Boating from Bodrum

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Eljay had planned a boat trip for us with her friend Burhan but we had no idea that the boat would be so fantastic. Everyone was amazed as we were escorted to the dock to see a seventy foot teak two masted gulet docked and waiting for us. I loved seeing the smiles on the faces of the group as they boarded the gangplank.

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The boat had several levels of seating area, all with pads and padded seats for lounging, and a huge covered deck area with a large table around which all of us could fit for lunch.

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After pulling away from the Bodrum harbour we cruised past the castle and around the coastline to Aquarium Bay, a protected cove with many small colourful fish. A few boats were already there when we arrived but our captain proceeded to come in close to shore and take the best mooring spot in the bay.

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Almost everyone jumped into the incredible cerulean blue water here and enjoyed a swim in the very salty water. Maggie, Su, and Liz did a few little synchronised swimming moves to the delight of onlookers.

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As we cruised over to Karaada (Black Island), the clouds massed above us and it looked like rain but when we turned the corner of the island, the clouds dispersed and it got very sunny and hot. Passing several tourist boats, we anchored at the island for lunch.

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Our captain was also the chef; he used to cook for a restaurant in Istanbul before becoming a boat captain and was his food ever delicious. Lunch consisted of cigar borek, pastry with cheese and spinach, rice pilaf, a green salad, and whole grilled sea bream fish – delicious!

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After lunch we were lounging deckside and what should pull up but a small runabout, the ice cream boat. Barb was kind enough to buy me a Magnum bar for dessert.

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A great day out on the water was had by all.

 

 

Cancun: El Meco and Isla Mujeres

We are enjoying our little apartment in downtown Cancun. The neighbourhood is pleasant, with lots of small casita comidas and a gigantic Soriana grocery store. A few blocks away is the bus stop where we can catch a R-2 or R-15 down to the hotel zone beaches for 8.5 pesos each.

Today, since the morning was pleasant, we decided to visit the second set of ruins here, the El Meco, north of Puerto Juarez, where the boats to Isla Mujeres depart. Rather than taking two buses, we elected to splurge and take a taxi. After negotiating a cost of 90 pesos for the trip, we headed out through the downtown traffic, past Puerto Juarez, to the ruin site, a small area just across the road from the ocean. Just as we pulled up a truck was blasting pesticide into the place to take out any fugitive mosquitoes – blechhh.

El Meco is Cancun’s version of Tulum, the waterfront ruin site down the coast from Playa del Carmen, although it’s not nearly as large and not right on the water. “The city is … believed to have been a major commercial port for the Maya and overlooks the beach and docks from across the road at Punta Sam where nearby claims indicate that there’s the last vestiges of the ancient port hidden along the beach line.

The city’s importance to the Maya is thought to have occurred from its proximity across the coast from Isla Mujeres, its location along the coastal trading routes and the area of calm but deeper water for vessels.” Architectural evidence dating back to the early Classic period (300-600 ce) show that El Meco was a small, self-sufficient fishing village dependent upon the larger capital of Coba.

“At the center of the site is the large El Castillo Pyramid surrounded by a dozen or so smaller structures believed to be used for governmental, religious and commercial trading purposes by the Post Classical period Maya starting in the 10th or 11th century AD.

The site previous to this was believed to be home to a small native village going back to the 6th century AD. … Speculation based on artifact finds and architecture places El Meco at the heart of one of the Chichen Itza periods and further speculates that the city was amongst the then extended realms of the rulers of Chichen Itza.” (http://www.tripadvisor.com/Travel-g150807-d1108603/Cancun:Mexico:El.Meco.Ruins.html).

As has happened lots on this trip, we were the only visitors to the site, enjoying walking through the well-treed ruins and throwing bits of apple to the tiny iguanas.

We were surprised to see only very small, skittish lizards here (except the medium-sized guy below), none of whom were willing to come near enough to get the pieces of apple we placed for them.

Ty speculated that the lizards are not well-treated here and as a consequence those that survive are afraid of humans. Can they be eaten for food, I wonder? If so, this would explain why there are no big iguanas here.

After our visit we walked along the very quiet highway, saw a beachfront chapel, and flagged down a collectivo which dropped us at Puerto Juarez.

We took a look at the old dock where the first passenger ferry to travel between Cancun and Isla Mujeres runs – it’s almost deserted now that the new Ultra Mar catamaran plies the water between the newly-built Gran Puerto dock and the island.

Although we hadn’t planned to visit Isla Mujeres today, since we were there anyway, and the boat left in five minutes, we bought our tickets and hopped aboard for the twenty minute run across the incredible clear blue water.

Arriving on the other side, we walked through downtown Isla M, enjoying the bright colours of the buildings, the wares on display, the graffiti, and the laid back island vibe.

Not bad advice …

After having a dockside beer at the Bally-Hoo Inn, we walked five minutes down the road to Playa Norte, where we stationed ourselves beachside for the rest of the afternoon, swimming in the placid water.

Unlike in Cancun, where the high waves have prevented actual swimming (as opposed to frolicking in the waves), here it is possible to swim laps in the roped off area.

Unfortunately for Ty, his burned stomach meant no sun for him, just relaxation under the ol’ sombrillo. Yesterday, both of us had spent quite a bit of time in the high waves of Gaviota Azul beach and the glare from the water and sand must have been too much for the sunscreen to cope with.

See more pics here.

Puerto Escondido, Mexico – the “hidden port”

On our last day in Puerto Vallarta, as we were sitting on the Malecon having coffee, we felt the earth move … it was a small 4.7 earthquake with the epicentre 177 km south of PV, one more in a long series of west coast quakes this Spring. In addition, the volcano that dominates Mexico City’s skyline is waking from its slumber; Popo began to erupt at the beginning of April and is threatening to derail air traffic through Mexico City’s International Airport. Once again I had to worry about an ash cloud screwing up my travel plans (as in April 2010 when Iceland’s grand volcano erupted and almost put the boots to our trip to Turkey). But, luckily, we were able to take off with no difficulty and wing our way towards Huatulco – you can see the ash cloud in the above photo.

After a short one hour flight, we touched down in Huatulco, about 1,000 km south of Vallarta on the Pacific coast. As soon as we got off the plane, I could feel the heat – it reminded me of arriving in Siem Reap, Cambodia – dry and hot – about 8 – 10 degrees hotter than PV. Upon being told that a taxi to Puerto Escondido, 98 kilometers north, would be 1,590 pesos, we opted to take a collectivo, less than half that price. With us in the van were a local family, all of whom were hacking and coughing; we spent the trip north trying to avoid getting sprayed with illness producing vapours. About an hour and a half later we arrived without incident (and so far without colds) at the Hotelito Swiss Oasis, a small eight room facility with a pool half a block from the Playa Zicatela, Mexico’s top surfing beach.

The hotel is run by a great Swiss couple who have a golden retriever and four cats, one of whom tries to sneak into our room. It’s the beginning of the surfing season here and the town is beginning to fill up with young surfing folk. Staying at the Hotel with us are Brandy, a wild life biologist and college instructor from Montreal, Coco, a Dutch film maker, three Israelies, and an Australian couple who surf. Several of them are taking Spanish lessons at the school just up the road and Coco is doing research for her next film.

Playa Zicatela is a three kilometer long strech of beach onto which enormous Pacific Ocean waves roll. Great for surfing, it is extremely dangerous for swimming; in addition to the big waves, it also has bad currents and rip tides. The beach reminds me quite a bit of Long Beach or Chesterman Beach on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

We had a very pleasant dinner on the beach our first evening.

This place is all about the surfing (sort of like Tofino … only bigger).

Yesterday, after a tasty breakfast at Mango’s just around the corner from the Hotel, we headed off down the beach to check out the area before meeting Brandy, Coco, and Tina at Playa Carrizalillo, one of the smaller swimming beaches about 2 or 3 km north of us.

Between Playa Zicatela and Playa Principal is a set of stairs to a viewing platform in the design of a castle battlement, from which is a great view out over the beach to the lighthouse.

Since we were travelling without a map, I had to stop and ask directions a few times; the guy in the picture below walked us part of the way to the beach.

Puerto Escondido is still very much a Mexican town; it’s about one tenth the size of PV and maintains its local character. Many of the townspeople have small restaurants in their homes, quite a few with pots of something or other on open fires, very hot in this warm area (just like the folks boiling huge pots of corn in 50 degrees on the highway in Turkey).

Ty was over-heating so we had a quick cervesa pit-stop at the top of the hill before trudging on to the beach.

From the top of the cliff 167 concrete steps down to the beach have been made.

Carrizalillo Beach is a small bay with a few restaurants and bars and beautiful water for swimming, snorkelling, and beginners surfing. Here, unlike Zicatela, the waves are manageable (although even these ones seem big to me).

Quite a few folks spear fish here; one couple used a paddle board to get out past the bay – she paddled while he fished.

Both Tina and Brandy are taking surfing lessons here; in Puerto, they learn the sport young.

This dad and daughter combination spent almost the entire afternoon in the water.

Later in the afternoon, an even younger dad and child combination gave it a go.

This boy could not have been more than a year old, maybe not even that, but he was obviously loving the experience.

Several times, dad put him on a boogie board, gave him a gentle push, and off he sailed toward the beach.

Unlike the very developed, urbanised experience of Puerto Vallarta, Puerto Escondido is much more mellow and laid back, with no concrete highrises and seemingly relatively little catering to the gringo presence. We like it.

See a few more pics here.

 

Soufriere by Boat: Malgretoute, Jalousie, Anse Chastanet

We’ve been on Bushman’s radar since we got to St Lucia; he wanted Ty and I to take his water taxi, or buy some fish, or purchase the best Bob Marley (code for weed, which neither of us took him up on), or …

But we hadn’t connected with him until today, when, as we were walking to the local beach with our snorkelling gear in tow, he appeared in front of us.

Since he gave us a good price for the trip, we decided to take his water taxi tour of the bay, cruising past Malgretoute, Jalousie, Anse Chastanet, and the bat cave near Soufriere Harbour.

After untying the boat with a little help from his friends, Bushman and we hopped abroad and headed south.

Our first stop was to pull up alongside a gigantic private yacht, the Starfire, for Bushman to see if he could sell some fish or other merchandise to the sailors aboard.

No takers for the goodies but they did contract him to come back later to take ashore their garbage. This huge yacht had another smaller motor vessel attached for use as a launch, as well as a couple of diving submersibles … mucho dinero!

From there, we motored along the cliff face at the bottom of Petit Piton over to Jalousie Plantation resort, a complex which occupies the beach between the two Pitons. South of Jalousie sits the villa of pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy, just above the middle of the beach.

After checking with several motor and sailing yachts to see if Bushman could unload any merchandise (no takers this day), we zoomed back along the Marine Reserve area and across the bay to Anse Chastanet.

We arranged for BM to pick us up later and jumped out onto the hot sand, setting up our stuff under a couple of palm trees. Unlike the previous time we’d been here, there were few daytrippers – I don’t think the cruise ships come in to St Lucia on the weekend – and the beach was quite quiet.

We snorkelled along the cliffs between Anse Chastanet and Soufriere, seeing quite a few gorgeous dark purple fish, as well as a small swarm of torpedo fish. Although there’s very little live coral here, it’s nice to see that fan coral and brain coral are making a bit of a comeback. As I was swimming along, I was stung by an unseen jellyfish … bastard!

On the way back to Soufriere, we stopped at the Bat Cave, a long gash in the cliff near the harbour in which thousands of bats make their home; we could hear them all tweeting from the water. Before heading back to the ranch, we visited our favourite coffee shop, Christine’s place above the Image Tree, for a coffee and a piece of freshly home-baked chocolate cake.

Christine has just opened her place; it’s kitty-corner to the Downtown Hotel and right next to the church and main square – a perfect location – and we are delighted. Sitting on her second floor veranda sipping a coffee, chatting, and watching the action is one of Soufriere’s gentle pleasures.

See more pics here.

Desert Island and Plantation Walk

A glowing golden orb woke us this morning – lo and below, the sun! We’d decided to take a boat trip should the day be good and, yes, it was good. After our usual great breakfast, Ty and I walked with our snorkelling gear to the wharf to wait for the boat to the small island of Caqalai, south west of Ovalua. This island is owned by the Methodist Church and the one budget accommodation here (can’t call it a resort – it’s very rough) is run by local villagers. (Ty told me to avoid the bathroom at all costs …)

While we were waiting for our boat, we watched a boatload of old village ladies row one man out to the reef to fish for the day. Our boat was an 18 foot aluminum deep water skiff with a large outboard motor onto which the captain brought several cans of gas. After we headed away from the dock, Ty made a joke about smoking around gas cans and, sure enough, our captain lit one up right next to many gallons of gasoline. Needless to say, I was unhappy about it, having visions of explosions and wondering whether I’d be able to jump overboard in time, should the boat blow up. It didn’t happen.

The boatman snaked his way through barely visible channels between coral outcroppings, heading for a break in the reef and deep water. Once we were out beyond the reef and into the open ocean deep swells rocked the boat as we jetted our way along. The first brief stop was Motoriki Island, where a woman came out of what looked to be uninhabited jungle to pick up a few bags of groceries from the boat. On our way we also passed Snake Island, a tiny mushroom shaped bit of land with one palm tree, the quintessential cartoon desert island.

We were deposited on the golden sand of Caqalai (pronounced something like Thungalai) where we snorkelled, walked the beach, swam, read, and had lunch with the two people currently in residence at the “resort”. While snorkelling, Ty was followed by a large fish with whom he swam for a bit (not a shark, although there are reef sharks here and tiger sharks somewhere in Fijian waters). As the afternoon progressed, dark clouds rolled in and on our way back again, the heavens opened and we were absolutely soaked with torrential (luckily warm) rain.

See more pics here.

Wed Sept 28

We’d decided that, if Wednesday was sunny, we’d go with Nox on his plantation tour; it did look good in the morning, so after breakfast, we headed out down the road towards the cemetery. Climbing the stairs to the top of the graveyard, we walked towards the mountain, passing a small plantation of cassava (tapioca) and corn on the way.

Each of these small planted areas belongs to a single person, and the produce from each plot is shared with the village and, sometimes, sold at the market in Levuka. On the far side of the cemetery a work gang of youth from the Methodist church were looking after a plantation; these folks come to town for a week and spend a day working on each of several plantations in the area. We could hear them laughing and singing across the grave stones.

We followed a small goat track up and up the mountain, passing small planted plots of cassava, cava, cabbage, tomatoes, taro, plantain and bananas, as well as gigantic mango, breadfruit and popo (papaya) trees laden with fruit.

Resting for a bit under a mango tree, we chatted with two men carrying machetes heading barefoot up to their own plantations higher in the hills. Nox explained that at age four boys begin to work on their own plantations and are given plots close to the village to make it easy for them and encourage them to work hard. They begin with small machetes and work up to the full size scythes carried by village men.

Along with food crops, Nox also pointed out medicinal herbs and plants; for example, a vine called mile-a-minute is used, when crushed, for diarrhea.

This vine, quite similar to morning glory, grows amazingly quickly and can be seen covering almost every tree and plant in the forest. We also came across wild pineapple and two different varieties of chilli, as well as a red-flowered plant whose small round seeds are used for children’s games.

After a walk of about two hours we came to Nox’ uncle’s camping cabin at the top of one hill, next to a peak called Gorilla Mountain. Here, rather than go back and forth to the plantation each day, family members camp out for a week at a time to get serious work done sowing and planting. This day seven members of Nox’ family were hanging out at the cabin while his cousin Mary prepared food for them over an open fire in the very rough cabin kitchen. After spending some time there sampling some of the produce, we headed back down the mountain and through Nox’ village back to the Homestay. On our way down the hill, cane toads and lizards hopped and slithered out of our path back into the bushes with every step.

As an aside, cane toads are an invasive species, first introduced into Australia to eat some kind of beetle in the sugar cane fields and then spread throughout the South Pacific. As is often the case with these well-meaning ideas, this one back-fired big time; cane toads can grow to enormous size, have poisonous glands on the backs of their necks, and are voracious consumers of all the small local fauna – big pests.

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See more pictures here.