'The Aquarium' in the atoll of Fakarava, Tuamotus
Friday, May 28, 2010
'The Aquarium' in the atoll of Fakarava, Tuamotus
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Saturday, May 8, 2010
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
And from there we motored south, crossing the equator, to the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador. True to the bruchures, we have gotten up close and personal with giant land tortoises, seen countless marine iguanas (which, amazingly, can hold their breath for up to an hour to snack on underwater seaweed and algae) and penguins (at the equator!) and blue-footed boobies and much much more. We have literally been fending off the sea lions from our boat with sticks and water hoses. It´s all a bit ridiculous.
I am, however, ready to get on our way out of town and away from the tourism hype and commercialism of the islands - you almost can´t do anything without hiring a guide and the boat has been handcuffed into one bay of one island, forcing us to spend our time in the crowded anchorage of Puerto Ayora and buy into expensive tours in order to see the rest of the islands - in short, to behave like the common tourist. Well, as we are accustomed to coming and going as we please, we don´t want to do that and are looking forward to our next stops.
Really, considering what we saw in Cocos and what we will be seeing in the next couple of months, we have nothing to feel bad about for wanting to say goodbye to the Galapagos. It´s been cool to see the animals (the diversity and tameness of which, to be sure, is like nothing else I´ve ever seen) and spend a little more time around the spanish language, but the Pacific islands and atolls with their snorkeling and diving and isolation are calling and I´m ready to heed their call.
We leave, as long as our appointment for buying diesel comes through, this Friday for the Marquesas. We´re looking at it taking us around 16 to 18 days, depending on our speed, depending on our fuel consumption (we´ll go slow at first to conserve fuel, speeding up with our comfort level as we go). I hope to make it, obviously, with no major stories to tell, only pictures to show of those (reputedly beautiful) islands.
Until then, here is a sampling of some of the shots I´ve got from Cocos and Galapagos (and between).
Dolphins swimming at the bow of the boat in the (incredibly clear) water approaching Cocos Island
One of the 207 photos of the Cocos Island coast I took with my new camera during our dinghy tour around the island...I was kind of excited
Friday, March 26, 2010
The market at Chichicastanango, Guatemala
The cemetery of Chichicastanango
Up close (too close?) and personal with lava - Volcan Pecaya, Guatemala
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
First, while eating breakfast waiting for the cab driver to carry me to the Rincon de la Vieja National Park, my brand new camera, in my possession for less than twenty-four hours, was stolen out of my backpack. Shit. Well, it was hot-pink anyway, and its theft probably saved me a lot of explanations.
Then, when I got to the park, I was informed that camping was no longer allowed anywhere inside the boundaries. So I set up camp in the parking lot - not the ideal place, but still high on the mountainside with good views of the sunset and the land below. However, it turned out that the tent which I bought was more of an "on the beach, sun-shade" type shelter with only three walls and flimsy poles. Talk about a learning experience on spending money - you get what you pay for, I guess - this thing had cost me about six dollars. For an extra twenty dollars, I probably could have found a real tent to keep out the no-see-ums and mosquitos and ticks and other small animals...but I had a great, unobstructed view, which was nice. Until the wind picked up after sunset and collapsed the poles on top of me all night long. Literally. So much for me learning to make good, safe decisions.
But the hike through the forests of the park and to the top of the volcano and along the crater rims was unforgettable - lush jungle teaming with birds and rumors of large predatory felines, sounds of hidden wild turkeys running over dried leaves (making me think constantly of large predatory felines...and their claws and teeth), moonscapes bleached white and purple by the sun, blasted with 40 mph wind, reaking of sulfuric steam from the active crater.
It took a long walk and a couple thumbed rides (one on the back of a dirtbike), but I made it back to town and to the boat. We've now made it to our last stop in mainland Costa Rica, in the Gulf of Nicoya around the middle of the country. We're here to take advantage of one more grocery store and one last swimming pool (at the marina) before leaving Friday morning for Cocos Island (250 miles offshore, called 'the most beautiful island in the world' by Jaques Cousteau) and then the Galapagos Islands. Adventure is sure to come...as if I can't construct it anywhere I go.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
While ´lying´in bed - really just holding on - I started to notice that on big waves, but not every big wave, some light in my room would come on for just a split second. Never predictable enough for me to wait for it, never on long enough for me to locate it - the best I could do was narrow it down to a corner of the room. But without the light switch on, none of the lights in the room should have been getting power from the DC circuit. Magic, Pure F´ing Magic.
After three hours of abuse and perplexity (as the onboard electrician/plumber/mechanic, I was a little embarrassed about writing it off as magic), it was my turn to go on watch. It wasn´t until the next day that I figured out that the light was coming from inside the closet, which turns on when the closet door is opened (just like a refrigerator light) - so even though the door was latched closed, the boat was crashing into the waves hard enough for the switch behind the door to be activated...damn. In a way, I was sad to find such a rational explanation for the previous night´s mystery light. I´ve been trying to forget it and remember it as PFM - it´s a lot more fun that way.
Despite the abuse we took, the boat pulled through the weather really well - it was good to see that this boat that we´ll soon be taking across an ocean performs well under pressure - the autopilot never faultered and the stabilizers kept us much more stable than we would have been had we been in a sailboat or something smaller.
Now in Costa Rica, I´m poised and ready to head into ´the mountain´tomorrow - bought a small tent and a new camera today - for a night away from the water and other people. I´m looking at a hike and camping in the National Park of El Volcan Rincón de la Vieja - it´ll do me good to get into the clear cool air of the mountains and get my legs moving a bit again.
Pictures coming soon...
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
It's still hard for me to wrap my head around the reality that I might not see her for over two years, but that's a fact that I'm slowly getting used to. Emily leaves for Senegal today where she'll go through three months of language and skills training before entering into her village and home for the next many months - keep track of what's going on with her through her new blog: undersenegalskies.blogspot.com And hopefully she'll check in here every now and then as well. She's in for a wild adventure there with the Peace Corps, for sure, and I can't be more proud of her for the good work that she'll be doing.
So, sans my travel companion and friend, the adventure goes on...albeit with and entirely different purpose. After a month spent in Puerto Vallarta with friends Tom and Nicole and kids - with daily boatwork, margaritas and beach volleyball - I'm now on a 55-foot motor yacht, named Khushiyan (Hindi for happiness), steaming down the Central American coast bound for Cocos Island, the Galapagos and eventually the Marquesas and Tahiti.
I'll say that this ride is the most comfortable I've had since we left San Diego - I have my own stateroom with a queen-size bed, air conditioning, TV and DVD player, I-pod docks all over the place and the boat is tricked out with stabilizers (for making the ride smoother), the latest in navigational equipment, a night-vision camera for night watches, and more things than I know how to deal with. It's nice.
I'll also say that I'm slightly terrified of being on a boat with no sails, in the event that we run out of fuel or the two engines somehow fail, gawd forbid. We do have two satellite phones, though, in case of anything like that, so I'm not really fearing for my life. It's more a psychological barrier for me to get over...but also keep in mind.
From Acapulco, where I met this boat, we have made it to Guatemala where we're taking five days to travel inland - a welcome break from all the water and open horizons. I'm glad to be getting the chance to see the color and beauty of the place - the markets, the people, the land. We're seeing Antigua, one of the early Spanish capitals of Guatemala, ruined in the 17oo's by earthquakes, and now a still very European-looking, well put-together town, Chichicastenango and it's markets, and Lake Atitlan. There was also a climb to the near-top of a nearby volcano to see (from 15 feet away!!) flowing red-hot lava - pretty surreal.
From here, it's on to Nicaragua on Monday and then to Costa Rica by the end of the week. I'm doing well and hope you're all the same. Check back in soon to catch photos from the last several weeks...coming soon.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
With a smile on his face, Ben endured some serious girl-talk time in Panama City before Emily, Kayla, Katherine, and Micaela headed to the remote San Blas Islands for a New Year's weekend. With slackline and hula hoops in tow, the ladies brought the circus to their tiny island, which took no more than two minutes to circumnavigate on foot. While they practiced their tricks, they got the thirty or so international travelers -- hailing from England, France, Germany, Italy, Australia, the Netherlands, Mexico, Venezuela, and Argentina -- to join in. The excursion provided plenty of time for swimming, snorkeling, sunbathing and, most importantly, long-awaited quality time amongst best friends.
After a couple more days in the city, we bussed back to Kayla's house in Barrigon for some time in her hammocks. Of note during our time there was an extended visit to the town's own master woodworker and his shop. Completely engineered and built by himself, Fernando's shop is set up at the bottom of a small waterfall. All his tools -- table saw, hand saw, drill press, lathe -- are handmade by him and powered by nothing but the falling water itself. He can, and does, build just about everything, from rocking chairs to window frames to sugar cane presses. We caught him in the process of making stacks and stacks of perfectly uniform, detailed bed posts and other bunkbed parts. He then allowed us to squeeze our own sugar cane juice in his homemade press -- what a sweet treat!
Then . . . things got wild. After consulting with Kayla and some local geography experts, we (Ben, Emily, Katherine) embarked upon a trip unlike any we had done before. With two good maps, a sketchy itinerary (at best), a short list of helpful names, a couple of bags of rice, and a lack of certainty of the trail ahead, we began our multi-elemented trek from Kayla's house, through the jungled mountains all the way to the Caribbean Coast. Promptly, we ran into mud and didn't emerge from it for two full days. Often knee-deep and occasionally close to tears, we also took time to appreciate the gorgeous scenery and pristine jungle constantly surrounding us.
On the morning of Day Three, we awoke in the tiny community of Calle Larga to the good news that the owner of the only motorized boat in town was able to scrounge together enough gasoline from his neighbors to make the three-hour trip downriver to the coast. Our relief quickly turned to terror when it dawned on us that the leaking (like a seive) twenty-foot wooden canoe would be carrying us over winding Class II rapids. As the boat bounced off rocks and the frail planks made audible hints of splitting, we bailed water frantically while the hired helper up front fended us off boulders using his long wooden stick. Miraculously, we arrived at the coast, unharmed, in the small town of Belén.
The next morning, finally dried out and confident in our boat-riding abilities, we boarded a slightly sturdier boat to head west down the coast. As we were leaving town and pointing directly at several rows of large breaking waves, however, our confidence was shattered when our boat driver yelled over the engine noise to ask if we knew how to swim. Minutes later, drenched with spraying saltwater, we were able to release our white-knuckle grips on eachother and enjoy the cliffs, jungles and sandy beaches that made up the coastline.
Day 5, at last, was less harrowing than the previous four. We walked (strolled, sometimes) along the coastline that alternated between sandy beach and forested trail (pleasantly reminiscent of Washington´s Olympic Coast). Day 6 brought our return to civilization, but not before another scary boat ride up another river, five more hours of trudging through mud, and a truck ride up and down steep gravelly roads and across seventeen (we were counting) streams and through four large, deep, rushing rivers.
Oh yeah, and we forgot to mention that it had rained torrentially upon us for a good part of the last six days. Hence the mud. And the rivers crossing the road. And the absence of a single piece of dry clothing between the three of us. This just made our arrival at the hostel (with warm showers, cold beer and clean, dry, comfortable and insect/flea-free beds) that much better.
While our account here might sound a bit nightmarish, we actually had a lot of fun and reflected most nights on how lucky we were to experience a chunk of Panama that is, unfortunately, missed altogether by most outsiders. Along the way, we met an incredible set of people - people who guided us, gave us directions, took us in, cooked for us, and helped us in a number of other ways. Most days we would enter a village totally unsure of where to go and how to reach our next destination, and within 15 minutes we would find a family to stay with, someone to prepare our rice and lentils, and a good lead on how we would proceed the following day. The experience as a whole was unforgettable.
Crossing the mouth of a river on the coast:
Crossing back over the same river the following day, this time at high-tide:
A jungle path along the coast:
Ben and Katherine walking the shoreline:
Katherine and Emily:
In the days following the trip, the three of us reunited with Kayla and spent some time on the dry, sunny, warm Pacific Coast. We also got a chance to go to a "baile," a traditional music concert/dance. Luckily for us, this particular baile was hosted by two of the most reknowned accordion players in Panama, along with their respective bands and their personal yodelling/yelping accompianists. The dancing, made up of hundreds of aggressively-shuffling couples of all ages, continued until dawn. We tried our hand and quickly became the spectacle of the cement dance floor, but we were only able to last until 4 a.m.
With all that adventure behind us, we said a tearful goodbye to Emily's friends and headed here to Boquete, a beautiful mountain town with lots to do and see. We've been glad to be able to slow down and enjoy each other's company for these last few days.
Since arriving in Boquete, we have:
But don't be fooled -- we've spent the bulk of our time here playing cards and sipping locally-grown coffee.
So what's next? Together, we'll take a bus over the border to San Jose, Costa Rica, where we both have flights to catch. Emily flies out on Tuesday; she'll return to Los Angeles and work on preparing to leave for Senegal, where she'll be a Peace Corps Volunteer starting on March 10th. Ben flies to Mexico to rejoin the crew of Ohana to help them make the return back up north for a month before boarding a 55-foot motoryacht headed for the Galapagos Islands.
Sunday, January 3, 2010
Emily driving the boat through Gatun Lake - maintain course and speed!
Emily holding the port sternline taught in the Gatun Locks - she´s got nerves of steel to maintain her job with that huge cargo ship so close behind
Ben getting his first view of ´sea level´since entering the Canal seven hours before - the large steel chamber doors swing open to release us onto the Caribbean side
Ben, Kayla and Kayla´s neighbor Julien at his farm, about a 30 minute walk up the valley. Julien´s crops include: oranges, yuca (a starchy root vegetable), beans, peppers, spinach-like greens, coffee beans and more
Kayla leading a community course on nutrition and well-balanced meals...´a little more vegetables, a little less rice´
Us with Kayla and friends, Brooke and Donny, with our giant cacoa harvest - each of these pods houses twenty or so cacoa beans which are removed, left to ferment for a few days, dried, roasted, and then ground into a powder, sometimes mixed with sugar to make a tasty dark-chocolate treat...a bit of work, but totally worth it!
Salomon and his family in front of their house - we hiked seven hours in to the Omar Torrijos Herrara National Park near Barrigon to meet and stay with them as well as hire Salomon to guide us to the beautiful Tife Water Falls
Ben getting schooled by Emmanuel, age 7 - Salomon´s oldest son