Galapagos islands enter the wilderness

Galapagos enter the wilderness!

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Marine iguanas, giant tortoises, finches, Darwin, the origin of life … This is what attracted us to these remote islands in the Pacific. And we haven’t been disappointed!

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The nice thing is that we can get very close to these unique species, they are fearless because accustomed to be respected on their territory. Although one must always keep a minimum distance of 2metres with animals (but most of the time, the animals themselves don’t respect this distance..) which is already very close and allows us to sit quietly with giant tortoises, blue footed boobies or iguanas watching them in their daily lives.

tortue-centenaireWe came to wonde,

who was observing who …

We also had the privilege to swim with sea lions, whose behavior reminds me a lot of dogs: they bark, play with pieces of wood and have almost the same mouth that canines. The most playful are the young ones. They come to touch us with their rough mustaches, or make bubbles just before our mask or throw a sea cucumber before us, shaking his head quickly, to encourage us to play with them  and catch it. We so enjoyed this complicity with these wild animals in their natural environment.

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The low attendance of sites, beaches and trails, the breathtaking landscapes added much to our pleasure to meet these animals. We have often been alone on trails and on most sites. Certainly we were off the high touristic season, but also the government of Ecuador has chosen an elitist tourism, therefore stays are very expensive: so few tourists who pay the big price. The idea is to keep substantial revenues avoiding mass tourism, the later could be detrimental to the park. The islands of the Galapagos are a huge protected national park in the middle of the Pacific ocean, the rules are strict. One cannot go diving without a guide and trek circuits are often well organized and well supervised. But there are many free treks on land and under water too that can be enjoyed on your own and where you can see plenty of animals of all kinds. Although, the best way to visit these islands, in my opinion, is a cruise aboard a “crusero”. Certainly this is not our way to visit a country, but I think the cruising ships optimize a short stay. They stop on each island and offer tours that go to the basics and make you discover the uniqueness of each island in a very short time.

As for us we were able to avoid the “touristic tours” because we had time. Time to find the guide that would take us alone to isolated places, time to enjoy greatly the wild beaches near our anchorage or walks around the islands once the groups DCIM116GOPROof tourists were gone and time to enjoy the numerous trek paths (by foot or bicycle) organized free of charge by the National Park. We made few dives (90 to $150 a day depending on the site, low season rates…) to see more closely eagle rays, manta rays, sea turtles, seahorse, small penguins, Galapagos sharks and even hammerhead sharks!

ferme-de-BolivarTime also allowed us to meet with the locals, on Isabella, San Cristobal as well as Santa Cruz, which would have been impossible if we stayed only few days. We witnessed that tourists stayed in general only 2 to 4 days on the islands therefore the locals didn’t feel like meeting them if not to sell their tours or a hotel room.

During our 2 months stay in the islands, we were the only sailing boat in the Galapagos. After a week in the same port, the locals started to befriend with us, invite us to their homes, share the beauty of their islands and the richness of their history with us but also the disadvantages and difficulties of living in the Galapagos. Tourism revenues (guides, 4×4 or boat trips, hotel trade) are not equitably shared and mainly benefit few families and organizations. Recently the government changed the rules and now the income of the National Park (entrance fees and taxes) go directly to the government of Ecuador and expenses of the park are managed from the continent. This action was taken to limit local corruption. It is certainly effective, but also deprives local institutions of their reactivity and adaptability to the needs. The Park Rangers have now fewer means to monitor this huge area, so the structures are suffering from this change and poaching is starting to be common.
While we, sailboats, are watched very closely: prohibition to fish, clean the hull of the boat, to visit some sites in the park without a guide … we observed near the coast fishermen within the forbidden 40 miles park area, the hooks catching without choosing sharks, turtles and other protected species, and empty the “pantry” of local species. I was also surprised to see the lobster fishermen with their compressors, which certainly respect the breeding season, but still fishing a big quantity to sell their goods locally and exportation too! This type of fishing with compressor is apparently legal and fishermen were even surprised to know that it is forbidden elsewhere. These fishermen are also emptying their sea of the famous sea cucumbers, which the Chinese are crazy off. But sea cucumbers do not have the same appeal as tortoises or sea lions. If we blame human to have overexploited tortoises (mainly for their meat and for their fat, which oil was used in the lampposts in the cities of the continent), the future seems less interesting for cucumbers. But beware … the revenge of the masked cucumber! !

Our extended stay thus allowed us to witness this complex paradox between respecting the National park and its essential rules, and finding incomes for everyone. Many fishermen and young farmers have turned into tourist guides and have significantly improved their earnings. But the desire to limit the number of visitors (taxes and park entry fees increase substantially each year to be limited to wealthy tourists) do not offer opportunities to those who wish to change jobs. The higher parts of the islands, cooler and humid benefit to agriculture and livestock, but again, young people lose interest. Which is a shame: they produce quality and fruits and vegetables without chemicals and soil is free from many of the diseases that exist on the continent. Oranges, lemons, tangerines, grapefruit, passion fruits, guayavas, pineapples and other fruits are delicious and were offered to us in large quantities. The meat is of good quality and hunters bring back the wild pig, goat sometimes. The Ecuadorian gastronomy does not leave us indifferent, and I believe I have taken a few kilos during our stay …

We met some wonderful people conscious of the fragility of their heritage, but we also witnessed a growing consumerism (fashion super androids and brand clothing) that we found awkward on these islands… Everyone wants his super plasma screen, Oakley glasses and Reef shoes. Taxes in Ecuador are up 100%, which must be added to the cost of transportation, so the price of a branded t-shirt or the latest phone, the Galapagos, 2 to 3 times the US price! So my conscience asks, “how can we combine a consumerist society with the most unique protected Natural Park in the world? “. Fortunately we met the young (few), full of enthusiasm and admiration for the surrounding nature, preferring, for example, buy a wetsuit and diving equipment than an i-phone. I think there is a real effort to make to educate young people sensibility to the precious environment in which they live.
The first generations arrived virgin and hostile country and had to build everything. These pioneers created agriculture and livestock, which now allow these islands to have a relative autonomy. The new generations are living on these gains and inheritance of land that have taken tremendous value.

 

 

 

 

And Darwin in all this? In fact, compared to the time he spent on these islands, the impact of this call on his memories was very important but if he had had more time, he would have surely deepened his observations of evolution beyond the finches to the giant tortoises for example who have adapted differently on each island. For us mere visitors, the characteristics of tortoises and their adaptability on each island is much easier to see (such as a longer neck on islands where the food was higher to access).ninja-oliv

My best memory is swimming with sea lions.

We can, without bothering them, observe them and play together. Once, one of them came to me, curious like me. Its black eyes watched me and were picking my every move. I was playing imitation, putting myself on the back, head down, “drinking” a gulp of air at the surface from time to time, blowing bubbles in its direction. So I plunged turning and it was the sea lion who started to imitate me and sped like an arrow between my legs. What an agility! After 10 minutes of play, I was exhausted, out of breath … has it returned to its sealion friends.

Here to watch the video: oliv&otarie

Olivier

June 2013-August 2015- Kuna Yala (Panama)

Our Kuna Yalacarte panama

Olivier : I remember that our arrival in Kuna Yala end June 2013 was very hard. After five days of heavy sailing from Jamaica, we were happy to finally put our anchor and get some rest. But 5 miles from the finish, we suffered our first “culo de pollo”, a deep depression of a few miles in diameter, with heavy rain, storm and strong winds. Some gusts reaching 70 knots! Fortunately, it does not last long, just enough to get a good fright.
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These “culo de pollo” translate “chicken ass,” were very common the first few months after our arrival, most days or nights and I confess that I have suffered a lot from it. Usually it wakes you up at 3 or 4 am and last about one hour. So, we put on our rain-jacket and I start a motor to be ready in case the anchor slips despite our 60m of chain! The danger also comes from the other boats next to us.

Wpollohen the storm is there, you cannot see the islands around nor the surrounding reefs, it’s stressful enough but then come the lightnings that threaten to strike us at anytime. Meanwhile we fill up our tank with fresh water by collecting rain water (the only positive point…).
One night we avoided disaster very closely. The anchor had slipped, I was at the helm, engines on, Steph on deck with a high intensity headlamp to get our bearings, when suddenly a flash of lightning illuminated a reef, 2m port hull! A second flash brings to light another reef, “at 1m starboard” Stephanie cries out to me! A great back up and a good fright later, we went further into the lagoon in the middle of nowhere.
Exhaustion, bad nights, high entrance fees in Panama (barely arrived you should lighten your wallet with more than 600 dollars) and the lack of “ship-friends” have demoralized me those first few months. Fortunately the weather improved, human encounters have warmed up our hearts and then we could visit this beautiful archipelago with more enthusiasm. The journey could continue and I forgot my desires to return to shore.

Stephanie:
iles3As you would have guessed if the beautiful islands of Kuna Yala had only been white sand beaches, crystal clear waters and coconut trees caressing us with their welcomed shadows, we would not have stayed two years in this archipelago.

But then, how to talk about the San Blas Islands? How to share this call that became an initiatory call without denaturing it, without sweeping it with coarse clichés, without painting it with solely exotic colors which the world craves of?
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For the Kuna Yala is precisely the antidote to the exoticism touristically put in scene, to folklore. And our motto “make a trip to the encounter of the Other” took on its full dimension here.

We certainly were able to take the time, but mostly we agreed to change our view and dared to enter the worldview of the Other.
Somehow the Kunas have taught us to go towards the Other. “The Other understood not in its irreducible difference but in its proximity, and even in the immediate brotherhood.” (JC. Guillebaud). Then naturally we shared our lives and deep in our souls forever we changed.

When we arrived in Kuna Yala we had the impression of entering a National Geographic documentary. We watched the Kunas like strange beings with obscure customs. We saw them as out of time; mysterious and inaccessible people.famille kuna
But with time; because all the wealth of our adventure lies precisely in this time we have decided to “take” not in the insolent desire to want to stop it, but to live it fully …. Over time, these Indians we thought so different, became men like you and me, and with even more time, we could meet them, nay!, we met each others should I say, we shared our lives. Thanks to this trip, the routine of the other can be shared. The foreigner that we are, gradually transforms into a meeting, becomes a meal prepared together, a shared ancestral ceremony like the chicha *, a woven basket with 4 hands, a mola ** sewn one next to the other, a fishing trip with friends, a miraculous catch …

Olivier carte KY
The Kuna Yala, also known by the Panamanian as San Blas, are a group of more than 300 islands near the Atlantic coast of Panama, but also a great coastal region of the country, neighboring Darien. The indigenous Kuna who occupy them, are organized in villages themselves organized in sort of cooperative communities. They live mainly on fishing, agriculture on mainland and trading of coconuts. They have their own language, but many of them also speak Spanish. The nearest islands to Colombia, we so enjoyed exploring, are more conservative, more traditional, still preserved from tourism and our consumerist society. village5

The “village-islands” have Sahilas (village chiefs and spiritual leaders) who can still accompany their people in tradition. Their values ​​are those of Mother Nature: humans are their “servants” and their mission is to protect it.

Relations with Kunas can sometimes seem difficult, some find them mercantile, conservatives or unfriendly. I think they are mostly shy and reserved. Our meetings with Kunas were very different from one island to another, and we often asked ourselves about our impact on their communities and their traditions. poissonnierSome “village-islands” have strict laws: alcohol, tobacco, and television are banned, while others are freer. Some villages we visited only see 4 or 5 boats per year, but that does not mean that people are flocking to us on arrival. In general we feel rather unnoticed, we can wander around in villages freely and naturally, share the daily life of people who welcome us as equal men and women. Then with time, shyness fades, tongues loosen and complicity settles. We share ideas, exchange thoughts (politics, philosophy, jokes, songs, stories), cooking recipes, craft ideas and sometimes some gifts. I exchanged a rope against a machete, stephanie swapped children’s clothes against molas, pounds of flour against its weight in fresh lemons, papaya, Yucca roots, bananas…

In Puerto Perme, near the Colombian border, we befriended with a family in the village. The femmes cuisinedad, Andres, spoke good Spanish because he had worked for several years in Panama City. He explained us how his community work, I went fishing with him and we shared meals in his family hut. Stephanie has learned to weave baskets, cook Doulemassi (traditional kuna soup) or make Winis, kuna bracelets that women cover their arms and legs with, keeping them as thin as possible and whose ancestral designs also tell the culture of Mother Earth. This is also where she started to learn the Kuna language. And our children? As usual, they disappeared with their new friends, went to admire toucans, parrots and other “mascotas” (read: pets) or play football, fish, swim together. During these two years in the Kuna Yala, they learned Spanish and some Kuna and have thus made friends in each island (if not girlfriends in each port).
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Stéphanie
But, (…. aaahhh, why is there always a “But” …?) this rich culture that the Kuna have so¡Un indio sin tierra, es un indio muerto! generously shared with us (although we were still far from totally mastering it), is shrinking under the influence of tourism which is taking hold of their ancestral values. The Kuna people have yet valiantly resisted the ravages of colonization, up to a bloody revolution 90 years ago to gain their autonomy and independence towards Panama; because as they say “a landless indigenous is a dead indigenous.” But today they are defenseless against the invasion of the dollar. femmes mains molaFortunately the picture is not uniformly painted the same color on the archipelago. The South East is hardly visited by lack of accessibility and tourists are rare. These villages can thus preserve their simple lifestyle, close to a Nature offering them all they need to live happily. For how long? This will depend on the Kuna people, of the discernment of their Sahilas and on the degree of respect shown by the future visitors. Hopefully in the coming years, this incredible culture won’t be reduced to mere Molas, Nuchus (wooden figures embodying the soul of the Kunas) and Winis souvenirs exposed in tourist shops.

village steph kuna2The Kuna Yala was for me a school of life where my lessons were given to me by “tutors unconscious of their task to a fickle student, always on the departure, but who came from very far to receive their instruction” (S. Tesson).

Among others … I remember:

 

Lisa (island of Rio Sidra) and Prado (island of Soledad Miria), Molas makers, artists in my eyes, who generously shared with me their knowledge of the Molas: the stories illustrated by its symbols, often transmitted orally or through dreams by the ancestors to its creator.

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Bredio (in the Robeson Islands). A wonderful man with a wise philosophy of life. Orphan at bredio36 years old, he was adopted by a Kuna family who took him to live on the big island of Carti. When he was 12 they settled in Panama City so that he could continue studying. There, he learned Spanish and his future job. At 24 years old, while Bredio had an excellent job in Panama city, while he “earned a very good living” as we say, an emptiness inside him remained, a “bitterness” made him lose the flavor of “good things” the city, the civilization had to offer. Then, he went in search of his family on his native island in KunaYala and realized that back there was the real life. Far from the bredio2“comfort” of modern life he found appeasement in a more traditional way of living. “Here we no longer need to run to possess more and more. Here you eat what Mother Earth can offer if you’ll give yourself the strength to cultivate, hunt or to fish. Here you share your life with your family and fully enjoy the present time before it becomes tomorrow and already the past. “(Bredio).

Teo (island of Nalunega) has transformed his hut into a museum where the past and the theopresent make one. Through his sculptures, paintings and stories, he tells children of Kuna Yala (and whoever interested) the Kuna version of mankind and earth history and thus helps transmitting and kipping alive the Kuna culture (history, tales, medicine, tools, crafts etc.). Museum of the present too, because Teo educates his people to the threat of excessive consumerism at the expense of Mother Earth. He built his hut out of plastic bottles, flip-flops and other waste collected at the edge of the water just outside his hut, as vomited by the sea. Waste coming from all over the Atlantic and the Caribbean, from another world, called “civilized”.

 

IP1020490 also think of Achu, exceptional Kuna painter (and poet in my eyes). His heart, his soul shared between his family life in Canada and his roots in Kuna Yala where he returns every year. One foot in the materialistic capitalist West and the other in the minimalist, spiritual, “naturalistic” Kuna Yala all giving rise to paintings where the Kuna and Mother Earth are struggling with the tormented human hearts drifting among consumerism.

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I think of Achu’s parents who I hardly know, but I still see them sitting in front of their hut in Ustupu island, old, loving, clear-sighted and so peaceful, both connected to the world, to the universe.

The Kuna people: still strongly anchored in their culture, makes them proud of their nation, their traditions and we welcome their wisdom. They don’t need us (tourists, people from the so called “developed countries”) to live happily and it was a chance for us to navigate among these islands and meet with these people who became our neighbors for a while.

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chicha17* chicha is a tradicional Kuna ceremony to celebrate various stages in women’s life (first hair cut, menstruation, kinds of wedding). These ceremonies can last several days during which  the family invites the whole village to get together in the ceremony hutt (Chicha hutt) to traditional songs, dances and the Chicha drink (made from fermented sugar cane juice).

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November 2013, 2 years at sea!!!


November 11th, 2013

Today we begin our 3rd year on Planet Ocean. Easy to remember, we started on 11/11/2011.

 

 

To all of you constantly repeating us NOT to return ( saying that it is the crisis in France and Europe, suffering from recession, rainy and cold days), to continue our journey even if you miss us very much.
To you my friends, my family who support us without any limit. Note that this crazy adventure can be lived fully and peacefully because you accompany each of our days, our emotions, our expeditions in the heart of nature, mankind, life. Since the beginning of this adventure we feel inspired by your love, surrounded by all of you, it gives us wings.

So to you all, I promise to enjoy every moment of our adventure, the richness of our encounters, the beauty of the world, as well as the difficult moments, fears, doubts, or the stress that this lifestyle may includes as well.

Given the current economic situation in Europe (and elsewhere, I can assure) , we decided to continue or adventure a few more years. How many? Who knows? Let’s not look too far, the future is now, so we just enjoy it and we’ll see where winds carry us .
The passage of the Panama Canal is planned for 2014. Then it will be The Galapagos, the Marquesas, and long navigations in the Pacific!
Bye for now….

Stephanie and Olivier

Jamaica-Panama – July 2013

Jamaica, Tuesday evening, July 2nd, 2013 

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 These 5 days of navigation promise worthy of a fun fair: with a sea, let’s say … very rough , 30 knots crosswind with crossswell! It’d been 10 days that we were waiting for a “good” weather window to make this crossing considered to be difficult and dangerous, but with all the tropical waves that have been following one another, this is what we found best. Leaving Jamaica in the tail of a depression we will try to pass between two tropical storms and get to Panama before the next storm.

Just out of the bay of Port Antonio we are knocked about in all directions , waves 4 to 5 meters in the snitch, such as the wind. Ten hours like that, before we can take a route further West, direct to Panama .
I then get a message on the satellite phone from my nephew : ” Alexander has successfully passed his exams ! ” . This is a drop of strong emotion that broke the vase, I cry , I laugh with excitement, I jumped for joy. Oh Thanks Alexander for this gift, this intense moment of great happiness , I am SO proud of you !
This emotion is to accompany me during these five days of crossing that does not promise to be very pleasant.

2nd day crossing.
I have bruises and aches everywhere for banging myself at every big wave, storm-tossed like a plum tree. Fortunately the swell is not as short as we feared, the wind is good and allows us to sail flat out to Panama. If it continues like this our bet will be held and we will arrive before the next tropical storm that is already on the southern Caribbean islands..  

Video Camille cruising to Panama
3rd day

We pass between the cracks . We narrowly escape the huge storms that surround us and strengthen the sea and the wind, but we are spared each time. In these moments I am glad that we have a fast and solid boat. Planet Ocean splits the sea at full speed as a racing horse. But I must confess at these same times, when tiredness overtakes me, I wonder why we did not choose to do our world tour by bicycle or just by foot? Although don’t take me wrong, I have never regretted leaving and would not trade my place for a nice couch by a cozy fireside… Hmmm although… after this other big wave right in the face …. I ‘m soaked , salted to the bones … I’m going to try to make me a nice cup of tea (without scalding myself ).

P1010409P1010417How about the children would you say? Well, for them life goes on. School workshops in the morning (they even asked to do knitting or embroidery !) , good meals , naps lulled by the waves for Camille and  reading for Noé, then afternoon games: Lego, UNO etc. or miraculous fishing sessions and stories read by parents or by Noé. They find their rhythm quickly , although Noé complains occasionally waves shove a little too much when he wants to do his coloring or collages. In the evening we all admire the mighty spectacle of the sea and thunderstorms before going to bed or take a night shift.

4th day:  In the morning Panama is in sight!
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We are approaching the island of Porvenir in the Kuna Yala (San Blas ) . We’re almost there , but the sky is threatening, a huge storm is brewing in the distance. I do not know if we’re going to escape this time …. I scarcely had time to write this last sentence that the storm was beating down on us! Suddenly a violent wind rises, heavy rain fell on us! It is night in broad daylight , we see nothing except when the lightning strike and electrify the raging sea . We are only at 3 miles from the shore, we must be extra careful because there are many reefs around here. Therefore we decided to make an about-turn until the storm passes . So close to destination we are already on the way back !

Afternoon : Phew finally arrived ! A good nap, a good meal and fatigue is almost forgotten. All in all we had great weather during the crossing ! 😉

The scenery is staggering, we really feel at the end of the world or in documentary from National Geographic. Very soon we meet the first Kuna Indians . I can feel that we aren’t going to leave so soon.

This is magnificent!

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DSC_0035Stephanie

 

Back to Cuba! May 2013

Cubaarrivée à SantiagoWe are happy to be back to Cuba this year, meetings and discoveries we made this time enabled us to learn a little more about the country, the Cuban and their history.

Last May when we arrived in Santiago de Cuba, we were surprised at first to witness the freedom with which people spoke about their country, their difficulties and their dreams. While last year some tongues, only untied on a bench in front of the sea , away from eavesdroppers, but with a glance over the shoulder to make sure no one is listening, and this year the quick eye was gone and the political and economic views were revealed more easily.

We attributed this “relaxation” of Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, the effects were devastating over Santiago. The people have lost a lot and blamed the rest of the country to have failed helping them rebuilding their homes. Suddenly the mood of the city changed. More insecurity, a hundred aggressions were recorded the last 8 months of the Santiago region. For a country that knows no insecurity, even at night in the busy streets (or not) of cities, it’s a shock. Tourists are also solicited in the city center with all kinds of people (improvised guides, newspaper vendors, beggars, musicians) mainly also because many tourists give easily. The tranquility of the marina is not anymore, although it’s still not at all dangerous for boaters or anyone. But there’s people offering grass, coco, smuggled fuel or even diamonds! The Cuba we knew had not got us used to all this last year. You could almost forget sometimes that Cuba is still under a dictatorship. Yet Cuban is still not an open society in the western sense. Cuban internal security is still tight and the supervision of its people close. We still had evidence of easy arrests and expulsions of the country (for tourists) just for being seen in the company of political “dissidents”. Denouncement is still widely used, the law is harsh and ears lurking everywhere. So beware of boaters who might be tempted by some diamonds ….

The day after we arrived, our friend Julio, representative of Casa del Caribe, was waiting for us to take us to his village of El Cobre, 20km from Santiago, to meet the artists who have created paintings specifically for our association fundraising “Artistick Boat.” Meeting with these artists was very moving and full of humanity and spirituality.
basilique de el cobre  ds les rues del Cobre   famille de Julio

In this lovely village, famous for its Basilica and the “Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre”, patroness of Cuba, we also had the opportunity to do some cinema projections that children and adults have much appreciated. A week later we had to take leave for Cienfuegos and saying goodbye to El Cobre, Julio, his family and friends was difficult, heart breaking and moving.

les jardins  sauvageOn the road to the west we stopped to say hello to Yaniel and his family (who we met last year) at Marea del Portillo, then we made a stop in the islands of “Jardines de la Reina” (Garden of the Queen) a good occasion to eat plenty of fresh lobsters.

       Les langoustes et olivier, une histoire d'amour?

bienvenidos socialista

Unlike Santiago, Cienfuegos has not changed much since last year. Always a nice little quiet town reminding us of the fifties. It’s like sometimes being dipped into a Tati film. A strange mix of ‘Un Jour de fête” and “Trafic”.

Then we left Planet Ocean for a week to visit Havana and Viñales (Western Province known for its tobacco, fruits and wine).
Nos moussaillons ne peuvent pas s'empecher de pechermaleconGrandes émotions sur le malecon
Havana surprised us with its amazing tranquility for a big city. The “casa particular” (family pensions) in the city center are very warm and welcoming. In ours (at David and Lydia) in the district of Centro Habana,we were able to meet all the family over several generations. The kids loved the crocodiles and turtles (“jigoteas”) in the patio! Casa Particular
Sandwiched between the old city (“Habana Vieja”, the tourist area), the “Barrio Chino” (Chinatown) and Vedado (residential area of ​​the middle class), this district of Centro Habana is now overcrowded and families crammed into dilapidated buildings. But the atmosphere is very warm, supportive and welcoming. And then there are people like David’s family who have rolled up their sleeves to restore several buildings they then transform into beautiful family pensions. Here is for once a real positive effect of tourism! As for the old city center “Habana Vieja”, a sort of tourist showcase, it benefits from an extensive restoration project (far to conclude) initiated by UNESCO in the early 90s. There you leap back several decades and find yourself in the Spanish colonial era with beautiful facades. Of course, the old Buick, Studebaker, Pontiac, Chevrolet and other 50’s American cars are playing their roles, as well as the horse-drawn carriages and bicitaxis.
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After buzzing in the (quiet) streets of Havana, we left for the beautiful valley of Viñales. a cheval dans la vallée de ViñãlesThere we went for a beautiful horseback ride through the magnificent and peaceful landscape. Perched on our little horses that seem to move on autopilot, we walk between these impressive sheer limestone cliffs called “Mogotes”, in grove-pine, the orange and tobacco plantations. Viñales et ses Mogotes

During a stop in one of these plantations, we were shown the art of making THE Cuban cigar “the Habano”. The growing and harvesting of the famous tobacco are quite close to those of wine: the importance of soil, orientation and quality of the land, the timing of harvest (per leaf levels), then drying and highly controlled fermentation. Finally making purrothe cigar is a blend of several sheets who is qualified according to its functions: the leaves that burn well, the ones that give the strong taste, those gentle, those who hold the cigar … the latter giving the shape and color of the cigar. Not to mention a few drops of honey! I did not become a fan … But I know how to recognize the bad and good cigars now!

As the pretty colonial village of Viñales, its streets are colourfull with its rows of pretty painted low houses with bright colors. A bit too touristy for our taste but at the end of the day when the tour buses leave, the city finds its tranquility and moreover its authenticity.

Then comes the time to go back to Cienfuegos, not without stopping en route at Las Terrazas in the Sierra del Rosario to swim in the Rio San Juan. rio
There in the middle of a beautiful landscape with lush vegetation along the river we find beautiful natural pools with little cascades and in which we could refresh ourselves with delight. As it was the weekend, around noon many Cuban families came to picnic, fun and great ambiance guaranteed!

Finally back on the water, to the delight of Camille who pined for his boat, DSC_0064we return to the Gardens of the Queen eat “one” last lobster in the company of fishermen. One of them was celebrating his birthday the same day as Stephanie, so we take the opportunity to celebrate the birthdays together!

 

P1010298merci à 4BB2 pour ses combinaisons antiUVl'orage se lève dans les jardins

It is a pleasure to chat with the Cuban, when you can speak a little bit of Spanish, I had to give it a try … but when it gets complicated Steph is chatting further rich and varied subjects.

In Cuba, the conversations and exchanges with taxi drivers, of bicitaxi, encounters random street corners, old, young, greengrocers are a real treat. All have an excellent education and brilliant ways of thinking about the world! Hopefully this will enable them to be able to find a path which gives gives them greater political freedom, while at the same time preserving the social gains of the revolution, and make smarter choices than ours for the future?camille revolutionaireGiven the mass propaganda, both pro and con, that the Cuban revolution has generated, it is impossible to come to this island without at least some pre-conceived ideas. We defy anyone who arrives with an open mind to leave with those ideas intact; simply being in Cuba is a rich educational experience. Cruising in Cuba is far removed from the stereotype of Caribbean cruising. It is for the self-sufficient cruiser who wants to blaze a trail, experience nature in its pristine state, and live off the bounty of the sea. It is for the amateur historian and sociologist who wants to see one of the great social experiments of this century. And it is for all those who want to immerse themselves in an incredibly friendly and culturally rich Caribbean society. Then, we have left the best for last, it is for anyone who wants to meet the wonderful people of Cuba. The Cuban are quite the most spontaneously friendly, extraordinary, brave, curious and generous people that we have met along our travels. So you should go to Cuba just to meet them!
To see more picttures on Flickr : http://flickr.com/gp/3metz/7hp3S8/
Olivier & Stephanie

Winter (and spring) 2013

Winter in the tropics … it is not always as we imagine it!

DSC_0012With this article I will try to catch my phenomenal late, cheating a little I admit by just sharing with you the pictures of the last few months (see links below). More detailed articles will follow later, I promise.
For those who have not followed the events, we spent the winter between the Grenadines and Guadeloupe sharing our adventure with friends and family. So far, it sounds good. The heat, the golden shores, small romantic islands and lush vegetation … You already feel the straw floating in your glass of Piña colada!?  We’re almost there.

To view photos click on these links:
http://flickr.com/gp/3metz/Tf4wd7/
http://flickr.com/gp/3metz/npR23N
http://flickr.com/gp/3metz/73Kb35/
http://flickr.com/gp/3metz/S24Ve3/

 In March we had an extended stay on earth in Martinique to do significant work on PlanetOcean. Work that we constantly pushed back since we bought Planet but if we want to cross the pacific ocean next year, we had no choic but ?reaking inour bank account.
This long layover got children back on the benches of the school. To the delight of Noand “misfortune” of Camille (who prefers
?chool on the boat he says)… We rented a small house in the west of Martinique near Le Francois and every morning we could admire the breathtaking scenery of the wildest ocean coast. Meanwhile, Olivier had stayed on the boat, in the drydock , to keep him company he had the mosquitoes, cockroaches and rats without counting the 35 degrees in the cabin at night in the absence of sea breeze.
Olivier:
“Our Martinique stop was very technical and I met more mosquitoes than grains of sand. We put PlanetOcean on the drydock for a refit session:
Starboard hull was pierced in a very vicious place and we had to make some holes in the hull before deciding any repairing action. So to the most curious: rudder tube (1) was drilled under the waterline (2) and the leak filled a crashbox (3) rear engine. Nothing very serious because the volume of embedded water could not increase thanks to judicious partition (the leak had already been present for a few months.) But a repair was needed, and I was lucky, we had to an appropriate site and had a
careenage (4) to do.
PlanetOcean has thus found her buttom out of the water for nearly a month, and in that same time I suffered the dust, resin fumes and the incessant attacks of mosquitoes (well organized in 8 hours shifts). Fortunately, Stephanie and the kids were able to stay on the ground and avoid this hell.
The boat has enjoyed a good fitness, including: review of the windlass (5), the engines, the steering system and transmission, new hot water circuit (Mmmm), new jib and revision of the safety gear.
Anyway, here we go again in our adventures with a safer boat,
a honed crew who know their boat and at the same time a serene captain!

Notes:

  1. rudder tube: tube through the hull at the stern of the boat and keeps the axis of the rudder (the stuff that makes the boat turn). Wherein the tube, due to the age of the boat, and the aluminum was completely eaten by corrosion and electrolysis. Changed to new, here we go again for 20 years.
  1. waterline: theoretical line of healthy vessel. If it disappears under the water, you have to change boat.

  2. crashbox: “Collision” box in French. This is a buoyancy compartmentalized, front and rear of the boat. If pressed or crashed, the boat should still float.

  3. The careenage is the underwater hull cleaning, sanding and changing the antifouling paint (which retards the growth of algae and shells).

  4. Windlass: electric motor for slackers who do not want to raise the anchor and chain by hand.
    See photos:
    http://flickr.com/gp/3metz/5ZMgG8/

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On Noe’s birthday PlanetOcean was back on sea (at last!) and a week later we set sail (at last!) towards Guadeloupe, St Marteen, Dominican republic and then Cuba.

antilles103We were in Luperon in May. To see pictures click on the following link: http://flickr.com/gp/3metz/SXxvyX/

Good wind to you all and we’ll send you more news about Cuba later… Then it will be Panama in July.
Planetocean

 

A Christmas Special, december 2012

A Christmas special.
Shortly before Christmas, while we still had a heavy heart having said goodbye to the family who had come to spend a few weeks on board, nature offers us an unforgettable gift.
We wake up in the morning, anchored at Le Pain de Sucre, Les Saintes. The weather is beautiful, very quiet we are only two boats in the bay.
I am preparing breakfast when Oliver shouts: “Dolphins”. At first I thought it was a (bad) joke because we had never been visited by dolphins at anchor. But knowing my captain, I do not think that his brain had been awake enough to have that kind of humor before his first cup of coffee. I therefore rush on deck. He told the truth! Two dolphins are swimming around the boat.
Neither one nor two I put my mask slipped my palm and I jumped into the water. So much for coffee, farewell morning toast and cereals! The visibility is not great, the sun still low on the horizon (it is only 6am), fresh water … (only 24 degrees)! I swim, I do circles around the boat, then in the bay … Nothing. Oooh … But where are they …? After a quarter of an hour (this is long quarter of an hour swimming in circles in the water without seeing anything! ..) I felt as if someone was watching me. I turned and found myself literally face to face with two dolphins who were starring at me, curious and probably wondering what I could well be looking for. I know that dolphins are nice .. nevertheless they took me by surprise and I “made a jump” out of water (yes, it is possible for humans too!). So much so that I scared them too. Then we meet, the baby dolphin provokes me to play under the watchful eye of his mother. They move away a little, I caught my breath, my spirits and warn Olivier and the children to come and share this moment of great happiness. Noé jumps into the water and we leave again in search of the dolphins. Five minutes later (it’s long 5 minutes!) .. as we began to think they were maybe gone, they are right there, back to play with us again… The baby swims towards Noé to play, it turns around him very close, comes right in front of his mask to make noises with his mouth, passes between his legs. Noé makes some apnea dives to play under the water with the dolphins (to the delight of the youngest). Later Camille will join us too, with Olivier. I forget my breakfast, also that I am freezing cold and we stay good 3 hours swimming and playing with these beautiful creatures! Then other boats arrive at anchor, we are now about a dozen swimmers around the dolphins. This is too much for our taste. We take this opportunity to swim back to Planet to warm up and eat. Later, when bathers have gone we go back to the water, just to say goodbye to our new travel companions.
dauphins saintes 1What an amazing encounter with these beauties of nature, free of their movements, free of their destinations, free of their lives. Unforgettable!  Noé and Camille were so comfortable with these huge animals. They played with them with respect, love and admiration. Noé « recorded » every detail of the two dolphins (the shape and function of the vents, the spots on their body, the shape of the fins, the scars, the look, the way they communicate, swim, their facial expressions, sounds etc…)
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We thank you life, thank you nature for this precious gift!! We enjoyed every second of it and we will keep this treasure within us foerever!

Stephanie
I attached some photos of poor quality but it certainly helps to imagine … especially that of Olivier playing with the youngest one.

August-October 2012, Carriacou (west indies)

Carriacou
P1000464Before the first cyclone Ernesto, we found refuge in Tyrell Bay on Carricaou just before Grenada. This island offers a large protected bay and a large mangrove.

But Carriacou is not only that …
For the record: the first inhabitants were the Arawak Indians then the Carib who named the island Carriacou: “the land of reefs.” Then the island was colonized by the French in 1763 but ceded with Grenada to the United Kingdom under the Treaty of Paris.
In the 60s, many carriacouans emigrated to the United Kingdom, the United States or other Caribbean islands because of the lack of jobs. The island has no manufacturing and agriculture is the main activity on the island. But Carriacou has no rivers, the water comes only from rainfall which sometimes can cause real problems during the dry season that extends from January to June
In the 2000s, many carriacouans returned to their island to retire and repatriating a bonanza of a lifetime rewarding work and by the same improved the local economy. Today, the British influence is still strong on the island in the manners and customs but we find also a French influence in the names of villages and local Creole. In the village of Windward, located in the north of the island, you can still see traditional boat building following the true legacy of Scottish and Irish descendants.

When we arrived for the first time in Hillsborough (admittedly a Sunday afternoon!), The streets were deserted. Only a few stray dogs were hanging into gutters dodging bushes rolling on the road under the hot wind of August. Rather gloomy atmosphere far from the images of postcards that we had made. Once the formalities done, we quickly left to Tyrell Bay which we had heard great things.

P1000615Again we were a little surprised when we landed to find just along the beach one road, lined with a few small restaurants, two “supermarkets”, a diving center, a sails workshop, two huts vendors of fruits and vegetables.

 

DSC_0186  P1000584 P1000623

But soon we realized that Carriacou would offer its true beauty, unveiled its wealth to those who take the time. Because if Carriacou has a reputation of being one of the most beautiful Caribbean island with its white sandy beaches, protected bays, varied landscapes and sites of exceptional anchorage, it is up to you to discover and explore! As the most beautiful in all of this is that it is not a tourist island. There is no real tourist facilities, no big hotels, no international airport. The Carriacouans welcome you just naturally as travelers, curious to know you and to share their island, if you wish to.
Over the past three months in Carriacou during hurricane season, we have been able to forge real connections with people, share with them our lives. Here we take the time to meet, to learn, to apreciate. No more relationship based on money only, where we, tourists,  are perceived only as a source of easy revenue. No. Everybody here pays its bananas, its sweet potatoes the same price, same with the bus ride. Here we are again  travelers that Carriacouants are proud to host.
So, without really realizing we turned to the rhythm of Carriacou “neither too fast nor too slow” and simply enjoyed life.

You can enjoy a nice walk in the surrounding countryside. We talked with fishermen and  vegetables vendors. Fridays evenings we celebrate the arrival of the weekend with the whole village around a Steel Drum concert before spending the weekend with everyone on the beach. At anchor as well as in the village, there is a warm summer camp feeling: aperitif for some, BBQ with others, activities for children on the beach, crafts, fishing. Most boats are moored there for several weeks or months, and the separations are more difficult when it’s time to leave.
Yes life is simple and sweet in Carriacou without being cut off from the world (there is internet everywhere). It’s just that people here know how to take  what was good in our modern society itself (health, education, culture, communication, etc.) while not losing the human ties, family and  not succumbing  to the “always more”. Here, a cellphone is a cellphone, although it is  2, 3 or 5 years old. Here children play outside freely and everyone keeps an eye on them.
DSC_0229The vegetable vendors, Denise and Dodline, have a vegetable stall in a small wooden box made of four boards and a “roof” at the edge of the road. They have become our “cuddly” offering us daily scarce resources according to arrivals the moment.

 

Then there is Johnny who came on board for coffee in the morning and  for diner when he couldn’t bother preparing himself some food, alone on theP1000699 catamaran of which he had “custody”. Sometimes he goes fishing with his friend Cigarette. Well, he watches him diving while he keeps the boat, just in case … . Because Johnny, he is not ready to put his head under water and even less to look at what lives down there. “Naa!” As Johnny would say …. “I do not like all that stuff down there that swim.” .
P1000579There is also Andy who runs the unique sail workshop on the island. The british corner that illuminates our days of his smile, his DSC_0230composure and his positivism. The epitome of the expression “if you do not have good brain, you have good legs” … Although, in his case, it’s a good dinghy that allows him to flutter and twirl from boats to boats for his work.

Oh I should also tell you about Geneviève and Dominique. Genevieve who has so generously shared with me her knowledge as masseuse-physiotherapeut. I hope I’ll be at the height of my “master” and her talents. In any case since then,  I’m having good fun giving massages to anyone who is ready to receive it. Dominique (aka Domino), her husband, has DSC_0035invented a concept simply awesome. He has set up his workshop welding seam on the water in the middle of the bay on an old trimaran (which admittedly takes a little water, then he pumps, he pumps  Dominique ..). The space is very open and welcoming in the image of Dominique. And boats that need repairs can come to moor directly to his workshop and get an expert hand, welding aluminum and stainless steel .. Too strong this Domino!
P1000626P1000648PTDC0082

DSC_0702 I forget many other figures of Tyrell Bay in Carriacou, as Richard and Diane: Canadians who run one of two dive centers, the team at Lambi Queen where one can enjoy “fricassés  of Lambi” or beautiful grilled lobster while listening to the local group of Steel Drum and many others …

 

This island and its inhabitants have marked for simplicity and sincerity meetings, Carriacou soon!

To see more pictures: http://flickr.com/gp/3metz/2Pb729/

Summer 2012, Les Saintes and The Grenadines (west indies)

kitesurf3For those who do not know, know that it has nothing to do with either syrup or with fruit. These are the southern islands of the West Indies and there are 2 country: Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada. They have the advantage of being out cyclonic area (it does not mean that there is never a cyclone).
The Grenadines are known for their scenery worthy of the most beautiful postcards. We had the pleasure of welcoming board several families who have discovered these remarkable white sandy beaches under the coconut trees, swimming with turtles, eagle rays, sharks the sleepers (inofensifs!), explore the famous coral Natural Park the Tobago Cays, discuss spirituality with dreadlocks and make necklaces of seeds and shells sipping a piña colada.
DSC_0590 PTDC0401  PTDC0410

In short, the Grenadines, we do not talk as well as smiles and amazed eyes of all those who came to share with us these unique islands.

To see more pictures: http://flickr.com/gp/3metz/C5St89/

March 2012: Marie Galante, Guadeloupe, Les Saintes

Thursday, March 22, Marie Galante
We continue our journey northwards to arrive in time to the Dominican Republic where we meet friends in early April.

 

Marie Galante
This name always made me dream. We made a short stop on a deserted beach, another pearl of the Caribbean. Unforgettable!

Saturday, March 24th.
After a refueling stop at Point à Pitre in Guadeloupe, we head up to the Saintes. Off Guadeloupe coast, Olivier observes strange little water clouds above the sea. No, they are like little geysers … Dolphins? We set full sail towards them… then…. nothing. We scan the horizon … Yet we had seen something. Suddenly a gigantic mass, turquoise, emerges from the depths along the hull! Whales! Two moms with their calves. They follow us, swim around the boat. Calves are playful and give us a real acrobatic show. It is fascinating, of unparalleled beauty and grace, we are hypnotized. But not all reassured because the mothers are longer than our boat and their calves are well 2/3rd of the hull. Suddenly one of them deviates a little, turned around and heads right at us, as if she wanted to mess with us. Olivier turns on the engine per-heating alarm. Phew, at the last moment she turns, avoid our little hull and just splash us with her water jet when taking her breath before swimming away. We are still shaking with emotion and recalling this precious moment still gives me goosebumps. It was such a magical and precious encounter. What a wonderful gift of nature!

In Les Saintes we choose to anchor in the most savage island: Ilet à Cabrit” . At that point we don’t imagine that this one night stop would turn into another unforgettable encounter. If you spend a day there, do not forget to stop at Ilet à Cabrit. There go and meet with Ulric, the potter. He gives children (and parents who dare) the most beautiful introduction to pottery that can exist. In the forest, by the sea, kids can work the clay taken from the creek that passes near the workshop. Ulric knows how to ease the shyest, generously sharing his passion with simplicity and humility.

Click here to see the video for “Noe potter”

On the night of 25th we leave with regret the magical Ilet à Cabrit. No doubt we will return.