Tuesday, 20 December 2005

Venezuela Oct 2005 - More friends, more Los Roques.

Diana and I were on our own for the over-night sail from Los Roques to Caracas, Thursday Sept 29th. We were close-hauled, but comfortable. Only as we approached the continent in the early hours did the wind fail (normal for this area), and we motored along the coast to find a safe anchorage, preferably a marina not too far from the airport.
The main excitement on this trip was two hours after leaving Gran Roque in the afternoon. We were sailing through the west side of the archipelago and had two fishing lines trailing. First one huge dorado (dolphin-fish or “gullmakrell”) hooked the portside line, and then another of the same size hooked the starboard line! Both the lines were pulled out to their limits as the monsters made huge leaps displaying brilliant colours of gold and blue. It was difficult to slow down the boat in the following wind, and we had to put on leather gloves to slowly pull them in one by one. Close to the steps, a rope around my waist for safety, I tried to grab the first when he made another big jump and was free. When the other dorado was finally close I tried to hook him instead, but only with the same result! Both the fish had the tall, flat foreheads of male dorados and were magnificent beasts. At least they left our hooks – and hopes of fish for dinner - behind… And at 15-20 kg each, what should we do with all that meat? Still, a little disappointed we set the lines again. Diana was just getting ready to open a tin for dinner when we caught a barracuda of just the right size for two. So as the sun set and we carefully navigated through the last islands we again enjoyed the bounties of Los Roques.
Finding a suitable anchorage near Caracas prove to be quite difficult. The large port of Guaira is a busy commercial harbour not safe or suitable for yachts and a nearby public marina was still closed after damage years ago. Finally the small, but luxurious, private marina of Playa Grande Yacht Club let us anchor for one night. The cheerful port captain charged us US$ 100, but it was well worth it: Safe and close to the airport. But as we were not members we had to motor to another private yacht-club to buy diesel and fill water. Filling up 105 l diesel and 10 l petrol cost Bolivares 10.000. The tip to the dock-master was B 20.000 (he asked for 50.000). But as 1 US$ is worth B 2.500, the total amount was only US$ 12! The Venezuelan fuel is still the cheapest we are ever likely to come across...

Family Five

Diana went to meet our friends and colleagues Kirsten Sola and Matthias Fisher with their three children, Eirik (17), Andreas (14) and Helene (11). They arrived on time after a good flight and stepped out into pouring rain! A brief, tropical shower, not the best welcome, but that was the last drop of rain for nearly two weeks. After we had rowed their luggage safely aboard and had worked out who should sleep where, Diana and Kirsten went to nearby Catia del Mar for a final taxi-load of shopping. I took Andreas and Helene for a swim and snorkel at the yacht club beach. They were delighted with the warm, but brownish water and the few fish we could see through our masks, so I knew that these kids would be easy to entertain out in the islands were the sea is crystal clear and teeming with life.

The overnight trip back up north was broad-reaching in good trade-winds. In spite of the big load, White Admiral was really showing off her speed and averaged more than 8 knots for the 75 nautical miles. Early light revealed Cayo del Agua dead ahead, and soon we could anchor in shallow water off a white beach, behind which were lots of nesting boobies (gannets). Swimming to the beach we passed a coral head surrounded by multi-coloured fish. Adults and kids were equally delighted. Eirik got out a big kite and board brought all the way from Norway, and after a lot of practice had a couple of runs parallel to the beach. But this would unfortunately be the last time he had the right conditions for this new and technically demanding water-sport. So what did we do these two weeks? We swam and snorkelled, we walked on beaches so white that they reflect the sun, we gathered shells, we photographed and tried not to get sunburned – an almost impossible task. Apart from that we had buffet meals in the cockpit three times daily. This continued through several of the many anchorages in Los Roques. Some we knew already, others were new. Aboard there was time for games (especially Perudo), some art-work with sea- and turtle-shells, even the occasional sing-song. Other activities were wind-surfing and diving from the stern deck (our visitor are skilled on the trampoline), and snorkelling with torches after dark. Add a visit to our new fishermen friend Ezekiel on Cayo Carenero and two visits to the little village of Puerto la Roque (on Gran Roque – charming sand-filled streets, many bars and posadas, but only fresh food at long intervals), and you know how time flew with these energetic visitors. Back in Caracas (same expensive, but friendly and conveniently situated marina) all the youngsters wrote nice entries in our guest-book, especially highlighting the underwater fun. In particular a couple of night dives when we saw sleeping parrot-fish, lobsters, sting rays, moray eels, squids, puffer- and porcupine-fish. We even managed to irritate a big porcupine-fish so much that he with loud grunts puffed himself into a very spiky and comical ball completely off balance! Naturally we have a lot of pictures from the visit of this family and we will use these to tell more of the story – please check the picture gallery.

Return of Robert

The last two days were made most enjoyable also by a visit from Robert, who is now working in Venezuela with a tour operator, improving their web-site and helping to look after students who come to learn Spanish. He arrived in Puerto la Roque on an evening flight from Caracas, and with three youngsters to play with, spent the days mostly in the water. On our final departure from Cayo Francisqui, he and Eirik took turns on Eirik’s kite-board, pulled along by a rope from the top of the mast – apparently a great thrill!
So the whole trip was an unqualified success, no nasty weather, everything going to plan… Well, almost. For on the trip back south, the nocturnal lightening which we normally see flashing above the high main-land, where it rains practically every night, decided to move off-shore and meet us. For about three hours there was an impressive show of thunder and lightening round about us, the rain bucketing down and the wind coming in gusts from different directions and kicking up a rough sea. We had a plane to reach and pressed on motor-sailing. But when the starboard engine overheated and had to be turned off, it did not look as our guests would make their homeward flight. I was hand-steering through the squalls and in spite of oilskins became wet and very cold. My faithful companion in the cockpit was Matthias who felt he would become seasick inside. He was like me soaking wet, but covered by a wet towel somehow managed to get some sleep on the cockpit bench.
However, after the storm came the calm and we could again motor at nearly full speed with both engines purring happily, and we reached the marina with time to finish packing, row a happy family ashore and order taxis with no panic.

Next update:
Visit from Eli and Rigmor, and about our Tortuga Challenge
20 Dec 2005 by Stein & Diana

Sunday, 20 November 2005

Back to White Admiral - Los Roques, Venezuela, Sept. 29th

Norwegian summer; jobs and socialising.

Summer in Norway went by too quickly; what happened to all the walks in the mountains, visiting more friends and relatives around Norway and decorating our bedroom? (We were back in our house again after renting it out for nearly two years.) But professional jobs worked out well. Stein enjoyed his third period back in the Cardiology Department of Sørlandets Sykehus, Kristiansand, learning more of the secrets of cardiac ultrasound, and refreshing old pacemaker skills - and taking many extra night-duties. Diana did a locum in private eye practice for a colleague in centre of Kristiansand. Working almost the whole summer gave limited time for other activities, but we did manage to see some of our lovely grand-children’s development, which is a great privilege. Hedda is now three and a half, and Johan one year old. Stein also spent some time with mum Eli at her summer cottage at Veierland. Also we managed to redecorate our ground floor into a flat for renting out as we left; Elisabeth’s old bedroom now being transformed to a kitchen.
Diana’s brother Jim came for a week from Canada, his first ever visit to Norway. He has wanted to come for a long time, but looking after an invalid wife for many years had prevented him, so this was a great pleasure for us both, and Norway showed itself from its best side with lovely summer weather, even Oslo looked like an attractive city!
Living partly on our boat in far-off parts makes it important to be with family while we are home, and we were pleased that Robert came to stay for a few weeks after finishing his maths degree in Bergen, and we had a big family reunion at Eli’s summer cottage with all three of our off-spring and partners, Hugh and Camilla (Robert is still single).

Off-road biking and veteran rowing.

On the sporting side, Stein took part in Birkebeinerrittet, an off-road cycle race 89 kilometres over mountains from Rena to Lillehammer, along with 11.000 others (!), including Martin and Camilla. They were all pleased with their times, even Stein taking 4hrs10 min, but was still beaten by his daughter-in-law by 14 minutes. (But she is a very fit and tough lady!).
Stein turned sixty just before we returned to Venezuela, another occasion to gather family and a few good friends. We had a fun evening with good food and speeches, songs, violin playing by our friend Günter, and Stein had to take a bit of good natured teasing about his extremely healthy life-style. In return he got a brand new off-road bicycle! So that is us both past the six decades, but still going strong, in good health and enjoying life very much.
En route to White Admiral we had some days in Glasgow at the World Masters (veteran) Rowing Championships combined with seeing relatives of Dianas and old friends from student days at Glasgow University. Stein entered three events and was pleased to come away with a win in double sculls together with Hans Petter Rasmussen from Drammen. A repeat from many events before, the latest was in from Montreal 2001, when he last took part. The FISA World Masters, as it is officially known, is a huge event, this time with 5000 men and women from 37 nations racing in 8000 seats. One day the races were delayed due to rain and cross winds at the Strathclyde Centre, but everybody still praised the Scottish organizers for an extremely well run event. At the official opening we also got the chance to shake hand with an old hero, Sir Steve Redgrave, now retired after five Olympic golds. He is the most successful rower ever, and a sympathetic person, too, doing a lot of work for charity in addition to figure-heading rowing.
The Saturday night banquet in Motherwell was as expected a real “row” down memory lane with many familiar faces among the rowers from both Norway and UK. Among them were David Ward and Tony Cassidy (Glasgow in the late 60’s) and Ole Østlund (Norway, early 70’s).
In London we had a quick stop with Elisabeth & Hugh, and a huge lunch with Kenneth & Tatiana (Ocean Rowing Society) before heading SW via Miami with British Airways and American Airlines.


Our return to White Admiral late September 13th (!) was not as happy as we had hoped, owing to a break-in 3 weeks earlier. The marina owner had not wanted to worry us by mailing us earlier; she sat up waiting for us to give us the bad news. We got to the boat at 2.30 a.m., after waiting at Caracas Airport for three hours for our luggage (which had been held back in Miami for security check) to find that most of our loose electric and electronic equipment was missing... The thieves had taken plenty of time to go through our cupboards and stores, and had gone off with what they could sell; TV, radios, two GPS’s, inverter, generator, outboard engine, emergency beacon, electric tools, binoculars, anemometer, torch, search-light, tools, even a little iron and kitchen mixer! So we went to bed a little depressed and didn’t sleep too well or long that night. However things brightened in the morning. For a start the Coastal Police nearby had just found our Mariner outboard engine and the Honda generator, two of the biggest items, and we got back the generator at once. The outboard engine was more of a problem, as this had already been passed on to the bureaucrats, who even the police seem to have no control over. The marina owner Yezabel visited the Fiscal’s Office in Higuerote four times, with a policeman each time and and with Stein twice, before finally getting the engine back! First of all it was no good coming on a Wednesday as they only hand out items on Friday. And the office will serve no more than 30 requests on any given Friday! (People apparently start lining up at 5 a.m. to claim back missing items...) The impression is that the Fiscal’s Office wants to keep stolen items for themselves, hence make many problems so that people give up trying to get them back!
Yezabel was also willing to take some responsibility for our losses, as of course their nocturnal, armed security guard had failed, and instead of trying to work out the value of everything, we have made an arrangement for free lifting and storage the next time we come home (in November). This we are all reasonably happy with - just hope their new security measures work! Fortunately the thieves had done no structural damage (apart from the door, which the marina already had repaired), and did not take the instruments which were fixed in place like radar, VHF and satellite telephone, so things could have been worse. But some items are a particularly sad loss, like the Jotron emergency beacon that saved Elisabeth’s life during her failed row in 1999, and accompanied both our solo Atlantic rows in 1999 and 2002. Also the missing PC with all the electronic charts now makes navigation more difficult. And with the printer gone, we can no more process digital pictures of fishermen and other locals for gifts… So our previously good impression of Venezuela is a little tarnished. But they did leave the guitar behind, so we can still strum up the occasional blues and evergreens in the cockpit. And getting over the misery of burglary, we were finally able to admire the beautiful paint - job of deck and coach-roof. All is now white or off-white, no more burning feet in the tropical sun and no and no more skidding on wet deck and cockpit. Well done, Gabriel and your men of Astillero Higuerote.

Paradise revisited.

We worked quickly to get White Admiral back in shape, stocked up and into the water, before our good friends Frode and Susanne Filseth arrived two days later. They brought a new GPS, an inverter, an old lap-top PC and an electric drill, so we had the necessary basics to go off sailing again. After a bird-watching trip to the mangroves the next evening we were off in the gentle, warm breeze for an overnight sail to Caya Herradura, one of the small islets off the coast of Tortuga. We are familiar with the Tortuga anchorages from earlier in the year, and enjoyed showing Frode and Susanne three of these lovely places. Immaculate, white beaches, good snorkelling and spear-fishing (still permitted here), and also took a couple of long walks along the coast. We revisited our old friend Moncho, the only permanent inhabitant of Punta Delgado. This time we were not in the lobster season, so he had to grill fish for us as we sat watching the sun set over the reef, glass of wine in hand. Not a bad life!
Sadly Frode received the message that his mother had died (nearly 92, not unexpected), and that they would have to cut their holiday short to get back for her funeral. We wanted to take them first to Los Roques, also new territory for us, supposedly a paradise for sailors and one of the biggest atolls in the world. On the 21st September we had another easy overnight sail, partly motoring as the wind was so gentle. We reached the enormous lagoon the next morning and motored up along one of the inner reefs to the main island of Gran Roques. As we went into the SE reef entrance at Boca de Sebastopol we caught a large barracuda on the line, a vicious looking, still beautiful torpedo of a fish weighing about five kilos. We killed it with a little alcohol into the gills, a great tip which we got from other sailors last year; it kills instantly without any struggling or mess. So that was dinner that day and lunch and dinner the next day secured! The town of Gran Roques is a brightly panted little holiday town with sand streets, no traffic and lots of small guest-houses (posadas). We shared the anchorage with a few fishing boats, a couple of tourist catamarans, two or three foreign yachts, and lots of pelicans, gannets, gulls and terns.
The whole area is a marine national park, so there is a bit of bureaucracy to get checked in, and a relatively high fee to be paid (about £6 or 75 kroner per person and £40 or 500 kroner for the boat for 15 days). We had to go the rounds of four offices in the extreme afternoon heat, to get all the correct stamps on our form - which has to be returned before we leave. But everybody we met in these offices were relaxed and friendly, didn’t appear to have much to do, and gave us no problems. We managed to visit two of the nearby islands with Frode and Susanne, wonderful places with lovely beaches and calm lagoons. Susanne had been a little unsure about snorkelling, but here it is such a pleasure that she quickly learned to relax and enjoy the sights of large, multi-coloured parrot fish grazing on the corals, exquisite small aquarium-like fish, shoals of dark-blue surgeon fish or schools of inquisitive squid gazing at you with big eyes!
Frode and Susanne left on the 5 p.m. plane to Caracas on the 24th September, a bit sorry to have to leave, but very happy with their exotic 10 days in this part of the world. They were most appreciative and easy-going guests.

Plans ahead.

Now we have had a few days to ourselves, before Diana’s colleague Matthias Fischer and his family come for a two week holiday. First we motored around to the West side of the atoll, eyeing our way through the shallow areas, and anchored in Dos Mosquis, two small islets, one with a research station with turtle hatching, and the other a perfect little deserted tropical island with three palm tees. During that sail we caught another big fish, a tuna this time, enough for four meals now we are alone aboard. On the Dos Mosquis anchorage there are no fishing-camps and hence the fishing ban seems most effective, so for the first time ever we have seen an abundance of the giant West-Indian queen conchs. During a swim in clear water it was possible to count 15 of these monstrous snails at once. Caya Carenero and Crasqui are two more pretty anchorages, and after we have returned here with more friends we will report in more detail. Tonight we have an overnight sail to a marina near Caracas, arriving tomorrow morning, Sept 30th with a day to spare before our next visitors.
But apart from enjoying the surroundings and lots of good fish meals, there are always lots of jobs to be done on a boat. Some that have needed our attention this last week: The burners on the paraffin stove, the fresh-water pump, a non-charging alternator on starboard engine, a damaged cockpit bench-cover. So life is never dull, but we still have managed to read a couple of books since arriving – one of the luxuries of life afloat!
Finally an outline of plan ahead: Cruise around Venezuela water, first with the Kristiansand family, then with Stein’s mother Eli and friend Rigmor. During this time we also hope to see Robert aboard. Nov 7th sees White Admiral being lifted back on the hard at Astillero Higuerote. Nov 10th-20th we spend in the exciting islands of Galapagos taking part in a historical cruise with 12 others and giving a lecture in Puerto Ayora on the Norwegian immigration to these islands. And in late November we are back in Kristiansand to work for a couple of months again. In late February 06 we leave Venezuela and sail to the Dutch Antilles, Cartagena in Colombia and probably the San Blas Islands. No lack of fun or challenges ahead!

20 Nov 2005 by Stein & Diana

Tuesday, 15 November 2005

Venezuela, Oct-Nov 2005 - A visit from Eli & Rigmor and

Visit from Eli & Rigmor.

The next 24 hours, we spent getting the boat ready for our next Norwegian guests, Stein’s mother Eli, and our friend Rigmor. Again, planes were in time and passengers happy and we could leave the expensive marina almost at once, and had a new brisk sail up to Los Roques. This time we entered the Boca de Sebastapol channel between the reefs on the SE side. Halfway up we stopped for a swim at a sandy islet hardly bigger than our boat and populated by terns and pelicans. The first night we anchored at Cayo Pirata, an island quite near Gran Roques. After dark Robert and I went snorkelling with flashlights. There was a little wind and drizzle but all seemed well as we turned in for the night. But at 2 a.m. I woke up as the wind had freshened, caused the awning to flap and seemed to come from a new direction. Out on deck in the brilliant moonlight, I got a minor shock as a beach was only a few meters away from our stern! It was a narrow sand-spit originally a good way behind when we had anchored - we had dragged! Diana joined me quickly, we got the engines on and the large awning off (it was catching the side-wind as a sail), and fortunately got both anchors up without any problems. The moon made it easy to motor the short distance across to the safe anchorage off Gran Roque. All sailors need a bit of luck sometimes!Otherwise these two weeks went very smoothly, revisiting the best of the anchorages in Los Roques, in which we were now beginning to feel at home. Rigmor had in the past not done any snorkelling. She had grown up close to the sea, learned to swim, but was somehow imprinted a fear of having her head immersed. But with Diana’s instructions she made a brave attempt to learn, and managed to see some of the wonderful life on the reefs. Eli had a couple of swims from the stern, but at nearly 90 and legs not so good any more, preferred to remain in the cockpit. Here she enjoying the warmth and the views and was always available for preparing potatoes and vegetables for dinner.

Night sailing with a difference.

Late autumn is normally a period of little winds in this part of the Caribbean Sea. The dreaded hurricanes that made life miserable in New Orleans and other areas up north never touch the Venezuelan coast. The only way we noticed distant storms was when the swells occasionally were bigger than usual. But on the sail south with our last guests for the season we had really rough conditions. This time, as we were going to Higuerote, east of Caracas, we headed out of the archipelago straight into a force 5-6 stiff breeze. Well off the windward reefs we could turn south, turn off the engines and sail close-hauled, but it was rough and uncomfortable. My mother has been through similar conditions before and took it stoically, but for Rigmor this was a new and scary experience. As if to soften this blow of a farewell “present” from Los Roques, we caught a barracuda. Diana gutted the fish and put it in the fridge, conditions did not allow for anything more elaborate.
Heading into the stiff breeze, the engines were off and the wind-generator became so noisy that we turned it off too, and were down to battery power. The fridge and the autopilot and a minimum of inside lights need quite a bit of electricity, so with no other boats visible and a big moon up I turned off the navigation lights and just kept a careful lookout. This, of course, is not a practice we really recommend, except when crossing the empty wastes of big oceans. Not long after a red light was seen behind, apparently a ship crossing our wake and heading west. But then it turned round, a green light appeared and soon the ship was heading straight for us while flashing a powerful beacon! Putting the navigation lights on again did not stop the flashing. So after all these years of peaceful sailing, was this finally an encounter with pirates?! – But Diana solved the problem by calling the ship on the VHF radio. Through broken English and even more broken Spanish we realized that the ship belonged to the Venezuela Coast Guard, had seen us on their radar from two miles behind and became suspicious of this unlit vessel. Diana had to give them details about our identity and present journey and we were duly reprimanded for our un-seamanlike practice. – Another solution would have been, of course, to turn off the fridge temporarily.
After midnight conditions gradually improved and amazingly enough, dawn at 6 a.m. found us motoring across a gray, glassy, heaving sea. Ahead was the tall, green, coastal cliffs of the cape north of Higuerote. Fortunately Rigmor was her usual happy self again, and in spite of the rough passage still thought the whole Los Roques trip a wonderful experience.
Safely moored in Astillero de Higuerote, Eli & Rigmor still had time for some shopping and sightseeing before their plane home. On their last evening we gthered drinks, snacks, binoculars and insect repellent and took the dinghy into the mangroves. There we toasted to the nocturnal return of hundreds of birds; scarlet ibis, white, grey and blue herons, squawking parrots, and many more. An amazing sight…When darkness fell we returned by way of a seaside restaurant and a most enjoyable meal.

Our Tortuga Challenge.

Diana and I now had one final week before the lifting of White Admiral back on the hard. So at 2 a.m. the next morning - after our taxi-driving friend, Arias, had safely driven the ladies the two hours to Caracas International Airport, Diana and I headed out NE for Tortuga, and its tiny Cayo Herradura where we spent so much time in the spring and where we did the main preparation for the Sahara Marathon. The brisk easterlies prevailed and made this another rough slog and another overheated engine... But how wonderful to quite abruptly leave the waves behind and in the sunset anchor in the horse-shoe shaped protection of Cayo Herradura! - And just enough daylight for a swim to check the anchor, then to the beach and back before a glass of wine and dinner in the cockpit.
Two days later the wind had eased and we could motor the few miles east to Punta Delgada and Playa Caldera. Meanwhile I had given the starboard engine a thorough check without finding anything seriously wrong, but I replaced the thermostat, oil and oil filter.
In this NE corner of Tortuga there is now a military camp and next year will see the building of a coast guard station. So things will no doubt change and soon Moncho will not be the only permanent inhabitant. Two uniformed, but barefoot and friendly men from the coastal police in fact came aboard and gave us a check regarding both identity and safety features aboard. (Happily no mention of navigation lights!)
Back in March when Diana and I covered a lot of the island during our long walks we had talked about trying a walk right around the coast. We thought we could do it in two days. Already we had done some long walks alone and with our various visitors, and felt we were in reasonable form. We told Moncho about our project. He has lived on the island for 20 years, probably knows it better than anybody else, and he did not think we could do it in two days. The island is about 25 x 10 km and if we were running out of time could probably do a short-cut across the flat, but cactus-covered interior. So compass and torches were part of the pack, which mostly consisted of water, a total of 16 l. So on Thursday 3rd November off we went with the breeze and the sunrise behind us. We made short stops each 2nd hour for snacks and – in my case – shoe repairs. After six hours of active walking we were in new territory well down the west coast. We saw the occasional boat off the coast, but never encountered any humans on land, our main company being birds and ghost crabs. After we turned the SW corner we discovered a south coast that was much prettier and varied than the north. - But also more difficult to navigate! At sunset we cleared a spot for the night between two rows of mangroves, collected firewood and while the bonfire got going had a refreshing salt water wash and swim.
After a freeze-dried dinner, some snacks and a cup of tea we settled under the brilliant stars. But as the fire died the mosquitoes appeared. Our insect repellent seemed almost useless and we ended up cocooned in our silk sleeping sheet-bags, but still had a night of interrupted sleep and a lot of star-gazing… The bonfire for breakfast helped for a little while, but then tiny gnats took over from the mosquitoes and drove us nearly to desperation. At least it was a relief to be on the road again!
The terrain along the latter part of the south coast was very rough and seemed never-ending. It was a relief to see finally see the turquoise Laguna de Carenero. From now on we were on familiar ground; five hours to go and about 1.5 l water each. My shoes became more and more of a problem, but at least the backpack was now very light. When we finally reached the sandy NE coast we had a short swim, and for the last two hours I walked barefoot on the beach. I had no water left and Diana was down to the last drops when we passed the military camp close to home. Our new military friends Fernandez and Medina heard what we had been doing, congratulated us profusely and gave us cold water from a freezer. How we drank! So when we got to Moncho’s a few minutes later we were on the mend again. 18 hours active walking is what it took us to “circumnavigate” Tortuga by foot.
We did indeed sleep well that night!

Saturday night we had a final meal at Moncho’s; lobster grilled on embers on the ground at sunset, and the following night we sailed for home. Finally a gentle sail. Another big barracuda was caught, and the next morning found us safely moored in the marina.
The last two days was in a frenzy of work getting the boat up on the hard and ready for three months of storage. This time we gathered most of the valuable items and left them in the care of Yezobel Yuffa, the marina manager.
But before our return to Europe: A visit to The Enchanted Isles; Galapagos!
31 Dec 2005 by Stein & Diana

Tuesday, 1 November 2005

Nov. 2005 - The Islands of Galapagos

Guayaquil, Ecuador.

Arias, our faithful taxi-driver, drove us safely the 2½ hours to Caracas International Airport on November 9th. Along the way we stopped for a traditional coconut drink, particularly refreshing as the nuts are cooled in a big freezer. The evening plane from Caracas via Bogota got us into Guayaquil, Ecuador’s biggest city, in the middle of the night. Here we were met by our tour leaders, John Woram, the brains behind the first ever historical tour of the islands ("History, Mystery and More"), and Judy Muggia, our cheerful, bustling tour operator. They escorted us to the Hotel UniPark in the middle of town where we met most of the other participants of the tour, twelve equally tired Americans that had flown in from Miami.
Next morning, after an excellent breakfast, a short walk across the road from the hotel immediately gave us a taste of a more exotic wild-life, with big iguanas sitting on the trees and bushes in the little Parque Seminario. Here were also tame squirrels fed by the locals.A day tour of Guayaquil proved to be a real surprise. What we imagined would be a big, poor, dirty Latin-American city proved to have a beautifully clean water-front, gracious buildings and groups of cleaners mopping the streets! Apparently the mayor of the city has since 1992 made a huge effort to get the place cleaned up, and beggars and street vendors moved into designated areas. (Not that the poverty can have disappeared, no doubt there are areas that visitors don’t usually see.) We spent a historical morning guided by Dr Octavio LaTorre from Quito. He is a retired, distinguished history professor with 20 books published, including one on the human history of Galapagos (“The Curse of the Giant Tortoise”). With him we visited the naval museum and the gun-boat Calderon, the pride of the Ecuadorian Navy, and heard glowing accounts of how she saved Ecuador from Peruvian invasion in 1941. After lunch on the terrace of the Guayaquil Yacht Club, gazing out over the tranquil estuary of the river Guaya, we spent a few hours in a historical/zoological park. Here some of the old city buildings had been restored, and there was a big selection of wild-life from tapirs and sloths to exotic birds. During this time we got acquainted with our twelve fellow passengers, all American, and mostly with some interest in the history of Galapagos. Apart form the leader John, who has a life-long fascination in anything to do with Galapagos, edits a comprehensive web-site (www.galapagos.to) and has recently written a book about the human history of the islands (“Charles Darwin Slept Here”), there was Matt James, a professor of geology from Sonoma State University doing research on an expedition by the California Academy of Sciences a hundred years ago, librarian Tom Tyler with a special interest in the history of whaling, the retired air-force officer Fred Laing who was there to look for the grave of a young officer killed in a duel in 1813 (!) and of course Stein, with his interest in the Norwegian immigration in the 1920’s and 30’s. Indeed an interesting and enthusiastic bunch of people.


The Galapagos Islands are about 600 nautical miles (1000 km) off the coast of Ecuador, or a one and a half hours’ comfortable plane ride to the small island of Baltra and an airstrip built by the Americans during World War II. There we were taken to our cruise ship Tip Top II, a motor-vessel with 16 passenger berths; not one of the most luxurious ships, but very adequate for our needs. Here our guide to the islands, Juan Carlos Avila, introduced himself and the crew to us. He is a young Ecuadorian from the islands, very enthusiastic and full of knowledge about the islands and the wild-life. We soon departed to the north coast of the neighbouring island of Santa Cruz to get our first taste of these weird and wonderful islands. A dinghy trip took us into inlets among the mangroves, where we could see large sea-turtles (who obliged us by mating!), sharks and schools of yellow rays, then a walk to an inland lagoon to gaze in awe at flock of pink flamingos busy sifting water for tiny crustations, not in the least disturbed by our presence. As we watched from the beach a black marine iguana swam past us. This is the amazing thing about Galapagos, the animals have not learned to fear humans, and one can wander at leisure among them and study their habits. Their lack of fear comes from their long and isolated evolution with few natural enemies, not because humans have treated them particularly well. On the contrary, humans have in the last 200 years helped themselves to the wild-life with little thought of the consequences, and almost wiped out the giant tortoise population that has given the name to the islands. (Galapagos is derived from the Spanish word for saddle, as some species of the giant tortoises have saddle-shaped shells.)

“Bird Island” revisited.

A night sail to Isla Genovesa (Tower Island) was pretty rough, and most of the group experienced a sleepless night, some vomiting miserably. Stein and I had a cabin beside the engines, and we dosed fitfully bumping along with the engines roaring behind us. We wondered if we should have paid more for an upper cabin, but in the morning found that those who did had slept even worse, being thrown about in the heaving of the ship! These trials were soon forgotten in the excitement of seeing Genovesa. For Stein and I this was a nostalgic return, as we had first sailed there in Red Admiral in 1979 with our children Elisabeth and Martin (then 5 and 4 years old) – an amazing experience for all of us. This flat island lies around an ancient volcanic crater where the sea has broken through in one place, creating a circular lagoon. Like most of the island group, the landscape is very dry and barren with stick-like vegetation, cacti and black lava rocks. But this is the island to see birds, and here are most of the peculiar species that Galapagos can display, including red-footed boobies, blue-footed boobies, nazda (masked) boobies, petrels, frigate birds, tropic birds, lava gulls, swallow-tailed gulls, mocking birds, pigeons, hawks, warblers and finches. They sit in the bushes, nest in the cliffs, walk on the ground and fly overhead in amazing numbers. In this delicate environment, tourism has to be carefully controlled, so no longer can private boats sail in and anchor; everybody has to go on tours registered by the National Park, keep to a limited number of marked paths, and be led by an officially trained guide. A guide can take no more than 16 persons at a time. You may think that to be so controlled reduces the total experience, but this is not so; the birds and animals are so prolific, you find them even in the paths! Also an afternoon snorkelling trip along the cliffs was in fact a better experience with a guide than we could possibly have had on our own. Juan Carlos’ knowledge of life below the water more than matched his knowledge of that on land.

Turtle-ride in Santiago.

Another night sail, this time not so rough, took us to Isla Santiago (James Island), where we started with a snorkelling trip. Despite being almost at the equator, this proved to be a cold experience, thanks to the Humbolt Current bringing water straight from the Antarctic. We would have been very thankful for a wet-suit, which only one of our group had brought along. The temperature is well below 20 degrees centigrade, but the snorkelling is so amazing that even I (Diana) who hate cold water, went in for about half an hour at a time. As soon as you get in, the sea-lions appear, and if you dive down, they come whizzing around you, obviously pleased to have a new play-mate. A passing turtle also came right up to me, and although one is not supposed to touch the animals, I couldn’t help putting my hands on its back, and it obligingly swam along with me hanging on. Most of the fish in Galapagos are also quite different from those we know well from the Caribbean reefs. They may have similar shapes, but with special colour patterns and often distinctly different behaviour.

Isla Floreana.

Our third island visit was to Isla Floreana (Charles Island), a more historical part of the trip. Here is the famous Post Office Bay where a barrel has served as a primitive, self-service mail box for nearly 300 years. Just behind are the remains of the first Norwegian settlement in 1925. This is also where some Germans settled around 1930; the Wittmer family whose descendents are still on the island (the boat we were on is owned by Rolf Wittmer), the eccentric Dr Friedrich Ritter, who is remembered for having had his teeth pulled out and a false set of steel ones made, and a colourful, psychopathic baroness who was probably murdered by one of her lovers!
There was not much left from the Norwegians, but we hope the National Park will recognize their place in the human history of Floreana and mark it with appropriate signs. But at least a huge cave, actually an underground lava tube discovered by Rolf Sønderskov in 1925, is now a tourist attraction.
The post-office barrel, although several times replaced, is still functioning; passing tourists and sailors can leave post to be picked up by others going the right way. We took a couple of letters for Europe and left a post-card to ourselves which we received about a month later – posted in Norway! On the west side of the island, one of the Wittmer children, Ingeborg Floreanita, now a woman in her sixties, has built a hotel and museum, with photos of her parents and other early settlers (including Norwegians). Here there is a little town, one of the four in the islands, but even with people around, sea-lions, marine iguanas and red Sally Lightfoot crabs lie around the jetty and rocks in the harbour. There is supposed to be an immigration stop even for Ecuadorians to settle in Galapagos now, but even so the population of the islands is rising alarmingly fast. This leads to a lot of illegal fishing and more problems in protecting the vulnerable environment.

The waved albatross.

The most southerly island of Isla Espanola (Hood Island) is particularly interesting because it is the only mating ground of the Galapagos waved albatross. We were a little late for the main mating season, but there were still a few pairs doing their ritual, which to us looks very comical. Two or three large birds face each other, jerk their long necks up and down, and make loud clicking noises with their beaks, finishing off with some hollow hoots in the air!
There were also many sea-lions on the beaches here, with young pups still suckling. One small and still wet pup was just new-born, with the after-birth lying beside him in the sand and mocking-birds hopping around cleaning up the mess. At the beach we enjoyed watching a little group of youngsters playing in a pool among the rocks, an older immature female keeping a watchful eye on them. In the water along most of the beaches populated by sea-lions or fur seals were large males constantly patrolling and barking to keep sharks and male rivals away – altogether not so different from human behaviour!
We were lucky to have such a good guide, and were quite happy to trail along after Juan Carlos, listen to his interesting commentaries, and asking him all sorts of questions which he could usually answer.
During these ten days we got to know all our group quite well, and enjoyed their company. Some of the ladies were among the most enthusiastic snorkellers we have ever met, especially Denise Silveira. We will fondly remember Fred for his large store of jokes, and Paul Simon for his unending supply of sweets, limericks and amusing comments!

Our last two days were spent on the two more populated islands, first San Cristobal. Here another Norwegian family settled in the 1930’s, and in 1979 we had met Snefrid and Kari Guldberg in their cattle ranch in the fertile, wetter highlands. They were now gone. Only Kari had children with Manuel A. Cobos, an Ecuadorian factory manager. We visited the remains of the Cobos sugar factory, but heard that Kari’s children were now either settled in California, or had become too fond of the bottle, so we didn’t meet them. But at the local museum known as the Interpretation Centre we found a good account of the human history of the islands, with some large reproductions of pictures Stein had lent them many years ago.

Maria and Thorbaldo Kastdalen

When the Norwegians came to Isla de Santa Cruz in 1926 they found one inhabitant, an old Mexican. This island now has the largest town, Puerto Ayero. It is where most of the tour operators and guides are located, and where the famous Charles Darwin Centre was founded in 1959. The island population has increased from 1 to 15.000 inhabitants in 80 years and Puerto Ayora is a prosperous, attractive town with asphalt streets and lots of small hotels; quite changed from the simple, ramshackle village with sand streets that we remembered from 1979. The small harbour of Academy Bay is now jammed with tourist boats and local fishing crafts. Most tourists take an organised tour either on a small motor-vessel like ours, or on a larger, luxurious cruise-ship with up to 100 berths. But it is quite possible just to come in by plane, stay in a bed- and breakfast place and arrange a trip in one of the offices along the sea-front. Many back-packers do this, and no doubt get a good deal.
The most successful settlers among the Norwegians on this island were the Kastdalen family, who arrived from Rjukan in 1935, at a time when only a handful of people lived here, mostly Norwegians and Germans. The original couple and their son are now dead, but the two grand-children Thorbaldo and Maria are alive and well, speak Norwegian, and are proud of their heritage. Maria has kept Miramar, her grand-parents first home as a museum. Here you can find old Norwegian farm and kitchen utensils, pictures including King Haakon, ornaments and furniture, all arranged just as they were in the thirties. By chance a Norwegian television team (from NRK led by Sverre Tom Radøy) were there at the same time as us, so it was a treat for them to find this old piece of Norway and inhabitants who spoke fluent Norwegian!
Maria and Thorbaldo both have children, so the Kastdalen name will carry on…

Our tour leaders had arranged that Stein should hold a talk here about the Norwegian immigrations. A projector was rigged up, and seats arranged in the garden of the Hotel Fernandina where we stayed the last two nights. This proved to be very popular, and as well as the Norwegians, quite a few scientists and old ex-Europeans who live on the island came to hear about people whom they had known in the old days. Another coincidence was that the Norwegian Knut Stampa was visiting the island. He was born here in 1945 when his father, Kristian Stampa, was a successful fisherman and farmer.
Those interested in more about Galapagos should go to John Woram’s impressive web-site at www.galapagos.to. Here you can even find the English translation of Stein’s book (still being polished; all the illustrations are not yet included) go to the section of Books, then under authors find Hoff, Stein (www.galapagos.to/TEXTS/HOFF-0.HTM ).

All good things come to an end, and the next morning it was back to the air-port and our plane to the mainland. Our organisers had decided on a really comfortable last night, and we checked into the Hotel Hilton Colon in Guayaquil, a newly-built, luxurious affair, where we lay in the warm swimming pool, under the stars and floodlit palm-trees and thought life wasn’t too bad! A last dinner together, this time with silver covers over the dinner plates, and we said goodbye to our new friends, as we had to leave very early the next morning for our plane back to Caracas.
So that was Galapagos revisited. I had wondered how changed it would be after 26 years. I am happy to say that the wild-life is just as fantastic as I had remembered. The towns have become bigger, but are much more attractive, and there are many more tourists. The National Park does a great job in trying to regulate the tourism and protect the environment, and in some islands they have managed to get rid of the feral animals (those introduced by humans like dogs, rats, cats, donkeys and goats). The landscape and animals of Galapagos are unlike anywhere else in the world, and we think these islands are an absolute must to visit for those who like to experience animals at close quarters in their natural environment. One way is to participate in the next "History, Mystery and More"- tour to be organized in April 2006. Again go to www.galapagos.to and click the announcement in the top righ corner of John Woram's web-site. You will not regret it - bon voyage!

Caracas: Look to Guayaquil!

On the way home, we spent 24 hours in Caracas, to give it another chance. Unfortunately, I have to say that we still agree it is largely a dirty, unattractive and unsafe city. Even close to the historical centre are areas of appalling squalor. They indeed have something to learn from Guayaquil! Even so, the people are mostly very friendly, and we had a great meal in a restaurant with live Latin American music, overlooking a park of bustling, Sunday-afternoon activities. Also we thought the birth-place museum of Simon Bolivar well presented and interesting. So there are always bright spots, and as reported before, the underground Metro is modern, cheap and fast - and well guarded. And with no tagging! (Something positive to be said for machine-gun carrying guards!)
That’s our adventures over for a while. Late November saw us back to winter Norway, to work, family and friends; that is not so bad either! In late February we return to Higuerote and Puerto Carenero, and from there sail for Bonaire and Curacao. Please keep us company in the future and give us an occasional feed-back either in our comments section, or in our Guestbook. And have a Happy New Year!
08 Jan 2006 by Stein & Diana

Tuesday, 3 May 2005

Kristiansand, 3rd May 2005

Kristiansand, 3rd May 2005
Exactly one month has lapsed since our last report in Venezuela. I am now writing from our old house in Vigeveien, Kristiansand. It is nearly 2 years since we rented the house to a pair of colourful ex-Brazilians, Eliana and Marcelo and teenage daughter Louisa. They have not quite yet managed the massive job of moving their equally colourful and numerous belongings to another house. Then there is the job of cleaning and replacing our own furniture, so Diana and I still feel a little like we’re camping and living out of backpacks and suitcases. But no cause to complain, everything has gone as planned this last month; we have seen lots of friends and family in UK and Norway and we completed the Marathon des Sable (MdS) as planned And have in fact had one of the most interesting, exhausting and social months of our entire lives!

Querzazate, Morocco

The trip from White Admiral to London, with a taxi to Caracas and flight via Miami, went without any hitches this time. Diana now has a passport even Mr Bush accepts… In London we had 2 days with our daughter Elisabeth and son-in-low Hugh before the charter-flight to Quarzazate, in SW Morocco, April 7th. We got the last items of equipment and food gathered and packed and did a trial run in Holland Park among the blossoming tulips and budding trees. Diana’s pack weighed 7,2 kg, mine 12,5 kg. So with the added gas cooker and emergency flare to be handed out by the organizers in Morocco, and the recommended minimum of 2 l of water, we expected to carry about 10 and 15 kg respectively at the beginning of the race.
At Gatwick Airport we met up with about 200 equally mad, slightly anxious and mostly lean participants. We soon found our friends, the Welshman Chris Morgan and the Londoner John Peck, both trans-Atlantic rowers that we first met in La Gomera in January last year. John is the one to be thanked or blamed for our own participation. Chris had a dislocated collar bone after celebrating Wales beating England in rugby 2 weeks earlier and was more anxious then most about the event.
The town of Querzazate is just south of the snow-peaked Atlas Mountains. Sahara appeared brown and forbidding on three sides as we landed, but the town was surprisingly green with a number of parks and beautiful hotels. A group of children chanted a loud and cheerful welcome as we walked from the plane. Tourism is important to Quarzazate and the nearby desert, and MdS especially so.
The Imperial Berber Palace Hotel, where most of the UK entrants stayed, is a large, luxury five stars hotel. The food was beautiful and the pool stunning, a marked contrast to the next few days…

Installed in the desert

Next morning a caravan of buses drove us five hours east of Querzazate. Lunch packets and water was provided en route. At the main camp there was a hive of activity. Lots of white tents were erected for the organizers, helpers, medics (known as Doc Trotters), and journalists. In the periphery were a couple of colourful tents with nomadic Berbers accompanied by camels. For us competitors were 107 black Berber tents. These tents are really bivouacs; they have no integrated floor but carpets on the ground, and are usually open on two sides. They can be closed in a bit more when it blows, but usually we found that the wind, sand and dust blew right through.
Most tents, like ours, were the nightly home for 8 people. We were in tent nr 81 and were very happy to share it with John, Hugh, Justin, Chris, Alex and Gerry. John is, like I, soon 60, the other four were in their 40’s. Alex and Gerry are also medics. For the occasion of the anniversary the black tents were positioned as a giant figure of 20, a great sight from the nearby sand-dunes and small mountain. When we climbed the latter, we also discovered that it was an ancient, elevated seabed full of pretty fossils.
For nearly two days the organizers fed us during race information, individual checks and other final arrangements. With nearly 800 participants and scores of helpers and guests, they somehow provided tasty and filling food for 1200 people from a big truck and temporary kitchen out there in Back-of-Beyond, in itself quite a feat. And being French, they provided cheese and a choice of wine or beer for the meals. And being French, they were not too worried about primitive toilet facilities and lack of privacy – something one just had to get used to. We soon decided that when nature calls in the cold of night or in the middle of a sand storm, legs stiff and sore, privacy is a very minor problem, indeed!
Patrick Bauer is the French photographer who has organized all the Sahara marathons since the first start in 1986. He got the idea in 1984 when as a young man he did a 300 km lonely trek through the area, and was so impressed by the scenery and the desert’s many challenges that he wanted to share this grand experience with others. He managed to get the Moroccan authorities to back him from the start; King Mohammed VI himself agreeing to be the main patron of the event. From the feeble start with 23 French at the start in 1986, in 2005 there are 777 men and women from 36 nations. And for the first time, Norway is also represented!

Sahara showed us how she could blow in the afternoon of 9th April. Visibility was markedly reduced; the sand seemed to penetrate everywhere. But our hotel luggage was labelled and collected as scheduled, and emergency flares, salt tablets and individual medical advice were issued. Patrick Bauer postponed the planned communal gathering for a while, but eventually had to call the meeting, and gave his final instructions from the top of a jeep. We covered our faces as best we could. I started taking notes, but found that the MdS Road Book provided all the necessary information. Patrick is an enthusiastic speaker with long sentences in French, which his wife Marie translates, thank goodness, to much briefer, excellent English. Neither of the two seemed much affected by the flying dust and sand.
By a bonfire after dark the more energetic danced to African music, but in tent 81 we all crawled to bed to escape the flying dust and get as much sleep as possible before the morning start. Soon the whole camp was quiet except for the whistling wind.

The wind died during the night, and as the curtain of dust settled, a star-studded sky was revealed. No interference from man-made lights. The temperature fell to 8 centigrade, a marked contrast to the 30-40 during the day. I was grateful for my thermal underwear and hooded jacket. There were many restless bodies in black Berber bivouacs that night in Eastern Sahara. Months of practice and preparations were soon to be put to the test…

We’re off!

Conditions were perfect on Start Day. Patrick was in great form behind the microphone; very proud of several new nations represented on this the 20th Marathon des Sable. Those with birthdays got their cheers and songs, everyone issued more advice and good-lucks while photographers made themselves busy. As soon as the gun went and the 777 men and women got underway a helicopter roared above us repeatedly. The royal send-off made us all feel like celebrity. But it took 2 minutes before Diana and I crossed the starting line, by that time the fastest runners were already far ahead…

The whole event was 246 km divided in 6 stages of 29, 37½ , 41, 76, 42 and 20 km. After the 76 km event there was a rest day, at least for those who completed this stage in less than 24 hours.
A lot of people ran the first couple of days, then developed blisters and a variety of other foot problems and found themselves mainly walking with a lot of pain during the last stages. Some suffered from dehydration and the heat. The temperature peaked at 48 centigrade between the giant sand dunes on the 3rd day. The large team of Doc Trotters did a huge job to get at many to complete the event as possible, at the end, only 46, mostly men, had quit. The Docs were available at each camp, at each check point and sometimes in the most demanding parts of the course. The check points were spaced at about 10 km intervals. In addition to medical help and more water they provided a chance of sheltered rest. Mostly we stopped just to refill water and eat a snack bar, sometimes to check on feet and empty shoes. Diana and I never intended to run; we plodded on with our sticks from beginning to end. We were obviously well acclimatized from our training in Venezuela, and we suffered less than the average. Still we got our share of shoe problems and minor blisters. The tops of my expensive shoes developed fissures that let sand in between the layers; this compressed the toes, and the sand was difficult to remove. Diana found that the sole of one of her shoes fractured, and when removing the inner sole she could see right through! These problems developed the very first day… (Both shoes were bought in early February, but had, of course, been used a lot in Venezuela.) I also got an extensor tendonitis of my right ankle after the third day, probably due to tightening the sand-protecting gaters too much. This gave me quite a swollen and sore ankle and slowed me down for the rest of the event. All told, we still enjoyed the challenge very much; the amazing vistas, the steep mountain passes, the huge sand-dunes, the camaraderie and the whole experience. On checkpoint 4 (of 6) on the long day Diana caught up with me as I was cooking a hot meal at sunset, so we decided to complete that special stage together. Earlier in the day we had experienced a brief sand storm. Visibility was eventually so poor that one had to rely on compass bearings for about 30 min (found in the Road Book). By dark it was again clear and cool. So in spite of sore feet and shoulders we enjoyed chatting and singing old favourites under the starry sky as we picked up one lit-up sign-post after another. Each competitor also had chemical light sticks tied to the backpack, and to see the ground ahead most of us carried white diode lights. So ahead we had a row of faint, yellow lights bobbing up and down, and behind us we had slightly brighter, white lights bobbing up and down. Really quite magical.

Entertainment in the desert

During the race, Patrick Bauer and his team provided surprise entertainment on three occasions. At sunset the 2nd day of the race we heard the testing of microphones, but did not expect a string quartet, a solo trumpeter and an opera singer! Transplanted from concert-hall to desert, the six musicians obviously enjoyed a motley, but appreciative audience. They were professional and excellent, and the Japanese soprano was also good-looking. And this time no wind and flying sand: More magic below the stars.
On the other occasions the entertainment was more as expected in Morocco: Two supple belly-dancing ladies (especially popular with the Moroccan helpers, we noticed), and a team of expert riders performing tricks and saluting on horses and camels. These riders also gave us salute and a royal send-off at the start of the final stage, a mere 20 km. This took us through a small oasis, we recognized plots of barley shaded by date-palms, and ended up in the small town of Tazzarine. Local children were begging for sweets and money, and did not take no for an answer. The children did not seem poor; the begging appeared to be more due to tradition then to real need. But this nuisance was soon forgotten as we crossed the finish line and got our cheers, a big medal and a big hug and kiss from Patrick Bauer (he is French, of course). We were also given a lunch packet and allocated a bus, and less than an hour later we were on our way back to Quarzazate. As the bus left, almost everybody took shoes and socks off. No yellow, toxic vapour could be seen, but the smell that permeated the bus was most impressive!

Civilisation re-visited

Back at The Imperial Berber Palace Hotel we re-discovered the luxuries of modern living. In the shower we shed an incredible amount of brown dust from our bodies, and propped on white pillows in beds ridiculously soft and comfy we caught up on World news from BBC. And in clean clothes and roomy sandals the now good friends from tent 81 enjoyed a sumptuous dinner together. We all suffered a bit from sore feet, but from our tent, the one who staggered most among the buffet tables was Chris. He really suffered from being the fastest in our tent! That he managed to run on that last day was a credit to the Doc Trotters and a very high pain tolerance. But others were even worse. Amy had such terrible pain that she was given an injection of Morphine 24 hours earlier, and arrived at the dinner in a wheel-chair. But she was grinning from ear to ear, she had completed the event!

For the eighth time, the Moroccan brothers Ahansal were the two fastest runners. Only 8 minutes separated the brothers. They averaged an incredible speed of 12,8 km/hour for the 246 km of sand and rock, hills and flats. Among the females aged 60+ Diana got a 2nd place! The winner was the other entrant in her class, a small, French lady. There was only one male participant aged 70, but he was among the unfortunate 46 who did not complete.
At Querzazate Airport two days after the event the cheerful, British contingent was quite a sight as they walked, staggered or were wheeled to the plane. The impression was more of patients returning from a health farm than of competitors from a marathon! But nobody complained.
Those interested in more pictures and more details about the MdS 2005 can go to www.darbaroud.com And if any of you decide to take part and need training partners in two or three years, Diana and I may just be temped to do it again…

Back in Britain we had 10 days of seeing more of Elisabeth & Hugh, some friends in England and Scotland and another excellent Wagner opera at English National Opera (ENO); Twilight of the Gods (Gotterdemmerung).
April 28th Ryan Air flew us to Sandefjord were we met Robert and Eli, and in Oslo next day Martin and Camilla. Our grandchildren Hedda and Johan had grown and developed since we last saw them in February. Taking grandchildren for walks, feeding ducks and picking spring flowers together is also a very satisfying activity. And the beautiful, Norwegian summer is soon here… (Although it must be admitted that occasionally it deserves the better name of the Green Norwegian Winter!) And there is work to be done; Diana as a locum in private practice, I at our local hospital.
And in September we are off to White Admiral in Venezuela again.
10 May 2005 by Stein & Diana

Wednesday, 6 April 2005

Puerto Carenero, Venezuela, April 3rd 2005

White Admiral is back up on the hard, washed and cared for, sails, dinghy, ropes and shackles all rinsed with fresh water and packed away for summer storage. We are in Asterillo de Higuerote, a small yard mostly used by motor boat owners from Caracas, but we heard from anther catamaran that it was a good place for sail boats too. It has certainly been a pleasant experience to come here, we seem to be the only foreign yacht at the moment, and have had fantastic service, with the owner herself making sure that everything goes to plan. We have arranged to have the deck painted while we are away, so White Admiral will be getting a face-lift before we see her again in September.

Return to Tortuga with Jessica

Our last three weeks have mostly been spent back in Tortuga, as the island has been perfect for our Sahara training. Our friend Jessica arrived as planned on 7th March, ready for a ‘Tortuga round cruise’ with us for two weeks. Jessica is now a good new friend of ours, we met her a year ago when we were helping with the transatlantic rowing regatta. Her then 23 year old son, Sam, won the solo class, the youngest person to have rowed solo across an ocean. We felt we had got to know Jessica quite well during her stay in Barbados, and had been impressed with her positive attitude to life, despite having had to fight the illness of multiple myeloma for several years. So we took the chance that she would be an easy guest, and off we went back to Tortuga on the 8th March. The trade-winds are now quite brisk, and seem to blow harder at night, so this was another invigorating (bumpy) sail in over 20 knots of wind (F5-F6), doing about 7 knots, a bit gentler towards dawn, and we arrived at Laguna el Carenero as the sun came up. We remembered this anchorage mainly for the good calamares (squid) we had got the last time, so we did a round of the fishing-boats but nobody had any. However, we bought languster instead and were promised some the next day. And sure enough, a couple of young men turned up early in the morning with a good catch of calamares, and willingly exchanged a bowlful for a bottle of rum. The word must have got around as another boat with young men soon arrived with a bucket of fish, and asked if they could also have a bottle. So this time, we got a few parrot fish and grunts in exchange. As rum is cheap here, this was a good price for the fish, just hope none of them have a drinking problem. From Laguna el Carenero, the walking is pretty rough, over sharp coral rocks and dry scrub-land with cacti which easily give off sharp spikes, but Jessica plodded with us over the rather hostile landscape for part of our long walk, taking a break at a beautiful deserted beach on the way. On the return near sunset we all enjoyed watching the bright green parokeets squaking loudly and nibbling spiky cactus fruits.

More ship wrecks

On the 11th March, we weighed anchor at dawn and motored out the narrow lagoon to go north to Playa Caldera, a more interesting anchorage with the little fishing village, and a much better place for walking. As we motored up the east coast of the island, we expected to see Alba Plena, the Spanish yacht which had gone onto the reef ten days earlier. But no yacht was to be seen, so we presumed they had finally managed to drag her off, until we rounded into the anchorage and saw at the far side of the bay a mastless yacht being pounded by the surf on the beach. ‘They must have pulled her over to the beach to empty out the valuables’ was Stein’s assumption. Great was our surprise when we walked along the beach a little later, to find a distraught French couple, who had broken their mast the night before, lost control of the boat and drifted in a strong gust onto the beach. A nightmarish situation.
Two boats in two weeks grounded in this anchorage! The common factor was that they had both tried to make a night entrance, obviously not a wise thing to do. Fortunately Jessica is a fluent French speaker, so we had much better communication with the couple, Roland and Francoise, than our rusty old school French would have allowed. The next day, the fishermen managed to pull their boat off the beach, and fortunately there was no severe damage to the hull and engine, although a lot of water had come in via a broken window and created a big mess. The few yachties that were in the bay, including ourselves, gave what help we could, eventually getting the broken mast and torn sails back on board. Roland had minor bruises and cuts, well attended by Diana. Through this unfortunate event, we got to know a Canadian/Portuguese couple, Maria and Felix and Maria’s brother Fernando, who were on their annual holiday on their motor launch The Blueberry Jazz. This led to a sociable couple of days, first with a dinner at Moncho’s (the local fisherman/tour agent who seems to help and know everybody) where Maria’s sea snail/fish soup was the prize-winning dish. The next day, we were all taken for a fishing-trip on the motor launch, a good chance for Roland and Francoise to relax after the trauma of their going aground, and the men did some spear-fishing, both Stein and Roland getting a catch. We took the fish to White Admiral and all came for an evening in our cockpit with baked fish in asparagus sauce – great!

A hooked finger!

There was even more drama on this day, when we were returning from the fishing trip, Moncho came speeding up in his boat and told us that somebody needed a doctor! We followed him back to the bay, wondering if one of the portly French we had met on the other catamaran had had a heart attack, but no, one of them had got a fish-hook deep in one of his fingers. This sounds like a job for me, I said, and we got ‘Pickwick’ (his nick-name) on board. There was indeed a fish-hook well imbedded in the pulp of one finger. I gave him a block anaesthesia of the finger, and had to enlarge the opening to get the hook out. It healed very well with no infection, so he was pleased with the treatment. This resulted in strong cocktails aboard ‘Le Pointe Bleu’ the next evening. They also spent hours installed a copy of their electronic charts on our PC, an edition that is much more accurate than the ones we have, so that was a good present in exchange for the little medical help! We still managed to carry out our planned walking trips amongst all this activity, this time along endless sandy beaches and some cliff areas, Jessica walking some of the way with us each time. We left Playa Caldera on the 17th March, after what had been an unusually dramatic and sociable week. That is the great thing abut this sailing life, you never know who you are going to meet or what is going to happen!
The next anchorage was just an overnight stop, on the reef called Los Palanquinos, where Stein was sent out to spear the dinner, and did just that, while Jessica and I went snail-hunting on one of the small islets, inspired by Maria’s soup, and managed to collect a half-bucket of sea-snails, as well as having a great snorkel among al kinds of colourful reef-fish. The snails were later boiled, and simmered with onions, mushrooms and tomatoes, made a delicious dish.
Our last anchorage on this round was the small island of Cayo Herradura, which Stein and I had already found out, takes one and a quarter hours to walk round. It was just as beautiful as we remembered, with its long white beach and emerald waters. Here we had planned a 10 hour walk, Jessica was happy to do one round with us, then she watched our heads bobbing up and down in different parts of the island as we did the other seven rounds. A bit boring, to be honest!
We got ready for another night sail back to the mainland on 20th March. This time, we changed the genoa to a smaller jib, knowing what the nights were like, and this was a wise move, as the wind was even brisker, abut 23-24 knots for the first part of the night, so the jib and a fully reefed main sail was all we needed. It was nice to get into the peaceful marina in the morning after another bumpy ride. We had a dinner invitation for the same night. Maria, Felix had already returned to their flat in the town, and we spent a pleasant evening with them and her brother Fernando, with good food and wine in their apartment with spectacular views over Puerto La Cruz. The next day it was time to say goodbye to Jessica. She had been, as we had imagined, an easy guest, interested and curious about everything, shells, fish, stars, etc., and it made us enjoy these two weeks more than we would have done otherwise, seeing everything with renewed enthusiasm. Keep well, Jessica, and come again!

The third visit to Isla la Tortuga

We had hoped to be off again the same day, but the bureaucracy in Venezuela can take a little time. We needed a new cruising permit, which are only given for 6 months at a time. Almost all the foreign yachts use an agent to do this, and the one at the marina said it would take at least 5 days. Fortunately, we were saved by Fernando, who has done some of this work before, and he managed to get the paper we needed from the port captain in one day. So it was 23rd March when we left at dusk for our last sail to Tortuga, this time with the wind up to 27 knots! After crashing along at 9 knots for a few hours, we had to take down the main sail and roll in most of the jib to go slow enough not to arrive in the dark. This week we chose only to go to Playa Caldera for the last training effort, and had planned two dawn to dusk treks along the north coast of the island. My knee is not quite right after a cartilage operation in November, so I have been a bit anxious about it, but surprisingly it doesn’t seem to get worse with all this plodding, so I hope it holds out for the event itself. We are at any rate as fit now for walking as we will ever be!
We had brought more DVD action films for Moncho and his amigos, these were gratefully received, and he got us a lovely big piece of grouper (moro) in return. Otherwise no drama this time, just as well, so we could concentrate on the training. On our last trip back to the mainland we had become wiser, and left at 2.30 a.m. missing the windiest part of the night, and as we were running with the breeze, this time we had a lovely gentle sail to Caranero, arriving in the middle of the day on the 31st March. We were lifted out the next morning in a 100 ton travel-lift. So that is our adventure over for this time. A taxi is coming to pick us up at 2.30 a.m. to take us to the air-port, giving plenty of time to avoid the morning rush in Caracas, which apparently begins very early and is horrific. We will be in Morocco from 7th to 18th April, then a few days in Britain seeing some old friends, before going back home to Kristiansand, where we will both be working through the summer.
We will be back here on 13th September to continue sailing, but will put in a short report on the Sahara Marathon (Marathon Des Sable) later this month, so you can hear abut what trials and tribulations that will bring!

Albert Hinkson 1927 – 2005

While in Tortuga, we got the sad news that an old friend, Albert, had died in Bequia, St. Vincent Grenadines. Stein first met Albert in Barbados in 1978, when he came for a medical consultation. Later that year we sailed with kids and Steins parents to Bequia in Red Admiral, the first of many visits to him and his wife Angie at their restaurant and boutique, The Whaleboner. In April last year we were there with Eli on White Admiral. We always had a good time with them and their daughter Ruth. On our last visit it was touching to see what a new lease of life his grandchildren had given him, especially Christian whom he and Angie were adopting. We knew that Albert had been the manager of a supermarket in Florida until he came to Bequia and began a new life with Angie, what we didn’t know until we got a report from his well attended funeral (including the Prime Minister) was that he was an early defender of black people’s rights, employing blacks and getting into trouble with the Ku Klux Klan.
So apart from the hospitable, friendly and artistic person we knew, Albert Hinkson was a man of principle, and we are proud to have known him

06 Apr 2005 by Stein & Diana

Wednesday, 9 March 2005

Puerto la Cruz, Venezuela, Sunday March 6th, 2005

Diana and I arrived back at Puerto la Cruz this morning. We have just finished lunch of home baked, brown bread eaten with a selection of fruit and salad bought from a street stall close to the marina entrance. Today being - domingo – Sunday – does not seem to prevent these small businesses from operating. After a sailing trip of two weeks we had run out of just about everything fresh, so bananas, tomatoes and lettuce were real luxuries!
The island we visited was Isla la Tortuga, about 60 n.miles (110 km) NW of here. It is a low, flat, barren island of jagged, coral rocks. Bush and cacti dominate the dry landscape inland, while the coast is blessed with miles of white beaches, suitably interrupted here and there by green mangroves and black cliffs. The main part of the island is large, about 25 x 10 km. Off the NW coast there are also three small groups of islets and reefs popular with yachts and fishermen. There are no permanent inhabitants on the island, but several collection of shacks where fishermen from Margarita or Cumaná live for periods of 3-4 months at a time. Occasionally boys join their fathers during school holidays, but we never met any of their mothers. Without stores, schools or medical service these islands are very much a man’s world – the Coral Outbacks of Venezuela! Having said that, in the biggest fishing community off Punta Delgada in the NE there are some very nicely kept concrete houses, including a small posada (guest house) with a diesel generator and a desalination unit (making drinking water from the sea). Their main customers are rich owners of large motor yachts or small aeroplanes from Caracas, most of them visiting at week-ends. The airstrip is a naturally flat area behind the beach.
We first arrived in Tortuga on Sunday morning, 20th February. The close-hauled, overnight sail up was a lot harder than the return this morning; the trade winds were brisk and the Caribbean Sea quite rough. As we approached the shallow entrance to Laguna el Carenero on the SE coast at first light, we also discovered that the echo sounder had stopped working! We depend a lot on this navigational aid for safe sailing, but outside the entrance the water was wonderfully clear and calm so we eye-balled our way in slowly and dropped anchor - in what turned out to be only 1½ m! Still, it is ½ m more than we need, and the bottom was flat sand with patches of sea-grass, so we still had a margin of safety… Shortly after the anchor was down six men in a small boat approached us. They were coming in from a night of fishing with lights and had developed a leak in the wooden transom – did we have glue? So a couple of useful items changed hands, and we ended up with fresh fish and small calamares (squid) – a favourite. Also they indicated the best passage into the large lagoon. But to be on the safe side we got out an unused lead and line - the time-honoured way of measuring the depth manually. So with Diana at the wheel I swung the lead repeatedly in the bows, calling out the depths and imagining what it must have been like for the ancient explorers...
Well inside we had 3 – 4 m below the keel and were tucked into the most beautiful and safest hurricane-hole imaginable. During the two days spent here we started our Sahara training in earnest.

Return to White Admiral

But first a quick re-cap on events since Atlanta, USA, where we got stuck for a day due to flight problems. We eventually landed in Caracas on Wednesday, 16th, too late for a local plane to Barcelona, the nearest airport to our marina. So we spent the night at Posada Hidalgo, a small hotel we have stayed at twice before. The taxi that took us from the airport wanted double the usual fare due to “mud-slides and road problems”, he said. Fortunately, this was a great exaggeration, the torrential rains and muddy floods had happened two weeks earlier without any local casualties and by now most of the mud was cleared away. But for residents in the area it was a frightening reminder of the huge land slides in the same area in 1999 when 50.000 people died. Most of these were residents of shanty towns clustering the hillsides east of Caracas.
Before going to bed Diana and I enjoyed a short walk in the warm and starry night. The Caribbean sea was hitting the shore only a few meters from the road, a new moon was lying like a small boat above the silhouettes of the coconut trees. What a contrast to Norway and the skiing at Haglebu only a few days ago. We may have had a delay en route, a slight nuisance, but we were safely back in Venezuela, we were healthy and privileged in countless ways; not the unfortunate residents of an impoverished shanty settlement on steep and unstable ground…
Finally, Thursday, in the early afternoon we arrived at PMO Marina and could give White Admiral a friendly pat. She was covered in a thin layer of brown dust, but otherwise fine, the storage here being a lot kinder to the boat than the humid, rain-drenched Chaguaramas in Trinidad. No scrubbing mould and algae this time. Robert’s friend Nathalia joined us for dinner the same evening, good for her English and our Spanish, otherwise it was hard work till we were safely afloat Friday afternoon. Sails and lose rigging were then quickly put back in place. Diana made several taxi-trips to the supermarkets at Exito and Plaza Major, we filled up with fresh water, and off we went at sunset on Saturday.

Tortuga Walks – Sahara Preparations

It was John Peck, one of the rowers in last year’s Atlantic Rowing Regatta, who first told us of the Sahara Marathon - also known as Marathon des Sables. It is held yearly in April and described as one of the toughest foot races in the World. 240 km is covered in 6 races of 25-80 km length over one week. The terrain varies from hard stones to soft sand dunes, afternoon temperatures in the 40’s is the rule while the nights are cold. Fatigue, dehydration, sunburns, blisters and other and foot problems are common, and dreaded sand storms always a possibility. Apart from 9 daily litres of water for each competitor and a tarpaulin to sleep under, you must carry your own bedding, clothes, food and everything else needed for the week. Amazingly enough this self-punishing event, now in its 20th year, is very popular and the numbers participating are limited to 600. Of these about 10% give up or are disqualified for various reasons. There are international athletes who run the entire race, but Diana and I are among the majority who will be very happy just to walk (or crawl!) as long as we complete. The start is in SW Morocco, at the foot of the Atlas Mountains, 10th April.
Tropical Tortuga island with its almost endless miles of sandy beaches was a perfect spot to start our final 6 weeks of preparation, and by the time we left Caya Heradura yesterday, the last of four anchorages, we had reached sessions of 10 hours walking and learned a lot about foot care and sun protection, water and food requirements. And I suppose, also that we are slightly crazy! Especially when we spent the day on little Heradura walking from dawn to dusk with the local fishermen and a few beach tourists encouraging us or shaking their heads in bemused wonder. Each round took 1¼ hour, so we did 8 rounds with 3 short stops, 10 ½ hours altogether.
There are other yachts that visit Tortuga and on the NE quite a few private planes come during weekends, but never once in all our walks on the island did we meet other wanderers, only the occasional fisherman. Instead we saw a lot of lizards and birds such as pelicans, gannets, terns, gulls, sand pipers and frigate birds, and in the mangroves also colourful finches and parakeets, herons and the occasional osprey (fishing eagle). And we saw a lot of cacti! Including some of the dreaded, bulbar type we know from Isla Coche, with thorns tough enough to penetrate thick soles. And we saw a lot of sand and surf, and – unfortunately - a lot of garbage. Especially on the windward side of Tortuga are heaps of plastic rubbish that has travelled across the sea, presumably from the South American mainland and the other islands further east. The fishermen do clear this away close to their shacks, but in addition the military do rounds of cleaning the worst affected islands. According to our friend Moncho at Punta Delgada in the NE a cleaning operation is planned this spring.
Punta Delgada is where we spent the longest time; 8 days. “Moncho”s real name is José Ramon, he is from Margarita, but works as a very laid back and relaxed tour operator for an Italian Company. He has a very simple posada of 6 beds and a large table for eating outside. He also has a radio telephone and a TV powered by battery and solar cells, both being popular with the local fishermen. During our stay he never had any overnight visitors, but he had the occasional dinner guests from visiting yachts like us. He prepares lobster or fish over open fire at sunset, will provide plates and cutlery, but you have to bring anything else you want for the dinner yourself. Twice we were his guests, the lobsters we were allowed to pay for, but the fish eaten at his table and twice aboard from fish he gave us, we exchanged for items he needed instead.

Drama at Punta Delgada

The last day of February was as beautiful as usual. I was up at dawn at 6.30 stretching in the cockpit when I discovered to my horror a yacht on the reef on the other side of the sand spit. The surf was pounding the rocking boat and the situation looked grim. When we rowed out to them shortly afterwards, others had already arrived to help. It was a large Spanish yacht, a modern ketch with a family of three aboard. They had sailed from Puerto la Cruz the day before and had tried to enter the anchorage in the dark of a moonless night, made a serious misjudgement and hit the reef at midnight. Possibly their electronic charts can be blamed, they are often wrong by 100 m or more. As we all know in theory, it is bad seaman ship to trust only one navigational aid…
A large fishing boat and a Coast Guard boat from the main land repeatedly tried to pull the yacht free during the day, but it has a modern, winged steel keel that got thoroughly stuck in the rocks even when the boat was heeled well over. Finally the hull was damaged and leaking and further rescue had to be abandoned. At least they were insured and nobody was injured. So from quiet, sleepy days of fishing and feeding his pet doves and entertaining the occasional yachtie, Moncho had a flurry of activities with catering and operating his radio telephone. After we left for our next anchorages at Los Palanquinos and Cayo Herradura we heard that agents had been flown in from Caracas to verify the total loss and rescue any valuables aboard, now officially the belongings of the insurance company.

20 years ago the islands were teeming with fish, lobsters, turtles and giant conchs (sea snails), not so any more. These islands are not part of the nature reserves, but hopefully some degree of regulation will be in place soon, before the islands end up like the over-fished Gulfo de Cariaco further east. But at the reef of Los Palanquinos, the fish are still abundant among the corals and spear fishing is still permitted, and I still mastered the way we usually secured dinner on Red Admiral.

After stocking up and collecting our friend Jessica Knight at Barcelona airport tomorrow we return to Tortuga for another two weeks. Moncho has recently acquired a DVD player, so on the shopping list is a few action films for him to entertain his amigos with in the evenings. That is, unless more yachts hit the reef and provide more live action – but we shall make doubly sure that White Admiral is not among them!

09 Mar 2005 by Stein & Diana

Friday, 18 February 2005

Atlanta, Georgia, USA, Wednesday 16th February 2005

In our last report in November we thought that on this day, February 16th, we would be back on White Admiral in Puerto la Cruz, Venezuela. Alas, this was not to be. Instead we are relaxing after a big breakfast here at Ramadan Plaza Hotel, Atlanta as our corresponding plane to Caracas yesterday was cancelled... Hopefully the plane this afternoon is on schedule, but again it illustrated how even modern travelling has its delays and surprises. (On the way home in November Diana had a non-electronic passport unacceptable to the Bush Administration and had to fly via Europe while I went alone via Atlanta.) But barring more problems, tomorrow we should sleep aboard our maritime home once more.

Our nearly three months in Norway consisted mostly of work and reunions with family and friends. In addition Diana got her left knee operated for cartilage problems, we did a lot of training for the Sahara Marathon and received a good topping-up of culture. The latter consisted of two monumental operas when passing through London in November; Verdi’s Falstaff and Wagner’s Siegfried, and several excellent concerts in Kristiansand.

Christening of Johan November 28th

Three days after Diana’s operation and the day before starting work, we attended the christening of our second grandchild, Johan Fredrik Hoff in Sørkedalen kirke north of Oslo. It was a glorious winter day with skiers in the surrounding woods and a beautifully behaved Johan in the church. The dress he wore for the occasion was also worn by Johan’s great grandmother Eli in 1916, by me – the proud grandfather - in 1945, by his daddy Martin in 1974 and by his sister Hedda in 2002.
Elisabeth & Hugh in London could not attend the christening, but instead arrived for a comprehensive series of enjoyable family reunions in Oslo around Christmas. Unfortunately the Noro (Norwalk) virus belly- bug did its diarrhoeal best to knock us out in turns. Good for the immune system, I suppose…

Medicine revisited

Diana and I both enjoyed being back at work. Winter in south Norway was very mild this year, so I could cycle to work every day as usual, and Diana’s travels to Arendal (one hour each way) also went fine. She refreshed her ophthalmological skills at the laser machine, and I get slowly better at echocardiography. The team - work with younger colleagues and nurses is something I find especially gratifying. I have always enjoyed teaching, missed it while in private practice, and now find it also a good way to learn more myself. Enjoying work, incidentally, is not so hard when you know there are only a couple of months of it a time…
My last day at work was February 10th. Diana had finished a few days earlier and did most of the packing and cleaning of the house we had rented. (Most our things are back in storage at our friend Rigmor’s at Flekkerøy, the rest is at Eli’s in Sandefjord.) Next day we picked up Robert at Sandefjord and drove to Haglebu near Gol in central south Norway where Dagmar & Christian Platou have a big cottage in the mountains. Their son Hans Christian and his Symira brought 3 months old Fritjof, and Camilla & Martin brought both Hedda and Johan, so it was a genuine, audible three-generation reunion! Apart from my share of cuddling and playing with grandchildren, I had two memorable cross-country skiing trips. Diana did not risk her knee and went for long trips on snow-shoes as well as sledging with Hedda. In the evening some of us played Poker and Settlers. Robert has always enjoyed games and he still does, but Settlers was settled by Martin this time!

Plans ahead

In Puerto la Cruz we hope to have the yacht afloat by 18th and then head for the island of Tortuga a day or two later. On this island known for its long beaches we hope to do most of our preparing for the 240 km of Sahara sands in April. Apart from the unusual strain of walking a lot through soft sand we also have to get accustomed to a backpack of 8-10 kg. Before flying to Morocco the boat will be back on land in Venezuela, so the time on the water is only about 6 weeks. Eli is in Spain for three weeks and we have no other planned visitors either, so if you fancy seeing Venezuela, now is the chance!

18 Feb 2005 by Stein & Diana