We all overdosed on surf, like crack addicts to the rock. The south swells that are all hype on Surfline and wetSand back home, where they claim the standout spots will be head-high to overhead, but usually a let down, are the real deal down here. Soon as one swell starts dying and you think your body is going to finally get a rest, a new swell starts filling in and you’re back out there, but you grow pickier and what was once looking fun and rippable, now appears like we need to wait an hour or so, for the tide to fill in and the wave to start barreling on the ledge. But, don’t think I’m complaining for a second, there is so much living to do down here its unreal and we’re trying our best to live every second to the fullest and are just soaking it all in, like a Sea Lion basking in the warm sun.
The world seems to grow smaller by the day (too bad that really isn’t true, we still do have to sail 3,000 miles to our next port Hiva Oa), Daniel a solo sailor from the Czech Republic I met in St. Maarten, at the Soggy Dollar Bar, standing away from the action and overly loud music, like myself and looking substantially more interesting a character to converse with, than the throngs of gyrating, drunkards on the dance floor, pulled up to our current port/home of the world. Just like us, everything on a boat takes three times longer to complete than expected and he was not able to get his vessel ready for a passage down the Brazilian coast of South America for a solo passage, westward around Cape Horn. Hurricane season closed in on him and he was forced to head our way, hoping to make New Zealand by the start of their cyclone season and then head into the Southern Ocean with his sturdy, steel hulled boat, for a passage eastward around feared Cape Horn. It was fantastic to bump into such an interesting individual again and we all swapped stories of our trips and worked to help equip each other for our respective journeys.
His plans had not included a trip through the South Pacific islands and we were happy to lend him our charts and cruising guides to copy, so he would be better prepared for the ship destroying reefs and atolls of the South Pacific. He, without us asking for anything in return helped get Kahlil’s PC computer updated with a backup charting program, so now if our ship’s built in plotter fails we have a better backup system, making it just a wee bit harder for us to get lost at sea. But, his real help was sharing a world tide prediction program, as the reef passes of the Tuamotu atolls can only be entered at slack tide and we had come up empty trying to find any form of tide charts for the South Pacific in the Galapagos or the Internet. Thanks a million Daniel for all the help!
He also befriended a banana farmer and like the true gem of the sea he is, procured bananas for all the cruisers headed for the Marquesas, at a bargain price of $5 for a 50-pound bunch. He did employ us however to deliver the weighty bananas to all the cruisers, as his dingy is hand rowed and “as no good deed goes unpunished.” We were rewarded by the sight of grateful Frenchmen sporting ultra, sexy banana hammocks, cheerfully accepting the bananas, with merci’s all around, while we tried our best to avert our gaze away from their eye level “junk”, for we in the dink sit a bit lower in the water than mostly naked, deck level Frenchmen. Then just as he blew in, he blew out again. We stopped by his boat for one last hand blended, banana smoothie, exchanged our various contact information and vowed to bump into each other soon, which I’m quite sure will happen, probably about halfway to the Marquesas.
And yet smaller still the world grows, we’re walking around town and who do we bump into but the entire McNary family and two of their children’s friends. Fierce competitors of mine in the J-24 fleet back in Santa Barbara, they showed up in San Cristobal for a short family vacation, after purchasing a Catana 471 (a French cruising catamaran) in mainland Ecuador, they plan on taking through the Panama Canal and cruising with in the Caribbean next season. It was wonderful to unexpectedly see such great friends from home in this foreign port and we swapped stories, showed them our boat and I offered plenty of advice, for I had just come from the way they are headed. I hope my love for the cruising of Panama altered their plans a little, as they were planning on just passing through, but there is just so much to see and do their, and the anchorages of Panama are so peaceful and pristine, when compared to the Caribbean Islands.
We shared our passion for the Chicken Cart with them and it looks like they too have adopted it as their favorite eatery here. We bumped into them a couple of nights in a row there and they generously invited us to accompany them on a snorkeling tour of the island, as they had chartered a local boat the next morning. Taking the typical tourist tour we had yet to fork out the cash for. I can’t say thank you enough to them for letting us tag along. The tour had to be the highlight of our trip thus far, except for one key part. They had negotiated a price for the entire boat and didn’t think it would be any problem to bring us along. They pulled up the next morning, not so gingerly along side the “Natty M”, almost taking out all our stanchions in the process, but the transfer of equipment and people was successful and informed us we just needed to go back to the dock and pick up our GNP guide. This is a requirement of all trips to any part of the Galapagos outside of the main port areas. The GNP guide then informed us his fee of $100 was not included in the boat’s charter price and three additional people will add yet another $100 to the price. Now armed with my ever improving Spanish the haggling begins, I accuse them of being swindlers and banditos, dropped a local name or two and we end up only having to pay for the required guide, this is a fairly typical experience in Latin America. So, if you come here make sure the GNP guide fee is included in the price for any trip you set up and there are no other hidden costs. With that hassle out of the way the fun began, first a stop at Kicker Rock, to snorkel with the sharks and bountiful sea life. Upon our arrival, a whale was sounding and Boobies of all kinds greeted us, Nazca, Blue Footed, and Red Footed Boobies nest on the rock and Frigate birds soar overhead on its thermal up drafts. The rock looks like one solid monolith at first, but on closer inspection a giant rift splits the rock in two and sea life of all kind swims through the current ridden channel. We snorkeled through the channel, as multitudes of exotic fish fed on the plankton rich currents and Black Tip, Galapagos and Hammer Head sharks cruised menacingly just a little bit deeper.
The rock’s steep walls are encrusted with amazing blue and lime green sea urchins, giant orange barnacles, psychedelic red starfish and everywhere you looked creatures you had never seen before appeared, like a giant spotted ray or a type of grouper I had never spied before.
I was so mesmerized by the multitude of sea life, I got separated from the group, lost track of time and our guide had to swim around looking for me, to tell me “our time’s up and we’re headed to the next spot.” I was making him earn his money this day, as he wasn’t quite use to tourists free-diving into the inky depths and out of sight.
Then it was onto a beach where we just chilled out for a little while and munched some lunch. While bright orange Sally Lightfoot crabs jumped from rock to rock, earning their name and I marveled at the Galapagos’ unique flora of succulents that are endemic to the island and have adapted, so well to its lower, arid climate and salty air. Refueled, we headed for our last snorkeling stop at Isla Lobos (Lobos are Sea Lions).
Here in beautiful clear water we were privileged to swim and frolic with tons of friendly Sea Lions, while the hulking bull male, intimidatingly swam closely by us, shaking his bulbous head to and fro, making a low rooo, rooo, rooo noise underwater and warning us we better not get too frisky with the chicks of his harem. I got the message and soon was off swimming with sting rays, multitudes of colorful Surgeon and Angel fish and staring up at marine iguanas basking in the sun, on the warm, black lava rocks, digesting their diet of algae and getting toasty in bright equatorial sun, all while sea lions constantly tried to grab your attention.
The trip back was filled with sights of randy, nesting Frigatebirds, some who had their red colored, featherless, skin pouch, called a gular pouch on their necks puffed out like giant, ruby balloons. The males construct the nests and then hangout with their crimson gular pouches expanded, while gently flapping their outstretched wings and crowing.
Trying their hardest to woo the females in the hopes, that one will be impressed by their “game” and “crib” and settle down to check out where all the “magic” happens. We repeatedly watched them, steal other sea bird’s catches, scientifically know as kelptoparasitism, as their ultra-light bones, massive wingspans, super manipulatable V shaped tail gives them superior aerial abilities, making this treacherous tactic a breeze.
Frigatebirds do however catch the majority of their food by expertly skimming the surface of the water for fish and squid, as they can not dive into the water for food. They lack an oil-producing gland for coating their feathers and can’t shed the saltwater once their feathers get wet.
When we said our good byes and thank you’s to the McNarys, at the end of that unique day, I hope they know just how much fun we shared with them and how truly exceptional they helped make our trip to the Galapagos, it would not have been the same without them. It was truly a special thing to share that experience with friends from home and Thanks a Million for everything!
Its interesting to be traveling outside of America during an Election year. I do try to keep up to date on the news and happenings back home in the States and a lot of what I read just doesn’t jive with what we have encountered on our journey. Comments from the American news media, who portray the world dislikes Americans and Barack Obama, on his recent trip to Europe, stating he is going to “Restore America’s tarnished image in the world,” just do not seem accurate to me. We fly the Stars and Stripes proudly from “Natty M’s” transom and have yet to encounter any kind of ill sentiment from anyone towards Americans. Rather everyone we have encountered on our journey is unbelievably helpful and friendly towards us, going out of their way to help us out and point us in the right direction. I just hope Americans discover the news media is full of it and start traveling more, experiencing for themselves firsthand what the world is really like, because we meet a lot of people traveling, seeing the sights and learning about foreign cultures, but its not Americans out traveling. There are tons of Europeans everywhere, Canadians abound, hordes of Israelis just out of the army, Aussies, English and Irish, but Americans seem to be mostly missing, making up such a small percentage of the travelers we meet. I don’t know if it’s the news media scaring them away, American’s lack of interest in the world, the economy or maybe we just love our country so much we don’t want to leave, but it seems odd we have probably met more Irish folk than Americans in all our travels so far.
Just when you think your boat is working perfectly something breaks, shattering your brief, ultra-blissful enjoyment of the seafaring life. In our case it was the pull-cord mechanism on our outboard motor. The Yamaha 25-HP decided to turn itself into a two-stroke blender and grind up the plastic and metal pieces of that device. Our trips to the various island Yamaha vendors resulted in no luck finding those parts in the Galapagos or mainland Ecuador. We were resigned to the fact starting it might involve taking off the engine cover every time and winding the pull cord by hand. However, surfing one day we met Humberto, one of the first surfers in the Galapagos and a true friend. I asked him about our little problem and he said “No worries, I’ll get it fixed for you guys.” Just in a little more broken english than that. Trusting him, we gave him our engine and he didn’t want us accompany him to the mechanic, so we wouldn’t get charged the “Gringo price”. Two days later our engine was delivered back to our boat, repaired with parts from older, defunct engines and all for a bargain $20 bucks. What a true superstar of a person and a real friend. However to our dismay, after we cleaned out our backup engine, stowed it, and remounted the 25-HP it wasn’t just quite right and was still making a terrible noise. But, now with the right parts intact, it wasn’t too hard to see a spring was contacting a spinning flywheel bolt and a little repeated tweaking with some needle-nose pliers had her purring like a kitten again, with celebratory cheers by the crew all around.
One pumping day, Dizzy sent his board into the jagged rocks and then Wrestlemania style knee dropped his backup board as well, causing some not so minor ding repairs that are just a pain in the ass to do on a boat you’re trying to keep resin stain free. Once again its Humberto to the rescue, staying up all night, repairing both boards by 7-am the next morning for $20, so Dizzy wouldn’t miss even a single day of surf. And when Kahlil, broke 6 of his crappily made, Brazilian, fake FCS fins, just by doing bottom turns, running out of backups completely and Dizzy realized maybe he might need a new board, both something you can’t get out here. Who else is it but Humberto to the rescue again. Having a friend on the mainland send out, multiple new sets of fins and a new “Clima,” a Peruvian made surfboard, saving the day and their journey into the remote, surf shop vacant, wave rich South Pacific. If this was California and this happened to people surfing our secret spot, everyone would be happy the interlopers were forced to leave, because of their bad luck and ill forethought.
We set the date for our departure from the Galapagos for Thursday, July 31, continuing our journey towards the South Pacific, but a new, supposedly big swell was forecast to hit Friday and Saturday and who was telling us not to leave and surf some more with him and his friends, but Humberto. It is refreshing to meet people, truly genuine and helpful and metaphorically not interested in getting every wave for themselves. It honestly helps reshape and expand your view of the world and the state surfing.
Well, obviously we missed our self-imposed date of departure, but it had the intended effect of getting us ready for our passage. We were all involved in checking things we needed done off the to-do list, Dizzy and Kahlil cleaning the boat, checking the rig and various shackles, getting our month plus of piled up laundry done for a buck a kilo (50 cents a pound for our American readers, I hope we never give in and convert to the metric system), and me changing the engine oils and transmission fluids.
Which turned into something of an environmental catastrophe, when on the first tranny the pump used to change the oil broke on the intake end, while pumping in new oil, shooting SAE W-90 oil all over the place and coating me and the engine room with new oil, at least and causing me give into some minor cursing like a proper grease monkey. The mess was cleaned up and then it was on to the next tranny. Now I’m pumping out the old oil, its thick, dirty and I’m holding the intake on the pump to make sure it doesn’t pop off again, when BAM! The output end explodes on an upstroke and dirty, smelly oil just flies everywhere, drenching the engine, the boat, the hull, and me. Now I’m really cursing and know first hand just how gross it is to be covered in gooey oil. The new disaster was angrily cleaned up, but the stench on me was impossible to completely remove and when I met a new woman later on shore, who asked me “What are you doing here?” Told me “Oh yea, you smell like a boat.” Its not always fun and games aboard the “Natural Mystic”.
But, its the funny things about the places you visit that make it all worthwhile and get you laughing out loud to yourself. Everyone knows Latin men are a little more forward towards women than most cultures, with their whistles and catcalls. However, we saw it taken to a new level here the other day. Kahlil and I are moseying down the street and the local cops driving down the street, chirp their police sirens three times, at three hot, junk in the trunk, Ecuadorian women and then proceed to whistle and yell at them, while hanging out of the cop car. I don’t quite think it quite constituted an abuse of power, but at least a misuse of public resources.
Sometimes the life of a sailor is really sad and you just can’t help, but breakdown into tears. Volunteers come from all over the world to help try to make a difference in the Galapagos. They are truly caring people who would love to make a difference, but mostly their energy and skills are misdirected towards marginal projects that don’t do much to truly benefit the islands from what I’ve seen. Benefiting the people who organize the volunteers much more as they make substantial money off of them. The volunteers pay for accommodations and other various expenses during their stays here, all money going through the organizers, who take their cut. While engaging the volunteers in performing marginal tasks like digging holes to help a family get a hot water system installed (we haven’t even had a hot shower in months), removing invasive blackberry bushes, but only the tops and not the roots, which is how blackberry bushes spread, and removing rocks out of a family’s garden, its not like the island is lacking great, cheap produce. Don’t get me wrong some of the more skilled volunteers are making a difference, by spaying and neutering the island’s pet population and teaching English in the schools. But, over all it seems to me like a scam and some people have figured out how to cash in on the Galapagos’ status in the world to make a buck, while the true needy, less publicized places of the world still suffer.
One night at Polo’s Bar I happened to meet a lovely volunteer, Tina from Norway. She was teaching English in grade school up in El Progreso, the poorer town of the highlands. Truly a caring person and beautiful too, she like some people you meet in the world seemed a cut above the rest. Adventurous and willing to try new things, we took her surfing with us and she was dropping into overhead waves, getting pounded, literally cut up on the jagged reef, yet still paddling back out to catch more and making me nervous at how hard she was charging. Tina even paddled out with us and caught a couple of solid waves, on a day when the wave was maxing out and everyone was dodging cleanup sets, not bad for a true rookie. We had tons fun together and it was nice to connect with such a nice girl, who spoke perfect California accented English (Dad American) and have a girl around for the first time in a while, diffusing the seemingly endless testosterone on the boat. The boys were awestruck too, as they could burp and fart to their hearts desire in front of her and she would just laugh, telling them “In Norway louder it better,” it must truly be the land of Vikings.
We spent late nights dancing to the funky, hip sounds of Arakbuz, a local band who quickly befriended us at Iguana Rock, the local hot spot. Arakbuz, friggin rocks and has an exceptionally unique sound, when compared to both world and Latin music. Semi Latin rock, crossed with Sublime/Reggae influences and I have to say, its some of the best new music we have heard on our liquidity journey thus far. The kids defiantly have a chance to make it big musically in Latin America. Breathtaking mornings were spent making everyone deliciously healthy, fruit filled pancakes, using up the last of our irreplaceable, real maple syrup and just truly enjoying each other’s company. When, suddenly the bliss is painfully ripped away from you, as her gig was up, she had to leave, back to Quito, then onto Norway and we too have to split soon (although we do seem to lag, quite solidly wherever we go). Who knows what would have happened if we had met under more traditional circumstances, but I guess that’s the life of a sailor and some times its truly sad and all you can do is shed a tear or two and hope the passage to and the arrival in the next port will help you get over it.
We know the world is a small place and we all hope our paths will cross again. Just like with so many of the lovely people we met here. It seems like the town is starting to empty out, the northern summer season is drawing to a close and our good Irish friends David and Edel, had to return to their Irish reality, leaving us and their good friend JP here to morn our losses. JP was lost at the pool table without his usual partner, Dave and I just couldn’t summon up any interest to talk to the girls lurking around. Combine this, with the fact the water has grown progressively colder and the air temperature cooler as well, with even some of the first fog and drizzle we have seen since Newport, Rhode Island and we all agree our time here is drawing to a close and need to venture onward in search of new, warmer lands and adrenaline pumping adventures.
We have set a new goal of Tuesday, for our departure and the long passage to the Marquesas. With some luck, we should score some last, fun surf here, have a couple of our French friends give us a French lesson or two (or else were going to be screwed), reprovision, rewater, refuel, say our many good byes and then set sail, across one of the emptiest expanses of our world’s oceans. So, wish us good luck and fair winds and lets hope our penchant for tardiness is overcome. Cheers – Kyber