout canoes for a ride O. That was a real treat for them. We ended the day by going to a local pupusaria for dinner. This is the local food which costs about $ .35 each. Nancy and the kids will eat two for a meal, while Mike might eat five. Pupusas are a thick corn dough stuffed with cheese, beans and a bit of meat. They are served with a mild pickled cabbage and other vegetables on top and make a great, inexpensive and healthy meal. During this time, our favorite boat had to leave. They are on a time schedule and have decided to stop cruising for now. They also are a kid boat and have decided that home-schooling is just too difficult (a sentiment that Nancy shares). We accompanied them out to the mouth of the estuary which looked very calm and perfect for leaving. Right when they tried to cross, a set of waves came through and it turned out that it was shallower there than they had anticipated. They grounded themselves, turned sideways to the waves and had several heart-stopping minutes while the waves came on them and threatened to topple them over. Our hearts were in our throats as we heard and felt the waves slamming their boat into the bottom. They finally made it out and are headed farther south. Hopefully by the time that we leave, the swells will be flat and the channel will be deep! The next day was spent mostly at the pool and beach and then it was time to pack everything up. We enjoyed a nice sunset on the dock and had dinner in the room before the visitors 6am departure the next day. The last day of May, we said our goodbyes and got back to our normal schedule of school, only two more weeks left!
Please click to enlarge!
Miss Dana's Birthday: breakfast on the lake, Nature Reserve, Fiesta at our homestay with pinata (the upstairs room was ours), cake & presents!
Scenes from Lake Atitlan, Guatemala and heading home to El Salvador
Back at the boat: Hopper returns, beautiful sunset, Dana does the morning radio net, kids writing workshop at the pool, kids at a local wedding reception, swarmed by bees.
Desiderata's decks are cleared and prepared for Hurricane Adrian, the kids are both displaced to the salon as their rooms were packed to the ceiling with everything else from the deck!
Mothers Day fiesta at La Colorada school on Isla Tassajera, the cruisers make donations to the local schools.
The family arrives for a five day visit! The cousins have fun at the pool and beach, every night was a sleep over, lots of fun and interesting meals were shared, facials were popular with the girls.
The river trip: our panga and starting off with fresh coconuts on the way to a distant beach at the other end of the estuary, Diana, Carol and Mike at the beach, playing with the stick restaurant kids, another fun meal of fish and shrimp, the trail to the bathroom, Nancy has a siesta, a cayuca ride for the cousins. back to home page