Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A brief affair with Nicaragua

Nick throwing a celebratory banana peel after half summiting the volcano

Volcan Concepcion, Isla Ometepe, Nicaragua

A cool looking thingy that Dan nibbled on. He was sick two days later...connection?

A long row of cigars in Granada

Dan's favorite meal...until he was sick later that night. Was it is the chicken or the red weird unknown fruit flower?

Volcanoes are everywhere!!!

Nightime Shakedown

Picture this. We are about 30 miles offshore from the Guatemalan Cost. It is about 11pm. It is our second night out at sea since leaving Mexico. I am alone on watch. It is dark, but the moon is bright. I have checked the horizon- no lights in sight. So I settle to read a few pages of my book with a head torch on. Scarlett O’Hara is being ridiculous. A few minutes pass and I get up to check things out. No lights. I sit down again about to get comfortable when I notice a dark shadow resembling a small boat a few hundred meters away. I watch it. My mouth is open. It is a boat. It has no lights on. It is following us. My conclusion: Guatemalan pirates!

I wake Dan up who comes up sporting nothing but his undies and we watch the boat- nervously. All of a sudden we hear then see this boat coming straight us at full throttle. We are quietly panicking – starring. As the boat approaches (still no lights on), Dan beams our flashlight directly at them. They respond with turning their polices lights on. Turns out, they weren’t pirates at all and they weren’t after our booty. It was the US Coast Guard (a boat full of bored & cold young Americans) patrolling the waterways for suspicious activities.  After bobbing beside us for about 10 minutes asking us questions like: do you have any weapons on board, they were off to scare other unsuspecting boats.

Still shaken up by the surprise visit, Dan tried unsuccessfully to go back to sleep and I ignored Scarlett O’Hara for the rest of the night looking much more intensely into the dark horizon.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Zihuatanejo - By Jeff Appelbe

Happy New Years everyone,

Here is a fashionably late update from my amazing week long adventure onboard the USTUPU over New Year’s 2012.

I arrived in Xitapa alone on Dec 27th after spending two weeks travelling Mexico and Belize.  The instructions were simple.  Meet us at 17 40’36 and 101 39’23, a location on a nearby island after 2pm on Dec 27th.  Although I've never used GPS coordinates to arrange a meeting, I knew I could figure this out. I uploaded Google Earth to my iPhone. Instead of an exact point however, an image of the entire Island with a 3km radius came up.  I tried dozens of times to find a more specific location with the coordinates given, roaming on the Mexican network of course, with no further luck.  "Dan's a yachtsman", I thought to myself. "He can't fuck up basic GPS coordinates".

He did. Dan gave me hours and minutes, but left out the seconds. I was meeting them at one of the bays on Isla Grande, a name that can be translated to Big Island. I thought the best thing to do was go to Isla Grande, see how many bays there were, and e-mail him the coordinates where I end up.  Yep, it was a great plan.

Fortunately, I was travelling light.  Unfortunately I had been lugging the Ustupu's spinnaker around the continent from Vancouver to Newark, to Cancun, to Playa Del Carmen, back to Cancun, to Mexico City, to Ixtapa, to Zijuatenejo, and finally to Isla Grande to be re-united with its boat. It was the size of a hockey bag, and although not particularly heavy, it was awkward and gargantuan.

I spent the early part of the afternoon getting to the pier, then over to the island. I arrived on the northern tip of Isla Grande via water taxi, where I thought would be the best place to send my coordinates.  Then I realised, Isla Grande had no cell phone service at all.  We we're lost with no means of communication; it was like being back in the 90's.  So I did what I'd been taught to do when lost in Scouts as a young lad; stay still and someone will find you.  I found a table on the beach, ordered a Sol and told the server to keep them coming.  Dan and Sylvie were going to find me.

After half drunkenly waving down two other similar looking sail boats, a few hours passed...I spotted its green.  And even more specifically, it’s red. I could see Sylvie's hair, as well as a frame similar to Danny’s but with a mullet like hairstyle.  It was definitely Dan and Sylvie. Waving a pink shirt on the end of the pier for 10 minutes worked.  Captain Schrodes and his faithful rower we're coming to get me.  I'd found them. We were all elated. This was going to be a great week, and it was.

No phones, no e-mail, computers or watches.  I fell into the groove right away.  I had needed this.  Eat dinner when it gets dark (mostly fantastic dinners from Sylvie), go to sleep when you get tired, and get up when the sun comes back up.  Swim, eat, have a few beers in-between and repeat.  Fantastic, I was a happy boy in great company. 

Aside from waking up frozen with panic from the thought we had been boarded by Mexican banditos trying to rob us (which actually turned out to be Sylvie tying down noisy ropes) the first day and night were very relaxing. 

For the next three days we snorkeled, back flipped, scrubbed the boat, fished with disgusting canned hot dogs with absolutely no luck and enjoyed catching up. Isla Grande was a great little place.  It was about a 150m swim to the island, where we could get food and beers that we didn’t have on the boat. 

We spent the next few days exploring the island. After a few days we were also joined by three bearded lads from Chicago with whom we would head to Zihuatanejo for NYE and a few days to relax even further. Alex, Nick and Dave were piloting the Saltbreaker to New Zealand from San Fran, and also happened to enjoy snorkelling, drinking 40’s and were thankfully much more successful fisherman than Dan and I.

The short trip we took with them to Zijuatanejo Bay provided some sights I’ll never forget. It was 8 nautical miles from Island Grande, the only 8 miles I spent not anchored on my weeklong visit and we got the whale show of a lifetime by a calf and two full grown humpback whales. In fact, after these disappeared about 200 meters away from us for about 3 or 4 minutes, one of them surfaced about 10 meters off the bow of the boat with a full breach. One of the most amazing sites I had ever seen, and all Dan and I could do was yell for Sylvie to hit the gas and get us out of there before the next one surfaced and landed on our bow.  An amazing, yet briefly terrifying, experience. 

Finally we were in Zijuatanejo anchored next to the Saltbreaker just off the beach from a bunch of nice modest sized resorts.  It was a swim-in swim-out scenario from the boat, which means a lot of dry bags for clothes, drunken end of night commutes and an unpleasant number of Schrodi’s bits viewed.

NYE was spent in the city Zihuat, drinking beers on the street and spent the highly uncoordinated countdown on the basketball courts of the town center. There was a very appropriate amount of firecrackers and street dancing.  We hit some bars, saw a quite surprising number of Drag Queens, and owned the dance floor with some of the whitest dance moves the state of Guerrero has ever seen. We then went to get a very late night meal, where Dan proceeded to have me eat part of a habanero pepper, that perhaps was hotter than the Mexican sun itself.  The pepper, seemingly spiced with turbolax genes, created a very awkward walk home for everyone. But especially for me.   

The next few days we’re followed with snorkelling, skin diving, Pacificos, our boat being circled by a leatherfaced man, diving birds, jumping fish, and the sound of banditos on the deck, despite no actual visits.          

I had an absolute blast, Dan and Sylvie.  It’s pretty painful to think about it from my office, but you guys are on a wild adventure I enjoy the frequent updates and pics. Thank you both so much for making me at home on the Ustupu, I hope to come back.  


Fishing with gross wieners.  Unsuccessness. 

Not a single bite on that particular early morning fishing trip.


The Saltbreaker boys.

Jeff getting his money's worth in the sky.

Semi-lost on NYE.  Sylvie happily leading the shirts off party astray.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Change of Plans!

After arriving at Puerto Madero, Mexico and being directed by the Port Captain to a new marina (that was not in our guidebooks), and that this marina was letting boats stay at no cost since it was still under construction, we decided to do what most former backpackers would do: Road Trip!

So the day after arriving, instead of rushing to check out of the country, we made sure Ustupu was snug as a bug and took a bus inland. We had a lose plan. A bit of time in Mexico and then head to Guatemala..for a bit of time. We were going to figure it out as we went. 

In Mexico, we headed for the mountains and spent days roaming the old colonial town of San Cristobal, walked the impressively restored grounds of the ruins at Palenque, swam in the occasional waterfall and of course, watched a chicken being sacrificed followed by a swig of coke to burp away evil spirits in San Juan Chamula.

As we literally reached the Mexican/Guatemalan border, our fist taste of this new country is an intoxicated man being whipped by another cowboy boot wearing man. Oh dear! Welcome to Guatemala! We will happily report that it is the only whipping sighting we made in the country.

We arrived in Guatemala in time for the Sunday market in Chichicastenango- and what a market! This was our first attempt at bargaining which was good timing since things were often priced at more than 3 times their value which was clear by how quickly the prices dropped once you stood there in disbelief. I always thought that I would be the good guy bargaining but it ends up that Dan is the good guy. I would not budge on a price then Dan would come in for the kill by offering a bit more, or a granola bar.

After shopping until we dropped we headed to a few more places in Guatemala: Lago Atitlan and Antigua. We took in beautiful views, ate some delicious food, and walked and walked and walked. We probably walked more in those few days than in the last 3 months we have spent in Mexico.

It was time to head back to Ustupu. We hopped on the “chicken buses” which are the local buses (normally old school buses converted into colorful, fast transportation machines) and quickly made our way back to Mexico.  We unfortunately did not see any chickens on the bus.

Now that we are back in Mexico, we are preparing to leave again. This time afloat. If all goes well, our next landing will be in Nicaragua. 

Nice ride

Sylvie & the sewage hole

Trying to blend in with the locals

Wake up, I have Quetzals to spend!

No gracias

Azul Agua

Get a haircut!  Dan, nice moustache.

Can't remember what this one was called.



Chichicastenango, Guatemala.   Check out the lady in the middle giving us the evil eye.

Lago Atitlan, Guatemala.

The highlight of our day in Antigua, Guatemala.

Dan's minor obsession in Guatemala.... the chicken buses.

We drink coffee now!  Weird.

How do they get in???

Hasta Luego Mexico!

 It is hard to believe the time has come to say goodbye to Mexico, which has treated us so well. We are leaving with mixed emotions. Shocked that our time here is already up but looking forward to the next leg of our trip: Central America!

As we close our worn out Mexican guidebooks and open the new books describing the future visions that wait for us, we are already reminiscing about all the things we loved about Mexico: the food, the people, new friends, the beautiful water and places; and part of us wants to stay forever. But like most trips, you move on to your next destination and plan your future trip back to the places you loved and the places you loved to read about but didn’t get the chance to go.

Our final days in Mexico reminded us why we love sailing through here. In Puerta Escondido, we befriended Pepe who worked at the Port Captain’s office. He dashed us around town in his pick up helping us get heavy things: water and diesel.  We enjoyed meeting his family: his wife and 2 energetic children came on the boat for a few hours of swimming and eating peanuts followed by a trip into town where Pepe and his wife cooked us a delicious meal in their restaurant.

We hope that as we move on, we meet more people like Pepe and his family who treated us like good friends after knowing us so briefly.

First time flying our brand new downwind sail.  She's a beauty.

The next leg.

Trying to cool down.  Nice afro!

Pepe's son trying to out-do Dan.  Success.

Pepe's family.