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Monday, December 16, 2013

Jamaican me crazy

Loud reggae music, colourful Rastafarians with spectacular dreadlocks, bright Caribbean colours, lots of whiffs of marijuana, spectacular scenery, lush tropical vegetation and beautiful beaches.  Welcome to Jamaica…oh, and did I mention the loud reggae music?


A visit to Jamaica is an assault on the senses.  On every street corner there’s a whiff of dope, the music is so loud you can’t hear yourself think and the people are amongst the most colourful in the Caribbean.  Those Bob Marley Rastafarian colours are everywhere.

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We arrived in Port Antonio on Jamaica’s north east coast just before dark after a rather scruffy sail from Haiti.  We did catch a mahi-mahi en route but that was the only highlight of an otherwise uncomfortable 36 hours.  We were immediately called onto the dock where we had a procession of polite officials including coastal police, quarantine, immigration and customs.  We were surprised that they wanted to search the boat (surely you take drugs OUT of Jamaica, not bring them IN)…but they did and were even more thorough than the Cubans, insisting we open cupboards, lift up seats, pull out drawers etc.  Needless to say they found nothing and left us with the distinct impression they were just being nosey.DSC_4723


Next morning a gorgeous scene greeted us – in the dark we hadn’t realised just how beautiful the anchorage in Port Antonio is.   Elegant Royal palms line the marina waterfront which is lush with hibiscus, bougainvillea and other tropical vegetation.  The anchorage fee ($12 for us) included use of the marina facilities including swimming pool, showers, laundry and free wifi – a bonus after a few weeks without – but it’s the first time we’ve had to pay to anchor!  The marina proved to be a tranquil refuge from the rather shabby and noisy streets.



The town of Port Antonio is regarded as “safe” as opposed to troubled Kingston with its endemic crime issues.  I was keen to revisit my youth and take a trip to the Bob Marley museum in Kingston.  Having been a Bob Marley fan for years and having seen the iconic Rasta live in London in 1980 it seemed a fitting thing to do.  But nothing is easy in these islands and in the end it just got too hard and expensive ($200) to organise. 


We did take a trip (by taxi) along the north coast to the spectacular Reach Falls.  On the way back we stopped at various gorgeous spots along the way.  Some of the stops were enforced as our crazy taxi driver’s car overheated (I suspect it was as much due to his appalling driving as anything) and so we spent some time on the side of the road waiting for it to cool. 



We visited the stunning Blue Lagoon – where the movie of the same name was filmed in the 70s – and beautiful Boston Bay, the home of Jamaica’s famous jerk chicken.  Of course we had to sample some so did so and sat and ate it along with roasted breadfruit all washed down with a bottle of freshly squeezed fruit juice.  It was delicious.

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Then it was onto what is regarded as one of Jamaica’s finest beaches Frenchman’s Cove.  It was pretty stunning and, as you had to pay to enter, there was no one there to hassle us.  At Boston Bay we’d been inundated by men wanting to sell us anything from jerk chicken, fruit juices and jewellery to Rasta music – all a bit exhausting.  We took advantage of the quiet and sat on the beach for a while before having a swim in the rather chilly waters – thanks to nearby springs.


Port Antonio was a pretty scruffy town.  The streets were always busy with few tourists in sight, so I guess we stood out a bit.  We did get hassled but after Haiti we felt these people really were not poor so didn’t feel the slightest guilt in not responding to their requests for money.  For that we did cope a bit of abuse.


The markets were full of fantastic produce and it was great to stock Bandit with mango, papaya, avocado, pineapple, lettuce, peppers, cucumber, beans and breadfruit.  We’ve figured out how to cook breadfruit and it is absolutely delicious – either panfried in oil or sautéed in a coconut milk broth with chicken, thyme and peppers.    We had a great walk around the entire bay of Port Antonio which is perhaps most famous because it’s where Errol Flynn once lived. 


After 10 days we were ready to leave.   Weather windows for the four day/night passage down to the San Blas islands are few and far between and the Christmas winds in full swing it looks like being a bit of an uncomfortable trip.  We finished off our time in Port Antonio with a visit to Christmas Cantata at the local church – a chance to listen to some Jamaican voices and ask the man in charge to keep an eye on us on our next passage. Here’s to Christmas in the San Blas!


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Heart breaking Haiti

Haiti is not generally known as a destination for cruising yachts however stunning Ile a Vache, an island off the south west coast, is changing that.  Beautiful Baie A Feret (also known as Port Morgan) is a charming and safe anchorage where locals welcome visitors warmly.  We’d heard lots about it and so decided to check it out for ourselves.DSC_4438

The island of Ile a Vache is staggeringly poor – many of the locals live in what only can be described as abject poverty.  There is no power, no running water, no roads or vehicles and no industry apart from a local hotel that employs a handful of people.  Subsidence fishing and farming is the way of life and many people are desperate for work, food, clothes and money.  We found Haiti heart breaking at times, enriching at others and particularly enjoyed being able to help out by donating  – but more about that in another blog. 


We’d had a good three day/night trip down from Rum Cay in the Bahamas – nice sailing at times but strong winds and squalls through the Windward Passage.  We sailed into Baie de Cayes at dawn to be greeted by amazing scenes of tiny local fishing boats heading off in the morning breeze.  Most were basic dugout canoes or hand-built wooden sailing boats – all with patched up sails best described as basic.  Anna even spied one with a shower curtain.



We hadn’t even dropped anchor before we were bombarded with a procession of locals with smiling faces beaming up at us from dugout canoes.  They came wanting work, offering to get us supplies, wanting to take us on walks, to do our laundry, take our rubbish, fetch fuel and, of course, wanting to sell – anything from lobster to handmade boats.  It was all a bit overwhelming, especially as were tired from the passage but sleep went by the wayside as first, we had to deal with the descending troops, second, we needed to check in with customs and third needed go to the  markets as we were out of fresh produce.DSC_4537


DSC_4269The nearest supplies were in the village of Madame Bernard, an hour’s walk or half hour tender ride away.  Thank goodness we took the tender as an hour’s walk to the locals is probably two for us – all in searingly hot conditions with no water (or cold beer) stops en route.  The dilapidated market was easily spotted – dozens of small local boats waited offshore loading and unloading supplies. The market was not quite what we were expecting – very shabby and basic - but we did manage to find citrus, bananas, avocado and papaya.  The filth was overwhelming – all rubbish was simply thrown on the ground or in the sea.  We bought grapefruit from a woman was promptly spat the sugar cane she was chewing all over the fruit before giving it to us! 


Back in Ile a Vache we couldn’t ignore the pleas from the local boys who, for a few cents, wanted to show us their village.  We set off with two guides and were followed by another dozen or so. The village  was bigger than it looked from the bay with dozens of roughly built shacks dotted amongst coconut palms, mangos and banana trees.  The well for water was 500m from the middle of the village and there was a constant trail of children carrying water containers.


Our guides returned the next day to offer another trip.  Once again we couldn’t say no and it turned out to be a magnificent hike over rough and somewhat muddy tracks through a saddle to a beautiful bay on the western side of the island where we had a swim in crystal clear water.  We came back a different way past a hilltop village.



Another day we took Bandit to the town of Les Cayes five miles away on the mainland.  Anchored nearby was a cargo ship from which cement was being unloaded by throngs of workers.   It was a scene reminiscent of the days of slavery.  Bags of cement were lowered onto boats, taken ashore and heaved onto waiting trucks – all this in stinking hot, dusty and dry conditions. 





Anna proved a hit with the local boys on Ile a Vache and Bandit was often surrounded by smiling locals.  She was the only one who could recall her schoolgirl French with any clarity and became translator although many of the young spoke reasonable English. 


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Finally, just to show that cruising the world by yacht is really all about fixing your boat in exotic locations…a photo of David doing an instant repair.  We’d been bound for Madame Bernard when we hit a coral head, breaking the shear pin (again).  We always carry a spare on the tender, along with a spanner…to enable a quick repair wherever we happen to be.