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December, 2004:

Christmas in the Caribbean…

 Ok, so I’m playing a little catch-up, so this entry may be a little long. You have been warned…

Andiamo is out of Mexico. For awhile there it seemed like I would never be able to truthfully utter those words. We left Cancun, FINALLY, on December 2nd, and headed south with Raf, and our special guest, Roos (or as we called her, “Queen Roz”), also from Belgium.

Roos had been traveling through Mexico, we met her in Isla Mujeres, and she asked if she can come along with us to Belize. We figured the more the merrier, so Roos came aboard.<!–more–>We made a stop in Puerto Morelos for 2 nights. A nice quiet fishing and tourist town, we had a nice time there, though uneventful. The only adventure we had there was trying to anchor in 20-25 knot winds the night we arrived. Then onward to Cozumel, where we wanted to stay
only 2 or 3 nights, but actually ended up staying 5 nights instead. Seemed like our engine-driven fridge compressor which has never really worked right finally did its last leg. I was a bit upset about it, because I specifically told the refrigeration guy who worked on it back in Cancun not even a WEEK BEFORE, that I wanted him to get me a whole new compressor, since his rebuild of the existing compressor failed so miserably. Although he didn’t charge me anything for rebuilding it again (which is not what I wanted), I knew that the damn thing would fail, and it did.

This meant getting another refrigeration guy while we were in Cozumel, which was no easy task. We did manage to get a guy who seemed confident, and he actually showed up on his first appointment. He went on to tell me that the compressor was bad (which I already knew), and that I should get a replacement (which I also knew). When I asked him if he could get me one, he indicated that it would take him at least a couple of weeks to find one. He suggested that I go over to Playa del Carmen and ask around for one there. If I was unsuccessful, then I should go to Cancun. So off I went on the morning ferry. No luck in Playa del Carmen. So I hopped a bus and went BACK to Cancun.

What happened next was what I like to call a “Mexican Miracle”. First, I asked a cab driver that I needed to go to a shop where I can get my compressor replaced. He took me to a auto AC shop not far from the bus station, and charged me a reasonable fare. Then, the guys at the shop dropped EVERYTHING that they were doing to help me out. It was siesta time, and the manager of the place jumped in his car and went to another shop to get me a new compressor. It was amazing. I had a new compressor in my hands, ready to install, within less than two hours from the time I arrived in Cancun. And at a cost that was LESS than what I paid to have my old compressor rebuilt. Twice. Again, a Mexican Miracle.

Anyways, got back to Cozumel after another bus ride, then another ferry ride. Called the fridge guy, told him that I had the new part, and set an appointment for him to show up the next day to install it. He told me he’d be at our meeting spot at 7AM “en punto”. Raf rowed out to shore (since our outboard seized up the day before, more on that later), and waited. And waited. He no show.

We managed to get some other guys to the boat that afternoon, they installed the compressor and the thing has never worked better.

Next, I had to deal with our dead outboard. We’d already gone through hell with the outboard back in Isla and Cancun. First, when the thing fell into the drink after a drop-off docking gone horribly wrong. Yet, we managed to get it flushed out and running again. Then, when I took it to a shop to get its rings and head gasket replaced to see if compression would improve. The shop instead chose to take the WHOLE THING APART, and then tell us that the thing was shot. Both Raf and I found that hard to believe since we flushed out the motor pretty good after pulling it out of the water, put oil in the cylinders, and successfully STARTED the motor. I brought Raf over to the shop and he was livid when he saw how the shop had decimated the outboard. We spent a whole day before leaving Cancun putting the thing back together, and then another day in Isla with Steffen and Frederik working on it to get it running. We did manage to get the thing started and running, though it still didn’t run 100%. Anyways, while it was running fairly ok the whole time in Cozumel, it finally did seize up on us.

Rather than throw more money into it and have something bad happen again, I decided that it was time to pick up another outboard. Tried to find one in Cozumel and Playa del Carmen that wasn’t brand new or didn’t cost a fortune. I knew a guy back in Cancun who had one for sale that was fairly reasonable. So yes, I had to take yet another bus/ferry ride back to Cancun to get it. I did, had a nice bus and ferry ride while lugging an 8HP Evinrude, and all was well with that. So that night, we left Cozumel for Punta Allen.

We arrived in Punta Allen early the next afternoon. Punta Allen is in a mangrove-secluded bay called Bahia de la Ascension. It was a tricky approach into the bay without nailing the reefs that bordered each side of the pass. We had no problem getting in, and anchored in its very quiet, mangrove-surrounded bay and set in for the night. The plan was to leave early that same night to go to our next stop which was to be Banco Chinchorro, an atoll just off the coast of Mexico that’s supposed to be spectacular. I figured that we can just go out using the same route we took in through the pass, and should have no problem getting out at night, as long as seas were calm and there wasn’t too much wind. The sky was absolutely clear even though we had some storm clouds pass over us earlier in the night. Only problem was that I got a bad migraine that night, and couldn’t go anywhere. So the next morning, we decided to venture around the point to see what the town looked like. Boy, am I glad we did.

What we found was an amazingly idyllic fishing village of about 400 people. A beautiful white sand beach, unspoiled. We tied up our dinghy to one of the few docks and walked ashore, dripping wet from the dinghy ride around the point. We walked right up to a sleepy little guest house on the beach that had a nice beach bar. The bartender who was working, a sweet girl named Teal, was from California, and told us all about the place. We spent the rest of the afternoon there, enjoyed a nice lunch on the beach, and taking in all the surroundings.

On the way in with the dinghy, we saw a 30 foot or so trimaran on the beach. I asked Teal about it, and she said that he had hit the reef trying to leave Punta Allen about 2 weeks before. The owner was still there trying to get the boat fixed. Turned out that the owner of the boat was a guy named Bob. Bob was a longtime Key West resident who recently left Key West having become disgusted with what Key West had become. He was a prominent local artist there, who also did the weekly cartoon for the Key West newspaper. I’d actually heard about Bob through Mike, the guy who crewed on our trip from Key West to Isla Mujeres. Mike had crewed with Bob to Isla when he left Key West and I knew this. After talking with Bob, I was able to put two and two together and figure that he was the same guy that Mike talked about, he was. So you see, it really is a small world.

So anyway, Bob had been waiting for a large truck that can pull his boat further up the beach so he can begin repairs on several gashes on the hulls of the boat. He kept being told that the truck would come in the next day or so, and that never happened. I can tell that Bob was really itching to get his boat fixed and underway again. I’ve emailed him a couple of times since we left Punta Allen, but have not yet heard back from him.

We also happened to be there during the big Our Lady of Guadalupe festival on Dec. 12th. This a huge feast where pretty much everything shuts down, and there are several dances, and events held to celebrate the day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The festivities are capped off in the evening, where at the church, a dance of the “pigs’ heads” are held. This is where various people from the town do more or less a conga line in and outside of the church with colorfully decorated pigs’ heads on their own heads. I gotta say, it was quite a thing to see. Some people, like Bob and Teal got pulled up there and were given a head to dance around with. Raf and Roos both got a big kick out of the whole event too.

A couple of days went by, and while Raf and I felt that we could have stayed in Punta Allen another 5 weeks (or months), Roos was itching to get to Belize. She had only a couple more weeks of traveling left before flying back to Belgium for a week, then it was another six months in South Africa (poor Roos, huh?). So we made the call to leave the next morning.

Hoping to not make the same error that Bob made when he tried to leave, I made a new route line that was a bit more north than the one we used to come into Punta Allen. This put us more in the middle of the pass in and out of the bay, and we made it out without a hitch.

As I said before, we were going to pull into Banco Chinchorro, a beautiful atoll that’s just offshore the coast of Mexico. However, while were in Punta Allen, we were told by some other cruisers that the Mexican navy was not allowing any cruisers to anchor in Banco Chinchorro. So that kinda killed the idea for us, and we decided to just go directly to San Pedro, about 120 miles away.

Winds were gusty at about 25 knots from the north-northeast, and seas were rough and confused. We ended up sailing with just the genoa for most of the trip, and the boat sailed great. We easily maintained 6-7 knots over ground, despite the current we were fighting and the messed up seas. It took us about a day to get to San Pedro, and once we found the pass in the barrier reef to get in, we came in and anchored with no problems. I went into town to see what was up with checking in with customs and immigration. I dinghied over to another boat in the anchorage on the way, “Rapture”, which I actually remembered seeing back in Isla Mujeres. The owner of that boat was Bill from Houston, Texas. He gave me the lowdown on checking in, and where to tie up my dinghy while ashore. We had a few evenings with him and his wife Vicki aboard our boat before they left San Pedro. Really nice couple, I’m sure we’ll run into them somewhere along the way.

After we got checked in, we walked around, got some lunch, and basically started trying to take in San Pedro. The thing that struck me the most was despite our proximity to Mexico to the north, Belize really is a totally different place. First of all, the people are completely different. Here, there is a mishmash of cultures ranging from West Indian, Mayan, Carib, and Garifuna (which is essentially a mix between Africans brought here from Roatan and Carib indian) and caucasian. Everything looked, and smelled different. You can see some mexican influences here and there, but still, a world away. Belizeans are nice people, though a bit more reserved than Mexicans. My first impression was that I knew I was going to like it here.

When I asked Raf what he thought about San Pedro, he gave me the usual answer he gives when we’re somewhere that he really likes, “six months”. Queen Roz, on the other hand, had other plans. She made plans to catch a water taxi to Belize City the next morning so she can work her way back to Mexico to continue her traveling. So we saw her off the next day. I realized just after she left how nice it was to have her aboard. She was funny, spunky, and ate and drank like a bloke (as Raf always said). Despite her inexperience with sailing and boats, she handled herself well, pitched in with everything that needed to be done, and was a trooper when things went awry. It would be nice to see her again.

Our next few days in San Pedro were relatively quiet and uneventful. Except of course for the time our DINGHY DISAPPEARED!!! It seems one night Raf tied our dinghy not quite well enough, and that night we had some pretty serious winds, and the dinghy went bye-bye. We noticed it missing the next morning when I calmly looked over the stern while eating my granola, and saw that the dinghy was no longer there. So the search was on. Lots of questions, was it stolen? Did it float away? Where is it now? What the hell are we going to do if we can’t find it? Should I eat my granola before it gets mushy? And on, and on.

We started the search by asking around the various docks and piers along with a flyer with our contact info. Lucky enough for us, one of the dive guys said he saw a conch fisherman towing a dinghy in early that morning. After a bit of a search for this guy, we got a radio call with his info. We got to his place, and there was the dinghy safe and sound. It had drifted MILES away past the reef into open sea. We were VERY lucky to get it back. We gave the guy a nice reward of $200 Belize dollars for his help (about $100 bucks) and we were on our way.

The holidays were around the corner, and there weren’t too many tourists in town at the moment. The locals all seemed to be in some kind of zone because of the holidays. We met some people who kept things interesting though. Renee and Annemarie, a couple of tour guides from Indiana. They were there escorting a group from Indiana there. We had some cocktails on the boat a couple of sunsets, and hung out with them at a local bar for a few nights. They do lots of dive tours all around the Caribbean, so my guess is that we will run into at least one of them again during this journey.

Then, a couple of friends of mine from Florida, Eric and Greg, flew in for a week. They were going to do Christmas here with us in Belize. Greg had already been on the boat back in Isla Mujeres, but this was Eric’s first time aboard. We had a great week with them. Lots of partying in town, and on the boat. We got some snorkeling in, and the guys had a blast, as did we. I’m glad that they came, as they really brightened things up. They got on well with Raf too.

They considered staying a little longer, but in the end decided to go back after a week. Both want to come back in late February or March for when we expect to pass through the canal, so they figured that they’d bank their time to do that instead. So they caught their scheduled flight yesterday.

During that time, we brought Andiamo into a marina to get our water filled up and other stuff. We docked at Belize Yacht Club, a very nice condo/marina complex. It wasn’t too expensive, so I figured we’d stay a couple of days to make it easier on the guys to get on and off the boat without wet dinghy rides (We’d been having some hellish northerly winds and messy harbor waters).

One of the benefits of docking there was that we were able to use the property’s pool. So like caddy day in the movie “Caddyshack”, we raided the pool during our time there, as if we didn’t belong in this classy establishment (which we didn’t).

There were alot of laughs, and we met some great people while de-classing the pool. Howard and Bonnie from Iowa, along with their daughter Vanessa, who were staying there, came across as some really nice fun people. Howard and I being ex-Navy had lots to talk about, and Bonnie practically adopted us. Vanessa was like a breath of fresh air to all of us (but mostly me). We invited them over for dinner aboard Andiamo that night, which also happened to be Christmas Eve. We had a wonderful barbecued chicken dinner in the cockpit, all seven of us, followed by many many cocktails and cervezas. We then proceeded to hit the town and check out a few bars. Needless to say, Xmas eve for us became quite festive. We ended up at a club called Jaguar’s until something like 3-4AM. The fun continued the next day. What may have very well been a “downer” Christmas, at least for me, turned into one of the more memorable ones that I’ve had in quite some time. It was a highly welcomed (and sorely needed) pleasant sentiment.

We said goodbye to Howard, Bonnie and Vanessa a couple of days ago, and to Eric and Greg yesterday. We’re now in Cay Caulker, after a rough sail over 2 days ago from San Pedro. Sure the sail was only 10 miles to here, but the depths inside the reef are quite hairy. We ended up running aground in about 5 feet of water with our sails up. Luckily, we were able to get the boat off the shoal on our own and continue on. We made it to Cay Caulker without incident after that. Then when we anchored, we lost a throttle cable, probably from all the throttling I had to do to get us off the shoal. So that’s the repair project of the week. I managed to rig our throttle so we can still run the engine using the transmission’s cable as a replacement, so we can still run the engine every day for our battery charging, watermaking, etc. Hopefully, I’ll be able to repair the existing cable. Otherwise, I’ll need to get a replacement, and that will probably mean a trip to Belize City after the new year’s holiday. Since we’re planning on doing new year’s here in Cay Caulker, we don’t have to really go anywhere for a few days anyway, so fine for now.

So I think we’re all caught up. Happy now?

Oh, and one more thing, all the best for 2005 to everyone. Here’s hoping that it turns out to be a good year for all of us, what do ya’ say?