Saturday, 27 August 2016

Honduras, Roatan (Christmas and New Years) 2016-01-03

We’ve been here for a month, and I've failed to update anybody on our whereabouts. Whoops.

It was pretty exciting when we arrived. As I was standing at the bow with the anchor in my hands about to drop it, somebody called us on the radio. We were really confused… how could we possibly know anybody here? It was Steve and Debbie on Delphinia! We went through the canal with them in Panama, and we were on our way to Rio Dulce to catch up with them. But they weren't in the Rio! They had just happened to turn on their chartplotter as we were coming in, and we showed up on their AIS. Yay! We were so happy to see them and their puppy, Libby.

Steve and Libby at the supermarket. She just sits there happily and nobody seems to care about letting her into stores or on buses when she's all bundled up like this

We’ve never seen a boat twice before! Everybody talks about running into the same people over and over again. In fact, while we were on our test sail when we were buying the boat, the previous owner saw somebody at the dock in NZ who she hadn't seen since the Caribbean. She rafted up alongside, jumped onto the other boat and completely forgot about us, laughing and hugging everybody onboard. That's never happened to us before, because we’re going in the opposite direction to everybody else. But now we’re on a normal route, between Panama and the USA. So hopefully this is just the beginning of us running into old friends!

The anchorage and marina here are on an island called Fantasy Island, which is mostly mostly a resort. Awesome. It's connected to the rest of Roatan via a dodgy looking bridge, and the anchorage area is on the opposite side of the island to the hotel and resort section. They don't want scruffy anchor people mingling with their resort guests, so unless you pay for the dock you can't access their wifi, pool, beaches or shower facilities. So lame. But they have built a little cruisers area on the corner of the island closest to the anchorage, which is all you really need. There's a little Tiki Palapa that's been turned into a bar and run by the dockmaster, Aussie Pete. He's ridiculously fun, and one of the reasons we’re still here. Every night is a party. The beer is cheap, the music is loud and the company is good. He even has a dance pole up in the corner, and among his other bar toys are a limbo stick and a ring toss kind of game with a weight on a string. The whole place is just a lot of fun.

Sunset from the Palapa


It's also completely overrun with animals. A lot of the island has been taken over by the resort, but the rest of it is all trees and forest. Chickens, roosters and peacocks roam the grounds like they own the place. Which i guess they kind of do. Huge ravens circle the rubbish pile around the back, feasting on rats and scraps. Iguanas, both giant and small, are always either underfoot or clinging to the trees above your head. Little lizards run around on their hind legs, almost hopping from place to place. Agoutis (which the locals call Watusas) run around absolutely everywhere, scampering up the dirt banks, chasing each other and just generally making a nuisance of themselves. There's hummingbirds hovering around all the flowers, which is really cool. And there's monkeys. Three capuchin monkeys occupy the island, which of course Garth is delighted with.

An agouti (we think!)

Hummingbirds (Debbie put this feeder out, which the monkeys quickly destroyed).

There's a baby and two adults, and they're the cheekiest things ever. We can't really play with them much, because we’re not allowed in the hotel lobby where they like to hang out amongst the many tourists (who have many pockets to steal things from). But they occasionally come to the Tiki Palapa, and we absolutely love playing with them. The baby is called cheeky, and he’ll jump right on your shoulders and hug your neck. He's so precious. Debbie and Steve are on the dock in front of the Palapa, so they have been letting us know when the monkeys are visiting. They’ve even been nice enough to keep the crazy critters occupied while we jump on the dinghy and come to shore for some monkey time.

Aussie Pete is not their friend. They get into the Tiki Palapa (it IS just an open hut with a palm frond roof) and they steal everything. Cups, shot glasses, books, ashtrays… anything they can get their hands on. Unfortunately their most frustrating loot are the Deet spray cans. We need them because the mosquitos and noseeums are relentless here, mostly because of all the mangroves around the island. But they're also expensive. So they constantly steal the spray cans from the bar and Pete has to constantly buy more. Not a fun game for him. As a result of their thievery, they are not welcome in the Tiki Palapa, so we don't see them very often.

We’ve really been enjoying ourselves at Fantasy island. A vege truck comes to the Palapa every Monday loaded up with fresh vegetables. They're cheap too! I usually struggle to carry them all and I spend about $20USD a week (my haul always includes two big pineapples, which are the most expensive things at $2 each). On Tuesday Pete organises for the supermarket to send a bus for us and we all pile on and get a free trip to replenish our stocks. It's not just down the road, so the alternative is a taxi. We hate paying for taxis, so it's really awesome having them pick us up! We’ve never been able to buy heavy things easily anywhere else on our whole trip - there's always a lot of careful consideration about what goes into the trolley vs what we can carry. Here we can get whatever we want, because the bus driver loads it in at the supermarket and unloads it right into the Tiki Palapa, which is where our dinghy is parked. The supermarket is super exciting as well - there's a lot of awesome American things, plus long lost lovers like baby spinach, feta cheese and flavoured hummus. Add that to all the fresh veges and we’re loving the food here!

That one time there were too many people to fit both us and our groceries on the bus and they had to send a truck as well… Debbie didn't seem to mind!

Speaking of good food, the activity on Wednesday here is a BBQ. Pete has a huge grill, which he fires up on Wednesday evenings and everybody brings along something to chuck on it for dinner. We’ve been getting pork chops (they're the only thing that's affordable so with all the cheap veges here, BBQ night is the only time we get meat). We usually stick some garlic and butter on potatoes and wrap them up in foil, and they go on the grill as well. Add a big salad to the mix, and BBQ night is definitely our favourite night of the week! We’ve come a long way from sitting on the beach scraping jelly out of coconuts for dinner in French Polynesia.

The town here is interesting, to say the least. It's really far away, so it's maybe a 40 minute bus ride. The Tika Bus is an adventure in itself - it's a 12 seat van, which is never ever full. But it's never full in that there is always room for more. I think on one trip into town with Debbie and Steve we had 21 people and a dog crammed in there somehow. There was definitely no space to move, let alone breathe.

The Tiki bus into town. It was impossible to take a picture that showed how crowded it was!

The middle of town is a combination of a bustling tourist hub and a nice village in a poorer country. There's cruise ships and tourist shops everywhere, but then you round a corner and there's dirt all over the street, with boxes of fruit being sold on the side of the road and the occasional stray dog wandering around between locals eating at crumbling fly - ridden food stalls. There's a shiny frozen yoghurt store next door to a little shop operating out of somebody's basement, which looks like the contents of a yard sale.

Whatever it is, it's full of character. There aren't actually any ‘stores’ here. If you want a new shirt, you're out of luck. Everything is second hand. The clothes stores are either tiny shops on the side of the road with lots of random second hand things, or bigger department store versions of the same thing. Our favourite one is not far from Fantasy Island. It's absolutely massive and everything is pre-owned. I went to a huge Goodwill store in Hawaii which was really impressive (for any Americans reading this, visiting iconic places like Walmart and Goodwill is exciting for us!). This place is bigger and better. It's mostly clothes, but there's huge sections with things like shoes and homewares. You can buy a whole new wardrobe for $20, which is freaking awesome. We’ve been to a lot of countries with no second hand stores, and I wish more of the world was more like this, where nothing is thrown away.

So we have everything we need here, and we’ve just been chilling out and enjoying life. We were planning on heading over to Rio Dulce just before or after Christmas, but then we found out that you can only get in once a month. I had no idea. The river isn’t very deep, so you have to go in at high tide during a full moon to clear the bottom. That means once you get through, you’re stuck there for a whole month. We thought this information was just coming from scared cruisers afraid of everything, because other people have told us that if we were to take their chartplotter tracks and follow them carefully we don’t need to wait for the Spring Tide. But they have less draft on their boats. We had friends who tried to go in following these mystical tracks, and they got stuck immediately. Then you have to pay for boats to come out and tie ropes to your mast, heeling the boat over enough so you can fit through the shallow water. Debbie and Steve had to do this and they ended up with the boat half full of water when their helper boats gunned the throttle. Not fun.

We decided we didn’t want to get stuck there for a month. Or not this month at least… we weren’t ready to leave Roatan so soon! So we stayed for Christmas and New Years, both of which were a lot of fun. Aussie Pete organised Christmas breakfast at the Palapa, which was a bit of a Pot Luck and a bit of him cooking everybody bacon and sausages on the grill. Garth made up some pancakes and there were Buck Fizz’s being passed around (champagne and orange juice), so it was a really lovely way to spend Christmas. I’m not sure how the American’s do Christmas Breakfast, but sausages on the barbie definitely reminded me of home.

Debbie and the Christmas pup

Debbie, Pete and Steve, along with an empty glass of buck fizz

We had a Pot Luck for dinner, and pretty much all the cruisers on the island rocked up for that. There were a lot of American influences in Panama, but even more so in Roatan. I’m not sure if it’s because Honduras is getting closer to the USA, or just because a lot of people here are American. Either way, its different. And one thing the American cruisers seem to love is Pot Luck. I don’t think I’ve ever even been to one before we got to Panama. In Australia and New Zealand we definitely have a lot of BBQ’s where everybody brings something, but it’s more like ‘we need more potato salad, can you bring some?’ rather than ‘everybody bring something random for us to eat.’

The Christmas dinner went really well though. Debbie roasted an amazing Turkey, Pete cooked up some really delicious beef (as well as the most amazing roast carrots I’ve ever had, which have now become part of our regular meal plan), and Garth managed to convince Steve and Debbie to let him borrow their oven and electric mixer. After last year’s failure, he was determined to make a good pavlova this year. They even have berries for sale here, which sealed the deal. Add a billion other delicious things to the table, and we ate like kings.

New Year’s eve wasn’t quite as exciting as Christmas. Cruiser’s midnight came and went (10pm), and so did all the people. Hardly anybody stuck around to see in the new year! We had a lot of fun in the Palapa, and then we wandered along to the resort beach to watch their fireworks at midnight. Nothing eventful happened, but we had a good time and made it through another year on the water. It was a lot different to last year’s festivities on Huahine with Mark, Liesbet, Rachael and Patrick. We stockpiled happy hour cocktails early on and then we were the first to leave the local bar just after midnight, when everybody else was just getting started. This time there were no locals, so we were the last ones to bed. Cruisers do not stay up late.

There’s one more thing I want to mention, mostly just because I have cool pictures. Among other things, there’s an Iguana farm next to the anchorage here. They let cruisers in for free (I think it’s aimed at the Cruise Ship people, who probably pay a lot). We dinghied over with our friends Rebecca and John and their daughter Zoey. There were iguanas absolutely everywhere. Like, everywhere. There were piles and piles of them underfoot. Most of them were huge and brightly coloured. I think they like the cruisers to visit because we’re encouraged to bring food scraps for them to eat, so I guess that’s less food the people running it have to scrounge up. I don’t normally support zoo-like places, but these iguanas are all over the island anyway… I guess they’ve just let them breed like crazy and started feeding them in the same place every day, because there were definitely no fences or cages for the lizards. They did have a big cage set up for the really little babies, but that was probably just so the tiny things didn't get trodden on or eaten.

They had a spider monkey as well as a few cappuchin monkeys in a cage though, which made me sad thinking about our free-roaming friends back on Fantasy Island. But I do know that a few years ago Fantasy Island was overrun with cappuchin’s and they were absolute terrors. Three of them are managable, even though there’s still just enough of them to gang up on you and raid your bags and pockets. But there used to be a lot and they had to take most of them away because the boats and hotel guests were being terrorized. A group of them can do a lot of damage, and can get quite vicious. I don't think they’re native to the island (although I might be wrong… maybe they live on the mainland), so I guess they had to cage the extras. Which is sad, but probably better than having them destroy the local ecology.

I don’t like pictures of caged monkeys, but here’s some more of tiny dinosaurs.

Xxx Monique

Click here for LOTS more pictures!

Panama to Roatan passage: 2015-11-27 to 2015-12-06

We made it to Roatan… but the passage here really sucked. Definitely not the worst one ever, but if it had continued in the same way for another week it would have been a close contender for that horrible award.

The anchorage next to Fantasy Island in Roatan

We thought it would take us about a week and everybody we talked to said it would be 3 or 4 days, no problem. So when we left Panama my mindset went from preparation mode to being a bit blase’ about the whole thing… 3 or 4 days was nothing.

It was not nothing.

As we were leaving Colon, motoring out through the entrance with big rock walls on either side, the engine stopped again. In almost the same spot it stopped when we came back from the San Blas. The bits of silicone in our fuel tank attack yet again. Garth was adamant that he pumped them all out when we were at the marina, but some of them obviously decided to stick around. The rock walls were rapidly approaching and we were completely surrounded by huge cargo ships either going towards or waiting to go towards the canal. I don't think you're supposed to have your sails up anywhere near the entrance to Colon, but we nobody cared when we sailed in last time. So we popped the sails up once again and sailed away from Panama. The seas were rough, so Garth decided not to even bother fixing the engine. It could wait until things calmed down in a few days. So we didn't leave on a good note and should have taken it as a bad sign... leaving on a passage with no secondary means of propulsion is not a good idea. When everything goes to shit if you don't have a reliable engine, you're screwed.

Things didn't all go to shit, luckily, but we didn't have a fun time. The wind was good for the first day and then it swung around earlier than it was supposed to. Which left us sailing straight upwind. We tacked back and forth for days, until the wind finally died down and we were left drifting on flat seas. That at least gave us time to fix the engine. But the wind eventually came back and it came back strong. We had about 30-35 knots for the rest of our trip, still on the nose. The last time we had strong, steady wind like that was In New Zealand. It felt just like home. Cold, wet, windswept home. It was actually sunny and windy at the same time for once and we would have been flying along if we had been downwind. But we were not. We had to tack every few hours to avoid reefs and islands, which doesn't sound like a big deal. But after a few days of constantly changing direction, we got really sick of it. I don't think we’ve ever had to tack so often in this boat. Like ever.

The one bright spot on this shitty passage was these guys.

I was watching this boat off in the distance when it changed direction and headed towards us, just as we were passing through the border to Honduras. Completely overloaded with people, thoughts of pirates definitely crossed my mind. But as they pulled up alongside us it was obvious that they were just out having fun. With a bbq going and music pumping, every single person on board was screaming and waving, trying to talk to us in Spanish. When it became obvious that we couldn't say much in their language (“I want five pineapples please”), they all took off their shirts and started waving them over their heads like a group of rowdy Honduran strippers, before turning around and continuing on their way. Oh Central America, you crazy mofo.

So after we spent a few days beating into strong winds and avoiding hordes of excitable young men, the weather turned bad and the wind got even stronger. There was torrential rain for a day or two and the boat was balanced on a frightening angle. I'm so sick of weather. We finally arrived at Roatan after dark with maybe 35 knots of wind blowing the spray straight into our faces and down our jackets, just in case we weren't wet enough from the torrential rain. So after nine days into our four day passage, we tacked back and forth in front of Roatan all night. Like a pair of tired, cold drowned rats. In the morning the rain still hadn't let up and we couldn't see a thing, so we just kept pacing back and forth in front of the entrance like vultures waiting to attack. We weren't sure if our charts were accurate or if the channel would be well marked, so we just waited. And waited. I found a book on Central America that somebody had given us, which had hand drawn charts for Roatan. They were pretty close to our Navionics charts, which was reassuring. The book said that the water was clear and to just follow the edge of the reef in, and it pointed out two sand banks to look out for. It said they would would be very easy to see. Awesome.

At around 11 am the rain finally stopped and was replaced with occasional drizzle, so we stopped pacing and headed in. I stood on the bow to watch for the reef, but the water was brown. Not just a bit murky, but a thick sludgy brown colour. We couldn't see a thing. A huge branch went past, and all we could see was the bit sticking out of the water. We weren't going to see any sandbanks or reefs in this water.

As we rounded the corner, the first thing we saw was a little sailboat stuck on the reef. There were boats all around him trying to help, with two big launches trying to pull him off. The boat was almost on it's side, and the poor guy onboard looked exhausted as he hauled on ropes. We later found out that he'd been there all night while we were sailing back and forth in the rain. He'd tried to come in at night, got stuck on the reef and had been calling on channel 16. Nobody was monitoring it, because everybody chats on a different channel. So he had been there out in the wind and rain for a really long time while his boat got more and more beaten up, smashing down on the reef over and over again as each wave went past.

I've never been so grateful for having to sit in the rain before… at least we were sailing and not getting smashed on a reef. It was enough to bring tears to my eyes for this poor solo sailor who had just wanted to get out of the rain. At least that was a lesson we didn't have to learn for ourselves… always wait until you can see where you’re going.

Xxx Monique

Our anchorage a few days after the rain cleared up