FROM THE LOG
Fortunately we did not have to undertake any major extra ordinary repairs or other projects in La Libertad during our haul-out this year. However, even the regular tasks took 4 weeks of labor and some thousands of dollars of good money, as usual. The weather was strange all the time, constant over cast and temperatures around 20 Celsius. Very pleasant for hard labor, and especially at night, when even a blanket was welcome, but surprising.
This weather type continued for the rest of the year, also at our next destination, Bahia de Caraques.
At the beginning of October we sailed to Bahia, as this small town is simply called by the locals. It is located about 100 nautical miles north of La Libertad, but the trip took us three sailing days. The first night we anchored at Isla de la Plata, which means 'Silver Island'. The name is derived from the local legend that Sir Francis Drake buried a treasure here. On the way we spotted several humpback whales - September to October is their mating season and for some reason they travel thousands of miles to congregate in this area. Isla de la Plata has been dubbed 'the poor man's Galápagos' because of the abundant animal life. It is part of Ecuador's only coastal national park.
The next night we anchored among the fishing boats in the harbour of Manta. It is the base of one of the largest tuna fishing fleets of the Pacific and the city has a strong seafaring tradition. We felt strangely out of place as the only 'pleasure boat' among hundreds of fishing vessels, some up to 100 meters long. A while after our anchor was laid we were approached by the port captain in a panga, who advised us not to leave the boat unattended and to be careful: 'it is not very safe here!' We had no intention of going ashore anyway and we thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the afternoon, relaxing in the cockpit and watching the action around us. But we could clearly feel that many eyes were following us.
The actual reason for our stop at Manta was the timing of our arrival at Bahia de Caraques at the entrance of river Chone. In the first half of the 20th century, this was Ecuador's most important port, but problems with sandbanks led to the development of the ports in Guayaquil and Manta, and Bahia became a backwater. It regained fame during the 1990s when President Sixto Durán had a holiday home here, and many upper-class Ecuadorians followed suit. Anyway, because of the silting of the river entrance it is only possible to enter during high tide, and in our case we were not sure if we would be able to make it in time on the day of our departure from Isla de la Plata. Therefore our diversion to Manta, which was an interesting place to soak up the atmosphere of a busy Ecuadorian port town.
There is practically no cruising ground on the coast of Ecuador. And any cruising is made difficult by the regulations to check in and out of any port you visit. One of the few sheltered places where one can stay and bide one's time is Bahia. A couple of American former cruisers have established a facility called Puerto Amistad, meaning 'Friendship Harbor', where they have a nice clubhouse (with showers, restaurant etc) and have laid out some 20 moorings for rental. Most of the crews on the present visiting vessels are waiting for the proper time of the year to set sail for the Pacific. The cyclone season in French Polynesia lasts until the end of March and therefore one tries to avoid arriving there earlier. The trip from Galápagos to the Marquises (the usual first port of call in French Polynesia) takes around 4 weeks. When you add 2-3 weeks for a stay in the Galápagos and one week for the trip from the mainland to Galápagos you will find that the earliest day for a departure from the mainland would be around 1st of February.
Most of the cruising boats arrive on this coast in late spring, early summer, either from the Caribbean after a transit of the Panama Canal or from the west coast of North America. That leaves around 6-9 months for getting stuck in Ecuador. Many crews use this opportunity to travel inland in Ecuador, Peru, and Chile and further into South America. Although the town of Bahia is warm and comfortable, time can become a drag here if you are not occupied with projects of your own. One of the reasons is that the water on the inside is uninviting for swimming. Because of the strong tides the water is always extremely muddy and visibility below absent. Actually we have not had a decent swim in the sea since we were in the Caribbean!
We made a couple of buss trips to Quito and other places within 6-8 hours distances. During some of them we experienced the most terrifying moments of our lives. Despite almost nonexistent visibility and potholed roads the drivers hurtle down the slopes at breakneck speeds and, when driving up hill, slowly overtakes trucks in blind curves (before your inner eye you can imagine the bus in opposite direction coming towards you at uncontrolled speed!). The scenery is often spectacular, provided that you can relax and enjoy instead of praying for your life.
We really regret not travelling to Peru by land as many of our colleagues did. Instead we went by air on a one week vacation to Florida (of all places, its only a year since we were there on Scorpio!). The real reason was picking up some spare parts and equipment, which are not available in Ecuador, and our experiences of importing stuff here stopped us from involving authorities - so we just brought in what we needed as luggage, no problem.
The cruisers in Bahia engage in all kinds of activities, from traditional Thanksgiving lunches (both Canadian and American) to ad hoc pot luck parties. The preparations for Christmas dinner and the New Year's Eve Party are well under way (at going to press with this page on December 23). For us Scandinavians it will again be two Christmases, one on the eve of the 24th and an other the next day.
One nice project where the cruisers joined forces was the collecting of gifts for the local orphanage. We collected funds to buy Christmas presents for almost 100 kids. The gifts were then presented at a Christmas party at the orphanage.
Our departure for the Galápagos is now approaching fast. We have applied for a 60 days permit, which would make it possible to stay longer than usual in the archipelago and also move around in our own boat. According to the manager at Puerto Amistad no other boat has applied for more than 30 days, although it is possible that some have been allowed to stay longer than their 30 day permits indicate. If our permit is granted we will depart from the mainland during the first days of January.
Stay tuned and find out how it vent ....