Friday, May 28, 2010

Photo Update

Here's a couple photos that can make it through the convoluted web of touchy internet connections. We're now in Moorea of the Society Islands after spending a few days in Tahiti to reprovision and refuel.

'The Aquarium' in the atoll of Fakarava, Tuamotus

Coming through the pass into the lagoon of Fakarava, Tuamotus

The anchorage in Bay of the Virgins of Fatu Hiva, Marquesas

Me and my makeshift sailboat (supplies: one kayak, one boat hook,
one hammock and some thin line)
~55 pound yellow fin tuna and one happy Ben

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Goodbye Marquesas, Hello Tuamotus

If there's one thing I'm learning on this trip it's that I must come back to these islands some day. It's becoming clear that we're not spending nearly enough time is any of these locations to absorb their full experience. Although we are spending a day here, a few days there, I get the sense that we're essentially passing by on the highway, peering out through the windows of the car - seeing the place but missing out on its essence. That being said, however, we're still here and we're still doing some pretty amazing things. I'm not for one second sad or disappointed that I'm here, just a little unsatisfied with our itinerary - happy but not satisfied, right where you should be in life, according to an old hockey coach of mine.

So our time in the Marquesas over, I have the memories and photos of jungle hikes to waterfalls, diving with manta rays and sharks, spear-hunting for parrot fish, fishing for tuna, bonfires on the beach, and friends both on land and afloat. The people there are remarkably open and friendly and helpful - always with a smile and a 'kaoha' or 'bonjour.' An absolute highlight of our time in the Marquesas was trading with the locals of the island of Fatu Hiva - wine, tools, rope, wine glasses for beautiful artwork and all kinds of fruit.

And now we've made the four day passage to the Tuamotu archipelago, a group of seventy-five atolls between the Marquesas and Tahiti. Imagine an island in the middle of the ocean. The island becomes ringed with a circle of coral growing up from the sand creating a barrier reef. Watch the island for a very long time and you'll see the land of the island being eroded away by wind and waves and the ring of coral grow upwards to the water surface. After more time the island completely disappears, leaving a ring of exposed coral/sand and a calm inner lagoon of the clearest water imaginable. Multiply that by seventy-five times in all shapes and sizes and you have the Tuamotus. Some of these atolls, when islands in the past, supported freshwater rivers that flowed to the sea and inhibited the growth of coral at their mouths, leaving, in the end, passes through the ring of coral large enough to allow access for boats to the interior lagoon. That's where we are. And it's pretty cool.

We've been here in Rangiroa (in the northwest of the archipelago) for a few days and will be leaving for Fakarava (a few atolls to the south and east) this afternoon. After a couple days of exploration there, we'll travel to Tahiti. Stay tuned for some photos...

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Marquesas

Well...we made it. Safe and sound, even, if you can believe it. We arrived in the island of Nuku Hiva of the Marquesas on the 2nd of May after a sixteen day passage from the Galapagos. 'Uneventful' is one word that could be used to describe the trip across the Pacific: we saw a total of one whale, a handful of small jumping squid that landed on deck, and thousands of flying fish scattered by our presence. And not much else. For eleven of the sixteen days, the wind blew 20 knots on our port beam (perfect for sailing), making me wish everyday that we could just turn off the engine and hoist a sail, of which, we, of course, have none.

Our three-hour watch schedule - 3 hours on, 6 hours off - between the three of us (owner Naveen, captain Devin and I) made the days go by quickly but, jesus, let me tell you, sixteen days was a long time to be cooped up in a boat. The wind was more of a curiosity to us on this power boat than something to actually take into account and there were no sails to trim or lines to flake so we just sort of settled in for the ride. I think I read about seven books and watched twenty movies and had plenty of time to practice my singing voice...turns out sixteen days wasn't long enough to help there.

And now in the Marquesas, we've explored a couple islands (Nuku Hiva and Ua Pou, now Hiva Oa, where Paul Gauguin lived the last few years of his life), stocked up on fresh fruit (including the famous breadfruit - fried it's really good!) and tried to remember how to use the french language (this is French Polynesia, afterall) after having spent the last six months immersed in spanish. Devin brought his spear gun along so, once we find the clear water everyone talks about - so far we haven't seen much, having anchored in larger, populated harbors - hopefully we'll be able to catch some fresh tuna dinner, accompanied with fresh lobster tail. We'll see.

From here on Hiva Oa, we'll head to Fatu Hiva (also of the Marquesas) and by next week we'll transit west and south to the Tuamotu atolls for a week or so, then on to Tahiti before the end of the month. I hope all is well back home in Minnesota and Seattle and wherever you are - I've been thinking a lot about you (gawd knows, I've had enough time recently) and thanks for checking in.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Isla del Coco and the Galapagos

After my last posting, things started to get really cool - no more of that marina-hopping down the coast but just clear blue water and isolated islands. Isla del Coco was a treat - snorkeling there was like jumping into a well-stocked aquarium (complete with sharks and rays and schools of fish) and the land can`t be described without the words `dramatic` and `breathtaking`. There are some 200 waterfalls on the island (only 2 miles by 4 miles), dozens of which fall over cliffs directly into the ocean.

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

Cocos Island shoreline...pretty typical

The Khushiyan (Dinette, Naveen, me) crew at a Cocos Island swimming hole

Crossing the equator - has this ever been done before??

Tortoises monching away

Swimming with the sea lions on Floreana Island of the Galapagos

Lizards abound and they, too, follow the rules

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Few Photos

We're leaving this afternoon for Cocos Island and the Galapagos - after cove/marina hopping down the coast from Mexico for the past month, today we finally start the main portion of the journey. It feels good to be leaving the marina/resort/Little America types of places where we've been spending most of our time - from now on, it'll be mostly quiet (hopefully) anchorages on some of the most remote islands of the Pacific. After the Galapagos, the idea is to cross to the Marquesas, then on to the Tuamotu Atolls, Tahiti, Samoa and Fiji. Let the real adventure begin - I can't wait.

Here's a few photos from the past few weeks - expect more to come now that I bought a new, new camera yesterday. Yep, quite the travel expense.

Screaming out of the alligator slide at the hotel pool in Puerto Vallarta - a daily,
post volleyball event

The market at Chichicastanango, Guatemala

The cemetery of Chichicastanango

Up close (too close?) and personal with lava - Volcan Pecaya, Guatemala

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

It's the Little Things

Some funny things happened to me on the way to "the mountain" last week in northern Costa Rica...the types of things about which I can think of nothing else to do but chuckle, maybe laugh. Yes, laugh - what else is there to do?

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 if I can't construct it anywhere I go.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Rica Costa Rica

It is said that there are three types of electricity: direct current (DC), alternating current (AC) and pure fucking magic (PFM). I experienced some PFM the other night during our passage from Nicaragua to Costa Rica when the weather unexpectedly turned against us. Despite all the forecasts and initial hours of mild wind and seas on our 20-hour passage, the notorious ´Papagallo´ winds - named for the low-lying land and bay across which they blow, from the Caribbean south to the Pacific - kicked in and started to kick our butts right after midnight. The 35 knot winds brought with them 6-8 foot seas, stacked up steeply on top of each other, making for an uncomfortable and sleepless night.

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


Since our last post, Emily and I made the long bus ride(s) from beautiful Boquete, Panama, to San Jose, Costa Rica, where we spent one last night together before flying out to our respective destinations. Saying goodbye to Emily was one of the hardest things I've ever done. Over the six months that we had been dating and the three months that we had been traveling, we lived an absolutely fairy tale existence - some of the happiest times I've known. We could only be grateful that, from the beginning, we knew exactly how much time we had together so we knew to appreciate every moment.

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: 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

Final Days in Panama

With our time in Panama coming to a close, we've decided to settle in (a relative term during this kind of travel) for a short week in the Western Highlands town of Boquete to relax together before going our separate ways at the end of the month. This has afforded us some time to reflect on all the places we've been and to appreciate the number and diversity of the people, communities, and landscapes that we've met along the way. Since our last word, we reunited with Emily's close college friends, got some more time in Barrigon (Kayla's Peace Corps site), ventured deep into the surrounding jungle and emerged to timidly step foot onto the dance floor of a Panamanian music party.

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.

Micaela hoopin' on the San Blas beach:

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!

Six Puget Sound Loggers in Panama City:
Ben, Emily, Katherine, Kayla, Micaela, Molly

Fernando's water-powered workshop:

Fernando using the lathe to make bedposts:

Pressing sugar cane into juice:

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.
Ben's feet covered with ruin-your-socks mud:
Katherine and Emily at the end of Day 2 - Notice the thigh-high mud stains:
Emerging from a mud pit:The boat and drivers that took us down the river and over the rapids:
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:

Strolled through an impressively-landscaped garden, adorned with kitschy wooden babes:

Learned about the "bean-to-bag" process of coffee farming:

Cruised around on rented mountain bikes:

Gotten Ben's hair cut:

Toured the countryside on a scooter:

And hiked to a hidden waterfall with a perfect picnic spot.

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

Catch-Up Photos

A few photos to catch up...

Here we are in the Panama Canal about to cross below the beautiful Centennial Bridge

Emily driving the boat through Gatun Lake - maintain course and speed!

Ben waves to fellow cruisers transitting the canal, in the large Lake Gatun

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 lounging at his post at the bow, enjoying his view down towards the Caribbean below, waiting for the water level to start dropping in the middle chamber of the Gatun Locks

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

A top-down view of Barrigon, the community in which our friend Kayla lives and works for the Peace Corps

Emily and Kayla on the front porch of Kayla´s home - complete with electricity and running drinkable water...and cat and spiders and preying mantises (manti?) and loads of neighbor kids

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

Their house, perched on a knoll, is part of the six-family community of Caño Sucio inside the national park...look close, it´s there

Emily on a treacherous bridge crossing en route to Caño Sucio

Ben getting schooled by Emmanuel, age 7 - Salomon´s oldest son

Emily and friends Katherine, Kayla and Micaela - bursting onto Panama for a raucous New Year´s Reunion

For more photos, check out Kayla´s blog: