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The Two Captains


April 29, 2001
Coastal Ecuador - Leaving Bahia

The momentum of our downhill return to Bahia from Quito carried over the next day to a determination to pick up our anchor and get a move on. Cindy and Baker on Lite'n Up had moved on during our absence to the southern port city of Salinas for a much needed haulout, and HF radio contact with them urged us to follow. It took a couple of days, however, to get the boat ready to go again. We had our frozen food to get back aboard, our zarpe (clearance paper) to get, another couple of rounds of diesel by jerry jug to fill us back up, 150' of anchor rode to pre-scrub of river grunge, and some fresh vegies to purchase, clean and store. We had also decided to be more prudent on our departure than we were in our arrival and to use the local pilot. But with amazing efficiency we got all this arranged, and our departure was set for high tide - 0600 - Friday morning. The prudent thing would have been to get to bed early for a good night sleep, especially since we were still struggling with colds and other various travelers' maladies. However, we had been invited to a 31st birthday party our helper Marcelo was throwing for himself Thursday night, and it was one of those invitations to which you can't say no.

Until this party, I would have described Marcelo as kind of an overgrown kid. His day job is a tricycle driver. The tricycles are a sort of rickshaw taxi with a front half of two wheels supporting a bench and sometimes a canopy, powered by a bicycle back-half. There are at least a hundred of these around town, many of which are worked by kids (who probably ought to be in school!), and the cost of an average ride is 25 cents. These make a lot of sense in the relatively flat town of Bahia, but we saw tricycles elsewhere in Ecuador, including, incredibly, parts of Quito, albeit less often. As you can imagine, they are real convenient for schlepping stuff such as groceries, bottled water and jerry jugs of diesel as well as bodies. Our association with Marcelo was a hand-me-down from Baker & Cindy, who had used him for odd jobs on the boat during their year in Bahia, and in addition to tricycle work, we had hired Marcelo (at $2 per night!) to sleep aboard Tackless II while we were gone to Quito.

Apparently, when Baker and Cindy left Bahia, they gave Marcelo a gift of $100. This is a HUGE amount of money in Bahia, where loose change still matters and just trying to break a $20 bill is a big deal. It was aparticularly big deal coming from Baker and Cindy who have made a real campaign to keep visiting Americans from overspending. Anyway, I think we saw the results of their largesse.

Marcelo came to collect us at 8pm, already a late hour for the 2Cs. Well, upon arrival at Marcelo's house, one of a string of shacks side by side on a dirt lot kind of off the road in a field, it was clear that not only was this was going to be a big event, but that we were way early. A circle of twenty or so chairs framed the perimeter of the dirt yard, lights had been cranking out music to the empty chairs. Marcelo introduced us to his mother, a woman who never came out of the house once through the course of the evening, and his sister, a very attractive girl in her twenties.

As our eyes grew accustomed to the shadows outside the lights, it became clear that there were already clumps of neighbors and relatives sitting outside the party perimeter. There were more introductions, but frankly the volume of the music made the lack of a common language a fairly moot point. We nodded and smiled a lot, and retreated to our chairs of honor where we waited for things to get going. If there is any single impression that most stands out about that night, it is the transformation we saw in Marcelo from trike kid to host. After settling us into our chairs, he disappeared to change clothes. We had never seen him in anything but a red T-shirt and shorts. When he emerged in khakis and a long-sleeved cotton shirt, he looked like a different man. As people began to arrive, he suddenly appeared with trays full of plastic glasses of "punch" which he personally passed among his guests. Although every round was completely different from the one before, we are quite sure there was nothing alcoholic in any of them. And despite the thumping music, no one had started dancing. It was probably about 9:30 now, and it was looking to be a very long evening.

Then two things happened. Marcelo appeared at Don's elbow with two glasses of ice and a bottle of Cacique rum, "a gift," he said, "from a rich friend" (Cacique is about $3 a bottle.) The second thing was that Marcelo asked me to dance. The party at last was launched! Once the dancing started it got going with a vengeance. And people didn't just dance with their dates. Indeed, it seemed like people rarely danced with their partners. Certainly Marcelo didn't spend much time with his "novia," a shy, pretty girl wearing a bug extermination T-shirt! This meant, however, that the two gringos were not left to sit. As is usual in the tropics the tunes go on and on, and the Latin flavor meant most of it was at high speed. One slim young lady who happened to be quite tall for the local population took quite a shine to Don, hauling him out for dance after dance. Don believes it was due to his Cacique-inspired dancing abilities, but personally, I think it was probably the first time she'd had a dance partner taller than her! When they finally played a slow number, the 2Cs got a round of applause for our romantic solo turn on the floor.

We tried to make a graceful getaway several times in the course of the lengthening evening, but it was absolutely not permitted. We had to stay until "the torte." It is clear we were quite the guests of honor, gringo stand-ins (we think) for Baker & Cindy. At about 11:15, Marcelo began serving plates of rice pilaf. This was both good news and bad news: good news because it was very good and we'd consumed nothing but rum on the rocks since lunchtime; bad news because it wasn't the "torte." Don was quite intrigued that, over the course of the evening, absolutely no one else assisted Marcelo in the hosting of his party, not counting of course, whatever his mother was doing inside. A far cry from back home where the B-day celebrant is the guest of honor and rarely lifts a finger!

At 12:15 as the party welled to upwards of fifty people, Marcelo's conscience (he did know we had an early departure) must have finally caught up with him, and actually, I think, as he was keeping us company in the Cacique, that something else was catching up with him as well! He cast us free with heartfelt emotions by delivering an advance piece of "torte" to take away with us and providing his brother to escort us back to the dinghy. We were hot, dusty, soggy with dance sweat (we'd worn jeans and long-sleeve shirts against the bugs), and more than a little buzzed. Meanwhile, the tide had gone way out and the dinghy was high and dry with about ten feet of ooze between it and the water! Delightful. We still had not only to get back to the boat, but to get the dinghy broken down and hoisted aboard for transit. It was about 1:30 am when we sat down to our "torte" (a kind of coconut cake) and a very tall glass of cold water. We could still hear Marcelo's dance music thumping across the water!

To Isla de La Plata (Latitude: 01-16.00S; Longitude: 081-03.90W) Tito, the pilot, arrived promptly at 6:05am, a little anxious that our anchor was not already up as he had instructed, but appeased when it came up quickly. Tito's real job, you see, is driving the ferry, and he had to be back for the 6:45 run! He guided us out around the point into conditions much calmer than the big swell we'd arrived in. This may make it sound like his presence was unnecessary, but actually, without the swell it was impossible to tell where the sand bars were, so we were glad to have him.

On the other hand, had we not had the pilot, we would probably not have left. As you might guess, we were not feeling our best. In fact, this captain was really feeling punk. My highland cold was well entrenched in both my lungs and my two dozen sinus cavities, and the night's sweaty dancing had pulled out the final stops of my tourista. The seas were flat and the wind non-existent, so, once we got clear of the shoals, we put the throttle ahead and put the autopilot on (which perversely had decided to work!) Our destination was Isla de La Plata, a small offshore island that is part of the Parque Nacional Machalilla. It is described as "a poor man's Galapagos," but it lured us mostly as a remote anchorage away from civilization, of which by now we'd had enough. There are no cruising guides for this part of the world, and indeed not very many places anywhere along the coast are suitable for stopping. All the info we had about Isla de La Plata was a waypoint and word that "the only anchorage is right in front of the only house." Lite'n Up had had to pass it by as engine trouble got them there after dark.

I expected to feel better at sea, but I did not. I was just about to throw in the towel and retreat to my bunk (now about a couple hours out) when we were approached by an open boat with the familiar paint job of the Ecuadorian Armada! For a moment I thought we had forgotten something back in Bahia, but it quickly became clear this boat was from a different port. There was an officer in white and a seaman in blue, but the fellow at the tiller looked like any old fisherman, and indeed, the bilge was ankle deep in fish! I guess patrolling duties were light!

The Navy guys boarded to check our papers which were all in order, we made the required chitchat, which my Spanish was up to, and we gave them three cold sodas to take away. They offered us some fish, which was kind but most unappetizing the way we were feeling! Don sent me below where I stayed most of the day, actually running a fever. When I emerged to make him lunch, the wind had come up and he had gotten the staysail up alone. We decided to raise the main before I went below again. The wind, of course, was on the nose, forcing us to decide between motoring dead on and tacking off. We had a big headland to round, and the current was not in our favor. We mixed the options back and forth, but no matter what we did, as the afternoon progressed, it became increasingly clear that we too were not going to make it before sunset.

Fortunately, I found a fairly detailed chart of Isla de la Plata on our digital CD, and it showed an approach free of obstacles. That was the good news, because we could approach on radar without fear of submerged rocks, and it would be a perfect opportunity to use our hot-shot night scope which would show the anchorage as if in daylight. The bad news was that the anchoring shelf was quite narrow. As the light dimmed (it had been overcast all day), we took in sail and motored straight for it. Imagine our joy when we made out a light on shore from the house! Imagine our dismay, when we went for the night scope and could not find it! Frantically, we ransacked every nook and cranny in the boat with no joy! Suddenly, the night approach did not seem like such a piece of cake. However, with Don up on the bow with the handheld radio and me at the helm with the radar on, we managed to inch our way into anchoring depth and get the hook dropped. Just as we needed it, Mother Nature helped by sucking away the day's overcast, seemingly in the blink of any eye, leaving us with sparkling stars and the crescent moon. The moment the engine was off the air was filled with the slosh of surf against the beach and boobies quacked in the cliffs. The anchorage was calm and empty but for us and one little fishing boat (who kindly showed a light as we approached.) The light ashore went off. We ate our supper from cans and had a cool deep sleep. We were very glad we didn't balk at stopping.

We still haven't found the Night Scope, and are unwillingly coming to the belief that it has been stolen. Nothing else seems to be missing, though, and the likelihood of the Night Scope being a thief's choice when so many other familiar and useful things are right out front make us persist in resisting the idea. But, we have been through EVERYTHING! It would have to have occurred in the first couple of days in Bahia before the boat was locked up, as we last used it the night before our entry there. Meanwhile, we are delighted with our anchorage. We've been here two nights so far, recuperating from all our ailments. The island is steep-to, with exposed rocky protrusions covered in guano like a dusting of snow. The producers of the guano, a huge flock of blue-footed boobies, circle and swirl feeding on schools of fish around the rocks. The sea is settled and the water appears fairly clear. The temperatures however are not equatorial. Clearly we are under the influence of the cold Humboldt current that comes up from Peru. The water temp is a brisk 67 degrees, and the air temp about the same! We spend most of the day in long pants, sleeves, and, yes, socks for warmth, violating one our cardinal rules. Don has not rushed into the water to check out the growth on the propeller, as is his usual thing. Sleeping is real good, however.

We are not totally alone. As it is the weekend, tour boats have come and gone with hikers and even (ye, gods) snorkelers and divers. Local fisherman overnight here, and today a cooperative of four matching boats came in to seine for bait fish. Last night six sportfisherman came in for the night and partied until late. But none of this activity has intruded on our peaceful contentment. We are reading, writing, and eating normal American food. We are, all in all, feeling much better, and we are in no hurry to move on.


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