Saturday, May 24, 2014

Six Hours Lost - A Story of Our Honduras Hike

We’d planned a hike on the north side of the island for Saturday, May 17th. Our sailing buddies, Eric and Sandrine, agreed to join us. Between the four of us, we were equipped with food, water, rain gear, a GPS , VHF radio, bug spray and a machete.

The last of the six mile, thirty minute dinghy ride could be compared to riding a mechanical bull in the rain. It wasn’t raining hard, just a steady flow.

Our hike began at the Island House Resort, owned by a man named Bo. Upon our arrival we secured the dinghies to a palm tree on the beach. Within a few minutes Bo welcomed us. He is a soft spoken, tall, middle aged man with a ship wreck coin hanging from his neck and speaks fluent English.

“Bo, we’ve heard of you,” Jimi said.

Bo somewhat smiled but continued to ask, “you are here to see the waterfall?”

“Yes and we want to go to the peak,” Jimi said.

“O.k. see that boat?” He pointed to a white boat laying on shore.

Jimi nodded.

“Turn right just past that. You’ll see a bridge. Go across the bridge and then you’ll see a sign and the trail to the waterfall. “

“Good…good…and does that also lead to the peak?”

“No, the trail to the peak is separate. Do you have plenty of water?” Bo asked.

“We each have about three liters,” Jimi said.

“O.k. You need a lot of water. Go back across the bridge and you’ll see a tree in the middle of the stream. The trail goes up and to the right from there. Some of the trail may be grown in and when you get to the ridge stay on the trail otherwise you’ll run in to saw grass.”

We all thanked him and he left.

It was ten a.m. when we began. We stopped briefly to admire a dugout canoe now made into a swing. I reached for my water tucked in the side of my back pack. “My water‘s gone. It’s must have fallen out in the dinghy,” I said.

“Go get it,” Jimi said, “we’ll wait.”

“I’ve got two more. I’ll just leave it,” I responded.

“I think you should go get it,” he insisted with a sideways motion of his head.

O.k fine. I shrugged and walked to the dinghy, retrieved my water and tucked it in the side pocket of my backpack.

The grounds were polished just as one might expect a resort to be. A coconut half planted in the sand sprouted a new tree. “Lorie, take a picture of this. Get down low,” Jimi said.

I knelt as low as I could without touching the wet sand with my legs and snapped the shot.

The nature made trail to the waterfall was large boulders we stepped over and around; it took about five minutes to get there from the bridge. The rain coated our surroundings with a shiny gloss deepening the colors. The waterfall was at least thirty feet up with a small pool at the bottom. We reveled there for a while, taking a few pictures before we left.

Finding the start of the trail to the peak was clear. The trail was covered in leaves of browns, yellows and oranges. Under the leaves were rocks and dirt. The uphill trail wasn’t painfully steep or slippery. Wildly grown trees, grass and bushes surrounded us.

 Jimi led the way and I completed our group in the rear. I could hear Jimi and Eric in conversation, but couldn’t always hear what they were saying. Sandrine and I had our own conversations going. We talked about books, making yogurt, bug bites and vitamin B12.

We walked up the side of the mountain in a zigzag pattern for a long distance. I told Sandrine,  “this reminds me of the hikes in Colorado. We went one or two times a month during the summers.”

Then I heard Jimi telling Eric about the 14er’s we’d climbed.

Just then I reached around to get the water bottle from my bag. It wasn’t there. “I lost my water bottle,” I announced. Everyone stopped and looked at me. “It must have fallen out of my bag somewhere.”

“You need a drink?” Eric asked as he was taking water from his bag.

“No. I have more. It’s ok. Maybe we’ll find it on the way back down.”

Before long my shins and right ankle began to burn slightly with each step. I knew I would be a hurting unit by the time we reached the top. I asked Sandrine if her legs were burning yet. She told me her legs were not but her hips were.

Then I heard the guys talking about the trail up ahead.  We’d come to a fork.

Jimi was looking at his GPS and Eric was investigating one of the trails. We headed off into one direction but it came to a dead end. We turned around stopping at the fork in the road and after more discussion we headed the other direction.

Soon we realized we were no longer on the trail nor was there any kind of trail in sight. We continued  toward to summit anyhow.

The brush was think. Branches scraped my legs as I walked by. We had to crawl up the side of a hill, which turned out to be a false summit. My feet, inside my shoes, were wet, either from the rain or sweat, causing my feet to turn sideways with each step. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get a good grip on the soil. With every two steps up, I slid one step down. My legs burned, my back ached and my feet were too sore to go on, but I did – we all did. At the top we were disappointed to find yet another false summit.

We walked through grass patches taller than us and climbed two more hill sides on our hands, knees  and feet only to find more false summits.

Finally we stopped at the final false summit. We gawked at the view, took a few photographs and each grabbed a seat to eat our lunch.

After eating we continued to the peak, which was hiding in the clouds a short distance away. It was noon when we arrived.  “Just six hours to get back,” someone said. There was no mistaking the trail on the ridge. We discussed following our GPS tracks down the way we came or taking the trail. The obvious choice to all of us was to take the trail.

A short walk down the trail led us into a tall patch of overgrown ferns. The ferns were green, orange and brown. Feathering over us, they were overgrown, invading a clear but camouflaged path. We forced our way through them snapping a couple of pictures along the way. Jimi was in the lead with his machete.

Little by little we began running into saw grass. It came and went and we dodged it whenever we could. Sometimes it latched on to a piece of clothing or scraped across someone’s flesh causing piercing paper cuts. A large piece of grass attached itself to Eric’s nose making it to bleed. Sandrine and I let out peeps indicating pain when it attacked us.

By this time we knew we had lost the trail, however, we could see the beach where the dinghies were and continued to head in that direction.

We came to a cliff. It looked to be either a dried up creek bed or ground that had washed away  in a mud slide. The ground was dry, dusty and loose with dirt, rocks and gravel. Eric made it down first, fairly quickly. I guess it was about  twenty feet or more.

Jimi began sliding down next, but the strap on one of his shoes broke. He sat momentarily trying to fix it, but without a piece of string, it was useless. He threw his shoe and machete down the slope to free his hands and scooted down rest  of the way.

I  thought if I sat on my butt with my feet in front of me, I could scoot down. The gravel was loose and with every move I made I felt I’d lose control and plummet down the twenty foot slope. The inches I slid felt like more. As panic began to take over, I took off my shoes and used my toes to dig into the dirt. With Eric in front of me he held out his hand and I kept my composure. I became more confident as I inched closer to the bottom.

Sandrine followed my lead and Eric assisted her the same way.

Jimi was sitting at the bottom tying a piece of rope, he’d found, around his shoe. Then he got up to retrieve his machete.

Now we were following what appeared to be a dry creek bed. We followed that for a short distance before meeting up with a small mountain stream. We were still going in the right direction and knew the stream would lead us down. I felt a sense of relief.

The rocks were wet and some were slippery, but as long as we watched where we stepped we were fine. At times there was nowhere else to step other than in the clear cool water.

Up ahead I heard Jimi holler, “a really large iguana just fell out of this tree…I’m not kidding man. This thing was right above me and almost landed on me. It landed right here.” He was pointing to a pool of water inches from his feet.

Eric scurried closer to have a look. “Did you scare it?” Eric asked.

“I guess so,” Jimi laughed, “freaked me out a little too.”

After following the stream for a long while we came to a waterfall with a thirty foot drop. Jimi and Eric were looking over the side while Sandrine and I stopped behind them about ten feet. I heard Jimi tell Eric, “Lorie will never make it down this,” he paused, “I won’t make it down this. We need a rope.”

The left side of the stream was a bank, straight up. Jimi looked at the GPS and said, “the trail we came in on is three hundred feet that way.” He was pointing towards the bank. The other side of the stream was a mountain thick with trees, vines, grasses, rocks, bushes and more saw grass. Jimi decided he’d go up the mountain to find another way down. Eric studied the waterfall for other options, while Sandrine and I took rest on a rock.

I told Sandrine, “why can’t we use a vine like a rope to climb down the waterfall?”

Exhausted, she shrugged.

Soon Jimi returned and said there was no other way. They studied the left side of the falls thinking they could wedge a tree trunk getting us from one landing to the next until we were down. It was worth a try. They went up stream  and began cutting a trunk with the machete.  Jimi also cut a vine even though I hadn’t told him my idea.

After more discussion they decided to use the trunk on the right side of the falls first. I saw that they were ready for it and decided it would be most efficient if we used an assembly line method to get the trunk to the fall. I crawled over to the cut down trunk and began inching it towards Jimi who was just on the other side of Sandrine. Sandrine’s foot was close by. The log bounced when it hit the rock thumping the top of her foot. 
She squeaked and snapped her foot back.

“Oh, Sandrine are you ok? I’m so sorry,” I said.

“It’s ok,” she said while rubbing her foot.

Eric was next to her and said, “do not break anything,” pointing his finger with a playful tone.

“I’m sorry, it’s my fault,” I admitted.

She looked at me and again assured me she was fine.

Handing off the log, the men got it to the edge of the fall but it wasn’t long enough. They decided to try it on the other side but wanted to first try the vine. They managed to get the log perpendicular across the stream and left it there.

I grabbed a hold of the vine, handed it to Sandrine, who gave it to Eric. Eric gave it to Jimi and Jimi secured one end to a tree. It looked like it could work. Halfway down was a landing. Eric went down as far as the first landing, stopped there and helped Sandrine down. Then he continued to the bottom and Sandrine followed him. Jimi and I copied the same pattern. “Always keep a hold of the vine,” he told me. “Place your hand here and one foot there…hold on to the vine with the other hand. Good… Good… now turn around and holding on, lean back so your feet are in front of you, not under you, “ he instructed.

I did everything he said and before I knew it we were at the bottom. That was fun. I want to do it again.

Further down we came to another tricky spot. This time we took off our backpacks handing them down to Eric. Eric instructed us to sit on the large rock in the stream and placed our feet in very strategic places otherwise we’d slide down the stream, one with the water. My foot and hand slipped and I fell smack on my butt. Eric and Sandrine ooed, but I said “it’s ok, I didn’t hit my tailbone.” We continued. We endured many of these incidents – too many to recall or write about. The entire day was filled slipping, sliding, tripping and falling with each of us helping one another. We were all tired, internally cranky and disgusted but no one showed it.

“It’s four  o’clock, Eric,” Jimi said. By this time there was a little worry and panic in our voices.“It’ll be dark in an a couple of hours. We’ve got to make a plan man.” They both looked at our surroundings, but no one knew what to say. “Well lets go, we have to hustle and get through this crap,” Jimi insisted.

“Did anyone bring a flashlight?” Jimi asked.

We all said no and Jimi continued swinging his machete forward.

There were other impassible areas on the stream and we had to go up into the mountain, around and back down to the stream. Each time we racked up more cuts.

At 5:20 p.m. I heard Jimi yell, “hey we’re at the top of the waterfall.”

By this time we were spread out. When I reached the waterfall, it was determined there was no way down from there. We had no choice but to go up and around once again. We were so close and yet so far away. The sun was setting; it would be dark soon and we still had to dinghy to the other side of the island.

Climbing the final stretch, the brush was among the thickest. Vines, two inches thick, went every which way. Saw grass tugged at every part of me. My feet and back pack got stuck on the vines. We had to climb and crawl through openings no more than a couple feet wide. I was falling behind. My foot sunk in to voids camouflaged by patches of leaves and vines . I mustered everything I had to pull myself up. Inside, I was wailing. I desperately wanted to have a break down as my chin quivered. Jimi asked me how I was doing and with my shaky quivering voice I replied, “O.k.”

Jimi and Eric had arrived at the bottom of the waterfall. Then I heard Eric shout, “I see Lorie’s water bottle.”
And then Jimi yelled, “I claim it.”

Wow, they found my water bottle. I can’t believe it.

I heard Eric ask Sandrine if she could see me. She could not. She stopped, waited for me and then we inched down the steep hillside together.  I could now see Jimi and Eric standing, intently watching us.
Finally at the bottom Jimi hugged me and said, “you did good babe.” It was all I could do to hold myself together.

We had less than forty minutes to get to Sanibel. We arrived at the dinghy at 6pm. As we dragged the dinghy into the ocean, my legs burned with rage from the salt water. Jimi must have felt the same thing because he hollered, “Woohoo! That salt water fired my legs up.”

The dinghy ride to Sanibel was another mechanical bull ride experience. We arrived home at 6:30 p.m. with a light sprinkle and dark clouds above our heads. It was about to rain hard.

In the days to follow Jimi and Eric fared well. They were a little sore the following day. The cut on Eric’s nose healed quickly and was barely noticeable. A severe rash, almost like a poison oak, appeared in the back of Jimi’s neck and his machete arm. I was sore the following two days, barely able to move. Sandrine seemed to get the worst of it. She was laid up longer and had the most cuts and scrapes on her legs. The cuts were like thousands of paper cuts on our hands, arms ankles, and shines and our clothes were black with mud, especially the butt areas.

I wouldn’t say it was a life or death situation, but it did become serious. There had been a chance we might have had to spend the night on the mountain without any camping gear. Eric had a handheld VHF and we could have contacted the authorities to let them know we were up there. 

I have a new respect for everyone. In a tough situation we stuck together. No one snapped under pressure, no one felt they had it worse and no one placed blamed. We worked together, checked on one another and talked each other through a difficult time.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Bay Islands

From the cockpit, the sail from Grand Cayman was fairly smooth. Sanibel soared through the water with ease. Jimi set a course, turned on the auto pilot and sat back to enjoy steady five to six knot speeds. Nothing required him to adjust the sails, which is usually a never ending job. However, the last thirty mile stretch was a different story. Just as the sun said goodnight the winds picked up. Jimi fought to keep Sanibel on course, the autopilot couldn’t handle the pressure which meant  Jimi had to hand steer the final six hours while regularly being smacked with salt water from the port side. He changed our destination for the night to the lee of the island because the winds were blowing to strong to enter our planned anchorage. He safely anchoring us about 1am Monday morning. The passage took about sixty hours. Jimi managed the helm the entire time taking twenty minute cat naps throughout. 

From below deck,  contents rolled around (including me). I decided not to take any motion sickness medication in case Jimi needed me to keep watch. For the majority of the trip I was miserable. I got up about twice a day to use the head. Barely drank any water, so I wouldn’t have to get up more and had a pile of snacks by my side. Laying there rolling back and forth, trying to hang on, every muscle in my body ached and I may have shed a few pounds. After the first twenty-four hours, I thought I’d have given anything to be able to get up out of that bed and walk around. By the time we anchored, I was so wore out, I didn’t want to get out of bed. Ironic? Usually I like to read, write, watch a movie or do some craft while we sail. But this trip I could do much of nothing.

The following morning we raised our quarantine and Honduras courtesy flags, pulled anchor and headed for the town of Banaka to check in. Approaching the point, the wind gusts picked up making us uncomfortable to continue. Jimi opted to find a hidey hole, anchor and wait it out. If caught we could be fined additional fees – well actually we weren’t sure what the consequences would be – but decided to take our chances.  It was Wednesday before the winds subsided to our favor. Surely our friends s/v Jingle would be wondering where we were and what happened to us. Therefore, we were anxious to make contact with them.

The bay was bustling with activity when we arrived. Small locals were skimming the water in their little motor boats. Helper boats were catching our attention trying to sell us some fuel or other service. Three to four other monohulls arrived about the same time, all trying to anchor and get to shore to also check in.

Check in was a breeze. No questions were asked by customs or immigration. No one boarded Sanibel to  inspect her and everyone was friendly. We were automatically given ninety days on our cruising permit and visas for a total cost of 114 LEM or six U.S. dollars We are specifically  at Guanaja Island. There are several islands here and as I understand it, there aren’t any roads, street signs or even automobiles on any of these islands. The town, built on one of the islands, is Banaka with several ma-and-pa grocery stores (or more like mini-mini Wal-Marts), an internet shop, restaurants and more. It’s all here but in close proximity and small scale. With only sidewalks available, everyone walks everywhere.  Locals line the sidewalks with their product for sale: clothing, fruits, jewelry, etc. Boats or skiffs are used to get from one island to another, water taxi’s are readily available for those without their own mode of transportation. Canals come into the city; it’s said to be the Venice of Honduras. It is a floating town. The native language is Spanish, but many of the hanging signs are in English and we’ve talked to quite a few people who speak English nearly as well as we do (still with their Spanish accent).  The grocery prices are right on target with what we would pay in the United States. After Cayman, who wouldn’t be happy about that? The currency is Lempira. Approximately 20 LEM is equal to one U.S. dollar. We withdrew 4,000 LEM from the ATM when we arrived. So much money makes us feel rich, but it also went quickly when we began buying a few things. At the grocery store we bought a small bag of dry milk, a handle of Bacardi, a block of cheese, and a bottle of vodka – the cost was nearly 800 LEM. And then we spent 600 LEM on a data card for our phone. Along our walk we came across a man selling mangos and plums. He talked us in to buying mangos, normally 5 LEM each, but for us a special price of 10 LEM for three and a small bag of plums also for 10 LEM. To fruit isn’t ripe yet, so we  haven’t tried it. Jeston, our mango sales guy, is now our ‘go to’ man. He’s helped us many times finding supplies, as we have also sent our cruiser friends to him for mangos.

After the check in process and a small tour of the town, we sailed to where Eric and Sandrine on s/v Jingle were waiting for us. We explained where we’d been only to find out they left Cayman twenty-four hours after us and had only arrived  in the Bay Islands on Tuesday. They were still wondering where we were, but only for a day and not three like we’d thought. That evening we went aboard their boat. Sandrine  prepared for us a beef and gravy meal with mashed potatoes.  And then we played Mexican Train.

We’re excited to take photos of the area. From the water, houses line the mountain sides, their roof tops peek through the mountainous carpet of green trees . Old wood pylons protrude from the water’s surface and docks hover over the salty blue liquid.  Sanibel is anchored close to a rock islet which a large structure is built upon, supported with stilts on the massive rock. We can see vegetation peeking over the top of the structure, it looks to be some sort of garden area in which the house is built around. Trees also decorate the front of the building. It’s one of those things you might expect to see in a magazine or on the internet, but never in person. It’s quite an amazing sight and a beautiful structure.

I’m a little off on my times again. While Honduras is in the Central Time Zone, they do not adjust for daylight savings time. So now we are on what we know of as Mountain Time.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Cayman Style

                   Jimi took this photo while we were sailing from Georgetown  to the North sound. The vessel is S/V Jingle and a water spout, which are  quite common.

After viewing the photos we’ve taken, it will be no surprise to you when I say the Cayman Islands are a wonder. The people are extremely friendly, it encompasses all the modern conveniences and the clear blue water is spectacular with abundant reefs and underwater creatures in every turn.

When we  left Georgetown, we sailed around the finger of the island to a place known as Stingray City. We anchored there for several days. Stingray City is an area in the ocean’s bay with a shallow sandbar. For hundreds of years fisherman have cleaned their fish feeding the scraps to the stingrays. Now tourists are brought to the area so they can feed and swim with the rays. Jimi and I took our dinghy to the sand bar a few times (early in the morning before the tourists would arrive) and although they didn't like the food we had for them, they still hung around and we still swam with the stingrays. There were about two dozen of all sizes, the largest being larger than Lorie and the smallest about the size of a pizza pan. What an exhilarating experience and probably a little unsettling at first to be surrounded by so many of these majestic creatures. Jimi took some wonderful underwater photos and video.

While in the same area we snorkeled one of the most beautiful reefs we’ve ever seen (for Lorie at least). The abundant sea animals everywhere we look is incredible. Some of them are quite alien looking, most are unafraid of us and curious of our presence. We swam with and through schools of fish with no threat to us or from us. The brain coral is enormous, as well as the sea fans. The water is clear and the colors are vibrant.

Saturday, May 3rd was Georgetown’s annual Batabano Carnival. The streets were filled with patrons looking for a good time. Art and food vendors were on display and we enjoyed a highly energetic parade mostly made up of feathered costumes. They threw beads and danced through the streets of Georgetown and afterward the party continued with a DJ and more dancing. Jimi and I enjoyed the parade and a couple of drinks, but were otherwise tucked away in Sanibel by 8pm.

Jimi and the sea-bean stock; one week ago Jimi planted an African sea bean we found on Cayo Rosario. After a few days a wee little sprout poked through the dirt. The following day the vine was four inches tall and now it’s nearly three  feet tall. It’s attached itself to the ceiling and is now making route elsewhere. Jimi is becoming worried that we’ll wake up one morning to find  we’ve been taken over by some alien life form produced from the sea bean. To be continued…

Jimi has booked our flights home for the fall. We’ll fly from Honduras on October 21st to Denver, Colorado. We’ll spend the bulk of our time in Nebraska to celebrate my parents 50th wedding anniversary, thanksgiving and attend Jennifer and Joel’s wedding. Our plans are to try to spend some time in our old stomping grounds of Colorado to visit with friends. As time gets closer we’ll make a more concrete schedule.  Then we’ll fly back to Honduras on December 16th. During our absence, Sanibel will be in a marina on the Rio Dulce in Guatemala. 

We’re now headed for the Bay Islands in Honduras. We expect a three day sail. Eric and Sandrine on S/V Jingle will leave when we do, however their catamaran sails at faster speeds than Sanibel does, so they’ll arrive first. I have prepared plenty of food ahead of time: hard boiled eggs, soup, mac & cheese, burritos, banana bread and sandwiches. Jimi will do the majority of the sailing, but I will keep watch as needed so he can rest. We hope for fair winds and easy sailing. We’ll check in when we arrive and figure out the availability of communication.