Thursday, February 28, 2013

On deadly sins and that scary green eyed monster

     A few weeks ago in Roatan, I was chatting with a very nice American cruising couple. Their boat is bigger, fancier and cushier than ours.  They shared that they had left their sailboat in Panama and spent the rainy season home in San Francisco.

 NOTE: Our hot, humid, stormy, waterlogged, lightning-filled rainy season in Central America = their temperate, sunny summer in San Francisco.

 After the Central American rainy season was over, they flew out of San Francisco just as the first cold fog bank of the winter rolled over the bay -- arriving in the Caribbean for months of stress-free high season cruising.

 They then shared that they were looking at a small motor home to keep at their place in San Francisco -- the better to tool around the states during the summer in air-conditioned comfort before flying back to the Caribbean again for the winter.

 Listening and nodding my head, I actually said:

"Well. Look at you..."

 Yikes. I couldn't believe those words came out of my mouth. I was truly shocked.  And I said it with all of the sarcastic inflection you can imagine, too.

 Envy is the 6th of the Deadly Sins, and it's the 9th of the 10 Commandments.  So you know it's pretty damaging.

 While I'm prone to many character defects, I've always prided myself in not swimming in that envy pool for long. I know how toxic it can be, so I've worked hard to free myself of the emotion whenever it emerged.

 For example, Chris and I don't have children, and I've long ago realized that living a good life is possible with children, and it's possible without children. It's apples and oranges.

I've realized that spending quality time with children who are not my own -- while obviously not the same thing as being a mother -- can nonetheless be a potent source of joy and laughter, and yes -- meaning.

             Me and my little friend Darien, whose Mom runs "The Shack" in Placencia Village

  So before this trip, I thought I had pretty much checked envy off the list of sins I needed to worry about. I thought I had it under control. I was wrong.

  I'm finding myself knee deep in jealousy every time I hear about another cruiser who has the financial freedom to fly back and forth from Canada or the states to the Caribbean at least a couple of times a year.

 They fly from the good weather up there (and family and friends) -- to the good cruising weather down here. They never experience the extreme cold of Canadian winters, or the extreme heat/rain/lightning/humidity of Central American summers.

 They've got it all going on.

 Yes. I'm jealous, dammit. Who wouldn't be?

                            So what is the secret to "melting" that evil green emotion?

  Well we all know the answer, deep down. Gratitude, humility, and the perspective that follow are the answer to all great human failings, including jealousy.

 Obviously, despite the fact that we have sacrificed much and worked incredibly hard to be here, Chris and I are deeply fortunate to experience this grand adventure.

 And you know what? While yes, having the $$$ to be able to fly back and forth from great weather/big house here, to great weather/big boat there is probably a comfortable, relaxing way to live, let's face it: they're missing out on real life.

 Truth be told, after 16 months in Central America, Chris and I really miss the snow. We miss the seasons. And when I really analyze it, would I really want that other life? Flying from comfort to comfort?

 Well. Maybe for a season or two. (smile)

 But in the end, I choose OUR life. Those difficult months aboard Espiritu during the rainy season (and the lightning strike) were an experience I would never trade.

 So, we're only human. The green-eyed monster will never go away completely.

                            But if I work at it, he materializes in a gentler, happier apparition.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Belize: new photo round-up

                                                    Storm cloud over Placencia harbor

                  Espiritu remains happily bobbing in the Placencia anchorage here in Belize.

                                  Belize is now independent, but it used to be British Honduras.
                       So English is the official language -- but weirdly, Queen Elizabeth is still
                                                 on the paper money, some 30 years later!

                                           Interesting cloud formation over the Placencia harbor

                                               Another perfect day on Placencia beach

                     We've been riding our bikes all over the area, and getting to know some of the locals.

Our Belizian friend Norman proudly displays his Obama Made in the USA t-shirt...

                                  ...complete with a photo of his birth certificate on the back.

              Regardless of your political persuasion, there is no denying that President Obama
                                                      is very popular around the world.

              I was blown away by the beauty of these giant blooming flowers, dripping from the trees.

            The overflowing blossoms looked like cheerleader pom-poms dropped from the sky...

                                 Young girls frolic in the water on a windy day...

                                                 Chris said they were preening...

                              Well, they probably were. That's what young girls do...   :-)

       I've been dealing with a mild medical issue here in Placencia.  Upon visiting the tiny clinic here in Placencia, they gave me a cup and told me they had to send out the urine culture.

  I pee'd in the cup, and per their instructions we took a small boat up the river, specimen in hand.

                                        The tiny river taxi is called the Hokey Pokey.

    We got off the Hokey Pokey in an even tinier town.  A taxi cab that had seen better days took us to the only lab in town, which was not an actual lab. It was a tiny house at the end of a tiny street.

   We went in, and the nice lady took our $30.00, and told us the specimen would be taken by plane to Belize City, where the culture and sensitivity would finally be performed. The result would take about a week.

  Wow. Things are different down here.    :-)

  We were excited to attend the annual Placencia Art and Music Festival. We were so excited to hear some real Belizian music, live!  We hoped to see these guys:

                                                        Or maybe this guy:

       So excitedly, we arrived early at the main stage on the beach and got a good seat. There were a couple of hundred people in the audience, waiting for some good Belizian music.

     Chris and I looked at each other in shock and awe when we saw these two take the stage:

           Sigh. Oh, my. Let me fill in the sad details for you: the wife (seated at left) does not actually play any instruments. She runs the Kareoke machine. The "act" -- if you can call it that -- consists of the wife pressing the Kareoke button and the husband singing Frank Sinatra songs. Note the little things: the 1964 suitcase in the forefront which carries their equipment (hint: guys -- take the suitcase off the stage and put it out of view for the show. It's called PRESENTATION!); the outfits both of them wore. I mean, OK, this IS laid-back Belize, but come-on -- you're doing a Frank Sinatra routine? Where's the tux, dude?


                                      Sigh. The Chairman of the Board  he was NOT.

         Unfortunately, there is a perfectly logical explanation for the festival organizers to book these guys for the 3PM spot at the music festival. It's about demographics. Meet the largest growing group here in Belize:

                                           Yep. Gringos are retiring here in droves.

 Ah, well. Anyway, back to the Sinatra-wanna be. Chris and I, being the polite people we are, kindly listened to Nice 'n' Easy and New York, New York, after which we tiptoed out as discreetly as possible (we were not alone, by the way).

 But the festival wasn't a complete bust. We saw some amazing artwork by local Belizians.

    I loved, loved, LOVED this rasta Jesus. Isn't he beautiful? But comeone -- where would I put it? It's not going above the fireplace at the cabin, right? Let's be real. So I had to settle with a photo and simply basking in his presence for awhile...

                                                 This one was Chris' favorite...

                                                         Typical Belizian dwelling

       In other news, our friend Peter of Rendezvous lost his beloved wife Francine suddenly to acute septicemia here in Belize just a couple of weeks ago. He is stunned and in shock. The cruising community has rallied around him in a lovely way, though.

                                                            Peter, of Rendezvous

                Prior to returning home to Canada, he wanted to scatter some of Francine's
    ashes here in Belize, the place she loved so much. So we had a memorial service in support of Peter.

           Dave of Cornelia and I performed and sang the beautiful song Pilgrim by Steve Earle.
                                                           It was a real privilege.

           I need to remind myself that when done correctly, travel should be pilgrimage. We should go out of our comfort zone and stretch, learn and grow. We should be using this opportunity to see the world around us from a different point of view than we did at home -- essentially take a much wider, more compassionate view.  So that we can see the world as it really is.

             The other night, Chris and I watched Sam Mendez' 1999 film American Beauty.

                                    I had forgotten how deeply screwed up these characters are --
                                              and sadly, how very American they are.

    Anyway, I got tears in my eyes again at the scene where the (even more screwed up)
                     neighbor kid Ricky waxed poetically about beauty:

 "There is this entire life behind things, and this incredibly benevolent force that wants me to know there is no reason to be afraid. Ever....I need to remember...there's so much beauty in the world. I feel like I can't take it, and my heart is just going to cave in."

                                                                            --- Ricky, in American Beauty



Thursday, February 14, 2013

Thinking like a dolphin in Belize

                                              Palm-lined beach at Placencia, Belize

        We dropped Espiritu's anchor here more than a week ago and are just now getting settled in here at Placencia, Belize.

                                                                       Twisty tree

          The weather has been sunny and hot, without a cloud in the sky. After 9 months of horrifying lightning strikes and daily torrential rain in the equatorial regions, we're really basking in it.

              One Belizian family refuses to give up on their's kind of poignant, really.

         We've been exploring the greater Placencia area on our bicycles. Unlike Roatan, whose one main road was untenable to bikes, Belize actually has little bike lanes built into the roads.

                                    We had a bike tire repaired at the "Road Kill Tire Shop."

                                                         Little pink beach house

                                             Our funky little dinghy dock

                                          ...another view...

            Need I point out the obvious: there IS no street named "Ol Husband" in the town of Placencia.

          This sign is above the door of the only pharmacy in town. For real. What to make of it?

                                                A humble Sein Bight Village dwelling

          I hate using the word "poor" to describe some of these Central American villages we have seen. Even "poverty stricken" doesn't seem quite right. Yes, there is much poverty. But for the most part, the people make do. They live simply, they care for each other, and their basic needs are met. And for the most part, they seem happy.

                                                        Sein Bight barber shop

                                              Mother and son on a Sein Bight beach

                   The girls here have lovely school uniforms -- prettier than any I've seen.

                                                   "Get UP here, girl!"

                                          Best friends, together. (It's Ash Wednesday)

                   The anchorage here is lovely. Good holding in 20 feet of clear, blue water. We swim and bathe in it daily, usually at the end of a long, hot, sweaty day. It's a beautiful reward. :-)   

     The other afternoon I was gently bobbing in the warm still sea next to Espiritu, when I saw and heard two dolphins break the surface not 10 feet away from me. 

          I became very still. I had never swam with dolphins. My plan was to gently swim over and maybe give them a little rub. But first, I needed a plan. Dolphins are notoriously elusive when it comes to humans. It's not that they're afraid of us -- it's more like they have better things to do with their time. They take one look at us and go: "Oh. One of THOSE." And then they turn and run.

   Native Americans say that to catch a fish, you need to THINK like a fish. So I decided that to attract the dolphins to me, I would THINK like a dolphin. 

 After a few moments thought, I tried to become: "Smart yet playful, agile yet graceful." These four words, I determined, are my best guess for what it means to be a dolphin. 

  So I tried with every fiber of my being to become smart yet playful, agile yet graceful. I swam towards them. Gently. 

  And of course, they took one look at me, gave me what I interpreted as a compassionate shrug, and promptly swam off.

 Ah, well.  :-)

And finally -- it's Valentine's Day. 

As I've alluded to previously, life has not been easy for Chris and I out here. I've spared you the gory details, but I'll just say that the fur has flown. We haven't always dealt with the stress well (understatement of the day). 

As we all know, divorce, break-ups, and just plain "single-ness" is all the rage in the states these days. Yes, we still romanticize love, but when it comes to the nuts and bolts of maintaining long term relationships, society seems to be telling us that it's OK to always put your own wants FIRST. Words like "sacrifice" and "compromise" seem to be looked upon increasingly with a sniff and a lift of an eyebrow. 

After all, with the internet and cable TV, who wants to give up control, to compromise on anything these days when we can, for the most part, create our own cyber-reality with ourselves as the single monarch of our own little king(or queen)-dom.

Taking complete control back can be pretty tempting. All that compromise and sacrifice can wear you down sometimes. And yet...and yet...

A cruising couple we love says it best:

"We CHOOSE each other. Every day."  

Yes. It is a choice.  But in spite of the very tough days, we still love each other. And we still DO for each other, and laugh together. And enjoy each other's company. So the sacrifice is worth it -- although we understand the temptation to throw in the towel. We really, really do. 

                                                      Love is our cross to bear. 

And aiming to think and live like a dolphin, going for "smart yet playful, agile yet graceful" in our daily lives couldn't hurt either. 

        So whether you are in a couple or flying solo -- on this Valentines Day I hope you find the opportunity to give love today. 

                       These Sein Bight kids were little love sponges. They soaked it up! 

         Love is everywhere. And in the end, for each of us, love is a choice.   XOXOXOXOXOXO

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


The dinghy of our friends on Beez Neez hangs lifeless after being intentionally punctured and slashed by an unknown vandal.

      First, the good news. Espiritu enjoyed an uneventful one night passage from Roatan, Honduras to Belize, and is now anchored happily at Placencia, Belize. For the first time in many, many passages, there was not a single storm or engine failure. What a blessed relief.

 Honduras, statistically speaking, is one of the most dangerous countries on the planet. They have the highest murder rate in the world. Higher than Somalia, people. While most of that murdering happens on the Honduran mainland and is drug related, the island of Roatan is not an unviolent place.

 During our two months there, we heard stories. Like the one from our friend Al, an American expat with a beautiful waterfront home in Sandy Bay. When he had us over for dinner, he took us on a tour of the grounds. Pointing to his neighbor's high end home, he shared in passing:

"Yeah. He was murdered last night. They slashed his throat."

Sure enough, there was police tape around the area and a policeman guarded the area to prevent the evidence from being tampered with.

We were stunned at his lazze-fare reporting of this news. Just another day in Honduras.

 Mike and his pregnant wife Lilo, the owners of the Brooksy Point Yacht Club where we stayed in Roatan, live on the grounds in a lovely yellow house with their 3 children, Jean Pierre, Stephanie and Maria.

Maria and me. She speaks English and French, but Spanish is her native tongue.

Mike's house and grounds are surrounded by a high fence, but he's also got 12 German Shepherds roaming and protecting the property. TWELVE.

One of the 12 German Shepherds that guard Brooksy Point. The heart shaped water bowl is a nice touch. :-)

      So, security is a big thing here, clearly.

    Our friends aboard Beez Neez awoke one morning to find their inflatable dinghy slashed and partially sunken. No explanation was ever found.

     I thought I would wait until we've safely left Honduran waters before I shared the following story.

While in French Harbor, Roatan (Honduras) Espiritu was boarded one morning at 4AM.

   This is basically every cruisers worst nightmare, I think -- or anyway, it's right up there with storms, broken impellers and empty margarita pitchers.

  So, here's how it went down: We were sleeping soundly in the v-berth, when I heard Chris suddenly rouse and then sit perfectly still, like a hound, seeking and listening for it's prey. Then he yelled:

GET OFF THIS BOAT!!!!!!!!!!!

 We both bounded our of bed, scrambling in the pitch blackness. Chris had seen a shadowy figure in the cockpit. While Chris stormed towards the intruder, I headed straight for the nav station. I had long ago decided that if we were ever boarded at night, MY job would be to flood the boat with light. In the middle of a crowded anchorage, this is our best ally.


Chris's actions made me think of a heroic Harrison Ford character, firm yet non-violent. 

Chris proclaimed the command again as he stormed into the cockpit. Since Chris sounded every inch the captain that he is, the intruder promptly aborted the mission, obeyed the command, jumped off of Espiritu and back into his carved out canoe and quickly paddled off into the blackness.

 The old Texan aboard the boat next to Espiritu's called out loudly "You want me to shoot 'im?" from across the water.

 The intruder, fearful now, cried in a thick Caribbean accent: "Hey, mon, I only wanted some water!"

 Well. He may have wanted a bit more than that. Anyway, now that the spreader lights bathed Espiritu's deck with light, I was able to catch a glimpse of the guy as he rowed quickly away. He did not look or sound dangerous. He looked kind of poor, sad and scared.

 Chris and I hugged each other in relief. A quick check of the deck confirmed that nothing had been stolen.

This is a good time to share our secret weapon which, in my opinion, is the main reason this story had a happy ending: our burglar alarm.

But it's not officially a burglar alarm. It's a bug screen, which we made to cover the companionway hatch at night while we sleep.

The piece-de-resistance?   It's connected to the boat on all four edges with velcro, with it's tell-tale RRRRRIIIIIPPPPPPPPPPP! sound.

Our burglar alarm. It performed it's job well.

  Any intruder, fumbling in the darkness, would not see the velcro, and would unintentionally fire up the burglar alarm upon trying to enter the cockpit. It was this sound that roused Chris and put the crew into action.

  Well, as you can imagine, the next morning we were the talk of the anchorage. Everyone wanted to know how we felt. Did we feel angry?  Violated?

 Nope. I only had one emotion the next morning: gratitude. And relief.  Nothing was stolen. Nobody was hurt. In my opinion, this was a very good boarding. One where everything went right.

  Petty theft is everywhere, because there are unemployment and poor people everywhere. This guy -- while I did not want him on our boat, and I did not want to give him our things -- did not seem dangerous or violent.  I don't think he wanted to rape me or kill anybody.

  If you go to the movies or watch TV these days, all you see is uber-violent, sadistic murderers, killers and rapists.

Hey, kids! Let's go to the movies! 

           Call me naive (and many have), but I believe that the majority of crimes are not done by the guys you see in the movies.

The classic Saw II. While the film is rightly acknowledged for it's sparkling and intelligent script, it lacked the playful whimsy of Saw I. And as everyone knows, the nuance, script progression and deeply-wrought characterizations made Saw III the brilliant and unsurpassed cinematic achievement that it is. Well done, boys.  :-/

Ahem. (In case my sarcasm was a bit too subtle above, let me make it plain. Saw II? Never saw it. Never WILL see it. Or any of the other Saws.  I would rather have a root canal, AND an appendectomy at the same time without anesthesia before seeing or watching, or financially supporting anything in the slasher-porn genre. The ways in which these films are bad for society are too many to mention here.)

I hate to break it to you, but guys like the ones portrayed in these movies -- while they may actually exist, are very, very rare. I honestly believe most people (and even most petty criminals) are basically good, just trying to get through the day and feed their families. They don't want to hurt anybody. I certainly believe this of our "boarder."

They rationalize their petty theft with a shrug: "They're rich. If we steal their iPod, camera and computer, they'll just go out and buy a new one."

The problem with that statement above?

They're RIGHT.  Well, we're not rich, but...we would have found a way, eventually, to buy a new iPod, camera and computer.


 So we don't pack heat on Espiritu. And it's a good thing, too, because if we had, things might have ended differently.

 This was a very good boarding.

So now that we are Belize, it does feel like a different world. Placencia seems very, very safe. It's filled with gringos -- which many people would say is a good thing, but I kinda miss the real Central America. Ah, well.