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The Two Captains


Latitude: 00*36.50S
Longitude: 80*25.30W

April 16, 2001
Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador

Typically, the 2Cs keep a laid-back profile the first couple of days in any new place we arrive. Our time in Bahia, however, has not been typical. In large part this is thanks to an instant friendship with a couple named Cindy and Baker of the sailboat Lite'n Up.

Lite'n Up is the only other sailboat in Bahia. Baker and Cindy came here almost exactly one year ago in order for Cindy to teach English at a private school here. They have since had many adventures and misadventures (Baker had a heart valve fail on a beach about three weeks after their arrival!) and Cindy is a lively personality with effective Spanish, all of which have combined to make them rather well known figures in a town where Americans are few and far between! We had heard of them via friends Harry and Jane of Cormorant, whose reports of their stop in Bahia last year sparked our initial interest, and we had spoken with Baker on the Ham nets. As it turned out we were lucky in our timing, as we caught them in the process of moving back aboard from their shore-side apartment. A few weeks later and they would have been on their way, and we would have missed the very great advantage of their local knowledge.

Although their local knowledge did not get us off to the most auspicious start. As you recall we squeaked into Bahia just ahead of the setting sun and the falling tide, an approach we made based on radio contact with Lite'n Up as we got near. When we dropped the hook, we hoisted our courtesy flag and our Q-flag (quarantine flag which indicates one has not yet entered the country) and settled down pretty quickly for a good night's sleep, a typical arrival in the Caribbean. However, when we went in to clear in with the Port Captain the next morning, we discovered we had inadvertently committed a big faux pas. We had entered the port without calling for permission, and we had not come ashore promptly to do paperwork. An officer in a spiffy white uniform frowned and shook his rulebook at us, citing "faultos" and threatening fines. Baker and Cindy were astounded as all their previous experience had been that no one much cared.

Well it turned out the officious fellow was but a junior officer, and that the local Armada had just had a really bad day. Our arrival coincided with the first day of Semana Sante (Holy Week, aka spring vacation), and this sleepy little beach town was about to have it's big week of the year when all the well-to-do from Quito come down to use their beach condos. Indeed,
it would be the first big week of several years as the town has just recovered from earthquake damage and subsequent mudslides. So, with typical timing, wouldn't you know, one of the ferries failed, and the ferries are under the Armada's jurisdiction. We later heard that the office was fielding calls from the President himself!

After getting the runaround all day, the real port captain returned in the afternoon and turned out to be a gracious, educated, English-speaking gentleman who accepted all apologies, mended relations all around and made us feel truly welcome. It still took us two days to get cleared in! No one was entirely sure what fees should be charged, and Cindy is a vigilante on overcharging of foreigners, so the forms had to be renegotiated and retyped several times! They type very slowly! In the meantime we found ourselves instantly wrapped up in the flow of Cindy and Baker's life, largely centered around getting out of their apartment, but not without plenty of time for beer, meals, tours and introductions.

Bahia, indeed Ecuador, is very cheap! Not as cheap as it was a year ago, we're told, when prices were half what they are now. Last summer Ecuador abandoned its grossly devalued sucre and adopted the US dollar as its currency. The adjustment was rocky and in the year 2000, inflation here was 91%! Still, we can drink a 950 ml beer for $.60 to $1, a full lunch with
soup, blue plate special, juice and sweet for $1.25! A steak dinner is about $4 and fish or shrimp ceviche about the same (shrimp are farmed here in ponds.) We had about 30lbs of laundry hand washed for $5. And Don and I just got haircuts for $2.50 each (mine included wash and blow-dry!) Bottled water is $1 for 5 gallons, and two people get pedaled about town on all these errands in tricycle-rickshaws for $.25. The fact is, we can hardly afford to eat on board!

On our third day in town, the four of us locked up our boats and boarded an Ejecutivo bus bound for the city of Manta. For us, the objective was to clear in with Migracion and Manta is the closest office. For B&C the objective was to do some major provisioning. Manta is just 26 miles away as the crow flies, but by road it is at the very least an hour and a half, and by bus route it is two and a half! The Ejecutivo busses are pretty impressive. They have plush seats, curtains, air-conditioning and video movies (usually in English with subtitles!), plus toilets for the women and children! I'm not exactly sure of the protocol for men; it didn't come up. Don learned his lesson on fluid intake and bus rides back in Panama!Our first stop was the inland city of Porto Viejo, which Cindy had manipulated so that Baker would have a last checkup with his cardiologist before jumping off across the Pacific. We happily whiled away the time waiting for him in a charming little beer garden where the proprietor cheerfully places empty cases by your table to collect the empties! From Puerto Viejo we took a taxi to Montecristi, one of the major centers of the Panama hat industry. The town is on a steep hill flowing down from a large church.

Cindy took us to her favorite vendor where we found quite a variety of styles, including a look at hats in progress, and, with lots of argaining, we proceeded to acquire several hats each, complete with balsa wood storage boxes. For those who don't know, a Panama hat (called that because they became popular during the Canal construction, but actually made in Ecuador) is of such a fine weave that it can be rolled up for travel. Good ones are said hold water!

From Monetcristi we caught a regular bus (memorable for the perfume of passion fruit and guava coming from several crates on the floor) into Manta itself. Manta is a big coastal city, and at one point that is where we thought we would go with TII. We are very glad we didn't. Although there are obviously many more services there (Baker got an alternator rebuilt in 20 minutes while he waited!), the port is very commercial, packed with fishing boats, and quite low on charm. We negotiated rooms at the Hostel Inca for $16 each, with fans, color TV and private bathrooms (no hot water!). Watching Cindy wrangle is quite entertaining; she was aghast that they had gone up from $12! We enjoyed yet another excellent meal (we like Ecuadorean food!) at a restaurant overlooking the "yacht club/anchorage", one of the highlights of which was watching dump trucks go by filled with huge tuna with armed guards riding shotgun! We capped the day off with a reconnaissance of the mall (very American) and a movie in the new eight-plex theater : Que Muheres Quieren …aka What Women Want, with Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt, in English with subtitles! A fun movie and a fun way to work on your Spanish!

We kicked off Good Friday with a fancy brunch at Oro Verde, an upscale hotel, still only $7. This hotel, by the way, had been until recently the billet for a contingent of American Navy pilots involved in aerial drug patrols of Colombia. No Hostel Inca for our boys! Several advisors were still there who told us that the program was in the process of being expanded! From brunch we took care of Migracion, then back to the mall to shop (fortunately the two captains had little buying to do). The miracle of the day to us was the acquisition of a cab large enough for all of us and all our stuff which we managed to persuade to carry us all the way back to Bahia for $25! The bonus of this ride was a beautiful drive on the new coastal highway, which still only shortened the trip by an hour. The last part of the drive was still on rutted muddy roads through tiny hamlets of bamboo & reed houses on stilts over flooded rice fields!We found the boats as we left them and the town all gussied up for its holiday visitors. They certainly couldn't have asked for better beach weather, azure blue skies and hot, hot sun. Temps soared to 37 degrees!….just doesn't have the same ring in Centigrade, does it? The 2Cs laid relatively low over the weekend, napping and reading and struggling with tests of our wayward autopilot components (something is causing the heading to wander away from reality by as much as 30 degrees!) We emerged for a restaurant meal now and them. On Easter morning we had Baker and Cindy over for an Eggs Florentine and Mimosas, our cockpit resplendent with Cindy's gift of ten glorious long-stemmed yellow roses, one of Ecuador's important exports.

Currently we are gearing up for Baker and Cindy's departure from Bahia, and our temporary departure for Quito, both scheduled for tomorrow. We expect to be gone about a week, give or take a few days, but we should be able to collect email while gone at Internet Cafes.


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