Sunday, July 01, 2007

Dispatch 29 Nicaragua

May 24-30
We left our El Salvador “home” after nearly 6 weeks. The marina is such a luxury place that they did everything they could to facilitate our leaving. They drove Richard up the river to the outboard mechanic at 7 AM to fix the outboard which has become a frequent problem, they signed us up for the fuel dock to fill up before we left and they arranged for a diver to get in the water to clean our propeller before we left. The latter task was something I was all set to do when, the morning before I was going to get in the water, a crocodile made a beeline for our boat at 6 AM almost as if he had heard the news of a prop cleaning about to happen. I chickened out and let the marina staff do it for me. On our appointed morning, the panga driver picked us up at 10 AM to guide us out of the estuary. We made it across the bar entrance uneventfully and he waved us on our way 2 hours later in open water. WOW, it was great to be sailing again.

We traveled down to the Gulf of Fonseca, a huge bay where 3 countries have waterfront and island territory: El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. We were still recovering from the pace of travel followed by boat preparation so we anchored one night just into the bay in El Salvador, then found a darling anchorage between an island and an islet just off an El Salvadoran village and just hung out for a couple days. It was lovely to be at anchor, free of bugs and in our own home. At last we were ready to take on a new adventure.

We left for a long day’s trip to a marina in Nicaragua, Puesta del Sol. We were able to sail nearly the whole trip and were very happy campers when we arrived off the marina entrance. Because the wind had been blowing most of the day, the waves were up a bit and our arrival time correlated with the end of the ebb so the bar entrance to the marina was a bit rough. Richard drove the boat while I directed us to the buoys in the well marked channel. The buoys mark the outer edges of the navigable channel, and, with the somewhat wild conditions, we were able to see breaking waves right next to us as we passed the first buoy—disconcerting!

Once inside the marina area, we were blown away by the beauty and peace of the area. This marina was built by Robert, of Nicaraguan birth, he had lived in the US most of his life only to return in the past few years and open this marina. It had the luxury features of any resort in the US, beautiful bathrooms, a lovely infinity pool, stable docks, water, electricity (well, until it went out and had to be restarted but that wasn’t under his control), a lovely restaurant and beautiful grounds for gorgeous hotel buildings. The resort seemed sort of misplaced because, as soon as one left the grounds, the Nicaragua surrounding the area was just unbelievably poor. In fact, Nicaragua is the poorest country in Central America. People are still using horse-drawn carts for errands.

A couple days after we landed there, a group of the cruisers had arranged a van outing to take a tour of the Flor de Cana rum factory—one of Nicaragua’s successful exports. 11 of us piled into the van and were driven to the factory over washed out roads, amazing potholes, poverty stricken landscape intermittently peppered with American style stores and/or houses. What a series of contrasts. We took the tour and were taught that the aged rum was partly a brainstorm stimulated by the Sandanista rebels. Though they had not destroyed the rum plant, they claimed it as they claimed most everything in the country and the owners were able to control the rum inventory until after the Sandanistas were overthrown by putting lots of it in barrels to age for 12 years or more. The wooden barrels are rebuilt and reused, some of them hand-me-downs from Jim Beam and other liquor companies. The plant employed lots of people many of whom in the vernacular of US business would be considered under productive but any employment is better than none and workers make very little there.

Naturally at the end of the tour, we were invited to taste the product in their tasting room, starting with 25 year old, 12 year old and younger rums. It wasn’t our fault that the tour ended at 10:30 AM and that’s when the tasting took place. It was a happy group that piled back in the van looking for lunch, a short grocery stop then back to the marina. Because the previous outing had ended in one of the cruisers “petting” the hind end of a crocodile in a Chinese restaurant and then touring the local private hospital to be stitched up (“Boy I never realized how fast a crocodile can move” was Jeremy’s reported comment), the consensus on lunch was to play it safe at an American style rotisserie chicken place. This time lunch was uneventful. We briefly stopped at a grocery store and picked up provisions. The place was busy mid-week and the prices were really not too different from US prices which, when we learned more about local wages, seemed remarkable. As we waited to pile into the van to return to the marina, a sad local young man was begging for money as he sniffed glue.

We got back to the marina and the organizers went to pay the $138 total price for the 8 hour van trip. Somehow they were chatting up the finance woman in the marina office and learned that she makes $114/month and is raising 2 girls who are nearing college age and finds it hard to make ends meet. Well, I just bet she does, and this is at a luxury resort where she has a responsible position. Ruth was there our last night as we paid our final bill at 8 PM! I guess the marina owner certainly gets his money’s worth from his employees.

We left Nicaragua the following day with an uneventful and calmer bar crossing and sailed much of the way overnight 150 miles to our first anchorage in Costa Rica. We learned from a young couple who had traveled inland that there was much to see and enjoy about Nicaragua, we just didn’t take the time to do it this time around.

One last note about our experiences in El Salvador and Guatemala. We came to think of these countries as Banana Bread land. There is no way to describe the sheer volume of bananas and plantains available to buy at the markets. We have no idea what is done with the fruits that aren’t bought but most of them are well past their prime for sale at the markets and put me in the mind of making banana bread. Perhaps rotten bananas are used for fertilizer or some other handy use, but we never learned more about that.